Yes, different colors do have different values. Or: how to make the whole thing more confusing

In my workshops I always have students paint a simple color scale. Yes, you can buy those but that is just pathetic, isn’t it?  You’re a painter, you should be able to paint one.
Inevitable, someone will pick a color like yellow ochre, or worse, a yellow to paint a value scale. Why is it not working?
The short answer is: because the color yellow is too light to paint a scale from 1-10 with.
The strongest yellow is still only a light value..makes sense?
Black, blues, violets, warm and cool greys work.

To determine a color’s own value in it’s strongest application, it helps to make a value/color comparison chart.
Ideally you should know the value of the colors on your palette.
Take a look at the image. The chart is a neutral grey value scale on top (numbered 0=white to 9=strongest), where all the different colors underneath are placed to match the value above. (as good as possible) Every color is applied in it’s strongest value, out of the tube.


From left to right(second row):
perm alizarin, Ultramarine blue,
Quin Rose, Ultramarine violet
Quin red, cobalt blue
Cad red, burnt sienna
Cad orange, raw sienna
Indian yellow (interchangeable with Yellow ochre?)
yellow ochre
cad yellow light
cad yellow medium

It helps to know that, while red is certainly strong, it’s strongest value is maybe a five, if the white of the paper is a 0. Worse with yellow, that’s really only a 1, no matter what you do.

When introducing new colors to your palette, place them in the right spot so you know what value strength it has!
Some painters even make a value scale in neutral on the side of their palette! That way it’s easy to compare your color mix to the scale next to it.

Please take the time and have a look at next year’s workshop schedule for a workshop near you:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Workshop at Abbondanza in Tuscany!

Every good thing comes to an end and that also goes for the long anticipated 2015 workshop in Tuscany, Italy. We were guests at Abbondanza Toscana

This was an exceptional workshop for several reasons: The location will no longer be available in the future as they are moving it into a bigger place nearby. There will still be workshops, but not where we were. We were the last group, and what a group it was!
It is not often in a workshop that people click during a 10 day period the way this group did!
I was happy to do my part!
We were super spoiled with excellent food by the in-house chef Karolina Novak and the organizer Paula Sullivan was open to changing the schedule around to accommodate our painting needs.

I will definitely come back to teach there again! If you always wanted to go to the beautiful Tuscan area of Italy, the Abbondanza venue is your best bet. Watch out for the 2017 calender when I will return!

As for painting locations: we went to Volterra, a hilltop town with breathtaking views over rooftops
and narrow streets, with buildings hundreds of years old. Also on the schedule was a seaside resort town ‘a la Cinque terre’ (actually not too far from it). Our host keeps this place pretty secret as it has all the charm of cinque terre without being overrun by tourism. The only tourists you find there are other Italians! Go to Vernazza or Monterosso, you’re lucky to find room to stand as it is marketed as a destination in the United States, China and other countries!

Lucca itself served as a painting destination and we haven’t even scratched the surface!
It will just take a few more visits in the near future!

I thought I finish this blogpost listing some unspoken facts while painting outdoors on this trip.
(All tongue in cheek!)

Aside from the obvious distractions when painting city scenes, here are the scenarios you’ll
have to be ready for:

While painting, some guy with a violin sets up next to you and starts playing the same three hideous pieces over and over! Worst thing is, people actually drop money in his hat!
Remedy: wear earphone with your own music!

Remember, you always get the village idiot! Sure enough, it’s the one that lingers and holes you with questions and comments while you’re trying to paint, all in the language of the country
you’re painting in. (mostly colloquial, on top of it)

If you didn’t bring warm clothes, it will be super chilly! Yes, you have gloves and a hat but they
are in the hotel because it was sunny and warm when you left. There was no way of knowing that we’d be painting in a windswept alley in 42 degree weather. The sun is out, yes, but it’s behind the buildings we’re painting and it’s late October!

If you’re setting up next to a building entrance (you’re happy you’re off the road) the probability of someone showing up and wanting to get inside is: 100%

If you’re a watercolor instructor and found the perfect spot for the class to easily paint three pieces, someone in your group will take 1 1/2 hours just to do a drawing

And lastly, don’t count on the fact that you’re in Europe and people love art and admire you. You’re still just a lowly painter, mostly in everybody’s way and nobody is interested in you or your art. I actually like that! It’s watercolor painting we’re doing, we’re not creating world peace. Get off your high horse! ;)

Vermont in October

I was really looking forward to this one and Vermont did not disappoint! Everything
was wonderful: the location, the Landgrove Inn, the people and the weather!
Only one rainy day out of four glorious days of sunshine and cool, crisp temperatures.

