BACCA workshop with Michael Klein

"Every worthwhile art movement supports and encourages it's members to become better at what they do." - quote from Michael Klein.

This summer I have been very busy taking a Maya modeling class while I am also working on a personal project. Although most of the work I've been doing involves staring into my computer screen for most of the day, when I heard artist Michael Klein would be teaching a floral still life workshop at the Bay Area Classical Artist Atelier, otherwise known as BACCA, I jumped at the chance. 

Here are just a few examples of Michael Klein's work, focusing on his florals. His work encompasses figures, still lives, and semi-narrative pieces, all done in a painting manner that brings the spirit of the subject to life with energetic, yet carefully planned brushwork. Much more of Klein's work can be seen on his website:

I love the textures and depth that he paints in his floral arrangements. They remind me a little of Fantin Latour florals while still being all his own.

 Michael Klein's progress shot from his blog on his website. GORGEOUS!

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BACCA

The Bay Area Classic Artists Atelier is a wonderful traditional 19th century atelier right in the midst of an industrial park very near to Silicon Valley in San Carlos, California. The studio itself, run by tireless founder Linda Dulaney and a few dedicated studio hands, was comfortable to work in, providing taborets to store our supplies during the week, daily snacks, coffee, and relevant reading material on hand.

The atelier has a wide array of on-going workshops, courses and a once a week open studio with a model. During Michael Klein's floral painting workshop, next door in the adjoining studio, Dan Thompson was conducting a gross anatomy course with afternoon visits to Stanford's lab to study from a real specimen. I loved that there was a lot of great art on the walls that was not only Linda's, but also artists who have taught there, including great anatomy breakdowns on big sheets of butcher paper. Inspiring!

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WORKSHOP NOTES

Materials 

Michael Klein provided us with an interesting palette of colors and arrangement I have not seen before now with lead white or titanium white in between his yellow and orange hues. Interestingly, he begins his arrangement with Viridian. Omitting Cadmium Red, he instead included Cadmium Orange. He also includes Ivory Black on his palette. Just past Ivory Black, low saturated colors sit towards the end of the palette arrangement with Raw and Burnt Umber. Colors are as follows in this arrangement:

Old Holland Viridian Green Deep
Michael Harding Raw Sienna
W and N Yellow Ochre Pale
W and N Cadmium Yellow Pale
Rublev Lead White no. 2
OH Cad. Orange
W and N Burnt Sienna
W and N Perm. Alizarin Crimson
OH Quincinadrone Magenta
W and N Cobalt Violet
W and N Cobalt Blue
OH Ultramarine Blue
OH Ivory Black
OH Raw Umber
OH Burnt Umber

Mediums used were simply Gamsol for cleaning brushes, which he uses mostly on the first day to thin down the paint a little if it's too thick or sticky. After day one, he uses a widely known mixture known as "fat medium", equal parts linseed oil plus damar varnish. In later stages of his paintings, he makes use of Rublev Oleogel to thicken up paint strokes and add texture. Paint rags were Viva paper towels.


I did not have Oleogel for the class, so Michael gave me a tiny smidgen to test out. The gel is used for glazing, but also for adding body and flow to the oil paint on top layers. It is truly amazing stuff. I ordered a big vat of it along with the lead white. Michael noted that with Lead White he will sometimes mix it with a few drops of walnut oil to loosen up the stiff mixture. (He also uses stack white from Rublev to create texture, although he wasn't using it in this workshop.)

Surface and Easel: Like many painters lately, Michael Klein paints on dibond, an inexpensive but very durable metal composite that is easy to order. It comes in one big sheet that arrives with a light primer on top, which he sands and then cuts into smaller pieces, after which he applies either gesso or lead gesso on top. Dibond sheets are easy to cut with a box cutter, which you can use to make scores and then break off into smaller sizes. Also, since the sheets are magnetic, they work really well with the magnetized holding mechanism of the Edge Pro pochade box, which he was using with a tripod. (I have one as well - it's very durable and sleek, although I can't recommend it for carrying around on long hikes because of the weight.)

Brushes: In our workshop, Michael Klein mostly used synthetic rounds. Rosemary and Company will be soon making a custom set of Michael Klein brushes which come with short handles and a pink rosey color he designed specifically for floral painting. I will definitely order a set!


Michael's custom brush set right under that tube of paint. 


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Process

Each of the four days of Michael Klein's workshop, he worked on a painting demo. He typically spends about 3-4 days working on a floral still life.

Mixed in with his natural flowers were two artificial flowers, which he doesn't like to use but did for this class. He noted that when flower companies make good quality artificial flowers, they mimic natural color patterns of the flower, like spray painting the joints of the stems and leaves with a little brownish overlay instead of one uniform green and will also boost saturation of petals. When using artificial flowers, you will need to understand the methods that manufacturers use to make their flowers appear real and compensate by using your observation and knowledge of real flowers. However, use real flowers whenever possible.



Michael's demo from the first day, pictured above. He explained that when it comes to floral paintings he usually spends the first day blocking in the first half, the second day the second half, third and fourth day for finishing and adjusting. Although he used to spend a lot of time making a detailed line drawing, which he then transferred to canvas, he no longer uses that method. These days he instead dives in with a block in of basic shapes, starting with the background area as a foil against the larger shapes and green leaves that typically sit underneath the main forms of the flowers. He sometimes uses a very soft fan brush to lightly brush over the background to knock down some edges and to avoid glare on the surface. He also noted that he tends to work from the center out, working on each shape one at a time.


My initial block in, above. Michael thought my background color was too far into the brown/warm tones so I worked on adjusting that the next day. I had been thinking I would warm up the cool ivory black background to be more warm, but he felt I should stick to the truth of what was in front of me because of the reflected light that worked into the flowers, especially the yellows. 

On the second day, after watching more progress on Michael's demo, I made color adjustments to the background, after which I spent a lot of my time making drawing adjustments in order to get the shape relationships to balance a bit better. Unfortunately, it was then that I noticed I placed everything too far to the left of the canvas. Michael told me I could emphasize the atmosphere in the background to compensate. Using light as an element of composition is always a plus, in my book. 

End of the second day I got most of the big areas in, adjusting drawing, color and value.

When I came in the on our third day, I was disappointed to find that almost the entire black background had sunk in, making the paint appear a dull lifeless black! Ugh! That might be ok in some situations, but in this case it really dulled out the color and made the flowers themselves look terrible. Michael explained to our class that sinking in happens when you paint over a dried layer of paint with no medium, which is why using some medium in subsequent layers is necessary. Sinking in can be fixed by either repainting or using spray touch varnish, which I couldn't use in this case because I would be painting all day and couldn't wait for the areas to dry. After some touching up and repainting, I realized I had lost the gesture and luminosity of the initial block in, which is so key to making florals feel fresh. A serious downer, but I pressed on. (incidentally, if I were at home working on this, it would be at this point I'd quit and start over)

You can see the sunken in areas especially in the black passages. The color here was completely painted over in order to correct the hues, but instead of remaining luminous, it flatted out and sunk into the canvas, creating a dullness. Yuk yuk yuk!!!

