Seeing Beyond Bob Ross

bob_rossLet me start by fully acknowledging the debt of gratitude the recreational art world owes Mr. “Happy Trees” Bob Ross. He got people painting who never would have dared pick up a brush on the best of days. Why? Because he made art technique accessible. He deciphered the complex with “light-bulb” art moments and gave aspiring painters…wait for it…a formula. Aah yes! The notorious painting “formula”, heralded by hobby “fun” artists as genius and scorned by the high brow “fine art” snobs as cliché and misleading.Read More »

Gear Obsession Intervention

funky-design-icon_GJpDk6Uu_LStop it alright! Just stop. The madness and the addiction has to end. Ok, no it doesn’t actually. Not completely anyway. I’m addicted too and as addictions go I could do a lot worse, but I wanted to sound semi serious for a split second.

What in the Sam Hill am I talking about?! Our beloved art gear! We’re all obsessed aren’t we? Yeeesss, don’t deny it. I can see the 500 questions on the tip of your tongue right now. What brush is that? What brand? What size? What paint is that? What paper is that? Where can I buy it? What hand soap did you use before you started?


I get it. Especially you beginners new to watercolor (or painting in general). You need info, not platitudes and fortune cooking sayings. BUT! in your journey to discover more about watercolor, or any medium, don’t let gear obsession take over your developmental fears. There’s actually a clinical term for this you know, its called FOMO (fear of missing out) and it takes many forms. If that fear takes over, you start missing out on the real skill development fun. I am the first to admit, I love to obsess over gear sometimes, but more because I love to get new stuff and try it out. However, if you let gear obsession feed the lie that you can’t paint really well until you have the exact, right stuff you’re missing out already. Thats right, you’re already at the point you feared. Moving forward in your artistic development is NOT gear related as sure as I’m sitting here on my plump little behind.

Obsess Over This!

Find out just enough about the materials you need to get “decent” brushes, paper and paint and then get to painting. Go ahead and obsess over gear if its for curiosity and experimentation’s sake and you have the money to do so, but not because of FOMO. Far better to obsess over mastering that next cool technique or skill. Master painters can take the materials you have and think are crap and paint you an unbelievable painting, and if they used their preferred gear for the same painting, I doubt you could tell the difference. They can tell because they have the experience to notice subtle differences, most of which play to their preferences and not the results.

Understand me well. I’m not saying gear makes no difference at all, but it makes far less difference than you think. The question I should get but rarely do is, “why are you using that brush, paint or paper.” A far more instructive question than, “what is that?”

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I Did a Doodle and I Don’t Care!

hand-drawn-abstract-background-vector-illustration_MkTCJGuO_LHave you doodled lately? Well you should and regularly at that. I saw a Stefan Bauman video (below) a few months ago and it struck a cord. Like most people, I think a sketchbook is just a sketchbook, right? Something you draw in and use to try to improve through practice or just draw anything that strikes your fancy. Simple. Or is it? Actually, there is a lot of negative psychology associated with regular sketching in a sketchbook. What do I draw? How often should I draw? My sketches look terrible. Shouldn’t my book be a gallery of my best drawing work? blah, blah, blah. Welcome to the doodle sketchbook.

I’m convinced that all artists should have a sketchbook that they set aside for inconsequential doodling. Let me ‘splain. What happens when you doodle? You’re usually doing something else like talking on the phone or listening to boring conversation right? You don’t think much about what you’re doodling, you just draw. What happens when you’re done? The envelope, back of the napkin or edge of your note taking eventually goes in the dumper. Who cares? Enter the doodle sketchbook. Have at your disposal at least one sketchbook designated for “who cares” doodling. Not a really nice or expensive book just any old cheap drawing pad. The drawings can still be purposeful or directed towards specific subjects or practice like any regular sketchbook, the difference is, its more like a scratchpad you keep around but assign no artistic value. You aren’t trying to create great art and you don’t care about the results. This is KEY. In fact, If you’re intimidated by sharing your work, you should probably just tell yourself in advance that this book won’t be shown to anybody. That frees you from the hesitation of getting started or the angst of having your work judged. Bottom line? Your drawing will improve day by day because you’re more likely to draw. No kidding. Keep the book in tact and when you reach the last page you might be amazed at how far you’ve come.


More Than a Likeness: The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte

MoreThanLikenessIf you’ve frequented the fine art or painting section of your local book store, you’ve likely seen one of Mary Whyte’s Books. At least here in the Southern United States her books are a common sight. Watercolor Artist Mary Whyte may not be on the lips of every professional art connoisseur drawing breath, but something tells me that she will be spoken of more and more in years to come (If only by us “real folk.” Sorry art snobs. That probably doesn’t refer to you.) And in those years to come I wonder if we may one day speak of Mary as we now do wildly popular American artists like Andrew Wyeth. You know with that same reverential, wide eyed, understanding nod that makes us feel like we know at least a little something about art. “Oh yeah. that Andrew Wyeth, he’s the best.” But lets not trivialize her work. I have my reasons why I think the air around Mary’s work is rare. I may not be an expert on what makes notable artists notable in the years to come, but it won’t surprise me if Mary ends up as one of them. Who am I kidding, she’s probably half way there already.

