Art Cafe…It’s All About the White

Robert Rauschenberg, White Paintings 1951

In 1951, Robert Rauschenberg painted 3 panels with white house paint. In 2014, another artist, Robert Ryman’s white paintings sold for $15 million. If only I had known earlier, I might have a very different art career. 🙂

Robert Ryman
Robert Ryman

Click here to enjoy the irony of artists being told to not use too much white when they paint. Next week, it’s the black painting series…just kidding.


Jean Cauthen…another Art History Mini Class

Over Mona’s Shoulder:

Landscape Painting Early Days

One hot summer day in 1473 a young artist sat on a Tuscan hill and sketched the first known landscape “on location”.

Leonardo's landscape drawing on location
Leonardo’s landscape sketch on location

The artist was Leonardo da Vinci and the scene was near the Arno River.

Can you make my halo bigger?

The sketch was a first. At the time, rich and religious patrons were seeking only pictures of themselves, Bible stories or any combination of the two. If a painting’s main subject matter had been hills or trees it would have been considered the velvet Elvis of its time. Not that there’s anything wrong with velvet Elvis.

So, except for some dusty ancient Roman wall paintings, the art history landscape would not be littered with

Leave the window open, would ya?

However, look closely and you can spot the rumblings of a growing interest in the great outdoors. For example, squint your eyes, peer just through the window, behind the woman, in this Fra Filippo Lippi painting. Could you spot it? An itsy-bitsy little landscape?

Fra Filippl Lippi
Portrait of a Man and a Woman at a Casement. (c.1440) Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Lippi detail
Fra Filippo Lippi, detail

1450-1600:  Soooooooo Retro

These natural world rumblings were part of the Renaissance (a revival of ancient Greek and Roman ideas). We artsy types blather on about the art and architecture of the time, but geeks of any flavor will tell you that all things Greek and Roman meant delving into science, math, philosophy, astronomy, Humanism, physics, medicine and literature. Pretty much everything those guys thought about was worthy of re-visiting.

Given this fascination, who but Leonardo (our resident polymath and artist on a hill), would be better suited to lead the Renaissance charge back to the future?

Leonardo's Water Wheel
Leonardo’s Water Wheel

Leonardo on the rocks: not just a drink idea

The era fit perfectly with the learning obsessed Leonardo. He grappled with physics, especially in regard to geology, water and hydraulics. He saw water as “the sculptor of the earth.” Erosion shaped rocks. Like the ones in Madonna of the Rocks. A scene most artists depict in a desert, Leonardo sees as an excuse to paint rocks.

Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin of the Rocks
“Madonna of the Rocks” (1492) by Leonardo da Vinci, The National Gallery of London.


A Cypress tree is never just a Cypress tree

Leonardo saw landscape as metaphor. Rocks as something elemental. Cavernous. Mysterious.

The earth, he believed, mirrored the systems of the human body (think: rivers as blood vessels) as well as the soul. Leonardo may have penned drawings like the one on the hill to aid in his knowledge of geography (draw “to understand,” he said). But the landscapes that made their way to his canvases are likely from his own complicated head.

Leonardo da Vinci, Annunciation landscape, detail

Olin Mills called. He wants his backdrop.

In that most famous of paintings, the one with the sfumato-smokey eyes that have held our gaze for over 500 years, we see a landscape that is oh-so-lovingly depicted.

Mona’s Landscape, the detail of Mona Lisa

It is a view that includes waterways (of course!), rocks and roads.

His famous atmospheric perspective dissolves the crisp details of the middle ground into a light. Men live in this space. There are roads. A bridge. Leonardo loved this painting. He never delivered it to the man who commissioned it, but rather kept it, reworking it until his death in France. As he applied some 40 layers of thin paint, the view over Mona’s shoulder may have emerged as a roadmap.

It did not map a real geographic space, nor was it a fantasy. Rather, perhaps those rocky roads traced a summary of the artist’s own search.

A search chronicled in thousands of pages of notebooks; a search that led him to dissect human bodies; to study the natural and the man-made.

