Did you ever look at a painting and say, "How do they DO that??" Well here's your chance to see. This is a step by step record of my progress (and missteps) as I painted one of my latest.
"Follow Me" is a scene from St. Petersburg, a beautiful city on Tampa Bay that attracts retirees from around the world. I wanted to capture the chic, laid-back vibe of a Saturday morning on Beach Boulevard.
Not A Piece of Cake
When I look at these images of my progress it looks so easy and straightforward! But with each step I consider multiple options for form, line, value, and intensity. I ask myself, "Does this part work? Does it work with the rest of the painting?"
When I think I'm finally finished, I put the painting away for about a week so I can look at it with a fresh eye and make final adjustments. Then all that's left is the signature and a coat of varnish. And on to the next painting!
What are Your Plans?
Do you have travel plans? Are you going to any wonderful cities with great museums? Museum visits are always on our travel must-see list, and we plan our vacation around them.
But what about planning the museum visit itself? Do you actually have a plan? Or are you like I used to be, just expecting to show up and see everything possible until you drop?
But after visiting many museums, I realized that a little planning goes a long way. Here are my 10 favorite tips to make your visit more enjoyable and fulfilling.
1. Select just a few art museums per visit. We rarely do more than one museum a day. Buy tickets ahead of time to avoid the line.
2. Wear comfortable shoes and bring an extra layer. I bring a super light shopping tote that holds my essentials and I leave everything else in my regular tote in the cloakroom. Lugging my regular travel tote around with a guidebook, camera, etc. for hours is fatiguing.
3. Read up about the museum and look into their special exhibits. It really helps if you aren't starting from zero.
4. Research the best time to start. Usually this is first thing in the morning before the crowds get there. Plan to visit must-see exhibits first and then fill in your time later with whatever strikes your fancy.
5. Be realistic about how long you'll last. We're really only good for two hours or so before we need a break. We like to get to the museum when it opens, visit the special exhibit first, then stop for lunch. Many museums have great cafeterias that are a welcome respite to refresh, refuel, and think about what you've seen. After lunch we might be good for another hour. Or not.
In the Museum
1. Get the audio guide. It's almost always worth the price and sometimes it's fabulous. I love audio guides because I can go at my own pace and only view what I want. The guides give so much more context to the artwork that just reading the labels.
2. Don't try to see everything. Give yourself time to experience the few pieces that you are really drawn to and understand why it affects you. For a few really special artwork, give yourself a lot of time. If I can find a bench to sit on while I do this, I'm in heaven.
3. For thoughts on what makes an object a worthy of a place in a museum see my blog post Why Is That Art?.
4. When your visit is over, celebrate by buying something at the gift store. Really! It will give you a fun memento and it supports the museum. Win-win!
5. Afterwards, allow time to digest and discuss the art with your travel partner. Art is even more interesting when you can experience it from another perspective.
What are your favorite museum-going tips? I'd love to hear!
Paintings By An Introvert
From my very first paintings, my work has almost always included people which is kind of strange because I am a major introvert. You would think I would paint lonely buildings and solitary people like Edward Hopper, but I prefer more happiness and activity in my paintings, plus I like the challenge of painting the human form.
I feel that people add life and interest to my work. The shape and orientation of the human body depicts energy and emotions, even without clear facial expressions. And the combination of the figure's movement and body language contribute a story to a landscape that would otherwise be static.
My Favorite Things
So when I travel I'm always on the lookout for people to photograph, especially people in groups who are interacting. It doesn't take much, maybe a glance or a tilt of the head to say that one person is listening to the other.
I do have favorite things I like to include in a painting. I look for people in motion; walking, running, or on a bike. I love hats, interesting bags, suitcases, and anything red. I especially like scooters, motorcycles, and people walking dogs. I do sometimes show people with cellphones, because they are ubiquitous. But cellphone use tends to be an isolating activity, so I am judicious about including them in my paintings.
I tend to avoid painting facial expressions. This is because I want to keep the face as simple as possible to make the people more generic and maintain the focus on the overall story.
I like the interplay of figures in their urban environment. I find myself wondering; do they live there or are they visiting? What are they thinking? How are they experiencing the city? I find that having figures in a painting encourages the viewer to imagine themselves there and experience the scene more fully.
I enjoy the challenge of capturing people in my photographs and using them to enliven my paintings, and I continue to look for ways to tell interesting stories in beautiful cityscapes.
Thanks for reading! What are your favorite cities that I should visit next?
