The Value of “Wasting Paint and Paper”

“Diana”
Watercolor, 18×24 inches
I am a risk taker.   That is to say at times I commit to risky acts that might make life uncomfortable if I fail to succeed in the risky act.
Several weeks ago, I attended a big watercolor portrait demonstration in which Christopher Schink, Myrna Wacknov and David Lobenberg would each be separately painting a portrait of the same model . . . and all were doing it simultaneously.   Schink suggested that Me and Myrna and He do a similar demo in the south Bay Area.   Off handedly, I said “Sure, let’s do it!   That would be fun!”
An hour later I was questioning my sanity !!
You may know most of my work, dear reader, as landscape painting and, occasionally, non objective work in watercolor.   Portraits??  Are you kidding?   Not me.  I mean NOT A CHANCE IN HELL !!
Moreover, compete with (or set myself up to be compared to) those two painters?   Was I nuts??
So, I made my bed.   I am in trouble.   Rather than chicken out, I made a promise to myself that I would start in making portraits and figure paintings ASAP.   What I know about myself is that if I am under pressure to perform, I will cram / study to learn what I need to learn and rehearse / practice until I can, at least, hold my own . . . .or, at least, give it the old “college try.”
To date, I have painted somewhere near 20 full blown paintings and done a ton of drawings at my local Art League with nude figures.   I sure found out in a hurry that I didn’t know what I didn’t know!!   So, now I know what I don’t know.   And I am scrambling to learn and to practice what I am learning.   Yes, practice.   I am, what some would say, wasting lots of paint and paper.   That is, making paintings, critiquing them for ways to improve (my gawd, you should have seen the first ten!) then throwing them away and beginning anew each time.    And I am not messing around with cheap paper or small formats.   I am painting on 300lb rough, full sheets . . . ( and hoping for the best!!)
I have learned a few things in my painting career . . . . one is to LET GO! . . . .Forget the details . . . get in there and paint as though this were the most fun thing I have ever done.   Have fun and experiment.   Act like there is no “show down” and try some different stuff.   Every painting is a lesson!   So, Mike.   Paint like there is no tomorrow and L E A R N !!
The painting above is a portrait of my dear, patient wife, Diana, who has posed for me numerous times . . . and her sister has, too . . .just to throw in variety.   I must say, with that open minded attitude about doing, virtually, anything along the way in order to learn is really paying off.
It is June 20 and my ‘performance date’ is July 18.   This painting has given me more confidence that I can do just about anything I want, technique wise, and get away with it, if I have the basis of a good design.   So, there is where the work is being put in . . .design and composition.
Incidentally, isn’t Diana beautiful?   It’s tuff work but somebody has to do it!!

