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Friday, June 28, 2013

A River Runs Thru Us - Verde Artist Challenge Opening

As you may recall,  back in April I  painted with some other artists on Arizona's Verde River as part of the Verde Artist Challenge.  Hosted by Verde Valley Land Preservation, the event was created to raise awareness of both the natural beauty of the river and the dangers facing it through a series of exhibitions and sales.  I'm proud to announce that the first exhibition will be held at the Manheim Gallery in Old Town Cottonwood, Arizona.  The opening is Saturday, July 27th, from 6 to 8 pm, at the gallery, which is located at 747 N. Main Street.

If you'd like your own personal copy of the invitation, click here for an Adobe Acrobat Reader version.

Unfortunately, I'm in Canada for the summer and won't be at the opening.  If you're in the area, though, I hope you'll go and meet the other fine artists!  Here is the piece I have in the show, and yes! It is for sale.

Cottonwood Shadows, 9x12 oil

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Colors from Gamblin

Recently, I was given some of Gamblin's new colors to play with.  There are so many that it's taking me awhile to work my way through them!  In the "natural divider" diptychs I wrote about recently, I used three new greens:  Green Gold, Cadmium Chartreuse and Nickel Titanate Yellow.  The arrival of these coincided with spring's arrival on Campobello Island, so the timing was perfect!

These three gave me a high-chroma greenish-yellow tint (Cadmium Chartreuse), a somewhat weaker and cooler yellow (Nickel Titanate Yellow) and a rich, mid-value warm green (Green Gold.)  In these paintings, which you can see by going to the blog post about them,  I used the Nickel Titanate for cooler, more distant sunlit greens; Cadmium Chartreuse for closer, more intense sunlit greens; and Green Gold for some of those wonderfully rich and warm backlit greens that appear in shadows.   The Cadmium Chartreuse is also a good staining color, and I used it sometimes in the underpainting as a sort of wash, applying it and then wiping it off to let it act more transparently.  Together, these three make a nice addition to the spring palette.

This week, now that summer is here and the maritime mist has mellowed the light, I've been playing with some other new colors:  Portland Cool Grey, Portland Warm Grey, Warm White, Titanium Buff.  These greys are perfect for summertime here by the ocean.  To experiment, I decided to paint a piece that is so typical of the area - a battered scallop dragger sitting in low water by some old fish shacks.

"ME 7194" 11x14 oil/panel
The time of day in the painting is late afternoon, and much of the painting is in shade.  For the shadowed areas, I used a combination of Portland Cool Grey and, depending on the object painted, either Indanthrone Blue or Permanent Alizarin Crimson.  For the areas in sun, I used Portland Warm Grey plus the blue and alizarin I just mentioned.  For the sky, I used Warm White and Titanium Buff.  Mixed with Indanthrone Blue, the Titanium Buff also made a nice, greyed-down green, which was perfect for distant, sunlit vegetation.  Ninety per cent of the painting was made with just these few colors.  Toward the end, for variety and to punch up my center of interest, I added Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow Deep and Burnt Umber.  No "white" other than Warm White was used in this painting.  (I also have a tube of Cool White, but it didn't make it into the painting.)  I found these new colors to be very useful for maritime painting.

I created a video showing some of the steps of this last piece:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Focus - Hard Edges, Soft Edges

Sharp edges everywhere

I had a reader write:  "Why do you, and so many other expert painters, blur everything so much?   Maybe that's not the right word.  Why don't you include some sharp edges?"

Usually, my paintings end up with too many hard edges, and I have to take pains to soften a few.   When softening, you do run the risk of softening too much.  Oversoftening can lead to a painting that looks like a birthday cake that's fallen off the table and smeared all the frosting.

On the other hand, too many hard edges - or all hard edges - will give a painting an unreal, photographic appearance.  Everything in the painting becomes important. The eye doesn't see the world this way.  Except for the point your eye focusses on, everything at the periphery is soft-edged.

But let's step back a bit and talk about contrast.  Value contrast, or the pairing of light and dark, is just one kind of contrast.  There are many kinds:  thick and thin, opaque and transparent, rich and dull, warm and cool and, of course, edge contrast of hard and soft.  Our eyes are drawn to areas of contrast.  With skillful use of contrast, the artist can guide the viewer's eye to important areas and, ultimately, to the center of interest.  A few hard edges well-placed can help make a painting work.  (Of course, other contrast pairs can be used instead to push the focus elsewhere.  But that's another blog post.)

