Artist shares techniques for watercolor painting with Cheshire Art League  

CHESHIRE — American Watercolor Society silver medal winner Bivenne Staiger gave a demonstration earlier this month for the Cheshire Art League and the public. 

“I didn’t realize it was seven years since you did a demo for us,” said CAL’s past president Dale Spaner during the virtual event.“Everyone was so impressed with your demo then and we are so excited to have you back again.”

Spaner congratulated Staiger for her accomplishments, which include being featured in the February 2020 edition of “Watercolor Artist” magazine. Staiger also has a soon-to-be released book, “White! Light! Bright! Weaving Subjects with Backgrounds for Distinctive Watercolor Paintings.”

Bivenne Staiger, pronounced bah-ven, is passionate about painting and birds, and has been teaching watercolor painting for 20 years. She is a longtime instructor with Yale-Peabody Museum and is teaching this winter for the museum’s natural sciences illustration classes. 

“One of my favorite subjects happens to be birds, and I paint them all the time,” said Staiger, showing the audience a sketch of the blue jay she would use for the evening’s demonstration. The sketch comes from a photo the artist took herself. The sketch, she admits, usually takes more time than it does to paint it.

“I try to incorporate my subjects and backgrounds,” she said. “I do that with shapes and colors. Today I am using similar colors for the background.”

Preparation is important. Staiger readies for the task by “loading” her brushes with paint.

“Get the paint all the way to the back of the bristles,” she said.

She relies on large brushes, ranging from one inch to two, with a variety of round brushes. One of her most important brushes is a script brush, she said, adding that the brush has long bristles that come to a fine point.

Among her palette paint colors in the demonstration are Cerulean blue, followed by cobalt and ultramarine, a reddish-blue, Naples Yellow and Winsor Green. Staiger uses a professional grade paint; a less expensive student grade paint will work fine if cost is an issue, she said.

“I don’t know if you can tell, but I have all my paints arranged in color wheel order,” she added. 

She prepares her paper by putting water where she wants the paint to be lighter value, she explains.

“I do not put water over the whole paper, just enough to get the juices going, she explained.

 Steiger uses Arches 300-pound watercolor paper and advises not to use anything less than 140-pound weight.

“Most students do not use enough color in their paintings, and I am an advocate for color, she said. “If you want something to stand out, put more paint in your wash.”

“Boom,” Staiger exclaims several times as her brush flies across the paper.

“Once your paper is wet, you have to paint fast,” she said. “Watercolor paint dries about 30 percent lighter than when it is wet, so if you wet the paper you are already lightening the value.” 

Next the artist takes a pinch of salt from a saltshaker and sprinkles it across the paper. Added sparingly, it is an effect that will create little starlike snowflakes. She hastens drying with the help of a hairdryer.

“I paint in stages and that’s what my book describes,” she tells the group of almost 50 attendees.

To begin, Staiger works on the background and then the shape of the subject. Using a dry brush on wet paper technique to begin, she then changes to wet brush on dry paper.

There are other applications to apply paint (about five), so if you are new to watercolor, her advice is to practice all the different applications. “It makes all the difference,” she said.

Staiger’s book “White! Light! Bright!” summarizes her painting strategy.

“I have to save my white. I want to lay my colors in light at first and bright at first. That’s key,” she said. “Students often have a hard time in the first stages of watercolor painting, to see the big picture. You have got to start pale. The darks will pull everything in, in the end. Trust me.”

Staiger blogs at Her website is


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