Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gum Tree and Fence

Oil on Canvas Board

I copied this painting from a photo from the Wet Canvas Image Resource Library.

Trees and Pond

Oil on Canvas Board

I copied this painting from a photo from the Wet Canvas Image Resource Library.

Sunflowers and Barn

Oil on Canvas Board

I copied this painting from a photo from the Wet Canvas Image Resource Library.


Oil on canvas panel

This is a field of Sunflowers that I did from a photo I took.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunshine Through the Trees

Oil on Canvas Board

I tried some new things with this painting.

First, I was trying to keep it “painterly”, by using the palm of the brush instead of the fingertips.

Secondly, I underpainted the mountain and sky area with Yellow Ochre, and I underpainted the ground area with Burnt Sienna. I thought the Yellow Ochre would give the sky and mountains more sparkle as it showed through, but the Burnt Sienna looks good for dirt.

Thirdly, I tried something new with my palette. I saw some pretty paintings last week at a gallery, and the cool colors were so rich and Easter-eggy. I fooled around trying to see how the artist did it, and I think she ONLY used Cerulean and NO Ultramarine Blue. It made a whole new bunch of greens, blues and purples. So I tried that here, but it didn’t work exactly as planned since I had the Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna underpainting. But it was still interesting. I found that it was very hard getting darks since Cerulean is so light.

Lastly, I wanted to try to get the effect of the sun glaring through the trees. I took the photo on purpose for that reason. But the actual photo had more glare on it, so I had to imagine how the branches would come close to the sphere of the sun.

I didn’t get it all right the first time, so I let it dry, then I went back and took another shot at the sky and the pine tree.

I don’t think this is a “gallery” painting, but more of an exercise. But overall, I think I did okay because I did learn what I was trying to learn: How a Yellow Ochre underpainting affects the painting, how Cerulean behaves, and how to make the sun glare. With more practice, I hope to get better at all these things.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Marketing 10 Commandments for Art by Dick Harrison

1. You can't sell it if you don't show it!

2. The most effective way to show and sell your art is almost always in person with the art in hand. If you show and sell your own work, you deserve 100% of the profit. If you ask others to help you sell your art, they must be fairly compensated for their knowledge, time, effort and expenses.

3. Learn how the “art business” really works – who gets how much and why. There are accepted standards and you are not an exception.

4. As a professional artist part of your productive working hours WILL be spent in selling and promoting yourself and your art. Think 50%.

5. Interior Designers, Decorators, Architects, Gallery Personnel, Accessory Buyers, Consultants and Art Reps who help you sell your work are ART PROFESSIONALS, too. They should be treated as such.

6. Never undercut the prices you have established with the sales professionals who help sell your work. “Back door” or “studio sales” to an associate’s client is the worst “sin” an artist can commit.

7. Talent and technical excellence are not the only skills necessary for a successful career in art.

8. Develop a distinctive style, theme or subject matter.

9. Stay aware of art trends, particularly “fashionable” colors and subjects that drive the market.

10. Never stop learning. Listen to the people who buy your art or sell it for you. If you aren’t selling, you aren’t listening - or you are aiming at the wrong audience. Be ready to adapt or change your approach.

Bonus Commandment: The difference between a "wannabe" success and a "gonnabe" success is to become a "busybee."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Painting Insight by Ugo Felici

I was admiring the paintings by Ugo Felici, and I emailed him and asked him how he does it. There is a link to his website under my “Artist Friends and Influences” section. Here is his answer:

“I do not know if it may be your case, but to a lot of people, who approach the oil painting, escapes a fundamental thing: the oil painting is a layered technique. This means that on the first layer of color (draft), new layers are applied later, but each next layer requires that the lower layer is dry. So it is fairly easy to create trees on snow or shadows in a face, if we have an already dry, colourful base.

To ease in, I make a first draft by acrylics colors, which quickly dry, later I finish my paint by oil. I tried to explain, few days ago, my technique in another forum, but not knowing well 'English, I do not know if someone understood me.

I will answer to your questions saying to you that I prefer a highly tactile painting. So, usually, I much worry at first to get an interesting texture by a priming coat, creating irregularities on it. This will allow me later to get some suggestions in colours, due to chance. I do not know, initially, exactly what will happen at last on my board.

So usually I start with a coat of acrylic primer, or as an alternative I use a common wall-paint, mixed with vinavil (glue), then by some scrapers or also some small sponge rolls, I give it an irregular aspect. This mixture according to the amount of added glue, may have a different absorbing power, so it would be better, before, to test it.
I always use wooden boards, in fact it could not be suitable on canvas, that is much elastic, causing in future some cracks.

Then I give by paint-brush a second fast coat using acrylic colours. In this stage I pay no attention in getting the right hue, indeed I try hues that will come in contrast (complementary or cold-warm) with the final hues. This will give depth to my paint.

At last, using some common scrapers and a small knife for particulars, I abrade, I stratify and finish by oil colours my job. However I will never completely cover the first acrylic coat, so those precious spots of the first acrylic coat, trapped below the roughness of the texture, those variegations that will come out here and there, will serve to make more vibrating the definitive colours of my work. it is difficult for me to set straight a complex thing, not well knowing English , I hope that you have anyway understood.”

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Oak Tree and Hills

Oil on Canvas Board

This is another image from the WetCanvas Image Library. It had a fence in it, but it just looked good at this point, so I stopped. The sky really is a pale blue, not white. I am able to do these small images at home in about 1 1/2 hours. These small ones at night are good practice, so that I have my systems down for when I do plein airs.

