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I was in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden today with a friend, and there were several artists there all with a big wheeled seat with a bag attached that would hold enough for a week of  clothes in addition to art supplies. Must have been a group of some sort.  I have a much simpler setup that I can hold with one hand while I sit on a bench or a small folding chair if I chose to bring one.

It’s a modification of a Frank Herring and Sons “compact palette”.

frank herring and sons compact palette jpeg


My modification: overall view.  Notice that I am able to hold the palette, the water bottle (you only see the top) , and the pad of paper with one hand.  It’s very convenient when you’re sitting on a bench and trying to juggle and balance everything.  It is difficult to see the modifications in this photo, so I have some closeups below.





<—–the plastic Frank Herring compact watercolor palette which I have modified available from Jackson’s Art Supply in England or check with Frank Herring’s website here.


















A readily available water bottle, just by chance, happens to screw securely into the thumb hole.  It’s a wide mouth HDPE bottle 4 oz made of Nalgene that I got in a camping store. I usually carry two of these. Here is the Amazon reference.    There is one in the photo to the right that is standing up.  Then in the small thin compartment on the right of the palette, which I assume is for a travel brush, I have cut a hole that allows me to slip a banker’s clip in that attaches (clips)  the entire palette to the pad.  The banker’s clip is in the rightmost photo on its side. Here is the Amazon reference for the banker’s clip.  the orange from a rough arches paper block shows through the thumb hole and the cut in the brush compartment in the rightmost photo.

I made the cut for the banker’s clip by drawing an outline with a sharpie, then using a thin nail to hammer in little dents in the soft plastic as guides so a drill bit would not slip, then I made a row of drill holes and use a shop knife to cut between them.  It’s an inelegant way to do so, but the compartment is narrow.  The hole has to be somewhat big because the banker’s clip has a bend in it that sticks up.  It has to be about halfway down because the water bottle sticks down and would hit the pad of paper if the clip were too high.

The Frank Herring compact palette is made out of soft plastic that stains pretty badly but the stain does not get into any paint. There must be a better plastic.   It’s a little stiff to open.  The units for paint can hold a small pan as you can see by looking at the red which is good if you want to change your palette, but it’s a little hard to do so because the fit is so tight.  That said, it’s definitely good enough.

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I have already posted on this subject but only my preliminary observations. See here for what I said.  In this first post on the subject I only discussed “darks”.  In this post, I am going to be more comprehensive.  As far as I can see at the moment, there are the following six problems to juicy watercolors technique when you start a painting.  I am recommending doing them as exercises totally distinct from making a painting.  I am thinking of what it’s like for a musician to learn an instrument and trying to develop an equivalent practice.  We artists tend to always start with the artistic equivalent of a performance.

There is one book, “Hawthorne on Painting”, which is really a compilation of lecture notes taken by his students when he was at Provincetown, MA, that says that you should consider that what you are doing is “starts” which, of course, will invariably fail.  Instead of trying to fix them which won’t work, particularly in watercolor, and waste a lot of time and effort, throw them away and do another “start”.  Little by little you’ll get further along before you discard the painting.

The six problems

  1. darks
  2. lights
  3. drawing out the mid tones
  4. backgrounds
  5. patterns
  6. why not’s

Now to the main ideas about painting and the emperor’s rooster:chinese rooster jpeg

I am proposing a series of practice brush exercises (which, of course, a Chinese artist would find very familiar and would have been doing for years). See on the internet “mountain-water painting” or Shan shi.  Here is a modern Chinese video I particularly like done in that wet, juicy style.  They are black and white for the most part, but that is much more difficult than using color.

There is the story of the emperor who wanted a drawing of a rooster.  He sent a message to that effect to a well-known artist.  Nothing happened for a very long time.  Annoyed the emperor made an unannounced visit to the artist’s studio and demanded the painting.  The artist went into a back room and returned with his brush, put down some paper, and did a wonderful rooster painting in just a few moments.  The emperor, of course, wanted to know why it took so long since it just took the artist in a few moments, and, of course, why he was charging so much.  The artist opened the back room and the emperor saw that it was filled with practice exercises of roosters.  We want to be like that artist — ready for the emperor when he comes.

