Brenda Swenson a Watercolor Artist is the artist author of two books, Keeping a Watercolor Sketchbook (Award of Excellence Finalist) and Steps to Success in Watercolor. Her paintings and sketches have been featured in Splash 11,12, & 14, Artistic Touch 4, Watercolor Magazine, Watercolor Artist, Watercolor Highlights, Quarterly Magazine, Wheels of Time and numerous other publications.
In early June I traveled to Belgium. I was scheduled to teach two workshops with French Escapade…but first a little playtime! Two friends joined me in Brussels, Phyllis from California and Cris from Brazil. Our days in Brussels was lovely. Each day we ventured out to sight see and sketch. It rained a little but usually in early morning or during the night. The days were cool and pleasant. I was prepared for cooler weather and usually wore a light down jacket, scarf and sketching gloves. We had a wonderful time taking in the sights. We stayed at the ibis Hotel in Brussels. It was centrally located and a easy walk to the cathedrals, museums and sights.
It came time for my workshops. We meet up with the leader of the tour Jackie Grandchamps and Valerie Sals, the owner of French Escapade and our guides. After a 90 minute drive we arrived at our destination, our home away from home. We were 20 minutes from the historic center of Brugge (or Bruges). After 4 days in a busy city I was delighted to be in the country side with it’s green pastures, sheep, cattle, horses, chicken and one noisy peacock! What is a peacock doing in Belgium?
The day we visited the windmill in Damme everything was perfect. The day saw bright and sunny but not too hot. I had a cool breeze on my back and the windmill blades were rotating against the blue sky with large billowing clouds. I'm always on the look-out for interesting shadows. Imagine my delight when I saw the blade of the windmill wrapping the tower. It begged to be painted!
Belgium is very green and with that comes wet weather. I came prepared with a lightweight raincoat, umbrella and rain boots. Little did I know how quickly things would change. By the end of my trip Europe was in the grips of a heatwave. The hot air came from the Sahara. Belgium, Germany and France were hit hard with severe heat…ugh! I had plenty of clothes for cold rainy days but very little for the sweltering heat...and new hats!
Since I returned home I did this small piece called “The Lace Maker of Brugge”. I enjoyed watching this woman sitting in her doorway making bobbin lace. In the upper left-hand corner you can see the lace I purchased from her. It took her more than 15 hours! She is obviously an older woman but her hands were young, pretty and agile.
Instead of showing all the sketches on my blog I created a YouTube video. It's called Sketchbook Tour: Belgium. Sketches of Brussels, Damme, Brugge, De Haan... Inside you'll see the lessons I taught and my commentary. VIDEO HERE
I will carry memories with me in my heart and in my sketchbooks. Thank you to everyone for making this experience so special: French Escapade, our wonderful hosts at the hotel and my students. A have a heart full of grateful for the people who joined me on this adventure. Thank you for sharing my love of travel and passion for sketching on location!
One color that gets a lot of people in trouble is green. Tube green to be exact. Any tube of green by itself isn’t believable. Every tree, shrub or flowering plant is going to shift in greens from warm to cool, pure to grayed…and so on. A landscape is going to shift in greens too. Warmer yellow-greens in the foreground and cooler blue-greens as you go back.
How do you make believable greens? One word…PRACTICE. It’s not that hard. I recommend you start by keeping a book for color mixing only. I call these my color bibles. I’ve built many reference books over the years. Combinations I refer to again and again. Greens, triads…and so on.
Mixing paint on the paper (not on the palette) will give you the most interesting greens. Why? You’ll have more variations. I’m sharing greens I made using the current colors on my palette. All of the colors listed below are Daniel Smith Watercolors with the exception of Burnt Sienna which is Winsor Newton. I’ve label all the paint swatches with abbreviations. If you're not familiar with color index code, don't worry. The first letter P means pigment, the next letter is pigment color family (R=red, B=blue…and so on) and the final number is the number issued by the ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials).
Mixing paint on dry paper
Abbreviation (HYM), Paint Name (Hansa Yellow Medium), Color Index Code (PY97)
HYM=Hansa Yellow Medium, PY97
RSL=Raw Sienna Light, PY42
PYD=Permanent Yellow Deep, PY110
GG=Green Gold, PY 150, PY 3, PG 36
QG=Quinacridone Gold, PO 48 PY, 150
MBH=Manganese Blue Hue PB15
FU=French Ultramarine, PB29
PT=Phthalo Turquoise, PB15:3, PG36
BS=Burnt Sienna, PR101
LB=Lunar Black, PBk11
Sorry about the ugly watermarks. Last week I found images taken from my blog…again.
