Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Things about Frames

I treat my art as a business, so I keep records of my expenses and sales.  Frames represent about 50% of my yearly expenses.  This has been consistent for at least the last 4 or 5 years.  That was when I decided that my work deserved more than just a cheap frame.  I do not make the frames but I do install my panels and canvases myself which eliminates some of the expense.  I have found a number of good websites that carry quality frames that cost much less than those from custom frame shops.  I have my favorites from each company.

My "go to" company is Florida Frames.  This is a small business.  A human always answers the phone- no phone tree.  It is actually easier to order over the phone than via the website.  They will send free samples if you aren't sure what you want.  If you find a frame you love from a specific company that isn't in the catalog, they will order it if they do business with that company.  Their prices are very reasonable.  Shipping from Florida to South Carolina is not expensive and is fast.  They also give volume discounts (if you buy 3 that are the same frame and size).  This is not a wholesale business but their prices are just as good.  My most used frame is #1100, made by Juhl Larson.  Here it is-

The lip is a warmish silver, kind of like pewter and it goes with just about everything.

I like several frames on  They carry a rustic plein air frame, perfect for beach/rural scenes.  I use it in black-

I also like their slim light weight floater frame for larger pieces.  The silver version is very nice, not too shiny, and I have also used the gold.  Very economical for large pieces and they add very little weight.   Each comes in 2 depths so it is important to measure the depth of your stretched canvas.

This is a 30x40 canvas.  The frame adds almost nothing to the size but gives it a nice finished look.  Click on for a larger view.  This is especially good for large paintings that need to go in tight spaces.

I also love ArtFrames  They have elegant plein air frames of every description and with a variety of finishes.  They are pricier than the other sties I use so I usually buy them for special paintings, mainly those by other artists that I have collected.  Here is a painting by Barbara Jaenicke in one of their frames that was in an American Impressionist Society exhibition-

If you are on the West Coast and plein air frames are your favorite, Kingofframes has beautiful options.  They have recently gone to flat rate shipping on small frames making it more economical than it used to be for Easterners.  I especially like this one-  "Arroyo"

I carry my paintings to shows and exhibit areas on a regular basis, so naturally little accidents happen.  I have found a wonderful product for touching up minor defects.  This is another way to stretch your framing dollars.   Rub 'n Buff comes in a variety of colors including 3 different golds.  Amazon carries these products at a reasonable price and offers some color sets.

I used to pick a frame for each finished painting, and once framed I never changed it. Now I rotate frames almost as often as I grocery shop, which is less than it used to be but still... Doing this is good for frame economy.  That is to say that at any given time I have paintings in frames that I have on display in my studio or plan to exhibit elsewhere, and unframed paintings that can be rotated back into a frame on an as needed basis.  That is why settling on a set number of favorite frames that usually work with my painting style and subject matter allows for maximum flexibility.  If a painting sells online and I don't have a frame for it I will buy a new one, but I always offer the option of buying a painting unframed for a discount.  Collectors sometimes want to pick their own frames. 

If you did not read this previously, here is a related post about framing tips-     

Of course your can eliminate frame expenses entirely by using gallery wrapped canvases or cradled panels.  This is a nice contemporary look and some collectors prefer it.  I think that my paintings look better framed (and I really hate painting edges!) but many paintings look fine without one.

I hope this has been helpful!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Quick Fixes

I have posted some fixer uppers before but please indulge me.  I love looking at paintings that have been sitting around for months or years to see what I can do to make them better.  You can click on any of these images for a larger view.

This is a 12"x10" plein air painting from 2016.  It was a very special day for me because it was my birthday and I got to paint on a beautiful farm with a dear friend.  This was early fall near Leipers Fork, TN.  I was very happy with this painting.  It was certainly the best I could do at the time.  I painted it as it was except to simplify some of the underbrush and push the distant trees by cooling the color I was seeing.  As each year passed and the painting never sold, the foreground started to bother me more and more.  There was a line of rocks just to the left of the foreground trees making a perfect arc to the corner of the painting.  Though this was not a landscaped area, the rocks had a contrived unnatural arrangement.  It seemed to pull my eye out of the painting and I knew I didn't like it.  I added some random rocks and covered up the line that was heading for the corner of the panel.  While at it I brightened the lower sky and water reflections.  

This 11"x14" painting is from my reference photo taken on a golf course.  It was the sky that interested me and as usual I didn't want it to look like a golf course.  The trees on the hill were really there but I added some.  Later I saw that the brilliant light lower in the sky was not as impressive as it was in the actual scene.  I also thought the foreground was too dark and the trees on the right side were monotonous.  Mostly leaving the sky alone, I added some stronger warm brights behind the trees.  I eliminated some of the spaces to make the trees look more grouped and I lightened the foliage.    

