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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Apple Trees & White Paint

As a painter, I spend a certain amount of time waiting for things to happen. Followers of my blog and members of the online art forum, WetCanvas, have heard all about how I waited for my apple trees to bloom. When they finally did bloom -- weeks later than I thought they would -- I launched into a frenzy of painting.

I also wait for paint to dry. The common ironic phrase, "as exciting as watching paint dry," portrays it as a boring task. Lately, however, I've taken great interest in watching paint dry. The reason has to do with the color white. There's a lot of white in apple tree blossoms.

"Apple Tree, Big House & Fog" 8x10, oil, en plein air

I was surprised at how long some of these apple tree paintings took to dry. Some of them, nearly a month done, are still tacky to the touch. The problem has to do with a switch I made in my white paint.

I've been a long-time fan of Permalba white. Soft and easy to squeeze out of its plastic tube, it worked well for me. However, in cold weather, I found that it becomes stringy. Recently, my tastes have changed, and I think its generally-goopy texture also makes it hard to control for detail work. So, about the time I started the apple tree paintings, I decided to mix my own white.

I had in stock a tube of Grumbacher titanium and another of Grumbacher zinc white. I think the titanium, which is nicely opaque, is also too stiff, and the zinc, though buttery, is not opaque enough. I reasoned that by mixing them, I could combine the best of both.

"Apple Tree & Fog" 8x10, oil, en plein air

And therein lies the problem. Both of these whites are slow-drying -- especially the zinc white. I was using a 1:1 mixture of zinc and titanium. Less zinc and more titanium would give me a mixture that dries slightly faster. However, to make it dry as fast as Permalba, which has a length of drying time I'm used to and comfortable with, I'd have to add a drier. Lead white wouud work, as it dries very quickly.

At any rate, I have not found a satisfactory mixture. I don't particularly want to add yet another component to my mix, such as an alkyd resin or a siccative, either of which makes paint dry so fast you don't have time to get bored. Doing so would mean carrying yet another bottle out to the field.

The answer may not lie in finding a satisfactory mix, but in learning to live with the goopiness of Permalba or the slow drying time of my own mix. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I offer my two, still-tacky-to-the-touch apple tree paintings. (As always, you can click on the image for a bigger version.)

(Don't forget about my new book, Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island. See my website for details.)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Boats as Large Value Masses

One concept I stress to my students is the importance of simplifying the landscape into large value masses. This concept is easy to understand, but when you're looking at a pure landscape -- that is, one without buildings or other manmade objects -- it's sometimes difficult to see where one mass ends and another begins. What helps is to find a landscape with manmade features in it. Manmade features typically have sharp edges and well-defined shadows that make the job easier.

Lately, I've been painting a pair of fishing boats tied up to the North Road wharf. One problem with boats in a working fishing village is that they tend to come and go frequently, especially when you're trying to paint them! Fortunately, these two seem to be permanently docked. However, that doesn't mean they are motionless. Our big tides push them up and down, changing the perspective dramatically in just an hour. When I'm painting boats, I use small panels (5x7 or 6x8) and limit my time to an hour. Even so, the perspective changes enough in that hour that I must capture the large value masses accurately in 5 minutes or so. I use the rest of my time fine-tuning color and detail.

In these two paintings, my subject is the same pair of boats with slightly different compositions. The time of day (light angle) is the same, and since I painted them on two consecutive days, the height of the tide and thus, the perspective, are similar. You can see how I focussed on capturing the large value masses. Using manmade objects made it easier.

"Red Boat, Blue Boat" (6x8, oil/panel, en plein air)

"Red Boat, Blue Boat #2"
(5x7, oil/panel, en plein air)

(As always, you can click on the image for a bigger picture.)

Also, if you haven't heard about my new book, Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island, it is now available. For more information, please see my post on it. You can get to it by clicking here:

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island

I'm proud to announce that my new book, Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island, is in print at last. As many of you know, I've spent the last year painting all over this Canadian island and across the border in neighboring Lubec, Maine. My book is a compilation of the paintings and of my observations on the painting process as they relate to this grand adventure.

I wanted to write a book that offered useful advice without ending up as just one more art instruction book. I also wanted a book that offered a bounty of paintings for the collector's eye without ending up as just one more "coffee table" book with very little textual reference. So, I've created this book to please both student and collector.

Through a Painter's Brush has 144 pages filled with over 100 images -- 75 paintings of maritime scenery complete with detail shots and illustrative photos, two demonstrations in oil and pastel, and, of course, my meditations on plein air painting.

The book is available currently in softcover and also as a download, both from

Price of the softcover is $30 and the download, $20. To purchase the book, please visit the following link:

You can also see a preview of the book at:

I look forward to hearing how you like it!