From a tiny acorn-a blog grows

oak-acorn_webBlogging is a lot like exercising, you get benefits later and the work out now! A year ago I posted my fist effort and today I noticed that it is still one of the most viewed stories I have done. Is that encouraging or discouraging? Having spent the last two months building a .org site, (still not done) and feeling, at times like an old dolt, It gave me great pleasure to read an article about how we respond slower as we age because we have so very much more information to process (Article here).

So when I finished this little drawing above, I felt it fit this little story because of the age of oaks from the time of acorns, how many years they have stood and how wise they seem. Yes I know it is just a tree, but it is a universally accepted icon because wise old owls like to sit in them, right?

So as I work forward on my .org and work long on the .com I now feel more the acorn than the aged oak, and look more the oak than the acorn.

A Sand Bucket and the Writer’s Quill

Downstream results, a lesson learned from making movies.

Sunset in the late summer on Pismo Beach, a windy Southern California beach, casts shadows eastward into timeless drifting dunes. Yellow highlights on the wind swept sand, blown from the crests, make the dunes look as if they are smoldering from the blasting sun’s rays. The eastern cloudless sky is dark early from loss of light, turning purple and mixing with sloped backsides of dunes dropping down into undefined darkness. The western sky is bringing in cloudy fog.

Wind is what happens when warm air rises and cool air rushes in to replace it. At the end of each day the heat rises off the dunes and the cool evaporating ocean air rushes in.  Crossing the dunes, the cool advancing air is heavy with salt and moisture feeding the sand grass and ice plants, the only things that can actually survive on the sand.  Plants especially adapted, drawing their water from the air and feeding it to their roots, anchoring themselves in the wind in some strange backward manner.  Sheltering small rodents, birds, sand crabs, spiders and bugs, and keeping the tops of the dunes from blowing away, making the dunes somewhat stable to catch more moisture.  A micro eco-system.

Dunes are like living things, always moving beneath the wind, always changing, and somehow always the same.  Lift is what an airplane wing accomplishes when forced through air.  A strong enough continuous wind will lift most anything not held down, shapes, large or small, even if it is not shaped like an airplane wing.  The tops of the dunes are domed; they push the wind up just as an airplane wing does, and on the back side of the dome is a downward slope lying in the downwind draft, and similar to an airplane wing there is a lift created, not beneath the wing, but behind the edge of the top of the dune.  It is this that makes the dunes move.  It is this that makes the plants choose to grow here which resists their moving.  It is a sand dune that is responsible for the first flight of man in an airplane.

Like most things in life, these elements don’t at first appear to be related, but when odd things come together they often come out even.

Over a hundred years ago, on a sand dune on the east coast of North Carolina, a place called Kitty Hawk, the sun was rising, and the warming air began to rise off the beach, drawing in fresh heavy cooler air from the Atlantic Ocean.

It was this very effect that had brought the Wright brothers to that beach, that and the sandy landing field for their first experiments in flight.

They had observed dunes to find out how lift worked; a stroke of their own genius, they had come to take advantage of the incoming strong wind, and the high ground of the dune tops.  They chose this location for their flight, and forever will be remembered for their first airborne flight from a dune into the lifting wind and across the sand.

75 years later on the west coast, the dunes at Pismo Beach, California were being used to film a re-creation of that historical event.  Not so much because they look so much like Kitty Hawk, but because they are so close to Hollywood.

On the day before the filming out on the dunes, the sun had almost given all its light, and there were flash light flickers coming to life down in the deep purple slopes behind the dunes.

The heavy lights and equipment that normally accompany a film crew would not be on the location until the next day, and then only for one day as the permit to place things in the dunes was limited to three days of construction of small sets, with one day of filming on that particular set. People are required to remove everything they bring in every day. Cans, wrappers, chairs, even bottle caps, tooth picks and cigarette butts. This would limit any damage to the dunes.

These dunes are federally protected and also a state park.

Instructions had been given to all of us to remove any and all trash, tools, equipment and gear whatever, each day.  Leaving only the specially permitted movie set of the Wright brothers building, and a night guard posted providing around the clock attendance.

