Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sunflower Time!

I've gone a bit sunflower mad.

Three Sunflowers 8"x8" acrylic on treated paper

Sunflowers are one of my favorite painting subjects. There's so much to them, they're "chunky", in that there are lots of shapes and angles, and they have mass and weight. And bright colors too. There's a lot to love about a sunflower. I'm not the only artist that as loved them, Van Gogh sunflowers, anyone?

Vincent Van Gogh - Three Sunflowers

I've been using sunflowers this month as a way to learn a few things. One of them is how to make a time lapse video. Another is to play with abstraction in my painting. To do that I'm experimenting with acrylics. Well, to be honest I've painted sunflowers with oil, acrylic, and pastel in the last few days. It's so much fun to stretch my wings!

Sunflowers in gouache from a few years back

But the most exciting sunflower adventure I've had was visiting a field of sunflowers in eastern Massachusetts. Wow! Colby Farm is something else. You can wallow in sunflowers there. I was interested to find on a late afternoon visit that the flowers were not facing the sun. In fact the leaves of the sunflower follow the sun by a process called heliotropism, but only the budding flowers do this. Once the flowers are mature the stem stiffens and they always point east towards the sunrise. I was rewarded one morning last week by sunflowers awash in light.

Sunflowers in the Morning
8"x8" oil on canvas 
for videos of the sunflowers at Colby Farm see below

If you want more sunflowers, there are lots of them (including videos of Colby Farm) on my Instagram, along with a selection of my sunflower paintings. I've spent the last few weeks re-launching my Instagram presence, which includes beautiful images of paintings, studio shots, my new demo videos, and what I'm working on "right now". I'd love to have you follow me there. You can do that on your phone with the Instagram app, or online at

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Always Design First

 Seal Ledge 1

Seal Ledge 2

Seal Ledge 1 Thumbnails

Seal Ledge 2 - Thumbnail

You might think that when you're at a plein air festival and you've only got two and a half days to paint six paintings, that you should just get right to it, and skip doing a thumbnail in your sketchbook. You couldn't be more wrong. The most important thing in this situation is to not make mistakes, because do-overs take a lot of time. I tried to remember this last week at the Castine Festival. Above are two paintings that I very much enjoyed doing, because I love the structure of the subject matter and because I was able to stand in the shade!

Coming up with three thumbnails for the first painting only took about 5 minutes or so, and from those three I was able to move the trees around and design a new scene for the second painting the next morning. What a time saver!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

No One Will Steal Your Chair

 A tale of two events on the same Maine weekend 

Chairs lined up for last Friday's Yarmouth Clam Festival Parade
No one will steal your parade chair at the Yarmouth Clam Festival. Even if you put it out on the sidewalk two weeks ahead of time. It's a tradition, everyone stakes their claim and no one messes with the process.
Yarmouth has held its Clam Festival annually since 1965.  The festival food booths are put on by local non-profit organizations to fund their activities. My favorite is the pancake breakfast at the Congregational Church. There's an impressive parade, fireworks, live music on three stages, clam shucking contests, a firefighter's muster, fine arts and craft shows, a bike race, and a carnival and midway. People come from miles around every year for the festival.
I've been to the festival many times, but the last few years I've missed it. That's because my favorite plein air event of the year is on the same weekend, and it's 85 miles away in Castine, Maine. The clam fest had another successful year in 2017 and so did the Castine Plein Air Festival. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Fuel Dock - 8"x10" oil on Raymar panel
One of the best things about this year's plein air festival was the buyer's stories about what drew them to each painting. I spent a lot of time painting at one of the boatyards this year, and enjoying the scenery and the welcome shade. I love painting in boatyards, they are kind of my comfort zone. This was my first painting and I almost ditched it part way through. I'm so glad I persevered (thank you for your encouragement, Carol). It went to the boatyard owner's wife, who sent her father on a mission to find it.
Holbrook Ledge - 6"x8" oil on Raymar panel
I painted this one on the first day as well, in a shady spot at Fort Madison, at the entrance to Castine Harbor. The Guildive, a local ketch, oblidingly glided by in the distance three times, so that I was able to sketch it a few times and put it into the painting. At these festivals you aren't' allowed to use any photos, it all has to be done by eye. The buyers love this view, which they can see from their house. They kept bringing people by my table at the show to see their find. The art lovers of Castine are a very appreciative and lovely group of people.

