Category Archives: Video

Painting in a Series: San Francisco Moonrises

“Theme and variation is simply the combination into a single principle of the effects of contrast and repetition.  Once a theme is stated, it may then be given a series of restatements, each recognizably the same, though each work a variation on the theme”

John F.A. Taylor

What does it mean to paint a series?

Have you explored creating art by working a theme into a series?  Doing so can improve your skills and sales.

Over time, I’ve slowing grown to appreciate the value of painting in a series.  Perhaps a turning point was when my local art museum exhibited Monet’s series from his gardens, including his water lily pond, rose archway, gardens and iconic Japanese bridge.  It is telling that Monet focused more on serial painting after he had become successful and was rewarded with the flexibility to create whatever he wanted. He made a deliberate choice to paint this way later in life.

Unless you paint as a photo realist, you are making subjective choices in every painting.  Art is a subjective endeavor. Painting in a series that constricts the subject gives the artist the opportunity to explore subjective artistic choices to look at the subject in new ways. In this way, it builds creativity muscle.

Here are some examples of other art forms that use a serial format. You can see the value of this is pervasive.

  • Music. In jazz improvisation, a set of chord progressions is analogous to the subject in a series, and provide the context for experimentation.  Like a painting series, each improvisation performance is unique, but made consistent by a single chord progression.
  • Television. In a television series, a foundation of characters forms the basis for exploring different situations. 
  • Painting. One of my favorite series that I study often is Kevin Macphereson’s “Reflections on a Pond,” in which he paints 365 views of his pond. Jean Stern said of this book, “Kevin’s goal was for the subject to be secondary to the momentary conditions that affect it,” conditions such as weather, time of day and light.

Why paint a series?

  • Deepen Subject Understanding. There is tremendous value in reducing the complexity of making art.  Making fewer choices and focusing on decisions that matter (subtlety, color, etc.) allows the artist to explore the subject of a theme more deeply.  Series are paths to discovery, the essence of creation.
  • Foster the Eye. The challenge of discovering or inventing variations on a theme forces you to create differences within a context, such as the painting’s subject (e.g., for Monet, haystacks).  This helps the artist develop subtlety and train the eye to see new things.
  • Improving Sales. While I have no research to back this up, I think there’s a sales benefit. It’s interesting how a buyer’s thinking works.  Viewing a series, I believe they begin an internal process of judging which among the series they like best.  It simplifies their choice.  Rather than choosing between a seascape and a cityscape for example, they are given a narrowed path to make a purchase decision. Also, this kind of work demonstrates your depth as an artist, that you can see the same subject and represent it in a myriad of ways. This increases the buyer’s confidence that you have the breadth of skills to succeed long term, making you a good investment.
  • Studio Work. And finally, a series of smaller works can be a form of exploration for larger studio work.

How to paint in a series

  • Start with an Objective. There are typically two objectives: either to learn new skills (with no intention of showing the work); or developing a series with a sales objective.  For example, living in San Francisco, I’ve painted series’ around an iconic subject that I know will connect with collectors. At other times, I paint this way simply to learn the subject more fully.
  • Choose a Subject. Select a subject and create variables for exploration. For example, in this San Francisco moon rise series, the subject is the rising moon, and I’ve constrained the series by using the same aspect ration (9×12 here), same view (living room window), and proportion of sky to land.  The areas of exploration are color, weather conditions, the position of the moon in the sky and the moon’s size.
  • Rinse and Repeat. Create new variations on your theme until you’ve met your objective.

Painting in a series is a great way to explore any subject and grow as an artist. Share your own experience in comments. For a video of this series with music, click here to go to YouTube, or click the video below.

1st Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo


Having worked in the tech and marketing industry for more than 20 years, I’ve attended more than 100 conferences–but I have to start by saying that this was the best ever. It’s even right up there with South by Southwest—a conference famous for the enthusiasm and camaraderie it generates.  Attending this event was very much like going to a family reunion, meeting in person the many artists I’ve known only through the “blogosphere”.  Many thanks to those readers that approached me and told me how my blog impacted their artful lives. I’m equally grateful for your contributions to me with your many helpful comments and support!  It’s hard to believe this was PleinAir magazine’s first convention—they have a high bar for next year!

