Double Mandarins 5"x7" oil on linen panel
Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. - Chuck Close
I've thought about this quote a lot, it's one of my favorites. The quote is inspirational to me, because it means the way to get better at something is to work at it, and I can do that. And that seems more straightforward than something less tangible like talent. I believe that talent is mostly the result of being interested enough in something to spend a lot of time doing it, which leads to proficiency.
Pears in Blue 6"x6" oil on linen panel
But inspiration does have it's place. Those of you who follow this blog know that I am often inspired by boats and coastal scenery. I also love color. Something colorful will catch my eye, and I'll think "Would that make a good painting?". I'm a foodie, I'm always on the lookout for the best produce, cheese, meats, bread, and wine. Oh, and don't forget chocolate!
Peppers 6"x8" oil on canvas
In the winter, I often find appealing color in the grocery store produce section. There's a special place in Acton, MA, which inspires me both to cook and to paint. It's called Idylwilde Farm, and I've been shopping there for over 30 years. I imagine there are people there who wonder who the crazy lady is who sets pears on the counter to see if they will stand up and leaps into the pile of mandarin oranges to find those that whose leaves would look best in a painting.
Blueberry Pie 12"x12" oil on cradled wood panel
I've found inspiration at Idylwilde Farm for many years and I wanted to show you some of the results with the paintings in this post. It's too bad I can't give you a taste of some of the delicious food I've created from their offerings as well.
Nick's Poppies - 9" x 12" - oil on canvas board - Bobbi Heath
I love teaching painting, especially to beginners. Giving someone the pleasure of learning something new and becoming proficient at it is so rewarding.
It was when I was a teaching assistant in graduate school that I realized how much I was learning while teaching. As a TA we were limited to supervising lab work and grading lab reports. But I knew then that I wasn’t really learning until I had to teach what I knew to someone else.
One point perspective from Ernest R. Norling's book, Perspective Made Easy
I’ve been teaching painting for 10 years, and in doing that I’ve learned this lesson at a whole new level. Developing a curriculum and lesson plans to introduce people to a new subject means you have to think about which concepts to cover, the order to explain the concepts in, and how to explain the concepts to people who learn in different ways.
My approach is to introduce one or two concepts in each lesson and reinforce them by walking the students through completing a painting that uses those concepts. In a recent class we learned how to make a field of flowers look like it is receding into the distance. First, I explained the concept of one point perspective as described in Norling's book, above.
Reference Photo by Nick Fewings from unsplash.com
Next we looked at the poppy field photo by Nick Fewings, see above, which I downloaded from unsplash.com, and we observed the pattern of the flowers. Then we looked at a simplified version I made to illustrate how the flowers clump together the farther away they are until they combine into a swath of red in the distance. See below.
A simplified version of the flowers receding into the distance to illustrate one point perspective
Then we started painting. I demonstrated each step and the students painted at each step. I was very impressed with the their results. Several have allowed me to show their work, see below.
Three paintings created by students in my class. Aren't they great?
And a final comment on unsplash.com. There you can find lots of beautiful photos, made available to download for free, as long as you are willing to acknowledge the photographer on any derivative work that you create, such as our paintings above. Using the site provides an example of the use of copyrights.
Dick's Dinghy 6"x8" oil on gessobord
Sometimes I paint a boat because I’m asked to do it for a collector, but I often paint boats simply because they're pretty. And there are a lot of them in Maine, it’s a great hunting ground for classic boats. Usually I don’t have to go far to find good ones, because my friends have such pretty boats!
cropped photo with grid lines for Dick's Dingy painting
This boat belongs to my friend Dick, and I’ve been wanting to paint her for a long time. She’s got great lines. I’ve taken pictures of her for years. I would snap one as we went by her mooring in our boat or when I saw her out and about. But to get a really good picture for a painting, I needed to go around her slowly, in our dinghy, taking lots of photos. That way I could get her at a good angle with respect to the sun, and also get an interesting reflection. I was lucky to have the opportunity to do that last summer.
toned board with sketch in oil paint
From there it was a matter of getting a decent drawing from the photo, and laying in the initial values. First I toned the canvas with thin burnt sienna, a transparent brown that I like to use for underpainting, followed by drawing the basic structure with a brush. I used the grid lines on the photo above to help me get the drawing right. I don’t always do that, but it can be helpful as long as everything in the photo is about the same distance away from me, otherwise there is too much distortion in the photo. And for those of you who've been reading this blog for a while, you'll see the clear figure 8 this boat makes siting in the water.
