Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Art Blog Has Moved!

My new art blog is up and thriving on my own web site  I'm also pleased to announce that I have live, free videos of art instruction on my site.  Click here to go directly to

Friday, March 18, 2011

Grey Owl

I'm really excited by this portrait.  It's the first portrait I've ever done in the opaque acrylic style.  It was a culmination of all the stuff I've been reading and practicing so just to have it work out was a big moment.  I think the main thing is that I had a process clearly in mind and just went at it one step at a time.  I'm including the first stage which was where  the difference in the opaque  approach was really evident.  No more thinking in a watercolour manner and building things up and preserving the whites.  I just got the whole surface covered in various darks.  After that it was just a matter of refining it.

Grey Owl
acrylic on paper
8.5" X 11"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grey Owl

Again today while the class worked on their self portrait I had time to do this  portrait of Grey Owl.  I liked the value pattern of this photo.  I'm studying portraits in acrylic at the moment and I like the strong contrasts in this photo so I think it may work well in acrylic. This week we had a discussion about the changes in  fashion portraiture.  Frequently, today models are photographed with very flat, even lighting which may emphasize the perfection of their skin (after a few touch ups) but it definitely lacks character.  I've studied the portraits from Vogue and other fashion magazines and in the past the lighting was used to accentuate the character of the model.  I recently saw the cover of a fashion magazine that featured the top 20 models of the year and they were indistinguishable right down to their pouty look.  This portrait of Grey Owl (Archie Belaney) has lots of character.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sheila's Friend's Granddaughter

While the Basic Drawing Skills class was working on their self portraits tonight I did this portrait of Sheila's friend's grand daughter.  I haven't done children before and this was a fun one.  A very cute photo.

Monday, March 14, 2011

More Figure Doodling

This is a copy of an image from the Serge Hollerbach book.  I've really enjoyed studying his approach to acrylic painting.  He does these little doodles all the time, in ink, pencil or acrylic.  It's just about playing with the medium.  I completely enjoyed laying on the opaque layers of paint.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Figure Doodling

I have done head and figure doodles for years.  They are often very fresh and interesting drawings but I have never done anything with them.  I've decided to try to realize them in acrylic.  This was a little drawing I did yesterday at the Kingsland Farmer's Market.  It's a great practice to do these studies in a situation like that because people keep moving and you need to draw quickly and make effective use of memory.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Composing In Acrylic

I've enjoyed reading Serge Hollerbach's book Composing In Acrylic.  It's a very different style from anything I've done but it definitely got me thinking differently about acrylic.  He emphasizes big shapes, fairly simple but definite brushwork and working quickly.  This painting started with a little study  exploring the use  of pure colours surrounded by neutrals (see post February 20, 2011).  This makes the pure colours 'sing'.  From that little study through an organic process came the idea of the street scene.  Adding some simple figures gave the whole image a story.  This painting was both fun and a learning experience.

Verona Street
18" X 18"

Friday, March 4, 2011

Currie Barracks

I'll be sorry when the Currie Barracks area is redeveloped and I'm in the process of documenting some of it.  This is my third small plein air sketch that I've done and the second one of Currie Barracks.  It was overcast again and there was not a lot of contrast.  This particular subject also had little contrast which I took as a challenge to create some movement in the image when there isn't really a lot going on.  I was definitely trying to focus on the big shapes and I think the design is OK.  Still it was fun to give it a shot.

