Mary Whyte, Painting, New Orleans Jazz

All at once, amazing and frustrating,” Such was my reflection on the one-of-a-kind workshop put on by American Watercolor Artist Mary Whyte on my 4 hour flight from New Orleans to Seattle. But, I should back up a little.

mary and stormy

I had this workshop on my schedule for more than a half a year.  I was a little apprehensive about taking a workshop from such a prominent artist.  While she is a formally trained artist and has painted extensively in oils, pastels and pencil her medium of choice for more than two decades has been watercolors. Her passion is painting people in their environments.  Not just portraits, but pieces that tell stories of those she paints. She feels that watercolors particularly lend themselves to producing luminous skin tones and effects.

Following her passion to paint those that seem to have fallen off the radar she has spent the last 20 or so years telling the stories of her neighbors, the Gullah women of St. Johns Island in South Carolina.  Her desire to paint the dying trades has carried her hundreds, if not thousands, of miles traveling the South looking for those that just work and toil, a sometimes barely subsisting by the sweat of their brow.

I was determined, before walking into that workshop to read every book by and about her and watch every video.  I spent the entire last month focussing on studying mixes for skin color and drawing and painting the human face. Although practice always helps, I wasn’t quite prepared for what came next. Mary had us painting for three straight days, three different models with different skin colors, trying several advanced watercolor techniques. It was certainly challenging and I will be practicing for sometime to come. She got us started by listing here 3 class rues.  1) there are no stupid questions, 2) you must tell at least one joke, and 3) you must paint ast least one bad painting. “Don’t worry,” she said, your real workshop and your good paintings will start next week in your own studios when you start practicing these techniques.”


I have to say, the most challenging was to get deep darks with objects that blend together within the shadow, without making mud.

Over the three days, Mary demonstrated for about 6 hours, students drawing and painting for 10-11 hours, and discussions about materials , equipment, painting into shadows, mixing colors, composition and creating dominance in one’s painting. Finally, she reserves the last hour of each day as an open discussion on the “Nuts and Bolts” of being an artist. This included topics like what it takes to be an artist, how to decide what to paint, how to price and market your work, what her typical work day looks like, and what your job is an artist. It was a packed three days, winding up with an open critique of the student art.

Last Day

Of course, then there was New Orleans.  Our evening activities included a class dinner as an upscale restaurant, sampling the New Orleans own drink -Sazerac- and two jazz clubs that included the Snug Harbor featuring Charmeine Nevelle and her band. (Aaron Nevelle’s niece btw).

Charmenne Nevell

That last thing Mary left us with was this, “Never say, I want to paint it, but, it is too hard.” Mary is a brilliant and skilled painter and an excellent teacher and she is committed to both.

Thanks to Tracy Culbertson, Owner of Art in the Mountains workshops for putting on an amazing event. #marywhyte#workingsouth#morethanlife




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Story of OrionSkye Art: The Studio

As many of you know my dream has been to transition into a life of art, carving and furniture making. This year has seen the completion of the first step of that dream. I have been fortunate enough to set up a new studio (albeit small) suitable for supporting not only carving work, but, my graphite and watercolor pursuits as well.

I have called it “Orion Skye.” Why OrionSkye?

On a clear night I can walk out of my studio and see, in the southern sky, the great constellation, Orion. He sits there next to Pleades, the Seven Sisters. Greek mythology has it that after a chance meeting with the hunter Orion, the Pleiades and their mother became the object of his pursuit. Enamoured with the young women, he pursued them over the face of the Earth. In pity for their plight, Zeus changed them into a flock of doves, which he set in the heavens.

In the Orion constellation there are two major stars that have been used by ocean navigators for centuries; Betelgeuse and Rigel. I can recall many late night watches at sea looking at these stars and steering my ship based on the course determined by the position of these two stars (and others). Why the spelling Skye? I chose this because it also represents a place (as is my studio), Scotland’s Isle of Skye, and is a nod to my Scottish heritage and to the line of seafarers of the Clan Duncan.

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ART-Improving by Seeing

One doesn’t have to study art for very long before you learn that there are what masters call the 4 pillars of art, especially if you are learning to paint.  They are: color, shape, value and edges.  All very important.  However, there is one more thing that keeps coming up in every text I read or class I attend. So much so, I think it ought to be referred to as a 5th pillar.  That is the art of seeing.  Cautions abound that before you can hope to master any of the 4 pillars, you must be able to see. See shape, see color, see perspective, see value and see transitions in value. The real question becomes, how do you learn to see better. Most art teachers say to get out side, observe and draw from life.

Armed with all of this advice, I decided to enroll in a sketching class. These days the popular term is Urban Sketching.  The particular class I selected was Seattle artist Stephanie Bowers’ Good Bones. A class focussing on understanding perspective when sketching. You can see Stephanie’s work at her blog as well as her classes at

Over the the 2 and 1/2 days in Stephanie’s class, held at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, I understood that I had made the right choice.  The structured approach to the process of sketching and coloring the chosen view, pushed me to focus on what I was looking at.  I began to understand how to look at the positional and size relationships between various features of the scene as well as the differences in values in front of me.  I know the more that I sketch on my travels, I will get better at seeing which I hope will show up in my studio art as well.  If you want to get out and draw more, you might try Stephanie’s class. Here are a few pics of the class and Stephanie’s demo sketch inside the King Street Station in Seattle


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Just how sharp is sharp?

Years ago when I started carving I had the hardest time getting my tools sharp enough. Everyone does, but, learning how to sharpen your tools is probably THE single most enabling skill you can, and must, acquire.  You practice and practice until one day the gouge slides through the wood like butter– the light bulb comes on and you’ve got it!.

Well, this came up again this week, but, with my drawing tools.  When you start out doing realistic pencil drawings, you work and work to get you value transitions right, to get even layers of tone, and perfect edges.  Then one day, it happens and the lightbulb comes on.

I have learned that to really lay in even tone you have to have a very sharp pencil. But, just how sharp? I have read that some say “needle” sharp. Who knows? Until this week. I bought some HB Staedler lead and put it in my clutch pencil holder.  I also bought a Staedler sharpener. I found out just how sharp it should be. After getting a very sharp (literally needle sharp, I almost punctured my finger) I started shading on the same paper I have been working on. It was amazingly effortless, like night and day. And I was sharpening with sandpaper previously.  I will never go back.

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More marine history brought to life-Thanks Paul Allen

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At Sea With Joseph Conrad

My friend Greg, who understands my link to the sea,although, I keep trying to get to sea, sent me this. It is interesting enough I thought I would repost it

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I love Art, you get to learn new words!

Yeah, you get to learn new words like “Atelier.” That is such a cool word, especially when you learn how to pronounce it correctly. Loosely translated it means to learn art in a studio environment under a master artist. But, you also learn words like Value, Edge and Shape. You learn that laying down the correct value with proper transitions and treating your edges correctly are crucial to communicating the shape of an object.gradient and sphere

Well, truth be told, your hands don’t remember how to do those things forever if you don’t practice. So sometimes you have to go backwards to move forward. Which means doing drills that teach your muscles how to do it again, but, better. Like creating value gradients and drawing shape after shape after shape. And so I do.

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