Tuesday, October 29, 2013


It's been a little quiet here on the Art Tips blog because I'm relocating from North Carolina to California. Wow! Excited about all the adventures ahead.  However, this move is happening very quickly and have about 587 things to accomplish on my TO DO LIST.  So, I'm putting my Art Tips on hold for just a little while.  My goal is to be back for the new year, if not sooner. I'm also starting a new blog "Kelley Makes A Move" to chronicle this new chapter in my life. So stay tuned and thanks for following me.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Guest Contributor - Kim VanDerHoek Art Tip

It's been a little crazy at my house as of late, so I'm grateful to have such wonderful artists willing to share their art tips with me.  Today's tip is from a wonderful California painter, Kim VanDerHoek.  Kim is an avid plein air painter & she has some great tips for “How to Nail Down Things That Move When Plein Air Painting”.  Thanks, Kim and Happy Painting.

"Quiet Day at the Cove"

"Maritime Reflections"

When painting outdoors everything is in a constant state of change and it’s part of your job as an artist to capture the essence of what is there while doing your best to create a successful painting.

It’s challenging trying to paint a view that changes every 15 minutes; here are some tips to help you overcome that challenge.

  1. Observe the scene when you are setting up your easel. Often artists are drawn to a view because of a beautiful light condition, a shadow pattern, a bold color note or other dramatic element. By the time your easel is set up and you have a brush in your hand the element that initially caught your eye might have already moved or lost some of its drama. Paying attention to the scene, thinking about how you want to paint it, carefully observing it before you get started will help you remember what that fleeting element looked like when it first grabbed your attention and before it started changing.

  1. Have a plan of attack. If there is an element or lighting condition, like a shadow, reflection, cloud, etc., in your painting that will move as you are working it’s a good idea to draw that element onto your canvas as part of your sketch or, if there is time, create a thumbnail value sketch on paper before you begin mixing color. That way you have a guide that will help keep you on track even as the view changes.

  1. Paint it right now. Don’t wait until you are 3/4 of the way through your painting to start working on that fleeting element. Paint it in while it is still fresh in your mind and before it’s changed so much that you’ve forgotten why you wanted to include it in your painting in the first place. This is especially important for things that are key elements in your painting that are a focal point. How devastating would it be if you had a boat as the focal point in your painting and you spent most of your working time painting in the water under the boat only to have the boat owner hop in and sail your focal point away before you could get around to painting it?

  1. 4. Don’t chase the light. Highlights and shadows are elements that always change in plein air landscape painting. For example, if you’ve been working for several hours the shadow underneath a tree could move from one side of the tree to the other during that time. Be mindful of where the highlight needs to be on the tree casting the shadow in relation to it. It’s your job to make sure the light is consistent in your painting. If a tree has a shadow on one side, then the highlight needs to be on the other. Don’t get caught up painting in every changing lighting condition you see or you might end up with a tree that has a highlight and shadow on the same side, which won’t make visual sense to anyone viewing your painting.
"Have a Seat"

For more about Kim & her work:

Kim lives in Orange, California with her husband and two children. She has a BFA in 
Illustration from the California College of the Arts in Oakland, California. She began 
painting en plein air because it combined her love of being outside and creating art. "I 
enjoy the challenges plein air painting poses. Dealing with the weather, changing light 
and the other hurdles of outdoor painting has forced me to learn to make decisions 
quickly, to paint with commitment and above all, to have a plan for each painting." Kim 
feels that her plein air work has, in turn, strengthened her studio paintings.

Kim’s website – www.KimVanDerHoek.com

Kim’s Blog - http://vanderhoekart.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Guest Contributor - Carrie Waller Art Tip

Carrie Waller is a fabulous watercolorist.  I've been following her blog for a long time & she always has such fascinating paintings.   

Carrie's Art Tip

I've been participating in 30 paintings in 30 days challenge and I think that this has been the best experience.  Having that goal and the deadline of having a painting due each day has really pushed me.  I have produced a lot in a short time and I'm so thankful that I signed up to participate.  So my biggest tip would be to set a goal for yourself that you think is inconceivable, like 30 paintings in 30 days and see what happens.  I've heard from other painters that it has made them work through some problems in their paintings that they would usually start over but because they have a deadline to finish a painting that day they have pushed through and been successful.

