Monday, December 29

Painting: A Time for Reflection

A Time for Reflection
Oil on Hardboard
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
It's that time of year. The calendar is about change to the new year. It happens every year, of course, but I think it's an excellent time for painters to take stock, so to speak, and give themselves an annual review.

By that I mean it's time to look back over the last 12 months and see what direction--forward, backward, or even sideways--you can see in your paintings and your abilities.

Hopefully, you will find improvement, even if it's only in one thing, such as learning how to soften lines in acrylic, for example. I suppose sideways is better than backward. However, even if you look back at work completed last January and see little or no improvement or worse, you find you're regressing, don't worry.

Painters, as we all know, are their own worst critics.

And even if you're not satisfied with your progress, you have all of next year, starting this Thursday, to work on improving your painting skills.

Happy New Year to all the painters and collectors!

Monday, December 22

Season's Greetings!

Acrylic on Paper
18 x 23 in/45.7 x 58.4 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
Last week I posted a test blog to see if I had fixed the problem I was having on Blogger. I'm happy to report that I believe the issues of my being a No Reply@Blogger and my thumbnails not appearing on the Reading List have been solved. I'm not completely sure what the fix was as I made several changes. First,  I ensured my settings on Blogger were correct, specifically that "show my email address" was selected and "allow blog feed" was set to "full." Second, I ensured my "post feed redirect URL" was current by burning a new feed on Feedburner. And finally, I added a line of HTML code to my post(s) that tagged my images as images with post.thumbnail. Many thanks to the site Blogger-Hints-and-tips where I got the line of code to use. If anyone else is having the same problem, I hope you find this helpful.

Other than that, this will be a slow week for painting due to all the upcoming holiday activities. I wanted to share today's image, which I completed a couple of weeks ago, and to wish all the painters and collectors Season's Greetings!

Tuesday, December 16

A Quick Test Blog

Test Image
Today's blog is just a quick test to find out if I have been able to fix a problem I've had (forever) with Blogger. Blogger thinks I am a No Reply Blogger rather than who I am. It's not a big problem, other than when I make replies on Blogger I'm seen as No Reply Blogger. Also, in the Reading List of those who follow my blog, I also show up as No Reply Blogger and a thumbnail image from my blog never shows up. As I said, not a big deal, but annoying all the same.

I recently tried a solution I found online and want to see if it actually fixed the problem. I'll let you know whether or not it did in next week's post.


Monday, December 15

Tales from the Palette: Mixing the Color Blue-Violet

Old Man River
Acrylic on Paper
9 x 12 in/22.9 x 30.5 cm
It's been a while since I've done a Tales from the Palette blog. The other two were: mixing the color turquoise and mixing the color beige/tan. I like to pass along what I've learned about mixing paint colors that are, for me anyway, somewhat troublesome, which is why I refer to it as Tales from the Palette.

It sounds ridiculously simple. If you ask any painter, they'll tell you, just mix blue and red; it's right there on the color wheel at about 10:00 o'clock.

OK, I'm not talking about plain-old violet (which Wikipedia says is halfway between blue and magenta on the color wheel). As with many things in life, there are a lot of different shades of this color, just look at what else Wikipedia has to say about it.

No, the color of violet I'm talking about is the blue-violet I strive for when I'm painting landscapes or seascapes or cityscapes or actually any painting in which I want to show the illusion of distance. Most painters know to use more blue when you want things to appear in the distance to simulate the atmosphere.

To help you imagine the color, it's in today's image above. It's that color in the distant ridge where it meets the river between the trees.

Many manufacturers have tried to help by offering colors with names such as light ultramarine blue, light blue violet, violet grey, and several others.

However, I like to call my mixture Vanishing Violet. I mix it with ultramarine blue, a very little alizarin crimson, and titanium white. The trick is to mix those colors in just the right proportions to get the distance that best suits your painting.

I hope you find this helpful as you discover your very own personal "tale from the palette."  

Monday, December 8

When Painting Is Fun

A Fun Day
Watercolor on Paper
9 x 12 in / 22.9 x 30.5 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
Painting should be fun; otherwise, you're not doing it right. There, I said it.

That may seem like a bold statement to some painters and artistes who take themselves and what they do seriously and probably way too seriously.

Of course, there is a type of artwork whose goal is to agitate or to bring some viewpoint or injustice into focus. There is a time and place for this type of work, too, but painting the work should still be fun for the painter rather than a burden.

Painting does not (have to) equal angst. Why should it?

When painting is fun, most painters are at their best. Spirits are high and creativity is soaring. Their work sings.

When painting is fun, the viewer both sees and feels the joy with which the work was conceived.

When painting is fun, the world is a brighter place.


Monday, December 1

How to Paint Rain (in Acrylic)

Would You Play Misty for Me
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
A slow-moving cool front, bringing with it gray, leaden skies and showers, made me want to blog about painting rain today.

I completed today's image several weeks ago and thought it very appropriate for the subject, how to paint rain. Or, perhaps, I should be more humble and say, how I paint rain (in acrylic).

Here are a few of my unwritten rules for painting rain because as all painters should know, you don't paint by rules:

- Put down an overall wash on the support in a cool neutral tone leaning toward blue.

- Depending on the type of precipitation, thunderstorms or just mist, you have to paint accompanying clouds believably; you can mix ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, and raw sienna in whatever proportion you think is correct for your dark clouds, or you can use your own concoction; add white to that to lighten the skies as needed.

- Since it's overcast when it rains, there are no sharply-defined, contrasting shadows of anything.

- Paint distant or background horizons or objects with no sharp edges; not only are the objects in the distance, they are also obscured by the rain, and the heavier the rain the less distinct the object.

- If you're painting natural ground, as in a landscape, add a few puddles of standing water and paint them lighter than the ground and approximately the same color as the sky so that it looks like the surface of the water reflecting light.

