Monday, December 31, 2012


No, not the water ones I have been playing with this last week.  On what happened last year on the trip of working on art.   Yup, thats what I'm doin' early New Year Eve.!?  Just look at the sketch books and the entries.

A fair amount of activity for the year.  Here is a summary;

First Grand Child.
4 trips regarding Grand Child birth, development etc.
Out most days with snow, but not much of it.  Too warm.
Biggest snow fall of the year April 25, a double that day.
Continued the Town and Country Series including Georgetown.
Entered a Town and Country and won first prize.
Short painting campaign in Maine - Bar Harbour - on the way to see the baby in Brooklyn.
Hid from the summer heat along the Credit River.  Too many extreme days.
Taught a Spring and Fall Plein Air Class.
Short Painting campaign to Saint Sauver Quebec, September.
Painting campaign with Vic to Algonquin - first time!
Several group shows, a solo.
A number of regular painters en plein air came forward.

Last January I set out a few points in my studio sketch book.  Four painting oriented goals.  I can actually say I worked on two of these - paint quality and design.   And I am in a painting size cycle that is towards larger scale.  I didn't get in more studio painting from life.

Sure didn't anticipate how much impact a grand child could have.  Well, some things you can't control.  I can however, make each stroke count.  Increase my concentration.  Last year's snow paintings were quite good and fairly plentiful.  The Algonquin trip was great fun but not very successful.  There was simply too much colour.  Other painting campaigns were too rushed.

So for this year, more of the same with emphasis on;
Make every stroke count - application development.
More starts en plein air
More stills in studio - use this as a way to hide from the heat
Perhaps a Le Massif break....
Algonquin in the early Spring
Continue Town and Country and The Land series.  Combine some.

Start tomorrow morning at the Credit.  Snow this evening.  Perfect.

Shaw's Creek 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Value Colour Conundrum

If value is the foundation, then colour is the icing.  For most getting the colour the right value is not easy.  Then figuring out how much colour and the right colour seems a mystery.

I often find students and others confused between light and bright.  For example, when you look at a shape in full sun it is light (value), but it is not the brightest (chroma).  A painter who dealt with this brilliantly is Aldro Hibbard.

West River

Winter Farm

These images appear full of light and colour.  Look closely and you will see that Hibbard lowered the value (darker) in order to show the colour.  It is easy to see this with white surrounding the images.  This is also a form of compressing the value scale to bring the big shapes together for a strong design - the big look.  How did he do this?  Practice!

I am teaching a 4 session art course in February - each Thursday morning.  It is called Oil Painting Foundation.  It will be held at the Williams Mill in Glen Williams.  If you happen to be interested, email me for the details.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Design With Shape and Value

Value is important because our eye is more sensitive to it than colour.  Even though you might like colour.  Colour with the wrong value just doesn't cut it.  To Quote Aldro Hibbard "The most important rule in painting is VALUES".

Coupled with shapes you can design using values.  This is a more complex use for values and shapes.  It separates you from photographs.  Design is the conscious arrangement of shapes and values separate those shapes.  Shapes should be unique and distinct.  No two the same.  One dominant.  To achieve that one must be careful not to destroy the shapes by introducing too many values.  The image gets too busy and difficult for the eye to digest.  Simple is better.  Look at the classics.  This is part of your concept.

One way to do this is by studying the light dark pattern of an image.  In strong light this is the foundation of light and shade style of painting.  Separate the shapes into what is in the light and what is in the shade.  I do this in my sketch book in thumbnail form.  This 2 value study is called a Notan by some.  Here is an example from a painting.

From "Snow Shower"

You can see the key subject shapes and imagine the painting from just 2 values.  Dark dominates.  Note how the dark pattern is continuous to help preserve a minimum number of shapes for simplicity.  Now, If I show the image in 3 values.....

3 Value Snow Shower

You will see that the shapes are hung together by the darks.  The shapes are unique and distinct.  In the actual scene the values were full scale - many many, from dark to white.  If you just copy this you will produce a less powerful image, very busy.  So you can compress the actual number of values you use for your purposes (concept).