The crews left, assuring the park ranger that all things, except the set, had been removed.  No tools, ladders, paint cans, ropes, cords, materials or supplies had been left.

It became too dark to see anymore.  No one could see the small toy sand bucket that had been left by my child who had spent the day visiting me “on the set” (I was the construction chief).  But it was there, it wasn’t far from the set, perhaps fifteen feet.  The set, positioned by the ranger, was behind a dune, out of the wind, but the bucket was just outside the protection of the huge dune; it was not a tool anyone missed, it was not materials to be accounted for, had not been noticed. He was only 7 and neither the ranger or myself caught this.  It was setting in a wind row down at the bottom of the dune. The wind followed its own path it had carved out for itself.  In these lines of wind drift, the sand moved little.  This location had been mostly undisturbed for perhaps decades.  The dunes are resting in their own self established equilibrium. But they do slowly move.

Long after all but the guard had gone home, and a little after the guard had fallen asleep, the Pacific Ocean surface cooled, the warm sand returned its heat to the sky, and the wind arose.  It slid under the mantle of stars across the water and onto the beach.  The domed-topped dunes lifted the air and the compression of wind against the dunes whistled across their tops, causing a slight vacuum on their backside edges, lifting tiny grains of sand from between the rooty toes of the sand grass and carrying them over the angle of repose on its backside down slope.

At the bottom, the wind met new resistance where the child’s sand bucket now sat.  There the wind swirled about this foreign object, the bucket.  The lift of the little sand grains was lost.  They fell just behind the sand bucket, forming a new small rift in a half curl.  As night stars drift overhead, sand grains began to drift below.  Some free from their resting place for the first time in decades.  All through the night the wind pushed against the new riff in the dune floor, moving sand from beneath the bucket, moving sand from tops of the dunes now feeling new patterns of air and placing it on an ever-growing new small dune. Something had changed in the wind rows, something that affected every dune around it.  The wind was moving differently this night than last night.

As the bucket went down, a new dune went up.  At first it was inches, then it grew to feet.  By morning when the guard awoke, and the crew arrived the wind had stopped.  Sunrise was a beautiful, cool clear crisp day.

There where the child’s bucket had been overlooked was a new hole almost a dozen feet deep and near thirty feet across and behind it was a new dune twice that size.  It had collected sand from dunes all around with every passing wind all night long.

How can there be a treasure in such a tragedy?  The set was wreaked, now tilting towards the new hole with sand piled halfway up.  The sand would have to be moved back into place before the next big wind storm or the entire dune range would be affected.  Fines would have to be paid, and the filming would be delayed, thousands, tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

Not only had the downwind effect on the little bucket had huge consequences on the dunes, it had changed the events of the lives of several dozen people.

Long term, that spot in the dunes will never be the same. It was an enlightening experience.

We do not control the moving forces within which we live, but by placing something just so in any moving force we will greatly affect all things downstream.  A pebble in a stream, a word in a crowd, an insult, a compliment.  Whether by accident or by purpose, there will be an outcome.  The outcome cannot be predictable but there will be an outcome.

It is the same with placing a word on a page, paint on a canvas, notes in a song; it brings irreversible change downstream.  We cause invisible dunes all life long.  Play, work, do, make a downstream outcome, even if it cannot be anticipated.  Life is a constant moving force, put your sand bucket in it, it will bring change to your life and like the dunes, whatever you do will find equilibrium.

That was forty years ago and the gift of knowing how things are affected by my actions has impressed every decision I have made since then.  For a day my son had the greatest sand pile ever to play in, and I am careful how I stand in the wind.


Something to say for the new year


Sunset on Contemporary Resort Hotel Disney World (1972)                                                                                               Acrylic on Illustration board 8″x10″

Something To Say For The New Year

Here is a truth:  often a painting is done just so the artist can get to do a small favorite thing, or idea.  Entire paintings are done just to get to put highlights on a glass, or shadows on a lemon or sunbursts in the distance.  Whole landscapes are painted just to show a small flower in the foreground, or a water drop about to fall from a rose petal.  A moment of inspiration to render an idea, so simple a truth that it cannot be rendered simply, but surrounded by complexity of seeing our world, lest the idea be lost.  When done, often the original intention of the painting goes unperceived to the casual viewer, but it is there.

