I Want to be Liked!

I think my art career would have started earlier if I wasn’t so hung up on people liking me, and my art.  I suppose I could go on about the impact of my childhood experiences but for now I will simply say that like a lot of artists starting out I would have been happy to have my work represented in just about any gallery that would have me.  I brought my portfolio around to different galleries and got turned away several times, as is normal.

I remember having an appointment with a gallery in Montreal and I sat there surrounded by some of my paintings for at least an hour while the owner did everything but acknowledge my presence.  I am sure that she was hoping I would just leave, but I am persistent when I have a goal.  She finally stopped in front of me, took a quick glance at my work simply said, “J’aime pas ca”  (I don’t like that), and walked off.  Ugh.

Then it all changed, or more precisely, I changed.  I had moved out the BC to focus on painting landscapes and establishing my career as a full time artist.  I also decided that I would only do business with people that I liked and respected.  I turned the tables, I went out and interviewed galleries to see if I was impressed enough to want to start a relationship with them.  That was it after all.  I realized that for me, in business, like in life, its all about relationships in the end, and I only wanted to be close to people that I could trust and that were supportive of me and my endeavors.  That has made all the difference.  I have very rewarding relationships with all the galleries I do business with.

Speaking of wanting to be ‘liked’, I have finally joined the social media network, I’m on Facebook.  I say finally because after years of people telling me I should get on the network I did end up creating a personal FB page, but only because I needed to have an account so that I could be an administrator on my band’s page.  I let my own page sit dormant for a long time until some recent conversations convinced me that it might be worthwhile.  Understand, I don’t even use a cell phone.  I know there is Twitter and Instagram and others things I have never heard of, I just don’t have the time for all that.

I am actually enjoying the Facebook experience for the most part.  I still don’t understand some of what is happening on there but I get to check in on friends and acquaintances and fellow artists that I would normally only touch base with once or twice a year.  They are all my ‘friends’ of course.  Its fun.  I also set up a Facebook page just for my art and I am told that it would be good to have lots of people ‘like’ my page.  So come on over to my Facebook page and ‘friend’ me, and go over to my art page and ‘like’ it:  facebook.com/David-langevin


It has been snowing a lot around here for the last few weeks.  It started snowing again last night and it is still snowing this morning.  I will have a couple of hours of shoveling to do later, I’m going to wait for it to stop and for the plow to go by.  The up side is that I love to paint snow scenes.  I went out for a walk to find some inspiring images the other day.  Here is one of my favorites:

jan 2 1016 013

I am certainly going to paint something using this scene, but it really is beautiful just as it is.

I will be updating my calendar in the next few weeks with all of the shows and workshops that I have booked for  the year.  Right now I am working on a collection of paintings for my show in Whistler with Rod Charlesworth on Jan 23.  I hope to meet lots of ‘friends’ at the opening.  Here is one of the paintings I am sending the gallery for the show:

still blowing 60x30 ac+

still blowing 60×30 ac+


Scraping By

I thought I would share my story of scraping by as a painter.  I don’t mean financially, rather, I sometimes actually scrape paint off as I compose the picture.  I have looked at the statistics for artist’s income, and indeed, most are just scraping by.  But in this case I am speaking about a technique I demonstrated at the last workshop that I taught.  It is lots of fun and using the luminosity of the white gesso ground always seems to appear the most natural and, well, luminous looking it seems.  One of the ‘secrets’ of my style is that I often remove as much paint as I apply, esp when I am working on a textured surface.

It is a strategy that was employed by the early Renaissance painters and of course watercolor artists are quite comfortable with this concept.

Here is a painting that I recently completed, appropriately named ‘scraping by’.  I did a couple of compositions like this one, you can see the other one in a recent blog.  I took a picture of this painting at the stage in the process where I have just removed some of the wet glaze to reveal the light areas of the composition.

scraping by 24x48 ac

scraping by 24×48 ac






Below is a picture of the completed painting.  The light areas of the painting, particularly the poplar trees, are almost entirely the light of the ground showing through, there is very little white paint used.  Most of the browns are also simply the original glaze from the underpainting, this means that they are more vibrant because of the single pigment transparent color (glaze) with the white of the gesso shinning through.

scraping by 24x48 ac

scraping by 24×48 ac






How fun is that?

Speaking of fun.  It looks like next year is shaping up to be full of it, as usual.  I have a few workhops scheduled:  Vancouver, Edmonton (twice), a couple of others in the interior of BC and maybe even here in Kamloops in the fall.  I also have some shows booked.  I will update the calendar page on my website with all the details early in the new year.

Bark and Boxes of 2







As it turns out, I am also the official shipper, and photographer, for Lana’s remarkable chocolates.  So if you need a great gift, or just a wonderful treat for the holidays, email her @ lanalangevin@gmail.com.

…, But is it Good?

Don’t think about making art, just get it done.  Let other people decide if its good or bad, whether they love it or hate it.  While they are deciding, make even more art.”  Andy Warhol

“…But is it Good?”

Some people might be upset by this essay, particularly those in the arts community.  I have been a professional artist most of my life.  I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Master’s Degree in Art Education. I’ve also been teaching art now for, hmm…a long time.  Mostly I have focused on teaching artists how to be better painters, but here I’ll turn my attention to a question that I’m often asked by non-artists when they are confronted with the conundrum of ‘modern art’. The question: “But is it good?”  This question often surfaces when ‘experts’ in the art community claim that a certain piece is somehow important, even though we may be confused or even repulsed by what we are seeing.

