Monday Morning Art School: angle drawing

Slightly more obtuse than 90°, almost exactly 90°, more acute than 90°. It’s far easier to see when you can compare it to accurate reference (and no, you don’t have to know those terms).

During last week’s workshop, Beth, Sharon and I were looking at a house on Pearl Street in Camden. I’d given them a lesson on two-point perspective and then said, “That’s just so you understand the principle. In real life, you’re going to measure angles rather than draw to a vanishing point.” That’s harder to do, because angle drawing takes practice. However, all drawing rests on angles and measurement.

“That gable end looks like it’s at a 90° angle,” Sharon said. Beth and I immediately disagreed. Of course we were roughly twenty feet away from her, so what we were seeing wasn’t what she was seeing. I heaved myself up (it was a hot day) and looked at what she was doing. She was holding an L-shaped composition finder up to the sky. Immediately I grasped an important new idea.

The angles that matter, very roughly, because it’s hot as a pistol in my driveway.

If you hold something that you know to be a right angle up to the angle you’re measuring, you can see how it deviates.

We’re all carrying around something that’s got a right angle: our sketchbooks. Failing that, we always have our cell phones.

Sharon’s view was, in fact, exactly 90°, but the idea was also useful to Beth and me. From our location, the angle formed by the gable end was about 10° flatter than Sharon’s view. I experimented holding my sketchbook up to various angles in the landscape and was pleased at how easily I could see angles.

(By the way, a roof where the gable end is at 90° looking straight-on would be a 12/12 pitch, which is pretty steep. Most of the time, when you see a 90° angle, it’s because you’re looking at it from off to one side.)

What if it’s so far off 90° that it’s hard to make a comparison?

I was on a roll, so I estimated other angles using Sharon’s idea. That was fine until I was so far off 90° that making a comparison no longer worked.

Drawing a hashmark parallel to the top and bottom of the fence was easy. Taking a photograph of those marks was hard.

What if I held my sketchbook level with the ground and marked that angle as a hash mark in the corner, I asked myself. Then I can easily translate that line into a parallel one where it belongs in my sketch. And, yes, that worked too.

My neighbor’s fence. Three minutes, tops, because I was standing along Route 1.

Angle drawing is important

Angles are critical to representing perspective. They also create the illusion of depth and space. Being able to sight-draw them allows us to draw objects from different viewpoints.

But, wait, there’s more. Angle drawing is important for:

Measurement: it’s often easier to see spatial relationships through angles than with the thumb-and-pencil method of drawing. (Fast, loose  painting rests on a base of good drawing. If you haven’t been taught to measure with a pencil, start herehere and here.)

Anatomy: Angles are essential for capturing the relationships between different parts of the body. This is particularly important in drawing limbs, posture and facial features.

Shading: Angles influence how light falls on an object and how shadows are cast.

Dynamism: Angles contribute to a sense of movement and energy in a drawing.

Foreshortening: You can’t foreshorten an object if you can’t see the angles, period.

That means any trick that makes angle drawing easier, I’m going to use, and I hope you do, too. Thank you, Sharon.

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: what is a fine art print?

Early Spring on Beech Hill, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas, 12X16, $1449 framed includes shipping in continental US.

This past weekend, I sat down with a pencil and a template and signed and numbered 75 prints of Early Spring on Beech Hill for Coastal Mountains Land Trust. I’m happy to do this little thing; I’m on their properties almost daily. If I’m not up Beech Hill, I’m on Ragged or Bald Mountains. If you look at a list of their preserves, you realize how much they shape everyday life here in midcoast Maine.

Back in the day, I sold a lot of prints. They are a great way for people of modest means to start collecting art, and they can introduce young people to your work.

Signing work with a template. If you think you can’t misspell your own name, try writing it over and over again.

What is a fine art print?

A fine art print is a high-quality reproduction of an original artwork. There’s overlap between fine art prints and the art of printmaking. For example, until the turn of the last century, etching was both an artform and a way to reproduce other artwork for publication.

