Know Your Weaknesses. Know Your Strengths. It’s Just a Process.

The title is really for me.

This past weekend, after spending weeks, months actually, on a project (still not done) and studying color theory from the late 19th and early 20th century, I needed to get out and paint from a live model. It did not go well.

Not to make too many excuses but…. I got there late so I was in the very back row and I couldn’t see the model very well. The linen, which had a clear primer on it, had a strange and slippery feel. And because I couldn’t see well, I couldn’t measure well so my drawing was beyond off. I was testing a new limited palette of colors (suggested by Carlos Duran, teacher of John Singer Sargent) and thankfully that was going well. So I painted and scraped. Then I experimented and scraped. This painting/experimenting/scraping continued for the full 3 hours. All the while I could see other painters look behind them as they repeatedly heard the palette knife taking off layers of wet paint. (It has happened to them too. I truly believe I could feel their empathetic, “I feel your pain”.)  At the end of the session I gave the linen to a friend of mine so she could try it. Painting is hard work. Some days are very good. Others, not so much. This session was brutal.

Today, as I hiked the mountain with my dogs, I thought about what happened and why. And then I recalled….you know how certain things just come back to haunt you?….that an early teacher had suggested I stick to what I do best and not try to do it all. I completely reject that kind of pigeonholing. But there are things we are better at and more suited to do. Portraits are hit and miss with me. I do better with still life. They are more controllable and I have time to develop and correct. It’s quiet. It’s my space. No one is watching me. And even Rubens would parse out sections of his paintings to those who were more capable. That says something!

So I will continue to paint and draw portraits, but I do know that my stronger suit is the still life and (animals portraits). It’s good to know what one is better at. It allows more room for mistakes, learning, and growth.

onion small

Limited Palette of Venetian Red, Raw Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Cad Red Light, Alizarine


Analogous Colors: Ahhhh……Harmony


Recently I’ve been doing a lot of work using limited palettes. When you use a limited palette there is always harmony as all the colors work with all the other colors.
I just posted a video on YouTube on an analogous palette, which is another form of a limited palette, using a section of blue. Before I post it at the end of this post I want to talk a bit about analogous colors and a color wheel that helps you with some of the color choices.

An analogous palette is a set of colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel. The colors work well because they are all related to each other so they are naturally pleasing to the eye.

They can be any sets of colors, yellow-orange, orange, orange-red, or red, red-purple, purple, purple-blue. You want to have both a minimum and maximum number, so a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5, with one color dominating. In the painting and video below, green will be the dominant color though I used blues plus yellow to make the greens.
If you only use analogous colors, plus white and possibly black), you will have a mostly monochromatic work. That can be quite lovely, but if you add a complimentary color you will be able to dull down the main colors and still have the neutral colors be colorful. Black will make the colors look kind of dingy but a compliment will keep both colors lively.

You can add to this mix discordant colors. These are colors that ‘clash’ with the main colors but also add a bit of pop. To help me with choosing colors I use a Color Harmony Wheel or an Analogous Color Wheel

color harmony  In this wheel the analogous colors are blues and purples, the compliment is yellow, and the discords are green and red.

In the painting above, the analogous colors are in the blue to blue green range, the compliment is a red, and the discords are violet and yellow-orange.

I use the compliment to dull down the colors so when I put a more chromatic version of the color in it will shine. The discords help to make the work more visually interesting. You can see bits of violet in the shadow side of the apple and the orange-yellow in the stem. You don’t need or want a lot of the discord, but just enough to make it interesting.

You can click here to see the 2 minute YouTube video of the painting from start to finish.


When All Else Fails……

run away

I know….It sounds so lame to run away. Kind of kid like. But having worked months to finish a project I was SERIOUSLY burned out and never wanted to see another paint brush, studio, art book, museum, again……..Or at least for a good, long while.