To imagine robots and flying machines. A search that started on a hill in 1473.

Jean ProfileJean Cauthen is a Painter and fake Art Historian. She has a studio in Mint Hill, NC and teaches Arts and Culture classes at UNCC. Her painting workshops in Italy always include a “Gelato and Art History” tour of Florence, Italy where she asks that participants keep any discrepancies to themselves and focus on the gelato.


Next installment, May 2016: The Dutch Landscape Painters: A Protest 

The Chinese may have beaten everyone to the punch on landscape painting. Evidence of  landscape and paintings as early as 1120.


Ask the Expert…Mark Fehlman

Question: Why should I paint en plein air?

Answer: You’re Invited to the Best Party Ever!

Do you want to join the best party that you have been to in years?


This party includes fun, interesting, creative, and positive people. It is ongoing and will take place in interesting places, with people doing things that they don’t normally do. The “games” will get you to do things that could possibly be embarrassing and people will talk about it. You might even get written up in the local paper or national magazine for what you did. The best part is that you might even get a party prize for your antics.

This party is called plein air painting. Eric Rhoads, publisher of Plein Air magazine says “plein air painting is the new golf.” There is fun for painters of all talent levels at this party and you just need to do one thing—show up.

mf2I was an architect for over 30 years. I loved my work and thought that I would do it until I was an old man. There was a gallery two doors down from my office that I used to visit a couple of times a week to marvel at the works of art. It featured plein air based art. The owner taught classes, so I decided to try it.

Once I started, I was hooked. Within 5 years, I sold my successful practice to paint full-time. I have never had more fun, made more great friends, traveled to more exotic places, and sat and contemplated beauty, more than I have done as a painter.

The community of artists


Artists are very fun people. I always have fun on a painting trip with my fellow painters. They are interesting, adventurous, motivated and well educated. These are the type of friends that you want to have.

Are you good enough to play?

When I first started to paint outside, I was invited by artists who were much better than me. These were people whose work I admired. The “Great Artist’s Club” is not exclusive. I started to going to week long workshops which were a blast. The teachers, who are painting gods, are normal people, who are fun to have a drink with. Everyone is good enough to play this game.

You can do this anywhere!

mf4Wherever you go, you can paint what is around you. Our family went to Fiji when I was just starting out. I took my plein air setup and painted for two hours every morning. You look at a place differently when you try to capture it on canvas. On the plane over, I sketched people on the plane. I actually traded some of my paintings to the resort for the rental of diving equipment.

Join a group. Get involved.

There are a lot of painting teachers, groups and organizations where you can find artists at all levels. I used to go to Laguna Beach Invitational every fall to watch the top artists paint in the 3-hour Quick Draw and was amazed at their mastery. I joined the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, LPAPA because I wanted in on the fun. The California Art Club is another organization that has lots of events for painting and exhibition each year. If you’re not in California, look for groups around you.

Subscribe to publications

There are plenty of good magazines like Plein Air, Southwest Art and American Art Collector that will get you into the world of art.

Participate in an event

mf5There are lots of local and national painting events. I started at the San Clemente Plein Air Festival. It is an open events with lots of artists. It was a lot of fun and I actually took a fourth place ribbon in the Quick Draw. I’m currently in Hawaii for the Maui Plein Air Invitational. This spring, my calendar is full. It is packed with events, travels with friends, and exhibitions. I am having more fun than I could have imagined. This party just keeps getting better.

I have been painting full time now for 10 years and identify myself as an artist and not an architect with a hobby. I like to jump in with all fours when I do something, but you do it your way. The world of painting is open to everyone including artists, collectors, enthusiasts and admirers of all ages. A good party needs all of these types to be a great party.

Mark Fehlman lives with his family in San Diego. He is a signature artist in LPAPA and an artist member of the California Art Club. You can see his work at


Ask the Expert…Terry Miura

Question: Could you break down the elements for creating a successful landscape?


Anatomy of a Landscape Painting

I’d like to do a little analysis on some conscious decisions that I made along the way on a recent landscape painting that I did. The ideas I’m sharing may not be new to you, but hopefully they will serve as a reminder to be mindful of the “basics” no matter whether you’re a beginner or a much more experienced painter.

