Sunday, April 29, 2012


6x6", oil on canvas board

This is the third painting I did on that same day, and I decided to add a different element: The duck. I'm still working on colors bouncing around in the water and through the glass. And while I've been working mostly  with black base coats, I think I decided to experiment with yellow. I'm thinking I like the black.

And this one feels a bit like a step backwards. Some of it might be that I broke the rule about not having things be the same: I have the same distance between the border and the top of the flower, the left side of the jar, and the duck's butt. And I just noticed that the horizon line is right in the middle. I think the focal point is the duck, but it's not clear. Yeah, hmm, all those things pretty effectively kill the drama.

An artist friend of mine knows of someone who has a list of things he goes through when he evaluates his paintings. I've avoided making such a list, but maybe I should.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


6x6", oil on canvas board

This was the second painting I did on the same day as the prior post. I wanted to use a lot of cobalt blue (I don't know how it looks on your monitor). I used a piece of cloth again, but a different one. And I had a lot of colors to figure out! The blues in the cloth vary Some are solid and dark, others mixed with white. Then each color is modified by shadow or glass or water. And you have to choose how to abstract what you see because the reflections change if you  move your head even slightly. It's almost like a puzzle. Seriously.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Say What?"

6x6", oil on canvas board

I sometimes wonder how daily painters come up with something to paint, day after day. Me, I anguish over my setups for ages. But, of course, the solution is to use some of the same elements over again. This one uses the same elements as the prior painting but with one flower instead of three, and with the addition of the striped cloth.

And that time and effort can be important: I had decided to do three paintings this day, and if I spent ages setting each one up, it would hamper my ability to do them all. So, this is the first. I did it in the morning. Then I did the second one in the afternoon, and the third in the evening. Of course, I had optimistically thought I could do all three by mid-afternoon, but no. Life happens, or my focus comes and goes. I actually ponder why painting is easy some days and hard other days, and there seem to be a number of factors: excitement about the work; energy level, like how much sleep you got, and if your schedule is full; mood, which is related to energy level; when your productive times are; if you have everything set out and ready (today I spent time washing brushes); and probably some other stuff. About the productive times, I've found that mine are around 7 am, 4 pm, and midnight. These are roughly eight hours apart. I can't paint during all of them, since I wouldn't get enough sleep, but it's useful to know. "I should be painting! Augghh! Oh, it's 1 o'clock. Things will pick up in a few hours."

As for this painting, it was fun figuring out how to run the stripes through the water. And I enjoyed creating the colors for the shadows. But things might be looking a bit cartoonish, I see some perspective issues, and I wish the bottle looked crisper. Still, the paintings are getting better. Must keep my eyes on the prize.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"By A Nose"

6x6", oil on canvas board

We continue. The massing is going pretty well. And the shadows. I need to think about whether I want details like those lines down the petals; I like to put in a few, but I'm beginning to think they don't add much.

This piece presents lessons in working the background. Like, decide whether you want the strokes to be random or in a specific direction. These strokes support the way the flowers are leaning out and make it look like they're racing (hence the title). I also like to let some of the underpainting show through; makes it feel more honest. I've also found that it's nice to have kind of a lighter area around the objects I'm painting. It highlights them and makes them come forward.

Another issue I started to work on was putting down a lot of paint. It's one of the truisms of painting, and I wanted to play with it. And, yes, I'm discovering that the first layers should be thinner and drier, and they get thicker and wetter as they build up. If you don't make the bottom layer dry, then the paint that's on your brush during later layers just pushes the existing paint around. You want the new paint to be willing to exit the brush and sit on top of existing paint.

OK. Complementary colors, some energy, the focal point is nicely off center. I still need to work on the glass and water, more colors in the background, like maybe a warm and cool of the same color, and maybe some perspective. But things are improving.

UPDATE: I had some process pictures on a different camera. Here they are:

You can see that I'm painting on black. Above, finding some bright bits to play with. Then, below, using my yellow/orange mixes to create flower shadow right from the beginning. I sometimes prefer paintings at this phase. There's something raw about them.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Stop Staring"

6x8", oil on canvas board

For this one I went back into a painting I did long ago and didn't like, and applied the ideas of massing and generalizing. And using interesting shadows and highlights. And I invented the stripes in back. The part that I think is the most interesting is the colors on the tiny glass vase.

