Tuesday, September 1, 2015

OPA 2015 Eastern Regional Show

My painting "Metal Kettle" has been juried into the Oil Painters of America Eastern Regional Show.

Needless to say, I am very excited and honored to be participating.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Power of Good Values

One of my favorite illustrators has written a post on controlling values to make a powerful visual impact. If you have yet to discover Donato Giancola his website has great examples of his work as well as some very helpful dvd demonstrations.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Another Road

"Another Road"   5  x  7  Oil on Panel
by John Kelley

Another small study done in the studio.  I played around with the color a lot more in this one.  When I do that it almost always end up looking like an overcast day, which is fine.

Top 3 Ways To Ruin a Day of Painting

My new painting routine for the school year involves working in my living room rather than the studio for three days of the week. This morning as I was gathering my things to take up to the house  I remembered with horror that I had not cleaned my brushes since packing them up last Friday. Now this happens from time to time, but I don't think I have ever left fully paint soaked brushes uncleaned for so many days. They probably would not have been all that bad if I had not used so much Liquin. But I did, so they are rock hard, and they are my favorite brushes.  I'm bummed.

My remedy for dried brushes is Turpenoid Natural. I generally soak them for a day, as in the photo above, which loosens the paint enough to clean them out with mineral spirits.  I'm hoping that the large amounts of Liquin in these will not make them unsalvageable. I'll let you know how it goes.

Goals, plans and routine equal good days of painting. Here are the top three things that can derail them for me.

  1. Not preparing the night before. This is by far my worst enemy because it is so easy to feel like I can do it in the morning without consequence. Always a bad decision. My painting today will not benefit from having my best brushes because of my lack of forethought last Friday night.
  2. Not having enough coffee. For those who live in an urban area this is probably not a big deal but I am somewhat social and a trip to the coffee shop can cost me half a day.
  3. Leaving my phone on in the A.M. Once again, being somewhat social, if I answer the phone and there is someone I like on the other end I am in danger of loosing hours of painting time.

So really there are two basic categories that cause bad painting day, being social and not fully preparing. I'm sure if I took enough time I could come up with a whole list of things that fit into those two categories.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Little Road

"Little Road"  ,  5"  x  7"  ,  Oil on Panel
by John Kelley

This is a small study done from reference material I gathered during my last trip out into the field.  I did it in about the same amount of time I would do one on location.  I started with very thin paint and a lot of medium, then switched to a palette knife, then back to brushes with no medium.  Clumpy, bumpy fun!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Learning To Paint Outside - Part 9

It has been almost a month since I did this painting.  Family priorities have caused the production rate to come to  a complete stop, but the passion to paint should never come at the expense of the people you love. So I rejoice that I have SEVEN good reasons to stop painting for a month!  Anyway, school has started back, so now I am finally getting a chance to blog about this painting.

"Lancaster Pond" by John Kelley

This is the second time I have been very surprised at how well the finish product looks using the gray under painting approach. It's such a battle in the middle stages, but every time I've used this method they end up looking great once brought inside.  It may be that the grey keeps my values in line or maybe that it keeps me from ignoring the grey that is out there this time of year.

I think the final would have looked better if I had managed to keep the value relationship between the pond and the sky.  I let the pond get a little to high key.

This is the most frustrating stage.  It's a raging battle to bring it out of that gray and into the realm of color.

Not a great photo, but the pond and sky had a better value relationship at this point.

Biggest lesson from this one is again the need to make a decision upfront about the value of the water.  Every time the wind blows the value of water changes.  So much of outdoor painting falls into the realm of making decisions and sticking with them despite changes, yet sometimes light changes and wind changes reveal a better thing.  I guess that's why we call this fun!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

How far would you go for a light weight painting setup?