Grand Tetons: Colorful Hill

Oil on Canvas Board

My favorite art website is WetCanvas.com. There are many people there who give me encouragement and pointers. They also have a Resource Image Library of copywrite-free photos for the WetCanvas members to paint from. I found this image, and I gave it a try. I chose it because I wanted to practice grass and atmospheric perspective. Thank you to whomever uploaded it.

Plein Air: Carpenteria Bluffs Another Angle

Oil on Canvas Board

I did this the same day as the last one. I didn't have to move my set-up, I just faced a different direction. The sun was setting, and I was up high, so the sun was peeking underneath the trees.

Plein Air: Carpenteria Bluffs

Oil on Canvas Board

I read a book by Bob Rohm called “The Painterly Approach”. That was an eye opener. Now I am going to paraphrase what I understood him to say. He said there are two kinds of painting: “linear” and “painterly”. Linear is not bad, it is just different. In a linear painting, you carefully outline where your objects are going to go, then you fill them in. This is like the Dutch Maters, or paint-by-number. It’s okay, it is just the “linear” way.

Then there is the “painterly” way. You take your big raggedy brush, and using the flat side of it, you scribble in masses of color where your objects are going to go. He showed a demo picture, and it reminded of me of when you give a four-year-old a coloring book: green scribbles in the tree “area”, red scribbles in the barn “area”. Ah-ha!

I remember other great landscape books saying things like, “Block in the masses, and then add the detail”. I would carefully outline where the masses would go (linear), then color them in very carefully (linear), then take a thin brush and draw on the details (linear). And my painting still looked so stiff, not loose like the author’s.

Well, I went plein air painting, and I gave this new scrub-your-masses in system a try. The brush that happened to be in my kit was a beat up mess. It was wonderful! It made such great random strokes. When I got home, I took another cheap filbert that I had and gave it a nice layered hair-do so I could have one for my “studio”.

I did the grass the way Ron Guthrie once explained to me: Smear the grass-color on with your knife, then take the tip of your knife and drag up some individual grass blades.

Mission Cross

Oil on Canvas Board

The cross is a historical marker in our area. 200 years ago, the Catholic Church established Missions up the coast of California. Our Mission is “San Buena Ventura”, which means “Saint Good Venture”. (Other Missions have names like Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and San Diego, which gave those cities their names.) ANYWAY, when they founded this mission, they put a big cross up on the hill, and people drive up there to look at it, and enjoy the great view of the beach.

A neighbor told me that if I painted the cross he would pay me. I said okay becuase I really didn't know what to say. I could barely paint when he asked me. Now I am a lot better. I painted it for the challenge, but I think artistically, it doesn’t do much for me, and I think that shows in the painting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Alla Prima: Mission Bench

Oil on Canvas Board

The last one went so well, I tried another one. This was from a photo I took up at the Santa Barbara Mission. I did it in one shot, with no touch-ups later. This makes it an “Alla Prima”, which means, “All at the First”.

Field of Purple Flowers

Oil on Canvas Board

I decided that I needed to practice more often, so I tried painting a picture at home in the evenings after work. I chose a picture from my photo album, and did it in one sitting. I was not happy with it, so I touched it up a little after it dried somewhat.

Plein Air: Olivas Garden Arch

Oil on Canvas Board
6 x 8

I went to the Olivas Adobe again, and it was an overcast day. The sun was barely shining through the clouds. I never painted a cloudy day, so I found a good place to sit and see the sun, and I painted as fast as I could. I didn’t like how it came out initially, but later I felt it was a bit whimsical, so I kept it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Plein Air: Meditation Mount

Oil on Canvas
6 x 8

I overheard someone say that there was a boarding school at the end of Ojai that was very beautiful (they were discussing it as a place to hold a wedding), and there was a nice spot nearby with a great view of the Ojai Valley. So I drove out there, and discovered signs to "Meditation Mount".

On top of the hill, there was a parking lot, picnic tables, and an auditorium with glass walls facing the view. There was also a short path through a beautiful drought tolerant garden (lantana, lavender, kangaroo paws, gum trees) and many quiet spots to sit and watch the sun set. It seemed very Eastern: Buddhist or Hindu, but I could not tell. There were signs to be quiet out of respect for people meditating. Altogether, there were lots of things for me to paint, nice people, and very peaceful.

For this painting, I sat on a low wall next to the auditorium. The eucalyptus trees were back lit and the leaves were glowing like stained glass. I could not capture that, but I will definitely be back and try again.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Plein Air: Eucalyptus Tree

Oil on Canvas 6 x 8 I went to the Olivas Adobe again and painted this eucalyptus tree. When I was looking for a suitable subject, I walked past it, and it just smelled so good, I had to stop and paint it. I think now the lines on the trunk could be sharper, and the sky a little more brilliant, but this is how it came out.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Second Portrait Attempt: Emmy

Oil on Canvas Board
11 x 14

This is my second attempt at a portrait. It is from a photo that I snapped of a friend. I tried really hard to get the drawing correct, but I was not able to do it. I thought it was right when I started painting, but by the time it was done, it just didn’t look right. Next time I might try to get the drawing done on paper first and then transfer it, like the old masters did.

The first day took 3 hours to draw, and then 5 hours to do the skin. I also quickly blocked in some colors for the other parts. I blocked in ultramarine blue for the shirt, and random dark greens and blues for the background.

For the skin: yellow ochre + cad red light + white.
For the lips: skin color + alizarin crimson.

