The Nine Sharp Group
Notes for the summer outdoor painting group

Notes Sept. 3, 2008 at the rose garden, Cheeseman Park
1. Keying the values to white to assure the same result whether your canvas is in shade or in the sun.
2. Using the black & white feature of your digital camera as an aid for value problems.
3. The difficult shadow core of a rose in sunshine (but it's there).
4. The challenge: to bring together facts and right relationships from your on-location study and link them up with the digital reference to produce a painting with believability

Notes Sept. 11, 2008
1. As you are painting, modifying colors and shapes, adding newly observed nuances to a specific area, you can easily add too many. This is predictable and normal, especially with a new subject or a different scale; because to know how much is enough takes some guessing. Often the only way to tell is to keep going till you feel it's getting worse not better. Once you have noticed this though, the smartest thing is fearlessly take off the paint and restate it more simply.
2. I believe there is some real benefit to taking a 2H pencil (or whatever your preference) and doing some space division and delineation on the canvas before you pick up the paint. It helps you determine where one area should be established before another is added over it, i.e. trees meeting sky.
3. There is a certain look to that stage of a painting where the general relationship of tones and colors is good and the placement of everything is correctly proportioned. For a while, to get that look firmly fixed in your mind, I suggest you shoot a quick shot of things you paint that get to that stage. When you have many of those shots to compare, you will also have a clearer idea of what it looks like for your style and what a huge rate of success your efforts bring when you work to get that stage in place before further development.



Art Students League of Denver
Notes for Painting Students


Working Drawings
Still Life Approaches
Starting a Painting
Become a Better Painter
Return to Stage 2
Student Values vs Artistic Values
Large Painting Workthrough
Subject Matter

5/11/06 Still life Approaches

Too many still life paintings have a kind of "typical subject" range. For many young painters, this conflicts with their desire to be serious contemporary artists, they rarely see an inspired still life and they avoid the genre altogether. Still life painting doesn't have to be hackneyed, it can be brilliant and inspired. It has the potential to engage the viewer on any level, beauty, symbolism, artistic aesthetic, self revelation, political statement, etc.- just exactly as art is intended, in a traditional or contemporary way.

Among the countless ways to approach the subject, I feel the two most important are; what strategy you use to begin the painting and what you choose for the subjects. First, what you choose; Although you might find that many things you’d like to paint might be considered “typical,” this in itself isn't a good reason to pass it up. You can also pass by the unexpected and uncommon subject/object by thinking that it might look like you are just trying to be different! The choice should be guided by what you want to paint, what interests you right now rather than how it will strike someone else. Choosing with this criteria develops an independent artistic profile. It is this process of choice that you will go through in any genre and it shouldn't be any different with still life. The second aspect; you do have choices about how you begin. The most common approach is to first make the choice of things/objects that will be the subject of the still life- an object orientation. As figurative painters, the subject/object choosing eventually becomes part of the process anyway, but starting with the objects first, though a tried and true method, can be a truly aggravating process to some. I include myself. Looking through a viewfinder, arranging and rearranging, adding and substituting, changing tones and colors, changing vantage points, lighting, the changes and variables can quickly get overwhelming. Sometimes it works very well, but when it doesn’t, it’s good to know a useful alternative.

A nearly opposite approach to object orientation is to begin with the underlying abstract qualities; the design, the space division, the color patterning, etc., and following success at that (doing something that pleases you), fitting the subject/objects into the abstraction you have made. The abstract qualities of a work of art, figurative or not, are a very big deal. They are vital to the power of the piece and the exposition of the artist’s aesthetics (for that painting). They can just as surely pull you from across the room all by themselves as any subject would. The painter Vuillard comes to mind. I found many of his paintings, because of their compelling abstract qualities, would command my attention before I knew what the subject was! In other words their qualities were "stand-alone"and compelling without a subject. I find many Andrew Wyeth's paintings also have this quality.

