Exploring Urban Structures Through Watercolor Painting

By Brett Ortler

Bill Hook, featured in the August 2016 issue of Watercolor Artist (now available in print and as a download here and on newsstands June 14), eschews stereotypical watercolor painting imagery, filling his work instead with images of grain elevators, bascule bridges and structures made of concrete, rivets and steel. His paintings reveal the gritty grace of these often overlooked forms, and the beauty inherent in the chaos of our ever-changing urban world.

An architect for 15 years, and an architectural illustrator for 30 more, Hook is familiar with his subject matter, in part because he spent a good deal of his life designing and illustrating similar forms. Now Hook finds himself able to look past the details of the physical framework through watercolor painting and see the spaces and wedges of light surrounding a building.

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Formwork #4 by Bill hook | watercolor painting

Part of a series, Bill Hook’s Formwork #4 (watercolor on paper, 12×19) and Formwork #6 (below; watercolor on paper, 12×19) were inspired by the elaborate, almost elegant, temporary structures that are created for construction, only to be replaced by a clean and boring concrete overpass.


Formwork #6 (watercolor on paper, 12x19) by Bill Hook | watercolor painting

Formwork #6 (watercolor on paper, 12×19) by Bill Hook


Bill Hook graphite sketches | watercolor painting

Bill Hook attributes much of his fine art success to astute observational skills and a dedication to sketching. He enjoys walking around and exploring his subject, making sketch notes from all angles and taking quick reference photos to “get to know and understand” a structure.

Owning the Image

The sketching process affords Hook a great deal of freedom. “Once it’s in my sketchbook, I feel that I ‘own’ the image, and I can do what I want with it,” he says. The sketchbook is Hook’s laboratory, a place to “plan successes and hide failures,” and it’s also where the bulk of his artistic thought process occurs.


Boll Hook watercolor sketches | watercolor painting

Bill Hook’s NOLA Series—Plantation (below; watercolor on paper, 18×12) was inspired by a visit to New Orleans and the impact of industry on the landscape along the Mississippi River. Its muted color palette conveys a somewhat somber and reflective mood. Hook’s thumbnail sketches show him trying out different compositional orientations and recording several different aspects of the scene.


If he has a good thumbnail sketch from which to work—one with energy, interesting shapes and values—it typically leads to success. He finds that if a painting isn’t working, a quick glance back at his thumbnail sketch usually will highlight the problem, which is frequently an issue of values or contrast.


NOLA Series—Plantation (watercolor on paper, 18x12) by Bill Hook | watercolor painting

NOLA Series—Plantation (watercolor on paper, 18×12) by Bill Hook


BRETT ORTLER is an editor, author and freelance writer based in Isanti, Minn.

Read more about Bill Hook in the August issue of Watercolor Artist.

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The post Exploring Urban Structures Through Watercolor Painting appeared first on Artist's Network.


Painterly People | Carol McSweeney Watercolor Portraits

The watercolor portraits of Carol McSweeney, which she describes as “carefully and sometimes deceptively loose,” convey the artist’s fascination with the human spirit and the unique beauty she observes in people. McSweeney is passionate about getting to know her subjects. “It’s educational for me to meet and hear about their lives and then create a piece that I hope will express what they’ve shared with me,” she says.

See more of McSweeney’s heartfelt painterly portraits in the August 2016 issue of Watercolor Artist, available at northlightshop.com in print and as a download, and on newsstands June 14.

Save 38% on Watercolor Artist—and get a free gift, too!

Born in the Saddle (watercolor) by Carol McSweeney | artistsnetwork.com

Born in the Saddle (watercolor) by Carol McSweeney

This Side of Cool (watercolor) by Carol McSweeney | artistsnetwork.com

This Side of Cool (watercolor) by Carol McSweeney

Captivated (watercolor) by Carol McSweeney | artistsnetwork.com

Captivated (watercolor) by Carol McSweeney

Sign of the Times (watercolor) by Carol McSweeney | artistsnetwork.com

Sign of the Times (watercolor) by Carol McSweeney



The post Painterly People | Carol McSweeney Watercolor Portraits appeared first on Artist's Network.

