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 other 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)