Friday, April 30

Listening to Art Critics Can Be Hazardous to Your Art

My Overworked 'Early Spring Road'
Copyright 2010


Today’s blog is about judgments--your better judgment and my better judgment as artists.

What do I mean?

I mean, sometimes you should listen to your inner self. You should listen to your own muse because he/she/it is probably 100 percent right-on.

This may sound a little zen or something, but I’m serious. No one knows you, your creativeness, your artistic talent better than you (even if you’re not secure enough to admit that).

It’s fine to take art courses or watch DVDs about oil painting or listen to your art friends and critics. That, after all, is how we learn. It’s not fine, however, to blindly do whatever another artist, or other artists, tells you to do.

If you do, you have abdicated your responsibility as an artist. You have sold out.

Today’s image is my little acrylic that I’ve been blogging about, it seems, for weeks now.

I have finished this painting at least four times. I have not been happy with the results since the second time I finished it. I listened to what others said the painting needed, specifically:

- Objects are out of proportion, you need to re-draw and re-paint parts of it

- You need to lighten the shadows in the foreground and push back the background

- The sky is flat, you need to add cerulean blue and make it lighter near the horizon

- You need to add chroma to the foreground and, oh by the way, why don’t you add some wildflowers to make it more interesting

- Oops, sorry, we were wrong about that cerulean blue, you need to repaint it--how about cobalt this time?

What started out as an experiment of using acrylic on masonite has turned into a marathon of painting. Luckily, for me, it's a small painting and it's in acrylic.

I am not satisfied with any changes I made except for fixing the proportions of the road signs on the second re-paint.

I wish I had listened to my very own art muse and left it alone!

Here's today’s blog lesson, which I have mentioned before in this blog:

You can't please everyone, you just have to please yourself (from the 1972 Rick Nelson song, “Garden Party”).

Until next blog…

Wednesday, April 28

The Face of Global Warming

The Face of Global Warming
Acrylic on Canvas
Copyright 2010


A brief blog today to let you know I completed my latest acrylic I was calling Sun-face and which I talked about in a previous blog.

The challenge was painting the shadowy background, which was a textured wall. Painting the color of shadows is always tricky. I had blogged about that subject, too, a while back, and it is one of the most-search-for subjects and popular of my blogs.

As I said, I used the Old Master's palette along with the addition of Atelier's Brown Madder and Liquitex Payne's Gray for the terra cotta colors.

I also used Atelier’s Acrylic Green Black as the main color of the dark background. It’s a greeny-black that was perfect for this application. I mixed it in various light and dark shades for the effect of the shadows falling on the wall. The lighter parts of the wall, the parts not in shadow, were a mix of Liquitex Raw Sienna, Grumbacher Cobalt blue, and Galeria Titanium White

I decided to name the painting The Face of Global Warming. That subject is so much in the news these days, I thought the painting would make a good icon for the subject in all its facets.

By the way, I also decided to paint-in the wild flowers on my little acrylic, Early Spring Road. Adding the flowers was suggested by some artist friends. I decided they were correct as it will add needed interest to the foreground.

Anyway, that's what I’m working on this week. I hope you enjoy looking at my work.

Until next blog…

Monday, April 26

A Day for Artists

Blue Irises on a Sunny Day
Copyright 2010


Today is a day for art and artists.

It’s bright and sunny outside the studio. It’s one of those days when the sun is so bright and the air is so dry that all things in nature stand out in high contrast and saturated colors.

This is the kind of day when Monet and Manet and Pissarro and even Edward Hopper would set up their en plein air easels at an outdoor venue and paint away.

The colors are sharp and the shadows are crisp. If you look around you can see all of the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors on the color wheel. Your eyes are naturally drawn to all the complementary colors.

Artists will appreciate the harmony of the colors in nature.

The brilliant cerulean blues in the sky that deepen in hue as you look from horizon to overhead.

All of the greens present in just one setting—spring green grass, Hooker’s green foliage, sap green leaves, and the greeny-black shadows—to name but a few.

