Poinsettia 5"x7" oil on linen panel
I've had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year. After our "Not" Thanksgiving, it just didn’t feel right. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For more than 20 years we’ve spent it at our cottage in Maine, with long time friends. It’s a cooking event where everyone participates. The following day, we have a “bits and pieces lunch”. Not Thanksgiving leftovers, but cheeses, pate, ham, fresh breads, raw vegetables and several wines. We eat in our porch room with the heat cranked up and enjoy the scenery, the company, and the food.
Gilsland Snow Field 6"x6" oil on canvas panel
This year, with social distancing and quarantines, we were at home for Thanksgiving, just the two of us. We made a nice dinner, but tried some new foods, and it just wasn’t the same. So I decided to go for the traditions for Christmas. We've made my mother-in-law's cookies, the two of us at our house and our son at his. I’ve gone overboard on the Christmas stockings, perhaps unwittingly creating a new tradition.
Our 2020 holiday cookies from my mother-in-law's recipe
We have a beautiful wreath on the front door. I chose three of my favorite paintings and had holiday cards made. Two are traditional snow paintings and one is a small boat. I asked my friends on Instagram which one they thought was best for a holiday card. Interestingly, though the snow scenes were the most popular, the little boat got a good number of votes. People said it reminded them of me, which I take as a compliment. I mailed the last of the cards yesterday. And I'm starting to feel like it really is Christmas.
The holiday cards I had made for 2020
On Christmas day we’re having our classic holiday breakfast, eggs Benedict, followed by a roast chicken with stuffing for Christmas dinner. The last few years we’ve been doing this at our son’s house and enjoying being with his friends. But this year, he'll do his and we'll do ours separately. We’ll have a quick masked unwrapping of the gifts and stockings together. But we won’t be able to visit my mother-in-law, as we usually do, because of quarantines. There will be zooms with both our extended families.
I think it will feel like Christmas, different, but still full of food and family, even if there has to be a tech assist. I hope yours will feel that way too!
Icy Brook 8"x10" oil on canvas
We’ve had our first snow of the season here in New England and the second is on it’s way. And this week in my zoom class we are going to paint snow. Painting snow is a bit different than a non-snow landscape. As you might expect, values are still the most important thing, the challenge is being able to see them.
Snow Fence 6"x6" oil on canvas panel - Available
The prominence of shadows in snow scenes gives the artist a wonderful design element, with their strong geometric shapes in the ground plane, and the color options. What drew me to the scene above was the interesting shadows cast onto the snow covered park by the slanted tops of the fence posts.
Sometimes I’ll try out ideas using the ArtRage app on my iPad. The above images were created that way by “painting” on top of the photos of summer plein air oil paintings.
Snow on the River 12"x12" oil on canvas - Available
Color is the fun part of a snow painting. The traditional approach is make the shadows cool and the lighted areas warm. Typically we think of the colors on the blue side of the color wheel as cool and those on the orange side as warm. In the above painting, I've used a whole spectrum of blues in the snow, water, and sky. The trees bring in a warm element.
Strawberry Banke 5"x7" plein air oil on canvas panel
Plein air painting in the snow is a real challenge. There’s the weather to contend with. You have to keep warm, but still be able to move around. The paint gets very stiff. And the shadows seem to move even faster than in the summer. And then there’s the parking. I know, that sounds weird. But in New England many lovely public open spaces where I like to paint don’t plow their parking lots in the winter, so options are limited unless you want to add a snow shoe trek to the project!
Green and Orange Leaves 6"x9" watercolor on cold pressed paper
Sometimes, mixing it up is the best way to go forward. When we work with the same process over and over, it can become rote, the fun gets lost, and we start to lose interest. This summer, I took my watercolors out to our boat, thinking it would be easier to paint with them in the tight quarters, and a lot easier to store the finished paintings while we were underway. What I wasn't thinking about was what I'd learn in general about making a painting, and how that could help my oil painting. What I stumbled on was basically the concept of cross training.
Two Leaves 5"x7" watercolor on cold pressed paper
We're all familiar with cross training in sports. Benefits include improved strength, endurance, and fewer and faster recovery from injuries. Let's see if we can relate that to painting in different mediums. When I paint with watercolors, I usually sit, while painting with oils I stand. That means I'm using different muscles in my legs, back, shoulders, and arms. It's probably good for overall fitness and strength. There are plenty of people who stand when they paint in watercolors, so that's simply a personal preference for me.
Speckled Leaves 6"x9" watercolor on cold pressed paper
But what about cross training for your mind? I was interested to learn that cross training is a thing for writers. There are even course offered in writing for that very purpose. I'm imagining a novelist writing haikus and limericks! A major difference between painting in watercolors and in oils is that watercolors are applied lightest to darkest and in oils we go the opposite direction. The reason is that for watercolor white is created by lack of paint on the white paper, and in oil painting you've got a tube of white. So it's a big head shift to go from one to the other. But the concepts of composition and value are the same. Another difference for me, is that my oil painting is done alla prima, meaning all in one go so all of the paint is wet until I'm done. In watercolor a series of washes is built up to create the picture. It's common for watercolor painters to use a hair dryer to speed up the process between layers.
