Thumbnails The Key to Better Drawing and Painting

Art Tip
Using Thumbnails for Planning Compositions
Thumbnails are small quick sketches. These sketches aren’t to record details, forms or depth they are for planning out the elements of your compositions and designs.
Design and composition are terms that people use a lot and they have a lot in common. Design is used to express the overall ideas of you image. Will your image be symmetrical or Asymmetrical. These basics ideas of balancing you objects. To balance something on an see saw or older day scale you need at least two objects. It’s the same with an image you need more than one shape or group of shapes to achieve some type of balance. This is the basic idea of design
Just like before building a house or writing a book you need a planning stage. For artist this planning stage takes the form of thumbnail sketches.
These need to be done quickly so we can move onto execution of our painting or drawing. We you are outside painting or drawing landscapes this can be especially important, because the light changes so quickly.
Thumbnails are very primitive. They contain only the most fundamental information about our subject. They could even be a basic as squares, ovals, triangles just enough so we know what these shapes represent.
When deciding on a design they are four decisions to make. Should my drawing or painting be
1. Analogous – Where the vertical and horizontal movements or lines are used.
2. Complementary – Where Diagonals are emphasized
3. Symmetrical – Where the main shapes are of similar size on either side of the picture plane.
4. Asymmetrical – Where the main shapes are of very different sizes. Such as Large shapes on one side smaller on the other.
By making these decisions on how to design your art you will have stronger and more interesting artworks. Below I have included the four examples of Design.
Analogous Design

Complementary Design

Symmetrical Design

Asymmetrical Design

These drawings are very simple but more importantly they tell me how I am going to approach the drawing or painting. Next time before you start on your drawing or painting start by using thumbnails to plan things out do 4 or 5 and pick out your favorite. Then do it! You will enjoy your results even more by creating a plan.

To Find Other Drawing Insights click Drawing Tips

Six More Plein Air Painting Tips

More Plein Air Painting Tips
Painting outdoors has many benefits as well as many challenges. Below are six tips that will help you be successful as you plein air paint. Practice these as you paint and you will improve your plein air painting.
1. Simplify the Scene – With plein air painting it’s so overwhelming with all the detail of the outdoors. So look for the basic ideas of the scene basic shapes, size relationships and value relationships. Try to simplify the values to four or fewer for any one object. Don’t try to capture every little detail look for the large general shapes and larger families of smaller shapes not individual blades of grass or leaves that is just too much information. Below are a couple examples of simplified scenes. Notice clear they are even though they are very simple.
Simplified color of Fall River Scene
2. Blurring Your Vision to Simply – Squint your eyes to blur your vision. When you blur your vision it’s easier to see the main shapes and ignore the distracting details. Learning to simplify is vital to painting outdoors. Blurring your eyes to see the main shapes and value is the first step to learning to simplify. Below is pictured some photos that I loaded into a program and changed them to simplify the scenes. Even without a lot of details these are very powerful images. We want learn to do this for ourselves out in the field.
Blurred scene to reduce detail.
3. Positive negative shape drawing – Using a sharpie or marker and a sketch book practice creating drawings using just black and white. This exercise will help you more than any other to learn to simplify shapes which will make your paintings stronger. Below is an example of drawings done in just black and white. Below is a scene then the scene is forced into black and white along with a black and white sketch of Aspen trees.
Example:Black and white marker sketch
4. Daylight is Bright Don’t Let it Overwhelm Your Paintings– Daylight is so strong that many times when you paint you think your painting is very bright and colorful but then you take the painting indoors and the painting turns dark and lifeless. This is because there is so much light outdoors even a cloudy day has 30% more light than a room indoors. Outdoor your paintings will look colorful and full of contrast. Inside the contrast fades as well as the intensity of the colors. To avoid this use an umbrella to shade your painting and color mixing palette. If you don’t have an umbrella set up your easel with your painting surface and color palette against the sun so it is in shadow. You need to bump up the the contrast in your painting and the brightness of the colors.
Example: Umbrella to shade painting
5. Keep Your Painting Small – Keeping your painting small will allow you to establish the values and color in your painting quickly. With the light constantly changing you need to establish the values and colors in about 30 minutes and then work the painting as needed. This is very challenging by itself. Keeping your canvas size small will allow to move quicker. So when you start painting outdoors keep you sizes small like 8” x 10” or 9” x 12”. As you get more comfortable painting you can increase the size of your canvases. Below is one of small 12″ x 9 ” paintings I did at the Grand Canyon.
Small Plein Air Painting of Grand Canyon
6. Constantly Compare You Values and Colors – When painting establish early in the painting process the lightest color in your painting and the darkest color in your painting and then constantly refer to those two colors asking yourself if the values of your other colors are closer to the lightest or darkest value and how close is it to one or the other. By asking yourself about every color as you put it on your painting you will find you will have a larger range of values. Constantly compare your color’s hues if I have a tree that is green as the green becomes lighter and darker how does it shifts bluer, yellower, duller or brighter. Continuing to ask yourself these questions will help to become more sensitive to color shifts and improve your painting

