A Few Thoughts About Watercolor Glazing


Paradise Creek  Watercolor  on Paper   approx. 5″ x 6″

Well, it is that time of year again.  The 34th Annual Christmas in Miniature Exhibition opens Wednesday, December 3,  at the Chadds Ford Gallery in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. (www.awyethgallery.com)

Needless to say I am delighted to be a part of the exhibit. Since we had such a brutal winter last year I opted to submit “warmer” subjects. A lot of folks don’t need snow and ice reminders! We will see if that was a wise choice.

Common Misconceptions:

It has been 30 years since my first book on watercolor glazing techniques, Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor  was published.  According to the publishers it was the first authoritative book written exclusively on the subject. Since that time a lot of other books and DVDs offering their ideas on the subject have flourished.  While that is fine; in some cases some offerings have only spurred confusion. In an effort to clarify some areas of confusion I will attempt to state my premise regarding the method. First, watercolor is a glorious medium and needs no defense from anyone. One of its greatest attributes is the ability to convey crisp brilliantly fresh washes. For me the last thing I would want to do is destroy that quality.  However, some may have carried things a bit too far. Glazing should enhance the transparent quality of watercolor not create a dull field of opaque color. I had one painter proudly proclaim that he had used 50 layers of  wash in one of his pieces!!  My immediate thought was WHY??? I have heard other questionable feats as well.  The objective should be to create and/or enhance the crisp transparent qualities of the medium. If you want to build up and eventually kill a passage of wash then switch to another medium.

How much is too much?

My reply to that obvious question is to use good judgement. While it is true that you can produce vibrant layers of multiple washes it is important to know something about the nature of your chosen pigments and observe a logical procedure. One important guideline is to allow each wash to dry completely before another wash is applied.  There is some leeway here and experience is your best teacher. However, wisdom dictates that you work with your paints to gain more insight. You can also check the archives of this site and see some exercises.

A logical sequence:

My goal is to produce rich yet transparent color. I’m going to share some sequences with you that took place in Paradise Creek.  Miniature pieces can often be more problematic than larger works. I consider them to be intricate like a fine Swiss watch.  Regardless of size I often use this approach in larger works. Part of my goal is to portray the scene while allowing “accidental” surprises to enrich the development of the painting.



Yes, it IS very wet.  The sequence is critical.  Three colors were selected, M. Graham New Gamboge, Holbein Leaf Green and  Mission Yellow Orange. The paper, 140 lb. cold press D’Arches, was completely dry and the washes were applied to dry paper over a rough pencil sketch.  The sketch was there primarily to allow my students at Artists on the Bluff, in Bluff Park, Alabama get some idea of the concept. The wash was applied in broad sweeps and then I used a fine mist from a sprayer to  hit the still damp washes. Since the paper was at an angle you can see some puddling.  Beginners beware of those puddles. If left to dry on their own they will create unsightly “explosions” on your paper. While they can be removed with some care, once they are dry, the best method is to carefully blot them without disturbing the surface.

The Objective:

The object is to get rid of a lot of white paper while carefully  reserving some key areas.  What appears to be haphazard is actually a part of a plan. I want to keep the feel of a loose on the site watercolor.  The first wash helps loosen up what could become tedious and stiff. Only a small yet critical portion of the paper needs to remain white. Many of the later elements will appear to be bright when areas of the basic wash are left untouched as the painting progresses. The three colors begin to merge but if you look closely you can see some of the green on the lower left side and some of the orange on the right side. The blending is uncontrolled and will produce subtle effects that can’t be obtained in any other way.


The darker green wash was applied after the paper had dried completely. For some the drying time is nerve wracking.  However, if you paint outdoors a lot, sometimes the drying is so fast that you barely have time to work. The green was a Permanent Sap Green.   In the upper portion of the page you will see some “explosions” that were allowed to form because they suggest foliage.  In this sequence the upper part of the paper was sprayed with a bit of water in a fine mist. The green shapes in the lower right were applied to dry paper. This is one of the basic rules. A wet wash on dry paper will produce a definite edge. Edges on moist paper will be soft. While this is very basic I often see students who quickly forget  the simple yet profound basic elements.

Step 3:scooterliftDSC_0285_325In some spots you will see splatter in the foliage along with darker deliberate strokes with a pointed sable round in the foreground.   The blue in the water is American Journey Andrews Turquoise. The darker greens are a mixture of Permanent Sap Green and Thalo Blue. The darker tree trunks were applied to dry paper using a mixture of Mission Yellow Orange, Permanent Sap Green, a bit of W&N Perylene Maroon and Thalo Blue. The object is to create an optical black.  As you examine this example you should be able to see areas pf the creek where the turquoise blue was mixed with sap green in the middle ground. It is always good to make use of your colors in various areas of your painting in order to achieve a pleasing harmony.


As you look at the last example you should notice how certain areas appear to be almost white.  In step two we don’t see that much remarkable contrast. So what happened? The steps you see here are the actual steps. So what is the answer?  Colors react to one another when they are juxtaposed. In this case the contrasting darker values begin to create very nice contrasts. A lot of this could be considered accidental. Personally I prefer to call it serendipity. Far too many times a person will carefully sketch on their paper and then try to follow all of the lines. In most cases, this results in a stiff dead work.  If you will think about the values of your color you will find that you can begin very loosely and refine as you develop the work.

