Wednesday, December 31, 2014


The first washes of a watercolor are likely to be covered by succeeding washes.  So why include them in the first place?

Because watercolor is transparent, the first washes can influence the second or even third wash.  The first wash may also determine the temperature of the finished painting.  Will the painting be primarily warm or cool?  The first wash may provide the relief from the final temperature.  A warm undertone may be the contrast for the cool dominant hues. 

In this painting of a Roman piazza, I wanted a warm hue to dominate the painting.  I flooded the middle part of the paper with yellow ochre.  Then quickly I extended the first wash with cooler, more neutral hues.  After all was dry, I placed darker, but same temperature colors on top.  If you glaze a cool over a warm or a warm over a cool, you will probably wind up with "mud". 

Finally, be bold with the underpainting.  If it is too diluted, it can't do its job.  The white of the paper can fool you into thinking you've gone too dark, but the second wash will prove that wrong.

Happy glazing!

Monday, December 29, 2014


In my previous post I showed you the value sketch for the painting of St. Mark's Plaza in Venice.  I painted it this morning and it was just yucky!  There wasn't enough going on.  There weren't enough interruptions in the straight line of the bottom of the building, and my brush strokes got too careful and slow.  What to do, what to do?

I remembered all the little cafes around the plaza, and of course, the crowded square.  I decided that some umbrellas would echo the domes and by placing them where I did they also repeated the oblique line of the shadow coming from the bell tower.  I kept the sky quiet, and the large shadow area is also without texture.  That way the "action" stays in the focal area of the buildings and with the people sitting having their espressos.

I think the rapidity of my strokes helped to keep the shapes simple and not too overstated.  In my first attempt, I used flat brushes which lead me to define the edges too carefully. I switched to a big mop brush in the second painting which caused me to be looser. 

The lesson of the day was to speed up my painting process and keep the details to a minimum. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I spent my Christmas Eve sketching the value study for the painting of St. Mark's Plaza in Venice that I will do today.  It's from my collection of slides I took in Europe many years ago.  The lacy quality of the buildings and the big shadow from the bell tower attracted my interest.

One more advantage of doing a value study before you paint is that it gives you a chance to think about color choices.  Since the sun is behind the buildings, I decided that the sky should be a gradation of yellow.  That choice leads me to think that the complement of yellow--violet--should be featured in the silhouette of the architecture.  That contrast will enliven both colors.

I'll keep the details in the interior shape of the cathedral to a minimum.  The abstract shapes of the piece are then emphasized and the color should further carry the day.

What a happy way to spend my Christmas day while the turkey is in the oven!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Finding Subject Matter

After going through the same stack of photos for the umpteenth time looking for something to paint, I suddenly thought, I wish I could paint some of my photos of Europe.  Only trouble is, they are on slides.  I didn't want to burn up the slide projector bulb finding and then sketching or painting the great scene.

I solved the problem by projecting my slides on the wall and then photographing the projected image with my instamatic camera.  It worked great, and now I have about fifty photos to work from this winter when I'm in Florida and the weather isn't cooperative.

I'm still a convert to the belief that a value sketch is a desired first step to creating a well designed painting.  So here is the value sketch and painting of a couple of tin mines along the coast of Cornwall, England.

Friday, December 5, 2014


With all that's been happening in my hometown these days, I just haven't felt like painting.  Sometimes our emotional state affects our ability to concentrate on our painting life.  But finally I forced myself into the studio.  I combed through my photos and found a pic I took in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut years ago.  I returned to an old theme: dockside subject matter.  I also love painting reflections in water and boats. Finding quiet in this kind of setting soothes my anxieties. 

I'm thinking that with Christmas coming, maybe I ought to try a snow scene.  A return to thinking about painting leads to actual painting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Another Demo

Lately I've been emphasizing the importance of the value sketch as a prelude to painting.  There are enough decisions to make while painting;  pre-planning an important one like value placement is paramount.  Because watercolor is such a fast drying medium, knowing where the big shapes and their associated values will be located is a big factor in the outcome.  Mixing up a puddle large enough and dark enough to cover that area requires a plan.

This is the demo that I did for the Art World Association at their monthly meeting last week.  I had the value sketch in front of me so they could see what I was thinking as I was in the process of painting.  Without that roadmap, neither they nor I could guess what I was thinking as I painted.