The gap between fine art prints and what you can get from your ink-jet printer has narrowed. Even the cheapest art book published in this century has better illustrations than an old Janson’s History of Art, which was once the preferred text for art history classes.

The goal being to handle the paper as little as possible, I used a paint stirrer to push the pieces in place inside their acrylic sleeve.

Fine art prints are made with an eye to durability, color accuracy, and aesthetic integrity. They are often produced in limited editions and signed and numbered by the artist. The main printing methods for fine art prints include:

  • Giclée Printing: This is the most common method of making small-run art prints. Giclée printers have higher resolution than standard inkjet printers, and use a 12-color printing system instead of the standard 4-color CMYK system. They use high-quality inks that can last a lifetime, and the prints are resistant to damage from smudging, sun, and humidity.
  • Commercial Lithography: That’s the traditional printing process used in bookmaking and periodicals, and is done on an offset press. It’s suitable for mass runs, so if you were to buy a print of, say, Constable’s The Hay Wain from the National Gallery it would be made in this manner.
  • Screen printing, where ink is pushed through a mesh screen onto paper or canvas. This is how you’d reproduce your paintings on textiles, pens, coffee mugs, or huge signs, if you were so inclined.
Seventy-five prints signed and ready to rumble.

Limited edition prints

Collectors often seek out limited edition prints due to their rarity and because they might appreciate in value. There is no difference in quality between the limited edition print and its open-run cousin; the value rests in the artist’s signature. For example, I can never make another limited-edition run of Early Spring on Beech Hill, because I’ve already done a set run of 75 copies.

The quality question

My color laser printer does a fine job of printing, and with the proper paper its output would be highly durable, but I wouldn’t use it for high-end prints; it’s too small and there are visible differences in quality. There are many sources online for archival-quality giclée prints at a reasonable price.

Most of the quality of your print rests in the photography, not the printing. In the past, I’ve had my paintings shot by a service, but I now have a high-end camera. If you go that route, however, you need to understand color correction, compression, and other issues that affect output.

Should you sell prints?

That’s a question only you can answer. Prints can increase your market reach and give you a more consistent revenue stream. If your print becomes popular, it can generate revenue over time.

However, there’s still the initial investment of time and money to consider. And you never get away from marketing. Prints are an already-saturated market, although a much larger one than the market for original paintings.

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: how to learn painting (from the very beginning)

Heavy Weather (Ketch Angelique), 24X36, oil on canvas, framed, $3985 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

“I’ve done a lot of drawing in pencil and charcoal, and anime and computer art, but I don’t know how to paint,” a young man told me. He wanted to know how to learn painting starting from the very beginning.

I checked his drawing portfolio (because if you can’t draw, you can’t paint) and he has good chops, including work from real life. He is ready to start working in color. But since he can’t break free to take one of my workshops this summer, what can he do?

Skylarking II, 18×24, oil on linen, $1855, includes shipping in the continental US.

First, I signed him up for Seven Protocols for Successful Oil Painters, my self-directed how-to-paint class. I’d rather people took the first section before they ever bought a single tube of paint, because Step 1: the Perfect Palette, explains in detail why I recommend paired primaries to my students. Then I gave him a mini-kit of QoR watercolors in quinacridone magenta, nickel azo yellow and ultramarine blue, a Pentel water brush, two bound Strathmore watercolor pads, a soft flannel rag and a small bottle to hold water. Even though he’s interested in oils, that is a cost-effective first introduction to color. (And, no, I can’t afford to send you all starter kits; he just caught me on a good day.)

But here’s a step-by-step guide on how to learn painting for the absolute beginner:

Gather Supplies

If you’re unsure whether you want to pursue painting, go with the kit I outlined above. If you know you want to paint, here are my supply lists for oils, watercolors, pastels and acrylics. These are based not only on my own usage, but on decades of students’ comments.

