Monday, September 5, 2016

Painting Alla Prima with Susan Martin Spar - New Video!

If you have subscribed to this blog then you know that it's been a really long time since I posted here.  School and then new gallery committments and other personal matters have kept me away from teaching on line.  But I'm slowly getting back into it.  I may or may not choose to continue this blog but if I don't it will only be because I've moved it to another location in which case I'll notify you.  

I uploaded my very first teaching video today to You Tube! I'm pretty new to this although I've had the camera for a couple of years, I just haven't gotten around to using it. So I traded lessons for help from one of my students who has been acting as a studio assistant. Anna is a young lady who has taken a class on vidography, (hmm - is that a word?) and so she was willing to jump right in and help out. We're a little rough around the edges yet, but I thingk we're improving and will get better over time.

I made this video for a student who lives in India and who takes lessons via Skype from me every week. I've been promising to do a demonstration for her for awhile now so we have her to thank for pushing me out of my rut and getting me started. Thank you Mamta! I hope this works for you.

Although I've evolved into a indirect painter over the years since my alla prima days of being a daily painter, Mamta is interested in learning alla prima techniques so I gathered together a couple of apples and put together this exercise. I enjoyed the process so much, I think we'll be doing a bunch more over the coming year. More alla prima because the practice is good for me - and a variety of other subjects as well. Here it is. Hope you enjoy it. I would appreciate any feedback you may have. Say it nicely please. :-)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Studio Tour

Studio Tour

I have recently started teaching through Skype. Of course Skype is a great tool but it makes it difficult for my students to see what I'm doing when I paint because I can't direct the camera on my computer. Sooooo...the obvious answer is video! Now I'm no veteran video artist so this requires a learning curve. I pulled out my video camera - which was brand new about three years ago and which I only used once. I know. Bad, right? But better late than never. So as a practice exercise, I decided to do a tour of my studio which one of my Skype students thought would be nice to see. I must warn you, however, that I failed to do any house cleaning when I shot this and it's pretty raw. But it will give you a very good idea of the space I work and create in. So, welcome to my studio. Hope you enjoy the stay. I wanted to offer wine, however, there just wasn't an option for that on YouTube. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How to paint Orchids and Tapestry

Ok, Ok, I know it's been a long time since I published. But, hey, I've been studying at an atelier in Seattle twice a week and teaching all day on Wednesdays. That leaves me four days in order to be a wife, clean my house, paint two days and do homework on the fourth. I'm out of breath just thinking about it. But I'm making up for it - I've got a nice long lesson for you.

In fact, it's so long, I've opted to put it on my website so that I could organize it better for you and make it go faster for myself. It still took me three hours to put it all together, so cut me some slack. The painting took about four weeks. Here's the finished piece, now just click here for the lesson. If for any reason the link doesn't work, go to, click on the link for "Student's Atelier" and then on the link for "Oil Painting Lessons and Still Life" and then on the link for "Lesson IV: Balance. Orchids and Tapestry". See you at the web page!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to Paint a Magnolia Spray

Summers are always a very busy time for artists. It's when things really come alive in the art community. Art fairs start happening, galleries are all a buzz, art walks get under way and studios open their doors for tours. And that's exactly what I've been up to. Since I started attending atelier with Tenaya Sims six months ago, I've barely had time to paint let alone put together a lesson. And then when summer came along, well, the first paragraph says it all.

Thanks to Facebook, I've recently been connecting with old friends and one of my teenage buddies just commissioned a small painting from me. So I thought that I might as well kick off a lesson while I painted. This time I remembered to set my timer so I could take photos at regular intervals.

OK - here's the set up. My friend just wanted a spray of Magnolias without the attendant vase. Schucks! I really love painting vases, but alas, it was not to be. So the vase in the lower left hand corner will not be included in the painting. For the sake of expediency, I'll not be capitalizing the names of the paints. Now remember, the photo is for the sake of this blog. I NEVER PAINT FROM PHOTOS FOR FLOWERS! I emphasize this because it's something I'm adamant about. In fact, I almost never use photos except for the occasional landscape and then only because my bad and aching back doesn't allow for a lot of plein air junkets anymore.

