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Monday, October 28, 2013

Thomas Jefferson Kitts Paint Out-Mission San Juan

Thomas arranged to meet members of the LPAPA the day after the Laguna Plein Air Invitational.  We met on the grounds of the mission at San Juan Capistrano.  The day was perfect.  It had started out foggy and influenced the board I took to the paint out.  By the time I got to the mission the fog was burning off.

Thomas provided more information than any other of the artists I had painted with.  He was excited; having just won a ribbon for artists choice, for his depiction of the scene he was going to demo for us.

Thomas was firing off his thoughts in between putting the paint down.  The following are some of his thoughts at the beginning of the painting session:
  • There is no substitute for getting in your painting mileage.  If you want to be good you have to put in your time.
  • It is more important to get 100 starts than 100 finishes.  You will learn much more from a problem solving stand point.
  • Painting the same subject over and over again will help you develop because you will be able to get farther in the painting each time you paint the subject.  It will point to the new territory to go into.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts finishing his painting

Thomas shared some of his thoughts about plein air painting.
  • He is an advocate of everything fitting in a small tight pack.
  • Plein air is not necessarily a 2-3 hour process with smaller canvases.  It is different for everyone but most people are painting larger now because there is money back in the market.
  • Thomas believes in finding as many ways to handle the paint and the brush work as possible.  It will only lead to better problem solving, more interesting paintings, and better technique.  The more ways you can touch the surface the better your painting will be.  Actively works at varying his brush marks, his shapes, his sizes, and temperature .

As he continued to develop his painting, Thomas would jump around and work different areas of his painting.  Similarly, Thomas would skip around from topic to topic.  Thomas continued to share his thoughts like they were springing from his brush as he worked the different areas of the painting.
  • He paints with the pallet at the same angle as his painting so the colors on both surfaces match.
  • Thomas said he is working on painting without solvents because of health reasons and in order to develop his color.
  • Thomas discussed his type of painting as planar-meaning he paints the color shifts of his subjects based on their relation to the source of light.
As Thomas worked at finishing his painting, the topics shifted as he put the finishing touches on his work.
  • Thomas discussed the foundation of his painting process.  His focus on maintaining a notan throughout the course of the paintings development is key.  He continually returned to this concept throughout the painting.  He asked the group if he had maintained his notan up until the finish.
  • Where the notan focuses on a black and white value pattern used to build the composition, he uses color temperature as a basis for the color buildup.
  • If you start with the right temperature in your initial lay in, it will provide a solid base for the rest of the color choices in the painting.
  • In order to understand temperature before you start your painting you can hold your brush over your canvas.  If the shadow is cool then the light is warm and vice verse.
  • Thomas starts his color super saturated and then brings down the temperature.
  • Avoid chalky by painting from dark to light.
  • For his shadows he starts with a neutral color and adds color to it.

More Thoughts From Thomas Jefferson Kitts

  • He really likes lead paint because of the way it drags across the canvas, it avoids being chalky, and does not influence other colors as much as titanium white.  It also allows better color saturation.
  • Thomas avoids chalky looking painting by painting from dark to light.
  • Avoid painting lights into darks and leave the darks transparent.
  • Look for the biggest value contrasts and then the biggest hue contrasts.
  • Work you painting from shape to contour to line and then dot.
  • Working a shape from light to dark in opposition to dark to light creates an interesting contrast.
  • When establishing masses build vertical masses early because it lends itself to planar development later in the painting.

  • You want to suggest the time of day but don't lock yourself in and understand you must keep your initial impression of the time in your painting.
  • When creating the composition through the choice of shapes and values resist suggesting shapes through the highlights until the end.  Hold on to the notan till the end of the painting and then ice the cake.  Keep the light and dark areas of the painting the same value to maintain the notan until the end.
  • Establish distance in the painting by maintaining relationships between the foreground, middle ground, and background.
  • Massing values, hues, and temperature and relating them to each other is key to a successful painting.
  • If you can relate two of the three elements you will have a successful painting.
  • There are no same colors in nature.
  • Once you introduce white into the painting the whole game changes.
  • Keeping the painting simple as long as you can by working at getting the big shapes correct in all of their relationships between values, colors, and temperature.
  • Build the painting anyway you want but need to look at everything all the time to keep the relationships correct.
  • You can only paint as well as you can draw.

My Turn

After Thomas finished his demo, it was our turn to paint.  There was so much information provided that I had the same feeling I get when I am finished painting en plein air.  I was empty.  It was interesting to feel that way after a demo.  When I am painting there is a deep concentration and focus.  There are thousands of decisions being made and executed within a relatively short period of time.  By the time I started, I felt like I had already finished.
There were so many amazing subjects to paint at the mission.  The mission closes at 5pm and I did not get set up until 1:30 pm.  I painted the lily pads because there are so few opportunities to paint them.
As I was painting, Thomas made the rounds several times working with all of the painters.  Thomas grabbed some pastels and showed me some of his chops while illustrating some of the points he had made during the demo.