I didn’t take verbatim notes, but in most cases just jotted down some thoughts worth remembering. I hope this posts helps.  The PleinAir Magazine team video taped everything, so I imagine they’ll publish a full account. My apologies to artists that didn’t get a lot of coverage here.  My first priority was taking in the convention, and not “reporting”, so my notes are a bit uneven.  If you attended, contribute what you heard in comments for this post, or provide links to your own posts to help complete the picture.

Portrait Demos: Alexey Steele, Tony Pro and Jeremy Lipking


This group of LA-based artists paint together often (and they’re active in social media), so there was clearly real comfort in their demo. Alexey uses brushes with really long handles (Rosemary’s brushes) that I found really interesting. I’m not painting the figure often in the studio much, but I can certainly see the benefit of standing back a few feet while painting.  Who knows, this could be equally useful in plein air work?  If you’ve tried Rosemary’s brushes, let me know. I purchased a few of the “Ivory” synthetics and have been testing them with the new Cobra water soluble oils.  Unfortunately, they’re already starting to fray.  As I’d like to make the transition to water soluble, let me know what synthetics you’ve been happy with.

Jeremy starts with blocks of color, not drawing.  Like me, he seems to think in terms of shapes first, not line.  I find that many of us are pushed to use line first, which is not equally effective for all painters. It’s like being left handed vs. right.  You’re born that way!

Tony Pro uses Emerald Green, says Sargent used it.  Haven’t tried it.  Have you?  Do you think it’s worth experimenting with?

Jeremy will mix up some light blues, since most blues from the tube are so dark.  This makes sense, and is somewhat similar to Scott Christensen’s approach, although the latter mixes grays.  I know Ray Roberts will also mix some mid-tone colors from pure as well. Worth trying.  Tony uses the Brilliant Blue in figure work, which is interesting. I’ve tried it in plein air landscape work, and find it a good starting color for the sky. Radiant Magenta is used by two of the painters, which I believe is made by Gamblin.  Two of the painters swear by Rosemary’s brushes.

Alexey (paraphrasing): “the world is made of paint, the visceral quality of paint is a strong part of the Russian school.” and., “art is an extreme sport“.  Alexey’s great laugh filled the convention hall during the entire event!  This man knows how to live life to its fullest.

Clyde Aspevig

Clyde Aspevig
Clyde Aspevig

Clyde’s lecture was one of the great highlights of the convention.  Here is some of what resonated with me:

Think in terms of paint. Look at the real world and think of brushwork, how it comes to life in paint.  This is very similar to Alexey’s view: “the world is made of paint”.  Think of what you see as paint. That said, ideas (design) drive the success of a painting, not the application of paint.

Nature offers the unexpected. The beauty in the complexity, color, texture of a boulder is beautiful.  We can learn from rocks!  You can’t compete from nature, only learn from it.  Eg, the pure yellow from the tube is gaudy compared to the reality of nature. Find abstractions in what you see that create visual interest.  Find the unexpected.  [Commentary] I don’t now about you, but I grow tired quickly of scenes and compositions that have been so overdone, they become trite.  Why bother?  Personally, I’ll paint the mundane or expected only when my goal is to learn something (eg, paint handling, color mixing, etc).  A great way to learn to paint is to consciously control variables: eg, to learn values, paint in black and white; to learn color, take drawing out of the equation and paint colored blocks; to learn composition, paint abstractions of shapes.

Always grow. Be aware of the stagnant in your work and approach.  Keep surprised and be surprising. Eg, paint a landscape without the sky to make the ground appear brighter—gives you more range of color and value.  A trap in plein air is to not have the time to truly design the idea behind a painting. You arrive at a site, get enthused and start painting. Right? That’s why we need to combine plein air work (discovery, understanding light) with studio work, where you can focus on big ideas that you’ve learned from nature.

Empathy for what you paint is important.  Understand the nature of things.  Study a wave in every phase of it’s life.  A rock deserves our understanding and attention.  He recommended “The Natural History of the Senses” (by Diane Ackerman). Here’s an exercise: take any work of fiction, and paint a representation of it.  What would the ideas and emotions in Catcher in the Rye look like?  Not literally, but emotionally…ideas.