Breaking Storm, oil on linen, 30X48, $5579 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Learn the basics

You’ll need to understand color theory, how to mix colors, basic brush techniques and fundamental rules of composition. In addition, you need to understand the basic steps from drawing to value study to final painting. You can get that from my classes and workshops, or from the self-directed Seven Protocols, above. If you prefer to read, I recommend Kevin MacPherson’s Landscape Painting Inside and Out for oils and Gordon MacKenzie’s The Complete Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook for Watercolors. However, there are many good books out there. (And I’d love your recommendations in the comments if you have favorites. I’m not that ‘booky.’)

Find a group of fellow enthusiasts and practice regularly.

“Iron sharpens iron,” and you’ll learn from your fellows at least as much as you do from your teacher. Investigate plein air groups, figure painting groups and urban sketchers for opportunities to paint from life. Plein air painting with a group isn’t just about becoming a better painter; it changes how you see your home turf. I’ve learned about many great parks, museums and gardens from my fellow painters.

Study art

Read about art history and visit galleries and museums. There are many ways to put down paint, and art history gives you a capsule lesson in all of them. You will also start to understand why modern artists paint the way we do, and where you fit in on the great continuum of art.

Sunset sail, 14X18, oil on linen, $1594 framed includes shipping and handling in the continental US.

Seek intelligent feedback

I’m a little nervous about social media groups or local art clubs for critiques, because some feedback is worse than none. Sometimes people repeat untrue cliches about painting. Others have axes to grind.

However, there are some very smart people out there, and they’re worth cultivating. My best feedback comes from my students (who aren’t afraid to tell me when I go off the rails) and my family. And I apply the same rules of formal criticism to my own work that I teach.

Speaking of my students, this is Rachel Houlihan from Camden:

Keep plugging

Learning to paint takes time and practice. Don’t be discouraged by initial challenges. If you focus on the product, you’ll never be satisfied, but the process of learning is sublime.

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: how to figure things out

Lobster pound, 14X18, oil on canvas, $1594 framed includes shipping and handling within the continental US. I drove by the place where this used to be on Friday; it’s so depressing to see a new building, now empty and for sale.

I like living in an old house. It’s small and worn, but it’s also charming and durable. It’s only when I want to fix or replace something that it annoys. Nothing is straight. Some walls and ceilings are plaster-and-lath, some are drywall, and some are board. Channels have been cannibalized for water or power lines, so you’re never sure what you’ll find inside a wall. For most of our remit here, we’ve been able to hire professionals to experience those “oh, no,” moments. But not for this project.

This house was a classic New England farmhouse: a barn was attached to the main structure through a series of sheds. In the 1940s, the barn burned and took out the sheds and the kitchen ell. Charring can still be seen in the main section’s rafters.

Evening in the Garden, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

The owners replaced the barn with a detached garage on the same foundation. Other than a new service panel and new doors, it stands as built 80 years ago. It’s no straighter or less quirky than the house; it’s large and has a plank floor. My friend Ken DeWaard suggested I use part of it for a gallery. This year, I dived in.

Most artists are good with their hands as a matter of necessity. That can be a rabbit hole at times; for example; I’ve wasted lots of time and money in making frames when it’s just cheaper and faster to buy them.

But there are jobs you can’t get done in a timely way, and small construction projects are high on that list. My recently-retired husband is my helper. When I’m done, I’ll have a 20X11 space with new lighting to showcase my work. That’s just about the size of my former tent gallery but it will be much nicer.

This is where I got to as of Friday afternoon.

Some of these jobs, like building window frames, I’ve done before. Some are new to me, like rough-framing and hanging a door. For those I turn to YouTube. Watch five videos and you’ll see five different techniques, but common sense helps you sort them out.

Then there are the jobs that you won’t find on YouTube because there’s no audience for them. The back wall of my new space is removable like a stage set. At the same time, it should be as solid as a real wall, as it will have paintings hanging from it. I won’t take it down often, so a lightweight false wall seemed, well, cheesy. The whole thing is held onto a beam with a lot of lag bolts, and a couple of strong guys should be able to tear it down in an hour.

