Earthbound Artist

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Miami Book Awards Ceremony

25 January, 2015 0 comments Leave a comment


These are the official photos of me accepting my medal and a framed illustration award from the Reader's Favorite Book Awards, for my book Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success.

I was one of about 250 authors honoured at the ceremony, which was held in the nightclub of the Regency Hotel Miami last November, during the week-long Miami Book Fair International festivities.

Among the award winners were two authors from Canada, some from Australia, Denmark, England and other foreign countries, with the majority from the US. Everyone was dressed in suits and party dresses, just like the Academy Awards in miniature! My husband and I had a grand time that evening, chatting with authors and their spouses, all with interesting life stories to tell (go figure!).

We also spent a morning walking through the street fair portion of the Book Fair. There were hundreds of booths showcasing authors, publishers, publicists, printers, and other facets of the international book industry. Many venues hosted seminars and presentations by writers.


The first picture above shows me with my book in front of the Reader's Favorite booth, and the second gives a view of part of the Book Fair, which took up about six city blocks in downtown Miami. I tell you, the book industry is a whole other world out there...

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Watercolour Toolbox Wins More International Awards

29 September, 2014 0 comments Leave a comment

I have some exciting news to share.

Readers' Favorite Book Awards announced recently that my art instruction book, Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success, has won an Illustration Award, as well as a Bronze Medal in the 'Non-Fiction Home/Crafts' category of their 2014 book competition. The awards will be presented at the annual Miami Book Fair International in November.

Earlier this year, my book was a Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and a Bronze Medal winner in the How-To category at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, both held in New York City.

When I wrote Watercolour Toolbox, I focused all of my talent and energy into offering simple solutions that would help artists overcome universal artistic challenges. I illustrated the manuscript with photos of 40 of my watercolour paintings, and chose FriesenPress as my publisher because they could make my book available virtually anywhere books are sold. I wanted to share my painting techniques and strategies with as many people as possible.

It feels great to have my efforts recognized internationally, as each of these competitions attracted thousands of entries worldwide.

For more details about where to purchase my book, visit


Book Wins International Awards

19 May, 2014 0 comments Leave a comment



I'm delighted to let you know, my painting instruction book Watercolour Toolbox won a bronze medal in the 'How-To' category at the Independent Publisher Book Awards in New York City this spring.

This international competition attracted over 5,500 entries, from all 50 U.S. states, 9 Canadian provinces and 32 other countries.

Watercolour Toolbox also was a Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards that were announced in May, and was awarded a Five Star Review from the Reader's Favorite Book Awards earlier this spring.

It's lovely to have my book recognized by industry experts, but it is the appreciation my readers and painting students express that really warms my heart.

Where to buy Watercolour Toolbox

Watercolour Toolbox Wins 5-Star Review

22 February, 2014 1 comment Leave a comment

This week I entered my painting instruction book 'Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success' in several international book contests. Judging will take place later in the year and I will keep you posted if I win any medals!

One of the contests, hosted by Readers' Favorite, also provides written reviews for each entry, and I was pleased to learn today that my book was awarded a 5-star review (that would be 5 out of 5).

Here is what the reviewer wrote:

"Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success by Karen Richardson is a useful guide to all painters and those who are learning to paint. The book guides you step-by-step with useful strategies and demonstrations. It speaks about problems that painters face while painting and, apart from being helpful to novices, the book is also helpful to experienced painters. The book guides you in a sequential manner and speaks about everything that a painter would love to know to improve their techniques and skills. The book covers extensively the right usage of colors, brushes, and good textures for paintings.

The book has eight demonstrations by the author which is really educational and useful. It gives useful tips to improve your techniques and widen your perspective on how to handle the complexities of art. The examples will tell you how to avoid or fix the challenges presented while using watercolors. The tips to keep in mind before you start with the painting are very helpful. It helps you in planning your picture and how to go about it methodically. The book also tells readers about the classic design guidelines and traditional painting methods which will help them improve their craft.

I will recommend this book to all artists and beginners. The most common painting challenges faced by painters and the simple solutions offered by the author will help you enjoy painting. This 65-page tutorial is very helpful when it comes to improving your style."

For information on where to buy my book, click here.