There are many mediums you can work in to begin this way, and the approach can be everything in-between directly making an oil painting (just about color and design), to other preliminary mediums including collage. If you have never tried collage or abstract painting, you’ll have to take it on faith that your aesthetics will kick in and you will not have any problem deciding what you like and what you don’t. Look through a body of work by Kurt Schwitters for example: his abstract collages are the top of the line -but you will prefer some over others. The reason for that is simple and complicated at the same time. We know we have preferences but can’t explain them fully, because we can’t access the part of our mind that holds instincts.

Collages and abstract designs may not always suggest a masterpiece, but it can get you off the dime and start the creative process.

4/18/06 On April 13, the subject of our class was basic digital manipulation using Adobe Photoshop CS. Thanks to Connie McArthur for her generous gift of the digital projector!
Some follow-up notes: Displaying a live histogram on the monitor of your camera before/while shooting is a time saver when it comes to making sure of your exposure. It's an option on most digital cameras. On Nikon it's not a menu option though, it's a button on the back that cycles 4 monitor displays. The disp button!

3/13/06 Working Drawings

In 2005, in response to a question about making yourself a better painter I wrote: Do a version of the (oil) painting in a less controllable medium. Watercolor or gauche would be good choices. A full year later, while trying to make a watercolor part of my process, it dawned on me there was yet another even more basic preparatory tool—one that many of us skip past in our haste to start painting. To do a watercolor, (most watercolors) you need to have a drawing on the paper first! That’s not necessarily true with an oil painting, working from the general to the specific is about modifying shape areas. I have to admit line drawing itself was disappearing from my process. Drawing is the best thing you can do to make yourself a better painter! Draw your subject or parts of the subject-before you start the painting.

Most of us have some idea of what a drawing is supposed to be, or how it is “supposed” to look. The kind of drawing I’m referring to should not be confused with the one you might do on your canvas or the ones you will be showing to anyone, passing judgment on, or even saving. To explore the subject and to learn about how to represent its different elements, make “working drawings”. Plain pencil and paper. Line. Not tone. It seems to make sense to many of us that if we can see the subject clearly, we understand it without any problem. Sure. A working drawing can quickly test that assumption and reveal exactly where more study is necessary. I’m delighted when my drawing reveals I can represent something of the subject with knowledge and understanding, and I’m as surprised as anyone when the red flag goes up. This kind of drawing is really a perfect way to get a heads-up on what needs extra attention—before you begin. When you do begin painting, you’ll be drawing with masses instead of lines- true. Color and tone can have such a dramatic effect though, they sometimes disguise a lack of understanding in the drawing. Invariably, when I spend time on working drawings, there are fewer speed bumps! That’s a big deal because it saves time and reduces stress. Taking some time to fully grasp the shapes and proportions in your subject in the working drawing means you’ll have a much better chance of representing it successfully when the painting begins. Conversely, if you do nothing beforehand, you will probably find yourself solving many additional shape problems ON TOP OF the normal color, value, and design considerations. The creative process is hard enough. Why waste time scraping off paint, losing momentum, composure, and confidence if some of it can be avoided??

While we’re at it, let’s not gloss over the issue of self-confidence. The worst outcome of getting stuck with one small problem after another in every painting is that after a while, it starts to make you skittish. It erodes your confidence. You become convinced that only you have to work so hard to get it right: EVERYONE ELSE CAN DRAW BETTER. Then, usually, as you buy into that, you stop investing time in drawing. It only reminds you of your weaknesses (when it might not be one)! This erosion of confidence has a negative impact on your equilibrium as an artist. Talk about a vicious cycle!So how do you get out of it? . . . First of all, get over being self-conscious about the working drawings. No one need ever see these efforts at problem-solving. Think of these scribbles as personal notation, the same kind of preparatory trial-and-error you would undertake to solve a puzzle, draft a letter, or sketch a plan for constructing a piece of furniture. When you’re finished, these study efforts are meant to be discarded. They don’t represent your artistic skills to anyone and are not meant to be judged (especially not by you). If you think of the preparatory drawings this way, you can’t go wrong, even when you only partially solve a problem. Anything you can understand before the painting is in progress saves many headaches and a lot of time.
Finally, keep in mind that parts of the painting that go well as a result of doing these drawings are the real proof that you CAN draw. To remind myself TO draw and that I CAN draw, I keep a small reminder pinned up in my studio that reads: “IT’S PART OF THE SKILL-SET, KNUCKLEHEAD!”

