Thursday, September 30

Painterly - What Does It Mean?

I Would Describe My Small Acrylic
As Painterly

Painterly is not a word you probably use very often, if ever. I certainly never used it until I started painting again. It’s a word that usually only artists, and more specifically painters, use.

But what does it mean?

I read the word in articles in artist’s magazines and online more than I actually hear anyone, except artists or painters, use it. From the context in which it’s often used, the word seems to be about the appearance or the style of the artist or painting, for example,“the petals on the flower look painterly.”

Without getting off on parts of speech and such, in the English language the –ly suffix on the end of a word usually means it’s an adverb that modifies the verb, as in “he sketched the still life quickly,” where the adverb quickly modifies the past-tense verb sketched.

The word painterly is somewhat of an anomaly to this. Paint (to paint) is a verb. The word painter, however, is a noun, so adding the –ly suffix to a noun is usually not done and is, grammatically speaking, usually incorrect.

You wouldn’t say a swimmer’s style is swimmerly, a doctor’s diagnosis is doctorly, or that a computer programmer’s code is programmerly. Would you?

But for some reason, a painter’s or painting's style is described as painterly.

The online defines painterly as: of, relating to, or typical of a painter (a noun); also suggestive or characteristic of a painting. It goes on to say: marked by an openness of form, which is not linear and in which sharp outlines are lacking. They give two examples, “he has a painterly eye,” and “a painterly picture of the sea.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. First, painterly is being used as an adjective to modify a noun (painterly picture) rather than an adverb to modify a verb, so it does not follow the typical use of the –ly suffix. That explains that anomaly.

Secondly, and probably more to the point, it says painterly refers to openness of form and not linearity or straight lines. I also take this to mean a more loose, open style rather than a tight, very precise rendering. I would suggest you could call most of the Impressionist’s work painterly.

Wikipedia also has a lot more on this than I care to mention. If you want to know more, it talks about painterliness—now there’s a mouthful—and about visible brushstrokes being less than controlled, etc. etc.

However, this is probably already more than you wanted to read or think about the word painterly, but since it’s one of those words peculiar to art, I thought you might be interested.

Until next blog…

Monday, September 27

Painting, Reading, and Projecting - A Slow Day in My Art Studio

My Current Motif

It’s a rather slow Monday in the studio, so I thought this would be a good day for one of my TTO blogs. TTO stands for This, That, and the Other. I assume no further explanation is necessary…

I am working on my next acrylic. It’s going rather slowly. I’m having trouble getting into the real mood of the painting. I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly good outdoor-sy landscape of a road, a big tree as the focal point, and a windmill as a counterpoint. I do like the sun and shadows in it, so we shall see (how it goes).

I finished the Great Book of French Impressionism over the weekend. I have been reading it off and on for the last three weeks. Looking at it would actually better describe what I was doing rather than reading it, because it is mostly pages and pages of famous paintings by Manet, Monet, Bazille, Van Gogh, and Cezanne just to name a few.

I am starting my next book, Hopper’s Places. I have seen many of these paintings in other books and even a few of them in person. The focus of this book is on the locations Edward Hopper painted in his cityscapes and on Cape Cod.

Let’s see, what else?

Last week I purchased a projector that enlarges and projects an image onto your support so that you can easily sketch in the main elements. Since I like to paint structures and buildings, maybe this will help in getting the perspective right the first time I draw it. It doesn’t project a very bright image even in a darkened room during the day, so I may have to use the thing at night. It works better on bright, colorful images. If you use one of these, please let me know what your experience has been.

As I said, a rather slow Monday in the studio, but it is now time for me to get back to my acrylic and see what I can make of it.

Until next blog…

Thursday, September 23

It's Museum Day in the US This Saturday

The "Castle" at the Smithsonian Museum
 in Washington, D.C.

If you live in or happen to be in the United States this coming Saturday, September 25, 2010, then you have an opportunity to broaden your artistic horizons. It’s not very often that you have a chance to increase your knowledge and awareness about art and history.

But this Saturday you can.

It’s Museum Day in the US, the sixth annual one sponsored by Smithsonian Magazine.

I urge everyone, and especially artists, to take advantage of this opportunity. It’s free at some participating museums across the country, and the magazine even offers a free ticket to a participating museums. Now that’s a deal you can't pass up.

