Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Animal Paintings

                                 Mallards at Oak Point Farm

I've never been much of an animal painter.   But about a week ago I saw this scene of some ducks on a pond near some trees on the bank.  I loved all the crooked twists and turns of the branches.  But I realized that the painting needed a more animated subject matter.  Some ducks floated by, and I had my composition.

I realize that most people buy paintings because of subjects that they like or that they've seen on vacation.  But that's not why I choose subjects to paint.  I respond to a location--the sights, sounds, values, textures and most of all, the light.  I like paintings not because of the subject matter, but because of the light, the colors and placement of the elements in the work.  As you can tell from my paintings the past two months, this summer my colors of choice are blue and greens, and my fascination with water--the movement, the reflections, and the colors--are the real focus of my subject choices, rather than the things being reflected..

This painting should not be considered an illustration of ducks by any means.  I'm more intent on things that comprise a painting than on a literal interpretation of the scene.  

In short, know your purpose and your intention.  Do you want to say something about light and shadows?  Interesting textures?  Brilliant colors? Subject matter is often a secondary consideration.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Dealing With Onlookers

There were times long ago when I was very irritated with people who came by to watch me paint.  I was self conscious enough painting on location without the fear that people were judging the early stages of my painting.  Little kids could be especially distracting.  They seem to like to point at things in the painting, often touching the wet paper.  Here are some of my favorite stories of tourist comments.

Once I was painting the local self-proclaimed Hot Dog King Brud Pierce.  I was nearly finished with the painting, including the sign on his motorized stand that said "Brud's Hot Dogs."  A woman came along and asked me what I was painting.  "Brud!  See the sign?  See Brud's big ears?"  She paused a second, looked across the street and said,  "Harbor Realty?"  Sigh....

More than once I have been asked "What are you painting?"   

"Are you an artist?"  is another favorite.  My answer is usually "That's for you to say."

Then there's the Sneak.  They don't want to disturb the artist, so they silently approach my easel.  Suddenly, usually when I'm making a crucial line, they'll exclaim their admiration.  Or sometimes I'll be backing up to judge the pattern in the painting and bump into them or trip over their dog.  Painting can be dangerous!

But yesterday's comment may just take the prize.  I was putting the finishing touches on this painting out at Ocean Point in East Boothbay of rocks and surf when a woman came by and talked and talked and talked, mostly about herself.  Finally, she asked, "I'm looking for a place called East Side Point that has a lot of rocks and you can see the ocean.  Do you know were it is?"  I literally rolled my eyes and said,  "You're looking at it!"

All that said, most onlookers are kind in their comments and ask if they can watch.  Sometimes I like them so much that I hand them my brush so they can pose in front of the painting while their relative takes their photo.  This week I was even invited to have dinner with a nice couple from Houston. 

Have fun painting en plein air!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Accuracy Trap


This very popular painting location features a lobster pound building.  I've painted it many times, too, sometimes with more successful results than others.  This time it wasn't the building that was my focal point, but the birch trees in the foreground.  The building was subordinated to a supporting element.

Because I wanted to emphasize the birch trees as my major subject, I eliminated as much texture in the background trees as possible.  But I needed the building to help locate the site, as well as give some interest to an otherwise uninteresting background shape.  Three problems presented themselves when incorporating the building while also subordinating it to a supporting element that didn't detract from the birch trees which were my focal point.

The first problem is that the building is painted green.  Trying to accurately portray the structure has always been a problem because the actual color matches the greens in the trees, making it  hard to stand out.  So I decided to change the color to white! 

Second, I reduced the size of the building so it wasn't as prominent as it is usually portrayed.

Third, I eliminated doors, windows and other architectural features that would attract attention to the background and elevate the importance of the building.  The inclusion of the building therefore was reduced to the purpose of interrupting the line of background trees.