Marc Delessio is a world class artist who paints on location around the world.  Recently he has been trying to come up with a light weight setup that would make his frequent hikes in the alps a more pleasant affair.  His most recent experiment is a carbon fiber easel he made himself.  The article link  below tells you what he discovered as well as hooking you up with a link to a DIY post on making a plein air setup out of a cigar box.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Selling Art Online: Interview with Karin Jurick

 The summer heat has slowed down my progress on learning to paint outside which means I'm inside where I am almost always listening to podcasts while I paint. My favorite podcaster has a new interview with artist Karin Jurick.  This one deals with selling art online so I thought it might be of interest to some of you who follow my blog.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Simple Floater Frames for your Plein Air Paintings

Here is a GREAT POST by Matt Sterbenz on making your own floater frames.  It's very thorough and worth the read.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


"Salsa"  ,  15"  x  16"  , Oil Painting
by John Kelley

Here are some process shots of the above.   This is very close to finished but I'm sure I will make some adjustments over the next few weeks.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Learning To Paint Outside - Part 8

"The Green in Green County"
9" x 12" oil on panel
by John Kelley

This painting was not done on location.  I used a reference photo from one of my recent outings and gave myself the same restrictions of time that I would have been subject to on location.  The biggest conclusion gained was that digitized photo references not only kill the value structure, but they also remove much of the greying of certain colors, most noticeably green.

This overly green painting has caused me to remove Viridian from my primary mixing palette. The color just gets me in trouble with it's strength and acidity.  It also ends up on everything I own... be gone you little green demon!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Storing and Transporting Panels

When it comes to transporting wet panels or storing them in your studio there are a lot of options out there  (Raymar  Judson Art  Guerrilla) as well as several ingenious ideas that artist have come up with.  The basic idea that I use came from one of the Suggested Donations Podcasts, but I can't remember which episode.

This is how I carry panels in my bag.

In the studio I take a wine cork (I like the synthetic ones best) and slice through it at 1/4" intervals until I have 4 to six little cork circles or chips.  I then cut the circles into fourths.  A straight razor blade works well for this.

I use 4 to 6 of these cork corners to separate 2 equal size panels. One or both could be freshly painted.

I place the panels with the wet surfaces facing one another.

I then use a strip of inner tube to tie the panels together. This works great for short painting trips or one day outings.  I'm hoping to eventually build a panel rack for the cab of my truck for longer trips.

This is how I store panels in the studio.

It is the same concept as the corks except I'm using strips of wood cut from excess panel material.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Summer Produce"_Oil_Painting_by_John_Kelley

"Summer Produce" by John Kelley
6" x 12" Oil on Panel

Sometimes I have left over pieces of panel that suggest a painting to me.  I had some of these 6" x 12" leaning against the wall and when the summer produce started to come in they seemed just about right for my needs.  As always, the digital version is way oversaturated compared to the actual piece.  I did try to bring the saturation down but going to far always does other things to the photo that I don't like.  Real life is always better both visually and in every other way.  I often wonder if this internet generation is going to look back on life in their old age and have no real memories....not sure how I got off on that tangent.  Anyway, I got to spend all day yesterday with these wonderful little miracles. I hope I did their beauty justice.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Learning To Paint Outside - Part 7


"Your only as good as the miles of canvas you've covered"

I'm not exactly sure who originally coined this phrase.  It has been attributed to recent artists, but I have also found very close versions of it in a couple of books who writers have long since left us. Whoever came up with it unmistakably went through the sludge of failures to discover a way of seeing and doing that produced the visual results he was trying to achieve. In the book "Outliers" you see this same principle impacting all areas of endeavor, but it is not just mechanically putting paint on a brush and covering miles of canvas the equals results. It is seeing a problem and doggedly attacking it until it is solved. The interesting thing about painting is that the visual miracle in front of us presents millions of these problems with multiple solutions.  So if you try and deal with all the problems, via all the solutions, your painting turns to mush and your brain melts.  So I am working toward simplifying these problems and in the past two weeks I have made some paint altering discoveries.

