Abandoning Impressionism

Not that I have ever been much of an impressionist but I really admire impressionists who create an illusion of reality. Frank Weston Benson is a good example, and there are many more.
I have always had the intention to make my work more impressionistic but finding a way to do that has been a little problematic.

In the past I’ve restricted my time, or used bigger brushes, or tried painting using large blocked out areas, in an attempt to make my work more impressionistic. I’ve been struggling with my latest painting but going over areas adding detail with a small brush just isn’t working this time. I’ve decided to abandon attempts at impressionism. My work will never be photo realistic but neither will it be impressionistic. From now on I will just paint it from the beginning as I think it should be.

This started with a YouTube video:
I was watching the video and noticed that the background trees looked very realistic. He is using a small brush and it’s working very well. I may not go quite so small with the brush but we’ll see. The more I watch him paint the greater the similarity with how I paint. The big difference is that I like to use larger brushes; they are faster. I’ve found in the past that if I use a small brush throughout, the contrast fades.

I’ve attached an old painting of mine. I’ve done this before because it is my favourite. It’s small, 12” x 16” and done on canvas board. That’s cardboard covered in fake canvas. It was done in a class with limited time. I remember an hour but it could easily have been less. This particular time we were allowed to use our entire colour pallet; halleluiah. The limited time is why it looks so unfinished. I’ve always thought it looked very impressionistic.

I don’t think my paintings will look significantly different but I’m hoping that they might complete faster and not be so much of a struggle if I simply abandon attempts to make my work more impressionistic.


I’m not talking about what paint colours I use; I’m referring to the thing I mix my paints on. I’ve never used a traditional pallet. This is the one that painters are supposed to use; that egg shaped board you stick your thumb through. I’ve always thought that was rather useless and opted for a large pane of thick glass, which works well and is easy to clean. I got the pane of glass from the house I grew up in that was torn down to make room for apartments. I still have it.

Now that I have switched to acrylics I use less paint. At least I mix less paint due to how quickly it dries. I bought a small wooden traditional pallet, about 9” x 11”. There is enough room to mix a couple of colours and it cleans up easily. It’s easy to hold in my hand and I don’t need to constantly bend down to reach my glass pallet. I still use the glass pallet when I’m mixing large amounts of paint for backgrounds.

The small pallet has the added advantage that it’s easier to keep my eye on where I’m painting. So there is less chance of getting lost in flower petals.


So unfortunately I don’t have much advice to give on how to find inspiration. Whenever I’m walking around I keep my eyes open. This might be a short walk close to my cabin in Manning Park, or a walk in New Westminster key, the location really isn’t important. I’m looking for shapes and shadows that catch my interest. I got into the habit of doing this when I was practicing photography. The subject doesn’t matter, it’s the way it goes together. I try to carry a camera almost everywhere I go so if I see something interesting I’m ready. This is a lot easier now that cell phones have cameras. I’m a little old school since I don’t have a cell phone.

Recently I was walking around Burnaby Lake with my sister and saw an owl sitting on a branch. Actually a bunch of other people saw it first and we came upon them with all their camera gear and spotting scopes set up. I had my little camera with me and took a bunch of pictures. I might have taken 40. Since they are digital it doesn’t cost anything and I’m taking a collage and putting them together later in Photoshop. I think the owl is a barred owl. If I use it I’ll need to find some additional images to fill in the eyes and add more detail to the feathers. The background is also a little busy but I like the branches.

Carrying a camera can be a two edged sword. Eventually your significant other is likely going to find it annoying. I try to be quick but it’s a balancing act.

Most of my paintings start out this way. Whenever I’m looking for a new image to paint I go through the pictures I’ve taken or picked up off the Internet and I take the opportunity to prune my collection of images that I don’t think I will ever use. This collection of images is likely the closest thing to finding inspiration that I have. When I picked an image for the collection, something about it attracted me. I might not remember what that something was and I might not feel the same today; in which case I will likely toss it out. I use this collection of images regularly and add to it constantly. The Internet is a wonderful tool for this. Every time I have an idea I search for images on the Internet. The idea might have come from a picture I took or a place I’ve been. Most of the things I find on the Internet I can’t use but sometimes I find a gem and that often leads to other things and eventually I have a painting.