Taming The Lion

“Harbor Impressions”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

Occasionally, one stumbles into a mood that prevents anything serious from being played out in the studio . . . . .or anywhere else.   I am not sure if this is just a spilling out of happiness . . . or a vacation from being too serious.    And I am still not sure of the source . . . .but I know in my soul that it is important to take on that sort of mood while operating a paint brush on occasion.
Eh?   What do you mean, Mike?   After all, isn’t learning to paint a serious pursuit?   Well, yes, it is.   In fact, it is one of the most serious forms of study that any sane person can take on.  But there must a be a time when us painters must throw much of our inborn caution to the wind, take a big risk and paint something in a manner not done before.   Putting paint down on a dry canvas or a dry piece of cotton paper is about as commonplace as it can get.   Change that surface so that the paint does different stuff with the paint than we are accustomed to trying to control . . . .that packs all sorts of failure risks!!
Aw!   Go ON!!   Take a risk!!   What have you to lose?    If you are a watercolor painter, try this . . . . . . with a big clean, water saturated sponge, wash down both sides of your paper a minimum of three times . . .  .wiping with lots of water . . .  .until the paper gives up all of its native stiffness.  It should have the consistency of a saturated rag.   Really!!
Once done, place the paper on your board so that it is perfectly in the place you would want in order to paint on it.   (Caution:  You may have to staple it down at some point, so be sure your paper is on a board that will accept stationary staples.)
Lay out the saturated paper.    Roll up a terry cloth hand towel in a very tight roll.   Hint:  fold it lengthwise first, then roll from one end of the long dimension.    Pressing firmly onto the paper roll the rolled up towel over the paper in order to take up the majority of the water on the surface, in the fiber of the paper and underneath the paper.    What will remain is a piece of fairly damp paper with no shiny spots on the surface.  
Use a flat, syntheticwatercolor brush to apply the paint when the time comes to make marks.    Why synthetic?    It won’t hold much water in its bristles.   You will want to have the paper do most of the adding of water to the paint . . . . DO NOT saturate your brush.
Now, go ahead and paint what ever subject you like.   Lots is going to happen that you don’t expect . . . .  .beautiful ‘granulation’ . . . . soft, even fuzzy edges . . . . intermingling of colors in places you least want or expect . . . . values will significantly fade . . . .just about everything you would normally fight, in order to hold onto control will happen.
Go ahead . . . . . paint on it . . . take chances . . . what will happen if your brush is too wet?    What will happen as the paper begins to dry?    Yikes!   What if you make a mistake?    Can you wipe it up?   Can you lift?   Can you make a graded wash?   Can you give up control?   Well . . . . CAN YOU?
Here is the point:    The only way you will ever get to know your medium well enough to master it is to challenge it (and yourself) in every way you can!!   That’s right!    You must test it and test yourself so often that you get to the place where you can anticipate what it is going to do before it happens.
By going on a mental “vacation” and opening yourself up to courting absolute failure and letting happen what will happen, you will find that it is actually fun!!   That’s right, it is play!!   
There’s more to goof around with than just the paper and how dry it isn’t.   How about painting everything in a painting (and I do mean everything) with a three inch flat brush?   Or a big hake brush?   What if you confined yourself to just three colors?   Or, what if you put ox gall in your water?   What would happen?    Or, horrors!!!   Paint with your paper absolutely vertical!!    Could you stand it?   Or could you put yourself into a frame of mind to give it a go and let it do whatever it is going to do?
At some point in our painting life, we have to face every sort of challenge.   The masters never had much trouble with challenges because they actually practiced every possible thing that could happen and practiced how to handle the conditions that arose.  
Just because “it’s hard” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tackle it!!!!!    Get into that lion’s cage and tame the lion !!!    (You won’t die or even get scratched!)

