Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Making a watermark on your paintings

It's Tippy Tuesday! A collection of tips I've gained through experience or learned from other artists.

Given last week's discussion about copyright, this post shows how I make a watermark on my digital images using Adobe® Photoshop®.

1. Open the painting file in Photoshop. I scan my photos as TIFFs to retain the most information. A lot of people use JPEGs by default, but I recommend a format that doesn't use a lossy compression scheme, such as TIFF or your camera's native raw format.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Green Lake [sold]

5x7" oil on hardboard

I took another whack at one of the recent DPW Challenges.

Friday, July 27, 2012

50 Starts - Start 25, street scene


I've been eyeing this photo for a long time, wanting to paint it, but assuming it's too complicated for me. Maybe if I break it down into a simple Start and eliminate some elements I can manage it.

It's a street in Wilmington NC - I don't remember the year, but I know it's March because there are few leaves. I really like the flag, I think that makes the scene interesting. Also love the dog, but I'm not sure if I'll include him in the finished painting. There's already so much going on that side of the street, and I don't want to paint the wheelchair or the parked cars. Maybe I can move the dog to the left.

1. Initial sketch:

2. Rough values and colors:

Obviously I punched up the colors - it was kind of a drab day. But I think the values are accurate enough that I can pull it off. Removing the cars and stuff on the left also removes a lot of the mid-tones, so this will be more of a high key scene.

- - - - See the finished painting here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

50 Starts - Start 23, fish restaurant


I don't remember the name of this restaurant in Morehead City. Fish restaurant.

Value sketch, using purple and blue. The interesting part of this picture is that there's almost no direct light on the building, but there's a lot of reflected light. So it's all shadow, but lit shadow.

Although different parts of the building are different colors, much of it is the same value. I'm really happy with the way it came out, except perhaps for the soffit on the right. Very murky. Overall, I felt like I was seeing a lot more — every time I loaded up the brush I remixed the color. This part is a little bluer; this shadow has some green in it, etc. I didn't always render it perfectly, but it's great progress that I'm seeing it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Copyright: A cautionary tale

A friend* linked to this post about the consequences of using copyrighted images without permission, and it's worth passing on:


It's a good cautionary tale. In my other life as a graphic designer, I've always been well aware of the concept of copyright. The web has been a seething mass of illegal image use since Day One.

At first there wasn't much anyone could do about it: how would you even know if someone was pirating your images unless you just happened to see it somewhere? So people got away with it for so long that it just became standard practice—most people don't even realize they might be doing something wrong.

The problem is, it's still illegal.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Photo Demos and Books

It's Tippy Tuesday! A collection of tips I've gained through experience or stolen learned from other artists.

What's the best way to learn to paint? Not everyone can get an MFA or enroll in a great studio arts program. That leaves workshops, videos, and books.

Photo Demos

Most still-photo demos seem to have a giant step missing from them—that magic step between "here is the block in" and "here is the brilliant finished painting." But some are quite detailed with a wealth of information. Not to mention the generosity of those painters who put that information out there for free. Some of the best:

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Strolling [sold]

8" x 10" oil on hardboard

I like this scene - it's the kind of place you take your dog for a long walk. Unless you were actually there and realized how HOT it is! At least the temperature doesn't show in the painting :-)

I did a study of the scene a few weeks ago, as a Start, and was really happy with it. I think cropping the tree made all the difference in the composition. I have a tendency to leave "head room" around everything, which doesn't always make for the liveliest scene.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Progress: Fish Factory 5

Now I've taken the big step of adding "true" color to the underpainting.

This is my first pass at getting the real color down on the canvas, and trying to match my value decisions. It's not very detailed, I'm blocking in the average color of each area. In the next pass I'll refine that and add more detail. Now that I've taken a photo and posted it, I can see that I forgot to do the bottom of the pilings.

That cast roof-shadow in the upper right is way too hard; will have to soften that in the next iteration. I'm enthralled with the water color, and I'm going to try not to change it very much.

