Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring 2010

Spring Break – Homework

Guess you just can't keep a good teacher down. Even on my time off I am looking for things to show you.

While looking for something that we can do this coming semester, I found a cactus photo I took several years ago and thought it might make a good subject, however, as I started to draw it, I realized that it might make a good "homework" assignment while you have a break and are in need of something to do and it also shows you the process I go thru when I'm finding things for class.

While it is more a photo study (see picture page), I do want you to keep in mind that if you want to be a good painter, you really need to improve your drawing skills. Don't think of drawing as a chore, or that it is hard, remember what I tell you in class: Think of it as a challenge. Don't set yourself up for failure by starting out stating your defeat – "It's hard to draw!" "I can't draw!" "I'll never be any good at drawing" – think more along the lines of this as a puzzle you need to solve, how are you going to make it happen? It isn't a race, so take your time. Don't think about the finished product but only about the shapes that make up the final picture, if you want instant, get a camera, but if you want to improve your art, get out the paper and pencils and draw.

I started out by putting a simple grid on my paper so I knew where the center was to avoid it. Next I roughed in a sketch of my cactus and flowers by putting in just basic shapes. This is how I start a lot of the designs I use in class.

Once I am happy with the placement of the elements – they are just basic shapes right now, nothing more – then I refer to my photo and start looking for the shapes that make up those elements so I can start on some detail and work my way round the drawing checking and refining my shapes.

When I am satisfied with my drawing at this point, it is usually where I stop and make up the design I use in class. It is the basic elements of the picture and it is my road map for my painting.

However, this is an exercise in drawing so once I copied what I had in case we do use it in class, I used my #4B pencil and "toned" over all of my paper. I wanted a nice medium/light tone that wasn't too dark or too light. Error to the light side if you try this, it will make life easier. After I had my paper toned, I used a paper towel to smooth the tone into my paper.

Next, looking at my photo – always have it handy – I erased out my brightest areas and areas that have light. You may have to look close but the pads of a cactus are not flat, they have bumps and ridges which give them texture. In watercolor terms, I am lifting my light areas sometimes as a positive move, sometimes as negative drawing. In pencil terms it is subtractive drawing because you are removing the graphite or chalk. I have an eraser that looks like a pencil which is very handy. There are many kinds out there and they do come in handy when you need to erase small areas and not touch everything around it or you can cut a small piece off a big eraser with an Exacto knife, it will work as well.

Then I start looking for my shadows. Some are dark shapes others are very faint but all are important. All the time I am refining my shapes adding detail, looking for areas where I can do light against dark and visa versa until I have my finished drawing. Going back and forth between positive drawing and negative drawing, what ever is needed to get the job done.

If the line drawing is the road map, a detailed drawing is the scenery along the way. It makes for a much more interesting trip and you get to know your subject in all its wonderful detail, then when you get to your painting, you have a much better idea of where you are going and how you are going to get there.

I do encourage everyone to practice their drawing even those of you who think you are pretty good, it can't hurt and it can only help in the long run.

Remember to sign up for classes. See you soon. – LP

PVAC – 5504 W. Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes 90275 310-541-2479 class schedule on web at

Torrance: Community Services Dept. 3031 Torrance Blvd. Torrance 90503 310-618-2720 or register on-line at

Picture Page:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Winter 2010

Last Class of Winter Semester

Picture Page:

Give me some time off and I loose all track of time!

I do want to thank everyone in all of my classes for making this past semester a fun one. A special thanks to my PV morning class for bringing all the goodies, wish we could do something like that at Torrance J

There really isn't much to talk about regarding our last session. For those of you who brought in paintings for critique, I can't tell you how proud I am of each and every one of you! You are all doing such a great job, I hope you keep up the good work during this time off.

I did a demo in all classes that was virtually the same for everyone: Watercolor and Acrylic. The technique is basically the same and it is a good one to know but you have to conquer your fear of doing something to you painting that seems more than a bit bold or drastic but there are times when that is exactly what your painting needs, something bold and drastic.