Drama, Extravagance and Poetry | Brent Funderburk Watercolor Gallery

Brent Funderburk infuses his watercolor still life and non-objective paintings with saturated color and rich complexity to take viewers on a magical adventure. His large watercolors drip and flood in rivers of saturated hues, while forms are modeled to almost psychedelic intensity. Subjects—from paint tubes and flowers to dancers—float, fly and dissolve in whirlwinds of paint handling. Everything is up in the air: the paint, the viewer, the entire enterprise. It’s all very risky and exciting, and it carries with it a certain poetry of affirmation.

“Experiences rather than pictures interest me,” says Funderburk. “It’s fascinating that complex experiences settle into shapes, songs, dances; composition is a miracle.”

Learn more about Funderburk and his art in the August issue of Watercolor Artist, available at northlightshop.com in print or download form, and on newsstands June 14.

Save 38% on Watercolor Artist—and get a free gift, too!

watercolor-still-life-Goodbye, Red (watercolor on paper, 24x38) by Brent Funderburk | artistsnetwork.com

Goodbye, Red (watercolor on paper, 24×38) by Brent Funderburk

watercolor-still-life-Beauty Is Not Enough (watercolor on paper, 25x40) by Brent Funderburk | artistsnetwork.com

Beauty Is Not Enough (watercolor and collage on paper, 25×40) by Brent Funderburk

watercolor-still-life-Still Light (watercolor on paper, 20x37) by Brent Funderburk | artistsnetwork.com

Still Light (watercolor on paper, 20×37) by Brent Funderburk

watercolor-still-life-Caught (watercolor on paper, 25 1/4x14) by Brent Funderburk | artistsnetwork.com

Caught (watercolor on paper, 25 1/4×14) by Brent Funderburk


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Urban Sketching: A Panorama in Pen & Ink and Watercolor

Try this: Without moving your head, pick a focal point in front of you and then take in what you can see in your peripheral vision. I’m guessing that it goes beyond what you normally include in a drawing, if for no other reason than because the paper isn’t big enough. Marc Taro Holmes, who has made a career out of urban sketching (watch his workshops here), has found a solution and he’s here to share it with you.

Keep reading to discover his advice for sketching panoramic views, so that you can capture the essence of a place more deeply, and make the results of your urban sketching experiences come to life on paper. ~Cherie

Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Cape St. Vincent, Sagres; all images by Marc Taro Holmes (PIN this demo!)

Sketching a Panorama in Pen & Ink and Watercolor by Marc Taro Holmes

On a recent painting trip to the Algarve region of Portugal I found some time after the main event to take a driving trip up and down the Western coast.

I had brought some homemade panoramic sketchbooks with me, and was making quick pen-and-ink drawings as we went, which I’d tint with watercolors when we stopped at a café, or back at the hotel. These booklets fold out to 7.5×22”, which is a nice length for drawing 90 to 180 degrees of view.

I find that these wider shots give me a better sense of being in a place–as compared to a close-up portrait of an individual building or architectural detail. You can see more of the world, so it’s that much more like being there.

Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Climbing up to the Forte de Figuiera

I’d brought along my usual fountain pens, but right now I’m in a phase where I can’t be bothered to clean and load them. After one bad experience with leaking in-flight, I’ve started to pack fountain pens more carefully. I unload the pens, clean them, then refill again them once we arrive. I empty and flush them again before flying home and reload yet again back in Montreal.

During this trip, for various timing reasons, I didn’t get around to all doing all of that. Instead, I went back to using old fashioned dipping nibs.

Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Fishing off the rocks at Luz

I’m really starting to prefer the simplicity of these basic pen nibs. I love the wider range of marks they make, as well as the ease of changing color. Just swipe the nib with a tissue, and you’re off and away with a new colored line. Sometimes on a larger calligraphy nib there’s some ink trapped in the reservoir and you get a few nice strokes where the two inks mix. Yes, they’re messier (drips!) and they can be balky, skipping, spritzing and stuttering. But actually–I kind of like all those artifacts in the drawing.