And don’t forget the spot colors that pop up in the garden. Red, pink, and yellow roses. The gray blue wings of the Blue Jay. And the royal purple-blue of the blue irises.

Today is a canvas waiting to be painted. Yes, today is a day for artists.

Until next blog…

Friday, April 23

Help Me Select My Next Motif, Please

Motif No. 1
Motif No. 2
Motif No. 3

Hi- I’m relaxing a little bit this morning and thought this would be a good time to blog a bit. Why am I relaxing?

Well, I worked really hard on my Sun-face acrylic yesterday, so I’m giving myself a little time off, at least for a few hours anyway. I painted a good part of the day yesterday and into the early evening. When “things” are going well with my painting, I guess you could say I get invigorated.

That is, the paint seems to be going on all the right places in the right amount with the results I want. That doesn’t happen nearly enough for me, so I’m going to enjoy it for a while. The painting is not done; in fact, it needs a good bit of tweaking of some details, but the hardest part is done, and I’m relaxing.

After it’s finished, I’ll post it. But then it will get critiqued and will need, I’m sure, more working over. Ah, the life of the artist.

While I’m relaxing my brain is still somewhat in gear, and, as I have mentioned before, I start to feel the tension of my next painting project before my current one is completed. The tension comes from soon having to commit not only to a motif but also to a medium.

My last two paintings were acrylic, and I really enjoy painting with acrylics. Before that I did a string of watercolor paintings, which I like to work on as well. What to do?

I am leaning toward a watercolor because I don’t want to forget any of the nuances of painting in that finicky medium. If you didn’t catch my recent blog about painting in watercolor vs. acrylic, you might find it interesting so you can click here to see it.

Okay, if I’m doing a watercolor, what should the motif be? This is somewhat of a trick question because I’m already planning to do a landscape taken from a reference photo of a recent drive out to the blooming wildflowers of the spring countryside around here. By the way, those flowers are bluebonnets.

I’m going to try something new. I’m posting three photos of possible motifs. I would appreciate your letting me know which of the three (I’ll call them Nos. 1, 2, and 3) you think will make the best painting. Or you may not like any of the three; in that case, just tell me as I have dozens more from which to choose. The selected photo will probably need cropping, too.

Let me know. Leave a comment or email me.

Until next blog…

Wednesday, April 21

A Working Work-In-Progress In Acrylic

My Sunface Acrylic, A Work In Progress

While I’m waiting for better morning light in the studio, I thought I’d blog a little bit. Even on sunny days—like today—the natural light isn’t bright enough for me to paint until around noon. I don’t have a north-facing window, darn it, it’s west-facing.

Of course, I can turn on the lights, but my natural-light lamp isn’t that bright, and the incandescent ones change the colors. But I digress. If that’s my worst problem, I’m fortunate, right?

I’ve been painting away since last blog.

I showed my little acrylic landscape to the artist friends, and they liked it. It turns out they have a photo similar to the one I used for reference. However, it was taken at the same spot about a month after mine was, and it shows flowers along the roadside in full bloom. So, they suggested I add the flowers. I’ll have to see how I feel about that. Good thing the painting is in acrylic.

My Sun-face acrylic is coming along, too. I’ve almost finished the face itself—it’s today’s image. What an interesting time I had mixing those terra cotta colors from my limited Old Master's palette. I will say, I have a new respect for Brown Madder and Payne's Gray!

Now comes the daunting part, that shadowy background. Oh well, I like a challenge as an artist, and I plan to start on it as soon as the correct light, mentioned above, makes its way into my studio window.

Until next blog…

Monday, April 19

Using the Old Master's Palette on My New Acrylic

My Re-Worked Early Spring Road
Hi –

Following up on my last blog where I talked about having to re-work my little acrylic, Early Spring Road, based on some criticism from other artists. I was complaining just a little, but they were absolutely correct—it needed fixing.

