"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lessons from watercolor painting

Great Plains rain...6" by 9"
Art is always a teacher, if I'm willing to learn. I'm drawn to watercolor because the type-A personality in me, the perfectionist, is seeking liberation from the urge to be responsible for everything, to control outcomes.
I learn from watercolor lessons that apply to living, as well as painting, and certainly about seeing. I wish I'd gone to art school, and been able to study and paint with my Dad. But the times are long past for that, so I try to make do with what I've been privileged to learn and attempt over the past 13 or so years.
 There have been some successes, and a lot of failures, but they've all taught me, and kept me either humble or happy, or both. Discouragement has been frequent, but somehow, I've not quit trying. I do know I could be so much better. Some of that improvement comes from reading, especially my periodic notes in a journal. Here are a few.

  • A failure isn't a failure if you learn from it.
  • You can't control everything, so don't try.
  • Being tight negates creativity, art and life.
  • Light is much better than dark.
  • My skies are the best, because I'm most loose, and free, when I paint them. I love skies. Lesson?
  • Diagonals command attention. Straight lines are boring.--in art and life.
  • The contrast of light and dark, warm and cool, gives the most impact. Life without contrast is dull.
  • Painting is problem solving, and solving those problems takes your mind off all other problems.
  • I know how to compose--the trick is to compose and then let creativity take over. Composition is truth--creativity is spirit. Jesus said to worship in spirit and truth.
  • Wet into wet gives the most unpredictable, the most lack of control, the most creativity, the most freedom.
  • It's taken a long time to develop my writing voice, but even thought it was gradual and sometimes unconscious, it didn't just happen. How can I expect my watercolor voice, style, to just happen? 
  • My best paintings--Christmas cards--are good because they're fast and loose. They're impressions from my mind, not a photograph, therefore they're my style. I forget that the bigger the painting. Quit trying to live a life--live today.
  • The cards are instinctive illusions of reality, as is all art. Quit worrying about details and paint instinctively. Live instinctively.
  • What are the connections between my writing and watercolors? There are if I find them. I see the connections between my photography and painting.
  • I've ruined a lot of paintings with over attention to small details, especially in foregrounds. You don't like people who pay too much attention to small details in life and work, so quit.
  • Homer and Turner and Russell used anything that worked in their paintings. They didn't care about rules, or expectations. They were secure in themselves and honest, and successful. People who aren't secure in themselves and aren't honest, aren't successful.
  • Painting is best when you're having fun. So is life.


  1. Great post Terry, you've certainly learned a lot about paintings and life. I'm not an artist at all but I've learned in both my work and home life that you have to have your own voice. You can't borrow somebody's else's. You can learn from them, but don't copy them.

  2. Wonderful information about the painting.this blog will definitely help me glob alot.Visit one more site at here Watercolor Techniques for Beginners

  3. Your time showing all your talent is so appreciated. Have learned so much from your posts.


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