Work in Progress: Underpainting Completed, Color Blocked In

April 26, 2010

final version of underpainting

beginning to block in color

Here is today’s progress on this urban landscape. First, I finished the underpainting by adding in an additional figure, some traffic and other architectural elements on the left side of the composition. Next, I began by blocking in large areas of color. In some places, I used a small paint roller for this purpose. The roller leaves behind some nice dry-brush texture that works well on urban themed paintings. As you can see, this piece will have a strong primary color harmony. Lots of yellow ochre, cobalt and alizarin, plus Naples yellow and red ochre. Next I need to pull in some more darks and get the rest of the board covered with color before moving on to the next layer.


What’s on my easel?

April 26, 2010

underpainting, burnt sienna on Ampersand Gessobord tinted with light red ochre gesso

This is the progression of a new piece in acrylic. This is 30×40 on Gessobord (Ampersand brand). More figures need to be added as well as traffic and some street lights, signs on the left. This is the underpainting stage, where it is most important to work out the drawing, values and composition, before working in color. I’ve used burnt umber in this case, but any dark neutral color will work. Stay tuned as this is currently on my easel and I’ll post a step-by-step description of each stage of the painting.

Pastel Demo – Color Harmony

April 24, 2010

Color harmony based on primaries, pastel on Pastelmat

Color harmony based on complements, pastel on Wallis paper

These are two recent demos from my Intro to Pastels class. Both are good examples of different types of color harmony. It is always a good idea to be aware of the main color harmonies that exist in whatever your subject happens to be. With a still life, you have a lot of control over color harmony–if you are setting up the subject, you pick and choose the colors of the objects to include. In each of these, I had a predetermined color harmony in mind.

In the first one, I used primary colored objects (red, blue and yellow) and balanced the colors throughout the compostion to create rhythm and movement. Your eye bounces to connect the repeating shapes and colors, this helps to keep viewers engaged with the composition and encourages exploration without wandering out of the picture plane. For the background, I kept things very suggestive and somewhat abstract, using the colors in the foreground in a muted fashion to tie the piece together.

The second example uses a complementary color harmony. The objects are predominately green with the strong red (the complement of green) of the apple to provide contrast and balance. Other complementary combinations, such as blue and orange, or violet and yellow, can be equally effective.

Regardless of what colors you are attracted to, always try to apply logic to your color choices. Basing your choices on proven principles of color theory will help to create a more harmonious color scheme and a stronger, more unified painting.

Study for a Larger Painting…

April 22, 2010

Broadway @ 10th St., NYC, oil on canvas, 8x10 in.

I plan to paint this much larger but wanted to work out color and composition on a smaller scale. I actually did this as part of my demo for my painting students today, I often bring in my own work and use live examples as demos. The challenge with this one is to keep the shadow area in the foreground interesting, the figures take care of that issue quite nicely.

One of my students had an excellent question, she asked about the light in the middle ground and whether or not making it light would make it come forward too much. The foreground is not always the lightest part of an image, nor does it have to be, it’s unwise to think of guidelines as strict rules with no exceptions, in this case the strongest light is not in the foreground. The light cutting into the foreground shadow, is interesting compositionally and back lights the figures in a very dramatic fashion. Dulling that light down would be a mistake in my opinion, instead, I’ve used it to emphasize the motion of the figures and to divide the composition. Always try to look for ways to make things that are a challenge work, emphasize the exceptional qualities in an image rather than trying to make them work according to convention.

Blue Door (Broome Street, NYC)

April 21, 2010

Blue Door (Broome Street, NYC), oil on canvas, 16x20 in.

This is my latest urban landscape of NYC. I painted it because I was very drawn to the repeating geometrics of blue that echo each other in the awnings, signs, sky and of course the door. The strong, early evening shadows added good contrast and a quiet area on the foreground sidewalk.

I used this piece during a demo in one of the courses I teach, and as I was talking about it realized the strong interlocking of busy areas (architecture, cars, and fire escapes) with the quiet fields of blue (sky, awning/door, and sidewalk). This made a nice circuit for the eye to follow while exploring the composition, and created a busy/quiet/busy sort of rhythm.

I tried to keep this very abstract, even though it is clearly an urban landscape. The main attraction for me is the repetition of the blue geometrics and the rhythmic composition, however, I can understand how viewers looking for more of a narrative can interpret the piece with stories of their own.

Note: This piece is available via the Michael Ingbar Gallery, 568 Broadway, NYC, 212-344-1100 or email

Painting Transparency & Reflections – Demo in Acrylic on Cardboard

April 16, 2010

Acrylic on cardboard, demo of glass bottles, about 18x24 in.

close up of details

This is my demo from today’s painting class, an acrylic study of glass bottles on cardboard (the back of a sketch pad). Cardboard makes an interesting surface for painting with acrylics. The medium brown tone of it is a nice starting point, and it takes the paint nicely, smooth surface/good absorbency.  Of course, it isn’t archival, but for studies and quick casual sketches, it is a nice way to recycle the backs of sketch pads and other cardboard items.

Palette on this = pthalo blue, cobalt, alizarin, yellow ochre, cad yellow, red ochre, naples yellow, burnt umber and titanium white. A good start with some very dark darks via a burnt umber underpainting set the tone for sharp transparency and brightness later on. Don’t think of glass as being “light”, glass is whatever color/value is reflected in it or seen through it, as well as affected by the color of the glass itself. Transparent objects need dark areas in order to look transparent on paper or canvas. The darks are what make the brightest brights and highlights appear more luminous, without them, everything will lack dimension and look flat.

Keeping your colors pure is also important–establish the darks and then place the medium value colors next to them, resist the urge to over blend. Over blending will give you mud and reduce the dramatic contrast between darks and lights that are juxtaposed such as they often are in reflective surfaces. If you are working wet-into-wet in oils, this is critical. Acrylics are a bit more forgiving because they dry quickly, but you can still end up with a muddy mess if you attempt to over blend.

When you get to the last details and are ready to place your highlights, remember to use both warm and cool tones, and always add color if you are using white. Highlight are never pure white, they always pick up some warm or cool tones from the light source. I use yellows for warm highlights caused by incandescent lighting, blue violets for cool highlights from window light or flourescents. Using these various temperatures will give you a more natural looking highlight and make the color variation more interesting overall.

Painting glass is not difficult, the same principles of form and value apply to glass as they would to a non-reflective/non-transparent object. Glass is simply more complex, you  have more sub-forms to look for when working out your values. Get the underpainting right, and the rest of it will come easily!

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club Annual Meeting – April 12, 2010

April 11, 2010

I hope those of you who are full members of the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club will join me tomorrow at the Annual Meeting which begins immediately after the Board meeting ends at 1 p.m. I will be making a presentation on online marketing opportunities for visual artists. Come learn about social networking, blogs, email marketing campaigns and other useful tools to promote your artwork and workshops. The meeting is held at Grace Church, 802 Broadway (near the corner of 10th Street). Hope to see you there!