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Painting “en plein air” or “on location” or my personal favorite “paintabout” is a sure-fired way to recharge your artistic spirit. Is it easy? Oh, no. Is it worth it? Oh, yes! The more you do it, the easier it is to get to cruising speed in your work. If it’s been awhile, the first few attempts are usually, well, uninspired. That is why I urge my students to make a habit of painting on location at least once a week and also to grant themselves several days away once or twice a year to plunge into painting whether it be a workshop or a getaway with a painter friend. Having the luxury to think only about the process of painting is a sure fired way to advance in your work and you bring home ideas for additional paintings.

However, sometimes painting on location can be “interesting,” to say the least.


Painting trips can encompass all the range of emotions imaginable – elation, sadness, fear, delight, amusement and so on. This was the case on a trip that began in Italy and finished up in France. The Drome is an area of southern France that was the home of a couple who ran an art and cooking school. The timing of my visit was memorable, sadly so. I had been in Verona, Italy and during our stay, the twin towers in New York City were bombed. It was difficult to contact family at home and I was disappointed in myself that my memory of important things was definitely interrupted by emotion. Fortunately I went to an internet cafe and the owner was a young man who trained at Art Center in Pasadena. I was able to check in with family and a few days later proceeded to the second part of my trip to France. The day I was painting in Comps, we chose an ancient chapel located in the countryside with no buildings nearby. The wind was blowing and the temperature dropping as I began a painting. I had chosen a spot next to a row of trees to shield me from the wind and there was pasture nearby. Pretty soon a couple of horses strolled over and seemed interested in my activity. After I had drawn and put in the first wash, I looked over my shoulder and my former admirers were sound asleep. There are critics everywhere!
Going to places that are new brings an excitement that is translated into your work. And because you pause and paint, you are regarded as more than just a tourist. It’s important to find a way to work that makes you comfortable and still makes you open to new experiences. If you don’t want people to peer over your shoulder, then back up to a building or bushes. Get out of the line of sight by sitting on a stool and you’ll be surprised how many people just walk right by. You can also wear earplugs, as if you are listening to music and most will not bother you. As you gain experience, these pauses won’t bother you but it’s important to protect yourself as you embark on this very public way of working. Sketching in a journal which can be closed if people come too close works well too. Just remember that the reason for the interest is that they are absolutely fascinated by what you do and impressed with the results.
Working on location, or en plein air, is a wonderful way to get out into our wonderful world and record your unique perspective. Later as you review your paintings and/or sketches, you’ll be astonished how the sounds, conversations and fragrances of the time you did the painting come flooding back as you view the images. Magic! Don’t miss it!

God Bless the Gremlins in the Flat File!

Since I’ve been painting a long time and know lots of painters I’ve decided I’m entitled to declare certain artistic truths. This post is about one of those truths that is almost magical in it’s concept.

If you are unhappy with a painting or a sketchbook page put it away. Close the book. Just plain get it out of your sight…for awhile. After several days (or longer) take another look and by golly (!) you will see your creation anew. Those wee beings that inhabit the spaces in artist’s storage areas have worked their magic and shazam, it’s not nearly as hopeless a piece of work as you thought!

The sketch done in San Diego’s famous Balboa Park is my most recent example. I was anxious to draw that lovely, complex tower as well as the palm trees which framed the towers so nicely. I was using a new fountain pen which held water soluble ink. The watercolor was added after the drawing. 

Sketch of Balboa Park – Ink & Watercolor
I left the park discontented with my sketch. The ink was much more fluid than I had anticipated and I lost most of the light patches in the top portion. Basically I was a bit grumpy with the whole thing. I closed the sketchbook and had a lovely dinner with my sketching buddy Brenda Swenson at my nephew’s restaurant very near the park. I didn’t open up that sketchbook for at least a week.
Balboa Park – San Diego

By the time I re-visited the sketch I found my attitude about it had improved greatly. I was able to look at the sketch itself and NOT what my mind had envisioned at the start of the drawing. The simple base of the tower with it’s sunlit side was a nice contrast to the complexity of the tower top. I added more dark greens, scattered some of the orange color found on the tallest palm tree in areas around the page, added the border on the upper right corner and included the story. Thankfully I had left that blank so it was perfect for the text. And that important white spot on the tower base? If I had left lots more light on the top portion, that space would not be so lovely. 

