Friday, July 6, 2018

Principles of Art.

Gradation, Alternation, Balance, Contrast, Harmony, Unity, Repetition and Dominance.  These are the principles of art. 

In this painting, my first in nearly three months being away from my brushes, I had to remind myself of the basics of composition. 

Repetition was easy because of the numerous onion top domes of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.  A secondary shape was the triangle, which repeated in the steeples.  The sun (or moon?) also echoed the circular shapes in the dome.

Contrast was created by the use of textures in the domes.

Gradation was employed in the values.  The light background was connected to the midtones in the center of the page and the dark accents were placed in the midtones to draw the eye to the major subjects of the piece. 

The gradation of smooth to active textures was also kept to the middle of the page.  I was careful not to place textures everywhere which would confuse the viewer.  Textures are not placed in the quiet areas on the outside and bottom of the page.

Unity was achieved by limiting the colors to the muted secondary colors of purple and green, with cool color dominating. 

Having words in your head while you paint will eliminate some of the confusion in the midst of the battle. 

P.S.  I chose this subject in honor of the World Cup Soccer Tournament that is taking place in Russia.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Workshop Opportunity

My 6th  almost-annual workshop in Boothbay Harbor, Maine will be held from September 10th - 14th.  Come paint the quiet coves, quaint side streets, lighthouses and working waterfront.  September is a great month to visit Maine; the summer tourists are gone, the weather is usually dry and warm, and the motel rates go down, making lodging more affordable.

So come see the place that has drawn me back for 39 years!  We'll have a relaxed, fun week of exploring color, values, even experimental approaches to the landscape.

For more details, contact me at : 

Hope to see you in Maine!

Friday, June 15, 2018

I'm Back!

Happy to report I'm back home after four long weeks of  recovery and rehab following open heart surgery.  There were a couple of touch and go minutes on the operating table, but a very fine, coolheaded surgeon saved my life!  So happy to be alive and home!

I took my sketchbook with me to the rehab facility, and was able to record some quieter moments there.  I took a short walk to a courtyard where there was a tribe of box turtles, adults and babies.  Here's the memory of a quiet afternoon watching them.

P.S.  The turtle is an apt metaphor for me these days.  Slow and steady wins the race!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Painting Your Situation

This week I'm facing a re-do of my aortic valve replacement.  The first replacement was too small, and I've developed breathing problems again.  Keep me in mind on Thursday.

One night, I couldn't sleep, so I got up and decided to paint a rather abstracted version of a heart.  I worked from a diagram but did no drawing first.  I avoided painting with red except for the very small area where the aortic valve is located.  I painted directly on the paper.

The abstract design is centered on the darks.  The high contrast sets off the white heart and arteries.

So, have a go at painting alla prima, directly on the page.  It will be liberating!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Painting From Photographs

This is the painting I did for the St. Louis Watercolor Society last night.  There was a big crowd, and I enjoyed teaching them some things I've learned about painting trees.

First, I encouraged them to really look at trees.  So many times people revert to painting trees from memories of their childhood efforts.

Second, I suggested that they do a value sketch of the tree or the scene and then paint from the value sketch.  That way you'll avoid getting caught up in the trap of painting local color.  You get to decide what colors to make the trees.  It will also tell you if your darks are linked in an interesting shape.

Here is the painting.  Thanks to the SLWS for inviting me!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Eliminating Background Elements

Sorry for the absence.  Travelling home, unpacking the car, and breathing problems have kept me from painting.

But here is the last painting I did in Florida.  A boatyard is a crowded, busy place.  In order to focus attention on one boat and the man cleaning its hull, I opted to leave out much of the busy elements in the background.  Instead, I chose a wet-in-wet approach to keep the attention on the boat.  I did include a second boat that juts partially into the focal subject in order to stop your eye.  The third boat is only hinted at because I needed a horizontal element.  Sky, clouds, shrubs and other boats were all eliminated.  As I said in the last post, the rights of the painting come first.