As for overpainting on a dry surface that already has oil paint, Michael explained that if you cut into paint with more turp (gamsol), the painting will crack, which is one reason, along with sinking in, that using a medium is necessary at this point. (In fact I have seen this happen in some of my own older floral paintings, a few of which I will not sell because of the cracking.) He likes to use linseed oil mixed with equal parts of damar varnish (a similar mixture "fat medium" that I've used in other classes). This along with Oleogel should be sufficient. It is OK to continue to clean brushes with gamsol, just as long as you don't cut the gamsol into your paint mixtures to thin down paint. (Don't panic if a few drops inevitably get in there, though!) A hard lesson to learn, but I will probably never forget...


After fixing what I could in the background, adding some light coming from the upper right, I pressed on, mainly working on the color relationships between the yellow flowers, and the white ones to the right. 

Michael had an interesting side demo (below) on the paint effects that can be had by layering pigments. For instance, the neutral warm background color, when brushed or scrubbed into the surface, appears warm. When that very same color is lightly scumbled over the same, but thinner color, it appears to be cooler. How awesome is that? Also, he layered on thicker colors like a basic warm burnt sienna/ultramarine blue mixture that serves well for green shadows and then worked up to a floral orange hue to show the depth that can be created with these particular mixtures. 


As for color mixing in general, he explained that he doesn't like to overmix his colors on the palette, but instead "loosely" mixes, keeping a bit of each original color separate, so that when the colors move on to the brush and then the painting, a light effect mixes them in our eyes, producing a color vibration. This is a technique I've seen before and used myself, especially with pastel paintings, and also have read about. Golden aged Illustrator Haddon Sundblom's painting method included using two pure colors on one brush to create a mixture directly on the canvas. I'm not sure if this method is an innovation by the Impressionists, but the idea of vibrating color via broken color and paint layers feels impressionist to me. 

Also, regarding color mixing on the palette, Michael encouraged everyone to create a "puddle of color" that is essentially a color portrait of the thing you are painting, otherwise you will end up with a lot of muddled color. My own tendency to dance around the palette with all sorts of mixtures usually leads to confusion at times, which I need to work on correcting. He does not create "strings" of color on the palette, instead he creates the middle hue, shadow and light hues all in one puddle.



During his demo, he spoke a bit about using a combo of observation vs. knowledge of form. He explained that Jacob Collins emphasized a thorough understanding of form and how light moves across it, and it was when he finally understood what that meant, that he finally made some breakthroughs in his work. He went on to explain that after painting the initial gesture on the first day, he will start thinking about what he knows about how light reacts on the surface of particular forms. Often, he will not look at the still life but instead focus on the object being painted, paying attention to the direction of the light source and modeling the form so that it reads clearly while still maintaining the beauty of the still life. 



This becomes particularly necessary when painting subjects like flowers, which change each day. When asked about his atelier training compared to how he paints now, he explained that in his current work, he is now concerned with evoking a mood or a feeling rather than rendering every bit of the subject in front of him, trying to find that balance between the truthful statement vs. gesture. 

For form painting demos, Michael recommended the excellent form painting lessons by fellow Grand Central graduate, Scott Waddell. I've seen all of Scott's videos and they are indeed incredibly useful.

My final painting, which I've cropped to make a more attractive composition.

On the fourth and final day, Michael helped me at the end make some value relationship adjustments and talked with me about editing to the highlight, which did not serve the overall painting as it was too eye catching and distracted from the main subject. His emphasis throughout the workshop was always on the final, poetic statement rather than a 1:1 rendering of the subject, which I agree with wholeheartedly.

Michael Klein's finished four day demo.

During his demo on the fourth day, he spent some time working again on the main white rose, making shifts to it because it had opened more fully than it was a few days earlier. Rather than repainting it entirely or making too many drawing adjustments, he simply added to it, explaining that he liked that the new additions added more variety to the painting.

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Is it Alla Prima?

I think over the years that the term Alla Prima has become overused and misunderstood. Alla Prima is strictly a one session painting. That session might last a full 12 hour day, sure, but it is always one session, wet into wet. This came up because I think, generally speaking, people tend to assume that any painting that has a looseness to it is an Alla Prima statement. I asked Michael if his paintings are not AP, what are they? His answer was simple, they are just paintings! 

On a personal note, when I was first introduced to oil painting as an 18 year old art student at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and then at the Palette and Chisel where Richard Schmid and many other amazing artists were painting, I fell in love with what the medium could achieve and the promise of what I might be able to as well. I had never seen paint become so intriguing; sketchy, energetic brushwork that came together in harmony to represent everyday things like portraits and figures, still life, and animals with rich color and layers of texture. That is where I first heard the term Alla Prima, the painting approach that Richard Schmid popularized throughout the 80's and 90's and especially with the release of his book, Alla Prima. 


1993, I think. I believe this was a four hour demo. I mainly remember being so stunned at how quickly he was able get down rich color juxtaposed against greys in the white objects - and especially how loose and sketchy it all was. 


Of all those years, this unfortunately blurry photo along with the one above are all I took of the actual man. The majority of my photos taken were of actual works hanging on the walls in revolving shows, auctions or works in progress. I'm still kicking myself for taking these blurry photos! 

As much as I love a good Alla Prima sketch, my question has always been the same, how can I maintain the look of an Alla Prima sketch but work on it for multiple days without losing that fresh brushwork? Often, when I worked on a painting more than one day, many of the problems I encountered in this workshop were similar - sinking in, dry cracking paint, or thick paint that just looked dull and lifeless, overworked, over rendered, boring. I've always admired painters that are able to maintain a fresh feel in their longer pieces, giving the impression that the work was painted quickly and effortlessly. It was a pleasure to finally meet Michael Klein and get to chat with him about various ways to strategize and plan a painting to create a mood, a visual poetry, throughout a longer, more elaborate work. What a great experience, one that I will keep close throughout my new paintings.

Note: My next several updates will be a switch back to digital work for a personal project I am working on. Entirely different, and yet so many of the core concepts overlap one another. 

Thanks for reading!

A Couple of Plein Air Digital Paintings

For awhile now, I've been trying to come up with an easier take-with-me-everywhere method of plein air sketching. I have full plein air kits for pastels, oil and watercolor, but often I find that even though I keep one of these kits in the trunk of my car, I usually don't feel inclined to bring it all in to a restaurant, coffee shop or on an afternoon trip downtown. I wanted something MUCH more lightweight and accessible - and the iPad has been it.

Here is a sketch from a recent day trip to the ferry building in San Francisco, a busy tourist-heavy area of the city. 

My main objective with iPad sketching is to mimic plein air oil paint using the alla prima technique, direct painting, as opposed to more labor intense methods. The idea is to work quickly on site and get it all down in about an hour or so of working. That means everything from gesture, composition, hue, value relationships and light relationships.

