Summer Marsh 8"x10" oil with knife
There are three basic ways to paint in oils solvent free, or at least with minimal use of solvents. The first is to use Gamblin's range of solvent free mediums and safflower oil for brush washing to minimize the use of solvents. There are limitations to how one can paint with this approach, which doesn't allow thin washes of paint in the under layers.
Lapstrake Dinghy 9"x12" oil with knife
The second approach is to use water mixable oil paints. Several paint companies make this type of paint, which is regular oil paint with an added emulsifier, so that the brushes can be cleaned up with water. Some dilution with water is also possible, but in my experience with this these paints, using the paint maker's medium is the best way to thin them. I've used the Windsor & Newton water mixable oil paint, which took a little getting used to. I found the result to look just a bit shinier than my paintings done with regular oils, and they did take longer to dry. All totally solvent free.
Low Tide at Tidewater oil with knife on treated paper
But there is another way to paint without solvents, and this one is my favorite. Painting with a knife doesn't require thinning the paint, and to clean a knife, you only have to wipe it off with a rag or paper towel. I love the look of knife paintings, and once you get used to it, it's a faster way to paint than with a brush, because so little time is needed to switch between colors. For me, the technique is somewhat different than using regular oil paint, because layering the paint is easier with a knife. So for example, clouds can be painted on top of the sky, where I would normally paint the clouds before the blue part of the sky. I also paint with a knife with the panel horizontal rather than almost vertical, to aid in turning the painting around, which is convenient when painting with a knife.
In my new studio, I haven't quite gotten the ventilation sorted out, so knife painting is a nice option.
Lapstrake Dinghy 5"x7" watercolor on paper
What a year it’s been! Buying a house and selling another one during a pandemic, wow. I never actually thought that would happen. But it did.
grasses on the beach
We are now located on the shore of Buzzards Bay, in Massachusetts. The beach is different here from where our cottage is in Maine. It’s mostly sandy rather than mostly rocky. There are islands and lighthouses, and wonderful walks; along the shore, in the woods, and even along the Cape Cod Canal. We are boat watchers, after all. I’m already scoping out plein air painting locations, though it’s been snowing all day today, so warm summer breezes are down the road a bit.
my new studio
I’ve got a great studio, larger than in our previous house, and very well lighted, by overhead LED fixtures that mimic the sun without the UV. Those were hard to source, but we stuck with it until we found the right combination of lumens and color temperature. The studio has a whole wall of closets, and another of shelves. And I needed every one, once I found all the art supplies I had stashed at the old house!
my video setup for demonstrations in the new beginner online class
I don’t have many new paintings to show you, because I’ve been been working hard on a new online class, which has just opened for registration. I’ve been painting a lot, but those are exercises that the students will be doing in class. It’s a lot harder to paint them while explaining what I’m doing and simultaneously video-ing. I found that I’ve had to do every demo at least twice and sometimes start over with a different approach. But it’s done and ready for prime time. The class is for complete beginners, people who haven’t ever painted before, or tried and got frustrated and put away their paints. you can learn more about it HERE.
Yellow Dinghy Christmas Cove 5"x7" watercolor on paper - demo from the Holiday Market
After Thanksgiving, I took a break from getting our new house and my new studio up to speed, and did a demo at a holiday market in New Bedford. My host was Anthi Frangiadis, at The Drawing Room, her gallery on Water Street. It's across from the famous and very interesting New Bedford Whaling Museum. The market was lots of fun, with a brass band playing outside, wonderful Corey directing a wine tasting, Mrs. Claus giving out candy to the kids, and of course, all the beautiful things that Anthi offers for our homes. Here's a link to some great photos of the event.
The experience reminded me of why I enjoy working with my galleries.
Lapstrake Dinghy 5"x7" watercolor - unfinished demo from the Holiday Market
It’s so much fun to meet people with similar interests, who are trying to make their homes more suited to their lifestyles, and their personal style. Anthi’s shop is wonderful for that. In addition to paintings, she sells Farrow and Ball paint and wallpaper, and the work of many artisans. It's hard for me to deliver paintings to Anthi without leaving with a large bag of beautiful things for our own home.