If you'd like to learn more about the Castine Plein Air Festival, here's a post I wrote in 2015 that describes the town and all the fun you can have there.
Tomorrow is my last week of co-hosting the Artists Helping Artists Show with Leslie Saeta. It's been such fun and I've learned so much! If you'd like to listen to the shows, they're available as a podcast on iTunes and on Sticher. The shows have been "How to Use Lists to Organize Your Art", "What we can Learn From the Top Rated Artists Blogs", "It's Time to Organize Your Mailing List". And tomorrow's show is about what you can give away to boost your art business. You can join us here live at 9AM.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Flattening the Landscape

There's a problem with this painting (OK maybe two problems). The first problem came to my notice when I sent a photo off to friend. She thought that there was a meadow in front of the trees on the right. Hmmm, it's supposed to be clumps of small plants floating on the water. Smaller than lily pads, bigger than algae. I asked myself why it doesn't look right. And to aid in the analysis, I went back to the scene, got out my trusty grid on plexiglass, and did a quick outline on top of the grid of what I was seeing.

Despite the fact that the reflection is different (it wasn't as windy this morning as when I painted the piece), it's pretty easy to see the problem now. The floating plants on both sides take up too much space vertically. They need to flatten out. I decided that those on the left weren't too bad (even if they don't look like the drawing on the plexiglass) and focused on the right side.

Above I wetted the dry painting with solvent and redrew the shape of the clump of plants in ultramarine blue.

And then I repainted the reflection on the right and added a few floating clumps in front to enforce the idea. I hope it looks more like floating plants to you now.

The plexiglass grid is an excellent tool to tell you when your drawing has gone wrong. And one of the most common ways drawings go wrong in landscape painting is when we are attempting to show a horizontal surface receding into the distance. Marsh paintings are particularly problematic. When this goes badly wrong, we appear to be hovering over the scene rather than looking into it.

You can make a plexiglass grid very easily. You'll need a piece of plexiglass from the hardware store. At my store they were happy to cut it for me. You'll also need a Sharpie permanent marker pen to make the lines and a ruler. You'll want a dry erase pen for drawing your scene, so that you can erase it. I made a bunch of these for my students in my recent drawing class and they've been put to good use.

To use the grid, you first need to check the aspect ratio. My plexiglass grids are 6"x8", so for this 8"x10" painting, I marked off a quarter of an inch on each side, making the grid 6"x7.5" (an 8x10 aspect ratio). Hold the grid in front of you until the view is enclosed by the grid. Holding steady, quickly sketch the shapes. Now move the grid back and forth in front of your painting until the painting fills the grid. Now you can see where your drawing has gone awry.

And actually, you don't need the grid if all you're trying to do is see whether your drawing has any issues. The plexiglass itself with the dry erase marker will do the trick. But the grid can be helpful in laying out your drawing, and in seeing whether your horizon is straight and whether the sides of buildings are vertical. And of course, it's better to do this at the drawing stage instead of painting over a problem.

The second problem is the slash of sky reflection in the water, it's a bit crooked. I think I fixed it well enough.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Demos Are Fun

Clouds Over Harbor Island
9"x12" oil on canvas panel
Windjammer Days 2017

Doing a demo is a great experience for an artist. It's a bit intimidating the first time, but once you realize that people are really interested in the process, not looking for a masterpiece, and will ask interesting questions, it's a lot of fun. I've set myself a goal of doing four demos this year, in addition to the small ones I do while teaching. Last week was my second, so things are on schedule.

Carol L. Douglas, Ed Buonvecchio, and I were among the artists demo-ing at Boothbay Harbor's Windjammer Days last week. We were fortunate to be able to set up across the harbor from the main part of town, where we had a sensational view of not only the passing windjammers, but the moored lobster boats and Harbor Island. We were in Fisherman's Memorial Park, in front of the Our Lady Queen of Peace church, which dominates the skyline of that side of the harbor. We had lots of visitors, and lots of explaining to do. I particularly enjoyed Carol and a young man who helped her identify each of the windjammers. Not that she needs much help, she's a regular at the boatyard where several of them live. I was busy mentoring his older sister, who wants to be an artist. It is so much fun to take our work out to where people can see it happening, and help them understand the process.

 American Eagle sails past a tug
Photo courtesy of Carol L. Douglas

 Carol paints the island
Photo courtesy of Annette Koziel

You may ask why we didn't paint an actual windjammer. It's much easier to demo something that sticks around for a least a few minutes, which the windjammers did not. The point is to be there for the people, not to paint the technically most difficult subject you can find. But it was tempting...

