Monday, December 12, 2016

Painting Without Solvents - More Tips for Oil Painters!

I recently received an email from a reader, asking a question about solvent-free oil painting:

* I have re-published the article referred to below, along with some of the previous comments that provide further information.
Hi Laurel,
I came across your article on oil painting without solvents which I need to start doing as I have developed a real allergic reaction to OMS type thinners. You mentioned that you use walnut oil as a medium for cleaning your brushes. Have you tried Safflower oil? or will that cause problems with my oil paintings. The reason I ask is the Walnut oil, which I use to thin my oils has become very expensive. Anyway, if you have had experience with that I would really appreciate any feed back about that as I don't want to give up painting with oils.
Thank you, LP
Here is my reply:
Thanks so much for your letter, LP. Hang in there, you definitely do not have to retire your oils! 
I am sorry to hear that you have developed an allergy to odorless mineral spirits (OMS). I do use it sometimes, usually outdoors, but tend to avoid it in favour of straight paint (often initially applied with a palette knife) or sometimes a medium that with only a little OMS.
You might want to give some thought to your method of painting. For instance, alla-prima painting is conducive to working without solvents. Once you have some paint on the support, there is no need for thinners. I often use a palette knife to put on the first layer; then, as long as it remains wet (usually a few days if using the right pigments - avoiding earth shades like umbers and ochres, for instance, that dry quickly) you can easily blend and work the paint without any solvents until it starts to tack up. I use a small container of walnut oil, dipping in without touching the sides of the container to avoid a mess and wiping off the brush between colors. If you like to let the work dry between layers, oiling out, as discussed in my article below is another option. Particularly when painting in layers, a solid support will age better (less cracking due to movement) than stretched canvas. 
Walnut oil is an excellent substitute for OMS and is much more archival, creating a stronger paint film. For cleaning brushes, I have used safflower oil, so your instincts are correct. In fact, as long as you wash the brushes thoroughly with soap and water afterward, you can use any vegetable oil. Since safflower is also a drying oil (along with walnut and linseed), if it does end up in your paint film, it will not prevent the painting from drying properly, so it is a safer choice than generic vegetable oil, yet still more affordable than walnut oil.   
Interestingly, I recently came upon some information that slightly contradicts some of my previous practices. Apparently, to preserve your brushes, some painters recommend soaking new brushes in mineral oil (baby oil) before using, as this will deposit non-drying oil in the ferrule and prevent paint from permanently stiffening and ruining brushes. We should be using only the ends of our brushes for painting, perhaps halfway up the bristles, but I know I often lose control and end up with a brush soaked in paint right up into the ferrule. Because of my messy habits, I am now thinking about using this method to preserve my brushes. I could then use any oil to remove most of the paint and wash with soap and water. I guess the only risk here is some of the non-drying oil preventing your painting drying! I think the risk is low if you clean the brushes thoroughly after rinsing in safflower oil. 
Another idea to save yourself a lot of time washing brushes every time you paint (in addition to suggestions in the article below) is to suspend them in oil. There are brush washers that have a wire coil to hang them from - just fill the bottom with walnut oil (after wiping them off thoroughly to get rid of most of the paint) and suspend them with just the bristles in the oil. When you are ready to paint again, wipe them off and get to work. With this method, you would not be using as much walnut oil, so could save some dollars that way. I hope that helps! Any further questions, please post a comment and I will get back to you here. 
Happy painting, LP - let me know how it goes!
An additional comment I have, is to use a 3-bucket, environmentally friendly method of brush cleaning if you are worried about your plumbing (and care about the environment) - that way, only microscopic amounts of oil (and toxic pigment) will go down the sink - you have more worries from your cooking pots!

*stock photo

Here is the original article with some of the comments:


(As published in Curry's Artwise Newsletter, March 2007)

I spent many years painting with watercolors and acrylics because I was scared of solvents.I didn’t want to deal with something so toxic on a regular basis. This was a real shame, because I now paint almost exclusively with oils and I love the buttery texture, lack of color shift (the color, when dry, is exactly the same value as when you put it down, rather than darker as in the case of acrylics, or lighter when using watercolor) and ease of revising my work. Of course, you can always use water soluble oils, but as a professional portrait artist, I prefer traditional oils. It came as a revelation to learn that solvents were not necessary when painting with traditional oil paints, in fact, for archival reasons, it is actually preferable to not to use them at all in painting mediums. Another benefit from painting without the use of solvents is that there is no need for complicated ventilation systems and no worries about the fumes affecting the health of yourself and family members.

