Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Helpful Tool

I want to show you a great way to remove a brushstroke that didn't go well (rather than painting into it again and making a mess of things) or make a small revision of a freshly painted area on your canvas.  It is the Kemper Wipe Out Tool-

Inexpensive and easy to find.  I bought mine at Dick Blick-  and it can be found in art/crafts supply stores.  I keep one in the studio and one in my plein air backpack.  Note that there is a slanted tip and a pointed tip.

I still struggle with the habit of painting into fresh brushstrokes even though I was taught from the very beginning not to do this.  When I need to revise a large area of my painting, frequently the foreground in landscapes for some reason, I wipe the area with a good quality paper towel or rag.  But I often want to make minor adjustments.  Here is an example of how I employ this tool.

This is a work in progress of shrimp boats and one smaller boat grouped together.  After I got this far I realized that the little boat on the left wasn't right.  The hull of the actual boat was much longer and the bow would have gone off the canvas if I had drawn it correctly. Even if it had been a shorter boat I didn't like the proximity to the edge of the canvas. Most likely if framed the tip of the bow would have just touched the edge of the frame which  is not desirable (a "tangent"- always look for them).  The paint was wet and I knew I'd make a mess if I tried to paint over it.  If I waited for it to dry I would have had an unwanted thick brushstroke to deal with.

Here is a close up-

Here I am removing the thick paint on the boat using the slanted tip of the tool-

And here I have removed most of what had been painted between the boat and the edge of the canvas-

With the unwanted paint removed it was easy to repaint that small area.  The boat is closer to the correct shape and the composition is improved (in my opinion).  Some might feel that the little boat leads the eye out of the painting, but the dominant group of large boats keeps my eye on the canvas.  When finishing the painting I will not to do anything that makes the little boat look important.

I had been painting for several years when an instructor, trying to keep us from overworking our paintings, said- "Load up your brush, lay a stroke on the canvas and leave it alone.  If it doesn't work out, wipe it off and try again".  Bells rang!  I didn't know that was allowed.  I was under the impression that painting alla prima (all at once, wet into wet) meant you had to keep on painting into wet paint no matter what.

You can use the pointed end of the tool to sign your name in wet paint.  I especially like doing this on location but I do it in the studio sometimes as well.  I really don't like signing with paint simply because I'm not very good at it.

Signing this way is as easy as using a ball point pen.

Another use for this tool is scratching into paint for fine lines, such as tiny branches or grasses.  I rarely use it that way, but in a few paintings it has been the perfect finish and it is a fun way to experiment.

This is my last post of my first year as a blogger.  I thank everyone who has taken the time to visit and I have appreciated the feedback.  I plan to continue this blog next year and welcome your  suggestions for topics.

Meanwhile, Happy Holidays and Happy Painting!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Exploring Different Palettes

I love to read articles by artists about their palettes.  There are so many approaches to color mixing. As long as there is harmony I don't believe it matters whether an artist uses many colors or just a few, but limiting the number makes harmonizing easier, especially for the beginner.  An added benefit of using only a few colors is the ease of taking inventory and restocking.

The simplest palette is one of each primary and white.  There are more mixing options with a warm and cool version of each primary plus white, such as ultramarine blue, Prussian blue, alizarin crimson (cool), cadmium red (warm), cadmium lemon (c), cadmium yellow medium or deep (w), and white.  I usually use this latter choice (but often with ultramarine as my only blue) with one or more "convenience colors" thrown in.  I like cadmium orange because I cannot mix an orange with this much staining power and I use it regularly to gray my blues.  I also like to include an earth tone such as burnt sienna or raw umber to gray other colors, mix earth color variations, or add to ultramarine blue to make darks.

That said, I always use the palette recommended by the instructor in workshops so I can experiment. Whenever I find interesting articles about color mixing and palettes I save them for future reference.  Here are a few that have been especially helpful or interesting.

Terry Miura recently posted this on mixing greens and I encourage you to read it.  He lists the colors on his palette- a warm, cool and low chroma (grayed down) version of each primary plus white.  He goes on to discuss how he uses these colors to mix different greens, a problematic color for the landscape painter. He uses the same palette for his other subject matters as well.

Kathleen Dunphey paints majestic west coast landscapes/seascapes but she also paints still life and animals.  Her palette is quite limited (just 6 including white) and she lists her colors in this post-  Take a look at her choices.  She lists which brand she uses for specific colors (there can be a big difference between brands).  I have worked with this palette a bit and have found it to be very versatile.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts has written a great article regarding the various plein air palettes of contemporary painters.  You can see what many of your favorite artists are using in the field.

Try this challenge- paint one (or more) paintings using the Zorn palette:
white, black, yellow (usually yellow ochre) and red.  That's it!  Black is blue when white is added, yellow and black make a great green.  Anders Zorn was a Swedish artist.  He didn't always use such a limited palette but was well known for it.  Look up his work if you aren't familiar.

Here is a scene I painted in the studio using titanium white, ivory black, cad. yellow light and cad. red medium.

