Workshop Wednesday; Casey Childs’ Painting Oil Portraits From Life

Casey Childs’ finished portrait demo of our lovely model Nataliya.

When I take my copious notes during workshops I have a system of highlighting certain passages by assigning a number of stars to them or by calling some things out as “money tips” (my terminology for thoughts that truly add value to your painting). When I looked over my notes for Casey Childs’ painting workshop, I found stars and comments littered through out the pages. What I am giving you here is some of the best advice to painting that I have heard, at least that is the way it struck me. Part of Casey’s genius as an instructor is that he is a really good communicator and can easily explain both his working process and (more importantly) his thought process in ways that students can digest.

The following  notes I took during Casey’s Painting Oil Portraits From Life Workshop in October of 2017 at Francie’s Studio in Purcellville VA:


Casey Childs in action during the block in stage of his demo.

-Casey believes it is good for your painting to work on charcoal drawings in between, because it forces you to work on values.

-Working with a limited palette is also good if you are having problems with color.

-It is well documented that Sargent used lots of paint. You should too!

-Casey uses a palette of 3 reds, 3 blues and 3 yellows. Ivory Black, Flake White (lead white -does not use titanium white). Genuine Naples Yellow Light (Vasari), Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Transparent Red Oxide, Cad Yellow, Cad Red Light, Alizarin, Ultramarine Violet, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Bice (Vasari), Ultramarine Blue,  [Writer’s note: may not be transcribed as a complete list of his palette nor in the correct order].

-Casey believes in pushing primaries together to make subtle grays. He finds & mixes color accordingly.

Casey Childs’ demo just past the block in stage,

-Makes his own panels with gatorboard and linen canvas that he glues together using  Beva Glue Film. He hand irons it together.

-When beginning a new painting he lines up the canvas at eye level.

-Starts with a thin wash of neutral color. A red + a blue + black.

-If anything is too warm he hits it with the complementary color. He is always thinking  what he needs to adjust.

-Then he begins to wipe (with a blue paper shop towel) out shapes which immediately makes him think only in regards to lights & darks.

-Raw Sienna + Alizarin + Blue for the under-drawing. Today he is pushing the mixture towards warm because of the models red hair.

-“Get the shapes to relate to each other and you can start to get a sense of likeness without even drawing.”

–“This simple block in approach is so important – spend the most time on that. You can’t fix poor drawing with colors or edges.”

-“Try and be a perfectionist. If you are tackling portraiture you have to be.”

-Maintain the relationships of light & dark. Meaning, keep the values in the general same range.

-Starts working with color by jumping  into the darks (Aliz + black).

-Observing where else you can use a specific color is a good way of harmonizing a painting.

-“Think of the biggest brush you can use for something then go one brush bigger. You get better marks that way.”

-Uses the following mixture as his initial flesh tones; Ultra Violet + Lead White + Cad Red Lite + Yellow Ochre + Bice.

-Lays in color swatches to test value.

-“I’m slowing down. Just looking at big shapes.”

–He purposefully dulls down the flesh color so he can sneak in more primaries, pushing the greys into one chroma or another.

-Casey observes on the model a blueish tint in between the shadow & the light (known as “the last light”) and paints it that way. He uses subtle color to turn form. It is one of the cornerstones of his painting.

“I am trying to build the eye without building the eye (by building the large shapes). I put in my shadows, then suggest a color and then another value change. All those little notes come together & build the eye.”

With this photo you can see Casey’s approach to painting eyes, literally laying the color onto shapes of value.

-“The areas that are not necessary I blur out or leave intentionally out of focus. With eyes for instance, I take my time & detail them well and in focus.”

-“I often draw something by drawing the things AROUND it.”

-“People often make the value of the crease near the nose way too dark”.

“You can hold more paint in a bristle brush than you can with a soft hair brush so I often switch brushes to lay in more detail.”

-“As I lay down piles of paint, I utilize them in creating new colors– it helps harmonize the whole painting.” Grabbing from the “mother puddle” to create new tones.

-When working on larger paintings he often starts the under drawing in charcoal and then works in a similar way to his demo, working general to specific. He works ALL the figures up at the same time. This allows him to bring areas into fuller focus and leave other areas more finished which gives more life to a painting.

-“Notice that I haven’t really drawn the eyes or nose. I’ve been concentrating on the big shapes but because I have done that it suggests the other parts.”

-Highly recommends Harold Speed’s Painting Book.

