Saturday, April 12, 2014

Top Tips For Getting Proper Values en Plein air

"Twins," 16x20, Plein air Maui

If you have ever come in from painting outdoors only to discover that your values are way too dark, way too light, or all right in the middle, try practicing these tips: 

1. Use a mid-value mixing palette. If you use a white mixing area, your eyes are more likely to be strained which makes determining values difficult.
2. Key your painting when you first arrive on he scene while your eyes and mind are fresh. Make notes about the key of the painting on a thumbnail sketch of your design. 
3. Determine what mass in your scene is a mid-value. Make a note in your sketch. Be sure when you mix color for that area, that the mixture VALUE matches your mid-value mixing palette perfectly. Masses in your scene which are darker than this mid-value mass should be mixed darker than your mixing palette. Lighter passages should be mixed lighter. 
4. Work on panels rather than stretched canvas. The light which comes through the back of a stretched canvas will change your perception of value. 
5. Keep both your mixing palette and your panel shaded, even if it means having to face away from the scene. There is a tendency to make mixtures too dark when mixing values with either surface in bright sunshine.
6. Once you have been painting for 30 minutes or so, your eyes will begin to "lie" to you. Trust your notes regarding key and mid-value and constantly compare all mixtures to your mid-value mixing palette. Ask yourself how much darker or lighter each mixture should be. Do not second guess your original observations about what is right in the mid-value. 
7. When mixing your lightest light, "test" a dot of paint on a white paper towel. Lighter, outdoor mixtures will appear to be almost white. Comparing them to the white of a paper towel will give you a more accurate reading. 
8. Most shadows are not as dark as they appear, particularly in the distance. Compare middle and background darks to darks in the foreground. Make notes on your sketch. 
9. Use a grayscale card or View Catcher™ and compare masses. Determine how many value steps are between the light, middle, and dark masses. For example, after choosing which mass is in the mid-value, ask your self how many steps darker your darkest darks are; how many steps lighter your lightest lights are. Again, make these notes on your original thumbnail sketch. 
10. If staring into the sun, turn away from your painting, close and rest your eyes for a minute or two about every 20-30 minutes. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

View of where I am practicing today

Most of us who are professional artists find great joy in exploration and experimentation. Whether it involves new materials, unfamiliar subjects, or an entirely different medium, exploring and experimenting spawns creativity and practice leads to growth. 

Professional atheletes, musicians, actors, chefs, lawyers, and doctors, accountants, all take the time required to practice, strengthen their game, sharpen their skills, read the latest publications, learn new procedures, and stay up-to-date on anything that is relevant to their profession. Yet carving out time to practice in a field such as ours can seem like play time. We can get bogged down in "production," or in teaching others, and don't always take the time we need to invest in our own learning. 

A little story: Many years ago I applied for a job at a large publishing house here in Nashville. There were several positions available, and I was applying to work in the art department as an entry level typesetter.  I thought this would be my foot in the door of the graphic design world. After filling out the application, the company gave me a very extensive aptitude test. The results showed that I had no spacial relationship skills, but that I would make a great accountant. They offered me the accountant position, which I immediately turned down to start my own graphic design company.

Please do not read this as an insult to accountants. I knew that I personally did not have the passion for doing it in a way that would keep me curious, or sustain any level of satisfaction for me for the rest of my life. Turning down that job was the best thing I ever did. It lead to a very succcessful design career which in turn lead to a painting career, which is leading to many years of exploration, experimentation, and practice.

Next week I am allowing myself the opportunity to do just as other professional do in their line of work. I will be learning new techniques, trying new materials, sharpening my skills, and stretching my mind at the Plein air Convention in Monterey, CA. I'll be there with several hundred of my closest colleagues all practicing the same things, and every single one of us will be better for it. I will need to remind myself several times that indeed, this is part of my job. Just because it is fun, does not mean it isn't also work. I will be exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time.* 

I have had lots of careers in my life -- music, acting, clerical, and lots of others. I even considered law at one time. As for having any sort of aptitude or "gift" or talent, for painting, I have never felt I had any. But passion and curiosity... I have that!

If there is anything you want to learn badly enough, you will eventually find a way to do it.  Remind yourself often, that the best way to get to Carnegie Hall is "practice, practice, practice."

*If you have not made plans to join us, it isn't too late. You can save $100 if you use PACLP code when you register.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Plein air Convention, as I See It

2013 Convention. Sharing the stage with C.W. Mundy in front of a packed house.
Lots of painters have had the great experience of attending at least one of the previous Plein air Conventions.  By lots, I mean somewhere between 1200-1500 of us over the course of the past two years. Luckily, I have attended both and will be going again this year. 

