Light in the Landscape, Standing Tall painting by Jo-Ann Sanborn

Standing Tall
Learning about Light is one of the most important elements of all painting. Without light there is no color—think about getting up in the middle of the night. Everything is grey tones, and it’s not until the light comes up in the morning that we can see the actual color of objects. Remember that light must always travel in a straight line!

The way light moves over people or objects shows us their shape and form. In landscapes, at least dayscapes, the sun is the light source. Look closely outside, in natural light, to see how the sunlight is affecting your subject. The seasons and weather conditions will have an affect on the color and character of the light.

Determine where the sun is in relation to your subject. Is it overhead? Think Hopper, with harsh glaring light and strong contrasts. Shadows will be reduced in size, but not strength. The lightest and warmest areas will be the flat planes of the landscape. Sometimes on an overhead, overcast day there’s a wonderful radiating light.

If the sun is striking the landscape from the side, strong contrasts will reveal the forms. More texture will be visible and long shadows can add a design element to your composition. Colors deepen and are cooler going away from the light source.

Sometimes the subjects are backlit. The sky will always be the lightest and warmest part of the painting in backlit paintings and the forms will be in shadow. Tones are deepened where the light strikes. The backlighting can be unifying and set a mood for the painting.

When choosing and using the light for your landscape the most important thing to remember is that the sunlight must come from a single, consistent source. Don’t have your shadows going in different directions!


Composition, Traveling Light Acrylic Painting by Jo-Ann Sanborn

Traveling Light
Traveling Light was constructed in exactly the same manner as the painting of the Everglades that I showed you in steps several posts back, however this painting is organized and simplified a little differently. Here the space is more open, and the composition leads you into the background. The viewer most probably enters the picture in the middle ground where the palm trees are located, is drawn into the painting by the color and palms, then into the background by the stronger background colors, and only then comes around to enjoy the foreground. In this way I've allowed the foreground to become a partner is keeping the viewer in the painting rather than a wall keeping the viewer out. The viewer is then drawn again into the middle space and so views again. The painting has a feeling of mystery and lightness and the palms feel like travelers rather than solidly planted in one place like so many palm groups.


Acrylic Mediums and Additives, Everglades Painting by Jo-Ann Sanborn

Big Cypress Morning

My painting today is one that I'm very fond of. We became very close as I worked it over again and again trying to get the look and feel that I wanted of a lovely day in the glades, but more of from a frog's perspective. It hung around the studio for quite a while I became more and more frustrated. One day I decided that drastic change was necessary and got out the big brush. Soon I was "in the zone" and when I stepped back a couple of hours later the painting had evolved to my satisfaction! Sometimes in art, just as in life, you have to let go and let it happen!

Now, for some substance! Acrylic Mediums come in a choice of matte or gloss, and are the consistency of thick cream. They are most usually made of acrylic binder and act as a colorless paint. Using medium can help the paint stay opened longer, economically extend the paint, and increase adherence. Acrylic medium is also perfect for glazing transparent or opaque paint.

Since the medium help binds the acrylic, it’s important to use some medium when thinning the paint. Always use a dab of medium to help the paint bind and adhere if you are thinning the paint with a lot of water. Using acrylic paint and water alone, especially as you get to a 50-50 mixture can affect adherence and a touch of medium solves the problem.

There are a number of gel pastes available for use with acrylics, each with it’s own special use. It’s fun to try these out now and then and when I hold a class I bring a number for students to try. These can act as a binder for another additive, like sand, can thicken the paint to improve the retention of brush marks, and double the volume of paint with little loss of color.

Most additives do not contain binders, and so should not be overused. Another type of additive is the flow aids. These decrease the surface tension, flowing and blending, and open time of the paint, as do the retartders.

If you’re an acrylic painter, learn more about the additives available for use. There’s a wide range of possibilities! Liquitex Paints provide a handbook with detailed information about they’re mediums and additives. This Guide can be read online or downloaded. Golden Paints has some great educational material on their site, too, and their newsletter is full of good information. They've also just come out with a new line of acrylics called "Golden Open", an acrylic with a longer open time.


Joy of Acrylic Paint, Kindred Spirits, Florida Everglades Studio Painting

Kindred Spirits

One of the most important things to realize when working with a new medium is that it will have it's own characteristics and will not behave like any other. This is especially true of acrylic paint, since so many people come to acrylics either from watercolor or oils. While acrylic has some similar characteristics of each, it is first and most fully itself. The joy of this medium is that it can be manipulated without the constraints of either oils or watercolor. It dries very quickly, allowing you to build a painting almost like a sculpture. You can go into it again and again and carve out the painting, and add more material at any time. Soft or hard edges are easy to achieve by choosing the right brush. Bristle for soft edges and synthetic for crisper passages. There are both opaque and transparent colors, and it's OK to use them together. Acrylics are environmentally more friendly in the studio, particularly for people who are sensitive to the oil mediums. Also, if you take most of the paint off the brush with a paper towel or rag and let it dry, the paint will not every become water soluble again and leach into the environment. Solids can be strained before the water is discarded.

Acrylics are particularly effective in achieving a luminous surface like the painting above. To create the soft sky, I scumbled over the canvas again and again with an almost dry brush, leaving thin layers of color for the sky and water. As the painting progressed, the lower layers still show through in many places leaving both a glow and a vibration, and giving nice variation from the more solid qualities of the land and trees.


