Thursday, September 30, 2010

An Early Influence

My plein air group went to a local farm last week.  While the barn and farmhouse are wonderful subjects, I've painted them numerous times.  This time I turned to the woods surrounding the barnyard.

When I first took up watercolor, John Pike's book Watercolor was a major source of inspiration and information.  One lesson concerned the portrayal of "woods trash" in which Pike showed how he came forward in value, color and size.  That lesson came in handy for this subject of a woodshed.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Body Facing

Here's the third in the series featuring local Watering Holes in Boothbay Harbor. 

In dance, choreographers are greatly aware of the direction that the bodies of the dancers are facing.  Figures can be used as pointers.  In this scene, the woman is facing inward, the man is looking downward at the glasses, and the figures at the bar are leaning into the painting or facing back at the foreground.  Everything is focused around the central figure of the man, which is also where the brightest color and biggest value contrast occurs.

The placement of figures and body facing can be used to focus the viewer's attention.  When composing them, be aware of this as a focal point determiner.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Watering Holes

The painting in the last post inspired this one.  The best thing about painting in a series is that you don't have to search for a subject, so you can concentrate on color, design, mood and contrast.  The values and warm hues around the bar focus attention on the figures and the glossy bar top.

I have a hunch that the best part of this series is going to be the research!

Monday, September 20, 2010


Being aware of spaces that you find pleasant can provide you with unexpected subject matter.  This bar at the very nice Landing Grill House restaurant in Yarmouth, Maine seemed so inviting that I just had to paint it.

Painter, Know Thyself.  If you respond to certain colors, you can say it with paint to express a mood.  If you like being in certain interiors, paint, not just the space, but your emotional response to that room.  When you see the light on a landscape that moves you, paint the light.   Name what delights you, and you'll find plenty of subjects. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What's On Third?

In this painting of a churchyard in Edgecomb, Maine, the cast shadow on the old bell held my attention.  It defines the bright light and helps to describe the curves on the bell itself. 

The rule of thirds applies here.  The bell is the obvious focal point, so I placed it on the third.  The secondary shapes of the monuments in the church cemetary were also placed on another third.  The size of the bell tells you the subject of the painting, but the monuments provide balance.  The oblique line out where the cemetary begins is also on the upper third of the paper. 

Although placing things on the thirds is not obligatory in every painting, certainly it should be considered. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Local Favorite

This is the East Boothbay General Store, owned by friends Liz and Dom.  It's the best place on the peninsula to have a pizza or grab a great sandwich.  I painted it quite a few years back, and you can probably tell the change in my style since then.  Also, Liz and Dom have spruced up the place with flowers and plants that the old owner didn't care about.  Still, it is a pretty good building portrait. 

 In this case drawing skills are very important.   All the angles and perspective problems were a challenge.  Still, it's fun to document the most popular sites in our small village.  I guess I'm getting a bit nostalgic about nearing the completion of another summer in this quaint and special place.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Complementary Colors

Fall colors--yellow, red, and orange--can be intensified if placed next to their complement on the color wheel.  In this painting of an oft-painted scene on Southport Island, Maine, I painted everything a pale blue except the white side of the houses and the red fish shack .  This is the unifying underpainting.  After it was dry, I painted the orange-red colors right over the blue.  The orange was dark enough to still retain its hue.  By leaving some of the blue next to the orange, both colors seem more vivid.

The mud flat was grayed down on the first wash.  I began the darks around the red shack and underneath the dock, extending them to the cast shadows of the boats.  From there I worked outward, gradating as I went to keep the high contrast around the focal point. 

I've said it before.  Avoid painting pieces of the painting in a coloring book fashion.  Give the painting a unifying color before putting down the midtone wash and then the dark wash. And use complementary colors to their full advantage.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Here's the first painting that resulted from the drawing I did in the last entry.  The greatest contrast in values is right around the focal point which is the cafe and its umbrella.  I could perhaps have made it a bit more colorful, a task I might take up the next time I try this scene. But the interlocking shapes and the values were my first concern.

Look around your town for interesting restaurants, cafes, and architecturally interesting buildings.  If you're shy, take a photo, or if you're brave enough set up en plein air!

Friday, September 10, 2010


When you have an interesting idea for a painting, and then do a good drawing, there's still the matter of executing the painting.  How to procede and what order to paint things becomes a big part of how the painting will turn out.

I'm a traditionalist when it comes to procedure.  With the values, I paint from light to midtone to darks.  In many cases that means painting the sky, the far distance, the middle distance and the near areas in that order.  With color, I usually choose cool neutrals in the distance, and as I work forward, I warm things up a bit.  But colors are usually grayed somewhat no matter how close they are, unless I want to attract your eye to a particular object, in which case I use a purer color.

Here's the drawing of the painting I'm going to paint this afternoon.  I'm posting it first to give you a chance to think about what your procedure and color choices might be.  An instructor can show you what she does, but that is never a substitute for thinking out what your procedure will be once you're on your own with your own subject matter.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Complementary Colors

When looking for subject matter, it is helpful to know what makes your heart go pitti-pat.  In the past couple of years, I have been drawn to objects that have a lacy look against the sky.  In this street scene in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, it was the lamp posts and the telephone poles. 

It was a rainy day when I visited, so the photos I took were all gray.  That turned out to be an advantage because I could invent any colors that would come in aid of expressing the mood.  I chose yellow and violet to express the feeling of the brightening sky and the wet pavement. 

Placing complementary colors side by side intensifies both colors.  It is important to consider color choices that help establish the mood and express the feeling of light.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hurricane Earl

Thank goodness, Earl went out to sea. It rained overnight, but now it's a bright sunny day!  The best part of these storms that go by is that they kick up the surf.  It's a spectacle not to be missed!

Painting surf in watercolor is difficult.  I've used up many a sheet of good watercolor paper trying to depict its force while trying also to capture its grace.  Too many hard edges will make the waves look cut out.  Too many soft edges and you've got cotton candy.  The only suggestion I can make is to study the repeating waves.  Watch what happens along the top.  Then study the fold of the wave.  Look for shadows in the foam.  Make many drawings before even attempting a painting.

Frustrating as it is to paint wild surf, it's worth the struggle just to be able to witness the power and beauty of a breaking wave.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Adding figures to compositions not only adds interest, it also can extend a shape into an otherwise boring area.  In this painting out at Ocean Point, the figures help to break up a straight unbroken line and jut into a large area that, without them, would be very static. 
Practice painting figures so that including them is not labored and out of character with the rest of the looseness of your painting.