Shameless Book Promotion


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This is a post about painting. Kind of. It’s more a post about the voices that appear in my head when I paint. Kind of. It’s more a post about fear. Kind of. It’s really a post about a book that I just published that I’d like to promote.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the story. A little over a year ago my girlfriend, Sonia and I moved in together. And that kicked up ALL KINDS OF FEAR based on old thought patterns and old relationships. I’ve spent the past year writing about the process of moving through my fears, and I’m happy to report that IT WORKED! I didn’t scamper back to my man-cave bachelor pad when my fears reared their heads. Rather, I discovered a process for “flipping” my fear into something greater, something bigger, something inspired. And that’s what I wrote about.

My sister, Katie designed the cover. I love it!


And then I found a website that converts your cover into all kinds of cool promotional images:

Ok, so not all of them are cool. In fact some of them are kinda laughable. But I can’t help but be just a little giddy to see my book displayed in so many ways.

So here’s where I write about painting. I’ve noticed that when I paint there’s a whole chorus of voices that bounce around in my mindspace:

  • Who do you think you are? You’re a fraud! F-R-A-U-D.
  • Wow, this is pretty awesome. You’re going to make big bucks as a professional artist, my friend. Haha! Just kidding!
  • This sucks!! Why are you doing this to yourself!!
  • Not bad. It only took you TWO MONTHS to finish.
  • Keep your day job. Definitely keep your day job.

You get the point. I have the seed of an idea to develop a painting workshop where participants use their painting to surface these pesky little voices, and then we deal with them in the workshop. And my book, The Flipside of Fear, provides the three-step process for doing this. Cool, eh?

Enough said. Now here’s the shameless promotion: Download my book!! It’s being offered free until Thursday, 2/22. And share it with your friends who hear voices in their heads and aren’t ashamed to admit it.

Thank you very much. ūüôā

P.s. You can find the book on Amazon ( or you can click on any of the links shamelessly peppered throughout this post.


The Wentworth


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The Wentworth Hotel in Newcastle, New Hampshire is a beautiful old-world 1870s hotel that was restored by Marriott in 2000 after being closed and abandoned for 20 years. The mosaic below contains 2 renditions each from the Wentworth of yester-year, the Wentworth in disrepair, and the Wentworth now.

Sonia and I spent a couple nights there to celebrate her birthday. It was a cool summer in New England, so we were pleased to see that the forecast predicted a short warm streak that coincided with our stay.

I love poolside vacations when the only choices are:

  1. Read
  2. Nap
  3. Eat
  4. Swim
  5. Paint
  6. Just Be

I cycled through all of these, and especially enjoyed the poolside menu…

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(If you’ve never tried mayo with your fries, you should). Looking out from our perch in the adults-only section of the pool, I saw an intriguing view:

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It’s not a particularly stunning view. What interested me was the the roof line right beyond and to the right of the open umbrella. I liked the shape, the shadows, the color, the perspective. I was also intrigued by the pine trees in the background. When I started sketching, the umbrellas in front of me were down, and I thought it would be a fun challenge to try to capture the folds of the fabric.

Here’s what emerged:

Of course, my eye immediately goes to all of the things that are “wrong” with it. But as a practice in celebrating what pleases me, I’ll list what I like. ūüôā

  • I love the color of the umbrella, and I think I captured the folds and shadows of the fabric.
  • I like the foliage in the foreground. It’s complex without being too heavy or detailed.
  • I really like the pine trees. I used a technique from a workshop several years ago to draw the trees. I love pine trees in general, and seeing and painting them brings me back to the mountains.
  • I like the colors in the roof, including the shadows on the beams.
  • I like the clouds. I don’t usually sketch in cloud lines, but I kind of like how it turned out.
  • I added splatters, and I really like how they increase the texture and give the illusion of detail.

When I was done, I made a small little sketch in my sketchbook of what was happening to the left of the scene above: Pool Chaos. Flocks of kids were enjoying themselves just a little too much for my taste. ūüôā

I loved our Wentworth vacation. What one thing are your eyes most drawn to in this painting? What pleases you?


Winnipesaukee #2


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Later in the afternoon as we were enjoying our day trip to Lake Winnipesaukee, I found my gaze drifting to the town of Wolfeboro, just across the water from Brewster beach. Fun Fact: Wolfeboro boasts being the oldest summer resort in the U.S.

