"Watercolor" Magazine 2007 Cover Competition Finalists

6 Jun 2008

0703wccovercomp1_414x600_1The 10 Finalists in the Watercolor Cover Competition offer their insights on the creative process—from finding inspired subjects to selecting materials to applying the final details.

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Cymbidium Equinox
by Kory Fluckiger, 2004, watercolor, 27 x 19. Collection Suzanne Lindquist.
Hydrangea Blue
by Kory Fluckiger, 2006, watercolor,
24 x 13½. Collection Suzanne Robert.

Watercolor Cover Competition Winner:
Kory Fluckiger

Kory Fluckiger seldom paints a scene, but rather seeks to isolate the subject. “I choose a subject more for the way it interests me than for how it interacts or relates to a given environment,” he explains. Fascinated by the details in natural forms, Fluckiger tries to capture an element of life and avoid, as he puts it, “artificially created things.”

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To begin, he sketches various compositions of the subject, usually allowing small parts to extend beyond the edge. He remains especially aware of the negative space and seeks to fill that space with “thought, not ‘stuff,’” he says. “What is the point of painting a picture of a beautiful subject without offering a place for one’s eye to sit and rest, to process what it has seen?” Fluckiger then seeks out his reference object, sets it up without regard to the background, and photographs it.

His painting process begins by drawing the composition on stretched watercolor paper. He sometimes masks the foreground subject at this point so that he can freely explore the background, which is entirely invented. Frequently he airbrushes the background with watercolor paint to create smooth gradations that visually lift the subject off the background. “Watercolor as a medium is so inherently flat that I seek to give my paintings more depth than the medium is generally given credit for being able to produce,” the artist explains. Next, he builds up the painting with a series of controlled washes in individual spaces, adding details later. “I always paint the area I am about to wash in clear, clean water first,” he describes. “Then I simply touch in the colors and let the water do the rest.”

Times Square Winter
by Larry Gerber, 2003–2004, acrylic, 40 x 36. Collection Brian K. Richter.

Larry Gerber

Larry Gerber sees his artwork as an opportunity to present his view of life at a given moment. The process for gathering his reference materials varies, but generally he uses sketches and photos taken from his travels to generate ideas. The first step in beginning a new work is to establish a sense of the ambience. “I sketch in the painting with a brush to work out the compositional issues,” he explains. “As a ‘visual cartographer,’ I try to figure out how to move the viewer through the painting in the order I intend.” He first establishes the mood in the background, then works all over the painting, establishing balance, color, and harmony, and progressing from loose strokes to more defined ones.

Gerber, who lives in Lake Worth, Florida, describes his paintings as “a compilation of color and abstract forms that creates the illusion of realism.” He works with both thick and thin acrylic paints and uses color to create contrast and visual vibration. He believes each stage of the painting process is equally important, as each “serves as a building block for the others.”

by Jim Rahn, 2004, watercolor, 14 x 21. Collection the artist.

Jim Rahn

Jim Rahn first became attracted to watercolor after seeing the work of Andrew Wyeth and Rowland Hilder. Intrigued by both the style and subject matter of these artists’ works, Rahn is still influenced by them and is attracted to objects “with history,” as he puts it, such as old barns and mills. Rahn gathers his reference material with his camera and sketchbook, then returns to his studio and evaluates all the material. Once he settles on a reference, he makes thumbnail sketches to determine the composition, as well as color and tonal studies. Next, he completes a detailed sketch that he transfers onto Arches 140-lb cold-pressed watercolor paper. “I always start with a light color wash over the entire paper,” he adds. “I never start a painting on white paper.”

Rahn tends to paint in a tight technique, working mostly wet-on-dry, building up glazes and allowing a wash to dry before applying the next one. He paints mostly light to dark and begins by blocking in large areas and refining sections with texture and detail. His preferred paints are Holbein watercolors. For brushes, he favors hakes; sizes 3, 11, 14, and 20 rounds; sizes 2, 6, and 8 flats; and a rigger.

The artist points to the initial stages of composition as pivotal to the final piece. “Once that beginning stage is set in my mind,” he says, “it is just a matter of applying whatever techniques are necessary to obtain the desired outcome.”


by Rick Pas, 2006, acrylic, 20 x 16. Private collection.

Rick Pas

Fascinated with the patterns and textures in nature, Rick Pas, of Lapeer, Michigan, interprets his subjects both literally and abstractly. For instance, he might paint a close-up view of feather patterns in such hyperrealistic detail that it appears abstract in design. “When I paint something, I want the viewer to think he or she can reach out and touch it,” he says. “Covering an entire surface with details can have a meditative quality for the artist and the viewer.”