I use paint straight from the tube and do not usually use a painting medium, other than a very small amount of cold pressed linseed oil or walnut oil if the paint is too stiff.Sometimes, when adding a second or third layer of paint, I will “oil out” the surface by adding a microscopically thin layer of oil before beginning to paint again. After sprinkling the oil over the area with a palette knife and rubbing it in with a rag, it is a good idea to use a small makeup sponge to remove any excess oil. Using the “oiling out” technique accomplishes the same thing as retouch varnish, without the solvents, by bringing back the original appearance of the piece, refreshing any dry or sunken areas and facilitates matching colors. It also helps the paint flow on more smoothly due to the wet surface.

While I am painting, I try to use a lot of brushes, keeping at least one brush for each value so I don’t have to rinse clean the brush in solvent as I paint. I have a brush holder, which is fairly easy to make, that holds 3 rows of 11 brushes (yes, you read that correctly, 33 brushes) but I don’t always use that many, sometimes making do with just one row of 11 brushes, for 9 values plus black and white. The system, inspired by one of my past instructors, Marvin Mattelson (who teaches at The School of Visual Arts in New York City), involves using small, medium and large brushes in three rows. Being somewhat organizationally challenged, I usually get them mixed up, but it is fairly easy to just dip the brush in some walnut oil and wipe it off on a paper towel or rag if necessary. Although Marvin’s version of the brush holder is somewhat sophisticated, with several sizes of holes being drilled inside each other to fit various sizes of brush handles, a simpler version can easily be made by drilling holes large enough to fit your biggest brush handle in a foot long chunk of 2x4. Yes, you do have a lot of washing up at the end of the day, but because walnut oil is slow drying, it is possible to avoid the task for a day or two by dipping the brushes in oil and wrapping them in plastic. Before using them the next day, wipe the brushes clean, rinsing with walnut oil if necessary. Solvents are very drying to your brushes, so an added benefit to cleaning brushes with oil instead is that they will be kept in better condition. By the way, this method of delaying brush washing is best used when painting without lead based whites, which tend to dry quickly.

For final cleaning of the brushes, walnut oil can very successfully be substituted for mineral spirits, as the texture of this type of oil is thinner than other vegetable oils, which are usually too viscous to allow the pigment to fall to the bottom of your brush cleaner in a timely manner. M. Graham, a company that also makes very nice paints, supplies walnut oil specifically geared for artistic use, as opposed to putting it on your salad! Beware that using vegetable oils from the supermarket may compromise the integrity of your paintings, as most oils are non-drying and traces may remain in the brush after washing with soap and water.

To begin cleaning my brushes, I first dip them in the oil and then wipe them on a page from an old phone book (which is a great way to reuse and recycle, as it cuts down on the amount of paper towels used and ultimately trees as well) until most of the pigment comes out. Simply tear off the page when it becomes too full of paint. The next step is to rinse the brush in the oil in the same way you would use solvent. I have a fancy stainless brush cleaner, but I also use coffee tins with a tuna size tin, punched full of holes and turned upside down in the bottom (hammer holes in it using a big nail) on which I rub my brush to get out the last remnants of paint before washing with soap and water. When I feel that my bar of soap isn’t getting all the paint out (sometimes I neglect to clean the brushes promptly, making it more difficult to get them thoroughly clean) I use “The Master’s” soap instead of my usual bar, letting it stay in the bristles overnight if they are really gummed up, and that does the trick!

Finally, I am going to share with you a tip for cleaning brushes that was passed on to me by William Whitaker, a wonderful artist with decades of experience. This tip alone was worth the price of admission to his workshop at the Scottsdale Artist's School. After getting soap into the brush, grab the end of the bristles with your left hand and, while holding the brush handle with your right hand, wiggle the brush handle back and forth several times - doing this helps remove the stubborn paint that is close to the ferrule and will extend the life of your brushes.

