Saturday, December 4, 2010

Positive Art Thoughts

Since reading Jack Whites book, Fear of Art, I have been struck by the valuable contribution of he and others who address thought patterns as they relate to the world of art. In my own thinking, I have negative thoughts like, " I can't paint what I want" or, " I can't make it successfully, I will have lots of paintings and store them up so after I die, they will discover me". These and other negative, victim type thoughts are actually prescriptions for how I live my life. Obviously, they have negative consequences. I have been identifying these and canceling them with improved positive thinking like," I can paint anything I want" and " I can be successful in my art and financially sound" and " Who cares after I die, let's make it now" . I am not sure where these will lead me but they will probably have a better outcome than the former.
I had a student ask me, "Can I paint this?" Of course you can paint anything you want, I fired back. Many of us who came from moderate or severe dysfunctional childhoods were shamed when we were young, stifling our inner urges, creative intelligence (psychologists finally have labeled this as an valid indicator of "smarts", and ability to express ourselves. These old messages can be replaced with new messages that are upholding, validating and supportive. Try saying, You are well loved, You can do anything you want to do, or you are a creative talented person, capable of great art! Such new positive thoughts are bound to take you to a better outcome than shame based thoughts. I have notice an improvement in my work since I began this program a month ago based in Joyce Meyers book, Power Thoughts, where she encourages this process from a Christian perspective. I will put a plug in for my ongoing favorite blogger Stapleton Kearns. He writes daily and on artists I have always admired (Sargent, Zorn, etc) and topics of great relevance. Check him out. Let me know if this helps you by commenting.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Whimsical portraits

Perhaps because of the season, Halloween, I am extra whimsical in this painting showing the Venice Carnivale, a time in spring where everyone dresses up in masks and historical italian costumes. I love the colors and unique masks that are somber, erie, yet provoking and interesting. Note how the mask follows the same undulations as a persons face, yet is removed and strangely beautiful. There is the minimal amount of "landscape" where the figures dominate. There are two distant figures and a gondola so everyone knows where this is (Venice, Italy). Keeping the hands soft was a huge challenge, something Bye Bytney taught me, it is known and deconstruction; you paint or render the object, in this case hands and a purse, then scumble over it to eliminate edges. The end product becomes mysterious and suggestive, making the viewer go to the more interesting parts of the painting. Impressionism leaves so much room for experimenting. If you don't like the look, render it again. Don't ever be afraid to go over and over a painting; one thing Dan Hatfield teaches gained from James Singer Sargents notes, but not to the point of killing the spontaneity. Also, note the amazing amount of interest just by a cook, angle of the head that is facing you. These small gestural tweeks can add so much to a painting, keeping it life like. People angle their head, not everyone keeps it stiff and upright. In my class on Fridays, we have a live model where I now teach the subleties of portriature but abstracting the portrait, as in this painting, is such a fun, good exercise.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Counterpoint in Composition

I am doing this blog on developing oppositional lines and angles within the structure of a painting. While doing a show in Utah, I was exposed to the work of Steve Sanger, a Park City artist who has multiple pitches in his paintings. This creates a fluid, poetic motion in a painting and is difficult to create without forethought. To obtain this motion, one must start with a line up from left to right, then have a focal point back to the left so the eye zigzags if you will. Always have curves, it is a counterpoint in direction, not light as the term often implies. This kind of motion has a singsong effect, good movement and captivates the viewer better than straight lines going in the same direction. Notice the green and earth tones are not even clear. Are they grass, vines, ? Who knows, leaving it abstract in the bottom third of the painting leaves mystery because you don't want the viewer to spend time there, merely open the door for them. This is an 11x14 (sold) of a Murphys, California vineyard. I have had this in mind for over a month, then saw this scene and immediately got out of the car and painted, esp difficult because my wife was in the car. Sometime I will do a blog on spouses (oh how they suffer) that you may want to share with yours. New classes starting up in Newcastle, Auburn area so join us!! Live model to draw and paint!! So, in sum, design your painting with curved lines that sway back and forth for a more interesting product.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Myths of Plein Air Painting