There are a couple of things I usually notice in the paintings of my students one is they are afraid of the shadows. Their paintings may be well drawn and well executed but they lack the punch to take a nice painting to the next level. Shadows create mystery they also make your light areas stand out. Remember, you can't have light without the dark. You have to have some dark darks so that you highlights will stand out; it is all in the values you put into your painting.

In all the demo pictures I did in class, I noticed that the one thing that was lacking were definite shadows in the rocks. I had gotten my dark areas pretty good, but the shadow rocks were a little weak so on all of my demos I used a wash that consisted mostly of blue and purple and went over the shadowed sides of the rocks. This should be a fairly thin wash whether it is in acrylics or watercolor, if it needs more after it dries, add another wash. What this wash does is really cool down the shadows and if you want to emphasize the warm and the cool even more, do a similar thing with a warm wash of yellow and or orange (I did this in most classes but not all). Just remember to keep it think and if you are using watercolor, put it on and move on! If you linger too long in one area, you will stir up the paint underneath and you will create mud. Rinse your brush before reloading and use a damp brush to soften edges but don't go back into an area until it is completely dry, the acrylic people won't have that problem but you should let it dry before doing anything else to the area.

The other problem I often see is people give up on a painting way too soon. Almost without exception, most paintings have a stage I call the Terminal Uglies. It is the stage when you look at your painting and you want to throw it in the trash when often times you have just gotten to the end of your under painting and now you need to start the finishing process.

The above technique can help out a lot because what I see when people are frustrated is there is no depth in their paintings, everything is the same value and there is no sense of light. You are the Creator of this world on your paper, you have to make some decisions like where is the light coming from? What is the most important thing in my painting? And how can I bring it out? Try squinting your eyes. If the values are too close, all you will see is a mass of color with no detail because the values are too close. You should be seeing light, middle and dark areas even when you squint, if you don't, you need to work on it.

Using the above wash technique will help push back areas you want to be in a more supportive role and to give depth. If you already don't like your painting, what do you have to loose by being bold with this wash? Yes, it is scary at first but once you try it and see what it does to your painting, you will find many uses for these kinds of washes.

Now you need to look for your darkest darks and shadows where things overlap or hang over other objects in your painting. If you are doing flowers or trees be sure to be some dark shadows on the dark sides of steams and branches. Look for areas where you can highlight. If you are using watercolor and an area won't lift because of the paint or the paper has been damaged from being over worked, paint the areas around it darker or intensify the local color. What you are looking for is a change in value, intensifying a color can work as well as a shadow sometimes better.

Just don't give up until you have exhausted all possibilities. If possible ask a friend to give you an honest assessment of your painting, or turn it upside down or view it in a mirror – tricks or the trade as it were – and most importantly of all, stand back from your painting at least 6 – 10' and let it sit for a few days so you can see it with fresh eyes. Don't get frustrated, it isn't the end of the world and you can always try again.

Please remember to sign up ASAP for classes if you haven't already. Torrance students remember that the Powers That Be will close classes the Wednesday before classes actually start if they are under enrolled or we may have to cut the class time back if we are short a body or two, bring a friend. PVAC students you can sign up on the day of class but I know that many students have already signed up for the next classes so don't wait too long and end up on the waiting list I want to see everyone back in class. Thank you and I hope to see everyone in the new semester. - LP

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Last Class Winter 2010

Week 7 Torrance/9 PVAC

To Spring forward! Remember to set your clocks ahead one hour.

Everyone please note: This coming week will be our last class at both Torrance and PVAC, we are going to have critiques in all classes please bring in something, it can be your best or a "problem child", we often learn more from our challenges than our successes so bring in one or more paintings be they new or old, good or "needs something" even if it is in a different medium than what you are using in class, I don't mind, if you want a second opinion, bring it in.

I also want you to know that registration is now going on at both places. Non-residents of Torrance can start registering on Tuesday, if you are going to PVAC and are a PVAC member, you can get an early bird discount on your class if you sign up now thru April 5th.