Thin To Thick

I do a lot of painting in watercolor, so I’m always working large-to-small and light-to-dark because, of course, that’s how it works with transparent watermedia. You have to build logically from lighter shapes towards the final dark notes. You can’t come back on top with lighter values. When you draw with pen and ink, you’re reversing that logic.

Your bold pen marks, often in a black ink, are almost always the darkest darks in the image, even if you’re planning to tint your sketch later. But you can still think of it as drawing light-to-dark if you think about the widthof your pen marks.

I almost always use my pens in a thin-to-thick order, starting with my thinnest nib and working up to the boldest. You’re putting down slender lines initially–as you plan out the drawing–but toward the end you might be laying on some aggressively bold line work!

Roof Line / Ground Line

The first two lines I draw go all the way across the panorama. They enclose the entire subject of the drawing. The first line is the upper horizon–such as a treeline or a mountain range–or, more typically, the upper edge of the buildings lining the street. The second line is the lower horizon–the line where the buildings meet the street, or where the land meets water, or a road. The lower horizon grounds your scene and connects the midground to the foreground.

I sketch these two lines in just seconds, planning to finish the entire drawing in around 15 or 20 minutes. Sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more, but not too much more, otherwise you’re likely to run out of time at your location. Things always happen. Weather. Hunger. Your friends getting bored :) This will all make more sense if I just show you a demonstration!

BONUS: Learn more about urban sketching when you watch Marc’s workshops here, and view 500+ videos in all media and subjects!

Urban Sketching Demonstration

Old Town Faro: Sketching a Panorama with Thin-to-Thick Pen Nibs

Inks Used for this Urban Sketching Demo:
• Noodler’s Red Black: a very dark red with a lot of bloom in water.
• Noodler’s Rome Burning: a chocolate brown that tints out to a golden yellow.
• Noodler’s Fox: an intense scarlet red, with decent washability.
• Noodler’s Lexington Grey: which I’m using ½ strength, or a 1:1 water/ink mix. Good for subtle details that don’t need to be high contrast lines, and for cast shadow.
• Black Fox: Not a real ink. My mix of Platinum Carbon Black (a water proof ink) and Noodler’s Fox 4:1 when I want a super dark with a red undertone that doesn’t wash out nearly as much as Red Black.
• Roher and Klingner Blue Mare: highly reactive bright blue that I love for sky and water.
• Higgins Sepia: a nice middle brown line with an orange washed out tone, perfect for the cliffs of the Algarve. This is a very affordable ink compared to some overly well marketed fountain pen inks these days.

Nibs Used:
• Fine: Hunt #107 Crowquill nib: This is a small cylindrical style of dip pen nib.
• Medium: Brause 361 Steno: called “The Blue Pumpkin.”
• Medium Bold: Hunt #22: a very flexible nib.
• Bold: Speedball C-0 (4mm) and C-3 (2mm): these are flat ‘chisel’ nibs used for calligraphy. Great for expressive lines that taper when the pen is twisted.

Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Fishing boats at Salema


Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Largo da Sé

This plaza is the Largo da Se in the old town section of Faro. The Se, or Cathedral, is just out of the frame to the left. There’s an old stone gate–but the majority of the structure fell in the 1755 earthquake that remodeled this entire region. You can go up into the church tower on the left side and see the old bells (which still ring, so watch out if you’re up there at the top of the hour). There’s a great view of old town Faro and the surrounding salt flats.

Inside the church walls is also a Capela de Ossos, or Bone Chapel. Which is pretty much what it sounds like. A small space lined on all walls and ceilings with stacked skulls and bones. Apparently these remarkable places were created all over Europe from the 16th century onwards. Partially to preserve all the bones accumulated in centuries old graveyards, and partially as a reminder to visitors of the inevitability of their death, and thus the wisdom of being faithful.

This is kind of a strange reference photo–shot on my phone using the panoramic mode. But it gives you an idea of how to look at 180 degrees of view as a single composition.

Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Roof line

So, here’s the first line: The Roof Line. In this sketch the first line isn’t actually the peaks of the roofs, but is rather the horizontal line that runs below all the peaks. That’s an easier horizon to see, and if you get it right, you can already identify each building in the block just from this Roof Line.