- If you're painting includes man-made objects, such as a road or sidewalk or just about any horizontal surface, you have to show the surface reflecting light; paint broad horizontal strokes, alternating with slight changes in light and dark values (in whatever color).

- Paint the darker reflection or shadow of objects vertically on man-made surfaces, but also add short, broken horizontal strokes the same color as the surrounding surface.

- Paint the lighter reflection of the sky or of any man-made lighting of any color vertically, but add short, broken horizontal strokes the same color as the surrounding surface.

-Depending on how much rain you want to show, it's OK to add various random strokes to the painting of what some painters call "noise," but remember you're painting an illusion of rain not actually painting raindrops.

I'm sure I've left something out, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Also, practice, practice practice....

Thursday, November 27

Happy Thanksgiving

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Watercolor on Paper
9 x 12 in/22.9 x 30.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
Here in Texas we like hot chili peppers on everything, including our turkey and dressing. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, especially the painters, everywhere!

Monday, November 24

Try Watercolor Paper As Your Support

Distant Hills
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
9 x 12 in/22.9 x 30.5 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
I don't always paint on canvas (or linen) or on a board. On occasion I paint with acrylics on watercolor paper.

Today's image was one of those occasions. For this painting I used Royal Talens watecolo(u)r paper, 90 lb or 200 gr/m2.  I completed it a couple of weeks ago from a reference photo obtained with permission online. The subject is a hazy landscape somewhere in the mountains. I liked the changes in value from foreground to background, the lost and found edges, and the depth of the receding mountains in the flat light.

When I paint with acrylics on paper I use a little water as a medium to thin the paint, although not so much that the acrylics become like watercolor. No, just enough to help them blend a little better, which is required in a painting like this one. A little water also helps the paper to absorb the paint, which doesn't happen when painting acrylic on canvas or board.

As I've said before, try something different--like acrylics on watercolor paper. You may find it's your new favorite.

Monday, November 17

What's Your "Go To" Palette?

Jornada del Muerto
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
I have discussed palette colors on several previous occasions and have sounded so sure of myself. And by "go to" palette I mean the one you find yourself using every time for every painting for at least the last six months.

However, I think I have finally figured out two things. First, it takes a while (at least six months) to figure out what your own personal "go to" palette is. Second, even when you think you have figured it out, it will change over time.

Such is the life of a painter.

I also know that pretty much all painters start out using someone else's palette, and that someone else is usually your favorite painter either living or dead (such as Van Gogh or Hopper or whichever current painter). In addition, painters usually use too many of the colors on those painter's palettes when they should be using fewer.

That said, I'm finding my current "go to" palette to be:


Ultramarine Blue

Pthalo Blue (green shade)

Cadmium Red Light

Alizarin Crimson

Camium Yellow Light

Raw Sienna or Yellow Oxide (whichever I have)

Titanium White (of course)


Naples Yellow

Cadmium Orange

Burnt Sienna

Raw Umber

Off White ( the actual name depends on the manufacturer; my current favorite is Milky White, but it could be called Bleached Titanium or Ecru or some such; very useful)

That's my "go to" palette until it changes over time ; - )

Monday, November 10

Paint What You Paint Well

High and Windy Hill
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm 
If the headline of today's blog sounds confusing, sorry, I don't mean it to be. What I am simply trying to say is to paint what you're good at painting.

I'm all for art education and continuing education and learning new skills and trying out new ways to paint and new materials to use.

That said, here's what I'm talking about. In my humble and somewhat limited experience, I have found that I paint best what I paint well. That is, I find I am much happier with my painting, my painting experience, and myself in general, when the painting I am working on looks good to me.

If I think, or know, I have painted a good painting, then I am happy and a happy painter.

I have found after painting hundreds of different paintings in watercolor, acrylic, and some oil, that I paint much better paintings when I paint what I paint well, which is land- and seascapes in acrylic. That doesn't mean I'll never, ever paint a cityscape in oil or a still life in watercolor, but it may mean I won't think I painted them as well as one of my acrylic land/seascapes.

(And don't hold your breath for a portrait in pastel from me either.)

Monday, November 3

What Is the Difference Between Value and Chroma?

Mar Vista
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
Unless you are a painter and an artist you may not get the title of today's blog post. But understanding the meaning and the difference in those terms is more than important if you want to know how to paint better or at least paint better informed.

The term value, a term that is frequently discussed and which 'throws" many new painters, means simply how light or dark--from white to black--a color progressively becomes on a scale of 0 to 10 with white being 0 (zero) and black being 10.

OK, stop. If you don't get the preceding paragraph, just stop and think about it for however long it takes you to understand what that means.

Think of the value of any color in comparison to white, black, or in-between grays. A handy tool available is a small card numbered 0 (white) to 10 (black) with grays numbered 2 to 9 that lets you hold it next to your color and easily make a comparison. Also, what's confusing is that some colors (yellows) will never have really dark values while other colors (reds) will never have really light values. (Just to confuse you further, many artists also refer to value as tone, but don't let it.)

Chroma is simply the intensity or brightness of a color. One way I remember this is to think of a watercolor. If you mix the watercolor with a lot of water, it lowers the intensity of the paint pigment when it's painted on paper. Conversely, the less water you add, the more intense or bright the paint pigment of the color when painted. Or if that is still confusing, look at the difference between Naples Yellow and Lemon Yellow. Naples Yellow has a lot of white, and a little red, in it,  which lowers its intensity or brightness. Lemon Yellow doesn't have white, so it's a much more intense or brighter yellow.

Now you've got it. Sometime, we'll talk warm vs. cool colors.

Sunday, October 26

Why Is It Called Payne's Grey?

Well, I'm sure you can look up information on Payne's grey yourself, but I'm happy to provide some information here that you may find interesting if not useful.