Then I paint from the inside out, starting with the boat, then the reflection, and finally the background, which in this case, is the water. You can see that I take liberties with the water, but I always try to make sure the boat will float and also pass inspection by my mariner friends, who can spot a badly drawn boat a mile away!
Canary 5"x7" oil on panel
The Naming of boats is a big deal, especially for the owners!
When I paint boats, I often change their names, unless I’m painting the boat for its owner. And for me the naming of boats is fun. I can choose whatever name I want, and it gives a bit more mystery and a little bit of a story to the painting. At this point, I like bird names, they are often short and very descriptive. What could be more yellow than a canary?
The Owl and the Pussycat 10"x10" oil on canvas panel
So, how do I paint the names onto the boats? There are two approaches. Since I paint alla prima (wet paint into wet paint) the first option is to paint the name into the wet paint, the way I do the rest of the painting. I did that for the Owl in The Owl and the Pussycat, above. Alternatively I can scratch the name into the wet paint, like I write my signature. I’ve tried this, but haven’t so far liked the look. Perhaps a bright color to scratch into would help.
The Sternman 16"x20" oil on canvas
The tried and true method is to wait for the painting to be dry and paint the name over the dry paint. This is the easiest approach. And If the paint is really dry,the name can be wiped off if it doesn’t turn out right the first time. I used this approach for the Osprey in The Sternman, above. And with this approach I can make a pattern for the name and tape it to the painting, so that I get it straight with even spacing between the letters. I used that method on some of the boats in Rafting Up, in the example below.
Changing the name of a boat is an even bigger deal than naming it in the first place, with special rituals to remove any bad luck that could be associated with doing that. For example, I’ve heard of people scraping off the name, throwing the scrapings over the transom and backing over them, to remove the bad luck from changing the name. And you need champagne to do this properly!
If you’re a boat person, you’ve probably seen a boat that grabbed your interest and held on. The same can happen if you’re a car person or a bird person. You catch a glimpse of something interesting, and then pow! It’s just so perfectly proportioned, a wonderful color, and you want to get closer and see more.
That’s what happened to me when we picked up our morning for the night in Buck’s Harbor last summer. I fell in love with someone else’s dinghy. But that’s OK, because I don’t want to own it, I want to paint it! I’ve shown you some drawings I did of this special boat a few posts back. It’s time for some paintings.
Lapstrake Dinghy 5"x7" gouache on paper
My first attempt was a gouache on paper study that was a blast to work on. Gouache is a water based paint, a lot like watercolor, except that it’s opaque. I’ve used it on and off for years, and it felt right for my first painting of this boat. I took the liberty of changing the color of the big sailboat that she came in with for a more interesting color scheme.
Next I decided to go bigger with a 9”x12” oil painting, and started with a value underpainting, above. While that was drying a few other boat paintings came and went, and when I got back to this one I was in knife painting mode.
First, I painted the boat, and then started on the reflection. In the video above, I show how I work with the knife to paint the reflection, using a jig I made to hold the painting so that I can turn it around while I work.
And in this video, you get a closeup view of the painting so that you can see the texture created by the knife strokes. To me, they add a whole new dimension to the work.
The Owl (and Maybe) the Pussycat 10"x10" oil on canvas panel
Last time we visited the town of Ilseboro on Little Cranberry Island I got a good photo of this lovely rowboat with a nice lobster boat behind her. The rowboat is quite the classic. When I posted the finished painting on Instagram, I learned that she's a Jarvis Newman design built by the Newman and Gray Boatyard on Great Cranberry Island, just across the passage. It's always a treat to find out these details. Sometimes, I change the color of boats when I paint them, but these two looked interesting as they were. And I also sometimes change the boat names, as I did here.