Here is another example of starting off with a loose concept. The section of blue caught my eye and was the reason for the beginning of this piece. Once again a very simple palette, M. Graham New Gamboge, Permanent Sap Green, and American Journey Andrews Turquoise plus a bit of red.


See if you can see the sequence of washes. It is pretty much like the other two examples. The white highlights are the white of the paper.  This piece, Brandywine Memories, recalls an experience in early May many years ago. There was a wonderful atmospheric quality.  It was almost as if I were in a time machine transported back a hundred years or more.  Read the rest of this entry

The Beauty of Watercolor

Salt MarshDSC_0370_186              Salt Marsh                                     watercolor                                             actual size 30″ x 22″

This is a cropped version of a piece that was inspired and developed on site in Maine a few years ago. If you have never experienced a salt marsh, do so with a bit of caution. What appears to be solid ground is often anything but solid. In a few hours all of this lovely expanse of grass will be underwater.  It all depends upon the tide. Those of you who live in areas such as this know all too well how things can change very quickly and without warning if you are unaware. It is sort like life.  My palette was purposely limited to a few predominant colors  The initial sketch in was done with a lot diluted new gamboge on a damp piece of paper.   If you look closely you can see the new gamboge peeking through a portion of the trees and even a bit in the sky. About the only section that did not get covered with color was some of the lighter reflected areas in the marsh.  This piece was executed in a fairly rapid manner. The composition or placement of the shapes was critical to the effect I was  attempting to achieve.


Most of the work was completed with a three inch bristle brush. Yes, I use bristle brushes at times.  I just make sure that they have never had anything other than watercolor in them.  Experimenting with various techniques and tools can help you make meaningful discoveries.  Naturally the opposite is also true.  There are times when experiments fail.  No one is perfect; if you crash and burn just chalk it up to experience. If you opt to use bristle just remember that damp watercolor paper can only stand so much scrubbing before the surface gets scarred. Use a delicate touch unless you want to create a rough surface.    Also be aware that if you disturb a portion of the wet surface; when it dries the color will be darker than the rest of the passage where the paper was not abraded.

The Next Step:

After the initial wash was dry I wet the paper again and flooded a light wash of thalo blue into the sky and down into the water area. Once that was dry the darker washes were applied. The first area of foreground was a mixture of  new gamboge and thalo blue. While portions of the wash was still wet; a bit of Winsor red was introduced in select areas to produce  the brownish effect.   After that wash dried I came in with darker washes of thalo blue, sap green and Winsor red with direct strokes on dry paper. The edges of the trees give evidence of the effect of the damp brush on dry paper. Some of the final strokes in the foreground were accomplished on dry paper.

Fairly quick execution:

Although the paper is a full sheet, the execution was pretty rapid. Painting outdoors will help motivate you to move quickly. Even though this piece was finished in studio the initial execution was influenced by the first encounter.   If you sketch and paint outside you soon realize that the lighting changes rapidly.  In fact it changes every two seconds.  It may not seem that way at certain times and at times the change is somewhat subtle. However, when you get to the end or beginning of the cycle (sunup & sundown) the change becomes more apparent. As a result you need to make quick decisions and plan accordingly.  Think about big shapes and how they interact with other shapes.  Explore the effects of color in relation to shapes. In short, keep on painting.  If the first attempt is not stellar then try again. In fact, if you are totally delighted with the results of your painting effort then chances are that you are not testing yourself enough! .  Don’t beat yourself up but do be your harshest critic.

A Novel approach with the Mr. Clean Eraser:

At times when I’m in the studio and a large wash is drying I will cruise the Internet just to see what I can see. This was one of those moments.  I happened upon a recent work by John Salminen and was admiring his approach.  Now John has a large number of DVD’s and if you really want to get into this you will want to buy some of his videos. First I would be remiss if I did not give credit to John for this discovery.  I think a workshop student introduced it to him. There was some internet postings expressing concern over the use of this product for watercolor.  A few painters were concerned that it might contain some chemical that would be harmful to watercolor paints and/or paper.  John went to the trouble to contact the manufacturer and was assured that there were no chemicals. This sponge works because of the nature of its structure.  I have used it and introduced it to my students at Artists on the Bluff.  They have been amazed at its versatility. You can use it to clean up washes and you can use it to paint.

My personal preference is to build tones and textures with multiple layers of wash. However, I’m always alert to new ways of doing things. This little sponge has merit.  There are times when all of us can use something like this. John took the initiative of contacting the manufacturer to find out something about the product. Once again, the major question was whether there was some additive in the product that would be detrimental to watercolor and/or watercolor paper.   Procter and Gamble says the unique quality is in the composition of the sponge not in any chemical additives. So  check out John’s  video and see if you can find opportunities to add this to your paint box. (An added note: I had developed a video for this sequence. Unfortunately we had serious problems with the video sequence but not with the sponge! The entire saga is too long to convey. Needless to say soft ware changed have been made so hopefully we will not have any future delays of this nature.)

Do bear in mind I am aware that this is not breaking news but for those of you who have not yet encountered its (Magic Eraser’s)  use I thought I would share.

Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?   Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor by Dr. Don Rankin …Purchase direct from the artist at : http://www.createspace.com/3657628

The Antique Shop a remastered DVD 55 minute watercolor demonstration by Don Rankin available at http://www.createspace.com/350893

Enjoy one on one watercolor instruction with Don Rankin on your time schedule at Udemy.com


Taking Chances, a Leap of Faith

Bass Harbor Light               Bass Harbor Light    watercolor   image 14.5″ x 24″

Recently a reader asked to see a larger rendition of this painting. Here it is.  This piece has a bit of history and I’ll elaborate on the title of this article about taking chances. But first a little history.  Up until recently, after a world journey, this painting was hanging on a  collector’s wall.  We have had a great relationship for many years  and he and his wife had moved into a new place. They decided they wanted to upgrade to a larger painting. I don’t normally do trade ins but this was a special situation.


Bass Harbor Light was painted in the fall of 1985 and appeared in a few articles and one of my books. . It began on a rock below the light and was finally finished in my studio. Bass Harbor Light was in a number of juried exhibitions and won several prizes. It traveled to Japan and toured a portion of the country. A noted collector in Japan attempted to purchase the piece only to be insulted by a State Department employee who stated that the exhibition was for “cultural enrichment” and not for crass monetary gain!  News to me!  We attempted to heal the wound to no avail.

Taking Chances

Now to the real story.  In 1985 I was younger and very athletic, training in classical Japanese full contact karate on a constant basis. I had started writing my first book entitled Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor.  I had traveled to New England and the Maritimes with my wife and children to do my research. I made many sketches and took numerous photos for reference as well as spots for the book.  I returned home only to find that my camera had largely malfunctioned. I had no choice but to return to Canada in late summer, early fall. All of the vacationing people had left.  School had started so my wife and children had to stay home. I took my aging parents since they were too old to travel alone. Late September we arrived on our return at Bass Harbor Light. I could see photos everywhere in all of the usual places that sell to tourists.  I wanted to paint the spot but I DID NOT want to copy someone else. It was late afternoon and the park was about to close and I was standing on the observation deck trying to stretch a bit to get just the right angle. Mom and Dad saw the sign, realized that it was closing time and began the trek back to the car.  I promised I would be along in a moment.

Leap of Faith?

Was it a leap of faith or just plain dumb? In a moment of clarity I realized that the best angle was beyond the range of the deck. No one was looking so I went over the rail. With camera slung around my neck and a sketchbook tucked under my right arm I took a mighty leap. I have heard some psychologists say that “jumpers” experience a moment of regret  as they take their final leap. That may be true for suddenly airborne I began to question the sanity of my decision. The boulder that was several feet from the observation deck was about 10 feet below me and coming up fast. Thankfully, my landing was secure I got my sketches and photos. Later I climbed out with ease.

The Quality of the Light

If you live near the sea you know about that wonderful salty veil that diffuses the light. It is glorious.  You can feel it, you can taste it! This was a perfect moment for capturing  that late fall afternoon quality of light. The glazing technique worked well.  After settling on refining the composition to get the design effect I wanted; I began with several layers of wet ‘n wet New Gamboge washes over the entire sheet except for the highlights on the house. I was careful to allow each wash to dry thoroughly. The darker layers of Winsor Red, New Gamboge and Winsor Blue were mixed to create the darker washes and were layered in sequences. No masking was used on any area. I merely painted around some spots and used clear water to blend and bleed some spots.


This will always be a special painting for me and I’m happy to give it a temporary home until someone else comes along and falls in love with it. Was it worth it? I think so. Would I take that leap again?  Probably not, I’m past 70 now and my bones and muscles don’t react the same way these days. Why am I telling this story?  I suppose the real question is what is your level of commitment? Now please don’t got jumping off high places because of my story. In the passion of the moment I took a leap. I must add that I had had a bit of experience  with rappelling so it was not my first encounter with high places. In hindsight it was a dangerous move.  However,  I did have a great experience.       .

ARTISTS ON THE BLUFF presents Don Rankin and David Rankin ..Opening Reception Thursday, May 7, 2015- 6PM-8PM  http:www.artistsonthebluff.com 205-637-5946  

raven tableDSC_0189_298Barking Up the Wrong TreeWhite Raven, oil

David Rankin

Down in the Hollow, watercolor

Don Rankin

Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?  Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor Volume 1, Revised Edition is available direct from the artist at http://www.createspace.com/3657628 .

Want to study at your own pace from home? Visit http://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor    Enjoy over 2.5 hours of watercolor tutorials broken into easy to learn segments. Most segments rarely over 10 minutes in length.

Painting my neighborhood on a new paper

shades crest rdDSC_0223_312                                                     Shades Crest Road                 Hand made Ruscombe paper                                   9″ x 14″

Paint what you know:

I know that seems to be my common theme.  However, I don’t think it can be said enough nor often enough.  My point is simple.  You are unique. Even if you have an identical twin no one sees like you do. No one thinks like you do. No one reacts in the same way to those things that happen around you. In short, your greatest asset is your unique individuality. To be certain all of us have shared feelings and shared viewpoints.  In spite of that; your reactions are largely personal. While some may not see it our individual traits are our strongest asset.  I am reminded of two very powerful events in my life that support my belief. When I was very young, about 14, I was admitted into the Famous  Artist School, in Westport, Connecticut. It was my first experience with distance learning. I was absolutely amazed at the ability of the faculty. I recall submitting a project that was heavily influenced by one of my idols of the time. When my critique was delivered it was a sharp rebuke.  It read something like this,  ” I see you were heavily influenced by a particular artist, etc.,etc.,…in short why in the hell do you want to copy someone’s mistakes?”   Mind you this piece was influenced by a very famous, extremely talented  painter!

