We now know that the brain isn't as simple as "left side = science, logic, math, etc. and right side = creativity". Although each hemisphere may have distinct areas of specialty, the two sides of the brain communicate and work together to perform most tasks. There is speculation that a high level of this interaction is a sign of high creativity.
Brienne Brown balanced her love of science and art by studying both in college. She graduated with a Master's degree of Science in Chemistry and began work as a toxicologist, but never left her art behind. She continuously took classes and studied with professional artists. When she left her toxicology work to raise a family, she found she could bring art back into her life at a higher level. She wrote to us about the valuable lessons she learned from her career in science that inform her art making today. Brown has fully implemented both the left and right sides of her brain in her life and in her poetic work. Her watercolors chronicle the landscape and daily life surrounding her.
We asked Brown the story of her development as an artist from the early encouragement she received to her commitment to make her art a full time career.
I was drawing and coloring from a young age. My parents were very supportive of my interest in art. My dad was an architect and my mother was very good at arts and crafts, so you could say I came from a family with some natural talent in art. In middle school, I had a wonderful art teacher. My parents paid for me to have private lessons with her for at least three years. They also made sure I had any art supplies I wanted. I credit this early teacher of mine, Mrs. Slinger, for teaching me how to observe and draw.
When I started at the University of Utah, my career goal was to be a doctor or a research scientist. I had not thought of pursuing a career as an artist, but I loved to paint and draw. I had taken art classes since I was eleven, so when I started college, I didn’t change that pattern. In fact, I eventually declared a double major, in art and chemistry, so that I could take some upper level art courses. Though I finished the foundational art program at the University and took a few other upper level art courses, I never finished a BFA, as that was never the plan. When I had enough credits to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, I did.
When I started graduate school in Chemistry, it was the first time in my life that I had no time for an art class or art on my own. I was miserable. This is when I discovered that art was more than a passing hobby— it was essential to my happiness and well-being. So, I took a community art class in watercolor from Harold Peterson which gave me 2 hours a week of painting time. This was enough to keep me sane to graduate and was also my first experience with watercolor.
My most influential mentor while in college was Connie Borup. She was the one that convinced me I couldn’t give up on art while pursuing a career in science. I am so glad she did. Also, she helped me get into the art program and taught me a lot about painting in oils. I took from her for several years.
Another mentor I had mentioned was Harold Peterson at the Peterson Art Center in Utah. He taught several great professional artists that I know when they were younger. He was a wonderful teacher. I studied under him for about a year and a half and I will forever be grateful that he introduced me to watercolor.
Once I found out that workshops existed and I could learn from professional artists I admired, I was so excited. My first workshop teacher was Roland Lee in 2008. He was a huge influence for me. I took several workshops from him. He not only taught me more about how to use watercolor, he introduced me to plein air painting! I was hooked and have been ever since.
After graduating with a Master of Science in Chemistry degree, I got a job as a toxicologist but continued to paint because I knew I needed it to be happy. However, I still did not think of pursuing an art career at that time. It wasn’t until I quit my toxicology job to raise my oldest son in 2008 that I started to paint more often, take workshops, and really improve my work. While raising my kids, I knew I couldn’t give up painting, so I made the time during naps, late at night, and by asking for help from friends and family. Left: Timelss Beauty 24 x 12", WC
I got involved with the Utah Watercolor Society (UWS), entered watercolor shows and plein air events, and then started receiving awards for my work. Also, people started asking me to teach. This is when I started to get the idea of pursuing a career in art.
It was about this time that I approached a professional artist friend of mine, Rob Adamson, and asked him the steps I should take to start selling my work and to become a “professional artist”. He looked at me with my notebook and pen ready in-hand and said, “Just paint and the rest will come.” It was such a disappointing answer at the time, but I have since realized how right he was. I just kept painting, improving my work, showing my work in exhibitions, and meeting influential people. Amazing opportunities started coming my way and as I took them and kept putting my work out there, people began noticing more and more.
It has been an amazing journey so far that I couldn’t have planned, but I am so grateful. As a mother trying to raise 3 boys, being a full-time artist as well has been so rewarding, even if a little exhausting. My time is flexible, and I am with my boys most of the time, but I also get to persue a passion of mine that fills my soul and keeps me happy. I am grateful my boys get to see me work hard to fulfill my dream because it teaches them—they can too.
Long Time Friend 8 x 10" WC
What is it about watercolor that makes it your medium of choice?
I started out with drawing mediums like, pencil, charcoal and colored pencil. I still love to draw! When I started to paint, I used oil and some acrylic. It wasn’t until about 2002, in graduate school, when I was introduced to watercolor. However, I didn’t start focusing on it until 2008 when my oldest was born. To be honest, I chose to focus on watercolor because I thought it was a little less toxic and I didn’t have to deal with turpentine (which I used at the time). However, as I focused on it and took workshops, I fell in love with the slightly chaotic nature, spontaneity, and immediacy of watercolor.
Remember how I said the act of painting is like trouble shooting and problem solving? Well, when I paint in oils there is the ability to work back and forth, to add and subtract, which helps in taking apart the puzzle and putting it back together. This is fun. But, with watercolor, there is more of a conversation with the medium. I find the spontaneity of the watercolor itself becomes a key player in the painting process. I love this added excitement—it is the main reason I am addicted to watercolor.
Main Street Morning 14 x 18" WC
Loss but Not Gone 12 x 20" WC
We can see the western landscape in many of your works. What other landscapes have inspired you?
