Saturday, June 22, 2019

Lorenzo Chavez Demo of the Southwest Landscape

 Lorenzo Chavez demo at IAPS convention workshop, Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Explaining his thumbnails and color notes

Atmospheric color spectrum

Lorenzo's palette

The sketch

Blending the base values

 Somehow the painting looks "finished" at every stage...

See more of Lorenzo's work and workshop opportunities at

See my own attempt at a southwest landscape in Lorenzo's workshop here. :)


Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Jen Evenhus pastel workshop with the Austin Pastel Society

"Gerber Gala" pastel by Jen Evenhus
Jen Evenhus' workshop is called The Beauty of Imperfection. What a great workshop this was! We got to watch Jen create this most awesome floral painting, that she must have really loved herself because she put it right up on her website home page!

As far as workshops go, I must say that this was one of the more challenging workshops I've taken. That's a good thing! In my experience, the more difficult they are, the more I learn. Frustration in effort is productive in the long run. I mean, no-one but Jen Evenhus can paint like Jen Evenhus! Trying to brings on frustration, but in the trying are also included valuable things like discovery and exploration. Artwork cannot improve without occasionally moving into the unknown.

Jen is an excellent teacher. She has a well-organized and very fast-paced workshop, with lots of timed exercises on color theory and technique, and she has really good handouts! I learned a lot and have one half-way decent landscape to show for it (See "Orchard" on my Daily Paintings Blog!) which was started in the last hour of the workshop and finished at home.

Me, I'm more of a visual learner, so I took lots of pics. Here's her opening demo on Saturday morning:
photo and thumbnail sketch
 She chooses her pastels in advance.
Her drawing with charcoal.

I found it absolutely amazing how she can get such a dynamic, intriguing, colorful composition from such a, well, really sort of mostly ....boring photo! I've got thousands of photos in my files that are equally as interesting. This was really inspiring!

And, her Sunday daisy demo "Gerber Gala", I gave the pics to my son and he obligingly put together this short slideshow vid:

Thanks for watching! Enjoy more of Jen's work and find out about her workshops at


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Background Binds (What to Do?)

"Mondo" with photo reference

I recently had an inquiry from a friend about what do do with backgrounds.

Hi Rita, 
I just discovered your art recently and I love the colors and the expressions of your animals, just beautiful. I am struggling to learn to paint in pastels myself, and deciding when to use which color is especially difficult for me. I was wondering how you determine which colors to use in your backgrounds for your animal portraits, do you have any tips?

Color is a complicated question, and one that I've learned is answered best by "value and temperature." I recently wrote an article on my Art Journal Blog about this, see here:

Backgrounds can sometimes present the greatest challenge in a painting. Especially when the painting is of a recognizable subject that holds its own as a center of interest and is easy enough to paint using a reference. But what about when your subject is surrounded by other objects that you don't want to include?

Sometimes, in my reference photo, I find that the background is perfectly lovely and I want to paint it exactly how I see it (..This doesn't happen very often!!) Usually, I have to use artistic license:

"Azul" with photo reference
I usually ask myself when I'm building up my under painting, "Do I want this subject to stand out boldly from the background, or do I want it to harmonize subtly with the background and the painting as a whole?"

If I want to be bold I use contrasting values. (dark behind the light parts and light behind the dark parts.)
"Bianca" and "Inky"

If I want to be subtle and harmonious (a more recent goal of mine,) I try for analogous colors and very close values from subject to background:

"Paella" and "Mr. Frost"
And usually, my subjects are outdoors, so in what I call my simple "default" background, I habitually use the standard laws of atmospheric perspective, and use cooler (and sometimes lighter and/or more neutral) colors in the far background, and warmer landscape colors in the closer background:

I've also gotten into the habit of keeping the backgrounds "fuzzy", meaning no crisp edges anywhere in the background. This helps with the feeling of  a soft focus that sets off the subject by contrast, and remains "farther away."