Without getting into a discussion about the definition of what can be called art, suffice to say that although art can certainly be fashionable or culturally relevant (which is of course subjective) it’s fashionableness or cultural relevance does not necessarily mean that it is good or bad. Here’s my thesis: Fashionable or popular, or even culturally significant, does not equal good.  Good transcends space and time.  J.S Bach was a brilliant composer, but at the end of his life his music was falling out of fashion as the popular taste was migrating to a new style of music we now call “Classical’ (Mozart).  Bach’s work was revived some 200 years later however, and is still appreciated today. Why? Well, because it’s really good.

I have a theory we can test that supports my thesis, or perhaps more accurately, a formula for judging art that is as objective as anything I can imagine.  It is a tentative, and certainly not an all encompassing approach to the subject. That said, I think it’s a helpful approach. You can let me know if you think it has value.

Art is indeed subjective, in that we can all decide for ourselves our preferences—what we like and don’t like; a subjective personal opinion so to speak.  Saying something is good or bad however implies an objective proposition, a criticism, and for that we should have objective criteria that does not rely on opinion.  So, without having to become an expert on art I designed this little test to at least give people a reasonably objective tool to tackle the question of what is good in art.  This test would apply equally to music.  What I’m trying to draw out here is the tension between subjective and objective evaluations.  My point is this: you can dislike something even though it’s very good.  A lot of people don’t like Bach’s music.  That’s fine.  However, that person’s subjective taste in no way diminishes the objective value of Bach’s music—it remains good.  Of course, the converse of this agreement can be true as well.  You can like something even though it isn’t really good.  The formula I propose is simply a tool to help you in determining the quality and relevance of an artistic expression.

Before we test this idea it is important to note that much of what we call contemporary art is conceptual in nature, that is, it is based primarily on an idea or a concept, which takes precedence over the aesthetic side.  It is often this kind of art that inspires the average viewer to declare:  “That is not even art!”

Things like this:

conceptual art - chair

conceptual art – chair








Or someone’s bed on display in a gallery:

conceptual art (bed)

conceptual art (bed)







Or this artist who won one of the most prestigious international art awards for dismantling a shed and reconstructing it in the gallery:

conceptual art (shedboatshed)

conceptual art (shedboatshed)







People often declare about much of what is categorized as conceptual art, “I could do that myself, and I’m not an artist”.  I think this is a fair thing to say.  A clever or compelling idea, or concept, is not enough to make it good; which brings me to my formula:

Take an artist and or his/her art, and move them thru space (geographically) and/or time, and see if they are still ‘good’.

Let’s take a couple of very different artists and plug them into the equation to see how it works:  Barnett Newman (1905-1970) was a renowned American Abstract Expressionist, or ‘Color Field’ artist; Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael (1483-1520), was a famous painter, and architect, from the Italian Renaissance period.

Newman’s “Voice of Fire” painting was purchased by the National Gallery in Ottawa a few years ago and created quite a stir, and not a small number of people asked the question which is the title of this article.

'Voice of Fire' (1967) Barnett Newman

‘Voice of Fire’ (1967) Barnett Newman










The write up by the National Gallery describing the painting includes phrases like this:

“…Limiting his colours to red and blue, he created this powerful vertical canvas to be suspended from the dome’s ceiling. While it appears simple in form, Voice of Fire conveys a range of meanings. Newman intended the work to be studied from a short distance; its enormous scale transforms the space and tests our sensory experience….”

That kind of prose certainly makes the painting sound, well, at least interesting.

The painting has significant cultural relevance in relation to the time and place it was created: America at the height of the Cold War.  You can study up on what art historians have to say about that time period, but let’s just take the painting and move it in space over to Paris, or Tokyo in the 1960’s, to see if it is still an ‘important’ artistic expression.  Nope, those cultures are into their own thing, and are not in the same position as the USA as it tries to distinguish itself with its own cultural identity.  Now, let’s move it in time back to the Renaissance. No again. Barnett would be thrown out of the studio for using that much paint to make stripes.  What if you were to paint something like that today? Would it still be worthy of all the attention, and money spent on it?  Nope, it has already been done, so is no longer culturally relevant.  Besides, your dad would get mad at you for using that much paint just to make stripes.

Now let’s take Mr. Newman and send him back in time to see if he has the skill set necessary to sell any paintings in Italy in the early 1500’s. Hmmm…tough one.  Do you think you could paint something like this Mr. Newman?

'Transfiguration' (1516-1521) Raphael

‘Transfiguration’ (1516-1521) Raphael










Now, let’s put Raphael in the time machine to see how that works out.  With his exceptional skills and ingenuity I think it would be a good bet that if he were dropped into today’s world he would be a renowned artist of some sort making very good art. He would more than likely be a very successful one as well: Raphael was a good businessman.  Move him from Italy to France during his own time period, no problem.

If you were to make a convincing copy of Raphael’s painting, it would certainly still be a good painting (objective), but perhaps not culturally relevant or fashionable (subjective) in our day.  Whether a work of art is good or not, or what you think of it, often has little bearing on how much praise it may receive, or how much it will sell for in the market – that has more to do with what is fashionable or popular.  You can also rephrase the question this way:  “Is it good, or is it simply fashionable or popular.”  Times change, people’s taste change, and those who have influence in these matters understand that many people are easily swayed and can be told, and sold, on what they should like, buy, and support.

I had a mind to run some iconic Canadian artists thru the test, but I don’t want to come off  as being too blasphemous so I will leave it to you to apply the test to whomever you like.  Just remember, fashionable or popular, or even culturally significant, does not equal good.  Good transcends space and time.






