What should I do during a dry spell?

“Summer Light”
15×11 Plein Air Watercolor

What Should I Do During a Dry Spell?

Since I haven’t posted for a while (I’ve been painting a lot and will do better), I’ll try to make up for it by giving you my thoughts about some things which I think are important.

What is a “dry spell?” I’m referring to what can be several different things here. One dry spell could be burnout or “painter’s block” when nothing inspires you to paint. Another, for plein air painters, could be that it’s too darn hot to go out and paint and everything is either green on green on more green, OR all brown and burned up! No color – that’s not inspiring. Another dry spell could be that you’re not selling and you don’t need any more paintings piling up if you aren’t selling what you have.

Let’s take a positive approach to combat this dry spell and do something to improve your painting! The first thing I think of is to get out of your comfort zone by trying something new. I’m not an “experimental” person myself and don’t do things too much out of the ordinary, but one thing that comes to mind that REALLY improves your skills is to use a limited palette on a whole painting. Choose one red, one yellow and one blue (plus white if you are doing an oil) and mix every color in the painting out of those three. You might have disastrous results at first because a.) you need more practice in mixing some of the colors or b.) you might need to change one of your primaries because it might not mix as well as another one does and could give you some ugly colors. You have to find this out! “Summer Light” above (click on the painting to enlarge)  was painted using one red, one yellow and one blue. It’s FUN, it’s CHALLENGING, and it’s REWARDING when you accomplish something like this. Now I’m starting to add a few of my “favorites” that are not primaries at the VERY END IF NEEDED. The color unity is already in the painting from using three colors. I sometimes add my favorites, burnt sienna and viridian green (neither one being a primary) to get a little more variety in my greens, for instance.

Another thing I’d recommend is trying to perfect your “working method.” What works and what doesn’t work best? Now you have time to experiment and find out the best way YOU work. Example: Right now in plein air oils I’m experimenting with doing a really wild and colorful underpainting. My theory is that these colors will show through a bit and always influence whatever is put over them. In my next blog post (soon) I’ll show one of these. To further challenge myself, I’m using a limited palette also on these paintings.

Using a limited palette is much easier outdoors – paint tubes add weight, and sometimes you have to “pare down” when walking any distance. Also, you can mix any color from the three primaries that you need.

I hope this has given you some ideas. I’ve been working on this underpainting thing day after day after day. It’s called practice!

When the economy is down and galleries aren’t selling well a goal could be to get better at what you’re doing and start stockpiling some awesome work for when things do start selling!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post and I’m sorry I got so wordy! One last thing, this isn’t an aspen painting, but I’m very happy to have gotten my third painting accepted into the American Impressionist Society Juried Exhibit! “Leaving Moab” is below:

Bye until next time! Be sure to check my web site for new paintings I’ve added:

How do I unify aspen trees with other subjects in the painting?

“Cold Feet” 20×30 Oil

“Cold Feet” is a good example of unifying the deer with the surrounding aspen trees. In the first place, I used a very limited palette (mainly red, yellow and blue, the primary colors) for the whole painting, so it was unified that way from the beginning. Also, I used the same colors I painted the deer with on most of the aspen trees and also repeated some in the background. Even the highlights on the deer and one the aspen trees are mixed out of the same white and yellows.

A  way to unify the snow with the rest of the painting is to first tone the canvas with the deer colors (wipe excess off with paper towel or rag so it’s a thin tone) and let a little of this tone show through the snow in spots. Click on “Cold Feet” to enlarge it and see the tone showing through the snow better.

This is what we will work on in my three upcoming oil workshops in November and December of this year and January, 2018.  I’ll demonstrate what I call “bending a color” to unify paintings. If a painting is unified, it all “goes together” in a pleasing manner to the viewer, and the viewer probably will not even realize why he or she is so attracted to the painting. See list of workshops and locations on my web site, under “Exhibits, Events and Classes.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post!

How Do I Handle Summer Greens in Aspen Foliage?

How Do I Handle Summer Greens in Aspen Foliage?

Plein Air Oil
“Summer’s Promise”                                                   Plein Air Oil

Since greens are “in” now, I thought I’d discuss a little about them, since everyone seems to have trouble with them. Aspen trees have cooler green foliage than most other trees, so I usually mix greens using a cool blue like cerulean blue with any yellow (usually a cool one) plus a TOUCH of cool red (this always grays the green just slightly to make the green more believable and natural). Notice the dark greens in the foliage “weave” through in a sideways S shape from the right of the largest aspen up to the top of the second largest aspen. This keeps the darks connected in a good shape and they don’t appear spotty. You can add other darks here and there, but always have a large, connected shape first. Click on the image to enlarge it.

When adding lighter green foliage in oil, be sure not to add too much white to it. You can afford to warm it up with more yellow at this point (I use cadmium lemon or Winsor Lemon) instead of adding too much white and making the paint chalky.
When adding lighter green foliage in oil, be sure not to add too much white to it. You can afford to warm it up with more yellow at this point (I use cadmium lemon or Winsor Lemon) because it is sunlit instead of adding too much white and making the paint chalky.