-“Sneak up around the eye. Find the eye socket first then suggest the eye –only then do you add eyelashes.”

-Thinks darkest dark, lightest light. The highlight on the eye is the purest white. All other lights are local color.

-Always maintain the relationship between shadows and lights.

-Local face color usually appears in the following “banded” manner (based on the amount of blood seen under the skin)—Forehead: Yellow, Nose: Red and Jaw: Green.

-Around the eye sockets things lean more blue.


-“Lead your viewer to the areas you want to stand out by how much refinement you do to that area. Think Rembrandt. Closer to the light has more detail. You can focus on a couple of features and bring them to refinement–but be choosy.”

-He prefers filberts in bristle rather than flats.

-Makes corrections first (color, drawing etc.) when choosing what areas to start back into.

-“I paint like I am a millionaire (meaning use paint like cost is not a concern).”

-Color has a tendency to cool as it goes into shadow (last light) although on fleshy areas like cheeks & nose it can be warmer.

-“When painting the iris I am going to make that whole circle dark & then place the color on top. It is more pleasing that way.”

-Likes using Trekkel Brush Restorer for keeping the shape of his brushes.

-Likes to paint with the corner of larger flat brushes.

“I think in terms of time when painting, especially in front of the model. For instance I will say to myself “spend 20 mins on that eye and then 20 mins on the other eye.”

-Eyebrows–make lighter initially and then darker as it turns.

-Paints the darker circle of the pupil and then places the highlight on top.

-Don’t paint a hard edge around the pupil.

-Load up the brush and add the lead white highlight to the eye, but be careful & delicate when placing! For this application he uses a Rosemary 279 flat 0 though he would have preferred a 2 or 3.

-In general key the nostrils lighter.

-“Refinement of value is all you need to turn the form on the nose.”

-“It is important to work in value strings so that you can go up and down in value as needed.” Incidentally, his value strings are not grouped by color so different colors merge together according to value to create his value strings.

-“Value is more important than color. If the color is close that’s good but what is important is the value.”

-He built his eye (with this particular model) using the value of the neck shadow and then simply adds more strokes of value on top, either lighter or darker, to build form as needed.


-Lays in a middle value then will paint the darks & lights over that. Using a #6 brush or bigger. #10 for laying in the initial color. Used a palette knife on the shoulder to scrape back a little.

“Squint and paint the passages of light over the hair. Paint hair in one session because it will change.”

I will end this post with one of his best tips so far: “Start everything with the middle tone value & then paint lights or darks into that (air, jewelry, features etc). And paint back to forward, always thinking about things in terms of depth.”

Casey Childs’ demo nearing the finished state.

Casey will be returning to Francie’s Studio to teach another Oil workshop this April. He is honestly one of the best instructors I have studied with.  I would highly recommend him to all of you and there are still spots available in this workshop. If interested, please email me at for more details.

Studio Classes

Artwork created by students from my youth classes.

I’ve had the privilege over the past 3 years of teaching painting and drawing to students ranging from ages 8 to 60, out of my Loudoun Co. VA studio.

My classes begin with instruction in drawing from life utilizing graphite and charcoal and then progress along with the individual’s growth into pastels and color theory. After the student has achieved a good foundation in drawing, he or she begins painting in watercolor, then ultimately in acrylics. Youths 16+ years of age and adults have the option of learning oils in a private class setting.

Classes are on-going and consist of 1.5 hours of weekly instruction. Tuition for group youth classes is $68 per month. Private classes for all ages are $50 an hour.

I currently have several youth classes with some spots available on the following days and times:

Tuesdays Youth, ages 8+
1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

Wednesdays Youth, ages 8+
6:30 – 8:00 PM

Thursdays Youth, ages 8+
6:30 -8:00 PM

If you are interested in any of the above classes please email me at Thank you!

EDENtifying Your Writing Process: An Interview with Novelist, Elisa Nader

“Chilling, suspenseful and evocative, ESCAPE FROM EDEN is one of the most surprising love stories I’ve read in ages. Elisa Nader is an exciting new talent in YA fiction and her first novel will have people lining up to join her cult. Consider me the first member.”- Bennett Madison, Author of THE BLONDE OF THE JOKE and SEPTEMBER GIRLS