Currie Barracks
6" X 8"

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Basic Drawing Skills - Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker was someone who blazed like a shooting star for a time and while he was at the top of his form he  changed the face of jazz music and had an impact world wide.  Unfortunately, he was heavily fueled by heroin and died way too young because of his addiction.  This image seems to portray the focus and passion that he brought to his music.  In the Basic Drawing Skills class this is the last of our 6 portraits and it is, I feel, a fitting end.  The improvement and development of the drawing skills of the students has been inspirational to see.  One of the skills that seems to take longer to develop is value, having a full range of values from light to very dark.  This portrait is all about value with extensive areas that are basically black juxtaposed with areas of white.  It makes for a dramatic portrait and forces all of us to push our concept of dark to a new level.  I think one of the reasons for our reluctance to go really dark is that a dark stroke can't be taken back.  It's a bold and definitive mark that is unequivocal.  Often our comfort level is with lighter less assertive marks that we can change and modify or simply take back.  Not so with these bold values.  So this portrait challenges us in a slightly new direction and since everyone has demonstrated such high levels of drawing ability it's neat to face this particular challenge.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Currie Barracks

I went out again today, even though it's freezing.  I'm becoming interested in doing some thing to remember the Currie Barracks area before it's all redeveloped.  This is the entrance to the building that faces the parade square.  It was a snowy overcast day so there weren't strong contrasts.  My goal was to capture that pale light.  Unfortunately, for the second day in a row I forgot to take white with me so I had to sketch it and then rush home to try to paint it while the image was fresh in my mind. 

Totally aside from the quality of the painting I'm enjoying this small format 6" X 8" and doing these very quick plein air studies.  It's teaching me lots about the acrylic medium.

In fact, I'm thinking of celebrating the launch of my completely updated web site "", in a few weeks,  by doing a regular series of these small daily paintings.  Some people I know have done 100 paintings in 100 days.  I don't know that I can be that consistent but I like the idea of doing perhaps 30 in 30.  I'll announce it in this blog when it's going to happen.

Currie Barracks
6" X 8"

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Plein Air in Glenmore Park

This was a fun piece.  The book I'm reading at the moment suggests concentrating on the big shapes and get them down quickly.  This was a little plein air sketch done this afternoon in North Glenmore Park.  This is the first time I've worked in opaque acrylic plein air but I found it a lot of fun.

Washroom At Glenmore Park
acrylic on canvas board
6" X 8"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sunset On The Elbow Pt2

This is an image I began a while ago.  This was an early attempt at acrylic.  The colour in the cliff was originally done in acrylic but in a  watercolour approach and I liked it.  I ran into trouble reconciling  the watercolour-like section with the more opaque sections.  I'm just reading a book by Serge Hollerbach an artist that also began as a watercolourist but switched to acrylic.  He recommends that while you can use acrylic in a watercolour manner it's greatest benefits come from using it in an opaque way.  I'm quite interested in following that advice so this picture was redone opaquely.  I used the fan brush and some techniques from Hollerbach's book to get the blended sky.  It's a much more dramatic picture now.

Sunset On The Elbow Pt2
16" X 20"

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Basic Drawing Skills - Girl With A Pearl Earring

I've been reading about Vermeer a bit lately and my respect for him has grown considerably.  Apparently, his output for his life is about 40 paintings.  He disappeared from public awareness for a couple of hundred years after his death and was "rediscovered" only in the late 1800's. He is now considered by many to be one of the top hand full of artists for all time.  This, of course, is one of his most famous images and is a most beautiful painting.  This image is a reference for students in my Basic Drawing Skills course.  To see samples of the students work please visit the class blog.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Those Swatches Again

Once again what began as just practicing colour mixing lead to what I feel is an interesting painting. I think fairly soon I'm going to listen to what this approach is trying to tell me.

This time I was just making bright colour swatches to illustrate how much more effective the brights are when surrounded by neutrals.  This just makes the bright colours sing.  When I added the dark neutrals certain shapes began appearing and before I knew it there was a story.

It's Not Good News
14" X 12"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Christmas In The Country

This image is a farm we passed just going up to Big White in Kelowna.  I choose a very long and lean format to emphasize the small human habitation up against the very large presence of nature.  This is part of my on going efforts to gain comfort with acrylic and I'm finding that I like using it as watercolour, at least in the early stages of the painting.  In this image I was pleased with the watercolour-y way that parts of the trees came out.  I also enjoy the colour scheme.  This is the first acrylic painting that I have done by just playing around similar to what often happens with watercolour, so I'm very pleased with it because of the process.