The value of restraint. Taste and restraint transcends the ordinary (we’ve all over-worked paintings, right!?). Taste is demonstrated by the restraint of one who knows what they want to say and how to say it, nothing more (Clint Eastwood’s Super Bowl commercial comes to my mind, where the class of Eastwood thrives in and event of no restraint, the Super Bowl). Restraint unleashes the beauty of mystery and ambiguity.  Do we need to state it all?  What fun is that for the viewer?  Knowledge gaps engage, the viewer gets more as they view the painting over time.  The sign of a good painting is one you’ll want to come back to again and again.

We’re nature’s advocate.  As human beings, we cast a long shadow on nature. Don’t take it for granted.  As artists, we can give voice to nature.  Don’t let technology detract you from the quiet, powerful moments of life.  John Muir: “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Ken Auster Demonstration

“Demo’s are like a colonoscopy, the prep is worse than the event itself”, Ken Auster

Intellect & Emotion. There is an intellectual and emotional part to painting, and they should be kept separate.  Use your intellect to solidify your idea and overall approach to convey it in paint.  Intellect is part of the preparation process, NOT the painting process. 95% of bad paintings are people picking bad things to paint, they didn’t think about it. Use your foundation of skills built through experience and intellect, so you can let go and enjoy the emotional process of painting.  Use your intellect to let go of what you see and interpret it in the way of paint. Painting outdoors teaches you to see things quickly, and builds your intellect of how nature and natural light behaves.

Painting is like an Oreo cookie. I paint what I know, not what I see”.  Everything (photos, painting en plein air) is reference for departure in the service of creating art, whether in the studio or in nature. Form, perspective, color and atmosphere may not exist in reference material, so you need to KNOW how to fill in the blanks.  [Commentary] Have you ever invented the distance between mountains to expand aerial perspective, or to unify the value plan of a design?  “Be influenced, but not held hostage by what you see.” Exercise: shrink wrap an object and paint it to understand its form.  Painting is like an Oreo cookie, Intellect at the beginning and end, but passion in the middle, the meat of it.

Slobs let go! There are clean painters, and you know who they are! There are messy painters, but you wouldn’t know it from their work. He’s a secret slob.  “If you want to be messy, it’s okay. Surprising things can happen when you let go like a slob!

Cityscape tips. For cityscapes, he’ll paint one side with warm shadows, the other cool.  Keeps it more and more abstract from the center of interest outward.  This is the way your eye works.  When you’re looking at a person on a moving streetcar, you’re not seeing how many windows are in the storefront across the street.  Why paint it that way? Resolve the focal point early in the process, to have one lead actor supported by the remaining stage of canvas.

“I need a clean palette”. Pause.  Looks around.  Then he rips off a new sheet of white wax paper and places it OVER the old palette! Cool cat.

Matt Smith

There is no “plein air” style.  It’s a method–especially to learn natural light–but not a style, and NOT a competition.  You can make a painting more light filled not by painting bright/light highlights, but rather lightening your shadows.  Give your shadows air.  “Never paint from a photograph in front of your students.  It’s like cussing in front of your kids.  You know you do it, they know you do it, but you don’t want them to.”

Ned Mueller & Camille Przewodek

Scott Christensen

Being vulnerable is key to growth.  Put yourself out there.  Be prepared to fail.  Embrace it, you’ll enjoy the process.   You only have THIS time and memories. Really understand why you’re painting what your painting. To see color, look upside down.  See it differently.  The best paintings hold values, color, everything in reserve (this gets back to Clyde Aspevig’s comments on taste and restraint).

Russian Day

Russian Master Painter Nikolai Dubovik: “Plein air should be painted outdoors, not on stage” (laughter, applause…maybe next year there will be opportunities for more outdoor lectures and demos).

The French invented paint in tubes. The English invented trains.  Plein air was born :-)”

Sorry, just have a few notes from this demo. He drew the structure of the painting in Ultramarine Blue with a surprisingly small/narrow brush, using the side of the brush to scumble in masses. He uses a limited palette. “It’s possible to paint masterpieces in 6 shades of black. Every-time I pick up a brush, it’s like the first time.  It’s a good feeling. What’s important is the process that gives you joy.“  His palette: Umber, Russian Yellow Ochre, Russian blacks (Ivory black), Ultramarine Blue.  “I believe you should choose a scene your are capable or rendering, but always go beyond that (interpret, add).” The Russian tradition of plein air painting is quite diverse. Questions about mediums.  He uses anything.  The point is to get the paint on the canvas.  There should be a point on the canvas that you feel you could throw a stone into it to show depth.  You could reach into it. When you paint plein air, the air outdoors allows the paint to reach a kind of stickiness that he likes (that you can’t get inside).  Also spoke about the importance of subtlety, and how that makes a painting believable.

