Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Charcoal on paper, 9"x12"

I just want to say,.. thank you... to all of you,.. readers, followers, friends, and family that have been patrons of this blog and made it such a great experience.

Happy Holidays !

Enjoy Jim.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Venus and Aphrodites

Graphite and red conte' on paper.

It has been some time since I posted any drawings here. I think this is a good one to add to the site for it does follow some of the classical approaches I have been working through.
It is funny how certain images repeat themselves in our work.

The images of Venus and Aphrodite have popped up several times in my work over the years.
Commonly known as the Goddess of Love, she is also referred to as the goddess of beauty and nature. Which I feel fits with an artists sensibilities. What is most interesting is how often through out human history you find her persona. Many cultures and civilizations had their version of her myth under a variety of names.

On a recent trip to the Speed Museum we ran across another small early Roman Aphrodite figurine. Which once again got me to thinking about her image and once again putting her in my work.

Enjoy Jim

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Underpainting Techniques, Demonstration Three, Wood Poppy

The “wipe-out-method”, ( Bistre Method.) with the layered approach.

First Image: Click above image for larger view.

I start the image by covering the white canvas with an overall thinned mix of brown made from umbers, almost a sepia tone. I lift out areas to build lights, and add more brown for the darker tones. The lightest lights are the white of the canvas instead of white pigment. I begin simply stating the pattern of light and dark, and editing them by wiping out and adding pigment back in as I refine my underpainting. Once I have my basic structure and design stated, I can proceed with a number of methods. You can have underdrawings that range from summary sketches to highly finished compositions. I could continue refining the underpainting with more browns, or move to more opaque paints of white and grey (Grisaille) developing a full monochrome underpainting for later glazes. Or work directly on top of this with full color.
My intent is to incorporate a little of all these indirect painting methods in this image. But the majority of this image will be done in a layer method.

Second Image:

When working in the layered method, a great deal of alterations (color modification and redrawing) can be done throughout the painting, and uniquely, one can easily incorporate different effects with transparent, semi transparent (glazing and scumbling) as well as opaque paints.

I refine the background with more opaque paint, keeping the edges soft and atmospheric.
I will want to merge the bottle neck with the cast shadow on the wall, but need to state the areas around it, to give myself good references
I begin to thinly model the darkest areas of the bottle to help better judge the lighter translucent parts of the bottle. I restate the petals with flake white. I want them read as a solid surface and later to have some texture.

Third Image:

I concentrate on bringing as much finish to an area as I can, relating one area to another, working the image as a whole, looking for more accuracy in shapes and color notes.
In each layer I bring the image a little more into focus, reexamining and correcting problems as I zero in on the finish I want.
That may sound contradictory, but the goal is to accomplish as much as one can at each sitting and paint layer, yet bring the image together as a whole.
The Wood Poppy, I work-up with color and some thicker impasto strokes, the stem and leaves get a glaze of greens with some opaque highlights.

Finished Image: Wood Poppy - 8”x10” - Oil on panel.

I continue working the image with layers by bringing areas into fuller focus.
Keeping in mind lost and found edges, where do I want things to be a bit softer (blurred), and harder (sharper). The pedals get some heavy sculpted brush strokes, and the bottle receives some glazes to unify areas and soften others. I build up paint in the highlights with some impasto strokes.
I’m pretty happy with the piece at this point and I think I’ve answered most of the visual problems set before me and will probably consider it finish.
However I really like to set a work aside for several days and look at it with a fresh eye before it gets the finishing signature.

For a visual explanation of this process click the video below.

A couple of notes:

The layered method really requires the painting to dry between layers and sittings. So a fast dry medium works best, I used Maroger Painting Medium in this work. But there are many other medium choices, 1to-1to-5 of linseed, dammar and turps will work just fine. Just work thin to thick, lean to fat and when using mediums, less is more.

In all of these underpainting exercises I chose to use flowers in a small format. Keep in mind, if using perishable items such as these you will need a good drawing reference or a resource to replace the flower, lucky for me Linda’s passion for gardening is a endless resource. Also I am not attempting to produce floral for a botanist field guide, and I am just attempting color, shade and shape in the hopes of an illusion of reality with a spark of color.

