Moo Plein Air

Why am I painting this?: Another learning experience to accompany the last posting for plein air notes.


Same procedure as before, but for the cows I found sticking to two colors was enough to make them appear like cows. Not sure I should have added so much highlight. I’ll try less next time.

I had to go back and further gray out the background to give depth and add white to take out some of the distant field’s “glow”.  The sky color is the really the “atmosphere” color, so I suppose mixing that in with any color would seem to push it back into the distance as long as it decreases the overall contrast.

Dog keep trying to drink from the brush-water jar. “Stop it”.

Plein Air, Plein Air!!

Why am I painting this? Plein air, or painting outside on location is something I strive to do so I can eventually paint while backpacking.  In these first two attempts, I take notes to learn from.  It’s very different outdoors!

Day 1 Notes:


Easel: cheap Walmart portable easel that works great!! This is a link to a similar easel, but mine is $20.  I guess it’s not available online. The wind was really blowing (15-20mph). Use the Velcro strap to anchor it down! Works great.  Also, shift around the canvas panel while tightening it down so the wind doesn’t loosen it and blow it on the ground. It’s not fun picking grass out of your paint.

Bag: I use a disc golf bag to stow my paints, stay-wet pallet, water jar, acrylics and a few brushes. This is similar to the bag I use. It does a good job of keeping stuff organized and the strap helps when needing an anchor for the easel. Also, a travel sized spray bottle fits nicely in the water bottle spot.

Stay Wet Pallet: This is a great video on making a stay-wet pallet similar to what I use. It works great!! 

Fold-up Camping chair: I like to paint standing up so I can step back from the painting a lot, but the easel is kinda short.  Plus, after an hour or two it is nice to have the option to sit!

Preparation: I gessoed two 8×10″ canvas panels the night before and added some retarder fluid to water in the spray bottle.

Setting Up: It’s stinkin’ bright out in the sun! Set up so that your canvas is shaded. Take a pic of your view from your painting spot for accurate reference (if needed). Sitting down, keep the stay wet pallet in you lap. Water wash-can on you right side (if you’re right handed) for easy access. Paint bag at your feet anchoring the easel. 

Starting: MAKE A VIEWFINDER! Can’t tell you how helpful this is! There is so much scenery and this “flattens” the scene to see a good composition. Make initial quick sketch, spray the canvas down, and lay in the big colors quickly (sky grass).  Leave details out (background trees, foreground details).  It’s your “underpaint”. 

Highlight to painting: Work from background to foreground (sky, background trees, foreground grass/tree, fence posts). Squint a lot to see values relative to each other. The point now is to get the true colors down. The camera doesn’t always get a good representation of these. DO NOT SPRAY THE CANVAS AFTER THE UNDERPAINTING IS DONE! I tried and streaked my painting dissolving with the water spots. Wet the brush to apply a thin coat if needed. Leave the small details for back home. Wind and quick drying paint makes it hard to do outdoors.

Things to do next time: SUNBURN.  Ouch. Full brim hat, sunscreen, and if possible sit in a shaded spot.  I look like a lobster. 

Day 2 Notes:


Much better today!  I used the same routine as before, found shade and a full brim hat. I had limited time.  I did an underpaint, sky, background trees, grass, foreground tree, foreground limb and field bluebonnets (about 80% done). Added details like cows detailed flowers at home.

Reading Paul Strisik’s book really helped! I recommend it for anyone as a “must read”.

Now get outside and just do it.  There’s no better way to learn!

The Apple Challenge, and an Answer

Why am I painting this?: The DPW challege was to paint an apple with as few colors as needed and still give a 3-D illusion. (I highly recommend doing these challenges along with Richard Robinson’s challenges!) In doing this I hoped to learn from other artist also completing the challenge and maybe sell it for a little spending money. I never expected an answer to my initial question!


Another artist commented on my painting:

“As a recipient of many apples over the years (I am a retired teacher) I got a warm fuzzy feeling from this one. One day a Kindergarten Kid did not know why kids would leave apples on my desk, so she “stole” a can of fruit from her mom’s kitchen and left it on my desk. That is the one I remember the most. I am tempted to buy yours as representative to my good life as a teacher.”

I replied, “I’m sending it right away, no charge!”. She responded, “I will frame it nicely and pay the good deed forward.”.