Payne's grey is the bluish-black very dark grey color that probably isn't on your palette, and you may never think to use it either. However, occasionally I have found it very useful in mixing cool dark neutrals or for cool shadows.

Anyway, I suppose I also wanted to do a blog on this to complete my "trilogy" of blogs about where several paint colors got their names, the other two colors being Hooker's green and Davy's grey. Here are links to those blogs: Why Is It Called Hooker's Green? and Why Is It Called Davy's Grey (Who Was Davy?) 

From, Marion Boddy-Evans tells us that "The color Payne's Grey is named after a British watercolorist and art lecturer, William Payne (1760--1830), who recommended the mixture to students as a more subtle alternative to a gray mixed from black and white. In Artist's Pigments: c.1600-1835 Payne's grey is stipulated to originally have been "a mixture of (crimson) lake, raw sienna and indigo."1 (When referring to the original, remember "grey" will be spelt the British way with an 'e', not the American way with an 'a'.)"

In addition, a very complete discussion on Wikipedia about William Payne tells us "but the invention by which he is best known is a neutral tint composed of indigo, raw sienna, and (crimson) lake called Payne's grey. His methods were regarded as tricky by the old-fashioned practicians of the day. but there is no doubt that he did much to advance the technique of watercolour painting, and was one of the first 'draughtsmen' to abandon mere topography for a more poetical treatment of landscape scenery."

Now you know as much as I about these three painters from the mists of history and how they came to be immortalized in paint colors.

Tuesday, October 21

Painting is Not a Business

Beach Day
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
9 x 12 in/22.9 x 30.5 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
(OK, it is a business if you're a gallery owner.)

But if you are a painter, it's not really a business, is it? It's a passion, or it should be; otherwise, are you really a painter? It's an unpleasant truth, maybe, or at least a conundrum.

What's a painter to do? You've got to eat, and you may have other mouths to feed as well. As you know, only a tiny fraction of a very, very few painters become rich and famous strictly from their paintings (or anything else) while they are still living.

There are painters who are able make a living by selling their paintings from a gallery or galleries and/or website. I wish you the greatest success. Often, however, painting is the step-child to an alternative way to make ends meets. Life is hard, as we all know, especially for painters.

What painters usually do is either teach art or hold (a lot of) workshops or some combination of those.

I hold art teachers in the highest esteem because they are about the only people around today who actually contribute anything relating to the arts to most students. To them I say, there is no higher calling.

For those who paint and also hold (a lot of) workshops, you fill a great niche for those who want to learn to paint or to improve their skills. Keep up the good work; may your classes and easels always be full.

Come to think of it, there are other painters. There are the true-believer, "starving artists" who somehow manage to paint full-time and not starve, May the force be with you. Then there are the dilettantes who really don't have to work, so they decide to paint. To you I say, really!?

Whatever station you fit into in the world of painting, remember it's not a business. It's a passion, or it should be.

Tuesday, October 14

Do Not Overwork Your Painting!

Autumn House
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
Yikes. I did it again last week. I overworked the painting I was working on for a couple of days.

Not today's image; I painted this one immediately after discarding the overworked painting, so as not to lose confidence. It's like getting back up on the horse that threw you.

I'm not showing the painting I overworked, so you'll just have to take my word for it that it was overworked.

How do you know when you've overworked your painting? Unfortunately, there's no line of demarcation to let you know you've gone too far. That's why it's difficult to know when to stop.

Here are a few tell-tale signs that I'm going, or have already gone, too far. Maybe these signs will help you realize it as well:

- A general overall  feeling of uneasiness about the painting

- Wanting it to be more of a painting than it can possibly be

- Painting over or scraping off perfectly good areas of the painting

- Thinking that adding more detail will help, and then adding totally unnecessary details

- Saying to yourself, "What else does this need?"

- No idea when it will be finished

- Adding just one additional brush stroke to make it perfect

Knowing when to quit is often as important as other aspects of painting, sometimes even more than the planning, composition, color, or value.

Stop it! Do not overwork your painting!

Monday, October 6

I Love Flats and Filberts

Paradise Found
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
Think about the letter F next time you're painting.

I have discovered that almost all of the paintings I like to paint (and/or aspire to paint) are painted using Flats and Filberts. If you can't remember those names, then at least remember the letter F to jog your memory.

I'm speaking of two types and shapes of paint brushes, of course.

Flats are just what you'd expect from the name. They are broad, almost square in shape, with a horizontal ferrule giving them their flat shape. They come in all sizes from 02 up to large house-painting brushes five or more inches across that can be used for painting paintings as well as houses

Flats have squared-off corners that allow you to apply paint in broad, flat slabs of color. They are great because they let you leave out all those unnecessary detail strokes while still maintaining absolute control. I love them.

Filberts are similar to flats in shape, although they are generally somewhat narrower. The big difference, of course, is that their corners are not at 90-degree angles but gently rounded off. This allows you to apply broad flat slabs of color like flats, but since they are rounded off, you can more easily blend the paint when two or more colors or values meet (even with acrylics). They come in all sizes, too, although I haven't ever seen any Filbert house-painting brushes. I love them.

You may not know this, but from Wikipedia I learned:"The filbert paintbrush derives from the shape it resembles, that of a hazelnut with its namesake. This word comes from the Old French filbert, coming from noix de (nut of) Philibert. Philibert was a saint, (who died in 684), whereby the ripening of the nut in August coincides with his feast day." Try dropping that into the conversation at your next cocktail party...

So, think about the letter F next time you're painting. I love Flats and Filberts.

Monday, September 29

Some Advice for Painting with Acrylics

Country Hillside
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
There's an old saying, "do as I say not as I do." I always hated that because it is so patently hypocritical and self-serving. There is no place for that in art. In that spirit, I'm telling you what  I actually do regarding painting with acrylic paint. Here goes.

