I do this all the time. I optimistically add new projects onto existing ones in close succession then flake out and disappear.  Weeks or months pass before I return to pick up the strands of the abandoned and frayed aspirations lying around everywhere.

This entire spring saw me completely immersed in my other creative pursuit, a 1-acre California native garden in a historic cemetery that I have managed off and on for 19 years. And I do all these different things in addition to my regular 40-hour working stiff job I have. Thankfully, my garden season is slowing down allowing me to get back to the business of painting.

I kickstarted my painting this past weekend with a 2-day workshop with one of our local Sacramento painters, David Lobenberg. Now, here’s a guy who hustles his art and makes a living with it. He teaches art regularly at the local junior college, conducts painting workshops throughout the U.S. to aspiring artists like me, and then paints his own work and gets published in national and international watercolor painting magazines. He’s someone I like to follow to keep my inspiration flowing.

Me, I’m still trying to find a rhythm and schedule that puts painting more on the front burner instead of just allowing it to hang out in the background to simmer and sputter out after a couple of months. The workshop reminded me (again) that my watercolor painting is not going to progress if I don’t commit to a regular schedule of painting and arting. If nothing else, the workshop pushed me to literally wipe the dust off my supplies and to get me moving a brush, pigment, and water around on paper again. The attempt was halting, the results mediocre, but the process was rewarding, if not frustrating.

So here we go – Day 1 was about refamiliarizing myself with watercolors, trying to incorporate what I’ve learned from David and other painters, and laying down the initial washes. Because my last two workshops have been plein air in the eastern Sierras and in Yosemite, I paint fast and with bigger brushes because I’m used to the paper drying out very quickly. I need to keep working on my brush technique, but the fast painting keeps me from overworking the piece and overthinking.

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Lake Tahoe Scene Day 1 – 1st washes of color

I’ve taken classes with David before and I like how he runs his shop. He keeps the classes taught in his Sacramento studio very small – about 8 students, so it’s very intimate. And they are 4 hours long each day. His style of teaching is to use a reference photo of a scene; Lake Tahoe in this case. David will enlarge it to a 15″ x 22″ line drawing that we trace to our watercolor paper.

For the actual painting, David breaks the scene down into segments: first he shows us how he’d paint sky. Then we go and paint sky. Then he shows us how he’d paint trees. Then we go paint trees. And so on for the water, boat, boulders, and small finishing details. And during the two days, he keeps up a lively patter that includes his approach to color mixing techniques, brushes and stroke movement he likes to use, and anecdotes from his years of painting and teaching. Everyone works with their unique style, questions are welcome, and the pace is very relaxed.

Day 2 was spent mostly working the boulders and surrounding water, and then trying to pull it all together. The other ladies (these workshops I take are almost always comprised of retired ladies – sometimes a couple of guys) complimented me on my boulders. I thought they looked really garish and flat, but I accepted the compliments while silently being so very disappointed in the painting.

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Lake Tahoe Scene Day 2. Glazes and detailing

After looking at it for a couple of days, I’m less disappointed in it. If I got motivated, I could add some additional glazes and more finishing touches to it, and I think it would look a lot better.

During the workshop, I had to get over the fact that I wasn’t doing “real” painting, you know, out there en plein air with a heavy, awkward easel and dry breezes drying out the paper as soon as the wet brush leaves the paper. It’s pretty ridiculous being snobby over using a reference photo of a Tahoe scene if I’m not even painting on a regular basis. Painting is painting. The workshop turned out to be a great experience, and it was just what I needed to feel creative again.

In a couple of weeks, I’m heading up to Lake Tahoe. I’ll scout out a scenic spot,  unload the heavy, awkward easel, staple up my big paper, open up my new plein air shade umbrella for the first time, and be ready for some real painting.

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