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 27 November 2015

I was asked why I pre-colour the canvas.

To further explain the post from yesterday. I was asked about why I chose to  pre-colour the canvas red or blue . Couple of reasons: I don't like painting on a white canvas. It is either coloured with paint or coated with dark gesso - just a personal preference.  I also like the serendipity of outcome - the happenstance of letting some of the under painting show through - creating harmony or a "mother colour".  It takes a bit of practice at the beginning  but with time  is not done with a lot of forethought . You can take the same image and totally change the outcome starting on a different base colour - warm or cool or black etc. It adds a fun element to quick studies like these.

Here the canvas was coloured red . You can see where it  behind the blue distant hills. Makes no sense - but its kind of fun. I glazed over the bottom and  some of the tree area with transparent diox purple then you can see where I removed it while still wet using a rubber shaper from parts of the "rock shapes" at the bottom and some of the tree area then shaped those areas with opaque paint - result is a dulled red but still holds the harmony. You can also see where some of the red can be seen through the clouds by wiping off some of the opaque with a paper towel.

This piece has a similar theme but is built on a phthalo blue base. The distant hills, the core of the rocks and some limbs of the trees have remained untouched but shaped by the opaque around it. You can see where I left some of the tree limbs blue - again makes no sense but I kind of like it.

Here you can see the red ground remaining to be part of the tree limbs, in the sky and again on the rocks where I glazed with transparent burnt orange and removed in areas with the rubber shaper.

These are quick studies with little planning or  second guessing. They are simple, almost naive little pieces but are really fun to do and great for getting the juice flowing. Might look good under a Christmas tree.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Small West Coast Pieces - more exercises

Back in BC. Starting to work in the new studio there. Got some gallery pieces and commissions to get done. But needed to work my way back into it. So, once again, I spent the past few days working on small pieces - 8x10 up to 12x12. Fun chance to play. Half were built on an under painting of red , the rest on pthalo blue green . Did 25 in total .   Really recommend it as a way to work through things. 

Black gessoed edges drying

Saturday 14 November 2015

Paint small... paint many!

Had enough of struggling with large paintings for a while. Need  some play time.

Took three small canvases and one imaginary image and approached each with a different underpainting and included that underpainting colour through out the painting  - bit of a 'mother colour' effect. Laid the underpainting on and while wet used the rubber shaper to pick out and create a crude value plan. Dried, then blocked in the darks using the underpainting colour in a dark value then punched with opaque of the same colour family. Used compliments in opaque for punch.

Total time just under 90 minutes.

Pthalo Blue Green underpainting 8x10

Pthalo Turquoise underpainting 8x10

Magenta underpainting 10x10

Useful exercise and fun.

Friday 6 November 2015

Finding my way back

In my last post I shared my difficulty getting my " Mojo working" - after a summer with little painting and following a Brian Atyeo workshop that really shook me up .

This past week I have been working through my issues. Its many of the same issues that have caused me difficulty before. Basically,  I have not been following my own workshop advise.

1. Time pressure. We are in Ontario for just a few more weeks. The Galleries that have asked to represent me need product. I don't handle painting , particularly larger pieces, well under pressure. I paint fast - but but only up to a point. The final stages of critique and correction can go on for days. But I need to view the painting on a regular basis, and under different lighting, in order to find those corrections,  big or small,  that would strengthen the work - or to decide that it is a "junker". That has not been happening in our small condo.

2. Drop the reference. I am feeling a bit intimidated painting in this new region. I don't have a good grasp of  or a feeling for the place - something that often only comes by painting the local scenes plein air. Painting on location forces decision making and encourages inventiveness that can be brought back to the studio.  So I have been following my reference photos far too long in the painting process - painting in fear of failure. Once the large value shapes are placed and a few details in I should be dropping the reference and becoming inventive and only returning to the reference if there is a particular area of concern that needs to be close to correct.

3. Advanced planning. I normally make sketches varying the composition - playing with ideas. I use pencils and markers focusing on values of the large shapes.I often take the reference image and "play with it" digitally - particularly changing values of different areas - such as opening up dark shadows. I have not taken the time for selecting references or planning my compositions adequately.