 I also find value sketches and drawings extremely satisfying in their own right.  I have dozens of sketchbooks that I've kept throughout the years.  Many times instead of going through hundreds of photos looking for subject matter, I pull out a sketchbook and thumb through it for inspiration.  And then, half the work is already done.  Whatever makes our work easier!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bold Color

I've posted several recent paintings that feature the saved white shapes of barns.  Here's one where I tried to emphasize the bold color in the sky area by placing a dark silhouette against it.  Also, to avoid monotony in the fishing gear on the dock, I used a few well-placed reds. 

Bold color doesn't have to appear everywhere in a painting.  It can be emphasized by using contrasting darks with little vibrant color.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pre-planning and Values

Knowing where your darkest darks and lightest lights will go is an essential step in getting a painting that "reads."  The shapes will be easier to paint if they are clearly stated in your value sketch.  In this case the dark trees do not need to be individually created, but are suggested at the edge of the shape so I could make a good shape which interlocks with its background.  The dark also sets off the focal area around the barn.  Painting them first allowed me to key the value of the barn and its shadows and to keep them light enough . 

Study the dark tree shape also for color changes.  The trees are dark, but I was still able to change colors to provide interest.  A mixture of warm and cool darks mixed on the page provides an entertaining shape. 

Doing the work of making a value sketch makes painting quicker and therefore, I hope, fresher. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Being Bold With the Darks

This was a demo for my workshop to illustrate the importance of darks.  The contrasts between darks and lights will automatically draw your eye.  But, there is a tendency to be timid when painting the darks.  I suppose it is the fear of going too dark and not being able to retract your decision.

That is why the value sketch is so important.  If you know that you are going to place a dark value shape in a certain area, you can apply the dark with more confidence. 

Also knowing where the darks will be placed allows you to paint through that area with a midtone before placing the dark on top of the first wash.

Darks are powerful as shapes or accents.   Use them smartly to accentuate the areas you want your viewers to be drawn to.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Workshop Demo

This is the demo that I did from the sketch in the previous post.  I was trying to illustrate how to get bolder colors in your watercolor paintings.  One way is to mix the colors on the page, especially with two warm colors or two cool colors.  Another way to get glowing colors is to place complementary colors next to each other.  A third way is to place a dark valued color next to its complement.  In this painting, I've employed all three techniques.  See if you can identify where each of the three approaches occur.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

More Getting Ready

Tomorrow is the first of 4 half day workshops I'm giving in St. Charles, Missouri.  This time the emphasis will be on values and shapes, and then creating bold color statements.  Of the two, I think that the preparation for distinct values and creating interesting, energetic shapes is the more important one.  I used to skip over this when teaching, reasoning that I had the values in my head.  Students could see the shapes I had devised because the drawing was on the page.  But they were not mind readers, and they couldn't see the plan as to where I was going to put the darks, midtones and values.

Now I see that is exactly where most students need help.  Having a clear plan helps speed up the paint application process which keeps the painting fresh and transparent. 

Here's tomorrow's subject with values.

A reminder:  I am available for workshops in your area!

Friday, October 24, 2014


I love giving demos to art groups!  Last night I gave a demonstration based on the sketch of the farm in the last post.  As you can see, from photo to completed painting, I made several changes along the way.

I decided first that a slight tilt in the terrain might improve the dynamics of direction by providing an oblique for more energy.  I also decided that overlapping the line of trees behind the barn with the mountains would help set off the light orange fall foliage.  I also made one of the birch trees in the foreground bigger so as to give it more weight.  It serves the purpose of stopping the eye from going off the picture plane as well.

A very obvious change was made in the barn.  I changed its color from red to white.  I was concerned that the darker value of a red barn wouldn't draw your eye in to the focal area and wouldn't "read" as well.  I then added a different shaped shed on the right side of the scene for balance.  Texture was created on the stone wall on the right with fence posts hinted at.  And finally the stone wall in the foreground was made a bit darker to sandwich the farm scene with darker values.

Good composition doesn't just magically happen.  Think about what you are trying to say and devise ways to say it using design principles and elements.

Thanks to the Greater St. Louis Art Association for their invitation to talk with everyone about my favorite subject:  painting watercolors!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Getting Ready

I have two demos and four workshop days in the next two days, so I'm getting compositions ready for all of them.  Here's one sketch I plan to use.  I'm also posting the original photo to show you what I was working with.  The farm is in Vermont. 

