Revisiting old sketches, places

Nova Scotia corrected_

                   Nova Scotia                                            21″ x 14″                                  Watercolor

The end of July is come  and like other parts of the country, Alabama is under sweltering heat. Currently I am sitting in the cool of my studio waiting for a wash to dry. Momma red-tail hawk is outside my studio window calling in a shrill voice urging her young children to fly.  Her sound reminds me of younger days and being outdoors in all sorts of weather sketching and painting. These days my activity is a bit curtailed.  Geneal and I spent the last part of  April and part of May in northern California.  She had never been and I got to revisit places of my youth when I would spend time in California with relatives. Of all the state, I prefer northern California.  However, it is a beautiful state with a lot to offer any visitor. My travel has been restricted for several years and perhaps this was a bit risky. The only down side was a case of HAPE, high altitude pulmonary endema.  I’m still working through that.  If you are getting on in years be very careful about airplane rides.

At any rate we came back with tons of videos, photos and sketches. Memories in a can, if you will.  Those things are great but the personal experience is worth more than all of the reference.  A lot of folks are anxious to see my California pieces. Knowing my way of working, it may be a while.  I like to let things percolate inside of me before I put brush to paper. Sometimes it happens quickly, at other times it is a slow, perhaps painful, process. In the meantime I am working on a piece that I sketched many years ago in Nova Scotia.  Talk about hopping the continent!  While publishing two of my first watercolor books I spent time in Maine and Nova Scotia. I think viewing the Pacific and the Big Sur prompted me to compare it to the Atlantic coast. While both are beautiful, they are different.

I remember the day I reluctantly left Maine to board an overnight ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The rest of the family was up for it but I really loved Maine and felt that anything else would be anti-climatic. Well, I was very wrong. Nova Scotia was incredible. I made two trips up while writing my books.  The first trip was in the Spring and the return was in the Fall after all of the tourists were gone. I have always been drawn to wilderness and the population was not crowded. In some cases the foot print of mankind was not as evident as in other places. The color of the water, the trees and the salt in the air  has a presence that is different from any other place.  The light is incredible. As I looked at my recent efforts in California the effect and contrast became very evident.  While there are several physical differences  there is an atmosphere that any coastal area seems to possess.  While the atmosphere has similarities, it also has striking differences. Those differences are extremely important.  Those are the things that I seek to embody in my work.

Nova Scotia:

This current work has haunted me for years. It has haunted me every time I looked at my sketches or the photos I took,but I kept delaying.  Finally,  I told myself it was time to paint. I have no explanation for the delay. It just happens. I wasn’t ready.  Now the time had come.  I’ll digress and provide a little history.  I remember that it was an early morning well before midday.  The light is very different and in combination with the atmosphere it renders objects in a more dramatic way than in other latitudes.  At least that is my experience. The light, the air, the stillness was like a magnet that drew me in.


I used a 140 lb. cold press sheet of Kilamanjaro watercolor paper. The paints were Andrew’s Turquoise from American Journey (available at Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff). M. Graham Gamboge,  Holbein Marine Blue, Holbein Leaf Green, M. Graham Sap Green, Holbein Marine Blue, Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon, and Winsor & Newton Red. The reds and blues were mixed to create some of the stronger dark passages in the watercolor.  The painting approach was very simple with a number of layers of color applied with brushes as well as a natural sponge for some of the foreground , especially near the edge of the building. The tiny flowers were suggested by using a combination of incredible white mask with a handy little gadget called Cheap Joe’s splatter screen. masking toolsTexturing and masking tools: Natural sponge, Incredible White Mask and Cheap Joe’s splatter screen.

As a general rule I don’t ruin my natural sponges by dipping them in masking fluid. In the past I have used plain screen wire at times but Joe’s screen with a handle is a bit easier. A word of caution if you choose to use brushes in the masking fluid make sure you lather them thoroughly with soap first. If you don’t you run the risk of losing a good brush. Also  dried masking fluid in a screen, brush or sponge is almost impossible to remove.