About the hardware: I have yet to find a stylus I am completely comfortable with; I am currently using the Wacom Creative Stylus. I am not keen on recommending it, however, because it feels like painting with a giant crayon. I unfortunately purchased the Wacom Creative Stylus 2 and found afterwards that it is not compatible with many painting apps, including Procreate. A few friends have given good reviews of the Jot Adonit Stylus, which is far cheaper and compatible with a lot of apps. 

In the Procreate app, I created a set of swatches in the color picker that are the standard colors of my basic oil painting palette, plus a few white convenience colors so that I don't have to constantly mix the same color over and over. Using these swatches helped me in getting a similar look to traditional paintings, although I think I could still fine tune the set. 

In addition to that, I am still trying to refine my brushes to find a working method that mimics traditional brushes. Procreate provides a set of brushes that you can then customize, but  I have yet to find some that are to my liking.

My Latest Studio Work/Progress on Final Color Pass

First session after finishing the initial color block in stage. I spent most of this session looking at the value relationships between the white of the vase (which was really a very warm-grey), the white of the board the entire set up is sitting on, the white of the flowers and the white of the butterfly. I spent a good deal of time in this session comparing between the four white areas, trying to see what the difference between them was. 

 I focused first on the flowers. In the first color block in, I felt that the shadow areas were getting a little too dark and muddy, when what I wanted was luminous colors even in the shadow areas. I painted over all of the shadow areas of the flowers and strengthened the white areas. I also pumped up the contrast on the yellow flower stamens.

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Second session of the final color pass:

The focus of this session was on the butterfly held up by twine. The butterfly is made of white feathers, paper mache in the body, and has iridescent glitter all over the wings, making it a difficult challenge.

Sadie suggested that instead of painting each and every little dot of glitter, that I paint large swaths of blurry color - the shapes of the areas instead of pieces. I also remembered a passage in James Gurney's book, "Color and Light" about painting scales on a dinosaur. Instead of painting all of the texture everywhere, he recommended only painting the texture in the light, and especially in the highlighted area. As the textures moves into less illuminated areas of the form, it will become less and less apparent to the eye.

This was as far as I chose to push the glittery iridescent areas of the butterfly. In the next few sessions during the final pass I will revisit both the glitter areas and the string. 

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Third session of the final color pass:

I spent almost this entire session working on the pattern on the vase and the color shifts in the shadow areas of the white areas in the vase. 

I often struggle painting white objects. As I am observing the scene in front of me, I can clearly see the light area vs. the shadow side. But when I've sat and observed these same objects over a long period, like today's five hour session, my eyes begin to pick up the subtle hue shifts, bounce colors and variation in the value. 

In the past when I'd worked in the alla prima method (direct wet on wet painting) I would just simplify these areas for the sake of turning the form, with the brush work always on stage, so to speak. The Flemish indirect method, on the other hand, provides the opportunity to get the subtle variance of the light on the form by building up layers and layers of paint. With layering, you can push and pull areas into and out of focus, glaze areas, and continue to soften or sharpen edges endlessly. All of this makes it challenging to make decisions. I've resigned to working out the "mood" of each area in relation to the whole piece.

For the final finishing details in the next 2-3 sessions, I plan to work on the gradient of the blue-green in the  background. Working over many sessions, the color in the background has begun to creep a little. Some areas are not matching previously painted areas. That happens because each session I am working on a specific area and need to mix up the surrounding background paint color so that I can soften the edges.

In the next few sessions, I will work on smoothing out the hue shift and the shadow areas so that it is a little more harmonious. I might also make the green-blue a little more saturated. The flowers still have a few textures and details that are not yet depicted, and the glitter on the butterfly is not quite there yet. Last but not least, the pattern on the vase…is it too dark? I will most likely add a light glaze of vase color on top of the pattern in the center so that it does not call itself to attention so much.

Thanks for reading!

Latest Studio Painting/1st Color Pass Finished

Sunday is my painting day. I paint from about 10 am until 4 pm, using that time as efficiently as I can. I put on my headphones, crank up the latest history lecture I've been absorbed in, and paint. My painting space currently is one of the still life stations at Sadie Valeri's Atelier, which has excellent light and overall great art vibes. I really enjoy watching new students learn and go through similar trials and tribulations I went through as an art student. The dedication and determination is so concentrated that it permeates the air and makes me feel motivated all week long. It is an experience I feel fortunate to be a part of. 


This past week I finally finished the first color pass on my latest still life painting. This pass is about establishing the main color relationships in general terms rather than details. At this point, I will go into the fine details and creating areas of focus.  Below is a series of process images from the closed grisaille state into the 1st pass color stage.


The finished closed grisaille, the 2nd underpainting that establishes a full value range. Although as an alla prima painter by training I've never separated out the value stages in this way, I've found that painting the grisaille has enhanced my understanding of how deeply value relationships are tied to color. 


Beginnings of the color pass. There is a subtle range of color going on in the light areas of the flowers. Instead of focusing on those colors, I've painted them pure white in this first color pass. 


 In this stage I am also focusing a lot on the edges of things, making edges very blurry instead of sharp in any one area.


The details on the vase are painted very softly on purpose. Later when I work on the final color pass, I will sharpen up the detail where needed, including the highlight area which falls over the flower details of the vase.


Notice how blurry the edges are all around the subject. In fact, I probably should have painted them even softer. 


After the flowers and vase hues were painted, I began working on the hue shift in the background area from the bottom left up toward the top right. This is not necessarily a smooth transition in the actual set up, but an improvement in the light pattern that I felt worked better for the composition than what is actually happening in reality.


As I moved toward the butterfly and the shadow underneath it, I roughed in the color in very simple terms making sure to leave the edges extremely soft. The tricky part of this area is going to be the glittery, shimmery surface of the wings, which are feathers that have glitter applied to them. Instead of painting all of that detail, I just noted general colors and made the upper right area pure white.


The finished butterfly. I sharpened up a couple of areas in the light, but left the rest very soft.


The finished first color pass. As you can see the background gradient is still quite rough, as are patches in the vase and flowers. All of this will be addressed in the next stage as I refine the painting.

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Meditations on Still Life Painting


 The subject matter in my painting is a little odd, I know. When I set it up, I had been thinking about the fantastic dioramas in the Chicago Field Museum and thought I'd try recreating that feeling of an artificially arranged environment. Instead of using real flowers in my set up, I crafted paper flowers which I dipped in wax to preserve their shapes. Likewise, the feather butterfly is not a real preserved butterfly, but is instead crafted. I chose to show the way I set up the still life by including the string, clothes pin and tape so that the viewer knows this is a set up and is not real.

As a modern viewer of any still life painting, the audience knows that the subject has been set up by the artist, every detail carefully composed, including the direction of the light. We have a relationship to narrative painting that is different than it was in the past.

Dioramas from the Field Museum in Chicago. Taxidermy animals displayed in an artificial environment  made to look real, depicting a certain narrative of a scene that might have occurred in real life. The images in the far background are realistically painted murals. The foliage and tree branches are silk, wood and painted plaster.