One myth about plein air painting is that artists setup their easel and paint in one and a half hours. Sometimes true but other times a particular subject may take a year or more in the making. The subject to the left, settlemeyer ranch, in one example of the latter. I found this very difficult and didnt tackle it until a year or more in my brain. Maybe I needed to be inspired more to do a white house with shadow. Maybe I needed confidence to do a soft mountain in the distance. Maybe increased skill in water. Maybe all the above, but the point is, while I have painted outside for 15 years, I am still growing and learning. A studio artist asked me, after painting outside for three years, if I had it down (learned all there is to know about outside air painting) and now get to the serious business and paint back in the studio. I hope and don't think I will ever get it all, that I continue to understand reflections in water, under the bushes, softness in the mountains, etc. There is so much to observe in mother nature that I will always look to understand more. The point of this message is to give yourself time. Don't compare yourself to others and their progress. Maybe you need two years to master a particular subject area. Respect Your growth and progress, get help from others. ( I offer critiques over the net) And that professionals who win awards for their art (like myself) often struggle and, at best, hit about 300 percent, that is about 3 out of 10 are good paintings. We don't sit down and pound out a winner after winner. I try to paint every day. The painting above, done in Gardernville, Nevada, was completed on the way to my annual study of the sierras. More to be posted on that later. So paint outside, study, fail, and allow time to acquire skills.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Education, Portraits, and Blab

For some time, I have wanted to elucidate (explain) the purpose of art education. Is it helping the student to arrive at a pretty picture? Is it more? I would hope so. Robert Henri explains the purpose thusly; Development of a strong perosnal art...through stimulating in students a more profound study of Construction, Proportion, Drawing---stimulating activity, mental and physical, moral, courage, invention in expression to fit the idea to be expressed;the study of specific technique, impressing the importance of the idea, that it must have weitht, value, be well worth (work). The development, therefore, of artists of mind, philosophy, sympathy, courage, invention. ...Individuality of thought and expression is encouraged. (p.224, Henri, 1923.) Wow, isn't that awesome? Now, what does it mean? The student should be devoted to the point where the teacher may "destroy her darling" , or in other words, wipe off the painting and start over. As painful as that may be, it needs to happen for a variety of reasons--it needs to be redone, the artist must gain ego freedom of her/his work--a sense of detachment for a better product. A painting may need to be redone 6, 7 or more times as the great James Singer Sargent (ala Don Hatfield personal notes) would do.
Portraiture, as in the example above, is a passion of mine, perhaps held back. I am not sure why. There are so many good portrait artists but I want to bring to mind what a more contemporary artist, Dan McCaw who says, to develop within the student her/his inner voice, whether is be realism, abstraction or impressionism. That will help the student to stop when they have created the statement they want to create. Without a vision, there is no stopping point and the student begins licking the painting--hitting the paint brush over and over reducing the power of the painting.
The blah in the title of today's blog is how I feel. It is okay, I am in a down zone. Quite normal from what I understand talking to my artist friends. But I wanted to get these ideas out to help other students become clear on reason for studying art. Yes, a pretty picture emerges but from a grasp of technique, ideas, invention, and expression. Develop the latter and the former may emerge.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Alameda Theater, 8x16, $700
This blog is on design--partly because I don't know what else to write about and partly because I read an exciting description of the difference between simply painting what you see and design. My esteemed colleague, Stapleton Kearns makes a distinction by stating, " is an example of a circular composition. I have been talking about designs and said this;
"What I meant was that design is a human construction and can not be copied from nature. You use decision making to add it to your painting. Design is a decision making and not a transcription process. No matter how carefully you copy that which is before you, you won't end up with a designed painting. Design is a construct, a geometric armature upon which you build your painting. I think I will show some examples for a while here. The most important thing I want to teach on this blog, design. Not just how-to, but you-should. You can learn to draw accurately, in fact that is essential. But it is not enough to make a picturemaker of you, only a journalist. " So, the rebellious part of me wants to disagree, because occasionally I will stumble upon an excellent design in mother nature but generally Stape is quite correct. You must think design and instill it as part of your painting construction--note I say construction, not transcription. Otherwise your a journalist, not a oil painter. In Edgar Paynes book on composition, he notes various designs like the 0, S, and triangle but one I will show in this blog is the L design. Simply note how the buidling goes straight up while the people and cars make a line to the left. This design theme can be seen in many great paintings of the past and contemporary artists and has a strong feeling to it. I will write about the rest in future blogs--maybe just quit and refer you to some great blog sites out there that do a better job. Only kidding, had a slow show saturday in Alameda so little in the dumps but will get my mojo up soon. So, think design don't just copy what is in front of you. As my friend Frank Ordaz says, "I always think design" . Have that as a mantra and your art will improve.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Russian Still Life