1/19/06 Starting a painting

In starting a painting, it really helps to get something on the canvas that you can count on. A few colors or values that are “nearly correct” act as a guide with which we can compare other colors and values. Most artists agree that getting down a few areas you are fairly certain about really makes for a great block-in and a great start.Students are anxious to get something in place that they feel confidant about, but they always seem to choose to work on a part of the drawing instead. I say “instead” because drawing is a different part of the problem. Many students don’t realize that since they are using paint anyway, it can be pretty tough to stick to the drawing without starting to use colors and values to suggest light and shadow. This can lead to a series of effects that push the painting into the murky middle; and more times than not, by the time you have the canvas covered and a whole relationship put together, you have to change what you settled for in that beginning.

When you start the block-in, think of every single part of the painting as being equal in importance. It’s the whole effect that should concern you, not making this part or that part better. At this stage of the painting, the three elements that should concern you are: 1) The darkest area, 2) the lightest area (not dark accents or light accents), and 3) if there is one, a high chroma color (a saturated primary or secondary color). These elements are easy to identify, they are generally more about value than color, and they can be slightly changed if necessary at a later stage. But most importantly, they play a huge role in the accuracy of the color/value guesses that you make in that critical first stage of the block in—when all parts of the painting “are still created equal.” The shape of your figure in the painting is related to where you put that color/value, but it represents only a few of the many colors and values you have to paint in to form the total relationship. Once you have indicated the placement and size of the figure, get those "nearly correct " parts established so you they can play their role and help. Don’t worry about refining the drawing until you have guessed and corrected all those different parts! As I said, drawing is a different concern, it's part of the development after you have the base effect established.For more on this idea, see the 2/2/05 entry. It is a key issue as we start painting from life.

1/10/06 Painting from Life Orientation

Our class for 2006 began last week. In addition to painting the figure, we discussed a general orientation to painting from life, most of which involves becoming a student of nature and learning to see more objectively. The classroom goal is to put a great deal of effort into making the subject “look like it looks.” In attempting that, we try to put ourselves into a frame of mind where discovery is the motivation as well as the job at hand. What colors, values and shapes do I need to make? What creates the visual excitement here? How do I do it?

I know the classroom goal will not be the same as your artistic goal. That’s why I’m urging you to put that aside for the moment, in order to study and imitate nature. The benefits are numerous. For example, in an attempt to make colors or values that better describe what you see, you will expand your color-mixing ability. You will adopt the habit of an open mind (not assuming you already know what colors or values it will take). These two top the list.

Facing a blank canvas, it's very tempting to get in a big hurry and start establishing some important individual part. This isn't a good plan. You can never be certain about a value or color without considering its visual context (all the adjacent colors and values). The surrounding colors and values very greatly influence how any individual part looks. When beginning the painting, first develop a simplification where the general color areas all play against each other. You make your best guess at these different areas, spreading them out in roughly their right place and the canvas covered! When you can see a right relationship of shapes, colors and values, even just as simple areas, your ability to make corrections will be greatly enhanced. Therefore, in the beginning of the painting, creating this inter-reltionship (commonly called a block-in) is even more important than accurate drawing. Some enjoy the process more when they work out more drawing first, which is fine. You are attempting to get this early stage set up so when directly compared, your painting looks the very much the same as the subject (in general color and tone).