This is sketched in Noodler’s Red Black, using my finest nib, the Hunt #107 crowquill.

You might see some little dots that reveal I actually did a little planning using a Dot Plot. You can read more about that little urban sketching trick here. This is similar to what I call the Post-and-Rail method in my video on panorama drawing. < It can help to make note of the important high-points on that first line before you jot it in.

Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Ground line

Now the second line: The Ground Line. Here we have the base of the block–the building’s foundations. I include the entrances to the buildings, because they will contain dark shadows that should connect with the ground, so I think of them as one passage. This is done with the Brause #361 Steno nib–one step bolder.

Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Adding the details

Then I go back and finish the drawing by adding details on top of those two lines. I find this step fast and easy because my guide lines tell me where everything goes. It’s a simple matter to place the windows and doors, flagpoles and balconies. They just fit into place in between the guide lines.

If I happen to find I’ve gotten something wrong, I just go with my lines, rather than worrying about reality. I don’t feel it’s all that important to count the right number of windows or draw every traffic light and street sign. I’m after a swift impression of a place. A memory I can bring home with me. Or a notation I can write about in a journal.

You might note how I’ve changed ink color for the red tile roofs (Noodler’s Fox). The windows and doors are done with Noodler’s Rome Burning, and a ½ mix of Noodler’s Lexington Grey and water. Then I come in with R&K Blue Mare for the clouds and trees.

Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Colored ink and extra bold nibs

In the final stages of the drawing I bring in the broad C-0 nib, mostly using that ½ Lexington Grey. This pen’s broad stroke might as well be a brush. I’ve also done some work in the main entrance and windows with a C-3 (a smaller flat you might just call an Extra Bold).

Sometimes I might want to leave the drawing there–just the ink lines. Between the colored ink and the broad chisel nib, it’s already a finished drawing in my mind. That’s the kind of sketch I love. A simple notation of a place I’ve visited. The kind of thing you’ll find in a 19th century travel journal. But, of course, I can’t resist coming back with some color.

Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Watercolor over washable ink

I won’t go in depth about the watercolor painting here today because that’s a whole demonstration on its own. (See from start to finish in my urban sketching video on Travel Journaling). Note that the thing I love about colored fountain pen ink is the way it melts and blends into the watercolor. Unlike artists’ drawing ink, a fountain pen ink is usually water soluble. Look for ink that’s call “washable.” This refers to cleaning your shirt after your pen leaks, but I like to think they’re made for tinting with watercolors.

By changing ink color as I go, I get a more lively drawing but I’m also planning ahead for the colored accents and bleeding lines that appear automatically as you wash in watercolor. I love the randomness this introduces, and how it can soften the ink drawing, making it more painterly.

Thanks for reading. I’ll close with a few more sketches from my travels in Portugal. To find out more about my travel sketching and painting on location, follow my always free sketching blog at https://citizensketcher.com.


Stone beach at Luz



Banco de Portugal, Faro


Urban sketching demo | Marc Taro Holmes, ArtistsNetwork.com

Silvas, Praça do Município

Bio: Marc Taro Holmes is the author of the instructional handbook: The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location. He has recently released four video demonstrations on ArtistsNetwork.tv about sketching on location in pen and ink and watercolor:

Drawing Birds
Drawing & Painting in a Travel Journal
Panoramic Landscape Painting
Drawing People in Places

Marc blogs at CitizenSketcher.com, offering regular free updates featuring painting demos like this one, interesting experiments with art tools and materials, art book reviews, and stories from his own travels with a sketchbook.

The post Urban Sketching: A Panorama in Pen & Ink and Watercolor appeared first on Artist's Network.

Fabriano in Aquarello: A Pleasure to Experience

Seven years ago, Fabriano in Aquarello was established to unite the world of watercolour by creating a place and a forum to display and discuss an international selection of watercolours.

This 2016 global watercolour event was chaired by Anna Massinissa. The Canadian representative, Alfonso Tejada, contacted me with an invitation to participate in the 2016 watercolour exhibition in Fabriano, Italy. Of course I said yes! The world will give you a wealth of experiences when you say yes to opportunities.

