How Do You Decide What to Paint?

I often get asked “How do you decide what to paint?” and that’s a great question, but even better is one I don’t hear often; “How do you decide how to paint that?”

oleander | Angela Fehr watercolours
“Pink Oleander” available in my Etsy “Watercolor Sketchbook”

Interpretation is everything; it’s where the magic happens. My goal, every time I’m in the studio, is to be guided by an inner vision, a sense of what the painting needs. This is made up of many things; 1. what pleases me (maybe a combination of brush strokes or favourite colours), 2. what the painting needs (strengthening the composition to create a dynamic painting), 3. what I want the outcome to be (a peaceful scene? a wintry barrenland? a sense of nostalgia?), 4. what is actually happening on the paper (adding water and colour can be unpredictable!).

"Waves Abpve the Wheat" available for purchase

“Waves Above the Wheat” available for purchase

It can be hard to tap into that inner sense and paint from the heart. Some days I don’t feel it, I’m distracted, or trying a new subject, style or technique, or whatever. Other days it’s almost immediate; this feeling that today it’s going to happen and I can’t put a stroke wrong. When that happens, sometimes I will even look back at a completed painting and not be able to remember the process of painting it, I was so engaged with the process. I feel that way about “Fragrant,” shown below.

This magic, the part interpretation plays in creating a painting, is what sets art apart from copywork. It excites me and has me eager to keep going, to try new things and watch for the “aha” of recognition when I suddenly can see exactly what is going to happen and how to take it there. When I am in the zone, I’m unstoppable.

"Fragrant" watercolor painting by Angela Fehr
“Fragrant” watercolor painting by Angela Fehr

And it’s not something that happens the first day you pick up a paintbrush. I struggled to learn technique for many years before I was able to trust myself and paint with confidence and learn to listen to my inner voice. It’s the magic that makes it very hard to put a price on a painting, or for that matter, to sell it and let it leave the studio. Every painting is a testament to the truest part of myself, and that’s why it’s such a blessing to be able to be an artist, to share my work with the world and see others connect with something that is very personal and real.

What the Heck is Giclee Printing?

My weekly newsletter went out yesterday; did you get one in your inbox? I send my friends and fans weekly updates on what’s new in the studio, paintings I’ve recently finished, sales & promotions for both my art and my online courses and of course gallery shows & awards I’ve received. This week’s newsletter demystifies a crazy artist’s term you may have heard; “giclee”. I love giclee printing and believe it’s a fantastic tool for artists and art lovers alike, and you can find out why by checking out the newsletter here.

 "Withered" watercolor by Angela Fehr

Don’t forget to read right through for a special promotion as well as sign up if you haven’t already (and you can always do so on the right hand sidebar).

I’ll be back later in the week sharing a new painting or two; the studio’s been busy and I’m making all kinds of messes, as well as some wonderful colour-drenched watercolour successes!

Summer Cloudburst: Watercolor Video Demonstration

It’s so pretty here when everything is green! Spring is in full bloom and in our house that does mean lots of sneezing and antihistamines, but we can’t help but love the warm weather, despite the pollen. Often we will start the day with sunshine, birdsong waking us at 5am, and then a little after noon, clouds roll in and a little rain. Sometimes a full on thunderstorm, although it’s a little early in the season for that.

I love all hours of the day for the way the light affects the landscape, and recently I experimented with painting a late afternoon summer cloudburst. You have to be a little daring to paint a dramatic sky – it’s intimidating to throw down those dark colours while trying to keep them from taking over the page!

Summer Cloudburst | watercolor by Angela Fehr

I am not a realism painter, and I’m not sure I would want to paint photographically even if I could. There is so much joy in creating from the heart and I really strive to have my brush guided by an inner sense of “what next”. I’m not good at describing it, but mainly I start with an idea of the scene I want to paint, and usually a reference photo. I look for the drama – what drew me to paint this scene? What is the main idea I want to depict? And then I launch into a painting that at some point will start telling me what it needs, and the reference photo is set aside as I look for ways to build on the beauty that is happening on paper. It’s scary and exciting to paint this way, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I made a video of this painting as I created it as a demonstration on how to paint dramatic skies for my Youtube channel. Check it out below!

