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.

Friday 22 March 2013


Thomas Jefferson Kitts 

I'm mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore. 

I forget the name of the movie - but the feeling fits.

Just read the blog of an artist I follow - Thomas Jefferson Kitts from Oregon. A wonderful plein air painter and teacher.

But then he said this in response to a blog question:

6. Are water soluble oils ever appropriate for outdoor painting? 
IMHO, they are appropriate for nothing. Nada. Nunca. Squat. I view them as an abomination. Mincible oils have all the faults of acrylic and none of the benefits of oil. I won't let them into my classes.

My comment to his blog in response:

Really disappointed to read your emotion-based comments on water mixable oil paints. As a highly regarded painter and teacher it surprises me that you are way off base and ill informed on the use of these products. There are student and artist grade paints - same as regular oils. Get some good quality ( Holbein Duo) and use with Gamsol - works the same. Now try with some water mixable mediums and a bit of water - works the same. Lots of info out there. Many excellent artists working with it. Get informed!!!
And as for your comments on acrylics - they don't have faults. They are not what you are used to using. Its like saying watercolours have "faults". Each medium has it up side and its down side. Water mixable oils have many upsides for a lot of artists and you should not be discouraging their use.  Said with respect.

Don't have time today to get back into this - take a look at previous blog posts or my Art Byte on using water mixable paints - follow Art Byte in sidebar

Sunday 17 March 2013

Blog Question re clamp

Hi from beautiful Ucluelet and Tofino. One of the great sites on the west coast.  Been here with our RV at least once yearly for the twelve years we have spent on Vancouver Island. Wonderful dramatic skies and shorelines.

Taken from the beach in front of our RV.

But the reason for the post is to answer a question I got from a number of followers. Its about the clamp I use to hold my sketch pad for plein air and my photos when studio paintings. There are a number of double ended clamps available but this is the one I like best. They can be purchased from photo stores that handle Manfrotto products but I get mine from Judson Plein air.   Not cheap but very handy and sturdy. 

Thursday 14 March 2013

Interesting new tools - acrylic markers


Always wanting to try new "stuff". Recently became aware of acrylic marker pens. These pens contain liquid acrylics - that are reported to cover and dry like normal liquid acrylic paint. Had to try them. Many of you may have already been working with them but they are new to me.

From previous posts you would know that I like to do rough underdrawings for most of my acrylic and oil paintings - both studio and plein air. I start with water soluble pencil then lay in the final sketch using something permanent that can be seen through the first layers of paint but are finally covered with added paint. I use Sharpie black markers ( can be a challenge to cover with acrylics and oils will not cover easily) and China Markers - in a variety of colours that do cover well. I know many have trouble using these so when I heard of the new markers the obvious thing was acrylic over acrylic or oil over acrylic both work well so this might be worth trying.

So I get a few pens made by Montana. Got the very fine, fine, mid sized and larger to try.All are purchases as empty and need to be loaded. Got black and a few colours to try. It is a bit of a trick the first time opening the pen for loading but there are good instructions on the Montana web page.

Four sizes all loaded with acrylic paint

Replacement nibs, pen, and two sizes of acrylic for filling 

It works as expected. Used as an underdrawing it dries well and can be over painted without concern. Ideal for my purpose may be to to get a variety of colours thinking more of value than hue. 

I find that if I scrub hard I can lift some of the paint - but not enough to be a problem.

Have been trying it both in studio and plein air. Find the Fine (2mm) to be a good general drawing pen. The very fine is just too darn fine for what I do and will not work well on course linen or canvas but is great for sketching on paper. Also can be used to add fine details to a  painting. Recently started playing with the wide tips to boldly block in dark values and think there may be a real role for it there as well.

Initial drawing with water sol red pencil (need to enlarge to see it) then rough block ins with wide black and colours.

Rub on of neutral warms ( transparent red iron oxide I think) to soften overall then start of bringing in opaques to boats.

20x30  nearing completion ( or scrape pile)

Where it sits now. Need more thought. Am after a moody east coast feeling but went wild with water.

These pens are excellent for redrawing during painting - adding changes as they come. Also great for creating lines - masts in this case.

Not cheap but really a handy addition to the tool box. I am off to Tofino for a few days and plan to try them sketching on paper.

Used for initial sketch-in plein air and liked it 


Monday 4 March 2013

Recommended Books on Composition

John F Carlson
I knew I wouldn't get away without posting a list of the books I mentioned in the demo. Had a number of the demo participants asking today - I do enjoy getting your comments and questions . 

There are books devoted to composition - some are heavy and frankly overkill.  I will not include them. I will include those that are on composition that do a good job and are a joy to read. 

Many of the books are more general in nature but have a section on composition that, in my opinion, is good and that the over all content of the book is good. Most are based on oils-  not acrylics - but the medium has no bearing on the content. The last is a recent watercolor book and is a very good book for plein air and composition in any medium. You can get complete info and ratings on any of these books from Amazon. 

The two I mentioned in the demo are "golden oldies" and really " must haves" for the serious developing  artists. Carlson's is available and very inexpensive. You won't be impressed until you start reading it. When you do be sure to Google for images of his paintings in colour to go along with the book which is black and white. 

The other jem is Edgar Payes. You might have trouble finding it. It keeps going out of print but his daughter has had at least two re printings. I found two in a used book store. 

  • Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting.  John F.  Carlson,  1929
  • Composition of Outdoor Painting.  Edgar A. Payne, 1941

Recent books I like for their content on composition:
  • Mastering Composition. Ian Roberts, 2007 (includes good DVD on composition)
  • Landscape Painting. Mitchell Albala, 2009
  • The Simple Secret to Better Painting. Greg Albert, 2003
  • Oil Paintings with Light and Colour. Kevin MacPherson, 1997
  • Landscape Painting Inside and Out. Kevin MacPherson, 2006
  • Powerful Watercolor Landscapes. Catherine Gill, 2011 (watercolour but great book for all landscape mediums)
Because the demo was acrylics a few good acrylic landscape books I like are:
  • Acrylic Landscape Painting Techniques. Hugh Greer,  2002
  • Water Media Painting. Stephen Quiller  2008
  • Acrylic Painting Techniques. Stephen Quiller , 1994
  • The Acrylic Painters Book of Style and Techniques. Rachel Rubin Wolf, ed. 1997
  • Colour Choices – Making Color Sense out of Color Theory. Stephen Quiller, 1989
  • Capturing Light in Acrylics. John Hammond, 2004
  • Free Expression in Acrylics. John Hammond, 2008
  • Acrylics the Watercolour Alternative. Charles Harrington, 2005
  • Acrylic Painting Techniques. Earl Killeen, 1995


Answering a question about my Opus Demo

Chesterman Beach reference photo

Received  some interesting questions on this blog following my Opus demo on Saturday. Instead of replying directly to one comment/questions I decided to share the answer on the blog so others that were present  could share in the answer.

Comment/question received

Brian, your Saturday workshop was informative and inspiring. A pleasure to attend. At the end of the workshop you expressed that you weren't particularly happy with the final outcome - (which most of us thought was pretty good). Earlier in your presentation you touched on how you would go about evaluating the success of a piece - by checking against your personal "checklist". I meant to ask you to explain a little about why you were not pleased with the piece. Can you elaborate a bit on what you thought was the problem with the piece? It would be most helpful to understand your view.

Thanks again for the very worthwhile and enjoyable workshop.

A short and simplistic answer is that demos have a time limit - and paintings don't. 

The  painting from this demo was developed to the stage where most paintings enter a difficult ( I used a different word in the demo) stage. If stopped at this point the painting has not reached its potential. And that was my point – we ended at an unfinished stage. Its not that I was unhappy with it (knowing that it could  be carried towards an acceptable finish) – but I was unhappy having to leave it at that stage for the demo and those beginner painters thinking that was it - finished.

So the question was - what would I do with it now to take it to a finish.  I wish I had taken a photo so that I could discuss this painting specifically. I don't, so the answer has to be general in nature. 

To progress with a painting you need some idea of where you want to take it - or at least what the possibilities are. I am a “what if “ painter with acrylics – I tend to make changes to see if I am happy and change again if not. I know from experience that I can go back and forth and find my way out. 

 I had a problem assessing the painting at the Demo.  To evaluate a painting I need to get back  about 10 ft. Particularly recently, when I developed problems in one eye,  I have had trouble evaluating up close. So that is the first step for me. Getting back from it to consider “the big picture”. I normally stand when painting and am constantly walking back to evaluate. 

Then  I start to go through my self-critique check list which I pretty much have in my head now.  I don’t want to go through it all on the blog– but I encourage others to organize their thoughts for reviewing their work.

It starts simply – why did I paint this piece? What is it about – ie the center of interest.  Have I placed it correctly and guided the viewer towards it. In this case it was the west coast tree. Did I do all I could to make it strong? Did it scream – west coast?  The tree at that point needed to be stronger. Too cut up with sky holes, could have leaned more ( exaggerate reality for emphasis), etc. etc

The lead-in to the tree is done using whats available - the rocks, the sand, the shadows on the sand and I could have added some water to direct the eye – all tools to use that are part of that environment. Could also have put a strong west coast cloud  above that would stop the eye from leaving the top of the painting and even point to the tree.

I could go on and on but let’s summarize the possibilities.

Big questions to ask:
      Does one colour dominate?
      Does  one value dominate?
      Does one of the large shapes dominate?
      Is the centre of interest well located – off centre
      Is there an entry point?
      Are all exits blocked?

Tools  to work with :
      Colour contrasts – compliments, temperature
      Value contrasts
      Shape contrasts
      Edge control
      Details – small marks
      Pointing/leading lines
      Effective brushwork

But remember, its not about making it correct ( copy the photo) but about making it interesting and unique.

In this case the  subject is very simple with simple shapes  - a tree, some bushes, rocks, sand, shadows on sand, sky. You can use them as needed to make an interesting statement – of a west coast tree.

Lots of good reference books on composition. I strongly encourage reading and reading – different authors take a different approach and considering them all is probably best and the best way to drive the concepts home.

Long winded for a blog – hope it helps a bit.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Well that was fun! Opus Store Demo.

Did the demo at Opus Framing and Art Supply in Victoria today. Well organized and great fun. Was surprised by the turnout - a keen group with great questions. Hopefully they got something from the approach - but I am afraid the short demo ended at the "stinker"  stage - and would like to think those present understood that it could be rescued from that stage to an interesting final finish.

Cathy and I came down to Victoria for the weekend. Beautiful RV park  at West Bay Marina - right in the heart of Victoria. Enjoyed the beautiful seawalk into town and the wonderful scenery.

Beautiful Victoria SeaWalk 

Victoria Harbour - ferry to Seattle arriving - our RV park in the distance, seawalk on the right 

Victoria from our RV 
Thanks Opus and thanks to those that attended.

Friday 1 March 2013

Wrong date for Opus Demo

Too much painting and not enough thinking!

Hi. Was notified that I had the wrong date for the Opus demo in the last post. It is tomorrow, Saturday, March 2.