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Demo in Hideaway, Texas

March 15, 2012

Demo painting, 16x20, Gouache

Prepare as best you can.  Then wing it.

The first time I did a gouache painting demo, I spent hours and hours in preparation.  In the weeks prior, I talked aloud while doing several paintings in the studio, talking about gouache, explaining to the walls what I was doing.  I packed and repacked my gear to make sure I had everything I needed.  The day before the demo, I did a pencil sketch on the board, so I’d have a roadmap to follow while painting.  We were living in McKinney, Texas at the time, and the demo was in Tyler, a 2 ½ hour drive away.  I spent the entire drive only partly looking at the passing landscape.  I was busy rehearsing and re-rehearsing what I was going to say, visualizing the brushstrokes I was going to use.  It apparently turned out okay, because I got invited back the next year.  But I remember how hard I worked at controlling my voice to cover my nervousness, and I remembered that the 16×20 painting I tried to do from scratch was not even partly done.

I love to see how an artist starts a painting, but by starting almost completely from scratch, I felt I had cheated that first audience.  They deserved to see something resembling a painting when it was all over. For my next demo, I used a smaller size (12×16) and had the sky and clouds painted beforehand.  Watching me paint a sky in real time would be really boring, I think.  That allowed me the time to talk about gouache, but also to mix colors and apply brushstrokes all over the painting, making the landscape under the already finished sky come alive.  No, the painting wasn’t finished in  an hour and a half demo.  But there was enough done so the audience could see the overall intent.

Discussing gouache, prior to painting

For the demonstration for the Hideaway, Texas Art League yesterday, I went a step further.  I used a scene I had already painted once.  That way I would be completely familiar with the lay of the land.  We haven’t replaced the big Epson printer yet, because I’m still trying to figure out where we’ll keep even a smaller one in the motorhome.  No problem.  When painting indoors, I work primarily from an image on the laptop anyway.  We’d just take the laptop to the demo.

I chose a 16×20 size again, wanting something big enough to be seen, not knowing how many people might be in attendance.  I didn’t intend to do a completely finished painting, but I wanted the Art League members to leave satisfied that they had seen most of a painting done.  I painted a somewhat impressionist sky, let it sit for a day, then the day before the demo, roughed in the trees along the road as well.  There were some light pencil lines, and also my usual yellow ochre brush sketch.

I packed everything up the day before, and moved on to other things.

We got up early Wednesday morning, got ready, loaded the car and hit the road.  A few minutes later, already on the interstate heading north, Nell asked if I was sure I had everything.  I said yes.  “Do you have your reference photo?”  No, I answered, it’s on the laptop.  “Do you have the laptop?”


We were far enough along that I wasn’t going to delay the nearly four hour drive by turning back.  I realized that I had the confidence to do this demo without a reference.  I had painted the scene once already.  I had a lot of the painting already on the board.  So I decided we’d just have fun with it.

There were close to 30 people in attendance, and they were a lively group with a great sense of humor.  I had not felt the need to seriously rehearse my remarks this time, so I concentrated on the passing landscape, new territory for us, and I took a lot of potential reference photos.  When we got started, I probably talked a bit too much, but I always seem to when talking to a group with little exposure to gouache.  They seemed eager to watch the painting progress, and generally delighted that I was doing it without a reference to go by.  An hour and a half went by quickly.  Even though I think I ran overtime a little, no one left, and when I stopped, there was no rush for the door.  Instead, a number of people came up to look closer and ask questions.

Our hostess, Dorothy Dillingham, was a delight to meet again, along with her husband, Dick.  Dorothy remembered that western artist Gordon Snidow was one of my gouache painting heroes.  Dorothy worked with Snidow and many other great names in western art years ago when she worked with Texas Governor John Connally and the Western Heritage Art Auctions.  She had seen one of my demonstrations in Tyler, Texas, and was kind enough to invite me months ago to do the same for the Hideaway Art League.

We had a great time, saw a lot of interesting stuff on the drive, and got home last night tired, but satisfied.

And… a sale after the demo was frosting on the cake.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor Errington permalink
    March 16, 2012 7:52 am

    Hi Ralph.
    Brilliant story. The nearest I have come to doing a demo` is plein air when people come up to you to have a look and comment. thats scary enough for me. well done Ralph and all the best.

  2. Carolyn Rutland Hancock permalink
    March 16, 2012 11:50 am

    Do you ever do demonstrations in the Houston area?

    • March 20, 2012 6:57 pm

      Carolyn, the demonstrations have all been by invitation from art groups. I’ve never done one in the Houston area.

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