Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Easel Envy

I’ve broken several portable easels during plein air painting the last few years.  I’m searching for the perfect set up for watercolor painting outdoors.  I have “Soltek” envy right now…..this easel looks perfect to me, except for the $500.00 price tag, especially after reading about the problems painters are having with the telescoping legs of this expensive piece of equipment.  But the sleekness of body, the resilience against wind and the lightweight quality of this easel is more than attractive to me.

Easels are personal and I’ve yet to find a favorite. I start out sane and organized but by the end of a day, I have paper towel rolls blowing away and paint brushes lost on the ground and my kneaded erasers are gone with the wind.   I lose equipment and drop pieces wherever I go.  I’d like to find an answer to the easel conundrum and find something that helps me stay organized. I'd like an easel with a shelf for my supplies that's portable.

Here’s a thought.  I read this interesting article about making a watercolor plein air easel to match my style:

I also like the en plein air pro at
 It looks easy to set up and lightweight and I especially like the shelf for supplies and  the way the palette has an opening for the water.  That just looks practical to me. Price is under $300.00.

So, “Easel Envy:”  I’m searching and would love to have input on the perfect watercolor plein air easel.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Catherine Hillis: My Name Belongs To Me

"My Perspective" Watercolor by Catherine Hillis

I've been teaching quite a while now and I've never felt the need to create boundaries for students until now.  Recently, I've had a student begin teaching classes in my neighborhood, using my name as one of her credentials.  And, I've had a former student (who is now teaching art to adults) post one of her recent paintings on Facebook, using my name (I guess they call that tagging) and crediting me for teaching her the "technique."  This painting is not one that I want to be associated with, my friends.

Oy vey.

What to do.

There's not much in life that really belongs to me.  My name, however, is mine and after these many decades of working so hard to become a relatively proficient painter, and building a good business in art ( try building an art business, my friends:  it's hard) , I want my name used to advertise....ME.

My kids don't belong to me; my body doesn't do what I want it to - so I guess it doesn't  belong to me; most people's houses belong to a mortgage company; but, my name is far!

So, please don't use my name without my permission:  I don't want it used as one of your credentials AND  I don't want it used for something I may not want to be associated with.

Artists, your credentials are those things that YOU have accomplished and not those things someone else has accomplished.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Plein Air Painter


       How I love painting on site.

A Little Cabin, Merrie Woods
There's nothing like capturing that moment in time.

People walk by and inform the painter of information....the wind blows and and the weather sets the tone for atmosphere....birds and animals create peripheral all works to make a great painting.

These little cabins were painted at Camp Merrie Woods, near Cashiers, NC.  It was a wonderful location and the campers all added their editorials.  They were delightful.  Please check out my website at for more information about my future plein air painting competitions.  And, come on by and see me!

Cabin at Camp Merrie Woods

Friday, August 1, 2014

Artists, Grow a Thick Skin

August 1, 2014

Mt. Ida, Watercolor, Ellicott City, MD

This summer has been full of plein air painting in contests for me.

I apply for plein air competitions across the country – some of which I am invited to and some which I am not.  It’s both costly and time consuming – I must mark time off of my calendar while I wait to hear from these organizations.  I cannot schedule classes or workshops during these times and, time is money to a working artist.

I also compete regularly in national watermedia competitions.  The paintings that I select to compete are held off the market for months and sometimes years while I’m waiting to hear whether the pieces are selected.  The fees are outrageous and the shipping and handling costs for paintings which get into these contests are getting higher all the time.  One can always hope for an award to cover costs...which happens sometimes.

If you’re an artist and you want to work as a professional, one of the first requirements is a very thick skin. One must also have a sense of adventure, along with patience, tenacity and tremendous desire to succeed, but a thick skin keeps one sane.  Talent is, of course, an unstated prerequisite here.  And always remember:  there are many, many talented artists in this world of ours. 

Judging is a subjective process and if your painting is a good one, believe in it and believe in yourself.  While one judge may not select me to compete in a plein air contest, the next one may select me and present me with an award.  If I don’t try, how will I know whether I’m ready for competition?  And, if I don’t try and permit myself a few failures, how will I improve?  The professional must place herself right in the midst of competition and into the market in order to grow and succeed.  Placing oneself in the middle of the “heat” is the only way to learn.

But, grow a thick skin and don’t seek applause from your fellow artists.   Validation must come from within.  You must know passionately that you are doing what you're created to do.

Captain's Hat, Watercolor, Cashiers, NC


Sunday, May 18, 2014


Cupid in Light  Hillwood Estate  Wash  DC

Why Learn From Experience?

There are all kinds of art teachers: some are hobbyists, some are full time teachers whose focus is on teaching, and not on producing. And then, there are active artists who give to their students some of their experience and hard earned knowledge. All have something to share. I belong to the latter category; I paint daily. I sell my work through galleries; I compete in national and plein air competitions and I teach classes.
What this means for you, the student, is not only do you receive instruction in basic techniques and materials, but also I'm able to provide input on the latest trends and what's happening in galleries, the plein air world, and in the international watermedia world today.
Nothing pleases me more than when a student reaches the level where she (or he) is able to begin painting the way they always hoped they could. I consider the ability to teach to be a gift, and this is a gift I try to make time for.
My process is helped by many years of teaching and decades of experience working as a professional. My credentials include over 40 awards throughout the years, along with signature memberships earned from the Virginia Watercolor Society, Baltimore Watercolor Society, Missouri Watercolor Society, Western Colorado Watercolor Society, Pennsylvania Watercolor Society, the Southern Watercolor Society and Potomac Valley Watercolor Society.
Adding to my credentials, during 2014 I've had paintings accepted in the Georgia National Watercolor Exhibition ( award), the Rockies West National Exhibit, the Mississippi National Exhibit (award), the 5th Annual Signature American Watercolor Exhibit in Fallbrook, CA, the Virginia Watercolor Annual Exhibition and the Missouri National Watercolor Exhibition.
I'll be featured in the new Artistic Touch 6 collection of watercolor paintings and that book should be out in a few weeks. I hope to have a few books available for purchase. Among publications I've been featured in are: SPLASH 12, SPLASH 14, Artistic Touch 5, The Washington Post, Plein Air Magazine (twice so far), Elan' (four times), and American Artist Magazine.
I'm honored and grateful to be able to present to you the best material and critiques that I can offer.


