“For a person born and raised in the Pacific Islands, specifically the Philippines, it’s so rare to see a vast panoramic landscape,” says Richie Vios. “As an architect practitioner in the Philippines I taught architectural design at the university and did architectural watercolor rendering, but with the introduction of digital rendering, the old-school rendering became a dinosaur.
“In 2005 my family migrated to Florida, where I worked as an architectural designer for five years, never touching a brush to paint. It was all done on a digital platform. I felt half the person I used to be in terms of confidence. In 2010 my family moved again, to Maryland, but I decided to go back to the Philippines to practice again as an architect. For the five-year span I again developed my love of drawing.
“I consider myself a self-taught artist although I have a very strong foundation in geometric forms and linear perspective, ‘an absolute must for a landscape painter,’ as my mantra goes. I also like to tell others to ‘draw and draw with a pencil until when you hold a brush it is almost the same as a pencil. And to paint and paint until the brush becomes an extension of your hands.’
“In my free time, I started attending the Urban Sketching group until I encountered the words ‘plein air’ and my compass in life changed forever. I started researching the movement and discovered the PleinAir Podcast by Eric Rhoads, and decided that this is my calling, this is the other half of my life that I was looking for, for so many years.
“In 2017 my family moved to Victoria, Texas. I decided to pull the plug on my architectural practice in the Philippines and move back to the United States again. As architects, we base our living on projects, but since I’m an artist now, I have to create projects on my own.”
“Once when I was painting on the side of the road, a guy approached me and wondered what I was doing. He told me about a local art league in town and encouraged me to join. That’s the beauty of plein air — while painting, it’s already a form of advertising since people will see you doing your thing firsthand.
“The following week I signed up to become a member and exhibit my work. To my surprise the painting sold right away, and the buyer contacted me, asking me to tell more about the painting since plein air was new to most of the local collectors. I arranged a demonstration of the Art League and after that so many doors have opened for me. I became a Victoria Art League Resident Artist, and now I’m invited to teach workshops and participate in juried plein air events around the country. Here’s some of what I’ve learned:
Paint With a Smile on Your Face
“In my watercolor workshops and classes, I always tell my students that the mark of a good artist is to be able to capture the different facets of life in their paintings, the mode, ambiance, etc. In a sense, not just illustrating or recording what they see but expressing what they feel. For plein air painting, watercolor is the perfect medium in my opinion: it’s handy, quick to dry, yet delivers a truly magnificent work of art. Trust me, if you paint with no fear and a smile on your face, you can paint a masterpiece.”
Get a Good Mentor
“In my classes I normally inject some comic relief to make painting a more fun and enjoyable experience. I tell my students, you have three ‘CVS’ pills to make a successful painting. C is for Confidence, V is for Visualization, and S is for Skills. You can’t be confident enough if you can’t visualize your painting first, either through thumbnail sketching or in your mind.
“But you can’t visualize if you don’t have the skills. So learn techniques as well as you can, use the best materials that you can afford. They say practice makes you perfect, but bad practice makes you worse. So look for a good mentor and get your creative juices flowing. Learning skills is like slow-cooked food — once it’s cooked, it tastes heavenly.”
Paint the Iconic
“As a newbie to plein air competition events, I realized that once you’re juried into a particular plein air event, you’re capable of producing gallery-level works. Important to your success, however, is your choice of subject. That’s connected to the heritage of the place and the people, plus how you bottle the subject into an extraordinary piece of work.”
In Confident Watercolor, Richie Vios lays out the three core skills you need to create successful watercolor paintings.