I can’t begin to recall all the times this has happened and I hear others talk about it too. We need distance to be able to judge what we have, not what we don’t have. Until we get to that stage, it does no good to address design problems. I now expect this to happen and stop before I’ve mucked up the whole thing. Distance is a good thing is many respects and very much so in painting. As for those dear little gremlins? I’m grateful they inhabit my flat file!

Loosen Up!

Loosening up is a common topic of conversation amongst my students – as in “I want to loosen up!” When I ask them why, they have a hard time articulating an answer but it has something to do with what they think watercolor painting should be. I suspect it has more to do with the ease of brushwork in experienced painters rather than a method of applying paint. So I try to gently talk to them about the goal of painting – we each have to find our own language as a painter and to find that takes LOTS of painting. As in everything in our fast-paced world, beginners want to “get there” asap. Too bad it doesn’t work that way. Or rather, isn’t it lovely that it works that way. Painting isn’t a new craft that you learn and do for a week or two and then move on to the next new fad. It’s such a demanding, fulfilling, fascinating journey that it can last an entire lifetime.

There is an exercise that I recommend if new painters are wanting to find a way to work that feels more unstructured. You really can’t get too tight when you use the wet-into-wet application of paint.

After drawing the subject on watercolor paper, either immerse the sheet in a tub of water or sponge water on both the front and the back of the paper. With the former, wait several minutes so the paper is thoroughly soaked. Grab the sheet by 2 corners and let the water sluice off the page. Then turn it diagonally so more can drip off. Then “walk” the paper down the board – a board that is non-absorbent. By walking I mean laying the paper down from the bottom to the top making sure that each area is right next to the board. If there is a soft wrinkle, lift the nearest corner and walk it down again Watch for areas where the paper seems to have a bubble beneath the paper and if you see any, lift from the corner and lay it flat again. Any air beneath the watercolor paper will make it more difficult when you begin to paint. If you have used a sponge to wet the paper, do the same method of adhering the paper to the board.

You’ll need to wait for the glisten to leave the surface before you begin to paint. Sometimes I’ve been successful at hurrying up the drying time by blotting the paper surface with a towel but there is a danger of taking too much water off. You have to experiment with this part…what is too dry and what is too wet. Experience will tell you what the surface should look like for the optimum time to add paint. 


Pewter Teapot & Radish

You want to paint on a flat surface at the beginning – no angle on the board. If you forget, you’ll see the paint run to the bottom so that won’t happen more than once. By remembering that in watercolor the water is our “white paint”, you’ll reach for more concentrated pigment for the first washes. Brush on color in the places you want it to be and don’t worry about the blurring of the areas as this is what you want – undefined shapes. If the color is perfect, add more pigment since the color will fade at least 20% when it is dry. Then you wait for it to dry. No dryers since it will move the paint all over the place. Later on when you are more experienced, you might like to experiment with that but for the first experiments, just let the paint do it’s thing.

After the surface is completely dry, you can begin glazing colors over the initial washes. For this step, having your board at an angle is perfectly fine. The example above shows how the study worked after the first wash on wet paper and the same study shows how it might be finished. It could have been done in many other ways, this is just one example.

Try lots of studies – in each one you will learn something new. Keep a notebook next to your materials so you can jot down things you want to remember. It not only will help you remember, the very act of writing something down helps your recall.

So if looser painting is your goal, then assign yourself a solid week of painting wet-into-wet. Repetition each day is important since you carry muscle memory as well as mental memory when you paint often. At the end of the week you’ll have studies that are much “looser.” You’ll also be much more content with your work since the practice and repetition will cause your brushwork to be more confident. Win win!


Mixed Media Explorations

Mixed Media

Ink, Watercolor, Collage

One of the wonderful benefits of teaching is that I look for all sorts of ways to explain/show my students the concepts I’m trying to teach. And because of that I’m always exploring and that informs my own work even if it was not the goal. Several years ago I was asked to teach a 3 day workshop and needed to come up with a good final project. Day one was subject matter exploration, composition and drawing in ink;  day two added watercolor to the ink drawing and for the final day we added stained paper collage. 

