Richmond From Legend / oil painting and urban legend

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This is the story about the urban legend. When I moved to Richmond long ago, one of my first friends here asked me to drive her over to Southside to see her Dad. He was glad I brought her and wanted us to stay to eat. When he asked me about myself and found out I was new in town, he wanted to tell me things about Richmond that aren’t in the tour books. This is what he said.

“If Richmond is your home, you can go away. You can live and work somewhere else, but you will come back to live and work here again.”

I asked him if it was true and he said yes. I asked him why, but he didn’t know. I thought that did bode well for Richmond, because not every community has that attitude of expecting you to come back if it is your home. And it makes common sense too. Then I didn’t give it another thought for a lot of years until my daughter, Sarah moved to Atlanta.

Now, Atlanta’s a lot of fun, but it’s too far away, so I told Sarah about the urban legend, hoping she’d come back. She didn’t believe it was a true urban legend, but I said I don’t think the old timer made it up. Then one time Sarah was talking to a friend of hers who knows the urban legends here and asked about it. The friend said yes, it is a true urban legend that you will come back to Richmond. And she had another good piece of information.

How to Break Richmond’s Spell.

Dance Out of Monroe Park.

Isn’t that great?! I could do that! hahahahah !!

And here’s another good thing. Sarah left Atlanta and it looks like she might settle down in Norfolk, which isn’t Richmond, but it’s not too far and Norfolk is nice.

About the painting. WHEW!! That was difficult. A few years ago I wouldn’t have even attempted to draw it, but since I’ve tried to draw architecture a few times, I thought I could do it. The perspective isn’t perfect, but it’s not bugging me, so maybe no one will notice where I went off.

I had to work on it at home a lot because of the heat and humidity around here. It’s too hot out for your plein air painter. I got my colors mixed up at Legend and went back to check what I did at home against real life and made corrections. I wished the Legend Brewery themed show at Artworks was in the winter instead of Aug.

I painted the sky at home on a couple rainy days, from imagination.

The windows. I didn’t use my ruler for the windows, but I used my #2 round brush as the width of my lines. It’s easy to paint skinny lines if you paint in the couch with Maroger Medium. I hoped to catch the reflections. To check my lines I look down the edge of my canvas  the way you look down the edge of a piece of plywood to see if it’s warped. I had to try to paint the windows even though it was time consuming. The thought of the buildings without windows sounds nightmarish to me.  The city is more than just boxes made of steel and concrete. It’s layers of people working.

I wanted to paint the Federal Reserve so it would shimmer a little. So I did a layer of cool gray and let it dry. Then went over it with a glaze of warm white and scraped through it with a comb to show the first layer of gray coming through. And went over the lines with my palette knife scratching off more lines of paint.

The James River. I mixed up my colors on the floodwall. I didn’t copy nature, but arranged the rapids so some would fit in. Then I faked the river in at home.

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Sky High Flowers / oil

I used my artistic license-a lot.

I used my artistic license-a lot.

First, I eliminated a few trees that didn’t seem necessary  to paint. A tree on the left was blocking my view of the door, and a couple other trees were filling up the sky too much. Then I moved those big flower pots off the stage and put them in the grass there ( with the magic of art). The Daffodils aren’t really there, either. I faked in the shadows on the walk.

See the photos below stripping off the layers of paint all the way back to my underpainting, and photos of the scene as my camera sees it. You can compare my naked eye’s perspective to the camera’s perspective.sky high flowers glazes

This photo shows the background and wall finished with the tree and flower pots still in the underpainting stage. I did my underpainting in the complimentary colors. The flower pots are blue green in real life, so I underpainted them in orange. The tree is a warm color, so I underpainted it in cool gray.sky high flowers underpainting

This photo shows my underpainting in complimentary colors. The green grass is red at this stage, and the pink sidewalk is green. The blue sky is underpainted in a peachy colored gray. all on top of my violet tinted canvas.

If you compare these photos, you can see how I changed the color of the stone wall from warm to cool and back to warm again. That’s something you can do with oil paint if you use glazes, that you can’t do with another kind of paint, or process. all the layers and changes the painting goes through help to give the illusion of depth. The last stages of adding color are close to what I see in nature, and some of the complimentary colors still show through. It looks like the violet is showing through, to me. I don’t know if you can see it on your computer, but it’s under all the layers influencing everything. The violet is a hard color to kill. I like the way it shows through so many layers, but it’s not VIOLET anymore. Do you know what I mean?

I used Alvi’s Maroger Medium, and painted my glazes in the couch. If you want to paint like a master, (hey, why not try?) You neeeeeeed Maroger medium, and paint in the couch, like the old masters. Start with thin glazes and build up more opaque layers on top. Start in the background, and get that to look right with the middle ground before painting the foreground. If you want your light areas to come forward, you have to take the time to work on the shadows first.IMG_1666

The tree on the right is my Magnolia. The flowers were gone by the time I took this photo.  This is how the scene looks to the camera. If I painted from a photo, my painting wouldn’t look up close and personal. It would give the painting a cold distant feel.

Can you see in the photo, rings going around the bark of the Magnolia? That’s a detail I overlooked. I was talking to a gardener, and she told me the rings are made by Sapsuckers!! It looks like the rings belong there. The gardening lady told me the tree is still healthy.IMG_1657

Here’s a photo of a few flower pots on the stage. I put the Tulips and Daffodils into my painting at home on a rainy day, from memory.

