Do you have an issue in your development as an artist you would like Eric to address? Whether you are struggling with a particular area of your work or just a general question, Eric will share his expertise and insights to help you grow as an artist and find your own style.  Eric will address your questions but he also encourages you to share your experiences in DEAR ERIC COLUMN. This will be published every month for 2018. (We will address one issue per month, so if you don’t see your issue addressed in the month you sent in your email, look for them in the following months. Issues will be addressed in the order they are received and for educational value.)

To participate, send your issue or question to Be sure to put in the subject line DEAR ERIC. Use your first name and the state or country you are living. If you prefer we not use your first name, just let us know in the email and we will only use your state or country.

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January February March April May June
July August September October November December


Dear Eric,
do you recommend studying with one workshop instructor, or trying a variety of them? It seems as though if I take a workshop again from a former instructor, I may have learned it all from before, and if I take from a variety of instructors, I may get confused. What do you recommend? Evie from Colorado
That is a good question anybody who takes workshops should ask. You, like others, want to make sure your investment in a workshop is a sound choice. As your concerns are appreciated, I think that you may be neglecting the most important element of learning: repetition.
At the American Academy of Art in Chicago, I studied under a master of watercolor painting- Irv Shapiro- for three years. Even though I heard him explain concepts and techniques many times, they didn’t become part of my repertoire until I was ready to assimilate them. Countless times I remember saying, ” Oh, now I see what you mean”, even though I had heard it many times before. It takes hearing the info, putting it to practice, hearing it again, and practicing it again. There is a maturing process that has to unfold on its own timetable for the student to think like the master. The info and technique just doesn’t gel for us in one fell swoop. And thankfully not, or the creative growth would be shortchanged.
So, my suggestion is to find an instructor whose paintings you appreciate -as that is what he or she, of course, is going to teach- and get as much instruction as possible. Layers of understanding will unfold at a depth unattainable in one course. It takes time.
Taking from a variety of instructors will expose you to a broad range of philosophy and technique, and can supplement serious study with one individual, but I think in the end, find your “hero” and study with him or her.
Note: I am providing a long-term study opportunity with my students via Skype or FaceTime. It has been very rewarding. If you would like further info, go to “Virtual Critique” or send me an e-mail, I am happy to answer any questions!

Keep your brush wet!
1-1-18  January (PDF)


Dear Eric,
I was in your masa paper workshop this summer.  I have a question about the finish we learned with the acrylic varnish and wax on the masa. If someone wants to frame it with glass, is it okay to put it over the painting directly because of the varnish finish, or should it be matted to keep the painting from direct contact with the glass?
It is unadvisable to have glass in contact with any form of two- dimensional artwork.  Glass can be abrasive and cause some damage to the image if in contact with it.  The mat provides a breathable and protective space to ensure longevity of the image.  With the new framing glass available in today’s market – we use Museum glass-  the image can be protected excellently for generations.

Keep your brush wet!
2-1-2018 February (PDF)


Dear Eric,
I’m really hoping that you’ll answer my question. As a beginner watercolorist, I’ve been intently studying watercolor for over two years, but still haven’t painted very much. I feel inhibited to use the “very expensive” paints, especially possibly getting other colors mixed in with them thus losing my original color. I’ve been letting my colors dry in the palette (which does make them easy to clean), but then it takes a lot of “elbow grease” with some water and a brush to get any amount of paint from these wells when I actually want to use them. I see you use freshly squeezed out paint in your wells, and you’re dipping your brush in multiple colors without rinsing the brush. How do you keep your paints clean, or does this really matter to you?
Linda from Nevada

You have asked a question that is most likely one of the biggest challenges to watercolorists: how to keep our colors fresh and exciting.  The following I have found very helpful:

1) I squeeze out enough fresh color so that it is the consistency of sour cream.  Once it starts to set up and become gooey, then it becomes difficult to “grab” with my brush and I resort to scrubbing color in the wells- a sure recipe for muddy colors.
2) I make sure I have plenty of moist colors so I can stack multiple colors on the brush.
3) I don’t over mix!  Muddiness is caused by over mixing and indecisive handling, not poor color selection. Sometimes I will just let the colors mix on the paper. If I do mix my colors, it is usually not more than two or three strokes.
4) I use enough water so that a bead of water forms at the bottom of my washes.  This is a sign that the water is mixing the colors, which produces a very fresh look.
5) I am aggressive about my darks- I can only achieve these rich washes with fresh color.
6) Once the paint becomes sticky and unresponsive, I throw it away.  I would much rather throw away hardened color than poor paintings done with that hardened color.
7) If my wells have enough paint (a pinky knuckle’s length) then there is little cross contamination of colors in the wells by stacking multiple layers on the brush.

This is just an overview.  I strongly recommend you get my video titled Color Mixing as this will help you to see what I mean and will give further insight.

Keep your brush wet!
3-1-2018 March (PDF)


Dear Eric,
I have your landscape video which I really enjoy.
Here is my question: is there a specific method to learn how to create the differing values?