Five museums, of the many museums participating around the country, were featured in the September edition of the magazine: Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL; Autry National Center, Los Angeles, CA; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL; and Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston, MA.

But many, many more around the country are also opening their doors this Saturday, too.

In Houston 17 museums will be open for FREE for the 14th Annual Museum Day here in our Museum District.

Not all are strictly art museums, but that’s OK; as I said you can increase your knowledge and awareness of art AND history.

In addition to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Menil Collection, and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 14 other interesting museums, such as the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, the Czech Center Museum, the Holocaust Museum Houston, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Houston Center for Photography are also joining in, just to name a few.

METRO is even providing free shuttle buses among the museums here so you have no excuse not to see them all. I hope other cities are being as accommodating.

So, I hope you visit the Smithsonian or a participating museum in your area this Saturday.

Until next blog…

Monday, September 20

Space and Light - Altered States

Watercolor on Paper
Copyright 2008

Sometimes I don’t even know I have a problem. It’s only later when I see things differently that I know I had (or still have) the problem.

You’ll probably be surprised as you read on because I’m not talking about your drawing ability or media or knowledge of color theory or your style or technique.

I paint in a rather confined area. I have a table, an easel, a rolling stack of drawers, a couple of chairs, and my notebook computer, of course. It’s roughly a 10x10 ft. (3.05x3.05 m.) space, for me comfortable and cozy.

My space has a large double window facing west-northwest. A true-north light would be best, but I live with what I have. The window glass also has a tint to block some of the sun’s heat and rays. The best light comes in the afternoon from about 1 p.m. until 6 p.m., give or take, depending on the season of the sun.

In my space I plan, I paint, I re-paint, I finish a painting. Looks pretty good, if I do say so myself.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I go to critique class, which is in a professional artist’s studio. It’s on the second floor in a rather large space--I’m guessing it’s 30x25 ft. (9.14x7.63 m.). There is true-north light coming in from two side-by-side French doors plus a small window in the corner facing south.

In addition, there is a large rectangle of track lighting on the ceiling, along with several pot lights and a four-bulb light fixture on the ceiling fan. In other words, the place is flooded with natural and incandescent light.

As I place my painting on the easel. I am able to stand way back, at least 15 ft.(4.57 m.), and look at my work in dazzling light (compared to my space, anyway).

It looks pretty much altogether different than it did earlier in my space.

The values seem to be different and the colors have certainly changed. Not actually “changed,” you know,  but they appear so different in this setting. And being able to stand back and see the painting NOT close up really does change the way it looks to the viewer.

Whatever suggestions I receive as critique, I have to filter when I get back to my space. And when I make the changes they again don’t appear the same as in my space at the next critique, and on it goes.

SPACE and LIGHT I am talking about, the basics of our physical and art world. What a difference they can make in how your painting appears.

If you are not able to enlarge your painting space or light-up your studio better, then you must view your “finished” painting in a larger room with brighter lighting or, better yet, take it out of doors and look at it in a different environment before declaring it “finished.”

Not the perfect solution, but better than being surprised when you hang it in a show or gallery.

Until next blog…

Thursday, September 16

Watercolor Pencils (and Titanium White) to the Rescue

Tres Arboles
Watercolor on Paper
18 x 28 in/46 x 71 cm
Copyright 2010
I am re-working my watercolor.

I was not happy when I looked at it again after I put it away four months ago. You know, sometimes you just have to get away from your work, let it "rest," and look at it with a fresh eye.

When I looked at it again, my fresh eye did not like the foreground because I thought the colors were too dark.

I had previously added darker, but warmer, colors (violet and red) to make the foreground appear closer to the viewer.

However, now the darker, but warmer, colors seemed, to me anyway, to make the painting look unbalanced.

To re-work the watercolor, I wet the paper and lifted, lifted, lifted the colors.

It looked somewhat better, but now I had new problem. The foreground looked washed out, and not in a good way.

Then it came to me—watercolor pencils (and Titanium white).

Why not? What else are watercolor pencils for? There are no rules (except in the Tranparent Watercolor Society where white watercolor is verboten,) and I have no intention whatsoever of entering it anywhere.

Although the scene is on a partly-cloudy day, I used watercolor pencils to add contrast, brightness, and highlights. (Oh, and I used Titanium white for the white flower petals.)