The next Saturday, I worked on the rest of the picture. The hair was extra tricky because she was growing her blond out.

For the dark hair: raw umber + burnt umber (+ white where needed)
For the light hair: raw umber + yellow ochre (+ white)

I put straight black on the shirt, then scumbled some Payne’s gray on it.

I learned so much from this attempt: skin color, modeling the skin, doing hair, eyes, etc. I know the drawing is off, but the next one will be better yet!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Portrait Exercise “Victoria”

Oil on Canvas Board
12 x 16

I rented a SmartFlix instructional video by Johnnie Liliedahl on how to paint a portrait. Here is the link to her website: http://www.lilipubs.com/.

I watched it, and took lots of notes. This is the picture that she demos and expects you to follow along. I thought I grabbed an 11 x 14 canvas, but I got a bigger one instead. I think larger canvases are more difficult.

Johnnie recommended sketching the head in freehand, but mine was coming out all wrong. She says things like, "Mark the top and the bottom of the head, then the width. Now mark where the pupils will go." She did hers effortlessly. Mine was coming out like Picasso. Finally, I wiped it down and gridded it off like I normally do. That helped a lot, but it still looks skewed to me. Honestly, it’s “okay” for a generic portrait, but I didn’t even capture the likeness accurately. Johnnie might be able to freehand it, but I can’t.

Johnnie recommends certain colors and an alkyd medium, but my colors just didn’t look right. It was starting to look like a young girl with too much pancake make-up on. I used the same palette, but I mixed up some lighter colors.

All my notes did not help me to get it to look right, so I just abandoned them and started copying. Even copying her picture seemed too hard, so I copied her little wallet sized picture of the reference photo. Alan’s motto is “just keep working on it until it looks right”, so I just kept plugging away, fussing and fussing.

When it came to the hair, Johnnie did not say how to do highlights. I thought that my subject looked like she had a Halloween wig on, so I used the fan brush and put some yellow ocher in it. It helped.

Though it is not perfect, I think it is a good first attempt at a portrait.

Plein Air: Adobe Courtyard with Roses

Oil on Canvas Board
6 x 8

I went back to the Olivas Park Adobe, and found this rose garden. The sun was going down, the shadows were moving fast, and the light was golden. I know this looks like it’s a house with no windows, but it is really a wall with a storage room on the end. It took about 11/2 hours. I am feeling more confident about doing plein airs and I am getting my system down.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Paint Along with Ron Guthrie

Oil on Masonite
9 x 12

I painted with my friend Ron on Sunday. It was wonderful to paint with him. I looked forward to painting with him so much that I was having nightmares about things going wrong. I dreamed I showed up, and forgot all my paints and brushes. Then I dreamed that Alan and I were trying to go to his house, and people kept showing up at my house, so I could not leave.

Ron paints mostly landscapes of rolling California hills with oaks and eucalyptuses on them. They are really breathtaking. Ron has many paintings selling in galleries, and you can view his website at http://www.guthrieart.com/. Together we painted a picture that he made up, so he could show me some of his procedures for the various parts. This is what I learned.

Ron uses a limited pallet, with a couple of special colors.

Regular colors
* Ultramarine Blue
* Cadmium Yellow Light (My CYL was a bright yellow, like a lemon peel, but his was darker and oranger, like orange juice concentrate. This made his greens more muted, so I switched to Cadmium Yellow Deep.)
* Alizarin Crimson
* Yellow Ochre
* Payne’s gray
* Titanium White.

Special colors
* Cerulean Blue Thalo. I had Cerulean blue that was not the “thalo” type. Mine was a nice, cyan-ish blue, but not bright. Ron’s Cerulean Thalo was more neon. Ron said once he was trying to do the highlights on the leaves in a vineyard, and a marine artist that he admires recommended using Cerulean Blue Thalo to get the effect.
* Indian Yellow. I had a hard time finding this, but I found it at Michal’s in the Windsor Newton display. It was not with the yellows, but with the oranges, because it is kind of a pumpkin-y color. When I used it, it behaved like a transparent, golden yellow ocher. I really like it. Ron said that his marine painter friend uses Indian Yellow in his seascape rocks.

Ron paints on Masonite boards that he cuts up himself and glues his own canvas to, using Elmer’s white glue.
Ron uses Copal Medium because it makes the paint tack up pretty fast. He thinks that linseed oil just makes things slurpy and runny. Then you wind up with a lot of mud. Every time we mixed a puddle of color, we put a drop or two of Copal in it. Ron said that Copal makes the paint coagulate, and I found that to be a pretty accurate description. When I first would mix the Copol into a color, it would feel thick and buttery, and went down nicely on the canvas, but very soon, it would get sticky. We put it into EVERY mixture that we created. It really made a big difference in the painting surface.

We did not tone the canvas, but just put a few faint pencil lines on for major shapes: hill, tree, foreground, etc.

We mixed up a puddle of light blue with the cerulean and white. It was so pale, that it was almost white. With a BIG hogs hair bush (about #10 or #12) we randomly (and thinly) blocked in the sky. We left space towards the horizon to leave room for the clouds. We made another pale puddle of Indian Yellow and white and bushed that in the cloud area. Then we took a fan brush, and as gently as a feather, blended it all in. We blended it in with diagonal strokes one way, then diagonal strokes the other way. The Indian yellow blending with the cerulean made it a little green, but that was okay.