In painting from life outdoors, the moving light, sometimes a moving target (!), and often the lack of time, take some getting used to. It is definitely not easy. At first the difficulties seem to heighten the sense of “risk”. The stress and inconveniences—lugging gear, travel, weather and changing light conditions—they are all part of what we learn to manage in order to discover how something we see works on canvas. However, before you add on the expectation that you will make something wonderful, get in the frame of mind to play and discover. It will add many new possibilities to what you might bring back for your efforts, whether it's a painterly rendition or the collection of useful color notes to make a larger painting.

We study nature to learn and expand. It’s not easy, but painting from life skills help us find a way to translate what we see. If it doesn't appear to work on the canvas with the first guesses, we apply a habit of trying to be more objective and start to test other possibilites. Practice does pay off in this area. More than the results, the value of being flexible and adventuresome right has incalculable value. It builds artistic independence and a confidence in your ability to solve problems. That alone makes it worth the effort.

8/6/05 Beauty

I'd like to replace my previous comments on beauty with something more substantial. Here it is- a book on the subject with a bibliography that is amazing in itself!. "Beauty ;The Invisible Embrace" by John O'Donohue. Bob Wornall, a most generous friend, mentioned it early this week and then brought me a copy the next day! Reading the introduction, which is terrific, I began to realize how far-reaching the topic is and how many brilliant people have devoted themselves to writing about it. Beauty is a subject that many of us, to an extent we probably haven't realized, have spent most of our lives trying to focus on. I feel that at least the introduction of the book should be required reading for me and every artist (of any kind) because John O'Donohue has done some extraordinary thinking and writing. About beauty. There is a sample chapter at his website;

4/20/05 Student Values vs Artistic Values

In the last two weeks, a discussion (argument) has begun about whether the goals of "painting from life" in the classroom is a high standard which should be applied to one's own painting or if your individual artistic goal is the higher standard. There were some feelings expressed that letting go of a true fidelity to nature would be tantamount to blessing whatever anyone wanted to do. Creativity, self expression, and interpretationshould all be considered smoke and mirrors. The implication is that artists who take pride in their creative and interpretive work just haven't developed the skills. That assertion also tends to imply skill is the ultimate virtue and virtuoso painters are also the greatest artists. If it were true and the greatest possible artistic achievement was to make the subject look absolutely the way it looks, then we would have put down our brushes and paint long ago and picked up cameras and videocams instead. They do a much better job of recording the way things really look. Art, painting specifically, derives it's magic from suggesting and then allowing the participation of the viewer. Ask any artist you admire, especially if he or she is a naturalist with considrable painting from life skills. They all agree. No matter how strong the commitment to the subject or reference in the beginning, at some point you stop trying to making it look right and begin to pay attention to the continuity, design and emphasis. Without the artistic interpretations, it is just a skillful life study. A point of view and imagination are not substitutes for skills, they play vitally important roles for the artist.

3/24/05 Return to Stage 2

Portrait painting from life and studying "painting from life" are exactly the same thing..... only you are not going to get paid for it! As we know from biographies of John Singer Sargent, some of his sitters probably thought they might be posing for quite a bit longer than they'd hoped. Sargent had many portrait subjects that he found difficult and would often rub out his efforts at the end of a day's session. He wanted to characterize the sitter accurately but with the least amount of information. When we see his work on portraits, no matter what the actual number of days it took, we find it looks effortless. He had a very clear idea of what he wanted and he obviously was not hesitant about beginning over when he fell short of his goal. Since much of the time in class you are doing the same thing a portrait painter would, doesn't it seem reasonable that you would also have to rub off what you have from time to time? Because you have tried to include too many facts, part of the drawing is off or the color is wrong? I rarely see anyone rubbing anything off, people just keep adding and adding until the end of class. And the bits they are working on get smaller and smaller with absolutely no hope of changing the basic error. Have you stopped looking at the whole thing? Are working one part to death? Let's agree that if Sargent had to start over sometimes, we will too. Learning to take paint off or put your work back into an earlier stage of development is an important part of mastering the medium. It's the only intelligent way to restate or correct some basic flaw. It's also the only way to apply that good information that you have discovered (maybe by doing it wrong first), to give yourself another chance. You have to be brave and start trying it when that something that is bothering you isn't getting fixed.

