Before and After





I’ve been playing around with a method for improving paintings. My mind is analytical which has some benefits and drawbacks as an artist.  Since there is little I can do to change it, I might as well go with it.

After I complete a first draft of a painting I put it on my mantle for a few days.  When I’m ready to finish it, I invest time in systematic reflection.  I want to have a punch list of changes before I touch paint or brushes.  If I don’t, I’ll just waste time mucking around without significant improvement.

I use a notebook. First, I note glaring problems like the shepherd’s crook that needs cleaned up and the birds that aren’t noticeable.  I take into account Rich Clem’s advice from our Central Ohio Plein Air group critique -“Get rid of the tree on the right.  It doesn’t help the composition.”  I want to see if he’s right, so I cover it up.  Yes, I think he is!  I still want to keep the stump for the bird but I can lose a lot of that tree in shadows and/or foliage.

Then I look for a strong center of interest.  When I planned the composition I placed the larger feeder 1/3 of the way down from the top and 1/3 of the way over from the right to be in the sweet spot.  It seems to work, but could be strengthened with some subtle tweaks to the background.

The next thing I want to consider is the color scheme.  I was painting from nature but I can control how I represent it.  This painting uses all of the greens and all of the reds on the color wheel for a complementary color scheme.  That’s why the yellow-orange on the smaller feeder looks out of place.  I can switch it to red-orange.

Then I work my way through the principles of design:  unity, contrast, dominance, repetition (with variation), alternation, balance, harmony and gradation.

Dominance jumps out as a problem.  The original painting is about half green.  I don’t really have a dominant value either.  Even though I did a gray-scale sketch before-hand, I work backwards and do a thumbnail to see where I stand.  If I skinny up the tree on the left, I increase the green and the middle values.  That also has the advantage of overlapping the small feeder with green foliage instead of framing it within the rectangle of the tree.  

Alternation might also be a problem.  I could do a better job of connecting the darks.Then I run through the elements of design (line, value, color texture, shape, size, movement) to see if I get any new insights. Just where do the lines lead?  I can play with that in the foliage and blossoms.  Then I’m ready to work my way through the list to the new and improved painting below.


Reworked Painting

Please leave a comment about my self-critique.  What did I miss?  Do you have a similar process?  I’m keeping the notebook so that I can go back and look for patterns.  If you have a process for self-critique I’d love to see it.



Getting into the Daily Sketching Habit

So I was in Barnes and Noble around the end of the year nosing around the clearance table – the one where I found the neat little book I made into my cruise sketchbook/scrapbook.   I spied a book of 365 drawing prompts that looked interesting – Just Draw One ThingToday: 365 Creative Prompts to Inspire You Everyday .

I do work on something art related for a couple of hours most days but it’s kind of random.  All summer I was outside painting in oils.  In the off season I’m messing with watercolors or trying to do portraits, whatever.  So the little book intrigued me.

The prompts seem to have no rhyme or reason to them but they were mostly things I wouldn’t think to draw.  And did I mention it was on sale for half of an already cheap price? Sold!

So I started working on it at the beginning of the year.  Most days I did one, some days none and occasionally I did two.  

As I was a few weeks into it, I went to a Columbus Urban Sketcher meet-up and found out that there is a Facebook group called Sketching Everyday that puts out daily prompts.  I joined but don’t follow them since they generate so many sketches that they took over my newsfeed.

Before I went to Florida in February I made a beach sketchbook to take.  I also took my daily sketchbook and jotted the prompts in ahead of time.  Did I do them? No.  Have I done them since I came home? No.  I got out of the habit.  Also, there was something about having the pages labeled ahead that put me off.  I’m writing this post to kick myself into gear.  We’ll see what happens!


Cruising and Painting

A cruise ship with an artist’s loft on board!  Sign me up!  (Well actually I found out about the loft after I had already signed up to cruise the western Mediterranean.  At first, my skeptical self assumed the loft was going to be the typical shipboard art auction.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Oceania Riviera had an artist in residence who gave free classes. Wahoo!  I’m all about art classes and free is the right price!  The online info just didn’t say what kind of art it would be and showed photos of artists with various specialties – photography, fiber arts, painting, etc.  I was surprised that it was free considering what they were charging for cooking classes.

The welcome aboard packet introduced the artist, Graham Denison, and listed the schedule.  I knew it was on a first-come, first-served basis so I made sure I was there for a seat at the table.  Denison is an oil painter who uses a pallette knife exclusively.    The loft was like a large corporate conference room with cupboards for supplies and cubbies for work in-progress.

Students had their choice of the loft’s supply of acrylics, pastels, water color or oil pastel.  Although the teacher was painting in oil, passengers were not permitted to.  It would have been too much of a mess and potentially a fire hazard.

Denison had been hired by Disney artist when he was a teen to work in their product division. When the work became digital, he left to start a career in fine art.  The paintings he had on board appealed to cruise ship passengers, including scenes of  Venice.  Between lessons, the artist and his wife were selling prints and paintings to interested passengers.  I couldn’t believe that she worked in the loft in designer clothing including a white lace dress!

He taught short lessons on the materials, drawing, perspective and painting with a pallette knife.  His demos were well organized and everyone could see them on a tv screen.  I learned a few little tricks.

Photo taken in Spain

I chose a photo I’d taken while I was scrambling to find an open shop during siesta time in Spain so I could replace my broken sunglasses.  I liked the couple and the winding street.






We worked in increments of an hour or two over the course of the cruise.  Since I’m not really comfortable with acrylics and limited time I only modified the composition slightly instead of using the photo just as a resource like I would have with oils at home.

The cruise was wonderful and being able to paint was the whipped cream on the sundae (with fewer calories than the desserts in the dining room!)

My painting