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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cataloguing Digital Reference Photos

"Luminous Fog" 6x8, oil
If I were to apply labels to this, I might use "fog," "tree," "water," "cliff."  But what about applying
labels that would indicate mood, color scheme or key?

If you're like me, you're very bad about organizing your digital reference photos.  I take a few hundred pictures at a time, dump them to my hard drive and then forget about them.  I put them into folders that are stamped with the date on which I took the photos.  Back years ago, when I didn't have so many photos, it was pretty easy to remember approximately when I made a particular field trip and took a photo of a particular subject.  That great photo of those herring smokehouses with the tide out on Grand Manan? Yeah, that's right, I think it was the middle of May, 2005.  I have a great visual memory.

I could find that photo in 2006 or 2007.  But seven years later, my own memory banks are too full to remember when I made that trip to Grand Manan.  I have to go through my dated folders, surfing through tiny thumbnails.

If I'd been smart about it, I would have started labelling photos from the start.  You could always label photos with Adobe Photoshop, and recently, Google's Picasa added this capability.   (I use Picasa to search my computer and put images in albums.)  But it's a Herculean task - maybe more like a Sysiphean one - to do this retroactively.  I don't have the time to go back and apply labels.

And of course, I still don't label my new photos.

Google is working on software that will, among other tasks, label photos for you automatically.  You may know that Picasa can already recognize if there is a face in an image and label it as such, but this is light-years beyond this.  Once the software is trained, it should be able to find that photo of smokehouses for me.  But it's going to require more computing power than I have in my desktop - or in yours.   The software currently is being trained on a supercomputer made up of 1600 CPUs.

Here's a news article about this developing neural network.  It has learned to recognize a cat when it sees one, without any human coaching.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Leftover Paint

"Yellow Day with Lupines," 6x8, oil

When I'm done painting, I always end up with a good deal of contaminated paint on the palette.  This contaminated paint, if used in color mixtures, will give unpredictable results.  For example, sometimes I'll notice my white has little bits of all kinds of colors in it.  If I'm trying to make a light, clean violet by adding alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue to it, those specks of yellow will certainly muddy things up.  But, who wants to waste paint?  So, I scrape it up into a pile, blend it with a knife — and I'm often amazed at the beautiful color this "mud" makes!

It's so beautiful, I often use it in the next painting.

The painting above was made with my leftover paint.  I wish I had taken a photo of the color, but it was a subtle, yellow-green.  A little went into all my mixtures.   You can see a purer version of it, mixed with white, in the lightest passages in the sky.

The color was appropriate for the day.  Although we're having torrential rain at the moment, last week we had a few of those hazy, bright days that make us think of deep summer.  The air is filled with a golden light.  I wanted to capture that sense of light in this small piece.

By the way, I don't recommend using leftover paint if you mix any medium into it.  The medium will change the character of the paint.  This is especially true if you use an alkyd medium; the paint will have "cured" too much in just a few hours to be useful.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Painting Sunlit Water

"Ice Pond" 9x12, oil

Not too far in the woods behind our house is an old ice pond.  Those of you who don't live in areas with cold winters may not be familiar with the term.  An ice pond is a place where people used to get ice in the winter for refrigeration.  They'd use big saws to cut the ice and then horses to haul it to an ice house, where the blocks would be buried in sawdust.  The sawdust served as insulation to keep the ice solid throughout the summer.  Remember that when you go to your fridge and press the button to fill up your glass with chipped ice; you have it easy.

The other day, I hiked back to the pond to paint it.  It is a little kettle pond, left behind by glaciers ages ago, and tall spruce trees surround it.  Sphagnum moss lines its periphery.  Here and there, a birch has pushed aside the spruces and reached out a green limb or two.

What draws me to this pond is the effect of light and shadow on it.  When you have a pond with a certain amount of particulate matter suspended in the water such as this one, the water will glow a warm, muddy brown where the light hits it.  Shadowed parts take on an almost violet cast.  (By the way, that particulate matter didn't matter to our forebears; the ice was for preserving food, not for chilling a martini.)  For this painting, I first blocked in the warm, muddy brown areas and next the violety shadows.  The little bits of reflected sky light I added in toward the end.

One interesting thing you may note about the sunlit part of the pond is that it is nearly pure orange in the foreground and then cools to a more red-violet in the distance.  I didn't see it that way, but it helps with creating an illusion of distance from one end of the pond to the other.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Painting on Unstretched Canvas - and Artsipelago

Trina's Lupines, 9x12, oil 
For those of you visiting Downeast Maine or Coastal New Brunswick this summer, there's a new cultural guide out for the area.  It's called Artsipelago, which is a play on the word "archipelago."  (You can visit the website at  I'm on the list of artists, under Friar's Bay Studio Gallery.  I hope you'll stop by for a visit.

On another note, I've been playing with painting on unstretched canvas.  Although in the past I haven't cared much for painting on canvas because of the texture, I'm enjoying painting on this particular canvas.  I picked up a small roll of  Fredrix Style 589 Portrait Acrylic Primed Linen Canvas from Dick Blick.  I don't find the weave objectionable.  The two paintings accompanying this post were painted on it.

Why paint on unstretched canvas? I've heard that it's the best way to travel. Lighter than carrying a stack of hardboard panels, a dozen pieces of canvas and one backboard take up very little room.  If you're flying to, say, New Zealand (where I'm teaching a workshop next March,) this method would be very handy.  I just tape a piece to a backboard with masking tape and have at it.

