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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Miracle of Murphy's Oil Soap - and a Limited Oil Palette

Back when I was in Ohio teaching a workshop earlier this spring, my host and artist friend Ruth Ann Sturgill showed me a little trick.  Cleaning brushes is a snap with Murphy's Oil Soap and a large toy tennis ball such as you might buy for a dog.

I used to be a big fan of Turpenoid Natural, but Murphy's is cheaper, readily available in most grocery stores and works just as well.  The tennis ball is cut in half, and rather than rubbing brushes in the palm of your hand, you scrub the brushes in the ball.  The ball has the same shape as your cupped palm, but it's a lot more durable.  Plus, the dissolved paint won't penetrate your skin and get into your system.

This week, I had students from Maine, New Hampshire and faraway France.  Although we had a small amount of rain and fog, we had some excellent weather, too.  Today, we had clearing weather, and I did two small demonstrations.  In the first, I use my usual six-color, split-primary palette; in the second, I used a limited palette of cadmium yellow light, alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue.  The choice of reds in this palette is important.  Cadmium red will push the painting more into the warm range; alizarin crimson will keep the harmony a little cooler.  (6x8 on the left; 5x7 on the right; both in Art Cocoons.)

6x8, six-color split-primary palette

5x7, three-color limited palette

By the way, I still have some space left in the summer workshops.  Visit for full details.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Taking Paintings to an Exhibition

As most of you know, my exhibition, "Buildings in the Landscape," opened last week at Sunbury Shores Art & Nature Centre in St Andrews, NB.

Having a show, especially a one-man show, is a big deal.  Even if you're just the artist and not the gallery, it's a lot of work to get things together.  For a show, the paintings must look good as a group.  They need to have a common theme - such as, in my case, buildings in the landscape - or a common style, color harmony or something else that connects them.  Since I have all my finished paintings digitized, it's a simple matter to use my photo organizing software (Google's Picasa) to pick out paintings and see how they'll look.

Next, I want to make sure the hosting gallery has all the information it needs for labeling.  I create a table in Microsoft Word with title, size, medium and retail price.  But most important, I also include a color thumbnail of the painting.  This will help the gallery match paintings with labels.  I send this inventory list to the gallery a couple of weeks in advance of the show so they can make labels and also present a valuation list to their insurance company.  The gallery is always thankful for this extra effort.

When it's time to get the paintings together, I gather up all the frame boxes I can find.  The better frames come in individual boxes, which takes a lot of the headache out of packing up.  For the ones without boxes, I look for sheets of cardboard, bubble wrap and quilts.  (In this case, we drove the artwork to the gallery; shipping via commercial carrier is a whole different animal.)

As I pull paintings out for packing, I affix a paper label to the back of each one with the same information that is on the inventory sheet.   Labels need to be well-taped so they don't fall off during handling.  At this time, I also double-check the framing to make sure the points are secure and the hanging wire is in good shape.  When I put the paintings in the boxes, I take care of any staples or odd corners that may damage the frames.   Although I paint mostly on panel, I also paint on stretched canvas, and I mark the boxes that have canvas in them as such so I can remember to place those on top of my box stack at the end.  I don't want much weight on the boxes with stretched canvas pieces.

When I load up the car, I make sure I have two copies of the inventory list.  One is for me to double-check my inventory; the other is for the gallery.  At the gallery, as pieces are unloaded, I check the paintings off the list and then have the gallery sign off as having received the work.

For this show, I was teaching a workshop on the day the work had to be delivered, but fortunately Trina was available to deliver the paintings for me.  It was a four-hour round trip with two separate ferry rides.  I was very thankful for her help.

With a workshop running last week, it was problematic to drive to the opening on Friday.  So, with some friends we hired a captain and his boat - Cap'n Riddle's Whale Watch Cruises - to take us to St Andrews.  What a way to go!  It was a beautiful trip up and a very beautiful trip back.  A golden sunset capped off our voyage.

