Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Disappearing Subjects

                                    Ocean Point Marina

When you paint boats in the harbor, it's not uncommon for the boat you picked out to paint to sail away.
But in a boatyard?  I had just finished the drawing of this scene on the watercolor paper when along came a boatyard worker with a cradle and hauled it away to the launching ramp!  I had my easel all set up and the drawing was finished, so I decided to forge ahead.  But I was standing in front of a big empty space, painting a boat that wasn't there, so I got a lot of strange looks!

But the worst case happened a few years back.  I was down on Boothbay Common painting a small Victorian cottage.  Halfway through the painting, a flatbed trailer pulled up, they jacked up the house,  loaded it up on the flatbed and hauled it away!  Now if you can't depend on a house staying put, I ask you, what can you count on??!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Maine Workshop

Just a reminder.....There's still time to sign up for my September workshop (9th - 13th) in beautiful Boothbay Harbor, Maine.  Great studio space, lovely plein air locations, fun people, and helpful, specific instruction. 

Tuition is still only $400.

Contact me at:      or                    207-633-6414

Five full days of concentrated painting will do wonders for your work.  Give yourself the gift of time, and come paint in Maine!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Avoiding Monotony en route

                                 Southport Boatyard

Ed Whitney used to caution students to "avoid monotony en route." 

So, you have a line.  It goes from point A to point B.  It's a long line.  Mr. Whitney would insist that you give us a break along the way by interrupting that line. 

So, you have a shape.  If it's a rectangle, try getting something to pop up from it, or overlap it with another shape to interrupt the first shape..

So you have line of trees.  Avoid the monotony by changing the color and the value en route.

In short, look for potential areas which could be monotonous and think of a way to make it more exciting and less monotonous. by changing color, texture or value along the way.  And definitely look for uninterrupted lines that need to be broken.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


                                Main Street - Waldoboro, Maine

Interesting shapes that interlock with their surroundings, creating negative shapes that are also interesting are always a priority when I'm designing silhouettes.  The silhouette in this painting is much more important than any noodling I could have done in the interior of the shape.  It also makes painting easier!  Watch your silhouettes and check to see if you are designing with interlocking shapes.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Still Life Paintings

I became a  landscape painter because still life paintings looked so static and boring to me.  All those fruits, flowers, and dead rabbits. 

But every once in a while I make a foray into the genre.  This scene of some hanging lanterns was inspired by the remnants of a bygone era hanging in my friend Joan's shed. 

I kept the colors in a kind of sepia tone.  The grey of tin and glass surrounded by warmer colors of the wooden interior made a striking contrast.  I've said it before:  restricting the colors, keeping a limited palette, allows you to concentrate on values.  And the slight tilt of the lanterns gave the still life some tension. 

Please leave a comment or reaction so I'll know you were here!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Horizon Lines

The horizon divides the painting into two parts:  sky and earth.  But, placing the horizon at or near the center of the composition will give equal weight to each part.  By putting the horizon higher up, it becomes an "earth" painting (sea included.)  If the horizon were low on the paper, there would be more emphasis on the sky.

So it's important to ask yourself, Which one do I want to emphasize?  If it's the sky, there had better be some drama there:  clouds, color, light or dark values.  If it's the earth, think about having several planes, and perhaps more texture in the foreground.

In this painting of Grimes Cove, I wanted to emphasize the earth portion of the painting.  There are about four planes working forward:  The far island, the near island, the rocks, and the tree/foliage.  And as I worked forward, there were more and more textures to entertain the eye.

When composing a landscape painting, decide first which area you want to emphasize.  Give that area the biggest space and shape, and the viewer will know what you want them to look at. Then, using values, colors and textures, show him what you found interesting in that area.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Relying On Memory

I have painted schooners, lobster boats, sail boats, row boats, shrimp boats and oyster boats so many times that their shapes are second nature to me.  So anytime I need a boat in a painting to add interest, I go to my repertoire and experience with boats. 

If you have an interest in some subject, draw it until you can do it on demand.  Find out what interests you, then study its shape and draw it from many angles.  I love all things afloat, and have learned a lot from boat owners and sailors.  Know what you love and show it to us!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Moon, Boat, Reflections

I missed the perigee moon last month due to rain, and overcast.  I wanted very badly to see that huge moon, and I was determined to work it into a painting.  Here's the painting.

It was a bright, clear, hot day, with about 50 boats in the harbor.  The trick is to say what you want to say.  I wanted to say "Moon, Boat, Reflections", so I chose a small trawler and made up the rest.  Several tourists came by and wondered if I had been out all night, presumably painting in the dark!  I explained narrowing of intent, and artistic license.  Some did not seem convinced and gave me a wide birth!

Elimination is often the hardest choice for a plein air painter to make.  With all that "accuracy" out there, the temptation is to be "truthful" at the expense of emotional content.  Before your wet brush hits the paper, stop and think what it is you want to communicate to the viewer.  If your list is too long, reduce it to two or three ideas.  It will not only focus your attention, it will also simplify the painting process.  After all, it is easier to say one boat than fifty!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lazy Days

Yesterday was hot and steamy.  There's only one place to be on such a day:  Ocean Point.  It was low tide, and I knew that when the tide turned it would bring a cool sea breeze.  Several other people had decided the same thing, and were basking in the sun, enjoying the sights of sailboats just off the coast.  That seemed to be what the day was about, so I decided to depict that.

In painting landscapes I often try to determine what the day is about.  That requires some personal reflection and reaction.  Stop, look and listen.  Something will surely call to you, and it's not always the first or most obvious element.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Normally I do not resort to using masking agents to preserve the white of the paper, preferring instead to paint around those areas.  But for this painting I needed to put in the sky in one flowing pass, so masking was the option.

When such a large part of the painting must be preserved, masking tape is the most efficient choice.
The most critical element is to choose a tape that is sticky enough to prevent leakage under the tape which would destroy the crisp edge that is desired.  Also make sure that the wash is completely dry before removing the tape.

I used scissors to form some of the shapes.  This may take a little time, but is well worth the effort.

Here's how the painting proceeded.  The scene is of Spring Ledge Breakwater Lighthouse near Portland, with Portland Head Light in the background.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Edge Quality

One kind of contrast to consider in your painting is edge quality.  All soft edges or all hard edges confuse the viewer.  By providing a contrast between hard and soft edges, you can direct the viewer's eye to a focal point.

The shoreline is often a place where hard edges are made, thus creating a straight, hard line.  By making a blurry, fuzzy soft edge, the viewer's eye will not stop there so readily.  Rooftops are another place where hard straight lines can over-define a shape that is not worth the attention.  Suggesting these elements with softer edges will cause the eye to seek out the harder edges.

In short, hard edges attract the eye, while soft edges keep the eye circulating around the composition.
A judicious use of both will come in aid of the focal point.