Category Archives: painting instruction

Painting Marathon – Trying Something New

About a week ago, I decided to see how quickly I could paint ten paintings.  I’m not quite sure what the spark was.  Maybe I was bored, tired of the old style. Something I saw that reminded me of some yellow and blue paintings that I had done years ago.  Anyway, I decided to challenge myself, not only with the number of paintings, but stretching to a slightly different style.  In this case, my aim was to paint looser, faster, and more colorful.

Apple Jack, oil on board, 16 x 12, Kit Miracle

I chose my subject matter by going “shopping” through my house and refrigerator, and, of course, my prop cupboard in the back of my studio.  Hey, I didn’t even remember that I had martini glasses until I spotted them in the back of that cupboard!  And a shaker, too.  Must have been from a resale shop.

Two Lemons and a Martini Glass, oil on canvas board, 12 x 9, Kit Miracle

It was really great fun.  The miserable and damp weather meant that I didn’t feel any guilt at all about holing up in the studio instead of going outside for some fresh air.  I didn’t even want to come into the house to eat.  (And that never happens!)

Wait for Me!, cherry tomatoes in a dish, oil on canvas, 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

Although I wasn’t deliberately trying to emulate any particular style, I can see a lot of Cezanne and Janet Fish in these paintings.  And I’m really eager to try some more, perhaps larger or some landscapes in this style.  What do you think?  Thanks for stopping by.  Your feedback and comments are always welcome.

Oh, yes, all of these paintings are available at my Etsy shop, KitMiracleArt.  Check them out.

Three Tomatoes on a White Plate, oil on canvas, 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

Three Lemons in a Blue Bowl, oil on canvas, 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

Pine Sprigs in Antique Blue Bowl, Weller pottery, oil on board, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

Lucky Four, green apples, oil on canvas, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

Lemons on Blue Plate, oil on board, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

Green Apples and Cut Glass Dish, oil on canvas board, 9 x 12, Kit Miracle

Adam and Eve, red apple and green apple, oil on board, 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

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The Huntress I and II, oil on canvas

The Huntress I – oil on canvas, 20 x 20, Kit Miracle

The Huntress II – oil on canvas, 20 x 20, Kit Miracle

The Huntress I and II are two paintings that I created earlier this year.  Although I have often created a series of paintings, this is the first time that I created a pair of paintings.  They each stand alone from a design view, but work better as a pair.

My aim here was to create a bit of mystery, to simplify the background and the figure, and to play off the high intensity light without adding a harshness to the scene

Check out the step-by-step page to learn more about how I made these beautiful pair. https://my90acres.com/artwork/the-huntress-i-and-ii-step-by-step/

Telling A Story with Your Art

Pumpkin Head – final painting, oil on linen, 29.25 x 36, Kit Miracle, Halloween theme, telling a story

I was talking with an artist friend recently and was lamenting that I couldn’t seem to find my style.  She was astounded and said that I definitely do have a style.  Upon reflection, I’ve had other people tell me that they can recognize my paintings immediately in a gallery full of artwork.  So, I guess maybe I do have a recognizable style.

But as we talked further, I said that the paintings that I’m most proud of are the ones that tell a story.  To me, storytelling is so much beyond just the skill of being able to render a still life or landscape.  This is not really a new thing. Artists have been telling stories through their art for centuries from the first caveman drawings (how to hunt) to relaying biblical scenes to recording street scenes.

Some of the things I think about when I’m creating one of these story paintings are:

  1. How can I engage the viewer?  How do I draw him in, step closer, stay awhile?
  2. I want the viewer to ask, What’s next? Is there a next?
  3. If I can, I want to insert an element of surprise. After the viewer stands in front of the painting, they notice the small things.  Maybe they have an Ah Ha
  4. I like to insert some emotional aspect.   Wonder.  Fear.  Danger.
  5. And it seems as if many of my story paintings exhibit some quality a little beyond reality.

The painting Pumpkin Head is such a painting.

The straight story here is that my son was carving some pumpkins for my granddaughter for Halloween.  When she asked for happy faces, he responded, No, they’re born as pumpkins and they die as scary Jack O’Lanterns! Kinda creepy if you ask me but it set the scene.