Below are some more pictures of the gallery.  (I have to clarify that these were taken after the reception; we did have a very good turnout!)  There are 37  paintings total, mostly oil but with some pastels, and a variety of sizes.  The show will be up through August 9th at Sunbury Shores Art & Nature Centre, 139 Water Street, St Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick.  If you're in the area, I'd be delighted to have you drop in!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Book Available - Paintings of the American Southwest

I'm proud to announce that my book, Through a Painter's Brush:  The American Southwest - Painting in the Four Corners States, is now available as a paperback and also as a PDF download.

I've been at work on this book for the last year.  As with my previous Through a Painter's Brush book (A Year on Campobello Island), I wanted a volume that would be not just a coffee table book or a "how to paint" book.  I wanted a book that would be both a visual treat for the collector and an informational guide for the painter interested in the Southwest landscape.  It's hard to pack all that into one book, and that's why it took so long!  But I'm very happy with the results, and I think you will be, too.

Through a Painter's Brush: The American Southwest features over 100 paintings, 50 photos and illustrations, plus two painting demonstrations.   I've broken the book up into sections by subject - water, canyons, mountains and so on.  Each section is filled with essays on the paintings and the landscape they were created in.  Collectors will enjoy reading the stories behind the paintings.  And for the painter, I talk about my process and how I went about painting them.  Many of the paintings were done en plein air, but I've included several studio pieces as well.

The book is available through  The paperback version is $40 and the download, $20.  If you'd like to preview or order the book, follow the links below.

Through a Painter's Brush: The American Southwest ( $40 paperback)

Through a Painter's Brush: The American Southwest ($20 download Adobe Acrobat Reader PDF)

This is your chance to see the Southwest through my eyes.  I've really enjoyed traveling in and painting that part of the United States.  The beauty of the landscape can change your life - it did mine.

By the way, I still have room in my Paint Campobello workshops and am now taking deposits for my 2012/2013 Paint Sedona workshops.  Visit and for details or to register.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Little Dab'll Do Ya - Managing Your Phthalos

On my oil palette, I usually include a phthalo color.  Why?  Because phthalo blue and its cousins, phthalo green and phthalo emerald, possess high chroma and a high tinting strength.  It has such a high tinting strength, in fact, that one little tube will last years.  It really only takes a speck to make a difference in your paint mixtures.

Phthalo is the painter's equivalent of nitroglycerine.  You should probably need a permit to use it.

When I tell the students who've not used it before to add just the tiniest bit, they usually scoop up  a three-month supply on their brush.  The results are disastrous, of course.  Unless you're skilled enough to use a single hair of your brush to pick up the phthalo, you're better off using a knife.

For those of you who have trouble managing phthalo, I include the following illustrations.  The first photo shows a pinhead's worth of phthalo emerald on the knife.  The second photo shows that pinhead's worth mixed into white.  The third photo shows a second pinhead's worth mixed in.  It's pretty dramatic.

By the way, I've set up a coupon that will give you $1 off my $10 online video course, Plein Air Essentials - Oil Supplement.   This course includes not just several mini-videos but also a 30-minute oil demonstration.  The coupon code is PAEOS and is good only until July 21.  Go to this link for the course.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Buildings in the Landscape - Exhibition at Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre

"Mr Roosevelt's House" 12x24, oil

This week, I'm getting together paintings for my one-man exhibition at Sunbury Shores Arts & Nature Centre.  The theme for the show is "Buildings in the Landscape."  Although I paint the natural landscape, I love painting buildings, too.  The older and more rickety, the better!  All of the paintings will feature buildings, but in some of them, the presence of man's hand will be subtle.  I plan to include one painting where I challenge you to find the building in it.

We'll have an opening reception, too.  The reception will be Friday, July 20th, from 5-7 pm Atlantic Time at Sunbury Shores, 139 Water Street, St Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick.  I hope you'll all come!  I plan to arrive by boat with friends, direct from Campobello Island.  I'm looking forward to both the boat ride and the show.

The show will run from July 20-August 14th.  If you can't make the reception, I hope you'll be able to stop in.  I've included here a few of the paintings you can see.

During the last week of the exhibition, I'll be teaching a four-day course in St Andrews.  It will be "Plein Air Sketch to Studio."  In this workshop, we'll spend half the day in the field gathering reference material and the other half in the studio creating paintings from this material.  The workshop is for all levels and all media.  Cost is $295 ($275 for members) + HST.  Contact Sunbury Shores to register:,, 506-529-3386

"Early Morning Fog" 9x12, oil

"Rainy Day Barns" 9x12, pastel

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Avoiding Chalky Color - and About Xiao Song Jiang

Sugarloaf Rock Sketch, 8x10, watercolor

My oil painting students sometimes ask:  How can you lighten color without adding so much white that the color turns chalky?

The first obvious answer is, simply, to use less white.  I always first try to lighten my mixture by adding a light, tubed color.  For example, I will add cadmium yellow to lighten a dark green.  But sometimes this approach will change the hue more than I want.  In this case, I'll use white cautiously.  If the mixture loses saturation or warmth (both of which happen when you add white), I'll add a touch of some light, warm, analogous color.

Instead of white, some painters use a tint of Naples yellow.  The problem with using Naples  yellow rather than white is that your painting may feel a little too warm overall.

Another approach is to paint transparently on a white ground.  If you use transparent colors, they will work like watercolors and give you rich color.   I bet you've never seen a "chalky" watercolor painting!  (I've included a couple of plein air watercolors from this week for your enjoyment.)  Save your opaque paint for final touches and highlights.

Low Tide at the Duck Pond, 4x10, watercolor

Finally, you might try using zinc white rather than titanium white.  Zinc is more transparent and will let some of the color's richness show through.

On another note, I want to mention the painter Xiao Song Jiang.  His painting, "Tide," just won the Oil Painters of America's Gold Medal in the 2012 national exhibition.  I was honored to have critiqued this painting for Song Jiang through Artists Network University.  It is a pleasure to see such fine craftsmanship.  You can see the painting here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pastel at the Beach

"Off Racoon Point" 9x12, pastel

This week marks my first week of workshops for the summer here on Campobello Island.  We had beautiful weather today, and it looks like we're going to get beautiful weather for the rest of the week.  To mark the occasion, I took the workshop out to one of my favourite locations in the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, where we have views of Grand Manan Island, the Wolves and lots of open water.

I chose to demonstrate in pastel for the group.  (Tomorrow, I'll be doing watercolor.)  The scene is a difficult one, because of the expanse of water between the beach and Racoon Point.  But I chose to focus on the quality of the water itself, and especially on some of the waves approaching the beach.  For this piece, I did a quick block-in with hard pastels, followed by an alcohol wash and then a finishing layer of  pastel.

By the way, I'm offering $1 off my $10 "Plein Air Essentials - Learn the Basics" course. You can use this coupon code - PAE072012. Coupon is good only through July 7th, and there are only 20 of them! Go to this link to sign up and redeem the coupon:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Beach Roses, Fog and a Secret Ingredient!

Beach Roses, 9x12, oil

It's now July, and that means beach roses.  They've already been blooming for weeks, but soon they'll really start to explode.  Yesterday, I went out to paint roses as part of the final Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy paintout.

Although many places in the U.S. are suffering triple-digit temperatures - it hit 106 at my sister's house in Georgia - on Campobello I don't think it even hit 80.  That's still warm for us here.  But these warm days, coming before the ocean has a chance to heat up, can create fog.  As I drove out, I kept my eye on a wall of it that seemed to sit just off the coast.

Liberty Point, which you can see from the Lower Duck Pond, was keeping the fog at bay, so I had a clear view of my roses.  But as I finished up, the wind suddenly shifted and the fog rolled in.  The temperature must have dropped 15 degrees.

As many of you know, I use a split-primary palette in the field.  It's hard to come up with a proper "beach rose red" with it.  White with alizarin crimson makes a color that is a very rough approximation.  What I do in this case is do what I can with my field palette and then  head for the studio.  Once I'm back, I pull out my secret ingredient:  Thio Violet.  This intensely-pigmented color (PR122) from Grumbacher is pretty close, and it only takes a few dabs, mixed with white, over the roses I painted in the field.  I added a little of it into the beach gravel, too, to unify the painting.

I use secret ingredients in all my flowers.  The split-primary palette doesn't really do justice to most gardens.  But I have a hoard of odd, tubed colors back in the studio.  Among them are some great high-chroma colors for flowers.