Diving Back in to a "Finished" Painting


Often, as I’m working on a painting, I’ll get to a point where I think I’m done, and I pull the tape off and share it, feeling pleasantly happy.  I’m a genius!  I can do no wrong!  It’s the best I’ve ever done!  Hahahaha!

Of course, as I’m sure you can guess, later on, sometimes a day or a few hours later, sometimes a few weeks, I’ll come back to the painting and see the work with clean eyes.  This is usually because I’ve taped it to the wall of my studio (aka, what used to be our dining room), where I can pass by it and assess it repeatedly over time.  I’ll note what I like, for sure, but I’ll also see the deficiencies in composition, structural issues, little missed opportunities, etc. 

It's really the family's art room.  Tasha puts up her stuff too! :)  kat has her knitting and candlework supplies in here too.

It's really the family's art room.  Tasha puts up her stuff too! :)  kat has her knitting and candlework supplies in here too.

This “gallery-style” set up is incredibly useful for self-assessment, because I can see pieces from different distances, and in relation to other works of mine.  Sometimes, I leave it alone and accept it for what it is, deficiencies and all.  These pieces often then come down and get stored or sold.  They’re “complete”.  But there are also definitely times when I take a painting down and get to work on it again.


In this example from Barcelona, I knew just what I wanted to do and the surgery was minor.  This approach is almost always to push a highlight in a focal area, to tidy up a crooked line, to add a high chroma pop, or darken up a small area.  These are the sorts of things that don’t take long, but are a clear part of the “story of the painting”.  Here, I recognized I really wanted to repeat that clear, well-lit streetlamp in the distant midground.  Next to it was a footbridge, and in the reference photo a section of it was lit- a feature I liked because I felt it helped draw the eye and open up a blank, dark area. If you poke around, you’ll notice other little pops of light and dark I added here and there.  These sorts of things are minor in terms of scale but can really build a sense of depth and light. 

However, there are also examples where I really don’t care for the original piece, in which case I dig in and re-work the painting.  Here’s a painting I did from Granada, where I practically coated the center area with white, pushing highlights and drastically altering the composition. 

When I work like this, the goal is not to create a finished piece.  Instead, the work is used as an exploratory template for the next time I paint the subject.

Here, I took that original piece, and used the re-working I did to guide this second painting.  It’s better I think, but after I was done I still wasn’t satisfied.  Granada was very quiet at certain times of day, but even so, the painting lacked a bit of life.  I added the people after the fact, to explore the idea of their inclusion. Once I went there, I knew the piece would never work on its own- I was destroying it to figure out what I wanted to do next.  If I paint it again, I’ll plan on their inclusion from the get-go and add some cleaner colors to stretch the composition and open up that dull area.


In this third piece, after I “finished” painting (ha!) I came back and saw that I had lost that soft, undulating, dappled light I was looking for- the kind you get on pristine new snow.  I knew I was going to have to paint it again, if I was ever going to create a piece I was satisfied with, so after I was all done, and it was taped to the wall for a day or two, I took it back down and set about pretty ruthlessly carving out my whites.  All those bits on the snow are what I’m talking about.  Of course, the brushwork is pretty chunky, but if I back up and squint my eyes, my opinionis it’s better- the dark/light shapes are more integrated and the foreground has a much more dynamic ground plane.  That tells me I’m on the right path, and that I need to preserve these whites in the future.

In the end, however, it all really starts with finding a place where I can keep my “finished” work up and available for viewing and comparison.  This has had many unexpected benefits, and has provided a space (literally) where I've been allowed to learn how to view and critique my own work (and for others to engage in the critiquing too!).  This kind of thinking process, combined with the fact that I’m ok blowing up a painting I’ve completed to better see what I’ll do next, has been very informative for me and is a regular part of my practice.  If others have similar (or alternate) working processes, I'd be curious to hear about them.

