Thursday, December 22, 2016

Normally, this would be where I'd be waking up this morning.  Apalachicola has been my southern home in the winter for about 18 years.  I'll be missing it this year due to open heart surgery two weeks ago.  I'm happy to say I'm making progress in my recovery, but not enough to travel or even drive for another month or two.

Thanks for "tuning in"  to my blog.  I'll be painting again before you know it!

Thursday, December 1, 2016


In this painting of Nubble Lighthouse in Maine,  I used the foreground rocks to create a sense of distance.  By overlapping the lighter, warmer island with a dark, cooler foreground, the island is pushed back and the sense of sunlight is enhanced.  Once again the power of darks is employed to showcase the focal point.

A personal note:  I may have time to paint and post one more painting before next Friday when I will undergo open heart surgery.  Please don't give up on me.  While recuperating, I may resort to commenting on some older paintings. 

Meanwhile, have a merry, joyful, and  grateful Christmas and holiday season.  Keep painting!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Followers!  Here's a sketch of some turkeys in my backyard in Maine that I did this summer.

Open heart surgery ahead so I'm grateful for great doctors who can fix serious problems.  And I'm grateful for friends and family who are so helpful.  And I'm thanksful for people who are interested in my art.  Have a fine day!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Painting Getaway

Between the election and some personal health concerns, I needed a break.  So yesterday I joined a small group from the St. Louis Watercolor Society at Trout Lodge in Potosi, Missouri which is an hour and a half from my home for a day of plein air painting.  It was a bright, sunny day with perfect temps.  And I can testify that painting beside a babbling brook is most restorative!

My friend and fellow painter Dave Anderson did a great job of setting all this up.  We teamed up and painted near each other in both the morning and afternoon.  This is an old watermill near a trout pond.

Back to the main lodge for a buffet lunch and camaraderie with my fellow artists.

I was not as happy with my second effort but will post it all the same.

Driving back to St. Louis, with the sun low in the sky, was a delight.  The trees on the hills seemed to be lit up from the inside with that special orange glow.  The nearly full moon was on the rise, and sunset was cloud-perfect.  I was most content and ready to go out again soon.

So when you get a nice day, don't waste it.  Get out there and paint.  If nothing else, it will keep your mind off your troubles!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Nubble Light

Ready to go on a new painting.  This is Nubble Lighthouse off the coast of southern Maine.  Ready to be painting again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Lighting for Drama

Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine has some distinctive rock formations.  This group jutted out into the water below a cliff.  However, when considering painting them, I decided that they needed some help in portraying their beauty. 

First, I decided to place them on a beach.  That would give me the opportunity to use a figure to give the scene life.  But most important, I wanted to use some dramatic lighting to highlight the rocks.  Putting the emphasis on the shadows creeping up on the rock formation gave the scene its focus.

I've seen this kind of lighting late in the day when the light changes very quickly.  Setting up and painting such temporary light effects is problematic.  Memorizing the look is the best way of recording the light.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Overcoming Obstacles

I had set up my easel in a parking spot behind my car to paint this scene on Pleasant Street in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  I was in the middle of my first wash when a woman in a very large SUV pulled up and told me that I was taking up a prime parking spot and that I should move.  I asked her if I were a car who had gotten there before she did, would she ask me to move?  Eventually, though, I gave in and moved my easel next to my trunk.  She thanked me for compromising.  I explained that she had now completely blocked my view of the street.  No response.

I was very angry and considered leaving.  But I finally thought that since I was there, I might as well try to continue. 

The silhouettes of the buildings could still be seen.  The problem became the street.  I reminded myself that I would still have had the same problem even without the SUV blocking my view.

I solved it with the figures.  The long morning shadows dramatically depicted the light and gave life to a large area that would have been empty otherwise. 

