Category Archives: painting instruction

One month’s art production

A composite of my January art production. Four watercolors, five sunflower paintings, six tree drawings and three paintings for my new series focusing on food.

Since I retired from being a director of a multi-discipline arts center a couple of years ago, people are always asking me, What are you doing with your time these days? Or Are you still painting?

Sheesh, I was an artist before I was nearly anything else.  Yes, I paint every day! That is really no exaggeration.  Sometimes I’ll take a day to just goof off, read a book or go do some other fun stuff.  Without guilt.

So I thought I’d look back at the month of January just to see how much art I really created for the month.  These are the stats.

Red Rock Cliffs at Zion National Park, watercolor / pen and ink, 9.5 x 13.5, Kit Miracle I don’t remember what is the name of this group of rocks (there are so many in the park) but I was attracted to the contrast of the sunlight and shadows.

Four watercolor / pen and ink travel paintings. These sell well in one of my online shops and they’re fun to do.

 

 

 

 

 

Rosemary’s Sunflowers, 20 x 16, acrylic on canvas, Kit Miracle. This bright painting is one of five sunflower paintings that I completed in January. Love the loose brushwork and dazzling colors.

Five sunflower paintings, all acrylic on canvas. Various sizes from 8 x 8 to 20 x 16.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maple, partial sketch. Faber Castell grey pens. 11 x 14, Kit Miracle. I first completed the whole tree, then decided to focus on this detail.

Six tree drawings. Trees are hard to do but winter is a great time to “see the bones.”  I thought I’d give myself a challenge of doing one tree per week.  We’ll see how that goes.

 

 

 

 

Room Service, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas. Kit Miracle As the name implies, this is a meal that I ate in my room on one of my many business trips, this time to Kansas City. I was attracted to the muted colors with a little dash of color for the main entree.

Three paintings in a new series called “The Food We Eat.” They will all be paintings of food, a very popular subject.  I just love the bright colors.  And the challenge.  I have thirty two paintings planned for this series.  Or at least until I get bored.

 

 

 

In addition, I have been designing new print-on-demand products for one of my Etsy shops.  So far, I’ve created about fifty.  There are so many ideas but time is limited.

The drawings are not for sale; just for practice.

And the food paintings will be saved for a group display.

Plus time spent updating websites, blog, and social media.

Lest you think that I spend all of my time in the studio, that is not the case.  I probably spend five or six hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less.  It’s not work really.  I just get lost.

But, of course, January is a time of year with few garden demands.  Although I could probably spend some more time cleaning the attic or going to the gym.  But I’m happy.

And larger paintings require more time so not every month sees this kind of output.

But even when I was working full time, I was still able to squeeze in 15 to 20 hours a week in the studio.  I guess it’s just all about priorities.  Although I read a lot, I don’t watch much TV or waste too much time on social media.

If you want something bad enough, you’ll find the time.

Making temporary fixes to a painting

Far Horizons, original painting, acrylic on toned canvas, 20 x 24, Kit Miracle This is the original painting with portions of the toned canvas (raw sienna mostly) showing through as well as the original charcoal sketch on the canvas.

A few weeks ago I posted about changing the background of a painting.  I took a standard flower painting from a traditional dark background to a colorful reddish-orange background to a mixed background.  Someone asked me if I made the changes on the actual painting.  Yes, I did.  I like the painting but I’ve long passed the point of where every one is precious to me.  As the artiste, I feel it is my right to paint how I wish and what I wish.

However, I’m going to show you a neat little trick which will allow you to make temporary changes to a painting.  Here you can try out new ideas, new approaches without making permanent changes.

I have a large roll of acetate film which I used to use for wrapping large matted but not framed paintings, particularly watercolors.  This kept the paintings clean and protected them from fingerprint smudges and other dirt.  Great to use in art bins or wherever you want to display your work in public. You can buy acetate in rolls or sheets.

The painting that I’m demonstrating with is titled Far Horizons.  It shows my granddaughter looking out over the Grand Canyon. Not only does the painting depict the distant views of the Grand Canyon, but the deeper meaning of a young girl looking out to the future.

Although I love the composition of the painting, it somehow didn’t seem to give the impression of really far horizons, as anyone who has visited the great canyon can attest.  So I wanted to try to lighten the background as a test.

Far Horizons, 1st step. A clear acetate sheet has been taped over the canvas. No painting has been done on the acetate yet.

First, I cut a large piece of acetate and taped it to the painting.  Then just started loosely painting over the acetate with acrylic.  I lightened both the distant sky, and made many changes to the rocks with lighter colors.  I even added some more highlights to the girl’s hair and jacket.

Far Horizons, 2nd step. Here you see that I started with the sky and have been painting directly on the acetate sheet. The whole idea is to test out some lighter background colors in order to push it back.

