Collective Wisdom

Collective Wisdom in script

WSO’s Collective Wisdom is a list of watercolor resources, techniques, and materials recommended by WSO members.  This information is updated quarterly.

Theme for the August 2023 Collective Wisdom:
Your personal guiding principles for creating a work of art

What principles are guiding your mind and heart when you transform a vision or a photograph into a watercolor painting? How have you translated all of the rules and standards that you have learned through your studies and experiences into clear and compelling principles that determine your artistic choices?

One example of a principle that has impacted my approach to painting is from my years in Anji Grainger’s classes: “Color gets all the credit, but value does all the work.” In real estate, it’s “Location, location, location!” and in painting it’s “Value, value, value!” 

For the August Watermark, share your guiding principles, and if you have a photo of a painting that shows these principles in action, send that along as well.    Email your written piece (and attach your photo, if included) by July 14, to Ilana Hoffman with the subject line, “WSO Collective Wisdom.” Find Ilana’s email address in the Membership Roster & Handbook.

If you have a great recommendation for a previous theme in Collective Wisdom (Online Watercolor Resources, Books about Art or Artists, and Favorite Paint Applicators), please submit that to me at any time. I will include it in my Postscript section in the next issue of the Watermark and it will appear in the appropriate section of Collective Wisdom on the WSO website.

 Ilana Hoffman, Watermark Assistant Editor


Favorite Painting Tools

Pro Art Connoisseur 100 Series Rounds, sizes 8 – 16

Far and away my favorite brushes are Pro Art Connoisseur 100 Series Rounds, sizes 8 – 16. They are a red sable-synthetic mix that have great spring and water carrying capacity. I have been using them for many years. I often use two of the same size, a newer one when I need the lovely point and an older one the rest of the time. They come from Jackson’s in London and are reasonably priced: You can also get them from Amazon, which will charge you more and they will still come from Jackson’s. Shipping takes 10 days to 2 weeks.

Winnie Givot, May 2023

Worn-out brushes, cut-up cards, and small squares of cloth

Here are my recommendations of favorite paint applicators. I like to use things that do not have a great deal of control. I choose really old worn out brushes that don’t give me as much control and switch to a good brush only on selective parts of my painting.

I get lots of little cards in my junk mail. I use them to scrape or squeegee paint onto my substrates and build up layers of colors to create an interesting surface to begin a painting. Sometimes I cut notches in them for a combing effect. An insurance agent gave me a window ice scraper that I use in a similar way. 

I also like to cut small squares of old t-shirts that I can wrap over my index finger and use to spread paint or to rub glaze, or to blend a color. I also use the small squares of cloth over my finger to draw with paint. 

In this photo the cards are sitting on top of a surface that was made using these tools and is just waiting to be turned into a painting.

Rebecca Sentgeorge, May 2023

Needle Nose Paint Applicators

I’d like to share a useful tool that I keep close at hand in my studio—needle nose applicator bottles. There are two types, and they each serve a unique purpose.

Falling in Art 1oz Needle Tip Squeeze Bottle (Link to this product on Amazon.)

The first is a set of 1 oz needle tip squeeze bottles (sold on Amazon in a package of six for about $9). I fill them with diluted acrylic paints or inks (diluted watercolors work, too) and this fine tip allows me to create fine lines on my painting. If the tip gets clogged, I just stick a pin in it to open it up!

Gaunt Industries – Oiler Boiler Art Bottle Set (Link to this product on Amazon.)

The second type of applicator is a bit pricier (around $10 for two 1 1/4 oz bottles) but well worth it. Made by Gaunt Industries, it can be purchased online and at Tap Plastics in Oregon. Its needle nose tip is so narrow that paint tends to clog, so I only use it for applying drops of rubbing alcohol to wet paint (acrylic or watercolor). The alcohol droplets form interesting white circles in the paint that create a fabulous pattern. Your painting must be WET with paint when you apply the drops of alcohol—otherwise not much happens.

Liz Walker, February 2023

Novels or Non-fiction Books About Art or Artists

Books by James Gurney:
Dinotopia series (6 books)
Imaginative Realism:  How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist

Color and Light for the Realist Painte

I’ve loved the illustrations in James Gurney’s Dinotopia books for children ever since I first discovered them back in the early 1990s and read them to my kids. The paintings are beautiful and accompany an entertaining and thoughtful storyline that posits a reality where most dinosaurs are not only sentient, but some of them team up and live with people.
While Gurney was writing the books, he kept a blog of his progress (Gurney Journey: The interest generated among artists and aspiring artists around the blog inspired him to write a book about what he discovered doing all the amazing paintings for the stories, Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist.
That book generated so many further responses and questions that he wrote another, Color and Light for the Realist Painter, which is more of a manual on the relationships between color and light through history and how various styles and techniques accomplish various effects. 
Also, the WSO Video Library has a wonderful DVD titled Watercolor in the Wild, also by James Gurney, which addresses the same sort of content in the context of painting outside the studio. He uses watercolors, water brushes, water-soluble colored pencils, and ink, and presents important information about light and shadow, color and contrast. He also shares tips on putting together lightweight traveling kits. Here’s a link to the WSO Video Rental Library.
Kathryn Oliver-Garnett, November 2022

To Be a Painter by Hal Baker

I just received a very special book—hot off the press! The title is To Be a Painter by Hal Baker, as told by the landscape painter and teacher Milford Zornes (1908-2008). Zornes started writing To Be a Painter in 1975; now forty-seven years later it is finally in print. This book is written by Hal Baker (Zornes’ son-in-law), who waded through and organized the artist’s writings, mostly found on scraps of paper often handwritten with soft pencil or charcoal. The book is also filled with dozens of Zornes’ paintings and sketches. My good friend, Valerie Cohen, a former close friend and student of Zornes, and a very accomplished artist herself, sent me a copy.
Sarah Bills Bailey, November 2022

Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie

A book I turn to again and again is Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie. Her use of grays with pure color in her paintings is stunning. She has a section on mixing beautiful neutrals.
Leslie Dugas, November 2022

Watercolor Painting Outside the Lines by Linda Kemp

“Linda Kemp shares her techniques for using the strength of negative space—the areas not occupied by subject matter—to create alluring works of art.” (Quote from review in Amazon Books.)
Marjorie Kinch, November 2022

Painting Spectacular Light Effects in Watercolor by Paul Jackson

From soft, atmospheric effects to powerful images, this guide provides artists with the insight and instruction they need to illuminate their paintings with the magic of light.” (Quote from review in Amazon Books.)
Marjorie Kinch, November 2022

Steal Like an Artist—10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

This lively book embraces the notion that we all learn by imitation (even the Beatles started out as a cover band). Some of my favorite quotes from this book are: “Don’t steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style;” and, “The secret is doing good work and sharing it with people.”
Liz Walker, November 2022

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

First published in 1923, Henri writes to his Art League students in a series of essays that resonate for the contemporary artist of today.
Liz Walker, November 2022

Clear Seeing Place by Brian Rutenberg

This South Carolina abstract painter packs his book with ideas, observations, techniques, and career advice arranged into six sections designed to inspire artists of all levels. Rutenberg is a gifted painter and writer who succinctly describes the life of a working artist.
Liz Walker, November 2022

A Piece of the World  by Christina Baker Kline

After viewing Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and touring the Portland Art Museum’s exhibition The Wyeths: Three Generations, I was fascinated by this fictionalized story of the creation of Christina’s World. (The author is not the Christina in the painting.)
Ilana Hoffman, August 2022

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos  by Dominic Smith

This novel travels in time and place from Amsterdam in 1631, to Manhattan in 1957, to Sydney in 2000. The artist of the painting, the forger of that painting, and the descendent of the original owner of the painting are all embroiled in a suspenseful tale that examines the roles of chauvinism, fraud, and moral ambiguity in the art world.
Ilana Hoffman, August 2022

Online Watercolor Resources

In addition to the recommendations of online resources listed below, please keep in mind that many of our WSO members have their own websites. Check your Membership Roster & Handbook for their website links and explore the art and information they offer.

Oliver Pyle – Our Landscape, YouTube Channel:

I recently subscribed to this YouTube channel. It’s quite good! Oliver Pyle is an established and successful landscape artist working exclusively in watercolor in the UK. His website is at, and his blog is at
Richard French

Blick Creative Community,

Access to this Facebook group is granted upon request. Group members share their artwork and exchange advice on techniques and art products. While the group spans many media, there are a good number of watercolor paintings and discussions. I find many of the shared paintings to be sources of inspiration, and the discussions to be informative and useful.
Dan Perich, August 2022

Royal Watercolour Society,

Several years ago, I purchased the book The Watercolour Expert put out by the Royal Watercolour Society in the UK. This book led me to search for their website, which I love to visit now and then. There is something about seeing how artists in other countries handle water media that can often refresh my view on what is possible.
Leslie Dugas, August 2022

Learn to Paint Podcast,

I recently learned about a wonderful podcast by Kelly Powers, the daughter of Lynn Powers, a past member of WSO. Kelly skillfully interviews accomplished artists and teachers who give tips on how artists can improve their works. Guests include such well-known water media artists as Dean Mitchell, John Salminen, Stan Kurth, and Peggi Habets.
Leslie Dugas, August 2022

My Modern Met,,,,,

This website and the weekly newsletter I receive by email supply me with joyful bursts of inspiration. I love reading about and viewing the works of extraordinary artists exploring the dazzling edges of the brave new art world.
Ilana Hoffman, August 2022

The Painter’s Keys,

I enjoy the Twice-Weekly Letters that I receive by email from this website, which contain insights, information, and encouragement about being an artist. The letters originally were written by artist Robert Genn, who “came to understand the idea of a Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Artists — a worldwide community of creative people with a lot of the same concerns.”
Leslie Dugas, May 2022

Society of Visual Storytelling, and

This website offers over 100 high quality recorded online courses covering many different topics including the business of art, as well as a very active online forum, regular live critiques, and monthly contests. You can pay for individual classes, or you can get an annual membership that gives you unlimited access to all their classes, the forum, and special events.
Terri Rottman, May 2022

John Muir Laws, and

If you are into nature journaling (or any kind of nature related art), this is a fun resource where you can learn some science and observation skills along with the art skills. Laws presents a wide range of videos and a blog that is mostly instructional content.
Terri Rottman, May 2022,

This website makes it easy to create your own website for your artwork.
Susan Escobar, May 2022

American Watercolor,

The free email newsletter, American Watercolor, features articles about a variety of well-known watercolor artists and instructors, who share their tips and techniques about painting.
Karen Kreamer, May 2022