 It helps to have a long repertoire of objects, figures and architectural features to draw upon when faced with compositional problems.  This can only come from years of experience.  Your sketchbook also comes in handy at these moments.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Newburyport Sketches

Here are two more sketches I drew in Newburyport. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

More Travel Sketches

After visiting Old Orchard Beach on my way home, I travelled to Newburyport, Massachusetts for a couple of days.  The old seaport town is historic and quaint.  The first day was drizzly so out came the sketchbook. 

I find that spending a half an hour sketching creates a more focused memory than a quick photo. 

This first sketch was done from a window seat in a small restaurant where I was having lunch. Pleasant Street is one of the main thoroughfares in the downtown area.  Steeples and streetlamps punctuate the scene. 

 More sketches to follow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Travel Sketches

On the way home from Maine, I stopped at various towns and cities that are historic and scenic.  I always keep my easel and paper on top of my suitcases in case I want to take the time to do a painting.   But sometimes that's not possible.  So I break out my sketchbook to record the scene.

In the case of this sketch of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, it was a rainy day.  The Old Pier has always attracted me because of the variety of shapes in the buildings.  But painting watercolors in the rain is not a viable option.  I thought the solution was to record the shapes and values of the structures in my sketchbook.

My favorite two graphite pencils for sketching on location are #2 H for designing the shapes and describing the lighter areas and a #3 or 4 B for the darks.

One note:  I used the figure placed on the third to break the line created where the pilings met the beach. Behind the figure is also where I placed the darkest value to emphasize the focal point.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Diminishing Repeats

The technique of diminishing repeats is a simple concept:  Introduce a detailed subject in the foreground, and the viewer's eye will fill in the rest of the details where the same subject repeats in the receding background.

The first seagull is detailed enough to give you the subject.  The hints at other gulls is indicated by bits of saved whites that suggest flapping wings.  To have been more specific would have detracted from the "star" gull.

The actual beach was strewn with small rocks and pebbles.  Simplifying and employing a light shape rather than all that texture helps keep the emphasis on the gull and the driftwood.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Breathing Life Into An Old Subject

The building at the end of Sample's Boatyard pier is a favorite subject of mine.  I've painted it with boats next to it, as a silhouette against a colorful sky,  close up and far away.  This year I decided to get funky with it.  Eliminating any hint of background, I began with a simple wash of gradated colors.

Then I decided to tilt a few things to create a sense of movement and tension.  Throw in a couple of figures and some seagulls, and the painting was finished before I knew it!

The secret to a large wash is to have a very big puddle of color ready.  I also sponged the page so it was ready to receive the color.  Use a large brush to hold as much color and water as possible.  While the first wash was wet, I dashed in some other colors to provide relief from the primary color.  Above all, don't hesitate.  Paint quickly!  Otherwise, the paper will start to dry and that's when you get the proverbial "mud." 

A fresh interpretation of a familiar subject can revitalize your interest in the painting experience.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mixing Greens

In summer landscapes, knowledge of how to mix greens is essential.  Nothing is more boring than seeing sap greens everywhere in the painting. 

Mixing greens requires one basic fact:  blue and yellow make green.  I usually start by painting a wash of various yellows.  In this case I used cadmium yellow,  and yellow ochre. (Yellow ochre is an opaque color and does not work well when glazed over other colors.) I then painted varieties of blues and purples mixed with yellows and even burnt sienna on the palette and quickly dashed in while the first wash was still wet.  This wet-into wet process was especially important in the foreground where I wanted the grass to be softly out of focus.  Trying to recreate single blades of grass is a mistake many beginners make in an effort to be accurate.  Decide where you want your center of interest and avoid textures in places that would draw your attention away from that area.

The foreground greens are warm.  As the foliage reaches the shore further back, I switched to more grayed greens.

The foliage on the trees  transitions to blues which are grayed with burnt sienna or a touch of red mixed on the palette.  I kept the washes simple, only resorting to textures at the edge of the shape.  Painting individual pine needles is a futile exercise. 

