Showing posts from 2012

Take a Workshop, Give a Workshop

This is a busy and exciting month for me!  In a couple of weeks I'm off to Scottsdale to take a 5 day portrait workshop with  the extraordinary painter Ignat Ignatov.  I expect to learn a lot and to see some wonderful art in Scottsdale galleries.  I'm especially looking forward to going to Gallery Russia and seeing the luscious paint of Russian Impressionism.

A few days after I get back, it will be my turn.   I'll be teaching a portraiture workshop at the Calgary School of Art on January 26 from 10am to 4:00 pm.  I'm sure I'll have lots of new thoughts and techniques to share with the students.

Please contact the school for more information or to register for my workshop.  I hope to see you there!

Tackling Tricky Lighting

These paintings came out of a recent day of painting with a lovely, model who has unusual colouring.  Her hair is naturally platinum and her skin is like cream.  I was set up on her shadow side, something that turned out to be both difficult and interesting to work around.

In the first painting, I used my usual method of laying in all of the darks, transparently, and then adding local colour.  It was the warm up sketch, and I didn't want to mess with a new approach when I only had 25 minutes.  We ended up extending the painting time on this pose because we all liked it, and because there's never enough time, no matter how much it is.  In total it was 40 minutes.  Much of it was spent in that tiny mouth, nose area, trying to depict some - but not too much - detail.

The second pose lasted for almost 2 hours and I wanted to try something different.  My eyes had become keener from examining the model and I was noticing all of the cool lavender and green hues in her skin and hair…

Banishing the Photo Reference - Mostly

I decided to take my own advice for a change and keep the use of photo references to an absolute minimum.  This landscape was painted from notes and plein air sketches done on site; none of which were stellar on their own, but they contained useful information about colour and shape.  When I ran out of ideas, I allowed myself a quick peek at the photo, never enlarging the image  past thumbnail size on the screen.  That stopped me from noticing all of the detail that those megapixels can capture.

What pleases me most about this painting is the bold colour usage.  Plein air work often has that characteristic because of the speed that you have to work in order to capture the scene before the light changes, but it's often lost in the studio, especially when a painter has the luxury of studying a photo for hours at a time.  A painting can easily get overworked and lose the fresh colour of the sketch.  By forcing myself to  work mainly from the sketch it was possible to avoid that trap…

Tutt Art Exhibition in Kelowna, B.C.

A large selection of my new work is currently on show in the
Autumn in the Okanangan Exhibition at Tutt Art Gallery in Kelowna, BC.  If you're in the area, I hope you'll go in and check it out.  I've only seen the full show online but it looks great: eclectic, colourful and with something for everyone.   Say "hi" to the owner, Martina, for me!

Painting Portraits from Photos Workshop

We all love to look at people and, I've discovered, we love to paint them as well.

I've taught the workshop "Painting Loose and Expressive Portraits from Photos" twice in the past 3 months and I've been asked my several workshoppers to offer it again.  They say that there is so much to learn that seeing it all a second or third time would be really helpful.  I agree, and I am offering it again.

The great thing about teaching it so many times is that I can tweak and refine the workshop with each repetition; cutting out the weak material and honing it to a really effective day. There were some gorgeous paintings the last time, and I know there will be more this time around.

The workshop will be at the Calgary School of Art on Friday, December 14 from 10am to 4pm.
The price is $100, and it's suitable for both oil and acrylic painters.

If you're in Calgary, I hope you'll join me for a great day of portraits and paint.

Painting from Memory

A psychologist would call this denial.  It's -15C outside and as snowy as December and I'm not ready for it. So here is a painting from a photo that I took in the summer.

Colour was my focus as I planned this piece.  The boy's skin caught colour from the sky on his upper surfaces, from the water on planes that faced downward, and also from his own skin.  You can see the latter in the chin and chest where colour bounced back and forth turning both warm and peachy.

The camera didn't capture all of this - no camera can - but I made a lot of mental observations and tried to record the key points in my mind.  Then, using the photo as a supplementary resource to these memories, I painted the picture soon after the actual day.  The photo was really only useful for showing me the shape of the child; everything else was recollection.

