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 ( 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  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:  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 layed on 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 Peitro 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, one of the methods I emphasize 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 with only 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 this 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


The Fall

I am finalizing and confirming my art schedule for the fall season and I am getting requests to post the dates on my calendar.  I know, we are looking at the fall and its still mid summer.  Although I like all the seasons, I don’t want to think about the end of summer just yet.  I am loving the weather and the time outdoors playing tennis and hiking and enjoying our lovely property, not the weeding though, I don’t like that.

It looks like I will be doing 4 workshops this fall, 3 on the lower mainland here in BC, and one in Regina in September.  Go to the calendar page on my website for more information and to link over to the workshop organizer’s sites if you want to sign up.  My workshops are full of information and unique skill sets that are sure to make you a better painter.

sunpeaks workshop july 2015

sunpeaks workshop july 2015

I just did a workshop at Sunpeaks Resort near Kamloops for the Art Zone.  It was the smallest group I had ever done a workshop for; 7 people.  I could have fit them all into my studio.  It was also just a one day session so I had to figure out a way to fit all the technical info and techniques I wanted to share into a few hours.  It worked out great and I think I will offer one day workshops more often.

I will also be doing a showing of my paintings for the first time at the Assiniboia Gallery in Regina. We have been in contact for a number of years I have been impressed with the owners, the gallery, and its history of success.  I have finally decided to get my paintings back into the Saskatchewan market.  I did business for several years with the Pacific Gallery in Saskatoon before they finally closed their doors a few years ago.   I will be in attendance for the opening as it will be on the same weekend as the 3 day workshop I am doing in Regina.  If you are in the area, please come by and say ‘hi’.







What Time is it? What?

Time does seem to speed up as we get older, I have often been told this and I have been noticing that my perception of time has been changing in recent years.  But I really lost touch in the Rockies this past weekend.

I went to Invermere with my hiking buddy Don and we drove up Friday so we could be there in time for the opening at 5pm.  We decided to have a bite when we arrived as I was sure we had plenty of time before I had to be at the gallery.  I did want to arrive at least 30 mins early to have time to get settled and organized for my demo.  As we were sitting at the restaurant chatting I looked at Don’s watch, 3:30, plenty of time.  Fifteen minutes later he announced that we should probably get going.  “Really?  I thought we had lots of time”.  “Its 4:45” he replied.  “What?, I thought it was 3:45!”  “My watch is still on Pacific Time, one hour behind.”  “What?!?”

While I was standing in the middle of the gallery working on the painting I had the chance to visit with several interesting and engaging art enthusiasts.  I didn’t even notice the 3 hours, they did pass quickly.  But losing track of time when you are painting is common enough.

I had mapped out a few hikes for the two days that we planned to spend in the area and we decided that we would start the next day with an easy, relatively short hike, to get ‘warmed up’.  We left the resort at 7am and were on the trail by 8.  We had reached the lake in less than 2 hrs and after tooling around the shore for a while we figured it was certainly too early to head back.  What would we do for the rest of the day?  We decided to take a side trip to a couple of other lakes on the trail map.  So much for easy and short.  This was a long steep climb into the alpine, then back down the other side.  We stopped for a break after what I thought was a couple of hours and Don announced that it was probably lunch time.  Yeah, it must be about noon right?  “Its 3 o’clock.”  “What?”  “Did you add an hour for mountain time?”  Nope, it was 4, and we hadn’t even made it as far as the first lake.  It would take about 3 hrs to get back down to the parking lot, and then another hour to get back to Invermere, that’s 8pm.  I was supposed to meet the gallery owners and some clients for dinner at 7.  Crap.

It was a treat to be in the forest, and especially the sub alpine and alpine meadows again.  What beauty, and the fragrances are also a wonderful part of the experience for me.  Here is a picture of the lake that we were headed for, the hike down and back would have added a couple of extra hours to the journey.  Its farther than it looks, everything is in the mountains.

boom lake- chalice creek 036

The other lake was quite a bit farther still, off to the right and behind that mountain.  By this point in the hike, there was no longer a trail so we would have had to bush-wack our way there and back.  Meanwhile, back at the restaurant, …  they must have been wondering what kind of hike we had taken, or if I even remembered the appointment.  I arrived at the restaurant at 8.  Connie and Grey, the owners of the Artym gallery, and their guests, Mic and Barb, were very gracious and understanding as I apologized for my tardiness.  They are all experienced hikers, they understood how one can lose track of time out on the trails.

