Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Special Room At The Leighton Centre

This is my wife and my favourite room at the Leighton Centre.  To me it’s a room that seems to be an extension of the outside.  It has a very hand made feel with lots of imperfections but lots of personality.

I was very motivated by one of the photos to try and paint it.  It’s a very complicated and busy subject and I wanted to try to simplify it and suggest much more detail than I actually painted.

I was very motivated by the above painting “Frondulation” which was completely inspired by a visit to the Conservatory at Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg ten years ago.  For me it was a truly inspired painting and I’ve always loved it.  It was an impressionistic collage of the various shapes I sketched there.  I was trying for the same effect in this new painting.

I’m not always good at critiquing my own work but I would say about this new image that it is a very good attempt and it is an accurate summation of the way I used to work . . . but not the direction I want to go.  I’m posting it because it’s a good lesson that we don’t always get what we want.

Basic Drawing Skills – George Clooney

I’m including 2 versions of the George Clooney portrait.  One is a ‘work in progress’ which I’m putting up here to illustrate the steps involved in the shading process.  In general it is much better to build up your darks by applying more light layers of graphite.  The portrait tends to have much more depth and a more satisfying overall look when it is done this way.  When we just press really hard especially with a soft pencil we achieve and instant dark but it tends to look garish and over the top.

If you have the patience to apply 5 or 6 light layers I think you will be very pleasantly surprised by the look.

Good luck to all.

Basic Drawing Skills – Modified Contour Drawing

Learning to draw or to improve your drawing is very easy if you are willing to try a few things in a new way.  To see things like an artist does.  One of the innovative exercises that actually improves your drawing very quickly is to draw things without looking at your drawing at all or to look at it very infrequently.  In this way you have the opportunity to really ‘see’ what you are looking at.

An easy way to practice this skill is to draw your hand holding something.  This is a very complicated subject with lots of foreshortening.  When we draw it 85% of the time starring at the hand and only occasionally checking the drawing to make sure lines match up we find that this complicated subject can be done quickly and it’s actually a lot of fun.  It’s a wonderful, relaxing, right brain activity.

This image contains a few samples that I drew of the thumbnail looking straight at it, with the nail in 3 quarter view and also the nail in profile.  They took about 4 minutes each.  When we do these drawings I think it’s useful not to worry about the proportion too much and instead notice how easily they capture the spirit of the subject.

Plein Air – The Mud Room At Currie Barracks

This is a plein air painting (on location) I did yesterday at my favourite painting spot of late, Currie Barracks.  I did 85% of it on location and just darkened some of the values when I got home.

I’m very pleased with it because once again it shows restraint (this is starting to become a habit).  It was a day when there was not a lot of sun so the shadows were subdued.  I feel the painting has very accurately captured that particular light.  There is a unity to the light that really came from working on location with a lot of squinting to analyze the relationships between the values.

In terms of changes I would make before using this image in a studio painting I would like to change the shape of the tree on the left.  Even though it’s fairly accurate it’s an odd shape.  I also think I would like to zoom in more on the little entrance room and the surrounding windows maybe even losing the roof entirely.

I’ve been touting the benefits of doing plein air painting in my regular sketch book because it’s so convenient.  This time I used arches 140 lb cold press paper because I wanted to get a more finished look while on location because that’s where the magic happens.

Currie Barracks – The Entrance

This is another image from Currie Barracks.  I’m very pleased with this.  It was a very complicated scene with all the leafy shadows and a lot of similar values except for the door and the trees.  I think that I captured the shadows giving the sense of complication but actually fairly simple.  I also love the door.  I think my technique really captured the shadows and detail of the door again without going over board.

This is the second painting in a row where I felt that I painted with much more restraint than usual.  I remember noticing as I painted that there was a certain calmness and a slower developing of the darker values.  I added just a touch of gouache at the end for some of the branches and some of the lighter bars on the door.

Currie Barracks – The Entrance
9 X 12

It’s Still My Favorite Ice Cream Shoppe

This is the latest version of this scene.  I think I was able to exercise more restraint than usual so there is a lighter feel to it.  The composition is much better with the main idea (the people against the dark windows) being much more prominent.

