Saturday, August 12, 2017


I have mentioned that I save older paintings and revisit them from time to time.  I don't mean the ones I should pitch, but the ones that have potential.  The near misses, the ones that could be good but aren't quite.

I will pick three that weren't terrible but needed something. I like to push myself to find out why a painting doesn't work and what I can do about it. Once they are dry it is easy.  Any changes can be wiped off without ruining what is underneath.  You can try again if it doesn't work.  Don't be afraid to do this, and if you do somehow ruin the painting it is OK. You didn't love it, so what have you lost?


I used this in a recent blog on how to mount a painted canvas on a panel.  I picked it as an example because it was dry and ready to mount, not because I thought it was a hugely successful painting.  Several things bothered me but what really hit me was how cool the painting was.  I am used to painting southeastern landscapes which are quite warm (and GREEN).  I constantly have to remind myself to introduce some cool colors throughout my paintings to make them vibrate.  This was painted from my reference photo taken in Colorado where I rarely get to paint.  Even the greens there look cooler to me, and with the distant mountains and creek it is a pretty chilly sight.  Another issue is that the light doesn't make sense.  The strong shadows indicate a very sunny day.  In Colorado the sky is usually very blue in sunny conditions.

Here I have added distant gray greens into the mountains, more so in those that are closer but even the far away ones.  I made the sky blue with a few fluffy clouds for variety and now the shadows look right.  I added a few warm areas to the shadows and worked on the trees to the left (more bare branches and a few more sky holes).  The trees on the right are also a little warmer.  Overall I think this is a better painting than the one above. The sky could probably be a darker blue and I might try that.


This is a plein air piece from 2013, an early one that I considered a success at the time.  It has long since been out of the frame and in the reject pile.  It is a landscaped area by a pond.  The symmetric nature of the plantings bothered me and I didn't like the way the sloping trees to the right made me fall out of the painting.  The reflections aren't very exciting.


Here I have removed one of the tall cedars so there is one dominant vertical instead of the "twinsies".  I reshaped the more distant trees on the right.  I added more darks in the saw palmettos, which are meant to be the center of interest and brightened up areas of their foliage and their reflections.  I also reworked the sky with a warmer blue in some areas. From a compositional standpoint I think this is a better painting.  


Problems with the horizon are distracting.  Here is a very simple example of how just a few strokes can make a difference.  I painted the above in a workshop 4 years ago.  I had help with the clouds and loved the result.  The reference photo was mine from an island in the Bahamas.  The composition is good- there is a low horizon because it is all about the sky,  but the Bahama water and distant beach are also important.  Notice that there is a line across the beach.  Also notice that it is not straight. This is a very amateurish mistake- always look for this.  Use a ruler if necessary.  

This is subtle, but I only used about 10 strokes to eliminate some of the blue line close to the beach, straighten the line of the water, and add just a couple of darks and lights to the land mass.  I also put a few thicker strokes on the water though that might not be apparent in the photo.  

This is fun to do.  Go through your paintings and see what you can do. This last one was in a frame in our powder room for a few years.  It bothered me but I waited a long time to address it.  It took 10 minutes!  

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