Sunday, November 3, 2013

Buildings in Saint-Sauveur, Quebec City

graphite on paper 10"x10"

I love this sweeping view of the neighborhood of Saint-Sauveur, Quebec City, especially the long ribbon-like shape of the street that stretches into the blurred distance. 

Perhaps like most of us, when I was a child I had a recurring dream of flying. In those dreams I felt an intoxicating mix of freedom and excitement, and I try and recapture some of that feeling in these aerial views. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Almost to the Castle

click here to bid

I photographed this charming girl at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She was with several adults who were closely attending a tour in Spanish. The tour guide spent at least a half hour in each room, and the little girl kept gesturing and whispering to herself, wrapped up in an imaginary world.

She reminded me of my own daughter Julia's childhood, when she would often talk to herself while acting out some story in her mind. Once my brother-in-law, in observing Julia in the thick of her private play-acting, said "she's almost to the castle". That is such a wonderful way to put it!

I think my paintings have been getting a tad bit uptight lately, which is always painful, and I've been feeling a little blocked. Thankfully this little painting seemed to float out of me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tips and Tricks Carnival

Artist's Tips and Tricks- a Blog Carnival!

Today a group of six painters are blogging about some of the tips and tricks of our trade. I'm putting a special emphasis on my approach to painting from digital images.

You can click on these other five artists to gather more helpful tips:

I've been painting from life for more than thirty years, but in the last two years have developed a method for painting from my own digital images that doesn't scream "this was painted from a photograph!" 

I enjoy working from photographs because the practice has opened up subject matter possibilities to an amazing degree. Many people ask me if I work from life or not, even when I paint a pose that would be impossible for someone to hold, like this:

A photograph or digital image gives too much information, and at the same time, not enough. There is too much information about detail, with edges gaining an importance they don't have in real life. There is not enough information about color, and the shadows are too dark, and the lights too light. 

The temptation is to paint with a tiny brush, trying desperately to capture everything seen in the photo, but you have to use some smarts or the photograph will conquer you.

Here are six of my main "tips and tricks" for working from a digital image:
1. Choose an image that has strong value contrast. Using your computer's photo editing program, view the image in black & white. If the image is still compelling, it will work well in color. 

2. Print out the image in black and white. With the use of a grid, draw the composition on your panel upside down (more on that in a minute). Keep this print out next to your panel or canvas while you paint, and constantly check it for the correct values. Getting the correct values trumps getting the right color. 

3. Paint from your computer monitor, and always with the image upside down. That's the best way to forget the subject, and to trick your mind into putting less importance on concrete information like "this child has a nice smile", and more on pure shape, line and color. It's the best way to keep your focus on the abstract qualities of a subject, which will help your painting look less stiff and photographic. 
Every now and then you can turn your painting over to get a very fresh look at your progress. I set my painting on a shelf in another area of my studio, and always view it from several feet back. If it doesn't look good from a distance, it won't be a strong painting. 
4. When you work in a shadowed area, use your photo-editing program to temporarily lighten it. Having deep shadows with little infomation will make your painting look overly photographic. Darken your image when working on the most strongly lit areas. Backlighting is beautiful, but you have to continually adjust the brightness to make it work. 
5. Use a variety of brush sizes, using the smaller ones for an area you want to focus on, and larger ones for summing up an area. If part of the scene is overwhelming in detail,   move ten feet back from the computer to work on it, and try squinting. Getting way back is the best way to see the scene as a whole, and will help your work to not look overly tight.
Utrecht's series 239 mixed synthetic Brights are great for details and Princeton Brush Series 6300B work well for working more loosely.

6. If you wear glasses, now and then take them off while you paint. If an area is giving you trouble, especially if it is a face, paint it upside down and without your glasses and you'll be amazed at how much easier it is to get a likeness. 
So there you have it, six quick tips that I've spent years figuring out. Hope it was helpful! If you'd like more detailed information about my approach to working from digital images, you can visit my ArtByte shop.