My Camera Is Wrong

I take pictures of whatever I’m working on. I take one every time I finish a painting session. That’s a lot of pictures and eventually I might put some of them together into an animation. I started doing it when my daughter had a painting destroyed by the post office. It looked like they ran over it with a forklift. Insurance paid for it but her customer wanted the painting not the money, so she re-painted it. The images she had of the painting in various states were invaluable for the re-paint. I don’t know if I could have done that.

When I take a picture it always looks brighter than the painting. This is because the camera automatically sets itself for the darkest and lightest parts of the image. With my camera I could do this manually but I just can’t be bothered. Unfortunately I often start with the darker areas of the image so the histogram that the camera generates to base its brightness settings on is skewed and makes the image appear too bright. In order to make the picture look like the painting I have to adjust it in Photoshop. This is easy to do but I’d rather not because it’s not going to look right on anyone else’s monitor in any case. I usually just leave it as is.

The final image is a little different. If I were selling my work I’d want the on-line image to match, as closely as possible, with the original. This is difficult because no matter what I do I don’t know the settings on anyone’s monitor. So every monitor will render the painting differently. So far my daughter hasn’t had any trouble so maybe there isn’t as much of a problem as I’m imagining.

I could improve the situation by exposing the camera for the light in my studio. The image should then look like the painting, on my monitor, in my studio. I still don’t have any idea what anyone else’s monitor settings are but it would standardise the error. I think I’m just going to continue taking pictures and adjusting them the way I do presently. I’ll adjust the image to make it look as much like the original as I can. If in the future I have a problem I’ll deal with it then.

Artists that I like

But not a complete list.





His subject matter is a little too focused for me.





I love the way she does waves.



She has a small studio with several other artists. When I walked in I was immediately drawn to her work. It’s not painting. It’s beautiful and captivating.





How I Mix Colours

Everyone knows that blue and yellow make green and red and yellow make orange. But the colours on your monitor use RGB (Red, Green and Blue) pixels. The three colour pixels together make white. The three colours of paint together should make black but they actually make a muddy brownish/greyish colour. The problem here is that paint is a subtractive medium and light is an additive colour medium.  By subtractive I mean that paint absorbs all colour except the colour that we see. And paint is a very inefficient colour medium. That’s why four inks are used in printing; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. Cyan is sort of blue. Magenta is sort of red. Yellow is Yellow, although somewhat on the green side, but ink is more transparent. Black is exactly that but you can’t make black with the other three colours in a subtractive medium.

Most colours used in printing use four colours. Yellow, Magenta and Cyan set the colour and black is added to set the tone. White is just the plain paper without ink. I use paint in a similar way. I try to stick to only two paints to set colour and black to darken. I use white sparingly. If I’m trying to match an intense saturated colour I almost always resort to a particular paint or pigment. Specific pigments or paints that I use most often are Quinacridone Crimson, Dioxazine Purple and Naphthol Crimson. The pigments used in these are relatively new; early 20th century. Oil paint tends to use traditional pigments and most of the overly poisonous ones have been discontinued but there are quite a few poisonous pigments. Artists were more concerned with the colour than poisoning themselves.

So I decide what two paints I’m going to try then add white or black. Hopefully that method comes out OK. Hansa Yellow is very transparent so I add it whenever I want the colour to be warmer. So far Ultramarine Blue is the only colour that I haven’t found a modern pigment that I like better. Originally Ultramarine blue used Lapis Lazuli for the pigment; not poisonous but expensive. It now uses a somewhat modern and far less expensive substitute so perhaps I don’t need to look any further.

There is no shortage of opinions on colour. I use the web and see if anyone has a better solution for a problem I might be having.