Spring is blooming in North Carolina and I have enjoyed playing with color in a series of impressionist paintings.
I love color and taking time mix colors and build layers upon layer of color.
If you take time to study nature – you’ll notice how the subtle colors of grass against clay and rock is real life impressionism.
As an artist I encourage you to not be boxed in by one style – you can find a style you love and lean into it – but don’t be afraid to try something new or paint in multiple styles depending on your painting mood. I love impressionism and the spring colors have me playing homage to Monet and fauvism (Matisse) – but I also enjoy taking time to learn how to build deep realistic paintings.
Whether I’m focusing on creating a realistic interpretation or impressionism/abstract style – I always lean into value.
Value defines how light or dark a given color or hue can be. Values are best understood when visualized as a scale or gradient, from dark to light. The more tonal variants in an image, the lower the contrast. When shades of similar value are used together, they also create a low contrast image
Value is all around us – and I encourage you to observe and take notice of different contrasts of light and dark and how colors appear in nature. Sometimes I paint something that seems counterintuitive to what I would assume because the reference photo has a different value. ex: I know the mountains are grey and green – but they appear blue so I paint a cool blue based on the value and representation of color in the photo.
Once you start studying value – you are also able to ‘auto-correct’ as needed based on the science of value. Ex: establishing where your light source is helps you to identify hw to build shadow and contrast in the image.
Ricky Allman does a great job explaining value and painting to value in his Great Courses class. You can sign up for a trial and He is AMAZING.
I always try to paint to the value – whether I’m being ‘wonky’ and colorful with impressionism or painting realistically because it helps to establish cohesive and attractive paintings/art.
Whether you are a seasoned artist or getting into painting for the first time – making sure you have the best supplies to empower your art is important.
I’ve been actively painting with acrylics for about five years – and painting regularly (3 times a week) since the pandemic hit. I wanted to share lessons I’ve learned along the way.
It is important to recognize that art is a journey and while you can master certain techniques – artists are always learning and growing. We can develop unique styles and master regimens, but the best artists are always open to growth. Masters like Monet, Van Gogh and beyond – learned from making mistakes and developing their craft.
The most unique artists I’ve studied (including modern masters and YouTube experts) studied other artists and practiced techniques from past ‘masters’ to learn technique and open their vision from paint to palette.
The point – don’t be afraid to try different styles of art and take a tutorial on how ‘Van Gogh’ painted – creativity is part orignality and part collaboration. You can learn a lot through online tutorials or putting your own spin on historical paintings (just reference the original artist when you are done). Ginger Cook (YouTube Acrylic Teacher ) has a great series of how to paint the masters on her channel.
Also don’t be afraid to test out different styles of art. I personally love to paint landscapes, but recently I’ve tackled abstracts. Within my landscape portfolio I try different views on the same landscape – from impressionism to abstract to expressionism. Sometimes I fail and it’s okay – it is only paint! You can paint over a canvas if you mess up! I always learn more from mistakes than successes in painting. Work with the process.
I work fulltime in software sales – but art is my passion. I try to block out time to paint daily – but let’s face it – life happens. So what I recommend is blocking off your calendar for daily ‘art’ time – even if it is watch a tutorial or combing through an art book.
Notice your surroundings – how light touches trees at different times of the day…how shadows and light play together in regular daily settings. Observing light and values in day to day life will help you become a better artist
Invest in materials
The biggest advice I can give from my experience in art is it is worth investing in quality supplies – especially if you are a beginner. While the buy one = get ten free sales at Michael’s on student paint seems tempting – in the end you will waste time and money by ‘saving’ cost upfront on student paints.
Why? I used to buy fifty paintbrushes for $10 on sale -but they were impossible to paint with. I had to use tons of extra paint to get it to stick to the canvas – not to mention tons of paint hairs would wind up on the canvas stuck in the paint.
Cheap canvas? They can be redeemed with gesso but a cheap and ineffective canvas can be like sandpaper on your brushes…unable to keep paint on the canvas and leaving blotchy spots.
Gesso can help with this to provide better binding – but if possible invest in quality affordable canvas.
Paints – while there are some decent student grade paints -most are watered down and have less pigment so you end up using a tube of paint just to finish a painting. The mixing quality isn’t as good.
