The Color Project Paintings


“Color should be a sensuous experience.” Charles Sovek

Color is an element that speaks directly to our emotions. We can feel the warmth of sunny yellows and oranges, the cool breeziness of blues and violets, the excitement generated by bright colors, the peacefulness of soft, muted, analogous harmonies, and the moodiness of darks and neutralized greys.

However, my interest in color is purely visual! I love seeing what happens when colors are placed next to each other in a painting. The results, while not always predictable, are very often magical.

With the goal of developing a deeper sensitivity to color and fresh new color ideas for my paintings, I have begun an intensive investigation into color and color theory that I affectionately call my “color project.”

In the six paintings featured in today’s post, I chose one subject and explored six different color schemes derived from the three color wheel primaries and the three color wheel secondaries. On the top shelf and moving from left to right, each painting exhibits a dominance of one of the primaries –  red, yellow, and blue. On the second shelf, again moving from left to right, each painting has a dominance of one of the secondaries – orange, green, and violet. In all six paintings, I began with the umbrella, painting it a pre-chosen primary or secondary to establish each painting’s color dominance.

Two major things I’ve learned from my color project explorations are that I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface in terms of all there is to learn about color and various color theories, and that there will be no endpoint in uncovering the secrets of good color. I love that!

All six of these paintings can be seen at the C2C Gallery:

Bye for now……….Donna


Brian Rutenberg’s Clear Seeing Place


After seeing an exhibition by Henri Matisse, Richard Diebenkorn wrote that he began to internalize new ways of looking, seeing, and translating the experience of the physical world onto canvas, a process that eventually became the centering point to his art practice for the rest of his life. As I have mentioned before, Diebenkorn is one of my art heroes and mentors.

For many years I have also been captivated by Brian Rutenberg’s paintings and his YouTube Studio Visits. He is also one of my art heroes and mentors. He is the perfect role model for artists because not only is he a Rock Star in the art world and widely considered to be one of our finest contemporary painters, he generously shares his aesthetic concepts and process with us in a way that makes us feel that we know him and that he knows us because he talks about things that are matters of concern to all artists. As it is with Diebenkorn, Brian’s words and paintings have encouraged me to “internalize new ways of looking, seeing, and translating the experience of the physical world onto canvas.”

I was delighted last fall when I discovered that Brian had a new book coming out, Clear Seeing Place. And I was over the moon when I found out that he would be having an exhibition and presenting a talk on Clear Seeing Place at the Saginaw Art Museum last weekend! The book explores the concept of artistic authenticity and delves into how his own clear seeing place was shaped by his love for his childhood locale, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – a passion that is communicated to the viewers of his paintings through abstraction, personal mark making, and deliciously glorious color. This book is chock full of inspiration, observations, and advice. It is a delightful read that will inspire anyone and everyone who practices art to embark on their own personal journey to discover and express their own clear seeing place.  

Brian Rutenberg’s powerful and gorgeous paintings will be on exhibit at the Saginaw Art Museum until June, 2017.

Here is a link to the Saginaw Art Museum:

Here is a link to Brian Rutenberg’s website:

Brian’s book, Clear Seeing Place can be purchased at here:

Happy Painting!


Workshop News

Spaces are still available in my one and only workshop in 2017. It will be held in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 27-29. We will spend three exciting days looking at new and creative ways of seeing and translating subject matter into paintings that express your true artistic center. Please join us! Here is the link and more info on the workshop:


Happy Painting! 

Chatting With Matisse and Diebenkorn

Henri Matisse: “Exactitude is not truth.”  ……  Richard Diebenkorn: “One wants to see the artifice of the thing as well as the artist.”   

Henri Matisse: I’ve been forty years discovering that the queen of all colors is black.”  ……  Richard Diebenkorn: “It’s starting with a plan and letting the painting change your mind.” 

Recently I had the great pleasure of seeing the exhibition, Matisse/Diebenkorn, at the Baltimore Museum of Art. My husband and I made a spur of the moment decision to hop on a plane to Baltimore for the sole purpose of spending two glorious days with two of my all-time favorite artists. The exhibition was all that I hoped for and more!

All artists are inspired and influenced by other artists both past and present. One can find many fine examples throughout art history of artists being inspired and influenced by other artists and how necessary those influences were in discovering their individual voices. Richard Diebenkorn spoke often about being inspired and influenced by Henri Matisse, the artist whose approach resonated with him most deeply. After seeing a Matisse exhibition in 1952, thirty year old Diebenkorn felt that he began to internalize new ways of looking, seeing, and translating the world onto the flat picture surface. Matisse, often cited as the father of Modernism, posited that shapes that correspond with objects in a representational painting could also function in terms of the abstract formal elements, something that Diebenkorn focused on in his figurative images, which in turn profoundly influenced my own figurative work. 