This coming Wednesday I'll be doing a demonstration at the St. Louis Watercolor Society.  That lesson will be on painting trees---what to do and what to avoid.  So look for that painting very soon!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Rights of the Painting

I painted this as the demo for yesterday's workshop.  I was working from a value sketch I did a couple of week's ago.

In designing the composition, I had to move the buildings on the right.  Where the light shape is at the bottom of the page, there is actually a road.  But the rights of the painting came first.  I was more concerned with the light shape instead of the accurate depiction of the scene. 

Another consideration was connecting the shapes.  The light of the buildings flows uninterrupted into the area below them creating an interesting shape.  The white of the lighthouse also leaks into the white shape.

So don't be a slave to the scene.  Adjust elements so that the rights of the painting come first!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Sorry that it's been a while getting around to painting this from the last posting. I took a side trip down to Bradenton to visit an old friend of mine.

This week I'm giving a workshop here in the Apalachicola area. This was the first demo I did for the class. I tried to illustrate the concept of granulation. The soft colors of the sky were created by painting wet-into-wet.  The softness of the sky made the dark, hard edged silhouettes of the fishermen cleaning their catch stand out even more dramatically.

  If you study the silhouettes, you"ll see that there is very little detail within the shapes of the figures. If you get the silhouette shapes right, details are not needed to describe the figures.

In the next post, I'll talk about painting the negative areas to define the shapes of the white or light shapes.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Painting Events in Your Experience

At sunset the other day, I went out to photograph the sun going down when these two fishermen came back from a day of fishing on the bay.  I loved talking with them as they cleaned their fish.  The pelicans seem to know that a treat is coming, and they gather below the cleaning table in hopes of getting some of the scraps tossed their way.

Tomorrow I'll paint the scene and will have a memory of a nice early evening.   Again, consider painting what happens to you.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Bird's Eye View

Eastpoint is connected to Apalachicola by a five mile bridge and causeway.  Just as you get to Apalach, the bridge rises over the Apalachicola River to allow the shrimp boats room to pass underneath.  This view is from the bridge to the wharves below.

A high vantage point or bird's eye view is achieved by placing the horizon line high on the page. The resulting diagonals in this painting act as pointers.  I employed a secondary color scheme with the orange used on the focal point surrounded by neutral greens and violets. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Painting What Happens To You

Here at Sportsman's Lodge, it's pruning time.  I was somewhat dismayed at the timing since temperatures dipped below freezing for several days after the cuttings.  But what's done is done.

When I woke up this morning, I saw that the workman had left his ladder behind.  The green of the ladder against the red-orange of the palm tree drew my attention.

I had another subject in mind when I set up my easel on the balcony, but my eyes kept going back to the palm tree and the ladder.  I decided to paint an event rather than a subject.  As I've said before, sometimes you just have to wait to see what happens as well as what you see. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Fish Signs

Converting the drawing to a painting involves a number of decisions, among them, color choices.  I used a very limited palette of various blues and violets, contrasted by some neutral oranges.  Enough said.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Avoiding the Literal

The design and composition considerations should always take precedence over the literal in your interpretation of a scene.  Choosing which elements attracted you in the first place should determine where to place them so that they become the focal area.  Select what to leave in and what to omit when working from photographs.

Here is a photo of a dock scene in Port St. Joe.

I felt that too much attention was on the woodwork.  I wanted to emphasize the fish signs.  I completely eliminated the background roofs.  Then I added a separate pole for the light, creating another vertical.  I subtracted some of the parallel boards.  I shifted the fish so that they were mainly on the thirds. I used one of the ropes to rhyme with the vertical poles.    Here's the result.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Painting on Dry Paper

I've been painting on pre-wetted paper to form glazes of colors.  Today I decided to paint on dry paper, building values on values. This produces a totally different effect.  I thought it would be more appropriate for the speckled light of a forest and waterfall. 

The colors I used were ultramarine blue , burnt sienna, and a bit of mixed greens.  The colors were subdued, so values became more important. 

I am also holding a workshop here in Florida on February 13-15.  For more information email me at

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Back to Color themes.