Painting with the method I have outlined is better for your health and the environment. If you have always wanted to use traditional oils, but hesitated because of concerns about solvents, this is your chance to experience all the joy of painting with oils with none of the drawbacks!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Eco-Friendly Brush Washing for Oil Painters

Save the Environment Brush Washing Method

This is a re-post of an article, from my previous blog, "Thinking about Painting" containing valuable information on the best way to clean brushes without ruining our earth!

In a letter to (the late Canadian painter and writer) Robert Genn, Mark Gottsegen, a member of the subcommittee on artist's materials of ASTM International (originally the American Society for Testing and Materials) since 1978, wrote:

In the recent clickback regarding cleaning brushes, no one asked what to do with the left-overs from washing brushes. Down the drain? No, that's environmentally irresponsible - putting solvents and pigments into the waste stream is never a good idea. If you have a septic system, you will pollute it; if you have a municipal sewer, you will pollute it. If you are in a class or a school, then in the US doing this violates federal law; if you are an individual artist, doing this is just bad practice. 
Collect the veggie oil, waste water (or sludge), waste solvents, dirty rags and paper towels (dried) and take all the collected waste to your community's hazardous waste collection station, where it is consolidated, incinerated and burned to ash. Then it is cast into concrete billets and encapsulated. Only then can it be taken to a protected, certified landfill. The cleaning part is the easiest. Being environmentally responsible is more difficult.
Mark Gottsegen sets out an environmentally friendly way to deal with brush washing in his book, The Painter's Handbook. I will try to describe the system in my own words, with a few of my own tweaks, as follows:

1. Get 3 large plastic buckets with lids (about 5 gallon size, which can be obtained from stores like Home Depot, Lowes or Rona) and one that is even bigger that you will use without a lid to allow liquid to evaporate (I use a smallish, inexpensive garbage can lined with a plastic bag for easy cleanup). I have also recycled those gigantic protein powder containers to use for A, B and C and that has worked well in that when you swish the smaller opening keeps the splashing in the container instead of all over your clothing.

2. Label the first three buckets A, B and C. Container D is the larger plastic container which will hold at least 10 gallons. You will also need a container with vegetable oil. I use a coffee can with a tuna can (which has holes punched in it with a nail) inverted on the bottom. You could use a glass jar or any other container. If you use a fancy brush washer, line it first with a plastic freezer bag to save yourself some messy cleanup later on.

2. Fill A, B and C halfway with water. Add 1 cup of liquid dishwashing soap to bucket A. Make sure to use a highly concentrated, good quality liquid soap for this as the cheaper brands are diluted and you have to use more for it to be effective.

3. Now for the brush cleaning method I use: First of all, dip your brush in the vegetable oil and wipe it on an old phone book until much of the color is released. Second, rinse the brush in the can to get more of the pigment out - this will eventually fall to the bottom of the container.

You can use any kind of vegetable oil for this, so I use whatever is cheapest. You can also mix some water with the oil if you keep the mixture in a jar and shake it up just before use and that will make it less thick. Walnut oil is nice to use as it is less viscous, but it is much more expensive. The only downside to using regular old vegetable oil is that you have to be sure to wash the brushes more thoroughly to get all that non-drying oil out.

Squeeze the bristles and wipe on a paper towel to get as much oil and pigment out of the brush as you can. Then, vigorously swish the brush in container A, then container B and finally container C. Wipe the brush on a paper towel or rag to see if any color remains. If it doesn't seem to be completely clean, repeat this process until clean.

When container A becomes too dirty, transfer the contents to container D and allow the liquid to evaporate, eventually leaving a dry cake of pigment which can be safely disposed of by taking it to your local hazardous waste disposal centre. When your cleaning oil becomes unusable, it can be recycled in the same manner. Pour container B into A and pour the contents of C into B. Add another cup of liquid dishwashing soap to what is now in container A.

There you have it, an environmentally friendly method of cleaning your oil painting brushes that does not involve any pigments escaping into our septic systems or drinking water!

*stock photo

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Painting Challenge Continues in January 2017

Just in case anyone has wondered what happened to my painting challenge, I will be finishing my painting challenge in January.