As a last point,always try to use some of the same colors in your background as in your subject. This will help assure color harmony, no matter which other value contrasts you're aiming for.

After a while, you'll learn how to completely ignore what's in your image background, and create a background that will best support your star subject!

(Personally, larger compositions have tended to give me the most background troubles. If you'd like to read more about my struggles with backgrounds, here's a perfect example from a while back. I wrote about "Leader of the Pack", in two posts:

"Leader of the Pack" (2010, pastel, 32x32 inches) first finish and final finish

Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear from you if you found this helpful!


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Judging the PGE Member Show

A few weeks ago, I was asked by Dorothea Schulz of the Pastel Guild of Europe to be the judge for their "Get Dusty" Online Member's Show for the month of April.  I was honored to accept! Past judges from the shows include Jacob Aguiar, Adrian Frankel Giuliani, Jude Tolar, and Christine DiMauro, among many others.

April's theme for the competition was Baby Animals. Awww... who could resist? And based on my own work, I guess I was eminently suitable for judging. Dorothea sent me the link to the entries last weekend, and I enjoyed viewing them for a couple days before making my choices.

There were only 16 entries. They are a small group - but very talented!! It was quite as difficult to decide on the placements as it would have been with 10 times the entries, mainly because almost all of the works were of equal quality, with a variety of strengths in different artistic ways. 

I wanted to share with you here my picks for First, Second and Third Places, and the three Honorable Mentions that were allowed. All of the entries demonstrated strength in values and draftsmanship, so I'll be commenting on the additional qualities that made these six stand out in my viewings.

First Place - "Harley" by Claudia Chimenti
The composition was the first thing that struck me about this precious puppy portrait. The variety of flowing diagonals, enhanced by the strong warm light and the relaxed and trustful pose of the puppy make this a powerful painting. Chimenti is also wise in her choice of a limited palette, using shades and tones of whites to set off Harley's brown patch. The reflected light blues in the shadows are very well done. The simple, un-fussy handling of the background and sleeve fabric are the perfect frame for the more detailed rendering of this adorable face, while the bits of warm salmon-brown color pervading the entire painting allow his brown patch of fur, as the one main area of vibrant color, to still harmonize with the whole.

Second Place - "Explorer" by Dolores Saul
Light, color, texture, and a moment captured in time are what I see first in this little wild Explorer. The subtle handling of the warms and cools within the various tones of fur are masterfully done! The wonderful textural contrasts of the finely detailed fur, to the ripples of the water, the middle-ground grasses, and finally the very loose, gestural rocks in the background, create a convincing sense of depth. I like the unconventional pose withing this otherwise traditional portrait composition (the subject centered within the area of the painting.) The cat is looking off to the left, as if something there has caught his attention, and in a moment he will leave the frame. But this doesn't encourage our eyes into leaving; the sunlight streaming on the cat's face holds our eyes, and the bits of dark along his shadowed side and in the background bounce our eyes around and down the right side, and back up the sunny side to his face...

Third Place - "Triplet" by Elisabeth Blass
This one got the "Awww!" response right off the bat for me, but I might be a sucker for ducklings in the light. Then the more I looked beyond that initial cuteness, the more I liked. The arrangement of shapes and patterns within this square come across as refreshingly spontaneous without being awkward, which makes me suspect they may have been very carefully composed. Even though the two ducklings closer to us are offset in high contrast by the shadowed rock, our eye still jumps back to the duckling above, who, in spite of being mostly the same value as the water, appears to be more strongly bathed in the bright warm light because of the temperature contrast of the blue around him.
Fresh and spontaneous describes the pastel application as well!

Honorable mention - "Ducklings" by Karin Kießling
Balance, contrast and harmony. Incredible color harmony for one; the entire painting looks like it may have been done with shades and tints of just three colors. The balance in this composition is sweetly calming, just as the visual of these ducklings are for our eyes. Almost symmetrical, but not quite. Held in place by the reflection which touches the bottom edge. The amazing detail of the wet feathers is contrasted by the smooth, calm surrounding water.

Honorable Mention - "Guarded Childhood" by Eva Schläfli
Yes, baby animals -- what's not to love? This painting perfectly exemplifies a mother's love and a baby's safe haven. Once again, wonderful color harmony. Excellent detail without looking overworked. The close cropped view with the chimp's face centered is another almost-symmetrical composition, but the subtle variety of angles created by the hand, arm, and head create a sweet cocoon of comfort for this baby chimp, and pull us back to the expression in the face, and most especially, the eyes.

Honorable Mention - "Puppies" by Ute Farr
Speaking of expression... These are the happiest puppies I've seen in a long time! This one's all about the JOY and the FUR! In fact, in spite of there appearing to be no discernible light source (the reference may have been a flash-front photo?) Ms. Farr was able to create a wonderful depth of fluffiness within the subtle varied tones of warm and cool whites, blues and violets that make these coats so believably thick. The simplicity of the background and the sofa edge support the strength of this traditional portrait pose.

Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed the show, and check out the rest of the Pastel Guild of Europe's site!


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How to Start Pricing Your Artwork

So you want to sell your art, but don't know how much to ask? 

I recently had a question from another artist who wanted my opinion on what price she should put on a particular painting. It took me a few days to get back to her because I didn't have any ready answer to her question. The short answer is, "It depends."

What is it worth to you?

The long answer is complicated, and might not tell you what you want to hear. There are a lot of variables that can go into the pricing factor. If you're new to selling work, and you have no other examples of size/quality/price from any sales you've already made, than the simplest way to go is to ask yourself what is it worth to you? Make sure you are getting a return on your supplies and your time, and then add a bit more for how good you feel this one is compared to other work you've done.

What's the size?

Once you have a few sales under your belt, you can begin to price on size. For example: You sell an 8x10 acrylic on canvas for $200. Then any other similar paintings (genre, level of detail, etc) in 8x10 will be $200. You can then set your other price sizes based on this price per square inch ($2.50.) When demand begins to exceed your production, you can raise your prices a bit. 

What's the Venue?

It can also depend on the selling venue, and what other artist's paintings are selling for in that same venue. For example: If you are in an art festival or gallery where the average painting in your genre/size is selling for $800 to $1200, then your $200 8x10 is at the risk of being viewed as inferior by the collectors shopping there, because most collectors at a certain level believe that artwork is worth what they pay for it, and they'll think you must not value your work if you price it too low, and that there must be something wrong with it. (This mentality took me YEARS to finally "get"!) 

On the other end, if you're in some small town crafts fair where the range of merchandise price points is between $10 to $75, then $200 for an 8x10 panting might be out of the customers' price range. However, that wouldn't necessarily mean you couldn't still have the $200 price tag on an 8x10 original there, but you'd do better selling simple, small paintings, and prints in the lower price ranges.

If you're not selling in any venue that includes other artists, it becomes more subjective. For instance, if you're just selling to a friend, you need to weigh your need for an income with how close is this friend, and how much can they afford? In my experience, friends and family usually want a really good deal* (*i.e.: free.) In essence, you'd need to weigh the value of the friendship against the value of the painting. Some fortunate artists have wealthy friends who appreciate the value of the artwork. ;)

What about Online?

If you're selling online, the venue (some kind of art-selling site? Or just off your own blog? Facebook?) can sometimes have an impact on price, but not so much I don't think, because of the sheer volume of public out there that can have access to your art if they know where to find it. Online art buying does tend to be lower priced than other more traditional outlets (gallery, art festival, brick-and-mortar art show). Usually because of the high level of competition that artists face on the internet, and the low overhead (almost all of the sale price goes to the artist, except for payment fees, like paypal, site fees if listed on a subscription-based site like DailyPaintworks, etc, and any other brokerage type fees, if in a web-show that takes a cut, for example.)

How to price your art on the web, if you haven't sold your work before? 

I would recommend one of two methods:

1) Fast method: What did the materials cost you? How much time did it take? Consider materials plus $20 - $50 / hour depending on how fast you work. Then round to the nearest "easy amount". Example: the 8x10 canvas was $6. You bought the paints for $60, but expect to get a lot more use out of them, so maybe just factor in $3 of paint. You put a $50 frame on it. The painting took you 4 hours. So that's $80 - $125, plus supplies is $139 - $184, which you can round to $150 - $185.

2) Time-consuming method: Research! Look around online at other artists work that is similar to yours in genre, medium, style... When you find artwork that has prices listed, read up on the artist's website to determine their level of experience. Collectors might also be looking at this data to determine whether this artist's work is a good value. Artists with more experience, awards, shows, commendations, gallery representation, etc, will have a higher perceived value. When you have come up a list of artists who's work is similar to yours, and have noted their prices for certain sizes of work, you can make an estimation of value for your own work, comparing to your experience level to theirs.

Perhaps this method will leave you more confused and unsure than ever. I've not done any research like this online, but can imagine, especially having seen sites like, which has pretty huge pricing variations between artists, and an endless variety of artists from beginner through professional. (That site might be a good place to start a research actually. Many of the member artists have their own websites as well.)
Just know that for a beginner, you have to start somewhere, and it's easiest to start low, and increase your prices as your experience, quality, and clientele increase.

A place to start..

I've just touched upon these pricing concepts from my own viewpoint, but hopefully have given you a place to start. There are more aspects to be considered, such as when to increase your prices, how to be flexible and still be consistent, and pricing commission work. You can read more thoughts about these topics and more concise info on pricing at these great sites below:
Read more about pricing artwork per square inch on this good blog post I found on
And this post on explains about three good formulas for pricing your art.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Scan Pastel Paintings for Better Prints

A recent question from an artist friend asked about how I get good image files for making prints:

"I wanted to tell you that I think your art is beautiful and inspiring. I work with pastels also. May I ask you a question: If you do giclees, what is the best way? Is there such a thing as scanning the art, do you take a photo?"
Here's my answer (with a few revisions to make a better blog post!)

Yes! Scan it!
I do scan all my artwork, whether I make prints or not, so that I have an accurate, high-resolution image file for my records. I highly recommend scanning artwork (and pastel is perfectly fine being placed down on the glass.) My current scanner is an Epson V700; it's been the best one I've had so far, and has lasted the longest.
Scanning small works are easy, as they fit well in the scan bed:

I've also learned not to be TOO picky with getting an exact color match on the print (I had a cheap little hp scanner years ago that really captured exact color - except couldn't separate the very darkest values [has to do with D-Max rating]) Every scanner will be a little different and you just get used to learning how to get the best out of it. This Epson came with Silverfast SE software which I really like.

Scan vs. Photo 

Sometimes I will just photograph a painting if I'm away from home and need a quick post. The best way, in my opinion, to photograph artwork (if, like me, you don't have all the expensive photography lights and meters to balance everything perfectly) is to set the painting on a shady porch in daylight and, standing right over it, aim straight down with your camera and zoom in to just around the painting, making sure the edges are squared with your viewfinder. (If the painting is too large to stand over, lean it against the house instead.)
Cameras with better lenses will capture better quality images of your art, but there can be variations in temperature that are hard to manage without professional lighting and know-how. And, in my own experience, the clarity and crispness of the tiny details always seems to fall short through a camera (at least with pastel anyway.) Usually, a good camera photo will be sufficient for an image posted online, what with all the variances in other people's monitors anyway, but I really prefer a scan when I want to make a print.
To show you an example of a painting that I photographed and also scanned, here's "BFF" (16x16 in.) in both images. The slightly warmer image on the left was from the photo. The other is much more accurate tone and clarity (scanned.)
This is even more noticeable at full resolution, which you can see in the cropped images below (click and zoom in for a better comparison.)

Large Pastels on Small Scanner?
And yes, the scanner is just a normal desktop size, but with larger work I scan in sections and splice it together in Photoshop. I actually lay the scanner on the floor, move the painting carefully between scans without dragging, and wipe off the glass every few scans. (A heavy book comes in handy when weighting edges and corners to keep the large painting on the scanner bed.) It is labor intensive but still MUCH cheaper than going somewhere that has one of those huge flatbed scan things. (It's also much easier when working on a stable surface like gatorboard or some other board. A large work on paper would really need to be mounted on a firm surface to keep it flat over the scanner.)
Here is what one of my large paintings look like right after I scan it, and before it's put together. Each of the separate parts is one scanned area. In Photoshop this would be 16 separate layers.
The extra section with the nibbling ear is the first section I scanned. I always start with an area that has the highest contrast so that the scanner can get the greatest range of lights and darks accurately metered. I also overlap each section to give myself leeway when assembling the whole. (And also because when the painting is face down on a scan bed, it's hard to see where its scanning! So I move it in short increments to be doubly sure I'm not missing any parts.)
Then, after it's all put together (that might be info for another post...) ...Voila! A 300dpi full-sized image ready to print.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Breaking out of the Creative Rut

"Lennui" (Boredom) by Gaston de La Touche, 1893
A friend sent me a message last month abut what to do to get out of a creative rut. It was a timely question, as I was just then trying to pull myself out of a 5 month dearth of creation.

She wrote, "My hubby says YOU SHOULD DO SOME PAINTING... I know, I know... I don't know what to do to inspire me... What methods would you use to get yourself out of a rut?"

I replied:
GOOD QUESTION! Especially now when I'm kind of in a painting drought myself. However, mine (or so my excuse goes) is not a creative rut, but a lack of time. Weeks ago there were other variables involved, but now it's become an unfortunate habit to fill in the days with 'necessary life functions', previously-ignored household and business chores, and newly-developing family obligations. Couple that with getting older and moving slower and the days seem like they're each about 2 and a half hours long! Before I know it another month is gone.

But I'm not helping much in that last paragraph! Sorry!

When I'm in a creative rut, the best thing to do is something different. When I was tired of painting cows etc one summer I did a little series of road sketches from photos out the windshield on vacations.

If you're having difficulty actually getting started, then start with a list. Over wine (or coffee, or your favorite refreshment, or bubble bath) have a little relaxation time and let your mind wander. Think about "what ifs..." what would you like to paint/draw if there were no obstacles, scheduling conflicts or painters block. This is easy to imagine because you can let it be a fantasy... When you're not actually in front of your blank canvas there's no pressure! Just imagine.

Now, write down all your ideas and go to bed.

If you're lucky you'll dream about actualizing your art ideas, and the next day you'll be excited about getting into some of them!

If you still can't just jump in, let your list of ideas brew for a few more days while you make a schedule of 'drawing/painting time' and put it on your calendar (put it in all the empty places after all your immovable priority necessary life stuff is written in). Then go back to your list and start planning. Visualize. Set goals.

Then, when it's time to jump in, you'll be a little bit more prepared. It still might be difficult but the starting is the hardest, as you probably know is true of so many things in life. Once you start the rest is easy and you'll wonder what took you so long!

A favorite quote from James Wyeth: "I do more painting when I'm not painting; it's in the subconscious."

Some other anti-rut ideas:
Visit a museum, walk in a park, browse art magazines, see a ballet or symphony, visit a zoo (my favorite!), take a road trip, watch a demo, take a workshop, browse youtube art videos, join a plein air group, enter a theme-specific art show, browse through your 300+ gigabytes of photo files (my other favorite!)

Well, sorry for the book here. But thanks for giving me an excuse to exercise my creative art-writing brain! (And I might actually use this as a blog post... multi-tasking, yea!)

Good luck, hope this helped!

PS: this post might have some helpful info also:
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