Good Artist, Bad Teacher – Art Lessons Gone Wrong

I was in our county library the other day looking through the beginner watercolor books to have reference examples for a student to take home over the weekend after our art lesson. As I leafed through many books I found myself getting agitated.

In my mind, books marked “for the complete beginner” and “basics of watercolor” should actually present techniques, exercises and projects for the true beginner. But that is not what was presented in many of the “beginner” books.

After the first few pages about materials, a few techniques were discussed, and then lovely, detailed, and advanced paintings were displayed. These are paintings that I would attempt at this point in my painting career. If I gave this assignment to beginning students in their art lessons, they would throw their hands up in frustration and possibly give up on watercolor and painting all together.Vail Aspen poppy floral

Setting someone up to fail is mean and defeats the purpose of teaching new artists to love painting. My only guess as to why these artists chose to showcase elaborate paintings is that they are very good artists who have forgotten how overwhelming it can be as a beginner in watercolor painting. Or perhaps they are just enamored with their own paintings.

I am all for motivating people to stretch and reach with their skills to improve, but first people need to have a few skills and tools in their toolbox. Would you take a child learning to count and immediately start lessons in fractions before learning addition and subtraction?

Thankfully I found a few books that really showcase techniques that are the foundation of watercolor painting, and provide exercises that increase in difficulty and complexity to allow the student to build on their newly acquired skillset. This is how we learn in my classes.

Just like when we went to school, it is helpful to have visual references after a lesson to reinforce the teachings, and to reference when a student forgets something, which many of us do after an introduction to something new.

So when I give lessons, I try to build on newly learned skills and techniques, keep it interesting for the student with various subjects and paintings, but not overwhelm them to the point of frustration.

Painting is something that is to be enjoyed, not endured.

If you wish to have recommendations of a few good basic books, or are interested in lessons, please let me know and I will be happy to help you!

Maybe I should write a book…

Happy Painting!


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Art and Emotions

cat with butterfly multi 831Art is supposed to evoke emotions in people. It may bring back memories, give a feeling of joy, peace, sadness, creates wishes, so much more.  I believe that art is born from emotions as well.

Two weeks ago, I lost my precious kitty Scooter. We had 16 wonderful years together. He was my furry best friend. There was nowhere in the house that I could be alone except my painting studio. I retreated there immediately and started painting to block out and ease the pain. kitten ball multi 831

The first thing I painted was a series of contemporary kitty pictures. Just silhouettes in multi-color, so that they could be anyone’s cat or kitten. Somehow they comforted me. I see Scooter in every pose.

After I brought home Scooter’s ashes, I placed them in my studio where he can watch me paint. Then I started just painting and created several new paintings of various subjects. TCapeletti_3_Seasons_GrandCanyouSummerWaterfallhe studio is still my hiding place.

These paintings are coming from an emotional place, even if they are not all “cat” pictures. Perhaps I am expressing myself in paint instead of just crying. purple kingfisher resized_edited-1


Scooter will always be there with me watching me paint and keeping me company. I will use the joy of our 16 years together to continue to produce my art and keep his memory alive. He was a gift from God and he continues to be a gift to me.


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Watercolor Paintings That Bore The Pants Off People!

When I first began painting, I started in oils. They seemed bright and vivid to me. Watercolors, on the other hand, seemed washed out, insipid and boring. All pastel, no contrast.

Then I discovered GOOD watercolor paintings! Colors jumped off the page and really grabbed my interest. Lights and darks in high contrast lit up the paintings.

So I decided to try watercolors and discovered how NOT to make a boring painting!

First, of course, the composition has to be interesting. No houses centered in the middle of the paper. No trees bisecting the page. No perfect symmetry. We use a tic-tac-toe approach to composition. Place your center of interest in one of the four places where the lines intersect. That is your Center of Interest.