How I use it and why:

Hopefully the arrangement of the flowers in the foreground looks fairly random and natural. The idea that one would want to sit and methodically apply each drop of masking fluid to the page would border on insanity to my mind.  However applying a bit of masking to the screen and then BLOWING a short breath of air creates a more natural, random pattern. If you hit spots you don’t like you can blot the masking fluid out or better yet, cover the areas you don’t want to mask with bits of paper.  For the uninitiated we use the masking fluid to preserve either the white of the paper or previously painted areas.  In this case both methods were used. Some wet ‘n wet wash areas of bright Winsor Red and Gamboge were applied first.  After they dried masking was applied.   Once the masking was dry, then I used a combination of washes (from light to dark) and a natural sponge to create texture. Some areas of dry brush and fine detail should be evident. If you are not familiar with dry brush technique, I’ll give a brief explanation. Literally it denotes that there is more pigment than water in your brush. It allows you to draw and create texture with your brush that is different than a broad wash. It requires a bit of practice but is a very effective technique for enhancing an area of a painting. Like any other approach,  avoid over doing it.  Too much pigment can produce a dull over worked effect. The same is true of glazing with layers of wash. Some painters go to extremes  killing the natural beauty of glazes.   Above all PRACTICE.  Get to know your materials, it will pay off.  We often learn a great deal more from out set backs than we do our fleeting successes.

 Want to know more about Watercolor Glazing Techniques?  You can purchase the updated version of Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor entitled Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor Vol.1 by Dr. Don Rankin  at

Enjoy a remastered classic on Watercolor Glazing Techniques by Don Rankin in a remastered DVD  entitled The Antique Shop at

Study basic watercolor techniques with Don Rankin at your own pace with an online course, unlimited use of  31 lessons that cover basic watercolor glazing techniques at

Study watercolor techniques in person with Don Rankin at Artists on the Bluff, 571 Park Avenue, Bluff Park, Alabama every Thursday from 9:00-11:30 Am. For details contact                 Ms . Linda Williams, Director 205-532-2769 or

Make the paper work for you


TheWatcher _341

The Watcher                                           22″ x 30″                                                   Watercolor

I had originally thought to title this offering as “Posting Delay.” Perhaps that  headline was not entirely appropriate but I was tempted for a reason.  Time passes so quickly when you are having fun. My wife and I spent the last half of May traveling through California.  She had never been and it was my first time back in many years.   Needless to say,  I have a lot of inspiration; especially from the Big Sur. I’ll spare all of the details.  Hopefully there will be watercolors to show in the coming weeks. Currently I am recuperating from some unexpected surgical complications.  I remember the old adage, “When it rains it pours.” So in order to fill an obvious posting void I offer the following thoughts.


An Old Friend:

Due to the delays I decided to pull up a piece that is still getting a lot of favorable comments. I have never posted it before, so for many it will be a new image.  Many years ago my studio was near the top of Shades Mountain. Before a lot of development began much of the land was agricultural with fields, orchards  and pastures. There were a lot of owls and other creatures that called the mountain home.  While there are still wild residents their population has decreased dramatically.  Today I live down the side of the mountain near Paradise Creek and I still get to enjoy the call of these night visitors.  When this piece was painted there were still remnants of wild orchards in some spots on the mountain. The texture of old trees along with the challenge of pattern, color and detail in the bird’s plumage was too much to resist.

The Painting:

If you study the watercolor perhaps you can trace the progress. First,  I must say that all of the washes in this piece are transparent. Transparent wash is the only way to get fresh, crisp color.  While there is nothing wrong with opaque color; for my taste, it just doesn’t glow like transparent washes.

Saving the White:

Note the white patch around the owl’s neck and the brightest highlights on the limbs. That is the white of the paper.   The shape elements in this work were large enough that no masking was required. I merely made sure to save the white areas by keeping them dry when the initial washes were applied. In the case of the limbs the entire limb was avoided except perhaps in a few places were color may have sloshed over the boundary.


The background is a blend of new gamboge and manganese blue.  The new gamboge was applied first and the manganese blue was washed over.  Notice the direction of the brush strokes. They should be very evident. After this portion had dried the darker leaves and limbs were painted directly over the dried background. No masking was necessary since the leaves and limbs were darker washes. This is important because we keep the layers in order from light to finishing layers of dark.  In this manner the darker washes/ strokes are done in a more careful manner.  This allows for your earlier light washes to be dominated by darker, more refined brush strokes that begin to carry a hint of detail.


If you look carefully you will see that  some of the muted background colors have been used in the wings and various other areas.  Compare the colors in the wings with some of the lighter washes on the tree limb. Don’t be afraid to utilize your colors in various areas of your painting in order to create visual unity and harmony in your overall work.  The breast of the bird was developed with alternating wet ‘n wet and direct strokes on dry paper.  DON’T BE A SLAVE to detail!  Birds are beautiful and some of them have intricate patterns in their feathers.  Mindlessly painting in every detail in the same way would have spoiled the effect I was seeking.  Perhaps the alternating wet and dry approach helps suggest a slight breeze ruffling his feathers.


