Time to Register for Spring Courses & Workshops

February 18, 2013
East Main Street, High Bridge, NJ - plein air pastel

East Main Street, High Bridge, NJ – plein air pastel

Spring is almost here and it’s time to sign up for a new semester of courses at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. I’ve posted a listing of my classes here. In addition to my regular offering, I want to call attention to two newer classes–Plein Air Basics and One, Two, Three…Perspective! 

Both focus on the landscape and they are designed to complement one another in many ways. I offered the perspective course for the first time this past winter, my painting students who took it have seen a significant increase in their confidence and skills!  Some are even repeating the course in addition to taking the plein air class.

Registration is open on the Visual Arts Center web site, or you can call the center at 908-273-9121 to sign up. I hope to see you in class this Spring!


February 10, 2013
Cretacolor pastel pencil on Kraft paper, study of clementines

Cretacolor pastel pencil on Kraft paper, study of clementines

Whoa! What’s this? A tightly rendered clementine, have a I totally shifted gears and gone back to realism? No, just practicing my observation skills. From time to time, especially when I have a new medium to try out that is more suited to detail, I like to practice my observation skills by doing a color rendering of surface detail. An orange, or as in this case, a clementine, is a great subject for this exercise as it has lots of subtle color shifts and textures.

Normally, when I’m painting in my usual manner, my aim is to grab the most significant details and place them quickly, usually with just a brush stroke. In order to develop that skill, an artist needs to practice their seeing skills by direct observation of a variety of forms and surface textures. I don’t consider this drawing practice–drawing to me is monochromatic and the emphasis is on form and value, not surface texture. Depciting surface texture is better described as rendering, the act of adding detail on top of a well drawn form. In other words, you have to be able to draw it first, then you can focus on how you want to render the detail–tightly as I’ve done here, or loose and expressively the way I usually do in my paintings. When I do this, my aim is not to improve my hand in the application of the medium, but to improve my ability to understand and see detail so that I can simplify it when I am painting.

Working in this manner is very relaxing for me, I don’t think a lot when I do it, I just look very carefully and put down what I see. When I am painting, it is a much more energetic process, very quick with a lot of thinking on my feet. This type of opposite process actually enhances the skills I need when working plein air, doing a demo or trying to impart energy and life into a painting. By truly understand the details and identifying the ones that really make a clementine a clementine in a a highly detailed rendering, I can translate that into one or two strokes to create a highly expressive and lively version in paint.

Over and over again…

February 2, 2013
Still life set up, pastel study, work-in-progress oil on canvas

Still life set up, pastel study, work-in-progress oil on canvas

I often paint my subjects several times in various media.  Doing so gives me the ability to really get familiar with the subtleties and nuances they contain without feeling like I have one shot at getting it “perfect”. After all, much of the work I do is not for the purpose of exhibition or sale, but for teaching and demonstration, so I sometimes use subjects that I am considering for exhibition paintings as models.

I set this still life up today for my pastels class, and was immediately mesmerized by the contrast of the monochromatic objects and the single red pear. In the demo, I talked about how this one is a little different from my usual bold use of color and more abrupt value transitions. I also talked about the similarities–beginning with a solid composition, accurate drawing and break down of value relationships. I try to emphasize to my students the important of practicing the art of drawing whenever possible. If you can draw, you are in control of how closely you wish to stay true to your subject, or how far away you choose to get from reality. Below is the finished demo, I am now working on a small study of the still life in oil based on the pastel study (I did not have time to complete the entire oil study in the studio today, so I will use the pastel as a reference). If I am happy with the oil, I may do a small series of these monochrome plus a single color arrangements, I find the concept very compelling.

Pastel study from still life set up, to be used as a reference for a version in oil

Pastel study from still life set up, to be used as a reference for a version in oil