Saturday, January 31, 2009

TIP - Saving Paint

Here's an easy way to save paint - by using paper palettes.

At the end of a day's painting, cover the palette with plastic wrap. I store mine in the garage, instead of the freezer. I think it's actually colder in the garage right now.

The next day (or next painting day, that is...) just uncover the palette, tear off the top sheet, and slide it down just a bit. Begin transferring the paint nuts to a fresh sheet of palette paper. (Don't forget to wipe the palette knife between colors.

Any paints that are too depleted or too dried out (umbers don't last very long) don't get transferred.

Replace or top off any paints that you need to, and get to work. See where this is going? If you keep using up and replacing your paints, you never waste anything. And, in this economy, who can afford to waste a paint nut, I ask you?

I'll do this also with any pre-mixed paint in a value string - they go vertically instead of across the top.

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This is my studio. There are many like it, but this one is mine. I could have cleaned up for you, but that would have been a blatant misrepresentation, and we are all about the Truth over up in here.

My studio is at the corner of the house, measures about 10 x 14', and has windows facing south and west. These are the worst possible directions. I like cloudy days because the light is more even, but this is the room that was left after everyone called their bedrooms.

That's an ott-lite on a dick blick easel. It's a cheap easel, and I wouldn't recommend it, mostly because the shelf where the painting is doesn't stay horizontal, which seems like it should be one of the top 10 non-negotiable assets for easel design. I'm getting rid of the ottlite too. The color has started to seem too green and too bright to me, making my paintings too dark and too cool.

In the foreground you can see Lulu's "desk," a leftover rolling nightstand. She paints when I paint, if she's home. Quite a good artbuddy. She's 6. One day I'll be able to renovate the attic, but no time soon. Please buy my paintings.

To the left (not shown) is a desk with a PC on it where all the blog and website maintenance happens, photo scanning, resource viewing, etc. I don't know what we did before computers.

Having stuff on wheels is a mandate, as it makes it easy for me to move easels and large paintings around, and set up still lifes in different corners. This tabouret was my husband's when he was studying interior design. It is a very cool tabouret, but mostly for a designer. Check the flyout drawers! I'm keeping my eyes open for something more paint-appropriate, but nothing yet.

Flat space - an Ikea table that's made 3 house moves and is still stable after 10 years. There are some Lulu drawings, too, and stuff that hasn't made it out of the room to be processed yet. The flat space is supposed to be used for packing/shipping, but has turned into a weigh station for items coming in or out of the room. Also, it's a shelter for our pug Hector's crate, which backs up to a heating vent. Pug heaven.
That frame in the upper left is part of a piece of purple 80's corporate art that my husband hung on the wall to both inspire and revolt me. He's just a little bit evil. I would show it to you, but it would be like the "Ring."

This looks like a bookshelf, but in fact it is a drying rack for small paintings. Has anyone noticed the avacado colored sulptured carpet? There are really nice floors under that carpet, which will be rediscovered after I move to the attic.

The easel in the foreground is another cheap easel - this one from Richardson, about $149 when I bought it. It's heavy, and it has no bells and whistles, but I love it. The tripod in back is for display only. That type of easel is not really suitable for work.

On the top shelf of the drying rack is a pochade box, another handy type easel. It is worth it, IMO, to pay for a better one rather than go cheap on the pochade. These have lots of small brass fittings, and precisely cut pieces of wood that unfold like a crazy Transformers object into a nifty plein aire easel. If the pieces aren't right, it doesn't unfold, or re-fold, and doesn't stand stable. So buy a good one.

This thing is actually a closet organization unit from California Closets, which we got on sale at Target for $17. It is probably the only perfectly usable thing in the room. The bottom 3 shelves pull out like drawers, and those are Acro bins (from the hardware store) which hold paint and other supplies. This thing holds all the tiny things I need to keep track of, and there are a lot of tiny things in painters' studios. At the top are the styro mannikin heads that I use for day 1 of my portrait drawing class. The corduroy curtains block out the southern light completely if needed. The wallpaper was just a bonus that came with the house.
Next to it are rolls of canvas. Rolls of canvas work well for small paintings, studies, etc, and can be glued to panels. I prefer not use them in large sizes because the unwaving process (the canvas holds the round shape of the roll) is a pain in the butt, and unpredictable at best.

So that's it. Hope there was some useful info in here for you.

Friday, January 30, 2009

FUN STUFF: Jackson Pollack and YouDraw

Make your own Jackson Pollack-type painting by moving your mouse around... Click the mouse to change colors.

