past meetings

May 4, 2018

Watercolorist Diane Stavrum, our visiting artist for the May meeting, now hails from Petaluma.  Diane’s subjects include a very broad spectrum, including landscapes, still life, portraits and figures, and animals.  No matter the subject, her paintings display a lively energy and sense of composition.  She has had a varied career, including art teacher, professional artist, and most recently chaplain, having obtained a master of divinity degree. Diane enjoys painting plein air as well as in the studio.  


Diane is currently working in acrylic on a portrait of her nephew. She contrasted acrylic to watercolor painting processes. For acrylics, the artist under paints or blocks in large shapes with dark  values and builds with layers to lighter values and highlights. With watercolors it's almost the opposite process, the artist preserves the white of the paper and with thin washes starts with light values and builds to dark values.   


Diane explained preparing the watercolor paper by soaking in warm water for 3 minutes, then staple or tape to board and allow to drip dry flat. This procedure gets rid of the sizing and stretches the paper so it doesn't buckle when applying the watercolor paints. A watercolor block pad is another option, good for plein air painting.


Diane first starts her painting with a light line drawing. She pre-plans her point of interest - off center, high contrast, and avoiding tangent lines. She also suggests using a mixture of hard and blended, soft edges for effect and to use textures in the middle or foreground. The point of interest can stay the focus when some of the background is left undeveloped. Diane says a good way to double check your painting's composition and flow is to turn it upside down, use a mirror or reducing lens. Diane demonstrated this with a watercolor she did of the Carriage Museum that won an award in a Louisiana National Show. 

The draftsmanship of her paintings is fundamental as it forms the basis. Diane once painted forty pieces featuring horses for the legendary Nut Tree. She often paints the negative space around the object to suggest it. Diane cautions using staining transparent watercolor hues including Winsors and Thalos. These pigments absorb deeply into the paper and are hard to lift.

Diane recommends mixing warm colors together or cool colors together. This lessens the intensity of the color without getting a muddy result.

Diane showed how a study evolved from a photo. First a line drawing changing certain elements to improve composition and flow. Next adding a layer of cobalt blue. After letting this layer dry completely more thin washes were added to build color and shadows. High contrast between lights and darks was used to allow the central figure to pop off the page. Diane's final tip was how she used an old steak knife holder to protect her watercolor brushes out it the field.


More information on Diane's website

Diane Stavrum and helper, Doodles

Diane showing evolution of watercolor study

Watercolor brushes for plein air painting

Diane Stavrum's website
Click here