I learned an important lesson through this. Artist don’t make much money, the competition is stifling, and after pouring your heart into a painting the last thing you want to do is give it away! However, this reminded me why I paint. I paint in hopes that someone else may find value in it and be inspired. The value in her comment and especially in stating she would pay it forward renewed my sense of purpose. In gifting, I received a priceless return, an answer.

If you ever find you are losing inspiration to paint, put your heart into a painting for someone else. Then, give it to them without expecting anything in return. I promise, this act will give you a sense of freedom from the inside out.

Update: She sent an email with it framed and said it now hangs in her kitchen.


“A Quick Pause” – Chickadee #2

Why am I painting this? At Daily Paintworks, my recent cardinal painting was bid on and has two followers.  I looked at the other bird paintings, and there’s not much or they are really $$$. Also, gotta paint my favorite NC bird! Might give it to Kay since she donate a ton of art supplies! We’ll see how it turns out.

Notes on painting:

Found pics from Flickr “Commons” that can be used for painting without copyright infringement if I do sell it. Go to Flickr Commons (Attribution License) and type in chickadee. 

Quick sketch on 8×10″ panel and watered it down around the chickadee.  

Background: Painted on the background colors letting it spread like watercolor on a soaked sheet. Used coarse bristle brush to darken in background color. 

The Bird: Painted in the blacks and started painting the whites.  Thought it’d be cool to have a texture, so gesso’ed the white area in feathered look. (hind site: don’t let rim form on the outside line of bird). Used 1/8″ flat head brush to add in feathers — add darks to make it look round and with undercolors, then feather it in with a progression toward the whites. 

The branch: Gesso’d in branch, then added color. For the shadow, watered down black; lights, watered down white. Cool texture!! Will do this a lot from now on!


Turned out pretty good!  Hope Kay likes it!

NC Mountain Creek Painting

Why am I painting this? This is another daily painting for the auctions, but also a step toward painting what I love, the North Carolina mountain creeks.

8×10″ Acrylic on canvas panel

Quick Literature Splurge: I’ve been reading “Fill Your Oil Paintings with Color and Light” by Kevin MacPherson and am inspired by his method of painting.  He teaches to paint what you see, much as Schmidt does in “Everything I Know About Painting”, but uses an approach of blocking in the darks, then lights… much like Richard Robinson does.  It makes it much easier to see the whole picture earlier and help with color harmony.  MacPherson’s book in now #2 as my go-to guide and I’d recommend it to anyone!

Notes for this painting: I started with a sketch using several different photos online as a sort of mash-up of all the things I liked in each.  Since this is mostly out of my imagination, there is no photo reference to paint strickly from MacPherson’s method, but I followed it as much as possible.  I started with the background blocking in dark (most to the right) then the light (the fog on the left).  As the third step I blocked in the “easy color” which was the green of the trees. In going back and forth, merging the fog to the forest, it background went quickly.  I kept it mostly a subdued color leaving the foreground to have the most contrast. The rock started out gray, but changed it to a light tan.  Much better contrast against a cool color background.

The waterfall: I tended to make it all white, but found only the foam and top needed it.  Everything else, limit to grey and whatever the color is behind it (dark rocks).

Foreground water: It’s hard to put the reds and tans down.  Seems unnatural at first, but its right in the pictures.  I tried to add rock jutting out to associate the underwater look of rocks.  By doing this, I think it helped the warm colors of other underwater rocks make sense.  Update: another artist from thecompleteartist recommended NOT having the foreground rocks. Hmm.  It’s debatable, but a good tip.

Ripples: get watered down white and make streaks.  Also, use greens as reflections from trees.

Fun painting!! This is worth scaling up to a 16 x 20″ and adding some more detail. As much as I love these creeks, there will be a lot more to come!

DailyPaintWorks Challenge

Why am I painting this? I signed up for as a self challenge to paint more efficiently and hope for sales.

I bought some 8×10 canvas panels ($60 for 75 panels! including shipping) and will be trying to either plein air paint, set up a still life or choose a random photo from a past outdoors adventure each day for 75 days.  I’ve noticed when I paint, the first 1-2 hours is rapid, but then I start getting too detailed and my day is gone.  A friend at thecompleteartist also sells here and said she’s noticed rapid improvement since she’s started.