To begin a new work, Pas takes photos and collects natural objects in any location that seems to have potential—from a remote wilderness area to a local parking lot. At times he finds the object and later uses it for inspiration for a painting; in other instances he has an idea and searches out the objects for reference. Thumbnail sketches help him plan the composition. Next, he makes a graphite drawing on a smoothly sanded gessoed board. Using matte medium, he then lays in a black-and-white underpainting. On top of this he lays in the glazes of acrylic color made with gloss or satin medium to achieve a luminous look. Often he uses a technical pen with thinned acrylic paint for details. After the paint is dry, he sprays the work with satin or gloss varnish. His primary materials are Golden Fluid Acrylics, Golden Gel Medium, and Winsor & Newton Cotman brushes.

by Mark Langeneckert, 2004, charcoal, watercolor, and transfer drawing, 80 x 42. Collection the artist.

Mark Langeneckert

The human condition is the subject matter of choice for Missouri-based artist Mark Langeneckert. He usually begins a new painting by first concentrating on the color and surface texture, working nonobjectively. “This underpainting influences the mood, feeling, and effect of the final image,” he says. “I try not to think of the concept or idea of a work to be separate from the making of it. Rather than a direct path from idea to finished work, painting involves an evolution, a process of becoming.” As he works and reworks the surface, Langeneckert builds the image through layers of erasure and redrawing to achieve the final piece. “My intent is to create visual poetry through direct observation of the natural world,” he adds. To this end the artist uses inexpensive brushes and tools from the hardware store, in addition to numerous other implements, to apply the paint, often taking a daring risk in the final stages to push the imagery in a new direction.

Sandy O’Connor

Sandy O’Connor, a retired illustrator and graphic designer who lives in Bronxville, New York, is deeply inspired by the landscapes and seascapes of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Using her camera to record potential subjects, she often returns to the same scene several times, observing and recording the transformation from morning to evening. In this process, she says, “I strive to achieve a strong center of interest that evokes an equally strong emotional connection.”

Cotuit Reflections
by Sandy O’Connor, 2006, watercolor,
17 x 22. Collection
the artist.

O’Connor first makes numerous sketches to determine the composition and then supplements the details with photographs. She generally works with a limited palette of the primaries, adding accent colors as necessary. Layering glazes of color, she builds the depth and intensity, working light to dark. “Once I begin to paint I use the largest brush necessary and work down to the smallest for details,” she explains. “I make notes all along the way and try to be thoughtful about my approach, but there are no rules—I paint wet-in-wet, mix colors on and off the paper, use drybrush, spattering, scraping, and salt.” Her materials of choice are Arches 140-lb cold-pressed paper, a 1" Morilla flat, a No. 12 Winsor & Newton round, and a No. 9 Grumbacher round. All her paints are Winsor & Newton.

The beginning sketch is the most critical part of O’Connor’s process. In this early stage she seeks to solve as many problems as possible. “I am then free to relax and really get into the ‘zone’ of painting,” she adds, “although there will always be plenty of issues to resolve once the brush hits the paper.”

John K. Grosvenor

As the founder of Rhode Island’s largest architectural firm, John K. Grosvenor has come to see his weekly plein air painting sessions as “an increasingly important counterpoint to my practice, enriching my perceptions of how materials read in three dimensions.” He is attracted to a scene because of its quality of light and often crops or alters the landscape to suit the composition. After sketching in the basic design, he lays in broad washes for the sky and background, then works on the buildings and allows the paint to dry before laying in darker washes. “I finish by popping out the darks in the windows and layering the trees with darker greens and blues,” he describes.

Rhode Island Avenue Carriage House
by John K. Grosvenor, 2004, watercolor, 9 x 11. Collection the artist.

Grosvenor paints in a direct method and tries to keep the paint moving at all times. “If the color isn’t right,” he says, “which is almost always the case, I add pigment onto the paper until it blends seamlessly to the right value. Blues are added into all the shadows because I find that the eye seems to recognize this color as atmospheric, and it helps tie the painting together in three dimensions, as shadows cut other objects in the painting.”

The artist favors Arches cold-pressed watercolor blocks and Winsor & Newton paints and brushes. A large brush helps him lay in the initial washes quickly and adjust the values while the paper is still wet. “The large brush has a sharp point that allows me to cut into the edges for maximum light effect,” Grosvenor explains. “My drawings tend toward the architectural straight line, so the linear quality is important to me. I also add detail work with nylon brushes, then crisp in some fine details with a rigger brush.”

Stephen Holland

Former illustrator Stephen Holland, of Pembroke, Massachusetts, believes a skilled painter can produce a fine painting from the most unimaginative subjects. For him, the painting process holds all the intrigue. “I don’t remember ever doing a painting that hasn’t surprised me at some point in the process,” he says, “or that has finished as I had originally envisioned.”


Winter Harbor
by Stephen Holland, 2006, gouache,
19 x 21½. Collection
the artist.