To see more of her work:

Carrie Waller is an award winning, Internationally recognized watercolor artist, military wife, and mother to two young sons.  Her unique works are bold, dramatic, vibrant, and  full of light and color. "I've always had a fascination with watercolor.  The difficulty of the medium challenges me  and the transparent layering can not be replicated with any other medium.  I challenge myself to push the medium by creating saturated colors and let the white of the paper sparkle through to create my dramatic lights.  I love the process of being a still life painter.  Conceptualizing the painting in my head, the hunt for the props, setting up my finds in the perfect dramatic, natural lighting and seeing my idea come to life.  I love to make every day objects come to life in a new and creative way.  My intention is for the viewer to be captivated by the beauty and light of the piece and for it to give them an amazing visual experience."  Carrie is a guest co-host and contributor Artists Helping Artists the art blog radio show.  She is also signature member of the Louisiana Watercolor Society and has paintings in collections around the world. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Art Tip #132

A Good Reference

To achieve a good painting you need to start with good reference material.  But what constitutes a good reference?  So many students start with poor photos thinking that because the subject matter is interesting that it will make a good painting.  In my painting below "Windswept", it wasn't the Golden Gate Bridge that I wanted to paint.  It was the windswept bush/greenery that pulled you into the painting & strong design that attracted me.  The bridge just came along for the ride.  Here's my list of the good, bad and the ugly in reference photos.

  • The AWESOME SUBJECT PHOTO - So caught up in the subject matter, that you fail to see that there is no design, poor/no lighting or interesting shapes. Ask what is drawing you to this particular photo.  If the subject matter is your first answer then ask more questions.
  • Photos from magazines - Photoshopped to death & has nothing to do with you. I've seen my fair share of photos that students pulled from magazines.  Perfectly coiffed floral arrangements or interior shots that have poor or many light sources. Just walk away.  Go set up a still life or paint your own kitchen.  There will be a connection to you in the painting because you picked out the flowers/objects & spent time arranging the set up or it's the kitchen where you cook for your family.  Familiarity doesn't breed contempt, it breeds good art.
  • Bright sunlight (color is washed out), while in person it might have that special quality, the photo will never capture it.  Using photos taken midday is setting yourself up to fail.
  • Back lit subjects -  Reserve this once you've got solid foundation skills & then paint this from life.  It's the nuances in the back lit subjects that can make it a special painting
  • Overcast or grey day - Once again the nuances are lost in photos, better suited for plein air unless you have the experience/knowledge to go beyond the photo.
  • Nighttime - Again, better suited for an experienced painter & done on location, not from a photo.
The Good
  • Photos that you have taken - If you took the photo, then you've spent at least a little bit of time thinking about it.  You have a sense of the day (was it windy), the time, your surroundings (the sights & sounds) & therefore, you can bring something more to the painting besides subject.  You will be more likely to some color memory and be able to adjust the palette because photos can't accurately capture the true color of anything.
  • Photos with good patterns of lights & darks.  Squint to see values & shapes. Do your light & darks connect in interesting shapes or do they look like polka dots?
  • Photos taken early or late that allow interesting shadows and beautiful light.
  • Is there a story?  Not just look at that turquoise front door.  Is there an interesting pattern of light falling across the door or flowers in a complementary color that cut across the door. Just having a pretty colored front door isn't even to hold a painting together.
  • Photos without blinders - By that I mean, don't just focus on the main subject of the photo. Some of my most interesting paintings have come from the areas surrounding the main subject. It's not usual for me to pull 2-3 paintings from one photo.  Don't be tied to the photo as a whole that you miss a more interesting opportunity.
Being an artist requires that you participate in designing your painting.  Copying directly from a reference photo doesn't require as much skill as actively creating a piece of art.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Guest Contributor - Carol Marine Art Tip

This is the first of an ongoing series of guest contributors.  At least once a month, I will have guest post an art tip.  It won't always be an artist but it will be related to art.  I'm so honored to have Carol Marine be the first Contributor.


Carol's Tip 
"Getting the Most out of a Workshop"

1.      Leave your ego at the door. It is completely normal to worry at a workshop what other people are going to think about your work, especially the teacher. You only have a limited amount of time in which to impress them, right?! “What if I screw up?! What if the person sitting next to me is much better?!” If you can ignore those voices in your head and focus instead on simply learning, you will be much better off. Forget about how others might judge you (they’re just as worried about what you think). And believe me, the teacher is consumed with teaching, not judging!