The barn in the middle ground is the main subject so I surrounded it with the greatest value contrast.
When I paint it, the barn will have the most color, with the background and outlying areas going to muted color.

I also made the ground an oblique for added interest.  I eliminated a few buildings, and emphasized the stone wall in the foreground. 

Go through your photos and edit them for subject matter and then eliminate anything that takes from the center of interest.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Don't Be Afraid of Color

There was a time when I avoided certain colors because they were so aggressive.  Red was especially intimidating.  Over time, however, I began to realize that I was drawn to paintings with lots of reds and oranges and other warm colors.  I started experimenting, making color a subject in and of itself.

I've painted this scene a hundred times.  A realistic interpretation demands blue sky, green trees and brown rocks.  But producing a glowing, color-unified painting requires more thought.  I was not trying to depict a sunset when I chose this warm palette; I was trying to evoke a response to a color choice that was more personal to me and that produced an emotional reaction in the viewer.

Using a bit of the complement at the focal point was also a deliberate choice.  Adding relief in the choice of green makes the red all the more powerful.

The subject matter is still a lighthouse, but the primary subject--the colors-- evokes a mood and conveys my personal response to the scene.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Painting in a Series

Finding subjects that repeatedly attract your attention is a fun way to track your painting progress.
Here are several painting done in the past year of bridges. 

I'm on the way home from my summer in Maine in my new car.  More paintings to follow soon when I get settled.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

One of the reasons I paint is so that I can say to my viewers, Look what I saw today!  Knowing what you like to look at is a good indicator of what you should be painting. 

I love to look at bridges.   I know it's nostalgic to paint covered bridges, but I like all kinds of bridges, and I like to look at them from different angles.  I especially like the lacy quality of some bridges against the sky.

Here's the bridge over the Kennebec River in Bath, Maine.  I painted this from a riverside park just before I went to the State Farm office in Brunswick to collect the insurance check on my poor totaled car.  It certainly cheered me to be back painting after a troubled week and a half of dealing with the accident.

Know what you like to look at!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Demo on Layering

To give unity, I started with an overall wash upon which I could build succeeding layers.  Next, I chose a color nearby on the color wheel to create a midtone.  Finally, I added darks closest to where I wanted the viewer's eyes to land.  The resulting painting has an overall cool color dominance with some warmth added for contrast.  Some areas were left white for extra "pop".  The buoys in the foreground were included to break up the rather rectangular area of water, and also to guide the eye to the lobster boat where it could begin to circulate among the elements of the wharf.

I chose to paint on dry paper for this painting which creates all hard edges.  This is a good subject to experiment with painting on a pre-wetted page to have some underlying soft edges.  I can also switch to a warm dominance.  So many possibilities!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


It might be a bit before I get back to my regular blogging, but I wanted to let you know why. 

Monday my car was hit as I started across an intersection here in Boothbay Harbor.  My car was demolished, and so now I have to deal with rental cars, insurance details and getting a new car so I can drive home to Missouri.  I may not have much time to paint in the coming weeks, but I may dig back and find some older work to discuss.  Don't give up on my blog; I love teaching and sharing my work.  Thanks for your patience.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Underpainting To Create Unity

I first learned about the power of underpainting by studying the work of Robert E. Wood.  Painting an abstract first wash can unify the painting by providing a table upon which to place your subject matter.

The underpainting can either be hard-edged, achieved by painting on dry paper, or soft edged by painting on a pre-wetted page.  The underlying shapes can be predominantly vertical, horizontal or oblique.  A color dominance can also be established.  If a warm underpainting is chosen, putting a secondary wash of cools over it, especially near the focal point, will draw the eye by contrast. 

In this painting of a wharf, I chose a first wet-in-wet wash consisting primarily of turquoise and violet.  After this was dry, I repeated those colors in the second wash, but added some warms in the upper part of the main building, on the hull of the lobster boat and in the barrel on the dock.  I tried to keep the shapes large until the very last details were added at the end.

This technique is not as easy as it first sounds.  But limit the number of colors while you create the abstract pattern in the underpainting, and you will have a better chance of success.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mixing Colors on the Paper

Over-mixing two or more colors can occur on the palette or the paper.  The more you squish the colors together, the more uniform and dull the resulting color.  To avoid this problem, you can use two methods.

