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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Testing the New Plein Air Panels from Judson's

"Near Palatki" 9x12, oil - SOLD

I got a few of Judson's Art Outfitters new plein air panels this week, and I thought I'd take one out for a test drive.  They are acrylic gesso on hardboard, and the gesso has a nice, eggshell finish that takes the paint well.  It has just the right amount of absorbency for plein air painting alla prima style.   When you lay down that first stroke, it stays there, and you can easily lay down more over it.  The price is right, too, a little over $4 for a 9x12 board.

For the test drive, I went out painting with my friend Christine Debrosky.  She drove, and I was happy to let her, since our destination was some distance out on a rather washboarded gravel forest road.  We headed toward the Palatki ruins, where you can get some really nice closeups of the red rocks nearby.  A storm was moving in - they were predicting an inch or less for Sedona but several for Flagstaff - so the clouds were building.  We managed to get in one painting each before the sun disappeared.

My painting is at the top of this post.  I really went for intuitive color and rapid brush strokes.  I've been reading the new biography of Van Gogh by Naifeh and Smith, so perhaps Vincent's approach is affecting mine.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Social Media and Painting

H.L. Mencken

That old curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken, once wrote:  "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."    Not true, of course, since there are many teachers who do, and many doers who teach.  (This might be grist for a future post, perhaps.)

These days, we can take Mencken a step further:  "Those who can, do; those who don't, live in Facebook."

Or, instead of Facebook, substitute your favorite social medium.  We have many now, including Google Plus, Twitter and Pinterest.  And tomorrow we'll have more.

I'll be the first to admit that I spend time on Facebook.  I've found it great for reconnecting with friends from whom I've wandered over the decades.  Originally, though, I signed up hoping to  increase my presence as a professional artist on the Web.  I did the same with all the other social media sites.  The other day I even signed up for Pinterest, but mostly just to test some HTML code that will prevent people from "pinning" my copyrighted images from my blog and website.  (Thank to Katherine Tyrell for that tip!)

So, as a professional artist, how is social media working for me?  Frankly, it's not.

I'm sure I can hire a consultant who might suggest ways I can improve this situation, but honestly, I don't think it's worth the effort.  Social media takes away valuable time from activities that can have a  bigger impact on my professional life.  These activities include meeting potential buyers face-to-face, working my mailing list of already-proven buyers and students and, yes, even painting.

And if you don't paint, you have nothing.

Besides my website, which I use as an online portfolio, I've found the blog most useful.   I've sold from both the website and the blog; and both have pulled in new students.  When I post to the blog, I make sure a link to the post also goes to Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter.  This doesn't take much effort.  I've also made sure I have a professional page on both Facebook and Google Plus that encourages new visitors to visit my website and blog.  I use Youtube, too.  Although it isn't exactly a social medium, I encourage visitors to my channel  to visit my "real" sites, too.

All of these social media sites require time and energy to evaluate.  Time and energy I'd rather spend painting  and doing my old-fashioned social networking.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Prepping Panels

About four times a year, I spend a few days preparing panels for oil painting, maybe 40 or so at a time.   I have enough tables and other flat surfaces for the prep, but once the last coat of gesso is laid on, I like to move them out of the way so I can embark on other projects.  Although after a day acrylic gesso may feel dry, it really takes several more days for it to fully harden.  If you don't let it cure long enough before stacking, the acrylic will stick.  When you separate the boards, some may be blemished.

One way around this, I've heard, is to interleave waxed paper.   But here's a system I've come up with.  It doesn't require drying racks and doesn't take up table space.  I find a little corner somewhere in the house where I can stand up the boards.  You might start building a house of cards in the same way.  Below is a photo of the arrangement.  That's my usual batch of about 40 boards.  You can see how this arrangement saves space.  It may not work, though, if you have a dog, cat or small children.  It is, after all, a house of cards.  Still, you can make a surprisingly sturdy construction.