One of my goals on this painting is to not let myself get too detailed in one little area before I finish making a pass. This takes a lot of self-discipline for me, because I want to get right into painting in railings and highlights and little waves and stuff with a liner brush.

Here's the black-and-white version; looks pretty good. Light areas still need punching up. Not too much—it's a mostly mid-tone value scheme with more darks than lights.

This is a much more complicated process than I usually do — I'm taking more steps and doing a LOT more underpainting. Also the canvas is so much larger than I'm used to, so I never mix up enough paint at one time. That might be an unexpected benefit; it keeps me from using too much of the same color just because I've got it on my palette. That is another Carol Marine tip: if you mix up a lot of paint, you'll use it even if it's not right, just because it's there.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

50 Starts - Start 24, mountains

This was one of the Daily Paintworks Challenges. I decided to do it as a study, not a finished painting.

I'm in the middle of re-reading Kevin Macpherson's excellent "Fill your oil paintings with light and color." One of the step-by-steps he shows is a not-dissimilar mountain view, so I decided to follow his methodology.

1. Basic sketch - thinned yellow ochre.

2. Colorful shadows. I had a hard time telling, from the photo, what was actually in shadow and what was just a cool color. I guessed a lot.

3. Fill in the lights. Same as above - best guess. I punched up the color quite a lot from the photo, which was almost monotone.

4. Adjustments, corrections, final details. I departed ways from Macpherson when I brought in that cerulean blue for the sky - got tired of fiddling around with ultramarine and yellow, it never looked right.

I think it came out really well, and I'll very likely do it again in a larger size.

- - - -  see the finished painting here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Resources and Reference

It's Tippy Tuesday! A collection of tips I've gained through experience or stolen learned from other artists.

What's the best way to learn to paint? Not everyone can get an MFA or enroll in a great studio arts program. That leaves workshops, videos, and books.

I'll bet a lot of self-taught painters began by watching Joy of Painting—I mean, who doesn't love Bob Ross? Nothing wrong with that, it's a way to start. But after not too long, you want to learn the real methods and techniques.

For me, I learn a lot more from a real human instructor in a workshop than from watching a video; and more from a video than reading a book. But they all have their place, and different learning styles suit different people.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Yellow Green Pink

Purchase "Yellow Green Pink"
5" x 7" inches, oil on hardboard.

I painted this row of colorful beach houses on Topsail Island last weekend, during a class with the talented Mike Rooney. He's a great instructor.

I also got an extraordinarily bad sunburn - a morning of painting and three days on the beach is WAY too much for this redhead!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

50 Starts - Start 22, Tree and Road

I think this is one of the best things I've painted recently - too bad it's on a piece of paper!

This time I did a pretty straightforward process — sketched in the shapes with a thinned raw sienna, put in the major darks and shadows with a mix of permanent violet and yellow ochre, then painted willy-nilly as the spirit moved me. No, I'm kidding, then I painted pretty much background to foreground, but leaving the sky for last.

This might be a better approach for me than the Cape Cod underpainting, because I get so confused about value when I'm fussing with temperature.

 - - - see the finished painting here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

50 Starts - Start 21, arboretum path

This turned out really well, I thought. There were a lot of a cool greens, but all of them just a bit different from each other. I broke out the phthalo green, which I never thought I'd do again, and this time it was the right thing.

Sorry the photo is so blurry.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cleaning Brushes

It's Tippy Tuesday! A collection of tips I've gained through experience or stolen learned from other artists.

I'm not very conscientious about cleaning my brushes — I need to develop better habits, as brushes are expensive and they don't last long if you abuse them.

While I'm painting, I keep a coffee can half full of vegetable oil on hand. Plain old whatever-is-cheapest oil, like store-brand canola. I can swish my brush around in it to clean it enough for a color change. Look how disgusting that oil is! Ew.

Submerged inside the can, I've got the screen from an inexpensive brush washer. It fits perfectly! I used to scrub my brush along that mesh to help clean it, but quickly discovered that's a great way to break the bristles. Now I just slide the brush along the handle part to offload a good deal of the paint.

