Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Don't Be Afraid of Color

          It was a foggy morning at Hendrick's Head Beach today.  It was so foggy that you couldn't even see the lighthouse.  Realism would  demand a gray and white color scheme, but I hadn't painted in a week and was feeling quite happy to be painting with my friends, so I chose  a wild and vibrant palette.  Again, my motto for the summer is, Life's too short for boring colors.

           My approach was to wet the whole sky area with two applications of clear water.  Then I quickly went into the shape with a turquoise, wild fuschia, orange, and yellow ochre.  While it was still saturated and the colors were running, I turned the board sideways to let the colors mingle in another direction.  I used the same approach on the beach and the water.  When developing the rocks and trees, I re-wet the area to be painted so the paint would again mingle on the page.

         The purpose of the sun-like orb was to break up the sky shape.  I chose the brightest turquoise green to depict the shirt on the figure to contrast the reddish color on the beach and the rock behind him to gain maximum impact in that secondary subject.

         Try wetting the big shapes and then flooding them with colors.  Don't brush them back and forth.  One stroke in an area will allow the paint to run together and avoid creating 'mud'.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Big Washes

A common mistake I see in students' work is trying to depict every leaf and every blade of grass.  By doing that, textures start to take over and the focal point can be lost.  Rather I try to find the big planes and shapes in foliage.  I also find that in the front of the tree shapes warmer colors prevail, and as the clumps of leaves recede, I make them paler and cooler.    In the foreground grass area, I suggest the textures at the edges rather than making stripes of each blade.  This way, the eye has a place to rest.  Whisper the grassy areas; don't shout them to the detriment of the more important shapes in the painting.

I painted the sky shape wet-into-wet with a couple of color changes.  The tree trunks were my focal point and rather than painting them a uniform gray or brown, I painted them wet-into-wet as well, making lots of color changes
along the way.  The two sailboats are there to break the horizontal line of the horizon and stop the eye from wandering off the page.

Big flat washes, painted wet-into-wet, textures around the focal point, and clumps of foliage rather than a lot of unconnected dots to represent the leaves.  Non textured sky, sea and foreground grass in sunlight keeps the color and values around the trunks interesting.

Please like if you find these tips helpful!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Big Color

This summer my motto is going to be:  "Life's too short for boring colors."

I've painted this scene fifty times, mostly in traditional landscape colors.  But after this winter I decided to get bolder in my use of colors.  I've sent away for some new paints, all colors that I've never used before.  I'm going to try to experiment with big, bold colors.  Paint Happy!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The "Z" in Landscape Paintings

I spent my 4th of July morning painting at Boothbay Shores.  This is the causeway out to Ocean Island.  The stone gate is iconic and makes the scene instantly recognizable. 

I positioned my easel so that the rocky beach was prominent.  The driveway leads the viewer's eye out to the woody island.  The dark values and the dark midtones  take your gaze from the foreground up to the island, and then off to the left where the dark rocks are silhouetted against the sea.  This forms a classic "Z" technique.  Coincidentally, the gate breaks the more or less straight lines along the driveway and then interrupts the line of rocks.  Once you follow the line of darks, the bushes on the left stop your eye and lead you back to the gate.

This "Z" technique can also be used with light shapes as well.

A final note:  The pink tone on the roadway is echoed in the light rocks in the distance.  So the pink tone also forms a secondary "Z".  The pinks in the tree shape on the island break up the greens which could become unrelenting without the complementary color. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Limited Palette

I did this painting from my dock here in Maine last summer.  This was the image that I called up all winter when things got rough.  It is now on display at the Boothbay Region Art Foundation.

Local color is always a problem for me, especially isolated greens.  I often solve the obstacle by limiting my palette, in this case yellow ochre, burnt sienna and black, often referred to as the Velasquez palette.  Choose a few related colors from either the warm or cool side of your palette, and then concentrate on the values. 