Someone asked me how I make my boards.  I wrote on article for The Artist's Magazine on this very topic (December 2011) issue.  But here's my favorite recipe.  I start with hardboard ("Masonite"), and if it's the tempered variety, I rub it down with alcohol first to remove surface oil.  Next, I brush on a thin layer of Gamblin PVA.  For most of the boards, I follow this with two thin layers of Golden Acrylic Gesso, randomly applied with a trim brush, the kind you use for painting houses.  I also put a coat on the reverse side to even out warping.  Finally, I sand just lightly at the end, as I like a bit of surface texture.  This makes a semi-absorbent surface that works for me.  I always save a few boards, though, to treat differently.  After the PVA size, I apply a coat or two of either Golden Heavy Gel or Golden Matte Medium.  These dry clear, allowing the hardboard's natural golden tone to shine through.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Upcoming Workshops: Doug Dawson Mentoring Workshop

August 20-24, 2012: Lubec, Maine.  Doug Dawson Mentoring Workshop.  All  media.   Price:  $600.  Class limited to 8.  Visit for details.  Contact:  Doug Dawson, (303) 421-4584.

Although this isn't one of my workshops, I am the sponsor.  Doug Dawson is returning to Lubec, Maine, for a five-day mentoring workshop.  This is his third year teaching here.  Doug is a very giving instructor and a fantastic painter. This is a rare opportunity to work side-by-side with a Master Pastelist!

Because this is a mentoring workshop, you'll paint along with Doug as a colleague or, if you prefer, watch as he paints. (Doug will work in pastel, but you may work in any medium.)  As your mentor, he'll critique work and talk informally about painting. You can expect a very intense, "immersion" experience in some of the world's most scenic locations.

The workshop will be based in Lubec, Maine. Students will paint en plein air in Lubec and, just minutes across the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge, on Campobello Island in New Brunswick. Lubec is a quaint, historic fishing village with a scenic waterfront, and Campobello Island is home to the many natural areas of Roosevelt-Campobello International Park and Herring Cove Provincial Park. Expect real working wharves, picturesque buildings and lighthouses, fishing boats, rugged cliffs and peaceful beaches.

Doug Dawson is a founding board member for the The Art Students League of Denver and teaches 8 to 10 workshops around the US each year. He has received numerous awards from a number of different art organizations such as The Pastel Society of America, American Watercolor Society, Knickerbocker Artists, The National Academy of Western Art, Southeastern Pastel Society, Pastel Society of West Coast, Audubon Artists, Kansas Pastel Society, Pastel Society of the Southwest and the International Association of Pastel Societies. To honor his achievements, he was given the title of Master Pastelist by the Pastel Society of America and elected to the Master's Circle of the International Association of Pastel Societies. In 2008, he was named a Pastel Society of America Hall of Fame Honoree. (For more, visit

(I hope you'll join us.  If the timing doesn't work out for you, please consider my own workshops on Campobello that run from July into September -

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Painting the Grand Canyon with a Teensy Knife, Part 2

Sunset Glow, 12x16, oil - contact Michael

I've been working in the studio on what may be my final Grand Canyon painting for the season.  Although this is a studio piece, I used a variety of photo and plein air references from my last couple of trips to the Canyon.  The reference photos don't do the scene justice, but the plein air sketches, thankfully, give me lots of accurate color notes that I was able to use for this project.

What I'm finding particularly fun to play with in these paintings is the way rock colors change from foreground to far distance.  The sunlit passages, for example, go from hot cadmium yellow deep and cadmium red in the closest rocks all the way back to a cool mixuture of white, cadmium red, ultramarine blue and a touch of chromatic black.  The shadowed passages go from mixtures of alizarin crimson, phthalo emerald, ultramarine blue and chromatic black in the closest rocks and then back to a mixture of white, alizarin red and ultramarine blue. There is a lot of variety in these mixtures, though, and sometimes I mixed more intuitively than with thought.  It's possible to do that when you set your palette exactly the same way every day.

I also enjoyed working with the knife again.  Here's what my palette looked like when I was finished, followed by detail shots of the painting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Two Paintings Juried In

Faithful blog readers will have seen these two images before, but I am posting them again because they have been juried into the annual Sedona Arts Center Juried Member's Show.  The show will run from March 2-27 at SAC's main (upper) gallery.  SAC is open 10-5 every day.

There's also a reception where you can meet me and the other artists on Friday, March 2, from 5-8.  If you're in town, I hope you'll stop by! 