So re-think the tendency to portray the scene accurately and "truthfully".  Keep the focal point in mind when selecting other elements to include.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


                                        Summer Pond

Of all the colors in your repertoire, green is the one most likely to trip you up.

The worst mistake you can make is to use the same tube color of green everywhere in your painting.
So let's consider ways to vary the greens.

There are cool greens and warm greens.  Blue and yellow make green.  Add more blue and you get a cooler green.  Add more yellow and you get a warm green. 

Next consider altering the choice of blues and yellows.  Mixing an ultramarine or a thalo  blue with yellow produces totally different greens.  Starting with a thalo yellow green and combining it with some umbers will gray it down a bit.

Also think about charging in some burnt sienna or a violet.

And finally, remember that warm colors advance and cool colors recede.  Sometimes a blue in the distance will suggest green trees.

(This painting also benefits from the use of the complementary color of red or pink.  But that's another post!)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Three Things

                                    Spectacle Island

Three things make this composition work:  direction, color and value.

Other workshop teachers have often described their compositional devices in terms of letters.  In this painting, the letter A is present.  Both the large land mass in the foreground and the elements within it---the rocks, the log, and the textures-- point toward the island.

The contrast of color is also a factor in taking your eye to the island.  The single orange rock attracts immediate attention, largely due to its contrast to the complementary color blue surrounding it, but also because of its more or less pure quality.

Finally, the dark value of the island trees set up an obvious eye attractor.  Look closer at the dark value, and you will see a few specks of light that I left to break up the solid mass.  

The distant land masses and the undersides of the clouds provide the horizontal eye stoppers that I spoke about in a previous post.

If you have questions or suggestions about upcoming posts, please leave them in the comments section.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

It's Right at Your Feet

                                  Ocean Point Rocks

More and more when searching a location for subject matter, I looker closer rather than farther away.  Yesterday afternoon I went out to Ocean Point where there is a lighthouse, old Victorian houses, a charming stone chapel, and lobster boats that sail close to shore, all of which I've painted before.  But on this afternoon, I once again looked down in front of me.  The gleaming white rock and the rugged foliage appealed to me, and I've learned not to ignore my first strong reactions.

The obliques attracted my attention when it became time to design the composition.  The breaking surf provides the stopper horizontal.

Consider looking down, not out and beyond.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Fourth of July!


                   Happy 4th of July!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Maine Icons

Maine is known for its lighthouses, schooners, lobsters, and......moose.

Usually you can find moose early in the morning near shallow ponds.  I've been up to Greenville where the moose are plentiful in certain areas.  You can even take moose safaris.  

This painting combines my love of rocks, water tumbling over rocks, reflections and trees.  The moose provides the focal point, but I threw in my favorite elements.  Also, look at the dispersion of dark shapes.  Papa, Mama, Baby dark shapes help frame the moose.

What is your state known for?  Paint it!

Monday, July 1, 2019


Studying the masters is very useful in  making progress in your chosen medium.  Here in Maine, the presence of Winslow Homer is especially unavoidable when painting sailboats.  During the past few rainy days, I studied the paintings he did of sailboats and surf.  I was really struck by his use of dark values to help define the beauty of the white hulls and sails of the sailboats he depicted.  The challenge for me was getting the sea water dark enough to cause the hull to stand out.  

First, I painted the sky and clouds.  Putting down the clouds and hints of blue sky on totally white paper always feels like the values are too dark.  But then when you paint the water, you must make it much darker than the sky which, placed against the hull, punches up the feeling of light.  Since the sky is the source of all light, it naturally becomes much lighter looking than when I put the first washes down.  

I've said it many times.  Painting dark values is one of the hardest things to judge in watercolor.  Students tend to be too timid and end up having to go back in again and again, resulting in muddy washes.  Be brave in the darks!  And study the master painter that speaks most strongly to you.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Zig-Zag Composition

In the last two posts, I talked about a reverse Z composition.  I also included a sketch that I said I would paint.  Here it is.

