Monday, April 25, 2016

Painting Out West

"Pusch Ridge", Tucson
8"x10" oil on linen panel
"Saguaro Near Picacho Peak"
10"x8" oil on linen panel
Last week I was in Arizona for the 5th annual Plein Air Convention. It was amazing to listen to and to watch fabulous painters show us how they work. Some that I particularly enjoyed were Jove Wang, Matt Smith, Paul Kratter, and Lori Putnam. Bryan Mark Taylor gave a wonderful presentation on how we learn, and how one can learn to paint better, faster. Fascinating.

When circling to land, I was dismayed to see what looked like mountains made of dirt, which isn't too far from reality. But the plant life is so interesting, I didn't wish for granite rocks. We all fell in love with Saguaro Cactus. It takes 50 - 100 years for one of these guys to grow their first arm. Wow.

Each day there were paint outs as well as presentations. Above are my two paintings. Karen Ann Hitt and Bill Anton gave me advice on the second, and the painting is better for it!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ocean Blues

 "Ocean Blues"
24"x24" acrylic on gallery wrap canvas

"Ocean Hues"
16"x16" acrylic on canvas

I've been having fun experimenting with acrylics on big canvases. Last year I painted Ocean Hues (bottom - 18"x18"), and very much enjoyed it, so I wanted to continue the theme. This one is called "Ocean Blues" (top - 24"x24"). As I worked on it, it became a bit less abstract than my original intention, but it's about going where the painting wants to go, isn't it?

I'm off to the Plein Air Convention later this week. If any of you are going, please let me know, I'd love to meet up.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cub Scout Questions

Hi everyone,

I’m back from shoulder surgery and some time off from painting because of that. The good news is that my shoulder is doing fine, and I’m hoping the soreness that used to come the day after painting will be gone for good!

A fun thing that I did while taking the time off, was to speak to a group of cub scouts who were working on their Art badge. Artists Corner and Gallery arranged this for me and set up the gallery for the talk. I was given some questions beforehand, but I was most impressed by the insightful questions the scouts asked during the presentation. We talked about their interest in art, and I was pleased to be talking to a group of budding cartooners! 

I set up my plein air painting gear and we talked about painting out of doors and in the studio. My iPad was passed around with photos of my small painting studio in my home. We talked about the pros and cons of oil and acrylic paints. I showed them a few of my paintings and we talked about choosing painting subjects.

A couple of the questions that came up during the talk really made me think. I was asked “What's the hardest painting you’ve ever done?”  I replied, that painting a new subject is often hard, and my approach to that is to do a few small quick test paintings to get used to the subject (see above). It’s much easier after that to do a successful painting. “What's your favorite painting you’ve ever done?” was also fun to think about. My current favorite is usually a recent painting that I particularly enjoyed doing, and I find that sometimes I have to wait a while before I can sell one of those. They are kind of like your children, it’s hard to send them out into the world!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Circles on Squares

"Circles on Squares"
6 blocks, 4"x4"x1 1/2" each, acrylic on cradled panels

Cradled panels drying on vitamin bottles

ArtRage mock up of the colors to be painted on each block
(ArtRage on an image of the painted blocks)

palette after painting the circles
airbrush medium was used to thin the acrylic

finished blocks

I'm entering a juried show at the new Artists Corner and Gallery in Acton, MA. The theme is Homage to Kandinsky's Circles, which you can see here. I decided to make each square on a separate small cradled panel. That way there are many ways to arrange them on a wall, or they can be stacked on a shelf. Pretty wild aren't they? I hope this piece gets in, it took rather longer than I expected!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Painting on a Time Budget Workshop

 Demo of tangerine on blue background
4"x4" oil over acrylic under painting

Acrylic under painting example

Yesterday I taught a fun workshop at Artascope in Yarmouth, Maine. Students had gathered to learn how to put together a regular painting practice on a time budget. I'm a big believer that painting small paintings regularly, and doing your best to finish them in one sitting is the way to go to see fast improvement in your work. I also think that an approach using a solid value under painting makes for better composition, and thus better paintings. This was the basis for our workshop. 

Even for our small timed paintings, like the tangerine above, we did value under paintings. In that case the under painting was in acrylic with the color added in oil or acrylic, depending on the student. Painting over a value study allows you to make sure the value of the mixed color is correct. Put a dab of mixed color over the value and squint. If the color becomes indistinguishable from the value background, it's the right value. Students did several of these, as well as value studies, and added color over a value under painted landscape.

