Saturday, July 30, 2011



In this painting of the "End of Sample's Boatyard",   overlapping plays a big part in creating movement, textures and interest.  First, overlapping plays a crucial role in interrupting many straight lines. That creates shapes that are not boring rectangles.  More important, the overlapping that occurs around the dock house contains the lightest values in the painting and therefore draws your eye to that area. 

Be conscious of overlapping shapes to create both aerial perspective and textural interest.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Colors

I've had the same colors on my palette for ages.  I know how they combine with other colors, and which ones to use to mix up a warm or cool gray.  But this summer I decided I needed to shake things up a bit and have tentatively added a few new flavors to the mix. 

I'm still not sure I would recommend that an absolute beginner buy every color note offered by the manufacturers.  Get to know the basics:  a warm and cool of each primary and a couple of earth tones ought to do it.  Gradually, you can experiment with one or two new colors if you find a reason to.  It is very important that you know your color goals as well.  Since I'm gravitating towards more inventive and arbitrary colors to make color a statement that is every bit as important as the choice of subject matter, it only makes sense to expand my choices.

Here's today's effort, which utilizes Quinacrodone Rose. (It took forever for my tongue to get around that one!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Plein Air Group

I was once asked by an elderly painter I had just met if I "painted in a herd."  I knew what she meant, but nevertheless, I was somewhat offended by the superior attitude.  Painters paint together for all sorts of reasons.  Life drawing/painting classes are certainly more affordable if everyone chips in for the model's fee.
Instructors teach classes in which there are always some people at the beginning of their painting journey.  And sometimes it's just fun to paint with a group of teacher, no critique....just everyone doing their own thing.  While waiting for my watercolor washes to dry, I get a chance to walk around and see what other painters have chosen to paint and how they choose to paint it.  And often in that setting, we get to talking about technique or composition or current shows.  The conversations develop naturally, and usually laughter is involved.

Back to my painter friend.  I answered that sometimes I valued the comraderie of painting with my peers.  And a good teacher can inform or remind you of the basics of painting.  I understood that she meant that sometimes painting in proximity to other artists can influence the direction of the group.  I countered that if you have a solid background and have already begun to develop your own style, you can still take clues from the work of others.  If we didn't, we might never go to a gallery or a museum to study what others have done.

So, yes, today I painted in a small herd of talented and dedicated plein air painters.  And I totally enjoyed it!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Local landmarks

                                            The Footbridge
Every town has them.  Landmarks that are so iconic that every artist in the area has painted them a dozen times.  So how do you get a new angle on an old subject? 

1. Zoom in.   Most of the time we put in far too much subject matter and the landmark gets lost in the crowd.

2.  Limit your palette.

3.  Add figures.

4. Let other buildings "frame" the landmark
 I once saw a painting of the Missouri State Capitol framed by the opening in a close-up barn.  I never forgot the image.

5. Soften or eliminate the background.

Here's a local landmark in Boothbay Harbor, Maine....The Footbridge House.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Color Theme

                                    Wharf Life #13
This is the third in a series of paintings I've done in which I've limited my palette to white, grays, and blacks.
The first two were vertical, so I wanted one more that was a horizontal. 

Also, note the absence of texture in the water and most of the foreground.  Cluttering up the foreground would make you look at that instead of out where I wanted the viewer to focus.  Instead the eye looks over the foreground on its way to the textures and busy-ness of the dock.  Limit details and calligraphy to the focal area.

Friday, July 22, 2011


                                 Friendship Sloop Races
It takes big contrasts to create drama in a painting.  Far from photo realism, I still believe this painting achieves a level of dramatic color, value and lighting. 

The technique is again to carve out the whites with the first wash. If the resulting shapes are interesting, and the washes are clean, the lack of detail is an asset in creating drama with big bold shapes. Notice that the white sails overlap and therefore create one big shape with oblique, interlocking edges.

These are Friendship sloops, designed originally to haul cargo downeast.  I love the long graceful curve of the bow and the rectangular shape of the main sail. 