Because I get many emails asking for my opinion about the Convention, I decided to post answers to some FAQs here. Remember that these are just my opinions. (Insert disclaimer here about facts are believed to be true, hold harmless, etc., etc.) Always check the actual web site for changes and updates to policies and offerings at, or contact the event organizers here

Is it really worth the money? Absolutely! If there is any way you can spring for even one event this year, make it this one. I guarantee you will come home with new information and inspiration that will last for the rest of your life.

Are there hidden fees of which I am not aware? Nope. You pay. You're in. Go to any of the tracks available (Marketing Boot Camp, Water media, Pastel, Oil, Main Stage, whatever). There are 5 stages this year and you can plan your day how you want to spend it. 
NOTE: The day prior to the event, there is a separate BASICS course which is not included. But other than that... no extra costs to attend.

What other costs will I need to consider? Your hotel, your food, ground transportation, any purchases you make from the vendors, anything outside the convention.. just normal stuff. But wait... there's good news about your additional costs.  You'll have continental breakfast every morning (so there's that savings) AND, many of the vendors offer deep discounts for purchases made or orders placed during the Convention. So these supplies that you will be needing to purchase throughout the year anyway will cost you less in the long run. Ta da!  That will at the very least cover the cost of your food. As for the hotel, if you can, (and there is still room), stay at the Convention hotel. They are providing a discounted rate of $169/night. If the hotel cost is the only thing keeping you from coming to the convention, there are less expensive options near by if you search online. Which brings me to this, you will need ground transportation to painting sites this year. In years past they have provided buses, but many of the places we will be painting don't allow them this year, so find a friend and wad up in a car with them. That's what I'm doing.

Why don't they ever have it in the East? Who knows when or if that will happen. I certainly don't. But what I can say is this, they want to hear your ideas. Every year the convention will be improved upon and changed. So if you have just the perfect spot that has 1. the infrastructure and conference center to handle a convention this size; with 2. amazing painting locations within a very short drive; and 3. offers something so enticing that 700+ people will flock there (maybe outstanding galleries, bucket-list location, etc); then send them a note about it. Better yet, get 700 people to send them a note about it! Eric Rhoads

Can I see the main-stage demos in a crowd that size? Yes. There are large screens to assist with viewing from anywhere in the room.
Do I get to paint too? Yes. This year's locations are going to be amazing-- even Point Lobos is included. Bring your gear! Or, if you had rather, bring your camera and lots of questions and feel free to walk around and watch the more than 60 pros teaching and doing demos in the field. Either way, make it what you want to make it. It's your event!

What if I don't like crowds? It seems that an event with this many people would be overwhelming. This is the most intimate feeling, large gathering of like-minded folks you will ever find. Whether you are the life of the party or enjoy your alone time, you can feel comfortable at the Convention. The event is casual and you can come and go as you please.

Will I have a chance to network? Sure. I do not go with that in mind, but it happens. Last year I made a great new connection with a gallery that has more than paid for the cost of the event in sales!

I don't paint en plein air, would I still get something out of this? Yep. Figure painters, still life painters, gallery owners, collectors, event organizers, and vendors all attend.

Do I need to be a party-person to enjoy myself? One of my favorite things to do is to reconnect with old friends and to make new ones. One of my OTHER favorite things to do is be in my p.j.s and asleep by 10:00 p.m. There are a couple of local "hang-outs" that are frequented every evening by groups of artists. Go if you want; don't if you don't. It's not a big deal either way.

Why do YOU go every year? To grow; to paint; to hear new things; to watch new painters; to see new products. I hope I can continue to go every year.

Are there any ways to save a little money when I register?
  • Register before Jan. 31 to use a 3-payment plan. (Not available if you use a savings code below.)
  • Register before Valentines Day to take advantage of the early-bird price savings of $200.
  • Use a savings code such as PACLP to save $100 off registration any time.

How do I register? Go to and click on the REGISTER button at the top of the page, or click here

What do YOU get out of promoting the Convention? Zip. Zilch. Nothing. This is an honest opinion of something that I enjoy and think you will too. 

Well, that's about it.  I'm sure you have other questions. I am certainly not an expert on everything that goes on or how it all works. This is just how I view this opportunity. I hope you have found this helpful, and that I will see you there.

Still have questions? Ask the experts at
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