Workshop Wednesday: Casey Childs’ Charcoal Portrait from Life

Casey Childs demonstrating his charcoal drawing technique.

The following are my personal notes that I took at Casey Childs charcoal workshop last Fall. Altogether I have taken 4 workshops with Casey.  With each opportunity to study with him, I truly feel myself growing as an artist. And as a rather frequent workshop attendee–I can tell you that is a rare thing.

Normally I am happy if I can walk away with one or two new aspects of technique or approach in my painting after a workshop. Rarely do you attend a workshop where the instructor literally changes the way you THINK. And that my dear artistic friends, is really where improvements happen. We could talk all day about what brushes to buy and what paint to use but what truly matters is what you are thinking in that complex brain of yours that drives the brush in your hand. Seek enlightenment and your painting will automatically get better.

Casey himself is a friendly, laid back and humble kind of guy. He does not carry airs—he does not need to. His work speaks for itself. Casey is a regular finalist in the Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Competition. He is a sought after portrait and gallery artist and is represented by Principle Gallery, Haynes Gallery, Meyer Gallery and Illume Gallery.

Without further prologue, here are my notes from two relatively recent workshops I took with Casey at Francie’s Studio, a private and intimate work space in Purcellville VA.  I will divide up these notes between two blog posts that I will release over the next two Wednesdays as part of my “Workshop Wednesday” series. This particular blog post will concentrate on Casey Childs’ Charcoal Portrait Drawing From Life Workshop. The second post will be on his Painting Oil Portraits From Life Workshop.

Our lovely model enjoying her Casey Childs’ portrait in process.

Charcoal Portrait Drawing From Life Workshop

-Casey says he draws and paints in the same way. He thinks the same things when he approaches both drawing and painting.

-He begins by taping two pieces of willow charcoal together to simulate a long handled brush. He uses a razor blade to sharpen it to a “big long needle point.”

-Measures in the traditional way with his arm extended and straight taking comparative measurements, not sight size.

-Uses a brush to gently knock off or soften “area ridges” made from the charcoal line.

-Casey personally believes in using just a little bit of white chalk as an accent in his charcoal drawings. He says to look at the drawings of Fechin and you will see the same restraint.

-Prefers Canson Mi Teintes paper (in Pearl) and uses the smooth side (the side normally with the sticker).

-Be vertical with your easel and keep line of sight (eye level) right at the middle of your paper.

-Use your whole arm when starting out. Place “tick” marks to define the outer dimensions of your subject. Top & bottom, right and left etc.

-Shoot for life size of your subject or just under.

-Outline shapes. Think flat, think proportions.

-He uses the side of his charcoal too so he doesn’t break the point.

-“Charcoal is similar to painting in that if you lay too much down initially you can’t easily work with it.”

-Often uses hard charcoal as a “stump” to push around and refine things more.

-He feels free to leave unintended marks — “because it could add interest later on.”

-He does use some lines as contour.

-Prefers to break up his drawing workshop over two days in this manner: Day 1 focus on shapes and drawing, Day 2 Finish & details.

Casey Childs portrait demo in process. This photo shows the point in his process where he begins to turn the form in the larger shapes (after his proportions and overall values have been well established).

-From the initial 2D block-in he begins to look at large forms first, turning form, thinking planes & light transitions but just on the larger forms. “Only once you have resolved that do you move on to resolving smaller forms and details.”

-“The key to likeness is proportion. It is not hard to get a likeness if your drawing is correct.”

-Casey uses calipers to measure proportions more accurately. He looks for areas where the vertical and horizontal are in proportion. Always measure horizontally & vertically.

-After a while trust your eyes if you have spent considerable time measuring.

-Hard charcoal is used to fill in the value (i.e. the gaps left in the paper from the initial med. charcoal pass).

-Uses soft charcoal to gradate flesh tones.

-“In the painting you can get value relationships much quicker. You must work at it in charcoal.”

-Uses his mahl stick on the second day (details).

-Doesn’t blend with his finger at all or stump. Doesn’t like the look of smudges. Uses a piece of hard charcoal as his stump.

-He is most interested with getting his big forms right (turning forehead, shape of eyes etc. …)

-Uses the hard charcoal to get the turning of the mid-tones.

