Week 16

Today we started on a new painting. Next week is our last class so I chose something I thought we could finish in two sessions. Rather than working from a photograph I decided to bring in a reproduction of a painting. There is a lot we can learn from copying a painting instead of a photograph. We can learn how another artist has solved the same problems we have to solve when working from life. We necessarily have to simplify and edit when we paint from life and there are many ways to accomplish this successfully. 

In the image I chose the artist painted quite loosely with very little detail. Notice how the texture of each element in the scene is treated differently to suggest the material qualities of what is being depicted. The paint in the clouds is applied with bigger more directional strokes, while the bushes are painted with smaller, more circular scumbling. 

In my demo I blocked in large areas of color and value. This image (as most images I choose) has dramatic lighting so much of the power of the image comes from value contrast. As you block in colors make sure you are paying close attention to value relationships. 

Next week we will finish these paintings. It will be our last day of class for this semester so feel free to bring in food and drink to share with the class. 



Week 15

Fantastic painting today! I was really impressed with all of the paintings. It is always fun for me as a teacher to see how different each painting can be even when we are all working from the same source image. 

In my demo I spent more time developing the transparent bottle. It can be difficult to see the subtle highlights and shadows on the transparent glass but they are there. Sometimes when I am having a hard time seeing the highlights and shadows I try to identify the light source and follow light logic to determine where those subtle highlights should be. This often helps me to see them.

In this case there is a general highlight at the top of the bottle at the base of the neck. There are some smaller areas where the glass is partially reflecting the environment and the inconsistencies in the glass surface that alter the background color you see behind the glass. Before you indulge in those final bright "specular" highlights you need to find these more subtle and general shifts in value and color. They add variety and more believable irregularities in the glass surface. 

Once I painted some of those subtle highlights I was ready to finish with the little and lightest highlights. If you have had self control up to this point and not painted in those fun little light spots this can be a very satisfying moment. 

I also talked a bit about the reflective bowl. Transparency and reflection are similar in many ways. We suggest both by using the colors of the other elements in our scene. 




Week 14

Today we started a new painting of a still life. My first demonstration was on how to use a grid of squares to transfer an image from a photograph to your canvas. The important thing to remember here is that it is much easier to us squares than rectangles for your grid. 

For my second demo I focused on how to create the illusion of transparency and reflectivity. They are two sides of the same coin in some important ways. The most common mistake I see people make is to think they need to make the paint they are using more transparent in order to make the object they are painting look transparent. While sometimes this is an acceptable technique I think it is fundamentally wrong-headed.

The material quality of the paint does not need to change in order for us to create the illusion of transparency or reflection. You need to stop thinking about what you are painting and trust that if you paint what your eyes see, it will end up looking like the things you are wanting to represent. So we are not trying to paint a transparent bottle, we are trying to paint the colors, values, textures etc. that we see in the image. If we can reproduce the information in our photograph accurately it will look like a transparent bottle. This is an important shift in perception. 

So we paint this just like we paint anything else. Big to small - general to specific. We start by blocking in large areas of color and value. We will get into more details next week - like the little shiny highlights on the bottle. Practice some self control and don't allow yourself to indulge in those juicy little details quite yet. 



Week 13

Today I wanted to spend a class focusing on composition. In chemistry we might talk about the chemical composition of some substance - a specific combination and arrangement of elements. In a similar way composition in visual art refers to how we arrange the elements of visual language within a picture plane. 

The elements of visual design are: line, shape, space, form, texture, value and color. All paintings are comprised of these basic elements. It is a huge topic. I didn't want to dig too deep into principles of good composition today. My main purpose was just to bring it to our attention and have it be our focus for a day.

I asked you to bring in an object to paint. Preferably a simple object. The assignment today was to divide your canvas into four rectangles and create four different compositions using your object and the objects around your table. We talked about some simple rules that are often brought up in relation to composition. The rule of thirds, "don't put stuff in the middle", "asymmetry is more interesting than symmetry", "negative space is just as important as positive space" etc. These generalizations have there place and can be helpful but it is important to understand the underlying principles they are based on. I covered some of these ideas in the demo and critique. 

I said too much to repeat here but I think the important thing is that you know composition is something you ought to be thinking about and studying. You need to be asking yourself the kinds of questions I brought up in critique.

I was pleased with the paintings you all made. Next week I will bring a photograph for us to work from for our next painting. I want to work with transparency and reflections. I won't be posting images for you to vote on. You will have to put up with my decision this time around!