I've painted shrimp boats here in Apalachicola for nearly twenty years.  This year, after my summer of color,  I've added the element of inventive color to this old subject.  The full moon was inspired by this month's super moon. 
It's been too cold to paint on location, so I'm painting in my room here at Sportsman's Lodge.  In some ways that's a handicap, but in other ways it forces me to invent compositions and colors that wouldn't be easy while under the influence of on-location realities. 

Happily I still have three weeks here, so I'll hope for some warmer weather to let me take my old friend, my French easel, out for a spin!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


A common approach to depicting pilings and stanchions, as well as trees, is to paint them all the same dark value and color.  Look carefully at the actual scene and you will see that there are lighter areas of the logs and darker shadow areas, as well as a variety of colors due to shadows, moss, and bleached surfaces.

In this painting of a dock outside my room here in Eastpoint, Florida, I was drawn to the pelicans roosting on a neighboring dock.  The variety of colors and values were especially attractive to me.

Basically it was a three color study:  cobalt blue, yellow ochre and burnt sienna with a bit of black thrown in.  Staying with three colors has its advantages, the primary one being unity of color.

Gradation of values and changing colors will keep the pilings from being boring.  Also, pay attention to the intervals between the verticals in the structure.  It looks like a fairly simple study until you take into consideration these factors.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Wet-Into-Wet Glazing

When you want a soft edge, painting wet-into-wet works well.  What never occurred to me was that once your first wash is completely dry, you can still achieve a soft edge by glazing wet-into-wet.

In this painting of rocks at Boothbay Shores, I painted the colors of the rocks and the beach first.  When completely dry, I lightly re-wet the areas that I wanted to paint in the shadows.  Be careful not to brush hard and disturb the paint underneath.  Then, while completely saturated with clear water, brush in the glaze.  Don't apply paint up to the wetted area or you'll get a hard edge.

This technique would also work well with shadows on trees where you want a soft edge.  Paint the local color of the lighted area of the trunk, let it dry completely, re-wet the areas where you want the shadows, then drop in the paint.  Be sure to make it dark enough, too.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Christmas Cards

Many years ago, I hand painted my Christmas cards for friends and family.  I used an eighth of a sheet and folded it in half.  Then I taped one half of the folded card to a board, making for a crisp white border.  Paint was applied quickly with very little mixing on the palette.  Here are some results.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 10, 2017


In my ongoing series of rocks on the beach, the problem of creating a sense of distance was solved by the use of gradation.  On the beach, dark to light values kept the area receding.  The rocks on the right were painted lighter and lighter as they overlapped.  And within each rock, the values gradated from the top down to where the spray from the breaking waves softened them.  In the sky, the values gradated from a light midtone near the breaking surf upward to the distant sky. Not including a horizon line kept the attention on the focal area.

I also used gradation of color.  The warm central rock overlapped the next rock which included some blue, the next three rocks got progressively bluer as well as less textured.

Gradation exercises can be found in most instruction books.  Just remember to employ the technique where it's needed.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


                                 Bay of Fundy Rocks

In this scene of some famous rocks in New Brunswick, Canada, I wanted to portray the solidity of the rocks and the softness of the beach and the water.  The hard edges of the rocks are contrasted with the soft edges of their reflections on the wet sand. Painting wet-into-wet requires a certain amount of courage. The tendency of the beginner is to come back tentatively with too much more water and not enough pigment.  Load your brush up with lots of moist pigment and make your strokes confidently.

  First, I painted the lightest values of the sand.  When it was completely dry, I re-wet the area and flooded it with pigment.  A quick hit with even darker values created the reflections.  And last, I took a dry brush and reclaimed the horizontal plane of the beach by dragging it through the wet reflections.