I didn't have trouble mixing the colors I needed but I missed the transparent darks I can get with my usual palette.  With practice I could probably get the hang of thinning them down.  This palette lightens the load for outdoor painting and travel. Color harmony is a given.

And last, regarding all those tubes of weird colors that you never use and don't remember why you bought them in the first place, try adding only one at a time to your usual palette to see how it mixes.  You might make new discoveries and you'll use up some of that paint!

I have barely scratched the surface of this huge subject but I hope I called your attention to some helpful links.

Keep mixing and experimenting!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Taking Reference Photos

I've carried on and on about painting from life, but in reality most of us are going to paint from photos at least some of the time if not all of the time.  The plein air movement has gained so much traction that I think painters sometimes are made to feel that it is wrong to paint from photos and if they do they shouldn't admit it.  Reference photos can be invaluable.  Try painting a chicken from life and you'll see what I mean.

If you are a skilled photographer who has mastered Photoshop, etc. you might want to skip to the list at the end of this post.  The following paragraphs are for painters who usually paint from their photos just as they are.  I know you are out there and I used to be one.

Learning to take good reference photos is yet another skill on the list for painters to acquire as if we didn't have enough going on already.   We know that the camera cannot do what our eyes can.  In high contrast photos the shadows can look completely black and the bright areas may be white-outs.  If you paint outdoors enough you can learn to interpret your photos with this in mind.  If you are a really good photographer (I'm not) you may know how to correct much of this when you take the photograph.  But you can also do it on your computer in the photo app under "edit".  You can lighten shadows and darken the the light. I have an iMac so I'll show you how to do it on that device.

Before-  The shadows are way to dark, the sunlight maybe a bit too bright.

Under "edit" in photos select "adjust".  To lighten shadows move the shadows bar to the right, to darken the highlights move the highlights bar to the left.  Hit "done" and that's all there is to it.  You can revert to the original if you don't like it.  Click on the image below for a closer look.

After-  This looks much more like the actual scene.  You can now see the low lights and objects in the room.

With respect to composition you can crop photos to evaluate different formats.  I love a square format so I often try cropping them that way.  You can compare vertical vs horizontal crops.  Of course it's a good idea to try shooting them different ways in the field but you can explore endless options on the computer later.

In my March 20th post I showed examples of the files I keep of other artists' work to study.  I do the same thing with my reference photos.  Anything deemed to be a "keeper" goes into my "Art Ideas" folder, grouped by genre.  I have my iTunes set up to transfer new photos in these files to my iPad which I now use in the studio instead of printed photos.  Every time I back up my iPad my reference shots are updated.  When those dreaded days of not knowing what to paint come along I open those files and looks around to see what grabs me.  Something usually does.  Other benefits- I've saved a fortune in printing costs, I prefer the image on a computer screen (don't have to deal with bad prints) and when I go to workshops that require reference photography I have everything with me- as long as I don't forget my iPad.

In closing I have another list for you.

1.  Do paint from your own photos.  There are many reasons for this.  Barbara Jaenicke posted a very helpful discussion of this and I encourage you to read it.

2.  Check the camera screen for composition before and after you take each photo.  Try different formats in the field and on your computer.

3.  After you take a photo, look at the image in your camera.  Then study the real life subject and notice the differences.  If you need to, take a few notes to help you remember later.

4.  Best of all worlds- paint a small field study to document values/color temperatures in the field AND take a photo.  (More plein air propaganda...)

5.  However you decide to do it, organize your photos so they are easily accessed.  Cull through them periodically.  If you haven't used a photo after many months or years, the memory of that scene is long gone.

Happy shooting!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What's in the Backpack- some plein air tips

If you are thinking of becoming an outdoor painter or have recently taken it up you might be interested in this post.  The process of painting on location can be daunting in the beginning.  My first attempts were pretty discouraging.  Having the right gear is the best insurance for getting off to a good start and makes the practice much easier. This is kind of long and if you don't want to read the whole thing please read the last paragraph.

Fortunately I do not have photos of my early set ups.  After refining things for over 3 years this is what I need to go into the field-

A backpack, wet panel carrier and an umbrella in its carrying bag.   I don't always take the umbrella (if I know I'll have shade or if the conditions include strong winds).  The backpack weighs 16 lbs. when fully loaded.  That's a bit heavy but I can wear it while riding a bike and can hike a fair distance with it if I need to.

I'm going to show you what I have in each compartment in the pack which is an Odyssey 39 by Jansport (from REI).  There are packs on the market specifically designed for painters but I have never tried one.  This pack has 5 zipped compartments- 2 larger ones and 3 smaller (i.e. not as deep).

Here are the contents from back to front-

Shallowest compartment-

A collapsible mesh trash container and a brush holder.  Both are flat when closed.   I never have to remember to bring plastic bags.

Next- one of the deep compartments-

My Strada "mini" paintbox with one side tray for extra mixing and/or brushes.  A very lightweight compact tripod and a rag.  The tripod and paintbox fit side by side and the tray alongside.