We did this two more times, each time adding a little more cerulean or Indian yellow to their respective puddles, and began to shape the sky. Each time we used the fan brush to softly blend it. I found that the Indian yellow gave the clouds an antique-y look.

We made sure to save some of the sky color on the palette for the sky holes at the end.

Distant Mountains
We made a light blue with Ultramarine Blue and white. It was a little darker than the sky, but still, very light. Then we added a tad of Alizarin Crimson to make it a cool lavender, and a tad of Payne’s-Gray-mixed-with-white to make it duller. Added the copal. Then we put this on the mountain area. We were careful to keep the top edge of the mountain very soft. For the distant dirt, we very lightly dragged some Yellow Ocher over the mountain.

Bottom of the Mountain
We mixed some ultramarine blue with come of the sky blue made with cerulean, and dragged a line of that under the mountain. It looks like distant something to me.

Eucalyptus Tree
The dark part of the eucalyptus tree needed to set up. We mixed a dark green, with mostly ultramarine blue, a tad of cadmium yellow light, and a tad of alizarin crimson. I was trying to get, specifically, a dark green, but he said we were really just going for “dark”. He said that people looking at it will assume that it is green. I think the color I wound up with was closer to Navy Blue. We used a medium filbert brush and scumbled (random dry-brush pouncing and smearing) into the darkest part of the tree. I was taught by someone else to put the dark shadow in the whole silhouette of a tree, but he recommended leaving it bare where the lightest part will be. So basically, we darkened about ¾ of the tree.

Distant Ground
We made a medium green with equal parts of ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow light, and a tad of alizarin crimson, and bushed it thinly into the distant ground area. Then we mixed some gray with Payne’s gray and white, and gently brushed it over the top of the green, thicker towards the “back” of the scene, and almost none towards the “front” of the scene. That helped push the green back into the distance.

Distant Trees
We mixed up a dark green with lots of ultramarine blue, some cadmium yellow light, and a tad of alizarin crimson to dull it up a bit. It was dark brownish green of an ripe avocado. We scumbled that in. then we took Payne’s-gray-mixed-with-white, and mixed that into the green, and scumbled that on top of it for the highlights. That made the highlights cool and pushed the trees back. I am so used to using blue to push colors back, that using the coolness of gray was new to me.

I was very mystified by the foreground. What about all that detail in the grass, and the weird color of dirt? We mixed up some more green, a little yellower, and laid it in for the foreground grass. For the dirt, we mixed up yellow ochre and white, until it was light enough, and we laid that it with a knife. I had never use a knife before, but I just did my best. It worked fine. He said for dark dirt or grass, you just add more yellow ochre. For shadows in dirt, use ultramarine blue and yellow ochre. When I finished putting in the dirt, it looked to me like a cheese 1960’s knife painting, but Ron said it looked great.

Then we took the fan brush, and with the tips, pulled up grass in the green part. We did it like this: we held the brush aloft by the handle, so the fan part hung down like a pendulum. We grabbed a bit of the paint with the very tips of the bristles, and pulled it up in short strokes. Of course, this has to look random. The grass can be varied with other greens and browns, and shadows can be put in by dipping the fan brush into the ultramarine blue and doing the same brushstrokes at the root of the grass.

For the individual blades of grass, those were done with the knife too. We held the knife, also upside down like a pendulum, and loaded the side of it with paint, and drew the side upward through the grass and the dirt. When the grass was done, it looked terrific.

Finishing the Eucalyptus Tree
We mixed up some more very dark green: lots of ultramarine blue, some cadmium yellow light, and a tad of alizarin crimson. It was barely lighter than the Navy Blue color we laid in for the shadow. Since the tree is closer, it is darker and has more detail than the far away trees. We scumbled that in the top part of the tree that we left blank (facing the light, and the rest of the tree, but leaving the navy blue layer exposed on the part of the tree that was mostly in shadow. Of course, don’t make this solid, but random, like clumps of leaves. I did not like mine, it just looked like a big blob. I even thought I could see a face in it. But Ron said it was fine.

Then we added a little more yellow, until we had a medium green; not very light at all. We scumbled that in for the highlights on the upper left hand corner of the tree, where the sun would be hitting it the strongest. Ron said to go easy on this part.

Mine still looked like a blob when it was done. Ron said it was fine. Now he said to put in the sky holes. He explained that the leaves on “eucs” (eucalyptuses) in clumps, like cotton balls. So you need to describe the cotton balls by putting the sky holes between them. I used a tiny sable brush, and put a few dots of blue on, but it did not seem to help. I looked over and he was putting in more and more sky holes. Every time I thought I had enough, I noticed that he was putting in more. So I put in more. Hey! It was starting to look like a eucalyptus tree!

For the trunk and branches, we used some random light gray, and put them in broken lines. Where the top of the branches disappeared into the foliage, we cooled it with a little light ultramarine blue, and then some dark at the very top. Then we popped some bright highlights of light yellow ocher onto the exposed branches.

When the painting was all done, I could not believe it. I was so happy with my painting and everything that I had learned. I learned something new in every step.

Here are our two paintings together. Ron's is on the left side.

Plein Air: Adobe Arch

Oil on Canvas Board
6 x 8

It is usually difficult to find a good place to do a plein air. I had no more jobs left for the day, so I wanted to find a good place quickly. I had a newsletter in my car with a schedule for the plein air group, so looked at the locations. One place listed was the Olivas Adobe. That was nearby.

The adobe was closed, so there were no cars or people. But the grounds were open. It was so pretty: interesting architecture, bougainvilleas tumbling over all the walls, eucalyptuses, a beehive oven, a rose garden, and a fountain.