The textural technique I used varied in accordance with the effect of the light. Study the effect of light on surfaces in various degrees of light. Does texture look as pronounced in bright light as it does in mid and dark shadow? The best answer is for you to observe the effect you are seeking to emulate. In this case I showed less texture in broad daylight and more in the darker areas. On the upper main trunk  background wash and mid tone values merged as I used a dry brush technique to apply the darker values. Note that everything was not covered with darker colors.  Be selective as you apply defining washes, think about the size, shape and even the weight of the object you are trying to create in your illusion. Study the light playing on the horizontal limb. Study the light as well as the reflected light. Once again, some areas are dry brush some are wet ‘n wet.

Paint Instinctively:

After you begin to really understand basic painting techniques allow yourself the freedom to try different approaches. As I write this description of how I painted this piece I can’t begin to adequately describe everything. That is because I get caught up in the painting. My words may make it sound like a very calculated operation. Not at all. I let the painting guide me. That is hard to explain and may sound strange. I can compare it to music. A good musician knows his /her instrument. Ideally they have a basic knowledge of music theory. All of these things are necessary tools.  For many they have the tools and then the spirit comes and beautiful music is created.  So too with painting.  As you develop your skill with the basic tools allow yourself to “listen” and paint the things that inspire you.

Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?  Buy Don Rankin’s,                 Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor , Volume I     direct from: 3657628

Learn to master watercolor glazing techniques with Don Rankin at your own pace with an online course at

Enjoy one on one instruction with Don Rankin at Artists on the Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama For details contact  Ms. Linda Williams , Director 205-532-2769 


Don’t Talk About it, Just Do It!


Hydrangea, 30 minute class demo, watercolor on  paper  overall size approx 9″ x 7″ 

As a teacher we often face challenges on the best way to impart knowledge to our students. Most of us recognize that our students are individuals with various levels of ability and experience.  I think one thing is certain.  Many of us are visual learners to one degree or another. This is not just confined to art students. Years ago I taught private lessons to a pretty well known thoracic surgeon who had recently retired from a teaching hospital. As we progressed in our lessons he remarked that my teaching approach was very similar to the model his institution had used. They had labeled it as “Do one, teach one.”   While artists may not think of themselves as surgeons there are some similarities.  Painters, like surgeons must have good visual acuity and excellent hand eye coordination.  Like many students they do better with concrete visual demonstrations that help support any written or spoken theory they may have.

Don’t talk; paint!

Many  years ago I was a student in an art school. I had come from a university and was very well versed in all sorts of verbal art theory.  In the first few days my new teacher cut me off in mid sentence with the stinging words,  “Shut up and paint!”. Excellent advice.  These days I still take that to heart. If you want to talk art, do that outside the studio with friends or acquaintances.  If you are trying to help a fellow painter or student then SHOW THEM, don’t talk about it. At least that is my philosophy. I try to do impromptu demos for my students at least once a month, often more frequently. Whenever a question about an approach or techniques arises I get out my watercolor block paper and paints. We work out the issue at hand. No involved preliminary, just a simple sketch at best and then color. It seems to work wonders.

Recently one of my students was contemplating painting a hydrangea. If you love flowers then you know that this is one mass of flower petals that can be rather complex. So where do you start?  How do you capture it?  If you are the least bit compulsive you may want to attempt to capture every blossom.  That can be a worthy goal but far too often one winds up with a stiff presentation of an over worked mess.  This is especially true if you are just embarking upon our journey in painting.


Unfortunately I didn’t think to take a shot of the first layer of wash but hopefully you get the idea. First I want to dispel the prevailing myth that one cannot alter watercolor.  In my opinion all painting is a series of refinements. I think these two examples demonstrate that fact. The first application  was a general blob of new Gamboge that was of varying intensity that sort of approximated the overall shape of the flower mass.  It was allowed to dry.  Then each progressive wave of color  was applied with increasing accuracy. Note the leaf structure in the first passage. It is no where near the proper size and the beginning layers of color in the flower appear to depict a type of rose instead of a hydrangea. The permanent magenta was strengthened with some thalo blue as the application of washes progressed.  You can  see how the thalo blue washes influenced the magenta to create a violet hue in places. Only a few key areas were refined to give the impression of individual petals.  In final approach the stems of sap green and some thalo blue  were painted on a fairly dry surface. Remember, if you want soft edges paint wet into wet, if you want sharp edges paint directly onto dry paper.