I think what you are really asking is how to become sensitive, as an artist, to the varying value shifts that happen in a landscape.  As you seem to imply, there is more to it than just simply looking at photo references, and you are entirely correct.  Photo references tend to run the lighter values together-such as the ground and sky- so that they are indistinguishable, creating a lack of depth; or the darks become so black that they lack a sense of reflected light.  Both are to be avoided.

The best option is to go on location and squint- this gets rid of extraneous information- at the subject before you, then you will, with time, be able to see how the values line up in relationship with each other.  This last point is very important: in relationship with each other.  I try to determine what is my lightest light, my darkest dark, and then compose all my values between those two goal posts. I may group some shapes that are close in value into one value to keep the composition simple, and thus strong. Eight value shifts are ample; however, it is a good exercise to limit the value range to three or four.  It will require a lot of simplification, but your composition will benefit and you will be on your way to understanding the discipline of design.

Even if you are unable to paint on location, simple observation and a few notes can be very helpful to determine the value relationships.

Keep your brush wet!
4-1-2018 April (PDF)


Dear Eric,
I noticed in the video of your window painting street demo in Spain that you were using a small portable pallet. What brand and does it include paints or did you use your own from tubes?


The hand held palette is actually quite old- 30 years.  It is an enameled metal Holbein palette.  Like the preferred butcher tray palette popular with watercolorists, enameled surfaces eliminate water beading. It is heavier than a plastic hand-held palette, but the ease in which to mix pigments on the enamel surface offsets that.

I thought this palette was off the market, but recently a student told me they were able to find this same palette from a source in Japan.  I have not pursued looking into it.

Even though many hand-held palettes have wells designed to hold cake colors, I prefer moist paint- I simply squeeze out fresh paint for each painting session. This is the only way I know to achieve the rich color harmonies I so enjoy.

Keep your brush wet!
5-1-2018 May (PDF)


Dear Eric,
I have your landscape video which I really enjoy. Here is my question: is there a specific method to learn how to create the
differing values?


The important thing to remember is that the values assigned to the landscape masses are in relation to each other- technically, it doesn’t really matter what value you assign to your sky; however, you need to assign the other value masses in proper relationship to it. (If your sky is too dark, the mid tones and darks may be too similar in value, and consequently unreadable). The same can be said of the ground, hills, or trees, whichever you choose to block in first. For the most part, I keep them distinct and separate. This ensures that the sky goes over, the ground lies flat, and the hills and trees rise from the ground.

Another thing, if you have an interest in painting the value masses as they appear realistically, then there is no better way than to go out and squint at your motif. The big relationships should be evident. Some artists prefer the help of a square of red cellophane, as it will mask the colors and the value masses will be more readily understood.

Keep your brush wet!
6-1-2018 June Dear Eric (PDF)


Dear Eric,
Since the professional brand of watercolor paper, such as Arches, is rather expensive, how do you feel about using inexpensive and cheap watercolor paper, like that which is usually spiral bound, for practicing on?
Karen from Boston


Unfortunately, the cheaper paper will give you exactly that: cheap looking results. Time and again I have had frustrated and defeated students show me their work on the same paper, only to find that using a quality rag paper makes all the difference in the brilliance and handling of their pigments. Some students are hard to convince, and they continue being frustrated and defeated.

Remember, the paper can be used on both sides, and can be purchased in quantity for a substantial savings. Also, you never know when you may turn out a “gem”, and you will be glad it is on good paper.

The same can be said for using plenty of fresh paint rather than the hardened, sticky, small globs only a miser would love, and for using a few brushes of high quality to achieve a variety of techniques rather than a host of inferior synthetic brushes that do very little.
Watercolor painting is a challenge; it is wise to get the things you have control over going for you.

Keep your brush wet!

7-1-2018 July Dear Eric (PDF)


Dear Eric,
Sometimes I feel this strong tension to put a stroke down on my painting of something that really isn’t there versus to paint what is there. It is like my brain is split in half!  Should I follow my intuition or go with what I know is really there? Carol from Michigan


I am glad you are feeling this tension- it is a healthy indication of growth, as uncomfortable as it is. It is a sign that your sense of design is calling out to be heard over what you see visually. After years of trying to understand this struggle- for many years I could not understand this struggle- I can assure you that letting your design sense win out, will in the end, not only create the best you have to offer, but the experience will also be more satisfying. The seeds of your uniqueness are birthing forth; don’t squelch them!  It will take some courage, though, as logic does not play an important role here- it is your intuition drawing upon years of experience taking over.

Unfortunately, many artists do not achieve this higher level of thought. Expectations of a realistic rendering by an unknowing market and uninformed friends, photographic influences, and a misplaced desire to be known can dampen such creative impulses. Learn to recognize the small, quiet voice that tells you to take a creative risk, as illogical as it may seem at the time. It is highly reliable, but it won’t compete in the din.

Keep your brush wet!

