How do I use colors in my paintings to make them “pop”?

You need to understand basic color theory. It is not hard, really. First, Google “color- wheel” images, and you will see many to refer to. Learn how to paint the third layer or ‘tertiary’ ones. That is easy too. They have double names like ‘red-orange’.

My color palette is usually the same that I have used for years. It has become my ‘brand’.  It enables people to identify my work and when I look at my portfolio, I can see similarities in both my style and color.  My colors are ME and are part of my identity.  I like to wear them, decorate with them and paint with them.  However, it took me years to figure this out because, I was afraid to break the invisible painting rules in my head.  What freed me was when I decided to experiment with color and really thought about which colors I loved together.  I began making paint charts of all colors on my palette and noted how they mixed together to make new ones. In fact, I give my students an assignment to mix 16 greens from just red, yellow and blue.  I was not trying to be cruel.  I wanted them to look at nature and see the variety of green in it. They needed to get out of the habit of just using ‘paint tube green’.

For my work, I use a double-split complementary color scheme. Employing the full 12 color wheel, I found commercial paints that keep me in my color scheme but with some variety because many of them are hues of those basic colors that I use. For instance, for magenta, I also have a red-violet and a rose color and a warm magenta-with some orange tint to it. I only use a scarlet red for accent.

From this palette, I will choose a yellow hue, magenta, turquoise and a violet, and maybe add a light blue. This gives me a double split complement with some cheating. You can see that I have several varieties of yellow, magenta and blue greens on my palette. I use one violet because I can mix it with one of the magentas or a blue-green. Magenta will not muddy other colors like a bright red.

How do you split complements? On the color wheel, if yellow is at 12 o’clock, I choose the two colors on either side of it, which is orange and yellow-green. Then I go to the complement of yellow, which is the violet directly opposite. I will use the two colors on both sides of it which are red-violet (magenta) and blue-violet. That is my ‘double-split complementary’ scheme. I cheat and add a blue-green for contrast which is viridian for making turquoise, but be careful. Viridian is a dye color and dominates, so only use a little. Below, you can see how I have used these four colors in my painting. They layer really well and do not make ‘mud’.

So, try playing with color. Know which ones NOT to mix together so that you avoid making mud. Paint the combinations on a watercolor paper and write down the paint names you used for each sample. Draw an X over the samples to avoid. After a while, this will come naturally and color mixing will be fun, not a chore.


How Do I Plan My Compositions?

Planning avoids a lot of erasures and do-overs!  I plan what my work is about,  what color scheme will support my idea, and what composition will help me express my idea.  Then, I plan the place I want my most important thing to be.  In other words, I use a place of emphasis to keep “the main thing, the main thing”.  The one way to do this is to divide the whole work  into a 9 box grid. The spaces do not have to be squares. We are only interested in where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.  I call these ‘sweet spots’.  These spots are meant for me to avoid placing my most important item (emphasis) in the bulls-eye center.

Once I decide where the emphasis part of my composition will be,  I plan my point of view.  I may try to avoid an eye level view for a still life.  I imagine how it would look if my eye level was looking down on my subject.   I may think how it would look if I have a low horizon line.   In landscapes, this will reveal more sky.  If my interest is in the foreground, like what is closest to me, I would try a higher horizon line. This also can apply to a still life.  How much of the table items do I want to see?  Will  this point of view show more detail.

With these decisions made, I can begin to draw the parts of the composition that will form the composition.  I keep my lines light.  It is important to note that if you use pencil on a canvas, your lines may show through the paint, unless you paint very thickly (impasto).  I use vine charcoal that can be wiped off easily.  I follow this step by using  a liner brush  and paint thinned like ink to go over my charcoal lines.

Once I have outlined my composition,  I will start to block local color  in the areas farthest away like sky and mountains.  I tell my students to imagine a loaf of bread. The end slice, furthest from you, is like the sky or the wall, the drapery, the window or whatever.  After blocking in the local color (the actual color of the object)  I work in my color values.

