Lightening has struck twice!

I recently learned my painting of Erin was accepted into the 2017 National Watercolor Society’s International show by jurors Mike Bailey, Cathy Hegman and Kathleen Ballard.  Looking at the list of names, I nearly cried! I feel awed to be among this accomplished group.

This is the second time I’ve had this honor. For my 2013 initiation I earned signature membership! Then president Linda Doll mentioned in her opening comments that on average an artist gets into the NWS open show once in 13 years! Guess I’ve beat the odds.

2013 Acceptance paintings

2013 Show opening photos

The back story

Some of my paintings have a long gestation period. I’d taken the reference photo about 25 years ago while camping in BC with my friend Erin Leonard. I’d always thought it would make a great painting and finally had a chance to give it a try last fall, I did most of the work in about four hours, sketching and painting it as a demo for Painters Showcase, with a small but fascinated audience. The photo was full figure with woods in the background but I just wanted to focus on attitude. I cropped in tight and painted full sheet, using the strong, warm color of my favorite paints — M.Graham of course, including Quinacridone Red, Nickel Quinacridone Gold and my trademark black mix. Working at an angle to let the drips happen, I was moving so fast the brush flew out of my hand three times! Twice it hit the floor, then it landed on the painting just below Erin’s armpit, leaving a dark mark. I said, “I didn’t mean to do that, but I’m leaving it.”

Now that I can choose my painting subjects, I really don’t paint for the subject’s approval. If I am happy with a painting, that’s good enough. Still, I was pleased with Erin’s response when I put the painting on Facebook: “Beyond the memory, what really stuns me is how well Rene brought alive an emotional life. Really amazing… subject aside.” Some of you know Erin from her Springbox Gallery years. She speaks with experience when it comes to art.

You Gotta Problem With That?  — this painting title that speaks to the attitude I was wanting to convey was suggested by my audience at the demo.

Geoff McCormack gave it first place in Village Gallery’s fall show — and he didn’t know it was mine! I’d framed it using mat board instead of my usual linen backing so I wouldn’t give myself away.

Other Awards

I was blessed with several during the Lake Area Artists sale last April. Here are judges comments, followed by mine:

Sage Of The Sea — Lake Oswego Review Award
Judges Gary Stein and Jillian Daley

“We love the textures, the sense of movement and the play of light on the turtle’s wise and expressive face. Lovely!”
I painted this sea turtle while teaching a workshop in Kauai this February after photographing turtles on the beach. It’s painted on a highly textured piece of watercolor paper, using stark contrast and expressive color. One of my all time favorite paintings, it sold during the first hour of the sale!


Golden Dogwoods — Honorable Mention
Judge: Bradley Lawrence, Principal Judge

“Lovely use of difficult media. Beautiful presentation. The artist has so many strong pieces here, and they show thoughtful, confident technique and vision. Amazing balance of control and the uncontrolled. Beautiful.”
The idea for this series evolved after marbling over a gold piece of watercolor paper. I loved the resulting bling and wanted to paint on it. After being invited to paint for the botanical show at the Chinese Garden — Lan Su In Bloom, I decided to test out the concept with these dogwood blossoms I photographed at the Oregon Garden.

Out My Back Door — Lakewood Center Award
Judge: Andrew Edwards

“Restful yet filled with images that emerge and recede within and between the trees and the shades of color.”
There is a wealth of pattern, shape and color to be found in the forest. This is literally the view out my door! I noticed one evening as the light was fading how the trunks were dark against the sky but silhouetted in front of the dark hills they were light. This wasn’t visible in the photograph, so I made a couple of quick sketches, then worked from them, exaggerating the light and color.


I’ve just updated my handout on how to paint on cradled panels by American Easel. The easiest way is to use their new Watermedia Panels, which have a wonderful painting surface that is a fun alternative to paper. I like it better than paper!

This 2 page handout tells all…


And also this handout, telling how you can finish watercolor paintings with acrylic,
both on a panel or with traditional framing.

I’ll be demoing at the Art Extravaganza tomorrow…


Outside a foot of ice is melting into rain — a good time to think about warm days ahead! I’m starting to pack for Hawaii while also preparing to meet with my Croatia group on Monday. I always take my painting easel on the go.

When you’re traveling around or painting plein air, it’s handy to have a light-weight easel that folds down compact and sets up easily. While there are many types you can purchase ready to use, I decided to design and make my own. I wanted one that’s more portable than any I could find. I built this easel several years ago and have traveled with it to Hawaii, France and Italy, plus I use it for teaching throughout the region. Here I am sketching in Croatia!


