Notes from the Sausalito Art Festival, 2011

I haven’t been (as vendor or visitor) to a big ART festival for two years. I’ve stuck to small events close to home in order to avoid losing money through high show fees and travel expenses during the economic slowdown. This year, for the third time, I was part of the Sausalito Art festival in CA. Even in ultra–wealthy Marin County, things have slowed. People just don’t buy as much. All the art there is good. It is a very tightly juried show and the quality remains high. Some vendors do very well but I know there were a few who sold nothing. I did okay and had fun visiting friends and family and people watching. The music is always wonderful. Even though the artists’ amenities have diminished, they are still the best I experience.

A very interesting phenomena to me was that all the watercolorists roughly equivalent to me in style and subject matter, showed only large pieces: a few half sheets, mostly full sheet and bigger (true for originals and gicles). The paper is painted to the edge to show off the decal or torn edge. I felt liked I’d missed a memo. No one but me had any small originals, which was kind of nice, because I sold several. Also everything was “float mounted” so that it looks as if it’s magically laying unattached on the backing of the frame, even though the frame is vertical on the wall (this shows off those edges). Instead of a regular frame, this method demands a shallow box, most are at least an inch deep, to frame the art. The glass is that far above the painting. It looks fine, but what a pain. There is no chance to “crop“ the painting. Your original composition can’t be altered in size and/or shape by cutting the paper. When I was in college, photographers did something similar. When using large format cameras, like Ansel Adams used, they would print the entire exposure, showing the edges of the film. This supposedly proved that they had composed the picture in the field instead of in the darkroom, which was intended to convey expertise.

I want every tool in the bag available to me in order to make art, and being able to improve paintings by cropping isn’t something I would choose to give up. Also, those boxes used in floating are larger and more cumbersome than ordinary frames, which seems like a burden to both the exhibiting artist and the collector. I greatly admire the artists whom managed to get 10-15 of those monsters to the fair and hung without breaking glass, dislodging mounts or chipping and scratching finishes. I find keeping ordinary frames in good shape onerous.

Fashions in framing come and go. A few years ago, someone started using wide gold frames for all her work. These became wildly popular and are now known as “plein aire” frames. I just heard that even in backwater Bellingham WA, galleries now consider these frames passe. Funny, they still look nice.

I want my framing to be classic and elegant. I use many recycled frames. I square them up, reinforce and redecorate them with gold and silver leafing. They have a distinct and deliberate distressed look, so that one little blemish isn’t going to ruin them. It’s kind of like before fiberglass bumpers were the norm. Bumpers were made of hard rubber and you could actually tap or even bump them against things with no damage!! How cool is that? Bumpers were made to protect the car!! Frames can be used to protect art!!!

Any way, I’m hoping the whole floating watercolor thing doesn’t go on too long. If you like it, enjoy it while it lasts. Ideally, the art is more important than the frame.

Sausalito Art Festival, 2011

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One Less Woman Artist

For three years I was privileged to act as an “art companion” to my friend Dorothy. She was ninety-four years old when we met. We’d spend an hour or two together at her retirement home each week. I always sketched or painted and, on good days, she would sketch as well. We looked at art books and magazines and talked about paintings. We found inspiration in flowers and trinkets I brought to her, photo books of dogs and cats as well as from Shadow, the home’s resident cat who sometimes came around to see what we were up to. Dorothy was always happy to see me (whether or not she remembered me) and appreciative of whatever I did. “That’s really watercolor”, she would say. “That’s beautiful!” This spring Dorothy became very  tired and was ready to move on. She died at the age of ninety-eight.  A week or so before her death, she’d sketched horses with me and reached out to catch a pencil that rolled off the table before it hit the floor. Once, when she was too sleepy to do art with me, I told her she was in “dream-time”  like the Australian Aborigines talk about. “Is it nice? I asked her. “It’s wonderful,” she answered.


Selfishly, I will miss her bright spirit and kind words. Since my own mother died in 1990, there will be no women of that generation who think I’m so wonderful.