I also dip my brushes in the oil if I'm going to leave the studio for a short time — maybe an hour or less. It keeps them viable until I get back.

When I want a more thorough cleaning while painting, I use the good old turps. I pour a little of this stuff into a smaller jar. You can make it last a long time by NOT swishing the brush along the bottom. Dip it in without touching sides or bottom, give it a second to wick up the turps, and wipe on a paper towel. It takes about 4-5 times to get it clean enough to change color.

At the end of the day, I clean the brushes with The Masters Brush Cleaner. This stuff is the bomb. Inside it looks like... like lard, maybe? No, no, it looks like soap. It's a solid block, somewhat softer than a bar of hand soap. You wet your brush with really hot water and brush it back and forth until a lather works up. Rinse with hot water. It works the same as any other type of oil: water doesn't solvate it, but hot water and soap does.

Recently I've seen this tip about Murphy Oil Soap for Wood all over the place. I've had a bottle of it under the sink for, oh let's see, maybe 15 years. You can see how much I used in a decade and a half. I'm a terrible housekeeper.

I'm experimenting with a pretty beat-up brush; we'll see if it restores the bristles at all. I'm using that aluminum brush washer because the brush can be suspended and soak without the bristles mashed against the bottom. The little plastic cup is because I'm only cleaning one brush and don't want to fill up the entire basin.

Does anyone have any good brush cleaning tips?

[Update: the Murphy's was helpful, but no miracle. If I was out of Masters brush cleaner, I would use it in a pinch.] 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Soft Day

Purchase "Soft Day"
5" x 7", oil on hardboard

This was a DPW challenge - paint from a somewhat murky camera photo. I bumped up the color a little, de-murked a little.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Interview with GRINGO ZERO

Gringo Zero is one of my favorite painters, and not just because of his fabulously cool name. Like me, he’s trying to be a daily painter, and he chronicles his efforts on his blog. I particularly admire how willing he is to experiment.

The first painting by another artist that I ever bought is a Gringo Zero — mostly because I loved it, but also so that I could secretly study his technique up close :-). The way he paints shadows is sublime. I’m really thrilled that he’s taken the time to answer some of my questions:


Q. You seem to paint a wide variety of subjects — landscapes, still lifes, people, cars, food, buildings — how do you decide what to paint? Is there a subject you’re drawn to more than others?

I'm most often drawn to lighting, and specifically contrast in lighting. A technique I've read about is to put in your darkest dark next to your lightest light to create a focal point, like say where the reflection of the sky in a river and the shadow of the bridge crossing it meet. I think I learned this before I had painted much and now notice that this is often what actually does grab my eye when looking for scenes.

Q. Do you paint more from real life, or from photo reference?

It's really a matter of creature comfort. If it's cold or windy or dark outside, I paint from photos on my computer monitor. If it's nice out, especially when I travel outside of San Francisco, I prefer to paint outside.

Q. Do you have any tips for plein air painting?

Since the light changes so quickly, I think it's better to do a couple of quick studies that focus on the light and color (the stuff your camera's not as good as capturing) than it is to try to work on a masterpiece. You can always add the fiddly bits when you get back home. For me it's the big shapes and broad strokes that convey the light and color that are more exciting than the minutiae.

Q. You generally paint with acrylics. Have you ever used oils, and what do you consider the advantages of acrylic paints? Do you use a medium to extend the drying time?

I prefer acrylics because I can't stand any of the solvents and cleaners that often go along with oils. I'm also impatient and like the quick drying time. I extend the drying time with varying amounts of Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid. I put a thin layer on top of each of my paint blobs on the palette, and then put a big puddle of it as well. When I paint outside, I usually put the colors on a strip of wetted paper towel to further prevent drying out.

Acrylics are very sensitive to the environment. In Sonoma in the Summer, the paint almost dries as you're applying it. In contrast, on a cold foggy morning by the Bay, it doesn't dry until you put it back in the car.

