Saturday, December 29, 2007

Art or not?

If you ever wonder why certain paintings or sculptures are considered art, be aware the context the piece is viewed in puts a lot of weight on whether it is consider art. Just because a museum has a show of aluminum lawn chairs from WalMart in an impressive white room with wood floor and track lighting doesn't make them art. Much of what museums display is nothing more than art polution.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Spray Gesso

If you paint on Masonite and love a smooth painting surface, Krylon makes a spray Gesso. I bought a can to try it out and it works great. It's expensive but convenient and puts down a great surface on which to paint especially for smaller paintings.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Elements to a sucessful painting

A good painting has two elements that make it interesting and powerful.

1. The subject must be deeply felt by the artist. That doesn't mean that you have to love barns in order to make a great painting of a barn. It means the artist must be moved by some element that is the focus. It could be the way the light falls across the old boards for example. If the artist doesn't feel it, the viewer certainly won't either.
2. The subject has to be stated simply. Again, that doesn't mean there can't be lots of detail in a painting. It means the subject itself must be clearly stated. There should be no competition in the painting that detracts from the intended purpose. No unnecessary frills. Frills will not help a painting where there is no primary focus to begin with.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Feeling the subject

More often than not, a subject that reaches me most deeply is very simple. Seeing the commonplace and having profound and deep heartfelt feelings about it is what keeps artists alive. When the artist feels it, then the viewer can also. If the artist lacks feelings about a subject, then certainly the viewing public won't feel anything of value either.
If you don't feel the subject, don't paint it or you'll be wasting your efforts.
(click image to view larger)

Painting is Language

Painting is a language no less than any written language. To think that one can through inspiration and talent can create something of worth is to think that one can write a novel without knowing the language or how to spell. I think the reason is that so many mediocre paintings exist they have become the norm. People hardly know good art from bad.
In order to create a painting with meaning you must the fundementals that make up the basic language and those things are drawing, perspective, color, composition, etc. and that takes a long and dedicated effort.
No one thinks a person could possibly play wonderful music on the violin without first knowing the scales. Painting is one of those hard earned skills that many think can just be done with talent alone. It cannot.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Painting Quickly

I find it very hard to understand why art customers are so interested in asking how long it took to finish a painting. I paint quite quickly but it seems to be a negative if they know how "seemingly" easily they were completed. If a fine guitarist plays with great speed, people applaud their agility. Why is it so different with an artist if the results of the painting are of quality?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Looking but not seeing

I'm not a Bible scholar, (my wife and I are Baha'i's) but there is a verse that says something like, "you hear but do not understand, you look but do not see." It got me thinking about how that relates to painting. We all know how difficult it is at times to understand driving directions, how to accomplish some task in a new computer program and so on. We accept that fact quite readily. However, we have been brought up to think that "seeing is believing" but it is not the case at all. Seeing a landscape is a very tricky situation and for an artist to paint a good landscape, he or she must be able to see in ways that others do not. The artist must have a keen ability to detect subtle changes in color, form, values, and edges and put them all together selectively to convey the essence of the subject. No easy task and one that takes years of constant attention.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Eyes versus photographs

I rely on photographs for reference while in my studio painting but I often have to remind myself what the camera sees and what the eye sees in the outdoors are very different. The camera averages the exposure of a landscape and in so doing, the sky may be washed out in order to keep the trees from looking too dark. Another problem with photos is that it looks at the entire picture at once. The eye look and focus on small areas and will adjust itself to see into that area. For instance, I might look at the shadow under a tree and my eye will dialate to see the detail there. A photograph won't do that because it sees and exposes for the entire scene. Our eyes move around and quickly expose themselves to small areas giving us a clearer picture and more information that a photograph can produce.
One photographic solution is to shoot multiple exposures of the same scene or use photoshop to create several different exposures of the same photo in order to see more clearly into those areas which are too dark or too light. That of course will also leave some parts of the photo overexposed and others underexposed leaving the artist to put it all back together with it's appropriate real life values.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mood versus detail

The mood of a painting is more important and expresses the essence of the subject far more than the factual details.
Harmony was easily achieved because by having just these few colors, every color that was mixed simply couldn't go far off track.
This landscape was also painted by just using three colors. Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, and Indian Yellow.
(click on painting to enlarge)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Using only three colors

This painting was created using just three colors. Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, and Indian Yellow (and of course white) These are transparent colors. Colors such as cerulean blue, cadium yellow, or cadium red are opaque colors and will not give me the deep dark colors like the transparent colors will. It's amazing how much variation can be accomplished with the use of such a limited palette. Try it sometime. The other advantage is by using just those three colors, your painting will always be harmonious.
(click on painting to enlarge)

A Refuge

A friend and I were talking about the value of painting and sometimes I question that value but he said, for him painting can be a refuge. I never thought of it that way before, a refuge from what troubles you and from the unsolvable problems of the world and community. I liked this idea as it shifts the purpose of painting from that of producing a result to one of inner peace.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Art Teachers

When you are looking for a good teacher, remember that good artists don't always make good teachers and I have seen the opposite as well where very good art teachers are very poor painters.