4. Critiquing. I normally stop after a few hours or when I reached a point of not knowing how to proceed and critique the work. I set the piece aside for a day or two, still  keeping it in view, normally in our TV/reading room. Often short glances will help me find new ideas.   If nothing comes to mind but I am still not happy it can stay "on view" for many days . In this small condo I don't have space for viewing large pieces - and at a suitable distance.

5. Tools. The first thing I do is take a quick photo with my cell phone ( Samsung S6) , send it to my cloud ( Dropbox) then pull it down to my laptop to manipulate.  I begin by converting to black and white to see if the large shapes are unique and distinct ( I use ACDSee - Ultimate 8) . This step I do routinely, particularly for large pieces. If needed I can select shapes and move them to test new ideas. In some cases I use Sketchbook Pro to manipulate the image, changing values or colours or draw in new shapes.  Nice thing is that I can do all this while watching TV in the evening (love British dramas on PBS).

 viewing outside where I can get away from them 30x48 and 36x36s

B and W to compare value shapes- normally done individually

Pulling an image of the painting  into Sketchbook Pro to play with

6. Making corrections.  Corrections can be anything from small tweeking to something more extensive. I normally make the adjustments then return the piece to the viewing area to consider those changes.  If I am not sure what is needed - but I know something is not working, yet I think the piece has potential, I often do a complete glaze over using a transparent warm or cool - from transparent red iron oxide, to pthalo blues or quin violets, even Ivory black. It creates a harmony, levels out value differences and becomes a new start point from which to follow by bringing in the opaques and redefining areas. I do this a lot.

While I am still having difficulties I have stopped painting under time pressure and getting back on track with  critique and corrections. And it is bringing back a level of satisfaction I was missing earlier. Acrylic is a medium allowing "commit and correct" to be used to full advantage.  Some days I feel that I am "in the zone" and a painting seems to flow from the brushes - start to finish in one sitting. Hoping that will return soon.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Trying to find myself - again.

Acrylic oc 12x12s

After selling our Comox home, purchasing in Courtenay, spending a two months getting it furnished, creating a new studio etc, we moved on to Ontario in mid September.  We purchased a smaller condo here that we plan to use as our summer home -beginning next year. We are here for two months, again furnishing, creating a small studio, making contact with galleries and, most important, spending time with family and old friends. So I have not painted on a regular basis for months - first time since I started a decade ago.

My little studio is a 10x10 bedroom. Was not sure it was going to work - but it is OK and  I have a garage where I can gessso and do all the messy stuff. So I am back painting - but I am not having an easy time of it. Its been a month and I have never struggled so much.

My small Ontario Studio  10x10 ft
Is it that I have not painted regularly? I know I am having trouble developing Ontario compositions - missing my West Coast mountains and seascapes. But its more than that. My most recent workshop was with Brian Atyeo - great painter and teacher. Spending a week with him probably had more affect on me than any other workshop I have taken. His paintings are indirect - multi layered glazes , scumbles, wipe offs. They are very complex and a challenge to follow and I spent considerable time following the workshop trying to integrate his approach into my work.  I have blogged before about my Post Workshop Blues - the difficulty of finding my own voice after a workshop - but I  have never experienced anything like this.

My new critiquing area - our dinning room - thank goodness for supportive spouses
My previous experience with these difficulties taught me that I have to work my way out of it. Paint small and many. Experiment. Back to the basics - build from a value plan. Limited palettes. Get out the old brushes again - not the ones Brian Atyeo wanted me to try. Pull up some of my old paintings and try to think my way through them. .  Critique my paintings hard. Re-do them trying other things.

I have been knocking off 12x12s and smaller. Every few days I try something larger - but they are too visually busy. Its the move to the larger pieces that is giving me the most trouble. Can't seem to stop banging away with spots of colour hoping they will add up to something. I  think of some of the acrylic painters I admire and how much control they have ....and I cannot seem to contain myself to achieve that control -control that I think I once had :
eg. Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki and Randy Hayashi

I remember Robert Genn, at his last Holly Hock workshop,  telling me he was having difficulty translating his smaller sketches into successful larger pieces . Even the best is challenged at times.

