Interview with Brenda Swenson

June 01, 2020 5 min read 99 Comments

Brenda Swenson (and upcoming CCP artist- add your name here to learn more when her video comes out!) is an artist, author and watercolor instructor. Her artwork has been featured in numerous publications including Splash, Watercolor Artist, Watercolor Magazine, Plein Air Magazine and many others. Brenda has achieved signature status in WW, NWWS, and SDWS. An active participant in the arts community she has served on the board of directors for the National Watercolor Society and Watercolor West. She is in demand to judge shows, demonstrate and teach workshops to groups nationwide and abroad.

 

 

 

What does watercolor give you as an artist? 


The best description of watercolor is it’s alive. It’s a dance between you, paint and the surface moisture on the paper… stepping into or pulling back. Watercolor requires you stay awake and respond to what’s happening on the surface. Never turn your back while the paper is wet…stay awake! I once heard someone say, ”Oil is like a dog, it wants to obey. Watercolor is like a cat, it does as it pleases”. I couldn’t agree more!

 

 

How important is it to understand materials in watercolor? Why?


Let’s start with paper. Understanding the materials can save a lot of frustration, wasted time and money. Watercolor paper isn’t something you want to skimp on. Every surface (cold press, hot press, rough) acts differently. Knowing how surfaces will react will save a lot of frustration. The weight of watercolor paper (90lbs-300lbs) varies greatly. Too light the paper will warp, too heavy and the pigment soaks deep into the paper and slows drying time. Lighter paper 90lbs is fine for watercolor sketches, dry brush or light washes. Heavier 140lbs to 200lbs cold press is my preferred weight and surface for painting.

 

 

Where do you see students struggling with materials? 


Student grade materials are a recipe for frustration. I would rather see students attend workshops with limited supplies that are artist grade than an abundance of student grade paint, paper and brushes. In the past, good brushes were very expensive. With modern technology synthetic brushes can fool an experienced painter. You don’t have to over pay to have quality. Most people own more colors than necessary. You will learn more with a limited palette of 8 colors. But don’t be cheap with watercolor paper!

 

 

Could you walk us through your process? What do you need to have figured out at each stage?


Step 1: Find my Inspiration

Step 2: Know my focus

Step 3: Creating a interesting design with a compelling value plan

Step 4: Draw

Step 5: Paint

Step 6: Know when to stop

 

 

Where in your process do you do your thinking? What does that look like?


Where do I do my thinking? Before the paint touches the paper. When I’m draw and laying out a painting I am literally walking through the painting in my mind. I’ve always thought of watercolor as a thinking man’s (woman’s) medium. There’s no wiping off a section and starting new. I failed painting is a humbling experience. With that being said, a failed painting is a great teacher. 

“Think like a turtle, paint like a rabbit.” ~Sergei Bongart   


En plein air: 

I am drawn to the strong presence of light and shadows. I start with a pencil drawing of the major shapes. I map out the shadows with light value pencil marks. I often use shadows as a way to link shapes together. It may have to lengthen or adjust shadow shapes to unify a scene.


Studio: 

I use my plein air paintings as inspiration for studio work. The hard work is already done.If a plein air study didn’t work small..it won’t work big. In the studio I’m able to refine and make corrections where necessary: design, values, shapes.

 

 

 

For your reference: What do you take more or less directly and what do you translate? Why?


I’m not restricted by what I see. If I need to move a building, add people, change a color…I do so. As a painter it’s my job to create a scene or tell a story. If I’m not willing to change things I might as well frame a photograph and be done.

When I use a photo reference it will be in addition to a sketch. Either a watercolor sketch or value study. I will refer to the reference photo if necessary for architectural accents or signage. Black and white photo are the best for simplifying shapes and values!

“Don’t state the truth, tell me a beautiful lie”.~Gerald Brommer

 

 

What’s the biggest challenge you see with students and color?


Color is complicated. The task of understanding pigment as it relates to watercolor is compounded by understanding paint characteristics: granulating, staining, transparent, opaque and semi-opaque. Once someone wraps their head around these characteristics the possibilities of watercolor opens in new and exciting ways.

 

 

What kind of pigments do you use and what do those choices allow you to do? 


I mainly use transparent paints and a few semi-opaque pigments. I like the freedom of being able to develop a painting with transparent colors without worrying the colors will go flat or muddy. I can create glowing surfaces with multiple glazes while creating interesting and complex shapes with each glaze. 