Yellow Rowboat 8"x10" oil on canvas panel - a previous demo at the Drawing Room
I also meet people who would like to learn to paint at these events, and I hope I can give them some encouragement and inspiration. I once did a paint night class at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery, where I show my work in Maine. We had a blast, painting sunflowers with acrylics. They also have wonderful openings for new shows, where I get to meet collectors and chat with the other gallery artists. It’s a great group.
I also enjoy working with a gallery that does framing and restoration, like Yarmouth Frame and Gallery. They’re a great resource. I often need a frame made, a few mats cut, or some advice on a restoration problem. And they offer my collectors a discount when framing my paintings, even if bought online.
Paint Night at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery several years ago
It’s the camaraderie as well as the sales that makes it fun and rewarding to work with a gallery. I’ve had readers of this blog ask me where they can see my work in person, and I always point them to these two galleries. Both are located in vacation spots, and I’ve had numerous readers tell me they visited and enjoyed the experience. And some have even taken home a painting to remember it by.
Ocean Hues 12"x12" acrylic on canvas
Acrylic paints are a relative newcomer to the art scene. Water based acrylics were first commercially available to painters in the 1950's. Acrylics are made of the same pigments used in watercolor and oil paints, but suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion with some additives. They are generally fast drying (very fast). Depending on the amount of water they are diluted with, they can give effects similar to watercolors or oil paints.
3 Tomatoes 8"x8", left acrylic on paper right oil on canvas
You will find acrylic paintings created on canvas, paper, board, and other substrates. Acrylics are usually framed the same way as oil paintings, without glass or mats, which means you can frame them yourself relatively easily. Ready made frames are available online or you can have them made by your local frame shop. Acrylic paintings are a great way to start or grow your art collection. This blogpost will show you how to frame your paintings with a minimal investment.
Red Sailboat Boothbay 6"x6" , left acrylic on paper, right oil on canvas panel
Painting with acrylics is a bit different than oils due to three factors. First, the solvent for acrylics is water rather than odorless mineral spirits. No special ventilation is needed to work with acrylics indoors, and cleanup can be easy if you are careful (see the second factor). Since I have a septic tank, I'm careful to minimize the amount of acrylic paint that goes down the drain, wiping off my brushes carefully before rinsing them.
Second, the drying time is short, so short that if you aren't careful, your brushes will be stiff and unusable in short order. Always rinse each brush or put it in water when you are not using it! The paint that you put out on your palette needs to be misted with water often in order to stay usable, and using a Masterson pallette box is a big help. Painting wet in wet is hard to do with acrylics unless you use a retarder or the new "Open" Acrylics by Golden, that dry more slowly. Any acrylic paint you get on your clothes will be there forever. Once it's dry, soap and water wont clean it up.
3 Sunflowers 8"x8" acrylic on paper
The third difference is that acrylic paints dry darker than they are when wet. This is because the emulsion contains small beads of polymer that are white in water, and clear when they dry. This makes it tricky to mix more paint of the same color and value to match an area that you've already painted. And with acrylics, the quality of your paint is even more important than with oil paints if you like bright color. I highly recommend Golden acrylic paints for their high pigment concentration and bright colors.
When I paint the same subject using acrylic and oil paints, I see a difference in the results. For me the acrylics are usually more graphic. I think you can see that in the 3 Tomatoes and Red Sailboat paintings above. In the sunflower painting, I was able to work quick;y enough to get a bit of wet in wet feel.
Some of my favorite painters who work in acrylics are Leslie Goldman, Robert Joyner, and Geer Morton. Robert is an excellent teacher and offers courses in several media.
A Serious Game 10.5"x8" pastel on sanded paper
Pastel paintings can have amazing color, because pastel sticks have more pigment than oil, acrylic, or watercolor paints. They can be very bold, or soft with minimal texture. There’s a lot to love with pastels. What are pastels? When you open a box of pastels, they look a lot like pieces of chalk. They are powdered pigment with a minimal binder to make them into sticks. There are different kinds, some softer and some harder. But don’t confuse them with oil pastels, which are something different.
10 Minute Apples Exercise #4 2"X2" pastel on sanded paper
Pastel paintings are closer to colored pencil artwork than they are to the mediums mentioned above, because the color is not applied with a brush or knife, but comes from a stick of pastel, and is applied by holding the stick in your fingers. Pastels are almost always done on paper, often one that has a fine layer of sand, which grabs the pastel better than a smooth paper. There are no brushes, or palette knives, though an underpainting could be created with watercolor or pastel and alcohol applied with a brush.