Detail of step 2 showing some loose strokes of lighter colors.

Far Horizons, final step of the acetate painting over the original painting. I even touched up the highlights of the girl’s hair and jacket.

This is the actual painting on the acetate. I’ve put a plain piece of toned paper behind it to better show you the actual painting.

I plan to set the painting aside in order to evaluate whether I want to make any of these changes permanent.  If not, I haven’t done any damage to the original painting and can leave it just the way it is.

This technique works well for both acrylic and oil painting.

Matting works on paper

Did you receive any artwork for the holidays and are a bit confused about how best to mat and frame them?  This post specifically addresses matting works on paper.  This includes watercolors, pastels, drawings, etc.

These are the simple matting tools that I use for fixing a painting to a mat. (Cutting a mat requires different and specialized mat cutting tools, not addressed here.)

The first point to remember is don’t do anything that could damage your artwork or that can’t be undone.  Do not use scotch tape or other such adhesive products as these can bleed into your art.

Works on paper are typically framed under glass to protect them from moisture, air pollution and other environmental conditions which could harm the art.  They are usually framed with a mat so they are not pressed right up against the glass.  Some exceptions are if the framer uses spacers to keep the artwork from touching the glass but I am not going to address that option today.

Mats can be purchased at art supply and craft stores and even online.  These will usually be standard sizes unless you cut your own or have the store cut one for you.  (This is one of the benefits of using standard sizes.  Check out this link to an earlier post.)  Since I use standard sizes for my smaller work, I purchase museum-grade mats  in volume from an online retailer.

The key with matting a work on paper is that it should only be hinged at the top of the artwork.  This will allow it to “float” in the frame.  Paper is sensitive to humidity and needs to be able to expand and contract.  If you stick it down on all sides, the art will buckle at times.  Certainly not the look you want, I’m sure.

A small painting with a ready-cut mat and backing. The painting has a border around it to allow some flexibility in situating it within the mat.

Small work hinged. I have hinged it all the way across the top.

In this small snowman painting, you can see that I’ve hinged the mat all the way across at the top.  I use my thumbnail to press down on the framer’s tape.  To remove the tape, apply a little heat from a hair dryer.

Snowman, final matting

The second example is a larger painting with an individually cut mat.  Here I have created hinges with vertical strips, then horizontal strips holding the vertical strips.  To help keep the artwork in place while I’m working on it, I use a couple of pieces of removable painter’s tape.  Remember to remove it after you place the hinges.

Matting a larger work. Here you see the border I have left which allows me to situate the painting behind the mat before I begin to work on it.

Use some removable painter’s tape at the bottom to hold the painting in place while you work on the hinges at the top. Remember to remove this tape after you are finished with the hinges.

Large work with first set of vertical hinges.

Large work, second set of hinges. The horizontal hinges hold the vertical hinges in place but do not actually go on the painting.

You can buy framer’s tape at most art supply websites or framer’s stores.  A roll is relatively inexpensive and will last for years.

Large work completed mat. Remember, it is only hinged at the top of the painting which will allow the painting to “float” in the mat.

Mulberry paper is very fibrous and strong. It makes a good alternative to tape for making hinges. However, you will need a separate type of adhesive, usually something like Elmer’s school paste.

A final way to hinge your painting to a mat is to use mulberry paper.  As you can see, this paper is very fibrous and strong.  Just cut hinges in the shape and size as the tape demonstration above.  I used this method extensively at the beginning of my art career.  With larger paintings, such as full size watercolor paintings, you may need to use four or five sets of hinges across.  Then use Elmer’s paste to adhere the hinges to both the artwork and the mat.  Remember, do no harm and be able to undo your actions if you need to.

I hope this helps you to get your new artwork up on the wall. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Useful links:

Jerry’s Artarama framing tapes

Dick Blick framing tape

What a difference a background makes

Lilies with brown background. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20. Kit Miracle

I often treat myself to a bouquet of fresh flowers when I’m at the grocery.  They just make me feel good and remind me that spring will be here soon (another three months).  This week’s selection included some beautiful lilies and other flowers.  Of course, everything becomes a subject for painting to an artist.

I started this painting yesterday and worked on it some more today.  Although the first image with the dark background is pretty classic, it was nice but didn’t move me.

Lilies with orange background. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20. Kit Miracle (Apologies for the glare from my easel light.)

So…..I decided to try some different backgrounds.  First I painted a bright, orangey-red background. This really added some pop to the painting.  But it seemed very flat to me which is probably what I didn’t like about the first painting background.

Lilies with blue and orange background. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20. Kit Miracle

Then I added some variegated shades of blue to the background, leaving the orange at the bottom. Much better and it ties in with the blue vase.  (I have many cobalt blue vases of various shapes and sizes which I’ve collected over the years.  This is why you see them in so many paintings.)