Can you take this approach with learning to paint?

Well, yes and no. There are lots of good how-to paint videos out there about specific techniques, like brushwork. Longer videos tend to be demos, which are fun to watch but not great at developing skills. Videos that deal with something I already know about are more useful than ones that deal with new concepts. For example, I watched several videos about stretch ceilings, but I still won’t try putting one up.

Last light at Cobequid Bay, 6X8, oil on archival canvasboard, $348 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Just as nobody would mistake me for a master carpenter because I’ve built some things after watching YouTube videos, nobody is going to learn to be a master painter from watching how-to paint videos.

When people tell me, “I’m gonna take one of your workshops someday,” I sometimes feel like asking them if they think I’ll live forever. I’ve filmed the seventh and last of my how-to-paint interactive classes this spring. Unlike Zoom classes or workshops, they have the potential to keep teaching long after I’m gone, unlike how-to paint videos.

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: miscible oils

Ever-Changing Camden Harbor, 24X36, oil on canvas, $3188 includes shipping and handling in continental US. This is one of the places I’ll be teaching in next month’s workshop.

Last week in my Color of Light class, the conversation turned to water-miscible oils.  I haven’t used them in years, and only to test them to see if they were a reasonable alternative to conventional oils (yes, although I don’t like their hand-feel). It’s your turn to teach me, and answer the question raised by my students: do miscible oils hold up over time?

Several of my students described problems with cracking, inner layers that didn’t cure, paint surfaces sticking to other things, or paint softening after varnishing with Krylon Kamar Varnish. “But the color is so much better when the painting is varnished,” said the person who’d used the Kamar.

Seafoam, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 framed, includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Since I’m a novice on the subject, I’m hoping that those of you with extensive experience with water-miscible oils can share that, good or bad

Kamar is, according to its material safety data sheet (MSDS), full of solvent. At least two of these—heptane and acetone—can dissolve oil paint, so I’m not shocked that Kamar could loosen up the surface of a painting. I’m no chemist and I’m not interested in reading MSDS for every spray varnish, but it makes sense that spray varnish needs plenty of solvent to be sprayable. On the other hand, I’ve used spray damar varnish on conventional oil paintings with no softening of the surface.

Apple Blossom Time, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US. Or, go see it at the Red Barn Gallery in Port Clyde this month.

Winsor & Newton makes a line of brush-on varnishes for their water-miscible oils, in matte, satin and gloss. I recommend my student try one of those.

Miscible oils are oil paints that are engineered to allow them to be thinned and cleaned up with water. The idea is to avoid using volatile organic compounds like turpentine, which are harmful when inhaled. A disclaimer, however: we haven’t been using turpentine as a solvent in this country in this century; it’s been replaced with odorless mineral spirits, or OMS. In a sense, miscible oils are fixing an obsolete problem.

The typical way of making oil and water mix is to add a surfactant. That’s how detergent works to remove oils from your clothes and dishes. For water-miscible oils, the end of the oil medium molecule is rejiggered to help it bind loosely to water molecules. The key here is loosely; you want the water to evaporate.

Sea Fog, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $696 unframed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

The top-tier oil paint manufacturers, such as Gamblin or Michael Harding, do not offer miscible oils. Rather, they have solvent-free systems for working with regular oils. To me that indicates that miscible oils cannot yet be made to the highest standards of oil paints. In fact, the biggest complaint I hear about miscible oils is that their pigment load is lower. I don’t have enough experience to answer this with authority. Do you?

The issue of paintings not setting up or cracking is far more serious. This may be a simple fat-over-lean question. (I think that’s why my Kamar-using student’s paintings were dull and lifeless in the first place.) Fat-over-lean is every bit as true for miscible oils as it is for conventional oils.

In addition, miscible oils can crack is too much water is used, for the same reason that acrylics degrade if excessively diluted. There must be enough medium present to form a bond.

That’s all I know about the subject, so I’d love to hear from you painters with experience with miscible oils: do you like them? What problems have you had with them? Do you have paintings a decade or more old, and if so, how is the finish holding up?

