How to Do Art: My Painting Methodology

I believe the critical element for creating good work is getting into the right mindset… focusing one’s effort… involving yourself fully in the activity of creating something.  The best way to accomplish this, I firmly believe, is to periodically take a sabbatical from your normal daily routine.  This means going to some remote place where your cell-phone can’t operate…  where there’s no media (TV, the internet, etc.) to distract you… where the outside environment is exhilarating… someplace where you can focus ALL your efforts on painting.

Click Painting to Purchase: “Country Scene, Los Osos Valley Rd; 15×22”


One of the best ideas for painting that I’ve learned is the value of freeing up your schedule so you can paint 3, 4, or 5 days in a row, several times a year.  Involving one of your art buddies in such an undertaking is also helpful. You DO need someone else to help you get about, someone you can talk to, eat with… to avoid becoming a loner.  But the focus should be on one thing: executing your best work.

Virtually all my painting is done outdoors.  I do this because I’m really stimulated by the outside environment.  I enjoy the sunlight, the smells, the sounds and everything else I experience when I’m outdoors.  For me, this is simply more exciting than painting indoors.  I can choose to paint whatever I see around and about me: colors, textures and shapes that are ever changing throughout each outdoor painting session… along with everything else… the clouds and trees, shadows, shades, shimmering highlights, and other bright and colorful objects.

Click Painting to Purchase: “Concord Pt Lighthouse, Havre de Grace, MD”


How to watercolor paint encompasses a variety of questions from the most simple to the very complex. To start with the most simple, I don’t paint with an easel. I use a thin masonite board with 3 bear-clips that hold down the watercolor paper.  The board sits on my lap, and I hold it with my left hand while I do the painting with my right.  My pint-sized plastic water pail is down there on the ground, next to my right leg.  All my brushes are in it, with my palette next to the water pail… on top of my toolbox… directly in the sunlight so I can distinguish various pigments and mix them about as I choose. Everything has to be in the right place so you can work efficiently.

But there have been circumstances where this wasn’t the case, situations where I couldn’t have everything laid out this way, or where weather conditions weren’t ideal. Once it was so cold my feet nearly froze.  Another time I had to stand in a muddy marsh. Then there was the time I had to paint on a paved sloping surface while holding on to a fence behind me with my left hand as I tried to paint with my right. On still another occasion, the prevailing wind made it really difficult for me to hold on to my easel-board, forcing me to rush through the painting process. When you’re painting outside in public, people often gather round, look over your shoulder, and ask seemingly stupid questions.  Sometimes local authorities have a way of unexpectedly appearing on the scene and asking you what the hell you’re doing there.  If you didn’t get permission to paint on the property, you have to stop!  Best to do your homework!

I most always go to an area where there’s full daylight, put on my straw hat, take off my shirt, and let the sun spill over my shoulders and arms.  It’s a nice feeling!

I’m a fair weather painter, for sure. I don’t like painting in the rain, cold, or windy weather.  Though I’ve done this when I’ve had to, it was nonetheless with a roof over my head, boots on my feet, pants about my legs, and a warm jacket and hood over my torso. I’ll spend more than enough time doing a painting in the sun, but rush through the process when I have to paint in bad weather!

One idea for painting many artists don’t consider is night painting, which I’ve done some of and hope to do more. Night painting is a challenge. First, you’ve got to make sure there’s something out there you can see! I’ve found painting up in the mountains at night doesn’t work.  It’s too dark to see anything! Down by the harbor in LA is much better!  More action, more night life, and therefore more light!

The other problem you run into when painting outside at night is that once you cover your paper with water, the balance of the entire session becomes “wet on wet”, rather than “wet on dry”. That’s because there’s no sun to dry your paper!  Painting with masking fluid is the only way areas on your paper can be preserved for the lightest values, allowing you to paint them later on, once you’ve finished your “on site” painting effort.