4 Value Snow Shower

As you continue to employ more values the shapes begin to break up.  Some call the compression of values used the BIG LOOK.  Adding colour to this is another complexity.  Most painters have difficulty putting down a colour with a specific value.  A key skill.  If the colours are of a variety of values, the shapes will break down and multiply.  Value gradations give you the same problem.  But temperature gradations can be done without destroying the shapes.  The key is to keep the colour values in the shape the same such that your design concept is not destroyed.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Self Critique

A self critique list was passed around the other day.  It seemed to be aimed at traditional representational painting such as light and shadow.  Here it is with a little editing.

Concept / Idea
  • ·      Why are you painting this scene/arrangement?
  • ·      What do you want to say?
  • ·      What are you trying to do?
  • ·      Is there a good underlying abstract idea?
  • ·      What can be eliminated to strengthen the composition? 

Shapes / Drawing
  • ·      Are the shapes distinct and unique?  Varied?
  • ·      Are shapes grouped in an interesting fashion?
  • ·      Is there a clear focal point or a series of focal points?
  • ·      Does the paintng “read”?
  • ·      Is the perspective correct without being boring?
  • ·      Is there a sense of depth?
  • ·      Is there a flow of lights or darks?
  • ·      Too many shapes?  Can the number be reduced?

  • ·      Are the values correct?
  • ·      Is the value range appropriate re the concept?
  • ·      Could the value range be increased?
  • ·      Could the number of values be decreased?
  • ·      Is the dark light pattern interesting?
  • ·      Is the light gradated?
  • ·      Do the darks describe the form?

  • ·      Is there a colour strategy in line with the concept?
  • ·      Is cool or warm colour dominant?
  • ·      Are the darks the right temperature?
  • ·      Do the lights have enough colour in them?

  • Paint

  • ·      Are the strokes in accordance with your concept?  Unique vs blended.
  • ·      Variation of application techniques?
  • ·      Texture variation?

  • ·      Are the edges appropriate?  Soft vs hard
  • ·      Is there variation in edge creation
     Of course there are other forms of painting such as local tone.  And there are non traditional ways to suggest depth and eliminate traditional perspective.  Figure painting and portraiture  and these other approaches might suggest unique approaches to self critique.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pine River Composing

Sure you can paint in the same place every day.  You can even stay in the studio.  But I find a change in location fuels the painting fire.  After two or three days in the studio painting from sketches and memory with the comforts at hand, I just have to get out and sharpen up.  She has all the lessons if you ask and study.  Colour use, composition, shapes, the whole works.  Relax and paint a bit of her, not too much on each canvas.

We trekked to the Pine River north of HWY 89.

Beside the Fire

All sorts of possibilities.

Low Chroma Heaven

No chroma in sight, but wait,

Here Comes the Sun

Remember it, as she fades.  What to put in, what to take out, how to arrange, what to say?

A Start

One tree, one clump of grass - placed just so leading to the tree, a bit of stream.  Shown in context with the raw surroundings.  Edges and values important.  How much chroma to make it interesting?  Another half hour and there will be enough to get into the real painting.

There are numerous compositions here.  And its close to good coffee and muffins.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On Value II

The ability to see the correct value in a shape is key to being able to paint what you see.  The next step is to be able to transcribe the value to the canvas.  Squinting at the motif will simplify things and show you the relative value of the shapes.  A value scale will tell you the value of each shape.  Holding the value scale up to the shape in question, find the value that melts into the shape.

Value Scale Against a Painting

Here you will see the lightest and darkest tone on the value scale is not the value of the snow depicted in this painting.  Even though the painting has a different colour, you can tell which value is appropriate.  So, you mix some paint of that value and apply it to the painting.

Grey Value Study

Here we mixed a grey (ultramarine and transparent red oxide) and applied the 4 values to the canvas according to our thumbnail sketch.  This forms an underpainting.  The shapes are placed correctly and with the correct value.  Any grey will do (good mixing exercise).

Next is adding colour.  Getting the colour correct is easy.  Just make it the same value as the appropriate mass.  When applied, it will melt into the mass as you squint.  Where you go from there depends on the concept for the painting.