No. 1 - They're not oil; they're not watercolor or gouache, either; they're acrylic, get over it. That means you have to forget what you've learned about painting with those other media. You have to learn how acrylics actually work when you personally paint with them as opposed to reading or watching how someone else paints with them.

No. 2 - You have to learn how not to dally with acrylics. Dally is the perfect word, which has a couple of meanings, both of which apply.

One means to treat something in a way that is not serious enough. To paint successfully with acrylics you must treat them with the respect they deserve as a bona fide medium, no matter what other painters think or say about them.

The other meaning is to waste time idly, dawdle. As you will quickly learn, you can't dawdle (or dally) with acrylics, they dry too fast. You have to paint deliberately and purposefully. For many, however, that is their no. 1 attribute.

No. 3 - Find the brand or brands of acrylic paint that work best for YOU. That doesn't mean it has to be the most expensive or "the best" as described or endorsed by other painters or manufacturers. It does mean that you have, for whatever reason(s), found the paint that best suits the way you paint and gives you the look and feel of painting you desire. That simple.

Well, I do believe I have more advice, but I think I'll save that for another blog.


Monday, September 22

Natural Style is the No. 1 Goal

Lookout Point
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/ 40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
I've blogged about this in previous blogs, but I believe one of the most difficult things for painters to do is to find their natural style and ability to paint.

It's so easy to look at famous paintings and painters as well as current paintings and painters and think, "I want my paintings to look just like that."

I do that myself, way more than I should, I'm sure. It's because you see either a style of painting or a palette of colors or certain motifs, or all three, and you wish to emulate that type of work.

The thing is, your paintings never look like the ones you admire. Of course, one way to learn how to paint is to paint an exact copy of a painting you admire. Many students are taught that method as a way to learn. I remember one visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. where several students were standing before some of the world's great masterpieces with their easels and oil paints painting exact copies.

Not a bad way to study, I suppose, but then it's not your own work is it?

I believe you have to be comfortable in your own painter's skin, so to speak, and let your natural style show throughout your work and let this be the no. 1 goal. In addition, once you have found your style, all your work will have an identifiable character, and that's what collectors like.

And another thing, isn't it great that we all paint differently? Because if we all painted alike what a boring art world it would be.

Monday, September 15

A Flash of Inspiration in Painting

Beyond a Shadow
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
No matter what you paint, where you paint, when you paint, or how you paint, you won't connect with the viewer without first having had an inspiration.

Your inspiration is what makes your painting uniquely appealing, not only to you but also to others who are drawn into your vision.

One definition of inspiration is to be mentally stimulated to do something creative. I like that. To me it simply means that something got your brain rev'd up so much that you just had to act on it in a creative manner. You often hear the term "a flash of inspiration" to describe that moment of stimulation.

There's inspiration in all kinds of human endeavors, of course, but in painting the inspiration you have comes out visually on a two-dimensional surface in the form of gesture and contour and tone and color, among other things.

Not unexpectedly, several synonyms for inspiration are creativity, inventiveness, innovation, imagination, and originality. Perfect.

Whatever it was that flashed in your mind at that moment--an emotion, a view, a color, a setting--instantly told you, "that's my next painting."

Monday, September 8

It's OK to Be an Introvert and a Painter

September Shore
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/ 40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
Painting, any type of painting, is a solitary act. That's the nature of creativity and the nature of painting. Painting and socializing are and were meant to be mutually exclusive activities.

You, the painter, alone are responsible for the outcome. You alone must observe, conjure, design, render, evaluate, and complete your painting. No one else is involved.

Being around other artists is fine--now and again--but groups of painters don't create paintings.

A group of painters is no different from any other group of people. People are generally mundane, and in any group you have a spectrum of personalities that includes just about every human trait and foible. Dealing with that, or just being around that, is the problem.

I don't care what anyone says, I don't think good painting evolves from being around other painters. I think good painting comes from time spent alone by one's self in the planning and execution of the work.

Call us introverts if you like, but I think that's the way we want it.


Tuesday, September 2

Keep Challenging Yourself As A Painter

Two Little Boats
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
8 x 8 in/ 20.3 x 20.3 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
If you are a regular follower of this painting blog, then you know I am always for changing things up a bit, trying out new techniques, or simply challenging yourself to paint something that you know is difficult for you.

In my own case, it's painting boats.

I don't know why. I don't fear of painting water. Most painters would agree, I think, that painting water would seem to be more difficult to paint than a boat, what with all the movement of waves and how the light catches and reflects, etc., etc.

However, I remember the times I have painted boats, and it has always been difficult for me. The size doesn't seem to matter, I have trouble with large ships as well as little skiffs. I think it has to do with the shape of the bow--most boats have a pointed bow--and the way the sides curve back toward the stern.

Getting the perspective just right, along with painting the light and shadows, and rendering the volume correctly, well, that's difficult.

But, that doesn't mean we should give up. It means we need to keep challenging ourselves, and in my case, paint boats!

Monday, August 25

Why Aren't There More Acrylic Painters?

Up the Wagon Path
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/ 27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014 
I guess-timate the ratio of acrylic painters to oil painters to be about 20 to 1; that is, for every acrylic painter there are about 20 oil painters. Why is that?

Well, for one thing, oil has been around a lot longer than acrylics--about 600 years as compared to around 60 for acrylics.

But I also believe there are other factors:

- Many painters don't understand the fundamentals of acrylics

- Many painters don't know how to paint with acrylics

- Many painters can't paint successfully with acrylics

- Many painters don't know how to blend acrylics

- Many painters can't paint lost-and-found edges with acrylics

- Many painters can't paint atmospheric acrylics

- Many painters can't paint fast enough to use acrylics

BUT for those painters who understand and know how to paint with acrylics, a wide world of painting lies at your doorstep.

