Friday, January 30, 2015


                                    "Coquina Beach"
                                                                      15" X 22"

Concentrating on values rather than color can make the painter's job much easier.  The wet-into-wet sky and foreground first wash employed yellow ochre with a touch of burnt sienna very lightly applied.  Work quickly so the colors will blend.  If you don't work fast, the page will start to dry. 

The second wash is a series of graded washes which establishes the major shapes.  Steer clear of any textures at this stage.  You can shift from cool to warm within a shape, but try to grade the wash from mid-tone to light.

Finally, suggest textures at the edges of the darker shapes.  Try to connect the darks so those areas don't "float" alone on the top of your previous washes.  This is also the time for some calligraphic marks and accents.

Three steps:  Wet-into-wet for soft edges.  Graded shapes for the midtones.  And dark shapes with some textures at the last stage.  And that's how you K.I.S.S.  (Keep it simple, Stupid!)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Plein Air vs. Studio Painting.

In the 1860's, the French Impressionists veered way off the course chosen by their traditional predecessors.  First, they rejected the salon-type of subject matter, i.e. mythological or religious subject matter, in favor of landscapes and the play of light and effects of color on the viewer.
Second, they moved their studios outdoors to experience the light firsthand rather than rely on memory or sketches.

I've been a plein air painter for most of my adult painting life.  I love being in the open air, with the sounds, quickly changing light and tides, and even the effect that the temperature and smells have on me while painting.  Looking long and carefully at the scene in front of you gives an intensity of experience that is less likely to occur when working from a photo or sketch. 

 However, in winter or when you have limited time which makes being outside difficult or impossible to paint on the spot, I need to keep my hand and brain engaged in the activity of painting, so I have resorted to using photos to generate a value sketch and then produce a finished painting.

In doing so, I've become less of a snob about having to be outdoors.  I find pleasure in working up a value sketch and painting from it.  I've also found that this gives me the time to think about how to proceed: which values to paint first, second, third, etc., as well as considering what colors to choose.  This is the case with the value sketch in the previous painting and the finished work above. I would like to have been on the spot in Austria where I snapped this scene from a tour bus in the early '70's, but I couldn't be.  But I painted anyway. 

I still recommend a value sketch when working indoors rather than working directly from a photo.  We tend to restrict ourselves and become too literal with only the frozen scene captured on film.  It gives you more leeway and familiarizes you with the scene without becoming a slave to the mentality that proclaims defensively, "Well, that's the way it was."

Happy painting on this day before the big blizzard of 2015!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Importance of the Value Sketch

A couple of workshops ago when I told my students that I would prefer to see a value sketch before they started painting,  one student  produced a revealing effort.

There was a fairly accurate line drawing of the lighthouse, with an outline of the roof, the windows and doors, and the top of the light.  There was an indication of trees along the shore and the rocks on the beach.  The problem was that there were no value differences in those shapes.  Inside the tree shape there were some squiggles, an attempt to provide a textural suggestion of leaves, I think. 
More squiggles on the sides of the building and on the rocks.  All these areas were fairly light and tentative.

When I asked the student to point out the #1 value, she correctly identified the sky, but suddenly realized that the beach and water were also #1 values in her sketch.  She then identified the tree line as #2, but that was the extent of the the #2 value.  There were no #3 or #4 values. 

The problem was that she was confusing a line drawing with a value sketch.  There was also an attempt to indicate textures rather than values.  With only two values present, and those so close that they were barely distinguishable, her value sketch was basically useless.  A good value sketch can be a map as to what to paint first, second, third, etc. traditionally proceeding from light values to dark.   It can also be useful in conveying where the greatest contrasts in values occur, creating an area of interest.  Last, a value sketch can also tell you where to preserve the white shapes.

See if you can clearly label five values (not including the saved whites)  in this value sketch. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Power of Red

A couple of posts ago, I spoke of the power of a white shape.  White shapes have to be carved out.  In this painting of a local theatre here in Apalachicola, I used the local color of red to be the positive shape.  Being such an aggressive color, the red draws you in to the focal point.  Add a few figures waiting to purchase their tickets and you have an area of color and people who form the interest in the painting.

Happily, the painting sold to the owner of the theatre! 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Vertical Paintings

The "rule" of format is that landscapes are primarily horizontal and portraits are vertical.  But once in a while, a vertical format is the best choice for a landscape, which in this case emphasizes the narrowness and height of a city street in Rothenburg, Germany.

And don't forget the figures!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Power of Saved Whites

White is a powerful attractor, especially when the shape is interesting and it is surrounded by very strong midtones or darks. 

The white area in this tugboat didn't require much alteration to achieve an interesting shape.  The challenge was to emphasize it with strong and colorful colors and accents.

Covering a large area such as the sky in this painting can be daunting.  If you start on dry paper, the wash can quickly become filled with hard edges where you stop to pick up or mix more color.  In order to avoid that, I first mixed up a large puddle of thalo blue/green.  Then I wet the sky area with clear water almost to the white area. It was then easier to flood the area with color and adjust it by picking up some ultramarine blue or more thalo green. 

Values were extremely important in exploiting the pure white of the paper.  The white of the paper can fool you into thinking you're going dark enough, so I tried to think of going darker than I thought it should be.

When the sky and water were dry, I began to further punch up the whites with the trim on the boat.  I changed my blue to cobalt so it would be dark enough but warmer than the cool blues of the sky.

The final stage was to add the little red accents.