Fresh off the Easel

I am working on a few new collections of paintings and I just uploaded a some onto the website.  I haven’t even shipped most of them out yet, or finished them all actually.  Some are going to the WhiteRock Gallery, some for the Xmas show in Kamloops on November 21 (I will be teaching a workshop in Abbotsford that weekend) and some for the Galerie D’Art au P’tit Bonheur in Quebec.  Connie and Grey from the Artym gallery were here the other day and they took a few paintings with them as well.

When I am finished with these commitments I will get to work on a bunch of commissions, or special requests from clients, that I have on the to-do list.  Then it will be time to prepare for my show with Rod Charlesworth (http://www.rodcharlesworth.com/) in Whistler on January 23 .  I already have a few in the works for that show, and part of that task will be finishing some oil paintings that I started this summer.  Its a busy time of year for sure; and what a privilege it is.

Here are a couple of pictures of Rod and me at one of the ‘Painting on the Peak’ events in Whistler from a few years ago:

Rod and I at the Q&A session

Rod and I at the Q&A session

messing with Rod's painting

messing with Rod’s painting










And today, we had the first dusting of snow on the ground.  It has begun.  I have already started painting snow scenes though, I just like painting snow.  Below are a couple of images from the website of paintings that I uploaded; paintings that show the transition from where we are now, to where we will be in a month or so with the weather.

we'll wait to see how you do 24x36 ac

we’ll wait to see how you do 24×36 ac

the sky in the water 20x30 ap

the sky in the water 20×30 ap








When you go to my website and put your cursor on the ‘Paintings’ tab just click on the word ‘Paintings’ to go to the page with all the recent work; put your cursor over ‘Archives’ or ‘Figures’ and click on them to see the paintings in those categories.


How to be ‘Painterly’

I just got back from teaching a workshop in West Vancouver, right on the waterfront, it was lovely. Vancouver is a spectacular city, esp when the sun is shinning.  It is almost always sunny and warm when I am in Vancouver – even in the winter.  How unusual.  I even got to play tennis at Stanley Park with my good friend and tennis buddy who happened to be in town as well.

It was a lively and informative session for everyone involved for sure, and the excellent group of painters that came out to learn were so engaged that we fell behind by a couple of hours with the material that I wanted to cover because of the many questions and conversations that sprung up around how to be a better painter.  We got it all in by the end, but it was a stretch.

north shore artist's guild - workshop, oct 2015

north shore artist’s guild – workshop, oct 2015

One of the topics that came up, as it often does when I ask painters what they hope to get out of a workshop, or what they would like to improve about their paintings, goes something like:  ‘I want to be more loose, more ‘painterly’.  We all seem to admire the ability to say much with little, to suggest, and to have the casual and fluid technique that allows the skilled painter to make complex elements of a painting seem simple and effective without being over worked or stiff looking.  Often people will marvel that a painting looks messy and random up close but when you step back it looks fantastic.  It is quite a skill indeed.

Monet was a confident painter, but he got even more ‘painterly’ in his old age as his eyesight was failing and he started painting on larger and larger canvases with bigger and bigger brushes.  Indeed, that is often suggested as a way of getting more loose in your painting, use bigger brushes and canvases, step back and squint or maybe borrow your friends prescription glasses.

monet's 'water lillies', close up

monet’s ‘water lillies’, close up

The only way to be really good at it though is to spend a whole lot of time painting.  I don’t know of any shortcut. Perhaps it is because it is not a goal to be reached or to aim for but rather a side effect of reaching a destination called being a really experienced, good painter.  I don’t think it is a particularly good thing to focus on or try to accomplish, it happens automatically and naturally when you have been painting for a long time and you have developed your eye to see what is essential and leave the rest, and then with a skillful hand, to improvise and to suggest.  It is like the ability of a very good speaker or writer to communicate a complex topic in a simple and concise way – that takes a lot of study and practice.  I am reminded of story of the person that asked Micheal Jordan how he made his jump shots look so easy, he replied with something like “that is because I do 3000 a day.”

Moreover, the product of all that work – the ability to paint with confidence and abandon, flowing and spontaneous – is the antithesis of efforting, of trying to be ‘loose’.  Its like working hard at trying not to work too hard, or trying to be relaxed.  If you are trying, you are not relaxing.  Sometimes our personality does get in the way, and well, for that, you will need a different kind of help.

I think the same can be said for finding your personal style, which is another major concern for amateur painters – don’t bother trying to find it, just keep painting, it will happen on its own.

That said, I am aware that there are instructors, and workshops, and coaching tips to help someone be less ‘stiff’ with their painting technique, and more focused on what might separate them and distinguish their art, but I cannot imagine that those things would be sustainable, or particularly rewarding or fulfilling in the long run.  I could be wrong about that, I am open to that possibility, but I am certainly not interested in teaching that sort of thing.

Anyway, back to being painterly.  Vasari, the famous biographer of the great artists of the Renaissance, remarked on Titian’s work from his later years stating that he had adopted a manner of ‘painting with splotches’.  Perhaps due to his age and failing eyesight it was speculated.

Titian - self portrait

Titian – self portrait

The 17th century term used to describe this phenomena was ‘sprezzatura’ which is roughly translated to mean ‘looseness’ or a casual approach in the handling of the paint.  Of his paintings Vasari declared:  “They cannot be looked at up close but from a distance they appear perfect”  It can certainly be said that Titian’s later style did indeed change the course of the history of painting.