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Feeling a surge of inspiration, I took out my kit and started sketching. I did my best to keep the sketch loose and quick:

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I really like the composition—the big tree in the foreground on the right and the right-hand shoreline angling to the left, drawing the eye to the focal point of the painting, which is the town and the mountains in the background.

Earlier in the day when we ate lunch, the ducks got really aggressive. I had to threaten them with a foam noodle to get them to back off. Vicious duck on the prowl for vittles shown below:


Now, as I sketched, the ducks settled down and took a nap.


What emerged is this:

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I really like how the clouds and water turned out. I added some violet mixed with burnt umber to give the clouds shadows. And I chose to leave some white space in the water. It feels more spacious to me. That was hard for me to do, as the tendency is to want to fill all space with paint. I also added some splatters, trying not to go overboard with them (which is tempting when you start flipping the brush, let me just say).

This was a great way to end our day on Brewster beach. The afternoon sun, the napping ducks, Sonia and Alix soaking in the sun. Painting this scene grounded me in that precious moment and helped me to take in all that it had to offer. And that’s one of the main reasons I love to sketch and paint.

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Winnipesaukee #1


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Lake Winnipesaukee (a beast to spell correctly) is about an hour from home and is a favorite New England vacation spot. Seeing that the water temps can get into the high 70s, it presents a significantly more attractive option for swimming than the beaches on the ocean, which in my experience average around 65 degrees in the summer. I can do 64 degrees “comfortably.” It was 60 degrees the last time I went in a couple days ago. Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

Winnipesaukee’s Brewster Beach is located in the town of Wolfeboro, and it’s there that we spent an afternoon during my sister Alix’s recent visit. This scene inspired me (the picture was taken by Alix):


I began by painting the sky. Until recently, when I painted sky, I would bring the sky paint down just to the horizon/tree line and no further. Remembering a few painting lessons from a while ago, I did something different this time. I brought the sky paint all the way down to the bottom of the painting, except where I wanted to reserve white space (like the seagull, the sails in the background, and the boat).

At first it felt wrong—like I was ruining the trees and mountains by first painting a light layer of blue over them. But then I reminded myself that the the green of trees and the violet of mountains both have blue in them. In fact, most colors I mix have some blue in them.

The advantages of bringing the sky paint down:

  • It makes the line between sky and horizon/trees much less choppy.
  • It allows for nifty little “sky holes” to appear in the tree. I used to paint the sky holes in after I painted the tree, and it created choppiness. These look much more natural. Leave an area of the tree unpainted, and there you have a sky hole.
  • It creates a base layer for the water that’s the same color as the sky, which is true for real water—it generally reflects the color of the sky.
  • It creates more unity in the painting.

I also did my splatter technique to add some texture and depth and abstraction to the painting. And I left my pencil lines in this painting. My practice has been mostly to erase the pencil lines after I add pen. This time around I thought why not leave them in? I like the extra texture and complexity it adds to the painting. More expressive, I think.

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When I first drafted this blog post, the boat was white, which was it’s actual color (shown in the painting and photo above).¬†Looking at the painting in the process of writing this blog post, I thought it might be nice to add some more color, so I simply added some yellow to the boat. Yellow felt like the right color. I didn’t like that, so I made it into orange. Wasn’t crazy about that, so I did cerulean blue. Here are the orange and blue versions.

Which do you like best? White boat, orange boat, or blue boat?

Note: Alix (standing in the water) and the seagull weren’t really having a staring contest. But that’s what emerged in the painting. ūüôā

Folly Cove


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When does graffiti cease being graffiti and start being a piece of history? Do you notice the “AR ER” painted on the rocks in the center of the photo below?


I consider it a piece of history—it’s over 100 years old, and it has a very special meaning for me and my family.

Here’s the story. Both my grandparents families on my father’s side immigrated from Finland around the turn of the century. The Seppala family (grandmother’s side) purchased a home on Folly Cove in Gloucester, MA, right on the Rockport line in the late 1800s. It became a dormitory of sorts for newly arrived Finnish immigrants. The Ronkas with their five boys—Ensio, Arne (my granddad), Laurie, George, and Toimi—lived right across the street on the Gloucester/Rockport town line. Summers were spent swimming in the Folly, fishing, and climbing rocks, and winters were spent sledding, ice skating, and hanging out in the Finnish sauna.

