Thursday, December 31, 2009

Compose everything! Happy 2010!

Most of us are probably not working in our studios
or on our art just now. I trust you are all enjoying
the season of sharing time and love with family
and friends. And perhaps you too have composed
something lovely for them to enjoy, letting the artist
that you are create something wonderful.
I wish you and yours the most delightful and
fulfilling year to come. Compose it beautifully!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Transferring a drawing to canvas is done by placing the drawing face to the glass of a window (in the daytime!). Then you go over the lines with charcoal, taking care to make the coverage a bit wider than the actual line in the drawing. For complex areas (here it is the hair) just cover it all with charcoal.

Now place the drawing face up on the canvas. Adjust it to fit as you want it placed. Then with a blunt pencil (a sharp one will poke holes through the paper), go over all the lines of your drawing. Do tape it in place so you can lift it occasionally to see if you got it all transferred.

Here you can see the tape holding the drawing in place, and also the blunt-tipped pencil.

In this last photo you see the drawing which is about to be lifted off. Note that the placement of the drawing over top of the canvas is slightly tipped. This is because the student wanted to place it that way. Doing drawing transfers this way gives you that flexibility of placement.

Even though there is no photograph here of the drawing on the canvas, understand that after you have it done, you will need to touch it up with any corrections or adjustments you want to make. Also you may need to make some of the lines darker so they don't disappear under the first thin layer of paint. DO SPRAY IT before you begin painting!
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Friday, September 18, 2009

Using a rag while painting

Here you see a student of mine painting
with a rag in her hand. It is not a paper
towel, but is a soft cotton absorbent rag.
Good sources for such rags are soft cotton
things such as old t-shirts and nightwear
that has been laundered so often that there
is hardly any lint or fuzz that will come off
on your brushes. Also you don't want
rags that are so thin (like old sheets) that
you get paint all over your hands.
Use of Paper Towels
Basically, I use paper towels for cleaning
my brushes. I don't hold them in my hand
while I am painting the way I hold a rag
in my hand while painting. I have them
on my easel's shelf that is just below the
painting. Or I have a stack of paper towels
set aside and I use them just before I dip
them in the mineral spirits
to wipe off the excess.
Use of rags
But rags are for use while I work on a painting
and am doing things like blending areas of different
colors or tones. What happens is that the brush
will pick up a tone and if you don't wipe the brush
with the rag, the tone (or color) you don't want to
end up in a particular place will end up there!
So just hold a rag in your hand and wipe off the little
bit of paint so you can keep blending without dragging
a color into an area where you don't want it.
I also use a rag for another purpose. When you have
a brush that is a very small size and you have cleaned it in
the thinner, it will have the thinner run down the handle
and not only get your hands yucky (hi-tech word), but
when you go to pick up new paint, it will run down and
dilute what you just picked up. SO! I have a rag on
my easel shelf and always use it to absorb that thinner.
Rags are way more absorbent than paper towels.
How long to use a rag?
First of all, have a good supply of them and when they
get loaded with paint get rid of them. Do not wash them
as it's not worth it. Also, don't keep oily rags around as
it is a safety issue. I put them in the trash in a plastic bag.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Taking photos to paint from

The main point of this post is to tell you to take lots of photos
of any scene you may want to paint. Take a long shot, take
close up shots, take pictures of what is around the main subject.
You may want to paint something that is essentially a long
shot in a photograph, but if you don't shoot up close, you may
not have enough data.
I didn't post all the photos I took of this wonderful stone
barn, but I hope you get the idea.
The other thing about close up and far away shots is that
sometimes you can't see what is in the shadow areas if you
have a shot with a lot of light colored area like sky. That closes
down your lens (if you are shooting on automatic) and then
the shadow areas will look practically black. If you shoot some
close ups, then the camera lens opens up and allows you to see
what is in those shadow areas.
I hope this helps!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Getting started

This student work is a great example to show
how to get started with any subject. This is
a challenging one, but the beginning is the

Mix three piles of paint. A middle tone, a dark
tone (not the pure paint out of the tube) and
a light tone (again, not the pure white).

Then put on an overall tone (thin paint, not
thick)that is somewhere between the darkest
and lightest tones you see. You can even use just
a thin coat of raw umber all over with no white
added to it. Take a rag and rub it to look even
all over.