I should add that, in landscape painting, edges should always be softer on distant objects.  The more air light travels through, especially if the air is laden with humidity or dust, the more diffuse things appear.  Still, if my center of interest is in the middle ground, I keep edges in the foreground softer than the edges around my center of interest.

There are two ways of building a painting with edge contrast.   You can start the painting with all soft edges and add a few hard edges at the end.  Or, you can start the painting with hard edges and then soften the ones that don't support your center of interest.  If I'm not clear on my focus and just want to get the painting going, I'll take the all-soft route.  But, if I have a vision of the final design, I'll start off with hard edges and then soften a few as needed.  It really doesn't matter which way you go - just so long as you remember that edge contrast is crucial.

To illustrate the concept, I give you three images.  At the top of this post is a photo with everything very sharp.  In the two photos below, I've played with the edges.  In the first one, I've made the boat on the left sharp and everything else a little soft.  In the second, I've moved the focus to the boat on the right.  It should be immediately obvious in each photo which boat I want to emphasize.

Sharp edges on left boat

Sharp edges on right boat

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Lupine Dreams  9x12 oil en plein air
Now that the apple trees have finished blooming, the lupines have kicked in.  Every year, we have a pretty good crop of them nearby, and I enjoy getting out to paint them before they, too, pass.  We have mostly those deep blue ones, but there are a few pinkish ones always scattered in with them.

With my split-primary palette, it's usually a struggle to get lupine colors just right.  So, I always pull out a few special colors.  This year, I'm trying manganese violet and manganese blue hue.  (All are from Gamblin.)  The blues, violets and pinks that I can mix with my usual palette just get too dull when mixed with white; I can't get a really rich tint for the sunniest flower heads.  With these other colors, however, I can.  The manganese blue hue has a bit of phthalo blue in it, and that helps maintain the chroma.

Lupines by the Sea 9x12 oil en plein air

Whenever I paint landscapes with flowers, I go through my paint supply and select some high-chroma colors with high tinting strength.  I may choose to use these in the studio rather than the field, since I can usually get close enough with my standard palette outdoors.  Under my studio lighting, I can re-evaluate my choices and, if necessary, touch up the flowers with a few dabs of these extra colors.  Sometimes, that's all it takes - just a dab or two of rich color.

To my eyes, the shadowed foliage under the lupines has a great deal of warmth to it.  I like to paint these shadows with a mixture of cadmium  yellow deep and either ultramarine blue or cerulean blue.  Areas that are touched by sunlight I keep cooler with tints of greenish-blues.  Sometimes, to keep the cool passages from being too monotonous, I may start off with an underpainting of a warmer green.  This year, I'm finding Gamblin's green chartreuse to be perfect for this.  You can see spots of this popping through in the first painting, "Backlit Lupine Patch."

All three paintings are currently up at auction.  I hope you'll bid!

Morning Glare and Lupines 9x12 oil en plein air

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

More on Natural Divider Diptychs

A Walk in Springtime 12x24 oil

Path to the Sea 12x24 oil

A few weeks ago, I wrote about what I call "natural divider diptychs."  I've been playing more with the concept lately.  Just as a reminder, a natural divider diptych is a wide painting that is divided in half by a natural object, such as a tree, with each half  working as a complete painting as well as contributing to the unified whole.

Traditional diptychs are indeed two separate paintings, often hung together on a wall.  I've always felt that treating a beautifully panoramic landscape this way weakens it.  However, by using a natural divider, one that is right there in the landscape, the integrity of the scene is maintained.  Furthermore, the divider creates a certain amount of necessary tension and adds interest; nor is it any longer just wasted wall space.

Or, at least, this is how I feel about it.

In the first painting, "A Walk in Springtime," the figure on the left is taking a walk, and the right half tells us the walk is by the sea.  She is following the water's edge through the woods.  Light spilling in from the right over the water also illuminates the left and the figure, unifying the two halves.  Without the central tree, the painting would still work, but the addition adds a dark, mysterious quality to the piece.  If you block off one half of the painting or the other, you will see that each half is composed to function as its own painting.

In the second painting, "Path to the Sea," the figure on the left is seated, gazing out toward the right half.  Again, light spills in from the right, illuminating the left panel.  Color and subject serve to unify both halves - the pink tones of the apple trees and the bright spring greens.  Also, as with the first painting, I feel that the central tree adds a note of  mystery and drama.