When Arne and Ensio were somewhere in their mid teens, they thought it would be a good idea to make their mark on Folly Cove by writing their initials on the rocks. They decided that the better swimmer would win the right to mark their initials larger than the other’s. So, they held a contest—they raced each other across the cove. Arne won. So, around 1915, they took a bucket of pitch and made their mark, with “AR” being larger than “ER.”

The initials fade every now and then, and someone (we don’t know who) always refreshes them. I’m sure the residents of Gloucester and Rockport blame some young vandals. And they’re right… except the vandals would be over 100 years old now.

A couple of years ago, on what was around the 100th year anniversary of the race (we don’t know exactly when it happened), my sister Alix and I visited Folly Cove, and yep, I took out my kit and sketched away.

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It was fun imagining Arne and Ensio pushing off for their race from the very rocks I was sitting on. I felt a certain connection to my heritage and their youthful spirits. I imagined how much life has been lived since then—both by them and by me. And how they had hopes and dreams about how their lives would turn out, just as I do. They had no concept back then of the 21st century, and even less of a 40-something grandchild returning to this same spot. Arne and Ensio now rest together in a family plot at the Seaside Cemetery on the other side of the trees overlooking the Folly, a stone’s throw away. Coincidentally, Arne’s name is printed in larger letters than Ensio’s on their grave markers.

Search results for Folly Cove

Some day my parents will be buried there. And then me, if I choose that as my final resting place. Shown below is the Ronka family plot, and just down the “block” is the Seppala plot (my grandmother’s side of the family).

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Of course, everyone living now will all pass away.¬† And 100 years from now—2117—perhaps another Ronka will be sitting on the rocks, contemplating the lives of those who came before, wondering who keeps refreshing the AR ER.

And that’s the circle of life—expansion, contraction, expansion, contraction. One of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr writes about this. He explains that as the form and structure (i.e. the body) contracts, the spirit continues to expand. He posits that most people, if they come to understand this natural cycle, usually don’t “get it” until they’re in their 40s or so—when enough life experience has built up to reveal their limitations and the inevitability of death. Some people—those who have experienced great suffering early in life—get it earlier. And some people never get it, desperately clinging to that which is passing away. The difference between those who grow old and become caricatures of their worst parts and those who grow old gracefully is the recognition that the spirit is what lives on forever and the decision to attend to and nurture it.

May we all be in that camp.




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Rockport is located on the tip of Cape Ann in Massachusetts. It’s a very special place for my family. Both sides of my dad’s family immigrated to the US from Finland in the early 1900s and ended up settling in what was then a Finnish community on Cape Ann.

When I was growing up in southern California, my parents drove us across country (more than once) in a station wagon to visit my grandparents. Think of the Griswold family in National Lampoon’s “Vacation,” but add two more kids.

National Lampoon Vacation

Being the youngest of the four, I always ended up in the back, tucked into a little nest carved out between the suitcases, bags, and food cooler, constantly trying to rid myself of pesky little bits of granola bar and Triscuit stuck to my body. And no seat belts for any of us (although I do believe my parents always wore theirs…).

At any rate, I have many early childhood memories of Rockport. Just about every time my sister, Alix visits me, we make a pilgrimage to Rockport to see the familiar sites and visit the graves of our grandparents. She visited this past August, and Sonia, Alix, and I made the short trek from Maine to Cape Ann.

We ended up at a restaurant on the tip of Bearskin Neck, an idyllic pier with shops and restaurants and views of lobster boats and light houses.

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As we waited for our meal, I surveyed the view and started a mental sketch…

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…nearby rocks, lobster buoys, far shore, and boats puttering around to serve as models (none of which made it into this photo). Perfect. I had brought my painting kit with me—I have a man-purse dedicated for that purpose. I took it out and transferred my mental sketch to paper:

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I’ve been practicing boats, and I was pleased with how this little lobster boat turned out. I’ll probably do a blog post on this later, but for now, let me say that I learned the best way to get the curves of a boat to look authentic is to first draw a figure 8 on its side. You erase a couple of lines, and voila, you have the hull of a boat. Hacking the boat sketch, so to speak.

