This past week I spent four days as a student at Shari Blaukopf’s watercolor workshop in Anacortes and the Skagit Valley. Shari is a professional painter and design teacher from Montreal, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to study under her, if even for a few days.
The workshop was wonderful on so many levels. My good friend Bonnie, whom I met several years ago through this blog, invited me stay at her home overlooking Samish Bay, and she was a gracious and welcoming host (besides feeding me the most nutritious and delicious meals!) The other workshop participants were a mix of kindred spirits, old friends and new. The organizers of the workshop selected stunning locations for painting our landscapes, so I discovered even more beautiful nooks and crannies in the Skagit Valley, already one of my most favorite places on earth.
It was evident that Shari had scouted the locations before we met each day, and that was important because we “wasted” no time settling in to paint. Here are the locations where we painted:
As it was, the time flew by. There were morning and afternoon sessions, each three hours long, during which Shari taught, demonstrated her techniques and skills, and then critiqued the paintings we made trying to apply her lessons on the spot. It was a revelation to watch a master painter at work — planning and anticipating the order in which she would be applying pigments, paying attention to the range of light and dark values, actually painting with sure, confident strokes. It was a miracle to see, daily, beautiful images emerge gradually from a blank sheet of paper. Sometimes what looked like a mess early on became a finished masterpiece. (Lesson: don’t give up on your work too early.)
Shari said that when she paints, her objective is to “capture the essence” of what she sees, the “fastest impression” of her experience of a place. Successful paintings, to her, have “something genuine” in the work.
I take with me some precepts and lessons that I hope to use in the days, months, and years ahead to improve my work. Here are some of Shari’s key tips that I will be carrying with me:
- The two most common mistakes watercolor painters make are: 1) not enough water and 2) not enough pigment on the brush. Shari said, “My watercolors got better when I started using more water.”
- Aim for loose line work and fresh painting (it helps to hold your drawing and painting implements higher on the stem for more expressive lines and strokes).
- Before painting, and while deciding upon your composition, analyze values without thinking about the actual colors: darkest and lightest parts, decide what to leave white.
- When you get the values right, color doesn’t matter.
- Start with what you love (when you have a complex scene or composition with several parts).
- Paint foliage in masses, large shapes.
- Think about shapes: make interesting shapes within big shapes, pay attention to overlapping shapes, mass together some shapes, simplify shapes.
- Pick up paint from the sides of the brush rather than digging in with the point (keeping your pigments moist helps).
- Don’t go more than one inch without changing color. Use a variety of colors in dark and shadow areas.
- A good amount of neutral makes the color sing.
- Burnt sienna and ultramarine blue make a nice neutral gray.
- Not all white is white white. (Sometimes a white in shadow is a darker value than the sky.)
- Most of the time when you don’t like your work it’s because your darks are diffident. Take the time to add dark accents and final touches. Don’t quit too soon.
- You can never practice values enough.