Every artist has something to say, even if it is vapid and shallow.  Many just love to paint.  Great masters labored to say things of worth, depth, with a genius and clarity.  Some masters did this early in life and some late.

As time passes, talented and developing artists gain a voice, learn some way to communicate in their work and contribute to the world wide body of work.  A few are late bloomers and decide to speak after many years of mumbling out their art.  Whether small or genius, the years usually have trained the work into an acceptable voice or even into excellence.

Once an artist learns that their work really is just their voice, applied to materials with tools, and that the observed perception rendered is in the mind of another, something we can not control, just influence, the artists begin to offer up a communication of worth.  Their art resides in the mind of the viewer as in the art itself.  The Mona Lisa is in the mind of millions of people, each with their own thoughts about it, no matter what Leonardo wanted.

Good art is common to the understanding of all; it is spoken of as if it came from the artist, but it did really?

It came because the artist was observing through time, things others have experienced and the artist spoke it out in an image remarking about that time.  Seldom if ever does an artist say something new that is actually profound or unknown, but really says something already known that is put in a new and perhaps original way; it is understood by the masses because they already have some understanding of the topic, subject or image. That can become a profound perception in the world.

A six year old child with a crayon can make you cry with their clarity of seeing and saying what you know; if that clarity remains, as skill grows, they become a master, an artist.

A sixty year old can pick up a pencil and start drawing for the first time and make you laugh, but if they have something to say, regardless of how poorly they might draw it, if it touches us all, it is art.  That is why cartoons are so powerful, they speak to us and about us all, and are often done by young artists who grow old in their craft.

A master does both, renders beautifully and has something to say. Saying something is the highest form of art, and saying it well is glorious.  Having accumulated the skills to render, it becomes very important in delivering the idea in its whole form, even if it is just a rose with a water drop.

This puts more artists to silence than any other thing, recognizing one’s own inability to say it well or even to know what to say.  Better to say nothing so they don’t.  So many young and new emerging talents silence themselves long before they discover they were actually on path to arrive, but judged wrongly their primitive learning as lack of talent.

Just because we, as artists, can see our own work path and struggles is no reason to withhold our work.  What has changed is the internet and speed in which we hear feedback.  We can post our images, and get comments; the pain and glory are instantaneous, and both are also fleeting.  The amount of really fine art work out there is astounding, access to visual resource is so huge it is daunting.  Both discouraging and encouraging.  It is still one person viewing one image one at a time. Perhaps hundreds or thousands or millions of people, but each one views it one at a time.  It is personal, it is a singular event and a singular response.  Not a crowd or audience of thousands, just thousands of individual observers with no crowd influence, no one watching them while they observe.  They comment, and it is powerful, it is direct.

So take a good idea, even a tiny one, and build a painting around it and show it, or write a new book and publish it, or take four notes and build a symphony around them and perform it.


Loco-motive Christmas

I think most people love trains, especially at Christmas! So a couple few years back doing a card with a train engine just seemed to be the ticket. My family had been giving me train parts for a few years so I could put one in my studio, you know up overhead so it goes around to my delight and for everyone else a distraction. It is an LGB that stands for Lehmann Gross Bahn a German toy train company.  these train sets are a large gauge (G scale) and designed to go in the garden or outside as well as inside. So that year on my birthday I finally had received enough pieces to put the train on enough track to go around the kitchen and dinning room floor. Kids and grand kids all helped, real smoking smoke stack, light in the front and all. My wife loved it for a couple hours then started pointing to the upstairs where my studio is and began mumbling something about the ceiling. It just seemed to be the perfect Christmas card subject. I scanned a photo of the engine into photoshop and painted in a background. The original engine was all yellow, and that would never do for christmas so I added some red and black. Distractions have kept me from getting it put up but I think this year I will get it installed into my studio. Since that time I have been collecting a few pieces of old Lionel trains and now have enough to put one of those together too.

After Christmas i will also post a few rail road paintings I have done.