Originally, still life arrangements were not seen with the same eye as we see them now. Natural History dioramas and still life paintings were similar in that they were narrative arrangements that represented a story to the viewer about something not widely known about the world, like animals on the plains of Africa or they were representative of religious beliefs or values like in many of the Flemish still life paintings of the 16th century. Viewing these depictions in our modern era, we know more about these subjects due to availability of travel, familiarity brought to us by stories told in film, the wide use of photography in remote places, and globalization via the internet. As a result, the still life in the traditional sense now holds less importance to us as an informative vehicle than it has been in the past. 


And yet, I am an artist in this modern age who has a desire to paint elaborate and narrative depictions in the still life format, creating the cart before the horse, so to speak. I wonder if in our modern era the tradition of still life painting can bring to us something of equal value or perhaps something new and different. It is a question I am thinking about a lot as I work on this painting. 

Latest Tree Studies

These days my life is pretty busy. While I have a few long term projects I'd love to finish (my unfinished/unpainted animation collaborative assignments mostly), they have been put on hold for a few months. At work I am concepting on a new game in development, which is a lot of fun, but also often means a 24 hour turn around on visualizing an idea. I've worked late nights and weekends for about a month now, leaving very little time for any personal projects. So for now its back to my very long term and much more slow paced relaxing art project, tree studies.

All of these I usually create in about 1-2 hours. They are all in places about town, usually areas where my boyfriend Jamie Baker and I can sit comfortably away from too many people. We've been to Golden Gate park, the Presidio, Stern Grove and Lake Merced. We even went on a trip down to Palo Alto where I work and did a tree study in the parking lot one Saturday. Fun times!

Here is my latest batch.



Palm trees in the Presidio. It was a bright sunny day. We set up camp right across from the Disney Family Museum - a great place!



Ok, so this is not exactly a tree study. I painted this in oil, a medium I haven't used outside for awhile. I think the darks in this are too rich. I'm working on keeping them a little more luminous.



pastel study of some redwoods in Stern Grove. 



Another oil study of some buildings in the Presidio. If you aren't familiar, it is a former military base located right next to the Golden Gate bridge. Quite a spectacular base, certainly gives West Point a run for its money!



Little palm right next to the DeYoung museum in Golden Gate park. Pastel study.


A quick oil study of a huge palm on the manicured lawn of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. 


This is a grouping of trees in the parking lot where I work, Disney Interactive, in Palo Alto. I think the red tree might be a Japanese Maple, but I'm not certain. It was difficult to paint since I only have a couple of red pastels in my kit. Probably will get a few more soon.

I am also working on Sundays on a long term more tightly rendered still life painting, which I posted about below. Hopefully in the next few weeks I'll be far enough along to post some progress shots. 

Thanks for stopping by!

New Studio Painting In Progress

A few years back, I started taking classes at the fantastic crafting store in Berkley, Castle in the Air, where I met the most wonderful artist, Ulla Milbrath. Up until then I had mostly been working as an illustrator in games in the bay area, and was feeling quite isolated in my home office. After I was divorced in 2007, I told myself enough was enough; I decided to step out into the world again and start making connections back to the things that I truly love - not for the sake of my career or becoming anyone important in the arts, but for myself, my soul, and my own love of crafting fine things that bring me joy. 

When I was growing up my mother was always making something or other. One of my earliest memories is of my mom crocheting snowflake ornaments for our Christmas tree. If she wasn't making new ornaments for our tree, she was sewing my and my sister's wardrobes, making dolls and doll clothes for us, making all sorts of decorations and whimsical creations for the many houses we moved into as a nomadic military family. Almost every toy and piece of clothing that I wore growing up was made by my mom. 

So I started taking crafting classes and eventually stumbled into Ulla Milbrath's classes where I learned to make paper flowers. Ulla is one of the most wonderful and inspiring artists I know! She is incredibly inventive and creative, and stitches the most lovely things you can possibly imagine. She even paints on porcelain! You must check out her blog and be sure especially to follow her Pinterest account where she posts the most amazing reference material. 



Some of the flowers I made in her classes. I've since become quite obsessed with paper flower making. They are also a fantastic way to study botanical subjects.



Paper flower making was a popular past time in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. Botany at the time was all the rage as people became interested in plants from around the world and learned about classification of various species.  



Having lots of flowers around the house I had been wondering if it might be possible to compose them in a still life. I was thinking however that I wouldn't want them to be merely props for real flowers, but intentionally composed so that it is understood that they are crafted flowers. I played around a lot with this set up. I even included lots of other things at one point like scissors and glue, but took them out in the end because I preferred the look to be a little more subtle, kind of like a diorama.



The above monochrome is the open grisaille, the first pass underpainting. Below is the start of the closed grisaille, which ended up a terrible disaster...



I started this grisaille with a new tube of Michael Harding Titanium White no. 1. While I was painting I noticed the quality of the paint seemed thin and somewhat odd. I got as far as I could in one day. When I came back one full week later I found that 100% of all of the white areas of the painting were still very wet AND several of the half tones in the gradients were far darker and patchy than I painted them. On close inspection, I narrowed down that it was the white paint I'd purchased which was ground in safflower oil as opposed to linseed oil. When the manufacturer was contacted, he assured me there was nothing faulty in the paint and that it must be something wrong with my process… 

I decided to make the tough decision to wipe off all of the white paint that I could, feeling that it was obviously unstable paint. I did not want to risk this paint pulling up subsequent layers in the future layers.



I wiped off all the paint and found strange patchy areas underneath. 



So then I decided to sand to make sure there was no white paint left and a more even surface.



I waited a little more than a week, came back and found my painting was dry enough to repaint the grisaille again, this time using my old classic Vasari titanium white (along with burnt umber and a tiny bit of ult blue). 

The next stage will be COLOR. For this little painting I'm going to do a one day alla prima color study so that I can work out the subtle whites and reflected light in the composition. After that I will move forward with the final.



This year has been my 20th year of working as a professional artist. I am in the midst of completely redesigning my website, updating it with new art from this entire past year and a half at my job as Art Director at Disney Interactive. I have a lot of new work to share and will do so as soon as I can! I also have quite a few more tree studies to share soon.

Thanks for visiting! 

Found in the Minarets, Sierra Pack Trip

Earlier this month, I went on a fantastic six day painting adventure with artist friends

Bill Cone,

Paul Kratter,

Ernesto Nemesio,

Michele DeBraganca,

Jeff Horn,

Eric Merrell and

Sergio Lopez

to the Eastern Sierras - John Muir-Edgar Payne country. It was precisely the kind of uninterrupted painting time I so yearn for but don't very often get. 

Lake Ediza was our destination, a steep hike up from about 7,000 feet to around 10,000 at the lake. As we hiked up from the Agnew Meadows pack station where we dropped off our gear for the mules to carry up, I was floored by the incredible views along the rocky trail as I breathlessly made my way up slower than my group, despite the conditioning/training I did a few months before the trip.