2.      Be willing to let go of everything you learned before. Every teacher has opinions about the best ways to paint. Often these opinions collide. It could be that something you heard from a teacher years before and took as fact, doesn’t indeed work for you now. Be willing to let go of those things that don’t work and hear an alternate way of doing something. Take everything you hear with a grain of salt.

3.    Let yourself be uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable in a workshop means you are trying something new; experimenting. You may fail, and that’s ok. You may fail lots of times. But eventually you will have a breakthrough, and you would have never gotten there had you not allowed yourself to be uncomfortable.

4.    Follow up! The absolute best way to get the most out of a workshop, is to keep working when you get home. If you put away your tools for a month (or more) when you get home, you will likely forget what you learned, and lose the momentum and inspiration from the workshop. Carve out time for it. You invested time and money in the workshop, don’t waste that!

Thanks Carol for taking time & sharing some good information.

If you're unfamiliar with Carol, here's a little about her...

Carol lives in Eugene. Oregon with her family.  She has a BFA in Studio Arts from the University of Texas, Austin & since 2006, she has been creating one small painting almost everyday.  A popular teacher, Carol conducts several workshops a year across the country.  To find out more about Carol & her work, visit her blog & website listed below.

Carol's Painting a Day Blog -http://carolmarine.blogspot.com/

Carol's Website - http://www.carolmarine.com/

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Art Tip #131

Conveying Emotion

I've been giving a lot of thought on the direction of my art.  I constantly fight with wanting to be technically good but wanting more than just a nice piece of artwork.  I think most artists reach this point at some time in their career.  I found some notes that I jotted down from an interview I read several years ago of an artist (didn't think to write her name down) who was at the same stage. She said it became a spiritual experience & it felt like she was an orchestra conductor of movement & energy.  Here are some of the questions that she posed.  

1. What emotion do you want your painting to convey visually? Somber, joy, anger,
passion, etc?  Do you want to describe a time of day or night?

2.  What colors to use?  Does a predominantly blue painting convey sadness or restfulness?

3.  What tonal value?  Does a high key painting speak softness or joy?

4.  What type of movement?  Do you want to speak of a bustling street scene or a person 
deep in thought?

5.  What type of marks should I make?  Should you have energetic brushwork for a waterfall 
or quiet strokes for a calm day on the water?

A favorite artist of mine is Ron Hicks. Each of his paintings have a definitive story.  In "The Conductor" his energetic brushwork allows the audience to experience the maestro's movement. You can almost hear the orchestra.

Before starting a painting, do you ask yourself what emotion you want to convey? Something to think about. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Art Tip #130

Finding Inspiration

We all can experience a lack of inspiration at the easel from time to time.  Inspiration can come from some of the most unexpected places. Here are a few of my favorite jump starts.

1. Virtual Travel - while traveling is inspiring, we can't always get away to the places that we most want to visit.  So virtual travel can at least get the creative juices flowing. Watch a film that has beautiful scenery, watch the travel show or visit Google Earth.  It can be a quick shot of inspiration for free.

2. Different Medium - Work/Experiment in a different medium. I recently picked up pastels & watercolors again.  Just looking at a box of pastels opens up a world of possibilities. Here's a  quick w/c sketch that I did.  It was fun & no pressure. You don't have to be experienced in the medium to have fun.


3.  A Palette Cue -  I see artists on a daily basis that inspire me for different reasons.  A favorite thing to do is, take a painting whose colors wow me & translate the palette. Example - take a still life painting & translate the palette to a landscape or figure or take a landscape & set up a still life based on the landscape palette.  I learned a lot about color this way.

4. Good Friends - I'm lucky enough to have a couple of good friends/artists whom I trust to give a good honest critique.  Painting can be solitary & we can get in our own way.  Find someone you trust that can push you through a tough patch, talk art or just commiserate with.  Sometimes just getting together with fellow artists can be inspiring.  

