Photographing Your Paintings

If you want to sell your paintings, enter them into shows, present them to galleries, make printed copies of them, or display them anywhere online, you need to be able to take good photographs of them.  If you are a serious painter, you need seriously good images of your work.  This has become much more significant with the internet being such an important element in art market in recent years.

I have gotten proficient at photographing my paintings after years of learning and practice so I will share some tips here that may be helpful.  All that ‘practice’ means I do have some not so good photographs of some of my paintings that I can show to help demonstrate the less than desirable outcomes.  Doing an internet search for:  “how to photograph paintings”, and perhaps adding the word ‘tutorial’ in the title, is a good idea.

The ideal method is to have a proper photography set up with appropriate lighting and the painting sitting perfectly square to the stationary camera’s optics.  I have always thought of setting up a permanent photography space with all the right equipment, but, so many years later, I am still doing it the way I always have.

  1.  Get a good camera.  The digital technology has made good cameras quite affordable.  Simple computer photo software makes it easy to crop and adjust exposure as well.
  2. I find the best and most natural looking results can be achieved by photographing your paintings outdoors, in the shade, on a sunny day.
  3. The painting must be as straight as possible, vertically.
  4. The painting must be square to the camera lens to avoid parallax.  Once I am happy with the camera settings, I take multiple photos of the painting to make sure I get one that is straight.
  5. The painting must be oriented so that there is no reflected light on the surface.
  6. Always photograph your paintings BEFORE you varnish them.

Here are examples of the same painting photographed outdoors under 3 different natural light conditions:

Cloudy day. This is too dark and boosting the colors digitally in editing would look unnatural.


Taken on a sunny day with light shinning directly on the surface. This looks good and it is how it would look in a well lit setting with proper lights, like on a gallery wall.


Photographed on a sunny day, in the shade. This provides the most consistent results and it is a good example of how the painting will look in most settings.


This painting was not oriented in the correct direction to prevent the raking, or reflected light, from over-exposing the left side of the image and creating the glare.


This is a cropped section of a painting where you can see the glare washing out the dark passages especially.


The photograph of this painting suffers from both reflected light, the top area mostly, and parallax, where the image is not square with the painting.


This is the most challenging type of painting to photograph; it is quite dark, and has lots of texture which means that the raised edges are more likely to pick up raking or reflected light.


You can clearly see in this blown up section how the texture picks up the light.

Drawing From Life,…

If you are drawing a man falling off a building, you should finish the sketch before he hits the ground.”  Eugene Delacroix

The surest way to make consistently good art is to first learn to draw well.  The best and most efficient way to be proficient in your drawing skills, once you have mastered the fundamentals, is to practice drawing from a live model.  There is no better substitute, and that is why in the Old Master’s studios and the European Ateliers, right up to the time of the Impressionists, artists spent countless hours developing their creative skills doing ‘life drawing’ with models.

Once proficient in this practice, you should be able to make convincing drawings of the poses, from quick 15 – 60 second sketches, all the way up to 10 – 30 min studies.

I picked a few examples from my collection of gesture drawings done over the last few decades,…

This is a 30 sec pose. No important details are missing, and nothing is added that is not essential.

Another 30 sec pose. A lot of those seconds are spent carefully studying the pose before drawing any lines.












When I teach life drawing sessions I start with very short poses for at least the first 15 mins, then move on to the longer poses.   Most people prefer to draw with longer poses but you should be able to master the short poses before focusing on the longer ones.  The skills developed in the shortest poses are the most essential for honing your skills.  I also insist that practitioners need to spend more time observing the model than looking at their drawing.  In the shorter poses you want to be able to extract the essential elements of the pose with a minimum amount of information put on paper using deliberate, focused lines that capture the essence of the pose; the movement, the center of gravity, the angles and turns,  the rhythm of the gesture.  In gesture drawing, make every gesture count.




These are all 15 – 20 second poses.






Delacroix’s example may be a bit extreme, and dramatic, but I suggest that you should be able to identify 3 things in a sketch done in 60 seconds or less:

  • You should be able to identify the artist
  • You should be able to identify the model
  • You should be able to convincingly replicate the pose


A few longer poses, 5-10 min,…

2019 Workshops

For 500 years, from Van Eyck to Van Gogh, the greatest painters in the West understood the principles of light and color in a way that is all but lost in the modern painter’s training and education.  If you want to learn the secrets of the Masters, and how and why they adhered to these simple principles to create fabulous works of art, and all with a much more limited variety of art materials, then come on out to the workshop nearest to you.