-Recommends thinking of Andrew Loomis’ “head in a box” when turning facial planes. “Helps you to think in a more structural way”.


-Casey avoids working in a “window shading” kind of way (where one fully renders an area before moving on to the next) so that he doesn’t get distracted. “You must be aware of the whole form.”

“Form is edges. What makes an edge soft? Is it the light/shadow? Its all about relationships and how they relate.”

-He takes it very slow when modeling the surface. Slow and deliberate drawing built upon observation.


Casey will be teaching his 5th workshop at Francie’s Studio April 14th-16th, 2018 and there are slots still available. As an instructor I could not recommend him more highly. If interested please contact me directly at for more information.

On a personal note I want to thank Casey for his generosity in sharing all that he knows with his students, and in particular with me. 🙂 Thank you so much Casey!

The finished Casey Childs charcoal portrait demo of our lovely model Stephanie. Notice the restraint in his application of white chalk highlights and the “unintended” random marks deliberately included in the final piece.


Workshop Wednesday: Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson demoing during his recent workshop, June 2016.

Twice now I have had the  pleasure of taking a Robert Johnson workshop. Both at the private studio of a wonderful friend of mine in Purcellville, VA. This most recent workshop occurred during the record breaking deluge of rain we received in Northern Virginia. However, despite the rain spirits were bright and the painting “spell” cast by Johnson was magical.

Robert Johnson is a master painter of exceptional skill and technique. His marks are in essence calligraphic–and he admits to having been inspired early on by the Japanese art of Sumi-E painting. This influence is evident in his work and separates his approach to oil painting from his contemporaries. The way he  applies paint is a performance all on its own. He delicately controls the lift & pressure of his brush to  accurately render the ephemeral quality of his subjects.  Any opportunity to study with him is not to be missed.

One of the highlights of this recent workshop for me personally, was meeting an honored participant, the noble Statesman from Virginia–Senator John Warner. Senator Warner  stands with other notable Statesmen (such Winston Churchill), who have turned from  politics to painting later in their career. I thoroughly enjoyed the Senator’s recollections of his time both as Secretary of the Navy and as a United States Senator as well as his anecdotal stories of celebrities and personalities he has known along the way.

Below are my notes that I took during both of Robert Johnson’s workshops. I have placed them in categories to make them easier to understand and apply:


Robert Johnson’s initial drawing in Transparent Red Oxide from the first workshop, June 2015.


-Decide which direction the viewer will travel through your painting.

-Concentrate on negative shapes, variety, design. Decide whether your design will go off the canvas–if so, let it go off in several directions or it will look like a shortcoming.

-You want variety in your set – up. Its inherent in nature.

-Seek a feeling of movement. Good proportion: mass of flowers to greenery to container.

-Using the convention of “polarity”-the juxtaposition of opposites, allows both objects to acquire visual impact. i.e. vertical/horizontal, bulky/delicate.

“The function of the background is to support the “prima ballerinas”. It should not detract from the main event. The background should not be as thick, the values not as saturated ed, the edges not as hard, etc.”

-“Strive to get depth, even on a front to back composition.”

-“The eye goes to hard edges, more paint & bright colors. Be aware of this and design accordingly.”

Robert Johnson further along is his demo. Here he is working on the design of the rug, June 2015.


-Works on double primed lead supports.

-Preferred medium mixture: 5 parts stand oil, 5 parts Gamsol (OMS), 1 part damar varnish.

-Lays in an “imprimatura” wash with cobalt, viridian & transparent red oxide. Puts down marks on top in a rhythmic patter which he sometimes allows to show through in the final product.

“What do mediums add to your painting? They loosen up piles of paint, make longer brushstrokes like in the background and can create transparency”

-“You need flat brushes to get at the delicacy of the flowers. Paint them with the thought that if you blew on them they would move.”

-“All brushes should come to a nice sharp edge. Even your filberts.”

-Begins laying in his drawing very loosely-brush held way back, long brushstrokes. Thins down paint with turps (OM).

-Paints with only one glove on his “painting” hand.

Robert Johnson’s palette.