Rembrandt started his career with a relatively precise and careful execution but ended his life painting in a ‘rough manner’ as it was called during his day.  A contemporary was quoted as saying ‘up close it looked as though the paint had been smeared on with a bricklayer’s trowel’.  Rembrandt himself declared that the paintings should be viewed from a distance and it is said he would pull people away from getting to close to the painting, claiming the odor would be bothersome,…

Below are two self portraits done many years apart that illustrate how Rembrandt’s painting style became more ‘loose’ in his later life.

Rembrandt – self portrait











Check out that brushwork!

Rembrandt - Self Portrait J910070

We cannot discuss being painterly without featuring a painting of perhaps the most popular of all the messy painters, below is a close up peek at some of the brushwork in Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’.  It is noteworthy to mention that we generally admire Van Gogh’s paintings from his later years and even though his life was cut short, he had produced nearly 1000 paintings.  At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I will say that Vincent did not have the natural talent or excellent training of someone like Rembrandt and his early work does betray the mark of an awkward and amateurish hand compared to the early work of Rembrandt.  But Van Gogh just kept painting feverishly.  For anyone who is familiar with his life story you will likely agree that he did not have anything better to do with his time.

When I am asked for tips on how to make a better painting, I generally like to suggest that people ask me again after they have done 200 or 300 paintings.

van gogh - detail









That looseness and bravado with the brush is an admirable quality.  As I was doing the demo of the texture mediums on the tree painting at the workshop I remarked on that very thing – that the effective application of the mediums comes down to being skillfully messy, or deliberately random, and that takes a lot of practice.  Here is a close up of a painting I did of my own night stars a few years ago.  The stars in this sky are actually shinny mica flakes:

aurora 5x6 72x60 ac 2004








Below is a close up of a section of a painting I did of some poplar trees.  Almost all ‘painterly’ effects have some element of texture in them and it is the reason I started using the gel mediums all those years ago; I love the look and feel of the tactile paint and mediums.  Who doesn’t want to run their fingers over a Rembrandt or Van Gogh painting?  That might get you into trouble, but you are welcome to feel my texture, uhh,…

orange removed 18x24 ap - detail










Don’t forget, you can click on any of the images to enlarge them to get a better ‘feel’ for the texture and quality of the painterly effects.

Now, as for that demo painting I was working on at the workshop.  I did complete it, and I did promise to post the results here so the good people in West Van could see how I finished it.  Here it is:

this is how we left it at the workshop. after the first 2 glazes and the black 'stain' I had started to block in the background veils and the purple and green on the tree.

this is how we left it at the workshop. after the first 2 glazes and the black ‘stain’ I had started to block in the background veils and the purple and green on the tree.

nsag demo 2

I finish the blue and purple veils and the warm white tint on the background then I glaze the whole painting with blue and wipe most of it off. I use the warm white tint to create highlights on the tree trunk


I lighten the blue veil at the top, glaze the highlight on the trunk with transparent red oxide, put more opaque yellow highlights on the bows, then glaze transparent yellow oxide and quin red on the background.


nsag demo 4

I finish the trans yellow glaze, put a phthalo green glaze over the tree and a bit at the bottom, put another blue veil at the bottom and then some black shadows and contours.

nsag demo 5

I again boost the highlights in the background with a warm white, tinted with yellow.


nsag demo 6

another trans yellow oxide and nickel azo yellow glaze over the background


'don't leave anything out' nsag demo 28x10 ac

finally, I add a trans red oxide and an Indian yellow glaze over the light areas in the background, then add more blue and purple tints as well. the title of the painting is: ‘don’t leave anything out’

I know, what a process; and what’s the point of it all?  I painted stuff and then painted over it again.  It is said that Titian and Rembrandt would sometimes put up to 30 layers on in different parts of the painting, often wiping off as much as they put on.  I like to do that sometimes too, it just ends up looking so much more painterly!





Holiday Weekends and Painting Panels

A friend called a while ago to ask if we had plans for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.   “That weekend is Thanksgiving?  I think I am teaching a workshop in Vancouver”.  I checked, and I was.  I called the organizer and asked him if he was aware that it was a holiday weekend.  “I did not realize that”  he said.  He is an artist too.  People still ask once in a while if I have any plans for the ‘long weekend’.  “Weekend?  Long one?  Really?”.  If it were not for my regularly scheduled tennis games, I would not know what day of the week it is. Its just that kind of life I suppose, and what a life it is,…

I have been working on a collection of oil paintings for the last couple of weeks.  They are in different stages of completion.

oils of assinboine

Oils of Assinboine

Above is a picture of three oil paintings of the Assinboine valley where I went hiking a couple of years ago with my friend Doug http://davidlangevin.com/im-back/.  You can see the painting in the middle is a scene taken near where I took the photo of Doug that I posted in that blog entry.  These three paintings are all the second sitting, I will do two more sittings, with drying time between each one, to complete the compositions.  These ones should be ready to go by early winter.  The oils are in the drying rack and I have just started to put together a series of acrylic paintings to get ready for the fall season.

I have also been spending some time these last couple of weeks preparing a bunch of painting panels, with the help of my friend Myron.  We cut, sanded and sized (sealed) the panels to get them ready for the gesso (ground).  Since then I have been waiting for some nice weather to spray on the gesso.  The weather channel has been unreliable in its predictions.  Thursday was supposed to be nice so I booked my painter buddy Joe to come over and spray them with his spray machine.  When people ask me what I do and I tell them I am a painter, they usually assume I am a painting contractor like Joe – he paints houses.  No one actually paints pictures for a living do they?

We got the first coat on and then it rained.  Its not supposed rain here!  I have been playing tennis about 5 times a week outside since early March and I have only had to cancel 3 times because of rain.  Some of the panels got wet and so we had to bring them into the garage and wait until Friday them.