Mary Whyte began her artistic life as many of us aspiring artists do, displaying evident talent early on, accompanied by an idealistic passion to pursue it, but thats where the similarities end for most of us. While real life and distraction often brush our grand art dreams aside, Mary persisted, was prolific and sought to infuse her work with key ingredients, namely story and meaning. Her art journey has been almost relentless in that pursuit. Ironically, she found some of those stories strewn right across her path, not because they were obvious, but because she was looking intently for them. Does art like this ring a bell? Oh yeah, thats right, Andrew Wyeth. Ok, so the styles are completely different and perhaps there are many other artists I could more closely compare her to, but both Mary’s and Andrew’s work present visual narratives that vibrate with intimacy and authenticity. Iconic artists that elevate past obscurity, past snobbish pretense and stroll unapologetically across the popular art stage, have discovered that telling meaningful stories with art, about places and lives we never knew existed, embeds those images into our souls. And when its done as prolifically and masterfully as Mary does it, a pedestal rises up to meet that body of work.

More Than a Likeness: The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte is the latest of books about her work. While the other 6 books either present artistic process, instruction, or focus on a specific collection of works, this book is a larger overview of her life, her artistic journey and a good cross section of her artistic projects through the years, not to mention deftly voiced descriptions of the images, compositions and sources for her inspiration thanks to art historian Martha R. Severens. In short, its a good art read, especially for anyone ever wondering what sets apart merely good artists from really important ones.

Mary Whyte’s Website

Artist Mary Whyte’s Labor of Love – CBS Sunday Morning Video


Sharing Skills on Skillshare

Well, I’ve gone and made myself a workshop. Aside from the Strathmore workshops I did earlier in the spring this is my first, and my first paid workshop. Its not long, about 53 minutes total running time for all segments combined. I hope you’ll go and check it out. (For Patreon supporters, this content has also been shared there for everyone at the $5 level or above.)

Here is my Skillshare workshop link and first time subscribers using this link to join will get their first 3 months for only .99 cents.


Why Skillshare?

In short, its reasonably priced and easily accessible for the participant plus user friendly for me, the teacher, making it a good workshop starting point. It doesn’t require that I design lengthy, involved classes, and likewise does not present you with a major time commitment for learning. Its right for where I currently am in this process of sharing my watercolor passion in extended format. This platform was recommended to me by several people and it also seemed a good fit for my YouTube audience who’ve been asking for paid extended content but don’t want to shell out a ton in expensive workshop fees. It also provides me the added benefit of being able to add class projects and allows students to share their projects and start up class discussions. The value is definitely there for my followers since you can also access tons of other instructional content, possibly not even related to art. Simply specify your instructional preferences and you’re presented with tons of learning options, all included for the same monthly price.

Patreon Supporters Please Note

For the foreseeable future this content will usually be duplicated on Patreon. Or I’ll provide free access to the Skillshare workshop. This access may vary depending on support level, so I’m not sure how that will play out exactly yet, but if you are a Patreon supporter and not interested in joining Skillshare for other content, wait a bit to see what I post as part of your rewards before also signing on to Skillshare.

Thanks for your support everyone and Happy Painting!


Do You Really Have Artist’s Block?

Staring at a blank sheet of paper and wondering what to paint is familiar and frustrating to any artist. So what’s artist’s block really all about?

For starters, I believe there are two types of artist’s block. There is what I’ll call “true” artist’s block, which I believe to be pretty rare, and the second more common version, which is simply “indecisiveness.”

Which One Are You?

True artist’s block could be defined as creative exhaustion. To be in this rare category, you’re probably a professional or practicing, prolific artist who has painted, drawn or designed their keister off and, for what ever reason, has reached a point of being out of creative gas. Read More »

What Exactly is a Painting Study?

3207760 - two students in art class painting Ok, so I hear this sort of confusion frequently, and I admit the term “study” sounds pretty stuffy and academic. It smacks of homework, research and other stinky school tasks many of us prefer not to revisit. However, in art it is very misunderstood.

Practice? Aww, Do I have to?

First off lets address the old joke: a study is any piece of art that failed. Yeah I know, ha, ha, ha! But not so fast. Truth my friends! Yeah, practice really is that simple. Try, fail, try again. I mean seriously, how many pianists have you heard of that can play through a totally new piece of music the first time without a hitch (pros and Mozart-like prodigies notwithstanding). One of my daughters was a college piano major and she would practice a single piece of music repeatedly in preparation for a performance. First few times was for technical mastery, that is, playing all the correct notes. The more she practiced a piece the more she concentrated on subtleties, changes in volume, tempo and style nuances that turned a collection of notes on a page into a beautiful, personal rendition.