Many viewers have picked up on the element of danger here.  He really shouldn’t have been carving a pumpkin in his lap…but no blood was shed.

Pumpkin Head – detail, carving jack-o-lantern

And the element of surprise.  The viewer doesn’t really know if the child is a boy or girl with the gray outfit and dinosaur boots, until the pink bow is spotted peeking over the pumpkin she is holding.

Pumpkin Head – detail, child with jack-o-lantern

And, of course, there is humor.  It’s just a bit silly but something kids have done for years.

Finally, there’s an unreal quality about the painting.  Maybe it’s the October light or the impressionistic handling of the paint.  The moment in time.  The difficulty for me was to decide what to leave out of the painting.  I worked on this for two months with the last month taking the most time as I agonized what to change, what to emphasize.

I will make some future posts of other recent story paintings.  Meanwhile, think about the idea as you look at the work of Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, or Diego Rivera.  Good art is a lot more than just pretty decoration.

To view a step-by-step illustration of Pumpkin Head, visit this page.

Pumpkin Head is currently on exhibit in the annual Juried Show at the Krempp Gallery, Jasper Arts Center, Jasper, Indiana.

Will your artwork last?

One thing that has concerned me since I first became a professional painter (over 35 years now) is the quality of the materials that I use and how to make sure my art lasts.  This is important to me not because of my ego but to ensure that my customers can expect a painting to last for years, even decades or centuries with proper handling.  I educated myself early on about the greatest causes for deteriorating artwork, especially works on paper.

Some of the greatest causes for paintings to fade or change are:

  • Sunlight! Yes, while the sun is great for so many things, it is not good for paints or papers.  Even over a long period of time, it will fade the colors and break down the fibers of the paper or canvas.  Sun will even fade wood over time.
  • Damp enviroments invite mold and organic changes to the supports.
  • Insect damage. Those little silverfish love to eat paper.
  • Using cheap materials. This is my personal pet peeve.  Why put all the time and effort into creating a work of art and use cheap materials?  Doesn’t make any sense to me.

What can you do as an artist or art owner?

  • Always choose the best materials you can afford. For instance, if you’re an artist, use artist-grade paints rather than studio or student-grade paints.  The artist-grade paints contain more pigment and better quality.
  • If you’re creating works on paper, use 100% rag, linen, or cotton fiber. These will hold up decades longer than  pulp papers.  Wood pulp contains chemicals which deteriorate almost immediately.  Remember that pile of yellowed newspapers in the garage?
  • Ensure that the matting and framing is archival or museum-grade. I always use museum rag mats and archival backing.  If the work is under glass, you can help prevent sun damage by using UV filtering glass.

So, if you are an artist, take pride in your work and make it with the best materials you can afford.  If you are an art collector, ask the artist or gallery about the materials or framing.  If it isn’t framed, have your framing shop frame it archivally.

My personal experiment.

Many years ago I decided to test my materials by putting samples in a south-facing window of my studio.  Both of the samples shown are on 100% cotton rag paper.

This was the test. Two pieces of Arches 100% cotton rag with ink and paint samples in a south facing window

I was testing four things.

  • How well the paper withstood the direct sunlight.
  • How the watercolor paints held up.
  • If there was fading to the computer printed color paints.
  • If any of the commercially available inks and ink pens held up to the sun.

The time frame for this experiment has been about fifteen years.  I folded the art pieces over and they have just been sitting in the window for that long.

This is the outside of the mini watercolor painting. I was surprised that the red didn’t fade over 15 years. It is usually pretty fugitive.

Each piece was folded over with part of the experiment covered by the fold. In this case, it was an old mini painting. As you can see, the actual watercolor paint held up pretty well.

On the inside of this piece, I tested several commercially available pens as well as the standard India ink. Some faded totally away while some others held up surprisingly well.

As you can see, there is some small damage to the paper along the edges.  I attribute this mostly due to water damage from condensation of the window, not to direct sun.

The watercolor paints (Winsor and Newton) held up surprisingly well.  I was somewhat surprised that the reds held because that is a color that has a great tendency to fade.