multicolor swatches

I suggest making “swatches”.  That is putting paint down and not being that concerned about the boundaries demarking a particular form.    Then you could graduate to using a quick sketch of a sphere as the form on which to practice just because spheres have been used for years in art school  and have somewhat complicated value structure in terms of the form values and the cast shadow values.  Then you might graduate to quickly scribbled forms of trees or people, etc. thinking about the value structure.  At some point, maybe after your studio has filled up with these studies, you will find that you can adapt a multi-colored swatch to any particular form you are trying to paint.

core shadow jpeg

If you start with just one color, usually black, then you will have to concern yourself with the various values you can coach out of the paint you have put down, variations in the granulation of the pigment, and so forth.  You might have to blot out some lights and draw out mid tones.  It’s actually harder than using multiple colors to get interesting variety.

I prefer myself to use two or three colors,  always mixing cool and warm.    I first put the paint side-by-side and let them flow into each other.  You have to get to like the abstract color combinations and accept the defects that occur.  The watercolor does things by itself.  Let it happen.

dark swatches 0002

The top are formless swatches and the bottom have spherical shapes




light swatches 2

warm and cool experiments








Darks:  As Charles Reid says “The darks carry the painting“.   You should start with the darks when you begin a painting. Obviously, you will have to use paint that is dark-valued like deep blues, mineral violet, black, earth colors.   Even an intense, strong red works for some reason as a dark.  You can use it as a shadow.  But the dark paint itself has to be high in chroma, intense in color, not diluted with a lot of water.  Therefore, it can’t be student grade paint which doesn’t start with a lot of pigment.  It might be best if it were the new Golden CoR paint which uses a “synthetic gum arabic” substitute which holds a higher pigment load than regular watercolor made with gum arabic and is more transparent without the slightly yellow gum arabic cast to it.  I think that is the paint that I used on the dark swatches above.

paddling at Dusk Homer

This is Winslow Homer’s “Paddling at Dusk” (in the Rochester Museum) from his Adirondack period after he learned about Japanese art probably from LaFarge.   Now that’s what I call swatches!!!  Notice the white is “reserved” (unpainted) paper.  The blue here is probably Antwerp Blue, a favorite of Homer, but the way it was formulated in his day is not done anymore.  It’s an iron blue (e.g. Prussian Blue) with white in it and fades in sunlight.

Do not mix the different colors of paint together on the palette.  Let them mix or mix them on the paper.  Of course, you might have to do some mixing on the palette to get a green or a violet or an orange (tertiary colors) if you usually do not buy them from the store, but then don’t mix with other colors on the palette.

Any paint you use has to be “activated”, that is wet enough to stick the tip of a brush into it, pretty much like paint that has just come out of the tube.  Wet it with a spray bottle and wait.   The brush itself can’t be holding too much water.  Dip it in water and give it two very vigorous shakes.  I find myself even touching the tip to a paper towel after the shakes.    The amount of water in the brush is basically the inverse of the amount of water in the paint on your palette. In this case, you want the water in the paint itself just as if you had bought some latex house paint!  If you can’t stick the tip of the brush into the paint, then you need a lot of water on the brush and you have to scrub to get paint.  You still won’t get enough, and you’ll kill the tip of your brush.

Don’t get the idea that you are going to just put down two dabs of  paint.  The idea of the exercise to fuss around and experiment.  You put paint more or less side-by-side in the beginning and see how they mix, but then you can “charge in” more paint wet-in-wet.  Sometimes charge in the same paint to get the area to have strong enough color and sometimes new paint.  Sometimes you might blot or take out some paint with a brush.  Experiment.  As long as the paint is wet and the paper is shiny, you can go back in again and again with more paint of the same kind or new paint.  However, once it is only damp (it feels cold but does not look shiny.  It also smells a bit like wet paint.), you can’t do much without the wet paint you add flowing into  the damp paint and making a “blossom” or “bloom”.

watercolor bloom

Some people like these, but most do not.

Water (e.g. watercolor paint)  not only flows downhill, it will flow from a wet to a less wet area.  It will not invade a completely dry area, but you will get a hard edge between the new paint and the old dry paint.


The version on paper is darker and the spherical forms do not show as much.

