Perspective and Its Importance

Armand Cabrera

Almost all of my effort in teaching goes to restating fundamental principles to my students, even those that have achieved some small amount of success. Many of my students have always been interested in art but did not pursue it as a career and so many of them lack the basic fundamental skills needed to create the proper framework to place their paintings over. Students often worry about developing a style but in my opinion style is irrelevant when the fundamentals are lacking. 

The biggest problems in their paintings come from a lack of drawing skills and little or no understanding of linear perspective. A simple understanding of perspective includes vanishing points, eye level and horizon lines and a station point.

Anything you paint that has volume to it needs linear perspective to accomplish competently; Portraits, still life, landscapes, seascapes, city scenes; all of them need a thorough understanding of basic perspective. The more complex a scene becomes the more understanding you need. Think of all of the situations that come up in paintings that have groups of animals or people or reflections, shadows or anything with a complex structure to it. All those situations will need an even deeper consideration of perspective. Why go through your life avoiding those things or painting them badly because you lack the understanding to paint them properly?

People interested in learning more about perspective as it applies to your painting and drawing can find the information in the books ‘Perspective for Artists’ by Rex Vicat Cole from Dover books, ‘Drawing Scenery; Landscapes and Seascapes’ by Jack Hamm and ‘Successful Drawing by Andrew Loomis’. Of those three books the first one by Cole is only one that focuses on perspective exclusively. The other two cover it in conjunction with good drawing principles.

Painting in Crowded Public Areas

Armand Cabrera
Painting in crowded public areas can be challenging, these public spaces are a little different than just painting outdoors in places where you have little contact with other people.
I’m lucky that when I started painting outdoors many years ago. I was living in Napa California and so got used to being surrounded by crowds of people as I worked. There were no places you could go in the Napa Valley without attracting onlookers.  I quickly developed the ability to paint and talk to people and now I enjoy meeting people while I paint.  I can generally stay pleasant while working as long as people are not overly rude or clueless about respecting my personal space.
I have never understood any artist who gets upset with bystanders interested in their art, especially when that painter is so visible and chooses such a public location in the first place. I’ve even witnessed bad behavior at Plein Air events by artists who obviously didn’t belong there snapping at quiet onlookers. My rule of thumb is to keep your bad attitude at home. If you don’t like or can’t handle communication while you paint then go paint in a more remote location where you can expect very little interaction while you work.
Part of the key to being in very public areas is keeping a small footprint. When a place is overly populated its best to not have too much gear where distracted people might not notice it and end up tripping over it or stepping on it.
In areas that get a lot of traffic I use a smaller setup, this way I can carry all of my gear in a small backpack. This includes my palette/ pochade box, all my paints and brushes, paint scraper , utility tool, mineral spirits and brush washer, a tripod, a small stool (if I choose to sit) paper towels, garbage bags, food and water, sketchbook, business cards and fliers, sunscreen, bug spray, rain poncho,  nightlight and up to 6 to 10 panels depending on the size. That number of panels is more than enough for a day of outdoor painting. Anything that can be ruined by getting wet goes into a ziploc plastic bag.
Whether I stand or sit when I set up, I place everything between me or directly under my easel so that no one can step on it or trip over it. If I’m not using something it stays in the pack not spread out all over the ground around me. When I take something out I put it back in the same spot so I know where to find it. By staying organized I get to spend my time painting not rummaging for something in my pack. By keeping things in their place until I need them it also allows me to pack up and break down very quickly.
Here is what it looks like all spread out on the floor. Total weight for this is only 20 lbs. including the pack. It is light enough that I can go on an extended hike and have everything I need for a days’ worth of painting. 

Practical Solutions for Painting Anything

Armand Cabrera
I have another painting workshop planned in Highlands, NC; June 15 to 18 at the Bascom.  The course is designed to improve each student’s individual style. I work very hard in my workshops to avoid the one size fits all approach to teaching.
I am using my years as a production artist in the Entertainment Industry and my 20 years painting from life outdoors to helps students fill out gaps in their knowledge base to get them to the next level of their painting journey. How to improve all aspects of their work: drawing, color choices, paint application, composition and drama. I will conduct a small painting demonstration every day. Each student will receive personalized instruction tailored to his or her specific needs and level of ability. Students will work in the studio from sketches and photos and in the field.
Highlands has a sophisticated downtown with lots of great restaurants and high end shopping the whole town is very walkable and the mountain location keeps the temperatures pleasant.  The Bascom has access for the painting classes to some beautiful properties with great vistas as well as park like settings.


Mixing Greens Part 4

Armand Cabrera
I’ve covered mixing greens for landscape paintings in earlier posts but I still have some advice that can help you capture the greens of spring and summer and make successful paintings.

When you have a painting that has one color that dominates the image design becomes essential. When you restrict your color choices you must find other ways to add interest. Design becomes more important to the success of your painting.
One way to add design is using a series of rhythmic shapes and weave them through the painting. Rhythmic not repetitive, repetitive shapes call too much attention to pattern while rhythmic shapes have similar qualities of shape but are not exact copies. Their attributes change over the sequence to create movement and flow. You do this by changing the size, direction of the marks and their shape slightly from one stroke to the next.
Another way is to use paint calligraphy varying the qualities and thickness of the paint from thin passages that just stain the canvas with color to areas of thick impasto that pull the eye toward them.
Varying the level of detail is another effective tool for an artist. The center of interest can be controlled and information rich while less important areas can be simplified to represent just their essential characteristics.

The last thing to do is allow the painting to have some counterpoint to the overall color of the image, In a green landscape painting this could be the shadow colors, the sky or some other feature that is designed to break up the greens while retaining the superficial sense that what you are viewing is a green landscape.

Artists Block

By Armand Cabrera


I see a lot of people starting their art career seem to get overtaken with artists block. They define artists block as their ideas seem banal or they have no ideas at all for subjects. It’s an interesting idea but one that ultimately is in control of the artist themselves. I think the problem stems from a misconception about the importance of subject as opposed to handling.

Most artists will tell you that subject matter is unimportant in art. It’s the execution of that subject that has worth, not the other way around. Of course that kind of facility with a medium comes at a steep price for most people. Professionalism requires long hours of boring fundamentals and lots of practice. I find that usually these people are frustrated with their abilities not the lack of ideas. The good news is ability can always be improved.

Every professional artist I know goes through periods of unmotivated creation where everything being done is mediocre or just outright crap. The way to overcome these periods is with discipline focusing on process instead of outcome and finished product. Most professionals I know just continue to work through the slow periods because that work can and usually does lead to breakthroughs. You might even find with enough facility at your fingertips anything is a subject and your problem is solved.