Next put in all the dark areas, then do the light
ones. Keep the shapes VERY simple. You will
do the more complex shapes and blending later
later later!

Most beginning artists go for the details way too

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Signing one's name is a act unto itself! Where to place it for best effect, but not to have it take over the painting!
Does one paint it darker or lighter than the surroundings? Does one block print it or do it in script or find some special symbol? Whistler used a butterfly for his signature and you will often find the old masters have signed their works in an upper corner.

Here's my take on it ~ Sign it where it feels right to you. I don't always sign in the same position, but often use the lower right as in this case. Use a tone that is just somewhat lighter or darker than the surrounding area. As for color, stay in the palette of the piece. You want folks to be able to read your name, but not hit them over the head with it. Sometimes, in very small pieces, I just use only one of my names.

How to do it? Use a very small brush. You may have to rub it out and do it over several times. I did this one about 8 times till I was happy with it!
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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Great tip for cleaining brushes

I asked an artist friend I have met via
the internet for help on keeping the
sticky handles of my bristle brushes
She generously gave me this fabulous
tip regarding Murphy's oil soap!
I had an ancient bottle of it in my garage
and so put some of it in a small, tall
jar and put in a few brushes AND some
icky palette knives. Voila! Fantastic
results 24 hours later. You can read
the Murphy's label in the gorgeous
clean palette knife.
You'll see the "before" condition of
one I haven't yet cleaned on the right.
I have been painting for many years,
but you can always learn something new.
Also, Carol says she uses it to clean her
brushes on a daily basis. I use Ivory soap
bars...but more on that later.
This was a great help and I thank Carol!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The joy of sketchbooking

This is a brush and ink sketch out of one of my Mother's
sketchbooks. My Mom did a great deal of sketching
as she was on vacation, or just on a beach outing when
we were young.
I cannot emphasize enough the value of doing this.
It teaches you to SEE!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Putting in order

Most beginning artists will quickly realize that in
order to work efficiently and effectively, one must
develop a good physical system for one's materials.
Grouping one's colors is an obvious way to work.
Here is a shot of a friend's colored pencils. Paint
tubes can be stored by colors in separate containers
which is what I do. Pastels present a unique challenge
because of their 'dusty' nature. I always have kept
mine in order in the box I have which has something
like 72 colors in it.
The goal is to be able to locate visually what you want
and quickly.
If you have your materials all over the place while working
which I often do, be sure to discipline yourself to put them
all back where they can be easily found for the next time.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


When you first start a painting, especially one that is
rather large (larger than 12 x 16) it is a good idea to
scribble! Get your tones worked out by just scribbling
in an area to start to give you the idea of how it will
look. Use very thin paint to do this. Don't be all
careful about it, just general areas scribbled in in the
tones and slightly stated color for that area.

Note: This painting will not have much strong color
in it, so the scribbled areas are pretty muted.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More on edges

This is a lower area of a recent painting
where arms cross each other. There are
no sharp distinct edges. Sharp edges
draw attention. Here, I am
subduing the edges because this is not
the focal point of the painting. So be
careful where you place hard edges.


For me there is an almost instinctive choosing of
what edges I make soft and which ones are painted
with a crisp edge, a sharp demarkation.
Here you see the edges of the arm are soft and the
edges of the fabrics are mostly crisp and sharp. Flesh
is soft and so soft edges make sense in order to convey
this quality. The fabric elements seen here, are rather
flat and are one layer over another, so sharpness of each
edge helps convey that.
Often I will paint an edge 'hard' and then I will use a sable
brush to blend it and soften it up almost imperceptibly.
Sable brushes are mainly for such blending and softening
because the bristles are not stiff and will not move the paint
around much ~ just enough to blend things.

Storing my colors so I can find them!

There are a number of reasons why I have so much
paint! Of course I purchased a great deal of it myself.
But then I have also inherited some. A friend was
moving and gave me her supply, a neighbor's mother
passed away and she gave me that supply, a former
student's wife gave me his paint supplies after he
died. So now I have somewhere between 100 and
150 tubes of paint!
In order to find what I am looking for, I first did
a color chart which is posted earlier in this blog.
Then I separated the color families and here are
photographs of how they are stored.
It is important not to have too many different
tubes of color on your palette as it is too confusing.
So when I am going to start a new piece, I select what
I want and can find them easily.
I hope you find this helpful!

