Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Greetings

To all my friends in the arts, both near and far: may this holiday season and the new year bring you health, happiness and new creative directions. May your brushes stay wet and all of your efforts be positive.

Best Wishes - Tom
ps. Rudolph stopped by and says, "Hi"!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


As a student, I was told never to crop. Reason given: a strong artist knows how to design and cropping is a sign of weakness. It reduces the value of the painting. I choose to blow off this expert advice and crop whenever it will make a better painting.
What's "cropping"? It's the process of cutting down a painting's dimensions by reducing the horizontal or vertical sides or both. I've even converted a vertical painting into a horizontal and found more than one successful small painting in an unresolved large one.
I've had a fair amount of success cropping. The photos show how I use mat corners to find potential crops. I often find new takes on a successful painting that I wouldn't crop, but would start a new painting based on this technique.
As far as a reduction in value, I just don't believe it. Your job as an artist is to produce the best image possible. If the cropped version looks stronger, go for it!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Carlin Kielcheski, a Force for the Arts

I want to honor a friend who has been a true supportor of the arts. Recently, I received an invitation to attend a show of artwork by Lt. Col. Carlin Kielcheski (ret.) at the United States Air Force Academy. I've known Carlin for many years and have admired him as an artist who paints strong, well-designed watercolors. However, it's his devotion to integrating the arts into a military education that makes him outstanding. While many believed that there was no room in the service academies for art classes, Kielcheski debated this issue with senators and generals, keeping the program alive. He has been a positive influence among many academy graduates including a Medal of Honor recipient, an all-American football player, some very accomplished artists and many who have a great love and regard for the arts because of him. I salute Carlin for his achievements and service.
For those of you who have access to the USAFA, his show is at the Permanent Professors Art Gallery on the 3rd floor of the Fairchild Building and runs from November 1st to December 8th, 2009.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Glazing with Brights

A short video that highlights the process of glazing using bright watercolors. I glaze over a muddy area on a student's watercolor to bring it to life.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fall Newsletter Now Online

Since the last post was about painting rich darks, I've devoted the Fall Newsletter to the importance of value studies and six basic plots that have worked for me. Read more at:

Snow's coming!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Creating Rich Darks

In transparent watercolor, being able to paint rich, luminous darks can be very rewarding and very frustrating. The frustration almost always happens when artists fail to create a fluid, saturated mixture. They select a color that's dark by nature, like Prussian Blue, water it down and layer it over mid-tones. Because it lacks intensity it fades to a dirty gray.
The trick is to make a large puddle of pigment (any dark color will do) on your palette and keep adding pigment until the puddle becomes very dark and intense, but still remains fluid. If I would compare this puddle to something that we all know, it should have the consistency somewhere between whole milk and cream: maybe half & half?
Float this color with a soft brush over the desired area. Avoid scrubbing or working it into the underlying colors. This makes mud. You can create color variation by dropping some equally dark colors into the area while it's wet (sometimes called "charging").
It works for me. Remember: fluid darks, soft brush and float the colors.
Let me know if you have any other ideas that you'd like to share. I'd be glad to hear from you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Good News

" Socked In" the watercolor from my last post received the 1st place award in the Rocky Mountain National Water media Exhibition hosted by the Foothills Art Center in Golden Colorado. I thank all who posted positive comments,as they reinforce what we are all seeking,personal growth in our art.
Regarding ,questions on the atomiser. I use a cheap one I bought for $3.95,but alignment is the secret. The tubes must meet at 90% and touch or it will not work. Also you must blow with a strong and steady breath. The color,coastal fog, is an American Journey Product. I use a variety of brands and keep trying new colors. Some are added to my palette others I reject. However,shame on the government taking away the manganese blue that granulated so well! What did they think,we were using it like ketchup

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Seeking Atmosphere in art

As a teenager, I can remember sitting in English class on rainy days looking off towards the dark spruce woods on South Mountain and watching the mist drift over the land obscuring some trees and revealing parts of others, to suddenly be awoken from my daydreaming by my teacher, "Owen! Your attention on the blackboard!". Fog, mist and rain have always fascinated me and even then I thought it would be great to be an artist and be able to portray these effects.
Watercolor possesses the ability to create atmosphere unlike other medias. We can start with an wet-in-wet approach and concentrate on soft edges putting in transparent silhouettes of objects and gradually adding color and darker tones as we advance to the foreground.
Another approach is to layer transparent washes of gouache over the entire painting laying down a veil of fog. The painting above, "Socked In", was done in this way with two opaque colors, Chinese White and Coastal Fog. Using an atomizer, I sprayed this mixture over the entire paper, allowed it to dry and then came back and selectively added accents and brighter colors.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Structuring the Whites

Thomas Owen talks about the value of starting watercolors with an underpainting, a practice that he refers to as "structuring the whites".

