Sequence of Events, Order of Importance

March 31, 2014
Cupcake, watercolor sketch, about 4x4 in.

Cupcake, watercolor sketch, about 4×4 in.

There is a sequence to the way I build a painting. I start with a foundation or structure and build the other components on top, if the structure is not sound, the painting will not hold together. I often tell my students to think of it as baking a cake, you have to make the cake first before you can put the frosting and decorations on it.

In painting, the structure is the composition–if the composition is not effective, the painting will not be successful. Therefore, composition is #1 in my order of importance. It is closely followed by the drawing–correct proportion, perspective and values are vital to creating a sense of depth and space. I cannot put enough emphasis on this second stage of the process as it truly determines whether or not the painting will have dimension. This is followed by color, if working in color (I always view color as optional), the palette must be cohesive and harmonious. The colors must accurately match the values mapped in during the previous stage, if not, the piece will lose its depth and dimension. The last part of the process is the addition of surface texture and detail–again, to me this is optional. I believe a painting that has good structure and form can stand on its own without a lot of surface detail. However, that is up to the individual artist–if you like detail and surface texture, always be sure that it enhances rather than detracts from the overall form of the subject. Too much detail and patterning can flatten the dimension of the form. Be sure the details you add follow the contour and lighting of the form. There will be less detail visible in areas that are in shadow, and more in those that are in light.

I find that following this “order of importance” or sequence ensures a successful end result. It just requires a little bit of forethought and discipline, don’t be in a hurry to get to the pretty colors, it’s the composition, form and values that need the most attention!

Time Well Spent

March 15, 2014
white tulips, watercolor study from direct observation

white tulips, watercolor study from direct observation

I firmly believe in managing my time as efficiently as possible. I teach 7 courses in drawing and painting every week, plus a weekend workshop or two each month. That does not leave a lot of time for developing ideas for my own paintings. I have a solo show later this year, some new work needed for one of the galleries that represents me and I’d like to begin planning a workshop in Europe for 2015. Here are the things I do to ensure my work stays fresh and that I keep growing as a painter.


- Practice Everyday – this means EVERY day. I always take at least 20 minutes to focus on some form of drawing or painting purely for the sake of practice. It may be a little water color study, a pen and ink drawing or just a quick gestural sketch or two in charcoal. Whatever it is, it is done purely with the intent of building skill with no expectation in terms of an end result. The end result is learning.

- Develop Awareness – ideas for paintings are all around us. I am always composing in my mind as I walk down the street, drive my car, or ride public transportation. I look at things and think of how they might carve up the space on a canvas, and how I would put the paint down, and what medium would depict them the best. This builds observation skill and opens your mind to new ideas for subject matter.

- Speak Clearly with Paint – for me, that means getting across the message you are trying to convey with your painting with as few strokes as possible. Before you can do that, you have to know what your message is, why do you want to paint your subject? What are you trying to say with it? It does not have to be narrative, it may be purely visual or purely abstract. The important thing is to know what you want to say, and to say it clearly and concisely, make every stroke count.


Sketching In the Car in Winter

February 24, 2014
Farmer's field sketched from my car, watercolor

Farmer’s field sketched from my car, watercolor

The Northeast has been buried under lots of snow this winter.  I’ve enjoyed painting it in the studio using some references I’ve taken as departure points, and also have rediscovered an interest in pen & ink sketching from my window. I have missed painting on location though, so I went out this morning in search of a good place to paint from the car.

The hardest thing about painting in the car is finding a good place to do it. Some of the best vantage points are on busy roads, and where I live, these can be very hilly, winding and narrow–with no good place to pull over and park. I find using watercolor or pen & ink to be the easiest and cleanest way to sketch in the car. I’ve worked with pastel, but it really is too dusty for a confined space. Using hard pastels however, does help a lot.

I keep a small back pack readily available and usually in the car with the following supplies:

- Winsor Newton portable watercolor set

- Small bottle of water and a little container

- Moleskine watercolor sketchbooks

- A few paper napkins

- Mechanical pencil for making notes about location

- Sharpie marker for any ink I may want to add

This small bag ensures that no matter where I am, I have what I need to sketch at a moment’s notice. I often find I have time before classes or when running to and from appointments and having the materials with me enables me to sketch wherever I happen to be. If you are pressed for time, try assembling a little kit like the one I describe. It doesn’t have to be a watercolor kit–you can substitute pencil, colored pencil, charcoal or pen & ink. It’s a great way to get in more practice time and build your skills for when the weather warms up!




Drawing Subjects in Motion from Life

February 19, 2014
Gestural study of birds, from life and memory, watercolor

Gestural study of birds, from life and memory, watercolor

Bird in about 5 strokes, charcoal and Sharpie, 1 minute sketch from direct observation

Bird in about 5 strokes, charcoal and Sharpie, 1 minute sketch from direct observation

Remember all those figure sketches you had to do in 30 seconds in life drawing class? Didn’t they seem like a waste of time, because after all, what can you really draw in 30 seconds? Many years later, I am finding quick, gestural drawing to be an excellent way of really understanding how subjects move.  By working quickly, you are forced to grab the purest essence of what makes a bird a bird–how it balances on a branch, how its feathers puff out against the cold, how it looks as it takes off with its wings fully spread.