Here’s something from the floor of my studio that the Emperor doesn’t get to see which I think illustrates the idea.  I did a few swatches at the top and then decided to adapt some of what I was doing to a tree form.  That’s the basic idea of the exercises.  Ultimately you are going to try to match a swatch idea you had to some forms in your drawing.

I am favorably impressed with the  small spot of cadmium yellow shining through the green as you can see in the rightmost tree at about 2 o’clock.  I’m sure I’ll use this somewhere.  Also, the tree trunk on that rightmost tree uses ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, a classical way to make a gray in watercolor, but I’ve varied the amount of each, and I kind of like that too.  The green is sap green (that all I had on my palette) the yellow is raw sienna for the most part in the trees.  There’s also some violet and some cool red.

The foliage of the trees seems a little too much of lots of little spheres. It might work in some contexts.   I think that’s because I was doing spheres at the time and there was no underdrawing.  I have to remember to use bigger and more amorphous forms with an underdrawing.

Midtones:  You don’t put in mid tones, you wet a brush and draw the midtones out of the darks into other parts or lift out some color in a swatch.  This has the additional advantage of softening or losing some edges and connecting areas, but that’s another discussion.

Lights:  Here the trick is not to paint the lights at all.  Leave as much white paper as possible all over the painting.  For example, if you go to sketch night, you may have the problem of a nude Caucasian model whose skin is mostly “white”, that is light.  There probably will be a distinction between skin that is exposed to sunlight which is very slightly warm and skin that is not which is very slightly cool. You might float in on prewetted paper some light warms and light cools around the edges of large white areas making subtle swatches.  Or you might be outside where there are white birches or London Plane trees with patches of very light bark.  Leave them unpainted paper.

London Plane

by Charles Reid in his Watercolor Secrets p.65 North Light Books. 2004 Notice the tree and all the unpainted areas as well as the intense colors. A great book. It is actually from his personal notebooks.  Second hand on Amazon for $20 (March 2016).


Backgrounds:  Don’t paint in the entire negative space of the background.  In fact, don’t hesitate to leave the background unpainted altogether.

I would, first of all, consider what is called “counter change” in decided how to handle a background.  See here for a discussion by James Gurney.  The idea is to compare the value and intensity of the color of the negative space with the positive space.  If the positive space (the thing in the painting) is dark, make its background light (or white by reserving paper.) On the other hand, if the positive space is light, make the negative space behind it dark.  Counter change refers to doing this for one object that transverses both a light and dark background like a tree rising against dark green but continuing up against a light blue sky.  The top is dark contrasting with the light blue and the bottom is light, also contrasting.  James Gurney even suggests having passages that are light against dark, dark against light, light against light, and dark against dark.  His prototypical figure is a windmill with lots of vanes.  The idea is to make each vane or sail of the windmill have a different figure-background type.

Otherwise you can just play around with colors that you like and decorate the painting.

If there is a main subject in the middle of the painting, let’s say a tree, it is important to continue the background to the other side of the tree so that it appears to go behind it.  In contrast to how I recommend you do the darks, wet the paper first for backgrounds.

Patterns:  like a rug or a plaid shirt.  Paint it with fairly dry paint, but then after it is done, flood some water over parts of it to smudge it.

Why nots:  these are drips, splashes, and blotches as well as spots of color just for fun, perhaps in the corners of the composition.  Knock a wet brush against your hand and splash paint somewhere. Sometimes people put in a random selection of colored dots or a splash of color in an otherwise unoccupied corner.  I’m not sure what these say to people, but I think the comic book artist invented the idea.  Occasionally someone will start with a splash and work over it, leaving very little to see.  The why nots you see in Charles Reid’s people or Ewa Ludwiczak (on Facebook and her blog) are often bright splashes of cadmium red.


Here’s a face by Ewa Ludwiczak who does very good work and acknowledges that she is heavily influenced by Charles Reid. I think these spots of red work on parts of the body that tend to get red in real life from pressure like elbows, feet,  knees, and hands and to a much less degree than shown noses. The red cheeks, however, seem out of place to me.  Reid has mentioned that the red nose brings it forward, and it’s clear to me he is thinking about the planes of the face when he paints.  But I still think the areas like those above are best classified as why nots.