Many years later I had the privilege of training for 25 years with Saiko Shihan Oyama of World Oyama Karate.  Over a period of years one fact was replayed over and over again as young and old students would be demonstrating their knowledge of kata.  Students would get nervous before and during promotion and they would glance to see what movements their neighbors were making.  Almost always the neighbor would be doing it wrong! What is my point? Be yourself. To quote Shihan, ” If you make a mistake make it DYNAMIC!”  Have the courage to stand on your own two feet and follow your heart. Sheeple get led around and never break out of the herd.


While I stress individuality I do not stress it at the risk of producing quality.  Learn the basics first.  At the same time feel free to break out and explore.  In the realm of exploring this small piece was produced on a French handmade paper that is well worth your time and effort. This watercolor was painted on a paper from Ruscombe Mills in France. I love the quality of the paper and the color hold out.  I really have no complaints. You can find it by doing a search for Ruscombe Mills.

However, I will give you a caution. READ the instructions that come with the paper. It will tell you to soak the paper and then mount it in order for the paper to smooth out. After all, this is handmade and it comes out with some ripples.  At first you may think the paper is a bit thin or at least thinner than a number of commercially produced papers. Don’t let that fool you. This paper is strong. My first attempt at stretching resulted in disaster. I drew in pencil upon the paper and put the sheet in a tub of cold  water.  Since the paper felt lighter than other papers I placed the staples fairly close to the edge of the paper. While the paper was still very wet I washed in some Winsor and Newton Rose Dior and some random swatches of ultramarine blue. The very wet paper allowed the color to cascade down the sheet as it sat at an angle on my board.  I left the room in anticipation of painting the next morning.  That would give the paper time to dry and I would resume the process again.


The next morning arrived and as I walked into the studio I could see that what I had judged to be a thinner than usual  watercolor paper had the strength of a Goliath!  The wire staples had pulled loose from the plywood mounting board, while some had ripped through the paper. The result was a wrinkled mess. I was fresh and relaxed and realized that I had misjudged the strength of the paper. I removed all staples and plunged the paper back into the a cold bath. After it soaked for about 10-15 minutes I placed on my mounting board. This time I positioned the staples at least 1/4″ from the edge of the paper. The sheet dried with a beautiful taut flat surface.

Working Qualities:

This paper doesn’t disappoint.  I’m glad that I bought several sheets. The washes in this painting are all transparent colors. I very rarely use opaque color and when I do it is for special effects only. The glazing techniques I employ do not produce vibrant color if you use opaque paints or body color. Those approaches block the light and kill the vibrancy of the washes. The surface of the Ruscombe paper I am using produces clean sparkling color. It takes dry brushing and seems to be open to washing back or lifting color if you desire.  The paper holds a wide range of values with ease.  The surface is tough enough to allow for scraping. I can say that this will be one of my favorite papers.  Try it .  I think you will like it.   As I sit here and write this I am already making plans to visit a nearby orchard. More about that later.

Coming in May at Artists on the Bluff,  Bluff Park,  Alabama 

raven tableDSC_0189_298                                                    Raven        oil                                                                     David Rankin

While this is a watercolor site I want to share a first with you. Coming in May at Artists on the Bluff, in Bluff Park, Alabama  my son, David, and I will be having our first joint father and son show.  The art center was once an elementary school that has been refurbished as an art center hosting individual studios as well as new class rooms for teaching artists. One of those new studios will be for my watercolor students.

Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?  You can purchase Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor , Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin  at http://www.createspace.com/3657628

Learn from a DVD entitled The Antique Shop that features Don’s approach to painting on the scene at http://createspace.com/350893

Study with Don Rankin On-line.  Approximately 2.5 hours of watercolor instruction that allows you to work at your own pace in the convenience of your home. https://www.mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor.com

Study watercolor with Don Rankin.  For more information contact Ms. Linda Williams at Artists on the Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama 205-532-2769

Say Bye Bye to 2014..Hello 2015!


MarchDSC_0372_185                                                     March                                          watercolor                                            private collection

Time to take stock:

In a few hours 2014 will officially close.  It will be a part of our past. Whether it is a time to reflect on good memories or to say good riddance is largely up to you. What did you accomplish in 2014?  Did you achieve some or all of your goals?  What lies ahead ?  While I am not into telling fortunes I do think it is wise to formulate some plans. Perhaps it is a good thing to take a hint from some pretty smart people from the past. One suggestion is to make a list. Draw a vertical line down the middle of the sheet. On one side list all of the good things; in the other column list the not so good things. See which one is in the majority. This approach is said to help in weighing decisions.

Making Plans:

I think all of us make plans but do you write them down?  It is reported that those who write their plans down on paper have a much greater success ratio than those who don’t. It is said that statistically there is a remarkable difference in the outcome of merely dreaming about it and writing it down. It seems that we are wired that way. If you don’t already do it; give it a try.  It couldn’t hurt!

Working Together, Things to Ponder:

A lot of people write a lot of things about organizations. Does it help to be a member of this society or that group?  I think the answer is up to every individual. However, I want to share an idea with you. A dear friend of mine, who is retired, like me shared an insight. I would give credit for this story if I knew the original author. Hopefully I will not butcher it because I will be paraphrasing. It is a story about Canada Geese. For a number of years I have enjoyed watching and sketching them as they congregate at a nearby lake and on the creek that flows behind my studio.  I love watching them as they wing their way down through the valley over Paradise Creek and produce their sounds.

