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.