5. Take a break -  Trying to force inspiration is worst thing you can do.  If the inspiration is not happening, sometimes stepping back allows our brains the quiet we need.  Each time I do this, I'm always amazed at what jump starts the creativity.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Art Tip #129



A few years ago I did a 10 Minute challenge for class.  As many times as I've painted an apple, I still learned & improved with each painting. Becoming familiar with my subject allowed color temperature, edge quality & brushwork to improve. Confidence in the understanding of the subject builds stronger paintings. Set a timer, chose a subject, paint at least 6 versions and focus for 10 minutes on each one. You'll be surprised a what you learn.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Art Tip #128

I'm late to post today because I've been battling a flu.  Urghhhh.  Fever, headache & writing a post just aren't compatible.   However, I did read an interesting post by Robert Genn and thought it was worth sharing.  Just click on the Decisions title to read.  Thanks to Mr. Genn for inadvertently helping out with an great Art Tip   He always has something insightful to say.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Art Tip #127


Notan comes from the Japanese and it roughy means the play between light & dark.  I use a 2 value notan to help me simplify & see if there is a strong & pleasing design.  I rarely paint in 2 values but it's a very quick exercise. If the composition works in black & white, then I'm good to go.  To take less than 5 mins. to do a simple exercise to avoid a bad composition, seems to me a no-brainer. I believe it's an invaluable tool & should be part of your painting process.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Art Tip #126

Art Tutorial 
Download the Lesson

I'm happy to share my process in creating fresh & painterly works in oil.  In this PDF downloaded demo, I will offer my approach in eliminating unnecessary detail, keeping your colors clean & your brushwork descriptive.  I discuss my process from the initial selection of my subject to the final brushwork.  I include how to avoid mistakes, a section about color mixing & brushwork.  It's a great tool to print & keep beside your easel as you work through your paintings. This art tutorial is available for $10.  Click the buy now button below & once the purchase is complete, you will receive the tutorial by email.  Be sure to include your email. I hope to have a new tutorial each month.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Art Tip #125

Stepping Back

I've been working on an art tutorial for a download lesson. In the process of painting the demo, I hit a snag. I really felt my sketch was good and was ready to proceed. I quickly moved through the painting but it wasn't until I was almost done that I didn't like the foreground. To many similar shapes and a lot of foreground that didn't quiet work. Time to step back.  So I took a day off from this piece & reevaluated it this morning.  A few simple strokes at the end & problem solved.  I added a bit of bush/shrubbery shape to the bottom left side and a few strokes in the lane.  None of this was in the original reference photo but you have to do what makes the painting work not be married to your reference material.   See you on Tuesday with the complete lesson.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Art Tip #124

Out of the Comfort Zone

Here's the results of getting out of my comfort zone.  I've always taught oils but last week I had the opportunity to play/teach with pastels.  I had a blast. Being in the moment, playing with all so many colors without mixing. Having pastel dust all over me. So here's to breaking out & having some fun.  

I'm currently working on Art Tutorial of a oil painting. Hoping to have it available for Thursday's post. I wish writing the tutorial was as easy as painting one.  Until then, happy painting. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Art Tip #123

Shake It Up

I'm getting out of my comfort zone this afternoon & teaching a new student how to use pastels.  I've done them in the past but it's been awhile.  While preparing for class, I got that wonderful creative feeling.  You know the one where the juices were flowing & you're itching to dive in. I even pulled out my watercolors.  I think it's good to step out of our comfort zones every once in awhile. 

You don't have to try different mediums to shake things up.  Try something you've never tackled.  Anything from a subject you've never painted, or a new brush, or a different technique. Just do it for yourself.  Don't do it with the idea of having to share it with the world.  Rather approach it as playtime.  Pushing yourself is a good thing.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Art Tip #122

Have a Plan, Work the Plan

I know that structure or having a plan feels like it takes the joy or spontaneity out of painting but I find it is the opposite.  Having mapped the painting out actually allows me to be "in the moment" when I'm at the easel.  My first couple of years painting, I was all over the place.  Never set my palette up the same way, no set palette of colors, diving straight into a painting. The results...poor paintings.  Of course, I was just learning but looking back, if I had a little more structure, I could have eliminated many headaches.  So here's my basic plan.

1. I crop my image (be it from life or photos) several ways before deciding the final version. This means never painting the entire photo/image.  Taking the photo, I crop it for a square, a skinny(1:2 or 1:3 ratio) vertical rectangle, a skinny, horizontal rectangle and usually (2:3 or 3:4 ratio) rectangle. I'm surprised what I find in this process.  Sometimes I can pull 2 or 3 potential paintings out. 

2.  Now time to do quick value sketches.  Editing the information that is not necessary. Asking myself if certain elements add or detract from the painting.  It's my sketch that I rely on at the easel, not the photo.  I will reference the photo from time to time as I paint. Many times, the photo goes away until the end of the painting process.

