Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November Demonstrator Lavonne Suwalski

Author: Meridith Whalen
I will admit…watercolors are not my forte…not even close.  That is why I was looking forward to our November Association meeting, featuring a watercolor demonstration by Copley Artist Lavonne Suwalski.  I was hoping to learn some tips and techniques, anything, to help improve my pitiful watercolor attempts.

Although I am a watercolor novice, I was relieved to note that mine was not the only jaw that dropped during the demonstration.  I knew to start out by wetting the watercolor paper, but Lavonne shocked us by completely soaking the page! She says she generally wets the page three times before she starts a watercolor painting.  I’m sensing a trend in these demos… the wetter the better! Recommended tip if you follow Lavonne’s very wet technique: place a towel under easel to catch the excess that drips from the paper, or use a plastic/rubber chair mat to protect a carpeted floor.
Lavonne’s favorite starting trick is to use blue painter’s tape to mask off a neat border for her painting, laying tape to completely cover the paper from the taped border out to the edge of the paper. This will protect the edges from errant strokes or drips and create a nice clean border for the piece, which then aids in framing.

Ms. Suwalski continued to stun the audience when she estimated that she paints approximately 500 pieces a year! The number seemed unrealistic until she explained that she frequently works on several paintings at once. Given her penchant for using an extremely wet page, she will stop several times while working on a piece.  Allowing time for the piece to dry helps to “control the chaos” and keep the paint from running too much or colors becoming muddy. She moves to a second, sometimes a third piece, then back to the first (and now) dry piece.
Watercolor artists can have a rather varied toolkit.  In addition to brushes, plastic cards or palette knives can be used to scrape and move the paint to create branches, fallen trees, rocks, or grasses. Sponges or tissue can be used to strategically lift color from the paper.  Be sure to turn the tissue to expose a clean section each time you touch it to paper, or you will smear the paint on the paper rather than lift it off.

The brushes themselves do not need to be limited to specific sizes, brands, or uses.  One of Lavonne’s favorites is the “Beste” One Stroke by Creative Mark available at Jerry’s Art-A-Rama.  A simple brush technique she applied to a beautiful wooded winter scene had numerous association members asking questions and taking pictures. Lavonne would tap her brush to speckle the paper with paint or water to create interesting (and totally envied!) effects for flowers, berries, rain, and snow.
Another technique Lavonne incorporates is to paint with water, drop the color in and rock the paper back and forth. This creates interesting results for backgrounds, especially for water, sky, and mountains.  “Dauby, dauby, dauby…” Lavonne wasn’t sure of the spelling of the fun (and catchy) little phrase, but used it throughout her demonstration.  “Dauby, dauby, dauby…” with the tissue here and we have nice puffy clouds. “Dauby, dauby, dauby…” with some dark paint on the brush and a line of trees appears.

Suwalski briefly discussed and described a transfer painting technique. In some of her classes, Lavonne employed a great technique to make creating the watercolors fun, quick, and easy!  To start, place the inspiration photo under/behind a piece of clear acrylic. Using watercolors, paint directly onto the acrylic to reproduce the image from your inspiration photo.  Once your image is ready for transfer, wet your watercolor paper, lay it over the painted acrylic, and press down firmly. Gently rub with your hand or roll a burnishing tool over it to be sure of the best transfer of color.  Gently peel paper from acrylic then let dry.  Both beginners and more experienced artists can apply and enjoy this simple technique!
Feeling intimidated? Lavonne suggests we “don’t look at it as painting a scene or object…see it as the movement of color across the page”.  She reminded us all that, in art and life, it’s usually best to just “keep it simple”.  Remove the pressure and the expectation, and just see what happens. For a really eye catching finishing technique use a polymer based gloss to add shine to (dry) watercolor paintings.

Thank you Lavonne, for a great demonstration - witty and inspiring! With your tips and techniques, I am actually looking forward to working with watercolors for the first time ever!

Visit her website for information about Lavonne herself, classes and workshops that she offers, and art for sale.  Links to view videos of Lavonne demonstrating her techniques are available on her website and also on the Holliston Cable Access Television website .
Contact Information for Lavonne Suwalski :
50 Walnut Road, Holliston, MA 01746 (Phone: 774-217-8718)
Email:   Website:

1 comment:

Kim Morin Weineck said...

Loved reading this recap. Thanks for writing and posting!