Capturing Form and Translucency

February 6, 2012

Clementines - demo in oil, 8x10 in.

There are 2 important things to remember when painting translucent objects that have textured surfaces such as clementines, oranges or lemons:

Form takes precedence over pattern; and don’t confuse bright with light.

When rendering a spherical or rounded object such as a piece of fruit, you need to make it appear 3 dimensional by focusing on the values that create its form, rather than any patterns that create texture on the surface. With a clementine, you simply ignore the dimpling in the skin and paint the shadow areas first, followed by the middle value sections and on into the lights. Block this in during the under painting stage and ignore the surface texture completely. When you are ready to go to color, you begin the same way, working from your shadow areas through the mid tones all the way through the lightest areas. This is where the light versus bright concept comes into play.

To make the shadow colors on the fruit above, first I mixed ultramarine and alizarin to create a violet-blue. I then mixed cadmium red light and cadmium yellow medium to make an orange the correct color of the medium value of the celmentine’s skin color. I mixed these two together (the violet-blue and the middle value orange) to create the shadow color, which I then blocked in. Next I took the middle value orange by itself and laid it in on the areas that were in the middle value range on the fruit, with a slight overlap where they met the shadows already blocked in. To create the lightest areas of the fruit, I simply added more cadmium yellow to the middle value orange. I did not add any white to the orange color of the skin, doing so would have made it lighter and duller, rather than brighter and more vibrant. White dulls colors down and can make them appear chalky, always ask yourself is it lighter or is it brighter, if it’s brighter, avoid the white!

To add a suggestion of the surface texture on the skin, I implied a few of the dimples with a few small brush strokes of middle value color into the shadow areas and few strokes of shadow color in the mid tones. You don’t need to paint every little dimple on the skin! Doing so would just cause confusion and probably diminish the 3 dimensional form you just worked so hard to create! Also, when applying the highlights, remember to add a little bit of yellow to the warm ones and some blue to the cool ones, rather than just white by itself, temperature is important. If you apply the highlights with a brush that is a little bit “beat up” you can actually imply even more of the skin texture, but don’t overdo it.

For the peeled segments of the fruit, you take the same approach as for the skin. Block in the forms first, work through the shadow areas and ignore the surface texture of the white membrane. When you are ready to paint the membrane (I’m told it is called “pith”), remember to only add the most prominent strands of it, just as with the skin, you don’t want to to overdo the surface texture. Keep the parts of the pith in the shadow areas cool in tone by adding some blue violets in the white, and the parts in light warm with some yellows added into the white.

Translucent objects are a challenge to paint, others you might enjoy trying include lemons, limes,  or onions (especially the skins). If you remember to focus on form and value and brights vs. lights, your fruit will look naturally translucent and appealing, good enough to eat!


See the “W”?

October 20, 2011

City Hall, Philadelphia, acrylic 8x10 in.

I always look for a geometric or other form of recognizable shape in the overall shadows of a composition. For example, when I look at the reference source for this (you can do it when painting plein air as well), I see the letter “W” formed by all the dark shadows on the buildings on the sides and in the foreground. The little island median cuts into the bottom just enough to make the shape a “W” as opposed to a “U”. I also see a “T” formed by the sky and main building.

Looking for these shapes when planning your composition will help you to place them on the canvas as well as to create a strong design. The interlocking “T” and “W” above provide a strong structure. Once these basic forms are placed, they also provide landmarks so that elements of the composition and perspective can be seen more easily and therefore placed correctly.

Palette Knife

October 17, 2011

GWB Eastbound, acrylic on canvas, 48x36 in.

It has been awhile since I have posted, this has been an incredibly busy fall with both my exhibit and teaching schedules. I am currently working on several large paintings of NYC bridges. The first that I have completed is above, an acrylic painting of the GWB using a great deal of palette knife work and other alternative means of applying paint to canvas.

I began this piece with a light red ochre background, on top of which I created my under painting in Prussian blue acrylic. I used a 4″ sponge brush to block in the underpainting. The bridge cables were created by using the sponge on its side and soaking with water so that it created vertical drips. The cars and truck are just broad horizontal strokes (cars and trucks are really just boxes on wheels). I always focus on the gesture of the composition in the underpainting, this creates the strong sense of perspective drawing you in towards the tower of the bridge.

On top of the underpainting, I mapped in the sky in color with a palette knife using Chroma Atelier Interactive acrylics and their Impasto Gel medium, which creates a very buttery texture to the acrylics, not quite oil like, but close.

