Sunday, November 17, 2013

Colormen, Communication & Color Continuity

Last week I posted an open letter to two colormen Winsor and Newton and Da Vinci Paints. My point in approaching them was rumors and information about discontinued colors and the reduction  or elimination of  some toxic paints such as Cadmiums.

Dan Vinci Paint were quick to communicate back that they have not and are not planning the reduction or elimination of any of their colors. Furthermore they have stayed in touch furnishing more information, and I have invited them to guest post in this blog to keep the communication going with artists.

Winsor & Newton were disappointingly less communicative. They posted a small statement on my Facebook post and on my blog to say that they indeed were no longer manufacturing Cadmiums in 37ml tubes but were continuing to produce them in 15ml and 5ml tubes, attributing that to concern about environmental issues. I am not sure how that makes sense since someone determined to use 30ml of cadmium colors will now have to by 2-6 tubes to do so. This would clearly create more waste. I hope they can explain that at some point. When I asked if they had informed artists of that change, they said that they were thinking of informing the artists through their site or newsletter. I checked their last newsletter which was issues late this week,  and nothing was mentioned there.


Meanwhile I have been asked to engage Daniel Smith about their Quinacridone colors as well as their Cadmiums. There was mention in a popular art podcast that they will be phasing out these colors from their extensive line. I will post this blog to their Facebook and Twitter accounts for hope of some feedback.

The point of these blog posts is not to get the backs up of any colormen, but to compel them to start direct and honest communication with artists about the media that they produce and that we rely on for our work. In this age of instant communication there is no excuse for not having the consideration of informing consumers of what is happening and what is coming down the road. The colormen who step up and meet this challenge are the ones who will earn respect and trust from artists – their consumers. Those who remain cryptic and / or refuse to share information will lose the trust they have built and erode confidence.

While this blog is being offered as a platform for this communication – I invite all comments and guest posts from colormen – it doesn't have to be the platform. I am not looking for traffic for my blog. They can and should share this information broadly through their sites/social media/newsletters. We all deserve to know what colors are being phased out, why and when. This should be just as visible as when they announce new colors that they would like us to try and add to our palettes.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Garden Gate–Watercolor Plein Air

I was out at Scotsdale Farm last weekend. The weather was supposed to cooperate and get better as the morning advanced, but no such luck. It was cold and windy and I froze to the bones.

I managed to do this one before my fingers fell off and my paints froze. It actually started as a larger 14”x10” painting but when I got home and spent some time getting familiar with it, I decided that a lot of the peripheral extras had to go. It is now am 8”x6” but I like the composition much better this way.

Garden Gate, Watercolor 8”x6”

It is amazing how when you are not comfortable, you tend to make so many mistakes. I always tell fellow artists to reduce and eliminate anything that is not material to a painting. Yet this weekend, I ended up adding so much that was not essential. Normally I would do three to four pencil sketches before I commit paint to paper.

I sometime do much more actually just testing different compositions and designs. Many of those would be duds and that is the whole point. You have to go through the duds to get to the good stuff. The bad compositions are somehow the ones that come first and as you do more and more rough sketches you get closer and closer to the essence of the painting. I always find that the more I sketch, the better the final result is.

Needless to say as cold as it was this weekend, I tried to cut corners, but after cropping and restating, I think this one is a small gem.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hey Colormen, I have a bone to pick with you!

NOTE: After posting this entry, Da Vinci Paints contacted me to let me know that they are not discontinuing any of their colors. I appreciate the update from DVP and apologies for accepting information without checking and double checking. In my defense, I had received the information from several sources, but in the case of DVP at least, this is clearly not correct information. I am delighted that the colors I have grown to love are still being produced and hopefully sold in my area. Perhaps DVP can correct the misconception and misinformation that is being spread at the art stores. 

NOTE II: Another update from Da Vinci Paints:
The message we posted on your facebook wasn’t visible so I’m sending you a copy below.
We contacted our suppliers of Cadmium and Quinacridone pigments and confirmed that the pigments are not being discontinued. Below is a note received today from our UK vendor:
“Dear Marcello,
(Company name) have been producing cadmium pigments in the UK for over 60 years and are the world’s largest manufacturer of cadmium pigments. We are a major supplier to artist colour producers all over the world.
Cadmium pigments remain our core business, we are committed to them and continue to invest in the future of these unique pigments. “
Currys Artists’ Materials stocks Da Vinci’s best-selling Watercolors and Fluid Acrylics. We also contacted them today to inquire about custom ordering Da Vinci Colors that are not stocked. They said to simply order via your local store. The manager’s name at your local Currys store is Thelia. Alternatively, you can visit their new Queen store where they offer our complete watercolor line.
Thanks again for your support.


Not only am I relieved to get this news, but I am impressed by the follow up at DVP. Meanwhile Winsor and Newton had the following to say:

Winsor & Newton The passion and dedication of the artists who use our products is what has driven us since 1832 to provide them with the finest quality materials. We know that cadmiums are vital to their colour palette, which is why we will continue to manufacture them and they will continue to feature in all our artist grade colour ranges. However, we have a duty to ensure we take an environmentally responsible approach to manufacturing, and to support this we are reducing cadmiums in selected sizes and ranges.

