Monthly Archives: October 2016

Three Ways to Paint from Your Photos with More Expression


Photo #1

You’re standing there on the shores of Lake Michigan. The sun is setting, the sky is lighting up, and both — bold in subtle ways — are taking your breath away. All set to the soundtrack of crashing waves.

Now, how are you going to paint it? The simple answer is: You’re not. You’re going to use that moment, that feeling, and that photo you took that doesn’t quite measure up as a jumping-off point.

It’s your job to interpret that view in a way that’s entertaining first to yourself, and then the viewer. So yes, use that photo as an excuse to paint. But then, please, please, disregard it. Unless you happen to also be a rock star photographer with a gig at National Geographic, the photo isn’t measuring up to that moment anyway.


Watercolor interpretation of Photo #1

So rearrange it and reinterpret it. The best way to do this is in a sketch or watercolor study. This is a practice I was really good at early in my career, which I later I abandoned. I’m getting back to it, because it is so much better to work out the details on a piece of paper than in the midst of a large painting. I’ve done it; I’ve painted all day, just to discover my composition needs to be changed. It’s something that’s completely avoidable when you do your studies in either pencil or paint in advance.


Photo #2

Now that you’ve transferred your sketch or study onto the early phases of your painting, put your photo away. Yes, you can go back and reference it if need be, but now is the time for you to be an artist. It’s time for you to focus on the canvas and your interaction with it and what the paint is doing and how interesting that is to you. Now is the time to be an entertainer: Use your skills as an artist to make the piece entertaining to the viewer.


Oil painting interpretation of Photo #2

This is why we create. We don’t paint to imitate nature; nature has already done a super big job of that. We paint to express our own feelings and interpretations. You have a permission slip to do that. And, frankly, I’m inviting you to. So go make art that is uniquely you, and all the better for it.

As always, I love to hear from you in the comments; it’s where the best discussions happen. Write down your thoughts, your ideas and your questions. And look for me on Facebook and Instagram, I’m there everyday!


Five Ways to Make Your Next Painting Stronger



What happens when you take a break from routine to go back to school, if even for a short time? Learning and growing, then turning around and teaching it — it’s a metaphor for life, and certainly for art.

I spent the last two weeks — joyfully and gleefully and sometimes frustratingly — learning. Robert Burridge, Sterling Edwards and, most recently, Don Andrews, have been some of my mentors and teachers. (Google them — you’re bound to be thrilled and delighted by their incredible talent.) There have been many more teachers and fellow artists who I’ve learned from through the years, and through all of these experiences and encounters, I have found many universal truths.

These things really make a difference in my own work, and they keep coming up. I hope by sharing them, they can serve as reminders to you, too:

1. Play, Play, Play: Just pull out a piece of paper and see what paint does. Art is play when we let it be. Experiment and detach from outcome. This is your time to delight yourself, go ahead and make a mess, or discover something new. It doesn’t matter because it’s about the process.


2. Be Bold: To paraphrase the famous quote, they say “well-behaved women never made history,” and the same is true of art. Don’t be afraid to stand out; it gives your viewer something yummy to experience, holding their gaze and supplying intrigue vs. ho-hum.


3. Start Your Painting Loose: My mentor Bob Burridge used to say that behind every great painting is a really great abstract painting. The beginning of your painting is not the time to get into detail — it’s your playtime. There will be plenty of time for detail down the road. If you get too caught up in detail, too soon you become caught up in protecting the area and sacrifice the unity of the painting.


4. Rule of Opposites: Think contrasts: Light needs dark. If you want to make something look lighter, put something dark next to it. If you want to make something look darker, put something light next to it. Soft edges need to be balanced with hard edges. Vary your line quality. Warm colors need cool colors; it keeps the eye moving around the composition and keeps the viewer entertained.


5. Break up with Fear: This is probably the most important lesson of all.  Fear is the biggest killer of creativity. To paraphrase the author Elizabeth Gilbert: Tell it to go sit in the backseat; it’s not driving the bus. The minute you let it into the driver seat, your art becomes careful and calculated and that edge, that thing that makes you you, is stifled into trying to be like everybody else. So stay in the backseat, Fear: We are not listening to you today. Today, we will make our art, bravely and courageously.


If you make art, these things are not new to you, but they are the things we need to constantly remind ourselves. So go, dare, play, create, and make whatever it is that floats your boat. In the age of technology, art is something that still needs a human, and each creation is different and unique — that’s the beauty.

As always, I love hearing from you in the comments. Is this information helpful? Do you want to learn more about the process? Your feedback is the most important part of the conversation. Thanks for reading, and cheers!