On levels of importance: Values, then Edges, then Colors

-Johnson wipes out the flower masses with paper towels from his initial drawing to set up the structure . He lifts quite often.

-He recommends creating charcoal drawings on toned paper to get used to “lifting out lights. Wipe out like an artist–your touch should have the feel of going over a peony.”

-“Paint the subject as if it is a under single source light. Ignore the ambient light.”

-“Don’t ever leave anything on your canvas that is confusing. Make it clear.”

-Johnson often redesigns as he is painting. He will mutter to himself, “Let’s make this little guy (a yellow peonie bud) white.”

-“The moment you touch your canvas, everything should be done with artistic intention.”

-“Don’t think about sugar bowls and roses-think about shapes and how they relate to one another.”

-“There is no democracy in art. The big forms always win.”

-“Get to your final painting stage quickly so that all you have to do are revisions. Finish the big statement as quick as you can.”

-“Always remember that perpendicular planes reflect the light the most. If you are having problems seeing or drawing try to remember that principle.”

-“Try to put the light down horizontally-it will stand out more. Implies ridges.”

“The Rembrandt effect”: Horizontal then vertical marks, ending on the vertical.

-THE 5 MIN RULE: “When you make a bold statement there is this instant fear that you have done something wrong. When you have that urge to change it-ignore it. Take a deep breath, recognize what is happening. Give yourself permission to modify it–but only after 5 mins.”

-“Strength and boldness lead to more strength and boldness. This is the purpose to the 5 min rule.”

-“Learn to make good descriptive brushstrokes. As the painting evolves each stroke should be laid down as if it is never getting lifted.”

-“Maximize the utility of the highlight. Give them breathing room in your design.”

-“The light (within a painting) can describe the intensity of the light on the subject, the surface texture, direction of the light, the contour that it is going over.”

On painting flowers: “Start with the outside shape of the flower, get that accurate. Then strive for the dimensional -the light and dark of it. Only then have you earned the right to paint a petal. Work abstract to detail.”

-“Say the most with the least. Be precise and you can get away with suggestion.”

-On the second day of a painting Johnson begins reworking the canvas by reapplying the background color so he has something to paint into.

On painting rugs: ” Try to establish a pattern. Don’t be a slave to it. Rugs should have a clear, paintable pattern to them. Use the weave of the canvas to describe the weave of the rug (sometimes scratches the paint away with the side of a palette knife to reveal the weave). Say the most with least. Allow the materials to do the work for you. Go back in and restate the design of the rug but avoid getting mechanical & uniform with your brushstrokes. Use a light touch, get the paint just on the tip of your brush and drag it into place.”

-“Brushwork should be a muscle memory thing. You should be able to render the object just by looking at it with your eyes.”

“Just lay the paint on. No scrubbing. The paint will look better if you just allow it to do what it naturally does.”

-“You need a blend of soft and hard edges. Let the soft edges dominate. Use hard edges sparingly. Especially in the background. ”

-“If you can do it in one stroke it looks better. Start with a very light touch and then apply pressure-the stem will be painted naturally going from thin to thick.”

Detail from Robert Johnson’s finished demo, June 2015.


-Follows thick lights/thin darks rule.

-Gets a highlight on quickly to key in the values.

-“A trick from Sargent’s portraits: Add more light/color to the shadow of a subject–just past its contour. It helps turn form more and gives a sense of air.”

-“Within the dark areas there are accents. The opposite in value of highlights.”

-“We never think “dark” (values) with flowers but we should.”

On foliage: “Layer light over dark, dark over light–adds dimension. Overlapping planes also give you dimensional”.

“Cast shadows are extremely important. Get them in early. They keep everything honest, related. The main thing I think about here is getting them dark enough and in the right places.”

On greenery: “Ultramarine blue + Cad yellow pale + something from the red family. Always sneak red into your greens.”

On painting red roses: “Don’t make lights, lighter- make darks, darker. White only makes red look chalky.”

-“Be careful painting yellow roses. It is the color most easily adulterated. It turns the key way down when other colors are accidentally introduced to it”.