Get answers to all those elusive technical questions about which paints to use, how best to thin your colors, which brushes are most effective for your purposes, why using black is more than OK, …   Gain mastery over your materials and painting methods, and more expressive freedom; the theories and techniques that I teach apply equally to oil, acrylic, and water media painting.  You are going to love the way it changes your approach to painting.

Here is a ‘before and after’ example of the same composition painted by one of the artists that took my workshop:

The concept behind the principles of color and light practiced by the greatest painters of the past is that if you understand how to make the brightest most intense color effects, then making more muted, softer or duller looking colors is easy to accomplish – breaking the ‘rules’ is fun and easy when you know what they are.

I have just updated the calendar page on my website with all of the workshops that I have booked for this year so far.

Events Calendar


2018 Calendar

I was in Whistler almost exactly two years ago skiing, and doing some art stuff too of course, and I will be doing a show there again at the Adele Campbell Gallery with Michael O’toole (one of my favorite painters) starting January 20.  It is a ‘Spotlight’ show with no official ‘opening’ night, so Michael and I will not be in attendance.

Here is a painting that I did for the show from a photo that I took from the top of Whistler mountain while I was skiing:

“On Top of Whistler Mtn” 16×48 acrylic on canvas

I have just updated the ‘Events Calendar’ (click on the link below) on my website with the art shows and workshops that I will be doing this year.  I may be doing one more show, and perhaps one or two more workshops in the fall, I will update the calendar if, or when, they are confirmed.

For information, or to register for a workshop, click on the link for the event on the ‘Events Calendar’ page, and then click on the link provided there which will take you to the website of the organizers of the event.  Please do not contact me to register or sign up for any of the workshops as this is all handled by the group sponsoring the event.  Note also, that some of the workshops that are taking place later in the year may not be advertised yet. – events calendar 2018

Mastering Oils

I have updated the ‘Events Calendar’  page on my website and it includes the new and exciting Mastering Oils workshop that I will be doing here in Kamloops.  I have not taught an oil painting workshop for a few years so it will be lots of fun.

I learned to paint by spending those early years in Montreal studying the materials and methods of the so called ‘Old Masters’ of the Renaissance and Baroque eras.  For anyone who has taken my Mastering Acrylics workshop you will be aware that I have simply transferred all that knowledge over to the synthetic medium.  So, in a sense, I am basically using methods used by great painters like Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, and Rembrandt to depict Canadian landscape scenes in acrylics.

But I still do a significant amount of my paintings in oils.  In fact I am working on my oils again this week.  Below is a picture of the batch, with paintings in various stages of completion:  starting a new bunch, doing the second sitting on a couple, and completing a few as well.

iherb 002 - Copy


Acrylic paints were originally designed to be a replacement for oil paints in the same way that the commercial paint industry introduced synthetic alternatives to oil paint for painting walls.  What we have learned about acrylics in the last 60 years or so since their introduction, is that they have offered an exciting alternative to oil paints, but a poor substitution.  You can read my blog post entitled ‘Oils vs Acrylics’ to get the whole story on all the ways in which they oppose and compliment each other.

If you are one of those that have taken my workshops or spent any amount of time reading my writings on painting, then you will know that I am all about the technical stuff, and oils, well, they are even more technical than acrylics, especially if you like to paint in layers like I do.

We will spend some time in the ‘Mastering Oils’ workshop learning about the properties and characteristics of oil paints and how to use them to achieve all the fantastic effects they are capable of.  We will have time to complete two paintings, plus, you will learn all the things you need to know to make sure your expressions last for future generations to admire and appreciate.  In other words, just like with my ‘Mastering Acrylics’ workshop, it will be everything you wanted to know about how to be a skillful painter that you didn’t learn in art school.

I will also take some time to go on a tour back in time to examine some of the remarkable methods and materials used by some of the greatest painters since the Renaissance.

You can register by calling 250-828-3500, or sign up online here:

Kamloops Parks and Rec

Make Your Oil Paintings to Last!

I am painting in oils right now so I was inspired to write a little bit about this fabulous medium, from a technical perspective of course.  Here is a picture of one of the paintings that I just completed:

-rundle @ dawn 12x48 op+

“Rundle at Dawn” – 12×48 oil on panel.

I spent years studying the materials and techniques of the Old Masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.  Among the many remarkable things I learned was that they were very concerned about making their creative expressions to last and so the methods they used to put their paintings together was very influenced by this goal.

