Monday, November 25, 2013

6x6 Show!

For any of my blog readers in the Southern California area, I'm proud to be a part of the 6 Inch Squared Show at the Randy Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa, CA next month. This is the second year I'm participating in this fantastic exhibit, which is comprised of only artwork that measures 6" x 6."

If you go to you can see the entire show online, and can even purchase work online if you're not able to attend in person.

The show opens Dec. 7 (but you can purchase online now), and runs the month of December.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Composition and Block In...5 Shapes or Less

A Moment's Peace, pastel, 8x10

I had a packed house at my studio this morning for class. After scaling back my local teaching schedule to one class per month and adding oil painting students, I may have to rethink this schedule. Maybe I'll end up with a happy medium of two classes per month? We'll see.

Today's demo was in pastel. The focus continued with a composition topic, this time using an exercise I revisit often: the Five-shape Landscape. This method of starting a painting is one that has helped me boost my own skills with developing a strong composition and simplifying busy subject matter, so I use it quite a bit with my students.

The objective: divide your subject matter into 5 (and only 5) shapes. To do this, you'll need to combine shapes of similar values. Stronger compositions will typically still have a variety of sizes among the five shapes. And, yes, I still use the old fashioned tracing paper to do this...

reference photo


Using my top thumbnail for placement of my shapes, and bottom value sketch to block in, the starting point of the painting isn't so overwhelming. When starting the painting, I reference my thumbnail sketches, not my photo. I'm only concerned with the placement of my five large connected shapes, and their approximate values.

I managed to snap several progression shots on this one. Although I take great care to place my large shapes exactly where I want them, I keep my edges soft and very loosely defined at this point in order to push and pull them in later stages of refinement. Adjusting values and color temperature on these big shapes is the next task, and then lastly I carefully choose only the details necessary to communicate the mood of the landscape.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Workshop Wrap-up: Piedmont Pastel Society

Pass the Barn on Your Left, pastel, 11 x 14

This past week I had the privilege of conducting a workshop for the Piedmont Pastel Society in Charlotte, NC. In the four-day workshop, I had students focus on a specific challenge each of the four days: basic composition development, the "five shape landscape," minimal stroke exercises, and limited color palette working from a black & white photo.

Below is from the first day of the workshop, when I introduced my method for planning out the basic composition for a painting.

Winter Journey, pastel, 12x12

Day two, we took that idea one step further with the five shape landscape...dividing the composition into no more than five shapes to get the painting started. Shown below are the thumbnail sketches, which 
    indicate the inital five shapes, and the underpainting based on the five-shape value sketch.

underpainting for Pass the Barn on Your Left (at top)

  We switched gears on day three to focus on stroke often ignored skill! By counting the strokes applied to a painting, artists are usually shocked to find out how many unnecessary strokes of pastel they otherwise find themselves piling onto their paintings. We also addressed stroke direction and how much of the pastel stick we want to have touching the surface for different types of strokes. Even though this workshop focused specifically on landscapes, we warmed up with a 20-stroke apple exercise, since an apple is a simple, recognizable shape in which we could focus on strokes rather than copying from a photo reference or an actual apple. (The top two apples painted in 20 strokes each; the bottom one was fine tuned after the 20 strokes.) We then moved onto small landscapes, working to about a 6x8 size, completing these studies in 100 strokes or less.

Although during the first three days of the workshop I made mention often of how I go about choosing my color palette, on the fourth and final day, that was our focus. By working from a black & white photo and limiting the palette to no more than 20 pastels, we used values and color temperature to develop a harmonious color palette for the painting.

Unknown Journey, pastel, 11 x 14

black & white reference for Unknown Journey

This was a fantastic group of 18 motivated artists, and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to work with each one. I was also given the honor of judging this pastel society's exhibit, which included some amazing work. The past week was certainly a case in which the instructor/show juror left feeling just as inspired as the attendees! Thanks, Piedmont Pastel Society!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Composition and Block In

Leisurely Drive, oil, 8x10

Just this past week I began including oil painting students in my class that I teach at my studio, which used to be strictly a pastel class. Now it's a combined oil/pastel class. And if it works out well this way, I'm hoping to alternate pastel and oil demos for each class, which I now hold on a monthly basis.

For this past week's class, my demo was in oil, and the focus was on constructing a value thumbnail and basing the block in on the value thumbnail. Although my demo was in oil, my pastel approach is done much in the same way.

Whether it was from having new students in the class, concentrating harder on doing a demo in oil, or just my awful memory, but I forgot to photograph my initial block in. Yes, as I mentioned, that was the focus of this class...and I forgot. Sorry.

But I do have my initial sketches to show...

The thumbnail sketches are what I find most students avoid. But these serve as my road map to find my way into the painting. The top one is how I divide up the placement of each element. Since I use tracing paper for my sketches, I place the paper over my photo and shift each element to it's most ideal placement. Also, I can more easily see if any element will fall along either center axis, and if it does, I move it to a better spot. In the bottom sketch, I grouped shapes into about 5 values, combining as many shapes and values as possible.

reference photo
As my painting progressed, I found that I did have to lighten the foreground trees on the left (compared to my value sketch) to give it a more "light filled" look.