Flowers can be deceptive. Often the color is strong but the edges are at times softly  blended. Start wet into wet and progress into dry applications as you seek to get more detail. Trying to explain this verbally is most difficult. Watching the painting progress is far superior. The student’s question was answered and she was able to apply the lesson to her own work.

Things to Think About:

Like other media, watercolor can be refined. Start with a general shape and get specific with each additional stroke. Look for a focal point in order to convey the spirit of your subject. If your first stroke is not too accurate seek to correct successive strokes. FOCUS. Glazing techniques in watercolor can be an excellent way to introduce subtle as well as dramatic color arrangements into your work. An added benefit is the illusion of depth due to multiple layers of color. As a general rule make sure each wash is completely dry before applying the next wash. If you need more softness or variation in effect you can alternate layers of wet into wet application with passages of direct application. The possibilities are limited by your imagination. For ideal effect just make sure each wash is dry before you apply the next. This piece took about 30 minutes to complete so don’t think that glazing can’t be quick and easy.   Like anything else; practice makes perfect.

Artists on the Bluff Watercolor Classes With Don Rankin:

This is a typical class demo that is done when certain techniques need clarification. We do quite a few of these types of lessons. If you are close to the area, we meet every Thursday morning from 9-11:30 am. You can contact Ms. Linda Williams, the Director of Artists on the Bluff Art Center,  Bluff Park, Alabama for details at 205-532-2769.

Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?  Buy Direct:                       Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol I by Dr. Don Rankin is available at  

The Antique Shop        Enjoy a 1 hour 55 minute remastered classic now available in DVD format, even better quality than the original VHS.  A live on site demonstration includes painting with the glazing technique plus additional tips on selecting and composing the elements for the painting.

Study watercolor glazing techniques on line with Don Rankin:         

Watercolor classes every Thursday, except holidays, with Don Rankin at Artists on the Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama. Contact: Ms. Linda Williams, Director, 205-532-2769.  Come enjoy one on one instruction geared for beginner as well as intermediate and advanced students.



Relax and Refine

ATOBdemofinaletadahWatercolor Demo       7.5″ x 10″ image          140 lb. cold press  D’Arches block

I believe in demonstrating procedures and ideas when teaching a group. My weekly class at Artists on the Bluff gets impromptu demos a lot. The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words!” is so true.  Very often a student will have a question that is best answered with a demonstration. I’m  going to share the steps below.

ATOBbeginningdemoStep 1…the beginning

First move: You can see some pencil lines.  Usually I put these in so my students can get an idea of my plan. The basic pencil lines help to set boundaries.  You can see the horizon line, some rough indications for the shape and size of the barn, etc. In short I have set up a basic road map. It is a road map I may or may not follow. The guidelines are there for orientation. Pencil lines and painted shapes of color have a different dynamic. I’m painting; so color rules.

Order: Everyone had an idea of the placement and composition. Now comes the execution. I usually paint sky and background elements first. Not always but usually.  Why ? It is easier.  The sky was painted wet ‘n  wet. That is the paper was flooded with clear water first, taking care to avoid the shape of the barn. Hint: The wet wash will not freely migrate across into the dry area unless you have too much of an angle or too much water on your paper.  As the initial sky wash of Holbein Marine Blue with a touch of Perylene Maroon was drying I carefully dropped a stronger wash of the same mixture into the dampened sky area being careful to avoid the silo and the barn shape as well as the foreground. While that area was drying I carefully applied the foreground of M.Graham Gamboge with a bit of the residue of Perylene Maroon and Marine Blue still lingering in my brush.  The resulting bronze color is a perfect winter color. By the way most of this wash at this stage was executed with a 3″ flat brush. The exception was the pale vermilion red and blue wash on the front of the barn.

Study the image:

At first glance you can see some not so clean wash edges, in some places pretty crude. The white edge on the left side of the piece was left in order to prevent the wet sky and wet foreground from mingling.  The white edge of the barn on the shadow side was inadvertently left and will soon be refined.

Why this demo, why this approach?