Recommended Reading

-“Painting Techniques of the Masters”, Hereward Lester Cook

-“Russia, the Land, the People”

-“The Painted Word”, Tom Wolfe


A comparison of Robert Johnson’s subject and painting from the second workshop, June 2016 (unfortunately the photos are not taken from the same exact position). Notice how beautifully nuanced he pairs the background color to his rug. He changed the hue to suit his artistic statement.He also turned up the chroma in the design of the vase for the same reason.
The finished demo painting, June 2016.





Workshop Wednesday: Teresa Oaxaca, the Figure in Charcoal

“La Primavera (self portrait)”,  charcoal on paper,  by artist Teresa Oaxaca.

This past weekend I ushered in the New Year with a bang by attending Teresa Oaxaca’s “Figure in Charcoal” workshop at the Art League in Alexandria, VA on Jan 2 – Jan 3rd. Considering that just the day before the workshop I was a little sleep deprived–and ok, maybe still “recovering” from the festivities, I was really happy and perhaps a little surprised when everything “clicked” for me during the workshop. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been, Teresa Oaxaca has a lot to share with her fellow artists so listen up.

Full disclosure: I have been a big Teresa Oaxaca fan from the very first moment I met her in Rob Liberace’s classes at the Art League. In fact, I own two of her self portrait drawings and one of her etchings (hint: when she says something is unsold over social media, that is your cue that you can purchase it). Teresa is one of my favorite contemporary artists and in my opinion the most promising. I just love the boldness of her charcoal drawings, the mixture of the gestural abstraction and rendered form. They are exquisite.  And the fact that Teresa herself is super sweet and down to earth–I just knew I could learn a lot from her and I definitely did.

The following are my notes from the workshop and I hope you gain as much enlightenment from them as I did.

Teresa Oaxaca during her charcoal portrait demo.

-Teresa’s block-in is a big envelope, very loose, light & gestural.

-Sometimes the looseness (gesture) from the beginning is kept through the piece {I would add that it is this initial gesture that gives so much life & contrast of textures in her drawings}.

-She begins with a jumbo soft charcoal piece and initially adds a center line, eye line & forehead line followed by the shadow shapes of the eyes and nose. The rendering of the mouth and chin come second.

-Prefers Canson Mi Tientes paper (smooth side) and vine charcoal.

-Teresa uses a lot of straight hatching lines. “Easier to get structure in and keep it that way.”

-Usually works life sized and steps back from the easel often to check her drawing.

-If you want to use crazy, energetic hatch lines like Sargent did in his charcoals (and Teresa does) you must have a solid geometric structure underneath {This subtle but powerful advice was one of the things that really resonated for me}.

In process shots from Teresa Oaxaca's charcoal portrait demo.
In process shots from Teresa Oaxaca’s charcoal portrait demo.

-“Geometric shapes render & anchor the drawing.”

-Her subjects start off looking more exaggerated in the beginning and then get more accurate as she continues working.

-She spends most of her time developing the light & shadow areas and then will knit them together.

-The nature of charcoal is that it is just dust. Get used to the fact that you will be constantly readdressing your darks throughout the process  of creating a drawing.

-Uses a brush to soften along the core shadow on a cheekbone or will just drag the charcoal across.

-Shadows are solid, mid tones are a combination of blending or hatching (veiling).

-“I like to put the directional changes in the shadow shapes.”

-She will often put a little speck of white chalk highlight in order to key her values {again, advice worth the price of admission right here}.

-“If your drawing is failing it is because you are not obeying the light/dark patterns.”

-Ask yourself on the simplest of Master drawings, “What makes this really work?”. Dissect and understand it.

-Most of the drawing will be carried by the in-between places that are either smudged or hatched.

-Make sure the shadow pattern is correct, even on a smaller form like the eye. The big shapes still need to be rendered on the smaller forms. Same rules apply!

-If you know you don’t have time, stick to developing structure.

-She often veils in highlights on the planes of the forehead.

-Sargent spent all of his time on the structure and would throw his characteristic slap-dash bravura mark at the very last minute.

-If you don’t plan on rendering an area leave it as a block-in or else you will be forced to fully resolve it.

-Gesture is the foundation of a minimalist drawing.

-Take pictures every half hour, it will reveal your own process to you. It also works as a mirror to show you your mistakes.

Process shots from my drawing of James created during the second day of the workshop.