So for about 3 weeks I sort of took off, but not really. I went in to my studio to do some work, but every chance I got I would leave and watch Spanish soap opera type stories on Netflix. I loved the happy endings but it didn’t help my mood. I washed dishes, did laundry, hiked the mountain. Normal, daily stuff (except for the Netflix binge watching). But I was still encased in my house/studio. And the more I sat the harder it was for me to break away.

So I moved to working in my garden and cleaning the chicken coop. Better. But still burned out.

Then my in-box announced a workshop/lecture that was totally un-art related. I didn’t have to create anything, only listen. OK, sounds really good. My brain could rest……So I put an orange star next to the email to remind me it’s something I’m considering. When the day arrived I could feel myself melting in to my chair and thinking all kinds of excuses. I had to fight the rather strong urge to just stay where I was.  But if like begets like, this was begetting me nowhere!! I HAD to get up and get out.

So I did! And it was fantastic to be free of the bindings I was composing in my head. And for good measure I took a second day to do more things away from my studio. By day 3 I was refreshed and ready to go back to work. Yay! Finally!!!

My take-away from this is that I MUST take time away to run away and do things that are un-art related, out of my house, and enjoyable on a regular basis. And I have to do this without feeling guilty which is what starts the whole dilemma in the first place. This is a serious, ‘note to self’. Feeling guilty about not wanting to work, and then trying to work, and then working badly, will only work for just so long. At some point, guilt be damned. One has to just leave!!

So running away is not going to be a scheduled event, but it will happen when ever I need it and without inner thoughts voicing their critique that I’m really just ‘lazy’. Can I hear an AMEN to that?! Yup…..I hear you!!!!

How Long Will It Take to Draw Well??

copy of a master drawing

Drawing after Rubens

The question of how long it will take to draw well is often asked in one form or another. I ask myself that all the time!
There is no question that drawing takes time. And learning to draw well takes even more time. But here are some things that will help speed the process.
  • If you can get a teacher, do it. Even if you don’t take a regular class, have someone that knows how to teach drawing look at your work to help guide you toward your goals.
  • Don’t fall ‘in-love’ with your work. It will cloud your objective judgement. You need to actually seeing what you’ve drawn and what needs to be corrected. And believe me, there is pretty much ALWAYS something that can be corrected.
  • To go fast, go slow. It’s much more important to learn one thing really, really well and correctly because from that one correct ‘thing’ you can relate the next ‘thing’.
  • Some things you will get quickly, others will take more time. Don’t worry about that. It’s just the process of learning to draw.
  • Know that as you keep getting better, you will always have a carrot dangling just ahead of you.
  • Really observe. Draw what you actually see and not what you assume to be real. It’s really surprising when you leave your assumptions at the door and take the time to really look. Where does one line start and end? Where do shapes intersect? Use plumb lines to see what else falls in the same line.
  • Draw EVERY day. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. It all adds up.
  • Copy from the Masters. They have SO much to teach.
 And finally, you will probably always feel like there is more to learn. That is a great blessing because you will always stay fresh! Manet was complaining until the day he died that he still had so much to learn! And have FUN!!!

Colors: What’s Not to Love?!!

I was so excited to read this email from Gamblin and wanted to share it. So when I emailed Gamblin, Scott Gellatly, Product Manager for Gamblin, kindly gave me permission to reprint it here. Some of these colors are already on my palette, but I will definitely be adding some of these others. And when, at the bottom of their Notes they say, “contact us if (they) can assist you”, they mean it!