I liked the different sizes and shapes of these rocks.  The stark contrast of the values with the sky and the surf emphasized the solidity of the pillars.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Going Small

I usually paint half sheets (15" X  22"), but sometimes to force myself to paint simpler shapes, I pair it down to a quarter sheet or even an eighth of a sheet.  It compels me to paint faster with purer colors.  Here are some results.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

One More Road Trip Painting

I forgot to post this painting of a cliff in New Brunswick, Canada  near the village of Alma.  It was sunny but cold and windy that day.  I had to hold onto my easel with one hand and paint with the other.  Unfortunately my third hand wasn't available and the lid to my palette blew off the easel and down the parking lot about fifty feet.  Ah, the hazards and challenges of plein air painting!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Achieving Darks

The juxtaposition of lights and darks creates drama.  However, putting down the first dark values on white paper rarely makes for the darkest darks.

In this painting of a small lighthouse in New Brunswick, Canada, I put down the sky first.  I thought it was really dark.  But then I put down the background trees, and that glaze was even darker.  Finally, the dark shadows on the lighthouse itself were even darker next to the white of the paper.

Dark values are very useful in projecting the lightest values.  Glazing helps.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Post Plein Air

I've been re-adjusting to life in St. Louis, and have barely had time to think about painting.  But here's one I did based on a photo taken in New Brunswick, Canada of a lighthouse at Cape Enrage.

For a subject like this one, strong color would not be appropriate for the mood I wanted to convey.  I had to depend upon values to project the moonlit Bay of Fundy.

Mixing darks takes LOTS of pigment.  Do NOT skimp on paint when portraying dark values.  I mixed the darks on the paper to avoid a flat black. I glazed over an underpainting of green because moonlight has a green essence.  Violet is a warm counterpoint to the green, so I also applied that pigment to the dark area of the cliffside. I also softened the circle depicting the moon to imply a misty feel to the scene.

Inventive color is fun to play with, but it must be used to transmit a mood.  Neutrals are best to convey a more somber mood.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Painting on the Road

You would think that after driving for hours that the last thing I would want to do is paint.  But after a summer of painting, I've always got my eye out for a new scene, a new vista, new subject matter.  This is a scene in Lenox, Massachusetts.   I liked the dome on the town hall and the ever present civil war monument.

My car is packed to the gunnels, but I placed my easel, board and paper on top of suitcases and other stuff for easy access just in case.  I also carry my sketchbook with me everywhere. 

If the purpose of travel is to experience new sights and sounds, painting is a perfect way to express the feelings about the things that appeal to you.  Keep those brushes handy!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Complementary Colors/ Contrasts

The dominant blues in this painting are contrasted by the smaller areas of orange.  Dominant cools  next to warmer colors.  Small lights encircled by larger darks surrounded by midtones. Large wet-into-wet soft areas versus harder edges and lacy textures.  These are not accidental.  Consider the elements and principles before and while you paint.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Executing the Painting From the Sketch

The previous post featured a sketch of the cove in front of my cottage.  Translating that into a painting can be daunting.

I decided to limit the palette to dulled reds and greens surrounded by neutrals.  Too many colors can destroy unity, so I restricted the color choices and concentrated on values.

Also I used a lot of wet-into-wet for the background foliage so your eyes focus on the large tree and the rocks in the foreground.  Wetting the whole area makes dropping in the colors easier. 

When I return home, I can try this again with more vibrant, purer colors. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Importance of Obliques

Verticals are stately, horizontals are restful, and obliques create tension and energy.

When verticals or horizontals are dominant, I always look for ways to incorporate the relief of some obliques.

Obliques can also act as pointers.

Here is a sketch of the cove out my front door.  Look for the obliques which provide relief, creating interest around the focal point.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Converting Sketches into Paintings

Here's the painting I did from one of the sketches.  I had thought it was going to be a sunny scene, but the past two days have been foggy, and I just couldn't force a sunny day in the painting.

I'll wait for a brighter day to paint the second scene.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

More Pencil Sketches/ Value Studies

A couple more sketches/value studies. These were both created from my dock.   In the next few days I'll turn these into paintings.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Value Studies

Drawing, sketching, thumbnails, value studies.  There is some confusion among aspiring artists about these terms.

Drawing concerns itself with outlines, contours.

Sketching is a looser, rough, unfinished drawing.