Don't let classes get canceled or shortened, sign up early and bring a friend. Thanks.

Acrylic Class Week 7 – Darwin Falls

I started the highlighting process the previous week and continued it in our last class. I finished up what I started, looking for light areas, dark areas, painted the water area a dark greenish color. Mostly I was finding and shaping the rocks along with adding some color, getting ready to add the final highlights and darks.

I did add a tree into the crack to the fall's left, when I got home I looked at the picture on the computer and saw that it is growing out of that crack and thought it added a nice touch.

Once I had finished establishing the shapes of my rocks, I under painted the areas that had vines growing on them, think interesting shape rather than vine, then I started looking for my brightest highlights and my darkest shadows also I looked for places I could put some reflected highlights. You will see a lot of reflected light in things especially when they are around water. The light comes in, bounces off of things and the water and will end up in the shadows as a light blue/purple color. If you look at the rocks in the shadowed area, you will see that there is a lot of blue in them, this is probably reflected light. There is also reflected light under the square rock on the right both on its shadowed side and underneath it, don't be afraid to put it in there, it will bring life to you paintings and detail to your shadows.

Please keep in mind that when you are adding these highlights and shadows, you don't want to cover up everything you just did. I heard one artist state that in a visual example your painting should be a gallon of you medium dark, a quart of dark and a pint of highlights. That under painting you have been working on is important, you don't want to loose it. Your dark shadows are important so you highlights will show. You are going to have to find that balance when you paint, I can't do it for you.

You may have to add highlights a couple of times because acrylics dry darker which is a plus for shadows, but not so good for the bright areas. Just be patient and add more light where you think you need it.

When the green areas were dry, I used some sap green with yellow to add some highlights to the vines in front of the square rock and the ones just behind them on the hill. They are the only ones that are getting direct sunlight so they will be the brightest. To that color I added a touch of blue to cool the color down and added touches of white to keep it light but not as light as the first highlight. This color should be a light blue green and added to the rest of the vines. If you want, you can use straight blue (cobalt or ultra marine with a touch of white) to the vines that are in that little cave area.

Now for the falls themselves, please, do not use white for your water at this point, as tempting as it may be, like everything else, we need to under paint it first. In the area where the water is coming out of the rocks you will need to mix up a light blue color using white and blue. The water is in the shadows so it will never be white, remember this.

Water is best done using a dry brush technique, starting where it is comes from behind the rocks, with a light touch, pull you brush down the rocks in the direction the water is flowing. Notice in the picture it hits rocks on the way down and changes direction several times so keep your strokes short and quick. Some of this bluish color sprays over the plants and rocks to the side this will add to the overall wet look of the rocks, this is a wild stream not some controlled man-made concoction. Let this dry before moving on. You should be able to see your under painting thru the spray of water.

In the water you can add the reflections and more darkness where needed. Again, this is water and is best done with a dry brush and since it is in the pond, keep most of your strokes horizontal though occasionally pull the color straight down followed by a horizontal stroke to make it look like a shimmer.

At this point if you are satisfied with how things look, it is time to add the finishing touches. Get out your liner and find cracks in the rocks using a dark color (blue, sienna and purple with lots of water). Like tree branches, there are no straight lines. Some cracks are thicker or have holes, just press down on the brush. Have fun with it. Then start on the tree branches.

The vines that need highlight are the ones in front of the square rock and the ones behind up on the hill, the rest should stay darker. Use yellow with maybe a touch of sap. This color is also on the rock just to their left in the mossy area.

Now you can use your white on the water. It will still be dry brush and will stay mostly in the middle of the streams. Start about half way down from where it comes from behind the rocks – remember, that area is in shade – then follow the water down in quick, dry brush strokes. It hits rocks and bumps so change angles and directions. Look at the reference photo for a guide. If after it dries it is too dark, hit it again BUT ONLY IN A FEW PLACES. Do not try to repaint the whole area or it will become solid, it is water out in Death Valley in late spring, not Utah in winter.

