If you want to be a better painter, practice your drawing skills

December 21, 2011

Cokesbury Road in the Rain - plein air greyscale pastel on grey PastelMat

To be a good representational painter–regardless of your style, photorealist, impressionist, semi-abstract–you need to have good drawing skills. When you can draw, you are in control. You’ll start out with a strong image, that you enhance with color. You won’t be struggling to “try” to get it right, you’ll confidently block it in and then move to color.

So many artists are so impatient to get to the color. Before you can effectively work in color, you have to have a firm understanding of the concepts of drawing: form, value, proportion and perspective. Without these, just getting your composition onto canvas can be a struggle.

Also, as painters, our definition of drawing needs to be flexible. Most people think of drawing as something you do only with a pencil. I never draw in pencil. I draw with the side of the charcoal or pastel, or I draw in ink or acrylic with a flat brush. Doing so allows you to block in forms rather than outlines, this enables you to really focus on values, carving out the forms with the various dark, middle and light tones. This is what gives the illusion of dimension, not detail, all the detail in the world will not make something that is drawn incorrectly look right.

Depending on how you want your painting to look, add in as much or as little detail as you feel is necessary. I prefer a semi-abstract look, where details are merely suggested, but the subject is immediately recognizable. Remember to block in the big shapes first, get the proportion and perspective right, and map in your values. Do this with a simple sketch everyday in charcoal and you’ll see the difference in your paintings very quickly!


“You’re So Prolific!”…ummm no, I’m not

December 16, 2011

Rockaway Road Barns, Tewksbury, NJ, plein air pastel, 9x12 in.

I hear this all the time. But I’m not prolific, I just practice a lot, the same as any artist needs to do if they are painting professionally. I don’t offer every sketch I do for exhibit or sale, but I need to sketch, paint or draw EVERY DAY in order to keep my technical skills where they need to be.

Just because I post a sketch here or on my Facebook page, it doesn’t mean it’s a formal painting that will go to a gallery. In fact, most of the studies I post are just that–ideas being worked out for future paintings, or experiments in color and form. Many of them end up just hanging around my studio until they get worn out looking and I have to get rid of them. Others (the nicer ones that are in good condition) I will give to collectors who purchase my larger works.  It’s nice for the collector to have the study along with the final painting.

If you want to build your confidence and skill, practice is the only way to do it. I have to paint in front of students all semester long, I wouldn’t be able to do my demos if I didn’t practice and have confidence in my approach to drawing and painting. So, while I might appear to be prolific, I am really just doing what it takes to stay in top form, it’s just like going to the gym. 🙂

Still Life Around the House

December 10, 2011

Little Yellow Cans - alla prima oil, 12x12 in.

My pantry is a colorful place. I definitely have some brand loyalty going on, which makes for an interesting still life. I’ve taken a variety of Cento products (which are fantastic Italian foods!) and used them to create what I think is an interesting composition. The brightly colored packaging really lends itself to a contemporary still life study.

Many artists get hung up in the subject as a narrative, I don’t think of what I’m painting in a narrative sense, I prefer to look for visual patterns of shape and color and arrange them in a manner that creates balance and movement.



Just 4 Colors

October 23, 2011

Pumpkins & Silver, 9x12 oil on canvas

This painting was done with just 4 colors: ultramarine, cadmium red light, cadmium yellow medium and titanium white. I painted it alla prima as a demo for my painting students in about 45 minutes. The painting process does not need to be complex in order to be successful. In fact, I find it better to keep it as simple as I can when it comes to the number of colors on the palette, particularly if I am painting plein air or doing a live demo.

I began with a mixture of ultramarine and cad red light, plus a tiny bit of cad yellow medium to make a dark neutral. This was used for the underpainting. For my darkest darks, I used the ultramarine and cad red light leaning more heavily toward the ultramarine. Next I pulled a bit of white into the mixture and added some of the cad yellow to neutralize it a bit for the greys on the metal tea pot. For the pumpkins, I used a mix of the red and yellow leaning toward the yellow, while the table cloth is the same mix but leaning toward the red. The white pumpkin and bright highlights are made up of titanium white and a bit of cad yellow medium. It’s amazing how many colors you can create from a limited palette. It’s a great exercise for getting to know the colors you have in your paintbox!

