Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas


   Merry Christmas to all!  I hope to have some new paintings soon now that I'm in Florida and can paint outside again soon!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Figures and Backgrounds

Backgrounds and foregrounds are always a problem for the watercolorist.  How much detail to include or exclude.  Should the background be dark or light?  Making those decisions before beginning to paint is an important starting point.

                             "The Cast"

In this painting of a trout fisherman on his favorite stream,  I wanted the fisherman to really stand out, so I decided to make the figure light against a dark background for the most dramatic effect.  I also wanted the viewer to concentrate on the figure, so I provided no details or texture in the dark background.  It isn't a solid mass, but certainly any suggestion of rocks or trees has been eliminated.
The foreground rocks and stream are necessary to give context and setting.  Most of the action centers around the fly fisherman's cast. 

This painting was a gift from the faculty of the high school where I taught for 19 years to the principal upon the occasion of his retirement.  A couple of years before, he had given me a refresher course and loaned me his rod for a spring break trip to Arkansas.  So it was appropriate on a personal and professional level.  Consider giving a painting related to someone's hobby.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Overlapping and Receding Values

                       "Ocean Point Marina"

For this painting I decided to take the color factor out and concentrate on values.  After painting the sky and ground, I worked from far distance to near foreground.  Each step forward, the values got a little darker. The shadowed sides of the white boats were the exception.

Overlapping shapes also helped bring things forward.  The closest sailboat with its rudder overlaps the lobster boat in the back, and the foreground figures and scaffolding are darker than the shapes behind them.

Notice, too, how the shapes are connected without  stopping for hard edges.  The underside of the boat doesn't start with a hard edge, and the cast shadow melts into the hull to form one shape.

Every once in a while, it helps to eliminate the color problem and just paint the value of things. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013


                       "Clouds Over Newagen"

When the subject is clouds, they must dominate the space on the paper.  The larger the area that a subject is given, the more attention will be given to it.  In this painting of "Clouds Over Newagen", the sky takes up about two thirds of the painting. 

Special care must be taken when designing them.  Choose one cloud to dominate.  Then place one or two lesser clouds to balance them.  Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear....

Consider the placement of sky holes.

If you study clouds, you will eventually notice that because they are made up of water molecules, they are very reflective of what is under them.  A sailor will tell you that when searching for land out at sea, he will look for the clouds with the warmest colors on their underside.  A cool underside will tell him that the cloud is reflecting the sea.

This is important in choosing colors because the values of most clouds are not much darker than the light of the blue sky.  A warm gray, even if light in value, will read as cloud if it is pinned against a cool sky.

Did you know there is a Cloud Appreciation Society?  Google it for more information and some fantastic photos!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Choosing Local Scenery

                         "The Meeting of the Rivers"

I love painting in Maine in the summer and Florida in the winter.  But I thought it only fair to my fellow St. Louisans to paint a local scene that they would recognize.

This is Carl Milles fountain entitled "Meeting of the Rivers" which stands in front of Union Station.
It symbolically represents the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers.  Surrounded by various mythological creatures, the two main statues caused quite a stir in the fountain's debut.  The Mississippi is represented by the male figure and the Missouri by the female statue.  Originally titled "The Wedding of the Waters", the nude figures were condemned by some of the more Victorian citizens of the period.  Eventually, though, the sculptor only had to change the name and not the statues.

This composition relied on the rule of thirds, with the vertical tower on one third, and the shape of the station and the line of statues on two horizontal thirds.  To suggest the spray and mist from the fountain, soft edge gradation was used.  Gradation in value from sky to building to statues is also helpful in suggesting distance and area of emphasis, with the darker statues against the lighter background.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Rhythm of Application

Here's the demo I did for a local art group last week.  The lesson was on trees.  Giving a running commentary while painting is not the easiest thing to do, especially when you have an hour and fifteen minutes to complete the task.  But I love doing it! 

Because of time restraints, one of the things I talked about was "the rhythm of application", a phrase not coined by but used by Helen van Wyk.   At first I didn't know what she meant, but as I keep painting, I understand that your brush keeps time, that it swings and moves at a certain pace.  That lets the painting develop naturally, moving all over the paper or canvas with a rhythmic speed that gives unity to the brush strokes. If I paint one section at one speed and then slow it down to a crawl in another section, the result will be two separate looks, one spontaneous, and the other very careful.