Follow the line of rocks in the foreground to the lighter rocks where I placed the focal point, a marooned lobster buoy, a dark rock, and then a silhouette of a boat on the far show. Zig-Zag.

I'm having a good painting summer despite the weather.

Friday, June 28, 2019

What the Heart Sees

Choosing subject matter is always the first consideration in creating a painting.  So often I see paintings by students who want to show you everything in front of them.  As a result, the painting is about everything and in turn, nothing in particular.  There seems to be no emotional connection to what they are looking at.  

Often I have the same problem.  But over the years, I have learned to go with my first impression of a scene. The painting of the float a couple of posts back is a case in point.  A whole harbor scene was in front of me:  boats, beach, trees, an island cottage.  But I kept looking at the float below the dock where I was standing.  My eye kept going back to a green buoy and the round anchor buoys on the float.  Something spoke to me about that green buoy.

I fought the temptation to paint it because I wondered if a buying public would respond to my choice of subject matter.  Still, I wanted to paint the spot of green, the white spheres, and the wonderful reflections in the water.  I was not sorry about my choice.

The other day I returned to the same spot and looked again at the float.  The tidal current had now exposed the other end of the float.  I got out my sketchbook and drew that little slice of outdoor still life.

I began to feel that I had stumbled upon a theme.  Off to my right I spotted a single buoy that had been stranded on some rocks.  It was so far in the distance that I almost didn't see it. (See photo)  But it spoke to me of isolation, like a castaway marooned far from its purposeful place.  I zeroed in on it to make this sketch.  Today I will paint it.

My point is, go with what your heart sees instead of what might be more "saleable."  I can almost guarantee your result will be more satisfying.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Composition -- The "Z"

Determining how the eye enters the painting is an important decision.  Avoiding a straight line becomes necessary to avoid monotony.  Case in point: Put your finger over the float in the foreground.  At that point, you have a straight line of boats leading to the left hand side of the paper.

Likewise, cover up the boat on the right hand side of the page, and the straight line becomes even more problematic.  

With those two elements, the eye follows a path of a reverse Z   Float to largest boat, larger boat to the two other boats in the foreground.  The smallest boats, emphasized by the shoreline, swing your eye back to the right.

                                      -- - - - - - 

The zig-zag becomes even more apparent when you look at the ripples in the foreground water.  By limiting the darker tones to the right side of the bottom of the page, it leads your eye to the buoy.

And, yes, I really do think and plan for these compositional elements!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Waiting for the Sun to Shine

Here's a painting I did from a sketch I made in New Hampshire.  (See post below.)  We had about two hours of summer this morning, so painting from my sketchbook comes in handy.  It is Windjammer Week here in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.  The Windjammers, parade, and fireworks are on Wednesday.  Hope the weather clears by then!  I hope to get in a painting of the fleet to share.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Dominance and Complementary Color

                                        Southport Trappings

When I first spotted this float, it was the lone green buoy that caught my eye.  When I painted the scene however, I was thinking in terms of complementary colors.

The dominant color is blue.  The complement of blue is orange.  Brown is a dirty orange!

First I painted the contents of the float.  Then I painted the water which gradated to subtle tones in the foreground ripples.  And last, I painted the reflections.  The very dark values of the reflections are connected to the midtone ripples so as not isolate the reflection of the float. 

Blue dominates, but the warmth on the float helps exaggerate the feeling of sunlight.

Don't forget my September 9-13 workshop here in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.  

P.S.  Is anybody out there?  I have 86 followers, but rarely get more than two likes to let me know that my blog is being read.  It's a little discouraging.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Golden Mean

The artists of the Renaissance had a mathematical theory about where to place the focal point of a painting.  They called it the Golden Mean.

It's a rather complicated theory, if you ask me.  So other modern teachers reduce it to placing the focal point on the thirds:  a third of the way from an edge of the paper or canvas.

