Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gone From My Sight

My dad is gone from my sight but forever in my heart. 

During his final months I was able to pour out my love and gratitude on him...this was nothing new. He always knew I loved and adored him. Thankfully we lived close to each other. In the final months I often sat at his feet or beside his bed. I needed to understand what was happening to him and his body...as if knowing would allow me to help him along the way. I learned a lot about dying...it's a road to be walked alone. I found two books very helpful. "Gone From My Sight" by Barbara Karnes and "Final Gifts" by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley. 
My dad taught me to appreciate art. He dabbled in oils for a few years and later on became a serious art collector. He showed me through example that art was something of value to appreciate and enjoy. He knew what art meant to me and he was proud of my achievements. He loved to hear my stories about art shows, workshops, plein air painting, and travels. He would beam with joy.

My Dad lived a good life and he’s lived it his way. He retired in his early 50’s. Had more adventures than most people dream of. He was generous and we enjoyed many adventures with him. We’ve flown in his hot air balloons, sailed in his boats, backpacked and hiked the High Sierras, rode horses & motorcycles, snow skied & snowmobiled, mountain biked, travel to distant lands…and we shared more cookies and ice cream than you’d ever imagine. He had a sweet tooth!

Recently I was given a picture of my dad. I put our childhood pictures

together and noticed something. Seeing a little bit of me in his face brings me comfort. It reminds me that from the beginning he has been alive in me and that he isn't completely gone. A piece of him lives on, in me. Not only through his likeness but in my love of art, the outdoors, hiking...and cookies!

Even in my sadness I feel blessed.

Dear Friends, Your emails and messages have been overwhelming. Thank you for all the kind words, understanding and comfort. My grief is lessened in knowing I am not alone. Thank you my friends.
Hugs, Brenda

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Spring Has Arrived

I stumbled upon the Arlington Gardens a few years ago.  I was running errands when out of nowhere I caught a burst of color. I pulled my car over to explore the site...Since 1961, the 3 acre lot was vacant. The site was slated to be been a staging area for the construction of the 710 Freeway. Over time the land became overrun with weeds, dirt, trash and dead trees. On that day  I found an Artistic Eden!

I eagerly await for spring to arrive at the gardens. Once I see a hint of colorI might visit numerous times a week. After church on Sunday Mike and I pick up lunch and have a little picnic. I am here to tell you...SPRING has arrived at the Arlington Gardens! On my morning walk I went to the gardens. I was expecting a little splash of spring colors but what I saw overwhelmed my senses with color, smells and beauty. God is the most magnificent gardener!  I couldn't drink in enough of the lovely scents and colors.

I highly recommend you visit the Arlington Gardens if you live in the Pasadena area. It's easy to find. It's on Arlington between Orange Grove and Pasadena Ave. 

Below is information t from their home page.www.arlingtongardeninpasadena.org  


Arlington Garden is open every day of the year for visiting at no charge. Individuals, families, students, artists, photographers visit Arlington Garden daily for education and enjoyment. The Garden’s layout and moveable furniture invite people to come in and stay rather than be quickly ushered in and out.

Arlington Garden is a demonstration of successful water wise gardening in Pasadena’s Mediterranean climate. Pasadena needs plant life that does well in our wet winters, hot, dry summers, and temperate falls and springs, to demonstrate how beautiful and effective a garden in harmony with our climate can be. Arlington Garden is home to
350 trees and thousands of Mediterranean climate plants that do well  low to moderate watering, and features California natives, cactus and   South African and Australian natives, irrigated by low flow devices that use less than half the water demanded by traditional parks.Arlington Garden is a place to find serenity in an urban setting. Arlington Garden has brought the serenity of nature to the City. A classical seven circuit labyrinth, a raised urbanite poppy set in the middle of the meadow, paths winding through trees and plants, and benches set throughout the Garden allow one to stroll or sit and experience some peace and quiet.

Happy Painting, Gardening 
and Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sapori di Toscana with Karolina

 Have you ever dreamed of taking cooking lessons, in Tuscany? My favorite chef, Karolina is teaching a cooking course this September! Some of the FINEST meals I've ever eaten have come from her kitchen. In my workshops my students were treated to cooking lessons with Karolina...I can tell you the experience was a highlight..not only for the students but for me!

One of Karolina’s culinary secrets is her enthusiasm, her natural talent for ingredients and combinations, and her joy in sharing her recipesand techniques with Abbondanza Toscana guests. She polished her innate skills with training in Italy and France, and has delighted Abbondanza Toscana guests for the past six years with her mastery of Tuscan cuisine showcasing the freshness and flavors of local ingredients. You’ll cook side-by-side with Karolina and join her in the Abbondanza Toscana gardens in search of seasonal greens and vegetables, or some of the many herbs that define Tuscan cooking. 