Enough about the diptych concept.  What about the rule of not placing a dominant feature in the center of a painting?  I'm breaking that rule.  In both cases, the tree - which isn't necessarily the center of interest, but it is a point of interest - is centrally placed.  But, I think it works.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!  Meanwhile, I shall continue to explore this idea.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Question for Workshop Teachers and Students

Road to the Beach 9x12 oil
(This may be the last apple tree I paint en plein air this year;
the blossoms are falling fast!)

I have a question for you all.  Recently, during the usual seasonal spate of workshop inquiries, I have had a couple of people ask "Do you do your own work during the workshop?"  I have heard a few students remark - complain, actually - about instructors supposedly ignoring them and working on their own paintings to sell.  (To clarify, they aren't complaining about me, but about others.)

What is your take on this?

Here's mine.  First of all, when I teach a workshop, I fully understand that the students are paying for my time.  I give them 100% of my attention during the workshop.  

However, and this is especially true in my Sedona and Campobello Island workshops where I allow only four students and each session is only four hours long, I do not "hover over" students as they paint.  I find hovering to be counter-productive to their efforts.  Micro-managing each brush stroke will cause students to freeze and thus fail.  So, as they paint, I may continue to work on my demo.  But I do check in with each student frequently.  Plus, because I'm more or less right beside them, I am always available for guidance and tell them so.  

I try to keep the demo period to an hour.  Any longer than that, and students start to get itchy.  The painting may still be unfinished at the end of that hour, but I want to make sure they get to paint, too, so we have something to critique.  Still, there are times when one may wish to watch the painting fully develop.  So, if I do continue to work on it, I tell them they can continue to watch, and I will happily narrate and answer questions.  (Just to elaborate on the workshop session, we start off in the studio with critiques of the previous day's work and a lecture on fundamentals, then head to the field for a demonstration, which leaves students about two hours to paint.)  In the end, this demo may or may not be something I would sell when it is finished.

I am interested to hear your experiences with instructors and your thoughts on this.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Online Painting Workshops, Critiques and More

Front Yard Apple Trees 11x14, oil
I came back from Pemaquid to find our apple trees in full bloom.  Over the next few days, I hope to be painting them.  Here's one from yesterday afternoon.

I like this spot.  I may try to paint one of my "natural divider" diptychs here.
As much as I try to keep my blog more about painting technique and the plein air painting life, I do sometimes need to take a break and advertise my workshops.  So, if you'll bear with me for a moment, here goes:

Once again, I am teaching an online plein air painting class through Artists Network University.  If  you are new to plein air painting or just want to knock the rust off, this is for you.  The four-week class consists of reading material (including a digital copy of Bob Rohm's book, The Painterly Approach) instructional videos and a weekly assignment that I critique.  We have a lot of fun every time we have this class!  Class starts June 11.  For details on the Artists Network University course, click here.

If that's not enough, I have even more videos and material at my Plein Air Essentials self-study workshops.  Although you won't get the benefit of personal critiques, you can read the material and watch the videos as many times as you wish.  For details on the Plein Air Painting "Plein Air Essentials" self-study workshops, click here.

Are you a past student looking for feedback?  Many times, students will ask if they can e-mail an image of a piece they couldn't quite complete in the workshop but finished afterward.  I'm always happy to do this as a favor, since I consider it a natural extension of the workshop week.    But sometimes, students would like an ongoing critique relationship.  I'm happy to announce that, for my students only, I will critique two paintings for $50. Each critique will consist of at least 100 words of text plus Photoshopped versions of your images to illustrate my critique.  For details on receiving a personal critique, click here.

Finally, as a reminder, I am once again teaching my summer workshops on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada.  If you've not been to the island before, you're in for a treat!  It's a quiet, amazingly scenic location far removed from the madding crowd.  On what would be a busy summer weekend elsewhere along the coast, you'll find only a handful of people on the beaches or trails.  Despite that, we do have all the necessities including motels, B&Bs and cottages for rent; a good grocery store and restaurants offering local seafood; plus wi-fi.  If that's not enough, there's even more five minutes away in Lubec, Maine.  By the way, one thing students really like about these workshops is that we work only in the mornings.  Afternoons are free for you to paint more on your own or to explore the area.  This half-day concept has proved very popular, since students often come with friends or family and can do some sightseeing.  For details on the Campobello Island plein air painting workshops, please click here.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Post-Pemaquid - and Paintings at Friar's Bay Studio Gallery

My Demo at Pemaquid Point
(photo by Caren-Marie Michel)
I'm now back from my trip to Pemaquid Point with the Pastel Painters of Maine.  Sunday morning, after saying good bye to the 30+ members who attended, I drove up the road a few miles to New Harbor, where I'd had dinner the night before.  My plan was to paint some of the boats there, but it was quite windy.  I decided to just take some photos and to then head over to Rockland.

