Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Outdoor Light and Skin Tones

This post is way overdue, but I thought I would share it anyway. Since we currently have over ten inches of snow on the ground, it seems like an appropriate time to finish this blog post, which I started writing almost two months ago.

We were gifted with a gorgeous summer and fall. As a result, many of my recent paintings feature the figure outdoors. In general, this is a subject I'd like to paint MUCH more of now that I live in Colorado (I foresee more mountains and waterfalls in future works!).

I've found that my palette has had to evolve as I move away from artificial studio light to sunlight. This is especially true of subjects that are outdoors on a cloudy or slightly overcast day. The biggest change was moving from a generally warm palette to a much cooler one, even in the fall paintings that have lots of yellow and orange. Skin tones, when in shadow or facing away from the sun, are very cool in relation to the warmth of areas directly lit by the sun.

"Among the Hydrangeas" - 36x24" - oil on linen

I used more thalo green for "Among the Hydrangeas" than probably in all my other paintings combined! Not only was it a big painting with a lot of surface to cover, but the majority of it was overwhelmingly green! I had so much fun finding the subtle shifts and nuances within that color range. The overall look, with the areas in light on the coolor side, and areas in shadow much warmer, ends up being quite harmonious. I also broke some of my own "rules" and introduced the thalo into some of the skin tones, especially where the figure disappears into the flowers.

"Autumn Princess" - 8.625"x12" - oil on copper

For "Autumn Princess," the light areas in the skin were painted with white, alizarin crimson, and radiant green, toned down in places with transparent oxide brown. The cooler areas had some viridian and a touch of radiant turquoise. The warm areas, such as below the eyebrows and the rosy cheeks, had some cadmium scarlet and transparent oxide red. I found that I used hints of permanent rose in both the skin tones and hair to support all the bright reds and pinks in the flowers on her head. There is also a lot of radiant turquoise and viridian in the hair.

"Backyard Safari" - 18x14" - oil on linen panel
"Backyard Safari" gave me opportunity to return to my familiar warm palette, but Cece's hair was overwhelmingly cool, with a mix of ultramarine blue and transparent oxide brown, among other colors for texture and highlight.

"Simon" - 24x20" - oil on linen panel

"Simon" has a lot of cools in his skin and hair. By making everything harmoniously cool, the little punches of red in his ears, cheeks, and toes bring his skin to life.

The picture above is an example of what my palette looks like when I'm working with cool skin tones. Of course, color temperature is all relative. If you put a blue next to a red, the red will look much hotter than if red is next to orange or yellow. I so enjoy working with color - the possibilities are endless! 


Friday, December 11, 2015

In the Christmas Spirit

As an adult I have struggled to get excited about the holidays, maybe because of the hefty credit card bills once Christmas presents have been purchased, or maybe because traveling to see family can be exhausting, or maybe because in the midst of "adulting" I forgot what the anticipation used to feel like. This year, it's all changed. I have a toddler in my midst, and she brings joy and excitement to my life every single day. On top of that, I've taken on a new challenge - to paint a couple of still lives that are aesthetically pleasing but also have some holiday appeal. Not only are they paintings of poinsettias (the most festive plant I can think of), but I made a point of listening to all my favorite Christmas music as I painted them, while sipping red wine and snacking on green and red M&Ms. This has to be a good recipe for inducing holiday cheer, right?

"Snowcap Poinsettias" - 12x9 - oil on panel

"Red Poinsettias" - 12x9 - oil on panel

These paintings are available - please email me at if interested! :-)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Photoshop Tutorial - Cropping & Adjusting Images of Your Artwork

Once upon a time, I had great ambitions of writing a book on Photoshop just for artists. Then life got crazy! Still, I find that in this day and age, too many artists are ill-equipped for the demands of our web-centered world. We have to be able to present quality images of our artwork for our websites, competitions, publications, and digital portfolios, otherwise we look ignorant and unprofessional.

That is why I think it's imperative that artists learn a couple things about Photoshop. Today I'm going to share with you how I take a photo of a finished painting and prep it for my digital archives and web use. I am using Photoshop CS5, but any version of Photoshop will work for this, as the tools I use really haven't changed much over the years. I don't use Photoshop Elements, which is very restrictive in the tools it has. I encourage you to invest in the full software bundle if you can. Also, this will seem like a lot of steps, but it goes quick once you learn all the keyboard shortcuts.

