Category Archives: art

Little Stone Church, Provence – demonstration painting from photographs

Little Stone Church, Provence, France – final. Acrylic, 12 x 16. As you can see, I made the sky more interesting and edited the road a bit, too.

I thought I’d share another lesson from the class that I’m teaching about painting from photographs.  Frankly, this process can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it.

Little Stone Church, Provence – original photo

In this example, I have a real photo – you know, the printed kind – from a biking trip that I took through Provence, France many years ago.  I like to browse through the old photos and inevitably I see a new subject that I overlooked before.  In this case, I remember exactly how I felt cruising through the olive groves when I passed this old stone church one morning.

Little Stone Church cropped.

The original photo included more subject matter than I wished to include in my painting so I cropped it to fit my canvas size.  This is easy to do if it is a digital photo, but in this case with a real picture, I used paper L-shaped pieces to manipulate the photo (not shown here.)  I don’t usually need to do this anymore since I’ve been painting for so many years but it’s a good hack for new painters.

For the purpose of the class, I actually scanned the photo and used these images to demonstrate.

Little Stone Church – photo divided into thirds. The center of interest – the church – is at the intersection of one of the thirds. Also, notice how the road leads the eye into the painting and points towards the church.

I divided the selected picture area into thirds each way and then placed the church on one of the intersections.  This generally makes a nicely balanced composition.

NOTAN Here I changed the photo to black and white, then pushed the contrast to the extreme. This helps one get a better idea of the basic shapes. Notice how the stone church (center of interest) also has the greatest contrast with the trees framing it.

The prior week we had discussed NOTAN – the theory of making your image extreme black and white in order to seek balance in the composition.  Here, I manipulated the image by computer to show a high contrast in black and white which is essentially NOTAN.  Here is a link to a very good explanation of NOTAN by artist Mitchell Albala.

A black and white image of the same photograph. This helps the artist gain a better handle on values, lightest to darkest. The same effect can be achieved by viewing the color photograph through a piece of red gel. See a prior post on the subject at the link.

I then showed a regular black and white photo to the class so they could get an idea of the values.  Again, you can use the trick of a piece of red gel to get the same effect.  (Click here to see an earlier post about using red gel.)

The next step was to demonstrate to the class my procedure for painting the scene in color.  In oil or acrylic, one usually starts with the darks and works towards the light.  Watercolor usually proceeds the opposite way with laying in the lights (or reserving the lights) and adding more and darker color as the painting progresses.  There are several demonstrations of both of these methods under the tab Artworks at the top of the page.

The takeaway here is that composition can be enhanced for using old photos as painting materials by manipulating the size and shape of the photos, taking care of the placement of the center of interest, and selecting pleasing balance and contrasts of lights and darks.

Little Stone Church, Provence

Way the Wind Blows – a quiet painting

Way the Wind Blows, acrylic on wood panel, 8 x 10, original painting, Kit Miracle

With the nasty weather screaming through the Midwest the past couple of weeks, I’ve been surfing through old photos and files for subjects to paint.  I came across some images taken on a visit to New England to visit family.

This is a painting of the cupola on the 200 year old barn at my brother’s home in New England.  Made of red oak, the original timbers inside were marked with Roman numerals for assembly at some time in the past. I was attracted to the late afternoon sun as it caught the weather vane on top.  One wonders at the history this barn has seen in its long existence.  These old buildings always make me reflect on life as it was back then.

Although the subject of the painting is not one of the more complex that I’ve painted, I just enjoy the peace and calm of the scene.  Very plain.  Which just demonstrates that a one doesn’t need a lot going on in a scene to make compelling painting.

Painted on wood panel in a contemporary impressionist style, this small painting will fit in many spaces.

Way the Wind Blows, framed. Sometimes framing a painting makes all the difference.

When the wind is in the east,
It’s good for neither man nor beast.
When the wind is in the north,
The old folk should not venture forth.
When the wind is in the south,
It blows the bait in the fishes’ mouth.
When the wind is in the west,
It is of all the winds the best.

