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 

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 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's almost too good to be true!

Happy Painting!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gift of Friends

Dear Friends,
You have given me so much joy, laughter and inspiration. You've also showered me with words of comfort and love in times of need. Blessings to you this holiday season and may you find a sense of Peace, Joy and Love in your Home, Family & World. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Time of Reflection

Hope you'll allow me to share whats going on in my life. This last year has been an emotional roller coaster. Often I've had one foot in joy and one foot in grief. I've been blessed with a healthy new grand child named Caleb, my son Daniel continues to be cancer free, my son Thomas had a successful salmon season on his own boat, I spent 25 days in Italy teaching and painting, I’ve enjoyed numerous artistic achievements and we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. I have so much to be thankful for...and I am!

In July this year I lost my Step-Dad Jere to cancer. I've spent more time with my Mom in these last few months. I enjoy our weekly get togethers. Were getting to know each other in a new way. It's a nice experience.

Doing what he loved most...hiking.
Now I fear the greatest sorrow will visit me soon. My dad, Wes has been fighting cancer for 14 years. The day before Thanksgiving he began Hospice Care of home. I spend time with him every day. Some days he is alert and we have fun conversations and some days he barely wakes at all. But sleeping is probably the best thing right now. Hospice is doing their best but the pain is difficult to keep under control.

My Dad has 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’s been generous with “his girls” and shared the adventure along the way. 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 shared more cookies and ice cream than you’d ever imagine! He taught me to appreciate art and bought me my first easel.  I love my dad.
Sharing a sketchbook with Dad.

I have no false illusions that my Dad will get better…I know that. I would like to ask for your prayers. Please pray for my dad, his wife Sheryle and all his girls. Help us to be there for him and for each other as we learn to live without him.

Without question, I’ve entered the Advent season with a heavy heart.  I remain thankful for all the blessings in my life and I start each day with prayers of thanks. The tears fall...a lot. I am thankful for the memories that will last a lifetime, hope, faith, family, friends, and art! 

Blessings, Brenda