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: why art?

Spring Greens, 8X10, oil on archival canvasboard, $652 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Knowing why we do something helps us figure out how to do something. Today, I want to get down to the low-level programming of the art calling.

Why art?

I sometimes tell people that if I wasn’t a painter, I’d be a greeter at Wal-Mart. I no longer have conventional marketable skills. I’ve focused on painting for so long that everything else has fallen by the wayside.

That skirts around the real issue of what holds me here. I’m a visual thinker and a maker, and more than a bit didactic. The confluence of these can only be art.

Why are you compelled to create art? Your reasons will be different from mine, but are no less valid.

Apple Tree with Swing, 16X20, oil on archival canvasboard, $2029 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Has what you’re doing ever been done before?

Not only has what I do been done repeatedly, it continues to be done by many painters who are just as competent as me.

On the other hand, nobody is doing exactly what I’m doing, because nobody has the same combination of brushwork and worldview.

As much as we prize novelty, AI points out the danger of putting all our efforts into style. Style can be easily copied. Content can’t.

I could drill down and tell you how my painting varies from my peers’ in terms of focus, worldview, color, drafting and brushwork. That’s a helpful exercise, especially when I’m feeling low.

How is your work unique? If you can’t answer this, is it because you’re drafting in a mentor’s or a movement’s slipstream? If so, what are you going to do about that?

Fog over Whiteface Mountain, 11X14, $1087 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

How do you work?

I’m a big believer in routine. It frees me up to concentrate on work, and I believe the human brain settles down into productivity fastest when it works at the same time every day. Others have told me this is stultifying.

What is the work style that works best for you? Do you go on painting tears, or do you work methodically? Why does your system work for you?

What’s your ideal working environment?

Spaces like Francis Bacon’s studio make me agitated almost to the point of being physically ill. I need order to think. Tidying is, to me, a time when I let my subconscious mind resolve its confusions while my conscious mind does the important work of putting things away.

For others, this is unnecessarily proscriptive, and I know painters who never get past cleaning to do any work at all. What’s your ideal working environment?

Owl’s Head, 11X14, oil on archival canvasboard, $1087 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

What is your creative process?

For plein air, I look, do a value sketch, and then transfer that to my canvas. For studio work, I start with an idea in my sketchbook and repeatedly refine it. Only then come reference photos and the business on the canvas.

I’ve occasionally tried to mix this up by copying my pals’ work system, but that has never worked for me. (Nobody ever called me a good student, just a good teacher.)

Do you have a rock-solid process? Are you willing to change it up? Is your answer a function of how long you’ve been painting?

What do you want to think about next?

I think I’ll be perfectly content to paint landscapes until I die, but nobody can say that for sure. Right now, I’m interested in the nexus between words and pictures. If nothing comes of that, it’s no loss. I’ve tried a lot of things that haven’t panned out, and I always learn from them.

If you were going to expand your media or subject matter, what would you add?

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: how to clean your brushes

Two of my most visited posts are Sandy demonstrating how to fold a plastic bag and my Youtube video on how to clean your brushes. With the advent of plastic bag bans you may have other ways to deal with your plein air trash, but we all still need to clean our brushes.

It’s especially hard to keep oil painting brushes nice when you’re on the road. There’s seldom a utility sink available, and it’s not nice to repay your hosts by washing brushes in their kitchen sink. In a pinch, I shower with mine, since they’re usually no dirtier than I am. Sometimes I wrap them in plastic and hope for the best. And that best, after a week in a hot car, usually isn’t very good.

Leaving dirty brushes in a hot car is a crime against art.

A cardinal rule of brush care is to never let brushes stand on their bristles—in mineral spirits or water. That includes during painting. That’s one reason why a small, swinging solvent holder is a great idea—it tips over if you leave a brush in it.

Watercolor brushes

In general, watercolor brushes need to be rinsed when you’re done painting, shaped back into their proper form, then allowed to dry flat. They will dry just fine in a brush roll, but not in a sealed plastic container.

