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!

Some things can be taught … some things cannot.

Abstract Design from Traced Objects

Abstract Design from Traced Objects – Watercolor on Rives BFK Paper (6″ x 9″)

While preparing to teach the upcoming Watercolor Techniques Workshop in Santa Rosa, I decided to snap some photos of a painting in progress to illustrate several of the techniques I’ll be teaching.  Techniques are easy to teach. How to use tools is easy to teach.  The fundamentals of art are all easy to teach, presenting them in a variety of ways so that students who learn concepts differently will all grasp the basic idea.  It’s up to the students to practice what is learned in classes and workshops.

Tools and Techniques can be taught , but Translation is difficult if not impossible to teach.  How does one teach the translation of an unspoken language, the language of vision combined with unseen light waves and sound waves, rhythms of movement through a three-dimensional space?

Some paintings are rooted to tools and techniques, never stepping over the line into the realm of chance and possibilities where the “what if” thrives, where the population of  things gone wrong and unresolved paintings far outnumber the paintings that are a step above everything else, those that usually don’t follow the rules.  Something else has happened during the process of creation that make a painting as unique as every child, even identical twins whose genetics are the same.  Something has happened. Often, that something will happen in a spot or two of a painting.  It is a true gem when a painting as a whole declares its independence from the artist and can stand alone in a crowd without explanation.

The above painting began like this:

Early stage of painting

Early stage of painting

The composition gave me a hard time.  The pivot point is plunk in the middle of the painting.  I struggled for hours, layering, wiping out, scrubbing, splatting, wiping out, glazing ….. and more lifting of paint.  Two hours into it I stopped snapping photos of the methods I was using to try to resolve the painting.  Six hours in, it began to breath a life of its own.  I was in battle mode and didn’t notice for a while.  It fought …. and I fought back.  The painting finally won.  I allowed it to be completely different from what I thought it should be.  I was even a bit angry with it.

I went to bed disgruntled.

When I awoke this morning I was surprised that the painting expressed everything I had intended, patterns, textures, interweaving of shapes as they move through space, a glow of light against mysterious darks reaching far beyond the flat surface of the paper.

I can encourage my students to step across the line.  I can even push a few across, but I can’t teach any of them how to translate their heart beats and their breath.  Nor can I teach them what drives me to draw and paint each and every day of my life.  I could say it is the joy of drawing and painting.  It’s not just the joys, it is also that I grow stronger hrom each battle I fight, whether I have won or lost, it makes no difference.  For the hundreds of paintings I’ve sold and exhibited, I’ve thrown away ten times that number.  If I ever get to the point where I’m not discarding most of my paintings it will mean I’ve stopped taking risks and stopped searching for new ways to translate my world.  I don’t ever want to see the day that I don’t take the chance of creating an unsuccessful painting.

Image:  Watercolor and a touch of unsuccessfully sprayed ink using a mouth atomizer.

I crept up on this one, being careful to save the white of the paper for the middle cluster of sails.

Watercolor Study of Sailboats

The sky began as a very flat wash.  I like it much better with the suggestion of clouds.  The organic shapes of the clouds balance the angular shapes of the sails and creates a sense of air and distance.  The pattern in the sky also allows for more color play in the water.

I used several layers of glazes for the water, the sky and the sails.  The sails of the boats on either side of the cluster of three have the look of off-white cotton canvas sails rather than the sharp white nylon sails that are on the center boats.  I played with the values of the cotton sails to create lost and found edges against the sky in order to avoid competition with the center sails.

Thinking about design

Ceiling of Wine Cellar designed by Gaudi, Barcelona, Spain, Oil on canvas

During the past chaotic week I’ve become of a shift in my seeing the landscape and a greater freedom to sacrifice reality for strong design.  I am finally seeing overall patterns of value rather than textural patterns created by smaller shapes.  Perhaps reading the books by Claude Croney each night before falling asleep has helped.

As I sort through my older work, to make room for Betty’s paintings, I find that I have fresh eyes and a new perspective with which to evaluate the paintings I had carried as far as possible at the time.  It is a wonderful feeling to look at a painting that I thought was carried to resolution and to see that it can go much further.  When that happens I know that I have learned a great deal since the time I called the painting complete.

