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?
Detail of Mellow Yellow 8"x10" oil on canvas panel
Whenever we’re out on the water, I’m looking at the boats with an eye to painting each one. I ask myself questions like: Is the shape appealing? Is it a classic? Is the lighting good? I snap photos on my phone and on my pocket SLR camera. Sometimes, we go dinghy and skiff hunting in our inflatable. My husband drives, and patiently goes round and round the boats while I take photos from every angle. And I look inside the boats. If it’s been raining and they haven’t been bailed out, they don’t sit right in the water, and that doesn’t make for a believable painting.
Back in the studio or on the couch, I go over the photos on my laptop. If there’s a boat I like, I try and figure out which angle of view would make the best painting. I crop several photo options and look again. And sometimes I ask my social media friends for their opinion. I did that early this year with these photos of a cheerful yellow rowboat that we saw the previous summer. The left most (top) photo got more votes by a wide margin. It’s also the one I like best.
And that photo leads me to a great example of how to draw a boat. In fact, the crux of painting small boats like this one, is the drawing. Once you get the boat shape right and get it sitting in the water, the rest is like any other painting.
The standard method for drawing a boat is to use a figure 8, as in the image above. This works best if you can see some of the inside of the boat. These are the steps:
Step 1: Draw a figure 8. Note that the right hand orb of the ellipse is smaller then the left orb, when the bow of the boat is towards the right.
Step 2: From the highest point on the right orb, draw a line down and to the left to create the bow, and another line down and to the right to create the stern. These lines can be somewhat curved as in the diagram or straight depending on the kind of boat you want to draw.
Step 3: Draw a line to connect the bow and stern (if the boat is in the water, this line will be under the water as in this painting). And connect the right side of the bow to the bottom of the boat.
Step 4: Erase the line that is dotted in the figure, which is not visible.
Step 5. If the boat has a square stern, draw a line across the back of the left side of the figure.
At the stage above I'm starting to work on the reflection. The trick with the reflection is to keep it directly under the boat. It’s really fun to paint the abstract ripples reflecting the blue sky and the yellow side of the boat. It's a push and pull of the two colors against each other.
Framing is the last part of the job. What do you think, dark frame or gold frame?
Two paintings I watched being created at this year's CELT Auction
by Carol Douglas 40"x40" (left/top) and Marsha Donahue 18"x24" (right/bottom)
Have you ever found yourself at an event where paintings are being sold to benefit a cause that touches your heart, wondering if you should buy one, and not knowing how to choose? Having participated in many of these events and bought paintings, I've thought about this a lot. And I've written this blogpost to help you.
There are a number of things to consider. First, what's your goal? Are you looking for a painting for a specific spot in your home or office? Or perhaps you've fallen in love with a particular artist's work, want a piece for yourself, and will decide where it will go after you find it.
The most important thing when buying a piece of artwork is that YOU like it. It doesn't matter what other people think unless they are your spouse. And even that won't likely matter for small less expensive pieces. So make a habit of looking at paintings; in other people's homes, in galleries, and online, and get a feel for what you like.
Another favorite, by Jill Hoy, 24"x31"
If I see a painting I really like, and I'm tempted to buy it, I usually look at multiple paintings by that artist. I want to see if the painting I'm attracted to is consistent with the overall style and quality of the artist's work. I look at the artist's website and their work at galleries online. Simply google the artist's name followed by artist or painter, and you'll see where to find examples of their work online. Visit the artist's website, And look for sold paintings as well as those currently available. Sometimes those are found on a page called "Archive" if they aren't included with the available paintings. When an artist creates a new body of work, it takes months or even years for the best paintings of that collection to be sold. It can be instructive to see what other people liked well enough to buy.
If you are an artist yourself, beware of paintings that impress you because of their skill. Looking at them is instructive, but that alone is not a good enough reason to buy one unless your goal is to study it rather than live with it!
If you're shopping for paintings online, it's critical to make sure you understand the size of the painting you're looking at, and that you take the frame into account. Look for the dimensions and find something in your house that's about the same size to give you a better idea.