How many green combinations can you identify in my painting of the mailboxes? Some green are very yellow and other are more blue... AND a touch of Quinacridone Rose or Magenta dropped into wet passages of greens that have turned dull.
Photos can’t captured the emotion of a scene the same way a sketch can. I imagine some photographers might disagree…that’s okay. When I sketch on location the scene and events of the day remain with me…weeks, months, years. The image is burned into my heart and mind. I carry it with me all my days.
Recently I wrote, It's the People, Not the Place. It was my experience while sketching Santa Maria Church in Siena, Italy. The memory is still fresh. I originally sketched the image with ink and wrote about the day in my sketchbook. Since I returned home I’ve sketched the scene many times. I used my reference photo, original sketch and emotional experience to guide me. Each time I do the sketch a little differently. Either I use a different sketchbook paper, pen, paint… Why? It keeps my mind, eye and hand fresh. Eventually I plan to do a full sized painting. But for now I want to explore ideas.
Small Sketch Set-Up Palette: Sketchers Box, by Winsor Newton (Cotman Paints). I removed the student grade Cotman paints and filled with tube colors. My paints are predominately Daniel Smith Watercolors with a few exceptions (noted on palette diagram). Brushes: DaVinci travel brushes 6 and 8 rounds Pencil with eraser Pen White Marker:Faber-Castell Pitt, White Collapsible Water Bowl (Sea to Summit) Sketchbook:Stillman and Birn, 10x8”, Nova Series. I love the warm tone of the Nova paper…the warm color of Siena!
WARM Toned Paper
The dramatic light was what drew me to the scene from the start. I drew the design with pencil. When it came time to paint I simplified the scene by putting the buildings on both sides of the street in shadow and I added the people in silhouette. The darks are Lunar Black. I added a few accents on the building with Burnt Sienna. I used the Faber-Castell, Pitt, White marker to add highlights on the building. I attempted to use the white marker in the sky but didn’t like how it looked (upper right hand corner) and quickly moved into Cobalt Blue to soften the marker and complete the sky. The paper handled light washes of watercolor nicely.
Next I sketched the scene on a cool gray paper. I used Mi-Teintes
COOL Toned Paper
paper. The image is drawn with a pen (waterproof ink). The people in the scene are more prominent. The man and woman on the right walking arm in arm. A tribute to the woman I met that day in Siena. They will remain together forever in my sketch. As you can see the cool gray paper effects the transparent watercolors and the sketch has a different feeling. I used White Gouache with Cobalt Blue in the sky. For the lights on the building the Faber-Castell Pitt White marker. I really like the look of a toned surface with watercolor. The paper will warp a little, I don't mind.
I’m heading to Belgium this week. I’ll keep my eyes (and heart) open to new experiences. Next year I'm teaching a workshop in the South West region of France. You can learn more here, French Escapade.
I leave you with a favorite quote. It speaks to my heart and mind of how I feel when I am sketching and exploring my world.
The Sketch Hunter "The sketch hunter moves through life as he finds it, not passing negligently the things he loves, but stopping to know them, and to note them down in the shorthand of his sketchbook.” ~Robert Henri
Teaching workshops across the US and abroad has given me with the opportunity to travel. Last Fall I was in Italy. I spent a few days in Florence before I joined the workshop and traveled to the Chianti region. I had an amazing time teaching (two workshops), enjoying food, exploring new sights, sketching and getting to know the women in the workshops.
The final excursion of the trip we visited the beautiful city of Siena. In the morning I did a demo showing the benefits of working on a toned surface. After the morning session the participants had free time on their own before meeting back at the pick up location. Everybody had a different plan for the afternoon: shopping, walking tour, sketching, leisurely lunch in a cafe.
I decided to strike out on my own and explore Siena.
