A block in, for portraiture or anything else, should look the way it sounds–bold and simply stated.

Blocking in is challenging for portraiture because of the urge to get a likeness and to capture the "inner person." As important as all that is, it's best to hold back and construct the head first.

As mentioned in class, the order of importance, when drawing or painting a portrait, is:

1. The Head
2. Space Around the Head
3. Face
4. Features

Also note the carriage, or tilt, of the head. 

Another approach is to make your subject look, in this order...

1. Human
2. Like a relative
3. Like a sibling
4. Identical to your reference

Let's hold off on the last two priorities for now. We'll take two weeks for this assignment, so please share your work in progress next time we meet.

If working from photos, remember, the camera sharpens everything up and doesn't pick up all of the halftones. So make your light-to-shadow transitions softer than you see them.

Upload anytime before next Thursday




From Italian chiaro, “light,” and scuro, “dark”.

Definition: the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition.

Click any image to begin or end slideshow

Choose a reference of your own, still life, figure, whatever you're drawn to. One with strong lights and at least 50% of the composition in shadow. 

 The lighting can be from one side, AKA Form Light.

Paint your lights and shadows separately. Then merge them at the halftone area. Careful not to let any light paint find its way onto the shadows, and keep the blending to a minimum. 

Begin rough...polish it up later. Starting off too smooth and even will make it hard to establish the contrast.

There won't be as much halftone with this kind of lighting. Light will transition into dark more quickly than usual.

Videos coming soon.
Upload anytime before next Thursday.



Option 1

Charcoal Block In:
Shapes Only

Refer to the slideshow below as an example and try blocking in a subject of your choice with a flattened stick of vine or willow charcoal.

The purpose is to help you see abstract shapes. This will go a long way with your painting.

Keep your strokes broad, bold, and simple.

Let the tones, instead of lines, describe the form.  Some blending is OK at this stage, but keep it to a minimum.

Give the work 20 minutes, max, and start another one if you have the time.

Open slideshow

Option 2

Knife Study:
Shapes Only

Advanced Level

Same idea, but now you're using paint instead of charcoal.

The palette knife, like a piece of flattened charcoal, forces you to grasp abstract shapes instead of lines. This actually gives more truth  to your work.

There's a learning curve involved, but when you get past it your oils will have more strength and cleaner color than before.

Remember to flatten the paint after you apply it to the canvas with a few firm strokes. Always pull with the knife instead of pushing. Don't add any medium and try to use a fairly stiff brand of paint.

Upload anytime before next Thursday.

Glazing & Scumbling, Images

Click any image to open or close slideshow

Painting the Interior

Painted Interiors Involve:

Angles, Rectangles, Flatness
Space & Depth
Subtle Color, Light, & Transitions

They’re also a favorite subject among contemporary painters

Try to do this from life if you can…same place, same light, same time of day. Digital reference is fine too.

Use a straightedge to check, but not draw, your angles, and expect to adjust them throughout the work. They have this strange way of shifting by themselves.

Click any image to open or close slideshow

One-point perspective * is fine for an interior.

Find the vanishing point and let all non-verticle angles converge to that point (I’ll explain when we meet next week). For now, the video above will get you started the the still images may inspire you.

You’re completely welcome to continue with last week’s work instead.

Upload up to two works anytime before next Thursday.

Good Luck!

* One-point perspective is a drawing method that shows how things appear to get smaller as they get further away, converging towards a single vanishing point on the horizon line.


Good Job with the Limited Palette.

Now Keep Going

For February 22, 2024

You probably noticed how blocking in with a handful of colors helps you move quickly.

It can also feel inadequate.

That’s fine; this stage is temporary. The goal was to cover your canvas in a few minutes and establish a basic tonal structure.

Now you can give it some color.

Have all your colors on the palette but resume work in the same way. Whatever you decide re-paint, begin with the same color combination as before.

When you’re satisfied with the match, add any colors you feel will bring the work closer to your reference, a little bit at a time.