At times I think that we all think too much.  This is especially true of beginning watercolor painters. Note I wrote “painters.”  Like many of you I run across the woefully ignorant who like to think that watercolor isn’t a painting medium!!  I’ve even run into this idea among so-called educated teachers with a lot of alpha bet soup tagged on the end of their names. My point is that painting is painting, period.  The medium we choose  does not negate the fact that certain concepts of painting are largely universal and only altered by the requirements of the media we choose to use. If you study the  works and methodology of painters like Richard Schmid and David Leffel you will find that many of their approaches can be applied to other painting mediums. Certainly watercolor, like other media,  has its own requirements and approaches.

Do you recall the first time you attempted to paint a watercolor?  Did you make a lot of preparation, planning what you were going to do?  While it is desirable to have a goal in our work; at times,  students came become a nervous wreck by planning too much.  It is almost as perilous as the brave soul who just jumps in without any plan what so ever. In many ways I favor the student who bravely dives in throwing caution to  the wind.  Having written that I need to clarify. Looseness in a painting methodology is NOT the same as being sloppy. Looseness comes from confidence and relaxation after one has mastered a few basics.

ATOBDemostage3use this oneStep 2

All washes were dry when I used a size 6 Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush to paint in the general shape of an old oak tree. The wash was American Journey Andrews Turquoise.  The fence line was a mixture of the Marine Blue and Perylene Maroon. Note the fact the the shadow side of the barn was now repaired and a bit of Marine Blue w/ Perylene Maroon provided a shadow for  the edge of the roof line.  A dilute mixture of the same color was used to cast the shadows on the front of the barn.

ATOBdemo Step 3

Darker washes were mixed to  define the tree.  At first glance the turquoise wash was not too powerful.  However, alternating a stronger pattern of a mixture of dark blue and maroon created a strong optical black. Note where the darker wash was applied to the limbs and where it was omitted. Take time to study the patterns of light and shadow on trees to help make your images more convincing. The same dark was used in the space between the barn and silo to help clean up and define the edges of the barn.  A portion of the fence appears to have a highlight as it approaches the barn. No masking or scraping out was used to create this effect.  Recall that the shadow side of the barn was once a lighter color. Here the sequence of painting was reversed. The dark shadows between the fence rails was painted leaving the lighter wash to appear as a highlight.  This is refined even more in the final stage of the painting.   As an added thought, a bit of turquoise was applied to the shadow side of the roof.

ATOBdemofinaletadahFinal step:

The last refinements have been added in this small demo. You can see the planks in the barn siding as well as in the door. Some would think of the structural qualities of the building but I chose to use vertical lines on the door in order to break up the rhythm of the horizontal lines.  While it is probably more accurate in terms of construction; I wasn’t concerned with that.  I was thinking of harmonic rhythm and contrast.  Contrast exists in all forms, not just in lighter and darker values.  The fence gate was defined using the same technique of negative painting.  That is the shadow shapes were painted and the lighter underlying wash was left exposed to create the illusion of highlight.  Many wise painters stress introducing color into various areas of the picture plane.  One commented on making an excuse to introduce color into various areas. Look carefully in the foreground and you will see some hints of turquoise and hints of red.  It just helps to balance out the color.


I have written all of this to say….RELAX.  Too many tall tales strangle the flow of watercolor. Examine each step and you will see how darker/stronger color  has been used to clean up or refine the image.  An attempt to produce perfect washes in every application often breeds frustration or a terribly stiff watercolor.  I did this little watercolor to assure my students that you have the ability to refine and polish your work as you go.  This is a small demo that required a short period of time but the principle applies to more involved works as well.  As the layers dried I used smaller brushes for the defining moments but in the beginning I used the largest brush I could find. In the words of Delacroix, “Start with a broom, finish with a needle.”  I can’t say it any better.

Want to know more about Don’s watercolor glazing techniques?

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

The Antique Shop, a remastered classic now on DVD is a step by step demonstration  of Don’s use of the glazing technique as well as tips on selecting and composing the scene. Available now at

Study with Don Rankin at your own pace online at  Over two hours of short, easy to follow tutorials on the basics of watercolor glazing techniques, color theory, brush techniques and paper selection.