Friday, May 04, 2007

New type of brush

A friend loaned me a set of these new brushes called Aqualon Wisps to try. They are suppose to be good for painting grass, beards, etc. Well, an old worn brush or the standard fan brush will do just as well, maybe better.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Interior Decorators

Last evening I was attending an event at a very exclusive condominium. The furniture and carpet was shades of pinks and purples. On the wall was some of the worst artwork I have ever laid my eyes on. But guess what! It perfectly matched the colors in the furniture and carpet. Personally in all the decades I have been painting, I have never once dealt with an interior decorator interested in actual artwork. I'm not offended by this when they visit my studio with a client but I'm aware of their focus which was so evident last night.
What does offend me is after seeing nothing more in a painting than a match to their color swatches, they reduce 40 years of intensive study to create a painting with substance by further expecting the artist to hand them a 50% discount. Artists and their art are nothing more than a commodity to decorators. I hope someday one of them will prove me wrong.

Quick exposure

Most digital cameras today auto focus and auto expose when the shutter button is pushed down slightly just before the picture is snapped. This often leaves you with a photograph that is either too light or too dark. I make a habit of pushing the button down slightly and giving the picture a quick look while still aimed at the subject. If the picture seems too light, I release the button, point the camera into an even brighter area where there is more sun and again push the shutter partway down. Then I swing camera back to where it was originally and the resulting photo will be darker.
Conversely, if the photo seems too dark, swing the camera into an area that is even darker, press the shutter slightly to expose for that darker area and while still holding down the shutter slightly in order to preserve that exposure, swing the camera back into position and your picture you want will be lighter.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

More about Seeing

"A landscape has got to mean a great deal to anyone before it can be painted in any worth-while way. It is harder to see a landscape than to paint it. This is true because there are lots of clever people who can paint anything, but lacking the seeing power, paint nothing worthwhile."
Robert Henri - Ashcan school

Friday, April 27, 2007

Brush strokes tell a story

Brush strokes tell much about the artist who created them. Bold, soft, reckless, and so on but many strokes describe artists that are unsure of themselves. Even to an untrained eye, these strokes will kill a painting. The fear of painting shows in every stroke and defeats the entire reason for painting but I have seen it happen many times. It is a fear that has to be overcome.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


When working on paintings from my digital photographs, I often take the photo, make a copy and overexpose it. The original picture I adjust to give me the best visual look of the photograph in general with nice rich darks tones. The copy is then overexposed allowing me to see important details in the dark areas that aren't visible in the first photo. The second picture makes a poor photograph but often gives me clues to details I otherwise would totally miss in the first photo.
note: you can click any of these photos to see them larger.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Making Thick Textures

If you want to create thick textures on your canvas, use Modeling Paste. It's basically marble dust in a medium that is about the consistency of heavy cake frosting. If you know where you want your texture to be, brush it on your canvas then let it dry before you begin painting or you can mix it directly with your paints. It doesn't seem to diminish the intensity of your colors like white paint would unless you use a lot of it. I seldom use it but there are times when it comes in handy. I have paintings I used it on 20 years ago and it still looks as good as the day I applied it. It's not a substitute for using white paint though. If you want a textured white background, either mix white with it or paint white over it. The brand I've been using is Liquitex Modeling Paste.
Watch a video on stretching canvas and using modeling paste.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Breaking down the composition of my paintings into thirds is a guideline I follow almost instinctively. Here's an example. Had the lighthouse been in the center and the horizon in the middle, this painting would not be nearly as interesting. Since I feature the rocks instead of the sky, the horizon was painted high on the painting. If I was going to feature some clouds I would have moved my horizon line to the lower third of the canvas. It doesn't always hold true but it's a good guideline to be aware of when composing your painting or photograph.
View more of my lighthouse paintings

Give til it hurts.

