Blog Archives


farmlandWell, I’m going to teach an art class again — thought I was finished with that, but guess it’s in my “blood.”  Beginning September 15 (Thursday) from 1:30 – 3:30, I will be teaching a class on how to compose a work of art at the Maumelle Senior Wellness Center in Maumelle.  This is a seven week class, and will include examples, critiques, information, exercises, and perhaps occasional homework.  Students will use their own materials, as well as materials provided by the instructor.  I’ve had many years of experience teaching this subject, both in high school art classes, children’s classes, and adult classes.  A lot of the lessons will be based on the blogs I’ve shared on this site.  Cost is $45, and there is a maximum of eight students so call MSWC as soon as possible, if you want to register  (501- 851-4344).   I’m looking forward to seeing you and sharing my understanding of composition and design principles.


My Love Affair with Landscapes

I Always Come Back to Landscapes in Pastel

I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to do non-objective paintings, and they always turn out to be landscapes!  I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to paint with acrylic or watercolor, and I always go back to using soft pastels!  I guess I should just be myself, and stop trying to do what everyone else is doing.

My favorite subject is the landscape — could be Arkansas’s rivers, mountains, lakes, farm lands and fields, houses, bridges, roads, rocks, forests, majestic trees or their roots;  it makes no difference.  It’s what  I love.  At one time, I did a lot of plein air painting, but I haven’t done that in a while. Instead, I take my camera with me as I walk the paths of my home town or travel from town to town; take vacation trips to places like Charleston, Martha’s Vinyard, or Portland, Maine.  I must have  a zillion photos of landscapes that I want to experience in pastel.

Yes, soft pastel!  It’s always been the easiest medium for me.  I like to hold the stick broadside in my hands and be able to swipe across the sanded paper, or use the point of the stick to make drawing lines on top.  The colors are there for me to use – I don’t have to mix them to get the right color.  They are intense, dull, gray, brilliant, sizzling, and/or calming.  I can layer on top of a watercolor or ink underpainting, or I can start with a hard pastel underpainting and dissolve it with water or turpenoid.  I can use local color, complementary colors, or really intense colors for the underpainting and then layer other pastels on top.  Sometimes, the painting just paints itself!  What fun!

Here are a few photos of my latest pastel landscapes.  I tried to show the mood of late afternoon/twilight landscapes — the time of day when everything is shutting down and the hectic, busy times are over.  Time to go home and rest.  I call this style “Romantic Realism” because of the emotional content.  These paintings are part of an exhibit named “Where the Sky Kisses the Earth” that will be at the Searcy Art Gallery August 5-September 21.  The opening reception is August 6, Saturday from 1-3 pm.  I will be there; I hope to see you there as well!

Sky at Evening

RED SKYDusk Settles In


Noses are very much unique to the individual.  They can be straight, crooked, with a big bump in it, have widely flared nostrils, slim, or large.  My mother had what she called a “roman nose — it roamed all over her face!”  Pay a lot of attention to the different shapes, angles, and planes of the nose. The bridge of the nose is a bone, while the edges are cartilage. There is a round ball at the end of the nose, and the flares of nostrils are wedge shapes.  The overall shape of the nose is narrow at the top, and wide at the base.

After the structural lines have been made, shading the nose is the best way to define the form.  If you’re drawing the nose from a front view, the only way to show the form is by the subtle variations of lights and darks.  Don’t draw lines on the side of the nose. The darkest shadows lie next to the bridge.  Drawing noses from a profile view is easier, because then you can ouline the nose.   Nostril openings face down and should not be overstated.  Because the tip of the nose is spherical, it usually has a highlight.  Look carefully at the light source and the reflected light.  The nose will also cast a shadow beneath it.

Here are some examples:



This example is from the Watercolor Artist magazine of June 1212.





Once you have the correct proportions of the face, and have considered the planes of the face as it turns away from the light, it’s time to put in the features of the face:  the eyes, eyebrows, nose, ears, mouth.  This is the time for careful observation, because even though everyone’s features are close to the same, it is the little differences that cause you to draw a true likeness.  Here are some pointers.

THE EYE:  The eyeball fits into the eye socket and the eyelids wrap over the eyeballs.  The pupil is quite large in dim light, and smaller in bright light.  The iris is darker under the eyelid because of the overlapping shape.  Be sure that the eyeballs are placed in the same position in the eye socket, so the model doesn’t look cross-eyed, and make sure that the highlights in the iris and the pupils are in the same place.  Light colored eyes usually have a darker rim (limbus) around the iris.  Eyebrows vary from individual to individual and help to contribute to a correct likeness. As the face turns or tilts, the eyeballs can be foreshortened.  Don’t forget the tear duct.  Pay attention to the lower eyelid, the wrinkles and shadows around the eye.  Shadows are darker close to the nose — these shadows often give structure to the nose.

