Monday, December 29, 2008


Armand Cabrera

Physically, painting in the studio differs from outdoor painting in only one respect---there is no time constraint on your efforts. The actual process of studio painting is generally the same as outdoor painting, though often more refined.

12x16 sketch

Limiting oneself to either studio or outdoor painting often causes your art, in general, to suffer. Outdoor painting carries freshness, a spontaneity, a truthfulness that can rarely be duplicated in the studio. Conversely, away from the sun, wind, insects, harsh elements and ever changing light, studio painting allows you to take your time and think deliberately through each stage of the process. Given no time constraints, studio painting enables you to complete large canvases. Organizational skills acquired in studio painting translates to painting outdoors, giving the artist more authority and confidence in the field.

Studio painting requires good working habits, free from distractions. I never start a painting in the studio unless I know I can accomplish enough work to lock in the concept. I find the concept is the most critical stage of the painting. Getting to this point carries me through the rest of the process. The majority of my studio and outdoor paintings are finished in one sitting. The time-spent painting in studio may be double or triple the time it takes to paint a piece outdoors.

30x40 Studio
My outdoor works are emotional responses to what I am experiencing.
My studio paintings are a thoughtful refinement of those feelings into a powerful, emotional statement.
One endeavor compliments the other.
Both disciplines are stronger because of this knowledge.

The following is a list of some concepts and techniques to consider when painting in the studio. These ideas provide a thoughtful and deliberate approach to the painting process. Painting in studio does not require more detail or finishing every inch of the canvas equally. Do not think of these ideas as a departure from the technique used painting outdoors. All of these concepts are interrelated and the overall emphasis you place on their individual use determines what we call style.

8x10 sketch


These sketches can be outdoor paintings or can be completed in the studio from a combination of outdoor sketches and/or photographs. A black and white value sketch can be separate from a color study if it helps you to better understand the elements of your design. Sketches or studies are helpful for working out the uncertainties of a design.

30x40 Studio


Although we try to be precise with our drawing when outdoors, concessions are often made in the spirit of expediency. A more accurate approach to drawing is possible in the studio when time is not so critical. This doesn’t mean tighter or more detailed drawing. Accurate drawing is attention to correct proportion and perspective. Good overall rhythm and balance are other considerations.

8x10 sketch


Exaggeration and a stylized method of reproducing the essentials in a scene can be a useful tool in painting. These elements can provide a more powerful statement. To focus the center of interest, we sometimes use elongated or truncated forms or perhaps vary the size of an element in relation to the other parts of a painting. Nature rarely provides a scene that translates perfectly into a good painting---no matter how beautiful. When using exaggeration, one must be careful not to over embellish and end up with affectation and style over substance. Exaggeration is not a way of hiding inability or weakness in drawing.

30x40 Studio


A deliberate and varied application of paint in thick and thin passages is aesthetically pleasing. Usually the darks are thinner, having been rubbed or laid in first. Thicker use of paint is generally limited to the lighter areas of the painting and the focal point of the design.


Brush Calligraphy is a more conspicuous method of brush use involving small and large brush shapes and the direction of paint application. This method is most notable in the Bravura Painters such as Frans Hals, John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Joaquin Sorolla and Dean Cornwell.


Keying your painting is a more thoughtful approach to color and value relationships in regards to the subject. Keying value can be thought of as confining the light and dark areas of the composition to a limited value range for a more unifying effect. Keying color is changing the color hues and color temperature of the scene for a more harmonious look than provided by nature. It can create a powerful mood that may not be representative of reality, but still reads as believable.


Abstractions are the elements of the painting viewed as nonrepresentational shapes in relation to the pictorial plane. It is the organization, design and editing of these elements in the composition. It can include simplification of the scene or elements in the scene to emphasize the subject and the addition of elements not in the scene to lead the eye through the picture plane.


Texture is a consideration of the textural properties of the subject being painted. Many artists ignore textural qualities to their detriment. These qualities accentuate the uniqueness of the objects and should not be overlooked when considering the overall design. The roughness of bark or stone and the smooth properties of still water are elements to be used in the overall orchestration of the painting. Textural effects are another method to add interest to a subject in a painting without changing the compositional shapes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Edwin Austin Abbey The Quest for the Holy Grail Murals1890-1902

Painted for the Boston public Library
8 feet by 192 feet in fifteen panels

Edwin Austin Abbey 1852 – 1911

Armand Cabrera
Edwin Austin Abbey was born in1852 and died in 1911. At the height of his career he was one of the most popular artists of his day in both America and England. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy and began working as an Illustrator in 1870 for Harpers Publishing.

