Tuesday, December 20

Paint a Pet! Happy Holidays from The Painting Life

Boston Terrier
Watercolor on Arches Paper
5 x 7 in/12.7 x 17.7 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Well, I've been busy this past month. I decided I would concentrate on learning how to paint portraits. I must tell you that there are few things in painting (or in life) more challenging than portraits. It tests all of your skills as an artist, a painter, and more.

I'm sure I would find studying under a contemporary, professional portrait painter to be the most rewarding. That's not really my style. I'm more of the self-taught type. So that's what I did. I searched and researched online and on YouTube and found sites with John Singer Sargent, Aaron Westerberg, Ben Lustenhouwer, Matt Philleo, Konstatin Sterkhov, to name a few, and others.

I'm still learning and not ready to debut any work. You may have noticed one portrait I worked on, which was in my last blog post. It was a watercolor portrait of a young Claude Monet from an 1865 photo by Carjat. What fun to paint.

Since it's the holiday season and a time for gift-giving, I guess you could say I painted a portrait, of sorts--a portrait of a family member's pet. I think it makes a great personal gift and one that will hopefully be loved by the recipient for years.

Happy Holidays from The Painting Life!

Thursday, November 10

Happy Birthday Claude Monet

Young Monet from 1865 Carjat Photo
Watercolor on Paper
9 x 12 in/22.6 x 30.4 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016 
In honor of what would have been Claude Oscar Monet's 176th birthday on November 14, I painted a watercolor portrait of a young Monet from an Etienne Carjat photograph, circa 1865.

Happy Birthday, Claude, the Master.

Tuesday, October 18

Acrylic Still Life

Eggs, Orange, and Pear
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
12 x 6 in/30.48 x 15.24 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I'm having fun doing exactly what, when, and how I want to do it--paint, that is. Just think about that.

There aren't too many things in life about which you can say that. What a privilege. What freedom.

Today's image is just a simple still life in acrylic on watercolor paper. Say what you will about the rather bland composition, I will make the case that it's a study in light direction and reflected light and shadows and cast shadows.

You should do simple paintings like this between your larger and longer projects just to keep your skills in tip-top shape.

I hope you are able to say the same thing as above about your own painting and that you're having fun, to boot.


Monday, October 10

Acrylic Landscape

Sailing Near Rockport
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
 12 x 6 in/ 30.48 x 15.24 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Today's blog is simply to post my latest acrylic landscape.

I have a pad of Strathmore 140-lb. watercolor paper with the dimensions of 12 in x 6 in (30.48 cm x 15.24 cm). I use this paper size almost exclusively for my smaller landscapes. It's the perfect shape for landscapes, especially the ones I like to paint with broad vistas and long horizon lines.

Watercolor paper makes a good support for using acrylic as if it were watercolor, in my opinion. When you thin down the paint with either water or medium, it's very similar to watercolor because it flows and diffuses in a similar manner.

I like to say you get almost all the great effects of watercolor with acrylic but without all the tedious "rules," and you can make corrections!

I hope you enjoy my painting.

Friday, September 16

Paint Enthusiastically!

Sandy Beach
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
12 x 6 in/ 30.5 x 15.2 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I added an exclamation point to the headline of today's blog because that's what being enthusiastic should be about for painters--make them exclaim and be excited.

Look at it this way, if you're not enthused by what you're painting, certainly no one else will be either.

How does a painter paint enthusiastically?

I can only tell you how I do it. I aim to put myself right there in the moment of the scene I'm painting. That doesn't mean I actually paint myself into the scene; that is, I don't paint a person who looks like me onto the canvas or paper. No.

But it does mean I mentally imagine myself in the actual ambiance or action or stillness of the moment. I like to think I can look around or walk around in the scene and make observations about light and value and color.

Doing that makes me want to paint to my very best ability, and that's how you paint enthusiastically!


Thursday, September 8

Great Painters Paint Great Edges

The Cove
Acrylic on Arches Paper
20 x 16 in/50.8 x 40.6 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
The headline of today's post says it all. Great painters paint great edges.