Pay particular attention to rinsing them if you paint with saltwater or use alcohol to prevent freezing.

Unless you’ve done something very silly, there’s never any reason to use soap; in fact, it’s not good for fine hair brushes.

One of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received was this set of Rosemary & Co. oil brushes.

Oil and acrylic brushes

For oils (and to a lesser degree, acrylics) brush care is serious business. It’s possible to clean acrylic paint out with running water alone, but soap won’t hurt hog bristle or synthetic brushes and it will save water.

Synthetic brushes are generally easier to clean than hog bristle brushes. This is the upside of synthetic brushes’ downside; they carry less pigment, so there’s less pigment to clean out.

Soap is not detergent.

Soap starts with a natural fat to which an alkali (like lye) is added. Detergents are synthetic cleaning compounds. They often have additional surfactants added to increase their oil-stripping qualities. Both allow oil to be lifted out with water, but soaps are gentler. That’s also why we don’t use detergent to wash our hair; it’s too good at removing oils.

Don’t leave brushes standing around dirty

The secret of brush-cleaning is to get to them fast. Get as many solids as you can out with mineral spirits; that will prevent clogging your sink. Thoroughly coat them with soap, inside and out, and wash them with a rag, not your bare hand. (Even the least-toxic of pigments shouldn’t be ground into your skin.) The brush is clean when the water runs clear, and not before.

If you left your brushes standing and they’ve started to harden up, detergent won’t work any better than soap at softening the mess. I sometimes pre-treat them with coconut oil when I can’t get the paint out. 

Don’t expect heavily-used brushes to last forever. They’re made of hair and they wear out. In fact, most of my filberts started life as flats. But by cleaning your brushes regularly, you’ll ensure that they will last as long as is possible.

Mary’s soap.

A plug for my daughter’s soap

My daughter Mary makes my brush soap. I offer it (in small batches) to my readers. Mary’s been offline as she prepped and sold her house, but she’s got her soap lab up and running again. You can order her soap here. “Your brush soap is seriously great. Better than Murphy’s or the pink stuff from Jerry’s. I can always ‘get a little more out’ with yours,” said my student, Mark Gale.

I’m in Britain on another lovely, long, blister-inducing hike. I’ve turned my phone off and while I’m gone, Laura will be running the office. Just email me as usual if you have questions or problems registering for a class or workshop. (Who am I kidding? She fixes all that stuff anyway.)

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: This is a post about watching paint dry

Chemistry—which I took fifty years ago—was my worst subject, and now I spend much of my time thinking about it. Life always gets the last laugh.

“How long does oil paint take to dry?” is one of the most frequent questions I’m asked. I made this video to answer the question. It’s part of The Heart of the Painting, step six of Seven Protocols for Oil Painters.

For those of you playing along at home, I recorded the video for step seven (about final finishes and flourishes) before I left for Britain. Laura is editing it right now. When it’s done, you’ll be able to learn to paint step-by-step at your own pace and you’ll no longer need me.

I plan to edit this material into book form when I’m done. No ‘how to paint’ book can possibly be as complete as these interactive courses, but a book is easier to curl up with.

Victoria Street, 16X20, oil on linen in a hard maple frame, $2029 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

So, how long does oil paint take to dry?

New painters want to know if they must let their paint dry between layers. It’s not necessary if you adhere scrupulously to the ‘fat over lean’ rule. Keep those bottom layers thin and you can paint right into them.

Paint is a simple material, just pigment particles suspended in a binder. So why do some paintings break down? Much of that is down to experimenting with additives. Laying new materials in a pool of drying oils is a recipe for long-term decay. Our museums are full of 20th century paintings with premature cracking. In oil painting, conservative skepticism is sensible.

https://www.watch-me-paint.com/product/midnight-at-the-wood-lot/Midnight at the Wood Lot, oil on archival canvasboard, $1449.00 framed includes shipping and handling within continental US.