Here’s s warm flesh tone as an example:

Yellow Ochre Light
Alizarin Crimson

A little boring, but fine.

Let’s kick it up with a touch of Burnt Sienna or Cadmium Red (Cadmium Red shown here)

Want to cool some of it down?
Add Raw Umber.

Or Viridian to cool it more.

If you go too far with any of these changes just blend the paint to get closer to your original color.

You can rework your canvas wet into wet or wet over dry. The advantage of wet into wet is it’s more forgiving.

I’ll go more into this when we meet next week but this will get you started.

Again, you’re revisiting your current work but being more specific with the color.

Upload with your One Share link before next Thursday, up to two works.



Painting with a Limited Palette

For February 15, 2024

Working with limitations from time to time is a great way to learn. Because it forces you to re-think.

Painting with a handful of colors, as in the examples below gives you speed, and consistency, and gives your work a harmonious look.

Think of it as a glorified drawing. It’s a small step from what you’ve done in charcoal and graphite.

Try this four-color palette with any subject you like.

Ivory Black
Raw Sienna
Alizarin Crimson

Add a fifth color of your choice, depending on the subject.

The goal is to concentrate on values, modeling, and edges to create the form. You’ll find mixing and matching colors will happen more quickly and easily.

You’ll discover that hue is not as important as you thought.

We’ve done this exercise in previous classes and the results have been marvelous.

Use your One Drive Upload link to upload anytime before next Thursday.

Let’s Draw!

What’s wonderful about the vine, charcoal & graphite como, aside from the look, is how it teaches painting as well as drawing.

Because you’re using tones instead of lines. Creating form with variations in light. This will strengthen your grasp of values.

And if you do it right your work will have a timeless quality.

Put a wicked sharp point on your graphites and charcoal pencil (see video below). The vine can have a flat side, or a wedge, which gives broad strokes for massing.

Keep all three pencils (or more if using different grades of graphite) in your non-drawing hand. Keep the kneadable eraser close.

Erasing usually over-lightens so be ready to darken, with graphite, areas you just erased.

Use a finger, tissue, or both to blend. Just don’t go overboard or your work will look pale and unfocused.

Use your One Drive Upload link to share anytime before next Thursday.

For our last class of January 2024, we’ll discuss the standing figure.

If you’d like to try painting one, refer to the video below (which of course is of a marble figure) as a guide. There’s another video, part 1, on the way.

Pay attention to the angles. How right the left shoulders relate. Same for right and left hips. If you straighten your figures too much they’ll look stiff and unnatural.

Put most of your attention, as well as your paint, on the interior of the forms. This will give solidity to the figure.

The outside edges, even if they appear firm, can be weaker.

Start bold and abstract then refine along the way. When you’re in the home stretch you can thin the paint and vibrate the color (alternate between warm and cool tones.)

Another option is to take your current still life even further. I’ll be happy to take a look.

Upload to your ASL Microsoft One Drive before Wednesday, January 31. Thursday begins a new month.

Have a great weekend!

For January 25, 2024

Realist painting involves focus and plain old stubbornness.

If you’ve learned to develop all parts of your work together then consider letting that go for now.

Put all your attention on one area to start. You may feel impatient or that you’re wasting time. Ignore that feeling and stay put until you see real improvement.

Then move on to another area. Develop that then look for any weaknesses in the first area. In this way, you raise the bar on yourself.

Later on you can harmonize all elements and you can loosen parts up too. But you need to get some clarity going first.

Work thinner now but continue layering up the paint in the highlights. Be uncompromising with your focal point; the rest can be painted more suggestively.

Shadows can start a touch darker to get some punch in right away. Just lighten them later.

Rework any clumsy-looking passages. Correctness isn’t enough; go for a look of ease too.

Please use your Microsoft upload link to share your work.

Have a great weekend!

After Wyeth,  Spring Fed, detail, 2021
Oil on Canvas, 8 x 10 in.