From  the original photo, I eliminated the cobblestone walkway, the fence line, 
the misc. potted plants, fence line & busy foliage in the background.

3. For students:  Pick your format.  Sounds silly but I'm amazed that students that will actually crop an image (i.e. a square format and then paint on a rectangle canvas).

4.  Mix my palette.  I generally premix between 85% to 90%.   This allows me the confidence that I have a harmonious palette and that my colors will be clean and brushwork descriptive.  

5.  Time to paint.  At this stage, I've eliminated the big black holes for a painting.  It's now about the application of paint.  If my head isn't full of design issues, drawing problems, incorrect values, bad color choices then I'm much freer in my application.  This is where the interesting & beautiful brushwork can flourish.  Choosing how to make a brushstroke is easier since I've already determined the correct value & color.

Students say all the time, I didn't realize that you had to think so much to be an artist.  In a nutshell, YEP! Hope this will start you on your own path.  Would love to hear about your process.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Art Tip - NOT!

"Around the Cake"

Unfortunately, my brain decided to take the day off without consulting me. I'm going to blame it on lack of sugar intake.   In the meantime, enjoy this painting by Wayne Thiebaud. I'll be back on Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Art Tip #121

What's Your Favorite Support?

In my post Set for Success, I talked a little about using good materials.   Most students give little thought to what they paint on.  I can't count the number of times that a student will pull out a canvas & say, "I got this on sale at Michael's for $5".  Yep, got it! At the starting point, we already have added an obstacle to the process.  The type of support you paint on is as important as quality paints & brushes.  Maybe more so.  It's like preparing a wonderful, gourmet meal only serve it on paper plates.  There are so many types of supports to choose. Cotton canvas, board or linen, stretched or mounted on board?  It's personal preference whether you like a rough, slightly rough or smooth.  I'm starting to sound kinda kinky! :)   Okay, back on track.   

Take some time & try different supports to see what you like.  Maybe painting on board works or a rough textured canvas or linen floats your boat.  But just using what's on sale isn't the way to create your best, possible work.  Painting on inexpensive support and then wondering why your brushstrokes are showing up or your paint seems to be absorbed into the canvas? Putting obstacles in your way only makes for some frustrating painting time.  

Here are some of my favorite supports:

Raymar Panels - Raymar has several types of canvas or linen that are mounted on MDF. They offer sample packages so that you can try different canvas & linen to see what suits you.  They rock.

Gessobord Panels  - Ampersand panels have a smooth surface & fun to paint on.

Stretched Linen -  Odessa Russian Linen - great support to paint on.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Art Tip #120

More Bedtime Reading

Robert Henri

Robert Henri (1873-1929), American artist & teacher. Part of the
 Ashcan School and member of "The Eight".   

A little book packed with wisdom that just keeps on giving.   A fellow artist gave me this book as I was starting my art journey.  Little did I know, that it would find a place beside my easel for many years.  Now it's place is beside my bed.   Inspirational & instructive.

The book is essentially notes by students & his teachings.  The observations & comments to his students are gems to be mined.  I feel he's looking over my shoulder, pushing me in the right direction.   The Mint Museum had an exhibit of his work a few years back and I was lucky to see his work in person.  I only wish I had lived 100 yrs ago...I would have been one of his students (right up front). 

Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

"The eye must be alert, must see the influence of one thing on
another and bring all things into relation"

"Color is only beautiful when it means something."
"Art is after all, only a trace...like a footprint which shows one 
has walked bravely and in great happiness."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Art Tip #119

Set for Success

 I see students struggle because they set themselves up for failure rather than success.  This might seem trivial and/or obvious but here's my advise.
  • Don't bite off more than you can chew.  Many painters pick incredibly complicated subject matter, work from horrible photos, try to create/change a subject without the necessary knowledge or ability.
  • HAVE A PLAN for your painting, do composition & value sketches, determine focal point
  • Don't include the entire value scale in a painting
  • Just because something is in a photo or you see it (when painting from life) doesn't mean that it should be included.  Ask yourself, does it serve a purpose for making the best painting?
  • Palette - spend time getting to know your palette (By now you know I'm a limited palette kinda gal) but no matter the # tubes of paint on your palette, learn how they interact with each other.  
  • Don't use a color just because it's pretty...pretty is overrated.
  • Brushes - once again, get to know what your brushes can do.  Some artists have the worst looking brushes & create masterpieces.  
  • Best tools - buy the best you can afford is trumped by knowing what tools you have & how to use them to their best ability
  • Consistency in paint - I consistently use the same brand of paint, I know what to expect. Not all hues are the same (there can be huge differences of the same hue across brands)
  • Get comfortable with your subject.  Don't just dive right in.  I spend time with my subject & I'm always amazed at what I see after just a few minutes of observation.
  • Painting is not a speed contest.  If you've only got an hour to do a painting, don't try to complete a 16x20.  Perhaps a quick 6x8 study would benefit your understanding for a larger piece.  
  • Don't let your only goal be to complete a painting.  So many students just want to have a finished piece but if you're flying through to just reach the end, then you've undoubtedly lost a lot along the way.  
Composition, value, color, information,shapes, variety & application are pieces of the puzzle.  They come together to form a work of art.  Jumping straight to the easel rarely guarantees a successful painting.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Art Tip #118