3/16/05Becoming a Better Painter

One night, years ago, I asked a respected friend what could I do to get better? He was also a painter but ten years older. There was no answer. He knew I was working hard on drawing and painting fundamentals. I guess he didn't want to say," Just work harder". He shrugged. The disappointment passed, but if someone asked me that question now, some thirty years later, this is what I would say. Try and adopt a medium or two that are by their nature less capable of capturing full color and value. The perfect example to use would be a woodblock print. ('ala Gustave Bauman) There are many others but the point is this; doing an oil painting is like writing a novel without an editor. It's really open-ended. By comparison, doing a woodblock print forces you to make an enormous reduction of facts. You must limit yourself to JUST ENOUGH. There is tremendous value in trying to do this. If you can't get a handle on the essentials of what you are attempting to portray, your results will be very poor, without character. Working toward success in a "limited" medium gives a renewed understanding of what the term "essential" means, why we draw to discover, and why understanding always beats "faking" it. Our best painters are not considered great because they render details better than everyone else. They've built details upon a solid design and fine drawing. Working in other mediums helps you understand the great value of "just enough". Simplicity is an important addition to your fundamental artistic understandings.

2/28/05 Large Painting Workthrough

Wouldn't it be great if we could work from life on any subject we wanted for as long as we wanted? I don't work fast enough sometimes to complete even a small painting in the time that's actually available. On Thursday last week I answered a question about making a large painting in the studio by describing what I do. It's difficult to imagine doing a large painting subject when you are wondering if you have a good enough life study reference or adequate photographic reference. I get worried I will make a huge investment in time and end up with nothing to show for it. Over the years, many paintings of mine went south halfway or three-quarters through and I had to start the whole thing again. The reason was poor preparation. I didn't have any idea what color areas I 'd have problems with, I didn't work out part of the design well enough, and many other difficulties that all resulted in wasted time and wasted materials. I changed that by dedicating some time beforehand to a work-through piece. It is a painting the same size as the one I want to do. Working fast, no worries about ruining this part or that, scraping and repainting as changes are required, it is dedicated purely to "giving it a go". I discover quite a bit about the upcoming problems; a lot of how NOT to do it, color ranges and tonal coordination- you name it. Best of all, I can see a rough version of what it looks like in paint. It takes away some of my hesitancy to start the actual painting and in some cases I can just use that version because the gain doing it again would fall into a catagory of diminishing returns. A practical detail; if the painting is very large, using the classic method of upsizing keeps relative proprtions easy to establish in a short amount of time. Draw a grid on your final drawing or photo reference, draw the same grid on your empty canvas. You can quickly rough in where things will be.