If your branches are dry, under paint the leave with a medium green color – say and a touch of blue – and tap it on using the end of your bristle brush in a stippling fashion and don't be afraid to cover up some of the branches, lost and found is good in trees and bushes. The highlights can be put on in a similar manor though not as much and use the light yellow green you used on the vines.

On a picture like this you can take your time and put in as much detail as you would like or you can stop at any point you feel comfortable with, personally, I feel like I need to do more work on my demo while others thought it was done. My only caveat to this is, if you are looking for places to work on, you are probably done.

This has been fun, I look forward to next semester. I want to give the acrylic class a heads-up, I will probably have a separate blog for you starting in the spring.


Watercolor – Darwin Falls

After we get done in class, I bring my demos home and I set them up next to the computer so I can write about what we did in class, and often times I see things I need to do I didn't see in class. It is very hard to talk and paint at the same time so when I get it home I can just look at it without trying to explain my every move.

What I saw in all the paintings I did was I needed more color and more texture in the rocks, I could accomplish both by using my sponge. First I addressed the color issue. I wanted my rocks to be a bit pinker, to do that I mixed up some red with just a touch of orange and water to thin it down, I just want a hint of color not a splash.

If you don't have a sea sponge, you can use a wadded up paper towel or even a regular sponge, the look will be different but we are just trying to add color. I used the sea sponge that had some big irregular holes and tapped LIGHTLY on my paper. The harder you press, the more water and paint will come out and fill in areas and that's not what we want. Be sure that if you have rinsed your sponge squeeze as much water out as you can before you pick up your paint.

Into the shadowed areas I added touches of blue the same way and let it dry before adding texture though I added it the same way, with the sponge using a shadow color of blue, purple and sienna and lots of water to make a light grey color. I tapped this color on all areas of rock and the combination of the shadow color and just color creates the rough texture of the rocks.

As I did in the acrylic class, I did add a tree coming out of the crack at the top (falls) left. I first under painted it with orange and when it was dry, using a smaller brush on its edge added sienna and purple in short choppy strokes leaving some of the orange on the sunny side.

The vines that are growing amongst the rocks were under painted with a light yellow green, basically yellow with just a touch of sap green and water. I used this on the vines that are in front of the square rock and up on the hill behind that rock, then I added a touch of cobalt blue to cool the color but still kept it light to under paint the vines that are under the rock and in the shadowed side of the painting.

If you haven't painted the colors of the reflections in the water, now is the time. Pull the color straight down rinse your brush and soften the edges and let it dry before proceeding. The water in the pool I under painted with a mix of blue and green and what mud I had on my palette, kind of a murky blue with lots of water to thin it. Using the edge of my brush and keeping my strokes fairly horizontal I painted in the darker areas of the water. Break up the edges of your reflections with this color but don't cover them completely. The strokes need to be mostly horizontal so the water looks flat.

The falls will be painted using the edge of your brush and a light blue color. Notice that where the water comes out from the rocks, it is in shadow so under paint with blue, let it dry then go over it again adding some darker areas. Think water falling as you paint and refer to the photo to see where you need to go with the color.

The water will be several layers of wash, each darker than the one before but each will be done the same as the one before it leaving bits of the previous color. Try not to cover up all of your reflections they will be hard to get back. Look at the reference photo to see where the water is the darkest and adjust your paint accordingly.

You can also add a second layer of color to the vine areas using mostly using sap green with just a touch of blue, it should be darker than the first layer. Don't try to paint actual leaves, just try to create interesting shapes within the green area to suggest darker leaves. You may need to go over these areas again to get enough dark just don't paint over it all. Each time you should paint less and less this creates depth, dimension and a sense of light. You have to have dark to show light.

If you have enough shadows and texture in your rocks, use your liner to make cracks in the rocks. Mix up a dark color and look for places where you can add cracks, rocks have a lot of them. After you are done with cracks – put as many or as few as you feel comfortable with – add a bit of sienna to the mix to make a dark brown and still using your liner, make the branches coming off the tree and the ones hanging down, on the other side.

