Carl Purcell Watercolor Class

I've been meaning to post about the 3-day watercolor class I took from artist, Carl Purcell. To sum it up, it was amazing.

I've been using watercolors in my illustrations for about 10 years now. I had a basic watercolor class in college but nothing since. The rest has been self-taught. It was wonderful to learn from such a talent artist AND teacher as Carl Purcell. Many artists can paint well, but few can teach well also.  I learned more in those 3 days of class than in the past 10 years and my college watercolor class combined. I wish I had more time to learn from him. Someday I hope to be able to take his 2 week course.

Some highlights from my notes...

  • Overstroke and watch it croak- be deliberate and smart with your strokes. Do it and leave it.
  • Create as few boundaries as possible in the initial stages (1 &2). Easy to add hard edges later. Hard to create soft ones
  • When Carl goes back to the pallet for more paint, he always adds another color. Let the colors co-mingle on the paper and never get the EXACT same color again.
  • There ARE patterns in nature but an INFINITE variety within those patterns. No two things are exactly alike in nature.
  • When painting trees- really look at the overall shape. Don't let the left brain take over and make it an oval or triangle. Paint the shape.
  • When painting branches- look for and paint the branches that do the unexpected, not the 45 degree upward branches
  • Little shapes of light and dark draw focus - larger shapes don't make you look so intently
  • to Draw means to Pull - pull your line
  • Interesting shapes have dominant directional thrust
  • Lost edges are important
  • Paint and sketch outside when you can

It was a fabulous course. I need to spend a week now and just practice everything over and over to really ingrain it in my head. Here are some pics and notes...
Carl Laying in a background wash. Learning how to do this is essential to watercolor...he's a master at it.

Once that is dry, you choose the focal point of your painting and put in your darkest darks. 

Then work out from there. Don't let anything outside the focal point get darker or have more contrast.

He's so good at keeping it loose. He calls this the stage where it's almost done. 

All he did from there was add a few light foreground elements, some more trees off to the side, a hint at the grasses, some detail on the barn roof and some branches (which looks easy but is really hard).

Carl is really good at taking the essence of something and redesigning it to be more beautiful. Here's the original photo.

Here's what he painted instead. Still recognizable as THIS barn, but so much better designed.
An exercise Carl had us do in class. Mine turned out very graphic in quality but  it was fun. We laid down a wash leaving some white spaces (he said ALWAYS leave more white spaces...those disappear quickly in watercolor). Then used a paper scrap and created the illusion of snow drifts.
some value studies of some of his photos he provided to practice from.
the result of my first landscape try. I brought a photo of Arch Rock in Valley of Fire, NV. I almost threw it out after the wash stage. It was so ugly. But Carl told me that's the UGLY STAGE and I should keep going. So I did. I was soooo pleased with the result.
I'm not as good at trees etc as rocks I think. Maybe I  am just "hard edged."  I don't know. But here's an attempt at a landscape with trees and water from a  photo I brought.


  1. I'm once again amazed by your artistic talent. You'd think it wouldn't surprise me anymore, but as someone with little to no artistic talent I'm always blown away by those who have great artistic talents. Great work!

  2. Your arch is beautiful Julie:) I have his books and it would be such a dream to take a class from him someday as well.

  3. That Barn that is pictured and compared to the painting is my Grandfathers barn. I grew up with Carl and Osral Allred bringing their summer students to the farm to paint. They dont come any better than Carl and Osral!


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I'm a freelance illustrator working in the children's book industry. I love kids and raising my own 4 children. They are the inspiration and the passion behind all I do in art and in life. See my website at

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