While my memory may be faulty in many ways, I think I created a more interesting image by using it than I could have if I'd trusted the ph…

Palette Knife Painting

There's a look to palette knife paintings: rough, chunky and, in the worst instances, repetitive.  It's always made me wary of overusing the knife in a painting and so I've reserved it for embellishment at the end of the painting.  It's been what I used to lay in that last bold, dramatic mark.

Then I watched this incredible demo by Sharon Sprung on the Art Students League NY Youtube channel.  Using large knives, augmented with brushes, Sprung creates a subtle nude in front of her class.  I was amazed!  And of course, I had to try. This painting is the result.

I used the largest knives I could for each area in a bid to keep the piece open and loose, and I laid the paint on thickly but modified it, especially at the edges, with the brush and the knife.  Sometimes the paint got too thick, but scraping it down revitalized the area and made it possible to rework it.

What I noticed was the luminosity that I got in the skin.  The paint went on smoothly, without brushstrokes,…

The End of the Season

This still life catches the edge of fall: wilted, seed-filled sunflower heads from the garden, and the last of my trees' apples, picked off the ground before the dog could make a snack of them.   The blue and white bowl was a gift from my mom.  Setting up objects that are meaningful to me makes it much easier to paint them with feeling.

After a couple of days, the water in the large, glass vase turned a gorgeous amber from the flowers' stems; a  perfect effect to link the yellows throughout the set up.

This was a nice change from all of the photo references that I've been working from lately and it really freshened my eyes, reminding me that real life has so many more colours than photos reproduce.  The main effect that I wanted to capture was the sense of light on all of the greyed colours.  Layering warm and cool colours within the greys set up a vibration and made them glow.  While the effect is colourful, there is very little pure colour in the piece; surrounding ev…

The Complexity of Skin

I heard someone say that skin was iridescent, and he was absolutely right.  The more you look at it, trying to find the right colour to mix, the more colour you see.  It's a muted version of hummingbird feathers.

That's why the Impressionists sometimes painted skin in small, many-coloured marks laid side-by-side, or layered brokenly, wet over dry.  They were trying to capture that complexity of local colour as well as the modifying effect of light on that colour.

Painters in the tradition of Rembrandt tackled the problem with glazes and scumbles, building rich, glowing surfaces without pure, bright colours.  Like glazes in watercolour, the more thin layers of oil that you apply, the richer the result becomes.

This painting attempts to capture the complex colours of skin in an alla prima painting and with large, swift marks.  While I love the Impressionist tradition, I have more of an interest in large, flowing brushwork so I'm always trying to honour the light, the comple…

The Music of Lines

Lines are great!  I love using them to emphasize elements in a still life.  In this painting, the lines came naturally because the jar has a dark design on it; something that I could carry out into the rest of the painting.  They are a playful way to define the peaches and the ribbons that hang off the table, as well as an indicator of rhythm and brush speed.  Does that make sense?

Every brush stroke has a speed and I prefer the dashing, racing ones.  By adding some quick, calligraphic line work after the forms are established, other speedy marks are accentuated and the whole piece, though it's a static subject, gains movement and a quick tempo and fluidity.

Painting is like music and I like my tunes lively.

Happy painting!

Why I Painted this Painiting

I'm reading "True to life: twenty-five years of conversations with David Hockney" by Lawrence Weschler.  
Hockney's intellect is what comes across most in the book.  The man thinks deeply about what he creates and why, and, refreshingly, he can articulate it in plain language. It's made me realize how fascinating it can be to read about artist's intentions.  So this post is about my intentions in "Heading Out".  It's a chance to go beyond the "how" of paint application and tackle the "why" of painting.

