Friday, July 8, 2016


Way back in graduate school we were taught the importance of designing our drawings in such a way to influence the viewer's eyesight so it traveled through the drawing and picked out the most important elements before moving on to the next drawing or piece of manuscript. At the time I was training to become a medical illustrator and our audience was surgeons who were studying how-to manuals for performing various surgical procedures. Our drawings were step-by-step instructions on how to do everything from an aortic valve replacement to brain surgery.

The attention span of our audience was very short but we were taught the reader was much more likely to remember a series of drawings showing a surgical procedure than mountains of text. Little did I know how important that training would become as I pursued my current artistic endeavors. What I learned is all starts with design. Mother Nature is a really good designer but sometimes she needs a little help when it comes to painting her likeness on a canvas.

To demonstrate what I mean I photographed a recent painting from start to end. By following me through the steps I hope you will come to understand that there is more to copying a landscape to canvas. You must engage the viewer and you do that with design, color and controlling the viewer's gaze.

Coastal Rock Slide Plein Air 9" x 12"

As is my custom I will be painting from the field study I painted on a trip to Carmel a couple of summers ago.

On a 24" x 30" canvas I begin my design by dividing the canvas into thirds ending up with nine equal squares. My objective is to arrange the elements of the landscape in such a way that the viewer's eye will be in constant motion and to do that I purposely place objects where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect. 

At "A" the base of the rock lands exactly on the crossing lines. The angled line runs from "A" towards "B". At "B" the vertically angled tree takes you up to the intersecting top third line. The shoreline runs from "B" to "C" where the base of the cliff lines up with the right side vertical line and also lines up with the right side of the main boulder back at "A". The next drawing shows how the eye moves around the painting.

The plan is to have the viewer enter the painting at "A", visually travel to "B" over to "C" then back down to "A" where the process starts over. If I pull this off the viewer will become engaged and visually travel through my entire painting.

You still with me? 

Next I lay in a halftone drawing using a reddish wash to give myself a better look at the design before I commit to paint. I decide I need a "visual block" to keep the viewer from sliding off the right side of the canvas so I add a large dark boulder at the bottom right. I will add a dark element to the lower left of the painting to give it some balance. I'm thinking a dark bush of some sort.

I put in my darkest darks in the foreground and paint the main tree. Then using the foreground values as my guide I put in the distant cliffs.

Using my plein air sketch as my value guide I continue to move around all parts of the canvas bringing the distant cliffs, middle ground trees and foreground rock formation all up at the same time.

Detail of the foreground rocks. This was a blast to paint. Most of it is made up as I go, changing colors and shapes of the rocks to give it an organic feel.

The finished painting or so I thought. Once this was finished I put it in a closet for a month and did not look at it again until this morning. Once it was back on the easel I felt something was missing.

I decide it needed something else to draw the viewer away from the rock pile and up the hill to my center of interest. By adding a splash of color on the hill representing the poppies and other wild flowers that grow on the coast I believe the painting is now finished.

Friday, April 29, 2016


As you head west on Hwy 290 out of Johnson City towards Fredericksburg you pass through several small communities, one of which is Hye, Texas. The Hye Market was established in 1886 and is a historical landmark in Texas. 

For many years I drove by this building in my rush to get to Fredericksburg, but today is different. I find a shady spot and break out the paint.

I chose this side view because I only have an hour to spare and there's not much room on this busy highway to paint it from across the street, so I'm sticking with a simpler design with plans to paint it from the front when back in the studio.

First step is to establish the darks and fill in the big shapes with flat color (see above). Next is to establish key relationships by using color, values and edges.

Done for now. There's an abundant amount of signage and I don't do lettering too well en plein air so this is one I'll put away until it drys then come back and add lettering to the signs.

This is a really cool building with a lot of history. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson swore in Lawrence O'Brien as Postmaster General on the front porch. These days its a great place to stop in and buy produce, wine and groceries all from Texas growers.

Friday, April 22, 2016


"Golden Pond"  8" x 10" oil/linen

To purchase go to:

I began this year with a commitment to create 50 plein air paintings and 10 major studio pieces. Then I looked into the corner of my studio at the stack of plein air studies I've collected over the years and realized that if I stuck to my goal I would have a whole new stack of paintings occupying cherished studio space.

