Posting online tutorials has been one of my goals for the past year.  It has finally become a reality, thanks to all who have already walked this path and are willing to share their expertise.  I have spent the last two weeks learning how to set up the ipad on my tripod, exchanging files between devices, editing, adding music and uploading to Vimeo.  Next phase is voice overs and text.

I’m posting basic tutorials on my website blog showing various lessons taught in my Color Scheme Game Workshops.  I hope they will serve as quick reference and refreshers for my students.

What I didn’t expect was that I would learn so much from watching myself paint!

I am, forever, a student. The printmaking workshop I’m attending is opening up boulevards of new options for visual expression.

line drawing with the end of a paintbrush

The possibilities are endless  My head spins, dizzy with excitement.  It could be that printmaking will help me to pull my diversity together to sing my song with one voice rather than a mismatched choir.


I love being able to continue working with one plate, leaving a ghost image of the previous print.  I posted my last print from Tuesday on the Creative Color Blog.  It’s my favorite, using torn paper.  I absolutely love the fibers along the edges.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a printing press at home.  As a substitue I will place my plate and paper between two half inch sheets of plywood screwed together and drive my car over it.  Maybe, I’ll manage to do that this weekend!

I hated it.  I worked all day yesterday resolving issues on a painting I hated.  Why?  It wasn’t painterly.  Even before my first cup of coffee I had paintbrush in hand.

(left)- before, (right)- after

It boiled down to marks and edges.  I was overly focused on larger shapes rather than the smaller shapes that made up the larger shapes. There was little to none when it came to variation of edges.  I had not orchestrated the transitions between shapes allowing for subtleties of rhythm.  Darkening the value of the bottom right corner helped.  I’m still not crazy about the results, but I feel more confident that I will stay aware of painterly transitions when I set up my easel today.  Maybe I’ll tackle the cornfield!

Final version (I hope!)

If I feel the urge to go back into this one again, I’ll scrape it off instead.

Wildflowers, Detail, oil on wood panel

I am much happier with the marks.

Painting, 10.5″ x 18″ oil on wood panel, en plain air landscape

The struggle to describe form on a face continues….  still working from photographs …. ugh!

linking light shapes and dark shapes

Everything I’m working on right now relates not only to human figures, but to masses of trees and landscapes, too.  Returning to plein air painting made me realize I need to sharpen my eye and brain to organize the shapes of reality into strong patterns of abstraction.  I thought, after so many years of painting movement and abstraction that I would have broken my habit of duplicating reality when it is sitting still in front of me.  I was wrong!

Slowly, very slowly, I’m making progress.  Every ten minutes I want to stop this discipline and toss or platter a bit of paint, swirl a bit of ink and simply play with color and shapes.  I can feel myself tighten when I reach the limit of my ability in realistic drawing and painting.  I want to return to something I am comfortable with.  I want to do an ink drawing of the hollyhocks in bloom and color it in with gorgeous pinks and greens.  I want to dash off to a music festival with my dip pen and watercolor box.

My mother before I was born, great hat!

It’s hard to believe, but I worked on this little 5″ x 7″ sketch for four hours!  It looked fresh and alive after about half an hour, but the forms on the face were wrong.  I went back and forth with watercolor, then gouache, to bring back lights, to correct values of shadows, to simplify, to capture light falling on the different planes of the face.  It ended up an overworked mess, but I am satisfied with the head looking like a solid form that might actually have a skull inside of it.  In spite of knowing my anatomy, there is a glitch in my hand/brain/brush when I attempt to paint realistically.

V. D. King at the Grisly Pear

This is how I love to paint.  Why do I bother struggling with painting from photos, stiff and boring?  Because I want to bring the skill and knowledge I gain from that discipline into my plein air and moving figure paintings.  They will become more consistently stronger.  And ….. I want to keep breaking through my limitations.  Until I can paint from a photograph successfully with the result being as lovely, loose and descriptive as the portrait of V.D. King, I will not be satisfied.

Grumpy Chris as a toddler

I am as grumpy this morning as I was when the photo I worked from was taken.  What is it that makes a face look old?  look young? look middle-aged? When does the balance of hard edges and soft edges work in the composition of facial planes?

Top image: ink brush or ink brush and copic markers

Middle image: watercolor and gouache

Bottom image: watercolor

There were no signs indicating that I was trespassing.

Pickle Road Tree Project, Tewksbury, NJ

I had passed the nursery twice yesterday and decided to make it my first stop today.  The gate was open, one car in the parking lot, but no one was around for me to ask permission to paint.  I parked and pulled out sketchbook and paints.  About fifteen minutes later a truck pulled through the gate.  A man approached the car, wearing a curious scowl.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

I showed him my painting.  “Is is okay if I paint the cherry trees?”

“No, it is NOT okay.”

“Is there someone I could speak with to ask permission to paint here?”


“May I paint the trees, please?”

Long, long pause …………….

“You can stay, but you really should take the equipment out of your painting.  If you leave that  messy stuff in, your painting will be ugly.”

I smiled.  “Thanks for letting me paint.”

He turned and returned to his truck.  Five minutes later I was, once again, alone in the parking lot.

I think the messy stuff makes the color in the painting work perfectly.  Without the bright, intense yellow of the Eager Beaver trailer, the blossoming cherry trees might have looked washed out instead of delicately spring-like.  The truth is, I love heavy equipment and enjoy drawing and painting it.  I would love to be at the controls of a steam shovel.  Trailers aren’t nearly so dramatic.