If I feel I need to work wet-in-wet, I can, but it often means reworking whole sections of the piece, as quickly as possible. Not ideal but certainly serviceable.

Q. Everyone has some bit of trusty equipment they can’t do without, whether it’s a brand/type of brush, a special medium, etc. Do you have strong preferences for paint or tools?

I started buying everything at garage sales, so I learned about quality and consistency the hard way. For now I have settled on Golden Heavy Body acrylics and mediums. As for brushes, I'm still exploring, but I think I'm liking the Blick Masterstroke bristle brushes. A lot of synthetic brushes made for acrylics just don't hold enough paint, and some of the brushes made specifically for oils hold too much. It's a tough balance.

Q. Have you had formal training in painting?

Not really. I grew up with a general art background focusing on fundamentals. Lots of drawing and color theory type stuff, but I never really liked painting so I didn't study it much. It was mostly an issue of control. I preferred the precision of airbrush, and print making, and ultimately computer graphics.

After too many years as a graphic designer, I have finally gained an appreciation of looser tools and more impressionistic results. A lot of this has to do with appreciating the artists I've known over the years, and the few I've recently had the opportunity to do workshops with.

It's like discovering another side of myself. I'm not so quick to correct "mistakes" or clean things up as I used to be. Let the chips fall where they may so to speak.

Q. Which other artists do you particularly admire? Who is an inspiration for you?

The three painters I've had the chance to learn from in person are all still great inspiration to me – Randall Sexton, Timothy Horn, and Craig Nelson. All three of these excellent teachers still offer workshops, and if you ever get the chance, jump at it.

I also really like Kevin McPhearson's books. Both Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light and Color, and Landscape Painting - Inside and Out are great to have and refer to every now and again.

Q. Recently you said that you consider yourself “still a student.” Is there a particular milestone that you consider to be the point where you’ve “made it”?

I feel like I'm still doing a lot of experimentation in subject, style, technique etc. and don't feel like I've found my style yet. Of course, this may not happen they way I've imagined it, but every now and then I get a feeling after completing a piece, a feeling that it's just where I want it to be. We'll see.

Q. Your father is also a well-known painter. Did he teach you anything? Have you ever collaborated?

We are in a state of healthy competition, but he's got a head start. Seriously, he has always been a source of inspiration and encouragement in following the creative muse. He lives in Sonoma so I go up there to paint as much as I can. One of the things I like best about painting with other people is to see how differently we all see and choose to render the same scene, and to see what things we have in common – our struggles and successes. We'll help each other out with suggestions, but I can't imagine collaboration on the same piece. I've read of couples that complete each other's paintings, but I can't imagine doing it myself.

Q. How do you market your art? What is your advice for someone new to selling?

I never thought I'd be marketing my art until I did finally hit my stride, perhaps years from now. However someone took on the roll of my manager and set up two shows for me a few years back. And people bought paintings. I was shocked.

Then when the Daily Paintworks opened their doors to new members, I joined quickly and started listing recent work, setting a low price to just see what response it would generate. Again, shocked to find out total strangers from hundreds of miles away were buying my paintings. And not just strangers, but other painters (as you well know). That really blew me away. Now that I'm over the shock, I'm trying just about any avenue I can to reach a larger audience. Blogging, naturally and more recently Pinterest, have now become part of my regular daily routine. I'm not sure I like sacrificing so much time to the online world, but is a lot easier than traveling all the time.

As to advice, I'd recommend all of the above. Basically try to maintain a consistent presence in the online world, and try to be where people look for art. The best crafted website is fairly useless if no one knows where to find it. Pinterest, Etsy, Ebay, Daily Paintworks etc. These are all places where active collectors go to look for art, these are the most likely places they will find you. Also participate in things like the Daily Paintworks Challenges. There's lots of online contests every week and not only do they add to your online presence, they actually are fun and often push you in directions you might not otherwise explore, and you get feedback from other painters.