Closing Thoughts, ... yes there is more … on technique, Titian and artist's today.

My original intent was to explore the technique of the Master Titian, his method of underpainting and building a painting. I have come to the realization that no single approach truly reflects this master, and that all the methods I have been exploring including this demonstration were employed and exploited to achieve his unique versatility. Titian certainly used the underpainting methods of the Flemish and Venetian schools, but also had approaches similar to that of the French Academic tradition.

He would work directly from life on the canvas, often described as attacking it with a brush. In his underpainting he would use tonal painting in warm earth tones, and use a scale of cool grays for flesh tones. Some areas such as the figure would be highly model into a grisaille, and others simply stated in umber. Painting on to it with a semi transparent paint “velatura” in a layered method, making revisions, with new layers and glazes, building textures and surface with “frottage”, sort of a dry brush of pigment over dried layers and finishing with high impasto for his highlights. Certainly very innovative in his painting approach, but keep in mind, Titian would live a long and productive life. Living to be nearly 90 years old, in some pretty inhospitable times, his life would span and compete with some of the greatest artists in world history. It must be comparable to being there when the first human invented the wheel. He was very inventive and fearless in his approach, seeming to have very little restrictions in his method, pulling from his tool box that which fit best to the problem and imagery at hand.

The artist Jose Parramon referred to Titian as the “founder of modern painting”. A statement I must agree with, for Titian certainly was testing the limits of his medium and thinking outside the box in some very revolutionary ways.
His mastery of techniques and procedures is definitely worth study, centuries of paintings and knowledge for us to copy and enjoy, the Master’s obvious gift to the world.
But it is not just the technical virtuosity we should emulate.
These artists were on a quest of discovery, to describe the mysteries and beauty of nature.
Through that inquisitive thinking, they made great contributions to our artistic vocabulary. They were not just practicing technical gymnastics, but deeply concentrating on the act of painting and the artistic dialogue with the principles of nature.
An Old Master such as Titian painted with intellect, curiosity, and passion.

This is what artists today need and must be imitating.

Explore – question – learn – enjoy

A quote by Titian, said while in his 70’s…………

“I think I am beginning to learn something about painting.” …. Titian

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Last Sunflower

I have been so involved lately with some of the underpainting techniques that I needed a break to just fling some paint around and work direct.
Beside these Sunflowers were not going to last for long.

Sunflowers, 11x14, Oil on canvas.

The Last Sunflower, 8x10, Oil on panel

Both done directly from life, alla prima.

Painted wet-into wet in one sitting start to finish.

Enjoy Jim

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One Pochade Box

Since I first posted my, "How to build your own Pochade Box" instructions back in February on my other site Pochade Box Paintings,
I’ve had an amazing response from people all around the world.
That post is being read in 48 countries and has been translated into 28 languages. There has been an array of correspondences with artist on every continent.

But these are the first images I’ve seen of a Pochade Box built from these plans. This kit was built by Ruth Vines, a fine artist/graphic artist living in Florida, USA.
Ruth built a 10’ x 12” box with a Plexiglas palette.

Quote: " It was very easy to build, has more space than the small cigar box I have been using thus far (bought at ebay), and with the flatter mixing area I can finally do some knife painting. I put a piece of plexiglass in the mixing area, for easier cleanup".

Not only did Ruth do a beautiful job of making the Pochade kit, but she has already field tested it, producing some stunning work.
Check out Ruth’s work on her site.

Conquering the world, One Pochade Box at a time.
Enjoy, Jim.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Two -Woodland Phlox

This is the second in a series of explorations in underpainting techniques. In this demonstration I will produce a complete underpainting in monochrome, thus establishing a full tonal range and three dimensional form for later color glazes. The underpainting is done in a neutral grey, called a “Grisaille’, or a cool greenish grey, referred to as a “Verdaccio.”

