Monday, May 18

Favorite Places to Paint

Lone Yucca
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Oil on Canvas Panel
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
If you are a landscape painter, and even if you're not, you probably have one or several places you like to paint. Even if you're not, it could also be a favorite part of a city or interiors of buildings, too.

I like landscapes, and one of my favorite scenes to paint is  arid, low- and high-desert landscapes, either with or without mountains. Sometimes, a flat, sandy desert full of Russian Thistle, better known as tumbleweed in the US, can be just as striking.

One of my favorite places to paint is the US state of New Mexico. That's not to be confused with the nation of  Mexico, the northern part of which, by the way, has a landscape similar to that of New Mexico.

Basically, a high, arid plain in the east but also filled with mountains in the northern, southern, and western parts, it's a landscape painter's dream. You can paint mountains and canyons, deserts and cactus (and tumbleweed), snow scenes in winter, caverns in the southeastern corner, rock formations, white sands, as well as the meandering Rio Grande and miles of Pecan groves  and green chile farms near Mesilla.

It's got it all for painters. Even though I no longer reside there, I have lots of memories and lots of photos and plans for return trips.

I can only hope that  you have a favorite place to paint that inspires you as well.

Monday, May 11

Cropping a Picture to Paint

Mighty Oaks
Oil on Canvas Panel
 20 x 16 in/50.8 x 40.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
I know this is a blog about the painting life and not photography, which you usually equate with the term cropping (as in cropping a photo).

Some may also call it editing, but to me that's something different. Cropping is part of the act of composing the picture (or motif) you are going to paint. It's about balancing the composition. It's about leaving out extraneous elements. It's about finding the focal point. It's about deciding on the format--horizontal or vertical.

Cropping is about all those things as well as remembering you are creating a painting and not taking a picture.

What a viewer or critic likes or not is all a matter of subjective taste; however, here are a few things that will help you:

- Rule of Thirds is (in a nutshell) virtually dividing the picture into thirds vertically or horizontally and placing the focal point near one of the four points where the lines intersect or placing it in one of the thirds, again either vertically or horizontally.

- Odd Numbers (1,3,5, etc.) and Objects refers to the fact that an unequal number of elements is much more interesting to look at than an equal number of elements; this means (almost) always including an odd number of objects; also remember not to place two of the same thing and size near or next to each other.

- Frame the View by creating a view-finder with your own two hands using your thumbs and index fingers; This will help you "see" what you want to paint and eliminate everything else

The reference photo for today's image, which was used on permission, was much broader in scope than the finished painting. The photo had a broad horizon line of which the trees were just a small portion--about 1/8. There were also three very large boulders in the left foreground that were cropped out.

I hope you can imagine how cropping improved my painting.

Thursday, May 7

Struggle for Impressionism

I recently painted a still life, which I don't usually do, and blogged about it (For a Change Paint a Still Life). I said I had fun painting it and would probably do another.

However, what I want to discuss today is why impressionism looks relatively easy to pull off, but in reality, is very difficult.

I certainly wouldn't call my painting impressionism. It is much too much representational realism. What I wanted to paint was impressionism.

Why is this difficult? I can only speak for myself. I tend to paint what I see, and what I see with my well corrected near-sightedness is a clear picture, at least with my still lifes. For some reason they are turning out all too realistic.

My landscapes, on the other hand, are easier for me to paint impressionistically, so that's something.

I'm currently re-reading the book, Monet & Bazille A Collaboration, by Kermit Champa and Dianne Pitman.  Two passages stand out that I want to share, speaking about Monet:

"Monet devises his view so as to present that complexity (of texture and tone) through a nervous web of dots and dabs that rattle visually at persistly "high speed"...


"It (the light) has the appearance of never having been painted, perhaps never having been seen (or even having existed) visually before Monet discovered and delivered it in paint."

So, that's all there is to it, huh?

Monday, April 27

Discover New Painting Supports

Bluebonnet Time
Oil on Foamcore
8 x 8 in/20.3 x20.3 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
So you know, I'm talking today about painting on something different than the usual canvas, linen, wood, or paper and not about how many (or few) compliments you're getting on your work!

Why?, you may ask.