Talking about his swimming pool series, Hockney mentions that there is a thin skin on the surface of water which is where distortion takes place; if you go below that skin, there is no distortion.  Though I painted this before I read the book, I realized that "Heading Out" is about that thin, magical skin.  Above the water, it's a boy; below the skin, it's a loosely-grouped assortment of shapes and cool colou…

Medium and Marks

Paint straight out of the tube is usually just a smidge too thick and toothpaste-like to move easily across the canvas.  And that's where the fun and games of oil paint mediums begin.

There is a staggering range of paint-additive possibilities.  Painters can choose from: solvents, oils, alkyds, wax, chalk dust, commercially-made mediums such as Liquin and maroger medium, varnishes, driers, egg white (I read that on a site once) and much more.  
While I tend to keep it simple and use only walnut oil or a 50/50 mixture of oil and mineral spirits, I do, occasionally yearn to achieve a new type of brush mark, so I experiment with other mediums.  In my studio are the nearly-full containers of many such experiments.  
This painting was made using a 50/50 mix of stand oil and mineral spirits.  Stand oil is a traditional medium  made from heat-treating linseed oil.  It flows thick and slow like molasses and creates a shiny, enamel-like surface if used alone.  By cutting it with mineral s…

"Bootcamp" Portrait Workshop October 26

Last weekend I taught a workshop about painting portraits from photos at the Calgary School of Art.  There was a full house and we had a great - and busy - day.  A painter in my class suggested that it should be called "Bootcamp" Portrait Painting so that people would know they were going to work hard!  I like the sound of that.

Because the workshop had a waiting list, I'm offering it again on Friday, October 26 from 10 to 4.

We'll work from photos that the workshoppers bring in using a step-by-step approach.  I'll demo each step using a photo that I bring in, and the class will repeat it using their own photos.

The focus of the day will be on creating believable, 3 dimensional faces from the flatness of a photographic image.  Most painters have struggled with this one, and I've got some strategies to help overcome the problems.

The cost for the day is $100 and it's suitable for both oil and acrylic painters.

If you're in town and would like to jo…

Bee Series Continued

This bizarrely-long summer has kept my garden growing and the bees busy.  Seeing big, slow honey bees  in the heads of my sunflowers every morning, waiting for the sun to warm them enough to move and begin collecting nectar has also kept me busy with paintings.

This is another painting in the bee series.  It's painted on gessoed paper and incorporates gold leaf.  Because gold leaf sticks to anything with even the tiniest bit of oil in it, I placed it first in an abstract doodle, keeping the image of the woman in mind but not drawing her in.  Then I sealed the surface with dilute Galkyd medium and painted over it when everything was dry.

My next bee painting is a large one, well underway, and I'm going to attempt the leafing over dry paint.  Probably not a sensible idea, but I'll let you know how it all turns out.

Enjoy the bee weather!

Mexico Workshop

I invite you to join me for a fabulous week of painting, sunshine and warm hospitality in Mexico this winter.  I'll be teaching a comprehensive workshop at the beautiful Casa Buena Art Retreat in the Mexican back country near old Port San Blas, Nayarit, (80 miles north of Puerto Vallarta) from February 20 to 27, 2013.

The workshop will cover all aspects of plein air and figure painting from making effective colour choices to developing strong compositions and expressive brushstrokes.  And there is no end to the colourful subjects that we'll paint: a busy marketplace, the lush. untouched jungle, a lovely woman in traditional dress and more.  Every day I'll demonstrate and offer individual instruction and feedback.

This workshop is suitable for acrylic and oil painters of any level, beginner to advanced.

While we're busy creating art, Jane and Dallas, our friendly hosts at Casa Buena, will be working to create a memorable experience.  Their beautiful retreat is filled …

Inspiring Fruit

I didn't know what to paint the other day.  My photos seemed stale, no model was booked and I wasn't energetic enough to drive anywhere for plein air.  I debated giving painting a miss and tackling the garden clean up.  Luckily, the fruit bowl held some inspiration and the garden is still a mess.