Q. Do you know there’s a spider on your shoulder?

What! Wh-where?! Oh, THAT spider.

This is the one I bought.
You can view and purchase Gringo's artwork at his Daily Paintworks gallery.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Progress: Fish Factory 4

So after letting the last version sit for a day or two, I started having doubts about the values. It just didn't look right; overall too light in the mid-tones.

This is a good time for the aid of modern technology. I made a grey-scale version of the last progress photo I took (on the left), and compared it to my original value study (right):

Of course there were some differences in the lighting when I took the shot, and that sort of thing, but I can definitely see that my recent version is too light and without contrast.

Using this as a rough guideline, I darkened some areas and lightened others:

This is much closer; I think I can move on from here. My original study only used five shades, whereas I'm not limiting myself to that in the final painting. Still, I feel like this is more on track — darker overall, and more contrast between darkest and lightest values. There are a few questionable areas still, but I think I can compensate in the next iteration. I think that one light piling just-right of center is important to the composition; it's one of the brightest spots in the lower half, and it's sort of pointing you in to the areas of interest — it leads you up the stairs into that very dark doorway.

The great thing about working out the values ahead of time, is that when I go to paint the real colors, I can easily see if they are too dark or too light. If I put a dab of paint on the canvas, I can squint my eyes and tell if it blends in. If it does, the value is correct; if it doesn't, I need to try again.

That's why, if you get value correct, the color doesn't matter: you can make the sky green and the grass pink, if their relative values are right.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Glass Palette

It's Tippy Tuesday! A collection of tips I've gained through experience or stolen learned from other artists.

A glass palette works best for me - mostly because it's so easy to clean.

I've used those disposable paper palettes, and they're okay in a pinch, but when you need a clean space to mix and you still have blobs of fresh paint on the paper, you end up wasting a lot of paint trying to transfer it to a fresh sheet. And I've used wooden palettes, but I don't like the way they eventually take on the colors of the paint. They never get clean. Although, I have to admit, like a cast-iron pan, they work very well with the proper maintenance.

Whether you use oils or acrylics, whether the paint is fresh or has dried, you can scrape it off a glass palette with a razor knife. Wipe it with a little OMS or turpentine to loosen up any stubborn flecks, and voilĂ , good as new.

The palette I use is 11x14 inches. It has a white backing, so there's a clean surface behind it, instead of seeing through the glass to whatever lies beneath. I put a piece of cardboard behind it as well, for a little cushioning.

<- See that broad palette knife in the upper left? I never use that. Too small, too flimsy, not a straight enough edge for scraping paint. I use the razor knife on the right side there.

Update: since I wrote this, I've changed my routine a little. I remove the white backing from the glass palette, and put a neutral gray backing behind it (a sheet of disposable paper palette). That way I can really judge whether a color is "light" or  "dark" by contrasting it with the background.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Carnival: The Aftermath

I'd love to hear your thoughts about the Carnival — suggestions, complaints, what worked, what didn't, etc.

I'm planning one for August 1. I've got several ideas for the topic, but if you have suggestions please post them.

Some other questions:

Did we have the right amount of artists participating? More or fewer?

Should we have a consistent graphic for the carnival? Sarah S. made one up quickly, and in the excitement I forgot to include it. Sarah, are you interested in developing that further?

Did anyone have problems with the code? I made it as plug-and-play as possible because we have all levels of blogging experience in the Carnival, and not everyone was comfortable with draft posts and links. I figured anyone who is, can customize as they see fit.

Would you prefer the links go to your home page, or directly to your carnival post?

I know I sent out a LOT of emails and I apologize for flooding everyone. Next time will be simpler, now that we've all been through it.

Thanks again, and please let me know your ideas! 

End of the Rainbow

5" x 7", oil on hardboard

This is a field in Waynesboro, VA, looking across the street from my friend's home. There are some huge fields and cows, and a barn or two. On this summer evening, the sun was so low that it wasn't touching many things, but everywhere it did touch glowed gold and yellow and orange.
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