Saturday, February 27, 2010

Avoiding the Cliche

On the eastside of Boothbay Harbor, the Catholic Church stands sentinel over the town. It has been painted countless times from countless angles. Avoiding the cliche becomes more difficult with each attempt.

Once I painted it while some steeplejacks were painting the steeple. Ropes, ladders, painters and buckets all animated the scene. In this case, I changed the attitude toward the subject. It was definitely not Sunday morning!
Color choices will also affect the perception of a well known subject.

Sometimes trying to avoid a trite presentation will force you to try a completely different approach in style. Here are two paintings in which I was experimenting with color and style. I thought the veils of color in the second painting would suggest a kind of spirituality that a more realistic sky couldn't accomplish, so I had to get inventive. Eventually that led me to apply the things I learned to other subjects.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Oh-So-Not-Trite Subject

In July of 2008, the Washburn-Doughty Shipyard in East Boothbay, Maine was engulfed by fire which for a while even threatened the whole village. It was such a complete disaster that it made the national news. The next day the ruins were still smoldering when I decided to document the biggest historical event that had happened in town since WWII.

I had painted their buildings so often that I felt compelled to paint them one last time. The tangled wreckage was conveniently composed of the complementary colors blue and orange. Everyone was talking about the haunting stairway to nowhere and the remains of two sea-going tugs that were being constructed on the property, so I moved them closer together in the painting. I think I captured the essence of the conflagration's aftermath.

As I've said before, sometimes you paint things because you must, not because they're saleable. You can paint anything if you want subjects should be off limit.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Trite Subjects

Barns, covered bridges, irises, and, yes, lighthouses can all be such favored subjects that if something doesn't distinguish them from the thousands of others that viewers have seen, the painting can be so predictable that even if it is accurately rendered, there maybe a ho-hum factor. It could be strong colors, a very loose, painterly treatment, an unusual vantage point, an interesting framing device or a fragmentation of the subject that give the subject new energy.

I once saw a very clever painting of the Missouri State Capitol off in the distance, seen through the openings in an old barn which took up most of the perimeter of the painting. It gave a new twist on both the capitol building and the barn.

Here is my take on the lighthouse at Pemaquid Point, Maine.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dominance - Something Has To Win

I don't know if it was totally original with him, but Skip Lawrence used to tell his students that "something has to win," be it a color, a shape, texture or subject. If everything has equal weight, nothing wins, and the viewer won't know what you want him to focus on.

If you are painting a boathouse, make it the dominant sized shape in the rectangle. How is the viewer to know that the building is your subject if it is smaller, or equal sized to every other object in the painting? Make the building fill the majority of the space.

The same thing is true of a landscape. If you want the land and the objects on it to be your subject, it has to occupy the majority of the space. If you want the sky to be your focal area, it has to "win" the space contest.

So here's a painting I did of the Spanish Pavillion in Forest Park in St. Louis. What do you think?....Is it the land or the sky that is the focal point? Based on what compositional decision?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Out and About

Well, I'm on the road again. Here in Homosassa, I met up with some old friends who now live in Virginia. They caught me painting on the side of the road, and then we drove over to the resort.

Next we went to Homosassa Springs State Park where we viewed the manatees and all sorts of birds, alligators, even a hippo.

At least I have a strong signal here at the resort. So here's one last street scene in Apalachicola.

Tomorrow, Kissimmee!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


The figure eight lesson has proved popular so here is another boat painting. Grouping similar objects, either by overlapping or connecting their shadows is a good way of emphasizing your subject matter. Plus, you rarely find one boat isolated from others. If you do, for instance in a photograph, just move them around a bit in your composition so they are touching or overlapping is some way.

Remember also, the rule of thumb in multiple repeats is to try for an odd number---3 or 5--so that you don't get stuck with symmetrical balance.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More Boats

I thought you'd like to see some paintings of boats to illustrate yesterday's drawing lesson.

I love tug boats, lobster boats, oyster boats and shrimp boats, so it is important that they be drawn correctly.

Another problem with painting boats is that they curve both from bow to stern and from the deck to the water line, thus going into shadows from both directions. Remember to soften the edges of the shadows because they are not cast shadows.
First, a simple rowboat.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Figure Eight Boats

Drawing boats is hard for many people, so here's an old trick I learned years ago to simplify the mystery.

Draw a skinny figure eight lying on its side, or an infinity sign. Make one of the loops larger than the other. Find the apex of the larger loop and draw an oblique line downward. This will be the bow.

Then draw a more or less straight line from the bow to about the 7/8 mark. At that point, swing the line upward to the back of the smaller loop. Go straight across to the other side of the loop. Then follow the figure eight line to the the first line.

On the other side of the bow follow the figure eight until it begins to curve back. Draw a second line downward.

To add a cabin, just draw a cube. In the case of a shrimp boat it will probably have a rounded hood that you can add.

I hope the drawings will illustrate the process.

Thanks to the members of the Carrabelle Art Association for inviting me over to do a demo for them today. What a friendly group you are! I hope to come back again real soon!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Receding Textures

Hendrick's Head Lighthouse is situated on this point with its popular beach. Most painters in the area, including me, have painted it numerous times. The challenge becomes finding new ways to paint a familiar site.

I chose to ignore the lighthouse on this trip and focus solely on the beach with its flotsam and jetsam at the high tide line. To give the painting some animation, I included a dog that was a ubiquitous sight there. Champ has been gone for twenty years, but I still like to have him around in my paintings.

Most painters know that as colors recede into the distance, they get grayer and cooler. But textures also tend to disappear as they get farther from the foreground. In "Champ", look at the debris on the beach and some of the foreground rocks, and you'll see that by the time you get to the retaining wall, individual rocks have melted into one shape with little or no texture. The colors on the wall are also a mixture of warm and cool grays.

Textures are usually prominent where the eyes focus, but peripherally, textures tend to soften and disappear. When textures are everywhere, the viewer doesn't know where to look, so choose their placement wisely.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Unity implies that if you clipped out any section of a painting and positioned it anywhere else in the painting, it would still look like it came from that painting. You couldn't clip out a piece of any Rembrandt painting and put it into a Jackson Pollock drip painting and get a feeling of unity.

So what gives a work a sense of unity? A theme could be established by a unifying geometric shape. Mondrian comes to mind. A painting which is dark on one side of the canvas and high key on the other would not have a sense of commonality. But a painting which is composed of primarily dark values would have unity. A common repeated color can also give a painting the sense of relatedness and thus, unity.

In this painting of a wharf scene, the same colors can be found all over the page. If a bright red shape were inserted into all these pastels, unity would be destroyed.