Category Archives: Materials & Equipment

Upcoming Color & Design Workshop

I will be leading a 2 hour color and design workshop in San Francisco on Saturday, May 19, 10am-Noon.  It is free.  No need to bring materials, this is a 2-hour slideshow discussion. In this donation-based class, you’ll learn and discuss with other artists:

How to design a picture space

Color & design technique

Resources for learning more

Elements of color design

Optional critique, bring your work

Over 100 inspirational examples

Join us at AHF / Art Saves Lives Gallery, 518 Castro St, Saturday, May 19, 10am-Noon, FREE.  Register here on Facebook.

Baker Beach (San Francisco, CA)

We’re having kind of an odd Spring storm in San Francisco this Easter week, so I’m posting a study I painted a couple weeks ago at Baker Beach.

By the way, next week will be quite busy, as I’m looking forward to seeing many of you at the 2nd Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo in Monterey, CA..  I’ll be both painting a demo (using Arches’ Cobra solvent free oils, which was used to paint the seascape below), and I’ll be giving a talk on Social Media Marketing.  I hope to see you there!  Say hello!

Baker Beach (San Francisco), Oil on Linen, 8x10
Baker Beach (San Francisco), Oil on Linen, 8×10

Catching up with new work

I have a couple of different recent paintings to share as I continue to explore new ideas and materials.

I painted this plein air work in San Miguel de Allende a few months ago, but it sat in my studio unfinished for a while. It needed just a few adjustments.

San Miguel de Allende Chapel, Oil on Linen, 12x9
San Miguel de Allende Chapel, Oil on Linen, 12x9

I love painting a dramatic sky!  This was painted from a reference photo I took while staying at Red Rocks for the 1st Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo.  I liked the counterbalance between the drama of the sky and the distant lights of the Las Vegas Strip.

Vegas vs Nature, Oil on Linen, 12x16
Vegas vs Nature, Oil on Linen, 12x16

And finally, I’ve been experimenting with new materials.  This oil on paper work was done with new Cobra water soluble oils.  I love the idea of painting with solvents!  So far I like the, although I don’t have enough colors to truly judge–and I haven’t painted on anything other than paper so far.   You may recognize this study, based on another done plein air in regular oil paint.

Desert Color Study, Oil on Paper, 8x10
Desert Color Study, Oil on Paper, 8x10

Studying watercolor

Painting in watercolor is SO different from oil.  It’s a real challenge, but I’m enjoying it.  I decided to take a short break from oil painting to learn a new medium.  I’m sure I’ll return to oil soon, but enjoying the immediacy and delicacy required to paint watercolor.  Enjoy!

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Painting Day in Asilomar

I had a week off and spent the time painting from Carmel > Big Sur > Ragged Point > San Simeon.  It was a wonderful week focused on painting!

In these two studies (painting at Asilomar, just north of Carmel) I was focusing on the use of dark transparent colors to represent the ocean.  click on the paintings to see the detail.  Notice how the use of transparent Ultramarine Blue gives it a nice watercolor-like glow. Even though it’s a dark color, it reflects the white board underneath, so it gives it the feeling of both being dark and light at the same time.  To create the reflection of light on water, I wiped away more of the paint to show the white ground, rather than paint a second color on top.  BTW, pure Ultramarine is too intense to represent the Pacific, so I deaden the color, generally with a Cad Red, or sometimes with Gamblin’s Chromatic Black–a great transparent Black that will reduce the chroma of any color.

Asilomar Beach Study #2, Oil on Linen, 8x10
Asilomar Beach Study #2, Oil on Linen, 8x10

Asilomar Beach Study #2, Oil on Linen, 8x10
Asilomar Beach Study #2, Oil on Linen, 8x10

Palm Springs watercolor

I had a nice long weekend with friends in Palm Springs and took a watercolor kit to a wonderful spot, Indian Canyons. It’s just so much easier to travel with, than oils. I need a lot more experience with this medium to paint something I’ll be happy with. I think I’ll take a watercolor workshop. If you know if free resources on YouTube, blogs, or elsewhere-or can recommend an instructor–let me know.  Some things I’m struggling with: layers, and how the paint interacts and changes color as you layer; Values, i seem to have much less control of value than oil.  It makes sense that the medium (since it’s transparent) has less of a value range, but it’s still something I’m struggling with.

