Monday, December 23, 2013

Mexico is full! Join me in Croatia

Well, the title says it all.  We had a flurry of sign ups for Mexico - they coincided with flurries of snow here in Canada - and the retreat is now running a waiting list.  I'm excited to teach at the Casa Buena Art Retreat again this February and like the idea of going as an old hand.

If you missed out on Mexico, there's still an opportunity to join me for some painting in the sunshine this spring.
There are some sign ups for the retreat that I'm teaching in Croatia from April 29 to May 8th, but I have room for you!  I hope you'll join me for a fantastic week on the island of Korcula.  It's a fairy tale kind of place in the Adriatic Sea that proclaims itself the birthplace of Marco Polo. There are plenty of reasons not to believe this claim apparently, but it's a romantic aspiration and, when you see the pictures of this historic island, you can imagine it's true.

We'll have a week of painting, excursions, and great food and wine on this beautiful island. Our hosts at Slikamalina Tours are hospitable and very experienced, and they clearly do a good job because the people who have signed up for my retreat are all returning painters to this tour company.

So if you'd like to learn from me and spend time with like-minded people in this amazing setting, I hope you'll sign up.

Register by December 31 and you qualify for a $200 discount.

Happy painting!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A personal challenge painting

Yellow Candy Dish
18 x 28
This painting was a step out of my comfort zone and, in many ways, a painting to learn from

I've been noticing that I don't feel comfortable with yellow; it doesn't disappear off my palette very quickly, and I don't own any yellow still life objects.  Or I didn't own any until I saw this gorgeous, iridescent candy dish in a thrift shop.  It issued a challenge to me, and I bought it.

The yellow was a joy to work with for its exuberance and boldness.  I admit that there isn't much pure yellow other than in the thick highlight, but there's the illusion of lots of yellow in the muted, purple-influenced dish, and I sprinkled the colour throughout the painting in greyed form so that it didn't feel isolated.

Another thing that I'm uncomfortable with - as are many painters - is placing the focal point in the middle of a composition.  Any composition book will tell you that's a bad idea, so I've avoided it.  But painters should question authority, and I decided to do just that.  The yellow dish became the bullseye around which I arranged every other object.

The eye does go straight to it, it's true, but then I think you make at least one full circuit of the painting, clockwise from the red berries in the dish.  I find myself viewing it in a spiral fashion for 1 1/2 revolutions; the first encompassing the lower half of the painting and tracking through the red objects, and then coming up into the red shawl behind the candy dish and following it around and back down into the foreground.
The echoing of curves and colour overcome the perils of central placement.  So if the goal of a composition is to move the viewer's eye through it and keep it engaged, I think this succeeds.

Lastly, this is painted on the coarse linen that I bought in rather huge quantity during the summer.  Because the weave is so obvious, it requires some adjustments during painting; mainly it just requires a lot of paint. The weave breaks up the paint surface and dims the paint in the same way as looking at a colourful flower through a screen door dims the flower.  So I have to apply many more layers, much of it with a palette knife, before I achieve clean, vibrant colour.  That's not a bad thing, and it means that there's a great variety in the paint consistency in this piece.

It was a challenge, and those keep a painter fresh.

Happy painting!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dealing with shadows

12 x 16
I start all of my paintings by roughing in the darks and trying to connect as many of them as I can.  The colour I use for this step is unrelated to the actual local colour of the subject and is usually an earthy dark. So a turquoise object will begin with an earth-coloured drawing and shadow.

The next thing I do is place pieces of local colour throughout the painting, setting up the colour scheme for that composition.  That's when the turquoise, blue, flesh tones, and background colour appear.

But the trickiest step is deciding on the colour - if any - that will go over that initial dark.  Part of the decision making is logical: warm light, cool shadows; or cool light, warm shadows.  Which still leaves a lot of questions.  Do I make the cool shadow green, blue or blue-purple based?  Is the warm shadow red, orange, or red-purple? And if that's not enough to think about, I have to remember that temperature is relative: a green shadow can appear cool or warm depending on its context. It may look cool next to orange, but warm next to blue.

These questions are easily answered if I'm working from life: if I look hard, I'll see the colour.  But I have to simply make arbitrary decisions when working from a photo as I did here.  No matter how hard I stare at the shadows in a photo, there's no information for me to find.  

One strategy - the one I used in this painting - is to decide on the background colour and then introduce it into the shadows on the subject.  It's a method that I learned from reading painters like David Leffel and Gregg Kreutz, and it works beautifully to harmonize a painting and to integrate the subject with its environment.  The warm greenish-ochre mixture near the figure's head appears in the shadow on her body as well as in the shadows of the drapery.  It's modified with other warms to avoid monotony, but it is the foundation for the other mixtures.  You can see how this allows the blue, turquoise and flesh colours to mingle rather than sitting separately as isolated individuals; the shadow is the common thread that unites them.

Like everything, though, it can become formulaic, so I don't use it as my default mode - unthinkingly.  It's just another tool in the box.

Happy painting!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A return to still life

Peach Bowl
24 x 20
With the onset of winter, I've been thinking less of beach scenes and have been setting up still life scenes in the studio again.

Sergei Bongart said that "if you can paint still life, you can paint anything."  It's true.  There's no better training ground for eyes and hand than an unmoving group of objects under unchanging light.  Peaches don't get tired, need breaks, or get paid, so I'm free to make use of them until they start to sag with age.  In the meantime, they're a treasure trove of colour, shape and value to explore and relate to the other objects on the table.