For example, in the Artists' Water Colour range, they are available in 5ml & 14ml but have been discontinued in the 37ml size. We hope this demonstrates our commitment to supplying artists around the world with unique colour ranges and materials of the highest standard.

I will keep you posted.

In case you have not heard, we are heading fast towards a new dark ages in our artist colors. And I have yet to hear from the colormen who we depend on so badly for our art on how they are planning to change that.
First earlier this year I heard through my trusted art store that the cadmiums will be phased out. That about kills my palette. I rely heavily on the cadmium yellows and reds. They are the back bone of my approach to painting both in Oils and Watercolors.

Today I stepped into the art store again only to see that Da Vinci Paints is discontinuing half of their color line in watercolors and eliminating some of my most loved colors in the process. All the Quinacridones all the Benzamida. Gone.

So let’s get this straight: What that means is that most of the colorful and vibrant paints that we rely on to produce artwork that is full of light are gone. The colormen have not thought it wise to let us know this was happening. In fact while the “discontinued” signs are up in my art store - and I suspect many others that are not disguised craft stores -  my two favourite colormen Winsor & Newton and Da Vinci Paints continue their social media activities as if nothing is happening.

Perhaps that, more than the fact the many colors are being phased out is what irks me the most. I understand that California leads the way on environmental issues and most of the losses are related to recent legislation there. I am all for environmental protection and lessening the toxins we use every day. But why not tell us what is coming up and what you plan to do to make sure we still have colors that we rely on for our art and in many cases our living? Colormen seem to think of their consumers as hobbyists who do not deserve a thoughtful explanation of what is going on or why. More importantly no one has deemed it worth while to step up and tell us what is their strategy to replace our colors and how.


I think colormen owe us a sincere apology and a full explanation of why the changes have happened and more importantly how they will reload their color lines now that they have discontinued so many.

We relay on colormen for our art, they relay on us as their customers, but the communication from them seems to be limited to advertising and showcasing. That is not enough. We deserve respect and dialogue. We deserve to be consulted and advised. We are Twenty First Century consumers who demand dialogue with our vendors. The era of simple market transactions is gone. We do not accept to be treated with a fait accompli attitude. The colormen who understand that and start engaging us properly will be the ones who will earn our business the most.

One last note since/if I have the attention of colormen: While I understand that the Phthalocyanine blue pigment PB15 PB 15.6 and PB 16 are easily obtained and versatile, we don’t want to see them seep into all our colors. They are not the panacea and you can do better and be more imaginative and innovative. Use them for student colors if you wish, but do not pepper them  through your new lines for us. They are not welcome beyond their narrow forms.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Our Common Rut

Recently Robert Bateman raised some eyebrows when he said: "I think some plein air artists are in a rut. They go for the easy scene". C.W. Mundy spoke about the difference between painters who are content to record a scene and artists who interpret a scene. 
These two great artists are not wrong. The Plein Air movement has attracted a lot of people to painting and many of them have gone through the circuit of workshops and events that have molded an almost uniform voice or rather more specifically method coming from the mountain and west of the USA. If you look at enough Plein Air works done south of the boarder you begin to notice two things.
1- Except for a few brilliant artists, the majority seem to have graduated from the Clyde Aspevig and Jim Wilcox and Scott Christensen copy schools. Don't get me wrong they are great artists, but we don't need a legion of them. As a matter of fact, while I put Christensen in a slightly separate category, I would dare you to tell me the difference between Wilcox and Aspevig. There are very few individual voices in a land that prides itself on individuality. 
2- the second thing you notice, and that is endemic of the global Plain Air movement, is a lack of thought, design and composition. The need to render a scene as is has become a battle cry and some misguided jurors in some of the mushrooming events in the USA have been re-enforcing this literal trend and contributing to the vulgarization of the movement. 

We Canadians Plein Air painter are sadly not immune from this. We don't have an Clyde Aspevig aping mania, but we do have a post-impressionist/ Group-of-Seven malady that dots the art scene everywhere you look. And we also not immune to the lack of thought-design-composition phenomenon albeit we don't go for the literal as much as our southern friends do. That could also be because of the G7 aping phenomenon. 

My challenge to all of us is to find our unique voices. To walk away from aping Thomson, Jackson, McDonald and their Quebec contemporaries and find new ways to interpret our surroundings. 
How many crooked leaning houses outlined in black like theirs do we still need? How many windswept trees on rounded rocks like Jackson's do we still need? Why have we not progressed from their seemingly unique style that they borrowed from Van Gogh, Degas and other post-impressionists? We need new voices, new images, and a lot more thought, design and composition. We need to think for  ourselves and not through the frames of dead artists. They did their work. We need to do ours and not repeat and copy. We need to break free. 

Thursday, October 03, 2013

September Sun – Watercolor

It’s been some time since I wrote a blog post. I am finding it easier to post on Facebook and Twitter than to write a long post here. Sorry, but between family, work, and painting, writing blog posts has to be at the lower end of the needs scale.Nevertheless, I apologies and will try to post more in the coming weeks.