The peaches that I'd bought at the farmers' market were gorgeous to look at - though dry to taste - and I liked the way they looked with the complementary greenish-grey of the ginger jar, a gift from my mom.  The fabric in the back was a silky, purple dress with a wonderful, long tie, a thrift shop find.  I like using that arrangement as a way to lead the eye into the focal area and also as a sort of lasso to enclose the light.  The whole thing was set up on an old white bed sheet and lit with a flood light.

After I'd done all that thinking and arranging, I'd forgotten all about the half hearted way that my studio day began and was excited to start putting on the pai…

Portrait Workshop at the Calgary School of Art

I'll be teaching a portrait painting workshop at the Calgary School of Art on Saturday, September 22.  Unlike most of my workshops, this one will use photos instead a live model for its subject.   While I think life painting is the best (and the easiest) approach, I also know that most of us use photos for a lot of our work.  It's simply too difficult and expensive to arrange for a model for every new painting.  Lucien Freud managed it, but we mere mortals have to cut some corners.

This workshop will focus on turning those photos into expressive paintings that look like they could have been done from life.  I'll teach students a logical method and some crafty tricks for creating loose portraits from stiff, limited photos.

If you're in Calgary on the 22nd, I hope you'll sign up and join me!

To register, please call The Calgary School of Art: 403-287-7448

Happy painting!

Flatness and Form

I'm a big fan of layers in an oil painting; they create a sense of richness and depth.  But I also appreciate the simplicity of a single, well-judged layer of paint in which the weave of the linen is visible, showing the viewer where that painting's journey began.  My favourite paintings, though, are the ones that combine both qualities: layering and single layers.

In "Rose Jacket" I left a lot of the initial underpainting visible as an interesting contrast to the thickly-layered paint in the woman's jacket and in the light background.  I like the way that the untouched single layer of darks on the right and in the skirt appear flat in comparison to the dimensional feeling of the rest of the figure.    Had I refined these areas with another layer or two, I think I would have sacrificed a lot of interest though I would have created more believable form.

Not every painting gets to keep this much underpainting, but I do try.  Some end up with a second layer every…

Portrait of a Man of the Sea

I recently sent off this painting to Norway, the furthest that any of my work has travelled so far.  It was commissioned by someone that I've never met in person but have had the pleasure to get to know through that world-shrinking tool: Facebook.

The painting was done from several candid photos that the client had taken of her husband over the years.  They showed him at different ages, in both casual and formal clothing, and under many different lighting conditions.  But there was one common thread that really helped me decide on a composition for this painting: in the majority of the photos, the man was on or beside the sea.  I proposed to portray him in his boat and, happily, his wife agreed to the plan.

Then I merged several photos to come up with this pose and lighting.  I didn't use Photoshop, just sketches.  The triangular composition is a stable one and that seemed right for a person who is, according to his wife, a very strong person.  I liked the natural leading li…

Painting People Outdoors

Back in the spring I painted out with a couple of friends in my favourite local park.  When we set up at a spot that I've painted many times, I thought it might be more fun to paint my companions than the same little tributary.  Dale Kirschenman modelled for this while painting a quick sketch of the scene.

I struggled to separate his earth-toned, middle-value jacket from the surrounding earth-toned, middle-value landscape - a bit like trying to paint a camo-clad figure in the woods - and finally succeeded by making the shadows on his back a warm blue (touched with red) and making the water next to this a cool (green-toned) blue.  Leaving some of the brown underpainting to delineate his form also helped sort that area out.  

There was much more land around him in the actual set up: a piece of the bank jutted out over his head on the left, but I found that it made him feel enclosed and oppressed when I painted it in and it was just too busy.  By removing it, I could develop the r…


When the snow finally leaves in the spring, the thing that I look forward to is the emergence of the bees.  I'm always thrilled when they come out because I know they'll make my apple blossoms become apples and the tomato plants bear fruit.  More than 60% of all the food that we eat is the result of the work of bees.

I've been wanting to paint a series about bees for quite a while but it wasn't until I met the gorgeous model for this painting that I found a direction that I liked.  Sian is expecting a baby in 12 weeks and the presence of her burgeoning belly made me think of the fertility that I associate with bees and especially their queens.  