Ignoring the ‘fat over lean’ rule is another cause of failed, cracking paintings. The most common solvent today is odorless mineral spirits (OMS) which breaks down the oil and then evaporates. In the bottom layer, that can leave a touch-hard finish in as little as half an hour. That surface can easily be broken if you need to edit. However, in the squishy top layers, OMS can wreck your painting.

I wish someone had told me this when I was younger. I struggled with paintings that looked great when wet but grey when dry, and which aged terribly even in the short time I knew them.

Oil paints don’t dry, they absorb oxygen from the air to harden. What’s oxidizing isn’t the pigment but the oil between the pigment particles. Different pigments have different particle sizes, so some colors dry faster than others. I’ve outlined the dry times in the video, but the most important one to remember is titanium white, which is a slow dryer. That’s one reason it doesn’t belong in your grisaille.

The ‘fat’ in paint is siccative oil, which in most cases is linseed oil. It’s so harmless it’s edible. The downside of linseed oil is its tendency to yellow over time, so other oils, like walnut or safflower, have been substituted. They, sadly, are more prone to cracking. It’s an imperfect world, isn’t it?

Alkyd paints and mediums are made from oil-modified resin treated with alcohol and acid. Their main advantage is their dry time. They can give you a touch-dry surface in 24 hours. You can use an alkyd medium with traditional oil paint. The granddaddy of these was Winsor & Newton’s Liquin, developed in the 1960s. In general, alkyd resin doesn’t hold as much pigment as traditional oils do. I don’t use them because I generally seek a slower dry time, and I’m put off by the smell.

Stone Wall, Salt Marshes, 14×18, $1594 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

How long does oil paint take to dry? It depends on many factors, but as long as you follow the ‘fat over lean’ rule, it’s not important.

I’m in Britain on another lovely, long, blister-inducing hike. I’ve turned my phone off and while I’m gone, Laura will be running the office. Just email me as usual if you have questions or problems registering for a class or workshop. (Who am I kidding? She fixes all that stuff anyway.)

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: what’s the perfect travel watercolor kit?

Bunker Hill overlook, watercolor on Yupo, approx. 24X36, $3985 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

It’s possible that I have too many travel watercolor kits. They include two Winsor & Newton field boxes (cute and cuter) as well as a beautiful antique box that was a gift from my friend Toby. The trouble with prefabricated kits is that they have unnecessary pigments and usually leave out the good stuff. Nobody needs convenience mixes like Sap Green or Payne’s Grey—having them on your palette just results in duller colors.

My watercolor kits for the schooner workshop are a little more complex–more paints and a water pan that doesn’t slide.

That’s why I make a custom one for students of my watercolor workshop aboard the schooner American Eagle. Of course I have one of those boxes, too.

Then there’s my kit for bigger watercolor paintings, which is what I recommend to my plein air students. I have used this 18-well palette successfully for field paintings of up to 36” wide, although I do have to clean it off frequently. Again, it holds more paint than is strictly necessary, since nobody needs 18 different pigments. What’s most useful is a bigger mixing well, and sometimes a disposable plate is just the answer.

My trimmed down box for this trip. Primary colors and white gouache just to use up the space.

Choosing the right travel watercolor kit is always a complicated dance between what is optimal and what I can pack or carry.

I’m hiking in Yorkshire this week, after which I will go up to Scotland. For painting, I’ve limited myself to what I can carry in what the British call a bumbag (because ‘fanny pack’ would be an obscenity over here). I wanted a kit for myself and for my pal Martha, who’s hiking with me.

I started with an Altoids box, because where I live it’s cheaper to buy Altoids than an empty tin. I stuck down four half pans with double-sided tape. Why four, when limited palette in watercolor only needs three paints? I didn’t want to leave a gap next to my mixing well.

I used three primary colors made by QoR. I’m a big fan of these paints, which are made by Golden Artist Colors in upstate New York. They’re bright, clear, and reasonably priced, and they’re tuned to the American palette. To get the broadest range of color, I used:

I filled the last pot with white gouache just for fun.