There’s more to come because we are only discussing one form painted in its wet state.  When this first swatch dries, there is the possibility of another layer you might want to consider in a real painting.    When you have more forms, there’s the issue of edge control between forms.  You want to lose some edge like in the model’s left mouth above.  Sometimes you might do that to a whole eye.  You also want to do what James Gurney calls “shape weld” combine some of the shapes, particularly the shadow shapes.  But that another set of exercises that builds on this set.  You could probably base such an exercise on two swatches next to each other.

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An exercise in technique

Most instruction in watercolor is in the form of a step-by-step demonstration.  I don’t find these particularly helpful.   Very often what the artist says is the color he or she is using.   What particularly bothers me is the step-by-step demonstration begins after there has been a very careful drawing on the paper.   So the demonstration is really about coloring a given drawing.  Furthermore, the teacher is often a very accomplished draftsperson like Joseph Zbukvic, and, until you can draw like him, you will never have a painting like his.  John Yardley is another person who draws well and then puts what looks like sloppy washes over it.

There are two major schools of watercolor:  1.  the Three Washes  School starts with light wash over most of the drawing while reserving dry paper for the lightest light and highlights. This is left to dry very completely.   Mdark swatchesaybe this first wash is divided into a top and bottom wash.  Then mid tones are put in and finally the darks.  The point is that the drawing is “colored” inside the lines.   I’ve not been very detailed about this because  I am not talking about that sort of approach here although I appreciate it, particularly historically since it goes back to the origins of watercolor in the Romantic Era in art (after the Neoclassical era.)

2.  The Wet-in-wet. “juicy”, “watery” approach.  This is the approach that I am interested in myself.  It is, more or less, post-impressionistic  like Matisse, Cezanne, Bonnard, Vuillard or even the fauvists.  That is, the neoclassical approach that “rounds the form” by carefully creating a shadow side is not followed.  Cezanne is commonly said to have changed hue rather than tone to indicate a shadow-side of a subject.  That is, he did not darken the “form hue” to make a shadow, he changed the hue on the form.  Bonnard tried to always use warm and cool hues in every passage in his approach although Cezanne did not.

It was also discovered that you can use “spots” of color and leave a lot of reserved paper blank (white).  That is, it didn’t matter if you didn’t finish “coloring” something like a nose.

Once you have a dark enough outline to a form what was discovered was that inside and around that contour line you could play with color to make combinations that were attractive, and it read just as legibly as if you had studiously tried to capture a color likeness.  Cezanne and Bonnard worked on many canvases at the same time because they could then use a color that they had mixed and liked everywhere.

In addition, what is being emphasized is the light (with lots of reserved paper even little sparkles of white pits all over) not the dark.

So if that’s the case, you can skip the step-by-step and just play with watercolor.  There are two approaches I’ve tried to developing for myself an exercise.  One is making colored swatches (a suggestion I found buried in the massive oeuvre of Charles Reid) or use the tried and true tradition academy approach of an exercise of working on a sphere, cylinder, or cube.  As most people are aware the light on a sphere has been worked out it detail in the Academies.  It is called sometimes, sculptural light.   It requires a single light source.  Anyway, I’ve tried it and found it very useful.  I have  visual examples above.  I suggest you try it.  But beware, you must have thick paint on your brush.  “Activate” your pans so that the point of the brush can penetrate the top layer.  I followed this approach:  First put down a core shadow on the sphere.  Then I washed out the mid-tones in the light from that with a watery brush reserving the highlight  (which may be a little big).

core shadow jpeg

I followed this approach with the sphere.  First I put down a “core shadow” on the sphere (between light and dark), not labeled as such in graphic but visible in my examples.  That is put down the dark in fairly thick paint right from the pan. I think I’ve noticed little hunks of pure pigment sticking to Charles Reid’s brush in some of his videos.  Then I washed out the mid-tones in the light from that dark first passage with a watery brush reserving the highlight  (which may be a little big).  You can make all sorts of complex variations of value that suggest an underlying form.  I then tried a wet-in-wet for the dark part of the sphere, playing around with “dark” paint (an intense red is dark in this sense).  Sometimes some of the paint looked like reflected light and sometimes forms a rim. But it looked good to me.  “Playing around” means I blot and pick out with a “thirsty brush” from the initial mark if there seems to be too much of the same look to a passage, and I add a different paint into the wet or place it side-by-side and let them run into each other.  The paint can’t be too wet or it will just mix to a solid one color. (so shake the brush off a few times).  Don’t forget the cast shadow with its three different tones (a very dark right under the sphere, a dark, and then a “penumbra” of washed out weak shadow further away which gives you a lot to play with color and how watery something looks.