Next- the other deep compartment-

An over half empty package of baby wipes, an over half empty roll of paper towels with bungie cord to serve as towel holder.  A small sized bush washer (Holbein recommended- size small), a food container for paint tubes, hook to hang brush washer (Strada make a good one for their box, not included) and a small but good quality vise wrench for stubborn tube caps. The brush washer and paint holder go in first, the wipes and towels on top.  Remember my advice from the last post- try to use the most limited palette you can outdoors.  Paint is heavy.

Next- a shallower compartment-

I like the fact that this pack has zipped pockets and pen holders.  I always carry my viewfinders, value markers, palette knife and a pen and pencil.

The last compartment which is also fairly shallow holds my sketchbook which I don't always carry, just depends.  There is a small flat zippered pocket on the front of the pack and I put lip balm with SPF and business cards.

There are outside stretchy pockets on each side for a small can of mineral spirits (in case of a spill) sunscreen and 2 bug sprays.  One has DEET and is for mosquitoes/ticks.  The other is "No Natz" which specifically wards of gnats- great product.

I always bring a water bottle and maybe lunch in a very small vinyl cooler with some ice.  And a good sun hat.  My phone, wallet and keys go in my pockets or waist pack.

So here it is all set up-

You can click on this photo for a closer look.  The bungie cord holds the towel roll on the front of the paintbox.  The back pack hang from a  hook on the tripod for added stability. The brush washer hangs on one side of the box and the side tray is on the other side. This provides plenty of mixing space for me.

In the first photo I showed the wet panel carrier I use which is made by RayMar.  They are reasonably priced, very strong,  lightweight and come in a variety of sizes.  Many of the products I have mentioned today are posted as links below.  Though I love my tripod (made by Mefoto) it is a bit fragile and some of my friends have had trouble with the leg adjustments.  I am gentle with mine and have not had any problems.  It can hold up to 8 lbs. which is more than my set up. For a lot more money you can get stronger lightweight tripods.  When fully collapsed the Mefoto is only 12" which is ideal for a back pack.

The above is what works for me and my choices might not be the best for you, so try different things and talk to other painters about their set ups.  The best advice I can give you is to keep your gear ready to go at all times.  Do not use your studio equipment/supplies for outdoors.  I used to keep a plein air packing list and each time I went out I had to pack it up all over again from my studio.  This is both a time burner and a deterrent.  Now as soon as I get back to the studio I do the following:

1.  Clean the paint box and put clean mineral spirits in the brush washer.  Repack.

2. Empty the trash container and repack.  (Unless you have a large amount of trash you can collapse it an put it in the pack to empty at home, though I use a public receptacle if available.)

3. Restock consumables (baby wipes, paper towels and paint).  I have made a habit of putting almost empty paper towel rolls, wipes and paint tubes (especially the large ones that are almost empty) in a box by my back pack to make restocking more convenient.

4.  Restock your panel carrier for next time.  This way you won't realize at the last minute that you are out of the panel sizes you use outdoors.

5. Figure out how your backpack wants to be packed and always repack it the same way.  This makes it much easier to take inventory and to set up and break down.

6. Since I never need to take my umbrella inside I keep it in the car.  One less thing to remember!

So... the message is PAINT- RESTOCK- REPEAT.  Got it?

Links to some of these products-

Plein air umbrella
Foldable paper towel basket
Wet panel carriers
Strada easels
Holbein brush cleaner
Gnat repellent

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Plein Air Event

Though I paint on location a fair amount I had never participated in an official plein air event until last weekend.  I entered one in Georgetown, SC that was part of the annual Pawleys Island Music and Art Festival.  Almost 30 artists were there painting for a competition and wet paint sale at the end of the day.  The entry was non-juried so anyone could sign up.  We were allowed to pick our painting sites and could paint as many paintings as we wanted, but only one could be entered in the competition.  Our blank canvases were stamped at 9:00 a.m. and the painting time concluded at 3:30. We were expected to have our wet panel framed and ready for display and were asked to bring display easels for the reception which was outdoors.

This was an enjoyable way to stretch myself and I'm glad I gave it a try.  I painted 2 paintings and took a short lunch break to cool off in the shade.  It was very hot but fortunately not buggy.  That said, it was stressful knowing that the pressure was on to have something framable within a specific time frame for a competition.  There was a considerable crowd and painting without interruption was not an option.  The press was there interviewing us while we painted.  By the end of the day I was exhausted, more so than after any other day of plein air painting or workshop I have ever done.

This experience caused me to have an epiphany.  I follow many artists on Facebook and frequently see posts about prestigious plein air events all over the country.  I have attended the one in Door County, WI as a spectator.  I never thought it would be easy, but after just one day of the experience I gained a huge amount of respect for the pros who go to these events, produce 2-4 paintings/day for up to a week (sometimes even adding a nocturne when the day is done) and framing them for a big show at the end of the week- all while competing against their friends/peers.

I recommend this to any outdoor painter who wants a challenge.  Before committing consider the following-

1.  Keep your set up as light and compact as possible and use the most limited palette you are comfortable with- paint is heavy!