It is also where your lightest lights or darkest darks will be painted.

value sketch fall in central park barb capeletti

Value Sketch “Fall in Central Park” by Barb Capeletti

Draw out a sketch of the painting, and shade with pencil using at least 4 degrees of lights and darks (white paper counts as one light). This is a Value Sketch. If you don’t have four shades going from a 0% shading to at least 80% shading, you don’t have enough contrast and your painting will be boring. Here is one that I did for my painting “Fall in Central Park”.

Squint at your sketch and see if the darks “jump” out at you. If so, you are ready to go! If you are drawing outside, take a piece of red acetate with you. Hold it up and look through it at the subject. This takes the color out and allows you to see the lights and darks better. You can also do a small painting in one color (value painting) to make sure you have enough lights and darks. If not, rearrange your composition to have lights and darks complement each other.

Use more paint than water for the darks and to maintain the lovely bright colors from your palette. Just remember to leave some white paper!

Your job as an artist is to entertain and you do that with beautiful lights and juicy darks! Give it a try and you will love the results!

"Fall in Central Park" by Barb Capeletti

“Fall in Central Park” by Barb Capeletti

I have to thank Joe Miller of Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff and Tom Jones for lessons on value studies, contrast and composition. I would not be here without what you have taught me!

Happy Painting!

Barb Capeletti

Hyper Smash

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Art Fraud in Reverse – You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!


Van Gogh authentic fake painting

Van Gogh Sunset at Montmajour

This week the art world was rocked by the discovery of an authentic Van Gogh painting. Originally declared a fake, hidden away in shame in an attic for decades, tested again and declared a fake, it finally emerges, thanks to modern science, as an authentic work of the master Vincent Van Gogh. Art fraud in reverse!

The story usually goes the other way. Hailed as a masterpiece, a work of art is unmasked as a clever forgery, much to the embarrassment of the art world, museum curators and experts alike. My favorite such tale is the story of Han Van Meegeren, a forger of monumental proportions.

His story is something out of a Hollywood screenwriter’s guild. It covers the national stage and includes famous and infamous world figures. As I read the book, I had to keep reminding myself that it was a true story, it really was fantastic.

I love a good murder mystery but this type of romp was fascinating. Getting these fake Vermeer paintings past experts and into the hands of world-renowned collectors and museums was a bit of genius. While I am appalled at the crime, I have to admire the sheer ingenuity of the forger. And he psychologically played upon the greed and the arrogance of certain key individuals in this drama to make it work. Seemed to be a team effort!

So if you have some time and want an entertaining story with a true history attached, pick up a copy of “The Forger’s Spell” by Edward Dolnick. I have to thank Joe Miller of Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff for introducing me to this entirely entertaining tale.

Happy Painting!

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The Virgin Artist – Watercolor Art Supplies for Beginners

All artists have had “firsts”. Every first-time art class or workshop starts with a materials list from the instructor. Every art book begins with a chapter on “materials” and the artist usually offers his or her own favorite palette colors.

Of course, our inclination is to purchase everything on the list, and sometimes lots more. It all looks so inviting at the art store!

After years of classes and many week-long workshops with various artists, I have learned to peruse the list for something unusual (rice paper, perhaps). Then I stick to my own supplies and favorite colors, paper and brushes. Most of the other items are just artist preference if you are taking a straight-forward class, and not something entirely new to you like collage.

So what should a newbie watercolor artist purchase? I would suggest this basic list of watercolor art supplies, that will get the new artist painting along in about anyone’s workshop. You can always add something the instructor is demonstrating to your tool box later.