Warms and cools in the same color

Each color, as you look around the color wheel,
has a tendency toward warm or cool. Here are
some reds as well as an orange on the left. Cool
reds move toward blue on the wheel. Warm reds
move toward yellow on the wheel. Alizarin crimson
and quinacradone red are cool reds. Cadmium red
light is a warm red. In choosing paint colors for
a painting, look to see if it the colors you choose
are more warm or cool. Sometimes you will need
both. Often you do.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Photographing your set up

If you have to take down your set-up due to this
or that reason, photograph it from exactly the
same position from which you are painting it.
AND photograph it from above as well. How things
look when only viewed from the front can be
This is the set-up of one of my students. It is
quite the interesting challenge to do a painting
when everything in it is in the same color family.
Well except for the orange marble!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More on Tube Tops

This is not my original idea, but it sure is a great
one. I got it from an art magazine years ago and
only wish I could acknowledge the clever artist
who shared it.
These are called 'eye hooks'. They are a great
solution for caps that have disappeared. But better
still, they are a great solution for the way the necks
of paint tubes get all loaded with paint and it is
impossible to screw on the caps because the screw
threads are full of dried paint.
You will notice that there are different sized screws.
Different brands of paint have different sized holes.
So experiment by buying several sizes. Even if the
size you have doesn't fill the hole completely, it will
keep a channel open for you to get the paint out
I have found that I almost never bought a size big
enough when I started doing this years ago.
The artist who wrote about this did this with all
his paint tubes and then hung them from something
he made so he could easily find his paints. I never
did that. Just doing this was a great help.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Paint tube tops

After an artist has been using tube paints for a while,

the caps can become more difficult to get off. This is

true for all paint mediums that come in tubes, even

watercolor. The two tried and true methods of getting

off stuck caps are plyers and then using a lit match

to soften the hardened paint around the edges of the


There is still another way to handle this, but that is a

post for another day!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bottle tops

When one is doing a still life and there are various
things in it, most of us work to get the shapes and
proportions right. But that is not where it should
After getting all that down in the best way you can,
take care to focus in on the details and really confront
what is there. I have seen many students just sort of
toss on a suggestion a bottle top.
So really confront the contours of it - the perspective
of the cylindrical opening and what part of the back
ring comes around into the curves in the front.
And if the bottle top is below your eye level, as in
this photograph, really get the curves right so it looks

Friday, March 20, 2009

Make a personal color chart

I have so many tubes of oil paint that I finally decided to make the chart you see here.
I got out all my tubes of paint (of course now I have even more!) and laid them out in color groups. I then arranged them in the color order I wanted.
Next I counted them and decided on the size canvas I needed to fit them all in.
This is an 18 x 24 inch canvas and the sections are 2 x 2.
Then I used a small oval shaped painting knife to apply the paint.
There is first the mass tone (the paint straight out of the tube) followed by a middle tone and then a very pale tone of the color. I used Titanium white.
If you have way too many colors to really know what they look like,
do this for reference.
There are about 6 difference brands here, but mostly Winsor and Newton.
I have a key in the lower right hand corner, so do allow for that.
Browns and greys are on a separate canvas.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Painting in one color

A while ago I decided to set myself a
painting challenge. Paint a set up that
had objects and background of all one

This was the result of that endeavor.
I found that it was more important than
ever to have the tones or values correct.
And then I just couldn't resist little touches
of other colors in adding the marbles.
What do you think?

What to do if you can't leave a set-up up!

#1 is a front shot of the set-up.
#2 is a shot of the set-up with where the light is.
#3 is an overhead shot of the set-up.

If you can't leave a set-up in place, take these
photos. I do this for my students because they
have to take down their arrangements in between

TIPS: Do NOT use a flash. You want to get the
lighting correct in terms of how the set-up
is actually lit.

Put pieces of tape on the floor for each item
(the light, easel and table). You may have to
move them around in between painting sessions.
This way you can mark the positions for easy
re-locating of their original positions. If you need
to, write on the tape which pieces of tape are
for what item!

Do shoot a photo from above so you can see the
distances that things are from each other. It is
difficult to tell when only having made a front
photo shot. When setting up the arrangement
again, lay that photo on the table and make your
things match what you see in the photo!