First, tilt the paper to at least a 45 degree angle.  Now you can rely on gravity to do some of the mixing for you. 

Next, brush on a wet, juicy swatch of pure color, say alizarin crimson.  While this first wash is still very wet, apply another color, maybe a blue. Run this color across the area.  Do NOT keep going back and forth over the same spot!  Start with another brush load of paint right where you left off the last one.  If you want to gradate the value, add a little more water to your palette color.  Let gravity do its thing, and the two colors will mix.

The second way to mix colors on the page takes a little more patience.  Put the first wash down and let it dry COMPLETELY!  Then load up your brush with the second color and a fair amount of water.  Make sure the water goes all the way up to the feral. Then stroke the second wash on top of the first, being careful not to push down into the paper.  If there is enough water and paint, you can just use the tip of the brush.  Gravity will release the water from the end of the brush, and you won't have to press down or go back and forth over the page.  That's where the "mud" comes from.

Here are some exercises I did for my student yesterday.  In the first one, I just went around the color wheel.  That takes the pressure off in deciding which color to use next.  In the second exercise, I used the same colors, but not in the same order. 

Practice  will give you confidence.  If you are hesitant and slow, the water will go damp instead of wet, and that will also result in an unsatisfying mixture.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Laurel's Lesson

I'm teaching a private student for two days.  Today's lesson was on mixing colors on the paper rather than mixing them on the palette. 

I started by mixing the primary colors to create the secondary colors:  blue and yellow make green, blue and red make violet, and yellow and red make orange.  (bottom row).

Then we mixed complementary colors on the page to create a range of grays. (Top row)  Blue and orange (actually burnt sienna which is a dirty orange),  green and red for a cool gray, and yellow and violet for a warmer gray.

Next I painted the quarter sheet sized painting of the lighthouse and beach.  My point was that literally translating green pine trees a uniform color and tone doesn't produce much excitement or credit for being accurate.  Exciting color comes from mixing the colors on the paper, juxtaposed just enough that the colors bleed into each other.  Going back and forth over the same area with too many brushstrokes over-mixes the colors and will make them appear muddy.  Put down any warm color, then immediately paint a cool color next to it so the two bleed together.  Continue to apply color as you did in the practice squares.

Finally, I showed Laurel how to remove some paint by applying wet strokes to the dry wash mixtures, counting to ten slowly, and then wiping the area where the clear water is with Kleenex.  That created the trees, the sun and its reflection, the petals and the lighthouse.  Then you can glaze over the initial wash with some darker values. 

These practice exercises are the equivalent to practicing scales in music.  Don't stop practicing.  Practice until it becomes second nature, and then you can speed up your painting decisions and keep your washes fresh and lively.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Peopling Your Landscapes

As much as I love rocks and islands, paintings of them can be rather mundane.  There are several ways to liven up such a barren scene.

First, color.  Accurately painting gray and brown rocks can sometimes kill any enthusiasm for the literal results.  Splashing in a hint of pink or turquoise or a pathway of moss covered rocks can give interest to an ordinary scene.

Second, light.  Connecting the light shapes will not only help guide the viewer's eyes, but provide a mood.

Third, consider putting some figures in your landscape.  That will immediately draw the eye and give actual life to the scene.  The tiny man-made object in the distance, the schooner, also suggests human presence, without taking over the main theme of granite and limestone rocks.

(And don't make the heads too large or round!)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Non-artists, as well as non-watercolorists, often ask me how I start a watercolor.  In this watercolor I decided to paint everything that wasn't going to remain white first.  I started with the wet in wet sky area, but painted right over the roof and the shadow parts of the dock building and then into the water. I seldom stop the first wash when it gets to an area, like the roof, that is going to eventually be darker.  I changed colors subtly along the way, but when I got finished with the first wash, most of the entire page was covered.  That was allowed to dry.

When I came back in, I glazed the second wash as a warm pinkish hue right on top of the cooler blues.  I splashed in a few yellow ochres here and there to warm up the second layer.  I then completely dried this second wash. 

I used the third wash to loosely define some areas on the building by cutting around barrels and crates to emphasize them with a darker toned background. 
The last wash involved the reflections in the water.  I painted them in one pass, gradating the value and color as I went.

