Online Course vs. DVD: Interaction Makes the Difference!

January 13, 2014
Bridge in 2-point perspective, watercolor & ink

Bridge in 2-point perspective, watercolor & ink – Learn one, two and three point perspective in my online course, as well as atmospheric perspective, details below.

Over and over I have been asked “When are you going to make some DVDs of your drawing and painting courses?” After much consideration, I have decided that instead of DVD, I am going to begin offering some courses online. I have always felt that DVD was too one-sided, lacking the interaction needed to understand the concepts of drawing and painting. I don’t talk “at” my students in class, I would be very uncomfortable with the idea of presenting to an audience that could not ask me questions or let me know whether the concepts are clear or not. Hence, I think online long-distance learning is the right path for me to take in offering my courses to a broader audience.

1, 2, 3 Perspective is now Available Online

I decided to start my venture into online course offerings with a mini version of a course I teach at the Visual Arts Center of NJ, “1, 2, 3 Perspective”. Many artists struggle with the concepts of perspective or are afraid of it. Anyone who wishes to paint effective representational paintings, particularly landscapes, needs to have a thorough grasp on all forms of perspective. I teach the course from an artist’s point of view rather than an engineering approach, focusing on understanding the gestural properties of each type of perspective and how they can be used to create accurate, bold compositions that draw the viewer into the painting.

The course consists of 4 lessons that contain an introduction to each concept: one-, two-, three-point perspective, and atmospheric perspective. After reading the text, the student completes 2 exercises designed to reinforce the concepts presented. Once completed, the student takes a photo of the work done in the exercises and emails it to me for personalized critique. I actually make a print out of their images and mark the corrections right on the copy so they can see EXACTLY where their drawings are off and how to fix them! No DVD will do that. Additionally, I provide feedback to them on how to make their drawings  more confident and graceful.

The materials used in the course are minimal: vine charcoal, compressed charcoal and a stick of white pastel on newsprint (or any other paper suitable for charcoal that you happen to have on hand). The photos taken can be iPhone photos, as long as I can see the drawing, I can critique it. Students are encouraged to email any questions they have along the way as they are doing the exercises. I reply to all emails within 24 hours of receipt.

Privacy and Convenience

One of the best aspects of online learning is the fact that you do it in your own home/studio and at your convenience. There’s no driving to class or carting supplies, plus, if you feel intimidated working in front of other artists, working independently may help to build your confidence. This is especially true for beginners!

You also are free to learn at your own pace. We work on one concept at a time, so when you finish the first lesson and have an understanding of the concepts taught in it, you then move on to Lesson 2. Some students take longer than others due to busy schedule or they just like to take their time, that’s totally fine. Take as long as you need, I provide the critiques within 24 hours of submission and then forward the next Lesson which is completed in your own time frame.

How to Sign Up

This course is affordably priced and there are several payment options, if you are interested in finding out more details, or have questions about the content, please email me at


Don’t be in such a hurry…

March 12, 2012

7th Avenue, NYC (across from Penn Station) - acrylic on canvas, 12x12 in.

The title of this post does not refer to how quickly you paint, many artists (myself included) are not slow painters. I do my best work when I use quick, confident brush strokes and a limited number of colors. The application of the paint itself is not a drawn-out, labor-intensive process. It’s energetic and fun, but that’s because by the time I am doing a real painting (as opposed to a study), I’ve already done 2 or 3 studies of the subject in preparation for the final. In other words, I’ve done the homework and studied the subject before taking the test. Does this cut into my ability to be spontaneous? NO! It gives me the confidence and familiarity with the subject (and I use this term loosely since I approach all subjects in a similar manner from the start) so that I can be expressive when painting the piece on canvas.

In addition to doing studies in pastel or charcoal before starting a piece on canvas, I also carefully select a palette that suits whatever “mission” I have in creating a particular piece. Which reds, blues and yellows will work best in this particular painting? What are the colors present in the subject and which ones in my box will get the job done most efficiently? Do I need to introduce secondaries from the tube for a bolder look, or do I want to go in the opposite direction and stay with an extremely limited palette? Do I even want to use color at all?