I studied this image of a painting by Daubighny for inspiration, particularly the value and brushwork in the foreground.

This is a recent 9"x12" plein air painting I completed in about 1 1/2 hours.  This is a view close to home that I love,  but the distant trees are a boring straight line.  I always move them around to create more interest.  In this case I made up a stand of trees on the right side to help define the middle ground.  I soon realized that something was off with those trees, almost as if they were about to slide out of the painting.  The word wonky kept popping into my head.   In the revised piece you can see that I made the trees that were closer taller and the farther ones shorter, which was the main problem.  These pines grow to a similar height.  Those that are closer should appear taller.  If they had really been there I would have seen that.  

In this 12"x9" studio piece the sky was the star of the show, most specifically the sun itself. But the river below with the sunset reflections echoed the drama and I wanted to play that up.  I didn't want the foreground to be a dark rectangle so I added some water shapes like we often see at higher tides in the marshes.  After letting it "rest" for a while I looked at it with fresh eyes and realized that there were too many straight lines in the lower part of the painting.  The one that separated the river from the marsh was unnecessary and seemed to stop the eye from going forward, almost like a fence.  It was easy to break up the line with more water and add more of the colorful reflections.  I left the sky as it was.

I hope you have enjoyed these studio edits.  I recommend having a designated place in the studio for works that might need revision.  If you participate in group critiques pull something from this area so you can get input from your artist friends.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Painting from a Plein Air Study

I have talked about plein air paintings many times.  They can serve as finished pieces to frame and sell if they are successful, and they are often my favorites because of their freshness and simplicity.  Mine are always small, but I have seen very large pieces painted on location.  Some artists make several visits to the site on days with similar conditions in order to paint a large canvas.  I envy those who can paint fast enough to get something larger finished in one session.

However many paint on location in order to gather basic information, such as color notes, with no intention of coming up with a finished painting.  When I say color notes I mean putting down the value/hue/temperature of the main elements of the painting, perhaps leaving out any kind of detail whatsoever.  A reference photo provides details where necessary.

I always aim for a somewhat finished piece when possible, but sometimes I use an outdoor work only as a guide for a larger painting.  Here is an example of an attempt at this.

Recently I painted with a group of friends on a golf course by a river.  It was a bright morning and the sparkle on the water drew me to the scene.  As I have said before, I do not like to paint golf courses.  Here is my reference-

It was a good day for clouds.  I had to zoom in quite a bit to see this distant layering of land and water.  I didn't want to include the golf course in the foreground.  The entire scene was vast, but I thought I could make something of the shapes in this limited area.

It took a little over an hour to paint this 6"x8" study-

I put the darker values in first, trying to exaggerate the shapes.  Though not in my reference, I borrowed some nearby land shapes for the foreground.  The water was moving quickly in bright sunlight so there were no reflections.  I pushed the distant trees farther back and warmed up the sky and clouds.  The plein air piece looks a lot more like the actual scene than the photo.

While working in the studio I never looked at the reference photo.  Using the study, I painted this 12"x16" painting-

I decided to raise the horizon to make room for a more dominant foreground.  I played around with the land/grasses shapes to make a lead in through the sparkly water toward the distant water and trees.  I darkened the water in the foreground to give it more depth. The painting wound up being more about the water than the sky.  After all, that is what spoke to me that morning.

Painting a bright scene like this on location  is best done quickly, thus my tiny canvas. My eyes get very tired after a short time.  I break the rule about sunglasses because my eyes are more important to me than my painting.  I do remove them periodically during the process to see what I am actually getting down so I can make adjustments.  I will save the little study in case I decide to try this again, maybe with a different composition, perhaps mostly sky.

Speaking of bright scenes, here is a reference I took that was just to the left of the scene I painted.  I knew my eyes couldn't take it so I will try it from the photo, hopefully soon before my memory fades.  Having done the other paintings will be helpful.

Thanks for reading!

P.S-  I did it after writing this post.  11"x14", "Rain and Shine" because of the drama I added in the background.  

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Photography Tips

This past fall, after deliberating for about 5 years, I joined our local photography club.  This is a group of over 100 photographers of all levels, from professional gallery represented artists to some who only use phone cameras.  They have weekly classes as well as a guest speaker once a month.  I run our modest sized art guild and have found that monthly meetings and a couple of workshops a year constitutes a lot of work, so I have been very impressed.

I have no plans to make photographic art.  I take photos primarily for 2 reasons.  One is to document important life events, such as travel.  The other is to collect reference material for my paintings.  An occasional photo serves both purposes.

Since diving into the world of digital photography I have tried to learn to use a camera that is much more complicated than my phone (a Canon Rebel- not high end but has the necessary features)   I am beginning to understand some basics that will help my reference photos.  If you are a skilled photographer it's time to stop reading this and patiently await my next post.  😜

Here are a few things that have helped me so far, though I have much to learn.

