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 http://angelafehr.com

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.

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.

Five Fun Florals in Watercolor

Paintings are happening!

I’m realizing that my work goes a little bit in spurts. Working on several paintings at once means that I usually have several great beginnings, but getting from there to the completed painting can be a little bit of a slog.

So it’s been fun for me to work on these small 5″ x 7″ paintings that will be gifted to my charity fundraiser $50 donors. They have been so generous that I have quite a list of paintings to send out!

"Blues" watercolor by Angela Fehr

 Many of the donors have requested a floral theme. So much for the “wisdom” that says artists shouldn’t paint florals! (I have actually heard this, and I think it’s ridiculous. Paint whatever you darn well want, is what I live by.)

"Lilac Sisters" watercolor by Angela Fehr

(two lilac themed paintings)

Painting floral themes is very liberating for me because I love exploring shape and colour and flowers are very forgiving. Not every artist feels this way. I had one artist tell me “Landscapes are harder than florals” and I was in agreement, and then another artist overheard her and responded that for her it was the opposite. So we all have our own natural bent, and that’s okay.

"Orchids 2" watercolor by Angela Fehr

I love growing orchids and have at least 8 different orchid plants in my home. They are easy to care for and the blooms last for ages, brightening a bleak winter’s day.

 "Reds" watercolor by Angela Fehr

This one was just a fun exploration of colour. The flowers are pretty little posies, more design elements than based on actual blooms. Artists can do that, you know! Invent a flower? Why not?

These blossoms don’t wither, and they brighten the day. My donors are getting a $100 painting free for their donation of $50 and you can too by donating here! This opportunity ends March 8, 2015.

Trees in Watercolor: “Birch Portrait”

One of my favourite local trees would have to be the birch. Our acreage in northern British Columbia is home to many birches, though they don’t all survive to adulthood as woodpeckers tend to drill them full of holes after they reach a certain age. I love the young birches for their coppery bark and the mature trees for the curls of bark peeling from the trunk and their feathery branches.

This winter I couldn’t get past the beauty of the sunset reflected on tree trunks and this painting was the result:

"Birch Portrait" watercolour by Angela Fehr | http://angelafehr.com

“Birch Portrait”
11.5″ x 11.5″ (29 x 29cm)
available for purchase

I only wish my camera did the colours in this painting justice. The subtleties of watercolor are lost in photos. As with most of my paintings, it takes a little time before I know for sure a painting is “done”; a fellow watercolorist tells me he has been known to unframe paintings that are years-old to make changes and corrections, but I haven’t had that happen…yet. I think every painting deserves closure at some point!

Painting Epiphanies

I was talking to my sister on the phone the other night and we were discussing the trials and tribulations of raising middle-schoolers. It’s a different dynamic than when our kids were toddlers and comes with its own set of problems. I was explaining to her that I found that I was doing better at dealing with conflict with the kids when I stop to think instead of reacting instinctively. “When I remember I’m the mom,” I explained, “I am better able to handle things maturely and with authority, instead of stooping to their level.” She knew exactly what I was talking about, and only later I started to think about how that principle applies to my art life as well as to my parenting.

It’s pretty easy to let emotions take over. One bad painting, a show submission rejected, or an insensitive comment and I can start to feel pretty discouraged. “What am I doing this for?”

I need to stop and think. Remembering the milestones achieved, the many opportunities that have come my way and achievements and awards I’ve received. The initial highs fade so quickly, and without conscious thought, I can be swept along by whatever emotion I’m feeling, living reflexively instead of intentionally.

Intentional thinking regarding my art life is going to include ideas like this:

  • I’m on a journey. Everything that happens is a step along the path. Think of where I was 1, 5, 10 years ago and celebrate how far I’ve come.
  • I am exactly where I need to be.
  • Don’t force progress. I will take the steps I can to move forward, but I will also enjoy where I am right now.
  • My painting is for me, first of all. Others’ opinions, praise or criticism are secondary to my own satisfaction in my work.
  • Don’t get caught up in perceptions of success that involve accolades and awards. What truly satisfies is feeding my soul through painting.
  • I am so blessed with everything I have right now. To be able to paint fearlessly, to have everything I’ve been given (family, home, studio, love). Don’t let anything distract me from gratitude for my blessed life.

"Alstromeria" watercolour by Angela Fehr

“Alstromeria Study”  watercolour by Angela Fehr
A demonstration from my local watercolour classes.