(There are a few more weeks left for you to sign up for my annual Boothbay Harbor Workshop, September 4th - 8th.  Email me at )

Friday, June 23, 2017


One of the hardest things to encourage my students to do is to go dark enough in the shadows.  Using the same paints as in the midtones of the painting, just eliminate most of the water so that the paint is not watered down which lightens the values.

Dark values create the feeling of sunlight.   Practice on the back of some old failed paintings to see how dark you can go with two colors combined.    Be brave!

Flower Paintings

I must admit, many flower paintings leave me impressed by their technical accuracy and technique, but as portraits they don't reach me.  I rarely paint them myself.  But today when I was down at Ocean Point, I rounded a sharp curve and looked at the house I had just painted.  The poppies were close to the road and were set off by the dark silhouette of the house.  It nearly brought tears it was so lovely. I snapped a quick photo and after lunch, set up the easel in my back yard.

Color choices:  Since the poppies were light pink, the foliage was the complementary color of green.  I loved the shape of the house in the background, but I didn't want details of the house to distract from the flowers.  So I used the shape of the house without all of its architectural details.  I also kept it to a neutral gray to highlight the colorful poppies.

I often remind students that you can create a "trail" of values once you have the color and paint on the brush.  I like to make a broken trail of darks near the focal point, leaving the outer edges a neutral midtone.

Happy summer solstice!

Monday, June 19, 2017


There are many ways to create contrast:   through color, through values,  through sizes of shapes and through edges.  I tried to keep those contrasts in mind while painting this depiction of a tugboat.

Color contrast:  Basically this is a dominantly cool painting   with hints of warm colors. Also  grays
                          and neutrals vs. spots of pure color.

Value contrast:  The biggest value contrast happens around the tug. 

Size contrast:     The white shapes are small while the largest shapes are in the sky.

Edge contrast:    The sky and most of the water was painted wet-into-wet, while the tug and  background trees are smaller, hard edges.

    Try not to just sail into a painting without thinking about these elements.  Once you have made the decisions about how to create contrasts, painting will become much easier. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Back in Maine

After a long, scary winter, it's good to be back in my safe harbor.  I'm still having a bit of trouble setting up my easel, but was glad to have painted my first painting in eight months. 

This is a sandwich shop called Capers in Boothbay Harbor.  I had to remember that putting down the first wash on white paper, your eyes will be fooled into thinking you've made it dark enough.  So I try to think of putting down a midtone which will dry lighter and form a light value when dry. 

When glazing the secondary washes, make the shapes simple and interesting.  Finally, the darkest shapes with authority so that you won't have to go back into it.  Use lots of paint and very little water.

Good to be back to my blog and to be painting again!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

St. Louis Watercolor Society

I am pleased and proud to announce that two of my paintings have been selected to be exhibited in the St. Louis Watercolor Society's annual exhibit.  The juror and judge was well known artist Alvaro Castegnet.  Last night was the opening reception, and it was fun to see so many artists in attendance.

Here is one of the two paintings that made the cut!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Black and White

The advantage of painting a watercolor in black, shades of gray, and white is that you concentrate your focus on values.  Sometimes, too, black and white is just the best choice to convey a mood or subject.

I wrote about this in an earlier blog when I painted a cemetery monument.  Garish bright colors do not convey mourning and grief. 

In this painting of a pianist, his formal attire suggested a serious mood.  Painting a background which contained color may have destroyed the unity of the piece, so I elected to keep the background quiet and in the same black and white mode.

I also used a spray bottle liberally to keep the lower portion of the painting fluid and undefined.  I hope your eye can fill in the blanks of bench, piano and piano legs.  Your gaze remains on the face, shirt, handkerchief and cuff, not only because they are the lightest shapes, but because they are the sharp edged areas while everything else is soft edged. 

Color choices that match the mood, and shapes that play up the focal point are necessary components of a good painting.  Be deliberate in your choices.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Power of Obliques

Obliques (which some people refer to as diagonals) create energy, movement and tension.  My old instructor used to ask, Which would you rather watch?  -- A soldier at Buckingham Palace standing statue still, or a drunk wobbling down the street?  You may not approve of his drinking, but certainly there is more action and tension in a drunk teetering on the edge of falling down as he weaves from side to side and forward at an angle that makes you gasp!

