28 Landscapes – watercolors

In 2021 I began painting almost daily. The light in our valley captured me as I looked out our kitchen door toward the Manastash Ridge. We have distant views that call to be deeply observed, cherished, and then painted. After doing a few small oils, I felt that watercolor was a more fitting medium. My old watercolor set was simple, portable, and easy to grab when inspiration struck. During that time I did over 200 small landscapes, many “en plein air” and others from photos I took around our land. This dedicated work refined my techniques and confidence to tackle a series of larger paintings.

The fine details come at the very end. Here you can see the small watercolor sketch as reference for the larger painting.

Matthew Lennon, the curator of the Clymer Museum in Ellensburg, scheduled a show of my work to be hung in early 2023. I had a few months to create a complete series for the show, so I narrowed down the 200 watercolor “sketches” to my favorite 35 to repaint in a larger format. In January of 2023, I cleared out my studio, created a comfortable space to work in, and got busy on what would become the Clymer show.

A winter scene through the woods.

My Process

There is a magic that happens when pulling out a beautiful new piece of 300lb cold-press watercolor paper. The perfect off-white surface calls for something to be created on it. The smaller paintings were painted on watercolor blocks. These sheets are glued together around the edges so the paper won’t buckle as you paint. For the large paintings I used full or half sheets of 100% cotton paper taped down to a simple board of thin plywood. A traditional metal paintbox pallet holds my pans of paint. The little plastic paint pans can be moved around easily as I refine my choice of colors over time. Watercolors are the most ancient way of painting, made of ground-up dirt stuck together with tree sap and honey. Some 40,000 years ago skillful artists painted hunting scenes on cave walls with ochers and soot. Those paintings are watercolors and are still as vibrant as the day they were painted.

An afternoon storm building beyond the hills.

I had a little over 2 months to paint over 30 large paintings for my upcoming show. My process was very similar each day. The night before I would set out one of the small paintings as my guide for the next morning while keeping all the others hidden away to avoid distraction. With a new piece of watercolor paper mounted and ready to go, I’d sketch out the composition, making changes as needed. That might take an hour or more, using just a pencil, nothing fancy. Then I started the first layers of the painting, trying to stay focused on the overall composition, not getting into any details at this stage. This stage is very process oriented, keeping some areas wet while letting others dry. The order and timing of events is critical; does a sky wash have to be dry before another shape is layered on top of it or not? Using a large brush, I painted bigger shapes with fluid, confident strokes. Then as the painting progressed, the larger shapes were defined and broken up into smaller shapes and fine-tuned with smaller brushes. Usually toward the end of the day I’d set that painting aside and prepare a new surface for the next morning. I tried not to get too far ahead of myself with unfinished paintings since there was a definite deadline for the show. Three paintings in process was just right. As one would get finished I’d take it off it’s board and slip it on top of the other finished paintings in a flat-file drawer. After about a month and a half the drawer was bulging full with over 35 paintings. It was time to start on matting and framing. 

Image of Sam Albright cleaning the glass on a new painting

Sam Albright doing a final check before the paintings are taken to the gallery.

Watercolors require a mat to keep the surface of the paper away from the glass and any possible condensation that might collect there. I wanted the whole show to be connected and consistent with double mats, glass and wood frames. During the next couple weeks I cut all the double mats, made all the frames and mounted all the paintings behind glass. Of the finished paintings 28 made the cut and fit nicely into the large room at the gallery.

Curator of the Clymer Gallery, Matthew Lennon and Sam Albright position the paintings around the room to adjust the arrangement.

The 28 Landscapes exhibit hung from April 14th through June 3rd, of 2023. The reception was on May 5th

Matthew Lennon arranged the show and lit it so the paintings could be seen correctly. Showing in the big space of the Clymer Museum allowed the viewers to get enough distance to see the compositions from afar, while allowing them to step right up close and appreciate the painted surface. Almost a third of the show sold, and a few local painting groups came and studied the work in depth. From the warm glowing light across a field to a smoky walk through Ponderosa pines, these paintings capture the feeling of the place and time they were created. All in all, I feel quite satisfied with this series of paintings.