Sunday, March 31, 2024

View of Wimmis by F.E. Church

Frederic Edwin Church had the ability, even in a small field study, to capture a lot of convincing detail and texture, working quickly over a pencil line drawing in a single pass of oil paint.

View of Wimmis, Valley of the Simmental, Switzerland by Frederic Church, 1868, oil on paper mounted on canvas 32.4 x 50.5 cm

The original is only about 13 inches tall, so, depending on the size of your monitor, this detail may be about actual size.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Hangin’ with the Donkeys


Donkeys are very friendly and sweet, but it’s hard to sketch when you’re in there with them.

Monday, March 25, 2024

A guy talking on the cell phone

Cell phones occupy so much of people’s attention that they hold still and they don’t notice you sketching them.

I paint this guy in a New York City park. He is talking into his earbud mic for a long time, not moving much, and he doesn’t look over.

When I’m done, I show him the picture so he can put it on social media.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Short Lighting

 When light comes from the farther, foreshortened, or “short” side of the face it's called "short" lighting. 

It’s still three-quarter lighting if the tell-tale lighted triangle appears on the shaded side of the face. This time the lighted triangle is on the cheek closest to the viewer. Short lighting can help make a face look thinner. Some photographers use the term “Rembrandt lighting” more generally for any three-quarter lighting, either broad or short. Rembrandt himself used both broad and short lighting. Both of these lighting arrangements are flattering and unobtrusive, good reasons why portrait painters and photographers have used them almost universally.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Street Scene Demo

In today's Substack post I paint a street scene where the goal is to capture the feeling of objects against a bright sky.  

The technique uses watercolor and gouache over casein. I add a bright light effect with pastel once the paint is fully dry. Also I answer a few of your questions and discuss whether it ‘breaks the rules’ to combine media in this way.

Street Scene Demo, free post on Substack

Thursday, March 14, 2024

What is a Diffuser, and Why Does It Help?

 Getting the best light on your artwork while sketching outdoors makes a huge difference. Ideally you want soft, diffused white sunlight at a level close to the brightness of the scene itself. The worst thing is cast shadows or dappled light across the painting. 

That's where a diffuser comes in, and you can make one yourself. On my Substack

I do a deep dive into various designs that are windproof, lightweight, and adjustable.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Lilias Trotter, Victorian Gouache Painter

Lilias Trotter’s mentor, John Ruskin, said that if she stuck with it, she could become the “greatest living painter” and create immortal works.

She did stick with it, but her first calling was as a Christian missionary. She overcame resistance from people around her and traveled to Algeria, where she spent 40 years of her life.

She painted lots of little gouache sketches in her sketchbooks and illustrated letters.

Her studies are executed with strokes that are economical, relaxed, and graceful.

Friday, March 8, 2024

What Should You Work On? (Assuming You Want to Make a Living at It.)

Let’s consider three essential factors: Aptitude, Interest, and Market, which you can remember with the word “AIM.

*AIM diagram by James Gurney

Here are three overlapping circles. One represents “What I’m good at,” the next represents “What I love doing,” and the third is “What someone will buy.” The three circles overlap in a central section marked “What I should work on.” That intersection is the sweet spot where you can be productive, happy, and make a living.

To be fulfilled at making art (or anything else), you have to be skilled at what you do, but you also have to be interested or even obsessed with it. But if you want to survive doing it, there have to be people willing to pay you for it, either a few people paying a lot or a lot of people paying a little. It can be an existing market that you serve or a new market that you create.

It’s not enough to have training and passion if you can’t find a buyer. You can’t work happily for long hours if you are not interested in it. And if you don’t have the skills and knowledge required in your field, you’ll be out-competed by people who do.

These circles will shift and change throughout your life as you evolve new interests and skills, as tastes change, and as new technologies for production, distribution and monetization appear. Every few years you’ve got to check and see if that sweet spot has shifted under your feet.

*Note: After I developed this concept and Venn diagram on my own, I discovered that there's already a similar concept in Japanese culture called "ikigai.” Apparently the word "ikigai" translates as "purpose in life" or "reason for being." It seems to be a somewhat broader idea, sometimes including a fourth field labeled "What the world needs." Check it out, let me know your thoughts, and share with a friend.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Why Young People Are the Best Readers

My Dinotopia books are intended for all ages, but my favorite readers are between ages 8 and 18. That’s the age where their brains are almost fully wired but they’re not yet locked into routines or mortgage payments.

At St Columba’s School in Ballarat, Australia, 1993

Young people are intensely alert and alive when they read, while their parents tend to be half asleep.

Author M.T. Anderson said it well: "They haven't learned to resist stories yet. They haven't closed themselves off to worlds that might be different from their own."

They’re willing to suspend disbelief, but they’re also intensely demanding about logic and coherence. Teenagers are just as intelligent as their parents or grandparents, perhaps more so; they just don’t have as much experience.

(Read the rest of this essay on Substack)

Monday, March 4, 2024

Contre Jour Lighting

 Contre-jour lighting is a type of backlighting where you place the subject right in front of a bright, sunny sky. 

It's a mysterious effect that makes your paintings glow.

More today on Substack

Friday, March 1, 2024

Listen to Dinotopia Part 2

I just put part 2 of the Dinotopia Audio Adventure on Substack.

So anyone (psst, you don’t even have to give your email) can escape this world for an hour of free listening.