In the meantime I am working on a larger project that I look forward to sharing with you later on.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Daily Painting Habit Challenge - Day 11 of 21

7 x 5 inches - Oil on Panel - Doggie

I love animals and capturing them for posterity in a portrait is such a treat. What a great gift for someone who is obsessed with their pet!

This one is non-commissioned, so is available at a special price concurrent with my other work of this size!

My small (8x10 inches or less) commissioned pet portraits are currently on sale (for a limited time) at so click here for more information about how to commission a unique and meaningful gift for a loved one who treasures their dog or cat!

If you want something bigger, shoot me an email to discuss your project! 

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Collage of Daily Painting Challenge for September!

This was kind of fun! I used picmonkey (a free, online image editing software), to make a collage of some of the paintings I completed in September.

The 30 in 30 challenge by Leslie Saeta, which I kind of failed at, once again, due to starting way late and then getting sick, is over, but my challenge is not! Click on the link for her site to see other collages of people who actually did paint 30 pieces, which is very impressive.

I have set a goal to complete 21 paintings and I haven't met that quota yet so the work continues....

Friday, September 30, 2016

Daily Painting Habit Challenge - Day 10 of 21

16 x 12 inches - Oil on Canvas - Paris Floral #2
Life is continuing to get in the way of creating new work, but I still want to remain focused on art as much as I can. I am progressing in getting my studio organized, work completed, signed and varnished so I can tackle my latest large portrait painting next month.

Here is yet another painting (from June 2006) that needed a signature. This is a favourite of mine, since the resource photo I used was from a memorable trip to Paris with my two small children. Somehow, flower shops in Paris there seem to have "a certain something" in the way they group and display their wares.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Daily Painting Habit Challenge - Day 9 of 21

9 x 6 inches - Oil on Panel - Spring Fountain

Here is another previous painting (from June 2007), now finally signed and ready for framing! I love the bleeding heart and forget-me-not floating in the fountain.  It was such a beautiful day, I remember well the serenity of the moment.

Since tomorrow is the last day of Leslie Saeta's "30 in 30" painting challenge, in November I will be continuing my daily painting habit on my own. My goal is to be focused on either finishing some paintings that have been in storage, waiting for completion or to do a new, small painting.

I have found it very challenging to get started and keep up with this modified version of the challenge, but no regrets - I have done more painting and finished more loose ends than I would otherwise have done this month despite all the roadblocks that have unexpectedly arisen.

As Leslie Saeta would say, it doesn't matter how many you complete but just to get in the studio and paint more!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Daily Painting Habit Challenge - Day 8 of 21

14 x 10 inches - Oil on Canvas - Echinacea

Here is another piece from my pile of previous starts that is now almost done. I still need to varnish, which will unify and bring out the colours, adding depth and a slight sheen to the surface. It is much easier to photograph an unvarnished piece, especially one like this that is mostly low key.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Daily Painting Habit Challenge - Day 7 of 21

8 x 10 inches - Oil on Canvas Panel - Palette Knife Beach

After being knocked out by a nasty virus, I have resumed my daily painting habit but have changed focus a bit, completing paintings that have piled up waiting for a few finishing touches. It feels good to finally tie up a lot of loose ends.

This painting was done with a palette knife. Every time I work with a palette knife I ask myself why I do not do it more often. The colours stay clean, mix in beautiful, unexpected ways and the bonus is no brush washing at the end of the day!

I learned to use a knife when studying colourist theory at the Cape Cod School of Art (now known as The Cape School of Art). I traveled to Provincetown to paint on the beach with Cedric and Joanette Egeli (with whom I later studied for a whole month at their Maryland studio). Outdoor study of colour is a tradition in Provincetown that continues since the beginning of the 20th century, beginning with Charles Hawthorne and Henry Hensche!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Daily Painting Habit Challenge - Day 6 of 21

14 x 18 inches - Oil on Canvas - Peonies #2

This is a larger painting of my favourite flowers that I started some time ago. I made some new decisions, darkening the background and adding contrast for drama.