Week 12

Today was our final day working on the portrait. I showed you some examples of artists who used a wide range of colors as "skin tones". I also did a demonstration of how we can use the value painting we have been working on as a guide when adding color.

Tai-Shan Schierenberg

Alice Neel

Malcom Liepke

Since I didn't have a color photograph of the boy to work from I chose a painting in one of the books I brought and used the skin tone colors used in that painting. What is important here is that whatever color you choose to use for the skin you need to match the value of the part of the underpainting you are covering up. You also need to be consistent with the colors you use for skin tone or you might break the illusion of a consistent and continuous light source or context. 

Next week we will start on a new painting. I would like you to bring in an object. Preferably something small-ish and simple. We will be painting from observation and talking about how to make a compelling composition using an ordinary object. 

Week 11

Today was our second class working on the portrait. I demonstrated one way to approach painting the fine lines in and around the eyes. Rather than trying to paint the really narrow lines with a tiny brush and steady hand, I showed you how to layer the paint so you would start with a big shape and then paint over the majority of that big shape to whittle it down to the fine line. 

This is a different way to think about what you are doing. You can render a line by painting the line or your can render a line by painting the space around the line. If you can get your mind to think of painting as both an additive and a reductive (covering, removing, editing etc.) process, you open up a lot of new ways to solve problems. 

Next week we are going to continue with this painting and I am going to demonstrate how to use this monochromatic painting as a value guide when you add more color. Come prepared with your usual supplies. 



Week 10

Download PDF HERE.

We will get into some details next week. 

Today we started a new painting. You all wanted to do a portrait so I chose a simple monochromatic image of a young boy that I found online. I decided to go with monochrome so you could focus just on value. We might eventually add some color variation with glazing but I think "skin tones" are too easy to fuss over and not as important initially as getting value right. 

I decided to take a slightly different approach to blending for this project. As I explained in class I want you to experiment with "blending" between values by mixing discrete steps between one value and another - so you are not actually physically blending the two values wet into wet. Instead you are putting slightly different values in a row to give the appearance of a gradation or transition. 

This approach will hopefully be less stressful as you will not have to race to keep all your paint wet to blend. It will have a different visual quality - it will appear more fuzzy/choppy/textured but that can also be more interesting. 

Next week we will continue working on this image and get more into details. Today we focused just on blocking in big areas and general value relationships. 



Week 8

Today was our last day working on the landscape painting. In my demonstration I continued developing the image by glazing the sky and mountain with a very transparent layer of Ultramarine Blue. Last class I used Pthalo blue for the sky and mountain so I could get a really saturated light-value blue, but the hue was slightly too cool, so the glaze helped warm the blue up. 

I also added some highlights to the trees. Remember it is generally a good idea to work from dark to light, so last week I blocked in the large area of the trees with the tree shadow color so today when I added the highlight colors they really popped. Finally I started getting to some of the smaller details like branches on the trees and ripples in the water but I found that I wasn't quite ready for detail yet because they started to look to fragmented and sat on the surface of the painting too much, so I wiped out most of the small detail until things started to look three dimensional again. 

I won't get to the details with this painting. Next class we will start on a new painting. For the next painting we will paint a portrait. Rather than take a vote I have decided to choose the image myself but if you have an image you would like me to consider please feel free to email it to me and it might end up being the one I choose. 



Week 7

Today in class we started a new painting. I decided to use oil paint for this painting. For the underpainting I used cadmium orange. This is an unusual color to use for an underpainting. Like the more usual Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber, Cad Orange is a mid value so it gives you a better starting point for establishing value relationships. Unlike those other colors it is a very saturated color, which does make blocking in accurate colors more difficult. I thought it might look good to have that saturated orange coming out in places next to the cool greens and blues of the landscape. I encourage you to try a variety of colors as under paintings. The underpainting color can dramatically effect the feel of a painting. If you don't care to experiment with underpainting stick with the usual Burnt Umber or Sienna. 

Today I just drew in the basic composition and blocked in big areas of color. With oil paint I can put colors down without worrying too much initially about blending. I worked quickly to just get basic colors put in generally the right place and then I went back to adjust colors and blend. 

We will get into more detail next week. Stay away from detail as long as you can!