The painting of the brick wine cellar remains a favorite of mine.  I painted this as part of the series using underpaintings with multiple glazes of color.  The design is strong.  I think Croney is right when he says that it doesn’t really matter what you paint as long as the design and value patterns are strong.

First Image: underpainting
Second Image: first glaze over underpainting.

The exhibit, Reflections of a Dancer, opens at Wings Conservatory in Chester on March 7th, 2009. The exhibit will raise funds for The Butterfly Project, supporting children’s cancer research.

The technique used in the color studies I have created for this exhibit is new to me. The images were taken from the beautiful photographs of Elayne Wishart whose work will also be shown in the exhibit along with the work of Deb Gichan and Ana Tatoris. Using the traditional technique of underpainting and glazing, I first used the computer to transform Elayne’s color photographs into black and white photographs. I then printed giclee prints and painting the initial underpainting (first image posted here) directly onto the print. I felt like a hack doing that. My goal was to play with color and glazes on figures as I did on landscapes last year. Taking the time to redraw the images of twelve paintings for a fund raising exhibit was not part of the plan, especially when the images themselves were not originally mine. Still, it worked against my grain to simply paint over someone else’s photographs. These paintings are not just inspired by Elayne’s work, they are, beneath the surface of paint, Elayne’s work. So be it. I have learned what I set out to learn by this experiment, that complementary colors in an underpainting does not always work as well with interior/figure work as with landscapes. Analagous colors glazed over the surfaces of walls, backgrounds and flesh worked a bit better for me.

However, struggling through the color studies, nuances of color were suggested that I would not have thought to experiment with and will lead to further studies. Heaven forbid I find myself at a dead end of exploration. I had planned for the orange underpainting in many of the studies (not shown here) to be obliterated by the glazes. Instead, I left a great deal of orange as it added energy to the work. The flesh tones often conflicted with the walls and had to be adjusted. I will choose the colors for the underpaintings differently the next time I work on figures in an interior.

All in all, it was a delightful experiment and I am grateful to Elayne for allowing me to use her work for this small series of color studies.

For Exhibit information visit and click on the link for schedule of events.

Image #1: Charcoal drawing on canvas.
Image #2: Underpainting
Image #3: First layer of glaze in the bottom, right corner.
Image #4: First layer of glaze completed.

Two days after the show at Monsoon comes down, the show in Pennington opens. The October sunshine is calling to me and I must resist the temptations to pack my paints and head to the woods. The architectural paintings along with four more of the road series must be completed and at least dry to the touch to hang by November 1st. Painting the amazing tree-like columns of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is as close as I’ll get to painting in the woods this week.
Though my palette is the same that I used for the Road Series, the mixes are more neutral in this first glaze of paint over the underpainting. I enjoyed a break from the greens of the landscapes. Not much of a break, considering I worked on landscapes yesterday and will work on at least one tomorrow if all goes well with the next layer of glazing on the remaining two architectural paintings.

The glazing technique excites me more each day. When I return to plein air painting in the fall, I am fairly certain that I will begin with a quick drying underpainting in acrylic. Glazing over underpaintings allows me to easily keep colors clean and lively.

Though the flesh tones in the portrait of Nicole are a bit pasty, I don’t think there will be a problem in adjusting them to more pleasing tones. The turquoise underpainting of the hair masses has worked well with the glaze of red. Nicole adjusted her natural brown hair color to this fabulous red hue many years ago and I think it suits her perfectly.

The painting will dry for a week before I go back into it with another layer of glazes. At that point I will focus on developing the form around the nose, eyes and mouth. I will also paint in the basic forms of the necklace. Most likely, the final glaze will highlight areas of the hair, make final adjustments to facial features and add loose but careful definition to the necklace.

Image: Portrait of Nicole, oil on masonite panel

Link to Page on Website featuring progress of portrait paintings

On July 1st, Judy Stines asked “Can you give us any details on your glazing technique?”