In 1887 he did illustrations for Harpers publication of Shakespeare’s Comedies. Abbey would use Shakespeare as a basis for his art throughout his career.

Famous for his brilliant pen and ink drawings Abbey did not begin to paint seriously in oils until 1889. Abbeys paintings were done on a large salon style scale, seven to ten feet, some even larger.

One of the biggest projects of his career was the Boston Library Murals.
The murals were based on the legend of the Holy Grail. The Fifteen Panels were 8 feet high and 192 feet in total length. The project took more than twelve years for which Abbey was paid fifteen thousand dollars; he finished it in 1902.

That same year he started the painting of the coronation of Edward IV. The canvas was fifteen feet by nine feet, and took two years to complete.

In 1906 he painted Columbus in the new world, another large canvas at ten feet by seven feet. It was his last Royal Academy submission.

Abbey’s greatest undertaking was the murals and paintings done for the Harrisburg State capitol. Started in 1906, the project would take the rest of his life and would be finished by John Singer Sargent and Violet Oakley after his death.

The projects centerpiece, the Apotheosis of Pennsylvania, is thirty-five feet by thirty-five feet square. Abbey also painted the ceiling which is twenty-four feet in diameter. Other parts of the commission were four lunettes, thirty-eight feet by twenty two feet and four pendentives fourteen feet in diameter. Abbey painted three canvases for Harrisburg, one twelve feet by six feet and two twenty-four feet by twelve feet. Edwin Austin Abbey died at the age of fifty-nine in 1911.

Edwin Austin Abbey R.A. His Life and Work (two volumes)
E.V. Lucas
Charles Scribners and Sons 1921

Unfaded pageant E.A. Abbeys Shakespearean subjects
Lucy Oakley
Wallach Art Gallery 1994

Edwin Austin Abbey 1852-1911
Various authors
Yale University Gallery Exhibition Catalog 1974

QuoteThe gist of what I believe as student should be made to do is to be careful in his construction and accurate in his drawing, as accurate as humanly possible. If he is a colorist this wont hurt his color- and if he is not (and a few of them are), he will have the drawing and composition and design to justify it. ~Edwin Austin Abbey

Sunday, December 21, 2008

William Forsyth

Armand Cabrera

William Forsyth was born in California, Ohio on October 15, 1854. He was the oldest of four children. The Forsyth family moved to Versailles, Indiana when he was only ten, eventually they settled in Indianapolis.

During the Financial Panic of 1873, Forsyth left high school to help earn money for his family. He worked with his brother, painting stained glass window decorations in houses. Forsyth never returned to high school, although he was motivated to continue his education. He was a voracious reader of fiction and non-fiction and taught himself math.

In 1877, Forsyth attended classes at the newly opened Indiana School of Art in Indianapolis. Although the school closed after only two years, Forsyth made contacts that allowed him to travel to Europe to study at the Munich Academy. Forsyth was formally accepted to the Academy in 1882. He studied drawing---first under Gyula Benczur and then Nikolaus Gysis. In 1883, Forsyth began painting classes with Ludwig Von Loefftz. After finishing his last year at the Academy in1886, Forsyth opened a studio in Munich with J. Otis Adams---another Indiana painter. Adams left for Indiana after only a year, but Forsyth stayed in Munich and finally returned to Indiana in late 1888. Upon his return, he opened an art school in Muncie with Adams. After two years, the school closed and Forsyth then joined the faculty with T.C. Steele at the Indiana School of Art.

Forsyth, Steele, Otis, along with Otto Stark and Richard Gruelle became known as the Hoosier Group. The group was influential in the Midwest and was one of the first regional art movements in the country. Forsyth also helped found the Society of Western Artists in 1896. Late the next year, Forsyth married one of his pupils, Alice Atkinson. She was 18 years his junior. The couple had three daughters. After the Indiana School of Art closed in 1897, Forsyth had a very long career teaching at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis from 1906 to 1933.

William Forsyth died of kidney failure in February 1934 at the age of 80.


The Hoosier Group Five American PaintersEckert Publications 1985
Judith Vale Newton

The Passage - Return of Indiana Painters from Germany, 1880-1905
The Indiana Museum of Art 1990
Martin Krause

Ordinary people only see the form, and not the mood outdoors. To them the clouds are white, the sky is blue, and the trees are green. The artist sees a great deal more than this to him the most attractive things are those that are expressed in some subtle way.~ William Forsyth

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Armand Cabrera

Composition is one of the hardest things to grasp and is subject to more than its share of ridiculous theories. Even defining composition seems to cause controversy. There is formal composition, informal composition, dynamic, intuitive, and classical composition.

