Personal Art Blog

Sharing the lessons I teach at the Artist Guild and the personal discoveries in my art.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Rushing Water

Rushing Water
6"x8" oil on panel $150
Purchase SOLD

Artist Note
When the guild classes were stopped 
in  March due to c-virus,
 I still owed the painters a lesson
so I gave some thought to what 
would be the most useful and guess what...
Hands down...
THE Number one problem...
is watching artists
 trying to paint from a photo 
EXACTLY what  they see 
without doing a few 

The typical problems are 


This is the original photo which I used for the painting.
As an Impressionist I had to add 
the colors I clearly remember seeing 
Water is full of colors
 in the sunshine and 
also reflects the sky. 

The dark values appear way too dark  
as we know shadows are transparent...
but notice how the tops of the rocks 
are not only competing with the value of the water
but tend to lead the eye out of the pic.

Below is how I check if the composition works.
I like to use 
"every quarter should be different" 
a very useful way to prevent matchy-matchy areas.
At the same time I mark off the center to help me 
remember to have a circle of the interest 
right in the middle. 

When I first became aware of art workshops 
in the 90's, I went to a 
few of the really good painters.
Ovanis Berbarian, for florals.
Dan Gerhart for figure.
Michael Lynch for landscapes.
Richard Schmid, Burt Silverman - demos at ASL

They ALL said "paint what you SEE."
Trouble is... I didn't SEE what they did.
I had to learn.

But, hey, they too had to learn to "see."
I went back and found their early work 
and it was heartwarming to find
when they first started they made 
the same mistakes as all of us.

Time and learning are what make the difference.
Remember, shadows are transparent. 
If you are painting plein air 
you can see into the shadows very clearly
but a photo can make them way too dark.

Look above at original photo. 
I took this in Yellowstone
and I could see into those dark areas
and clearly "see' everything, 
all the bushes, stones and trees
surrounding this gushing stream. 
You cannot make any of those 
out in the photo

Sunsets are the worst offenders.
The ground is never as dark at sunset
as the photo makes them. 
I now take two pics - one of the sun setting 
and one of the ground. 
But logically, when you look how 
light the sky still is overhead, you know
it cannot be really dark on the ground.

The sky can look waaaay too dark 
in a poor photo. Usually it produces a
strong cyan blue - especially at the top, 
whereas it is actually
 more of a cobalt or ultramarine.
Take the photo to a window 
and look halfway up in the sky
to compare,
 and then down at the pic.
You will see it. 
The blue sky overhead is not what
you paint. 

Shadows are not the same gray 
over everything they travel.


A middle color value goes 
deeper in shadow BUT not as dark as


The reverse is true in the light. 
IN THE LIGHT and even lighter in some cases.

Remember the ABSENCE of light is the darkest
area. Underneath bushes, rocks or in still life 
it is the line you see under the object.

Strong sun bleaches out color.

If you cannot paint plein air
then the next best way is to paint from 
a monitor of some kind. 
Even then you sometimes have to lighten
the darks to see into them.

But if you have a stash of old pics
(like I do)
which inspire you to paint them 
then I hope these hints help.

If you are a decorative or abstract painter 
none of the above applies.
In my next post I will demo a abstract version.
Cheers everyone. Thank you for staying until the end.
Stay safe.


  1. Thank you Julie for this very interesting post and so wonderful painting !!!

    1. Good to hear from you, Stelios, happy you like it. i was transported back in time when I saw the beautiful mountain places you have painted.

  2. Wow, Julie! A entire lesson filled with absolutely wonderful, useful information. I'm copying and keeping these notes for my next venture into a little landscape! (As you know, landscapes are not my usual subject matter, but that doesn't mean I've never tried to paint them.) The insights you offer here are so valuable. How generous you are; thank you! This is such an accomplished painting; you depict water so very well.

    1. How generous you are with your encouraging and supportive words, Helen.
      You are so accomplished as well as a darned wonderful, art buddy!

  3. This is one of the best explanations I've ever read about shadows. Value and composition are tough to master. I love your water pieces!

    1. Hi Lauren - thank you so much, I value your complement. How are you doing living in paradise during this time? Has lfe changed much?

  4. Your painting is lovely. Value is one of my problems. I know I've made mistakes copying my photos and not paying attention to what's in front of me in the landscape. I do have to use photos to paint landscapes unless the light is subdued as my eyes just can't take it in the bright sun. I'm also going to copy what you have written for reference. Thank you.

  5. I really like your painting with seeing the daisies out of the window. I am looking forward to seeing your peonie photos and you are generous to let us all use them.

  6. Very good entry, very well documented, well painted and very interesting and complete.
    Thank you very much for sharing it.

  7. Great lesson for all of us. This is a beauty! Your moving water is great!!

  8. "paint what you SEE."
    this is def great advice and one that got drilled into my head in school, but i dont think it set in for me when drawing certain things lol


I love that you are taking the time to comment and thank you for it. I am sure other readers will enjoy them too. If you cannot comment through this format then email me at