Sunday, December 30, 2012

Getting Back in the Saddle

I've decided to use this scene as a way to get back into the saddle and feel comfortable as well as inventive until I can get outside and paint again.  Choosing a scene you can play with, experiment with, try out different color schemes, zero in, zoom out....takes much of the frustration of figuring out what to paint, and puts it back on composition, color, value and playfulness. 

Meanwhile, Happy New Year, Everyone!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Biding My Time

I'm trying to be patient, but even though it was sunny today, it was still too cool and windy for painting on location. So tomorrow I may have to drag the easel up the stairs to my second story room and paint inside.  Good thing I have some sketches to work from. 

Here's one I'll probably use tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sketch Hunter

Robert Henri coined the term sketch hunter to describe a state of mind when a painter goes out to find potential subject matter.  Today I went hunting in Eastpoint where the oyster fleet drops anchor.  First warm day, I'm going back to paint this spot.  I love showing three different overlapping planes by using three values.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas to All

Just....A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Greetings

Painting Christmas cards for your family and friends is both a way to send them best wishes for the holidays, and also a gift that they can cherish long after the holidays have passed.

I use a sixteenth of a sheet which I tape with masking tape to my board.  After the painting is finished, the tape is removed, leaving a nice border.

Here are some cards from last year.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Shapes Say It Best

When I first started to study watercolor seriously, I often heard instructors say, Make interesting shapes.  I thought that just meant the outline.  Now I'm starting to realize that the shape says it all, and details can often ruin the effect.  A silhouetted shape allows the painter to say what the object is without supplying every single window and brick, especially if it's a landscape and the objects are in the distance. 

In this painting of my hometown, the Lutheran church and the City Hall are described with their shapes, not with interior details or accurate colors.  Even the train station in the foreground is nearly free of details. The values and overlapping shapes are enough to convey the place and the mood.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Soft Underpainting

Building a painting is like building a house.  You need to establish a good foundation first.  Sometimes, I like to lay down a soft underpainting to establish a unity of color.  Usually two colors will do it.  Then I place the subject matter on top of that, using the same colors and possibly another one or two colors in the same family.

The subject of this painting is St. Francis de Sales cathedral in South St. Louis.  This church has the highest spire in all of St. Louis.  To suggest a spiritual feeling, I refrained from suggesting any vegetation that would hint at a physical place.  And  I decided to keep the bottom of the building soft, undefined and light so the emphasis would be on the facade of the church.

Here also is the preliminary wash to illustrate what I meant about the soft underpainting.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Change is Tough

I'm sorry I've been away for a bit.  I bought a new computer and have had some difficulty connecting to the internet.  Hours and hours of tech support for the past three days may have solved the problem, but even now I'm not totally confident.

Moving forward, in technology or painting, is frustrating, and sometimes you feel like giving up.  I've had a lot of days like this in my painting journey, unsure if all the struggle is worth the possible outcome.  Somehow, however, I couldn't help the jump back in.  Going forward usually involves some painful confronatation with change.  I hope the effort will be worth it!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

This Is Your Hometown

One of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs is "This Is Your Hometown".  By now, you faithful followers know that Kirkwood, Missouri is my hometown.  I paint Florida, I paint Maine, but my friend Larry M. wanted to know if I ever paint scenes here at home.  So here is one of my favorite trees which stands on the lawn of the Kirkwood Library.

But the best news is that yesterday, my alma mater Kirkwood High School won the Class 5 State Championship in football for the very first time!  So proud of the Pioneers!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Editing Your Reference Photo

Ram Lighthouse is located off Ocean Point in East Boothbay, Maine.  I took the reference photo while taking a ride on a party boat.  In the photo, however, there is another building between the keeper's house and the lighthouse.  With three structures for the viewer to look at, I was afraid the focal point would be unclear.  I also wanted the keeper's house to be the main focal point, so by slightly enlarging it, I kept the lighthouse as a subordinate.  The lighthouse conveys location, but the light on the house and island is my real concern.

The right side of the composition was a little bare, so I re-located the other building, showing only the roof.
Adding a small pine tree acted as an eye stopper.

In planning your composition, feel free (and obligated!) to rearrange, edit, and enlarge elements to achieve the maximum impact.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Monochromatic Color

It is easier to concentrate on values when you don't have to worry about color choices at the same time.  In "Race to the Cuckolds", I decided to use a couple of  blues to depict the sky and water, and to carve out the sails of the sloops.  I'm still using the darks to surround the carved out light shapes and force the light shapes.  Adding a few textural strokes helped suggest the action in the scene.