Staying at the Landgrove Inn was great. It is truly a place to get away from everything.
Tucked between two mountains in southern Vermont, you won’t find a better place to
recharge your batteries from your day to day hectic life! Everything was taken care of:
breakfast, lunch and dinner! All we had to do was show up. Tom even catered our lunch
when we were painting in a nearby town. How does it sound to just paint for a whole week
with nothing else to worry about?? The Landgrove Inn is the place to do it, second to none!
Thanks so much, Maureen and Tom!

Painting en plein air is the greatest teacher ever! One of the biggest issues students have is editing the scene in front of us, last week was no exception. That goes both for shapes and objects as well as color. Just as a scene is overloaded with lots of information, it is also overloaded with lots of color. Especially in Vermont in the fall! Both must be simplified.

In my workshops, I teach a way to look at a scene with the eyes of a painter!
While we try to capture what’s in front of us, we must not get tempted to put in
everything we see. First of all, it can’t be done anyways. Second, it won’t even
look appealing. Third, why paint it at all? Why not just take a photograph and leave it
at that?

I teach painting. I don’t care about watercolor. Painting is painting and in order
to do it successfully, we must learn how to see right.
Before adding anything to a scene I always ask myself whether it adds positively
to the picture. Will it support the message of the painting? Will it add to the
design and composition? Or is it just another repetition of what’s already there?

The thing to understand is the light and dark pattern first and foremost. What colors you
end up using is completely secondary. If the pattern and design is good, the painting will be good!

A week in La Crosse, WI Part II

Here are more paintings, either done onsite or studio works from photographs and sketches I did on my trip.
Next stop: Vermont, leaving this week. I will be at the landgrove Inn for the next week or so. The workshop won’t start until Monday, so I will have plenty of time to paint for myself! I will check in again after.

A week in La Crosse, WI

Thanks again to Bob Witte (
for inviting me to teach a workshop in La Crosse!

On the short flight from Chicago to La Crosse I flew over the most scenic, rolling hills you can imagine, littered with working dairy farms. I knew I was in for a treat!
La Crosse did not disappoint and I can genuinely say that I loved the area! It reminded me so much of Bavaria Germany, minus the buildings, of course.

If you’re not familiar with LC, I highly recommend a visit. Expecting midwestern flatness, I was quite surprised to encounter the most beautiful landscape with endless subject matter to paint!
More paintings in the next blogpost!

The workshop went really well and we all created some interesting paintings. Credit for the photos I posted goes to Dave Bass, photographer and proprietor of the SG1311 Gallery in La Crosse (

Have a look at his excellent work here
Thank you, Dave!

Opacity – Transparency

One of the greatest strength of the watercolor medium is it’s transparency. It is also it’s greatest weakness, I think. Some things look great painted in a transparent manner, floral arrangements or the surface of water comes to mind. However, I find certain things hard to paint staying all transparent. Foggy backdrops, small sheep or cows in a landscape or a bright flower field in a dark meadow.

This post is purely about the practical side of painting. I don’t want to get into the whole ‘transparency = watercolor’ school of thought. It’s tiresome and a bit like discussing certain tastes in music: it cannot be done.

The longer I work in the medium, and keep in mind that I came from oils and gouache, the more I paint watercolor like I used to paint with oil and gouache.
Sure, I still try to preserve my whites but I noticed that I do a lot more layering also. Transparency first, opacity later. In certain places.

Am I concerned that I’m no longer a pure transparent watercolor painter? I shouldn’t be, when my path takes me away from it, right? Any rules in art should be questioned. That doesn’t mean I am painting gouache paintings now, transparency certainly has it’s place. As with many things in life, I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I also have to confess that I am a huge Andrew Wyeth fan and experimenting with some of his techniques. A student of mine sent me a description of his use of egg tempera that was made available during an exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Fascinating stuff!

As an artist I believe we should always grow and never be static. Many artists out there are ‘stuck’, because they became known for something or a certain way of painting. It’s hard to change that because there are people following your art and you might loose them if you change too much. Personally, I am not concerned. I am not creating art to have ‘followers’. I am painting because that’s what I do. Even if I never sold anything, I’d still paint. Gotta keep the priorities straight!

Daniel Smith, Seattle WA

Just back from a workshop and demo gig at the headquarters of this great company!
DS make high quality pigments and were the first to develop Quinacridones, now copied by just about every pigment manufacturer out there. They were also the first to come up with the dot card idea. It was only a small step to develop dot cards for individual artists as we see them today. Dot cards are being copied now as well.
I am happy to say I was the first artist who had his own dot card back in 2011. Since every artists palette changes over time, I have a brand new card now with about five or six new colors.

I make the card available to workshop participants only as it doesn’t make much logistic sense to send it out. I don’t want to charge for it and I don’t want to incur shipping charges either. If you’re curious about DS colors in general, they sell a dot card with a good color selection for five bucks here:–i-001-900-501-LIST

I am very grateful to be a featured DS artist and my heartfelt thanks goes to Katherine and John, as well as Joe, Thom and everyone else at the store who took care of me last weekend!