2021 Messages From Eric:

Eric shares his expertise and insights into watercolor painting to help you grow as an artist and find your own style.  He will happily address any of your questions and talk about his own experiences gained since he started on this journey over 30 years ago.

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I have written about this topic at least once before. Because of its importance and the frequency of questions about it from my Zoom mentoring students, it bears repeating.

I tend to make my mid-tone shapes the larger shapes in my paintings because the color – and I like lots of it – lies in the mid-tones as opposed to the darks or lights. The lights can be just tints or the white of the paper and the darks are limited in color because lighter, more vibrant colors such as yellows are left out. With the mid-tones being the larger shapes, the painting will be more colorful.

Also, I like to begin my paintings with the largest shapes – this is called blocking in – so it is quite natural to begin with the mid-tones.

Usually in the initial wash of the mid-tones I will try to establish a dark somewhere in the painting so I have a dark value to compare my mid-tones against.

Mid-tones are a favorite way for me to start a painting; I get a lot of color established soon and a quick block-in established.

Keep your brush wet!




The squirrel mop brush is the most used brush in my quiver. Yet when I was in art school I wondered why anybody would use it. It’s floppy and therefore hard to control when used like a traditional round. However, when used correctly, it is masterful.

The squirrel mop’s beauty is that it holds a tremendous amount of water, and therefore, it unloads juicy washes of color almost effortlessly. I always have moist pigment, fresh from the tube—or if it is several days old, it still needs to be of the same consistency—or else the brush will not pick up adequate amounts of the pigment with its soft hairs. Unlike a sable or a synthetic brush it does not have the stiffness to penetrate sticky, let alone hardened, pigment.

I have found that students in my Zoom Mentoring classes have some difficulty in achieving dark washes with the squirrel mop. It will work great for the darks; the key is to extract most of the water from the brush prior to loading it with pigment. Otherwise the resulting wash of color will likely be a mid-tone.

To achieve a rich dark loading of the brush, first rinse out the brush from the previous application and then unload the bristles’ water on a sponge. I vigorously wipe the brush back and forth several times while pushing the bristles firmly against the sponge, to achieve the desired dampness I want in the bristles. It will take some practice to get a feel for this. Then I load up the brush with the fresh pigment, do a swipe on the palette, and if I need a bit more dampness, I may touch the brush to the water.

Students have a tendency to have too much water in the squirrel mop when trying to load the dark pigments. Get most of the water out first. Then, after loading the brush with pigment, add back in a small amount of water, if needed.

Keep your brush wet!




As artists, we know that the outline of an object gives it its identity. The outside edge of an evergreen tree triggers the brain to recognize it as a tree without having to understand all the detail and form. The outline gives the main clue as to what the object is. Value plays a part here too, but not to the same degree as the outside edge.

Similarly, a cube can be recognized as a cube even if it is painted all in one value; no three-dimensional aspect is indicated, there are no value shifts. In my terminology, it is painted “flat.”

However, if that cube is near the Area of Dominance, it is a good idea to give it form in order to catch the viewer’s eye. If we assign each plane of the cube a different value, the cube looks three dimensional. With each value shift assigned to each plane on that cube, a new shape is made. (I am using the term “shape” in its abstract sense; don’t confuse a shape with an object.)

There is another important design concept at work here: The principle of Conservation of Values, which simply means to limit the number of values in your painting. This keeps the painting from becoming cluttered. Having a limited number of values in a painting strengthens it.

By limiting the values in a painting, we necessarily limit the number of shapes. In our cube example, we may combine the two sides of the cube into one value. Thus, a new single shape is created from those two sides. Limiting the number of values and limiting the number of shapes are flip sides of the same coin.

So, when painting the cube, if it is near my Area of Dominance, I may render the form completely and show all the value shifts. The three-dimensional aspect of it will draw the viewer’s attention. But if I am painting another of the same type of cube further away from the Area of Dominance, I may use only two values, so as not to compete in visual strength with the first cube. Another cube towards the periphery of the painting may be painted in just one value. The view will still recognize it as a cube by its outline.

Strengthen your design by limiting the value shifts, and consequently, the number of shapes, as you move away from the Area of Dominance.

Keep your brush wet!




Since COVID upended our game plan a year ago, we have expanded our teaching to include several different online options. This has turned out to be a silver lining for us as we probably would not have considered it before 2020.

Composition, as well as technique, is covered extensively:

ZOOM WEEKLY MENTORING CLASSES: This has given me a wonderful opportunity to work with students on a long-term basis. The focus is on composition. These classes meet weekly and there are three sessions available: Wednesdays at 4:30 pm, Saturdays at 8:45 am (wait list) and Saturdays at 10:30 am.

All levels of expertise are welcome. This is proving to be a wonderful experience for the students and for me. I am hearing comments such as:

“I am getting a college education in composition.”
“I feel like painting again.”
“Painting is fun now.”
“I am in a gallery and have sold some paintings!”

ZOOM PAINT-ALONGS: Once a month I conduct a three hour paint-along. The students will complete a painting in those three hours. It is a good and fun way to get an introduction to my instruction.

ZOOM WORKSHOPS: This is much like the traditional workshops I have taught for years, except its online. This offers a concentrated three or four day study, which allows plenty of time for students to practice the concepts and techniques presented.

ZOOM VIRTUAL CRITIQUE: This extended critique is offered to individuals who desire one-on-one time with me. I will evaluate a set of the student’s paintings and set out a path for growth.

I hope you can join us on Zoom.

Keep your brush wet!




One easy way to clean up a value pattern—especially if the subject is complicated, such as a street scene—is to reduce it to two values. This is not as easy as it sounds, because complex subjects have a wide range of values, and it is often hard to determine whether an object falls into the mid-tones or the lights. For example, what value is a black car that’s in the light? Do you make it a light value, or is it a darker value because the car is black?

The answer is to change our thinking by focusing only on light and shadow. Whatever is in the light, leave at a light value – regardless of whether it’s a dark object such as the car, or a light object such as a white house. If we sort all of the objects according to whether they’re in light or shadow, and paint them accordingly, our paintings will be greatly simplified.

For added interest I will tease in some darks, but I focus on a simplified value pattern by only considering what the light is hitting and what’s in shadow.

Keep your brush wet!




Progress in our painting is not just one nice easy ride up a hill of continuous, steady improvement. Rather, it is excitement fueled by welcome improvement, interspersed with what seems like no progress, possibly even some regression.

This is all part of the painting process. We need to keep in mind that as long as we are painting we will most likely see improvement in the long run. Some regression or stepping back is expected when stretching ourselves in interpretation or technique.

What I have the most difficulty with, though, are the long plateaus. Sometimes it seems like instead of moving forward or back, I’m just in a holding pattern. I have learned these periods are really launching points for further development. Eventually new ideas do surface – a lot of times from the most seemingly insignificant periods of development. So as discomforting as some of these plateaus may be — and they can seem to go on for quite a while — they are also periods of staging for new fertile ideas that refine our paintings. And then the hill of development and marked improvement starts all over.

We all like to have the excitement of the hills of creative development, but it’s just not possible or desirable. We also need the valleys and plateaus to further our creative expression.

Keep your brush wet!