Category Archives: Technique

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

Peggi Kroll-Roberts Workshop, Day 2

Peggi taught us a couple more tools for painting.  This was an interesting idea: paint a study with as few brushstrokes as possible.  You design and then draw a composition that allows you to paint with as few big shapes as possible.  This is a great exercise for a couple reasons: first, it’s always a good design practice to divide your space in as few big shapes as possible, no more than 5-7.  This forces you to do that.  Second, because each stroke must be continuous, you learn to really load your brush so the single stroke will cover as much area as possible.  For the large background, for example, I loaded the brush (with marbeled color, to make it interesting) and sculpted around objects and covered the space in one go. I think I painted this in about 13 strokes.

Limitted Brushstroke Study, 1
Limitted Brushstroke Study, 1

I was very happy with this study as well, although it doesn’t seem to photograph well.  I’ll try scanning it when I get home.

Limitted Brushstroke Study, 2
Limitted Brushstroke Study, 2

And finally, this quick figure study

Figure Study
Figure Study

Peggi Kroll-Roberts Workshop

Today was the first day of a 5-day Peggi Kroll-Roberts at l’Atelier aux Couleurs in Petaluma.  Peggi has a wonderful unique style for painting the figure, so I’ve looked forward to studying with her for some time.  She’s also a lot of fun.

Today, we started simple: gray scale paintings.  These are done, much like Notan sketches, to both build compositional skills and learn to simplify.  This two-scale gray study clearly separates light from dark.  This is a great exercise.  Normally, I’d do something like this with a black sharpie on white paper, but painting this just gives you that much more experience handling paint.  It also let’s you make corrections in drawing as you go.

2 Color Gray Study

Throughout the day, we kept adding levels of gray.  I was able to get to 4, in this study.  While some students went on to color, I actually liked spending time on these a lot.  Removing color from the equation, and simply focusing on value and composition is somewhat liberating.  I’m happy with the way this turned out.  If I can keep to values this accurate in color, I’ll be a happy camper.

Composition Study, 4 Grays
Composition Study, 4 Grays

I painted all of today’s study on a single large board, which I simply divided up into 6 areas for my studies.

Composition/Value Studies
Composition/Value Studies

Tomorrow, we get to paint the figure!  I believe she said we’d start that in shades of gray first, then graduate to color.  Stay tuned.

Diving (Lake Tahoe)

I enjoy adding figures to the landscape because they help give it scale.  Don’t these boulders look huge!  Well, they were 🙂  This is a 12×9″ painting, so these figures are tiny, just spots of color, really.  Even so, given it’s a figure, I needed to get proportions, posture, all that correct, otherwise it would of detracted from the painting.  I’m focusing on the figure again in a few weeks, as I’m to study with Peggy Kroll Roberts at l’Atelier aux Couleurs in Petaluma (a wonderful school, BTW).

I combined brushwork and palette knife in this one, starting the painting with transparent washes, then building up paint once I got the correct values and color temperature.

Diving Rock, Lake Tahoe - Oil on Canvas - 12x9
Diving Rock, Lake Tahoe - Oil on Canvas - 12x9


Here’s a detail of the figures to show you what I mean.

Diving Rock, Take Tahoe (Detail)
Diving Rock, Take Tahoe (Detail)

This is from another reference photo taken from the Laderman’s speed boat. When we got close to these guys, they stopped diving. We weren’t close enough to interfere at all, but I don’t think they wanted an audience. Makes sense. Enjoy!

Lake Tahoe

I had a great time in Lake Tahoe last week.  I painted a couple plein air, but they need some adjustment in the studio before I consider finished.  This is a studio painting of the north/east shore, on the Nevada side. The friends we stay with their have a speed boat, so we were able to visit lots of little coves accessible by water.

This was painted 100% by palette knife. I wished I’d taken interim photos, because I think it would have made a good demo. The painting is basically 4 bands of color, so I started it much like I would a Hensche still life, like this one.  That is, large bands of solid color, with white in between.  I keep the white there only because I don’t want edges to touch until I’ve worked out the basic color relationships for each block of color.  With the four bands of color down, I continued to adjust the color of each band.  When I got them right, I brought the edges of the color bands together, then started to model the objects within each band.  For example, the rocks started as a medium value rock color. I then added shadow sides of the rocks (first scraping that area a bit to avoid creating muddy color), then mid-tones, light sides, color variation (warm/cool) within each rock and finally darkest darks.  The same approach was used for the trees and water.  The sky stayed relatively solid, although I did add some flecks of lighter blue/green at the horizon of the sky.

Lake Tahoe, Oil on Linen, 8x6
Lake Tahoe, Oil on Linen, 8x6


I’m in the North Tahoe Plein Air show next month, and a hotel and restaraunt in the area is interesting in buying some of my Truckee River work, so looks like I’ll be painting Tahoe scenes a few weeks now.

Monterey Cypress

I’m still experimenting with use of the palette knife to apply paint.  In this most recent study, I combined brushwork with the knife.  Most of the paint was applied with brush, and used the knife for areas I felt were best suited for it, like adding texture in the center of interest, and in some cases using it to apply paint on top of wet areas that would otherwise not take well to a brush (and create mud).

This was done in studio from a reference photo of Pescadero Point, which is on the 17-Mile Drive in Carmel. It’s a really stunning area (here’s an interesting 360 interactive map).

Monterey Cypress, Oil on Linen, 11x15
Monterey Cypress, Oil on Linen, 11x15


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"


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.

John Ebersberger Workshop

I’m attending John Ebersberger‘s workshop this week, so been a bit busy.  This is my first attempt embedding a video using my new blog software, so hopefully this will work!  If you don’t see an embedded QuickTime video below, here for the video posted on YouTube.

This is a plein air figure painting start by John, referred to as a “mud head” study by the Henry Hensche school of contemporary impressionism.  I’ll post my own in a few days, along with additional commentary and information.

John Ebersberger Painting Demonstration (YouTube)

Mother’s Day in Golden Gate Park

The Golden Gate Park Bank has started their concerts again (running through October) every Sunday.  As I’m starting to paint the figure again a bit more, I road my bike down to the park to complete some plein air sketch studies.  I’m studying with Peggi Kroll-Roberts in September at l’Atelier aux Couleurs in Petaluma this September (and John Ebersberger in July), and I hear that she directs students to do quickly plein air sketches of people as an exercise.  I’m used to sketching people with pen/ink outdoors, but it’s pretty challenging in oil.  I had a good time doing it.

This was actually a big group, about a dozen people, but I started with one person and kept working outward to the surrounding people until I left.


Mother’s Day Concert Goers (GG Park), Oil on Linen, 8×10