At an early age, I became my brother’s barber to save him from my mother attacking him with this Craftsman Electric Hair Clipper.

Family Treasures No. 47, Craftsman Electric Hair Clipper

Instead of using the hair clippers to mow his hair, I pruned his hair with the Edward Scissorhands technique.  He was my only customer.  About thirty years later, using a new model of the electric hair clipper, my daughters convinced a good friend of mine to allow them to mow her hair down to a height of about three-quarters of an inch.  She loved it for all of about an hour and a half.  It took half a year for her hair to regain any sort of form or shape.

Family Treasures No. 47 – Craftsman Electric Hair Clipper: Drawn first with dip pen using Scribal Work Shop “Nessie” ink followed by watercolor washes and a few white lines using a Pentel White Gel Pen.  Limited palette of Aureolin (Winsor Newton), French Ultramarine Blue (Winsor Newton) and Permanent Alizarin (Winsor Newton).  This is an example of painting by color value rather than hue or color scheme.  I posted another example yesterday on the Creative Color Blog.  I’ll be teaching a Color Value Workshop at Village Art Supply in Santa Rosa, CA (along with four other workshops) at the end of January 2013.  To learn more about the method used to paint the image above, visit today’s post on the Creative Color Blog.

Changing the value of a shape can be the difference between the painting popping or not popping.  Unless I’m aiming for subtlety or moodiness, I like my paintings to pop.

Before and after a second wash of green on the center cell

Darkening the value of the center cell creates a much greater sense of space, or depth, in the image.  I like the way it hovers over the rest of the painting when it’s a darker value.  The image on the left bores me.  It doesn’t invite my eye into the painting to explore the various objects.

Family Treasures No. 19

I couldn’t resist revealing more of the treasures hidden within the skirt of the glass lady.

Sketchbook painting: drawn first with fountain pen filled with Noodler’s Black Ink, followed by watercolor on Rives BFK paper

I’m using a photo, converted to black and white to help me find a solution to a design problem in one of my current watercolor paintings.

“Oak Leaves and Earth Sphere”, 22″ x 30″ watercolor

The painting began with a pencil sketch of  oak leaves dancing in the wind just prior to last night’s storm.  When the rain came, I moved inside, mixed some colors and combined brushwork with tossing of paint to get things moving on the paper.  Eventually the sphere appeared.  Before I can determine the colors and values of the leaves ( most of which you can’t see in the photo ) I need to determine my basic value shapes, the shapes that will be seen from thirty feet away.  I like the strong diagonal line in the top half of the paper and I don’t want to lose any of my lights by simple throwing more paint and hoping it works.  I’ve printed six copies of the black and white photo on a sheet of paper.  I’ll use a pencil to try different value patterns and choose one to work from tomorrow.  It feels great to be working larger again.

“Oak Leaves and Earth Sphere” in progress

I’m also happy to be playing with orbs again.

I’ve downloaded a photoshop app that allows me to snap a photo of my painting and change it to black and white on my phone.  This is incredibly helpful while painting en plein air.  I can tell immediately when values aren’t working well.

I painted Bob’s wildflower meadow a week ago.  The clouds were driving me crazy.

Original version of plein air oil painting

Before I could make any changes I had to wait for the oil paint to dry.  The sky already had a nasty green tint to it.  My original plan was only to clean up the sky and correct the cloud issue.

First Four variations

My plan usually changes.  With each stroke, new resolutions had to be found.

Next three variations

After the last resolution I have decided to move on …… whew …… I learned more from working my way through all these variations than I would have if I had started over eight times.  With each change, some elements improved and some nice passages were lost.

Comparison of first and final version of the painting

As always, the most important lesson is that paintings will go more smoothly, with more opportunity to play with color if I resolve the light and dark shapes FIRST!

Final Version of the wildflower meadow, 10.5″ x 18″ oil

Last night, as the sun headed toward the horizon, the clouds contrasted sharply with the blue sky.  Hmmmm. How dark a value would I have to mix my blue to get that breathtaking pop-up book look of the clouds?  A bit to the left the shadow side of the maple tree contrasted sharply with the blue sky.  Hmmmmmm, the sky only a mid-value, much lighter than I would have guessed.


I thought of the tree, sky and clouds this morning as I sketched and painted the hollyhocks.

Hollyhocks, Stage 2

I hesitated before painting in the blue shapes behind the flowers, but not for long.  I wanted to see if I could create a bit of excitement inspired by the drama of the evening sky.

Hollyhocks, 11″ x 11″

I’m glad I tried it.  I think I like it.  The blue is Joe’s Blue (Cheap Joe’s pthalo blue) with a touch of French Ultramarine.  The only other colors I used are Alizarin Crimson and Gamboge, a very limited palette.