Upcoming Summer Workshops


I am going to be teaching two two-day workshops this summer at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery.  Both workshops will run from 900-400, with a 1 hour break for lunch in the middle.  We'll be working indoors at the gallery, so you'll need your paints, paper, brushes, backing, etc, but no need for plein air equipment.  I'll bring some coffee in the morning, but you'll need to bring your lunch or pick up something at one of the many tasty downtown locations.

If you're interested in participating, you can reach me through the Contact page here on the website to reserve your spot and make a payment.  Space is limited to 8 students, so it'll be intimate.  Sign up early and often!  :D Hahaha!


Loosening Up With Wet-Into-Wet Flowers!

Mon-Tues, June 26-27, 900 am- 400 pm at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery

Not only are flowers beautiful and lively, but they’re also a great tool for exploring and learning about wet-into-wet work.  We’ll spend two days painting bouquets, of course, but we'll also be learning about the Watercolor Clock and the Artist’s Color Wheel, experimenting, and playing fast and loose with edges.  Even if you don't normally paint flowers, if you’ve been intimidated by wet-into-wet work and wish your paintings would loosen up, this is a good class for you to explore the subject and have fun! 

Price- 200$



Loosening Up With Gorgeous Clouds!

Mon-Tues, July 24-25, 900 am- 400 pm at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery

This class can be taken on its own or as a follow up to the class on florals.  Taken in sequence, these two classes will help you build your wet-into-wet skills.  Taken on it's own, you'll be introduced to a number of new approaches.  Clouds are often intimidating, but we’ll be exploring how to build your paintings so you can control the water when you need to and really let it loose at other times. We’ll build on what we learned in the last class, coming back to the Watercolor Clock and the Artist’s Color Wheel, as well as explore new techniques like pouring, lifting, and glazing.  Help yourself gather the tools and techniques you’ll need to teach yourself more in the future!

Price- 200$

Wet Into Wet Flowers

Something new I've been working on for the last few months is wet-into-wet flowers.  I'll have a selection of these up at the Open Studios this weekend, and I wanted to share some of them today.  As I've pushed into more complex compositions, one of the things I've really had to struggle with is tightening up and getting too controlled.  Just because you can more often control things doesn't necessarily mean you should.  Part of the joy, to me, of a beautiful watercolor is watching the dance between precision and abandon.  These florals have been a wonderful re-entrance into that dynamic.

It started when I was introduced to Raoul Dufy's florals by a friend of mine.  These paintings have a loose-limbed sort of charm to them.  They're mellow and paint "outside of the lines". 

They're not realistic, but that's also not their intent.  He's not building form through modeling.  For many of the images, value shift is also not that great, so that's also not how he's building his shapes.  Instead, they rely heavily on shape as defined by color, as well as playful explorations of line.  These two things do a lot of the heavy lifting in a graphic sort of way.  I found this intriguing and interesting, and set about exploring how I could bring this in to my own work.

My earlier attempts followed pretty directly in the vein of Dufy, but I slowly began to explore stronger contradictions of wet versus dry.  I'm pretty sure Dufy's flowers are all oils, and as I'm working in watercolors, there wasn't going to be any 1 to 1 relationship.  Bit by bit, I tried to see how I could apply the approach to other compositions (like the rose on the rock below).

Of course, honesty is something I pride myself on here on the blog, so it's worth saying that along the way there were lots of mess ups.  I'd get an ok one or two, and then bottom back out again.  This is almost always what it's like when I'm learning a new subject.  I threw a number in the trash right from the get go, but these ones give you a sampling.  As always, there's only one way to learn, so messing up frequently and regularly is important in the early stages!  :DAs long as you're giving them a critical eye...