Hope you enjoy this so-so result!

Palm Springs Indian Canyons (Watercolor)
Palm Springs Indian Canyons (Watercolor)

More painting knife studies

Still painting with a knife, and really enjoying the process (unlike poor Cristy Anspach, who wrote a very funny comment on a previous post about painting with a knife).  Laura Reilly and Bill Guffy also chimed in with their comments and positive experiences.

This is keeping me loose, keeping colors clean, and just a physical challenge. Imagine holding a paint brush for the first time, learning how to maneuver it.  Same with a knife–although, according to John Ebersberger, my knifes are soft enough.  Apparently, his are as soft and flexible as a brush.  He said I need to file mine down.

This first study was from a reference photo of Casa Cosmos, our favorite vacation home getaway in Mexico (see here for other paintings: Casa Cosmos Sunset 3, Sunset Calm, Sunset 2)

Cosa Cosmos Beach, Oil on Linen, 6x8
Cosa Cosmos Beach, Oil on Linen, 6x8"


I named this painting “Truckee River”…I think that’s right, although it may be Blackwood Canyon, another favorite spot of mine in Lake Tahoe.  I’m really happy with this one, so it could end become a larger studio work, although I’m not sure how large a painting I can do with a knife.

Truckee River Warmth, Oil on Linen, 8x6
Truckee River Warmth, Oil on Linen, 8x6"


If you paint with a knife, and would like to share your work, enter a comment and share with me and my readers.  Cheers!

Landscape – Palette Knife

Painting with a painting knife last week in John Eberberger’s workshop last week reminded me how different it is from a brush.  The main differences are :1) you have less control (at least I do, I’ve seen some deft knife handeling by experts like Camille and John); 2) you can achieve much cleaner color; 3) the texture of the painting is interesting. I have an ongoing goal to loosen up my paint application, so the knife is a great tool.  Do you use a painting knife?  What’s your experience?

Untitled (Landscape), Oil on Linen, 11x14
Untitled (Landscape), Oil on Linen, 11x14"


More snow studies

I’m back home, but still in the mindset to paint snow.  Looking through my reference photos, I found one new one to tackle, and a second to try again.  This first painting is the new one.  I like it.  It was really a study in warm/cool composition, and it was also fun to play with paint texture.  I think I’m going to paint this again tomorrow, only larger. I’m also going to try painting the shadows on the other side of the bank less dark.  Just a tad.  I think as is it makes the painting a bit too heavy.  What it needs is a bit more atmospheric depth. (Also a technical note: for some reason, my images look darker–sometimes a LOT darker–on PC monitors. I create the images on a Mac and adjust them there. I’m trying to find a happy medium by adjusting up the exposure on the Mac.)

Truckee River Study (Warms & Cools), Oil on Linen, 10×8


I painted this scene a little differently last week, in my previous post.  The focus there was more on the tree shadow, where here I tried to balance the scene a bit with more interesting areas, such as the opposite bank.   Kept is loose, although I had to scrape a repaint the water a couple times.  It was looking to “dabb-y”.  Although ocean water scenes should have lots of edges, this one required something simple, flat.  The eye needs a place to rest, and there’s a lot going on above and below the water.

Snow Shadows 2, Oil on Linen, 8×10


BTW, this painting was painted on top of another (a seascape, actually). I’ve been painting over old paintings for a while now. I lightly sand any paint ridges in the old painting, and just paint right over it. I like letting little bits of the old painting showing through as they create fun, unexpected moments.  I also find I paint more loose when working on an old canvas.  Nothing to loose, I guess.

Sketches from NYC

While I was in NYC last week on business, I brought a simple pen and ink set.  I draw using a fountain pen with Roting-Brown ink, and a watercolor brush with water to create the wash.  I like to sketch people (for some reason, landscape less so). Parks are a good spot.  People tend to sit a while, or even sleep, as one of my sketches show.  There was also a parade that Monday (Columbus Day), so I was able to capture the crowd.

This woman was reading outside a restaurant, waiting for a table:

This guy fell asleep on a bench in Central Park:

Columbus Day Parade crowd:

Central Park trees:

Lastly, on the plane home, I drew small compositional studies based on reference photos on my iPhone:

Seascape 911

I thought I may have met my “end” yesterday, ironically while painting at Lands End beach in San Francisco.