Christmas In The Country
16" X 7"

For information on this or any other painting contact me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Basic Drawing Skills - Profile #2

This second profile is of a woman who seems to possess a great deal of happiness and wholesomeness.  I found that this profile with her looking down presented a significant challenge.  I really enjoy the fact that because of the sequential build up of skills that we have experienced this portrait was just another challenge and everyone handled it very calmly.  It's the first portrait where the area of greatest contrast is not the eyes.  This forces the viewer to go first to the highlight on the cheek and then carry on to the eyes.  The flowers in the hair add interest and a secondary centre of interest.  The hair is also a change to just let go and create some rhythm and excitement.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Woman In Profile

This portrait began as a pencil sketch for my Basic Drawing Skills class.  I just didn't feel like shading the entire background in with pencil so I threw some watercolour on it.  I liked that but then the pencil work seemed a little overwhelmed by the paint so I painted right over all the pencil shading.  I really liked that but unfortunately I had just done it on regular paper so I redid it on watercolour paper.  This is that image.  Two things that interested me were to have the greatest contrast (light against dark) not on the eyes but on the cheek.  The second was to create some interesting rhythm in the hair.  After I had painted the hair I did some calligraphic strokes with white gouache.  I like the energy but I'm still deciding if those white strokes are too strong and overpower the actual subject.  The beauty of following through on ideas that come to me (like the white strokes) is that now I can live with them and the painting will reveal if they are too much.

Happy Thoughts
8.5" X 11"

Friday, February 11, 2011

Coming Down From The High Country

I've been working on this image for a while.  It came from our trip last Oct to Waterton National Park.  We were advised to 'be at the flats' at 6 pm because they thought the elk would be coming down from the mountains to their resting area.  We, along with quite a few others waited and did see some elk.   The painting  began with a really fast, wet  acrylic wash which established all the shapes and values.  All the rest of the time has been working completely opaquely and trying to refine that initial wash.  The only reference was a small colour study in my sketch book so I had to invent the shapes in the mountains.  I'm finding that I enjoy the watercolour approach to acrylic a lot and that I haven't yet found the same comfort level when working acrylic opaquely.

Coming Down From The High Country
30" X 12"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Basic Drawing Skills - William Haines

William Haines was an actor from silent movie era.  This is our first profile.  Profiles are a little more challenging because the symmetry that makes a frontal portrait easy is missing in profile.  I like the value pattern on this profile with the highlights along the edge of the forehead, nose, lower lip and chin.  Getting the shape of a nose in profile is often difficult.  Sometimes it helps to use the concept of  'negative space' to get the right shape for the facial features.  The lighting of this portrait is very engaging.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Acrylic As Watercolour

I'm still painting exclusively in acrylic but this image seemed to call for a watercolour type approach.  The image was from our trip to Kelowna at Christmas time.  Just between Revelstoke and Golden we turned off the highway and went down this back road into a real winter wonderland.  These trees covered in hoar frost were an exciting image and I thought a very wet in wet underpainting would be the way to capture the frosty tree shapes.  I feel that this particular technique was fairly effective in capturing the feeling I was going for.  This is a study that I intend to lead to a larger studio painting.

12" X 8"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Spontaneous Mark Making

I've mentioned before that I've found it a very creative experience to just start making marks on the paper without any preplanning or preliminary drawing. The only artist I know that does this consistently is Brent Laycock.  Interestingly his work has a look that is unlike almost anyone else.  For me this spontaneity comes when I'm practicing mixing colours and just putting swatches on the paper to see the colour .  Because I'm focused on something else (the colour mixtures) the marks themselves are completely spontaneous.  This image was done that way.  This is only the second image I've done  using just casein.  I began with random swatches which became the 3 groups of people.  Everything else was just playing around those marks and it ended up as a middle eastern image.  Unfortunately, I did over work the image a bit but it was still fun and definitely different for me.