You can click on these other five artists to gather more helpful painting-related tips:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


The structure of an artichoke is such a pleasure to look at, and to paint. The green leaves in different lighting can look blue, purple, or lime green, and the tips have that lovely bit of orange. Best of all, when one stands upright, it seems to be emblematic of a pride and inner strength. At least for me. 
My new Mac desktop monitor show this image as having both strong color and contrast, while the same image on my old Dell monitor looks dull and washed out. Instead of fixing the image so it looks right on the Dell, I'm sticking with what looks good on the Mac. Anyone have any advice?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Boy in Stripes, Art Museum Steps

oil on board 6.5"x 6"
This boy was bounding down the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, only to run right back up to the top and do it all over again. And again. I love backlighting, and was interested in all the diagonals in this scene. Oh, and like most of us, I love watching kids run around.
After thinking about it for ages, I finally got myself an iMac. I'm completely amazed and happy with the difference in quality of visual images compared with my old Dell monitor (nothing against Dell, because it's lovely to be able order a decent desktop for less than $300).
Whereas before I'd be straining my eyes to determine if a subtle color was warm or cool, now it's so easy to see. With iPhoto, I can lighten shadows without lightening the lights. The sense of depth is amazing, and the light from my studio windows doesn't interfere much.
I'll be paying it off for 18 months, but it's entirely worth it (for any of you artists out there). 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Quebecois Cows

oil on board 5.5"x 8"

Two of these beautiful cows were curious about me, while two were decidedly not, which leads me to wonder about the nature of the curious ones. Are they more intelligent than the other two, or just less hungry? Or maybe cows take turns with inquisitiveness, with only a few of them on duty at a time.

Friday, August 23, 2013

View of Saint-Sauveur, Quebec City

graphite 7.75" x12"

Quebec City wouldn't be half as beautiful if it weren't for the division between the "Upper Town" and "Lower Town". Here's a panoramic view of the Lower Town neighborhood of Saint-Sauveur, with its church of the same name seemingly afloat in the gorgeous busyness of homes, office buildings, and summer trees.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Old Quebec Rooftop Scene with the Hotel Frontenac

Graphite 4 3/8" x 9 3/4"

At last I've included the famous Hotel Frontenac in a drawing, even if just one section, or slice of it. If I haven't come up with a composition that excites me. I have so much trouble with motivation. I like unexpected views and surprising croppings, and coming up with the right mix can take me a long, long time.

When I first arrived in Quebec, I was obsessed with this famous hotel, thinking that OF COURSE it would have to be the first thing I drew or painted. Now, with the help of a friend's insight, I realize that when a subject is too well known it can be the most difficult subject. Finding something new to say about a tourist attraction- and all of old Quebec is a tourist attraction- it is quite a challenge.

Here is a more typical view of the famous hotel, partly under renovation:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Quebec City Layers

Graphite 4.25"x10"

I like this Quebec City scene for its combination of many very different kinds of structures. There are the gracefully peak-roofed and historic public buildings in front, the newer glass-walled office buildings, and in the back at least two separate industrial sites, churning out smoke. I love the busyness and the cacophony of this layered mix, bound together by the distant mountains and the late afternoon light.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Basse-Ville, Quebec and the Saint Lawrence, Morning

Graphite 9.5"x 8"

Another view of the oldest section of Quebec, Basse-Ville. Samuel de Champlain founded the first permanent settlement here in 1608.

I'm having a fantastic time drawing this wonderful city in pencil. Sometimes I simply crave getting the details down, which I can't do in a quick oil study.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Looking Towards Saint-Roch, Quebec City, Late Afternoon

graphite 4"x 10"

I love the complexity of cityscapes. Here is a view of a trendy Quebec neighborhood called Saint-Roch, and far beyond. I always think a cityscape looks best with at least one church steeple.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Nestled Buildings in Basse-Ville, Quebec

Graphite 7.25"x7.25"

I'm simply mesmerized by the buildings in Vieux Quebec, especially the ones in the oldest section of Basse-Ville. Each one is so old yet so beautifully maintained, but it's the way they are nestled together that really grabs me. By the way, my father was an urban planner, and loved visiting this city.
I know, I know, I need to start painting, but I love drawing too. Not at first- at first it's all measuring proportions and checking angles, and seems so challenging. About 3/4 of the way through a drawing can kind of take off, and then I'm just hanging on for the ride.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Here in Quebec City...