I never paint one area completely with all the detail and then move to another place.  Painting has to develop in a totality  all around, to keep the unity of the colors and the style. Sometimes I block in the same color in three or five places and at the same time.  This ensures visual ‘movement’ around the painting because you don’t want the viewer to be stuck in one place. You want their attention around the entire work.

I avoid putting important things at the borders and especially at the corners.  My students liked to start at the edges of the paper as if they were afraid to get in there and be bold.  I had to impress on them to plan where things were going BEFORE starting and to avoid starting at the edges. They had to consciously to move around when painting to keep their style and color consistent.

If you goal is to achieve UNITY,  the most important art principal,  you will paint with this in mind.  Balance and unity are what you always try to achieve to give the viewer a pleasurable experience.

Get Unstuck. How to get out of Artist’s Block?

I am in artist block.  Have you ever been there?  This is quite embarrassing for me because I am the one who is supposed to encourage you about growing in creativity.

Part of my block is because I feel under pressure to get a new web site started with at least 10 pieces of work,  pronto.  The first painting I did was fairly good, not absolutely fantastic. The second one was not what I imagined at all.  Actually it stunk. The criteria  for these paintings was to use color schemes like complementary, analogous, primary and so forth. The second painting was with cool analogous colors and seemed boring. So, I added an orange so the colors wouldn’t get muddy over the yellow-green.  Then I got more bold and used magenta to liven things up.  This color has no yellow in it like the orange. My idea bombed and made a ‘do-do mud’ color.   Horrified, I quickly scrubbed  it off with water and gave up.   I hid my work on the floor in the corner of the studio. and told myself that I will deal with it another day.

Sitting in bed at 10pm,  I needed inspiration to “sleep on”,  so I opened YouTube and searched for my creative inspiration person, Flora Boley.  I love her work and she helps me get my head on straight.  I went to bed with visions of paintings floating around in my head.  By morning they were gone.  Poof. Now, I keep a pad and pencil on my nightstand to write a quick word to trigger the image in the morning.

I guess you realize that being creative is not easy (maybe only for Flora) but it is a wonderful way to express who you are in a visual way.  Like me,  when artist’s block hits, I am telling you to not give up.   It is usually because you have put expectations on yourself and you go into left brain analytic thinking, which is not where creativity lives.   It is the right side of the brain that births your originality.  This is the place of abstract thinking which enables you to think “out of the box”.

I have taught this over and over again to my students, so I know this stuff works.  I just got trapped into “thinking” I had it figured out and forgot to just enjoy what I am doing at the moment and trust my inner self.  Listen to me. Keep the critique for the end of the work, then refine it.   Create to enjoy the process.

Thanks for stopping by in this blog. I sincerely want to help you enjoy creating whatever you do. Please share this with anyone who may benefit from my blogs. Happy creating.

My Ideas Are Making Me An Insomniac?

It happens around 4:30am.  I am half asleep and my creative “think engine” starts to send ideas my way.  I really do not want to think this early.  I want to s-l-e-e-p. I know they are really great ideas and that they will be gone like a puff of air if I do not pay attention to them but I don’t want to wake up!  Most of my life I had to awaken early to go to my job.  Now I have a choice.  You think?

Years ago, when I was painting full time, I started my day with what artist’s call ‘morning papers’.  The concept is to have a notepad ready by your bed (phone texting is not accurate at 5 am)  and then you write everything that comes into your mind before your real brain wakes up and says, “I need coffee”.  I got some great painting titles that way.  This week, I found some of my morning notes when I was reorganizing my studio.  The ideas were really good!  Only now, I don’t need to arise early and my internal clock is moving to a more sane time.  I wonder if there is a way to dictate my ‘morning papers’ into my phone?  But then, I have to be more awake to put in the password, find the icon, etc.  No I’ll pass on this one. I wanna sleep but I don’t give in to it.