There’s nothing wrong with opaques but they do not work for negative painting. My plein air palette has several opaque colors. Why? Opaque pigments are perfectly suited for creating body color and atmospheric perspective (fog, distance, skies…)

 

 

How important is drawing? Why? 


You learn to see through drawing. Drawing is the first thing people should be concerned with. Watercolor requires more forethought than other mediums. You can’t correct things like oil or acrylic. Drawing is where design is learned and values honed. Without drawing skills I have nothing. Perhaps that sounds drastic to some, but not to me! 


In the mid 90’s I was challenged by a teacher to do a sketch a day in ink for 70 days. The experience propelled my artwork more than anything I had done before. I learned so much about design, edges, perspective and values. I wanted to give the gift of that experience to others. I created the “75-Day Sketch Challenge”. Within a short time it took off across the US and overseas. I was rewarding people with an ARTISTIC LICENSE that looked like a drivers license with their picture on it.  It was so popular I couldn’t keep up…people were sketching daily across the US: Men and women, Young and old. People in foreign countries all across the world…even a teacher in the Ukraine. She would send me pictures of her students sketching after school, meeting in hallways to share between class. It was a rewarding experience for everyone.

 

 

You paint en plein air and are sketching constantly from life. What has plein air painting and sketching given you as an artist? 


I used to dread plein air and would cringe when someone looked over my shoulder. Today I absolutely love it! I love being surrounded by my subject, feeling the warmth or chill on my skin, the smell of the earth or a coffee shop and the sounds that surround me. My love of light and its effect on a subject came from plein air. Learning to sit and observe my environment has given me a stronger awareness and understanding of my world. I literally feel a shot of adrenaline and have a heightened awareness of everything around me. Painting plein air is addicting! 

 

Learn more about Brenda Swenson's upcoming video workshop when it comes out by adding your name here. 


99 Responses

Maureen
Maureen

September 09, 2020

Looking forward to Brenda’s video

Susan silver
Susan silver

September 05, 2020

I can’t wait to be able to get/see Brenda Swenson’s video!

Bianca Romani
Bianca Romani

August 10, 2020

❤️❤️❤️

Verna
Verna

August 06, 2020

I want to see your video workshop

Sandra Bailey
Sandra Bailey

August 06, 2020

Newly retired and looking to develop artistic skills that have been on the back burner for years!

Barbara Keyes
Barbara Keyes

August 06, 2020

Looking forward to more negative painting tips.

Lynn Crawford
Lynn Crawford

August 06, 2020

I am definitely interested!

Ginni Shotwell
Ginni Shotwell

August 06, 2020

I’d love a video workshop…

Kate Burroughs
Kate Burroughs

August 06, 2020

I would love to see a video of Brenda teaching watercolor.

Jansi King
Jansi King

August 06, 2020

I love Brenda’s work and would love to see the video!!!

Alexis Jackson
Alexis Jackson

August 06, 2020

I love Brenda’s work and want to know more about the video workshop!

Mary Murphy
Mary Murphy

July 09, 2020

I am in awe of Brenda’s gift and talent as well as her love for colors and life. I look forward to her video workshop.

Annchen Bodenstab
Annchen Bodenstab

June 24, 2020

I would absolutely love to take online classes from Brenda, big please. Her work never ceases to amaze me, it’s beautiful.

John Sampson
John Sampson

June 22, 2020

Certainly looking forward to seeing your video workshop

Stevie Denny
Stevie Denny

June 20, 2020

Yes, I am interested in Brenda’s video workshop.

Barbara Cunningham
Barbara Cunningham

June 20, 2020

Brenda is a gifted teacher, and it’s an inspiration to watch her work. I’m looking forward to this experience.

Dorothy P.
Dorothy P.

June 20, 2020

I’ve followed Brenda’s work for years! I’ve not been able to attend her workshops but would love to be on the list for her new video!!

Valerie Lightbody
Valerie Lightbody

June 20, 2020

Look forward to this video. I love Brenda’s work.

Belinda
Belinda

June 20, 2020

Can’t wait to learn from your video! Your paintings touch the heart and feed the soul.

Karen orton
Karen orton

June 20, 2020

Interested in brenda Swenson class

Ricky Edrington
Ricky Edrington

June 20, 2020

I love Brendas work and her teaching! So looking forward to the video!

Soni McFarland
Soni McFarland

June 20, 2020

Ooohhh yeessss …. LOVED my workshop with last September with you, Brenda, & looking forward to your video workshop –
hurrah !!!