In the painting of two canoeists navigating some rapids, study the lines to identify where the obliques occur.  The feeling of movement and even possible danger comes from the slanted lines that create a feeling of movement. 

Decide what you want to say about the mood of the subject, and if it is one of tension, consider the use of obliques.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I'mmmmmm Back!

After three and a half months of recovery from the open heart surgery and complications that followed, I finally had the desire to paint again!  I went out to lunch with a friend and fellow painter, and on the way back to my car, I spotted this scene in old Webster.  I took a photo, and to get back in the groove, I did my usual value sketch.  Then I did the drawing on the Arches 140 lb. half sheet.  I was nervous as heck about putting brush to paper for the first time in so long, but sailed into it anyway. 

I kept it to a limited palette and disregarded any local color.  That's why working from a value sketch is so.... well, valuable!  If you work directly from the photo, the tendency is to think in terms of local color and details, rather than shapes, values, and a color scheme that is of your choosing and imagination.

As I've said often, planning is crucial to any endeavor.  The plan that utilizes a value sketch to plot out your washes and layering will most likely give you the confidence to place that first brush-to-paper procedure!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Close Ups

Painting plein air can be daunting.  Everywhere you look, you see details.  The temptation is to include everything.

So sometimes I just zoom in on one object.  That one thing can say so much about the location without including all the surrounding details.  This old lantern was on a dock at the end of the harbor.  There were buildings, boats, a footbridge, and rocks, not to mention the old restaurant where the lantern hung.  But I liked the antique quality of the light fixture so I eliminated everything else.

Drawing is critical when you choose an outdoor still life.  Take care with the drawing, and the painting will be easier.

I chose a limited palette, not only because it was an aging rusty lantern, but also because it suited the mood of the subject matter.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Painting in a Series # 2

Yesterday I posted about my affinity for lacy things against the light of the sky.  Here's another painting I did that that reflects that attraction.  I was standing on the lawn of the Topside Inn in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and couldn't resist the look of the masts and rigging of a ship down at the shipyard.  I consciously decided to blur the textures in the foreground foliage to keep your eye from focusing on it, detracting from the focal point of the rigging.

Again, once you identify what you like to look at, a series becomes possible.  I often talk about my annual return to Maine as the state of "getting my eyes back."  When hunting for subject matter, I revert to going back to some favorite painting sites.  But it's usually the case that I find a color, texture, weather condition, or some idea that I've had before that makes the scene new again.  Pay attention to your surroundings, and let your eyes tell your heart what you should paint.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Painting a Series

Knowing what you love is an important part of choosing subject matter to paint. Among other things, I love to paint fountains, statues, boats and bridges.  Identifying what you love about each subject is also important.  If you say "I'm going to paint a bridge", you'll probably get a rendering that is more illustration than a work that says something about that subject.  But if you can name what drew you to the subject in the first place, you'll be more likely to be able to communicate it to your viewers.

A while back I was fascinated with bridges.  Covered bridges in Indiana's Parke County, stone bridges in Acadia National Park, footbridges over rushing streams.  In this depiction of the bridge in Bath, Maine, I was taken with the lacy quality of the beams against the sky.  Such an industrial subject might not be as saleable as, say, a lighthouse.  But I was drawn to the weblike quality of the structure. 

A personal note.  I'm recuperating from my three month, post surgery complications.  Glad to be back on my blog.  Now if I can get back to the studio and sling some paint around, I'll be a happy camper!

Saturday, February 25, 2017


I've had a rough two and a half months recuperating from open heart surgery.  All sorts of complications ensued.  I'm home for a while, but face more surgery in a month or so.  I haven't been thinking about painting or blogging until just now when I discovered that my blog is listed on a site naming the top 60 watercolor blogs!  I'm #50! Google    Top 60 Watercolor BlogSpot.