Whenever I discover great acrylic painters, such as Herman Pekel, John Hammond, Marcia Burtt, Mark Mehaffey, and William Hook, just to name a few, I'm happy to provide a link to their websites so that you may discover them, too.

Happy acrylic painting!

Tuesday, August 19

When You Can Paint Anything...

Sailing Along the Coast
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
The headline of today's blog says it all, "when you can paint anything..."

I try to read as much as I can find on how various painters learned their skills and how they use their skills. When I discover a painter whose work I admire I try to find out as much as I can about how they paint the way they do.

You can get an awful lot of information from their websites, reading their blogs, reading their curriculum vitae on their gallery's website, reading articles in various art magazines, and, yes, by attending their workshops  buying their DVDs.

Most of the painters whose paintings seem to reach out and grab me have one thing in common: they have the ability to paint anything and make it a successful painting in its own right.

It seems that at some point in their careers they figured out that it's not the object or motif you are painting that's most  important. That is, finding a pretty scene and painting a pretty picture is not the point.

What's most important is how you paint whatever it is you're painting. It doesn't have to be pretty to be successful. These painters paint successful and beautiful paintings out of everyday, mundane, ordinary objects and scenes. 

I myself strive to be able to paint this way, to take any subject and render it successfully in paint---when I can paint anything!

Monday, August 11

Plein Air Painting is "In"

Out in the Back
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/ 27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
No pun intended with the title of today's blog, but have you noticed lately that Plein Air painting outdoors has become the "in" thing? Notice I used both a capital "P" and a capital "A."  Well, apparently it has.

Other than the contemporary, avant garde art crowd, who are not likely to pause to give representational painting a look anyway, it appears that Plein Air is the latest and greatest. It appears that way to me anyway.

My un-scientific research, which consists wholly of looking at art blogs and websites online and thumbing through all the art magazines at the newsstand at one of the suburban Barnes & Noble's, declares this to be so. By this I mean, it seems every other website is about the wonders of Plein Air painting and the painters who paint them.

Also, there are more and more ads about Plein Air painting in almost every art magazine including those on pastel and watercolor. I'm sure you're also aware there's a whole magazine devoted to the subject called Plein Air.

Then there are all those Plein Air competitions. They're popping up everywhere! I'm sure someone's making money.

Please don't misinterpret what I'm saying. I really, really like the look of (most) Plein Air paintings, and you already know if you've been reading the blog for a while, I'm a big fan of the Impressionists who did a lot of their work en Plein Air . I suppose it's a throwback to simpler times when painters like Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent (not his portraits, of course) spent a lot of time outdoors painting "real" paintings.

Or maybe everyone's hoping Monet will somehow make an appearance in Monterey, California, at the big, annual Plein Air Expo. Whatever is happening with Plein Air, I hope it's for real and not just a passing fad.

Tuesday, August 5

Viscosity and Painting

Las Tres Palmas
Oil on Canvas Panel
9 x 12 in/ 23 x 30.5 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014

Today's brief blog is about viscosity. If you don't understand what that is, here's a definition from Wikipedia: 

The viscosity of a fluid is a measure of its resistance to gradual deformation by shear stress or tensile stress. For liquids, it corresponds to the informal notion of "thickness". For example, honey has a much higher viscosity than water.[1]

If that's a little too scientific for some painters, just focus on the words: the informal notion of "thickness." I think that will clear up any confusion. In painting, it's simply how thick (or thin) the paint is you're using to paint with.

It was important for me to understand what viscosity of paint best suited my ability and style of painting, forget all that tensile stress business.

It also is about how you want your paintings to look. Some like the look of thick impasto, others would prefer fluid acrylic. It's personal taste, but it's also what's currently in the cultural style, if that at all matters to you, which I hope it does not.

I personally like paint with a little body, that is, higher viscosity, but not so high you have to use a palette knife instead of a brush. To put it another way, I like using large planes of color with uniform loading of paint so that you can see the brushmarks after the paint dries, not from across the room, but as you move in for a closer look. 

Somewhere I remember paint being compared to tea, milk, cream, honey, or butter. Mmmm. 

However, I would like to add one more that I find right for me: buttermilk. If I had to add it to that list, I suppose it would go between cream and honey.

What's your favorite viscosity?


Tuesday, July 29

New Work

Out There
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014

Tuesday, July 22

Happy Birthday OrbisPlanis - 6 Years of Art Blogging!

Well, another year of blogging has gone by. It seems like only yesterday it was 2008, and I wanted to start blogging about art and painting. And now it's six years later.

I thought I'd share a couple of highlights.

- First blog:  July 10, 2008, A New Art Blog on How to Renew Your Art Skills 

- Blog with the most page views: May 9, 2012, Painters, Accept Your Own Unique Talent, 6932 views

- Blog with the most comments: A tie

July 15, 2008, A Favorite Artist, Norman Baxter, A Line on Texas, 9 comments

April 9, 2009, About Cold Press and Hot Press Watercolor Paper (and More), 9 comments

So, to all the painters and viewers and readers these last six years, Thank You!

Tuesday, July 15

Why Do We Paint?

Grazing in the Grass
9 x 12 in/22 x 30 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
What could be more relaxing than painting a beautiful, bucolic scene? Not a whole lot of other things in my opinion.

That begs the question, and the title of today's blog, Why Do We Paint?

Well, why do we paint? I suppose there are almost as many reasons as there are painters, but here's my list of reasons for probable cause:

  • We have no other choice than to paint--once we started painting, we must continue.
  • We like the idea of putting our creativity on a two-dimensional surface.
  • We must use our hands to create art.
  • Paint--all kinds of paint, including pastel--is intriguing to us.
  • Mixing colors is a never-ending pastime.
  • We want to find out just how well we are able to paint.
  • Painting is relaxing, most of the time.
  • We love it
Feel free to add your own individual bullet items!