Day One

Sharpie & watercolor wash  

 That beginning day we worked with all sorts of subject matter in sketchbooks. Sometimes the watercolor wash was added after the drawing was done and sometimes it was done before. In this instance,  I used a vertical subject matter in a horizontal format with monochromatic color. That rectangle is 7″x10″, which is the same proportion as a full sheet watercolor paper. This way if you want it to translate to that size, you have begun in the same shape. 
By using sharpie, you can’t be too careful with details. The goal was to try several different formats, color schemes, etc.

 Day Two

Watercolor Underpainting – Ink Brush Drawing

The watercolor underpainting was done prior to the drawing since the ink brush I was using was water-soluble. I wanted to use this brush since the addition of water creates different values, thereby making it a simpler exercise.  Of course it could be done is many different ways and we talked about that, but to get the concept and purpose across, I wanted the initial painting to be done as simply as possible. 

Day Three

Stained Washi – Ink Brush Drawing

On the final day, we spent sometime in the morning staining rice paper or washi with our watercolors. While that dried, the plan for the drawing could be done. I usually do not draw with pencil first since that is my preference but several students did that as a first step. 
The stained papers were torn is the sizes and shapes according to each painter and then affixed to the heavy watercolor paper with acrylic matte medium. After that has completely dried, the ink drawing was added and water used to create tone.  I have purposely left this step unfinished as an example for my students.  Our eyes do such a good job of completing line, that it would be interesting to see just how much you could leave out and still have a good readable image.

Watercolor Musings: Necessity becomes the Prompt and Leads to a New Wa…

Watercolor Musings: Necessity becomes the Prompt and Leads to a New Wa…: A number of years ago, just after New Years Day, I decided I needed a unique image for a window display in the gallery, one specifically for…

Necessity becomes the Prompt and Leads to a New Way to Work

A number of years ago, just after New Years Day, I decided I needed a unique image for a window display in the gallery, one specifically for Valentine’s Day. I had been doing some watercolor collage which included drawing, watercolor and stained paper collage after taking an inspirational workshop from Jerry Brommer. We had gathered all sorts of collage materials which would be a support for the image in the top third of the page. I found it a creative use of the ephemera collected on trips and sketching days and had done several paintings using this interesting combination. One is even the subject of a previous blog entitled “Everything But the Kitchen Sink,” written in August 2010. I wanted to attack this new project in a different way so I made a list of what I wanted to include: the aforementioned materials, a heart shape used in an abstract way, images of my town of Orange, California and finally little bits of historical notations to add interest.

I chose a square for the format for no other reason than that I like designing in that shape. Then I made what I came to refer to as “postcards” within the page – various shapes of squares and rectangles that would be openings for small paintings of the historic plaza area.

Loving Orange

I drew the contours of the wee watercolors in lightly with a pencil and then added the large heart shape in the background. Then came the collaged bits of watercolor stained rice paper which was affixed with matte medium – I was careful to keep the medium away from the opening for the images. Also added were photos from maps of the area, pictures of oranges and roses which are the city flower. Then came the small paintings which were of various views of the plaza square which is the center of the historic district. Some of the collaged found papers were veiled with transparent rice papers and others masked by the addition of drawings using white gouache. Finally I added little bits of history by writing on a sheet of typewriter correction paper which had been given to me by an artist friend. I used every inch of that sheet and carefully! I recently found a white pen which works since typewriter correction paper has been impossible to find.

When I began I had no idea how this would turn out but knew that it would be a pleasure to find out. This is a good example of working on a “problem” rather than setting out to do a “wonderful painting.” Setting a limited goal and working toward that end has always been a better way to work for me. I’m concentrating on the problem at hand rather than the final product. You might ask if I’d set myself a lofty goal by wanting something to put in the window and that would be a fair question. However I knew if it didn’t work I could always do it again and or if it really tanked, I just wouldn’t put it up. That desire to have something specifically for Valentine’s Day turned out to be the prompt that opened up a new way to use mixed media and most especially it was such fun to do!