Peggy Bunstine
Peggy Bunstine

June 20, 2020

I’ve taken her class, have her cd, and both of her books. SOOO excited to see what’s coming up!!
Jan
Jan

June 20, 2020

Interested in the video workshop

JUDITH M PLUMMER
JUDITH M PLUMMER

June 20, 2020

Interested in video instruction.

Mary
Mary

June 20, 2020

I’m definitely interested in a Brenda Swenson video!!

Carols Brejcha
Carols Brejcha

June 20, 2020

Thanks to Brenda for ongoing inspiration!

Gina Marrale
Gina Marrale

June 20, 2020

Excited about Brenda’s video. Have both books and have taken 2 workshops from her!

Judy
Judy

June 20, 2020

Please sign me up for the video workshop

Carlene
Carlene

June 20, 2020

Enjoyed an in-person class with Brenda. Lots to learn! Would love a video class that I could pause, backup and play over & over!

Joanne
Joanne

June 20, 2020

I am also interested in the instructional video. It’s great that you are making one! I don’t think I’ll be traveling for quite awhile so it’s nice to be able to learn at home.

Patricia Piechocki
Patricia Piechocki

June 17, 2020

Looking forward to our new video

Diane
Diane

June 16, 2020

Travel Journal workshop was the best I have ever attended! I learned SO much. Sign me up for more!!

MARIA MARTA ACOSTA
MARIA MARTA ACOSTA

June 16, 2020

Me emociona y me contagia tu trabajo y tu estilo, tu amor por la pintura en acuarela

Cunthia
Cunthia

June 16, 2020

Would love the video

Axie
Axie

June 16, 2020

I love your painting style. Looking forward to anything you offer.

PUSHPA
PUSHPA

June 16, 2020

DEFINATELY INTERESTED

Jo Ann Miller
Jo Ann Miller

June 15, 2020

Love your work Brenda as I have loved your workshops I’ve been lucky enough to attend. This was a very interesting interview and I look forward to your new video and next year’s workshop.

Cynthia Sexton
Cynthia Sexton

June 15, 2020

I am definitely interested in a video(s).

Please also let me know when Brenda Swenson's video workshop is available. Thank you very much.
Please also let me know when Brenda Swenson's video workshop is available. Thank you very much.

July 30, 2020

Brenda has so much to teach, and I want to learn!

Lisa
Lisa

June 15, 2020

Great interview. I am interested in the video.

Lynn
Lynn

June 15, 2020

This was so interesting and exciting. I took a waterlcolor class years ago and didn’t follow up afterwards. I let a busy life get in the way and have regretted it so much. Watercolor is my favorite media and 80 years old I would love to try again.

Darci
Darci

June 14, 2020

I love Brenda’s art! Haven’t been able to attend any of her workshops, so would love to get her video workshop!

Hmlevitt
Hmlevitt

June 08, 2020

Loved our class at Daniel Smith

Teresa J Sharp
Teresa J Sharp

June 08, 2020

I’ve been greatly influenced by your work, thank you for generously sharing tips and advice.

Susie von Ammon
Susie von Ammon

June 08, 2020

I love Brenda’s work and have been following her for years! I’m looking forward to her next videos and workshops!

Janet Carnall
Janet Carnall

June 08, 2020

As a new watercolor artist, I’ve discovered Brenda’s artwork and am so inspired to learn from her. Looking forward to viewing her new video.

Pauline Crabb
Pauline Crabb

June 08, 2020

I always learn something from Brenda’s observations. Please sign me up.

Francesca
Francesca

June 08, 2020

I would love to know more about your video classes

Martha Stillwell
Martha Stillwell

June 08, 2020

I am interested in the video! Love your work!

Linda Mosier
Linda Mosier

June 08, 2020

Have admired your work for a while.

Claire
Claire

June 08, 2020

Interesting interview! I love her work. Interested in the video when available.

Susan
Susan

June 05, 2020

Looking forward to your videos when they are available. Thank you!

Bertha Moore
Bertha Moore

June 05, 2020

Would love to be notified of Brenda’s video.

 Pat Balassone
Pat Balassone

June 05, 2020

Interested in video instruction.

Leigh
Leigh

June 05, 2020

Love Brenda’s work- would love to see the video workshop.

Diane Morino
Diane Morino

June 05, 2020

I’d like to sign up for Brendas video workshops

Ellen
Ellen

June 05, 2020

Very happy to see that Brenda will be sharing a video workshop ! Looking very much forward to see it.

Patricia
Patricia

June 05, 2020

I’ve followed you for years and can’t wait to see your video.