The creative center of the brain works when we are slowed down. In a relaxed mode, ideas can come forth. Creativity is birth on the right side of your brain.  It is the abstract thinking side, not the analytical side.  The idea is to access the right brain for ideas. Our best thinking is not when we TRY but when we incubate ideas and let them kind of ‘cook’ until, shazam’ it moves into the understanding part and makes sense.

I start with a fuzzy concept like I want to express the colors I love and textures, which is the basis for a lot of my work.  I get my paints out and play around.  I may start scribbling, drawing nonsense, like leaves or squiggly lines or doodles.  Slowly, something is birth forth and I take it from there.  I might start adding texture to my substrate of choice (canvas, illustration board or watercolor paper).   I can do this wth crumpled tissue paper, gels, even fabrics that I can gesso over.  Then I start adding color.  For me, this is the intuitive part.  My ideas start to build on each other and I may end up working mostly in inks or oil pastels.  I go with what feels right.

I have learned to trust myself and my sense of balance and unity. My work is not considered finished until I put it away for several days and then critique it for what does not ‘feel’ right.  I trust my instincts. You need to learn to do this too. Give yourself permission to explore and have fun, then go with it. The ideas will come.  Yes, they will. Relax!

Artist Confidence: To Be or Not to Be

Shakespeare said it but I never really knew what it meant until I decided to retire from teaching a week ago. I sat on my patio in Florida and looked up ‘Be’ in Webster’s and it said, “to exist”.  After pinching myself, I realized I do exist but that was not the information I needed.  My friends said that I should just ‘be’ and rest, to refocus and shift my gears.  Well, I am an action person, so refocusing to me means change direction, plan, execute the plan and grow.

I have a mirky art plan so it is not well anchored; I have some idea of how I should start but it has shadows at the edges and I need to envision it more clearly.  How then can I proceed to the growth stage?  In a nutshell, I am back to where I started, ‘to be’.

If you want to learn how to make art, I can teach you. If you want to know how to find your artistic voice, I can show you. If you want to understand how to put together an artist’s portfolio, I can explain it.   If you want to know how to write an artist’s statement, I can instruct you.   So, why can’t I figure out what I am going to do next in retirement?   I guess it will include all of the above that I was going to teach you.  Who was it who said,”Round and round we go, and where we stop, nobody knows?”

First, I need to see myself as an artist again.  I have been a teacher, a Registered Nurse and I lived in those identities for years.  Sometimes, I was comfortable to switch back an forth and still create.  This is different.  I need to ‘see’ myself as a professional artist. I have all the head knowledge and I even taught it for years.  However, the proving ground for me, is NOW.   In teaching, we call this part of the learning process synthesis;  applying what we have learned.  Is this where you are?

Growing in art is like growing from a baby to a toddler and then into puberty and finally to an adult.  It takes time and living in it until it becomes yours. This is a decision time for you.  Every artist reaches this point of choice.  If you just like to play in art because it is pleasurable, then do it.  If you really have a passion for it and want to get serious and grow, that will take commitment and dedication but the payoff is big. You will have an inner satisfaction that you are using the gift that the Creator gives every one of us.  I truly believe this!   I have seen it unleashed in my students and they were amazed with themselves. Believe it is there.  Believe you have it and can use it.  Trust.

Self-Acceptance Builds Passion

Art is a high calling,
Fear is coincidental.
From ‘Art Without Fear’

“..Becoming an artist consists of learning to accept
yourself, which makes your work personal, and in
following your own voice, which makes your work

If you need to get your head strait, read “Art Without Fear”, a book by Bayles and Ortlund. It deals with fear of non-acceptance when it comes to your art.  Friend, this was where I was years ago and it resulted in artist’s block, big time.

