What do I see that makes me want to paint?

I don’t know!!

That’s the simple and mostly honest answer. I do see things that I like that inspire me to paint but I truly don’t know why. Sometimes it’s the contrast, sometimes it’s the colour, and sometimes I get a sudden image of a finished painting. Sometimes it’s a very simple thing like sun shining through a back-lit flower or grass. I was a graphic designer for many years and I got a kick out of my boss because at the beginning of a project I would simply stare at a blank screen and imagine different ideas. It drove them crazy and I loved it.

The juxtaposition of colours and textures draw me. Sunlight and shadows are interesting. How we pull reality out of jumbled complexity. This last is certainly a survival trait because our brains are trying to spot the lion in the grass. If you look at a random something long enough (clouds for example) you will start seeing shapes. Could this be what draws us to art? Could this be what art is all about?


This one isn’t actually giving me trouble but it’s taking a long time anyway. I am several iterations into the painting. The background is doing well but it’s complicated. Not actually detailed but complicated. I’m having the most problems with the translucent water. You can see an earlier version of this work in a previous post.

10 artists whose work I like.

Judy Villett works in textiles. When I walked into her small studio I thought at first I was looking at paintings. When I realised they were fabric I was first disappointed but I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Beautiful work and something I can’t imagine doing.



I like David Langevin’s work. He has a great article on his site about the permanence of acrylics.



Will Enn’s grapes are beautiful. He creates them digitally then prints them. This is not a slight. I’ve done work on the computer and I like it. But paint on board or canvas is different, there is something about it that I find fulfilling and I don’t have to worry about print resolution.



The colours are wonderful. Whimsical and free I think I would enjoy painting them.



Beautiful. Her waves are exquisite.



I like her work but sometimes it’s hard to tell reality from painting.



I like her wrought iron and landscapes.






I like his work. It’s probably the colours he uses that really draw me. However I disagree with the way some galleries market ‘Gicleé’ images. Gicleé is simply a high quality archival inkjet print. I don’t know how you can do original Gicleé unless the work is digital and then printed on a Gicleé printer. Gicleé is just a brand name.



I love to look at watercolour. I can’t do it but I love to look.


What can’t you paint using acrylics?

While cruising through the art forums I couldn’t help but notice a difference between oil and acrylics. Those artists whose style is similar to mine often use oils. I started with oils 50 years ago but switched to acrylics. The painting you see in this post is the last that I did with oils. It was the odour that finally got to me. More specifically Turpentine. About 30 years ago the refining process for turpentine changed. It used to smell like Tea Tree oil which I loved (nothing to do with tea). There are several refining processes for turpentine, some of which are billed as odourless. I suspect the one I’m referring to had to do with cost. After the change turpentine had a harsh chemical odour that bothered me. I stopped painting. I tried acrylics some years later but found them too transparent. I tried again recently and the latest acrylics are much better. In fact I think that in many ways they are superior to oils. I had to get used to the quick drying time but now I consider it an advantage. I don’t have several canvases drying waiting for the next step.

So why is it that acrylics are deemed to require a different style or be worth less money? What can’t you paint using acrylics? There are some changes required to techniques but other than that I’ve found no trouble with painting anything using acrylics and most of the techniques transfer easily. I’ve occasionally used a retarder to lengthen the drying time of acrylics. I used to use a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine. If I wanted a longer drying time I’d use more oil; shorter, more turpentine. I love acrylics. Very little odour. Washes up with soap and water. Fabulous colours. Should be archival (have to wait a couple of hundred years to be sure).

I think anything can be painted using acrylics. There are properties about acrylics that you need to get used to. There are some very annoying properties about oils that you need to get used to. There is nothing that I can see about either that would make it more valuable. So choose the medium you like and paint.


10 ways to paint

I did a search for 101 ways and another for 10 ways. Search results were 500,000 for 101 ways and 190,000 for 10 ways. So here are 10 ways. Actually I don’t care what the results were, 10 just sounds easier.

  1. Pick your subject. I take a camera almost everywhere I go. I end up with a lot of useless pictures but every so often one is perfect. I often take lots of pictures of a scene and put them together in Photoshop. Don’t forget to take detail shots of various parts of the scene. I also look on the Internet. It’s hard to find images with enough detail but sometimes you can find multiple images. If you need a detail shot of something special (a certain flower for example) you can likely find something on line. I used to use transparency film. Every shot that you keep costs about $1.00. Now with digital images they cost almost nothing.
  2. Pick a canvas size to fit the work. If its a little detail like a bird or squirrel pick a small canvas so you can paint it about life size. If it’s an infinite vista then make it large but remember how big your painting location is. I can’t fit a canvas larger than 48 x 36 inches in what I call my studio. I like big canvases. I need a bigger studio.
  3. I like a background under-colour wash. Decide if you want the work to be warmer or colder. Pick a colour that complements this. Remember that a snow scene isn’t necessarily cold, if there are lots of warm highlights then you might want a warm under-colour. One of the biggest benefits of an under-colour is the canvas doesn’t show through. The wash isn’t necessarily visible on the finished painting but it influences your choice of colour every time you mix. Scientifically blue is actually a hotter colour temperature than red but our observation is reversed. I often want a picture to feel warm so I use a yellow or orange wash. On ‘Red Tree’ I used a red wash.
  4. Get paint on the canvas. It doesn’t really matter how you do this. Remember you can always scrape it off, sand it off, or just paint over it. I start with mid-dark tones and leave the darks and highlights till last. I paint in blocks so that I don’t get lost. Water gets a blue block. Leaves get a green block etc…
  5. Draw a very detailed sketch. Now when you are adding new elements or colours you can just fill in the required area on the sketch.
  6. Don’t do a detailed sketch. I usually just put some paint on a brush and start with the horizon line. I sketch with the brush as I go along.
  7. Fill in the canvas in the area you need to work on next. As you look at the work this area should be obvious. If not pick a place on the canvas that could use work. I think of this as a series of iterations. I clean my brushes between each. Since I work in acrylics cleaning brushes frequently is essential. I use this time to consider my next step.
  8. Ask a friend how it looks. This can be difficult since they sometimes don’t want to hurt your feelings. My wife and youngest daughter can be brutal but this works very well. My oldest daughter can be equally brutal but she also paints so I ask her to look at the work earlier and her observations are useful.
  9. When you are finished put the canvas away. This means when you can’t think of anything more to do or can’t find a place on the painting that is screaming “needs work”. Every time I look at one of my paintings I see a place where I could have done something more or something else. This doesn’t help so put the painting away.
  10. Get the painting on your Web site or out to the gallery. You are collecting a series of paintings (I put mine in my attic). You won’t sell them as fast as you can paint them but you never know when a given painting will sell. If you have sold them all then for heaven’s sake start charging more.



New Painting

I like square format. This is likely due to taking many pictures with medium format film cameras. The square format allows more latitude in basic design. Works well on walls too. The image here is the picture as the canvas is just barely covered. Very abstract or modern in its look. It almost makes me want to leave it there, but I don’t like abstract or modern so I will press on.

Two Horse Sleigh

Finished! Well it’s never actually finished but I’ve signed it and put it away, so it’s finished. This is the one I’ve had so much difficulty with the various size relationships. I’m not convinced it’s right but sometimes things look too big and sometimes too small so like Goldilocks, it’s just right. This is a technique I’ve used a lot. If something looks wrong in one way; then when I look at it later it looks wrong in another way, it’s probably OK. Sounds like multiple wrongs make a right but I’m NOT saying that. I thought that this one was going to be easy because I was working almost directly from a photo; how wrong I was.