By eliminating the color complications, it was easier to concentrate on the values and textures.  Try a monochromatic palette to simplify your composition.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Spare Me the Details

Many times I see students rushing to paint the details in a scene before they have gotten the big shapes
down.  Details will never save a poorly conceived composition.  Get the dress on before you add the jewelry and the perfume.

I am including a photo of this painting at the halfway mark.  You can see that all the really important information is already established.  Adding a few windows and railings spice things up, but the real composition is already there.

A word about windows.  Be judicious about which windows to  emphasize.  Windows facing the light will not register as black holes.  It's also a good idea not to darken windows in places that force the viewer to look at because of value contrasts.  The windows on the porch are necessarily darker because they are in shadow.  But they are also dark because it draws attention to the tower which is the focal point of the painting.

Think big before you think small!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Final Voyage of the HMS Bounty

Sometimes you paint what's weighing on your heart.  It doesn't mean it's going to be your best painting, but the tribute is real.  RIP, HMS Bounty.

Monday, October 29, 2012

HMS Bounty

The seafaring world lost a great ship  this morning.  The HMS Bounty was often up on the ways for repairs in Boothbay Harbor where I spend the summer each year, and I've painted her many times.  This morning she sank off the coast of North Carolina.  Two crew members are missing with l4 rescued by the Coast Guard.

Here are some photos of the ship and some of her female crew members that I talked with this past summer as they repaired the Bounty's hull.  I hope they are safe.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Forcing the Lights

These bridgehouses are in Bad Kreuznach, Germany where I taught English at a Defense Department school in the early '70's.

Forcing the lights requires painting the majority of the painting in middle dark midtones to dark values.  The tricky part of this is getting a dark enough value in the first wash.  The white paper can fool you into thinking that the first wash is darker than it really is.  Ed Whitney used to say that if it looks like it's right when it's wet, it's wrong. 

Surrounding the lights with midtone and dark vlaues will force the lights into a more dramatic effect. 

In this painting, I also decided that the lights would be a warm yellow.  Yellow's complement is violet, so that determined the coolor on the central bridgehouse.

Go bold in the first wash, and surround the lights with dark midtones.  Add the darks, and that will force the lights for a dramatic lighting effect.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Using Contrasts

Contrasts in colors, textures, shape sizes, and warm and cool colors create interest and direct attention towards important areas of the painting.

In "Burning Off" the greatest contrast in value is on the dock near the lobster boat.  The warmest colors, red and orange, contrast with the cool blues and neutral violets in the rest of the buildings.  The roughest textures and smallest shapes also appear on the dock, contrasting with the softer textures and larger shapes in the upper half of the painting.  And to make the sky shape more interesting, the warm yellow sun symbol contrasts with the blues on the outer edges.

Sometimes painting is like solving a puzzle.  Being conscious of contrasts helps the viewer find the area of interest you want them to find. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Revisiting Familiar Subjects

This scene is in a neighborhood community called Bayville near Boothbay Harbor, Maine.  The building with the red roof is the post office.  This painting was commissioned by the couple who own the house with the gazebo in the background.  I've painted it over twenty times because I love the roof of the post office.

If you find a scene that pulls you back time and again, use it to experiment with different colors and techniques. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Peopling Your Paintings

Figures can enliven a landscape and give it movement.  Some scenes even require a number of figures to be included.  For example, painting a site like Epcot without people in it wouldn't ring true as an authentic depiction of the location.  Chinatown is a lively colorful spot, but it is always full of people.  To remove them would be to deny the reality of the place.

Sketching lots of figures in motion will give you plenty of material to draw from.  Don't excuse yourself because you "just can't paint figures."  Practice, practice, practice!

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Pardon the interruption in my teaching blog, but last night's Cardinals come-back victory in the ninth has me reeling with joy! 

Quite a few years ago, I went to a party where Stan "The Man" Musial was one of the guests.  I had just painted this baseball pitcher and had a photo of the painting with me.  I was thrilled when Stan autographed it for me!  So here's a photo of the photo of the painting with Stan's good wishes.  It seems like an appropriate memory for the day after a memorable win in Cardinal baseball history!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

From Sketch To Painting

Yesterday I finally got back to painting after a nearly three week hiatus.  When thinking about what to paint, I went to my sketchbook for an idea.  After I decided what to paint, my intuition started to take over as far as color is concerned.  Once I put down the basically green underpainting, the choice to paint the buildings with green's complement --red -- became obvious.  Then I worked from the center outward to build the values.  