For January 18, 2024

Painting Metal objects feels like you’re climbing a staircase, descending, then climbing again.

Like glass, they reflect a great deal of light.

Unlike glass, they present a broad range of tones, from near-white in the highlights to near-black in the shadows. There are crisp edges vs soft ones throughout.

There’s a lot of restating of lights and darks (which tend to weaken as you work the paint.) So expect some un-doing and re-doing in this process.

Up and down we go…

You can usually find subtle complimentary color shifts on the surface, such as reds alternating with greens.

As always, listen to your eyes.
But don’t believe everything they tell you.

Part 2 is about working with thin washes of paint to give the work luminosity, subtlety, and finish. Light passes through the transparent paint layers and gives the work a glow.

Use a mix of 80% Gamsol to 20% Stand Oil for these washes. You’re painting with mostly medium and just a touch of paint.

For security, please use your ASL-Microsoft upload link when you’re finished.
And if you’d like to explore something else,
try a White on Black Composition:

Start monochrome, neutral, not too warm or cool. Then add subtle temperature shifts to the wet paint.

Jeanne Tangney,  Macintosh, 2021
Oil on Canvas, 8 x 10 in.

Few subjects are more inspiring, relatable, or fun to paint than still lifes of food.

Sometimes known as Bodogones (Small Kitchen Still Lifes.)

There are no special tricks to this genre. It’s not to be feared or taken lightly. As with all subjects, these present a few challenges.

For example, you might be more drawn to the color or texture than you should at first.

Or you may be so taken by the beauty of a luscious red apple that you’re not focusing on modeling. It’s important to feel, as long as you don’t get carried away.

When painting a form composed of smaller forms, like a bunch of grapes or a stack of pancakes, mass all forms together as one (see the example below).

Just remember to focus on the values, structure, and light in the beginning.

Substance first, gorgeousness later.

Past Assignments

Drapery can be reduced to three elements:
Triangles, Tubes, and Caves.

Meaning: set it up in a flat abstract way with triangles. Then turn those triangles into concave and convex forms.

Look for the pull points, i.e., those points of tension that pull at the fabric. Many of the folds will radiate toward those points.

Don’t render every fold you see. As always, be selective, choose the most beautiful or interesting ones, and really make them count.

Click any image to enter or exit slideshow.

Drapery can be practiced anytime; just toss a shirt or other fabric over a chair and you've got hours of entertainment in front of you.


Focusing on a single feature of the face or figure greatly improves your grasp of that feature.

And if you repeat the exercise enough, the lesson will stick for good.

Eyes are an obvious choice. There’s lots happening in a person’s eyes, with many nuances to capture. And it’s always good to devote some time to any so-called weaknesses you might have. Until they’re weaknesses no more.

Start by covering some canvas with a warm flesh tone:

Raw Sienna (or Yellow Ochre, depending on how light or chromatic the tone is)
Alizarin Crimson (just a touch)
Ivory Black (also a touch)

Sketch that feature into the wet paint. Add  darks, lights, then middle tones. Remember to check your drawing occasionally.

Click any image to enter or exit slideshow.

From there you can do a bit of blending, and you’re off and running.

As with all painting, you’ll probably have to repeat some steps many times. That’s OK, your paint strokes will be more assured the second, third, and fourth time around.

All that counts is how it looks when you’re done.

Upload anytime before next Thursday. Video to come.


…are not to be feared.

Just remember to simplify.

Give at least as much attention to the palm, or the back of the hand, as the fingers.

A center line runs through the forearm, the hand, and the middle finger. Let the hand flow into the wrist.

Fingers are mini-cylinders. Treat them as one unit to start, then give them minimal separation with some warm tone.

Go a little more chromatic at the fingertips and knuckles.

Piece of cake!

For November 30, 2023

Getting a Likeness…

…as mentioned, is about getting everything right.

Sounds daunting?

Maybe, but it doesn’t have to be.