Last, and most scary, I had to throw in some accents (not shapes) of wooden beams and hoists which overlapped everything that came before.  I was also careful not to make the flagpole as dark as the foreground verticals, since it would draw attention away from the focal area.  Other accents at this finishing stage included the distant boats out on the horizon.

In short, I didn't paint any objects in the first wash.  I try to think of the first wash as the unifying layer.  No boats, roofs, poles, buildings;  just a large mass of unifying color. Glazing warm over cool, or cool over a warm first wash, will build up richer, un-muddied color. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014


If the focal point and major subject is the lobster boat, finding ways to balance the other objects and the background is paramount to create a pleasing composition.  First, I balanced the right side of the painting with another lobster boat.  The dark building on the left side helps to frame the subject and prevent the eye from going off the page.    The boat on the left far side and the house to the right on the far shore break up the water shape and the tree shapes. 

The dock and boat with their textures and warm colors keep your eye in the foreground.  Gradation in the water leads the eye back to the reflections in the water. 

All of these things take some fore thought and planning.  A good composition is created with balance in mind.

Monday, August 25, 2014


When on location, I often tell my students to keep it simple.  But that bit of advice can go right over the heads of a person who is bombarded with so much information.  The temptation is always to include as many details as possible.  So the advice to Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)  remains a mere slogan rather than a practical solution.

So, how does a painter keep it simple? 

1.  Squint at your subject.  This will help you see shapes more easily.  While squinting, concentrate on identifying shapes:  rectangles, triangles, cones, silhouettes.

2.  Also while squinting, your eyes will filter out the little details that some students feel so obligated to include.  windows, doors, shutters, shingles, lattice work, etc.  Those can be added later when the major shapes are solidified.

3.  Also while squinting, find the three major values:  lights, darks and midtones.  That will be helpful in deciding what to paint first.

4.  Finally, avoid trying to duplicate the actual colors in front of you.  Decide on two or three colors and the grays that they create when combined.  Simplified!

And since I'm simplifying my advice, I'll stop there! 

Friday, August 22, 2014


Sometimes I have to remember that zooming in can come in aid of the subject.  Depicting the entire harbor scene can confuse the viewer about what you are drawn to.  This boat just attracted my attention because of the 'bimini' which shaded the wheel house area. 

I also had a great running conversation with the captain of this vessel.  He and his friend kept going back and forth to get ice and other supplies for their brief sail out in the bay.  They were quite entertaining, assuring me that I had another 45 minutes before the boat sailed.  Sure enough, I finished just  before they set sail. 

Zoom in and eliminate details out beyond the primary subject.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Sometimes, when my more realistic approach to painting a subject fails, I resort to a technique that involves an abstract under painting.  Using a dominant color gives the painting unity before you paint the subject matter on top of it.  I often use a complementary color near the focal point.  The edges can be hard or soft in the under-painting.  I tend to use soft edges. 

After two tries painting this scene realistically, I had two pea green messes.  So in frustration, I turned the paper over and wet the entire page and then flooded it with violet shapes, adding yellow near the focal area.  When this was dry, I added the darker shapes of the subject matter on top of the under-painting, ignoring the background.  I used basically the same two colors in the overpainting that I had in the abstract first wash.

Robert Wood was a master of this technique.  His book has a whole chapter on this approach.  Practice this idea many times, and eventually you'll get the hang of it.  It's a liberating way to approach your subject, and will help you avoid the trap of painting the literal truth of a subject but missing the vitality and liveliness of its hidden truth.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Memorizing/Recalling Details

I went to one of my favorite painting locations today on the east side of Boothbay Harbor.  Sometimes, when nothing strikes me immediately, I tell myself to be patient;  maybe something will happen.

Sure enough, suddenly right in front of me, the Friendship sloop The Bay Lady sailed right past me, and just as she passed, the first mate started taking down the sails.  That action and the warmth of the sail gave me the impetus to quickly jot down some details.

Of course, I've painted this little sloop many times, so I could rely on memory for some of the major ideas.  But the sails, which are actually pretty white, looked almost yellow to me this afternoon.  And I also tried to memorize some of the rigging lines.  I would estimate my time to memorize the details I wanted to include lasted all of about 30 seconds. 