Tools for Seeing Values

Use a Value Finder -  Using a red value finder will help you start to "see" values.  It removes the color which can confuse determining value.  There are a few different Value Finders.  This one can be found here at Dick Blick.

Accuview App - Great app that is primarily an app for composition but it has the ability to be used as a value finder.  Just take your photo and use the value scale to remove color. Easy to use. For iPhone, click here.

Value Sketches - A tried & true method.  It's not an app and maybe not "sexy" but I think it's still the best way to be a good artist.  Learning to see as an artist requires training your eyes.  Using tools and apps can be good but there's no substitute for seeing it for yourself.  So grab your sketchbook, look, look again, judge one value against another & soon it will become a valuable skill that will carry you along your journey of becoming a better artist.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Art Tip #117

Sargent Knows Best

Students want to their paintings to have pretty brushwork.  I teach students to first learn to make their paintings read from a distance and then spend a lifetime perfecting how it looks up close. Value is the key.  Painting detail can give you a sense that you've capture the subject but without the correct values, your painting will be flat and uninviting.  If you don't catch a viewer's eye from a distance, they won't get close enough to enjoy the brushwork.

John Singer Sargent was the first painter to inspire me & I seek out his work for guidance. Viewing his paintings in person, I'm always struck at how he disguises detail with a few strokes of the brush. As wonderful as his brushwork is, it's value that carries a painting.   No matter how beautiful the strokes or color, if the values aren't correct, then it will fail. In JSS's painting "Head Study of a Capri Girl" from a distance, you think that the earrings would be described in detail until you are a few inches away from the painting.  In fact, it's 2 to 3 very well placed, value correct strokes.   I'm drawn to those beautiful strokes for the earrings but realize that if the values of the entire painting aren't correct...the earrings won't matter.

Those who watched Sargent painting in his studio were reminded of his habit of stepping backwards after almost every stroke of the brush on the canvas, and the tracks of his paces so worn on the carpet that it suggested a sheep run through the heather.   

In stepping back, JSS was mainly judging the how his painting read, not his brushwork.


My goal is to paint the "essence" of my subject, not the exactness of it. Value allows me that. Stepping back helps you judge how little you can get away with and still convey it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Art Tip #116

I'm stepping away from posting my Art Tips for a short time.  I've got an air conditioning unit being installed this morning (no more melting) & my calendar has been cleared from teaching for the next 10 days.  So I'm unplugging to paint, start working on an outline for an art book & enjoy a bit of time off.  I'll be back with a new tip Tuesday, July 9th.

Happy 4th of July!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Art Tip #115

Do you think while you mix color?

The next few posts are going to hopefully get you to think & evaluate more about how you approach color mixing.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself.  I will be breaking these questions down into individual posts as we go along.  Just the tip of the iceberg.

1. Do you premix the majority of your palette?  Premixing helps you harmonize your painting.  Having the entire color scheme mixed next to each other allows you to see the spectrum of values, hues & saturation.   It also weeds out any "Screaming Mimi" colors that don't work before they hit the canvas.  This will help keep your painting "fresh" because you aren't constantly scrapping & remixing colors.                                                                                                      

2.  Do you have temperature variety in your palette.  Ex. If you are painting a pomegranate, did you just mix a range of light, halftone & dark reds or did you think about shifting the temperature & saturation of the reds as well?      

3.  Do you think about the saturation of colors?  Putting the purest of color in your focal point will work but if what's around it is just as saturated doesn't that dilute the focal point?            