So, I fixed it, and it’s today’s image. As I said, I re-painted the sign posts to be the right height relative to each other. I also raised the ground level under the yellow sign, which was true to the landscape. I put the bridge in the right place, and finally I added a cobalt wash over the far distant field and horizon to make it recede. Now I think it’s finished, but I’ll have to see if it gets more criticism.

The other painting I’m working on is an acrylic I’m calling Sun-face, at least while I’m working on it. I previously showed you the reference photo a few blogs ago, and my work-in-progress in the last blog.

What I want to tell you is how I started on it.

I talked about the importance of correct drawing as a good foundation for your painting. That—improper drawing--was part of my problem in Early Spring Road. I didn’t want a repeat problem (or to hear more criticism) on Sun-face, so I decided to carefully transfer the image to the canvas (it’s 16 x 20 in, 41 x 51 cm).

I did this by enlarging my reference photo using Adobe Photoshop Elements. I divided the image into four, enlarged and printed out the pages, and taped them together so that the reference photo is now the actual size of the canvas. Then I used graphite paper between the reference photo and canvas to transfer the image by drawing lines wherever there is a change in value.

And there are a lot of lines where the values change in this image. You probably can't tell from the small size of the digital reference photo, but the background is an uneven wood grain texture full of greeny-black shadows, and that's a very important part of this painting.

It was suggested to me by the artists mentioned above that I use the Old Master’s palette for this painting. What the heck, they’re almost always right.

So, out of my acrylic paint drawer I pulled Burnt Sienna (the red), Raw Sienna (the yellow), Paynes Gray (the blue), Olive Green, and, of course, Titanium White. I was amazed that I could get almost exactly the colors I needed from those. I did have to add, however, Cadmium Yellow Medium and Brown Madder for some to the reddish-orangish-slightly pinkish colors for the clay on Sun-face. I don’t know yet if I’ll need to add a few others.

Anyway, I’m still painting away, and I’ll show you more progress in an upcoming blog.

Until then…

Friday, April 16

The Importance of Correct Drawing in the Painting Process

My Little Acrylic, Work In Progress
Hi –

I commented last week about how things always seem to be ‘looking up’ on Fridays, and I stand by that. It’s the day I feel inspired and happy with the art road that I am on. I hope your art road takes you where you want to go, too.

Two things to discuss today.

First, If you remember my little acrylic from several blogs ago, I want to let you know I’m taking it back to the proverbial ‘drawing board’ as it were. This comes after a harsh (okay blistering), but correct, critique of the painting by a couple of artist friends of mine. Ouch, but I appreciate it.

I think what bothered them was: 1) the colors in the far distance were too vivid for a horizon that is a long way away off; and 2) the proportion of the signs in the foreground, not only in relation to the distance from the viewer but also to each other, is off-off-off. They are right.

Mea culpa. I should have been more careful in my initial sketch of the road, the signs, the slope of the hill, the bridge—you name it. This being a small painting, I thought, “I’ll just eye-ball it, and it will turn out fine.” Wrong. Even though I tried to measure the signs proportional to each other, I was off (by a lot), and even though a viewer may not be able to articulate the problem, they would know something was wrong.

So, the lesson for us all is—be careful when drawing or transferring your initial sketch. If it’s not right, it will look wrong and be wrong. Imagine that, an artist having to draw carefully and correctly :-)! I will make the necessary corrections, and get back to you. I’m so glad this is an acrylic and I can paint right over the mistakes.

Second, I started on my next acrylic, the reference photo of which I showed you last blog. After the critique I just mentioned, I knew I needed to be more careful in my initial sketch.

Today’s image is the work-in-progress. More on how and why I planned the painting and my progress in the next blog.

Until then…

Wednesday, April 14

What Is A Tondo?

While doing my civic duty the other day, that is, sitting, standing, and shuffling around the criminal court system on jury duty, I ran across an art term that was new to me. Now how did he do that, you may be wondering?