A recent work up from a 12x12 to a 24x24 - Down from Blue Mountain

So I will keep at it and let you know how I make out.

Monday 5 October 2015

New Plein Air Workshop Blue Mt School of Landscape Painting Ontario June 2016

Pleased to be invited to conduct a four day workshop Preparing for Plein Air at the Blue Mountain School of Landscape Painting in Collingwood/Thornbury Ontario  June 27-30, 2016.

Painting “en plein air” is difficult. It can intimidate even the most experienced painter. This workshop will focus on methods to increase your chance of success and, in turn, your enjoyment.  It is designed for the serious beginner with painting experience and the intermediate level painter wanting further experience.

We begin with a presentation on the fundamentals for creating strong paintings: working with colour, values, shape and form, linear and areal perspective, and composition.  We will build the habit of strong advanced planning. We will cover equipment and supplies.

I will demo in either water-mixable oil or acrylic and we will do exercises together.  Each afternoon you will work on you own with supervision focusing on subject selection, planning and making a strong start. We learn through repetition – for plein air that means many small paintings repeating the process until it becomes a habit - and good painting is built on good habits. 

Thursday 3 September 2015

Three Day Acrylic Workshop - April in Pemberton

Three Day Brian Buckrell Acrylic Workshop 

LocationLazy S Ranch Studio – Pemberton, B.C.

April 8, to 10 2016

This three day acrylic workshop will  expose students to different approaches for planning and developing an acrylic landscape painting. The course  is designed for the serious beginner (with acrylic experience) to the intermediate painter interested in alternative approaches.

We will work from the same references provided.  The first morning we will  review/discuss  the  principles of value, form, perspective and composition. We will paint together the rest of the weekend.  We will plan using shape and value sketches and discuss best compositional choices. Each "start"  will be made with a different approach- in each case building on  value. We will develop the paintings together stroke by stroke, glaze by glaze. We will stop as we go to critique and adjust/correct - and make a final critique to consider and other choices we could have made to make the  piece stronger.

Should be fun.


Enrollment is limited to 12 participants.  Time: Days one and two 9-5, Day three 9-3.

Supply list will be sent.

The studio is located 17km North of Pemberton, B.C. and 45 minutes north of Whistler. It is a 50-acre farm in the Pemberton Meadows area of Pemberton. The studio is a new, 1150 square foot, commercially lit space with a full kitchen and bathroom. There is ample parking.

If you are looking for accommodation there are a number of options available. Google the Lillooet River Lodge, Pemberton Valley Lodge, or The Spotted Raven B&B. There are also other hotels and B&Bs in Pemberton. Do not stay in Mount Currie as it is too far away. Whistler is a 40 minute drive from the studio.

 The 3 Day WS cost is $365 plus GST  $18.25= $383.25

A $50 deposit is required to hold your spot. Full payment is required by March 1, 2016. If you cancel after March 1st a full refund will be given if your spot can be filled from the waiting list.
Please call or email with questions. 

For questions or to register:

Susie Cipolla

Cell: (604) 905-9782  Landline:  (604) 894-1887.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

New Use for Acrylic Markers

I am a big proponent of acrylic markers - any of the brands seem fine but recently I have been using the Molotow and really liking them. I use mostly the 2-4mm tips. Have a drawer full of wider ones that never get used. I use them mostly for laying in an initial plan - acrylic or oils- or for making corrections and trying ideas during the acrylic critique.

Today I am framing some pieces to send off. A few have scratches on the frames - dark brown/black and goldish frames. I have been using a commercial repair product to correct these scratches. Never been really happy  with the colour match and they leave a glossy lacquer patch of finish where used making the repair quite visible.

I just tried my acrylic markers. Wow!  Easier, faster and was able to blend as needed. Best repair jobs I have done.

Love'em .

Friday 28 August 2015

Landscape Fundamentals Workshop - What I learned

Just finished four days conducting a workshop Fundamentals for Landscape Painters at the Gibsons Art Center in Gibsons B.C. Designed for what I call "serious beginner' and intermediate painters wanting a refresher in the fundamental principles of building strong landscape paintings. I take learning the fundamental principles seriously : colour, values, shape and form, perspective, observation, composition and self critique .  Creativity follows. Students are sent a set of notes for reading in advance of the class - making sure we all on a "level playing field" in our theoretical knowledge.