Well, it's all about trying out new and different ways to paint. As I've said before, if painters didn't try new things, we'd still be using charcoal and berry juice to paint on cave walls.

What got me interested was an article in a recent issue of International Artist magazine about an Australian painter named John Lovett who paints on large sheets of aluminum composite panel because it can be large, rigid, but is also lightweight. I had never heard of it, but the article said it's two thin sheets of aluminum with polypropylene in between. I discovered online that it's used in architecture and also in signage, such as large outdoor advertising.

I was interested in trying it out, but it seems to be difficult to find and to buy unless you are in the trade; that is, I couldn't find any retail outlets (or online) that sell direct.

But that got me to thinking about gator board and also foamcore, which I happened to have on hand and is readily available from art supply or craft stores. What I had was a sheet of the black foamcore, which I use as backing to frame a painting.

 I had previously tried painting on the white foamcore, but found when I applied gesso, the clay-coat paper laminate caused the foamcore to warp, even when I applied it on both sides.

However, I noticed the black foamcore did not appear to have the clay-coat paper laminate. I applied a thin coat of gesso to one side, and it warped. But, when I applied a thin coat to the other side, and let it dry, it reverted to its original flat state. Great!

Now the test. How will foamcore react to paint, in this case water-soluble oil? I painted a quick landscape of ubiquitous Texas bluebonnets in Spring on an 8 x 8-inch piece. I didn't use any water or medium with the paint. I'm happy to report it was a success, at least in my opinion. The paint flowed on smoothly, and the random texture of the underlying gesso gave it a canvas-like appearance.

I suppose there's no way to know how foamcore will hold up as a support except to give it time. I don't think, however, that wood and canvas are the absolutely only material that stand the test of time. Look at all the paintings and drawings done on paper that are well over 150 years old--I rest my case.

Try new techniques and tools and see what you discover with your painting.

Monday, April 20

Green Is Not the Painter's Horror Color

Spring Green
Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
When I hear about green being a horror color for painters, I always think that's funny. Funny because there really are no horror colors, only inexperienced painters (I was going to say bad, but decided better not to).

Not sure what it is about green that a lot of painters hate and shy away from. You'd almost think it was criminal to paint with green, either mixed or especially straight from the tube.

To hear them, you'd think green was not a natural color, you know, as in nature.

I'm not sure in what part of the world those painters live, but it surely must be dry, barren, lifeless, and colorless.

I happen to reside in a relatively warm and humid area not that far away from a coastline, as I'm sure many other painters do as well. I am here to tell you there are a lot of really green greens all around, including forests, prairies, creeks, and beaches. That is especially so in the spring and summer--paint green in all its brightness and green-ness!

Green does not have to be subdued or neutralized on the palette or canvas to look real. If you want green to look real, paint it the way it actually looks and the color it actually is.

Green is not the painter's horror color.

Monday, April 13

Fresh Eyes and Time Can Save a Painting

Azalea Trail
Oil on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
I cannot speak for other painters, but for me, there comes a time when I can get discouraged with the painting I'm working on. I can't really explain it, and it doesn't happen with every painting, thank goodness.

But when it does, I begin to realize there's a problem, and for a while, I keep on painting, but it just gets worse. I call it the ugly duckling phase of the painting--that time after block-in when it just looks terrible and you think, this will never work

It can also be caused when you make a mistake with composition, value, color, or whatever, from which there seems to be no recovery.

 I have learned over the years not to fight it. I have learned to give up for a while, to let it go for a while, let the painting rest. I put it away, out of sight for some period of time. At some point I pick it up again and see if it is salvageable. Sometimes it's not, but most often it is.

That was the case with today's image. I had painted about three-quarters of it when I realized there was a problem with the composition--large dark trees I had painted on the right side in the middle-ground were all wrong and causing the painting to fail.

I scraped away my work, but wasn't sure what to do. I started to discard it, but then remembered I should let it rest. I put it in a recycling bin in my garage facing a wall and forgot about it for two-and-a-half weeks. When I looked at it again, I immediately knew what to do. I painted the trees on the right in the background rather than the mid-ground and fixed the problem.

Then I finished the painting. Fresh eyes and time was all it took.