Here is a picture of Joe spraying on the second coat:

Joe spraying the panels

Joe spraying the panels

Truth is, I had intended to do these panels in May or June, that didn’t happen, so I set my sites on August.  Procrastination pushed it all the way to October.  I normally just apply the gesso with a brush but I wanted a different finish, and I wanted them done quickly.   I’m happy to finally have them done.

If you want to know how to make your own painting panels – they are inexpensive and by far the most stable and permanent painting support available – you can contact me and I will send you the instructions.  I also give out the ‘how to’ handout for preparing your own canvases and panels at my workshops.

Right, the Thanksgiving weekend workshop.  Dene and I decided it would be best to reschedule it for next year, either in January or April, the only times I have available.  Check back on my calendar page, or Dene Croft’s site, if you want to join us.  I will post the time, and other workshop times and places for 2016, in the next couple of months.



Everything They Told You is Backwards.

I recently got back from a workshop in Regina and as is always the case with the kind of stuff I teach, the extent to which we have lost our way as painters in the last couple of centuries is demonstrated so clearly.

One of the most common questions I am asked about my work is how I am able to create the luminous effects in the paintings.  I am able to accomplish this in spite of the fact that I am quite partial to heavy textured effects, dark compositions, and I like to use black.

-24x60 ac+

As I have mentioned on many occasions, I learned to paint, not in the college and university painting courses that I took, but by studying the methods and materials of the so called ‘Old Masters.’ My research eventually led me to the realization that, for centuries, the craft of painting was a very scientific and technical vocation that focused on the properties of light and color in a way that maximized the luminosity and color intensity of the painted effects.  The thinking is that if you understood how to create the most luminous and vibrant colors, dulling them down and muting them for specific aesthetic reasons would be a simple matter of disregarding, or ‘breaking the rules’ as it were.  Painters like Rubens and Rembrandt, whom I wrote about recently, managed this in a time when their palette was limited to a handful of colors.  A survey clearly shows that copies of some of the earlier Masters’ works done centuries later are often darker and in poorer states of preservation than the originals.

Because of the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of a whole range of new manufactured pigments, the Impressionists had approximately triple the amount that were available to the Baroque painters.  It is safe to say that had Monet been using the same paints as Caravaggio, the Impressionist movement would not have been so impressive.  In recent decades, with the influx of the new colors coming out of the oil and dye industries, we have tripled that number again.  So, in a time when we have an abundance of excellent paints and mediums at our disposal, it is remarkable to see how dull and muddy looking so many paintings are.

When I survey the participants in the workshops, almost without exception, they confirm that they have all been taught to paint the same way, and almost every aspect of that instruction goes against the practices of the greatest painters from Van Eyck to Van Gogh:  Mix your colors, paint from dark to light, paint over things instead of around them, and so on.  Rubens would be flummoxed (how often do you get to use that word?).

I decided all those years ago that I should write a book to explain and demonstrate the important message of the Old Masters – I called it ‘Light Matters’.  I never got around to having it published and with the internet now, I am not sure it is worthwhile to go that route.  For now, I just hand out the manuscript at my workshops and teach and write about this stuff.  I want to do my small part to help painters regain some of the technical knowledge and expertise that was a fundamental part of the artist’s craft in the past; a return to the light so to speak.

I managed to simplify and condense the concepts into 7 guidelines that can be followed to create the maximum amount of luminosity and color intensity in your paintings.  I will not elaborate on the details, but here they are:

  1.  Paint on bright white, smooth surface.
  2. Use the best quality paints and only single pigment colors.
  3. Use colors without mixing them (yes, black is good).
  4. Use gloss mediums and do not mix your paint with thinners (water for acrylics, solvents for oils).
  5. Keep the underpainting and glazes light.
  6. Use transparent pigments for glazes, veils, and tints.
  7. Paint around things.

I think may have come up with this quote but it is just as likely that I came across it years ago in my studies of the painting techniques of the Old Masters, in any case, I have decided to take credit for it for now – ‘Painting is the art of subtracting light.’  When you start with an all white, smooth painting surface, it reflects back all the light that hits it, as you add layers of paint you gradually subtract light from your composition.  A good way to decide then if your painting is completed, is to recognize when you have subtracted just enough light, but not too much.  Remember too, it is always easier to subtract light than to add it back in if you have gone too far.

I will share some little demo paintings that I made for the workshop to illustrate how dramatic and relevant these ideas are.  Here is a simple painting I did where I respected all the guidelines for ‘brilliant’ painting methods listed above:

'Light Matters' all in

Here is the same painting done using the exact same methods except that guideline number 3 has been ignored and I mixed the colors, red and yellow to make orange, for example, instead of using pure colors:

'Light Matters' no3

Invariably, artists will, without knowing it, paint in ways that are in opposition to one or more of these principles.  With every guideline that is disregarded the painting becomes increasingly dark and muddy looking.  Now compare the first painting with one where all of the ‘rules’ are broken:

'Light Matters' all in

'light matters' all out

I don’t like to call them ‘rules’ because that makes it seem like a prohibition, and that is not cool in art.  There are many good reasons why a painter might want to disregard certain guidelines in the interest of creative expression.  I do think it makes you a better painter to know and understand these principles so that you can ‘break the rules’ in a deliberate and calculated manner.

Here is a tree portrait that I did where I broke one of the rules, and it is my favorite one to ignore.  Since I understand the effects that neglecting these guidelines will have on the image, I am able to compensate for it in other ways to help maintain the luminosity and color intensity of the paint.  Which one do you think I have set aside to make this painting?

no rest 24x9 ac

Feel free to send me questions on matters of light and color and come on out to one of my workshops to practice some ‘brilliant’ painting techniques and to learn more about how almost everything you were taught about how to put a painting together can be reversed.