The Irish Piper woodcut on paper and detail of A Serious Game pastel on paper
I've also done a bit of cross training making woodcuts and using pastels. Once again, the composition and values are the same as with oils or watercolor. In a woodcut, there are a limited number of layers, so the values and colors have to be simplified. In a pastel, it's almost the opposite, though you are constrained by the number of pastels you own. If you know an accomplished pastelist you've probably seen the hundreds of beautiful pastels they use. That's quite different from the way I mix each color I want in oils using a limited palette of two of each primary color and white.
Learning comes from trial and error, and I find that I learn most from the failures. Working in different mediums expands the opportunities for that learning. When I can let go and not worry about the outcome good things happen. Spending some time making paintings in a different way makes all my paintings better.
The Sternman 16"x20" oil on linen panel
Last month we were on the water with the owners of my painting of the Osprey lobster boat, shown above. As we neared Chebeague Island I saw her on her mooring, so we thought we’d take look at the real thing. She’s a classic.
Our guests were surprised at how long she is, since the painting was done from a photo taken off the stern on the port side. As you watch the video below, you can see how the shape changes as we go around the stern. There are so many views to choose from!
the Osprey last month as we went by on our boat
I love to sit on the dock or on our boat and sketch other boats on their moorings. They turn as the wind and tide fight for dominance, sometimes with almost a 180 degree swing. It’s such a great sketching exercise. And I think it's the secret to painting boats. It's not about what kind of boat you're looking at, though an appreciation for that makes it more fun to be around them. When painting a boat, it's the drawing step that's the most important. And sketching them as they float is key to learning to make a good boat drawing.
The little red sailboat in the drawings above is moored in Boothbay Harbor, and I've spent a lot of time sketching her as she swings on her mooring. Each of these drawings took only a minute or two. And there are many more.
One afternoon, sitting in our cockpit still watching the little red sailboat, I took the best of the above sketches, and from them made a little water color in my sketchbook. I don't remember whether I did the ink or the water color on this piece first, but I like the sketch-like look that the ink gives it.
So you can see the simplification that goes into making the larger oil painting, here's the reference photo I took of the Osprey in 2015. It was taken from our boat using a point and shoot Nikon with a zoom, nothing fancy, but better than a cell phone. Painting boats is one of my favorite things to do. The challenge is in the drawing, but the result is usually worth the effort.
Apples in Oil 2009
I think this might be the first painting of apples I ever made. It was in 2009, before my first workshop with Carol Marine. It turns out she's a great lover of painting apples, and using apples as the subject in exercises to learn to paint better.
10 minute apples (10 minutes each not counting set up and mixing time)
I'm a big proponent of painting from life. For me, the transformation from three dimensions to two is key to making a good painting. Apples are good for that, because they have a nice shape (not perfectly round like a ball), they come in beautiful colors, and they last for a while. Carol taught me the 10 minute apple exercise above, which I use whenever I feel rusty. You mix your colors first, then give yourself 10 minutes to paint the apple, mix the colors again and paint the next one, until all four are done. It's a lot of fun after the first time, when it's kind of scary!
Apples sharing the stage with other fruit
Apples go well with other fruit. And I like to paint them on a green background, because the complementary colors red and green really set each other off. What I learned from painting these still lifes was the beginning of my journey to painting out of doors, or was we say, en plein air. If I had gone directly from painting from photos to painting outside, it would have been much much harder.
Apples painted on my iPad
When I don't have a lot of time, I'll set up a few apples in the kitchen and paint them from life on my iPad. I used the Art Rage app to paint these. The clean up is sooo easy. Don't you think they look better with the green paper underneath?
Drew Farm Apple Tree 8"x10" oil on canvas panel
And then there are apple trees, I like to paint them too. And my favorite way to do that is while standing right in front of them. It's such a treat to be among these beautiful trees on a spring afternoon when they're in bloom.
But now back to autumn and apples. There always seem to be lots to chose from at my favorite farm stand. In recent years I've discovered Honey Crisp and Autumn Gala (my current favorite). There's a lot to love about the apple.
It's Fall 6"x8" oil on canvas panel
I had the most delightful comment on Instagram the other day when I posted one of the leaf paintings from the last blogpost. Catherine asked if I knew what kind of leaf I'd painted. She and her grandson are trying to identify trees by their leaves.
