Friday, September 19, 2014

A New Way to Be Taught

One of the things I've always appreciated about my teacher, Elmer Ruff, is that he doesn't try to paint my paintings for me, as so many teachers do. And because I teach other subjects, I know how much easier it can be to demonstrate how to do something than it is to get the student to do it herself.

Because Elmer and I have been challenged to find time together, I sent him some images of the painting of the Pendleton Art Center I've been working on. And, as a result, we discovered a great new way to work together!

Elmer is fantastic using computer applications to paint (like Adobe PhotoShop). I, of course, have zero interest in doing that, since I already spend way too many hours in front of a screen. But by painting with my image, he was able to talk to me about things I should improve, demonstrating what he meant with these computer-generated images.

My teacher's suggestions
My work in progress

I was thrilled with this new way of learning from him: he hasn't touched my actual painting, so I'm still free to do with it what I will. But in the sky in his example, I noticed a nod to the "neo cubist" technique I used to use in past work that I've kind of gotten away from. I think I'd love it here; that it would really improve the work. And while I might resolve the problems differently than Elmer has, I can more clearly understand what he's trying to tell me about the perspective at the top (roof line) of the building, the vagueness of the form in the lower right corner and right edge and how to make the foreground and the "face" of the building more interesting -- front door, loading dock, driveway, trees, etc. Making the subject appear more real using value variations. All while preserving my own style of painting.

There's an old adage "Those who can't do, teach." Nothing could be further from the truth in my opinion. I love teaching but I don't ever want to teach art because it is so much harder to help others learn to develop themselves than to demonstrate your skill. Today, I just want to paint and learn from other artists.

I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity I've had to learn from Elmer these last nine years -- he has a gift for communicating with me about my work: both what's good about it and how I can continue to improve. Even watching another artist's techniques can be helpful ... C. F. Payne shared some of his techniques with us at the Evendale Art Center a few years ago and I was able to adapt what he did into my own work in a way I still use and feel good about. Every new work is an opportunity to learn and grow.
I applied techniques learned from C.F. Payne to this home portrait.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Starting anew

I started some new things this morning. First, a home portrait. I usually start this way, drawing in pencil to get a feeling for the composition of the painting and the challenging parts of the subject. For example, I drew and erased the top left roof line 3-4 times. And then I still made the second story too tall on the left hand side.

Drawing sometimes shows me what to do to make the background and foreground of the painting interesting. In this case, I tried working out some values for the four corners of the painting.

This is a "from the right" photo of the home. Next, I'll draw it "from the left" and "head-on" using the following photos.

I plan to show these three pencil sketches to the homeowner this weekend, so we can talk more about what she wants, and doesn't want, in her home portrait.

The other thing I started this morning are my last Secret ArtWORKs for Nov 21. I can't say too much about them, because "It's a secret"  but I've supported this organization and its mission ever since I started painting at the Pendleton Art Center, where I learned about it To find out more, check the web at

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ever Seen a Spinnradl?

What the heck's a Spinnradl? You'll definitely notice them on Pendleton Street in downtown Cincinnati when visiting the Pendleton Art Center.

Yes, tonight IS Final Friday and Glenda Suttman, Margi Meier, and I will open our studio on the fifth floor of the main building to visitors. Come see us to kick off the 3-day Labor Day weekend, which is a bigger holiday here in Cincinnati than anywhere else I've lived (Toledo, Chicago, Minneapolis).

Just as I was awestruck like a little kid by Lumenosity, I still love the Niagara Falls effect when Rozzi Fireworks shoots them off the bridges over the Ohio River for Riverfest. Don't miss it this Sunday night! These are things percolating in my soul as inspiration for future paintings but I haven't attempted any yet.

Here's an acrylic sketch I did earlier this summer with the Southwest Ohio Plein Air Painters: it's the Ludlow Bromley Yacht Club. If the weather holds, this would be a great place to enjoy the holiday weekend.

But back to the Spinnradl. ArtWorks sponsored the creation of these two kinetic sculptures which evoke the rich past and present of the Pendleton neighborhood. Community members contributed stories and imagery that inspired the artwork,which reflects the neighborhood’s unique legacy of architecture, social activism, cultural diversity, artistry and industry.