Miscellaneous Snapshots

Bryan Mark Taylor debuts new Apple-inspired plein air easel
Bryan Mark Taylor debuts new Apple-inspired plein air easel
Russian Master Painter Nikolai Dubovik (b 1960)
Russian Master Painter Nikolai Dubovik (b 1960)

Scott Christensen
Scott Christensen

Painting Demonstration

After a great plein air painting trip, I’m back to the studio and focusing on the figure.  I took snapshots of my progress on this painting so you’ll be able to view as a demo on YouTube.

I know this is an unusual composition, but I like that.  This was a great study in warm colors (hence the title, “Warmth”).  One of the key objectives I had was to represent warm/cool warm colors, and find a way to have the figure stand out from the rocks behind.  It’s a figure, so of course it will always stand out visually, but I also wanted to use color to accomplish the same objective.  I typically do that through “color separation” (which I first wrote about on this blog in 2007). The basic idea is to use completely different colors from my palette to represent a color of the same hue family and value.  For example, to separate the color of grass in shade and light, each of those two mixtures will have different blue and yellow mixtures (eg, green in shade might be Ultramarine Blue + Yellow Ochre, while in light it might by Cerulean Blue + Cad Yellow).  Both make green, but the fact that different base colors are used to mix each helps further separate light from shadow.

In this painting, I kept his flesh in shadow based on Mars Violet, while the base for the rocks was Alizarin Crimson.  This was also a fun study to do in terms of brushwork. I was able to get the contrast I wanted by keeping the rocks loose and free-form, while the draftsmanship of the figure is tighter (too tight, actually, I’d love to be able to paint a figure as loose as Dan MacCaw.  Someday!  The other challenge in this painting was representing the direction of color of light.  There’s a cool reflection from the sky in his hair and chest for exmaple, and a very warm reflect light coming from the ground to his chest and parts of his face.  That’s always fun to paint!

You may see a larger studio version of this painting as it’s one of those studies that resonates with me.  What do you think?

"Warmth", Oil on Canvas, 9x12"
"Warmth", Oil on Canvas, 9x12"

Here’s the YouTube video demonstration:


Colley Whisson Workshop

Colley Whisson
Colley Whisson

I was once asked to give a talk about “thought leadership” in media. Two creative people I spoke about where Julia Child and Bob Ross. The former revolutionalized American cooking at home by introducing us to the “mystery” of French cooking, and the later did the same for art. I think a lot of artists look down on Bob Ross, and while his painting may not be to your taste, he made art approachable by taking the stress out of it. He de-mystified painting, as Julia did cooking. What does this have to do with Colley Whisson? Two things, first, his manner is calm, re-assuring, yet precise. Second, he’s introduced me—and most people in his workshop—to Australian art as Julia introduced us to French cooking. I hope you make some discoveries, too, after reading this.

Cholley’s Approach

I fouund his approach to be quite similar to other tonalist painters, and in contrast to the Henche school (taught by John Ebersberger, Camille Przewodek, etc). I didn’t get great pictures of any demo start to finish (except for the video below), so the illustrative photographs below go back-and-forth between various demos. I think you’ll still get the general idea.

Materials. Good painting starts with the best materials you can afford. I’ve tried the cheap stuff, and fighting poor quality isn’t worth it, especially when you consider the many challenges you face in bringing together a painting. A couple of notes about his materials:

