Sunday, October 30, 2016

From Here to There

In my studio I have hundreds of photo references.  My photos are not precious, they are a leaping off point.  They give me a a light and shadow pattern and remind me why I was excited about that subject matter that day I snapped the shot.  In fact, I am always a little disappointed with the photo reference because so many values get flattened through the process of development.

When getting ready for a composition from a photo, my first thoughts are about elimination of unnecessary subjects.  I ask myself what drew me to this image and do a mental exercise of removing objects to see if it is stronger or weaker. I love negative spaces around objects and look at them as their own windows into smaller scenes.

If my composition includes vertical lines such as telephone poles, fences and in this case awning support, I look at ways to push or pull their angles to create interest. When laying out the composition, I look for bad tangents where objects meet at awkward points and I am careful not to unconsciously line up objects in rows. Originally I painted the tree trunk centered directly over the bike.

Composition always takes the most time.  Even when I am painting on location under the gun of changing light, if my composition is off, I will erase the whole thing and start over.  This lets me keep my paintings fresh in color since I am not later trying to paint over mistakes resulting in mud.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How to Make a Paint Out Successful

Just returned from a glorious week of nonstop painting in Mendocino.  This was my second year to participate in MOPO (Mendocino Open Paint Out). A few people have asked why I do paint outs.   For me, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. It is adventure every time I pack my trunk full of paint supplies and set out.

A typical paint out begins weeks ahead. Applications are do months in advance.  Deciding on frame sizes and canvases, ordering supplies online, canceling classes I teach and working out housing are all part of the preparation.

I always plan to arrive two days early so that I have one full day to scout out painting locations.  Then I make a plan.  My paintings are large for plein air so the small windows of changing light time means I arrange to return to the same location at least twice. After running around frantically the first day taking a hundred pictures, I allow myself some relaxed time to sort them out and crop on my phone to sizes of canvases and decide on a strategy.

My strategy is usually divided up the day into three painting locations.   A morning painting, an afternoon and an evening. In Mendocino I only had one evening painting.  That beautiful glowing light had such a short window that it took extra visits to finish.

                                "Main Street" oil 16" x 20"

Every time I do a paint out I come away with memories of very special moments. One of my favorites from this last visit was after finishing up my Russian Gulch bridge was meeting a couple of wayward travelers. We sat in the parking lot watching the amazing sunset and swapping stories.  One of the travelers had driven up in a classic old red and white VW van.  He was on a journey traveling with his great great niece retracing his wild 1960s days.  While the other traveler, was on a abalone mission, traveling up the coast from Santa Barbara.

                                                                                           "Tranquility" oil 15" x 30"


There are also so many special moments, painting plein air offers.  There are those magical moments when light shifts and more beauty is revealed. Then there is that whole immersion experience where while painting you are experiencing most of your senses and trying to infuse them into the feeling of the painting. Even with all the wind, bugs on my canvas, challenging weather conditions,  painting plein air is amazing and well worth it.

    "Weller House Tower" oil 15" x 30"

                                "Safe Harbor" oil 24" x 24"

"Swan Song"  oil 8" x 10"                                       

Helpful Hint- When taking pictures always take multiple angles from multiple sides. Both my 
"Main Street" painting and the above Packard were unexpected compositions decided on from my      
  photo references later. When first discovering them, I thought I knew which angles and sides I wanted, but since I always make myself shoot extra images on all sides I later discovered stronger                   compositions from other angles.

Helpful Hints- Always give yourself plenty of time from framing and cleaning up edges on the day the paintings are due. I am always surprised at how much time this takes and will usually make a point of not painting on location the last day.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Recently I had a breakthrough with my portrait painting. What the catalyst was I have no idea but there was a turning point about three weeks ago.  And because I have kept the weekly succession of portraits, it was clear a barrier had been broken. They suddenly went from flat to intricate and full of form.  The only explanation I could come up with was consistency. Every week I paint a portrait from a model for fun. There are weeks when I am tired, rushed or plain lazy and I think I would rather skip a session.  But I know that once I am there I will fall into a beautiful trance of painting. That consistency has allowed me to hone my ability to get the structure faster and give me time to explore pushing colors and edges.

This was painted at a local cafe with dim light I find I push colors much more. Still wet so sorry for the glare.

Below was a painting I almost did not do but was happy I stuck it out. I was fun playing with abstract brush work on the blouse and I was challenged by the black lipstick.

 Above I was experimenting with painting over old landscapes.

To the left was one that I seem to have a breakthrough with form and found myself able to work on smaller details. This was from last week.

This was an older but interesting one. It was painted in almost no light.

The face is a landscape full of intricate beauty and the subtle shadows of unexpected color.  Wendy Brayton

Saturday, March 26, 2016


This painting was created from several photos that I snapped of a young family on a train ride in Santa Cruz.  It was their hats that first drew my attention followed by that lovely negative space between the mother's gaze and son's. It went through numerous transitions as I first included the solid diagonal bench behind and dark wooded background.  It evolved to a park bench with sunshine and foliage.  I love working from images and also love using them as a jumping off point. At the end I made a slide show showing the stages and below is my Youtube link for video.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Three Rules for a Strong Composition

I am rather a straightforward painter. I do not use fancy equipment or expensive brushes and have a limited palette.  One of my painting strengths, has been to create strong exciting compositions.  So these are some of my Sunday musings on that subject.

1. Always have a wide assortment of sizes and shapes of canvases.
You should never compromise an inspired view to be compressed onto the wrong sized surface.  There was a reason that the image spoke to you and your job is to translate that inspiration.  Different sizes of canvases tell different stories.  Small are intimate, large expansive, long can be flowing.

Last fall, I did several camping scenes.  In one I used a vertical 12" x 24".  This allowed me to capture a slice showing the sweeping height of the trees and also the details of the campers below.

2. Do not be afraid to eliminate the unnecessary!
Recently my father said to me has he was impressed how I was able to streamline complicated scenes and take out the unnecessary.  I had to stop a moment and think about this because it had become such a natural part of my painting process.

In this step, go back to what inspired you to paint the scene then look at all the subjects throughout the scene and decide if they strengthen the view or take away from it.  That telephone pole is not always necessary!

3. Do not be afraid to move and rearrange subject matter you are painting.
 One of my all time favorite artists, Wayne Thiebaud, is wonderful at pushing angles and edges.  His San Francisco cityscapes tilt the streets into unfathomable inclines and boy are they exciting!

In many paintings there are rhythms to be found and odd tangents to eliminate. Too rhythmic can become stagnant and bad tangents can lead a viewer's gaze the wrong direction. An example of a bad rhythm could be a fence line, removing a few posts or tilting a couple can create some nice tension or open up areas for the eye to travel through.

An example of a bad tangent can be when two objects touch at their corners and draws the viewer's attention to that vertex. An example could be a corner of a sign touching the corner of a roof line.

Then there is the fun part of pushing reality be it in color or perspective. That hill might just need to swoop a little higher or that car might need more extreme foreshortening. "The world is but a canvas to our imagination" as Henry David Thoreau so beautifully put. It is your unique vision you are sharing and the image or scene is just a jumping off point.