My Paintings, trials and inspirations….



Harmony Through limited Color continued

In the previous post I discussed the set-up to start my limited palette painting using only Yellow Ochre, Scarlet Lake, Ivory Black and white.

The last step before the brushes come out is an important one, the value sketch. I’ve said it before; real life, a painting and a photograph are three totally different things.

Real life has no visual boundaries, a painting does. Those four edges matter to your design. The two horizontal, carry gravity, pushing down on your subject from the top and holding it in from the bottom. The two verticals, squeeze in from the sides or allow breathing room.

Real life contains a ginormous amount of value information from light to dark. Distilling it down to five or better yet, three, gives a painting strength and readability.sketch

The sketch is a visual road map to figure these things out and will be something I refer to often to keep me on track.limitedBlog-demo1

Because intense red was the focus here I wanted to infuse this color into other areas. “Real life” didn’t present this phenomenon but it’s good for “the painting”.

Moving from area to area blocking in shapes – is it darker or lighter than whats next to it, cooler or warmer? These questions lead me through the color mixtures. Since I only have three colors, it forces me to be resourceful and sensitive to what I’m seeing. If there were four reds on my palette I might opt for a warmer one, but with only yellow ochre to make adjustments it consolidates my decisions, concentrating on the value relationships instead.limiteddemo2

Time to take a cold hard look at:

Values – referring back to my sketch, I’m getting there but feel I’ve been a little conservative on the lights in the tissue, but I’m not ready to go there yet.

Composition – think I’m going to eliminate that step on the lower right, caution- lots of blank space to the left, going to think about options here.

Color – running a little too cold, warm up the background.greyshoe

After more working, a good way to check my values is by comparing a grey scale image  of the subject next to a grey scale of the painting. Need to push the lights now in the tissue, happy with the rest, time to put more interest toward the left.SoMe-lr


I’ll be teaching a class- at the Scottsdale Artists’ School April 7 &14

Harmonize Your Painting with the Limited Palette


Harmony Through Limited Color

Workshops, friendly suggestions, something that caught my eye at the art supply store; all of these contribute to an overextended, bloated palette of colors. It can be a waste of time working this way. Like weeding through a stuffed closet of clothes in the morning, making too many choices is tiring.

At times like these I go back to the limited palette, like a breath of fresh air it clears my head so I can focus on the important aspects of creating a painting.

The Zorn Palette, made famous by the Swedish 19th century artist Anders Zorn is one of my favorites. ZornPalette-lr

Yellow Ochre, Scarlet Lake (he used Vermillion), White, Ivory Black. Here I’ve separated the warms from the cools with white. This selection leans toward the warm side, having two warms and only one cool, which is useful because most paintings need warmth to give them life. But they do look a little lonely…ZornPalette-blog2

By mixing neighboring colors together, warms with cools and white, the palette is beginning to open up. These are not all the possibilities by any means, but it gives me a jumping off point.IMG_0659

I set this subject up in my studio, experimented with the lightly and elements until they worked together. The things I look for when putting something like this together are:

  1. Focusing on a “star”, one item that the painting is about.
  2. Other elements that visually or physically flow to the star, and around the picture plane, (the composition)
  3. A variety of angles and curves
  4. A variety of values; dark, medium and light
  5. A variety of textures, smooth, rough, etc.
  6. A dominant color, (usually the “star”)

Notice how color is the last consideration? Sometimes we get sidetracked into thinking that “it’s all about the color”, but if the first five on the list aren’t there, no amount of color will save a painting with a weak design.

Now that the preliminaries are ironed out, the next step is the actual painting which I’ll talk about in my next blog.

Painting Blue Light

Lately I’ve been setting up random objects that have a commonality. It crossed my mind that colored light might bring several items together in a different way.

Shopping around, I found Ace Hardware had a blue LED that would work perfectly.IMG_0608

Reflection and blue light were the ideas I wanted to pull together. The white flower and silver canister made a good vehicle to showcase the blue light, while the patterned cloth showcased the reflective metal.


This photo really exaggerates the blue, it wasn’t this intense. That’s why painting from life is so important, your eye can’t be fooled like the camera.

Because the values of light to dark are so close in this scene, a value sketch to get things organized was the first step.


The goal here was to divide up all the areas, assigning either dark, medium or light value to each.

The flower “could” be the most difficult area to paint since it appears to have dark, medium and light in it. And it does, but those darks, mediums and lights must hold together as a light shape so that it doesn’t get fragmented.

Another area, the pattern, could be trouble, but I’m going to push it into mid value.


At this point, the initial lay-in is holding together the way I had envisioned. This is where it really gets fun because I can go in with different temperatures, play with edges, do whatever I want as long as I don’t step out of the value boundaries I set for myself.


The blue light was very deceptive, the areas it hit most seemed to be much lighter, but in reality these areas were a different color not value. This was a great exercise in observation.


And the final-



How to Paint Nothing

Something, is a big vase of colorful flowers on a patterned table-cloth. A hand full of fruit and a cup of tea thrown in for good measure.