 

Six Tips for Plein Air Painting

Plein Air Painting in Kevin McCain's painting workshop

Six Tips for Painting Outdoors in the Landscape
AKA Plein Air Painting

1. Take Only What You Need
When painting outdoors you want to take only the necessary items. The fewer paints, brushes, paint thinner, and so forth will keep your gear lighter and help you to have a better experience painting outdoors. Remember it’s not just about art supplies you also need to take water, bug repellent, sun screen, food, trash bags, hand clamps (to clamp you paint thinner container to your easel), screw driver(to tighten up and adjust your easel), pliers(to loosen the caps on paint tubes), and trash bags.

2. Simplify Your Palette
Limiting your color palette helps to keep your equipment light. I use just eight colors: Cadmium Yellow Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Phalo Blue, Ivory Black and Titanium White. Learning to use this palette you will be able to mix a full range of colors.

3. Leave without a Trace
While Painting you use a lot of paper towels to keep you brushes clean. As landscape painters we enjoy the landscape. So we want to keep the landscape enjoyable for everyone. You always want to take out of the landscape what you take into it. So use your trash bags and make sure you are leaving no trace once you leave the landscape.

4. Bring a Camera to Take Reference
It’s always a good idea to take a camera with you. Painting on location is great for capturing the light and mood of the landscape. Photographs are great for capturing the details of the landscape. Then if you need to finish the painting in studio you have the photo to use as reference.

5. Use Easily Portable Cases to Transport Supplies
A good pochade box is worth it’s weight in gold, these small easels are light and easy for more remote excursions and locations. If you aren’t going far or to remote locations a french easel is a wonderful alternative they are far more stable than pochade boxes and you can pack most all of your supplies inside the easel, though they aren’t as light as pochade boxes.  These compact easels and painting boxes are essential to paint outdoors.

6. Wear Sunglasses When Painting
Your eyes are your most important asset so you should protect them. The bright sunlight over the years can seriously affect your vision. Though some people wear hats to keep the sun out of their eyes, a hat doesn’t always solve the problem so I wear sun glasses. When I paint I don’t look through the sunglasses because the glasses change the colors and values of the landscape. So I usually hang the sun glasses off the end of my nose so I can look over the top of them. This way I keep the direct sunlight out of my eyes and I still am able to see the accurate colors and values of the landscape.

These tips will help you to have a wonderful experience when you go outside to paint.

Improve Your Painting by Avoiding these Mistakes

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5 Ways to Improve Your Paintings,
Mistakes to Avoid

1. Not Covering the Entire Canvas with
Paint
before Finishing off Areas
You can’t see the value and color relationships in a painting unless all the general color and values already on the canvas. Just as it is hard to tell if a recipe works without all the ingredients combined together.

Here are the general steps to a painting.
1. Start by drawing in the basic contours of your subject with either charcoal or a neutral paint color.
2. Once the drawing is done using thin paint(about the consistency of heavy cream) cover the main areas and shapes with accurate values and colors.
3. Blur your vision look for the basic light value and color along with the dark value and color of each area and object. Once the entire canvas is covered you can more accurately access which value and colors need to change and which ones may stay the same.
4. Once the painting is roughed in, work on the painting as a whole.
5. Whether you are doing abstract, non-objective, representational or hyper realism this is the best way to start your painting.

2. Using Thick Paint too Quickly

Don’t put the paint down too thickly or too quickly. It is very hard to control even by a very experienced artist. Start with thin paint. Artists that create thick paintings don’t start out painting in thick paint. In fact except with a few exceptions all paintings start with thin layers of paint. Each successive layer of paint is built up thicker and thicker until the surface is as thick as the artist wants. If you paint too thick early on you will end up fighting the paint and it will be almost impossible to get the subtlety you want and can end with a painting that is overworked. If you have the paint too thick and you can’t work with it take off the excess paint. Scrape it down with a palette knife and start again. Many times scraping can be a great way to regain control of your painting so don’t be afraid to scrape away paint when it is necessary and then go back into the area and repaint it.