Of course, it takes years of practice to develop the confidence and know-how to enable such freedom.  But I love the swing of the brush, the slinging of the paint and the rhythmic feel that occurs during the act of painting. 

P.S.  This may be why some artists like to paint while listening to music.  Subconsciously the tempo of the music may influence their brushstroke speed.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cool or Warm Colors

                         "The Meeting Place"

In this painting of a banyan tree in Naples, Florida, I decided to go to the cool side of the palette for a change.  The greens have more blue in them and the yellows tend towards the cooler side of the palette.  Having a dominant temperature in your painting can change the mood.  I wanted to give the scene a cool-off feeling, so cooler colors only made sense.

Again, don't be afraid to add some figures to give your paintings scale and interest.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Working in a Series

                          "Trees at Cat Point"

In preparation for a demo I gave last night at a local art group's monthly meeting, I did a series of paintings on the subject of the demo: trees.  This painting combined my focus this summer on shadows with the assigned topic of trees.  I loved the way the shadows fell, reaching out toward the viewer. 

It helps to have a clear message for the viewer.  "Look at this!", the work seems to shout.  "Look at these shadows, these trees, these colors.  Enjoy them as much as I do."  Working on this series deepened my love for all things arborial, and I found myself looking at trees more intently.  And isn't that what art teaches us?  To see instead of glancing, to notice instead of walking by on our way to some other treasure?  To sip with a deep eye the wonder the world is.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Day Trip

A week ago, I took a drive out to two state parks near St. Louis.  At the first one, Rockwoods Reservation, I found this old lime kiln.  I did the sketch on location and then painted it the next day at home.

Complementary colors are at play here: red and green.  Obviously, the kiln is a red brick building.  And trees are green.  But study the ground and you'll see that the red repeats there.  And the two foreground tree trunks are alternately red and green. 

If you squint your eyes, you'll see that this is nearly a two value job.  I've used the spotlight effect to draw your eye to the kiln.

Figures provide interest as well as scale.  And a spot of red there doesn't hurt either!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Here's another painting of my little cottage in Maine.  When it rains, a huge puddle forms under the pine trees.  I've painted it from memory which forces you to simplify.

The shadows in the foreground form a kind of frame for the sunlit area of the painting where the cottage is.  The upright pine trunks confine the viewers attention to the left middle of the page.
Notice, too, that the background trees have no texture except as defined by the outer edges of their silhouettes.  The deep cast shadows on the cottage also emphasize the sunny quality of the light.
And the whole middle part of the painting--the lawn and the cottage--is painted with warm colors, while the background trees are cool by contrast.

Design, value and color choices are the big three when I'm composing and executing a painting.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Travelling home from Maine this year, I stopped off in Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania.  The Wyeth family hails from there, and I wanted to pay a visit to the Brandywine River Museum to see the paintings inspired by their other hometown. (I've been to Cushing, Maine and the Olson house as well.)  It did not disappoint.  In fact, it was quite inspiring.  The museum also offers tours by van buses to both Andrew's house/ studio and to the Kuerner farm where he painted the house and its environs. 

I came away inspired and newly appreciative.  Andrew's work is nearly monochromatic; mine is not. Still I couldn't help wanting to paint one of his favorite subjects in my own way. 

The foreground shadows help spotlight the old farmhouse. 

Monday, October 28, 2013


                      "Maine Cottage in the Woods"

Many students have trouble painting believable trees.  I think that is because they are relying on their memory of trees or their preconceived ideas of trees leftover from elementary school.
Observe trees.  Draw trees from nature.  Look at the light and shadows on their trunks.  Are the trunks lighter or darker than their background?  Vary the colors on the trunks.  Use clumps or clusters of foliage rather than trying to paint individual leaves with little unconnected dots. 

Using trees to frame subjects is a common practice.  But sometimes the trees become the subject. Know what you want your viewers to look at, and then make it interesting with value and color.

