Plein-Air vs Studio Painting

When painting, I’m in the process of producing works I intend to exhibit.  Rarely do I experiment.  If I wanted to this, I’d do it in a studio, workshop or academic setting (e.g. in a classroom). But I don’t really have a studio.  There is an area in our garage where I keep glazing, mats, paper, and easels… all my art supplies and tools.  But since I don’t paint there, I can’t really call it my “studio.” Neither do I call the small office inside my house a studio… the place where I have a desk, computer, printer, and piles of correspondence… (learn more)

Executing the Work

Executing a watercolor painting requires some planning. For me, at least, I have to gather up tools, go somewhere, and paint! After I’ve done the painting, I need to record it, choose where I might exhibit it, get it framed, and take it to the exhibit venue. When the exhibit ends, I have to get it back home… (learn more)

Getting Started

Every artist is interested in knowing what tools other artists use. Early on, most artists use whatever they have on hand, what’s been given to them, or what someone told them to purchase. In secondary school, where I formally began my education in art, most everything was furnished to us, certainly the paper and canvas on which we worked, but perhaps even the pigments and brushes.  We worked first with soft pencils, then pastels, watercolors, and finally graduated to oils. (When I was in school, and for many years thereafter, acrylics were not yet available)… (learn more)

Click Picture to Purchase: “Sierra Nevadas from Alabama Hills #5”

Tools for Painting

What do I take with me when I go out to paint? I take nothing more than I have to!  Nonetheless, certain things are essential… (learn more)

Tools for Traveling

When I’m traveling by car, I bring along all the tools I’ve mentioned above.  But when you’re taking a plane or a train, you can’t lug along everything.  So I put what I can in my conventional flat suitcase, and leave my paint bucket behind. I might do this if I were to take along my portfolio bag containing mats and original paintings… (learn more)

Fort Adams Harbor, Watercolor of Fort Adams Harbor, Ft Adams Harbor Painting

Click Picture to Purchase: “Fort Adams Harbor, RI”

Paper for Painting

Most of my paintings are done on half-sheets (15″x22″) of rough, 140# (or 90#) cold-pressed paper. I rarely use quarter-sheets (11″x15″)… only for demos. When painting several days or more at a time at plein-air events, I’ll often work on full sheets (22″x30″) of 300# cold-pressed paper, since this heavier paper seems to hold its shape better… but also because I’ll end up with a larger painting! However, I may also use sheets of smoother, perhaps lighter-weight, hot-pressed paper… (learn more)

Selecting Subject Matter

Subject matter is the key to every good painting. That’s what initially draws people to it. For the same reason, one might say it could also influence the selection process of a juror. Most everyone likes to see paintings of children and animals, boats, flowers, places they’ve been to or have fond memories of, scenes from their hometown, quiet meadows, lovely seascapes and landscapes, but also unusual subject matter. Go to any major art exhibit, take some notes, and you’ll see what I mean… (learn more)


Good compositions make your subject matter sing! You have to arrange subject matter properly to produce a successful painting. Don’t just copy what’s out there in front of you… (learn more)

Watercolor Art, Watercolor lighthouse, watercolor light house

Click Picture to Purchase: “Beavertail Lighthouse, RI”

Drawing Up Subject Matter

As I’ve indicated, the sketch for a painting may be done some time other than when you actually intend to paint it. And though the circumstances you observe when painting may be somewhat different, you can refer to the sketch before you begin painting. I’ll lay out the background drawing on the watercolor paper, but I do this on site, not somewhere else or beforehand. I do it when and where I do my painting… (learn more)

The Use of Masking Fluid

Masking fluid is a water-soluble liquid used to preserve white areas in your paintings… areas of paper you wish to leave white… or subsequently paint over, for example, with bright, lightly pigmented highlights of thallo green, bright yellow, orange or opera.  Whatever masking fluid you use, make sure it’s not plain white, but that it has a tint to it so you can distinguish it from the adjacent white paper you don’t cover with masking fluid… (learn more)

The Actual Painting Effort Itself

After I finish drawing a composition, I generally paint ’til it gets chilly, the clouds roll in, and the sun sets. The amount of time I work on a painting depends on the time of year: somewhat longer in the summer, somewhat less during winter. This of course affects what I’m able to do with the subject matter… and vice versa. Once or twice I’ve left a site with my painting incomplete, to come back the next day and finish it. But rarely does this happen, since I try to finish it on site the same day. Intricate details take more time; loose landscapes/seascapes, less. Sometimes it feels better to paint loose; other times, I simply need to… or want to… get more involved in the execution of the details… (learn more)

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 and/or purchase a signed copy, click here.

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