When you're done with that, go on over to and add your portrait to their collection. From their site: "By creating an exhibition that will show 6 billion drawings of the world's people together for the first time ever, the YOUDRAW project hopes to show humanity at human proportions."

Cool stuff!

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

DEMO: Gloria Still Life

Longer, more explanatory videos are on their way, I promise. This one shows the still life set up I used as well as a pretty good shot of the canvas as it progressed. Think I'm finally getting the hang of where to put the tripod so I don't knock it over.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

ON THE EASEL: Yellow roses

I just finished this painting. It's 16" x 20" oil on board.

These are David Austin garden roses, and they smell absolutely exquisite. I knew for this one I didn't want regular yellow sweetheart roses, so I special ordered these, had to wait 3 weeks to get them, but they were so worth it.

They don't like being in the basket, though. They wilt very fast.

I'm working on a landscape now - I'll post a WIP soon.

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TIP: Still Life Freshness

Has your still life ever wilted on you, turning brown and limp before your very eyes? Here are some clever tips from Jeffrey Freedner:

"What I do is I put them in the fridge at night or right after I finished for the day. This made them last longer and it kept them from turning brown. I do this with all the small still lives as the set ups are easy to put back. I have thought of trying lemon juice, but I think I will use a small spray bottle.*

"Heres another tip: if you use a bowl you can put crushed ice in the bowl, and cover it with cling film. Or better yet just put it in a zip lock bag. The ice will keep things fresh longer. Also you can put bagged ice under bunched up cloth. If the room is very hot this will melt pretty fast but if you bag it this won't matter."

*Lisa's note: You'll still need a spray bottle for things like green onions, leeks, peeled oranges or pomegranates, and cut onions, etc. If you rub a cut apple, pear or banana with a lemon slice, or soak the slices in lemon water for a few minutes, it's supposed to keep them from turning brown too.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BLOGS WE READ: Food is Art

I have no idea what this guy is writing about, but the pictures make me want to paint food. Edit: the English version is here:

I cook every day - not a gourmet, but I'm hoping for "ahhh, grandma's cooking is the BEST" status one day. When I'm a grandma. I'm a sucker for still lifes about food, plates, tables, that sort of thing. Even (especially) those moody, side-lit-in-a-black-box paintings of onions or apples or whatever, always subtitled "The Most Meaningful Vegetable in the Universe."

I mean, come on, does a carrot need portrait-quality lighting and infinite depth in the background?

Well, sure it does. Food is love. Art is love.

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NEVER, EVER adjust the easel to a forward tilted position while the painting support is still on it, even if you think it's secured. Security may change while your hands are busy with the easel. The painting may fall forward and break your nose.

This advice comes from Dale Blodget. Dale, we at Art Studio Secrets are dying to know - are you speaking from experience? If so - OUCH, and - how exactly did you explain this one to your friends and family?

Got a Never, Ever you'd like to share? Send an email to Lisa or Cindy with your name and blog URL, and we'll post it.

So that others can learn from your mistakes.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

PONDER: The Daily Painting Problem

When Duane Keiser smacked the artworld upside the head with his daily paintings, it opened the door for many of us have a new channel through which to sell our works. Not that tiny or fast paintings were new, but his notoriety fostered the market in which we could sell them.

Great news. Like a lot, a LOT of people, I thought this would be a great way to step up cash flow and exposure, and (for me) transition into a full-time painting career. And in truth, it did work out that way. However, for those considering the DP (or PAD) route, here are a few of the hurdles you'll probably encounter. They're not complete roadbloacks. Just some things to consider.

1. Just because you paint it, doesn't mean they'll come. The 4 keys to success as far as I can tell are (in this order) a lot of traffic, good quality work, uniqueness, frequent work. If you don't have a way to expose your work, find one - a co-op, other blogs, ebay, something, anything. Start your mailing list from day one.

2. How are you going to make a decent painting in a day? The paintings in galleries and museums aren't DP type works, so if you're gallery- or museum-bound, don't destroy your career by distributing a bunch of crap on a canvas. Sacrifice something: size and complexity are the most obvious choices. I learned to paint a lot faster, and developed my alla prima style just for this. It still looks like me, and actually I learned a whole lot by doing it. Also I do a lot of paintings that are over several days, but not a whole day at a time, subscribing to the "paint daily" philosophy more than the "finish it daily" philosophy.

3. eBay sucks. It really does. Especially for new members, where they hold your fees for 3 weeks. The people who use eBay are looking for bargains, not investments. OTOH, you can think of the exposure as a marketing expense. OTOH, if you get all of 10 hits, selling your day's work for 9.99 is stupid. You can sell right from your blog, but you have to have traffic for that. You can build your own auctions if you have a lot of traffic, a la Julian Merrow Smith (who's a wonderful painter, btw, and a pretty good marketer to boot).