Alix and Sonia enjoyed the sun and chatted as I worked.

As you can see, I used my nifty water brush (still very much in love with it!). What emerged is this:

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The painting looks a little more dark and stormy than it actually was, but then that sometimes happens, doesn’t it? I used a finishing technique on this painting that I learned in a workshop a while back, but hadn’t ever applied to my sketchbooking: The Splatter. Getting my brush wet with blue paint, I flipped the brush a few times to get little splatters of paint. It was a harder to do with my water brush, but it worked. I like how the splatters create texture and depth without being distracting. Somehow it seems to add a little more abstraction and expression to the painting.

I was also mindful of being loose throughout the painting. I didn’t get too hung up on the the lines or on blending the paint perfectly. This is my current intention–to paint with more expression and let go of realism.

And that, my friends, was painting Rockport. I’ll leave you with a collage of other photos from our day trip.

Camera Uploads

Cranmore Mountain


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I live on the ocean, and it’s beautiful. The ocean is full of sounds and smells and movement. It’s always changing. But the mountains — steady, silent, calm. Two very different settings, each so life-giving in its own way. Having grown up in both southern California and Colorado, the mountains and the ocean are both in my blood. But the mountains hold a very special place in my heart and soul.

So, you can imagine my delight upon learning that Sonia’s sister and brother-in-law purchased a new home in the mountains. We visited them recently and were dumbstruck by the beauty of their hideaway nestled in the New Hampshire White Mountains. Sonia and I ventured out into the nearby town of North Conway and decided to take the chair lift to the top of Cranmore Mountain, a ski resort within spitting distance of the quaint little town.

The gentle swinging of the lift as the mountain slowly slid beneath us and the periodic bumping as we passed over the squeaky cable wheels made me anticipate the coming winter and accompanying skiing! But for now, it was a beautifully sunny, slightly cool, late August day — the kind of day when you find yourself putting on and then taking off your jacket depending on whether the sun is showing itself.

After a short hike to explore the summit, we settled down on the patio of the lodge with grilled cheese and fries with mayo (European style, heheh). The view was breathtaking and begging to be captured in a sketch.

I did something a little different than my usual. I wanted to see how fast and loose I could be. I did a quick sketch with pencil, but didn’t go over it with pen. Blurring my eyes, I tried to stay in flow as I let my new watercolor brush deposit paint and push around the colors on the paper.

Here’s what emerged:


I paid special attention to value (dark/light), making sure I kept the distant mountains light and faded. As I painted the foreground, I used more color, with darker pigments. This gave the painting more dimension, and it’s something I’ve struggled with in the past (normally tending toward less variation in tone, which creates a very flat painting).

What I noticed is that it looks best when viewed from a distance. I think this is often the case with watercolor. Or maybe I should say, it’s often the case with expressionistic/impressionistic watercolor. Detailed and realistic watercolor can be viewed up close and personal, but that’s not really how I paint. Or rather, it’s not how I want to paint. I actually find myself tending toward more detail and control, but I aspire to be more impressionistic. I want the painting to express my feelings and emotions, and not just be a painted version of what you can capture in a photograph.

I know not everyone prefers this, but it’s my preference. And this is a big difference that I see between artists–those whose paintings evoke an emotion in me vs. those whose paintings cause a sense admiration for the artist’s technical skill. Both are obviously valid forms of painting, but I like art that makes me feel something in my heart.

I immensely enjoyed the process of painting this mountain scene. As always, it grounded me in the present moment–paying close attention to colors, tone, and shapes while hearing the birds and the rustling of wind in the trees and the sounds of children playing. What a view. What a day!

I love the mountains.

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It’s been a long while. And a lot has happened in that long while. But not a lot of painting. Until recently. While it’s been nearly two years since I last posted, and while my painting went through a significant hiatus, my creative bug has still been finding ways to emerge. Allow me a short personal/creative update.

I’ve been working on two books. The first book is a book on how to design and lead transformational learning experiences (e.g. workshops and retreats). I’m co-writing it with a small group of collaborators with whom I co-lead workshops on the same topic at a retreat center in western Massachusetts (Kripalu, which showed up in my blog post,¬†The Berkshires in Stained Glass). Yes, we lead workshops on workshops. The second book is a passion project about how to productively deal with fear, which topic has been particularly relevant to me as I’ve moved into a new phase of my life.

