Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

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The Art of Seeing With Joyce Hicks

Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision. It is the seeing of the thing that makes it so. –Charles Webster Hawthorne

Joyce Hicks bookJoyce Hicks, my favorite watercolor artist has just released her first book: Painting Beautiful Watercolor Landscapes: Transform Ordinary Places into Extraordinary Scenes.  I eagerly awaited Joyce’s book and was fortunate to receive a review copy from the publisher.  However, I’d already purchased a book before the review copy arrived, because I couldn’t wait any longer.

Art is my escape from writing and publishing.  When I can’t stand one more minute in front of the computer screen, I head for the studio and let watercolors soothe my spirit.  There’s something magical about watching wet paint blend on fine cotton paper, granulating and flowing into extraordinary colors and shapes.  I can choose to control it, or not.   I can paint an actual scene or let the paint go where it will.

Joyce Hicks has a special gift for transforming scenes.  She will detect special elements in an ordinary looking barn surrounded by overgrown bushes.  She snaps an unremarkable photo and then uses paint, brushes, and her imagination to create a captivating scene.

Isn’t that what great writers do?  Both the pen and the brush capture our imaginations.  We change scenes to fit our own view of the world, and sometimes we’re able to transmit that magic to our viewers and readers.  That’s why we work so hard to perfect our technique in writing, art, dance, theater, and all other creative endeavors.  What we end up with isn’t always pretty, but it’s real.

In her book, Joyce says, “ I think the art of seeing has been lost because there are so many distractions in today’s world. It is pure joy when we really begin to see and feel beauty, and if we slow down enough, maybe we can attempt to describe it.” Joyce’s tips for artists fit any medium of self- expression. (I have added the parentheses)

  • Perseverance and determination are traits far more important than any talent you may possess.
  • The most common mistake artists (and writers) make as beginners is to follow the natural tendency to try to say too much . . .  Doing so leads to confusion and overshadows the piece’s main message.
  • Fear of failure blocks the way to bold, confident statements.
  • It is not enough to simply want to paint beautiful pictures; you must also arm yourself with necessary skills and knowledge. . .
  • As your skill and experience grow, you learn to eliminate unnecessary clutter from your work.
  • If you want to create a work of art, exaggerate  your feelings for the subject and paint (or write) ideas instead of things. . . . use your imagination to uncover hidden potential.


How-to art books contain photos of the artist’s work with demonstrations and instructions. I’ve seen many how-to books that leave out vital steps in the process.  Either the publisher had to eliminate steps to save space, or



the author doesn’t want to reveal her special secrets to the masses.  Either way, an artist finds those demonstrations hard to follow.  I’ve sent back several art books  because I was unhappy with the demonstrations.

Not so with Painting Beautiful Watercolor Landscapes.  In this book, Joyce shares twelve of her finest paintings and shows exactly how to recreate them.  The goal is to help each artist develop confidence and find a personal style.  Her teaching reflects deep concern for readers and fellow artists.

About Joyce Hicks

Joyce Hicks May 20

A demo for this painting is included in the book.

Joyce instructs national and international workshops and acts as judge and juror for watercolor exhibitions. Her paintings have received wide recognition through various shows and awards and she is a Signature Member and three time award winner of the prestigious American Watercolor Society. Numerous books and publications have featured her paintings and written articles about her work. She resides in a light-filled Texas home with her husband Larry and little dog, Sassie.

Painting Beautiful Watercolor Landscapes is everything I hope for in an art book.  If you’re a watercolor artist, I recommend you place this book at the top of your list.  If you’re considering watercolor, Joyce’s book will inspire you.  

About Sammie Justesen

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

A great investment for writers

A great investment for writers

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A recent review of Dialogue for Writers

What I left with after reading Sammie’s book is a brain swimming with ideas she has generously shared based on her years of experience in all aspects of the industry. She shows us, not just tells us, with style, humor and an easy, comfortable voice. Her examples bring the points to life. Sammie indeed practices what she preaches, and shares with us as reader and writer a fun to read and handy compilation based on experience and insight.   –Gin Getz, author of The Color of the Wild and The Last of the Living Blue



The ART of Writing Descriptions

Writing descriptive passages is much like painting a scene. Both artists and writers must decide what to leave in and what to ignore.  Joyce Hicks, my favorite watercolor artist, has this to say about painting scenes:    Joyce Hicks May 20

“The most common mistake artists make, as beginners, is to follow the natural tendency to try to say too much in a painting. Doing so leads to confusion and overshadows the piece’s main message. Remember that less is more, and knowing what to leave out is far more important than how much you leave in. As your skill and experience grows, you’ll learn to eliminate unnecessary clutter from your work and to focus on composition instead. If your goal is to take your work to the next level, you must first understand the meaning of design as it relates to art before you can move forward as an artist. You need to visualize your subject in simple terms so you can paint relationships between shape, color and value instead of painting ‘things.’

“For many who first begin to paint, the tendency is to act as a human camera recording subjects as accurately as possible instead of using time-honored principles and elements of design to produce works of art that are more pleasing and worthwhile. Knowledge is power, and the lack of it is what leads to failure. Fear of failure blocks the way to bold, confident statements and paintings that look as if they had almost painted themselves. It’s not enough to simply want to paint beautiful pictures; you must also arm yourself with necessary skills and knowledge if you are to have any hope of doing so.”

How true this is for writers, including me. I don’t want to be a human camera, yet I do want readers to “see” the things that surround my characters.  This concept is especially challenging as I write a memoir, because as I try and bring memories to life, my heart wants to include everything.  These are techniques I use:

writing hug

1. Ask yourself, “If I wrote this description as poetry, what would I include?” Good poetry is clutter free. Imagine the classic poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and think how Robert Frost might have written that scene in a novel. He chose to use the most vivid, painterly images in his poem, and they could be transformed into a compelling prose passage.

2. Work descriptions into the plot and combine them with action. This technique eliminates the stress of writing long passages and keeps the story moving.

3. Don’t be afraid to let your readers use their imaginations. Give them the bare bones and let their minds fill in the rest.

4. Since you’re writing from the viewpoint of a character, only include what that person would notice. Avoid having a narrator (you) interrupt the story to describe scenery or background information.  Stay inside one character’s head.  If you’re writing in first person, don’t have the character stray too far from the story.

5. Use strong, active words and concrete details instead of  vague, hazy descriptions.

6. Remember, knowing what to leave out is far more important than how much you leave in.

We artists sometimes cram too much information into a story or in a painting. Joyce Hicks says, “Doing so leads to confusion and overshadows the piece’s main message.”  As authors, we need to recognize the most vital message within each passage, then check to see if our writing supports that message without confusing, boring, or distancing readers.


We are painting with words, are we not?



Sammie Justesen is the author of Dialogue for Writers, a new book from NorLightsPress.

FRONT cover final

Sammie is also president of the Lawrence County Art Association

Joyce Hicks’  new book is available for preorder on Amazon:

Enjoy her blog at: 

Joyce Hicks book



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