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!
Bobbi - Painter. Sketcher. Teacher. Boat and Dog Lover.