Drawing in this manner is appropriate for any subject that you wish to depict in motion–cars, figures, animals–anything that moves! I find the best media for this to be ones that are the most immediate, charcoal and watercolor work very well because you can block in large areas with form and value. Throw a little bit of line work on top with a Sharpie, and you are able to really capture the movement quickly and efficiently.

Try not to focus on the outcome when you do this–rather, try to learn something about the subject you are studying. That’s why it’s called studying, because you are doing it with the intent of learning, not of creating something that is a masterpiece.


Why I Shared My Facebook Movie

February 5, 2014
Why I Shared My Facebook Movie

Why I Shared My Facebook Movie

Facebook was all a buzz last night with talk of the Facebook Movies released in celebration of Facebook’s 10th Anniversary. Many users were aghast with concerns over privacy violation and sharing of content without their permission.

Well, guess what? When you agree to use Facebook, and you put content on your profile or your likes page, they have access to it and can manipulate it as they choose. They cannot share anything you don’t mark as public however, so if you got freaked out by your movie, rest assured, no one saw it but you unless you opted to make it public and share it!

You DO have options–you can either not share it, or you can delete it (just go to the “Options” tab below the movie and select “Delete”).

However, I have chosen to share mine. I look at it this way, if Facebook wants to make a nice little video of my paintings for me for free…COOL!!! I have no concerns about the content because I carefully curate all of my posts. I only post topics that have to do with my paintings, exhibits or classes and workshops. Facebook for me is a business tool, and while many artists claim to use their profiles that way, they intermix the business with political, religious and personal content. I believe this is a mistake.

First of all, there some things that should always remain private–medical histories, divorces, break ups, family disputes, funerals, lost weekends and anything that you wouldn’t want the world to know about fall into this category. Even if you use Facebook for personal reasons, posting content of this nature on the internet is just not a good idea. Think of it this way–the people who need to know something as private as these things in your real life, probably already know, so why share it on Facebook?

Also, remember,you have the ability to make personal posts private–use it!!! You can even select specifically who you want to share individual posts with.

The above seem to me to be the obvious things to leave off your Facebook page. However, there are things you can do that go beyond the obvious damage control as suggested above, that will make your page or profile compelling for users and increase its value as a marketing communications tool. Here are a few guidelines I use when choosing what to post:

- Be concise. Users don’t want to read a novel, they are just browsing for items of interest. Post a picture rather than just a status.

- Make sure the photos you post are clear and well lit. No one wants to look at a bad photo.

- Know your target audience! Choose pictures of content that will be of interest to people you want to reach. For example, my target audiences are: artists who may be prospective students, collectors, and galleries. Sure my high school friends and family can see it too, but so what, they can always hide me from their Newsfeed if I’m boring them.

- Your page is not really all about YOU–it’s about your audience! They do not need to see you as much as they need to know about or see your product or service (in my case my paintings and classes). A shot of you here or there is fine, but not 100 awkward shots of you standing in front of your paintings. A good head shot for a profile picture is a must, have it taken professionally or by someone who knows how to capture you at your best. Above all, be sure you look natural, avoid trying to look like a “serious artist”, just be yourself.

So, think before you post…always ask yourself, is this something that I want the world to see? And when in doubt, leave it out!

Paint Less, Practice More

January 27, 2014
White objects, value study in watercolor, about 11x14 in.

White objects, value study in watercolor, about 11×14 in.

It occurred to me as I was teaching a workshop this weekend that new artists often take on the task of painting a “real” painting without doing any practice first. In fact, many don’t practice at all, but regard every painting as a formal painting that should turn out ready to be framed. It simply doesn’t work that way! In order to build a consistent quality of work, you need to practice more and not put pressure on yourself to create a masterpiece every time you pick up a brush. That should not even be your intent when you are practicing, you should instead be focused on learning and being aware of your strengths and the areas you need to address.

For example, in the study above, I was focused on:

- creating a sense of volume and form through the use of values

- comparing object placement and size to get the correct proportional relationships

- allowing the paint to form lost and found edges based on the way the shadows and light interplay with foreground and background

- paint flow and control without sacrificing fluidity

Did I get a masterpiece out of doing this? NO! of course not, but I did get a study that has an interesting composition, properly drawn forms, correct value relationships and a pleasant color harmony–so, all in all, a decent painting. Again, not a masterpiece, but a good painting.  The point is, the more frequently you paint in practice mode, the more consistent you become in building the skills that will make even your practice paintings good, viable studies that show that you have a firm understanding of the principles of painting. From there, you can continuously build and develop your skills and as you do, many of these principles will become second nature. That is when you will truly start to see improvement in your confidence and what will allow you to become more creative.

Every painting you paint will never be a masterpiece, but the more practice you do, the more consistent and confident you will become. That will allow you to produce your best work and get the most satisfaction from the process of creating.

My Classes for Jan. 21 at VACNJ are CANCELLED due to the Approaching Storm

January 21, 2014

Attention VAC NJ students. ALL of my classes for today, Tuesday, January 21, are CANCELLED. The art center is open as of now but I will not be there. We will have a MAKE UP at the end of the semester. Stay safe!


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