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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Newest Newsletter

I thought I'd blog the latest email newsletter that I sent out last week to my subscribers.  I've been sending these out lately once or twice a month.

Almost always, I send out an image (or images) of my latest artworks.  But in this issue, I also share some insights into how I go about making my pictures.

You are invited to subscribe if so inclined.

July 18, 2014

Hello Friends and Collectors, 

I'd like to share with you my newest painting, just completed yesterday....

"San Juan River" (#3304)
22"x30" watercolor

Also, I thought it might be interesting for you - my highly valued newsletter subscribers - to get an exclusive look into the picturemaking process I use to create my full sheet (22"x30") paintings...I don't share my secrets with just anybody! :)

Step One: The idea.  Of course, every creative project must begin with an idea. Since my passion is expressing the beauty of the visual world around us, I am constantly seeking out subjects that I want to record in permanent form. This is the reference photo I took several years ago which serves as my source of inspiration and information for "San Juan River:"

I have quite a large selection of reference photos from my travels that I've taken with my digital camera and that are stored on my computer.  Browsing through them for a new subject to paint, I choose one that I can get excited about and that I feel I can develop into a successful picture.

This type of subject is my favorite so that was fairly easy to do!  River rock compositions offer me so much in the way of creative ideas and expression.  The infinite variety of lighting effects, the broad range of lights and darks, the excitement of moving water interacting with rocks, along with trees, branches, logs, etc., plus the different textures, all combine to make for exciting excuses to fill up those gorgeous sheets of Arches watercolor paper with paint.  Who doesn't love to experience the sounds, sights, and calming effects of beautiful rivers or streams?

The San Juan River is just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the northwest.  Having lived in Taos for almost ten years, I spent countless happy hours painting on location along the many mountain streams of the area.  With all that experience under my belt, I now feel I've earned the right to work from photographs I take myself along with possibly sketches I've done "en plein air."  Or, as in this case, just the photograph I took, in conjunction with my memory of the place.  I use a large screen (21") iMac which is set up in my studio for easy reference as I paint.

Step Two: The Planning Stage.  Now that I have the idea for a painting, my creative process continues with a small "tone value study"....

"San Juan River" (#3306)
5.5"x7.5" using 2B, 4B, and 6B graphite pencils

This small pencil drawing is in the exact proportions of the large, full sheet watercolor I intend to paint: 22"x30".   Doing this study enables me to work out the composition, the arrangement of the lights, middle tones, and darks, and start visualizing how I'm going to paint the picture.  I use a "broadstroke" technique with the pencil leads sharpened on an angle with a sandpaper pad.  I work for a clean, crisp rendering with most of my strokes made vertical for the sake of unity plus it gives the drawing a satisfying look.  I also establish the center of interest and the mood I'm aiming for.  Using the reference photo for information and inspiration, I freely add or eliminate to suit my needs and make the picture "work."  However, Mother Nature is the best designer and teacher, with everything arranged according to Her needs, so I pretty much paint what's there, taking liberties whenever I feel it necessary in order to create a successful watercolor.

Step Three: The Color Study.  Next comes my color study 1/4 the size of the full sheet 22"x30" (11"x15").

"San Juan River" (#3305)
watercolor 11"x15"

This step prepares me even further for the challenge of executing the large painting.  Now working in color, I refer to my value study and the large reference photograph on my iMac to stick to my original tone value plan, but I also feel free to use color however I want.  Painting, to me, is about expression, not copying photographs.  I will exaggerate, change, eliminate, or subdue colors as I see fit.

It's interesting to note that even though this watercolor study is 1/4 the size of the bigger painting, executing the final painting isn't simply 4x more challenging: it's more like 32x more challenging!  Why?  Because a 1" square area on a small painting becomes 4" square on the larger area, and what I might indicate with a few simple brushstrokes on the 1/4 size painting now needs a lot more explaining or entertainment for the eye. In addition, the larger paper makes it more demanding to orchestrate all the various elements into a successful painting, since every area of the picture must be related properly in order to work together as a single, unified statement.

Step Four: The Final Painting.  Finally, I arrive at the "Everest" of watercolor: the full sheet!  I've planned my assault and prepared myself as best I could so now it's time to begin the journey to the peak.