Recently I hosted a plein aire watercolor workshop taught by Frank Eber where at least two of the participants began location painting for the first time. For all the many advantages of painting outdoors there are equal challenges, especially at the beginning. Students are so hard on themselves than I always try to find ways to make them more comfortable. It was time to tell the story of my “crash and burn” plein aire week many years ago.
My children were 2, 3 and 9 that week in early July when I painted with Rex Brandt in Corona del Mar. I had painted on location in college and when I taught but it had been a good while since I had done so. I hired two sisters to baby sit who favorites of my children and I’m not sure they even said goodbye when I left. The week went like this: up, breakfast for the kids, have lunch ready for the sitters to prepare, go to the workshop, come home and fix dinner, fall into bed and begin all over again. During the day, I kept giving myself pep talks but the other painters were SO good. On the last day of the workshop our assignment was different. It was July 3rd and we were to go to the Dory Fleet in Newport Beach, get sketches and color notes and return to the Brandt studio and do the painting. Then all the paintings would be put on the wall for a final critique.
Mendocino done on location years after this story
It was Friday, the day before Independence Day and by the time I got to the area, the parking was virtually nonexistent. I finally found a 20-minute spot and raced to the pier. I got sketches in my hardbound dark green sketchbook and got to my car as fast as I could – put my sketchbook on the roof of the dark green car and loaded the rest of my gear in the back.
When I got back to the studio I was missing my sketchbook. I remembered where I last had put it so I got back in my car, returned to the pier area and scoured the area as best I could. No sketchbook.
I think it would be fair to say I slunk back to the studio. I was exhausted from my home schedule as well as the week. My fatigue was as much from all the new experiences as the natural tiredness that comes from being outdoors all day. So, I had no sketchbook from which to work and therefore I would have no painting to put up.
There was only one thing to do. I holed up in one of the bathrooms and cried. And cried and cried. There was a knocking at the door so I wiped my face and opened the door slightly. It was one of the painters who wanted to know what was wrong. So I spilled it all out and she was so kind and encouraging. First of all, no one would know if I didn’t put anything up. Secondly she said I needed to join Peg Sheppard’s weekly workshop. She promised it would be wonderful.
You know, she was right. No one knew. I sat through the critique and learned a lot. And I joined that group of fabulous painters every Thursday for a number of years. When we didn’t have painting classes it changed to critique days and at least once a year we would all contribute to the lunch banquet that was spectacular. Had I not had such a horrible day, I would never had met this inspiring teacher and a group of talented, interesting, compatible, wonderful painters. Sometimes very awful, bad days have a silver lining!

Banding Together – It’s a Good Thing!

We are know that “banding together” and “forming groups” can be very beneficial in people. It is also very helpful when you have isolated elements in a sketchbook page. In the following two examples it is very clear how this works to unify drawing done at different times or under circumstances that do not allow you to move items to your pleasure.

Judy’s Rant


The scattered page was created when during a long awaited 3 day sketching trip with my painting buddy, Brenda Swenson, where we encountered rain, rain and more rain. We painted outdoors rarely, most often finding places to do what we love but indoors or in-car. NOT my favorite places to paint. She warned me that she was taking me to a place I wouldn’t like and so she did – to a big shopping mall! The sketches of shoppers were captured as people moved in and out of tables and I added signage when I couldn’t get more people. I don’t usually go back and fiddle with these sorts of sketches but I’ve been going through some journals and adding bits here and there and looking at them as design problems. The top page brings back all sorts of memories but I didn’t like it as a sketch. Recently I took another look and decided to add a band behind the central portion of the figures to link them together to make a unified page. After drawing the top and bottom lines, I had to look at the page and the colors used so I didn’t repeat a color and thereby making that image disappear. Like colors and like values, whatever color, make objects recede in importance.

Painting in the Car

Recently I taught a workshop on Watercolor Journals. On second morning of the 2-day workshop I invited anyone who wanted to join me to meet at The Filling Station, a cafe across the street from the studio. A asked that they bring a pen and journal and find something interesting to draw and later paint. We met early and the 9 of us were perhaps the quietest group they have ever had. Since so many were drawing, no objects were gathered and I ended up with too many isolated elements – again. Banding to the rescue. I chose the pattern of the tablecloth as a background to both animate the page and unify all the elements.

The Filling Station


In the top one, I had just added the background checkered band when I realized I wanted more color and somehow incorporate the name of the restaurant. The name was easy since my checks had the right number of spaces. For the color band above the checks, red was out since the stripe would cross 2 other red items. I chose the burnt orange since it repeated the sauce color in the middle. But look carefully at the shadow areas beneath the bottles in the top one. Then look at the finished piece – I added no more color to those shadows but the orange in them suddenly is more noticeable. Repetition of color is important and this is a good example. I also changed the area to the right of the date. In the journal that date was too far to the left. I didn’t like it at all but there it was. I solved that by adding “Yum!” Probem solved.