As I was painting this, I was thinking, “I will never have to look anywhere again for plein air subject matter. I will just come here every time”.

Plein Air: Clubhouse Landscaping

Oil on Canvas Board
6 x 8

I was going to do a notary signing in this senior complex, but I was there an hour early. I had all my equipment in the car, so I just painted the landscaping in front of me at the parking lot. I had one hour to set up, paint, and clean up. No time to ponder values and colors. I had to just make it work.

I want to make all of my plein airs a fresh and spontaneous work of art, but I am learning that it is hard enough to get the canvas covered with things in their proper places. What I liked about this scene was the ficuses trimmed into cylinders. They were bright green and really popped against all the other colors. I tried to capture that.

The painting turned about better than I hoped.

Glazing Exercise on a Rose

Oil on Canvas
6 x 8

This is an exercise about glazing. The old masters used glazing a lot to make skin glow in portraits. I want to learn that, so I did this exercise out of a book. The book is “How to Draw and Paint what You See”, by Ray Smith. It has lots of demos in it. This exercise was on page 68.

First I copied the drawing of the rose. Then I painted it in using black and white. The black was made from Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, but really, any black will do. When it was dry, I thinned some Alizarin Crimson with linseed oil, and I brushed it on the rose. Alizarin Crimson is a transparent paint, so it worked just fine. The book recommended a green made out of a different yellow than I had, so I just used what was on hand: Cadmium Yellow. That was a mistake. Cadmiums are very opaque, so it covered up the subtleties in the leaves. I learned a lesson there: when glazing, make sure your colors are transparent. Thinning down opaque colors will not do.

The black background looked flat, so I mixed up some more black with Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna: both transparent colors. That final coat of thin black really made it dark. It looks lighter in the picture because of the reflection of the light.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sycamore Tree, after Ron Guthrie

Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14

I have an artist friend, Ron Guthrie, whose work I admire. He paints lots of pictures of the California Coastal region, with rolling hills, dry grass, eucalyptus and oak trees. I decided to copy one of his paintings as an exercise. Here is a link to his website:


I chose this picture because it looked particularly difficult, and beautiful.

When I copied the tree, I had to make my darks much darker than I usually do. I kept mixing up a dark green, but when I held it up to the reference painting, my green was still bright and light, in comparison. I practically had to make a black-green to get it dark enough. I mixed purple with burnt umber, then added a touch of green. I also had to make black-brown and black-purple. I did not use black at all.

When I was doing the lights, I had the opposite problem: I could not get it light enough. I wound up using a lot of white and just a touch of green for the reflected light on the leaves. The grass and the sky were also much lighter than I am used to making. I could barely see the blue, yellow and green when I mixed them with the white to get the correct value. I realized that the reason is that it is so easy to make a whole painting in medium-value colors, is because a medium value shows off the hue of the color so well. It is too tempting to make things blue, green, brown or yellow like when we were in kindergarten. But if I am going to get good, I must also make things extremely dark, and extremely light.

Also, though I do not have green on my palette, I whip it up all the time. It starts out the color of a park bench, so I add some cadmium red light (which is the intense color of a fire engine) to dull it up. I fool around with it some more to get it like it is in nature. But when I was copying this painting, I needed to add a ton of yellow ochre. I kept thinking if I added any more yellow ochre to the my green, that would make it brown. But I kept adding and adding, and it stayed green, while getting closer and closer to a realistic color of the tree.

Another thing I learned was about my brushes. I somehow got hooked on flat brushes. They do the job for me. But I could not get the strokes on the tree in my reference painting with my flat brushes. I had to get out the filberts, hold them sideways, and drag them in a jaggedy way to make the leaves on this tree. Then they looked more like clumps of foliage than all those polka-dots I made with my flat brushes.

In summery:

Make darker darks, make lighter lights, use a lot more yellow ocher in my greens, and learn to use filberts.

Pink Trees

Oil on Canvas Board
11 x 14

A while back, Alan and I went to the Huntington Library in San Marino (near Pasadena). If you have not been there, it is a phenomenal botanical garden with art museums. They have a Sergeant, a Constable, a Turner, some Impressionists, and lots of Gainsboroughs. They have THE Pinky and THE Blue Boy (which are not the same size, and painted 100 years apart). They also have an Audubon and a Gutenberg Bible. Holy Ground for sure. Whenever I go there, I dress up a bit and bring my camera. There is no point in getting your picture taken by a beautiful plant if you are in your hiking clothes, but be sure to wear your walking shoes.

Anyway, I snapped a picture of some blooming cherry trees. They did not look exactly like this, but I was trying to loosen up my brushstrokes. I got a big brush out and started sloshing around the paint. I was intending to just do the background in bold strokes, but I was having so much fun, I decided to do the whole thing like this. It’s not perfect, the trees being dead center for one thing. But it was fun, and I learned some new things.

Plein Air: Carpenteria Salt Marsh

9 x 12
Oil on Canas Board

I found the Buenaventura Art Association in my neighborhood. I am thinking about joining, so I asked for some flyers. They handed me their newsletter, which included the plein air paint-out schedule for September. It’s free, so I went.

The group meets on Tuesdays, from 10:00 to 3:00, so mostly retired people showed up. I could make it because my own workload is down. I liked finally meeting other artists in my area, and I also now have a list of places to go for plein air subjects.