Holland carries a sketchbook and camera wherever he goes, making value sketches of potential subjects and taking photos to use as reference in the studio. Once back in the studio, sometimes he makes a composite image of several photos. He then draws in graphite directly on the illustration board or Masonite that he will use as the painting surface. After applying water with a 1" brush in the background and large areas, he lays in the gouache or acrylic colors and allows them to bleed and run. Next, he paints and draws simultaneously to develop the forms, all the while allowing as much of the spontaneous wash areas to come through as possible. “I keep my strokes broad and choppy in a painterly manner so as not to produce a painting that is too slick,” he adds.

Holland’s experiences as an illustrator have had a major impact on his career as an artist. “Having to paint any subject or scene in whatever style or technique is popular at the moment, with a deadline of yesterday, has helped me with the new challenges of fine-art painting,” he explains. “Those lessons learned are the bedrock of any artistic accomplishments I am working toward.”

Anita Walter Cooper

Anita Walter Cooper’s interest in rocky places, plants, and forest floors extends back to her childhood in eastern Kentucky, where her father guided her in observing the details of nature. Today, she still enjoys the structures, colors, and textures of plants and feels compelled to paint rare and endangered species “as a way to record and share them before they disappear forever.” She also pursues a growing interest in still life, in which she incorporates family heirlooms or items that recall her travel experiences abroad.

Bamboo Basket With Persimmons
by Anita Walter Cooper, 2004, watercolor,
30 x 22. Collection the artist.

Cooper’s paintings generally begin with a mental image and an emotional response, often with a clear idea of the composition and color scheme. She then searches through photos, reference books, field journals, and items from her studio to complete the image. “My compositions often have very high or low horizon lines and points of interest,” the Virginia artist says. “This perspective helps to emphasize the feeling, create the energy that I want, and draw attention to the subject.” Next, Cooper uses her digital camera to take photos from many different angles, and afterward she makes a simple, careful line drawing in graphite on the watercolor paper. She can then lay in the broad washes. After those dry, she draws further details and again lays in washes. “I am not a fast painter,” she adds. “I love working with detail and realism, and spend whatever time is necessary.”

The artist usually works from the larger to smaller areas, using wet washes and seldom a drybrush technique. She eschews masking fluid, believing she can almost always paint around areas more quickly and easily without it—and with better results. Her brushes range from 000 rounds to a 2" skipper, allowing her to achieve precise edges, tiny details, or flowing color. As she explains, “For me, watercolor should look very fluid, even when the edge is precise.”

Jonathan Frank

Jonathan Frank, of Moab, Utah, feels strongly connected to dramatic places. “The redder the rock, the sharper the cliffs, the steeper the stones, the more awestruck and inspired I become,” he says. After hiking to such sites, the artist takes photos with a digital camera to use as references in the studio. He can then manipulate the image he has chosen with computer software until he arrives at the strongest composition.

by Jonathan Frank, 2006, watercolor and ink, 14¼ x 21½. Courtesy Navarro Gallery, Sedona, Arizona.

To begin a new painting, Frank first uses a full-size sheet of newsprint to define the basic composition. He then transfers the composition to the painting surface with graphite paper. He applies masking fluid if necessary before applying the watercolor washes. “Since the finished painting has all of its elements outlined,” he explains, “it’s important to paint every facet of a piece with a hard edge, starting with the largest shapes first and working inward. This basically determines the placement of the outlines later.” He adds glazes with clear water and “floats” color into sections of some of the shapes until he achieves the desired value.

Frank considers the first and last stages of his painting process to be the most important. “The first stage of the painting determines the light areas,” he says, “which is crucial to the interpretation of the dark areas and the reading of the final piece. The last stage for me is the outlining. After the painting is complete, I outline every shape that I have just painted. This unifies the whole painting, makes it clean, and creates the effect of being able to look upon the scene with hyperclarity, as if you could see everything perfectly.”

After winning his first juried award in 2000, Frank realized he could succeed as an artist, and in 2004, he quit his day job to devote himself to painting. Now, he says, he has the privilege of painting fearlessly and constantly, “with a purpose.”      

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moko wrote
on 11 Mar 2007 11:48 PM
What a nice painting I 've ever seen. congratulation !!!
Chris Johnnston wrote
on 15 Mar 2007 8:33 AM
That Steve Holland is destined for greatness! I met him in Provincetown several years ago, and new at that time that he was special!
Vasco Carvalho wrote
on 15 Mar 2007 12:14 PM
very nice collers, very good technics.Excelent.Congratulations.
Neebo wrote
on 6 Apr 2007 12:13 PM
Yes that Steve Holland. I see big things in his future. I to have seen some of his exibitions! Some have classified Him as a post-existential,far-right, rabid exibitionalist. I tend to agree. That might change if does some more work on velvet.