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About the Author

Penny Soto is a native of California and lives and works in beautiful Pollock Pines near Lake Tahoe with her husband, Paul. Professionally painting, teaching and lecturing since 1980, she is one of the most recognized up coming artists.

Penny has had many Gallery and Museum exhibits in her career. She had received over 250 awards and honors, including the prestigious San Francisco Academy of Art scholarship award, which lead her to a career in illustration. A few of her clients include Nordstrom’s in which 26 of her “mural size” paintings are in their collection across the country, Pepsi Cola, Pacific Bell, Kaiser Foundation, Ralston Purina Corporation, Arlen Ness, Incorporation, Jamaica Plaza Corporation, American River Parkway, Sacramento, California, PGA Raley’s, The city of San Ramon, Pleasanton and San Mateo, Helen of Troy Cosmetics and others. Penny was the featured artist in the January 1996 issue of “The Artist’s Magazine”, also winning “The Artist’s Magazine competition as a finalist in 1997 with her air brush painting “Contemplation”, The Decorative Magazine 1997, North Light Books, “The Best of Floras”, 1999, and “Creative Computer for Artists”, 2002.

She has recently finished an article on fine art painting with the air brush and an artist’s profile for the world wide magazine, “Air Brush Action”, which will be released soon. She writes monthly step by step articles for the world wide web art magazines, World of Watercolor (features) Gloria Angelino, editor, and The Art Magazine (hints and tips) Marc Doyle, editor in the United Kingdom.

She is a member of San Francisco Society of Illustrators, Los Angles Society of Illustrators, California Watercolor Association (award signature member), The International Artist Society and more.

Her profound use and love of color had prompted her to design and Patent a special watercolor palette that holds 84 wells and spins for ease.

“Color overwhelms me, and I use it as profusely as possible. It is in fact, the essence of painting for me.

Spin A Color and her works can be seen on her web site Penny has designed and Patented a new palette called “Spin A Color” which has 84 wells, water tray and brush holder and will be on the market in a few months.




Sometimes you get so excited about the subject matter, that you forget all about the background! Well I found a good way to “think about the background later”!



Sylvester – Finished painting 

After you paint your subject matter as in this case, my silly cat, Sylvester, take a digital photograph and bring it up in a program like Photoshop or Illustrator or some other program that will allow you to crop out the background and fill it with color. If you don’t have one of these programs or a computer for that matter, take colored flow pens, make photocopies from a regular photograph and fill in the background to see how it will work with the subject. This was you can rule out what you don’t like without harming your painting. Of course it is always easier to plan ahead, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen.





You can try out different colors that complement your subject matter. In this case, I really wanted the colors to stand out in Sylvester so I chose a black background. Before I applied the black pastel, however, I put under colors first on the pastel paper. I used the colors that were in his fur: Blues, Purples, Oranges, Reds, etc. then applied Black pastel over these colors. This made the background echo some of the other colors in the painting and kept it from being solid black.

Next time your subject matter “overwhelms” you, you can try this method out!

Happy Painting!

Watercolor Backgrounds


Always a BIG problem………..backgrounds! In this painting I utilized the sharp edges and back lighting by a soft background.

First I wanted to make my subject matter “pop” out and I did this by using darks against lights and lights against darks. Most of the places that the roses are “light” or “back lit” I used a very dark value to make them come out. I love to place hard edges against soft edges, it adds a certain “crispness” and drama to the piece.

I didn’t want to paint “wet into wet” because I wanted it controlled. I wanted to achieve the look that photographers get when things are out of focus. So I mixed up a very dark color:

Sap Green + Indigo in a number 7 or 8 value.

For the Medium values I used Sap Green + Paynes Grey and Winsor Blue (red shade)

For the light values (about a 4 or 5) I used Paynes Grey + Winsor Blue + Sap Green + French Ultramarine Blue.

Here and there I glazed on Winsor Violet mixed with French Ultramarine Blue to “cool it back”

I wet the paper first, then let it dry till the shine was off. I then placed in all my dark values where I wanted them, then the middle values and then the lights. After this was placed in, and I liked the gradations and I had lights next to darks I took a stiff bristle brush and gently scrubbed out some color in a circular fashion. I left it wet and did not “dab” it with tissue. As you lift out the darkness of the color, the prominent color comes out, in this case, Sap Green that is cooled down.


I was careful to leave the darkest areas alone next to the light values on the roses.


In this area the Blues were prominent.

Be careful to vary the shapes as well. Try this out on a piece of scratch paper first to get the feel for it. Glaze on, just a tad……. some of the other colors in the painting (flowers) to integrate the whole piece. It solves a lot of problems doing “those dreaded backgrounds”!