What is a great edge? Well, it's not just one edge in a painting. It's all the edges in the composition and how they relate not only to each other but also to the motif in total.

Edges can move the viewer around and through a painting.

Edges can emphasize or de-emphasize an element as well as the focal point.

Edges can help set the mood of a painting.

Edges attract attention (or not).

Edges are important.

Which painters paint great edges, in my humble opinion? Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper, Qiang Huang, Mark Boedges, Colley Whisson, Colin Page, Mary Whyte, and Hsin-Yoa Tseng, just to name a few.

Great painters paint great edges.


Friday, September 2

Only Paint What You Really, Really Like

Lapping at the Shore
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
6 x 12 in/15.2 x 30.5 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Like riding that proverbial bicycle, one never forgets how.

As I mentioned last blog, after a four-month hiatus from painting in which I repaired my home and studio after flooding in our area, I feel relief that I was pretty much able to get back up on that "bike" and pick up where I left off.

Pick up, that is, with a new understanding of how and what I will and will NOT spend my artistic time on. I discovered something during my hiatus--paint only those subjects you really, really like and only in the style and medium you really, really like. This is key.

Painting anything else is a fool's errand and will only make you really, really unhappy.


Wednesday, August 24

I'm Painting Again

Out to Sea at Low Tide
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
10 x 8 in/25 x 20 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I'm back painting again.

An historic flood inundated our area four months ago, and it's taken all my time, energy, and patience to put where I live and paint back together again. If you've never lived through a flood or had family members or friends who have, it's probably difficult to understand the toll it takes in all ways imaginable.

But, I salvaged almost all my paintings as well as art and painting supplies, and now have the time and presence of mind to think about painting again.

I started the above painting in April and completed the initial drawing and had even blocked in the sky and clouds. Then came the rains. It sat untouched until this week. The hardest part was actually beginning the act of painting. I looked at the unfinished canvas for more than a week before I was able to squeeze out some paint and pick up a brush.

I feel that I will be taking a new direction in my painting. I believe that's what artists are supposed to do when life intervenes.

Thursday, April 14

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

Ars Longa
Acrylic on Arches Paper
14 x 20 in/ 35.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Thanks, Hippocrates, for this aphorism, a terse saying that expresses what I believe is more than a general principle.  It's reality.

Ars longa, vita brevis--art is long, life is short.

Art trumps artists and painters every time. And as much as we painters would like to think we actually make a difference, we don't.

It is the art and paintings that are longa, not our vita.

This astute observation means I intend to spend more time painting to make my ars longa and less time blogging because, as I said,  vita brevis.

See you next time.

Thursday, April 7

Make Your Color Palette Your Own

Overlook Ridge
Acrylic on Arches 140-lb. Paper
12 x 7 in/30.5 x 17.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Over the years I have read about, Googled, and studied up on the color palettes of some painters whose work I admire--both living and dead.

I wanted to know what colors these talented painters used so that I could paint just like them (in my dreams). Of course, that's not how it works, but learning what colors they use(d) helped me to  discover my own palette. Here are some of my thoughts.

Monet only used the colors and  types of paint available during his lifetime. However, even comparing them with modern equivalents it's plain to see his palette was, more or less, made up of a combination of cool and warm primaries. He did add those greens, though--viridian and emerald--which almost no contemporary painters do. Oh yeah, and black.

John Hammond, a contemporary acrylic painter, uses the following blues on his palette: cerulean, pthalo, and light blue violet. Interesting choices.

Not counting white, Kevin MacPhereon appears to have the most limited palette of today's painters: ultramarine, cad red light, cad yellow pale, alizarin crimson, and pthalo green.

Mark Boedges, a very popular plein air painter, has a lot of colors on his palette including three reds, three blues, two yellows, two greens, and two oranges, not to mention yellow ochre pale and terra rosa (don't know if he uses all these colors all the time).

Colley Whisson, the Australian impressionist, uses a combination of warm and cool primaries (like Monet did) plus cad orange and yellow ochre, which suits his high-key, sun-filled landscapes.