But before we get into the demo, lets talk about dimension.
Truth is… without some research or a guide, I can not tell you what most of the Old Master’s works are about. What the narrative, myth or Biblical story they might be telling us is, nor do I actually care. What I do know is that in the sixteenth and seventh centuries a handful of artist where producing work that has not been match since. When I look at these works, it is not so much about “content” as it is about “form”.
These artists, in a way unmatched for centuries, took an object, canvas or panel, that only has two dimensions, width and height, and gave it a third, …depth.
Not just linear depth but a true glowing internal illusion of space.
This depth gave them a means to truly express, in a masterfully beautiful way, anything they wished to say.
Their methods are certainly an artistic tradition worth investigating.

The Venetian Method:

First Image: click above image for larger view.

I start with a dry panel that was toned with an imprimatura of umber. And begin to sketch the image directly and thinly in umber. Paying attention to the outline and shadow patterns of the image. My paint is about the consistency of ink, and I will mainly use a soft hair brush. But a steel nib pen can be used to literally draw with the paint some of the finer lines of the contours. I worked this stage in two layers of umber. Refining and correcting until I felt the light and shadow pattern made visual sense and distinguished the most obvious contrast.

Second Image:

I begin working on the umber drawing with a mixture of black, white and ochre. Sort of a cold olive grey called a Verdaccio. Describing the effect of light and shade. I am building in layers opaquely, modeling the form and values to explain in more detail the light family, (planes on the image turned towards the source of light), and shadow family, (planes on the image turned away from the source of light).

Third Image:

Several painting sessions later I have my completed underpainting. I try to keep everything cool, neutral and in a mid tone range, saving the lightest lights and darkest darks for the color glazing step. At this stage the light, middle-tones, shadows, reflected lights and cast shadows should all be well refined. The high-lights will be applied at the end stage. Outside of that, this is the completed painting in monochrome.

Fourth Image: - WIP – Woodland Phlox – 8”x10”

After allowing the underpainting to dry completely I begin the color layers. It always amazes me how little pigment it takes at this stage to start getting some of those deep effects of depth and form. When glazing I will use three brushes, one to apply some medium very thinly to the underpainting in the area I will be working,(called a Couch) and wiping off the excess. Another to apply the paint into the couch and push the glaze around and a third brush to wipe out portions of the glaze. The glazes should have different levels to them, taking full advantage of the values in the underpainting, not applied like a varnish over a piece of wood. I continue building the layers keeping the shadows thin and transparent and the light becoming more and more opaque with scumbling, scumbling lightens up the dried layer, making it more opaque, where glazing darkens the tone of the color on top. I apply the highlight in opaque impasto to finish the piece, hopefully creating the illusion of three dimensional space I was looking for.

At this point I will leave the painting to dry for several days, returning later with a fresh eye to decide if this work is complete.

Thanks for looking.
Enjoy Jim

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Flemish and Venetian Schools

If you research the oil painting history of the past, especially those techniques that produced the remarkable results of the Old Masters between the sixteenth and seventh centuries, or are interested in any modern effort to emulate them. We will find those roots lead to the Flemish and Venetian Schools.

The invention of oil painting is attributed to the Van Eyck brothers, Hubert and Jan in or around 1400 in the city of Bruges, the capital of West Flanders. Disenchanted with the use of egg tempera, the common painting medium of the time, they experimented with various oils and resins. According to the story, they were looking for a medium “that would dry in the shade”, and developed what we today would call Oil Painting.
The Flemish Technique continued with the practices of the earlier egg tempera painters, using detailed preliminary sketches transfer to small wooden panels. The qualities of this new oil paint medium was that it could be apply transparently or opaquely creating a much greater illusion of depth than prior egg tempera works. Also overcoming the slow drying time of tempera, it allowed them to develop more elaborate underpaintings. A brownish transparent underpainting;(bistre), to establish a tonal range for the subject, over which they applied thin veils of transparent local color, modeling light and darks with further glazes very similarly to a modern water colorist. It was a revolutionary process, and was what my earlier post “Spring Flowers” was exploring.