Come join on going watercolor classes with Don Rankin every Thursday, except holidays, at Artists on the Bluff, 571 Park Avenue, Bluff Park, Alabama 35226. Contact Ms. Linda Williams for details. http://www.artistsonthe Telephone 205-637-5946

WORKSHOP:WITH DON RANKIN:  June 20-24, 2016 Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, Boone, North Carolina. CONTACT: Edwina May for details  (888) 265-3356     (800) 227-2788







The Orchard, a new video


The Orchard            20″ x 16″               Ruscombe Mills, Cold Press watercolor paper

This is the latest effort to capture the beauty and the mystery of this orchard.  I confess that as I age I take more time to hit upon a subject. I want to soak up the subject and then attempt to interpret my feelings for that subject. Compulsion? Yes.  Yes, I paint the things that compel me to paint. Sometimes they nag at my mind much like a gnat or a fly often worries you when you are outside. Finally, at some point you just have to do something about it!  Perhaps some will take offense at my analogy but that is the best way I know  to describe my experience.  I offer this analogy because I am accustomed to getting inquiries from interested parties wanting to know why or how I choose subject matter. Well,  I don’t choose.  I really believe it chooses me! Illogical?  For some perhaps, but for me it makes perfectly good sense.


I grew up in a rural area; barns, livestock, orchards and woods were my everyday existence.  These days  I find myself appreciating those “good ole days” more and more. I don’t see it as escapism.  Instead I see it as paying homage to the wonderful experiences I have been provided.  There is something wonderful about being surrounded by  nurturing plants or trees in a garden.  There is a freshness there, a promise of life.

orchard underpai_336


For this subject I chose to use a multiple colored under painting.  The blue is Holbein Marine Blue, the green is M. Graham Sap Green, the red is Winsor & Newton Perlyene Maroon.  A careful examination will reveal the location of each color. The early strokes are preliminary shapes.  Many of those shapes go through modification and improvement as the painting progresses. At any rate, they provide a foundation for location of painting elements but even more they act as a guide to elements of composition.  At this stage everything is very fluid and can be modified by stronger washes. While there are a few small spots of intense color most of the washes can easily be modified.    So at this stage I have a combination of light and dark as well as the movement of light.  The stage is set. I confess that I spent more time on the under painting than I did on the rest of the painting.  I’m not totally sure why I allowed this to happen. I would like to think that I was planning and composing the final work in my mind. There are some pencil marks, outlining a few limbs.  However most of the work consists of painting negative shapes and allowing those shapes to suggest limb placement.  Tedious?  For some people the answer is definitely.  However, if you are in love with your subject and you are compelled to capture the essence then, no, it is not.

The Beauty of Freedom:

At this time we have not completely lost the ability to choose our personal painting path. I always advise students to  learn all they can from various sources; then do the hard work of allowing YOU to shine through your work.  Easy to write, often very hard for many to accomplish. Use what works for you.

New Video:

For a while now I have had online classes on The Orchard will soon appear as a new tutorial on watercolor glazing techniques. We are currently editing and hopefully it will be posted rather soon.  If you would like to take a peek you can check the site.  As of today we are editing so it should be ready in a week or so.  I hope I don’t regret being optimistic!!

Want to know more about watercolor glazing? You can order Mastering Watercolor Glazing Techniques, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin at

The Antique Shop, a remastered classic now on DVD is a step by step demonstration of Don’ s use of the glazing technique as well as tips on selecting and composing the scene. Available now at

Study with Don Rankin at your own pace online at Over two hours of short tutorials on the basis of watercolor glazing and brush technique.

On going watercolor classes with Don Rankin every Thursday, except Holidays, at Artists on the Bluff, 571Park Avenue, Bluff Park Alabama 35226. Contact Ms. Linda Williams for details. Telephone 205-637-5946

UPCOMING WORKSHOP:  June 20-24 Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff,  Boone, North Carolina

Contact Edwina May for details.’art-workshops

Looking for new ideas

Quite a few months ago I ran across a trailer of a video of John Salminen at work ( If you  are an avid watercolor painter you already know of John’s ability, especially with urban landscape and much, much more.  He was revealing some of his method for dealing with final highlights. While most of us strive to reserve the white of our paper for our brightest lights there are times when either it fails to work out or we need final adjustments to bring a watercolor to a desired conclusion. In the video John revealed a tool that I think he learned about from one of his students. A number of painters are no doubt aware of Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser. It is not new and there have been those who have written negative reviews fearing that the product contained some ingredient that would be detrimental to paints and paper.  John took the initiative to contact the manufacturer and was assured that the secret of the product lies in its construction not in chemical ingredients. This is a simple video not a lot of fancy technique. I provide it for those of you who have not tried the product. My students at Artists on the Bluff have found numerous ways to make use of it.

