16×20 Alla Prima Painting Demo

I’m back from my workshop in Amelia Island Florida which was a great success in spite of the crummy weather. Stayed in Charleston on the return trip and was unable to post to the blog last Sunday because of a lack of internet service. I will return to my weekly Sunday posting schedule following this post.

Monday I painted a 16×20 demo at Fort Clinch State Park and opened it up to the public. We had 13 people in the class and another 12 showed up in the rain to watch me paint. The last 45 minutes the rain got too heavy and we all ran inside where I finished the painting from memory. Here are a few pictures.


Starting with the line of action for the tree
Massing in the large shapes
50 degrees and light rain
Modelling the forms
Painting inside from memory. I would never do this for myself but it was a good lesson for the students on being flexible and not giving up on a painting.
The finished demo
The Old Oak 16×20
2 hours painting time
There is enough information here for me to paint a studio painting at a later time. Sometimes you can’t get a finished painting in the field but you can collect enough information for a great studio painting.
A field sketch will always have more truth than a photo will.
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2017 Bull Run Demo

Armand Cabrera

One of my favorite times of the year is finally here. Spring is slowly taking hold again which means it’s time for bluebells. They only last a few days in early spring so if you live in Virginia get out and see them while you can. Today was a beautiful day with temps in the 70’s. I went to one of my favorite bluebell spots The bridge at Bull Run in the Manassas Battlefield. This year did not disappoint.
I set up and decided to try a 16 x 20 canvas. A little large for the angle of the light and subject but it’s good to push yourself in the field.
After deciding on my subject I started to draw the landmarks with a big brush.
Next, I quickly blocked in the large flat poster shapes for my background middle and foreground locking in the lights and shadows for the image.
Working all over the canvas I started to pick out important details and add them to the mix.
I established my darks and strengthened my color in the places I thought it needed more emphasis.
I weave in colors to give the impression of branches and leaves and refine more of my shapes.
 I continue to refine shapes color and edges.


The finished painting Bull Run Spring 16 x 20 oil. Total painting time 3 hours.
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A Hierarchy of Forms

Armand Cabrera

A hierarchy of forms is an important step in representational painting. Keeping the big forms apparent after the application of details is necessary for a successful painting. Primary, secondary and tertiary forms must preserve their relative importance.

The idea for Primary forms is a simple one. At its root all forms have a base structure that shows the effects of the overall light and shape without any details. Painting this correctly gives a sense of volume and weight to everything. Seeing this imposed construction on natural objects helps nail down this effect from the very beginning of a painting or drawing and locks in the big idea for the image quickly. Often times this is overlooked for the details of an element which can ruin the significance of the object in the overall scene.

To quote Harvey Dunn, “You must make the main thing in your picture appear most important. If anyone tells me my hat is more important than my head –by God I’m taking off my hat.”

Secondary forms complement the primary form but never obscure it. An example in landscape painting would be a hillside of trees seen from a distance. The shape of the hill would be the primary form and the trees the secondary forms enhancing the character of the hill but not confusing its overall shape. It must always read as a hill. The way you would paint the light falling on the hill would be paramount and you would always subordinate the details of the trees to that effect.

Tertiary forms would be the individual trees on the hillside; you may choose to add enough details to some of these to create interest for the viewer but again they should always compliment the larger forms not obliterate them.This idea applies to anything- portraits, still life, figures or landscapes and is an essential tool in preserving the sense of solidity in your pictures.

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A Sense of Scale

by Armand Cabrera

Scale can be a tricky thing in a painting. It is not important to paint large paintings to have a sense of grandeur on your art. What is important is making yourself aware of the principles and using those to your advantage so you don’t have to resort to clichés of constantly adding tiny people or other recognizable objects to make the illusion work. While these are one way of creating a sense of scale their use should never be a substitution for good design and a thoughtful approach to the subject at hand.