Here is my little cottage in the Maine woods, trees and all.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The T

                           "The Bay Lady at Anchor"

There are many observations I could make about this composition.  I'll start with the T device.  If you look at the shoreline, it's the top of the T.  The boat and its reflection are the trunk of the T.  It's slightly off center so the centers of interest, the boat and the church, are on the thirds.

I've also said several times that it's good to find ways to break a line.  The church steeple and the mast of the boat both break the tree line.  The boat also interrupts the shoreline.

And finally, the sloping angle of the buildings and the trees act as pointers. 

Plan with purpose in your design.

Can you tell I'm homesick for Boothbay Harbor?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Painting in a Series

The last two blog entries have featured fog and cloud paintings that I painted on location.  Here's another painting in the series that I painted from photographic references.  The scene is high above Maggie Valley, NC.  The cloud is casting a shadow on the mountain below.  I invented the wisp of smoke coming from the little farm in the valley.  It connects the two halves of the painting as well as providing some additional movement.

Again, greens present a challenge to the painter.  Variation in color, value and texture all make for interest.  Try to avoid mixing your greens into a flat color on your palette.  Mix blues, yellows, golds, red and even purples on the paper to indicate the variety of trees and the atmosphere that influences them.

Today I'm back to Maine subjects. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Travel Painting #5

                                Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This is the last painting I did on my road trip home.  It was the second of two that I painted that day in the Smokies last week.  I'm happy to report that the  Watercolor Painting Club posted the first Smokies painting on their website as a highlighted piece, and as of a few minutes ago it had over 3.6K  likes and 406 shares!  Nice to be recognized by so many fine watercolorists.

The clouds in this painting were casting the most wonderful shadows on the mountains.  The same technique that I mentioned in the last post came in handy for this piece, too.  The greens were again a focus.  Using a tube green just won't cut it.  Either mix the green with an earth tone or a yellow on the palette (but don't overmix it into an homogenous straight green), or as I like to do, mix the greens on the paper. 

Yellow is the first color that starts to disappear as the trees recede into the distance.  Since blue and yellow make green, that leaves shades of blue in the farthest peaks. 

It really helps to paint on location to observe the effects of light on the landscape.  So get out there and look!

Monday, October 14, 2013


                                       The Great Smoky Mountains

High on the peaks of the Smoky Mountains, visitors can look down on the clouds that settle into the valleys below.  Rendering their soft look can be a problem.  The key is to paint the cloud, let it dry, then re-wet the edges and paint the darker mountains up or down to the cloud.  The result should be a soft edge.

In this painting, the technique is used several times as each layer of mountains gets closer and a little darker.  Without the softness, the white area of clouds would look like a lake.  The soft edges describe the quality of a cloud bank.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Painting While Travelling

                               Henry Homestead, Manassas Battlefield

I keep my easel on top of the suitcases when I travel, but rarely pull it out to paint.  But something is different this trip.  Actually, something has shifted in my painting discipline this summer and fall.  I am much more driven to paint as often as I can.  The goal seems less about producing a "winning" painting or a saleable painting.  I'm treating each painting session as practice, keeping my hand and eye active. 

As a painter, I guess it is easy to assume that once you've made progress in your technique, and learned something about the design and execution of paintings that you will continue at that level even if you don't paint for long periods.  I reject that notion.  If you are not attentive to the craft you are practicing, you may start sliding into predictable habits that work.  It's even possible that once you reach a plateau that brings "success" that you will stop experimenting and thinking about other approaches. 

I am now convinced that painting is about the process  not the product.  I am enjoying putting brush to paper.  Sales are nice, prizes are great, but the process is everything.

Here's a painting I did near the Manassas Battlefield  so that my friend Russell could watch me paint.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Painting Trees


                              "Brandywine Battlefield"

Anyone aspiring to become a landscape painter should master the drawing and painting of trees.  So many beginning painters resort to their elementary school depictions of trees, relying on symbols rather than carefully observing the individual trees they are painting.