Dorothy was an excellent artist who showed talent early in life. Work she created when twelve years old already had a professional look. Her loving, supportive parents sent her to Cornish College of the Arts. After graduation she moved to San Francisco and obtained a commercial art job, but she found the production work unfulfilling and was not happy.

Her life path took an n important turn when, home for the holidays; she accepted a proposal of marriage. Family responsibilities dominated the rest of her life. Dorothy was fortunate because her husband’s concept of success included a smooth running home and a happy wife. As long as he was well fed and the house and children cared for, her time was her own. So, Dorothy continued to make art. She tried sculpture, painted in many styles and illustrated two children’s books, one of which was published: The Big Lonely Dog, written by Leonore Harris and published by Houghton Miifflin Co. in 1943.

Dorothy’s time was busy caring for a home, animals, including horses, a cabin, her son and other children and a husband who she sometimes helped with business. The crisis of aging and ill parents forced her to neglect her art for several years, but after her parents’ deaths her art flowered again. She studied sumi-e with a Japanese instructor. The fellowship and discipline of that class helped her be productive. Dorothy became very accomplished in the art and her sumi-e paintings were exhibited in Japan. She created art all her life. Dorothy couldn’t not make art. She was an artist.

Dorothy's horse

Dorothy was a modest and self-effacing person, both by nature and upbringing. She never marketed her paintings seriously and only a few were ever sold. She might have been uncomfortable under the pressures of publicity or fame. Her art was personal. Most of her paintings reflect her personality: quiet, undemanding, beautiful and easy to live with. Her art also reveal her keen observation of animals and plants. The joy she found in nature lights up her artwork. Her compositions are graceful and active. The color work is subtle and lovely. Quiet Dorothy had a dry and intelligent sense of humor, which sometimes is delightful when reflected in her painting.

Most of Dorothy’s oeuvre will remain treasured within in her family circle. The few pieces given away or sold are also likely to be passed down as heirlooms. One would be lucky to find a painting of hers that strays into the wide world.

At an exhibit of women impressionists at the San Francisco art museum last summer, I pondered the difficulty of women’s lives as artists. These were women born one or two generations before Dorothy. Among them, Eva Gonzales died at the age of thirty-four. After showing paintings in three Impressionist exhibitions, Marie Bracquemond gave up her career due to her husband Felix’s (also an artist) disapproval, Mary Cassatt never married and managed to have a successful career Her subject was domestic life: mostly common household activities, mothers and children. Independent and clever as Mary was, she could not follow her friend Degas to the cafés, the theater or the ballet without a chaperon.

Even today it is difficult for a woman to have a full family life and a career as an artist. We joke of the need for a wife to take up the slack. Success usually means travel. Traveling moms are hard on families. The more she surrenders to the passion for art, the less energy there is to give to the family. Homemaking can easily be a full time job. What time and energy is left over?  Women artists learn to be consummate balancers of the demands placed upon them: but usually the side of the scale we remove from to restore balance is the side containing our personal dreams and ambition.

What if the balance had been tipped for Dorothy? What if she never married? What if she had made a living by her art or had been part of an active circle of working artists? The story would be different, of course.  Better? Who could judge?  The artist’s life experience is integral to her output. We are blessed to have the beauty that Dorothy left for us.

There is an interesting website related to the movie Who Does She Think She is? at It’s a refreshing place to visit if you’ve ever wondered why it is still so hard to be a woman with a family life and an artist.

Juggling as fast as I can,


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Felix and Oscar Paint Watercolors

My exhortationFor watercolorists to use lots of paint and water touched a sore spot with some artists
who are on the “Felix” side of the great continuum between slob and neatnik. The messiest part of being
a watercolor artist is the wet palette, and those who are neat and clean by nature don’t enjoy me pushing them to make it worse. We laugh at Neil Simon’s classic characters of Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple because we recognize ourselves in them. It’s not so funny being criticized for our own habits.