My completed drawing of James.

I want to personally thank Teresa for a wonderful workshop experience. Prior to this workshop, I never felt completely in control with Charcoal but I definitely feel more in control now and intend on practicing with it more often.

You can follow Teresa Oaxaca and her blog at her website, on Facebook at, on twitter and Instagram at @teresaoaxaca.





The Making of “Mortui Spinus Tristis”

“Mortui Spinus Tristis”. Oil on canvas. 8 x 10. Artist, Suzanne Lago Arthur. 2015.

I thought it would be fun to show some process shots of one of my most recent paintings. I found this sweet little goldfinch one day after she flew into my window. Once I got over the sadness of the whole thing, which took about 30 seconds, I ran into the house to get a freezer bag because I knew she would be the subject of a painting one day. Fast forward about a year, I found myself recently in search of a still life subject to paint under artificial light because it had been raining day after day and the light was horrible for the projects I currently had up on my easel.

So I pulled Franken Goldfinch out of the deep freezer and began placing her on objects in my studio. From a previous experience with a Franken Rooster, I know that frozen birds tend to thaw out really quickly under hot artificial light. So my strategy was to paint the bird alla prima (in one session) which took about two hours from start to finish. This includes redrawing the initial under drawing a couple of times until I had the composition just right to line up with the golden ratio.

The next day I began working on the plate. The following day I finished the Blue Willow design. I did the painting in about 8 hours spread out over a couple of days which I was able to accomplish because I put my covered palette, my painting and my subject back in the freezer in between sessions. I simplified the Blue Willow pattern considerably as I was only interested in getting the “feel” of it. However in future attempts at blue & white pottery, I know I will want to approach the design more abstractly.

Process shots showing the set up and painting in a couple of stages.

The title of this painting means “The death of the Goldfinch” in Latin. Spinus Tristis is the Latin name for the American Goldfinch. Coincidentally, “Tristis” means sorrowful in Latin. It adds to the significance of the painting which for me is an homage to a delicate and beautiful life.

Face Off Heavy Hitters

In clockwise order starting from far left, Face Off artists Elizabeth Floyd, Mia Bergeron and Cindy Procious.

The most happening place to be last Friday was at the Principle Gallery in Old Town Alexandria for their annual alla prima portrait “Face Off” featuring gallery heavy hitters; Mia Bergeron, Elizabeth Floyd and Cindy Procious.

What is that you say? You didn’t know about it? Well I guess that just proves you’re not as cool as me. Luckily I am feeling generous today and will give you this brief little wrap up.

Veteran Face Off champions Mia Bergeron and Cindy Procious went toe to toe with a new tenacious challenger, Elizabeth Floyd over 3 hours with plenty of breaks in between for schmoozing and attending to their adoring fans. It was obvious early on that all of them had a good likeness of the model, Mr. Franco Landini, who is the owner of several Old Town restaurants including Landini Brothers and is something of a local celebrity.

Events such as these at the Principle Gallery always attract the hippest artists from the local painting scene. Besides my fabulous self in attendance were Jonathan Linton, Rena Selim, Susan Gallagher O’Neill and Abigail Davis Muncy.

Honestly, next time you should really just come see it for yourself. But until then you will be able to watch it on Youtube and I will post that link here when the Principle makes it available.


Impasto Logs 6: Pure Awesomeness

Impasto LogsI have been anxiously awaiting the latest installment of David Cheifetz’s awesome painting podcast. It is one of my absolute favorites to listen to when I’m in the studio. Not too long ago I went on a bender and heard ALL of them while painting and was left wanting more. So I was really happy today to discover that he had published a new one, #6 in the series, on the subject of composition which was a topic he covered in great depth at the recent workshop I took with him. Imagine my surprise then when I heard him mention my name, in particular the copious notes & blog post I wrote about his workshop. I was literally grinning from ear to ear when I heard it and somehow managed to keep a paintbrush moving in my hand.

Thanks so much for the shout out, David! You totally made my day!

To listen to David Cheifetz’s wonderful podcast, please click on the Impasto Logs logo above.

Technique Tuesday: David Cheifetz Workshop Notes

David Cheifetz's knife painting demo from our workshop.
David Cheifetz’s knife painting demo & palette from our workshop.