8-2018 Dear Eric PDF


Dear Eric,
I was recently at a prominent artist’s retrospective and the “works on paper” were under a low lighting ambience.  It was explained that the paper will yellow and watercolor pigments will fade under a stronger lighting.  Is this true, and doesn’t this put a stigma on my watercolor paintings?
Amy from Seattle


Today’s professional watercolor products are extremely durable and long-lasting. Many of today’s pigments have come out of the automotive (note how long the paint jobs on cars last these days) and plastics industry and are therefore very permanent. One watercolor representative told me that his supplier tested the permanence to last at least 100 years- I wonder if oil paint manufacturers can say the same!  Personally, I have not seen any indication of fading of my paintings over the 36 years of my career, and some of my earlier paintings were quite exposed.

One does need to be careful to use professional quality pigments that have a lightfastness rating of permanent; inferior paints will not hold up.  Also, it is important to use a good quality watercolor paper made of cotton, much like the canvas oil painters use. Cotton will not deteriorate or yellow as fast as acidic wood pulp. There are other types of paper made of products different than cotton, but as long as it is labeled archival, I think you would be fine for longevity.

Amy, unfortunately, the inferior watercolor products used in the past- some pigments were made of very fugitive elements such as camel urine and even mummies! – have set a tone of fragility and impermanence that permeates the uninformed art world to this day.  Today I am still amazed to hear “knowledgeable” curators and gallery owners make ignorant comments such as “Well, you know, watercolors will fade.”

I was at recently at a show of a prominent artist’s watercolors that were under low light conditions because they “fade and turn yellow” I took a closer look at them and they appeared to consist of a very poor quality of wood pulp paper and the pigments did not look any better.  I would expect nothing less! However, this is certainly not universal for today.

So, spread the word, we do have a permanent product!

Keep your brush wet!

9-2018 Dear Eric PDF


Dear Eric,
How many paintings do you work on at once? 
Carol from New York


The number has changed over the years; more recently I have found that having four or five unfinished pieces around the studio is a good number.  I have found that I am more efficient in my thinking, and consequently have more fun, if I jump from one painting to another. When I am involved in one painting, the clarity of what I must do to another painting can become quite evident.  It is all rather interesting; there must be something in it that allows the subconscious thought process to come forth.

In my earlier years I would stay with one painting until it was done. I think this is the harder way, as I would try to force myself to solve a painting when I simply wasn’t capable of it at the time; most likely fatigue was setting in. This is mentally draining. I think it is a lot more fun and less stressful by jumping from one painting to the next.

Keep your brush wet!

10-2018 Dear Eric PDF


Dear Eric,
I have a hard time getting my values exactly as I want them on my paintings. When I paint in an aggressive way as you do, I do not always “nail them”. If I am more careful on getting my values correct, then I miss out on the aggressive application of paint required for rich color. What do you recommend? 
John from Vermont


Good question! Those who paint very carefully in order to ensure their values are correct seem to miss out on the aggressiveness that a watercolor could be.

Watercolor can rival any medium in brilliant, bold application of expressive color, but we can’t play it safe like we can with other mediums. However, I would much rather have expressive, rich color at the expense of exacting values. Consequently, many times some degree of later adjustment of my values may be necessary for a better design. As you know, this is all ok if all I need to do is darken a few areas, but it can be problematic to lighten some areas because of the nature of the medium. This may require some lifting or using opaque white; however, I would still rather look for an area I can darken to avoid the lifting.

I think the risk of missing on some of my values for the benefit of rich color is worth it.

Keep your brush wet!

11-2018 Dear Eric PDF


Dear Eric,
What is your daily schedule like?
Ann from Washington


I know my schedule, after all these years, can seem like a quandary to you, as if I am some loose marble rolling on the labyrinth of life at unpredictable and ever changing angles! At times I have painted in the mornings, sometimes in the afternoons, sometimes not at all, and sometimes with feverish abandon.  Sometimes I have paperwork to do and customers to talk to and employees to visit with.  And as you know, our children, in the past, have needed rides to the dentist, play practices, sports, Scouts, church events and music practices.  And don’t forget our homeschooling and exercise times. And the building of our house! Yes, sometimes I didn’t get started on paintings until 4:30 in the afternoon, and I am so sorry for the times I did not get home on time for the wonderful dinners you made! But what a wonderful life!

Now that we are empty nesters, my schedule is much more stable- I try to get to the gallery by 9:30 and have a few hours of solitude time painting before Christl comes in and opens the door to the public.  It seems that today two – three hours per day of concentrated painting time is enough- after that I start to stumble over myself. (In the early years, remember how I would need many more hours than that to focus on paintings?)

So, I try to get home by 12:30 and enjoy a delicious lunch from your homemade bread and follow that with a necessary 20 minute nap.

Then I go back to the gallery and do some paperwork, talk to Christl, possibly touch up a painting -if I am not too tired of painting- and call it a day and go to the gym if I hadn`t already gone in the morning.

And then duck hunting season starts and this all falls apart- so we are back to the loose marble situation again! I guess I like to keep you guessing!


12-2018 Dear Eric PDF