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.