"San Juan River" (#3304)
watercolor 22"x30"

It is not without a feeling of excitement and trepidation that I begin!  I have excitement for the incredible prospect of a thrilling success, but also the fear that I may fail, not fulfill my high expectations.  But taking this risk is the challenge of watercolor painting, as in every other endeavor, and I've been through it many times.  And, as they say, "you can't win if you don't play the game."

I start by lightly sketching in the composition with a 2B graphite pencil, then by studying my reference photo, the small tone value study, and the 1/4 size color study, I decide where the first lay-in of color will go, and try to anticipate what will come next.  It's really quite a common sense sequence of paint applications that follows, almost as though the painting itself tells me what it needs. Of course, many years of painting experience helps! Watercolors do take planning since it's very easy to go astray with indecisiveness and reworking, ending up with an overworked disaster.  Having a reasonable idea in advance of how the painting will be painted is essential.  That's why all the preparation is so important.  And, since the white of the paper is the lightest light, and I'm working with transparent watercolor, it's usually best to work from the lights progressing to the midtones, and then the darker areas as I proceed, working wet in wet, and laying in washes over other washes when they have dried (called glazing).  (A hairdryer saves hours and hours of waiting for washes to dry.)  I always work with large brushes first, getting the largest masses covered and then gradually break those masses down into smaller areas with smaller brushes, leaving the finer details for last.  This is the general procedure, but each painting is different so I really am flexible as to how I might go about it.

Along the way, the painting will begin to take on "a life of its own."  By that I mean: at some stage, the artwork will start to fall into place and "work."  Now comes the realization that I've got something good that I could ruin!  Yikes!  I start to choke a little, because I don't want to blow what I've got.  This is where I just have to keep the faith and keep going until I get through this phase, and start to loosen up again.  When I get past this, I can pretty much coast to the finish, always remembering to keep my wits about me.  I do this by spending more time just studying what I have on paper and less painting, and making the final adjustments.  At some point, there's nothing more to do, I've said what I wanted to say, and it's time to stop (before I do ruin it!).

A painting this size takes me about one to two weeks to complete, depending upon what everyday distractions might arise.  Every morning, the first thing I do is look at the work I did the day before.  (With a fresh eye, it is usually fairly obvious what needs to be done next, and I immediately start working, even if only for a few minutes.  This way, I preclude the biggest hurdle every artist faces: getting started!)  As Bill L. Parks, one of my beloved instructors at the American Academy of Art, repeated over and over: "What's the first, most obvious thing in error?"  Meaning, fix that first, then move on to the next "first, most obvious thing."  I can still hear him saying that in his booming voice!

Of course, once the final painting is started, I am at liberty to change my mind here and there, but I really do stick to my original plans as much as possible (otherwise, what was the point of them?).  Then again, like I mentioned earlier, painting the large painting is very different from the smaller studies, so it's necessary to invent the best possible solution as I paint the 22"x30" painting.

That's about it!  All I need to do now is sign it, assign a number, give it a title, and take a break, before I get myself involved in another project and start the process all over again.

What a tremendous, challenging, interesting involvement, being a painter of pictures.  I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

I'm currently working on a youtube video that will go into more detail, along with narration and music.  I hope you'll stay tuned.

If you haven't seen it yet, here's my first youtube video, now updated with music which was suggested by Cameron Seebach... (thanks Cam!)...
Lee Gordon Seebach Watercolors.  It's a slide show of work from the past several years, with a sequence of me working in my studio.

And don't forget, my special price for unframed  "Wren In Oak Creek Canyon" continues through July 31....

"Wren in Oak Creek Canyon"
Giclee, image size 20.5"x27.5" plus margins
Titled, signed, and numbered in bottom margin.
Limited edition of 250.
Unframed regular price: $995. Now $595. until 7/31/2014

Please allow 2-3 weeks for delivery.  Free shipping in heavy duty mailing tube.*

Let me know if you have any questions.

I hope you enjoyed seeing these artworks and learning a bit about how I paint pictures!



*To anywhere in the continental United States.  For other shipping options, contact me at or by phone at (319) 961-0525.