Value With a Different Colour

This exercise was done on a gloomy overcast day.  No shadows.  This is set up for a local tone painting with 4 values and 4 unique shapes.  Of course you can go on from there.

Friday, November 30, 2012

On Value

Value isn't what you thought you got on Black Friday.  For a painter it is the spectrum from white to black.  Many students I encounter do not express the full range of values in the motif before them.  Many times I see a set of mid values.  Usually, this is an inability to see the values and/or translate them onto the canvas (colour really confuses this issue).  There is often a good deal of confusion acquired elsewhere.  In the concept of objective painting where one is trying to paint what you see, this value scale is very important.  This type of painting is a good foundation for other concepts.  This is because value supplies a framework that holds the painting together.  Here you recognize and use the full range of values present.

The values available to be seen change.  For example, in bright sunlight one often witnesses the full range.  Shadows are crisp and dark, the sky is the light and bright source of light and the motif might show both hi lites and accents.  

Bright Sun

In an overcast situation the values tend to be close together, shadows non existent, and no hi lites and accents exist.  The value range may be quite limited.

Semi Bright Overcast 

These two lighting conditions lead to two separate concepts of painting often confusing the painter or forcing the comment "no sun so I can't paint".  These are light and shadow, and local tone painting.  Rembrandt was a light and shadow painter.  Van Gogh was a local tone painter in his final years.  The Impressionists on the other hand developed the concept of compressing the value scale used (to go hi key ignoring the total value scale witnessed) and to emphasize colour.  However, in order to do these things well one must be able to detect and paint what you see (level 1 painting).

Value and Shape Thumbnail

My thumbnail for what I saw on an overcast day.  You will note that the recognized values are noted for each shape.  The next step is transferring these to the canvas.  That is the starting point for painting the concept.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Black Friday Two Step Avoidance in 8x10

The early notice went out with a favourable weather forecast.  Of course that changed to an 80% chance of rain.  Exactly why a late notice is used most often.  And it was Black Friday.  Priorities, priorities.

The usual suspects turned out.  Coffee in hand we willed ourselves to find a motif to paint.  It was a Harold day with the famed 8x10 exercise in full swing.  The purpose is to do starts, lay in the shapes and values, get them right, repeat.  Force the eye to compose a small chunk.  Big Brush, small board, no time to wander.

Monochromatic 8x10 Start

Sure beats the Black Friday Lineup Two Step.  Even with Harold scolding.

High View, Low View

The shelter looked inviting.  But the wind blew, the paint flew, couldn't see much for a minute or two.  The paint literally blew off the barn on to John's palette.  "Not the right colour" he exclaimed.  Oh but the texture.

For the Long Haul

After a monochromatic block in with accurate shapes and values, many people have trouble getting a colour with the right value.  Every colour is affected by its surrounding colour.  Value-colour perception often not too easy.  Here Shelley is ready to do what it takes for however long it takes.

The 8x10 repeats were taking their toll.  You could hear the scraping sound of knife on board.  Harold drumming on, "take it off, do it again".

As the cold set in we were advised that the next element of the 8x10 exercise was speed work.  Oh boy, can hardly wait.

Black Friday avoided.  Another great day at the office.  Remember, take the forecast tongue in cheek.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Recovering It

No, we are not considering rehab.  Have you ever had a painting that was way off after the initial painting session.  Really?  Well, I have.  And for some stubborn reason I decided to avoid the fire and attempt a recovery.

On our recent trip to Algonquin, where we were stunned by the colour, we took to setting up on a dirt road (the middle of the dirt road), with 30 minutes left before sundown.  This combination wiped my memory clean and I did a small painting start from hell.

Starting the Recovery

Even though the recovery process is under way here, you can see the start.  Lines, bloody lines.  What shapes, what values?  Tiny brush.  Why??

Years ago I did an abstract work shop with Lila Lewis Irving.  What a lot of fun and learning. An abstract painter who can actually paint representationally.  Beautifully.  She came around to me as I was looking at my last abstract for the session.  Silence.  I looked at her.  "I have no idea how you can fix that" she said encouraging me.  My thoughts exactly.  My neighbour Jill then asked me if I wanted a full pot of paint - she was leaving for home.  I found out it was "Quin Gold".  What the hell, I threw it on my mess.  It covered the whole 22x30 painting about a centimetre thick.  Now what?  I reached for a windshield wiper and dragged the paint off.  Voila!  Am image came to life, interesting, simplified, worked from each angle.  Simple.