2/24/05 Subject Matter

Having introduced and explained the why’s and wherefore’s of "painting from life",  it's time to mix in a few thoughts on things that concern the artist part of you. It is the idea that your artistic development should advance as your skills advance. Artistic development is the more important part because it’s the process of taking responsibility for the what and why of your subject matter. It is a difficult process because there’s no way to know for sure if things are going in the right direction, there’s no one to reassure you. Given the inherent self doubt, the lack of a fully formed viewpoint in the beginning, getting “good” looks a lot easier. It’s natural to want to work on skills until a certain level of expectation is met, but some stay at it even when the diminishing returns signal “go on to something else”. If you are in your early 20s, there may be time to burn, but in our class, most are just recently finding time to be serious students again, turning professional or already professional. Time is a critical factor. We realize working on skills etc. is a quest for the rest of our lives…keep drawing and painting. It seems we never get where we'd like to be, but we do improve with the effort we put into it. Given that, putting off dealing with artistic development is ill advised.
The most down-to-earth way of understanding what I mean by becoming an artist is this: you must begin to pay attention to what you want to paint because the process you are involved in is sharing something with others. As in all the Arts. Those "what" choices are near the heart of you- what has meaning for you. The idea that this is not necessary or important is a strange one. There is no catagory of things in your life where you don't make a choice, from the books you read to the clothes you wear. All the experiences of your life, the events you participated in as well as the what you were taught, influenced you in some way. They created a sense of direction for the choices you make. In art, think of it as aesthetics. Yours is unique. Just exercise it as you do for other things. This is one technique. Notice thoughts which inspire you. Pay attention to what you enjoy and stop to record it. Find a way to keep these mental notes on yourself from evaporating, from being lost in the shuffle. A moment, a place, an emotion, a theory, an opinion, whatever; it provides a connection to what in the future might be a painting- the bits of inspiration come from many sources. They will keep coming and they are unique to you. There is an evolution to it. Start a list and keep adding to it. It's likely that many of those inspirations will eventually lead to the most important paintings you will do.
Since many of the bits you put on the list will be considerably less than fully formed ideas for a painting, it's natural that the concept of idea development be the next part of the process. Using the "next action" technique (originating and well explained in the book "Getting Things Done" by David Allen), each idea will have a small next step that you can take to keep it growing towards a painting. Go back to this place, call someone, remember that peonys bloom in June, put money away for a plane ticket to …..some might have a few actions and others many. I gave some specific examples in class last week, but it's easy to understand that it takes a series of small steps to get from any idea to an actual painting. Think about putting a post-it-note next to each idea on the list and write the next action you can take. It might seem this is the last thing your life needs - another list. At first. But the inspirations that trigger your artistic nature and a method to hold and advance them is far from “just” another list. The way to distinguish yourself artistically, among your peers or in "Gallery World" is to become involved in the process of finding out what the authentic you really is . The ideas can be vague at first, but in time, they sort themselves out and are essentially the content of the dictum "To thine own self be true."  Artistic development is part automatic and part conscious attention. More than you know, you are remembered for the choice of subject you make. Artistic development has a starting point and very much like the skills, you can expect improvement when you continue to invest effort.


2/2/05 STARTING THE PAINTING Here is one good way to begin a painting from life. First, with pencil, charcoal or a brush, make some marks on the canvas that show the general proportions of the subject or the way you have planned the composition. You should attempt to suggest the major divisions rather than being precise. Next, starting with the the easiest colors to guess right, start to scumble in your best guess for each of these different divisions. The easiest colors to guess correctly are the darks, the very lights, and the high chroma colors. Two good reasons for starting with those are; by comparison, subtle colors and middle values are harder to guess right against the white canvas, and, once the highs and lows of the value scale are on the canvas, you have quickly established some of the most important parts. After those key areas, keep making your best guess at the color for each of the other areas until you have coved all the unpainted parts. I keep saying guess because you really can't accurately judge the value and color until all the major parts exist in an overall realtionship. They all play on each other, color against color and value against value. There is no correctness without the color next to it being correct also. The next; part of this two-part phase is to go back and re-evaluate with "directpcomparison" all those guesses, now that they actually are in a working relationship. Start with the important ones you established first. Foran example, we'll use a high chroma color. When you can see your guess and the actual color side-by-side, you can easily detect if your guess for that color is more intense, less intense, if the color shifts a little in hue, or if the value is lighter or darker. Change it as indicated! When that has been adjusted, you can move on to another element and compare that. And change it if needed, or not. You never try to establish a subtle color until you have put all the easy and obvious corrections in first. The subtle areas are more difficult, they need all the help you can offer around them. I know it's hard to stay with it at this point. The natural inclination is to move on to the head or center of interest as soon as the canvas is covered. No problem -if you are familiar with the color range and the light. What I'm suggesting is this; a good method for painting from life is one with which you can develop good facts and color information from subjects and light conditions that are new to you. With a good method, you can explore subjects that you might never have had the courage to attempt, a good thing for an artist. If you keep focused on evaluating most of your guesses and correcting them, if you keep in mind that every part is equal at this stage and there are no important and unimportant areas, you will establish fairly rapidly a foundation of colors and values that you can easily see produce the general visual effect. I think that getting a generally correct foundation down in the early stages of a painting is priceless. It is a confidence builder with which you can move into the middle phases of development and really have your best shot at nailing down that "important" part. P.S. Scumble means to spread a full bodied paint thinly, without solvent or medium. A semi-opaque layer results.