‘The Spirit of the Greyhound II’


Well, this is the SECOND PART of the “Spirit of the Greyhound” painting. When I was done with the painting, I felt it was unbalanced and wanted something totally different in it. I knew I had “saved that spot for a reason”. I like the history of car hood ornaments, so I put my imagination to work! I studied up on greyhounds and found a good reference photo.

In this next photo:



It shows a tracing line drawing of what I wanted. I wanted the viewer to “barley” notice the “Spirit”.

My first step of course was the preliminary drawing. I then used only the line drawing and transferred it to tracing paper with a felt tip pen. I could get a better idea of what it looked like on tracing paper over the painting. It didn’t just happen with the first drawing either! It took me 2 or 3 drawing to come up with something that I liked……….and balanced out the painting.






In this step, the tracing is copied to “Frisket” paper, a low tact sort of contact paper used for air brushing to cover what you don’t want painted.(without the color bleeding) You can use it on watercolor paper, illustration board, canvas-all sorts of papers. It’s very low contact.


After I traced the line drawing onto the Frisket paper, I then took an Exacto knife and cut out the shape of the Greyhound dog. However, I want to use the pieces that are marked “x” rather than the “Greyhound dog”. I am using the “negative”. I then gently place it on the finished painting and rubbed all the bubbles out, like you would contact paper. Then I used white acrylic ink in my air brush and “lightly” glazed over the area that was exposed. Remember, I used the “x” pieces, which left the shape of the “dog” part open to paint. I had to be very careful not to get it to dark, so I kept lifting up the frisket to compare the value with the background. It’s easy to get it too dark. I air brushed a little heavier on the face of the Greyhound rather than the body.


The next step was to remove the frisket from my painting and I had an all light white greyhound shape! It needed detail to tell the viewer what it was. I then took the “positive” piece of frisket, (black photo) placed it on my painting and cut out the nose, eye, ear and band, separately, and air brushed each piece a little darker white. Remember, the whole greyhound was covered up this time except for the area’s I cut out. This gave it some detail. Filled up the “empty” space and gave it a little mystery, thus the name, “The Spirit of the Greyhound”.

Use your imagination and come up with something you can do in this style, it’s fun, exciting and interesting!



“The Spirit of the Greyhound”

‘The Spirit of the Greyhound’


This month the little hint and tip is on chrome surfaces. In my painting above, Airbrush and Inks, “The Spirit of the Greyhound”, notice all the chrome areas. To accomplish this, I started with a good pencil rendering for a “map” of where I was going. Below is the steps of how I started this work.
Step 1-the photograph
Step 2- the drawing using only 3 values, Dark, Middle and the white of the paper.
Step 3- Paint in the Darks with Black.


I established the very Darkest Darks first so this would give me a good idea of what value to make the hood ornament. I glazed over the darks with many different colors going from warm to cool. Warm at the top and cool next to the red car for a slight contrast. I did this with the airbrush and inks. Then I painted the red of the car, so I could get the correct reflections.

Next I hand painted the bottom of the hood ornament with many different colors, of reds, oranges and pinks and purples. It was very hard edged and graphic looking when I was done.

If you remember that chrome reflects what ever is around it, you can paint it successfully. In this case, the under part of the hood ornament was in the red family. The reflected surface was the car. The top of the hood ornament was in the Blue family- reflection of the sky. A good rule of thumb is chrome reflects what is around it but if you think of it reflecting the ground at the bottom and the sky at the top, you have it half way it figured out.

The next step was to “soften” it with the airbrush. I painted around the perimeter with white inks and softened up the hard edges.


I then added the “airbrush sparkle” by making little light reflections from the sunlight. I also erased some of the light areas as I was using inks and illustration board. If you use this combination, you can erase on it to “lift out” your lights.

Below is an example of using the eraser to “lift out” the lights of the headlight and the bottom photo are how the chrome reflects the ground and the sky.


Paper- Crescent Illustration cold press board
Paint, F & W Inks
Airbrush Iwata HPC Micron
Brushes-Princeton #2, 4


‘Gold Leafing’ 

YES! You can gold leaf just about anything, oils, acrylics, air brushing, watercolors and yes… Pastels! This is my painting of my daughter “Blue Mardi Grad Princess”


The columns, upper left corner and background are gold leaf in “variegated gold leafing. And on……………..That’s right, pastel paper! Actually it’s Ersta Sanded pastel paper. No priming, I just did my drawing with Nu pastel, (the face and mask and torso) then when it came time to do the background I wanted a Grecian/Roman look about it. I decided to do an arch to help “frame in” her face, the focal point. The next photo is a close up of the arch in the background with Blue/Black pastel next to it.