She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and then in 1865 she convinced her family to send her to Paris. There she took private lessons from academic painters since women were not allowed to study at the School of Fine Arts. Although her European art education was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war, she was later able to live in Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Holland and study the works of European masters, as well as learn from local experts. She eventually settled in Paris, where her work was regularly shown at the Salon.
The American Impressionist
In 1877 Edgar Degas asked her to join the group of independent artists that were later to be know as the Impressionists. She exhibited in four of their eight exhibitions.
Cassatt was influenced by all the avante guard artists, especially by Degas, who would become a mentor. However she developed her own style and subject matter, painting scenes that related to the world of upperclass women of her era; tending to children, socializing, reading, and going to parks, cafes, plays, and the opera.
I am especially drawn to the work of Mary Cassatt because of her insightful paintings of people. She was a master in both pastel and oil. Her canvases show a mass of loose brushwork that convey a sense of movement and life, but at the same time her figures seem both solid and three dementional.
Mary Cassatt never married and had no offspring, but she clearly had an understanding of the special bond between mothers and their children, which became a specialty for her. These portraits are tender and warm, depicting intimate everyday moments without sentimentality.
In the late 1800's Japanese woodblock prints became available and were very popular for their artistic merit and their novelty. In 1890 after seeing an exhibition of Japanese prints, Cassatt began to work on a series of etchings and aquatints that have a distinctly Japanese feel. She experimented with designs that cropped and flattened the subject, creating dynamic compositions with interesting negative space. (Negative space is the shape created by the subject against a background.)
Another reason I admire Mary Cassatt's work is her use of bold, painterly brushstrokes and varying patterns and textures that support the figures in her paintings. In the painting above the textured upholstery contrasts with the girl's frilly dress, the smooth carpet, and the plaid sash and socks, while the shapes of the chairs move the viewer's eye around the painting.
In this painting I love the soft enigmatic features of the women as well as the beautifully rendered silver tea service. The texture of the wall, chair, and chair fabric all support the strong figures and convey the feeling of a comfortable bourgeois household.
A Trailblazing Artist
Mary Cassatt was a master painter in a time when it was extremely difficult for a woman to be educated in art, be financially successfully as an artist, and receive acclaim for her work. The fact that she was able to do all three is a testament to her determination, drive, and vision.
You can read more of this "My Favorite Artists" blog series here: John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, Joaquín Sorolla, Fairfield Porter, Tim Horn, David Hockney.
Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your comments.
Short and Sweet
As my husband will tell you, impatience is my middle name. So before I click on a video I check the run time. If it's longer than two minutes I move on. I use the same philosophy when I create my own videos. I want my them to be short and watchable.
For this one I wanted to record my painting of "Late Light", start to finish. However--due to the hours of work involved in this 36" x 36" painting--that would have taken a lot of time to view, even with the magic of time lapse photography.
So I've condensed it to make it easy to see the progress on the painting without watching every brushstroke. This is a scene in late afternoon on Avenue Emile Zola in Paris. I really wanted to capture the sense of the strong golden light and the long shadows.
Enjoy the video!
Go Big or Go Home
Other artists often ask me how I paint so loosely. And I tell them my secret; use big brushes! Really. That's it.
But that's not what they want to hear; they say "I've tried that". Well, it is difficult. Forcing yourself to use large brushes means you must edit what you are painting; you have to omit small details in favor of larger statements that define the most important shapes, angles, and proportions. That's the real challenge.
That's the next question. The short answer is, "the biggest you can deal with." For the long answer I've diagrammed the brushes I used on two recent paintings. To understand the proportion of the brush sizes, know that these paintings are 36"x36", and that my brushes vary in width from a #12 (1" wide) down to a #4 (1/4" wide). The brushes I use most often are #10 (3/4" wide) and #8 (5/8" wide). By the way, the width of a brush is measured at the ferrule, the metal part, not at the bristles, which can splay.
Natural vs. Acrylic
You might notice that I have two types of brushes; the green handled ones are natural bristle brushes (Grand Prix by Silver Brush) and the blue handles are acrylic bristle brushes (Bristlon by Silver Brush). I like the natural ones for large brushes; they hold a lot of paint and give me a soft edge to my stroke. I like the acrylic for small brushes. They have stiffer bristles with lots of spring which gives me a lot of control and a sharp edge to my stroke. (See this blog post to learn more about how I select and care for my brushes.)