I admit to being towards the slob end of the curve. I have no trouble sleeping with dirty dishes in the sink. Weeks go by when I cannot see the surface of certain tables, so deep are they in clutter. Why? Who knows? I find the cleanup tasks repetitive and time consuming. There are always things that seem more important and more fun to do.

Paint is a problem for us natural slobs. After receiving my first set of oil paints, I watched in fascination as the thalo blue spread from my palette to stain most of the house. It was like that pink stuff in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. It never diminished, but seemed to increase as it spread from paintbrush to chair to my father’s white shirt. Tragically, there was no “Voom” to be had. I still suffer with this syndrome. Recently the palate I keep in my car slopped red paint, cadmium I think, onto the floor and my grocery bags. I took the bags into the market, brushing hair out from eyes and scratching my nose as I did so. Then, I wondered why people recoiled from me in horror, until I saw my hands looking bloody as if I’d been punching out windows. Concerned for my personal dignity, I washed up with those little, white sanitizing towels they have in by the meat cooler.

Wet palettes are messy, but they are worth the hassle. I have a few suggestions to minimize the damage. If  possible, stash a palette each place you regularly paint to reduce the possibility of travel accidents: at your friend’s house who hosts your painting group, in your classroom and at the art center where you do figure studies. When you do move a wet palette, take care of it first thing as you begin to clean up. Soak up water and thin paint from each well with the corner of a paper towel, then use it to wipe out your mixing areas. Set the palette to dry in the warmest, sunniest spot you can find as you take care of the rest of you painting gear. If you are traveling by car, make a separate trip if need be, so that you can carry the palette flat with no risk of dropping it. In you car, place it flat on the floor. It helps to find a box or tray you can set you palette(s) in so that they will slide around less. If you have to stash you palette in your bag, wrap it in the plastic sack you always carry in you painting kit. Place it as flat as possible in the bottom of your bag and hope for the best. Painting can be a messy business.

I have wonderful, talented students who are extremely neat. Learning often involves leaving our comfort zone. For some this may mean throwing the paint around and getting dirty. For some, it means learning careful craftsmanship and not leaping into your work unprepared.

This painting is a watercolor, 9″x6″, titled Fair Afternoon. Artists have the summer art fair season on their minds as they make applications. My classes have been working on figure drawing and fairs are a favorite place to sketch people watch.The panting is for sale at a recession friendly price of $100.00. Please contact Mary Gregg Byrne for purchase and further information.

Remember, watercolor washes out a lot better than oil paint does.





Fair Afternoon 9x6

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Coming from Abundance

I’ve decided to revamp my blog for 2009. Instead of posting a different painting every week, I’m going to write about watercolor painting with information for all: whether you are a “wannabe” or an experienced artist who is experimenting with the media. During ten years of teaching watercolor workshops and weekly classes, I have found many common roadblocks that I will help people over. I plan to post twice a month and will continue to feature paintings for your pleasure and, hopefully, my financial gain.

Often I have the pleasure of improving an artist’s watercolor paintings simply by encouraging them to use more paint. If you your watercolors are very pale, “high key” and delicate, when that’s not the effect you want, this simple step may benefit you.

The solution is MORE PAINT. No, I’m not being sarcastic. Give yourself enough paint and get it juicy. A miserly palette, like this, will not yield strong saturated color:

My suggestion, if you are putting out tube colors, is a glob of paint at least the size of a penny of and a teaspoon or more water on top of it. If you are using cake colors, they must be wet and gooey, not dry. The water needs to saturate the cake to make a puddle of paint the consistency of honey (but not so sticky).

This palette is ready to paint with:

You must continue to add water to the paint as you work. I walk around the class room with a squirt bottle and refill the wells of struggling artists’ palettes with water.

Much of successful watercolor technique is the balance of water and paint on you brush and your paper. Having enough workable paint is more important than what brand of paint or kind of palette you use.
Sparkle8.5x12 copy

This is a watercolor titled Sparkle, 12" x 8.5",  painted from a well loaded and hydrated palatte. It is for sale for $150.00. Contact Mary Gregg Byrne  for purchase and further information.