View of Basse-Ville, Quebec City pencil 7"x7"
This has been my fourth day in this busy and fascinating place, and I'm still adjusting. I live in a small town in Pennsylvania (it's been 15 years since I lived in Philadelphia), and so it's taking me a while to get used to the traffic, lack of parking, and noise of this city of 700,000.

As far as Old Québec goes (Vieux-Québec), unlike the images in advertisements, the cobblestone streets are clotted with tourists. So, I have been focusing on drawing and taking reference photos, although I did a quick oil sketch yesterday in what I thought was a relatively tranquil spot. My easel attracted a ton of visitors anyhow, so I guess I just have to get used to it.

Another adjustment for me is using my new iPad for blogging, using an App called Blogsy.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Artist's Studios Online Tour- a Blog Carnival!

Today a group of painters are writing about our studios. There is so much variety in our working spaces- some have spacious studios and others work on their kitchen tables. Now you can tour these studios online.

Visit the links below to tour the participating artist's studios:

Marla LaubischCarol SchiffKaethe BealerJo MacKenzie
Michael ChamberlainCharleen MartinSally BinardJacklyn Karabaich
Sharon GravesSea DeanJohnna SchellingTaryn Day
Julie Ford OliverSarah SedwickKim RempelCindy Michaud
Joanne GrantCarmen BeecherCindy WilliamsCathy Engberg

My Studio

My studio is the third floor of my home in Perkasie, PA.

I used to rent studio space ages ago, but like most artists, I'm perpetually on a budget. It's so much cheaper and more comfortable to work at home, although this was a challenge when my two kids were small and underfoot. It's a good sized space, about 350 square feet. I had two skylights put in, so it is filled with light.

This is a view of my favored painting corner, 
with a large skylight and a north-facing window.

This is the smaller skylight at the other side of the room, 
where I prepare painting surfaces and pack and ship my work.

I like to keep my main space uncluttered, so I shove most of my art supplies and still life paraphenalia into the long thin hallway-like space that juts out from the main room.

Yes, that's a cow pelvis hanging on the wall.

I sometimes paint from my own images, as viewed on my
raised computer monitor. I often work upside down, and always standing up, 
even standing clear across the room so I don't get hung up on details.

Here is my small but essential single wall shelf,
where I keep an eye on my most recent work.

I won't go into much detail about my supplies, because I have an online art tutorial that covers most of that, but these are my two most important tools:

Essential tool #1: My sturdy Soltek easel, which I use both indoors and out. 
It holds up in the wind, is less wobbly than a wooden French easel, 
and can fit into all kinds of tight places in my studio.

Essential tool #2: My journals. These pages have helped me sort out my
worries, and have guided me through many creative logjams. 

And that's the end of my studio tour. Thank you Marla Laubisch for the invitation to participate in the Artists' Studios Online Tour, and thank you for visiting my studio! 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Busy Rooftop Scene, Manayunk

pen and ink wash 7"x7"

I spent this weekend working in Manayunk again, hiking up and down the hills to find interesting views until I got a blister. Here is a dense scene looking east towards an unnamed church. 

Sometimes I find the subject of pure landscape a little monotonous to paint, especially here in the Northeast with the relentless greens of spring and summer. If I can find a neighborhood with lots of hills and architecture, I'm happy.

I do have one question about pen and ink wash, and if you have any experience with it I'd love your feedback. Why is it that everytime my pen accidentally leaves a big old BLOT, it's always in a spot that I needed to keep pure white, NEVER in a shadow area?