My value underpainting with revised drawing
I frequently start a complex painting with a value underpainting. That's a monochrome painting where the shapes have different levels of light or dark, which we painters call values. Having the value shapes rather than a simple drawing makes it easier to apply the colors with the correct values. In this case, I put the piece aside for a while, and when I came back to it, I decided the shape of the rowboat wasn't quite right, and adjusted it with the blue painted lines.
A video showing how I paint from a black and white photo.
Painting from a black and white rather than color photo is another approach that helps me to get the value of each color right. I generally start with the darkest colors and the most complicated shapes in the middle of the painting, in this case, the boats and the reflection, and work my way outwards.
Testing the values in color of the water and sky
Once I have the boats and reflection done, I start on the water, testing the values in the nearest and farthest water, and begin filling in the darkest colors first. In this case, I also put in the farthest land to make sure the value was right against the boat, and tested some color in the sky.
Having decided to name the rowboat Owl, it was pretty clear that the lobster boat will become the Pussycat. I'll wait until it's dry before lightly painting the name.
Harbor Sweets Seaside Garden Candy box for Valentine's and Mother's Day 2021
Little did I know in 2014 when I painted Bev’s Garden that the painting would have multiple lives. My friend Bev is quite the gardener, and she has a beautiful location to work with.
The view from Bev's backyard over part of her garden
It was my second year at the Castine Plein Air Festival and I’d found my rhythm. During the 2.5 days of painting at the festival, I created 9 paintings. Some were better than others, but Bev’s Garden was my favorite.
Bev's Garden 5"x7" oil on canvas
Things didn’t start out too well, with a rainy morning the first day. I painted from the back of my minivan until the weather improved. The real treat though, was working on the two paintings that I did in Bev’s backyard. It was my first year to stay with her, and her dog and cat, and that was such a treat. I stayed with Bev for the festival every year after that. She’s one of my favorite people, and I met her through painting. How great is that?
Sentinel 7"x5" oil on canvas, also from Bev's backyard
Last fall, I was contacted by the Harbor Sweets company from Salem, MA, whose wonderful chocolates and Sweet Sloops (toffee) are my special treat and “go to” for a wonderful hostess gift. They do a couple of special candy boxes each year with paintings from local artists on the boxes, and they wanted to use one of mine. I sent them several to choose from, and Bev’s Garden was the one they chose. I licensed the image to them, and the rest is history.
To get your own Seaside Garden box full of Harbor Sweets chocolates, visit Harbor Sweets here.
my third attempt at pen and ink with hatching
The drawing is the bones of a painting for me, and also one of the most pleasurable parts to work on. When I draw on canvas I use a brush and paint rather than a pencil. It’s easy to wipe off the drawing and start over, so there’s not a lot of pressure to get it right the first time. And the gratification comes faster than when painting, where the end result takes a lot more time.
my first drawing of this little boat, made using Tombow felt tip pens
But sometimes, I like to make a drawing that will stand on its own as a work of art. I particularly admire the drawings of Rob Adams, an English painter in several mediums who creates drawings well worthy of hanging on the wall. I have one of his paintings and one of his drawings, and in both cases I had the pleasure of watching him create them. Rob uses a pen and ink hatching technique to create different values and textures in his drawings. I decided to learn it.
a different view for my second drawing with the felt tips
I started in my comfort zone, using felt tip pens of different values and some photos I took this summer of a beautiful wooden dinghy that we saw in Bucks Harbor. I’ve often used these pens to create a value sketch, which is a monochrome drawing that shows the pattern of light dark in the scene. I made several value sketches from photos taken as the boat moved around in the current.
and yet another view drawn with the felt tips
This little boat is a real classic. It was made using the lapstrake or clinker technique, where the planks overlap each other, giving the boat strength as well as its rounded shape and characteristic striped look. The approach has been beloved since Viking days for stability and maneuverability.
my first traditional pen and ink attempt, though I went back to the felt tip for the water
From the value sketches, i chose one and tried it in pen and ink, to get a feel for the medium. The feeling of the pen on the paper is different than with the felt tip, and also this ink is permanent. I did the line drawing in pencil, went over it with the ink, and erased the pencil after the ink was dry. But I wasn’t quite satisfied with this approach, and studied Rob’s work again to try and better understand the hatching.