4.  Do you mix colors that will be next to each other on the canvas?  I tend to mix color from my focal point out.  Mix colors that lie next to each other in order to judge value, temperature & saturation.

5.  Do you mix with a color in mind?  A student recently asked me how to mix Cerulean Blue.  I said I didn't have a clue.  I don't mix to a particular "color name".  My goal to mix the correct color for a specific spot in a painting.  I never think "Oh, I need Cerulean Blue" there.  Instead, I'm thinking that the color needs to be more warm or cool or more saturated or less or needs to shift in value.  Keep tube colors out of your head, let what's next to the color dictate what direction you go.

If you were to watch me mix color or paint, you'd think I was just letting the paint flow without a care in the world.  Reality is that my brain is going full speed.  I constantly have a running list of questions.  Not thinking is the worst thing for me.  It gets me in trouble every time.  While some of it is intuitive that comes from years of building my fundamentals but it doesn't allow me to turn my brain off.  So grab your palette knife & start mixing but bring your brain along for the ride.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Art Tip #114


Today's post doesn't exactly fall into the category of  an Art Tip.  But it's on my mind.  A fellow artist & I started a conversation a few months ago about "unfinished" work.   Personally, I love stopping short of defining everything.  I think that my "unfinished" works sometimes say more about me as an artist than the finished pieces.  It feels like a fresher approach but does that matter to the buyers & should I care?  My friend felt that there was a market (albeit, an educated market) for this type of work.  Or does it once again come down to the right collector for the right piece?

 I always know the point when I have crossed the line.  It's exactly 1 minute too late.  Then I kick myself for going past the point of no return.  

Now that I've starting painting abstracts it's possible that's where I'll satisfy my soul.  Maybe the art tip today is to keep searching & stretching yourself artistically.
Happy Painting!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Art Tip #113

Finding the Abstraction

"Caribbean Storm"

I've been toying with trying my hand at an abstract but couldn't seem to find a jumping off point until now.  I find a small percentage of abstracts compelling. Why?  Because a small amount of artists understand & can communicate the "rules" of painting. Good abstracts aren't about "wiping" paint onto a canvas & throwing a few words in for good measure.  You hear "Learn the rules, then you can break them".  I feel like I now have a decent handle on the foundations & that's why I have some confidence to attempt a few.

I've been studying art (in one form or another) almost all my life.  My tastes have evolved by viewing artists who have honed their craft & place an emphasis on quality.  With this observation, I have tried to set my own bar high. By that, I mean to strive to produce  quality work.  Will I fail?  Most definitely.  More times than I'll succeed but hopefully most failures won't end up for public consumption, rather, for me to evaluate why it didn't work & incorporate those lessons into the next painting.

I see some students jump to abstracts because they've grown frustrated & impatient with learning the foundations of painting.  It's a kind of a short cut.  Can't draw a figure, no problem, I'll just abstract it.  Except abstraction comes from reality.  There are no short cuts in life or art.  Being good at something doesn't happen overnight.  When I first started painting, a very wise person told me that in 10 years, I'd really start to get it.  They were so right.  I feel like I'm at the beginning of my journey & it's a glorious journey.  

Bad abstracts are like the Kardashians' of the art world.  All glitz, no substance.  Not to say there isn't a place for them but being known for glitz isn't what I'm striving for. But remember good art will stand the test of time.

Whatever your painting style is, set some personal standards & goals. It's a great feeling when you achieve them and don't forget to have some fun along with way.

Jumping off my soapbox now, hopefully, I won't sprain anything.  ;)

Here are a few of favorite abstract/expressionist painters:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Art Tip #112

Breaking Down Florals

I'm often asked how do you paint flowers without indicating every petal.  It starts with the basic shape, as with anything you paint.  As you see in the photo below, with the blue flowers, I painted the darkest blue first in a general rectangular shape.  The white flowers were circular & blocked in a half-tone greyed bluish purple.  Side note:  I can paint but evidently drawing on a painting is not my best skill.

I work from dark (transparent) to light which enables me to lay the lights on top with a minimum number of strokes.  I always try to create form by painting from the outside in (see below).  Defining my shapes from the background allows me to keep from getting too detailed. Also, leaving a little of my underpainting showing thru helps balance the need to over define. The leaves are added at the mid-point, in half-tones and are there to support the flowers not overpower them.

