Tag Archives: painting instruction

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

Beeches – Painting Beyond the Photo

Beech Trees in Winter, snow scene, original painting, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Photographs are a wonderful tool for artists and have been used for well over a century.  I’m teaching a class on painting from photographs and wanted to create a demonstration of how a photo can best be used.

I would guess that most artists who paint in a realistic manner use photos at least some of the time.  I know that I have boxes of photos from years past when film was developed.  Now, with digital cameras and phones, we have thousands of images available to us.  Digital photos are also easy to use on a computer and crop or change as needed. I use an old laptop in my studio for this purpose.

For some reason, some artists seem to be ashamed of using photos but I consider them just another tool. I always paint still lifes from real life but might take some photos of flower bouquets to save for future reference.  And I love plein air painting so most of my landscapes are painted from life.  However, I take plenty travel photos for later use.  I also participate in life drawing studios which is great for building hand/eye coordination, but many figure paintings are from photos.  And it goes without saying that I only paint from my own photos; never from commercial or other pictures which could violate copyright laws.

Beeches, original photo. It was too wide for the format I planned to use so I cropped it to a more pleasing composition.

We haven’t had much snow here yet this winter but we had a couple of inches a few weeks ago.  I took the dog for a walk in the woods and the snow made the beeches really stand out.  Beech trees are native to this part of the country but we don’t have many on our property.  They make pretty good firewood and were chopped down long ago (before our time).  However, we’ve noticed a resurgence of beech trees since we moved here over thirty years ago.  They hold their leaves over the winter so the orangey color contrasts nicely with the snow.

Beeches cropped photo.

As you can,  my original photo was wider than the format I chose (16 x 20) so I cropped it to a more interesting composition.  I divided my canvas into thirds each way (nine squares) and drew directly on canvas with a brush loaded with a darkish color.  The canvas had been primed in red.

I usually start with the darks and then add the midtones and then the lights, starting at the top of the canvas.  As I was painting, I realized that the painting was a bit drab with the overcast sky and muted shadows.  Although the beech trees gave it some color, I want to put more oomph into it.

Therefore, I decided to make it a sunny day and added some sunlight streaking in from the right, with a brighter sky and some clouds behind the distant trees.  This defined the path through the woods much better.  I added some sunlight on a few of the trees to bring them out more.  Ah, it’s great to be an artist and to change the world to suit myself!

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 1. This is the road through the woods. I probably made the snow look deeper. And I’ve learned over time that white will often look brighter with a little yellow thrown in than just plain white. It certainly catches that sunlit feel.

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 2

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 3, notice the clouds in the blue sky behind the distant trees

The point here gets back to what I said at the beginning of the post.  A photograph is a tool.  It’s the artist’s job to use what we can, to add more or to change whatever we want.  I certainly think the sunlit painting has much more appeal than the original photo.  What do you think?

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.

Preliminary work

Beach girl, color sketch. 16 x 12, acrylic. Kit Miracle

I often have mixed feelings about the importance of creating preliminary sketches and paintings.  Sometimes I just want to grab the brush and dive right into a painting.  This is especially true of my plein air painting although, usually I at least do a few value sketches before I put any paint to the canvas.  Usually.

Beach girl, pencil sketch. 18 x 24, Kit Miracle

On the other hand, I know from experience that when I want to create a large piece, results will normally be better with more planning.  Preliminary sketches and paintings basically create a road map for a painting or work of art.  If you think about it, you wouldn’t build a house without a plan.  Probably wouldn’t take a vacation without a map.  So it makes sense to do some support work before you begin a major piece of work.

Notan sketches for beach painting.

I’ve been working on a large beach scene lately.  First I started with some sketches for the layout or composition.  Then I did a few Notan sketches in black and white.  Sometimes I’ll add a middle grey value but usually not.  Next I did a large pencil sketch of the main figure.  This helps me to address any problems and get to know the scene.  Finally, I did a fairly quick color sketch (acrylic) of the little girl.  This was, in fact, much larger than the final figure in the painting which is not necessarily how most people would work.

I’ll post the final painting and more sketches next Sunday.  I really like this preliminary color sketch but I’ll let you be the judge.

As an aside, most famous artists of the past spent quite a bit of time and effort to create their masterpieces, including numerous sketches.  This is still quite common for artists who practice classical education in ateliers.