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An email from a friend

A friend of mine from Georgia sent me this email and I'd like to share it with other artists. This was written in response to a question from a friend of his, "when will I be considered an artist and not a student?"

"When we stop being students, we will no longer be artists." Keep that fervor you have and combine it with the skills you are acquiring painting by painting, class by class... you will be an artist when you know that you know. (I think you are an artist now, but you are the one who determines when you have earned the title.)

I am reminded of Stuart Cink who won the British Open yesterday . He was a three time All-American golfer in college at Georgia Tech. While on the PGA tour, he trains with a strength coach, a psychological coach, a swing coach, a putting coach, and is buoyed by an understanding, supportive family . He is on top of his game, yet he takes lessons from someone practically every day . The people from whom he takes lessons will never win a golf tournament, yet Cink keeps on studying with them because they can minimize the mistakes and time it takes him to the achieve greatness to which he aspires. Yesterday, Cink was an artist at the top of his golf game yet he will be back on the practice tee tomorrow, taking lessons. There is another golf tournament somewhere again this week. Will Cink win it?
We will know Sunday afternoon. If he doesn't win, somebody else shot better scores. When you are at the top, there is only one direction to go.

The moral: never stop learning, never stop being a student of your craft or there are 100 people who will begin to take your place.

Paint, paint,


Thanks Gary for a great email!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Intuitive vs Logical Design

Over the years, my creative process has been engaged in a contant struggle. At times it's more of an all-out war between laying out/planning my work versus trusting my instincts. Plan, plan and plan some more and work comes out looking stiff and contrived. Grab a brush and go for it and end up with something unresolved. Yet out of the struggle, some very strong paintings arise. They seem to be born of a marriage of both approaches and I can never predict their birth.
A very logical painter I know called me a gambler, always rolling dice. Another artist told me to get that broomstick out of my a** and loosen up. The question remains: what is the best way to paint? From my experience, the best way requires hard work and developing an attitude that no painting is precious. You have to be willing to risk failure.
With regard to hard work, constant and on-going exploration of the elements and principles of design allow me to approach each painting with a good plan. With regard to failure, my best work may not happen on the first attempt, so I paint in series. I learn from my previous paintings.
Artists walk a fine line and the words of Johannes Itten express this well, "Doctrines and theories are best for our weaker moments. In moments of strength, problems are solved intuitively, as if of themselves". "As a tortoise draws its limbs into its shell at need, so the artist reserves his scientific principles when working intuitively. But would it be better for the tortoise to have no legs?"

Friday, June 19, 2009

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit MOMA in Queens and view the Picasso-Matisse exhibition. It was a thrilling experience to see such a range of work by two of the greatest artists of the 20th century.
However, I recently visited the Arvada Center for the Arts to see a Joseph Raffael exhibit of his large watercolors. Most of the works were close to 60x90 inches in size and had such a presence that I sat on a bench in the middle of the gallery for a long time surrounded by the paintings. Raffael's work is so powerful, especially considering the subjects, that I didn't want to leave. I didn't know that floral still lifes and intimate nature scenes could evoke such strong emotions from an old guy like me. The show was highlighted in the Artists Magazine and seeing small images in the magazine made me realize that this would be a strong exhibition. But seeing the paintings in person made me understand how watercolor can reach a level on par with the MOMA exhibit. For more by this artist go to: This show will be traveling to other parts of the country and I'd recommend it highly.

My recent work is on more mundane like the painting shown below of an old garage with an interesting collection of signs.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thomas J. Owen Newsletter

My newsletter on photographing artwork is now on line at -- click on newsletter.
My next post will be on the Joseph Raffael show, now in Fort Collins, CO. A must see if you can do it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Springtime in the Sangres

Returned last night from the workshop -- the area around Westcliffe in the Wet Mountain Valley is picturesque and holds some surprises.
For someone who grew up in Lancaster county, Pa, I didn't expect to see an Amish community in a high Colorado mountain valley. Friday afternoon, I saw a group of young men playing softball in their traditional attire (black pants, white shirts, suspenders and hats) while a group of young women in long black skirts and white prayer bonnets filled the bleachers. (Sorry, no photos out of respect.) You could hear them speaking "Dutch" as we used to say growing up (it's really a form of German).
The Valley is a relatively isolated area that's irrigated and grows some of the best grass hay on the east slope of the Rockies. I guess that's what has attracted the Amish to this valley. The families still ride into town in their horse-drawn buggies, but the team arrived in a bus with a non-Amish driver.
The Sangre de Christo Range starts at the Arkansas River and extends south into New Mexico as far as Sante Fe. The area west of the Valley contains the highest percentage of peaks over 14,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. This time of year, they still hold a fair amount of their snow and the jeep roads up to the high lakes are often blocked by snow drifts eight feet high. Had to fish at DeWeese Reservoir instead, a few miles northeast of Westcliffe, where I caught a nice rainbow on a "gold-ribbed hare's ear".
Teaching the workshop was fun: the students were highly motivated and kept me busy answering their questions. They were interested in design and composition more than technique. The workshop was held in a turn-of-the-century stone schoolhouse that doubles as a museum ( Here are some of the students working on simplifying complex subjects while developing a strong focal point.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Juror's Observations