My Favorite Ice Cream Shoppe
watercolour with white gouache
16 X 12

Value Studies, Thumbnails and Plein Air Painting

I received a comment the other day from Richard in Texas asking me to explain a little bit about my plein air process and value studies.  Since this is something that I have fairly strong feelings about, I’m happy to do it.

I thought I would use the example of a recent painting that I’ve worked on (and continue to work on).  It’s a scene of one of Calgary’s iconic stores “My Favorite Ice Cream Shoppe”.

The first thing I should mention is that I have about 5 formats that I use 90% of the time for my paintings: 18 X 24, 30 X 24, 30 X 12, 20 X 30 and square,  so I have made little cardboard templates in these various formats.  So when I work plein air I start by tracing whichever template seems the best choice and then sketch in that format.  This first image is just a sample of 3 of these templates.  The largest is about 3″ long.

Unless I’m just collecting information where I just want to record some details I think it’s important to decide on the format that I want to use very early in the painting process.

Now on to the actual painting.

The first image is the  scene from the angle that I was viewing it.

The first aspect of plein air painting is that as some artists have mentioned, ‘usually nature is wrong’.  By this they mean that nature often does not have the elements arranged in the best composition.  I think that is the case here.  I really liked the awnings, the colourful wall and the tall sign but having the sign so separate from the building didn’t work for me.  Also I had a conflict because I kind of fell in love with the colourful wall yet I couldn’t really have it featured and also feature people at the front.  So I did a thumbnail sketch on site and changed the elements around to get a better composition.  Unfortunately I didn’t have my paints or even a sketch book with me so I did this initial thumbnail in a little notebook I did have.

This was my first attempt to put the elements together.  I’m coming to believe more and more that in plein air painting you look at the scene as just a collection of shapes and you take those shapes and use them to create a composition.  (I used to look for the perfect composition which is frustrating or worse I just painted what was there as it was.)

Next I took this thumbnail and did a larger value study.

This is the same format but quite a bit larger.  I really liked this composition and I thought it would be a very nice painting.

This is the first painting I did.  It’s fairly close to the value study except that the trees are probably too dark.  Since I’ve already posted this painting I just need to comment that it received a lot of reaction, approximately 50-50 good and bad.

In any case it wasn’t the painting that I felt it could be.  I still think there is a really good painting to be had from this scene so  . . .

next I went back to my little thumbnails to work on it some more.

I also played with the format.

And that is where I’m at right now.  I am in the process of doing an 18 X 24 painting but I still find that I’m tweaking the composition.  I think the most relevant comment has been to make the painting about what it’s about and that is probably the people in front of the building so I think I’ll follow that direction.  I think the second last thumbnail comes closest to this idea.  I’ll post that painting when it’s done.

I hope this gives you some idea of how I see the plein air process, at this point in my art journey.

Basic Drawing Skills – Harry Potter

This is the first of the portraits that we are doing in the Basic Drawing Skills class.  The big challenge in this picture is to do realistic hair.  Especially because there is such a lot going on in the hair.  Casually random.

I just wanted to identify all the drawing techniques I used in this drawing.

1) smudging
2) hatching
3) shading with little circles
4) negative space shading
5) lifting out with a kneadable eraser

If you double click the image you can see the full size image.


Watercolour Workshop With The Calgary Sketch Club


 I gave a workshop for the Calgary Sketch Club yesterday.  It was lots of fun.  I really do enjoy teaching and I really enjoy meeting people.  It was a great workshop and the feedback I got said the people got a lot out of it.  I have to thank, more and more, my years spent as a public school teacher and how they are helping me teach art now.  One thing in particular comes to mind.  It was drilled into me as a teacher that it’s not about how great I am or what I can do it’s about what the students get out of it.  I keep this in mind a lot and I try to make sure that everyone gets something out of my workshops.  So for me, the interaction with the people when I’m not actually demonstrating is the most valuable part of the day.  So I’m very gratified when I hear people say that they were comfortable, they felt able to take risks and they were pleased with their efforts.  One person was just thrilled that she had actually put a couple of figures in her painting . . . and they looked great.

So all in all it was a super day.

Here are some pictures from the class.  Most people chose to do a version of the painting I was demonstrating, each with their own take on it.