Image 010Then transfer this approach to a drawing.  Here’s an example.  I like the face and do not like the hair, and some other passages but it dried on me for some reason or other.  But, in fact, I don’t think wet-in-wetters are too upset about mistakes, drips, splashes, and “blossoms” or back-runs.  It’s not a painting but an extension of the sphere exercises.

The point is to try to develop an aesthetic sense of what looks good to you.  First the contour drawing and then the splashy, juicy, watery color.

So, I should end by mentioning you are trying to make a painting that people who see it don’t say “that’s a pretty girl” or  “I wish I knew her”, “but that’s a beautiful painting. Who did it?”   You want them to look at it as an object of art, and then at the signature.


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The revolutionary new binder from Golden

Golden the company that introduced to artists acrylic paint which switched out the linseed oil of oil paint for a modern chemical binder has done the same thing for watercolor paints.  As you know the binder (or glue that holds the pigment particles to the paper) in watercolor is gum arabic a natural substance that varies a great deal and is has a slight color.  Golden as found an alternative which is called Aquazol.  They refer to it as “exclusive” but it’s available at Kremer pigments if you want to try it yourself with some pigment.

They have called their product “QoR” for “quality of results” and suggest it be pronounced “core”.   There are 83 colors.  That means that for each of the 83 paints they have had to adjust all the other things that go into their watercolor paints like products that retain water; and, therefore, make less hard when they dry.

Golden makes the following claims:

  • Incredibly smooth transitions
  • Good flow and liveliness on the paper
  • Vivid color depth in one stroke
  • More density of color than traditional watercolors
  • Amazing vibrancy after drying
  • Excellent resolubility in water
  • Excellent glazing qualities
  • Greater resistance to embrittlement

Basically, they say that the “pigment load” is more and, therefore, the color is more intense, and the binder is colorless so that, unlike gum arabic it doesn’t block light.  They are using some genuine earth pigments which are much duller than the ones now made from rusted iron.

I’ve seen it in Blick, but. in some of their stores, there is only a small choice.  It does not seem significantly more expensive than other watercolor paint.  I have only done the math for Ultramarine Blue.  In Blick on-line Winsor Newton is $1.o39 per ml of paint and Golden CoR is $1.125/ ml.  That about 8 cents more expensive for CoR.

I’m in the process of trying them out.    I, myself, was perfectly satisfied with gum arabic watercolor paints because I am not an impressionist in the sense of trying to make everything in the picture in high chroma.  In fact, I usually prefer just a small area to stand out.  But this is a matter of taste.


Caran d’Ache “neocolor” II watersoluble

caran d'Ache

These are water-soluble wax pastels.  There are 126 colors, but what appeals to me is the compactness of the small set for carrying into the field.  I’m pleased with the colors.  You put them down on the paper as you would with a crayon and then wash water over them.  On watercolor paper I’ve found that I am only able to put the pastel on the upraised bumps, and when I add water I get a pretty dry brush effect.  I still can’t get a really juicy wash from them.  I think if I put a lot of pressure on them it might work, but I think they will break in large pieces which will then dissolve with water, but then it’s much less inconvenient than regular watercolor.  However, I want to repeat that I find the dry brush effect very appealing and will probably, in my work save them for that effect.

Caran d’Ache is a swiss company. but the name comes from a French political cartoonist who took the Russian word for pencil and reconfigured it in a fancy way.



Peerless Water colors (www.peerlesscolor.com)


These are not new, but probably unknown to most people.  They are watercolor paint dried on paper which can be removed with a wet brush (or a waterbrush) although the company suggests cutting a small square and dropping it into water.   They are obviously very portable and with a Japanese waterbrush would make a very compact kit.

I’ve actually illustrated 3 full-sized nature books with a plate on each page with these by just picking color up from paper.  There are many different sets available from the company, but only a smattering of them here and there elsewhere.  I first learned of them because they were used to color photographs.   Again you can’t get a really juicy wash with them in a convenient way.