My current palette was loosely based on Colley Whisson's (and I suppose Monet's, too). However, on his palette and others there are some colors that just don't work for me.

 I don't do well with cerulean blue for some reason. When I use it, my paintings take on an unpleasant greenish cast. I've tried many times, always with the same result. I have surprisingly better results using pthalo blue.

Ditto for cad orange. Somehow when I use it. it neutralizes other colors and goes a warm gray. Fine if that's what I intended, but it never was.

My current palette (drum roll please): alizarin crimson hue, cad red light, burnt sienna, lemon yellow, cad yellow light, yellow ochre, ultramarine, pthalo blue, burnt umber (sometimes), light blue violet (sometimes) and titanium white, of course.

 My palette is subject to change, though, and I currently want to try out pthalo green. We'll see. I hope you have made your color palette your own, too.

Thursday, March 31

First Week of Spring Painting

Spring is Here
Acrylic on Paper
9 x 6 in/22.9 x 15.2 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
It's the first full week of Spring. The change from late Winter to early Spring is a special time for painters with the changing light and more of it, too. Trees bud out and fill up. Plants, shrubs, and some trees burst out in flower. Everything turns green.

For painters this is special. The longer days let you see everything in a new light literally, whether you're out of doors or in your studio. It's a good time to re-evaluate the things you're doing painting-wise and see if it's time to tweak a few of them. Like your palette, for one--does it need a refresh or an additional color (or two) to enhance painting in the season?

As temperatures climb, we're more likely to take our gear out for some landscape paintings en plein air.  Depending on where you live, you may have only a month or two before the temperatures climb too high for comfort, so take advantage.

Today's image is a simple landscape salute to the greening of the earth.

Spring is here.

Thursday, March 24

Painting Fast (Alla Prima)

House on the Hill by the Sea
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
8 x 10 in/20.3 x 25.4 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Today's brief blog is simply about why it's perfectly OK to paint fast. By fast I mean in a matter of minutes, no more than an hour (or two), and certainly no more than an afternoon.

Why, you ask? Isn't painting a serious undertaking and you should not put a time limit on creativity, correct? Well, yes, but seriously...

If you want to paint a loose impression of what you see or what you set up to paint, you should paint fast to capture the moment or the essence of the scene or motif.

If you paint en plein air, you may have all day, but I'm pretty sure your painting will suffer if you spend more than two hours out there, and so you should paint fast.

If you're using acrylics, you really don't have any other choice; therefore, you should paint fast.

If you're trying to get away from the (bad) habit of painting way too many details, you definitely should paint fast.

For all those reasons and more, go for it and see how fast you can paint. (Today's image was completed in just over one hour.) You may be amazed at the improvement.

Tuesday, March 15

Acrylic on Paper, Wonderful

The Glowing Tree
Acrylic on Paper
18 x 18 in/45.7 x 45.7 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I really like painting with acrylic and keep returning to it as my primary medium time and time again.

Here are some things things I've learned about painting with acrylic on (watercolor) paper that I hope will be helpful to you.

Painting with acrylic on paper is an experience. You can paint like it's watercolor, or it's oil, or both, or somewhere in between. Wonderful.

You can gesso the paper beforehand and get a canvas-like surface over which you can drag your acrylic for all kinds of effects from impasto to sgraffito. Wonderful.

Or you can dampen the paper before applying acrylic for a watercolor effect. You can also add medium. Wonderful.

The brand of paper and its weight also makes a difference, and you can choose one based on how you (like to) paint. For example, Arches 300-lb/640 gsm paper has a finish that repels moisture somewhat, which gives you time to let the paint flow more easily; whereas Fabriano has a  "softer" finish, which gives a softer look, depending on how you apply the acrylic, of course. Wonderful.

Acrylic, as we all know, dries fast and too fast for many. Don't be afraid to keep your spritzer/atomizer in constant use all over the paper to keep the paint malleable. A 300-lb sheet of paper almost never buckles. Wonderful.