So…if you have a page where you need to gather the subject matter and make it more cohesive, try a band. It needn’t be a straight band as in these two examples. It can meander just as well. And the best lesson is that you can paint and draw in all sorts of unusual places. Keep a small journal close at hand. That’s all you need to keep you occupied and happy. I can’t be grumpy if I’m working in a journal no matter the circumstance.

Watercolor Musings: Just What May An Artist Use as Inspiration?

Watercolor Musings: Just What May An Artist Use as Inspiration?: Praha (Prague) – ink brush and watercolor by Judy Schroeder – This is a good example of “suffering” for art. I waited for the ta…

Just What May An Artist Use as Inspiration?

Praha (Prague) – ink brush and watercolor by Judy Schroeder – This is a good example of “suffering” for art. I waited for the table and chair at the gelato shop to be open so I could get this view. Naturally I HAD to buy a gelato! Fair is fair.
Oftentimes when I stop for a lunch break at the gallery, I grab a book off the shelf and treat myself to reading about other artists and their work. Today I was reading Composition for the Painter by Frank Webb – a very good book by the way. I bought the book when I met him at an art association several years ago when he was the guest demonstrator. He had several paintings for purchase and I noticed that they all seemed to be various versions of a very few subjects. He spoke about his designs used for the demos and while he didn’t call them patterns that is my memory.
I surmised that this sought after artist is a very smart man; by using a few familiar subjects he could be free to easily comment while demonstrating for groups. Recently I have begun to think that Webb just might have another reason for his use of limited subject matter.
When painters have perfected their craft and are fully engaged in their work with hand, eye and heart, they have spent years and many, many hours finding their own personal shorthand to express their unique view of the world. Since I host workshops, I see the generosity of several painters who share this hard won knowledge with their students. Some even break down the painting process into “bite-sized” chunks, showing the group their step-by-step way of constructing a painting.
Therein lies the rub. Students, who naturally want the fast track to artistic competence, sometimes take that generosity for granted. They think that since they “painted” the workshop exercise, it is theirs. Let’s just break that down – the subject matter, composition, color scheme, emphasis – all are from the imagination of their teacher. If the work is signed at all, it should say something like – Jane Doe, after Teacher Smith. And it should not go any farther than their own walls, certainly not be entered in shows or in any other way presented as original work. Artist Tom Fong has a wonderful way to say this, “Don’t steal your teachers thunder!”
Tom could well have added, “Don’t infringe on your teacher’s copyright.” Beware, this is legal territory. If a student submits work as their own, and it is obviously taken from a workshop or copied from another source so much so that it is clearly the inspiration of another painter, the student can be held liable, however innocent their intent. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. This also pertains to the use of photographs without the express permission of the photographer. Yes, it is another medium but that doesn’t matter. The intellectual property has been used.
This subject has been coming up more and more often recently. Work on the web is so easily gathered without thought of asking permission. Posting images is so easy that hasty, thoughtless actions can come back and bite you if the work is shown without permission and attribution.
A good friend has even had her paintings copied verbatim, albeit not so skillfully, and presented to her as a “gift.” It is not a compliment to be copied, period. The student means well but please know that teachers are thrilled by work that is original and shows work and thought and progress. The way to competence as a painter is the way of all disciplines, by way of study and application of time and energy.
So now you see why I suspect that Frank Webb limits his demonstration subjects. It makes it very unlikely that others will copy his work since his demo pieces are few and well known. He’s really doing a service to both the novice painter and the hard working art associations. Work presented for judging should be original, unique and the property of the artist submitting the work alone.
Be confident of your own artistic vision. You may not be there yet, but rest assured, you will be. And when you get to that place? You will have new and more complex goals and that’s why you will become better than you ever thought possible!
Thanks for the listen, Judy
PS There are many informative sites on the web that explain the copyright laws clearly. It’s interesting reading!


