Monthly Archives: July 2013

Fayac farm estate

Fayac Farm estate 14x20

Fayac Farm estate 14×20

(click for larger image)

On my recent trip to France I was very much drawn to painting simple scenes with barns and cows as oppose to pompous, medieval fortresses built into rock formations. Sometimes, scenes like this have greater appeal and work much better as a painting.  What looks great as a photograph doesn’t necessarily translate into a great painting!

I was very intrigued by the shapes of the barns in the Aquitaine/ Dordogne region of central France.  France is very good in preserving their traditions while keeping pace with the modern life in the 21st century.  They have big box stores as well, but at the same time also manage to keep their small mom and pop stores alive.

This scene depicts one of said barns at the end of the day. The play of light on the rooftop,  the deep shadows of the foreground along with the grazing cows were just waiting to be painted!

Fayac farm estate
Media: original watercolor on paper
Image size:  approx. 14″x20″
Unframed/ matted
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About composition

downtown crown morning square

One of the pleasures as a volunteer at the National Watercolor Society is to be exposed to all kinds of watermedia art and to see lots of watercolor paintings in real life. While I have learned a great deal just by studying other artist’s works, there were also pretty sobering moments. For instance, it is disturbing to see how many artist’s ‘enhance’ their artwork with photo-manipulating software on their computer and their piece looks only half as good when you see it in real life! That, however is a topic for another post. Or not.

Composition: One of the most important aspects of a picture. There was a time when I utterly underestimated how important it actually is! Luckily, there were people who helped me along. My past teachers of course, but also a lot of studying on my own. A couple years ago I started collecting the catalogs of all NWS exhibitions since 1950 something and whenever I have spare time, I always sit down and analyse artwork of past shows. Surprising how much one can learn doing this!
I also have very good books on the subject matter. One of them by the late Jan Herring, given to me by her wonderful daughter Helen during a workshop. I think it’s out of print, the book title is ‘The painters composition handbook’. Jan talks about letters of the alphabet that can be used as a composition tool by placing them in your work as guidelines for major shapes. Not every letter works, but A, C, H, L, X, Z for instance all work. Then there are triangles, cruciform and other shapes.
Nowadays, I always try to at least apply some of these helpers to my work. Then I let it sit for a bit and double check if everything works before picking up a paintbrush.

triangle compo

These two paintings are almost identical in composition. The big difference is, of course, the light situation. It can’t be any more different, really! Can you see the triangle that I arranged the shapes in this one? To illustrate my point, I drew it on. It made a big difference in this piece. In fact, all the great techniques and beautiful washes etc. are all worthless if the compo is no good!

One last tip: Study great abstract artists like Elaine Daily Birnbaum and others and you’d be surprised to see how much you can learn from them, even if you’re a ‘representational artist’, like myself! I always say that my representational art is 80% abstract anyway!

Cape Cod: The Beauty of Light, Sept. 19 to 22, 2013


Please consider joining me and other great painters for this wonderful event this fall! It is taking place in one of the most beautiful places in this country. For more information, please visit:

California light

the beachpath The last ride of the day, web

The California light. It is special. It is strange and elusive.  As a painter, I am obsessed with light situations and to capture them in my work. Recently, I find myself painting coastal scenes again, but incorporating the marine layer in it.
What is a marine layer? It is nothing but fog, created by two colliding air masses. One is the hot air coming from inland, the other the cool coastal air blowing onshore from the pacific ocean. When they meet, it creates a sort of microclimate with huge fog banks, so dense that you’d actually have to put on a jacket even in mid-summer! It is very possible to experience a twenty degree temperature difference (in Fahrenheit) between coastal communities and cities
further away from the ocean.

When the marine layer starts to lift and the sun is trying hard to break through, you get the most beautiful light. It is sort of sunny and foggy at the same time, a very unique condition that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. (at least not where I’ve traveled to) The same happens toward the end of the day, when the marine layer starts coming back. The air is very thick, filled with moisture and creates wonderful, atmospheric scenes.

When painting scenes like this, timing is of the utmost importance! I’ll have picked the scene hours earlier. I’ll have finished my preliminary drawing long ago. I am just hanging out, waiting for it to start…
Once it rolls in (or out) I’ll have maybe 45 minutes to do the painting. It is possible. Not easy, but possible…sometimes it’s not working out, but that only makes me try harder. Other times, the fog just doesn’t come or it never lifts (in the morning)at all and the scene will turn out completely different! The key is to keep an open mind and try painting outside, no matter what.
Ken Auster, a famous Laguna Beach oil painter, once said that painting outside is invaluable because it is observation driven, not technique driven! It is so true, there is no time to get caught up in technique! You’ll have other things to worry about, like finishing your painting!!

Watermedia show ‘Creative Independence’

On July first, I was invited to jury the watermedia show called ‘Creative Independence’ at the prestigious San Diego Watercolor Society. The show runs from July 3 to 27, 2013 at their headquarters in San Diego, California.
If you have a chance I would urge you to check it out! SDWC is a big society and has a lot of incredibly talented watermedia artists!

Being a juror is a big honor and I don’t take it lightly! It is never easy to select certain paintings to go in and reject others. As artists, we don’t take rejections well because there’s so much of our personality that goes into our work, so when a juror doesn’t pick our work, well…let’s just say it doesn’t feel good. Jurors can usually only select around 90 paintings for any given exhibition. If there are 250 or more entries, we have no choice but to eliminate a big number of works. I tried my best to be fair, but it is of course, not possible!

This is what i look for when jurying: Technical skill and knowledge of perspective, anatomy, a strong composition and/or pattern and design. Also, an understanding of values, light and atmosphere.  (depending on the genre and subject matter, of course) In addition, the work should display a consistency (esp. if someone submits more than one painting) and assured individual style. Paintings also have to communicate with the viewer on some level and convey a mood or an expression!

My sincere congratulations to all the award winners! I hope I selected a balanced show and my thanks goes to Nell Bartlett and her wonderful team at the SDWC for making this job easy for me!