I also changed the name from 'Bluebonnet Fields Forever' to 'Tres Arboles,' which emphasizes the three trees, where it belongs, rather than the flowers.

Now I'm happier, and I think my watercolor is, too.

Until next blog…

Monday, September 13

The Many Moods of Paintings

Untitled by Thom Harris
Oil on Canvas, c.1950
Feelings, nothing more than feelings, as the old song goes—some of the great and powerful things art does is to create mood and evoke emotion, you know, feelings.

That may seem to go without saying; however, I think it’s gone so long without saying that we artists sometime forget about that power.

The very nature of this visual medium begets a response even if it’s nothing more than, “Oh, what a pretty vase of flowers.”

Every painting creates a mood whether the artist intended to or not. If the artist is not cognizant of this mood-creating/emotion-evoking power as he or she paints, pity. That’s a problem, and if that’s the case, you’re not painting, you’re just “slinging paint.”

As lukewarm as the above response may be, the viewer at least identifies with the subject in some way. In this example, I’m guessing the flowers, or the vase, created a mood of cheerfulness and evoked an emotion of contentment, at least at some level.

Of course, the mood created and the emotion evoked depend on the subject matter, the color palette, and the style in which the painting is rendered, among other facets the artist controls.

Mood is such a personal response to all sorts of life events that it’s difficult to generalize about the mood that may overtake the viewer when looking at a painting. As its creator, the artist should know what he or she intended, but not the end result for the viewer—you just never know how anyone will take your work of art.

The emotional response can be from near zero to almost infinity depending on the individual’s state of mind, the motif, and the setting in which the painting is viewed. All three combine to provide that “certain something” when you see a painting for the very first time.

I’m pretty sure this mood-thing is in play when people say their favorite painting is, for example, Renoir's The Luncheon of the Boating Party or their favorite painter is Edward Hopper. What they’re really saying is, ”I always remember how I felt when I first saw that painting.”

The biggest sin an artist can make is to forget, or worse, be unaware of, the moodiness and emotional power of the brushstroke. You know, feelings.

Until next blog…

Thursday, September 9

What Was Claude Monet's Color Palette?

Row Boat, Acrylic on Canvas,
10 x 14 in/ 25 x 35 cm
Copyright 2009
You may, or may not, have noticed over there in the right-hand column of my blog that I recently added a section I call ‘The Art Book I’m Currently Reading.’ I thought some of you may be interested in what another artist is reading because I am interested in what artists read.

Anyway, I’m on my third book since I added that section, and it’s The Great Book of French Impressionism. You have probably gleaned from my previous blogs that I like Impressionism. I will admit to it. Call me old-fashioned, I don’t care.

I like Claude Monet’s work among many of the Impressionists just like millions (I’m guessing) of other people on the planet.

One of the things that I have been curious about was his color palette. Just what paint colors did he use? One would think there would be a very straight-forward answer on that topic, what with the internet and all.

So, I Googled several phrases that I thought would best describe what I was looking for. I thought a list of paint colors would immediately pop-up. However, from what I could find, there are only a few sites that even discuss the actual colors. Most talk about all kinds of painting techniques and how he painted and how he didn’t use black and where he painted and blah, blah, blah.

From the few sites I found about his actual colors: discussed the colors in Monet’s famous Bathers at La Grenouillere, 1869, one of his earlier works. It said: vermilion, viridian, emerald green, chrome green, chrome yellow, lemon yellow, cobalt violet, Prussian blue, and lead white.

From the art blog, My French Easel, in 2009, two quotes were evidently researched and provided. One quote says, “Silver White, Cadmium Yellow, Vermilion, Dark Madder, Cobalt Blue, Emerald Green and that’s it.” (Letter from Monet to G. Durand-Ruel–Giverny, 3 July 1905). A second quote: “Silver White, Light Cobalt Purple, Emerald Green, Extra-fine ultramarine; Sometime – occasionally – some Vermilion. Then a trinity of Cadmium: Light, Dark, Citrus; I also sell to him a Citrus Yellow Ultramarine, since a few years.” (Tabarant, Couleurs in Le Bulletin de la Vie Artisitique, 15 July 1923, pages 287-290).