I've been asked if I sell my studies and for years the answer has been "no". Most studies aren't worth selling anyway because I rarely try to finish a painting on location. I use them mostly to gather important information so if I decide to convert it to a studio version the major decisions about color, design and values have already been made. And quite honestly sometimes a painting is just better left in a small version. 

After much mental wrangling back and forth and several conversations with my galleries I have decided to begin offering my plein air paintings for sale through my website. At first they will be offered as a "Painting of the Month" then they will go to another page on my website where they will take up residence until sold or until I decide to pull them from the market completely. These will be small, affordable paintings no larger than 11" x 14" and sold unframed.

The painting at the top of this blog is the "Painting of the Month" for April. In a few days I will post a painting for May so be watching for it.

Friday, March 18, 2016


"Near Panther Creek"
8" x 10" en plein air   oil/linen

As we approach the plein air season I am reminded of this particular painting done on a crisp morning in Big Bend National Park. I had parked at the roadside pullout and hiked about a hundred yards from the road so I wouldn't be bothered by anyone. I just wanted a quiet morning spent alone with Mother Nature, a blank canvas and my paint.

As I worked through a series of Notan sketches trying to finalize my design I happen to notice a park ranger parked next to my car standing in the bed of her truck with a pair of binoculars scanning the scene I was about to paint. I didn't think anything of it really. Right before my first stroke of paint I glanced over my shoulder and she was gone.

Thirty minutes later I noticed the ranger was back and she was on top of her truck with her binoculars again. She noticed me looking at her and we exchanged friendly "hello" waves with one another.
Then she climbed down and drove off.

For the next hour I was busy painting and not paying attention to much else except I had grown accustomed to hearing the ranger's truck coming up the road, parking next to my car and then down the road she would go. Except now it seemed her trips were becoming shorter and shorter.

With my completed painting stashed away in a RayMar box, I started to scrape dirty paint off my palette when a shadow across my palette startled me. Janet, the park ranger, was in a bit of a panic and before I knew it she was grabbing my stuff and pushing me up the hill towards the parking pullout. Turns out she had been keeping eyes on a mother cougar and her two cubs all morning as they made their way up the canyon directly towards me. She thought they were going to turn and head towards their den, but on this morning they continued up the canyon and I was directly in their path.

Safely out of the way I sat with my new best friend and watched as the cougars sniffed the area I had been standing in ten minutes earlier. I often wonder what would have happened that morning if Janet hadn't been looking out for me. 

With that in mind, for all my art friends heading outdoors this Spring to careful out there.

Friday, January 29, 2016


If you read my last blog you know I have a thing for art instructional videos and over the years have built up a sizable collection. I thoroughly enjoy painting..its what I do...and I like to see how others approach the process of putting paint to canvas, how they solve the various problems we all face and how they create these magical things called paintings.

I am a self taught painter. I didn't study painting in college and I have no background in color theory. I am an intuitive colorist meaning I make it up as I go and I mix color by looking at the subject and figuring out what colors need to go together to get me what I want. I hear you saying I should produce Richard Schmid's color charts...not gonna happen.

Most of the technical stuff I know about painting I learned from workshops, art videos and Youtube. The rest has come from trial and error and putting a lot of paint down on lots of canvases. My art journey has been greatly helped by the fine folks who make art instruction videos. I watch then regularly and when a new one hits the market by a painter I really like, I snatch it up. 

So let's get to the point of this blog. An art instruction video does you no good if you watch it a couple of times and put it on a shelf. Its like buying paint and canvas but never doing a painting. This blog shares with you how I watch and use art instruction videos as they are meant to be watched.

No this isn't it! By just watching a video you might pick up a gem or two that you may or may not remember the next time you paint, but this is a waste of time. If you really want to learn how to paint, get off the couch and into the studio.

Attach a large screen TV (1080p) to a laptop with a HDMI cable. 

Put in the instructional video of choice. For the past twenty years all I have painted is landscapes. I have decided to give still lifes and figurative work a try so to teach myself how to paint them I have turned to those artists whose work I really admire and who have good videos available. In this case I am painting from Jeffrey Watts' "Gesture Portraits" video.

I have me easel set up so I can see my painting and the video at the same time.

Its very important to be able to pause the video regularly.

