The Next Painting

I’ve noticed that ideas for the next painting or a search for pictures starts while working on the present painting. I’ve been wondering what triggers this. I occasionally dream about the present work but at some point the dreams stop and ideas about a new work start. At one time I just started the new painting but that was always bad news for the old. If I have something new that I have started the old is difficult to finish. Three was the most I ever had on the go at once and it was very difficult to finish the first two. I no longer do that. My studio is small so I don’t have the room to work on more than one at a time.

When I was working with oils, having more than one on the go made sense because I had to leave them to dry periodically. With acrylics there is no reason not to forge ahead. Leaving the painting to dry means making tea.

Thinking about the next painting is an incentive to finish the present one. Each painting is a bit of a challenge. When my ideas for the present painting have solidified that’s when I start thinking about the next. It’s very attractive to think that I’m always looking for the next challenge. It may also be that I’m a little ADD but I think I’ll stick with the challenge idea.

Acrylics and Health

One of the biggest benefits of Acrylics is health.

I’ve always been aware of some of the health concerns associated with art. The chemicals used in paint are not particularly benign. Turpentine although not actively poisonous isn’t healthy. I’ve done a little gunsmithing and one of the chemicals used is potassium cyanide. Nothing that I’ve encountered in art comes close as far as lethality but it has made me careful. Paints can have some nasty chemicals and poisons.  I’ve always liked Cobalt blue. Clearly the paint manufacturers have tried to keep the nastier chemicals out of acrylics and have been trying to replace them in oils.

Turpentine is interesting. As a terpene it’s not actually poisonous. Many substances that we might ingest contain terpenes. Absinth I find the most interesting. Its affects are linked to artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Edouard Manet, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Acrylics are almost devoid of most of the nastier chemicals. I’ve read reports of acrylic off-gassing causing some problems but only in extreme situations and usually with house paint. Elements like cadmium and cobalt can simply be avoided by being careful (don’t eat while you paint) or using colours with other pigments.

If you prefer oils and/or pigments containing cobalt and cadmium then paint to your hearts content but be careful.

Bright Pictures

I’ve noticed that pictures that I take of my work in my studio are often brighter than the painting looks. I don’t know the exact reason and it’s easy to fix in Photoshop but here are some possibilities.

The cameras settings can easily create brighter images. There are several reasons for this. The imaging chip reacts to light differently from our eyes. The camera is capable of imaging darker shadows than our eyes so a very dark colour looks lighter through the camera.

The lighting in my studio is fluorescent. It’s full spectrum fluorescent but it still has a heavy green spike. All fluorescent bulbs have this. You don’t usually see this through a digital camera because all digital cameras compensate for light temperature. If you have ever used a film camera you have seen this. Pictures taken under fluorescent light have a green tint. Incandescent bulbs emit a cooler colour spectrum and subsequently have a yellow or red tint. I know this will seem wrong to many of you. Blue and green light has a higher temperature that yellow or red light. You could buy different film if you were using incandescent light (artists normally call that warmer). The different light spectrum may skew the image histogram to a lighter tone. Professionals using digital cameras take a photo of a colour chart that includes a white section. The camera can take a reading from the white section and give a proper colour balance for the image (this is usually done automatically).

My monitor may be set so that an image appears brighter. This is actually easy to set. Take a digital photograph of a colour chart, put it up on the screen and compare it to the original. Most monitor software has the ability to adjust the colour rendering. I use my monitor while painting because prints can’t reproduce the colour spectrum that a monitor can. I adjust the screen images to something I like and paint accordingly so I’m already compensating to some extent.

The light reflection off various paint may also contribute to the problem. Light and frequency reflection is a complex subject. Some of the pigments we paint with are somewhat iridescent; like a butterfly wing. This is a quantum effect that changes the frequency slightly depending on the direction it is viewed from. It’s not something we usually want but there are iridescent paints out there so be aware of them and experiment.

Complex! But make it simpler. Get the image up on your monitor, tweak it in whatever way you can until you like it. Now paint from it. I still use a printed image but I compare it to my monitor and paint accordingly. When I take a picture of the painting I adjust it until it looks like the painting. I still can’t guarantee that what you see on your monitor will match the painting exactly but no matter what I do I can’t guarantee that.

Art and Society

I read a question in a list of art Blog topics. What role does art have in society?

My immediate answer is ‘none’. However I don’t think it’s quite that simple. When I paint I have no great social questions that inspire me or that I am thinking about. When I named ‘Sea Stars’ I was thinking about the recent sea star die-off on the pacific coast. But I started painting Siwash Rock because I liked the image. I started thinking about sea stars because several years ago my wife and I saw large numbers of them covering the rocks around Siwash Rock; hence ‘Sea Stars’. There is a social issue here but I wasn’t thinking about it when I was painting.

Some artists are clearly thinking of a social issue when they work or are deciding on their next project. Not me. I don’t have a problem with using art to bring attention to an issue. It doesn’t diminish the art. I just don’t think about it when I paint. In the past the social power of art was greater because there were no commercials, billboards, TV, magazines or newspapers. Some of the cave paintings are fantastic. Hunters painting animals on cave walls were doing something very different than I am when I paint a picture. The animals have great life and likely appeared to jump right off the walls. I can understand how the artists and paintings seemed magical.