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tea, milk, honey jpeg

A good teacher of how to make art is not necessarily a particularly outstanding artist.  It’s possible, but basically, a good teacher is someone who knows the mistakes students make and has tried and true methods for correcting them.  The problem is that art schools often hire teachers based on their exhibition record (not, for example, their student’s exhibition record.)   Do not ask to see a teacher’s work.  Ask to see his student’s work, preferably before and after his course — since many already capable artists take courses.   Several of the famous teachers of watercolor would dismally fail this test.

To give a non-art example, which has been extensively studied:   a good teacher of subtraction can instantly recognize the mistakes a young student is making ( like not understanding “carrying”) and can explain how to do it correctly. There are something like 100 possible mistakes while subtracting numbers that a computer might make, but children only routinely make 11 of them.  Good math teachers can spot these and know what to do.

Charles W. Hawthorne who founded the Provincetown art school on Cape Cod as an artist colony and made it famous was one of those great teachers.  He had his students do “starts”, that is begin a painting and then throw it away when it invariably failed.  He knew that spending days trying to rescue a bad painting would be a waste of time.

There are very few such teachers of watercolor who would fit the bill as good teachers.  One of the very best is Marc Taro Holmes from Montreal.   Here is a link to downloads of 4 pamphlets on his Citizen Sketcher web page here .  There’s much more on his website as well worth viewing.  He is mentioned elsewhere in this blog for his perceptive review of Sargent’s exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (also on his webpage).

I came across an early pamphlet of his called “Tea, Milk, Honey” in which he recommends doing a watercolor in three passes, each with different viscosity.  There’s a lot of obscurity in dealing with the viscosity of watercolor paint, that is how “runny” it is, and when to use a particular viscosity.  Tea is transparent and the intensity of the paint is naturally weak, Milk is opaque with strong color, and Honey is gooey.  I don’t think he mentions that it’s a good idea to mix up the paint on the palette rather than go directly from the pan to the paper — but that should be obvious.  He also gives suggestions of where these different washes should go in this pamphlet.  For example the honey wash is last for selected darks.

He has since developed other approaches to problems.  For example, he suggests to begin with an under-drawing that is basically a scribble. (but see below).  It’s safe to do this because you are going to do a drawing in pen using the scribble as a guide but not copying it exactly, and then, when the ink is dry, erase the underlying scribble.  What is the problem he is trying trainbow trout illustrationo correct?  it prevents the sketch from becoming either a “cartoon” (with closed lines in which there is color) or an “illustration” that is so neat and tight that it excludes any participation of the viewer. When you look at an illustration of something, say a fish, you say to yourself, “That’s what a trout looks like” and “it’s a  picture of a nice trout” not “that’s a beautiful painting.”  In other words, he is going at the outset for a work of art, think of that!

Here’s a nice illustration, well done, but it won’t “hold a wall” like a real work of art.

winslow homer trout jpeg

Here’s one of Winslow Homer’s trout picture from his Adirondack days.

By the way, Marc Taro Holmes has taken to suggesting working without a pencil scribble underneath and going straight to pen.  He also has dispensed with the third pass putting in darks in ink because he feels he can add the values with watercolor. (See his blog).  This way you will have more failures, but the keepers will be better.

There will be soon two video lesson on the platform called “Craftsy” by Holmes.  From his website, you can enroll at a discount in the first one.  One of the really nice things about Craftsy’s videos is that you can listen to them at 1.5or 2x the speed.  That is, the person speaks faster without the pitch of the voice becoming squeaky.  You can also jump back an interval of time quickly if you missed something.

If you check out Craftsy, look for Shari Blaukopf (also from Montreal) who is also a watercolorist with a very good video.  Her blog is here  She and Marc Taro Holmes are friends apparently, but do very different work.  She tries to post a painting a day on her blog.  Her teaching style is different but very useful to watch her paint on Craftsy.

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The Met has a new exhibit, theoretically of Sargent’s portraits of his friends and fellow artists.  But they have a small room with what looks like their entire holdings of his watercolors which are not related to the theme.  They must have been left with an extra room.  But, first, here’s his  oil portrait of Hercules Brabazon Brabazon, one of the oddest artist’s name.  I’ve explained how he happened to have changed his last name to the same as his middle name elsewhere in this blog.  He was a playboy and amateur watercolorist who did very fast, super-juicy watercolors whom Sargent encouraged to exhibit.



