Watch Your Values!

March 30, 2013
Plein Air Watercolor & Ink Study, Spring Street, Somerville, NJ

Plein Air Watercolor & Ink Study, Spring Street, Somerville, NJ

Since becoming involved in watercolor, I became aware of something I do whenever I am exploring a new medium. I tend to rely on the skills that are my strongest–drawing and color. Watercolor is a very unpredictable medium, it is sometimes referred to as the hardest of all media to master. I believe you can master any medium if you have the solid basis of a good drawing and a limited palette of harmonious colors.

When I begin working with a new media, I always start out working monochromatically. I have a whole sketchbook dedicated to watercolor sketches, done on location, in various blue pigments–Prussian, cerulean, cobalt, ultramarine–some in combination with one another, others with just one pigment. In doing this, I am relying on my drawing skills and knowledge of values and working with the unknowns of the medium in a “safe” environment–in other words, I’m not throwing everything at myself all at once and expecting to be able to master it in minutes!

Once I feel confident working monochromatically, I then move on to working with just two colors, typically 2 that are complementary to one another. For example, blue and orange, or violet and yellow ochre, alizarin and sap green, etc. This allows me to learn a bit more about how the new medium works in terms of color mixing without throwing too many variables into the mix. I find that watercolor is BETTER when fewer colors are used, even fewer than I might use in oil or acrylic.

To me, a good painting regardless of medium, starts out with a good drawing. That drawing must have a range of values that creates a 3-dimensional structure to support the color. Although my work is often described as colorful and vibrant, the basis of every painting I create is an accurate tonal structure. Without the value structure and careful selection of a limited, harmonious palette, a painting can easily get off track and become flat. Don’t let that happen, pay attention to your values and don’t get carried away by color!



I Love Perspective

March 13, 2013
Asuncion, Paraguay - pastel study for a large commissioned painting

Asuncion, Paraguay – pastel study for a large commissioned painting

I am currently working on a fabulous project–a painting of the city of Asuncion, Paraguay, commissioned by a client who is looking for a large, semi-abstract urban scene. I rarely accept commissions, but this one is perfect–the client supplied me with a reference photo as a departure point, the photo is exactly the type of shot I would take for one of my urban landscapes of New York.

I’m drawn to scenes like this because I love anything that involves strong, complex perspective. I like simplifying complex scenes such as this through gesture, and I love the geometric shapes and how they carve up the composition into dynamic angles. The strong one-point perspective combined with the great color and atmosphere of this South American city offer so much to work with in terms of creating movement and unity in the composition. I think most people (both artists and viewers) are mesmerized by paintings that have a strong sense of depth and complexity. AS a painter, I enjoy constructing the drawing that supports all the bright color, in fact it is really the best part of the process. Perspective is really not that difficult to grasp if you don’t fear it or become a slave to rulers and t-squares. I prefer to let my lines have a natural, gestural flow toward the vanishing point(s). I want it to be correct, yet look like a human being drew it, not a machine.

I am offering a course this Spring at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey called “One, Two, Three…Perspective!” As it’s name implies, I will cover all forms of perspective, but I will do it in a way that is designed for painters–not engineers! As a painter, you need to be able to understand the concept of perspective and be able to apply it within the context of painting–whether it be in your studio or on location. A plein air painter does not have time to fiddle with rulers and t-squares, you must grab the scene and quickly as possibly through loose gestural strokes. This is where understanding the perspective system in a given situation is invaluable because it allows you to quickly and accurately block in buildings, cars and other objects often present in the landscape. This is particularly true if you like to paint cities as I do. For more information on this course and the others I offer at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, click here (be sure to scroll down the page and visit the second page as well, courses are not listed in weekday order). Hope to see you this spring!

What do you see?

March 1, 2013
Metal Cans & Onions, pastel, 11x17 in.

Metal Cans & Onions, pastel, 11×17 in.

What do you see when you look at this pastel drawing? A pile of metal cans with some onions thrown in? Why would anyone want to draw or paint that! Or have to look at it on their wall as art. Obviously, I must have found something compelling about this otherwise I would not have bothered to draw it. When I look at the subject, I see a host of opportunity to create a shimmering, vibrant study of surface texture. The onion skins echo the colors inside the cans, a brilliant coppery orange that bounces off the cool grey blues of the outer metal. The repeating shapes of the ellipses and spheres create a visual rhythm that keeps your eye moving throughout the composition. The detail is there, but it is all suggested or implied with quick, bold strokes–there is no fussiness in the application of the pastel, it’s pure fun. I think one of the things that can turn the ordinary into art is the ability to look beyond the subject and its context in real life. Doing so opens up a world of opportunity in terms of potential subject matter, it’s amazing how you can find something interesting just about anywhere if you have an open mind and a keen eye. So, next time you are looking for inspiration, just look around you–there is probably something right in front of you that could become your next painting!