Water or medium on paper (or other supports as well) makes your finger a perfect "brush" for softening lines. Wonderful.

Acrylic is forgiving, so you really can't make a mistake. Just wait a little while till the paint dries and make any corrections you like by adding to or painting over your existing work, no muss no fuss.

If only life were like that. Wonderful.

Thursday, March 10

The Importance of Edges

Flowers in Vase
Acrylic on Arches 300-lb. Watercolor Paper
7 x 9 in/17.8 x 22.9 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016 
One thing about painting that took me a long time to understand is how important edges are. You notice I said understand, not figured out, and certainly not mastered.

Our eyes and our brains naturally look for changes. It's how we see where one thing ends and another begins.

Edges are one of the subtleties of a painting, or they should be, that affect the look and feel, the mood, the style, and in my opinion, can make or break a painting.

An important thing to remember about edges is not to make them all the same. They should have variety. Some should be sharp and distinct. Some should be lost. The art is in learning and knowing what kind of edges to paint and where and when.

Edges are used to show depth, with softer edges being in the distance. Edges help show the viewer where to look and let the painter emphasize or de-emphasize an object or area. They can also be used to help show the texture of a surface.

A good way to learn about painting edges is with water media, either watercolor or acrylic. With either you can easily paint sharp edges and, by adding a little water, make them disappear or almost. You can practice and see where edges should and shouldn't be and how to use them to control a painting.

Today's image is a simple painting, but I think it shows how edges can move the viewer around a painting. See how your eye moves and stops as needed on the sharper edges of the vase and leaves, for example. On the other hand, the lost and found edges of the flower petals help portray their softness.

Edges are important!

Tuesday, March 1

My Recent Visit to the McNay

View of the McNay Art Museum
Photo by Byrne Smith Copyright 2016
I recently visited an exhibition at the McNay Art Museum (the McNay) in San Antonio. Titled Made in Germany: Contemporary Art from the Rubell Family Collection, it's numerous pieces culled from the collection of the Rubells of Miami, FL.

An informative (and free) pamphlet, given to each visitor, tells you, "Made in Germany unites works by German artists from 1980 to 2014." It provides, in a nutshell, the dramatic political changes that took place before and during this period and several factors that helped shape artists and artwork, such as the Leipzig  school of painting and general attitudes of the East vs. West.

The artwork of 54 (or so) artists can't be described as anything other than contemporary. This includes drawings, paintings, sculptures, textiles, collages, and photographic prints.

For example, there is a large (60 x 48 in/152 x 122 cm) collage by Georg Herold composed of beluga caviar, shellac, asphaltum, and acrylic on canvas. Interesting, and as I said, contemporary. But all are thought-provoking, reflective, and/or attention-getting, if not beautiful.

I think it would be interesting to meet the Rubells and discover how they made their art selections. You can, in a way, because there are three huge headshots (82 x 63 in/208 x 160 cm) on chromogenic prints from 1989, one each of  Mr. Rubell, Mrs. Rubell, and their son Jason Rubell.

I had never been to the McNay, which is located in a leafy setting near Alamo Heights. I was taken not only with the gravitas of this exhibition but also with the rest of the substantive collection, both permanent and currently showing. I especially liked their prominent Edward Hopper: Corn Hill (Truro, Cape Cod), 1930.

If you're in this part of the world, I hope you can visit the McNay and this exhibition, which runs through April 24, 2016.

Thursday, February 25

Go Outside, Paint Your Neighborhood

Waiting for Breakfast
Oil on Canvas Panel
10 x 8 in/25.4 x 20.3 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
If you read artists' magazines, either in print or online, or if you spend time looking at your favorite artists' websites, you may think that you have to be either well-traveled or well-off (or both) to find an interesting, pretty, or eye-catching motif.

I say this because to look at most of these painters' paintings, it appears they all have traveled to locations with fantastic scenery or semi-exotic views. I'm talking about locations such as lakes in Italy, California coastlines, rocky Maine seacoasts, the south of France, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.....

I'm here to tell you, all you have to do is--go outside.