Under paint the leaves on these branches first using a light yellow green and using either your brush, a sponge or a paper towel and tap in the sun lit leaves. Let it dry and tap in some darker leave the same way.

This is the point where you need to stand back and look at your painting to see if it actually needs anything else. You will have to finish your painting to satisfy your own needs but if you find yourself searching for things to do, call it done at least for now, then come back in a few days and look at it with fresh eyes. If it is something glaring, it will jump out at you just as it did to me when I sat down to write this up, I'll show you at our last class.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Winter Classes 2010

Week 8 (PV) or 6 (Torr)

Rocks seem to be the most challenging thing my students have to paint. Notice that I didn't say "difficult" or "hard" because once you tell yourself that something is hard, you have already set yourself up for defeat, rather than starting a project with failure already in mind, think of it as a challenging puzzle that you need to figure out how it goes together. Remember that if you are using acrylics you can paint it out and in watercolor, it's just a piece of paper. No lives will be lost, only a bit of time yet the time isn't really lost if you are learning something new or improving on a skill. Think challenge.

Rocks are a contradiction to our brains. Humans want to organize everything place them in some kind of order so they make sense to us, problem is Nature couldn't care less about our sense of order and things in Nature go every which way and are in every size and shape be it rocks, or trees or flowers or bushes. The rocks in this picture have probably tumbled down mountains or were pushed up by earthquakes, there is no pattern to them, only the shapes of the individual rocks. When you are painting rocks, keep this in mind and concentrate more on the shapes you see. Look for the light shapes and the dark shapes and paint those, the rocks will emerge if the shapes are correct.

Acrylic – Rocks

I really didn't do much of a drawing to start, just more of a general placement so I know where the sky and the water are and the key features like the waterfall and the big rock to the waterfalls right and the dark shapes to its left. Detail at this point is, well, pointless. If you do too much detail in your sketch, you will want to paint it like paint by numbers and your results will look forced. Less is more.

This picture had very little sky, actually, I think the bright area at the top is actually sunlit rocks but to start out this painting is covered the small area with gesso and blended in some yellow and a touch of orange. Most of that will get covered with trees or branches so don't spend too much time worrying about it.

I then started my under painting by mixing up a medium grey color using blue, sienna, purple and gesso. If you want it warmer add more sienna, if you want it cooler add more blue or purple. If you need it darker, less white, lighter more white. I also picked up other colors on my palette as I scumbled this color into my rock area using a flat bristle brush. Scumbling is just a way of saying every-which-way. The more brush strokes in your under painting for the rocks, the better because it creates a visual texture.

Another thing I want you to notice is that there are definite warm and cool sides to the photo. To the waterfall's right is warm golden sun on the rocks, to the left it is very cool, you can even see blue in the rocks. When you are under painting keep this in mind and pick up colors that are appropriate for the sun or the shade.

The under painting for the water is still the medium dark color I was using but into it I added some sap green so it was a deep olive color. Keep in mind that water is flat which means that your brush strokes should also be flat (horizontal). You can add other colors into your water as you go as well because they will be reflecting what is in the rocks above them.

I let this dry completely before I started the next step.

When the paint was dry, I re-sketched in some of the main features of my painting with my soft vine charcoal. This was more for placement of these objects rather than looking for detail, still not to that point. Notice that I did not place the waterfall directly in the middle, it is off to the side. Both the waterfall and the large square-ish rock to its right are on or near a "thirds" line.

I mixed up a dark color with the same colors I had used before but this time with very little white mixed in, I used this for my base color and added color to it when I needed a change of color. With this dark color, I looked for my darkest areas, usually where there is a cast shadow like where the waterfall comes down the rocks or under rocks and between rocks or between the rocks and the water. I also needed to keep my edges soft so I either scrubbed in these areas and/or used my finger to soften the edges or blend them out. In the form shadow areas – these are what give something its shape - I added enough white to make and a touch of blue to make the color just a shade or two lighter than what was there and with a dry brush, scrubbed this color in looking for shapes of the shadows.