“Paint with paint”

The mantra most frequently uttered by the masterful David Cheifetz at the 3 day painting workshop I recently participated in was simply, “Paint with paint”. And David really meant it. In his demos his brush or palette knife was always fully loaded with a glob of yummy paint every single time he touched his canvas. We quickly discovered that he wanted each of us to do the same.

It was such a frequent utterance that fellow painter J Lyndon Douglas cheekily observed, “Amazing that paintings are made with paint. I think what I have been producing until now could be called smudgings.” After laughing and probably snorting at his statement, I realized that J was really on to something. To see the amount of paint David Cheifetz skillfully uses while painting is a true revelation. Anything less just looks flat & lifeless in comparison. It has me very much rethinking how much paint I use in my own paintings, or smudgings as J would say.

Here are my personal notes from the workshop to share with you all. Many of these concepts were new to me. Enjoy!:

-Emphasize the values in your primary subject and dilute them everywhere else. You want your darkest dark and your lightest light on your primary subject.

-When setting up a still life, contrast secondary objects by picking darker subjects against the light of your primary subject. Always think dark vs. light.

-Think groupings. Don’t scatter your subjects too much so or else they will compete against each other.

-“I always go for fear in a painting. If you are uncomfortable about something in your painting that is a good thing, it pushes you. Try to have at least one thing in each painting that makes you feel that way.”

-Before you start a painting get a clear mental picture of what you want to paint. Sit, stare at it. Imagine it completely in your head the composition, area of focus, values and edges. Then begin to paint, and only then.

-Think surface/fabric. Do the folds add to your area of focus? If not take them out. Simplify.

-Make sure the light is directed on your primary subject.

-Example: When painting a ball of yarn, subdue any strings that leave the main form (skein). It should not compete with the ball of yarn itself.

-Example: Killing an apple (secondary object). Subdue it by not rendering it as well, more flat. Subdue chroma, value, everything.

-Your set up (composition) is just a tool for your narrative. Don’t feel chained to it if it is not right.

-Cheifetz prefers to paint small. Mostly 9 x 12, 8 x 10 or 11 x 14.

-He sets his palette up from transparent colors to opaque. His colors include (but not in order): ivory black, phthalo blue, ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium red, cadmium orange, burnt umber, raw umber, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, cadmium lemon and titanium white.

-You want your lights to be painted in mostly opaque colors because they attract the most light rays visually.

-Begin your under drawing by getting in the abstract shape of the shadows.

-Indicates the table line. Positions objects within the composition by making vertical and horizontal marks.

-He prefers compositions that are eye level. They elevate ordinary objects by bringing it to a “human scale”.

-He prefers to paint on a dry panel (no oiling in).

-Use enough medium to be able to draw. Prefers Gamblin’s Megilp.

-A tip on drawing straight vertical lines by hand: Make micro adjustments back and forth as you lay down the line. The overall impression will be a straight line.

-Jumps right into massing the objects & shadows (like an open grissaile). He immediately moves into his lights with color (direct painting) working first on the highlight of his main subject and moving out from there.

The early stage of David Cheifetz's knife painting demo.
The early stage of David Cheifetz’s knife painting demo. Notice how he has left the drawing of the kettle on the right rather simple & unfinished? He allows areas like that to melt into the background as the painting develops.

-Put one or two generous strokes of paint before changing colors. PAINT WITH PAINT!

-Paint your backgrounds as lovingly as your objects.

-Lays his color down with filberts in long tiles.

-When painting a portrait, pick your area of focus and then let everything else melt out.

-Begin your painting with your subject and end it there.

I want to personally thank our host for the workshop, artist Tricia Ratliff of Agile Arts Atelier for conceiving this workshop and inviting me to participate. And thanks above all to David Cheifetz for his exceptional instruction and the individual attention he gave to each of us. I’d like to also add that David hosts his own awesome podcasts called The Impasto Logs that are all about painting and are especially wonderful to listen to when painting, or smudging.

“Annabel”, oil on panel. 16 ” x 20″. Private collection. Artist, David Cheifetz.

Technique Tuesday: A Value Tip From Artist, Carrie Waller

Artist, Carrie Waller. Watercolor on paper.

