Category Archives: painting instruction

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.

Studio lighting options

In over thirty years of working as an artist, I’ve tried many different types of lighting. While none is perfect, I thought I’d review what I’ve been working with lately.

Daylight from north window. Pretty even cool light, but, of course, not good for working at night.

First is just plain north light through the window.  This is often considered the gold standard for artists.  It is a cool and pretty consistent light.  My studio, the summer kitchen building of this old house, has four windows in the main part of the studio.  Only one window is on the north side, two on the east, and one south facing.  Using natural lighting is great but not always practical, especially if you want to work in the evenings or at night.  But it has come in handy on occasion during power outages.  If you’re working in a centuries-old medium, you can just carry on without electricity.

Fluorescent lighting fixture with a cool bulb and a daylight bulb for balance. Great for a broad work space such as framing and matting.

I am unusual in that I actually like fluorescent lighting (most people don’t).  I think it provides good light and is great for working, such as, cutting mats or assembling frames.  I have two standard light fixtures in my studio but have opted to pair a cool bulb with a warm (daylight) bulb.  Although this is difficult to see in the photo, it provides a nice balanced illumination for the studio.  However, if I’m working on a still life, I want aimed lighting without the overhead fluorescents.

Old can lights on a track lighting strip. These get pretty hot but are useful for studio painting displays. I’ll probably replace them in the future with smaller LED or halogen lighting.

Another lighting option in the studio are the can lights.  As you can see, they’re pretty old.  I’ll probably replace them with the smaller halogen lights in the future.  But these are really great for highlighting hanging paintings, such as when I have a studio show.

I also have several clamp-on lights (not shown) which I have used with photography tripods.  These are inexpensive and great for lighting still lifes.

A standard goose-neck clip on lamp with a daylight balanced bulb. Some flexibility but not so suitable for larger paintings, creating hot spots again.

Most of my painting in the past few years has been done with a clamp-on gooseneck lamp.  It has a daylight bulb.  Unfortunately, it sometimes causes “hot” spots on the paintings (uneven lighting).  I’ve tried placing it behind me but then I’m working in my shadow.  This is especially a problem when working on larger paintings.

Recently I investigated some new easel lighting.  First I tried the Phive LED desk lamp.  This is made especially for drawing tables and has a really wide lamp head. It also adjusts to many color temperatures and intensities.  Although it has a somewhat flexible head, I just could not get it affixed correctly to my easel.  This was not a cheap lamp so I returned it and ordered my current favorite.

The Phive LED architectural light attached to my studio. The first part of the lamp is stiff and only the top part is articulated. I could not find a way to attach it to my easel without the actual lamp getting in the way.

This was my second option for attaching the Phive lamp sideways.

As you can see, the Phive lamp has a very wide head, but because I couldn’t center it, it threw hot spots on the painting area. I thought about trying to remove the clamp and affixing the lamp to the easel with bolts, but it still wasn’t articulated enough. Also, the clamp was not easily removable.

The most recent lamp that I’m using is by IMIGY with a super long and very flexible 24 inch gooseneck.  This LED lamp has several settings for cool, warm and mixed lighting with several dimming options.  It also has a delayed timer for turning it off.  The clamp is much smaller than the Phive but I may also remove it entirely and attach it directly to the easel with some two-hole plumbing clips.  However, the flexibility of the lamp means there are many options for aiming the light.  The light bar is shorter than the Phive but the output seems at least equal.

The IMIGY lamp with a 24 inch gooseneck and many lighting options. Very flexible and stays where I put it it.

It is important to have good lighting in your studio.  I discovered many years ago that if I worked under a warm light, then my paintings turned out too cool.  Now I usually use a cool light which mimics north light which means that I paint a bit warmer to compensate.  If you are unhappy with your current work space illumination, you might want to try out some of these suggestions.

The IMIGY light with cool light display.

The mixed lighting setting on the IMIGY lamp.

The warm lighting setting for the IMIGY lamp. A little too warm for painting but good to test the display.

Phive LED Desk Lamp link

IMIGY LED Desk Lamp link

Stretching canvas

The current series of paintings that I’m working on calls for some unusual sizes of canvases.  I could have ordered ready-made canvases but decided to spend some time stretching my own.  I already had plenty of rolled canvas so I just ordered stretcher bars of the sizes I needed.

Stretcher bars awaiting assembly. You need two of each size unless you’re doing a square, then you need four the same size.

Assembled stretcher bars and tools, scissors and rubber mallet.

Stretcher bars can be ordered in various widths, depths and lengths.  These are 1 ½ inch bars. The canvas that I’m using is cotton duck.  I also use linen for some of the really special pieces.  This canvas is already preprimed which I would not recommend or order in the future.  I’d prefer to gesso and prime my own canvas.

The tools for stretching canvas are pretty basic.

  • Rubber mallet
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Staple gun (electric) and staples (1/2 inch)
  • Tack hammer or framing hammer
  • Canvas pliers (not shown) I don’t usually use these, just grip the canvas and pull really hard

The bars are prenotched and will fit together with a little effort.

This is what the corner should look like after assembly.

Assemble your stretcher bars by aligning the grooves and using the rubber mallet to pound them together.  This might take a little trial and error until you get the hang of it, but don’t be afraid to put some muscle into the pounding to make the bars go together.  Of course, if you’re assembling a rectangular canvas, remember to use the two short and the two longs on opposing sides.  After you’re happy that the bars are assembled, measure diagonally from corner to corner to make sure they’re pretty square.

Measure diagonal corners to ensure the canvas is square.

Lay your assembled stretcher bars on the canvas and cut around. Leave a few inches in all sides, enough to wrap around to the back of the bars.

