The Latest

Using Color

For years I have been trying to figure out how to teach a good class on the use of color. Not about color theory (which is useless without being able to apply the concepts) but about the use of color. You see, I think most of us use color rather mindlessly. I mean that we give little thought to how might we deploy this element to service our artistic goals. And, to be fair, I can’t blame people for focusing on the technical aspect of this huge topic. It is extremely easy to become overwhelmed with all the technical information out there. Some friends of mine have used the verb “drown” when they talk about navigating the ocean of color supplies, advice, paraphernalia, terms, theory, research, and safety warnings about its use. But it should all boil down to this simple, es...[Read More]

The Teaching of Drawing

I didn’t really start to draw until I was in middle school. I wasn’t interested in making my drawings look realistic and no one in my family believed I had drawing talent until later on. What’s more important, if anyone had asked me to take a drawing class I would have said no. My handsome and very popular seventh grade art teacher was more interested in motorcycles. But then something happened that would change my life. I took an elective with another art teacher, someone who wasn’t as popular but who taught drawing strategies systematically, gave exercises and assignments, and most important, feedback. I still remember the day I discovered basic shapes, it was very much a “Hellen Keller” moment for me. After I discovered there was a visual language of ...[Read More]

A Setup For Every Need

There are as many setups as there are plein air painters. The plein air gear market has thrived in part because there is no “one size fits all” solution. The outdoor artist must research what’s out there and if nothing solves the problem, invent a solution. And what are the problems to be solved, you might ask? Ergonomics. Young and old painters alike have experienced the discomfort that comes with trying to adjust to equipment made for other people, not to speak of the repetitive motions performed while standing or sitting. Loosening or tightening wing nuts, opening and closing cam locks, pulling heavy carts along uneven terrain, and sitting on low camping chairs made for people under forty comes to mind. The weather. Here in the Bay Area, springtime brings strong, dry w...[Read More]

Starting The Year With Acrylics

In acrylic, happiness comes a bit faster. Robert Genn I will be teaching a class at the Richmond Art Center on Jan 11, “Acrylic Bag of Tricks.” In February, I will begin teaching a series of two workshops about painting acrylic still lives at the Frank Bette Center (Feb 24 and Mar 23). So I can rightfully say I will start the year with acrylics. But did you know that I did not start using acrylics until 2005? I did not receive instruction in it when I was in art school in the 1980s. Some instructors used acrylics back then, but they treated it like a lesser medium. If, as painter Andrew Hamilton says, “acrylic is the only painting medium that can be all mediums – it can act like watercolor, it can act like oils, and it has its own innate properties,” none of t...[Read More]

Thinking About Color

“I just start painting very excitedly and the last thing I think about is my palette. Most of the time, composition keep me so busy I completely forget about color.” “I feel like an outsider during visits to the art store. I must be the only person in the universe that does not know what colors to buy!” “My palette is so garish. Everything looks fine in the beginning but when I finish I see my colors are too bright for my taste.” Color is one of the dimensions of design that seems the most inscrutable. While almost everyone can appreciate size, texture and contrast, color perception is highly individual. To complicate matters, as humans we have developed a series of terms to discuss color that vary enormously from person to person. Then there’s col...[Read More]

Learning To Paint – On A Budget

Are you a painting student on a budget? Like most artists (except perhaps for Jim Carrey and George Bush) I am frugal with art supplies. Not only do their prices climb up every year, there’s no need to waste what I already have. Some students have asked me to describe my favorite tricks for saving money on supplies, and so I have decided to write about it in a tongue-in-cheek way. Where should we aim to cut costs? Ok. Let’s think of two kinds of learners. There is the student who is deciding whether painting is something they will like, and there is the student who already does a fair amount of painting during vacations, classes and workshops. If you are figuring out if painting is for you, keep it a secret. Don’t let your relatives or close friends pick out your gear or ...[Read More]