I’ve tried lots of different paints, brushes and supplies over my art journey and continue to test new products. The standbys I always invest in are listed below – they provide the best value for the investment and help me to provide the best art to my clients and continue to improve as a painter.
I recommend investing in your primary colors first and then adding on specific specialized colors that are harder to mix (magenta, dioxinade purple, etc…)
Invest in a color wheel and mixing guide so you can make more colors from less tubes of paint.
Golden: I love Golden Paints – their heavy body paint is thick and easy to blend and spread. Golden is my go to for specific colors like ‘Light Phthalo Blue.’ I love this color because it provides an ideal sky blue or is a good blending blue. I spend $20.00 a month on this color – but it is worth it!
Liquitex: Liquitex Basics is an awesome quality starter paint that I continue to use 90% of the time. Liquitex also has professional series from soft body and heavy body paints. The heavy body is great for thicker landscape/strokes and the softbody is good when you want a more flowing stroke (from my use anyway 🙂 Liquitex also has great glazing and acrylic additives.
Soho – Jerry’s Artarama brand – I use it for primary colors – quality affordable paint
Next stop on Painting the National Parks – Lassen Volcanic. Located in northeastern California, Lassen Volcanic is home to steaming fumaroles, ambling meadows erupting with wildflowers, crystal mountain lakes and numerous volcanoes.
Volcanic sites like Mt. St. Helens and Yellowstone National Park have always fascinated me. As a person of faith, I see it as a natural display of how even the most volatile situations an yield a resilient beauty. The geology behind parks like Lassen and Yellowstone dare us to wonder and to also recognize our human limits. Nature is a dangerous beauty – wild and to be explored, but carefully.
Lassen is on my bucket list. I hope to schedule a two week California National Parks trip once COVID has calmed a bit (Omicron go away!)
NPS has a fantastic website so you can ‘virtually’ visit Lassen safely at home. Click here to explore more about Lassen
I studied many photographs of Lassen and while I would like to paint the steamy fumaroles in the future, I wanted to focus on the picturesque Manzanita Lake on the edge of sunset.
This painting was all about layering and building out soft colors to reflect the bold sunlight and the soft reflection on the water.
I love painting mountains because the scenery is ever changing. Depending on the weather and time of day you have a completely different masterpiece of natural art. I love playing with colors and mountains have a depth and mystery that the artist in me loves to explore.
This week I continue my art journey – painting through America’s National Parks- I decided to paint Sequoia National Park.
I planned a trip to Sequoia prior to the pandemic that was cancelled. I planned the trip over several months so while I’ve never been to Sequoia I feel as though I visited the park (at least in spirit).
I will be blogging about ‘Sequoia’ soon on my sister blog American Nomad…in the meantime check out this awesome factsheet about Sequoia – the land of Giants
Painting Sequoia was challenging because the trees are towers of ancient forests – that converse with the sky. Building perspective when the tree cannot fully fit on the canvas was difficult. I studied numerous reference photos and decided to create my painting as an ode to the forest – focusing on the reddish/brown hues and thick trunk with distant trees in the background.
I started this painting with an grounding color of unbleached titanium (one of my favorite blending colors) and raw sienna and burnt umber.
A grounding color does several things:
A blank canvas (with gesso): When I first started painting I would sketch out my image with watercolor pencil then start painting the colors directly on the canvas (as they appear in my reference photo). This always was a struggle because the paint wouldn’t adhere well with the first coat to the canvas. I’d end up using lots of paint and it would be clumpy -not a great look. I tried adding more gesso, but that could make the canvas texture too thick.
I learned from Ginger Cook that acrylics bind well to one another, so a grounding layer helps to build your painting.
2. It also ensures that you don’t have any ‘white gaps’ underneath your painting that appears unrealistic.
From there I began to build the ‘King’ Sequoia, layer after layer – constantly looking at the lighting and values in my reference photo.
Details are important, but in my current art journey I really am looking at the values (light and dark); color quality and trying to match that and adjust as needed.
This painting took about 3 hours to complete. A common misconception new artists (or non artists) think is that just because a landscape or painting is impressionistic or more open with brushstrokes – it is simple to paint.
I actually find my landscapes with their open brushstrokes take longer than some detailed paintings just because you really lean into the layers and details of the colors and you are constantly adding small touches.