The thought returned to me for this attempted recovery.  I wanted to convey late day light.  Cool and warm.  Lets cover the painting with mineral violet.

Recovery Wash

Ok, the shapes began to appear.  I knew they were pretty much the way I wanted them.  Sky, tree line, meadow to foreground (gradation), and trees pattern.  Next I established the darks to indicate the form and the picture planes.

Establish the Darks

So now, put in the shapes in the right values.  Then the colours

Shapes in Shadow Value

My memory told me it wasn't this dark when I started the painting.  So now I have the deep shadows I can paint the light from all the surrounding sources.

Just Before Sundown, 10x12, Oil on Board

Monday, November 19, 2012

On Looking at It

"What are you doing?"  
"I'm painting that tree."
"No you're not!"
"I'm not?"
"No, you're not even looking at it."

Harold tells the truth.  A great teacher.  Sometimes it hurts.  Eventually you get it.  Here is an example.

Monica Looks at It

She was looking at the motif more than she was painting.  It was easy to get a shot of her looking at it.  So what was she looking for?

Shapes.  (Drawing and measuring etc.)
Values, darkest, lightest, each shape relative to the other.
Then, colour and colour domination.

Holding the brush right and in a mit no less, lay down a stroke.  Leave it.  Perfect.

In Process

Also In Process

Here John was looking at it and putting in what he saw.  Once a person is comfortable doing that, she is ready to go to the next step.  Here John was questioning the White Pine in the upper right of his painting.  "Takes the eye there, so, should I remove it?"  "What's your concept?"  Hmmmmm.

Why the mit?

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Size

I remember learning to print and write.  Seems that a change from pen and ink to pencil to crayon had a "clean it up effect" on my writing.  Some things don't change.  I regularly make my writing more legible by changing pens, pencils etc.

In the painting world I also find that I enjoy changing the size of my canvas.  Somehow I seem to go through cycles going from big to mid to small to extra small and then in reverse.

I know that painting is best with gestural strokes coming from the shoulder.  Far better than those licking blenders from the fingers.  Yet when I go small, the tendency to to get tighter, more precise.  So I stick with the large brush most of the time.  When I go bigger I find that I can control the sweeping strokes better even though I enjoy more loosely painted work.  So I guess I can get intended loose strokes more easily.  Really handy for edge management and big brush manipulation.  Regarding brushes, I get the opposite reaction.  If I go small, I find I lapse into pickiness  and far too busy passages.  So I am better going larger still then settling back to something at the upper end of comfort.

Elora Backstreet, 24x30, Oil on Canvas

Before the Plow, In Process, 6x8

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On Paint

"Use the best paint you can afford". So I did. Further, I was told to avoid student grade paint. I was also to avoid hues. I didn't know there was such a thing. Now I do. Many of my students show up for class with these. They are inexpensive, contain fillers and extenders, weak in colour and coverage. To minimize cost I was told to start with 4 tubes of paint. The primaries plus white. That worked out very well for a number of reasons.

Now I like to try out good paint. It is part of my education. Holed out here in New York I decided to evaluate a shipment of Blue Ridge oil paint. My evaluation considers pigment strength and vibrancy, consistency, value, and brushability.

Various brands in my paint box. Previously evaluated.

And now the Blue Ridge.

With a stray Old Holland tube.

So I squeezed out some white and an equal amount of red oxide. Then I drew the red oxide through the white to see how weak the tint became.

Powerful stuff.

Then I continued with the palette knife and a bristle brush feeling the consistency and smoothness. Very nice. Great wet into and on top of wet. Long compared to Old Holland, but similar to David Harding paint. Will have to see how it behaves in thick passages. Now this is a one man company, the paint hand made. So the price for this quality is good.

Did a quick block in of a simple scene. That went ok on a gessoed and thirsty board. I'll let that dry and get a feel for brushing over the oil block in.

