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.