It's good to be painting again! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Working From Your Sketchbook

This is a sketch I did last week in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State.  This will be today's painting subject.  And it will be the first painting in over two weeks since I've been on the road.

My sketchbook gave me an idea early this season in Maine.  After putting down the first wash, I begin to work from the focal point outward,  with the darks and more colorful tones near the focal point and fading out to the edges where lighter values and more neutral tones preside.  At least that's the plan for today!
Check back to see if it worked out!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On the Road Again

The Finger Lakes Region in fall is spectacular!  The rural countryside, the mountain streams, the foliage, some formal gardens, a much to paint, so little time.

That's when the sketchbook comes in handy.  Here are some photos of the sights and a couple of sketches I did today in Canandaigua, New York.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Limited Palette

This is the lobster pound next to Knickercane Island.  For years when I painted it literally, it was most unsatisfying.  Using local colors and adhering to actual colors, I failed at making a clear statement about the subject.  The sky was blue, the trees were green, is the building.  And that's the way I painted it.
I often wished that the building was painted another color so it wouldn't so closely match the trees behind it.

One day, the lightbulb went on.  What if the owners painted their shack white?  Then I could paint it white and it would stand out among the green trees in the background and form a more interesting shape!  So I made the decision to paint it white.  I also decided to render the trees in colors that were more in unity with the colors elsewhere in the painting.  Soon I had a limited palette that helped unify the painting in a way that literalism had failed to do.

Try a limited palette on a familiar subject.  Then try another limited combination.  Always consider the rights of the picture over literalism.

Tomorrow I start the wandering journey home to St. Louis.  If I find something interesting to paint or sketch, and I have the time, I'll post from the road!

Monday, September 24, 2012


The themes for this summer's paintings have been color and movement.  How do you make a two dimensional surface "move"?  I'm beginning to explore the curve as one element.  Curving lines are more dynamic by nature. The eye is swept along the edge of the curve more than it is by a straight, unbroken line. 

See if you can feel the movement of this breaking wave, the line of rocks, and the undulation of the broken surf.

Friday, September 21, 2012

You Just Have to Paint

Sometimes, you just  have to paint.  It's important to reflect on how to paint, what to  paint, why to paint or if to paint.  But mostly, it's just important to decide to paint.  No matter your mood, your philosophy, your need for money, your need for recognition..... If you don't have the fire in your belly to paint, you still have to paint because it's just what you do.  Painting defines you, gives you direction, makes you focused, and reminds you of who you are and why you get up in the morning.  I love the feel of the brush in my hand, the glide of the brush across the paper, and the thoughts in my head while I paint.  And that's why I just have to paint.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


In this painting at Cozy Harbor, I had about 25 boats to choose from.  I decided on three lobster boats.  The first important decision was to group them.  The second decision was to overlap them to form an interesting shape.  Then I painted around them to leave a white shape.  Finally, I wanted to show them in various positions to give some variety and movement to them.

I also decided early to leave the white sail on the left.  Its purpose is to break the long unbroken straight shoreline.  It also serves as an eye "stopper", keeping the viewer from wandering off the page. The buoy marker, antennae and stabilizer sail on the third boat also break up the straight lines and provide a stopper on the right shoreline.

You need to think about composition early on for the painting to work.  That will free you to paint freely.

Look for ways to repeat and group similar objects so that the viewer will know what your painting is all about.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


On the opening day of my Boothbay Harbor Workshop, I reminded students that the best way to achieve a breakthrough is to approach painting as play.   While this painting is no masterpiece, it was my response to a playful creation of a fellow artist here in Boothbay.

Mike Lewis is a fun-loving, wildly creative fellow.  His car is loaded down with coconut shells with painted faces, hubcaps, fishing tackle and netting, propellors, and other accessories.  So yesterday when I took my class to the newly built dock at Cozy Harbor and looked out at the small cove, I spotted a kind of Rube Goldberg craft that made me laugh outloud.

Two canoes had been tied together to form a kind of pontoon boat.  As small as it was, it sported three masts with some rather uncoventional sails.  Hung from various points on the boat were propellors, wind indicators, an orange life ring, flags, weathervanes and an umbrella on the stern.  The giveaway was a whale's head on the bowsprit.  Mike's signature flat sculpture is a whale with stones embedded in the mouth as teeth.  I just had to paint it!