This painting has a lot of cool neutrals which make the more intense peach colour sing in comparison.  My goal was to avoid using harsh, high chroma mixtures and making the most of greyed mixtures - something that seems to be a preoccupation with me at the moment.

I also wanted to leave some line work in this painting.  The mingling of 2 dimensional drawing lines and the illusion of 3 dimensions that I've tried to capture in the objects appeals to me.  It's a reminder of the painter's artifice: we're always working on a flat surface and trying to simulate depth.

This painting is at Tutt Gallery in Kelowna.  I hope you'll go and visit it if you're in the area.

Happy painting!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Portrait Demo Friday November 15

I hope you'll join me for a 3 hour, start-to-finish portrait demo at the Calgary School of Art on Friday, November 15 from 6 - 9pm.  There will be wine, cheese and loads of information.  

My model will be posed under dramatic, coloured light which will allow me to show the ways in which the temperature of light alters the local colour of objects. We see this effect every time we look at a person on a sunny day or in the artificial light of an interior.  Colours are constantly in flux, showing us different aspects of their character with every change in the light that falls on them -which can be confusing!

So I'll tackle the complexity of the colour of light while I demonstrate the aspects of portraiture: from accurate proportion to how to paint individual features such as eyes and the ever-tricky mouth (noses pretty much just take care of themselves, as you'll find out).  

To register, please contact the Calgary School of Art.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Commission #4

Commission #4
14 s 18
The last one!  I'm sorry to see the end of this process.  I had a great time figuring out each of the children's paintings from the personality descriptions supplied by their grandmother.

This 12 year old couldn't relax in front of the camera.  His grandmother sent me 3 disks of images and he was mugging in most every shot, and if he wasn't doing that, then the angle, lighting or some other aspect of the photo made it a poor reference.

I narrowed it down to a few photos and this is the one that his family thought was most like the boy: vigorous and colourful.  They didn't mind that his face wasn't visible so I'm betting that a huge part of his personality is conveyed through movement.

Because he's long and lean, I felt that I needed to balance his slight body with some robust paint. There's a lot of chunky brush and palette knife work in this painting.  I emphasized the movement of the jump by avoiding too many hard edges and by weaving background colour into the form.  The cool areas of the legs are composed of colours from the surrounding water.

The four paintings will hang in the home of their grandmother, mementos of the carefree summer days of childhood.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Commissioned painting #4

Commissioned painting
14 x 18
John Singer Sargent said that "A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth" and this commission proved him right.  (He was probably always right about painting matters).

The reference photos for this were inspiring because they had such gorgeous, warm light.  I particularly loved the orange reflected light under the boy's jaw.  This painting is an amalgamation of 3 references: one for the face, one for the lunging torso area and one for the arm position.  The arm position was correct in a photo that had his hand clutching a rock.  It's not a problem to lose the rock, but the figure was backlit instead of front lit: the shadow and light were reversed, making his face dark and surrounding him with rim light. I liked the action of that pose, however, so I used the face from a more static image of the boy standing in the water.  Together, they made an image that caught my imagination.

Once the references had been sorted out in my mind, I kept all 3 of them up on my monitor and zoomed in on whichever one I needed at that moment.  There are many people who can use Photoshop to put a new head on a body (my 14 year old included), but I'm not one of them so I used this rather complex method instead.

The painting came together quickly, but got stuck in the approval process due to problems with the mouth. That seems to be the area in which a likeness resides or, in this case, didn't reside.  It took 4 repaintings of that tiny section to capture a likeness.  A full repaint consisted of about 5 very small, carefully-positioned marks.  The angle of the teeth, the amount of gum, the tilt at the corner; all needed tweaking.  But it all worked out because the beauty of oils is that they are workable for so long.

The final painting of the set is underway.  It's an action shot with - thankfully - no mouth visible!

Happy painting!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Analysing a simple painting with Photoshop

Back view of J
14 x 11
A couple of weeks ago I hired a model without another painter in the studio to share the cost - my usual practise.  Being able to ask for poses with no regard for anyone else's sight line or preferences was very freeing and I really learned a lot.

This is a pose that I've wanted to paint for some time and when my model showed up with an ultramarine blue dress and navy tights, it seemed perfect.  The continuation of colour through the body to the feet create a graceful, unbroken passage that's simple and descriptive with no need for further development to make that area make sense.

To see what I mean, have a look at this Photoshopped change.

Photoshopped leg colour
I've brushed a similar colour to the arms over the leg area and I find that it makes the leg look much less finished than it did when it was the same colour as the dress.  I'd feel an obligation to at least suggest some toes or an ankle to help the viewer understand that now-prominent area.  Notice, too, how the graceful line is gone. The pose is broken up into pieces rather than united as one large shape.  To my eye, the second version is much weaker.

The simple silhouette of the figure called for an equally straightforward setting, so I stuck with big shapes in the background, only relieving them a bit in the lower left.  That's the edge of a purple, Mexican rug, and allowing it to have some diagonals not only served to repeat the shape of the legs on the right, but also gave a sense of stability to the pose.

This Photoshop experiment shows what I mean.  I turned the diagonals of the rug into a horizontal.  Notice the tippy, unbalanced feel to this one; as if she'll easily slide off the canvas to the right.
Photoshopped background on left
This was a quick painting but, in my distraction-free state, I accomplished and learned a lot.  It was money well spent.