A Different Place Entirely

“A different place entirely” is how a painter friend described Meeker Slough in a blog entry. One of the locations I chose for our Plein Air Fridays class, the slough in my opinion deserves five stars as an East Bay painting spot. It is mostly accessible through the part of Richmond’s Bay Trail that borders the Marina Way development and perhaps because of that it feels far, far away. “An old mudflat channel along the Richmond Southeast Shoreline that became constrained from over 100 years of urban development starting in the late 1800s,” the slough used to be considered one of one of the ten most toxic spots in the Bay Area. Thanks to the cleaning efforts of UC Berkeley, it is possible to pass through without being significantly exposed to PCBs, arsenic, lead...[Read More]

Blake Garden Did Not Disappoint

Yesterday was our first Plein Air Fridays session at the Blake Garden. The day was beautiful and the temperature, perfect. This Berkeley garden did not disappoint those of us who were hoping for an afternoon free of cold wind and overcast skies. Everybody was on time and we met near the reflecting pool, where dappled light dotted the grassy area around it. After a demo on how to use a viewfinder and how start an acrylic painting, the students dispersed and I began making rounds. I forgot how much walking is involved when students are spread out. The Blake Garden spans ten acres! There are two spaces left in this class. Registration ends June 30.

A Fragrant Still Life

Several new students came to my studio on a Saturday morning to try their their hand at painting a still life with a beautiful flower arrangement. This was our first Free Painting Workshop of the year, a way for adult students who have never taken a class with me to check out my teaching and learn some painting basics. Some students were beginners and others experienced, but they all wanted to spend two hours making art in a relaxed mood. I was hoping to open one end of the studio so we could enjoy the sunshine, but we had fog instead. So we stayed inside, sitting a little closer than I would have expected, but having a lot of fun along the way. The flowers came from the garden of my student Margo Hackett. She gave me enough foxgloves, hydrangeas, nasturtiums, roses and sage flowers for fo...[Read More]

Blake Garden Delights

For our first visit to the Blake Garden, I thought I should talk about its enduring appeal to east bay painters. While the garden “contains a large diversity of plant materials that grow in our Mediterranean type climate” as well as “new and historic garden design and structures” I’ve long suspected this is not why artists flock to this enclosed space. It is more because, unlike other (and perhaps more) popular gardens in the area, this one packs a lot into a relatively small and it seems to have been designed with the plein air painter in mind. No, there aren’t a lot of benches, but there is plenty of shade near its most popular attractions, and a high number of secluded nooks and crannies where one may paint undisturbed. If to this you add that it lies...[Read More]

Acrylic is Perfect for Multimedia

We used a giant gel plate for experimental monotypes, and I have to say the colors are always much brighter than when we use block printing ink. The other big difference is that the results cannot be altered as acrylic is not water soluble. But these prints can become a background for play with other paint with watercolor or ink, for example. The gel plate was created using a variation of a recipe I found on the internet. 6 months and $150 later, I found the right combination of gelatin and glycerin and now share it with my students. I love gel plates, not just because of their sensitivity to textures but because they require almost no physical exertion. Pours on small canvasses are the happy experiments on which anyone can build a larger or more complex piece. I buy packs of these 9 x 12&...[Read More]

Acrylic Washes And Pours

Those who love texture will appreciate the point of enhancing it with specially-mixed acrylic washes. Learning to make this mix was the first part of our class. While there are many recipes for it on Your Tube, we were aiming to mix something that could be used in a variety of materials such as paper, molding paste or canvas. Our surface was heavy watercolor paper because this paper can take a lot of abuse. We scored it, sanded it and covered it with masking fluid. The texture and hues on the wash can serve as a beautiful background for a collage. Once the acrylic washes were applied with a spray bottle, we tilted it and let the excess pour on a mixing tub that had an inch of water. The second part of our class was devoted to learning how to mix the paint for a pour. This time we tried bot...[Read More]

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