What a simple concept and cost efficient as well. You don't need to travel to en plein air competitions or Paris or Sydney harbor or the Grand Canyon. No, just walk down the street.

Whether you live in the urban core, city suburbs, or a small town, there are plenty of fine motifs for painting. Open you eyes.

Painters are supposed to have visual and creative abilities. If you can't find something pleasing to paint around your neighborhood, then maybe you need to find something else to spend your time on.

Today's image was painted not far from my backyard. I'm near a relatively small bayou and when you cross the bridge at the end of the street you can often see birds, such as hawks or blue herons, fish, and turtles up and down the banks. On this sunny morning, a lone egret was fishing for her breakfast.

So, next time you think there's nothing to paint--just go outside.

Thursday, February 18

Quickly Painting the "Country"

El Campo
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
on 12 x 9 in/30.5 x 22.9 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I had some remnants of a small block of watercolor paper that was sitting around just asking to be used. So I did.

I had recently returned from a road trip to the southwest part of the state that lets you enjoy some rural areas out in the "country" (el campo in Spanish). Although you're never far from huge metro areas, you are able to see prairies and meadows and rolling hills with scenic vistas of trees and scrub brush among other things. Of course, it's hard to feel very isolated when you're speeding along the Interstate with a herd of other cars and trucks, but if you look out the window you can see it.

A sunny, warm day (and warm winter, actually) was perfect for picture-taking.

With my remnant watercolor paper I quickly painted today's image in less than 20 minutes. Sometimes I like to dash off paintings such as this and attempt to capture the fleeting moment racing by. Painting quickly makes you concentrate on the bigger shapes and colors and not dwell on any details--a good way to help you paint more loosely

I hope you like it and are able to paint a few quick paintings this week, too.  

Thursday, February 11

Reasons to Paint Large

Beautiful Coast
Acrylic on Canvas
48 x 36 in/121.9 x 91.4 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I recently completed a large painting or what for me was a large painting. It is 4 ft. wide by 3 ft. deep (121.9 x 91.4 cm.). It may be the largest painting I've ever done. Why did I paint such a large painting?

I like to think I'm a practical person as well as painter, so the reasons were practical.

First, I had this large stretched canvas that I have been moving around my studio and house for the last four years. I don't remember why I bought such a large canvas or what I planned to paint on it. However, its wrapping had become tattered, and I was afraid it would get damaged sitting around on the floor even though I tried to take care.

Second, I had a very nice reference photo taken by a family member of a panoramic landscape along the Southern California coast. In my mind's eye, a painting of this view would require a large format to help showcase the broad view and high sky.

Thirdly, I had plenty of acrylic paint in my palette colors on hand that would be needed to cover the 12 sq. ft. of canvas.

Finally, I have blogged about large paintings before and decided to take my own advice. Here are links to those blogs:  9 Tips for Painting a Large Canvas (with Acrylics) and Where and How to Hang Large Paintings.

So, as you can see I had good reasons to paint large, and it was about time I did!

Thursday, February 4

That's How We Learn with Paint

Pears in the Light
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
8 x 5 in/20.3 x 12.7
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
As I mentioned before, an old artist friend used to remind us painters to try new techniques or paints or tools or brushstrokes, and always ended with, "That's how we learn."

That is how we learn as painters; otherwise, you may get caught in what feels like a circular room with no doors (or windows). What I mean is, you keep going around and around, but can never break out.

We should try things that may not always seem logical or conventional, and may even be considered just  "wrong" by many painters.

Well, I say if you're painting like most painters, you're not doing it right. That is, you're just trying to paint like others, and you're not finding your own way to paint.

I do agree that to improve it's perfectly OK to find a mentor painter and study how he or she paints the way they do. But at some point you have to make it your own.

I painted today's image with water-y acrylic on (gasp) watercolor paper. Watercolor and acrylic painters are probably rolling their eyes.

But if you never try something different, you may be missing an opportunity to find a new, painterly way to express yourself.

After all, that's how we learn.

