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Tripping the Light Fantastic…

Dear blog readers:

A few weeks ago I asked for topics you would like to see in my upcoming book. And here is one I thought would be helpful to answer here, before I roll it into my book.

I am trying hard to figure out what makes an entire plein air painting look like it is bathed in the same light. Morning [and] sunset-paintings that so nicely convey that sense of light and time of day, I marvel at. It must be the typical bugaboos of value and chroma involved, and I’m finding I get the darkness of a passage confused with the chroma, like it should be dark and dull-colored, instead of dark and high-chroma. 

Thanks for your helpful blog, 

Judy P.

Judy, you are welcome. And thank you for framing such a great question. Unified light is something I will discuss in my book, but here a brief answer which may help right now.

A single light source (natural or not) will illuminate what we see with a unified color temperature. Measurably, in the case of the sun on a clear morning, the light is normally pinker than it is later in the day. Fashion photographers who shoot outdoors tend to favor morning light because the temperature is so kind to the skin of a model. On a clear day, the light at noon reads at about 5500K, which is a bluer light. As the sun sets into the west – assuming nothing else is affecting the temperature of the light – the landscape will shift towards the red, and then the orange – that golden glow we love so much. 

That part is pretty straight-forward.

But there is something else involved beside the external measurable temperature of the light. There is a color effect that occurs within our eyes and brain. For a perceptual painter, there are two kinds of color: color which can be measured with an instrument, and color as how we experience it.

If a subject is illuminated by a warm light source the colors found in the shadows will appear cooler in comparison. This internal effect is related to the Law of Contrast of Color, as first explained by the 19th century French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul. (To whom we owe the theories and art of the French Impressionists.) Outdoors, a cool dark can be accentuated by cool light bouncing in from the sky, but the shadows are not dependent upon it – the Law of Contrast of Color means the color receptors in your eyes are trying to balance out what is being perceived as warm with cool.
Interestingly, the reverse hold true: If instead, the temperature of the primary light source is cool then the colors in the shadows will appear more warm. The inverse of what you just read. You can experience this effect yourself by going outside on an overcast day. If it is winter, don’t peek out a window. Go outside and let your eyes adjust. Otherwise you won’t see it.
When we, as painters, disrupt this natural warm/cool division with a bad color mix we fail to convey the totality of the light. It is easy to disrupt this division because shadows are inherently more neutral than lights, and thus more easily mishandled.
Of course, even when we succeed at organizing the temperatures in our paintings into warm and cool groups, expressing the light that bounces into the shadows remains essential to the total effect.  Reflected light can make determining the primary warm and cool relationship more difficult, but when we paint from life we can see such things as exceptions to the larger rule. One of the best arguments I know against painting from a photograph is how it tends to homogenize subtle temperature shifts. 

This is why I prefer to paint from life. I’ve found that if I do then all I have to do is mix what I see and the light works out.


A notice of upcoming workshops:

I am offering two 3-day indoor winter workshops on January 25 – 27 and March 1-3.  (F/S/Sun)

The first one will be held in Roseburg, Oregon, the second in Portland, Oregon. (Both are accepting registrations now.)  

These classes will focus on Essential Alla Prima Painting Techniques and the Direct Method of Oil Painting. 

I have been asked to teach this spring in Carmel, California, at the Carmel Art Institute. Before or after the 2nd Annual Plein Air Conference & Expo. Details will be announced as dates are set.

Please email me if you are interested in signing up for a class.

Posted in Guest postings, painting advice, tips and tricks, workshop | Leave a comment

Announcing a Winter Portland-area Alla Prima Painting Workshop


Announcing a Three-Day Oil Painting Workshop:
Essential Alla Prima Techniques: Portland
Using the Direct Method of Oil Painting

“Peonies and Ginger Jar”  |  2012 American Impressionist Society National Juried Exhibition

Instructor: Thomas Jefferson Kitts

When: March 1st – 3rd, 2013  (F/S/Sun)
Where: Sowa Studios, Portland Oregon
Class Size: Maximum 12 participants

Cost: $400.00

For more information or
to register for the class click here…
This indoor workshop is for anyone interested in learning about the time-honored technique of alla prima painting. (Alla prima means to start and finish a painting in one session.) Some experience with oil will be helpful but is not required. If you have a question about your skill level or whether or not this class is appropriate, contact the instructor to discuss.
Your three days of instruction will focus on how to handle wet-into-wet paint, how to mix the color you need, and how to create a dynamic composition by dividing your painting’s values into two masses of light and dark. You will also learn how to become more expressive by editing out extraneous detail and using more paint. What you will learn from Thomas’ workshop can be applied to any subject matter or genre – be it figurative, still life, studio or outdoor landscape painting. Your instruction will be tailored to fit your present ability but with the intent of taking you further.
Thomas will offer two demonstrations and help you complete four paintings during the class.

