Monday, June 15, 2009

Lynn Ferris Watercolor Workshop

I haven't been painting much, as is evident by the dearth of posts I've made lately. So it was wonderful to have an amazing artist conduct a workshop so close by this weekend.

The Lost River Artisans Cooperative in Lost River, W.Va., hosted Lynn Ferris (painting in the photo above) of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., for a two-day workshop, June 13-14. Lynn has garnered several awards from regional artist groups, as well as a feature article in a national magazine. She spends part of her time in West Virginia, and then heads to Florida each winter where she participates in several well-known art festivals.

I'm amazed at artists who make their craft a way of life -- and the means by which they live. But to hear her talk about life as a working artist, the vision isn't entirely made of roses.

When Lynn prepares to paint, it is work. It's her job.

Thankfully, she says, its a job she really, really enjoys, but she admits that the knowledge that she's earning her keep with each stroke of her brush is ever present. "It's how I pay my mortgage," she says.

In fact, she acknowledges some envy of those who can paint without the burden of financial worries. Time is a critical element for her, given her show schedule, teaching duties, and day-to-day business needs, so when she has carved out painting time, it has to count.

It was an eye-opening conversation for me. I grumble and worry about finding time to paint because of my job. Here's someone who paints for a living, but who still has so many of the same wishes. We both want to paint just to paint. But we are limited in finding that time.

So in a sense, I received two sets of lessons over the weekend: one involving brush, pigment and paper, and another about life.

As for those tangible painting lessons, let me recount what Lynn emphasized.

She uses a limited palette, relying most heavily on a triad of colors: Phthalo Blue, Alizarin Crimson, and Cadmium Yellow. She also uses a great deal of Phthalo Green. All but Cad Yellow are transparent, so why the opaque pigment, I wondered?

It's all about the color, Lynn explains. It's an "honest" yellow, that's consistent from brand to brand, helpful in teaching her classes, but it's also the right tone for her work. And she uses it thinly, so it functions in a transparent way.

With this limited palette, she took us through a series of exercises, intended to stress mixing colors on the paper, and the advantages of glazing. She also conducted a demonstration and lesson on negative-space painting that really has the potential to simplify ideas for me.

The second day led up a capstone lesson on using all the previous exercises to define a structure's form with dramatic shadows. Her shadow technique is the critical reason for my interest in her work. Her shadows are so eye-catching and full of flowing colors. In this photo you can see Lynn applying her go-to pigments in a wet-into-wet style.

Here she is drying the first layer with a hairdryer. Subsequent glazed layers, applied in a similar way, create depth within the shadows. No boring grays and neutrals here. It's an amazing transformation from stilted geometry to brilliant, emotional passages of color.

It was a great workshop, with plenty ideas for me to chew on.

To see more of Lynn's paintings, visit her Web site:

Lynn's latest work, a series of figurative paintings, some of which have won significant awards, is on display now at the Monongalia Arts Center, Morgantown, W.Va., through the end of June. For more, see

The artisans' cooperative is planning more classes through the summer, including photography, chair caning, stained glass, natural fiber dyeing, and eclectic birdhouses. For more on the classes, see