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Monday, July 27

How to Achieve Color Harmony

A Creek Runs Through It
Oil on Canvas Panel
10 x 8 in/25.4 x 20.3 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
I recently re-discovered how great it is to work with a limited palette. I had totally forgotten because for the past year I have been using the color palettes of several of my favorite painters almost exclusively. But I was having trouble deciding on a single palette and so began eliminating paint colors.

It's not that these artists' palettes included so many colors. I didn't count, but I don't think any one of them had more than nine or ten paint colors. Their palettes usually had no more than a couple of blues, yellows, and reds with maybe a burnt and/or a raw sienna, an orange (maybe) and white, of course. I guess to some that would be a limited palette.

But I'm talking about a palette with only five colors: cad yellow light, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, and white. You can also mix all the secondary greens, oranges, and purples with these. The burnt umber is used for mixing darks and for some neutralizing.

You can mix almost any color you see with just these five colors. The only colors you can't mix are the exceptionally bright, high chroma ones, such as magenta/opera rose, pthalo/electric blue, and bright greens. But if you're painting with the colors just mentioned, your paintings don't and won't look natural anyway.

Today's image was painted with these five colors, and I had forgotten how easy it is to mix so many different colors. For one thing, it's so easy to remember how to mix a color because there are so few to choose--not a lot of recipes or charts to remember and follow.

But best of all, you get instant color HARMONY, and that's no small thing--many painters try for years and never achieve it!

Tuesday, July 21

Painting Little Gems

House at Canyon Lake
Oil on Canvas Panel
5 x 7 in/12.7 x 17.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
If you are a painter, I'm sure you probably already know what the headline of today's blog is about.

If you're not a painter, well, Little Gems refers to the size of certain paintings, that is, smaller ones.

I don't think there's really a definition for what size a Little Gem must be, but in my mind it's any painting that is 5 x 7 inches/12.7 x 17.8 cm. or smaller.

That's small for a painting.

What I like about that size is that it makes you, as the painter, really have to simplify your subject and composition. There's not a lot of space for a lot of details, and that's the point as I see it.

Of course, there are those fine, representational painters who will paint any and everything near photorealistically and put in every line, hair, leaf, and/or eyelash.

But I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about alla prima painting, which, as you may know, is from Italian meaning all at once. And that's how I paint Little Gems--all at once and quickly.

After you have your support and paint laid out, just squint and go for it--paint small, fast, and impresssionistically. It goes with using flat brushes that seem too large for this scale of painting. But remember what I said, there's no time for details.

A lot of plein aire painters paint this way, so I hope you can appreciate my enthusiasm for painting Little Gems and paint a few yourself.

Tuesday, July 14

Painting on Burlap Panel?

The Old Garage Out Back
Acrylic on Burlap Panel
10 x 8 in/25.4 x 20.3 cm
Copyright 2015 Byrne Smith
Have you tried painting on burlap panel? I had not; however, a few weeks ago at a local arts and crafts store, which shall remain nameless, I happened to see some. They were displayed along with all the other canvas panels, stretched canvases, and hardboards.

They stood out because of their color, not white, but raw-sienna burlap color.

If some don't know what burlap is, I'm not surprised, because you don't really think of it as a support for a painting. If you don't know, according to Wikipedia, burlap is:  "Hessian /ˈhɛsi.ən/, or burlap in the US and Canada, is a woven fabric usually made from skin of the jute plant or sisal fibres, or may be combined with other vegetable fibres to make rope, nets, and similar products."

The reason I was interested in trying it was because I have been wanting to paint on a more textured surface. I usually paint on canvas panel, which has a relatively smooth surface, and I wanted to try a more textured woven material to get a softer look.

Just so you know, I decided to use my acrylic paints rather than my oils since this was an experiment.

I'm not sure burlap is the answer, It is very coarse. Let me repeat: it is very coarse. Even though I had enough sense to apply two coats of gesso, it still soaked up the paint like a sponge.

Also, it took a lot of scrubbing brushstrokes to fill in all the crevasses in the weave. I would have used up a lot of oil paint, had I been painting with it. 

What I do like about it is that it is very easy to get that soft-edged, impressionistic look and feel due to the very coarse weave--it almost looks pixelated as in digital photo.I'm not sure that's enough to recommend it, but please let me know what you think if you've tried it.