Lundman_muletrain

Our mule train arriving after a long hike up to Lake Ediza. Eric Merrell on the far right on top of a boulder.

Lundman_tentatEdizacamp

I set up my tent just under a tree, situated rather close to our cook's food storage/prep area due to the view of the Minarets from my tent. Given that we had a 4:00 am bear visit to the camp site, I think in the future I'd place my tent much farther away from the food source. I'm sure the view was just as magnificent a little further away.

Lundman_Minaretsviewtent

Zipping down the front flap to my tent each morning gave me the most amazing view! I did a few little pencil sketches from my tent in the mornings but mostly sipped coffee while staring at the mountains and feeling like all was right with the world. Probably not the most efficient use of my painting time, but deeply enjoyable nonetheless.

Before I went on the trip I planned out how I would approach the week of painting. I intended to sketch out a couple of long shots, a few medium and a couple of close up intimate scenes so that I could create a portrait of the area from large scale to the very small.

What I hadn't counted on though was how much the altitude seemed to factor into my experience within the first 24-48 hours. After we got up to Lake Ediza from a long and difficult climb up to almost 10,000 feet elevation, I found that even after a long rest and some water that my heart was beating quite fast. I tried my best to ignore it, but my worry distracted me and I didn't paint very well the first day.

Lundman_oilsketchnewkit

After the first 24 or so hours, my heart slowed to it's usual pace and I felt pretty comfortable. Still, I decided to stay close to camp to further acclimate to the elevation. While my camp mates were hiking up steep terrain in pursuit of painting gargantuan landscapes, I crawled along a stream bed close by looking for miniature wildflower compositions.

Lundman_wildflowerstudy1

I attempted several minute scenes, but these two are my favorites of the lot. Most of these tiny compositions were along stream banks underneath tree growth bathed in beautiful cool sunlight with reflected light bouncing in and deep warm shadows. The pastel set I brought did not have a yellow that was as bright and pure as the yellow I saw in the light, so I tried my best to layer a few colors together and tried adding some transition color along the edges in order to brighten the color.

Lundman_wildflowerstudy2

I also had some fun playing with the outside edges of the compositions, layering blue and accenting the edges with an emerald green. These little compositions reminded me a lot of the kind of watercolor paintings I did a lot of in my 20's. I would really like to get some hot press watercolor paper and do some more of these little flower studies. 

In keeping my goals, I decided to venture further away from camp in order to attempt a long shot landscape. I found a bank of trees at the opposite end of Ediza near to where we hiked in and made myself comfortable by the lake shore in a shady spot. I always enjoy large view paintings but do find them daunting at times. Part of the reason for this is probably technical on my part; I feel the need to hang out in one area until I get the entire area correct in terms of value, hue, and saturation before moving on to anything else. This I am sure is due in part to the lessons I learned early on at the Palette and Chisel via Richard Schmid, who often lectured about the importance of getting everything correct within the focal point first. It is entirely possible that I misunderstood his point, but still, there it is, imprinted on my art mind forever and the way I've approached painting since I was 19.

Bill must have wondered what the heck was going on because at one point he came up to me and said, "Commit Julia! Commit!" I had to laugh because I knew exactly what he meant. From that point on I told myself over and over, "stop the bullshit and lay in some more color!!!" I did find it helpful to stop lingering as much as I was in my focal point and get some more color down.

Lundman_sketch1
Lundman_treegroupingLakeEdiza

What attracted to me to this grouping of trees was the deep shadow within the bank of trees at the bottom. I liked the way the shape looked and liked how it was juxtaposed against warm and cool greens in the light. I'm not sure this photograph picked up the variety of color in the shadow very well, unfortunately.

Also, while I painted the mountain in the far distance behind the bank of evergreens, I noticed that the colors were muted variations of reds and greens, a color scheme I saw near the foothills of Zion National Park in Southern Utah. I wondered if these mountains have some of the same elements.

Switching to oil, I wanted to make a few studies of the light on rocks down by the water. I was attracted to the color in the shadows on the rocks - just jam packed with rich color that made it really fun to paint.

Lundman_rockfaceontheshoreofEdiza

However, this simple study was more challenging than it might look. I'd look down to mix up some color, look up, and all of the sudden the temperature in the light was completely different! I decided it was probably due in part to the reflection of the shimmering light coming off of the water from Lake Ediza. This one is also on Arches oil paper. I layered the paint thicker in this study to compensate for the absorbency of the paper which seemed to make my values at least a full value darker about ten minutes after I laid down the paint. 

I did another few studies of the Minarets but became frustrated with the oil paper.

 I think I'll switch back to my usual L219 new traditions panels for oil studies. 

Lundman_rockfaceEdiza

Switching back to pastels, I decided to turn around, move down the beach and paint a close up study of this rock face and shadow. The rock had a blue-grey local color and in the shadow side had some oxidization that made rich brown patterns along the cracks. The entire time I was painting the main deep shadow of the rock I could barely wait to paint in those wisps of grass in the light. When I finally put those little lights in, it was like going to the circus! 

Lundman_LakeEdizaview

I tried a longer view from across the lake. I had to work very quickly on this one since the shadow and reflected light was changing by the minute, it seemed. The triangle of shadow at the bottom was filled with cool deep greens while the shadows above had warm light bouncing into cool shadows.

The amazing thing about the Sierras, at least the Minarets and Lake Ediza, is the reflected light. I found it quite difficult to paint such bright bounce light in the shadows, always thinking to myself that no one would  believe my painting if I painted what I saw in front of me. It was challenging to keep the reflected light within a value range that was in keeping within the shadow while also trying to define form. I've always found rocks and boulders challenging more so than other subjects for this reason.

Lundman_RockSlab

I am so fortunate to have spent time amongst the Minarets with this band of talented mountain loving artists. What made it so deeply enjoyable was the kinship with fellow artists who were all equally enthusiastic about painting. As we sat around the dinner table while Kelly cooked we all talked about what we painted that day, the places we explored and the light we saw.

Lundman_Edizaatdusk

 The light at dusk was just stunning, absolutely my favorite lighting of all, the time of day when all of the color is blanketed in a blue grey bath. Apparently I wasn't the only one interested in this; right after dinner each night, Eric Merrell would begin to set up his pochade box for some nocturne sketching. He had an excellent night time set up with little led lights on his palette that were perfect for illumination and did not blow out the light when you looked up at the dark scene in the distance.

Lundman_EricMerrellnocturne

Eric painting around 9:00. Although you can't see it in this photo, the moon was quite bright, illuminating the landscape and flooding it with warm and cool grey light.

I attempted a nocturne, but quickly learned that in order to do it well I needed a much better lighting set up. Every time I looked down at my palette with my headlamp to locate a color I wanted, I would look up and find my eyes completely unadjusted to the light making everything in sight a giant silhouette. I tried using a dim book light on my palette instead which was an improvement, but then had problems locating the colors I wanted to use. Below is my result, for better or worse. 