Staying In The Fight

Pidgeoniere
watercolor 18 x 22 inches
There is an underlying, ever present, persistent obstacle that clobbers plein air watercolor and acrylic painters.   It is the one thing that forces the watercolor painter to be on top of his or her game at all times during the painting process.  In fact it is so persistent and so unobtrusive that it will clobber the efforts of even the most experienced and advanced studio painter.
This obstacle . . .or this challenge (you might call it that) . . . is so in the face of the painter and so omnipresent that most painters are not even conscious of it.
Eh?  What??
When there is such a challenge as this, it calls into action the least fun of the painting skill set so that the urgency of the fight becomes the center of the painting process.  In other words, if the painter is not prepared to deal with this challenge, the painting will most often fail.   Well, if not fail, then it will not blossom into that glorious state of miraculous, wonderful outcome that makes us painters leap with excitement and thrills for having accomplished such a piece of work.
This challenge calls into the painting process A PLAN OF ACTION.   That plan must be present in the painter’s mind so that there is no . . . repeat: NONE. . . . hesitancy in the act of painting.   The painter must know how, exactly he or she is going to paint each part of the painting . . . .from color choices, to value assignments, to the order of what gets painted first, to management of edges and that plan must be executed with speed . . . .or shall I say with urgency.
Yikes!  What do you mean, Mike?   What is this ornery challenge that takes the joy away from a lingering form of meditative bliss that we studio painters enjoy so much?
In the outdoors, there are a few things that can wallop a painter before he begins . . . sunlight being one of those.   While we painters all LOVE the sun and what it does with light and shadow, being in the direct sun will spoil a painting very quickly.  It bakes the paint.   AND . . . . .it really changes how we perceive color and value . . . . especially when that paper is pure white and the light from the sun is reflecting back into our eyes and causing our vision to actually diminish from the glare.
But that isn’t it.   It certainly deserves attention . . . like getting the painting into the shade . . .under a tree or umbrella or just out of the direct sun.
What I am speaking of here is the rapid, almost imperceptible speed of evaporation that exists when painting outdoors.   Yep.  That’s what I am talking about:  Drying time.
A great wash requires that the wash remain wet for a period of time so that the fluid can slide down the face of the paper and remain wet so that it dries uniformly.   If the paint dries so fast that the brush cannot complete laying down the wash before the beginning of the wash dries, then the painter is in a fight to insure that his painting isn’t baked before he completes it.
When we are confronted with fast drying time there is no time to step back and make those long considered decisions that form the core of that meditative state we painters all love so much.   The painter must act so that his work is staying ahead of the paint drying too rapidly.  Otherwise, there will be hard nasty edges all over the work . . .in places that they aren’t wanted.
The solution is to spend some of that meditative bliss in the preparation to paint.   Do a few good value sketches.   Become familiar with the subject.   Plan where edges need to be soft or where transitions need to occur by having the colors mingle and blur.   Know ahead of time the order in which the big shapes will be painted and when you intend to charge in another color before a wash dries.   Have the composition drawn out so that there is no room or time for retreats.   Hot dry days do not allow for these decisions to be made on the fly.   They have to be planned so that the painter is always ahead of the paint drying and is in a position to manipulate the paint while it is wet.
Mixing colors and mindlessly stirring them around in the palette is a waste of valuable time.  one must be decisive and must be willing to stand by those decisions without consideration and mental debate.   In short, the painter must act with deliberate certainty.   Serve up the color, put down the stroke and live with the result.  The only way that can happen is to have a very solid plan ahead of time.   It is sort of like knowing when to swing the bat when the pitch is delivered . . . there is no time to think . . .just react.
The painting above was done en plein air in France on a very hot day.   The only available shady place actually dictated what subjects there were to choose from.  Once in the shady place, I fiddled with different compositional alternatives in a sketch book.  Then I nailed down a few solid value studies so that I knew exactly where my lights, mediums and darks would be and when they would be painted.  It was so hot that afternoon that my plan to charge in cerulean blue into a sky wash of yellow ochre was immediately thwarted because the ochre dried before I finished laying it in.  I couldn’t get cerulean blue on the brush fast enough to catch the ochre before it was dry.  Then and there, I realized that I had to act fast and execute my plan with dispatch!   I had to speed up.   The entire painting was finished in around 45 minutes (including planning time!).  And during that time I was conscious of nothing else but what was happening on the surface of the paper.   I had to stay in the fight against drying time for the duration!
Part of the charm of a great watercolor painting is that it appears to have been painted with startling urgency . . . and that it remains “fresh.”   That is that the paint doesn’t appear to have been fussed over and there was a clarity of purpose by the artist.   The only way to get that is to P L A N.
I stress this too in studio painting instruction.   Planning is the center piece of excellence in watercolor painting and, in particular, in painting outside.