Stay curious:

As a painter you want to always remain open to new ideas and different techniques.  I would caution against merely acquiring gadgets for the sake of acquisition. Engage with new ideas and new approaches in order to see what works for you.  Be prepared to stumble a bit here and there.  At the same time don’t be so open minded that your brains fall out!

Be practical:

This is probably where I digress from a lot of current thinking.  I have just stated that one should stay curious and then I mention practicality.  What am I trying to say?  You really need to know the basics before you reach for the stars. What do YOU know about your paper? Not what have you read about it. How many washes have you applied to your favorite sheet? Do you KNOW by experiences (both good and disappointing) what your chosen paper will do?  So you have a favorite paper; have you tried others to compare?   The same question applies to your brushes and to your paints.  Even more important, are your drawing skills where they ought to be? If not work on them. Learn the basics of your craft. Many students are taught to disregard craftsmanship. That is unfortunate for regardless of your approach competent workmanship should be a part of your goal.

Creating a relationship:

This may sound like a strange sub heading.  In reality getting to know your materials is a lot like creating a relationship.  By working with your materials you begin to come to know what to expect. While it will not come overnight, it will come provided you are faithful to continue to work. There will be disappointing episodes but that is not all bad. While it may feel like it at the moment you may come to realize that you learn far more from your perceived failures than you ever learn from your perceived successes. It may sting a bit but you learn.

Hang in there:

If you are a committed painter you really don’t need to read this line of encouragement. You already know that your abilities are sharpened by consistent productive work habits. That word discipline comes to mind.  You need a schedule, you need to commit yourself to working.  For some this is the most difficult thing.  If you lack certain skills find a teacher even if it is an online source. Person to person is the ultimate in my opinion. However,  in some cases that is not possible. If you have the drive and discipline you WILL find a way.

May 2016 be a prosperous season for you!

Want to know more about mastering glazing techniques in watercolor? Buy: Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol.I by Dr. Don Rankin direct from the artist:

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Join students who enjoy learning watercolor glazing technique with Don Rankin  at their  own pace at                         

Enjoy personal instruction at Artists on the Bluff in Bluff Park, Alabama. On going watercolor classes with Don Rankin every Thursday, except holidays.  Contact Ms. Linda Williams at Artists On The Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama (205) 532-2769. OR 205 637-5946












Having Fun With Glazing

paradise creekfinal

Paradise Creek , watercolor on 140lb.cold press  approx 16″ x 12″
About 150 feet from my studio door lies Paradise Creek. I never have to worry about flooding because my studio is about 35-40 feet above the creek.  That gives me a great vantage point. The location never really disappoints for there is always a visual delight awaiting me. The creek has been my constant neighbor for at least the past 30 years.  During that time I have seen a number of changes in the creek,  many of them not to my liking.  The public works fellows came in to do some “improvements”. Those actions spoiled some wonderful spots.  In spite of their actions the creek has survived. Like many of us it goes through seasons of change. In the spring and part of the winter it is often a raging torrent. In the fall it almost always sings a pleasant lullaby when we open the windows to enjoy its song.  In the hot summer the water may slow a bit and more rocks are exposed as the fish and other creatures seek refuge in the deeper pockets.

All in all Paradise Creek has been a good neighbor and an unending source of inspiration. I have enough memories and sketches to keep me busy for another lifetime.

The power of glazing:

There are so many ways to make use of glazing.  You can use it in a very controlled manner working in a traditional way with a brush or you can try other approaches.  The beauty lies in versatility.

Don’t be negative:

How many times have you heard someone say something like; ” Oh watercolor is so hard, you can’t cover up your mistakes!”   Think for a moment about that statement. It also means that transparent watercolor can be used in glazes or layers to create a wonderful range of colors!  You can create under painting texture, wonderful color combinations and /or prepare a careful under painting likeness. (Hint: you can use splatter in one layer, let it dry and repeat or you can build color via multiple layers alternating wet ‘n wet passages or direct wash on dry paper. The possible combinations are only limited by your imagination.) The secret? Know your colors and follow a proper sequence.  So what is proper? That is largely up to you.  You can review the archives of my blog for some tips. Basically two rules should be at least observed.  I say at least because you may find opportunity to break or severely bend them. As a general rule best results come from allowing each wash to dry thoroughly before applying another wash.  Another suggestion is to use your most transparent colors FIRST.

