Saturday, May 22, 2010


My last post before I left for the Nick Simmons workshop was what to take. This is about what NOT to take:

1. A closed mind
2. A sense of your own importance
3. A feeling that you are too good to go back to basics
4. A fear that you will fail if you try something that scares you
5. No filter on your constant talking out loud, or criticism of others

I've discovered that the best way to not stress in a workshop with about 19 other participants is to be fairly quiet, have a good sense of humor, and bring your "beginners mind" to the task so you are willing to try anything (even those things that scare you, make your feel like you are going to fail or embarrass yourself) - and just keep working on your piece. Most of the workshop participants did just that but there are always one or know the ones...that come to make it all about them. Nuff said!

Now...about that workshop:

Nick stresses individuality in painting (big surprise, eh?)
He said that whenever we see a painting we ask ourselves three questions.

One: Do I like that?
Two: Could I do that?
Three: Would I have thought to do that?

You know that third one is the one where you think, "Darn it! That is sooo cool and I wouldn't have even thought to do that!" That's what makes a painting individual, personal, exciting.

Nick says most people are painting like someone else. You take a workshop and you paint like that instructor instead of just incorporate what you've learned into your own style and personal preferences. But he wants to see something NEW and FRESH and EXCITING. Remember, it's not a good thing to obsess over technique to the exclusion of everything else. It's supposed to be about expression (not how well you can do a sky wash or a pour, etc.).

If you can love the spontaneity and excitement that comes from letting watercolor do it's own thing (pooling, puddling, separating, blending in funky ways, etc.), you can stop working so hard at getting it just right and let the paint work for you. As Nick said, you must "Learn to Love Plan B," because there will always be a Plan B...and sometimes a Plan C and D. I think this was a quote from Sargent but I didn't write it down in my notes who said it first. Sargent did describe watercolor. He said, "Watercolor is making the best of an emergency." We've all felt that panic when things aren't going the way WE want them to go and we forget that we can let the watercolor work for us instead of against us.

So how about pouring? Are you controlled? Do you tape your paper and then with a tiny dropper, drip in that paint where you want it to go and get upset when it strays? Do you spritz and let it run or try to control those runs? That is not the Nick Simmons way.

Nick tapes his painting (predrawn using strong contour lines, not sketchy) on the wall, mixes his fluid acrylics with some water in a cup, and goes for the gusto...

He gives Joseph Zbukvic full credit for coming up with a clear way to describe the consistency of the pigment vs water mix:

Make it like 1) Tea, 2) Coffee, 3) Milk, 4) Cream, or 5) Butter

We poured our pigments and water mix most of the time like coffee or milk and then using a big spray bottle, would spray off some areas and make more drips in areas, allowing the paint to run down the paper. You should have seen the wall (covered in plastic) and the area under the wall (with a large sheet under it and also covered in plastic). You could not do this if you were timid, wore light clothes you didn't want to get messy, or just were afraid to let go. I tell you, it pushed me because I was a timid thrower of paint - but I really wanted to do it and will do it again when I clear out some space in my house for this.

Although Nick put this away and did another, he was showing us how to do it and we all got a chance to do it with our colors - less is more, don't go with too many different colors, just make it your own. And then we used that as a background for what came next = actually taking the brush and painting on the paper.

We all did full size sheets and they looked okay in that big workshop area. He worked on 30 x 30 squares of watercolor hot press paper, taped all the way around and with a bead of masking fluid around the tape and paper - as well as masking fluid in various areas of the drawing to maintain whites at the end. He says every painting has it's optimum size and it's up to you to get it to it's "fighting weight" where it looks the best. The size of the painting is often the first thing he thinks about.

And we did a geisha painting using Kanji lettering (no one, not even Nick, knows what it says or doesn't say, they are just being used as a design element).