Sunshine on the Marsh 9"x12" pastel on sanded paper
Pastels are the most delicate of the mediums I’m covering in these blog posts. They aren’t as light sensitive as watercolors, but you have be careful not to loose particles of pastel after they are framed. So we lay them flat, pastel side up, and don’t ever turn them over in the frame. Usually there is a mat or a spacer in the frame to keep the pastel surface off the glass. And glass is required, or any touch to the painting could remove some of the artwork!
My Schmincke soft pastels
Mixing paint to create a specific color and value is not as much of a thing with pastels as with other mediums. Most pastel painters have boxes of pastels, in varying colors, and in varying shades, dark to light of each color that they like to use. This can get expensive, and though each pastel is pretty light, they can be bulky to carry around.
Harraseeket Road pastel over watercolor
Goosefare Brook Marsh 6"x12" oil on canvas panel
Have you ever wondered when visiting an art museum why there are so many oil paintings? It’s probably because they're the most likely paintings to have survived through the years. As you know, I’m partial to oil paintings. I started working in oils about 20 years ago, and I still love them. But I didn’t start collecting oil paintings until I started painting them. I’m a huge fan of how the internet has opened up the art market to all of us, and I've bought paintings having only seen them online. But I do enjoy seeing paintings in person, with my own eyes, and love that we can do more of that now.
The appeal of oil paintings to me is both the bold colors and the textures. I often want to touch them because of these characteristics! Oil paintings are also easier to frame than watercolors or pastels, which require glass. That allows me to collect unframed oils that I see online and at open air art shows, and frame them myself. Here’s a blogpost on how to do that.
Mini Landscape #16 3.5"x3.5" oil on treated paper
Oil painting has a reputation of being more difficult to master than other mediums. I doubt that’s true. Mastery of any medium takes time and dedication. But most of us would be happy to be competent, and I think it’s easier to do that with oil paints than with watercolors or acrylics. There are a few reasons. Mostly it’s because oil paints dry relatively slowly, and because of that, you can scrape off your mistakes before they become permanent. There are two approaches to painting with oils; called direct and indirect. In the direct approach, or wet-in-wet, the painting is completed before any of the paint is dry. In the indirect approach, the painting is created with thin layers of paint, and the layers can be somewhat transparent. It's a time consuming process, waiting for the paint to dry between each layer. The indirect approach is also used for watercolor, where transparency is key.
Nature's Grace 5"x7" oil on panel, painted with a knife
I prefer the direct approach, maybe because I’m pretty impatient. I can finish a small painting in a few hours, and a larger one in a few days. The paint stays wet enough to make that possible. And, when I do make mistakes, I can remove them quickly and easily and try again. Also, that approach is perfectly suited to painting out of doors, where the direction of the sun and the level of the tide are not constant. Watercolors and acrylics are more challenging to paint out of doors, because they dry so fast.
Some contemporary oil painters whose work I admire and collect are Colin Page, Carol L. Douglas, Mary Gilkerson, and Peggy Kroll-Roberts. You will probably find that they have influenced my work, since I’ve studied with all of them!
Three Leaves - 7"x10" watercolor on paper
Have you every felt overwhelmed by the many types of paintings you see at an art show or gallery? And maybe asked yourself "how are they different, which ones would be best for me?". Those are good questions!
In the next four blogposts, I'll try to answer them for those of you who are looking for artwork for their walls and for those who would like to start painting, but don't know which medium would suit them best.
What do we mean by medium? When talking about painting, mediums refer to the different types of paint used. The most common are watercolor, oil, acrylic, and pastel. The substrate is the surface that the paint is applied to, for example, paper, canvas, and wood, and most painting mediums can be used on several different substrates. I have painted in all of these mediums, and our art collection includes works in all four as well. I'll talk about water color first and leave the others for future blog posts.
Cloud Study IV - watercolor on paper (wet on wet technique)
What's the appeal of watercolor? Watercolor is inherently transparent, which lets the white paper shine through. A light area of paint is made by adding more water as the paint is applied, so that more of the white paper shines through. It's a beautiful ethereal look, and for me means that some scenes just cry out to be painted with watercolor. I'm thinking particularly of Winslow Homer's Caribbean boat paintings, and example which you can see here.