I also took the opportunity to sign it in a subtle manner with my favourite new tool - a rubber tipped scraper. This method is so much easier than trying to sign with a tiny brush later on.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Daily Painting Habit Challenge - Day 5 of 21

5 x 7 inches - Oil on Panel - Goldfish

Don't you find watching fish swimming around kind of soothing? I love the vibrant oranges, greens and purple in this painting.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Daily Painting Habit Challenge - Day 4 of 21

12 x 9 inches - Oil on Panel - Martini Time

Personally, I am more of a green juice kind of gal, but on occasion an extra dry vodka martini with lots of olives can be fun. The martini glass is waiting for the drink to be poured. I threw in the lemon for colour!

This is a slightly larger painting that I started a long time ago and just finished up.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Daily Painting Habit Challenge - Day 3 of 21

6 x 6 inches - Oil on Canvas - Leeks

With autumn upon us, the bounty found at Farmer's Markets is inspirational.

I loved this big pile of leeks, with just a hint of the red packing case showing at the back. I think a collage of vegetable paintings in the kitchen would be fun and perhaps also give subliminal encouragement to eat more veggies!

Since my two passions are art and food, I think it is time to head into the kitchen to make some soup!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Daily Painting Habit Challenge - Day 2 of 21

6 x 6 inches - Oil on Canvas - Beach Entrance

You know that moment, when you are approaching the beach, when you suddenly catch a glimpse of that turquoise water and soft sand? This was it for me. The stunning view from this rustic boardwalk, through the shade of the trees took my breath away.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Painting Habit: 21 Days of Small Oil Paintings - Day 1 Daily Painting Challenge

6 x 6 Inches - Oil on Canvas - Glowy Pink Rose

Artist and marketing whiz, Leslie Saeta, holds a 30-day painting challenge two times every year. She also sells her art, teaches workshops, conducts online courses and has a podcast called "Artists Helping Artists". Interestingly, we were born on the exact same day and I think she got all the extra energy and ambition I was supposed to receive. Leslie is a dynamo and so inspiring in her ability to juggle so many things and get stuff done!

Since I was unable to start on schedule, and it is generally thought that it takes 21 days to create a habit, I have decided to embark on a 21-day painting challenge starting today. I tend to paint intensively, in spurts, and when I am able to immerse myself in creating art I usually work on a lot of things at once. It is harder for me to keep up a strict, daily painting habit, since it often seems that I do not have a large enough block of time to get much done. Then, there is all the cleanup required, scraping palettes, storing paint and my most dreaded task - brush washing.

This inaugural painting for my 21-Day Painting Challenge is a close view of a glowy pink rose. I enjoyed using transparent oils as my first layer and added the more opaque layers on top. The paintings I do for this challenge will be available for sale at a special price for a limited time so if you see something you like grab it while you can!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Yellow Rose - Small Floral Oil Painting

6" x 6" oil on stretched canvas

The trick to drawing something this complicated is to grid it into sections (in this case, two lines on each horizontal and vertical aspect will create 9 squares. You can print out a black and white copy and use a ruler to divide your subject into equal boxes or purchase an app such as ValueViewer so that you can do it directly on your device. You can scale up or down but it is easiest to keep the image you are working from the same size as the one you are creating.

With flowers, you can also just wing it and try to suggest and capture the essence of the flower without slavishly copying every petal.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Easy Instant Picture Wall for Paintings

I wanted to share an easy way to create an instant picture wall. I purchased these painted white shelves from Ikea.

I had to put my shelves over to the right (rather than centred on the wall) so that my shutter was still functional.

I am sure that this would be an easy project for someone handy and very inexpensive too! You would need to buy, then prime and paint some wood strips. Each shelf would use 3 - 48" (or whatever size you wish!) pieces of wood:  a 2" x 1/2" piece for the back which is screwed into the wall, a 4" x 1/2" piece that forms the base and a 1" x 1/2" for the front ledge. After everything is painted, glue/nail the pieces together and attach them to the wall with plugs and screws. 

Unfortunately, I am better at coming up with ideas for these sorts of projects than I am at actually completing them, so for me it was worth the $15 each to just purchase the shelves.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Colourful Cat Pet Portrait Oil Painting with Loose Brushwork

Oliver in the Window - 6x8 Oil on Canvas Panel
It is no secret that I love cats. This one is especially beautiful, with his pink nose and creamy white fur. What appealed to me about this pose was the beautiful light effect from the window behind Oliver's head. The orange glow in his ears and sparkle on his whiskers captivated me. I also liked that there was some form with parts of him in light and shadow.