It's hot here!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


One of the six value patterns described by Ed Whitney is alternation.  It's a kind of checkerboard pattern with no real light source.  Alternating white, gray and black with a few touches of warmth for relief, here's a painting which illustrates the technique.

Basically, I established the white shapes using the grays.  Then I added the blacks, either within a gray shape or next to a white.  You should be able to look at any valued shape and find the other two tangent to it.  There are a few exceptions, but mostly alternation is present everywhere.

Scroll down and see Second Chance for a color version of this technique.
Beware!  This is way harder than it looks!

Friday, July 15, 2011


After putting on a wet, juicy first wash, while the paper is still very wet, you can load the brush up with another color and layer it over the first.  It should be remembered, though, if you start with a cool, stay on the cool side with the second layer.  You can gradually add more layers and even go to the warmer side.  But if you go from cool to warm or warm to cool too quickly, that will create a mud bath.

Tonight is a full moon, so I suggested another moon motif in this oft painted version of Hendrick's Head Lighthouse. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Importance of Values

In recent years I've become a colorist.  But today I felt the need to eliminate most color to express the mood of an old Maine dock.  So values became a key element in the painting.  I tried to keep most of the darker values under the dock.  The large roof area was left in relatively higher values to keep the biggest contrasts at the edge of the dock house and in the lower half of the painting. I threw in some warmer tones there, too, and confined the textures to that same area, leaving the perimeter fairly flat and smooth.  The right side of the painting provides some aerial perspective using lighter values, and the simple shape balances the composition .

I also invented the chimney to break up the straight roofline. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Second Chance

                                         Centah of Attention
The painting on the other side of this sheet is very accurate and very boring.  When that happens, and I've got nothing to lose, I sometimes flip the paper over and just paint.......No drawing, just a big wide brush full of paint.  The initial wash carves out a white path and establishes a "mother color", as Frank Webb calls it.  Then  I look for ways to highlight those areas by using complementary colors or by surrounding it first with midtones and then darks for contrasts, expanding outward.

The underpainting is fairly abstract with little regard for where the subject matter is going to be placed.  I did save the whites in the steeple, but  most of the rest of the white areas are just a pathway through the middle of the painting.  I keep the calligraphy and what little texture there is also around the middle.  The periphery is lacking in detail, texture and calligraphy so as not to draw attention to the edges of the paper.

I've said it before....a painting is not a photograph.  I wanted the feeling of a busy country corner, not a portrait of some buildings.  There are just enough recognizable landmarks in this painting to let the viewer know that they are on Boothbay Common, in the great state of Maine on a happy, sunny day.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Today was the quintessential summer day in Maine.  Sunny, light breeze, ocean lapping.  I've painted this scene countless times, but today it felt like something out of a mystery novel.  I've seen Grimes Cove bathed in moonlight, and decided that I would paint it that way.  Of course, quite a few bystanders thought I had been out there all night painting, or that I had visual problems!  Silly tourists.  Or.... crazy artist?? 

Lowering the key once in a while results in a completely different mood.  So do color temperature shifts, and choice of subject matter. 

I'm hoping not everyone wants a bright sunny day painting, and that they'll be intrigued by the change in mood of a familiar scene.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Bold First Wash

When putting down a big first wash, it's easy to be fooled by the white of the paper and therefore be intimidated into putting down a cautious, wimpy first wash.  Almost any wash you put down on the white of the paper is going to look darker than it will eventually look.  Successive washes can be much darker when placed on top of the first one.

So it's a good idea to put down a bold, brave wash of intense color, especially when carving out the whites.
When it's wet, it will look darker than it is, and next to the pure white of the paper, it will seem even darker. But risk it, and you'll see!

Friday, July 1, 2011


The Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library is in the heart of downtown Boothbay Harbor.  The quaint old building exudes New England charm.  It is not a large structure.  In order to make that clear, figures were needed to give scale to the building.  The hint of a couple of people across the street lends further evidence of their distance from the library. 

Placing figures near a natural object or a man made structure suggest scale and the relative size of a thing.