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.

Sunday 20 May 2012

WORKSHOP - Whistler Out of Bounds Artists

Just finished a workshop with a group of energized and accomplished artists in Whistler - The Whistler Out of Bounds Artists. 

What fun! It was held in one of the organizer's garage and worked well. Some started by 7 AM and continued until 9 PM. While it was not a "live in workshop" the extended hours gave us the opportunity to really get to know one another and the fact that the group were all friends and paint together gave them the confidence to relax, explore new approaches, and experiment. The energy in the room was contagious. Certainly the most fun and rewarding of any of my workshops so far- and once again,  I probably came away having learned more from my "students" than they did from me. 

The "demo starts " made during the workshop. Two small oils and four larger acrylic. Need now to see if I can turn them into "paintings". 

Interesting to me was that, in spite of the fact that they were all advanced learners of the craft of painting,  many told me that they identified with my attempt to clarify the stages of development of the artist and my attempt to show that many developing artists, although advanced in some areas are less advanced in others and that it would help if they could  identify and isolate  their weak areas and focus their learning. 

Coming from a science background in learning and teaching at the university level  I found learning to paint very frustrating. Organizing it into learning streams  helped me and I think would help others.  I am in the process of creating a syllabus, or "learning to paint curriculum", with specific learning goals for developing artists that I hope will make the learning needs  clearer. 

Below are a few of the slides used for that discussion:

Stages most artists go through as they progress.  Learning to paint is a big "head game" and knowing where you are in the journey can help. 

A few learning streams. Trying to position your learning in  each may help to identify topics that need  attention. 

A few comments from the workshop:

" ... can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the week.  I’m feeling very inspired. 

" You have incredible energy, generosity and kindness in your teaching."

"  As a former teacher, I can say with authority that you're a very exceptional teacher"

"  We all agree that was likely the best workshop we've ever had. It will take some time to assimilate and incorporate but we had SO much learning. It was perfect for our group.. loads of practical and technical information as well as constant repetition of fundamentals. And you were so willing to work hard with each one of us. 

" You are a superb fun teacher .. "

Saturday 12 May 2012

Too dumb to say no!

A friend asked me to do a portrait of his deceased father. I was pleased to be asked and so said OK. He brought me a 2x3 black and white taken in the 1940s.  Wow, I said - that will be a bit of a challenge - trying to work my way out of the commitment. Then he said, but I would like it done in colour - as a gift for my daughter - her grandfather.  It got a bit emotional so I said it would be a fun thing to "play with" - no promises as to outcome.

So I have made two 9x12  sketches so far. The first is a burnt umber pick-out, finished adding titanium white and warming it using transparent red iron oxide then added some dark accents with ultramarine blue - all water soluble oils. The plan was to make the under-painting value sketch then gently add colour once the first was dry. It was done on Yes Canvas. If you have not tried it Yes Canvas is an all- medium canvas that I was encourage to try while studying at Watts Atelier - for fine portrait work. It is inexpensive and very fine weave suitable for portraiture. I purchase in panels and in rolls mounting on board. U tube video on Yes Canvas   Because this canvas is so smooth, the burnt umber picks out nicely to create the value pattern - using paper towels, wet brushes and Q tips.

The second sketch was done in colour and a bold brush application, thick and juicy. Drawing looks a more like Tom Selleck - and the colours are probably too young for his stage of life.

Fun exercise to try. Let these dry for the week then play some more.

Off to Whistler to do a workshop with a really interesting group of artists.

More later.

Friday 4 May 2012

Stapleton Kearns - GREAT PLEIN AIR ADVISE!

 One of the many blogs I follow is from East Coast artist Stapleton Kearns . He has just posted his sixth in a series on plein air painting. Now there is lots of good stuff  out there on painting and painting plein air- but now and again one really hits home - and this is one of them. I highly recommend reading. Don't know if there are more to come. 

Visit Stapleton Kearns Blog - this is the first of the series. Follow the others up to date.

Wednesday 2 May 2012


Learning to paint well is hard - damn hard. There are so many "balls to keep in the air" that it is easy to get off track, especially at the early stages of a painting and particularly when learning to paint plein air. Anything we can do to simplify and to remind us of the issues is helpful. I can remember that my first pochade - a Judson Gorilla Box - had a four value scale and a list of things to remember stuck on it beside the panels. 

Having recently finished two workshops (a five day Fundamentals for Landscape Painters and a two day Preparing for Plein air) I am again reminded how hard it is to hold onto the fundamentals and apply them in the heat of battle.  

Lots of painters have little reminders. I have been thinking about one for a few weeks and tried it out in the workshops. It is my 6 Ws. It will probably evolve over the next while but it is a start that may be helpful for others.

These 6Ws are to be used during the planning stages. I encourage recording simple shapes to include in a thumbnail sketch, then organize the shapes into three or four values. I encourage making additional  sketches using the 6Ws below to strengthen the first sketch. Every time you put pencil to paper and consider what to include or exclude and where to place things (WHATSITS) your composition will improve and your painting will move ahead more quickly and with confidence. 


Know WHAT your painting is about
What is the centre of interest, etc . - the reason you have chosen to make the painting?

Know WHY you are attracted to paint the WHAT
What is it about the WHAT that attracts you? Might be the colour of light on it, the strong value contrasts, etc. Exaggerate the WHY to strengthen the WHAT

Know WHERE on your canvas your WHAT will be best and your composition will be strongest
Understand the guidelines used for placement - generally keeping your WHAT away from the middle of the painting.  

Know the WHATSITS available to help support the WHAT and the WHY
Identify the objects or elements available in the scene that  can be used to strengthen the compositon - clouds, trees, reflections, rocks, etc - that can be relocated, exaggerated , enlarged, etc and generally used as needed. They are all subordinate to the WHAT and can be handled as such but available as required
Choose WORDS to describe the painting - five or less
I have found it helpful to write down below my thumbnail sketches WORDS to describe what the painting is about or why I have painted it. These can be helpful during a self critique to see that you have simplified and that the painting is about what you intended. Can also help with the title. 

Choose the two big  WHAMMIES  - colour and value dominance
The two big eye catchers that create emotional draw to your work are value and colour. Having clear dominance of one value and one colour most often makes for stronger paintings. 

Simple flat two dimensional selection of shapes to include  in composition 

Separate light values  from combined midtone and dark values 

Divide midtones from darks 

Make additional sketches considering the 6Ws to strengthen the composition. If others have KISS systems that work for them, I would love to learn about them..