Then the problem becomes one of balance.  In this painting of Cuckold's Light House just off Southport Island near Boothbay Harbor,  the center of interest is the lighthouse.  I've dutifully placed it on the thirds.  I balanced the small man-made structure with the larger foreground rocks.  

The color of the roof also attracts attention.  

Composition is an important element in arranging the objects or focal points in a painting.    

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Traveling Artist

                                    Jackson Falls

Eagle Mountain 

My sketchbook is a way to gather information for future paintings, but it also acts as a visual diary of my trip. I love remembering the scenes, the sounds, the people I meet, and the light.  When I take a photo, the time spent at the site is minimal.  Sketching takes a bit of time and a lot of concentration on the scene.   Later, all the details come flooding back, and I can re-live the memory.

 The weather in New Hampshire was not conducive to painting; it was rainy, then foggy, and pretty chilly.  My sketchbook provided a way to record a moment in a much more intense way than snapping a photo does.

Just down the road from my historic inn in Jackson are the cascading falls named for the town.  I sat at a picnic table for one sketch, and sketched from the car the first day.  The White Mountains were right out my window, and I also enjoyed sketching from the long veranda with its rocking chairs.
And the cog railroad passes through Crawford Notch where an old depot stands.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Value of Shadows

                                     Liberty Farm

Objects in shadow and the cast shadows of object are valuable tools in depicting sunlight in a dramatic fashion.

This barn in Boothbay, Maine is silhouetted and in shadow.  The shadows that are cast by the fence, trees and barn help portray the sunlight.  They also show the contours of the land that they fall on.  

It is vitally important to connect the darks to form shapes and keep them from being isolated.

I'll say it again:  have plenty of pigment at the ready to make really dark shadows.  Also, be bold in your application.  If you have to go back over a shadow area, you'll lose some of the juiciness and purity of the paint.  Don't be afraid!  Put it down dark enough and then leave it!

I'm off for my summer in Maine.  I may get to paint on the way, or sketch at some of my scheduled stops.  I look forward to sharing the results of my painting effort throughout the summer.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 18, 2019


I sometimes use tree foliage on the edge of the painting to help frame the main subject.  Sometimes a shadow will help frame.  And sometimes using a building will help push the focal point back.

Often, though, students will believe that if an object is there and included in the painting, the whole object must be depicted.

In this painting of a boatyard, I've employed a boat on the left side of the composition to help frame the main boat.  However, I cut off part of the boat.  If the whole boat were included, I would end up with two focal points.  In this case the boat on the left pushes the focal point boat back, and acts as a frame.

On the righthand side of the composition, I've also cut off the background boat.  If the whole boat had been included, it would have acted as a pointer out of the painting.

It comes back to the concept of portraying shapes, not objects.  Know what your focal point is and use shapes that do not compete with the primary subject.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


Sky, trees, fields, and only hints of buildings.  Landscapes depend less upon straight lines and more upon curved lines and irregular shapes.  

In this landscapes size is important as well.  The receding trees are smaller and less defined in the interior.  I tried to vary the shapes of the trees in the foreground and concentrated on making them three dimensional by emphasizing the sunlit and shadow sides.  And the foreground shadow keeps your eye from wandering off the bottom of the page.

I painted one summer in Cornwall, England.  During the last part of my stay, I rented a car and drove around the Cotswolds and Wales.  I spotted this little village in the Cotswolds and stopped to sketch it.  But I just got around to painting it this morning.

I painted this in 45 minutes.  Remember:  You're not coloring inside the lines; you're painting! Except for the church belfry, the other buildings are only hinted at.  So let your brush fly!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Power of the Silhouette

Almost every shape in this painting is a silhouette.  If you get the silhouette of the object right, you'll find you don't need many details in the interior of the shape.  

This is also another example of interlocking shapes.  The buildings and the steeples interlock with the sky shape and make the sky an interesting shape.  

Although I chose this scene in Littleton, New Hampshire because of the silhouetted shapes of the buildings, it needed some additional interest, so I added the crosswalk, some figures, and the bicyclists.  

