Thursday, 30 January 2014


Well, I am back in the saddle, if a bit distracted!  So today I will just offer a few simple suggestions, learned along the way, which some may find useful. 


I recently completed a painting which showed three fellows dressed in black.  To give the impression of light falling on black fabric, I used a fairly dark purple for the "lit" areas.  Anything lighter would have taken away the integrity of the tone value of the black fabric. 

The same thing applies in reverse....let's say you had a person in a white shirt in your picture.  There are shadows where the person faces away from the sun.  You need to use a tone to depict the shadow on white...go too dark, and somehow you "lose" the whiteness of the shirt.  You may only need to use a couple of tones "down" from white, to suggest shadow.


Take a look at the light patches on the men's clothing in both pics, and compare to the shadows on the whites.

A photo may show these tonal changes to be far more dramatic.  DO NOT TRUST THE PHOTO!!!  As I say so very often, a camera cannot properly expose for both the lit areas, AND the dark areas of a scene.  It will give priority to one or the other.  Your eye is much more clever.


You may have been told to squint.  Perhaps you wondered why.  It is not an should be part of your arsenal of tools.  Squinting simplifies things, and gives a general feeling of the values and shapes you see before you.   A good way to use squinting, is to use it to compare areas.  Squint like crazy and see what still pops out at you.  This is really important information.  You may think that the lightest part of your scene is one might be something else entirely and will come as a surprise when you squint.   Also, squinting takes away certain unimportant complications - like how many bricks in the wall, how many leaves on the bush.  These elements may be unimportant in the grand design.  Try to make squinting second nature to you.


Trying to achieve a particular style is pointless.  It will happen anyway.  There is no right or wrong way to go about achieving a particular look to your work.  It is all about growth as an artist, and will happen automatically.  Relax about it.


You use them all the time.  Does this surprise you?  You might think of yourself as a totally figurative painter.  You may actively DISLIKE abstraction, and abstract paintings.  You may feel that abstraction is boring because it represents nothing in particular.  Well, actually, you are working with abstract shapes all the time.  The shadow on the side of the tree is an abstract shape - draw it without drawing the rest of the tree and what do you have?  An abstract shape.  Thing is, you need to observe that shape PROPERLY to get it right, and for it to "knit" with the rest of the shapes within the image, to create a recognisable form.  If you draw your shapes with accuracy, and sensitivity, you will find your work strengthened as a result.

In fact, a figurative and an abstract artist may have more in common than might be obvious.   As the figurative painter stares at his subject, he may, as his experience develops,  begin to notice subtle connections and rhythms , echoing shapes and forms, things which are invisible at first glance, but which reveal themselves to the sensitive eye of the painter.  It is these abstract shapes, balances and rhythms which will bring the painting to life.  For example, the way the shape of a group of trees echoes the shapes of the clouds;  the way the angle of a leg leads us into the picture, and the opposing angle of an arm prevents us from moving too quickly out of the picture;  the way our eye is drawn to a colour or tone contrast in an important focal area- subtle stuff, but there to be found and used.     The subject matter could be thought of as the "top layer", but at the same time, the abstract or formal pictorial elements can provide a fascinating further layer of interest.  The feed-back between subject matter, and these underlying pictorial elements, will give the image its unique inventiveness. 


I am often asked, by non-artists, if I could "always draw", as if any ability I have is therefore a "gift".  When I explain to them that actually, no, I couldn't always draw, that I have had to work hard to refine any skills I may now appear to have, they look quite sceptical.  "But surely it isn't possible to teach someone how to draw....I could never be taught, I cannot even draw a straight line" is the next comment............and so I patiently explain that if I told them a story in a foreign language, they would not understand the story.........but if they had learned the language, they would be able to understand the story..........and some comprehension, if not full belief, dawns.  Reluctantly. "Well perhaps you are right.  But....      (always comes the "but").   Then they say " It must be a wonderfully relaxing thing to do" .  No, I say, it is about as relaxing as bathing a cat. And  I leave them to chew on that for a while........
I wonder how you deal with these questions.  They seem unavoidable to me.

I will leave you to mull over these few little thoughts, and hope to come up with something a bit more meaty for the next post!!!



  1. Hello Jackie...I have been following your work and blog for sometime now and i find your words so helpful and insightful. i'm very much a beginner with pastels....i'm a full time potter and have worked away at painting for some time, but for the past year i have been pursuing pastel painting. i love the medium - i love the gestural quality of your work...there is such a richness of colour and texture to really is awesome!

    i laughed out loud at your comment about painting being such a relaxing thing to were right on the money with your's more of an addiction for me right now...i only get to focus on painting at this time of is hard work and so totally satisfying, even when i'm not fully happy with the outcome of a particular piece.

    thank you for your words about 'finding your own style' .... i feel like i'm trying to be 'like' some of the artists i admire....and i realise that this is a phase i will traverse and eventually my own marks will begin to look familiar, so i will take your advice and just relax!

    i truly appreciate the time and energy you put into this blog, and want you to know that this lone painter, out in the woods of Cape Breton Island is very very grateful :)

    Cheers, Linda

  2. Jackie, I always look forward to what you have to say. I hope family is doing well and you also! I loved the comment about it being about as relaxing as bathing a cat! I have a cat, and the image it brought to my mind was laughable. You give good advice... I hope we all follow it.

  3. I have tried to bathe a cat and it wasn't relaxing - bubble or no bubbles! I appreciate your comments about learning to draw and paint. I hear that from others all the time. They are amazed when I tell them I have only been drawing for a few years! The comment I appreciate the most though is the one about developing my own style. Thanks, I follow your words with interest!

    1. These" thoughts" for me came at the right time----I haven't been thinking about art or doing anything--I love most learning about all there is----I love Plein-air and now we have a foot of snow to wallow around in! Beautiful! And a class is coming up I chose to take in order to get re-"motivated" I really hope it works! I love " Book fair couple" as I have said before. Its really a great work. I have been quilting, which was fun, but now time to get back to pastels I feel. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Nice tips. I always think of the shadows on the whites as needing to be darker to match the darker items. After reading this I am thinking "just what WAS I thinking, of course they'd be lighter" and it makes sense about the camera. My son taught me to tap on a dark spot with my finger on the IPhones screen to lighten the whole picture so a too bright window doesn't keep me from seeing faces so what you said makes sense to me now.

    By the way, the ballerina picture my daughter bought from you is finally framed now that my granddaughter is going to get her own room. I am trying a link to where the pic is posted on Facebook. If it doesn't work I'll grab the photo so you can see. My daughter posted with your name so people would know who painted it. Here's the link:
    I hope you can see it!


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