58 Years of Christmas Cards


Seasons Greetings

Christmas is a favorite holiday and making and sending cards is a tradition in our home.  My wife loves to send them out and I have been making Christmas cards since childhood.  First time I sent out my own cards was at age twelve, hand-painted, about a dozen, cost 4 cents to mail one.  Typical postage was 3 cents, but I went heavy on the glue and glitter, so I had to add a one cent extra stamp.  There was no way for a kid to reproduce cards in those days, so each one was different.  Many people did this, and my inspirations came from the work of others, and observing cards made by Hallmark.  It would be a decade and a half before I learned how to silk screen cards, which my wife and I did for a decade after that.  Once we acquired our own copy machine we began to produce a black and white outline and then hand-colored them in with paint and colored pencils, and that went on for two decades.

Let’s see—that would add up to forty five years.  Along came the computer!  The world of handmade cards changed.  With a scanner and a color printer I could do one original color card, scan it, edit it and print a whole bunch.  Our card mailing list grows and shrinks over the years as people move in and out of our lives.  Over the years we have had maybe a half dozen people who told us they have saved them all. I haven’t even saved them all, maybe I have twenty or so.  I missed doing cards maybe five years out of the fifty eight years of cards where I either bought or failed to get them done.  Perhaps I will make an effort to find the lost ones; I don’t know, but I will post a few of them over the next few days just to wish you all well and what else can I do with them but share on a blog?

Seasons best to you all……………..


If it were mechanical it would be easy.

So for months now I have wondered why incoming comments were sparse; was it my writing style . . . was it my postings?  Maybe bad art work and content?  Self-doubt reigns supreme!

I went out on the internet and looked at and responded to many great blog sites; it has been both fun and enlightening, and I actually have received some great comments, too.

I did not notice, however, all the comments I have received were from blogs I visited. I am kinda slow on this uptake!  Until yesterday when someone asked me where my comment box was?  It had disappeared, and I had not even noticed!  Well, cut me some slack as I am not a techie.  So back at the controls, might as well be trying to land a 747 after the pilot passes out and they ask for volunteers, “Hey, I’ll do it,” (better than not trying, huh?).  I know, it is simple, right, then you look at the dashboard and it is “deer in the headlights.”  Keep  aixelsyd (dyslexia) in mind here. Well, gladly we are on the ground and it is just the dashboard of wordpress.

So I will give it another try!


How House Coffee and Wildflowers Go Together

A-coffee-cup_web Graphite on drawing paper 6″x6″

There is a place, a bakery actually, I really like to go in Duluth, MN.  It is in Canal Park and is called Amazing Grace Bakery.  It bears no resemblance to a bakery and it is within a renovated waterfront 8 story building.  First three floors are retail and offices, with studios and services on the next four, apartments on the top. The bakery is in the basement down eight stairs from the outside, with windows looking out at the ankles of passersby.  A stairwell, with wood handrails polished from heavy use, leads most of the way down to a wooden heavy single glass panel door, smudged from in and out wrong-side pushes.  The entrance is compressed with merchandise opportunities, weekly free papers, small bulletin board and a vending machine that does not fit the custom alcove built for vending machines because it shares the space with afterthought plumbing improvements.  It was once the doorway that led to the coal room that is now this bakery/coffee house/open mike stage/study hall for the local colleges/favorite place for artists to get a cup of coffee and not look different, but still feel different (or for some to look very different).

window_web     room-view_web     at-counter_web     guy-reading-2 Graphite on Drawing paper 6″x7″

It is not the coffee that attracts people, although without it no one would come.  It is not the bakery, either.  As bakeries go, it produces oversized cookies and muffins, and fresh bread that is used mostly for oversized sandwiches as off center as the exotic coffees.  The bread is sliced diagonally and too thick, making an assembled construction that must be disassembled to eat.

It isn’t the decor or the room appointments.  Nothing matches, save the three styles of chairs, and they don’t match each other.