2.  Be sure that all of your equipment is in good working order and that you can set up without assistance.  Take a careful inventory of all supplies when you pack and don't forget extra consumables such as paper towels and mineral spirits (in case of a spill).

3.  Bring frames that are already wired and ready to hang and the tools to finish the job, such as a point driver if you use panels.  I used 9 x 12 panels and brought 2 frames- one wired for a vertical format and one for a horizontal so I would have that flexibility.

4.  If possible, visit the site(s) beforehand.  Take photos and do some sketches to see what feels right for you.

5.  The more you paint out before the event the better.  It's like going to the gym- you want to be in shape!

For fun, read the hilarious article by Scott Freeman-  "The Perils of Peeving a Plein Air Painter".
Link is to the right on my blog site.

Next time I'll show my outdoor set up which I have refined over a period of several years. I think I have it about right, that is until the next "must have"easel comes along...

Thanks, and get out there!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Photographing Your Work

Though I have taken photographs my entire life I am embarrassed by my scant knowledge of photography.  When I was young I took photos of my friends.  Later I took travel pictures.  Now most of my photographs are reference shots for paintings.  After I started painting I realized that I also needed photographs of my work.  At first this was just to keep a record of everything I had painted because, as previously discussed, I regularly discard the older unsuccessful ones.  I look at these periodically to remind myself of where I started.  Now I need photos for my website and to enter juried events.  After a few years of frustration and many failed attempts to understand technical discussions online I came across a very straightforward "how to" article that completely changed my approach and results.  Rather than parroting the process here I recommend that you click on How To Take Great Photos Of Your Artwork in the right hand column under favorite blog posts/articles and start reading.

I now own a very good Canon digital camera and I set it on "automatic everything" including white balance.  I use ISO 200.  I rarely do anything other than cropping the photo once I have downloaded it.

The equipment needed for lighting can be bought inexpensively on Amazon.  At the time of this writing this kit by Emart is available on Amazon Prime and costs just under $60.  It does not come with assembly instructions but I was able to figure it out so it can't be that difficult.

Here it is in my studio-

Important features- the white umbrellas diffuse the light of the natural light fluorescent bulbs which come with the set up.  This eliminates both glare and excessively warm or cool light.  The camera is on a tripod to avoid movement and is not extremely close to the painting.  It is better to zoom in.  Set the camera on the highest possible photo quality. Don't use the flash.  Take the painting out of the frame if it is in one.

I had heard of all kinds of ways to get natural light, such as photographing outside in the shade.  I never found a way to eliminate glare until I used this set up.

So you can see the difference I have included 2 photos of the same painting.  The first was taken with natural light coming in the window of my studio, a north exposure which should be good.  I held the camera in my hands and got close to the painting.  The second is with the set up shown above.  Click on each photo to get a better look.

Actually I got kind of lucky with the first one this time, but if you look closely you can see a fair amount of glare on the left side of the painting and also a bit in the distant mountain. But also notice that the rock formation on the right is almost completely dark.  You can't see the half tones that are visible when the panel is evenly lit.  I did not have the ceiling lights on when I took the first photo but if I had there would have been a lot more glare though the lighting would have been better on the right.

I hope this was helpful.  Be sure to read the article I referenced above for a more detailed explanation.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

More about old canvases and landfills

In my January 27th post I talked about culling through my old paintings and discarding them on a regular basis,  saving digital images for my records instead.  In my last post, August 3rd, I suggested a way to salvage older paintings- make them better based on your current level of expertise.  But there will always be failed paintings no matter how accomplished an artist may be.  It is part of the creative process.  In one of my earliest workshops the instructor, quoting someone I can't recall, said "we all have bad paintings in us- we just have to paint them and get them out".

In the spirit of recycling I try to reduce landfill trash as much as possible because I believe it is important. However I do pitch unsuccessful paintings if I do not wipe them out on the spot. When I was just starting to paint, several instructors suggested painting over old paintings to salvage canvases.  I paint in oil so I cannot cover an old canvas with acrylic gesso.  I would have to use oil based gesso or a similar product.  Windsor Newton makes an oil paint called "Underpainting White" that can be used this way and is fast drying.  One instructor suggested painting directly over old paintings- turn the canvas upside down so one won't be distracted by what is already there.

I tried this for several years and I learned something about myself.  I hate painting on used canvases.  When I paint directly over old paintings I am very disoriented and it takes my focus away from what I am trying to paint.  When I tried using Underpainting White the texture was rough and kept my brush from moving freely.  One time I painted a successful painting over an older bad one only to realize that I could see the ghost of the previous painting through the new one.  Had I sanded the canvas this probably wouldn't have happened, but  I don't want to sand canvases.

I spend a lot of money on good quality paint and brushes.  I feel the same way about a fresh new canvas that has the feel that I enjoy and allows me to start out with transparent darks and to let my toned canvas show in areas of the final painting if I choose.  I make a lot of my panels now (future blog) which saves on the cost.  I have started painting on unmounted canvas taped to a support so I only have to pitch the canvas itself if the painting isn't successful.   I just mount the "keepers".