Beginning Paradise Creek:

paradisecreelbeginningIf your eyes are keen you will see that there are no preliminary pencil lines.  My apologies but the shot is a bit blurry but hopefully you get the idea. Three colors were applied, Winsor & Newton Permanent Sap Green,  M.Graham New Gamboge and American Journey Andrew’s Turquoise. I use a three inch brush on almost all pieces.  I do not want the beginning to be picky and that is what beginning with a small brush tends to produce.  In the words of Delacroix, “Begin with a broom and finish with a needle.” Sounds scary?   Not really, try it.

Keep it simple:

These initial passages were applied to a dry piece of 140 lb. cold press D’Arches watercolor block. I find the block to be the most convenient item when I am working away from the studio.  Once the washes were applied  I used a bottle with a fine mist to hit some of the areas. You can see where the colors blend and you can also see where the edges of the wash are crisp. Crisp edges denote that the paper is dry soft edges tell you the surface is wet. As many of you will know this is basic watercolor; nothing fancy.  The real secret here is to RELAX.  Let the wet color do it thing. If you don’t like a particular run or effect, pick up the paper and rotate it and coax the color to go a different way. When you get the effect you want, let the paper lay FLAT. Watch out for puddles, blot when necessary. In this case my paper was propped up and the color ran just the way I wanted it to go.  Be ready to let the unexpected happen.


See if you can see where the major light areas are going to develop.  Remember the brightest bright to have is the white of the paper.  Respect and reserve the white of your paper. In this case I kept the paper dry in the areas where I would later have the brightest highlights.

Next Step:Paradis CreekFullSizeRender
The darker greens in the trees are a combination of the sap green and Hookers Green. Some of the initial washes were used with the wide side of my largest flat brush.  Note the wet onto wet blending in the tree on the right as it bleeds into the water. I couldn’t resist leaving it untouched. One of those wonderful accidents. I used a brush as well as a small segment of natural sponge to create the foliage effect. The limbs on the left side are a combination of scraping out and painting negative shapes.  Simple sweeping washes with a one inch flat brush was used on the water. As you look you can see a mingling of color that suggest reflection and ripples in the moving body of water.  Recall that negative statement? Well, I see it as opportunity!  All of those wet colors blended into a soft sheen that I could have never done as well with a deliberate brush stroke. They are transparent and the colors applied over them are transparent and we get a wonderful combination. The beauty is that we get some wonderful unexpected blending of color. Take advantage of it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Jump in and give it a try!

Making adjustments:

As I looked at the almost finished piece I felt that the center area wasn’t really working for me. While I had a movement of wash going across the middle it didn’t seem to be enough to really pull the work together.  So I introduced the oak tree and some other small trees to complete the effort.

Planning your composition:  Notan


Ideally you are aware of the term “Notan”.  It is a Japanese word that describes the relationship of light and dark.  It can be a very useful tool for helping you  develop your paintings.  In some ways you might think of it like a large puzzle. This illustration was taken using my smartphone and choosing one of the editing features. If you are not familiar with the concept of Notan by all means study it. It will help you to see the large parts.  Recall that I mentioned starting the painting with a big brush. After conquering the large elements I can settle down to refine the smaller items.  As you look at your screen if you are near sighted merely take off your glasses and see the large blurry shapes. If you have regular vision merely squint your eyes. You should see how the shapes interlock with one another grays working with white and black. Plan your composition making use of Notan. It works very well with just black and white.  The shot above is a camera conversion of the finished painting. However, I think it serves to make the point.  Your painting needs a good frame work. This will help you see it. We all need to hone our skills to develop better paintings. This is a great tool. Use it.

Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques? You can purchase Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol I. by Dr. Don Rankin at

Enjoy a remastered classic on DVD entitled The Antique Shop by Don Rankin

Study with Don Rankin online at your own pace at any time that fits your schedule.  Over 30 tutorials on various watercolor techniques more than 2 1/2 hours of content  at

Study with Don Rankin at Artists On The Bluff, 571 Park Avenue, Bluff Park, Alabama. Classes are held from 9:00 Am- 11:30 every Thursday except holidays. Contact Ms Linda Williams at

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. (

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 :

The Antique Shop a remastered DVD 55 minute watercolor demonstration by Don Rankin available at

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

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 205-637-5946  

raven tableDSC_0189_298Barking Up the Wrong TreeWhite Raven, oil

David Rankin

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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 .

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