Dates: September 12 - 19, 2015



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Negative Painting with Watercolor

Negative painting is one of the most exciting approaches to watercolor I know! The technique is a unique approach of painting around an object to define it in a composition. When working in watercolor we have the challenge that other mediums do not. It's what we don’t paint that becomes the most important element. Think of yourself as a stone carver, chipping away, until only the most precious lights remains.

There are many techniques to saving the “lights” of the paper. I have experimented with masking fluids and tapes to save the “lights” but found the end result was either harsh or cutout looking. I preserve the “lights” of the paper from the very beginning... by painting around them.

Opaque & Transparent Paints: It is best to avoid opaque paints (such as cadmiums & gouache) for negative painting. Opaque are fine for accent marks at the end but not for glazing. The technique requires numerous glazes which will become muddy with opaque paints. To determine if your paints are opaque or transparent do a simple test. With a permanent marker draw a bold line across a piece of watercolor paper. With paint the consistency of cream paints over the line. If the line is obscured at all it is opaque.  

3 paint colors

Step #1, Line Drawing: When I draw for a negative painting I am especially mindful of the space and shapes between the roses and leaves (negative space). I want to have shape and size variety.  I draw enough to get the general shapes. It is important not to over draw. Allow opportunities for additional shapes to be developed in the painting process.

Underpainting: To determine which 3 colors I will use for the underpainting I make numerous color swatches. The swatches will contain a red, blue, and yellow. The colors do not need to be true primaries. When I mix the colors it is important to have the paint be the same consistence to encourage good mixing on the paper. I am looking for colors that have the underlying feeling of the subject matter. The 3 colors I selected are Daniel Smith: Quinacridone Gold (QG), Cobalt Blue (CB), and Quinacridone Rose (QR). In the photo you'll see these colors on the bottom left.

Step #2: I wet the entire paper with clean water and introduce the 3 paint colors separately onto the wet paper (Quinacridone Gold (QG), Cobalt Blue (CB), and Quinacridone Rose (QR).  I paint at an angle to encourage mixing as the paint runs down the paper. I don’t over work the surface with a paint brush but encourage the paint to mix on the paper.  Let thoroughly dry.

Reference Photo
Step #3: Start glazing. I will add additional paint colors but I will use the 3 original colors through out the painting process. I consider these my “mother colors”. I paint hard edges against the rose and some of the leaves, and soften edges with water as I move out from the subject. This is what I call the “adolescence of a painting”, because it looks and feels awkward. Let thoroughly dry.

Step #4: With each glaze I create new negative shapes and darker values. I sometimes soften edges with a light spray of water while the paint is wet.  Let thoroughly dry.

Step #5: In the final stage I paint the darkest darks and smallest shapes. I use a rich deep green made with  Daniel Smith Phthalo Turquoise and Italian Burnt Sienna. While the green mixture of paint is still wet on the paper I drop a small amount of Permanent Alizarin Crimson. The addition of this red livens up the greens. You can see an example of this underneath the left rose.  I am selective to place my darkest darks near my lights to intensify the focal area. I finish with a few details. 

Hope you find this bit of information helpful and I've inspire you to try your hand (brush) at negative painting!

Happy Painting!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Watercolor: Understanding Opaque & Transparent Paints

I've had a lot of questions about this topic. I'm going to put on my teacher’s hat and talk about watercolor paints and their particular characteristics. The reason I am spending time on this topic is that I want to share information about "negative" painting, and it is necessary to understand opaque and transparent for this technique to work.

Transparent: permits light to penetrate. Allowing the white surface of the paper or underpainting to show through. These pigments are fine in texture. When multiple glazes of transparent colors are painted on top of each other (when dry) the color beneath will show through changing its appearance. 

Opaque: impenetrable to light; not allowing light to pass through. These paints are relatively chalky in appearance when dry. All cadmiums are opaque. 
Semi-Opaque or Semi-Transparent: These paints are “middle of the road”. These paints are generally safe for glazing techniques.

Opaque or Transparent how do you know?This information is available from manufactures and can be accessed in catalogs, art supply stores and the internet. I have spent a sizable amount of time collecting manufacture information. Not everyone has time or interest to do this research. The quickest and best way to determine if your paints are opaque or transparent is to do a simple test. With a permanent marker (Sharpie Chisel tip) draw a bold line across a piece of 2x2 inch watercolor paper. With paint the consistency of whole milk paint over the line. If the black line is obscured (chalky looking) it is opaque. On the paint swatch I write information (brand, color name, index code). I keep all my color swatches in a binder for future reference. Over the years I have built an extensive binder of color swatches. I am amazed how often I refer to this information.  