This June, I'll be teaching a "short course" at the Cooley Gallery on King Street in Leesburg, VA, June 2, 9, 16, 23, 2014 on Mondays from 1 pm until 4 pm. Register online. We'll be focusing on the fruits of summer: and those juicy green landscapes. Expect to receive a lot of personal attention in this class.
Iris Sun Play small
If you seek classes this fall, try the Cooley Gallery for a six week class on Monday, 1 pm until 4, September 15 - October 20, 2014.
Hydrangeas and blue jar max
SATURDAYS at ArtSpace in Herndon, VA. I'm offering another "Short Course" of four weeks of watercolor painting on July 26, August 2, 9 and 16, from 1:30 until 4:30 pm. We may fit some plein air into this course.
Fall classes at ArtSpace in Herndon, VA . My new 8 week course of classes will begin on Saturday, September 27, 2014. Two classes each Saturday will be offered: the morning class is 10 am until 12:30 pm and the afternoon class is 1:30 until 4:30 pm. This longer session ends on November 22, 2014.

N' Shows

Fish of the Day
Have you been on the Western Loudoun Artists Studio Tour? This year, the tour features over 60 (yes, that's a lot) artists sharing their talent, their studios, their homes - with you..... You'll have access to wonderful art centers, little galleries and studios that are hidden jewels among the hills, mountains and fields of historic and beautiful western Loudoun County, VA. The tour is Saturday and Sunday, June 21 and 22, 2014.

N' Stuff

Maine 8 pm Late August s
MAY I ASK YOU TO BE AN AMBASSADOR of our mutual medium: watercolor paint? Collectors and students are still confused about the durability of watercolor paints. Plein Air events only select 2-3 watercolor painters because of questions about the lightfastness of our work. Galleries dislike carrying watercolors, partly for this reason. I want to educate consumers about how quality and durability have evolved with time. Watercolor paints during the 19th century were known as "fugitive," but in the 21st century, reputable companies test paints for permanence. Here's a definition from Wikipedia: Watercolors, Paint Lightfastness. "Lightfastness is the ability of a pigment to retain its original color appearance under exposure to light. This is usually indicated as a numerical rating, from I (high lightfastness) to III or IV (low lightfastness), on the paint tube or in the paint technical information available from the manufacturer. Lightfastness is a crucial issue with watercolors, because the paint pigment is not surrounded by a protective dried binder (as in oil or acrylic paints) but is left exposed on the surface of the paper. In the 19th century, watercolors acquired a market reputation for relative impermanence that continues to suppress their price today, and painters who admire this medium will make choices to improve its market status: in fact, lightfast watercolor paints on archival papers are more durable than any oil painting on canvas. The most stable painting medium is pastel, but modern lightfast watercolors are now more stable than oil or acrylic mediums. Unfortunately, paint manufacturer lightfastness ratings are not always trustworthy. However, because they have been demonstrated to be impermanent in watercolors, certain pigments (paints) should never be used under any circumstances. These include: aureolin (PY40), alizarin crimson (PR83), genuine rose madder (NR9), genuine carmine (NR4), genuine vermilion (PR106), most naphthol reds and oranges, all dyes (including most "liquid watercolors" and marker pens), and paints premixed with a white pigment, including paints marketed under the names naples yellow, emerald green or antwerp blue. Most of these are colorants invented in the 19th century or before that have been superseded by far more durable modern alternatives, and these are usually sold as "hue" paints (e.g., "alizarin crimson hue" is a modern pigment that resembles alizarin crimson). Industry labeling practice is to include a lightfastness rating on the paint packaging, and painters should only use paints that have a lightfastness rating of I or II under the testing standards published the American Society of Testing and Materials (now ASTM International)."
Happy painting, watercolor ambassadors! I'm planning to take a few workshops myself during the next few months so that I can keep bringing you more material. And, if you're on the road in my area, here's where you can find me. I always welcome questions from onlookers at my plein air events:
May 27 - 31, 2014
Mountain Maryland Plein Air 2014
Thirty selected artists from across the
country will paint in and around Cumberland,Maryland.
July 13 - 19, 2014
Arts on the Green
Cashiers, NC
25 selected professional plein air artists from around the
country paint in the Village Green Park in the NC mountains.
October 9 - November 1, 2014
Black Rock Arts Center
A group exhibit of the Washington Society of Landscape Painters.
September 18 - 21, 2014
Piedmont Plein Aire Paint Out
30 selected plein air artists paint the High Point, NC area.
June - September, 2014
American Painting Fine Art
A Group Exhibit by the
Washington Society of Landscape Painters Exhibit
Catherine Hillis, VWS, BWS, MoWS, WCWS, PWS, SW, PVW.