The tables are rectangles and circles.  Rectangles are painted black on top as checkerboards.  Round ones are dressed with cloths as if they are the ladies of the room.  Each table, both square and round, has a small vase with a fresh cut wild flowers, embellished with a fern bow or babies breath twig.  Each vase is a different unique item.  The only common thing about them is they are all small, inexpensive and unusual.  They all have this one thing, each one is different, no two alike.  Some are jelly jar simple.  Others are chipped china porcelain.  Some look silver, some brass, others are handmade pottery.  Together they tell a story of someone who watches, someone who shares.  Sitting at any table on any day, the vase tells a story of being found, or saved, collected or gathered.  Perhaps some given because it is known that this place collects such things.  They match the customers, none of them match either.

Entering any place for the first time strikes at memories and comparisons.  We all do that, check out for telltale signs of comfort, safety, personal fit.  Scan the layout, read the menu, ask vapid questions about strange looking things behind the counter.  Usually within a few seconds we can tell if this place is for us.

So the waitress asks, “Can I help you?” – “I’ll have the house coffee,” I reply.  “For here or to go?” and the question raises a blush of doubt.  A regular would know if they wanted to stay, if it was safe to stay.  Besides, where do you take it to go, without knowing the neighborhood?  Others may ask for the café latte’, or Mocha, maybe the espresso two bean double.  A large cup of house coffee is a license to be able to take a table and look as normal or as strange as others in the room, to have a license to sit way too long at one of the tables and do one’s own thing.

Sometimes only a moment is embarrassing. “Let me know when you decide.”  She turns to the next customer who spurts out a string of coffee descriptions and names that ends in a double latte’.  It could be one cup or several, it is hard to tell for the unfamiliar, the uninitiated, regular coffee person.  The coffee machine makes grinding sounds against indecision.  She turns back, “So, you decided?” “For here,” I reply. “Small or large?” “Large.”

     Conga-drums_web     Flowers-and-vase-2_web 

Graphite and watercolor pencil on drawing paper 6″x7″

Coffee is served in a large round-handled cup too full, too slippery for one-handed gripping.  She hands change right over a tipping basket, with a sign saying, “Big tippers make better lovers,” shaking the basket which becomes a familiar sound during a half quart coffee experience.

Then I realize, like the wild flowers and everything else in the room I, too, have been collected to sit among the eclectic and become part of someone else’s new experience.  I have sat and drawn and painted in Amazing Grace Bakery for years now, while taking my breaks from the plein air work in Canal Park, the streets, lake front and hills of Duluth, Minnesota.



How a simple sentence can change the perspective on why we paint.

W.G.acrylic-trees_web  Acrylic on illustration board 8″x10″

Painted in the style of W.G. –  the artist in the story below.

There are an untold amount of sentences that can be spoken which stir the very soul of us all.

Many statements can be made into a sentence that makes a difference in our lives, change our lives forever more; once we hear it and understand it, internalize it into our own heart, we are never the same.

Here is a story of how my friend said one of the most important simple sentences about being an artist I have ever heard in my life.  Ever!

W.G. is now a friend of mine; even though he is 20 years my senior we had met briefly and worked only professionally when designing for Disney Imagineering during the EPCOT years.

W.G. had written and sold a screenplay for a bundle of money, the kind you can just about retire on.  His script got filmed and became a big Hollywood hit.  W.G. stopped working and slowly over a decade he used up the money being an artist and writing other works in hopes of a second hit.

So, after some years, he found a need to return to work about the time his friends were all retiring.  That is when I ran into him again as he was working on the same project as I; actually, he had thrown my name into the hiring hat.

We were both retained to work on a project for the Olympic Village in Korea.  The work was done in the L.A. area and W.G. lived there on the west coast while I live in the upper midwest.  So I was traveling out to L.A. and needing a place to stay for several months during the project. W.G. offered me a room for rent in his North Hollywood home, as he was now living alone because his family and most of his money had moved on to, well, that is another story.

We traveled to work together and spent many lunch and supper hours talking art and design.  We went to the harbors on photo missions to get material for painting ships and sail boats.  Looked into every art show that we could get to.  W.G. Introduced me to other artists; mostly older, mostly retired, mostly still struggling even after very successful years of work.