3. Using too Much White
Using white paint incorrectly can lead to pasty color mixtures. Pasty lifeless color mixtures is one of the most common problems beginning oil painters have when they paint with oils. The problem arises because they overuse white. White paint is necessary in order to mix literally thousands of colors however you only want to use it as needed. Many new artists reach for the white paint first. It should be one of the last things to reach for when creating your lighter color mixtures. Remember when you use white it causes your paint mixture to lose intensity and shift slightly cooler. The best way to avoid lifeless color mixtures is to use this basic approach to your color mixtures.
1. Mix your colors together to get the hue of the color first(using as few paints as possible)
2. Lower the intensity of your color mixture as needed afterwards
3. If the color mixture needs to be lightened then add white.
Tip: Also never use white and black in the same mixture as a beginning painter.

Doing these things will help you to mix bright clean colors.

4. Focusing on Details not Form Shadowing

Almost every person when they start to learn oil painting makes this mistake. It’s hard not to fixate on the little details but, that is exactly what we do. We jump right in and try to define every one of those wonderful details and for some reason it never turns out right. We need to start with the correct form shadows. Remember those little details need to be on top of a layer of correct values and colors. So when you begin painting use the following procedure.
1. Start with the basic light and dark values and colors of your object.
2. Then continue to modify your colors and values to include the light tones, middle values, highlight, core shadow(if it has one), dark tones and reflected light.
3. Once you have all those form shadows defined then you add the small details. Details need to conform to an objects form shadowing.

Doing this will allow you to paint convincingly.

5. Using Too Small of a Brush
When we first begin to paint it’s hard not to be intimidated. This usually leads to grabbing a smaller brush. It seems much less intimidating. This is probably the biggest mistakes beginning painters make. Using small brushes in the beginning instead of larger brushes. It creates a couple of problems first you add considerably more time to finishing your painting. Secondly when you paint using smaller brushes you miss larger relationships. So next time you find yourself reaching for that small brush go large instead. if you start with large brushes, then transition to medium size brushes and end with small brushes you will have a   greater variety of marks which will give your painting more visual impact.

 

Five Ways to Improve Your Drawings

Another 5 Tips to Strengthen Your Drawings
By popular demand I am including another 5 ways to improve your drawing.

1. Loosen Up- Drawing shouldn’t be stiff,  it should be “controlled” when starting out the differences can seem like double talk but it’s not. Try holding your pencil further towards the back and using your whole arm, elbow or wrist. You will be looser with your marks you have to be, also try keeping your hand off the paper. These two things will help you to “loosen Up”. Also don’t be afraid to try several times to get the line right. It can seem strange but you’ll have a better chance of finding the right line. It’s a little like winning a raffle the more tickets you have the better your chance of winning.

2. Look for Basic Shapes- I am sure everyone who has taken my drawing is rolling their eyes at this one. I know I mention it time and time again. Because it’s that important, every time I am having a problem with my drawing I always start by reassessing the basic shapes and observing the objects to see if the basic shape relationships are accurate. We are very adept at seeing shapes and everything can be simplified into basic shapes, squares, rectangles, triangles, cones, cylinders and spheres. It is effective approach and it will help you every time you simplify things into basic shapes.

3. Have Definite Areas of Light, Medium and Dark Values- Value is such a powerful tool but sometimes it is hard to create and control. Whenever you have a drawing that seems to lack any visual impact ask yourself if the drawing has a full range of values. Every drawing should have definite areas of dark values, middle values and light values. If not it will look flat. Every individual object should also have definite areas or planes of dark medium and light. By increasing the range of values your drawings will be much more powerful.

4. Ignore the Details- Too many times we are fooled or distracted by details. As a beginner it’s hard not to focus on details entirely. It’s tempting to jump in and try to render every last detail with absolute fervor. Unfortunately if you try to work this way you will end getting lost in the details and end up with a poor drawing. The reason is you missed the “big picture”. This doesn’t mean to not include details it means in the beginning look to the “Big Picture”. You do that by sticking to the basics which always starts with the shadowing of an object.  For example: If I was drawing a tennis ball I would start with a sphere that was properly shaded with all the “form shadows” in place. Once I had done that I would begin to add the details. The details have to conform to the “form shadows” of the object. After you have you basic shading you can begin to hint at details instead of trying to draw every single fuzzy on the tennis ball. Working this way will give an amazingly convincing drawing.
Ignoring the details at the start of a drawing is one of the most important concepts in drawing! Take landscape drawing as an example. Even the most detailed of landscape drawings have left out tons of details. There just isn’t enough time in 6 months to add every detail to a landscape drawing. Instead artists focus on shapes and “form shadows” to describe their landscape. The same thing applies to whatever you draw. Look below at the drawing. It is very clear and has implied details but it is more about the shading than the minute details.

