Unitarian Church Arlington – Day 26 of 30 in 30

Unitarian Church, Arlington, MA

Yesterday was a bit of a warm up for today.   At the center of Arlington is the Unitarian Church.   A few years ago we were driving through as the trees were changing color and I captured a couple of shots of this magnificent, blazing orange tree next to the bright white of the church tower.   I had a disastrous go at painting this a couple of years ago but have always planned to try and do the scene justice at some point.   This is getting there but I think will probably need another go at some point before I’m completely happy.

A few midpoint shots.  I’m getting better at thumbnails before I start and it’s paying off.   


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Digital Doodlings – Day 23 of 30 in 30

Adobe Sketch,  Procreate, and Artrage tests

I’ve had good intentions to do more digital drawing for a few years now.   Every now and then I open up the (many) ipad drawing apps I have and take them for a spin.   Up to now I’ve been pretty underwhelmed.   The response and the feel of stylus on screen just isn’t the same as pencil or brush on paper.  Brush ‘painting’ especially is frustrating.  There isn’t a way to replicate the fine point of a sable brush and the marks all end up splodgy.

Now I know that many people do fantastic work using similar setups.  I frankly haven’t persevered enough to get over the learning curve of interface quirks and adapt to the will of the technology.   So I was quite surprised this time round that I wasn’t as frustrated as I have been before.   Whether this is due to app improvements or the fact that I’ve been drawing and painting much more regularly than before I don’t know. 

 I definitely noticed with all three apps that the pressure sensitivity was much much better than I remember.   With Artrage in particular I could lightly sketch with the Apple pencil and really get something that felt like drawing with pastel or charcoal.    

Brush painting was better but, as a watercolor painter who likes to use the full range of a sable brush,  I couldn’t come close to using the same technique.  But for drawing I was encouraged enough to put the pencil on charge for another go.

Highrock Church, Arlington, MA – Day 24 of 30 in 30

Highrock Church, Arlington, MA

James and I spent many happy years in Arlington and we passed this church many times.   I’ve always wanted to paint it and this seemed a great opportunity.   I love the way the light creates the blue and yellow shadows on the white walls and how the sky and clouds behind set off the whole structure.

Highrock Church, Arlington, MA


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Autopsy of a Painting 3 – Day 22 of 30 in 30

For previous parts of this series of blog posts :

Oh yes now this is more like it.     I took on board the lessons of joining regions together,  keeping visual interest with subtle changes of tone and concentrating darks in the center of interest.   Definitely paid off.

This was it part way through.  In some ways I prefer this.  Especially the way the strong values go from bottom left to top right.  

You can see a lot of Charles Reid influence and also John Lovett.   Neither were particularly conscious decisions.   My main thoughts on the way through were to push color across edges as much as I dared.   To the point where it really felt uncomfortable.   If you look at the top of the van the red is bleeding out but not so much that it destroys the van (or indeed the building behind).   This felt like a bit of a disaster at the time but I let it go.   And it turned out fine!  More than fine – I’m very pleased.  I’m calling this one a success.


Here’s the progression.    I’ve often found that I have to go backwards before I go forwards when I push myself in a different direction.   The second painting almost always comes out worse than the first.   

Edit:  Someone posted that they preferred the first one.  Really?  I mean really?

Autopsy of a Painting 2 – Day 22 of 30 in 30

So yesterday there was a plan.    Adjust the values,  keep some color in the darks and keep those brushstrokes nice and crisp.    This is what happened – the original is on the left and the new version on the right.

Oh dear.   If I compare to the first attempt I don’t think there’s much in it.   Yes the colors are stronger,  yes the darks are less dead but I also lost something.  The windows lost their sparkle in my attempt to keep things crisp and everything is a little disjointed.   It’s as if I was going – now we paint the van,  now we do the windows,  now we paint the shop front.  Nothing joins together.

The van is still good though 🙂

No we need another plan.   At this point I generally go back to my reference books and the internet to see how the experts do this.   

John Lovett.

John Lovett

Now this has a lot of similarities to our original photo.   We’re looking at the building face on,  we have a shop front,  and there are no shadows cast on the building to create interest.   This should be a painting we can learn a lot from.    

One of the things he has done here is to introduce a lot of visual interest into the walls themselves.  We have variation in color with a light base to the wall and stronger color over it.   He’s also added some brickwork detail in places.   Not too much and only in small areas mostly close to the shop front itself.   He’s also kept the bricks subtle  – there are only slight changes in value to the underlying wall color.  They stand out but don’t overwhelm.   He’s also decided that the shop front will be the main center of interest in the painting.  The darkest darks and lightest lights are here and also the brightest colors.   Everything else is muted in comparison.   Sometimes it’s done with muted paint color and other times going over with (I’m guessing) diluted gouache or maybe gesso.

Another strong thing is that everything joins together.    There are a lot of soft edges.  The darks of the shop front bleed down onto the ground even though this obviously doesn’t happen in real life.   The wall color sometimes leaks into the window areas as does the green of the (muted) door on the left.   The shop front signs also leak into the walls (maybe pastel here or some kind of colored pencil?).  

So that’s John Lovett.  Let’s look at something from someone else – Joseph Zbukvic.

Joseph Zbukvic

Joseph Zbukvic

Even though the style is very different we can see some similarities in treatment.   The high contrast areas – the darkest darks and lightest lights – are at street level.   The walls are more muted and demand less attention.   They also show some textural interest through slight color changes.  Not as much as the previous painting but they add just enough interest.  Enough to stop being flat and dull but not so much they overwhelm what’s going on in the cafe.   

The treatment of the windows is also worth paying attention to.   Yes they’re pretty dark but they’re put in pretty loosely.  You know that these windows are rectangular but the brush marks don’t actually define them as such.   This is a *ridiculously* difficult thing to pull off.   Having watched his DVDs he puts these marks in very quickly but, in the hands of us lesser mortals,  there is a very fine line between suggesting and just looking sloppy.

