What Three Colors Can Do

Blue on Blue

For a while, it’ll be three colors and three colors alone. The same three colors over and over to create paintings with rich and varied color. I’ve been focusing on teaching “limited palette” classes lately. So I decided I would try it myself.

I limited my palette to three colors plus black and white.

The three colors I’m currently using are Hansa Yellow Medium, Napthol Red Medium and Phthalo Blue (green shade) plus Mars Black and Titanium White. The painting above uses all of these colors. Each mixed color contains a little black to dull the intensity then as much white as is needed to create the tone/value I want.

The limited palette is a great exercise to force you to work with values. And it’s amazing how varied the colors can be.

I keep books of color mixes. This photo shows one of the pages of just one of my books

colour chips

with a toner added to the three current colors in my palette – Burnt Umber for some of the colors, Raw Sienna for others. The book is a great resource if I need a little nudge. Sometimes the color chips will be the start of a new painting.

And just to show you how varied your paintings can be using a limited palette, here’s a picture of a small still life painted with the same three colors.


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Sweet Stuff

Maple SyrupThis must mean spring. Sweet sticky syrup that I pour on everything. The syrup in the Mason jar is made by my neighbour. He taps a number of sugar maples along our streets and cooks it up in his sugar shack on his back lot. The willows from our yard have flowered so we cut them and use them amost everywhere, until the daffodils bloom.

The scones are Maple Syrup Scones (that’s partly why the maple syrup jar is half empty!). Great flavour with whole wheat pastry flour, rolled oats and maple syrup. Here’s a link to the recipe so you can try your own.

The painted project is a used sap bucket. Our local hardware store cleans them up and sells them…for sap, apparently. They were a little confused when I came in and only wanted one tin. Then when I told them I was painting the tin, they looked at me like I was something unusual.

I kept the painting steps for the bucket but they’re not yet written so anyone could understand them. If you’re interested in receiving a free download, leave a comment at the bottom of this post and I’ll you know when the design is ready for download.

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Quick Photo Transfer

Over the years I’ve tried various versions of acrylic photo transfers. Some worked for me; some didn’t. But most involved a slow process of overnight drying of several layers of medium.

Yesterday, by accident, while searching YouTube for something else, I discovered this video from Golden Acrylics showing a faster way to accomplish the transfer. (three minute video)



So I tried it. Mostly to satisfy my curiosity, I suppose. The fern is from my garden. I previously scanned it and created high contrast in Photoshop. I printed out a copy on my laser printer yesterday and quickly applied it to a prepainted surface. And it worked….here’s what I produced:

Photo transfer project


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It’s On Its Way


Ahhh, spring. For those of us in the northern part of the northern hemisphere there’s probably still snow on the ground. But soon, soon, it will be spring. And to get us in the mood, here’s a painting of some early bloomers.

If you want to get in the mood as well, this painting is available in print format from Fine Art America.

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Tulip clockLooking out my studio window there’s still a foot of snow. But yesterday, the sun shone, the temperature started rising, (well, it rose about one degree but at least it’s going in the right direction), and the local radio station reminded me that we move our clocks forward this weekend for daylight savings.

All these conspired to convince me it’s now spring. And thoughts of spring bring thoughts of softer, lighter colors and, of course, spring flowers. And the flowers became the inspiration for this small CD clock I made for a gift.

It’s a 6″ x 6″ stretched canvas with a painted CD glued on top. I used DecoArt Americana paints for this project.The canvas was painted in Terra Cotta and drybrushed in Butter. The CD was painted (sanded with a coarse grit first) with Medium Flesh then sponged with Antique White. Flowers were painted with Melon and a little Butter drybrushed on the right to highlight and the leaves were painted with Celery Green. Then everything was outlined with Lamp Black. The CD was glued to the canvas the a hole was drilled through the center; the clock works were attached, and voila, a quick, simple gift was finished.

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Swallowtails – a new painting

Lilac with butterfly

So this is what inspired me. Last week I looked out at our lilac bush and it was covered with Swallowtail butterflies. Almost seemed like the tree would lift off and disappear. Took some pictures, including the close-up below:

But I wanted to capture movement, and try for movement in my painting as well, so I took this short video: (50 seconds long)


Then I created a painting. I used the shapes from the landscape photo, put a few yellow abstract patches in the tree and added graphite tracings to suggest movement. “Swallowtails” acrylic and graphite; 40 inches by 30 inches.