Much of the information on how to ensure that their paintings would remain in good condition for centuries – yes, they actually did think in these terms – was gradually lost starting around the end of the 18th century.  This knowledge has been revived almost entirely by the work of conservationists in museums who have spent more time in the last century or so working to restore works of contemporary artists than that of the great painters of the past.  This is not the kind of stuff you learn in Fine Arts programs, or in workshops for that matter; unless you take one of mine of course.

As most of you are aware, my teaching and writing on art is focused on all things technical.  Most of the workshops I have been doing in recent years have been in acrylics, however, this fall I will be doing a workshop for oil painters over two weekends in October and November, here in Kamloops.  I will even spend some time reviewing the history of oil painting techniques and looking at how some of my favorite painters, like Raphael and Caravaggio, created their masterpieces.  I will post again in August or September with more details when the information is available.

Below are some guidelines you can follow to help you make sure that your paintings will last for future generations to enjoy:

If you want to learn more techy stuff about oils and acrylics, their properties and working characteristics, check out my blog called:  Oils vs Acrylics.

Guidelines for Permanent Painting in Oils

  1. Paint on a good quality ground.  If you are using acrylic gesso, make sure that it is thick enough to prevent oil seeping through to the support.
  2. Paint on a rigid support, like hardboard, rather than a flexible support whenever possible (see #19).  You can prepare cotton canvas for painting in oils by applying a layer of Golden’s GAC 400 (fabric stiffening medium) on the back, and Golden’t GAC 100 medium on the front to prevent oil from seaping thru to the fabric.
  3. Paint fast dryers under slow dryers.
  4. Paint ‘lean’ (low oil content) pigments under ‘fat’ (high oil content) ones.
  5. When painting in layers keep the under layers thinner and leaner.
  6. Paint oils over acrylics, if you must, but not the other way around, and on a rigid rather than a flexible support.
  7. Do not paint over a layer that has a dry skin but is soft and wet underneath.
  8. Oil paint can be thinned with only very small amounts of solvent.
  9. Do not add extra oil to your paint.
  10. Use a good painting medium (Alkyd) to thin paint and make glazes and veils.
  11. Use Retouch varnish sparingly.
  12. Keep the underpainting light and bright (see # 17&18).
  13. Do not apply the paint too thick.
  14. Heavy texture, thick paint layers, and collage effects are best done with acrylic paints and mediums.
  15. Do not use old paint that has begun to dry and is stiff and rubbery, it will not adhere well.
  16. Paint around things rather than over top unless you want the underpainting to show (see # 17&18).
  17. Remember that oil paint darkens and becomes more yellow/brown with age.
  18. Remember that oil paint becomes more transparent with age.
  19. Remember that oil paint becomes more hard and brittle with age.
  20. Use soap to clean hands and brushes, not solvents.
  21. Use the best quality paints you can afford.
  22. Do not mix low grade and professional grade paints in the same painting.
  23. Wait between 3-12 months before applying picture varnish, depending on the thickness of the paint.
  24. Do not hang or store oil paintings where they will be exposed to humidity or large temperature fluctuations.
  25. Never use water to clean an oil painting.


Paint Reviews

These articles were forwarded to me by the author of the website/blog.  This is an excellent resource and I think it can be useful for painters interested in knowing more about the different brands of acrylic and oil paints available.  These reviews are not entirely objective or in any way scientific but simply impressions and opinions of artists who have used these different brands.

It is a good idea to be aware that manufacturers work hard to compete in the different markets that they supply, so the quality of all the higher end products will be comparable.  That said, manufacturers will make paints that often have different characteristics and working properties that they think are ideal for their brand.  That is why it can be advantageous for artists to identify a brand, or brands, that suits them best.

It is also important to understand that all high quality paints from different companies can be inter mixed with each other.  The same is not true when mixing professional quality paints with lesser grade or student grade paints.  The later are not made with longevity in mind and will have unpredictable, and undesirable, results, and are therefore not recommended for permanent painting applications.

I use mostly Golden and Triart acrylics.  For oils, I use M. Graham, Schmincke, and a couple of other brands to a lesser degree.