Tuesday, July 8

Take a Painting Vacation (or Holiday)

Perfect Beach
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
We're getting close to high summer here in the northern hemisphere, which means it's time for us painters to try new things. Between June 1 and August 31, you should break out and break away from all the things you usually do in your studio the rest of the year.

During this time, pretend you're on virtual vacation/holiday every day whether painting in your studio or en plein air. Experience new ways to paint, just like you experience new sights and places when you're on a real vacation

If you usually paint on paper, try out MDF board or panel. If you paint in watercolor, try water-mixable oils. Swap out your acrylics for pastels or vice versa.

If you usually paint landscapes, try figure painting. If you usually paint seascapes, try a still life. You get the picture, mix it up.

Of course, if you actually are on vacation/holiday, try taking along some supplies that you normally wouldn't. For example, if you're an oil painter, take along one of those spiral-bound tablets of watercolor paper and one of those small, portable watercolor palettes with a few limited watercolors. Then paint your favorite scenes roughly and quickly. You'll enjoy these much more than those photos you take on your cell phone (or mobile).

No matter where or how you do it, summer vacation/holiday painting is good for creative soul.

Tuesday, July 1

Don't Be Afraid to Paint with Acrylic

There's something about acrylic. Many artists and painters seem to have positioned the medium in some obscure world of being "not quite right."

9 x 12 in/20 x 30 cm
Copyright 2013
This is even in view of the fact that it has been around for more than 70 years and used as a bona fide painter's medium since 1955. That's 1955--59 hears ago! So what does it take to be accepted? Sainthood?

Hardly. Artists and painters have always--and by always I mean since the Dark Ages became the Renaissance--used whatever was available to render their art.

Earthly powders and elements dissolved in different kinds of oil, or water, have been used for a long, long, okay one more long, time. Later those same elements among others were ground and bound into pastels for drawing/painting. Ditto for drawing with coal and graphite-like tools.

The point is painters didn't appear to limit their media to only one accepted thing, and they didn't look with suspicion on new-fangled inventions. Although there was initial resistance to the impressionist style,  remember, it was the Impressionists who embraced the newly-developed paint in tubes that encouraged painting en plein air in addition to the use of photography.

So why isn't acrylic considered a fine art medium, and why aren't impressionistic plein air acrylic paintings not considered fine art?

You tell me.

Tuesday, June 24

4 Simple Steps to Successful Painting

A River Runs
9 x 12 in/22.8 x 30.4 cm
Copyright 2014
Although I can't really show you how to become a successful painter, mainly because this is a static blog rather than an online video, I hope to explain it in an understandable way. It's so simple, really

 I'm doing this to follow up on my last blog where I complained that most painters don't show you how they really paint in their for-sale DVDs or YouTube videos.

I said they they talk a lot about how they go about preparing and what palette they use and what their favorite brushes and supports are, if that. However, they don't show you what to do because they don't know how to tell you, much less show you.

It could be they don't want to show you for reasons either nefarious or benign. But whatever the reasons, I just wish they would or could be better instructors.

Anyway, here are my four simple steps to successful painting:

1. Choose only motifs you love to paint--then every painting will be a challenge, an adventure, and a labor of love.

2. Choose the medium you love--whichever one that is, you will know it immediately, and, as the enchanted song says, "once you have found it never let it go."

3. Practice your favorite painting techniques until you master them all--it will take a while, but maybe not 10,000 hours.

4. Accept you own unique painting style--whatever that is, learn to love what is unique to you, then enhance it, but don't try to change it.

Four simple steps.

Monday, June 16

Re-new Your Artistic License

Canal Living
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
9 x 12 in/22.8 x 30.4 cm
Copyright 2014
I'm not so sure all those painters who are/were famous or all those painters you read about in their blogs or whose DVDs you purchase actually follow all the painting rules. By that, I mean those lists of do's and don'ts, those must's and must not's, those things we're told that are the correct way to paint. They are promoted as the only way of doing things in instruction books and painting DVDs and on YouTube videos.

However, I have noticed more often than not that unless you are actually in attendance in person at a painter's workshop or demonstration, then you don't really know exactly how they accomplished some of the things you see in their books or in their videos. Even then you may not be able to follow their example.

 I have noticed that the camera almost never shows the painter mixing up his or her paint on the palette either in photograph in a book or a shot in a video. If they do, it is for the briefest of moments when they first begin. You almost never see the amount, the viscosity or how the various colors are mixed from their own color palette--or which brush or brushstroke they use when. You just see them putting their brush to the canvas.

What I would like is for them to show me how they really paint. I can almost guarantee that no else will be able to paint exactly like them so what does it matter. It's call style, technique, and artistic license and every painter has his or her own way of accomplishing that.

Why keep on trying to paint a certain way over and over and over again. Use your intuition or your artistic license to discover your own unique look-and-feel. Maybe that's how your favorite painter discovered their own.

Time to re-new your artistic license

Tuesday, June 10

An Opinion on Painting with Water- Mixable Oils

Looking Northwest
Water-Mixable Oil on Canvas Panel
8 x 8 in/20 x 20 cm
Copyright 2014
About eight months ago I made a concerted effort to try water-mixable oil paints--which is what I call them--although they're also known as water-miscible and water-soluble as well.

I wanted to try them because I had previously painted with regular old oil paints that  everyone is used to, but to be truthful, just couldn't abide the solvents, the smell, and the messiness. I realize almost every painter, bona fide or otherwise, since the Renaissance paints with oil.

However, I have primarily used acrylic (for years) and continue to do so. But still I wanted to try something different and, as I've said before, that's how we learn. In the ensuing eight months I have painted more than 15 paintings, give or take, with water-mixable oil

 Like anything it takes time to get used to something new; however, if you have been painting with either oil or acrylic, it's a pretty easy switch, especially from oil.

