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.

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.