Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tip Tuesday - Do Your Paintings Look Chalky?

"Garden Path" Oil on 8" x 6" panel

Call it what you like - titanium, flake, zinc, radiant - it's a paint tube that every artist shudders at the thought of painting without. It's addictive, need to lighten a color? Add white. Not light enough? Add just a bit more. Still not quite capturing that light? Well, you get the idea.

White can be so addictive in fact that some paintings look like a dirty chalkboard eraser was used on top of them. Sadly, all that bright, vibrant and expensive (paint doesn't grow on trees) color is lost and the painting looses it's impact.

How do you correct this problem? I hope you like turkey because you're going to need a cold dose of it.

Paint without white. There, I said it. Go grab yourself a glass of wine and continue reading when you have fortified yourself.

Obviously, you can't give up painting without white forever but try it for a while and see how far you can get using other colors to lighten your paint mixtures. You'll be surprised at how far various yellows will take you. The bonus is you will also discover color mixtures you never would have tried if you had white on your palette.

Have I done this? Yes, I painted without white for 3 months and I make my students paint without it at least once a year.

The piece above was created entirely without white, my students can vouch for me because it was a class demonstration painting.

Paint on my friends (without white - at least for this week)!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Does Drawing Matter in a Loose Painting?

"The Channel" Oil on 16" x 20" panel

When teaching I've been asked if a painter can hide the fact that they can't draw if they paint really loosely. Immediately an image of a magician doing a card trick pops into my head as I imagine how a painter might employ that same type of visual slight of hand.

The student asking the question is usually disappointed with my answer and they then proceed to try to prove me wrong my slapping as much paint as possible onto their canvas.

Detail 1

What do I tell my class when this question comes up? No, you can't hide a weak drawing by painting loosely.

The structural framework of a piece is absolutely critical even in a painterly painting. The best artists are the ones who know which edges they can obliterate and which edges are important to keep intact so that the form is readable to the viewer. Nicolai Fechin was a master at painting both loosely and accurately.

Detail 2

So, if you're an artist, draw. All of us need to draw more (myself included).

While I'm not the most painterly painter around I've been pushing into that territory a bit more with my Los Angeles River Bridge series. The painting above was inspired by the small plein air painting below.

"L.A. River Bridge" Oil on 9" x 12" panel

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Power of Destruction Oil Painting Workshop 2016

"6th Street Bridge Reflections"

Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25, 2016 join me for a special workshop at Randy Higbee Gallery.


Workshop Description

How many paintings have you created that you aren't happy with? How many paintings do you have hidden away hoping that one day soon you'll work out all the problems with it and make it better?

Join me as I show you the power of taking risks when you are painting. Learn to let go of perfection and open the door to a new way of working creatively. Learn about edges, why abstract shapes are important even in a representational painting and different methods of applying paint. Having a focal point, focusing on large shapes, value and color mixing will also be discussed, however, this class is very different from all of my other classes so, if you've taken a class with me in the past be prepared for something new.

In the morning class will start with a painting a demonstration using photo reference. After lunch I'll provide one on one instruction to each student.

Please bring several photo references, several blank canvases and one or more finished paintings that you wish you could improve.

If you are really brave, bring in a painting you aren't happy with and we will work directly on top of it by using the techniques you will learn in class.

Where: Randy Higbee Gallery, 102 Kalmus Dr., Costa Mesa

When: Saturday & Sunday, September 24th - 25th 2016, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Cost: $120 for 1 day or $200 for both days


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Special Invitation

"Interconnection No. 3"

New Artwork Preview and Painting Demonstration

You are invited to a special artwork viewing and painting demonstration this Saturday, September 17, 2016 where I will create an abstracted landscape from start to finish. 

On view will be new, never shown before works on paper, panel and canvas. 

I won't be holding a studio sale this year so, don't wait to snap up that special painting. *Hint - the paintings on paper have been extremely popular.* If you are outside the area call Chemers Gallery to make a purchase.

Now through September 17th enjoy 20% off of my artwork in the gallery!

When: Saturday, September 17, 2016 from 1:00 - 5:00 p.m.

Location: Chemers Gallery
17300 Seventeenth St. Suite G
Tustin, CA
In the Enderle Center

(714) 731-5432


Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Power of Destruction

Perfection. The word brings to mind overly manicured gardens at historic French villas, straight lines that you're not allowed to color outside of and predictability.

Some painters strive for perfection. I imagine they are the ones who painstakingly recreate every detail of a subject using tiny paintbrushes with 3 bristles on the end. They spend months duplicating what a camera can capture in seconds. Their audience praises their work by exclaiming,"That looks exactly like a photograph!"

When you are learning to paint you struggle for years just trying to make your stuff look like stuff. You spend time trying not to make mistakes, hoping you're doing it right and figuring out how to make your stuff look darn good.

One day it dawns on you that your stuff actually looks like stuff! And then you spend a whole lot more time (a lifetime) trying to make your stuff look as amazing as possible.

This year a huge lesson I've learned is embracing destruction. Every studio painting I've worked on this year has almost been wiped entirely off the canvas. What seems to happen in this, I do some sketches and color studies, then I transfer my idea to a larger canvas, I block in all my big shapes and I passionately hate every inch of the painting.

The dark side of my brain whispers, "That's it, you lost it, you can't paint worth a damn anymore. Hang it up. Sell off your equipment and go back to work as a graphic designer."

Then my stomach reminds me that it's lunch time and I'm hungry. I get very hangry (that's hungry and angry mashed together in case you weren't aware) and tend to be negative until I'm fed. After eating I remember that I love painting, it's my compulsive obsession and I don't want to be a graphic designer again. So I take a look at the painting.

I still hate every inch. I plan on wiping it off first thing after dropping my kids off at school the next morning.