The Talent Myth

So, why is the myth still floating around that a really talented artist can paint a picture right the first time and if YOU can’t, well you better cash in your art chips, honey, cause you ain’t got it (depression ensues). Is that even remotely true or do really accomplished artists practice, plan and work at producing really sensational art? You bet your sweet sketchbook they do! Yeah, I know some artists “get it” quicker than others, but substantial improvement is within everyone’s reach regardless of skill level or talent. Bottom line – why does improvement matter? It increases your joy and satisfaction in the results. If art is a hobby for your enjoyment (in other words you’re not a professional artist trying to please clients or an employer), then improvement is for you and you alone. You need not improve or set your art goals for anyone else. In the end improving for someone else’s sake is a set up for constant disappointment. Never the less, enjoyment increases with every improvement you make and thats 50 years of art experience talking ladies and gents.

Discovery Baby!

Oh, but now it seems we’re back to that stuffy, boring “study” task again. Or are we? If your goal is to draw and paint and that brings you joy and relaxation, then by doing studies, I just gave you an excuse to draw or paint much more often than you did before, and with very little pressure to turn out anything more substantial than a few rough brush strokes or pencil lines. Pardon me for saying so, but isn’t that the sort of fun we used to have with art projects in elementary school? Remember when the idea of a set of crayons and a blank piece of construction paper held nothing but promise and joy? No pressure, no unrealistic standards to follow. Just play and discover! HAH…wait a minute! Did I just possibly define what a study could be for an aspiring adult artist too? Why yes, yes, I believe I did. So back to the question. What exactly is a painting study? Why, playing and discovering of course…while adding the slightly more mature goal of honing skills which in turn fires up your enjoyment of the process. Sweet!

Here are some tips to take a more “studied” approach to drawing and painting.

  1. Draw, draw, draw – All artists should draw…a lot! Duh, right? Its the most basic type of study. Only one problem and I see it again and again. Artists somehow feel like their sketchbook should also be a work of art. Every page! WHAT?! Thats like hitting tennis rebounds against a practice wall and having someone photograph every swing for a photo album. I don’t think I have to point out the hesitancy that approach will generate. And then, as if thats not enough, artists go out and buy these beautiful, hard bound, leather-embossed, gilded edge volumes from the book store.  At first you’ll think, “now THIS beautiful book will get me drawing again.” Actually the opposite is usually true. Gorgeous sketchbooks make you even more apprehensive about sketching in it until you have found a worthy subject and then only if you’re confident enough to draw it. Buy the most basic, cheap sketchbook you can and just doodle. Doodle a specific subject from life when possible, but doodle and doodle often. Don’t concern yourself much with the results. Put it in a secret location and don’t show it to anyone if it makes you feel better. The goal is to get more comfortable with drawing period. Think of it as a book that you could happily toss in the trash and not think twice about.
  2. Go ahead and do a painting – If you’re confident enough to paint a subject fully from the start, by all means go ahead. If it fails, simply review the particulars and what needs fixing. Congratulations you just did your first study! Leave the pressure and feeling of failure in the waste bin. Take Thomas Edison’s more positive approach of discovering 1000 ways NOT to make a light bulb. “Hey, look everybody, I just discovered how NOT to paint a tree, yippee!” Make notes about it if you feel you’ll forget what you’ve learned. If you come away from a painting with nothing more than the idea that you failed, you missed an incredible opportunity. Go back and find at least ONE THING you learned from doing the work. Did you find one? Ok, look again, maybe there was something else.
  3. Get familiar – Do a study as a rough dress rehearsal for your final painting. Studies are great ways to get to know the subject in detail. They force you to look at every nook and cranny of your subject, thinking through all the particulars and asking questions as you draw and paint it.
  4. Address specific confidence issues – If you don’t feel confident enough to launch into a full painting then address the specifics. Is drawing the main subject of the painting intimidating? Draw several views of that subject until you feel more comfortable? Not sure what colors to use? Work that out. Have fun doing it. No pressure. Once again judge your studies more by what you learn than by the results. Do it again. Do it differently. Work on improvement.
  5. Set your own study goals – What do you want to fine tune? Value? Color? Composition? Scale? Perspective? Set that as your goal for a particular study. Do the study simply and roughly in a thumbnail if you prefer. Remove decisions from the final painting process that will just add to the confusion and stress. Its really amazing to me how even a good compositional thumbnail, for example, can increase the fun and enjoyment of doing the final painting.
  6. Study whenever and whatever – Don’t have a particular painting in mind? No worries. You don’t need a reason. I often have an idea come to me in the shower or in the middle of the night and it could be as simple as, “what does the shape of a nose look like from a high perspective.” I don’t need to be thinking of a painting. I just want to explore a simple idea. So I get out my sketchbook or paints or both and tackle the problem (no, I don’t do that in the middle of the night).
  7. Ask what-if questions – Studies can start for all sorts of reasons. You could be trying out a new brush or wanting to mix up a color you’ve never mixed before. Come up with some of your own “what-if” questions. What if that subject was lit from the other side or what if I mixed all my browns for the foreground instead of using browns from a tube. Then set out to learn the answer by doing it.

I hope this is a help. This is what studies are all about. For me, at least, studies add tremendously to the joy of the art process. The biggest benefit? Studies turbo-charge the learning experience. Just try it and see if it isn’t true

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