I do the same thing when deciding what medium to use? Will acrylics or oils be better suited? Do I want a more graphic and contemporary feeling, or a softer more impressionistic look? We all have a range when it comes to style, but our work should look consistent when multiple pieces are displayed together. Keeping a consistent color palette, subject or theme is good idea in general, and key to a successful exhibit of multiple works.

If you are frustrated with your paintings more often than not, I would highly recommend taking the time before hand to do studies, plan your color palette, choose your subject and medium. Do this in an unhurried, relaxed manner. Think logically, not emotionally, and explore all the possibilities. Your studies are the time you take before hand to learn about the painting you are going to paint, so in a way, you are learning about something that does not yet exist. Explore all possibilities and don’t be afraid to fail, if you try something and it doesn’t work, take a different approach. Stay off the negative track and don’t start second guessing your skill, that is unproductive and won’t give you any answers. The answers are found in practice and planning, take the time to work out the idea in sketches, studies, color and compositional planning. Choose your medium carefully and have a clear understanding of what you want your painting to say. You’ll enjoy the process of putting the paint on the canvas, and can paint quickly and confidently, if you’ve done your homework first!

Still Life from the Pantry

January 16, 2012
Still life demo of pantry items, acrylic on canvas, 10x7 in.

Still life demo of pantry items, acrylic on canvas, 10x7 in.

A still life does not need to contain elaborate items to be interesting. In fact, items from around the house can often be used to create dynamic, colorful still life compositions. I particularly like using items from the pantry, commercial packaging typically contains vibrant graphics and recognizable brand labels that can make an interesting, playful design.

The objects themselves are great for practicing your drawing skills: cylinders (cans), rectangular cubes (bread, boxes) and a variety of surface textures (metal, plastic and glass) are all represented in the goods stocked in the average pantry. Want to practice drawing ellipses? Do a still life of cans! The plastic on a bread bag contains wonderful contrasts and bright highlights. Glass and metal on jars and cans is always a challenge, painting them from life is the best way to improve your observational skills.

The geometric forms of the packaging also lend themselves to interesting, contemporary compositions. Use the geometrics to break up the space in a balanced manner.  Repeating shapes, colors and graphics are a great way to keep the eye moving and to prevent the viewer from becoming stuck or bored.

A still life does not always need to contain fruit and flowers! Be creative, there are items all around you that can make a unique and compelling set up.

The Food Pyramid for Painters

January 9, 2012

Most of us are familiar with the pyramid used to show the 4 basic food groups and their nutritional roles. I’ve done the same thing with the components of successful painting in the diagram above. The process of painting can be broken down into 4 components: drawing, composition, color and creativity. Each of these components is needed to produce an end result that is likely to be successful in terms of technical proficiency and expression–you have to have both of these in order to have a piece of “art”.

Drawing – the drawing is the structure of the painting, it must accurately depict what the artist is trying to represent, whether that is something that actually exists in real life, or an abstract concept that comes from the imagination. The artist must have a command of proportion, perspective, form and value in order to create the structure. Drawing can be done in any media–pencil, charcoal, or paint. Get the drawing right, and you have a good foundation to build upon, think of drawing as the bottom layer in the pyramid, the grains in the food pyramid. If you have good drawing skills, YOU are in control of how realistic you want to be, not the other way around.

Composition – the composition is what will keep viewers engaged in the painting. It needs to be balanced and dynamic to keep the eye exploring the piece without getting bored or stuck in one spot. It should support the mood of the painting, it can be busy or calm, containing resting areas for the eye as well as connecting points to keep the eye moving. Composition is key, therefore it is  also at the base of the pyramid, just above drawing–the subject needs to be depicted accurately and placed in the painting in a way that keeps the viewer engaged. In some respects, these first two layers are of equal weight and importance and the process of getting them on the canvas takes place in the first stages of the painting process. It is best to not go beyond the under painting stage until the composition and the drawing have been worked out to the artist’s satisfaction–in food terms, eat your grains and veggies first.. All the color and creativity in the world will not make a poorly drawn or poorly composed image successful.