So maybe today I'll try to do a little painting.  Meanwhile, here's a tablescape I drew on my paper tablecloth in Apalachicola last winter.  I should be in Florida right now, but alas....There's always next year!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Making the best of a bad situation

A friend of mine who visited me in the hospital brought me a sketchbook and a set of watercolor pencils.  I have never used this medium.  I did some drawing, but it looked like a regular sketch in color.  Then I decided to soften certain areas.  I didn't have any water, so I used some diet Sprite!  It did the trick!

What to paint when there's not much to paint except a parking lot.  I love trees, so I eliminated cars and concrete.  I left one tree sketched, and softened the rest of the trees.  A few birch trees were also left as sketches.  The contrast seemed right and emphasized the trees I wanted to highlight.  I also resisted the temptation to resort to local color.

After a week long setback and second weeklong stay in the hospital, I am happy to report that I am back with my cousins at their house.  The main culprit was two LITERS of fluid that had to be drained so I could breathe!  Feels good to have my lungs working again!  Now the long work of healing.

Stay tuned!  I'll be painting again before you know it!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Normally, this would be where I'd be waking up this morning.  Apalachicola has been my southern home in the winter for about 18 years.  I'll be missing it this year due to open heart surgery two weeks ago.  I'm happy to say I'm making progress in my recovery, but not enough to travel or even drive for another month or two.

Thanks for "tuning in"  to my blog.  I'll be painting again before you know it!

Thursday, December 1, 2016


In this painting of Nubble Lighthouse in Maine,  I used the foreground rocks to create a sense of distance.  By overlapping the lighter, warmer island with a dark, cooler foreground, the island is pushed back and the sense of sunlight is enhanced.  Once again the power of darks is employed to showcase the focal point.

A personal note:  I may have time to paint and post one more painting before next Friday when I will undergo open heart surgery.  Please don't give up on me.  While recuperating, I may resort to commenting on some older paintings. 

Meanwhile, have a merry, joyful, and  grateful Christmas and holiday season.  Keep painting!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Followers!  Here's a sketch of some turkeys in my backyard in Maine that I did this summer.

Open heart surgery ahead so I'm grateful for great doctors who can fix serious problems.  And I'm grateful for friends and family who are so helpful.  And I'm thanksful for people who are interested in my art.  Have a fine day!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Painting Getaway

Between the election and some personal health concerns, I needed a break.  So yesterday I joined a small group from the St. Louis Watercolor Society at Trout Lodge in Potosi, Missouri which is an hour and a half from my home for a day of plein air painting.  It was a bright, sunny day with perfect temps.  And I can testify that painting beside a babbling brook is most restorative!

My friend and fellow painter Dave Anderson did a great job of setting all this up.  We teamed up and painted near each other in both the morning and afternoon.  This is an old watermill near a trout pond.

Back to the main lodge for a buffet lunch and camaraderie with my fellow artists.

I was not as happy with my second effort but will post it all the same.

Driving back to St. Louis, with the sun low in the sky, was a delight.  The trees on the hills seemed to be lit up from the inside with that special orange glow.  The nearly full moon was on the rise, and sunset was cloud-perfect.  I was most content and ready to go out again soon.

So when you get a nice day, don't waste it.  Get out there and paint.  If nothing else, it will keep your mind off your troubles!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Nubble Light

Ready to go on a new painting.  This is Nubble Lighthouse off the coast of southern Maine.  Ready to be painting again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Lighting for Drama

Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine has some distinctive rock formations.  This group jutted out into the water below a cliff.  However, when considering painting them, I decided that they needed some help in portraying their beauty. 

First, I decided to place them on a beach.  That would give me the opportunity to use a figure to give the scene life.  But most important, I wanted to use some dramatic lighting to highlight the rocks.  Putting the emphasis on the shadows creeping up on the rock formation gave the scene its focus.