Grand Canyon Gold, 12x24 oil

Precipice at the Grand Canyon, 16x20, oil - SOLD

Monday, February 20, 2012

Painting by Jeep

My friend, Tony Donovan, is here in Sedona now with his Rubicon.  The advantage of having a painting buddy with a Jeep is that we get to go places your father's Oldsmobile - or your average low-slung rental car - can't.  Many of the forest roads in Red Rock Country require high-clearance, heavy-duty tires and chutzpah.  Jeeps have all that, and lots of chutzpah.

Sometimes students get a treat and get to go, too.  Last week, we headed down Vultee Arch Road, which snakes around the backside of Thunder Mountain into some very pretty country.  The road is more washed out than it was last year, and the catclaw and mesquite seem to stick out more; the Rubicon now sports some brand-new "Arizona pinstripes."  We drove to a little platform near the historic Van Deren cabin and painted the view overlooking a very dry Dry Creek.

It was a good week over all.  We had snow at the higher elevations the first day and cool, overcast after that, but the last two days were just spectacular and Sedona at its best.  I've put a few photos up for your vicarious pleasure.  I should also mention we have a few spots left in this season's Paint Sedona workshops.

Somewhere behind Thunder Mountain (sketch), 9x12, oil

Schnebly Hill area (sketch), 9x12, oil

Munds Mountain "fin", showing bounced light (sketch) 12x9, oil

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reusing Canvas

Thunder Mountain sketch, 9x12, pastel

Sometimes I get questions about reusing canvas.  My short answer for this is, Don't.

I think all of us have a collection of  old paintings stashed away somewhere, paintings that should be thrown out.  Because of the cost of materials, it's easy to wish that these could be recycled in some way.  The worst thing you can do is to brush on a fresh coat of white paint and paint over that.  Over time, the new paint will become more transparent, revealing the old painting.  But there's also a good chance that the overpainting, because of differences in paint layer thickness and oil content, will develop problems such as cracking and flaking.  Even if you think you'll be doing nothing but quick, throwaway sketches, don't do it.  Never assume that a quick sketch won't turn out to be something valuable.  Always use archival materials in an archival manner.

If you really do need to reuse stretched canvas, one thing you can do is take it off the stretchers and turn it over, exposing fresh canvas to your brush.  This you can treat just like raw canvas - size it, and then apply either oil ground or acrylic gesso.  Many old paintings, hundreds of years old, have paintings on the reverse side.  Of course, if you paint on panels, you can simply flip those over and paint on the backs.  (I'm talking about wood or hardboard panels; this won't work for those cheap cardboard ones from Frederix.)

Pastel on paper is a different story.  I use Wallis sanded paper, which is remarkably durable and eminently reusable.  I can take my "starts" and unsatisfactory paintings to the kitchen sink and wash off the pastel.   Some of the pastel stains the paper, but the stained paper, once dry, makes for a good surface to do more paintings on.   If the paper doesn't dry completely flat, I cut it up into smaller pieces for sketches.  (The pastel at the top of this post is purely meant for your pleasure and not to illustrate a point; it wasn't made on re-used paper, nor will I wash this one out!  It's a sketch I did the other week during one of the Paint Sedona workshops.)

So if you don't reuse canvas or paper, what should you do?  Make a bonfire.  Slash them with a razor.  Paint a black X on them.  Get them out of your studio at any cost, or these zombie paintings will haunt you forever!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Upcoming Workshops: Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada

July-September, 2012: Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada.  All levels, all  media, many weeks available.   Price:  $300.  Visit for details and to signup.

Painting at Liberty Point

I've been teaching plein air painting workshops on Campobello Island and across the border in Lubec, Maine, for five summers now.  (This will be my sixth.)  I love the area and never tire of showing students some of my favorite spots to paint.  Campobello is a small island, and one-third of it consists of parklands.  Between the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park and Herring Cove Provincial park, we have plenty to paint in the way of bold cliffs, quiet beaches, ponds and bogs, and meadows.  We also have historic buildings, lighthouses and several working waterfronts to pick from, too.