I start each day reviewing the essential elements of each the sections. We normally follow that with a series of exercises related to the section - colour mixing, mixing values, controlling saturation etc. Then I demo and students spend the rest of the day working on their own pieces under supervision. Of course we also cover equipment, supplies, and the other basics and discuss practical questions. I have followed this format for several  4 or 5 day workshops and things have gone reasonably well and I have received positive feedback.

I planned the same format for this workshop. It was a mixed group; from a very experienced painter ( but new to acylics) to a nice mix of experience with lots of energy and enthusiasm. The challenge helping 15 people working on different subjects and with different painting goals takes a lot of time - which one does not have most days. So  at the end of day one I decided to change my format. For the next two days my demo was conducted as a " paint - with - me" format. We discussed the reference together, created value plans together with pencil and pad and worked set by step together through the painting. And as I paint " indirectly" with acrylics  it enabled the students to try each step along with me; stroke, glaze, scumble etc. . We took the paintings into the normal state of chaos then worked through and out of it together. The response was very encouraging - the results surprised me.  With every one  following me step by step and from the same reference we had 15 unique and quite wonderful pieces. I was delighted and I think many of the group were as well - I think they even surprised themselves at what they accomplished. So the group wanted to repeat the process the next day, this time building on a black gesso support. And again the results surprised me, and interesting, once again,  they each had a unique style which was similar to the day before - their own artistic personalities showing through. I think the two most satisfying workshop days for me in a long time.

The final day students painted on their own with supervision. The timidity, even fear, that was evident day one with many was gone.  Happy instructor.

I plan to build other workshops on that " follow me" approach.

Quick Demos used

Just some examples - notice the wonderful unique results

I also learned I have to be clearer and stronger about equipment in my supply list. Some in the class were working with only small brushes and had little variety - mostly brights 1/2  inch or less. It really limits them and the kind of marks they can make and the work that results.

" It creeps in with insidious ease when using a too-small or same-size brush throughout, and when over-rendering, over-detailing, over-focusing or hanging onto things."  Sara Genn

The palettes were the other issue. My recommendation was Stay Wet Palette for holding paint and  glass for mixing.  Many worked on disposable palette paper. I am OK that but it needs to be used as indicated - disposable. Some used the same piece over and over. Even on glass if its not clean and fresh paint is mixed over dried paint, the lower dried paint with be re-activated and affect the colour and bring dried chunks into the new mix. Learning to mix well on a clean surface is critical. Trying to make transparent glazes from a palette that has opaque paint on it is impossible. Squeezing out small dobs of paint as needed instead of having a full palette squeezed out and ready to mix from. Equipment is critical - bring the right stuff or its almost not worth showing up - its just that important.

Next workshops, each three days,  Coast Collective, Victoria, in February and in Pemberton in March.

Saturday 22 August 2015

Brian Atyeo Workshop

Brian Atyeo Demo - piano player

Its been a busy summer. We sold our Comox home, purchased a home in Courtenay, just a few km away, and a summer home in Collingwood Ontario. We have moved  into Courtenay, have gotten settled in and built a new studio and work area. In September we head back to Ontario for a few months to furnish our home - and make a small studio there. In the middle of all the confusion Cathy and I took the RV to Alberta where I took a five day workshop with the great east-coast acrylic painter Brian Atyeo.

I have admired the inventive nature of Brian's work and was pleased to be able to attend. The workshop was held at River Rock Studio near Cochrane. The facilities were excellent and owners very hospitable. The workshop is advertised as advanced and all the students were accomplished artists many who had taken one of his workshops before.

Not quite sure how to describe our week. Never taken a workshop like it. Brian is an outstanding inventive  artist that makes his acrylics spin . and he spent the week making my head spin. He is the most indirect painter I have ever seen , layer over layer, opaques over transparent, multiple layers of glazes . He seems to spend as much time thinning and removing paint with his paper towels as he does apply it.  And he uses soft brushes :  hogs hairs, and softer synthetic acrylics, and large inexpensive brushes from Lee Valley .

