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!

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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!


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!


Grapes – Pastel Demo

March 4, 2011

pastel demo – 8×5 in. pastel on Pastel Mat

I did this quick little study of grapes as a demo for my pastel students. Grapes are one of the most complex subjects to draw or paint. If you think of them as masses, rather than individually you will get much better results.

Start by massing in the entire bunch of grapes, don’t draw individual globes, block in the shadows. From there, begin carving out those grapes which are the most prominent, these you can begin to add some details to. Remember that not every grape needs to be done in fine detail, keep the ones in the shadows and the ones at the bottom of the bunch subdued and just suggested.

Use a lot of color variation, grapes are translucent and have many colors in their skins: red grapes have blues, yellow ochres, greens and purples in them. The highlights should be handled in a way that includes both warms and cools and some that are prominent vs. others that are not as vibrant.

This is a good exercise in observation, drawing complex subjects helps to train your eye in reducing things down to basic shapes, as well as to better see a wide range of values and unexpected colors.


Winter Landscapes in Pastel – Workshop Feb. 27

January 3, 2011

Rockaway Creek with Snow, pastel on Pastelmat, 9x12 in.

If you’ve ever wanted to paint winter landscapes that are fresh and alive, pastel is a great medium. It offers a certain unique spontaneity and allows you to capture textures and atmospheric effects in a highly expressive yet realistic manner.

I’m offering a one-day workshop on painting the winter landscape in pastel at the NJ Visual Arts Center in Summit on Feb. 27. The workshop is from 10 am to 4 pm and costs $100. For more details, visit the NJ VAC web site.

All of my 10-week courses begin next week, if you have not registered yet, please do so as soon as possible. Most of my classes are close to full, advanced oil painting is wait listed but I still have a few spots in my others. Call the art center at 908-273-9121 or register online.


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.


Pastel Landscape Study

October 3, 2010

Landscape study in pastel, 12x12 in.

This is a demo from my pastels class on landscape painting. Most of the time, my subject is more urban and contains architectural  elements. I like to take a break from that now and then and focus on landscapes that are a bit more organic.

The trees of course are a key element in this type of work, I like to think of them as masses of leaves to be boldly blocked in with color. Of course, just as with any other painting, I start out with a value study as an underpainting. This is what gives the piece depth and get s the dark values placed, which is critical when working with pastel. I always choose my colors at the beginning of a pastel, this ensures that the palette will be harmonious and that no colors will be fighting with one another for attention.

Another key aspect to working with pastels is to avoid blending. Let the colos mix optically on the paper rather than blending them together, blending can cause mud, especially if you have many colors layered on top of one another which is typical with pastel.

I think pastel is a great medium for working out ideas for future paintings, or for doing quick studies such as this. I rarely work with it large because pastels are difficult and expensive to frame, plus most galleries prefer work on canvas that is not behind glass. Still, no reason to abandon the medium, instead I use it in the manner described above and will sometimes sell my pastel drawings unframed. This provides an alt3ernative way for collectors who cannot afford an original oil painting to acquire my work since I do not sell prints.