The painting began with the bees, in both gold leaf and paint, and when they were dry, I painted the portrait around and over them.  I particularly liked using linen as a support because the paint stands up nicely on it, allowing me to create texture and unusual layering effects as I integrated the bees into the portrait.


Simplifying Plein Air Subjects

I always aim for simplification and abstraction when painting outdoors; my goal is to capture one thing per painting in a clear, concise way.  But nature is filled with tiny notes of colour, texture and detail and my goal is often hard to achieve.  I get caught up in the "just one more brushstroke..." mentality.

This painting stayed true to my intentions.  While the layers of foliage and the textures of tree trunks were exciting subjects, too, I ignored them as much as possible and focused on the light striking the middle ground shrubs and turning them a brilliant yellow-green.  I sacrificed all of the interesting individuality of the trees (you can tell it was painful for me) and made them into a homogeneous mass.  There were cool, purple notes  in the shadowed trunks and that worked well to set off the warm, glowing area.  Using a complementary colour scheme of purple and near-yellow, I was able to emphasize my focal point and the point of the painting.  

I enjoyed painti…

More Swimming

We've had so much rain lately that water is continually on my mind: how to keep it out of my studio, when to dash out and mow the lawn before it grows past our knees, and where to get a life vest for the dog.  Alright, maybe I exaggerate.  
This is another water painting done from a photo.  The refraction and fragmentation of the form in water is a current obsession of mine.  I'm particularly interested in seeing how little of the swimmer's body I actually have to connect up in order for the painting to make sense.  Like those sentences in psych experiments where every 2nd or 3rd letter is removed and yet subjects can easily read them, the same is true for images of a body in water.  We've seen this effect so often that we can connect the dots with very little trouble and picture the full figure in the water.  I find that viewer participation fascinating.  
Send me some sunshine from wherever you are, and happy painting!

Plein Air Classes Doing Their Thing

My "Painting From Life" students and I have been taking advantage of the nice (and even the somewhat nasty) weather and painting outside for the past few classes.
We've painted beside train tracks in industrial parks, at the Blackfoot Market before it's season opening, and at a couple of stunning local parks.
I've posted some pictures of the intrepid groups below: alternately freezing and cooking but always enthusiastically painting.  Notice the number of Alla Prima Pochade boxes represented in the group; they multiply like rabbits. As soon as a plein air painter sees it, she orders one from Ben Haggett.  And have a look at the lightweight brush holder designed by Daphne Smith to velcro onto her tripod. She put florists' styrofoam with holes inside and impressed us all with the simple effectiveness of this piece of equipment. Painters are creative thinkers.
Classes end this week and I'm a bit sad. I've enjoyed these inspiring and game painters.

The Thrill of Painting

Painting is so much fun for me that if a piece comes together quickly and with a small amount of brush strokes, I feel a bit cheated; like going to a party that's over at 10pm.  
That's why I'm always glad of a chance to paint water.  The multitude of colours and marks that I get to use are a joy.  Maybe Rousseau felt that way too.  That would explain the lavish depictions of colour and form in his jungle scenes.  
This painting was a pleasure to work on because the subject captivated me.  There is an interplay of warm and cool colour, reflected light, fragmentation of form, and patterning.  And all of it conveys my favourite atmosphere: sunshine on a summer's day.  
I'm mulling over a larger swimmer piece right now; imagining in advance what a joy it will be to work on.  Canvas, brushes and lots of paint: life is very good.
Happy painting!