This painting of a cardinal is ok, but not great.  I like the bird itself, but feel it lacks color in the background and I should have positioned the bird slightly to the right more.  Compensating with a random berry vine helped a bit, but not much. Oh well, they won’t all be good. I’ve started a DailyPaintWorks blog. This should help me brush up on figuring out relevant material a buyer would want to know (very little, and no technical stuff).

I’m headed out to my uncles ranch to work on a vineyard and will do some plein air painting of the ponds.  Should be a great learning experience!

Update: VERY IMPORTANT LESSON: I took another picture after varnishing.  The neutral background color dried and dulled, but when varnished, the wet color came back and really helped!  Here’s the difference below:

Same painting, but post varnishing! (If it's not viewable, click this link, or click above where the image should be)

Attempting Looseness (Part 3)

Why am I painting this? As a continued effort (Part 3) to learn how to relax and paint more “loosely”.  The effort will result in not only my further enjoyment in what I’m painting, but to the viewer as well.

8x10, acrylic on canvas panel "Opposites Attract"

Here, I took a challenge to paint with larger brushes in an effort to broaden my strokes and do away with edges further.  So, I took a single 1 inch, square brush, a palate knife and an 8 x 10″ canvas panel and had some fun.  I set up a simple still life and had some fun making a message of it with the orange wrapping an “arm” around the apple (the differences are the spice of life).  I blocked in the main objects colors first and decided the range of values that seemed right for each (including the background). Then simply applied paint in large brush strokes as in previous attempts.

The apple: here’s a great video to show a process of laying down paint first and then working through to the finish. It’s more detailed, but has great info!

What resulted from this big brush challenge is that the brush size doesn’t matter (at least for me) as much as the ability to see the goal.  I’m still looking for the finished style as I know it.  Somehow, I just learned to use every edge and angle of a 1″ brush to get the same result! Ha. Oh well.

In going back through Alla Prima: Everything I Know about Painting, I can see some different techniques to try.  There will be a Part 4!!  In Part 4, I’m going to create a messy background and possibly foreground with undefined objects with the main focus being on the subject.  See his floral still life paintings for example. Possibly in a plein air landscape?  Who knows.  Just got a portable  easel, so time to test it out!!

Update (4/24/12): Hmm, I guess there’s not a Part 4. I blame on the new portable easel.  I’ve been spending so much time painting outdoors, I’ve forgotten about this series.  I’ll include things I’ve tried to help loosen up in the next posts (after 4/27/12).  I have learned that the point isn’t so much loosening up, but getting the initial concept of a painting before I start.  More on that later. I recommend buying Paul Strisik’s book Capturing Light in Oils.  He explains it in a way I’ll never be able to that seems to make clarity in this muddy subject.  Seriously, it’s worth every penny.

Attempting Looseness (Part 2)

It’s go time.  Time to apply paint over the painting and come out with a bolder, more expressive result. Hopefully.

Luckily, today I saw that Richard ( has come out with a preview of the Workshop 7 painting that is a still life involving an orange.  It’s a great reference to what I’m trying to accomplish here.  I noted two thing immediately in looking at this painting:1) the background has a LOT to do with the overall “loose” look and 2) the farther from the focus object, the looser he is (note the leaves blend into the background).

Approach: Start outside with a loose background, darkening the part farthest from the light and keep it with a brushy, almost unfinished look. Let part of the background color merge into the objects more as they get farther away from the main focus.  Use a large brush.

Paint in the background
Use large brush

The top of the salt shaker and the grapes need to merge into the dark background and lose their edge.

darken back grapes and shaker lid

Paint over the orange with a 1/2″ brush and try to keep it simple strokes without loosing the color look.  Need to be more careful on not overlapping brush strokes too much. It loses the bold, loose look very fast. I want to add stem to grapes, but will it stand out too much?  Loose means loosing some of the definition in object out of focus.  We’ll see. Yep, stands out.  Will re-do later. In trying to use a few bold strokes for the shaker lid highlights, this was very hard.  BE VERY ACCURATE WITH HIGHLIGHTS! Smooth & slow.  Gotta redo this. Lots to learn.