Very soon I'll be in the neighborhood of this scene.  New England, here I come!

Thursday, May 9, 2019


Painting architectural subjects can be quite daunting.  The tendency is to try to put in every detail.  The result is often a texturally overloaded rendering.  

In this painting of the St. Louis Basilica Cathedral in St. Louis, as usual, I tried to depict the major shapes: half circles, rectangles, and triangles.  I did NOT try to fill in every window.  A simple downward flick of the brush suggested the windows, and quick dabs and short strokes gave the illusion of decorative features on the façade of the building.  

If your goal is to produce an architectural illustration, maybe you should include all the exact details.  However, if your aim is to paint the architectural subject, reduce the number of details and merely suggest the ones you do include.  The result will be much more satisfying.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Painting Your Favorite Events

For as long as I can remember, I've loved watching the Kentucky Derby.  One year I was lucky enough to attend and sit in Millionaires' Row.  But that's another story.

The easily identifiable twin spires of Churchill Downs are elegant and iconic.  That was the inspiration for this painting.  The receding buildings provided me with another opportunity for obliques.  The line of horses form another.  I also used silhouettes to describe the spires to eliminate the details and keep them in the background.  

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Power of Obliques

                                      "Dockside Café"

Horizontals are restful, verticals are stately.  Obliques are energetic and can act as pointers.  I employ them as often as I can.  

In this painting the most obvious obliques are found in the triangular umbrellas.  Looking at the cast shadows, they form a broken oblique.  The rooftops and the bow of the far boat are also obliques.  All of them direct your eye to the figures in the foreground.  

Look at the previous post and you'll see more obliques at work.  

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Enhancing the Feel of Light

"Hendrick's Head Beach"

Contrast is the name of the game in painting.  Contrast of warm and cool, smooth vs. rough, and light and dark.  And the greatest of these is value.

When you are trying to create the feeling of bright sunlight, the best thing you can do is place some really dark shapes next to the sunlit areas.

In this painting of Hendrick's Head Beach on the island of Southport, Maine, the dark shadow across the foreground wasn't really there, but to dramatize the light on the beach, I invented the shadow.  Additionally, I placed one of the boats right on the edge of the shadow to break up the fairly unbroken line formed by the shadow.  

The dark shapes in the painting also act as a frame for where the focal point is.  

The trick is to use enough paint.  Check your palette to see if you've filled the wells to the brim so you can call on more paint when immediately needed.  

If you are enjoying these posts, please share with your fellow watercolorists.  And, of course, I always like to hear from you in the comments section or you can "like" a particular post if the information is useful.  

And don't forget my workshop in Boothbay Harbor, Maine Sept. 9th - 13!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Shapes First, Details Last Part 2

This is a scene in my second hometown, Boothbay Harbor, Maine.  I'm already in countdown mode until I return for my fortieth summer there.

In this painting, I limited my palette to various shades of red, blue and neutrals.  Follow the roofline and you'll see that I found ways to make the shapes of the buildings varied.  The figures help break up the otherwise straight bottoms of the buildings.

Once again, don't get in a hurry to fill in the details.  I'm including a photo of the halfway point in the process to emphasize this point.

The best way to say bright sunlight is to make the shadows dark and in one pass to keep the color from getting muddy.  Be brave!

By the way, my workshop in Boothbay Harbor will be Sept. 9  - 13.  If interested, contact me at   or call me at 314-706-6333.  More information to follow.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Shapes First, Details Last

                                 Rainy Day in Waldoboro
It was the silhouetted shape of the building that attracted my attention.  Most of my interest centered on the interlocking shape of the rooftop with the sky.  

So, first I painted the big shape of the building.  After that, the road and the far background.  The figures were next and had to be dark enough to stand out from the building.  