Since I wanted the emphasis to be on the trees, I paid close attention to the following:  the intervals between the trunks,  the contrast in the values of the trees and the variety of straight and curvilinear trees.  Attention was paid to the light trees by painting the background tree shapes negatively.  And for goodness sake, please remember that most trees are not brown.  The birch trees are white with blue-gray shadows!  The tree on the far right is a grayed pink with blue cast shadows on the lower half.  The dark tree on the left is not straight brown, but a mixture of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue, with very little water.  Don't be timid with your darks!

One hint:  while you have a certain color on your brush, dance around the page with it.  This gives a color unity to the painting.

Variation is a must when painting greens. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pleasure in Study

During the same exploration of Ocean Island that I mentioned in the last post, I spotted this group of trees.  What attracted me was the dappled nature of the scene.  I love trees, and the variety in this scene delighted me.  The sky and bay beyond created a perfect foil for the light and dark contrast of the trees.  Light against dark, and dark against the light. 

Here is the value study of the scene.

Monday, September 26, 2016


I had a real adventure yesterday when I was invited by the caretaker of Ocean Island to come over the causeway to explore the private island for potential subject matter.  It was a treasure trove of driftwood, rocks, trees, beaches, and tidal pools on a day with gorgeous cloud formations.  I took nearly fifty photos to supply me with subjects over the winter.

When I awoke at 3:00 a.m. today and couldn't get back to sleep, I decided to do a sketch of some driftwood on the rocky beach, and then couldn't wait to paint the scene.

First decision:  color dominance.  It was a sunny day, so I opted for a warm, yellow and orange dominance.  The orange rocks in the background are offset by the complementary color of blue in the water.  I grayed the foreground with some violets to again contrast with the yellows on the beach.

Second decision:  To simplify the shape of the beach and keep the focus on the textures in the driftwood, I resisted the temptation to depict the textures of the small pebbles and rocks on the beach.  This results in a smooth dominance with moments of textural interest to break the primary quiet of the beach shape.

And last, the tonal contrast.  The majority of the scene is dominated by the very light values on the beach to achieve the feeling of sunlight.  The dark cast shadows of the driftwood punctuate the areas that I wanted to emphasize.

It always comes down to deciding your center of interest and how to focus the viewers' eyes on that area.  Color dominance, textural dominance, and tonal dominance aid in directing the viewer to what you've decided is the important subject in your painting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Color As Subject

While looking for something to paint yesterday, I found a photo I had taken in a historic village in Carthage, Missouri.  Since I'm in Maine, I decided to move it to the coast!  I also added some buildings that surrounded the main dockside shack.

When faced with beginning the painting, I decided that color would play the starring role.  The original building was very colorful, so I decided to exaggerate the rest of the colors as well.  I surrounded the outside shacks with warm, soft-edged colors to contrast with the cool, harder edged values of the middle building. 

Glazing played a big part in creating the colorful effects.  Some glazing was direct, painted wet-into-wet, while other colors were super-imposed on early washes after they had dried.

It was a lot to think about!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Limited Palette

In this painting of the Coast Guard dock in Boothbay Harbor, painted on 9/11, I chose to use a limited palette.  Using just ivory black, yellow ochre, and burnt sienna, I was able to concentrate on values. 

More and more lately, I will choose three or four colors and mixtures of gray tones made from them to relieve myself of the decision about which colors to use.  Instead of reaching for colors from all over the spectrum of colors or opting in favor of local color, I find that using mostly neutrals and a few spots of purer colors to punch up the scene alleviates the anxiety about color choices. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Adding and Re-arranging

This tiny cabin was owned by a local doctor for many years.  There is another cabin that hangs out over the water, but it is a big rectangle.  The main house on the property is set way back in the yard leading down to the water.

So I moved the main house up and changed the little house to the left by adding a shed.

Additions included the boat and fisherman to break up the straight line of the shore.  The onlooker on the porch was also added, featuring a bright red to contrast with the neutralized grays, greens and violets.

The stantion in the foreground was actually there, but I had to move it over to stop the eye from leaving the frame. 