I did spend a lot of time studying Rubens and Rembrandt’s painting methods and materials in addition to all of my other favorite painters from the Renaissance and Baroque periods all those years ago when I was learning to paint.  I often mention how the best way to learn to paint, or to acquire skills in any trade for that matter, is to learn from accomplished, experienced professionals – a mentoring program of some sort.  I think taking workshops is a great way to acquire knowledge and expertise these days.  In my case, all the painters I wanted to learn from had been dead for centuries so I had to dig into old books and manuscripts to get my schooling.  Those two great painters certainly had a significant impact on my own style of painting which is perhaps best described as a mixture of both of their techniques and approaches to creating a composition.  That is one reason I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of Rembrandt’s working methods on the heals of the Rubens blog.  Also, I had a request from Susan over at Island Arts Magazine to write a bit about how Rembrandt (1606-1669) painted.

Rembrandt - self portrait (1661-62)


I am often told that my style is reminiscent of the Group of Seven.  It is true that I like to paint Canadian landscape, and trees of course, but that is where the similarity ends.  From a technical perspective, I could not be more different.  The Group of Seven painters were working in the Ala Prima painting methods popularized by the Impressionists, my stuff is more like Baroque painting techniques meet the Canadian wilderness.  OK, enough about me.

Rubens worked fast, bold, clear, decisive and with great flare, on a carefully planned out composition, often completing large paintings in a few days with a simple underpainting and few layers.  Rembrandt was generally slower, more pensive and mercurial, developing the composition directly on the toned ground with very little preparatory sketches or studies.  He would sometimes labor over paintings for months, often changing his mind, and the direction of the painting.  In the end, his paintings were often piled up with many layers of paint. His work had a great sense of depth and intrigue and is the reason he is often considered the greatest Chiaroscuro painter since Caravaggio.  The many layers of varnish added over time to most of his paintings may have a role to play in the certain warm patina that we associate with his work as well.

Unlike Rubens, he was not a good businessman and went bankrupt twice.  Although he did have pupils and assistants at different times in his career, Rembrandt is considered to be the first great painter to work more independently in the era that saw the beginning of the end of the large Master/Apprentice studios like the ones Rubens operated.  Like Rubens, he liked to wear fashionable hats.  Rembrandt also had a distinct fondness for doing self portraits, not just a few, but dozens of them, including over 50 paintings, and they are some of my favorite paintings of his.

rembrandt - self portait (1632)

rembrandt – self portait (1632)


 the night watch

rembrandt – the night watch

Much of what is known about the methods and materials of this great painter come from the thorough restoration of the famous painting “The Night Watch”.  It was severely damaged in a knife attack, back in the 1975.  Lets take a brief journey into Rembrandt’s studio and explore some of his painterly ways.

He must have used a similar medium to Rubens, there is evidence that he used an emulsion paint of some sort that included eggs, like many of the painters of the 15-17th centuries.  It is speculated that Old Masters like Rubens and Rembrandt had a thixoptropic medium; where the medium is a stiff plastic-like gel until disturbed by mechanical force (brush) when it becomes fluid and easily spread.  As soon as you stop, it becomes a solid gel again.  How else could Rubens have done and entire painting, using glazes and veils, in one sitting?  Rembrandt also used the ‘aerial perspective’ method of transparent shadows & opaque lights that we discussed in the last blog.  Like many masters he employed linseed and walnut oil alternately.  Walnut oil yellows less and was preferred in cool transparent shadows.  It is evident that he used a thicker, more viscous oil (stand oil) to mix his colors, especially the opaque ones.  The stiff, ‘short’ paint became tacky fast and he liked to rework continually, leaving distinctive brush strokes.  Rembrandt would often load a brush with thick paint and drag it over a dry underpainting to soften or blur edges, instead of creating the soft blending of edges as done in the ‘Sfumato’ method innovated by Da Vinci.

the night watch - detail

the night watch – detail

His bold and dynamic brushwork is one of the most admired features of his style and it also gave the forms depth and a more ‘painterly’ look that is characteristic of his work.  Or, in the words of the famous architect and sculptor of the day, Gianlorenzo Bernini, in his reference to Rembrandt and his followers:  “some modern painters have succumbed to a free or wild manner of painting“.  The strong impasto passages were perhaps due in part, it was observed by another contemporary, ” …to Rembrandt’s slow way of painting and his habit of returning to the same passage over and over again.  People had to wait some considerable time for their paintings in spite of the fact that he continued to work dexterously.”

Rembrandt - The Raising of Lazarus

Rembrandt – The Raising of Lazarus

I really like this painting, great composition.  Lazarus isn’t grimacing because he has just come back to life, but because he has his hand under the stone coffin cover and Jesus is standing on it!  Just kidding.

Rembrandt liked to work his compositions from background to foreground, which was not so common an approach.  Whereas Rubens layered his colors side by side without mixing, Rembrandt would often lay them one on top of the other only occasionally allowing the heavy handed brush to plow thru certain areas to reveal the colors underneath.  Where Rubens worked from precise sketches and studies and a precise drawing on the ground before starting to paint, Rembrandt sketched out the forms with a brush in brown paint over the warm toned ground that he employed, correcting and adjusted as he went along.