4. DP can take over your life. If you're a representational painter, a small painting is still an exhausting mental challenge, and if that's all you do every day, you have no large works to send to galleries and competitions. That's it. That's your life. OTOH, the exposure might get you commissions.

5. When you make smaller paintings, make them work. These still represent me, so I don't want them to suck. Also, I have other work to do, so I'll use a small painting of oranges to explore how orange works in the light. If I need to work on a pink thing, or a particular texture, I'll design a small painting around that texture. So I've got a standalone work, and a problem puzzled out - 2 birds, one paintbrush.

6. There's a LOT of competition. I mean a LOT. You may very well end up with a stack of small paintings that did nothing but enrich your soul for a year before they start to find clients who want to buy them.

7. Traditional galleries do a lot of this work for you. Sure, they don't necessarily want 3 x 5 " paintings of single cloves of garlic that you intend to sell for $100. They want bigger stuff. And they want a better price point. But if you're in a gallery, presumably they're going to try to sell your work for you, letting you avoid mail lists, blog posts, competition, evil eBay, hoofing it to the post office, etc.

8. You may not look very serious if you do this. I don't know about this point - but I've had some pretty reputable artists make the point so I thought I'd mention it. Certainly you'd want to present yourself in a good way, and certainly you'd want to avoid looking like you were running a garage sale. But my personal opinion is that artists are making a thing which can be sold, not monks vowing poverty to gain entrance into heaven. Sometimes it feels like successful artists say things to keep new artists down. There, I said it. But if those people have any influence, or if gallery owners are in agreement, then it's true.

I'm very grateful to be a full time artist, and I've grown to love the smaller works and the discipline of painting every day. IMO, it's a very viable path for new artists to get their sealegs, and not-so-new artists to manage their own cash flow. Perhaps it will change the gallery model eventually. And it's created exposure for some really fine talents like Julian Merrow-Smith, Carol Marine, Neil Hollingsworth, and Karen Jurick, and on and on. But it would have been easier to win the lottery, or get picked up by the Forum Gallery, I suppose.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

BIZARRO WORLD - Cake sculpting gone bad.

I found this video this morning - words simply do not suffice.

Seriously - is someone supposed to eat this creepy creation?

All I can say is... why? WHY????

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

FUN STUFF: Pac Mondrian

Free online video game based on Toru Iwatani's classic arcade game Pac Man, but with Piet Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie Woogie" as the setting! Cool music by the Boogie Woogie Trio too.

Oh, and if you think you mastered it, try the other versions, which modify the layout to mimic Detroit, Toronto, and Tokyo.

Friday, January 23, 2009

DEMO: Kanevsky

Alex Kanevsky's portraits seem to go through more of a birthing process than a settled sort of methodology. The differences between stages is sometimes so drastic it's like a different painting altogether.

This is more of a WIP (work in progress) than a demonstration, but you can see what must have been going through his mind as he works and reworks the painting to its culmination. I haven't seen these paintings in person and I often wonder what the surface is like.

Click for "JFH with her Portrait" by Alex Kanevsky.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009


NEVER, EVER spray anything if you don't now for sure what it is. This handy tip comes from Marc R Hanson, who has a very cool pastel demo on his site. Marc writes:

"I use Krylon 'Kamar' as a final varnish for many of my oils. I also occasionally use Krylon 'Workable Fixative' for drawings. If you haven't noticed the labels on all Krylon 'art' type sprays like these two and 'Crystal Clear', etc., look EXACTLY ALIKE except for the actual type that says what it is. There is no label identity for the individual type of product. And even at that the type is all the same 'type' and color gray.
"Let me just say that removing spray fix from an oil painting ( which became a part of the oil painting when grabbing the supposed varnish can but instead the fixative can was what was used ), is almost impossible!!!
"So that's my contribution... look close before spraying!"

If you have a handy tip or dire warning you'd like to share, email it to me at with your name and blog URL.

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FUN STUFF - Art Speak Generator

I don't do artspeak. My pal Lisa calls me succinct - says I get right to the point, but I think sometimes it's because I'm just not smart enough, or "deep" enough, to successfully pull it off. So - imagine my delight when I found this link - instant Art Speak Generator!

Give it a try. There. Now, don't you feel "deep"?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

DEMO: Valeri Realist Still Life

Sadie Valeri is, of course, fantastic. Her moody, realist constructions are as much fun to watch being made as they are to appreciate even after they're done. Her cleverness and intensity are admirable. Well, enviable.

