Painting in Black & White

September 24, 2011

Brownstone Shadows, Philadelphia, oil on panel, 8x10 in.

There is something very unique about painting in black and white with oil paints. I don’t miss working with color, I could easily work in black and white more often, however, there does not seem to be as much demand for works created in monochrome. I find it appealing the same way that black and white photographs seem to reveal more about the subject than those taken in color.

When working exclusively with values, your composition in its purest form really becomes apparent. You only have darks and lights with which to create balance and interest.  Working this way also forces your eye to really analyze the subtleties of the subject. The fewer value changes you have in your range, the more graphic your image will appear, the more you have, the more realistic, so you have a lot of options depending on the style in which you choose to paint.

I like to have a range of about 4 or 5 values. Sometimes, I think of my black and white images as layers in a silk screen, which creates a more graphic feel. I also don’t do a lot of blending, which also helps to reinforce the graphic qualities of my black and white work. Other artists, create soft, realistic blends–neither way is better than the other, they just produce completely different outcomes.

Experimenting with black and white techniques is a great way to improve your drawing skills and your ability to see values. For me, values are the underlying structure in every successful painting, without them, there is no depth.

This particular piece was created with Gamblin’s Torrit Gray, Ivory Black and Titanium white. For information about their 2011 Torrit Gray painting competition, visit



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.

Work in Progress

December 21, 2010

underpainting, burnt umber on yellow ochre toned canvas, 30x30 in.

Work-in-progress, mapping in color

This work-in-progress is a larger version of a small study I did a few weeks ago. I am using a very limited palette on this (burnt umber, ultramarine, naphthol red, cadmium yellow and titanium white), trying to emphasize the warmth of the late evening sun. I did the earlier version using a few more colors, I am aiming to get more drama in the large version, therefore using less colors will push the harmonies and create a unified, finished feeling while keeping things bold and simple, particularly in the strong light to dark shadow areas.

Welcome Back!

September 14, 2010

View from the Steps, acrylic on gessobord, 9x12 in.

Today was the first day of classes for me at NJ Visual Arts Center in Summit. Welcome back to my returning students and to those of you joining me this fall for the first time, I’m looking forward to getting to know you. As noted in my welcome letter, please feel free to share the info posted here and to refer to it throughout the semester. I will post class notes and demos for most classes on a weekly basis, although not separately for all courses because there is some overlap in the content I am teaching in each class. For example, in today’s Visual Interpretation course I covered the basics of starting with an under painting and importance of getting the values correct up front. I will review these concepts in my classes tomorrow and will post generic as well as medium specific items covered as they occur in each class.

I’m very excited to be starting the new season, and look forward to working with each of you this fall. You might want to bookmark this page or subscribe to the blog so that you don’t miss any updates.

Farragut Street, Morristown, oil on linen

February 7, 2010

Farragut Street, oil on linen, 20x20 in.

This is the latest in my series of urban landscapes of Morristown. I was particularly attracted to the shadows on the road and the yellow house and tried to use them to create depth and interest. So far, I have about 20 paintings of Morristown (not all of them have been photographed or shown on my web sites), I will likely include about 5 paintings of NYC as well in the show at Gallery MacEgan which runs from March 1 through March 31. The opening reception will be on March 5, from 7 to 9 p.m.

One of my favorites…

January 26, 2010

Cattano Street, oil on canvas, 9x12 in.

This is my latest painting in the Morristown series and I think it is my favorite of the lot. I like it because of its simplicity, the composition is made up purely of geometric forms that are created by the perspective of the street. It straddles the fence between abstraction and realism in almost a 50-50 balance, which is what I have always strived to acheive with my work.  My goal is always to touch the canvas as little as possible and use expressive brush work, yet to still provide enough information that you can see a representational image and even suggest some details. For me, this piece brings all those elements into play and makes the most of strong light and shadow, while retaining a strong tie in to a more abstract, contemporary approach to composition and color.

I think it is important for artists to recognize their best work (as it relates to where they want to go creatively, as opposed to what an outsider or critic might say). Recognizing progress builds confidence, which is key to staying on a path of creative development. When you critique your own work, be sure to note what IS working in addition to the things you want to improve. Remembering why something works is as important as remembering the things that fall short, build upon your strengths and address the weaknesses head on. For me, that has always been the best way to move forward.

Crossing at the Green, oil on canvas

October 25, 2009
Crossing at the Green, oil on canvas, alla prima, 9x12 in.

Crossing at the Green, oil on canvas, alla prima, 9x12 in.

This is another in my series of paintings of Morristown, NJ. It was done alla prima on canvas, I hope to do the entire series in this manner, keeping them very loose and spontaneous. I’ve just ordered a supply of stretched linen on which I will produce the remainder of the paintings. I’m hoping the linen will give me the right surface treatment for retaining brushwork while not having to contend with the coarseness of canvas. Can’t wait to start on the next one.