Sunday, June 30, 2013

Values and Warm Colors

In this painting of Hendricks Head Lighthouse,  my challenge was to keep your eye on the lighthouse and keeper's house.  I used the warm colors on the ground rocks near the structures and the cast shadows and darks on the roofs to form a contrast that is hard to ignore.

When painting the shadowed side of white buildings, try to charge a little reflected light in your mixed grays.  Also don't get timid when painting the values of those parts of the buildings in shadows.  It will make the saved whites really sing.

Also watch the darks and textures in the foreground.  I wanted to look over the foreground, not at it.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Borrowing Stuff

I painted with the Plein Air Painters of Maine on Wednesday who met at the other end of my cove.  It was foggy, the light was flat, and it seemed as if there was nothing to paint.  So I looked around and saw a couple of dinghies on the other side of the cove, far away.  I decided to import one of them for my painting.  Very simply painted and peaceful looking scene.

Don't be afraid to borrow an object and move it into your painting. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Moving On

  Working on a series relieves the artist of the problem of thinking up a subject.  All that is needed is a variation on the subject.  That frees us to concentrate on other elements and principles.  Composition is also a variable to explore.

In this painting, I invented a scene so I could concentrate on abstract compositional elements.

1.  Line.  Obliques  direct the eye.  Also notice that I found ways to interrupt lines.  The far shoreline would be far more boring without the breaks created by the two rocks and the branch.

2.  Consider also the intervals in those interruptions.  Try to avoid equal spaces between those elements. 

3.  Textures.  I limited the textures to the tree and the area under the fallen tree.  The midground and background are simple shapes that gain their interest through color, not textures.

But all good things must come to an end.  I've decided that I'm going to move on from this series on driftwood.  The challenge is to think of another subject that will excite me.  Check in soon to see what I've settled on.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Maine Workshop 2013

Mark your calendars!  My 2013 summer workshop in beautiful Boothbay Harbor, Maine will be held
from September 9th - 13th.  Sign up now so you don't miss out!

The workshop headquarters will be in the Lions Club in West Boothbay Harbor.  It is a spacious facility with plenty of room to spread out and paint.  An overhead mirror allows students to view my demonstrations.  There are also kitchen facilities if you want to bring soft drinks or snacks.

There are plenty of motels, B & B's, and inns in the area.  A half block from the Lions Club is the Beach Cove Resort which is perched high above lovely West Harbor Pond. ( ) Other accommodations can be viewed by Googling the Boothbay Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

The workshop day begins with a brief overview of the day's lesson.  Then we will procede to one of many beautiful painting locations.  Ocean Point is popular with tourists and painters alike. 

 I will do a demonstration painting while referring to the day's lesson and other topics dealing with procedures, techniques and possible problems.

After the demo, students will be free to paint while your instructor remains available for any questions or suggestions should you need them. 

In case of rain, I have many exercises and  painting techniques that can be done indoors.  Lessons on values, negative painting, creating interesting shapes and color choices will be discussed on those days or on location.

At the end of the day, we will return to the Lions Club for a brief critique which will focus mainly on the topic for the day. 

Most students find that time away painting for five straight days improves their paintings immensely.
I hope to be a catalyst in jump starting your progress towards successful paintings!

Tuition for the five day workshop is still only $400.  Checks may be sent to:

Carol Jessen
P.O. Box 254
East Boothbay, ME  04544

Questions may be emailed to me at:

Or you may call me at :   
 1 - 207 - 633 -6414

I hope to see you in Boothbay Harbor this September!

Happy Painting!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

High Key Palette

How to get that effect of bright sunlight?  Try using a high key palette.  Most of this painting is painted in midtone and light values.  The granite ledge was actually darker in the shadow areas, but by not going above a light mid- value,  even the shadows say "sunny day".  And avoid painting grass dark green.  If you look at sunlight on grassy areas, it is a very light yellow green. 

I painted with the Plein Air Painters of Maine today, a loose knit group of painters in the mid-coast region of Maine.  The only instruction is gained from walking around, looking at the works of other painters to see their interpretation of the scene.  I enjoy the comeraderie of being with other like-minded people.

Try a high key painting. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blue on Blue

Sitting here in the early morning, looking over the paintings I've done this summer, I've been trying to put my finger on a subtle change in this year's work.  I think I've finally nailed it. 

I've swapped out my old workhorse blue--ultramarine--for cobalt blue.  Making that one color change has altered the look of my paintings.  Cobalt is a purer blue.  It is harder to mix with certain other colors, so I've had to resist the temptation to combine it with other opaque yellow paints.  The result is a shift to the cooler side of the palette. 

I also just ordered some quinacridone gold, a color that keeps getting mentioned in articles, videos and discussions with my watercolor friends. 

Switching up your palette will shake up your work even if your style remains the same. Try not to add too many new colors at once or you may get confused in your enthusiasm. Experiment with new colors to keep your work fresh. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

This was the kind of perfect Maine day that I dream about in the winter.  So after a lobster roll at my favorite dockside restaurant, I headed to one of my favorite painting locations:  Grimes Cove on Ocean Point. 

Plein air painting can overwhelm you with the sheer amount of details and textures, so it demands that you simplify shapes and limit textures.  Painting every leaf and limb in the trees serves no purpose other than accurate reporting, which has little to do with creating a work of art.  Likewise, painting every rock on the stone littered beach accomplishes little.  Better to choose one or two boulders to come in aid of the composition, and suggest the textures.  Omitting the rocks on the beach also keeps the spotlight on the cliff face.