I thought this blog would be on how the Russian artists have influenced me. Upon my visit to Russia several years ago, I found various artists who incorporated antique vases into their art. The florals were super, most prominent is California impressionists is Franz Bischoff who painted wonderful florals. In the painting on the left, I have used red--okay, I admit I am a red guy--there are purple, yellow, blue, and green artists but I am not--I love red so I bring it into a painting whenever I can. The vase is actually from Belgium, on loan from one of my students but the colors are so amazing I thought I would tackle it. Just a few comments on technique-Note the warm cool combination and how the warm background sets off the cool vases. Also, the brush that extends lower left is a lead in, something my favorite artist would do--Sergei Bongart. Other favorite Russians are Surov, Repin, and Levitan. Ilya Repin is like a God over in Russia. You mention his name and heads drop--Equal to the great Russian Poet Pushkin( in fact they were friends). Not to dwell too much on him this morning but the genius of this man was incredible--each painting so different, so well executed that it seemed a different artist painted it. I am convinced a magical, fantasy painting Repin did in the 1930's with underwater sea horses, Merlin the magician and King Neptune served as inspiration for many of Disneys famous cartoon movies of the 50's. I guess I would describe the Russian impressionists, unlike other around the world, is passionate, lively, colorful without losing representational structure. I think real with a strong academic basis, unlike American art in the 1950's and later where modernism took precedance and everyone went Jackson Pollack and splattered paint on a canvas calling it art.
Other technical stuff--note the large small object contrast, how the cloth is handled with little detail, loosely. In the last class, we reviewed the problem with "student" grade paint, namely Winton which is so poor in quality, it simply adds to frustration. Cheapen up on other aspects of the process--brushes, canvas, etc but not oil paint--get the best you can afford. These student grade paints have too much filler, doesn't load or intermix well. Good brands that are affordable include Utrecht, Classic Colors, Rembrandt, Gamblin and Chevrin. Le Franc is quite good as well. I had problems with Pebeo as well so avoid that and Da Vinci--too much filler, waxes, sterates, etc. That is it. Got back from Tahoe on a mini vacation hiking, kayaking, and beaching it. All charged up now. Keep painting, ask questions!!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Still Life Reviewed

This blog is a followup from my last one where I presented the actual still life, the black and white or notan, value study and now discussing the painting in color. It is imperative to maintain the value structure in this painting because some of these colors are so difficult to get. Trying to obtain the right color mixtures and at the same time as the right value is almost impossible. The student (all of us) must keep the painting in the correct value or all is doomed. What is the shadow color on the main yellow flower to the right middle? Some green, some red, some raw sienna, little yellow, etc, I can't describe all the colors I used--at times I experiment over and over again. The other forms were easier. The background in cool greyed color so they don't compete with the subject matter. The detail in these roses were the most beautiful things I could imagine.
Other notes in still life: Have one flower be the star--if they are all detailed and pretty, you will lose punch. If everyone is screaming in the chorus, who will hear the soprano? Note the lower flower on the table cloth-I angled down so it becomes a lead in. It was straight across the table. Alway look for a way into the painting, and a way out, although keep it subordinate to the lead in. If possible, have two or three flowers touching or off the edge (not in this one) for interest and mystery. Lose edges where ever possible. Let your big masses communicate with each other and make sure there is harmony-especially a balance of warms and cool (there is in this one). More on that in another blog.
Mother nature amazes and humbles me constantly. I hope this helps your understanding of still lifes and take a workshop!! We review these principles and others on fridays.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Seduction of Color

