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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Photograph Your Paintings with a Polarizing Filter

Here's an oil painting that presents significant problems
when shooting photos of it in full sun.  It was painted with a knife,
which gives it a shiny gloss, and a gloss varnish was applied, making it even
glossier.  I've tilted this painting so it has maximum glare.

Same painting, same angle.  But I've used
a polarizing filter to cut glare dramatically.

Are you having a hard time eliminating glare and "sparkles" when photographing your oil paintings?  Professional photographers use a polarizing filter to cut down the glare.  Amateurs like me, on the other hand, will tilt and angle and swear until we get a decent shot.

I like to shoot my paintings in full sun.  The color is richer and the focus, tighter.  But when the painting was made with a knife or has had gloss varnish applied, glare is guaranteed. The little irregularities in surface texture pick up the sun and bounce it back like sun diamonds on water.  Some of this can be removed by Photoshop or GIMP, but not all of it, and the process can give an odd, pock-marked look to the image.

Tilting the painting or angling the camera helps.  But this introduces distortion in the image; suddenly, the painting is no longer square.  Again, you can use your favorite photo editor to fix this, though some parts of the image may end up without sharp focus.  It's still not an ideal solution.

For many decades, polarizing filters have been available for the traditional 35mm SLR (and now, the DSLR.)  I had such a filter, but I stopped using a DSLR some time ago.  These days, I use my handy point-and-shoot, a Canon SX610 HS for all my photography.  The auto-focus is better than my DSLR's ever was.  Although the Canon won't shoot RAW or TIFF images, I find it completely adequate for what I do.  I even use it to shoot images for my magazine articles.

But I couldn't find a  polarizing filter for it—until now.  The Magfilter Circular Polarizing Filter fits and works perfectly.  (Mine is 42mm; it's important to get the right size.)  A little metal ring with an adhesive backing fits on top of the lens barrel, and the magnetized filter snaps to this.  You remove the filter when not in use; the little metal ring with the adhesive stays on and doesn't impair the movement of the lens barrel.

The trick, of course, with any polarizing filter is that you must rotate it to get the optimal effect.  (It has to do with the fact that sunlight is polarized, and the angle of polarization changes with the movement of the sun.)  I shoot a few photos at different rotation angles until I find the one that cuts down the most glare, and then I keep it on that setting for my photo session.  If you don't rotate it to find the right angle, you'll think the thing doesn't work, so make sure you do this step.

The filter was $29.95 and comes with an extra adhesive ring, just in case.  There's no manual included to tell you how to install or use it, so you'll want to refer to the website.  And make sure you rotate the ring to get the right angle!

I got mine at Amazon:

Some tips on using a polarizing filter.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Painter as Salesman

Sometimes, it feels like this.

Whenever I have to slap on my salesman's hat, I cringe.  I hate having to sell.  I'm just not a natural-born salesperson.  Although there are books and YouTube videos to advise me on how to fight my inclination to shrink into a dark corner, it's still hard for me.  I'm lucky if I remember to restock my wallet with business cards, and luckier still if I remember to give you one.

Being a professional painter offers so many rewards.  I love my time spent outdoors or in my studio, poking away with a brush while the day's soundtrack plays.  I love the ordering and organizing of supplies and, yes, even doing the paperwork.  I love people coming to my studio so I can talk to them about the painter's life.

I love having sold a painting—but I do not love "selling" one.

This has nothing to do with parting with a piece.  Sure, I like to have a good one around for awhile so I can admire it and congratulate myself, but ultimately, it must go.  I depend on my art sales (and my workshops and writing) for income.  No, my "selling" a painting has to do with knowing that I am "selling" and not just having a friendly chat with a collector who's asked to visit.

Can I change?  If I'd tried working on this years ago, maybe.  But even back when I was younger and learning the ropes, it was hard for me.  I'll never forget what my mentor, Ann Templeton, said once.  While I was writing her 30-year retrospective book and staying with her, she invited me to dinner with some of her collector friends.  I'd been up since 4 a.m., poring over slides and transparencies of her work, writing captions.  It was late.  I was beat.  I declined.  Chastising me, she said, "Michael, if you're going to do this"—meaning, be a professional painter—"you're going to have to do this."