A Plein Air Set Up For Watercolor

A Well Thought Out Plein Air Painting Kit
When a watercolor painter decides to paint outside in the open air the first few times, it can be a terrible experience . . . . .Imagine all the things one must carry in order to paint!   A palette on which to mix paint, an easel to hold a board, on which there is paper fastened, brushes, plenty of water, a place to set a palette and a few tools and, yes, an umbrella, warm clothes, a hat to shield ones eyes from the sun, and just about anything else you could think of.  (Yes, I made a run on sentence on purpose . . . for effect!)   
I remember the first few times I set out to paint outside.   I had to make multiple trips from my car to get everything to the painting site.   Sheeesh!   Was this really worth all the effort?
Eventually, and over time, ease of carrying such a boat load of stuff became the priority.   I have tried nearly everything in the journey to establish myself as a habitual plein air painter.   Starting with an acute case of ignorance, I listened to the wrong advisors when I first started out.   Jeeeze!   In addition to all the stuff mentioned above I brought along TV Trays and two different kinds of stools!   It was hilarious!  I might just as well have brought a couch!
I began, somewhere back there, with a full sized french easel . . . .which is nice and stable, but heavy and awkward.   (You won’t find many ladies carrying one of those around!)
Then, I went to the “back packer” half french easel.   Yep!   Still the same problems, but a step better.   I found there is no place to set things unless you reach around behind the work to do so.
Then there were various telescoping, three legged easels.   These were an improvement, but with them, there is NO place to set anything . . . .and a palette need a place to sit flat.  They work fine if you haul in a small table (like a TV tray) along with a bunch of other stuff.
Eventually I have arrived at a terrific set up.  Here it is. . . . .
It begins with an inexpensive, very light weight camera tripod.   I now use the Sunpak 6601, available from Amazon.com.   Shop for price on this, there are places that sell it for double Amazon’s price!
Onto the tripod goes the Sun_Eden “Travelling Adapter.”   This device is what holds the painting board and paper.  See it here.   This nicely made “clamp” is strong and lightweight and breaks down into a small 14 inch package you can easily jam into any sort of carrying gear.
That “adapter” is screwed into the quick release attachment that comes with the tripod.   It then is clipped into the tripod which makes a terrific easel.
Under the “Travelling Adapter” on the tri pod, I have found a simple, rugged shelf which merely sits on two of the tripod legs.   It is available from enpleinairpro.com.   You can see it here.  There are no parts to worry about or fancy adjustments.  It slips onto the legs and is very stable.  It has a big hole to hold a fairly good sized water cup.   It also has a number of holes into which brushes can be inserted so they don’t roll off into the dirt someplace.
The shelf easily holds a full sized watercolor palette or a folding palette.   I have evolved into a plein air painting equipment junkie!   So, I recently acquired my new “Color Gizmo,” as I have dubbed it.   It is a hand held palette with LOADS of mixing capability.   See it here.  Each well is big enough to absorb a 1 1/2 inch flat brush and the mixing wells are simply fabulous!
Add two small (4 oz) plastic bottles . . . .a sprayer and a dripper.   I use the latter for adding water to my large washes in the mixing wells of the palette. ( I dislike having to remix more paint midway through a wash! Having to do so outside, where the paint dries quickly, it can cause big trouble!)
I carry a quart of water in a plastic container.  That container has a loop on it which allows me to hook it to the outside of a small day sized back pack via a carabiner.  That carabiner is useful for hooking the backpack to the easel when it is set up in a windy situation.  The backpack has extra weight that can help the easel hold on in good breeze.   On the other hand, I carry a “pouch” which clips to the legs of the tripod and can be filled with rocks, sand or dirt to really weigh down the easel.   The one I use comes from Artworkessentials.com and can be seen here.  Called the “Utility / Stone Bag” it is reasonably priced and has saved my setup from blowing away more than a few times.

The last item is seemingly unimportant to the novice, but I can attest that it is enormously helpful. . . . .the plein air painting umbrella.   The one in the above picture is “okay” and is also from artworkessentials.com and can be seen here.   They have improved their clamping system from the one shown in the picture above and seems to be fairly good.   I recently bought another umbrella for my oil painting kit, “Best Brella” . . . .which has a superior clamping mechanism and really tuffs it out in a wind.  Their website and product can be seen here.  If I was able to compare the two side by each, I believe I would have opted for the “Best Brella” because it is a superior product.  These both clamp to one of the tripod legs.