Watercolor Musings: So THEY Say Watercolor is The Most Difficult Mediu…

Watercolor Musings: So THEY Say Watercolor is The Most Difficult Mediu…: So THEY Say Watercolor is The Most Difficult Medium.   I’m not sure where “THEY” live or pontificate, but THEY have a very …

So THEY Say Watercolor is The Most Difficult Medium.

So THEY Say Watercolor is The Most Difficult Medium.

I’m not sure where “THEY” live or pontificate, but THEY have a very large presence in lots of commonly believed “truisms.” And sadly, most folks believe these oft repeated urban myths precisely because of that repetition which has no rebuttal. Here is my response.
Just telling yourself that a task is difficult makes it so. Our minds are powerful so you need to get in the habit of talking yourself into expecting good results rather than the opposite. It also helps to be realistic in your expectations. Growth is a step by step process, one building block at a time. No one expects to play a difficult piece of music in one month but somehow that basic wisdom flies out the window when painting is considered. Focusing on the joy of the process rather than the end product will keep the whole experience fresh and fun. If it’s not fun, chances are you won’t do it with any regularity – and that really inhibits growth as a painter.
I teach a class called “Beginning Watercolor Bootcamp.” It consists of two days, usually weekends, from 12 noon to 4pm. It has proved to be much more successful than the shorter classes which run several weeks. I’m convinced it’s because on the second day, there is considerable muscle memory. Practice is easier, the paint and brush better behaved and I often hear, “Oh, I get it!” Students then bounce into other workshops with confidence. Earlier I had a hard time getting them to take anything except another beginning class.
Here are examples of studies done late on the first day of class. When I tell them that we are about to paint small landscapes, they groan and roll their eyes. But when they are finished, the delight and excitement are contagious.
Earlier in the day, they practice several ways to apply paint. Flat washes, graded washes, glazes, wet on dry, dry on dry, wet on wet, charging in color, etc. In this exercise, I ask them to work in either a vertical, horizontal or square format using a high or low horizon line. That insures that they will avoid the half and half division of space.
Some of the paint is applied when the initial wash is dry and some while it’s still wet. Sometimes they hold up the paper to get the wet wash to run into areas they prefer and sometimes they touch an area with a repetitive color to bring more harmony, not to mention excitement, to the landscape.
Putting paint down doesn’t mean it has to stay there. Various lifts are explored such as using a tissue as above or blotting with a textured paper or simply drawing with a wet brush to animate an area. These little experiments are only about recipe card size so there is no hesitation to do several. When I take small mats to isolate each image, sometimes adjusting the size of areas, they marvel at the results. They agree with me that receiving a handmade card is very welcomed and I can see that they just might begin working small and even saving a few dollars in the process.
Here is what I LOVE hearing at the end of the second day of class. “I’m looking at the world in a whole new way!” “That was fun!” “I’m going home to paint!” “You have opened my eyes!”
One of the things I stress is that as painters, we never get to that plateau where we think we finally have it all figured out. No Nirvana for painters. Rather it is a continuum where effort and practice are rewarded with proficiency and progress. This is something that can be begun at any age and for most, it’s an activity that is life long.
Painters tend to have long lives. I believe it’s because each day has the promise of new discovery, new shapes, new images and the pure joy of discovery. I was privileged to be with Millard Sheets at a workshop near the end of his life. He said he wished he could begin all over again, saying, “Now I know what it’s all about.”  Not a month later I was reading a book about Cezanne and his words were almost identical.
So if you still think THEY know anything at all about anything at all, toss that thought! Is watercolor painting easy? No. Nothing that is worthwhile is particularly easy. If it were easy, it’s value would be diminished. Is it fun? Oh, yes! So if you’ve always wanted to paint, get out that old paint set and have a go. Find a class and if there is negativity, find another class. Don’t let anyone get in the way of something so wonderful!

