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Denver Watercolor Class Teacher Dennis Pendleton

Where the Camera Fails

Watercolor Painting by Dennis Pendleton. This is a painting that I did as a demonstration in one of my classes at the Art Students League of Denver. It is one of the interesting neighborhoods in Taos, New Mexico where I teach an annual watercolor workshop. The adobe structure is actually the back of a charming little mission that serves this neighborhood. I have seen paintings from the front with the bell tower and the entrance but I was intrigued with this viewpoint because of the dirt road, neighborhood buildings and the view of Taos Mountain. When I am teaching a plein air class, I always encourage the students to walk around the painting sight and look at things from different viewpoints before they set up and start painting.

Like I said, this painting was done in a class so I was working from a photograph which presents certain problems. The camera never captures the colors exactly, especially in cast shadows. In this case, the cast shadows on the dirt road and the side of the mission were dark and uninteresting. Ignoring the photograph I painted the cast shadows on the road with a mixture of cerulean blue, cobalt violet and raw umber. I just pushed these colors together on my palette instead of stirring them up so that the brushstrokes would show bits of each color as well as the combined mixture. On the adobe mission in the photo, the cast shadows were simply a dark gray so I combined cobalt violet, mineral violet, and yellow ochre so that they would be rich with color. The window was a dull dark color so instead I repeated the french ultramarine blue that I used in the distant mountain. This helps to tie the distant mountain with the middle ground of the painting.

If you are painting from photographs my advice is to decide where you want hard and soft edges because the camera will show most everything with hard edges. Also, think of adding color in the shadows and cast shadows the way they really appear in natural sunlight. Finally, decide what is really necessary and what might be better left out. The camera catches everything in sharp detail but the human eye doesn't work that way. What you decide to leave out can be just as important as what you decide to include in your painting. Happy Painting! Dennis Pendleton

My 2022 Taos Watercolor Workshop is set for May 15 - 20, 2022 and registration is open now. It is already filling up so, if you are interested, send me an email to There is also information on my website under classes and workshops.

Watercolor Artist's Blog by Dennis Pendleton

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