However, I did indeed learn A LOT by making the attempt. Not only would I come with tiny LED lights like Eric's, but I'd lay out a limited palette ahead of time full of cool blues, neutral greys, and even warm greys and a few rich violets too. 

The sky was so rich, full of violet and ult blue. I also vividly remember a thin sliver of very warm yellow value 2 light on the outer lighted edge of the moon - very surprising since the rest of the moon looked cooler in the light. 

Lundman_nocturnesketch

Besides developing a nocturnal lighting obsession, I became completely enamored by the lighting around waterfalls that were close to our camp. These areas were typically surrounded by rocks that when wet became a deep brownish color, almost black in some areas. This looked really stunning against the white water washing down around them and the green patches of vegetation nearby.

Lundman_waterfallintoEdiza

I felt like one day's time was not enough to study this waterfall area. I really want to go back and spend a full week exploring the light and color of this incredible dynamic.

Lundman_waterfallsketching

Learning about Color


My first experience in learning anything at all about color was in making color charts at the American Academy of Art. I was pretty bummed at the time and wanted to just move ahead to painting, but looking back now, it was a perfect introduction. In mixing up charts we learned about how paint handles, what happens when one color interacts with another, and how value is related to chroma. After this, we went on to painting monotone samples for a while, then with limited palettes, and finally full color, usually assignments ranging from still life painting, illustration, and figure painting. We always used gouache to paint, with the exception of specialized classes like oil painting or watercolor where we always painted from the model.

However, the real break through for me came from constant practice during my years as a background painter of environments and color scripts at Calabash Animation in Chicago combined with observational painting in my home studio and the Palette and Chisel Art League where Richard Schmid painted.

For my background painting job, there were usually 7-12 imaginary landscapes and interior paintings per commercial that I had to plan out and paint. Because of the fine art curriculum I took in art school, we rarely worked from imagination. My only guess then as to how to make convincing paintings with no reference was to apply the principles I learned about in Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting, which I kept at my desk and referred to constantly. This forced upon me a need to truly understand the concepts of atmospheric perspective, the way color behaves while in a landscape, and other principles of lighting that cause changes on local color of objects. By working backwards, studying light and atmospheric perspective, I could then put those principles into practice on an imaginary stylized landscape.

 A Lucky Charms commercial pan background I painted in gouache on illustration board, approximately 3 ft. x 14" wide, around 1994

 However, just working from what I learned in Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting was not enough. I also pored through books of other artists' work, studying paintings very, very closely. If I had no ideas on color schemes for seemingly mundane things like pavement or boring interior walls, I'd look at how Disney background painters were handling these subjects - usually with interesting lighting, chroma and contrast and learned how lighting and color can be an important compositional element in directing the eye. I combed through book stores and the library to find painters who were working from imagination; I practically memorized every inch of James Gurney's Dinotopia book for examples of great color. 

"Lillies", 11x14, gouache on paper, 1992

But working from imagination alone, I believe, is not effective unless an artist works also from life. One tends to inform the other. During my years in Chicago, I regularly painted the still life, figures and portraits from life over at the Palette and Chisel, which helped me to develop a sense of how to mix paint, see color, simplify it, and apply it on canvas. I learned from Richard Schmid the principle of "cool light warm shadows, warm light cool shadows", something entirely new to me at the time. It was there that I learned how critical value relationships are to color, and how important it is to keep your color clean. Interestingly, I also learned from painting the figure and still life how it seems the majority of colors in any given subject seem to be more greyed down that I usually think at first, and how few really true high chroma colors are usually present.

Later on, when I needed to switch to painting in Photoshop at work, the Munsell Color System in the program gave me a way to visualize how connected the relationships are between hue, chroma, and value. 

After having these experiences, I believe that learning about color is not simply the study of one component like a color wheel or color charts. I believe it has to be a combination of methods plus a relentless pursuit in training your mind to see and translate color accurately. I am still learning and sharpening my color and values sense, and hope that by making another concerted push now in my life I might break through a plateau I've been experiencing the past few years. By documenting my experiences and writing down what I know plus reading new research and methods while also painting from life, I hope to make some improvements.

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Learning to Mix Color


Color mixing is one skill in a set of skills that an artist needs to develop for painting in color.

As stated earlier, the first time I ever mixed color was my first year in art school where we mixed color charts. Later, I made much more extensive charts on a recommendation that Richard Schmid made during a lecture at the Palette and Chisel. When he eventually wrote his book, Alla Prima, he included the exact same advice where you can find it to make your own charts. 

The purpose of making color charts is not so that you have "recipes" for mixing color. These charts are not meant to be short cuts, recipes or formulas for color.  At the time I made these I did not know what each oil color did when combined with another in the palette I was using. When I had problems remembering what, for instance, cadmium yellow deep did when combined with terra rosa, looking at these charts helped guide me. When I needed to figure out what color I was looking at in a still life, if I referred to these charts, it helped my eye understand what it was seeing in terms of chroma and value - usually I would mix that color up and go from there by adding a bit of a third. 

Lundman-colorchart-yellowsreds

Lundman-colorchart-redsblues

Going through the process of mixing colors for charts like this is important in learning many useful things about how to handle paint, how to physically mix it, apply it, manipulate it into values, observe what happens to it's temperature, and notice how important it is to keep it clean. Making charts like this is also useful when you add a new color to your base palette or for experimenting with a set of colors to find how it reacts with other colors in your palette. 

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Learning to Identify Color


Sometimes while I was first learning to paint, I used a small piece of white paper with holes punched in it. I would look through this piece of paper when I was stuck, aligning it with the color I was trying to identify. Very often I was surprised at what I found - a color that was either more grey, less saturated, and not at all what I thought it was. Often, I would mix up what I was seeing through the hole and put a small swatch up on the white piece of paper. I would keep doing this until I got the correct color.

To help visualize what I mean, I made up an example from a recent photograph I took. Although the water is somewhat greenish blue, it can be very difficult to identify specifically. Here, by calling out swatches, you can see just how green the water is and what it's value is. Our minds might tell us that the mountains in the distance covered with pine trees must be green, also, however by calling out the swatch, we can see that the hills are not green, but greyed blues.  


Screen shot 2012-08-14 at 3.36.17 PM
Since I was using Photoshop to make this example, I placed the color wheel there too so you can see where the green of the water is placed within that particular hue.

Isolating colors using a white card punched with a hole puncher can help break down the symbols of what our mind "thinks" it sees into what is actually there. Over time, this simple tool helped me to discover just how saturated or non-saturated a color might be. 

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Tools to Understand Color



After sifting through multiple websites, I finally found two excellent sites that explain color and how an artist uses it. Just about everything an artist needs to know about the physical properties of color and light can be found on these two sites.