Sketchbook painting:  drawn first in pencil, followed by watercolor.

I felt as if I had swallowed one of Alice’s funny pills when I found myself drawing and painting on a twelve foot wide span of wall rather than a 5″ x 5″ wood panel.  I adore painting large….. the larger the better.  I have not fear of blank walls. They cry out for illusions of space, expansion of landscape and sometimes for pure fantasy.

First stage of Dining Room Wall Mural

To add to the Alice in Wonderland experience, the paint is not what it seems.  The plan is to create a ghost image similar to the landscape view from the client’s back patio.  The darkest dark will not be much darker than the value seen in the image above.  The paint dries at least three shades darker than it looks when applied to the wall.  As we paint tree trunks over  the mass of background foliage the trunk looks to be much lighter than the foliage.  As it dries, the trunk totally disappears when it becomes the exact same value as the foliage.  Slowly it becomes visible again as it dries darker than the foliage.  Quite the challenge!  We paint ….. and then we wait.   We paint …… and then we wait.  We laugh at the absurdity of it as the mural begins to take form as if by magic.

We are using latex paint, light and dark variations of the exact wall color.  This is the first collaborative mural project that Xochitl and I have done together.  Though our personal painting preferences are quite different, we are both flexible enough and skilled enough to meet on common ground, bringing our strengths together.  We work well as a four armed artist.  I can be on a ladder, unable to judge where the branches should be painted with my invisible paint, with Xochitl acting as the eyes and brain of the artist directing my hand left, right, up or down.  We are already looking forward to working together on more murals …. the bigger …. the better.

In an attempt to bring my diversity into a realm of unification (sorry …. it’s the only way I can think of to say it). I’m attempting to view both landscapes and trumpet parts within linear planes.

Hedgerow Series No. 1, watercolor, 11" x 22"

Sketchbook drawing: En plein air landscape, View of the hedgerow in my backyard, drawn first in pencil, followed by watercolor.

Each line and each shape connects to another.  Though I worked intuitively, no line or shape is arbitrary.  If I could, I would change the darker green shapes.  They are too cool in temperature and a bit jarring, bringing attention to themselves.  I would also adjust the values of the color shapes to better define larger masses.

This is just the beginning of a new path, one that nourishes my hidden passion for abstract geometry.  J. Paterno would appreciate knowing that there are still glowing embers of my passion for math just waiting to burst into flame again.

I parked at the top of the hill just before the railroad crossing on Broad Street in Washington, New Jersey.

Interrupted watercolor sketch, Washington, NJ

I finished a quick pencil sketch and began to lay in a few watercolor washes. A gentle tap on the passenger side window startled me.  I unrolled the window and gazed into the kind eyes of BL, a woman who rented an apartment in the house I’d parked in front of.  She wanted to warn me that I’d chosen a dangerous place to park my car.  When her friends had parked there they ended up having mirrors torn off, doors smashed in or the back of cars rammed.  It had appeared safe to me, but clearly I was mistaken.  After thanking her for coming out to warn me, perhaps saving my car from damage and me a trip to the hospital, I moved on.  All was not lost.  BL offered me the opportunity to park in her driveway the next time I wanted to try painting the steep hill of her street.

Oil Painting, Blocking in value shapes as the sun set

Later I set up outside my house to block in the values of the landscape as the sun sank toward the horizon.  The leaves are budding on the trees, crimson against charcoal in the late afternoon light.  I have to learn to work much faster.


The front seat of the K-car works well as a plein air studio on rainy days.

The sun breaks through after the rain, Clinton, NJ

It poured as  I sketched this street scene in Clinton, New Jersey.  The raindrops on the windshield helped to simplify the scene and saved me a bit of squinting.  Even so, I couldn’t find a strong pattern design of value shapes.  I opted to go for the gloom.  No sooner had I finished the sketch when the sun worked its way through the clouds and brightened the scene slightly.

sketchbook painting: sketched first with soft pencil followed by watercolor focusing on neutral grays, toning down the colors of spring and steering clear of sharp contrasts.

Pea seeds are planted!

Pea Seed Packets

A delightful day of working in the yard, the sun warming both my skin and the soil.  Gardens were raked, dirt dug, step shelves for the kitchen herb garden built, deer fence constructed and peas planted.  What could be better than that for a Sunday afternoon in the middle of March!

I really should give up on using watercolor in my current sketchbook.

Sketchbook drawing: drawn first in pencil, followed by watercolor, followed by carbon pencil.  Based on value studies created as examples for the next variation of The Extended Game – An extension of The Color Scheme Game.

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