Happy painting!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Commission number 2

Commissioned painting
14 x 18
This was a challenge.  It's the second of the 4 commissioned paintings that I'm working on, all from the client's photos.

The photos were excellent, overall, but there are always things that I'd rather see.  The images of this young girl were varied: in some she was contemplative and elegant (like the young woman that she soon will be), standing in waist-high ocean and swirling her arms gently through the still water. The light in those photos was gorgeous: warm and glowing.

Then there were the photos that showed her splashing and vibrant like a boisterous girl.  The light in these shots was cool, shadowless and colourless.  It didn't enhance the subject matter at all.

But the decision had to go to the splash imagery because her grandmother described this girl as outgoing, dramatic and fearless.  The gentle swirling just didn't fit.

So I had to inject colour where I saw none and still keep a likeness.  I took the colour scheme from a copy of a Sorolla painting that I did a few weeks ago: the skin is very warm and the shadows mingle olive and red.  Those colours all appear in the water somewhere creating a harmonious fit of subject to environment.  In order to create a sense of the splash being white, I had to keep everything else in the painting at a lower value than that area, so most of the painting is in a mid value range.  Avoiding true darks also enhanced the sense of light and the bouncing colour that's typical on a sunny day.  Because colours are at their most beautiful in the mid values, this all served to give the appealing feeling of a warm, carefree summer's day.

To get the likeness, I took the image of the girl into Photoshop and converted it to a simple pattern of black and white using the threshold function.  That allowed me to pick out the shadow shapes on her face.  It's these shapes that define the structure of each individual face: the eye sockets, cheeks, nose, temples - all cast distinctive shadows that tell the viewer what that bone structure is like.  Luckily, even though the splash photos showed very little shadow definition, Photoshop could pick out enough information for me to see the girl's skull structure and use it to achieve a portrait.

It was a challenge, but I like that.

Painting #3 is on my easel at the moment and I'm lucky: it has beautiful light.  Unfortunately, I have to switch out an arm and the face...
I'll keep you posted.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Change your palette and change your paintings

Art School Student
18 x 14

"Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment." Monet.
I've never met an artist who is content with the state of his or her work.  Like me, they're always tinkering, tweaking and trying new things in an effort to realize their vision for what their art should look like.  

Over the past couple of months, colour has been my focus.  I dropped ultramarine blue from my palette for a while feeling that it had control of me, not the other way around.  It's back on the palette now but in its absence I learned an appreciation for cerulean, a blue of lighter value that leans more towards yellow whereas ultramarine leans red. Cerulean is a natural for pairing with yellow ochre but is overwhelmed and made garish with the cad. yellows, so the loss of ultramarine ultimately led to yellow ochre becoming much more important in my work; proving once again that nothing happens in a vacuum and everything sets off a chain of events - many of which can't be predicted in advance. 

I also introduced cobalt blue, a "true blue" which doesn't have an obvious leaning one way or another and which is much tamer than ultramarine, at least in my hands.  

So the upshot of all of this is a better understanding of the greys which yellow ochre excels at, and a cooler overall look to my paintings.  It wasn't my intention, but that was the result.  

In the painting above, I explored blue overtly, using it as a starting colour for the block in and a foil for the muted warm colours in the flesh.  Most every warm colour is a much-greyed tertiary, but they pop vibrantly in their context of cool blue. 

I'm learning a lot through my tinkering so I'll continue to explore the colours on my palette and see what comes of it.  

Happy painting!

Friday, October 11, 2013


commissioned painting
18 x 14
This is the first of 4 commissioned paintings that I'm doing for the same client.  She has 4 grandchildren that she wants to see depicted at their happiest: at the beach.

From a CD of images of all of the children and a written description of each, it's my job to create paintings that both look like the kids and also represent their personalities.  The client asked not for exact portraits, but more for a sense of who these children; the likenesses were to be left loose and unforced.

This little girl was easy.  Her grandmother said that she is very "girl": feminine and delicate, and that she loves the water.  There were some shots of her in a swimsuit, frolicking with her siblings, but there was a delicacy in the photo reference for this shot that seemed appropriate given the description of the 2 year old. As well, the intensity with which she was dabbing at her own reflection and the fascinating cool, grey light made that photo my immediate choice.

The painting is all about colourful greys: the water, sweater, and skin are all muted but appear colourful in their context.  If a grey can be named (blue-grey, yellow-grey, purple-grey, etc) it can read with amazing intensity and create a vibrant effect; it's the greys that are neutral and un-nameable that sit lifelessly in a painting and suggest nothing.  Every grey in this painting is either warm or cool and some of the most interesting areas occur where the two temperatures are layered or placed side by side.  This happens in the shadow of the white sweater and in the little girl's hair which holds both cool greens and warm orange hues.

The next painting is under way and is a real departure from this, depicting an athletic, adventurous "tween" - this child's sister.  I'll post it when I'm content with it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my fellow Canadians!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Portrait Workshop November 15 and 16

I'm looking forward to teaching another portraiture demo and workshop at the Calgary School of Art on November 15 and 16.

Mine will be one of the first Friday night, 3 hour demos held at the school and it should be fun to paint and mingle over the wine and cheese on offer during the breaks.  Kathy and the gang at the school always put on a great spread.  The demo is open to anyone who wants to attend, whether you're taking the Saturday workshop or not.

