Friday, April 18, 2014

The Creative Balancing Act

"Blissfully Blue" iris oil painting study 8x8 

Happy Spring Friday everyone! Many thanks to all my spring students for keeping me busy and inspired this time of  year. As a creative professional I’m so lucky to be a part of your many new and interesting art projects every week! Thanks again to each of you. (Also, my next post will be my 300th! So stay tuned for some special for that.)

In fact every week I study dozens (if not hundreds) of painting and photo references. Some online, in books, and in person. So much stimulating "eye candy" can be overwhelming at times. Even worse, this excitement can lead to jumping ahead and be tempted by the "next amazing painting" before I've really given enough time to the one at hand.

As with many creative endeavors, I was thinking this week (as sunnier weather calls to me outside the studio window) balancing hard work/discipline with boundless creative energy will likely be something I'll deal with the rest of my artistic life.

So what helps? A set schedule. Sort term and long term goals are extremely motivating. Taking breaks. Keeping an idea folder. Staying positive even when we fall short of goals. The balance is  likely a different approach for each of us.
"Singing for Spring" redwing blackbird oil painting study (on hold for SAM)
This week my short term goal was to complete at least 2 paintings and I'm happy to say that I finished both this  this iris and blackbird painting. My thanks to DPW for selecting my “Blissfully Blue” iris as one of their daily Facebook picks. I also started a larger landscape. As a reward I did take a few breaks. So here at the end of the week I feel like I accomplished a lot at the easel but I also feel ready to paint again next week. In the meantime, wishing you a warm and colorful spring weekend!

Friday, April 11, 2014

12 Fresh Primavera Painting Ideas

"My State Flower" 8x10 oil on panel
When you paint nature inspired paintings you always have new subject ideas. One of the art approaches I associate with spring is painting more high key with more delicate ethereal hues. (For more examples of high key paintings and art inspiration check out my Pinterest board: High Key Heaven.)

Vincent loved spring!
In addition to high key painting, consider all the wonderful subjects/themes an artist could capture in springtime or "primavera" (which just sounds more arty) as the Italians call this season. (Which aptly means first green.) You'll find some great examples of spring paintings on my Pinterest Board: Spring Flings.) And if you're ready to say good-bye to winter like I am here are some painting ideas for you:

  1. Spring Flowers (daffodil, tulips, crocus, lillies, pansies)
  2. Flowering Trees/Budding Branches (cherries, magnolias, lilacs)
  3. Spring (or Baby) Vegetables 
  4. Anything Parisian--as in April in Paris!
  5. Brunch/Breakfast Themes 
  6. Spring Animals (chicks, ducklings, bunnies, robins, lambs, kittens)
  7. Eggs (natural or decorated) and Nests
  8. Bonnets/Fancy Hats
  9. Rainy Day Things (puddles, boots, rain coat, umbrellas, raindrops, rainbows)
  10. Stormy Landscapes
  11. Sunlit  "candy" colors: Pinks, pale blues, butter yellows, lavenders...
  12. Things Found in a Garden (tools, birdhouses, fences, benches, statues, fountains)
Bonus painting idea: Paint one of your state symbols--here I've painted our beloved Colorado columbine. Have fun and happy painting! P.S. Most of my paintings posted between now and June will be for sale at the Summer Art Market.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Simple Joy of Painting What You Know Best

"Gleaming Goose" 8x10 oil on professional cotton panel--For sale @ SAM in June
April is a promise that May is bound to keep.  Hal Borland

Happy Spring everyone! The first week of April always has a big red star on my studio calendar each year. It marks the 2 month point (or about 8 weeks) before my favorite annual Denver art event: SAM (Summer Art Market) which is June 7/8 this year.

When you need to fill a 10x10 tent with your best possible art eight weeks goes by in a flash. For the SAM I prefer to offer a wide variety of sizes and price points to meet the needs of a variety of collectors. So one day I’ll work on a smaller daily oil painting like this 8x10 sunlit goose and other days I’ll be tackling a much larger abstract. Let's just say I'll be happily in art creation mode for the next 8 weeks.

We've all heard the creative writing tip: Write what you know.  Along the same lines, I think it makes sense to paint what we know best. Just look at art history and see how the masters captured the intimate world around them.