My friend Elisa Nader has done something really amazing, she has become a published author. To me that is up there with walking on the moon, winning an Olympic medal, finding the cure for cancer (ok, maybe that last one is a stretch). But it is the kind of thing that many people aspire to yet few ever achieve. As a professional in the creative arts, I pay close attention when someone like Elisa punches through the glass ceiling. And you should too no matter what your medium because a successful model in one creative field can often be applied to another. Elisa’s first novel, ESCAPE FROM EDEN is a breath of fresh air in an often predictable YA genre. She has a background that many of you reading this blog can relate to as an art major with a BFA in painting and printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. It was at VCU that she began writing her first novel, but quickly cast it aside as her love of music took hold, and she picked up a bass guitar. Three bands and five years later, she moved back to Washington and rediscovered her love of writing, penning arts and entertainment pieces for the Washington City Paper. But, once again, writing took a back seat. After a stint at The Washington Post as a lead website designer for the Arts and Entertainment section, she began a long career at AOL as a creative director, working alongside such companies as Time Warner, Travelocity, MapQuest, Bebo, Moviefone, and many more. Since leaving AOL, she spends time writing, raising her seven-year-old daughter, and working alongside her husband in their new venture, Mag7, a User Experience Design collective.

Below is a synopsis of the plot from ESCAPE FROM EDEN:

Since the age of ten, Mia has lived under the iron fist of the fundamentalist preacher who lured her mother away to join his fanatical family of followers. In Edenton, a supposed “Garden of Eden” deep in the South American jungle, everyone follows the Reverend’s strict but arbitrary rules—even the mandate of whom they can marry. Now sixteen, Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep the faithful in, and the curious out. When the rebellious and sexy Gabriel, a new boy, arrives with his family, Mia sees a chance to escape.

But the scandalous secrets the two discover beyond the compound’s façade are more shocking than anything they ever imagined. While Gabriel has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia bond together, more than friends and freedom fighters. But is there time to think of their undeniable attraction to each other as they race to stop the Reverend’s paranoid plan to free his flock from the corrupt world? Can two teenagers crush a criminal mastermind? And who will die in the fight to save the ones they love from a madman who’s only concerned about his own secrets?

And now, the interview.

SLA: Is Mia’s artistic drive a reflection of your own? As a former art student do you still draw or sketch?

EN: I think her artistic drive comes from me. I knew I wanted her to have something forbidden in Edenton, but wasn’t sure what. I used to journal when I was in my twenties, but all my journals were essentially sketch books with drawings and random writings. I thought that would be perfect for Mia, Materials are so scarce in Edenton — paper, pens, pencils — , she’s forced to sacrifice old drawings by erasing them from journal to create new ones. I thought it was an interesting dynamic in the story that maybe only artists would understand. Sacrificing something in order for a new idea to come to life.I don’t sketch and paint as much as I used to. Over the years, I’ve found my creativity has taken on different forms: Graphic and web design, interior decorating, writing—so much more writing.


SLA: Is famed portrait painter Nelson Shanks the inspiration for the likeness of “ginger haired” Reverend Elias Eden? It’s ok to confide in us. No one reads this blog anyway.
EN: While this portrait of Nelson Shanks DOES resemble the Reverend (blue shirt and all!) you’ll never guess who I had pictured in my head when I was writing the character.


Yep. Zach Galifianakis


SLA: Please define your writing journey. How did you begin? How did you hone your craft? How did you get “discovered” and then ultimately published?

EN: I’ve always written – either in my journal or once I got a computer, I wrote on that. I started writing a story about a indie band on the road when I was in college, but it never went anywhere. I mean, I spent YEARS on that thing. Never showed it to anyone. I did some writing for The Washington City Paper, arts pieces and long-form articles (link, but web design took over my life and I spent years doing that until I left my corporate job in 2008. That’s when I decided I was just going to write already and stop thinking about writing. I took a class online at The classes are taught by publishing industry professionals, so my instructor was an editor from Harper Collins who loved the story I was workshopping (different manuscript than ESCAPE FROM EDEN) and passed on to a literary agent friend. He saw a lot of potential in it, but was so busy with clients he wasn’t taking on any new clients but he gave it to a partner in his company, Upstart Crow Literary, and she loved it. It’s funny how things work out. My agent Danielle Chiotti is the perfect agent for me. She’s very editorial, which I love, and has helped my writing immensely.

One evening, when I was trying to work on a new writing project, I got the idea for ESCAPE FROM EDEN. My old manuscript was out on submission (that means editors at publishing houses were reading it, deciding if they wanted to buy it). As soon as I had the idea for EDEN, I realized that my other manuscript wasn’t good enough. I asked Danielle to stop submitting it and she supported the idea. A year later I had EDEN written and we submitted it. It was sold two months later.