Of course, one might ask, But what if the paintings are still wet?  As Mr McGuire told Ben in The Graduate, "I just want to say one word - plastics."  A sheet of plastic wrap over each piece will keep the painting from smearing if it's still tacky.  If you're prone to an impasto technique, you'll lose some texture, but you can easily add more paint once you're home.  Or, you can use alkyds such as Gamblin's Fastmatte paints and have the painting dry more quickly.  When everything's dry, Lineco Neutral pH Adhesive, a reversible and archival glue, can be used to mount the painting on a suitable backboard.

Summer Shadows, 9x12, oil

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Friar's Bay Studio Gallery Re-Opening Saturday, June 30

"Path through the Apple Trees" 9x12, oil - available

In conjunction with the Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy paintout over the upcoming Independence Day/Canada Day weekend, Friar's Bay Studio Gallery will host a reception for the artists and public.

You're invited to stop by the gallery on Saturday, June 30, from 5-7 pm Atlantic Time for the reception.  This will also be our first open day for the season!  We're located at 822 Route 774 on Campobello Island.  For full directions and other information, vist the website at

Starting July 3, our hours will be Tuesday-Saturday, 1-6 pm Atlantic Time (other times by appointment or chance.)

I've got a lot of new work that I did after we closed the gallery last season, plus I'm painting more in preparation for my exhibit at Sunbury Shores Art & Nature Centre in July.  The theme is "Buildings in the Landscape." I'd be delighted to have you come by, and I'll give you a tour of the studio, too!  I can't promise that the apple trees will be blooming - that's the gallery in the painting at the top of this post - but the lupines are beautiful right now.

Monday, June 11, 2012


"Evening Light" 8x10, oil

The painting above is obviously about the garden bench and the beautiful evening light spilling into the shadows.  The trees are supporting characters, but important ones; they serve to create the shadows that serve as contrast for the light.  The shadows, in a sense, make the light.   They also make strong vertical elements to oppose the horizontal of the bench and the diagonal of the sloped ground.  Finally, they are cool in color, a red-violet to contrast with the complementary yellow-greens.

One might generalize my statement on shadows and light to "Contrasts make the painting."   A painting is built of so many different kinds of contrast.  I like to think of contrast pairs:  light/shadow, vertical/horizontal, cool/warm, dull/rich, hard/soft, transparent/opaque, plus a dozen more you can probably think of.   One member of each pair should be dominant.  This way, it makes the other, subdominant member more striking.  In this painting, dark and cool are dominant, which make the warm light seem even warmer.

This is an older painting, one I did many years ago while living in the southern Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico.  It's our garden bench, nestled among the alligator junipers and pinons.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Event - Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy

Sally's Birdhouse - 6x8, oil - available

In between studio work and pulling images for my new book on the Southwest, I've been getting out to paint, too.  Above is a little piece I did last week when we had a shot of sunshine.  I painted it with the new Cobra water-miscible oils, with which I'm still experimenting.

June is traditionally the month in which my group, Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy, has its annual paintout and exhibition.  This is our sixth year.  Over the past years, we've alternated locations between the US and Canada.  This year, we'll be painting in both countries.   You can get details on all of this at our website,

This Saturday, June 9th, we'll be painting in St Andrews-by-the-Sea in New Brunswick.  St Andrews is a gem on the water.  It's a resort town with a scenic waterfront, beautiful historic buildings and lots of good restaurants.  The weather is supposed to be superb this weekend.  It's also the annual seafood festival, so there'll be lots happening.  Some of us will be down by the waterfront painting.  I hope you'll come visit us.  There's also a reception at the Europa Inn at 48 King Street from 5-7 pm Atlantic Time.  If you didn't find us out in the field, you'll certainly find us there.  We'll have some good paintings to show, too.

Other events include a paintout in Eastport, Maine, June 23 & 24,  followed by the final paintout in Lubec, Maine, and on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, June 30 & July 1.  We'll have a reception and show at Friar's Bay Studio Gallery on Saturday, June 30, from 5-7 AT.  I hope you'll join us for that one, too!  (On August 1, you'll be able to see all the work we've done on our website.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Upcoming Doug Dawson Workshop

Every other year, Master Pastelist Doug Dawson comes east from Colorado to lead a mentoring workshop in Lubec, Maine.  If you don't know of him, in 2008 he  was inducted into the Pastel Society of America's Hall of Fame and is the author of the out-of-print Capturing Light & Color with Pastel.  A Founding Member of the Art Students League of Denver, he has many awards from organizations like Knickerbocker Artists, the National Academy of Western Art and the American Watercolor Society.  Doug is truly a master and a teacher who is very generous with his time and knowledge.  I've known Doug now for about ten years, and I always learn something new from him.

Doug's workshop will be a paint-along style workshop.  Even so, each day will be filled with critiques, art talk and lots of hard work.  Besides painting in Lubec, where the workshop is based, the workshop will venture onto Campobello Island, N.B., to paint there, as well.  The workshop runs August 20-24.  Doug is limiting the workshop to only 8 intermediate-advanced painters.  Although Doug will work in pastel, participants are welcome to work in oil.

Doug does not teach many workshops each year.  For details on this rare opportunity, visit  For more about Doug, visit   I hope you'll join us!

Below is a selection of his work, much of it done during his time here or from references. (All images Copyright © Doug Dawson.)