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to paint alla prima in oil sign up now!

This Portland-area workshop will be capped at 12 participants.

Here are some reviews from folks who’ve taken a workshop from Thomas:

I can’t say enough positive things about this workshop. Thomas you are a fountain of knowledge and you pour yourself out to be picked up at a fast pace. I’m still processing the information offered. Thank you for always finding something nice to say about our work, and thank you for correcting with kindness. I learned sooo much. I hope to sign up for another workshop soon. 


Thank you, Thomas, for a workshop with no fluff. I appreciated the challenge of looking closely at chroma, hue and value (especially value.) The still life setups were sumptuous, and the model was probably the best I’ve worked with. The class was a harmonious bunch, just the right size. Your explanations and demonstration were well prepared to help us understand complex theory in a short time. Thanks for an inspiring three days.


Just a note to tell you thanks for a fabulously informative Alla Prima workshop.  You are a  fountain of knowledge and it’s apparent how much you really love to teach. (As if I didn’t already know that.) I came away with a confidence that I can mix oils to accomplish much on the canvas, now all I need is 48 hours in a day to paint!   Oh, and you should call your workshop Alla Primavera because you get a LOT more than you pay for.  So, go ahead and raise your prices, you deserve it!


Anyone considering it should take his class. Thomas is an awesome teacher. I still can’t believe how much I learned from him in a week.
As a beginner, I probably had a lot more to learn than most fellow artists in the class. I did not, however, feel out of place or inferior to the rest of the group. Art is learning no matter how good or how much knowledge you already have. Thomas, you are a great teacher with a great deal of knowledge, enthusiasm, and energy. We worked hard, got home tired, but enjoyed every minute of it. 


Thanks again for the workshop!  I loved your enthusiasm and positive attitude, and am in awe of your expertise. I had dozens of ‘aha!’ moments during our time together and learned more about color from you than I have from any other source.


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Train wrecks, Car crashes, and Paintings in need of Triage…

Detail from “The Gross Clinic” by the 19th century American painter Thomas Eakins. 
The entire painting may be viewed below the fold, but I warn you, it ain’t for the faint of heart…

Yesterday I announced I’ve been working a book about painting and asked you what you would like to read about. I was surprised by your immediate response, and again by a few of your suggestions. I was anticipating questions such as “What brush should I use? How do I handle wet paint? How do I avoid mixing mud?” And even, “How can I paint a masterpiece?” But the question raised most often was, “How can I save a painting when it’s gone horribly wrong?”

Right. How do you revive a painting when it appears to have died on the easel? That does sound like an interesting topic because I can think of many reasons for why it would happen. I’ll see if I can work it into the book somewhere. Maybe doing so will offer a fresh perspective.

Of course it would be tempting to say “The best way to keep your paintings from going horribly wrong is to read my upcoming book.” But that would be too self-serving and not very honest. I find myself crashing and burning all the time too. So maybe I’ll add a chapter on how to salvage a painting, and when to accept your masterpiece is dead on arrival. I’ll even use a couple of my own paintings as examples. I’ll take a few of the bombs buried in the racks and we’ll see if they can be resurrected. I’ll be sure to shoot a few before and after shots, like a TV beauty make-over.

However, I should admit right from the start my usual way to deal with a failed painting is to abandon it and move on. It is possible to look at your failures and learn from them but converting a failure into a success is unlikely. The back of my painting racks are filled with train wrecks. You just don’t get to see them. I’ve learned from first-hand experience if you keep poking at  one it is more likely to become a pit of quicksand than not. You might think you are digging yourself out but in truth you are still sinking. Better to start a new train wreck, er… another masterpiece.


Anyone else out there like to offer more suggestions? They’ve all been good. I now have a folder set up to receive all the emails coming in so fire some more at me by clicking here.



And here is the painting “The Gross Clinic” in its entirety.  Click on it if you want to see it enlarged. It’s one of Thomas Eakins’ masterpieces.  But think twice before zooming into the patient because it is kind of gross. Eakins painted it from life.

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Yippy-Ti-Yi-Yay, I’m Ridin’ Back in Town…

“Roudy’s Riders, 4th of July, Telluride”
Private Commission

Okay, I admit it. I’ve been AWOL from the blog for a while. I was burned out after coming home from Spain, Morocco, and the Laguna Beach Invitational and I needed some time to recharge.  I haven’t been sitting around in my PJs, flipping through daytime TV or anything, I just had some long delayed personal business to take care of and wanted a break.

Oh yes, I started writing a book.