Making Watercolour Paint Behave

13 January, 2014 0 comments Leave a comment

Many of my beginner students have trouble making watercolour paint stay on the paper where they want it to. This is a central aspect of watercolour painting: moisture control.

In an earlier post, I mentioned the enjoyment I derive from engaging in a partnership with my watercolour materials—to control the paint application, to a certain extent, and have the materials provide the ‘serendipity factor’. Sometimes you want the paint to spread softly, with little direction from you. Other times you want the paint to stay exactly where you place it. Most of the time, you require a degree of control somewhere in between these extremes. Let me tell you how to achieve the level of control you need.

Wet-in-wet painting.

This term refers to applying a full brush-load of paint onto wet paper, and offers the least amount of artist control. I call it a high risk manoeuvre, with lots of chance for ‘happy accidents’ or ‘surprise disasters’. Much practice is needed, to learn what levels of moisture on paper, and brush, produce the results you intend.

The water on the paper delays the absorption of paint, so it has more chance to move and mingle with adjacent colours before sinking into the paper. This technique can produce marvellously luminous skies and sky reflections on calm water, as well as interesting base layers for tree foliage, grassy meadows, surfaces of buildings, or other relatively large areas of your painting. I use large synthetic or natural hair brushes for wet-in-wet painting.

The painting above, MAGNOLIA SERENADE, watercolour, 12 x 9”, was created with Winsor & Newton French Ultramarine, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and Aureolin paints, and has a wet-in-wet background. The petals and branches were done with two-brush technique (explained below). Final tiny details were added with a calligraphy pen, or the tip of a damp round brush.

Dry brush painting.

This commonly-used terminology actually refers to a damp to moderately wet brush-load of paint applied to dry paper.

The sizing used in watercolour paper manufacture reduces the absorbency of the paper, causing the paint to remain in place on dry paper. The result is very defined edges on painted areas.

Usually, I use this technique for adding the final details to a painting, such as stripes on stones, the texture of wood grain, or to subtly ‘dirty up’ any area of a painting that looks too pristine.

Two-brush technique.

I use this term to describe the way I apply paint when I want to control precisely where paint goes, to achieve a softer effect in a specific area.

With the exception of the wet-in-wet base washes that comprise the first layer, I create almost all of my paintings with two #12 round brushes in my hands. One brush is loaded with paint and the other with clean water. Typically, I apply paint to dry paper and then use the second brush to add water beside the painted area, wherever I want the paint to have a less distinct perimeter. If the particular area is large, I dampen it with water prior to applying paint. This allows the paint to float for a few seconds before sinking into the paper, giving me more time to moderate the edges with the clean water brush.

Students, trying the two-brush technique for the first time, often have trouble judging how much paint to lay down and how much water to add. If they put down too little paint it will start to dry before the water is added, so the paint does not move as intended. If they apply too much paint, or water, the mixture spreads beyond the intended area.

It takes considerable practice to learn what levels of moisture work best for a given section of a painting. It helps if the brushes have comparable moisture levels, so start with two identical brushes and load them with paint or water in a similar manner. I load as much liquid as the brush will allow, and then return some paint to the palette (or water to the rinse bucket), by wiping the brush against the rim until the brush point is sharp again.

Avoid using 100 per cent synthetic brushes for two-brush technique, as they release liquid too quickly. You will have more success with brushes containing some (or all) natural hair, as they release liquids more slowly and controllably.

Negative painting.

This term refers to creating the illusion of an object in your painting, by applying paint in the spaces (‘negative’ areas) around the object. I use two-brush technique to achieve this effect. Usually the defined edge of the paint lies against the perimeter of the object, and the soft (or ‘lost’) edge fades off into the background. I use this method in all my paintings and I would be ‘lost’ without it.

IRIS INDULGENCE, watercolour, 10 x 7” (above). Negative painting was used extensively here to paint around stems, leaves, and petals, and within background shrubbery. Winsor & Newton paints used: New Gamboge, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Winsor Blue Green Shade, Winsor Violet.

This excerpt from Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success is reprinted with permission of the publisher. For more details visit

How to Make Smooth Watercolour Washes

06 January, 2014 0 comments Leave a comment

Watercolour washes dry in a short amount of time, which means you have to apply paint fairly quickly if you want the colour to dry evenly. Many students have difficulty with this when trying out watercolour for the first time. Here are several things you can do to make smoother areas of colour.