12" X 10"

For information contact me at this link.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Basic Drawing Skills - Sylvia Sidney

I have to admit that I hadn't heard of Sylvia Sidney.  She was a actress in the late 1920's and 1930's.  She worked a lot with Alfred Hitchcock.  She often played the penniless girl.  She certainly has a bit of that look to her.  But quite intriguing anyway.  Again this drawing is a example  of one way of doing this portrait for the people in the Basic Drawing Skills class.  I'm enjoying the shading style that I'm using.  I look at the shading as  painting with a pencil.  I generally do an underpainting with a light layer of shading and then I go in and add a second, third layer to create the darks.  I think one reason that she has this vulnerable look is that her eyes are wider apart than the 'normal'.  The challenge here was the hair mostly because it was so difficult to see in the reference material.  I've erased some highlights to create a little interest in their.  If I were to take more time I would work mostly on the hair.  I love the right eyebrow (her left).  I used the kneadable eraser to blot out a bit of the eye brow which lines up with a highlight just below it and gives a neat effect of light hitting there.  I feel that I did capture her vulnerability.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tapestry - A Collaborative Effort

This is a little fun piece.  When I began playing with acrylic a few weeks ago I was once again practicing colour mixing by making swatches of colour.  (I can't believe how many fun and creative works I've done that began as simple colour swatches.  I think it is because when I'm doing colour swatches I'm only concerned with the colour and my actual brush stroke is completely spontaneous.  Then when I look at the shape of the swatch I start to see all sorts of possibilities in the shape.)  Anyway, this was some acrylic colours splashed on a paper.  My wife, Susan, as she often does takes these little practices or knock offs and goes over them with marker.  Many of them are brought to a new life by her application of ink.  This was one that she turned into a real work of art with a story of it's own.

Acrylic & Ink

14" X  2"

For information contact me at this link.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Still In The Shed

Someone asked what is wood shedding.  It's actually a term from the jazz world where players retreated to some space and just worked non stop on their playing.  It's a period of intense learning.  I've heard that the great Charlie Parker in one of his first forays into playing with a band was so embarrassed when the band kept changing keys.  He had learned everything in just one key.  Anyway, he turned his frustration into motivation to take a year or so to just practice and learn all about his instrument.  He emerged a much more confident and fully formed musician.  My recent emphasis has been similar though not as prolonged.  For the last 3 weeks I've put the watercolour away and just practiced everything I could think of in  acrylic.  I'm now starting to understand it more and  I feel the beginning of a feeling of confidence.

This image is another of Yarnell's atmospheric paintings.  I love that misty background.  It's too early to say the word but I could see how this acrylic thing could become 'fun' down the road.  Confidence grows by having more techniques under my belt and being able to think more concretely about how to proceed with a painting.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Channelling Yarnell

I've been reading one of Jerry Yarnell's many books.  He is a TV & DVD teacher who really simplifies acrylic painting to fit into his TV episodes but he has a lot of interesting techniques.  This is a version of one of his images.  It's done in an opaque style.  Applying the acrylic paint was fairly enjoyable this time and by the second day of working on it I was starting to feel comfortable.  I think of everything I've read in the last week the thought that stays with me is not to  think of acrylic as a form of watercolour.  It's a different medium and requires different thinking.  I realize that when I have tried acrylic in the past I kept looking to match the wonderful blending of colours, wet in wet, that you get with watercolour.  Acrylic isn't as much fun at least not for me , yet.  Another very interesting thing I'm experiencing is using the same colour theory I've worked on in watercolour and transposing it to opaque acrylic.  Colour mixing is a different feel when working with acrylic.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Basic Drawing Skills