Click to Purchase: “Alabama Hills (#1), Lone Pine, CA; 22×15”


Painting is much more than just going anywhere, sitting down, and painting – it’s a process of exploring how to do art as painting.  With this in mind, I spend time beforehand planning what I’m going to paint. When traveling some distance from home (particularly if I’ve never been there before), I’ll take time to familiarize myself with the area, read about it, then drive about to seek out interesting subjects… do some artistic sketching, and take notes about distinguishing features.  If I’ve been there before, I’ll probably have a preconceived idea about what I’d like to paint.  If not, I’ll head straight to the nearest lake or marina, because I know that’s where I’m bound to find something interesting to paint.  That’s where there are lots of boats… fishing boats, sailboats, woodies… boats with rigging of all types and sizes… things I like to paint!

Coastlines and beaches are also good places, as are pastures with animals, colorful crops, mountains with views, garnes/flowers, farm animals, and those glorious wheat fields with grain elevators.  Check out my art collection and you’ll see all kinds of paintings I’ve done of such places and things!

I like to paint buildings. I’m pretty good at it because I know how to draw them.  I understand how buildings are built and how the stuff they’re built of changes over time.  I know about building materials, how to render them effectively… and how to draw the shades and shadows. I was trained to do such things when I studied architecture. I was taught how to paint trees…  any kind you might see around buildings. So I’m pretty good at painting buildings in landscapes.

Click Picture to Purchase: “Bernie & Liz’s House, The Strand, Oxford, MD; 15×22”

And as I’ve already indicated, I also like to paint boats… and be in them! (But not at the same time!)  When I was a youngster growing up on the East Coast, I learned how to sail on the Chesapeake Bay, up in Cape Cod, and further north in Nova Scotia.  After moving West, on a number of occasions my wife and I sailed about the coast of Southern California and the Baja peninsula. I’ve sailed in beetlecats, racing sloops, and journeyman schooners.

Click Picture to Purchase: “Wickford Harbor, RI (#1); 15×18”

Painting sailboats is something I really enjoy, especially woodies. They can be nesting at their moorings and slips… or racing between buoys.  Sailboats are subjects that make for interesting compositions of vertical and horizontal elements.

Click Picture to Purchase: “Harbor Scene, Marina del Rey” 15×22

I also like painting mountains and lakes. I’ve hiked about the Blue Ridge Mountains, Adirondacks, and up and down streams between their lovely lakes.  I like painting anything that grows out of the earth or that’s attached to it: flowers, grass, trees, bushes, roots, rocks, pebbles, even the earth itself.

Click Picture to Purchase: “Still Life Demo, Summer Studios, Lomita, CA” 15×11


There’s no doubt in my mind that one of the foundational ideas for painting, and an artist’s success with a painting, is that it depends on the setting… the environment in which you paint. You simply must go places that inspire you to do your best work. And you must be willing to paint whatever time of day provides the inspiration you need. That’s what I do.

Position yourself to accept surprises!  Place yourself where these most likely will occur! Take advantage of such opportunities, yet execute your work efficiently. My best work usually results from placing myself in situations where I had to work fast and had no time to labor over decisions.  This forced me to move quickly through the process of executing the painting.  Under such circumstances, I’ll complete a painting in much less time than I might otherwise do.

Knowing where to begin painting on your paper, when to go back over areas you’ve already painted, how to apply brushstrokes, what pigments to use, and how to mix them up… these are the how to watercolor paint concepts every artist learns by simply doing them!  But you also need to know when to stop!

For me, how to do great painting, how to do art the way I love most, all these things take place. Everything has to be in order.  There’s a point in every artist’s journey when this may happen more often than not.  I firmly believe each artist knows when they’ve reached this stage in their career! I’m also convinced such artists don’t need confirmation from anyone else! When you firmly believe you have reached this point, focus on painting and nothing else.

Douglas Stenhouse also wrote a book about watercolor painting.

“I decided to write about how I paint, not only to share my observations with others, but also, frankly, to do some self- examination. I wish I had done this earlier in my life! But then, how was I to know I’d benefit from doing so, certainly at a time when I had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.” 

To learn more about Doug’s Watercolor Painting Book, click here. To purchase a signed copy, use the link below.

Douglas Simms Stenhouse, watercolor artist, transparent water color art, watercolor painter, painting with water colors