Back on the Road, 18x36 inches, oil on linen
Back on the Road, 18×36 inches, oil on linen

The painting, Back on the Road, is a studio piece, and it is entirely invented. I have done similar scenes on location so I had a very clear idea of the kind of mood I wanted and what I needed to do to achieve it.


The design is not particularly innovative or unique. I have the horizon splitting the canvas near the middle, a road taking the viewer into the picture, the big tree just off center. These are all common design elements and would be pretty boring if we didn’t do something to alleviate the predictability.

You’ve all heard this good advice; “Don’t put the horizon right in the middle.” Why not? because it’s boring to have the canvas split in two equal halves. I agree. So why not just make them unequal by giving a lot more visual weight to one half. Sure the horizon may go right across the middle, but  all the dark masses, textures, colors, brush activity, perspective, man-made objects are on one half, and the sky as the other half serves as a big passive area, with a more subdued range of values, colors, etc.  That makes the two halves not equal.  Far from it. If you make sure that the visual impact of the two halves are unequal, having the horizon right across the middle is a non-issue, in my book.

The road leading the viewer into the picture is a common device, too. In order to make it more interesting, I  made road curve and also go up and down small hills. Every time the road turns or the incline changes, I had to plot a new vanishing point. So the road alone has at least five–may be six–vanishing points. Tedious? Yes. Basic? Yes. Worth the effort? Yes!

Focal Point

The big tree is near the center, but just a little off to the right. That is a very basic design decision. However, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with having your focal point in the center, as long as it looks absolutely intentional and not because you forgot to think about it.

Again, how you place the rest of the visual elements to create an interesting arrangement becomes critical.

But don’t forget; just because the focal point can be in the center doesn’t necessarily mean it should be. If moving the focal point off-center allows you to improve the design, and allows you to make your statement more clearly or efficiently, by all means, don’t leave it in the middle!

The lightest part of the sky is behind the big tree to create a greater contrast.
The lightest part of the sky is behind the big tree to create a greater contrast.

OK, so the big tree is my focal element. I spent a lot of time shaping that thing so that it had a good, strong silhouette.  But a strong shape doesn’t by itself make it a focal point. It needs contrast! I always think in terms of value contrasts first, so I made sure I had unmistakable value contrast at my focal point. You can see the sky behind the dark foliage is lighter than the areas flanking it. In this way, I consciously used maximum value contrast, strong silhouette, (relatively) sharp edges, and selective color (more intense yellows and oranges in this area, only), and detail (the silhouette of the foliage has much smaller shapes and calligraphic interest than any other tree) all to support my main focal point.

Colors in the Sky

There are several distinct, albeit close, value steps in the clouds.
There are several distinct, albeit close, value steps in the clouds.

If you take a closer look at the sky, you can see the variations in color and value. From the lightest apricot color behind the big tree, to the shadow colors (5) and (6), there are several steps from lightest to darkest.

Also consciously modulated are the intensity of these variations. I put the highest chroma at (1), and made sure the others didn’t outshine that color.

I pushed the color toward red at (3) and (4). To do this, I added Cadmium Red and Alizarin to the mix. Which makes the color redder, but since these reds are so intense, it was necessary to also knock the saturation down a notch by adding a tiny bit of blue as well.

It does looks like many hues are represented; yellow, yellow orange, orange
 all the way to a blueish gray in some of the shadow areas of the clouds. But as you know, colors are relative. What appears violet in this context may surprise you when taken out of context.

Violets in the clouds taken out of context.
Violets in the clouds taken out of context.

The two shadow colors may look violet in the picture, but if I had just mixed red and blue on the palette and stuck it on, it would be completely out of harmony, sticking out like a tuba in a string quartet.

So how do you get these subtle colors? Just as I did with the reddish variations, I mixed a violet (probably made from ultramarine, ivory black, cad red, alizarin and white) into the apricot pile, a tiny amount at a time. I kept checking the value and chroma and fine tuned it until I had what I wanted. Mixing violet into a puddle of peachy color of course gave me a muddy gray, but that’s just what I needed.

