Watercolors: Fresh Tracks

In oil paints, if you want to make something appear white,  you can apply white paint to the canvas any time you want.   The white pigment covers up anything underneath.  It can even be used to erase mistakes.  

In watercolors, you dont’ have this option.    Once the pigment is down on the paper, it’s down.  You can’t cover it up, and there’s no turning back.

If something needs to be white, you just don’t paint that area.  The white color you create on watercolor paintings is the white of the blank paper itself showing through. 

That’s what I find so interesting about painting winter scenes.   The trick is not so much knowing where to put the paint down…the key is knowing where NOT TO PAINT…

This is one of my favorite scenes of a cross-country ski trail in Quebec.






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24 Comments on “Watercolors: Fresh Tracks”

  1. Friar…I walked in those woods! Only I think you made a mistake on the location — I was in Switzerland (a little place called Leysin). Seriously, I love it! It makes me want to walk in, but not feel like I have to bother with the heavy jacket.

    Maybe I’ll come back and comment when I make more sense, but I hope you get my meaning.

    This is the second post I’ve read on your blog, the first being “Gitchie”. It made me poke around a bit and see what else is here. There’s no “About Friar” that I could find, but I found art. Color me impressed…you’re not just for giggles. I guess you’re “part of a good breakfast” after all.

  2. Steph Says:

    Oh my GOD. I didn’t know that about watercolours and white. WOW!! I mean, how did you DO that? All the depth and bumps and stuff that started out just flat paper. COOL.

    And Friar, I literally gasped when I saw this. I really felt transported here, along with a whoosh of memories of walking in places like this, the sound muffled if there’s any at all, everything hushed and beautiful. I love that thick snow…

    So well done.

  3. Steph Says:

    April: Yes!! Like in Narnia. Only wait, they did wear coats. But still.

    I was in Switzerland too, in Montreux. I never wanted to leave there but I had to. I could live there, I know it. Same kind of snow, too. I dislike winter but it was so beautiful there it was like something else – not winter – like another world altogether.

    Part of a good breakfast indeed. I haven’t eaten yet and now I don’t even need to. 🙂

  4. Kelly Says:


    Yes, the “not” painting. I know. Sometimes I try frantically scratching with an Xacto blade at the place I should have left the highlight but didn’t… usually not successful.

    This is gorgeous. Fabulously filled with “not” painting. It’s like a wintery cathedral. I especially love your blue-whites echoing the sky on the tree branches. Wow.

    So out of curiosity, do you ever sit around with an outdoor easel like folks used to in Victorian times and paint from life (picture: Friar in all-white suit with straw hat), or only later from photos? I was thinking of how cold it would be to sit in this scene (which I’m sure you didn’t unless you’re a nutty Friar), and it made me wonder whether you do paint from life in good weather.

    I love that you don’t take your tag line too seriously. Or yourself. I never know what I’ll find when I wander in here.



  5. Friar Says:

    @April @ Steph

    Yeah, I love the how the fluffy snow muffles the sounds in the vaulted catherdral of trees. It’s a calm and quiet you only get at that time of year, in the dead of winter. It’s almost haunting…

    Never been to Switzerland, though. (Narnia, either) 🙂

    I’ve ruined a fair number of paintings where I’ve over-done it, and even the Exacto Blade or masking fluid didnt’ help.

    I don’t know why I like watercolor so much, because I’m normally such an impatient Friar….this whole style of nit-picking unforgiving painting is so contrary to my personality).

    What I think is neat abouit this painting is that 50% of the sheet is blank.

    I’ve tried painting outside from Life. One entire summer, actually. I….asbsolutely….HATE…IT!

    People tell me how great it is to paint outside, but I don’t get it. I just dont’ get it.

    No electricity for the blow-dryer to dry your paint when you want. Changing light…uncomfortable sitting position….and not to mention the BUGS. (I have painting where I’ve smooshed the little bastards onto the sheet).

    Pretty much everything I’ve ever painted in “Pleine Aire” has been crap. I really do my best back at home, with a cup of coffee and a well-lit table, where I paint from my photos.

    Of course the Pleine-Aire Police would arrest me for this..but hey. Let them come and get me! 🙂

  6. Kelly Says:


    Nobody could arrest you for it, because they’d have to catch you first. In spite of what I was taught in art school, you can not always tell the difference between Pleine Aire and D’Une Photo. Several of your paintings have given me that image of Friar in white suit and straw hat, with rickety wooden easel and irritatingly tiny fold-up chair, and that’s on a computer screen! I’m sure they’re much more convincing in person.