Use artist quality watercolour paper of a heavier weight.

For years I painted on Arches 140 lb. cold pressed watercolour paper with good results. Then I tried Arches 300 lb. cold pressed paper and was amazed how much easier it was to make smooth washes.

The difference is that the thicker paper can absorb more water and so evaporation takes longer. This means you have more time to apply paint before the paper starts to dry. Although the 300 lb. paper is more expensive, I still recommend it for everyone—beginner students to experts—as it makes our job of painting easier.

Another advantage of heavier paper is that it stays flat when wet. Whatever paper you choose, make sure it is acid free so it will not deteriorate over time.

Paint on a slanted surface.

I attach my watercolour paper to a firm board with masking tape. I place the board on my angled drafting table, or on a flat table with a large box of facial tissues or a shoe box to support the top of the board. These angled work surfaces allow gravity to pull the paint towards the bottom of your paper, which allows washes to dry without depositing paint unevenly.

The photo above shows my typical portable set-up when working on a flat table, such as when I am instructing at a workshop, or demonstrating painting at an art show. I rest the support board, with watercolour paper attached, against a shoe box. Since I am right-handed, my paints, brushes, squirt bottle, and water bucket are arranged to the right of the painting. This way I am not risking an accident by constantly reaching across my painting with a loaded paint brush.

In the photo above, I am working on a watercolour in my studio. This is just a larger version of the portable set-up shown in the previous photo, with all my materials to the right of the drafting board. The slanted board helps to ease strain on my neck and back, but also provides the angle needed to create smooth washes.

My studio faces north, but I often paint on dull days or after dark, so I illuminate my drafting board with an incandescent elbow fixture and an overhead fluorescent fixture. This combination of two or three light sources represents typical lighting found in most buildings where my paintings will be shown.

When painting at art shows or in our travel trailer, where the ambient lighting is insufficient, I use a portable fixture featuring a natural spectrum daylight lamp.

Use bigger brushes.

For larger areas of even colour, start by pre-wetting the paper with clean water (using a large brush or spray bottle) and let it rest for a minute or so. At this point, the water should glisten on the paper, but not move with gravity. Brush on a little more clean water if the sheen looks uneven. I like to use a one-inch to one-and-a-half-inch flat brush to apply the paint with a left-to-right sweeping stroke, starting at the upper edge of the wash area and working downward.

Plan to use as few strokes as possible, and resist the urge to make short, fast stabs with your brush. Instead use slower strokes and reload your brush as soon as you see the deposit of colour on the paper lessening.

If the wash is ‘flat’ colour (evenly dark from one edge to the other), reload your brush with the same paint mixture each time.

If the wash is to be graduated from dark to light, use the painting mixture full strength for the first few rows of paint, then add increasing amounts of water to your brush-load as you work towards the bottom. Alternatively, you can work from light to dark by adding a small amount of the paint mixture to a wet brush, and increasing the proportion of paint in your brush as you work downward.

Keep a high, even moisture level on your brush and paper. You will experience a slower drying time if your paper is pre-moistened with clean water, and if you keep your brush well loaded with paint.

It takes practice to get the feel of how much moisture is required. Too much moisture will cause colour to puddle or drip, and be hard to keep where you want it. Too little moisture causes uneven, hard edges (‘back runs’), where fresh wet paint meets drying paint.

Wash your hands.

Ever since I ruined a big sky wash years ago, with greasy fingerprints, I always wash my hands prior to handling watercolour paper, and try to touch only the edges of the paper if possible. You may think your hands are clean of contaminants, but your skin contains natural oils that change the way water moves on the paper surface, affecting how the pigment is laid down. You can pick up natural secretions without realizing it, such as when you rub your eyes or scratch your head.

I also wash my hands after painting, and before eating, to avoid ingesting any pigments.

This excerpt from Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success is reprinted with permission of the publisher. For more details visit

How to Beat Dull Colours

30 December, 2013 0 comments Leave a comment

In my experience, the most successful paintings contain a variety of colour intensities, from brilliant to subdued. It is easy to make dull colours, but I have found the following habits really help me keep colour mixtures fresh and lively when I need brilliance.