I've just completed juroring Watermedia XVI, a biennial exhibition sponsored by the Pike Peak Watercolor Society. After selecting 80 paintings from a field of over 380 works, I'd like to make some observations on the process.

Artists entering the exhibition ranged from Dolphin Fellows of the American Watercolor Society to newcomers to watermedia. Most states and six foreign countries were represented. In order to be more inclusive, I selected no more than one painting from an artist (artists could enter up to three works and several artists entered three strong works). Submissions were via slide or digital image.

My method of selection was to evaluate each painting on four criteria:

1. Technique
2. Design
3. Content
4. Originality

Design and originality were the main qualifiers. Most entries had sound technique and something to say. Original thought was at a premium, but some good examples were entered. Design was strong on at least half of the entries, so it was a matter of being demanding on many of the borderline paintings. As Ed Whitney used to say, "In watercolor a placement differential of 1/4" can promote or demote". (He was extremely picky, in my opinion.)
One major concern was the large number of poorly photographed paintings. Artists can help themselves immensely by putting more energy into photographing their work. I've judged several shows where the quality of the image was crucial to being accepted into the exhibition. So, if you're serious about getting work selected, make the effort. A good entry should be in sharp focus, have the correct tone (not too dark or too light) and show only the image (no mat, frame or background). Digital entries should be set at the appropriate resolution as required by the exhibition prospectus. If it says, "No larger than 1200 pixels on the longest side", then pay attention to that requirement. Photography problems like keystoneing and angled or skewed images must be avoided. Appropriate lighting is important for displaying the colors correctly in your painting. Failure to pay attention to these things makes the evaluation of your work difficult. Hence, a judge is more likely to pass on it. Remember that you're competing with other artists who are serious about getting into shows and are doing an excellent job of photographing their work. To learn more about photographing watercolors, check my Summer 2009 newsletter at my website: It will be posted in mid-June.

This coming weekend, I'll be in Westcliffe, CO at the foot of the Sangres de Christo Range (the highest and longest range in the Rocky Mountains) for a landscape painting workshop titled"Springtime in the Sangres".
ps. the photo has nothing to do with the show, I just like my irises!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Working from Photo References

Photos can be a great time saver in the developing realistic paintings. However,they can present many problems:too much information,key stoning,black shadows,false colors,distortion of scale,and compositional problems. I can often tell when an artist is a slave to the photograph. One or more of the preceding problems will be evident, and the painter will say,"but this is how it looked".
One should think of the photo reference as a springboard to a painting that will eclipse it. Some solutions I use are: One shoot images with a 90 MM lens for scale.Take more than one shot with varied F stops for value variation. Simplify information (trace subject on parchment,next trace the tracing.Repeat until you have the essence).Check all vertical and horizontal lines against the edges of you paper to catch key stoning .Move or introduce objects to the best positions in the compositions. Finaly express yourself with unique colors,textures,edges,tones.etc.
One method I like is to paint an abstract under painting. Finish the work with complementary colors of the under painting. The marina painting above is an example.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reef Fossils,Combined media on paper mounted on canvas

Combined media on paper,mounted on canvas.
These are really fun! I use this method for many abstracts paintings,also. First, mono print a mix of acrylic modeling paste and gel medium on Fabriano 140 lb rough artistico to create bone like textures. Continue painting wet in wet over the paper with acrylics,watercolor, and India inks to revel forms. Opaque colors are used to paint around fossil forms. Lastly emphasize bone textures by sanding the high spots. Mount on gallery wrapped canvas using acrylic gel medium as a glue. Spray with a fixative,then varnish. Let your imagination go,be inventive. My college students love this way of working. They come up great variations on this theme.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A tale of two shows.