And the pen inks.  What can I say?  Some, like the Zeb Roller Ink totally faded.  But others, like the old standby India ink and newer Vision Elite haven’t changed at all.  That is good news.  I’m now testing a carbon ink from Japan and have high expectations for that.

In this test piece, I printed color ink from my computer onto rag paper. Pretty faded, eh?

The fading is even more noticeable when the covered part is revealed. Note to self: don’t use standard office printers for original artwork.

The computer printed paper totally faded. So much for archival inks. My experience has been that the black computer ink will last but not the colors, however, inks may have changed over the years.  And I’m sure that commercial-grade printers and ink will fare better.  But best to ask if you are purchasing a print.

The takeaway is to use or buy quality art materials and frame them in a way that will prevent damage, particularly from sunlight.

Please note:  I am not a scientist so this was just a personal experiment.  Use your own judgement in the end.  Check out this article from scientists who are actually fixing old artwork.  https://www.livescience.com/13536-winslow-homer-van-gogh-fugitive-art.html

One hour painting challenge

Painting in plein air is a great time to challenge yourself with a limited time to complete a work.  Usually you’re painting quickly anyway due to the changing light and conditions.  In this piece, I decided to limit myself to one hour.  I even set a timer.

Wild daylilies

Orange daylilies grow wild here in southern Indiana and can be found along nearly any country road in June.  They’re so beautiful and hardy.  This patch of flowers I actually dug up along the road since, surprisingly, our farm had zero of these elegant and lively flowers.

One morning I noticed the light pouring through the trees which seemed to spotlight this flowerbed.  I also loved the dark background of the bushes behind the flowers which seemed to make them stand out even more.

Wild daylilies plein air, Kit Miracle

I decided to work in acrylic which is not my strongest medium to work with.  The pochade box is a Sienna which is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship in itself.  As an aside, I will say that I was not prepared for this painting venture; I had to keep returning to my studio for supplies that I had forgotten. (Note to self:  make a list of supplies for each medium and keep everything together.) I also limited my palette to four colors plus white.  I could have eliminated the green and just stuck with the primary colors.  I would also have used an acrylic paint retarder medium as the paint kept drying too quickly.

When I set the timer, I dove into the work by doing a quick sketch and using larger brushes.  I tend to cover large amounts of canvas for the initial lay in, going back to add details and tweak things.  That’s my method but you may work differently.  The whole point of the timer and this exercise was to force me to make decisions more quickly and not get overly fussy.  Having too much time is not always beneficial.

Wild daylilies, Kit Miracle, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12

Shooting for bright colors and the contrajour light, I think I accomplished my task.  What are your thoughts?

Self-Portrait with Still Life

 

Self-portrait with still life (2)

Self-Portrait with Still Life, 24 x 30, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle

Most artists create a self-portrait every few years so I painted this one last month.  I had recently purchased this old mirror and thought it would be interesting to set it up as a still life.  My portrait isn’t really the first thing the viewer notices (I hope).  The challenges with this painting is that there are two light sources: one on the still life in the foreground and one me as I paint.  An additional challenge was to prevent other light sources so I had to black out the windows.  This meant I was literally painting in the dark.  Check out the step-by-step view of the painting process at this link. Self-portrait with Still Life – step by step

Gardening with Scottie

Gardening with Scottie, 20 x 20, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle

Gardening with Scottie, 20 x 20, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle

I recently completed this winter still life painting.  That is, when it’s cold outside, I usually paint inside.  The theme for this painting is planning my spring garden.  There were many challenges, especially all the circles and ellipticals as well as that dang ceramic dog.  I’m not sure I’m done with this yet as I keep tweaking it every time I walk past it in my studio.  Check out the demo for Gardening with Scottie.

Cropping subject for landscape painting

Kit Miracle, Irises, 10 x 10 oil

Kit Miracle, Irises, 10 x 10 oil

I was in my studio last Saturday evening and wanted to paint but I didn’t want to start something big.  So I went through some photos I had downloaded from my camera earlier this year.  I came across a scene of some irises in a backyard.  This is near where I park when I visit the library.  Lesson here:  always be prepared for a good photo op.

Street photo of irises in a backyard showing the part I cropped for the painting.

