Friday, November 20, 2020

Flashback Friday: John Singer Sargent & The Atelier Methods of Carolus-Duran (his teacher)


Jane & Wilfred de Glehn in Italy by Sargent (detail)
This is a previously published article from my older blog thinkingaboutpainting.blogspot.com 

Carolus-Duran was the progressive painting instructor in Paris with whom Sargent chose to study. 

His teaching diverged greatly from other painters of that time because of the emphasis on color and form, created with direct and painterly brushwork, with inspiration from past master Velasquez. 

This method of painting was very different than the academic norm at the time, which emphasized smooth blending. 

Sargent's facility with a brush is almost universally admired among oil painters and an examination of how he achieved such beautiful realism combined with gorgeous brushwork is of interest to many of us, so I thought it would be good to find out more about the method he learned from Carolus-Duran.

I found this quote, taken from The Lure of Paris: Nineteenth-Century American Painters and Their French Teachers by H. Barbara Weinberg, very interesting as the painting procedure described is still practiced by painters today, such as Cedric Egeli:

Despite his gifts as a draftsman and his success in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, there is almost no easel painting by Sargent, from his atelier studies to his most ambitious late portraits and outdoor genre works, that does not disclose an affiliation with the painterly, anti-academic manner of Carolus-Duran. Sargent’s early Blonde Model vividly exemplifies Carolus-Duran’s method, as described by R.A.M. Stevenson, an English painter, and later writer, who also entered the atelier in 1874:
No preparation in colour or monochrome was allowed, but the main planes of the face must be laid directly on the unprepared canvas with a broad brush. These few surfaces – three or four in the forehead, as many in the nose, and so forth – must be studied in shape and place, and particularly in the relative value of light that their various inclinations produce. They were painted quite broadly in even tones of flesh tint, and stood side by side like pieces of a mosaic, without fusion of their adjacent edges. No brushing of the edge of the hair into the face was permitted, no conventional bounding of eyes and features with lines that might deceive the student by their expression into the belief that false structure was truthful . . . you must make a tone for each step of a gradation. Thus, you might never attempt to realize a tone or a passage by some hazardous uncontrollable process.
Also, here is an account of how the studio ran by Carolus-Duran functioned, taken from A Manual of Oil Painting by John Collier:
The model was posed on Monday, always in full light, without shadow effect, and against a strongly-coloured background, which we had to imitate exactly in its relations to the figure. The figure was drawn in in charcoal, then we were allowed to take a sable and strengthen the outline with some dark colour mixed with turpentine, but not to make any preparation, nor put in conventional dark brown shadows.

The palette was set as follows: Black, verte emeraude, raw umber, cobalt, laque ordinaire, brun rouge or light red, yellow ochre, and white (the colors being placed on the palette in this order from left to right).

We were supposed to mix to or three gradations of yellow ochre with white, two of light red with white, two of cobalt with white, and also of black and raw umber to facilitate the choice of tones.


We were not allowed any small brushes, at any rate not for a long time—many months or years.


On Tuesday Duran came to criticize and correct the drawing, or the laying in of painting if it was sufficiently advanced. We blocked in the curtain first, and then put in the figure or face in big touches like a coarse wooden head hewn with a hatchet; in fact, in a big mosaic, not bothering to soften things down, but to get the right amount of light and the proper colour, attending first to the highest light.


The hair was not smoothed into the flesh at first, but just pasted on in the right tone like a coarse wig; then other touches were placed on the junctions of the big mosaic touches, to model them and make the flesh more supple.

Of course these touches were a gradation between the touches they modelled. All was solid, and there were no gradations by brushing the stuff off the lights gently into the darks or vice versa, because Duran wished us to actually make and match each bit of the tone of the surface. He came again on Friday to criticise and on that day we finished off.

Finally, here are some painting notes attributed to Sargent and recorded by http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2009/02/sargents-painting-notes.html 

1. Painting is an interpretation of tone. Colour drawn with a brush.

2. Keep the planes free and simple, drawing a full brush down the whole contour of a cheek.

3. Always paint one thing into another and not side by side until they touch.

4. The thicker your paint—the more your color flows.

5. Simplify, omit all but the most essential elements—values, especially the values. You must clarify the values.

6. The secret of painting is in the half tone of each plane, in economizing the accents and in the handling of the lights.