More favorites, Holly Ready 24"x18" (left/top) and Colin Page 36"x24" (right/bottom)
There are a few things that attract a person to a specific painting. Probably the two most important are subject matter and color. Subject matter is a broad topic, basically divided into still life, landscape, portrait, and abstract, with many sub areas in each. You may find some subjects more appealing for specific rooms in your home. Still lifes of food are a natural for the kitchen. A landscape or abstract goes well over the sofa. But really, anything goes. Often people find landscapes of places they love to visit appealing, for example an area where they like to vacation. Paintings evoke memories of good times at one of these special places. That's a good way to start a collection.
As to color, that's very personal. and there's nothing wrong with paying attention to the color of the sofa when choosing a painting to go over it. But if you have color favorites, you'll likely be drawn to paintings that include the same colors already in your decor. And paintings that include color x look great on a wall of that color.
More favorites, by Judy Taylor 24"x31"(left/top) and Erin McGee Ferrell 48"x48" (right/bottom)
Price is another thing to consider, and don't forget to include framing. Oil and acrylic paintings are less expensive to frame than water colors and pastels because they don't need mats or glass. In fact, with a few specialized tools and a frame you can buy online you can frame oils and acrylics yourself. Here's a blogpost that will show you how.
If you're looking for a painting for a particular place, first decide the size range that will work. Then choose the subject matter or color preferences depending on which is more important to you.
And where to buy? There are many options, both online and in person, far beyond what I can cover in this blogpost, so I'll save that for another time. The paintings illustrating this post are all from the Paint for Preservation event put on by the Cape Elizabeth (Maine) Land Trust this year. The auction starts Saturday at 8AM and ends Sunday at 9AM. View all the paintings in the event here. And no, I don't have a painting in this event. I look forward to painting large en plein air in the future.
still life is one of many painting subjects, and one that has lots of options for bright color
As a kid, did you ever say to one of your parents "Mommy/Daddy, I'm bored"? When I said that to my mother, the response was usually a list of things that she thought I should do that I didn't have any interest in doing!
Apparently Covid-19 has caused an increase in boredom, with people staying home to prevent the spread of the virus. Being bored is a sign that we're not engaged in what we're doing, even if it's a supposedly meaningful activity. And, if it's too easy or too difficult, we can get bored.
landscape is also fun, these are only 4" across, and were both painted from the same photo
That's so interesting! I thought that boredom only happens when we have nothing to do. The idea that in the middle of a task one could be bored is new to me. Maybe I've staved that off by constantly listening to podcasts while I'm doing things that don't require lots of thinking.
Here are some ways to keep boredom at bay:
If you're stuck doing something that seems boring, you can rethink it. Maybe the why behind it will make it more palatable. Cleaning the house comes to mind...
Making a schedule can help. If it's routine to take a walk first thing every morning, it becomes easier to do. For me that went from being a have-to-do, to my favorite part of the day.
Adding in a few treats each day can make a difference. Taking a break to watch that TV show that only you think is funny, a cold popsicle on a hot afternoon, a piece of chocolate...
Time with other people, even if it's only on zoom or the phone, can be a boon. A regular dinner meeting with friends, a chat with your mom (brother, sister, cousin), looking up an old friend, or even a group text, keeps us from feeling isolated.
flowers are a favorite painting subject of many people
My favorite way to avoid boredom is to work on learning something new. But apparently, that learning needs to be in a manner that's not too easy and not too hard. Both situations can take us back to boredom. And that's why a really good teacher is needed, to keep the students in that sweet spot.
My husband and I have been taking French a couple of nights a week for the last few years. And we've learned so much! You won't be surprised to hear that we have an excellent teacher, who really knows how to hit that sweet spot. I try to do the same thing for my painting students. And that's why I teach a special class for the true beginning painter, where we break things down step by step, starting with choosing materials, including every step to make a solid painting even for those who can't draw, and ending with cleaning and storing the brushes and other supplies.
simplification is a key to learning to paint
As fall approaches and outdoor activities become less viable, more of us will be looking for things to do indoors. If you'd like to dig in to learning something new this fall and find painting intriguing, why not join us in this weekly class? We are starting at the beginning and leaving nothing out. Check it out here.
My reference on the study of boredom and how to avoid it is here.
Christmas Cove - July 26
I know, the words "2020" and "summer vacation" don't seem to belong in the same sentence. So many of the options we usually think about can't happen this year. What's the essence of a summer vacation? For me it's leaving behind the normal scenery and cares of every day. You might think that since we're retired, we're on vacation all the time, but it really isn't the same. Getting away is the ticket!