As with my Paint Sedona workshops, I limit the students to usually no more than 4.  I'll be working in oil or pastel, but students are welcome to work in whatever medium they wish.  Also, during the summer I schedule a couple of advanced/mentoring workshops for those who would like to learn the finer points of painting.  Each workshop begins in my home studio gallery and starts with a brief talk on plein air basics, after which we move out into the field to paint.  I'll demonstrate first, and then you'll get to paint with me working beside you and offering help.

Since the workshop runs from 9-1, you'll have your afternoons free to either paint on your own or explore.  Many students bring friends or family and enjoy a whale watch or hike in the afternoon, followed by a dinner of the day's catch at one of our restaurants.  Some just keep on painting - and that's fine, too, because I'll be happy to critique whatever you do the next morning.

By the way, Master Pastellist Doug Dawson will be teaching a workshop for me in Lubec, Maine, August 20-24.  I'll have more details on this in a future post.  Or, you can go to

For more on the area, visit and

Friday, February 17, 2012

More on Framing

12x24 pastel framed with museum glass, mat and spacer

A reader writes:

My area of confusion is regarding the framing. This influences the amount of the artist's share more than anything else. Some galleries decide what frames should be used, some want better or higher quality frames, some probably contribute to this expense depending on the value of the work. Particularly, in the case of larger works, the buyer will probably change the frame. Styles vary widely when it comes to frames among what artists want to use and what buyers want. It is a big investment to put a good frame on a work, it ups the price, and then occasionally it is replaced adding so much more money on the buyer's end. Such a conundrum.

I can't figure out how to make this work out in a more favorable way for the artist. Can you speak to us, the 99%?

Framing for the 99% is a tough call.  As I mentioned in my earlier post on framing, I have a few basic concepts, which I adhere to.  These seem to satisfy the galleries, as well.  (In fact, the way I frame is the way my galleries want me to frame my work.)   The framing is expensive, but if you have a resale tax certificate, you avoid paying sales tax.  And, because the certificate also signifies you as a professional, framers will often sell to you close to wholesale.

9x12 pastels framed with simple, homemade wooden frames, mat and picture glass, no spacer

Otherwise, there aren't many options to get around the issues you mention.  You might tell the gallery manager that if a buyer doesn't like the frame you can swap it out for one of similar price.  Of course, this makes things more complicated in that the re-framing will have to be dealt with in some way.  Either you need to live close enough to do it yourself, or the gallery will need to do it.  If the buyer wants a more expensive frame, then the buyer pays the difference.  Or, and this is probably easiest, they can buy it without the frame, and the gallery deducts your frame cost from the price.   (The gallery's commission, by the way, should then be calculated on the unframed price.)  In my studio gallery, if I don't have a frame handy, this is what I do.  It's usually always a satisfactory solution for both me and the buyer, especially if I can recommend a good frame shop.

Scattered through this blog are some ways I've framed pastels in the past.

I'd be interested to hear if any of my readers have other solutions regarding Framing for the 99%.

5x7 pastels framed with readymade frames, mat, picture glass and no spacer

12x9 pastel framed with readymade frame, museum glass, no mat, plus spacer

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting the Feeling: Creating Mood

Canyon, Near Sunset I - 9x12, oil

Sometimes, we're more interested in putting down our feelings than in dealing with painting technique.  If, like me, you're heavily left-brained and love the technology of painting, it might be hard to let go and "just express yourself."  We're busy trying to remember whether burnt umber is fat or lean.  But I'd say that even "expressing yourself" requires technical skill.

Without it, it's like not knowing the rules of grammar and trying to write a novel.  Communicating your story - and all the feelings that fuel a novel - will fail if you don't know the rules.

So, how does one put down one's feelings?  To me as as plein air painter, my feelings come about as a response to the landscape's mood.  Mood is a synthesis of subject, light and shadow, and color.

Canyon, Near Sunset II - 9x12, oil

"Putting down your feelings" involves three steps.  First is discerning exactly what your response is.   Are you awed by the grandeur and majesty?  Calmed by the peacefulness?  Second is analyzing the landscape's mood and determining what features provoke your response.  If you are awed, perhaps it's the sense of atmospheric depth and the scale of the subject.  If calmed, perhaps it's the dominant horizontals in the scene and the dulled color.  Finally, it's taking these features and rendering them effectively on paper or canvas.  If it's grandeur and majesty you're after, you might start with a larger canvas and rich color; if a sense of calm, you might go with a 1:2 or even a 1:3 format and a subdued palette.  Every decision you make needs to work in concert with the mood you wish to convey.