2/1/05 "What do I mix to make THAT color?" Let's face it, the question never goes away. It's; the challenge in every painting from start to finish. We use our experience to formulate each best guess, then test it and modify it as needed. In the beginning, some method of sorting out color mixing is essential. By now, you have all had some training, either from a class or a book, but when I hear the question asked at the League, I feel it's important to pass on the single most valuable thing I took from art school. That was the great color charts I learned how to make at the American Academy of Art in 1963. It was a pre-requisite to make them all before you could start painting in Mr. Mosby's class. They showed the interaction of colors we used on our "Rubens" palette. Cad. yellow, cad. red, yellow ochre, terra rosa, alizarin c., burnt sienna, viridian, cobalt blue, ult. blue and black. A complete discription of the whole process, including illustrations of the charts, is covered by Richard Schmid in his book; "Alla Prima". (Chapter 7, "Light and Shadow" pages 130-137) He also studied at the Academy with William Mosby. After they were made, you had a wonderful visual dictionary that you could look at to help figure out a simple color combination either to correct a guess that went wide of the mark or as a starting point for some difficult spot.; The combinations shown on the charts couldn't cover everything possible, but what they did show covered a very wide spectrum and they were easy to recreate. Not counting the white, they were always only two colors mixed together. We'll take some time to talk about their use in the very near future.

1/31/05 In last week's class, a reproduction of a portrait painting by Modigliani showed the use of many small and different colors in the face. These different spots of color, in different areas, reflect tone value differences, local color differences, and a relative; warm against cool" color difference. They are a vital part of revealing form and creating the illusion of real light. Painting "from life" is when all these things are well within our grasp to see. While they are apparent, we try to record them.

In our classroom, there is a noticeable warm and cool temperature difference to the lights and shadows on our model. Our incandescent light source produces warm light and the flourescent (ambient) light produces cool light. Not unlike the effect of sunshine with blue skies. The power of this play of warm colors against cool colors, part of the excitement we can see in the three-dimensional world, was shown to add an extra dimension of luminosity to figurative painting. (a two-dimensional world) It was the work of the Impressionists, Monet and Cezanne in particular, that demonstrated how powerful this "warm against cool" color could be. Though we know about it and can learn to observe it, it is still an enormous challenge to try and record some of those subtle color changes in oil paint!

1/25/05 The two most important methods to use in "painting from life" are (1.) a direct comparison and (2.) viewing the painting from some distance. In the book "On the Art of Drawing" by Robert Fawcett there is an illustration that shows how direct comparison is set up. (In Chapter 4. Drawing Naturally, p. 48-49) When you turn your canvas directly towards the subject, you can see both almost at the same time.This allows you to easily notice differences in shape, color and tone. Since the goal of our classroom work is to paint it the way it looks, this method is a great one. The second method is equally useful. Getting back about 12-15 ft. from the painting, in a position where you can still see a direct comparison, you can visually test whether the corrections you made were actually successful. It's easy to see if they were or not from that distance and very difficult to access when you are close. Getting back has many other benefits. The most important of these is that from a distance, all the attachment to strokes and broken color effects are taken out of the equation. It forces you to look at the general impact and avoids the temptation to assume the painting is wonderful because of certain accidental qualities. In the first stages of a painting, from life, these techniques really keep us on track in telling the truth about how it looks. They help establish the solid foundations necessary for further development of the painting and the artistic expression.