Later when tourists come by, they, of course, look puzzled.  "Where do you see that boat?"  Sometimes I like to mess with their heads and say, "Wait.  You mean you can't see that boat?"  They slowly back away with worried looks on their faces.  (See entry about The Bore Who Came To Stay, "Onlookers"  July 26th.  This is another great technique to get rid of unwanted visitors, as some people are inclined to believe that all artists are ready to slash their ear off at a moment's provocation.)

But again, studying, sketching, looking intently for details you want to include are all a part of producing plein air works.  Train your eyes as much as your hands.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sketching For the Fun of It

This summer I've been teaching a private student about the elements of drawing.  That has inspired me to get my sketchbook out again.  I love the quiet study, sitting in an Adirondack chair on my dock here in Maine, sketching my cove or my back yard.  Today I went to my weekly happy hour at Robinson's Wharf a bit early so I could sketch some of the lobster boats tied up to the dock.  When I was finished, my friends introduced me to the captain of the lobster boat I had sketched.    My easel and my sketchbook have opened a door to the local fishermen that wouldn't have happened without putting pencil and paint to paper.

Be willing to put yourself out there to the locals around you.  It's a reward beyond money and official praise!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ongoing Series

One more Queen Anne's Lace painting. 

Silhouettes of rocks are relatively easy.  But as they get closer, you need to add some texture and vary the color a bit.  Some dry brush gets the texture done.  Be sure to alter the value and temperature of the rocks as well.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Annual Subjects

Choosing subjects is an eternal concern for realistic painters.  But at certain times of the year, the matter of picking a subject is made easier by the reappearance of certain items.  In August here in Maine, for me it's the  blooming of Queen Anne's Lace.

I know it's a weed, but its lacey quality appeals to me.  How to achieve that delicate look is a problem that I  choose to solve without the use of any masking agent.  Rather, I drag a dry brush around the half-dome shape of the flower.  Then  I use a very small rigger to dot some pinpoints in the interior or along the edges.  Finally, I add some shading to give a rounded, three dimensional feel.

The background surrounding the flowers has sometimes been a problem.  In the past I've darkened the area around the flowers in a uniform dark value.  Nowadays, I darken only one side and gradate to a mid-tone by the time I get to the other side or the underside of the flowers. 

Here are two examples of the ongoing August series.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What's It All About, Alfie?

There was so much to paint at historic Fort Edgecomb where the Plein Air Painters of Maine gathered to paint today.   Signs, water, trees, the fort, the fences and flowers.  My problem was elimination and placement.  Everything seemed to conspire to place my chosen subject, the fort, in the center of the composition and to eliminate anything that detracted from that subject. 

To avoid that problem, I moved the fort slightly to the right and balanced it with the sign structures on the left.  I threw in a couple of figures to break the straight treeline, and concentrated on making the fort one shape rather that including every shingle and window opening.  The sky was overcast, causing the fort to be in a flat light, so I consciously decided to invent the sun's position in the sky so as to create the planes of the fort to be in shadow, and the cast shadows to help emphasize the lights on the building.  I eliminated many elements, such as the fences, other signs, and the foreground subjects so that the fort was the main subject. 

 I was surprised that many of my fellow painters had chosen to come to Fort Edgecomb but not paint the subject that was most obvious.  If you come to a site which has an obvious emphasis and paint only the natural elements --trees and water--then why did you come to this location?  Avoiding an architectural subject that is so prominent doesn't seem to make much sense. 

I found many other possible subjects at this site and will probably return there sometime this summer..  More to come!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lines or No Lines

Some subjects require careful drawing on the paper prior to painting them.  Other subjects merely need a light sketch to indicate placement and size.  But sometimes I like to start in painting with no pencil lines at all, rather just a firm idea of where everything will be.

On the topic of erasing the pencil lines after the painting is completed.  Most of the time the paint covers up the lines.  In lighter values, though, sometimes the lines remain visible.  That doesn't bother me at all.  In fact, I think that it is interesting to see the plan that the artist had. 

Be careful not to become an artist who colors inside the lines.  Just because you've drawn a line doesn't mean you can't leave an edge soft or merge shapes by using the same values where they meet.

Above all, be flexible.  If you do use a line drawing, don't become a slave to it.  Evaluate and adjust the plan as you proceed.  Rigidity makes for a very mechanical look.  Swing that brush and splash away!