Here then is an outline of the typical working procedure of Rembrandt, and in fact most painters in the first few centuries after the innovation of oil painting:

  1.  “Inventing”.  Developing the ‘sketch’ in chalk or paint, over a gray or brown/reddish toned ground.
  2. Establishing the monochrome, or ‘dead color’, underpainting – the ‘grisaille’.  The grisaille was usually done with lead white and black or brown only.  Artists often kept a stock of paintings in this stage on hand in the studio to be shown to potential customers that were to be worked up later by the master and/or his assistants, once an order was placed.
  3. The ‘working up’ stage was the laying in of colors in various degrees of transparency and opacity over the monochrome underpainting.  This process followed specific guidelines based on technical restrictions due to specifics properties of the pigments and varying drying times.  Many contemporary artists are used to simply squeezing whatever colors they desire out of the tube and applying them wherever they desire without consideration for their properties and how they may interact with other elements they are mixed with.  The Old Masters expert knowledge and methodical working habits are the reason why their paintings are so well preserved centuries later.
  4. “Retouching” as it was called was the final process of refining the image by working highlights, contours, details, and subtle accents.  This step was often reserved exclusively for the hand of the master.  Rembrandt would often spend considerable time on this stage of the painting.

Here is one final interesting note:  Rembrandt, like all painters before the industrial age, used only round paint brushes.  It was not until the introduction of the metal ferrule that brushes were able to take on a flat shape.  I almost never use round brushes, they just aren’t as practical or versatile.  If I were into doing forgeries of the Old Master paintings, I suppose I would have to get used to them.


Rubens and the New Light

Its time for another fascinating article on the historical and technical aspects of painting.  OK, fascinating for artists like me at least.  I want to write about the little known, but enormous contribution to how we create paintings, made by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).  It has to do with managing light, which is a topic that is most important for painters, a subject that was well understood by great painters for hundreds of years, and one that I spend a lot of time discussing in my writings and workshops.

Peter Paul Rubens - Portrait of the Artist

Peter Paul Rubens – Portrait of the Artist

I recently posted a blog about Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting methods:  http://davidlangevin.com/mona-lisa-into-the-darkness/.  In it I wrote about how his innovations were pivotal in changing the course of how painters approached their compositions.  Leonardo decided that to have a more compelling image, it would be preferable to use a gray toned underpainting rather than the bright white gesso panel backdrop of the earlier Renaissance painters.  This made the overall painting darker but allowed for more subtle, more dynamic, and more realistic looking effects.

Rubens wanted the best of both worlds:  the bright light of the gesso panel illuminating the colors, as well as the sumptuous undertones and blending facility of the Venetian Master’s methods that he so admired – painters like Titian and Tintoretto.  Rubens called this new technique “Aerial Perspective.”

What is key here is the reversal of the traditional method of painting thin lights and thick dark passages in oil.  He declared that it was preferable to apply the dark colors in thin transparent layers, and pile on the lights thick, impasto.  Most artists still work in that manner to this day.   Visually, this creates the effect of having the light tones ‘pop’ as light is reflected off of the opaque surface while and the darker hues recede as light is absorbed by the transparent passages (glazes), giving the image a greater sense of natural atmosphere and perspective.

However, the reason for the method of keeping the light colors thin and the dark’s thick is founded on the very nature of oil paint, and it is one of the main reasons why these early Renaissance paintings are so well preserved.  Artists painted this way because they knew that oil becomes increasingly transparent, and brown/yellow (warm), as it ages.  If the lights are applied thin over a smooth white ground, this offsets that effect because as the oil becomes more transparent it reveals more of the white gesso underneath which serves to illuminate and maintain the light.  Conversely, so that the darks colors maintain their contrast and cool hues, they are applied thick so that as the oil becomes more transparent and warmer in tone there is enough pigment to counter balance this effect.  Good news for all you painters using acrylics, you don’t need to concern yourself with such matters.

perugino - pieta-1495

Perugino – Pieta-1495

I chose a painting by the great Renaissance artist Pietro Perugino (1446-1523) to illustrate this concept.  Most 18th and 19th century paintings are not this well preserved, even those of the Impressionists.  If you could see the painting up close you would notice the thinly painted light tones juxtaposed with the thicker, raised, dark areas of paint.  Perugino was also the Master of the remarkable and famous painter Raphael (1483-1520).

Peter_Paul_Rubens -Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus

Peter Paul Rubens: Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus

Look how fluid and ‘painterly’ this composition is compared to the one by Perugino above.  This is due in part to Rubens’ innovative use of ‘aeriel perspective’ and to some degree the remarkable medium he employed with his oil paints.

Here is how Rubens himself described this method of applying colors:

“paint your shadows thinly: be careful not to let white insinuate itself into them:  your coloring will no longer be glowing but heavy and gray – it is the poison of the picture except in the lights.”

“the case is different in regard to the lights; in them the colors may be loaded… it is necessary, however, to keep them pure.  Lay each color in its place, and the various tints next to each other, so that, by a slight blending of the brush they may be softened by passing one into the other without stirring them much.  Afterwards you may return to this preparation and give to it those decided touches that are always the distinctive marks of great masters.”

Notice that Rubens also recommends applying the colors without mixing them – a practice that was commonplace for centuries until quite recently, and again, a concept that I emphasize in my teaching to maintain the luminosity and intensity of the colors.

Some of his materials and methods are still a mystery.  Painters and researchers have tried to rediscover the lost secret of his painting medium for centuries.  The exact formula was lost with his apprentices, Jordeans and Van Dyke, who it is said, carefully guarded the secret.  But that is a topic that is too technical, and extensive, for this essay.  It is interesting to note that Rubens operated the last of the large master/apprentice studios, similar to the great studio of Raphael.  Like Raphael, he was a prolific painter with many assistants and helpers.  He was also a smart businessman and played a significant role in European geopolitics as a Diplomat of sorts.  He was, above all, a bold and dynamic painter that was able to finish a large painting in a couple of days with his versatile medium, remarkable skill, and clever painting methods.  He also liked to wear fancy hats.