Start by using the best materials. I use Old World adhesive and different types of gold leaf papers. They come in copper, silver, Blue and Red variegated (my favorite), Bronze, etc. I apply the adhesive only where I want the gold leafing to “stick”. Dry it with a hair dryer and apply the thin sheets of gold leafing by laying it down gently and patting it with your fingers. Next take a semi hard brush and gently brush the excess away. If you find spots that you skipped or the gold leaf did not adhere to just paint the adhesive on top and dry with dryer (it should be tacky to the touch).


Re apply the gold leafing and again brush off the excess. I painted the pastel first, then did touch ups around it with pastel. I did not seal it,(spray fixative) there’s no need. It’s Wonderful………….You can purchase gold leaf and adhesive at a craft store and some art stores. There are so many uses for it:
Koi Fish and watercolor
Florals/gold rimmed vases
On material in paintings
In landscapes far away houses in the windows…….just a touch!
So it makes the viewer intrigued
Even on animals!
When the light hits it—it is beautiful!

Let your imagination run wild! Take a chance and try it! You will love it.



‘Spring Bouquet’





In “Spring Bouquet” I wanted to keep the background soft and quiet. The subject matter, the flower arrangement was vivid and bright. The way I softened up the background was a bit “unusual” for a watercolor!

I used Fabriano Uno cold press 300 pound paper. I painted the subject matter first with watercolors and brushes, then the windowsill. When it came time to paint the background I used “Frisket Film” to block out the subject matter and the windowsill. It’s a low contact paper that is used for air brushing but can also be used on watercolor paper. I placed a piece of it covering the entire painting and then took an exacto knife and “cut out” only the window areas. I carefully cut around the flowers. So when I was done everything was covered up with Frisket except the window area. You need to practice first on pieces of watercolor paper so you can acquire the right pressure.


I then pressed down the Frisket paper firmly and mixed up some colors in my airbrush using F & W Inks. I “transparently” glazed them on the paper. At the end, after I used blue, greens, violets, yellows and blacks, I used a circular stroke with opaque white. I wanted to soften down all the transparent colors I air brushed in and push them back.


I then took a “bristle brush” and dipped it into water and softly “scrubbed” circular strokes leaving a soft “edge” to the circle.


At the end of the painting I used transparent inks to “reflect” colors of the flowers onto the glass which tied the whole painting together.

I opted not to use the traditional wet into wet watercolor painting technique. I wanted something softer and different. Just another little tip and trick!

‘Pastel and Air Brush’

This is a painting done on “Velour” paper with soft pastels. Normally you would think just this would be enough, but the airbrush with acrylic Inks were used also.


I painted the subject first, my cat on the banister, and then thought about a background. She is so funny; it had to be something whimsical. Her favorite toy is a little gray mouse she carries around the house and plays with. So I got to thinking, using “imagination”, not just copying what I see……… and tried to think of something that would go well with what I wanted to say about her in my painting. I came up with her favorite toy. Of course I used the photograph for the “pose”, but constantly “grabbed” her up on my lap to look at her in which she was not pleased at all. There is nothing like painting from life, but it is not always possible.

Then I had to figure out a way to paint in all the little “mousses” on the wallpaper. I knew I didn’t want to do all of them by hand, so I cut a stencil out of acetate (5 mil) of a little mouse “running up the wall” for the wallpaper. I drew it first on paper and then placed the acetate on top of the paper and cut it out with an exacto knife. I then mixed up Sepia and Red Earth and Yellow Orcher with a little white F & W Acrylic Inks. I drew a straight line with pastel very lightly and placed the stencil on the line flat on the paper. I turned the “air pressure” down to 12 and very gently air brushed the stencil in. I air brushed all the mousses and then came back in with a Nupastel and dotted in bright pink noses on the mousses. But not so bright as the viewer will notice it more than the subject matter. When you see the painting you know something about it is different, then you look a little closer and “discover” the wall paper mousses!

After this was complete with the air pressure turned down I took several colors, purple, green, yellow and some pink and lightly sprayed the fur on her, just to give it a “zing” Remember to turn the pressure down or you will blow all the pastel off.

I then took some rich red browns and zinged up the banister.

You can do a lot with pastel and airbrush combined. You can also use it the other way around to. Here is an airbrush Hood Ornament with “pastel” dots and dashes.


Don’t be afraid to mix your mediums, do whatever it takes to make the painting work for you!

Award Winning artist Penny Soto