Link to painting on Etsy.  

Winter reading – artists’ biographies

I love reading biographies, particularly autobiographies, particularly artists’ autobiographies.  Winter is a great time to snuggle inside with a book or two or ten.  These are a few of my current recommendations.  You may be surprised that I don’t just read books about painters or even about artists who work in the same style as I do; I am more interested in their motivations, how they became who they became, and what obstacles they had to overcome.

Alexander Calder, an Autobiography with Pictures.  1965.  In this autobiography, Calder dictates over a period of several months, his life and career as an artist.  From a struggling student in engineering to the famous artist he became, this is a fascinating tour of his life.  He doesn’t always delve into the why of the works he created, but it’s amazing to see how his career grew.  And I couldn’t believe just how much he and his wife Louisa traveled, not only between the US and France, but all over the world.  They moved frequently and were undaunted to tackle any old derelict of a farmhouse, apartment or barn.  Personally, I would not be able to remember all the details about my life as he relays in this account of his.  Full of photos in both black and white, this is a page-turner.

Chuck Close, A Life  by Christopher Finch (2010) Chuck Close is a brilliant artist known for his gigantic portraits but he also faced many struggles in his career. A poor student, he probably suffered from dyslexia, but he overcame the naysayers to garner acceptance into Yale.  His early successes established him as a leader in the art world.  I loved reading about his years in a loft apartment in the Village, and the name-dropping of other famous contemporaries.  His spinal stroke in mid-career set him on a new trajectory that would have sidelined many lesser individuals.  Close didn’t discover until late in life that he actually suffered from prosopagnosia, i.e., he is unable to recognize faces, even of those whom he knows well.  This probably set him on the path to focusing on the giant portraits.

Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir  (1959) It was interesting to read this biography of such a famous artist by his own son.  I always admire the early impressionists (although they didn’t call themselves that at the time) and to read such a personal account by an eyewitness of the day is fascinating.  I learned a lot about Renoir and in the end, didn’t really care for him as much as a person.  But this is still a great you were there account which gives the true flavor of what it was to be a painter at this critical period in France.

Van Gogh by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (2011)  Nearly everyone holds some ideas about Van Gogh but many of those ideas are shallow characterizations.  He was much deeper than cutting off his ear.  He painted to celebrate his love of God and God’s world.  The fact that he was able to create in the face of so much ridicule and drive himself to continue to paint is inspiring.  This book is not for the faint of heart as it is over 900 pages, but it is very thorough.

Edward Willis Redfield, An American Impressionist and His Paintings and the Man Behind the Palette by J.M.W. FLETCHER (1996)  I am a huge admirer of Redfield and his work.  He was such a dogged master painter and had some of the best working habits of any artist that I’ve read about.  Redfield doesn’t get as much attention as he did during his lifetime but take a look at his work if you happen to visit a museum.  What I love most is the sheer energy that he put into his paintings.  You can tell by the bold and sure strokes.  He was a big man and usually painted large canvases….on location.  No matter the season, winter or summer, he would wade through snow and ice to get what he wanted.  This book is a personal labor of love by the author who researched it about as thoroughly as anyone could.  It contains just about every detail of Redfield’s life and career as he could round up.  I feel that some of the photos that the author took could have been done a little better, but overall, this is an amazing portrait of an American Impressionist.

Willard Metcalf, Yankee Impressionist  Spanierman Gallery, LLC.  (2003)  I fell in love with Metcalf when I first viewed his painting The North Country in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It became an annual pilgrimage to visit this painting on my many trips to the city.  The delicacy of the colors of the painting cannot be done justice in any reproduction compared to the real painting.  Metcalf was prolific and had many successes early in his career.  However, he was not so lucky in his relationships and had a problem with alcohol.   The book is filled with many beautiful plates and is certainly a good depiction of a lesser-known American artist.