But that is just me.  Everyone has their own painting style.  If I used a lot of thick paint throughout my paintings or painted with a palette knife I don't think a used canvas would bother me at all. Occasionally I paint on an old canvas for exercises which is a cost saver.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts recently posted a thorough discussion about old paintings that was very entertaining and helpful to me.  Check it out- the link is to the right under "favorite blog posts".

This is a painting I did on location, a very good oil primed linen canvas taped to a support.  I haven't mounted it yet, but I could.  This is a good way to reduce cost.

Thanks for looking and happy painting!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Critique your "younger" self.

In May I showed an example of a painting that was critiqued by a real professional and the changes I made based on that critique when I repainted the same scene later.  As I said then, never pass up an opportunity to learn from someone more accomplished.

Unfortunately there are not enough of those opportunities, at least for me.  Earlier this year I worked my way through a couple of boxes of my older paintings in order to make space for newer work.  Some of these had never left the studio but many had been in frames in various shows and on my website and never sold.  On average they were painted 3 years before.  I had no trouble putting many in the "to the landfill" pile.  (Yes, I know I could have painted over the canvases and I'm going to address that in a future blog.)  But there were quite a few that didn't look that bad and I found myself trying to think of ways to improve them.  It dawned on me that there is a more accomplished painter in my own home- me!  At least compared to me several years ago.  It became a fun exercise.  After all, if I was going to pitch them I had nothing to lose by trying to make them better, and it was a chance to practice my critiquing skills.  I found that in some cases just a few brushstrokes made a big difference.  If the basic composition wasn't good I didn't bother.  In some cases the focal point needed more development, the edges needed work, the values/temperatures needed a push and the canvas often needed more paint.

Here are two examples-

This was a 1 1/2 hour plein air study.  The paint is thinly applied, the foreground doesn't have a lot of interest, and the intended center of interest (the grass islands in the upper right area) doesn't stand out very well.

I added paint and brightened up the colors in all the grasses in the light, especially on the upper right area, and I added a few brighter highlights in the foreground.  I made the paint thicker in the blue sky reflections but left the dark reflections thin.

Here is another quick plein air piece.  I liked the light and shadow areas and was fairly happy with the contrast between the two.  I was very bothered by the 3 vertical lines formed by the straight tree trunk and the door frame.  The paint in much of the foliage was thinly applied and the shadows on the light side of the building were too spotty and distracting.

I eliminated the door.  If you didn't see the house yourself you would assume it was located outside of the painting.  I eliminated some of the dark shadows and tried to connect the darks as much as possible hoping to suggest a window.  I added paint to the sky and the cooler shadow areas, still leaving some thin areas there and put in a few thicker highlights on the foliage.  I also lightened up the roof a bit.

As I started to write this blog I realized something else.  I thought I was good about photographing my paintings for my records.  I had two examples that I really wanted to show, better than these, only to realize that I didn't have a photo of the "before" painting. Let that be a lesson to me...

So, pull out your old stuff and get busy!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Learning from Monet

Here is another example of what I do with my photo files (see March 20th) as a study tool. Recently I had the opportunity to see an exhibition of American impressionists which also included some works by Monet.  The entire exhibit was wonderful.  When entering the gallery (at the Jepson Center, Savannah, GA) the first painting to great the visitors was a beautiful large painting by Monet.  A comfortable bench was thoughtfully placed before it inviting everyone to spend some time there.  Later I found a digital image of this painting and saved it to my landscape file.

This piece is magnificent- the photo does not come close to doing it justice.  I was of course struck by the beautiful composition and use of arial perspective.  There was something very familiar about it though I had never seen it before.  Many of my landscape paintings are of the local tidal marshes.  Though beautiful, the marshes are annoyingly horizontal.  Monet's painting depicts  the same type of subject matter.  The strong vertical on the right gives relief from all the horizontals, and the distant trees give the scene enormous space.  I searched my personal reference files and found this image from a marsh on Edisto Island:

Instead of a field of flowers there are marsh grasses and water.  I liked the deadwood on the right but the dark green trees in the background wall the viewer in.  Using my reference and Monet's composition I painted this:

Had I used only my reference photo I might have pushed the farthest trees out a bit, but not nearly as much as I did here.  Now I try to do this when painting other scenes on location.  If there isn't a distant tree line I make one up, trying to place it where I want the eye to go.  I now see that the light in the sky in Monet's painting leads the eye back to the strong vertical which is also the darkest value.  I failed to do that with my sky- mine takes the viewer off to the left- but I will keep that in mind the next time I paint a similar landscape.

The title of Monet's painting is Champ d"avione (Oat Field) and measures 26" x 36".  Its home is the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Take Advantage of a Good Critique

Critiques are invaluable especially early in the process, but should become a permanent practice for the long run.  Even the best artists do this.  If you paint with other painters, ask them to look at your work while they are taking a break.  Return the favor.  A growing number of professional artists offer critique services online for a fee.  If you follow artists via social media or email you can ask if they are willing to do this, even if they do not advertise the service.  Ask the artists whose work you admire and are known to be good instructors.  Most workshops end with a critique, usually of the work done during the workshop.