I am working on a series of watercolors mostly done at Scotsdale Farm near Acton Ontario. The series where an inspiration to capture the feeling this farm brings out in me when I visit for painting. I really love the place and have developed a close relationship with nature there. Winter is coming soon, and I will have to paint from accessible spots at the farm, but come next spring I intend to explore areas that I have not painted from before and to capture views that I has not  studied. There is so much there to work on.
This is the second in the series. It is called September Sun. I hope you enjoy it.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Great Cull of 2013 Begins

4 trashed paintings this week. That is aside from the “Great Cull” that I am in the process of doing on all my previous work. Can you feel my pain? It’s like ripping my heart out! Its like opening your mouth to sing and odd sounds coming out. Uhhhhh.

I recently decided to destroy all but the best work I can create at the time. Not that I was putting out rubbish before, but some of the works I put in public were not up to the standards that I have now defined.


This is going to be gradual. You will see some works disappear never to be seen again, and my output will be slower as well. I will not put anything on my website anymore before I have had time to shred it to bits with an ultra critical and firm eye.

So I can see that this is going to be painful and frustrating and yes expensive, but if my art is going to mean something and if I am going to create value for my collectors, I am confident that I must do this.

Still I hope you don’t mind me sharing my pain!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What to expect when you buy a watercolor from me.


I developed this note to go with my watercolors when you purchase a painting from me. I thought it would be useful to add it to my blog as well for you if you are thinking of buying a painting soon.


I want you to know what to expect in the mail when you buy a watercolor from me. It is important for us both that we get things right. This might be the first time that you buy a painting from me and you might be apprehensive, something that I want you to exchange for “pleasantly surprised”.

How I Package Your Painting:

Assuming you are buying a painting above the ACEO size, I will first be placing your painting in a narrow mat. Please do not use this mat for framing. It is too narrow for that and will not bring out the beauty of the painting when framed. The mat is there to protect the painting and to give you a reasonable first look at your painting without the edges. Yes the painting will have edges beyond the farmable size. That is to allow the framers some room to place the painting well and also for protection.

1  2
3  4
5  6

The matted painting is then covered with acid free paper and wrapped in plastic film to avoid moisture. The whole thing is then sandwiched between two sheets of foam board and taped on all sides for full protection.

What to do after you receive the painting:


Proper framing is vital for the enjoyment and the beauty of the painting. Ideally you will take the painting to a professional framer. There you will have a variety of mat colors and textures as well as frame sizes. Let me help you with that please. The classical way to frame watercolors is in single or double white or off white mats. Using colored mats may look good for a while, but you will get board with it very soon and no matter how well the color goes with the painting, it takes away from it. I would strongly suggest going with white.

Regarding the mat size – which obviously dictates the frame size – go as big as you can afford. At a minimum, you should consider 2.5” on each side with 3 inches below the painting, but larger is better and more dramatic. Anything beyond the height and width of the painting may be too much, but your taste will dictate that.


The frame should be understated. Where oil paintings are traditionally framed in thick elaborate frames, the frame for watercolors should be understated and unobtrusive. It should not compete with the painting but rather… well… frame it, keeping the eye in the painting. I would suggest black or a fresh wood color for wood frames or use a slender metal frame if you wish. Two inches thick should be more than enough.

One more thing. Some framers will want to mount the painting to a board from the back. I am not a fan of that practice, but make sure they are using archival glue and mats/boards when they do that. MDF boards that are not properly sealed will kill the painting over time. the chemicals in the MDF are very harmful to the painting unless they are sealed off.


If you desire it, I can varnish the painting before sending it to you, but I would rather not do that. It’s totally up to you. If you require that I varnish the painting, you could frame it differently similar to an oil painting and without glass. What ever you do, please do not varnish yourself or allow anyone else to do that.

Hanging the painting:

I use only the best Artist quality paints that are permanent and durable. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to hang watercolors away from direct harsh sunlight.

Future support.

Should you run into an accident in the future or should the painting be exposed to unexpected high humidity or water from flooding or wall seepage, please do not hesitate to contact me. I will work with you to restore the painting to the best of my ability. What ever you do do not disturb the surface of the painting. Let it dry first and then take a picture of it and send it to me with an explanation of what happened. I will work with you to restore it but you may need to send it back to me to work on it.

Enjoy your painting and please don’t hesitate to contact me at any time if you have questions or need advice. I am here to help. Once you own one of my painting, you own a part of me. That is reason enough for us to keep in touch I think. Enjoy it!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Oil Paints or Watercolors?

Jean asked on my Facebook page: I love your work, i can't decide if I like the oils or the watercolors best.  How do you decide which medium to use when you paint a scene?

Thank you Jean for making me think about this. Good question!
I am blessed to be able to paint in both media. A lot of artists limit themselves to one or the other. I think it is a shame to do that. As a matter of fact I also love working with Pastels, Conte, Ink and any other medium I can get my hands on.

