Interview with Artist Guy Magallanes

May 13, 2019 6 min read 2 Comments

Guy Magallanes has painted ever since he was a child but it took this native of San Francisco until the year 2000 to officially call himself an artist. Guy began teaching in 2005, and he made the transition into full-time painting in 2007. You can find Guy's work in many editions of the SPLASH series and in the book, "Watercolor Secrets."


Watercolor has a reputation for being a tough medium. What about it do you think gives it that? Do you think it’s justified? Why or why not?

I hear this all the time, because you can’t paint over “mistakes” and cover them up like you can with oil or acrylic. Keeping that in mind, it makes one hesitant to lay down a loaded brush of watercolor onto paper.

I like to plan out my image before I paint so I can paint with confidence. Even with planning, unexpected things happen sometimes right before your eyes and sometimes when you’re not looking. When they happen I try to incorporate it into the image but if it’s too distracting I have to figure out how to remove, fix or alter the mistake. It’s pretty easy to fix actually, and there are so many things you can do to change something you may not like. There are so many tools and techniques to use.

Could you walk us through your process? How do you take a piece of inspiration and turn it into a finished painting?

When an image screams out to me “paint me” I have to find a way to capture and convey the energy and excitement compelling me to paint it. I plan out the composition editing out things that are distracting or that don’t add to the strength of my focal area. Once the composition is basically set, I work the shapes of the painting. I squint to simplify the image and find the shapes of how the light and dark thread throughout the painting. I like to paint the abstracted shapes building the transitions of color with many glazes. I work pretty quickly to build up the underpainting and once it’s set, I can finesse the image, cleaning up edges, adding darks for emphasis, or removing color as needed.

With any subject, one of the first choices is how close or far back you’ll paint your subject. Your florals are pretty close up. What about this framing appeals to you? What story does this framing tell? How would a different framing not work as well for you?

I really feel like a voyeur when painting florals. I remember as a child not just smelling them for their fragrance but looking into the flowers and seeing all the parts of the flowers. Later learning about the parts of flowers and how a flower is where all the action happens, the reproductive parts and how they depend upon pollinators, birds, insects etc. I just find it fascinating and when looking up close, to me I’m looking at a vast landscape of shapes, colors, and what attracts the pollinators. When painting up close, the shapes are more abstracted and you can change the orientation of the image and decide for yourself how you want the image to hang.

What is the biggest challenge you see students facing when it comes to painting light in their florals? What advice do you give them?

When students are first starting out, I encourage them to let their mistakes happen, and to keep moving forward instead of trying to fix them right away. Mistakes are going to happen, but if you can’t ignore them and end up fixating on them, that’s all you’ going to see. What’s the fun in that? I don’t want to teach people how to fix mistakes, I want to teach people how to paint. But letting them know that we can fix their mistakes, but later. If we are always fixing a painting along the way, it can appear overworked and flat. This way folks can learn the process of laying down a wash, having hard edges and learning how to soften edges and learning how to use less strokes to make the passage more expressive than worked. This builds confidence in painting a loaded brush full of pigment onto paper and all the different techniques to get there.

There are some simple rules to achieving the luminosity a floral can have and that means letting the paper dry between glazes and trusting in the process.

If someone wants to paint flowers, what do they have to learn to see? Why? How do those elements translate into paper and paint? 

I paint shapes and what I see; meaning I abstract the image into shapes. Perhaps a white shape is actually many petals caught in harsh sunlight and I see them as a shape of white. I’m not going to paint each of those petals, I’m going to reserve the white shape which indicates many petals So I’m painting what I see vs. what I know. When I find myself asking questions like is this petal on top, or is this petal folding away from the center etc, I can get even more confused and the painting will start looking overworked. If I just simplify as I look and paint the shapes, they fit together in an exciting way and I have more fun painting.

Along those same lines, what’s important to remember about color when it comes to painting florals?

I always feel free to exaggerate colors or even change them drastically. I’m not a slave to capturing what’s is on a photograph. The same image will look different from monitors or devices and will look different from printer to printer.

I usually paint with transparent colors building up the value with glazing. If I need a pop of color that I can’t get with a transparent color, I’ll add an opaque color which can be so strong, but I’ll add it at the end of a painting. The opaque colors tend to move too much when glazing so I’ll save them for the finishing steps.

How important is drawing to your work and to art in general?

I’m working from photos that I take so I’m just replicating what I see. But I do change the shapes a bit and edit out distracting stuff. I’m more interested in composition and have a good eye-to-hand coordination. But I’m basically tracing an image or using a projector. I want to spend my time painting.

For watercolorists especially, how important is it for an artist to know her materials? Why or why not?

There are so many materials out there today, from paper, brushes, colors and so many styles to try. Not every tool is necessary and every artist has their own that they can’t live without. Take some lessons from artists that you admire and find out the materials they use and try them and see for yourself what you feel comfortable using, and what works well for you.

I have my regular materials that I swear by but am always try something new.

I was asked to write a chapter in “Watercolor Secrets” by North Light Books and went out and bought brushes and colors that I hadn’t tried before. I had to step out my main demo and after a month of painting and about half way done I was horrified with my results because I wasn’t familiar with the colors and how they would work with each other. I had to start all over again using my tried and true materials. I had already worked out some of the problems so it went pretty fast and I made my deadline.

Color mixing can feel overwhelming to a beginning artist. Any advice on how to start? Should an artist just buy all the colors and get started? Why or why not?

I paint with a limited palette and sometimes only use three colors! So knowing your colors to me is very important. I generally optically mix colors by painting one color at a time; for instance I’ll add all my yellows, and once dry then I’ll glaze over with a red color and when that is dry I’ll glaze with a blue and then you’ll get a nice underpainting. I’ll mix colors in a palette to get some darker colors too. I’ll mix my darks using the colors I’m working with so the dark (or black) color is natural to the image.

I test out the colors I use and ones I want to use to see how staining the color is, whether it is transparent or opaque or where it lands on that spectrum, a triple density to see how strong it can get and how it moves on wet paper.

I also made a color chart of all my colors by color and made a dot of full strength color right from the tube and then pulled it out and softened it so I can see the darkest value of the color and how it looks thinned out with water. This helps in choosing the right color to use too.

Every artist has leaps in their learning. What were you working on either from a materials, design or even mindset standpoint that helped you make one of those jumps?

Doing the same thing over and over again and still expecting different results is crazy and trying something different can be challenging but adventurous at the same time. I love trying different ways of loading color and then when perfected throw them into my bag of tricks. I learned to trust in the process and enjoy it.


To learn more about Guy Magallanese and his work by visiting him at his website

2 Responses

Susan Stevens
Susan Stevens

May 22, 2019

I admired Guy’s use of color and approach to flowers so much that I traveled half way across the country to take a 3 day workshop from him. He is a wonderful teacher as well as a gifted artist.

Mary Kosary
Mary Kosary

May 14, 2019

When we lived in East Texas I had the pleasure of taking a workshop from Guy. His work is so beautiful and his teaching so informative. What a treasured memory to have spent that time with him. Wet brushes, Guy.

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