To learn more, check out the work of John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla y Batista, Anders Zorn, Cesar Santos, Norman Rockwell, or Juliette Aristides.

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.

Busy busy busy – part 2

Fall decorations on the farm. My husband’s old 1952 Allis-Chalmers tractor all gussied up for the studio sale this weekend. He even washed it! And this was his idea entirely.

I recently posted about all the arts activities I have going on lately so this is just a quick update.

My solo show at Oakland City University closed last Friday.  It was extended two more weeks which was fine with me.  We picked it up on Saturday.

Will Read and Sing for Food event. I expected about 15 people to show up on a Thursday night but they had about 60 people there!

Last week I was asked to exhibit some of my work at a Will Read and Sing for Food event.  This is a local group of volunteers who raise money for worthy causes and organizations.  This time they raised $650 for Mentors For Youth.  Singers, musicians, poets, and writers all donate their time and talent to the community.  How neat is that?!

Flower painting class. Students practicing making shades of green. Much more difficult than they thought.

Then I wrapped up my flower painting class on Monday this week.  I think everyone enjoyed it.  I haven’t taught a class for a long time so it was good to try that again.

And now I’m working hard to prepare for my Open Studio Sale this weekend.  This consists of inviting people out to my studio for a couple of fun days of art, food and friends.  I haven’t had a sale for four years and, boy, do I have a lot of work!.  Some of the paintings are at fire-sale prices.  In addition to cleaning out the studio and setting up the displays and artwork, my husband and I feed everyone.  Homemade minestrone soup, homemade herbed breadsticks, biscotti and other refreshments, including some adult beverages.

So, next week I’ll need a rest, for sure.  And to get back to painting.  The 90 degree temps are gone, the fall colors are out, and it’s a beautiful time of year to get outside.

Pen and ink, a test

I’m teaching a class next month for flower painting with watercolor and pen and ink.  I’ve been using this technique for about 35 years now so I might have learned a thing or two about the subject.

A few of the pens that I used in the most recent test. Top to bottom, India ink and a #4 quill dip pen, my favorite Platinum Carbon Ink pen, a Uniball Vision Elite, Lamy Safari, Shaeffer calligraphy, and a brush pen with ink.

In preparation for the class, I dragged out all of the accumulated pens that I’ve used over the years.  I first started with the old fashioned dip pens and India ink.  This is still a tried and true favorite.  I use a #4 quill and used to buy them by the dozen as I tend to wear them down. (Or a #102 crow quill.) I like the feel of the quill pen and the slight variance of the lines as I draw.  However, there’s often the problem of an errant drop of ink on the paper, which, being India ink, cannot be removed and is difficult to cover up.  Also, when I was doing house portraits and using a ruler for some straight lines, the ink would sometimes wick under the ruler, again, spoiling the painting.

Several years ago, I began exploring other pens.  I’ve tried many of the mechanical drawing pens but they were too difficult to clean.  Some commercial pens were nice but the ink faded over time.  I’ve actually done some tests in the south-facing window of my studio and some of the inks faded totally away!

My current favorite is the Platinum Carbon ink pen.  These are wonderful pens with cartridges, never seem to clog, and are very affordable.

Several others that I tested in this sample are the Lamy Safari, Faber Castell, a brush pen, and whatever else I had.

Samples of various pens and inks. The blurred samples are where I dragged a brush loaded with clear water to test the fastness of the ink. As you can see, they’re not all the same.

After drawing the test sections, I let them dry completely, and then passed a brush with clear water over the lines. As you can see, some of the inks are not waterproof at all.  This could be a problem for artists who do the ink drawing first before they add the watercolor.  In my case, it wouldn’t matter too much as I always start with a quick pencil sketch, paint the watercolor, then add the details loosely with the pen and ink.

This test paper has been in my window for 16 years. 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.

Anyway, if you’re interested in the class, there are still some openings but it’s filling quickly  Here is the link for the signup. Flower Painting Class.

search my blog for more posts about using pen and ink.

Painting close to home

Garden in August, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Visiting new places is always fun and inspiring for artists, but many of the best paintings have been made close to home.  One of my favorites is one that Renoir painted of Monet in his garden.  It’s just a homey painting of a backyard with other houses in the distance.