The flowers are essentially the same although I may have touched them up here and there. So, which background do you like best?  Dark brown, orangey-red, or blue and orange?  They each bring something different to the painting.

Hummmm….I wonder what a lime yellow-green would look like?

Evolution of a painting

Barry, portrait in acrylic on linen, 28 x 34. Kit Miracle

Except for plein air painting and sketching, it’s pretty rare that I create a painting by just diving in and slapping some paint on canvas.  Yes, I know, movies and biopics of artists give that impression.  But really, it’s hard work and, for me at least, requires a lot of preliminary work.

When I’m doing a portrait, which is to me the most difficult to achieve, I always begin with some preliminary sketches.  Generally I begin with some charcoal sketches.  Sometimes one is enough but more often it’s several.

Barry, preliminary charcoal sketch. Kit Miracle

After that, I may try some color sketches on canvas paper or panels.

In this case, I had recently been gifted with some art supplies by a friend who was moving so I proceeded to a conte crayon study on pastel paper.

Barry, conte crayon. on pastel paper.

The next step was to do a larger oil stick pastel, also on pastel paper.

Barry, oil stick pastel on pastel paper. Kit Miracle

The final painting was created on a large stretched linen canvas 28 x 34.  I had already primed it some time ago with a dark neutral background and some splashes of color in the center.

I sketched in the main figure with charcoal.  Then, sanded the primary area and gessoed it again.  Then sketched over that again with charcoal.  A little spray fixative set the charcoal so the painting process would not pick it up.  I decided to leave the background unfinished with just the initial undercoats of paint.

The figure is painted in acrylic very loosely but with attention to detail in the face and hand.  The primary difference with painting a human portrait as opposed to painting a building or landscape is that if you’re off a brick or leaf in the landscape, no one will know. But if you’re off a quarter of an inch on a nose, you have totally missed the mark in capturing a portrait.   At least in my opinion.

What do you think?

More paintings from the Snake River

Snake River, Idaho, II, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Tomorrow (Veteran’s Day) is the final day of my landscape painting class.  We have been using watercolor with pen and ink added for details.  It’s been a great class but a little challenging for me.  I usually like to include something man-made in a landscape painting to give it that human touch, as well as to provide scale.

Most of the paintings we’ve done this class have been pure landscapes without any notion of a human in sight.

Tomorrow’s painting will involve a subject with a water feature.  Looking through some of my thousand of photographs, I decided to add a water feature since this is pretty common to landscape paintings.

Here are two simple compositions of the Snake River in the southeast area of Idaho.  The paintings are created with about five or six colors, but certainly less than eight.

Palisades Reservoir, Snake River, Idaho. Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

One shows the reservoir lake as the viewer is looking into the sun. The other shows the Snake River with the sun at the back of the artist.  Both are relatively simple landscapes but should be challenging for a class of beginners to try.

Painting the Snake River

Final, Snake River painting. The final step is to use some pen and ink to add some details but be careful not to add too much. I suggest that you zoom in on the image so you can get a better idea of what I’ve done. It’s really just a lot of scribbling and very loose calligraphy.

I mentioned last week that I’m teaching a watercolor landscape painting class. I let the class choose which subject they wanted to paint and they selected the colorful sunset.  Well, it seemed easy but was a little more difficult than they thought.   I’ve painted that scene three times and none of them have turned out exactly the same.

So, I thought I would try to find something a little easier for the class.  One of my selections is this scene from a trip we took out West several years ago. This is the Snake River in Idaho near Palisades Reservoir.  Such beautiful country out there.

Snake River, original photo upon which the painting was based. As you can see, I eliminated many of the shrubs in the foreground to better draw attention to the river and the mountain.

This is a classic landscape valley with pretty clouds and blue sky, a nice piney mountain, a river, and some trees up front leading us into the scene.  I only used eight colors for this painting,  three brushes, and my fade-proof ink pen.  The paper is Arches, French-made of 100% cotton rag.  The painting time was about two hours.

To see a step-by-step view of the process, click here or go to Artworks and scroll down to Snake River Landscape.

Juicing up your painting colors

Bill’s Gate, Autumn, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

I’m teaching a class in landscape painting, watercolor with pen and ink. Last week I asked the students which picture they preferred, the regular photo or the one with the juiced up colors.  They all agreed that they liked the one with the brighter, more emphasized colors.

It is often a difficult choice for artists who paint in a realistic style, of whether to paint exactly what they see or to change things to suit themselves.  I tend to change things to suit me.  Personally, I like paintings with a little extra pop in color.  Not to go garish, but to just add an extra emphasis.