Because it's a long demo, I'll be able to show and explain my process for painting a portrait from start to finish: something that I can't do in just a one-day workshop.  I tried this format in the spring and it worked like a charm.  People who were in the workshop the next day came in with a clear understanding of the process involved and just needed some small refresher demos throughout the day.  We accomplished a lot that day.

If you're interested in registering for the demo and workshop or for the demo alone, please contact the Calgary School of Art.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Accepted: Scottsdale Salon of Fine Arts

Scottsdale, Arizona is full of wonderful galleries, but Legacy Gallery is one of my favourites.  So I'm thrilled to have been accepted into the 3rd Annual Scottsdale Salon of Fine Arts which will be held at Legacy from November 7 to December 31.

Summer's Child
40 x 30
"Summer's Child" was one of 100 pieces accepted out of 1200 submissions.  I thought for a long time about whether or not to submit it because of the size of the painting - framing and shipping become more complex and expensive with size - but then I thought "what the heck" and entered it anyway. Big has its benefits: it makes a statement.

I'm glad that I took a chance!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ignat Ignatov: Putting Art to Work

Artist: Ignat Ignatov
Last winter I was fortunate enough to attend Ignat Ignatov's portraiture workshop in Scottsdale, Arizona, and to get to know him as a person as well as an artist.  A remark that he made about no longer feeling comfortable eating meat since he'd adopted a little, street dog (because how different is a cow or a pig from my dog? - to paraphrase), stuck with me as showing real decency and a willingness to look at the big picture.

So it was no surprise to see that he's taken on a project to help the many dogs on death row in LA's animal shelters.  Overcrowding is such a problem there that over 200 animals are killed each day in Los Angeles shelters.  I have to say that again: 200 EACH DAY. 

Ignat is auctioning paintings like the one above on his Facebook page to raise money for the animals' care, and encouraging potential adoptive families to come forward to get these poor souls into homes where they belong.  

Erik, the little guy in the painting, didn't live to see a new home.  

I made a donation to the Calgary Humane Society last week, because this is not just an LA problem.  I hope you'll do the same or, better still, adopt an animal and save a life.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Painting a Concept

Blue Robe
16 x 12
I've started this painting a lot of times and never found a satisfactory way to make it show what I want: movement.  Finally, I realized that I'd have to deviate pretty far from realism to show such an abstraction. So I looked to a master of dancers in motion: Degas.

What I've always loved about Degas' work is the fearless way that he simplified people into dynamic shapes and colours.  His figures are flatter than life, but seem more alive than many of the works of high realism that were popular in his time.  The use of lines in his paintings also appealed to me.  It's hard to slip those into a more literal image so I enjoyed this natural opportunity to use a strong, dark line.

The robe in my photos was green but the complimentary colour scheme of red and green seemed too harsh so I replaced it with a field of bluish patches and dynamic brushwork. In the figure I focused on colour rather than form; trying to capture the many fleeting hues that passed over the model as she danced in my studio. The resulting figure has a flatness and simplicity that I like and, to my eye, a sense of movement.  Finally.

Happy painting!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Oil Painting from the Ground Up Workshop, and Regular Class Begins

Rice Bowl and Little Onions
10 x 8
I'm jumping into the new teaching season at the Calgary School of Art this month with a workshop and my regular Tuesday class.  On Sept. 10th my regular 12 week class begins.  We'll concentrate on landscapes, both studio and plein air and end with  figurative painting.  **I had an unexpected opening this week, so if you're interested in joining this class, let me know**

Then, on September 28th, I'll be teaching "Oil Painting from the Ground Up", a foundations workshop that's designed for both beginners and experienced painters.

My focus for this workshop will be on the technical heart of oil painting.  We've got some new oil mediums available to us at the school this year, and we'll explore a few of them and learn how to build a technically-sound and visually-rich oil painting in the process.  

This will be fun day for experimenting with mark making, palette knife and brush techniques and creative colour choices.

You can read all about the workshop and register for it on the snazzy and efficient Calgary School of Art website.  Contact me if you've got any questions.

Happy painting!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Coarse linen and textural paint

Look Away
24 x 12
Flat shadows and dimensional lights: words I try to paint by.  It's not always easy because there's so much interesting and subtle detail in the shadow areas - gentle temperature changes which suggest the form - but when I give in to my oc impulses and depict them, I end up with a mixed message of a painting; one in which my goal isn't clear: am I most interested in the lit or the shadow side?

In this painting I kept the shadows to warm, thin scumbles and really laid it on thick in the lights.
You can see just how thick in this detail:

Like cake frosting, oil paint can be trowelled on in luscious layers, and it seems a shame when a painting doesn't show some of that natural, sculptural quality.

You can see that the fabric weave on this piece is very visible.  I'm experimenting with a coarse linen that's meant for large-scale work.  It's thick and heavy, and I like the way it resists buckling during stretching, but I bought it for its obvious texture, figuring it would push me to a more varied surface treatment.  In some places the weave is very visible, in some it's completely obscured, and in others it's somewhat visible.  On a smooth linen, I can get those paint consistencies as well, but this linen emphasizes them in a way that I like... this week.  Next week, who knows what I'll be looking for in a surface?  Ultra-smooth wooden panels, no doubt.

Happy painting!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Many Nameless Colours

18 x 14
This portrait came out of a recent 3 hour session with a model in my studio.  Jenny has gorgeous, English rose skin: creamy, and lightly peach tinted, and she wore a palette of neutrals that harmonized with it.