With the demise of the Master/Apprentice system much of the technical expertise that the great painters of the 15-17th centuries possessed was lost, and unfortunately, they did not leave us with manuals or instruction books.  I am doing my small part to help revive some of the lost technical know how that was part of this excellent mentoring system.

Attribution of Rubens’ paintings can be complicated not only because his works were copied many times, but also because some were produced by his studio with varying degrees of input by Rubens.  There was, in fact, a price scale that applied based on how much the client desired the master’s involvement in the production of the painting:  You could buy a painting done by ‘the studio of Rubens’ where the design and production of the piece would be overseen by the master, but not worked on by him;  for more money, Rubens would come along at the end of the painting to add the ‘Master’s touch’; or, if you were a wealthy aristocrat or royal, you could commission a painting that was completed from start to finish exclusively by the hand of the great painter himself.

Peter Paul Rubens - Samson-and-Delilah

Peter Paul Rubens – Samson and Delilah

Rubens’ paintings have indeed been copied by many artists over the centuries – all great painters copied the work of other artists, it is the best and most efficient way to learn.  Rubens himself went to study in Italy for 7 years and spent much of his time copying the work of his favorite painters of the Italian Renaissance.  The renowned French artist Eugene Delacroix (1793-1863) made several copies of Rubens’ paintings but even by his time much of the technical knowledge of the Renaissance and Baroque periods had already been lost.  The Delacroix copies are a couple of centuries newer but they are darker and in poorer condition than the original paintings of Rubens that he copied.

Today, Rubens is probably best known for his ‘Rubenesk’ women, you know, the ones with the,…  and the,…  umm, well, you know what I mean, these gals:

Peter Paul Rubens - the Judgement of Paris

Peter Paul Rubens – the Judgement of Paris

Rubens’ enduring legacy for us painters however is surely the brilliant method of painting bright, rich, saturated, and luminous paintings with fluid transparent glazes and bold opaques over a bright ground.





Looking at Paintings

I have a blog from January of 2014 entitled:  “It Doesn’t Matter What I Like“.  In it I wrote about how my favorite paintings are rarely the most popular in the art market and how early on in my career I stopped trying to figure out what other people like and just make good paintings and let the buyers be the judge.

There is a story about one particular painting that stands out for me above all others in this regard.  I was working on a collection of paintings for a show at the Alicat Gallery in the days when James Gibson was the owner and he asked for one more painting to add to the show.  I had run out of time and the painting I was hoping to add to the collection was not to my liking.  I knew I had done everything that I could to make the painting a good one from all of the normal aesthetic criteria one would apply when assessing a work of art, it was just not one of my favorites and I was not keen to send it out to the show until I could spend more to decide what I wanted to do with it.  In the end I let the painting go to the show.  As is often the case when this happens, it sold right away.

At a show the following year I was approached by the client who had purchased the painting.  She wanted to tell me the story of how my painting had become part of her healing journey.  She explained to me that she had come to the gallery by chance on the advice of her health care worker.  She had been diagnosed with a rare eye disease and she had been gradually losing her sight for a couple of years.  The doctors had given up and told her there was nothing they could do to save her eyesight.  She went to see another healer as a last resort and they prescribed some exercises she should do every day to help with the healing process.  It was suggested that she find something pleasing to gaze at for long periods of time.  She thought that a work of art might be a good idea and happened by the gallery just before opening of the show.  She told me that she walked into the gallery and the painting in question caught her attention right away and she knew that this was what she was looking for.

By the time we met her eyesight was on the mend and she wanted to thank me for creating that painting just for her and her healing journey.  I was moved, of course, and realized once and for all that I just need to make the paintings that come to me and not be concerned about the outcomes.  It seems like magic sometimes and I don’t like to mess with that.

In response to my discussion with her and her friend I made this painting that tells some of the story of how art can sometimes move, inspire, and even be part of someone’s healing, whatever that might look like.  I cannot find the image of the painting that she had chosen, I will post an image of it here if I do.

healing rocks 36x24 ac

healing rocks 36×24 ac 2007

While I was at Sunpeaks in July for the one day workshop I also had a small display of some of my paintings at a reception.  A lady in attendance who was visually impaired told me she enjoyed my art.  I was not sure how much of it she could actually see, I knew she walked with a special white cane and had a seeing-eye dog, so I suggested she use her sense of touch to further her experience and appreciation of the paintings.  I assured her it was OK to touch them.


Feeling the Painting

She spent quite a lot of time feeling one particular painting and in the picture above you can also see the hand of her friend as she describes to her what she is touching.  The fact that I use a lot of texture in paintings like that one make the sensual experience more dramatic of course.  She was excited to tell me how much she got out of the experience and how she understood my process much better.  She even pointed out that she was thrilled to find areas where I had used my own thumbs and fingers to create some of the effects.

smorg 48x12 ap+

The picture above is a detail of the painting she was admiring and if you click on the image to enlarge it you can see how she was able to distinguish the rocks and tree trunk, bows, and background textures with her touch.  You can even see the imprints of my own fingers that she was referring to where I used them to mold the texture at the bottom edges of the painting.

Meanwhile, back in the studio, I have been working on a collection of paintings that I will be shipping out in the next couple of weeks to some of my galleries.  This is what it looks like in my studio right now; trees piling up in one corner.

aug 16 2015