This portrait of King Tut's burial mask is again a sample for the people taking Basic Drawing Skills.  I really enjoy the graphic nature of this portrait with all the details of the head dress framing the face and leading the eye into the subject.  There are a number of changes I made to the reference material in order to make it a better work of art.  I've downplayed the value of the entire image around the edges.  This serves to lead the eye right into the picture.  I've also changed the value of the reference material to create the greatest contrast (centre of interest) at the eyes.  Again this is done to draw the eye of the viewer to the eyes which are the most important area.  Also in this portrait they aren't shadows as much as they are reflections since the original is made of gold.  This is noted particularly with the dark bands reflected onto the cheeks.  This image is a suggestion for one way to approach the shading.

Double click the image to see a larger version.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Basic Drawing Skills

This drawing is one of the introductory activities in my Basic Drawing Skills class.  It's a way to practice the proportion of the face.  After the drawing is done the second part of the assignment involves shading it.  I've posted this image just to offer one way to do the shading.  I've left the shading fairly simple so the strokes are clearly visible.  In general I'm using strokes that follow the contour of the face.  There was no smudging used in this picture.  If this was a real portrait I would take the shading to a more finished level by applying more layers.  For most of my life I used the smudging technique which  produces a beautiful soft look.  I now use this modified cross hatching method mainly because it's faster.  It's also a lot of fun getting into the quick rhythm of applying the strokes.  I guess ultimately it feels  a lot like the process of painting but using a pencil.

If you double click the image you'll see an enlarged version where the shading strokes are more visible.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Still In The Wood Shed

I'm working my way through some books on acrylic painting.  I've come across an artist William Hook who I was unfamiliar with but  I find his opaque approach to acrylic to be very interesting.  This image is one of his that I just love.  I'm trying to work out how he painted it.  This is just the barest approximation of his painting.  Coming from watercolour which, for me, has the most enjoyable process for applying paint, I'm struggling with the plastic feeling of the acrylic.  But as I step back I can just see some of the potential that this image holds.  I believe that if I just commit to doing it that I'll be able to reach a level of satisfaction and possibly even fun with opaque acrylic.  I do notice how important the areas of neutral tone are to make the colourful sections really stand out.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wood Sheddin'

I've decided to take some time to just play, practice and experiment with acrylic. Over the years  I've done a number of paintings in acrylic and some very nice ones but I've never been master of acrylic technique like I have with watercolour.  In fact it's often been a love / hate relationship.  Sometimes acrylic is a lot of fun and other times I'm really fighting the paint.  I've just taken a whole bunch of books on acrylic out of the library and I'm doing some practices from examples I see in them. One thought that I've read in a couple of books is that it's best not to look at acrylic like watercolour or oil and not to try to mimic your techniques in those media with your technique in acrylic.  In other words learn what acrylic does best for you.  These images are my first studies.  The only rule I was following was to have little or no water on the brush.  So this is paint straight out of the tube with some mixing and some white. Coming from a watercolour background working opaquely like this is still something I'm still getting used to.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Return Of The Blob People

This image was just the result of playing around.  I'm going  to concentrate for a while on painting with  casein and in this case I was just trying to explore mixing darks with a palette of  some green, ultramarine blue, yellow, cobalt blue and cerulean blue.  I would make a mix of some combination trying to make it as rich a dark as possible then I made swatches of the various mixtures on paper.  When I looked, one of these swatches looked a bit like a person so I then played with that idea and turned each of them into a person.  The purer, brighter colours that I painted between these darks just started to sing when surrounded by the neutrals.  It was a lot of fun and the first time I've done anything solely with casein.  I usually use it as an addiction to my acrylic paintings.  The title refers to a much earlier post with a painting called The Blob People.

14" x  4"

For information on this or any other painting contact me at this link.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Cottages, BC

This studio version of an earlier post is a painting that came together very quickly.  I like the strength of the blue orange colours.  I was also very pleased with the mountains.  I like the way they definitely stay in the background but they do have a nice feel to them as objects in their own right.

