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 doing it - Go to your room!

I have had the good fortune to take instruction from outstanding artists in Canada and the USA. I am now focusing on my own development ( Going to MY room!) and sharing what I have learned and continue to learn. 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.

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.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Dominik Modlinski Workshop - My Review

I write this from Tofino on a very wet and windy day.

I spent the weekend at Dominik' Modlinski's  mark-making and concept development workshop. I have been an admirer of his work and his energy for many years and was pleased to finally be able to spend some time with him. I take workshops for many reasons -  in this case it was his colour sense, his unique compositions and to experience his approach to teaching. 

The workshop was  a small-group workshop  conducted at his home studio in Nanaimo. The small number of participants and being in his home studio was another reason I was interested. He and his wife made their home available making it a warm, friendly and relaxed environment - good for learning.

It did not take long to appreciate the degree of Dominik's enthusiasm for art, for teaching art and for the life he has created for himself around art. He was very open and willing to share ..

I was not sure what I was getting into in this "mark making" workshop. But I love challenging myself to see where others ideas can affect my work. 

After a discussion on techniques in mark making we began by laying a template of five  5x7 formats on large sheets of news prints. Then using a mix of tools (charcoal, acrylic makers, conte etc) make fast impressionistic designs of shape and value in each of the 5x7s .  We hung the sheets on the wall, discussed first impressions and impact of each from our own and the other participants and chose one being strongest from the first 15. Then, based on that concept, built another 10, then chose the most interesting, and then built on that - etc etc  - you get this idea - big overview then focus, and focus more etc. This was difficult for me .  I could not get landscape and tree shapes out of my concepts. After getting beaten up a few times I finally started to free myself from the influence of my existing work. And on and on. Then finally after a full day of this, which I found very challenging, I was to choose one concept with the plan of translating it in large format and colour the next day. 

After an interesting discussion on how he manages colours it became clear how intuitive my approach to colour has become and how my work would benefit from time spent more thoughtfully about planning my colour schemes  - as he does. 

We spent Sunday developing the selected concept in larger format in colour. I chose to use acrylics. I made three  16x20  - built on a transparent background then back and fourth with transparents and opagues.  Not a  tree or a landscape/seascape to be seen. Trying to free myself up and just play and develop the original concept. 

Showing us some of his plein air sketches

One of my early sheets - trees, trees, trees

A much later sheet moving away from trees

My final selection on news print

Dominik with one of his demos

An interesting discussion on colour management

My chosen concept sketched on 16x20 canvas
My three quickie acrylic concept pieces 16x20 - NO TREES
This was an interesting and challenging weekend. No telling if it will affect the work I enjoy doing. I was quite impressed with Dominik - his  knowledge and skill, his enthusiasm to teach and  willingness to share. The concept of the small group in his home studio was good. I am hoping to return to help put more thoughtfulness into my intuitive approach to colour. The workshop  was very good value.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

A Few Weeks of Portrait Play

A few weeks ago I posted that I needed to " get back to basics" for some me time. I said I was going to do colour charts and spend time making impressionistic "portraits".

How did I do? Well, while the colour chats are a great idea they were too laborious - I am too old to be that bored.  I should have done them 10 years ago. Maybe next year.

But the quickie portraits I love doing. Did  a few each day.  Most done in a hour or less. A few a bit more. All done alla prima .. All 6x8 on a variety of surfaces and using a variety of brushes - all part of the play. All using water mixable oils.

Some are family. The rest are copies: a few from Sargent, a few from Fechin , one from Liberace ( from his DVD), one from Ruskin.  Great exercise in drawing, in values and colour mixing.

Sunday, 25 February 2018


A few years ago I compiled suggestions  from the many artists I had had the good fortune to spend time with .  To that I added gems from my reading and my own thoughts as I explored my learning.  I gathered them for my own benefit – to crystallize my thoughts and to keep the ideas in front of me.  I shared them in the first few workshops I did ( they were five day fundamentals workshops and we had plenty of time to chat) , then put them away and forgot about them.  

I was recently asked to share them and I thought now, with the new formats available,  that they might be useful to new artists entering the journey.

They are a bit dated. They were done before the time of the I Phone and Google Search. There are so many more systems for learning today from You Tube clips to on-line learning programs. Still they might be helpful .

Saturday, 13 January 2018


Jeffrey Watts 11x14

Every year I  need to get back to basics.  While I enjoy the impressionistic gallery landscapes I do -they are fun and experimental - but I regularly feel the need to test and improve my basic skills. This winter I am doing two things: making colour charts and taking the Watts Atelier on-line portrait drawing classes.

I never did colour charts , I should have, but they  always seemed laborious - but this year its happening. To make it easier I purchased premade charts from Colour Frontier.   I plan to do them using water mixable oils. For help I have the   RichardSchmidt text and a number of YouTube videos (just search under colour charts).  I will let you know how I do.

My best early training was at the Jeffrey Watts Atelier in California. I spent 6 months drawing and painting from life – portraiture, figurative, plein air and still life. I have returned twice for a refresher and taken a series of his recent on-line courses. Jeff and his colleagues are great teachers – but its serious stuff.

Jeff Watts - I was fortunate to purchase this 11x14 sketch  while there

This year the Jeffrey Watts Atelier is offering for the first time life streaming classes: one with Jeff for 20 minute fast layins and one with Eric Gist for a head drawing class. The intent is to bring you right into the regularly scheduled classes. I am just taking the basic $99 series - just auditing the classes starting next week and goes into March.  Again, I will let you know how its going. 