I am writing a book on oil painting. It’s not like there aren’t already enough how-to paint books out there but this one will be mine, based on almost twenty years of teaching drawing and painting. It began as a quick and dirty bang-it-out procedural – something I thought I could knock out in a couple of weekends – but I felt guilty about taking that route and now it has ballooned into something more encompassing. I can’t call it a how-to plein air painting book anymore. It crosses too many genres. So I have chosen the theme of controlling your color and the direct method of oil painting, although I don’t seem able to stay on those topics either. I keep wandering off into practical color theory for artists, general art history, advanced materials and techniques, tips for painterly drawing, and managing a collector-base. But man I am having fun!

I dunno. Clearly I’m a bit ADHD.

Anyway, I’m almost finished with the first draft and will soon send it out to a few artists and conservators I respect for comment and mark-up. I also plan to post an excerpt or two on this blog in December. So I had better get busy knocking out the graphics, illustrations, and demos to support the text over the next few months. Hopefully thing will see the light of day in Spring. We’ll see.

If any of you readers have a topic to include, or a question you want answered by this book, shoot me an email. I’m not running short on the word count but there is always room for more if I believe it will help the reader.

Email me your thoughts here.

And finally, I will post two indoor alla prima workshops next week. The first one will be taught in Southern Oregon in this January. The second one will be taught in Portland, Oregon, in early March. I’ve also been asked to teach a couple more down in Southern California but they haven’t been put the calendar yet. So check back here next week. All classes will be limited to 12 participants to guarantee quality one-on-one time with the instructor.

It’s good to be back in the saddle again…


Posted in Guest postings, miscellaneous, painting advice, travels, workshop | 2 Comments

"If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Belgium…"

Well maybe not Belgium perhaps, but over the past five weeks I’ve felt like a ping pong ball bouncing around the western world. In the past 5 weeks I have gone from Portland to Amsterdam to Spain to explore street painting, world-class museums, tempranillos and tapas in the La Latina neighborhood of Madrid. I then drove down to Toledo to walk through what I and my friends christened as ‘Venice on a Hill’; then continued on south to the gypsy quarters of the Albiazin and the Alhambra and Generalife (all located in the ancient hills of Granada) then dropped the rental car off in Algeciras before ferrying off the docks past the Rock of Gibraltar on our way to Spanish outpost of Ceuta. Then crossed La Frontera on foot into Northern Africa (“Sir! Your papers please? Business or pleasure? Very good, Mr. Jefferson!); then haggled with freelance drivers for a two hour taxi ride into the Tif Mountains to the Islamic blue town of Chefchaouen, Morocco (Where apparently hashish is legal.); then four days later haggled for a taxi ride back to Ceuta, only to miss our ferry back to Spain (Nothing to do with hashish, I promise!). I then took a train to the White Hill town of Ronda in the sun-drenched region of Andalucia; and a second train a few days later back to the Plaza Mayor for more tempranillo and tapas in Madrid. Then finally, back to my home in Portland via Amsterdam. 

After doing a little laundry I jumped into another plane and flew down to the 14th Annual Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational to paint like a crazy man. Which apparently I am. Wow. Now I am home again in Portland resting up. 

What a world. What a world. 

So I’ve been living the dream – traveling and painting non-stop – but it will feel nice to be home for the next couple of months. Even if it is cold and grey around here. (I’ll paint indoors.) All the ins and outs over the past 6 months have blurred together because there wasn’t enough breaks in between. After a while you start to struggle with the ‘If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Belgium’ syndrome, which I believe makes creating meaningful art more difficult. (Remember that old bedroom farce from 1968?)

This was the third time I’ve participated in the Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational and because of that I felt more at home there than anywhere else I’d been during the past six weeks. But before landing at John Wayne Airport I was still working at divesting myself of a few protozoic hitch hikers I picked up in Morocco the week before. (Okay, let’s not blame the goats I saw grazing on the hillside above the town’s water source, or the two ladies I came across who were preoccupied with refilling the mineral water bottles I’d been ordering in the local restaurants, okay?) But no big deal. I was still up for burning the candle at both ends in Laguna regardless because that’s what I do. I mean, no worries, right? I  was armed with antibiotics…

Unfortunately fate had other plans because I got slammed again with a new bug on my flight down. I must have added a flu to the Moroccan miasma because after I deplaned and drove up to Pasadena to see the Edgar Payne show it became obvious I was going to go down big time.

You haven’t lived until you’ve signed on for one of these events and get taken down by a bunch of microbes. Paul Kratter and Randal Sexton can speak to this as well since they got slammed by a flu too.

(Pictured left: me, during Thursday’s Crystal Cove Paintout, standing on a picnic table to gain a view over Larry Moore and Jason Situ. We were all clumped together, painting the Beachcomber, waiting for the sun to break. My height worked so well I did a 180 degree turn and knocked out another painting looking down the beach.)