This was my best rendition of the view that we had. It was overcast that day, and I was nervous about painting a gray sky, so I put a little blue in, but I am not so happy with this either. After I got the sky and hills in, the sun came out and started to burn my neck, so I decided to wrap it up and not put in too many details. I also still don’t have the hang of suggesting foreground grasses.

Like most of my plein airs, I was dazzled by what a great job I did in the sunlight, but when I got home, it became all dull again. I must remember to bring my umbrella next time so I can get the colors more accurate. I also going need to bring sunscreen and maybe stitch a bandana to the back of my hat to protect my neck. I don’t care if it looks silly; people are staring at me anyway.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Napa Vineyard with Mexican Primroses

This took many sessions to paint. I altered the colors and the values of the trees, the hills, and the grass many times until I felt it was just right. I used many different techniques. It was a very instructive painting.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vineyard: Work in Progress

Work in Progress
11 x 14
Oil on Canvas Board

This is a work in progress. It is a vineyard in the Napa Valley. I snapped this picture on vacation when we were going somewhere.

These are the steps I take when painting:

I grid off my reference photo and canvas, and then transfer the drawing with burnt sienna. I used to be impatient to get to the painting part, but I learned that if I get the drawing wrong, it does not matter how well I execute it, it will still look bad. Now I really take my time with the drawing.

Then, still using burnt sienna, I block in the dark areas, and wipe out the light areas, so that I have a value study. They say that “color gets the glory, but value does the work”. If the picture does not read in monochrome, it will not read when color is added.

When I start to paint, I work from top to bottom, back to front. None of this is really special, but this is basically how many oil painters work. I try to complete one section at a time.

On this painting, the sky is done. California is really a desert, so we don’t get many clouds.

I worked on the hill next. I got the basic hill color in, and then the shadow silhouettes of the trees. The trees look random, but I copied their places and sizes carefully to keep the scale and perspective correct. I need to be careful to make each tree interesting. The rule of thumb is, “Never make any two intervals the same”. This means to vary the placement, the size, the color and everything about each tree. This keeps the painting interesting. However, since the focal point will be the vineyard, the hill cannot be shouting for attention, but it much like the ballet corps that supports the Prima Ballerina.

When the hill is dry, I will refine the hill color, and put where the sunlight hits the leaves on the trees. When it is wet, you can only do so much, or it becomes as difficult as painting with butter. The trees that are farther away, I made them bluer and lighter to help push them back. This is the principle of atmospheric perspective.

I read somewhere that painting is like telling a story, and so you need to add the drama and embellishment to make it more interesting, just like a story teller. If I painted it just like a photo, it would look too flat. The photo is the starting point for an interesting story.

Then I blocked in just a bit of the ground of the vineyard. You can still see the burnt sienna sketch there. I think this will be the hardest part for me, and I am dreading it. But if I finish it, I will have taken another step forward in becoming a good painter.

The brown blob in front is going to be a shadow. I will make the shadow more interesting in the next couple of sessions, but when it is done, it will be the backdrop for dried grass and pink poppies. Hopefully, this foreground will pop, which contrasts with the far off hill, and altogether, it will bring a lot of depth into the painting.

There is nothing to indicate it yet, but a big oak tree is overhanging the scene from the left. I will put that in last.

Plein Air: Carpenteria Bluffs

Oil on Canvas Board
6 x 8

I had to go to Santa Barbara for work, so I packed my plein air kit to take with me. On the way home, I got off at every off ramp until I found a good scene to paint. This view is from the top of the bluffs overlooking the ocean. It took about two hours.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Two Trees with Delphiniums

11 x 14
Oil on Canvas Board

This little hill with the two trees is a landmark in Ventura. You can see them from almost any point in the city. Once the hill caught on fire, and when it was all over, everyone wanted to make sure that the Two Trees were okay. The climate is so mild in Ventura that there are many fields growing cutting flowers. I found this perfect spot and I took a lot of pictures. (The mark in the sky is a shadow from a brushstroke.)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Ribbons at the 2008 Ventura County Fair

I entered three of my paintings in the Ventura County Fair and each of them won a ribbon. The “Pond with Succulents” was entered in the Waterscape category, the “Fed Ex Kinko’s” was entered in the Ventura County category, and the “Bieber” (barn by the pond), was entered in the Scene category. On the entry day, I had different categories in mind, but the judges were there and the recommended these categories and said I had a better chance of winning. For example, I was going to put the succulents in the Flowers category, but they said it might have to compete with a painting of a rose. However, the water was very good, so they recommended the Waterscape category. I have painted more paintings since I entered these, but these were the best at the time. Thank you for looking.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ventura Beach Plein Air

Oil on Canvas Boards
6 x 8

We had a pleasant day at the beach on Sunday. I painted this on location. I am beginning to appreciate the difference between painting from a photo and on location. The colors in real life are so much more varied than in a photo. It's very hard to capture them, and I have much less time to do it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Indian Cliff Dwelling

11 x 14
Oil on Canvas Board

This is Montezuma’s Castle, a cliff dwelling in Arizona, between Phoenix and Flagstaff. People are not allowed inside, but there is a little loop trail that goes past it, with lots of benches for resting. I snapped this picture last year.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Shell Offramp

Oil on Canvas Board
11 x 14

This was painted Alla Prima, but not Plein Air. However, I did do it in 2 hours, so I am feeling more confident. It is tempting to think that all the good subjects are far from home, but since gas is going up so much, I decided to really look around and see what was nearby. This was within a few minutes from my house.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Fed Ex Kinkos

Oil on Canvas Board
11 x 14

I have been going to Kinko's daily for the past five years, because I do all my shipping for work from there. I am friends with most of the employees. The manager is always very nice to me. I buy everyone donuts and candy once in a while, and sometimes when I am in a pinch, I can call them on the phone, and they give me extra good service. I thought it would be nice to paint the Kinko's and give it to the manager for a present. I have no idea if he will really appreciate it or not, but I thought it would be good practice anyway. As you can see, cars are not my strong suit. But I did learn a lot about pavement and shadows.