Fall is in the Air 6"x8" oil on canvas board
And that took me right back to my childhood. I love trees. They are my favorite part of nature with the possible exception of bodies of water. And when I was a child I had this wonderful little paperback book that you could take into the forest and with a tree branch and its leaves, the book would ask you questions that led you to identify the tree. I used it a lot. And about 10 years ago I discovered the book is still available, for a mere $6 in amazon.
Provencal Tree Study 4"x6" oil on French panel
It's called Tree Finder: A Manual for identification of Trees by Their Leaves, by May Theilgaard Watts (1893 – 1975). May Watts was an American naturalist, writer, poet, illustrator, and educator. She was a naturalist at The Morton Arboretum and author of Reading the Landscape of America (credit wikipedia).
The Tree Finder Books - left uses leaves, right for deciduous trees in winter
This little book is a mystery lover's dream and a school child's game. I hope Catherine and her grandson enjoy it as much I did, and still do. I have a copy of the book and its companion, Tree Finder: A Manual for identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter, in the glove compartment of my car. And I couldn't be more grateful to May watts.
These sketches of trees in winter illustrate the most visited blogpost I ever wrote.
Let me say agin, I adore trees. And winter is the best time to draw them, when the leaves are gone and the structure is visible. If you paint, there's nothing better than getting outside and drawing a few trees. And if you can identify them as well, that's frosting on the cake.
Watch Them Fall 7"x10" water color on paper
There's something about certain subjects that makes me want to paint them with water colors. I first noticed it with Winslow Homer's water colors of the Bahamian surf. They just looked so right in that medium. Colorful fall leaves are another. I love dropping bits of color onto the wet paper to make the mottled colors of the fallen leaves. So if you see me on the side of the road, bent over looking through the leaves to choose my favorites, you'll know what I'm going to do with them.
Falling Leaves 7"x10" water color on paper
There's a difference in the process of painting with oils and with water colors. With oil paint, we start by painting in the darkest colors and work to the lightest. With water color most painters start with the lightest colors and work their way to the darkest. That's how I painted the leaves on these paintings. The background was added as the last step. And to draw the leaves, I laid them down on the paper and traced them.
Three Leaves 7"x10" water color on paper
The two paintings at the top were painted in the last week or so. The painting above was painted a couple of years ago in Florida. I especially like the beach plum leaves (on the left), they're green in the summer and red and orange and very mottled in the fall, fabulous to paint.
Below are a couple of videos showing the process.
Here I'm working on the yellow leaf, giving it some color variety and putting in the midrib and veins.
To add the blue sky behind the leaves I prepared the blue paint which is dry in the pans (at the top) by wetting it and putting it on the palette. Then I wet the white part of the paper, so that I could drop in the blue paint. I didn't go quite to the edge of the leaves, that can be done when adding the blue paint.
One thing I know is this. If I buy an unframed painting, the likelihood that it will shortly hang on the well is much less than if I buy one that 's already framed. I think this is true for most people.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Framing oil and acrylic paintings is straightforward if you have the right tools and a ready-made frame. There are many quality picture frames available online, and they are very affordable. And, you can have the frames cut to whatever size you need, even when buying online.
I've bought frames online from Frame Destination, Florida Frames, and Graphik Dimensions. Franken Frames has also been recommended to me. Alternatively, you can do pretty well at your local framers by simply having them make a frame for you, and doing the framing yourself. Oil and acrylic paintings don't require glass or mats, and a piece of paper across the back is not necessary. With the right tools you can frame a painting in half an hour.
Picture frames and sample moldings
Below are the hardware and tools that I like to use and where to get them. Framing4Yourself is great resource, both for the hardware and for instructions.
The first task is to secure the painting in the frame. And I’m talking here about a wooden frame and a painting on a panel or canvas. A point driver is used to drive little metal darts called points into the frame, and those hold the painting securely in the rabbet of the frame (the part in the back that’s recessed). When you order a frame, order one with the dimensions of the outside of the painting. You’ll find that there will be a bit of wiggle room for the painting in the frame, you don't have to add that in when you order. Note also that the rabbet will have to be deeper than the thickness of the painting in order to use the point driver method described here.
I generally check the frame to see which side will look best as the top, dust the frame off, and lay it face down on a towel or something non-abrasive before dropping in and securing the painting. For 8"x10" paintings or smaller, I use one point per side, for larger paintings, I use two per side. An old palette knife is useful for positioning the painting in the frame while it's lying on your workbench.
point driver positioned to drive the point into the frame
The next task is to attach a wire for hanging, for which I use little gadgets called strap hangers. Always double check to make sure you know which is the top of the painting before making any holes in the back (I’ve messed that up a few times!). I make the holes for the strap hangers about 1/3 of the way down the back of the frame from the top edge. And I use an awl to start the hole for the screws that hold on the strap hangers. This is less work than drilling the holes, and I rarely find a frame that’s too hard for this approach. If you want, you can make a couple of hits with a nail set into the hole made by the awl to get a deeper hole.
strap hangers and screws, where to order
awl, where to order
nail set and hammer, available at your local hardware store
Picture hanging wire is readily available at your hardware store, and Framing4Yourself has a great selection. Choose wire that’s rated for more than the weight of the painting plus frame. I find the non-coated wire to be easiest, but that’s a personal decision. Needle nose pliers and wire cutters are also useful.
picture hanging wire
needle nose pliers and wire cutters, available at your local hardware store
strap hanger screwed to back of frame
wire tied on to strap hanger
an extra knot before wrapping the wire (I do this for larger paintings)
excess wire wrapped around the hanging wire (be sure to neatly cut off the end)
And finally, bumpers go on the bottom corners of the painting to keep it from banging into the wall.