I’m not sure how he thought I might take the equipment out of the painting even if I wanted to.  He probably doesn’t paint with watercolors during his time off from the Pickle Road Tree Project.

The light started to change and I moved on.

Sketchbook en plein air painting: drawn loosely with pencil before applying wet washes of watercolor allowing them to mix with one another, keeping harder edges for the blossoming trees.  The blocky shapes in the lower left are stacked timbers from an old timber frame barn.  I left them undefined when I realized I lost track of what I was doing.

I heard those words this morning in response to the question “Are you married or have a girl friend these days?”  The tall, middle-aged man responded, “I have two cars and a parachute.”  The tall, thin woman, a bit taken aback replied, “Oh…. guess you haven’t found the right one yet.”  “Guess not.” That was the end of the conversation.  When it doesn’t work, just keep moving on.

And so it is with paintings, too.

A bit of touch-up with a palette knife

I wasn’t pleased with the painting I did in the arboretum on Friday.  In the spirit of moving on I decided to  play with a palette knife in an attempt to breathe some life into the square, wooden panel.  Having read excerpts from Richard Schmid’s Alla Prima the last two nights before bed, I concentrated more on edges, values and overall pattern.  Thank you, Richard Schmid.  It’s not great, but it definitely is starting to breathe.

Hunterdon Arboretum Cherry Blossom Tree

Painting trees never gets any easier.

Cherry Blossoms, Weeping Cherry Tree

The day couldn’t have been better for painting en plein air.  I found a perfect spot in the shade and struggled for far too long, blocking in, getting picky, wiping off, blocking in, getting picky, wiping off…… Cherry Blossoms are so delicate.  The patterns and colors of Springtime are delicate.  It is difficult to be delicate when I’m painting with brushes that are 24″ long!  I’m determined to learn to paint with these outrageous brushes that I had the good fortune to find online.  They are much handier than the brushes I tied to long sticks after being inspired to do so by Robert Burridge.  What I find hard to believe is that I can still be picky when painting with these giants.

By the time I learn to be delicate, the spring blossoms will be gone ….. but flowering herbs will be next.

Cherry Blossoms, En plein air oil painting, 14.25″ x 14.25″.  Focus was on color value and edges.

Back to the old red sketchbook with crummy wood pulp paper.

Four variations of the top of Tom's Dresser

Another sketch from early morning pillow position.  I wanted to see how much ink bleed the refillable marker pen would cause on the yellowed pulp paper.  I have about fifteen more pages to go in this treasured sketchbook.  As I opened it this morning, the binding broke.  It clearly is ready for retirement.

I’ve ordered an empty Ciao Copic Marker to try filling with ink, maybe mixing Noodler’s ink with Copic Ink for fast drying when sketching while walking.  I like the brush-shaped tip of the Ciao Marker better than the wedge shape tip of the Preppy refillable marker.

Drawing: Preppy refillable marker filled with Noodler’s walnut ink.

When I sit on my front porch I contemplate the wall of trees beyond the field of hay across the street. I am determined to learn how to render that intimidating wall of green foliage.  My eye perceives the subtle nuances of form, color and value yet I have not been able to express those nuances well with either pencil, pen or paint.

I keep trying.

A treasured drawing book

My current obsession is improving my ability to render with a fountain pen.  I generally use my pen for a contour sketch that I follow with washes of watercolor.  The process is enjoyable and I find the results quite satisfying.  When drawing gets to be too much fun I generally try tackling something that will push me further and earn me further skills to reach a new level of painting and drawing that I find equally as enjoyable.  Rendering in ink fills that criteria.  I pulled a well-loved book from my shelf in hopes that it will suggest a new approach, a variation on what I have already tried and failed at when it comes to cross hatching.

Changing line direction when moving from tree to tree

I often miss seeing the obvious solutions.  My difficulty has been to show the delineation between trees while keeping the values close without outlining the edges of each tree.  Zeichenschule fur Begabta Leute is a drawing book I picked up while living in Germany in 1969.   It appears to have been written by Professor Gerhard Gollwitzer though the copyright is 1964 and belongs to Otto Maier Verlag Ravensburg.  It was published in 1966.

In the book I found a drawing of a wall of trees.  Gollwitzer did not cross hatch.  Instead, he changed the direction of the lines he used with each tree mass.  The first two attempts are shown above.  On the top drawing you can see where I attempted to correct a shape by cross hatching, hoping it wouldn’t be obvious.  Of course, it is.  The cross hatched appears heavy and static to me whereas the trees in the other areas look as if their branches can easily dance in the wind, leaves fluttered by gentle breezes.

My second attempt takes the technique a tiny step further.  I think this might work well for me.

Sketch lightly with pencil to indicate basic shape and position of trees.  Inked using  Noodler’s Fountain Pen filled with Noodler’s Whaleman Sepia.

My Noodler’s Flex Pen and a refillable brush pen work well together for quick value sketches that dry quickly and don’t require carrying water.  The water is in the brush pen, released by squeezing an open spot on the side of the pen.

Noodler's Green Marine Ink

I’ve had the brush pen for many years, abandoning it constantly because I couldn’t get it to do what I wanted it to do.  Pairing it with a fountain pen, it works beautifully.  I hadn’t tried using it only for water.  It failed miserably when I filled it with ink or watercolor.  I’ll post a drawing of the brush pen in a day or two.

I am determined to keep drawing masses of trees until I am a bit happier with my technique.  It is the edges that are so challenging.

Landscape: Noodler’s Flex Pen and Brush Pen using Noodler’s Green Marine Ink

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