Landscape painting is like a walk through Sequoia National Park – you don’t need to rush. It is meant to slow you down and be relaxing.
Paint supplies: I use a variety of paints and brushes in my paintings depending on the subject.
I’ve said this on a previous post but you must absolutely invest in quality supplies – yes I understand the cost of supplies is a lot for a beginner – I learned the hard way you’ll spend way more if you start off with cheap supplies. Why? The paint is watered down -so you will have to use a lot more paint to get the same results – so you will run out of paint quickly.
The brushes are key – I found my early paintings key have stray brush hairs) and no matter how much paint I put on the brush it wouldn’t spread on the canvas.
I had to purchase new brushes at least twice a month – they’d die a quick death – even with good soap and water.
I love mountains, and The Blue Ridge Mountains have a piece of my heart. I am always drawn to the vast rolling jagged hills of the Blue Ridge. One of the most stunning tracts of Appalachia is in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.
Located only 75 miles from DC, this oasis of pastoral beauty is flanked by the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont to the east. This land is steeped in history and is a place that time seems to have forgotten. Here to can hike 500 miles of trails and enjoy scenic vistas on the Skyline Drive.
I knew I wanted to paint an image inspired from my time in Shenandoah, but struggled with which image to select. I decided to paint a scene from the Stony Man trail – where the rocks appear like a shipwreck against the mountains – windswept and undaunted.
Shenandoah is known for is vast valleys, mountain passes, but the rocks again the lush landscape are my favorite scenese.
I wanted this to be a fluid painting. When you look at a Blue Ridge vista it is so sweeping details run together into a montage of color and light.
I focused on values and making the focal point of this painting the rock.
To learn more about Shenandoah National Park click here
To support my art (so I can keep painting – buying art supplies) – consider purchasing an original painting on my Etsy page.
Prior to COVID-19, my mom and I were planning an action-packed 10 day trip to Yosemite and Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. June 2020…it was our dream trip and unfortunately with the pandemic we had to cancel. Losing out on the trip is not a huge loss, given the burden COVID has caused. One thing that helped me during the pandemic has been painting and connecting with other painters virtually during lockdowns and social distancing.
Even if COVID has upset past and present travel plans, ART has a healing power and we are blessed to have the ability to watch live videos of scenic nature (YouTube has hours of scenic videos of our National Parks – enabling the homebound to enjoy the scenery from afar).
I still have my stack of Yosemite guidebooks on my shelf and hope to make the trip in 2023. The reservations are so crazy now to get in the park – we are looking to visit South Dakota this year.
While I am valleys and mountains apart from Yosemite and California’s National Parks, I can imagine myself in the wilderness, in the shadows of Sequoias and vast mountain valleys and vistas.
I’m still painting my way through California’s parks, but wanted to share my progress so far….
The tunnel view vista of the Yosemite Valley is one of the most iconic images in America. Photographers and painters from Ansel Adams to Albert Bierstadt have tried to translate the natural beauty of Yosemite into art. God’s artistry in nature is unrivaled and yet scenes from Yosemite dare us to dream and art can help us to connect with nature and creation.
Painting my version of the Yosemite Valley took four hours. The natural scenery is so sweeping you need time to scale the elements. The perspective in painting the Tunnel View is difficult.
My goal in this impression was not extreme detail, but to ensure I matched the values of the scene from from reference photo. I sought to add hints of browns and lighter tones in the rock to represent the lighter values in the reference photo.
Overall I’m satisfied with the painting and will have it on my Etsy page soon.
Yosemite, like Yellowstone (Grand Canyon of Yellowstone) is a place I will continue to paint time and again. Each day and each season offers new inspiration. I hope you enjoy this painting.
King’s Canyon National Park:
King’s Canyon is known as a mini-Yosemite – it is vast and beautiful with jagged peaks and the gorge of a chiseled canyon. In searching for a reference photo, I noticed the clear blue water of King’s Canyon’s back country lakes. I wanted this to be a reflection of the park.
I focused on building layers of light grey and browns for the peaks – with a dusting of snow (Titanium White and Iridescent White + Phlatho Light Blue). The lake was an emerald clear green so I used lighter blues and greens to create this scene.