    Until later,


  7. Friar Says:


    A white suit..and a straw hat. HAHAHAHAHAH!

    That is SOOOOO….NOT ME! 🙂

    Mabye instead, I should wear an artist smock and a beret. Just like Jughead does when he paints in Archie Comics.

    Actually, when I”m outdoors, I’m too busy fishing or hiking or just enjoying the nature. I hardly ever paint during the summer, in fact. Most of my paintings are done when the weather is cold and damp, and it’s nice to stay inside.

  8. Steph Says:

    The funny thing is, the medium doesn’t ever look at all as though it demands nit-pickiness and patience! Watercolours are always my fave. They seem so calm and fluid and soft. I guess it takes a lot to get them that way. I always imagined oil and thicker mediums to be frustrating and messy and so on. Gloopy and hard to work with. No? I haven’t the slightest idea.

    @Friar: what the hell do you mean you’ve never been to Narnia? You, my friend, are Deprived, with a capital D!

  9. Friar Says:


    Oils and watercolor or two different ways of painting. One is akin to smearing colored greasy butter on a canvas. The other is like putting down diluted watery ink on a sheet of paper. Both take different sets of skills…just becuase you’re good at one, dosen’t mean you’re good at the other.

    In my Humble Opinion, oils are more forgiving. If you screw up, you can let the paint dry, and then paint over your mistakes. You can keep donig this over and over….until you get it right and/or you get sick of your painting.

    You can’t do this in watercolors. It’s like watery ink….If you make a small mistake, you might quickly be able to dab it up with toilet paper, if you do this RIGHT AWAY.
    But if there’s a major mistake….you’re screwed. The pigment is on the paper for good.

    The secret is to apply the watercolor to the paper very lightly and keep adding, slowly, in several layers. But if you add that one layer too many, or your paper is partially dry, the pigments won’t spread properly…and like I said, you’re screwed.

    Can’t count how many paintings I’ve ruined (after many hours of work). (@#$%* watercolors…!)

    But after much practice, when you can get a sixth sense of how the water and pigment act on the sheet..and you can make the colors dance the way you want..it’s AWESOME!

  10. Ellen Wilson Says:

    Very nice. This looks like it was difficult. So what do you do with all of your paintings? Are they sitting in the basement? Or do you put them around your house?

    I haven’t painted anything in a long time.

    I can’t think of anything deep to say. And big brother is not watching me.

  11. Friar Says:

    I have lots of framed paintings around my house. And lots of gifts given to friends and family members. And I’ve sold a few, now and then.

    But there is only so much wall space and so much money to frame everything.

    So I still have a stack of 50-60 extra paintings, sitting in plastic boxes at home.

    When I’m dead, they’ll probably all be worth somethin’ 🙂

  12. Ellen Wilson Says:

    Keep collecting them and go on an art rampage.

    1st – Cut off your ear. I would say something else but that won’t get you anywhere.

    2nd – Go to a big city and sell them. Many art galleries in the city. I have seen stuff selling that is not nearly as good. People love this stuff. It’s classic. It’s good. I’m sorry. But I really can’t say anything else. A picture speaks a thousand words, eh?

  13. I’ve tried watercolors and acrylics, but I’ve never tried oils. When I went through my painting experiment, I was painting in my windowless bedroom and decided against the turpentine. I had the same problem with both acrylics and watercolors, though: mixing colors. I’d be cruising along fine and next thing I knew I’d just made mud on my paper — in the sky. I didn’t know about layering with the watercolors, then, but I’ll forgive Friar for not telling me about that 20 years ago. 🙂

    I saw a woman on TV painting with instant coffee. Tried that and felt pretty good about the results — then quit painting for 20-some years. I bought some brushes and a bottle of instant coffee last year, but haven’t actually put brush to paper yet. Someday it’s going to have to be someday.

    @Friar – I’m with Steph. You definitely need to venture into Narnia at least once in your lifetime.

    Artist’s smock over bib overalls accessorized with (green) beret and hiking boots?

  14. Friar Says:


    Well, I pissed off half the town with my letters to the editor. So I’m already half-way there, I got a reputation as an eccentric! 🙂


    I dabbled with oils but somehow I always come back to watercolor. Dunno why, I just do.

    Painting with Coffee? Well, I guess that’s possible. Same principle, actually.

    I must admit..I love the clean up. You put your brushes away, and you’re DONE.

