In the Beginning …the blank canvas



This used to be the hardest part of the painting process for me, staring at that blank canvas.

I have some thoughts in my head about a great painting, but the minute I put a brushstroke on the canvas, reality sets in, can I really make those ideas a reality?

My solution to this has been what I call my “predictable start.” It’s a way of easing into the painting without a lot of decision making while having a little more fun.


The first step is a simple pencil sketch of the dark and light shapes and how I’m going to organize them in the painting.  This is kind of a bridge between the reference material and the painting.
Next I choose a color to represent the darks and block in those shapes on the canvas, doesn’t matter what color, sometimes the right thing painted over the wrong thing can be very exciting so any color will do.
This is where I wanted to be with my start. The canvas broken up into simple value shapes, now I’ve got something solid to work into. I’ll let this dry, look at it a little bit, come back tomorrow and start painting.


Painting Small Faces

The problem with painting small faces from photos-


Here is the photo I am working from-

The first problem is what I think I can do- just dash a few spots and magic, I have a face. Nine times out of ten this does not work. Then I realize I really don’t know what’s going on with that head, is it tilting slightly upward or downward turning left or right, how is it attached to the neck?
Here’s a painting I’ve started with a small face. Maybe you can sense already the struggle I’ve had with that little face.  This is when I know I need to grab a sketchpad look at that face do a sketch of what is really
What I know now is her head is slightly tilted to one side also tilted slightly upward because I can see the bottom of her nose and a little bit of the bottom of her chin.
Also where the ears are on the side of the head always are a good clue. If they line up with the tip of the nose the head is level if they’re below the nose than the head is tilted back if they’re above the nose then the head is tilted forward.
It’s starting  to go in the right direction,  onto the next challenge….

A new painting – Nuns at the Fountain

This image of two nuns in front of a fountain getting water was one I wanted to paint from the photos we took while in Italy this summer.

When faced with something like that sculpted fountain, things can get confusing, darks, lights swirling shapes… the best solution for me is to paint most of the picture upside down.

Turning the photo this way helps me to direct my brain to just see shapes of value and color instead of objects. This makes my process fun, because I am free to “play with paint” and not get hung up of “what things are”. The best part is when you turn the painting right side up, the image of the “things” appear like magic.

Before I started on this I had some minor adjustments to the composition, below is the original photo –

photo of nuns at the fountainLook at the long horizontal light shape behind the two nuns. See how each nun plus the water fountain all are dark shapes that break into the light. Look at evenly those shapes fall- light space nun, light space, nun, light space water fountain, light space. It’s a little boring and would be helped greatly by just moving the left nun closer to the other one, and the whole group closer to the right side of the picture. Here’s my value sketch below, the first one is how it appears in the photo, the second, how I am going to regroup things-

sketchHere is the almost finished painting-

blog-picAt this point I like to get away from the painting for several days, than see if anything needs adjustment. Coming back to the image I am having a feeling that something is wrong with the light on the left side of the image, running down the sun struck side. So I start asking myself questions;

  • Is the shape reasonably accurate? (I say reasonably accurate, because being a slave to the image is not really important to me). My answer yes
  • Is the shape the right temperature compared with the rest of the painting? yes
  • Is it throwing the composition off? Bingo – yes, my eye keeps getting pulled over there, I want to look at the nuns but that area of high contrast is fighting for my attention.

So this is a good reason to venture away from the original. I always say a painting is not the live image, it’s not the photograph, it is an entity all its own. Toning that area down a notch was what was needed to complete the painting, below

Nuns at the Fountain






Over the years I’ve found that less is better, simple is stronger.

One of the ways I’ve simplified my own way of painting is to cut down on the number of brushes I use. Just a few large brushes, (1″ or so), has really made painting more interesting for me. This improves my outcome by:

  • having a less cluttered work space
  • no more wasting time looking for which brush I had just used for an area in a painting
  • increasing the loose quality of my work
  • and spending less time cleaning brushes

One person I’ve come across, who has a wonderful touch with a large brush, is Australian artist Colley Whisson. Below is a link to one of his many YouTube demonstrations