In his landmark book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964, Marshall McLuhan proposes that a medium itself should be the focus. He said that a medium plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself. He wasn’t talking about paint media, but he might as well have been.

Each of these media has a personality and a spirit that  is totally different from the other and must be approached in a radically different way. The obvious example is how you work oil paint dark to light and watercolors lights to dark of course, but that is only on the most obvious level. The way each medium acts and reacts to brush strokes, the way the colors are laid and how they function once they are on the surface is hugely different as well. Mostly though, each of them has a distinct character that must be respected if you hope for them to work with you in expressing something on a surface.

I have painted several scenes in both mediums at different times and the results are hugely different. You can have the same composition, the same color scheme, the same size painting, but the medium will impose its presence in a work and you have to respect that and work with it. The results are amazing. Like great poetry spoken in different languages, the music is individual and never repetitive.

Admittedly, some scenes lend themselves more to one medium or another. That is not to say you can’t paint a scene in both or either, it is just that your style and the scene beckon to one or the other medium.
Here is my latest Watercolor, and below it is an oil of a similar scene (not exactly but somehow similar). Most people use watercolors very faintly. I don’t like that. I charge my colors fully and let their personalities come out. I try very hard not to fuss with them once they are on the paper and that gives them vibrancy and life.

In The August Sun, Watercolor 14”x10”

The oil is admittedly more moody in this scene, and the colors are meant to be more subdued than the watercolor above, but the high grass/ brush is in both. Anyway…

Forgotten Fields, Oil on panel 10”x8”

All to say, I am so lucky to be able to paint in more than one medium. In art schools you don’t specialize in one medium and there is a good reason for that. The more color languages you can speak, the better! I hope this answers the question in some way.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


In your mind, does solitude equate with sadness, loneliness and depression? Or does it equate with contemplation, meditation and peace? There is no right and wrong answer. It is all a matter of personality and habit.

Most artists I know love solitude – thrive in it even. But most are also extroverts who enjoy company immensely.

Still I have to say that the creative mood is one that snuggles best with Solitude. I love the quiet moments of still meditation. They fill me with vision and the urge to paint. And there is nothing better than solitude in nature.

Enjoy this watercolor. I sure enjoyed painting it. It has been on my mind for a while coming in visions and filling the corners of my days. It is finally born, and I hand it to you.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Canoeing Grace Lake

There is nothing that says Canada more than a canoe trip in the highlands of Ontario. Yes you may not be too far from civilization but when you paddle the quiet waters and meandering rivers to open lakes that swallow you in their grandeur, you can feel the place of man in nature. small. humble.

Canoeing Grace Lake, oil on panel 8”x10”

I did this oil painting from a shore just off Grace Lake. The channel I was on connects Dark Lake with Grace Lake close to Wilberforce. An amazing area to lose the city in you and get in touch with your primal self. The area was shadowed and dark, but I managed to see color and add as much as I could while staying true to the scene. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


Every once in a while, I like to give away a small work of art to the great people who follow my posts/tweets/blog etc.
I am giving away this 4"x6" oil painting at the end of August to a lucky social network booster who will help me increase my following online.
  • If you are on Twitter, RT my SUMMER ART GIVEAWAY post and friend me @artzanbarrage
  • If you are on Facebook, like my page and share my SUMMER ART GIVEAWAY post at
    Artist Zan Barrage
It's that simple :) Help me for a chance to own an original work of art for free this summer!!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Urban Shedding

Artists who paint in nature will often tell you that the first painting of the day is usually a scraper (a term meaning a bad painting which will be scraped off so you can use the canvas again). I have spent enough days out there painting to know the truth of that statement. By the time you hit early evening though – if you are determined enough to be out for the whole day – your sense of colour, composition and economy of brush strokes peaks and you may…just may, come back home with a keeper.


I have also been on much longer camping and painting trips. And the experience is similar, but deeper. Day after day, your work gets better and your sense of nature grows more acute. Your colours peak and your composition gets to almost zen levels. On such trips I usually do three to four paintings a day, and come back with about ten keepers. That’s a lot. Trust me. Like fish, many of them get away from you.

Thinking of these experiences has led me to coin the concept of #UrbanShedding. Yes in many ways it is another term that means #Unplugging, but where unplugging has come to be associated with devices and being on the grid somehow, #UrbanShedding is a deeper “letting go” at a spiritual level.


As an artist I know I notice a significant transition when I undergo #UrbanShedding in nature.  You may be immersed in nature, deep in a national park, but as you paint your first few, your mind is still fighting battles miles away in an office, a commute or complex human relationships. Your bills creep into your colors and your anxieties reflect in the vigour of your brush strokes. It takes time to shed all these trappings off. But I strongly believe that the results are very different and genuine and closer to nature when you have given up the Urban in you.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Windowsill, Oil painting

You just need a still life from time to time to keep the landscapes in check. I really enjoyed doing this one. I started it and finished it on two separate rainy weekends. So the weather did not get the best of me !