Fine Winter’s Sky / woodcut by Kawase Hasui / Feb 1921

IMG_1363 This is a great exhibit at the VMFA. It’s so inspirational. The plaques say it’s ink and color woodcut prints on paper. I wonder if it’s watercolor because they have some watercolor paintings by the artist. The colors look transparent on the woodcuts too. A lot of depth is showing. One of the plaques says it’s not traditional Japanese landscape. They also have a lot of info on the process he used. It’s complicated. But good to see how much work went into them. You can see layers of colors. I tried to see through the layers. Kawase Hasui did watercolor studies and changed his composition and colors during the steps to the finished prints. He didn’t shy away from detail. The ones with snow have thousands of white dots for snow and the ones with rain have skinny gray lines to represent rain. I wonder if they did a separate wood plate for the snow and printed it on top or if they gouged out tiny dots on the wood block so the ink wouldn’t go in those places on every block. If you like looking at fine woodcuts you should see this exhibit.

Port of Ebisu / Dec. 1921

Port of Ebisu / woodcut print/ Dec. 1921

Pond at Cold Harbor / oil

Here's a camera shot so you can see what it really looks like.

Here’s a camera shot so you can see what it really looks like.


When I started to work on this painting a couple people who live there stopped and asked me why I was painting the pond when the water’s 4′ low. They think it looks bad. It’s fed by rain and been mostly dry for a while. I said, “It’s still beautiful.” I think they stopped worrying about it after I said the water won’t look like that anyway. Maybe I can make it deeper.

If I worked from a photo instead of painting in plein air my painting might have come out looking far away and browner. When I started the background trees last week there was still some green showing but now a lot more leaves have fallen.

This is my underpainting with glazes started on the background.

This is my underpainting with glazes started on the background.

This is how they wanted the art students to paint at York Academy of Art. Start with the background and work to the foreground. Start dark and build up your lights on top with more opaque paint. First do a detailed underpainting, but you can change it later if you want to with this way of painting by building up layers of glazes. I may as well stick to this method of painting. I think I’m still seeing an improvement in my paintings

about those trees standing in the water -

about those trees standing in the water –

but I always think I can do better next time

Can you see the texture of the bark on your computer? The computer doesn’t show the painting like the naked eye sees it. The background is loud so I had to make the foreground trees loud too. First I blocked them in with a black that I mixed some red into. Yes, I like to mix black in. Make black by mixing Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue. If you need a warm black use more brown. If you need a cool black use more blue. This makes a black that isn’t dead to start with. You can mix black into any color on your palette then use it in your glazes and you won’t get a muddy color. If you ever see muddy colors in my paintings , please circle it and send it back to me. Sometimes I put glazes of green and red in on the same day over top of each other. I’m not mixing the paint on the canvas but on my palette. Your eye blends the colors without mud showing.

After the red / black dried I mixed my grays for the bark and painted over the dark glaze. Then scratched through it with my palette knife to show lines of the dark color showing through. It’s fun to scratch off paint to make skinny lines. It shows up best if you use the right values of your colors. That is dark to light.

Barbara told me those dead trees standing in the water are Gum trees. They live a long time standing in water then take forever to fall down when they finally die. Strong trees!

Corn Shed ’14 / oil

corn shed 14 oil
This is my second painting of the corn shed. I think it came out better than the one I did last year, so I guess my drawing and painting skills are improving.

I layered glazes on top of glazes here. I painted impasto with my palette knife and also used the palette knife to scratch through glazes. Using thick paint and thin paint on the canvas adds interest because the eye compares different sections of the painting and the textures keep the eye moving around the canvas.

That Alvi’s Maroger Medium is the best stuff, my artist friends. You can do glazes, bleeds, paint impasto, add texture.
Everything you can do with any other kind of paint you can do with oil paint. You can do dry brush, work into your bleeds paint thin lines without much turp, and the medium holds it in place and makes the surface nice and slick so the paint slides easily.

I posted my underpainting below so you can see the major changes I did to this painting. And I put some text on it about linear perspective.

Richmond, VA. and Shockoe Valley / oil

Richmond with shockoe

I posted a photo from this overlook on Oct. 20 / 2012.
I didn’t use a photo or ruler to do this painting. It’s all freehand in plein air. It took me over 40 hours to get it finished but I enjoyed hanging around on this beautiful spot for 2 or 3 hours every day. And I had to take my time and go over it again and again until I had the colors and values close enough to what I see. Getting the values and colors right gives the effect of aerial perspective. My lines aren’t exactly straight but close enough that it doesn’t bug me.

I have to keep challenging myself so my drawing and painting skill will improve. This is a complicated drawing and I didn’t want to leave anything out except the traffic. So I did simplify it a little. First I drew it on an 11×15 sketchbook and it looked kind of crowded so I decided to use an 18×24 canvas since it’s a little easier to draw larger. I knew I had my proportions and perspective close to right when it all fit into the space.

the Rose Garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical / oil

The air around me was thick with the scent of roses and Maroger Medium. Intoxicating!

The air around me was thick with the scent of roses and Maroger Medium. Intoxicating!


I’m enjoying the Maroger Medium so much! It smells great, just like in days of yore at York Academy of Art. It’s the perfect weight and consistency for painting glazes in the couch or mixing it in with the paint and layering it on thick.

It’s so nice to hang around at Lewis Ginter Botanical every day for a few hours while I work on my painting. Sometimes I get surrounded by a bus load of kids and I don’t mind. Most of the time I’m alone with few distractions.

More artists should go there and paint in plein air. Everyone thinks what you’re doing is beautiful even at the charcoal stage when you know it’s not right. They think the underpainting is a finished painting. What I’m trying to say is, artists, don’t fear failure. They can’t tell anyway. 🙂 So, go out to that beautiful place every day and paint. Become a fixture. It’s a Zen thing. It’s good for you.

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