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 will admit I had never heard of Kupka before we saw his retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. He is credited as being one of the great pioneers of abstract art that emerged in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. This exhibition was a delightful surprise for its expansiveness, the quality and range of the work, and its insight into the development of the abstract art movement.
František Kupka began his artistic career in Vienna in the early 1890's. He worked as a graphic designer, creating hundreds of graphic works for newspapers and advertising. I was impressed by his deft depictions of the human body, his composition, and his portraiture.
Starting in 1907, while still continuing his figurative art, Kupka moved into a form of representation marked by assertive colors and a desire to depict movement, time, and space in new ways. His work from this period displays a delight in nature and a focus on new perspectives on the human form.
Soon his work began a transition from figurative to abstract art, with a continued emphasis on a sophisticated color vocabulary.
As Kupka became more and more dissatisfied with the attempt to record nature he moved wholeheartedly into abstraction. He aimed to create a new reality within the picture space itself without any outside references.
Kupka was passionate about architecture, science, and space, but even so, he wanted his paintings to be free of any references to reality or even scientific concepts. His work used circles, ovals, and spirals to order the canvas and to express the dimension of time. He designed his paintings based on a complex hierarchy of points, lines, forms and colors arranged in a highly symbolic composition.
They say that anticipation is half the fun, and that's definitely true for travel. Chris and I have a trip to Paris coming up in the next few months, so I'm starting my preparation. After years of traveling, I have lots of favorites in terms of guidebooks, suitcases, and the many little travel items that make a trip more enjoyable.
First off, I have my favorite suitcase, a Travelpro Rollaboard, which is the correct size for European planes. That means my bag won't have to be checked because it's oversized. We always carry on our luggage because we don't want to risk losing it, and we love not having to wait at baggage claim. Bringing a small bag means I really have to pack light, but it's worth it! I also have a medium sized Travelpro tote that's twenty years old and still going strong.
The most important thing about preparation, of course, is planning what we'll do. For European travel we love the Rick Steves' guides for learning about all the important sights and the lesser-known gems that are off the beaten track. His books are well written, concise, and fun to read.
To make the guides even more portable we take Rick's advice and, before we leave, cut out the part of the book we'll be using and just bring those sections. Then we're not lugging around the whole book. Brilliant!
We also do a lot of online research to find out about museums, art exhibits, music, and other events that may be going on. We have a tradition of going to see an opera whenever possible on our travels. It makes for a really special, memorable evening.
I also plan locations where I want to take photos for my work. Of course many of my photos are spontaneous shots that I find along the way, but I do like to identify cafés, parks, and sites that might provide photo ops of people enjoying themselves in beautiful settings.
To organize all that information, I have my husband, Chris, who is a whiz at combining all the activities we've identified into a optimized hour-by-hour spreadsheet that I load onto Evernote (we really are such nerds). We try to schedule only two big things a day, morning and afternoon, then plan walks, window shopping, or cafe sitting to fill in the rest of the day.
I am a list maker, so of course I make lists for what I'm going to pack. I'm big on layering and having everything work with everything else so I have lots of options, and not much laundry. Two things I always bring are sun hats (I'm big on sun protection) and scarves (I hate to be cold).
Finding a packable good-looking hat has become something of a quest. These are my current favorites. The top left is by Wallaroo, and the one on the right is by Hatch. Both are crushable.
I have also started a tradition of buying a scarf from my favorite scarf store in Paris, Diwali on Rue St. Louis en l'Île, the ritzy main street in the center of the Parisian island. The shop is always a pleasure to visit with its hundreds of beautifully displayed brightly colored scarves and accessories, and the shopkeeper is always très gentille!
Finally I pack my collection of items that make traveling easier and more enjoyable. From top, clockwise,
So there you have it! All – well most – of my hard-earned travel secrets! But I'm always ready to learn more. How do you make travel easier and more fun?
