Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New techniques with a palette knife

   While reading Alla Prima 2 by Richard Schmid, he recommended painting only with a palette knife for several paintings, in order to get the feel for the tool.  This passage stuck with me and I finally decided last week to try this.  The painting above was the result of this experiment, and while it's not a 'finished' piece, I still a, intrigued by the high relief and textures that using a palette knife alone creates.  I plan to do several more of these to really become comfortable with a great tool I'd previously underused.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Getting outside with other artists..

"Winchester Public Library" 11" x 14" oil on canvas - $400

   Using Meetup, I was able to join a group called Massachusetts Plein Air Artists Group.  Once a week, during temperate months, they get together at locations near Boston and paint what they like.  I've been to a couple of these and they seem a great way not only to meet other artists, but also to see how other painters paint and what materials and easels they use.

Swedenborg Chapel

"Swedenborg Chapel"  9" x 12" oil on artist's board 2014 - $400

    This is a small chapel just outside Harvard yard I was by most days and have been fascinated with it's small size and old, stone architecture.  This was a two-day alla prima study done across the street, setup in the shade of a tree.  The artist board used had a different texture and tooth than a traditional canvas, one I plan on using again!

The cosmos!

"Butterfly Nebula" 18" x 24" oil on canvas - sold
    This was a commission by an solar-physicist for their office, and it was quite exciting to paint!  The gases intermingling proved to be a challenge, with a veritable rainbow of colors throughout the nebula.  I can only imagine what this nebula looks like up close, in real life.


'Gail' 18" x 24" oil on canvas - sold
    This was a painting commissioned to honor the memory of someone whom had passed away.  The challenge was to recreate the image and memory of the individual while only using a photograph.  It was an honor to be asked to paint this, I was grateful for the chance to do so!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The glory of Vedauwoo

"Vedauwoo at Dawn" oil on canvas 30" x 40"

This painting was done from a photograph early one morning in Vedauwoo, which is a series of geologic formations in southeastern Wyoming between Cheyenne and Laramie.  Finding the proper oranges and blues to represent the rocks was a challenge; you can see greens, blues, and reds throughout the rocks as I attempted to recreate the sandstone.


"Ed" 9" x 12" oil on panel

A few Saturdays ago I was able for the first time to use oil paints with a live model.  Ed, the model, works with many artists in the Boston area, as well as training models the ability to sit still for hours. It was great to work with him, his professionalism was inspiring in itself.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rainy Sunday Morning

This morning I was ready to get outside and paint.  Nature had other plans for me and decided the desert needed moisture, which is fine. So, after talking to the hotel staff, I went to the top floor of the building and setup at the end of the hallway, assured I wouldn't be in anyone's way because the elevator is the other direction.  They were correct, and the few people I did meet were quite nice.

This painting was interesting in that the water in the creek filled slowly as I painted, so by the end of the session several smaller plants had been subsumed by the rising water. There were several buildings in the background that I decided to leave out, mainly oil field supply buildings that I didn't feel added anything to the painting.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Story Behind the Picture

"Sunday Morning Tea" pastel on paper 8" x 12"

   For most of my life I have worked to accurately paint or draw the scenes in front of me.  Recently I have been motivated by the idea behind a picture.  In the pastel above, I used all the title to create a whole, compete narrative.  Originally I had a pastel of a teapot by itself and was at a loss as to what to do with it.  I came up with the title "Sunday Morning Tea"; this title gave me the blueprint to build from.  It gives the viewer the time of day (morning), activity (drinking tea), and day of the week to go from. 

   Take for instance the high value yellow in the background and  tea set.  It's not a color I would have normally pulled out of my pastel box.  However, now armed with the title I was able to simulate the early morning sunlight streaming in.  Using the title as a narrative I built from there, including a tea cup added in the background as well as some tea biscuits Trish had in the cupboard (one if which I had to eat part of, in service to the painting).

   This is one of the first paintings I have actively used the title to build a story around.  It's become another tool in my virtual toolbox to use if I am in need of inspiration or cohesion in a picture.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Pet portraits.

      'Bugsy" 11" x 14" oil on canvas 
   One of the main things people have me paint is a portrait of their pet.  This is always enjoyable, the pet's character always seems to come out.  Pets, like children rarely sit still so working from a photograph is required.  When painting from a photo several modifications are required to make the painting look less like a photo and more like oil paint on canvas.

   The first thing I work on is the eyes.  Both humans and animals get an odd reflection from a camera flash.  Fortunately this only happens in the darker parts of the eyes (generally) but some research is required to make them look normal.  Searching for the breed of dog and studying the eye can usually solve your problem, but you can go another step to use photoshop.  This requires you to select the eye and a bit around it, de-saturate it so it's grayscale, and then bring the midtone levels down to show the highlights.  This generally gives you a normal look that is consistent with the rest of the lighting.