paint over orange

Painted over the grapes with 1/4″ brush.  The 1/2″ brush was too big to form a grape. I really like the loose look of the grapes. It still looks real with using bigger strokes. Nice.

painting over grapes

Ran over the edge of the shaker when correcting stem and needed to repaint the entire right background to cover up the repair strokes over stem.  Now I’m seeing why painting “loose” actually means being more aware of exactly what/where the strokes are going.  Painted a red-gray dull highlight over grapes. I think it’s harder to stay loose on small objects.

paint over shaker lid, highlight grapes

Ok, attempt #2 at shaker lid. Using a smaller brush to match width of highlight I could each one with a single stroke.  This is a nice look.  Painted white dots for highlights on grapes and also the orange.  I  over, highlighted the orange and had to redo the right side.  “Loose” highlighting is hard!

highlight orange

What can I do to make the cloth underneath have edges that lead the viewer to the object? Twisted the plate some to get fold underneath.  Nice effect.  Added to orange reflection to the grape (single, careful stroke when I could). Grapes are too dark. Added some red-purple with touch of white to add the effect of light illuminating through the foreground grapes. Much better. Added plate  highlight with 1/2″ brush with off-white color in single stroke. Went back with some pinks and tans randomly to loosen up the single color.  Added white highlight with a dab and hold, then pull stroke that had a nice bold end and blended end. Gotta remember that stroke.

Filled in plate highlight and cloth

Overall, this is an excellent way to learn to loosen up!! And fun! This ended up a bit darker than I was expecting and somehow it seems just as tight. But when I look closer, I can see bold strokes!  Nice!  I think on the next painting I’ll go for an even looser effect.  Hopefully others at the complete artist had luck and will have more tips. I’ll update this if I find some!

Update: Here’s the pic with the ruler to give some idea of the size of the object (sorry for the delay!)

Here's the size of objects


Learning to Paint Loose (Part 1)

Why am I painting this?  My painting style right now is very “tight”, meaning very detailed and attempting to replicate the photograph.  I’d like the freedom of some “looseness” to relax more about the details and introduce expression in my style. 

I suppose I should start by defining what I think “loose” is, or what I’m shooting for.  If you read Alla Prima: Everything I know About Art (Richard Schmid), he does a very good explanation of how to keep the focus of the painting “real” while loosing the surroundings that are distracting as seen here.  Richard Robinson has a similar style in that his paintings look “real”, yet are achieved with more careful application of fewer brushstrokes in bold colors.  “Helping  Hand” is a great example of this.

Fortune turned my way in the previous grape and pear workshop and Richard reviewed the study to give a hand in helping me learn to loosen up.  He urged to start from what I know: finish a painting in my “tight” style, then go back over and “loosen” it up.

The goal: Two parts: 1) Do a challenging still life I’d be pleased with and then 2)  “loosen” it.  Here’s my notes:

Part 1: Do a Challenging Still Life

Find a new arrangement that will take research to complete.  Different textures? Orange (dimpled surface), stainless steel salt shaker (bushed steel on bottom, smooth on top), grapes, wood semi-shiny plate and green towel backdrop.

Photo of the still life (pic is overly yellow, the shaker actually looks silver, not gold)

Starting off: Cropped photo to find good balance in the scene (rule of thirds). Sketched arrangement.  Blocked in colors of orange, plate, grapes and left salt shaker alone (what color is it?). Painted background. A comment was made to not detail the background of last still life, it’s a distraction.  Good point.  Simple blue gray back, green bottom. I’ll fill the background when loosening it up.

Painting the orange: How do you make a dimpled surface??  This goofy guy made a good still life video on painting oranges showing that dimpling in the highlight makes it “real”.  Jean Pierre Walter had great realism in still life oranges and lemons at Rather than use a small brush, I used a old bristly brush to lay the color in there. The dimple effect comes naturally.  Orange, then green for a dimpled shadow, then yellows for the upper-left reflection and lower plate reflection. For the direct highlights ( right side), I made a semi-wet (semi-translucent) mix of white paint and dotted in the highlight area, then repeated another time just in a center light area to add that extra kick of light. This took a day to learn, but absolutely worth it!