Rockland is home to the Farnsworth Museum, which has ongoing exhibitions of work by N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth.  I stop in every couple of years to see what's new.  Currently, they have a new exhibit, "Her Room," which shows Andrew's painting of that name plus a large number of preparatory sketches he made for the piece.  There are also exhibits on a variety of themes with work by some of my other favorite landscape painters including Andrew Winter, Neil Welliver, Rockwell Kent and John Twachtman.  But what always captures my heart are Andrew Wyeth's watercolors.  Done from life and  much looser than his tempera work, they are full of brooding mystery and energy.

I want to mention that I am now posting gallery pieces on  the Friar's Bay Studio Gallery blog.  These are not demos and sketches but finished pieces.  If you'd like to follow the posts, you can do so by going to and entering your e-mail address in the box in the right-hand column.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Road Trip: Mount Desert Island and Pemaquid Point – Day 3

View from the Light of the Pemaquid Lighthouse
Our second day at the Pastel Painters of Maine retreat (my third day), started off with a sunrise walk around Pemaquid Point.  Sunrise here is early – 4:57 a.m – and things were pretty quiet.  Around 7:30, I headed out to breakfast with a few folks at the adjacent restaurant (Seagull Gift Shop and Oceanfront Restaurant).  But as I went out, I met three painters coming in.  They'd already been out and painted before breakfast.  These are dedicated painters!

Pemaquid Point View 12x18 pastel
I was scheduled to do the traditional Saturday morning demonstration, so after breakfast I had a chance to scope out a few possible locations I'd identified on Friday.  The shadows had moved just as I had expected, so I settled on a spot and at 9, gathered the troops.  I don't think I've ever had so many painters in the field watching me paint.  I believe all 31 of them looked on from a variety of perches including picnic tables, folding chairs and stools.  The demo went well, and after the others departed for their own choice locations,  I was able to spend the rest of the morning on it.

View of  Painters from the Light of the Lighthouse
Done with the demo, I took a break.  I'd been painting in the shade and, believe it or not, I was actually chilled.  (Meanwhile, a few miles inland, temps were reaching 90.)  I moved into the sun and toured the lighthouse.  I got some great shots from the light – 30 steps up a spiral staircase plus seven steps up a ladder – of the painters.  Then I ate a quick lunch and checked e-mail.  We have no cell reception here, but we do have a great wi-fi connection.

Pemaquid Rocks Study 9x12, pastel
I was also scheduled to host the 4 p.m. group critique, but I wanted to get one more  painting in plus a much-needed shower.   I set up in the shade of the “fuel house” with a view of Pemaquid's spectacularly linear rocks reaching out into the water.  This was a quick, intuitive sketch for  me.  I used a black Conte stick to draw with first, and then laid pastel loosely over these gestural lines.

By 4, I was ready for the troops.  Paintings were laid out, and for an hour, we had a great discussion on the paintings – what worked, what didn't.  I was pleased with the overall high quality of the work.  Although this is a pastel group, several of the members also work in oil, watercolor and other media, so there were a few examples of these as well, which gave us an opportunity to expand our discussion.

Dinner followed quickly after.  This time, we headed five miles up to New Harbor and to Shaw's.  Shaw's reminds me of Thurston's in Bernard, only this place is bigger and with more going on.  It's also  where you take the Hardy Boat cruise to Monhegan.  New Harbor is a very scenic bay inlet with very  paintable buildings and boats.  Since I forgot my camera – how could I possibly do that? – I will have to go back in the morning to take some reference photos and perhaps to even paint a bit.

Weather for the proposed Monhegan trip tomorrow looks iffy.  NOAA is calling for seas of 4-7 feet and has already issused a small craft advisory.  Unfortunately, I need to be home sooner than later, so I'm not going to Monhegan, anyway.  But, I do plan to paint in the morning.  Many in the group are spending another night.  Even if we couldn't paint tomorrow, I would go away satisified.  We've had two very beautiful painting days!