1/21/05 Last night, the subject was about getting "digital reference" back in perspective. I agree, it is a huge advantage over conventional photography to be able to manipulate our photo reference and generate useful extra information. But, in the last couple of months, I've seen young painters who are so  absorbed in generating corrected flat reference and so enamored of their  digital gear, they abandon making on location paintings or studies. Because of the inconvienence and occassional less than satisfying results, it must be tempting to get out on location less frequently (now) or not at all (later). I strongly emphasize again that the painting should start with the best information possible about the color and value. That comes directly from your subject. If you ask yourself when was the last time you worked the process by doing the first version from life, and you can't remember, I'd like to point out that in attempting world-class results, it's not smart to skip the most important step of all. Don't just give "painting from life" lip service. Get out there, get your gear squared away, and get the good information. You will gain more in the long run to make this a viable part of your painting process. Without it, there is a huge uncertainlty factor, another topic for discussion.

1/17/05& Our "Painting From Life" class has started for 2005. Painting from life as I use the term, is any subject painted directly from nature. Developing skills and procedures for this enables you to gather information from a source that far exceeds what a photographic or digital reference could provide. It means your ability to see those inter-relationships of color and value, as well as your artistic interpretation, can be much better informed. It is the ultimate opportunity for discovery and study, the best opportunity to sort out visual information. Being there and seeing it is a rich experience, but representing it in paint is our goal. On location or working in class, it's important to take each subject as a new problem to be solved and not assume you know what will work. I believe the extent to which you do this determines the quality of your representation. The class will focus on that primary goal, to improve your ability to represent nature as you see it. Artistic interpretation will become secondary, to concentrate on the fundamental skills that will eventually enable it.

10/12/04 The question of how to keep the oil paint on a palette from drying up or skinning over between classes comes up each year. No one asks about keeping their painting from drying or becoming unworkable. The perfect solution for both; put it in a freezer. I used to make that suggestion for palettes, knowing that almost everyone could put it in their refrigerator freezer. One year though, Dianne Massey/Dunbar took the idea to it's logical extreme and let me know that she was doing it with paintings! Of course this meant she was making room in a freezer chest or had a freezer especially for paintings. One day last year I decided to try it because if it worked well, I could imagine some real benefits, if not, I had frozen food storage. I bought an average sized chest freezer. It will hold a 30x30 easily. And it did what Id hoped it would. I don't think the importance and value of this piece of equipment can be overestimated. We would all like to work on a painting untill we finish it, but it's difficult if not impossible sometimes. The reverse is true, sometimes you need a day or two away from a painting to get a fresh eye but you can't imagine trying to battle back into a dried up painting. Because I put the painting I'm working on in the freezer every night, I never get stressed anymore about the painting getting gummy or dry when I have to take care of other things and can't paint. When I do get back to work on it, after a day or a few days, it's virtually the same as when I stopped. Still open. You can imagine the possibilitiies for your own work schedule. The reason? Molecular activity decreases as the temperature decreases. That means if it is in the freezer, the oxidation of the oil is slowed down to a rate where it would take three weeks or more to dry as much as it would in 24 hours at normal temperatures.

9/23/04 Bad news dept. We still need to shoot transparencies of our paintings for use in print media. In a telephone conversation yesterday with Susan Frolicher of Southwest Art Magazine, I asked her why the most wonderfully done, large digital file of a given painting- corrected by the artist, is not a better source for a magazine than a 35mm slide. The reasons, including the fact there aren't standards in place for digital comparable to the ones for existing technology, all point to getting the old camera out again. So, go buy some slide film, and face the reality. All the great options you have in digital will still be useful for the web and for preparing reference. A 35mm slide is still what the print media prefers.

8/25/04 If you need to make a bigger print for your photo reference and you see your resolution heading down under 50 as you try, the good news is upsampling is OK now! It was discouraged in the past. "......we find that we can generally upsample digital captures to at least 200% with a single shot camera.....and still get very acceptable results." p. 563 Real World Adobe Photoshop CS. That means in the image size dialog box, with resample checked, you can simply double the resolution (or better) to get that bigger print instead of trading off on the resolution.