  15. I didn’t pay enough attention to remember exactly what she had done, so I just poured out a few crystals and dabbed at them with a damp/wet brush depending on the saturation I was looking for. A drop or two of water on a coffee crystal makes a wash (or a little coffee puddle depending on your perspective).

    At the time I found shading and white space a LOT easier to deal with than color. I’m half anxious to try it again, and half afraid that I’ve waited too long.

  16. Friar Says:


    I admit…watercolors aren’t easy to master. But there are lots of tricks out there that no book will show you, that make things much easier.

    The key is finding the right teacher or friend who can show you these tricks, and demonstrate them to you live, in person.

    I was lucky to have found such a person, years ago, who took me from painting crap to sellling my stuff wihtin a year. But those people are few and far-between.

    Sometimes I envy the oil painters and keep saying one day, I’m going to seriously start studying that medium. I even took an evening course a few years ago. But then again, I always gravitate back towards watercolors.

    To thine own Friar, be true (or something like that). 🙂

  17. Watercolors are fluid like brooks and streams. Light is your partner there.
    Friar, some of us are wired light to dark which is how watercolor works. Oils are supposed to be worked dark to light and fat over lean. Different animal, as you say.
    I am working on a piece just now that I hope will integrate the two because I like that fluid quality so much. I love rich pigment don’t get me wrong and it is wonderful spreading that’ butter”
    ( gorgeous description btw) but watercolor…is just do very yummy.
    Lovely painting. I cannot tell which blues you have here,. It looks warm, cerulean…are there cooler ones too?

  18. Friar Says:


    This painting is a few years old. But if I remember correctly, I had used cerulean blue for the sky. Probalby cobalt blue and/or ultramarine, with some Paynes grey for the darker shades. I might have used some alizarin crimson to mix in some gentle purple shades.

    You’re right about oils being a different animal. I took a night class a few years ago, and arrogantly thought I would ace this..because I already knew how to paint.

    But smearing the greasy butter was totally different. Not as easy as I thought. It was a humbling experience.

    Took me this long to get to where I am with watercolors. I think I’ll stick to it (I dont’ have the time or patience to master a new medium!)

  19. I totally get that preference. I prefer them too. Big ones. I have a huge piece on hold at the moment that is 6 panels of 40″ x 60 ” watercolor paper. On hold. Stopped working on it. Works on paper are not first choice for most galleries. I fight that fact all the time. So I am working on bringing my oils up to snuff too. 🙂

    I thought the cooler blues were dappled in. It’s a lovely piece, more so because it pulls us in to that moment. That breath is what has to be there for me.

    Fishing lately? I had salmon last night grilled….yum, with some couscous and grilled paperes…yum again.

  20. Friar Says:


    My paintings are quite smaller. The largest I’ve done is a half-sheet.

    Some of my artwork had been hanging in the a local Medium City Gallery since April. Nobody bought anything yet. (Oh well).

    Fished last week. I got a big one in the River. I thought it was a pickerel (Walleye to you guys down south). It turned out to be a BIG UGLY CATFISH!! About 20 inches long.

    UGH! They totally gross me out (even though I know they’s good eatin’). I just grabbed the hook with my pliers and shook it off without touching it. (I know..I’m spoiled…why eat Catfish when I can go for pickerel?)

    Hoping to fish today (it’s opening day for Bass Season!). But it’s been pissing rain all day. But it’s clearing up. Mabye this evening.

    Tomorrow morning I hope to get up early and hunt the elusive Bucket Mouth!

    Reminds me…I have a fishing post that’s almost ready.

  21. (Grilled peppers. I meant to type grilled peppers )

    Most buying takes place in the fall for galleries, unless you have a director who works their client constantly. If you have a bundle of work up, you may be pleasantly surprised then.

    Ahh, fisherman, Call of the Wild Friar, you have a great blend of interests….:)

  22. Friar Says:


    Well, I figure worst thing that happens, is the paintings don’t sell. And I hang them up in my house.

    Actually, they framing job is so good, I’m almost reluctant to part with my artwork…so if nobody buys them, I wont’ be heart broken.

    Went fishing today ( Sunday). Carried my canoe on my head for a few hundred meters on the rail road tracks, and put into a lake I had by myself.

    Got one small bass. Let him go..too small to keep. Then I got a snag..and tried to free it..and PING…my rod broke.

    Fish: 1. Friar: Zero.

  23. And they are smug about that too in their little fishy villages….Probably kicking back with beers celebrating…

  24. seanmp1 Says:

    Stunning, Friar.

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