P.S. Note that the pilings under the cabin were not painted dark.  Rather, I painted a wash in one pass, waited for it to dry, and then carved out the negative space behind them in neutral tones.  That way, the pilings didn't command more attention than the boat and fisherman. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Annual Subjects

At least once a summer, I paint a surf painting.  This one is the result of Hurricane Hermine which passed by out to sea.  It was a bright sunny day with only a slight breeze, but the surf was churning up at 4-6 feet. 

The study of surf requires careful observation.  Fortunately, the repetition of waves allows for looking at a certain part of the falling wave.   Watching the top of the wave, the curl, the bottom of the wave, the spray, and the aerated white surf can be studied separately. 

Also, the contrast of the warmth on one rock helps dramatize the scene.

Here is also a value study of the surf.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Paint Out

Giving life to a painting is something that requires some intention.  On the day that the Stroke of Art group and the Plein Air Painters of Maine joined forces to paint Grimes Cove, I saw a lot of paintings of rocks and water.  A few painters chose to paint the houses at the head of the cove.  But I wanted a bit more life in my scene.  I added a sailboat and some figures to the beach to animate the scene.  I also rounded the  cove more than it is in actuality.  I eliminated the windows in the house because I didn't want texture and details to distract the viewer and destroy the shapes.  The textures in the pine tree were also eliminated in favor of a tree shape.  Finally, the seagulls provided some life in the sky area.

  The quiet shape of the bay and the simplified shape of the cliff and the beach help concentrate the viewer's eye on the sailboat and the house. 

K.I.S.S., stupid.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Axeman Cometh

I spotted this woodpile in front of a cottage near the Ocean Point Inn.  The axe and the flowerpot drew my attention. 

This is a problem of line direction, shape, values and warm and cool colors.  The overall shape of the woodpile forms a kind of vignette, with the foreground lawn and background trees kept deliberately without detail to preserve the focus on the woodpile.

Color variation is crucial to avoid repetition in the tree trunks.  The warm colors contrast with the cool colors and are spaced at intervals to lead your eye towards the axe.  The color of the flower pot rhymes with the cut ends of the wood. 

Study the lines and you will see that they all seem to lead into the center of the painting.  The angle of the axe  is also in contrast with the angles within the woodpile.

One further note:  the cut wood is less and less detailed when it reaches the edge of the shape.  Especially important is the first trunk in the lower left.  Had it been defined further, your eye would have gone straight to it.

This painting required lots of restraint.  The temptation to oversupply the viewer with details that would subtract attention from the two stars of the piece--the axe and the flower pot--was great.  Putting every blade of grass in the foreground or tree trunks in the background would destroy the shape of the woodpile.  Remember your initial idea.  Hold that brush in check!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

My Favorite Things

Since I said that I was going to paint the previous post's drawing, I felt obligated to wait until I had actually painted it.  I've done several other paintings in the interim, but wanted to be sequential.

Anyway,  this rock is one of my favorite things to look at while sitting on the dock every afternoon.

I decided to paint it with a very limited palette:  yellow ochre, burnt sienna and ivory black, which I've just recently added to my palette.  Neutralized primary colors: yellow, red and blue-black.  the yellow ochre forms the under wash and the light shapes, the burnt sienna is the midtone, and when mixed with black you have the darks.  Texture was kept to a minimum while tone and value changes were done wet-into-wet for a nice contrast between hard and soft areas.

I have some more paintings done, some in my sketchbook and some in my head.  This always happens in September.  I start seeing paintings everywhere, and love experimenting.  Perhaps it's the shift in the light which intensifies the shadows.  Maybe it's the realization that time is limited and I must make use of every day. 

Good luck to all my friends in Florida who are dealing with storm damage and flooding.  You're in my thoughts.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Don't Overlook the Ordinary


I was sitting on my dock yesterday when I looked up the cove to my right.  Just then, a lone seagull landed near a big rock that I like to sketch and paint.  As he (she?) came in for his landing, I felt a tug on my heart strings for this very special place.  There are seagulls everywhere here and it's easy to get used to seeing them and taking them for granted.  But this lone bird symbolized everything I love about Maine.