Like every other artist, I recieve cordial invitations weekly to donate artwork to good causes so they can auction it off at a fraction of what I would otherwise charge. Today I got the best letter I've received in months. It stated, "Would you want your artwork featured, along with a Peter Max original, during the art, wine, and food fest?"
That's like asking me if I want my piece of art I took possibly a week to create totally upstaged by mega-media-whore Peter Max. What are these people thinking! I've seen Peter Max in action and his "people" (Public Relation handlers) don't like any other artists near him in fear of getting to close to his spotlight when the media is present (not that we'd want to or could) and they ask the media not to video him from behind because he doesn't like his public to notice his bald spot. Geez! When are these local beggers of art going promote in earnest the artists in their own community instead of using us as a side show for their featured act?

Friday, February 16, 2007


If you're a young artist with dreams of becoming famous, (like I once was) know that fame comes by being connected and not necessarily by being a good artist. As you get older, the dreams of fame become less important but the passion for painting can remain a strong and powerful force in your life. One that will be much more fulfilling than fame.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Coating your paintings

I have used a number of sprays to coat my acrylic paintings. For several years I've used Krylon Crystal Clear and have a friend who's been using it for a decade. I buy it at Kmart for $2.95 a can. The Golden varnish was purchased at an art store. It cost $17.99. I wouldn't use Krylon just to save money at the expense of good results but in my opinion it does as good or better job than the expensive stuff.

Pure White

I seldom use pure white in my paintings. Using a bit of yellow or yellow ochre in my white will give it a life that pure white lacks. If the painting calls for a cool white, I add a little cerulean blue to it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Composing in the camera

When I take photographs, I try to compose my subjects the best I can in the lens then back in the studio, half the difficulty in painting has been resolved. I find it much better than struggling to rearrange a composition that wasn't quite right in the photo. With a good photograph I'll more likely end up with a good painting.

I sometimes capture a still image from my video cameras as well. I've been able to capture images that are quite suffecient to use as reference.

Using your monitor

Try using your monitor placed near your easel or drawing board to view your reference photos. It's much better than a print out and with many viewing programs (I use ACDsee) you can zoom in your subject to see the details.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Looking at things differently

Artists may see things more clearly than others but only in certain respects. An artist looks at a sailboat and sees how the water reflects up on the hull or how the sails catch the light and shadows. The yachtsman sees the same boat and sees none of those things but may observe how well the hull is cutting or dragging through the waves and how the sails are trimmed.
We are all blind to those things that do not interest us.

Perspective and Clouds

Often artist don't think about clouds in relation to perspective and although clouds sometimes seem random, they too follow rules. While at the port in Tampa today I took this photo which shows their perspective. Not all formations will be so obvious but a perspective always exists. Often it is most noticeable closer to the horizon.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Reflections in Water

Here is a rule that comes in handy when painting reflections on the water. Light objects reflect darker and dark objects make a reflection that is lighter. As you can see from this photo, the white boat casts a darker reflection in the water and the dark motor reflects lighter in the water. Don't ask me why but its always that way.
I have made an 11 minute video on the subject of waves and water. Click here
You can see a list of my other videos HERE.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Pitfalls of using photographs by others

The painting (above) was done using photograhs that I didn't take. I seldom resort to that but occassionally there is no option but doing so poses certain problems. Not because of a lawsuit as my painting ends up far from being close to the photograph. The problem comes with lack of information even with a good photo seems to provide. Here is an example.
The first picture (below) shows the rocks but gave me no indication of where they jutted in and out. I assumed they didn't have much direction at all. I started the painting using the first photo and then found this second photo which defined the crevises with light and shadow more clearly. Had I actually been at the lighthouse (wish I could) even for a minute I would have grasped and understood the topography that the first photo simply didn't express.
So, even if you work from photographs, doing so from your own photos will result in a much clearer undertsanding of what you are trying to portray. It only takes a moment for those important features to stick in your mind when you take your own pictures.

Keeping your acrylics from drying out

As I'm sure you know, acrylics dry quickly. Sometimes too quickly. Your half hour break for lunch will find a palette full of unusable dry paint when you return. A simple box (I built mine with a clear acrylic top) will keep your paints wet even overnight. Just give the top of the lid as well as the paints a squirt of water from a spray bottle when covering your paints.

Another commercial method to keep paints wet is to purchase "Masterson's Sta-Wet Palette". With this you use the wet sponge and a special paper palette. It will keep acrylic paints very wet for many days.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

More than paint on canvas

Painting a landscape is not about putting paint on canvas, it is the process of continually and attentively absorbing the visual world with a caring eye in a way that others take for granted.