#1  The moving water problem

I took a photo of a little waterfall using my iPhone a few years ago while on a hike.  I painted this from the reference.  You can click on the image for a larger view.

I liked the light in the painting which I pushed a bit, also the color.  But the waterfall looked weird.  The camera automatically selected a fast shutter speed which froze every droplet of water.  This is not how we see waterfalls.  I studied some examples by other artists in my files and saw that they painted the water fluid and misty, like they really look to us. Here was another case of my being a slave to a photograph.  Recently I reworked the painting to make the water look more fluid.

There are many ways around this problem, e.g. paint it on location or use your memory to avoid painting it just like the photo.  Take a video and use it to refresh your memory.  You can also change the way you take the photo.  I'll get back to the phone in a minute, but my Canon has a mode (Tv on my camera, or shutter priority) that allow one to change the shutter speed (with automatic adjustments of the f stop and ISO).  Here is an example-

In the photo below I chose a shutter speed of 1/1000 second, very fast.  You can see the distinct droplets in the fountain.

Here is the result when set to 1/20 second, much more fluid.  This got the result I wanted and wasn't slow enough to require a tripod.   With a tripod very slow speeds can be used for a variety of interesting effects, though when pushed to the extreme the results might not look natural.

Back to the phone, you can get around this by shooting in "live" mode.  The icon is at the top of the screen in the camera app in an iPhone.  If that is not what you have you can google this.  Older phones might not have this feature.  Once you shoot in "live" you can blend photos of moving water into one image which achieves a similar result.

#2  Paying attention to depth of field (DOF)

"The camera lies" is a common phrase used by artists and photographers alike.  We have two eyes, the camera has one.  When we focus on something in a scene our peripheral vision gives us a lot less information about what surrounds it.  Our eyes also handle high contrast situations much better than a camera can.  DOF is the depth in the scene that will be in sharp focus.  Generally speaking, a large depth of field will keep most everything in focus.  A narrow one will blur things up close, in the distance or both.  Here is an example of a narrow DOF-

For this close up photograph I set my camera mode to Av (aperture priority) and chose an f stop of 5.6 which resulted in a narrow DOF.  This simulates the way our eyes see a focal point or area of interest with less detail elsewhere.  It won't work for a vast landscape where it is best to use a large DOF in order to see what is in the distance.  For appropriate circumstances this is an something to keep in mind.  The camera makes hard and soft edges because of the narrow DOF.  For fun I tried to paint this pretty much as is.

#3  Editing Basics

Back to the issue of high contrast, dark shadows in photos may be completely black with no information.  Bright areas, such as the sky, may look white.  I have talked about this in previous posts.  There are so many ways to edit photos now.  Editing in the phone is getting better all the time and is easy to do.  Editing in Photos on a Mac is very good. Lightroom, Photoshop and Luminar are even better.  Lightening shadows and lowering the highlights may be all that is necessary for a decent reference photo.  See my previous post with an example of this using the editing program in Photos on an iMac.  Taking reference photos

I have learned that shooting in "RAW" increases the editing possiblilites.  This setting in my camera is in the main menu under image quality.  Jpeg files compress data that is no longer retrievable.  In RAW everything is saved.  The down side is that these files take up more space on the camera card and hard disc, but it is easy to switch to RAW just when needed.  I use it when I am shooting in very high contrast situations.  I can then pull more information out of the dark shadows and bright sky when editing.

My apologies to the experienced photographers who hung in here.  This discussion was meant to give information to those less experienced (such as myself) about taking reference photos for paintings.

Thanks for reading!

P.S.-  I thought artists had too many temptations to spend money on equipment.  But the photographers, wow!  

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Thoughts on Having a Website

I have many painting friends and we often get into discussions about websites.  Some of them have one, others do not but are contemplating.  I started my own after I had been painting about 2 1/2 years.  By that time I had already participated in a local art show so I felt it was time.  Looking back I am sure this was premature but I'm still glad I started when I did.

Whether I am in a show or just meeting people who want to talk about art, I am almost always asked whether or not I have a website.  Answering yes to this question seems to elevate my standing in the person's estimation.  It doesn't automatically follow that my art is good, but it does make it clear that I take my work seriously.  Having and maintaining a website connotes professionalism.  I'll get back to that later.  There are many obvious reasons to have one, but the value of a digital studio that is organized and easily accessed cannot be overemphasized.

I did not build my own site or pay someone to do it.  Instead I used an art platform (initially Artspan) designed for artists and artisans of every description.  I was on Artspan for at least 6 years. The price was reasonable and it was fairly user friendly.  About 2 years ago I switched to FASO (Fine Art Studio Online).  Many well known contemporary artists use this company.  I have been very happy so far.  The support is excellent and they do a good job of promoting the artists.  Only painters are on on this site, which I prefer to being in a much larger group of sculptors, photographers and artisans.  The yearly cost is a bit more than Artspan but is worth it and is much less than hiring an individual to build and maintain a site.