Each day was both different and the same. The work was always new and challenging, and W.G. had to drag himself through it.  He is gifted, talented beyond fairness, funny, a great writer, illustrator, and comic. But he had become lethargic.  Was this age?  No, he had more than enough energy when we went places.  He is overweight by twice, but I could hardly keep up.  He talked and joked and had a great time, until Monday.  I loved Monday because I loved the work.  He hated Monday and Tuesday and … and he, too, loved the work. It was a puzzle.

A good friend and mentor to W.G. was a fellow named Bill.  Bill was eighty when I first met him.  He had worked as an illustrator for all the great magazines in the 20s, 30s, and became a studio set designer in the 40s along with Herby Ryman of Disney fame!  We stopped once a week for Mexican food.  Bill had been doing this for two decades, mentoring and befriending my friend W.G., as W.G. was now doing to me; I was privileged to join them every week while I was out there.  Bill said, don’t come unless you bring a sketch book and use it.  Draw, draw, draw.  He did, and W.G. did and so I did, too. They were really, really, really good; I was learning.

W.G. would then grumble to Bill about work and having to work.  Bill would echo and grumble back.  He didn’t work any more, didn’t paint anymore, didn’t produce, but said he wished he would.  Not wished he could, he wished he would. They told compelling stories for hours, late into the evening, even though we had to work the next day.

One night, W.G. focused it clearly:  “I hate working for lesser talents, budget-driven projects and ego centric climbers.  A profession littered with a confused self-image, using high skills accumulated over a lifetime, leveraged at a greatly reduced value just to get a seat at the table and to produce low demand processed outcomes.  Just for the money, arrrg.  Each job less than the last.”

I felt both sad and frightened.  Frightened at perhaps seeing myself in a few decades.

Both W.G. and Bill saw my countenance fall; did I mention these were sensitive and caring people? Artists of the highest degree accomplished over a lifetime!

Bill said, “John, you don’t have to worry about this as long as you keep what you have now.”  Silence befell our dinner table.

I thought, “What do I have that these two don’t have?  Both have an entire work history in place; I have hardly started.  They both have references to die for, portfolios of museum worthy images.

They count as friends people I have only read about, like Maxfield Parish, Norman Rockwell, Walt Disney.  Both have illustrated for the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Fisk, and half a dozen others.  Bill has painted the portraits of at least two presidents.  I had only a couple small feathers and no hat to stick them in.  This was nearly thirty years ago; I was forty two and W.G. was sixty two then, and Bill was eighty. They had already worked through the end of the halcyon days of great artists and illustrators, before I was even born.

I offered up my opinion,  “W.G., you have a direct inroad to publishing another hit script, why don’t you just do that?  And Bill, you mentioned your work is still in demand, why wouldn’t that give you pleasure.  Why not just do that?”

“You’re both better than any of your competitors, young or old; this is work you can still do!  With your experience, why don’t you just go and get those jobs and solve the problems?  Why don’t you just do what you have to do and ….?”

Bill put up one finger to his lips…shhhh …, “John, If we had what you have, we would do that.  Tell him, W.G………………..”

Here it comes, that special sentence……

W.G. turned to me and said,  “It’s hard to go hunting when you have no one to bring the rabbits home to!”

It stunned me.  This artist/writer had summed up all of society in one sentence.

The sadness and withdrawal of being alone; they never did any of it for themselves, they did it for moms and dads, wives and kids and friends, loved ones and on and on.  When that is not there, what is? They could not do it for themselves, they knew this.  I have pondered the power of this ever since.  I have what they don’t,  I have someone to bring the rabbits home to.  They held that higher than all their talent and experience combined, and they knew how to lead me to find it. Mentoring is very powerful. It was a gift.

The most precious talent gift you can have, is to have and keep family and friends in your life.  Then after a long day of hunting. you have someone to bring the rabbits home to. The rest is just practice and pigment.


How to get a painting started (Part Three) 3 great ways to be more effective in the studio

3 Great ways to get a painting started.

(A three part posting)

Part 3 – Make critical choices.

You may think this is so obvious but most people never start this way. They just start.

The keys to getting an image going is simply to make choices about the work, to name what you are doing, pick a viewpoint to express it, and set up for success by getting all the choices made in all critical areas before starting.