Below is a painting I did on the edge of a pond last Wednesday (if you follow my Instagram feed, this is the one I was working on when the snake wandered up behind me). It is a great example of what happens when I get overly concerned with trying to figure out  the local color of individual shapes rather than comparing and seeing relationships.

I will go back to this location
to see if my new epiphanies help!

It's amazing how your brain can deceive you in the frenzy of trying to capture something.  I thought I was doing pretty well on it until I started to pack up. I put the panel in the bed of my truck, packed up the rest of my gear, glanced over at the painting again and realized it was nothing like what I thought I was painting. The drawing isn't to bad but the values and color temperatures are chaotic. So driving home I was asking myself, what is it about midday situations that is so difficult?  Here is what I concluded.

  • The values are closer at midday
  • The color temp's are closer at midday
  • Every color is heavily influenced by one color at midday
I'm sure someone has taught me this along the way, but apparently I wasn't ready to listen.  As I drove home observing the landscape around me I realized everything was being impacted by the blue-grey of the sky.  In Alabama in the summertime, that blue grey has a larger influence because of our high humidity and the weird high hazy clouds that are almost always filtering the light.  Even the darkest of shadows are being impacted by this. So values and colors that are very close together because of the midday sun are even closer together (and softer) due to the humidity and haze.  So in the morning and evening a warm light, cool shadow relationship is apparent but at midday the relationship is extremely close.  None of this would have saved the painting above but it did give me something to experiment with my next time out.

NOTE: Digitally, these paintings look nothing to me like the original as I view it with the natural eye. Talking about color temperature and value in reference to a digital photo is difficult at best.  Often some of my best paintings look terrible in the glow of the screen and my terrible paintings look much better than they are.  I first heard about this unnerving aspect of digital life in a Suggested Donations podcast with artist Vincent Desiderio.

So on Sunday I went out to the practice range (my go to location when I want to be left alone to fail) and tried a little experiment. I should have photographed it step by step but wasn't thinking it would amount to much at the time.

Before I went out on location I tried to come up with a blue grey color that looked like what I saw influencing everything.  I tried Ult Blue greyed with Ivory black, Ult Blue greyed with Tera Rosa, and Ult Blue greyed with Trans Ox Red.  With each of these I also did a 4 step value scale.  If these had not worked I would have then tried some different blues that I don't use very often.  After it was all said and done The Ult Blue and the Trans ox Red was the closest to what i was seeing. I then went out to the practice range and first did a complete value study just using the blue-grey.  I then painted directly on top of it and the painting above was the result.

The painting still does not have the feel of light that I'm looking for but the approach definitely brought the painting into harmony and simplified making decisions.

The next day I left at about 6am to go paint in Eutaw Alabama for the day.  I was really excited about what I had done the day before and the hour long drive gave me a chance to think about how I was going to adjust the process to not have that overly grey feel.  So my approach on the next two paintings was to use Ult Blue and Trans red transparently to define the shadow shapes and then add color shapes to the lights and adjust the shadows with a very limited introduction of other local colors.  Here is what I came up with.

To me these are much closer to a real feel of light. Each painting is 9 x 12 and took around an hour and a half to paint.  They are by no means to the level that I am trying to accomplish but I feel like they are a large step forward. 

In these two paintings I also tried using a transparent wash of blue for the sky rather than blue and white.  It really helped the pure blue to stand out from the blue-grey elements and to provide clean enough color to introduce warms that read well.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Learning To Paint Outside - Part 6

Learning Through Failure

The good news is that I've been able to get out and paint 20 times this spring and early summer.  The bad news is that I will probably burn all but three of these.  Here is what I feel like I've learned so far through the process.