If you are painting in watercolor, the same advice holds and, of course, you would also use more water to lighten the sunlit parts of the foliage. My next blog will cover greens in watercolor.

I’m teaching a three-day intermediate oil workshop at Artists’ Showplace Gallery in Dallas, TX, on January 24-26, 2017, “Back to Basics – the roots of successful painting and how to infuse light into your landscapes.” We will cover lots of light and atmospheric effects to add to your work, which I think are very important aspects of having a painting “stand out from the crowd.” The cost is $285 for the three days and see my web site under “Exhibits and Events” for more information: or go to Artists’ Showplace web site.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post, and stay tuned for the next post about handling these darn summer greens in watercolor!

How do I add an animal into an aspen tree painting?

How Do I Add an Animal Into an Aspen Tree Painting?

"Safe Haven" Oil on Linen Canvas 16x20"
“Safe Haven”
Oil on Linen Canvas

Adding an animal from another photograph into an aspen tree painting can be tricky because you want to be sure the animal is in proportion to what is around him. The ideal situation would be to have the photograph of the animal already positioned where you want him in the aspens, but this isn’t always possible!

Try to find another photo or photo of a painting in a magazine of an animal among the aspen trees to see the size of the animal in relation to the trees.
Try to find another photo or photo of a painting in a magazine of an animal among the aspen trees to see the size of the animal in relation to the trees.

Then, and this is the hard part, scale your animal photo up or down to a size you think would fit – I do this by drawing a “box” around the outer edges of the animal and then making the box smaller or larger IN PROPORTION TO THE ORIGINAL BOX and sketching the animal in the new box to try. Then, I cut out the animal with scissors and stick him among the trees to see if he looks the correct size. That is just what I did in “Safe Haven,” above. Be sure to click on the image to enlarge the painting. You can move the animal around to see where he looks the best and makes the most interesting composition.

“Painting is not easy – if it were, everyone would be doing it.”  (I forgot who said that, but I think it’s a very good quote). Sometimes we have to stretch, and stretching is good for us! Finding other artists’ work in art magazines is great to use as a jumping off point – for instance, the relative size of their animals in relation to trees around them.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and I will be posting more often now that I’m not out there painting aspens every day (for a while).

Save the date! November 14th from 5-8 p.m. is my Annual Open Studio. See my web site under Exhibits for details!

How do I use shapes to point the viewer where I want him or her to look?

How do I use shapes to point the viewer where I want him or her to look?

Plein Air Watercolor 15 x 11
Plein Air Watercolor “Summer Glow”
15 x 11

In “Summer Glow” I rearranged some logs that were there (and eliminated the ones I didn’t need) to “point” the viewer into the painting. There is no way the viewer can’t to into my picture with these strong “pointers” in the foreground! Click on the image to enlarge.

When you add a shape in the foreground...
When you add a shape in the foreground…

Be sure the shapes you add as “pointers” don’t actually take you OUT of the foreground at the bottom of the painting! I tried to prevent this from happening, which would defeat the purpose, by putting my logs in shadow closest to the viewer, then having them come out into the light as they “point” into the painting. Strong lights at the bottom of the painting would lead to the bottom of the painting, not to the aspen trees.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and will visit my web site, to see the eight new paintings I’ve added under Plein Air Studies and under Landscapes.

How to keep yellows bright in fall aspen tree foliage

"Autumn Showcase"  Plein Air Oil on Board  12x9
“Autumn Showcase” Plein Air Oil on Board 12×9

How to keep yellows bright in fall aspen tree foliage

Autumn Showcase was painted in front of our house in Colorado. I changed the background and singled out three trees and went to work! It will be one of my submissions for Plein Air Southwest Salon (PASW) at Southwest Gallery in Dallas, TX, beginning April 11, 2015.

On a sunny day, I try to keep my yellows as bright as possible, because that is the way I see them on sunlit fall aspen trees. To do this, I use three yellows in varying combinations: cadmium lemon, cadmium yellow medium and Indian yellow. On the beginning block-in and first layer after that, I do NOT add any white. At the very end, and only for the most sunlit leaves, I add a tiny bit of white to this mixture. Too much white changes the color of the bright yellows and makes the paint have a chalky look.

What about edges of the foliage?
What about edges of the foliage?

The sharpest edges should be kept around the center of interest, in this case the largest tree out in front. Most of them, not all of them, should be softened as the foliage goes away from the center of interest. It’s kind of like a camera focusing on something and the rest of the picture is a little blurry. To do this is easy if you’re painting plein air – you can just put down the color and with one brush stroke, sweep the color out into the background while it is wet. (Click on the image to enlarge). Stay tuned for next blog, how I mix the yellows in shadow. Feel free to pass this on to a friend and tell them they may email me at to receive notifications of posts, or they may leave a comment on my blog. Thanks for tuning in, and Happy New Year!