Color over Value Process
  1. Notan thumbnails in sketchbook
  2. Draw to size on canvas
  3. Block in value under painting (3 or 4 values)
  4. Add color over value (squint to check for value match)
  5. Refine shapes and values
  6. Highlights and pizzazz
Disclaimer: I've learned most of these techniques from the wonderful teachers I've studied with, in particular, Anne Blair Brown, Lori Putnam, Marc Hanson, Peggi Kroll-Roberts, and Carol Marine. Please forgive me if I've left anyone out!

The Bedroom Studio

Bedroom studio with desk replacing the bed

Desk with Ikea "Alex" drawers and "Billy" bookcase

Cardboard boxes used for organizing things

Cardboard boxes slide away under the shelf

Brush organizers made from paper towel tubes

Shoe box of framing tools

As part of the workshop I taught yesterday on building a regular painting practice on a time budget, we talked about how to minimize the obstacles that get in the way of painting regularly. See the list we discussed at the bottom of this post.

I showed the above photos of my "bedroom" studio. For years I painted in this small bedroom, setting up my still life on a cooler sitting on the double bed which took up most of the floor space! Eventually we needed fewer bedrooms and I was able to move out the bed, install an old desk set up that was headed for the dump, and over time added a couple of Ikea items. But I'm still heavily invested in cardboard, as you can see by the organizers in the photos above. Note that even the taboret is a big cardboard box, and there are others around the room, taped shut, which are used to make stands for still life set ups. The fancy easel is new, for a long time I used either an aluminum Stanrite easel or my plein air box and tripod.

Make it easy to paint - get rid of the obstacles

Minimize set up and clean up

·      Studio in a bedroom

·      Easel

·      Masterson box for palette

·      Big flat box under the bed )to hold your supplies when not in use)

·      Cardboard boxes are great

·      Ikea is great

·      Ziplock bags are great

·      Paper towel tubes are great

·      Glass and plexiglass make good palettes

Be prepared

·      Decide what you’re going to paint the day before, anticipation motivates

·      Set up your still life the day before

·      Crop your photo the night before


·      Paint before you start doing anything else, especially before you get in the car…

·      Tell yourself you only have to do step x this session

·      Tell yourself you only have to paint for one hour


·      Paint small and finish in one session – achievement is a great motivator!

Disclaimer: Some of these ideas are mine, but many come from artist friends and teachers. Thanks to everyone for sharing!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Abstract Notans

 Number 1

Number 2

Number 3

Number 4

Cropping in Photoshop

Drawing and painting aren't the only way to experiment with composition. For these notans, I tore up black construction paper and laid the pieces out on a piece of white paper, then moved them around. I took some photos with my phone and opened them in Photoshop for cropping. The combination of moving the pieces and adjusting the crop creates the composition. You could crop on your phone. But I found that I had to try several crops on each image before I got something that I liked, so Photoshop, where I could save each version, was easier.

Which one do you like best?

I think this could be addictive!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Useful Notan

Across from Library, Littleton, MA

Across from Golf Course, Maynard, MA

Across from Old Baptist Church, Yarmouth, ME

Four Corners, Groton, MA

A simple Notan (the word means dark light harmony in Japanese), contains only black and white. The Notans above were drawn using the principle that, anything in sunlight is white, anything in shadow is black. We've all learned that a compelling composition can be made when 2/3 of the composition is light in value and 1/3 is dark in value, or vice a versa. The Notan is a wonderful device to show us if we are achieving that goal. I know that on my first pass, I'm usually too close to 50/50 ratio.

It's easiest to draw Notans like those above, where the sun gives us an obvious choice for light and dark. But if you are inside, or the day is overcast, you have to make your own judgement as to where the threshold for light and dark should be placed. That often requires experimentation. Take a look at the page below, where I drew thumbnails of a bed, with a lighted lamp on a table to the left side of it. My first drawing is at the top left, and final drawing is at the bottom right. Which of these do you find the most compelling?

Saturday, January 2, 2016

More People at the Market

Figure 3
oil on treated paper

Figure 4
oil on treated paper

Figure 5
oil on treated paper

Above are a few more value studies of figures of people in markets in France. I went back to the original photos as references for the five studies. And before I started, I watched two of my favorite Peggi Kroll-Roberts videos. You can check them out on her website here (scroll down, these two are in sets 2 and 3).

My personal favorite is Figure 3. How about you? And I promise, there will be color soon!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

Figure 1
oil on treated paper

Figure 2
oil on treated paper

French sketches, Titanium White, Portland Grays, and Chromatic 
Black used to mix values for the studies

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year!

It's January and that means it's time again for 30 Paintings in 30 Days. Last summer I spent some time sketching people in several markets in Provence, and I've been looking for an opportunity to do something with those sketches. So I'll start this 30 in 30 redoing a few of those figures as value paintings. These are the first two.