Street photo of irises in a backyard showing the part I cropped for the painting.

The variety of irises pictured here is beautiful.  At first I was going to do a long horizontal but reminded myself that I wanted to do something quick.  Hummm…. think smaller.  I pulled out a small prepared canvas, only 10 x 10.  Then I looked for a square composition in the canvas.  OK, so you’re really not supposed to paint to the canvas size but the other way around…but who cares?  It’s my painting and I’ll do what I want.  The composition wouldn’t have been the most apparent but I really think it turned out well.  This took about two hours to paint with a final touch up on Sunday.  What are your thoughts?

Cropped part of irises street photo

Cropped part of irises street photo

Plein Air Painting In the Neighborhood

Mentor Road, Birdseye, Indiana, oil on canvas, 18 x 24, Kit Miracle

Mentor Road, Birdseye, Indiana, oil on canvas, 18 x 24, Kit Miracle

Writers are often advised to paint what you know.  I believe that this advice holds true for artists, too.  You know your own neighborhood best, the most attractive features, the back roads, and the best seasons to view the scenery.

My neighborhood, as the title of my blog implies, is a rural one.  This time of year the farmers are baling hay.  Those big round bales often remind me of the wonderful haystacks of Monet, and their rotund forms litter the fields until they’re tidied away in neat rows.

A couple of days ago, I rode around the neighborhood looking for likely painting spots, especially with an eye to catching some hay bales still lying in the field. Other criteria for me are where can I park and will I need permission to go onto someone’s property.  Most people are very gracious about allowing  artists to venture on their land but it’s always best to ask if you can.

Today I returned to a likely spot.  Actually, I had intended to climb into the field but found that I liked the view from the road better, especially with the roof of a house showing which added an interesting focal point.  The painting went well and I came away with a pretty complete piece.  Some challenges were the wind so I had to improvise a weight for my portable easel.  Also, the flies were ferociously biting me.  Glad to have brought bug spray which is always in my travel bag.  And finally, I am positive that the manure spreader which passed my position three times, intentionally spilled a bit on the curve on which I was painting. Really!

Anyway, here is the final product and a few preliminaries.  It was painted on a toned canvas, 18 x 24, and took about two hours.  Feedback is always appreciated.

Hay bales, one potential view

Hay bales, one potential view

Final view chosen.  Loved the overhanging tree, the shadows and the contrasts.

Final view chosen. Loved the overhanging tree, the shadows and the contrasts.

First laying in on toned canvas

First laying in on toned canvas

Final painting with scene behind.  About two hours.

Final painting with scene behind. About two hours.

Improvised weight to hold my portable easel in the breeze.

Improvised weight to hold my portable easel in the breeze.

Car studio.  Easier than packing everything and a lot roomier.

Car studio. Easier than packing everything and a lot roomier.

Using red gel to determine values in your paintings

Sometimes using a piece of red gel (acetate)-  as in lighting gel – will help you see the values of your subject and painting better.  This seems to work best with landscapes as the red gel counteracts the greens, just leaving the values.

I’m not quite sure where I came across this idea but I always carry a piece of red gel with me.  You can acquire leftover pieces from most theaters in your area, even some universities. They use the gels to color the lights for the stage. Or you can buy it new on Amazon.com or at a theatrical supply store.  If you use a viewfinder, there is even a really neat gismo which you can buy at www.pictureperfectviewfinder.com which has the red gel built in, along with some value markers and different size openings for standard painting sizes.  Try it.  You’ll like it.

Piece of red gel, about 4 x 6

Piece of red gel, about 4 x 6

Folded over Picture Perfect View Finder showing the red gel and composition grids.

Folded over Picture Perfect View Finder showing the red gel and composition grids.

The Picture Perfect View Finder

The Picture Perfect View Finder

Back side of the viewfinder

Back side of the viewfinder

Landscape without the gel

Landscape without the gel

Landscape with red gel showing values

Landscape with red gel showing values

Using the red gel to look at computer photo

Using the red gel to look at computer photo

A landscape painting with the red gel

A landscape painting with the red gel

A landscape final version showing the values in the photo on the computer

A landscape final version showing the values in the photo on the computer