A tale of two shows. Yesterday I visited the Colorado Watercolor Society's statewide exhibition and the Colorado Open . Both are excellent ,however ,they express very different views on art. The Open is true museum show with content and original thought leading the way. It is edgy and thought provoking . The artists are making statements,and this is good. Art should seek to be a visual communication. The CWS is more comfortable.Design,color,and technique lead the way. I could live with most the works in this exhibition. The key word is Quality, and both have this in abundance. I invite commentary on the value of each school of thought.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Front Range Red

" Front Range Red" is an abstraction inspired by the free standing red rock
formations that run north to south along the front range of the Colorado Rockies. They are known by names like : Garden of the Gods, Perry Park, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Red Rocks Park, Red Canyon, and Roxborough Park. When the Rocky Mountains up -lifted the sandstone of an ancient coast line was broken and flipped on its side,erosion did the rest.
You can view the steps in the three images. Watercolor impasto on wet paper, red ochre gesso overlays with lifts and scrapes,and a finish with white gesso and watercolor mixed.
" Sukey "from Washington State e-mailed and said she was painting
tulips blooming in the rain and wondered how I liked spring with a
parka. Guess what it's snowing again and tomorrow is humming bird
day. I think they'll stay in the valley.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I promised some images of abstract watercolors,but nature has a way of upstaging us . This is how my deck looked this afternoon . Would you believe it is April 18. This is the what happens when you live at altitude { 7,800 '}, nine days until the humming birds arrive. Every year they show up on April 28. I hope these weekend snow storms are finished by then. However, I have seen them as late as Memorial Day.
Back to abstract watercolors. I start with a method I call watercolor impasto. First I spray a sheet of Fabriano Artistco rough with water . Next I'll drag a loaded palette knife across the paper. By loaded, have 3 or 4 colors straight from the tubes on the blade, and I spread them like butter on toast. The water will do the rest. After this drys I cover what don't like with a mix gesso and watercolor. Also, I'll scrape back some of the gesso to reveal underlying colors. With an eye on the elements and principals of design I'll continue in this way until I am happy with the results. So goes the arts endeavours for the last few days. My college students get a shot this next.Images are coming .

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Been a busy week finishing up taxes -- April 15th has come. Now it's time to focus on art again (instead of the art business). Wanted to share some photos from the Kanuga Art Workshop and some of my new friends in the arts. Photos include Tom Fong and Donna Zagota; Robbie Laird addressing the group; myself, Kathy Salminen, and Miles Batt; Don Getz, John Salminen, Judy Morris, Mike Bailey and Tom Fong standing next to Lynn McLean.
I'm currently working on some abstract paintings in preparation for the Watermedia class that I teach at Pikes Peak Community College. We'll be combining transparent watercolor with acrylics. Photos to come.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hi friends and watercolor followers. "The buck Stops Here" has been completed. This 22"x 30" was started as a workshop demo on creating weathered wood. Most of the wood was completed in the demo. 1st masking fluid was applied over the buck skulls. 2Nd waterproof ink was added to the shadows and the sky.3rd the side of the cabin was wet and thick ultramarine blue,copper kettle,and cobalt Violette were drug down over the wood siding using a scrape of mat board. 4Th the shadows were defined with transparent glazes of blue ,green,and sienna. Next a wash cerulean was glazed over the sky and allowed to run down. The foreground was darkened to push the lights and lead the eye into the painting. final details were added . This is based on real place ,along some Colorado back road,one more stop in the artistic journey. Tom

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring Snow #2

Hi friends, this is the back door to my studio. Only a week ago the day Lillis were sending up shoots of green now they are waiting under blanket of white. Still working on the "Buck stops here" . The concept remains, but I am seeking more drama. Darker tones are pushing the light antlers and skulls . I'm seeking a statement . I'll let the viewer determine what it might be. Art should leave room for the imagination . Just as I roll scenarios around in my head,so should the viewer. Soon the bucks will no longer be a product of the world. So joy to the fish in the deep blue sea and the bucks up a tree. Thinking
of large paintings of steam engines in cool lights and warm darks. I think I'll do a series . Big acrylics coming at you 60x60 or larger. Call it rust belt memoirs. TJ Owen

Saturday, March 28, 2009

From the Smoky Mt rain to the Rocky Mt snow

Hi friends and fellow watercolor artists. I just returned from the rainy Smokies to the white of a spring blizzard here in the Rockies. I was conducting a workshop ( at the Kanuga camp and conference center near Asheville NC with instructors Batt, Cadillac, Conover, Fong , Getz, McLain, Morris, Reyner, Rothermel, Salminen, and Zagotta. Other notables giving short programs and having studios where Carrie Brown, Linda Baker, and M.E." Mike " Bailey. A great bunch of artists, and not a single curmudgeon. I've known all of them for their art; now I know them as the interesting folks they are. Robbie Laird and Will Rasmussen run a great Workshop! Now it's back to the studio with a renewed sense of purpose thanks to these new friends and the fine students I had the privilege of instructing. I'll post my painting (started in the workshop) "the Buck Stops Here" as soon as I complete it.