Thursday, 4 January 2018


For the last few years I have purchased my tablets and laptops with digital drawing in mind. I am an Android user and have been using Samsung systems.. And while I spent some time learning to become comfortable with both hardware and software  I never really invested enough time to become good with it and found the  systems awkward to work with " in the field".

Recently I purchased my first of the Samsung Note series - the Galaxy Note 8. Its the largest phone ( a phablet) and comes with its stylus - the S Pen. Using it totally changed my use of the digital approach. The difference is the convenience of the smaller hardware. I can hold it in one hand and draw with the other comfortably. Its with me all the time. Sketching from the car, in the field, doing plein air, in the dentists office or barbershop. The new S Pen and phone glass are wonderful to work with - great sensitivity and control.

Software I started with was Autodesk Sketchbook which worked well but was more sophisticated than I needed. I wanted something simpler for quick, sketches yet still complete. I have started working with Infinite Painter and am finding it more than adequate and very " handy" for the sort of sketching I am doing.

I use it for simple line sketching or  creating a shape plan in value/colour using the FILL tool. I also use it in the studio for playing with ideas in advance of beginning a painting - abstracting colours etc.

In doctors office 

Simple shapes in the field 

onsite sketch with value plan

Waiting at the Border Crossing to US from car 

field sketch  - shapes, values and colours

On BC Ferries 

done on site Crystal Cove, Tofino 

So while I rarely used the larger  tablets for sketching  " in the field" I now use the Note 8 all the time. Its always with me.  At this point Apple does not make a phone with a stylus but rumour has it they might soon.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Review of Judsons Gorilla Campaign Box - for plein air

I admit I am a bit of an equipment junkie. Over the past decade I have bought and tried ( and in many cases re-sold) many of the pochade or other types of plein air setups. I originally chose from the pochade box types (panel holder and palette box attached). Of those I tried, the Gorilla box from Judsons was the best construction quality with good designs. In recent years I have moved from the box type to those that separate the palette from the panel, I am tall and more comfortable with the panel at shoulder height and the palette near my waist. I chose the Soltek ( a great system but a large foot print and some wear and tear issues) and the Art Box and Panel ( simple, low cost and good construction). I continue to own three sizes of the Gorilla Boxes, the Soltek and three sizes of the Art Box and Panels. Yes a lot, but I have a studio in BC and one in Ontario and I like separate setups for my oils and my acrylics at both ends.

I need another system like a hole in the head but when I saw the new Judsons Gorilla Campaign Box I had to try it. The reason is that it combines the separation of panel and palette with more depth and two drawers which makes carrying the paint, equipment and drawing supplies convenient.

The system was not up to the construction quality of my other Gorilla products - but that would make it far too heavy. Construction was adequate and the finish excellent. It weighs five pounds empty. I needed to make a few adjustments inorder to have it fit onto the easel. I installed a spacer to enlarge the opening for it to fit onto the easel legs. I also cut the end off the " hooks" so they would not extend beyond the box. As well I added two screws to hang my brush holders. With those things done the unit worked well. It carried all my equipment and needed supplies. The aluminum panel holder provided good support and enlarges to hold up to an 18x24 - far bigger than I have ever painted but curious to try.

Screws added and spacer behind wooden hanger

Holds my paint and drawing supplies on the two drawers. My small Sta-Wet palette, maul stick, medium, palette knives, straight edge and alcohol ( for cleaning palette) are all carried. It comes with a neutral gray acrylic palette.  

Brush holder and top used to hold "tools"

Set up for work - paint in Sta Wet palette that I put in the freezer when done

The system is well designed and well enough constructed. Think it will be a keeper. I can recommend it as a good example of this type of system. 

Monday, 10 July 2017

Ian Roberts Workshop - my review

Last week I was lucky enough to  attend three days of a plein air workshop conducted by Ian Roberts and held through the Blue Mountain School of Landscape Painters in Thornbury Ontario.

Ian is recognized for his teaching on composition - both through his books and DVDS and Videos and his workshops in North America and Europe . In fact his book Mastering Composition has sold over 40,000 copies - a runaway hit for art books.

Ian is the kind of instructor you enjoy spending time with. Warm and friendly yet frank and honest. As expected, the focus of the workshop was composition. As you see him in his DVDs he spent the time between participants with notepad in hand critiquing designs and considering other options. As a result he spent little time doing demos - in fact, he stated that his demos would be short and pointed and preferred to spend time with the group. He spent little or no time discussing painting technique - other than colour mixing. 

His workshop is not for beginners. Those with experience would benefit greatly moving their designs forward .

For me, I wanted his help with plein air design but also wanted the opportunity to get my oils out for the first time in a year. I needed a good "kick start" and this was a great opportunity. I plan to focus on oil plein air for the summer. 

The Blue Mountain School of Landscape Painters is a not-for-profit group of volunteers that have been in existence for 35 years. Interesting, Ian's father was one of the original founders of the School. They only hold workshops each June and are all plein air. They are very organized. I have taught there the past two seasons and have been very impressed and enjoyed my time with them. As well, the selections of sites available for painting are outstanding. From Georgian Bay scenes, to the boat yard in Meaford, to beautiful rolling countryside and farms of Gray county and the Beaver Valley. And being non-profit their workshop pricing is very reasonable. 

I made a number of small sketches ( what I call starts) trying to limit each to an hour max. Starting to feel more comfortable working with oil (water mixable) again.