  • If you are going to paint in the south you have to learn to deal with an overwhelming amount of green.  It's much easier to paint it on a grey day when it is almost all a variation of sap green.
  • The warm cool contrast of early morning and late afternoon are the easiest to discern but leave you very little time to make the discernment.
  • The blueish grey that influences everything midday makes it very difficult to discern the warm cool contrasts but you have more time to do it (and it's hot!).
  • Sight sizing has brought my drawing up a notch or two.  Can't believe I didn't use it 15 years ago when I started.
  • Compare, compare, compare, compare, look at everything together with every decision. Hard to maintain that level of concentration but it will look like mud or chalk if you don't.
  • I cannot stand painting on a grey toned panel outside.  I will burn those paintings first.
  • I know next to nothing about color
  • It would have been nice to go to art school
  • I love painting on a white or very, very lightly toned orange panel.
  • I like working with thin paint and flat brushes!
  • A long sleeve cotton shirt with no t-shirt underneath is cooler than a t-shirt. Materials that wick away moisture are warmer than thin cotton.
  • $200 boots that fit are well worth it!
  • Painting below 9" x 12" just frustrates me with the shakiness of my hands.  Trying some things to make that better.
  • A set up that fits your  needs and your personality can keep you happy even when things are not going well.
  • I have a new found admiration for those who regularly nail their paintings outside.
  • It is really hard to be honest on a blog when you know the whole world is capable of seeing your mistakes, but I'm sticking with my commitment to document this process warts and all. Many of the above fall into that category. It also is very freeing to not be in bondage to the tyranny of advertising yourself to be something your not. 
  • If every painting I did outside was a failure I would still do it for the pure pleasure of the process!
I'm hoping to get a full 2 days on location next week.  Stick around to see how that turns out.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Converting My Open Box M To Use For Sight Size

The Open Box M , in my estimation, is still the best little pochade box being made (although I severely modify it in this post). Several competitors  have come out in the last few years, all of which seem to have different advantages, but none of these advantages have held enough weight to tempt me to change and for many of these new boxes the weight is the problem. I love my Open Box, but  when I began to use the sight size method this spring, it became fairly apparent, that using it without modification was creating to many line of sight issues. You can see in the photo below that though it can be used to sight size it doesn't leave the panel standing alone in space, which I prefer.

Opening the box to a completely vertical setting did provide a clear view of the panel and palette (a parallel palette) but it also had much more give due to my cheap tripod. So here is what I came up with.

The total weight of my set up with all my gear and one 9 x 12 panel is 18.3 pounds.  Keeping my gear under 20 pounds is my goal.  I find that this is more than light enough to do a great deal of hiking without compromising my painting needs, but if you are really into lightweight backpack painting you should check out Marc Dalessio's 11 pound setup.

My new setup involves a lot of clamps and bungie cords.  I would imagine that for most people this would be to much of a pain, but I've found that spending a few extra minutes setting up really doesn't impact the overall time needed to do a painting (unless it's a light effect that will be gone in five minutes).  I've actually found that putting everything together gives me a chance to relax and get focused.

The first thing I needed for this conversion was a tripod that stood tall enough to keep my panel at eye level.  I'm not very tall, so I opted for a 72" model polaroid tripod I found on Amazon.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I hope to eventually replace this with a carbon fiber version that will last me a lifetime, but it is not presently in the budget and this one works great!

I then came up with a way to secure my panel to the board that is screwed into the quick plate.  The 9" x 6.5" board is just simply a panel with a block on the back that has a a 3/8" screw adapter that I got at Home Depot.  I've glued a ridge to support the bottom of the panel and use small bungie cords to provide downward pressure from the top.  This has worked out amazingly well.  It's very cheap and I can paint to the edge of all sides of the panel except on the very small ridge at the bottom. (NOTE: the downside to this is that if you are not paying attention a bungie cord can turn into a projectile!)

I have to carry several bungie cords with me if I am varying the size of my panels.

If the panel is shorter than the board you can go
around the edges.

Mounting my Open Box M to the bottom of the tripod proved a little more tricky and what I do only works with the cheaper easels that have support bars that connect the three legs. The support for the box is essentially a piece of plywood with a hook cut to go around the center post (you could also use some of the commercial versions for providing a support).  The board is secured with three bulldog clips or one pony clamp on the hook.  I didn't like the bulky nature of the pony clamp so I recently switched, but there are several types of clamps that would work.

