Carol Carter's Watercolor Workshop

About two months ago I signed up to take a weekend workshop with what I consider one of the best watercolor artists around.  The first time I saw the watercolors of Carol Carter in person, my mouth just fell open and I was floored.  This woman knows watercolors.  Her work just really hit me and spoke to me. It was more than a well rendered landscape or still life, there was an emotional impact that just seemed to smack me upside the head.  Fast forward three years later - here I am finally attending one of her workshops.

My main goal for taking her workshop was to bring an emotional quality to my work that I don't usually experience.  Sure I like pretty things that please the eye or make you smile.  But I'm currently striving for something more, something that touches the spirit like a great piece of music.  My goals may be high, but I want my art to touch someone's heart not just match their couch.  Carol does that, and still, I'm not quite sure just how she does it. 

Here's a list of techniques that I had to change in order to open up, widen my watercolor horizons and push myself out of my watercolor comfort zone.

1. Paint bigger - as in a full sheet 22x30 or larger.  I've been so timid about that, but after experiencing her work which is for the most part on a large scale, I see why it's important to push myself here.  I love painting little sketches in my journal or small little flower vignettes, but it's time to make myself uncomfortable.

2. Take your time, be deliberate, think.  - I've been in some kind of hurry, trying to catch up.  My mind set has been having more completed work, because more is better right?   And I think taking the time to work slowly and thoughtfully on a painting is very valuable - especially since I hurry and rush all day.

3. Try new colors and paint straight from the tube - Carol does very little mixing of colors.  And I mix EVERY color. This was really hard for me.  AND, I don't paint so bright.  I paint in a very traditional realistic manner.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but for me I needed to do this and push myself out of some of my color mixing ruts. 

4. Paint more wet on wet -  Carol does very little layering or dry painting.  She lets the water do it's magic and knows how to coax the water on the paper to move where she likes it.  I love the look of a juicy wet watercolor, but find I needed to be reminded of this lesson because I was getting tighter and tighter in my own work.  One of the BIG strengths of watercolor is the running and moving of the water with pigment.

5. Paint what touches me, what speaks to MY heart - this is a tough one for me, perhaps the toughest because for years I've wanted to earn a living completely by my art.  With the desire to be a full time artist, I think to much about my work and spend too much time on artist sites and blogs comparing myself and painting what I think will sell.  That's not really painting from my heart now is it.  So this one requires a little more thought, a little more paying attention and certain awareness of myself and maybe even my motives.  There are times I think, "Really, another flower?!" but flowers speak to me - especially the ones I've planted from seed, nurtured and watch grow.  I have apologized for my flowers in the past, but no more.  But also, I really need to push myself and paint other subject matter.  Again, Carol does this with a confidence I envy.

The peony painting at the top of the page took me a week to complete.  Working a little every day as time allowed.  Probably three times the amount of time I normally spend on a painting.

This one I worked on in the workshop and I have to say at the time I HATED it.  I was so uncomfortable painting in a method I don't normally do --background first, all wet in wet and piece by piece.  But now, having set it aside and looking at it without all the emotional and uncomfortableness, I kind of like it.

Still working, still trying, still painting.... much like life.


Peonies are long past, but this is a little 8X10 watercolor I did this spring and finally got around to posting.  But just a reminder to all you gardeners, fall is the time to transplant and divide this beautiful flower.  I'll be doing that in a few weeks and to those local, I'll be happy to share if you would like a peony for your yard.

Peonies Galore

I could hardly let this day go by without a quick watercolor of peonies from "my," yes, "MY" front yard. You see, I haven't had a yard of my own for nearly a decade and these are a glorious celebration for me in many ways. I'm just so thankful that the previous owner planted so many. When you walk by them, you think someone sprayed a little too much perfume. Or if you enter a room where I've put a few in vases you might ask who lit a candle. How I wish there was a scratch and sniff link so you could smell them. Then this past weekend I picked a little miniature bouquet. Again, it was nice to pick them from my very own garden. Nearly 8 years ago when I first moved to Southern California I was blown away by the flowers - all the time and everywhere. So many people with yards and flowers that seemed to take over. Did these people know what they had? You really don't understand and appreciate flowers until they're gone or you have to experience winter again. Though I don't love winter, I do think it's a necessary part of really feeling grateful and thankful for Spring. Anyway, late at night I would wonder my California neighborhood and well, um, yeah, steal flowers.... I know its wasn't exactly up and up. But some how I justified it by saying the rose bush really did need a pruning and at times I really felt my sanity was at stake when I first moved to Los Angeles - alone, single, unsure of what my future held. Today my friend Judy said that my Peonies were hope. Yes, flowers do remind us of hope and I think that's why I paint them constantly and never grow tired of them. We need hope as much as we need flowers.

Peace and Peonies

Last week I finished and sent off a commissioned painting of three stages of a blooming peony to a man getting married in Florida. Over the past year we've been in contact over a peony painting for his girlfriend who became his fiancee and now his wife. Three stages - much like the painting itself. Originally he wanted this painting last year, but I ended up selling it, then he wanted one at Christmas time for her, but I was moving to St. Louis when he needed it. This past weekend he presented it to her as a wedding gift. What perfect timing for Julie and Gary. My friend who attended their wedding e-mailed me this morning and told that Julie loved it and cried when he gave it to her. I've not met the couple, but after learning she had an affinity toward peonies and he knew about it and sought them because they made her happy, I was thrilled and honored to be asked to paint for them. Besides, I "get" the woman who is drawn to one particular flower - look at me with geraniums.
I have to admit I found it a bit difficult to start this painting. I love painting. I love peonies. I had a deadline! What was my problem? Painting commissioned work is so different mentally than doing my own thing. When I'm working on a painting for a specific person, I think a great deal about that person and what this work means to them. Before I even put brush to paper, the work has meaning which makes me both happy and overwhelmed. Here I was sitting at my painting station, trying to get through another grey, rainy St. Louis day and I'm in turmoil because I'm both happy for the couple but also struggling with my own "singleness." I'm painting a gift of love with Gary's hearfelt words writtten under each stage of the peony -
Journey... Awaken ... Love
and I feel intensely how far I am from this love. For the next couple hours I have to enter into this personal place of fear about my own desires while I paint. What a delicious smell a peony has. How it opens so quickly with all its fluffy layers and in all the best shades of pink. Much like love! Yet, inside I wonder if I'll ever experience this blooming. So you see, painting is not always technical. Sure practice is part of creating a skill. I work at it every day. But there are strong moments when the spirit/the heart/the soul moves you to work in ways you don't think you can. When I finally finished, I have to say, I didn't want to let the painting go.