I've seen this kind of lighting late in the day when the light changes very quickly.  Setting up and painting such temporary light effects is problematic.  Memorizing the look is the best way of recording the light.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Overcoming Obstacles

I had set up my easel in a parking spot behind my car to paint this scene on Pleasant Street in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  I was in the middle of my first wash when a woman in a very large SUV pulled up and told me that I was taking up a prime parking spot and that I should move.  I asked her if I were a car who had gotten there before she did, would she ask me to move?  Eventually, though, I gave in and moved my easel next to my trunk.  She thanked me for compromising.  I explained that she had now completely blocked my view of the street.  No response.

I was very angry and considered leaving.  But I finally thought that since I was there, I might as well try to continue. 

The silhouettes of the buildings could still be seen.  The problem became the street.  I reminded myself that I would still have had the same problem even without the SUV blocking my view.

I solved it with the figures.  The long morning shadows dramatically depicted the light and gave life to a large area that would have been empty otherwise. 

 It helps to have a long repertoire of objects, figures and architectural features to draw upon when faced with compositional problems.  This can only come from years of experience.  Your sketchbook also comes in handy at these moments.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Newburyport Sketches

Here are two more sketches I drew in Newburyport. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

More Travel Sketches

After visiting Old Orchard Beach on my way home, I travelled to Newburyport, Massachusetts for a couple of days.  The old seaport town is historic and quaint.  The first day was drizzly so out came the sketchbook. 

I find that spending a half an hour sketching creates a more focused memory than a quick photo. 

This first sketch was done from a window seat in a small restaurant where I was having lunch. Pleasant Street is one of the main thoroughfares in the downtown area.  Steeples and streetlamps punctuate the scene. 

 More sketches to follow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Travel Sketches

On the way home from Maine, I stopped at various towns and cities that are historic and scenic.  I always keep my easel and paper on top of my suitcases in case I want to take the time to do a painting.   But sometimes that's not possible.  So I break out my sketchbook to record the scene.

In the case of this sketch of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, it was a rainy day.  The Old Pier has always attracted me because of the variety of shapes in the buildings.  But painting watercolors in the rain is not a viable option.  I thought the solution was to record the shapes and values of the structures in my sketchbook.

My favorite two graphite pencils for sketching on location are #2 H for designing the shapes and describing the lighter areas and a #3 or 4 B for the darks.

One note:  I used the figure placed on the third to break the line created where the pilings met the beach. Behind the figure is also where I placed the darkest value to emphasize the focal point.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Diminishing Repeats

The technique of diminishing repeats is a simple concept:  Introduce a detailed subject in the foreground, and the viewer's eye will fill in the rest of the details where the same subject repeats in the receding background.

The first seagull is detailed enough to give you the subject.  The hints at other gulls is indicated by bits of saved whites that suggest flapping wings.  To have been more specific would have detracted from the "star" gull.

The actual beach was strewn with small rocks and pebbles.  Simplifying and employing a light shape rather than all that texture helps keep the emphasis on the gull and the driftwood.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Breathing Life Into An Old Subject

The building at the end of Sample's Boatyard pier is a favorite subject of mine.  I've painted it with boats next to it, as a silhouette against a colorful sky,  close up and far away.  This year I decided to get funky with it.  Eliminating any hint of background, I began with a simple wash of gradated colors.

Then I decided to tilt a few things to create a sense of movement and tension.  Throw in a couple of figures and some seagulls, and the painting was finished before I knew it!

The secret to a large wash is to have a very big puddle of color ready.  I also sponged the page so it was ready to receive the color.  Use a large brush to hold as much color and water as possible.  While the first wash was wet, I dashed in some other colors to provide relief from the primary color.  Above all, don't hesitate.  Paint quickly!  Otherwise, the paper will start to dry and that's when you get the proverbial "mud." 

A fresh interpretation of a familiar subject can revitalize your interest in the painting experience.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mixing Greens

In summer landscapes, knowledge of how to mix greens is essential.  Nothing is more boring than seeing sap greens everywhere in the painting. 