Ann was a natural.  She moved with cat-like ease in the social circle of collectors, and everyone who met her became her friend.  I'm not that way, and not every painter is.  Can painters like me be successful?  Yes—but perhaps we will have to do more than just paint.

(And please don't forget my Holiday Studio Sale! And that I'm giving 25% off on all the other Southwest paintings over $200!)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Working with a Clear Vision

Besides being a painter, I'm a writer.  Writing comes easiest to me when I have a clear vision of where the writing will go.  Though the analogy is an old and tired one, it's fitting; a successful trip requires a good map and a definite destination.  When I write a magazine article, such as a feature interview or a technical column, I know my destination and how I'll get there.  The articles follow an established format.

On the other hand, I have the hardest time with fiction.  Whereas writing non-fiction is like a drive down the road to a place I've been many times before, writing fiction is more like a backpacking adventure into the wilderness.  Although I always have a trail map, I'm often sidetracked.  Sometimes a secondary trail looks more interesting.  Sometimes I get confused when the trail forks.  Sometimes I wonder if the hill to my right might give a good view.  Sometimes—well, you get the picture.  The plot outline I so meticulously crafted gets tossed into the trash, or at least heavily revised, when a character does something unexpected.

But perhaps not surprisingly, taking a turn that's not on the route, or letting the character do something outside the outline, can lead to a richer end.

Need I say it's the same with painting?  Having a clear vision of where you are going will take you to a satisfactory outcome soonest.  But sometimes, not having that clear vision, despite the detours, obstacles and time lost, will take you to a place that is far better.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Painting New Mexico's High Desert

Find the Painter!
At La Ventana Natural Arch

Jack strapped on his backpack, eager to paint.  This 76-year-old rheumatologist, though he continues to practice medicine full-time, has a passion for painting, and he freed up a week to join me for last week's Private Painting Intensive.  On this day, under crystal blue skies, we made our way from the parking lot and down a single-track gravel road to a view of my favorite lake and its unique, candy-striped cliffs.  We stopped at the first scenic spot we came across and set down our packs.  Red willow and poplar edged the water, gently riffled by a breeze.  Coots croaked and squawked among the islands of pickerel weed.  A couple of mallards sounded the alarm, erupting into the air.  But otherwise, we were alone in that beautiful spot.

Later in the week, we visited other special places.  We painted the white cliffs of Inscription Rock; the butterscotch-colored outcrops near La Ventana Natural Arch; and on a private ranch nestled against the foot of the Zuni Mountains with a broad view of grassland and ponderosa-studded mesas.  Painting doesn't get any better.

Each week of the Private Painting Intensive has a different focus, depending on the student.  After a consultation, I create a plan tailored to the student's needs.  ("Needs" combines what the student thinks he needs with what I think he needs. These "needs" may be different or overlap.)  My job this week was to help Jack, who has a terrific color sense, get a better handle on values and to show him how to gather good field references so he could continue work later in his studio.  One day, we started off with a quick, grey-scale sketch (using Gamblin's Portland Greys) to help us understand what was happening with values, followed by a full-color sketch.  Another day, we did what I call "center of interest" painting, where we avoid the common practice of working the canvas all over but focus instead on the subject, placing color note against color note, striving to get the relationships correct right from the start.  In this post, I've shared some photos as well as images of my paintings from the week.

If you're an experienced painter and would like help in reaching the next level, I still have weeks available next spring.  In this customized program, you'll be working side-by-side with me and getting lots of attention.  I'll also be sharing my world, which sits among the piƱons and ponderosa pines of New Mexico's high desert.  The program takes two forms—a tuition-only version ($700) and a version in which you lodge and eat with us ($1400.)  If you'd like more information, please visit

And please don't forget my April 7-10, 2020, plein air painting workshop in Sedona, Arizona.  This is for any painter who has some experience in the studio but who is a beginner at painting outdoors, and also for experienced outdoor painters who'd like to fine-tune their skills.  Details are at

The grey study (top) and color study (bottom)
12x9 Oil

Charlie's Ranch - 6x12 Oil - Available

Near Los Gigantes - 9x12 Oil - Available

Raven Cliffs - 12x9 Oil - Available

Southern Cliffs - 9x12 Oil - Available

Friday, November 15, 2019

2019 Holiday Studio Sale

My Annual Holiday Studio Sale - Get Your Paintings Here!

