Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guest Blogger: Rhonda Carpenter

Carol Carter (left) and Rhonda Carpenter (right)
 Hi Everyone,

Today I'm having my first guest blogger:))  The wonderfully talented R.H. Carpenter is going to give us her take on Carol Carter's workshop. Rhonda and I have been blogging buddies for a while and coincidentally ended up in the same workshop.  It's was so great to meet her in person.

R.H. (Rhonda) Carpenter is a watercolorist who picked up her brushes 9 years ago and has not stopped painting since.  She has had work accepted in juried shows at the Woman’s Art Club of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Art Club Viewpoint, the Fitton Art Center, and the Middletown (OH) Art Center.  She has also shown her work in member shows of the Greater Cincinnati Watercolor Society and the Woman’s Art Club of Cincinnati.  She is the Program Chairperson for the Greater Cincinnati Watercolor Society, and is currently working in a series of female figures and crows.  Crows often show up in Rhonda’s paintings.  Having these interesting and intelligent birds as totem animals teach her about transformation as an artist and a woman.

Rhonda shares my passion for watercolor and does beautiful, symbolic paintings.  To see her works check out her blog.

*Working with Carol Carter, watercolorist extraordinaire!*

Taking a 3-day watercolor workshop with St. Louis watercolor artist, Carol Carter, was like having a bright burst of summer colors on a grey winter day.  The workshop was hosted by the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts (Mount Vernon, IL), and the 90-acre grounds of the Center were an additional delight.

Carol’s style of painting in watercolors can only be described as colorful, and she freely shared the way she paints every day in her studio.  She began the first day with a demo of her very wet-in-wet style of painting.  She always prewets her paper, allowing the paint to flow into the wet paper.  This is beautiful to watch, if you love watercolor.

Carol stressed that her use of placing pure colors against pure colors are what gives her paintings a special zing. She also uses a limited palette, never using more than 6 pigments in one painting, tying the painting together with a unifying color which she spreads throughout the painting.  She gets real pop in her paintings from pairing pure complementary colors against each other (like Cadmium Orange against Cobalt Turquoise Light).  She also works from the background to the foreground, saving that Center of Interest/Focal Point for last - a sort of delayed gratification in your painting!  Why begin with the background?  Because, as Carol said, “There is no point in manipulating your subject and then trying to put it into an environment later.”
Carol's demo

After we did a small exercise of painting orbs and shaping them using just three colors, we began a real painting of very colorful pears.  Using just two colors (Quinacridone Burnt Orange and French Ultramarine Blue), Carol painted in the background, letting the two colors run together and blend naturally on the wet paper.  Wherever the QBO and the FUB ran together, a beautiful, soft grey was created.

While she painted, Carol talked about her process and how important it is to her to send a message with her paintings, not just paint a technically correct or pretty picture. Many of her paintings are autobiographical, relating to something happening in her life and her self-portraits are her favorite things to do.

What we took away from Day One was to remember that pure colors make the paintings glow.  We should keep them as pure as possible by working wet-into-wet and darkening the values by adding more of the same colors to mold the shape; then we should watch the paint application as it dries so you are there to correct anything happening that you don't want.  Carol’s style of painting is famous for color but it’s really all about technique and control:  when to know to control it and when to let the colors do their own thing.
Carol's demo
For Day Two, we used a more realistic palette of colors and painted florals, either following her magnolia painting demo or painting a floral of our own. 

Carol said imagery is so important and it’s best to paint what you love because your love will show through.  “If you don’t love to paint it, I won’t love to see it!” 

Although she used to be against using a resist of any kind, Carol now uses Incredible White Masking fluid occasionally.  Often she uses it to get a sparkling look in an abstracted background.  However, she thinks pure white paper for the sparkle is too distracting, so she tones the whites down before masking by painting them with pale Shadow Violet and then masking over that when it’s dry.  When the masking fluid is off, the touch of color still looks white but is better integrated into the rest of the painting.

Again, her basic technique is to prewet the paper.  Carol prewet the background after the “whites” were masked out.  Then she used Aureolin to paint graphic lines around the leaves and petals of the flower.  She likes the hard edged element this adds to a painting.  She then began dropping in color in the wet background areas, using a Quinacridone Burnt Orange as the base color over everything in the background except the Shadow Violet area (which was still masked off).  Next came Shadow Green in some areas and Winsor Newton Green (Yellow Shade) in areas.  She varied the shapes and values throughout the background and said you can “knit” areas together by lifting with a dry brush, then merging the colors if you get hard edges in the background that you don’t like.

