Monday, May 31, 2010


I'll be here briefly today. Travel memories sometimes make good paintings, too!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Help! I've Got the Measles!

A common problem I see in my workshops involves the foliage on trees. Often students seem to want to create the texture of leaves rather than thinking in terms of clumps and shapes of foliage.

They pat, pat, pat, pat, pat.....and Voila! They have a case of The Measles!

In example #2, instead of pat, pat, pat, there are strokes. The outline of the tree is better.
The leaves are defined at the edge of the shape, not within the shape. But the edges look like the tree is electrified, and there are no groups of foliage.
Example #3 shows how different sized clumps of foliage can be defined. The tops of the clump are rounded while the bottom edges give a hint of leaves.

The key is connecting the leaves to form different sized shapes. No more measles!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rachel Carson

A couple of days ago I was flipping the remote and landed on the PBS station where a documentary on environmentalist Rachel Carson was playing. Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, owned a summer cottage on Southport Island, Maine, which is near Boothbay Harbor where I have spent thirty summers. A fellow painter friend of mine lives just down the road from Carson's property, and one day a couple of summers ago we headed over there to paint. Carson's first book, The Sea Around Us, featured studies of several tidal pools in the area, including one right off her front porch. So there was no question of what I would paint.

The day was sunny, warm, and full of birdsong, the kind of day that would have delighted Carson. It delighted me, too. So this painting is both a memory of a wonderful experience and evidence of my admiration of a dedicated naturalist.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Say It With Shadows

Achieving the feeling of bright sunlight is dependent on saying the cast shadows dark enough. In this painting of a friend's closed up well, the background shadows illuminate the flowers, the cast shadow of the flower pot highlight the sun falling on the top of the well cover, the shadowed side of the well makes the watering can stand out, and the cast shadow on the ground show us a sunny day.

I've often said that everybody knows how to run a brilliant, clean, transparent light/first wash. It's the mid-value and dark washes that are harder to keep transparent and clean. The biggest mistake is not getting enough paint in a wet wash to clearly state the mid-values on the first attempt. Either there is enough paint but not enough water, resulting in an opaque looking wash; or there isn't enough paint to create a darker value, so the painter starts to paint harder, disturbing the wash underneath.

Practice is the only way to get the feel of how much paint to mix in the water so that you don't start scrubbing the clean wash underneath. Test a little area with a brushstroke and then, use the word "too" to determine what change to make. Too light? Add more paint. Too dark? Add more water. Too warm? Add a cool. Then make the brushstrokes strong and sure.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Raise the Roof

Roof lines can be very boring if something isn't included that breaks the uninterrupted lines.

In this painting, I didn't need to import much, just rearrange some of the elements so that they would interlock with the sky shape.

The underpainting also helped to lock in the subject matter with the background as well as establish a color theme and provide some oblique directions.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hometown Subjects

The Gateway East Artists Guild in Illinois asked me to do a demo for their monthly meeting this week and requested a St. Louis scene. Here is what developed.

When depicting a well known tourist spot, the temptation is to put everything into focus, in this case the bridge, the tug and the Arch. But I decided that would create too many focal points. So I focused on the tug/barge, using the bridge as a frame, and the skyline, including the Arch. as one big silhouetted shape. The hint of the Arch locates the scene but doesn't take it over.

Afterall, I'm painting a painting, not a postcard. Rather than non-fiction, I wanted poetry.

Thanks to the wonderful members of the GEAG! I enjoyed the evening sharing what I've learned over the years.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Workshop Pressures

When people sign up for a workshop, they are very excited and hope to learn something. But sometimes they put unrealistic pressures on themselves by expecting to produce something worthy of the experience.

I teach workshops and see all kinds of responses to the event. Some students come with questions about materials, or paint preferences. Others take extensive notes while others think they will remember what at the time seems obvious. And many think that once they have watched the instructor paint what seems to be an effortless painting that, having seen how it is done, they should be able to reproduce the same result. (Who ever went to a piano concert at Carnegie Hall and thought just because they had seen a masterful performance that would enable them to play as well?)

The first two week workshop I ever took, I did what most students do: I watched the paper and the painting developing there. I asked questions about paint combinations. And then was surprised that I couldn't get the same results as the instructor.

The second summer, instead of watching the painting, I mostly watched the palette and the water container. I learned more by watching the amount of water that was needed and when it was applied; how much paint and water it required to mix a middle value wash; and saw that there was no magic color because palette grays were being incorporated in each consecutive mixture.

So my advice for workshop participants is:
l. Watch where the brush goes before it hits the paper.
2. Observe the brushwork.

3. Hit the middle values the first time.

4. Don't just listen. Take notes. Writing things down will solidify concepts and reinforce your concentration.

It's your money, but if you want the most from a workshop, be an intense observer, not just a casual looker. And take the pressure off....You're learning about the process, not producing that award winner.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Hometown

Bruce Springsteen sang, "Take a good look around; this is your hometown."

Travel can be a motivator. Being in a new and unfamiliar environment can open our eyes and our senses to new subjects and compositions. We may be overlooking what a visitor to our hometown would see with enthusiastic eyes.

Here in St. Louis, the riverfront is the focal point of our history. When friends visit, they all want to see the Arch and the Mississippi River. Paddlewheelers, tugs and barges navigate under historic Eads Bridge and call to mind Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer. So why have I never painted them?

Getting all three elements into one painting is a challenge. But I went back to the basics. I've written before about using a frame to highlight the focal point. Recently, I've been employing silhouettes of buildings as a backdrop for architectural features in the foreground. So in this sketch, I focused on the tugboat framed by the bridge. The silhouette of the arch locates the scene but doesn't steal it.

The format of this composition is also a departure for me. Exploring a different format can be stimulating.

I have a workshop today, and two demonstrations for art groups this week so I may not post for a few days. But maybe soon I will have some new paintings to show you of my hometown!