This blog is about values-lights and darks and how they affect the structure of a painting. To get depth, contrasts, thus excitement in a painting in working with color, beginning artists get tricked into the beautiful colors. I teach them to stay in the value structure- lights and darks of a painting, starting with darks then moving into lights. With such beautiful color as above, taken during my class last week, it is very easy to become seduced by such rich variety of color, as in the picture above left. The mature artist knows they must first grasp the values or notan ( a Japonese term meaning light and dark harmony) structure as my friend Barry from Virtual Art Academy would say. This notan understands the darks and lights and how they interweave to form an interesting pattern (or not as the subject would display). On the black and white photo on the right, notice the light coming down from middle, then lightly touching the rose in the middle. Nice shadow in front of the vase. Now if this pattern isn't pleasing, adjust the notan, perhaps by darking the rose, the background, or vase, etc. The rich, beautiful color afforded in the still life is a no brainer--beautiful rich variety but the studious artist must hold back, do a value study or take a black and white photo.
Note a new workshop is at Folsom Art Association in 'October 14-16, 2010. Sign up now. One last note is interplay between warm and cools. Does this have a good balance? I think it does, although I might purposefully grey down some of the warm temperature in the background, maybe add a light blue or grey blue to tie into the Vase in the middle. More on warms and cools later. Just saw the impressionists museum last thursday in SF at the De Young museuem--fantastic show, try and see it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Figurative Paintings

I am writing to elaborate on my new seascape, harbor paintings that incorporate figures. This painting attached focuses more on light than just color. That interrelationship is complex --certain colors are naturally light in value such as cad lemon while others are inherently dark, tough to show light like dark blue or green. I have had the pleasure of studying with Don Hatfield the last nine months and I have gained mastery over drawing but an increased understanding of color and how it interacts with light. Basically, instead of just white and cad yellow to depict light, I have learned that green, pink, light blue and orange can also depict light if used in high enough value. All these colors, used in conjunction with their respective compliments, can equally show light and how the form principle is employed--the last idea rather old but described very well by Andrew Loomis, in his book from the fifties on drawing and illustration. His dictum, always show the form when describing the figure, is first and foremost. Figures, as opposed to landscape where there are flat surfaces to describe, contain round forms like arms and heads. Therefore, more variation must be shown.
Also, this composition has a certain flow, beginning with the figure on the left, traversing up to the large round net haulers, to the distant light filled fishing boats, then up into the sky. The sky is designed to bring the viewer back into the painting. So I have an eclipse or circular composition. The color, which is usually strong is my paintings. is designed with the light in mind. For some unknown reason, the sea and fishing harbors are romantic and attractive to me so I like painting them.
Hatfield has greatly helped my figurative work so I recommend his classes at S12 Studio in Sacramento. He is very knowledgeable and was trained by Sergei Bongart, in my opinion, one of the greatest painters from the latter part of the 20 th century. His wacky sense of humor and ability to connect to his students is uncanny. He is able to see strengths and weaknesses and display them to students. Russian impressionism seems to have withstood the onslaught of abstraction ism and maintained strong representation principles when the rest of the world went into modern art and lost strong fine art principles from the past.
Also, if you haven't found Stapleton Kearns, I highly recommend his blog. His is very well read, knows his art history, and shows his paintings in various stages. He is a prolific writer and can analyze great masterworks from the past. He is also very humorous and I appreciate him very much. I teach my workshop tomorrow so I hope I have something to say. Please rate this blog above and comment. I like to hear from others.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Having a blast in Napa Valley

Well, this venture into Napa wine country began with an invitation by Don Hatfield to visit his home and studio. Then, since Terry Miura was teaching a class last weekend, we thought we would crash it. Behold, Terry was kind and welcoming, not the least intimidated by our antics and we all met for dinner Friday night. Allan Beribault, a collector and friend, finds these amazing places to paint and, tucked away up in the hillside is Coyote Vineyard with great vistas. The site is amazing, designed by Swedish artist, hand built with tiles and curves everywhere. I preferred the vistas doing the above painting, 16x20 on location en plein air. Quite fun. The class did lots of good art while Don and I ventured up into the hillside to paint. Don got frustrated and drove off not finding a spot and Terry taught his class till I had to leave to go to a show in Alameda. (it bombed cause they charged 60 at the door and only sold 25 tickets). I took some photos and did some smaller studies on my way back on sunday.
If you ever get to Yountville, I am in Heron Gallery, a very nice location run by Dennis and Betty and have some nice pieces of art in there. The light is unusual and, the early and late day, quite extroadinary. Silverado Trail has numerous sights where good composition unfolds yet, near stag's leap vineyard, there are quite extraordinary vistas. Kudos to Don for inviting me and Terry M for having both of us to dinner and paint on Saturday. Both of their blogs are terrific, especially Terry who articulates wealthy tidbits of painting info. Last Tuesday, had a great time at my demo at Folsom Art Association where I explained how I completed the above painting. They had great questions and we laughed so hard, it became impossible to be serious. We covered important aspects of the painting process and had good laughs as well. Thanks to Lori Anderson and Betty for inviting me out there.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plein Air Painting Made Easy