I read somewhere on WetCanvas, that you can make a good gray with Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, then just add white. If you need it warmer, add more Burnt Sienna. If you need it cooler, add more Ultramarine Blue. This helped me with the shadows, the pavement, and keeping the colors from getting too bright.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Shady Garden Corner

Oil on Canvas Board
12 x 16

I wanted to try another Plein Air. I don’t feel like I have this down. I didn’t want to go alone to an isolated spot, so I looked around the house. Since we live in a mobile home, our yard is about the size of a single-wide driveway, and it’s all fenced in. I liked all the potted plants under the tree, and I wanted to get the tree too. I spend a lot of time guessing, so this took me five hours. But I do think it is an improvement over my last Plein Air. I hope the next one is better yet.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Plein Air Class: Pasadena Bridge

11 x 14
Oil on Canvas Board

I went to Rich Gallego's Plein Air Workshop today and I learned a lot. I think he loves teaching as much as he loves painting. I told him that I was a beginner, so he started from scratch with me. He tailored his teaching to my specific problems.

We went to a park in Pasadena, and we took the path to a spot where the bridge loomed in front of us. Rich said we were going to paint the bridge, the trees, and the path. Wow, that was a lot. Then he pulled out a teensy 6x8 canvas. I said, “How are you going to fit that HUGE bridge on that teeny canvas?” I put my 6x8 canvas away, and got out an 11x14, just in case I needed more room for the bridge.

These are some of the things that I learned:

First of all, Rich only let me use one big brush to do everything. Since the canvas was 11x14, he made me use a #8 flat.

At a different workshop I attended, I was taught to mix burnt sienna with alizarin crimson for a wash, and then block in everything with that color. For me, the alizarin always bleeds into everything, giving me purple skies and pink buildings. But at this workshop, Rich had me make an orange using cad lemon light and cad red. We skipped the wash, and just blocked in the shapes. It was a big help. The paint stayed put and did not bleed into my other colors.

Then he had me squint to see the value masses more clearly. We blocked in the shapes with various colors, focusing on getting values correct, and only ballpark color. We worked on the whole canvas simultaneously.

Then he taught me about brushwork. Rich said I need to hold the brush at the tip, and scoop up the paint like a shovel, then lay it on, not “brush” it on. It was a lot more like plastering than painting. Using the sides of the bristles instead of the tips made for more interesting textures. No more polka-dotty leaves that I am used to making.

Also, Rich used a different limited palette than I did. He said he never uses alizarin crimson (which I lean on), and he adds chromatic black, which is a combination of red and green (he explained it better than that, but that’s all I can remember). The chromatic black with cad red light made nice purples. Well, I was there to learn, so that's what I did.

In the middle of the scene were some scrub oaks. They just looked like a green blob to me, but he showed me how to make the front ones warmer and the back ones cooler so they would add depth to the painting.

I learned a lot more than you can see in my painting. Rich talked to me about many elements of painting as we went along. I really got a lot out of the class and I will definately go again.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Using Contrasts in Painting

When little children learn to draw, they think about outlining the shapes, such as a circle is a face. Later, they use crayons, and they put in color: the sun is yellow, the trees are green, and the barn is red.

Shapes and colors are obvious in nature. But for value, you have to start paying attention. Values begin to define the three-dimensionality of the drawing.

A painting without value contrast is flat and uninteresting. When I see paintings by beginners, I notice that they lack value contrasts: The tree is green, the hills are purple, the barn is red, but they are all the same value of green, purple, and red. This was a problem with my beginning paintings too. It was intimidating for me to put in something that might be "too" light, or "too" dark. I thought it would look wrong.

I wanted to play it safe, like with crayons, and hope that just the colors would do the job of revealing the picture. But when I look at my early paintings, I had to face the fact that lack of contrast in values was the problem. There was no REAL light and dark, they were all medium, as if everything was painted on an overcast day. Even if it was overcast, it did not look like that. My paintings needed stronger highlights and deeper shadows, as well as variations of value within the color scheme. I tried to make lighter lights, and darker darks, and the contrasts help my paintings a LOT, even if the other elements of my paintings remained amateur.

Through this lesson, I learned something else. If contrast in values can help a painting, what other contrasts do I need? As a beginner, I am also tempted to make everything in my painting bright, colorful, and wonderful. But then, like the experienced painters say, everything winds up shouting, and nothing gets heard.

I examine the beautiful paintings in galleries and museums and I notice they have more contrasts than just light and dark:

Light and Dark value
Dull and Bright chroma
Warm and Cool colors
Soft and Hard edges
Detailed and Vague areas

To include these is easier said than done. Contrasts are part of the work of PLANNING a painting.

In a way, a painting is like an orchestral piece:

Soft and Loud (like soft and hard edges)
High and Low (like light and dark)
Background and Soloist (like dull and bright)
Wind and strings (like warm and cool)
Fast and slow (like detail and shapes)

All these contrasts make art interesting, and they make you want to linger and soak up the whole piece. Without contrasts, paintings and music are monotonous, predictable and boring. No one lingers for that. But with opposites, each opposite provides contrast, and that makes each opposite “pop”, both in painting and in music.