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Location:Brooklyn NY

Monday, October 29, 2012

On teaching and Learning

I'm sitting here in New York watching Sandy. Safe and dry.

And I have picked up the paint I ordered to be delivered to my daughter. Began thinking about the famous teachers of the New York Student League, including David Leffel and Gregg Kretz. Then I thought about the people I have studied with. Maybe 25 in total. Most were a waste of time. Knew little or nothing, were at best entertainers. Luckily my first teacher was very knowledgeable. But what about all those people taking lessons from the others? Rather sad. When I teach I encounter many of them. Absorbs you trying to break through the bad habits and misinformation.

So how might you tell who is good before wasting your time? Remember, some can paint and can't teach. Here are some considerations.

Certificates and other qualifications mean little. Harold taught the university teachers how to paint, never mind how to teach!
Time painting or teaching mean little. Practiced bad habits don't count.
A long history of taken workshops means little.
If you hear "this is THE way to...." run for the hills.
Formula approaches don't get you on the way to learning to paint.
The application of constructive truth from the teacher is fundamental.
Consider the reference from a reputable artist who tells the truth.

Consider your expectations. Learning to paint in order to become an artist is a trip. A long one. No short cuts.
Workshops are at best for learning one small element or skill. There is no followup so the ability to internalize the lesson depends on you alone, and practice. Courses are a little better.

The full trip can be enhanced by a good mentor. They put you in a position to learn, but you must do the work. As Robert Genn says, "go to your room and paint". Anything that distracts you from that slows the development process. That includes a focus on selling, doing juried shows etc. Involve your mentor.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Pricing

I visited a juried exhibition yesterday.  Most of the art was beginner level.  What caught my attention though was the pricing.  I don't know where these people got their pricing ideas, but they were consistently very high.

My art background does not include art school.  However, I was very fortunate in being introduced to art by a person who knew what he was talking about as it turned out.  His mentor was an artist trained in Montreal at L'ecole des Beaux Arts.  He was a demanding teacher who gave bits of advice that came together after quite a period of training and development.  Harold was his name.  I never met him but I was quickly introduced to his wisdom.  Harold gave some interesting advice including these two;

  • Don't be in a hurry to show.  Wait till you are ready.
  • Price by the square inch.  Start low.

He claimed most beginners start to show when their work is basic beginner.  Viewers remember this intro as the kind of capability of that artist (another danger lurks, in another post).  A reputable artist who tells you the truth can tell you if you are ready (not a face book comment).  Malcolm Gladwell would tell you that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours on the easel with a good mentor.  That would take a long time painting once a week. 

Pricing should be by the square inch because area is proportional to value.  A buyer does not care how long the painting took, or whether you think it is wonderful.  She looks for value.  At the beginner stage the price should be low.  If every piece is selling, the price is right.  As the painter emerges the prices can go up.  At this stage the painter is able to acquire gallery representation.  Then comes mid career and finally the mature period.  These stages can not be achieved by short cuts.  You cannot paint today what you will be capable of in 5 years.  Painting every day.

My experience with mid career painters, mature artists, and gallery owners supports this pricing approach.  Robert Genn subscribes to the methodology.  By these standards much of the art at the juried show was between 3 and 10 times overpriced.

Harold's advice, second hand as it has been, has turned out to be true in every case.  It took me some years to resolve these nuggets.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Stunned by the Colour

Totally stunned by the colour.  For some reason I have not painted in Algonquin park till this year.  We hit the peak of the colours.  Walls of colour.  Odd colour - wild purple, loud rose, every red in the book and a few more.  Excited.  We drove for near 250 kilometers looking for something to paint.  Harold screaming to just sop and paint.  Brain on overload.  Finally we started looking for small patches of colour that might tell a story.  A wall of brilliant hots just doesn't do it.  The human eye with its large field of view sees the large sweeps of colour in context with complements, structures, greys etc.  So we looked for chunks that would stand on their own.  We ended up on the outskirts of town (Whitney).  Set up on a dirt road.  Middle of the road!

End of Day Light

Using the Stapleton Kearns fingers trick we determined that we had about 30 minutes till the sun disappeared below the tree line.