Windowsill, oil on professional canvas panel, 9”x12”

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Watercolor, 11"x14"

This one has been bugging me for a while. I love it, but it was a bit larger and the edges just did not add to the painting in any way. They seemed to actually take away from it. So after looking at it for a long time and testing what I should do, I finally decided to crop it from 14"x21" to 11"x14".

Sentinel (Before) 14”x21”

Sentinel (after) 11”x14”

Watercolor, 11"x14"

It feels tighter and more solid now. As a matter of fact I really like it a lot now. The composition is better and the distractions are gone.

Better yet, it has gone from $380 to $200 because of the size change! So grab it while it is still there.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Finding Peace Through Painting

Painting is sometimes associated in people’s minds with the notion of the ‘mad genius’. It’s a stereotypical view of a creative mind, although there have been troubled geniuses who have produced some of the greatest artworks ever seen. Van Gogh, that master Post-Impressionist, springs to mind as a representative of the ‘tortured artist’, and his intensity can be see in the palette he used, and the bold vision he presented to the world.

Van Gogh suffered from a number of debilitating problems. As well as mental ill-health, he was heavily addicted to alcohol and tobacco, and his physical heath began to suffer by 1888. Drawn to the south of France as a warm place to relax and paint, he arrived in Arles on February 21st of that year, and set up a studio in the ‘Yellow House’. He began to immerse himself in the landscape and colors of the French countryside, finding some peace for the first few months of his residency there. During Van Gogh’s time in Arles, he produced some of his finest works of genius including Van Gogh's ChairBedroom in ArlesThe Night CafĂ©Cafe Terrace at NightStarry Night Over the Rhone, and Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers. The Australian critic, Robert Hughes describes his artistic engagement with the landscape in Nothing If Not Critical.

“Van Gogh was enchanted by the local landscape and light, and his works from the period are richly draped in yellow, ultramarine and mauve. His portrayals of the Arles landscape are informed by his Dutch upbringing; the patchwork of fields and avenues appear flat and lack perspective, but excel in their intensity of color.”

But whilst these works were being completed, some alongside his friend and muse Gauguin, anguish was not far beneath the surface. Obsessively anxious to endear himself to Gauguin, Vincent began to unravel mentally. His craving for attention and approbation, and Gauguin’s refusal to indulge him, reached a climax on December 23rd, 1888. Vincent drew a razor on his friend, and then ran away in shame. That night he cut off his own ear and was admitted to an asylum. Gauguin fled and never saw Van Gogh again.

Painting As Treatment
Painting can be an emotionally intense experience for the artist. It can be peaceful, satisfying, rewarding, spiritually uplifting, it can answer the constant questions that play around the mind. But sometimes there are factors that unbalance the mind which mean that art no longer provides those answers, and no longer brings peace. It is no surprise that addiction has blighted the lives of artists throughout history. Van Gogh’s mental unbalance was accentuated by his addictive reliance of absinthe and his pipe – which he smoked even whilst waiting to be treated for the fatal, self-inflicted shot to the chest. These addictions rendered him weakened and sickly, and far less able to manage his mental health. Today, he may have been helped back to good health by the use of art in the rehabilitation process. Art has been used in rehabilitation therapy all over the world for many years now. Therapist have found art to be a highly effective way of accessing the addict’s sub-conscious, in order to try and bring difficulties and pain to the surface. There are particularly enlightened rehabs in Maryland that make wide use of painting and sculpture as a part of their therapy, and results show that the treatment is highly effective. Addicts reported finding a sense of peace, release, relaxation and community in their art therapy sessions, in addition discovering an ability to express emotion in a totally new way. Therapists report that landscape painting in particular helps patients to connect with the world again, and become ‘grounded’ in the physical environment and nature.

Landscape and Mood
It is a pity that this sort of help was not available to Van Gogh during those turbulent months. Painting drove him on, but despite continuing to work after the first hospital admission, his mental health and drinking continued to dog him. In 1890, he wrote about the landscape in Arles and how he had become absorbed "in the immense plain against the hills, boundless as the sea, delicate yellow". He had become fixated on painting the wheat fields around him, and they came to mirror his mood closely. They first enchanted him when they were young, fresh green stems in May of that year, but by the middle of a rainy July he wrote to his brother Theo about "vast fields of wheat under troubled skies". His painting Wheat field With Crows (1890) shows a threatening sky, and crows. He wrote that he has no  "need to go out of my way to try and express sadness and extreme loneliness". This painting is reputedly his last, and he shot himself on 27th July. It is heart breaking to think how he could have been saved today, with the medical help he would have undoubtedly received. His paintings are a lasting testament to his genius, and in his last letter to Theo he wrote about being childless, saying that his paintings were his progeny. Their eternal beauty and his intense artistic vision will ensure that those progeny will live forever in our hearts and minds.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Little Glamour Lake

Little Glamour Lake
11"x14" Watercolor

I am finally happy with this painting. For a while I felt it was too flat, but this weekend we visited and we worked together to make it a better painting :)

I consider many of the paintings in my studio unfinished. I always reserve the right to tweak them or simply euthanize them if I no longer like them. This one is done and I like it. It is sitting in an archival sleeve waiting to go home.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Top 10 Habits to Improve Your Painting

( I was talking to an artist friend who was asking my advice on how to improve his painting. These habits came up so I decided to share them with other artists here. Each of these habits could be a post on it’s own I guess, but for now, here is the list with some explanation).

