Simplified Shadow Mass with Kwan Yin, Pepper Sauce and Camelia

Kwan Yin, Pepper Sauce,  Camelia in Soap Dish, oil on 8x10" panel

Kwan Yin, Pepper Sauce, Camellia in Soap Dish, oil on 8x10" panel

In the Simplified Shadow Mass exercise you practice visualizing the darks and shadows grouped into as few shapes as possible and paint them in one dark color. Then you can vary the colors for the rest of the painting. I tried that in the two top studies.

In the bottom two I allowed myself to use two different colors for the shadows instead of just one. I like the last one best (bottom left) and the first one second best (top left). I hate the muddy second one (top right).

It was fun experimenting with massing shadows and playing with composition by sticking to two objects and changing only one at a time.

Finding My Painting Process; 10 Minute Orange Exercise

Orange structure times 4, oil on panel

Orange structure x 4, oil on 10x8" panel

I read about the Daily Painters’ 10 minute exercise (paint the same thing four times, 10 minutes each) and thought it sounded like fun. What I learned from my attempt (below) is that I need more than ten minutes to do a painting, even if it is small. So when I finished doing the exercise below, I gave myself more time, and painted the study above, exploring a way of painting that works better for me.

Orange four times @ 10 minutes each

Orange four times @ 10 minutes each, 0il on 10x8" panel

I think I’ve found a way to approach an oil painting that works for me, and it’s sort of* illustrated in the top study above.

  1. Sketch in the big shapes and indicate the lines of the planes using *thinned paint (see diagrams in previous post here).
  2. With the same thin paint (*not thick paint as I did here), fill in the shadows to indicate darks and leave the light areas white.
  3. Use both dark/light and warm/cool variations of colors to model the form.
  4. Lastly add light highlights, dark accents, details and make any other necessary adjustments.

*Sort of because originally in the top study each square illustrated those 4 steps, but I played around with the first two, adding white paint between the plane lines, and turning the thinly blocked in value sketch into a value study with black and white paint.

The Color Temperature of Light: Lighting Still Lifes

Cool light, warm light with blocks, oil study

Cool light on the left; warm light on the right; same objects with white background; oils

When painting outdoors, lighting is controlled by the sun, clouds, atmosphere, and time of day. But in the studio you get to choose your lighting source from window light to bulbs of all kinds. In an article about color in the March 2011 Artists Magazine, Scott Burdick suggests an experiment to compare the effect of cool and warm light sources: Set up a still life of primary-colored objects and paint it twice; once under a warm light and again under cool light. That’s what I did in the studies above.

While I’m not sure I captured every nuance (or get the drawing just right), it’s interesting to see how different the same-colored objects and white background cloth look under different “temperatures” of light.

Warm Light. Left: Stroke counting; Right: One-colored shadow

Warm Light. Left: Stroke counting; Right: One-colored shadow

I did these two studies in Peggi Kroll-Roberts‘ studio, with the subjects lit by 150 watt incandescent bulbs which have an even warmer color temperature than the bulbs I used in my two top studies. The actual goal of the study on the left was to paint the scene (cantaloupe and watermelon slices) with as few brush strokes as possible. The assignment for the one on the right was to group and paint the shadows with one color only.

Lighting technical stuff: Read More

Limited Palettes 2-Color Studies

Clockwise from top left; all also include white: Cadmium Lemon Yellow + Sevre Blue; Cad. Yellow + Viridian; Cad. Yellow Pale + Permanent Rose; Ultramarine + Perm. Aliz., oil on 12x12" panel

Following in the footsteps of Kathryn Law’s 36 (!) color studies inspired by the Peggi Kroll-Roberts Limited Palettes video, I returned to doing more of my own. As Kathryn explains on her post, it’s all about learning what your colors can do.

The four at top I did yesterday, after switching back to regular oils (mostly Winsor & Newton). Below are some that I did previously using Holbein Aqua Duos water-soluble oils that I fell out of love with.

Dioxazine Violet & Quinacridone Red

Dioxazine Violet & Quinacridone Red; warm light, cool shadows

Dioxazine Violet & Cad Yellow Deep, V.1

Dioxazine Violet & Cad Yellow Deep, V.1

Dioxazine Violet & Cad Yellow Deep, V.2

Ultramarine Blue & Cadmium Orange; cool light, warm shadows

Phthalo Green and Cad Lemon Yellow; warm lights, cool shadows

Phthalo Green and Cad Lemon Yellow; warm lights, cool shadows

This is a really fun exercise. The idea is to discover about all the variations of value and hue that you can make with just two colors (plus white) and to experiment with using both cool and warm colors for the light or the shadows. It can be done with any medium (with watercolor you’d use two colors and vary the amounts of water instead of adding white).