Other tools that help visualize and explain how color works are demonstrated in chart form.  It is widely agreed within the realist painting community that the Munsell Color System is perhaps the most accurate way of understanding color and identifying it in context with other colors. The system identifies three terms: hue, chroma and value.

value: the black and white scale, brightness, how dark or light a subject is

hue:
the local color of the subject 

chroma: the degree of saturation or greyness of that local color



Another useful visualization of the Munsell Color System is the way that the program Adobe Photoshop represents it. Photoshop has an excellent color picker that brings up a color wheel. However, I prefer to use an enhanced extension called Magic Picker, an excellent color wheel for Photoshop used by many professional digital artists. If you have a copy of Photoshop, open up the program and experiment with painting swatches using the color wheel. Playing around with the sliders and adjusters really helped me see how color works using this system. This is the same chart depicted above, but represented differently.

Screen shot 2012-08-14 at 3.26.40 PM

Adobe published a technical guide regarding the Munsell Color System. You can find it HERE.

For further reading on the color wheel, read James Gurney's "The Color Wheel" series, Parts 1-7 on his blog, Gurneyjourney.blogspot.com. Gurney has a different but related approach culminating from his years of research on the color wheel. Excellent information, worth the read, including the comments.

Artist Graydon Parrish teaches a three week workshop in using the Munsell Color System at the Grand Central Art Academy in New York City each summer. The usefulness of learning the Munsell Color System is that it can help any artist identify any color, and use that color to depict anything he or she wishes. It is complex to understand at first, which requires some study and practice. I hope Graydon continues to teach - his classes are on the top of my list to attend!

Here is how Parrish describes the way he determines color in his paintings:

"What distinguishes my system is that I make strings of single chromas combined with single hues. I analyze what I am going to paint, find its notation, then mix up strings to cover the range. Reilly's method used cadmiums, way out of flesh range. A string of cad orange brought down with burnt umber/alizarin crimson shifts not only in value, but in hue and chroma as well, making it hard to predict. Reilly too recommended the addition of neutral greys to kill the chroma, but this causes the hues to shift as well. This is something Reilly never mentioned.

The above is just the beginning. One can analyze, then translate so many effects of nature into paint. I have a photo of a Bouguereau drawing where he had written the various colors of his model: green-grey, yellow-grey, rose-grey etc. With Munsell, the notations can be much closer. No more vague terms. (How much grey, for example, is in green-grey?) Its better to say 7.5 YR 6/3 or 7.5 R 5/4, for the average flesh and the ruddies. Then with mixing and planning, one can create an entire palette of Bouguereau flesh, for every change in value, and predict the rise and fall of chroma.

Likewise, Paris Hilton, could be studied and painted as well in all of her sun-tanned splendor. She is likely a chroma 5. When you then know where the chroma rises and where it falls, why some colors pull yellow in the lights and others don't, and how various transparent objects are more chromatic on the edges, then you have the beginning of an entire repertoire of visual phenomena from which to create." - quoted from the wetcanvas.com forums, HERE.

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How Color Behaves in it's Environment


In addition to studying the Munsell system, learning how to mix and identify color, it is critical to also understand the principles of light and how color is affected by it. Matching color in any given subject is an important skill in developing the eye to see color correctly and helps to determine your palette and pigment choices. However, also understanding the reasons that make color appear a certain way in a particular situation is equally as important.


The very best books I can recommend are:

 Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting

 Andrew Loomis, Creative Illustration

James Gurney, Color and Light

Richard Schmid, Alla Prima

Here is a summary of some important points I learned from these books about how light and color work together:
  • cool light produces warm shadows; warm light produces cool shadows. (Alla Prima)
  • the most saturated color in a particular area is at the transition between the light side and the dark shadow and also at edges of objects. (Color and Light)
  • Values in a landscape are often as depicted below, the source of the light, the sky, most often (even at night) being the lightest value in the landscape, the ground plane the second, slanting planes third, and upright planes usually the darkest. (Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting)
  • Value is the most important factor in a painting, with hue and chroma coming next. If values are correct, hue and chroma will still be able to read. (Color and Light)
  • a color will alter it's appearance depending upon the context of that color in the light or if other colors around it change. (Alla Prima, Color and Light)
  • the limitations of pigments prevent us from depicting the wide range of luminosity in the world around us, so we must make adjustments in order to get across an approximation of what we see. (Alla Prima, Color and Light)


page 34, Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting by John F. Carlson

In "Creative Illustration" by Andrew Loomis, he dedicates a chapter entirely to the great Howard Pyle. Loomis included this chapter in order to pass on directly, in print, information that was taken in note form during classes taught by Pyle regarding his general theory regarding light and color.

"All objects of nature are made visible to the sight by the light and of the sun shining upon them. The result is that by means of this we see the colors and textures of the various objects of nature.
From this it may be seen that color and texture are the property of light and that they do not enter the property of the shadow. For shadow is darkness and in the darkness there is neither form nor color.
Hence form and color belong distinctly to light. Shadow - as the object illuminated by the sun is more or less opaque, so when the light of the sun in obscured by that object, the shadow which results is more or less black and opaque, being illuminated only by the light reflected into it by surrounding objects.
By virtue of shadow all objects of nature assume form or shape, for if there were no shadow all would be a flat glare of light, color and texture...But when the shadow appears, the object takes form and shape.
If the edges of an object are rounded, then the edges of the shadow become softened; if the edges of an object are sharp, then the shadows is correspondingly acure. So, by means of the softness or sharpness of the solid object, is made manifest. 
Hence, it would follow that the province of shadow is to produce form and shape, and that in itself it possesses no power of conveying an impression of color or texture."
-Howard Pyle, as quoted by Andrew Loomis, Creative Illustration, pg. 136

I am honored to be featured in this video with so many talented painters I admire! Thank you to artist Michael Guilmet for putting this together!

My painting, Peonies, is the first image on the video. It was a painting I did after finding incredible inspiration at an ikebana flower show here in San Francisco. Later, I painted some similar peonies I saw at the show from life. I never sold the painting (or many others on my website) because I chose to stop showing my work in galleries for many reasons. I still keep the passion alive for alla prima painting while I explore other facets of interest. Will come back to it someday soon.

Here is a list of the artists featured (notably the late Jeffery Catherine Jones):
http://www.feastpaintings.com/


The Value Sphere, an exercise worth trying

I was reminded of how important rendering the sphere is when I took Sadie J. Valeri's two week painting workshop last January. Sadie had all of us render a sphere using graphite pencils on the first day of the workshop, and also as homework. Some of us rendered several by the end of the week. After the workshop ended I began some research on lighting conditions and thought I would share the details.


In lighting, there is a simple division between light and dark that is important to understand.
The term for this lighting effect is THE TERMINATOR. Regardless of whether you are interested in observational art or imaginary work, this simple lighting principle can be applied to great effect.
ValueSphere-lightdark

ValueSphere-Terminator

Once the terminator is indicated, there are several more effects to observe and understand, which I have indicated in the chart below. Many effects within the shadow can be observed, but does not necessarily mean they need to be rendered. Simplifying shadows into two values has a pleasant effect when rendering form because the eye does not dwell in the dark areas. Logic tells us that if the eye does not dwell there, then calling attention by over rendering shadows will break the believability of the form. That is not to say that the shadow areas are not important; they what hold a picture together (more on this concept in later posts):

ValueSphere-terms

I did this exercise with pencil two times, and then digitally in Photoshop. I found both very difficult and challenging in unique ways. I think my digital samples above, for instance, still need some work - and I will continue to try perfecting. I highly recommend doing both analog and digital; the traditional method helps build motor skills and sharpens the eye and digital is a good way to refine your wacom or cintiq skills. (I recommend using the soft airbrush at 30-50% opacity to build up tones)

1. BEFORE YOU BEGIN - traditional method: sharpen two graphite pencils, a 2H and H. Sharpen your pencils with an xacto blade taking off the woody part of the pencil and then use sandpaper to make a very very fine point. Use a pad of strathmore 400 lb paper with the cream surface, widely available in art supply stores (also great for drawing in general and also inexpensive). If doing this digitally, use the soft airbrush and follow these steps exactly using the smallest diameter of brush.

outline only-sphere

outline-sphere-terminator1

outline-sphere-fill1

sphere_rendered002

sphere_rendered001

Finished sphere can have a foil behind it and an edge indicating a horizon line for a sense of place. Do this exercise more than once or twice! I have seen a noticeable improvement in my drawing/painting skills since having incorporated this exercise into my routine. There are other concepts about light and shadow that I have learned about that I would like to share and will do that in coming posts. In the mean time, have fun trying this! Not as easy as it looks ;) 

Good luck!

More watercolors from the early 90's

A good friend of mine, Gabor Svagrik and I had a two person art show at the Palette and Chisel in Chicago in 1995. Here are a few of my pieces from the show that sold:



The cat's name is Greta, the best cat in the world. She no longer lives with me.


Seeing these makes me feel homesick for the past. it was a difficult time during those post art school years in the 90's. However, it was good. I was doing nothing but painting: painting backgrounds at Calabash all day then heading over to the Palette and Chisel art league at night, and then more painting on the weekends. My mind must have really been in the groove back then. I can see it in the work. Over time, my career shaped my life: I went digital, struggled to make a living, finally got a good job, all of which seems to have changed my personal paintings. I think what I've been doing as of late in my own work has been more tense looking. Maybe it has something to do with the stakes being higher the older I get. What does an artist do when faced with making a living? Art school does not instruct the student in how to protect the heart, much less communicate with it. The desire to paint never goes away; it becomes more intense.

Art school watercolors...

I have a website for my fine art from over the years. I do not update it primarily because I am thinking about overhauling the site entirely after I finish some personal illustration projects, but that will not be for some time. (hopefully next fall...) So, I thought I might add a few things to this site. I have some watercolors I'd love to show that are really the best of anything I did in art school. I was pretty young, 19 or 20, and heavily under the influence of my fantastic teacher Irving Shapiro, an incredible watercolorist who took the craft to a whole new level. Anyway, here are my paintings from about 1991-92.

I won a fancy Society of Illustrators award for the above painting...it's in a book somewhere. Also, the art school I went to, The American Academy of Art in Chicago, bought the painting and framed it for their walls. To me that was the most incredible honor and still is when I consider the school's walls are decorated with the likes of Richard Schmid, Haddon Sundblom, Gil Elvgren, Howard Terpning and a host of other incredible painters. My heart skips a beat when I think about it!




I gave the painting of the oranges and lemons to my sister.


Jody Kirberger, owner of the Talisman Gallery in Bartlesville, OK bought the lilly painting for her house.

Several thoughts come up when I look back at these paintings. First, this is the work that led me to work as a background painter at Calabash Animation in Chicago, a job that introduced me to animation and caused me to learn sooooo much about painting from memory and developing my imagination.

The other thoughts I have are more esoteric; I can see how I was on my way to a washy brushy look, which with some time and development could have been far more confident and interesting to look at. These paintings are stiff; I was so concerned with drawing things correctly I can see now that it caused me to freak out and tighten up. I am hoping with the new personal projects I am working on (in secret...hehe) to get back to this approach with a more experienced, older eye and looseness of brushstrokes. I can see it so clearly in my head...now if only I could do it in real life. We shall see...

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Personal Retrospective







For a few years now, I have desired to depart from the personal work I have engaged in since leaving art school, which tends to mirror my mentor and fellow students, who were no doubt a large influence on my painting. I put together a few paintings I have finished during this period for comparison. They all seem to lack the design and cleanliness of style I have been going for, and the subject matter is not coming through the way I'd like. They feel...... stalled, controlled, tense, and, interestingly, dark (which is odd for floral still lifes, I think). And do I really want to paint only still lifes? I think I find more joy in other areas, like figure painting/drawing and sculpting.

March Still Life




it's a bit unfinished, but the flowers were on their way out, so i had to stop. i may tighten up some areas later.

i saw the green swan planter in a shop and thought it was pretty cool. i am a collector of pottery, especially vintage pieces. the green swan planter is a reproduction of a 50's design.
originally, i wanted to paint an entire still life that contained 100% green objects of varying shades. I had a problem however...the yellow lilies bloomed and the hyacinth bulbs bloomed. so to balance out the design i purchased some narcissus and placed them in the still life. i will still probably try the all green painting again in the future. it would also be cool to try an all pink or all white painting too. hmmmmm....

February Satsumas with Chestnut Branches


I deliberately arranged the objects in this painting at 90 degree angles, thinking it would emphasize the more fluid organic elements; the protea, the satsumas, writing on the vase, and the branches.

I enjoyed painting this. Being home sick from work the past few days, I set up this still life, listened to the soundtrack to "Coraline", and spent some quality time with my kitty, Maggie. Although my mood the past few days has been pretty blue, the solitude combined with intense concentration really balanced everything out.


In this quick little study, I was experimenting with soft edges, especially around the vase.

Once, long ago at the Palette and Chisel in Chicago, the historic art league where I used to paint, I heard Richard Schmid talk about how he likes to handle edges (contours around objects) in painting. He felt that both the eye and the camera see the picture plane and edges the same way - as only being able to focus on one spot at a time. Therefore to manipulate the viewer into resting on a center of interest, the artist should make that area the most detailed, most vibrant, with the hardest edges, and juxtapose it against softer areas within the image.

Lately I have been experimenting with this idea in my still lifes. The question for me lies rather in how much or how little. I think my natural painting style leans in the direction of the overall sharpness of the French naturalists, but I would like to pull away from that a bit. Or do I? I'm just not sure yet.

At the Epicenter Lies a Turkey

and some sugar pumpkins, with a glare on the right side. one of these days I'll learn how to photograph oil paintings.


I'll admit this painting is odd. The pumpkins are sitting on a festive thanksgiving dish cloth. I was interested in painting printed cloth with objects on top. I struggled to find a balance between the pumpkins and the color of the printed turkey on the dish cloth. I think after seeing the final result, I might have toned down that turkey much more. gooble gooble.

and here is a work in progress photo of my living room, the epicenter of my life (after work):