Saturday, August 31, 2013

Composition Workshop in Dahlonega, GA This Week!

Summertime Fading, oil, 10x8

For those of you in the area, this Thursday and Friday (9/5 & 9/6), I'm teaching a workshop on composition at The Art Loft in Dahlonega, GA, where we'll spend two days completely immersed in manipulating landscape subject matter for the most impactful design. We'll pick apart the compositions of noteworthy artists, figure out what makes them work so well, and then apply them to our own landscape work. 

Last month I taught a similar workshop and posted some details and demo here to see.  

This is open to artists working in pastel and oil/acrylic, and I'll conduct demos in oil and pastel. $225. See for details. 

Feel free to contact me at with any questions about this workshop.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Flowers in the Field

"They're All Looking At Me!" pastel, 8x10

I'm hoping to plan a floral still life class for my weekly students soon, but thought we'd ease into that subject matter by working with some flowers in the landscape. One of the areas I hope to cover in the upcoming still life class is lighting. In the source photo I used in today's demo, I had some dramatic backlighting to work with, and wanted to make sure to capture that drama. Just as with setting up flowers in a still life, I rearranged the placement of the flowers in the field to create my composition.

Below are some progression shots, beginning with the liquid underpainting. In the underpainting, I set up the backlit glow of the sunflowers with a warm, vibrant orange, and used a variety of purples in the greenery behind the flowers to set that area back and also for some nice contrast beneath the greens that would be added later.

My source photo...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Workshop Report

Winter Radiance, pastel, 11x14

Heading into Spring, pastel, 11x14

Shown here are my demos from a two-day workshop I just taught in Leland, Michigan at the Old Art Building. I first have to say that this part of Michigan is completely gorgeous. It helped that the weather was also gorgeous the whole time I was there. This was my first visit to the area, and it sure was a treat! I had a fantastic group of incredible artists in this workshop...super nice, and eager to learn as much as possible about this wonderful medium of pastel.

For "Winter Radiance," the primary focus of the demo was on simplifying all of the small details within the tree masses into large connected shapes of about three values. Composition plays a big part in the planning of a painting that deals with busy subject matter. In a one-day composition workshop I taught a few weeks ago, I used a more closely cropped, vertical version of this same source photo, and painted that one in oil. I used a wider version of this same scene here since it makes a great study for simplifying large, busy masses. Click here to see my blog post on this workshop.

I'm getting ready to teach a two-day version of that same composition workshop (for any medium) at The Art Loft in Dahlonega, GA on Sept. 5 & 6. Click here to find out more details on this workshop.

Coming up after that is a 4-day pastel workshop in Lac Du Flambeau, Wisconsin at Dillmans Art Workshop Retreat, Sept. 23-26.

Please visit my website to see my entire workshop schedule through 2014. There's lots coming up!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pastel CPR

Vickery Creek Morning, pastel, 16x20

Well, this would have been a great one to show a "before" version. Sorry, I must not have had a enough coffee this morning before starting class today. Our topic today was reworking a failed or overworked painting. I asked my students to bring one such painting to class today, brushing off the excess pastel prior to class, so that just a ghost of the painting image is visible.

Normally if I need to make minor revisions to a small area of a pastel painting, I carefully brush off the excess pigment with a cheap stiff bristle brush. (If I'm brushing off a large area, I wear a mask to do this and sometimes go outside.) For a small area, I can simply rework the area with corrected layers over top of the brushed off area. However, for a larger or more important area, I sometimes want to take it back to a clean, non dusty surface. This usually involves wetting it down with alcohol (regular store bought rubbing alcohol), which is what I like to use for my initial underpainting. For a large area, I'll use a soft, wide watercolor brush (1 1/2" width) and gently apply the alcohol over the area. For a smaller area, I may use the same #8 bristle brush that I use for underpainting.

I've also discovered a fixative that's great for wetting down just a section of a painting...SpectraFix Pastel Fixative. It's meant for reworking a pastel painting, NOT for a final spray when completed. Sometimes wetting just a portion of a painting with a brush will leave a stiff edge between the reworked area and the remaining portion. The SpectraFix sprays on with soft edges between the wet and dry areas. Another advantage is that it's safe to use inside, right there at your easel (no fumes like most fixatives).

Several months ago I needed to rework the bottom two thirds of the painting below...basically all of the snow. The focus of the painting was primarily about the shadows in the snow, so it was important for me to keep the color application clean and in my intended shapes and patterns. I was already happy with my tree line and sky, and wanted to leave that part as it was. But I knew I needed to completely rework the snow by brushing it out and wetting it down. I didn't want to use a brush and end up with a stiff edge between the two areas. (When I start a painting with my initial underpainting, it's much easier to keep edges soft when ALL areas are wet.) I had the bottle of SpectraFix that I bought awhile back, but was never sure how to use it. After testing it on some other failed paintings, I gave it a go on my snow area and it worked just as I wanted it to, giving me a good clean surface to start again with my pastel application to that area.

Downhill Patterns, pastel, 16x20

For "Vickery Creek Morning," many months ago I did use a brush (before I discovered SpectraFix) to wash down a large portion of the bottom left area of the water, but managed to avoid the stiff edges. It was also an area of mostly dark areas, so any stiff edges weren't as noticeable. The painting at that point was set aside until this morning. I used the SpectraFix this morning to rework a couple of areas at the top left and middle. The upper right was the only area I liked, and that part remained from my original effort.

Being careful not to overwork things again, I wanted to livened up the color from my previous effort. I was working from a very rough plein air oil study and a not-so-helpful photo that was taken from a slightly different angle at a later time of day. So my color choices became a bit more interpretive on this one!

Have any failed or overworked paintings lurking in your studio? If they're on a surface that safely accepts liquid media, give it try! Just be sure to get as much excess pigment removed before wetting the surface. Otherwise you'll end up with a pasty surface that won't accept fresh pastel layers very well.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Up Close & Personal, Part 4

Lining Up, pastel, 8x8

For this last week in our "Up Close & Personal" series, we discussed cropping into subject matter that we're normally inclined to feature within a larger area of the landscape. I encourage my students to take the time to just "play" with their photos on the computer first, and see if there's a better way to crop the scene other than the version they quickly decided on when they looked through their camera at that location.

Chances are, when you're taking photos at a scenic location, especially in a location where you may not get back to for a long time, you tend to want to capture everything with your camera. But when you get back home and load the photos onto your computer, see if you can take your time looking at other possibilities. You may be able to get two or three (or more) paintings out of one photo! I actually get excited about doing this when I come home with a new batch of reference photos!

I had planned to do an 8" x 10" painting for my demo this morning. I had toyed with the idea of cropping into my planned composition a bit more, but went ahead with my original plan. After I finished the demo portion of my class (when my demo painting is about 80 - 90 percent completed), I decided that a more dynamic composition could result from an even closer crop.

My original version.

After a "practice" crop on a photo taken with my phone, I decided to trim it down to an 8" x 8" square format. Once trimmed, I did have to tweak a few elements for better placement within the square format.

Shown below is my original photo. I took this photo several years ago, but could never decide how to approach painting from it. I loved the hay bale formations but didn't find the tree shapes interesting.

The original photo.

The cropped photo.
Lining Up is what my Thursday morning demo later evolved into, after a two inch slice off of the right side.