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 -

Carol's Website -

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.