The Artist’s Life: Working at Playing

So much fun! I love it when painting becomes play, and can I tell you that it isn’t always that easy? So much of my watercolor teaching is about giving yourself permission to explore, play and experiment, because we grown-ups tend to approach everything like work. It doesn’t have to be that way!

I have learned that my painting skills grow when I step out of my comfort zone, and that doesn’t happen when I follow my plans from point A to point B. So, while it may not result in paintings I can frame, or even show in public, and I may not like what I end up with, sometimes I have to just pull out something new and ask “what if?”

This week my “what if” time was spent melting beeswax, covering an old painting just to see what it would look like. And it smelled wonderful! Very fun. And then I pulled out two full sheets of watercolour paper (22″ x 30″) and tried filling them with some “experimental” large shapes. We’ll see what that turns into. And then there was the fun little doodled monogram that I played with while the kids worked on their school work.

monogram - Angela Fehr watercolors

I think I would like to try some monogram prints, just for fun. Maybe they’ll show up in my Etsy “Watercolor Sketchbook” shop!

I call myself a “working artist” but I can’t quantify my hours. Every hour is spent thinking art around here, investing in my creativity. And then when “work” hours are happening, I’m working at playing more than anything else. It’s a fine way to live.

The Purpose of Painting

This week I picked up fifteen paintings that spent the last few months hanging at a local hospital. The next day I was talking to a friend about the opportunity to have art in the space, and they asked if the show had been “successful.” I only had to think for a moment before I answered, “Yes!”

Sunflower on Edge | angela fehr watercolors

I don’t expect to sell art everywhere I exhibit. There are some spaces (like hospitals) that aren’t likely to result in sales, however this doesn’t mean I am unwilling to show my work in those places. You see, art by its very nature is created to be seen. Any time my art is seen it is fulfilling its purpose, and in a place that is often full of pain, my hope is my paintings bring joy to the viewer and a little light in a difficult time. I don’t think you can put a price on that.

northern lights watercolor by angela fehr

Success is in knowing I am fulfilling my purpose, just one of which is creating art. The many emails, calls and conversations I’ve had with people who have connected with my art on some deeper level is incredibly thrilling and was something I never anticipated when I first started painting.

Yesterday I signed an exhibition contract for another hospital show in 2016, this time in a larger hospital in another city. I am already thinking and planning new paintings to show that will lift the spirits and brighten the space.

Spring Awakenings

It’s hard to live in the north. Following our USA vacation, I’m more aware of that than ever. There’s a fresh 4 inches of snow outside on this May morning, and even when it’s not snowing, spring has felt so chilly! At least the leaves are finally emerging. I thrill to that golden green mist creeping across the hills.

leafy greens

It would be easy to complain about our region for other reasons as well. The difficulty of being an artist in an oilfield town where the priorities fall more to diesel trucks and snowmobiles than fine paintings, where galleries are few and struggling. It’s tempting to expect failure when there are so many reasons one might not succeed.

But I do love living here. There are many pluses to rural life – the peace & open spaces, the small town community dynamic, the subtle and rugged beauty of the north. The northern lights, the wildlife, the Peace River.

view from our ridge

It takes faith to believe that I am where I am supposed to be, not just in the north, but in my family, career, goals & dreams, and I believe strongly in rejecting negative attitudes about the challenges and expectations of making a career in art. There is a little voice in all of us that shouts, “CAN’T” when we dream and plan and this voice has done more to defeat dreams than any location, obstacle or outside force.

There are no promises to any of us; life can change in an instant, and faith doesn’t eliminate the possibility of things going wrong. But in believing that God has placed me here, I can choose to be content. Pursue my dreams within the boundaries and celebrate being able to live this amazing artistic life.

Writing on this topic periodically – I’m ambitious and love that my career has grown, in more ways than I could have dreamed, but it can be hard not to fixate on the times I have had to say “no” to opportunities because of family commitments. I believe the Bible is true and it says in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

and Psalm 37:4: Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I’m thankful for this promise of peace and joy in the midst of whatever I’m going through, even third-grade math agonies (we are doing double-digit multiplication and it’s a LONG school day). Blessings to you!

21 Beautiful Watercolor Paintings (Slideshow)

I had such a good time creating paintings for my fundraiser donors. The last few went out in the mail today, a lovely assortment of landscapes and florals. These small paintings are a good way to explore ideas for larger paintings and I’m looking forward to doing some bigger pieces in the next little while.