It's worth playing with this concept, especially in the studio where you have more time.  On a few scrap sheets, play with format and design, and with value choices and palettes.  Which combination is most effective at recreating your feeling about the landscape?

The two sketches illustrating this blog are ones that I painted out in the field while thinking purposefully of mood.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Upcoming Workshops - View Arts, Old Forge, New York

May 15-17, 2012: NEW YORK, Old Forge.  Oil Only.   Price:  $350/$325 members. Contact: View Arts, (315) 369-6411, ,

This will be my second time teaching in Old Forge.  Old Forge sits in the central Adirondack Mountains of New York, and it's a beautiful spot with ponds, trails and trees.  In mid-May, we should have some good spring foliage.  Bring a tube of permanent green light!

The workshop is for oil only.  We'll spend a little time in the studio each morning going over plein air basics, where I'll also go over my gear and materials.  Afterward, we'll head out to some of my favorites spots where I'll give a full demonstration.  During the demonstration, I'll show you how to capture the moment quickly and efficiently but without sacrificing mood and magic.    We'll talk about abstracting and simplifying the landscape; how to make the most use of value and color; and how to finish a painting.  Next, you'll get to paint!  I'll go from easel to easel offering help.  Time permitting, we'll do critiques at the end of the day or, if not, the following morning.

I hope you'll join us!

(Click here if you'd like to see my full workshop schedule.) 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Upcoming Workshops - Lima, Ohio

May 11-12, 2012: OHIO, Lima.  FULL.  Price: $150  Contact: Ruth Ann Sturgill,  419-331-4999,

This will be my second time teaching in Lima.  Lima has a beautiful rural setting with plenty of barns and farmscapes.  It's also got a neat downtown and is headquarters for Kewpee's Hamburgers.  Why do I mention Kewpee's?  As a bit of historic Americana, it was one of the first fast-food restaurants to  offer curbside service with its heyday before World War II.  There are only five Kewpee's left, but it's a fun place to eat.

This will be a workshop for oil only, and it is now full.  Because the workshop runs only two days, we'll head quickly out into the field and get started.  I'll start with a full demonstration to show you how to capture the moment quickly and efficiently but without sacrificing mood and magic.  We'll talk about abstracting and simplifying the landscape; how to make the most use of value and color; and how to finish a painting.  Next, you'll get to paint!  I'll go from easel to easel offering help.  Time permitting, we'll do critiques at the end of the day.

I hope you'll join us!

(Click here if you'd like to see my full workshop schedule.) 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Upcoming Workshops - Art Barn, Valparaiso, Indiana

 May 7-9, 2012: INDIANA, Valparaiso.  Price: $275 (incl. lunch) Contact:, 219-462-9009,

This will be my third time teaching at the Art Barn.  In case you've not been to the Art Barn, it really is a barn, and it's situated on nearly 70 acres in a beautiful, pastoral setting.   We'll have a pond, fields and groves of trees to paint.  I'm hoping the giant dogwood outside the barn is blooming again, as it was the last two Aprils.  This year, we may try a "chickens in the landscape" session.  One of our students last year discovered that if you feed them, they'll stay still long enough to paint.

This will be a workshop for all media, all levels.  (I'll be working in oil and pastel.)  We'll spend a little time in the studio each morning going over plein air basics, where I'll also go over my gear and materials.  Afterward, we'll head out into the field where I'll give a full demonstration.  During the demonstration, I'll show you how to capture the moment quickly and efficiently but without sacrificing mood and magic.    We'll talk about abstracting and simplifying the landscape; how to make the most use of value and color; and how to finish a painting.  Next, you'll get to paint!  I'll go from easel to easel offering help.  Time permitting, we'll do critiques at the end of the day or, if not, the following morning.

Valparaiso - or "Valpo," as the locals call it - it nearby with restaurants and galleries and a fascinating historic district.   I hope you'll join us!