My breakthrough came when I decided to head for the hills of No. Carolina and take a workshop with Mary Todd Beam who was making a name for herself in the art world.  It was as if she gave me permission “play” in art and just copy what I saw. The result was freedom FROM myself.  I could use the colors I liked, not what the ‘local’ color really was.  I could ramp the colors up until they became a riot of patterns and shapes.  I could leave out parts, invent other parts, combine images or paint them in a circular composition.  I could do what I wanted…within reason.

Art still needs to have some basic principles to be of excellent quality. Does the word ‘excellent’ scare you?  Relax. For instance, you will need to understand composition and how colors react next to each other.  YouTube is a great resource for learning art principles.  Only don’t copy another’s work.

Copying other artist’s ideas really hurts the creative spirit. It is permissible if you are learning principles from the masters. Artists will actually go to museums to copy a master painting to understand their concepts. However, this is mainly for educational reasons.  Beware!  The net is filled with images and copying another artwork and making minor changes does not make it YOUR artwork.  I constantly had to explain this to my students.  They loved to copy art because it made them feel more secure.  So, I gave them the 70-30% rule. That meant seventy percent was to be their idea, enough so that the original artist could recognize it as theirs.

Coming back from the North Carolina workshop was my turning point.  I began to get accepted into national competitions and even had my work published in Rockport Publisher’s, ‘Best Of’ series.  At that point,  I was able to paint eight hours a day and was growing my style until funds ran out and I needed to return to teaching art in the public schools to sustain my art career.  Most artists have to be realistic and work. You will need to figure out your personal schedule. If you love to create, you will find a way. Just don’t stop.

What is Artist Voice?

I am on voice rest for four days. I have laryngitis, an irritation of my vocal cords. When I answer the phone, people can’t hear me. They do not identify me, even as a family member. You see, our voice is part of who we are and I do not sound like ‘myself’.

Did you know the art we create also has a voice? It identifies us by our style, the colors we use, the forms and symbols we seem to incorporate again an again. I live in Florida and get to often visit to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg,FL. Dali’s symbols were the black ant, a flaming giraffe and wooden crutches and butterflies. I bought a mobile of butterflies there and it hangs in my studio. These were his symbols and it makes me think of him.

I will be referring to Creative Voice in more of my blogs because I realized that many artists do not even “see” their Voice. So what is ‘voice’? It is the quality of your art that seems to repeat itself in every artwork you make. It identifies you. I plan to also blog about why you seem to paint what you paint and how you respond to your preferences inwardly. This will help to define why you make the art you do. So visit often.

Where do I start? Reinvention of Me

How do I reinvent myself after teaching visual arts for 24 years, with an RN degree somewhere in the middle?  There was a period when I painted full time and was part of a professional artist group that met for critique once a week.  I did a lot of juried shows and won a number of awards. I was also teaching art part time.  When schools were cutting budgets in the art programs of the 70’s in lieu of science and math, I decided it would not be long when I would be out of a job.  I was not interested in the commercial art field but I had a longtime desire to study the sciences and become a nurse. 

One day, this “duck out of water” realized that I wanted back into teaching visual arts again so I quit my job with two great surgeons,  and immediately found myself hired as an art teacher. Then it evolved into full time if I wanted to keep a job. Fast forward……High school kiddos can wear you out!  My creative juices were gone by the evening and soon I lost my desire to do any painting after work. February 2017 I decided it was time to retire from teaching and try to paint again full time and that is where I am as I write this. I want to find a market that fits ME and the experimental painting that I do. The new art speak word is presently  called “intuitive painting”.  This simply means I just start with a loaded palette and a canvas and go at it.  What colors are the flavor of the day? What concept will I explore? How many under-paintings will I make until I declare definitively , “I’m done. Will anyone like it? Nooo-noooo! Don’t go there,” I tell myself. I have 50 years of art experience under my belt. Just because my venue is changed, I have not!

 I decided to trust my experience and knowledge plus the God-given talent that was packed, then squished and then reborn in me.  You can begin anywhere in your life span to create. There is no numerical rule. Grandma Moses started in her 80’s. Tell me about your experiences in the comment section, please.