One of the highlights of 2012 for me was definitely striking up a friendship with artist, Carrie Waller who is part of my “artists mentoring group”.  This special group of 8 female artists meets once a month via video conference to discuss the best practices and approaches to the business side of our art careers.  There is a lot of about Carrie that I admire. Besides being an award winning, internationally recognized watercolor artist, she is also a military wife and mother to two young sons. Carrie’s work is known for being bold, dramatic and full of light and color. She has had art published in Watercolor Artists Magazine, Pratique Des Arts (France’s #1 art publication), Splash 14 and several local publications. Most recently she won the grand prize for Daniel Smith’s annual competition, a prize worth $10,000. Carrie is a guest co-host on Artists Helping Artists the #1 art blog radio show. She is a signature member of the Louisiana Watercolor Society and has her art in collections around the world.

Here is Carrie’s Technique Tuesday tip in her own words; “I’m often asked what medium I paint in because my paintings don’t look like the stereotypical watercolor painting. My intention since I began painting in watercolor, was to push the limits and see how bold I can go with color. My biggest tip for watercolor artists and artists in general is to make sure you are going dark enough. Whenever I see a weaker painting 9 times out of 10 it’s because the values aren’t dark enough. To achieve my darkest darks in watercolor I use a mixture of Daniel Smith watercolors Indigo and Sepia. It creates a beautiful rich dark that is flat and not shiny.”

Carrie’s tip really got my attention because I recently had the same epiphany in my alla prima painting which I discovered from taking regular classes with Rob Liberace. In order to paint expressively with minimal brush strokes in the alla prima way, your values must be spot on. This lesson hit home for me recently while working on the background of my recent commission. I had painted this haystack beautifully with minimal economy of brushstrokes, only to find the value was off which was forcing the haystack too forward and taking away from the importance of the principle figures. So I had to scrape the paint down and begin all over again. In class Rob will often say, “There is no color that is wrong, only the value”.  Now I truly understand what that means.

Thank you Carrie for sharing this very important Technique Tip with us today.

Jonathan Linton’s “White Test”

Titanium Whites used in Jonathan Linton’s “White Test”

Today is Wednesday and for the second week in a row I have forgotten to do a “Technique Tuesday” post. In my defense I actually just have a lot excuses. My son has been home for 3 days with a fever, my husband is home in between contracts, I have not had coffee for 48 hours and I have a major commission due which I hope to share shortly. All the above issues = comatose brain cells.

But I do have one extraordinary technique tip to share with you today. My good friend and mentor, Jonathan Linton created years ago a “White Test” where he systematically tested various oil painting whites (and whites mixed with black) and then left the entire test in a window for 2 years to see what happened to them and help figure out which was the truest white over time. Think of it as an art nerd’s Survivor Island.

For a complete list of the whites Jonathan used check out his original post from 2010 (above) which has been featured on other blogs including Gurney’s Journey and most recently on Muddy Colors. Then see if you can figure out which white is the great survivor–and be sure to use that knowledge in your paintings going forward.

Work in Progress (WIP)

Work in progress on a commission for my father–a portrait of him and my son.

I thought it would be a good idea to post a WIP shot of my latest painting commission (click on the photo to enlarge it). Notice the faint vertical and horizontal lines all over the grey primed canvas? They are grid marks. I transfer images to canvas the old fashioned way because I don’t want to skip out on any of the drawing–especially if I am working from a reference photo as I am doing here. I lay in the initial drawing with Conte pencil and then make the lines more permanent by going over it in oil with burnt umber. Then I jump right into painting the local color thinly because I want to achieve the “fat over lean” recipe. Normally I build up the entire canvas at the same time which is what was taught to me back in art school, but I have come to realize since then that a lot of realist painters paint one section at a time trying to get as far as they can in one area with the time they have available (in more of an alla prima way). So I plan on trying that approach here.

I see my “process” as kind of a moving target. I am always tweaking it in an effort to achieve better results in a shorter amount of time. “Stream-lining” it if you will. So don’t be surprised if a couple months from now you check in on another WIP only to find I have changed things up considerably. Its the way I roll baby, try and keep up.