Sunday, January 31, 2010

New Paintings from the Easel

"Window Study", 11x14, oil on canvas panel

September Light", 24x36", oil on canvas

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Finding Time to Paint

I think in my 30+ years of teaching I have heard just about every excuse there is as to why a student can't find time to paint. It is so easy to find reasons not to do what you want to do. This seems especially true of women...the care givers. Being one myself I fully understand the need to be needed and the need to be of service to the family, community, etc. Men on the other hand may have trouble divorcing themselves from their "working" career long enough to pursue their creative side. However, if a person wants to paint, wants to succeed at art, then some obvious decisions have to be made.

First, find a place to paint where materials can be left out and ready to be used. Such a simple thing makes a world of difference on mentally finding time to work at your art. If you have to move your art materials every time a meal is to be served you will quickly quit painting.

Second, let your family know how important this is to you and that you want to set up business hours for working. If they care about you your needs will be important to them. Communication is a priority here. Speak up! Don't buy into the guilt of doing for yourself before others. After all, it's only for a couple hours out of the whole week. The earth wont stop rotating because you want a couple hours a week for yourself.

Third, treat your hours in your studio as business time. No personal calls, no cooking, no running errands, etc. Even if it's only 2 hours a week. They are your hours...keep them and use them.

Four, have more than one project going at different stages in the creative process. This way when you enter the studio there will be something to do that fits your immediate emotional makeup and time frame for working, albeit it may only be 15 minutes. If you don't "feel" like painting then gather items and set up a still life, do some thumbnails, check through references, plan a painting trip, read that art article you set aside a month ago. It all counts towards your business hours.

Finding time to paint is really not that difficult. What is difficult is giving yourself permission to do it and then sticking with it.

Happy painting!

Shall We Paint From Photographs?

Since I'm known as an outdoor painter, I am often asked if I ever paint from photographs. I would love to be able to say, "no, I only paint from life", but that would simply not be true. I am a busy person with a busy schedule and don't have the privilege of devoting all my daytime hours to painting. I paint around teaching, family needs and housekeeping. HOWEVER, other than teaching, the rest of my activities remain as flexible as my painting schedule so that I can devote as much prime time to painting as possible. I have to say here that I have an understanding and encouraging spouse that is supportive of my work. He encourages me rather than discourages. I appreciate him very much.

So, back to photography. What part does it play in the scope of my painting?

When I am on location, I always carry a digital camera with me. I photograph what I am painting plus other interesting things in the area. However, I NEVER take snapshots. They are a total waste of time. My photos are carefully taken with the idea of a painting. In other words, I look for line and shapes that converge or are in juxtaposition of one another creating interesting compositions. I take time to frame the subject as though I were setting up a painting. Back in the studio I download the photos, review what I have and delete anything that is not usable. I hold very high standards for what I keep and what is pitched. Since I photograph often it is easy for me to be heartless in sorting and deleting. If you take only a few photos each one becomes precious to you and you don't feel so casual about dumping them. As a result, my repertoire of photos to work from are excellent.

This said I must add that I do not in any way consider myself a photographer. Excellent well composed reference shots are my goal, not award winning photographs.

I use my photos in two ways. They are references for subject matter or I may review groups of photos of a possible painting site to help establish a loose plan of what I may want to do once I get on location. For instance,a place where I paint often offers a lot of subject matter. There are hills with views that can be painted as vistas, cropped into smaller areas, or moved into for intimate looks. By reviewing my photos ahead of time I'm able to focus more time on painting rather than "looking".

Currently, it's winter and I am looking at my warm weather photos from last year and visualizing some of the paintings I would like to do in the coming season. This visualizing stirs my creative juices and keeps me excited about the season to come. I'm already planning on a 30x40" that I want to do come spring from on top of a hill overlooking a marshy pond with a woodsy background. I've found that some of my best work comes from those pieces I've mentally visualized for months prior to ever picking up a brush. I go there now in winter to see the abstracted view of the scene, ie: the evident contrasts between light snow and dark vegetation areas. This simplifies and makes more obvious the shapes to be added into my painting when later in the year everything is all "green".