Step Away From Those Small Brushes
I do have to work on using big brushes. If I find my self reaching for my #4 too often I know I'm getting stuck in fussy details which is not what I want for my paintings. So I stand back to evaluate my canvas and determinedly pick up a bigger brush.
I hope this has been helpful. I'd love to hear your comments!
My New Thing
I've taken on a new artistic medium – film! I've always wanted to make videos so that I could share the process of creating a painting, but I was intimidated about the effort required to learn a completely new skill. However, recently I had the opportunity to study the basics of creating and editing video, so I took the plunge and created my first video, "Cafe de Flore: the Beginning"
How I Did It
For this first video, I used my iPhone to record a few painting sessions in stop-motion. Then, using iMovie software, I spliced them together with still frames of the painting at different stages. Then I added music, a voice-over, and a few other bells and whistles that I learned about.
That sounds very simple, doesn't it? Well, it wasn't. At every step I was stymied by things that didn't work the way I thought they should, and things I didn't understand. The whole process took waaaay longer than I expected.
But I persisted. I went to the Apple store twice to take classes on iMovie (those guys are great). I asked friends for comments on my work. And I let go (mostly) of all the little things that are still wrong about this video.
Putting It All Together
I do wish I hadn't been working on a painting that is just greys. But that was what was on my canvas at the time and I was itching to start. And now I can share with you the final painting in full color, which shows the result of those early grey planning layers.
I really enjoyed making and editing this video and I plan to do more. Please stay tuned.
Also, I'd love to hear your comments below. Thanks.
I'm constantly tweaking my palette. I'll add a new color that gives me a hue I couldn't mix before or delete something I'm no longer using, but I've kept the same general palette for years.
However, a while ago I replaced almost all of my colors at the same time. This allowed me to change the look of my paintings and more easily mix a wide range of lighter values Here's what happened.
My First Palette of Colors
When I began painting I focused on portraits. The traditional portrait palette is composed of mineral pigments (see explanation below), with colors primarily selected to be able to mix skin tones and include a wide range of reds, yellows, and browns, along with a few blues.
You'll notice that there are no secondary colors on this palette; no oranges, violets, or greens. In order to have more control I tend to mix those colors from my primary colors (red, yellow and blue) instead of buying secondary tube paints.
I used the above palette for many years, making slight variations when I began to paint landscapes and genre paintings.
The Big Switch
Then I heard about a new line of colors offered by Gamblin, my favorite brand of paints. Gamblin assembled a range of their modern organic pigments (see explanation below). These pigments are much more intense than what I had been working with and they retain their intensity when mixed with white.
For each color, Gamblin created a new companion tint, which they call Radiant Colors. Which just means they offered a tube of that color mixed with a lot of white.
What's on My New Palette
Look to the bottom left of the above palette. The dark pile is Phalo Turquoise, and to the right of it is a puddle with some added white to better show the hue. Above it is a pile of Radient Turquoise, which is simply tinted Phalo Turquoise, meaning it has a lot of added white. Moving clockwise from through to the yellows, you can see all my paints and their corresponding tints. On the right side are greys and Titanium White.
What's so exciting about mixing a paint with white?
Well, these modern colors are so strong its difficult to make a light color without overshooting the mark and wasting paint. Having the tints of each color already mixed allows me to make light colors more precisely and is a big time and paint saver.
What This Means For My Paintings
You can see the difference between the two palettes in the paintings above. The old palette, at left, has more earth tones, the brightest colors aren't very bright, and the neutrals tend to be muted.
With the new palette, on right, I can make very bright brights along with neutrals, like in the building and sidewalk, with a subtle range of colors. Even with only small touches of color, the painting feels very bright because of the intensity of the colors. Of course, neither one is better than the other. It's just a question of style and intent.
Changing an entire palette does take some getting used to. The new colors are really strong and can easily take over my painting, so I don't recommend them for beginners. While I'm still learning about what I can do with these new tools, I'm very pleased with the results so far and I'm having fun with it.
By the way, Gamblin Paint Company has lots of useful information on their website about paints and colors, including information on mineral and modern colors, and their line of Radiant Paints.
I'd love to hear from you. Please drop me a note below to let me know your thoughts on my new palette and if this post was useful.
There is a lot of work that I do behind the scenes before I ever put paintbrush to canvas. One of the most important steps for me is to create value studies. These are small sketches that I use to organize the main forms in the painting and decide the darkness and lightness of each shape. This is key to make the painting interesting and have it "read" instead of being a jumble of colors and forms.