Simplifying shapes and textures allows me time to think about more important things, like color intensity and values.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

James Taylor Painting

"Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
 Won't you let me go down in my dreams...
 And rock-a-bye Sweet Baby James."

I know, I know......James Taylor was singing about pills.  But I still like the sentiment applied to painting! 

Mixing greens on the paper instead of making a homogenized soup on your palette is much preferable.  Here I used combinations of cobalt blue and yellow ochre, cobalt blue and cad red for the rocks, and ultramarine and burnt sienna plus a hint of thalo green in various percentages for the deep greens.  Ultramarine blue and burnt sienna make a darker green than other color combinations.

This the cove out my front door here in Maine.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dream Paintings

"Driftwood With Crow"
15" x 22"
I woke up two mornings ago, having dreamed this painting.  I'm doing a series on driftwood, and also started thinking about the crows that roost in a tree on the cove side of my road here in Boothbay.  The two melded in a dream, and so I got up and drew the composition directly on my watercolor painting.

Due to some appointments and social engagements, I waited a day before painting it.  That also gave me time to think about color choices.  Meanwhile I checked with several artists and one playright who said that they had all had the same experience with dreaming their next composition.

So don't ignore the content of your dreams for source material!

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Day at the Shore

This is Ocean Point near Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where I live in the summertime.  Every year I do at least one obligatory surf and rocks painting.  Here's this year's offering. 

The underpainting was very important in setting the stage for the rocks.  By alternating cool and warm grays, it created a kind of alternation in the rocks.  Then I started adding mid tones and eventually the darks. 

A woman came by and asked if I was going to put in the lighthouse out on the island.  I explained that even though it would be very small, a man-made structure would immediately pull your attention away from the foreground subject matter, so I had chosen to omit it.  The painting is about the rocks and the surf.  The islands are there to speak to the space and distance as well as to stop the eye.  I don't think she was convinced!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Framing for effect.

The tree foliage on the left acts as a frame for the driftwood in the mid-distance where the focal point is.  The shadows on the right serve the same purpose.  See sketch for planning.

Now that I'm in Maine, the paintings are starting to gain momentum. 

Don't forget that my workshops in Boothbay Harbor and Acadia, Maine are starting to fill.  Reserve your spot so you don't miss out!


Here's the result of yesterday's plan and sketch.  Two things students have trouble with are trees (they're soooo green!), and rocks, which can quickly turn into marshmellows if you don't pay attention to some groundwork.

Yes, trees are green.  But if you paint every tree the same green, pre-mixed on the palette, you'll get no depth to your trees, and a rather dull depiction of them.

Solution:  In your first wash, vary the underpainting from yellow to blue and throw in some earth tones. Then when you put on the second and third layers, some of the underpainting will shine through, even if you put the same green on top of them.

Rocks are hard (as in solid, not difficult, although they can be).  The first wash is again important.  I mix some grays on the paper:  ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, thalo green and alizarin crimson, cobalt blue and cadmium red.  Brushwork is important here.  Make your strokes go different directions.  Vary the ratio of the mixture.  Then let it dry.  If you've not over-mixed the underpainting, the paint will suggest where some of the rocks will go. 

Look for places where you can make angular shapes.  Hard edges, not soft, will suggest angularity.

Practice mixing colors on the paper and don't over mix them. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Somebody once said, Plan like a turtle, paint like a rabbit.  I used to think that I could visualize my paintings in advance.  I would draw directly on the paper, and end up erasing a lot of what I was trying to compose.  These days my sketchbook is filling up fast with all kinds of images.  I've learned to slow things down and plan my strategy of attack.  That way the  spontaneity of brush work is possible because I've already got a plan as to how to proceed and what colors I want to utilize.

Here's a pen and ink drawing from my sketchbook.  I mostly liked the result, but I did notice one thing.  The floating log in the distant water was pointing the same direction as the focal piece of driftwood in the foreground.  To stop the eye, in the drawing on the watercolor paper I decided to point the log back into the composition when I do the final painting, something I may not have thought of until the painting was finished.

Get those sketchbooks out!   Doodle, sketch, draw, and plan, plan, plan.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Importance of Darks

When I paint a subject like this one, I'll often get to the midtones and then start thinking about how to highlight the focal point.  More often than not, I'll start putting in really dark values near the point I want to emphasize.  Then I'll work out from there, diluting the value as I go to retain the strong contrast I've created around my focal area. 

This approach also has the added benefit of "forcing the lights", a term I learned from Robert E. Wood's book to describe the dramatic lighting that can occur as a result of extreme contrasts of value.

One thing to be aware of:  If the values around the dark are all light, the dark shapes will pop out instead of the object or area that you want to give attention to.  So try to get midtones leading up to the darks as a transition. This is especially apparent in the water where the near water is dark, but there is a midtone transitioning to the highlighted area in the reflection of the tree.

So much to think about, isn't there?!

Don't forget my workshop in Acadia, Maine---Sept. 16 - 20th.  Still a few spots left.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Road Trip and Sketchbook

One last entry from the road.  This is the famous drawbridge over Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine where I spent a delightful evening and night.  The photo is the view from my room.  Next stop, Boothbay Harbor!