Nothing, is a smooth white surface with a clear jar of water, a transparent shot glass and a silver bucket.

If you want to hone you skills at seeing value better, this is the subject for you. Creating cardboard grey value scales can be tedious, so why not paint a setup that tricks you into training your eye?


I painted this from life, which is the only way to see the nuances of what really light does. I chose these three object because they had visual characteristics in common.

  • All are tallish cylinders
  • All lack saturated color, except the bit of orange inside the bucket, it’s always good to throw off consistency a little.
  • All have reflective surfaces.

My goal : to showcase the commonalities between them while giving each a distinct personality.

I started on a Baltic birch wood panel primed with toned gesso, I spent plenty of time on the drawing, no details, just making sure things were placed and sized correctly.

The painting started with getting the value of the darkest dark in the bucket. Than the orangish tone, along with the background behind it. There is no way to know how dull or bright to make this without the background tone. Too often these areas are left until late in the painting. The background and foreground set the whole key for what’s placed on them.


Moving around  I make my best guess as to what the color shapes are. When everything is basically roughed in I go back for another pass, slowing down, making refinements (corrections), to my original guesses. When a few things get nailed down, the rest comes much easier.NothingBlog2.jpg

At this point I look long and hard to see what needs to go away and what needs to be added. The bucket on the right needs the handle, the top and bottom edges need some reworking. The wall behind the items needs more paint and a little more color.NothingBlog5.jpg

And here’s the finish-

What Now?

Have you ever been two thirds into a painting and find you don’t know how to finish it?

This usually happens when working from photo reference that was cropped too close, there’s more story out there, you just can’t see it, or you veered away from your reference material with an idea, but found yourself lost in the forest. “The Girl in a Gold Dress” was the first scenario.


I liked what was happening up to this point, but could sense things could fall apart if I didn’t pay more attention to the unity. So this is the time that I need to start asking myself some questions:

  • If I saw this painting (painted by someone else), and really liked it, what would it look like? It would be strong, and simply rendered.
  • What would make it stronger? Simplify the color, nothing weakens a painting like patches of unrelated color. Too much color can fracture an image and that’s what was starting to happen here. Get rid of the red, blue and orange. Concentrate on the main golds and violets.


Things started to come around, less really is more.

The dress, though complex in it’s texture was fun to translate into staccato strokes of browns violets and golds.

Repurposed Paintings

After painting for awhile, we all have them. . . the stack of paintings, that won’t go away. There are small victories in certain areas, but the war was not won. They don’t warrant displaying, even in our own homes.

The best answer I’ve found to finally put them to rest, is making use of them, a repurpose paint-over. Here’s how I go about it:

  1. It’s easiest to select an old painting that is dominantly light to midtown in value. Darker paintings can be more difficult but intersting because initial lines don’t show up, using a grey mix of Ivory Black and White will work.
  2. Flip the painting upside down, which throws the original subject into abstraction, making it less distracting as the new painting takes form.
  3. Get some initial lay-in lines down, the general placement of things, too many lines promote confusion.
  4. Begin blocking in the large masses with paint and turpentine using large brushes. Blog-repurpose1

In the lower third of this paint-over you can still make out the original portrait flipped upside down. I have massed in the large shapes, paying attention to the values as they relate to one another. An old painting is such a nice surface to work on, it is essentially an oil primed canvas. blog-repurpose2

There were some heavy paint areas in the original, resulting in some raised brush work, this serves as a challenge to paint even heavier so I can work them in.Blog-final-large

The final image, notice I left some of the violet from the original painting. Allowing the old painting to show through can make the new work richer.


Painting Words

Have you ever had a subject you went back to time and time again, but just couldn’t figure out what to do with it?

This image from a photo shoot several years ago kept surfacing. I loved the scene, although it was not dynamic enough to warrant a painting . . . until…..I approached it like a writer telling a story.

Where did this girl live, what was her day like up until this point, what would she be doing in a hour? Only after I “fleshed her out” did I start to understand what this could become.

After extrapolating this scenario it was time to rein it in, to its’ most basic core, two words that summed it up. “Dreamer” and “Earthy”. How could I, using this reference, translate these two thoughts into paint?

“Earthy”, push rough texture, use warm orange browns and greens.

“Dreamer”, exaggerate her expression and stance

Now I had something to work with! Since there were not many browns and oranges in the scene, putting a Burnt Sienna wash over the entire surface, than letting it show through as texture would be my approach.

At this point I checked back with my original plan…whoa, no violet in the interpretation I wanted, so I had the choice of pushing this area toward brown, orange or green, I chose a grey green. Sometimes being really rigid and sticking to an idea helps guide the painting toward more harmony, this was one of those cases. 

Moving along, this was the point to refine her stance and expression.

I was happy with the outcome of using words to drive my paint application.

“Waiting”, can be seen at the Meyer Vogl Gallery, 122 Meeting St., Charleston, South Carolina in early October.