5: Learn to Deal with Ellipses- Ellipses, which is a circle foreshortened in perspective, are some of the hardest things for a beginner and even an experienced artist. Here are a couple of things to remember. When drawing ovals.
1. No matter how tight or pinched the oval is the ends should be rounded not pointed.
2.  Use a rule or straight edge to make sure the oval is lined up corner to corner.
3. Use a line through the center of the oval to help yourself as you draw an oval.
Use these three tips to practice, practice and practice some more.

5 Most Common Drawing Mistakes Beginners Make

5 Most Common Mistakes for Beginners
Charcoal masks small

When you are starting out with anything there is a learning curve. There are common mistakes that all beginners make that can slow down your progress with drawing. Don’t worry everyone makes these mistakes the important thing is to break these tendencies so your drawings will improve.

1. Too Much Pressure on Your Pencil
When you are using your pencils be careful not to use too much pressure. If you push too hard you will destroy the texture of the paper. This will be very noticeable in your drawing. It also makes it more difficult to control your drawing if you want to modify the area where the texture has been destroyed.
To preserve the texture of the paper use light pressure. No more pressure than you would use with a stylus on the surface of a smart phone. If you use less pressure and take more time building up your values you will have more control over your drawing in general.

2. Not Using Rich Darks
It takes time with graphite to establish rich darks (not a challenge with charcoal). Learning to see and increase the value range in your drawing will help your drawings have more visual impact and more depth. Sometimes fear of going too dark can keep us from establishing rich values. However if you use a light touch and know how to use your erasers this will not be a problem.

drawing light too light

3. Outlining Everything in Your Drawing
Nothing will kill the depth in a drawing quicker than outlining everything. If you use hard lines to outline everything, you will destroy the illusion depth. There are times when you use lines to create value for reasons of style such as cross hatching, but as a beginner we usually rely on outlines instead of value to separate and define objects. Look instead for “edges”. Edges are created by the value of a particular shape in context to another shape. Example of the outside of the bag where it touches the darker shadow shape of the wall creates the edge of the bag in the drawing.

paper bag drawingsm

4. Using the Wrong Paper
If you are having problems with your drawing it could be the paper. If you are using cheap printer paper you are going to have a harder time getting a decent drawing. How thick the paper is makes a difference. Thickness of paper is measured by pounds or lbs. Usually for drawing paper you want something that is 70 lbs or higher. Paper texture is also a factor for beginning students find paper that had a medium texture. If it is art drawing paper it will list on the drawing pad or roll or paper of what texture it has. Avoid smooth or plate surfaces because they have no texture the marks of your pencil show the slightest variation making smooth values difficult. Also with smooth papers you can’t get deep values. Medium texture or other medium textures like bristol will work the best

.papers

5. Using Scribbled Lines instead of Value and Shapes
Many times when we find something difficult to draw with lots of details it can overwhelm us. A good example is drawing Trees. The first time I tried to draw trees my brain turned off and I instead began using scribbling instead of good drawing decisions about shapes and values, it was easy to just scribble in a little something to represent the leaves. This is a mistake everyone makes when drawing detailed objects. Whenever you find yourself just scribbling in stuff look back at you object blur your vision and try to find a definite shape and a definite value. Then put that down on your paper. You will find your drawings will improve by leaps and bounds when you do this

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Why and How to Use Watercolor Mediums

Watercolor using Distilled water and Mediums

So with watercolor painting for some reason there is a lot of misinformation out there and other information that is completely lacking. Three of the most misunderstood subjects is using watercolor mediums and the use of distilled water vs. tap water. Let’s start with using distilled water to thin your paints. I have heard the rumors that using distilled water is superior to using tap water since I began watercolor painting back in high school. I have continued to hear it over the 20 or so years since then. I finally broke down to experiment with the possibilities of using distilled water. First off distilled water is slightly more acidic than tap water the higher ph could potentially be detrimental to your watercolor paper. That not withstanding I experimented using distilled water on different papers hot pressed, cold pressed, and rough watercolor paper. I also used distilled water in several watercolor painting techniques including gradient washes, flat washes,wet in wet, and wet into semi-wet and so forth. The verdict is there is no difference between tap water and distilled water. In fact distilled water didn’t perform as well as tap water. So in watercolor painting tap water is just fine. Let’s move on to watercolor mediums what they are for and how to use them.

Watercolor Mediums

Why and How to Use them Gum Arabic

Most watercolors contain a portion of gum arabic. It has the consistency of honey or light corn syrup it is used as a binder for watercolor paints. As a medium gum arabic increases the gloss and transparency of watercolors. Gum Arabic also helps slow down the drying time of paint giving you more time to work with you washes.

