2022 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.

A new article is published every month. You can also sign up to receive MESSAGE FROM ERIC as part of our Artists Newsletter HERE.

If you have a question that you would like Eric to answer, just send it to with “Message from Eric” in the subject line.

ARCHIVES:  2020 | 2021



In photographs, the lights are often overexposed so that the ground and sky plane will appear to be the same value, or the darks are underexposed and reveal no reflected color, only blackness. Understanding the proper value relationships of the planes in a landscape can help you overcome the shortcomings of your reference photos.

In most cases the landscape can be divided into four planes: sky, ground, hill, and trees. In order to preserve their distinct identities, each of these needs to be assigned a different value.

If the sun is overhead, the mass with the lightest value is the sky, regardless of whether it’s sunny or overcast. The second lightest value will be assigned to the ground plane because it receives the full impact of the light source from directly overhead. In order for the ground to appear flat and below the sky, the ground must be a darker value than the sky.

The third value is assigned to hills, because an inclined plane does not receive the overhead sun rays as directly as a horizontal plane. The fourth and darkest value is reserved for vertical objects, as they are in shadow and receive reflected light off the ground.

This value distribution—not the details in the painting—is what makes the sky go overhead, the ground lie flat, the hills incline, and the trees and buildings appear vertical. 

There are many variations of this model. For example, when the sun is low in the sky, verticals will receive the most light and consequently would be the lightest value mass. Sand, snow, or sometimes water, may be as light or lighter than the sky, as they are highly reflective.

The important thing to remember is that in order to paint a realistic landscape, the value masses need to be in the right relationship to each other.

The fourth DVD in my Painting Loosely from Photographs series, Landscape Theory, covers this topic in depth. It’s on special this month. Check out all of our January Store Specials. 

Keep your brush wet,




Detail is rarely the answer to our painting challenges.

Years ago, while teaching a plein air workshop in Florida, I learned an important lesson. I was right in the middle of a painting demonstration, trying to paint some palm trees. I was struggling with this unfamiliar subject, until I realized: The character of an object is best conveyed by the careful construction of the outside edge of the shape, not by the interior detail.

Try indicating your subject using a simple flat wash and just a suggestion of texture and detail. You can then complete the picture using bold, fluid brush statements within the shape for a loose effect. Or render the interior with more detail for more definition.

The fifth DVD in my Painting Loosely from Photographs series, Outside Edge Shapes, covers this topic in depth. Check it out in our website store. 

Keep your brush wet,




One of the key elements of a good composition is the area of dominance—the part of the painting that draws and holds the viewer’s attention. The artist achieves this by constructing sharper value contrasts, more intense color, warmer colors, harder edges, and more detail in that focal area. So far, so good. But the flip side of this concept is that the other areas of the painting must be softer, more muted, less detailed. Otherwise, there will not be sufficient contrast for the area of dominance to stand out.

Keep in mind that in watercolor, it is much easier to start with soft edges, tightening them up later as needed, rather than the other way around. I start with soft edges throughout. Then toward the end of the painting session, I create hard edges in my area of dominance and progressively construct fewer and fewer as I move to the outside of the picture plane.

Let your area of dominance make a more powerful statement by simply backing off on the rest of your painting.

Refer to DVD #6 in my Painting Loosely from Photographs series for further exploration of this topic.

Keep your brush wet,




There are several important design principles behind my loose painting style. One of these is to use lots of water and fresh pigment. I will stack several layers of color, one on top of the other, on my brush. Then, with very little mixing, I apply a bold band of rich juxtaposed colors in one stroke. This technique requires plenty of fresh color squeezed onto the palette, as well as decisive brush handling with minimal mixing and stroking. The small bands of broken, complementary color within a single stroke add to the fresh, loose, bold color statement.

My Painting Loosely DVD is a good introduction to this style of painting.

Keep your brush wet,




Sometimes the practicalities of life pull me away from painting for a while. When that happens, I have found that keeping an active sketchbook is an excellent way to keep my right brain engaged. It makes the transition back into the creative process much easier.

I suggest trying a variety of tools for sketching. I find the big clutch pencils with a Nero lead a pleasure to draw with. Once you find a tool that suits you, you’re much more likely to pick it up and use it.

Next time you have some downtime at the airport–or anywhere–pull out your sketchbook and your favorite drawing utensil. Casual sketching is a relaxing way to pass the time. Your confidence will grow as your drawing skills improve, and you will be “in the zone” when it comes time to pick up a paintbrush again.

Keep your brush wet,