When working from photos, I never "copy". I use the photos as references while establishing the painting but normally put the photos away once I'm into the painting process. When in the studio, I want to create a painting, in other words, express my feeling about a place not copy it. I already have a copy....the photograph.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Winter Painting

"Remnants of Summer", 18x24", oil on linen

I paint often on the property of a large local farm that offers varied natural, tilled and pastoral scenes. Working in the winter is, to me, the most rewarding time to record abstracted shapes and value contrasts. So much easier to identify than when everything in the landscape is green. I find the evident juxtapositioning of line and shapes thoroughly exciting.

The painting, "Remnants of Summer" (above) was created in the studio after completing an on-site pencil sketch of the abandoned farm building one cold January morning. The delicate grasses against the austere lines of the building and broken fence caught my eye. If you've never painted in the snow I encourage you to try it. Reading the next post will help you dress warmly for the occasion.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Plein air in the Winter? Are you Kidding?

I love painting outdoors in the winter. There is a certain hush that lays upon the snow covered earth that is not evident at any other time of year. The air is clean, fresh and beckoning. Whether sunny or overcast, a snow laden landscape offers exciting natural abstract shapes and color contrasts, and for those who love to paint the subtle variations of white it cannot be surpassed. Winter is an exciting and fascinating season to capture on canvas.
Of course, you always have the option of painting from inside your car where you have all the comforts of home, ie: heat, music, etc. However, you'll miss the sound of snow, the quality of the air and the space around you that is so beautiful at this time of year.
When I encourage students to try winter plein air it's not the subject but the cold that receives negative responses like, "...are you kidding? You paint in your car, right?" It's usually the gals, who tend to wear fashion outer clothing not designed for standing in cold temperatures for hours, who are my most vocal skeptics. The answer then to enjoying outdoor painting lies not in a lack of enthusiasm for winter but a lack of knowledge in how to dress properly for comfort and warmth.
When I go out to paint I don't worry about pretty...I worry about warmth. If it's 32 degrees I layer my clothing for at least "0" degree weather. When you're standing still for a long period of time the cold will seep in so over-dressing makes sense. Below are the layers I use.


Layer #1: Long underwear and liner socks made of silks reduces bulk and wick moisture away from the body.

Layer #2: Warm pants or those lined w/ flannel plus a turtle neck cotton top and 1 pair of wool socks.

Layer #3: Lightweight wool sweater or velour top that buttons down the front so it can be opened if the body becomes overheated.

Layer #4: Quilted, button down the front, outdoor vest with a stand up neck collar.


Warm coat that covers the fanny and has deep pockets

2 pairs of stretchy gloves (buy in any store for 99 cents a pair). Doubled up these are thin and do not hamper finger movement or brush holding but keep the fingers warm.

Warm hat with ear flaps and a small brim to keep sky light out of eyes.

Wool scarf worn tied around neck and crossed over the chest under the coat.

Boots with felt liners that are designed for 20 degrees below zero or better. This is not the time for fashion or shoeboots. Cold feet will send you home faster than anything.


Warmers available in sporting goods departments or stores. A pair of hand warmers (one for each pocket), one pair foot warmers for inside the boots, and 1 body warmer which sticks to the back of long underwear just below the neckline where the body loses most of its heat.

This may seem like a lot of clothing but today's miracle fabrics keep the bulk to a minimum and the body wicked and warm. If the hands get chilled simply put them in a coat pocket with a hand warmer for a few minutes and they'll be toasty and good to go again in short order.

If possible, I usually set up somewhere close to my car where I keep a thermos of hot tea and one of chicken noodle soup for my lunch available. Their warmth tastes mighty good and warms me up inside if all else fails and I get chilled. However, dressed this way, I'm good to go for a number of hours.


I've found that I can easily paint outdoors with my oils in weather as cold as 10 degrees above zero. If it becomes stiff I add a touch of Liquin to my paints as I mix them. In this way, my paint is just a little juicier than when applied in the studio. The paint stays workable long enough that I am able to adjust edges throughout the length of the painting session. I know other artists who add a small drop of extra linseed oil to the piles of paint on the palette prior to mixing.

This seems like a lot of clothing but it really isn't and it holds your comfort level for a long time. If you have ideas on dressing for cold weather painting or how to control the viscosity of oils please feel free to offer your suggestions.