To avoid overwhelming all of the delicate tints of the arrangement, I put her in front of my favourite drapery, a cool, blue/green/grey, slightly shiny material that seems to hold every colour of cool end of the spectrum depending on the lighting conditions and the surrounding colours.  It's mid toned, like everything that Jenny was wearing.

This could have been a frustrating set up with nothing of substance to hang on to: no easy-to-name colours, no big values, none of the stuff that helps you get a handle on a subject, but it wasn't.  I totally enjoyed it.

After laying in a basic drawing and the dark of the hair, I nailed the part that seemed to me to be the key to the whole piece: the little area of light-struck skin on the right, next to the same-valued but cooler, light shirt.  If I could get the temperatures and hues right in that spot, I could relate every other piece of paint to them.  The paint had to be thick and opaque to read with the proper luminosity.

Once that area seemed right, all I had to do was compare each other colour and value to it.  I continually asked myself "is it warmer or cooler, lighter or darker, than that piece of paint?"  That helped me to make all of the non-colours that make up this painting.

It was such a stimulating exercise that I asked Jenny back and in the same outfit for a larger piece. Today was the start and I'll let you know how it all turns out.

Happy painting!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Oceanside Art Gallery; a New Venture

S0LD at Oceanside Gallery

SOLD at Oceanside Gallery
One of the nicest things to come out of the Arabella article has been a new gallery for me.

Oceanside Art Gallery in Qualicum Beach, BC is a young gallery owned by a couple with a lot of gallery and curatorial experience.  Heather Tillmar Brown and her husband Steve, spotted my paintings in the magazine and invited me to show in their new space.

I joined them with pleasure, and it turns out to have been a smart move: they sold 2 paintings on the day that they arrived.

Thanks, Heather and Steve! I can tell that this will be a great relationship.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Painters are a Community

Artists work alone every day, connected by phone or email to society, but mostly, they're disconnected.  That's why it's both incredibly gratifying and super weird to be placed into the public eye.  Or at least the art-magazine-buying public's eye.

The feature of my work in Arabella magazine has brought many good things: people asking my galleries for my work, an invitation to join a new gallery (more on this in its own blog post), and connections - both old and new.

I've been inundated with emails from both people that I know and those that I don't, congratulating me on my work and on the article.  Most of the emails have been from artists, and the generosity of the notes has been amazing.

Whoever said that the art world is cut throat and competitive, missed something. It's also a community and I'm happy to belong to it.  We work alone, but we're still together.

Happy painting and thanks!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mexican Art Retreat February 25 - March 4

Casa Buena Art Retreat
Nayarit, Mexico
This is the retreat where I'll be teaching a week-long painting workshop 
from February 25 - March 4.  

Casa Buena is a Canadian-owned, magical place, filled with mosaics, Mexican pottery and tiles, flowers and jungle plants and the sound of the surf.  I was there last February and am thoroughly smitten.  
Better than February in Canada
We'll be painting a variety of subjects beginning with a still life demo in the evening of arrival.  
The following day will be devoted to still life and, after that, we'll branch out into landscape painting.  Our final subject will be portraiture and we'll have a local model sitting for us.  

Three subjects in a week sounds like a lot, but they're actually all related.  I use the same logical approach whether I'm painting a person, a landscape or a bowl of fruit.  Once you learn the method, you can paint anything.

Our focus will be the same for each as well: composition, simplification, massing, glowing colour, and expressive brushwork.  

I'll do a demo each day and spend the rest of the day hustling from easel to easel, helping you to problem solve your way to a good painting.  

In the evenings, I'll either demo or hold discussions about painting techniques and history for those who want to join me. 

This year will see some new subject matter and locations as well as the option to experience some of last year's highlights, notably, the jungle boat tour with it's exotic birds and alligators.  
Returning painters can choose to skip the jungle, but they'll be pleased to hear that we have a new excursions is a trip to what our hostess, Jane, describes as a market that has great shopping like Sayulitas but at lower prices.  We'll also be visiting a hot spring that day.  

It's a balanced retreat with a lot of painting and a bit of the stuff that regular folks love: shopping and sights.  

The Casa's comfy veranda
In between, expect to be well fed, comfortably housed, and warmly welcomed at the retreat.  

I hope you'll sign up and join me for an adventure!
Painting the fishing boats

Monday, July 22, 2013

Donations for Alberta Flood Relief

Wild Rose 1
4 x 4"
Wild Rose 2
4 x 4"
These 2 little paintings are my donations to the Alberta Flood Rose Project, a fundraising project which has the contributions of hundreds of Alberta artists. 

Each of the donated artworks will depict Alberta's provincial flower, the wild rose, and will be mounted in a large grid with 80 or 100 others.  The resulting colourful, group work will be auctioned off to raise money for the Red Cross' ongoing relief efforts in Alberta's flood areas. 

All of those different styles depicting the same subject will make a spectacular display for a home or office.  I hope the bidding is brisk!

Friday, July 12, 2013

The scene as it is, not as you think it is

Hidden Creek
10 x 8
I took my trusty pochade box to Kelowna BC recently when I was there to teach a workshop for the Okanagan chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists and to visit family.   The workshop was a success with lots of good portraits painted by the artists who attended, and, wonderfully, I also managed to find the time for an afternoon of plein air painting.  

