Learn to Paint the Unexpected

Winter's Approach oil painting, 34 x 26, 2008, by Joseph Alleman.
Winter's Approach
oil painting, 34 x 26, 2008,
y Joseph Alleman.

Artists are the sharpest of observers, attuned to a person's passing gesture or the play of light and shadow on a building façade—but not everything that catches our eye is a painting waiting to happen. For Utah watercolorist and oil painter Joseph Alleman, the stories that hold his interest are reflections of his passions and his environment.

As a suburban teenager Alleman had a penchant for quiet, still fields, and unadorned old buildings. As a practicing artist whose studio is 15 minutes from the nearest town, those same youthful interests remain. "What I see and paint—I've seen them hundreds of times before," the artist says. "They become interesting when they begin to have a story or mood. When the clouds are just the right color grey or the roof has finally crashed through the barn I've seen all winter long."

Stalwart watercolor painting, 10 x 7, 2006, by Joseph Alleman.
watercolor painting, 10 x 7, 2006, by Joseph Alleman.

Alleman's scenes are spare, and what draws the viewer in is the mood he evokes with basic elements. White Barns is a simple watercolor painting scene of a cluster of farm buildings hemmed in by rich green grass and a dilapidated fence. Perhaps the buildings are abandoned, perhaps not, but the view feels almost unbearably still. There's an eerie foreboding that compels you to look and look again.

In Tornado and Stalwart, Alleman has chosen local workmen as his subjects. The titles belie the fact that the figures are stooped and aged with features that aren't as well defined as the badges of their labor. They look weary, but there is a sense of resolve and dignity that makes Alleman's larger-than-life titles somehow fitting. "There's more to them than what you'd see in passing," the artist explains. "They have a story and lived a life, and it's not the kind of life where you race to get ahead. They are trying to hold onto something that's not glamorous or fast-paced, but it's worthwhile."

White Barns watercolor painting, 12 x 16, 2008, by Joseph Alleman.
White Barns
watercolor painting, 12 x 16, 2008,
by Joseph Alleman.

Depicting subjects—scenes that are not necessarily picturesque or figures that are not traditionally appealing—beautifully drives Alleman. "I like finding the beauty in a subject that isn't necessarily 'beautiful'," he says. "In life, we aren't often surrounded by bouquets of flowers. Don't get me wrong—bouquets of flowers are nice and have their place in our lives. But I'm more interested in the subtle aspects of beauty—texture, shape, sometimes the subject matter, and sometimes the subject matter as an opposing force in terms of beauty."

Journey at Dawn by Joseph Alleman, watercolor painting, 13 x 9, 2003.
Journey at Dawn
by Joseph Alleman,
watercolor painting, 13 x 9, 2003.

According to Alleman, being able to appreciate subject matter that is often overlooked comes from trusting your instincts. "There are scenes or objects that I see, and I know there's a painting there. But it takes a while to find the story. I watch and wait for that interesting mood or moment. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it never happens. But if you see something—act on that instinct. You may not know the whole story or how it will work out, but the moment is there and gone."

Landscape Essentials in Watercolor is a resource that can help you attune your artistic instincts, so you recognize unique subject matters in the landscape with ease and depict them confidently. Each step shown in the video tutorial offers insightful information on materials and techniques, ensuring that the next time you paint, every stroke of your brush will be better than the last.


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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