On our last visit to Europe, Chris and I were entranced by the city of Dresden, Germany, situated on a bend in the Elbe River near the border to Czechoslovakia. For centuries the city was the Saxony capital and the royal residence of the Saxon king. The castles and palaces of these kings together with the city's exquisite and monumental churches make the historic city center a treasure of Rococo and Baroque architecture.
For me, the most interesting architecture in Dresden was the beautiful Zwinger Palace, which served as orangery, exhibition gallery, and festival arena for the Dresden court. The palace complex, partially situated at the location of the 12th century city wall, is a series of rococo, baroque, and neoclassical buildings connected by galleries that enclose a green-space. It is especially pleasant to view the gardens from the raised walkway that runs above the galleries for the circumference of the palace.
Like much of the city center of Dresden, this palace was reduced to rubble after the catastrophic carpet bombing of the city by American and British forces during WWII. The massive rebuilding of the palace was begun by the Soviet government in 1945 and completed in 1963.
I was fascinated by this porcelain tile mosaic on the outer wall of the Dresden Castle. Called the Procession of Princes , or Fürstenzug, this 335 ft long artwork was originally created as a painting in 1871 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Wettin Dynasty, who were Saxony's ruling family. The mural shows portraits of the 35 electors, dukes, and kings of the House of Wettin in a procession on horseback. Later, in 1904, the painting was replaced with porcelain tiles, making this the largest porcelain mosaic in the world.
Dresden has many beautiful churches. Two of the most famous are the Katholische Hofkirche (the Dresden Cathedral, on the left), and the Frauenkirche Dresden (the Lutheran Church of Our Lady, on the right). I was inspired by the scope, complexity, and thoughtfulness of the rebuilding efforts of these treasures.
When I travel I love seeing beautiful architecture, especially when tourists and natives are enjoying the urban landscape and bringing it to life. I'm always on the lookout for scenes of people biking, relaxing, and dining outdoors together because this is often the basis for my paintings. After reviewing these photos, I'm itching to get started on some new canvases!
I hope you enjoyed my mini-tour of Dresden, and that you are inspired to visit this beautiful, historic city.
Union Square, Looking Up Park Avenue, 1975, oil on canvas
I have long admired Fairfield Porter's work for his ability to simplify and for his restrained and harmonious palette. So I was very pleased to find a small collection of his paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, especially since my experience with his work is mostly from books. I rarely see his originals in museums.
Self Portrait in Studio, 1968, oil on canvas
Fairfield Porter, 1907-1975, was a realistic painter during the mid-twentieth century when the art world was focused on Abstract Art, Pop Art, and Photo-realism. He was a painter of portraits, domestic scenes, and landscapes that show a relaxed, contemplative sensibility.
Portrait of Ted Carey and Andy Warhol, 1960, oil on linen
Sunrise on South Main Street, 1973, oil on canvas
I find his subtle color combinations especially beautiful. I also love how he simplified complex images like the one above, while creating a strong sense of light and place.
I was so happy to be able to visit this major retrospective of David Hockney's work at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I was familiar with his work and have always admired his color sense and his moody, enigmatic portraits. Most of his work is very large, so I knew that seeing his art in person would be a totally different experience from seeing it on the computer or in a book. I also wanted to get a sense of the artistic progression throughout his long career (he's now 80), and to understand his different influences and styles.
This iconic Hockney painting is one of his best known. In person it is bold and powerful. I love how he gave the feeling of water by simplifying shapes and colors. The light colors, dark shadows, and powerful reflected light create a scene shimmering in strong California sunlight.
This is the first of Hockney's double portrait series, which often showed couples in intense, emotionally ambiguous poses set in their homes.
Later Hockney switched to oil paint and created intensely colored landscapes of his native Yorkshire, England.
The artist often created very large paintings made up of many medium sized canvases, each taken from a slightly different perspective, as if one were to turn a bit to look to each side or up and down to see each individual view.
This painting, like many in his later years, plays with perspective. For instance, here the deck seems to both advance and recede at the same time.
Hockney was an early adapter of drawing on the iPhone and later the iPad. For years he has created small daily sketches of views from his house and of household still lifes and posted them to friends.
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!