One of the places I know best is Wash Park--my local city park where I often take at least 100 photos a week if not more. As a result I have hundreds of reference pics of the more common park flora and fauna such as this lovely young Canada goose. OK. Maybe not the most exotic bird, but they’re easy to photograph and I love the striking dark/light pattern on their heads especially in the warm sunlight. I certainly enjoyed painting this little study yesterday.

Speaking of spring, in my next post I'll share some of my ideas for those of you looking for seasonal spring painting subjects (as I did last fall.) Wishing you all a warm and colorful spring!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy (You're an Artist)

"Bluebird of Happiness" 6x6 oil on linen
Happy Friday! The other day I was thinking about art and happiness. Some of you may recall those Peanuts posters from the early 70s (or so) that started with Happiness is…Like “Happiness is a Warm Puppy.”  Or here’s an even better art example—(Linus I couldn’t agree more!)

Sometimes I think it’s easy to focus on the frustrations that surround being an artist.  For example, I’ve been pushing myself a lot lately. That makes for a lot of unfinished or even recycled paintings. Arrrgh! As Charlie Brown might say.

Bit I’ve come to realize after painting for over 30 years that mastering a craft is not as linear or constantly rewarding as you’d like it to be. But one of the great joys of art is that it likely impacts your life on a grand scale (values, goals, purpose, and principles) as well as on a smaller daily scale. I have faith that these are two powerful forces will continue outweigh the challenges and propel me to return to the easel. (Even though some days it may be a close call.)
Yay--New clean, crisp brushes (Rosemary & Co. ivory flats)
So what makes you happy in the studio? Some of these “little daily moments” may sound silly to non artists (does anyone but artists even use pencils anymore?) but frankly I think that’s what makes us special. For me Happiness in the studio is...
  • Squeezing out a fresh tube of white (isn’t that the best?)
  • Unwrapping a new canvas (the bigger the better)
  • Testing a new crisp brush (just received these new Rosemary ivory brushes today)
  • Getting your drawing right—the first time
  • Reading a new art book or magazine
  • Discovering a new favorite artist (recently this was landscape painter Hibbard for me)
  • Running up to the art store (you know...just to look around) 
  • Day dreaming about plein air vacation destinations (any place with water....)
  • Sharpening a pencil (seriously)
  • Fresh flowers just begging to be painted...
Thankfully the list goes on. So I'll be back in the studio tomorrow. Hope you have a very happy weekend!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Quintessentially Quang: Winter Landscape Demo

Quang Ho demo painting of Cherry Creek in Denver, CO

Here in the Mile High City, one of our “celebrity” painters is the renowned and highly respected Quang Ho. (Even my "non-art" friends know who he is.) And almost every well-known local artist seems to have some connection to him and/or his painting philosophies and insights. I for example study with three artists who were lucky enough to study with Quang.

At this time, Quang doesn’t teach regular classes anymore so I always jump at any chance to attend one of his shows or painting demos. Last Sunday I attended a fantastic all day demo at the Denver Art League. 

In the morning session, Quang (who paints a wide variety of subject matter) discussed figure paintings and his recent interest in glazing methods. This was fascinating but I was thrilled in the afternoon that he painted a lovely snowscape (yay) from start to finish. FYI, as you can see Quang painted from photo displayed on a large Apple monitor which was attached to a really cool adjustable monitor stand.
Quang brought this stunning larger framed landscape--also of the Cherry Creek.
Interestingly, the snowscape was of the Cherry Creek which is only blocks from my studio. I walk by it all the time. So it was eye-opening (to say the least) to see such a familiar scene interpreted so beautifully through the eyes of a master.  Here are some pics and some highlights from my notes.
Close up of Quang's oil painting palette
  • Carefully observe where your shape starts and stops. The light and dark are separate organisms—Look for 2 big areas and then break those down. 
  • Your most important drawing takes place where the light meets the shadow.
  • Consider there are many different ways to soften your edges.
    Soften edges where shapes of same value meet (i.e. very dark shape next to very dark shape)
    Stare at your painting for a few moments then look away—what do you remember? (Those are your hardest edges.) Trees for example may be much softer than you think they are. f you over soften an area you could lose your shape (structure)
  • Simplify your process. First good shapes, then value, then color, then edges…
  • Small dark accents—such as tiny cast shadows are important because they help hold shapes.
  • What makes a good landscape? Nature never repeats.
    For snow, it helps to have a midtone base that the brighter white can sit on top of.
  • First 20 minutes work slower on composition/ structure then you can speed up and get looser later
  • Keep comparing one area to another--Your painting is like a giant carpet with patter and texture,
  • There’s a reason for every color you see.
After intensely (and very humbly) observing Quang last Sunday I was greatly inspired--particularly to paint some snowscapes so stay tuned and have a wonderful week!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fauving in February