Plein Air in the Mountains

This plein air piece walked the line between a tonalist and a colourist approach to painting.  It was painted in the Kananaskis area at Elbow Falls, a magical, roaring piece of the river which sparkles with light and movement.
I placed the dark bank and rocks at the start, wanting them to stay simple and recessive so that the turquoise, silt-laden, mountain water became the focus of the painting.  But, as often happens, I felt that these dark areas didn't capture the light, fresh feel of the place.  Dark rocks also didn't show the huge amount of reflected light that was bouncing off of the water on that sunny day.  The longer I looked, the lighter and more colourful the rocks actually appeared to be.  It came down to the difference between squinting at the subject or opening my eyes wide: squinting reduced the colour that I saw and showed the pattern of dark objects and shadows through the landscape while opening my eyes wide allowed me to see all of the colour changes.  I ke…

Gold Leaf in a Painting

Maybe because Vienna has proclaimed this to be the year of Gustav Klimt I've become interested in gold in paintings.  I bought some genuine gold leaf a few weeks ago and have been waiting impatiently for an opportunity to use it.  This painting seemed right because of its overall gold tone, and also because of the patterning on the robe.

I painted the majority of the piece and then rubbed away as much paint as possible from the front of the robe.  After it had dried, I painted on the adhesive in those bare spots and waited the 3 hours that it takes for the glue to become tacky.  Then came the really tricky part.

Gold leaf is as fine as spider webs: flimsy and ethereal.  It floats and crinkles in the tiniest air current and will stick to absolutely everything.  Using the special little gilder's brush that I'd purchased, I tried to pick up the 2 square inch piece of leaf.  It rumpled and twisted under the soft bristles and left precious bits of itself like dandruff on my …

Painting from a photo but thinking about life

I've been a bad blogger lately.  Spring gardening duties have filled my weekends and my days are full of paint.  I can't complain.

One of the things I've been doing is working from photos, something that I find difficult to do well.  A photo of a person bears no resemblance to the reality of a 3D person, but if I want to capture the energy of a body in motion, I have to rely on the flat image.

The small painting above was done from a picture of my son heading into the California surf on a recent vacation.  I tried to keep all of the lessons that I've learned during life painting in my head as I rendered the figure: capture the gesture first and confidently, paint a mass, not an outline, use value and colour temperature to model form, and don't get hung up on details - even though a photo has plenty of them.

I'm pleased with the torso in this piece.  There is warm light on the top plane of the shoulders and a cool, receding plane down the vertical of his back.…

Springtime Plein Air

Spring has started and it's an exciting time to go outside and use the pochade box.

I spent a day in my favourite local park last week and was lucky enough to get this view at the first set up.  I loved the subtle backlighting and the suggestion of fresh new green that was peeking out on the trees.  During the course of the warm day, the trees leafed out noticeably and I got a sunburn.  The season really are changing!

This painting was done on double oil primed linen - a surface that hasn't always been lucky for me in the studio.  The marks often seemed characterless.  But, out in the park with a time constraint and lots of distractions, I couldn't fuss with it like I can indoors and that turned out to be a good thing.  I was nearly done the piece before I realized that I hadn't been fighting the surface at all.  The marks have personality and the treatment stayed fresh.  I'm glad that I didn't give up on the linen too soon.

Portrait Gift

This week I received the gift of this painting in my email.  Welsh artist Steven Samuel complimented my blog and sent this portrait of me that he had done from a photo I'd posted. 
I looked Steven up and found out that he is notable for a portrait project that he recently exhibited.  Using celebrities as his subjects, he painted some wonderful, contemporary portraits which he will sell to raise money for a facility called Macmillan Cancer Care.  You can read more about it here and see some of the portraits below.  
Thanks, Steven, for the great gift!  
Happy painting.

When there is no colour to be found

Spring is coming but not all at once.  That would spoil us.  After another demoralizing dump of snow, I went out on Friday to prove my mettle and to paint it before it melted.  
The day turned warm and the snow was gone by the time I left the river, but I did catch the remnants in this painting.  What struck me as I mined the scene for information, was how little colour variation there actually was.  The receding bank was unrelieved from one end to the other.  Flat light from a cloudy sky meant that there were no shadows or highlights to create form and there really wasn't any sense of the land appearing cooler or bluer as it receded from my view.  
That left me with limited means to create depth and interest in this painting.  Diminishing scale in the tree reflections and the brush and trees helped the illusion of depth, as did overlapping shapes, but I was stuck on the "interest" part of the problem.  The colours were variations on grey and there was no pleasing warmt…