Outdoor Art Shows, Studio Painting Meditation by Jo-Ann Sanborn

There's a lot more to do than painting when you are in business as an artist. Here in Florida September is quiet time, and a good time to catch up on work that's been delayed.

I'll be spending time this week getting ready for the season's upcoming art shows. There's entry forms to fill out, slides or digital images to prepare, jury and booth fee checks to write, stamped, self addressed envelopes to include, and then checking it twice so that I'm not eliminated for a technical error. Acceptance into the good, quality outdoor shows is not automatic and the fees are getting higher. Some shows will change up to one third of their artists each year to ensure a fresh, new and interesting show. Others get four or five entries for every space and have to make choices, and others have just so many spaces for painters, jewelers, etc. I feel fortunate when chosen, but that's why my schedule says "tentative" for so many entries. I'd like to be there--and just have to get a letter of acceptance to make it so.

This year we'll do a lot less shows that in the past. The art market has slowed, and although people still attend the shows, many have been affected by the slowing economy and are reluctant to part with money they may need for living expenses. Outdoor shows are a lot of work, we're aging, and getting up every weekend for months to be out of the house before first light, as lost some appeal. Still, outdoor art shows have brought great rewards and often beneficial surprises and acknowledgements. So, we'll limit our participation to just two a month this year. Here's my 2008-9 tentative schedule.

It's time to start writing a yearly letter to my friends and art collectors telling them about my art year. The fall letter has become a tradition, and includes a list of upcoming shows for them to keep as a reference. To do that there's printing of the two pages, folding, labeling and stamping. I'm always happy to have help with this job!

I've also let slide a lot of archival information. Business books are done on Quicken, an Excell spreadsheet contains collector purchase and mailing list information, each painting has a information page, and a photo program houses photos of the paintings. I'm trying to combine much of this information in a single new program, Flick. Pulling the information from the other programs is time consuming agony. I'd hire someone, but there's too much insider information to let someone else try! Ugly!

Today's painting is one of the group completed this summer for the show as August Artist in Residence for the Marco Island Center for the Arts. The show closed the end of August, and the painting is now back in my studio. A painting should have a predominance of warm or cool color temperature. This painting is predominately warm and the colors have been grayed and softened. A wetland waterway leads you into the painting and there's a sun softened by veiling clouds in the sky. A touch of complimentary green was added to the distant bushes for contrast.

Call first, but come by and take a look!


Color Vocabulary

One of the problems of discussing color is that everyone doesn't have the same color vocabulary. Here's a simple color vocabulary was developed for my students to ensure that everyone will have the same understanding when we talk about color. Once you understand these few words it will be easier to discuss color issues and strategies with fellow artists.

Color Vocabulary

Colors adjacent or very close on the color wheel
They share a common color - blue-green blue, blue violet
Brightness or dullness of a color
Brighter color, higher number on color scales - Cad Red, 13 Burnt Sienna, 4
Each color does not reach it's highest intensity at same value level, yellow-8, Blue-3
Complimentary Colors
Opposites on the color wheel (red-green, blue-orange, violet,-yellow)
Simply the colors name
Appears to "shimmer"
Requires gray to contrast
Local color
Color name, or hue of an object
A pervasive glow
Highest value or brightness in a composition
Light source must seem to "invade" entire painting
Use purest colors with strongest chroma
appearance of "brighter than bright"
keep area small and pure in hue, rely on black to contrast
One color mixed with black and white
Or many values, one color
Two complements mixed in such a way that each looses it's identity Result is neither warm or cool, nor shows a predominate color
Color with black added
Color with white added
Value of a color
Where on a gray scale will the color fall
Three colors equidistant on the color wheel
Degree of lightness or darkness in a color
Compared to black and white


Florida Everglades Painting set aside

Today I cut the sky into the trees and defined the forms more fully. I'll most likely do this at least one more time before the finish. The main palm is beginning to show some character. The two almost equal grass forms where the water goes left need to be softened and maybe joined, and the light can be strengthened. After these changes I'll put the painting up on my studio wall for a few days to see if it needs a final pass. During this "waiting time" I really get to know a painting and gradually see issues that need to be resolved to finish it or come to hate it and will almost start over when working on it again. It's a big difference from my daily paintings, seen here, which are done in one day.


Florida Everglades Painting, Finishing a Painting

I’m still working on the color strategy and building the forms and will do this until they come into balance and make sense on the canvas. I won’t worry about getting an exact representation of the scene any more because I have a sense of the place. I'm not doing a portrait but will want you to know the character of the main palm before I'm through. As I work I identify with the subject(s) more and more closely, and by the time I’m done most of the forms will be as familiar to me as my family. At his point I have added lights and darks three times and there's beginning to be a sense of volume to the forms, and of light coming in. I've also added some clouds and color to the sky. I still have a way to go before I'm satisfied.

Knowing when a painting is finished is the most difficult part of the process. It's only finished when the creating artist decides it's finished! Some artists will consider a painting finished when there is still some of the canvas showing—leaving bits of white or undercoat to contribute to the whole. Some artists start in one corner and work directionally and will never again touch the laid-down bits. When the canvas is covered, they’re done. Some artists work over the canvas surface again and again struggling to bring their artistic vision into form until the canvas contains even a piece of the artist’s heart. But in the end each artist must find a combination of methods and visions that work for them, laying down the brush only when confronted with a satisfying whole.