  • Brushes. Two things drew me to Colley’s work: his dramatic sense of light, and his brushwork. Realizing that great brush work has a lot more to do with precision and sensitivity (that only comes with experience), you may want to try these brushes, but don’t expect a miracle. One book dedicated to brushwork I like is Emil Gruppe’s Brushwork for the Oil Painter. It’s out of print, but you can find used copies on That said, Colley used some brushes I hadn’t seen anyone use before. They look like house painting brushes: quite wide, razer shart, short handle. He uses them both for the first wash-in (see below) as well as throughout the painting to add beautiful calligraphy. Someone told me he used Langnickel 283’s, which apparently you can buy in a three-pack for $15 (I haven’t purchased mine yet, so can’t confirm….I will update this post after I do UPDATE 12/10/2010, from Colley: “Brushes are in a pack of 3:  Royal Langnickel “Large Area Brush Set” White Taklon (Medium) Item # RART-150”). He also showed us how to use a razor blade to trim back brushes that are too thick for his technique. Holding the blade with your thumb and forefinger, push the blade down from the ferrule to tip.
  • Support. He paints on wood board, Mahogany, I believe. When using canvas, he tones with Yellow Ochre. The board is a good choice for his technique, because he often uses the palette knife to cut-back or trim light colored paint to review dark undertones, a techique he learned from Richard Schmid.
  • Medium. He uses an Alkyd medium, but tried Turpenoid during the class and really liked it. He thought it probably dried faster than his usual medium, although he was somewhat concerned about cracking. He said in the past he painted dark undertones/accents with a cool mixture (Utramarine Blue + Alizarin Chrimson), but said that mixed cracked over time. His boards seemed a bit warped, so I wonder if he neglects to prime both sides? In any case, he now ads a Cadium Red to his darks to prevent cracking.
  • Rags. Interestingly, he rarely uses paper towels, but instead rags that you can apparently buy in large bags at second hand stores in Australia. I don’t often use rags, but will try it to see if there’s a difference. I do use Viva paper towels exclusively, because they are rag-like and very absorbant. Soneone had blue shop towels with them, and he seemed to like those as well.

Concept. If art is revealing something that’s never been seen or said before, then you should start with a concept (unless you’re painting quick studies to improve skill, like value, drawing, etc). Colley said he paints the picture first in his mind, and things tend to go wrong when you forget that or stray in another direction. There are exceptions. I’m sure we’ve also started with one idea and discovered something new while painting, but I think this idea of keeping the focus on your original impression is good rule of thumb.

Design. Colley starts by marking with dots the vertical and horozontal thirds of the painting surface, and draws a mental (sometimes physical) circle connecting the dots. He believes the center of interest and closely subordinate interests should be within that area. You should also think of the circle in terms of how the eye should move within the painting. Since the subject of composition is so complex, I will refer to the many great books written about composition (eg, Edgar Payne’s Composition of Outdoor Painting is a personal favorite).

Drawing. Start with small dots indicating the boundaries of the large masses. Ensure the relative position, size and shapes are there, then start to draw them in. Like almost any artist I’ve studied with, he emphasized the importance of drawing and doing so whenever/wherever you can. He also demonstrated a nice drawing aid: he uses an thin/light frame as a horizontal and vertical maulstick.

Cholley Whisson DRAWING stage

Underpainting. Colley loves strong contrast, so he usually started his paintings with a very dark mixture, although once in a while I noticed he started with midtones, and added dark accents later. He discourages the use of thinner at this point, but rather pure medium (even to clean the brush). In general, I noticed that he tended to paint whole areas dark, even if they would later hold lights. This helps the lights “pop” against the dark background, but of course, this technique requires you give the underpainting time to dry to avoid picking up the underpainting later. I noticed that even with 20 minutes of wait time, my underpainting wasn’t completely dry. He’d often take a paper towel and remove excess underpaint to ensure the next layer could be applied cleanly. This is something I need to continue to experiment with and learn. This may be especially challenging in a “plein air” situation where time is short, so we’ll see. Please share your own experience in comments!


Masses. He’ll first place the lightest light as a small spec of a stroke to ensure it will pop against the dark underpainting. He then focuses on the large color masses, going for accurate value and color on the first stroke (rarely working back in to adjust later). At this point, he stesses an “attack and retreat” technique, ie, lay your strokes in with confidence, and step back often to check your overall color/value relationships.

Painting. He works the canvas all over, drawing the work to completion together, rather than say starting at the center of interest and working outward. He uses the large (4-5″) brushes throughout the painting process, to generate interesting caligraphic strokes and lines using the brush tip. His brush strokes follow the contour of the shape (and not gravity, as some artists like Ken Auster do). He ties the types of strokes he paints in relational to sky (should be a thin veil, like panty hose); mid-field (more texture); and foreground (shag carpet!). As he paints towards completion, he continually asks himself whether the painting is far enough along to communicate his original concept. We all risk taking paintings too far, so I think this is great advice. Let a painting sit a few days before you call it done. He’ll also photograph his work and then flip it on the horizontal axis. This new perspective helps you see mistakes.