So as you can see, there is a pretty good range of colors and values in the sky, and each of these variations are used purposefully, whether to highlight the focal area, or to show that the form has a shadow side, or to provide a transition between light and shadow.

Forms in the Sky

 Using softer edges for form shadows, and sharper edges for cast shadows and lit edges.
Using softer edges for form shadows, and sharper edges for cast shadows and lit edges.

Now let’s look at forms in the sky. Because these cloud masses are dense, the light hitting them reveals forms, much like solid objects. By imagining where the clumps are forming, we can decide where light and shadow patterns go.  Since the light is coming from the right (see the cast shadows of the telephone poles?)  the right side of any “clump” would be lit, and the left side and the bottom of the same cloud mass would be in shadow.

I tried to break up the forms a little bit, to make it more fluffy and organic, but the form principle is intact. As for edges, where you would expect to see a form shadow edge–that is, where the form turns away from the light into the shadow, I used softer edges because there is a transition from light to shadow. This includes forms turning under.

See, it’s not so different from painting simple spheres.

Where the lit edge shows up against a darker cloud, the edges are sharper. However, because we are talking about cloud masses, even the sharper edges aren’t razor sharp; they look sharper just in comparison to the softer turning edges. It’s all relative.

Notice the sharpest edge in the clouds are used near the focal area. Another device to bring the eye there.


The distant hills are painted in the color of the atmosphere. (They don’t have violet gray grass growing on them)
The distant hills are painted in the color of the atmosphere. (They don’t have violet gray grass growing on them)

The distant hills are more or less a darker version of the violet, with a slight increase in the chroma. I’m playing up the atmosphere by completely ignoring the local color here.  The rule is, the more atmospheric effect you have, the less relevant the local color becomes.

Things like hills way in the distance become just variations of the atmosphere because essentially, what we are seeing is the veil created by the particulate matter in the air between us and the hills, lit by the sun and/or the ambient light of the sky. We’re essentially painting the color of the veil, not the hills behind it.

Linear Perspective

So the atmospheric perspective used effectively will create the illusion of depth.  This is very useful in a pure landscape painting where there are no man-made objects to give us linear perspective. But often if you look, you can find elements in a landscape which you can exploit to bring in some linear perspective.

In my painting, I have the road, which is an obvious thing since it’s man-made and we understand it as parallel lines going towards a vanishing point. I also used  things like edges of fields, how telephone poles and trees diminish in size systematically. As this was an invented landscape, things like the edges of fields are made up elements specifically to show linear perspective. The view makes perfect sense without them but including them helps to create a sense of vast distances.

Some obvious and not-so-obvious devices to show linear perspective in a landscape.
Some obvious and not-so-obvious devices to show linear perspective in a landscape.

Perhaps the least obvious, but just as important, are somewhat random-looking strokes on the ground plane that conform to the linear perspective by pointing to a vanishing point.  Especially when you have a foreground that doesn’t have much in it, it can be difficult to make it look like it’s level ground (or inclined, if that’s what you’re trying to depict).  In some cases, the up and down strokes used to describe grass in the foreground end up making the entire foreground vertical, like a face of a cliff. Strokes that suggest a vanishing point will not only help the ground lie flat, but it will contribute to the sense of depth.

Connecting Shapes

Losing edges between tree masses
Losing edges between tree masses

We’ve been talking about some of the things that go into creating a more complex, believable visual environment, but not all the tools are about adding complexity. Some are about editing out the unnecessary elements.  Simplifying the design strengthens the impact and one of the most useful tools to move in that direction is to combine shapes by losing edges between them.

In my painting, many of the dark tree masses connect, creating fewer shapes rather than a whole bunch of little tree shapes. Our eye doesn’t have a problem perceiving the trees as we intend them to be, even if the combined mass look more like blobs and strips. The context informs the viewer what these abstract shapes are, so we don’t need to give them unnecessary information by painting each individual tree, branch and leaf.