Have you ever noticed their formations?  Being social creatures they help one another out. When flying in a V  formation the lead bird is taking on the air currents and making a slip stream for his/her companions that are flying behind. They get to ride the slip stream provided by the birds ahead of them in the formation. When the lead bird tires another takes the point and falls back in the formation. Geese mate for life. When a bird is sick or injured its partner stays with it until it can recover and eventually return to the flock. Do you think we can take a lesson from these wonderful creatures?  We are supposed to be smart, the top of the food chain but how often do we overlook the qualities these simple creatures seem to embody.  Think about it.

Can We Help One Another ?

Now what does this simple story have to do with watercolor?  Perhaps a great deal can be learned from it. I get a lot of correspondence from people who are concerned that watercolor is not as respected as oils. There are concerns about prices and selection in juried exhibitions. I hear more of this today than I ever did years ago. My son is a painter in oils who also happens to be talented with watercolor. Lately he shared with me  that some of his associates encouraged him to drop watercolor in favor of his oil technique. It would seem that there is a growing group of ignorant people. This ignorance seems to be spreading even among educators who should know better.  I will not go into great detail but the raw truth is that the average beginning watercolor painter who is using good materials (quality paper ,etc.) has a far greater chance of producing a lasting watercolor than the beginning oil painter.  This fact shocks many people.  The reason lies in education.  There are several variables that can affect the stability of an oil painting.  The use of a proper ground, the overuse of turpentine and more.  Proper education is the key.

So What?

If you can accept the previous premise, what can you do? Educate yourself and others. You don’t have to be rude but first and foremost make sure you know your medium. Respect it enough to learn all you can. This is a life long journey.  Learn all you can about other media as well. Sadly, a lot of  educators today do not know as much as they should.  This is not  always their fault. Be careful what you hear and what you accept. Seek accomplished instruction. There are many good studios, workshops and individual teachers.

Finally Ask Yourself Some Questions About Your Paintings :

1. What am I most proud of this year?

2. How can I become better ?

3. Where am I feeling stuck?

4. Am I passionate about my work?

5. When did I feel most creatively inspired?

6. What projects have I completed ?

7. Have I allowed fear of failure to hold me back?

8. Do I have old habits I need to let go?

Winter Afternoon II                                             Winter Afternoon II             watercolor                                                          Private Collection


Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?

Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol. 1 by Dr. Don Rankin  now available at http://www. createspace.com/3657628

Want unlimited access to watercolor glazing techniques by Don Rankin  on-line?  Study at your own pace….

Check out watercolor on-line at https:// www.udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor

Enjoy a complete Watercolor tutorial by Don Rankin  on DVD

The Antique Shop http://www.createspace.com/350893

SPRING 2015 WATERCOLOR CLASSES at Artists on the Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama ..contact me for details 

Summer 2016 WATERCOLOR WORKSHOP WITH DON RANKIN….contact Edwina May at Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, Boone, NC.

33rd Annual Christmas in Miniature Exhibition Opens Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Acadia                                  Acadia                                   Watercolor                                              7.25″ x 10.75″

Acadia is another piece that will be on display at the Chadds Ford Gallery when the show opens this coming Wednesday. At times I mention plein aire pieces.  This miniature has the “feel” of plein aire yet it was finished off in the studio. In a way it is the distillation of a fond memory.  If you live near the sea you don’t need me to tell you about the ever changing atmosphere and the energy that seems to permeate the place. It is difficult to write about the saltiness of the air and the mist as it shrouds objects both far and near; all I can say is that it is magical.  Sound carries in an unusual way as well.  The combination creates a wonderful elixir.

I enjoy painting out of the way places. I’m not really into painting “tourist” scenes although some might see this piece in that light since I was in the National Park near Bar Harbor when I experienced this moment. Perhaps some day I may paint another rendition on a larger format but for right now this small piece captures the moment.

Change of pace:

Very often we can get stuck in a rut, be it subject matter or size or formatting. Breaking the mold can be beneficial and helps us to expand our horizons. My invitation to exhibit in this miniature show provided the spark to get me to change my current pace and paint smaller. The change of pace was refreshing.  How far you extend that philosophy is really up to you. Personally I prefer to paint representation pieces. In my career I have produced my share of experimental and non-representational pieces. Some have been exhibited while others have not.  I think the works can be very helpful for spurring one out of a comfort zone. It is a perfect way for me to explore combinations and techniques that I can apply to my first love which is a representational approach. I love the textures of nature and the color combinations. I prefer to use nature as my spring board to  create compositions and textural combinations.



More importantly there is something I will call “place.”  At this time in my life I am content to absorb the spirit and/or energy of the place I call home. Some of my more successful pieces have been painted in my back yard or down near the creek that flows past my studio door. I never have to worry about flooding for the water is at the bottom of a steep grade several feet below my studio.

This wonderful little spot is surrounded by boulders, sycamore trees and some small waterfalls. At times I am content to gaze upon the small minnows as they dart beneath the leaves in the still areas of the creek bottom with shafts of light piercing into portions of the shadows.  Crayfish and minnows scurry out of sight if you are not careful when you approach the clear shallows. I have enjoyed Paradise Creek in all sorts of weather be it a crisp fall day or in a flurry of a snow storm.  If you visit it in summer you have to be aware of the crawling ones who call the rocks and ledges home. Some of them have a tendency to bite unannounced. Early in the morning the rising sun comes through the creek valley and the sunlight reflects off  the water and bounces light up under the canopy of the trees causing them to glow.  In the fall, the leaves turn all manner of colors from brilliant yellow to bright red and orange. Down in the Stream                                                                                       Down in the Stream

What is YOUR  place?