You wouldn’t believe the positions these umbrellas take when attached to different artists equipment!   You’ll see them sticking straight out, parallel to the ground, when the sun is low.  And you will see them at all sorts of odd angles as the day’s artwork progresses.

The umbrella will be of immense assistance in mixing your colors when subtlety is necessary.  Sun glare bleaches out what we see on our palette, causes our eyes to dilate down to null and reduces our proclivity to see color nuances.   In addition, the umbrella shades the work in progress.   The sun creates evil on the face of a watercolor while painting, believe me!   So, make sure that you have this piece of equipment.   If you go cheap, you will be very disappointed!

While you and your work are protected from the sun with the umbrella, you are also vulnerable to the least amount of wind, should it come up.   The umbrella, though designed to be in a wind, can act as a parachute and will carry away your gear if you don’t weigh down your easel with plenty of weight. And it does happen.   Chasing a renegade easel in the wind can be very dis-heartening!  (believe me, I know!)   When painting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean it would be tragic to see your equipment sail over the edge and be lost forever!

There are a few other items, which I have found imperative  . . . .one of which is a wide brimmed hat.  Aside from UV protection, that brim shades your eyes and continues to give you the vision acuity you need to be able to truly see color subtleties.  Another is a pocket full of Kleenex (tissues).   These necessary for a variety of little chores while painting . . . .and nose blowing isn’t one of them! . . . .palette cleaning and blotting paint being the chief chores.

The last and final item is a back pack.   You might find this humorous, but I brought all my paraphernalia into a shop and, with the help of a sales clerk, loaded pack after pack until we found the right pack that could accommodate everything (with room for a lunch in the pack) and was comfortable!  Once found and assured that all would indeed fit, the test was to fill the pack and walk around the store with it on.

Now, instead of needing a trailer attached to my car to get the gear to the painting site, I can literally RUN with all my gear on my back and do so in comfort.   The pack I chose was a small “day pack.”   It isn’t big and bulky and there is lots of room inside to add the incidental stuff, if needed.

I have yet to mention the important board and paper . . . . I use Gator Board, extremely lightweight, and stretch my paper on it the day before going out  . . . . and I carry that piece in my hand.   I have paper stretched on both sides of the board (to protect the board from warping under the pressure of shrinking cotton paper) to allow me the luxury of making more than one painting when I am out.   Generally, I paint on half sheets (15 x 22 inches) but this equipment allows me to work on full sheets, 22 x 30 inches.

If you have questions about any of this, leave them in the comments.  I promise to answer.

Still on the Edge of Heaven . . .

“Carmel River Mouth”
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
A hiatus on Wednesday to carry out a work assignment prevented me from painting, but it sure didn’t stop me from thinking about being back at the easel while at work! Sometimes, plein aire painting can be a full blown compulsion for me! This week I was certainly in that compulsive behavior zone!
One of the very first workshops I ever attended was at this location some 20 years ago from a gentleman by the name of Gerald Brommer. You may know of Gerry or even attend his workshops. I know that he has given some 600 workshops all over the world. The Monterey area in Northern California (which is where this painting was done) was one of his favorite haunts. It was his paintings of that area that swept me into taking up this delightful pastime. I will be forever grateful to him for his encouragement and for setting an example for me to follow for the rest of my life.
That said, I wish there were spectators attending this painting session. I could do nothing wrong it seemed. It nearly FELL off my brushes. There was a mellow feeling as I set up my gear and proceeded to lay out the composition. Every move, every stroke, every wash and every glaze seemed as though nothing could possibly go wrong! There are occasional moments like that in the pursuit of painting. They don’t come often, but when they do there is incredible excitement (almost like a drug high!) that follows and keeps me floating for many days afterward. One would think that after 24 years of painting that sort of feeling of euphoria wouldn’t come around much, but it sure does for me. When I think about this sort of reward, I become very spiritual and quite grateful for the gifts I have been given. (amen!)
There are a few more paintings that happened this week, two of which are still in the category of “starts” and must be resolved in order to declare them finished. I will post them as soon as that happens. Meanwhile, I am returning to teaching my ten week class “Watercolor Beyond the Obvious” on Monday of this coming week. So, I must prepare, rather than paint.
Knowing me as I do, though, I imagine this compulsion that throbs within will win out in a day or two!! ;-))