So here goes!

Below is my original image. I purposely photographed it slightly crooked and dark for the sake of this tutorial because--let's face it--most of us aren't great photographers and have to work with what we've got! I shot the painting outdoors in indirect light. I find it's better to err on the dark side than to have the image washed out. But... photography is a huge topic in and of itself - we'll save that for a future post!

Step 1: Open the image in Photoshop, making sure you have "history" and "layers" visible in your work space on the right hand side. Then, duplicate your layer (Ctrl+J or Layer→Duplicate Layer) so that you can modify the outside edges (the original layer serves as your "background," which can't be edited in the way we're about to with layer 2).

Step 2: 99% of the time, your image will be slightly skewed or warped. We can correct this in Photoshop. Go to Edit→Transform→Skew. Corner boxes will appear on your image. You can move those corners to straighten and adjust the angle of the image.

Step 3: Depending on what angle your camera was in relation to the image, you may have to expand either the top or the bottom corners of your image. You can also do this using the "perspective" tool, but I find that "skew" works just fine. Once you're happy that the edges of the image are straight, hit the "Enter" key, or the check mark at the top of your screen to save your changes.

Step 4: Now your image will be either too wide or too narrow, depending on the adjustments you made. You will then have to adjust the aspect ratio. This painting is 18x14 inches. Select the rectangular marquee tool. At the top of the screen, choose "Fixed ratio." Type in the image size in the boxes marked for width and height. Then select your image to find out how much you will need to bring it in from the sides to get the correct aspect ratio.

Step 5: Deselect (Ctrl+D) and select the "Move" tool (the arrow at the top of your tools panel, on left; shortcut is the letter V). Then draw in the sides of your image to correct the width (or height). You can keep reselecting it with the marquee tool, then deselecting and adjusting, until it matches your set aspect ratio.

Step 6: Once you're satisfied with your changes, crop the image by selecting it with the rectangular marquee tool, then going to Image→Crop.

Step 7: Now that your image is properly cropped, you can start editing the colors and values to match your original painting. Always make sure the painting is right next to your computer so you can accurately compare. DON'T fake your colors and values to compensate for changes you wish you could have made to the painting in real life! 

After cropping, deselect your outside selection. Then, begin adjusting lights and darks. There are numerous ways to do this, but I like to use Image→Adjustments→Brightness/Contrast. The sliders are very easy to use, and you can preview your changes using the "preview" checkbox in the bottom righthand corner of the adjustments window. Keep in mind that all adjustment windows have this handy little tool. Most photos of paintings are way too contrasty, so I usually have to lower the contrast quite a bit.

Step 8: Using the lasso tool (Shortcut key is"L"), select any areas that need to be adjusted separately. In this case, the elephant looked too blue compared to the original painting, so I selected just that. I made sure to “feather” the edges using shortcut Alt+Ctrl+D (or go to Select→Modify-Feather). You can decide how many pixels you want it to soften, depending on the image size and the size of the selection. I feathered it for 50 pixels to ensure that there would be no hard transitions in between the color shifts.

Step 9: Adjust hue (Ctrl+U or Image→Adjustments→Hue/Saturation) and/or color balance (Ctrl+B or Image→Adjustments→Color Balance). To adjust the color of the elephant, I decided to modify just the blues.

Step 10: Since I photographed the painting outdoors in indirect light, the original photo was quite cool compared to the light I worked under when I created the painting. I decided I wanted my image to match what I saw in the studio, i.e. a warmer color harmony overall. There are several ways to adjust the color temperature of an image. I start first by duplicating my layer again (Ctrl+J), so that I can compare “before and after.” One method is to go to Image→Adjustments→Photo Filter. If you use this option, make sure you don't go overboard... keep the density below 20%.

Step 11: The other way to adjust color temperature is to go back into Color Balance (Ctrl+B), or Image→Adjustments→Color Balance. Sometimes I use both the photo filter and color balance to achieve my desired affect. 