New Year Color Notes
You can probably guess our 10 most popular colors. Most likely, several of them are part of your basic palette.
There are many reasons that Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine Blue, and of course Titanium White are so valuable and therefore chosen so often. This newsletter is not about the “mega-stars” of the artist’s palette, it is about a few colors I feel could use more recognition.
Perylene Red
Perylene Red
It seems like I have spent my whole paint-making career showing artists alternatives to Alizarin Crimson. First, the crusade was to help artists find our Alizarin Permanent, which has a higher lightfastness. And now I would like to highlight Perylene.
Yes, I know its name does not playfully roll off the tongue the way Alizarin does, and perhaps its hard to figure out how to pronounce it correctly (pera-leen). But jeez, it is beautiful. It’s transparency has fire inside; add a touch of black and it smolders with sophisticated sexiness.
Transparent Earths: Orange, Yellow, Red
Our line of Transparent Earth Colors are quite beautiful and of incredible value because of their glowing transparency.
In contrast to the natural earth colors, the Transparent Earths are synthetic iron oxide pigments that are made solely to be transparent. So if you want an earth color that will give the warm transparent glow that you see in a Rembrandt, a Transparent Earth will get it done.

Detail: Rembrandt, Self-portrait as Zeuxis Laughing

Cobalt Green
Cobalt Green
The family of cobalt based colors is as permanent as an artist’s color can get. Yet Cobalt Green is the least chosen of the whole group. But it has certain uses that make it invaluable:
  • in dry country landscapes where the greens are very muted, such as in the American SW
  • in abstract painting as a green that has a beautiful restrained character
  • in portrait painting where the translucent flesh tones have a cool under-painting as in the Italian Renaissance

Detail: Orajio Gentileschi, Lot & His Daughters

Manganese Blue Hue
Manganese Blue Hue
Ultramarine, Phthalo, Cobalt, Cerulean, Prussian: is this close to the order of hierarchy of blues in your use of color?
My recommendation: no matter what blue you put first on your palette, Manganese Blue Hue should be second. Why? Simply because it is the blue that is the coolest in the spectrum of blue. Most other blues are warm blues or middle blues. And unlike Cerulean Blue it is very reasonable in price.
Lay a stroke of MBH next to one of Ultramarine Blue and you might for a second mistake the Ultramarine for a violet. I’ve always thought of Manganese Blue as a breath of fresh air, so clean in color, so light in spirit. It is always on my palette.

Karen Ann Myers calls Asphaltum her skin tone “secret weapon”
Sap Green and Asphaltum
One challenge in oil painting has to do with darks. Make a dark too opaque and those sections of the painting can look lifeless. But by keeping darks somewhat transparent they never seem “heavy.”
Is the dark you need “warm” or “cool”? If “cool” is the answer, then Sap Green is perfect for this purpose. An important use of Sap Green is painting the deep dark areas often found in landscape paintings.

Sap Green

If on the other hand you need a warm transparent dark, then Asphaltum will do the job nicely. We originally made this as a custom color for Nathan Oliveira in the mid 90’s. He needed the emotional energy of real asphaltum but wanted a material that would age well. And today, artists like Karen Ann Myers are finding their own special uses for our Asphaltum.
Any White but Titanium
Last but certainly not least in importance I want to discuss white.
With Warm White and Cool White, we now make 9 different white oil colors. Each one has a unique set of qualities. Titanium White should be your choice only if you need a very high tinting strength opaque white, that is warm in color and moderately fast drying and a little bit stiff.
You might be best served by a whiter white, or a softer creamier white, or a more transparent white, or even a super stiff white… Below is our chart of whites to assist in choosing the white that best supports your painting.
If this idea is intriguing to you, please consult our newsletter “Getting the White Right.”
Please contact us if we can assist you in any way.
Have a great New Year of painting.

“Kat” Using the ‘Zorn Palette’

I really love painting with the Zorn Palette. It’s simple and has the required three primaries, though slightly different. It’s nuanced, meaning I can get a variety of colors and values. And it’s BEAUTIFUL.

The Zorn palette is composed of Yellow Ochre, Vermillion, Black, and White. In a self portrait Zorn famously showed the palette of colors he used, and therefore the name, “Zorn Palette” has been ascribed to him.

It most likely was not the only set of colors he used but he was known, as were other painters (John Singer Sargent was also known to have used this limited palette as well), to use a limited scope of colors.  In this palette of colors black replaces blue.