My last spring class came to an end last night, and while I'll miss my hard-working and enthusiastic students, I'm glad that I'll be able to put more focus on my work for a while. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Street Scene from the South Side, Bethehem, PA

oil on board 6"x6"

I often make the 40 minute drive north to paint in beautiful Bethlehem, PA. I love the hilly aspect of Bethehem, which makes for wonderful compositions. I also love the gritty character of the city with its aura of a complex history, with most of its original buildings still in use.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Alleyway in April

oil on board 6"x7"

I've drawn and painted this same house and alley several times, and feel a little guilty returning to the same subject. I do find it so charming, though. Here are some of my other versions of the same scene from the past:

October Morning oil on paper 2012

A Small World Lay Spread Before Me pen and ink wash 2013

Alley in Perkasie oil on board 2008

The last one is from a few year's back. It's so small- 3.4"x3.75"! I'm glad to be painting a little larger these days...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Checking Angles

Pencil is a great medium for those times when the weather is changeable but I still want to work outside. I can concentrate on line rather than light and shadow, and still plan out compositions for later paintings.

When I teach drawing, I like to devote one entire class to drawing boxes in perspective. I get a real kick out of seeing everyone improve their observational skills simply by holding a pencil up vertically or horizontally to check angles, and trusting what they see. Drawing houses is not any harder than drawing boxes. You get the first one right, and the others will follow.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cold Spring Morning with Hesitating Trees

pen and ink wash 5.75"x7.5"

So far spring in Pennsylvania has been quite cold, which seems to be the reason most of the trees are still bare. They are hesitating for a while before they decide to bud. 

It's so satisfying to spend a morning on a pen and ink wash drawing. The technique allows me to get into a fair amount of detail in just a few hours, but encourages spontaneity. It also forces me to make peace with accidents (meaning big fat ink drips). 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Above the Roof-peaks of the Town

Pen and Ink Wash 6"x 7.25"
click here to bid

My title comes from a Howard Nemerov poem that I've always loved, "The View from an Attic Window". Here is the first stanza:
Among the high-branching, leafless boughs
Above the roof-peaks of the town,
Snowflakes unnumberably come down.
There is a line that comes further along in the poem that used to really get to me, and still does- even though my cynical older self finds it a trifle overwrought:
I cried because life is hopeless and beautiful. 
I'm still in my re-learning phase of working with pen and ink wash. I've been using 300 lb hot-press (smooth) watercolor paper, and it seems like my pen nibs keep picking up bits of the thickish soft paper, and then get clogged. These pen and ink drawings are therefore mainly wash drawings, without much line. I may switch to regular drawing paper for a while and see what happens- probably lots of buckling from the wash, but at least my lines will flow.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Small World Lay Spread Before Me

Pen and Ink Wash 6.5" x 7.25"

This is a view of my hometown, Perkasie, on the sweetest spring morning seen around here in ages. I've stolen the title from Dicken's Great Expectations, "And the mists had all solemnly risen now, and the world lay spread before me", although my small hometown sure isn't London!

I used to use pen and ink wash all the time, but gave up the practice ages ago. I'm glad that my drawing class has forced me to bone up on the medium, and thankful to an old friend and long-time supporter of my work for encouraging me to get back to it. Another thanks to my friend Douglas Ferrin for recommending sepia ink made by Senellier. Doug says "I use Sepia shellac ink made by Senellier. I believe it's still made from real sepia. You can thin it with water or alcohol. Great stuff." Yes it is!

Here's a pen and ink wash drawing from almost thirty years ago:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Drawing Class

This month I'm really up to my neck in teaching. A two hour class inevitably means three or four hours of planning, not including travel time and setting up. A full day, really. I'm struggling with finding time for my own work, but do find teaching satisfying.

Usually I begin the class by having the students copy a master drawing, then move on to observing and drawing from life.

Here are a few drawings from a talented student, Carol Lee. Just had to share them!