1)   Palette – I use a large plastic palette with 30 wells and 2 center areas for mixing. Way more than you will need, but get one with approximately 20 wells so that you have room to add colors that you discover as you learn to paint. A ceramic palette is lovely and does not stain but it is also heavy and not ideal for traveling back and forth to class.watercolor paint palette barb capeletti

2)   Paint colors. I would say that starting with 12 basic colors will get you quite far in your painting endeavors. Here’s my recommended color list:
 – Brown Madder
 – Burnt Umber
 – Raw Sienna
 – Hooker’s Green Deep
 – Azo Yellow
 – Gamboge
 – Perm Red Deep (or a good solid primary red)
 – Quinacridone Rose (or Alizarin Crimson)
 – Ultramarine Deep
 – Cobalt Blue
 – Prussian Blue
 – Indigo
Different manufacturers use different names but many are the same. Shop around. You don’t need lots of greens, oranges, purples to start. You can mix many of the colors that you need. This basic palette will give you room to experiment and expand as you want to add other colors like Quinacridone Gold (one of my favorites!) or a lovely Turquoise or Cerulean Blue for interesting skies. Paint is quite expensive so look for sales. Many of my colors are from two brands – Rembrandt, and American Journey (a proprietary brand from Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff). You want tube sizes of approx. 14 or 15 ml. The rest are too small to fill the paint wells. You do not need white – I use white only for mistakes! Black is not a necessary color either – you can mix lovely darks with the colors listed above.

3)   Paper. My first purchase was a small pad of what was supposed to be 140-lb watercolor paper. That is a standard weight that many artists use. But I soon purchased a much higher quality watercolor block by Arches (it was on sale) and it was an “AHA Moment”! The original paper was really much lighter, had poor texture and the paint did not flow and adhere as nicely as with the better paper. So don’t go too cheap with the paper – you will not learn the really paint unless you use good paper. I would suggest a block of Arches 140-lb cold press (9″ x 12″” is a good size to start). Or a pack of 10 full-size sheets of 140-lb cold press (good texture, not too rough) paper, which cuts into four 1/4-sheets for standard painting size. I use full sheets of Kilimanjaro from Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, but also look into Fabriano as well. If you have just a little bit of paper, you will not experiment and paint. So purchase a good pack and paint away!arches watercolor paper barb capeletti painting

4)   Brushes can make or break your painting too. I have a large selection of all sorts – synthetic, 50%/50% synthetic and natural, and 100% natural hair bristles. Each serves a purpose and creates different strokes. a good synthetic 1 1/2″ brush is perfect for initial washes of color or water. You will want a 1″, 1/2″ and maybe 1/4″ flat brush, and a #4 and 8 round. If you can find a good deal on 50/50 brushes I would say go that way. I use various brands, but one of my favorite sets is from an artist Tom Jones. He sells a lovely set of 50/50 brushes through Jerry’s Artarama for a great price, and it is a perfect set to start with. Some of the brushes also have a chisel point end so you can scrape tree branches and lines. You will use this set for many years, as I have and still do. I also have the Joe Miller Signature Series 100% Natural Brushes from Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff in NC. Each brush holds water and paint differently, each has a special cut, some have a great point for fine lines, some are great for large washes. You will have fun finding your favorites.

5)   Extras – Just a few more things that you will need to complete your tool kit.
 – Any plastic container will do for water – old Tupperware containers are great.
 – You will need a roll of paper towels, and a box of facial tissues (do NOT buy the kind with lotion in them! Basic grocery store brands are fine).
 – Large Spray bottle that “sprays”, not shoots a stream (check home improvement store or dollar store). 
 – Sketchbook. Can’t plan out your painting without one!
 – Paint Tube Wringer: this is a great investment! Paint is very expensive so you want to wring the last drop out of the tube (like toothpaste…). Just insert the tail of the tube and wind it toward the front slowly.
 – Masking fluid – this is rather optional but many instructors will demonstrate this in a workshop. Choose “Temporary” masking fluid, or Drawing Gum. Masque Pen makes one too. Buy a cheap brush to apply the masking fluid or it will ruin any good brush!
– White eraser. You can draw with any pencil but purchase a small white eraser – don’t use what’s on the pencil or you will mark your watercolor paper. 

watercolor painting lesson demo studio barb capeletti

There are so many fun things that you can buy! (as you can see from the photo of my studio, I have had a great time with my art supplies!) But hold off until you see which way your painting style is going. It also gives your friends and family ideas and gifts to give you as you progress!