In this painting, you see background trees, foreground trees with foliage and a couple of leafless trees.  Special care was taken with the drawing of the trees on the left.  Notice that one branch in particular is very dark, as is the shadow it casts.  Important:  Painting  a tree the same color and the same value (usually very dark brown) signals an amateur approach which uses childhood symbols of trees.  Ask yourself:  Is the trunk lighter or darker in value than its background?  Does the trunk have moss on it to justify using green on it?  Are the cast shadows darker and harder-edged in some places, and softer and lighter in others?

And smaller branches against the sky are usually lighter and cooler as the color of the sky will influence the color you choose for those smaller limbs.

Still, there can be no formulas here either.  It really depends on your observation.  So look, look, look, sketch, sketch, sketch and then paint.  The time you spend preparing will be worth it!

Friday, October 4, 2013

On the Road Again...

                                     Catskills Autumn

After an overnight in Woodstock, NY, I drove over to Phoenicia where I discovered this delightful little scene.  But it called for a little editing.  The mountain was not as steep, and there was a gazebo to my right that I decided not to use as a frame.   The church was not white, but I thought it would read better as a simple shape if I didn't use a color that would closely resemble the background colors.  Values were crucial.  Colors helped identify the season. 

Being willing to take two hours out of a driving tour is not always easy for me, but once I did, I found it relaxing.  Constantly looking down the road for a better painting opportunity happens easily, but it is often the case that "way leads onto way", and it generally doesn't result in finding a better scene.

More from the road tomorrow.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Arbitrary Color Choices

                                     "Sample's Pier"

Many times when I'm painting on location, people will stop and comment, "Ooooo....I love your colors!"  Some people may think, "The sky doesn't look that color." or "That building is gray; why are you painting it blue?" but I don't hear those reactions. 

I identify with the folks who say they love the color because color is a reason I paint.  Yesterday, the sun was warm after a week of gray, cold weather, and so I responded with a warm orange sky.  Since blue is the complement of orange, I used it on the buildings and pilings.  So this painting is just as much about the vibrating complementary colors as it is about a dock shack.

Today is my last day in Maine for the 2013 season.  I shall miss my days painting beside the ocean.  I love this place and its people.  Maybe that's as much the cause for the bright, happy color choices I made yesterday. 

See you all on the road!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Leaving Maine

Sorry I haven't been heard from much these past few days, but I have had router problems and haven't been able to post anything.  And it's a beautiful day here, but I must spend it packing the car to avoid packing in the rain on Monday.  But I'd rather be painting!

So this looks like the last painting of my Maine summer.  Never fear, though; I'm wandering home for about a week and a half, and hope to be able to paint along the way.  I'll keep the easel on top of the suitcases and try to squeeze in one or two, or three or four paintings from my travels.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Going With Your Gut

When painting with the Wednesday Painters in Boothbay Harbor last week, we were positioned near the iconic bridge house on the footbridge across Boothbay Harbor.  Everybody was painting the bridge house, but I turned to my right to the end of the harbor and saw the old clapboard houses with their sides lit up by the early morning light.  Try as I might to paint the building that is more identifiable with Boothbay Harbor, I kept coming back to the light on the side of those other structures.

So, I painted them.  And when I was finished, not one, but two people wanted to buy it! 

More often than not, these days when I arrive at a painting location, I look around to see what really appeals to me, not what should appeal to me.  If I go with my gut instinct, I think I have more invested in the experience of painting. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

For Better or Worse

When designing a composition, I am acutely aware of creating interesting negative shapes. In this painting of a scene near my favorite hot dog stand in Boothbay Harbor, trace your finger along the line where the sky meets the buildings and the islands, and you'll see that the sky shape and the land shapes are jig-sawed, and therefore, interesting.  I made a small but important change right at the end when I realized that the roofline on the foreground right building leads the eye off the page.  So I looked up and saw that there was a building behind it that could provide an eye-stopper as well as make the sky shape more interesting. Better.

The electrical fixtures and wires, as well as the rigging on the boat are not shapes, but do provide some textural relief to an otherwise static sky.  Better.

Figures always claim attention, and the placement of the man in the rowboat is enhanced by its contrasting surrounding of light values.  He is also surrounded by pilings, rocks, another boat and an island in which he becomes a sort of bull's-eye.