  1. Spend time in your studio thinking and planning.
    Your studio should be a familiar place and a comfortable place to be in. You should not go there just to paint. You should be there to think and experiment and plan. Make it a home or a refuge and it will reward you
  2. Sketch two to three times a day.
    You are not going to be a great painter before you can draw well, and the best way to get there is to practice. Sketching is your best medicine. Trust me on this. Sketch every moment you can.
  3. Doodle abstract compositions
    Abstract compositions are pure gold. You should have a sketch book dedicated to those only. These are the keys to success and the seeds you use for all future paintings.
  4. Study your colors well. Understand everything about them.
    It is not enough to have read about colors. As a matter of fact skip all the books. Get the colors out of the tubes and start mixing and spreading. You will soon realize that this is the only way to get intimate with your colors and understand how they are going to perform when you place them on the canvas or paper.
  5. Do chromatic quick paintings at least once a week
    Just leave your colours behind and try to focus on value once a week.
  6. Do your color scales at least once a year
    Color charts are a must to understand your colors well. This is different than (4). Here you are mixing to specific hue and value. In (4) you are free riffing.
  7. Paint something anything but paint every day.
    Even if it is just a few strokes that don't amount to much. It is like sports. You have to keep the muscles working all the time.
  8. Switch mediums often.
    You will quickly find out that you get a fresh feel for your medium when you change it. Don’t be a slave to your chosen medium. You are an artist not a one medium zealot. Changing mediums frees you. Trust me on this and try it.
  9. Don't be afraid to use material.
    They won’t last forever and you can buy more. Use them up!
  10. Use a big mirror placed a few feet behind your easel to look at your work in progress in reverse. You will be able to quickly catch your mistakes

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Visit, oil on panel 8”x10”

This one started off as a plein air painting, but it needed some work in the studio. The theme developed on location as more and more people seemed to arrive at the house ahead. A party? maybe. But it certainly was fun to paint it.
I needed to get back to the studio to check my angles and my perspective and also to think through the additional design issues that seem to be missing or inadequate in many outdoor works.
I still wonder what was going on at the house!


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creek Bed, Late Afternoon, oil on canvas panel

Another look at the creek bed. This one is a little later in the day and the light is more colorful than the one before. It also is from a slightly different angle.

Again here I was focused on the trees and their branches. I wanted to show the jumble of branches across the scene. They are amazing to see and try to decipher in a painting. I might have gotten carried away with them, but I don’t think so. What do you think?

Creek Bed Late Afternoon, oil on canvas panel 5”x7”

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Creek Bed In Winter, oil on canvas panel 5”x7”

Creekbedinwinter8Creek Bed In Winter, Oil on canvas panel, 5"x7"

This creek bed is close to our home. It is dry most of the time except for rainy parts of winter and spring.

I wanted the energy of the branches to be the focus of this little work. There was a lot of brush in the creek bed of course, but I wanted to reduce the elements to what I needed. The houses are also higher than they are in real life. The hill is not that steep, but again I wanted to accentuate the “V” effect for design purposes.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Offerings, Chinese New Year

This is a small oil still life of tangerines in a green take-out box. I call it offerings because it is almost Chinese New Year and I love the energy that this time of year has in China Town and among the Chinese community.

Offerings, Oil on canvas panel 4”x6”

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rainy Day at the Park


Its a muddy drizzly day. The rain keeps coming down. The gray skies obscure the winter sun and the feel of the park is dark and wet. A burst of color in a near tree is only stubborn oak leaves that refuse to fall. But the colors are welcome in this monotone and lulling day. The kind of day you want to grab a book and read at the window, or go out for a wet walk and smell the earth.

In a deep gold or black frame this one would look lovely in a well lit corner or over a night stand.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Winter Plein Air Painter’s Gear IV–Physical Comforts

I hope to address several things here. Some are matter of fact and others are …well … natural. So I apologies ahead of time if the natural issues are out of your reading scope.

Keeping warm:

Yes even after all the clothes we put on, we will still need to think about taking breaks and warming up. Remember please that you are simply standing in the cold. You are not burning energy like a hiker or a skier so you will have to compensate. The first thing you will need is an egg timer. I usually set it for 20-30 minutes if the weather is bearable, but I will go down to 15 minutes if it is very cold. When the timer goes off, you will need to drop what you are doing and either get back to the car to thaw out for 10 minutes, or if that car is not close enough you will need to get your body warm by jogging or jumping or exercising in place for 5-10 minutes.

Trust me this is not optional if you want to be out there for long. You will not beat the cold. You have to either generate heat or else get heat from the car. If you don’t you will be rattling your teeth in 45 minutes and then  you will be finding a reason to head back in. If you go past one hour without a break, you will have to head back in as there is no way to recapture enough heat to sustain you outside. Be smart. Break it up and you can be out all day I promise you. I have done it many times before.