The last strokes are the lights (which are opaque & heavier paint).  If you look closely you will see that my lightest lights are the smallest portion of the flowers.  Without the darks & half-tones, the lights will appear flat.  Students are always so anxious to place the highlight on an object without realizing that what's underneath the highlight is more vital to creating form that one light stroke.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Art Tip #111

Favorite Art Sites

With social media what it is, there is an abundance of information at our fingertips.  I thought I'd share just a few of my favorite sites.  


John Singer Sargent - I found one of his paintings in an art book at age 9. He got my
artistic juices flowing & they haven't stopped.  This site has his complete works. 
Sergei Bongart -  One of just many Russian impressionists that inspire me.

Tibor Nagy - When I grow up, I want my art to bring the depth & language that his work 
does.  If you don't know him, you should.


Sketchaway - A sketchbook traveler.  When I visit other artists' it's their sketchbooks that I'm most interested in.  It tells a lot about the artist.  

Urban Sketchers - A blog that features more than 100 artists from around the world. 
It's just fun to visit.
Misc. Sites

Underpaintings - Matthew Innis' blog that as he says...celebrates excellence
in Representational Art. A cornucopia of fabulous art & exhibits are highlighted.

Painting Perceptions - A blog that invites discussion & ideas on exploring painting done from life.  It includes interviews & information written from an artist's point of view. It takes time to explore but well worth it.  A large variety of styles.  

Painting Resource

Gamblin - I use Gamblin paint, their site is full of great information.  If you have question, 
I've always gotten a timely & useful response. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Art Tip #110

Painting from Life

For the first few years of learning to paint, I mostly worked from photos.  I struggled to understand values, color & wanted to paint every little nuance.  Photos compress values, color shifts and capture everything.  

For the next 3 years, I painted tons of still life.  I came to see values better, temperature & plane shifts.  The photo of a lemon doesn't compare to an actual lemon.  It was like apples & oranges (sorry, bad pun). It was easier to see the temperature shifts as well as the values of the objects that brought them form & dimension. My paintings came to life.  In other words, painting from life taught me to "see" as artist.  

I have always had my students paint still life.  It's usually a split of 1/4 are excited & 3/4's were looking for something to hit me with or were shouting that they hated painting flowers/fruit as they tried to escape out the door.  I set up a still life and have students stand over it, look into the shadows & have them describe the colors within.  I'd then take a photo of the still life.  In the photo, they no longer saw colorful shadows or temperature shifts in the objects.  EYE OPENING MOMENT!

Still life can be anything.   Gardening tools, your daughter's red boots, your decorative soap dispenser or a piece of lingerie.  All you need is something that you find interesting to paint & a good light source.   So go grab a couple of colorful spools of thread, a piece of fabric & go paint.  You'll be a better artist for it.  I promise!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Art Tip #109

In the Green
One of the most common areas of difficulty for beginning & intermediate students is mixing believable greens.  Greens that will harmonize & not look like you squeezed the color "straight out of the tube".  Last week I talked about making my own dark/black.  That dark is the basis for all my greens which I add...can you guess?  My favorite Indian Yellow.  This gives me a dark, fairly transparent mossy green that is the "mother color" of all my greens.

I then add Viridian or more Ultramarine Blue for a "cooler" version of the mossy (warmer) green.  I will occasionally add Phthalo Blue if I really need to push the color.   I try to lighten my colors with different tints of yellows, purples, greys...just about any color but rarely do I add pure white.  While white will lighten & cool, it also makes colors chalky.  

You can see from above that while I start with a desaturated green, I'm able to make beautiful saturated colors with a variety of temperature shifts.  Harmonizing my greens happens because they all have a little bit of that mother color mixture in them.  

It is but a very small sampling of green mixes.  This way of mixing greens & having a limited palette gave me the confidence to mix any color.  What better way to start your day at the easel already knowing that your palette will be harmony each & every time.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Art Tip #108

In the Black

I use a limited palette which doesn't include black.  I make my own for several reasons.  One, I can control the temperature of my black.  From the photo, you can see the the cooler black/greys on the left with the warm version on the right.  I also find that tube black can be such a dead color & my blacks have life to them.  My standard mixture is 2 parts Ultramarine to 1 part Burnt Sienna (this will vary with the brand that you use).  This is also the base for my green (mother color) mixture which will be my next art tip.  I make just about every green that I need from this main color.  Hard to believe but greens are never an issue for me.  

 If you struggle with mixing believable & harmonious greens be sure to catch next Tuesday's post.  Happy weekend.