It's improved. It lacks the polish of the ones I'm doing now. I think one problem is related to what I mentioned yesterday about things being the same. The color on this one is roughly equally split between white and purple. It has no identity. There are a couple of good ways to think about that. One is to ask "what color of painting is it?" Not foolproof, but not bad. Another is to think of it as a martini recipe, which (I think) should be about 60/30/10, proportionately.

And, of course, break this or any rule if you can make it work. That's way fun.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Duet" and "Ka-Pow"

Duet, 6x6", oil on canvas board

The two paintings I posted yesterday taught me about massing, so I thought I'd try it again. I chose basically the same composition to see if I could do it better, but changed the background color. The result is below. I still found myself painting individual petals. Grumble...  Then I took out the top left flower, tried it again, and squinted more. What I wanted to see the dark and light portions of each flower. The painting above was the outcome. Much, much better. And, hey look: Shadow edges on flower petals are softer than the outer edge of the petal. (Right. You knew that.)

Ka-Pow, 6x6", oil on canvas board

Would the lower of the two pieces (Ka-Pow) have worked without the massing? I'm not really sure. The upper left flower pulls your eye out of the piece. And the value pattern ain't so hot. And everything is the same size. I run into this occasionally in my paintings: Too many things are the same size.

So, one trick I learned for checking your composition is to look along the edges of your painting, at how often the color changes along the edge, and whether it's utterly symmetrical (likely to be boring) or varied (likely to be interesting). I added "likely to be" because there's always someone who can break a rule and make it work. Dang it!

And if you want to read more on the issue of things being the same and how to fix it, get The Simple Secret to Better Painting, by Greg Albert. Good stuff there.

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Jostling" and "Time Out"

Jostling, 6x6", oil on canvas board

So, as I mentioned in the prior post, I'm trying to loosen up my painting, so I'm going back to frequent small exercises. Being loose means a lot of things. For me it means being painterly and feeling more relaxed -- mostly -- while I'm painting. I got tired of feeling tense and perfectionistic.

OK, so, I did the painting below (blue basecoat). It made me impatient with myself (I might have to paint over it). But you don't paint every petal! You know how they say to mass in the general shapes? I haven't been doing that enough! So I simplified the composition and redid it and came up with the above (black basecoat). Better. OK, I see a few problems, but it's in the right direction.

Time Out, 6x6", oil on canvas board

I looked online to see what people said about painting loosely. One page said that to paint loosely, you put down the paint once and don't touch it. Fixing it is what looses the freshness. It brings to mind a wonderful exercise we did in the Carol Marine workshop I took long ago: How many strokes does it take you to do a painting? I did a little 6x8" in about 200 strokes.

What did I learn so far? Set up your still life so there are interesting shadows. Then I like to mix my main colors on my palette. Then mass in the shapes just like they say in the books. Spend time loading your brush the way you want, then put down the stroke. Use a couple of variants of each color to add richness and build dimension. Don't be too attached to making it match your setup. Instead, be interested in what's on the canvas. Use the setup only for reference. As the painting continues, you should look at the canvas more and more and the setup less and less.

Monday, April 16, 2012


5x5" or so, oil on unstretched canvas

So there are a few skills that I want to work on, so I've decided to go back to my small still lifes. I don't know for how long. Like this blog's title, as long as it feels right.

What it came out of was that I was painting these figurative abstract pieces, and I'd have a sketch or a photo to work form, and I'd find myself trying to replicate it much too carefully. I want to use it as inspiration, but take the painting where I want it to go.

So the skill I'm trying to learn is to paint looser. That's what everyone wants to learn, right? It's kind of the holy grail of painting. So I decided to do some little studies. This one came out reasonably well. I also went and looked at Daily Paintworks, since they have a really nice collection of active painters. And I started to pick up a few tips and develop some criteria. I'll get into those in posts in the near future. But for right now, let's start saying what loose painting is not:

  • Cautious
  • Tight
  • Realistic
OK. More later.