Every fall, I like to offer some of my smaller paintings at a special holiday price. It’s an opportunity for you to acquire some nice pieces as gifts for yourself or for friends. Many of them feature National Parks and Monuments such as Grand Canyon, Zion and Canyon de Chelly, as well as scenes of Taos and Santa Fe, plus a few in my own backyard here in the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico.

The majority of these paintings sell for $700 framed. But for this sale only, you can get them unframed for $200, which includes shipping to the lower 48 states in the US. PayPal, credit card or check accepted. Paintings will ship via USPS Priority Mail.  You can see the paintings and purchase them here.

PLUS! This year I am offering a 25% discount on any of the Southwest paintings on my site. (Holiday studio sale items excepted and price must be over $200.) If you see something you would like to purchase, please contact me directly to get the discount . For the holiday studio sale paintings, you can purchase these directly by adding them to your shopping cart.

So, think of that favorite someone–even if it’s yourself!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Some Sedona Demonstrations

Location shot for "Creekside"

In my last post, I wrote about my recent Sedona plein air painting workshop.  I want to share with you now some of my demonstrations from the week.  Because I had students working in both oil and pastel, I did the same.  So, here are a few:

"Creekside" 9x12 Pastel
Available here
A quiet look at the Verde River south of Sedona in the fall.

"Mountain Study (Thunder Mountain)" 9x12 Oil
Available Here
Thunder Mountain dominates the Sedona landscape.

"My Sycamore" 9x12 Oil
Available Here
I've painted these beautiful Arizona sycamores so
much that I feel they are mine.

"Blue Shed" 9x12 Oil
Available Here

I am offering this all-level workshop again April 7-10, 2020. That's not too long from now, and I'm already accepting registrations. The price is only $300 for four half-days—we work from 9 until 1, but you are welcome to paint longer, and I'll gladly suggest locations for the afternoon—which is a perfect schedule if you wish to bring family or friends. The studio does have inexpensive but limited lodging. (You can find out more about the studio and lodging at .)

If you'd like to join us, I urge you to sign up right away. You can find out more details and register here:

For experienced outdoor painters who would like to improve their craft or get career help, I do offer a Private, One-on-One Painting Intensive. For this, I customize a program and you get to work side-by-side with me at my New Mexico studio. I have more details plus my full schedule here:

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sedona Workshop Wrap-up

Fall color doesn't get better than this!
Red Rock Crossing / Crescent Moon Ranch

I've seen some good fall color in Sedona, but for our plein air painting workshop last week, the color was the best I've seen in years.  Gold, crimson red and lemony yellows, all at peak saturation.  Combine that with the deep blue sky, and you have a situation that verges on being Van Gogh-ish.  Vincent once wrote, "There is no blue without yellow and orange," and the color we saw this week illustrated that statement perfectly.

I had eight students from Arizona, Kansas, California, Indiana and even Austria.  We met each morning in the studio, where some of us also lodged, for lectures and critiques.  After that, we went out to one of several beautiful locations, where I demonstrated how to handle Sedona's spectacular scenery, followed by everyone painting.  One night, we gathered at a new Thai restaurant in town to celebrate our new-found friendship.

We also had some spectacular storms one day.
One of my pastel demos, just begun.
I'll show some of the finished demos in a later blog post.

I am offering this all-level workshop again April 7-10, 2020.  That's not too long from now, and I'm already accepting registrations.  The price is only $300 for four half-days—we work from 9 until 1, but you are welcome to paint longer, and I'll gladly suggest locations for the afternoon—which is a perfect schedule if you wish to bring family or friends.  By the way, the studio does have inexpensive but limited lodging.  (You can find out more about the studio and lodging at .)

