Sunday, June 22, 2014

Locating Your Subject

This old boat is out in the bay here in Boothbay Harbor.  The subject is obviously the boat, but the iconic Catholic Church locates the scene as well as providing a secondary interest point.

Size is a key factor in promoting the main subject, the boat.  Intense color and value contrasts around the church play up its secondary role.  As the shoreline moves away from the church, it becomes more neutral.  The other buildings are less defined, even only hinted at. 

For viewers who like to know where a subject was located, using a local landmark will satisfy that need.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Framing Your Subject

Before you put a frame around your masterpiece, you need to think about framing your subject within the composition.  In this scene, the rocks and pine trees on the right side were really much farther to the right, but I needed them as a frame for the lighthouse and island.  So I moved them!  That's something that your camera can't do. 

The dark values in the foreground also provide a foil to the light on the island.  Our eyes are drawn to the light, so overlapping that area with darker values cause the eyes to go outward to the lighthouse.

The approach, therefore, is to paint the background first, coming forward to the island and then to the darker foreground.  Again, plan the values, and the colors will be able to sing.

These helpful hints and others will be explained in detail in my workshop in Boothbay Harbor, Maine the week of Sept. 8 - 12, 2014.  Contact me at for more information. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Including Figures in Landscapes

Sometimes I look at paintings of street scenes and architectural subjects and wonder where all the people went.  Including figures can provide scale, movement, and life to a scene. 

The trick is to avoid painting figures that look stuck on.  If your figures are to be an accessory to the scene, there is no need for great detail.  The man in this painting came by twice.  He had on a plaid shirt, and I joked with him that he would be travelling incognito in my painting, having also removed his mustache! 

Whatever the speed of your brushstrokes, it should not change when it comes to including figures.  The fear of painting figures comes from too much attention to details and not enough to shapes. 

I love the architecture in this scene, and by placing a couple of figures in it, I provide some other spectators the opportunity to love their surroundings, too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Intense Color vs. Neutrals

Directing the viewer's eye to the focal point doesn't happen by accident.  Planning is crucial.  You can use directional lines, values, textures and color intensity.  In this painting I've used all of these.  But the most important is color intensity. 

The red hull of the old trawler is surrounded by neutrals.  Red is a bold and attention-getting color. By surrounding it with grays, the red is highlighted and intensified.  The red is also repeated in the flag. The darker values in the background come in aid of the focal point by popping the whites.

Plan, plan, plan.  Consider the elements and principles before subject matter accuracy. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Forest and Trees

Remember the old saying, "You can't see the forest for the trees."?   My goal is to paint the forest paying less tribute to individual trees.

In this painting of a dock scene in Boothbay Harbor,  there were buildings (too many), boats, (too many), pilings, awnings, dock debris, bait barrels, lobster traps, buoys (too many!)  You have to eliminate some things in order to say the most important thing.  For me in this instance, it was the afternoon light and shadows. 

Accuracy is not the same as art.  Ed Whitney once famously said, "I don't want the truth; I want a beautiful lie."  Someone else said,  "It's a poem not a police report."  Try to tell the story of what you saw, not the polaroid version.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Getting Back in the Groove

I think I'm finally settled back here in Boothbay, Maine.  So many set-up chores:  banking, grocery staples, buying  flowers and herbs and planting window boxes, and entertaining friends two days after my arrival.  Now it's quieted down, and I can once again get the easel out and do some plein air painting. 

This scene is at the end of my daily walk here on Hiawatha Trail.  I can think of several things I'd like to do over in this piece.  I felt it got a little busier than I had imagined it in my head.  That is a problem with painting on location.  You see so many details and textures that seem important at the moment.  But I need to recognize where the big shapes are first, and worry about details and texture the last five minutes of the painting process. 

At any rate, I've got the first one out of the way and am already looking forward to tomorrow!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Glazing for layers.

In this painting, which I did on the side of a New Hampshire roadway,  I considered what the procedure would have to be.  There are only three things that can change in any one shape:  value, color, and texture.  Light to dark values:  sky, far distant mountains overlapped by progressively darker values as I moved forward with each plane.  Colors:  cooler to warmer in the foreground.
Textures:  Smoother shapes in the background to more rough textures and edges in the foreground.

Plan for a few minutes thinking about these three things.  Then you can paint rather quickly and keep your glazes fresh and clean.