The drawing at the top is my third attempt at hatching this image. I tried it first (not shown) on the same sketchbook paper as the other drawings in this blogpost, and finally on some fabulous blue paper made in France that Rob recommended to me. I think I'm getting the hang of it.
A Clean Glass 6"x6" oil on canvas board
Is it too late? I don’t think so. I actually like New Years resolutions. I like the new year giving me a chance to start again. And I make different kinds of resolutions. A favorite every year is to learn more about wine. That sends me to wine tastings (remember those?), podcasts (I like Wine for Normal People), to the bookstore, and maybe even some vineyards.
Experts say that it’s easier to make a resolution that adds or changes a habit, something that you can do every day. And the less time it takes, the easier it is. I have one artist friend that did a drawing every day last year. That’s a great habit! Just 10 minutes a day drawing makes a big difference. I’m going to do that one this year, even though I'm starting a little late.
Above are quick sketches using a Tombow pen. The markings in the middle sketch test different pens.
Online challenges are being offered in the new year to keep us motivated for those habit changing resolutions. Seven Day and Thirty Day Challenges are the most popular. They range from money management to thankfulness, with everything in-between. This year the New York Times is hosting one about eating less sugar! Often you can sign up and get a prompt each day to remind and inspire you. And you can use the challenge hashtag on your favorite social media site to post your results and see how everyone else is doing. Several times I’ve done Thirty Day Painting challenges. Those are harder to do than a drawing challenge, because of the time involved. It's very rewarding to see your skills improve over the month.
Mini-paintings from a challenge in 2017, oil on paper
But for me, the best resolutions are the ones about learning something new. If you’ve always wanted to paint, or gotten stuck with your painting and put it aside, this is a great time to dive back in. Because of the pandemic, there are a host of online painting classes being offered now, some of them by me! Check out the Classes page.
Rafting Up 20"x30" oil on canvas (Vinalhaven, Maine)
2020. In years to come we won’t want to remember it. There was deprivation, sickness and hunger, and for some, loss of loved ones or dear friends. There was the constant worry about what any cough, ache, pain, or runny nose might mean… And there were heroic deeds and long hours put in by those trying to keep us all healthy and safe.
But for many of us, it was a mostly a matter of changing the way we do things, to mostly less convenient ways of doing them with less satisfying results. Not a lot of fun.
Mill Pond 16"x16 oil on canvas (Massachusetts)
I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned this year. About what is most important to me and what I missed the most. Though I already knew it, the need to be in the natural world came front and center. If I hadn’t been able to walk the trails of Westford, MA, especially those at East Boston Camps, with a stream, lakes, ups and downs, deciduous and pine forest, I don’t know what I would have done. In the summer, my daily walk to the town landing in Yarmouth, ME was just as good.
If I hadn’t learned to teach painting via Zoom, I would have lost all interaction with painting friends at the easel. That was a very special time for me each week. It was a time without pandemic worries, of true friendship and of helping those friends learn something new. It made me happy.
Entrance to Seal Bay 5"x7" oil, applied with knife (Vinalhaven, Maine)
We still got to do our boat trip down east this year, but it was different. We had a little take-out instead of visiting our favorite harbor restaurants, and we stayed away from the island villages, figuring they didn’t need people visiting from away during the pandemic. But overall it was still a special treat, spending time in beautiful harbors, occasionally with friend’s boats nearby.
I think what I missed most was having friends over for dinner. That was less of a problem in the summer once our boat was in the water, because we could still social distance in the cockpit with two guests. Those lunches and dinners on the water were treasured.
Delivering the Catch 9"x12" oil on canvas board (Stonington, Maine)
And of course, I missed travel. As recently retired people, that’s how we want to spend a lot of our time. I made three trips in January and February, an awesome start to a travel year. And also the end of the travel year… My sisters and I made our annual visit to Florida and I had the pleasure of teaching a workshop in Tarpon Springs. My husband and I visited friends in Scottsdale and spent ten days on the south coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which was a total treat. We were even able to have lunch outside in New Bedford on our last visit in October. But our trip to France for Christmas was canceled. Typical 2020.
I’d love to hear about what you learned and missed in 2020. Let me know in the comments.
Here’s to 2021!