The board is 13.25" x 11" and fits easily in
my backpack

Bulldog clips can be found at office supply stores
but are much less expensive online

I then open my pochade to the natural angle of the tripod and board to secure it with three 10" bungie cords, two connected at the bottom and one on top.  There is enough tension between all these elements that the only play is due to the quality of the tripod (and it's not enough to notice).  For me it has been more sturdy than anything I have ever used, with the exception of my studio easel.

You can see in the above photograph that I added screw eyes to create a place for the bungie cords to connect to the hooks.  You can also see in this photo how the board extends behind the box. This is where I store my extra brushes in a rolled up bamboo brush holder.  I hold most of my brushes in my left hand.

One of the other things I mentioned in my "Weight and Worry" post was that I no longer hold a roll of paper towels in my hand but rather I connect a terry cloth rag to the portion of the poached box that is normally used to hold the panel.

I fold the terry cloth over and stick it between the tripod legs and the box which holds it in place. In normal wind conditions it works just fine (haven't dealt with anything to brisk as of yet, another cord would do the trick if things got dicey!).  The only problem with this has been the panel posts that stick through the slots on the box.  In removing those I discovered that the area on the back provided just enough space for a homemade 9" x 12" panel holder!

Since I no longer use Turpentine to clean my brushes while painting, the only other thing this setup needed was a spot to put my Liquin and palette knife.

The slot is to secure it to the bottom section of
the box

worms eye view of the connection, bearded sage looming

the border is there to keep me from knocking
the bottle over. So far it has worked.

My palette knife is not pictured here but I
stick it between the bottle and the box.

The backpack I carry all this in is less than perfect, though it does have a lot of room and is an L.L. Bean tank.  I have trudged it all over the place and it's not even close to wearing out.  At some point I will buy another one that has compartments that are more suitable to my needs, but for now I just separate most things with Ziplock Slider Bags which have worked great and are very easy to open and close.  I think the bag itself may be a significant portion of the weight that I am carrying, but I have yet to weigh it separately to find out.

Here is a list of the other items I carry

Brushes - this is one of my heaviest items, I carry a lot so I don't have to clean while painting.

Paper towels in a Tupperware container -  These are cut into fourths and I only use about one whole paper towel a session to clean my palette with.  I formerly stored these in a ziplock bag but they were to hard to get out quickly.

Paint - I keep these in a plastic container for easy access. I would like to be proficient enough to keep just a few small tubes (paint weighs a lot!), but not having to mix orange, purple, and teal saves me time, and the two greens have proven very useful.

Windshield Shade - To keep the sun off my palette

Leathermen Tool - Heavy, and would like to leave it out but it seems like something always comes up.

Latex Gloves -  Not so much worried about the poisons, but I'm just REALLY messy.  So I put the gloves on first thing and take them off last thing.  A little hot in the summer.  I still manage to find Viridian on things I haven't even touched... can't figure out why it's alway Viridian!

Sketchbook - So far I haven't used it this year.

Welders Glass - Recommended by Marc Dalessio, keep forgetting to use it.

Mechanical Pencil / Eraser - (see sketchbook)

Liquin - I keep this in an old Bayer Aspirin Bottle.  Has never leaked.  This would go into the category of they don't make things like they used to.  Look for your containers at antique stores!

Plastic Grocery Bag - I throw my terry cloth rag and paper towels in this at the end of the session.  There is a useless front slot on my backpack that I slide used paper towels into while painting... well I guess that makes it useful.

I keep bug spray, sunblock and Turpentine in my truck.  I've never been away from it long enough to keep them in my bag.

I hope that you find this helpful. I realize that my use of the Open Box M no longer resembles it's original intent but I still love it's light weight design, it's hinging mechanism and it's adaptability.  It's common sense construction made it really easy to modify and wood just makes me feel good.