Doing exercises like this is also a great way to have fun with paint when time is short or if there’s a big scary painting that you’re not quite ready to begin.

My Super Bowl (of apples) Sunday

Super Bowl of Apples, oil on panel, 8x8"

Super Bowl of Apples, oil on panel, 8x8"

I don’t really “get” football although I have fond memories of men (my father and others) gleefully yelling at televised games. I didn’t want to feel left out of the Super Bowl Sunday festivities so I celebrated in my own way: painting a Super Bowl of apples.

I love this old “Metlock California Pottery” bowl which I think might have been my grandmother’s. I use it for my big lunch salads nearly every day. It’s also a great popcorn bowl.

Plane Divisions chart, from Hensche Colour Study pdf

Plane Divisions chart, from Hensche Colour Study pdf*

At last weekend’s workshop with Peggi Kroll-Roberts, one important bit of guidance she gave me was that “every plane has a color change and/or value change” and she diagrammed for me how to visual the planes of the cylindrical object I was painting (an old teapot), similar to Fig. C above. She encouraged me to see and paint those changes in value and color and I tried to do that with the apples.

I learned so much at the workshop and hope to return to her next session in March. It was also great finally meeting my friend Kathryn Law in person (she attended the workshop too). Kathryn has already posted her terrific workshop paintings with commentary on her blog. You can see her Workshop Day One here and Day Two here.

*The diagram above was from a  source completely unrelated to Peggi Kroll-Roberts. I extracted it from the lengthy .pdf file “Colour Study,” downloadable from the website, Oil Painting Thoughts and Ideas about Henry Hensche’s approach to color study.

Tea and Butter, Surface Quality Study #2

Tea and Butter, Surface Quality Study #2, oil painting on panel, 8x10"

Tea and Butter, Surface Quality Study #2, oil painting on panel, 8×10″

This is my second study based on Peggi Kroll Robert’s “Surface Quality” video. In order to paint along with her in the video, I tried to use the same elements: a yellow table (or cloth in my case), a cup of tea, a spoon and a cube of butter on a plate. (This time I made sure the cat couldn’t get to the butter!)

I learn so much from Peggi’s videos, whether I’m watching her paint or just listening. Each time I play one of the DVDs I hear or see or understand something I missed the first time. I’m so excited I get to paint with her in person at her studio in Angels Camp, CA.

I’m also excited that I’m going to spend the weekend workshop with fellow artist-blogger Kathryn Law, whose friendship and support over the past couple of years I treasure but whom I will be meeting in person for the first time.  Kathryn has also been working with Peggi’s videos and you can see her “Surface Quality” study here.

Tea and Lemon, Surface Quality Study #1

Tea and Lemon, Surface Quality Study #1, oil painting on panel 8x10"

Tea and Lemon, Surface Quality Study #1, oil painting on panel 8x10"

This painting is a study based on the exercise in Peggi Kroll-Roberts “Surface Quality” video. I watched the video, then turned it off and painted from my still life set up, trying to incorporate the lesson: paint the darks with thin paint (so that they recede, don’t reflect light that hits lumpy edges, and don’t draw attention to themselves) and paint the light areas with rich, thick paint (and of course mix the correct colors and values).

When Peggi demonstrated this exercise she used a cube of butter (in her still life, not to paint with! though her paint is very buttery). I had to replace the butter with the yellow lemon because while I brewed the tea in the other room, my cat had a little feast, licking my only cube of butter into a misshapen mess.

There are some passages in this painting I like very much, such as the lemon, its leaves and blossom, the tea, and the way the tin in back is kept all in shadow.

I did buy another cube of butter to try the exercise again, and that will post tomorrow while I’m off at Peggi’s workshop.

Sit Stay Cafe Girl Sketch in Oils

Sit Stay Cafe Girl, oil on panel, 10x8"

Sit Stay Cafe Girl, oil on panel, 10x8"

When I painted this oil sketch I had three inspirations: First was the Peggi Kroll Roberts video focusing on designing value patterns by simplifying and grouping values, even when the colors are different (e.g. the red umbrella and green trees above are very different colors but approximately the same values).

Curan: Afternoon in the Cluny Garden

Curran: Afternoon in the Cluny Garden

My second inspiration was the Curran painting above that I saw at the Impressionists show at the DeYoung Museum. I fell in love with this painting because of the colors, strong values and abstract qualities and brought home a print. Charles Courtney Curran was an American artist who studied with the Impressionists in Paris in the 1880s and then returned to the U.S. His other work I’ve seen online doesn’t appeal to me at all, too sugary and romantic.