This little creek was tumbling down right beside a back road, screened by trees so that you'd never guess it was there.  

What struck me was the amount of colour in the water as it tumbled down over rocks and into a calmer stretch of the creek.  I saw an overall ochery-green hue with a lot of lavender in the shadows.  Where the water frothed over rocks, it took on a cool, yellowish tint.  The sheltering foliage cast its colour into the water as did the bits of sky that managed to peek through the
branches overhead. 

 I didn't see these colours all at once; it took a lot of looking and thinking to figure out what my eyes were actually seeing and not what I thought I should be seeing.  Waterfalls and creeks aren't part of my everyday experience and the images of them that I have in my mind are from photos, not life.  So I instinctively wanted to recreate what countless photos had shown me: white foam and blue or brown water. But when I tried that first bit of white on the painting and compared it to the scene in front of my eyes, I realized that white had no place in this painting at all.  The light was warmer than that and the water much more colourful.  

Most of the water was done with a palette knife in order to preserve pure, clean mixtures layered one on top of the other.  I couldn't have kept the colours so fresh if I'd applied them with a brush; they'd have mixed on the canvas and diminished the sense of sparkling light.  The palette knife also created texture that helped to describe the many levels of rocks that broke the water as it flowed downhill.  

This little painting will be a great resource for a future, larger piece.  With all of those accurate colour notes, it should be a snap to re-imagine it in a larger format.   

Happy painting!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Arabella Magazine Feature

I can't wait for this issue of Arabella magazine to hit the stores this week.  My work is profiled in their "Artists to Collect" section with lots of great images and an interview.

It's a great honour.

I hope you'll pick up an issue at Chapters, Barnes & Noble or get it online

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Painting Light and Colour

Summer's Child
40 x 30
This is another painting in which my goal was to achieve a very specific effect.  In this case it was the effect of skin influenced by many different sources of colourful light: the sun at the child's back, the light of the sparkling water bouncing up onto his face; the dappled foliage reflecting into his skin; and the t-shirt adding some cool, blue notes and the shadow cast along his entire front.  Although I only had a photo that I took last year to work from, I could mine it for enough clues about colour choices that I had a starting point.  Then it was a matter of painting boldly: exaggerating some of those colours and layering them juicily together to create a vibrant and varied gray in the flesh tones.

I could add a lot of different colours as long as I kept the overall value the same in the shadow and kept consistent temperatures: cool in the shadow; warm in the light.  I know there is red in the "cool" shadow and the highlight on the boys neck has a hint of cool blue mixed with the peachy tint, but temperature, like colour is relative.  The overall impression of the shadow side is of a cool influence and the sunlit areas read warm (this is partially due to psychology: we think of the sun as warm and yellowish and so we bring that notion to a painting of sunlight.)

By keeping the face cool, the intensely-warm, backlit ear could be made to sing in comparison.  The child's ear had a sweetness to it which, along with the pensive pose, attracted me enough to take the picture in the first place.

Like every painting, this one was 1/4 part inspiration and 3/4 parts rational, problem solving.

Happy painting!

Friday, June 28, 2013

What a Painting Says

Wading Woman
24 x 20
We've experienced catastrophic flooding in my city and other southern Alberta communities over the past week so my wading paintings have taken on a new psychology for me.  Ironically, the Google image for the day of the flood was of a family in a swell of water, the waves washing over them as they stared out of the screen at us.  It was supposed to be cheery but felt sinister as I listened to the sirens and bullhorns of the police evacuating homes near mine.

Viewers bring a lot to images, creating a story that's informed by their own experiences.  I often wonder what the collectors of my work see in the children that I've painted.  Do they remind them of their children, or their own childhoods?  Are they a memory or a wish?

I saw this woman on an overcast day at the beach last a few years ago.  She stood in the water while her kids ran in and out, ignored by her.  There was something pensive and separate about her (or so it seemed to me) and I'd meant to paint her for a long time.  The mystery of her personality seemed suited to a broken, ambiguous surrounding and I worked at keeping her both isolated and intermingled with her environment.

I hope she's thinking happy thoughts.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Paintings Shipped to BC Galleries

16 x 12

White Linen
10 x 8

Minnows There
24 x 12

These are just a few of the paintings that I recently sent to Rendezvous Art Gallery in Vancouver and Tutt Art Gallery in Kelowna.

16 x 12
I love painting, but I'm not big on packing and shipping, so I send large amounts when I do put a shipment together.  It takes most of a day to wrap, make boxes and secure each painting against damage and the clean up of little bits of cardboard and styrofoam makes me weary just thinking about it. But it's a wonderful feeling when the paintings are gone, the studio shelves are bare, and I can envision new work filling it up again.

If you're in Vancouver or Kelowna, I hope you'll stop in and check out the galleries.

Pearl Onions and Peonies
24 x 12

Summer Explorer
36 x 36

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Learn from the Master

After Sorolla
8 x 10

I've been enjoying the summer sun and warm light and it's really influenced my choice of subjects in the studio.  A long-time favourite of mine is children in water because the mood of these paintings is so uplifting, and the light bouncing around the figures and off of the water are such a challenge.  I don't always succeed, but that only seems to make me want to try harder next time.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to copy a Sorolla painting from a wonderful book by Blanca Pons Sorolla, his great granddaughter.  I figure there's no better education in the effect of light on the figure in water than to copy the work of a man who was mastered it.