Jan van Eyck, Saint Barbara, Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp

The innovations of the Flemish painters found their way to the Italian artists of the Early Renaissance, presumably through Giorgio Bellini and his teachings. It was not long before leading artists in Rome and Venice were experimenting with the method, including Leonardo da Vinci. The Venetians were quick to see the possibilities and limitations of this method and made some unique adaptations to the process.
The thin bistre earth tone underpainting was difficult to make corrections on in the underpainting stage, was rigorously tight for many of the large mural sized canvases the Venetians were working on at that time.
And though not as noticeable in the small wooden panels of the Flemish painter, the oil-resin medium produced unwanted glare. The Venetians answer was to modify the medium by removing the resin, replacing it with beeswax to reduce glare. They used opaque mixtures of values such as a gray (grisaille) or greenish-gray (verdaccio) to paint a detailed underpainting in monochromatic, which allowed easy modification and revisions directly on the canvas before applying glazes of colors. With the advancement of the grisaille and techniques such as scrumbling, dry brushing (frottage) and impasto, the control of soft and hard edges, along with semi-glazes, and glazing allowed the Venetian painters to stretch oil painting beyond anything that came before. All adding to the painter’s tool box. The Venetians were able to propel the art of painting into the High Renaissance, and collectively produced some of the greatest works of art of Western civilization. In the painting “Woodland Phlox” I humbly attempt to explore this approach.

The majority of the Old Masters employed some type of underpainting in some variation. For example the unfinished work by Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna and Child with St. Anne, shows a brown transparent underpainting such as used by the van Eycks, but the Master begins finishing the underpainting with opaque white and tones of green- gray (verdaccio).

In Michelangelo’s unfinished work, Madonna and Child with the Infant Baptist and Angels, we have underpainting not only in verdaccio, but black and white, using the canvas as the white. Raphael, Durer, Rembrandt, Vermeer, David, all used some variation of the technique and of course as did Titian.

Attempting to understand who was doing what, and when, can get very confusing. Many of the Old Masters were contemporaries of each other, and they must have shared knowledge or observed the efforts of each other. Interesting that in 1510, about mid point of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci was 58 years old, Michelangelo 35, Raphael 27, Durer 39, Titian 26, and all were recognized artist. Leonardo da Vinci would live for about another ten years, while Michelangelo would live on to the age of 89. Having great influence on the next generation of painters such as Rubens, Caravaggio, Veronese. Titian would live to be nearly 90, his life would span da Vinci’s and Michelangelo’s making him a contemporary of both. His work was based in the Venetian method, but was much more aggressive. Titian, painted and composed directly from life, attacking the canvas with a brush. In areas he would model form with grays and other areas earth tones, and use glazes and velaturas of color over them. He would finish with sessions of direct painting, using half impasto, full impasto, rubbing and dragging colors in the technique of (frottage). He threw everything but the kitchen sink into his paintings. For his energetic direct approach, Titian is often referred to as the founder of modern painting.

In my last installment on the techniques of underpainting I will be attempting to understand Titians method and painting a third small floral. At the bottom of this post are some links and references for those interested in the Flemish and Venetian schools.

The Flemish and Venetian Schools on Explore
The teachings and writings of Artist, Virgil Elliot
The Painter in Oil, By Daniel B. Parkhurt, online at ARC.
The Materials of the Artist, by Max Dormner, online at Google books.

Resources, and great reads.
How to Paint Like The Old Masters, by Joseph Sheppard
The Big Book of Oil Painting, by Jose Parramon
Encyclopaedia of Oil Painting, by Frederick Palmer
Formulas For Painters, by Robert Massey
Preparation For Painting, by Lynton Lamb

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Underpainting Techniques - Demonstration Spring Flowers

   In the following posts I will be demonstrating my approaches to the use of an underpainting in the Classical Method. I believe that the majority of the Old Masters used this approach and edited it down to their own needs. How much of a foundation they used I think became a very personal choice for these artists. The various types of underpaintings gave different effects that become unique tools for these painters.
   The nature of oil paint is such that it can be applied in transparent glazes or in opaque layers. It was the ingenious methods that they developed to take full advantage of these qualities that produced some of the great masterpieces of all time. For me it is the sense of light and form that gives these works the amazing Realism they have. I am continuously exploring these Classical Painting approaches to increase my understanding of them and applying them to my work.