Recently I had the opportunity at the end of a workshop to bring in a painting from home that was giving me trouble.  The critique was extremely helpful and I will show you what I did as a result.

First of all,  here is the reference photo I used for this studio piece.  It is a scene very close to my house.  I live in a VERY GREEN region and the typical lagoon scenes are very complex.  My goal is to find a good approach to these scenes.  So, here is the reference-

Green, right?  Maybe not the best choice for a reference, but I have many paintings in my files (see post from March 20th) which are good examples of excellent all green paintings by other artists.  It can be done!  Here is the image of my first try-

I managed to knock down the greens by using a lot of red and violet near-blacks, but  I knew that the painting was not working and didn't know why.  Here is the critique-

1.  Big bad green shape to the left.  I had tried to avoid the parallel lines of green but made a bad shape as a result.  I thought it looked like an alligator's head but was informed it looked more like a molar.

2.  The focal point on the upper left is too close to the upper edge of the painting.  The viewer's eye stops there and stays there.  No movement.  I had decided to make this a nocturne, though it wasn't.  I added a moon on the upper left and tried to make a night sky.  The moon needs to be lower, is too bright for a moon and there needs to be some light on the water to help move the eye around.

3.  The darks should be more united, which always improves a composition.

First I painted over the already dry painting for practice.  I had so much thick paint on the moon that moving it would be difficult.  I decided to start over with a slightly larger panel and try again.  Here is the second painting-

Molar gone, like a trip to the dentist.  Moon is now in a much better location and not as bright though the image might not make that obvious.  There is light on the water which balances the moon and helps move the eye around.  It is debatable that the darks are more united though I tried- more work on that would help.  The previous molar might be too much of a circle now and eliminating some of it would help unite the darks...

I took notes during the critique and made up my mind to address them right away. Painting it again was very helpful.  This will carry forward to every painting I do from here on and will help me develop my own critique skills.  Of the many things we have to learn, critiquing is another skill to study.

And here is an example of a successful green painting by James Richards.  How did he even DO this?

Thanks for checking in- and enjoy your art journey.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Required Reading #2

Last month (March 7th) I listed some books that helped me get started and made me believe that learning how to paint was a wonderful journey.  I consciously skipped some classics that all painters should read, written by wonderful artists/teachers.  It is impossible to mention every great book about art that has ever been written, but over the years these have come up time and again as books that have been essential reading for many excellent contemporary artists.

1.  Landscape Painting by John Carlson.   Not an easy read but of huge importance to landscape painters.  Contains critical concepts, such as the different planes in the landscape that affect value, and why.  If I had read this book first I would have been convinced that I could never learn to paint, but it is a must read.  All the photos are in black and white, great for studying value, but look up his paintings online so you can see them in color too.

2.  Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne.  Excellent discussions regarding good compositions and bad ones, and what makes them so.  If you are not familiar with Payne's work look him up and see how fabulous he was.  There is a reasonably priced "coffee table" book with beautiful color photos and an extensive text called EDGAR PAYNE the Scenic Journey that gives a wonderful overview of his work  and is well worth owning.

3. The Art Spirit by Robert Henri.  I confess that I have never read this book cover to cover, but it contains many instructional lectures and also inspirational thoughts about painting.

I am now working my way through a series of books by Emil Gruppe.  (There is an accent on the last "e")  He was a student of Carlson's and famous, among other things, for his wonderful boats and trees.  He actually discusses the behavior and character of trees.  He walks you through many of his compositions in detail, inviting you to eliminate specific elements by covering them with your finger to see how important they are to the painting.  You can find these on used book websites and the prices can vary, but they are worth the investment.  Imagine a whole book on brushwork!  I'm not there yet but looking forward to it.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Study Art That You Love

In addition to reading about art, which obviously includes studying images, keeping image files of other artists work that you admire is a valuable learning tool.  There are many ways to do this and I will share my approach.

I am on Facebook and though I do follow friends and family, my main purpose is to follow artists.  I never wanted to join a social network until an artist friend suggested it.  Over a several year period I was able to either become friends with or follow many wonderful painters.  Every morning I look forward to seeing all the beautiful things they have posted.

Of course I don't save everything I see, but when I see something that is similar to a subject I have painted or plan to,  is a particular genre I wish to try, or excites me in its overall statement, I save it to my photo album labelled "Other Artists' Work".  This folder contains files by genre.  Below is a screen shot of part of this album.  All you can see are the index images, but each file may have as many as two hundred.

To save an image on FB, first click on the post to go from the newsfeed to the full screen post.  I have an Apple with a track pad so I click and drag the image into Photos and then assign it to the correct file.  On a PC you would right click and choose "save to photos".

By now some of you are saying "I am not on FB and don't want to be".  Understandable.  You can look up artists you admire and find images on their websites and on Google.  I have found that galleries often do not allow me to save images from their websites.  You can find art by genre on Pinterest.  If you follow art blogs you can get images that way.  You will want to arrange your images in a way that suits your specific needs.  I lump all of my animal images into one file, but if you are a serious cow painter you would want a cow file, and so on.

