I borrowed this phrase from the recently deceased Canadian painter Robert Genn who believed that there is only so much we can learn about how to paint from the many fine instructors and resources available today. The true learning comes from going off on our own and just doing it - Go to your room!

I have had the good fortune to take instruction from outstanding artists in Canada and the USA. I continue to work on my own development ( Going to MY room!) . I share, through this blog and workshops, what I have learned and what others have shared with me.

I created this blog primarily for those attending my workshops to keep in touch and to further share as we grow together. If others are interested in following that would be great.

Enjoy the journey.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

More gouache learning

Lake Shapes   quick gouache sketch on mdf  6x12
I continue to work in gouache, both in-studio and plein air. I am really enjoying the simplicity of it for small sketches and think that the small plein air kit I have put together is going to be my go-to kit for travel.  Also, the medium seems suited to my growing interest towards more stylized work with bold brushstrokes.  It also suits my apparent need to work quickly .

I have been working on watercolour paper, on Canson Illustration Board, on MDF board and on Multi-Media Board. Each brings a unique working experience.  I am also applying Liquatex Clear Gesso on many of the boards to add tooth.  I am experimenting with thin transparent first layers then adding the whites and other opaques for second layers. As a thin layer it feels and looks like the transparency of watercolours.

I still want to be able to frame without glass and so continue to experiment with different finishes looking for those that do no re-activate the paint. The hair spray, two to three layers, does a reasonably good job, but if I am aggressive with water I can reactivate areas. The acrylic polymer also creates a secure finish but if I over-brush the application it will blur some edges.

The best spray fixative so far has been Krylons Kaymar Varnish which is not as difficult to work with as others tried and has done a good job sealing the surface.

Using Kamar Varnish out of doors 

My Saskatchewan friend and artist, Delee Grant, recommended I try cold wax medium. Have some in BC but did not want to buy more in Ontario. So wondered what else might be like wax, thick with a low moisture content. I looked up and was staring right at a jar of  acrylic heavy body matt gel. I tried it and if applied carefully it works great to secure the paint while still leaving a mat finish associated with gouache.

Another change is I replaced my StayWet palette box with 9x12 disposable palette paper. An added move to simplicity.

I have been asked about the palette box I am using and purchased on Amazon. I am working with dried gouache that reactivates as needed - so no worry about drying out and I have been working some in full sun.

Using fine Sharpie pen for sketch   on water colour paper

8x10 on illustration board

Quick sketches on water colour paper

Saturday 4 July 2020

Taking a run at GOUACHE

Red Evening  Gouache  on mdf 8x10

Working in gouache for plein air sketches has become more popular in recent years.  There is some great work done by Scott Christensen Kathleen Dunphy  and Carol Marine to name a few. In this time of Covid, with no workshops and little gallery activity, I am finding time to play and try new things. So why not try gouache.

I worked in gouache at the Watts Atelier in California a decade ago. A gouache class was recommended before working in oils - as the gouache can be reactivated and blended making a good first step in portraiture etc. I can remember enjoying the medium. Today my interest would be in plein air landscape, working with a fast drying medium requiring a limited amount of equipment.

My grand daughter using gouache at the Watts Atelier a decade ago
So I explored what others were using for supplies and equipment. I tried a variety of approaches. I still had a selection of tubes from my Watts days that felt OK. In the end I settled on working with gouache in dried form in a small watercolour palette. I dug out my 9x12 Gorilla box which I had not used in a decade and found I could carry everything I needed - paint tubes, paint palette , mixing surface, brushes, drawing needs, water mister and water bottle and a mix of 6x8 and 8x10 painting surfaces. If I could make the medium work I had the makings of a small, light, self-contained system with only a tripod to add. Great for easy carry and quick set up.

My next issue was the surface and the general need to frame the pieces behind glass. Most would be simple sketches on watercolour paper but hoped that I could work on surfaces and seal them to avoid the need for glass. I worked on mdf board, illustration board and terra skin ( stone paper). Each was a unique experience with a unique result. The paint reactivates immediately on contact with water. I first tried lightly brushing an isolation coat (a sealing coat used on acylic paintings) with a soft brush. Seals well but cannot avoid activating some of the paint. Also results in a semi gloss finish which is not what a lot of gouche painters want - they like it flat. I , on the other hand , I like some degree of finish.  So then I tried hair spray ( what I use to secure a graphite or charcoal sketch).  One spray reduced the activation but two or three make the paint more secure. With that I could apply an isolation coat without difficulty - so I had an option for hanging without glass.  I also tried an acrylic based varnish spray wich worked well - but even in an open garage was difficult to cope with. But at least I know that I have choices if I wish to hang without glass.