Mixing greens requires one basic fact:  blue and yellow make green.  I usually start by painting a wash of various yellows.  In this case I used cadmium yellow,  and yellow ochre. (Yellow ochre is an opaque color and does not work well when glazed over other colors.) I then painted varieties of blues and purples mixed with yellows and even burnt sienna on the palette and quickly dashed in while the first wash was still wet.  This wet-into wet process was especially important in the foreground where I wanted the grass to be softly out of focus.  Trying to recreate single blades of grass is a mistake many beginners make in an effort to be accurate.  Decide where you want your center of interest and avoid textures in places that would draw your attention away from that area.

The foreground greens are warm.  As the foliage reaches the shore further back, I switched to more grayed greens.

The foliage on the trees  transitions to blues which are grayed with burnt sienna or a touch of red mixed on the palette.  I kept the washes simple, only resorting to textures at the edge of the shape.  Painting individual pine needles is a futile exercise. 

Since I wanted the emphasis to be on the trees, I paid close attention to the following:  the intervals between the trunks,  the contrast in the values of the trees and the variety of straight and curvilinear trees.  Attention was paid to the light trees by painting the background tree shapes negatively.  And for goodness sake, please remember that most trees are not brown.  The birch trees are white with blue-gray shadows!  The tree on the far right is a grayed pink with blue cast shadows on the lower half.  The dark tree on the left is not straight brown, but a mixture of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue, with very little water.  Don't be timid with your darks!

One hint:  while you have a certain color on your brush, dance around the page with it.  This gives a color unity to the painting.

Variation is a must when painting greens. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pleasure in Study

During the same exploration of Ocean Island that I mentioned in the last post, I spotted this group of trees.  What attracted me was the dappled nature of the scene.  I love trees, and the variety in this scene delighted me.  The sky and bay beyond created a perfect foil for the light and dark contrast of the trees.  Light against dark, and dark against the light. 

Here is the value study of the scene.

Monday, September 26, 2016


I had a real adventure yesterday when I was invited by the caretaker of Ocean Island to come over the causeway to explore the private island for potential subject matter.  It was a treasure trove of driftwood, rocks, trees, beaches, and tidal pools on a day with gorgeous cloud formations.  I took nearly fifty photos to supply me with subjects over the winter.

When I awoke at 3:00 a.m. today and couldn't get back to sleep, I decided to do a sketch of some driftwood on the rocky beach, and then couldn't wait to paint the scene.

First decision:  color dominance.  It was a sunny day, so I opted for a warm, yellow and orange dominance.  The orange rocks in the background are offset by the complementary color of blue in the water.  I grayed the foreground with some violets to again contrast with the yellows on the beach.

Second decision:  To simplify the shape of the beach and keep the focus on the textures in the driftwood, I resisted the temptation to depict the textures of the small pebbles and rocks on the beach.  This results in a smooth dominance with moments of textural interest to break the primary quiet of the beach shape.

And last, the tonal contrast.  The majority of the scene is dominated by the very light values on the beach to achieve the feeling of sunlight.  The dark cast shadows of the driftwood punctuate the areas that I wanted to emphasize.

It always comes down to deciding your center of interest and how to focus the viewers' eyes on that area.  Color dominance, textural dominance, and tonal dominance aid in directing the viewer to what you've decided is the important subject in your painting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Color As Subject

While looking for something to paint yesterday, I found a photo I had taken in a historic village in Carthage, Missouri.  Since I'm in Maine, I decided to move it to the coast!  I also added some buildings that surrounded the main dockside shack.

When faced with beginning the painting, I decided that color would play the starring role.  The original building was very colorful, so I decided to exaggerate the rest of the colors as well.  I surrounded the outside shacks with warm, soft-edged colors to contrast with the cool, harder edged values of the middle building. 

Glazing played a big part in creating the colorful effects.  Some glazing was direct, painted wet-into-wet, while other colors were super-imposed on early washes after they had dried.