I can't begin to describe Brian's demos so I have just added a grouping of images for two of them. You can enlarge by clicking on them He starts with a big loose value idea, then colourful washes then starts to shape with opaques, layer after layer, just when you think it might be done, he glazes down again introducing a new colour, then back to the opaques to  carve shapes. Exhausting to watch .

Poor photo but great end to the demo

Brian is a passionate fan of jazz and is well know for his jazz abstracts

Brians paintings are generally simple subjects completed in a complex indirect, multi layered approach making the final piece unique and interesting.
He is an excellent instructor and I highly recommend his workshop for a different and more complex approach to working with acrylics.

The first paintings we did were to be done as we normally paint. I used my normal approach and firm angular acrylic brushes. A fast lay-in from memory of a previous Whistler painting 24x24. Brian encouraged me to change to softer brushes and be looser in my approach and focus more on value and less on colour. So thats how I spent the week - large pieces, starting with bold loose value plan, shapes, layers of glazes and shapes carved by opaques.

At the end of the week after days of Brian's encouragement my approach to the same subject yielded a softer product toned with multiple glazes

So we headed home to pack and arrange our move. Any painting I did was trying to work with the recommendations Brian gave me. I found my time very frustrating - post workshop blues as I described in an earlier post. I found the changes difficult but persevered and think I have added useful new skills to my tool kit .  Gradually the " me" in my work started to return but modified and hopefully strengthened by Brian's ideas. Some of my pieces during that period: softer brushes, multiple glazes, opaque application and wipe off to the underpainting, and patience patience patience.

Tomorrow I am off to Gibson BC to begin a four day workshop on the Fundamentals for Acrylic Landscape Painters. Looking forward to that. 

Next BC workshops  will be in Victoria in February and Pemberton in March. I have just scheduled a four day plein air workshop in Collingwood Ontario for next June. Details will be on my website.

Saturday 9 May 2015

Rescheduled October Workshop Coastal Collective

We recently purchased a summer home in Collingwood Ontario. Thats where our sons and their families live. We are looking forward to taking possession of it. Unfortunately, we cannot take possession until mid fall. So it is necessary  to postpone the workshop scheduled for late October at Coast Collective in Victoria. The workshop will now be held February 20/21.

The workshop is already well subscribed so I feel badly making the change. I hope most will be able to reschedule and join me in February.

Approaches to Acrylic Landscape Paintings 

Next schedule:  Coastal Collective   February 20/21 2016

This workshop is designed to expose students to three different approaches to starting and developing acrylic landscape paintings.  Students will be provided reference for a coastal landscape, a seascape and a mountain scape. We will work together to plan, design and develop each painting as far as time permits. Each will be started using a different approach:  
  1. by creating a value under-painting using dark transparent paint; 
  2. beginning on a dark umber or black ground; and
  3. beginning on a brightly toned canvas. 
Emphasis will be on planning, design, working with values and colour, critiquing our work, and finally making the paintings "stand on their own", free of reference. 

The workshop is for serious beginners, with experience in working with acrylics, to intermediate painters wanting to try different approaches.

Hopefully you will go home with three good "starts" to which you can add finishig touches

Wednesday 8 April 2015

More Large Stiff Brushes with WM Oils on Burnt Umber

Continuing to experiment with smaller oils sketches using stiff Legato brights in large sizes: 1 1/2, 1 and 1/2 inch. Working with WM oils and odorless solvent on linen or canvas mounted on 1/8 inch doorskin and treated with Liquatex Burnt Umber Gesso - sizes 8x10 to 11x14. I have been experimenting with this combination off and on for a couple of weeks and really starting to feel comfortable and confident.

What I am enjoying is the combination forces simplification and abstraction . I also like the angular strong brushstrokes. The stiff brushes mix the oils thinly for the first layers - something I have had a problem with - and can be used to lay on thicker oils on later layers.

I have found that opaque oils, particularly titanium white, does not cover the dark underpainting as easily as the acrylic does.