It's nice to have an "idea" about a painting, but sometimes it's important to respond emotionally to your surroundings and let them become the motivation for your painting subject matter.

Working from sketch to the drawing on the watercolor paper has become a more important process for me this summer.  I can work out composition and value placement in advance in the sketch which helps me bang into the painting with quickness and confidence.

Next post.....the painting.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Exaggerated Color

The gazebo at the Newagen Inn is really a weathered, dark, gray brown.  Somebody once told me that brown is just a dirty orange, so I decided to push that idea to enliven the subject.  I painted the sky and then the gazebo first.  When I put down the first wash of orange, it was a bit shocking, but gradually after the blue background trees and the darker green foreground trees were added, the orange seemed a bit tamer. 

Another tip:  I pre-wet the page to paint the sky and while this was still wet, I dashed in the orange.  This resulted in a blurry, soft-edged area.  When it dried, I was able to cut around the gazebo with the darker values.  This approach, in which you don't stop at the edges of the gazebo, avoids a cut out, pasted-on look, as well as creating an undertone that gives the background and the gazebo something in common.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


The mark of a beginning painter is the unimaginative blue sky, painted with the same hue and value all the way down to the horizon.  No gradation or color change.  Clouds are not designed well to enhance the composition.  In watercolor, often Kleenex is used to blot out clouds, creating a surface that has been disturbed. 

Better to paint the clouds first and plan the placement of clouds.  Then, paint the sky around them while the cloud area is still wet to achieve soft edges. 

While painting with the Plein Air Painters of Maine (PAPME) this week, the sky looked rather threatening as the clouds moved in.  Being true to the atmosphere of the day, I decided to paint the bright area of the sky yellow and then paint the oncoming clouds a neutral gray.  When that dried, I was able to move down the page painting the background headlands and the negative spaces around the boat.

Deciding whether or not to include clouds is also important.  Since this painting was about the weather, clouds were there to tell the story.  No blues were required!

Monday, August 8, 2016


Repetition can occur with colors, textures, direction, line, and shapes.

In this painting of a flower stall at the Farmers Market on Boothbay Common, the triangular shapes of the tents and the roof of the gazebo repeat.  There is some variation in the size and colors within the shapes, but clearly the triangular shapes dominate the scene. 

The biggest value contrast occurs in the middle area where the figures are central to the focal point.  The colors are also more intense there and both the values and the colors gradate away from that area.

I kept the background trees quiet and simple so that your eye would travel to the center of interest.  The tree shape provides a clear edge contrast, but that's all it needed to do.  Notice, too, the subtle color changes introduced in that shape while the area was still wet.

I go to the Farmers Market on Boothbay Common every Thursday, but I usually only buy a handpicked bouquet.  The vendor at the flower stall immediately recognizes me, and always compliments me on the colors I choose and the textural variety.  So, again....paint what you love!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Simplifying Architectural Details

I've painted this iconic church in Boothbay Harbor for 37 years.  Each year I've struggled to portray the lovely details of its exterior.  The windows especially are charming.

But this year, I decided to simplify the depiction of those details.  I concentrated on the silhouette of the church and chose to emphasize the figures coming out of the church after Sunday morning mass.

Most of the "action" centers around the doorway and the statue of Mary on the lawn.  I decided to make that area the staccato textural interest of the scene, and hence, the biggest area of contrast in values.

Backlighting is a great tool for including figures. 

A note about painting plein air:  I painted with the Plein Air Painters of Maine today, as I do most Wednesdays in summertime.  However, this morning, I broke two of my cardinal rules.  Wear a hat, and bring something cool to drink.   I got severely overheated by the time I was finishing this painting.  Heat stroke is not something you want to fool around with.  I immediately went home and got into a cold shower! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Lots to Consider

While I was designing this composition, I had so many things to think about.  The accuracy of the drawing, the placement of the boats, the size of the boats, the number of boats, the color contrast.

l.  Papa, Mama, Baby.  The size of the boats.