Step 12: Next I might go into specific areas of the image to adjust lights and darks. You can do this using Levels (Ctrl+L or Image→Adjustments→Levels) or Curves (Ctrl+M or Image→Adjustments→Curves). Both methods are effective, but I personally prefer Levels because they offer more subtle changes, whereas Curves can be rather drastic if you’re not careful.

Step 13: Once I’m happy with the overall cropping, color temperature, and contrast, I take another look at the saturation. Usually I have to bump it up just a bit to match the original.

Reds tend to get over saturated, so I often go back into small sections of the image (such as cheeks, elbows, hands) that have gotten too red and knock those down a bit, either by selecting them with the lasso tool, feathering the selection, and adjusting in Hue/Saturation (you can hide your selection lines by using the shortcut Ctrl+H), or by using the Sponge tool (Shortcut key is"O"). With the sponge tool set to “Desaturate”, you can just go over an area with a brush (use the bracket [] keys to make the brush bigger or smaller). Just make sure you have your opacity set low, to 15% or so, otherwise it can do too much.

Step 14: Merge all layers (Ctrl+E) and save as a new image. For high res, you want 300 dpi. To re-size for web, go to Image→Image Size (Alt+Ctrl+I) and set it to 72 dpi. Then save as a new file so you don’t accidentally save over your high res file!

Here is the final image, matched to the original painting as exactly as I could get it. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial. Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to show you – feedback is appreciated!

"Backyard Safari" - 18x14" - oil on linen


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Search for Inspiration (New Self Portrait)

I completed this self portrait back in July, but thought I should share the story behind it.

The inspiration behind this painting was lack of inspiration.

I'm still new at this whole motherhood thing. Some days, like when Cece is teething, I know I'll never step foot in my studio, because those days are hard... In the trenches. All about her.

And of course, just four months ago, we packed up our lives and made the move from Texas to Colorado. These huge changes brought about a struggle for me -- I hit a giant creative block. Finally, I decided to stretch and prime about a dozen new canvases of various sizes, hoping they would motivate me to start some new paintings. The strategy worked. I had this idea of doing a self portrait that showed my frustration over having no ideas. The blank canvases reflect my state of mind.

My expression in the portrait was originally somewhat sad and listless. As the painting evolved it gradually became more of a determined expression. Art has that power... When we can't find the muse, we just have to push through and keep going with it, and eventually, the muse finds us.

Whatever our goals, whether they are to become better parents or better artists, I hope and pray that determination endures. Life is too short to let the roadblocks get us down!

"Self Portrait in the Studio" (2015) - 30x36 inches - oil on linen


Friday, October 2, 2015

New York, Sargent, and Max Ginsburg

It is now officially autumn, and as much as I love summer, I am ready for the change. This morning the air felt different. It was crisp, and smelled of earth. I closed my eyes and drank it in. It was a welcome breath after my big trip to the city a couple weeks ago.

Yes, I was in New York! And it still felt like summer there. Normally I try to avoid big crowds, horrible traffic, and polluted air... but I wanted to see the John Singer Sargent show, "Portraits of Artists and Friends," at the Met. This is a must-see for every figurative artist (the show ends on October 4).  It is sooooo worth the hassle!

So before I get off my computer and escape back to the fresh air of fall (hiking this weekend, anyone?), I'll give you a brief recap of my New York trip.

First thing's first: Broadway! I had been wanting to see the new musical, "Hamilton," so that's what we did on our first night in the city. It was FANTASTIC.

The second night of our trip, I revisited my childhood with the Broadway show, "The Lion King." During the opening song of "The Circle of Life," Steve looked over at me and burst out laughing because I had tears gushing down my face...

A stroll through Central Park. We did SO. MUCH. WALKING.

The only shopping I did while in New York was with Vasari Paints in Chelsea. Such great quality paints and beautiful colors!

I visited the historic Salmagundi Club for the first time. Some of my friends had work on display there, so it was fun to find their pieces and take a tour through that beautiful building, where excellent paintings both old and new are on permanent display.

I'm terrible at selfies... but I had to take one looking into this giant ceiling-high mirror at the Salmagundi Club.