Sketch with acrylic marker  working on illustration board 8x10

What really pleased me was how well it worked on mdf board coated with gesso. So I had an archival cheap surface with the possibility of securing the finish - but accepting that it would be semi gloss - not the "true" flatness of the medium.

I also tried adding "tooth' to each of the surfaces using a layer of Liquatex Clear Gesso - which leaves a grainy finish I quite like.

So now to paint. Had the box out a few times and also tried a few pieces in the studio.  It is a mark-making layering medium, much like how I paint with acrylics - so I think I might like it. It is very fast to work with - less than half an hour on each quick sketch. Great for travelling.

Gorilla box, water colour palett with dried gouache, carried by bike trailer 

Plein air sketch 6x8 on Terra Skin paper - drawing with Sharpie - Gouache did not cover it

So what have I got.  A small light plein air kit that contains all I need and using dried gouache to be reactivated on use. Simple, cheap, easy.  I think I like it. Will see how it goes.

Saturday 9 May 2020

My Time in Isolation

I know, it has been two years since I last posted.  Probably nobody out there anymore. Just the same, I thought I would share what I have been doing in isolation over the past weeks.

I seem to have a bit more time on my hands now. We are still in Courtenay BC, our winter home. Normally we would be on our way to Collingwood Ontario where we spend our summers. We take our RV and I paint along the way - and often have a workshop booked somewhere. This year we don't know when things will open up and we will be able to travel.

Initially, it was a real shock. All my galleries closed and all my workshops for the entire year cancelled. The same for all of you probably.

Really disappointing was the cancellation and then rescheduling of the Plein Air Convention, initially for Denver in May and now Santa Fe in August. I was an invited presenter for the conference, helping to organize the first acrylic stream of learning. Now it looks like even Santa Fe in August might be threatened.  Also I was invited to participate in the Door County Plein Air competition in July  in Wisconsin which has also been cancelled. I was looking forward to the Publishers Invitational Paint the Adirondacks in June, which has not been cancelled as yet but I doubt that it will go ahead.
So lots of disappointments but still nothing compared to what so many are going through.

So once I got over my disappointment and settled into a routine I started to enjoy this isolation thing. No pressure - no gallery commitments, no workshop commitments. Time to play and learn. Each morning I am doing quick portraits in water-mixable oils and most afternoons I go out and do some plein air sketches ( weather here has been great). Two areas I wanted to spend more time on for years. So that has been good and I can feel a growth of confidence.

For the plein air I am alternating between acrylics and oils trying to finally decide which is more suited to me. On my acrylic days, I am alternating between Golden Open ( slow dry) and regular acrylics. I will share what I have decided in a future post. My goal in plein air is to improve my confidence particularly in doing building and other man made things and interpreting them in a stylized, almost whimsical, way.

It has been years since I played with portraiture. My  interest is to interpret these in a style that shows bold brushwork with a reasonable representation of the reference photo. Forgot how hard this was but after having done about 3 dozen now I am starting to relax and interpret more than copy. Hoping to do a few more.

I have also been spending time daily just absorbing work from others via zoom, on line video learning, DVDs, some great blogs, etc. I have subscribed to New Masters Academy New Masters Academy, to Sentient Academy , to Watts Atelier each with both learnings in landscape and portraiture.

I am also trying to make myself more comfortable with social media - strengthening my presence. I have joined Lori McNees Fine Art Tips and 2020 Club for that purpose.

Finally, I have been asked to do an on-line learning demo for a group from Ottawa .  Trying to get comfortable using Zoom and setting up my studio to make this work.

So isolation it is (almost was)  - but unproductive and without some fun and learning it has not been.

Love to hear how you have spent your time. Hopefully, it was not all negative .

Promise ( hoping) not to be so bad at blogging again.

Cheers and stay well.

Saturday 15 September 2018

Marc Grand Bois Workshop - My Review

There is a boldness and freshness about Marc's work that I have admired. His compositions and his methods for working with acrylics are unique. I was very please when an opportunity to attend one of his workshops became available. The workshop was held in Bracebridge at the Muskoka Arts & Crafts Inc. - a very nice facility. 

The format for the workshop was a bit unusual. Marc did a plein air demo each morning of about 2 hrs, then back to the studio where we painted. Marc is most comfortable working on location - and I would have enjoyed spending my painting time on location with him - but others were not prepared for plein air - and the course description did not indicate it.  Still the afternoon sessions were good with lots of time given by Marc to each participant. 

Marc prefers sitting to work. He has much younger knees than mine.

Mark worked on masonite treated with coats of latex house primer - which he prefers over gesso as the surface is smoother and he feels his paint flows better. His initial plan is sketched using a rigger with a acrylics.  He uses no mediums and seldom sprays his palette. He puts out small amounts of paint as needed and works on a disposable palette paper.  He works with a limited palette working with two pairs of compliments making cool and warm grays. 