Design deliberately for maxim impact.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Shadowy Business

"Chimney Pond, Mt. Katahdin, Maine" 
For the past month, much of my painting has been a kind of series, not of particular things or scenes, but rather focused on shadows falling on things.  Shadows on roads, shadows on rocky ledges, shadows across beaches.  Here's a painting of late afternoon shadows falling across Mt. Katahdin at Chimney Pond.

Working in a series will open your eyes.  You will begin to see things that might have previously escaped your notice.  Find something that gives you pleasure or meaning and I can guarantee you it will result in a series of experiences and paintings that memorialize those moments and feelings.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mixing Color on the Paper

                                "The End of Newagen"

I love these two rocks at the end of Southport Island, Maine at Cape Newagen.  I've painted them in sun, rain, fog, and overcast.  Since this year I'm adding more color to my rocks, the challenge is to do a bold and colorful underpainting.  I limited my palette to cobalt mixed with Quin Gold for the tree tones,  and cobalt mixed with Quin red, and then adding Quin Gold for the rocks. 

So by limiting the palette, and varying the percentages of the colors, you get a variety of hues, but still achieve a harmony of color because you use the same three colors almost everywhere on the page.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Workshop -- Day 3

This day found my class literally in a fog!  But by the time I finished my demo, the fog had lifted and they were off and running.

Painting out of your comfort zone is always nerve wracking.  But I wanted them to at least think that there are other possibilities to approach a jumble of subject matter. 

The real scene had so many elements in it that it could be overwhelming.  So I asked them to pick one or two elements to emphasize.  I gave them one big hint, too: Forget the trees in the background. At tree-top level, they formed a rectangular shape with a straight line at the top.  Design the scene as a whole piece without encapsulating it with dark tree shapes.  Then it becomes more like a vignette,  in which the jumble of stuff touches three of the four edges of the paper.

I began by sketching in the scene, but quickly put down a first wash that ignored those lines.  The second wash was the midtone that started to find the big shape of the wharf and church.  Finally I started picking out some darks and textures to draw your eye towards the boat and its surroundings.

The key step, though, was the bold color application in the first wash.

Here's the scene and my renditions, both a half sheet version, and then a full sheet that began without a pre-planned drawing.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Workshop - Day 1

Excitement and nervousness mix on the first day of any workshop.  I began by giving a pep talk, and then doing some quick demos of value ranges, color mixing on the paper, and making suggestions about grays, greens and violets that could be used at our first location.

The day was sunny, but cold and windy.  I did my demo, and then the students had lunch (delivered by my able assistant Betsy Smith), but after doing their thumbnail sketches and drawing on the watercolor paper, we all trekked back to the studio and they painted inside, sans cold and wind. 

Critique followed, and I was very encouraged to see that attention was paid to the suggestions on technique that I had offered. 

Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer, and somewhere in Maine tomorrow, it may hit 90!  I look forward to the wild swing in temperature!

Here is the location where we painted, Hendrick's Head Lighthouse on Southport.

Monday, September 2, 2013


The theme of the last few weeks is August light.  The angle of the sun is slanting more and more.  The shadows are longer and more dramatic.  I look for that in every scene.

The high horizon line in this painting allows the land to dominate.  The light on the hill and the road are the "stars" in this painting, created by the shadows.

Values play a big part in the focal point of this painting as does the spot of red on the house. The foreground tree stops the eye as other lines lead to the house on the hill.

Most of the colors in this painting are grayed or "broken" so that they are grayed.  That allows the light areas to shine in their more pure states.

Values, colors, lines.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Having Something To Say

                            Shadows at Boothbay Shores

In many ways, this summer has been a break-through for me.  Colors, reflections, shadows, light....all have become more important than depicting a particular place or scene.  Yes, the scene or object might be important, but now I start by asking myself, "What is the loveliest element in this scene?  What attracted me to it in the first place?  What's the story here?"

In the case of this painting, I was driving around my cove a few days ago, when I spotted this group of rocks.  Instantly, I knew that it was the late afternoon shadows falling on the rocks going into the light where one particular striated rock caught my eye. But mostly it was the drama of the shadows.

Only after identifying that could I begin the planning stage of my composition:  lines that pointed, colors that contrasted, values that told the story of those long lovely shadows. 

