Mark’s Manuscripts April

Hello fellow artists,

Welcome to a new feature here, with some fun and helpful nonsense all about art.   This inaugural issue of  “Mark’s Manuscript”  is inspired by spring and the improving weather that  provides the opportunity to study in nature’s classroom.  For some working outdoors is an  intimidating prospect, but this issue is all about the benefits of working “small” on location.  One of the greatest benefits to working small is that you can easily hide what you’re working on from the curious public … as the pesky passerby encroaches on your personal space, just place your elbow across your work, hold your chin, and pretend you are deeply pondering your subject.  Kidding aside, while it can be intimidating working en plein air, with some simple strategies you will be jacked to work outdoors and create great art while working small on location.

When I was at art school studying graphic art and illustration the assignments came fast a furious, and as students we were encouraged to use thumbnail sketches to explore several different ideas for each project, and then and only then were we permitted to continue with the strongest concept.    When I started off my life in fine art I came to rely on these thumbnails as an important and strategic element of my creative process.  Now as a teacher I am able to use this type of drawing to convey design, composition, and creative ideas to students in a more clear way that words simply can not duplicate.  My teaching philosophy is simple … teach the language of visual literacy and students can learn to paint, draw, sculpt in any medium using any techniques that inspires them.  The voice of my instructor David Mcleagan echoes… ” if you have great technique and bad design you are always going to have a bad painting – however if you have great design, technique matters little.”   The thumbnail sketch allows artists to free themselves of the trappings of technique and formula by sorting  out their composition and design elements first before executing their concept.


Work in any medium you are comfortable with, pencil, charcoal, or paint.  Restrict your size to 3-4 inches only.   Identify your centre of interest or focal point, identify the main gesture in the composition and limit your  thumbnail to 9-12  shapes.  Vary the shapes in size and character.  Allocate a distinct value to each shape (make them different in value to their neighboring shape).   For each subject explore 6 distinct compositions; vary the orientation of your thumbnail as well as your vantage point.   Quickly move to the next subject … and repeat the process, keeping your studies quick and fluid.   This is the single best way to improve your location work.

I often like to work on toned paper using black and white china markers – this is a quick way to establish your darkest darks, highlights, and mid-tones.  When using watercolours I often clean up the muddy paint in my palette by doing a few watercolour thumbnails on scrap watercolour paper (the backs of failed studies in my studio are in no short supply).  In recent years I have taken to doing small watercolour studies on location in my handmade leather journals using my leftover morning coffee, or in the evening sacrificing a little red wine, both of which make for wonderful little tonal studies which are all good practice.

I am always amazed that artists don’t practice their craft more….. for some reason many beginners and intermediate artists only want to “make paintings”  or  finished drawings.  My advice to all artists is to constantly practice.  Perfect practice makes perfect, and the art of the thumbnail is exactly that …. perfect practice.  Enjoy!

photo-20Florence, Italy, watercolour study in my Journal

photo-22Pienza, Italy, watercolour study in my journal


2014 Grand Prix Winners

2013 Event News An amazing turn out for the Steveston Grand Prix of Art, 2013. With the good karma of 85 participating artists all pulling for good weather; the skies opened up with beautiful sunshine for our fourth annual event. Thirty youth and fifty-five adult artists braved the chance of a rain, but were rewarded with sunshine. Thank you to all the volunteers and artists who make this event possible. Here are the winners of this years event.

People’s Choice Community Art’s Council of Richmond $350 Jodie Blaney Steveston Tram Acrylics

2103 Grand Champion Coast Capital Savings $500 Cash Prize Stephen Chen “Clouds of Fall” Oil

2nd Place John Hoffman Community Arts Council of Richmond $250 Cash Prize “Back Alley “ Ink & Watercolour

3rd Place Community Arts Council of Richmond $150 Cash Prize Leo Hu “Fishing market” , Oil

1st Place Youth ” Gert Young Award” Richmond Artist Guild Iris Lee “Capture the moment” , Watercolour

2nd Place Youth Phoenix Art Workshop Vania Eng “Seaside Fall”, Acrylic

3rd Place Youth Phoenix Art Workshop Tamara Steves “At the Dock”, mixed Media

Honourable Mention P.F. Gray, “Rainy Steveston Day” Pastel

Annie Tsai, “Number 28″ Watercolour

Appllo Reerente, “Big Red” Watercolour


For more information on the 2014 Grand Prix of Art please visit


Mike Radford

Mike Radford Associate member of the Federation of Canadian Artists

and regular traveler to Latin America, Mike has been teaching watercolour s at Phoenix Art Workshop from its inception in 2001. Mike works  almost exclusively in watercolour and chooses a variety of subjects to paint, from still life to landscape.  Mike’s perspective and stories of his Latin American travels are entertaining and complement to his on-location demonstrations.

Ruins, Havana


Phoenix Art Workshop is proud to present our new updated travel blog, where our customers can follow our current and past painting excursions. This May we will be taking a group of artists to Bali, Indonesia and this site will help to keep you posted on our adventures in Ubud, Amed and afterward to the cultural centre of the Island of Java, Yogyakarta.

You can also check out some of our past adventures to Italy, Cuba, Guatemala and other amazing locations, or follow Mark’s daily painting posts this summer starting with our first Sunday Session on April 28.

Colombia 2014 

Join Mark Glavina and Mike Radford as they host  their 6th painting tour together, Phoenix Art Workshop’s 11th International excursion. January 2014 our art adventure begins in the Capital City of Bogota with visits to some amazing galleries including the National Gallery. The Gallery of Modern Art  and Museo Botero (dedicated to the most famous Colombian artist).  From there we will slow our journey down sipping on fresh coffee at one of the worlds most famous coffee regions before continuing to the magnificent walled Spanish Colonial city of Cartagena where we will spend a week drawing and painting in the streets of this historic highlight. Options to extend your adventure and fly out of one of the most famous Colombian cities of Medellin or spend a few relaxing days on the beaches of Santa Marta. To get your name on our priority travel list and qualify for early registration discounts please email:


Sunday Sessions

Sunday Sessions are back


Come join us on location for this fun informal

non-instructional painting group as we head out to different locations in the lower mainland to paint and sketch.  These Sunday Sessions are free to join and are a great introduction to plein air painting if you are hesitant about going out on your own.  Have fun painting with a group of your peers, and get some sun while you’re at it!



Sunday,  April 28th

Chinatown … a pre- Bali paint out!

meet us under the Millennium Gate at 9:00am


Sunday,  June 16th

Gas Town

Meet us at the steam clock at 9:00 am


Sunday,  June 30th

Granville Island

Meet in front of Bridges restaurant at 9:00am


Sunday,  July 7th

Fort Langley

Meet in front of the Fort Gallery at 9:00am


Sunday,  July 21st

Terminal Train Station off Main St

Meet at the monument in front of the train station 1t 9:00am


Sunday,  August 11th

Saturna Island

Details to be announced for this special weekend

join us for this weekend of painting

with guest artist Kerry Vaughn Erickson



For more information about our Sunday Sessions or to get up to date information

join our Sunday Session email :

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