In our critique of the rose paintings two things that came up were: 1. more VALUE (light/dark) contrast on the vase (gradating to a darker color toward the edges) would make the vase feel more round and three dimensional and 2. be careful to resist the natural tendency to rotate things to face you directly. In this case the rose should be facing more to the viewers left so the center of the rose should be significantly closer to the left side of the flower shape than the right. 


Good oil painting medium.

For cleaning oil paint from brushes. 

Container for Turpenoid and wire coal for cleaning brushes. 


Week 6

Today was our second and last day on the rose painting. Before I came to class I looked on YouTube to see if I could find some ideas for painting rose petals. I will include the video I found most helpful below. I was a little over-confident in thinking I could demonstrate the technique without any practice. I apologize for a rough demo! Take a look at the video below for a better example. As you saw with my demo, it will take some practice to get both colors of paint on your brush in enough quantity to get a good opaque stroke. 

Bring your finished paintings with you next week and we will put them up on the wall at the beginning of class for a few minutes. 

Next week we will begin a new painting. I will try to have some options for you to choose from in the next day or two, so come back to this post in a couple days to vote on which image you want to paint next. If you have any pictures you would like to submit as an option email it to me or send a link to it online.  

Great paintings today!



There are 24 images. They are numbered left to right, top to bottom. 

Vote for your favorite two images. *
Choose your favorite TWO images and click "Submit". I will print out a copy of the image with the most votes for everyone to use for our next painting.


Week 5

Download PDF HERE

Download Template PDF HERE

Today we began class by looking at the your paintings from last week. I was very impressed by the whole group. Two things that came up a couple times were: 1. Several of you needed more value (light and dark) contrast between the shadows and highlights on your tree. More value contrast will increase the illusion of a 3D volume of leaves. 2. Size variation. Don't forget that the closer things in the landscape are to the horizon line, the further away they are. This means that a flower at the bottom of the painting will be much bigger than a flower in the middle of the grass area. Size variation is an important way we create the illusion of space. Similarly the clouds will be biggest at the top of the painting (farthest from the horizon line) and get smaller as you move down. 

We started a new painting. The rose in a vase got the most votes by far. I showed you how to use a template to do a transfer drawing of the image onto you canvas. You don't have to do this it just gets us into painting quickly. You can buy transfer paper in rolls at Blick. 

In my demo I experimented with the background texture. It is important to choose a brush/tool that is appropriate for the kinds of mark we are trying to make. I tried a crumpled paper towel, a sponge and several different brushes. In the end I used primarily a brush. An important feature of the background is how blurry it is. That blurriness helps create space because it implies a focal length that the background it is out of. So I wanted to make sure I got soft blurry edges in my texture. To help get those soft and blurry edges I started by covering the canvas with a layer of watery acrylic medium (PVA size but matte medium would work too). This was somewhat successful but in the end I had to do a lot of blending back and forth trying to keep both colors I was blending wet at the same time. It takes practice to get soft blends in acrylic. 

Next week we will get into the the flower and vase. 






Week 4

Today was our second day with the painting of the tree. In my demonstration I talked about the importance of the value (dark & light) underpainting we did last class. Using value to create a "light logic" is what is most important in creating the illusion of form and space. We are going to cover most of the underpainting up as we add color but it will be an important guide we can use to match value. It will be fairly easy to see if the color you are painting with is lighter to darker than the value you are painting on top of. Pay close attention to getting values right. 

I started getting the blue gradation of the sky. I used Phthalo greed shade but it ended up being too cool, so Ultramarine and Cerulean Blue would be a better match. If you are interested I have a previous post with more in-depth information about color HERE.

For the tree it is important to maintain the spherical volume of the leaves as we start to add more of the texture of the leaves. I also talked about not going too small too quick. We started with the over-all volume and then we need to break down that big shape up into incrementally smaller divisions - so medium big clumps of leaves, medium clumps THEN individual leaves or leaf texture. With each level of detail keep your light logic in mind. So each big and medium cluster of leaves will have a highlight side and a shadow side too. Highlights and shadows need to be consistent with our light logic. 

The last think I mentioned at the end of class was that the flowers in the scene (like the clouds) will appear smaller and smaller the closer they are to the horizon line. That size variation is another visual cue we give the viewer to imply a recession into 3D space. 

Please bring these paintings with you next week and we will put them up on the wall at the beginning of class. Next week we will also begin a new painting. Look at the image options below and vote on you favorite TWO images BEFORE next Wednesday. I will print everyone a copy of the image that gets the most votes.


