Interview with Watercolorist Kim Minichiello

by Paint Tube 8 Minutes

Interview with Watercolorist Kim Minichiello

From the earliest age Kim Minichiello has been creating. She has had an art and design career that spanned over 30 years.  She was a designer for Walt Disney Imagineering and a co-founded of an art licensing studio that has worked with over 35 manufacturers and had products in Target, Stein Mart and more. It was Minichiello’s love of travel that brought her full circle back to painting. And today her work draws inspiration from the people and cultures she has both visited and lived. 




What is it that watercolor gives you as an artist? 

So many things, but first, and foremost, joy!  I love the flow of pigment suspended in water over a beautiful sheet of paper. It gives me the transparency needed to achieve color that glows. 

It also gives me portability. Watercolor is a perfect medium for sketching and plein air painting. It is a very convenient medium. With the ease of clean up and having a dedicated space to paint, I can paint for a half hour or all day. 

Lastly, frugality. No paint is ever wasted.  Paint squirted out on the palette can easily be reconstituted with water. 




What’s important for someone just starting out in watercolor to understand about the materials available to watercolorists?

Someone just starting out should invest in good materials, professional artist grade paints, and good quality paper. 

Paper is the most important.  I’ve found that working on inferior paper can get really frustrating when results are unsatisfactory.  It is not the fault of the artist, but oftentimes, poor paper. Try different types and weights of paper to see what suits your painting style.  

I always recommend that beginners start with a cold press paper.  Then, once you are more familiar with the nuances of how watercolor works, branch out from there and try rough or hot press papers. Try different weights of papers as well. 

As far as brushes, it is important to know that natural hair brushes hold more water than synthetic or synthetic natural blends. It will be a matter of practice to get familiar with what your preferences may be. I use both natural and synthetic hair brushes, my choice based on what I want to achieve.

Also, invest in good quality artist grade paints. I highly recommend beginners start out with a limited palette and learn to mix color. Then, add to your collection of paint as you want to experiment and achieve specific results. 

Also, I stress to my students the importance of paper towels or a sponge to control the amount of water in the brush before it touches the paper. Blotting, and knowing when there is too much water in the brush, becomes intuitive the more you paint.




What types of pigments do you use and why? What characteristics are you looking for in your pigments and why? What do those characteristics allow you to do?

I use a variety of pigments from different manufacturers as, over the years, I have developed preferences for specific brands and colors. Just because the paint has the same name, may not mean it is the same color from manufacturer to manufacturer. 

I only use pigments that have high light fast ratings and stay away from fugitive colors that may fade. I love granulating pigments and use quite a few of those when I want to achieve texture in my work.

I don’t use many cadmium colors, which are semi opaque. I have just gotten used to using more transparent pigments. 

I’m currently in the process of swatching out every single tube of paint that I own and organizing the swatches in binders. This is an excellent way to know what characteristics each paint has, so I can make more informed choices when choosing paints for paintings.  




What sort of planning do you do before you begin painting? Why is that important? 

I spend a lot of time planning a painting before I touch brush to paper. My background is in design and I enjoy designing my paintings as much as I do painting them!  

In some of my workshops, I do a presentation on how I design a painting and my thought process for composition. Students are surprised how much time I spend in that part of the process. I feel design and composition are key to creating a successful painting. 

Based on the results I am after, I also plan what papers and pigments I will use for each work. I feel the more prepared I am at the beginning, the more successful the painting will be. Although, I still allow for some spontaneity in the painting process, which watercolor is perfect for.




Could you walk us through your process? 

First, is the idea. What do I want to say? What drew me to the subject matter and why do I want to paint it? What connection do I have to the subject matter? What story am I trying to tell? 

Then I design and compose. I may use a number of reference photos to design a painting and use Photoshop, as well as sketches to work out the design. I then make choices on what paper and pigments I want to use. 

Sometimes, I will swatch out colors and create mixes that I sample on scrap paper to  see if I can achieve what I am envisioning for the piece.  I work out a specific color palette for each painting. 

Once the design is set, I draw it on the paper and start painting. I think out the painting process in my head and determine a plan. The way I approach the painting process may differ from painting to painting. I feel each subject and design tells me how it needs to be painted. I work flat on a big drafting table, but every 15 minutes or so I clip the painting to an upright easel to stand back and analyze values. I adjust as I go pushing and pulling values. 