In this demo, Sadie shares a time-lapse demonstration of one of her incredibly complex and challenging wax paper oil paintings. The voiceover is great and goes over the set-up as well as her oil painting technique as she paints the individual layers. You can really get a sense for how detailed her thinking process is as she delves into subject matter that just leaves me speechless at its level of difficulty.

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SEEING: Find Your Blind Spot

In drawing, everybody seems to have a quirky blind spot. Do you know what yours is? Mine is noses - I always elongate them on the first try. Knowing what my blind spot is has helped me make better drawings because I'm more careful about nose placement, and now I place it after the thing I know I generally do correctly - the ear. So now I measure for the ear first, then measure the nose against the ear and other markers.

Here's a way to chek your drawing's accuracy using Photoshop or PaintShopPro and layers. I hope Cindy will translate into Photoshop for me.

Take a pic of your painting in progress. Make sure you're square to the painting.

Crop a chunk to match your reference, then scale until they're the same size. This may be tricky, depending on what's already wrong. Use 2 parts that seem correct, and then just run with that. In this case, I scaled so that the top of the head and chin were at the same place, but in the past I've had to use an ear plus the chin, only to discover the whole top of the head was out of whack. Tinker with it. It'll come.

Next, let's make the photo reference a little less detailed. I used Effects> Edge Effects>Find Edges. It's just a machine - it's going to do something stupid like lose the line of the forehead where it curves back into the hair, but that is OK. That's why we're professionals.

Now I take the reference and slide it over the painting, and adjust the transparency to about 30% so that I can see the black and white ghosty, edgy photo reference superimposed over the underpainting. By turning the layer off and on repeatedly, I can go over each critical area to determine what, if anything, is wrong. Turning the layer off and on is like using tracing paper and peeking underneath repeatedly, to check if you're really seeing what you thought you were seeing.

In this case, the bottom lip and chin are in the wrong place. (I'm so glad I never finished this painting.)

Do this a couple dozen times for your drawings from photographs in early stages, and you'll find your blind spot.
Hey, is this cheating? Of course. But if I'm painting from a photo reference, the least I can do is start from an accurate drawing of the reference, and modify it from there. Luckily, the art police are just a myth used to frighten young art students.


NEVER, EVER shape the tip of your brush with your lips after cleaning the brush. It sounds pretty obvious yet I've seen several people do it at workshops I've followed. Some paints are very toxic and no matter how good you clean your brush some chemicals will still be in there.Just do it with your fingers and leave a little soap in the brush to dry. It will keep its shape when it dries. Richard Schmid puts a piece of cardboard shaped like a V with a clip on his flat brushes so they dry to a very sharp end.

This NEVER, EVER came from Erik VanElven. Thanks Erik! You can see his work at Email me at if you have a tip you'd like to share. Please include your blog so we can credit you properly.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009


NEVER, EVER stop copying other people's paintings. This is a great way to learn and put yourself in their shoes. Art is a DO thing, not a TALK thing.

And when you do, please credit the original artist. That's all you have to do to not look like you're up to something sneaky. You can sign it "my name AFTER original artist." If the original artist is living you could email them to let them know, and they might offer some helpful suggestions.

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DEMO: Lisa Gloria Alla Prima

Time lapse, alla prima demo of a nude female bust by Lisa Gloria. The demo took approximately 4 hours and was painted right on the white canvas in oil paint.

Painting alla prima is like doing monkey rolls in gym. It's sort of a hilarious terror-filled experience in which you're trying to organize your muscle memory with your mental list of must-have's. Some things fall by the side - I promise myself to remember them next time. Some things happen by happy accident - I loved the way the hair snapped together under the knife painting portion and the crazy blue abstract background.

I'd like some feedback - would you like to see these slower? Voiceover explanations? Closeups on specific portions?

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Monday, January 19, 2009

BLOGS WE READ: Carol Marine

Update March 13, 2011 - Carol Marine is coming to Aurora IL!  She just added a new 5-day workshop to her incredibly busy and sold-out workshop list.  Come on out!

Carol Marine is just one of those painters whose work you can spot from across the room. She always seems to have fresh ideas and yet, her work is consistent in its style and execution.

After receiving her emails for a couple of years now, I’m constantly delighted by her cleverness with composition. Using only a few objects at a time and a very bright palette, Carol shifts the objects and lighting in seemingly endless ways. Each composition comes with an anthropomorphized title too, as though her subjects are personalities she’s so well acquainted with, they’re like friends.