 Thomas went into my painting and reestablished and redefined some of my key elements in the painting.  He took the masses back to the value stage by reducing some of my mark making so that he could emphasize the contrasts in the area of interest.  It was difficult letting him work on the painting, but I appreciate Thomas' willingness to illustrate his concepts.

Thomas came in and worked a couple of concepts and changed the feeling of the painting.  The way he simplified my shapes and enhanced the values within the painting by use of his planar approach increased the strength of my painting. I really appreciated the time and interest he took doing his demo.   

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Painting is like handwriting

Painting is like handwriting.  The grace and swing in the curves, ovals, and the general rhythm in the line of written words is possible when the hand easily and confidently makes the strokes.
-Edgar Payne

Sunday, October 20, 2013



I was hoping to find some plein air painters.  It was the last day of the Laguna Plein Air Invitational and this is a classic painting location.

The tide was very low so I felt that I could set up here without fear of getting my stuff wet.  The fog was just starting to burn off as I set up. 
This is my initial drawing of the bluffs.  I would normally do a sketch but I have painted this scene enough times that I did not think it was needed.  I would have liked to have included the rocks in the ocean but I liked the size of the subject on the board.  I will have to get a different size board to include both next time I come back to paint.


By the time I got this far in the painting the sun was peaking through and everything changed from a lighting stand point.

As I moved through the painting, I focused on elaborating the details and building up the high lights. 
I worked on developing the proper relationships between the values within the bluff.  I was also trying to see the underlying colors between the highlights and the complimentary colors that would accent the light.

Bluff in Laguna

At this point I had decided to take the painting in a more impressionistic manner.
From this point, it went on automatic pilot.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


The following views are from the gazebo at Heisler Park.  This is the south view.  The next view is the view to the west and the final view is to the north.  It is seldom that you can paint three quality subjects just by turning.  Mark was painting the view of the main beach facing south.  I chose the view facing the west because of the interesting rocks, plants and water.

After Brian finished his demo, I took his spot with my gear set up and began paining.  The gazebo was full of painters.  I was full of energy and I was looking forward to get Brian's critique. 

Jeff Sewell was painting this view of Rock Pile during the demonstration.  When Brian had finished I started painting.  After about twenty minutes a man came in and said the gazebo had been reserved for a wedding and we would need to move.  Brian had to go and conduct some business as he had a forty painting show opening later in the day at  Pacific Edge Gallery



Brian Mark Taylor

One of the interesting things about the way Brian Mark Taylor paints is that he uses no painting medium.  He uses a dry brush because it gives his paintings a texture.  In this painting he used this one brush.  You can see the red dots and dashes Brian made to build his composition.  Brian does not do an initial sketch or thumbnail drawing to begin his painting.

At this point in the painting Brian is still deciding what his focal point is going to be.  He was debating which of the buildings he would choose.  He ended up picking the buildings by his brush in this photo.  He would lateer make significant adjustments to the hills in the background.  He really kept things simple and open to interpretation in the background.  It helped him nail down the atmospheric perspective.  He also altered the bottom of the painting where the water and the sand meet because the water and the sand had too similar a look.  They were evenly painted all across the bottom.
This demo took an hour for him to complete.  This is the result.

Brian Mark Taylor

After spending a couple of hours with Brian and watching him paint, I came away with a better understanding of some painting goals that I have been working towards.

Here are some of the take aways I got from his demonstration.
-Establish the large shapes and the darker value areas first.
-Your brush work should be varied to increase interest and detail in your painting.
-The use of a dry brush helps create texture within the painting that others interpret as detail.
-Abstract shapes within the painting help create interest.
-A focus on edges lost and found within the painting should be used to create areas of focus and interest.
-Don't let the composition dictate an exact reading of the landscape.  If you need to move or alter elements do so to complete your vision of what the painting is meant to be.
-Look for something beyond the obvious in your composition if you are painting a familiar subject.
-Learn to trust your mark making and don't overwork your painting.


Brian is finished with his demo and people kick us out of the gazebo for a wedding.  I have all of my stuff spread out all over the place and my set up is not conducive to packing up quickly.  I was the last one out of the gazebo.

 Everyone moved out and set up by Las Brisas facing the main beach.  The Santa Ana winds were blowing ever so slightly and it was hot.
By the time I moved to set up, everyone had crowded together on either side of the path leading to the beach.  While I was setting up, one of the painters yelled to move out of the way with my large set up and board. whatever...I moved.