I thought it might be nice to share them with you in video form, so here it is, 21 lovely little 5″ x 7″ paintings.


I have a few additional 5″ x 7″ paintings for sale in my Etsy “Watercolor Sketchbook” shop, while supplies last.

Watercolor Supplies: Links & Recommendations

I get asked more than anything else what supplies I recommend for watercolor painting, and it’s been a while since I shared a comprehensive list. Let me assure you that you do not need every item on this list to create good paintings, and there are many great supplies I have not listed. This is just what I prefer and use on a regular basis. I also have a video on the topic here.

A Note on Paper: I cannot stress enough the importance of artist quality watercolor paper. If you are using cheap paper, your washes will not have the responsiveness and flow that you see in my paintings. Not only that, but you will learn bad habits, working “around” the limitations of cheap paper, and when you switch to great paper for your “important” paintings, you will struggle again trying to adapt your “bad paper” habits to fit the flow & absorbency of artist-quality rag paper. If you buy one expensive supply, let it be your paper, and remember, you can still enjoy a great painting session and improve your mental health for less than the cost of a cup of Starbucks.

Paper I use: Arches 140# or 300# cold press watercolor paper.

Check out my video comparing paper here.

Palette: I get a lot of requests for a link to my favourite palette. I’ve loaded my palette with my favourite colours and let them dry. I keep this palette in a ziploc bag after painting so the paint stays a little tacky in the palette. I’ve had my palette 18 years so I can’t provide a source, however you can buy a similar palette to mine here. Here’s a video on how I use my palette.

Paint: I use only Winsor & Newton or Daniel Smith artist quality paints. If you are looking to save a little money, you can substitute student quality paints. I used Winsor & Newton Cotman and Grumbacher paints for years, until I started to crave the stronger pigment ratio of artist quality paint. Until you notice the difference, use student grade. I order all my paint from Opus Framing in Vancouver, BC.

Recommended Colors for a Basic Palette: You can mix a huge range with blue, red and yellow, but I like to broaden my palette a bit more and suggest starting with Cobalt Blue, Phthalo Turquoise, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, New Gamboge, Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, Payne’s Grey, Sap Green.

Fun Colours to add: Winsor (Dioxazine) Violet, Green Gold, Cobalt Turquoise, Perylene Green, Nickel Azo Gold, Rose of Ultramarine, Quinacridone Gold, Perylene Red, Perylene Orange

Brushes: I do almost all my painting with one brush, a #14 round. A large round brush holds a lot of paint while keeping a fine point for detailed work. I prefer synthetic brushes because they are cheaper than sable and I tend to wear the tips out quickly. Canadian shoppers could try this one from Winsor & Newton or this Opus Capella #14 round. Shoppers in the USA, I suggest Cheap Joe’s Golden Fleece or American Journey brushes. Here’s a video on how to care for your brushes.

It is nice to have a 1″ or 2″ flat wash brush as well for covering large areas of paper quickly.

Other Supplies:

  • Paper towel or clean rags for blotting a wet brush or lifting paint.
  • Masking tape
  • Painting Boards – tape watercolor paper on 4 sides to a board so you can move the board and change angle for better flow when you paint. I like cor-plast boards (plastic sign material) from the hardware store.
  • Salt to sprinkle on wet washes for texture
  • Cling Wrap – lay on a wet wash for texture
  • Magic Eraser – lifting out almost to white paper (for emergencies)
  • 2 water containers – one for cleaning the brush, then rinsing in the second for perfectly clean paint & washes

Notice I didn’t list masking fluid. I hate it and never use it.

7 Steps for Watercolor Painting Success: Webinar Announcement

The webinar filled up in 7 hours!! You can register for the second session which will be taking place April 17th, 5:00pm PST.

palette for web page

I’m excited and nervous to announce my very first webinar, on Apr 16, 2015 at 5:00 PM PST. I’ll be telling the story of my watercolor journey, sharing seven steps to improving your watercolor paintings and taking questions from the webinar guests. I hope you’ll join me, and even if you can’t make it at the time, you’ll sign up so you can listen to the broadcast after the session wraps up. 

Register now!

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.