2.  Obliques supply the action.

3.  On the thirds:  The "star" boat.

4.  The modeling of the sails.

5.  The muted colors.

6.  The rhythm of the water as told by the swing of my brush.

7.  How much detail to include to tell the story of the rigging without overdoing it.

I often tell my students to avoid the temptation to depict waves and reflections with hard, parallel lines.  Also, white sails are often darker than the sky, and the sky doesn't always have to be blue.  In this case, it would have been too jarring and would drag your eye up where I didn't want it to go.  I left the sky white until the very end, and then just used dirty water to hint at some distant clouds.

I love the design of Friendship sloops.  Meant for hauling freight, they nevertheless have a gracefulness, especially in the lovely curve of the bow.  I'll be painting more of them very soon.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Afraid of the Dark

Nothing says sunlight like the inclusion of some really bold darks in a painting.  Oftentimes, my students are afraid of glazing a very dark value over an area for fear of ruining their painting, when actually it might enhance it.

The good news is that, because watercolor dries lighter than the wash looks when it is wet, the addition of a dark shouldn't be so frightening. 

At a certain point in my artistic development, I would often get to a stage in a painting where I thought all was lost.  That is when I discovered the power of adding a dark.  I thought, what do I have to lose?  In many cases, the dark would provide just the "punch" that was needed.

Be bold in the lights and midtones, and fearless when adding darks!

This is a scene that is familiar to everyone on the Boothbay peninsula.  The Civil war statue and the town office are part of the very quaint center of the town of Boothbay.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Avoiding Monotony En Route

Edgar Whitney urged his followers to "avoid monotony en route."  A straight, unbroken line is monotonous, and needs to be broken up.  In this painting of an old dory beached under a tree, the far shore line is broken by the interruption of two sailboat masts.  The bottom of the dory forms another line, but it is broken by buckets and buoys intruding into the shape of the boat. 

Drawing boats is simplified if you think of the figure 8 on its side.  The far side of the boat is more or less a straight line while the curve of the hull occurs on the side nearest you.  Also, watch where the lines intersect and how they slant. 

Overlapping is one of the best ways to achieve atmospheric perspective.  The closer the plain is to you, the darker it becomes.

There is so much to think about when you contemplate a painting.  The real fun begins when you can anticipate the problems before you start to paint!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


I have a hard time accepting commissions because the customer usually has a preconceived idea of what the painting will look like.  Despite the fact that they have identified with my style of painting, they seem to expect an illustration of their chosen subject.  Details become more important than anything else in the painting.

But when I got an email asking if a certain painting I did a couple years ago was for sale, I had to tell the potential buyer that the painting had already been sold.  I offered to try to re-create the painting with the caveat that it would not exactly duplicate the original painting.  She agreed. 

I liked the assignment because I was familiar with the subject, and thought I could reasonably approach the painting process with confidence that I could reproduce the same mood and composition in the original.

The client liked the result.  I was pleased because I thought I made several improvements to the original work.  The painting is now on its way to the client who intends it as a wedding gift to her son and new daughter-in-in law who will celebrate their small wedding on the site of this lake in Maine.

Know what you can offer in commissions and what you are able to compromise to complete the project. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Painting in a Series

In this painting, I worked from a sketch that I made of Jackson Falls in New Hampshire.  I've done several waterfall paintings lately.  Painting moving water is a challenge.  But waterfalls are fairly consistent and allow for study.  Besides, I love standing near them and listening to the pounding water.

I painted the water first.  It was the focal point, the largest shape in the composition, and the lightest shape.  Study the shape and you'll see that it interlocks with the rocks on shore, making it an irregular shape. 

Finding a subject that appeals to you can solve the problem of what to paint when you can't think of anything else to paint. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy 4th of July!