No surprise, what I like about water-mixable is that you don't need toxic solvents, it's much less messy, there is less odor, and brushes clean up with soap and water. They handle pretty much like oil in my humble opinion. I did notice a difference in viscosity among the brands. I have used W&N Artisan, Weber WOil, and Lukas Berlin.

WOil is buttery, Berlin seems creamy, and Artisan has the most body among these three, but as with a lot of things in painting, it's a personal choice. Today's image was painted using all three brands, and there was no problem with mixing them. I've also read good things about the Holbein and Talens brands, but haven't tried them yet.

There's not too much I don't like about using these paints except they don't dry as fast as acrylics--but what else does? I have added fast-drying medium to speed up the process, but it still takes at least 24 hours for some colors to dry to touch and up to more than a week for others. Without the fast-drying medium it takes months to dry completely just like regular old oil paints, bummer.

Anyway, if you haven't tried them and are looking for something in between acrylic and oil--process-wise, that is--I say go for it.


Tuesday, June 3

Too Blue

Acrylic on Stretched Canvas
22 x 28 in/56 x 71 cm
Copyright 2014
Last week I bought two "new" blues that I want to try out on my palette. By "new" I mean that I haven't used them very much at all either in watercolor, water mixable oils, or acrylic. But I have used them, or something like them, before so I know what to expect, sort of.

I bought a tube of Pthalo. I have used Pthalo and what's also known as Primary or Brilliant blue (by some manufacturers). I knew they were the same by comparing their pigment colors, which are listed on the tube (except for the cheapest paints). Pthalo is PB15, that is, Pigment Blue15. Brilliant blue is also PB15, so they the same color. If you don't know what I'm talking about, learn more about pigment numbers and the color index--it will help you in building your own personal color palette.

Modern Prussian blue is actually a hue, which I'm sure you know means that it is a mixture of several pigments. Golden Artist Colors acrylic Prussian BlueHue is PB15 (or Pthalo), PV23 (Violet 23), and PBk9 (Black 9). The development of Prussian blue has an interesting history--here's a link to read more.

Anyway, I know both of these blues will need to be used with caution, at least until I (or you) get used to them. That's because Pthalo is a very strong, in-your-face, bright blue that leans to the green side. It's really good for some types of water scenes and also for adding--just a touch, however--to ultramarine blue skies.

And Prussian blue, well, let's just say it has a dark personality and leave it at that.

Happy painting!

Tuesday, May 27

It's Simple, Simply Simplify Your Paintings

Stucco Lighthouse
Acrylic on board
18 x 24 in/45.7 x 61 cm
Copyright 2014

Yes, the title of today's post is simply silly.

But the message is not silly. It's something I struggle with on every painting I attempt. I used the word attempt rather than complete because every painting I attempt does not always end up exactly as I imagined it would.

As a painter who likes to paint contemporary impressionism, I try to keep simplicity top of mind as I paint. That is, I try to keep it simple as I plan the composition, select my color palette, sketch out the main elements, and especially when I paint the painting.

Not that painting is ever easy, but it's easier to paint exactly what you see before you rather than to edit out any of it. But therein lies the problem. It takes experience and some courage to leave out not only superfluous details but also some major elements if they aren't adding anything for the viewer or the painting.

In his excellent book on how to master impressionism (of which I was fortunate to be able to purchase a copy), Creating Impressionist Landscapes in Oil, Colley Whisson says, among other really good advice, "don't overdo detail because detail kills imagination."

I try to remember that along with the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle every time I pick up my paintbrush.

Tuesday, May 20

Out of a Painting Slump

From a Distance
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright 2014
Last week I lamented how I had fallen into an unexpected painting slump and didn't know why.

Although still not 100 percent, I seemed to have weathered the painting storm, and I feel pretty sure I'm almost back to my normal equilibrium--that is, I've got my confidence back.

I think I know why. Having or regaining confidence is the key to overcoming a slump (or worse) in your painting life or any other life, actually.

I think the slump came about when my confidence took a dive after my inability to accept my paintings for what they were--my paintings.

After finding paintings, the style of paintings, and the work of painters that I aspire to be able to reproduce, I lost confidence when I was not able to render them at the same level or what I presume to be the same level.

And that's another thing. In addition to confidence, you should love or learn to love your own unique style of painting. Just because I think a painter or several painters are able to paint the perfect picture and achieve nirvana in the way they paint, doesn't mean everyone (or anyone) else feels the same.

I forgot that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there is an audience and group of people somewhere in the world who think my paintings are perfect and that I have achieved nirvana, too.

Now that's confidence.

Monday, May 12

In a Painting Slump

River Valley
Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright 2014
Oops. After I painted this oil painting two weeks ago, I tripped and fell into a painting slump. I don't know why.

I've been in slumps before, so I know it won't last forever. But when you're in one, it's difficult to see the light at the other end or to know when you'll come out of it.

I didn't know I was in one until I discarded my second painting. When I discard two paintings in a row, I know I'm in a painting slump.

The painting knowledge and experience gained over several years doesn't seem to matter. Even though I can still visualize what I want to paint, I can't connect my mind's eye to my left hand onto the canvas.

I still have enthusiasm so that's good, I think. But I seemed to have regressed overnight or it seems that way.

I switched back to acrylic, thinking that my short stint with oil paint may be the cause. My paintings didn't look like anything I would have painted. I even painted over the second one with gesso and tried again before I gave up and threw it away.

Then I went online and viewed the works of my favorite painters, both living and dead, in hopes that would infuse me with inspiration. I think it helped because I'm ready to start another painting this afternoon.

We'll see how the week goes. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.

Monday, May 5

Time to Get Out Your Oil Paints

Spring Green Road
Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright 2014
After a season of painting mostly in acrylic, I decided it was time to get out my oil paints.

