White on White, Clear on Clear

There are numerous things in the physical world that are more difficult to paint. White on white and clear on clear are on that list. Why? looking at the other side of the spectrum may help to answer that.

What are some easier subjects to paint?

  • Red barns against blue skies in green fields
  • Bright flowers in colorful vases
  • Sunsets from photographs


These things share color intensity that are close to “right out of the tube”.


What if color is dropped to an extremely low intensity as in white objects next to white objects or clear liquid in a clear vessel? It gets real interesting.

My recent painting “Potion” shared both of these traits, I discovered something that made this challenge easier for me.

Working from both life and a photo at the same time. We know that working from life is the real deal, accurate color, values, shapes, it’s all there. However sometimes our eyes have a hard time seeing the subtlest of subtleties, that’s when the photo comes to the rescue.


My set up above, painting on the left, real life in the middle and my image on the computer on the right.


This is the photo of the setup. Notice the glowing area, top left in the jar. In real life it was so brilliant I could not see what shape it was and how it transitioned to the dark around it. In the photo it is very clear what is happening. However the colors in that transition are not in the photo but real life.

The long fold of fabric coming down from the jar was such a subtle difference from the flat white behind it , the photo showed me there was a slight value difference and also exaggerated the color difference. So I chose to use values and colors between both bits of information.

Many other areas were made easier by referring to both. Richer colors and textures from life, values from the photo.Potion-final-lr


The finished painting “Potion” can be seen at “Plunge” a group show at, Meyer Vogl Gallery in Charleston, SC, from December 7-28.

One Painting beginning to End, part III

In the last post of this three part blog we talked about using the grid and the importance of a color study.

When ready to paint my set-up is; have my original thumbnail value sketch on the wall infront of me, have the color study next to the painting. As the painting progresses they will become more important while the original subject becomes less.

Taping a piece of clear acetate over the study makes it easy to try out mixtures right on the little painting.


Below is my palette for the study, yes I take a picture of it. The intention is to start the larger version right away but….the air conditioning breaks down in July, or unexpected guests come to stay….all kinds of things can happen, and I don’t want to rethink everything again.


Notice how I hold the value groups together. This is how I think when painting, so my palette should reflect this. If there is chaos and discourse on the palette, so the painting follows. Note; on the larger painting, there will be three times this much paint, not different colors but the volume of it.

From left to right; Hansa Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Scarlet, White, Olive Green, Thalo Green, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin, Burnt Sienna, Magenta, Black, and Oleopasto medium.


The numbers signify the order of the areas painted. I start with the darkest darks, it’s easy to go too dark which makes the colors dull and unreadable. Mixtures of Thalo Green plus blue or yellow ochre applied with a palette knife.

After the darkest darks on to the lightest lights, the sunlit orange area. As in the other area not being too dark, this area shouldn’t be too light, or again I lose color identity. My question ; how dark can I go and still read as light, this has been answered in the study so I take my cue from there. So the key has been set for the painting, just like the highest and lowest note in a song. Everything will fit within the established boundaries of lightest and warmest area vs. the darkest coolest area.

The area #4 is easy, just compare it in temperature and value to the two neighboring areas. This is how I paint, relationships, sometimes there is an underpainting tone, but always about one area reacting to another.

Notice how the figure is established only after the background? Because this is the world she lives in, the air she breaths. So many times a painting suffers from “stuck on figure” syndrome. The figure is taken almost to completion than a background fills in around it without a lot of thought concerning the give and take between figure and background.


This is what I call the “last look”. What can elevate this, what is taking away from the whole?. My written list of tasks is on the right. Sorry, it’s hard to read because I scratched through them as completed. Here’s what I wrote:

  • Greenery lower right in shadow – work some leaf shapes into the light, creating steps like in the study.
  • Three rocks, change shape and or color, too much unity.
  • Ankle crossing over, try taking out light bit.
  • Fill in grass lower edge, paint too thin.
  • Work warm greenery in sun, more foliage shape and description.
  • Green area above her head more warmth
  • Put pattern on dress


And done.


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…