When you get back in the car for a break, get some warm liquid into you. Soup is the best thing. Tea is OK, but it will make your bladder active, and coffee is a no-no. We will talk about that and alcohol later. I also carry seeds and nuts with me for snacks. You want simple snacks that don’t fill you up or get your digestive system working too hard. More on that later too.

By all means carry a few of those heat sachets for your gloves. They even make some for boots but I never need them. I do use a seat heater, the kind you get for football stadiums in winter. If you can build a small fire or if you have a camping stove to warm up the soup and your hands on all the better. What ever you do, don’t get so immersed in painting that you loose track of basic survival issues.

Foods and Drinks To Avoid

Coffee is a diuretic especially if you have it with cream so avoid it like the plague when you are out there. Also please avoid any greasy foods or heavy foods. The more your digestive system has to work, the more blood gets drawn from your extremities towards your abdomen and that is not a good thing if you plan to stand and paint in the cold.

You should completely avoid alcohol when you are out painting. I know the old myth about the flask of vodka or brandy and how it can make you feel warm all over. It is a myth and a bad one at that. The fleeting warmth that you feel as the alcohol goes down is soon replaces with alcohol in your blood which acts to lower the blood temperature very rapidly. Keep the booze for the evening at the cabin. You will enjoy it there much more and you won’t have to drive under the influence either!

As I mentioned before soup is the best liquid you can have. Chicken soup with noodles, a few salt crackers a hand full of seeds and nuts should keep you going every couple of hours.

Nature Calls:

I am surprised that no plein air book or article ever talks about this basic human function. It is hell to have to answer a major call of nature in the cold. So avoid it. basically (excuse the details here please but someone needs to talk about these things) I force myself to go before I leave for a plein air outing in winter or summer. A number one is not a major issue, but if you force yourself to a number two before you leave and you follow the eating and drinking recommendations above, you should be just fine.

First Aid Kit and Medical Issues

I carry a basic first aid kit with me at all times in the car. I augment that with Tylenol, antacid and sun cream for winter. I use the sun cream both as a barrier from the sun and snow glare and as a moisturizer against the cold drying temperature and wind.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Winter Plein Air Painter’s Gear III–Clothing (Outer layers)

This is the third post in a series that will take on clothing as well as painting gear for winter.
In my last post I focused on the middle layers. Here we will focus on the outer layers:


Clothing: Outer layers.


We finally get to the outer layers. The whole point of the outer layers is to block wind, water and cold from making it to the middle and inner layers. I use two zippered layers here. One is a heavy windbreaker that cuts wind and the outer most layer is a sky jacket that I have had for over 10 years. In researching the company that made this jacket, it seems to be out of business now but the name is Board Dokter ( the link is dead. It is a great jacket. Thin but very well insulated and has served me very well. The outer skin is water and wind proof and it has many pockets and bells and whistles such as arm pit zippers and waist and bottom adjustable pulls to keep the wind and cold out. The hood from this jacket is the last thing that goes on top of my hats. If needed the hood closes very well allowing for only the eyes to be exposed. A good thing to have although I wouldn’t be out painting if the weather is that bad. You can use down jackets here and many people do, but I don’t like the bulky thickness that comes with them. I would recommend more modern material than down for this outer layer.

For my head cover I use either a woollen Tooke that covers my ears or a rabbit fur hat that also has flaps to cover the ears. This fur hat is the best buy I made. It keeps so much heat in that inevitably I have to remove it from time to time just to regulate by body heat. I would highly recommend it. Since most of the zippered layers that I have zip all the way up to the chin, I don’t add another scarf to the gear. You may want to think about that though if your layers don’t provide enough neck and chest protection.

For my hands I use two sets of mittens one closed and the other cut at the finger tips. I also use woollen socks over these and thread brushes through the wool to feel them inside the sock. (This is a trick the Group of Seven used when they went out painting in winter).


I use a thin nylon shell as a bottom outer layer. It serves two purposes: It keeps the wind out and keeps all moisture out too. I often kneel to adjust my gear and you don’t want a wet knee when you are out in the snow.

Last but not least are thinsulate high boots good to –45c.

Again shingle the layers to avoid wind and cold seeping in. I place all the zippered middle layers under the nylon bottom shell and place the legs in the boots. Tighten the pulls on the outer jackets and velcro the sleeves tight over the mittens. (the sleeves from the middle and inner layers go under the mittens).

Friday, January 04, 2013

Winter Plein Air Painter’s Gear II–Clothing (Middle Layers)

I thought I would blog a primer on how to gear up for comfortable winter outdoor painting. The next few posts will take on clothing as well as painting gear for winter.
In my last post I focused on the Inner (next to skin) layers. Here we will focus on the middle layers:

Clothing: Middle layers.