My plan was to find a little corner where I could blend into a wall, observe what life is really like in Siena and sketch. After walking around for an hour I finally found the perfect spot. I watched kids coming home from school, girls flirting with boys, women carrying groceries… I tucked into a doorway that wasn't being used. I had the perfect view of Santa Maria, in Provenzano. The VIEW, the LIGHT…it was amazing! I felt so happy. About 5 minutes into the sketch a car pulled in front of me and parked. The first thing I thought was ARE YOU SERIOUS!? With lots of places to park on the street and you have to park in front of me? But I held my tongue. The woman got out of her car waving her hands in the air speaking Italian. I finally heard a few words I understood, “I have to park here! I have to park here my husband is coming home from the
“Quote by John W. Gardner
hospital, in an ambulance”. She kept repeating the line over and over. All I could say was…OK. She went in a door across the street. I sat there half stunned. I decided to make the best of the small view I had. A short time later she came out of her home. She didn’t say a word to me. She just moved her car forward just so I could see. My heart sank. I wanted to cry out…Don’t worry about me! But I kept my mouth shut. The day wasn’t about me and I wanted her to forget about me and focus on her husband coming home. Within a few minutes and ambulance arrived and then her adult children. They were there to bring him home. When I saw him being lifted out of the ambulance I knew he wasn’t coming home to recuperate. He was coming home to die.
I sat on the steps a little while longer, finished my sketch and walked to a nearby café. I felt very far from home and the person I loved the most, Mike. I got a cup of cappuccino, bought chocolates to take home to Mike and wrote down my thoughts. I was overwhelmed with emotions. Why am I telling you this story? Because a few hours earlier in the day I set out to view life in Siena. Not the tourist view, but real life. And that’s exactly what I saw! Life is no sweeter in Italy, France, Spain… it's easy to think grass is greener or life is sweeter somewhere else. No matter where we go in the world: all people mourn, laugh, cry, love and ache. It’s the people in our lives that make life special…not the place.
Since I returned home from Italy I've sketched Santa Maria Church numerous times. It's a wonderful opportunity to show different approaches to watercolor. Stay tuned...I'll be posting that lesson within a week.
In my last post I told you about my plans to cut back on workshops and travel, in 2020. In the post, Pulling in the Reins I expressed my desire to regain more time for myself and creative energy. I feel like the universe is testing my ability to stick with what I said. Since I posted I've been contacted my three European companies and countless watercolor societies across the US. I only weakened once!!! It's hard to say no, when I enjoy what I do. But I am wise enough to know my limits! I'm not my best self when stretched too thin. To keep myself accountable I am letting you know that next year looks like. I have trimmed back...a little. It may not look like it...but 11 is less than 15 (wink).
Hope to see you along the way! Hugs, Brenda
January 13-17, 2020 (Jan. 12 Demo) Negative Painting with Watercolor, 5-Day Workshop 10150 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs, FL 34135 www.artcenterbonita.org Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Workshop Page
April 21-24 (April 20 Demo) Negative Painting with Watercolor, 4-Day workshop SWA Society of Watercolor Artists, Fort Worth, TX www.swawatercolor.com Contact: email@example.com 817-478-2676 Details to come...
May 5-8, 2020 (Demo 4th) Negative Painting with Watercolor, 4-Day Workshop Albuquerque, New Mexico NMWS www.nmwatercolorsociety.org Mary Jane: firstname.lastname@example.org Barbara: email@example.com Details to come
July 8-10, 2020 Illustrated Journal with Watercolor, 3-Day Workshop Daniel Smith Art Store, Seattle, WA Workshop Details
July 11 - Free Public Demo Daniel Smith Art Store, Seattle, WA, Info: 206-223-9599 Events Page
July 12-15, 2020 Negative Painting with Watercolor, 4-Day Workshop Daniel Smith Art Store, Seattle, WA, Info: 206-223-9599 Workshop Details
Since I was 8 years old I’ve wanted to be an artist. When I told a step-parent my dream I was told find something else. At that moment the small seed of hope that lived within me was crushed. I wasn’t good enough.
In my mid-20’s I gathered courage and took classes at Pasadena City College. The same year my youngest son began 1st grade. I was studying illustration, painting and design. He studied crayons, paper and paste. Within a few years I found watercolor. Unfortunately my first teacher was discouraging. She was more interested in her favorite students. I didn’t try watercolor again for 3 years. When I found the right teacher my world opened up!!! Her name was Verna Wells. I learned that the best teacher not only instructs but encourages and nurtures the seed with each student.
