When the Background Needs to go Away

Have you ever had an image that you wanted to paint but the background held you back? This photo of a rooster which I took while we where in Colonial Williamsburg was one of those pictures.


As a photo, it’s ok, but as a painting there were several things that bothered me.

  • The timbers at the lower edge were too heavy and pulled my eye diagonally upward to the left.
  • Those fence beams in the back against the bright light made a high contrast area which moved horizontally through the rooster. Try this – look at the rooster and see how those bright contrasts in the fence keep pulling your eye away.
  • The limbs of bright green foliage running horizontally across the top, visually squished down on the rooster.



The simplest way to resolve this is to ask myself “what can I get rid of?”

I liked the idea of the beams supporting the rooster, so I streamlined them down to one, than getting rid of the fence helped, using the distant greenery as a textural foil to the smooth feathers was another change.

There are other ways the background could have been manipulated in this scene, it all depends of what you want to say about your subject.

American Impressionist show in Scottsdale

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 11.02.59 AMJohn and I drove to Scottsdale, AZ earlier this week to see the American Impressionist art exhibition at the Trailside Gallery.

It was a beautiful drive, the Sonoran desert of Arizona has more interesting vegetation; Saguaro, Ocotillos, and Cholla cactus compared to our desert, the Mohave. The skies were heavy with storm clouds which added to the drama.

We arrived around 4:30 on Thursday, got something to eat, than onto the gallery for the opening and awards ceremony at 6 pm.

Walking into the gallery I was taken with sheer size of the show, 180 paintings. As we maneuvered between the growing crowd to get a closer look at the paintings, I could see we were in for a visual feast! One by one the sparkling color and deft brushstrokes brought me in.

After viewing the entire show, I wanted to go back and see some of my favorites, which started me thinking “what was it about these that especially stood out to me?”

Counter Attack by Ken Backhaus
Counter Attack by Kenn Backhaus

The above painting, Counter Attack by Kenn Backhaus uses every possible technique to embody the feeling of fast, sharp, speed. Quick brushwork and a totally unexpected use of yellow gold as his main color make this something I’ve never seen before.

Coachman by Carolyn Anderson
Coachman by Carolyn Anderson

We were fortunate to also see a live demonstration by show judge Carolyn Anderson. Her painting above, “Coachman” is a fantastic example of her unique style.  An ethereal, open quality to her work, draws me into her stories. She defies many of the “rules” of common painting principles, like always put your darkest darks in your center of interest- she almost never does this, her characters seem to breathe as you view them.

Spent Shells by Lori Putman
Spent Shells by Lori Putnam

I just love this painting by artist Lori Putnam, it’s so unexpected. Who would think the unlikely subject of a tractor and some old white buildings could be a symphony of fabulous color harmonies. Look at that wonderful composition, pulling my eye into the painting with the broken concrete, leading me to the tractor, than up the roof and around the painting again!

Miss Margaret with Her Violin by Nancy Crookston
Miss Margaret with Her Violin by Nancy Crookston

Miss Margaret with Her Violin by Nancy Crookston is another example of breaking the mold. Instead of making poetry from construction as in the previous painting, Crookston has taken an all too often sugary subject, a little girl with pigtails and turned it on it’s head. How about holding some daisies or a puppy…. no, Crookston surprises us with an adult instrument, the violin. Her expression, a big “look at me” smile? How about a young child just being who she is, natural, relaxed and unaware of her unpretentious beauty.

I came away from this show feeling inspired and at the same time, overwhelmed by all the monumental talent. But in the end I have to remind myself that my only competition is myself, we all have our unique vision and voice … now to try and get some of that down on canvas…

Painting the Same Subject, Three Ways

I have a series of images that I like so much that through the years I keep painting them, but from different perspectives.

One day while my daughter was in middle school I took a series of photos of her with her flute. Several were in one location while others in another, but all were the same day.

It’s fun to get the flute paintings together and see “where I was” in my painting journey at the time I did them.


The above painting I did about twelve years ago. I remember my goal was to make her appear almost sheltered by the large chair, separated from the world with her music. I like the composition and the sense of light.


This was painted about five years later, from a different photo on the same day. I was experimenting with heavy textures at the time. I like the motion and lively quality of it even though she was sitting. I can now see some drawing issues with the anatomy, my motto is “you do the best you can with what you know at the time”.


This is a recent painting from a similar photo. I wanted to emphasize  the relaxed mood of the girl, including the flute but minimizing it’s importance.

All three of these similar but so different. Having an idea, a specific thing I want to say about the subject has always been very helpful to me in taking a painting to completion.

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