Here is one of my acrylic paintings, and an oil painting, both similar compositions from the same area (top of Whistler mountain).  You can see if you can figure out which is which.

avant-ski 24x48 op oct 19 039


The Art of Business – its not about the art,…

Since I did my first presentation on ‘the art of business’ at an art symposium hosted by the Federation of Canadian Artists in Kelowna a few years ago, the requests to do more of them have continued to come in.  I am scheduled to do 4 of them this year, in Nanaimo, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Edmonton (events calendar).  In it I discuss some of the principles of achieving financial success in the art market, and also spend some time clearing up some of the myths on the topic that are so prevalent in our trade.  Here’s a teaser for one of the big ones – its not about the art!

I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was very young.  After high school I enrolled in a visual arts program at college, then went on to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Ottawa.  I was hoping to develop two main skills sets to help me in my career:  how to be a better painter, and; how to make a living as an artist – I learned neither.  Since most of the instructors in those programs have little or no experience in the art market, they were not in a position to provide value in that area.

For centuries artists learned their craft in the guild and Master/Apprentice studio settings.  Here, you would learn the craft of painting as a young apprentice and you would also be immersed in the commercial aspects of the trade as it was an everyday part of the experience and learning process.

16th cent dutch woodcut depicting the master/apprentice studio setting

16th cent dutch woodcut depicting the master/apprentice studio setting

But, like most successful artists these days, I am self-taught.  I learned my painting skills thru my own efforts and studies, and I figured out how to make a living in the trade the same way.

There are many different ways to sell your art, and more avenues and opportunities have become available with the internet.  Choosing a business model that works for you is an important consideration.


Being good at the business/marketing side of things is an entirely different skill set, its not complicated or difficult, but somehow very challenging for many artists to get a grip on.  The principles of the exchange of goods and services are easy to understand and have been in place since cave men were swapping wooden clubs and fur garments.  But it seems that it is often the psychological, emotional, philosophical hindrances that a lot of artists adhere to that are the stumbling blocks of many who fail to achieve their goals.  the first kamloops scene

The picture on the right is from my early days starting out as a full-time artist – its a newspaper photo with me standing in front of a city scene that I had painted for my first solo exhibition in Kamloops.  Notice the tall tree in the foreground, the homemade frame, and the lack of white hair,…

My advice is if you want to develop your painting skills and learn to sell your art, take workshops and get some mentoring from artists that you admire and respect.

Below is a picture of myself with 3 of my ‘colleagues’ in the biz:  That’s Rod Charlesworth on the left, who gave me some very good advice on the business stuff when I was starting out, Cameron Bird, and Mike Svob.  We were doing a painting demo in the alpine meadows of Whistler mountain earlier in the day.  This was a Q&A presentation in the afternoon, the event was sponsored by the Adele-Campbell gallery.


Events Calendar – Workshops


she's not there 24x30 ac

My workshop schedule for the year is confirmed so I have posted the places and dates on the Events Calendar  page of my website.  I may have a couple more workshops dates coming up in the fall.  I will post those when they are confirmed.

I have also been asked to do a few presentations on the business and marketing aspects of the artist’s career.  It is a two hour talk that is called “the Art of Business”.  It has become a frequent request since I did the first one a few years ago.  People can attend those without having to sign up for the workshops.

For more information, or to sign up for an event, please click on the links attached to those events on the calendar.



The Secret of Single Pigment Colors


The Secret of Single Pigment Colors

Q:  I visited your website and have read your article “Light Matters” and am impressed by your work and what you have to say about single pigments and having a large number of individual colors to work with.  Your idea of not mixing the colors, but rather buying individual single pigment colors, seems so contrary to what other painters suggest or do, that I am fascinated by your approach.  There is a simple, straight-forward logic behind what you say about the depth of colors coming straight out of the tube compared to those that one can mix by using two or three other colors.  Your ideas really hit home with me.

However, I have run into a serious snag in trying to follow your process of using single pigment paints.  I have been able to find only a few single pigment acrylic colors… cad yellow lemon (light), cad orange, cobalt, dioxazine purple, phthalo blue, and not many more.  I have always mixed colors, so painting without mixing the colors will be quite a new undertaking for me!  I’m thinking that if I want to complete a painting without mixing colors, I would have to have say…15-20 single pigment colors?  Or am I wrong about that? You said that you have a LOT of paints, so I suppose you meant that you have a lot of single pigment paints?  Is there a list of pure pigment colors that can be purchased and where to buy them?  I have tried to look at various sites and going through the colors one by one to see what they are made of, but it is time-consuming and I feel I simply am not going to find very many single pigment colors.  Is there somewhere a list of single pigment colors (landscapes being my main interest) that I would need?