18" X 24"

For information on this painting contact me at this link.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter Cottages, BC (Study)

On the way home from our Christmas trip to Kelowna we passed these cottages just south of Sicamous.  I loved the orange trees against the winter landscape.  It's also another chance to do reflections in watercolour which is where the medium is at it's best.  I like the casualness of this piece.

12" x  8"

For information about this or any other painting contact me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Make It About What It's About

An idea I heard at the Stephen Quiller workshop I took 2 summers ago was, 'make the painting about what it's about'.  To me, this meant, identify the main idea of the painting and emphasize that.  A few days ago I posted an image, Cascade.  When I lived with that image I came to realize that the main idea was the interplay of the colourful tree and the more muted background.  A lot of the original image, particularly the left side of the painting wasn't really adding anything to the painting.  This cropped version of that image is, I feel, much stronger.

For information about this or any other painting contact me.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Morning Mountains (Studio Version)

I'm very pleased with the colour harmony in this picture.  The dark brownish colour is a mixture of cad red light and either permanent green light or viridian.  It makes a lovely brownish hue and certainly makes the cad red light of the mountains stand out even more.  It also guarantees that there will be harmony between the mountains and the trees.  I started a few months ago working with a much more limited palette, basically a warm and cool of each primary with a few extra colours.  This forces me to mix colours and it's in the mixing that I'm learning what each colour is about.  This approach to colour is the basis of my new class Basic Drawing Skills Pt 2: Colour.  It's all about mastering your palette and with too many choices it's very hard to learn the properties of any particular colour.

Morning Mountains
18" x  24"

For information on this or any other painting contact me.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cascade (Studio Version)

This is a studio version of this mountain scene from just outside Banff.  It's a motif I quite enjoy and I think there may be some more versions in the future.  I like the monumentality of it.  I think the composition may need a little further refinement.  I'm really excited about the possibilities of mixing watercolour and gouache.  I love the spontaneity of watercolour and then having the potential to add some lights over the darks with gouache is very freeing.

watercolour & gouache
18" x   18"

For information about this or any other painting contact me.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Morning Mountains

This is a view is see fairly frequently as I take my morning walk along 37th St. I love the pink in the mountains. Yesterday, when I saw them I quickly came home, got the camera, took a picture and did this study. Each time I walk into the studio and see it it takes me right back to that morning. The pink I used was a combination of cad red light with a little titanium white watercolour which is an opaque pigment. I washed this pink over various areas of the painting. The brownish colour is my new favourite mix: red & green. A wash of blue covered the snow.

11" x 5 1/2"

For information on this or any other painting please contact me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Back Alley Series

This image is from a series on back alleys that I did during the big snow fall we had a couple of winters ago. I just up dated it recently. I like the two wet tire tracks that lead right up the painting to the couple at the top. They were a left over from my romantic period. This painting was updated with a much bolder use of colour. I enjoy cityscapes and I particularly like scenes with a different point of view. In this image it's the juxtaposition of Calgary's rich public face and then the other side of Calgary.

Calgary, Looking Up
14" x 11"

For information on this or any other painting contact me right here.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


This image is one that I am developing for my new art class called Basic Drawing Skills Pt2: Colour. I was attracted to the composition and the sense of majesty. I've analyzed it to have a full range of values. Value 1, the lightest, is the entire snow covered highest block of mountains. Value 2 is the next shape down, the larger darker rock band plus the lowest and closest rock face at the bottom of the page. The tree line on that lower rock face is a value 3. Then the lone tree is the value 4 ie the darkest and most intense colours. I helped me to just keep those values in mind. I tried to add other colours to the Value 1 shape but I kept saying, "It has to stay a very light value".

I really getting excited to actually start teaching this class in the spring.

9" x 9"

For information about this or any other painting contact me here.