I’ve briefly described my favorite place.  What is yours?  Because I like the quiet places doesn’t mean that other places are not as valid.  Basically, I am suggesting that you find your love.  It may be bright dazzling, traffic laden streets or it may be the sea shore. Go find yourself.  I think it is the love you put into your work that compels others.  I know there are a number of unlovely creations out there that are often labelled as art. That is not the scope of my discussion at this time. Call me old fashioned but I’ll take the love of the subject or the love of the place every time. I’m suggesting that every one find their own place. We humans are a lot like snowflakes…no two are identical.  In this day of a lot of hype one thing has not changed in my mind. You are in individual.  You can’t be me and I can’t be you. Individuality is a strength if you use it properly. Good painting!

Want to know more about Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor? You can order direct

Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin http://www.createspace.com/3657628

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You Are Invited to View the 33rd Annual Christmas in Miniature Exhibition

Maine DSC_0126_279                                                                                                       Maine,  6 x 11  Image

I would like to invite anyone reading this post to attend a very special Invitational Exhibition.

WHEN:  the opening will be on Wednesday, December 3 from 1:00-8:00 PM with a preview on Tuesday evening, December 2 from 5:00 pm-8:00pm.

WHERE: the Chadds Ford Gallery, 1609 Baltimore Pike Building 400, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania 19317

For additional  information contact : Ms. Barbara Moore, Director at chaddsford@awyethgallery.com

In this post I am sharing 3 of 5 new pieces that will be on exhibit in December in Chadds Ford.  I thought I would share a little bit about these pieces and how they came to be.  As the name implies all of the chosen works are miniature.  All of the pieces are the result of direct on site experience.  Some of the works  were derived from older sketches that were not painted immediately after they were drawn. I’ll try to explain that a bit more fully in the following narratives.

Many years ago I was honored to exhibit regularly at the Chadds Ford Gallery.  Being invited to participate in this years show brought back  a lot of pleasant memories of past associations and past sketching trips in the area.  In most of  these pieces memory and nostalgia play a very important role. The show will feature the works of about 42 artists; many with ties to the Brandywine  Valley region.

At times I like to change up my routine. For those of you familiar with my site you know that I like to paint outdoors or at the very least I prefer to develop my sketches from life and then finish my works in the studio. Why life? While cameras are wonderful inventions I have yet to find a camera that can “see” what I see in a subject. Colors, textures and a whole host of other sensory data just isn’t always captured in a photo.  Granted I have a fine digital camera  and I wouldn’t be without it. However, I find I spend more time taking photos of my finished works than using it to capture subjects for painting. Having written that statement I do want to assure my students and readers that I will use a camera if time or other circumstance dictates. Of course many of my students are already well acquainted with my sketching and painting habits.

Miniatures can be a change of pace

Maine :

I’ll never forget my first encounter in Maine.  I love the rugged coast line and the beautiful pine trees.  The atmosphere, the breeze, the colors and everything about the landscape intrigues me. In fact, I have enjoyed not only the State of Maine but the entire New England  experience along with the Maritimes of Canada. I have many as yet unpainted pieces that are recorded in my sketchbooks. This small piece is just one of many possible attempts.  A great deal of the content of  my books on watercolor technique were  derived  from my experiences in those areas.


In the past few years I find that my memory seems to provide a very compelling sway over a lot of my work. I’ll explain.  My memory  seems to distill a scene or an encounter eliminating the non essential, leaving the bare bones of the subject.  I also find that personal experience embeds itself into the act of painting in a far more powerful way than merely working from a snapshot. I look for subjects I know, subjects that are familiar.  There are times when I will walk past a tree or a landscape taking note of certain characteristics.  However, it may take years for me to get hold of that subject with enough clarity that I will begin to paint. There are also times when I walk past a certain familiar spot or object and it is as if  I suddenly “see” it for the first time.  It may be the way the light is falling on it or a combination of shadow and light.  Suddenly, at that moment, I see the subject in an entirely new way.  At times I like to savor the moment and will often  “paint ”  a subject in my mind before I put a brush to paper. I don’t have a hard and fast rule about painting procedures but I do find that  as I get older I tend to take more time with some subjects.  Perhaps I have less and less to prove and I can just enjoy the process of creating my watercolors and egg temperas.

 grapetomatoesDSC_0131_276                                                                Grape Tomatoes     7.75″ x 9″  Image

Grape Tomatoes  was painted in my backyard while looking off the edge of my deck. I’m probably not really considered a successful gardener.  In fact, my wife suggests that I would do better going to the local farmer’s market instead of  putting time and money into a few plants.  However, I do try to raise a few plants every year. The growth of the plants and their shapes and colors intrigue me. This miniature piece resulted from watching the vines  sway in the afternoon  breeze as they cascaded off the side of my deck. The trees and the woods that border my deck provide a backdrop for the stream that flows a few hundred feet from my studio door. The swaying shapes in the wind along with the ever changing colors and the sounds of the stream provides a challenge. While a camera may not record the sound my experience of being there  gives me a perspective that can’t be fully explained.