To finish off the framing, be sure to include information about the painting on the back, e.g. title, painter, location, etc. You can photocopy this information from your receipt if it is not already on the back of the painting.
Bottom left corner of the back of a framed painting showing the wire attached with a strap hanger, the points, and the bumper
If you've bought one of my paintings, have a frame that fits, and are local, I will be happy to frame the painting for you. Please contact me.
Vase of Sunshine - 20"x16" - oil on linen panel - 2014
I've missed seeing sunflowers this year. I saw a few in people's yards, but it seems that several of the places I normally find them didn't grow any this season. But don't give up hope, they are still available in some markets, so you can create your own vase of sunshine if you hurry. And how cheerful that would be on a day like today, when it's cold and dreary outside.
Sunflowers - 8"x8" - oil on canvas panel - 2011
The paintings in this post are some of my favorites of sunflowers I've created over the years. They are one of my favorite painting subjects. There's so much to them, they're "chunky", in that there are lots of shapes and angles, and they have mass and weight. And bright colors too. There's a lot to love about a sunflower. You can see here how my paintings have changed over the years with these images. And I'm not the only artist that as loved sunflowers, Van Gogh sunflowers, anyone?
Sunflowers with Blue Pitcher 24"x24" oil on canvas
I love to the paint the flowers in vases, where I can arrange the stems to show off the sunflowers to their best advantage. But there's something about having a whole field of them spread out in front you that is pretty amazing.
Colby Farms in Newbury, Massachusetts, has one of those fields each year. You can wallow in sunflowers there. I was interested to find on a late afternoon visit that the flowers were not facing the sun. In fact the leaves of the sunflower follow the sun by a process called heliotropism, but only the budding flowers do this. Once the flowers are mature the stem stiffens and they always point east towards the sunrise. I found the best viewing (and easiest parking) there was in the morning. Unfortunately, the 2020 season is past, but do check it out next year.
Another recommended spot for sunflower watching in New England is Coppal House Farm in Lee, New Hampshire. Their season runs from late July through early August.
If you know of a sunflower Farm in Maine that allows visitors, please let me know!
Three Sunflowers 8"x8" acrylic on treated paper
And now for something completely different, sunflowers in acrylic, above. My oil paintings are done alla prima (wet in wet). The paintings are done in a couple of hours, before the paint has a chance to dry. In acrylic painting, on the other hand, the paint dries very quickly, while you're painting. Even using the same colors, the look is very different. Which appeals to you most?
Backdoor To Seal Bay 6"x6" oil on canvas
Have you ever walked across a room to look at a painting because the color grabbed your attention? That happens to me a lot. Bold bright color, I love it!
But there’s more to a painting than the color. Think about the wonderful black and white photos you’ve seen displayed on walls. They can be very striking. They’re pared down to the essentials, and the most basic of essentials is a pleasing value pattern. It's value that does the work, even if color gets the credit.
Backdoor to Seal Bay Value study
What do I mean by value? Value is the lightness or darkness of a shape. A compelling value composition is a pleasing collection of interconnected shapes of different values. Picture a jigsaw puzzle with varying sized pieces in varying shades of black, white, and gray. When I started painting, I thought the composition was the drawing. But lines all by themselves don’t make a composition. It’s the shapes that the lines describe, and the values of the shapes that do that. And when the composition is pleasing, you have winner.
The secret is:
It doesn’t matter what colors you use, as long as each one has the right value.
A later Backdoor to Seal Bay Value Study
A few weeks ago, my friend Carol Douglas challenged me to paint a landscape scene using the opposite colors of those found in nature. These are called the complementary colors (purple, green, and orange), and they appear on the color wheel in between the three primary colors; red, blue, and yellow. To accept Carol’s challenge I started with the value study above, basically a monochrome version of the scene. As long as I got the values right, I could use any colors I wanted.
Backdoor to Seal Bay 5"x7" oil on gessobord (using complementary colors)
I replaced the greens of the trees with reds, the blue of the water with orange, and the light blue of the sky with yellow. The result is above. What do you think?
Bobbi - Painter. Sketcher. Teacher. Boat and Dog Lover.