Sunday, June 1, 2014


The longer I paint, the more I find myself observing and soaking up my surroundings.  There is a quiet cafe in my neighborhood that provides me the chance to just observe life as it passes by.  Last week, I took my drawing class there.  They naturally assumed that they would be drawing. While they did some quick gesture sketches, they rarely had a pen/pencil in hand.  We watched, absorbed and generally discussed what we saw.  One exercise I had them do was to stand for 3 minutes and just look.  They assumed that they would have to come back and sketch what they saw. Instead, I simply asked them to describe what they saw in one word. Many came back with trees, lady walking a dog, buildings. They were so focused on things that they missed the feeling of just standing & allowing themselves to observe the overall scene in front of them. Anybody can do a painting or drawing of trees or buildings but if you can invoke a feeling then you will have a more successful piece of art. About 20 minutes later, I had them do it again. This time they were more descriptive. Hustle, streaming light, patterns. Naturally students are concerned about the actual objects or subject matter but to become an artist one must place their on stamp on the scene before them.  Learning to see as an artist is a necessary tool for your toolbox but one often overlooked. So take time this week without a brush, pencil or camera and just observe. It's become one of my best tools.  

Click here to see the first oil sketch of my series "Mornings on Green Street". They are the result of my observations from my favorite cafe.

Friday, May 23, 2014

New Color Palette

I can't believe it's been over 2 months since my last post but I'm excited to share my new palette with you.  Since moving to California, I've wanted to scale down my palette from 6 colors to 3 (plus white).  Well, I almost succeeded.  I'm down to 4 but really liking the results. Finding that I like mixing the secondary colors myself.  It's more personalized.  I can quickly mix a warmer or cooler version of any color.  Initially, I started with Cad. Yellow Light, Cad. Red Light & Ultramarine (from my previous palette) but quickly found that the Cad. Red Light just didn't give me the range for bluer reds that I needed.  I needed a more true red.  Pyrol Red (Blue Ridge Oil Paint) resolved the issue but I still felt a lack of punch to my palette.  In the past, I've added Phthalo Blue on occasion but when I went to place an order, no one had it in stock.  So I tried Pthalo Turquoise Blue.  Thank goodness that everyone was out of Phthalo Blue.  Below is a color chart I did with Phthalo Turquoise.  I always do quick color charts when I add to my palette.  It gives me a good sense of how a new color will fit in with my existing palette.  I was surprised by some beautiful blues that I got from the study.  So far I'm really liking the results and having fun. 

I've taught many classes on color and students always complain about doing color charts but in the end they walk away with so much knowledge about color.  Buying a book of color charts or color "recipes" doesn't teach you about color.  It's when you experience with your palette of colors that you truly see how the magic occurs.  So go grab a palette knife and mixing.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Palette Journey

Choosing a color palette is a funny business.  I've been on this journey recently and finding it exciting and frustrating at the same time.  I LOVE COLOR but that can sometimes get in the way to picking a new palette.  I'm a little unsure about where my palette has settled, so I'm still tweaking away.  I thought I'd share some questions to ask yourself if you are looking to change up your palette.

  • What are your reasons for changing your palette?  For me it was a move to the west coast.  As I discussed in last week's post, I felt the need for a new language to describe my new home and surroundings.  For you, maybe you're bored with your palette, lack of harmony in your work, you have no set palette (just randomly placing color each time your paint) or constantly making mud (making mud means you don't have a solid understanding of how your colors interact).
  • Do I want a limited or expanded palette? - I'm a big fan of a limited palette but see advantages to a more expanded palette.  I highly suggest a limited palette if you are struggling with color or you lack color harmony in your work.  Understanding color is simpler if you limit your choices. Limiting your choices does not mean limiting your color.  When I went to a limited palette my understanding of color mixing jumped exponentially.  I found I could mix any color I needed because I understood how my colors worked together.  If your palette contains 10 to 20 tubes, it is more unlikely that you understand how each of those colors interact with each other.  An expanded palette works if you are someone who doesn't like to constantly mix color, time is issue and cost doesn't factor into the equation.  But keep in mind that if you are struggling with understanding color, an expanded palette will be more challenging. 
  • One palette does not suit all - I have my "basic" palette but when I switch to figurative work, I will add a few additional colors.  I know many artists that have slightly different palettes when they paint florals versus landscapes or a different palette for plein air.  It all about understanding the different needs for given situations.  
  • How to decide hues for your palette - My previous palette included a "warm" & "cool" version of the primary colors plus white.  My new palette has been scaled down to the 3 primary colors with an additional "specialty color. I quite enjoy mixing color and making my own black because I can adjust them as needed for each painting.  Some people just want to dip into Cad. Orange and not have to mix it.  Do you mix your colors on your palette or let them mix on the canvas?  It comes down to what works best for you. Just don't get complacent and stick to a routine just because it's what you've always done.
In the end, a color palette must suit the artist.  If you can't express yourself with your color choices than it's time for a change.  I do believe that students should have a good understanding of a limited palette before adding additional hues.  Regardless of the number of colors on your palette, doing color charts (Yuck, I know) really is a great way to understand your particular palette.  I did similar color charts like Richard Schmid's. Invaluable. 

As promised, I will share my palette once the kinks are worked out.  No need for you to see the sausage being made.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Developing a New Language

Hard to believe that my last post was the end of October.  Since then I've moved to California, started to teach drawing & oil painting classes and settling into life here.  I'd like to say that I have some fabulous insights to share but not quiet yet.  What has become obvious is that I needed to slow down and take in my new surroundings.  I haven't painted very much but I've been observing like a crazy person.

I've discussed in earlier blogs about my limited palette and have since gone to a more limited palette.  I'm happy with my progress but still working out the kinks.  I'm will share my new palette when I'm a little more comfortable with it.  One of the first things that I realized when I got here was that I wanted a different language to describe my new surroundings.  Surprisingly my blues weren't up to the task and so I have embarked on mixing a different range of blues than before. Mixing blues weren't a problem but now I seem to be struggling a little. Best remedy for that is to spend time looking, then experiment with mixing new colors.

It isn't that I don't know how to mix color, it's more of trying to express myself in a different manner.  It's like I've had to rearrange my words to accurately describe this new world. To communicate how intrigued and excited I am by the beauty.  I could have stayed with my old palette but it felt like I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Part of the reason for moving was to push myself as an artist, challenge the way I looked at a subject and to try to say something new besides subject matter to my work.  I've given myself permission to explore and change.  To challenge myself by working in a different manner, trying new techniques and palettes.   I'm excited to see where this journey leads.

So my tip for today is to challenge yourself to slow down and observe.  Don't be in such a rush to jump to the canvas.  Learning to describe something takes a bit of time to look and then digest it before pronouncing your viewpoint.  In the end, what you say on the canvas will have more impact if you truly understand what you are trying to convey.