Monday, April 6

For a Change Paint a Still Life

Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
If you're at all aware of my work, then you know I paint a lot of landscapes, some with structures in the composition, along with the occasional seascape. I'm not much into still lifes.

However, that doesn't mean I don't admire those painters who create them or that I don't like them. I do. It's an art in itself to design a pleasing setting for a still life and even more fun to paint one. Also, changing things up a bit by painting subjects you don't usually paint is highly recommended and may give you a much-needed fresh perspective.

I will admit I didn't design today's image--it's from a reference photo--but I did have fun painting it. It was a refreshing change and makes me want to paint more of them.

Monday, March 30

What Makes a Painter Happy?

Spring Storm
Oil on Canvas
9 x 12 in/22.9 x 30.5 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
Happiness, as we all know, is a state--one in which many of us would probably like to live, at least much of the time. When you are happy, you paint better, and when a painter paints better, life is better.

That said, I think painters are happy when (in no particular order):

- their drawing skills improve

- they feel their latest painting is one of the best they have done

- they find their own style

- mixing paint is a natural and beautiful experience

- they learn something new about painting

- they can't wait to start painting

- their painting is "liked," "favorited," "pinned," and/or "re-tweeted" on social media (even introverts)

Finally, I think a painter is happiest simply when he or she is happy about their painting.

I'm sure you have other ideas on what makes a painter happy, so please feel free to comment.

Monday, March 23

Spring -- A Great Time to Be a Painter

Springtime on the Plains
Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
Spring has sprung as of last Friday. As a painter, it's about time. Although I like the colors of fall and the moody winter grays and blue-violets appearing in the frail northern light, I think spring is a finer season for painting.

For one thing, there's more light, and light to a painter is like fuel for your car--hard to get going without it. Not only is the light brighter and the angle of light higher in the sky, you also have more hours in which to create and to paint.

For another, there is more chroma. Everything is either budding out or blooming. With the added light, it means brighter, more intense colors. Those bright, unrealistic-looking greens are actually real, so paint them that way. And there are flowers in every color of the rainbow. More chroma everywhere.

Finally, the weather warms up in spring and we are able to either get out and take photos all over the place or travel around and paint en plein air (before it gets too hot). Either way, it's a winning combination.

Today's image is a view of rolling plains bursting out in new springtime-green growth. It's a great time to be a painter

Monday, March 16

Three Tips from a Frugal Painter

Approaching Alamogordo
Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/ 27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
I don't use a whole lot of expensive painting supplies or materials recommended by all manufacturers and retailers and by many painters. I am a frugal painter.

For acrylic and oil, rather than buying glass, wooden, plastic, or even paper palettes on which to mix paint, I use individual (12 x 10 3/4 in/30.5 x 27.3 cm) sheets of dry wax paper, also know as deli wrap. It comes in surprisingly small boxes of 500 sheets, and you can get it at the grocery and big-box bulk stores. I put a sheet in a plastic tray, and the paint will not penetrate the sheet even when mixed. It's cost-saving, and you throw it away when done. Works great.

Also for acrylic and oil, I buy inexpensive hog-bristle brushes in all sizes from No. 2 to 2 inches. Some painters say you shouldn't use natural-hair brushes because they absorb paint. However, I like the natural brushes because of the way I paint. I scrape and scrub with my brushes a lot of the time, and the natural-hair naturally is stiffer, which I like. That and that they're inexpensive--I go through a lot of them every year. I rarely paint with synthetic brushes; too soft for my taste, although I do use a rigger for occasional detail work.

Lastly, I buy all (OK, almost all) of my supplies and material--paint, brushes, canvas, mediums, easels, etc.--either when they are on sale or by using the manufacturer's or retailer's XX-percent-off-any-one-item coupon both online and at a real store.

However, I do buy "pretty good" quality paint. I don't buy the most expensive paint, which is supposed to be "the best" because of the pigment load. It may have the most pigment, but that doesn't mean it's "the best" (in my opinion), only that it's the most expensive. I cannot really tell the difference in my paintings done with "the best" paint and my paintings done with "pretty good" quality paint.

If you, too, are a frugal painter, remember it's NOT the same thing as being a cheap painter.