Once you begin, most of the heavy lifting has been done and you are committed and confident.  Getting organized, applying decisions and taking risks may sound so simplistic, but they are the most important tasks in getting a painting or image started.  Just getting the choices made and acted on is over half the battle.

Start like this; Choose a style to portray your concept.  Loose or tight, traditional or experimental, expressive or photorealistic, modern or old or fantastical. Choose materials and mediums that best represent this particular piece. Dark, light, bright or subdued, opaque or transparent, brushed or transparent, etc.  Surround the work area with accumulated information and research that supports the concept you are rendering.  Sketches and value studies, too!

Decide the right size of the finished piece that best allows full expression of all elements; don’t go big just to be big or small to conserve resources.

Choose and locate the center of interest; don’t let accidental placement of any element ruin your work.  Every element is a choice that belongs.

Keep the idea clean and simple.

Choose only elements that support the overall concept you are working on to include in the image.  Don’t place favorite things in just to include them.

If you are painting horses, don’t put in locomotives unless it is a robbery. Add  what belongs and only choose elements that contribute.  Leave out things  that might be there in your research if they don’t contribute to the ideas or to picture balance.  Like roads or trees in a photo if they clutter up a picture.  If something is not fun to paint, consider choosing not to paint it.

Choose a direction for the light to be coming from and stick with it. The more defined this is, the better the image will be.

Choose a color pallet, and resist adding colors after you have started.  In my opinion, 5 To 9 colors is optimum.

Decide what goes where and why in a sketch; change the sketch if needed, work and rework it as necessary.  Do a value study if you are not sure of your composition – a color study if you want more confidence that it will work.  Stick with it once you start rendering.

Never think you have to follow any of the colors or shapes in your photo research, but pay attention to the shadow and values, looking for the consistency of patterns in the research, then alter it to suit yourself.

Choose to start!

Go render your world.


(Part two) How to get a painting started – 3 great ways to be more effective in the studio

3 Great ways to get a painting started.

(A three part posting)

Part 2 – Establish a viewpoint.

A viewpoint is two things.  One: how the viewer sees the image; and Two: how the image portrays your concept.

How do people understand how to view your idea?  You can also have a point of view embedded into the image such as perspective, but that is not the viewpoint of this discussion.

Are you painting to show how well you paint, or to say something, or to respond to your life experiences and your accumulated opinions?  Or maybe you just like to paint stuff.  Some folks paint flowers, some dogs, some events of the world and some paint the fantasies of all our dreams.  Whatever you paint it has a viewpoint, even an abstraction has to be abstracted from something.

Every piece of artwork needs to establish a definite point of view, both visually and emotionally.  Ask yourself:  how will this image tell the story, is it close up, far away, from the side or below?  Where is the horizon, where is the vanishing point, the perspective, or is there one?  Will you use color or texture or special effects to tell the story? Are we in the picture with the subject or outside looking in?  What is the object of the painting?

Will the viewer gain or see a specific opinion, an anticipation, or disgust, or sympathy for the subject?  Does your subject need to push the viewer in a direction, as in taking a different look at something?  Or they may have overlooked something; perhaps your painting is just to show beauty.

How is the art piece going to set in the world?  Is it emotional, or shocking, or nostalgic?  Is it a visual perspective or an environmental foggy wet, or desert dry viewpoint?  A bug’s eye view or a bird’s eye view, or a leader or a follower?  Is it everybody’s view or a special peek?

There are so many variations on this, and you can use many viewpoints in one picture, but the core idea needs one main viewpoint to focus on.

By establishing a conceptual and/or visual viewpoint you can get control of, and use of so many variables.

Start by thinking how someone will first see the image, and then how the image is rendered both in style and in choice of media, and then how the elements in the image are portrayed.  That can include perspective or graphic, or abstract or brush stroke style, etc., etc.

Here are 3 elements to establish:

1 – Establish what is being communicated;

2 – Establish what is being seen;

3 – Establish how it is being portrayed.

These 3 points may seem very simple but they are most often overlooked.

Now you have established a viewpoint:  we are seeing this idea in this way, and you are ready to put a view point into perspective.