He works from back to front. Once his plan is made he quickly builds under layer using a large soft brush. He layers until he gets the feeling he wants then switches to a rigger brush which he uses extensively throughout the painting.  All his final stroke are with the rigger using paint that is quite thick adding texture and character. 

His demos were excellent. Really fun to watch his process. He is able to add comment and answer questions as he works. His teaching in the afternoon was excellent as well - he is gentle and patient but critically honest as needed.  I appreciated the suggestions he had for me. 

Marc's work is full of energy. I love what he does with the rigger - wondering what it might do to add final physical energy to mine.  I made four starts trying to add some of Marc's energy - but unable to control my love for colour. 

I enjoyed this workshop and spending time with Marc. I rate his knowledge and skill as excellent. His teaching style  as well. I recommend his workshops.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Ken DeWaard Workshop - my review

I have admired the work of Ken DeWaard, of Hope Maine, for a couple of years. I admire the clean shapes , his management of values and overall design. He has a knack of outlining areas in a mid value line that is quite unique and I find really interesting - even his portraits. When a workshop was announced at a time of year that worked for me I took it.

Examples of Kens work

The workshop was held by Coastal Maine Workshops in Rockland Maine. I took a David Curtis workshop with them last year and the overall experience was excellent. The indoor facilities are good, they have a dedicated workshop assistant assigned to help the instructor and students, and the painting locations, both harbours, rural and urban are excellent. . Very nice folks to deal with.

I generally rate an instructor on the following : competence, enthusiasm, a joy for teaching , a sincere wanting to help students , and pleasant to spend time with. I rate Ken highly on all. Ken is a good instructor, he sincerely wants to help his students and he is a great guy to spend a week with. He worked hard on our behalf.

Ken works on a neutral toned canvas. He makes his design using vine charcoal. He starts by placing the lightest light and darkest darks keeping them in the area of the centre of interest. He quickly lays in his first best guess for values in each large area. He next moves to add detail to each value mass .  A strong plein air sketch in an hour.

Kens palette is unique - at least to me.  His warms include  two yellows, trans red iron oxide, cad red lt and a cool red. His cools include ultramarine blue, prussian blue and ivory black. He puts out two titanium white - one to be used for warms and one for cools. New to me was how he used his ivory black. I pretty much stick to using it with yellows for natural greens. Ken often neutralized bright colours making them very strong darks - eg. adding to cad red to produce a very deep dark mauve.  I played with this during the week and produced some interesting colour combinations.

We painted harbours, farm buildings and wonderful older homes. Ken worked hard to ensure everyone got adequate supervision. I made about 18 starts over the week -a good number being  wipe outs. His suggestions and encouragement I expect to  affect my work in oils - and maybe acrylics.

To sum  up, Ken is a very strong teacher and a nice guy to spend time with . I highly recommend his workshops .

Monday 25 June 2018

There is no need to waste acrylic paint!

A question that went unanswered in my recent Plein Air  Workshop was about the issue of wasting paint ( and $$) . I am critical of those in my classes that do not have an adequate palette with space for both holding paint and for mixing. Also of those that put out minuscule amounts of paint or put out one colour at a time - as they think the painting needs.


Everyone has a system. My system is to have both a holding and a mixing area. I hold my paint in the small Masterson Sta Wet palette without paper when doing plein air. I take from there and mix on a neutral gray glass surface. Paint , if kept moist, lasts for weeks in the Sta Wet.

Small Sta-Wet on Coulter Art Box system 

In my studio I hold my paints in the large, 12x16 Sta Wet palette and take from there to mix on glass .

Studio large Sta Wet beside glass mixing area

If and when the paints in my palette are starting to dry, its getting too messy,  or I am just not going to be using them I scrape off the paint and place into a jar with a air-tight lid .  When mixed they usually create a gray of some value. I adjust the value with titanium white ( usually fluid) then leave or change the grey to a hue normally using Goldens Fluids with their high pigment content. I then put some on the lid so I know what the dried colour and value will be .

Palette scrapings mixed together

mixed produces a grey that is adjusted for value with white

then adjusted for hue as needed 

I can have up to 12 to 20 jars at anyone time each with a known hue and value. These are invaluable for areas like skies that I have to create negatively and often have to come back into to correct. No mixing needed - I have a jar with the colour and value required.  Has made my large acrylic pieces so my easier and NO WASTE.

When the jars empty there is always a bit on the bottom and sides . Let that air dry then soak in water a few days and that will peel out as a  piece of colored plastic leaving a clean jar.

Soaking in water 
Polymer plastic lifts out after soaking to leave a clean jar

I paint half the year in BC and half in Ontario. The jars are thus unused for up to 6 months. If I have done a good job of cleaning the tops to create a good seal the paint is still usable.