Kathy N
Kathy N

June 05, 2020

As a past student of Brenda’s and a big fan, I look forward to more opportunities to learn from her!

Sumitra Poddar
Sumitra Poddar

June 05, 2020

I love your work and the play of light , would love to learn this vibrant watercolour technique from you .

Renee
Renee

June 05, 2020

Brenda generously shares her valuable insights. Can’t wait for her video!

ÜMRAN CARRELL
ÜMRAN CARRELL

June 05, 2020

I admire your art!

Rise Daniels
Rise Daniels

June 05, 2020

Great article! Very insightful! Would be interested in her videos.

manon
manon

June 05, 2020

very interested in learning!

Sharon Rogers
Sharon Rogers

June 05, 2020

Am very interested in Brenda’s video workshop.

Lyn Evans
Lyn Evans

June 05, 2020

I’d love to know more about Brenda Swanson’s workshop. The video would be a super opportunity to study her way of working.

Suzanne Lanzinger
Suzanne Lanzinger

June 05, 2020

I am captivated by Brenda’s work and can’t wait to see her video workshop.

Annie Hansen
Annie Hansen

June 05, 2020

Please let me know when Brenda Swenson video is out.

Cindy Peterson
Cindy Peterson

June 05, 2020

I so admire and respect Brenda Swenson’s art work and I would love to see video instructions on her techniques.

Sandra
Sandra

June 05, 2020

I have been wanting to take a Negative Shapes workshop with Brenda for a long time. Love her use of color and emphasis on transparent colors.

Jackie Kirby
Jackie Kirby

June 05, 2020

Yesssss! Definitely interested.

Cathy Barry
Cathy Barry

June 05, 2020

Huge fan of Brenda’s/ so interested in the video workshop ❤️❤️❤️

Sumitha Sundaram
Sumitha Sundaram

June 05, 2020

You and your paintings are a huge inspiration.. thanks big n God Bless..

Paul
Paul

June 05, 2020

Yes, please. I love her teaching and style.

Linda Daniels
Linda Daniels

June 05, 2020

Brenda is an amazing teacher…..I’d really like to take her video workshop.

Gail Chandler
Gail Chandler

June 05, 2020

Interested in hearing more about your video workshops

emma jo
emma jo

June 05, 2020

would be intertested in brenda sweinsn’s video workshop. please let me know the details.

Kate
Kate

June 05, 2020

I am looking forward to finding out about Brenda’s upcoming video workshop. Her work is beautiful!

Lorie Meyer
Lorie Meyer

June 05, 2020

Please let me know when Brenda’s workshop video is available.I have been following, learning and enjoying her work for sometime now.Thank you.

Carol Hofmann
Carol Hofmann

June 05, 2020

Am really excited to see your new vidieo.

Linda
Linda

June 05, 2020

Brenda’s interview is a real inspiration. Please let me know when the workshops are available

Sharon Regner
Sharon Regner

June 05, 2020

Oh, yes. Please!

Karla Salyer
Karla Salyer

June 05, 2020

Wonderful interview, cant wait to see video workshop.

Kay Kenyon
Kay Kenyon

June 05, 2020

missed your workshop in Tenn (?) last year…this will be nice.

Dee
Dee

June 05, 2020

Brenda’s work is beautiful.

Karen R
Karen R

June 05, 2020

Looking forward to these. You are a great teacher!

Dawn
Dawn

June 05, 2020

Please sign. Me up

diane
diane

June 05, 2020

love her work and teaching style! eager to see her latest video!

Nita
Nita

June 03, 2020

Looking forward to your video workshop, Brenda!

Fran Meigs
Fran Meigs

June 03, 2020

I love your work!

Gail Cooksey
Gail Cooksey

June 03, 2020

Yes want info on videos.

Carol Clark
Carol Clark

June 03, 2020

I love Brenda’s work and would be very interested in her video workshop.

Wendy Grimes
Wendy Grimes

June 03, 2020

I’m interested in learning, learning, and learning!

Susan
Susan

June 03, 2020

I am interested in the video workshops

Connie
Connie

June 03, 2020

I would definitely be interested in an online workshop with Brenda. Please let me know the details!

Von Mark
Von Mark

June 03, 2020

would be interested in Brenda’s video. Thank you

Anita
Anita

June 03, 2020

Please let me know when Brenda Swenson’s video workshop is available. Thanks.

VANDITA
VANDITA

June 02, 2020

I am a fan of Brenda’s work, will want to see her video workshop

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