I'm thinking I will try out a coarser cotton stretched canvas or panel next time.

Happy Painting. 

Tuesday, July 7

Have You Figured Out Your Style Yet?

It's In the Clouds
Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
I was thinking about what my style of painting is while going through a batch of recent paintings that are sitting around the studio waiting to be 100 percent dry. Actually, I should say 100 percent oxidized because that's what oil paint does, rather than "dry."

Anyway, I was happy to see a likeness of style in most of my work. It's not something I have been trying to come up with, and from what I've read, that's exactly how one's style happens.

That is, it's supposed to evolve rather than be something you force. If that's the case, I think I'm on my way to having a style.

I'm not an expert on style, but if you look at a lot of paintings you know it when you see it. It's when you see a painting and can say, "that's a Degas," or Klimmt or Warhol or whomever. Of course, all the famous masters both old and contemporary have a unique style--that's why they're famous, and we see their work in museums and galleries around the world.

I believe my style has to do with painting natural settings, lost and found edges, light, warm and cool primaries and secondaries, and a look of representational impressionism.

At least that's what I figured out so far. Happy painting.  

Monday, June 29

A Discovery with Water-Soluble Oils

My Picnic Spot
Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
I made a painting discovery a few weeks ago when I was painting today's image.

I began painting with water-soluble oil paints last year, and I have pretty much switched from acrylic, although I will still  bring out my acrylic palette every now and then.

Not having painted much at all with regular oils because of their odor and the need to use and clean up with pungent spirits, I took to water-solubles and have not looked back.

In the beginning I didn't want to use mediums and oils specifically made for water-solubles. Instead I stuck with plain old water as a medium for thinning the paint, but the water and paint don't mix easily or quickly.

I found that some brands were stiffer and required more water than others to get the consistency of paint I wanted. Also, it seems all titanium whites, no matter what the brand, require some thinning.

Just so you know, I have tried Artisan, Woil, Grumbacher, and Lukas brands. They all are acceptable, but none is as "buttery" as I would like (or think I would like). Eventually I will get around to trying Cobra, Holbein, and whatever else is out there

However, back to the topic of today's blog. What I discovered is that I should have been applying a drop of water-soluble linseed oil or stand oil to my mixing palette. I thought my adding oil would make the paint too thin, so that it would not hold a peak. I was wrong; I found that a drop or two is fine.

What a difference it makes! The paint is so easy to spread and my brush virtually flies around the palette. I  feel a freedom to try brushstrokes and techniques I wouldn't attempt with a stiffer paint.

Of course, it does slow the drying time, but you can't have everything in a perfect painting world. Try it, you may like it.

Monday, June 22

Summertime and the Painting Is Easy

The Summer Cove
Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
Today being the first full day of summer in the northern hemisphere, I wanted to blog about that.

Now is the time to get out and capture all those motifs in the countryside, the cities, or the seasides you visit or plan to visit on your vacation (holiday). Or you can paint them right there en plein aire if you take along your pochades, easels, and supplies.

Since there's more light and longer days (in the northern hemisphere), take advantage of the warm weather and longer painting time. You'll wish you had come this December.

Summer is the time for painting the sunlight and putting in all that chroma that is illuminated by the light this time of year.

Painting today's image from a reference photo was a lot of fun. I painted the strong sunlight coming from the right  and falling on the water, the mountain, and the beach.

Two things were especially fun for me to paint. One was seeing and then mixing the correct shades of blue corresponding to the various depths of water in the cove. There really are beautiful beaches like this all over the world.

The second was including the house in the lower right with its pop of orange on the tile roof. Note that although it's not the focal point, as would be expected, it leads the viewer's eye to the actual focal point which is the bright, sandy beach on the right.

I hope my blogging inspires you to get out of the studio this summer and have some fun when the painting is easy.

Monday, June 15

I Broke a Painting Rule (or Two)

Lone Tree, TX 77963
Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
I'm not one who lives by the saying that "rules are made to be broken." Not usually, but occasionally.

Last week was one of those occasions. I ran across a reference photo that caught my eye and my desire to paint it.

I do believe that a good painting starts with interesting subject matter and evolves from there. Of course, what makes for interesting subject matter is why people rarely agree on anything.