A:  It is interesting to note that for hundreds of years artists used a palette of between 12 and 18 colors until the Industrial Revolution in the 19 century when that number doubled making the Impressionist movement far more impressive with the introduction of brilliant colors like the Cadmiums.  We are in the middle of the next revolution now with new colors being added almost every year.  The last time I did a survey there were close to 100 single pigment colors on the market, more for oils than acrylics. 

 Most manufacturers produce color charts for the range of colors that they offer.  You can look at these on their websites or in the art supply stores.  I do have one that I give out during my workshops that has over 25 single pigment colors on it, see below.  Manufacturers typically offer a selection of colors of which around 25% or more are mixtures of two or more pigments.  A quick glance at a color chart of a well known manufacturer of acrylic paints shows 85 colors of which around 70 are single pigment.  If you go to any manufacturer’s site, check the color charts at art stores, or just read the tubes, you will be able to discern for yourself which ones are composed of more than one pigment.   Perhaps the quickest reference technique is to look for the ‘color index’ right on the tube, that is the letter/number assigned to each color, for example PY35 is Cadmium Yellow Medium.  If a color has more than one color index, it is not a single pigment color.  A color named Cadmium Red Hue it is not a single pigment color and will have more than one index assigned to it, perhaps:  PR5 (Napthol Red) and PR207 (Quinacridone Red) for example. 

 Also, beware of colors that are not named after the pigment used to create them.  Hooker’s Green, Payne’s Grey, and so on.  Sap Green is not a single pigment color and the example shown below is a mixture of 4 different pigments: Phthalocyanine Green (PG36); Carbon Black (Pbk7); Transparent Red Oxide (PR101), and; Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150).  You can make the color yourself by mixing those pigments together, or as I would prefer to do, layer them in transparent glazes and/or veils to create a comparable color effect that I think is much more vibrant and interesting.  By making your own version of the color you have more control by altering techniques used to apply them, or simply by adjusting the amounts of each color.  In the example below, the color on the left is the manufacturer’s Sap Green, on the right is a combination of the 4 single pigment colors used to make Sap Green applied in transparent layers (glazes):











Cadmium colors also create some confusion for painters because they come in 3 different shades, light, medium, and dark, and they are all single pigment colors, not mixtures of two or more pigments.  You cannot mix Cad Yellow Medium with white (left below) and get a color effect that looks like Cad Yellow light (right below).  















Mixing colors is fine.  Just be aware that any mixture of two or more pigments will create a duller less luminous and vibrant effect than would be achieved by using a one single pigment color.   I do have a lot of paints because I don’t like to mix colors, but also because different paint manufacturers get their pigments from different sources so the same color from several companies can have very different hues and properties, esp. the natural organic colors like the browns.  Look at the difference between these two manufacturer’s Burnt Sienna colors.  One is more opaque and cooler, the other warmer and more transparent.  There is nothing you could mix with one of them that would give you the same color effect created by the other without the mixture looking much more dull and muddy.















Here are the same manufacturer’s versions of Burnt Umbers:














Also, contrary to what most painters are told, I use black, all three blacks: Ivory or Bone; Carbon, and Mars.   Each has its own unique properties and no mixture of various colors will ever yield blacks that are as cool, transparent, and intense as pure black pigment.  

I understand that not all painters have the desire or resources to own as many paints as some of us so for a well rounded palette I recommend an assortment of single pigments colors that includes at least one opaque and one transparent in each hue.  That way you will have a selection that Rembrandt would be envious of and with which you can create almost any effect imaginable:

 Essential Pigments

 Transparent/Semi-Trans (ST)         Opaque/Semi-Opaque (SO)

Ivory Black                                             Mars Black

Zinc White (ST)                                     Titanium White

Burnt Umber                                          Raw Umber (SO)

Burnt Sienna                                          Raw Sienna (SO)

Transparent Red Oxide                       Red Oxide

Transparent Yellow Oxide                  Yellow Oxide (Ochre)

Nickel Azo Yellow                                 Cad Yellow (Light, Med, Dark)

Quinadridone Red                               Cad Red (Light, Med, Dark)

Dioxazine Purple (cool)                      Quinacridone Magenta (warm)

Phthalo Blue (Green/Red Shade)     Cerulean Blue

Antraquinone Blue                              Cobalt Blue

Ultramarine Blue

Phtahlo Green (Yellow/Blue Shade)   Chromium Oxide Green

Pyrrol Orange (ST)                             Cadmium Orange