Renoir painting of Monet in garden

Today I decided paint a scene that I see every day from my breakfast table. It is of my garden this month with the tall sunflowers and multi-color zinnias and other flowers.  The rest of the garden is still producing but is beginning to look a little straggly this time of year.  We’re still getting plenty of tomatoes, eggplants, beans, and peppers.  But it’s the flowers that I really love. The birds and butterflies love them, too.

Garden in August. The sunflowers and zinnias are in full bloom. The vegies are still producing heavily. Lots of tomatoes, eggplants, beans and peppers.

I got out early to take advantage of the cool morning and the shade.  The canvas is primed with a beige color and painted black on the border.

Garden in August, step 1. Here I have generally covered most of the canvas. Notice that I’ve edited the trees in the background to provide more interest.

The first step as usual for me is to lay in the general composition and the dark colors.  As you can see, I did some editing, removing the line of trees in the background and just including a few big trees.  I also squashed things together a bit for the composition.

Garden in August, step 2. More blocking in plus I’ve added the sky and most of the foreground.

Next I laid in more darks and some brighter greens as well as the sky.  I wanted a rosy early morning sky….so I made one.

Actually the most difficult part was painting the flowers.  It is so hard to get them bright without being gaudy.  I ended up painting a light wash of pale green over some of them to tone down their brightness.

The entire painting took about three hours minus some time for a phone call to a friend while I was waiting for paint to dry. The point here is that you don’t have to travel a great distance to find something worthy to paint.  A good subject might be just outside your window.

More spring flowers

Spring bouquet of azaleas and bridal veil bush, watercolor, pen and ink, 10 x 14, Kit Miracle

The flowers keep coming and I just can’t seem to paint them quickly enough.  The past week I’ve been working exclusively in watercolor with pen and ink. This allows me to loosely capture the beauty of the flowers but add detail with the pen and ink.

Red Azaleas, watercolor, pen and ink, 4.5 x 6.5, matted to 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

I always sketch the flower arrangement first, then add the watercolor.  When that is completely dried, I add the details with a Platinum pen and carbon ink cartridge.  Sometimes I still use the dip quill with India ink. I can even use a plastic eraser to remove some of the pencil lines without disturbing the painting.

Lavender Azaleas with Ruffled Edges, watercolor, pen and ink, 6.5 x 4.5, matted to 10 x 8, Kit Miracle

These paintings are usually done on quarter sheet watercolor paper, 140 pound, Arches or another quality paper.  They are 10 x 14 inches with a ½ inch border or I divide the paper into four sections.  The smaller paintings are matted in museum grade soft white mats of 8 x 10 inches with a foam core backing.

Blue Phlox, watercolor, pen and ink, 4.5 x 6.5, matted to 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

Flowers this week include a branch of dogwood, an arrangement of some lovely salmon-color azaleas with fronds of bridal veil.  Smaller paintings include Greek Valerian, Blue Phlox, more varieties of azaleas and whatever else I find blooming.  The season is often so short that I can’t capture everything I want to paint but I give it a good try.

Branch of Dogwood, watercolor, pen and ink, 10 x 14, Kit Miracle

Branch of dogwood flowers for painting

Spring flowers. This is a selection of flowers that I painted recently. I’ve picked up the little vases over the years at resale shops, and even our farm dump. Everything is useful.

View the details of these paintings on either of my Etsy shops.  KitMiracleArt or My90Acres.

Plein air painting on a lovely spring day

I went plein air painting with my friend Bill Whorrall this week up in beautiful Martin County, Indiana.  There is just a small window between the dreariest of winter and the veredant summer.  This time of year the landscape sports so many different shades of greens, as well as the beautiful red-bud, dogwood and other spring flowers. I wanted to capture the scene before it was gone.

Plein air painting in Martin County, Indiana. The Overlook in Shoals.

This day we painted at The Overlook in Shoals, Indiana.  The scenery is gorgeous any time of year but especially now with the freshly tilled fields.  The river you see there is the White River which can sometimes be pretty angry.  Now you can see it as the peaceful water highway it once was.

The painting is acrylic on hardwood which has been gessoed and sanded.  I chose the longer format as it seemed to fit the landscape.

I only had a couple of hours to get most of the painting down before the sun had moved.  A few final tweaks were done in the studio.  Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted all of my photos for the day so this is the only one available from my Facebook page.

Yes, the painting is for sale on my Etsy shop, KitMiracleArt.

The Overlook in Shoals, Indiana. Martin County. Acrylic on wood panel,12 x 24, Kit Miracle, Spring landscape.