I read somewhere that if you are not thinking when you are painting, you are painting a thoughtless painting.  How true that is!  Know what you want to say, say it with words, then devise a strategy to get you there.  You'll have a richer experience by telling your viewers, "Look what I saw today!"

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Painting Shapes

Yesterday another painter came by to show me his painting.  The first thing I noticed was that everything was spotty or striped.  The water was not a solid shape, only a series of stripes all the way out to the horizon.  And the trees were a series of dabs that didn't read as leaves and certainly didn't form the shape of the foliage.

This is the most common mistake I see when painting trees and water.  In this painting of Boothbay Common and the Civil War Memorial, the trees are one shape, delineated only by subtle changes in color and value along the way.  Their dark shape acts as a foil against the light shapes of the statue and the city hall.  If you try to define every leaf with small dots of color, then the leaves become a distraction from the things that you want to highlight.

When painting trees, connect the leaves into clumps or shapes.  Too many light sky-holes are not shapes, but only more dots.  There's a nervous quality to paintings with so many short strokes and dabs.  It belies an amateur quality with its hesitation.  Be bold in the application of the strokes! Watercolor's charm is in the flow of the water, so stroke, don't dab.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Time of day

Many times artists paint in the morning.  But lately, I've been painting late in the day or early evening.  This time of year, the light is so beautiful because of its angle.  In this painting on Grimes Cove, I fell in love with the light on the pebbly beach below the cottage.  The back lighting cast some wonderful shadows, both on the beach, the house, and the clouds.  The reflections of the rocks in the water also caught my attention. 

Painting at a different time of day can reveal subjects in even the most familiar of locations.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Judi's Tree

Pardon a personal note.  My very good friend Judi Wagner gave an annual workshop here in Boothbay Harbor each September.  Every time we went to Knickercane Island, Judi would paint the same tree for her demo.  I came to refer to it as "Judi's Tree."  So I picked another tree as my favorite tree to paint every year.

Yesterday another friend of Judi's went painting with me at Knickercane.  One of the first things we noticed was that over the winter my tree had been cut down.  But Judi's tree is alive and kicking!
So in tribute to Judi, I painted her tree.  Rest in Peace, my good friend.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Rocky Coast of Maine

I'm just back in Maine from a 36 hour trip back to St. Louis.  I miss my adopted state so much when I'm gone.  And one thing I miss most is the rocky shoreline.

Rocks are hard to paint.  But being a painter in Maine means you must at least try once in a while.

My approach is to paint an interesting underpainting with varied colors.  The next layers define shape and finally texture.  I also try not to define every single rock so that attention may be drawn to the focal area.

Here are two paintings dealing with the subject.  In the first one, I've limited the emphasis to shape.  In the second, I've added texture to the mix.

P.S.  Anyone want to become my 70th member??

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Brush Choice

For many years, I used flat brushes almost exclusively.  They covered more territory quickly.  And if I wanted a straight line, a flat usually did the trick.

These days, though, I usually begin with a mop brush with a fine point.  The difference is that the strokes I make with a round brush are much more spontaneous and tend to move in more directions. They still carry a lot of water which is important when trying to extend a color or value.

As for straight lines, by pressing a round flat against the paper and then stroking it quickly in one direction, the line stays just as straight as with a flat.  The round brushes seem to hold more water and can therefore spread the paint farther without replenishing it.

In summary, the rounds lead me to be more spontaneous, to paint faster, and achieve an effect that is more impressionistic than the careful strokes of a flat brush. 

Experimentation never ends!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Street Scenes

Here is a street scene in Boothbay Harbor.  I was struck by the shape of the house at the top of the hill.  Its silhouette was very interesting and didn't need much interior description. 

Note:  Some students have tried to convince me that since a house is painted white, that it must be depicted as a white shape against a dark sky.  But the value of the white house was a midtone against the light sky. 

Likewise with the road.  I know it's blacktop, but it is catching the light, and is very light in value.