Tenants Harbor - July 28
A couple of weeks ago, we went out on our boat for a 10 day trip. This, to me is a classic summer vacation. New scenery almost every day, so there's no house and lawn work to do. Lack of internet and post office means that bill paying, and keeping up with the news aren't on the agenda. It's not glamorous, more like RV camping than staying in a hotel, but the scenery can't be beat.
Vinalhaven - July 28
Hurricane Isaias cut the trip short, but it was still a great time. We've done this many times, first on our sailboat when our son was a child and more recently on our mid 80s lobsterboat style cruiser. I've almost always taken paints, but not that often used them. This year I was determined to do a painting a day. But which medium to use? I wanted to work on my water color skills, and, there isn't much space on the boat for wet oil paintings, so that settled it. And I think the ease of set up and clean up made it easier.
Vinalhaven - July 29
I wanted to try adding pen and ink to the water color. There are two ways to do that, either before the water color or after, so I tried both along with some classic water color with no ink. I painted in a sketchbook, which is freeing in a way, because the paintings are personal and can't be framed or sold. Experimenting was a lot of fun.
Between Bold and Devil - July 30
On these trips we spend the nights on our boat either on a mooring or at anchor. There are two kinds of places: harbor towns and nature spots/islands. I enjoy the former for the restaurant meals (not many of those this year!) and being able to take a walk, it's hard to get enough exercise on a 35 foot boat. The nature spots are beautiful and we can sometimes go ashore to explore.
Bucks Harbor - August 2
I hope you too have had a chance for a change of scene and to leave everyday cares behind for a while. It definitely clears the mind, and I find after a week or so, I start thinking about what comes next and making plans for life on shore with renewed energy. I wish that for you as well.
our boat anchored down east
These paintings were all done in the late afternoon when the light was good. I'll leave you with a flip through all of them in my sketchbook. I thoroughly enjoyed the painting experience, and it's so nice to have the book to remember the trip!
Pulling Traps 8"x10" oil on canvas panel (Jonesport style boat)
Have you had any lobster lately? We had some great lobster rolls last week at a local lobster shack with plenty of outdoor seating. And the fries were excellent. I love fries with a little of the potato peel showing, so I know they are hand cut. We wore masks and so did the servers. There were lots of picnic tables and Adirondack chairs with arm rests large enough for your dinner, and so plenty of social distancing options. It was a treat to be outside having a great meal that we didn't have to cook!
The Martha Gayle water color
Lobsters and lobster fishing are an iconic part of Maine. I love to eat them, and everything about catching them fascinates me. Lobster boats are to me the prettiest of boats. They come in a range of styles, from the sleek and elegant Jonesport, to the chunky Novi, from Nova Scotia. I think I've seen lobster boat hulls in every possible color. Fun fact: in Maine, each lobster boat must have one of their buoys displayed on the boat (see top image), so that others fishing can see which pots they are pulling.
Diligence 6"x6" oil on canvas panel (fishes out of Freeport)
The last few years the lobster business has boomed, with over 100 million pounds caught in Maine every year since 2011. And prices have risen too. But this year is likely to be a different story with limited restaurant orders, fewer visitors, the supply chain disrupted by the pandemic. Some lobstermen have been selling direct to consumers, but that can't solve the overall problem.
Blue Boat on Stands 8"x10" oil on canvas panel (Novi style boat)
I did a quick survey of local places that sell live lobsters here in Yarmouth, and found prices to vary between $3.95 and $5.95 a pound for 1 - 1.5 pounders. The farther you get off Route 1, the better the price.
The Sternman 16"x20" oil on linen panel
I'm enjoying having restaurant food again, even served outside, or as take out. We focused a lot on food during the stay at home time, and did a lot of good cooking. But it sure is nice to eat out again! I hope you are enjoying it too, and that we can all support our local fishermen and women whether for lobsters or any other bounty from the sea. And local farmers too!
Rafting Up 20"x30" oil on canvas
People often ask me why I paint. Part of it is the challenge. Another part is that I like to make things, creating something out of nothing has a huge appeal. But there's another reason. I like to help people. And when I can create something for them that has a special meaning, then I feel like I've done what I'm meant to do.