SLA: How would you describe your writing process? Did you use any specific techniques for writing and idea generation such as story boarding that you could share with us?

EN: I sit down and write. That’s pretty much it. I outline a scene before I write it — but sometimes I just see where the writing takes me.

I always have an idea where the story is going to go, and for me they have to be high concept ideas. These are stories you can describe in a sentence, for example: Teen girl living on a commune tries to escape, only to discover the deadly secrets of the cult. I like to write big and high stakes stories with plot twists. Do I always do that? No. But that’s aways my goal.


SLA: Who would be the supporting characters in your life who helped you reach the milestone of published author?

EN: My husband, Brent Canfield. He’s so, SO supportive. I’m very lucky.

My best friend for over twenty years, Kami Greene. She’s read almost everything I’ve ever written!

My critique partner Nina Berry. She’s made me such a better writer over the years. I cringe at the crappy stuff I used to send her. She’s published novels, written screenplays, wrote TV shows. She knows writing and great stories. I took the class with her and discovered she gave the BEST feedback in the class. That’s when I asked her to be my crit partner snagged her up as my own.

And my agent, Danielle Chiotti. I ADORE her. She’s supportive and caring and, like I said, editorial. I sent her a box of bacon once, I love her so.


SLA: While stalking you on FaceBook & Twitter, I saw that you recently attended the Romance Writers of America conference in ATL. Please describe that experience. Was it your first writing conference? How helpful was it in terms of net working etc.

EN: This was my third writing/publishing conference. I was really there to support my crit partner Nina who has a book coming out with Harlequin Teen. I’ve also been to a couple SCBWI conferences (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators).

Conferences like that are fantastic because everyone is there for the same reason, same interests and it’s just so easy to meet and talk to people. And make industry connections. It’s such a safe haven from the outside world. I see how people become addicted to conferences – being surrounded by like-minded individuals who get you.


SLA: What peer to peer mentoring societies would you recommend to aspiring writers?

EN: First, a look at taking a writing class in whatever category you’re writing in — Non-fiction, Memoir, YA, etc. Like I mentioned, I took a class at and it was really the best thing to happen for my career.Look for writers groups in your area — You can do this by joining local chapters of writers organizations. There are so many, and with a few simple search terms, you can find one that caters to what you write.

Get a critique partner. A TRUTHFUL critique partner. Someone who’s writing you respect and love. Someone who is going to tell you when your writing sucks and that you need to fix it. This person needs to be a WRITER, someone who understands the craft of writing. Not just a reader. And if you’re lucky, they are a strong writer you can learn from.


SLA: Who are your favorite authors & books? How often do you read?

EN: I read almost every night. Sometimes when I’m writing, I don’t read books until I’ve figured out the voice. I don’t want to be unintentionally influenced by someone else’s writing.

I read a lot of Young Adult, New Adult, romance, mysteries, and thrillers. I was really fortunate to get two of my absolute favorite writers to blurb ESCAPE FROM EDEN, Michael Grant and Bennett Madison. I LOVE Laini Taylor and how she can make words seduce you. I have so many favorite writers. So, so many. I think right now Matthew Quick is really at the top of his game. Can’t see where he takes his next book.


SLA: What do you have in the pipeline now as far as your writing?

EN: I’m working on a new book inspired by the movie The Legend of Billie Jean. Yeah. Exactly. We’ll see how it turns out.


SLA: If you had one really good piece of advice for aspiring writers out there, what would it be?

EN: Read Stephen King’s ON WRITING. Read that book and it will make your writing better. I promise.


SLA: What advice could you give us that would apply to anyone in the creative arts?

EN: Don’t pay attention to what the “trends” are in your creative area. Create whatever feels right to you. And don’t give up. The moment you give up creating what you love, they win. I don’t know who they are, but they win and you don’t want them to win, got it?


SLA: Please feel free to provide some shameless plugs now. Will you be making any author’s appearances soon & where? Where can your fans follow you online?


I’ll be at the Fall for the Book festival, 9.22.13 at One More Page Books at 4pm for the YA Books Panel:

There’s a Goodreads giveaway of ESCAPE FROM EDEN – enter for a chance to win!

And you can find me online here: (this is my tumblr and my blog)


SLA: Thank you Elisa for allowing me to pick your brain. Your answers have been extremely inspiring and enlightening.  Thanks again!