But hey, if you go pro you get out there and do the job anyway. You clock in and push some paint round. And that’s just what Randall, Paul and I did. But for me, no after-hours partying, no midday socializing, no group dinners. Just get up to paint and then off to bed. Not my usual approach. (grin)

My hosts were awesome. The best I’ve ever had. Greg and Lynn nursed me, propped me up, and still let me walk out the door when I probably shouldn’t have. During the first half of the week, while I was still contagious, I made myself scarce so not to pass anything on. Heck, I even started taking midday, mid-painting naps, which helped a lot. 

(Pictured left: My host’s ‘third child’ sneaking a lick of Greg’s coconut birthday cake. Rosemary, it was delicious. I agree with the dog and want the recipe…)

Everyone at Laguna upped their game this year. The competition and quality was hot. There were some new faces, and some seasoned returnees from the earlier years, and it was clear to everyone on Sunday you had to work harder and paint better than ever before. As a result the paintings went up in quality and size.

And speaking of size, I was hoping to shock and awe my collectors this year by knocking out three grand beautiful paintings for Saturday’s Soirée. Apparently a few other artists had the same idea because my 20 x 24s were not the largest pictures in the galleries. John Burton walked in and nailed a 30 x 30 and 40 x 30 on the wall. (Geeez, John, maybe you could let me know the next time you plan on doing that? Ha!) And congrats to John on being honored with three — yes, three — major ribbons. Well done and well deserved. I should also mention Billyo walked in and hung a big painting himself, a painting that had so much paint on it I wasn’t sure the wall would hold. (kidding…) Billyo’s won Best of Show with that painting. It was thick and juicy.

(Pictured left: Me doing a little clean up in my host’s driveway because I felt too icky to play outside.)

So clearly, now in Laguna you go big or you go home. Next year I’ll bring the ‘manEasel’ down. (Just talkin’ a little trash, trying to get into Ken Dewaard’s head a bit.) What’s next? We gonna invite Tim Bell to the party in 2013? If we do we better be ready for something monumental.

(Pictured right: me, Morgan Samuel Price, and Ken Dewaard during the gala Soirée, contemplating whether or not to join the Mormon Church because they have so many gosh darn good plein air painters. While drinking martinis. So we probably wouldn’t qualify…)

Here is a clip from the Sunday QuickDraw Silent Auction, when every painting sold inside the hour. It was a Collector’s Flashmob. Just like old times…

And here are two new collectors who purchased my Sunday QuickDraw. 
(The painting can be found below)

Howard and Lynn were great. They kept checking my blog every day to find out where I would paint and showing up to say hi. Thanks for the photos, Howard!

Well, in spite of becoming an international petri dish during the week I had a fantastic time painting in the Californian sun. The Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational is always fun and this year everything felt like an awesome uptick. Plus, I had the terrific sales this go-round. I had been prepared to ship a lot of (big) work home last Monday but hey, it turned out I didn’t have to. Nice. A huge thank you to all my collectors who came by this year. Thank you for your support!

And also, another big shout out to all the LPAPA and Laguna Art Museum staff, and all the volunteers who made LBPAI happen. None of us painters could have done our jobs without you! You never receive enough recognition.

Here are the paintings from the week:

“Monument Point QuickDraw”
Laguna Beach
oil on panel | 9 x 12 inches

“The Golden Hour, Crescent Cove”
(near Laguna Beach)
Oil on panel | 20 x 24 inches
“Through the Keyhole”
oil on panel | 20 x 24 inches
“Shimmer & Glow, Moss Point”
(w/Catalina on the horizon)
oil on panel | 20 x 24 inches
“The Beachcomber, at Crystal Cove”
oil on panel | 9 x 12 inches
“A Walk on the Beach”
Crystal Cove
oil on panel | 9 x 12 inches
“A New Day, a New Dawn”
Easton, Maryland
Raymar Art Contest Finalist
oil on panel | 12 x 16
And finally…
I also sold a 2011 study of the Great Stone Church of San Juan Capistrano during the Sunday pubic sale. It was a 20 x 16 inch painting, oil on panel.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of it, either from last year, or this one. (Stupid me!) So here is a little clip of me painting the larger one in the field. This bigger one is still available if anyone is interested in collecting it. Just hit me with an email…

All in all it was a fantastic event. Despite going down sick I had a wonderful time and sold a lot of work. I hope to be back next year!

For a list of the award winners and an extended slide show from the Laguna Art Museum, click here.


Posted in exhibitions, miscellaneous, travels | 4 Comments

Laguna Beach 14, Day 4?…

Didn’t paint at all this morning. felt too bad. But got up and painted the finishing touches to last night’s painting. Laurie, whom I met here last year, came out and shot a few photos of me.

Thank you Laurie. much appreciated. Your pictures are quite lovely and lend a sense of scale to Moss point.

Beautiful view, eh?

Good night…


– Posted from my iPad

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