I started with a sketch of the spray on a gessoed panel and then fixed it with spray fixative. Krylon spray will do for this. I followed up with a tone of raw umber - my preferred tone for floral underpaintings. Then I lifted out the lights trying to pay attention to where the shadows fell. I didn't worry too much about the stems as I paint them in last and can find them by just looking at the setup.Next I laid in a background of raw umber mixed with some cadmium yellow light, naples yellow and a tad of titanium white.

As always, I started laying in the shadow shapes keeping everything soft and not too sharp. The shadows were at this point a simple mix of ivory black, cadmium yellow and white - maybe a touch of ultramarine blue. The blue is sometimes a nice touch but not always necessary as ivory black is actually quite blue in tone. As a matter of fact, many of the masters used it before lapis blue became widely available. It's a credit to them that they managed, through a solid understanding of color theory, to make it look so blue.

The reddish tones were added by the judicious use of a little Pouzzouli Red (more about this color later). The yellow tones by the addition of a mixture of yellow ochre and white.

Of course the lights came next. Cool offsets warm and vice versa. I also used some of the background color to tie in the flowers with their background so they looked airy and not pasted on. Relative to the lights, the shadows are slightly cool. Thus the use of naples yellow and titanium white to make a warm white mixture is the trick here in making the lights pop. But here's another interesting and conflicting point - just to confuse you. Had I mixed a very small amount of ultramarine blue in with the white instead, it would have worked well also. That's because the cadmium in the shadows would have played off against the cool blue. Still, I like the way naples yellow brightens whites and I save a cool white for when I really want to throw a zinger in.

At this point I wasn't laying the paint on too thick. I wanted to keep my edges soft and add the globs of paint that would give sharper edges to the blooms after I decided where they were necessary. Things look relatively flat at this point, but hold on to your paint brushes. Things will start to improve shortly.

Here I've started to paint in the smaller flowers and buds. You can see that I've also started to add some thicker paint. Notice that I do this on the petals that are coming forward in the flowers. In order to push the ones in the back ground back, you paint those petals flatter and thinner. Thick accents thin just as warm accents cool.

Here's a closeup of the flowers.

Now on to the leaves. I generally don't carry a green on my palette but for for magnolias it's helpful to use a little thalo green. Now this is a very cool green because of a blue tint. Thalo is also a chemical color - not a natural pigment color. As a result, it has a very strong tinting strength and should never be used straight from the tube or in large amounts. I toned the thalo green with alizarin crimson which darkened it without warming it too much. Alazarin has blue in it and is a cool red. The use of cadmium red would have made the mixture too brownish (green/blue and red/orange cancel each other out). This cool mixture helped immensely when I got to the back side of some of the leaves which were a warm orangey color. Again, the play of cool against warm makes these leaves stand out.

The highlights or lighter passages on the blue/green leaves were done with a lightened background mixture.

For the orangey/brownish or golden leaves, I used a mixture of yellow ochre and touches of either naples hellow for the lighter parts or burnt umber for the darker shadows. As always, I laid in the shadows first!

Here's a closeup of the leaves.

Lastly, before I put in the stems, I punched things up a bit. The central flower was lacking color, so I warmed up the blossom by laying in touches of warm reddish tones. The color I uses is Pozzuoli Red from Rublev. It's a natural pigment but very close to burnt sienna, except it's opaque rather than transparent as is burnt sienna. However, burnt sienna should work equally as well. A bit more yellow ochre in a few places and some pinkish tones from a mixture of cadmium red light and white, and the color was right.

But I still wasn't finished. At this point, I sharpened some of the edges, deepened some of the shadows and thickened some of the lights. Then I added the center of the bloom with stamen.

The finishing touches came with the stems. These were executed with mixtures of alizarin crimson and Pouzzouli Red for the darks and touches of the leaf mixtures for highlights and some additional darks.

Here's the final piece. Hope you like it....hope my friend likes it.