As is often the case, it took about 15 paintings or so before I felt like I had a handle on what I wanted to do.  What became obvious to me was that the vases were critical to reading the rest of the bouquet, much like how tires make the form of a car a car, or windows make a box a house.  If I wanted freedom in one area (flowers), I needed precision in another (vases and the rim of the water line, for example).  They play off of each other and work in tandem.  I became more judicious in the first film of water I lay down, preserving my whites for the vases before I set about more randomly wetting (or not wetting) the rest of the paper.  Once my initial applications of color (deliberately) exploded around the preserved whites, I slowly worked my way into more clarity and precision as the paper dried.  Finally, at the end, I went in for my line work and chiseled out a few details on the flowers and vase- essentially, a lot of that linework I really like in the earlier Dufy paintings.

Painting flowers this way is a funny thing.  The goal is to keep them loose, but you also need to be able to read them.  Much as the vase, like a key, is critical to unlocking the whole image, being able to chisel a flower down to its essentials is important.  Roses have a pattern of folding, Tiger Lillys have a spotted pattern and their prominent stamens and pistils, certain flowers have a rigid branching structure, etc.  So, while one wants to be loose, and that's part of the charm of wet into wet for sure, you also need to zero in on some certain parts and take your time.  This is where both preserving your whites and indulging in Dufy's rambunctious line work really come into play. These two things help you carve forms out the wet into wet work.  Once you get your technique down, this is really the next step- where do you want to focus your attention? Where do you want to let it be loose? 


What was particularly interesting to me was how important negative painting became.  Many of the flowers are a pale value, and with soft wet edges, they can disappear.  As things began to dry, it became clear I needed foliage popping up behind petals here and there, to define my shapes.  You can see this clearly on the Easter Lilly above, where the pink blossom is very much given form by the leaves around it. 

Of course, it was lots of fun to go out shopping for flowers!  I went down to the farmers market and got 20$ worth, and over the next week I spent a great deal of time rearranging them, making different bouquets in different kinds of vases, and taking a lot of photos in different lighting situations.  I also painted a great deal from life.  Something that became clear pretty quickly was that adding more and more flowers and color is not necessarily better.  Leaving some space allows for pockets of light to come through, helping shapes to become incidentally clearer.  Adding grasses and other linear elements in is also a helpful and fun touch.  Their long sinuous lines play against the fat round shapes of the flowers and leaves.

As you can see in this last bunch, I decided the next step was to move into shadow work, where I could let an occasional hard-edged leaf play against its soft cast shadow.  I also thought it would help to place them in space, and give a sense of directionality for the light.  Next time, I'll be dropping in a background wash before I get going on the vase, to complete a sense of space.  For now, though, there's a charm in the simple white background that I like.  It allows the flowers and grasses to be placed with freedom.

Upcoming Events Reminder!!

Benicia Open Studios- Sat &Sun, May 6-7, 10-5

This is a follow up reminder that I'll be participating in the Benicia Open Studios this weekend.  The Open Studios run Saturday and Sunday, from 10-5.

I'll have work in two places.  I'll be down at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery most of the weekend, where I'll have a substantially larger selection of additional pieces up for sale.  This will include a number of new Kauai pieces, in anticipation of my show at the Benicia Umpqua bank.  The gallery is located 307 1st St, Benicia, CA 94510.  I'll also have a pop up tent on Jackson St, where I'll be featuring a variety of my wet-into-wet florals for sale.  My wife will generally be manning (womaning?!?!) that location.

You can find out more about the 2017 Benicia Open Studios here- https://artsbenicia.org/benicia-open-studios-2017/


FreshWorks Reception, Sat, May 6, from 130-300

I have a painting in this show, and I was lucky enough to be chosen to go on the front of their postcard!  :D

Fresh Works 2017 postcard.jpg


Show at the Umpqua Bank- "Kauai- From Clouds to Sea' Thurs May 11, 500-700

This is a solo show I'm having at the Umpqua Bank.  I'll have a variety of Kauai paintings up, from 1/2 sheets (15" x 22") up to big elephant sheet paintings (41" x 30").  All are for sale.  We'll have hors d' oeuvres and wine.  Should be a good time!  :)  Come and oooh and aaah at the paintings!  The Umpqua Bank is located at 1395 E 2nd St, Benicia, CA 94510.