Now a major decision.  How much detail did I want on the building?  I didn't want windows and doors and dormers to compete with the figures,  the wet street and the reflections.  So I only hinted at a few windows. 

The foliage was done with a fan brush and provides a frame for the major focal points.

Knowing what to leave out is as important as choosing what to include.  Remember, it's the big shapes that will tell the story.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Interlocking Shapes

Looking at the skyline of the buildings in this painting of an Italian square,  you can see that the shapes of the buildings interlock like puzzle pieces with the shape of the sky.  As I said in the last post, straight lines are boring.  If the skyline is a straight line, the sky shape will tend to be a boring shape, too.  The intrusion of the statues and figures into shadow areas  help break up rather rectangular shapes.  Even the shadow shapes interlock with the sunny parts of the plaza.  

In addition I was conscious of the limited palette as well.  Warm vs. cool, complementary colors of yellow and muted purples, and grayed mixtures of those two colors provide contrast and interest.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

"Avoiding Monotony En Route"

St. Louis Central West End

Avoiding monotony en route is what Edgar Whitney used to insist upon.  A straight, uninterrupted line is boring and acts as a pointer.  Finding ways to disrupt that pathway is important.  It aids in forming more interesting shapes, and stopping the eye from travelling down a line with no variation.

You can see this in action on the rooflines of the buildings in this painting.  The shapes at the bottom of the buildings are also interrupted by the cast shadows.

Avoid monotony en route.  Look for ways to keep lines from becoming static.  If you have to, invent chimneys or other disruptions to keep the line from becoming boring.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Lacey Stuff

Rainy Day In Old Orchard Beach

The thing that attracted me in this scene was the lacey quality of the lampposts and telephone poles against the sky.  After I had the shapes of the buildings down, I painted the wet road and the reflection of the cars.  When everything was dry, it was time to put in the lampposts.  The top of the lamppost was rendered by holding the brush almost like a pencil.  The pole was created with a quick downward stroke.  I've found that the slower the stroke, the wavier the line.  Slow strokes seem to shout hesitation and timidity.  I know it's scary, but practice it on another piece of paper.  

The telephone poles on the right have a lacey look that I like.  I used a dry brush to keep them from looking too static.  Again, speed up the stroke.  

The textures of the dark poles against the quieter, simpler shapes of the buildings and the sky create a nice contrast.  The wet-in-wet softness of the reflections contrasts nicely with the sharper hard edged poles.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Keeping a Sketchbook

I came home from Florida with only four paintings, but with a lot of sketches.  Yesterday I was finally able to get back to the studio and paint.  It felt so good to feel the brush glide across the paper.

I've said it before:  your sketchbook is a kind of diary of ideas.  It's a roadmap to values and placement of shapes.  Once those two things are in place, you can be free to play with color rather than be a slave to the "real" colors.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Time Goes By

Sorry for the time lapse.  I was travelling back to Missouri from Florida and just as I got home, my computer broke.  Learning to operate this new one has been a challenge, but I think I've figured out most of what I used to access.

Anyway,  here's a sketch to tide you over while I get back to painting.  Another study in placing things on the thirds.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Switching Mediums

People sometimes ask if I've ever painted with oils.  A very long time ago I started out painting in oil.   I had some success with still lifes, but had a harder time with landscapes.  My main problem was trying to lighten values with white paint.  It always looked chalky and often never got light enough.

One day the art teacher at my school said, "Carol, your paintings are pretty good, but why don't you try watercolor?"  Those five words changed the course of my life.

The transition wasn't easy.  Controlling the water was my biggest problem.  Too much water on the page, and then too much more water in the brush and on the palette.  But I liked the way the brush slid across the page.  I had temper tantrums when things didn't go well.  One day, shortly after I purchased a very expensive sable brush, I got so angry that I smashed the ferrel of the brush half way across.  "That's okay.  I quit anyway."  Half an hour later I was back in the studio with some pliers to repair the damage.