I had the amazing experience of painting with the legendary Max Ginsburg at his studio in Long Island City. I met Max last April at the Portrait Society conference. He happened to see me painting in the lobby one night, and was impressed enough to invite me to his studio the next time I was in New York.

So when I found out this trip was really happening, I emailed Max and asked if he'd have time to visit with me. Not only did he make time to give me a tour of his studio and beautiful artwork, but he even critiqued some of my work and had a model ready to go for us to paint together. He was extremely generous with his time and expertise. And I couldn't believe how many iconic pieces of his were right there in his studio, including the incredible "War Pieta" (grand prize winner of the Art Renewal Center's 2010/2011 international salon).

When we began painting, I was struck by how unfamiliar I was with working in north light. I realize that every artist strives to work from north light as often as possible. But I've never had the luxury of north light, and have gotten used to working with artificial lighting for the most part. It was dark and rainy on this particular day, and I struggled to see color. It was a good study in values!

Below are some progress shots from Max's painting of our lovely model, Yael.

I am still kicking myself for not getting a shot of Max's finished painting, but the above photo was taken towards the end. We worked for about 2 1/2 hours.

Above: my painting of Yael. I felt like a beginner all over again, with Max pointing out mistakes that I *should* have known not to make! Maybe I was just intimidated to be painting with such a master! Or, he has been at this for so long that he has a great eye and can spot a weakness a mile away. It was humbling and exciting to be receiving such excellent constructive criticism from him. The last time I had that kind of honor was two years ago when I painted with Richard Schmid.

Something I really took away from Max's critique was the word "poetry," as it applies to painting form. "Catch the spirit and poetry of the pose." He advised me to follow the natural flow of the form and values, instead of making my brush strokes choppy and broken up. Of course, there was the gentle reminder to watch my drawing and proportion through all stages of the painting. I kept making the model's cheekbones too wide, and my values were too contrasty. I needed to work more in the midtones to bring it all together. Ugh... beginner's mistakes!

He also said, "You have a formula and it takes away from the uniqueness and gesture of the model." I realized I'd been teaching a formula of sorts so long that I'd forgotten that I don't have to paint with that formula... I can do whatever I want! :-) It was very freeing!

I left Max's studio with a signed copy of his book, a wet painting that would remind me of everything I had learned that day, and a grateful heart. I told him I was headed to the Sargent show the next day and he said, "Be sure to look for all of Sargent's mistakes." Yeah... okay, easy for you to say!

And speaking of gratitude... we were there on September 11. The city went about its business as usual, but when the sun went down, those two blue beams shot up into the sky. People on every street corner craned their necks as they looked up at the lights shining to infinity. It was an awesome reminder that our freedom is a gift, and something we should never take for granted.

And finally... here's my bit on the Sargent show.

I took a friend's advice and went through the exhibit by myself. Okay, Steve was there... but he left me alone, per my request. I wanted to really take my time and absorb as much as I could.

I've included high-res photos that I took of some of the paintings and passages I found most interesting. Two of the paintings I had seen before, but never thought I would have the opportunity to see again in person. The first was a self portrait of Sargent from the Vasari Corridor in Florence, which I saw during a private tour back in 2011. The second was a portrait of Rodin, which I saw in 2012 in Paris at the Rodin Museum. At the time, it was under glass and there was no easy way to look at it without a lot of glare. Here at the Met, the glass had been removed and the painting was perfectly lit for our viewing pleasure. :-)

I absolutely loved this painting (above). Sargent's handling of the dead tree is genius, and also the way he gives the white shirt and hat an authentic glow.

I took a special interest in Sargent's paintings of children, probably because of my current circumstances as a new mom. He painted them with such sensitivity, but also a strong sense of their uniqueness as individuals. Perhaps that is why his portraits are so powerful... somehow he was always able to capture a glimpse into his sitter's soul.

I'm still trying to absorb what I saw. The show was immense, with so many different facets of Sargent's life and working style. As for mistakes... well, I tried to find them but all I can tell you is that I knew when a painting felt "strong" (the kind of piece that stops you in your tracks) or when it felt weak (i.e. everyone walks by it). It left me with lots to think about and learn from.

There are only two days left in the exhibition... Go see it!
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