Many thanks to The Tucson Art Academy (and their gracious hosts, Gabor and Christine Svagrik) for hosting this workshop, complete with fresh baked scones and cookies! Also, I hope to followup this post with one on the Australian artists Colley referred his students to in class.

Demo (plein air)

While this demo may be helpful, Colley has a wonderful book and DVDs available in International Artist Magazine’s store. You’ll find those much more complete: Impressionist Painting Made Easy; and his various DVDs here.

My Workshop Studies

Golden Summer (after Colley Whisson), Oil on Linen, 12x16
Golden Summer (after Colley Whisson), Oil on Linen, 12x16

Interior (after Colley Whisson), Oil on Linen, 12x16
Interior (after Colley Whisson), Oil on Linen, 12x16

Crystal Cove (after Colley Whisson), Oil on Linen, 16x12
Crystal Cove (after Colley Whisson), Oil on Linen, 16x12

Self-Portrait, Video Demo

Still feeling really challenged by learning the figure.  Reminds of a quote by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do something every day that scares you.”  I need this.  I took snap shots as I progressed so I could review with my teacher Al Tofanelli (at l’Atelier aux Couleurs), so he could advise me.  It’s interesting, I think a personal style in portraiture is emerging at a faster pace than landscape.  Not sure why.  Enjoy!

Self-Portrait, Oil on Linen, 12x10"
Self-Portrait, Oil on Linen, 12x10"

And here’s the video on YouTube

Seascape Video Demo

While painting this seascape the other night, I took snapshots of progress so I could create a demonstration video.  I think the process I followed here is somewhat typical, but I always feel free to alter it to meet the needs of the moment. See my YouTube channel for more of my own demos, as well as those by Peggi Kroll-Roberts, John Ebersberger, Kevin Weckback, Mark Kerckhoff, and Skip Whitcomb. These are just vidoes I’ve taken myself, but I also have a more extensive list of demos in my “Plein Air Demos” playlist (over 60).  If you have a demo on YouTube that you’d like added to my plein air demos playlist, leave a comment with the video URL.  Thanks!

California Coast, Oil on Canvas, 9x12
California Coast, Oil on Canvas, 9x12



California Coast Painting Demonstration

Riverbed, again

I took another shot at this composition, but intended to take the high-key concept further, but failed really.  I like the way the painting came out, just felt I could have made it ever more “high key”.  I’m going to continue to work on this.  I painted a “full key” painting from a reference photo taken at Lake Tahoe this past summer.  As soon as it dries, I’ll can it and post, because I think it really illustrates the dramatic difference between low and full-key painting.

Peggi Kroll-Roberts Workshop Day 4

Today Peggi Kroll-Roberts focused on the structure of the head.  If you think of the head as a structure of planes, it becomes easier to paint. Each plane has a relative size, shape and direction.  The direction (facing up, down, towards light, away from light) gives you clues about how it should look.  For example, planes that face down towards a green shirt, will have reflected green light; planes facing the sky outdoors, will reflect blue on a clear day.

Here’s a video of Peggi explaining her approach, and the measures she uses to structure the head.  Peggi will emphasize that these are not rules, but guidelines.  The reality is that when you’re facing with a model, they’re rarely going to be facing you straight on at eye level–but you can transpose these rules to heads that are tilted, swiveled, etc.  The bottom line is you need to learn to see and draw accurately.  There are no short-cuts.

Here are my own head studies from the day.  So we could focus on fewer variables, the first few studies where done mono-chromatically.  By the end of the day, I had time to do one study in color.

Monochromatic Head Study 1
Monochromatic Head Study 1

Monocrhromatic Head Study 2

And finally, a study in color!

Color Head Study 1
Color Head Study 1

Be sure to visit at l’Atelier aux Couleurs for a list of upcoming workshops.  They have some great teachers!

Peggi Kroll-Roberts Workshop Day 3

Day 3: “High Key” Painting

Day 3 of the Peggi Kroll-Roberts workshop at l’Atelier aux Couleurs focused on painting “high-key” paintings.  This approach to painting is focused on a narrow range of values at the high end (light) of the value scale. I’ve recently experimented with this approach (here, here).  I think it’s ironic that these paintings seem to give a much better sense of light that high-contrast paintings.  You’d think that an object painted in near white next to near black would give the best sense of light (and sometimes, it can work), but a high-key painting seems to work even better. I think it’s because the painting overall is much lighter, the darkest shadows are readable and not so dark they loose their vibrancy.

