Here you will find “Painting Tips”, Step-by-Step painting demos and other content in an “intermittent blog” format. Comments, Q & A welcome! Click here to contact me.
Listen to my new interview on “Learn to Paint Podcast with Kelly Powers”
Painting out in the open air is:
- Exciting – Intimidating
- Relaxing – Frustrating
- Instructional – Confusing
- Exhilarating – Petrifying
Yup – all these contradictory elements! To these psychological and intellectual contradictions, add the fact that it can be an extremely equipment-intensive activity. Then, often there are times when plein air painting is simply, logistically impossible to pursue due to time or health constraints, etc. For today, I would like to address the idea that we can find a spectrum of possibilities for plein air painting that can work beautifully, even for those who aren’t intrepid hard-core plein air painters!
For numerous reasons I myself find it difficult to paint on location often enough, resulting in the lion’s share of my paintings being studio paintings painted from photos taken on trips, hikes and the like. So when I have the luxury of painting “en plein air”, either by the fact that I’m actually conducting a plein air workshop, or for my own painting and recreation time, it’s such a glorious treat. Following, are two examples of my plein air adventures, from both ends of the scale, from a logistically challenging to a much more manageable set-up and painting method.
My favorite subject matter is water flowing over rocks, and if I’m extremely lucky, to find flowers growing on the bank or overhanging the water. Water, rocks and flowers together – wow – that combination makes me an extremely happy painter! Once, many years ago, I manipulated the latter.
Anniversary Bouquet was painted some 17 years ago and early in my plein air experience. I had an entire day to myself while on vacation to roam the creak and play – ambitious and naïve perhaps, but play, I did! Wanting to paint all three of my favorite things together I placed a bouquet of flowers right in the creek in several different areas to get an effect that pleased me and finally settled here, plonked my easel with large canvas in the creek, myself on a rock, and began to paint. I set up a second day to resume – maybe even a third – I can’t remember exactly now – and added some finishing touches later back in the studio using my reference photos.
In contrast to the above-described adventure which was a wonderful experience – and also a lot of hard work just getting my easel, paints, etc. set up in a running river! – my next example is quite simplified. And I love this method for those occasions when setting up an easel is out of the question, or when I need to keep my equipment light and minimal but still want to be able to finish the piece as an oil painting.
Oil over Watercolor on archival canvas board coated with DS Watercolor Ground to accept multiple mediums I finished this in the studio with oil but I could have continued with watercolor or acrylic. Options!
For Crescent Moon Ranch, I began by doing the block-in that would normally be done with oil paint and lean medium with watercolor instead on an archival canvas panel previously coated with an acrylic watercolor ground. The watercolor ground is important to this method because it allows for good adherence of the watercolor rather than the watercolor sitting on the surface of an untreated canvas. The oil paint finishing of the piece was done in the studio. The watercolor step for this particular painting was done as a workshop demo for which I had set up my easel and all associated paraphernalia. However, I often use the same method (for those times when I can’t set up an easel), sitting on a rock in the middle of the creek, holding the small canvas in one hand and balancing the small watercolor set on the rock next to me. This allows for some precarious positioning to get the scene I want to paint!
Me, sitting on a log this time, sketching on an archival canvas board – it would be pretty difficult to do a plein air painting with full accoutrements here!
Now that I have you sitting by the creek, taking in the beauty that surrounds you, immersed in the music of the burbling water, cocooned in your own little world, here are some steps to take that I think you will find helpful:
1) It must first be said that getting caught up in the beauty is necessary for enthusiasm, desire and energy to paint your scene, but that it can also be detrimental when we are so blown away with the splendor all around us that it becomes difficult to focus on a composition that’s such a small area compared to the whole of what we see. There’s a lot of scenery from which to choose a compositional square or rectangle. The solution is, in my view, 3-fold.
a. Poke around the area, satisfy your curiosity about what’s available and see what you are most drawn to. Take lots of photos in order to archive the scenery you don’t have time to paint at the moment, reminding yourself that later you’ll have time for the other painting possibilities exploding in your imagination.
b. At some point you have to settle down and select your scene. Use a view-finder to isolate a composition. I usually use my camera as my view-finder. Commit to that spot and set up your equipment, be it minimal or maximal “stuff”.
c. Settle in – get comfortable. Consciously relax mind and body. Tension and excitement may work for some but what I know about myself is that I have a hard time concentrating until I’m able to settle in both physically and mentally.