The purpose of the series Between Here and There is twofold: to explore the technique of glazing and to create a series of paintings that clearly illustrate the five elements of painting as simplistically as possible. I chose subject matter that presents a common, everyday experience, that of seeing the road cut through the landscape while driving in a car. The subject of these paintings is secondary to the elements of the paintings. The exhibit, Unveiled – The Anatomy of a Painting, will present both representational and abstract paintings. My hope is that the road series will introduce the idea that all paintings are working with the same elements. It is only through the artist’s skilled and successful manipulation of these elements that content and meaning are communicated to the viewer.

My experience with this glazing technique has already inspired me to go further with it following the exhibit. In the future I will concentrate more on layered, composite drawings. In the road series, the drawing is extremely simple, stating only basic shapes and only suggestions of more complexity within those shapes.

I begin with a photograph. Hah! I cringe at the thought of working from photographs. In this case, fortunately, I made an exception.

Surface: My surfaces are either prepared birch plywood or stretched canvas. The plywood is sealed on both sides with two coats of acrylic GAC (made by Golden) and four coats of acrylic gesso. I sand the surface before applying the next layer. I also glue a frame made from 1″x2″ strips 2″ smaller than the board on the back to prevent warping and to provide a way to hang the paintings if they are not framed.

Drawing: Working from the dimensions of the canvases and boards, I crop the photographs and rework them using pastels to achieve the shapes and values that will create strong compositions. Using a projector, I transfer the drawing onto the surface indicating only the basic shapes, avoiding any small details.

Color Palette: My color palette is limited. I want to explore the range of color I can achieve using only White (Zinc White or Permalba White for transparent glazes and Titanium or Flake White for more opaque layering), Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red Light, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Manganese Blue, Cobalt Blue and Ultramarine Blue.

Mediums: I am using either oil paints or acrylic paints for the underpaintings. I am using only oil paints for the glazes. I am not using a medium with the oil paints for the glazes, only turpentine.

Underpainting: For the underpainting I mix colors that are close to being the complement of the final color and are the same value as the final value. For example, if the sky will be a dark blue, I mix a dark orange. If the trees are going to be a mid-value cool green, I mix a mid-value cool red. I am experimenting with the warm and cool aspects of the underpainting and glazes. I will adjust my technique depending on the results.

Glazes: Each layer must dry completely! I apply the glaze with a brush, sometimes rubbing it into the surface with a cloth or removing parts of it with a brush or cloth. Sometimes I scumble the paint over the surface. I keep the edges soft at this point. Sharp definitions of shapes will come in later layers. I mix colors both on the palette and on the painting, enjoying the nuances that are automatically created by the interaction of the underpainting and the glazes. I allow the underpainting to show through in order to preserve the push and pull that occurs when complementary colors are placed next to one another.

The technique is quite simple. What is hardest for me is to be patient and allow the layers to dry completely before applying the next glaze. I am working on at least eight paintings at a time. That, too, is a new experience for me.

Link to samples on my website:

Figure 1. illustrates the first layer of glaze on the road in the foreground. Figure 2. illustrates the first layer of glaze on the rest of the underpainting and the second layer of glaze on the road.

The cool reds of the underglaze demand equally cool greens in the glazing. The mood created is wonderfully different from the first few paintings in this series. I continue to be in awe of the ease with which a sense of mood and light can be created by this technique, glazing over an underpainting of complimentary colors. I can only imagine the results of at least half a dozen glazes.

I see experimenting with this series as another turning point in my growth as an artist. What might have been a miserable experience of juggling too many responsibilities and time crunches with preparing for the solo show in October has been transformed into a journey of joy and discovery. Had my time not been so restricted, I would never have chosen this path. I would be outdoors painting.

Last winter I began to prepare for a spring and summer of painting outdoors again. Little did I imagine that my life would change in a way that kept me from that goal. I have watched the most beautiful spring that I have ever experienced in New Jersey, followed by a lush and visually exciting summer. Perhaps next year I will be able to paint outdoors. When I do, my experience will be richer as a result of this study of glazing over underpaintings. The series is appropriately named “Between Here and There”.

Links to previous blog entries and images of the progress of this series:
Exhilarating Fun
Acrylic vs. Oils