Archive for the ‘The School of Oops’ Category

On the Road to Discovery: Abstraction to eliminate distraction

Monday, May 1st, 2017

I find that it’s all too easy to get so caught up in the literality of a subject that the key elements of the abstract compositional design are overlooked.  One way I hoped to overcome that tendency – and train myself to do so habitually – was to focus solely on the abstract design, if necessary sacrificing detail and other minor elements for the sake of emphasizing the overall compositional design.

I decided to look at line, value, saturation changes, interplay among hues, and contrasts of all these elements to see if they alone, without extraneous detail, could capture my concept of the subject.  Could these elements alone express my primary impression?  I felt it was a question worth investigating.

A Japanese-style iris garden provided a promising subject to play with.  The angularity of the man-made element of a boardwalk across a garden pond contrasted in an interesting way with the curving sweep of the pond’s edge and the natural, rounded forms of the interspersed plantings.  I also took advantage of the boardwalk as an opportunity to introduce (and exaggerate) greater hue and temperature contrasts beyond those minor temperature biases found simply in variations of the dominant hue.

"Watergarden Boardwalk" (#170308wh)

“Watergarden Boardwalk” (#170308wh)

The original 8”x10” composition incorporated far too much detail outside of the focal area.  Although the extraneous shapes and lines helped to balance the overall composition, they were superfluous and distracting in terms of the concept.

"Watergarden Boardwalk" (#170308wv)

“Watergarden Boardwalk” (#170308wv)

Cropping the composition down to 7”x5” (and changing the orientation from horizontal to vertical) eliminated most of the unnecessary information.  The encircling lines of the shoreline and the white boardwalk enfolding the plantings were sacrificed.  But the crop now emphasized the boardwalk’s angularity in contrast to the rounded shapes, thus enhancing my original concept.

Casting Light on Lights

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

When striving to get our lightest values light enough, the temptation is to substitute white for a more accurate color.  Although this practice is both expected and acceptable in watercolor, since the lightest tones are actually taking advantage of the brilliant white of the underlying paper.

But in oils, the practice of using white, straight from a tube, isn’t so successful.  For one thing, tube white (usually titanium white these days, since zinc white tends to yellow with age and become brittle) has a cool cast, which doesn’t ring true as a highlight for warm colors.  For another thing, unless the subject color is intentionally white, pure white paint seems to glare and stand out unattractively from the rest of the composition.

The only unmodified white in the painting below is in the highlights on the paper towel roll (behind the canvas on the easel), and the highlights on the blue-white gloves, shoes, and turps can.  All other “whites” have been modified.

160409o---En-Plein-Air (original)

So what’s the answer?  As with mixing any other color, it’s a question of blending the appropriate hues to achieve the desired value.  And when that desired value is almost white, the mixture may require only the tiniest quantity of pigment to modify the tube white.

As I’ve been familiarizing myself with oils, I’ve found that my lights don’t always get quite light enough.  What I think will be a light tone, like the highlights on the hair in the painting above, proves to still be close enough to the middle tones to undermine my intention.  In this case, the highlight on the woman’s hair was so similar in hue, value, and saturation to those of the canvas that her head (which should have been a secondary focal area) and the canvas appear to merge into a single shape, which in turn disappears into the foliage behind them.

A few slight modifications to “En Plein Air” (#160409-o), below, made a big difference.  I lightened the hair highlights a bit, and both slightly lowered the value and increased the saturation of the canvas, which served to separate the two shapes, bringing greater attention to the head and allowing the canvas to appropriately replicate the colors of the background.

160409o---En-Plein-Air (revised)

The difference such subtle changes in contrast can make demonstrate for me again how important it is to really understand value control, even in the highest range, and to practice monitoring those values closely as I prepare the colors on my palette.  I didn’t have to worry about the lights so much when using watercolor.  I’ve been learning that it’s much more critical when working with oils.

Errors Ennobled

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

Barry John Raybould, author of the Virtual Art Academy curriculum, writes that “by doing something and getting it wrong, you learn much faster than doing something and getting it right! The trick is to make as many possible mistakes as you can in the shortest possible time.”

And that’s what the School of Oops! is all about. So by all accounts, I should be advancing by leaps and bounds!

In fact, I do learn from my mistakes … if I allow myself to. That means not only being humbled enough by the failure to acknowledge the mistakes and to identify specifically what they were, but also to have the knowledge and wisdom to figure out how to rectify those ignoble errors.

On a plein air outing this winter, I undertook a watercolor sketch that turned out to be a total flop, both in planning and in execution. Almost everything about it failed. I gave it up as a bad job and began another painting that was much more successful (though that, too, demanded a few strategic corrections in the studio to bring it up to high enough standards to satisfy me).

Using the Virtual Art Academy’s “Visual Music and Poetry” (VM&P) critique format proves extremely helpful in isolating specific aspects of any painting that either succeed or could be improved. By following the format, I was able to get most of the answers I needed for both the paintings. The second of the paintings required only a few adjustments. But the first sketch required some hard evaluation to identify what, exactly, had gone wrong. As I analyzed the work, I realized that the problems were not only in the execution but in my work habits, which, much to my chagrin, I realized had become careless. I was painting like a raw beginner, ignoring many of the principles I had learned over the past several years through the academy.

By identifying both the problems and potential solutions, I gained enough confidence to try the subject again. Then, keeping in mind the ever-important principles I had previously forsaken, I was able to undertake another version of the scene with somewhat better success. (See “Old-Florida River,” #160301, below.)  It’s still not ideal, but it’s a great improvement, and as I study it further, I recognize further corrections I could make and lessons to incorporate in future work.  Learning is an ongoing process in the School of Oops.


So even as we make mistakes, we can allow ourselves to learn from them. The more we make, the better? Maybe not. But the more quickly we can improve.

Seeking the Right Match

Monday, February 15th, 2016

What do you do when you realize that your work is not the right match for the gallery that is representing it? There’s really only one good option, to withdraw gracefully and seek a more appropriate partnership.

160202w The Entertainer

160202w The Entertainer

That’s the position I currently find myself in. Although the gallerist at Island Art said he admired my watercolors, they are apparently not a good match for what his clientele are looking for. Therefore, I will be seeking representation better suited to my work elsewhere in Southwest Florida.

In the meantime, many of my paintings are still available for viewing here in my online gallery.  Please feel free to contact me for further information.

The Value of Counterpoint

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

Last time I wrote about adjusting values to separate the planes between foreground and far distance, which helps to indicate atmospheric perspective.

I was reminded of another use of values as I worked in oils recently. I have used this same subject for several different studies, in a variety of media.  (For a variation of this subject in watercolor, see #140913w – Maritime Study in White, currently in the Landscape, Seascape, and Beaches gallery.)


In my first go at this painting of Santa Margherita Harbor (above, #150906o) I left the masts the same value from top to bottom. A friend pointed out that I’d lost an opportunity to strengthen the image by introducing counterpoint in the masts. He was absolutely right.  I had entirely overlooked it.

The painting became much more interesting when I applied the principle of counterpoint, making the masts and guywires light against the dark hills, and darker against the lighter sky, as you can see below.

150906o Santa Margherita Harbor


Again, it was a very minor change that made a lot of difference. The medium matters less than the principles we apply.