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September 2012

August 2012

Need to Shape Up?

Maybe you do without realizing it.

In the book Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting, John Carlson writes: "Every good picture is fundamentally an arrangement of three or four large masses - a design of differing masses or large blocks of color - light, dark, and half-dark or half-light." (p. 33)  So...being able to see the major shapes in your subject will make the painting process easier - especially with landscape, where there's so much information it can be overwhelming.


Here are a few quick value sketches I did using photo references on my computer.  I used white and Van Dyck Brown - a very dark brown, and I think there might be some raw umber in there too.  I was using up leftover paint blobs on my palette, and squinting a lot, as I worked at dividing the motif into no more than four value shapes.  We often hear artists say things like "every good painting has a strong abstract design beneath it" - and this is pretty much what theyre talking about.  Look at your study in a mirror and upside down - you will more fully appreciate the "abstract" qualities - how the dark shapes stand against the light shapes.  Ask yourself these questions

  • are my shapes interesting?
  • Dynamic?
  • Descriptive?
  • Unexpected?
  • Active?
  • or are my shapes even?
  • Rigid?
  • Repetitive?
  • Boring?
The more you experiment with this, the easier it will be for you to see forms and simplify the masses in your composition while still "describing" the landscape. 

Here are a few resources to help you:

  • Blick Canvas Panels - these start at 46 cents for a 4 inch square, 67 cents for a 5 inch by 7 inch.  They are sturdy, the surface has a rougher canvas texture but you aren't trying to do fine detail work here, just practice seeing the different large masses and their values. I buy in bulk, and they are stacked up in the studio, silently nagging me every day. I mean, really, you can't use "cost" as your excuse anymore.
  • New Traditions Art Panels - these are very affordable for when you want to work on a better surface - a 6" x 8" 3/16 inch gatorfoam panel with Claessens single primed medium tooth with titanium zinc oil priming is $4.16. They also offer sample packs if you aren't sure which type of linen and priming you like best.
  • SourceTek Canvas Panels also offers a variety of surfaces.  The 6" x 8" oil primed Claessens landscape linen sells for $5.03 but must be purchased in packs of 5 or more.  

The added value with any of these products is the ability to experiment with the various linens and priming and substrates available without spending a lot of money - so for all those Type-A personalities out there, you can multi-task by combining your Notan practice with discovering which surface you like best. 


Drawing is important because


it does a lot of fundamental skill-building stuff for artists. For instance, drawing

  • improves your eye-hand coordination
  • lets you practice sight-size drawing
  • helps you understand the underlying structure of whatever it is you are looking at
  • try out different design concepts
  • become more comfortable translating 3-dimensional objects into a 2-dimensional space
  • helps you understand the expressive power in gesture, line, brush mark, or mass
  • and according to Juliette Aristides in her very excellent book Lessons in Classical Drawing, "every good drawing exhibits an understanding and control of tone, proportion, harmony, and composition."

Artists need to incorporate drawing into their daily practice, no matter what their medium of choice.  And whether you are working all day, or just caught up in the other demands of modern life, or just "not ready" yet, it can be hard to set that drawing time aside. 

So, if you're like me, you need a little nudge to do the things that are good for you. 

Warning: these sites feature both nude and clothed models.  They also offer some form of selection, timed drawing, and choices if you want to work on animals, hands, heads, etc. 

and my favorite site:

The Posemaniacs site features "models" that are computer generated and show the underlying muscles. The figures can also be rotated 360 degrees to get differing perspectives, enlarged, and timed. Some may find the images kind of creepy, but I find them less distracting, allowing me to focus on the form, proportion, and gesture of the human figure. 


Copying an Old Master - If you do it, will you miraculously absorb knowledge?

Copying an Old Master painting is an excellent way to sharpen your skills.  The lucky ones actually get to do it in a museum, standing in front of the real thing.

Aspiring artists are often advised to copy the work of Old Masters because "you will absorb knowledge by doing it."  Maybe if you've been painting for years you can absorb knowledge by doing it, but for aspiring artists, or those looking for some specific information, this idea - that if you paint a perfect copy you will somehow internalize essential skills - doesn't always work if you can't identify what essential skills you need in the first place.

So my goal this summer was to spend time in the studio working this idea - copying landscape artists like William Merritt Chase (from books, a secondary source but there are no accommodating museums nearby). I wanted to push my understanding, so some studies explored how Chase used major action lines to define his large masses (otherwise known as composition).  Some were color studies - could I match each color exactly - with an interesting insight into the pink and green colors the artist used and why. Another study was strictly value, and there was one dedicated to brush work.

Different artists will be looking for different information at different times, and understanding how the Old Masters solved their problems can put more juice in your tank.

But maybe it's better to know what you're looking for when you start your copy.

That way you'll know when you find it. 


View from the terrace at Maryhill Art Museum, on the Washington side of the Columbia River.


I was able to attend the "The Subject is Light" exhibition of The Henry and Sharon Martin Collection of Contemporary Realist Artists last month, as well as the British Painting from the Permanent Collection.  And no, I didn't get to paint there, but I did spend several blissful hours with my nose about two inches away from beautiful landscape paintings by artists like Joseph McGurl, Donald Demers, and Jacob Collins.  The exhibit will continue on to the Cape Cod Museum of Art August 21 - November 7, 2012


"I could sure hear you in the book, very upbeat and encouraging...I also loaned your book to my Tucson art teacher and she let another friend of hers read it, too..."  TB, Tuscon, AZ

Book - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

Kindle US Store  - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist