Category Archives: Painting from Life

Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #16


As I am anxious to start the new year with it’s hopes, dreams and new beginnings,  I am reminded of how on a smaller scale to the artist, a fresh white canvas offers hopes and dreams all on its own.  Just as in life we see the importance of looking back in review to more effectively move ahead, I am reminded of the necessity to treat each new canvas with the same degree of serious reflection so as to learn from the last attempt.
Each painting must begin with a resolution of sorts, to improve upon a deficiency in edges, value, drawing, or color to greater achieve the mood you are aiming for. I am continually striving to get to the next level and have found that it clearly helps to have a plan formed before the brush hits the canvas.  Be specific. Resist thinking, “I hope this one turns out better”, but rather meditate on, “What specifically do I need to work on to gain greater sensitivity or strength in my work”.  If you have trouble identifying what that might be on your own, ask someone you trust to tell you the truth.  I am extremely dependent on “outside” help.  My wife Jennifer has an amazing eye and often sees what I miss.

I remember specifically the resolution I made prior to this painting, “Tricia”, page 33, that being to severely limit my color palette.

My work had become too colorful, meaning I was using color for color’s sake, throwing it in haphazardly and not being truthful with what I was seeing. The “circus” look was not working!!!    Having recently viewed an Anders Zorn exhibition helped me to identify this color problem and I recognized that something had to change.  As an exercise, this work was completed using his choice of colors as well, that of, white, black, raw sienna, and Rembrandt’s Permanent Red Medium, (which closely resembles the vermillion Zorn used.  I have since broadened my palette again, but the lesson was invaluable to teach me what effects could be achieved with very little shift in color.

I wish you great paintings as you break out into the New Year!

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Thank you for your enthusiastic support of Not Far from Home!


Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #5

This is the fifth  installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and  technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!

“Morning Conversation”… page 167

As I reflect back on the experiences of this painting and ponder what may be interesting and useful to you, a couple of things come to mind.  First is the richness of the plein air experience and how all of the elements of conversations, the sounds, the smells, etc., work there way into the painting and provide a fullness of spirit that cannot be faked.  The brevity of light also added spontaneity that would not have been as possible had the lighting been more controlled or if the subject had been painted from a photo.  Secondly, in this work specifically, I had a window of about two hours of consistent lighting before the back lighting changed to a side raking of light which affected the whole mood.  It is critical to stop at this point or you will ruin the painting, trust me, I have done it!  After the light had changed and I was packing my easel for the day bemoaning the changing light and such a short window of opportunity, I noticed Bud and the other model standing in the doorway continuing their conversation.  At that moment, I was struck by the carefree expressions and gestures and realized that we must attempt another painting. With the models willing to stay for another round, I made a trip to the car for another canvas and began.

Moral of this story… always have plenty of canvases in the car and if your light changes, (which you can count on much of the time), try to muster the energy to begin again and make the most of the opportunity.

This photo shows the second work that was painted during the afternoon light.

These paintings required several return visits to complete, but the time spent was well worth the investment.

Bud’s final comments as we concluded the work were, “Dan, there’s only one problem with this painting, why are you painting the front of my ugly face and the back of Wendy’s head?”  Everybody needs a “Bud” in their life…what a treasure!

Enjoy !

book cover new web

Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #4

This is the fourth  installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and  technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!


Some have asked if I use photographs when painting. The short answer is, sometimes yes.  However, it is extremely critical to work with the subject as much as possible from life.  If I must use photographs because the small children are too restless to sit still or an animal is involved, I will always do a color study from life to gather the necessary information that is missing from the photo.  The subtleties and variations in tone, value, and color are simply too intricate to guess at.  To paraphrase the great landscape painter Edgar Payne who commented on the subject, “Our brains are way too small to invent such infinite variation”.  In my experience with painting, I would completely agree with his words.

Again, if I must use photographs, I have found the best case scenario is to meet with the model to arrange the composition, photograph them, then, to go back to the studio to draw or map out the composition on the canvas. I will also print out a black and white photo and tape it to the canvas and meet the models back on location to begin the painting. Now I have all I need… the models bathed in the beautiful light, and the photo which will give me the information I will need to accurately draw the subject.  This does take a bit more time, but is well worth the effort.

I have read that William Bouguereau had somewhat the same approach when he painted small children, only he used carefully drawn pencil studies created from marble sculptures instead of photos.  He had the study for the drawing, and would have the “children running around the studio” for the color and value.

The following images show a finished painting and the study from life that corresponds. The degree of finish in the studies will vary based on the amount of time I had with the subject from life.   Often this plan of attack is necessary in very early or late light, when you are only given a few minutes of a certain light quality. As you can see, little attention was given to the drawing in the study, and because the time with the model was short, all of my energies went into accurately capturing the value and color relationships.

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Other examples of the varying quality in the studies and the intricate relationships between the field sketch and finished work can be seen on pages 28,52,62,96,112 and136 in our recently released book, “Not Far from Home”.


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