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Furniture Becomes Canvas


It pays to do a good cleanout once in a while. Deep in the rafters of my garage I found a few pieces of small, unpainted wood furniture I've picked up at various decorative painting shows across Canada and the U.S.

I like the unpainted furniture – I can jump right in with a ground and paint. No need to treat or repair an existing surface like most of the wood pieces I pick up at flea markets. And there's a bit of physicality in painting 3D pieces – sometimes you lie on the floor, sometimes you paint upside down, it's a change from painting on canvas at an easel.

This piece, a contemporary cabinet about 40 inches tall, was ready to go and just begged for a whimsical treatment. Working with acrylic paint, collage, graphite and charcoal, I aimed for a loose look of line and shape.

The background colors are layers of acrylic paint sandwiched between layers of gloss gel medium. I worked with liquid acrylics, mostly transparent and alternated those layers with some layers of gel medium and some of opaque colors (transparents mixed with white gesso). I find this layering process exciting – I never know what I'll end up with. And I stop only when I think I need to stop.

In the 90s I spent much of my time creating block prints and screen prints. I kept the rejects…just in case. And now I'm making use of them for collage. The flowers in this piece are torn sections from water-based screen prints. I did a rough pencil sketch first to determine shape placement then glued all the paper bits down with gloss gel medium. I also applied another layer of gloss gel on top of the glued-down pieces. I believe in over-kill.

Next step was to slather a thin layer of Tri-Art Dry Media Ground over the entire cabinet making the surface gritty and receptive to graphite and charcoal. I scooped up a bit of the ground, plopped it onto the surface, then spread the stuff thinly using an old credit card or hotel room key. It's important to keep the medium thin 'cause it leans towards opacity.

Once the medium dried, I went to work with graphite and charcoal. The dark bars at the top of the cabinet are graphite. I own many rolls of tape of varying widths and I use that tape to create random "fences". Using graphite on dry media ground isn't the same as using graphite on paper. The gritty ground chews up the graphite and, while you can get some variations of value, most of the graphite grades end up looking like similar values and intensities. I blend the graphite/charcoal using shop towels.

Now here's the important part. The surface needs to be sealed before varnishing or the graphite/charcoal will bleed. You can use a spray fixative, but, since I work in a small somewhat air-tight studio, I prefer to use gel medium as a sealer. Scoop the gloss gel medium onto the surface gently, then, with deliberate motions, spread out the gel with your palette knife. This step requires patience to avoid smudging the graphite but it works well.

Once the gel has dried, the piece is ready to be varnished. My standard varnish, the one I'm successful with,  is Liquitex Matte Acrylic Varnish. Can't vouch for any other type of varnish.

I'm calling this piece finished (but just don't look inside the drawers).

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Rip and R.I.P.

Skootamatta RiverThis 24 x 24 acrylic painting was started outdoors at the river just around the corner from my place.

I completed the painting in the studio and immedately submitted it to a show where it hung for six months.

One afternoon,  I picked up the painting from the exhibition and temporarily leaned the painting against a cabinet in my studio.

When I returned to the studio that night, the painting had a rough diagonal rip from the upper left corner to the lower right. Little threads of canvas sticking out from all the edges. Something had fallen from the top of the cabinet and aimed directly for the painting. (You have to see my studio to see how this could happen…and believe me, you’ll understand how this could happen!)

I did a Google search to see if I could repair it. Seems that unless one is an art conservator, the consensus is not to attempt a repair.

Perhaps I’ll cut the painting into little pieces and use those pieces in a collage…unless, of course, anyone has a solution to what seems to be a hopeless problem.

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Bright red and juicy

vGot sidetracked while having lunch a couple of weeks ago. I took one apple from the refrigerator and sliced it. Saw the design possibilities so I grabbed a few more apples and started playing around with composition. Decided I liked this arrangement so I sketched it, took the sketch to the studio and this painting is the result.

It was the bright red of the apples that attracted me to them in the refrigerator so I wanted to capture that same feeling in the painting. I thought perhaps one of the best ways to do this was to use a complementary color scheme with the cool blue-green background and trim letting the warm red-orange of the apples pop.

Painting is now on it’s way to PaintWorks magazine and will be one of the step-by-step projects in an upcoming issue.

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