One of my early teachers, Aaron Westerberg, made a great chart showing off the Zorn Palette.

You can see how wonderful and broad the colors are going from highly chromatic to tints and shades.

In this short YouTube video (under 2 minutes) you will see a start to finish painting I did this past weekend of a model named, Kat. (Yup…..her hair really is lavender, grey, and black)

To see more of my work please go to


Black Bear Skull

Black Bear Skull

Black Bear Skull

I love drawing skulls. Especially animal skulls. They are hard to draw because the values are so close in the lights and darks, but that’s what I love about them. That, and they are so architectural. As I draw them I can almost feel the muscles and tendons building up on the bone scaffolding.

Here is a timed drawing YouTube video of a bear skull which I recently completed. Enjoy it and I hope you will consider sharing it and subscribing to my YouTube Channel.

Blue….It Used The Be The Most Expensive Color on the Planet



Blue is a color widely held to be most people’s favorite color. While some may find it cold, it’s psychological impact is generally thought to be serene, calming the mind and aiding concentration.

For the painter blue has always been quite costly. During the Renaissance true blue, sometimes called ultramarine blue, was five times more expensive than gold. Its color was derived from lapis lazuli, a rare, semiprecious gemstone mined almost exclusively in Afghanistan since the 6th century, and imported to Europe through Venice.

There were a few alternatives, such as smalt and azurite, but none was stable when suspended in oils, and none had strong tinting strength or covering power. For centuries, artists managed with these imperfect pigments using ultramarine as they, or their patrons, could afford. But when synthetic blues started to be made, a whole new world of potential opened up.

Prussian Blue

HTB1CtRbFVXXXXb_XpXXq6xXFXXX2       prussian

In about 1706, the German chemist and the color maker Heinrich Diesbach was sharing the Berlin laboratory of an alchemist, Johann Konrad Dippel. Dippel was preparing so-called “animal oil” – an alchemical concoction supposed to cure all ailments – by distilling blood and adding potash, while Diesbach was working on more practical projects for various private clients. Up against a deadline for one such client, Diesbach rushed to manufacture a batch of Florentine lake, a red pigment derived from boiled cochineal insects, alum, iron sulfate, and potash. Lacking this last ingredient, he borrowed some from Dippel, unaware that it had been contaminated with hexacyanoferrate from Dippel’s “animal oil” concoction. The next day, Diesbach returned to the lab to discover a deep blue precipitate, rather than the expected red material.

The two men quickly realized the commercial value of this new blue pigment. Dippel relocated to the Netherlands, where he began manufacturing his own Prussian Blue, while Diesbach remained in Berlin. Relying on word-of-mouth and sales through trusted contacts, Dippel and Diesbach realized high profits from the pigment, whose secret formula they guarded closely. In 1724, however, the English chemist John Woodward published a method for producing Prussian blue in the London Journal, ‘Philosophical Translation of the Royal Society’, opening up production in various European countries.

Cobalt Blue

cobalt 2 cobalt 1

As revolutionary as Prussian blue proved to be, it was a mere precursor to the explosion of available colors brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, the French government played an active role in catalyzing innovation at the dawn of the 19th century, as the country emerged from the Revolution with its economy in disarray. The newly appointed administrator of the Sevres Porcelain Manufactory, Alexandre Brongniart (1770-1847) oversaw chemist Louis Jacques Thenard (1777-1857) as he developed the next synthetic blue, a vivid cobalt blue pigment, inspired by the traditional cobalt oxide blue glazes seen on 18th century Sevres porcelain. In late 1803-1804 he published his successful experiments roasting cobalt arsenate and cobalt phosphate with alumina in a furnace. By 1807, production in France had begun. The pigment was, and still is relatively expensive. Variant hues of cobalt blue followed Thenard’s discovery. He had unlocked the complexities of cobalt mineralogy, including cobalt violet, green, and yellow. Cerulean blue, a cobalt stannate, was introduced in the 1860’s. In spite of its limited tinting strength and hiding power, landscape painters soon favored cerulean blue for skies.