Here is my less than serious depiction of Mike's floating Rube Goldberg!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Day 3 of my Boothbay Harbor Workshop.  Today we went to one of my favorite locations:  Brown's Wharf, which overlooks the working waterfront.  At first I thought my lesson on saving whites and establishing alternation might really confound the students, but they rose to the occasion, and most painted their best painting of the week so far.  Strange, because the subject matter was so complicated and texturally rich.

Saving a river of white that flows through the painting starts with carving out a big white shape and then eventually cutting into it with midtones and darks.  The goal is to create a checkerboard effect, alternating between dark and light (white)  If you add a midtone, each white shape should be touched by a midtone and a dark.

Here's my demo.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Surf Paintings

Painting surf believably is a difficult thing to do.  Since the waves don't hold still, it requires long looks to determine what is actually happening.  First I watch the top of the wave.  The next time the inside of the wave.  Then the reflection of the wave, and then the foam.  Sometimes the  wave will curl beautifully, but that can turn into a parody of a wave pretty quickly.  Other times the wave will crash into a returning wave and the color disappears into a wall of white water.  I love to watch the spray coming off the top of the wave, too.

Here are two surf paintings of Ocean Point.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Spot of Red

Every time I go to Brown's Wharf, I look at two things:  the red English telephone booth, and the old red Texaco gas pump.  Red attracts our eyes, as it does bulls and hummingbirds. 

I have a friend named Mark Mellor here in Boothbay Harbor who always includes a spot of red in his paintings. Alvaro Castagnet likes to fill his paper with red paint, especially in interiors.  I was always afraid of red because of its aggressive nature.  You just can't ignore it, so you'd better make sure that what ever it is describing is worthy of all the attention it's going to get!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Subdued Color and Interesting Shapes

The last entry made the most of colorful choices.  This one is more subdued, leaning toward a monchromatic field.  The shift is subconscious.  Maybe I was feeling more cautious.  Maybe the subject matter just felt less colorful.  Possibly I was concentrating more on values than color choices. 

A word, too. on shapes.  Those decisions, however, were very deliberative.  If you trace your finger around the two darkest buildings, you'll see that both the shape of the sky and the shape of the buildings are very irregular, i.e. not circular, triangular or retangular. They interlock with each other in jig saw fashion, forming much more entertaining shapes.  In order to make that happen, I had to make up the building on the right.  I added the silhouette of a building on the left for the same reason.

I've said it before:  Don't be afraid to add elements that aren't there for the sake of design or interest.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


My friend Betsy came over to Maine from her home in New Hampshire to paint with me for a couple of days.  This morning we went over to Brown's Wharf to paint the working waterfront of Boothbay Harbor.

As we were scoping out the scene, I decided that I would paint one of the many lobster boats tied up to the dock.  To identify the locale, I wanted the landmark Catholic church on the hill in the composition, but that would require "moving" it. I also decided to lop off the top of the steeple so it wouldn't act as an "arrow" pointing off the page. In addition, I needed one of buildings on the right to be placed on the right side of the paper. I had a variety of dock debris to choose from, and, of course, I included a sign!

After a few minutes, Betsy came over and said, "I think I want to paint that lobster boat, and I'll need to move the church and run the steeple out of the painting, and take out one of the buildings and put it on the right."  Great minds....!

When starting to paint, I decided to start with the warm relief in the center of the composition and then work outwards to the cooler colors.  Then I carved out a path of white and painted a path of darks toward the center.
And I eliminated all the trees in the background, something I wouldn't have thought of five years ago.

Lesson:  Try compacting subject matter by moving elements of the scene to where they are needed to form interesting shapes.

All in all, I'm pleased with the painting.  This is a great location that I will return to.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Many people say that they want to "loosen up" their watercolors.  I know of no better practice than by not drawing a single line on your paper before you begin.  Have an idea, but then follow the paint.

Here, the idea is the Bridge House on the footbridge in Boothbay Harbor.  First, I wet the entire page and then flooded in some color.  The Bridge House was only indicated in the first wash by a blurry slightly darker granulation.  After that wash had dried, I began "finding" sails, dock, rowboat, and some details in the bridge house.  I stayed with the same colors I had used in the original underpainting.  It's much more creative when you improvise because you have to think in terms of balance, size, shapes, gradation, and values.  None of those things has been pre-determined, but it's not a thought-less approach.

Coloring book paintings aren't as free flowing as this approach so you have to get loose.  Try this with a limited palette with a subject you know well enough to draw upon by memory, and I'm almost sure it will loosen up your brush.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Seasonal Subjects

The never-ending search for subject matter can be frustrating.  But if you pay attention to the things you love at each time of the year, you will surely have some subjects that mean something to you.  August in Maine is Queen Anne's Lace month.  They spring up along the roadside everywhere.  I guess they are weeds, but I still love them.