Use artist quality paint.

Student grade paints tend to produce dull, chalky mixtures, while artist quality paints produce vibrant, clear mixtures using smaller amounts of the paint itself.

Limit your colour palette.

If you use the same three primary pigments for an entire painting, you have a much greater chance of producing vibrant colours, and your painting will look more unified and natural. This is because all objects in the scene will appear to be illuminated with the same type of light source. Also, you will learn the behaviour of individual pigments more quickly if fewer pigments are involved.

Keep your colour wells clean.

I always rinse my mixing brush in clean water before dipping it into a colour well. Also, you can use a squeeze bottle to add clean water to your paint wells or mixtures.

If you get your pure pigments ‘dirty’, remove the soiled paint with a clean brush and rinse your brush well. Dirty paint will result in muddy mixtures—guaranteed.

Use a large rinse bucket.

Most students come to my class with tiny rinse buckets, because they are easy to pack, but the water quickly becomes dirty. I recommend the use of a sturdy bucket, such as a two quart (or larger) ice cream pail, with water about four inches deep. This allows the brush hairs to be rubbed along the bucket’s bottom to dislodge paint from the brush more efficiently. The volume of water is great enough that you only need to change it for clean water a few times during a painting session.

This photo shows my palette, flat half-inch mixing brush, #12 round painting brush, rinse water bucket, and squirt bottle of clean water.

Avoid overworking the paint on your paper.

The more layers of paint you apply to your paper, the greater the risk of creating dullness. Let washes dry fully (ideally
overnight) before adding another layer of paint. Use as few brushstrokes as possible when adding a new layer, to avoid lifting the previous layer and dulling the overall effect.


This excerpt from Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success is reprinted with permission of the publisher. For more details visit

How to Avoid Running Out of Paint

23 December, 2013 0 comments Leave a comment

It takes practice to learn how much paint it will take to complete a specific section of your painting. When starting out, mix more paint than you think you will need. Here are some tips to help you mix larger quantities of paint.

Use a palette with high sides in the mixing area.

You need to be able to wring the paint out of your brush by squeezing it against the sides of the mixing area (illustrated in the photo above). If your palette has a shallow mixing area, it is difficult to leave paint there, rather than losing it into your rinse bucket. Your palette also needs enough surface area to hold a variety of mixtures.

Use a small flat brush for mixing paint.

I use larger brushes for applying paint to paper, but I mix my colours using a half-inch flat brush (shown above). A round brush holds more paint in its core and is more difficult to wring out than a flat brush.

This excerpt from Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success is reprinted with permission of the publisher. For more details visit

Make a Bold Colour Statement

16 December, 2013 0 comments Leave a comment


Many painters experience difficulty mixing rich, luscious colours in the early stages of their watercolour journey. I have noticed several common factors that result in weak colour mixtures. Here are some easy, and perhaps overlooked, strategies you can employ to avoid the problem.

Use artist quality paint.

If you limit your palette to primary colours, as I do, you only need to buy three tubes of paint to start. This makes the higher-priced, artist quality paint very affordable, and the resulting mixtures are much more vibrant than those made with cheaper paints.

Once you have practised with those three tubes, you can add to your palette gradually, trying out different versions of primary colours one by one.

Use a palette with deep paint wells and keep your pigments wet.

Many of my students come to class with a portable palette, which usually has very small, shallow paint wells. My palette has larger paint wells that allow me to squirt water over the dried paint. This softens the paint and allows me to pick up more colour with my mixing brush. More colour produces richer mixtures.

Use less water and more paint in your mixtures.

This sounds so simple yet can be difficult to achieve. If your palette has a lump of dried paint under the added water in the colour well, try pressing harder on your brush when picking up paint. Swirl your brush over the lump of pigment a few times, to increase the ratio of paint to water in your brush-load.

If you need an even higher proportion of pigment in your mix, add some fresh paint straight from the tube.

Keep in mind that watercolour mixtures should have the consistency of ink, rather than toothpaste. If your mixtures get too thick, they will appear opaque and dull, rather than transparent and vibrant.