When I feel I am close to finishing, I make more value adjustments and work on any areas that don’t feel quite right. When I can’t make any more improvements, it is finished. 




What are you trying to capture in a reference photo so it fits for your process? What don’t you need to capture? 

When I’m taking photos that could be potentially used for paintings, I’m always looking for good design and interesting lighting to start with. I’m often drawn to shadow shapes and patterns. I try to take photos from different angles so that I can refer to them to study a subject’s details. If I have a design idea in my head, the photos are just stepping stones that I can use elements from to work out the design and composition.  

I also watercolor sketch and plein air paint so that I can study light and shadows. I don’t always need a fabulous photo to create a painting. I feel that is why painting and sketching on location also informs my studio work. 




You’ve said that you use Photoshop to help you design. How do you decide what to move around while you’re working in Photoshop? What are you keeping an eye out for?

I have the idea for a painting  in my head first. I also sketch out concepts in a sketchbook and on trace paper. Photoshop is a tool for me to delete and add elements and try different variations before I settle on the final design.  

I’m also aware of the different elements of design and use them to create good compositions to move the viewer's eye around the painting. Photoshop allows me to do this with ease. I can add and delete elements, select and bring in things from different photos,  and size things up and down.  




What are you thinking through when you’re composing a scene. What does a painting need to have on a compositional level to be a strong painting? 

I’m thinking of different elements of design, leading lines, diagonal lines, the golden ratio, rule of thirds, rule of odd numbers versus even numbers, and triangles of similar color to move the eye around a painting.  

I’m also aware of hard and soft edges, value patterns, interesting shapes, and variety of shapes. Where is my center of interest,  keeping in mind the hardest edges and highest value contrast are where the eye goes first. I’m also conscious of color temperature. 




What is color temperature and what does understanding it help you do as an artist? Where does color temperature come into play in your work?

I feel color temperature is a concept, that the more you paint, the more you understand it. When you get it, that light bulb moment happens! I am constantly aware of it in my work. Basically, color temperature is comparative. We associate reds, yellows, and oranges as warm, we think of fire. We associate blues and purples as cool, we think of ice.  

However, when you buy tubes of paint of one color, each color can have a warmer or cooler version when you compare the two. For instance, a red can be biased to be cool or warm. One might ask how can a warm color, red also be cool?  It can be when comparing it to another red. For example, Permanent Rose or Alizarin Crimson are cool reds when compared to a Cadmium Red or Vermilion. The latter leans warmer as it is closer to the warmer side of the color wheel. The cooler reds lean cooler as they are closer to the cooler side of the color wheel. 

I suggest artists work for a period of time with a split primary palette.  This is a warm and cool version of each of the three primary colors, red, blue and yellow. With these 6 tubes of paint you can mix any color under the sun as well as further your understanding of color temperature.

In my work, when I paint a passage, I am aware of value and color temperature. When I mix the puddle of paint on my palette, I often have a warm and cool part of the puddle so that I can get a variety of color temperature within the passage I’m painting.  




Thinking about color: When you’re analyzing your reference photo, how do you decide where you’ll push or change the color to make a better painting? How do you make those choices for a given piece?

This is where design and color temperature come into play. In the waterlily series I have done,  many of my reference photos had a similar, or same color of green in all of the lily pads. These are limitations that photo references might have, depending on the quality of your source. 

I knew from experience that my painting would be more dynamic by utilizing elements of design, and altering the color temperatures of the greens from lily pad to lily pad.  

This is an example of where a not so great reference photo can still become a good painting. My reference photos are only a starting point to then work out a better design, and composition, and make color choices based on what the painting needs, and not just what I see in the photograph.

In my painting,In My Solitude, I created a triangle of the more olive green lily pads, to move the eye through the painting.  Each lily pad and leaf also has a slight variation of warm and cool greens. The center of the flower has warm and cool yellows. The shadows on the white flower have warms and cools again. The orange color, on some of the lily pads, is a triangle of color, to move the eye around.  None of this was found in my reference photo.  Therefore, I use elements of design and knowledge of color theory, and color temperature, to create the painting. This is also why painting outdoors is often beneficial, it helps you to study from life, to build up your memory, and recall in the studio what actually occurs in nature. 

Learn more about Kim Minichiello by visiting her website or on Facebook or Instagram