I don’t want to give the impression I am against using opaque paints… I like them but I don’t keep them on my palette as a main color. When I need an opaque color I squirt out some fresh paint. I do a lot of “negative” painting built up with glazes, and glazes get “muddy” with opaque paint. Opaque are great for accent marks at the end, but not for glazing. Glazing is when you paint a transparent layer on top of a dry layer. Opaque paints will look chalky or muddy if used for glazing. If you have a tendency to get “muddy” colors chances are you have an opaque paint on your palette.Look closely at the paint swatches below. Look at the top row and notice how the paint seems to be sitting on top of the line=this means opaque.
Look at the bottom row, notice how the paint does not effect the black line=this means transparent. 

I encourage you to try this with your current palette. 

Happy Painting!

Friday, February 6, 2015

the STUDIO and Workshops

With the creation of  my new “STUDIO”  I’ll be teaching workshops in the space, limit to 7 people. Smaller workshops will allow me to cover more information and spend additional time with each student. I have four STUDIO workshops planned for 2015. 

If you're on Facebook you can see a short video of my new STUDIO. Visit my page "Brenda Swenson Watercolors".

 I intend to keep teaching workshops nationwide and abroad.  I love to see new places and make new friends. I wouldn’t give that up!

Please see the list below for workshop dates and locations. 

Happy Painting!

----Workshop Schedule 2015, Workshop Schedule 2015----

February 21-22, 2015 FULL
Negative Painting with Watercolor
2-Day Workshop 
San Diego Watercolor Society

March 9-13, 2015 FULL
Negative Painting with Watercolor
5-Day Workshop
The Villages Art Workshops
Villages, FL
Contact: Bev BBaug97@aol.com 

April 11, 2015
Plein Air Painters of Riverside (PAPR) 
1/2 Day Workshop (1:15-5:15)

May 1, 2 & 3, 2015
Sketching with watercolor En Plein Air (outdoors)
3-Day Workshop
Pasadena, CA
Contact: Brenda

May 18, 19 & 20, 2015
The Illustrated Journal
3-Day Workshop
the STUDIO (7 Students)
South Pasadena, CA
Contact: Brenda

July 13, 14 & 15, 2015
Negative Painting
3-Day Workshop
the STUDIO (7 Students)
South Pasadena, CA
Contact: Brenda

August 3-7, 2015
Sketching Techniques with Watercolor
5-Day Workshop
Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff
Boone, NC

September 28, 29 & 30, 2015
Sketching Techniques
3-Day Workshop
the STUDIO (7 Students)
South Pasadena, CA
Contact: Brenda

October 26, 27 & 28, 2015
Stained Paper Collage
3-Day Workshop 
the STUDIO (7 Students)
South Pasadena, CA
Contact: Brenda

*I have many workshops planned for 2016...including two trips to Provence, France. Visit my website for additional information. Website

Monday, January 26, 2015


Recently I hinted big changes were coming in my life and I'd let you know more when it was time. Now I can tell you. Last September I was in New Mexico for two weeks. I felt inspired, energized and happy being surrounded by beautiful colors, texture and art. When I returned home I knew something needed to change. I needed a larger space to work away from home. I'd exhausted every corner in my home/studio. The space now felt claustrophobic. I began the search for a new studio space immediately. 

November I signed a lease, December 3rd I had keys, 30 minutes later with my husband in charge of tear down and rebuild...it was full speed ahead!!! If I told you everything he can accomplish in a short time frame you wouldn't believe me. With a crew of two guys the rebuild was finished on Christmas Eve! While the guys were busy with construction I spent my time getting all the paper work in place (business license, city planner, insurance, fire inspection...), planning for Christmas, searching for STUDIO furniture, and spending time with my Dad. The month was an emotional roller coaster. One foot was in joy and on foot in grief (Dad is dying from cancer).

New Year's Eve was moving day. Twenty-five years of painting and teaching materials is a lot of stuff! I had everything packed and ready and it still took three guys six hours to move it all. I spent the next week putting everything in it's place. I love organizing stuff!

I'm so excited about the STUDIO and all it holds for the future. It's a creative space to work, play and be with like minded people. I can't wait to welcome friends and share the joy of being in a creative space filled with light, beauty and inspiration. I even made a sitting area called the nook. I love this little area so much I painted it.

In the near future I plan to host workshops and they will be limited to 7 people. I'll be able to spend more one-on-one time with my students. How sweet is that!   

Did I mention the STUDIO is a 10 minute walk from home and there's a coffee house down stairs? I know, I know...it's almost too good to be true!

Happy Painting!