It’s that time again…

September 2, 2011

Delancey Place, Philadelphia - watercolor 6x9 in.

It’s September! How quickly the summer went by. It’s time once again to register for fall courses at the Visual Arts Center of NJ and the Center for Contemporary Art. This week, I’ll be posting about my course offerings so you can select the class that will best suit your interests. First, I’ll talk about my newest offering at the Visual Arts Center of NJ:

Wet & Wild: An Alternative Approach to Watermedia – 10 weeks beginning Sept. 13, Tuesdays from 3:30 pm to 6 pm

This is NOT a traditional watercolor course!!! In this class, we will explore alternative methods of working in watercolor as well as other water-based media such as drawing inks, acrylics and markers. We will also combine mediums and work on alternative surfaces such as cardboard and Yupo paper.

Students who sign up for this course should be open to experimentation and ready to try something new. Basic drawing skills are needed if you plan to work representationally (an understanding and ability to apply concepts such as form, value, proportion and perspective).

Here are just a handful of the topics I plan to cover:

  • Splatter backgrounds with ink and watercolor – an exciting way to add interest to both representational and abstract subjects
  • Masking fluid and other “resist” methods of creating with water-based mediums
  • Figure studies in acrylic on cardboard – improve your understanding of the figure and the importance of gesture while working with acrylics on this fabulous recycled surface
  • Monochromatic ink wash drawings on cold press watercolor paper – build your knowledge and ability to see form and value with this fluid medium
  • Markers as a sketching medium – one of the most convenient ways to sketch on location
In this course, you may choose to try as many or as few of the mediums and techniques demonstrated. Bring what you have to the first class (pick any water-based medium) and we can discuss materials further so you don’t have to run out and buy things you won’t need.  I will also have a supply of acrylics on hand that first day that will be suitable for the first project–whatever you bring, we will make it work! 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you in class. Questions? Call the Visual Arts Center of NJ at 908-273-9121, to register, click here for a link to all of my fall courses.


Register now for Fall classes at Visual Arts Center of NJ!

August 17, 2011

Collage with acrylic and pastel on corrugated cardboard, 12x12 in.

Now is the time to sign up for Fall classes at the Visual Arts Center of NJ. I’ll be offering 6 courses in drawing and painting, including my newest “Wet & Wild: An Alternative Approach to Water Media”. If you are looking to experiment with water color, acrylic, drawing inks, marker and pastel in a NON-TRADITIONAL manner, this is the class for you. It will be held on Tuesday afternoons from 3:30 to 6 pm and runs for 10 weeks beginning Sept. 13.

I am also offering my Drawing and Painting courses in oil, acrylic and pastel the same as last semester. For details, visit the Visual Arts Center of NJ web site at http://www.artcenternj.org and go to the “Create” section.


June 19, 2011

"Capitol Hill" watercolor study, 9x12 in.

I begin with an under painting in yellow ochre instead of drawing in pencil.

I have been experimenting quite a bit these days with watercolor. It has always eluded me as a medium, and I think I have finally found a way of working with it that captures the bolder, more confident colors and gestures that are the basis of my work in oil and acrylic.

While most watercolorists begin with a pencil drawing, I prefer to create an underpainting the same as I would when working in other media such as oil, acrylic or pastel. By choosing yellow ochre, or a similar neutral, “friendly” color, I am able to block in not only my drawing but also some middle and light values. Because yellow ochre is a warm color that gets along fairly well with most other colors, it does not create mud when transparent middle and light values are placed on top of it. Rather, it creates a glow that is a nice enhancement to the overall mood of the piece.

This fall, I will be offering a new course at Visual Arts Center of NJ called “Wet & Wild: An Alternative Approach to Water Media”. The class will include non-traditional approaches to watercolor, as well as using acrylics, drawing inks and markers to create exciting mixed media imagery.