Finally there is a lot of wet in wet work here.  Even where there are crisp marks defining the window shutters it looks like the paper is still a little damp.  This leads to some bleeding of the colors that doesn’t make things look like they’re pasted on.

Let’s look at one more – the wonderful Charles Reid.

Charles Reid

Charles Reid sketch of The Lamb Inn in Burford, UK

When looking for example paintings I chose ones that had similar problems that we were facing in the original photo.  I picked this as we’re directly facing a wall with no shadows on it, much like we are in our photo.    

Again a very different (and glorious) style.   If you look closely the wall is full of color – reds, blues, and yellows.   They’re very subtle, however,  and serve to soften the darker areas of the windows and lead from one darker area to another.   And look at the colors in those window panes!  At first glance each pane of glass is defined but when you look more closely there’s a lot of softening and merging between panes.    Making things less distinct has the effect on us of making things more believeable.

Hmm well – a lot to aspire to here.   What shall be the plan for today?

The Plan

 –  Darkest darks and lightest lights in the center of interest – the shop window in our case.

 – Make the walls interesting!  But make it subtle – don’t overdo it to overpower the window area.   Make sure to soften edges enough to keep things from looking pasted on.

 – Join areas together.

 – You can use bold color but keep it subtle and under the radar.

 – Don’t state each edge and join.  Just enough so the eye (or rather brain) does the work to fill in the rest.

Wish me luck!!

Autopsy of a Painting


This is the photo I was working from yesterday.  It’s the
February challenge

for the wet canvas watercolor group and is taken in Kettlewell in the UK.    The plan is to do a deep dive into what happened yesterday and how I can fix it.   Let’s start with what went right and what went wrong and work towards producing something more satisfying.

First the good :

Some things worked out.   The drawing is not too bad and certainly not the main thing letting the painting down.    The white van and the tree behind it work well as does the foreground shadow (the shape could be a little better).   The shop window definitely looks like a shop window and there’s enough (but not too much) detail to make it read well.

However, there’s a fair amount of bad too.

The bad points mainly boil down to wrong values (mostly too light) and color (not enough of it).   There’s also a little sloppiness in some of the brushwork but to me that is of secondary importance.    One other thing that is also worrying me is the overall color scheme and its lack of unity.   Right now let’s concentrate on getting the values right and see what that gives us.

So let’s get down to work.   First a value sketch in 3 values.  

This is done at half size (8×10) with Payne’s grey.    I tried to keep to 3 values – darkest darks, mid tones and lights.    Actually 4 values if we’re counting the white paper.

Even with this quick sketch things are looking better.   The smaller size has helped me place the building on the page better and also not fuss with any detail.    The walls of the house have been darkened down to mid tones.   Making them darker than roof better reflects how the light is hitting the building.   The van has been taken down from a mid value to a dark value which ties all the darks across the mid section together.

This feels a lot better.    I’m still a bit unsure about the roof values.   The chimney shadows are attempting to define the boundary between the roof and the sky but not succeeding very well.  My thoughts are to bring in some texture to separate those rather than value.

Next – let’s play with some color.   

So the walls need to be darker than before but not dead.   I’m planning to warm them up somewhat (quin gold, burnt sienna, touch of ultramarine) to give some strength and value.  Similarly with the van.   I don’t want to lose the strength of the local color so will darken with burnt sienna and a touch of ultramarine.   For greys I’m going to move to my favorite combination of cerulean blue and cadmium orange.  This produces a delicate grey that can be warmed up or cooled down depending on the proportions of blue or orange.


Will any of this help?   Who knows.   

The Final Frontier – Day 20 of 30 in 30

Never let it be said I stay within my comfort zone.   This was always going to be a challenge and so it proved.    It’s fair to say I don’t really know what I’m doing at the best of times when painting but this was blundering around in the dark from start to finish.    In the end I just gave up and admitted defeat.

I do like the white van with the man behind.  But that’s about it.

Anyway – this is going to be my challenge for the next ten days.   How to get a handle on these busy street scenes.   I have 10 days – fingers crossed there’ll be some improvements.  I’ll post a before and after at the end of the challenge.

Snow in Marlborough – Take 1 – Day 19 of 30 in 30

Snow in Marlborough

I had no idea how this was going to turn out.  I don’t think I’ve ever done a snow scene before so this was a voyage of discovery.    I think he came out quite well.   A little tentative in places and those trees could do with some work but for a first attempt I’m happy.  

Bodes well for the next 10 days.

Leslie Saeta’s February 30 in 30 – Midpoint

I’ve been participating in
Leslie Saeta’s 30 in 30 challenge

for a few years now.   Some years I’ve been more diligent than others but it’s always been worthwhile.    Even with my new carefree lifestyle producing a painting a day is still pretty time consuming but I’m keeping up pretty much.

Anyway –  so it’s over the midpoint but time to take some stock I think.    Frankly I’m tired.   What with completing the paintings for the Maine Audubon exhibition and then going straight into this I’m a little frazzled.   Maybe it’s just mid point blues.

But what about the paintings this time?   There are some high points and lower points but on the whole things are going pretty well.  There’s definitely a shift in style going on with more use of darks and more subtle color.   Which is a good thing.    Subject matter on the other hand hasn’t turned out to plan.   It was going to be a lot of landscapes and cityscapes but, as you can see, that hasn’t happened yet at all.   I’ll need to change that in the last 12 days.

My memories of previous years 30 in 30s was that I didn’t really reap the benefits until after I’d finished,  taken stock, and applied what I’d learned in a more leisurely manner.   I hope that’ll be the case this time.

I am tired though.