First Auction was a Buyers’ Market, What Will the Second Bring?

March 5, 2012

"Work Horse" oil, 8x10 in. - available in the March 11 Salmagundi Auction

The first of the Salmagundi Auctions, held last Friday, was definitely a buyer’s market! Many excellent works went for the minimum bid, and many others did not sell at all. Why? Well I’m sure the economy had something to do with it, also, having watched the process online (this year they have a live audio visual feed, which is really great!), it was obvious that attendance was down.

As an artist, it is always a risk to put your work in a fundraiser auction. I only participate in the Salmagundi Auctions and in the Blank Canvas Event at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. I choose these venues because they are highly curated, and therefore I can be assured that my work is hanging next to other works of professional quality. I also firmly believe in the mission of both of these venues and want to support them in whatever way I can.

So, from a collector’s perspective, these events can be an opportunity to acquire a favorite artist’s work at a below market price. For new collectors, or collectors who find themselves on a budget these days, it’s the perfect way to acquire pieces that might otherwise be out of range. If you are thinking about bidding, don’t hesitate! Offer an amount that you feel comfortable paying if you win, don’t over stretch your budget, but don’t not bid because you think you won’t win. As noted, professional artists don’t take these auctions lightly and don’t offer their work at below retail value very often. Not bidding is like not signing up for a workshop because you are not sure it will run, if everyone takes that attitude, it won’t, just as the painting won’t sell and it turns out to be everyone’s loss.

My painting, “Work Horse”, is offered in the second auction which takes place on Sunday, March 11 at 2 p.m., click here to bid online, or join in the fun live at the Club. They have a fabulous Sunday brunch before hand, visit their web site at or call 212-255-7740 for more information.


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!

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!

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, Have Some Watermelon!

May 29, 2011

Wine & Watermelon, 8x10 in. oil on canvas, alla prima from life

A quick little study to kick off the unofficial start of summer. I did this as a demo in my advanced oils class. Began with a coating of BRIGHTLY tinted gesso (pthalo green!), which was unusual to work on, but why not try something a little daring. I chose that because of the color of the aqua cloth, which is hard to make out of my “typical” palette. It worked beautifully with the pinks of the watermelon for creating complementary contrast and depth in the shadows. Was a bit challenging in the cloth area where you might think it would be the most helpful. The trouble was the tint of the canvas was bolder that any color I could make with the oils I had in my box, so the paint I put on top, did not look quite as “loud” as I would have expected. But that turned out ok in the end, once all the canvas was covered and there was no brighter shade to compete with.

The palette on this was: burnt sienna, Prussian blue, King’s blue, yellow ochre, cadmium barium yellow pale, Naples yellow, Naples yellow light, alizarin, naphthol red, and a tiny bit of titanium white.

The straw texture on the chianti bottle is all implied rather than painted in detail, same with the reflections on the glass plate. Sometimes an offbeat subject is in order, particularly after working on paintings for a show or a commission. Paint something light and fun now and then, it’s a great way to bring creative energy to the surface. Have a great long weekend!

Silver & Flowers, oil alla prima

May 25, 2011

Silver & Flowers, 24x18 in., oil on canvas, alla prima from life

This is my latest still life, I’ve been painting a lot of flowers lately and these were leftover from one of my workshops, so I could not let them go to waste. The challenge on this was the light, overhead incandescent and back lighting from the windows behind the flowers, but that’s what made it interesting. The back lighting cast a wonderful silver grey reflection on the table surface and make the stems in the glass vase almost a silhouette.

The palette used on this includes: burnt umber, Prussian blue, King’s blue, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, cadmium barium yellow, Naples yellow, Naples yellow light, magenta, cadmium red light, titanium white. The underpainting was done in burnt umber, followed by blocking in the darkest values in burnt umber and Prussian blue. From there, it was a matter of working in color through the middle values on through the brightest brights and highlights. I spent about 5 hours on this from start to finish, everyone always asks “how long does it take you to paint one of these?”, so I figured I ‘d get that out up front. I typically don’t work this large for pieces I intend to finish in one session. I prefer to work a little bit smaller for one session paintings, 11×14 is perfect, but this was the only size I had available. I find that after 3 hours of painting, 4 at most, I begin to get tired. But, I wanted to finish this, as I knew I would not have an opportunity to work on it beyond the one session. It was good practice. 🙂

What’s Your Mission?

April 28, 2011

"Moment", acrylic on canvas, 10x8 in.

Artists each have their own mission in terms of what is important to them in the way their work comes across.  My mission is to inject as much life and spontaneity into each painting as I can. The work should never look stiff, overworked or like “it took a really long time to do”, freshness is key for me. To achieve this, my mission is to always touch the canvas as few times as possible to achieve the desired effect, in other words, to make every stroke count and to reduce details to single brush strokes. I don’t touch the canvas until I am absolutely sure of the placement, color and type of stroke that will do the job right–the first time.

At first glance, that might appear easier than getting out the triple zero brushes and magnifying glass, but try it sometime. In order to make less is more work properly, there first has to be a solid structure underneath. In other words a good, solid, correct drawing done as an under painting. You know, the brown layer that you may have resisted doing or skip over in order to “save time”.  Skipping this stage usually doesn’t save time at all, instead it can set you up for frustration down the road. Think about it, you’ll be making corrections to your drawing if it isn’t right, mixing colors repeatedly if you don’t have a value map (from the under painting), and having to make those corrections in multiple colors as opposed to just one. So in the end, skipping the under painting is actually a time waster, not a time saver.

Once your under painting is on the canvas, you can then make solid decisions and be much more expressive with color and brush work. If you have the drawing, the composition and the values down, you are free to focus on color and brush strokes. When applying the color layers, think before you touch the canvas. Is the color the way you want it? Don’t put it on the canvas if it doesn’t look right, it won’t look any better there than it did on the palette. Color mixing is a skill that will develop over time, if you need a couple tries at getting the color right, that’s ok, just wait til it’s right before you put it on the painting. Just because you’ve mixed a color, doesn’t mean you have to use it.

As far as brush strokes are concerned, don’t be a wimp! Paint like you mean it! Put the color down with a confident stroke that defines the shape (form) you are painting. Don’t “dab” at the painting, or do little random back and forth strokes, that’s not painting! Load up the brush and put the paint down. 🙂

Confidence goes a long way in paint application. Paintings that are done with tentative strokes can be spotted a mile away. It’s just a piece of canvas (or paper), don’t be afraid of it!