Like many of you, I often hike to remote places to paint the perfect spot and find myself in the middle of nowhere. There are Mountain Lions to think about, snakes, made-up sadistic hatchet-yielding crazies–and then, there’re ourselves. My emergency was stupidly self-inflicted: While rocking out to Arctic Monkeys, and being completely in the zone (my painting was going well), I drank a big gulp of Turpentine (correction: I drank mineral spirits) thinking it was my water! Yikes! (Note to self: stop storing extra turps spirits in Calistoga bottles).

I called 911…”we need to send an ambulance, where are you?”. I could only describe vaguely where I was since I’d hiked 25 minutes from some unknown parking lot along the coast and I’d never been to this spot before. No one was around, so I couldn’t ask. All I could manage was, I can see the Golden Gate bridge! I was definitely in panic. I need an ambulance?

To make a long (embarrassing) story short…after hiking and getting disconnected/connected from 911 a couple of times, I eventually got connected to the Poison Control Center: “Gee, why did you drink that?” was the first question…then my age, am I breathing normally, etc. Luckily, the solution was to drink milk/juice (not water, and don’t vomit). I’m fine now.

Well, you’ve learned another lesson on my blog, don’t drink Turpentine or mineral spirits (just in case you were unsure on the matter).

Lands End (San Francisco) – Oil on Linen – 9×12

Back to the Art: I liked the painting I was working on during this fiasco, so after resting a bit, I finished the remaining 10% at home. This ended up being a good study in grays, which are so important to achieving effective color.This isn’t the best photograph (I’ll get a scan when it dries), but the most intense colors needed to be the light-struck waves and the shadowed water. For the lightest crest of the white water, I used Titanium White with a little Hansa Yellow, a beautiful cool yellow on my palette. You’d think that a warm yellow like Cad Yellow would make for a better sun-light white, but I’ve found the cool yellows more convincing. The shadow side of the water is a combination of several colors, as frankly, I had a hard time arriving at the right color. I would say the end color is a combination of Magnesium Blue, Ultramarine Blue and Titanium White.

For the shadow side of the rocks, I used a thin wash of Alizarin Crimson, killed back a bit with Sap Green, and probably a touch of Ultramarine Blue. The light-struck rock color was made from some grays on the side of my palette, adjusted here and there with warm and cool variations. Do you save your grays? After every painting, I scrape my left over paint into piles of analogous colors, usually one general warm, one violet, one green. These neutral colors provide a means of harmonizing color in subsequent paintings.

My Oil Color Palette

I’m often asked about my palette, so thought I’d dedicate a post to this for future reference. First, I know many painters (great ones, in fact) believe in a limited palette. Most that follow that path do so because it ensures color harmony, and it certainly makes packing paints much easier. I’d love to carry three colors plus white, as artist’s like Ken Auster and Kevin Macpherson do. I go back-and-forth on this, but I think an extended, “full spectrum” color palette–the same used by Ovanes Berberian and other colorists, including his mentor Serge Bongart–is best for my needs. I would suggest however that if you’re new to oil painting, start with a limitted palette and branch out from there, once you’ve become familiar with their mixing properties first. Start with Alizarin Crimson, Cadnium Yellow Medium and Ultramarine Blue.

When I use my full color spectrum palette, I don’t cram every color into every painting. That would be difficult to harmonize (unless you add a bit of black to ever cover pile, which does harmonize a painting nicely). I include a wide array of colors because I want a full range of options for any single painting. I will typically paint with a limitted set of colors and ignore the rest for a given work. It may be that a scene is best represented with Sap Green, Alizarin and White. You never know. I look at a scene carefully and pick out major color notes that match to my palette, before I begin.