Fortunately, I had carried a book with me to read during all the monotonous waiting that prospective jurors have to do. The book is a paperback, 50 Great Artists, by Bernard Myers, this edition published in 1965. So it’s old. I bought it for $0.50 USD (50 cents) at a used book store. Even though it’s 2010, I figure the 50 artists in this book would still be considered among the greatest today.

If you are a regular viewer of the OrbisPlanis art blog, then you know about the section over there in the right-hand column I call Artist Factoids. It’s where I add brief definitions of art terms of which I am not very familiar, at least before I look up the definition.

While reading the chapter on Sandro Botticelli, I ran across the term tondo, a term of which I wasn’t aware. It was clear from the context that it referred to a round painting, and you can see one in today's image. Anyway, I looked it up in Wikipedia and added it to the Artist Factoids section over there on the right if you want to go and look at it.

I also learned that Botticelli’s first name was Sandro, and that Botticelli means “little barrel” in Italian, a nickname he took from his elder brother who was a goldsmith. That makes no sense to me, but whatever.

Now you have something new to drop into your next cocktail party conversation.

Although I wasn’t selected to be on an actual jury (aw, too bad), I was able to use the time to enlighten myself with a little art education. Who says blogging isn’t educational?

Until next blog…

Monday, April 12

Watercolor Vs. Acrylic

My reference photo for next acrylic
Copyright 2010

Hi –

Today I’m working on an acrylic as my next painting. My last painting, which I showed you last blog, was in acrylic, and I enjoyed doing it so much that I decided to do another. Today’s image is my reference photo.

It had been months since I painted with acrylic. I have been concentrating on watercolor, which I also like very much. Most of the 12 or so paintings I completed in the last year were watercolors.

I mentioned I would blog about how different it is to paint with acrylic vs. watercolor and vice versa.

Let me reiterate. Painting with acrylic is very different than painting with watercolor (and vice versa).

It’s so different that you have to really concentrate on what you’re doing so that you don’t mess up either your watercolor or your acrylic, whichever you’re painting. (I don’t mean to imply, of course, that you usually don’t concentrate on your painting.)

It’s just that if you have recently been painting in either medium and switch to the other, there is a period of adjustment, hopefully short.

For one, you almost always paint with watercolor on paper (duh), whereas with acrylic you can choose a variety of supports from canvas to panel and, yes, even paper.

With watercolor you can mix your color and then apply it. Or you can also mix colors on the paper, but you’re likely to get either a happy accident or a mess. You can also overlay single colors over one another for the transparent effect.

You can’t do transparent overlays with acrylic. You can mix the color either before it’s applied or mix it on you support, but it has no real transparent quality unless it's really thinned with water (but not so much as to inhibit the binding of the paint to the support).

Watercolor dries lighter than when it’s applied. Acrylic dries darker. In either case, you have to judge and compensate for that.

Acrylic dries very, very fast so you have to work rather quickly and have a spritzer nearby. Watercolor is a little more forgiving, and there may be times when you want to even use a hair drier to speed up the drying process.

The biggie—in watercolor you almost always paint from lightest color to darkest color. This is because you can’t paint over darker colors in watercolor with lighter colors (again, duh), that is, if you expect to be able to see them. Some colors can be lifted, but you’ll still be able to tell it was painted.

In acrylic, you can paint light first, dark first, medium tones first—whatever order you like, it doesn’t matter. And you can paint over in acrylic as much as you like. That’s why I love acrylics.

I think cleaning up with watercolors is easier than with acrylic. They are both water-based, and brushes clean up with just soap and water. Try that with oil paint!

I hope you find this helpful, and I encourage you to try both.

Until next time.

Friday, April 9

A Productive Week @ OrbisPlanis

Early Spring Road
Acrylic on Masonite
10 x 15 in/25 x 38 cm
Copyright 2010
Hi –
Although we artists do not work “regular” days or hours, that’s for sure, I somehow feel a zip in my step on Fridays. All those years at my “regular” job, I guess.

Anyway, TGIF.