To celebrate the Fourth of July, I just had to paint the flag.  This one is proudly displayed at a cottage on Ocean Point.  Happy Independence Day, Everyone!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Achieving the Feeling of Sunlight

Contrast is the key to achieving the portrayal of sunlight.  The feeling of light falling on the landscape can best be highlighted by the shadows surrounding it.  Many painters become timid when painting cast shadows and don't paint them dark enough.  The values then don't contrast enough and result in a tepid portrayal of the light.

Another consideration is to place the biggest contrast strategically.  If the darkest values extend everywhere, the eye will wander around the painting.  Consider gradating the darks so that the contrasts diminish.

Happy Fourth of July!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Emphasizing the Focal Point

If you can stop and identify what you want the focal point of your painting to be before you start to paint, there are there are at least three ways to emphasize that area.

First, size.  A large shape will obviously command more attention than lots of scattered shapes.  In the case of this painting of a lobster boat, I brought it closer to the viewer than it actually was.  If it were smaller, the water area would have increased, thereby diminishing the attention on the boat.

Second, color.  It was the bright yellow buoys and flags that caught my eye on site.  Emphasizing them required both contrast with more muted colors surrounding them, and the use of yellow's complement, violet. 

Third, elimination of background "noise".  On location, the rest of the harbor with its wharves, boats and buildings were all visible.  The temptation to be accurate and "truthful" is strong, but eliminating distracting objects is crucial to keep the viewer's eye from wandering away from your chosen focal point.

Naming the focal point prior to painting will aid you in deciding how to draw attention to it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Surf's Up!

Boothbay Shores
At Boothbay Shores just around the cove from my cottage, I ran into a group of painters taking an oil workshop with Don Demurs.  It was almost high tide and the surf was up.  I decided to exaggerate the height of the waves, and to include a figure that wasn't there.  The sound of the surf lingered in my ears long after returning to the cottage, and the feel of the sunlight on my skin was a welcome warmth after the cool weather of the first half of the month.  The sensory delights of painting outdoors contributes to the overall painting experience and the eventual outcome of the painting.

Compositional considerations:  The top of the wave breaks the straight line of the headland.  The diagonals in the rock shapes and the surf provide tension.  The little figure gives a spot of life to the scene.  And the reflections in the wet sand supply a soft relief to the hard edged rocks.

It's summer!  Get outside and paint!

P.S. There are still openings for my Boothbay Harbor workshop
August 29 - September 2.  Inquiries:   Email me at  for more information.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Leaky Light

About fifteen years ago, I was painting on Boothbay Common when it dawned on me that I didn't have to encapsulate the whites and limit them to the exact space within an object.  A shape could become more interesting if the light leaked out of the object and flowed into the surrounding area.

If that's hard to understand, look at this painting of Old Orchard Pier.  The lighted sides of the building "leak" out into the building next to it or the dock itself or into the edge of the surf.  This approach creates more interesting shapes than mere rectangles contain. Trace your finger around the whites and you'll see that the shapes that are formed by the leaky light are much more entertaining than a more accurate depiction of the scene.

 Also, the imprecise edges in the pilings and the buildings give some relief to a static rendering with  very rigid, straight lines.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Again...The Importance of the first wash

                                  Hendrick's Head Beach

I painted today with the Plein Air Painters of Maine.  As soon as the first clean washes were done, passers-by began to stop and comment on how much they loved the color.  They didn't say, Where's the texture?  or Where's the detail?  The simplicity of the clean, glowing color was enough to attract their attention.  Later, a couple came by and bought the painting.

Keep it very simple and untextured in the early stages of your painting!

Friday, June 10, 2016


Many painters like to go straight for the final color and skip the all important first wash of foundation colors.  The underpainting can do several things:

1.  It replaces the pure white paper with a colored light    value.

2.  It provides a color that, when other colors are place on top of it, creates a new hue.  For example,
yellow and blue make green, so why not put down a first wash of yellow and then, when it dries,
place a blue on top to make the green.