How does that meaning come about for us as viewers of a painting? Usually it's because the subject of the painting brings back a special memory for you. It might be about a place that is or was special for your family. That was the case with the painting of Little Whaleboat Island, below. Maybe it's the cottage or camp where you spent every summer of your childhood. Or the campground that your family visited every year. Or the boat you used to sail with your favorite aunt and uncle.
Little Whaleboat Island oil on canvas
Or perhaps it's an activity that everyone in your family remembers fondly. That was the case with Rafting Up, at the top of this post. Though only one of the families in that painting owns the original, I created reproductions for their children, and all the other boat owners (including my own family). If I remember correctly, there are nine Rafting Up giclee prints hanging on the walls of people who have fond memories of that afternoon in Seal Bay on Vinalhaven. What an honor it was to paint that! And a pleasure to see the joy it brings daily to all those people.
House on Monhegan 8"x10" oil on canvas
Maybe a place from your travels has a special meaning for you. I know that happens to me. Scenes from Maine's coast come to mind, and especially my visits to Monhegan Island. The first was a day trip, and I later learned where to stay, explored the island, and even taught a workshop there. Any painting of Monhegan brings that all back for me.
Sparkle 10"x8" oil on canvas
Owning a boat often leads to owning subsequent boats, as the family gets bigger. I was thrilled one afternoon when visiting a new friend's home to see paintings of each of their previous sailboats proudly displayed. They had each one painted by a local artist and were proud to show them off and tell us about their adventures on each boat.
Stonington Green final 6"x12" oil on canvas board
Stonington Green drawing in paint on a toned canvas
A splash of color in the landscape grabs your attention, doesn't it? A red barn in the midst of green corn fields, a bright orange boat on blue water, or brightly colored houses by the sea, they are all eye catching. I love finding those splashes of color. And I love including them in my paintings.
But there's more to creating color in paintings than what's on the top layer. I often prime my canvas with complementary colors to those that will be predominant in the painting. For example, an orange or red color for landscapes, to complement the blue sky and green foliage. Little bits of this under layer will show through in the final painting, which makes the colors in the top layer pop. I think you can see that in the example of Stonington Green above.
Summer Marsh underpainting 8"x10" oil on linen panel
What's even more fun, is to block in the structure of the painting in bright colors as an underpainting. Once again, little bits of this underpainting will show through in the final painting. I used this process on Summer Marsh. The orange, purple and blue version above is the underpainting.
Summer Marsh final 8"x10" oil on linen panel
Can you see little bits of the underpainting showing through the final version above?
Backdoor to Seal Bay Complements 5"x7" oil on gessobord
And sometimes, what starts as an underpainting becomes so interesting, that it stands by itself and becomes the final painting. That's what happened above in this version of Backdoor to Seal Bay, painted with a knife. Crazy color, no?
White Dinghy Bow 5"x7" oil on gessoboard
I've painted this boat at least six times. And taken many pictures of it, as it turned on it's mooring in Casco Bay. It was built by a local lobsterman to take him to and from his lobster boat, the Foxy Lady. It's a classic skiff, one of the more common type of boat used by lobstermen. Skiffs have a flat bottom, pointed bow and flat stern. They can travel in shallow water, which makes them easy to take ashore. They are a subset of dinghies, whose name comes from their use rather than their shape.
Waiting for the Lobsterman 6"x6" oil on canvas panel
Above is my first painting of the white skiff, from about six years ago. This is the only painting where I included the engine, which was fun to paint, with it's chunky shape and tiller. I also love the red water line on this boat, very cheerful. And I was drawn to the shadow side being just a little darker then the water.
Dinghy in Blue 6"x6" oil on canvas panel
Above, I decided to go a little crazy with color. That's one of the great things about painting. As long as you get the values right (how dark or light a shape is), you can use any color you want for that shape. I often work from a black and white photo to do this. In this case, the canvas was toned bright pink, some of which shows through both the water and the reflection. I couldn't resist painting the boat yellow, and setting it off with a bright violet blue.
White Dinghy Stern 5"x7" oil on gessobord
I think this is the most recent painting of my favorite skiff, it's from last summer. Maybe it's time to paint her again. Every painting of this boat I've created has been sold. So either she's a beauty, or my attraction to her makes me paint at my best. She features in two of my note card sets, available here on my website.