Watercolor also lends itself to texture, using different application approaches, like wet on wet, and dry brush, or leaving some marks in the pencil sketch showing through. And there is nothing whiter in a painting, than unpainted paper, and so the watercolor painter leaves the lightest values in a painting unpainted to take advantage of that. And watercolor is often combined with pen and ink to create to beautiful line and wash paintings, the line provided with the pen, and the wash with the watercolor. They can be magic, for example those in this blogpost by British painter Rob Adams.
When looking to buy a watercolor painting, you need to think about framing. Watercolors are more complicated and expensive to frame than oils or acrylics, both because they require glass and because of the need to seal the back of the frame. Neither of those is required for oil or acrylic paintings, which makes them easier to frame yourself. Glass comes in many levels of glare and UV protection, from hardware store window glass (lots of glare and low UV protection) to museum quality glass (minimal glare and high UV protection). Glass towards the museum end of the spectrum will let you see your paintings better and preserve them from UV damage for many more years. For the same reason, it's best not to hang watercolors in direct sunlight.
Green and Orange Leaves - 6"x9" watercolor with pen
Many artists began their painting journeys with watercolor, me included, because to the uninitiated it's thought to be easier to learn than other mediums and is definitely easier to clean up. However, as most of us learned the hard way, it's in fact one of the more difficult mediums to master, because you mostly can't fix mistakes without damaging the paper, so you usually have to start over, which can be quite frustrating.
Some of my favorite watercolor painters working today are Poppy Balser, Robert Joyner, and Michele Clamp. The later two teach online, if learning watercolor is on your bucket list. Poppy teaches wonderful in person workshops in Canada, one of which which I had the pleasure of attending. I recommend all three.
Vinalhaven Reversing Falls 24"x30" oil on canvas
Happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely. Light and color, peace and hope, will keep them company. - Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill starting painting as a distraction from his duties as Prime Minister. He believed that change is what’s important to avoid worry and mental strain, and recommended that we pursue two or three hobbies to create this change. His preference was for hobbies that use both hand and eye, as well as our brains. He found that painting fit the bill.
In his charming little book, Painting as a Pastime, Churchill listed the benefits he found from leaning to paint. They resonated with me! I'll illustrate them below with paintings from my first years with oil paints.
Green Ledge, Vinalhaven 15"x30" oil on canvas
Churchill says that painting gives us a heightened sense of observation, especially of nature. The first way this hit me, was in observing the landscape in different light situations. I had not before realized that as we look into the sun, we lose our color perception. Try this yourself. It’s easy to observe as you are driving. When you're looking into the sun, the scene before you is almost black and white, while when the sun is to the side of back of you, the colors show brilliantly.
He also points out that painting helps us to appreciate masterpieces of art in a new way. This is true not only of masterpieces, but any fine work of art. As an student of art you become more knowledgeable and interested in how the work of art was created, and what makes it a masterpiece. And you can appreciate the skill even if you are still working towards it.
Laudholm Fields 13"x16" oil on canvas
Churchill says painting helps us develop an accurate and retentive memory. Who doesn’t want this benefit, especially those of us who have to wait a beat for our brains to return the information we are requesting? You may not be able to take a look at something, and then turn your back and paint it from memory, but you will start to go down that path. I'm up for improving my memory!
He says painting is a spur to travel. For me this has been one of the key benefits of learning to paint. I have created trips that were centered around painting in a particular location, and been on many others where painting in this new place was a wonderful addition to my travel activities. It made the trip more fun and created tangible memories in paint that are far better than postcards.
Apples oil on canvas 6"x6"
And most important of all, Churchill says that learning to paint is a way to make new friends. This has been the biggest benefit for me in learning to paint. Most of the friends I’ve made in my life have been from people I went to school with, worked with, or people I met because I paint. I’ve met some of my best friends in art organizations, at painting classes I took, at galleries where I show my work, and as students who take my painting classes. This is especially important after retirement when there are no more new work friends to make, or when you move to a new area and don’t know anyone there.
In my next blog post, I’ll talk about several popular painting mediums that will be of interest whether you're thinking about learning to paint, or in furthering your appreciation of the artwork being made today.
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.
Bobbi - Painter. Sketcher. Teacher. Boat and Dog Lover.