7. You begin with the middle tones and work up from it . . . so that you deal last with your lightest lights and darkest darks, you avoid false accents.


8. Paint in all the half tones and the generalized passages quite thick.

9. It is impossible for a painter to try to repaint a head where the understructure was wrong.

PALETTE: Silver White, Naples Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Ochre dew (English Red), Red Ochre, Vermillion, Ivory or Coal Black, and Prussian Blue.

James Gurney explained his interpretation of the above notes as follows: 

For me, one of the keys of understanding Sargent is looking at the painting methods of his teacher Carolus Duran, who had a somewhat unusual method compared to other academic teachers. In a nutshell he tended to block in the tones in discreet mosaic-like patches at first (like a plane head, if you're familiar with those things) and then later in the game you blend the patches into each other 
I believe this method gives the best tonal accuracy, which is what he's singing about in #5.
Regarding #7 about starting with the middle tones, I believe he means that right away you want to make your big value statement (or the 'effet' as they called it), but you should reserve your very darkest accents and lightest highlights for final, carefully considered touches.
Make sure to download this wonderful account of Sargent's painting methods:
http://www.goodbrush.com/misc/painting_lessons/sargent_notes.pdf

For more information on this subject, check out this detailed blog post: 
And here are a couple of articles from the 1800's that are linked in the above mentioned blog: 
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/16620532/The-Century-Magazine-Jan1886.pdf
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/16620532/The-Contemporary-Review-May1888.pdf

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

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:


PAINTING WITHOUT SOLVENTS

(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!

Monday, November 16, 2020

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

Monday, January 20, 2020

Daily Painting: Frequent Practice is Essential for Mastery

Don't let anything get in the way of your daily art practice!
As a born perfectionist and over thinker, I am not really a huge "doer" when compared to some people. Despite being a quick start, I tend to avoid finishing projects in favour of a shiny new project or idea. Also, my preferred method is to mull things over until I feel like I have everything figured out in order to to avoid nasty mistakes. 

Malcolm Gladwell talked about the need for 10,000 hours of practice to master anything. Some disagree with that number and I would say that it is important to have a lot of focused practice, not just putting in the hours. That may involve taking classes, reading books, watching demos and working on specific tasks to improve where you are weak. Plein air outdoor painting, for instance is a great challenge to take on that will help you quickly nail values and colour in your work. Working from life in the studio is a valuable practice as well, for many of the same reasons, but a little easier since you can control your lighting.

If you want a scientific study to prove the conjecture that producing more work is better than trying to just complete one masterpiece, this quote from the book, Art and Fear, is enlightening:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A".

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
The more paintings you have done, the more experience you have gained and as you progress you will find that quality springs from quantity. The more often you create, the better you become at your chosen vocation. Fortunately, over time I have managed to put in a lot of hours and a lot of study, despite myself and can now see the value in having a consistent, regular art practice with focused attention to areas that need work. 

Creating art on a daily basis can be a real life challenge for many of us, whether it is kids, a necessary job that pays the bills, health problems that cause endless appointments or family responsibilities that get in the way. Many of these are an ongoing struggle for me, so I empathize with others who may have even more challenging circumstances. So, how can we possibly have a daily art practice?

One of the best ways to improve quickly and feel more comfortable is to work small - in this way you can incorporate all the elements of a bigger painting - composition, colour, value, texture, big shapes and, most importantly, confidence! Then you can go on to apply the lessons learned to larger pieces.

All this is not to say that there is no value in "book learning" or studying the work of master painters, but there is no substitute for the daily grind of going to your room (as the late Robert Genn recommended) and doing your work.

* photo obviously not mine - can't find the origin to credit, so if anyone knows, please let me know!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Time Lapse Palette Knife Impressionist Oil Painting Demo - Abstract Land...



Painting demonstration, speeded up from "Fun With Knives" workshop.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Oil Painting of Cat - Time Lapse - Alla Prima Colour



This painting started as a demo for a workshop. You may be surprised at how I started this one, as I use a very colourful, transparent underpainting.