The North Star features prominently; Pendleton was a key stop on the Underground Railroad. The custom-made music boxes play two different songs—one is a traditional German folk song, performed in combination with a dance that forms a star pattern. The second song is a ragtime piece which was composed in Cincinnati in the very early 1900s. The music box was designed and built by Reuge, a 150-year-old music box company based in Switerzerland. Our landlords, The Verdin Company, fabricated the case and base of the of Spinnradl, in addition to supporting the assembly of the various moving parts and decorative elements.

Tonight at Final Friday, we'll have new artwork to see, music outside, Tom & Chee's food truck and free refreshments in the working studios of 200 artists. Next month is the anniversary of the Pendleton Art Center, so we'll have our annual Silent Auction, where you can pick up great bargains on original art. Between now and Sept 26, I'll post photos of the pieces I'll have in the auction. Happy Labor Day!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Paint it Black

Using the black canvas sheets today to sketch ideas for the paintings I want to do that were inspired by Shannon Godby's photographs on Facebook.

Today I realized I actually needed a wide range of dark paints (Mars Black, Ivory Black) to paint back into the canvas as I worked my lights and darks. A good find!

So I went back to my sketch of "Christmas Eve at the Warren's" and tried to apply what I learned. Here's what it looked like before I started; when I started looking at it, I realized if there's that much snow on the ground, there'd likely be some on the roof.

Thought I was done but now I want to play with the sky behind the house a bit more. It's too light and I need to work that section in the upper right quadrant to bring it in line with the rest of the painting. Fun exploring this way of painting onto black canvas, though. And Christmas in August is kind of fun too.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Nobody Paints Like Him

Painting today was mostly like praying. I saw this leaf in the parking lot the other day and just marveled at the mixture of colors in it. Also, since today is August 1, noticed it's a harbinger of autumn soon to come.

Inspiration always comes from looking at what the greatest Artist of all creates every day. But this was especially fun because of all the organic lines and shapes ... much different from the straight lines and angles of my usual architectural subjects.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Watercolor vs Acrylics

Enjoyed working on this small watercolor portrait, because this media is even more transparent, and requires more layers, than the acrylic paints I've been working with.

People who want home portraits tell me whether they'd like them painted in oils, acrylics or watercolors. I start many of my oil paintings with acrylics, because oils can go over the top and the acrylics dry faster, which makes it easier to get the initial drawing, composition and values (lights and darks) down on the canvas quickly.

Once upon a time, I preferred painting in oils. I liked mixing the colors I wanted on the palette with wet paint and the opacity of it. But when I started laying in my compositions with acrylics, I started to appreciate their transparency and the ability to build and mix color through layering like you do with watercolors. My mentor describes painting with watercolor like laying down layer after layer of transparent color film -- we build value and hue by painting an area over and over again, overlaying paint layer after paint layer. If it's the same hue, the color gets stronger. If it's a complementary hue, the color gets duller and grayer.   And if it's blue over yellow, my eye sees the green that results.

I haven't painted in pure watercolors for a few months, so I enjoyed its increased transparency compared to acrylics. For a painting like this, I have to draw on the paper first, so I know in advance where all the paint should go, kind of like paint by number.

I think this is why I prefer acrylics: I feel more free to experiment with paint on the fly, knowing it is opaque enough that I can cover it up and rework it if I change my mind.

But in this case, I realized I've gotten lazy by being able to make the darks as dark as I want right away with acrylics, rather than having to build them up gradually over the course of several sessions, like I did with this watercolor. I attached three photos here to show that progression from when I started to the finished piece.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A first today

Today is the first time I think I've ever started painting on a black canvas. It's interesting! I seldom use black paint -- I like to mix dark colors by combining complementaries like red and green, orange and blue or purple and yellow.

Also I think black paint and white paint appear sort of "dead" and lifeless in a finished work. But I bought a tablet of black canvas sheets to experiment with some night scenes I've been wanting to paint for a long time. This is one of them: Cincinnatian's may recognize our "Elsinore Castle" at the base of Mt. Adams on Gilbert. I love to see it lit up at night and will have to research more about its name and how people used to play Hamlet on it when it was the gateway to Eden Park.

I often talk about how one hour can yield very different results for me day to day. I was having fun with this -- looking at the shapes and values and then placing them on that stark black canvas. It's got promise! Stay tuned for the finish, some time in the future.