QoR makes nice field kits, including this one, which has the virtue of not including extraneous pigments. But in addition to wanting to carry as little as possible, I want Martha to have as little choice as possible. Too much choice can drive a new painter nuts.

Since the Strathmore Visual Journal is not negotiable, it determines the size of the final kit.

There are some lovely folding brushes out there, including this nifty travel kit. That was a bit pricey for a gift, so I got each of us a set of Pentel water brushes. I added a Strathmore multimedia visual journal and a bound Strathmore watercolor pad, two mechanical pencils, a pill bottle (for water) and a small flannel rag. Now we each have a kit we can carry and use as the spirit moves us.

Have you ever made a travel watercolor kit for backpacking? If so, how did you do it?

I’m in Britain on another lovely, long, blister-inducing hike. I’ve turned my phone off and while I’m gone, Laura will be running the office. Just email me as usual if you have questions or problems registering for a class or workshop. (Who am I kidding? She fixes all that stuff anyway.)

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: What are you good at?

Home Farm, 20X24, oil on canvas, $2898 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Painting teachers can sometimes focus on the negative, because it’s part of our job to point out deficiencies. However, there is a lot we can learn by asking our students, “What are you good at?”

I’ll go first: I’m logical, good with numbers, and I’m disciplined. In art terms, I’m a good composer and draftsman and I’m intrepid. See, that wasn’t too hard.

Lobster pound, 14X18, oil on canvas, $1594 framed includes shipping and handling within the continental US.

Your turn: what are you good at?

Name three qualities that are general and three related to your art. I can easily see a relationship between my strengths on and off the canvas. What about you? Are your strengths as an artist related to your strengths as a person?

No, it’s not bragging

I’m not asking you to talk about your awesomeness to everyone you know. We humans all perseverate on our weaknesses, and as an artist you’ve chosen a career with lots of knocks to the ego. A realistic idea about your strengths is a good counterweight to the negativity of the art world.

Camden Harbor, Midsummer, oil on canvas, 24X36 $3188 includes shipping in continental US.

Why is this important?

Looking at our strengths is an effective learning tool. Reflecting on our strengths helps us understand ourselves better. It allows us to recognize where we excel and what comes naturally to us.

Knowing our strengths boosts our confidence. When we are aware of what we’re good at, we feel more capable and empowered to tackle daunting challenges. Confidence can be a driving force in achieving our goals.

Understanding our strengths also helps us set realistic and achievable goals. By leveraging our strengths, we embark on projects that align with our abilities. That increases our chances of success.

Focusing on our strengths enables us to further develop and refine them. Continuous improvement in areas where we excel can lead to greater mastery in those areas. That in turn enhances our overall competence.

It also allows us to collaborate more effectively with others. I have a show hanging at Lone Pine Real Estate this season. It’s a good symbiotic mesh between experienced brokers and an experienced painter. I recognize their strength at attracting a clientele, but I also understand that my strengths in painting houses and boats gives them subject matter that meshes with their mission.

Above all, recognizing our competence develops resilience. All of us sometimes get to a point where we think, “I can’t do anything right.” Knowing our competence helps us navigate periods of self-doubt or rejection.

Main Street, Owl’s Head, oil on archival canvasboard, $1623 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Above all, it feels good

Not beating ourselves up all the time is such a relief. Art (and life) is just more fun when we feel good about what we’re doing. What we focus on, we (to some degree) become. As King Solomon wrote some 3000 years ago, “for as he thinks within himself, so he is.”

If you’ve got the courage, answer the question “what are you good at in art and in life?” below. (I promise to not tell anyone.) Can you see a relationship between the two? Can you see a way those strengths can be a building block to future success?

My 2024 workshops:

Footnote: the Red Barn Gallery in Port Clyde, ME, is looking for an artist to join for the 2024 season. It’s a cooperative gallery so you must be able and willing to work shifts there. Having done it myself, I can tell you there are few places more pleasant in which to spend a summer afternoon. The application is here.