Fabriano in Aquarelle | Jean Pederson, ArtistsNetwork.com

The town center of Fabriano

The Fabriano committee penned the following to describe their event:

“Fabriano in Acquarello promotes meeting, cooperation and creative exchange between international watercolourists, among audiences and fans. 
It supports the traditional technique and at the same time wants to inspire new creativity and avant-garde methods for the involvement of new generations.
The convention has no commercial or political purposes of any kind, but intends to be an operative base of brotherhood and seed for peace culture. It is important to note that the town of Fabriano and its namesake paper manufacturer has been making paper for over 700 years! An International watercolour museum will be developed in Fabriano to celebrate the tradition and dedication to papermaking and the commitment to the art of watercolours.”

Fabriano in Aquarelle | Jean Pederson, ArtistsNetwork.com

Here I’m standing in front of my watercolour in the Canadian and Bahamas pavilion. Click here to learn my techniques.

The Fabriano watercolour convention was an amazing experience. The program consisted of an exhibition in several pavilions; artists were selected from 50 countries around the world and more than 800 watercolours were displayed.

Fabriano in Aquarelle | Jean Pederson, ArtistsNetwork.com

Paper making in old Fabriano factory. They have been producing paper for over 700 years!

The convention offered many free demonstrations presented by major international watercolour artists. (Some workshops required advance booking with a fee attached.) There were demonstrations on traditional handmade paper and some took the opportunity to make their own piece of paper. Kiosks were set up with a variety of paints, brushes and papers for artists needing materials.

Many opportunities were provided to participating artists, including plein air painting, guided tours, dinners and local music.

Fabriano in Aquarelle | Jean Pederson, ArtistsNetwork.com

The Canadian and Bahamas pavilion in an old church in Fabriano.

This event was a wonderful occasion to meet and share ideas with other artists from around the world. I personally met artists from Sweden, Germany, Pakistan, India, South America and the Ukraine.

The mayor of Fabriano opened the festival. Translators were on hand to interpret speeches in many different languages so that all artists from around the world felt welcome and a part of the experience.

This event was well organized and a pleasure to experience and Italy was an artist’s paradise.

Preview Acrylic Painting: Mixed Media Flowers with Jean Pederson!

Subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and ideas, and score a free download on Watercolor Painting for Beginners: The Basics and More.

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New York City, Caught on Canvas | Painting Tips and Inspiration

About a year ago I went on a weekend trip with some friends to visit New York City, specifically to see a Broadway show. Coming from the rolling hills of Kentucky, I can only describe Manhattan as somewhat surreal. From my brief time there, I know now why so many are in love with it, including those of us who are living the creative life. It’s no wonder that it’s featured in so many films, so much literature, and so much art.

Painting New York City | Alexandra Pacula, ArtistsNetwork.com

Luminous Matrix (oil on canvas, 68×48) by Alexandra Pacula (PIN her art, as seen on the cover of The Artist’s Magazine!)

If you’ve been to NYC, you’ll find a special place in your heart for the May issue of The Artist’s Magazine, which is, officially, The New York Issue. And if you haven’t, you’ll want to check this issue out because there’s so much to learn–not just about the city, but also about the variety of ways that artists are re-creating it on canvas. Read about Alexandra Pacula (featured on the cover), whose paintings remind me of the sounds and movement of New York at night, which she can somehow capture without a single mortal form.

John A. Parks, on the other hand, shows the more human side of the city. His paintings are just as busy, but in a very different way. You’ll learn about how these artists and more create works of art that are interesting, historic and expressive. And with the About Town Drawing and Painting Pack, you’ll have an ever greater amount of knowledge at hand (scroll down or click here to learn more: this bundle includes The Artist’s Magazine (May 2016), Drawing (Spring 2016) and Cityscapes: Paint Urban Landscapes in Oil, Acrylic, Watercolor and Pastel.

For now, enjoy this sneak peek inside The Artist’s Magazine and read John’s tips for artists, which he has often shared with his students at the School of Visual Arts in New York throughout the past 25 or so years.