Watercolor Musings: Capistrano Mission Sketch – Ink and Watercolor 

Watercolor Musings: Finding Gallery Representation: Capistrano Mission Sketch – Ink and Watercolor         This article was originally written for the National Watercolor Societ…

Finding Gallery Representation

Capistrano Mission Sketch – Ink and Watercolor

 This article was originally written for the National Watercolor Society Newsletter when I served on the board several years ago. I suggested it’s inclusion after having artists come into the gallery and seek representation with seemingly no thought for how to do that.  The approach is often so clumsy that the artist gives themselves very little chance for success. Just this morning I received a phone call from a young man wanting to find a place to show his work. After I asked him a question or two I found out that he had never visited the gallery, worked in acrylic and in an abstract manner. Had he visited he would have seen that we are very full with seven painters represented and furthermore we specialize in watercolor with a representational approach. I sent him this article and was glad to hear that we were the first gallery he’d called on his long list. Since I am an artist, I want to do all I can to help those who are seeking gallery representation. Right now, after this long downturn in the economy and the subsequent closing of so many galleries in our area, knowing a few ground rules can be very helpful.
  After spending years learning and perfecting your craft, finding gallery representation might be your next goal. Since there are many more talented painters than there are galleries, it is crucial to know the various ways to introduce yourself and your work so you increase the chance of success.
         I am a painter and teacher and for the last fifteen years have owned and run a gallery with my daughter, Katie, who works in fused glass. Because of our respective disciplines, our gallery specializes in watermedia and art glass. We have watched many artists who desire representation in both media come into the gallery and request representation. Sadly, the majority has not done their homework.
         Do not:
         Walk in to the gallery with your paintings or a book of photographs of your work under your arm and expect an immediate meeting to discuss your intent.
         Expecting immediate attention in spite of a gallery full of guests is a sure way to get a negative response. The person working owes their time and effort to those artists whose work is in the gallery and to the customers in attendance. Even if the gallery has no customers, this is not the way to introduce yourself and your work.
         Go directly to the person in charge and ask, “How can I get my work into this gallery?”
         By approaching the person working the gallery about representation, you are making the big assumption that they are in a decision making position. There are many more appropriate ways to communicate your desire.
         Call on the phone during gallery hours and ask for representation. It is easy to tell if the caller has ever visited your gallery. Sometimes they don’t even know what media you specialize in. Getting a list of galleries and making a phone call to all of them without first visiting is a waste of your time as well as the gallery owner.  
Many telemarketers call during business hours and you do not want to be included in that group!
         Make disparaging remarks about the work on the walls. This should be intuitive, but it is done. If you don’t like the work included in the gallery mix, perhaps that’s a gallery you want to cross off your list.
         Expect your friendship with the gallery artists to gain you entree. Or, for that matter, expect your relationship with a friend of the gallery owner to assist you.
 Knowing an artist in a gallery can be a real advantage in that you can ask them for the appropriate way to approach the gallery owner. Some gallery artists will recommend fellow painters but that depends upon their relationship with the gallery.
         Visit several times and observe the variety of work offered by the gallery. Galleries have “personalities” and probably reflect both the owner and the area where the gallery is located. Pay attention to that. By visiting numerous times, you get a good feeling for the kind of work that is included in the gallery mix and you can observe the gallery personnel interact with customers. This is good information to have before you make a decision about approaching a gallery.
         Be very honest with yourself about the quality of your work compared to the work on the walls.
         Oftentimes artists leave a card and a website address. It is wise to offer that information after you have had some affirmation in the artistic community. Entering shows, receiving awards for your work, and or asking for critiques from well-known and respected artists will give you a good picture of your readiness. Having said that, don’t be so hard on yourself that you wait well beyond a time when you deserve gallery representation. A neighboring gallery owner told me he thinks that 60% of artists are better than they think they are while 40% are the opposite.
         Also, by leaving a card, you put the gallery owner in the position of having to find your website and be responsible for contacting you. It’s likely that your card will be discarded if the owner is either very busy or not interested in new work at the time.
         Take note of the pricing and how it compares with yours.
    Write a letter asking if the gallery is welcoming new artists, including some photographs of your work and a request for a meeting at the gallery director’s convenience.
         Follow up with a phone call, which you have promised to do in your letter. If the answer is negative, ask if they will keep your information on file for the future.
         For this important step, doing at least as much homework as you commonly do for a large painting is a very wise use of your time. Whereas you may have more than one chance to approach a gallery, the old adage, “You have only one bite at the apple,” has some truth to it. What you don’t want to do is get off on the wrong foot at the beginning. Be methodical in your planning and keep good records. And finally, “Good Luck!”

Watercolor Musings: From Whence Subject Matter?

Watercolor Musings: From Whence Subject Matter?:   I teach a class on March Mondays for a group of painters in South Orange County, California. They meet every Monday morning and ha…