I love painting in this particular spot. The island is what the word picturesque was meant to describe. I've painted it before and will likely again.

Harbor Island
5"x7" oil on gessobord
painted in 2010

And before I go, I'm excited to tell you that I'll be co-hosting the Artists Helping Artists blogtalk radio show this month with Leslie Saeta. It's such an honor to do this, and I'm thrilled. I have learned so much from this show over the years. Though the focus is on art marketing, there have been many shows interviewing artists and people who artists depend on. One of my favorites was the interview with Robert Gamblin of the Gamblin paint company. If you aren't familiar with this show, do check it out. The archives are a real treasure trove for artists.

You can listen to the show live, or to past shows which are all archived, at the link below.

And you can also listen to the AHA show, as it's called, as a podcast.

This week's show is "How to Use Lists to Organize Your Art" at 11AM tomorrow.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy 4th of July!

Fishin' on the Fourth 
8"x10" oil on canvas panel

The fourth of July is a big holiday in our neighborhood in Maine. One of our neighbors started a tradition years ago - a parade followed by a cookout. It's a blast. The kids decorate their bikes for the parade, everyone gets involved, and a nice loop is made around the neighborhood. There's even a beautiful old flag carried by its edges, a man on stilts, drummers, and a lady liberty.

The pledge of allegiance

Lined up and ready to go

 They're off!

I feel so privileged to live in a place where everyone gets along and can celebrate together.  This year, I take up the mantle of Lady Liberty from my friend Diana who just had her 85th birthday. I hope I can carry it off as well as she did.

Have an enjoyable fourth!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Meet the Press

Stonington Green 8"x16" oil on Raymar panel

This morning Carol L. Douglas sent me a link to an piece in the Bangor Daily News. And I'm thrilled to tell you that my painting, Stonington Green, was the image chosen to accompany the article on the upcoming auction to benefit the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries.

As an artist, I'm regularly asked to contribute artwork to raise money for worthy causes. Usually I'm happy to do that. And it's particularly enjoyable when the cause is near and dear to my heart. That's the case here. Formerly the East Penobscot Resource Center, the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries has a mission "to secure a sustainable future for fisheries and fishing communities in Eastern Maine and beyond". I hope that my paintings of lobstering and Maine fishing communities are documenting a way of life that will continue, and they are dedicated to that.

 My contribution to the 2016 auction, with Stonington in the background

But back to the auction. It's a very cool event. This August, in addition to their traditional decorative lobster buoys, like the one I painted last year, the auction will include paintings by some of my favorite Maine artists. And that's not all. Nautical experiences will be on the block as well. You can bid on a guided boat tour of Deer Isle-Stonington, one of the loveliest stretches of water anywhere; a course at the fabulous WoodenBoat School; a fly fishing lesson; a day on the water learning how lobstermen work; and the opportunity to be named in mystery novelist Katherine Hall Page’s next book. What a great line up!

To get all the details, check out the Bangor Daily News article here. And thank you, BDN and the Maine Center for Coastal Maine Fisheries, for using my painting in your story!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Painting Pets - As Good as a Dog Kiss

I’m not usually crazy about commissions, and a people portrait painter I am not. But I love to paint pets. There’s just something about animals that live with humans that is so lovable. The texture and color of their fur and the distinctive varieties of their head shapes really gives me something to hang onto in the drawing and painting of their portraits.

8"x8" oil on Raymar panel

This is Troy, he’s my son’s younger rescue dog. He’s not quite two, and the most lovable guy you could ever meet. All he wants to do is play. And when it’s hot out, he droops after about a mile of walking. In the winter, the world is his snow cone.

8"x8" oil on Raymar panel

And this is Clara. She's about four, and she's the boss. Troy may tornado around and try to get her to play every minute he can, but when she says it's time to stop, he stops. She's one of the best trained dogs I've ever met, due to spending a year living with an expert trainer before my son adopted her. The two pups are quite a pair and lots of fun to have around.

There are a lot of good pet portrait painters out there, but there's one that I’d like to highlight. Paint Squared is the website of Elizabeth Fraser. Her pet portraits totally inspire me. She really captures the personality of her subjects, and her color, well it’s fabulous. I interviewed Elizabeth a few years ago and it was really fun to learn more abut her and how she works.