   Any person who has viewed or studied the work of the Masters, certainly came away with a sense of astonishment over the depth, luminosity and technical virtuosity these artists processed. Although varied in style and approach they each began with similar foundations and fundamentals on which they built their art as they explored the craft of oil painting. Some started with very detailed drawings such as Durer, or highly finished underpainting in values like Vermeer and others develop a sketch in umber such as Caravaggio. Yet some seemed to combine all of these approaches. Their working sequence can only be speculated upon, some of their approaches are obvious and others are truly obscure lost to time and history.

  Today the best we can only do is emulate what we think these artists did and put it into practice in our own work. There is probably as many ways to start a painting as there are artist.. But the basic idea in the method is building your painting in transparent layers becoming richer and more detailed in each additional layer. Taking advantage of the luminosity of transparent color over top of an underpainting where the preliminary draftsmanship and composition has been refined.

First Image: click above image for a larger view.
   I begin with a drawing of my subject, in this case a small glass bottle with spring flowers. I am working with charcoal and graphite, the graphite for the initial contour drawing and charcoal to build masses and tone. Charcoal moves freely and is a very “painterly” medium. It can produce very fine lines as well as tone. You can build a full range of values very quickly, corrects easily, and use a subtract and add method of drawing. Being that you can lift out areas with a kneaded eraser and put them back in if you wish. Making it very fluid and spontaneous. Certainly my favorite drawing medium.

Second Image
   I transfer the image to the canvas panel with tracing paper. I map out the contours of the drawing, sort of a typographical map of the high and low spots of the image. Once transferred to the panel I fix these lines with ink. And wash over the entire surface with a neutral mixture of yellow ochre and burnt umber referred to as the Imprimatura. Which will fix the drawing and give me a mid tone value to judge color on.

Third Image
   The traditional method would have you producing a full underpainting in values on top of the Imprimatura. You can see an example of that here with the painting, Still Life with Two Pears from an earlier post.
   However in this variation I will move on to color layers. Working very transparent I block in each object with a thin basecoat as close to the local color as possible. I model light and shade into each object using the tone of the Imprimatura to create shadows and values. For example a very thin coat of white in the flower will tone that passage while thicker paint will block the underpainting. Producing transparent shadows and opaque full lights giving an immediate optical sense of depth.

Final Images – Completed Painting – Spring Flowers – 8” x10”
  I allow the painting to dry overnight. And go over the entire painting again with passages of transparent color and opaque highlights. I refine areas, picking out a few details and modeling light and shade with glazes of color. The results are very rich and luminous, with a wonderful sense of space that only heightens the realism of the image.
Enjoy Jim.

This piece is available, to purchase please click here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Reluctant Gardner

Anemones, oil painting on panel, 8"x10"

The Reluctant Gardner

A personal note about this site: All of us have responsibilities if we are going to live in society, to it, to ourselves, to each other. We have to pay our bills, feed our families, think of the future and care for the ones we love. If you want to be an artist it becomes a difficult juggling act. That is what so many artists, that are struggling or frustrated say the problem is.

There may be a great deal of reality in that thought, but the real truth is that many artists are not connecting life with their art. They treat it like two separate entities and they attempt to move down two different roads hoping they arrive at the same point on the map by chance! However difficult it might be to balance work and life, you must develop a synergy.
The artist Lynton Lamb spoke of this problem with a most interesting parable.

“For serious artists, painting is a permanent attitude of mind. It is a scheme into which the general run of experience fits. However difficult it may be to reconcile work and life there remains a sense in which, as Saint Paul said, “all things work together.”
If painting is a relaxation quite separate from his ordinary living, it will not be strengthened by daily experience, it will be weakened by its contrary direction.
It will become something outside itself, to be maintained by visits: like a distant allotment garden into which he occasionally inserts an artificial flower.
Preparation for Painting, Lynton Lamb, 1954

What a wonderful analogy, if you’ve ever had a garden, you know that just a few days without tending and you have weeds. Neglect it long enough and instead of a ripe, bountiful, succulent harvest you have scrawny, tasteless nearly unrecognizable objects. We do the same thing with our art. No one has ever developed a skill without practicing it and none have mastered it without applying it to their lives. For this artist, at least for my art, I must tend the garden every day. Which means making choices that help me spend time with the work I have passion for and not letting physical obstacles stand in the way.