Wednesday, January 27

Taking a Watercolor Break

Watercolor on Paper
9 x 7 in/22.9 x 17.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I hope your painting life is going well so far in the new year.

I finally discovered what I've been doing this whole month of January. I've been taking a watercolor break. It wasn't until this week as I looked back that I realized I have not painted anything except watercolor beginning January 4th or 5th.

I evidently needed a break from my (water-soluble) oil and acrylic landscapes from 2015. I haven't painted with watercolor since way back sometime in 2014. I'm so glad I did.

It let me re-discover not only the beautiful work one can muster but also the quirky ways you have to work in the medium--light to dark, correct amount of water, and those edges...

It also gave my mind and my mind's eye a needed respite from the other mediums and landscapes. I do hope that although I was taking a break that the artistic wheels in my brain continued to spin. If so, when I do resume with acrylics and oils, I'll be even better and ready to roll.

Let's see what February 1 will bring.

Wednesday, January 20

Ah, Watercolor!

An Apple
Watercolor on Paper
6 x6 in/15.2 x 15.2 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Ah, Watercolor...you put painting (and life) in perspective.

You're so fickle. You're so capricious.  You make us want to scream bloody murder and break our paintbrushes over our knees as golfers do their clubs.

You tease us with your transparent beauty and mesmerizing colors.

We try, try, and try again to control you, to little or no avail.

And yet, we keep coming back for more as if to say, "You can't do this to me. I'm better than that."

One thing is crystal clear, absolutely nothing tests our patience more or makes us feel as powerless as you do.

Watercolor, taming you is a lifelong quest.

Tuesday, January 12

How to Keep Your Painting Vibrant

Reflecting the Light
Watercolor on Paper
 8.5 x 5.5 in/21.6 x 14 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Has this happened to you as a painter? That is, you look at the paintings you've completed over the last several weeks/months/seasons (pick one), and all you can say is "Meh."

Well, me too. Sad, but true, all painters go through this. It seems to happen at the beginning of the year. I'm sure it has to do with the calendar page turning to January and feeling I should be showing some signs of progress and moving on.

Why is this? I came up with the following.

- Fear of (trying) something new--this is known a neophobia or cainophobia (drop that into the conversation at your next cocktail party)

- Boredom with your medium

- Boredom with your motifs/subjects

- Insecurity with your ability to paint (happens when you constantly compare yourself to other painters)

So, what to do?

To keep your painting vibrant, I heartily recommend:

- Overcome your neophobia by being open to change; quickly rip off the bandage that's holding you back and walk in the sunshine (you must and you will).

- Select a new or different medium and use it to paint your very next painting; I recently started painting with watercolors again.

- Paint something--anything--that you never or almost never paint; I am going to do several watercolors this month, which is a change for me.

- Embrace your own personal painting style and quit wishing your painting life away by fawning over other painters' work; a lot of painting and time are the only things that will move you to the place you want to be.

That's how to keep your painting vibrant.

Wednesday, January 6

Happy New Painting Year

Ripe on the Stem
Watercolor on Paper
12 x 9 in/30.5 x 22.9 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I wanted to start off 2016 with something different, it being a time for new starts and all that.

That's why I decided to pull out my watercolor paints, which I haven't used since at least sometime in 2014 (I think). Not sure why except that it seemed like time to paint with them again.

I spent all of 2015 with my water-soluble oils and my acrylics, both of which I am very fond and both of which I am very comfortable.

And yet, I do remember the several years I spent painting almost exclusively with watercolor. Like riding that proverbial bicycle, you never really forget how. You just need to dust off the cobwebs and give it another go.

One of my favorite things to paint (and to eat) is chile peppers. So I did!

I immediately remembered how fresh and bright watercolors are. And how they give you a feeling of freedom because you can paint so much with so little effort and with big brushstrokes. Of course, there are a few things you have to remember with watercolor, like you can't paint lights over darks, you have to be careful with edges, and to leave bare paper for any highlights.

I enjoyed it, time well spent. I just may do more watercolors this year. Oh, and Happy New Year to all.