Pet portraits by Elizabeth Fraser

To create a great pet portrait you need a really good photo. Here are a few tips on how to take one from the references listed below.

- Use natural light, and make sure there are some shadows visible.
- Get down to their eye level.
- Get in close.
- Keep their eyes sharp, focus on them.
- Be patient, and take lots of photos. You can always delete the bad ones.

9 Pet Photography Tips
How To Take the Best Pet Photographs
How to Photograph Pets

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Successful Opening

My four beach girls paintings at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery
each 12"x12" oil on canvas in floater frames

I went to two exhibition openings this weekend, both of which I felt were successful. That got me thinking, what makes an opening a success? There are some basics, like great artwork of interest to those who live in the area, and pleasant, well-lighted surroundings. And of course, having the event publicized by the artists and the venues. Simple finger food and a little wine are also great. 

Teaming Up by Joelle Feldman at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery, Joelle also has paintings at the Wild Salamander show.

One thing that makes for a good turn out is having the artist(s) present, which was the case for both of the openings I was at this weekend. In one case, it was a show for four artists in the same medium, at a local art center venue, where they regularly have classes and workshops, and exhibitions by groups or individual artists. In this venue there are no “gallery artists”, though it’s such a lovely venue that I imagine there are artists who book it regularly. The other is a gallery that has a stable of gallery artists, and four or five openings a year. Both were very well attended.

The Wedding Tree by Lisa Regopoulos at the Wild Salamander Art Center

The shows were hung differently, but both effectively. In the case of the four artists, each artists work were separated into groups of two or three paintings, and the groups were distributed throughout the venue, so the viewer moved from one artist’s work to another and back again as they went around the three open rooms. Because the work was all in the same medium, it held together really nicely. And by the time I’d seen everything, I felt I could identify each artist’s work with ease. In the gallery case, the space was nicely divided by movable walls into a number of niches for viewing the artwork. Each artist’s work occupied one or more wall of one of the niches. This allowed for lots of hanging space, and easy movement of viewers between the different spaces.

Lobster Rafts at Dusk by John Bowdren at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery

How do you get people to linger, to chat with the artists and each other, and to really look at the artwork? In both cases, the artists were actively engaged in answering questions and discussing individual paintings with the visitors to the exhibitions. It was also very nice to see students of the various artists come to the shows, and great to chat with them.

All in all, I very much enjoyed both of these shows, discovered a few new artists whose work I love, and got a chance to discuss artwork, methods, framing, and upcoming workshops.

The two shows are open for a while yet, and very worth taking a look at.

Nature’s Delight at the Wild Salamander Art Center in Hollis, NH, through June 24:

Rise and Fall of Light at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery, in Yarmouth, ME, though September:

For more information about my paintings and upcoming classes and workshops, please visit my website.

Thursday, June 1, 2017


12"x12" oil on canvas

I've had fun painting the beach girls, and delivered four paintings of them on Tuesday to Yarmouth Frame and Gallery. You've now seen all but one. There will be an opening for the new show on Saturday from 4-7. I'm looking forward to it, since I missed the previous opening due to a snow storm. Please join us if you can. Yarmouth Frame and Gallery, 720 US One, in Yarmouth, Maine.

I've written before about the artists whose beach people paintings have inspired me, but I was also inspired while working on mine by a couple of printmakers working in silk screen (serigraph). Every year, I buy an Alan Claude Maine calendar, and I try to do it at the Portland Sidewalk Art Show, so I can say hello to Alan. I love his poster style Maine scenes, with their dimensional light and shadow and wonderful color. My one experience with planning a woodcut left me with an appreciation for the process of teasing a minimal number of colors and values out of the reference image. It's a bit like doing a puzzle. Here's an example of Alan's work:

 Lobstering at the Nubble by Alan Claude, serigraph print

Serigraph print by William Mitchell

Another serigraph artist I admire is William Mitchell, who works depicts New Hampshire's scenic beauty. While both these artists work mostly with landscape subjects, their work still influenced mine on the four beach scenes. I wanted to abstract the shadow on the turn of the girl's legs and faces into a set of values rather than blending them into a range. Once again the restriction to a discrete set of values/colors fascinates me! I have a set of cards that I bought from William at a Button Factory Holiday event a few years ago. I doubt I'll ever send one to anyone, because I just love to look at them.

To see all of my beach girls paintings, visit my website here.