2) Now we’re ready to paint!
a. Squinting in order to eliminate detail, identify and simplify the largest, most important shapes in your composition.
b. Though I’m not much of a “sketcher”, I realize the value of preliminary studies and there are several different ones I use from time to time. Here’s an easy one! Point with your finger, pencil or brush at your composition and “draw” in the air a contour line around those most important compositional shapes.
c. In a sketch pad, repeat the shapes and hand movement that you “drew” in the air. Now do the same on your canvas to establish your composition, then proceed with whatever painting methods you prefer. You could try my simplified approach described above or more traditional oil painting techniques, my preference when I have more time to work and an easel set up with all the usual supplies.
Plein air purists might not find some of my methods to their taste and that’s OK. I feel that the Plein Air Experience should be joyful rather than intimidating and that it’s for all of us, regardless of whether we have the ability to backpack out to a remote site or just enough time, physical ability or other wherewithal to sit for a while in our own backyard. In fact, in my North Light book Discover Oil Painting (released in 2016 and currently on the NL Best Sellers List), Chapter 6 (pages 96-100) has a plein air section, for which the painting demo was done in my own yard. If painting in the yard isn’t as exciting an experience as you’d like, it still can be a great place to get in some practice with methods and equipment ahead of embarking on your larger, fantastic adventure!
Do you enjoy plein air painting? Want to try it or simply get out there again? Read my blog recently posted by ArtistsNetwork/North Light Books: https://www.artistsnetwork.com/articles/plein-air-exhilarating-petrifying-act-making-art-outside?utm_source=artistsnetwork.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=arn-cdh-ac-161117-Juliegilbertpollard.
Enjoy and Thank You, Julie
I’m happy to announce a new “Oil Painting Basics: Brushes 101” social media posting, courtesy ArtistsNetwork.com. Enjoy!
By: Cherie Haas, Senior Online Editor, ArtistsNetwork.com, March 22, 2016
I’d like to recommend a website: “Artists Who Teach”, which can be found at this address: https://www.artistswhoteach.org/ The site is the creation of Leighann Foster and easily can be the source of valuable business advice not to mention further inspiration for artists.
Naturally you’ll find a page about me, https://www.artistswhoteach.org/cgi-bin/staff.pl?ID=1310&template1=template1&method=exact, but my real point is suggesting you take some time to explore the website to discover what more you can learn from the experts found there.
Happy Painting! Julie
Everyone loves the calm and serenity of reflective water, and the excitement and energy of cascading waterfalls! In this week’s new ArtistsNetwork.tv video, you can capture this excitement with your oil paints. In Julie Gilbert Pollard’s lessons on “How to Paint Water”, you’ll start with a review of creek anatomy to help simplify and stylize this complicated subject. Then, follow along step by step to block in and develop the water and rock shapes, applying your oil paint from thin to thick to create this bubbling brook!
Preview “How to Paint Water” now for tips on how to mimic the way water flows and rolls over rocks. Learning how to paint what you see will simplify this complicated subject!
Purchase Julie’s oil, acrylic and watercolor painting DVDs HERE. Happy Painting!
Get your creative juices flowing with these lessons to loosen up your landscape paintings! In this video on ArtistsNetwork.tv, you’ll start with a lesson on how to simplify shapes and compose an interesting subject. Then, follow along step by step with Julie Gilbert Pollard’s newest video in her Discover Oil Painting series to block in and develop the shapes, applying your oil paint from thin to thick to give this landscape vibrance and energy!
- Learn how to mix colors for light and shadow
- Painting tips to capture gesture with your brushstrokes
- Oil painting techniques for transparent & opaque layers
- Paint landscape elements including trees, rocks and grasses
Preview How to Paint Landscapes here now to simplify the shapes of the composition to make landscape paintings easier, block in shapes with an underpainting, and learn how to paint rocks and twigs with personality!
Watch this FREE Oil Painting Tip on how to use a brush and palette knife together in one painting!
Purchase Julie’s oil, acrylic and watercolor DVDs HERE.
