A Plein Air Watercolor Workshop

Young and Old AlikeWe will do some initial indoor exercises to remind ourselves what the unique properties of watercolor are and what makes the medium so dynamic and exciting. We will also talk about the principles that underlie a good painting in any medium, and what painting has to offer in the age of photography. Then we will venture out, weather willing, to locations around gorgeous San Juan Island to apply these principles to the more challenging task of composing a painting from outdoor life. Just a suggestion, it may be a good idea to dress in layers appropriate for the weather forecast and bring your lunch and/or whatever snacks you need to keep you going all day.

Registration deadline: April 29, 2017
Place: SJIMA, 540 Spring Street, Friday Harbor
Class size: maximum 10 students (only 2 openings left)
Student level: all levels
Cost: $200
 To register: contact Malinda Dryer 360-378-2918 or

Workshop Description

Watercolor and Nature are a good match, and the results don’t have to look wimpy or washed out. My immersion in the natural world is my most abiding lifelong value, and I want to reflect its importance in strong, bold paintings. It’s a convenient medium for people who like to be outdoors – highly portable, quick to execute, low toxicity – and I’ve taken it from sea shore to mountain top. I’ll show you how I think about and make paintings that go beyond rendering the appearance of a place to paying tribute to it, as well as pass on practices and tips I’ve learned from experience and great teachers.

Coastal ForestMaterials List

  1. Paper: I like 140 lb archival (100% cotton or rag) watercolor papers with a cold press or rough finish, such as Arches, Fabriano, Saunders-Waterford, Kilimanjaro. I’ve been known to paint on gessoed or synthetic paper too but I keep coming back to traditional watercolor papers as offering the most flexibility. But let’s work with whatever you have, so long as it is 100% cotton. I rarely work larger than quarter sheet outdoors: 11” x 15.” And we’ll do some exercises on smaller pieces first.
  2. Brushes: A minimum basic set of a #8 round, a one-inch flat, and a rigger or other fine pointing brush if you are purchasing new; or whatever you are used to and already have. Watercolor brushes are traditionally much softer than acrylic or oil brushes. If this is your first experience with watercolor, don’t buy expensive red sable brushes right away. Even though many people swear by them, I’m hard on equipment and find soft synthetics to be just fine.
  3. Paints: Again, a basic set of colors for experimenting with. “Professional” or artists” watercolors in tubes are almost always more intense than pans; I use only tube colors. But bring what you have if you already have watercolors; it’s not a requirement to go out and get all new paints. Here is my basic color set; I try to have both a cool and warm version of each basic color, as well as a good mix of transparent/opaque/staining pigments. Every manufacturer’s paints are different; I mix them up a lot. I generally like Daniel Smith, Schminke, Holbein and Winsor & Newton. I’ve developed a personal addiction to some particular hues, but again, bring what you have.
Hue Cool Warm
Yellows Aureolin (transparent) Cadmium Yellow (opaque)
Quinacrodone Gold (stain)
Raw Sienna (more opaque than transparent)*
Permanent Alizarin Crimson or Carmine(stain)
Ruby Red, Opera, Quinacrodone Magenta  (stain)
Potters Pink (transparent)
Cadmium Red (opaque)
Permanent Orange (opaque)
Quinacrodone Sienna (stain)
Rose Madder (transparent) 
Blues Indigo/Phthalo Blue (stain)
Cerulean Blue (opaque)
Manganese Blue Hue (transparent)
Ultramarine (opaque)
Royal, Indanthrone or Schminke’s Delft Blue (stains)
Cobalt Blue (opaque) 
Greens Phthalo Green (stain)
Viridian (transparent)
Sap Green  or Serpentine Green (stain), Hookers Green or Terre Verte (transparent)
Earth Pigments Raw Umber (opaque) Burnt Sienna (most are transparent, but Dan Smith’s is opaque)

I’ve italicized the ones that are most important to me. I don’t use much black myself; I usually mix blacks and greys from two complements. I find an opaque white and a few other colors, such as Dan Smith’s Cascade Green and Permanent Orange, Windsor & Newton’s Lavender, handy and interesting but not essential.
Depending on what kind of paints you have, a palette for squeezing out and storing gobs of paint from the tubes, that way you don’t have to carry them around for every trip. The lightweight plastic ones with divided buckets around the sides are perfectly fine.
1-2 water containers for painting with. I have (2) 12-oz plastic beer cups that fit my plein air easel tray. A small spray bottle is nice for juicing up your dried gobs and wet paint effects.

  1. A notebook for notes and value sketches
  2. Pencils for making preliminary drawings. I use a good old 2B most of the time
  3. Pencil sharpener
  4. Kneaded or white vinyl eraser
  5. A board to paint on that’s just a bit larger than your paper. I don’t stretch the paper, I use bulldog clips to hold it on to the board. I have and use both special watercolor boards that fit on my plein air easel and pieces of gator board or foam core covered with adhesive mylar.
  6. Clean up and wiping/painting rags. I like to cut up old T shirts. I throw them in the washer with my dark laundry when they get too dirty and have used some for years.
  7. After some initial exercises we will go paint outside (“plein air”) if the weather permits. I intend to have a number of photos of some of our locations if the weather doesn’t permit.
  8. Portable easel if you have one. I think I paint better standing at one; mine works with a camera tripod. However, on many trips I sit on the ground on a foam pad or a low folding chair, so a portable easel is not a requirement. Some people also bring a folding stool or chair if they don’t like to stand.
  9. A camera is handy but not a requirement.