I chose to let parts of the underpainting show through on this and purposely kep some areas very abstract. To make this work, I started with a structured drawing in the underpainting, and then decided how much or how little in each area I wanted to retain. In some places, there is a lot of detail in color, in others, there is just the ghost of the image loosely mapped in via the wash drawing of the underpainting.

I find working this way allows me to get the right amount of energy and spontaneity that is so important to making a painting come to life.

Winter on Parade – oil on canvas

March 25, 2011

Winter on Parade, oil on canvas, 11x14 in.

Coming down to the wire with just about one month until my first solo show of two back-to-back solo shows. The first show will be at Gallery Egan in Morristown this May. I am primarily featuring urban landscapes that include figures, crowds and urban life in motion.

This is my latest in the series, “Winter on Parade”. It is a bit different from my usual crowds en masse, in this piece I have actually pulled out a few key players and given them some individual details. I still imply details rather than painstakingly paint them, this provides a more spontaneous, expressive mood, which is key to me. I prefer to capture personalities with as few strokes as possible, making each one count towards developing the character I am painting.

The show will run from May 1 through May 31, with an opening reception on Friday, May 6 from 7-9 pm. Gallery Egan is located at 12 Community Place in Morristown, NJ. For more information, visit their web site at

Still Life Studies

February 6, 2011

Tea Time, oil on linen, 9×12 in.
Tea & Fruit, oil on linen, 12×9 in.

Painting from life is important, it forces your concentration and helps you to improve your seeing skills. Painting is all about observation, there are so many hidden colors in the objects we look at everyday. Live set ups also improve an artist’s ability to capture perspective, proportion and form and value more accurately. It’s more difficult to paint from life than from photographs, but that is why it is so important to do it as often as possible–your skills won’t improve if you don’t challenge yourself.

I do just about all of my classroom demos from live set ups. My urban landscape paintings are generally done from sketches and photos I’ve taken on location, but my work on these types of still life studies greatly helps me when I am working on urban landscapes. I don’t feel compelled to mirror the colors as I see them in a photograph, instead, I use color expressively.  In order to do that though, you have to have a good understanding of how color works in the real world. By studying objects that are in front of you, instead of relying on the color in photos, you become more aware of the subtleties and nuances in all kinds of surfaces. This allows you to be freer and more creative when you are using a photo for reference. We should always remember that a photo is not something to copy, rather, it is a departure point, a visual notation that reminds us of what it is that we find interesting about a place and time.

Class Notes – Visual Interpretation 1/11/11

January 12, 2011

still life study, charcoal on newsprint, 9x12 in. - getting the values right will create depth, dimension and surface texture/transparency

Form & Value

In order to create a susscessful representational painting, you need to have good drawing skills. The ability to create the illusion of space and dimension is reliant upon your ability to see forms and values and to represent them appropriately on the paper or canvas. Drawing matters!

In my demo today, I drew a quick little study of the still life set up in the studio. Using charcoal and greyscale pastels (NuPastels by Prismacolor), I relied purely on form and value to create the study of fabric, fruit and glass. Most artists prefer to work in color, but working monochromatically forces you to see the value range in objects you are drawing from life. This is the best way to learn how to create the illusion of 3 dimensional space on a 2-D surface (paper or canvas).

You must block in the big forms first, looking for geometric shapes and ignoring details in the beginning. All the detail in the world will not make an incorrectly drawn object look right. How much or how little detail you choose to add at the end is up to you, but you have to get the forms correct and understand the relationship of the values in order to create that sense of 3D.

This winter session at NJ Visual Arts Center, I plan to start with the basics in each of my classes and to build upon those concepts throughout the 10 weeks of the course. I find that too many students–both beginner and advanced–have not had exposure to the concepts that are the foundation of creating good, solid, confident drawings and paintings. You have to understand the underlying structure of what makes a good painting before you can go on to produce artwork without technical deficiencies. So this winter session, the focus will be on the basics of form, value, proportion, perspective, color and composition.

It’s great to be back in the classroom, I love my job! 🙂

Winter Landscape Workshop

December 17, 2010

demo from Winter Landscape Workshop, 8x10 in., oil alla prima on board

This was the demo from my Winter Landscapes Workshop held at the Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster last week. I will be offering another version of this workshop in pastel at the NJ Visual Arts Center in Summit on February 27 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Here is a description of the workshop:

Working from their own reference photos, students will create a winter landscape using hard and soft pastels on sanded pastel paper. Students will learn how to realistically depict snow, bare trees and atmospheric lighting (sunlit snow, fog, and mist) present in winter.

The registration fee is $100 for the workshop, call the art center at 908-273-9121 to register and request a materials list. Or, visit their web site and register online.