Below are some comparisons between the original photos, the juiced up photos, and the final paintings.

Which do you prefer?  Would love to hear your comments.

Autumn sunset photo before enhancement.

Autumn sunset with color saturation.

Autumn Sunset, painted with the enhanced colors. Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

East field in fall, before enhancement.

East field in fall, after enhancement. I wanted to emphasize the warm autumn colors in the trees in the distance.

East Field in Autumn, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Florida Keys before color correction.

Florida Keys after photo saturation.

Florida Keys painted from the color saturated photo. The water down there is actually a turquoise color but it’s a great place to spend a morning in the shade.

Wickliffe Road without color enhancement.

Wickliffe Road, Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

 

 

 

Why get an art critique?

My work table in my studio, finishing up the final painting in my Intimate Spaces series. This one is called Ogling.

I recently finished a series of paintings that I’ve been working on all year.  Intimate Spaces – Beach Series, focuses on my observation that beach goers often stake out their territories – putting up tents, setting up the umbrellas and lawn chairs, bring out the coolers – and then for some reason think that they are magically invisible if they’re in their little plot of sand.  They’re not, of course.  The artist / observer can see them.  Guess I’m somewhat of a voyeur.

I planned out this set of paintings in early January and have been diligently working on them throughout the year.  The smallest is 16 x 12 and the largest is 50 x 34.  By the end, I’ll admit to being pretty tired of painting sand and sun and sea.

So, now that they’re all done, I can sit back and relax, right?  Nope, now comes the proofing process, something akin to allowing bread dough to rise. I’ve been going through them one by one, looking for mistakes and omissions.  But this is the time ask a trusted colleague to view them and give me some feedback.  To get a critique.

Lest you shudder at the thought of someone criticizing your work, let’s be clear; there is a big difference between a critique and criticism.  A critique is designed to evaluate the attributes of the artwork, not the artist.  Criticism is often much more personal and tends to evaluate the artist.  A good critic knows the difference.

So what does a good critique do?

  1. It gives the artist an outside perspective, presumably in an objective manner.
  2. We are often too close to our work and can’t see glaring mistakes. A good critique will often point out flaws.  This could be in composition, execution, unclear passages, whatever. Some critics will make helpful suggestions but it’s up to you whether you wish to incorporate them into your artwork.
  3. Or a critique will evaluate that you’re hitting what you’re aiming for. Yay, you!
  4. Did you the you accomplish what you set out to do?
  5. Finally, distance yourself. You are not your artwork, no matter how much sweat and effort you have put into it. It is still up to you to decide whether or not to take any suggestions and make changes.

Many art schools and colleges will have group critiques, usually led by the instructors or the students themselves.  However, if you are beyond this, you should seek out someone whose opinion you value. We work alone so much that it’s helpful to touch get an objective, outside opinion. The whole point is to help you improve as an artist.

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, Jasper, Indiana

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, final, 16 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. This shows the final view of the scene. I might tweak it sometime later after I live with it for awhile, but so far, I’m satisfied.

Although I do a fair amount of plein air painting, I don’t do too many competitions.  Today I participated in a local event which is always fun.  I’m familiar with the area so it’s always a challenge to find new and interesting things to paint.  Yesterday I scouted out a few locations. I don’t like to do what everyone else is doing but seek to highlight a vista that might make people see their own space in a new way.

Alley view, initial scene, very early in the morning.

So this morning found me sitting in an alley. I was drawn to this blue garage and the alternating light and shadows as I looked up the alley.  It was very peaceful on a Saturday morning at daybreak.

Alley View, 1st step. Using a red-toned canvas, I painted in the basic shadows and main shapes.

Alley View, second level. Here you can see more added colors. This is the point in a painting that everything looks like a real mess. But I’ve learned to just keep pressing on and it will come together.

As you can see, I started with a red-toned canvas, 16 x 20.  First I blocked in the main shapes and the darks.  Then I started to lay in the markers for the greens.  The last colors to go in were the lightest colors – whites, off whites, and the sky.  I don’t always work in this order but usually.

Alley View after two hours. Notice how the shadows have changed. Usually 2 – 3 hours is the most time I have for a plein air painting.

Despite the heat and humidity, my acrylic paints kept drying out quickly.  I didn’t bring a retarder with me so I kept having to spray the paint and add layer after layer.

But I enjoyed the peace of the scene.  A few dog walkers, a couple of interested passersby, the occasional bunny rabbit, and inevitably, the Saturday morning lawn mowers all created the peaceful atmosphere.

I might review the painting later to see if I need to tighten it up, but actually, I like the feel of a warm summer morning. How about you?

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, final, 16 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. This shows the final view of the scene. I might tweak it sometime later after I live with it for awhile, but so far, I’m satisfied.