To help clear the field let’s start with the basic idea of what composition is. Composition is the placement of shapes of color and value within the four corners of the canvas. The goal is to focus your eye where the artist wants it to go. I submit the only thing you must remember is good compositions do this, bad compositions don’t.

To get the viewer to look where you want them to a number of tried and true formulae have been employed by artists for centuries. One of the oldest is based on the golden section or golden mean. This idea was used by the Greeks in their buildings. It is an observed proportion found in many natural things. Its mathematical ratio is 1 to 1.618. You can see it in the veins of leaves the volumetric curves of a seashell. It is repeated in division of your joints in your fingers and the ratio of the length to width of your hand.

The golden section is a perfect proportion and creates unity within a picture when applied.
The formula is AB is to BC as BC is to AC or the smaller is to the greater as the greater is to the whole.
There is even a sequence of numbers that relate to this concept, the Fibonacci sequence. The first number of the sequence is 0, the second number is 1, and each subsequent number is equal to the sum of the previous two numbers of the sequence itself; the first ten numbers look like this
An image of the sequence looks like this.

As you can see it makes it easy to decide how and where to place your center of interest. If you plot out the growth of the sequence you get a spiral. Secondary interst can be placed along the path to create movement throught the picture.

Some artists even go so far as incorporating the width of the frame as part of the design sequence. However far you take it, the golden section is a compositional guide that has stood the test of time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Color Theory Basics Part II

Armand Cabrera

Atmospheric effects on color
Colors do not just gray as they move away from the observer, they also change temperature, hue and saturation. You cannot get good color without paying attention to all these shifts.

Colors reside in a natural place on the value scale; this spot is where the color is at full saturation. If you look on most tubes of paint they will tell you what the value is for that color. If I look at the colors of my palette the values are , Ultramarine 2, Cobalt 3, Alizarin 2, Cad Red 5, Cad Yellow 7, Cad Lemon 8, and Titanium White 10.

As things move away from you they lose saturation and they cool, how much depends on the angle of light and the atmospheric condition and other variables but this is an observable phenomenon. The contrast between the lights and shadows also diminishes.

This does not mean cool colors recede. A blue box and orange box on a shelf both appear as close. Ruskin proved this idea 150 years ago but people still repeat the ‘everything is blue in the background idea’. The best way to dispel this notion of things turning blue is look at white and yellow as they recede. White shifts towards red and so does yellow.

So if you have similar colors in the foreground and the background, then background colors have to lose saturation and they also cool which means they move through the spectrum. Depending on their value they will also lighten or darken with great distance. This is observable with all colors when compared to similar colors in the foreground. So forget about pure color everywhere, that’s wrong. Pure saturation everywhere has the opposite effect; it flattens the space.

Instead instead of pure saturated color, focus on clean color and its relationship to similar colors in the scene. Clean color means a discernable color family in relation to other color families.
Remember compare lights to shadows for the overall effect; then compare shadow to shadow and lights to light within the effect to find chroma, temperature and value for the appropriate color note.

Friday, December 12, 2008

William Wendt

Armand Cabrera

William Wendt was born in Bentzen, Germany on February 20, 1865. At the age of fifteen, he immigrated to America, working in Chicago as a staff artist and illustrator. He attended night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, but was primarily a self-taught artist. While working as a commercial artist, Wendt was also exhibiting in Chicago area art shows where he won Second Place in the prestigious Charles T. Yerkes Competition from the Chicago Society of Artists in 1893.

It was in Chicago he met the plein air painter, Gardner Symons. The two became friends and traveled to California to paint; it was the first of many trips there. They also traveled to the Saint Ives Art Colony in Cornwall, England in 1898. In 1906, Wendt married Julia Bracken, a sculptress. The couple moved to California where they spent the rest of their lives.

In California, Wendt spent his time painting the landscape outdoors. His art was an extension of his religious beliefs. Wendt had a deep respect for untamed nature and found not only peace and comfort, but the manifestation of the Creator. His feelings are reflected in the titles of his paintings that use poetic--- almost biblical style phrasing like, ‘Where Natures God has Wrought’ and ‘I Lifted Mine eyes to the Hills’. He became a founding member of the California Art Club, and in 1911 was elected as its 2nd President serving until 1914. He later served as President from 1917 to 1919.

In 1912, the Wendt’s moved to Laguna Beach. He was a founding member of the Laguna Beach Art Association. Wendt was also elected to the National Academy of Design as an Associate Member the same year.