Now what?  Sometimes I just look through my files for inspiration.  If I am having difficulties with a painting I am working on I look for successful paintings with similar subject matter and try to see how the artist made it work.  It is surprising how often I find an image that is so similar to a reference photo I am planning to use.  Here is an example-

This is a pond scene that I pass regularly.  I have yet to try to paint it, but see how another artist handled a very similar scene.

Unfortunately I saved this image early on before I realized that I needed to note the artist and what made me want to save it.  So if you painted this please let me know!  I just love this piece.

If you don't already have art image files give it a try.  Don't get overwhelmed.  Just saving one image a day quickly adds up.

Happy painting and thanks for reading!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Required Reading #1- Books you will love

There are at least three essentials for becoming a good painter-

1. Get quality instruction from the beginning and continue to do so throughout your painting life.
2. Paint often, not allowing failed paintings to keep you from doing so.
3.  READ!  Discover books that you can understand and, hopefully, enjoy reading so you will re-read them as you progress.  You will find that there were many lessons you did not absorb initially simply because you were not ready.

Below are 4 books that have profoundly influenced my painting experience.  I read them early on and many times since.  I have left out some earlier classics and I will get to those in another post, but at least for me these books were more accessible and enjoyable for a beginner looking for inspiration as well as information.  I will list them in the order I would recommend you read them if you have not already.

Oil Painting for the Serious Beginner by Steve Allrich.  
This is a short book with many wonderful color photos of the artist's work.  It can be read in one session.  It touches on all the major aspects of painting, from materials to making painting a career.  It includes fine examples of still life, interiors and landscape and has a very concise discussion about plein air painting.  

Landscape Painting Inside and Out by Kevin Macpherson.  Obviously meant for the landscape painter, this book is full of beautiful compositions and many demonstrations that allow one to see how the artist develops his paintings.  He addresses studio painting as well as plein air.  (I could just have easily listed Fill Your Oil Paintings with Color and Light by the artist which includes some figurative and still life work.)

Oil Painting, the Workshop Experience by Ted Goerschner.  Same as the above examples, specifically from a workshop point of view.  I like the "paint on" critiques included here and his chapter about a difficult day of plein air painting.

Alla Prima, Everything I Know About Painting by Richard Schmid.  I would not choose this for my first book to read, but do read it as soon as you have a few other books under your belt and have started painting with some regularity.  The copyright on this book is 1999 but it became an "instant classic" and has inspired many wonderful contemporary painters.  The artist really does tell all he knows in a very generous way.  The writing is excellent.  Don't let it overwhelm you.  I like to read this one cover to cover once a year or so (I might be a year behind!) and each time find things I didn't appreciate before.  Many beautiful color photos complete the experience of reading this gem.

I like to read art books at bedtime.  Each chapter can stand alone, a plus for those of us with shorter attention spans that time of day.  And, art books make pleasant dreams.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Workshops #2- The Right Ones for You

In my last post I discussed in general various ways to find good workshops and how to approach the process of making the most of them.

I want to emphasize a point that I only briefly touched on but is of major importance.  Take workshops from artists who paint the way you want to paint.  Painting styles range from photorealism to near abstract representational art to total abstract.   Painterly impressionistic art has remained extremely popular for over a century but may not be for everyone.  Plein air painting at its best is loose and spontaneous.  You may have a special interest in maritime art which calls for a more exacting approach.  Detailed wildlife art would be another example.  Techniques may vary widely though the basics, e.g. composition, remain the same.   Spend time looking through fine art magazines in your local bookstore to see what speaks to you.  Subscribe to one or more journals that appeal to you and look at the workshops in the advertisements.

Lastly (at least for now),  find instructors who have personalities and teaching styles that work for you.  Constructive criticism is vital- getting nothing but complements does not move you along.  Brutal criticism is also counterproductive.  I have never experienced the latter but know a few who have.  Fortunately it is very uncommon and word of mouth is helpful here.  It is a good idea to inquire about the maximum size of a workshop  before signing up.   Large workshops dilute individual attention and no matter what an instructor says, a teacher/student ratio of more than 1/14 is undesirable, at least for me.  I prefer 1/12 or less.  This is especially true for those just beginning or in cases where travel and lodging expenses are involved.  In other words, try to get the most from your workshop dollar.

Once you find an instructor who is a good fit you may want to consider studying with him/her for a while if that is an option.  If not, many artists who teach have blogs, instructional videos and demos on YouTube.  Being mentored is a path that many great artists have taken.  Eventually you will find your  own unique style.

Thanks for reading and happy painting!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Worshops #1- Take them!

After my initial series of painting classes I decided to try a workshop.  In contrast to classes which typically are weekly or biweekly sessions with a group, workshops are all day sessions that run 2-7 consecutive days (sometimes even longer).  They may focus on anything from a genre, e.g. still life or figurative, to a specific goal.  Examples of the latter might be plein air painting, putting more light into your paintings, color harmony, etc.