So, I have a treat!  If you 8 minutes and 49 seconds to spare, I have a full start-to-finish demo of Peggi using this technique in a 20 minute demo.

Here are some of my own high key studies:

High Key Study 1
High Key Study 1

High Key Study 2
High Key Study 2

Finally, this isn’t high key, but just a regular “full key” study.

Figure Study
Figure Study

John Ebersberger Workshop Recap

I  studied with John Ebersberger this week at l’Atelier aux Couleurs: the Art Academy.

John’s a great teacher, full of energy, enthusiasm, and most of all, knowledge.  He is from the “Hensche School” painting method, whose lineage goes backward from Henry Hensche (John’s teacher and Hawthorne’s assistant), to Charles Webster Hawthorne (Chase’s assistant) to William Merritt Chase. The main ideas of this school of painting (which is really more of method of seeing) is that 1) form can be modeled with color variation; 2) painting in outdoor light; 3) outdoor light/conditions introduce a “light key” that must be represented (eg, from an overcast day to a full sun day).  To give you a practical example of how the school’s differ, a tonalist would mix a shadow color, then add white and a bit of yellow to show the sunlit side, whereas a Hensche colorist would see each color as a completely distinct mix. So while a Hensche colorist may turn a form with color and temperature changes, a tonalist (or “value painter”) may do so with value alone (the range of values from black to white).

I’ve studied this method under Camille Przewodek as well, and can tell you Henche’s method is not a “one workshop thing”.  This is my 3rd, and I feel I’m starting to get it.  It takes years of study and practice, and although Camille has applied the technique to plein air painting, I think it’s best learned with outdoor still life study.  In fact, if you study with her, you’ll probably spend most of your time painting colored blocks in outdoor light.  Sounds boring, but believe me, it’s more challenging than you may realize. In a still life, you can practice with objects and light conditions that are highly varied.

To learn more about this school of painting, I recommend joining John’s Facebook group on Hensche, and not bothering too much with the Hensche Foundation website, which does not present his best work and looks quite stale.

Here are some of my and John’s studies, along with commentary. I hope you find them useful!  If you’ve studied this technique as well, chime in with your feedback by entering a comment on this post.

John Ebersberger Images

As you can see, John paints with a full spectrum palette of color.  If you’re interested in the specific colors, let me know in comments and I’ll list them out [see the update below, all his colors and the brand of paints he uses are listed at the end of this post].

John Ebersberger Palette
John Ebersberger Palette

Isn’t this a beautiful start?  I missed most of this demo, but was able to capture the end of the start, and where he started to work on refining the large pot.  The sides of the pot and the cast shadow on the table are being refined with warm/cool note differences, but he started the pot just as he did the apple, as simply a light and shadow note.

John Ebersberger Still Life Demo (start)
John Ebersberger Still Life Demo (start)

I have a video of this on my previous blog post, step-by-step.  Notice how the shaded side of the head holds together well, even though there is variation between the hair and skin (the lit side, too).  He emphasized this often, that you hold to the large relationships first (figure to background) before you start color variations, and eventually detail.

John Ebersberger Figure Study Start
John Ebersberger Figure Study Start

Click here for a YouTube video demo of the figure start above.

Ed Terpening Images

This was my first attempt of the week.  I didn’t have time to finish it, but I’m happy with the start.  I do think my shadow notes are dark dark, and I started to work lighter color into them (you can see the darker beneath).  I’d also just started to model the blue pitcher and the pear.  Notice that I’ve left white space between each color note.  This can be confusing at this stage of the painting, but it’s important because it allows me to continually adjust color spots and relationships throughout the painting.  If you bring the color spots together too soon, and need to adjust later, you’ll risk creating mud and maybe creating a type of edge that you may not want.

Still Life Study 1, Unfinished  (Ed Terpening)
Still Life Study 1, Unfinished (Ed Terpening)

I was really happy with this figure study, probably my best of the week!  John took a photo too, as he’s collecting examples of studies for his website.  I had time (about 2 hours) to get the relationship between figure (face) and background, and just started modeling the hair and forehead.  Wish I could have finished this one.

