Shapes & Shadows: Once a beginning artist, Carol Curtis is now a teacher

Carol Curtis surprised herself by winning the Peoples’ Choice award for the first watercolor she ever painted - a facial profile of an American Indian woman.

Now, 10 years later, Curtis is actively selling her work and will teach a beginner’s watercolor class at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library on July 20. Her work can be viewed at La Jolla’s Girard Gourmet and at the Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild.

“I didn’t know what I was doing when I took that watercolor class from Ted Nuttall,” Curtis said.

Nuttall thought differently and encouraged her to enter her first work in a competition at the Scottsdale Artist School.

“Even when I won, I still knew that I knew nothing; I thought that winning the contest was a fluke,” Curtis said.

After her early success, Curtis began a series of classes with some of the top watercolor painters in the U.S., including workshops with Charles Reed in Italy and France. Then concerned that she couldn’t really understand watercolors until she studied other media, she took classes in pastels and oils. But watercolors remain her passion.

“It’s not because it’s like playing with finger paints, but because it requires mental discipline,” Curtis said. ‘You have to work with watercolors, instead of forcing them, where with oil paints, you force them.”

While her portfolio is filled with vivid still lifes of colorful produce, people’s faces also inspire her to pick up a brush.

“It’s the evidence of life on a face that makes you want to paint it - laugh lines, sun lines, streaks in their hair and all the details of an individual face,” Curtis said.

To Curtis, shapes and shadows are the essence of painting.

“No matter what you paint, you’re painting shapes and the light falling on them,” Curtis said. “Whether it’s a cheek or an apple, it’s the same premise when you think of the shapes as an oval ball for the forehead and concave balls for the eyes.”

Curtis stresses the importance of quality paints and prefers using Old Holland paints because they contain 75 percent of pigment in their colors.

“Good paints are essential for anyone - even beginners - to work with,” Curtis said. “To use bad paint is like trying to make cookies out of sugar water.”

To that end, she offers her beginning students the option of buying a starter kit containing a full palette of Windsor-Newton paints and quarter sheets of paper. A loaner sable brush is also available for purchase.

Curtis loves working with beginners because she believes that every artist is a beginner every time they face a blank piece of paper.

“I don’t care how good you are, your eye is always ahead of your hand, and there is always that moment when you look at that blank piece of paper,” Curtis said.

Curtis is currently working on a portrait of Francois and Diana Goedhuys, owners of Girard Gourmet.

“They have a Julian farm and grow almost everything they cook, so I go up there to photograph subjects to paint,” Curtis said.

Her creativity is not limited to painting; she also designs sweater knitting patterns, textured fabrics and needlepoint canvases. La Jolla’s Needle Nook stocks her designs of hand-painted needlepoint canvases.

See Carol Curtis’ work

Girard Gourmet:

Curtis has 16 pieces on display through July.

Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild:

Curtis is showing two works.


Curtis’ class will be held July 20. Call (858) 454-5872 for information or registration.