In his essay for the exhibition catalog, John Elderfield wrote, “Matisse and Diebenkorn both began with the wish to record something close at hand – to make an image that rang true to their experience of it. Then, in their different ways – both came to the realization that to make a true statement in a painting – something that spoke credibly of its subject in their own individual voices – would require attending very carefully to the language of art. This obliged them to both pay attention and call attention to the means they used. It is reasonable that critics have concentrated mostly on the stylistic affinities between the two artists, but their most important practical commonality may be a quality of alertness – a mixture of judgment and vigilance – about what happens in the process of making a painting.”

The paintings were in chronological order, with many side by side examples of both artists’ work. Seeing the paintings and listening to the very informative audio lecture, I felt that I was privy to a lively chat the two artists were engaged in about abstraction, flatness, color, form, space, and “grand compositions”. They spoke not a word about exactitude, they chatted mostly about the glorious process of painting – spontaneous and improvisational mark making, juicy and expressive brushstrokes, and how much depth and meaning they felt that the erasures, corrections, and revisions they made in their paintings added to their final imagery.

I found myself adding my own thoughts and ideas to the spirited chat as I listened, looked, and internalized it all. On day two I brought a notebook with me and took extensive notes on ideas that resonated with me throughout the chat. I was already very familiar with both Matisse’s and Diebenkorn’s  work as the paintings of both artists have been major influences in my own work. They were the mentors I turned to for answers when I was desperately seeking ways to get past “the exactitude factor” in my paintings – what Cezanne referred to as “the tyranny of subject matter.” And Diebenkorn ‘s improvisational  approach of “plastering it on”, making changes, revisions, and corrections during the process of painting, and letting the painting change his mind deeply resonated with me and was very instrumental in my decision fifteen years ago to move from transparent to opaque watercolor. Diebenkorn was sometimes called “indecisive” because of his painting process, and when I first read that I had an “aha” moment and became aware of the fact that in my painting, I’m pretty indecisive too. Not a good trait for a transparent watercolorist! I felt like I was given permission to own my indecisiveness and to stop trying to change my personality to suit a painting medium – I needed to find a painting medium that suited my personality.    

The Boston Globe called the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibition “deeply stirring; the result is an unusually beautiful show, in which the unique glow emitted by one painter meets the glow from another and seems almost to create new atmospheric conditions.”

I am so grateful I had the privilege of basking in that glow. I’m already dreaming up new ways of looking, seeing, internalizing, and translating my subject matter onto the flat picture surface.

Happy Painting!

What is Opaque Watercolor?

Opaque Watercolor: combining watercolor with gouache and painting in an opaque manner.

Watercolor is usually synonymous with the idea of transparency, but combining watercolor pigments with gouache and painting in an opaque manner (applying paint somewhat thickly and in layers) allow me to work in the kind of spontaneous and improvisational way that appeals to me. With opaque watercolor, I can put colors down and if I don’t like what I see, I can quickly make adjustments, changes, and corrections because I can easily cover darks with lights, melt colors together to create intriguing new colors that can’t be named, or remove colors entirely and begin again. I also love the velvety matte picture surface that results with opaque watercolor.     

While many watercolor artists equate opaque painting with the word mud, I find that I get brighter, clearer and more beautiful colors with the opaque approach. However, it did take quite a bit of experimentation to determine which pigments would deliver the kind of color and surface qualities I was after. Initially I mixed only white gouache with my watercolor pigments and worked that way for many years. Recently, I’ve been experimenting more and more with tube gouache pigments. What I’ve found is that there is very little difference between gouache colors and the watercolor-mixed-with-white-gouache colors that I mix up on my palette.   

For the most successful results, I’ve found it’s best to think of opaque watercolor as a distinct medium separate from transparent watercolor because each requires a different mindset and different painting techniques. Most of the problems I encounter with opaque watercolor have to do with adding too much water to my pigments (a habit left over from my transparent watercolor days). Controlling the pigment/water ratio is key, and the only way I know of to acquire that key is through deliberate practice. In terms of techniques, I use techniques borrowed from oil painters, acrylic painters, and pastel painters. 

Choosing a medium and molding painting techniques to suit an artist’s personality is a very personal journey. It’s not as simple as selecting a medium and learning “how to” paint in that medium. It’s about finding a medium that speaks to us, because that medium is going to speak for us.  In choosing a painting medium, two important tasks must be taken into consideration. The first is discovering what touches our heart and stirs our soul. And the second is figuring out how we’re going to to express all that with our chosen medium.      

Happy Painting!