Hello, Painting Friends,
I’ve been getting questions regarding composition. I’m happy to be getting that question since composition is such an important consideration – it’s right up there at the top of the list! However, that spot at the top must be shared with the element of mood and excitement, the emotion & vision that is unique to each of us and that only YOU can bring to YOUR painting. The “Nuts and Bolts” of painting must be balanced with Individual Personality.
Regardless of whether you are a beginning or advanced painter, here is a practice of preliminary study that will advance your compositional skills AND infuse the element of emotional content into your paintings!
Abstract vs. REALISM
- Realistically represent the rocks, flowers, sun and shade.
- Convey feeling – the excitement of being surrounded by these glorious, golden flowers, the feel of the warm, spring sun and cool shade.
- Express the reality AND the illusory in my own personal painting style.
- Composition: maintain the first rule of composition & design which is asymmetry and create a value pattern.
To get loosened up, I painted this little abstract study – what an advantage it gave me!
- I did not concern myself with portraying any parts of the picture realistically. I squinted my eyes and sloshed in the colors and dark value pattern, then splattered white gouache.
- Instinctively I set the bottom boulder at a slant rather than the horizontal direction in the photo, which improved the composition.
- The quick, intuitive paint application allowed me the freedom to explore without worry the explosive action of the flowers contrasted with cool, blue shade that wasn’t exactly like the photo but what I saw in my mind’s eye.
- While it prepared me for the “real” painting, it was fun!
These three illustrations show the progression from photo-reference to abstract study to finished realistic painting. They have been “Photoshopped” so you don’t have to squint to see how the original value pattern has been carried through – but the darks also opened up to allow the viewer see into the shadows.
While I was using the abstract study to get in touch with the painting I had in mind on an emotional level, several extremely important Elements of Design were studied as well:
- value pattern – see how the darkest value creates a solid foundation for the basic composition
- asymmetry – asymmetrical design is achieved by placing shapes so that no shapes are centered nor equidistant
- movement – the linkage of shapes and values lead the eye through the painting
- repetition of similar shapes
- variation of shape and size within the assembly of repeated shapes
- color – color responsive to my emotional attachment to the location and memory of the day – and what I would call a “near-complement” color scheme
I consider this particular abstract study to be a finished painting in its own right. However, most of the studies of this nature I do are simply small sketch book studies. There are no rules except to relax and have fun with it. You simply must try it – it can make all the difference in the world!
I’ve been painting most of my life about half that time professionally, and it’s still so hard to see my paintings in an objective light. Especially when the painting is fresh, I seem to have a love/hate relationship with it. It’s either great or awful, neither viewpoint being realistic or objective. I think it’s the “not being able to see the forest for the trees” syndrome. It’s why we learn to evaluate our work from a distance, in a mirror, upside down, and even better, after some time has passed whatever it takes to give us a different perspective – for us to “see” it as it really is without that emotional veil that obscures both its flaws and/or beauties.
When I truly “see: the painting and realize – and accept – that a painting needs some adjustments I then figure out in a very methodical way how to accomplish those corrections. Here are examples in water color and oil:
In this watercolor (seen in Watercolor Unleashed, New Directions for Traditional Painting Techniques – North Light 2013) the detail on the left shows an area of the background that had gotten muddier that I liked, so I scrubbed it out (detail on right) in order to re-paint the area. It wasn’t all that horrible, but I didn’t like it! The finished painting is shown below. looking back on it now, I think I could have improved it even more. If it comes back to me from Esprit Décor Gallery, maybe I’ll work on it again. I’m not sure any painting is truly finished until it’s out of our hands – as in sold!
In the oil painting below you can see that the painting was well underway – even signed! – when I suddenly comprehended that the boulder on the right was a terribly awkward and overpowering shape, even though it’s exactly the way it was in nature. Remaining true to “that’s the way it was” stopped the eye from moving through the painting. On canvas, reality wasn’t “working”. My painting needed to be more appealing more eye-catching!
After analyzing the situation, I scraped paint off the top half of the boulder and repainted it, painting the stream and another rock in to fill the space behind it – in my view a huge improvement!
The point is that when there’s room for improvement and you can figure out how to accomplish that improvement, do it. We learn a lot that way and if that particular painting isn’t improved – sometimes they’re ruined! – in the long run our work improves because that’s one way we “raise the bar” for our own growth.