How not to frame a painting

I haven't been sleeping well lately.  Maybe it's the realization that summer is ending or maybe it's the phases of the planets - whatever the cause, sleep deprivation rules and has me prone to making mistakes.  And I made a doozy on this painting. 

Framing in-progress works is a great way to tell if they're finished or to highlight problem areas, so I put this piece in a frame when it felt potentially done.  It wouldn't stay put, however: it kept falling out which didn't allow me to judge the effect of the framing.  I decided to shoot some framing darts in to hold the painting in place for a good examination.  Picking up the "framing tool" from my work table,  I pressed it onto the back of the panel, and confidently squeezed.  It was actually the staple gun.  Same colour, heft and means of deployment - a squeeze - but different outcomes.

The staple blew a piece of the birch panel up, making the work instantly unsaleable.

The interesting moment came, h…

commissioned work

I recently finished this very enjoyable commission for a client in eastern Canada. 

Commissions can be daunting because I know that the client has an idea of what they want the finished piece to look like.  In their minds are all the paintings they've ever admired and those that they've disliked on sight.  They have favourite colours which can vary from loathed colours by a tiny, but significant difference in hue or value, and they know exactly how realistic or stylized they like a work to be.   But they can seldom articulate these subtle biases.  Like most of us, they know what they like but couldn't specify why. 

So when this client asked me to create a work based on Klimt's "Flower Garden" but incorporating colours and blooms from my past work, I was nervous.  There were a lot of variables of colour and composition to get just right.

Luckily, this client has an amazing colour vocabulary and the ability to convey her mental image clearly in words.  She ref…

The problems with photo references in my latest Artsy article

I've always spent a lot of my time working from life, feeling that the work I produce from the real world resonates with me long after I've completed it.  Maybe it's because the paintings done from life are imbued with so many more memories and impressions than those that I've done from photos. 

I can recall the changing quality of the light on my subject, and how flickers of colour revealed and concealed themselves as time passed.  As well, I remember the mental gymnastics that it took to acknowledge what my eyes were seeing, but paint something else because it better recreated the sensation of the scene.  In the painting above - done at breakneck speed while the sun tracked across my studio through a skylight - I saw intense, highly saturated, hot orange along the top edge of the flower, but when I painted it that way, it didn't say "light" in the same way that a cooler, lighter colour statement did.  So objective reality had to be sacrificed to convey…

Limited palettes simplified

I've been writing a monthly article for Artsy Magazine's creativity strand.  Most are about painting and studio practises, and I admit they're always a huge struggle.  Writing for an editor is very different than writing a blog for myself.   I keep doing them, though, because it feels so good when I finish a piece.  It's the same feeling of accomplishment that I get when I solve a particularly tricky painting.

This month's piece which is about limited palettes and it has pictures to illustrate the concepts.  I hope you'll have a read.

To see the all of my articles, google Ingrid Christensen Artsy (which is very descriptive and apt), and you'll get links.

Happy painting!

Foundations of oil painting 12 week class

Dates: Thursdays, September 5 - November 21, 2019 Time: 9 am - 12 pm Location: Calgary, AB
Swinton's Art Supply **3 Spots left**
I'll be teaching a comprehensive 12 week class about oil painting methods and materials beginning on September 5.  There are still 3 spots available if you'd like to join me.

This class is designed for beginners and painters in other mediums who would like to ge a solid grounding in oil painting from a complete paint geek. 

We'll cover everything that you need to know to make paintings that will stand the test of time, and we'll work with painter safety as a priority.  Using oils doesn't need to be a toxic pursuit, and you'll learn how to paint with minimal or no solvents to keep yourself healthy and painting into ripe old age.

For the low down, please see my website.  You can use the contact form to register or to ask me questions.


I pulled out the cherry blossom robe again in honour of spring and because I find that painting the same thing over and over forces me to look for new ways to depict it.  This robe has inspired a lot of experimentation in palettes and paint applications.
The version at the bottom is how the painting looked after my first attempt.  It was straight forward alla prima painting and I thought the result was "ok" - which is damning with faint praise.  
The biggest issue was the sap green background.  That was an experiment in transparent darks that didn't end up suiting my aesthetic.  Sap is a transparent pigment and its rich colour and glassy transparency looked unpleasant, refusing to integrate with the opacity and impasto of the figure and robe.   The piece wasn't bad enough to scrape off, so I let it dry and thought about it for a couple of weeks. 
A clue for the next step came from the upper right corner of the painting in which I'd scumbled some cool, opaque gre…

Edges in photos and life

Last weekend I taught a "Painting from Photos" workshop to a keen bunch of painters.  One of the concepts we worked on was the power of edges, and how to break out of the camera's viewpoint when rendering them.

Photos give us the idea that an entire scene can be in crisp focus, no matter how broad, but that's only true if you're a camera.  Humans don't see like that.  What we see is soft edges with only a tiny fraction of sharpness - maybe 2% of our visual field.  Maybe 1%.  It's actually surprising to realize how indistinct our visual experience is.  Too often, though, we forget this when we paint, especially if we're painting from photos.  We end up creating painted photos instead of paintings that show our  view of the world.

The piece above shows how few hard edges you need to make a believable painting.  I've clustered the edges in the focal area near the eye and the upper part of the face while diminishing the edges of forms as they get fu…