   The next thing I focus on is the background.  Sometimes you can keep the background given, but I've found some thoughtful editing must be done, whether to highlight some, downplay others, or leave them out entirely as I have done with Bugsy above.  As you can see in the photo he gets lost in the black background.  With the neutral grey I was able to bring him forward more, making him the focus and giving an almost regal pose.  To enhance this I also raised his head.

'Melvin' 3" x 3" oil on canvas board
   Here you can see with Melvin (sorry for the poor photo, it was still quite wet and reflecting light) I cropped it down considerably from the original photo.  By darkening the values of the wall behind I created more contrast, and by adding more color to the carpet it naturally brought the carpet forward to the foreground.

   The last thing I generally do differently when working with a photo is to amp up the colors and values more.  The camera is a great device, but as anyone who has tried to capture a beautiful sunset has noticed, it can't capture all the colors and value changes effectively (yet).

   Here the main color is violet, with the highlights on the dog orange tones.  The colors in the photo were a muted grayish-purple. I took those colors and amped them up as far as I could while still keeping it natural looking.

   Painting animals is never dull,.  Like everything, the best part is helping their character to really come to the forefront to be the star of the piece.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Color Sheets

In reading Richard Schmidt's book Alla Prima he suggested taking a set of eleven colors and using these, draw up a series of color charts.  The top let is each color mixed with white, the second is Cadmium Lemon mixed with the other ten, the third is Cadmium Yellow light, and so on.  What you end up with is a wonderful series of charts that show most colors and exactly how to get to each.  So, with the guesswork gone, it's much easier to focus on the actual painting.  

The eleven colors I used were, in order: Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, Terra Rosa, Alizarin Crimson, Transparent Red Oxide, Viridian Green, Cobalt Blue Light, and Ultramarine Blue Deep.  The charts are four 18 x 24 canvas sheets marked off for one inch squares.  

Mums for Thanksgiving

'Thanksgiving Mums' oil on Masonite, 5 1/2' x 8"

Over Thanksgiving we had some guests from Bulgaria who brought these flowers over and had never had an American style Thanksgiving dinner before, and it was a lot of fun to see them try new experiences.  For instance, they had never had turkey except in the sliced deli meat, which they didn't like.  However they tried our baked turkey and thought it was outstanding.  The wishbone was another fun activity they got to try, as well as the apple and pumpkin pie which Trish had baked.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rusting Steel

"Rusting Steel and Weathered Wood" Oil on canvas 18" x 24"

    As a kid my parents would drive to their friend's house to play cards.  To get there they would always drive to the end of the street and turn around in a cul-de-sac to park.  At the end of this road was a garage where someone had nailed every Wyoming licence plate to their garage door.  This burst of color and images on an otherwise drab street always caught my attention and captured my imagination.  I used old plates my parents purchased as a gift for me to compile the above image.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Working on masonite

"The Palisades Over the Green River, in progress" 24" x 36" oil on masonite
   I've heard from several artists that untempered hardboard, or masonite, is one of the preferred substrates to use with oils.  The other day I bought a full sheet to try out.

   One of the things I noticed was how different preparing masonite can be over stretched canvas.  I was working relatively large (24 x 36 inches) so I glued a frame of 1x2's around the back side to stabilize the sheet.  Next came the layers of gesso on the surface and acrylic primer on the back to seal and prevent the board from buckling.

   The real surprise came when I started painting on the surface.  The masonite makes every brushstroke slick and visceral, showing every movement and mistake you make.  Quite a difference from cotton canvas which sucks up the paint as soon as you apply it.  The transition was so large that after a few hours I had to set the painting aside and (hopefully) let my subconscious deal with it.  Coming in the next day was better and by the end of the day I was fully enjoying the fluidity of the masonite.

   I think I'll be using this as my new painting surface from now on.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Getting outside.

   One of the benefits of being an artist is working from nature.  When you are able to go outside and work directly from the source, you can incorporate everything around you.  I read a blog post by Kathleen Dunphy earlier and she said that stuck with me today:
     Nothing can compare to being in the landscape that you're painting. The sounds, smells, and feel of an area are somehow transferred through the artist and onto the canvas. Colors are truer and so much more complex in real life than in a photograph. 
   Standing at the park listening to the skateboarder behind be practice, hearing the playful yells of kids around the area, the ducks in the pond splashing for food, everything made it's way into the canvas.  Being able to get outside and paint is one of the most exciting things I can think of.  Even if the painte
d piece isn't always a masterpiece, the experience is the best.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


   In preparation for some commissioned work of pets I painted this study of my girlfriend's cat, nicknamed 'Bastardo'.  He received this nickname for the concerted hell he gives the other two cats in the house.  

