Friday, February 27, 2009


The weather here in East Tennessee yesterday was a balmy 70 degrees, which is perfect weather for getting a bad case of "spring fever." Today, it is ideal for ducks.....rain, rain and more rain. I'm not complaining as February showers will bring March flowers, or perhaps an early onset of Dogwood blossoms.

These paintings were done from photos taken a few years ago when my dogwoods had huge, gorgeous blossoms. Painted in oils on 5x7 inch panels, the blooms are close to life size and while they were done from photos, I believe I captured the feeling of being done from life.

That brings up the question as to what is the difference in a painting from life and one done from a photo reference. My answer today is the feeling of spontaneity and emotion that comes from the excitement of the actual senses of that moment in time. In this case, the wonder of the huge beautiful blooms that only GOD could make, the fresh smell of spring, and the sense of new beginnings. Even though I used a photograph for inspiration, I concentrated more on capturing the essence, the spirit of the subject, rather than slavishly reproducing every detail. It is these new beginnings that I'm seeking in my art.

As soon as the paintings dry, I will frame and take to the Art Market Gallery in Knoxville for sale during the Dogwood Arts Festival.

Twin Dogwood Blossoms, 5x7, oil on panel.
Single Dogwood Blossom, 5x7 oil on panel.

Contact Marie Merritt for available works or prints. Web site:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tropical Fruit

Monday I spoke to John Beckwith's drawing class at the Senior Center in Rutledge, TN. We explored how light affects various forms and textures.

A compostionof a pear, grapefruit and banana was set up for the students to draw. They all did a great job! Some in the class would be great miniature artists as they do like to draw small.

When I got home I decided what was good for those students was also good for the teacher; therefore, I repeated the set up in my studio and painted it this morning. I enjoyed the challenge of the yellow-green analogous color scheme.

3 Servings of Fruit, 8x10 panel, oil. Available for sale, contact the artist.

Egg Study

"The incredible, edible egg", is a good source of protein and a subject worthy of painting. This little study was done for a lecture on observation and creating the illusion of form.

Learning to see value changes on an object is paramount to creating realistic art. All subjects are basically one of 4 shapes: sphere, cylinder, cone or cube, or they are a combination of two or more. While there are certain "formulas" one can learn as to where the highlight, light, dark, core dark, and reflected light will be, nothing replaces observation from life.

Eggs are a good study, since they are basically a sphere. The white shell, under strong light, produces a nice, easily recognized shadow pattern with a clear separation from the lit and the shadow side. The highlight is not strong, due to the matt texture of the shell, plus there is a nice little bonus of pass through light on this semi-opaque object.

The more that I paint from life, the more that I see. The more I see, the better I understand. Hopefully, this understanding will improve my artistic skills.

Eureka, I SEE that pass through light on that egg!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Self Portrait Sketch

I didn't get a chance to paint on Thursday so my daily project was this self portrait. It was bedtime, but I wanted to do some art work so I decided to do a sketch of my eyes. I did one, then the other. Why not add the nose and then the mouth! Oh, and then those horrible droopy jowls. My intention was just to do the eyes, but one thing led to another. Unfortunately, I had started at the top of the page and therefore cut off the top of my head.

When I looked at the drawing, I realized the eyes were much too large. I have squinty little eyes.

I had to open my eyes wide to see. The light was dim and the antique hand mirror was unclear. Besides, opening my eyes wider lifted the sagging eye lids. At least that is the excuse I'm using for getting my eyes out of proportion.

I could say it is time for plastic surgery, but I'm too cheap and do not like pain, so I'll just deal with the forces of gravity.

I showed this 45 minute sketch to my Dad the next morning. He said, "the eyes are too large, your nose is too crooked, and the peak of the lips is too high." Yep, he hit it dead on.
Daddy has always been honest. The first time he saw me after I was born, his comment to Momma was, "Lord, Frances! What did we do to deserve such an ugly baby?"
I've never let him live that comment down. It could have given me a major complex in life, but he was just telling it like it was. Momma had a long labor and apparently I was pretty red and had a smushed face. But then, I quickly turned into a "beautiful little baby girl"....the apple of my Daddy's eye.
I was and still am blessed to have such wonderful, loving and supporting parents.

Rottten Orange

Well, at least that is what I thought the painting looked like. My objective was to paint the orange in 50 strokes. I had fun with the apple and thought the mandarin orange would be too.
I confess that I scraped off the first attempt. It I want to sound artsy, I should say that I used the ebouche technique. That is a french term for scraping off a layer of paint.
I then repainted the orange within the self prescribed limit of strokes. The complimentary blue/orange color scheme, yielded a rotten appearance in the shadow area. Perhaps, I should have ebouched again. Instead, I ate the orange. It tasted much better than the painting looks.
Mandarin Orange 2-18-09 4x6 Oil on panel

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Squatty Old Coffee Cup

Even simple objects present their own challenges. Today's squatty old coffee cup was about identifying and painting the dark vivid blue hue. It was easier to see the relationship of warm and cool hues since I placed the cup on a complimentary (orange) wooden shelf.
I matched the hues and values on the cup and table top fairly accurately on the first attempt, but that white cloth was a different story. Who would have thought it was that dark!

