I just finished up a studio painting workshop here in Virginia. These are the 1 hour demos I did each day. Demos are a great visual tool to convey the information I discuss with students during class. When I started teaching one of the rules I made for myself was to train myself to demo every day in a reasonable amount of time so students still have plenty of time to work on their own problem solving during the class. Each class is different sometimes the class is an outdoor painting class and sometimes it is focused on studio painting. Each of those situations have their own set of challenges.
When I was taking lots of classes I found it frustrating that some teachers could not or would not demo in class so I made sure I did when I started teaching workshops. I also didn’t like teachers who showed up with a finished painting in class and pretended to paint on it for students. I believe working from blank canvas to finish on a painting for students is one of the best tools a teacher has for conveying the art process.
In each demo I focus on a different aspect of problem solving using my approach to the subject. These are always geared towards the students interest and so the demos vary greatly from workshop to workshop. In this instance the things people were most interested in were forest interiors, water and trees without any foliage on them.
Every Spring I make a point of painting the bluebells when they come out and bloom. They never last more than a few days once they peak and so depending on the weather you can miss them completely if you don’t check on them. I know every April I need to make a trip to my bluebell spots and see what kind of a year it will be.
This year they weren’t as thick as in years past but they were still good enough to paint. I set up at my favorite spot at the Manassas Battlefield, the path along the stone Bridge at Bull Run.
The afternoon light is my favorite for this spot because I’m looking into the sun and everything is backlit on a sunny day. I found a place not too far off the trail and got to work.
The first thing I did was to establish the tree line.
Next I blocked in a medium tone for the bare trees in the distance.
Then I blocked in the ground plain keying it to my tree color.
Now using the scene I design the trunks of the trees in my middle and foreground. I want to vary their placement angle and individual widths so they aren’t too static.
I move to the background again and start designing my sky holes in the background tree color already on the board. Once I have that in I carefully move forward in the picture plane marking key elements like the color of the bushes in the understory and the trail through the flowers.
With my big shapes locked in I start modelling the areas building a sense of light and form to the individual elements without obliterating my groundwork for the structure of the painting.
I spend the last 45 minutes unifying the whole picture adding details where it enhances the mood simplifying areas that distract from the feel.
The finished painting, ‘Battlefield Bluebells,’ 12 x 16, oil on board. The total working time was 2 hours from start to finish.
Summer is here. It’s not just the excessive heat and oppressive humidity and proliferation of insect life that we have to deal with. Once again and many people are dealing with summer greens. I’ve covered this subject quite a bit in earlier posts and while those ideas may overlap with some presented here, I think there is always something to add to these types of discussions.
When I teach, the biggest problem I see with people painting a monochromatic landscape is artists ignore the forms of objects robbing their subject of some of its subtle diversity. Light and shadow are always important but especially in a monochromatic setting.
A limited color setting turns the focus to other painting aspects. It raises the importance of lighting (value) and shape (design). It becomes more about how you organize what you are seeing. This is because we can rarely mimic with any accuracy the visual range presented to us in nature. With less variety the limitations of pigment become exaggerated. Remember careful choices in subjects will lead to better painting outcomes.
Whenever you have areas of light and shadow in a painting you have an opportunity to introduce color shifts relative to the surrounding area by paying attention to all of the aspects of color, hue, value, chroma and relative temperature. It is possible to tease out more interest from a subtle painting, heightening its impact. Bright sunny days will give you a greater range of value for your contrast overcast or cloudy days will give you more chance for subtle shifts.
Shape and pattern help add interest in monochromatic paintings when the colors are subtle and similar. When you are using patterns, think about using small shapes against big shapes varying your brushwork accordingly. Large marks against smaller tighter marks and hard edges and against softer ones.
The concept should drive your choices for the painting. Design helps to decide on the approach to the subject and composition is your arrangement and editing of the pieces. Together they all allow for something that permits you to capture the unique essence of that time and place on canvas.
Art is a big tent as the saying goes. Under the idea of art there are an infinite number of ways for artistic expression. Everyone who decides to make art chooses their particular means of expression based on their personality. It’s easy when making art to get trapped into another us against them mode. Modernism against traditional art, art for sale against art for art’s sake, the list of reasons to denigrate another type of art is as endless as art itself.
The same applies to teaching art. When I teach, I focus on craft. I teach mechanics of picture making based on my own particular style of painting. I also try and instill a sense of curiosity into my students and give them the tools I think they need to explore art making for them and take it as far as they choose to take it. I don’t want my students to paint the way I do. I want them to be the best painters they can be irrespective of the style they choose for themselves.
I constantly hear from students that my teaching style is unique and they learn more from me than any other teacher. I think one of the reasons this is true is I teach how to problem solve. Yes, I teach the mechanics of craft and some ideas about how I solve problems along with demos to back up what I say but I am more concerned with how to approach problem solving than the answers themselves. My approach came about in response to my own experiences as a student.
I am primarily self-taught. When I did start taking workshops and classes I was already making my living as a professional artist. I found most teachers even when they were good painters to be bogged down in narrow dogmatic approaches to process. I call this approach the “my way or the highway” school of teaching. Since it was their class I would follow the directions I was given completely, after all I was there to learn something new. Working as a professional with my own career, I did not need to adopt everything I was taught. While I respect my teachers and their abilities as artists my style is my own. I kept what was important to improving my way of painting and discarded the rest. The outcome of that is I don’t paint like my teachers. I’m proud of the fact that no one has ever thought of my style as a copy of someone else’s work.
I despise authoritarianism and dogma in regards to teaching art. In my opinion it’s the laziest way to teach anything. Second, it doesn’t produce better results than a more nuanced, individual and thoughtful approach does.
Having made my living as a professional artist for many years now I know for a fact there are many paths to success. Teachers who demand a certain style from their students and ignore individual expression fail to realize this and do their students a great disservice.
If you’re interested in taking a class with me, I will be teaching a watercolor class next year at the Bascom in Highlands North Carolina August 2-4 2017
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.