This is just a small list of some of the artist biographies that I have enjoyed.  Check them out and be inspired. I’ll post links to my favorite women artists another time.

Links to the books:

Calder – Autobiography with Pictures

Chuck Close – Life

Renoir, My Father

Edward Willis Redfield 

Willard Metcalf 

Wings, a beach scene

Wings – final, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24. Kit Miracle

I was looking through some old photographs for subjects to paint which I haven’t visited for awhile and came across the inspiration for this painting. Sometimes the subject doesn’t grab me for several years until I revisit the pictures but this photo was only from last summer. I love the beach scenes by Sargent, Sorolla and Zorn, particularly the ones involving children.

For this painting, I decided to work slowly and do plenty of preliminary work.  My last post included several sketches, some Notan studies, and one painting study of the central figure. The latter is actually larger than the figure in the final painting.  See the sketch for this painting.

The title comes from the focus on the little girl with her water wings and the flapping wings of the seagulls.  Sargent did a wonderful painting of Neapolitan Children at the beach and one of them is wearing a contraption of bladders for floating, similar to today’s water wings.

To learn more about this painting, check out my step-by-step page here.

High Noon, a street scene

High Noon, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36, Kit Miracle
cityscape, landscape

I had the idea for this painting rolling around in my head for some time. The middle of the day is not my favorite time to paint as the shadows are often small and the colors are too washed out. However, I wanted to try this back-lit village scene with the street, buildings and cars.

High Noon, detail 1, showing the contre jour lighting and impressionistic brush strokes, Kit Miracle

There weren’t really any people around at the time that I took the reference photos for this painting which is surprising considering all the cars that were there.  I decided to add some people to the landscape to give it more life.

The challenge for a painting like this is, first, to get the perspective correct.  Perspective can be conveyed not only from the actual drawing but distance is also indicated by the shading. The farther away the objects, the lighter the shading. The second challenge is to ensure that the colors are right, that enough details are included without being too focused on details. It’s all a matter of balance.

High Noon, detail 2.  Adding people to a street scene makes it come alive but you don’t need to include every detail. Let the viewer’s eye fill in the story.

I added more color to the street to “lay it down”, that is, to make sure it didn’t appear floating.  This is where having a lot of experience in plein air painting helps.  Photos often make the darks too dark and the lights too light.  Copying a photo exactly often gives unsatisfying results.

Overall, I liked the challenge of this painting.  It has been on display at a local gallery and many people have recognized the scene and commented on it.

Lucky Red #5 – Red Robe / Black Dragon

Lucky Red #5, Red Robe / Black Dragon, acrylic on canvas, good luck symbols, 20 x 16, Kit Miracle

This is the fifth painting in my Lucky Red series.  There are many symbols of power and good fortune in this set up.  The still life arrangement is a little unusual but I’ve been wanting to work the red satin robe into a painting for quite some time.  I love the way it glows.  Red is the sign of strength and power.

An unusual composition, the red satin robe brings all the elements together in this Lucky Red still life.

I can’t recall where I acquired the black iron dragon but it usually guards my desk. Another symbol of strength and power, it can also represent danger.  Hummm…  The cluster of white/clear quartz crystals is a new acquisition from a neat rock shop that I visit sometimes.  They’re all just so beautiful.  This crystal is from the Arkansas quarry which apparently is in a vein of 170 miles long!  Quartz is a very hard crystal and is supposed to amplify the powers of other crystals, especially healing.  The mandarin oranges represent good fortune and the sun and are often given as gifts for the new year.

I can’t vouch for the veracity of the good fortune that any of these items will bring, but I love to create still lifes that are a little beyond just pretty pictures.  This series of Lucky Red still lifes all feature good luck symbols and the color red at least somewhere in the painting.

This painting is a vertical view, the first such arrangement in the series.  Painted in a contemporary impressionistic style, it brings peaceful contemplation to the viewer.