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Yesterday my friend Tracy L. who is visiting from New York City, came with me to Ocean Point because she wanted to watch me paint.  She had no idea how a watercolorist proceeds and was very attentive as I worked from light to dark, large to small, and  smooth to a more textured area in the foreground.

Early in the painting stages, a man came by and started the conversation by stating that he, too, was a painter.  But he was the kind of onlooker that I've come to know and dread over the years:  The Bore Who Came To Stay. He wanted me to look at photos of his oil paintings right when I was in the middle of a tricky wash.  Then he wanted to know how much I charged for my work, not because he was interested in buying, but because he wanted to gauge how much he should charge for his own work.  He didn't ask permission to take photos of my painting; he just barged forward and took them.

How to swat away such outdoor pests?  Sometimes, if they are standing too close, I "accidentally" splatter water on them.  I also have taken the painting off the easel to dry the first wash in the sun and purposely leave it long enough for them to get bored watching paint dry and exit.  If they begin taking photos, saying they are going to copy my work, I explain copyright laws and that they could be sued.  Then I ask them their name.

Most people are very considerate and complementary when they see an artist on location.  I enjoy chatting with interesting viewers.  Once in a while, if I really like the conversation we've had, I offer to let them pose in front of my completed painting with one of my brushes.  That never fails to draw smiles!  But sometimes The Bore Who Came To Stay will start to distract and annoy.  It's nice to have some ammo in your repertoire to shoo them away so you can get back to work!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Power of Neutrals

I'm still playing with the complementary colors red and green.  In this painting of a boatyard in East Boothbay, red and green are mixed to a neutral gray in most instances, the result being a painting largely dependent on strong values.  The two pops of pure color occur in the figures.   They stand out mainly because of the neutral grays.

Next I will switch to another complementary combination, either yellow and violet or blue and orange.  Experimenting with color will help you get over any painter's block you may be experiencing.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Complementary Colors

Red and green....Complementary colors.  Neutralized red, neutralized green, warm bridge house, warm beach, and that warm spot of red on the clam digger.  The red of the clam digger's shirt is contrasted against the green reflections in the water to his right.  Grays on the other buildings except for the bridge house which is bathed in warmer neutralized colors.  Also the footbridge itself is a neutralized red.  So basically, this painting is comprised of red and green complements, sometimes pure, but more often, the reds and greens are neutralized by the complement to form grays away from the center of interest.

The bridge house and the clam digger are both on the thirds with warmer colors, while everything on the outer edges is a neutralized gray made from those two colors. 

Complementary color schemes are only one of several subjects concerning color that I'll be teaching about at my September workshop here in Boothbay Harbor....Sept. 8th - 12th.  Please consider coming  to enjoy painting in this lovely area at a great time of year.  Contact:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Knowing the Reason

On Wednesdays, the Plein Air Painters of Maine meet in different locations around the peninsula.  Yesterday we went to Hendrick's Head Light, which we've all painted a hundred times.  So some of us painted the old Victorian house overlooking the beach.  And a couple of us chose to paint these Adirondack chairs.

Along with many other people, I love Adirondack chairs.  They're comfortable and look inviting.  But yesterday it was the light falling on these two--- on the top left corner, the up-facing arm rests, and the top of the seat---that took my breath away.

Knowing what enthralls, delights and summons you to your subject will give you a sense of purpose in your painting.  More and more often, for me it is the quality of the light that I seek to portray.

Stop for a moment and consider what it is you want to communicate.  Color and light are good places to start.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Importance of the Oblique


It's been said before:  horizontals are restful, verticals are formal and dignified, and obliques have energy.

     Obliques, which some people refer to as diagonals, guide the viewer's eyes.  Look carefully at this painting of Ocean Island, and you'll find lots of horizontals, a few verticals, and several subtle obliques.  The road is, of course, the most obvious oblique, and it guides you into the painting, stopping briefly at the focal point of the stone gate before continuing on to the trees on the island.  The bush on the left and the left side of the tree shape on the island also gently lead your eye back to the stone structure. The very small indication of some driftwood on the rocks is also an oblique pointer.    

One word of caution:  Diagonals cut things into two equal parts or shapes.  That's one reason to avoid starting them in corners.

Choose your placement of obliques carefully to come in aid of the composition.