Besides, I’ve never judged an artist on the amount of money he or she spent on an easel. But I do when someone tells me they want to be an artist but don’t have the time or means, and drive a giant SUV, live in a McMansion, and eat at the best restaurants every night.
At times it seems that we have it backwards, we claim to be creative people, but do not apply that same imagination to other parts of our life. Often letting needs and wants of our daily existence dictate our artistic life. There are better choices based on what you want out of life.
I truly believe that anyone who has the desire and motivation to be an artist “can” be.
They may never hang work in the Louvre, but they can find a niche or an arena where they can produce a living. The pie is big enough for everyone who tries, without eating beanie weenies everyday. Is not that really our goal, to continue making art?

There are more ways today for an artist to reach their audience than ever before in history. If they can’t, that is just inertness. The market for competent, reasonably priced art is larger and more varied than any market since the first artist scratched an image on a cave wall. How does the painter approach this opportunity? First by producing work they believe in, and by selling that work at a price that will allow them to produce more work. Whatever that price may be, just don’t price yourself out of the market. Think of it this way, in millions of homes people spend thousands of dollars on the rug under their feet, the couch they sit on, the big screen television they watch, and on their wall have a thirty dollar picture?
Remember it is about synergy.

To be successful as an artist you need all the skills you can develop and the only way to achieve this is by working. Painting is not an abstract of the intellect but a part of life that needs mental and spiritual concentration. That synchronicity is my goal, the more I paint, the more I learn about painting, the more I see as an artist.

Linda and I will be planting another garden this spring. I look forward to the time we spend together, the things she teaches me and the fruits of our labors. We gain so much from it, produce you can’t get anywhere else and moments together that are priceless. As I see it, it’s just another creative answer to help keep me painting and certainly healthier.

Enjoy Jim.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How to build your own Pochade Box

I've been busy working on a project for my other site dedicated to en plein air painting (painting on location from life). Part of my efforts there was to design and build my own Pochade Box and Panel Carrier. When i decided that I would tackle building my own Pochade Box, there was a precise set of criteria I needed to meet. It needed to be a simple, functional design. Most importantly, it must be easily built without the use of a shop full of equipment. I've seen some wonderful “build your own Pochade Boxes” online. But most people do not have routers and table saws, or any method to cut dados into material. So it had to be constructed with just a set of hand tools, any average person would own and simple joinery. No complicated hardware to fabricate. So here are the results of my efforts. If you are interested or would like to see more details visit my other site, Pochade Box Paintings by this link.
Enjoy Jim.

Since I first published my simple Pochade Box Plans in 2009 I have received many images and emails from both students and professionals who have made a  Serrett Box ( as the simple box with a bungee cord has come to be called ) If I do not get a chance to respond to your email or post your kit on my Pochade Box site, let me say it has been so rewarding to see your efforts, and your correspondence has been greatly appreciated.
 Thank you and keep paying it forward.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Philosophy, or three items in a still life

Oil painting on canvas, 11x14
Another still life done from the site size method. I was attracted to the cast shadows and the rhythm it formed from one object to another. An old brush from my sign painting days. A drift wood stick we found on the beach, that someone had carved initals and numbers into. And of course those yellow pears that keep popping up in my paintings.
I do not consciously think about a metaphor or any symbolism when constructing a set up for a still life. However when completed, there almost always seems to be some narrative to them. In this case I've titled the piece, "Philosophy". There is something hidden here among these subjects, some truth or knowledge. Some relationship we need to ponder. Or it could just be three items in a still life.
Enjoy Jim

This piece avaliable, to purchase click here.