How to Use it:

Never use gum arabic straight out of the bottle. Always use it with water. At the very least use a small water resevoir with 8 oz water about 20 drops of Gum arabic. I also will sometimes use Gum arabic in my main painting water. Then you just use your water the same as you would if it didn’t have gum arabic. Something to be aware of if you use gum arabic your paint will lift off the paper more easily,so if you plan to use several layers of colors over other colors don’t use gum arabic.

Ox Gall Liquid

Ox gall increases the wetting properties and flow of watercolors with a few drops to your painting water. The colors will soften and blend together easier. The medium can be useful for ‘marbling’ or creating textures. It will also set your colors into the paper and make them harder to lift. If you want to create paintings with several color layers ox gall is the way to go.

How to Use it:

Using about 8 oz of water add 10 drops ox gall liquid. Use the medium to wet the paper for wet into wet or wet into semi wet techniques painting techniques.

Painting: How to Buy the Right Colors

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Why is Buying Oil Paints So Confusing

If you have ever had a to buy paints, gone to the art store and found yourself staring at the paints wondering why so few have the same names for their paint colors. It’s a problem that has plagued the art world since they began manufacturing oil paint over 150 years ago. Companies are more interested in great sounding color names than accurate color descriptions. So let’s demystify some of the ambiguity.

Here are some ways of buying the correct colors

1. Every paint color lists the pigment or pigments used to make that tube color(it’s required by law). Not only the pigment name is listed but also the color index number. So for instance I need to find a paint color Phalo Blue, the problem is the manufacturer paint names for this color varies. Here are some of the common names across manufacturers : Thalo blue, Monestial Blue, Winsor Blue, Monastral Blue, Phthalocyanine Blue, Phalo Blue, Heliogen Blue, Intense Blue, Old Holland Blue, Rembrandt Blue. I however know the color pigment name is Copper Thalocyanine and that color index number is PB15 or PB16(either works but one is greener and the other slightly bluer). By looking at the pigment name or the color index number listed on the paint tubes you can be sure you have the right color no matter what.

Below I list some of the paint colors whose names vary the most between manufacturers

The paints that vary the most in terms of paint names are the following:

Thalo Blue – copper phthalocyanine – PB 15 or PB 16 Hansa Yellow Light – arylide yellow – PY 3 Hansa Yellow Medium – arylide yellow PY 74 Hansa Yellow Deep – arylide yellow PY 75 Thalo Green – copper phthalocyanine -PG7 or PG36 Thio Voilet – quinacridone – PR122 Thalo Rose- quinacridone – PV19 Dioxizine Purple- carbazole dioxazine – PV23 ]

Be Aware of Color Hues

“Color Hues”- Cadmium, cobalts and Chromes are all paints made with metals. Many companies make paints that look similar to these colors they are less expensive but don’t mix the same as the real paints. These are named “hues” such as Cadmium Red Light Hue. These paints don’t actually contain any cadmiums, cobalts or chromes. Don’t buy the “hues” if you can avoid it. They are harder to control as a beginning or intermediate painter.

Metal Paints are Always named Accurately

The good news is the Classic metals paints are always named by their pigments names. So for example it will says it’s Cadmium Red Light or Cadmium Red Light Medium, Cobalt Blue or Chrome Yellow and so forth, you will know you are buying the actual metals based paints. Use these tips and save yourself  a headache at the art store.

Painting Techniques and Tips: It’s all About the Angle

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The Angle of the Brush is Key to Learning to Paint

When painting no matter how long you have done it it’s always best to remember the basics. Sometimes this doesn’t happen either because you are just learning and still figuring out exactly what to do or you have experience painting aren’t giving it much thought. It’s the most basic of concepts and yet it has one of the greatest impacts on the look of your painting, it’s the angle you hold your brush in relation to the canvas. Using a paint brush at an angle close to 90 degrees to the canvas will cause the paint you apply to  mix with whatever paint is on the canvas or if there is already thick paint on the canvas then applying paint this way will carve into the layers of paint on the canvas. However when painting with a brush at an angle that is almost parallel to the canvas it will lay the paint onto the surface differently, spreading it on almost like butter on toast, when using this stroke on an area with thick paint layers this will lay down paint onto of the earlier layers of paint beneath. Varying the angle of your stroke somewhere between these two extremes will give you slightly different effects, somewhere between carving through the paint and spreading it over the paint beneath. Experiment with the possibilities and your control over your painting will increase dramatically.