I really like painting with acrylics, what with all their versatility. And if you've been following OrbisPlanis for any time, then you know I also try to use acrylic like oil paint. One of my goals is to paint so that a viewer couldn't tell the difference between the two mediums, which is not easy to achieve, but I try.

Sometimes, however, I just want to feel the smooth flow of oil paint on the canvas and enjoy its buttery consistency especially if you use a medium or even linseed oil.

And nothing gives you a more beautiful edge or color mix than oil paint with its ability to be applied just the way you want it. You can make it as smooth as silk or you can paint with brushmarks of color slabs.

I know there's some controversy about using water-mixable oil paint, but I paint with it because it doesn't have an odor (at least not to me), you don't need to use mineral spirits or other petroleum-based thinners, and you can clean your brushes (and hands) with soap and water.

I'm not too particular about brand. Right now I'm using a rather limited palette of both Winsor & Newton Artisan and Martin F. Weber WOil. It's a matter of preference, but I find the WOil more creamy and easier to move around.

Don't worry, I'll paint with acrylic again soon, but for now it's time to get out your oil paints!

Monday, April 28

Sometimes Painting = Frustration

Sailing Away
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright 2014
Today's image is one of my recent paintings, fresh off the easel just last Saturday. I suppose the warmer weather here in Texas has me thinking of summer, so I sifted through a lot of my digital photos until I found one that fit my mood, and painted it.

I like the high horizon line and the somewhat complementary colors of the green-ish water against the warm orange-ish glow of the late afternoon sun on the hills.

Just so you know, I did it over several times trying to paint the illusion of distance in the water correctly, and it can get frustrating. But understanding that sometimes frustration goes with painting helps. I think I read even Monet had those moments--not comparing myself to Monet, of course, just the frustration.

Anyway, I hope you like it. If anyone is interested in it, email me.

Monday, April 21

Keep on Painting

The Summer House
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
8 x 10 in/20.3 x 25.4 cm
Copyright 2014
The simple message in today's blog is to remind yourself to keep on painting no matter what. Paint through the good times and bad, through the successes and failures.

When your head tells you to quit but your heart won't allow it--keep on painting.

When you're ready to throw your painting(s) in the proverbial trash bin, don't do it--keep on painting.

When you've run out of things to paint and your creativity has left the building, just take a walk, and when you get back--keep on painting.

Like getting back up on that horse after you've been thrown, you must get out your paints and keep on painting.

Otherwise, like so many things in life, you will regret it in the morning.

Monday, April 14

Deciding on a Color Palette

A City by the River
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
12 x 12 in/30.5 x 30.5 cm
Copyright 2014
One of the things I have both enjoyed and struggled with in my painting life is finding a color palette that suits me. Evidently this causes angst for others as well from all the blogs and articles you read online. Everyone seems interested to know which painter uses which colors and how that works or not and how many colors should you use, etc.

It's enjoyable, in a way, in that it's a continuous learning process on color theory and you get to try it out with each painting. The struggle is that it can get confusing and, if you're like me, you tend to switch it up too often as you run across painters you admire and want to paint like.

I admit I don't spend too much time worrying about if I have too few or too many colors or if I should use both a warm and cool of each primary, or whether split complementary colors is the way to go or whatever.

Anyway, for the moment--this week!-- here is my palette for both acrylic and oil (water-mixable):

Titanium White

Cad Red Light

Primary Red

Cad Yellow Light

Lemon Yellow

Yellow Ochre

Ultramarine Blue

Pthalo Blue (green shade)

I basically try out a palette and if I like the way it looks on a finished painting, then I'm happy (or pretty happy).

Monday, April 7

To Paint or Not to Paint Photo-Realism?

Southern Coast
Acrylic on Stretched Canvas
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright 2014
You would never know it by looking at today's image, but I was NOT trying to paint it photo-realistically. No way around it--it looks like a photograph or pretty much like a photograph.

That is not how I wanted to paint it. Yes, I was using a reference photo, but to repeat, that is not how I wanted to paint it.

Many people like (or love) photo-realism. If the painting doesn't look like a photo, then they don't like it.

Many people don't like photo-realism either very much or at all. I am one of those who doesn't like it very much. I think it has its place and is naturally convincing--if done well, how could it not be? Certain motifs lend themselves to photo-realism, such as architecture, in my opinion.

I, however, would much rather be painting more loosely, more openly, more impressionistically. I have been working and working on doing that. And then I painted today's image, and even though I could see it happening (before my very eyes), I just couldn't seem to stop it.

I believe it's because for several years I did nothing but paint almost exactly what was in my reference photos. That's the problem with painting from reference photos--you rely too much on the camera and not enough on your artistic and painting ability.

Others may love it, but I am trying not to paint photo-realistically. However I may just enter it in the annual National Society of Painters in Casein & Acrylic show. 

Monday, March 31

Are You a Happy Painter?

Happy Beach
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
11 x 14 in/27.9 x 35.6 cm
Copyright 2014
Maybe it's the current Pharrell Williams hit song, "Happy," that got me thinking (and humming along) about happiness and painting.

When my interest in painting led me to pick up a brush again after years away from the canvas, was I:

a) happy
b) nervous
c) excited
d) worried?

Actually, the answer is: e) all of the above.

Anytime we try something new or re-start something from the distant past, there's always that niggling worry about how things will turn out. And being a painter is certainly no exception.

It was the thrill of the chase--the challenge to stretch my abilities in new directions--that made me happy and excited. It was the fear of failure and rejection--the agony of defeat as ABC sports used to call it--that made me nervous and worried.

Painting can be supremely and singularly satisfying if you are happy with the results, but gut-wrenching if you are not.

Therein lies the key. Over and above your natural ability to draw, paint, see values, and mix and render color, is your state of mind. It's how you feel not only when you are painting but also how you feel about yourself as a painter and ultimately the quality of your work.

Being a happy painter is like the line from the hit song: if you know what happiness is to you.