Here is my home page-  you can click on the image for a larger view.

This is a little hard to see here but easily read on the site.  I have my own domain which is what I put on my business cards*, but I can also be found on the FASO site.  I had already established my blog on blogspot so I put a link to that site in my menu, otherwise  I would have blogged from within FASO.  Monthly contests are included, always a good way to call attention to your work.  I also have a link to my Facebook business page. FASO recommends including both "contact the artist" and "join email list" in the menu so I have done that. One can generate newsletters as well.  I only do this a few times a year showing selected new work, but this is a good way to advertise special events, sales, etc.

Loading images in this system is very easy and the design options are huge.  So far I only keep available paintings on my site, divided into studio and plein air works.  Many artists choose to separate the paintings by genre and include sold items, but I prefer not to make visitors wade through paintings that are unavailable. (I do have a small archive section just to show what else I do that might not be represented in my current available work.)

I have two points I will make based on my over 10 year experience of having a website-

1.  It is better to start too early than later, yet it's never too late.  In my early painting days I had many more failed paintings that never made it to the site, so there was less to manage.  I developed my routine in a low volume situation which was easier while getting started.

2.  Maintaining one's website, and by that I mean keeping it up to date, is key in my opinion.  I meet a lot of professional artists who admit that they have neglected their sites. (I don't ask them, they volunteer this information.)   A good gallery will keep its website updated with its own inventory, but I think artists should have a personal site as well, referencing the galleries where specific works are located.

If you want to do it, don't be afraid!  Remember that you do not have to do it all at once. Just getting a basic design and a putting in a few works is a good start.

Below is a link to FASO.  They offer a free trial.  (I don't get a kickback for this!)


*I doubt I'll write a post about business cards but who knows.  I love Vistaprint.  Take a look at their website if you are interested.  Vistaprint  My most recent ones are square with a glossy finish, two sided.  Even with the extras the price was very reasonable.  I make new ones about every 2 years to update the image and try new looks.  I affix my older ones to the back of my paintings since the contact info is the same.

Here is my new one, front (detail of a larger painting) and back.  I should have made the print on the back a bit larger, otherwise I'm happy with it.

Thanks for reading!!!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Follow up on nocturnes

My last post did not format well with the email list and one image was deleted, so if you would like to see a better version of it click here-

Also, please enjoy these beautiful nocturnes by James McNeill Whistler.  Brilliant!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Painting Nocturnes

Recently I have started to try my hand at this popular genre.  So far I have only worked from photos.

Taking photos at night often requires a tripod and slow shutter speeds,  but if you are only taking them for reference work they don't have to be perfect photos.  I have some adequate shots taken in the city at night with an iPhone- no expertise needed for that. Here are a couple of examples of work I have done that way.

                                      The reference was taken in Brooklyn with an iPhone.

                                           Downtown Charleston, SC.  Also with iPhone.

Last month I took a workshop with Chris Groves that covered nocturnes.  He asked us to pick a daytime photo, make a value study first, then paint over it with color, adhering to the nocturnal values.  Here is how mine turned out-

Reference shot

Underpainting using only transparent red oxide.

Color applied over underpainting using dark values, cooler colors.  Letting small bits of the warm underpainting show through creates a pleasant vibration.

Another approach is to edit a daytime photo to make it look like a nocturne.  Not all photos work for this, but here is an example in which I lowered the exposure and decreased the saturation until it appeared to be a moonlit scene.  

This could serve as an adequate reference.  I haven't painted from it yet but I plan to give it a try.

There was an excellent article about painting nocturnes from daytime photos in the November 2018 issue of PleinAir Magazine.  Five artists discussed their approach to "mock-turns" with tips on nocturnal palettes and  choosing/editing photos along with excellent demonstrations.  (I believe that back issues of this magazine can be ordered through the website.)

Of course nocturnes can be painted en plein air, and many hardy souls do this successfully.  I have yet to try because I live in an area where alligators roam after dark.  I hope to do it in a more urban environment in the future.  Lighting for the canvas and palette is an issue.  Some artists recommend using the light from a street light, etc. There are many portable desk lights that would serve this purpose at very little cost.  Here is one I recommend because of it's low price and weight.  The brightness and tint are adjustable and it runs on rechargeable batteries.

Things to keep in mind when painting nocturnes-

Colors are darker and cooler- think blues and greens.
Warm colors should be minimized and less saturated- use the cooler versions of warm colors
Photos with high contrast make the best references.

Experiment with these if you haven't already.  I have more fun when trying something different.

Thanks for reading!