“Quiet Corner-the Palm Courtyard”- completed painting.


Quiet Corner-the Palm Courtyard 600

I’ve gotten this picture to a point where I’m satisfied that it’s a completed work. That is, any more work on it seems counterproductive to the overall effect of the picture.

The underlying idea of the painting, a study of subtleties of color, space, light and shadow, seems resolved.  As it was painted mainly at the location, within the Honolulu Museum of Art’s building complex, I was sometimes surprised a bit by the question “Why did you choose to paint this?”, which I was asked a few times.

For me, it was self evident. Can’t others see how wonderful this is?  But once I considered it,  I can also understand how the people who spend their working days here had naturally become accustomed to it, to the point where there was no longer anything terribly special about it. I have that experience every day in my own workplaces.

Coming to the courtyard with a fresh eye, my answer is that there is something of the sublime in the illumination, the colors of the containers and colors within the shadows; rich, complex grays with violets, blues, and yellows reflecting into them, constantly shifting and shimmering, and the quietness of the physical space.  Maybe it’s only some painters who respond to this sort of thing, but I couldn’t miss it. A quiet corner, indeed, restful and renewing. I’ll never forget the experience of painting here.

“Quiet Corner-the Palm Courtyard”   18 x 22″   oil on linen canvas.




A Figure Drawing with Watercolor Wash

In my Life Drawing Studio class, I sometimes enjoy adding the element of color when the pose is an hour or longer in duration.  Watercolor is a convenient and sometimes ideal way to go…thoughI have to admit that  if the drawing aspect isn’t working,  no amount of color work will make up for such a weakness,  and  so I don’t recommend it to students until they are well on their way.


Watercolor nude 4.13

For anyone who wishes to give it a go, I ‘d recommend starting with monochrome wash until you’ve got a mastery over wash, know your brushes and paper (which need to be of good quality), and especially the drying characteristics of your paper.  I use Arches 140 lb and Saunders 200lb, which are both great papers.

My normal watercolor palette, which is primarily used out-of-doors,  includes the following colors that are perfectly suited for figurative work:

Raw Sienna,  Naples Yellow, Cadmiums Orange, Yellow, Lemon, and Scarlet, Indian Red, Light Red, Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Rose, Raw and Burnt Umbers, and Ivory Black.  These, in  addition to the blues, greens and other colors I regularly employ, are a well rounded group for general painting indoors or out.


A New Portrait Head ~Honolulu Academy School of Art Class

I’ve just finished work on a four-session portrait from a terrific local model, Sergio Janzen. This was done in my class as a demonstration/keep-the-students-enthused  piece.  18 x 14″ oil on stretched linen.

I say study, or even sketch, because there’s only so much one can and should do when students are present, they need help. At the same time I always try to teach by practical example… it’s much better, and certainly humbling, to be struggling with the same problems as they are rather than calling plays from the sidelines with a wine glass in my hand. And if one of the oil painters has a question, I can show them how to work out the answer on my own painting or theirs.  I think that’s an ideal way to learn


Red Sergio oil on linen 18 x 14″


It would have been nice to have had another 3 hours to work out some things on Sergio’s portrait, but I did some of that from memory after the sessions ended. I would rather work from memory in those instances, simply because it keeps me sharper.  I also am driven slightly nuts by the  number of people using cell phone photos to work from away from the model, but they just laugh and call me old  fashioned, which is somewhat true.

But I stick to my guns on this point, because the entire process is not, in the case of the student, to only “finish” a project, but to train their faculties, and one of those faculties involves taking three dimensional reality (nature) and recreating it in two dimensions (upon the canvas) without a machine doing it for them.

My palette was:

Yellow Ochre

Cad Lemon

Cad Orange

Cad Scarlett

Light Red

Flake White #1, with a touch of Liquin worked in

Alizarin Crimson


Ultramarine Blue

Ivory Black



Pastel Figure Demonstration en Plein Aire

This is a pastel demonstration piece I executed at Spalding House for my Painting the Model en Plein Aire class last week.

Our topic that day was “Selection and Emphasis”…the idea that one must select from what Nature presents according to your priorities, and then appropriately simplify. Every element must be considered and it’s value to your picture determined, much will  need to be eliminated, and what is left must be simplified and refined.


         Dulce in the Sun      Pastel on Canson       12 x 9″

Public Exposure at the Honolulu Museum of Art

I was invited to do a 2-3 hour demonstration of portrait drawing at the Honolulu Museum of Art’s “Art After Dark” event last week.

I look forward to the opportunity to get out in public; it’s good to check in with the world, and let them see what the process looks like. Among other benefits, the experience of being exposed to the unfiltered criticism of anyone who cares to say something is a healthy thing. And  as it turned out people were quite kind in their remarks, making it a very pleasant affair for myself and my model Sarah, who also posed for the pastel profile I posted a month ago.

Sarah and I hard at work.

I don’t get to do these often enough, and considering that most of my day-to-day easel time is usually landscape oriented, I’d like to make more room for portrait work from the model.