To make one, you will need:
Dibond — for table surface
Spare camera mounting plate (if you want to keep the original plate for your camera)
Two tiny bolts with washers and nuts
Gatorbord – 1/4 inch
Hardware clips
Strong but light weight tripod with ball head —

I started out using a BENRO aluminum tripod which is really quick to adjust, along with my MANFROTTO ball head that uses a quick release mounting plate.

Now I often travel with a DIC & MIC tripod instead. Made of carbon fiber, it is even lighter weight than the Benro and collapses to a smaller size for packing. The screw extension system isn’t quite as quick as Benro’s clips  for adjusting the legs but the extra portability is worth it. Available from AliExpress for just $109, this knock-off is quite comparable in quality to way more expensive brand name tripods. And it comes with a ball head that could work almost as well as the Manfrotto.  The camera mounting PLATE for DIC & MIC may be a bit trickier to place and remove from the head each time but being thicker than the manfrotto PLATE it may be easier to attach to the Dibond.  Since my plate fits the Manfrotto head, I still use that one and just swapped out the tripod legs.

Dibond —Aluminum Face/Polyethylene Core Panel — the material I recommend using for the plate

It is not plexiglass. Dibond is a thin sheet of acrylic sandwiched between two very thin sheets of aluminum, which makes it quite strong for the weight.

It comes in different colors, white is the most economical. I believe it may be slightly thicker in width than the stuff I used — mine is actually an older scrap piece that’s less than an eighth-inch thick that I bought from Multi-Craft Plastics. It is a bit larger than a quarter sheet of watercolor paper. For a larger surface I attach a sheet of 1/4 inch gatorboard using hardware clips. More width would actually make construction easier, with less grinding required.

Multi-Craft Plastics
7298 SW Tech Center Dr
(503) 352-0970

Assembly is pretty easy if you have some power tools and a handy man! Basically, you just bolt a camera mounting plate onto a sheet of Dibond. My husband Tom did the drilling & grinding.

Holes were drilled in the Dibond, wedge shaped at the top, so the bolts will counter sink into the Dibond plate. Tom then drilled two holes in the camera plate, one on either side of the center hole. He modified a couple of small, phillips, flat head bolts to fit, cutting off the ends of the bolts (after inserting). He also ground down the flat “head” ends of the bolts so they would fit flush when placed in the holes.

He ground the nuts down to be thin enough to fit flush inside the recess of the plate. Then I painted the hardware with black acrylic paint.

Ideal for painting plein air, this painting easel has already given me years of use! I’ve never seen one I like better.


While it may come more easily for some than others, drawing is something to form a habit of. The benefit is in the doing! Drawing is a learned skill, and just like swimming or playing the violin, the more you do it the more comfortable you’ll be.

Beginning artists either feel like they have a latent ability for art — or they don’t. It’s really fun to watch someone who has absolutely no idea they can draw, discover that they have an aptitude for it. That happened with my friend Mary McCarty, who is phenomenal! Here’s one of her drawings with just minimal color. Others have no color. See more of her work HERE.

That is not to say that drawing will come easily for you — sometimes it does and sometimes it does not. But you can count on this: If you give yourself permission to work with it — to actually spend time doing it — you will improve. It’s best starting out if you simply let go of the idea of being “good” or having “good” drawings and work on being expressive. Just draw for yourself. Sometimes working on accuracy can be useful, but the main thing is to find a way to enjoy the meditative process of drawing, so you will continue to want to do it.

In a Creative Catalyst film, PATTERN & FORM: Advanced Collage Techniques, Anne Bagby recommends drawing 15 minutes every day.

I had always thought of drawing as being a “drawn out”, time consuming process! My goal had been either to make complete, intricate drawings as a way of better understanding my subject or to make simple outlines as painting guides or when working through design issues.

The idea of quick, expressive sketches appeals to me. Just like with any exercise, the discipline of regular, short intervals makes a huge difference in comfort level with drawing. Try it! Not having time is no excuse when it only takes 15 minutes of your day. To develop the habit, set a time that you can devote each day. And stick to it!

One other thing…
If drawing isn’t the place where you naturally excel, don’t worry! You will discover other areas where your talents will sing. It could be your sense of color or design, or even a pattern of discipline or tenacity. It could be something else. But give yourself lots of space to explore your own unique creative abilities.