During his career, Wendt won many prestigious awards including a Bronze Medal in the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, Silver Medals in the 1911 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and 1915 Pan-American Exposition in San Francisco and a Gold Medal in the 1925 Pan American Exposition in Los Angeles.

During his lifetime, William Wendt became known as the Dean of the Southern California landscape painters. He influenced generations of painters with his monumental canvases filled with bold bravura brushwork, strong color and design. William Wendt died in Laguna Beach in 1946.

A Special Note:
From November 9, 2008 - February 8, 2009, The Laguna Art Museum will host In Nature’s Temple: The Life and Art of William Wendt. It will be the first, full-scale retrospective on the art of William Wendt. This exhibition will be accompanied by a major 164-page color catalogue with a 50-page essay by Guest curator, Dr. Will South.

California Impressionism
William H.Gerdts and Will South
Abbeville Press 1998

Plein Air Painters of California
The Southland

Ruth Westphal
Westphal Publishing 1982

QuoteHere away from conflicting creeds and sects, away from the soul destroying hurly burly of life, it feels that the world is beautiful; that man is his brother; that God is good.

~ William Wendt

Sidney Laurence

Armand Cabrera

Sidney Mortimer Laurence was born on October 14, 1865 in Brooklyn, New York. There are few confirmed facts about his childhood and early adult life; it is believed he studied painting with Thomas Moran’s brother, the marine artist, Edward Moran.

In 1888, Laurence studied antique drawing at the Art Students League of New York. In 1889, he married the artist, Alexandrina Fredericka Dupre. The couple moved to England. Their first home was in the St. Ives Artist Colony on the Cornwall coast.

Laurence became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in England and the Salmagundi Club in New York. Laurence was an artist correspondent and produced illustrations of the Zulu War for Black and White Magazine in London and images of the Spanish American War for the New York Herald.

In 1904, Laurence left his wife and two sons in England to become a prospector for gold in Alaska. During the next ten years, he continued to prospect and paint. Eventually, painting won out and by 1923 he began painting fulltime. Laurence opened a studio in Los Angeles. In 1926, Carl Block, an Illinois store owner, asked Laurence to provide him with as many paintings of Alaska as Laurence could produce. With the success of his painting sales, Laurence split his time between Anchorage, Seattle and Los Angeles.

Laurence was not the first artist to paint Alaska, although his work stood out among others because he actually lived in Alaska. He was not just a tourist, as were other artists like Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Hill. Primarily a marine and landscape painter, Laurence had the ability to capture the grand scale of the Alaskan Wilderness. In his paintings, the human elements seem fragile, their hold on the environment temporary and insignificant. He used old European motifs and applied them to the Alaskan backcountry, creating an art that was his own.

Sidney Laurence died in Anchorage, Alaska in 1940 at the age of 75.


Sydney Laurence Painter of the NorthKesler E. Woodward
University of Washington Press 1990

I was attracted by the same thing that attracted all the other suckers, gold. I didn’t find any appreciable quantity of the yellow metal and then, like a lot of other fellows I was broke and couldn’t get away. So I resumed my painting. I found enough material to keep me busy the rest of my life and I have stayed in Alaska ever since.
~Sidney Laurence

Arthur Wesley Dow 1857 - 1922

Armand Cabrera
Arthur Wesley Dow was born to a poor family in Ipswich, Massachusetts. After Dow graduated from High School, he was unable to afford to go to college. He did, however, receive further training from Reverend John Cowles, a retired seminary teacher, who taught Dow Latin, Greek and Mathematics.

Dow’s interest in art led him to study with James Stone and also to befriend Frank Duveneck. Stone and Duveneck had both studied in Munich, Germany. In 1884, Dow set sail for Paris to study at the Academie Julian under Jules Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger. Dow studied diligently in Paris, setting his goal of 18 sketches a week. In 1885, Dow traveled to Brittany, staying in the small village of Pont Avon. It was there that Dow embraced the Barbizon aesthetic of painting from life. In 1887, his Brittany painting, A Field in Kerlaouen, was accepted into the Paris Salon. In 1889, two of Dow’s paintings were accepted into the Salon in addition to a piece being accepted into the Universal Exposition, where it won an “Honorable Mention”.

Dow returned to the United States in 1890, settling in the Boston area. He was artistically influenced after seeing prints by Japanese artists in a book. In 1893, he became Assistant Curator of Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Art under the Director, Ernest Fenollosa. Fenollosa mentored Dow, helping him to refine his appreciation for Asian art.

