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.