Reproductions are always suspect; you never know if the printed version of a painting (or the Internet one, for that matter) actually matches what you'd see in real life, but I figured that if I liked the reproduction, it didn't really matter how true to life it was.

So here are the most important things that I learned:

- keep the shadows high key.  Despite the fact that it's a sunny day and there are lots of cast shadows, the feeling of powerful illumination is greater if the shadows stay light.  That makes the viewer believe that there is a lot of bouncing, reflected light.  Try it: paint a figure with a broad range of values from very dark in the shadows to very light on the light-struck planes and compare it to one in which you don't hit those real darks.  You'll find there's an airy luminous feeling to the latter sketch.

- put a lot of warmth in the water.  This works in this particular scene because of the close up, top view of the shore line.  What we're seeing is the sand under the water as well as the reflected blue sky on the tops of waves.  It wouldn't work if the water you were depicting was off in the distance.  Then you'd only see the colour of the reflected sky.

- keep it colourful but not straight from the tube.  Like flowers under the bright sun, the colours on the children's skin and the little girl's dress are rich and warm, but I was surprised by how little pure colour I needed to recreate the painting.  There are no modern colours like magentas or pthalos in this painting; it's mostly made up of cad red light, ultramarine, yellow ochre and a touch of cad yellow light in the hat.  All of the mixtures are grayed out but they still manage to sing because the colour temperatures are carefully observed.

- Sorolla could really paint!

This exercise was inspiring and I feel like it launched me toward some exciting new paintings.  I'll post them when the appear.

Happy painting!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Painting Retreat in Mexico 2014

I'm going back to Mexico in February to teach another painting workshop at the Casa Buena Art Retreat.  It was amazing last year: the light, the sun, the people and the chance to stand on a beach and paint in February.  I have to do it again!

Casa Buena is located on the western coast of Mexico in the Nayarit region.  We land in Puerta Vallarta where our hosts pick us up.  From that moment until they drop us off at the airport a week later, everything is taken care of: meals, accommodation, and excursions.  All we have to do is paint and enjoy.

I'll be teaching plein air, portraiture/figurative and still life this year.  That sounds like a lot, but it's actually not.  My method is the same for any subject and my aims are too: intelligent use of colour, designing the shapes, and applying paint in a logical, decisive way.  Workshoppers will hear me say the same things whether I'm discussing the landscape, the figure or a piece of Mexican pottery that we're using in a still life set up, and, by the end of the week, they'll have a strong methodology that will serve them for any subject that they choose to paint.

I hope you'll join me for this adventure.

If you'd like more information or to register, please contact me or Jane at the Casa Buena Art Retreat.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Painting Metal

Pearl Onions and Peonies
24 x 12
Painting metal, like painting skin, seems to intimidate students but it's actually pretty easy and I think it's a lot of fun. I enjoyed the challenge of rendering the reflections and distortions across the surface of this brass pot because it was an exercise in simplification and colour modification.

The painting was about simplification because there were many more marks in the reflection than I put into the painting.  The most important thing to keep sight of was that I was trying to create a believable form, and the more reflections in the metal, the more the form broke apart and became hard to read as solid.  So I sacrificed some of the interesting little reflections in order that the pot felt like a single, rounded object.  By editing for the fewest, big shapes that I could, this became easy.  I could depict the surface as, essentially, a dark top and light bottom part with the reflection of the little square dish and a couple of the pearl onions in the middle.  Although I could see my easel and a lot of other details reflected in the brass, I left them out and just put in these few major shapes.

The colour modification was interesting because I had to render the reflections that I saw in the pot with the correct influence of warm, yellow brass.  So the green dish became warmer in reflection and the white table cloth looked almost peach coloured.

None of this was guess work; the set up was right in front of me and I just had to look.  The tricky part was, as always, understanding what I was seeing and translating that in simple terms to the canvas.

The peonies gave me no end of trouble, but that's another blog post.

Happy painting!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Summer Colour

Minnows There
24 x 12
Summer's here - or at least it's stopped snowing - and I'm looking back at some of the photos that I took at the beach last year.

This pose wouldn't usually strike my fancy because it's just one long vertical, devoid of interesting negative spaces, but the slight curve to the body and the answering reflection below the boy intrigued me, as did the challenge of painting the gauze of the net.

I pushed the colour of the boy's skin in the shadows, making it a very intense red-orange and that set the tone for the rest of the painting, allowing me to mix lots of vibrant colour in the water.

It's an optimistic painting: a return to the outdoors and the warmth of the sun after a really long winter.
Am I tempting fate?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pigment Brands

White Linen\
10 x 8
This is a limited palette painting - sort of.  I used the Zorn palette of yellow ochre, cad red light, ivory black and titanium white, but I added transparent red oxide without which I find it hard to start a painting.  It's the colour that I use to draw the initial composition and, with the addition of ultramarine blue, the initial shadow colour.

I've been experimenting with burnt sienna in the hopes that it would give me more robust coverage, but that proved a false road.   Transparent paints tend to be more powerful tinters than opaque or semi opaque pigments, and I found I was using a lot of burnt sienna in an attempt to replicate the strength of trans. red oxide.  It it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I use a variety of brands even within this limited palette because there's a surprising amount of colour variation even in something as simple as yellow ochre.   So my limited palette contains 3 different brands: M. Graham, Winsor Newton, and Lefranc and Bourgeois.