Some Structure

The odd person driving along, creeping, thinking moose or who knows what, didn't get upset with characters set up mid road.  It got us painting instead of driving.

The next day we woke up still stunned.  We faced walls like this.

No Justice with Photo

So we settled in to a spot without hordes of picture snappers.  Quiet and beautiful.  Paintings in every direction.

My Studio

Chunking down I settled on a scene with greens and violets dominant.

Massing In Shapes - Big Brush

A quick wash, a thumbnail sketch to determine shapes and values and wait for the wash to set up. First, the complements to the final layers of colour.  Then....

Stand Back

This time we decided to use chairs to help with stamina.


Friday, October 5, 2012

The Eye Line Perspective and Composition

I have found that quite a few people have some difficulty applying the eye level (eye line, horizon line) in their painting.  The eye level is found by looking out to the horizon and seeing where that imaginary line sits within the shapes you wish to paint.  Sometimes the horizon is hidden by buildings, stands of trees, hills and mountains.  The horizon is still there somewhere beyond these obstacles.  If you are employing traditional perspective in your concept, then the eye line has some practical uses.  If you look at a three dimensional shape, you will find that the mass moving away from you will diminish in size going towards the eye line.  The part of the shape above the eye line will move away from you down toward the the eye line.  The part of the shape below the eye line will move away from you up toward the eye line.  You can place the eye line anywhere you wish on your canvas.  There are many options for the composition.  I suggest students experiment with their thumbnail sketches as follows;

4 Sample Thumbnails

The thumbnail in the upper left was drawn without a border.  There are 5 shapes, sky, tree line, tree in front of the tree line, shack, and ground.  The relative values are indicated.  The eye line was determined to be at the base of the tree line as indicated by the small arrow.  That means that the eye line is somewhere in the middle of the shack, and closer to the bottom of the tree.

The thumbnail at the upper right shows a landscape canvas outline around the same image.  You can see that the eye line is near the centre of the canvas.  The thumbnail on the lower left shows a canvas with the eye line placed low.  This gives more emphasis to the sky - the shape is larger.  The thumbnail on the lower right is a high eye level version of the same image.  Here the foreground is emphasized, and the sky is eliminated - a simplified image.  There might be more implications to this last trial.  If the canvas is a long portrait type, the viewer will have the feeling that you have painted down almost to your feet.  Or they might feel that there are two points of view in the same painting.  Or they might feel the land is tilted - flattening the picture shapes.

Trying a number of variations will help you determine your concept and further help you determine how you might proceed before you commit to paint and problem solving on the fly.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Judge It

"Most of us forget that ART comes from ARTIFICIAL."  And so it does, I looked it up in the dictionary.  These were the introductory remarks of Eric Atkinson (painter and educator) as he began to explain his jurying process.  He had just named my small  11x14" oil on linen the winner.  Eric being an abstract painter, I expected him to pick an abstract as winner.  Go figure.

He went on to say that as such, a copy of the motif was really not art.  He might have said it was not too interesting.  He pointed out the use of colour and the design of the space in the image.  He was big on these two elements.  He meant the judicial use of colour, not the raving, loud, colour everywhere use.  When everyone is yelling no one is heard.  His emphasis on space I had not heard before (even though I work on this continually).  He proceeded to show the group how depth was achieved in this painting even though it was relatively flat or compressed.  He compared it to another painting which by comparison had no depth but came forward out of the picture plane into the viewer's space (21st century he said - A flat image with a collaged item would do that).  Then he showed another comparison of a painting with drawn perspective (indicating depth) on top of a come- forward flat image.  Interesting.  On the surface he did not seem to dwell on fundamentals such as drawing or value.  "Painting is problem solving, you have to figure out how to achieve what you want" (concept).

Here is the judged winner.

Ivy Tea Time, 11x14, Oil on Linen

In summary Eric judged as favourable;

  • The arrangement in space
  • The building shape to the left
  • The shape activation and treatment
  • Bold colour with the green balancing the orange
  • The return to the picture plane from the sky

When this was painted on site it was mostly overcast.  Thus no shadows.  So I decided to make a local tone painting.  Everything else proceeded from there.

You judge.