A roll of pre-primed cotton duck canvas. I prefer the unprimed canvas but was using this up.

Lay the assembled stretcher bars on your canvas and cut around leaving enough canvas to wrap around to the back of the frame.  This depends upon the depth of the frame you are assembling.  Then, making sure that the primed side is out, lay the assembled bars on the canvas face down. Make sure the canvas has the same border all around the bars. Starting in the middle of one bar, add a staple.  Then on the opposite side, pull the canvas really tight, making sure it’s not puckering, and add another staple. Then do the two sides.

More tools for actually stretching the canvas. Electric staple gun, 1/2 inch staples, tack hammer, tape measure.

Start in the middle of one side, put a staple in. The do the opposite side, pulling tightly. Then do each end, same thing. Then go back and add a couple of staples on either side of the first staples. Keep working around the frame, always pulling tightly. When you get to the corners, neatly fold the corners in. You don’t want a bunch of canvas on the corners as that will hinder framing.

Work your way out to the edges all the way around until you get to the corners.  The corners are a little tricky but try to wrap the canvas as neatly as you can.  Then go around the canvas and set in the staples with the tack hammer.

Drive the frame wedges into the slots in the corners. These are plastic wedges but they also come in wood and in various sizes. You will need to pound them in with the rubber mallet. They should be pretty tight and your canvas will be very tight.

The canvas will appear pretty tight but you need to tighten it even further by driving in the wedges into the corners with the rubber mallet.  Align the straight edge of the wedge with the corner frame as pictured.  Then put in the other one going the opposite direction.  This will really tighten the canvas.  If it should loosen over time, you can readjust the wedges or even re-stretch the canvas.  As you can see here, I am using plastic wedges but they also come in wood.  You will need eight pairs per frame.

If you have never tried stretching your own canvas, I urge you to give it a try.  It seems a little complicated at first, but you will end up with a better product and save some money in the long run.

The importance of preliminary work

Green and Yellow, 20 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. Intimate Spaces series

I recently posted a step-by-step outline of my painting A Day at the Beach (4-10-2019). A critical part of creating a significant panting is the preliminary work. I sincerely believe that the more thought I put into the piece at the beginning, the more I can work out the problems ahead of time, and the better the final result will be.  Well, that’s my theory anyway.

Green and Yellow, detail.

This is another painting in my series Intimate Spaces, all about the territory that people carve out when they visit the beach.  In this painting, I was sitting behind a couple who staked out their space early in the day with two chairs and an umbrella.  They didn’t show up until mid-afternoon.

NOTAN sketches for Green and Yellow. This is where I work out basic shapes and composition. As you can see, initially I intended this to be a rectangle shape but then changed it to a square shape.

I liked the near silhouette of the couple with the contrast of the kids playing in the surf in front of them. Maybe they were grandma and grandpa.  I don’t know and never did figure it out.

Large graphite sketch of the main characters for Green and Yellow.

As with most of my paintings, I begin with a NOTAN sketch, just hard contrast of black and white to get a feel for the composition.  Then I did a large graphite sketch of the couple.  I didn’t feel a need to sketch the kids as they’re just notes really.  They were painted directly.

NOTAN sketches of past couple of paintings. Working in black and white allows me to focus on the shapes and composition.

Here are a few more examples of NOTAN sketches.  You’ll notice the one from my last post of A Day at the Beach and how I was focusing on the interlocking umbrella shapes.

More NOTAN sketches from Jump.

And the two pages of NOTAN of Jump which I created in February.  With some of the bigger pieces, I’ll also do a color sketch but not always.

The final conclusion is that no matter what style of art you create, you will often have better results if you put in more thought and work into the beginning of your work than having to correct problems later.  Indeed, sometimes you may discover that the scene or piece doesn’t merit following through.  Or you may decide to attack it from a different direction.

A Day at the Beach – Painting a Series

A Day at the Beach, final. 24 x 36, acrylic on canvas, Kit Miracle

As a working artist for over three decades, I find keeping interested in painting involves challenging myself. Sometimes this means new subject matter or new materials. Even a new location helps.  The challenges keep me inspired and allow the mental juices to flow.

My latest challenge is painting a series of paintings revolving around a day at the beach.  I love slice of life subjects, catching people going about their lives without thought of an audience. One thing I’ve noticed is that when people are at the beach, they stake out their territories, bringing the chairs and the umbrellas, the coolers and the toys.  Beach goers seem to operate under the illusion that no one can see them in their little sand kingdoms.

But the artist’s eye can.

The planned series includes vignettes of life at the beach.  Families, couples, kids playing, people just enjoying the sunshine…or totally ignoring their surroundings with their noses in books or napping.  My inspiration for these seaside paintings are John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla, and Burt Silverman.  It took a lot of effort to make their seaside paintings seem so, well, effortless.  Unstaged even though they often were. And that is the aim of this current series that I’m working on.

The painting above depicts the settling in and establishing of territory by a family.  Mom gets the lounge chairs ready while son is waiting patiently for her attention.  The composition with overlapping umbrellas and tents is like a little city, each with its own slice of life.

The beach walkers and people playing in the surf add distance and perspective to the scene.  I also chose to flatten the color of the sky (no clouds) and the foreground.  This allows the emphasis to be placed on the middle plane where all the action is.

A Day at the Beach is number six in the series.  I have sixteen planned but we’ll see.  A series is an exploration of an idea and I’ll keep at it until I don’t have anything else to say about the subject.

If you’d like to see how this painting was created, click on this link or go under the tab Artworks and click on A Day at the Beach for step-by-step photos.

Thanks for stopping by.