Painting New York | John A Parks, ArtistsNetwork.com

Union Square (oil on linen, 30×40) by John A. Parks

Tips From John A. Parks

Most important!: Technique is the last thing you should worry about. In representational painting the most important thing to focus on is learning how to judge relative color and tonal values. You can do this only through the experience of painting while observing–continually measuring one value or hue against another and making corrections. It’s perceptual training, not the acquiring of a manual skill.

Break rules: If someone tells you there is an absolute rule for making a painting, make sure that you break it immediately.

Helpful tidbits: Having said that, here are some useful suggestions: Always mix plenty of paint. Always hold your brush as far back as possible. Always hold your head as far away from the painting as possible. Don’t begrudge time spent mixing on the palette. Paint every single day. None of these things require any extra talent, and all will make your work look a lot better.

Study artworks: Spend a lot of time looking at really good paintings and considering what sorts of things paintings actually do for the viewer and what sorts of things you might be able to imagine them doing.

Observe impartially: There’s a wide range of possible enterprises in painting, everything from social realism to lyrical abstraction. Don’t be quick to dismiss enterprises that you feel unsympathetic toward. You may yearn to be a super-realistic painter, but you’ll still learn a lot about how painting functions by looking at Picasso. Many great artists found inspiration in unlikely places. Vincent van Gogh admired the American illustrator Howard Pyle. Matisse trained under the symbolist Gustave Moreau. ~John

There’s so much more to learn, and you can easily start with the About Town Drawing and Painting Pack. It’s a special offer that you can only find at North Light Shop. In addition to the New York issue of The Artist’s Magazine, you’ll discover Drawing’s feature articles on drawing cities, streets and buildings and how to make your work look three-dimensional, as well as an entire eMagazine, Cityscapes, covering cities in so many styles.

Yours in art,

**Free download: Landscape Art: 4 Lessons on Creating Luminous Landscape Paintings
**Click here to subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and more!




The post New York City, Caught on Canvas | Painting Tips and Inspiration appeared first on Artist's Network.

Pastel Pick of the Week | 23 Masters of Landscape Painting

Many artists draw their painting inspiration from the landscape. Why? There’s the practical aspect: Unlike other subjects—a figure model or a wildlife subject, for example—the landscape is there and ready to accommodate your schedule. You can step outside your door at any time, if you like, and start looking for compositions. That said, the lure of the landscape for most has much more to do with the creative aspects. There’s the incredible variety of the land itself, of course—from field to stream, from mountain to seashore, and so on. But, even beyond that, the ever-changing light, the shifting weather and the different seasons means that even the same painting location offers ongoing and endless variety for the artist. You will never paint the same scene twice.

“The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration.” — Claude Monet

If you’re looking for advice and instruction for painting this ever popular subject, the editors of Pastel Journal are pleased to announce an essential resource that compiles some of the very best landscape painting tips and techniques drawn from 17 years worth of insights shared in Pastel Journal. In our new downloadable eBook, Landscape Painting in Pastel: 23 Artists Share Their Secrets, you’ll find:

  • Inspiring pastel work and insights from 23 celebrated pastel artists, including Wolf Kahn, Elizabeth Mowry, Lorenzo Chavez, Albert Handell, Liz Haywood-Sullivan and Richard McKinley
  • Six complete step-by-step painting demonstrations that show you how to paint a river scene at sunset, a vibrant city scene, a spectacular sky, a wintry woods, and more
  • Expert tips and techniques for explaining how to capture the light, consider value, interpret color, and master design and composition.

“Chaos in nature is immediately challenging and forces a good artist to impose some type of order on his or her perception of a site.” — Wolf Kahn

Priced at $19.99, the 158-page eBook is available for immediate download at northlightshop.com. Get your copy today and enjoy this wealth of landscape painting inspiration and instruction. Here is a small sampling of the breathtaking landscapes you’ll find:


Reverie (pastel, 18×24) by Kim Lordier




Prairie Road (pastel, 12×16) by Kim Casebeer


The Way Home (pastel, 14×16) by Jane McGraw-Teubner


Poppy Fields (pastel, 7.5×19) by Elizabeth Mowry



The post Pastel Pick of the Week | 23 Masters of Landscape Painting appeared first on Artist's Network.