I like the immediacy of watercolor.  I like the transparency and the layering.  I like charging color into an area and watching the resulting granulation.  I just feel more free with watercolor. 

But just for grins here are two of my early efforts in oil. 

Monday, February 25, 2019


My friend Connie took me to a small park overlooking the bay to watch the sunset one evening.  I immediately gravitated to the gumbo limbo trees.  The next day I returned to paint them. 

Overlapping and repeated shapes help the scene recede.  I also noticed the change in color of the two trees.  And of course, the second tree appears thinner which also suggests that it is receding.

The two figures are there to break up the space and give the painting some life.  I used red on one shirt to help draw your eye over to them. The dock acts as a pointer.  The sidewalk also recedes because the area reduces in size as it goes back.  Perspective, therefore, is needed to help with the illusion of receding space.

Someone once asked me if I really think about all these things when I paint or if it's intuitive and I only reflect on them afterwards.  I always have words in my head while I paint.  Deliberation starts with knowledge, and knowledge applied results in deliberate action.  Think while you paint!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Moving Subjects

While deciding what to paint at this location on Anna Maria Island, Florida, pigeons kept congregating around my easel.  I liked their shapes and markings, so I decided to paint them.  Getting the overall silhouette right was most of the problem.  Then trying to depict the markings was the next challenge.  After that, the placement and number of birds to include became a consideration.  I decided to rely on the old tried and true number three, as well as leaving different intervals between the birds.  Giving them different poses provided much needed variety as well.

Trying to paint moving objects requires patience and prolonged study.  I looked at the strutting pigeons for half an hour before attempting the drawing.  First the shapes, then the poses, then the intervals. 

Good luck!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

On the Thirds

Composing a painting should rely on more than just reproducing the actual scene.  A few days before I composed this painting, I sketched a palm tree at a local restaurant.  There are palm trees outside my room, so I used that reference to add to the composition of the painting.  The birdhouses are part of the landscape outside my balcony, so it was easy to combine the two.

Placement then became the important part of the decision to place the two elements.  I've always chosen to follow the traditional compositional idea of placing the important subjects on the thirds. 
The palm tree on the left and the birdhouse on the right are both on the third areas. 

Paint what you love, but think with your brain!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Painting Negative Space

One of the most common mistakes that students make when painting trees is to paint the trunks and branches a dark, solid brown.  The second mistake is trying to paint the light foliage over the dark trunk.  Paint the light foliage first, and then bring the dark trunk up to the foliage shapes.

One way to approach this problem is to paint the negative background spaces darker than the tree trunk.  As the background gets lighter, you can then paint the trunks as a positive (See right side of the painting.)

In this painting I also introduced arbitrary color in the background foliage.  Hooker's Green is a rather boring, flat color.  I always mix my greens to get some variety in the area.  Gradation of color and value also creates variety and interest as well as a three dimensional feeling.  Really look at trees and their values as related to the background.  Avoid that flat, dull brown in tree trunks.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


I'm here on the Florida panhandle at the lodge where I've spent over 20 winters.  I've painted the grounds and its environs every year.  This year after Hurricane Michael plowed through Apalachicola, some of my favorite views have been altered.  The restaurant on the property was completely destroyed, and the driveway to my building lost a couple of trees.

In this painting, the tree on the left lost the top half of its trunk.

I love trees, so I'm glad I at least have this painting to remember the view I've cherished for all these years. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Between Paintings

Keeping your hand and eye hot between paintings is important.  When your enthusiasm wanes temporarily, try to find ways to keep your skill set practiced.  For me, that means getting my sketchbook out.

One of the best books to help me with drawing skills is Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  Now I look for negative spaces first.  Then I relate the next line to a line or angle in that space.  Then another line relating to the first line, and so forth. 

The claim "I don't want to be bothered with drawing; I just want to paint" rings of laziness and impatience to me.  Practicing the fundamentals should be part of a discipline that leads to better painting. 

Happy drawing, and Happy New Year!