The Watercolor Way

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by Dana Casey
Sequim Gazette

“Watercolor does exciting things,” says Bob Lee of the North Olympic Watercolorists.

“Once it is on the paper it has a mind of its own.” 

These 20 painters work together every Friday morning, giving each other support and encouragement. They are showing their works at the Gallery at the Fifth Avenue, 500 W. Hendrickson Road, during November.

“We inspire each other,” says Gail St. Peter, who owns the Straitside Studio where the artists meet.

Each of the painters brings his/her own supplies and photos or drawings from which to paint.

Joy Filip says she needs the pictures to get the details right. All of the artists have a story of getting something wrong and not noticing until the painting was finished.

Lee says he got a bird’s legs moving backward once.

“It looked like it was crossed with a cow. But even if you paint the worst painting you’ve ever done, there is something good going on somewhere. You just have to look for it.”

Another artist added, “That’s how we get miniatures. Just take the good parts out.”

These artists prefer watercolor to other painting techniques because there is so much they can do with it.

“If you don’t like the way it looks, you can move the color around with some extra water or you can blot it to remove some color,” says St. Peter.

The group agrees the exciting thing about watercolor is that the colors blend on the paper in ways they might not have foreseen. The color is fresh and new every time. And watercolorists can get a variety of tone by varying the intensity of the color.

Veteran painter Reggie Consani, who only will admit to painting for a long time, is working on a lighthouse she has painted in the past.

This time, however, she is using just one color, a reddish brown, and varying it by adding water or blotting to add details.

Pat Speer is doing a pen and ink drawing of a ruined column and using black paint she mixed herself to add depth and texture.

“I mix my own black because black paint you buy is static,” Speer says.

“I can mix my own with red and blue and give it shades it wouldn’t have.”

Speer also is painting flowers and varying the shades of green in the leaves with water blotting and a scrubber brush. Her technique removes color in spots so she can change the shade and texture.

She says a watercolor can take 40 hours to finish, working over a month’s time.

“You have to let it sit sometimes so the paint can dry. Then you can use another technique to get just what you want.”

Saundra Cutsinger is working on a cat and dog for some friends. She has been painting only two years but already has earned seven awards at juried art shows.

St. Peter is painting a miniature of daisies. She sprinkles salt into the paint to vary its texture but decides the paint is drying too fast for the salt to alter it.

“We trade techniques and ideas. Sometimes we watch videos on techniques. Some people are afraid of watercolor, but if you have good instruction when you start anyone can do it.”

Debbie Hilt has been painting for a year. She’s painting a picture of lilies that makes it hard to believe she’s a beginner. She expertly blends the background color into the white lilies, giving shades to the white flowers.

Johanna Dargatz is working on a picture of fishing floats. The paleness of her colors mimics those in the picture she is painting from.

Lee is painting an old granary with a locomotive stopped beside it. Unlike many watercolorists, Lee establishes the dark areas first, leaving the light areas as highlights.

“You take a photo with no interest and add light and dark to it to give it life,” he says.

“You use the photos as a reference and add your own impressions.”

Speer adds, “You can take something from one photo and something from another photo and make a new scene.”

“Art,” says St. Peter, “causes you to see things differently.”

Reach Dana Casey at

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