Jeffrey shows the colors he is using in this demonstration and I take this time to put out the same colors on my palette.

Jeffrey has black on his palette which I decide not to put on mine. Too many bad habits will develop if I start using black so I add burnt sienna because if I need black I already know how to mix it. Otherwise I typically use the exact same palette that's in the video.

Jeffrey begins to paint and I paint right along with him trying to keep up. If he gets ahead I hit the pause button on the remote until I get caught up.

I don't follow Jeffrey stroke for stroke, but I generally try to emulate his technique. I will eventually move on to a live model and my own style will develop the more I do these.

As Jeffrey applies color I follow along, mixing paint when he mixes paint and putting it on the canvas when he does. 

Twenty minutes into it and we are almost done. Throwing in a background and looking to finish things up.

Jeffrey's finished demo

My finished exercise. It is my normal practice to do the same video demo five or six times then move on to the next demo. Once I've done that and my confidence begins to build, I will find my own subject and paint it several times until my own expression begins to develop. I don't have the courage to paint from a live model yet but I feel that will happen when it is suppose to.

I hope this has been helpful. Let me know with a comment below.

NEXT UP:  Art blogs I follow and why.

Friday, January 22, 2016


Looking at my video library last weekend I came to realize just how many videos I've purchased over the years and how much knowledge I've garnered through the efforts of the many fine artists who have shared their time, talent, insights and methods. 

Each video represents countless hours of time spent by these artists developing and refining their craft over many years to the point where their reputation among collectors, galleries and fellow painters is unquestionable. I admire each and every artist in my collection and I have the pleasure of knowing most of them on a personal and professional level.

As I thumbed through the collection of DVDs I realized there are several videos I have watched multiple times and, truth be known, when I've struggled with a painting there are a few I reach to for divine inspiration. I thought it would be fun to share my collection and jot down my thoughts on what makes many of them worth having in your collection as well.

First my collection, not in any particular order:

"Three Landscapes" Scott Christensen by Liliedahl Video
"Painting Large Landscapes" Scott Christensen by Liliedahl Video
"Solitary Profession" Scott Christensen by Tony Pro Productions
"Establishing a Key That Reads" Scott Christensen by Fisher Creative
"Composing" Scott Christensen by Fisher Creative
"Painting Into Direct Sunlight" John Lasater, IV by John Lasater, IV
"Social Media REVEALED" Lori McNee & Eric Rhoads, Streamline Video
"Capturing the Moment in Oils" David Curtis by APV Films
"Painting on Location" Frank Serrano by Reel Memories Video
"The Woodland Interior Landscape" Roger Dale Brown by R. D. Brown
"Winter Over the San Juans" Matt Smith by Oak Creek Productions
"The Sonoran Desert" Matt Smith by Oak Creek Productions
"June" Richard Schmid by Stove Prairie Press
"November" Richard Schmid by Stove Prairie Press
"Richard Schmid Paints the Landscape" by Stove Prairie Press
"Bold Brushstrokes & Confident Color" Lori Putnam by Liliedahl Video
"Vermont Sugar Shack" Mark Boedges" by Mark Boedges
"The Oil Landscape" Bob Rohm by Artist Productions
"European Street Scene" John Michael Carter by Liliedahl Video
"Lilies" Daniel Keys by Liliedahl Video
"Hydrangeas & Oranges" Daniel Keys by Liliedahl Video
"Gesture Portraits" Jeffrey Watts by Liliedahl Video
"Studio Painting Secrets" Brian Blood by Liliedahl Video
"Overview" Kathryn Stats by Liliedahl Video
"Reflections" Gabor Svagrik by TAA productions
"The Power of Green" Gabor Svagrik by TAA Productions
"Painting the American Landscape" Matt Smith, Jean LaGassick and Ken
Backhaus by PBS Television
"Painting the American Landsacape" Charles Sovek, Ron Rencher & Frank LaLumia  by PBS Television
"Seaside" Kathryn Stats by Liliedahl Video
"From Plein Air to Studio" Keith Bond by Keith Bond
"White Pine" Richard Schmid by Stone Prairie Press
"Painting the Effects of Light" Jason Sacran by Jason Sacran
"Light in the Landscape" David Curtis by APV Films
"Energy and Movement" Randall Sexton by Streamline Video

FIRST PURCHASE: "Painting Large Landscapes" by Scott Christensen. I am primarily a plein air painter so painting larger than 9" x 12" is a real challenge. I have taken two workshops with Scott and he would do large landscapes from small field studies. Watching him complete a 30" x 40" painting in a couple of hours blew my mind. This video has been instrumental in helping me get out of my comfort zone and tackle large paintings with confidence.