The handy, dandy, little color checker that I purchased from Mark Carder author of the Carder Method, is a marvelous little gadget for checking values and hues. It is one of those things that is sooooo simple, you have to ask yourself, "why didn't I think of that".

The color checker isolates an area in your still life set up and compares the paint you have mixed to it. You can readily see if the mix needs to be darker, lighter, warmer, cooler, duller or more intense. The paint I mixed for the fabric was off 3 values on my first attempt! Had I painted it that light in value, it would have dominated the painting. The cloth was all in shadow, except for a tiny little bit. Shadows are dark, even on white objects. It just goes to show, you can not always trust what the mind is telling you.

Squatty Old Coffee Cup 5x7 Oil

Figurative from Photo

Yes, yes, I know! I said all of the paintings posted on this blog would be from life, but I could not resist this one. Sunday afternoon was a lazy sort of day and this photo from Wink Magazine screamed , "paint me, paint me." I heeded the call.

The photo accompanied an article by Denise Williams on "Simple Skin Secrets". It was probably a stock photo from Metro.

My mission was not to avoid the sun, cigs and stress the article talked about, rather it was to avoid the 9 million strokes I would normally take while stressing over a figurative painting. I resolved to think about each stroke and do it in as few as possible. I did not count them, but felt that I was reasonably successful.
Actually, it was relaxing not stressing over all that blending. I didn't need a cigarette after all. Not that I ever would have anyhow. I've never smoked!

I think I'll call it "All Wrapped Up", 7x5 Oil

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cone in Color

It is raining and dreary out, so today I must have color.
The past few days, I've worked in a black and white setting and attempted to accurately capture the proper value. Value is the most important art principle in creating the illusion of a three dimensional object on a two dimensional surface.
I have used a Liquetex Value Finder to check my observation. It is a value range from black to white with white being value 10 and black value 1. Incremental value changes of gray range between 2-9. I can usually guess the value fairly close, within a value or 2, but often the backgrounds can be tricky.
My ability to be reasonably accurate probably comes from my decorative painting background. There I would mix a value scale of for all of the objects in the painting, starting with low dark progressively getting lighter to high light.
An object has to have a minimum of three values to convey form, otherwise it appears flat. The larger the object and the closer to the focal area, it may have 9 values or more.
Working in shades of gray is one thing. Add hue (color) into the mix, and the artist has one more ball to juggle. Maybe even two or three more balls. Because with color, enters not just value, but saturation of color.
All of that can be future blog entries, but for today, my simple cone surrounded by a dusty pink cloth for table top and same color matt for background. Finally, I was able to see some hues in the white cone of thread. Pinks and blues entered the mix to be able to help create the illusion of dimension . Warmer and cooler colors, advancing and receeding.
Whether I did any better on perspective on this study remains to be seen, ( I still missed it!) but at least it was fun to show some color.
Next week.....more simple studies and week two drawing lessons following "The Natural Way to Draw" by Kimon Nicolaides.

Cone Value Study

After tackling the cube and realizing how much study I needed in perspective of basic forms, I searched my stash of stuff for a white cone. Viola, a cone of white thread. I stayed with the black background and surface and a single light source.
John will ridicule me to no end for how poorly I did on perspective on this simple object. I got the front ok, but sure missed it on the bottom. I did not realize how badly I missed it, until I took the photo and viewed it on the computer screen. That action took it from the subjective to the objective. Now, I can objectively see the bottom needed to be much rounder. While painting the cone of thread, I was so caught up in trying to get the values accurate (or at least close) that I just missed the drawing. Lesson learned!! Check, check and recheck.
Carpenters, know this from experience. Measure twice, cut once.
Well, this little painting will never make it to the Louve. But, even the great masters had some major flubs. Don't laugh, one day, if I live long enough, you can say....I knew Marie when....
Have a blessed day and trust in GOD.

Great Works, NOT!