French Ultramarine Blue


The third major synthetic blue to emerge was the culmination of centuries of searching for a cheap, plentiful, high-quality replacement for the most valuable of all pigments: natural ultramarine. In 1824, the French government announced a competition among chemists to develop a true synthetic ultramarine. The prize was finally awarded in 1828 to Jean-Babtiste Guiment (1795-1871). Painters at last had an affordable, fully balanced palette of cool and warm colors spanning the full spectrum. This fact, combined with the innovation of ready-mixed oil colors in collapsible metal tubes, greatly facilitated the ability of painters to capture a range of observed natural effects en plein air (outdoors). Plein air painting culminated in Impressionism, which realized all the possibilities made available by the new spectrum of commercial paint colors. Like cobalt, the discovery of synthetic, or “French” ultramarine led to the development of variant hues, notable ultramarine violet, of the defining colors on the Impressionist palette.

(I want to thank the Norton Simon Museum for all of this information which is highlighted in their show, “A Revolution of the Palette: The First Synthetic Blues and Their Impact on French Artists”)

Plains, Trains, and Automobiles: Part 3 – Clothes

On a recent 3 week painting trip to Scotland and France I had to pack painting gear as well as clothes for 2 climates: Cool and potentially rainy Scotland, and hot and dry southern France. Everything was casual, but clothes are always tricky. Will I be going out? Do I want to look chic/cool, or just put together enough to get by without offending anyone?

In Scotland my hosts had clothes I could borrow which really, really helped. I didn’t need to pack Wellies but brought waterproof hiking shoes instead, which also doubled as my sneakers. I could have borrowed a raincoat if I needed it. But I found some resale shops (never underestimate the amazing finds in resale shops!) so I bought a raincoat with the thought it was inexpensive enough that I could leave it behind if space got tight. Plus, I needed one to replace a worn out one. I also borrowed a fleece. What I brought were 6 T-shirts – 3 long and 3 short, which I could layer when I was cold, a vest, a cotton cardigan sweater, a large flannel shirt that I use as a painting smock, socks (wool and cotton) and 3 pair of shoes. One I wore on the plane (clogs), 2 were packed (hiking shoes and super light Toms). I also brought 1 pair of jeans, 2 pair of shorts, and one summer weight dress shirt. I was able to do laundry and I wore shirts for a couple of days before feeling like they needed to be washed. On the plane I wore leggings with a long-sleeved top and a cami for extra warmth, and a scarf. This also doubled as my ‘going out to dinner’ outfit, and I could use the leggings for stretching and working out, or if the weather was really cold, as another layer under jeans.

What I found was that I wore all the clothes except the dressier blouse. Everything else got a lot of wear. I did manage to buy a couple of things along the way…Nothing I needed, but hard to pass up. And this brings up purchases that seem like they are ‘must haves’.

I admit I really like books. But damn…..weight wise they are expensive. I only bought a couple, and I’m glad I did, but the cost was my luggage was that much heavier. I was limited on my checked bag to 50 lbs. (40 lbs on certain smaller carriers). Any thing over that costs a lot of money, about $100. My painting gear already had significant weight and with cloths and supplies I was close to the limit. So that terrific ‘deal’ might cost very little until the extra weight fee is added on top of it.

So to sum up about clothes: 1) The less you pack and carry, the faster you can move around and the less likely you are to lose or forget something. 2) think in layers. 3) You can find amazing things in resale shops. 3) Think about what you REALLY need instead of what you would like to have ‘just in case’. Anything you pack should have more than one use or function. As long as you are warm/cool and dry, you will probably have enough. 4) Borrow what you can at your destinations.

For a good website with more pointers on packing and traveling light, OneBag is really helpful.