As my skills grew my paintings started to be recognized. I was asked to teach a weekly class and I’ve never looked back. That was more than 20 years ago. Teaching has become a mission of mine. I’ve tried to show every person who came through my door (a workshop) that they were valued and had something unique and wonderful to offer. The rewards have come in many forms: letters, notes, private conversations and cherished friendships. The most profound reward has come in knowing…I am enough. The seed that was crushed as a child is now a tree.
All living things on earth need time to rest, gather strength and rejuvenate. God created season’s for a reason. During the dormant months we may not see growth on the surface but beneath things are happening. I feel a need to push my roots deeper and grow stronger. Growth takes time and energy. I have so many things I have yet to explore and my head it exploding with ideas…but I lack the time and energy to do it. If I desire something I need to make changes.
What I'm trying to tell you? I’m pulling in the reins. This year I have 15 workshops and next year I have 9. Somewhere between 6 and 8 will be the perfect number. Do I want to stop teaching? No, teaching is the core of who I am. I love it. But, I plan on being more selective of when and where I teach and the number of workshops each year. Instead of running at full speed I am bringing my teaching schedule down to a gentle trot. I’m excited for what the future holds.
My current workshop schedule is on my website and all sessions have a wait list. I’ll be posting my 2020 workshop schedule in a month or so.
Gotta run for now. I need to pack for a flight. Tomorrow I’ll be doing a demonstration for the California Watercolor Society, followed by a 3-day workshop starting the following day. Happy Painting! Brenda
Lately I’ve been looking into framing options. I don’t always want to use a mat, glass/acrylic. I am entering more shows that have oils and acrylics. These show do not have the same standards as watercolor societies and do not require a mat or glass/acrylic.
A word of WARNING…Most watercolor societies DO NOT allow a painting with any kind of varnish in a show. If you decide to explore these options you may not be able to enter the painting in a desired show…do your homework first!
CLAYBORD After reading an article in Watercolor Artists Magazine I realized Claybord might have more possibilities that I thought. The product is made by Ampersand and has been around for a while. Claybord comes in a couple different surfaces.
Let me show you what I learned. I did two small pieces to explore the surface. I used the 5 x 7 Claybord, Textured. I used my inexpensive brushes since the surface felt rougher then watercolor paper. And the surface isn’t absorbent so I didn’t need a brush that held a lot of water.
The rooftop scene in Santa Barbara was done by wetting the Claybord first and letting the paint float on the surface in the same fashion as wet into wet. The surface does not absorb like watercolor paper and it takes longer for the surface to completely dry. It has interesting qualities that I like.
With the Persimmons I left a lot of the Claybord untouched and let the white of the Claybord exposed. I like how the paint moved on the surface and the colors remained bright. The surface has very little absorbency so the paint remains on the surface. It was easy to glaze on and get the results I wanted. I specially like how easy it was to lift paint and reclaim whites.
It’s important to seal the surface so the image has a barrier from the elements (dirt, smoke…) and light. I used KRYLON UV-Resistant, Acrylic Coating. I applied 3 or 4 coats. Let thoroughly dry between coats.
…You can stop here or go one step further. My painting “Kettles & Cups” has the addition of Dorland’s Wax. Read below…
DORLAND’S WAX When I want a special finish I use Dorland’s Wax. It is non-yellowing and adds a soft glow to the surface. Step #1 Seal surface of painting with a couple light coats of UV-Resistant acrylic varnish Step #2 Scoop out a small amount of wax with a lint free cloth and apply it in a circular motion. As soon as your cloth "drags", scoop out more wax. Step #3 Allow coat to dry 24 hours. Step #4 Using a clean, dry and lint free cloth, buff the surface. You'll see a very slight sheen. Step #5 Apply a second coat, let dry 24 hours and buff to a slight sheen.
There's a lot of information available on the internet when it comes to researching products. I don’t pretend to know it all but I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned along the way.
I have sketched with pens for years. About 10 years ago I switched over to fountain pens. I like fountain pens because of the varied sizes of pens in my hands and the multitude of nibs available. I like the variety of lines that can be created with nibs of different widths and materials. I’ve enjoyed using fine, extra fine, medium, broad, italic, flex, music nib and more. But let’s save this topic for another day.