Colourful Mixed Bouquet Oil Painting and Using a Computer to Paint from Photos

Mixed Bouquet 12x9 Oil on Canvas Panel
Here is my final painting from the Dreama Tolle Perry Workshop I attended in January. For our third day, we all used our own painting reference, so everyone had a different subject to portray using Dreama's method. It was fun to try and capture the sheer ribbon.

Instead of using a printed photograph, I found a shelf at eye level on which to sit my laptop. I almost always paint from either life or a computer screen. Printed photographs do not provide enough information to see all the subtleties we perceive with our eyes and are frustrating to try and work with. They lie about value and color and compress either the darks or the lights. I love how looking at a photo with a computer is much more like seeing something in real life so would highly recommend using that if you are not willing or able to work from life. That being said, working from life is non-negotiable if you want to grow in your ability to see and paint well.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Vibrant, Colourful Oil Paintings of Flowers and France with Dreama Tolle Perry

Scene from France - 9" x 12" Oil on Canvas Panel
I live in Canada, where it is cold in the winter - really cold! Like many of my fellow Canadians, if I can possibly manage it, I try to get away from the ice and snow for at least a week or so. This year I was very blessed to arrange for a double treat - not only did I get to escape to Florida in January, I also attended a workshop in Marco Island led by a lovely artist, Dreama Tolle Perry. She loves to paint flowers, cats and scenes from France. She jokes that she lives in Paris .... Kentucky.

Dreama has a colourful, joyous style of painting that is very appealing. I was interested to see what her process was for creating her whimsical works. Dreama initially began her painting career with watercolour as her medium, as did I, so I was particularly interested to see how that has influenced her work. Her process does show that influence, as she begins her paintings by completely covering the entire surface of the gessoboard that she prefers with transparent oil colours. She generally uses a colour that relates to the local colour of what she is depicting and does this even in areas that will end up light, despite the fact that the transparent oils are all dark.

Dreama, who has the best name ever, teaches a class unlike any I have previously experienced. I think her method and accessible way of teaching is particularly good for novice painters, since the whole class paints the same subject (for the first two days) in 3 stages. First, there is a lecture and then a demo of the first steps, after which everybody goes back to their easel and does their version. Dreama provides a gridded photograph upon which the finished product is loosely based. It was interesting to see how everyone had their own style and interpretation of the same exact subject, painted in a similar manner, with the the same colours.

Flowers in Mason Jar - 12" x 12" Oil on Gessoboard
Letting some of the transparent oil peek through the opaque layers that follow creates a glow that is impossible to achieve with later paint layers.

Dreama's palette consists of:

* Titanium White
* Cad Yellow Lemon
* Cad Yellow Med
   Cad Orange
* Winsor Violet (Dioxazine)
* French Ultramarine Blue
   Cobalt Blue
* Sap Green
* Richeson Shiva Ice Blue
* Permanent Rose
* Transparent Red Medium (Rembrandt)
* Transparent Oxide Orange (Rembrandt)
* Transparent Oxide Brown (Rembrandt)
* Indian Yellow (Winsor and Newton Brand Only!) 

   Caribbean Blue (by Old Holland Oils)

(The * indicates required colours, although I would say get them all!)

I can't say that getting away from winter in Canada for a big didn't play a role in my decision to take a class in Florida in January, but I always go away from any workshop with something new to apply to my own work. In this case, although I am still more interested in light and shadow plus form for my paintings, I really resonated with Dreama's method of using transparent colours before touching the opaque colours and white.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How to Choose an Artist to Paint Your Custom Portrait!

In order to feel confident in your choice of artist, you need to do your homework. Whether the painting is destined to become a family heirloom or a hang in a corporate setting for posterity, the process can be a bit anxiety provoking. A custom oil portrait is a luxury item, so you want to make sure you are getting something you love.

In choosing someone to create a portrait, check their website for examples of other work to see how you like their style. If you want a realistic yet brushy, painterly work (for example) do not choose someone who does more photorealistic paintings and vice versa. If budget is an issue, ask your preferred artist about less costly options (such as a drawing, sketch or just the head) instead of a larger piece that incorporates more of the body, detailed background and complicated jewelry or clothing.

