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.