I am sure every great composer had to think, "Where am I gong to put the loud and the soft? Where I am going to put the fast and the slow? When will the soloist shine, and when with the orchestra come in?" We need to do the same with our paintings.

When I look at a "great" painting, I take time to notice (as a lesson to myself): Where is the light and dark? Where is the dull and bright? Where is the warm and the cool? Where are the soft and hard edges?” They didn’t just happen; they were planned. Then I evaluate my paintings: Whoops, all hard edges. Whoops, all medium value. Whoops, no dull area to make my bright focal point pop. Sometimes I realize that in my haste to just draw everything, I forgot to plan the focal point. That's like not having musical theme for the orchestra to show off.

Every inch of the canvas needs to be intriguing, but you can't just paint the whole thing Cadmium Orange to hold someone's attention. With opposites making variations, there is something interesting happening in every brushstroke of the canvas, just like every instrument in the orchestra contributes to the music, whether it is star soloist on the violin, or the unknown gently tapping the triangle in the background. Then the viewer will linger and lose himself the painting, exploring all the interesting and stimulating opposites that draw his eye into the work of art.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ventura Moonrise

Oil on Canvas Board

We live 10 minutes from the beach, and sometimes I like to go down and take pictures of the sunset. That day was a phenomenal sunset, I was snapping away with the camera. Alan said, “Hey turn around and look at the moon”. Full moons always rise around sunset. I said, “No Alan, I’m busy getting this sunset”. But he kept pestering me, so to please him I turned around. It was so beautiful: the moon rising and the sky all pink and lavender. Then he said, “Come down here near the water, and you can see the sky reflected in the wet sand”. It was even prettier. I am so glad that he pestered me. This is one of those photos from that day. It took me seven hours in one session.

The photo does not show it well, but the pink clouds have a little glow to them. I tried to use Alizarin Crimson and white, but that just made a washed-out, soft pastel pink. I remember a long time ago, I saw a demonstration, and the artist (Linda Lee) knocked out some thunderheads in a glowing pink sunset. The demonstration was indoors at night, and she was not even using a reference photo. It was amazing. I remembered she said she used some “rose” paint for the magenta clouds. So I dug around in my paints and I found some Thaylo Rose. I know that my Thaylo Green and my Thaylo Blue are totally overpowering, and should not be used unless painting a neon sign. I figured if this was Thaylo Rose, it was going to be super powerful, and super pink. It was. Sure enough, a little dab-l-do-ya.

I think learning to paint is a lot like climbing a mountain. To get to the top from the trailhead, there are exactly 105,837 steps. There are no shortcuts: you just have to take every step. With learning to paint, you have to paint 1000 paintings. There are no secrets or shortcuts, you just have to knock them out one at a time. So far, every painting is just a little better than the last. This one isn’t perfect, but it is better than the last one. I am one more painting closer to being a great painter.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Korean Ozarks

11 x 14
Oil on Canvas Board

This was painted from a photo snapped by my nephew Kevin. He grew up on his family’s ranch in the Oklahoma Ozarks. Kevin went into the Marines, and when he was stationed in Korea, he found a place that looked exactly like Oklahoma, so he took a picture.

I liked this picture because of the split-complimentary color scheme of the blue and violet in the background, and the gold in the foreground. Also, I tend to paint everything with a sharp edge, and I wanted to try varying my edges to get more depth and interest in the painting. It’s too easy to make every brush stroke the same, either hard or soft. I painted it in one six-hour session. Every painting for me is an exercise, and I learn more and more from each one.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Succulents with Pond

11 x 14
Oil on Canvas Board

I am feeling more confident with my painting. I did this from a photo I snapped, and it took many hours spread out over a few days. I did not get stuck or frustrated though. I have a system now for where to put my supplies, and a system for getting the picture on the canvas. I am not as intimidated as to which colors to mix to get the color I need. I don’t get bogged down in the ugly stage when I only have dark values on the canvas. When the painting was done, I was not satisfied with it: the rocks on the right were fighting to be the focal point, so I had to redo some of the stuff on the left. Overall, I am satisfied. I think the next one will be even better.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Acacias at Calico

11 x 14
Oil on Canvas Board

I painted this from a photo I took up at Calico Ghost Town. The sun was going down, so everything was golden. The building was particularly red, which made the green acacia trees really pop. I tried to capture that. When the painting was wet, the darks were rich and deep, and the lights really sparkled. But when it dried, somehow everything reverted to a medium value.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Oak View Vineyard, Studio Painting.

Oil on Stretched Canvas

I tried something new that more advanced painters do: I took my plein air painting of this scene, along with some photo references, and tried to paint a "studio painting". This took me two whole Saturdays. I got so frustrated with the trees on the left, that I sanded them down and started over. I think I really bit off more than I could chew, but I learn something from every painting. I think I will go back to smaller paintings, and try to do them "alla prima", which means all at once (one sitting).

Somewhere near Bieber

Oil on Canvas Board
12 x 16

Alan and I were up in Modoc County, and we drove past this picturesque scene, and I yelled, "Stop!" So he did and I took a bunch of pictures. Now every time we go up to see family, we always go by here and take some more pictures. I don't know exactly where it is, but Alan does. I painted this from the photo. It took me all day to paint, and I scraped it down and almost gave up at one point. But I perservered, and I think this is my best painting so far.