Be that as it may, I decided to paint today's image, which I think is an interesting subject--a lone tree, of which I have painted many and will surely paint more in the future.

Do you know what rule(s) I have broken?

First rule I broke was to place the focal point smack dab, as they say, in the middle of the painting. I think this rule streys from the Rule of Thirds, which divides the canvas in thirds and says you put the focal point at the intersecting lines.

Well, oops, I didn't do that. It's in the middle because that's where I placed it. When I was composing the scene in my mind's eye, that's where the tree belongs--all by itself in the center of the composition.

The second rule I nearly broke was to place the horizon line too close to halfway, dividing the canvas in two. Although it's not at the halfway point, I should have placed it lower (or higher) to follow the rule.

But I placed it where I wanted it to be in my painting. That's the point of today's blog--it's MY painting, and it's only my opinion that counts.

Monday, June 8

From Representational to Impressionist to Abstract

Reflections on a Pond
Oil on Hardboard
24 x 18 in/61 x 45.7 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
I'm not one to paint many abstract paintings. I can count on one hand the number I've ever done. I recently looked through my personal "collection of the artist" paintings, which I discussed a couple of blogs ago, and there are no abstracts.

That said, however, I recently ran across a reference photo on a site that allows painters permission. While obvious what it actually was, it was formatted to look as if it were a collection of abstract shapes and colors.

It was those shapes and especially the colors that spoke to me, and in fact, said to paint exactly what I saw, which was an abstract painting.

I first decided what size would be most effective, and settled on 24 x 18 in/61 x 45.7 cm because in my very limited experience, it seems that most abstracts are usually larger rather than smaller formats (while in no way comparing myself to them, think Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock).

I then decided on oil over acrylic as the medium because my intent was to soften the shapes by blending, which is easier with oil, even though acrylic is often associated with abstract painting since it is a relatively new medium (1955).

I used the following palette: ultramarine blue, cyan/primary or Winsor blue depending on the manufacturer, yellow ochre, cad yellow light, alizarin crimson, cadmium orange, and titanium white.

Although abstract looks as if a child could do it, it actually involves as much thought, proper value/color, and competent brushwork as any representational or impressionist painting. Or at least it did for me. It took me three days to complete.

It's very different from paintings I usually do, but that's exactly why I am satisfied with the outcome.

Tuesday, June 2

Paint What Inspires YOU

Imagine South Pacific
Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
The simple message in today's blog is stated in its headline: Paint What Inspires YOU (emphasis on YOU).

Although painting should be about continually improving your skills and your outcomes, it is primarily about expressing in paint what visually inspires and excites you.

While we can learn a lot from copying the old masters, emulating current contemporary painters, and following every brushstroke on instructional DVDs, ultimately it's your own personal expression that you should be trying to nurture.

I think that can only come from within, only from what makes you want to put down paint on canvas or board.

Think about that next time you're fretting about why your work doesn't look like ______'s (fill in the blank).

Otherwise, happy painting.

Wednesday, May 27

Just Look at Some of Your Old Paintings to See How Far You've Come

Adobe Afternoon
Acrylic on Stretched Canvas
24 x 28 in/61 x 71 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2007
Every once in a while I can feel a spell of artist slump coming on. Not sure if it's boredom, or if that's what happens before a growth spurt; I'm hoping it's the latter.

I recently began to feel a slump coming on. I know intellectually it's only temporary and that I'll snap out of it, but that doesn't help much when it's happening.

Rather than feeling sorry for myself, I decided to go through all the completed paintings I still have on hand. Those are euphemistically referred to as the "collection of the artist," which really means not only could you not sell them, you couldn't even give them away. (As I said I felt a slump coming on.)

I have a good many in my "collection of the artist." They are more or less stored by the year I completed them. I began to rifle through them, taking a second or two to view each one, and giving some old favorites as much as ten seconds.

What I began to realize was that I actually have gotten better at my painting, especially when compared to those I did going on seven years ago now. That made me feel much better about all the hard work I have put in over the years. My artist slump began to recede.

Today's image was one of the first acrylic paintings I did back in 2007. I'll admit, it's horrible, but at the time I thought differently. Finally, by looking at this old painting, I can tell how far I've come, and I feel more confident.

So, the moral of today's blog is: just look at some of your old paintings to see how far you've come.