My palette consists of the following paints, all Classic Artist Oils unless otherwise noted. I buy my paints in either 10oz caulking tubes or quart containers. Much cheaper than the tiny tubes sold in art supply stores.​

Hansa Yellow. This is my cool yellow. I’ve tried Cadnium Yellow Light, but I find it doesn’t have as much punch as this yellow. It’s transparent enought to mix well with any color on your palette. I’ll use it for my lightest light in just about any situation (see samples below). Cadium Yellow Medium. This is a common warm, light value yellow.
Yellow Ocrhe. Good medium value cool yellow. As a basic earthtone, a must of course for any landscape painter. I’ll use this color, white and sometimes a tad Cadmium Orange for the light side of clouds. Hansa Yellow Orange. This is my favorite color. It’s a cool orange. It makes great greens, mixed with either California Blue or Ultramarine Blue. It also mixes really well with Permanet Rose to make great sunset colors.
Cadmium Orange. Your basic warm orange. Too opaque for my tastes. I’d love it if every color on my palette were transparent–they’re so much easier to mix. I guess I should be a watercolorist. This will probably be the first color I drop from my palette, although I like it there because I can mix it with any of my blues to make a really nice gray. Fire Red. This is my warm mid-value red. Most artists use Cad Red Light, but I find the tinting strength of this color much better. It’s very powerful. Good to use in flesh tone mixtures (I found this color while studying the figure with Jim Smyth).
Permanent Rose (Winsor Newton) or Rose Madder (Classic Artist Oils). This Winsor Newton color is dangerously strong. Use with care to create great medium value violets with Cobalt Blue. It’s also great for painting flowers. Alizarin Crimson. My dark, cool red. I alternate between Classic Artist’s Oils and Gamblin brands. The latter claims to make a permanent pigment. I like to mix it with Sap Green to make my darkest darks. Makes for a nice transparent washes, and you can easily mix warm/cool varieties.
California Blue. This is a very dark version of Ultramarine Blue. I got the recipe from Brigitte Curt, who I believe got it from Ovanes Berberian. It’s a custom mixture of Phthalo Blue and . Great for making cool transparent darks, and dark greens together with Hanse Yellow Orange.
Ultramarine Blue. The standard dark, warm-valued blue. Has lots of practical uses, but I find that it really tends to kill the life of warmer-toned mixtures. If I’m trying to cool a color, I’m more likely to reach for Cerulean Blue or California Blue.
Cobalt Blue. This is considered a “true blue” (ie, neither cool nor warm). It’s the most expensive color on my palette, so I only use it carefully–generally in sky colors and to make beuatiful medium value violets with Permanent Rose. Cerulean Blue. This is usually the truest sky color, particularly along the coast–whereas I find Cobalt Blue more true at higher elevations or places with little humidity.
Magnesium Blue. This warm blue is by far the most powerful on my palette, second to Permanent Rose. It’s tinting strength is incredible. Use with caution! I rare mix this with anything, other than white of course. If you want to add instant intensity to your sky, add a little of this blue, the same value as a Cobolt Blue and white sky. They vibrate well together. Virdian Green. My cool green. I tend to only use this in seascapes and citiscapes. It’s just not a terrible “naturual” looking color by itself, except for representing man-made things, like stop lights that read “go” 🙂
Sap Green. I rarely use this color, other than mixing dark transparent underwashes. I will grab a bit to “green up” a color quickly, because as a transparent color, it does mix well and rarely muddies other mixtures.
Mars Black. This is an opaque black, so I don’t use it to mix transparent underwashes. I do use it to tone down colors that are too raw. Of course you can do that by mixing the colors complement, but if you’re plein air painting and racing to capture something, grabbing a little black works more quickly.
Titanium White. I’ve tried others, like Flake White, but find this white meets my needs just fine.

Here are some examples of how I use my palette. Thanksgiving Day Snow on the right shows my use of Magnesium Blue, vibrating against a Cobalt Blue sky. This painting also uses transparent washes quite a bit, which you can see in the top left (click the image to enlarge). The washes were made with Sap Green, Alizarin Crimson, and California Blue. I like the abstract quality of this painting, the caligraphic brush strokes. I was trying to convey both stillness and life.

The “Peninsula Hillside” painting on the left shows how I use colors like Hansa Yellow Orange (in the trees), with a touch of blue to give it a golden green glow. I’ve also alternated Cerulean and Cobalt Blue in the sky to get that vibration. The trick is to do this without mixing the colors together and creating mud.
I typically mix my lightest lights with Hansa Yellow and Titanium White. The painting “Towards the Sun, Crystal Springs“, which I did facing the late afternoon sun, uses this combination. I also uses in my snow scenes to show the lightest lights of the snow.