Where the Magic Lives: Working with Transparent Colours

Where the Magic Lives: (as featured in International Artist Magazine)

I’ve always gravitated towards transparent and semi transparent colour. As a self-taught artist, I didn’t really know why this was the case, but as my experience and knowledge grew, their luminosity and the ability to glaze became integral components to my process. Glazing is a huge part of my process. As I often tell my students, “We are going to BUILD this watercolor”.  After all, it’s an illusion that we are creating – a play of not just color, but of depth and light.  As a viewer, we believe in the illusion of light passing through a leaf, giving it an almost fluorescent green appearance. We believe the rippled effect of water and it’s twinkling dance of turquoise, emerald and gold above a rocky river bed.  We believe the life and soulful stare and reflective quality in the close-up of an eye.  For me, this illusion is where the magic lives in watercolor.


In working with transparent and semi transparent colors, through slow methodical layers you can maintain the integrity and clarity of your glazes. Opaque and semi-opaque colors don’t glaze as well because their base pigment can appear heavy or“chalky” when applied over another.  The pigment has a tendency to sit on the surface more than transparent colors do and as a result, they are prone to reactivation when re-wet. This often means muddy or milky results when your layers accidentally begin mixing together – no matter how long you’ve let it dry for.

  • Examples of opaque colors: all cadmiums, cerulean blue, most cobalt colors.
  • Examples of semi opaque:  Davy’s Grey or Yellow Ochre


Excerpt from International Artist Magazine Dec/Jan Issue

Art is all about illuminating a subject:

Art is all about illuminating a subject - Literally and figuratively. Anything can become beautiful when you just bring attention to it. This was the case for “Peonies for Dad”. It was Father’s Day and I was visiting my father with my siblings. He was living alone at the time and I had noticed peonies growing in his rather un-manicured yard. I picked a few of the fallen heads, heavy from an early morning rain. He didn’t have a vase so I grabbed an old jam jar and placed it on his worn out oak table. By mid afternoon, the sun came out and we all enjoyed a beautiful day.  When we went inside the jar was glowing and I quickly grabbed my camera before the moment passed. I had illuminated the flowers by salvaging them and in return, “Peonies for Dad” became the perfect painting the moment they were illuminated through the afternoon sunlight. Talk about Karma!


In “Peonies for Dad”, it was particularly important to build through glazing with transparent pigments as the subject was primarily backlit. I wanted the delicacy of the leaves and petals to retain their thinness and translucency. The airiness of the jar was it’s own story – again maintaining clear, simple glazes and reserving whites through masking (sometimes painting and then re-masking to preserve those areas) to create the bubbles and catch the extruding edges of the wording on the jar.


I almost always work light to dark, as was the case here. It’s a way to control the strength in pigment as well as lift or re-work areas as you go without the worry of going too strong too soon.  I also used lifting and masking for texture and to create special effects that contribute to the illusion of this ephemeral moment of light passing through these peonies in a simple jar in a most thrilling and unexpected way.