You can see the only pour Nick did on this to use as a background/design element. He said he wants to work with a more muted palette of colors now so he uses more subdued, warm colors in the pour. When that dries, he begins actually painting in the areas, working with keeping the paint wet in areas where he works - he calls this "cell painting" and it's how he can get that loose, watering, out-of-control look in areas without actually losing control. If you start with more intense, colorful pigments than you'd normally start a painting, you can knock it back later with darks and more muted colors. He is working with a more limited palette, using "jewel tones" of bright, pure pigments in some areas left white when he finishes the painting.

You can work wet-in-wet in specific areas, using a variety of colors to get your tortoise shell hair combs and her dark hair and clothing. There are some large letters masked out and some whites in her hair here. Her lips and the whites of her eyes were also masked out before the pour. Keep the paint wet by touching water into the area, not brushing and brushing it. You can keep it wet with clean water or drop in another color before it dries. If you let it dry a bit, then drop in clean water, you get lots of texture and variety of shapes inside the shape.

When the painting is where you want it, you remove the masking fluid and paint the lips and eyes, working on bringing up some color here and there, seeing if the whites in the pour (in the background) work well or if you need to drop some color in there later, etc.

And the finished geisha was purchased by Karen at the workshop. She said it would look perfect in her bedroom that has other Asian art decorations in it.

This is my version of the geisha, using colors I had and liked, and starting with the pour as the drawn and masked paper was taped on the wall. We all used the same black and white photo and then just drew our ladies out freehand - which is why each painting looked so different. We also each placed out Kanji letters in different places on the paper.

I haven't removed the masking fluid from the hair yet because I think I'll darken it in areas, and I modified his "sewing machine stitch" technique for a more organic look on the extra lines to the right of the painting. He shows you how to do this in his DVD of the koi painting, wetting the paper and then dabbing in pigment along a line that isn't too wet or too dry - and letting it bleed out a bit. He does this to keep from getting a cut out and pasted on look to the painting which acrylic can have. We did this as an outline of the drawing, for her face, hair, clothing, etc.

I sent Deb Ward photos I took of her painting so I hope she shows it on her blog!

Each painting we did in the workshop was on 140# hot press watercolor paper - Nick doesn't use anything heavier than #140 because he likes to move and tilt and help that paint run and flow in most of his painting styles (this one was more controlled than the koi fish paintings where he wants the paper to buckle and dry at different stages). And he uses hot press more than cold press (although he uses both). He buys his paper in rolls so he can choose the size - and often works in a square format.

And that was just some of day one and two. There are things I'm not going to tell you so you will be surprised and perhaps be tempted to take a workshop yourself. My recommendation is, if you do take a workshop from Nick, do get a beginner's set of fluid acrylics (either Da Vinci or Golden), wear old clothes you don't mind getting painted, and take your beginner's mind with you - oh, and prepare to laugh a lot.


Nick said...

A GREAT overview, thanks Rhonda!! And lets give credit again to Mr. Zbukvic for his brilliant paint consistency system, one of the best things I ever heard anyone come up with re watermedia. Perhaps the most amazing thing of the week: how they got acrylic paint out of that carpet! :) I had a wonderful time getting to know you and the others, and hope the Photoshop day will lead to new concepts and paintings so people will look at your work, slap themselves in the face, and exclaim "Why didn't I think of that?!" I'm sure it will happen. See you 'round the neighborhood, Nick

Paul Kasmir said...


In every class you will have those that attend to learn and those that attend so they can "teach" but those that want to teach or make the workshop about them FORGET a very important lesson themselves,
and that is 95 percent of the ones that signed up for the workshop with Nic signed up for Nic and not them:0) oh and the other 5 percent signed up thinking there doing the class a favor I wish would just stay home and do us no more favors.

It looks like you had a great time and enjoyable Workshop. Nic is to be giving a Workshop in my area 6/8,6/9 and 10 but I can not get off from work for those days otherwise I would be front row center.

Thanks for giving me a small snap shot of what I will be missing, there is something about the vibrancy of learning and with Nic at the helm you know your going to see some new destinations.