I am doing this blog on making painting easy. When I was getting my doctorate in grad school, my profs kept saying," son, KISS ", when doing my thesis or ,"keep it simple stupid!". Why were they telling very bright adults this admonition? Because the human being tends to complicate things they don't fully understand. The other thing is that painting is hard or complex, but broken down into key elements, we can simplify things. Yesterday, with my beginning oil painting students I wanted to make things simple so they could understand the process. Here is oil painting in my step by step by step method.
Above, Sailboats, Sausilito, Ca. 9x12, $300

1. First, look around you and find what is interesting to paint. Ask yourself why? Is it the color, light, emotional impact or drama. Keep it simple by having only two, maybe three major elements in your painting. For example, a tree, bridge, and some flowers. Some of the greatest paintings of all time are very simple. Take Andrew Wyeth's painting of a women in the lower left corner reaching toward a barn in the upper right corner. Powerful, yet simple. Have a vision of what you want to paint in mind. Borrow from past masters. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Become a student of art history.
2. Second, do a pencil or value sketch. In this phase, you do more that just find three values or lights and darks. You also arrange the masses and design. The later element too big to go into in this blog but I will address later. You paint from this basic pencil sketch, perhaps THE most important phase of the painting.
3. Third, block in. Get the canvas covered with the approximate color and value.
Spending too much time or adding detail in wrong. You can go back in and alter things later. I like working from back to forward, dark to light, and thin to thick. After my darks, I establish my lightest light, probably the sky but could be elsewhere. Then make adjustments within that value system.
4.Fourth, modeling stage. Here I come in and add detail, adjust lights and add more darks. Try for three values in all major shapes. Don't forget grays, ( they help the colors to jump out) and mix for the correct color by trial and error. My friend and teacher Don Hatfield has a complete mess and overworks his colors to the point of mud and falls apart for hours, but in the last ten minutes he pulls out a beauty. Have sparkle by looking for tics of light. Randy Sexton calls them "Blings".
Did you capture the light? A good painting has a feeling of light in it. Everybody has their own way. Yesterday, one student wiped off her canvas and repainted most of it and came out with a winner. Don't be afraid to wipe off, or come up with a looser the first time out ( or twenty times out). Ask yourself what did you learn? Be patient with yourself, take a break, eat and drink lots of water. Get the help you need. Good painting is a product of miles of canvas ( experience) and skill acquisition (learning ). Good luck!!
See my website for workshop days and fees at

Monday, April 19, 2010

What is painting? Rendering whats there or changing things?

This is a tough question, one that I have debated over in my head so I would appreciate your ideas on this matter. I think there is so much beauty out there in the landscape or figure, so why change anything? Just capture what is there. On the other hand, What nature has to offer often doesn't yield it best result. I like Paul Strisik book written in the late 90's where he was painting a river but the tail end was boring. He creatively took it down, swung it to the right and had a beautiful design. At times, nature give beauty and pristene, harmonious landscapes but other times we must be creative. I know various excellent painters who came up with beautiful paintings and didn't approach what was in front of them. I think the artist needs to have in mind an image of the painting before they ever start. If there are design problems, fix them immediately, don't say I will get to that latter, let me paint the things that work. That is not to say you can't paint in one location to do a foreground, then move over thirty feet to do a background but have that in mind at the outset and save yourself some torment. Basically, my best advice is use what is in front of you as a starter but don't be locked into rendering exactly what is there. Be creative and move, add or subtract elements to arrive at a good composition. The Napa Barn painting above illustrates this well. The barn and vines were there but the foreground was not interesting, big bushes with tiny flowers. I did away with them and put in some big irises I saw at the next house door and had a better painting, opening things up and adding interest-a way for the viewer to enter the painting. Be flexible, use what is there for inspiration but change things as needed.