Lay-in for portrait head

Quick post from my portrait class. The lay-in is going well, edges deliberately soft at this point, and any problems with the painting are already most likely present. The only trick is to see them now, before the acorn becomes a tree.


12 x 16″ linen on board. Straight oil paint, no medium except a small amount of liquin mixed into the flake white #1 to make it short enough to manipulate. Big brushes, step back for each stroke. lay it on with intention in color and value and placement. Scrape down anything that’s not working.

Always be preparing for the next sitting.

About that Figure in Watercolor Workshop!

No photos, no images….frankly, we were working so happily and busily that I never took the time to shoot anything.

But the workshop was successful beyond my expecations, the response afterwards has been positive, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to help so many people.  And the best part was that what was beyond my expectations was the attitude of the participants!  To a person, they worked as only the inspired do. I’m very proud of each of the 13 who attended.  Hard to quantify such an experience, but we will be repeating this workshop again, so if interested, send me an email and I ‘ll get you on the advance list for next time!

Here’s some of the advice that surfaced:

Be a painter first, a watercolorist second.

Suggest, don’t explain.  The word “Suggest” is printed indelibly on the face of my own watercolor palette.

Draw from models, memory, imagination, and draw in the streets.

Dry in the lights, wet in the shadows (“When you paint light, you paint form, when you paint shadow, you paint stmosphere.”).

Art never will come to you, you must always make the first move. 

So chew on these thoughts, work in your sketchbooks constantly, and  remember to be always looking, always designing, seeking fluency, and willing to work. 


11 x 14″ Practice sheet from the workshop…heads constructed from a skull, and varied for direction, gender, and expression.  Drawn and painted from imagination.  Great way to study, and fun.

A Special Workshop-The Figure in Watercolor October 6-7

I have a peculiar relationship with self promotion.  While I want very much for people to see my work (that’s half of the equation), I possess a reluctance to market myself conspicuously.  I don’t much like discussing the sales of my paintings outside family and closest friends, or operating as if I’m luring the unwitting into the artist’s version of a car dealership. I like to keep the work and the selling somewhat compartmentalized. This blog is an example, I don’t get into selling here, I would like readers to just come aboard and visit without a subtext.

That said, I now would like to brief my reading public on something that I’ve been working on that has me excited a bit beyond all reason, a special watercolor workshop on painting the figure.

As you may know, watercolor was my first love-experience in painting, and while I don’t participate in it full time,  I am perfectly comfortable working in it, and I often return to it for the working out of those subjects where watercolor is appropriate.   Also, I confess here rather remorsefully that I have a contrarian streak at times, one that chafes at some of the goings-on in the watercolor world.   There are great things being done by very talented people, certainly. But I also see very sincere painters-in-the-making that are struggling with some very basic and essential things about making paintings. They seem to go in circles, relying on method rather than really seeing, and hoping that tips n’ tricks might carry their work.  As a result they often stumble on the subject of the figure, and so that is the focus of the workshop I’m conducting in October.

Here’s what I’m doing:

My first step has been to analyze and address the repeated problems that I noticed watercolor painters incur.  They are summed up in the workshop credo I developed:

We are always looking ~We are always designing~ We are seeking fluency~We are wiling to practice.

There was a fifth We are artists first, watercolorists second, but I dropped it, it’s a bit much though it speaks to the problem of separating “watercolor” from painting in general, an error I believe.

Next,  I created a power point presentation to address and demonstrate each of these necessary attitudes.  I spent way too much time on making this, but found myself really excited to show what I think is a valuable point of view on the matter.

First, there’s a whole section on the study of master drawings.  People need to see the great work of the past, and why it’s great.  Rembrandt’s wash drawings are a great lead-in to the importance of seeing your everyday world, taking clues from your immediate surroundings and doing something with them. Then, committing oneself to a lifestyle of continued eye-opening, sketching, and active participation in development of one’s work as a designer, taking what’s around you and shaping it.  I also have a section on my own favorite painters in watercolor, many of whom students are unfamiliar with, because I believe that to gain fluency, you need heros and mentors.  Zorn,Sargent, Seago, Bonnington, and others have influenced me greatly, and I’m very happy to introduce some favorite works by them.

The workshop itself will be fun, I’ve developed a series of exercises to deal with everything from the slight indications of the figure in the landscape, sketching habitually, memory work, and finally to working directly from the live model.

Below is one  piece I developed to market the workshop, I’ve posted it in the past.  It’s developed totally from imagination and recollection of all sorts of things, which is something I’ve taught myself to do. I want students to understand that this is possible, it’s an attempt at fluency and integrating their life experience and their craft. It’s simply the sort of liberating and challenging work that I think artists, generally speaking, should some how be up to attempting.  Without photos… those will always be around anyway.


For more information, email me at mark@marknorseth.com   or call the Academy at 808.532.8741.   I believe we have only 3 spaces left.  Could be a game changer.