Winter MorningDSC_0125_280                                                       Winter Morning    7 x 10.5  Image

I have made mention of memory. Here is a perfect example.  This watercolor is the result of a sketch I made many years ago. It was a cold February morning in the community of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.  I had been summoned to discuss a project with the Franklin Mint in nearby Wah Wah, Pennsylvania.  I was staying in Chadds Ford and the morning was cold and crisp. As a part of my habit I was making sketches and the cold was seeping through my bones.  I made several fairly quick sketches that day while on my way to the mint. I have several sketch books and this sketch got buried or better said forgotten until a few weeks ago. After being invited to participate in the 33rd Annual Christmas in Miniature Exhibition at the Chadds Ford Gallery I found this old sketch and the result is this small piece.  While the actual sketch is almost 30 years old it brings back the initial experience in a very powerful way.  If I go back to the site it may no longer exist but it will forever exist in my memory.

As I have said before perhaps my present reliance on memory is due to age or perhaps some would say I am living in my past. Whatever, I try to find what works for me. The bottom line is that everyone must find what works for them. All too often editors ask that we write about technique, choice of paper, brushes and paint.  No doubt that helps the editorial mind.  However,  I can’t help but think that WHY I paint a subject is far more important than HOW I paint it. Perhaps you agree.

Want to know more about Don’s painting techniques?  You can purchase the updated , revised version of  Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume 1 by Dr. Don Rankin at http://www.createspace.com/ 3657628

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Enjoying a new paper

Maine Washday                                  Maine Washday                       10.5 x 14.5                                                      watercolor

Adventure with a new paper:

The paper is not really new.  In fact Twin Rocker has been around for quite a while. It is an American hand made paper and you can order on line. A few months back I was posting about various challenges some of my students were having with paper.  If you paint you know some of the stories.  Some painters will shy away from hand made paper because they either fear the price or they are troubled about quality.  As a lover of paper I am always looking for great paper.  I purchased a few sheets of Twin Rocker along with a French hand made that I will feature later. This paper is Twin Rocker 22″ x 30″ cold press A.  I love the feel and I love the action.  It has a hard surface and takes a good washing and is marvelous for drybrush. The color hold out is superb and the dried washes sparkle.  The paper is tough. It can take scrubbing out as well as scratching out with a sharp knife. It will also take masking without disturbing the surface of the paper.   I have several more sheets and even though I have quite a bit of paper Twin Rocker will remain high on my favorites list. Keep in mind that I pay full price for my paper just like you so I have no monetary incentive to hype some one’s product.


About the painting….A Long History:

This is a very recent watercolor but it has a long history. I’ll explain. In an earlier post I wrote about the fact that the sketches in my sketchbooks are not in chronological order. It has always been my habit to pick up the book that is near at hand.  I’ll shuffle through and find a blank page and begin to sketch.  Consequently, you can flip a page or two and note that some sketches are many years apart. Perhaps this will drive many people to distraction but for me the book is a tool. When I am in need of something to draw on I get the one that is readily available. At times I will go through the studio and attempt to organize things and sketchbooks and put them in some sort of order.   After all, at some point a book does fill up. At that point it is no longer in my easy to reach stack. Perhaps I am a bit too frugal in that I really don’t like to waste pages and I try to make use of every page in a book.


You could say that I discovered this sketch in one of my books. Mind you, it had been there all along yet for some reason I had overlooked it.  Better yet, in my philosophy, I found it when I was ready to see it.  I actually experienced this spot on a summer trip to Maine many years ago. I sketched it and fully intended to paint right there but for some reason it didn’t happen. In reality I have a life time of sketches and ideas from Maine to Nova Scotia. In fact my first two books were compiled while in that region and many of the pieces at that time were influenced by my trips into that beautiful land.

The Connection:

Due to current technology many of my readers will have no frame of reference for clothes hanging on a line in the summer sun.  My connection is my childhood. Every Monday was wash day in the Rankin household. The only thing that prevented or delayed that ritual was terribly inclement weather. If it happened to rain or snow for a few days clothes would dry in the house. However that was unusual. I can remember my mother taking a dampened rag and walking along cleaning the clothes lines before putting the fresh wash in the lines. I can still see her wicker wash basket and canvas bag that held her clothes pins.   In my mind’s eye I can still hear those sheets and some articles of clothing flapping and flowing with the breeze .  It wasn’t hard for a small boy to imagine that the sheets were huge sails on a pirate ship popping as the wind stirred them. When the clothes were dry and brought into the house the crisp fresh aroma of the outdoors permeated the room.  At that time in my life air conditioning did not exist but the moving breeze through the open windows added to the wonderfully fresh aroma.  This sketch brought back all of those wonderful memories full of sounds and smells.

They say you can’t go back:

A writer once wrote that you can’t go back. Well, maybe he is not quite right. In reality I think I know what he meant and on some levels I agree. However, my sketchbook is my time machine. I use my sketches to propel me back to the moment so that I CAN smell the smells and hear the sounds. Granted, no doubt, much of the unimportant is forgotten or perhaps my mind remembers it the way it wants to.  Regardless, there is a remembrance and I like my mind’s  colors and memory better than most photographs. As I age I find even more treasure in solitude and the limited quiet of my backyard that settles near a lively creek.  Perhaps there is a connection, I have always loved wilderness and now I am not as able to explore the wilderness so I draw upon memory.

Want to know more about Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor?

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You can enroll in a 2.5 hour watercolor course on watercolor glazing techniques by Dr. Don Rankin.  The course covers paper basics as well as paints, along with color discussion with theory and basic painting techniques. Enroll now for lifetime access. You can enjoy at your convenience and go at your own speed.