I am from Utah and so painted a lot in the desert, mountains and cityscapes while I lived there. Now that I live on the east coast in Pennsylvania, I am surrounded by beautiful woods, farms and small towns. So, I have lived near a variety of landscapes. Also, since I started teaching workshops and participating in plein air events, I have traveled all over the U.S. to paint in the desert, coastal areas, mountains, forests, farmland, big cities and small towns. I have loved all of it. I am convinced there is beauty no matter where you are. I have not yet traveled internationally to teach or paint, but I have plans to. I was scheduled to teach a workshop in Italy this May, but because of the current pandemic, that has been postponed to 2021. I am really looking forward to that. I also have plans to teach in France, among other locations, in the future.
Would you tell us about your processes and your materials?
When I arrive at a location to paint, I spend time walking around to decide on my subject. I am looking for shapes and an interesting value pattern to work with. I am always telling my students to not confuse a beautiful scene with a good subject to paint. They are not always the same thing. Value shapes and their arrangement are what make a good subject for painting.
Once I have chosen a possible subject, I set-up my easel. Then, I draw a value study in my sketchbook (the most important tool I have) using markers or pencils. If it is at the end of the day and the light is moving fast, I will do my sketch before setting up my easel. Also, if it is a complex scene like in the city, I might do my value study using paint (usually neutral tint). My study usually takes around 5-10 minutes. The value study is important, and I do one for every painting, even when I am in the studio. With the study, I am planning my basic composition, recording where the light and shadow shapes are, trying to foresee any problems, and planning my value pattern. I then draw out my composition on my paper lightly with a 2B pencil. This can take between 10-15 minutes depending on how complex the scene is. I am usually trying to make sure my angles and proportions are believable at this point.
With the drawing done, I can start painting. I usually do a first wash which is like “toning a canvas” where I paint around only the whites. Some paintings have very little white. This first wash stage is wet, loose, and fun! I get to fling paint and water and even splatter. During this stage, I usually finish the sky. I let this first wash dry before starting on the middle and dark values.
The middles value stage is the hardest and the most important. I usually try to paint my middle value shapes together and connect as many as I can—changing colors as I paint so that paint mixes on the paper. I will also bring some darks in here and there when I want soft edges. I will also soften edges with a clean, damp brush when needed. The details are usually painted last and with darker values. This is where the illusion of form is created, and the painting starts to make sense. It is easy to add more details than I need, so I try to stop before I am finished.
Taking the painting away from the scene, I then let it sit in my studio where I can see it for about a week. If there is a shape that bothers me or a shape that needs to be added to improve the painting, I do it. If I can’t come up with anything to improve it, I am done.
Hillside Barn 9 x 12" WC
I mostly use Saunders Waterford 140 lb. cold press or rough, and their 200 lb. cold press paper. I also make my own watercolor panels to paint on when I am painting on site by adhering the Saunders Waterford 200lb cold press paper to 3/16” gatorboard with acrylic heavy gel medium. It makes for a nice painting surface and doesn’t buckle at all.
I use a combination of Daniel Smith and Holbein Watercolors. Here are the bulk colors in my palette: Alizarin Crimson Permanent (either brand), Quinacridone Rose (DS), Transparent Red Oxide (DS), Transparent Yellow Oxide (DS), Transparent Yellow Lemon (DS), Transparent Orange (DS), Cadmium Red Medium (either brand), Ultramarine Deep (HOL), Cobalt Blue (HOL), Cobalt Turquoise (DS), Sap Green (DS), Carbazole Violet (DS), Payne’s Gray (either brand). I also use some opaque colors including White Gouache, Cobalt Teal Blue (DS), Lavender (HOL), and Horizon Blue (HOL). These may seem like a lot of colors, but I don’t use all of them in one painting.
I use two main brushes, a Mop/Quill brush that holds a lot of water and a synthetic brush with a good point. I try to get the biggest size available. Here are some quills I like: Princeton Neptune Quill (#8) and Raphael Soft Aqua (#6). Here is my favorite synthetic brush: Escoda Perla Toray White Synthetic Round (#18).
In addition to the artists you have studied with, what other artists’ work and books do you find inspiring?
What words of encouragement and inspiration do you give your beginning art students?
Everyone was a beginner once, so keep painting and embrace your failures as learning experiences. Enjoy the journey and try not to focus only on the destination.
Brienne Brown holds signature membership status in the National Watercolor Society, the American Impressionist Society, the Western Federation of Watercolor Society, the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the Utah Watercolor Society. She has exhibited and won multiple awards for her paintings nationally and is published in several plein air and watercolor magazines. Brown maintains a vigorous teaching schedule.
Watercolor artist and plein air painter Brienne Brown holds signature membership status in the National Watercolor Society, the American Impressionist Society, the Western Federation of Watercolor Society, the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the Utah Watercolor Society. She has exhibited and won multiple awards for her paintings nationally and is published in several plein air and watercolor magazines.
Filled with inspirational examples by the masters of nightime painting, this little book is sure to fire up your creative energies. Never tried painting at night? We show you how it's done with a step-by-step-oil demo and a tale of night painting in the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes is a 7 x 7" PDF download with 40 pages of text and images. It includes a gallery of paintings by masters of the nocturne, information to inspire and encourage you in your plein air nocturne painting, an illustrated step-by-step demo and tips for working in pastel and oil. Also available in a softcover edition. Check out the tools and other products that we use in our own art and travels in The Artist's Road Store. We only offer things for sale that we enthusiastically believe in.
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals. You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below. About AnnAbout John Hulsey Trusty Studios We are also regular contributors to the Plein Air blog at Artist Daily.