3.  An underpainting gives the painting a color theme.  When you leave some of it showing, it creates
a unity throughout the piece.

In this painting of Dingman's Falls in eastern Pennsylvania, you can see pinkish and yellow tones in the light tones of the rocks, and the even in the falls.  Also, I usually start any clump of foliage with a yellow wash first, even if most of it is covered up by subsequent washes.

I still have openings for my Boothbay Harbor workshop August 29 - September 2.  Email inquiries to    

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


I've taken a leisurely trip back to Maine this year; six nights on the road.  On the way, I've stopped at several waterfalls, most enjoyably, Dingman's Falls in far eastern Pennsylvania, Jackson Falls in New Hampshire, and Small Falls, just south of Rangeley, Maine.  Yesterday I painted Small Falls.  Hazard of plein air painting?  I was gobbled on by black flies.  The suckers anaesthetize you and then bite until they draw blood, which is when you finally notice you've been attacked. 

Anyway, I should have gotten hazardous duty pay yesterday.  It did, however, force me to paint quickly.  But the scene was lovely and the sound of the rushing water was mesmerizing.  I stood on an old log bridge, relishing the warm weather and blue skies.

Now I'm here in Maine settling in for the summer.  Don't forget to sign up soon for my workshop here in Boothbay Harbor.....August 29 - September 2.  Tuition remains steady at $400.  Contact me at:   

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Adding Elements That Weren't There

This painting was done from a photograph that I took way back in 1973 on a trip to the Spanish island of  Ibiza in the Mediterranean.  The little girl, the old well, the trees and the wall were all in the photo.  The wall was barely visible, but I decided that I needed it to provide a much need horizontal.  To make it more prominent, I added some mountains in the background for a value contrast.

Then the problem was that there was nothing going on to break up the white space and the straight line of the wall which was pointing out of the painting.  So I decided to add a clothesline.  I also added a woman hanging the clothes.  I still needed a bit more action, so I threw in a couple of goats and two chickens. 

Notice, too, that the cast shadows are less and less textured as you move away from the center of interest, allowing the figure to remain the center of interest.

Use a little imagination and add components that enhance the composition and the story element to your painting.

Don't give up on me for the next week or so.  I'm hitting the road to return to my beloved Maine for the summer.  I'll be stopping in New Hampshire and northwestern Maine and may be able to squeeze in a few paintings on the way.  (I always put my easel on top of the suitcases for easy access in case I'm tempted by a scene!)  If I do, I'll post them.   See you in Maine!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Painting a Memory

                                Friends' Rock at Oven's Mouth

My friend Flora's birthday was May 11th.  She's been gone ten years now, but I still think of her often.  We would sometimes hike a root-infested trail out to a rock at the end of Oven's Mouth Preserve in Boothbay, Maine, where we would enjoy a thermos of coffee and donuts.  I cherish those conversations and time together with a cherished friend.  So, on her birthday, to honor her memory, I painted the two of us sitting on that rock.  R.I.P., Flora.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Power of Shapes

                                    Kaaterskill Falls

In this painting of Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills, it was important to design the shape of the waterfall carefully while staying true to the actual scene.  So I designed the shape of the falls first.  I needed to be mindful of keeping that shape clear. The way to do that, I decided, was to eliminate many of the "stripes"  indicating the rocks underneath the falling water.  This was especially important in the larger fall on the left.  Leaving the white untouched maintained the integrity of the shape.  Suggesting the hidden rocks there would have broken up the shape. 

Another decision was important to the composition.  I included the tree trunks in the left foreground to keep the viewer from wandering off the page.  I kept the background simple.  On the right, I broke up the tree shape with a lighter shape within it.  The temptation might have been to indicate more tree trunks there.  But the light shape already did its job by pointing back to the falls, and without the details of more trunks, the shape was kept in the background.  

Restricting the details within a shape keeps the design in tact.  Remember to keep focusing on the shapes and to limit the details to only those that come in aid of the overall composition.