To get the drawing done quickly, using a grid over your photographic reference is helpful. There are a couple of apps available free to use for both IOS and Android. The two apps I use on my Iphone are Grid# and PaintingGrid.

Duplicate the grid on your painting support - I used a small brush and paint to lightly indicate the lines.

Once you start painting, do not be afraid to lose your drawing. To keep your edges varied, try and overshoot your shapes and then use negative painting to correct things. Paint in and out of shapes.


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Painting White Hydrangeas in Oil Without Solvents - See all the Stages!


A few weeks ago, I taught a workshop on painting hydrangeas. I could not have chosen a more difficult image to demonstrate!

The reference I used was a stock photo. I try to use these in my workshops, so that students can show or sell their work if they wish. On sites like http://www.pexels.com and http://www.pixabay.com the photographer has given permission for their images to be used either free or at low cost. When doing my own non-class work, I always use my own photos.

I recommend starting out by putting a VERY thin layer of walnut oil on your support. I neglected to do this step during this demo, which made my life a lot harder when it came to getting paint spread out evenly on the canvas in the underpainting stage.

I used a 16" x 16" gallery wrap stretched canvas as my support. To apply the thin film of oil, I sprinkled a few drops with my palette knife onto the surface and then spread with the palette knife and followed by rubbing with a small cloth rag. After that, I used a palette knife to apply dabs of paint, which I then also spread around with a cloth, sometimes one colour, sometimes several as in this case. Paper towels are not a good choice as they leave bits of lint in your paint film.

Why do I do this method? Well, I do not wish to use toxic solvents such as odourless mineral spirits for health reasons. Just because it is odourless does not mean it is benign. Mineral spirits is an easy way to start a painting, but so is this, it is just a new way of doing things, but well worth it in my opinion.

After I massed in part of the painting with transparent colours, then adding the thicker, opaque paint at the end. I did not have time to do the entire painting as it is rather large for a demo, being 16 x 16 inches square.

See the initial steps of the process below. 

If you have any questions, please let me know and I will try and help!

First lay-in of transparent colours, starting with Indian Yellow spread thinly with a cotton rag

I put in the thick, creamy white paint of the flower in light to gauge my values, but scraped it out afterward to continue
Starting to put in background and two more flower heads plus leaves in shadow and light and another flower head sketched in upper right

Starting to put back the thick, light paint and some detail in the shadows
Done!

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Water Lilies - See The Painting in Progress!


November 1, 2018
UPDATE: Here is the next layer of this painting on the top - basically I just added thick light areas to the petals, so there is more definition. Still thinking about what else, if anything, needs to be done....










I am realizing that I really enjoy starting projects more than finishing them. At the beginning of a painting, it is all loose and splashy and fun - then things start to get more serious and the decisions become harder and I lose interest. How about you? Are you a starter or a finisher?

With this painting of water lilies, I used too much medium and it got really difficult to get the values I needed at the end, especially the highlights. So, I smoothed out the texture (you can see it is a little blurry) and let it dry. Now, I need to go back in and add those highlights and thick paint. I like to leave things a big abstract and painterly so the painting is not just about the subject but about the texture and paint quality.

Painting the Realistic Landscape





If you are wondering how this one turned out, please see the top image. 

I lightened the sky, greyed out the distant shrubberies and lightened the shadows a bit to be more airy. I also moved the top of the tree further from the edge and made the silhouette more random. I also added brilliant light green over the yellow of the ground in light. 

I tried to think of the principles of landscape painting which are that the sky is always the lightest mass (unless it is a sunny beach), the ground is next in value and the trees and upright masses (such as mountains) are darker in value. Things get more bluish and greyer as they go back in space. Although I liked the bright colour in Version #1, I think it has a more realistic feel now, what do you think?

Friday, September 28, 2018

Landscape WIP - sky needs to be lighter, ground greener


Here is yet another start that awaits my final decisions. I know already that the sky needs to be lighter...I will add some white, perhaps clouds, especially in the lower half of the sky.