FIgure Study 1 (unfinished)
FIgure Study 1 (unfinished)

Here’s another start from later in the week.

Figure Study 2 (unfinished)
Figure Study 2 (unfinished)

UPDATE [July 15, 2009]: I heard back from John, and he’s happy to share both his palette, and his favorite brands of colors too!  Here’s what he wrote me:

Color List

1. Titanium white

2. Cadmium lemon yellow (or light)

3. Cadmium yellow medium

4. Cad. Orange

5. Cad. Scarlet (or scarlet lake) — A must for outdoor work (see specific colors listed below, you may also explore reds made with napthol and perylene).

6. Cad. Red deep

7. Permanent Rose (or quinocridone red)

8. Dioxazine Purple

9. Ultramarine blue

11. Cerulean Blue

12. Permanent Green Light

13. Viridian Green

Earth colors:

1. Yellow Ochre

2. Indian Yellow

3. Burnt Sienna

4. Indian Red, Light Red, or Mars Red

Any paint brand is fine to start out with, you will find what works best for you. Ultimately you want to learn what pigments you are using. Some are right in the name – Cadmium yellow is made from cadmium pigment. Some are not in the name, for instance Winsor Newton’s Permanent Rose is actually a quinocridone pigment.

Regarding less expensive student brands of paint – when colors are named things like Cadmium red hue, or cerulean blue hue, the pigment is not what is stated in the name – this is not necessarily bad, as some of these pigments are useful. For instance the Cad. red hue may be a napthol, a color with strong tinting strength – and the cerulean hue may be a pthalo, a color with strong tinting capability.

Usually I like a warmer and cooler version of each of the primaries and green. Also a small range of earth tones is helpful.

Here is a color list with brand names that I like to use:

1. The Blockx Cadmium Yellows are terrific for use with palette knife. I use Blockx Cad. Yellow Pale, Cad. Yellow Medium, and Cad. Yellow Deep. When using a brush, I prefer the Rembrandt line of yellows because they are more fluid.

2. Winsor Newton, Cad. Orange (Rembrandt, when using brush)

3. Blockx, Cadmium Red Orange – the brightest red available, on the orange side, similar to cad. Scarlet (a bit thick for use with brush, especially in winter).

4. Old Holland, Scarlet Lake Extra – a beautiful transparent red

5. Gamblin, Napthol Red – the brightest red pigment (made by other companies under different names. Gamblin also makes a Napthol Scarlet, which I haven‘t tried yet)

6. Winsor Newton Cad. Red Deep – not bright, but you don’t always want bright. Almost a cool earth note.

7. Permanent Rose, Winsor Newton (Gamblin, Quinocridone Red)

8. Either Sennilier Permanent Violet, Gamblin Dioxine Purple, or Old Holland, Bright Purple. Also try any of the variety of quinocridone pigmented oils. I still pine for the old Rembrt. Perm Violet and Red Violet!

9. Blue – Still experimenting with brands- right now I use the Rembrandt line – Ultramarine, Cobalt, and Cerulean. I also recommend Manganese Blue Hue by just about anybody, but Gamblin is probably the best deal.

10. Viridian – Rembrandt (have not tried too many others. WN, too stiff.)

11. Winsor Newton, Permanent Green Light, and Cad. Green Pale

12. “Sevres” Green is nice (Blockx makes a good one), or Winsor Green by Winsor Newton. (they might still make Winsor Emerald too)

13. Sometimes I use Rembrandt, Chromium Green Oxide (indoor work, and winter and gray day keys)

14. Burnt Sienna (Rembrandt for brush work. Try Blockx Burnt Sienna Deep too – a very “cool“ brown.)

15. Rembrandt, Indian Red –

16. Old Holland, Mars Red-Orange or Blockx, Light Red

17. Winsor Newton, Raw Sienna (I’m sure other brands are fine as well

18. Blockx, Yellow Ochre, for palette knife. Rembrandt for brush.

19. Winsor Newton, Indian Yellow (you might also try Gamblin Transparent Orange)

20. White – Gamblin Titanium White. Blockx is excellent as well, but a little stiff for brush work right out of the tube.
21. I almost forgot!! Rembrandt Turquoise and Winsor Newton’s Indian Yellow – two indispensable colors.