It’s a gradual process of moving from general to specific, one small adjustment at a time, each adjustment bringing you closer.

Look for a person’s little peculiarities. The nose may not be as straight as you expect. The eyes aren’t aligned as you think. One ear is bigger than the other, and the overall head is probably tilted.

The generalized version you started with is helpful. It keeps you from going too far with the imperfections.

For next week, revisit a portrait–one in progress or one you’ve given up on, but this time make a dead-ringer (that’s right, and you can do it) for your subject.

Remember to freshen your vision often, using a mirror, reducing glass, or by turning everything upside-down. Your eye gets comfortable with any mistakes and eventually stops seeing them.

Most of all, be patient.

This is especially challenging when painting someone you’re close to. But satisfying and a great confidence-builder when you succeed.

And if you’re intimidated by the masters, remember–their goal was to idealize their sitters (which they did) more than capture them (which they didn’t.)

Once you’ve constructed the head it’s time to add some features.

As with all details, the operative word here is Elegance.

The features of the face should look like they painted themselves, with no apparent struggle.

Wet into wet is the way to do it.

Using medium-size bristle brushes {#4-6) and a fairly rich medium (1/3 —1/2 stand oil and the rest Gamsol) let all edges transition into the adjacent tones. It’s OK to start with some sharply drawn edges. Just soften them before the paint dries.

Look at this nose, masterfully painted by Swedish artist Nick Alm:

There’s practically nothing there, but it’s gorgeous and it works.

This method involves a bit of “over-painting.” Let the tones go a bit beyond where they should, then back to where they belong as you adjust the drawing, the shape, and the transition.

And it’s mostly technical skill. Practice and you’ll get the hang soon enough.

Last week’s full video will be available soon

If you’re not comfortable working this way on a portrait in progress, just play around with some features, by themselves, on a blank canvas.

Paint a half-dozen noses and you’ll always know how to paint a nose.

Gesture is the Music of the pose.

It suggests both movement and the way the body counterbalances itself.

Either way, gesture is essential to make the figure look natural. Otherwise, it’ll look stiff.

Get your gesture lines–the mid-line and shoulder and hip axes–in, right away, and be ready to adjust them throughout the work.

Let the limbs flow from the torso and be willing to adjust them too.

The head almost always tilts in some direction. It will probably be too big or too small for the body for a while, as in the example below (too big at first.)

The Block In is the Foundation or the Bones of the work.

It should be bold and simply stated.

Approximate all proportions to start (90% accuracy is fine for now). You can perfect them later.

Pick and choose between tight sometimes, loose sometimes, but always loose to start.

Just let the brush fly. It’s loads of fun and gives great results.

The Figure in Motion


Loose Handling

Softer Edges

These characteristics go a long way toward suggesting motion in your figure work.

A mix of hard and soft edges is key to rendering any figure.

But if you want that figure to look like it’s moving you’ll need to seriously lose some edges.

It’s nearly impossible to nail the perfect edge on the first try. Usually it’s a matter of starting out too hard or too soft then adjusting and readjusting.

Most of the rules about a standing or seated figure go right out the window in these scenarios.

If the figure is upright as in the example above, then pay attention to the leg that is giving the most support. It should be developed more than the relaxed leg. The anatomy will stiffen and appear more angular. Same goes for an arm supporting the weight.

Be selective with details. Pick some out and paint them with a few swipes of the brush.


Option 2.
Portrait Block-In


 Portrait Study, After Sargent

Keep it loose, loose.

The block-in should look just the way it sounds: simple, flat blocks of tone. No fussing.

This is the foundation for you to build on later.

Start with angles, straight lines, and a limited palette of 4-6 colors. Use broad brushes with little or no medium and not so much blending.

Other Tips

–Cover most of the canvas as quickly as you can.

–Focus on the values.

–Approximate the color but don’t expect it to be perfect at this point.

–The width of a broader brush can cover an entire plane with a single stroke–one advantage of working with broad brushes.