Ask the artist for testimonials (or look for them on their website) to see what previous clients have to say about their experience.

An artist will generally have a range of choices at different price points to choose from, depending on the complexity of the idea, size, medium, subject or finish (a sketch would be much less expensive than a complex composition with many details for instance).

It is important for a client to feel confident that they will be satisfied and happy with their painting. It takes some trust to commission something when you don't know exactly how it will turn out. Make sure the artist will include you in the process, showing you photos or sketches of what the painting will look like in general. I always show a number of options (that I know will make a good painting) so the client can choose the general expression and composition to suit how they see the subject.

Once you have carefully chosen your artist and been part of the process of designing the piece, let them do their thing, knowing that your painter guarantees your satisfaction and is committed to creating the absolutely best painting possible.

You also should ask about care after the painting is completed and advice on framing. I always offer to varnish the portrait painting of my human subjects after at least one year (to allow time for all the layers to dry completely) at no cost, as a service to my clients.

Don't miss this interesting article about selfies vs. painted portraits (with some additional tips on how to choose a portrait painter to create your cherished heirloom)!

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

How to Paint an Outdoor Oil Portrait

Katie's Graduation - 30 x 24 oil on lilnen
Portraits in outdoor settings are a challenge to paint. Colors are affected by the light source (in this case the sun). The shapes of light and shadow are constantly morphing when outside, due to the movement of the sun and your subject. With the sun moving quickly, everything changes drastically within half an hour and it is difficult for a subject to hold an exact position as well. For this reason, having a subject pose from life for an entire portrait would be an extremely daunting task. Every day is different, even at the same time of day and, of course, different times of year would be completely different as well. In this case, a week after this young woman posed for me, the pretty purple tree in the upper right corner that we wanted to include was finished blooming, so it would not have been possible to include it even such a short time later.

Experience painting outdoors from life a lot really helps. Making quick decisions, locking in the shadows and painting fast is a habit you need to develop when painting en plein air, especially on a sunny day. I really love getting outdoors and trying to capture a scene from life just for the sake of learning something - the chances of painting something really wonderful are not high in this situation, but the experience is essential. It is a matter of discipline, putting in the hours to eventually achieve mastery - as Malcolm Gladwell said, we need 10,000 hours of practice to get there.

Another problem with outdoor portraits is the propensity of subjects to squint due to the strong light. Obviously you need to have the face in shadow, which destroys the 3-D effect we usually want to achieve. Rather than being about the features (as in a posed, indoor setup) the painting is more about light, atmosphere and color. In this case, catching my subject with a relaxed expression, her eyes wide open and in a pleasing pose with highlights placed in key compositional areas meant a lot of photos - I usually take hundreds in a single photo shoot.

To remember the light key, I usually do a painted study of the colors in the scene. This is not a detailed, finished painting but rather just color notes of light and shadow areas done on a canvas board or piece of canvas taped to a board. I keep this close by my computer monitor later on to refer to when I am questioning my color memory.

Photography is useful in getting the drawing right later on, since posing someone outdoors for hours won't work and I need to get a perfect, accurate likeness of my subject. I never paint from photographs any more as I find using a large computer screen is much closer to reality with a depth and accuracy of color that is second only to life and the bonus is that light never changes. I purchased a screen that can be rotated in order to have a vertical aspect to work from. When I am working on the head, I enlarge it to approximately life size, with my canvas right beside it - in this way I can simulate working from a live sitter.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Watch a Pet Portrait Oil Painting Completed in 3 Minutes!

Watch me paint a cat pet portrait (Oliver) in fast forward, in only 3 minutes while enjoying one of my favorite Mozart tunes. This painting is 6" x 6" oil on canvas.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Fine Art Oil Portrait Commission by Canadian Portrait Artist Laurel McBrine

Oil on Belgian Linen - 24x18 inches

I recently completed this head and shoulders oil portrait of a lovely young woman. I also finished a larger outdoor piece of another beautiful girl, which I will be posting soon, after it is framed and picked up by the family. Both girls are 18 years old. This is a great age to capture a daughter, just on the brink of womanhood.

I find this pose and expression reminiscent of the Mona Lisa as her eyes follow you no matter where you stand to view the painting and she has a mysterious expression with a slight smile.