Thumbnails are always small and mostly focused on placement of shapes and values.

Value Studies can contain several of these elements.
                                          Value Study
All these preparations work well in the planning of your painting.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Large Paintings

I painted yesterday with the plein air painters of Maine at Cozy Harbor.  I haven't done a full sheet all summer, but thought I'd try it.  The problem is not the painting any more; the problem is the framing afterwards.

Framing a full sheet is expensive, making the shipping also expensive. The advantage is that most of the national shows respect the ability of painters to paint large.  It's a gamble.

Still, I want to challenge myself, so I went for it.  The whole concept of painting in bright colors is my focus this summer.  I wanted to apply it to a larger painting just to see if I could.

Pushing the limits is the challenge, and I have not shied away from it this year.  Push yourself, and enjoy the results!

Friday, September 8, 2017


Making literal and accurate statements are less and less important to me.  Design is more important to me than reporting a scene the way it is.  Color is a dominant concern more so than details that are objects. 

Today I went painting with two friends at one of my favorite spots in Boothbay Harbor.  I was more interested in creating shapes with interesting colors. 

I began with a wet-into-wet underpainting.  Then I chose the elements of the scene that most represented my response to the scene.  A vignette came to mind after that.  I like to keep the values in the midtone range and feather them out at the edges. 

One thing that became evident to me when looking at the efforts of my painting companions was the hesitancy to go really dark with the values around the middle of the focal points.  Using lots of pigment in the central part of the painting is crucial to forcing the viewer's attention to the area of interest.  Refrain from placing darks and lights near the outside edges of the paper.  Putting down darks near the focal point and gradating outward will keep the eye focused around the  center of interest.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Wait For It

Yesterday the surf was up, and I was determined to paint it.  I went to Boothbay Shores where I knew the surf would be good. 

The problem is always not to have a preconceived idea about what your subject will look like.  I had thought that I would depict the waves crashing against the rocks.  But when I arrived on location, the rocks didn't really appeal to me.  I also thought there wouldn't be enough interest.

While I was thinking about the possibilities, a lobster boat with its stabilizer sail set came by to haul traps.  Forget the rocks!  I just needed the conflict of the boat and the rough sea.

One year at the same spot, I was pondering what to paint when a woman came by walking her dog. As we were talking, a flock of geese flew by overhead.  Then I had my scene!  Lady, dog, path, and geese.

So my suggestion is when you're not sure what to paint while on location, wait for something to happen, and let that inspire you. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Blue Sky, Blue Water

I went painting down in the Harbor today.  I've always loved painting boats, but I try to be selective and resist including every boat in the Harbor.  And this summer, I also try using color in an inventive way rather than an "accurate" colorful portrayal of the scene.  I had so much fun mixing colors on the paper with new colors.  And that is the new goal of my approach to painting!

Monday, August 28, 2017


This past weekend, my friend Jan Kilburn held an event called Artists on the Lawn.  First, working from a sketch, I did a painting of a couple of boats in the moonlight.  Then I painted some flowers in Jan's garden.  But finally, I decided to improvise one of my dock scenes.  I painted the underpainting first, and then proceeded to invent elements of a typical working dock.  The only object that wasn't a normal part of the waterfront was a bell that accidentally developed during the underpainting.  I attributed that to whimsy. 

This painting became a statement about color more than subject matter.  Mingling colors on a saturated sheet of paper is a fun, inventive way to paint and is the equivalent  of musical improvisation, a jazzy, playful event.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Summer of Flowers

Poppies in June,  Day Lilies in July, Queen Anne's Lace in August, and now Shasta Daisies. 

While composing this painting, I was aware of grouping and odd numbers as well as placing the daisies on the thirds.  Three daisies against one.  Also three muted Queen Anne's Lace to break up the background. 

The darkest values were placed around the daisies and gradated as they recede to the edges of the page.

Also, study the colors.  The painting is dominated by cool colors with touches of reds and violets.  Again I mixed the greens on the paper. 

And last: The title.  "Hey, boys. Look at Her!" 