It was a lot to think about!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Limited Palette

In this painting of the Coast Guard dock in Boothbay Harbor, painted on 9/11, I chose to use a limited palette.  Using just ivory black, yellow ochre, and burnt sienna, I was able to concentrate on values. 

More and more lately, I will choose three or four colors and mixtures of gray tones made from them to relieve myself of the decision about which colors to use.  Instead of reaching for colors from all over the spectrum of colors or opting in favor of local color, I find that using mostly neutrals and a few spots of purer colors to punch up the scene alleviates the anxiety about color choices. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Adding and Re-arranging

This tiny cabin was owned by a local doctor for many years.  There is another cabin that hangs out over the water, but it is a big rectangle.  The main house on the property is set way back in the yard leading down to the water.

So I moved the main house up and changed the little house to the left by adding a shed.

Additions included the boat and fisherman to break up the straight line of the shore.  The onlooker on the porch was also added, featuring a bright red to contrast with the neutralized grays, greens and violets.

The stantion in the foreground was actually there, but I had to move it over to stop the eye from leaving the frame. 

P.S. Note that the pilings under the cabin were not painted dark.  Rather, I painted a wash in one pass, waited for it to dry, and then carved out the negative space behind them in neutral tones.  That way, the pilings didn't command more attention than the boat and fisherman. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Annual Subjects

At least once a summer, I paint a surf painting.  This one is the result of Hurricane Hermine which passed by out to sea.  It was a bright sunny day with only a slight breeze, but the surf was churning up at 4-6 feet. 

The study of surf requires careful observation.  Fortunately, the repetition of waves allows for looking at a certain part of the falling wave.   Watching the top of the wave, the curl, the bottom of the wave, the spray, and the aerated white surf can be studied separately. 

Also, the contrast of the warmth on one rock helps dramatize the scene.

Here is also a value study of the surf.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Paint Out

Giving life to a painting is something that requires some intention.  On the day that the Stroke of Art group and the Plein Air Painters of Maine joined forces to paint Grimes Cove, I saw a lot of paintings of rocks and water.  A few painters chose to paint the houses at the head of the cove.  But I wanted a bit more life in my scene.  I added a sailboat and some figures to the beach to animate the scene.  I also rounded the  cove more than it is in actuality.  I eliminated the windows in the house because I didn't want texture and details to distract the viewer and destroy the shapes.  The textures in the pine tree were also eliminated in favor of a tree shape.  Finally, the seagulls provided some life in the sky area.

  The quiet shape of the bay and the simplified shape of the cliff and the beach help concentrate the viewer's eye on the sailboat and the house. 

K.I.S.S., stupid.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Axeman Cometh

I spotted this woodpile in front of a cottage near the Ocean Point Inn.  The axe and the flowerpot drew my attention. 

This is a problem of line direction, shape, values and warm and cool colors.  The overall shape of the woodpile forms a kind of vignette, with the foreground lawn and background trees kept deliberately without detail to preserve the focus on the woodpile.

Color variation is crucial to avoid repetition in the tree trunks.  The warm colors contrast with the cool colors and are spaced at intervals to lead your eye towards the axe.  The color of the flower pot rhymes with the cut ends of the wood. 

Study the lines and you will see that they all seem to lead into the center of the painting.  The angle of the axe  is also in contrast with the angles within the woodpile.

One further note:  the cut wood is less and less detailed when it reaches the edge of the shape.  Especially important is the first trunk in the lower left.  Had it been defined further, your eye would have gone straight to it.

This painting required lots of restraint.  The temptation to oversupply the viewer with details that would subtract attention from the two stars of the piece--the axe and the flower pot--was great.  Putting every blade of grass in the foreground or tree trunks in the background would destroy the shape of the woodpile.  Remember your initial idea.  Hold that brush in check!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

My Favorite Things

Since I said that I was going to paint the previous post's drawing, I felt obligated to wait until I had actually painted it.  I've done several other paintings in the interim, but wanted to be sequential.

Anyway,  this rock is one of my favorite things to look at while sitting on the dock every afternoon.