MOST RECENT PURCHASE: "The Woodland Interior Landscape" Roger Dale Brown by Roger Dale Brown.
Watching this one for the third time now. Roger's color sense is completely foreign to me but it is what draws me to his work. Watching him construct this complex subject into a well designed trip into the forest is worth the time.

PURCHASED IN LAST SIX MONTHS: "Energy and Movement" by Randall Sexton, "The Woodland Interior Landscape" by Roger Dale Brown, "Studio Painting Secrets" by Brian Blood, "Painting Into Direct Sunlight" by John Lasater, IV, "Vermont Sugar Shack" by Mark Boedges, "Painting the Effects of Light" by Jason Sacran and "Social Media Revealed" by Lori McNee and Eric Rhoads

MOST WATCHED: Probably a tie between "The Sonoran Desert" by Matt Smith, "Three Landscapes" by Scott Christensen and "Richard Schimd Paints the Landscape" by Richard Schmid. My approach to plein air work and palette is very similar to the way Matt Smith works so his videos really strike a cord with me. I can only imagine what its like to paint like Richard Schmid so I don't even try and Scott is a modern master I can watch paint every day. In my opinion these three videos should be in everybody's library.

MOST IMPORTANT: "Social Media Revealed" by Lori McNee and Eric Rhoads. Chock full of vital information for anyone utilizing social media either as a platform to connect and share your paintings to the more complex concepts of using social media as a marketing tool. Lori does an excellent job of breaking down the pros and cons of each media platform and Eric is always good about asking the questions we all want answers to.

MOST ENTERTAINING: "Painting the American Landscape" with Matt Smith, Jean LaGassick, Frank LaLumia, Ken Backhaus, Charles Sovek and Ron Rencher. Broadcast by PBS these two videos feature several of my favorite artists painting in Alaska and the West. Hard to forget Matt, Jean and Ken getting run off their painting location by a bear. Good interviews with the artists, nice demos by each and excellent production quality.

MOST INSPIRATIONAL: "A Light Touch" David Curtis and "Bold Brushstrokes and Confident Color" Lori Putnam. If you are not familiar with English painter David Curtis you are missing out. Equally gifted in oils or watercolor, David tackles the most complex subjects with ease. His ability to mix a color and put it down in exactly the right place using exactly the right color at exactly the right temperature is amazing to watch. Bold, direct and confident. Something I aspire to and achieve occasionally.

I found Lori's video inspirational because she paints in a way I can only imagine. Loose and controlled at the same time. She has total command from beginning to end. Her rise in popularity has been fun to watch and watching her paint is a true pleasure.

MOST INFORMATIVE: "Studio Painting Secrets" by Brian Blood, "Social Media Revealed" by Lori McNee and Eric Rhoads and "Gesture Portraits" by Jeffrey Watts. Brian's video is top notch. He covers all the bases discussing design, color, application of paint, color name it, he talked about it and demonstrates it in a painting of Point Lobos, one of my favorite painting locations. His painting style is a lot like his personality, direct and to the point.

Jeffrey Watts video, the first of two, is the perfect blend of demonstration and teaching. His discussion of different color palettes and paint surfaces is invaluable information for the beginner or seasoned painter. The demos are terrific. You can tell Jeffrey is a seasoned teacher.

BEST VALUE: Gabor Svagrik's video series of five landscape videos is a treasure of information at about $50 each. Unfortunately I don't think you can get these any more. Now he has a new series of downloadable videos that include the original set. These are a must for anyone wanting to learn to paint with a limited palette.

BEST PRODUCTION QUALITY: Anything done by Liliedahl Video

WISH LIST: Jill Carver, Bill Anton, Clyde Aspevig, Skip Whitcomb, John Burton, James Richards, Joshua Been, Joshua Clare, Anne Blair Brown and a still life video from Richard Schmid.

Up Next: How to get the most out of an art instruction video