Thursday, July 30, 2015

Painting In A Series

My summer cottage is at the end of a long cove.  There is a working dock across the way, and some of the debris from the fisherman's gear has washed up on the bank across the road.  An old rowboat has been washed over for a couple of years.  The remnants of a collapsed dock has also been rearranged by the rising and falling tides.  Old pine trees hang over the cove, casting their shadows and dropping the occasional branch on the mud flat. An old bucket is half submerged in the mud.  This may look like trash to some, but to me, it is part of the charm of Maine.

I took the various elements and placed them where I thought they would enhance a composition.  Here are the first two value studies in a series I'll call "Flotsam and Jetsam".  Paintings to follow.....

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Trees and Reflections

                            22" X 30"  - "Quiet Cove"

Once again the problem of being bold with dark values came into play.  I put down the wet-into-wet areas, then came forward with the light background trees, then the darker tree silhouettes, and finally the major trees in the foreground.  The shaded sides of the two trees on the left required a dark value on the left side and some cast shadows of different colors falling on the main trunks.  The values in the reflection also demanded some darks.  The problem is that some students are a bit timid about the darks, and again, don't have enough paint to create them. 

The clue is to place the midtones first so that the darks won't be so jarring.  Look at the highlighted part of the water and then look at the gradual approach to that area.  Putting down a dark value in a very light area is always scary because the contrast is too extreme.  Leading into a highlighted area by laying down a midtone gives you a chance to gradate to the highlight.

Also, with reflections;  be careful not to make a straight line mirror image of the object casting the reflection.  No matter how calm the water, there is still going to be some wiggle to the reflection.

A quick reminder:  My annual Maine workshop will be held from August 24th - 28th.  Tuition is still $400 for the full week.  Some openings for the first three days remain.  For a supply list or more information, email me at

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Removing Objects - Part 2

                            Wilson Chapel at Ocean Point

I have painted this chapel on Ocean Point numerous times, and always reported the fact that it was next to a large summer cottage.  I took great care to draw the complicated angles of the house next door.  The structure of the chapel was fairly easy to depict.  The problem, then, was always that the cottage began to assume the same importance as the chapel.

This time I decided to take my own advice and eliminate the cottage.  I also moved the foreground pine tree a bit closer to the entrance for compositional reasons. 

So let me reiterate:  Be willing to move or even eliminate anything that complicates the scene.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Eliminating Objects For Effect

                                     "Glen Cove"

I have a friend who laughingly commented that it's against the law to remove vegetation within 100 feet of the shoreline.  In this scene, painted from my dock here in Maine, I love the key tree, the rocks and their reflections.  In truth, there are a lot more trees and deep, dark woods, but I wanted the sense of looking through them to the sunlit grass on the far side.  I felt free to alter the scene slightly to emphasize the stars of the scene.

This is also a good example of simplifying the shapes of a large mass of trees in the background and the long blades of grass in the foreground.  Many students feel compelled to represent every leaf and blade with dots and stripes.  The shape is more important than the distraction of texture.

So subtract (and add) when it comes in aid of your composition. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Most students are really afraid to commit to a dark shape and value.  The first problem seems to be that they don't have enough paint on their palette to mix a strong dark and then put it down with authority.  The second problem is that they isolate the darks against values that are too much of a contrast.  The key here is to use gradation, gradually going from light to a midtone to the darkest value. 

Study the reflections in this painting.  The reflections of the tree shape on the shore go from dark to midtone to the reflection of the sun which is the lightest and the most colorful part of the composition. The ripples on the right hand side of the foreground have two shades of midtones leading up to the dark reflection of the boat.

So get some paint on your palette, mix up two complementary colors and have a fairly good sized puddle, and then strike in those darks with confidence!

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Spot of Color

Last night I woke up several times thinking about, even dreaming about the value sketch I did yesterday in preparation for today's painting of the Allagash Waterway.  I decided that the majority of the painting should be completed in subtle shades of warm and cool grays; and that the gradation in the water should gradually approach the highlighted whites of the water, both in the falls and below the falls.

The most bold decision came from deciding that the canoe and the figure needed some color.  I borrowed a page out of Winslow Homer's whitewater watercolors and chose to paint the canoe red.  If any watercolorist paints a canoe scene or a sailboat, it is going to call forth the image of many a Homer painting of those two subjects. 

Still, the composition is mine.  The canoe points toward the waterfall and the figure in the canoe also employs body facing to highlight the falls.  So both placement and color emphasize the two major elements in the painting:  the falls and the canoeist.

Again, study my value sketch to analyze the compositional planning that went into this painting.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Getting Ready

I'm still a strong believer in doing value studies to design the composition.  In this sketch, the waterfall is set off by the darker rocks, and the canoe and canoeist break the line where waterfall meets flat water. 

Now that the values are set, I'm going to give myself some time to think about the colors.  Planning makes all the difference.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Try, Try Again

The morning was frustrating at first.  I drove over to Southport Island to paint at the boatyard.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was eager to paint.  But from the start, I had trouble drawing the boats.  Then there was a treeline behind the boats which was, of course, a dark green which I thought I could play up as a value contrast.

The boats got worse when I started to paint, and the trees were a dark mess.  The shadows further frustrated me.  So I did what I sometimes do when I'm that frustrated:  I flipped the paper over and painted with much more abandon.

I had learned something about the shapes of the boats, and drew them quickly.  I decided to use the storage buildings behind me rather than those yucky green trees.  I also chose a more violet color for the shadows.  I strayed from the colors of the actual boats so that I could use the complementary colors of blue and orange. 

In other words, I was no longer a slave to the scene in front of me.  I could also paint more quickly in order to keep the washes fresh.

Lesson:  If you are frustrated with your first attempt, try, try again!