I decided to paint it with a very limited palette:  yellow ochre, burnt sienna and ivory black, which I've just recently added to my palette.  Neutralized primary colors: yellow, red and blue-black.  the yellow ochre forms the under wash and the light shapes, the burnt sienna is the midtone, and when mixed with black you have the darks.  Texture was kept to a minimum while tone and value changes were done wet-into-wet for a nice contrast between hard and soft areas.

I have some more paintings done, some in my sketchbook and some in my head.  This always happens in September.  I start seeing paintings everywhere, and love experimenting.  Perhaps it's the shift in the light which intensifies the shadows.  Maybe it's the realization that time is limited and I must make use of every day. 

Good luck to all my friends in Florida who are dealing with storm damage and flooding.  You're in my thoughts.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Don't Overlook the Ordinary


I was sitting on my dock yesterday when I looked up the cove to my right.  Just then, a lone seagull landed near a big rock that I like to sketch and paint.  As he (she?) came in for his landing, I felt a tug on my heart strings for this very special place.  There are seagulls everywhere here and it's easy to get used to seeing them and taking them for granted.  But this lone bird symbolized everything I love about Maine.

It's nice to have an "idea" about a painting, but sometimes it's important to respond emotionally to your surroundings and let them become the motivation for your painting subject matter.

Working from sketch to the drawing on the watercolor paper has become a more important process for me this summer.  I can work out composition and value placement in advance in the sketch which helps me bang into the painting with quickness and confidence.

Next post.....the painting.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Exaggerated Color

The gazebo at the Newagen Inn is really a weathered, dark, gray brown.  Somebody once told me that brown is just a dirty orange, so I decided to push that idea to enliven the subject.  I painted the sky and then the gazebo first.  When I put down the first wash of orange, it was a bit shocking, but gradually after the blue background trees and the darker green foreground trees were added, the orange seemed a bit tamer. 

Another tip:  I pre-wet the page to paint the sky and while this was still wet, I dashed in the orange.  This resulted in a blurry, soft-edged area.  When it dried, I was able to cut around the gazebo with the darker values.  This approach, in which you don't stop at the edges of the gazebo, avoids a cut out, pasted-on look, as well as creating an undertone that gives the background and the gazebo something in common.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


The mark of a beginning painter is the unimaginative blue sky, painted with the same hue and value all the way down to the horizon.  No gradation or color change.  Clouds are not designed well to enhance the composition.  In watercolor, often Kleenex is used to blot out clouds, creating a surface that has been disturbed. 

Better to paint the clouds first and plan the placement of clouds.  Then, paint the sky around them while the cloud area is still wet to achieve soft edges. 

While painting with the Plein Air Painters of Maine (PAPME) this week, the sky looked rather threatening as the clouds moved in.  Being true to the atmosphere of the day, I decided to paint the bright area of the sky yellow and then paint the oncoming clouds a neutral gray.  When that dried, I was able to move down the page painting the background headlands and the negative spaces around the boat.

Deciding whether or not to include clouds is also important.  Since this painting was about the weather, clouds were there to tell the story.  No blues were required!

Monday, August 8, 2016


Repetition can occur with colors, textures, direction, line, and shapes.

In this painting of a flower stall at the Farmers Market on Boothbay Common, the triangular shapes of the tents and the roof of the gazebo repeat.  There is some variation in the size and colors within the shapes, but clearly the triangular shapes dominate the scene. 

The biggest value contrast occurs in the middle area where the figures are central to the focal point.  The colors are also more intense there and both the values and the colors gradate away from that area.

I kept the background trees quiet and simple so that your eye would travel to the center of interest.  The tree shape provides a clear edge contrast, but that's all it needed to do.  Notice, too, the subtle color changes introduced in that shape while the area was still wet.

I go to the Farmers Market on Boothbay Common every Thursday, but I usually only buy a handpicked bouquet.  The vendor at the flower stall immediately recognizes me, and always compliments me on the colors I choose and the textural variety.  So, again....paint what you love!