One online-answer site,, says the colors were/are: lead white (modern equivalent = titanium white, chrome yellow (modern equivalent = cadmium yellow light), cadmium yellow, viridian green, emerald green, French ultramarine, cobalt blue, madder red (modern equivalent = alizarin crimson), vermilion, and ivory black (but only used before 1886).

There are probably more, but I got tired of looking. And I think you can just about figure out which colors Monet used, give or take. I am sure his color palette changed somewhat over the years as his painting matured, and that accounts for the differences.

I will use the list from because I already happen to have all those modern-equivalent colors on hand. From one artist who likes Impressionism, I think this is a very interesting subject.

Until next blog…

Monday, September 6

7 Simple Tips for Better Composition in Your Paintings

Example: I Think This Reference Photo Has Good Composition
Photo Copyright 2010
Hi- Today I am talking about achieving pleasing composition in your paintings or drawings.

Composition is one of those elements that, when done correctly goes unnoticed, but--oh boy--if it’s done poorly, everyone notices.

Here are seven simple tips to better composition:

1. First decide which layout fits your motif best—more horizontal (landscape) or more vertical (portrait).

2. Remember the ‘golden mean’ in design—things should be in the proportion of 1/3 to 2/3.

3. Remember the ‘rule of 3s’—arrangement looks best when there are at least three objects in opposition to each other—some even look for the imaginary triangle in composition; similarly, an odd number of objects is more interesting than an even number.

4. If painting en plein air, use either a frame-template or your two hands to hold up before your motif in order to “size-up” the boundaries before you start painting; keep doing this as your painting progresses so you don’t forget your boundaries.

5. If painting from a reference photo, crop the motif using photo-editing software, print out the cropped motif, and tape it to your support as you paint.

6. The focal point of your painting should be placed diagonally inward from one of the corners, not too high and not too low, and definitely not in the center .

7. Use some element (a shadow, a road, a river) to lead the viewer into your painting.

Academics would say these simple tips are too elementary, but for me, and I’m guessing for a lot of us, that’s just what we need. I hope this is helpful.

Until next blog…

Thursday, September 2

Horizon Lines in Seascapes Must Be Correct or Your Painting Is Doomed !

My Doomed Seascape Motif
Copyright 2010
September already? I just flipped the page on my 2010 Monet calendar to September, and I will now enjoy viewing The Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil, 1880, for the next 28 days.

Today I am blogging about horizon lines that appear (or don’t ) in your seascapes.

As you’re well aware, the horizon line is the place in your composition where the sky meets water (or land in a landscape) unless your painting has a different viewpoint and you can't see it. By different viewpoint I mean looking up or down so a horizon isn't visible.

Why am I blogging about this?

Well, I just had a bad experience with a horizon line in my latest watercolor. I thought I would briefly tell you how I messed up so that you may avoid the same fate.

It all started when I selected a seascape motif for my next painting…

My personal photo taken on the coast in Malibu, California, shows rocks, a pier, and the water, of course. Since my interest was the pier as it jutted out into the ocean, I had to seriously crop the foreground. (I use Photoshop Elements, but any photo-editing software will work.) That left me with a zoomed-in view of just the pier and the water. The result was a very horizontal layout of the motif. See today’s image.

As you can see, the pier blocks the view of the horizon on the right side.

Now, maybe it was the elevation at which I was standing (onshore and slightly elevated) or maybe it was because the zooming-in distorted the depth perception. I think, however, it was probably my preliminary sketch on the canvas that was wrong, and by that I mean I didn’t put the pier in a level position.

But, whatever it was, it doomed my painting.

“Look here, your pier is angled so that the viewer should be able to see the horizon above it,” I was told when I showed my work to another artist after almost completing the painting and two long days of work.

“Oh my!” (That’s not what I actually said.)

It seems that after I drew my preliminary sketch, I should have MEASURED the distance from the top corner on BOTH sides down to the horizon line or, in the case of my painting, where the horizon line should have been.

In seascapes, it’s imperative that this distance BE EQUAL! Duh--water is level!

Because the top edge of the pier on the right side of my painting was not equal to the water horizon line on the left side, my painting was doomed from the beginning.

I tried to correct this by adding a water horizon line just ABOVE the pier, but that threw the whole perspective of the pier off—the railing, the building angles—and, as I said, my painting was doomed.

Let this be a lesson.

Until next blog.