If you have questions about supplies, I am happy to discuss them with you. I would love to see how you start and how you progress! Contact me anytime!

Happy Painting!




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Painting Lesson of Koi and Goldfish, by Lian Zhen

I have always loved Chinese style painting and one of the masters is artist Lian Quan Zhan. He has a talent for blending East and West styles and the results are beautiful.

Lian Zhen is offering this watercolor painting lesson to help you paint a colorful water scene bustling with koi and goldfish, and the intricacies and beauty of delicate lily pads. Learn how to make a good composition and then give it a try yourself with Lian’s friendly art instruction! Preview Watercolor with Lian Quan Zhen: Koi & Goldfish now. In this preview follow watercolor techniques for mingling vibrant color and negative painting. Learn how to make a subject come to life right on your page. Visit for access to the full-length version of this video.

I was happy to have taken a 3-day workshop with Lian Zhen for my painting lesson because I learned so many techniques that I use today. Looking forward to more lessons from Lian!

Happy Painting!



Artist Websites

Here is one of Lian Zhen’s art books:

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Snowflakes and Sunsets

Everglades Sunset watercolor painting with water reflectionsLike snowflakes, no two sunsets are alike. You will never see yesterday’s sunset again but another one is waiting for you tonight.

That’s the fun of painting sunsets. No matter what colors you use, how you blend them, you are not wrong.

My favorite part is seeing how it turns out – I let the colors blend on the paper and I am always pleasantly surprised.

Oh – the same goes for sunrises too…Everglades Sunrise watercolor painting with water reflection

Happy Painting!
(Enjoy the slideshow!)

Art Prints

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Poppies – A Start to Finish Painting

I don’t usually have people watch me paint in my studio. So when they see the finished painting they ask “how did you do that?”

So here is a painting as it progresses – “Poppies”

First I draw out the painting on the watercolor paper. I usually use 140-lb cold press. For this painting I masked out the buds and the inside of the poppy to keep from painting over them.

The grey areas are the  “masking fluid”. sort of like watery rubber cement. Paint it on, let it dry and you can paint over it – waterproof. Then rub it off to reveal white paper so you can paint the delicate parts of the painting.

 I start with the main flower first and lay in heavy bright color. 

Next we put in the background. It makes the main flower really pop.  I layered in colors and shapes, then glazed over them to make them richer and darker. Leaves and buds take shape in the background. Since I have preserved some buds and stems with masking fluid I don’t worry about the paint running.

You can see how the sharper items are still clean since they had the masking fluid covering them. It’s a great tool – it will cover large areas or make fine lines as for feathers.



After the masking is removed we fill in the details for the areas we want to be in focus. It is more interesting to keep the background a bit out of focus, with enough detail to suggest leaves and shapes, but not to have to paint every leaf or stem. Your mind will know what the shapes and colors are.



All that is left is to put in small details and see how it looks:

Always look at your painting with a mat around it. Otherwise  you won’t really get a good sense of the painting. Your eye will be distracted by the rough splattered edges and the other items on your work table.

I think this came out pretty nicely. 🙂

Happy Painting,


bird paintings

landscape paintings

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Moving Out of My Comfort Zone

I started painting at night classes after work. It was always nice little still life watercolors that were very realistic. I moved into florals and landscapes and do enjoy them still. You will see many examples of my florals and landscapes on this site.

My normal style is detailed and realistic so the challenge is to loosen up and add more abstract elements.

But we are not meant to be complacent and take the easy road. So I am challenging myself to branch out and create new art.

“Artist Tools” was a stretch at first but I really love the way it came out. it has become a favorite for me.  “5 Paint Brushes” was also a stretch as they seem to be floating or dancing. I resisted shadows and a table.

How much fun it was to do something different!  Reaching out of our comfort zone also helps us to grow as artists, and perhaps as people.

There are some other new paintings on the way that are much more contemporary then my normal style. I am looking forward to sharing my new experiences and this journey with you!



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