The purpose of the middle layers is to keep the wicking motion going outwards but also to build warmth and layers of protection. I use three or more middle layers depending on the temperature. My first middle layer is a thin polyester/thermolite/merino wool blend sweater. I love this sweater. I use it year round and only take it off when it gets really warm. Next up are a couple of fleece zippered hoodies. Be careful when you buy fleece. You want wool fleece not the polyester kind. Polyester fleece repels water and will trap it in building a layer of cold humidity in the middle of your clothing. You won’t last too long outdoors with that system.

I use lots of zippered layers in the middle and outer layers because here is where you can regulate the temperature of your body depending on how the day goes. If you need less layers, the zippered layers are easy to take off. They also allow you to shed layers quickly without loosing too much body heat in the process. If you can, make sure the zippered fleece layers have a tightening string in the bottom seam to hold them close to your body and not to hang loose. This prevents cold from seeping in from below the loose layers.

So again I would recommend at least two to three layers as middle layers, preferably fleece, and definitely not cotton or water repellent polyester fleece. Use zippered layers to allow for quick shedding or adding as the need arises.

We have to start talking about head and neck protection here. As a middle layer, I use a woolen scarf wrapped from the back of my head to the front. I hold it in place in the back by putting on a fleece cap. This is the first layer on the head. I know some people who use pantyhose on the head as a first layer below the fleece cap. I don’t. This system allows me to mimic a Balaclava by manipulating the scarf up or down. It keeps my ears warm and is not as cumbersome and unyielding as Balaclavas are. I frankly don’t recommend them.


I used jeans as my middle bottom layer for a long time, but now I use either insulated pants or simply jogging pants. I like the comfort of the jogging pants and the fact that they are banded at the bottom. Another set of wool socks or cotton jogging socks are OK here.

Again shingling is important here. Make sure that the first middle layer (not zippered) fist below the insulated pants or jogging pants and that the socks fit over the pants.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Winter Plein Air Painter’s Gear I–Clothing (Inner Layers)

I thought I would blog a primer on how to gear up for comfortable winter outdoor painting. The next few posts will take on clothing as well as painting gear for winter.
Let’s start with the clothes since you will want to get these right if you are going to enjoy painting outdoors. There are three layers that we will need to address.
  • Inner (next to skin) layers
  • Middle Layers
  • Outer layers (including gloves, hats and shoes)
Clothing: Inner layers, also called next to skin layer.


This is perhaps the most important layer to get right. It is also the one that most people get wrong. The most important function of the inner layer is to keep your skin dry by wicking away any perspiration and humidity from your body. Cotton, the most common inner layer that we use daily is the worst inner layer for being out in the cold. It absorbs moisture and keeps it next to your skin. As the moisture cools, it pulls away warmth from your skin and brings your body temperature down. Great for summer, but not exactly what we are looking for in winter.
What you need is an inner layer that pulls moisture away from your skin and then releases it forward to the next layer. This will keep you warm and dry adding comfort and reducing the risk of hypothermia. There are many modern fabrics that are designed to do just that, but I simply use a very thing and soft merino wool sweater. Wool is excellent in wicking away moisture and merino wool is soft and does not itch like rougher wool.
For hikers and active outdoors people, one inner layer is enough, but since as plein air artists we are not moving much when painting, we need to double up on every layer. We are not burning nearly as much energy as hikers, so we will have to build more protection from the cold.
My next inner layer is an old cashmere wool vest. It is too old to use for normal wear, but as a second inner layer it is perfect! It continues the wicking process and both woollen layers are excellent also in keeping the warmth in.   


Hockey players have a secret they are too macho to admit. They wear pantyhose over their briefs. Yes common nylon pantyhose or better yet woolen pantyhose is the best first layer after your briefs of course. These should be followed by either wool blend long johns or common cotton long johns. The reason I don’t worry too much about using cotton long johns below is that we normally don’t sweat much from our legs unless we are exerting ourselves.
Follow those with thin woolen socks (dress socks are best) and you are good to go on the first layers. But before we go, lets make sure we tuck everything properly. You want to alternate tucking as you build the layers.
  • The merino wool first layer goes under the pantyhose,
  • The woolen vest goes over that but under the long johns.
  • The woolen socks also go over the long johns.
By alternating the tucks (Shingling) you assure that the heat is trapped and that wind and cold can’t travel directly in towards your skin.
There you have it! The Inner Layers for Painting Outdoors. Next up, the Middle Layers…

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Harvest Time + a request

Happy New Year!

May the seeds you sow all grow and flourish and may your harvest be plenty in 2o13!

The last painting of 2012 was Harvest Time. I finished it yesterday morning and it is drying on the shelf now. I hope you like it.

Harvest Time, oil on panel 9”x12” (22.8x30.5cm)

Like everyone, I dabble in end of year goal setting outside of work. You know, the weight loss, the exercise, etc… I do that for my art as well.

One of my art goals for 2013 is to grow my Facebook page. I want the page to have over 1,000 followers by the end of 2013 (I am at 490 right now. I know there are services that promise you 1,000 followers in 24 hrs. I am not sure I want that. I want live human beings with whom I can interact, so I will pass on the services. But I need your help. Will you help me by inviting (1) one friend to join my Facebook page? Thank you!