Checkbox *
Select your favorite TWO pictures and hit the submit button. Pictures are numbered left to right, top to bottom.



Week 2

Download image HERE.

This week we continued our focus on value (light and dark) and simple geometric forms. Creating "light logic" in a painting is how we trick a viewers eye into seeing three dimensions in our two dimensional painting. 

I started by identifying the primary light source in the scene. We are givens some clues about the light source by the cast shadow on the ground and the highlight and shadow on the tree. Next I talked about reducing the various elements in the composition to simple geometric shapes like the ones we painted last week.

You will be tempted to start painting a tree one leaf at a time. Before we get to the details of individual leaves we need to create the overall volume the leaves comprise. The volume of the tree is fairly spherical. So we need to get sense of light hitting a sphere and casting a shadow on the ground. 

The sky, background-trees, and ground are also part of the light logic of the scene. They are basically planes. As with the trees you will be tempted to start painting fluffs in the clouds or grass texture on the ground. Before you get to that you first need to get the overall sense of light hitting a plane. It can be hard to see past those details to how the larger shape is being affected by the light source. This is a very important skill to master if you want to create the illusion of 3D space. 

Next week we will get into some color, but I want to emphasize that value contrast (light and dark) is the most important thing to get right if you want believable 3D space and form. If your light logic isn't consistent your painting will look flat. Many painters start their paintings just like this - value only. 


Week 1

Today we focused primarily on paint application and blending. With acrylic blending can be very difficult. Usually the problems you are having with blending will be rooted in not having enough paint on  your canvas to work with. You need enough paint to cover the surface area you are painting on but you also need a little extra to help keep the paint wet long enough for you to be able to pick another color to blend into the first. 

Using matte medium also takes practice. You need enough to adjust the paint consistency to butter but not too much so the paint gets too transparent. Use as little water as possible. I always keep a paper towel close at hand to blot the brush on after I clean my brush with water. 

I gave you an image of simple geometric shapes to work with and asked you to start your painting by mixing 5 distinct values from black to white. 

Overall I think everyone did an excellent job. I was very happy with the work completed today. We will not be working on this painting next week so come prepared with a new surface to paint on and all your supplies. 

I will provide the photo-reference we work from next week but in the future we will vote on which photographs we will paint from. Please bring $10 to help cover the costs of printing photo-reference. 




No Class for Winter Term 2014

I will be teaching this class again for the Spring semester 2014. Feel free to look through past entries on this blog to see what we cover in this class. I hope you join us next semester!

Week 16

Today was the last day of class. Thank you all for a very thoughtful card and gift. It has been a wonderful semester and as a group I feel like we produced some great work. 

For my final demonstration I worked in some of the details on our palette knife seascape. On the rocks and in the foreground water I used a brush to put some paint down in specific spots and then I went back with the palette knife to push it around and blend. A brush can be more precise and it can make it easier to see how much paint you are applying. Brush and knife are very complimentary tools. 

I also painted the bird in with the knife. You want to make sure the level of detail you develop on the bird fits the rest of the painting. You might be tempted to be very detailed with the bird even though the rest of your painting is very loose and general. The bird should feel like it fits visually in the scene you painted. I started with the shadow color on the body and the blended into the darker color at the end of the wings. The last thing I did was block in a highlight on the head and tail. Just like everything else you need to be consistent with the light logic so it fits with the rest of the scene. 

I thought all our paintings were especially good for this last project so we end on a high note. 

Happy Holidays. I hope to see you Spring Semester!

Week 15

Today we started our last project. I apologize for not posting an image gallery with options for you to vote on - things got a but too busy during the Thanksgiving break. I chose an seascape that I thought you would all like. 

For this last project I thought I would demonstrate how to paint using palette knives. Palette knife is a pretty blunt instrument compared to painting with brushes. It is great for getting a lot of paint on the canvas fast and addressing large areas. So it will force you, to some extent, to paint general to specific like I am always pestering you to do. 

I used a couple different sizes and shapes of knife. As usual this first session with the painting was focused on blocking in big areas of color and value. Texture is unavoidable when working with knife, but texture and detail are not the focus or priority at the start of the painting. With palette knife it is important to learn how to use impasto texture judiciously. Too much texture can be overwhelming and distracting. Used wisely it can add emphasis and focal point to enhance an image. 

NEXT WEEK: is our last class and I will demonstrate how to achieve some details with palette knife (and a little brush).