Recently I had the opportunity to take a workshop with award-winning watercolor artist Donna Zagotta. The painting shown above, Walk for morning cofffee, I started at the workshop and finished at home in my studio. I took the workshop for a variety of reasons and it was well worth it — I learned so much. I wanted to get insights and tips from Donna about how to work from reference photos of people in urban scenes, shot candidly while walking through a city. For this painting, I had a reference photo I had taken of some women walking down the street on a sunny but chilly morning in San Diego. They were both holding coffee cups, hence the title of the painting. I learned Donna’s method of zooming in on just a couple of figures and emphasizing shapes of color and value both in the figures and in their connections to the background. Here, there is a very interesting dark value shape that organizes the painting. Donna taught workshop participants how to plan out a value composition by making a line-drawing sketch of the major shapes and then experimenting with different values for the shapes using tracing paper placed over your sketch.
Donna Zagotta is a colorist, so this workshop was also largely about color. Participants learned about how color combinations set a mood for a painting and how muted colors can carry just as much power and interest as intense colors. Donna also taught participants about the medium she is using now, opaque watercolor. Opaque watercolor is sometimes called watercolor by the manufacturer, and sometimes called gouache. The main difference from transparent watercolor is that with the opaque technique you don’t achieve light values by watering down; you purchase colors that are light-valued right out of the tube, but often still intense (saturated). Because they are opaque, you can paint one layer atop another and you can correct mistakes or simply change you mind and make changes. Being mainly an oil painter, this opaque approach appeals to me and I wanted to learn more about it. That was another reason for taking the workshop. After returning home, in addition to finishing this painting I experimented for several weeks with what I had learned about this medium and about color combinations. I still am experimenting with this interesting medium — thank you Donna!