(Click here if you'd like to see my full workshop schedule.) 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Upcoming Workshops - Water Street Studios, Batavia, Illinois

May 4-5, 2012: ILLINOIS, Batavia. Price: $200. Contact: Kari Kraus, Water Street Studios, 630-761-9977,,

I taught a workshop through Water Street Studios last year, and we had a lot of fun. If you've not been to Batavia before, it's a quaint, historic town near Chicago on the Fox River. At the turn of the last century, it was called the "windmill capital of the world" because it made more windmills than anyone else. It has several parks along the river that we will paint in, including the Fabyan Forest Preserve and the Downtown Riverwalk.

This will be a workshop for oil or pastel painters, all levels. We'll spend a little time in the studio each morning going over plein air basics, where I'll also go over my gear and materials. Afterward, we'll head out into some of Batavia's beautiful parks where I'll give a full demonstration. During the demonstration, I'll show you how to capture the moment quickly and efficiently but without sacrificing mood and magic. We'll talk about abstracting and simplifying the landscape; how to make the most use of value and color; and how to finish a painting. Next, you'll get to paint! I'll go from easel to easel offering help. Time permitting, we'll do critiques at the end of the day.

If you've not been to Batavia before, it has a large selection of good restaurants and shops. Plus, Waterstreet Studios always has something fun going on. I hope you'll join us!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Upcoming Workshops - Sedona Arts Center

April 9-12, 2012: ARIZONA, Sedona.  4 full days. All levels. All media.  Price: $450 Contact: Sedona Arts Center 1-888-954-4442,,

I teach many workshops in Sedona, but this will be one of the few for all levels, all media.  If you were a bit fearful of taking one of my advanced workshops, then this one is for you!

We'll spend a little time in the studio each morning going over plein air basics, where I'll also go over my gear and materials.  Afterward, we'll head out to some of my favorites spots where I'll give a full demonstration.  During the demonstration, I'll show you how to capture the moment quickly and efficiently but without sacrificing mood and magic.    We'll talk about abstracting and simplifying the landscape; how to make the most use of value and color; and how to finish a painting.  Next, you'll get to paint!  I'll go from easel to easel offering help.  Time permitting, we'll do critiques at the end of the day or, if not, the following morning.

It doesn't matter what medium you prefer to work in.  I work in both oil and pastel, and will do so for the workshop.  But since we'll be focusing on painting principles, you can work in oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor - whatever suits your fancy!

Sedona is a beautiful area to paint in with red rock hills, sycamore and cottonwood trees and running creeks.  Plus, if you've not been to Sedona before, it has a large selection of good restaurants, galleries and shops.  I hope you'll join us.

(Click here if you'd like to see my full plein air workshop schedule.)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Taking a Figure Workshop

I rarely paint the figure.  Mostly, it's either because of the lack of an open studio (and models) or my busy schedule.  I'd love to paint the figure from life more often.   Good drawing skills are critical, and it's a great way to practice them.  You can get away with so much poor drawing in the landscape and never get any better at it.  Painting the figure forces you to look at proportion and angle and to measure often.

Yesterday, I was able to take a one-day workshop with Gretchen Lopez.  Gretchen, who worked in the fashion and illustration world, is a popular teacher.  I took a workshop with her last year, and I was eager to do so again.  In the morning, we did several quick sketches in charcoal or pastel (one- to three- to fifteen minute poses), and then for the afternoon, we worked in color in the medium of our choice.  Over two hours or so, we worked on a single painting.   Gretchen demonstrated frequently, and we made sure to give our patient model breaks as often as possible.

I sketched in oil on a 9x12 panel.  Gretchen wanted us to keep to brown tones, so I made a variety of browns with cadmium red light, ultramarine blue, white and a little chromatic black (Gamblin) and then some yellow for the highlights.  I wiped out my starting sketch a couple of times before getting the general proportions correct, and then it was a push-and-pull process of painting negative and positive spaces to get the others.

I think the sketch works pretty well - it was good practice.  It's a little tighter than I paint the landscape, but then, I was focussing on drawing, and not on bravura brush work.

What's this got to do with plein air?  Well, it's working from life, which is what plein air is all about.  And painting the figure is also, perhaps most importantly, about drawing.   Painting the figure, I believe, will go a long way in helping you to paint the landscape.