Original photo reference with face blurred for anonymity

Original photo reference with face blurred for anonymity

I was also inspired by my reference photo (above) that I took at the Sit Stay Cafe at Pt. Isabel’s dog park where I was lunching, sketching and taking photos to test a new camera last summer.

The tired young woman was very kind about allowing me to sketch and take photos of her. She told me she also liked to paint. Since I didn’t ask for permission to post her picture online I blurred her face in Photoshop first.

Painting Value Studies with Peggi Kroll-Roberts DVDs

Block Study 5, from value to color

Block Study 5, from value to color, oil on canvas, 9x9"

After viewing and savoring my Peggi Kroll-Roberts DVDs, I’m doing the exercises she teaches in them, starting with value studies. To keep it simple and focus on values I used colored blocks for my subject. Above is the last study of the day in which I tried to apply to color what I’d learned by doing the gray-scale value studies below.

Value Study with blocks # 1

Value Study with blocks # 1, oil on canvas, 9x12"

One of the huge new (to me) things I learned from the Simple Value Plan DVD is that when you make a value plan for a painting, you can choose a range of values for the painting, such as making it high-key (mostly light) or  low-key (predominantly dark), rather than copying the values as you see them. Kroll-Roberts compares this to playing music in different keys.

She recommends making a value plan before starting a painting by simplifying and grouping shapes in the image into two or three values, with 1/3 light and  2/3 dark or vice versa for a more interesting design. In the study above on the right I used only mid to dark grays, for a low-key, predominantly dark study.

Value Study with blocks #2

Value Study with blocks #2, oil on canvas, 9x12"

Another tool she demonstrates is to first mix a value scale and put it at the bottom of your value plan study as I did above on the bottom right, and select your values from that scale. You can see the 3 blobs of paint at the bottom of most of these studies that indicate the values I intended to use.

Value study with blocks #3

Value study with blocks #3, oil on canvas, 9x12"

Above I wanted the study to use the full value scale, black, white and mid-gray. I noted the colors of the blocks and how I was interpreting their values (yellow and white blocks and beige table top = white/gray; red, green and blue = gray/black,  depending on if they were in light or shadow). I did some more adjusting of value once I had it blocked in so there are more than 3 values.

Value Study with blocks #4 - High Key

Value Study with blocks #4 - High Key, oil on canvas, 9x12"

On Peggi’s DVD High Key Value, she demonstrates creating a high key (mostly light values) painting by simply selecting the values that are mostly very light. I tried doing that with this study, and I think it works, but could have used an even lighter “darkest dark.”

My Oil Painting Breakthrough: Striving Pears and Peggi Kroll-Roberts

Striving Pears, Oil on Gessobord, 6x6"

Striving Pears, Oil on gesso board, 6x6"

My friend Kathryn Law wrote on her blog about the workshop she took with Peggi Kroll-Roberts and about Peggi’s instructional DVDs. The videos focus on the things I most wanted to learn, especially creating strong value patterns and making rich painterly brush strokes, along with loosening up and having fun. I ordered the videos and watched them. Wow!

The Buddhist proverb, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear” is so true. I had to have tried and given up on so many other approaches to oil painting to become very clear on what I didn’t want, what I did want (working with the freedom and looseness I have when I sketch) and what I needed to get there (all the things Peggi teaches).

Watching Peggi demonstrate and explain what she’s thinking and doing as she does it is such a rare ability in painting teachers in my experience. Her videos answered many questions I’ve had for so long. I’ve read dozens of books and gotten great advice from artist friends, but until I watched Peggi’s videos, I just didn’t get it.

I’d almost given up oil painting in frustration but now… Yippee! Oil painting is fun again!

About the painting:

While bosc pears aren’t as pretty or colorful as other types, when I saw the way they were sitting in their container, one seeming like it was “striving” to reach, copy, or catch up with the other, I had to paint them. I used the techniques/tools I learned in Peggi’s videos and really enjoyed the painting process (and the results).

Ripening: Tomatoes and Me (The Spirit of Watercolor vs. Obedient Oils)

November Tomatoes in Raku Bowl; oil painting on board, 9x12"

November Tomatoes in Raku Bowl; oil painting on board, 9x12" (click to enlarge)

UPDATE 12-11-10: I revised this painting again and it’s posted here.