That new phase has also been a source of creativity. For those who don’t know, I went through a divorce about three years ago. The three years since then have been rich with life lessons, both difficult and rewarding. ¬†Sonia (my girlfriend) and I started dating about a year and a half ago, and at the beginning of this year we moved in together. We found a beautiful apartment in a colonial house overlooking the ocean in a small coastal town in southern Maine that we call our Cliffhouse. Landscaping and decorating have provided a rich (and time consuming!) creative outlet.

Now, back to painting. I’ve experienced a resurgence in my painting due in large part to a new watercolor brush. Alix, my sister, sent me a link to a video of a sketchbook artist painting scenes in Bonn, Germany (where I spent my high school years). It’s a great video, and if I could find it, I’d include it here. But alas, it seems to be lost in the land of obscure search terms.

At any rate, I noticed that the artist in the video was using a watercolor brush with a little tank containing the water. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve created a sketch in the field with the intent to add paint later, and then nothing. And the longer I wait, the more reluctant I am to add the paint, fearing that I’m going to ruin what started out as a good sketch. Here’s a sampling of my unpainted sketches:

Thinking this might be the key to unlocking my painting block, I impulsively ordered a set of brushes from Amazon Prime (“one-click” purchasing: very, very dangerous). To my delight, it worked! Since getting the brushes, I’ve experienced a resurgence in my painting. I’m able to easily add paint to my sketches while on site with no need to carry around a couple of containers for my water.

It’s simple: Fill that little bad boy up with water, put it in my painting kit, whip it out, and paint. Just about every one of those sketches would probably be painted if I’d had Little Bad Boy:

Watercolor Brush

I’ve been surprised how easy it is to use. You squeeze the tank to bring water into the brush, use the wet brush to get your color wet, and then it soaks up the paint into the bristles. To clean the brush between colors, you just squeeze a little more and wipe it a few times on a napkin. The only downside is that it’s hard to get dry brush effects. But that’s a small price to pay for being able to paint so easily in the field!

Stay tuned for a resurgence in blog posts. ūüôā

And if you’re interested, here are the brushes I use . They’re Pentel Arts Aquash Water Brush Assorted Tips (I regularly use only one size, but it came in a set of three sizes):

Happy painting!

A Mountain Study – Part 3


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…continued from Part 2.

With three mountain paintings behind me, I was ready to try again. Yes, this might be considered an obsession at this point. This time I backed way up. On day three of the workshop, Ann taught us how to do a monochromatic value study, eliminating colors in order to really focus on just the values in the painting.

So, here’s my process for Mountain #4, the final painting in the series…

Original Photo (Cropped). I decided to crop the photo and focus in on just the mountains and trees, leaving out the reflection to simplify things a bit. To see values, I first tried blurring my eyes to notice the light and dark patterns. The lightest value (nearly white) is the sky on the right side of the picture. and the darkest value is the trees in the foreground.2015-08-14 12.13.49 - Copy-003

Red-Lens View of Photo.¬†I also viewed the picture through both a red and a green plastic lens. When you do this, the values really pop out, because the green/red somehow neutralizes¬†most of the¬†colors. In this way,¬†the brain can see value much more clearly, because it doesn’t have to simultaneously distinguish color. Here’s a rendition of the photo as seen through a red lens. If you squint your eyes, the value differences really stand out. Shapes also really stand out.2015-08-14 12.13.49 - Copy-002

Value Study Sketch. After studying the photo with squinted eyes and through the green and red lenses, I did a value sketch, just using pencil. I tried to focus on getting the relative value of each element/layer of the drawing right.2015-10-27 15.21.45

Monochromatic Value Studies. After the sketch, the next step was to do a monochromatic value study, using just one color of paint. I ended up doing two monochromatic paintings.