If you visit this blog expecting to see great works, please look elsewhere. What you will find is an honest accounting of my trials and tribulations of attempting to improve my skills. I have to admit this experience is a lesson in humility for me. The challenge of putting that simple (yes, very elementary) still life object up and drawing it from sight is huge. Oh, I've done several paintings from life, but I've learned that when there is more "stuff" in a painting, the viewer (and even the artist) will only focus on one area (hopefully) the focal area. If you get the most contrast of values and most saturation of hue there, the viewer's eye will not linger in any of the other areas. Besides, if there are flowers, or cloth covering the eclipse, you can be off. However, when it is a simple thing like a cube or cone, you better git it right.
These practice sessions, should improve my observation skills and eye/hand coordination, so that when I do serious work, be it a landscape, still life or portrait, I will be able to accurately capture the scene.
My buddy John will justifiably chastise me for missing the perspective in this cube. It is strange that when I did quick sketches on paper, it looked right and came easy. Then when I switched to canvas and paint, the ability drained off the end of the brush and back into the turp jar.
Anyhow, this was a good learning experience working in black. Everything in the setup was black. The perfume bottle was highly reflective black glass. The shadow box and table top were black matt board. A 20 watt 5K bulb (color corrected) lit the subject. The only hint of hue was the red design on the bottle and a red board I set up to the right of the shadow box in order to get a pattern of color repetition. Plus I signed it in Bob Ross Red.
I personally dislike seeing artist's signatures stand out on paintings, but that is just my opinion. As you know, opions are like mouths, we all have one. Sometimes they are best kept to one's self.
Many fine artists sign their works in red. Who knows, perhaps when I've painted 50 or 500 small studies like these and get more confident and painterly in my works, I too will sign in red. After all, I'm like Erma Bombeck said....I'm old, so I can wear red, or something to that effect. Maybe that philosophy in life, applies to art too.
Anyhow, happy painting.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Low Key Study Tuxedo Bottle

Drawing challenge for today was gesture and some contour drawing. I watched tv for the gestures. Little did I realize how short a pose is on tv. It really forced me to get the gesture or the movement down quickly. I also realized that I can't draw and watch tv at the same time. I don't have a clue as to what the movie was about, but I'm certain that my time was more productive drawing rather than watching.
My daily painting challenge was a low key, black object without using any black paint. First mistake.... too purple. I need to work on mixing my grays. Funny that wasn't a problem on the cosmetic jar. Oh, I just remembered, I had Burnt Umber on my palette for that and today, I only had Ultramarine Blue, Aliz Crimson, Cad Yellow Light and White.
Tomorrow, I will repeat the same set up, add the BU to the palette, and strive for 50 strokes. I need to remember to think stroke direction.
Why is it that I "know" these things, but when my brain is focusing on one thing, it forgets everything else. I suppose that is the differece in a painter and an artist. But that is what I'm doing all of this be a better artist.

Apple in 50 strokes

OK, so it took me 62! A self proclaimed blending queen, setting a goal of using minimal strokes was fun yet challenging andthought provoking. My ground rules: the drawing didn't count against stroke total. No wiping off. Use 50 strokes or less.
I knew I was in trouble, when I had used 28 in the shade area. Ooops! Each stroke counts. Watch those double dabbs.....that's two. No mulligans. That only works for golf. No blending!!!! Put the stroke on and leave it. No blending!!! If the value, hue, or saturation was wrong, it could be painted over, but that was another stroke.
I didn't finish in 50, but was rather satisfied with my 62. Much better than the 9 million it would normally take. The apple is the same as the one I painted Saturday. I think I like this one better.
I'll try this again and again. It will make me more aware of what I'm doing, plus make my work more "painterly."
The morning was spent doing drawing exercises. All contour drawings. It was obvious that I wasn't cheating by sneeking a peek at the paper. No one would have guessedwhat I was looking at as reference. By the end of 3 hours, the drawing began to resempble (somewhat) what I was observing.
I did learn that my arm was out of shape. It got tired!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Feb 8

I am "sending myself back to school". No it is not school in the physical sense, instead it is focused self study and daily practice. My goal is to take my art to the next level. Due to being involved in our family business I have been away from my art for several months.
Now that I am able to get back in the swing of things, it is the right time to explore, experiment and practice.

My plan is to spend 4 hours per day studying and painting. My stash of art books puts most libraries to shame as I have done my part through the years to stimulate the art instruction economy. That source plus information on the web, should give me plenty of information. I might even get out the notes from various seminars I've taken or watch one of the many art instruction videos I own.

Most, if not all of the works shown on this blog will be done from life. Having been a slave to photo references for many years, painting from life gets me out of my comfort zone. Regardless of whether it is good, bad or ugly, I will post the day's efforts and a word or two about what I learned.
This act of posting all works, should spur me to constantly improve. Let's hope so!!! I hate to embarrass myself! From what I read and have experienced in the past, when trying new things one can expect to get worse before they get better. That is part of the learning curve. I sure hope it works!!

So with that in mind..... my two pieces from yesterday and one today.
Saturday's work Apple and Cosmetic Jar. It was so bad, I decided to repeat today. Apparently I didn't improve much, as they both are equally bad!

I tend to be very chintzy when it comes to applying paint. That stems from my training as a decorative artist. I'm striving to improve, but canvas grain showson both of the cosmetic jars. Even if they were done on cheap canvas boards, that is no excuse. USE MORE PAINT!!