M. Graham has great, reasonably-priced paint.  I love the buttery consistency and powerful tinting strength and it has, in my opinion, one of the prettiest yellow ochres.  Yellow ochre often tends toward a dull brown, but I love the warm yellow of Graham's version.  I use their cad red light and transparent red oxide as well, not because I've made a careful study of this pigment in other brands, but because it's hard to beat their price and I've got no complaints with the colour or tinting strength.

My ivory black is Winsor Newton.  It makes a gorgeous, muted blue when mixed with white and makes lovely greens with ochre and smoky purples with the cad red light.

Lefranc and Bourgeois brand is a new addition to my palette.  I've been increasingly aware of the huge difference that white makes and have tried a lot of different kinds in the past few months: Winsor Newton titanium white, flake white hue, and transparent white; Gamblin titanium and flake white replacement; and Graham titanium.  I've sworn off of the beautiful semi-transparent zinc white because of it's brittleness when dry; I'd be too worried that it would crack with the natural expansion and contraction of the linen support.

The challenge with white is that it's necessary for building body and creating impasto, but it easily corrupts colour.  I was on the verge of buying a lead white which would give me a warm, semi-transparent white, but read about the wonders of L and B. titanium and so decided to give it a try.  It really is good: creamy but not melting and not as cold as many titaniums.  So while I can't buy it in my city, the wonders of online shopping allows me to use this as my new white.   I still grab for the flake white replacement from Gamblin for its snotty consistency ( their description) when I want instant texture, but I'm sure that I could boost the textural possibilities of the Land B by soaking up some of its oil on cardboard before use.

Reading this, I see that I've become a real paint snob, but there are worse vices in the world.  Call it discerning and it even becomes a virtue.

Happy painting!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dealing with Warm and Cool Colour

Dancer in Green
14 x 11
I'm taking a break from still life in the studio for a while and mining some old photos for paintings.  If I go too long without painting a person, I get antsy and don't feel like I'm doing my best work.

This comes from a model painting session in which I achieved absolutely nothing, nada, bupkis (I was a bit frustrated; can you tell?) but got some great photos when our model walked through a series of graceful dance moves at the end of the session.

The challenge here was to create rich and varied dark skin colours and to capture the effect of light on them.
While most of the illumination was from north-facing windows and a couple of skylights, I'd added a warm, halogen flood light to create shadows.  The resulting warm/cool effect was beautiful, but tricky.

The solution was to use alizarin as my main red in the cool side and add a lot of cad red light and cad yellow deep into the flood-lit side.  As well, because the model's skin is already a warm colour, I couldn't achieve much drama from adding warm, orange or yellow-based highlights on the right side, so I went with a greeny-yellow, making use of the effects of complimentary colour to boost the illusion of strong light.  But, if you squint, you'll see that the highlight on the right shoulder is no lighter in value than the pinks and purples on the left side of her neck.  It's amazing how adding a lot of yellow tricks the eye into believing that an area is much lighter than it actually is.  If I'd used a lot of white to highlight her skin, it wouldn't have made sense.  The model's skin is dark, and the highlights have to be fairly dark as well.

I'm always amazed by the amount of problem solving that goes on in even a small painting.  I think that all that brain work keeps artists young.

Happy painting!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Successful Portrait Workshop

Rhymes with Ian
20 x 16
The portrait demo and workshop went off without a hitch - to my great relief.

This is the piece that I did in the 3 hour demo on Friday.  I confess to tweaking the background and adjusting a few edges when I got it home, but I was happy with the level of completion that I managed to get.  Also nice was the fact that I got some really luscious paint on the canvas.  My goal was to demonstrate wet-in-wet layering, something that requires that you put ever-thicker layers on top of each other and which can certainly get out of control if you're not on your toes.

The audience was knowledgeable and had some great questions about the process and materials and I think seeing the full portrait evolve was really helpful for the workshop the next day.  It was nice for the students to have the full 6 hours to paint and I enjoyed the low-key start to the day.  All that I had to do was remind the group about the way to start and stop them for short tutorials throughout the day.  It was a far cry from the usual frenetic pace.

The title: my model's name is Rhean.  She told me to pronounce it as "rhymes with Ian" and I couldn't get that out of my head for the rest of the workshop.  She was an excellent, patient model and was the inspiration for some very good pieces on Saturday.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Finding Still Life Objects

Pickle Jar
24 x 28
This composition came about because I bought the low sodium pickles instead of regular.  For the first time ever, my pickles got mouldy in the fridge, turning them into painting subjects, not food.

Knowing that one of my largest objects would be green, I chose a complimentary piece of red fabric to place behind it and linked this dark fabric to the foreground by sprinkling in some red pearl onions.  This created a nice circular composition and broke up the expanse of white tablecloth.  I find small, nondescript objects really useful in still life set ups and put dried leaves, petals, onions and other little things in wherever I need to link the major elements, break up space, or create a path for the eye.  They're versatile little workers.

Sliced bread is something that I've been wanting to use for a long time.  I love its value range from the dark, warm crust to the near-white interior.  Its silhouette is wonderfully interesting as well, full of irregular bumps and crevices. 

The chopsticks in the foreground serve as both a lead in to the circular rhythm of the set up and to punctuate it so that it didn't become repetitive.  They are an edgy, rigid element in an otherwise organic, rounded group of objects.

Altogether, they'd make a strange meal for the stomach but a nice one for the eyes.

Happy painting!