Spending Tuesday in Heaven



“Orange and Blue”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
As promised, here is the result of Tuesday’s session on a hillside near Big Sur, California. As you can see from the about photo, the ice plant is colorful at this time of year . . . . .and finds itself in the most in hospitable places which, I think, are impossible to reach in order to germinate. But there it is!!
For me, this day was a day of, literally, falling in love! I have been dreaming about putting these images on paper with watercolor for weeks now. And here I was, back to the wind, being cautious not to spill my easel over the edge and into the water. What an incredible, beautiful day!!!
Putting the varied colors of the ice plant into a painting like this is a challenge. There are many greens mixed with reds of varying temperatures and intensities. After many attempts, I find that exaggeration seems to be the only way to intermingle those colors and to carry the emotion of the place. Rocks and water are one thing, but rocks and water with brilliant reds and oranges . . . . . . . .? Now THAT is something to dance for!!
I had to miss Wednesday, but am going back out on Thursday and hope that the forecasted rain doesn’t appear until late in the afternoon.
Ciao !

Returned to the Easel

“Plane Compression”
Transparent Watercolor 22 x 30 inches

Okay I am back! Hawaii was fantastic ! Frankly, however, I have been itching to return to the easel here at home.

This piece is quite similar to the other non objective pieces I have completed in the last few months. It was half finished when we left for our Hawaiian Holiday
All I needed was one look at it’s lonely, half baked existence on the easel to awaken my juices and get me rolling once again. I arose quite early this morning (4AM) to get after it. I am still not certain that it is complete. I may let it hang around for several days before I declare it final and finished.
On another note, I put the last few non objective pieces down on my studio floor this morning and lined them up next to each other. They all look very similar . . . . .which has both good and bad points . . . .it is a spur in my sides, though, as it indicates that I am becoming stale. Gotta move on to another ‘theme’ . . . . .which may not be all that easy. I like the motif of floating planes and shallow space, which is what all of these are . . . .and I noticed that the compositions are quite similar, too! A change up is due!!
Until next painting . . . .

In My Face . . .

“Confetti and Spears”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches

After posting a non objective piece last week, I immediately ran to the easel to do another. Sketches were already done and I was psyched to hit a home run! I have worked on this piece daily for over a week, putting in three to four hours per day.

It wasn’t until I photographed the piece and brought it up on the computer screen that I saw some glaring errors . . . .and I don’t mean smudges or brush sloppiness. I mean design errors that shocked me. This piece has been in my face for over a week and I never saw the errors until now.
We artists can become so driven and focused on something that we completely miss that which is right in front of us . . . at least I sure do!
I am a bit of a fanatic about composition and design, yet make the same mistakes over and over again. For example, the large light shapes which float through the composition in this painting are, I suddenly realized, centered in the page. That is, the intervals or distances between the bottom of the shapes and the bottom edge of the page are the same intervals as the distances from the tops of the shapes to the top edge of the page. Darn!! Why didn’t I see that?
Then, when laying in the spears and lines I was careful not to make any parallel to each other . . . . . . . . .Or, was I cautious enough? Apparently NOT!! Yikes! How could I have missed that?
I must admit that I spent much time and effort trying to avoid color errors and wasn’t looking carefully at spatial relationships in the piece. I had set a challenge to work up a painting in a red analogous color scheme. I love the colors and textures and much of the movement through the piece. That said and noting the errors made (there are ALWAYS mistakes!) this is a passable painting.
I have a friend who is a Dolphin Fellow in AWS (an extremely high honor which recognizes artistic excellence) who says we have to do 10 or 20 in order to get “a good one.” He does . . .and so to I.
So, like they used to say in the barber shop: “NEXT!”