Rhonda I said it before but I really think your work is moving forward in nice ways and your take on Nicholas is pretty cool.


debwardart said...

Good job (as usual)! Thanks for the photos of my "masterpiece".

Christiane Kingsley said...

What a great workshop and fascinating post! Thank you, Rhonda. Your geisha will look stunning framed. Does Nick now tape his paper for the pours also?

RHCarpenter said...

I'm just getting started, Nick :) There is so much more to share - but just enough to whet their appetites :) Did they get the paint out the carpet? ha ha See you later, 'gator!! And don't forget that 20 page email you're going to send the workshop participants...I'm waiting anxiously for that! And if I didn't say it before, it was great getting to know you better IRL (as they say in the blog world) :)

Paul, I didn't take my can of Whup A** but I had everything I needed to make the most of the workshop and learned a lot, have ideas swimming like sharks in my head, circling, circling...and the majority of the participants were so cool and put us in a nice place, with good food and a welcoming atmosphere. Sorry you can't make his workshop in your area but do try to see him sometime - it will really be a total learning experience (he never stops talking art and artists and painting).

Deb, I love your crying geisha and can't wait to see how you incorporate the things Nick shared.

Christiane, I was there to have him push me out of my comfort zone and send me home with enough ideas for another year - and he did. Can't ask for more than that!

Mary Sonya Conti said...

also, am plugging ya for the commentary on my blog because you do it SO WELL!

Mary Sonya Conti said...

Rhonda, excellent coverage on this. (is your other side of life that of a reporter?) You got away before could tell ya bye was so glad met ya in person. Am still on bit of a high from his workshop. Jazzed up on the techniques and working in photoshop!

Vicki Greene said...

Rhonda thank you so much for sharing this experience. Your information and photos are great and make me want to take one of Nick's workshops but it would be even more fun to take it with neat people like you and Deb.

RHCarpenter said...

Thanks, Vicki, glad you enjoyed the info and photos. I have so much more I may post of the photos :) Check out Deb's and Sonya's too.
Sonya, it was good to meet you and have dinner out with you - your geisha on your blog is fantastic and I'm glad you linked Rosie and Karen so I could see their work = those two rock!! The link for Leonard took me to McCallister's store, though? Hey, maybe I'll see you again sometime - we aren't that far apart from each other in miles to travel.

Pablo Villicana Lara said...

Wodnerful blog entry Rhonda! Looks like the best workshop!

RHCarpenter said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Pablo! I'm glad you enjoyed the posting - more to come later :) It was entertaining, fun, educational, fun, eye-opening...and did I mention, fun? I wish I could have come home for a few days, regrouped and recharged and gone back for another 3-4 days :) Check out Deb's and Sonya's posts on the workshop, too!

Jane said...

Oh wow, Rhonda. What FUN! I love the expression on your geisha. I hope you'll tell us more. Jane

RHCarpenter said...

Thanks for coming by and commenting, Jane :) I have more info in today's post but that's about all I can share until I get more photos resized and sorted and more notes organized - but there will be more tomorrow or the next day, I'm sure.

Elizabeth Seaver said...

Wow, Rhonda. I love hearing about this workshop and seeing the technique.

You also summed up the frustration I've felt at almost every workshop I've attended--with people who talk so much, so self-importantly. It is very hard not to let them ruin the experience for you. Congratulations if you have triumphed over it (and it seems as if you have!)

RHCarpenter said...

Thanks, Elizabeth - glad you enjoyed the summary. Yes, there are always one or two, but you just have to zone out and do your own thing and be there to learn and try not to let the extraneous noise get to you (of course, it helps that you are in another area of the room from the perpetrator!). Artists are so dissimilar in style and in personality that there are always going to be those with which you cannot connect - and I find that those are the ones whose art I don't really like, either. Could be a new theory?? Check out the blog posts of Deb Ward and Mary Sonya Conti to get more chat on the workshop.