The bright yellow ground is actually a limey green, but I struggled with it being bright enough so ended up wiping it out and leaving the transparent Indian Yellow underpainting.

Nature has such a wider array of values than we have in paint that it is always a challenge to compress those values into a narrower range.

I am not sure the texture in the front works either - any opinions?

I could add some detail in the shrubberies in the back, but not sure I should - the star of this is the big tree, so best not to confuse things.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Large Loose Floral in Acrylic WIP

I am still working on this one. I started big, bold and splashy and now I am stymied. I always had in mind to layer a lot of different colours, especially in the background.

I utilized a lot of tools and textures in this painting - bubble wrap, drips, spatulas, spray bottles and more!

My reference was actually a stock photo with a white background so I have in mind to layer white over all the blue as I am not sure about the blue background. I think a lighter value would be more effective. What do you think? Please let me know if you have an opinion as I am frozen with indecision on this one.

It is a large painting of roses and tulips on a gallery wrap canvas - 42" x 42"

A closer look

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Acrylic Floral Hydrangea Landscape 24x24 Gallery Wrap - On the Beach


This was another demo in acrylic in my "Large and Loose Florals" class. This one is not quite as big as some we did, it is 24 x 24 inches on a gallery wrap canvas. I struggle a bit with acrylics since the colours are not as subtle as oils and softening edges is trickier. You need to be paint very quickly and loosely to not have the hard edges typical of acrylic paintings unless you to a lot of layers of paint.

I think what attracted me to this subject is, well, first of all I love hydrangeas! They are so fluffy and gorgeous in pinks and blues with pretty leaves too. I also liked the aqua blue of the lake behind, I take every opportunity possible to use that colour. And, I also love painting glass and water, so the jar was fun too.

The trees and shrubberies in the background had to be softened and muted and glazed with a milky blue to push them back. There was a lot of painting in and out of those trees as well, so they didn't look cut out and pasted on.

I am not sure I am done with this one. I need to even out the table, for instance, but you get to see the work in progress.


Monday, September 03, 2018

Pink Tulips in Acrylic - Work in Progress - See All the Steps!


Pink Tulips - 16 x 16 Acrylic on Canvas
As long as a painting remains in my custody it is never finished. This one started out as another class demo and it was painted in 4 layers - a block-in, then the basic shapes and then some details.

I plan to change the foreground as my plan was always to have this underpainting peeking through a creamy white colour. So, by the time I complete the painting it will have taken at least 5 layers of paint.

What do you think? Would you paint the foreground white? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Initial Block-In

Locating the main shapes

Adding some detail and refining the drawing
Painting almost done....just need to add white to foreground!

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Painting Big and Loose!

Pink Roses - 42 x 42 inches Acrylic on Canvas
 This past spring I decided on a change of pace by teaching a class all about painting large in acrylic instead of small in oils. I strongly believe a great way to improve your work quickly is to paint every day and small pieces fit better into this paradigm. However, I also believe it is good to shake things up by doing something different and experimenting on a regular basis as well.

This is one of the paintings I started in class as a demo. I find acrylics challenging due to their propensity to create hard edges, so you really have to work fast and splashy, in an abstract fashion. I ended up doing at least 3 or 4 layers of paint on this one, having fun with various textures, using a spray bottle, bubble wrap, cardboard and a spatula, letting the paint fly and drip.


Fun to see the scale in a room!

Saturday, September 01, 2018

September Means a 30 Day Painting Challenge!


No. 1: Calendula Bouquet - 9 x 12 Oil on Belgian Linen

It is now September 1st and time to get back to work. Every fall, Leslie Saeta hosts a 30 day painting challenge. She says it isn't cheating to paint ahead, so since I haven't done that recently, I am going to take the opportunity to post a number of pieces that have not made their way onto this blog yet, while I also get back in the studio. I will be working on some large paintings, so may post their progress as well.

Way back in March, I attended a workshop by Canadian painter Robert Strickland. I like to attend at least one or two workshops every year with painters that I think can teach me something new. I almost always come away with new insights or ideas to pursue and a refreshed urgency to get into the studio and create.