A productive week here in the OrbisPlanis studio. I completed the watercolor, which I showed you last blog. That’s a relief. When I get very near to completing a painting, especially a watercolor, I’m always afraid I will screw it up at the very end. You know, spill coffee all over it or drip a non-lifting color right in the middle. So I’m glad it’s finished, and I can cover it up until it’s framed.

I next worked on my small acrylic, for which I showed you the reference photo a couple of blogs ago. It’s today’s image. I reworked it, and although it didn’t take that much time since it’s relatively small (10 x 15 in, 25 x 38 cm), I tried to give it the attention it needs.

I added a more intense green to the fields in both the foreground and background. To my own surprise I used a mix of Pthalo green and Lemon yellow. When I first mixed the two, I thought, “uh-oh, that green has too much blue.” It was one of those pastel Spring greens you see this time of year on candy eggs and around bunnies. However, when I brushed it across the existing yellow-green, it looked almost right, so I only had to tweak it a little bit.

I also had to daub around the shadows of the trees in the right foreground to make them look more natural. I also added some deeper shadows to the foliage with a mix of Pthalo green (again) and Mars violet, which gives you a nice dark.

I added Cadmium yellow deep to the sign on the right to make it stand out somewhat, although it’s not the focal point. The focal point is where the road turns and goes uphill. I also touched up the faraway treeline and smudged the horizon with Cobalt blue and Titanium white to make it recede into the distance.

Well, it’s no masterpiece, but it was my first acrylic on masonite. It helped me get back into using acrylics again. What a difference from painting with watercolor; I’ll talk about that in another blog.

I think my next painting, which will be larger than this one, will be in acrylic. That’s my next task—selecting the motif from my reference photos.

Until then...

Wednesday, April 7

Multi-Tasking Artists and Artwork

Watercolor on Paper
Copyright 2010
Somedays I am multi-tasking with my art. That is, I have tasks to do on several projects all running simultaneously.

Sometimes I am working on a single project on which I am wholly dedicated until it’s done. This week I have several tasks going simultaneously.

For one I am putting the finishing touches on a watercolor that I started about a month ago, which is today’s image. It’s been an iterative process, I will tell you that. Selecting the motif from a slew of reference photos, transferring the preliminary sketch, and then actually painting, evaluating, more painting, more evaluating, then finishing the darn thing—it all takes time. I’m pleased with it, but now I have to find a mat and frame. The joys of being an artist.

Second thing I’m working on is a small acrylic. I showed you the reference photo I’m using in the last blog. It’s almost finished, but I have to add some chroma to the field in the foreground and add a glaze of light cobalt blue to the horizon to make it recede. I should be finished today or tomorrow, and I’ll show it in an upcoming blog.

I mentioned the style I was going for—I guess you could call it contemporary impressionism or something like that. I really like the impressionistic style in all its many facets. But I do want the viewer to be able to tell what the painting is. I don’t want it so loose and impressionistic that you have to guess at it.

I like the acrylic artwork of an artist I saw in my acrylic how-to book. His name is Peter Burman, and he’s from the United Kingdom. Google him and check out his website.

In addition to the aforementioned items, I also went on a short photography junket yesterday afternoon out in the countryside to capture some of the very nice wildflowers that are in full bloom now. More on that later.


Monday, April 5

A New Approach At OrbisPlanis Art Blog

Today's Image
My Reference Photo
I don’t know if any of you are also bloggers. I hope you are, and if so, please let me know so I can follow your blogs.

I use Google’s Blogger and Blogspot as my blogging site and service. There are many others, such as WordPress, that bloggers can also use.

Blogger recently changed their upload tool; that is, the interface one uses to upload and/or write the content. I’m sure the software engineers and designers feel it’s an improvement and will make it easier for users.

However, I wish there had been a little notice to the change and, perhaps, maybe an email with the new features or a tutorial on the changes or something. If there were, I didn’t receive any (notification of it), and out of the blue one day in the last two weeks users had to figure out how to use the new tools.