The shapes being connected don’t necessarily need to be same types of objects, like tree and another tree; you can connect tree and grass, grass and barn, shadow on the side of the barn to the shadow cast on the ground
 any two shapes with similar value can be connected.

Sometimes, the shapes need to be separated, even if they’re similar in value. It all depends on whether losing the edge there strengthens or confuses the image. You want your statement to be clear, but if connecting certain shapes creates a silhouette of a poodle (or whatever) that completely misleads the viewer, then may be you want to avoid that.

OK, that’s about all I wanted to say about this painting. If you are a beginner and found this information overwhelming, let me tell you that I’ve been there, I know, and so has every great painter. They’ve all had to learn the basics, one canvas at a time. It just takes lots of practice. If you practice with awareness of what it is you want to achieve with each painting, you will improve at a much, much quicker pace than if you just mindlessly go through the motions. Hopefully, this post has given you some ideas about strategies in making more effective landscape paintings!

Happy painting~

Terry Miura (1)
To learn more about Terry Miura and his work, please visit his website.

We are honored that Terry will be the judge for our August Art Muse Contest.

Art Cafe…Remembering Ken Auster

The art world lost another great member last week. I wasn’t lucky enough to have the opportunity to study with Ken and understand he was a fun and fabulous instructor. Many years ago I came across a short video of him demonstrating how to paint a palm tree. Eye opening for a beginning painter. I thought I’d share it with you in memory of Ken. He is definitely here in spirit.

Intellect & Passion from TKO Design Group on Vimeo.

Ask the Expert…Stanka Kordic

Question: Going beyond representational figure painting to achieve a personal view. How much does your process, including the layering playing into that?


Since I began working this way several years ago, I can safely say now that
my process is one third of the equation. It starts with the initial inspiration,
be it the model or the composition, and continues with my response to her.

Leila Wren

Then the true dialogue begins with the actual paint; building upon this
structural start and surrendering to it in many ways. ‘Surrender’ being a
place of discernment, of active looking in present time, instead of future
hoped for result. It takes a fair amount of courage.

The layers have taken on the role of referencing life, in a way. Each one has something different to add to the whole, just as life has many experiences
that make us who we are. I have learned to respect each layer of painting to do just that, contributing something to the depth of the piece, primarily because of the element of time inherent in each layer.


When I work alla prima, the focus is about speed, accuracy and putting my foundational experience to use. This too is valuable. However, combining those skills with a multi-layered piece brings a new awareness for me, a greater focus than I ever thought possible. It gives me time to become objective. To see the marks as an integral part of the process, yet separate from my mind’s control. There is time to turn the piece this way and that. To pick up a new tool and manipulate a mark. Time to step away, come back with fresh eyes and perhaps reinvent its course.


This process is far from linear. Each layer can look completely different
from the previous, completely different from my starting point. The image
often comes and goes. The environment is undefined. I will often spend
hours building the likeness, only to destroy it at another stage because it
seems contrived and too controlled. Often times, I don’t know what I am
doing, thinking I should have become someone’s terrible secretary instead.

Those moments of doubt are always there. Something I never expected after
all these years of painting, but I’ve learned to appreciate them. I’ve learned
to trust them to take me further along a new more interesting road. One not
necessarily based on experience.

Infinite Thought
Infinite Thought

Emotions become encrusted in each painting and I can’t help but think they
need to be. How do I remove them after all? Humans are emotional. If one
day I am pissed off at how it’s going and slash my way around the canvas,
why not keep that and have it be the starting point on a new day, where
perhaps the anger has dissipated into compassion?

It can be a very personal experience, at its best. 20 people can paint the same model, take up the same tools, methods, colors, even words to describe
what is unfolding
and yet- if they are true to themselves first- they will all be
unique expressions.


This is the beauty of all art really. Working indirectly simply allows us the
time to change more often in a single piece. To allow our human touch to
tangibly transform our vision to more than we ever expected it to. If we let

Here’s a short film about Stanka’s process.

Stanka Kordic ©2016

Visit Stanka’s website to see more of her captivating work.