I love how he simplifies complex flowers into their essentials. The flower on the left was painted  and re-painted several times by me. I was thinking it was looking pretty good, but every time, he came by, he wiped out all my detail! It is all about the form and capturing that first, then adding select touches to give the particular flower character.

Friday evening, we had a lecture, entitled "The Language of Paint" that talked about fundamentals of drawing, value and color) and then on Saturday and Sunday we painted from life with several people gathered around each vase of flowers. 

For those who would like to know, Robert uses very expensive panels as his support (Raymar oil primed belgian linen) and his palette consists of:


Titanium White
Cremnitz (lead) White 

Cadmium Lemon
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Orange (optional) 

Cadmium Red
Permanent Rose (optional) 

Alizarin Crimson
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Viridian – Rembrandt
Transparent Oxide Red – Rembrandt

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Silk Plants Direct: Decor, Events & Painting Still Life Flowers!


 I recently was made aware of a great resource for anyone who loves gorgeous decorative silk flowers and green plants so wanted to share!

I have a preference for white flowers and love peonies (which last a very short time in real life), roses and hydrangeas, but this company has every colour and type of flower you can think of, plus shrubberies and other green plants as well.
Isn't this gorgeous? I think it would be great in a still life arrangement!

Such a pretty bouquet, love the purple hydrangea mixed with the white roses and peony

Silk Plants Direct sells bulk amounts of silk flowers and faux green plants at discounted prices. If you need decorative flowers for an event, such as a wedding, this is a very cost effective way to make things pretty! They have single flowers, bushes, bouquets and arrangements in containers.

Another gorgeous bouquet - great for a wedding or table arrangement


Fresh flowers are gorgeous, but they don't last very long and so are expensive to have around at all times.

For artists, the other benefit of silk over real is that they don't move so make great, everlasting still life setups. You could position some of these arrangements in many different environments to create paintings without worrying about the design and shapes changing hour by hour as happens with real flowers.
More pretty peonies

* I was offered product in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Oil Sketch - Fitness at Hippocrates Health Institute


Every morning when I head to the gym at Hippocrates Health Institute (where I am taking a course) I admire this lush floral vine over the doorway.

I did some of the vine with a palette knife, which adds some texture.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Life is Bowl of Cherries

7x7 inches, oil on canvas panel
I have drawings and paintings stacked up  at home, waiting to be photographed and posted, but here is my latest effort, a quick oil sketch that was a lot of fun to do.

I am currently doing a class in Florida, related to my other profession in the area of nutrition and health.

It has been heavenly to escape winter this year since it was a particularly brutal one in my area of the world.

I have managed to fit in a few painting sessions despite the busy schedule here.

If I could eat cherries every day, I would, but sadly we have to wait all year to enjoy them around early July. Something to look forward to after this long winter!

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Charcoal Portrait Drawing Young Girl - How to Loosen Up Your Drawing!


If you want to loosen up your drawing, I would highly recommend vine charcoal and a reckless disregard for detail when you begin - as you proceed you can tighten up some areas (which is kind of necessary for portraiture) so the person is recognizable but try to see in masses of light and shadow, look for shapes, not features.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Sport - Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 Challenge September 2017



It is once again September, and that means the 30 in 30 Challenge for Artists Helping Artists has begun.

This time, knowing myself, I am just going to post when I can, as I have a very busy couple of months ahead with teaching and a solo show coming up. I will be working on various projects, some of which will be impossible to complete in a day. So, I may be sharing some works in progress.

We all have our own inherent style, similar to our handwriting, but for many of us, that tends to evolve into a looser version once we become more comfortable with how to paint. I know from working with dozens of master artists that there is no "one way" to do things. I also know that the fastest route to artistic growth is a daily practice that includes drawing and painting.

I finally finished this painting of a cute puppy named Sport, who lives with Leslie Saeta, the founder of the above-mentioned challenge as well as the online radio show, "Artists Helping Artists".  Don't you just love those big puppy paws?

I have made sure to incorporate value massing in this painting so the dog stands out. If you squint at the painting you will see that everything in the background is a darker value. I blurred out that background as well so that the eye won't focus too much on those details.

If you are interested in joining me in a daily art practice, at any point this month, click on the link above and sign up!