Dow’s interest in Japanese art enabled him to write his monumental book, Composition, first published in 1899 and still in print today. Dow set forth a radical idea for the time--- art need not imitate nature, but should develop organically from the formal abstract relationships of line, hue, and notan (a Japanese term referring to light and dark patterns within a picture) to improve upon nature to evoke feeling--- Dow did not merely borrow the forms and style of Japanese art; he sought a blend of Western and Eastern art. His landscapes and prints were based on studies of nature using this synthesis.

In 1903, Dow became head of the art department at Columbia University Teachers College. Over a 30-year period, he taught at Columbia University Teachers College, The Arts Students League, Pratt Institute, and his own, Ipswich Summer School of Art.
Dow‘s teachings rejected the accepted concept that painting and sculpture were of a higher level than the applied arts, such as ceramics, furniture, jewelry, and photography. In his classes, Dow taught all these art forms. For Dow, all arts and crafts were of equal value and should be simultaneously beautiful and functional. This became a basic tenet of the Arts and Crafts movement in America.

Shortly after delivering a lecture on Dec. 13, 1922, Dow suffered a heart attack and died.

Arthur Wesley Dow His Art and Influence
Various contributing essayists
1999 Spanierman Gallery LLC

Arthur Wesley Dow
1899 New York Doubleday

Arthur Wesley Dow and American Arts and Crafts
Nancy E. Green and Jessie Poesch
1999 Abrams

Art is the most useful thing in the world and the most valued thing. The most useful is always that which is made as finely as possible and completely adapted to its purpose: the most valued because it is the expression of the highest form of human energy, the creative power which is nearest to the divine.
~ Arthur Wesley Dow


Armand Cabrera

Brushstrokes carry a message whether you will it or not. The stroke is just like the artist at the time they make it. All the certainties, all the uncertainties, all the bigness of their spirit and all the littleness are in it.
~Robert Henri

Brush Calligraphy is the stylistic application of your paint.

The paint is applied without overworking it once you have laid it on the canvas. Brush calligraphy can be instinctive as an outgrowth of your style…or an intentional approach to strengthen the composition and design of your painting. Brush calligraphy shouldn’t be haphazard. In other words, a conscious approach to your brush application is always preferable to an unconscious one. Effective brush calligraphy is often a valuable way of intensifying passages of interest and design overlooked by many artists who restrict their thinking in terms of color and value.

Many times, a small sketch has more life than a larger studio painting because of brush calligraphy. The quality of a stroke you make with the flick of your wrist on a small painting becomes a challenge to reproduce on a larger scale because the effort of your whole arm is needed to gain the identical outcome. When you consider the relationship between the size of the stroke, relative to the size of the canvas, you will understand the challenge when using a large brush with adequate paint for the result you wish to accomplish.

Paint strokes are not just about direction or size…they also encompass the thickness of the application. When thicker passages of paint are applied to a painting surface, you create a sculptural effect. The combination of these effects takes your painting beyond the idea of reproducing what you see. Brush calligraphy offers the viewer layers of interest beyond the initial two dimensional image and the ability to render it. A purposeful approach to brushwork makes a painting a forceful statement.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Color Theory Basics Part I

Armand Cabrera

Color is hinged on value. To have good color, you must have accurate values. To have accurate values, you must get the correct relationships between the colors and values right. Colors and values seen by the human eye are hundreds of times greater than what is available in your pigments. Because of this, you must get the differences correct.

EXAMPLE: For measurement, we will use a value scale of 10 places, where 0 = black and 9 =white.
Let’s say all the things you see in the sunlight are at a range of 6, 7 and 8 on the value scale. All the shadows are at a range of 3, 4 and 5. Therefore, all the colors in the sunlight or shadows must be in their respective value range--including white and black.
So…white in the shadow cannot be lighter than a 5 on the value scale.
Black in the sunlight can’t be darker than a 6.

It’s futile to copy the color you’re seeing unless you compare it to every color around it. To compare something, you must first have something to compare it with, right?
I always start with the thing I ‘m sure of…so if I am sure of the color and value of the sky, I start with that. If I’m sure of the color and value of the grass, then that will be my starting point.
I then evaluate all my other colors and values to my initial choice.

So how do you make the range of different colors you see in nature fit into the limitations imposed by your pigments? This is where you can use the other aspects of color to show the variety of your scene without compromising the value differences.
The other aspects of color are saturation, hue and temperature.

When faced with a slight change in value, see if you can use a hue change or temperature change to capture it. Save your value changes for the great division of light and shadow.