I actually do two value studies. The first is 2" x 2" (top) where I greatly simplify the image to four or five main shapes, and assign values to each one. This forces me to decide on my focus and plan how the shapes and lines will lead the eye through the painting.
In the second value study, which is 4" x4", I add more detail to the sketch, and break it into three or four values. Everything in the sun is usually a light value and everything in the shade is either medium or dark value. This simplification results in a strong design and a clear statement.
Sometimes it's not easy to stay true to my original design statement as I paint. It's tempting to try to make things look true to life instead of forcing them to support the overall design statement. You can see I made a lot of changes to the foreground chairs and figures in order to make them stay in the shadows and not detract from the other elements.
In the second value study, I removed the middle big tree so that the lawn could run from left to right. I also saw that I would need to reduce the value range in the palace facade so that it could read as one unit and not be broken up. If i were to paint in all of the small, dark windows, it would detract from the flower urn and the figures. This sketch also made me realize that the flower urn would have to be darker than the palace, so that it could move forward and be readable.
I'm still working on this painting. You'll have to stay tuned to see how well I hold to my original design concept!
These value studies really help me organize my paintings and keep me from getting lost as I paint. I feel strongly that it is value that creates a compelling composition. However, people rarely comment on a painting's composition; instead they will rave about its colors. There is a saying among artists, "value does all the work and color gets all the credit." I think that is absolutely right!
People often ask me what style my paintings are, adding, "Is this Impressionism?" My answer is always, "I think of them as painterly, because they're realistic with strong brushwork.". But in all honesty, I'm not entirely sure about the difference.
So now is my chance to investigate the idea of Impressionism vs. Painterliness. For this post, I decided to focus on paintings that depict figures, since that is a large part of what I paint.
When I think of Impressionism, I think first of Claude Monet, and then all the rest of the impressionists including Berthe Morrisot, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissaro, Pierre-Aguste Renoir, and Paul Cezanne.
In general impressionists painted landscapes instead of genre paintings (with figures), but here are two excellent examples of impressionist figure paintings by Monet, left, and a detail of a painting by Morrisot, right.
Wikipedia says that impressionism is characterized by "relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light..., ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement..., and unusual visual angles."
You can see all these characteristics in the paintings above. Also note that the figures seem more shimmering than solid.
Now contrast those paintings with these by John Singer Sargent on the left and Joaquin Sorolla on the right. Where impressionistic paintings generally have small, overlapping brushwork with colors that blend visually, here there is more of a sense of a solid form, and the figures are is clearly, although loosely, defined. These artists use color, bold brushwork, and edges to model form. To me this feels painterly.
Wikipedia says "An oil painting is painterly when there are visible brushstrokes, the result of applying paint in a less than completely controlled manner, generally without closely following carefully drawn lines." Well, it may look uncontrolled, but I say these masters knew exactly what they were doing when they wielded that brush.
But then Wikipedia goes on to say "The Impressionists, Fauvist, and Abstract Expressionists tended strongly to be painterly movements." Huh?
So Impressionism is by definition painterly? But to me the brushwork and the result is very different! This article, from ThoughtCo.com, agrees with me and considers the two styles to be separate movements.
Well, let's move on.
And now we come to my work. I must admit, when I was considering writing on this subject, I didn't think that in doing so I would be putting my work alongside that of the masters, which is complete hubris. Oh well.
But I digress. If you do put my work next to the previous images, you'll see that my brushwork is more similar to the second group than to the first. I don't consider myself an impressionist because I do not use small brushstrokes juxtapositioned against each other to create the effects of light. I use larger brushstrokes of solid color to define form and create a sense of mass. I love the feel of laying down a juicy stroke of just the right color in just the right place to create the sense of an object in sunlight. That, for me is the magic of painting.
Impressionist or painterly painter? In researching this article, I learned that the answer is not clearly defined. Certainly many impressionist painters, like Mary Cassatt, Edouard Manet, and Edward Degas produced some work that seems more painterly than impressionistic by my definition.
In the end it's up to to the artist to define their style. I think my new answer will be, "Yes, my work can seem impressionistic, but I consider it to be painterly, because of the strong brushwork and solid forms." In fact, I think I'll write that on an index card for handy reference.
I'm Linda Hugues and I paint cityscapes from my travels in Europe and my home in Florida. Here on my monthly blog I write about everything related to my art life, in and out of the studio. Enjoy!