Agecroft Hall and Sunken Garden / oil

My palette knife is in my hand as much time as my paintbrush.

My palette knife is in my hand as much time as my paintbrush.

When I get to my location, it always takes me 1/2 hour or 45 min, to mix up my colors for the day.  I decide what area to work on, then mix light medium and dark values of the colors I want to use. By mixing my colors on my palette with my palette knife, I get them closer to what you see with the naked eye, and avoid the problem of the colors mixing too much on the canvas and coming out muddy.

But one thing I really enjoy a lot, is making thin lines with my palette knife. It’s easier to scratch a skinny line than it is to paint one. If you can get a clear enlargement of this photo on your computer, maybe you can see where I scratched all around this painting to make lines and give it texture.

The way I did the brick wall, for example, was to paint the colors of the mortar first. I painted the wall with two shades of gray in the places I wanted there to be light and shadow. So, the whole wall was gray. Then, when that dried, I blobbed in brick colors on top of the gray and scratched through the wet layer to show the gray mortar color coming though as lines. You get bricks without painting every brick. But people see the detail, and might imagine I painted every brick. It works if you paint in the couch with Maroger Medium and glazes.

I also like to scratch through my brushstrokes to feather the edges, and add texture. For the trees behind the house, I blobbed in three shades of green and scratched through the wet paint so the edges of my brush strokes wouldn’t be sharp, but a little blended. Visually, that helps the background trees recede a little. The trees in front of the house got scratched on the trunks but not the foliage.

It took a long time to finish, and I could still keep on working on it, but I’m not going to. It looks like I painted a lot of detail, but I left out the detail I didn’t want to paint, gutters and downspouts, a planter with nothing blooming, and whatever else you might notice is missing, if you have a photo to compare it to.

It seems like I worked on this painting at home as much as I worked on it at Agecroft. A lot of times, I can mix up some colors there, and paint at home on the more time consuming parts of the painting.

Richmond From Legend / oil painting and urban legend

IMG_1720

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.

Under the Weeping Cherry / oil

weeping cherry

Welcome to my secret hideout!

I’m not the only kid who likes this tree. I was sitting on a root mixing up my colors and saw a boy come over to the outside of the tree. He was probably around 8, I guess. He stuck his face in a big clump of flowers and shook his head around in it. A lot of petals fell and he watched them come down. Then he left and rejoined his group. I don’t know if he saw me through the branches, or not.

I thought it was pretty cool, the kid loves nature too.

This painting went through a lot of changes. You can see the process in the photos below, stripping off the layers all the way back to my underpainting, with some talk about the old school ways of  painting, which is glazes painted in the couch, with Maroger Medium.  I’ve looked at this painting for weeks now, and can’t decide about it. I need fresh eyes to tell me what you see. IMG_1641

This photo shows the white flowers painted on, with the tree and branches still in the underpainting phase. I had to finish the background before the tree bloomed, because the white flowers should be on top of the background colors. And then the branches are on top of the flowers.  I started weeks ago, because this tree blooms fast, then it’s over in a few days and covered with green leaves. So my background was dry before I put the white flower glazes on top of it.IMG_1639

This photo shows the background finished with some lines painted in to plan my branches coming down. I wanted the viewer to be able to see some of the background through the branches. That’s why I need fresh eyes to look at this. I know what’s in the background, because I painted it. Can the viewer see the steps, pink trees and Daffodils? This painting is all about the Weeping Cherry, though, so, I planned to cover a lot of  the background. IMG_1635

This is my underpainting in the complimentary colors of what I planned to use. It’s on a violet tinted canvas, which is influencing the colors. The part I wanted to be green grass, I underpainted in green’s complimentary color, which is red. I used a brownish red. And the ground under the tree, I wanted to make  a warm brown in the light and gray in the shadows, so I underpainted in with green. I underpainted the sky in a peachy orange. The violet is showing through. You can see where I scribbled some shadows under the tree with charcoal, but I wasn’t happy with that, at this stage, and changed my shadows later.

Cold Harbor Battlefield with Broom Straw Grass / oil

The tree leaning in on the right represents me dancing alone.

The tree leaning in on the right represents me dancing alone.

Illusion or Magic?

When I’m out painting in plein air most of the time I can concentrate on it without any interruptions, but I don’t mind when people talk to me. I need to step back from my painting anyway. Most of the time they only say “Hi” but sometimes they say things I think about later. I don’t understand what they mean when they ask me why am I doing this.

I know it’s meant as a compliment when they say I have a “gift.” (from God, I guess) but I say, “No, If I can do this you can do it. It’s only a question of, how much time do you have? Because I’ve been working on it for a few years and I’m just getting the hang of it.”

A lady said I bring peace to the battlefield. I can’t figure out how I could do that unless I believed in magic, which I don’t. I guess they can see I’m “in the zone” when I’m painting because I’m concentrating. More likely, I’d bring trouble! hahaha Like my role model on the Virginia State Seal. In reality, I look for places that are peaceful and safe to paint.

I’m trying to match my colors and values to natural color to give my painting the illusion of depth. If I’m not sure about the color I mixed on my palette I might hold up my palette knife and close one eye, to compare it to what I see. If anyone sees me hold up my palette knife like that they might think I’m making some kind of offering gesture, but no, I’m not doing magic, I’m only trying to correct my values.

Some people think I’m out there painting in public to show off so people will buy my painting. Yeah, I wish. It’s not working out like that for me. I’ll probably continue to paint in plein air though, because now I’m spoiled by it and working at home is boring. I like to avoid crowds to draw and paint. If you see me dancing alone in a crowd, that’s me showing off. 😉

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.

Maroger Medium!!

My daughter, Sarah, sent it to me for a Mother's Day gift.

My daughter, Sarah, sent it to me for a Mother’s Day gift.


At York Academy of Art our teachers wanted us to paint with Maroger Medium because it’s what the old masters used. That was long ago and I never saw it since then.

As I recall, a local guy was cooking it up for us art students and the lead in it wrecked his nerves. So please be careful making it, Alvi. (like outdoors with a 10′ stirring stick)

It’s not available in art supply store chains. Sarah found it on Amazon.

I’m so excited to have a tube! I already know it will be great to work with.

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