   The source picture had some white sheets with small pictures in the background which I removed in the painted piece, instead going with a violet/green color scheme.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Show prep

   I've been getting ready for my first outdoor art show in August.  The show is put on by the City of Laramie in Undine park called Arts in the Park.  It's the eighth annual show but it's the first time for me.  The last few weeks I've been gathering information on the various aspects of an outdoor art show and have decided to put some of that information down in here.

   There are several items a person will need when setting up a display booth.  First is a tent, which range in price from $40 to over a thousand dollars.  There are many aspects of the tent such as making sure it stays grounded in high winds, has some way to prevent water damage to goods should it rain, and is inviting to patrons.  As for the high winds there are all the manner of stakes you'd use for tents.  However you can also anchor your tent from the top center with a cord down to a spiral dog leash tether you screw into the ground, resembling a giant corkscrew.  It be best to have a table or something similar to prevent a tripping hazard.

   Second is the ability to receive and give money.  It's recommended not to have a cash box, since the chance of it disappearing while you're talking to a client is relatively high.  The little cash I'll have on me will be in my pocket.  From what I understand, the majority of transactions are now done with debit/credit cards.    Fortunately with the advent of smart phones they have credit card readers that process the transaction immediately, at a charge of 2.75% of the transaction.

   Also there is the taxes that must be paid on the income I make at these events.  Fortunately the license is cheap and it's a one-time lifetime fee for $60.  From what I've heard I'll need to file the rest of my life, even if it's just to say I had no earnings for the quarter or year.  On the plus side, I'll be able to buy things at wholesale with a tax ID number.

   Lastly I'll need some sort of support structure for hanging and displaying the artwork.  I've seen everything from large shutters hinged together to form a room divider.  I've thought of forming a frame with 2x2s and tacking a thin sheet of plywood or 3/4 foam core and then a thin layer of carpet on top.  Also I've seen lightweight stackable display panels that are extra lightweight, easy to assemble and breakdown to small sizes for simple storage.

   Good to have this knowledge, hopefully it will all go well.  All that's left is to wait for a rain free day or two to get out and do some outdoor painting!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ready to chop!

    I love the bright colors I was able to use for this painting.  I found the onion to be the most challenging, trying to get a papery feel to it.  I didn't want to work too much on the cutting board, worried if I detailed it too much it would draw attention away from the main focus; the vegetables and knife.  I worked with the knife so it wouldn't draw too much attention away, but I didn't have to do much with it since the colors were vivid enough.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Some thoughts on a 50 year old art book.


   I've been reading a book called "The Eye of the Painter" by Andrew Loomis.  It's out of print, but some people scanned several of his books online and they are available for free to download here.  It was published in 1961, and although it's 50 years old it has some great advice, chock full of tasty tidbits.
   When talking about how to use your spare time, Loomis says, " There is one thing we must not do, and that is to let time go by without doing anything.  Nothing can lead to such frustration and discouragement.  One may be tempted to look forward to the day when one is rid of present responsibilities with nothing but idle freedom ahead, but idle freedom is its own worst enemy.  Where there is no achievement there is little happiness."  Isn't that something?

   It's interesting that this ethos can be applied to anything and one of the most powerful passages I've come across.  There are others as well, such as talking about the development of your skill as an artist that I found quite lovely.  "This is one of the motivating reasons for this book - to urge the artist, young or old, to think always in terms of beauty, of improvement, of the finest craftsmanship of which he is capable.  In the process of developing, one much cheerfully accept limitations, but by doing so one earns the right to the day of freedom."  In the book he's referring to the day that the artist is free from his obligations as an illustrator for a marketing firm, which today seems an almost archaic job.  Don't get me wrong, graphic designers are still needed for marketing, but illustration is almost limited to graphic novels now, but that's beside the point.  

   Loomis's book is full of advice not just on how to think like an artist and be happy at it, but advice that's fallen by the wayside for whatever reason.  Suggestions such as sketching 4 value abstract patterns for use later as a basis for composition when you need ideas.  Using viewfinders to isolate ideal compositions, even having a empty frame the same size as your canvas to setup next to your easel and look through to keep the composition intact.  He talks about breaking down a scene into 8 values, from black to white.  He mentions that the shadow on a white surface will be about a level 4 grey (with white being 1).  

   These are just a few highlights from the first forty or so pages, just a really beautiful and interesting book.  I recommend checking it out out as well as his others.  I was able to print it off since I find it so difficult to read books online and would recommend this since you can dog-ear and highlight the paper copy.  One bit I found amusing, his book Drawing the Hands and Feet contain almost solely white, anglo-saxon models.  It's a testament to see how far we've come along when a book like this feels out of place.  Still, don't let that stop you, the information inside is valuable.  

   Happy drawing!