I like to call my painting style "Brushy Realism" since the portrait accurately captures the appearance of the subject, but it is still very much a painting, with visible brushstrokes and not photographically detailed which, in my opinion, makes it more interesting and flattering.

Close-up of face

Monday, September 21, 2015

Watch rare video footage of Monet and Renoir at work on their paintings!

Here is a rare treat - you can watch video of master artists, some of them actually at work including Degas, Monet, Rodin and Renoir (who is crippled by rheumatoid arthritis yet does not let that stop him from creating his art) in their senior years.

Click here to see this rare video footage!

Friday, September 04, 2015

Pet Portrait Oil Painting

Oliver - 6" x 6" Oil on Canvas

Looking for a unique gift, for yourself or someone you love? Why not commission a fine art portrait of a favorite cat or dog (or rabbit or guinea pig)? This is Oliver, a very smart kitty who opens doors and lets his brother out.

Pet Portrait Pricing (cat, dog or smaller - max. size 8" x 10")

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Since the only photographs I can currently access (while my 30,000+ photos upload to iCloud) are from my phone, I wanted to give you some eye candy while waiting patiently for my report about the PSA conference to continue!

We happen to live a stone's throw from a Whole Foods Market and this beautiful display greeted me that last time I stopped by for almond milk. I just love tulips!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Technical Difficulties

Hi there everyone! I just wanted to let you know that my report on the PSA conference has been interrupted by an unexpected difficulty - uploading my photos to the new "PHOTO" program on my MacBook.

For now, I am unable to access my photos to post here, so please be patient and I will be back as soon as humanly possible to finish, especially for the benefit of those who could not attend.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Final Day of Portrait Society of America 2015 Conference

Sunday morning there was a symposium by a group of eminent artists, followed by two drawing demos by Burton Silverman. It is always interesting to hear successful artists talk about their journey and offer pearls of wisdom.
Sculptor Rhoda Sherbell with Daniel Greene

Everett Raymond Kinstler and artist/author Samuel Adoquei

Mr. Adoquei talked about inspiration. He has a couple of wonderful books available, including The Origin of Inspiration which applies to any creative field. If you do not have Mr. Adoquei's books, make sure to add them to your library!

Mr. Greene showed a number of his series of art auction paintings and shared how he created them. He also offered a great tip about storing leftover paint - he said to be careful with freezing paint, since bloom can occur due to moisture that remains on the surface of the paints.

Mr. Kinstler talked about how painting is a means to communicate and how important it is to have passion and imagination. He recommended that we should assess our paintings by asking how much we can remove that is not contributing to what we are trying to say.

I did not get a photo of the wonderful work shown by the other artists, but here are a couple of the newer works by Mr. Kinstler. 
Painting by Everett Raymond Kinstler
Drawing by Everett Raymond Kinstler
The final presentation was by master artist Burton Silverman, who created two drawings while talking about, "finding your own voice". He said that mistakes are very helpful. Making corrections helps you find out if you have really gotten to the heart of what you want to say. If you make a correction, you need to see what that does to the other decisions you have made. Change allows for imaginative speculation and lets air in.

When speaking of sincerity in art, he said that, "children are rotten", (which got a huge laugh from the audience) and so perhaps the angelic, dressed in white, image that is often seen may not be the only choice.

Mr. Silverman also spoke about how we can learn, even steal, from each other in that we can employ similar techniques. Community is important.

Burton Silverman
Burton Silverman's grandchild in his sketchbook
Delightful drawing from Burton Silverman's sketchbook

For the first drawing he employed a soft graphite pencil in a holder, a stomp and a kneaded eraser. Practical tips included using a pencil holder to use those pencil stubs you may have lying about tour studio. 

He mentioned that General's HB is harder than his preference and seems to be holding a bit of a grudge after mentioning a bad experience with customer service many years ago, which I found rather amusing. He complained about something being wrong with some pencils and didn't get a reply. Note to art material manufacturers - don't tick off a master artist!
Drawing #1 by Burton Silverman

For the second drawing, Mr. Silverman used a Wolfe's carbon pencil, that is a little harder than General's, so more controllable, with more subtle definitions. He also employed a little color in the cheeks for the second drawing. 
Drawing #2 by Burton Silverman