 Think, “abundance”. You deserve plenty of juicy paint!



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Another Year!

Week  53    Dec. 29 – 31

"What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing: you wouldn't be an artist if you didn't want to share an experience, a thought. "
    David Hockney

I am actually writing this post in mid-February of 2009, as it will show on line. I had a hard time finishing all the entries for last year's "Painting-a-Week." The sticking point isn't making or finding the paintings, it's figuring out what to say and getting them, posted in a timely manor.  I'm proud to have done it for two years and I am ready for a change.

So the last painting for 2008 is, Cherry Basket. It is a watercolor 25" x 17" . I bough the porcelain basket in Florence Italy. The cherries are Rainiers from our back yard tree. It is snowing lightly now, and I look forward to seeing the cherry trees blossom and bear fruit again. II need the stime to plan how to foil the starlings and crows and keep all the cherries for oursleves this year.  The painting is for sale for $800.00. Please contact
Mary Gregg Byrne for purchase and further information.

Please kepp visiting to see what changes and improvemnets I come up with. I wish everyone the best year of your life, so far.

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Holiday Cheer

Week 52        Dec. 22 – 29

"Don't curse the darkness – light a candle."
    Chinese proverb

Because I have stayed in the same town for many years and always have a Christmas tree, all my family's old Christmas tree ornaments are at my house. Every year a few of them fall to victim to pets, toddlers or unstable tree stands, but we are always adding a few more. I like an old fashioned tree with an eclectic collection of old, new and handmade decorations. They are also fun to paint pictures of.

This week's painting is a watercolor with gold leaf and mixed media. The title is Joy to the World. It is 6.25" x 8.4" and for sale, for a limited time, for $100.00. Please contact Mary Gregg Byrne  for purchase and further information.

May your holidays be filled with friends, family, peace and joy.


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Snow More

Week  51       Dec. 15 – 21

"God, I've frozen my ass off painting snow scenes!"
     Andrew Wyeth

This week we had snow. Lots of snow. My town is hilly and snow is rare enough to make it an event and, after a while, a problem. Not being as hardy as Mr. Wyeth, I prefer painting snowscapes through the window.

 I was inspired to paint the island view again. This this week's painting is Island View 5. It is a watercolor, 11" x 4", and is for sale for $100.00. Please contact Mary Gregg Byrne  for purchase and further information.

Stay warm,


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Week 50     December 8-14

"I hate flowers – I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move."

"Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven't time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time."        
                  Georgia O'Keeffe

Stargazer lilies are difficult to hate. (I think Georgia was in a bad mood when she said that.) These florist favorites last a longtime in the vase, smell good and are lovely.  I've heard they are called "Stargazers" because of the blossoms' upright, sky gazing position. In this week's painting, a watercolor, their spectacular pink colors are contrasted against the cool, blue-green background.

The bottle came from France. It is a wine bottle shaped like a hand holding a bottle. Pretty cool, eh?  I always have my eye out for interesting bottles. Liquor store clerks find me odd. I choose booze by the bottle shape.

This painting is titled Stargazers. It is  7.5" x 29" and is for sale for $700.00. Please contact
Mary Gregg Byrne  for purchase and further information.
A:Star Gazers-Watercolor-7

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Into the Winter

Week 49    December 1 -7

"Let me
Keep my mind on what matters
Which is my work,
Which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished… "
         Mary Oliver

This week's painting is another snowscape, appropriate to the season. It is a watercolor with mixed media titled, Winter Wonderland. The dimensions are 12" x 4.5". The price is $100.00. Please contact me,
Mary Gregg Byrne, for purchase and further information.

For me "mixed media" usually means opaque white (for which I use liquid watercolor paper), colored pencils and black ink. I rarely get through a snowscape without changing my mind about how much white I want, thus the liquid paper. Traditionally, transparent watercolor uses no white: no opaque pigments at all. I try to remember to qualify my materials list when I do use it. The painting also uses spraying and salt  techniques to create abstract textures, most visible in the background and around the dark green
fir trees.