Coming soon a full tutorial on Goose-Xing…a recent painting.

Take the time to “See” your subject

Take the time to “See” your subject.

Take the time to “See” your subject

goosexing11DSC_0055_259                                                      “Goose Xing”                     Watercolor                                              30″ x 22″

I make no excuse for the fact that at times I slow down and work very slowly. I think all of us need to find our own rhythm. Some subjects develop quickly; others need to be savored like a fine wine. At least that is my philosophy. I have been working or perhaps I should say thinking on a subject for a few years now. It is a common ordinary neighborhood street. A tree lined street that is traveled regularly by a lot of friends and neighbors. The two lane street weaves its way past a golf course on one side and a pleasant lake on the left. In the spring and summer months the lake has more visitors than in the winter.  Regardless, it is a local gathering place for young and old, walkers, joggers and moms and dads with strollers. Usually they are carrying lots of stale bread for the feathered inhabitants.

Nearly 35 years ago we began to receive new neighbors….Canada geese.  If you don’t live on the edge of the lake perhaps you find them more enchanting.  If they are overrunning your yard and your deck you may not feel so charitable. None the less they are now permanent residents.  Since their presence is firmly established they even have their own traffic signs.   It seems that the local human population has learned to adapt.  It is not uncommon to see joggers take to the street to avoid a collision when the local goose population calls for a congregational meeting on the side walk.  At times the group will choose to slowly move across one of the streets to a feeding spot in a nearby yard or return from their foray heading back to the lake.  Whenever they cross, motorists  slow down or come to a complete stop to allow the feathered residents to parade across the road. To human credit I see little sign of injury to any of the feathered pedestrians.

Earlier, I mentioned tree lined streets. At the edge of the golf course there are groups of ornamental fruit trees marking the boundaries of the course. Over the years I have painted several of these trees and incorporated some of their characteristics into sketches as well as paintings. I am greatly intrigued with their shape, color and texture. They have a presence that begs to be painted.  I have indulged my passion for several years in that regard.  I have tons of sketches and planned paintings that have not yet  matured to the point of becoming paint.


In this case the sign haunted me for several months. I had never seen such a sign warning of a Goose Crossing.  I am very familiar with Deer signs and have seen my share of Elk and Moose signs in my travels.  However, a Goose Crossing was a new element.  I though about it.  I stared at it. I would drive by slowly and just look at it. Finally, I began to sketch it and some of the local feathered actors.


It is impossible for me to separate the process of thinking and sketching. However, for clarity I have broken these two elements into preparation and sketching. Preparation= contemplation.  Sketching= bringing that contemplation into form. My personal taste is drawn to more direct observation and sketching with less photography.  Don’t misunderstand, I own a great Nikon and I use it.  However,  I am more in tune with my own perceptions. In too many cases I find the photos don’t “see” or record the subject the same way my eyes and my memory does. As I have gotten older I have become less dependent upon the photo. Naturally there are times when the camera is absolutely essential. I’m merely trying to convey that I’m more concerned with my personal vision.

I fill up a lot of sketchbooks and I must confess that I often pick up one or the other when I need one. This has resulted in a group of sketches that are in no chronological order. In some cases there may be sketches on facing pages that are years apart in execution. No doubt that will disturb the neat and orderly ones. However, it is what it is.  Lately I have had a couple of art dealers who have admonished me to become more orderly. I am making progress I now have a fairly accurate inventory listing of paintings along with where they reside. At this time my sketchbooks  are still a bit of a chronological disaster!

Sketching tools:

Most of the time I use a refillable TomBow pen with black ink. Several years ago a dear colleague gave me one as a present. Since that time I have gone through about three or four.  I tend to lose them and later find them in a jacket or pants pocket. I also use markers of varying widths.  I find pencils to be messy and somewhat wimpy when I am in the field. I do own quite a few and use them regularly in the studio. Outdoors I like an  instrument that is devoid of an eraser. It helps keep me focused.

goosexingsketcheDSC_0060_260                                          Some of the sketches for Goose Xing


Color is personal.  As I began this piece I wanted to keep it low key but I wanted color. I chose to work with complementary combinations. Red and green were the primary agents  I paired colors like Perylene Maroon with Permanent Sap Green and Hookers Green.  Holbein’s leaf green with American Journey Copper Kettle.  Other colors included Transparent Oxide Yellow, Gamboge, Andrews Turquoise and Joe’s Blue another American Journey color.


As stated earlier, color is personal. I paint in summer as well as winter. I love the cloak of muted colors as the plant world slumbers awaiting spring.  When I look at the fungus on an old growth tree I see a riot of color, I also see silvery greys and tawny muted ochres.  I try to create these colors with color combinations rather than using dull faded color. Experiment with the quinacridones.  They are extremely transparent and can be manipulated in mixed combinations placed directly on the paper or they can be used in glazes to create vibrant jewel tones as  well as lively yet subdued winter color.


The painting Goose Xing has been recorded for instructional purposes. It is under going final editing.  It will probably be several hours of demonstration.  At this time the final cut is uncertain. It was painted in real time and will be available in a few weeks.

Want to know more about Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor tutorials Check out,


Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor,  Volume 1 by Dr. Don Rankin is available direct at


The Antique Shop DVD, a remastered classic of the watercolor glazing technique featuring Don Rankin   



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