However, I refuse to let it be a complete loss. I plan to experiment with it before wiping it off just to see what I am able to learn by pushing paint around. More specifically, I plan to destroy parts of it by breaking edges, scraping away large areas with a palette knife, drawing on it with a pencil, slapping thick paint through passages where I see a sharp line and using tools can only be found at a home improvement store.

Why not, right? I was going to wipe it off anyway.

And that's when it happens - the interesting stuff, the stuff worth keeping, the stuff that makes the painting worth looking at, the fun stuff. The more risks I take the more interesting the painting becomes until eventually I don't hate it anymore and I don't plan on wiping it off anymore.

Now I embrace the opportunity for destruction. In fact, I look forward to it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

When Your Painting Fights Back

What no one sees when they look at a painting is the battle that occurred in order for it to turn out well enough for the artist to want to show it to anyone.

You wouldn't know it but this painting, which was a commission for the ACE Hotel in New Orleans, survived a war. In spite of careful planning doing pencil sketches and color studies this painting went through a big evolution.

It began with the tree trunk. In the first pass is was too wide and too straight. After narrowing it I began shading it to give it the 3D effect of a tree trunk. Every time I thought I had the trunk looking like a cylinder the colors would sink in (get darker) overnight. I'd return to the studio in the morning and face the fact that I needed to push the lights and darks even farther than I had during the previous painting session.

Just when I was at my wits end a couple of artist friends stopped over for coffee (Chai tea for me) and offered their thoughts. The shading still wasn't bold enough, the trunk didn't look like it had a twist (a hallmark of bayou trees) and the base of the tree was way too narrow.

After my friends left I attacked the trunk for the final time and managed to make all the adjustments needed.

Second pass on the awful clumps of Spanish Moss
Battle won? Ha, I wish!

You know what? As a native of California I've never seen Spanish moss in real life. I've seen it on T.V. and in photos but, I've never been to the parts of the south where it grows much less painted it. My first pass was a complete disaster. The moss looked like heavy ropes of brownish hair. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea at all.  It was a humbling experience.

Once again I reached out and texted a friend from the south some photos of my moss and proceeded to Google "paintings of Spanish moss." Seeing how other artists handled it helped. Then my southern friend got back to me and put her 2 cents in. She informed me that it must be silver/gray and stringy with movement to it.

Final version of the Spanish moss
I tried again and again, each time was closer but it still didn't have the movement it needed. Finally, I decided to run my paintbrush through it using big bold arm movements and contrasting grays letting it get messy. Amazingly it worked. It looked like Spanish moss!

All that was left was to paint in some of the smaller branches and I was done.
The finished painting installed in the ACE Hotel

Reading this it all sounds pretty simple after the fact, but resolving these problems required many hours over the course of two weeks. There were plenty of moments where I wasn't sure if I could pull it off at all. Thankfully, I have good friends with great insights who are happy to share and cheer me on. I'm grateful because in the painting war everyone needs allies. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

What to Do When a Painting Won't Dry and You Have a Deadline

Double Panel Painting for the ACE Hotel
Call Gamblin Artist Colors helpline. Too simple an answer, right?

If you've been reading my blog then I've been talking about a recent commission I completed for an interior design firm. The commission was to paint 4 double panel paintings for the new ACE Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a dream job except for one thing - the deadline ... a really, really tight deadline.

I paint in oils and the beauty of working with oils is that they dry slowly which allows me to make lots of changes if I need to. That's usually a plus except for when there's a deadline - a tight deadline.

Solution - add a speed dryer to the paint. Which one though? There are plenty to choose from. I chose to use Gamblin's Galkyd Lite because it would speed the drying time to 24-30 hours and retain brushstrokes. Sounds ideal, right?

What I didn't plan on happening was a change in our normal dry, sunny Southern California weather. The month I was working on two sets of panels we experienced a cold snap accompanied by rain. We really need to rain and I was happy to see it however, I knew it would slow the drying time of the paintings. I just didn't know how much it would slow their drying time.
Double Panel Painting Installed in the ACE Hotel

Answer - a lot. Both sets of panels weren't dry at all in 24-30 hours or 36, 48 or 72. Panic.

Now if I was at a plein air event and the panels actually fit inside my car I would "car bake" them. Something many artists do that work the plein air circuit (Can you believe there is such a thing? Well, there is.) What they do is put a wet painting into a hot, sunny car to "bake" it dry. Heck, I've see a buddy of mine line up paintings on his dashboard and "bake" a whole batch!

But these panels I worked on were approx. 60" x 24" each. I do have a big "soccer mom" car but it's not big enough to hold all the panels I finished.

I decided to do the next best thing I could think of. I borrowed two space heaters from my brother-in-law, cleared out my kids bathroom (They don't really need a bathroom, do they?), put the panels inside the room, cracked a window and closed the door. After a few days when they still weren't dry and the deadline was looming I called Gamblin's helpline. Yup, they have a helpline and it rocks!
Panel Packed and Ready to Ship

The gentleman I spoke to was a wealth of knowledge about paint and painting materials. He asked me a lot of questions about what paint colors I used, how much medium I used, what surface I was working on and what the weather was like. After learning which colors dry more slowly than others (turns out titanium white is the slowest) he confirmed that I was doing the right thing. He said keep the air circulating in the room, heat it up, wait and in another day or two they would turn the corner and be dry enough to varnish (which I need to do before shipping them). I also learned that silicone parchment paper won't stick to oil paint - in case I needed to wrap slightly tacky paintings in paper and then ship them, which thankfully, I didn't have to do. He did suggest that next time I use straight Galkyd just to be safe.

Did I meet my deadline? Yes, I did and just in the nick of time too.

What about you, have you ever had to speed dry a painting? how did you do it? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.