At the end of the season we harvest the crops (or in my case, tomatoes). The last green stragglers are picked from their shriveling vines and set near a window to ripen. And that leads me to think about my own ripening as an artist; reflecting on which artistic pursuits have borne fruit, and which are still hard and green despite my best efforts.

After working in a realistic style in watercolor for years I began to explore other media, eventually focusing on oil painting, determined to gain comfort and competence with it. The path felt wide and long because I’m attracted to so many painting styles, from classical realism to impressionism and even expressionistic figurative work.

But as I get closer to competence with oils (while still far from mastery) I’m beginning to narrow the path and here’s why….

Oils vs. Watercolor

I found that trying to paint in oils in the same detailed, realistic style I enjoy so much in watercolor felt like work, not fun. But why, I wondered. Read More

Pointlessly Persistent? It’s Just What I Do

Hills Above Crockett, oil on board, 9x12"

Hills Above Crockett, oil on board, 9x12"

This oil landscape painting started as a poorly drawn, wrongly colored plein air painting which I’ve reworked many times until I am now finally ready to call it done. The painting started on a hot September day when I dragged my painting gear up a trail and set up my easel amidst dried cow pies and weeds near the Bull Valley Staging Area above the hills of Crockett. You can see my learning process below.

First, here is the washed-out reference photo I had to work from back in the studio. It’s really not even an interesting scene and doesn’t at all capture the way the hills were glowing a brilliant end of summer California gold. Read More

It’s All About Strong Values

Summer Squash, Tired Carrot, oil on panel, 8x8"

Summer Squash & Tired Carrot in bright light, quick study, oil on board, 8x8"

When I was teaching my last session of watercolor classes I saw my students learning so much and was jealous. I realized that I wanted a teacher too! So I began a search for an oil painting mentor to review my work in progress, give me guidance and help me progress.

Value study 1, ink washes

Value study 1, ink washes

First I tried advertising on Craigslist, describing what I needed. But the artists who responded weren’t a good fit. I wanted a mentor whose work excited and inspired me AND who was a good teacher. Then Rebeca Garcia Gonzalez sent me a postcard announcement for her show of portraits of undocumented immigrants and I fell in love with her paintings. I knew she also taught at a local art school so I emailed her my proposal, we met, and she agreed to mentor me.

Value Study 2, ink wash

Value Study 2, ink wash

At our first meeting she reviewed a dozen recent oil paintings and knew right away what I needed to work on. She said that I needed to focus on my values (the range and contrast of light to dark) and I knew she was exactly right.

Value study 3, ink and wash

Value study 3, ink and wash

She asked me to sketch using ink and diluted ink washes and to start paying close attention to values in everything I see, when I’m out walking, or just looking out the window.

Value study 4, ink & ink wash

Value study 4, ink wash

She suggested I ask myself, “Is this shape darker or lighter than that shape,” noticing the value relationships in everything I see to strengthen that ability.  For example, a black object in bright sunlight might look lighter, relatively, than something white that is in shadow.

So much of learning to paint is learning to see, and so much of learning to see involves a kind of “peeling layers of the onion” off of our eyes to see the relationships, shapes, colors, and values in the current light and atmosphere, which can be shockingly different from what we think they are.

Quinceanera Party Boy and When to Stop Painting

Quinceanera Party Boy, oil on panel, 14x11"

Quinceanera Party Boy, oil on panel, 14x11"

When I saw the photo I’d taken of this boy at the Legion of Honor where he was posing for his sister’s Quinceanera party photos, I knew I had to paint him (see my original blog post about that day). He is such a beautiful boy.

When to Stop Painting
Lately I’ve been focusing all of my art time on oil painting, and discovered something that might be of interest to other painters.

One night I’d been painting into the wee hours, trying to “fix” a painting. I’d put on paint, step back, then scrape it off. When I realized I didn’t know why I was doing anything I was doing, I went to bed, frustrated that after hours of painting I’d accomplished very little and in fact, probably just made things worse.

The next day I was driving to a plein air paint-out using my GPS to get me to cross streets near the destination (a little park with no address). Once I passed those cross streets, my GPS began scrolling the words “Driving….driving….driving” on the screen because it no longer had any directions for me—I’d passed the target with no further plan.

That’s when it hit me: When I’m at the point with a painting where I am just driving….driving…driving (or dabbing, scraping, dabbing) I need to STOP.

Without a conscious and specific intention (make this area cooler, warmer, darker, lighter, bigger, smaller, sharper, softer, etc.) and an overall goal, it’s just like trying to reach a general idea of a destination by driving mindlessly and randomly, hoping I’ll get there. Not too likely.


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