2019 Message From Eric:

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

Browse Eric’s 2018 DEAR ERIC COLUMN


Dear Eric,
I enjoy your loose Watercolors as I find them visually exciting. I emulate what you are doing and am trying to incorporate some of your design techniques from your video series into my paintings. However, as much as I appreciate what you are doing, I do not see many paintings- even the abstract ones- in the national shows with your loose style.  Why is that?

Ken from Oregon


That is a very good question and I have frequently wondered the same.  In part, it may be due to the fact, that pulling off a powerfully loose painting is not as easy as it may first appear.  It takes years of practice, decisiveness, an understanding of design and a mature grasp of the medium.

I think there may also be a second reason. I would venture to guess the majority of the acclaimed artists in today’s watercolor competitions are those who have developed their skills in the commercial world, and then have changed careers or retired to enter the fine art market. The commercial design companies can provide a skill set and discipline, let alone an income, that is enviable. I find those artists have a high degree of control of the medium and an exactitude that can be very appealing; however, the looseness and power of suggestion that I so aspire to do not appear to be qualities encouraged in commercial design firms- with an easily understood reason: they are about selling a product, not paintings.

It is not an easy thing to start out one’s career as a fine artist and so, understandably, many have chosen to work in commercial design firms. The disciplines are easily transferred into the fine art world- at times a detriment because they can so predominantly influence an erroneous view of what quality painting should be, and at other times have positively brought a host of well-disciplined and refined artists into the fine art world.

So, if you want to paint loosely, do so! If done with a strong design set, your paintings will be as individual as you are – and set you apart from a predominantly tight painting world.

Keep your brush wet!



Recently I was in an engaging conversation with one of my virtual critique students and I struggled with how to push him into a more aggressive color statement. Rather than furthering a discussion of technique that is outlined in my books and videos, I thought of a different approach:

I suggested that he paint in two values only. Shove everything into a dark or light value. Naturally, if something is in shadow- even a white object- it would be relegated to the dark value.  (This is not an elementary exercise; for the most part this is the way I think when I do my paintings. I then will tease in a few additional values within the two large value masses to “round out” the painting.)

By working in two values it only stands to reason that the shapes will be larger- a dark car will be joined to a dark bush, a white house shape will be joined to a light sky.

Aggressive color is much easier to attain with larger shapes- it encourages a boldness with a saturated large brush that can be difficult while executing smaller separated shapes.

So, for aggressive color statements, try limiting your values to only two.  I think you might be surprised at the results.

Keep your brush wet!



Dear Eric,
I like to  paint on location what I see; I like more representational paintings, but my paintings are still a mess!  What am I doing wrong?
Janice from Hawaii
You live in a nice environment that is conducive to outdoor painting- I see why you would be drawn to that.  I think – and this is after many years of working with students- that your problem is an issue of perception; you are not seeing relationships and objects correctly.  I would guess that you are letting your mind override what you are observing through your retina and transposing the information into what you think you are seeing.  All traditional artists have had to train themselves to see and not impose, or assume, on their subject. Frequently, I have had to tell my students to pretend they have stepped off a spaceship from Mars and are seeing things for the first time.
Examples of our minds imposing on the visual accuracy of our subject abound- but I will give you a very common misperception: white buildings in shadow. They are a dark, and not a light as our minds may fool us to believe.
How to correct our vision?  There are several ways.  Squint and compare the values of the large  masses- which is darkest and which is lightest, and what falls between. This is true for any subject matter, but especially so for landscapes. Do not assume you know without looking carefully!  Values that are similar should be grouped together into one value for simplicity and a strong design.
Secondly, a life drawing class will expose errors in your drawing, as you will easily be able to identify erroneous proportions.  We all know what a correct human figure should look like.

Keep your brush wet!



Dear Eric,

How do you know what color to use in your paintings? It all seems so random!

Sue from Arizona


How to achieve of a good color harmony is often very puzzling to a workshop student, yet it not need to be so. Because I am basically an expressionist watercolorist – one who chooses his own color scheme without dependence on realistic color harmonies – color selection is done more on an intuitive level, and not based solely on what I see visually.

With that being said, upon completion of my value study, I have a sense of whether I would like my painting to be on the cool or warm side of the color wheel. Once I start applying color, I get a sense of what colors I would like to apply next. This is not as haphazard or as mysterious as it sounds, because I know a very import painting fact: color can be anything as long as it is reasonable, but my values have to be well organized. In other words, I really don’t have to watch my color selection that carefully, but I do need to keep a clear focus on my value study.  A well- organized (refined or unrefined) value study is the foundation to sensitive color. It sounds paradoxical!

You might also try simplifying your color selection to three to five colors. Your painting can’t help but harmonize!

Keep your brush wet!



I have such a hard time finishing my paintings.  I get halfway through them and they look so ugly I abandon them.  What do you think my problem is?


Ruth from Spokane 

Those who try my method of painting need to excercise the discipline of waiting before seeing results that have a degree of finish.  My shapes are loosely constructed in the beginning. Unfortunately, a process that has a degree of finish from the beginning may provide psychological comfort during the process, but a painterly look usually suffers.

I prefer to block in my largest masses and refine as I come to the finish line.  It all tends to snap together at the end.  My suggestion for you is to work through the uncomfortable “unfinished “ stage of the painting through to completion.  You have nothing to lose.  I especially would encourage you to do so if your light pattern is still intact- once the light pattern is gone, then the painting is probably also. I generally leave my light pattern the white of the paper and tone it with color at the end, if I need to.

So press forward with your painting until it is complete, ruined, or you don’t have anything else to say.  Most of my paintings don’t come together until the very end.

Keep your brush wet!




It seems to me there are some pretty nice synthetic brushes on the market now. Have you experimented with them, and what is your opinion?

Carol in Seattle


Yes, I have noticed a few attractive- looking synthetic brushes. At first glance they appear to be made of a natural hair until I try them out, and then I realize they are synthetic. It seems like the brush makers are getting more skilled at trying to duplicate the unsurpassed water carrying capacity of a natural hair brush, but are not there yet and probably never will be. I feel the natural hair brushes are the better value for several reasons:

The better synthetic brushes are priced close to a comparable natural brush; therefore, there is no price advantage with a synthetic.

A good natural hair brush still has a larger water carrying capacity than a synthetic.

Natural hair brushes splay out more uniformly for painting texture, as in foliage or grass. The synthetics tend not to stay splayed, and undesirably snap back to a point.

I think the brush world is still some distance from duplicating the beauty and function of a natural hairbrush.

Keep your brush wet!