Recently my daughter did a series on phytoplankton. Some of it is microscopic others just small. The images are beautiful and I liked them. Some may be endangered and others are just very interesting. If the art heightens awareness of a social issue then it’s a bonus. If I were painting with a message I would always be concerned that the message would take over the art. I have no expectations of social comment or change when I paint. I like to paint.

The attached image has nothing to do with this blog entry. It’s just what I’m presently working on. The blog entry is just what I’m presently thinking about. I’m sometimes asked what inspired me to paint a picture. When I tell them I liked the image they are clearly a little disappointed with the shallowness of my response. I appreciate the interest but sorry that’s all you get.

Daily drawing

This is something that I have never done but have been urged to do for years. One of my teachers did a painting a day for most of a year. I paint every day but I don’t think a couple of square inches count.


My daughter Rachelle is doing a drawing a day.


My site.


I’m presently working on a picture of a skiff. It’s actually a mountain lake landscape but the skiff is the centre of attention. The painting board is fairly large; as large as I can fit in my studio area. I have a small studio area. The interesting thing is the perspective is wrong. I think the board is large enough that it distorts my view when I am painting close to it and makes free sketching more difficult. The thwarts are not angled correctly and are not wide enough. Oar placement is done with Thole Pins and there is no Transom or Sculling notch.

The oars are connected to the Thole Pins with a cord (reasonable but I’ve never seen that before). In the photo the cord is ultra-visible because of light reflection. It took me a moment to puzzle out what it was. As a result I intend to simply leave them out of the painting. Anything that slows a viewer from recognising something in the image might reduce the realistic look of the painting. I think I’ve always done things like this but I didn’t think of it in such a geeky way. The oars are laying across the thwarts held there by the cords and some may wonder about the angle. But the final result should be a more realistic looking image. Another option is to make the cords highly detailed so that it is obvious what they are.

The painting isn’t really large enough to have gridded it off for sketching but it would have made it easier, quicker and more accurate in perspective. If I were doing a mural (heaven forbid, I might be tempted to buy a spray gun) gridding would have been a requirement but here a freehand sketch works. It might mean a few mistakes and overpaint but I have time. Deciding what to leave out and what to include is a major undertaking for me with any of my paintings. I try not to add anything because it takes time to make it look like it fits and there are more chances of a failure, but leaving stuff out is easy.

I definitely analyse my paintings differently than I used too. I think this has a lot to do with writing this blog. The analysis results in better paintings and I attribute that to writing about it. I did not intend or think of the blog as having this effect; I started it grudgingly but it has turned out to be useful and a lot of fun.

Sad Empty Pouch

Sad Empty Pouch is finished. Half way through I realised that the pelican looked a little sad to me; hence the name.

The feathers were the most difficult part. I wanted to do them very carefully and I started and re-started several times. I usually try to get a mental 3D image of how the body or feathers are, so when I paint I don’t need to follow a photo exactly. I can then paint using a mental image and add or alter the body features. The result is, the painting represents an object or body even though it might be a little different than the original photo, and it goes faster. Couldn’t do that in this case. I had to go back to the photo and paint exactly (or very close to) what I saw. Tedious.

Search For Other Artists


The Internet is a wonderful tool. I use it to search for images and for artists. Other artists work gives me ideas and inspiration. One particular artist I’ve found lately is Anita McComas.

All her work verges on the abstract but it’s not. Impressionistic is a poor description. I’ve always admired artists who can bring reality from a few apparently unrelated brush strokes. My work is always too detailed. I try and fail to paint like McComas.

Continuous Painted Edge

I usually paint edges black. The idea is to allow the painting to be hung immediately without the necessity of a frame. Not that frames are bad but I believe the frame is what ties the painting to the room it’s in. So hang the painting for a few days or weeks then choose a frame.

This is a bit of a departure for me. Continue the painting over the edge and there may be even less need of a frame. It might still need a frame because it may look awful in a particular room. I thought painting the edge would be a royal pain but it wasn’t bad at all. Now this painting was very simple to do but even if it required some real work it still wouldn’t take long. My wife likes this kind of edge and she often has a better grasp of what looks good.

I have no idea if this would be more saleable. My daughter does this quite often and she sells quite a bit of work.


My site

Painting Failure

Some paintings just never make it. I’ll have an idea that I really want to pursue but I don’t have the right subjects or images and I never get started on the painting. I’m OK with that. The ones that really bug me are the paintings that get started but I can’t finish even if I have all the images I need.

I have a painting of a flower that I could never finish. I kept getting lost in the petals. I would start work on a section of the flower only to discover later that I was working on the wrong petal. This happened four or five times and eventually I gave up and put the painting aside. I think about going back to it but the next painting always seems to be a better option. Generally I don’t like going back to a painting after I’ve finished but in this case it’s unfinished so I might be OK with it.