In her painting of a magnolia, Carol shifted color from dark to light:  a dark background; hugging the boundaries to keep the eye in the painting; Shadow Green to darken places a lot; lighter leaves and petals of the flower.

After the background and foreground around the flower and leaves were done and dry, Carol began with the secondary leaves under the flower, leaving the focal point/center of interest last.  This time, she was working on smaller areas, so she prewet just the space she was working in, no more.  For the leaf shapes, Carol used Aureolin and Quinacridone Burnt Orange with some secondary stems in Quin Burnt Orange and some Lavender.

To have lighter leaves, Carol used Aureolin as the base color on some of the leaves and then added Lavender to shape the shadows and curves of the leaves.  For browner leaves, she used a Quin Burnt Orange base and Shadow Green to shape the shadows and curves.  This has to be a gentle transition.  Carol said you don’t want to let the dark shapes become “wormy looking” so soften and work while the area is still wet.

Carol said, “If you can’t give me a leaf, at least give me a beautiful watercolor shape.”

At the outer edges of the leaves, she cut in with Winsor Newton Green (YS), using lots of water so the shape stays wet and you can manipulate it before it dries but working with a smaller round brush that the round with which she started.

Carol used an acrylic square of deep red as a value checker.  She would hold it up to her eye, looking through it at her painting to check that she was getting good value changes throughout the painting.  This red square took all the color out of the painting, giving you just the values to judge.

Finally, Carol began painting the petals behind the main focal petal, again prewetting the area inside the petal.  Carol said to make sure to wash those greens out of your brushes!!  She is a stickler for clean water, clean brushes and clean, pure pigment, using 3 buckets of water and 3 different brushes when working with 3 colors in her painting.  Carol floated in very pale Quin Burnt Orange, leaving some white areas in the petal.  She then shaped the petal’s curves with Lavender.  Lavender is a very strong pigment, so she used a tiny round brush to work around the outer edge of the petal and to shape the curves inside.  Doing each petal, she finally came to the focal point/center of interest part of the painting.

We each did our own versions, working as Carol did, from background to foreground with a limited palette, trying to get that wet and loose and beautifully flowing look she gets in her paintings.
Carol's demo
On Day Three, we did what Carol calls her Glaze and Silhouette technique.  We each used our own photo for our painting while Carol painted two cows, showing us how it’s done.

First, she taped inside the main subject with masking tape; then used masking fluid to go around the edges, making sure all of the main subject was covered.  She then put masking fluid over the whole subject, covering the tape, too; she wanted to make sure it was completely covered so no lines bled through the masking tape. 

Once the masking fluid was dry, Carol prewet the background.  While the paper was still wet, she began a gradated wash in Cadmium Orange, starting in the center of the painting with pale color and moving up to the top of the painting with darker color, leaving the bottom of the paper without color.  She used a 2 inch wash brush to get the best, smoothest coverage. 

Next, Horizon Blue and Lavender was painted in under the cows to create nice shadow shapes.  She left some white areas showing so the Blue and Lavender did not bleed into each other.

With the paper dry and the masking tape and fluid removed, Carol began painting the first cow as a single subject.  She wet inside the cow except where she wanted to leave whites to help shape it; then she put in pale Quin Burnt Orange as the base color.  The QBO flows inside everywhere but the dry areas you left for the whites.  While wet, Carol added darker value at the top of the cow by painting in Mineral Violet at the top, gradating to Alizarin Crimson down the shanks and toward the legs. Finally, she painted in Cadmium Orange in the legs and did the hooves in a bright Cadmium Scarlet!  She wanted the cow to be cooler at the top and warmer at the bottom, in contrast with the background, which was warmer at the top and cooler at the bottom.  It made her cows look radioactive!!  But so much fun to play with this much intense color.

Finishing the workshop with crazy, radioactive cows was a fun way to end the time spent with Carol.  I think all of us went home with a better understanding and love for color; maybe we’ll even be more colorful and loose in our own paintings!

For more information about Carol Carter and to see her work, visit her blog at

For more information about me, R.H. Carpenter, and to see my work, visit my blog at

And thanks, Carrie, for asking me to be guest blogger today!


  1. It's facinating looking at all of those demo's. The light and colour is incredible!
    I'll be popping over to visit Rhonda's blog right now :0)

  2. Carrie, it was great to meet you in person and I'm still absorbing what we learned in Carol's workshop but those gorgeous color choices of her's will be good on these grey days! All the best with your art and your family.

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