"Big Red" 16 x 16 oil on panel (work in progress)
“From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”
― Henri Matisse

After working on a few snowscapes earlier this week, I took a short break to start this high chroma fauvist inspired still life. I enjoy working from life but this was from a photo from a previous still life I'd set up. I knew painting with intense warm colors would provide some immediate winter relief--and it did.

A still life painting like this reminds me that I could spend hours carefully staging and arranging a strong still life. Typically though I just grab some things based on color and see what happens. That being said it is kind of fun to look around your surroundings for intriguing objects.

Could be an interesting "creative jump start" the next time you just don’t feel like painting. After rall, if you have to craft a successful still life you’re still working with colors, design, composition, etc. FYI, here’s a blog post I found with some helpful still life staging tips.

One painter who’s not in winter denial is talented Colorado landscape painter Marc Hanson. He’s been outside since February 1 painting four--yes 4--daily snowscapes.  I’ve really enjoyed watching his daily posts from the comfort of my studio.

Tomorrow I’m really looking forward to Quang Ho’s oil painting demo. It’s all day so I plan to have lots of notes and photos to share.  While I’ll be happy to watch him paint anything, I’ve got my fingers crossed for a snowscape. In the meantime, have a colorful weekend everyone!
P.S. For more still life ideas and inspiration you can check out my Pinterest “Not so Still Life” board.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I'm Positive About Negative Painting

Watercolor and gouache on YUPO paper 9x12
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Next week I’m excited and honored to be doing a YUPO painting demo for an art club in the area. In preparation, I painted this little abstracted garden this morning using transparent watercolors, opaque gouache and a 9x12 YUPO pad.

Here’s what I started with—basically a wet in wet abstract watercolor which I let dry overnight. So you’ve got an interesting base painting like this, then what? Could you leave this as a more abstract painting? Of course. But I like options...
Shape "hunting" with watercolor pencil on the original painting.
As an artist who paints in both oil and watermedia I can’t imagine not having negative painting as a key option and skills. So I wanted to share 5 negative painting tips that I hope will help you the next time you face a painting challenge.
  1. Consider the power of your mind’s eye. We need to be skilled shape makers and finders as painters. Negative painting fine tunes these abilities. In other words, what do you see in those big blobs of paint? A figure? A tree? An octopus? Keep looking…..And enjoy the process.
  2. Want to push your more non-objective abstract painting over to a more representational painting? Negative painting helps you modify what you already have like I did today. It’s also a great way to “fix” or “salvage” a so-so painting you might have in the studio.(Don't we all have a few of those??)
  3. If and when you negative paint over an existing background don’t be shy. Consider a bold value contrast that will really “pop” your image. For example, try black (or near black) over a very light painting or light negative painting around darker shapes.  Along the same lines if your base painting is very high chroma try a more neutral negative painting again for contrast.
  4. If you enjoy painting nature and organic subjects like I do I think negative painting often looks less forced and more natural than positive painting.  That doesn’t mean you can’t paint any branches positively but consider using more interesting negative shapes as well—such as sky holes.
  5. Take your time. Don’t rush negative painting if you’re not used to it. If you need to use a non-permanent light drawing tool (i.e. pastel pencil, watercolor pencil, soluble graphite, etc.) to help you find the shapes before you commit to paint.
P.S. If you want to improve your watercolor negative painting skills check out Linda Kemp's Painting Outside the Lines. She also has some videos on Artist TV Network.