Color – Color is a tool to be used for expression, it is not a necessity. I place color toward the top of the pyramid because I think of it as something that a painting should be able to exist without (think of all the great works done monochromatically). It would be like the meat, fish and dairy group, ok for some but you can live without it if you are a vegan. If an artist chooses to work in color, the color must be harmonious. Mud and garish contrasts should be avoided through a thorough understanding of color theory. If you are planning to work in color, take the time to understand color theory, make yourself a color wheel, know how individual pigments will mix with one another. If you are a beginner, start working with only the primaries and mixing all of your secondary colors. I RARELY use secondaries out of the tube, I prefer to mix all of my greens, oranges and purples. I find I get a much more natural looking color, as well as a more harmonious overall feeling to the painting.

Creativity – This is what will set your painting apart! It’s like dessert, the reward you’ve earned by doing all the hard work. In this case, dessert is something we can’t live without, because in order for your painting to be more than just an example of technical proficiency, it has to have that unique spark of creativity. The problem with just having the creativity and not the skills is that while you might have  great ideas and concepts, you won’t have the ability to successfully execute and communicate them. Logical understanding and hands on practice of the first three components is needed in order for the fourth component to come to fruition.

To get into top form with your painting:

  • practice your drawing skills from life whenever possible
  • think of objects purely as shapes and forms to divide up your composition in a balanced and dynamic manner
  • understand color theory and how to work with color to create harmony and cohesiveness in your paintings
  • don’t be afraid to be creative! break rules and experiment, that’s what it’s all about!

“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. 🙂

Practice Season

December 10, 2011

Hoffman's Crossing Bridge, Califon, NJ - plein air pastel, 6x9 in.

It’s officially winter break from teaching for me, which means I have more time to paint. After 3 solo exhibits this year, I am ready to just paint without the pressure of producing work for exhibition. So now I am just practicing and experimenting, mainly with plein air. That may seem odd being that it is winter, but since my studio is not heated and does not have electricity, I don’t have a place to work on large scale paintings.  I can easily do a plein air like the one above from the warmth of my car, sounds strange, but it works.

My other area of practice is with still life. I am experimenting with simple objects I have around the house. Groceries from the pantry, cleaning supplies, etc. I don’t care what I paint, the challenge for me is not to tell a story, but to arrange forms to create depth, motion and spontaneity–it doesn’t matter what the subject is, the goal is the same.


Plein Air Made Simple!

November 7, 2011
High Bridge

View from High Bridge Train Station Steps, plein air pastel, 9x12 in.

Plein air sketching does not have to be a complex process. There are many plein air artists who opt for all the gear: field easel or pochade box, full set of oil paints and mediums (or whatever medium they prefer), umbrellas, and other gadgets supposedly required for the plein air experience.

I find that simpler is better! Pastel is my medium of choice for plein air sketching, followed by acrylics. When I sketch plein air in pastel, all I bring with me are about 15-20 hard and soft pastels in a range of colors/values that I can combine to effectively depict light and shadow. I pre-cut my paper (usually PastelMat, Wallis or LaCarte) down to either 9×12 in. or 6×9 in. size, I don’t work larger than 9×12 for plein air. I tape the paper to the back of an old canvas panel, throw all of the above in my car and am ready to go.

While in my studio I always work standing, when I’m sketching in the field (usually in town) I will often sit in a cafe or on a bench. I start out by blocking in my values with a hard pastel (NuPastel #353 is perfect for this). Then I work from dark to light mapping in colors and combining layers to create a harmonious balance of variation in light and shadow.

Because I love perspective, I typically look for town settings that have a strong, one-point perspective view to create a composition that draws the viewer into the painting. Telephone poles, wires, street lamps, trees and other vertical elements are perfect for this purpose. Morning light and late afternoon sun are my favorite times to sketch outdoors.

So if you haven’t tried plein air because you think you have to invest in a whole “kit”, think again. It’s not as complicated as it appears!