The colors are completely delicious – teals against orange, against ruby reds. She uses stripes and polka dots on her props, then reinforces the patterns with strong brush work. She must have the hands of a surgeon: the planes of each object are precisely described by a single stroke, exact in its hue and value. This is an extremely studied painter.

Some of the daily painter people seem to have fallen into a habit of running full speed to make a single painting every day. Some of these small paintings are exquisite gems, but a lot of them seem unnecessarily abbreviated in content. The daily painting world sees a lot of turnover because it’s mentally exhausting to arrive at new compositions, and because spending most of each day making a small, often less significant work becomes a sort of tyranny. Carol gracefully sidestepped these difficulties through her clever compositions and direct style, and by spending a limited time on paintings that frequently inform her larger works. It’s a brilliant solution to the daily painting problem.

As you might expect, Carol Marine’s teaching schedule fills up fast, and her classes are currently filled until May. Check her blog out at She sells her smaller daily paintings through her blog and through eBay, and her larger works are represented by 6 galleries (yes, 6):, Just Looking Gallery , Galeria Gardner, Riverbend Fine Art , West End Gallery, and the Corse Gallery and Atelier

All photos courtesy of the artist, copyright Carol Marine, all rights reserved.
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If you have Adobe Photoshop, here's a tip for breaking an image down into its basic values. It's the digital world equivalent of squinting, but you won't get those unsightly crowsfeet if you use this method. (It also helps you see shapes, not details, so you don't get drawn in to painting little tiny details before you've tackled the big picture.)

Open the image you want to use - in this case, I used a photo of my son Ben.

I duplicate the first layer, then go to IMAGE>ADJUST>DESATURATE, which creates a black & white version of the color image.
Then go to IMAGE>ADJUST>POSTERIZE, and choose 10, to wind up with 10 distinct values for your image.

I chose to then colorize the image to simulate a verdaccio underpainting, by going to IMAGE>ADJUST>VARIATIONS, and click on "more green" to give the grayscale image a green cast.

And then, finally, here's my underpainting in progress. We'll save the glazing pictures for another day.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

DEMO: Paul Seaton Floral

Paul Seaton's floral still lifes are to die for. In this demo, he has loads of helpful real-life sorts of tips and advice. Check it out!
Copyright Paul Seaton, all rights reserved.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009


This installment comes from our pal Matthew Stiles:

NEVER, EVER use hardware store grade products, especially turpentine, linseed oil, "varnish" or most of the mineral (white) spirits. These products are generally made as cheaply and thus as poorly as possible, smell horrid, and produce poor quality, short-lasting results.

Lisa's corrollary: OTOH, do use the hardware store for things like gesso brushes, buckets, taborets, and sheets of clear acrylic (for palettes). Sometimes the art store overcharges for these things.

Thanks Matthew! Do you have a NEVER, EVER you'd like to share? Shoot me an email with the tip, your name and your blog so we can credit you.

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PONDER: Why is it hard?

Why is painting in a naturalist or realist style so difficult? The tools are simple: sticks with hair on the end, soft pigments, and a surface. The subject matter is often *right there in front of you*. So what makes it difficult?

Painting should be easier for us. With a still life set up right 2 feet from you and ample light, it should be a simple matter to duplicate it bit for bit - then with some practice, even improve upon it. Don't you think so?

Yet, it's not. In fact, given a lifetime to practice, some people will never be able to realistically portray an object or a face, no matter what. And the even stranger part is - they don't know that. They don't see their own errors, and have no plans to correct them.

Susan Donley has a nicely laid out chart that compares Betty Edwards' and Viktor Lowenfeld's concepts of artistic development in children. The example shown for a 14-16 year old could be anybody - in fact, it could be any adult.

I think there's a point in our development where we either ask ourselves, "What does that really look like," or we don't. And if we never ask, there's no reason to develop past the schematic stage. Things in our minds eye can easily just be their schema: horse, dog, car, mother, cup. It's a perfectly useful system. In fact, asking yourself, "Hey, what color is a glass of milk in shadow?" is probably a sort of nutty thing to do.

But even though artists ask those kinds of questions, the answer isn't immediate - it still takes years to develop the ability to represent our world in a naturalist fashion. So the reason must be deeper than simple seeing. I think seeing might be the first part of the answer, but once we see, what then? What prevents our sudden and permanent evolution into artists?

I don't know. I hope you weren't looking for an answer at the bottom of the post.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Ephemeral Art

This is a demo by Duane Keiser, the artist who pioneered the Painting A Day movement.
It's my absolute favorite of his.

You can see the rest of his videos here: Duane Keiser's YouTube Channel.

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