Friday, August 11, 2017

the Color Continues

Hendrick's Head Lighthouse has been a favorite subject for me over the years.  After a while, though, any subject can become an exercise in repetitive and trite expression.  But in this, my summer of color, I am expanding my choices of colors to include hues that are more inventive and less literal. 

I used masking tape to protect the white areas of the lighthouse and the structures on the bell tower.
I chose to make the sky and the water areas warm in color, while contrasting them with the more neutral colors on the rocks.   

Once again the wet-into-wet blending of colors was the fun part of the first wash, both in the sky, the water and then the rocks.  In the past, I would have been timid about the values and the colors, but this summer, everything goes! 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Color Change

The background color of the actual scene was green.  Instead I decided to enliven the background with other colors.  First, I chose a turquoise green for the sky so that the blue of the trees wouldn't repeat the same color.  Once I decided on the blue, I went to the orange as its complement.  Then I transitioned to  warm reds and then violets.  It was all about gradation of colors while moving around the background.  I stayed with the same four colors for most of the painting.

Once the blue was there, I put the complement of orange on the mailboxes and changed over to blue again. 

I was then left with the white of the paper.  I decided to put down some neutral grays in those areas.

My point is, have a rational idea about color choices. 

 Employ a lot of wet-in-wet soft backgrounds.  It's rather like throwing your photo into depth of field and soft focus to keep your eye in the foreground.  It also keeps your eye coming back to the areas of harder edges.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Finding the Ordinary

Driving to town today, I passed this little scene with a couple of mailboxes.  I have been looking for a
way to incorporate some Queen Anne's Lace into a painting, and so I was focused on finding a setting for them. 

Two subjects:  Mailboxes and Queen Anne's lace.  The supports and the background became a way to highlight the focal point and the subjects.  I needed to use values to make the subjects to stand out.

Finally, I did the value/composition sketch.  I can't say it often enough;  do a preliminary sketch so that the hard work is done ahead of the painting process.  You'll have enough to do while painting without having to decide on placement of shapes and values.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Creating Circulation

Once in a while I like to create my own scenes.  This one consists of elements of a typical lobster shack:  lobster trap, barrels, picnic area, sign, boat, and buoys. 

To lead the eye around the painting, I concentrated on interesting shapes, light values, and broken lines.

Follow the light shape on the beach to the boat which points to the couple under the umbrella. It also connects to the light on the building.

Straight, unbroken lines become monotonous.  Study the dark line along the bottom of the building, and you'll see that it is broken by the legs of the couple, the protrusion of the bow of the boat, the lobster trap, the barrel, and the crates.  The umbrella breaks the line of the roof.

Most of the colors are neutrals, making the warm, pure red umbrella an immediate focal point, highlighting the figures as well.  The red is repeated in more neutral hues on the sign and the high-flying lobster.
Consciously design the elements of your painting to circulate the eye.  Keep most of the textures around the focal point, and relegate the softer textures to the edges and corners of the paper.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Yesterday, the Plein Air Painters of Maine (PAPME) painted at Shipbuilders Park in East Boothbay.  Not wanting to miss the comraderie of painting with my friends, I decided to go despite not wanting to paint at that location.  Instead, I brought the drawing of the birch tree and the day lily.  My friends were intrigued, because they said I was basically painting from memory. 

But the memory wasn't just of the actual tree and day lily.  The memory I was working from was the sketch I did of the scene.  A preliminary look at the object you want to paint involves doing a study that requires a detailed observation.  It also makes the painting procedure easier because you have already studied the shapes and made the compositional decisions ahead of time.

Study, compose, remember.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


It's mandatory that an artist pay attention to what attracts his or her attention.  I've passed by this old birch tree on the edge of our cove for years, but the other day the sun was doing its magic, and I really saw it for the first time.  Maybe it was the appearance of a single day lily next to it, but the textures of the peeling birch bark and the contrast of the colorful, soft flower were so mesmerizing that I had to attempt it.   Luck and concentration to all of us painters!