Learn to see the colour values in your reference material and recreate them in your painting.

The ‘value’ is the lightness or darkness of an object, where the darkest value possible is black and the lightest value possible is white. All the values in between correspond to various greys. In other words, a medium-value red has the same perceived level of darkness as a medium-value grey.

If you are working from a colour photograph, you see the value pattern more easily if you print the photo in black and white or sepia. If you are working from life, squint at the object or scene to see the basic pattern of highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. This is the value pattern.

Many students ask me what technique I recommend they use in order to paint a certain subject in a realistic style. The answer often includes this advice: Closely observe the value shapes of the subject, mix your paint to recreate the values, and place them on your paper in the proper shapes.

Getting the value patterns right, in a realistic painting, is even more important than mixing the colours accurately.

This excerpt from Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success is reprinted with permission of the publisher. For more details visit

Be the Master of Colour

09 December, 2013 0 comments Leave a comment

Many painters who are just starting out think they have to purchase a wide selection of pigments to create believable paintings. I understand this impulse, as any art supply store is like a candy shop to me, too. This practice, however, is unnecessary, expensive, and actually leads to confusion and frustration when mixing colours.

Use three primary pigments.

I encourage all my students to start with just three primary paints (red, yellow, blue) and learn how to mix a huge array of colours from them. These primaries combine to make secondary colours (orange, green, purple) and neutral colours (black, grey, tan). It is a very useful skill to master, and all my paintings are created using this strategy.

You don’t have to use the same primary pigments for every painting, so if you own many tubes of paint already, don’t despair. Try out different combinations and you will discover lots of interesting permutations.

Use complementary colours to dull, darken, or neutralize a colour mixture.

When starting to learn about colour mixing, I find it helpful to create a six-section colour wheel, containing three primary (P) and three secondary (S) colours (see photo below). A secondary colour is created by mixing equal parts of the two adjacent primary colours.

The colours opposite each other on the wheel are called complementary colours. I have restated them in the chart below the colour wheel, listing complementary pairs: red/green, yellow/purple, and blue/orange.

The power of these complements is that you can mix them to create innumerable variations of the initial six colours on the wheel.

For example, if a yellow mixture is too intense, you can dull it by adding a small amount of complementary purple.

If a green mixture is too light, you can darken it by adding the complement, which is red.

When a mixture gets too brown (think of this as ‘dirty’ orange), you can neutralize it by adding the complement (blue), to produce a greyer mixture.

If you want to mix dark grey or black, use equal strengths of any complementary pair and very little water.

As with any valuable skill, it takes practice to become comfortable with colour mixing from primaries. There is no shortcut to ‘putting miles on your brush.’ Eventually, which pigments to choose when moderating a mixture will become instinctive.

Make a colour test swatch prior to painting.

I always do colour tests before I start a new painting. I select the three primaries I think will work, mix tiny amounts of the actual colours I need for a given subject, and try them out on scraps of watercolour paper. If I have trouble mixing a certain colour, I substitute another primary colour and do the tests again until all the mixtures work. Then I create a permanent record (shown below) of the pigments I will use on the painting.

Each square of the chart above lists the subject of a painting, the three or four pigments used, and small swatches of the actual colour mixtures I developed for the painting. This is a valuable reference to keep, in the event your painting process is interrupted for a few weeks or more, or if you want to recreate a specific colour scheme years later.

Learn the characteristics of your paints.

Watercolour paints have useful properties in addition to their colour.

Granular pigments, such as French Ultramarine or Burnt Sienna, produce dull, speckled washes that are perfect for paintings of barn board or rusty metal.

Many pigments are staining (meaning the colour cannot be removed once it is dry), but if you mix them with a non-staining pigment, such as Cobalt Blue, the resulting mixture is removable.

Combining opaque and transparent pigments can produce duller mixtures, so stick to one type or the other if you want brilliant mixtures.

Some traditional pigments, such as Alizarin Crimson, are prone to fading, so you should use Permanent Alizarin Crimson instead.

As you experiment with new paints and learn their unique characteristics, this knowledge increases your repertoire of colour mixing skills. Keep a written record of the combinations that excite you. Experiment and have fun.

This excerpt from Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success is reprinted with permission of the publisher. For more details visit