The next day we went off on another hike and this time I was dumbfounded at how we had somehow, again, lost almost 3 hours.  I could not believe that we had been on the trail for 5 hours when Don announced the time.  This could not be, we had only been hiking for a couple of hours by my estimate.  Sure enough, Don’s watch had gone haywire and was ahead by 2 1/2 hours.  I was relieved to learn I had not lost all sense of real time, yet,…

boom lake- chalice creek 054

This is a relatively new trail and this picture shows the area at the end of it.  We could have hiked up to a small lake up the valley and over to the right, but again, no trail.  It was time to go head back.


I have uploaded a few more new paintings on the website.  You can go to the website and check out the ‘Paintings’ page.  Here is a sneak preview of one of my newest favourite ‘tree portraits’.  It is called ‘smorg’ as in ‘smorgasbord’ because I used so many different textures, colors, and layers of paint, to create the effects, esp in the middle section of the back ground.  Remember to click on the images to see a larger version and more detail.  I just shipped out a collection of paintings to the Quebec gallery (la Galerie d’Art au P’tit Bonheur).  Some of the new paintings on the site will arrive at the gallery sometime next week.






Hiking Adventures

If you live in BC or Alberta you have probably heard stories of inexperienced hikers, particularly from other parts of the country, or the world, getting lost or injured, or worse, because they wondered off into the wilderness unprepared.  Well, my Blackcomb Mountain hiking adventure from over 20 years ago could have been one of those stories.  In fact, I was thinking, on a couple of occasions, as I barely held on to the side of a rock cliff on that mountain, that I would be carried out in a bag, or found the next spring after the snow had melted.

I had recently signed on to sell my art at the Adele Campbell Gallery in Whistler and I was in town for a showing of my new paintings.  We had recently moved to BC from Montreal and I had never hiked in the mountains before.  Since Blackcomb mountain is open in the summer for skiing at the summit, I decided to take the lift to the top and do some exploring.  It started out seemingly harmless, as these things often do, with me thinking it would be nice to trek across the top of the peak to see what the vista looked like on the other side.  Bad idea.

I was not properly dressed or equipped for such a trek, and I had not told anyone where I was going.  Bad idea.  I got into real trouble because I only realized, after the fact, that climbing up a rock wall is much easier than climbing down.  The other thing that is deceptive about hiking in the mountains is judging distances, things often look a lot closer than they are.  After scrambling and scaling rock walls on the top of the mountain for about an hour I came to a dead end;  a 200 foot drop.  I tried to go back but could not get down the same way I had come.  I spent the next few hours trying to find a way back.  On a couple of occasions I found myself on a rock face hanging onto cracks and rocks looking for a good hold to pull myself up when a rock that was supporting me gave way and I had but a few seconds to find another before falling.  It was nerve racking.

I finally made my way over the ridge and down onto the north face of the mountain and slid down the glacier.  That too was dangerous as the pitch was very steep and I had to control my speed so that I did not loose control and tumble full steam into the rocks at the bottom.  I was exhausted but so relieved to make it back to the chairlift just before the last ride back down the mountain.

It was not just a really dumb thing to do, but I didn’t even get any good pictures of the scenery.  There was no good scenery.  I didn’t even have the presence of mind to take pictures of my near death adventures on the rock cliffs.  At least that would have been interesting.


This is the only picture I had on my camera after that adventure.  Meh.

I have done a lot of hiking since then and I have learned the lessons of going out into the mountains prepared and I have had many wonderful experiences, and inspirations, from some of the most beautiful places imaginable.  I sometimes run into innocent and unprepared hikers wearing flip flops with no water on the trails and, like a reformed smoker, I tell them that it is not a good idea to continue.  I also donate a painting now and again to the Whistler Search and Rescue organization for their fundraiser.

I am planning a couple of hikes for this coming weekend when I will be in Invermere for a show.  I will be going with one of my hiking partners that has been on a few treks with me, he also used to be my dentist until he retired.  Here is a picture from a few years ago of Don that I took when we hiked up to Jumbo Pass, which is not far from Invermere.

jumbo pass (66)

Here is a painting that I did of Jumbo:

hey, where's our reflection 24x48 ac

hey, where’s our reflection 24×48 ac

The Artym gallery has me doing a demo painting during the opening on Friday evening.  That is always a entertaining.  Not sure what kind of painting I will do, perhaps a mountain scene, or one of my tree ‘portraits’.