If you'd like to join us, I urge you to sign up right away.  You can find out more details and register here:

By the way, if you are an experienced outdoor painter and would like to improve your craft or get help with your career, I do offer a Private Painting Intensive.  For this, I customize a program for you, and you get to work side-by-side with me at my New Mexico studio.  I have more details plus my full schedule here:

Morning lectures

Morning critiques

Raku was an added extra and provided entertainment

Painting by Oak Creek

Painting by the Verde River
Our happy group

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Best Practice

Distortion--extreme foreshortening, squashed perspectives--is
common in illustration art.  But does it have a place in "fine art"?

"Best practice" isn't something you hear much about in the art world.  "Best practice" is defined as "Commercial or professional procedures that are accepted or prescribed as being correct or most effective."  The example the dictionary gives on how the phrase might be used:
The proprietors are keen to ensure best practice in food preparation, storage and serving. 
As someone who worked in the food service industry for more years than he'd like to admit, I've seen both "best practice" and what one might call "worst practice."  "Worst practice" would be leaving that big bucket of potato salad out overnight.  "Best practice" would be putting it away in the walk-in refrigerator and double-checking to make sure the temperature is holding at a cool 35-38°F.

So what about best practice for art?  Use of archival materials and procedures comes to mind.  If you want your work to last, you must follow best practice.  You hear about working "fat over lean," making sure you use only acid-free paper, and so on.  Who doesn't want to take all this very good advice?

There are two kinds of artists who don't follow best practice:  those who were never taught it, and those who consciously ignore it.  There's not much we can say about those who were never taught it, other than there's no excuse but laziness for not seeking out such knowledge.  (Especially now that we have the Internet.)  And as for those who consciously ignore it, they should understand the perils—and have a good reason for doing what they do.

But best practice doesn't have to do with just materials.  It also concerns such things as design elements and principles, color harmony and unity—and drawing.  From the definition above:  "Procedures that are...most effective."

One reader shared with me an image of painting she came across that peeved her.  It was a cityscape in which the high-rises were wildly distorted by a cartoon-world perspective.  She felt the drawing was off—and it was—and wondered how I felt about it.  She offered it as an example in which she thought best practice had not been followed.  She wrote:
When our generation went out to learn, we expected to be taught by someone competent and to learn 'best practice.'  I do believe there is a best practice, otherwise artists such as yourself would not be teaching.
In my view, yes, the buildings teetered precipitously from the vertical—an earthquake would have brought them down easily—but I had no clue as to artist's intent.  Did we have an artist who had never been taught best practice with regards to perspective; or did we have an artist who knew the rules but chose to not apply them?  Was the drawing merely incompetent, or was the distortion intentional?

You see this kind of intentional distortion in graphic novels, comic books and on book covers, but not so much in fine art.  This particular painting, however, did seem to be yearning to become "fine art."  It had all the right signs.  Unfortunately, the cartoonish perspective was not effective in adding a dynamic quality to an otherwise static design; instead, it actually distracted from reaching the apparent goal of being fine art.  There are other, more effective and appropriate ways—"best practices"—to achieve energy in that kind of painting.  What the artist used would have been, however, very effective in a comic book.

Just as there are different kinds of art, there are different sets of rules that apply to them.  The mastery of your particular art lies in knowing which set of rules applies—and then either employing them or not, but all with the final effect in mind.

Friday, November 1, 2019

October's Top Posts

I had a hard time this past month keeping up with the blog posts.  Between two traveling workshops and two magazine articles with tight deadlines, little precious time was left!  Next month, I promise I'll do better.  I'll have a Sedona plein air painting workshop to write about, plus a private painting intensive week with a student, as well as time of my own to work on personal painting projects.  I might even have my annual holiday sale to write about!

All things to look forward to.  But now, here are October's top three blog posts.

Two Plein Air Paintings - Video Timelapse - click here for the post

Supply Lists - Oil - click here for the post

Workshop Report: In Taos with Albert Handell - click here for the post