And here’s a oil sketch of his friend, Ramon Subercaseau, sketching in a Venitian gondola in 1880 which shows how long it’s been hard to juggled watercolor stuff when working outside.

Ramon Subercaseaux 1880

What startled me was that the Met has a whole series of watercolors of male nudes, including a lot of the “Tommy” painting done of World War II English soldiers who were nicknamed that and some nudes from Florida.

IMG_2262 IMG_2258 IMG_2259 IMG_2260 IMG_2261














and some others


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As Marc Taro Holmes pointed out in his perceptive review of the Brooklyn Museum and Boston Museum of Fine Arts show of their holdings of Sargent watercolors, Sargent’s technique was often to use the same approach he used with oils, instead of starting with the lights and proceeding to the darks, he would do the mid tones in watercolor and use gouache for the lights, perfectly acceptable in his day.  In fact, Winslow Homer started this way, but caught on to the prevailing preference for pure watercolors.   Sargent’s famous bravura brush technique is still somewhat evident, but Homer was taught by LaFarge how the Japanese used their watercolor in a much more watery or juicy way.  Also Sargent uses the same palette for all his watercolors.  Nothing wrong with this when you’re making them for yourself — as Sargent was — but, when they are hung all together in a gallery it is quite evident and too repetitive.  As often suggested, if you are painting for a show, don’t use the same palette for all the pictures you are going to hang.

By the way, it was not a frivolous change when the public wanted paintings only done with watercolor.  As LaFrage taught Homer, it is a completely different Asian-inspired aesthetic.

The old oil portraits of Sargent’s friends on display are often disappointing, incidently. Granted they were quickly done and he had the license to be “experimental”, but a lot of them are washed out and the edges all similar and indistinct — somewhat like what an over-cleaned Renaissance painting looks like.  One of them would be unacceptable at the school at which I teach.  On the other hand, they have hung some really great ones like of Wertheimer.  Altogether the ones that were given away are a textbook lesson in what little you can do to convey a form or object.  One has to remember that his theory was that there was one place in the paint which he called “the effect” where the eye is drawn by a sharp contrast of color or value. (In big paintings I think he would admit to a few such “effects.”  The rest was played down.)

At the beginning of the exhibition, there are some easel paintings that are small and hung at eye level which allows you to really look at how he drew the face, particularly the eyes.  (Sargent like Velasquesz and Carolas Duran, his teacher, didn’t use an underdrawing, but “found the drawing while painting”). These small sketches are so differently displayed from the big monsters that are hung very high so your eye is often at the level of the feet.   These are very valuable along with the charcoal drawings he insisted on doing instead of oils at the end of his career ,  make the exhibition really valuable for the artist — as I suppose his really bad paintings do too as well (we all should throw out a certain percentage of what we do.)



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The Sargent watercolor exhibit which I did a post on when it was at the Brooklyn Museum of Fine Art is now in Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts.  They did an interview with Richard Ormand, Sargent’s grandnephew who is, perhaps, the foremost  Sargent scholar.  It was he who organized a show years ago that probably is responsible for the rescue of Sargent’s reputation.   The video is focused on the watercolors in the exhibit more or less but is, of course, more biographical and family oriented than technical.  Ormand gives a fascinating description of the life of a group of wealthy people who moved to different places in Europe (Paris, the South of France or Italy, Switzerland in the summer) with the seasons which Sargent’s family also did (but were not wealthy.)

One of the remarks I like is that when Ormand and a group of scholars were trying to put together all of Sargent’s Venice watercolors for the catalog raissoinee, it occurred to Ormand that there were no watercolors of Saint Marks (which is on the main square and a landmark in Venice — with a lot of pigeons.)  Then he realized the answer was that it wasn’t on the water.  It seems that Sargent did all of his watercolors from gondoliers.   The one under the Rialto Bridge (and the oil from the same spot) is also strange for the same reason because the bridge is such an imposing sight from land.  You also get to see one of Sargent’s sister’s watercolors.  Apparently several years ago a relative found a trunk with 500 of them.

You can find the video here.

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