Remember that these are reference photos, and
are never the same as looking at the real things
with its actual lighting and color. So don't paint
from the photos you took of such a set-up. Paint
from life!

And last of all, know that as carefully as you do this,
the painting gremlins will conspire to have something
not quite as it was, no matter what you do!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tubes of Paint

First I have to admit that these are not my paints,
even though I have this many and probably more!
I have amassed quite a large collection and finally
had to do something to help me see what I actually
had so I could use them more effectively. It's a little
like having clothes at the back of your closet that
you never see, and so you never wear them!
I did two things to help me. One is that I made a
big color chart, adding white to each color so I could
really see it's true color. And then I divided each of
6 main color groups up so I could FIND what I was
looking for! (The 3 primaries and the 3 secondary
colors = 6!)
I will speak more on this later. By the way, these
paints belong to one of my students who bought many
of them, if not all, from Ebay for a GREAT price!

Fan Brushes

Fan brushes have their special uses. You will see from
this photo that there are not only various sizes, but they
are made from different things. The top one is a bristle
brush and because it is stiff (hog bristles are definitely
sturdy and stiff), it will drag more paint. The bottom one
is badger hair and is soft and is great for blending. The one
in the middle is a tiny thing that is just right for small
works. It has synthetic hair and is very soft.
Fan brushes are a sort of novelty when you see them in
the bins at the art store. But what you don't want to see
in your paintings is the tell tale strokes that say 'look,
I used a fan brush!'.
I suggest experimenting with the various types. Get a
stiff bristle one and a soft-haired one. Try out some
things with it. You can get really good effects with just
dabbing the tips, or you can pull paint in a direction that
contributes to making that cloth look as though it is falling
over the table edge.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Brushes - Oil Painting

Some years ago I attended a master class in portrait painting given by an excellent artist who had painted many famous and wealthy people. She was nearly 80 years old at that time and had been a working artist since her early twenties.
A class member asked her about the oil painting brushes she would recommend to us. At this moment she became very agitated and told us her experience with 'new' brushes. 'I will buy new brushes and then begin to use one and it is just worthless. I get so mad I just break it over my knee and throw it on the floor of my studio.'
I can relate. I own many brushes and there have been some that I love at first use which do not hold up. And I know how to care for them. Many simply do not hold their shape, even with the careful dressing I do with my fingers after cleaning them with non-detergent soap. One artist whose blog I have read will actually clip the brush so that its shape is pressed with stiff paper overnight. That didn't used to be necessary.
What can one do? I have sent disappointing brushes recently purchased back to the manufacturer (a very old and well known company) and they replaced them and also told me that the brushes I returned were, in fact, defective. They also sent me some other goodies I could use in my studio. But they did respond and so if you can take the time, don't break your new brush over your knee, return it. I think it is important to speak up and get the excellence we need to ply our craft!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

See the colors of life!

Most color in the world is really pretty neutral. Lots of
greys and browns. If we took a percentage of how much
color we see that is really pure and bright, it would probably
be quite small.
Every artist is attracted to color. And certainly most people
are. Perhaps that is because it is such a small percentage of
all that is out there. Consider roads, winter landscapes, most
house exteriors, and the sky on an overcast day. These are
just a few examples of vast stretches of space that are not
brightly colored.
So look for the pops of color, but know that when you make a
piece of artwork, the neutral colors are what set off the purity
of a strong spot of red, yellow, blue, etc. If it weren't for the
neutrals, would we notice and appreciate pure color so much?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Palettes for oil painters

There are basically two choices of location for a palette: one you hold as in this photograph of one of my students at work, or on a taboret or table top. While it is certainly a matter of personal preference, there are reasons for having one that you hold. When an artist is new at his craft, he will tend not to stand back and take a look at what he has got going on the easel. And so when you have a palette in your hand, you are not so tied to the table next to your easel and can move back and forth, painting a bit, then stepping back and taking a look. Long handles on oil painting brushes are also helpful in getting a bit of distance on what you are doing IF you hold it the right way and don't 'choke' the brush up too close to the bristles.
I like using a table next to where I work and as I get older it is more comfortable than using a palette resting on my arm with fingers gripping the hole. But try out both and see what you like.