Friday, December 2, 2011

Building a Bridge

When painting realism, I believe that we should paint subjects as our eyes actually see them, not as a camera's lens captures them. Cameras are not selective in their focus and will put everything in the focal depth into sharp detail. A painting handled this way, while technically accurate, will lack emphasis and appear busy.

Here's a way I've learned to correct this. Pick an object and stare at it without letting your gaze wander. Notice and remember how you see the neighboring objects. While we recognize what they are, they're less definite in their focus. This is how we should be painting. The center of interest should be in focus while the remaining objects are not.

I like to think of painting this way as building a bridge between the painting's borders and its center of interest, wherever that may be. I go for a steady transition from soft to high focus. Think of gradually sliding from low focus to sharp detail. A viewer should not perceive the change taking place. In my watercolor of long-horn cattle, I've used this concept to put the calf in focus and make it the center of interest. Best regards - Tom

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


The White Sand Lake in the forests of northern Wisconsin was my home for the past week. I was teaching a watercolor workshop for Dillman's Creative Arts Foundation. Located on a peninsula overlooking the lake, Dillman's has a rustic look, inside however, all of the buildings are modern and comfortable. The teaching rooms are large and well equipped. Sue and Denny Robertson plus their daughter, Stephanie, and son-in-law, Todd, were my hosts. They were gracious and very attentive to my needs and those of my students and made my stay a pleasure.

Late September is peak time in northern Wisconsin for autumn foliage: birches, assorted maples, and oak are juxtaposed against dark evergreens. The waters of the lake reflect these colors. And, yes, we had time and opportunity for pleine air painting. It was a magical time to be in those woods and I'll be back next year (the week of September 16-20, 2012). Look for me there!


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Finding One's Voice

A great deal of importance is placed on finding your voice or developing your style and mostly I think, "Rightly so!". Originality carries a lot of weight. Yet, I also believe that we can work too hard on developing a "look". I prefer to just let it happen by virtue of making personal choices like color selection, favorite shapes and patterns, tonal choices, brush strokes, content matter and so on.
Trying too hard can make work seem contrived or formulaic. On the other hand, if a body of work lacks cohesion, it may also be criticized. Damned if you do and damned if you don't. But it's interesting to look back on the work of great artists and see how often they changed their style or media. I'd recommend Picasso as a good example of this.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Creating Space Using "Push Back"

So often in painting we have a situation in which there are several objects that are very close in tone and color and we wish to create a sense of space in a subtle way. Using a technique called the "push back" is a good solution.

If you have a painting that doesn't read the right way spatially, decide which objects in the painting need to be closer. Next, paint a halo of very pale cobalt blue (very watered down) around the closest object and blend the halo as it moves away from that object and across the rest of the painting. This subtle temperature change pushes the other objects back creating an illusion of space.

In my painting of Spruce Creek, I wanted to bring the windfalls on top to appear closer than the others and used this effect to push the rest back. These temperature changes are very important to create a sense of dimension and space in 2-D work. This glazing technique can be used in paintings of any subject from figurative to landscape. Give it a try!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Variation on a Theme - Kolob Canyon

These watercolors are a series of class demos based on southwestern Utah"s Kolob Canyon. Doing a series is always a great way to explore possibilities. These paintings used a variation of technique and value plans. Methods include watercolor and ink, masking, wet-in-wet, watercolor impasto, lifting and glazing.

My Spring 2011 newletter is posted on my website -
It's Part 1 or a 2 part series about painting light and shadow. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Art of the Ordinary

The dilemma of what to paint. Over the years I've wondered about it and faced it by looking for strong subjects everywhere I go. These subjects are around us all the time and it's a good exercise to find and paint them. I like to walk around with a small digital camera and point it in the direction of anything interesting. Later, I go through the images to see what grabs my attention.
Often I'll make paintings from compositions of several photos. Moving subjects around until I get a dynamic design is one of my goals. If your painting is only as good as your reference material, you may miss a feeling you want to convey. I let the reference be a spring-board from which I develop my ideas.

In this painting of a city maintenance crew, the men are working to repair stop lights after a storm. I let the reflections on the wet street as well as the rich warm colors against the grey backdrop tell the story. With a value plan of a large light with small darks in a field of midtones, the eye is drawn to the focal point of the worker carrying a cone and then around the painting.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Let Intuition Lead the Way

Many artists who have worked with young children notice that they have a natural ability to create effective design using contrast, shape and color. As children mature, their natural strength in design is often replaced by their desire to "get it right". Over the years, I've sought to return to these beautiful designs and subordinate hard facts to a more appealing design-oriented direction.
I like to set up paintings that allow me to discover new motifs. In the watercolor at the right, "Adirondack Chair", I used a color underpainting to achieve the variation in color and texture on the side of the building. My article in the April 2011 Watercolor Artist magazine entitled, "Setting the Tone" discusses methods for opening intuitive paths to successful paintings. Hope you get a chance to check it out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Frisket or Not

As a young artist I believed that masking agents (tape, film, drawing gum or liquid masking fluid) created stiff, contrived watercolors. As the years pass, so has my opinion. I now think that these materials can be a great aid. For example, try painting a smooth, gradated sky around some light-toned, lacey branches. Well, you get the picture: it isn't easy unless you mask the lights. Also there are numerous textures that you can create by applying masking agents. Go to my website for my Winter 2010/11 newsletter . It's a short lesson in masking with a demo painting.

"New Snow, Grizzley Creek" is one example of frisket at work.