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!


Pastel Study for Future Painting

February 22, 2011

Pastel study, 6×8 in. pastel on Pastel Mat

I plan on painting this fairly large, not sure if I will use acrylics or oils. Really want to capture that feeling of light pouring through the scaffolding. I’ve done a few others in large format acrylic that have been very effective, however, I’m still tempted to go to oils on this for the luminosity of the colors. Having the pastel study will be of tremendous help, I’ve really come to rely on studies like these so much more than reference photos. A photo is a place to start, a sketch like this begins interpreting the things I find exciting about the subject. By having this available while working on the painting, I can use it to further capture the things I found compelling enough to paint in the first place.

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.

Fashion Illustration Sketches…

December 2, 2009

charcoal on newsprint

charcoal on newsprint

From time to time, I teach fashion illustration workshops for teens. I love sketching the clothed figure in a loose gestural manner. You can say so much with just a few lines and strokes of charcoal. This is a great way to practice seeing form and value and capturing gesture quickly. These were done in about 2 minutes each as demos for the class. The purpose is not to create a detailed drawing, but to capture a sense of the clothing and how it drapes on the figure, as well as the gesture of the figure itself.

Painting in Oil on Paper

October 5, 2009
study in oil on Fabriano hot pressed watercolor block

study in oil on Fabriano hot pressed watercolor block

This is a demo from my Advanced Oils Class. I sometimes prefer to do my demos on paper rather than canvas, the paper absorbs the oil faster and I can do layering that might not be possible on canvas. It’s also a nice way to handle studies, less expensive than stretched canvas. If you get one you become attached to, you can always frame it behind glass as you would a water color or acrylic.

The point of this particular demo was to illustrate how transparent and reflective objects can be used to create “new” shapes within a composition. Instead of thinking of the bottles and pots as individual units, I think of them in parts. First, as the parts that create the individual vessels themselves, and then as the parts that result as a part of the overlaps of transparent areas and reflective surfaces. Doing this enables you to break a lot of compositional “rules” and can create a dyanmic and unusual composition that is semi-abstract. While this piece is unfinished, I actually like the way the white of the paper is mixed with the areas covered by paint. I may put in a few more washes of transparent color and layer a few more bright areas on some of the white paper, but will definitely leave part of it showing through as unfinished. I like the way you can see the development of the composition and objects through the construction lines. While this may not be preferable for a more formal painting, it is certainly acceptable for a sketch or study such as this.

This blog is one year old today

September 8, 2009
Herring Cove, plein air acrylic sketch on paper, 5x8 in.

Herring Cove, plein air acrylic sketch on paper, 5x8 in.

I started this blog one year ago today, Sept. 8, 2008. I’m amazed at how many visitors I’ve had from all over the world, with 23,700+ hits, I can’t help but wonder who you all are. One thing I promised myself when I started this was that I would try to write interesting and informative articles. There is no point writing a blog just for the sake of writing a blog, so I hope you’ve found the information helpful.

Moving forward I’ll continue to post class notes from my weekly classes and workshops, as well as commentary on topics like promoting your work with social media, identifying exhibit opportunities and general thoughts on drawing, painting and all forms of art. I’ll have more demos and of course will keep you up to date with my latest paintings, exhibits and course offerings, so I hope you’ll stay tuned and continue to visit my blog.

Chasing the Light

September 7, 2009
early evening light, Salt Pond, acrylic on paper, 5x8 in.

early evening light, Salt Pond, acrylic on paper, 5x8 in.

Evening light is probably the most difficult to paint because it changes so rapidly. Unlike the morning light, which seems more subtle in the way it transforms over time, evening light is fleeting. Therefore, you need to work fast and have a plan if you are painting the afternoon/evening light en plein air.

The study above is of Salt Pond in Eastham on Cape Cod. I had planned to paint this along the shoreline, but did not realize the hike through the woods from the parking area to the shoreline was quite as long as it turned out to be.  I literally was running the last hundred yards or so (with my bag of painting supplies) to get to the shore before the light was gone. When I finally got there, I had to work quickly.

First, I mapped in the values and composition with burnt sienna as I always do. This step is crucial in changing light, if you establish your values early on, your painting will almost always be a success. In this case, as I was putting the values down, I was also making notes in my head of the colors of the landscape. Because I work with a limited palette, this is relatively easy to do, I’m used to working with specific colors and I know what combinations will achieve specific color variations. For example, the sunlit grass in the distance is primarily yellow ochre with some titanium white mixed in, the areas in shadow have a purple cast of cobalt blue and light red ochre over the yellow ochre/white combination. On the water, I mixed a blue-violet-grey of the same colors, and put this over the shadows which were primarily cobalt and burnt umber.

Mapping in values and knowing how specific colors work together can go a long way when you are painting outdoors, especially in conditions where the lighting is changing rapidly. While this is only a study, it is useful in helping me to really understand the colors of the landscape first hand and will be much more valuable to me in the studio than any reference photo could ever be on its own.