Kathleen Lanzoni is an award winning signature member of the Colorado Watercolor Society, the Western Colorado Watercolor Society, the Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Society and the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies. She divides her time painting between the studio, Plein Air(outdoors on location) and on site murals. Kathleen grew up in Montreal and California and has lived in Colorado for over 28 years. She was formally trained at the Art Institute of Boston and the Massachusetts College of Art, receiving a BFA.
What is it that you love about watercolor? What does the medium give you as an artist?
I love every aspect of watercolor painting! Colors, movement, paper, brushes, always a new experience! The excitement of unpredictable movement and results are intriguing.
It is rarely the same result twice. Going from clear transparent colors to the rich dense pigments and using the fluid movement to create the unexpected mark on the paper is pure fun.Painting negative space and keeping the light areas of the paper light is a wonderful challenge that keeps me coming back for more. The way colors mix on the paper. I love to draw, love paper. The white glow effect of the paper is unique with watercolor. Using the light of the paper.
It is new and exciting each time I paint and the unpredictable part keeps me coming back!
Why both plein air and studio?
I enjoy both plein air and studio work.
Whether it is standing in a field, on a hill side, by the ocean or in an urban setting, I get all my inspiration from the world around me. Being out among nature and people makes me feel alive and creative.
I love the challenge of taking the scene in front of me, in the moment, and making it 2 d on the paper. Using the creative instinct, I am free and looser when I paint plein air. Then I will take it and some photos to the studio to make another painting. The time painting in the studio gives me the chance to polish the composition, focus on the value plan and perhaps add more detail.
Could you walk us through the process?
I begin with the concept which I have usually found from nature. Sometimes I will let an image percolate in my mind for months. Then I start with value sketches and color sketches. These steps are done to solve all the big issues and concepts before I get to the final painting. Solving these issues allows me to have free movement and a clear mind because I am not worried about the technical details.
What do you need to have figured out before you begin a painting?
What is the goal of the painting? Am I describing a scene, a mood, the lighting? The value sketch and the color sketch then come next, working on colors, composition, values, focal point.
As a watercolorist, the drawing needs to be completed on the paper first. Then the muscle memory kicks in and you paint!
Why is planning important?
Controlled chaos! Planning in watercolor is so important. I do value sketches and color sketches. Sometimes I will practice my colors or subject separately. The more I plan the more I can let go of structure when it is time to paint. Then I can paint from the moment and from instinct. I can let go and enjoy the process and the paint.
How important is simplification?
Get the basic shapes, values, and forms first. I always create a value sketch. Details can always be added later. The details are the icing on the cake. The details look important, but you need the cake to hold it all together.
To choose a subject to paint is very personal. What has caught your eye? What excites you about a scene?
We all have different interests so naturally we are drawn to different subjects. Interesting lighting catches my eye first as well as unique shape and color combinations.
If a scene makes me stop and turn around or exclaim at what I see, this is what I should paint. I try to remember the first thing that I saw that got me excited.
Then once I’ve chosen a subject, I will use most of the form and composition and colors in front of me. But I will exaggerate too. I will exaggerate distance or the values to create depth. I will also heighten or lower the colors.
I will also I try to eliminate any part that is not necessary to make a good painting. If there is too much going on, or too many details, get rid of them now.
Finally, while I will take shapes, relationships and lighting from what I see before me, I may move rocks or trees around and alter a curve in the bend. I’m always thinking of a good composition!
How do you approach color?
I love color! One of the reasons I paint is so that I can play with color!
I use color to set a mood, to bring attention to my focal point or to keep the viewers eye moving across the page. However, color plays a secondary role to the values. Learning to see the difference between color and value is key. Some yellows can be dark values and some blues can be light values. Do not let them fool you!
The color I see in front of me when plein air painting is what I begin with and I may change colors to make the painting better. Mostly I take what the colors are before me then exaggerate some! I do this to bring it to life. Seeing the subject in real life lets you see many more colors and subtleties than you never will in a photo. We all have different eyesight so not remarkably we see different colors.
Within landscape painting, you paint several subjects. When you’re working with a subject you’re less familiar with, how do you approach it?
Do not panic is the first rule. It is good to push yourself and try new subjects so you can grow as an artist. A new subject is not that different in terms of the basic painting guidelines. Break down the subject into values, shape, and colors. Keep it simple.
Ask yourself, what is different about a new subject is that you do not have background knowledge of the form and colors. This may limit your sense of freedom expressing the paint. Like anything we do, repetition gets us more familiar and we are more likely to take chances to create a dynamic painting.
What is the biggest challenge students face? Advice?
Artists are scared to make mistakes. It is natural. We all want to make beautiful paintings. Be kind to yourself and give yourself the freedom to play and make mistakes.
On the practical side, I suggest standing up when you paint. This will free up your entire arm which will make you paint looser. When we sit down, we get very tight using only our wrists and not our whole arm. Use the largest brush possible for an area.
When the watercolor gods help us paint a beautiful unplanned passage, leave it alone! Accept it as a happy accident and try not cover it up.
Know when to take a break from the painting and stand back. Once your water and paint are laid on the paper, leave it be let the magic happen. Watercolor brush strokes look better and are fresher if left to settle in the paper. In watercolor, there is no benefit going over the same area again and again. It is so hard to leave our paint alone and not niggle. (Niggling is my technical term for overworking!)
Practice sections of the painting before beginning a whole still life. If you are working in the studio you will have more time to create studies. When plein air painting the light and weather change fast so you have less time to practice. Instead use observational skills by taking time just looking at your subject. Make mental notes.
Do a value sketch to get more familiar with the subject. Start with painting one tomato instead of 15 tomatoes to see what colors may work, analyze the shapes and values. Then after you have practiced put them all together for a final painting. If you do practice studies, you have solved most of your problems before getting to your final painting. The masters always did studies!
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