Monochromatic #1.¬†My first attempt was a bit of a wash (hah, hah, pun intended). It didn’t end up being monochromatic, and because of that, I wasn’t really focusing on value. I’m not sure how it happened, except I just couldn’t bring myself to use one color only.2015-08-14 12.15.10 - Copy-001

Monochromatic #2. Having learned my lesson with monochromatic #1, I mixed a sepia color and tried again. I started from the back of the painting with the lightest layer (the sky), and I worked my way forward, adding more paint to the mix to darken the value for each new layer (ending with the trees in the foreground).2015-08-14 12.15.38

I actually really like how the value study turned out, which says a lot for the fast and easy I-don’t-care-how-this-turns-out method.

The Real-Deal Painting. Once the value study was done, it was time to face the blank paper again. Ann suggested that one should paint using ONLY the value study for reference (not the photograph). The problem with a photograph is that it contains way too much detail, and when you try to capture that in a painting, you tend to overdo it. So I exercised great restraint and only referred to the photograph for colors and nothing else.

And here it is, ladies and gentlemen — The Final Painting In My Mountain Study:
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With this painting (as compared to the other mountain paintings in prior posts),¬†I started out with a bluer (that spelling just doesn’t look right) mountain. My initial version was too light (I was now paranoid¬†of making the background too dark), so I added another wash¬†of paint to darken it up. I also added some splatters and grass to the foreground for added texture and detail. For the clouds, I used the paint-around method. The blue mountain pushes the mountain to the background, where it belongs. And the detail and darker trees bring the foreground, well, forward.

Conclusions from The Great Mountain Study.¬†I learned so much by painting four paintings of the same subject (see Mountain Study Part 1 and Part 2). One thing I would do differently next time, though, is to paint the paintings one after the other, rather than simultaneously (which is what¬†I did for Mountains¬†#1, #2, and #3). While painting¬†them simultaneously¬†was¬†convenient (because I was able to¬†let one painting dry while working¬†on another), I¬†wasn’t¬†able to incorporate lessons-learned into each subsequent¬†painting.

Overall, I gained a real appreciation for planning out a painting and taking the time to do the value study. Thank you, Ann Lindsay, for your expert instruction!

And I think I could paint the shadows on that darn mountain in my sleep now.

A Mountain Study – Part 2


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…continued from Part 1.

The next day of the workshop, Ann did a lesson on Value. (From my past posts, you might remember the three things I learned to keep in mind while painting: 1-Shape, 2-Color, and 3-Value.)

And the light bulbs went off. Everything looks flat because there’s very little variation in value. The background mountain is just as dark as the foreground trees.

Here’s one of the three unfinished mountains from my previous post.

Version 1:

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Yup. Background mountains and foreground trees are the same Value. And it all looks flat.

Ann taught me that two simple principles (at least) govern the perception of depth in a landscape painting:

  1. Foreground objects are darker in value than background objects.
  2. Background mountains tend to have a blue tint.

Blue? Yes, blue. Apparently in landscape painting (and in real life), the further away something is (in the distance), the more blue it is. Blue. Who knew?

I consulted with Ann, and we decided on a course of treatment for my painting. She suggested that I first mop up color from the mountain by painting on clean water and then using a course brush or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Yes, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.


Then she suggested that I paint a glaze of ultramarine blue over the faded-out mountain.

So, I mopped and glazed (and discovered one more¬†“cleaning possibility” that I doubt Mr. Clean anticipated).

Version 2:

2015-10-20 14.28.26In the process, the tops of the trees (where they extend up into the base of the mountain) got wiped out. So I had to repaint them (which is why they’re darker in the second version).

I’m quite pleased by the difference this made. The effect was to push the mountain into the background, where it belongs. And the larger trees, by painting them darker, are pulled into the foreground.

I haven’t yet painted the reflection, but now I’m much more positively inclined to do so.

Inspired by what I saw, I decided to do the same thing with the third mountain. Here’s Version 1¬†(I had the advantage of not yet having painted the trees on this one):


And Version 2 after mopping and glazing and painting the trees and reflection:

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I really like how the reflection¬†turned out. To get the rippling water effect,¬†I took a very fine, hard-bristled brush (for erasing paint), wet it, and lightly rubbed¬†it horizontally to create the lighter horizontal “smeared” lines in the water.

And that, my friends, is what I learned about value.


(credit to Boomer Girl, Cathy Hamilton for the fist-bumping Mr. Clean)

But wait! That’s not all… Stay tuned for a final mountain study post.