Lucky Red #5 detail 2, showing the various shades of orangey-red in the robe. Very difficult to capture on the computer monitor.

Lucky Red #5 detail showing the black iron dragon, quartz crystals and mandarin oranges

Buddha and Pomegranates Still life


Buddha and Pomegranates, still life, Lucky Red series, good luck symbols, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle,Vitarka Mudra

This is the fourth painting in my Lucky Red series.

Detail of Buddha and Pomegranates painting, acrylic on canvas, Vitarka Mudra

The sitting Buddha represents Vitarka Mudra or the teaching Buddha. The circle made in the right hand stands for never-ending flow of energy.  The pomegranates stand for fertility, abundance and marriage.

Pomegranates, lucky red symbol, fruit, symbol of fertility, abundance, marriage

I like the slight smile on Buddha’s face along with the contrasting colors of the fruit and plant.  Painted in an impressionistic style, this painting brings a quiet, reflective mood to any setting.

Yes, of course this is for sale.  Click here. 

Alley 3- Belegravia Court, Louisville, Kentucky

Alley 3, Belgravia Court, Louisville, Kentucky, Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16, Kit Miracle

Here is another alley painting.  Guess this is starting to be a series.

Alley 3 – detail, acrylic on canvas, couple sitting on stoop

This painting is contre-jour, painted against the light.  Here I’ve added a few figures.  A couple sitting on the stoop and a figure in the distance.  Also, the car in the alley with the tail lights as it is waiting to pull out.

Keep tuned.  I might be doing some more alley scenes in the future.

The drudgery work behind the scenes of being an artist. Packing, framing and shipping.

This is the time of year which finds me packing, framing, and shipping.  My paintings travel from coast to coast, and even overseas!  It’s important to make sure they arrive safely.

Shipping unframed paintings in these shiny pink envelopes gives the customer a nice surprise. The painting is inserted in a clear plastic bag (to prevent water damage), secured between between two pieces of cardboard to give added support and inserted into the bubble envelope for even more protection.

My flat pieces generally are packed in my signature shiny pink envelopes.  I put them in a clear plastic bag, add the shipping information, secure them between stiff cardboard, and insert the whole deal into the envelope.  Larger paintings are wrapped similarly but put in boxes.

Framing a 16 x 20 into a standard size frame. Using Z-clips makes it very easy. I actually took another painting out of this frame which demonstrates the benefit of using standard sizes.

This is also the time of year to prepare paintings for exhibits.  One advantage of painting standard sizes is that I usually have standard sized frames available.  If not, I might slip another painting out of a frame to use.  This is also the benefit of using neutral frames.  In my case, usually black, white or gold with very simple profiles. It’s been a long time since I’ve selected special frames for each painting as it gets very expensive.

Alley, Belgravia Court, Louisville. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle This is the painting I showed a few weeks ago. The simple frame is versatile and will suit many painting subjects.

Beginning arts professionals often don’t realize that they may spend about half of their time doing the mundane tasks behind the scenes – framing, preparing canvases, paperwork, shipping, delivery – than actually spent in front of the easel.  The final exhibit or sale is the icing on the cake.  I think this is probably true for any arts professional, not just visual artists.  Being a successful artist also means being a good business person.  Paying attention to procedures, cutting costs where you can, and making your customer happy it what it really takes to make a living in the arts.

Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown

Early books by Charles Schultz

Today we celebrate the birthday of Charles M. Schultz.  Few people of any age have never heard of him.  I came across these old Peanuts books in my collection.  I must have had them for about fifty years!  Yikes!  Few kids grew up without drawing a Peanuts cartoon, some simple drawings.  Even today, A Charlie Brown Christmas is still one of the most popular holiday shows there is.  I love the music and the sentiment.

Anyway, it’s a bit silly to wish a dead person happy birthday, but today I honor Charles Schultz and all the inspiration he’s given me and many others throughout the years.  Hope you all get to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas this season.