The temptation when painting flowers plein air is to paint the background accurately.  This group of QAL was backed up by rocks and surf.  Since the flowers are ubiquitous, I chose a quiet shore where I could catch a breeze and listen to the surf while painting.  But the painting is about the flowers, not the rocks and the surf. 

I'm not normally a flower painter, but I love these.  So painting them was natural.  Find something you love, and show the world how it feels.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Special Events

When considering subject matter, think about festivals, sporting events, and any place where people gather.
Today was the annual Shipyard Cup Races which is staged just off Ocean Point here in Boothbay.  Sailing vessels of all classes competed for the cup.  A bit too far off shore for me to get a good camera shot, but catching the shapes of the sails just takes a little study.  Not much detail is required.  The painting is as much about the wonderful clouds overhead as it is the boats.
I had great conversations with friends Bob and Nancy  Grant, and a woman named Martha Valentine who recognized my style and knew me by name!

Take a chance and get out where the action is! 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Backyard Waterfall

It's a foggy afternoon here in Maine, but I still wanted to paint.  I got this idea while Googling places in the Finger Lakes to visit in October.

I started with the warms around the falling water.  Working outward, I went to warm greens and then to cool blues and purples.  Carving out the shape of the waterfall was the biggest step though.  The oblique shapes of the lower falls aid in creating movement.

Simplifying the water is the hardest part.  There's a temptation to define every single shadow and stripe in the rushing flow.  That would destroy the clean white shape that keeps the values crisp and the colors surrounding the falls pure.

I tried also to resist over defining the textures in the foliage.  The color was enough to create interest, and I didn't want to junk it up with too many details.

What's in your backyard?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


The Wednesday group here in Boothbay Harbor headed to Shipbuilder's Park this morning.  Not only are there two shipbuilders there, there's a busy marina with possibly fifty boats tied up to the floats.  In the background, there's a restaurant created from an old tugboat with all its colorful umbrellas.  Further back is the marina's buildings.  So much detail, so many objects, so many possible subjects.  The temptation is to put it all in.  But that would confuse the viewer.  Limiting the subject by eliminating the "noise" factor is absolutely vital to the success of the painting.

I decided on boats.  But it was essential that I drastically cut the number.  I limited it to four boats, with the schooner Oliver C. Weyant in the foreground.  In an old framing trick, I put it in front in order to look past it to the busy marina. The further back, the fewer details.  I used the background buildings as shapes to help pop the whites of the boats.

Remember....Don't try to paint everything in a busy scene.  Know what interests you the most, and just say that.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Emphasis on the Focal Point

Emphasizing the focal point is all about contrast.  While most of the perimeter of the painting is cool, soft and light valued, the area around the diners and the umbrellas is warm, hard-edged and darker in value. The bright, pure colors of the umbrellas, the sign and the flag stand out against the minimal details and subdued colors in the background. 

Notice, too, that the waiter, the flag, and the sign are all on the thirds, both vertically and horizontally.

I later had a sandwich under the middle umprella, and am happy to report that the re-opening of The Center Cafe is a success!

Monday, July 30, 2012

When Color Is King

Sorry I've been away.  Between the rain and company, I let the painting time get away from me.  This morning, however, was beautiful:  sunny, 75 degrees, slight sea breeze out at Hendrick's Head Lighthouse.

Because I've done this subject so many times, I keep looking for ways to re-invent the scene.  Using arbitrary colors seems to be the solution to so many of my painting problems these days. 

Wetting the paper before sailing in with some pure colors and letting them blend on the page makes me happy!  Then it's just a matter of "finding" the rocks, adding some waves and adding some details to the lighthouse.

Color is the attraction even more so than the actual scene!

Sunday, July 22, 2012


To create a sense of distance, It is helpful to paint "forward".  Start with the underwash ( in this case the sky and the water), move closer with a suggestion of other boats in the harbor (it is not necessary or even desirable to sharply define these objects), and then get the darks and warms going in the two foreground boats.  Their masts overlap the other boats and the far shoreline. That's why it's best to leave the distance undetailed; details and texture out there would confuse the viewer after the foreground details are added.  The building on the left is also kept in silhouette and very simple, but a bit darker and overlapping in such a way as to come forward, as well as stop the eye from going off the page.

It might help to see a photo of the scene to see how much simplification I employed to keep the attention in the foreground.