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December 2008

Another Approach

I love writing these newsletters, but sometimes I feel like the narcissistic guy, who tells his date, “Hey, I think I’ve talked about myself long enough. Why don’t you talk about me for a while?”

I thought it might be interesting to occasionally introduce you to the working methods of other professionals. If we artists fail to constantly expand our horizons, we run the risk of becoming artisans, producing one similar painting after another.

With that in mind, I asked my good friend Frank LaLumia if he would consider painting a demonstration watercolor for the newsletter. He graciously accepted, and I think you will find the following demonstration both insightful and inspirational.

Frank was born in Chicago in 1948. He was educated at Bradley University, Peoria, IL, and studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He has garnered signature memberships in the American Watercolor Society, the National Watercolor Society, the Plein Air Painters of America and the Oil Painters of America. Further credits include Artist-membership in the California Art Club and a listing in Who’s Who in American Art. He is the author of the book “Plein Air Painting in Watercolor and Oil” (Northlight Books), and was a featured artist in the P.B.S. series “Plein Air: Painting the American Landscape.

For more information on Frank, go to his website at

So, for now, I’ll turn this over to Frank. Enjoy!


Frank LaLumia A.W.S.

“WINTER  ON  THE  RIO  GRANDE”   15x22 Watercolor

I have always been drawn to the natural color harmonies of winter in the southwest. I love the white snow, the deep blues of the snow shadows, the reds of the willows along the streams, the beautiful warm neutrals of the dormant trees and bushes. It’s very inspiring.

The demo “WINTER ON THE RIO GRANDE” is really about the Color Harmony. This is the theme of the painting. It’s what I have to ‘say’ with regards to this particular subject. The theme is more important than rendering all the stuff (i.e. the snow, water, trees, etc.). You need to keep you eye on the prize to keep moving forward.

The first step in any painting is to visualize the finished work. This idea should precede any discussion of working methods or techniques. An Andrew Wyeth-type inspiration would require a different approach than a John Marin-type painting.

How an artist uses a medium is a conscious choice. It’s your particular vision. My vision for working in watercolor is to use the medium in a way that is most indigenous to itself; in a way that takes full advantage of its uniqueness. There’s nothing in all Art quite like a rich, juicy, spontaneous watercolor. That’s how I visualize this finished painting.

The trick is not only to work freely and spontaneously, but to do so within the parameters of accurate color and value relationships.

Without that, ‘looseness’ is just self-indulgence. When you want to say more with less, it becomes even more important for each brush stroke to be  meaningful-accurate within its color and value relationships to its neighbors.

I start out with a three-value thumbnail sketch. With practice, this should take no longer than five minutes. The purpose is to simplify the subject and to get the value plan organized. Nature presents herself with thousands of values. Getting all of this organized into a simplified value plan, characterized by interesting shapes of clearly separated values, is a critical first step. Not only does the thumbnail sketch organize the values, but it also creates the abstract design of the painting. It’s the road map for the painting process.

It’s not really a drawing. It’s more of an organizing principle.


Thumbnail sketch for “Winter on the Rio Grande” 15x22 watercolor



My palette for this painting is a prismatic palette made up of a warm and cool of each primary: I’ve got: Hansa Yellow Lemon, Gamboge Hue, Cadmium Red Light, Red Rose Deep (a quinacridone red-pv 19), Ultramarine Blue, and Cobalt Blue.

For more information on my working materials, check out the Materials List at the bottom of the Workshop Page of my Web Site:

 I usually start my watercolors with an underpainting. The purpose of the underpainting is three-fold: First, it holds any white paper; Second, it washes the sheet. Watercolor paper always takes paint better after it has been wet.

Third, and most important, the underpainting PAINTS THE LIGHTS.

It’s a natural to get the lights painted early as we start with clean water, clean brushes, etc. Some lights are lighter, some lights are darker, and all the lights are different colors. Getting this sorted out accurately and cleanly is critical in getting off to a good start.



In STEP ONE of the demo, I start out painting the lights. The warm tone of the snow (lower left) represents the white snow in sunlight. The snow in the middle distance (upper left) has some warmth within it, but it’s less warm than the foreground piece. The background is started (upper right).

When a piece is middle value or darker, I underpaint it lightly in order to maintain the potential transparency of the middle or dark value to come. At this stage, the river itself is still white paper. I haven’t gotten to it yet.



The underpainting is completed with a light tone over water. The lights should be clean and separated by color and value.

Without pause, I begin the ‘finished paint’ stage. I start on the distance, and move forward. Immediately the theme of this painting-the idea of Color Harmony, is apparent. I’m working quickly, running the forms together, in order to get some interesting edges. The strip of snow (center-top) looks like white paper. Compare it to the block-in.




Moving along to the middle ground, I begin on the island in the river (middle-right). There is a lot of wet-into-wet painting going on. I’m creating the forms through color and value rather than drawing and detail.  Notice the color and value of the snow. Compare it to the block-in. Colors seem to change when they are placed against each other.