A lot of expression can be put into the placement of the eyeball — for instance, if surprise or fright is to be shown, the whites of the eyes can be seen around the eyeball.  If the model is sleepy, uninterested, or even angry, the eyelids squeeze together – maybe even in a squint.  Careful observation is necessary.

Don’t make the mistake of putting in lines for eyelashes — simply darken about the eye to suggest them.  The eyelashes are thickest toward the outer corner.  The lower lid has a mild highlight along it’s edge.




Getting the correct proportions of the face you’re drawing is one thing, but what about shading the face so that it looks three dimensional?  You need to think about the structure of the face as consisting of several planes that either catch the light or seen in shadows.  Imagine that you are sculpting a head out of a big block of stone or clay. You have to remove chunks at first to shape the head, and then you have to chip away in slices — no curves as yet.  You are modeling the form, which is what you need to do in drawing a portrait as well.

In your drawing, you will look at the planes to shade the portrait as it recedes into space.  You can use hatching and cross-hatching to define the areas.  Always remember one simple rule — what comes forward catches the light; what goes back is in shadow.  So the nose is always in light, as is the forehead, the chin, and the cheeks to some degree.  Darker values will be seen under the eyebrows, the nose, and the lower lip.  Here is a diagram to illustrate.



A good way to plan a composition is to use recognizable color schemes.  Each color scheme has its own appeal and mood.  As I wrote about previously, complementary colors are those opposite each other on the color wheel.  Complementary color schemes can be pretty chaotic unless one color is used as a predominant, and the other is subordinate.  I used a simple composition in the following watercolor studies (5 x 7″) to show how value, intensity, dominant and subordinate color affects the mood. 

Comp1 STUDY I  

I used blue as the dominant hue in this first small study in values from light   to dark.  The complement, orange, was used as an accent.  The study seems to suggest evening with some light from the sinking sun.


I reversed the colors in this second small study, using orange as the dominant and blue as the subordinate colors.   The oranges are used in a variety of values from light to dark, and the accent of blue is used both dark and light in the foreground grasses and in the tree trunks.  A little blue can also be found in the texture of the barn. Do you see the difference in the mood?


There is a great deal of difference in how you make a detailed drawing in graphite pencil.  You can’t lay your pencil on the side and scumble back and forth for the proper value.  That doesn’t look too good. No, you must keep your pencil tip sharp and use it at a more upward angle.  If you want a drawing that is finely “rendered,” as opposed to just “sketching,” I recommend the following procedure.

The first step is an accurate drawing.  Not only are the positive shapes drawn correctly, but the shadows and highlights are also “mapped” out — which means their shapes are drawn as well.  Be sure that your objects are connected either by overlapping or cast shadows.  Here’s my example:

010 (2)The reason for the many cast shadows in this is because I have light sources in my set up – not a wise decision!  You notice that I have used a center line to make sure my objects are symmetrical, and that I have mapped out the reflections in the silver goblet.


My second example shows that I have layered a light value over all the shapes in my drawing.  I did this with a 2H pencil and covered up all the white paper.  I made sure not to lose the highlight and shadow shapes.

009In this final example, I have darkened the values with 2B-4B-6B pencils, and erased with an electric eraser where the highlights are.  The silver goblet now looks shiny.  This is a good way to depict texture in a drawing:  overall layering with a light pencil, darkening with softer pencils for the shadows, and erasing the highlights.  Try it on your next drawing.


For those pastel painters who like a step-by-step method to painting an artwork, this is for you.  I think I got this from Larry Blovits, my first workshop teacher, but I probably added to it over the years.  Some useful information is included.


1. SELECT A BALANCED COMPOSITION: Is there a center of interest? A variety of shapes? Forms? Colors? Values? Sizes? Movements? Does your eye lead you from one area of interest to another? Are there clues of depth? Is there a statement to be made?

2. DECIDE ON YOUR GOAL FOR THE PAINTING: What do you want to emphasize? The illusion of depth? The contrast of light against dark? A shape or pattern that is repeated throughout? An emotional feeling? Set a goal and stick to it.

3. DECIDE WHETHER THE FORMAT IS VERTICAL OR HORIZONTAL: Decide on the major divisions of the picture plane – where will the main objects be situated? You may want to lightly sketch in this composition, using a NuPastel stick. Or you may plan by doing a thumbnail sketch or two. If using paper, pad underneath with several other sheets.

