My first lesson in watercolor was around the age of five. I've been practicing ever since. Because that's what watercolor is, a practice.
I grew up in a house with some variety of watercolor hung on almost every wall. These included a calligraphed page of vellum from a very large bible, a reproduction of the Chi-Rho from the Book of Kells, a George Biddle watercolor of a rural Cuban scene, a large, pre-Raphaelite Madonna and Child bordered with oranges, blossoms and leaves, a hunt scene in the dining room. There was a tri-fold, Chinese screen painted with birds, bamboo and flowers on black with gold leaf sides that stood in the corner of our living room. By our front door hung a series of early botanical watercolor prints. My mother would design our garden plantings with watercolor and pencil on tracing paper. I think that she must have chosen most of my first books for their watercolor illustrations and, in fact, I was named for the title character in a children’s book illustrated in watercolor and pencil by the author, Marguerite De Angeli, about a French Canadian girl who learns to draw and paint in watercolor on the Gaspé Coast.
With such beginnings, it’s no surprise that I’ve dedicated my life as a painter to the medium of watercolor.
In my early-20s, I had the fortune of studying Art History with Jim Urmston, and watercolor with Ronn Davis at Santa Monica College. One of the great things about Ronn is that he treated me like a pro from the very first day of class. Sure enough, and rather quickly, I started making photorealism portraits of, mostly, musical friends in L.A.; filmy, multi-glazed pieces with loads of pencil work. I started showing almost immediately and received my first professional commissions for these portraits in 1981.
Later, in Sarasota, FL, I turned to architectural portraits of, mostly, historic residences. Those were all made very early in the morning, plopped down on curbs in front of each building.
During my years touring as a performing songwriter, I made small vignettes of scenes in Europe, New England, and Charleston, SC, wherever I would find myself on days off. All of those paintings were made from a field kit of watercolors with a tiny brush on 4" x 6" blocks that I bought at a fabulous art supply shop in Alkmaar, Holland. The scenes of my travels were all made en plein air, as they say.
Then I moved inside and made a series of full sheet bouquets in Charlottesville, VA, The Age of Flowers. In 2006, I built a studio behind my home in Nashville, TN, where I finally let go of what I then felt was the crutch of pencil, of structure beneath my color and launched into a very long series called Landscape into Art, which coincided with my watercolor blogging in those magical early days of blogging. Interestingly, as soon as I let go of relying on pencil in my own watercolor, I became obsessed with encouraging everyone to draw.
When I realized that I was not cut out for the life of incessant touring as an independent musician, I started teaching drawing and watercolor workshops as a way to, eventually, stop touring. That was 25 years ago. In the interim I taught those workshops across the country in every conceivable venue, from museums to back yards. In 2011, I created the first in-depth, online foundation course in drawing and watercolor. By 2016, I started developing an intensive series of art history practicums that dramatically propelled beginning students onto a level of proficiency that I could never have predicted.
Everyone needs a break now and then. I took my independent sabbatical from teaching in mid-2019. Although I planned to take a year, we all know what happened at the start of 2020. So, my sabbatical was extended unexpectedly and rather dramatically. I've missed teaching because I love teaching, too.
I love introducing this living medium to new explorers, sharing all I've learned over the years, and as I am, apparently, a natural cheerleader, guiding and encouraging students along. I also love providing a solid foundation in watercolor that, alas, too many people miss. In fact, providing a solid foundation is one of the reasons I teach. Without an understanding of the basic elements and principals, people venturing into watercolor become frustrated, easily discouraged and, too often, give up.
I've been reviewing the online course material I've created over the years, and as I consider bringing these courses back, I've realized that I'd like to mix up the curriculum, combining the best of my foundation course with the watercolor history lessons, and offer the recombined content over a longer period of time rather than take my usual fire hose approach.
I'm offering this new learning opportunity to a very small group of students. It's like private lessons, but better. I'll be sending out personal invitations to those of you who've expressed interest but please, contact me if you would like to learn more, and I'll send you a full description of what I'm offering. I'd love to have you join us if it feels like a good fit.
Read about some of my students' experiences here.
I’m grateful that I was introduced to watercolor at such an early age but it doesn't matter what age you are. Watercolor is a medium and a practice that can teach us many things, no matter when we start or how long we've been practicing. I'd love to help you learn to love it, too.
Get in touch to learn more about my online membership course opening in February.
“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh