Washington State watercolorist Eric Wiegardt is process-oriented, but he loves the product, too. The artist, who is on the faculty at the Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE), explains how he gets to the finished piece. Hint: It’s about discovery, and change. 

“Battle Lake Farm,” by Eric Wiegardt, watercolor, 22 x 30 in.

We asked Wiegardt what he planned on painting during his demonstration at PACE, and he explained that it didn’t matter too much. It will likely be a landscape or seascape — from a photo, as the demo will be indoors. “It will be a lot about how I construct a painting,” Wiegardt says. “Plein air or in the studio, it’s basically the same. If you saw my work in my studio, you would likely not be able to pick out which were done en plein air and which were done in the studio. I used to use photo references a lot, but these days not so much … just occasionally. It’s all the same to me: No matter what my reference material is, I have to construct a good design. It matters if my objective is to capture reality as I see it in terms of colors and values — that requires plein air. But that is not one of my objectives now, at this point in my life. If I do use a photo reference, it has to be something that I have seen. I have to know it. To use someone else’s photo would mean nothing to me; I couldn’t do it.”

“Iris,” by Eric Wiegardt, watercolor, 24 x 30 in.

Wiegardt’s attitude toward painting is relaxed and inspiring. He does see it as a challenge, but one that requires flexibility. When a painter remains flexible, he or she can exceed expectations. “I love the process,” says Wiegardt. “It’s quite a ride. I start with a visual image in my mind of what I want to get down. It’s fairly loosely constructed, but I have an idea of what I want to do. And then it’s the excitement of the process of constructing that imagined image. Someone said, ‘I do the painting I would have done had I thought of it beforehand.’ There’s a lot of truth to that. You end up with something better than what you were shooting for. It’s discovery. You get new insights about your craft and yourself in the process.”

“Iris, No. 3,” by Eric Wiegardt, acrylic, 24 x 30 in. Studio piece

Watercolor encourages flexibility. “It does have a mind of its own, and I like that challenge when I’m painting — to have something happen that I don’t expect,” Wiegardt says. “It’s a very dynamic experience, as opposed to a more static experience with a more opaque medium.

“It’s a chess game. You have a general idea of where you are going to go, but your opponent will have some twists to throw your way, and you will have to react to that.”

“The Park, Frejus,” by Eric Wiegardt, watercolor, 20 x 26 in.

Wiegardt says he appreciates watercolor’s portability, and its immediacy. “You can set it up quickly, just about anywhere,” he points out. “There are no solvents, and not a lot of equipment. There’s usually a water source nearby, whether it’s a drinking fountain, a restaurant, or a pond.” Or a bay. Wiegardt says he doesn’t hesitate to use saltwater, even though some watercolorists insist that the smartest thing would be to always use distilled water. “It doesn’t make that much of a difference,” says the artist. “You get sand and flies all over your paper anyway. Plus, some people use salt for an effect, so how is it harmful?” Wiegardt paints all over the world and teaches workshops in locations close to home in Ocean Park, Washington, and far afield. 

“Quince,” by Eric Wiegardt, watercolor, 25 x 33 in.

As is the case for many people, his art constantly changes. Wiegardt is acutely aware of this. “It’s interesting to see, over the years, the changes and the development in my art. Someone said, ‘Years ago, there’s no way I could have painted what I am painting today.’ I certainly didn’t have the skills years ago to paint how I paint now. But today I could not paint what I did 30 years ago. My mindset, the way I hold my brush, everything is different.”

“Frejus, France,” by Eric Wiegardt, acrylic, 24 x 30 in. Studio piece

The 2015 edition of Eric Wiegardt will be teaching at the Plein Air Convention & Expo April 13-17 in Monterey, California. Last year, more than 700 artists basked in the perfect weather and learned from 70 instructors. There are still a few slots open for new registrants in this year’s PACE. Learn more here.


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