Pasha, 9x12 oil sketch

Pasha, detail

Friday, February 3, 2012

About Framing

Into the Flow, 12x16, oil

I like to paint, but I don't like to frame.  For me, framing is a completely different craft.  In my mind, anything that has to do with framing - all the way from simply picking out a ready-made to building your own frames - has nothing to do with the craft of painting.

We've all been told that, in a buyer's mind, a nicely framed painting is the complete package.   A painting without a frame is incomplete.  It's like buying a custom car without the paint job and chrome.   I want to be the mechanic who builds the engine and the car's other important systems, but I'd love to leave the chrome and color choices to someone else.

Of course, I can't do that.  I can sell my demos and sketches unframed, but any finished painting really needs to go in a frame to look, well, finished.   (Gallery-wrapped paintings always look unfinished to me.)

There are two problems with framing.  First, although there are some basic principles that govern framing, framing is a personal choice.  For my oil paintings, I like simple "plein air" frames, either gold or silver, or black with a little gold or silver fillet.   I put gold on paintings that are dominantly warm, silver on ones that are dominantly cool, and black, of course, goes with most anything.  A 3-inch moulding works for 9x12s on up to 16x20s.   For my pastel paintings, I still use a mat, though I've started going toward matless framing.  My color choice principles still apply.

But I have buyers who come to my gallery who are adamantly opposed to gold - or to silver, or to black.  If I have a frame in stock that they prefer, I'll reframe the piece accordingly.  But I'm not a frame shop, so if they want something I don't have - maybe an ugly Rococco frame with plaster epaulettes and genuine gold leaf -  I offer to remove the frame and deduct my cost.   This always satisfies the buyer.

The second problem is expense.  Good frames aren't cheap.  You can buy cheap ones, but they are always cheaply made with inferior materials.  I've bought cheap frames, and most of them are made of composite and wood filler that chips and dings far too easily.  I like frames made of real wood.  Still, there are places where you can get good frames that don't cost too much.  ( is one.)   I also look for sales on ready-mades.  As much as I like to support the local guy, it's usually more expensive to go to a framer and have something custom-made.  But they do know what they're doing, and sometimes they'll make you a deal if they have some extra moulding left over from a special order.

Often, you can find beautiful frames for not very much at yard sales.  The painting at the top of this post is one such frame.  It's not a frame I would have bought, but I really like it for this painting.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More About Oils and Pastels - and House for Sale

Mitten Ridge Sketch, 12x9 pastel

Students are often curious why I work in two media.  Well, many professional painters work in more than one medium, just as they may work in more than one genre.   It's like going to a liberal arts college rather than a technical school - a broader education makes you more adaptable.  It also makes life richer.

But, in my case, why specifically oil and pastel?   These two media are peculiar in that one informs the other.  Because every color in pastel is available in several shades or tints, pastel is a great medium for learning how to keep values separate.  This is an important aspect of plein air painting, and oil painters would do well to learn this skill.  The problem with oil is, anytime you add color to a mixture, you change the value whether you meant to or not.  "Value slippage" becomes a common failure among oil painters.

Oil, however, is all about mixing color.  Pastel, not so much.  Because pastels have such a range of colors to choose from - 525, if you have the full set of Senneliers - pastel painters rarely learn the skill of mixing color.  Pastel painters who haven't learned how to mix color get into trouble with a limited set of pastels.  Playing with oil, or any liquid paint, can be a great help to the pastel painter who goes out in the field with a limited set.

For most painters who work in two media, one will be primary and the other, secondary.  I, however, tend to work in each about the same, partly because I get as many students who paint in oil as in pastel.   When I'm painting on my own, I still paint half and half.   I don't let subject dictate the medium; I can paint any subject equally well in either, and I never feel that pastel is more appropriate to a certain subject than oil.  But do I prefer one over the other?  I do, but it's personal.

By the way, Trina and I are in the process of renovating a 1400+ sq ft, 3-bedroom house with a perfect studio space.  This house is in our community, and we'd love to have another artist here!  Two hours from Phoenix and only 10 miles from Sedona make this the perfect summer or winter home.  We'll be pricing it under $100k.  Available soon. For details, visit