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Ink and watercolor in Canson 7×10 Watercolor Sketchbook
To enlarge, click image, select All Sizes

I liked the Canson paper, it’s strong and very forgiving and heavily surface-sized — better than the Moleskine notebook — but not too thrilled with the colors I used in the sketch above in trying to use at least something the teacher suggested.

Puerto Vallarta Breakfast

Breakfast View – Ink and watercolor in small watercolor Moleskine
(to enlarge, click image, select All Sizes)

Breakfast at the workshop was at the open air buffet restaurant in our hotel, right on the beach, which was a lovely way to start the day, even if it was only half an hour after sunrise.

While I was drawing this a waiter came over to watch. I asked if he painted and he said he loved to draw but was unable to buy decent paint locally and mail order was impossible because Mexico charges 3 times the cost of the supplies in tariffs. He told me he draws pictures and then his 4 year old son colors them with crayons. He looked so admiringly at my little painting kit, amazed at what could be had in the U.S. I asked the class if they’d be willing to donate some paints for him and the teacher gave me her entire palette full of paint and three brushes. Other students gave watercolor paper and blocks. He was so grateful and everyone was really happy to have been able to help a fellow aspiring artist. I still feel happy remembering his sweet smile.

Tonight I spent the evening tonight typing up my pages of notes from the workshop. Here is one of most important thing I learned, which should be obvious but never really clicked for me before:


I am often entranced by all the details in a subject and my paintings can suffer from lack of focal point or strong values. Forcing myself to chose a focal point BEFORE starting a sketch or painting and concentrating on values in that area at least, is going to make a huge difference in my approach and to the success of the painting.

  • A juror or curator for a show looks at each slide no more than 3 seconds and MUST BE ABLE TO SEE THE FOCAL POINT IMMEDIATELY. There should be the most contrast in that area (dark/light contrast or strong color contrast).
  • Before starting a drawing or painting, think about what interests you and attracts you to the subject and determine the focal point.
  • Put a painting in progress on the mantle and walk by it in the evening as the room gets dark to see if the focus is apparent
  • Hold the painting up to a mirror 10 feet away to look for problems with the drawing or painting, especially in portraits
  • Get the values right: Make a “Claude” mirror by spray-painting black the back of a sheet of plexiglass. It will reflect the image in values with the color neutralized. Or view the painting through red or gray film to show values without color.
  • She recommends as the best book on design in painting: “Probing the Hidden Order” by Marie McDonald Roberts.
  • Best spot in a painting for focal point is above horizon to the right because we read from right and up (this is the same spot as the “Divine Proportion” or “Golden Mean.”
  • To study focal points, very quickly go through a magazine putting red dots on the first thing you notice, then go back and study why your eyes went there. Usually contrast in value or color.

Next time I’ll post what I learned about Color Chords.