The first highlights on the rocks were done with a mix of white, sienna, touches of orange and yellow, probably even some "mud" from my brush. This is not a final highlight so don't use a lot of white and this is also done using a dry brush technique.

I did put some of these light and dark colors down into the water either by dry brushing straight across and then pulling straight down or visa versa. I also added green to the rocks where the moss was growing, you can get lost in the shapes you find, just keep in mind that they are just shapes: The shape of the rocks, the shape of the shadows and the shape of the light. If the shapes are right the rocks will be there when you are done.

We will finish up the rocks and the water next week. We only have 2 more classes to this semester and the new catalogs are out in both Torrance and PV, registration starts on the 9th for Torrance residents, the following week for non-residents. PV, I think, is open now. Please sign up for classes as soon as you can, so we don't have to worry about it being closed or shortened. Bring a friend.

Watercolor – Rocks

First I showed the class how I would start a painting like this using a simple sketch. Each artist develops their own "shorthand" when it comes to their drawing. Sometimes all you really need is a few lines to guide you as you paint. One thing I did notice when I sat down to write this up was I probably didn't get the waterfall over to the left (its left) as I probably should have, it is a bit too close to the center, thankfully, it is only a demo J

Once I had my sketch on my paper, I picked up a touch of yellow and a lot of water to paint in the sky area. This is not really an important area, but it is there. I think I also added a very little orange to one side as well.

Next, I mixed up a very weak color for the sunlit sides of the rocks. This was yellow with touches or red and or orange and sienna and lots of water! If it is easier for you, you can wet the area first then drop the paint in, just be sure to avoid the waterfall and the water areas with the water. I worked wet onto dry paper picking up water when I needed it and covered all of the sunlit side. When I was done with the sunny color, to it I added a touch of blue and purple to cool and grey the color (I'm mixing compliments together), I still wanted to keep it very light so I added a lot of water and painted in the cooler shadows. At this point – if you want – you could use some plastic wrap into the wet paint or add salt, if you use the plastic wrap remember that it will take a lot longer for it to dry, up to an hour depending on weather and how wet your paper was, but you will get some interesting shapes and textures. It must dry at this point.

When your paper is dry, into that last cool color you mixed add touches of blue, purple and sienna but keep it to the blue side then start finding your shadows in both the sunny and the cool sides. We work up to our darkest darks so don't get too dark too soon or you will miss the shades of grey this picture needs. Blend out edges using a clean, damp brush it will create variations in the strength of your shadows. Remember you are only looking for shapes not detail at this point, and you will be using a combination of negative and positive painting. I should mention that a lot of my brush strokes were just touching the paper and lifting quickly to just make marks.

If you want and if you have a sea sponge, you can take this color and with the sponge tap it on the rocks to create more texture. You can also add salt to areas as you go like I did on the rock that divides the falls, first I painted it with sap green then added salt.

At the bottom of the rocks where they enter the water, you can bleed some of the rock colors into the water by using a damp brush and guiding the paint down. We will do more of this next week.

In the shadow areas there is a lot of blue color so add a wash of blue either cobalt or ultra marine, it adds to the sense of cool shadows just don't get too dark, it is just a wash. This blue color can also be used at the top of the waterfall and into some of the shadows on the rocks to the right which are under the trees.

On the wet streak on the rock in front I used sienna with a touch of orange to paint the area and while it was still wet, just dropped some ultra marine into it. You might have to lift the top of your paper to get it to run a bit but it adds to the watery look on the rocks. I also used a touch of orange at the top of the rocks where the falls come out and a bit down the sides of the falls, this is reflected light and adds interest.

We will finish the rocks and work on the water on Monday. If you are going to be working on this, please have a reference picture handy, it is posted on the picture page and will help you a lot as you are painting.

There are only two more weeks to class, sorry to say, it has been fun. The new schedules are out at both Torrance and PV, if you get a PV schedule if you notice the front cover it is of my poppies, and I'm pleased with the way it turned out. If you are planning to take classes be sure to get signed up as soon as possible, we will start the new semester the second week of April.