"Magnolia Spray", 11" x 14", Oil on Panel

Friday, April 17, 2009


I'm done! My new studio is finished and ready for visitors. I'll be hosting my first workshop in the new studio and you're invited!

Ala Prima with Susan Martin Spar

Tired of struggling to make a rose look like a rose or make a sunflower shine? Do your flowers look stiff or pasted on to the background? Having trouble choosing a background color?

This workshop is designed to help you
paint soft, lilting and believable flowers
that breathe.

Learn to paint the “air”
around your florals and give them a
feeling of atmosphere and light.

You will learn to:

Design a composition that works to bring the
viewer’s eye to your focal point.

Paint a flower convincingly in just a few brush strokes.Tie your painting together with color harmonyPaint your flowers in reflective and transparent receptacles.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Oil Painting Lesson for Peonies and Asian Vase

Here's a close up of the leaves and table flowers. It's not that noticeable in the photo but I've been enhancing some of the blooms by deepening color and scumbling lites in a a few places. Tips of the petals have more color in them and I've added this in a few places. Often things that are not at first noticeable to you, become more so as time goes by. These less obvious statements can be brought out in later passes.

There's a bit of reflected pink on the side of the vase where the flowers rest against it. I've added that as well. Notice there are no shadows yet on the table top. Generally these are added even before I start a painting, but I opted to use a glazing method to put them in afterwards. I wanted to develop the leaves a bit more before I do that.

So here I've started to add some of the stems and more leaves. In order to differentiate the ones in front from the leaves in back, I've lighted some of the edges on the leaves. I'll refine these even further in the last session.

Notice the cast shadows from the leaves on the table cloth.

I felt that the peony on the left side was a bit too lit up and it was stealing the show from the larger one which is the main focal point of the painting. Even though I loved the way that other peony looked, it's never a good idea to sacrifice an entire painting for the purpose of preserving a single passage. So I mixed a glaze of the Quinacridone Pink with some green and started to knock it down a bit.
Now that the pant is dry on the other flowers, I'm free to add some modeling to some of the petals by adding more lights and darks. The lights are added with mixtures of titanium white which has high tinting strength and small amounts of Naples Yellow or the Quinacridone Pink - depending on what I'm after. If I add a white/yellow mixture, the petal will round outward. If I add a the pink, it will tend to retreat a bit. Not as much as if I cooled the mixture with green, but just enough to turn the petal away from me.

I've also done some more darkening on the apple on the left. The stems and leaves are easier to view here.

Oops. Camera is a bit tilted here. But I think you can get an idea. I've mixed some Ultramarine Blue with some umber to tone it down. A glaze mixture with the use of Maroger Medium was combined and then using a soft sable, I started to lay in the lines for the blue design on the vase. I'm careful here to maintain the structure of the vase which is not quite round, but slightly squared off. The design helps to describe the form.

The paint under the glaze is completely dry so that it's safe to put the glaze on, and if I make a mistake, wipe it out with a brush that has been wet with thinner.
I took the time here to work some more on the petals of the flower resting on the table. I've darkened some of the leaves and created stronger cast shadows from them on the table cloth.

Here I've added more details. The design the top of the vase is done by making a mixture of shadow white with a touch of ultramarine blue. Remember this part of the design is in the shadow.

I've also refined the shape and thickness of the blue lines and darkened the shadow under the vase and some of the other objects on the table.

Viola! Finito la comedia. Or, in other words, done! Much nicer when you get to view the whole piece in one shot.

The final design is in. I've heightened the lights on the vase in a couple of places by scumbling in some lighter mixture here and there. The table top is a bit more lit up where the apples are. I'm also finally happy with the peony that is drooping off to the left. It no longer steals the show and tucks back nicely with some atmosphere around it. I've darkened the table cloth toward the bottom of the picture as well.

Well, the painting is done, signed and for the most part, both the client and myself are happy with it. Hope you like it too. Thanks for stopping by. Remember, in order to see the whole lesson in one easy read, check out the lesson on my website by clicking here.

"Full Bloom"
18" x 24", Oil on Canvas

Darn! Hit that button by accident! We'll pick up where I left off.