Sunday, July 16, 2017

Variety is the Spice of Life...and Artwork!

Evening's Hush Over The Marina, 12x16, oil;
partially based on the pastel study below

It seems to be human nature to favor consistency. We don’t have to think as hard when we do something the same each time. Have you noticed that beginner artists tend to keep shapes and spaces between shapes in their paintings fairly equal? (And artists of any level tend to do this when they get tired or lazy…myself included!!) But with artwork, or really design of any kind, it’s variety of shapes and sizes that grabs the viewers eye. Whenever I struggle to find an eye-appealing composition within an awkward or dull view of my subject, I look for opportunities to place large shapes against proportionally small shapes. 

Sunset Glow on the Marina, 8x10, pastel (SOLD);
plein air study

When I painted the pastel study shown here, I arrived late to the first painting location of the 2017 Plein Air Convention, along with several hundred other artists painting along this marina in San Diego. With having to squeeze into one of the last remaining spots to set up my easel, I was pretty much stuck painting one of the only available views left. So I looked for a composition in which I could contrast large shapes (the flat, open water and the larger foreground boats on the right) with smaller shapes (the smaller boats in the left, and the finer lines of their masts). I also went for contrast in edges, with the more vaguely defined distant trees and loosely defined smaller boats, contrasted with the sharper edges of the larger boats, bright highlights, and the thin masts.

“Traveling a New Road” (below, pastel, 9x12) was a demo I painted at a workshop I taught at the recent IAPS convention in June. Briefly, the challenge was to begin with five shapes structured in descending size order, with each shape half the size as the one larger than that shape. The goal was to be deliberate about designing a composition with a purposeful variety of shapes.

Traveling a New Road, 9x12, pastel
Available at The Artful Deposit, Bordentown, NJ

I find that my favorite compositions tend to be ones that have a more dramatic contrast between large and small shapes. Now, of course, not every subject lends itself to this type of composition, but finding even a subtle variety of shapes may spice up an otherwise dull composition!

Upcoming Workshops: 

Richmond, IN - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop
Aug. 17, 18 & 19, 2017 (Thurs/Fri/Sat)
Richmond Art Museum
350 Hub Etchison Parkway, Richmond, Indiana, 47374
Contact: Lance Crow,, 765-966-0256
$395/member; $450/non-member

Bend, OR - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop
Sept. 23, 24 & 25, 2017 (Sat/Sun/Mon)
SageBrushers Art Society
117 SW Roosevelt Ave., Bend, OR  97702
Contact: Barbara Jaenicke,

Landgrove, VT - 4-day PASTEL/OIL workshop (studio with some plein air, weather permitting)
Oct. 16, 17, 18 & 19, 2017 (MonTues/Wed/Thurs)
InView Center for the Arts at the Landgrove Inn
132 Landgrove Road, Landgrove, VT  05148
Contact: Tom Checchia,, 802-824-6673

Bridgewater, NJ - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop
Nov. 3, 4 & 5, 2017 (Fri/Sat/Sun)
York Art Studio
350 Grove St. #4, Bridgewater, NJ 08807
Contact: Barbara Jaenicke,

There's more!!! ... For FULL WORKSHOP SCHEDULE, go to

My INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEOS are available at