Artists of all skill levels take workshops, including some of the top contemporary painters.  There are more to chose from than ever in every part of the US as well as internationally.  Beginning painters may be reluctant to try one out of fear of the unknown, but I highly encourage them to do so.

Choosing the right workshop can be daunting so I will make some recommendations.  If you have friends in the local art community talk to them and find out what is going on in your area.  If you are on Facebook or other social media start following artists that paint the way you want to paint and see where they are teaching workshops.  Find artists you like on the internet.  Join their mailing lists and review their websites regularly.  Check with local galleries that carry art that you admire to find out if their artists give workshops.    Word of mouth is the best way to find out who are the best instructors! An artist who promotes himself/herself the most is not necessarily the best teacher.

Most importantly, don't be afraid.  After my first one I was hooked.  I take about 4 per year which gives me time to practice what I have learned before taking the next one.  Even one per year can make a big difference and may be about right for many painters.

Try to paint as much as you can before every workshop so you won't be rusty.  Make sure you have all the recommended supplies and that everything is in working order.  If you are bringing a new easel make sure you can set it up so you aren't frustrated before you even start painting.  Many artists include a manual with the supply list and/or recommended reading.  Study these ahead of time.  Take notes and refer to them afterwards.  And, most importantly, keep painting and working on whatever you have learned.  Save your studies, at least for a while, to remind you of the lessons learned.  Don't let painting a masterpiece be your goal.  Nobody does their best work in a workshop because they are stretching themselves.

I have jokingly referred to myself as a "workshop junkie", but I am really a workshop enthusiast.  Junkies are painters who go from workshop to workshop without practicing in between.  I think that for some this is a social outlet, and while the associations and friendships that result are an added bonus, the goal should be to grow as a painter.

I save something of my own from each workshop as a benchmark.  Below is a detail of a painting I did in a still life workshop a couple of years ago.  I never could have painted this without good instruction and it hangs where I can pass by it every day- a lesson on the wall.  (I show the detail because the rest of the painting wasn't so great....)

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Good First Lesson

I do not intend to continue to post early samples of my work but  allow me one more to make a point.  In the first classes I took, mentioned in my first post, the instructor demonstrated brushwork as we followed along.  She loaded her brush with paint and made bold distinct passages.  She left each undisturbed and finished the entire painting that way.  As I said before, I didn't know what I was doing but didn't have any bad habits either.  The painting below hangs in my studio today as a memento, but also as a lesson on the wall to remind me not to overwork the paint.   This habit can become ingrained and is best avoided from the start.  My painting style now is nothing like this image, but I try to remember the lesson every time I face a blank canvas.  Visitors to my studio often comment on the painting and it amuses me that some seem to prefer it to my current style.  That's OK though, and it makes me treasure my first attempt even more.

One more thing- when I first started I was sometimes advised to save all of my paintings.  That way I could look back on them to gauge my progress.  Except for those who paint very infrequently, my advice is to discard older paintings on a regular basis if they are serving no purpose other than documentation.  I would have had to rent a storage locker by now, or else my studio would be a cluttered disaster area.  I recommend photographing all of one's finished paintings along with any important studies and filing the digital images by year, which is what I do, or dating them and filing by genre/subject matter if preferred.  I do save a few successful paintings  that represent milestones.  These hang in inconspicuous areas of the house, such as the laundry room or guest bath, and I can visit them whenever I like.  Of course with time many successful paintings will leave through the front door as sales or gifts and that is the happiest way to control clutter!

Thanks for reading!

Suggested Reading:  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Condo.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Launching My New Hobby

Wow- I'm blogging!  And no followers yet so it feels safe.   One thing is certain- I have no idea how this is going to go.

My intention is to share my thoughts and discoveries about painting that are relevant to my art journey.  I started painting in Feb. 2008 after drawing with a close friend for a few months.  Even though I was drawing without any formal instruction, and not very well, I had the good fortune and dumb luck to take advantage of a community program for adult education that sadly has since been discontinued.  I signed up for beginning oil painting lessons.  If I hadn't done that I know I would have given up painting before long.  My first instructor was wonderful and showed me absolutely everything I needed to know to get off on the right foot.  I had no experience, but also no bad habits.  My best advice to anyone who wants to learn to paint is to find a good instructor from the beginning, follow advice, take notes and read recommended books.  Over and over again.

My last art class had been in the 9th grade.  My career was in medicine and I never took time out for art.  As my husband of 40 years exclaimed, once he realized how passionate I was about painting, "You never even doodled!"  My mother has been gone for many years now.  She was a painter herself and a good one though not prolific.  We never painted together and I wish I could tell her that I do now.  Most parents are happy when a child gets into medical school, but she was sad, realizing that I would abandon art- the career she had in mind for me.  Things work out for a reason.  I would have starved as a career artist.  Now that I am retired I get to paint all I want and I love it.

So for my first blog post, I will include a sample of my artistic prowess in the 3rd grade.  It depicts my favorite subject- lunch.  (I didn't like grade school very much.) My mother thought I was a genius when she saw this,  as mothers tend to do,  and it was still in her home when she died.

Got to love the blue hair!