What is it about a subject or scene that makes an artist paint it over and over? You’ve seen me paint the boats I love at different angles, and with different color schemes. I think I’ve painted Jeremy’s skiff 10 times.
But I also paint the same landscape scenes more than once. You may be wondering why. First, of course, I have to like the scene. Usually it will contain some water, because reflections appeal to me, like in the scene above. The painting on the left was painted in early afternoon, and the one on the right in late afternoon. For that one, I stood a bit to the right to see more trees, and the shadows were longer. I enjoyed the challenge of drawing the trees and being able to adjust the colors for the time of day.
Being able to conveniently get to a place to paint is also appealing. And when I find one close by, I go there more than once. The painting above on the left was done in early spring, when the marsh grass was still dead, and I was happy to have a warm day to enjoy painting outside and practice painting with a knife. Later in the summer, the painting on the right gave me a chance to let the greens take over, and really push the color. The underpainting on that one is actually orange and purple!
Sometimes, a plein air painting inspires me to recreate it in a larger format in the studio. The painting above on the left was mostly done out of doors, and is 8”x10”. The studio painting on the right is 20”x24”, more than four times the size. What attracts me to this scene over and over again is both the little red fish shack and the stacked houses, it’s a drawing challenge that I can’t resist.
Another thing that intrigues me is painting the same scene in a different medium. For the second painting, the composition has already been worked out, and I can focus on how to bring the scene to life in a different medium. On the left, is a quick, loose oil painting from a photo. On the right I worked in pastel, with the photo and the oil painting as a reference. It was lots of fun!
There is no better way to get better at something than to practice. When people tell me I’m talented, I want them to realize that talent is merely the passion for doing something that lasts long enough to actually get good at it! We’ve all learned how to ride a bike and drive a car, and we learned by practicing.
But practice doesn’t have to be boring, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. In fact 10 minutes can make a big difference if done regularly. And in learning to paint, it’s much more effective to paint several small paintings from start to finish than it is to spend that time to paint just one painting.
And so we come to the 10 minute painting exercise, which Carol Marine introduced me to in 2009. Carol loves to paint apples, and I do too. But I’ve used this exercise on lots of subjects and in lots of mediums. It’s my go-to approach when I don’t know how to paint a new subject.
Let’s go through the exercise using apples as an example. For this article I used apples in oils and in pastels, mandarin oranges in oils, and an apple surprise at the end. Most likely it will take you longer than 10 minutes the first time you try this, it was that way for me, and that’s OK. You can either finish each one as fast as possible, or stop after 10 minutes on each one. I guarantee after you do four, you will be a lot faster. Remember to scrape your palette between each 10 minute painting. If you don’t, the paintings will get more and more muddy as you go along.
Here are the steps;
1) Set up your apple (or other subject) on a piece of colored paper, or a surface with no pattern. The more colorful you make this, the more fun it will be! Shine a light on your subject to give you a nice shadow.
2) Prepare your tools: lay out your paint colors, lay out your brushes, get your paper towels ready.
3) Divide your canvas or paper into 4 equal parts by drawing a line down the center and across the center. This immediately means you aren’t painting something to hang on the wall, you’re doing an exercise. Try it, you’ll find that this approach frees you up to just do it, and to experiment.
3a) You may draw your apple before you start the timer when you are trying this out for the first time.
4) Start your timer.
5) Paint your apple (draw it first if you haven’t already done so).
6) Stop when your timer goes off.
7) Congratulate yourself! The goal was to finish quickly, and you did it!
Now scrape your palette and do it again. You don’t have to do it again on the same day, though if you have the time, it will be easier to remember what you wanted to do differently.
You can even do this exercise on a tablet with one of the painting applications. The prep and cleanup will be lots easier! Apples above painted in ArtRage.
Check out the previous blogpost for a video demonstrating how to draw and paint an apple.
In this video I quickly paint an apple, drawing it first in paint. I've removed the time I was off camera mixing paint. After you do this a couple of times you'll know how to mix the different reds, and you can do that before you start to paint if you like.
OK, so maybe they drifted onto a sand bar instead of into a bar. After all, they are all boats.
Do you find boat names confusing? There are so many types! Some of the names refer to a kind of boat, in terms of shape/design. And others refer to how the boat is used. For example the word “dinghy” describes the function of the boat. There are sailing dinghies, which are small sailboats, often used for racing. Or you can have a dinghy that is used to get to and from a larger boat (see painting above). In that case the function of the dinghy is to be a “tender” to the larger boat. If you see a yacht named the Wanderer, you might find a dinghy tied up to it called T/T Wanderer, meaning tender to the yacht Wanderer.
A skiff has a flat bottom, a pointed bow, and a square stern (see painting above). Here in Maine many lobster fishermen use them to get to and from their lobster boats. Some row them and others have motors. A skiff can easily be dragged up and down the beach. I’ve even seen one being dragged down a dirt road behind a tractor, not on a trailer. A very versatile boat!
Dories are distinctive. Mostly double ended (pointed at both ends) and with high sides, they are often shiplapped (see painting above). Shiplap is a type of carpentry where the boards overlay one another, making a beautiful regular pattern. Dories have historically been fishing boats, stable when piled high with fish, gear, and one or two fishermen, but they can tricky to get into from another boat. They stack well, also convenient on the working waterfront. They tend to be longer than your average dinghy or skiff, and for some reason are often painted with bright colors. That, of course, appeals to artists. Do a google search on "dory boat images" and you’ll see some beauties.
Merchant's Row 8"x8" oil on canvas panel
John Carlson made many useful observations in his book, Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. One of the most fundamental is that light from the sky illuminates planes in the landscape differently depending on their angle to the sun. This concept of value planes in the landscape is known as Carlson's Theory of Angles. He proposes that we simplify down to four planes in the landscape: 1) the ground plane, 2) the verticals, such as trees, 3) the plane of mountains or slanted roofs, 4) and finally, the sky.
When the sun is overhead, the sky will be the lightest value. The ground plane, which gets the full force of the sun, will be the second lightest. The plane of the mountains and slanted roofs, will be third lightest, and the darkest will be the trees. I hope that you can see this in the image below, which represents the upper left corner of the painting above. The islands fall in plane 3, like mountains and slanted roofs.
There are, of course, complications to this, when the sun is not directly overhead. When the sun is low in the sky, shadows are cast on the ground plane, and verticals can be in sunlight or shade. Where the ground plane is water things can be different. In my example here, the water is relatively calm, and follows Carson's rule. But the surface of the water in wind will be darker than when the sea is calm and reflecting the sky like a mirror. Even with those caveats, when I keep Carlson's theory in mind, I'm able to find these values in my landscape and use them to make a stronger painting.
Bobbi - Painter. Sketcher. Teacher. Boat and Dog Lover.