It was fairly intuitive, but I’m still not sure I’m doing it correctly. For example, any .jpg image now has to be sync’d with Picasa web albums before it can be loaded. Previously you just selected your .jpg image from wherever you had it on your hard drive and clicked upload, so it’s an additional step. By the way, Google also runs the Picasa tool, which I like very much.

Anyhoo enough with the technical, the point of all of this is that with this change, I have decided I’m going to try to blog in a different way. "Change is good, " I was told.

Instead of blogging about a general art subject as I usually do twice a week, I’m going to blog about whatever I’m actually doing--artwise--that day or that week.

What does this mean? Well, I hope it will give viewers and readers a better look into what it’s like to pursue artwork in real-life. By that I mean, I will blog about my everyday pursuit of art for lack of a better description. The blogs may be shorter, or not, and may be more frequent, or not. It will depend on “where I’m at” in the moment with my art so to speak.

I hope it will draw additional viewers and readers who feel a kinship and camaraderie as aspiring and inspired artists. I would like to hear from other artists who are on their own art journey.

I do appreciate your continued viewership and hope you like this new approach! So, here goes.

Last week I was given a 10 x 15 in (41 x 51 cm) masonite board from an artist friend. He had made several of these for his art “students” so we could try out a new support other than paper or canvas. He cut the boards from a larger sheet of masonite, which you can buy at your hardware store. He was nice enough to gesso and sand them twice before giving them to us.

You may recall I even blogged about using masonite as your painting support on March 30.

I had never tried painting on a board, wood, panel or any rigid surface, but hey, I am a pretty adventurous artist and couldn’t wait to try it. I have also been wanting to paint again with my acrylics after almost of year of painting almost exclusively with watercolors. Sometimes you just need a change, you know what I mean?

I really like the smooth, smooth surface you get with gesso’d masonite as compared to canvas. As much as I love painting with acrylics, the paint does tend to drag on canvas, especially if it’s coarse, and your acrylic paint begins to dry out (which it does almost immediately).

I spent a couple of days painting a landscape from a reference photo shown above. It’s a rather bucolic, some might say boring, view of a road curving over a gently rolling hill.

Anyway I am relatively happy with my painting. However, as an artist who is never quite satisfied with his work, I need to go over it again. I think it needs a little more contrast in the grassy areas. In the reference photo the grass, both in the foreground and in the far-away background, is a brighter green with more chroma than it is in my painting. So I will continue to work on it.

Next blog I’ll talk about the style of my artwork, which I tried to use on this painting, and which I would like to become better at.


Thursday, April 1

Smiling Like Mona Lisa

I got a nice surprise this week!

I very unexpectedly received an email and phone call from the Louvre in Paris.

It seems the curator for their American wing, M. Pierre Delacroix, was recently online and saw my art blog ( and my website ( He has a friend at the NewArtistsToday website who was “surfing the web” and just happened to run across my paintings.

Turns out, he was so impressed with my work that the Louvre wants to include several of my paintings in their next “big show” starting in May.

At first I thought it was a practical joke from an old friend of mine who was pulling my leg. But when M. Delacroix called me up personally and spoke French and English-with-a-French-accent, well, I knew it must be legitimate.

I never thought this would happen. I’ve been trying to get my artwork out there for the world to see, but it’s hard to get noticed in the art world nowadays. I guess where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Anyway, I’ll be sending five of my favorite paintings to Paris this month: Koi Pond, Mustang Island View, Rehearsal Dinner, On the Deck, and Pennsylvania Avenue.

M. Delacroix also wanted to know if I were related to John Singer Sargent, the famous American watercolorist. Imagine that. I was flattered, of course, but told him no, I was just a fan of Sargent’s paintings.

Then to top it all off, M. Delacroix said my paintings would be hanging opposite from the famous Mona Lisa by Da Vinci. I guess my paintings will get plenty of exposure now.

This must be what it’s like to win the lottery. My advice to all aspiring artists is to hang in there, you just never know when your art will be discovered.

I want you to know that I’m smiling just like Mona Lisa.

(By the way, Happy April Fool’s Day.)