4. DRAW THE MAJOR SHAPES OF THE COMPOSITION AS ACCURATELY AS POSSIBLE: Keeping shapes simple at first, work on creating proper proportion of the first shape you put into your picture plane and then measure every other shape’s height and width in proportion to this first shape.

5. MASS IN LOCAL COLOR VALUES: Mass in the foundation colors with hard pastel as close to the value as possible. The colors should be darker and more intense to begin with as they really are. Work from dark to light. Don’t put in any highlights at this point. Working with a darker, more intense color creates a stronger foundation of color as well as providing contrast for modeling with lighter colors without bleaching or “chalking out” the color.

Some artists put a hint of their lightest and their darkest values in at this point so that the range of values can be adjusted. Begin to solve basic color problems. Work on the whole picture. You can always dull an intense color, but not vice-versa. You can also lighten the dark, but not vice-versa.

6. ADD SHADE AND SHADOW: Establish the dark values – look for purples and blues in the shadow areas. Use black if your colors are not dark enough, but always layer a red, green, blue or purple dark over it so that it doesn’t look so dead. Squint your eyes or take off your glasses so that you can see the values. Think in terms of pattern, shape, and value at first.

7. REWORK AS NEEDED TO INCLUDE LIGHT, VOLUME, TEXTURES, AND DEPTH: You may want to use fixative spray between layers of pastel. Use hard and semi-hard pastels at this point. DO NOT WORK ON THE DETAILS AS YET; THIS IS THE LAST STEP IN DEVELOPING THE ARTISTIC STATEMENT. Take your time. Avoid blending – you can use a hard pastel to glaze or blend over colors. Glazing with a complement makes the colors vibrate.

8. REDUCE CONTRAST IN THE BACKGROUND, INCREASE CONTRAST IN THE FOREGROUND. Contrast should be strong in the foreground and weak in the background for the illusion of space (Aerial Perspective).   If the light is warm, the shadows should be cool, and vice versa. Have little contrast where you want the objects to recede. You only want one focus, so some things need to be unclear of hard to see (Refraction). Play with lost and found edges, soft and hard edges.

9. RESTATE ELEMENTS FOR FURTHER CLARITY: Add color accents where needed, and add foreground detail. Leave some calligraphic strokes, and arbitrary colors for pizzazz!

10. ELIMINATE MISTAKES AT ANY TIME: Cover over a color with its complement, and then change the color. You can also remove layers of pastel with a stiff brush.

11. ABOVE ALL – take your time. Don’t try to put in the excitement too early. Speed is not important; focus and perseverance is.



Rocks can sometimes be a pain to put into a landscape, especially one with water.  But they are very effective in moving the eye around the picture, so don’t avoid them completely!

Atop the Mountain

Rocks should be all different sizes with sharp edges. Exaggerate them by making each and every rock different with jagged angles and irregular planes. If there are a lot of rocks that look similar, join two or three together to make new, larger shapes. Paint in the local color, then add variety by using a warmer light bouncing on the shadowed side. Avoid green rocks. Don’t outline cracks, make shapes instead. Keep the texture rough. Scumble lightly if you’re using pastel. Use the small bits and pieces of pastel in a box to use for painting rocks.

When several rocks are piled together, use different hues to keep them separated. Some rocks are warm, some are cool, so remember to change hues. Edges of rocks in water are darker. Rocks splashed with water tend to have blue in them. As they move off into the distance, make them smaller, cooler, and greyer. Try purples oranges, blues in the same values to vary colors in rocks. Above all, try not to let the rocks look like Idaho potatoes!

As always, to learn how to paint anything, observe carefully and practice painting it!





Putting clouds in your paintings is a way to add visual texture and movement to an otherwise stagnant part of your composition – the flat sky.  Here are some tips:

1.  Clouds have form; they are not a cut-out shape floating in are.  They have value and bulk – pretend you’re touching them.

2.  Think about simple shapes: sphere, cube, oval. Some clouds are soft edged and some are hard edged.

3.  Think about the position of the sun, your point of view, and the direction of the wind. Include some wispy clouds to suggest the wind.

4.  Look for color temperature variations within the grey areas.  Lighter areas will appear warmer, shadow areas cooler.

5.  Cloud shadows will look violet grey, reflecting the warmer temperature of the earth. Don’t paint them darker in value than the open blue sky–it’s an optical illusion if they appear so.  Only dense storm clouds will be darker.

6. Cumulous clouds are the most difficult. Keep them soft. Keep the highlight inside the edge. Distant clouds are flatter at the bottom. Exaggerate cools and warms underneath the clouds.

7. If painting in watercolor or pastel on paper, leave the white of the paper for the highlights of the clouds.