Sometimes students get help with the aid of a red cellophane viewer that makes the values clearer.  I think careful observation does just as well!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Late Afternoon

                                    "Townsend Gut"

When the sun reaches a lower angle in late summer, the shadows get longer earlier in the afternoon.  I wait for this sunlight here in Maine every August.  Recently, I've been going out in the afternoon rather than the morning because the long shadows in the late day are more dramatic.

Here is a ledge in Townsend Gut where the sunlight hit the rocky ledge while shadows crept up on the rocks resulting in an interesting lighting  effect.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Including figures

Learning how to include figures in a scene will help give your paintings life.  Rarely is there a scene without human or animal life.  Having some experience including them in the composition will help give movement and interest to an otherwise lifeless scene.   Figures can be used to interrupt lines or overlap a shape so that they can be a compositional device.

Practice figures separately to ease the fear of placing them in crucial areas.  Heads are smaller than you might think.  Legs are longer. 

Figures also can provide scale by comparison.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Cast Shadows

                                           "Treasure Island"

Cast shadows in landscapes can help your painting in several ways.

1. Placed in the foreground, they can act as a frame or lead-in to the focal area.

2. The cast shadows can help define the light areas.

3. A cast shadow can provide gradation opportunities.

4.  A cast shadow can add drama to your composition.

Even if in reality there is no cast shadow, consider adding one for these reasons.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Painting Water

A common mistake I see in students' work when painting water is to paint hard stripe-y lines all the way out to the horizons.  If you really study the water, the ripples closest to you are the ones where you can see the shadow side of the little wavelets. 

 Gradating the water so that near the shore, the water appears darker and a bit warmer because you are looking down at the bottom where the rocks are warmer.  The reflection of the sky happens out closer to the horizon.  Gradation also suggests the softness of the water.  Stripes make water look like concrete.

And finally, reflections.  Again avoid stripes that start right where the boat or object meets the water.
Define the ripples at the edge of the reflection, not in the middle.  As you get further down, then you can start spacing the ripples again.

Also, study the reflection to see if it is lighter or darker than the object being reflected.  A white boat in shadow will often have a darker reflection.  This also will determine the order of painting.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


When considering this technique, think Checkerboard.  Now, think three values instead of two.
For instance, look at the stern of the focal boat.  It's a midtone.  Next to it on the side is a light value.
Also next to it is a dark value, the reflection. 

Trying to keep that pattern going is like juggling; you have to keep track of all three balls--the two in your hands and the one in the air.

The key is to start with the lights.  Make a trail of linked light shapes by cutting around them with the midtones.  Then add a dark that is contiguous to one of the other two.  Checkerboard!

Here is another example of the same subject, both using alternation.

Monday, August 5, 2013


I had intended to paint the Cuckold's Lighthouse from the Southport Town Dock, but this huge sailing yacht came by and grabbed my attention.  But how would I show its height?

Placing similar objects nearby or overlapping things will show their relative size.  Without the smaller boats, the size of the large yacht might not be apparent.  Also, the trees give scale to the boat.

It also took some careful and quick observation of the values in the sails because the boat was soon going to be out of sight.  Don't assume value---study it.  The cast shadows made parts of the white sail darker than the sky.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

August Light

I wait all year for August light in Maine.  Late this afternoon I went to the entrance of my cove and saw this little beauty at the entrance to Little River.  It was gone in ten seconds so I had to memorize the light effect.  What a beautiful day to paint in late summer!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Identifying Subjects

On Wednesdays, the Plein Air Painters of Maine paint together at various locations around Boothbay Harbor.   This past week we went to a location where I often have had trouble being inspired by subject matter.  This time, however, I developed a pattern of finding a subject that revolved around elimination. 

The boats that I was attracted to were across the cove.  There were wonderful trees and rocks in the foreground, but I determined that the boats were my subjects so the problem became a situation of eliminating anything that wasn't relevant to my subject. 

Next came the problem of placement.  I chose two boats, and put the main one on the thirds.  Then my thinking shifted to how to emphasize and draw the viewer's eye to that place.  The background provided the foil for pointing to the boats via value.

Finally, I needed a few elements to point to the subject.  The major one was to paint the water leaving the lighter "z"  to lead into the area surrounding the boat.  I am very conscious of lines that point to the focal point of the subject.  Values and line accomplished that for me in this painting.