Painting the Stainless Steel shaker:  THIS was a challenge!!  Surprisingly, there aren’t too many videos about shiny steel surfaces.  This one is good, but has no instruction. I pillaged Jean Pierre’s work again which helped.  Mostly, I sat and just painted what I saw. Many times. Many. Times. Brushed steel look: paint reflections blending into each other. Then, use dry bristle brush to go over it –>put light grey on the bristle brush and brush across a paper towel until dry and barely any paint coming off, then make rounded stroke over surface to add the appearance of miniature blending lines.  The “dark” areas of the brushed steel were always lighter than the smooth top.  For the smooth shiny top, I just painted in smooth strokes with fine definition between light/dark and made sure the highlights defined the round shape.  I’m not sure why, but painting in the dark area of reflection of the smooth surface seemed to require a bit darker color than the actual reflected object. Paint what you see… day and a half.

Painting Wooden plate: Pretty easy here. Matched color and didn’t worry about wood grain lines.  Not focusing on the plate itself too much.  Light reflections of the objects, especially the white line in the shaker makes it look “reflective”.  Make watery reflection mark, take finger and pull down to extend the reflection across the plate. If it’s too dark of a reflection, wash over it with a plate-color wash.

Grapes: Ah, like finding a good friend among strangers… paint grapes like the previous still life.

Finished enough to be “tight”?: the plate edge is undone and background as well, but this will be a part of getting “loose” to mostly ignore these. The goal is to work on the main objects with large brush strokes and still keep them “real” looking. Part of what I see in video of loose painting is blending some edges into the background.

"Tight" painting 11x14 Acrylic on paper. This was kept unvarnished.

Grape n Pear Still Life

Why am I painting this?  This month’s workshop challenge at is a  still life has grapes, a pear and a white jug (or mug in my case). It continues from last months challenge. It teaches 1) how to set up a still life with a good source of direct lighting, 2) how to paint from the objects (not a photo) and 3) how to see everything that is going on with reflections, lights, darks and midtones (among other lessons).  So, here we go!

Working through the lesson:

Sketching and notan: The dark background needs something light, light tablecloth? Plate? Something to even it out.

Having problems with the ellipses.  The plate is distorted and really hard to fix! Solution: Use this YouTube video that shows how to correct the ellipse.   Just sketch a rough draft of what your “plate” looks like, then apply this technique to make it more accurate. Much better.

Underpainting: Cool background (green/blues) warms in/around objects (yellow-brown?) … water down acrylics almost to watercolor consistency.

Background texture: How do I get the fleece to look fleecy? Block in the folds with darks/light areas.  Using the old brush dab repeatedly to work out the lines between the light/dark areas.  Add a bit of yellow to the green and add light dabs to light areas, green to the blue/blacks and dab in the dark areas.  Nice!

Painting glass to look real (reflections, the sheen). I found this long, boring video on painting still lifes (17 part video??) and after 3 video parts I have a better idea of getting a convincing look of a glass surfaces. For reflections, paint a light reflection that looks about right on the still life, then paint a watery coat of the glass color over it. Thin – translucent. I really like Quang Huang still life’s, but he’s SO good it’s hard to understand the basics he’s not mentioning. Boring video shows it better.

Grapes: Looking at other submissions, Richard’s video and Quang’s video, do a red-purple oval/circle, let dry.  Repeat to darken color. Add reds to the center to make the grape look like light is going through it.  Maybe a bit of orange.  Keep red and orange semi watery.  Let dry. Add reflections as you see them.  Emphasize the green pear on nearest grape to tie the pear in to the grapes. White dot highlight.  Same with the pear. Shadows: check out pixels on photograph and look to see if that’s what you see in the still life.  Purple grapes..some green-grays. Pear… some red-grays, almost purple grays.

Need to connect the green pear with red grapes:  throw a few loose grapes over there.

Nice.  Looks like I can grab the plate!!

Let the acrylics dry, then varnish to bring back the crisp color.

Ok, this took 3 days… time to step back and come back to see mistakes.

11x14" acrylic on canvas panel

Update: coming back to it, it definitely looks “real”. How do I get it to look loose?  May need to look again at too much stem?

Update#2:  Got great advice from Richard today. Finish a painting (DON”T VARNISH) and when it’s finished, then go back and loosen up the edges with a BIG BRUSH.  No fear!! Just do it!