I think the first thing you need to create a sense of scale is correct aerial perspective. All your vanishing points must be accurate and your horizon line must be established. This is true for landscapes without manmade structures as well as paintings with them. Perspective will create overlapping forms and the proper arrangement of these will help the illusion of space and distance.
A secondary effect of scale is atmosphere; painting things with the proper lessening of chroma and value as they recede into the distance. There is no formula for this and you must be a keen observer of the subtle shifts that take place and act as visual clues for scale and distance.
Another effect is the loss of detail as you take in larger areas of view. It seems counter intuitive at first but the bigger something is the less detail you can see on it. If you can see a complete eight story building in your view, the inclusion of individual panes of glass on the windows only shrinks the idea of scale for the viewer.
It is the same with natural things in the landscape a distant hillside looks smaller if you paint every tree on it as opposed to getting its overall form and color and value. People often do this with large bodies of water. They focus on the waves and when they paint them the waves height to width ratio is enormously exaggerated reducing the scale of the ocean in the process.
Lighting is also important for a sense of scale. Outdoors light falls in parallel rays and you have to make sure you paint it that way or you will give the illusion of indoor point source lighting and shrink the sense of scale.
Many times the emotional response we feel to a subject is based in large part on a sweeping sense of scale. Making yourself aware of the effect scale has on what you are observing will help you capture that sense of scale in even small paintings


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Anatomy of a Painting – Part 1


Armand Cabrera
I have not always painted in oils. I originally started painting in acrylics at fifteen. Later when I was hired for my first job in the entertainment industry as a background artist, I continued to paint with acrylics. It wasn’t until I decided to make the jump to gallery painting that I switched over to oils and before I did I researched the proper use for oil paint and read up on materials and techniques. I talked to a conservator and asked about proper technique to ensure long life for my paintings. We talked about what to paint on and about sizing and grounds and pigment layers.
 Basically the paintings that have the best chance of survival are ones that follow certain rules to insure anatomical strength for the physical painting. Paintings on hard surfaces have less chance of cracking than paintings on stretched surfaces. if you don’t use linen or cotton the surface must be prepared with a ground to hold the paint. If the surface is wood it must be completely dried to prevent warping and flexing as it dries. Kiln dried wood is best for painting. Gesso and oil prime are what most people use as a ground today. If painting on linen or cotton the fabric must first be sized or sealed to prevent rotting or allowing moisture to invade the layers of pigment. Animal glue was the preferred size for years but that has now given way to polymer sizes made with PVA.
Traditional gesso was made with glue and mixed with chalk or gypsum. Modern gesso is acrylic paint, usually titanium white and calcium carbonate with preservatives like ammonia and formaldehyde added as a preservative,
Oil prime was originally lead carbonate pigment mixed with turpentine this has been replaced with titanium white for safety reasons. Lead white is more expensive and carcinogenic than other whites and has fallen out of use as a commercial ground and as a paint for application although it can still be purchased.
After the ground applying the pigments should follow the fat over lean rule where layers of applied paint contain more oil in the later stages. Thinning your paint with medium or solvents breaks down the paint and makes it more prone to flaking and cracking. I was told the impressionist paintings were the easiest to preserve because the paintings were layered very simply. They usually contain a size and ground for the canvas and then pigments were applied and then a varnish was added. I have followed this advice for my career using oils and I have not run into any problems of permanence.
This is a different approach than more academic paintings which could have layers upon layers of pigments and glazes with different types of mediums and extenders to retard or quicken drying times for the paint. This latter type of painting has a greater chance of problems for permanence s as the painting ages. Extra care must be taken to insure the stages are preserved correctly when drying so the pigment doesn’t delaminate or crack over time. This includes using liquin which has become a popular commercial medium and homemade mediums of various mixtures and consistencies.
A trip to the museum will show the veracity of this advice. Paintings on stretched surfaces and paintings that have many layers of pigment and glazes show a tendency to crack and come apart even in as few as fifty years. This is especially true of the modern art movement where some painters introduced fugitive substance into their work that destroyed the integrity of the pieces and created a nightmare for restorers. Other paintings like some orthodox Russian Icon paintings on oak panels or copper look as fresh as the day they were painted.
Recommended Reading
The artists Handbook of Materials and Techniques (fifth edition)
Ralph Mayer
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