It is an almost a fantasy of beautiful winter landscape. I am considering making a Christmas card with it.

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August in Winter

Week 48    November 24 – 30

"I have no interest in the dark and gloomy. To me, the delight of watercolor is in capturing the light within the white paper by surrounding it with successive washes of transparent color."
     Jean Grastorf

As winter envelops the world, I am  happy to remember how beautiful nasturtiums are. This week's painting is one of several nasturtium watercolors from last summer. I like this one because the flowers have a sort of glow, made by painting the first layer of color on damp paper so that it radiates beyond the actual blossom. The painting title
is Summer Heat. It is  8" x  9.5". SOLD

Perhaps this painting could help keep some one you love warm.


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Looking West Again

Week 47     Nov. 17 -  23

"Color is a power which directly influences the soul."

    Wassily Kandinsky

This week's painting continues the Islands series. it is a watercolor 11" x 4.5". What enticed me to paint the view again was the light shining between the islands as the sun set. I tried to capture the scene with simple shapes and clean washes. This painting is for sale for $100.00. Please contact Mary Gregg Byrne for purchase and further information.

I hope your light is shining beautifully.


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Snow Scenes

Week 46     Nov. 10 – 16

"Interest in the changing seasons is a much happier state of mind than being hopelessly                               in love with spring."

    George Santayana

Each November we paint snow scenes in my watercolor classes. It is a favorite subject for holiday cards and gives me the opportunity to demonstrate many techniques in combination. I began painting the subject because of student request, but over time I have come to love these scenes. the challenge is to enliven them without loosing the essential quietness people treasure in the winter landscape. I especially like to include water, because it gives me a chance to play with reflections.

This weeks 's painting is called  Winter Water. It is watercolor with mixed media sized 6" x 9". It is for sale for $100.00. Please contact Mary Gregg Byrne for purchase and more info.

I turn up the heat during these classes. People actually become cold looking at snowscapes.


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Endless View

Week 45     Nov. 3 – 9

"There are no lines in nature, only areas of color, one against another."
        Edouard Manet

The view from my window west continues to be wonderful and ever changing.  Admittedly, there are many days when it is mostly gray, but I wish I had whatever it takes to paint it every day they islands show themselves. This week's painting is the first I did when I thought about a series, so it is Islands 1. The size is 10" x 3" and it is for sale at the bargain price of $60.00. Please contact Mary Gregg Byrne for purchase and further info.

Hmmmm, what a nice little painting for a gift. (Hint)


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Green Tomatoes

Week 44     Oct. 27 -  Nov. 2

"What I wish to show when I paint is the way I see things with my eyes and in my heart."
     Raoul Dufy

We have a short growing season and, as one might expect, a lot of green tomatoes. I like to paint pictures of them because they are unexpected. I like them made into relish but have never tried them fried. painted This week's watercolor is intended to show how pretty they are. It is titled Unfried Green Tomato, and is 10" x 7.75". It is for sale for $100.00. Please contact  Mary Gregg Byrne for purchase or further information.


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Week 43   Oct. 20 – 26

"To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist."  Gail Sheehy

Certain subjects are challenging for many painters: human beings and reflective or transparent surfaces come to mind immediately. Folds of fabric are another. My watercolor students have been working with folds of fabric, by their request, and it's been interesting for me to see how challenging they have found exercise .

The sticking points seem to be:
    Recognizing and depicting the characteristic folds of different fabric
    Accurately analyzing values and reproducing them,
    Deciding when to use hard and soft edges (especially important for watercolorists) .

A good teaching device might be to draw the subject
first, using a mid toned paper and with a white and black pencil or
crayon. This would be a way to emphasize the importance of values, without the challenge of handling the watercolor. I am still learning to teach.

This week's painting started as a demonstration of painting fabric folds. The colors and mood of the piece have appealed to many people, so I decided to post it here. It is a watercolor  8 " x 11"  titled, "Waiting". It is for sale for $100.00. Please contact Mary Gregg Byrne for purchase and further information.

I hope your  challenges enrich your life.



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