Toying with Line and Color

“Line Splice”
watercolor trial 22 x 30 inches

Few a few days I have been alternately prepping for a workshop and painting . . .among other things. This is a hurried painting on the back of a ruined painting . . .in other words, a trial of a few ideas.

The first idea was to set a mood of an approaching storm and a shadow of danger. That meant I had to use color in a way that was moody and foreboding to a degree: few, if any, pure dazzling colors. I chose to paint in a strategy of Shades, Tones and Tints. In this approach, tones dominate the image while I used shades for shadow areas and the darks. The Tints were reserved for the lineman’s shirt . . . .the edges of it which were in the light.
As well, the use of LINE as an element in the painting was another item I had to fool with to get the feel of which technique to use to express the cables and phone lines in the piece. As it turns out, all but one are freehand. I tried taping the lines off . . . .it was too ridgid. I tried painting with a soft brush and it became too fussy. Then I happened upon a very stiff bristle brush, flat, used on edge . . . .that did the trick.
The gray sky area (the negative space) is much too sloppy for what I needed to accomplish, but now I know I must mix a large amount of wash to attain the uniform feel I am after. I will use a tub of premixed wash on my next attempt and use that as a mother color to establish color variation in the negative space.
The line work in the piece definitely gives a feeling of empty space which emphasizes the shadow of danger. The tree trunk and utility pole on the right of the piece hold the eye inward and make for a strong tie to the left margin via the wires and cables.
I like this one. When I return from my workshop, I will explore making a serious painting of it.

White Izzzn’t White

“Sully’s Fresh Crab”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches

Nope! It just Izzn’t!

Our eyeballs just can’t see what we think we see.

Yesterday was another beautiful day in the sun . . .warm and bright . . . .a perfect day for Butch, my painting buddy, and I to go out and paint. So we went back to the harbor where lots and lots and lots of white boats live. I am telling you true: What seems white just is NOT!

The little device you see above is a value viewer. It is very helpful to look at an area, (such as the side of a white boat hull in shadow) to judge the value. When peeking through the little hole and comparing the value of the white in shadow, one can instantly see that it is more a mid value than a light white. Then . . . comes the problem of getting that value onto the paper or canvas. That big piece of white paper can really throw off our judgment, too. We make a paint mark on the big white page and the mark seems darker than it really is because we are unconsciously comparing all that white field with the value of the mark . Yikes! That little viewer helps.

BUT . . . .there is still another problem (these difficulties are some of the reasons artists find plein air painting so difficult) . . . .that is if you are painting watercolor, the paint fades after it dries. Which compounds the value difficulty!!!!! One must be able to predict how the value of a mark or wash after it is dry. GAAAADS !!!! Is there any end to this stuff??? !!

How does one solve it? The viewer helps. The rest of it is fixed with plain old mileage.

Huh? Did you say Mileage?

Yep! That is what I said. Let me clarify: BRUSH mileage. Translated, it means tons of practice.

I have been painting for 20 plus years and still find plein air painting full of problems and difficulties. Yesterday was no exception. After getting home from a 4 hour painting stint and looking at the painting in normal indoor light, I could see the values of my boat hulls were wrong . . .not dark enough. Like I said, white just izzn’t white!!! So, several glazes later (and spoiled pristine washes) I came up with this painting. A lot of fussing and much self talk about what I will do next time and solemn vows about not letting this happen again, I finished the painting attempt.

You may think this is an okay painting. It was certainly fun and most instructive, but I simply MUST go back and try again and again. Butch and I discussed this aspect of being a painter: the compulsion to get better . . . . .and it is indeed a compulsion. Maybe someday, with enough brush mileage under my belt, it might happen. For now, though, it is best to focus on doing the best I can and having fun in the process because to be out there is simply a total gassss!!!!