When it comes to ink color I like anything but…black. The brands and colors I like come in bottles. I like light grey, brown and sepia tones. I have a few water soluble inks but I mostly use waterproof ink.
I’ve read discussions on Facebook about different inks and how they react to sunlight, archival quality and whether they’re waterproof, semi waterproof or water soluble. As you know…If you ask a question on a public forum you'll get many opinions but not necessarily the correct answer. I did a little research on my own. It was challenging to find information I wanted on testing for Lightfast and Archival Qualities. I decided to do my own tests. I’m sharing the results with you.
To start with, I made swatches of ink on 4"x 2" inch cards of 140lbs cold press (not) watercolor paper. When dry I covered half the swatch with another piece of watercolor paper. I put the swatches in a plastic sleeve and taped against a window for 30 days. These tests were done during the summer, 2018.
I made a short video showing the results of my tests. One of my favorites didn't pass the test...but I was pleasantly surprised by many others. Hope you find this information helpful. To be clear Lightfast: not prone to discolor or fade when exposed to light. Archival: Is pH neutral and acid-free.
To see all the results check out this short video by clicking on the image below or following this link: Ink Testing Video.
November is looking like a blur and December is full speed ahead!
Last month I was feeling low. The holidays are an emotional time of year for me (I’m not alone here). I was missing people in my family who have moved away or died in the last few years. With Thanksgiving a week away and I managed to pinched nerve in my lower back, break a crown and chipped another tooth. The California wildfires were raging in numerous communities. The suffering and loss was especially heart breaking. I felt helpless to make a difference. That’s when I was blessed with an idea. Have a “Fire Relief Sale”. It was an answer to my prayers. Quickly my sadness was replaced with joy... because I could do something for someone else! I could use my art to raise money. I had a new focus...not on me but on others. I was feeling like myself again.
Thank you for helping me make a difference to the victims of the California Wildfires. Within 30 hours I sold 25 paintings and countless calendars. I donated 100% of the profits to the American Red Cross and Animal Shelters (directly serving the areas effected). I have been deeply touched by the cards and letter that accompanied the checks. So many lovely messages, stories, well wishes and words of kindness. Thank you!
My back is almost normal again and I've been able to return to activities I enjoy without pain. I had another dentist appointment this morning. Almost good as new!
I'm a native Californian. I love this state and the people in it. I live 5 miles from where I was born and I know where I’ll be buried. In a small cemetery near my grandparents. I am deeply connected to this place I call home.
Californians have suffered deeply…so much loss, pain and suffering. Numerous wildfires consumed and destroyed homes, streets and communities. People lost more than property…they lost loved ones: family, friends and pets. The number of people still unaccounted for is staggering. I can’t imagine how horrible their death was. The Camp Fire—the deadliest fire in California history. As of today (11-20) The Camp fire has charred 151,373 acres, 373 more acres than the last count announced Monday night. It stood at 70 percent containment, according to Cal Fire, and at least 16,838 buildings, 12,637 of them homes, were lost in the blaze. I haven't even mentioned the Woolsey fire in Santa Monica!
I’ve felt overwhelmed and powerless. The bombardment of news became too much to watch. How can I help? What can I do? I am not trained or emotionally equipped. My heart is heavy. In the quiet hours I’ve prayed for the victims, the survivors, the first responders, the volunteers… What can I do?
And then the answer came. I can sell my artwork and donate100% of the profits to the American Red Cross California Wildfires Response and Animal Shelter/Rescues (directly serving the areas effected). The money can help those who are trained and able to help the most. The thought I could use my artwork to help others is an answer to my prayer. I’m going to call it my FIRE Relief SALE.
To purchase a painting directly with the painting #number (upper right corner).
I’ll reply with confirmation, purchase and shipping details. You have 7 business days for your check to arrive (no charge cards). I’ll send the painting right away. The price you pay includes taxes and shipping. Artwork does not include a mat or frame the dimensions are rounded off to the nearest inch.
I also have a limited number of Calendars for 2019. Inside you'll find 12, 8x10 full color reproductions of my paintings. I will donate 100% of profits at $35.00 each (includes taxes and postage).
If you'd like to help by purchasing a painting or calendar let me know by December 5th. Shipping of paintings and calendars is limited to the United States.
Help in any way you can...I believe in prayer. Brenda