Critical vs Judgmental

First a major apology: I intended to maintain my blog and then I disappeared.  I apologize.  My motherboard died and inexplicitly I lost all data from Jan of 2011 until Apr of 2012.  Interestingly for me has been the difficulty in getting back into using my computer from that loss.  I still don’t have a sound card though my son plans to install one soon.  That said it’s time for me to get back to sharing the business of art.


One of the topics that has been arising in classes is the concept of being critical versus judgmental.  To be honest, we’re all judgmental (synonyms: critical, hypercritical, condemnatory, negative, disapproving, disparaging), especially of our own work.  It is important that we maintain an eye on the analytical aspect of being critical, that is being judicious.  There are, of course, the negative synonyms associated with the term “critical” (unfavorable, disparaging, disapproving, nit-picking (I know that describes me!), judgmental, unsympathetic, derogatory, fault-finding) but in this situation we are not focusing on the negative connotations of the word.


Critical and Judgmental can be considered brothers/sisters in definition.  They overlap in a very sensitive structure and it’s important that we separate them.  Like entwined twins, as close as they are, they are not entirely identical in their nature.  When we speak of being critical in the art world, we are speaking of being analytical.  If we are using statements which steal the life from our efforts, it is time to stop, walk away, let it go.  Once we realign ourselves with “what we can learn” versus “what we think is wrong”, then it’s time to look again. 


If we allow the demons of judgment to cloud our vision we will never move beyond our own self-doubt.  We need our critical eye to continue to develop.  As artists we must learn to be judicious, not judgmental.  It’s how we continue to grow.  Learn to be your own best friend! 


No Endpoint in Site


It seems that when we draw and paint, there are days that it all comes together without any effort and then the next day we are working hard, struggling for the same result.  This is the pattern of growth in learning and developing your art.  There is just so much to learn and it takes time and practice.


I used to be uncomfortable with the thought of having no “endpoint”, but now it excites me.  It makes me wish I had started sooner and had more time to learn and practice all that I want to do but I’m also excited to be doing my art and having a continual learning process throughout.


Don’t let overzealous goals and unreasonable expectations slow down your process.  Recognize it for what it is: changing and developing.  Enjoy the process! 

 Lundy Lake Morning, 9 X 12", oil on canvas

Good luck with all your adventures!








Edgar Payne's Palette

I got the information for his palette from a student who remembered this article in The Artist’s Magazine (May 2011) by Michael Chesley Johnson.  For that reason I’ve included with his information the links below which were included in the original information.

I happen to own a copy of Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne and do not recall reading about his palette (although that’s where this information came from), nor could I find it just skimming through the book so I guess that means it’s time to read the book again.

In the meantime a couple of comments directly from Edgar Payne from Composition of Outdoor Painting regarding color:

“…the fewer colors, the more easily they are controlled. Those who like clarity in color generally keep away from siennas, umbers and the more drab shades.”

“A good set of colors for the palette is light cadmium yellow, orange, cadmium yellow, light and deep cadmium red, viridian, ultramarine blue and Indian red.”

Interestingly enough, the palette he recommends and his palette are not a match.  He goes on to state: “Almost every painter uses a different set of colors.  The student should try many palettes in order that he can find one suited to his particular mode and temperament.”

I would suggest on top of that statement, learn to mix color before adjusting your palette with too many choices.  Once you understand how paint mixes together, adding and subtracting color will make more sense and be easier to do.

High Sierra - Edgar Payne Canyon de Chelly - Edgar PayneBrittany Fishing Boats

For a fun exercise, take out your color wheel and see if you can figure out the color schemes for these Edgar Payne paintings.  Have fun!




Historic Plein Air Painting Palettes


By Michael Chesley Johnson

We’re fortunate to have a record of what historic painters have used on their outdoor palettes. Below are the plein air palettes of Edgar Payne, Homer Winslow and Emile Gruppé.

Edgar Payne (from Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne)
• Hooker’s Green
• Cadmium Yellow Light
• Cadmium Red Light
• Van Dyke Brown
• Alizarin Crimson
• Indian Red (Red Ochre)
• Indian Yellow
• Ultramarine Blue
• Payne’s Gray
Note: Although white was not listed by Edgar Payne, he probably included it on his palette. —mcj

Winslow Homer (from Winslow Homer: A Portrait by Jean Gould)
• Yellow Ochre
• Red Ochre
• Permanent Blue (modern replacement: Ultramarine Blue)
• Raw Sienna
Note: Although white was not listed by Jean Gould, Winslow Homer probably included it on his palette. —mcj

Emile Gruppé (from Gruppé on Painting: Direct Techniques in Oil by Emile Gruppé)
• Cadmium Lemon Yellow
• Cadmium Yellow Deep
• Cadmium Orange
• Cadmium Red Deep
• Ultramarine Blue
• Phthalo Blue
• Rose Madder Deep
• Zinc White

If you’re interested in other palette possibilities, both plein air and studio, check out the Gamblin website section “Exploring Color Palettes.”
Also, check out the article “Pick a Plein Air Palette” by Michael Chesley Johnson in the May 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.
Click here to order a print version of the May 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.
Click here to order a digital download of the May 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine


Macpherson Books Review

Frequently people ask about purchasing the Kevin Macpherson books: "Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light and Color" and "Landscape Painting Inside Out".  These are two excellent books for learning about direct painting.  They are both available through North Light Shop ( which was originally a book club, but now is just a publisher from which anyone can make an online purchase. 

Note: Usually shipping is free from this site with purchases of more than $25.


In brief review: "Light and Color" was published first.  It covers basic painting and is a good resource for this information.  "Inside and Out", although focused more on plein air painting, has assignments for practice.  As a teacher, I probably use "Light and Color" a bit more frequently as an example to explain a concept that I am teaching.  As for "Inside and Out", as with all books (and teaching for that matter!) that comes with step-by-step instruction, be certain to use the lessons to guide you in your process but not govern your final choices in a palette (choice of colors of paint) or style of painting.  In the end, I like both books and cannot recommend either one over the other.  For the price, it seems quite affordable to purchase both if you are interested. 

Here's the address for these books:



Edgar Payne - Learning From A Favorite Artist of Mine

 In Canyon de Chelly, circa 1920 - Edgar PayneEdgar Payne is one of my favorite artists.  Attending his show at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento ( is a worthwhile museum visit (until May).  I’ve been sharing with my classes the few observations I made while there that I believe are worthwhile to all artists.

First, Payne worked hard on composition.  He did many sketches and placed objects to fit his work rather than paint exactly what he saw.  For example many of his mountain paintings have lakes in front of them that did not exist.  The point is that we’re artists and our job is to convey something more than just what we see (we have cameras for capturing images as they are).  Composition is important to the High Sierra, Summit Lake - Edgar Paynepainting so take time to work it out - do your thumbnail sketches.

Second, he used a fair quantity of paint.  This is a difficult step, usually for beginners or people who don’t have the opportunity to paint on a daily basis.  They hesitate to put out more paint than they’ll use as it will dry up, but that rhythm of applying paint to a canvas is broken by having to squeeze more from the tube.  There are several ways to keep paint fresh over several days and putting out enough paint is important to the movement achieved in the painting.

Thirdly, Payne applied his darks first and then made each stroke count.  By that I mean, mix (don’t over-mix) your color; test a small spot; if the color is correct (hue, value, saturation, temperature) apply the color to the areas required.  For direct painting there are only 4-8 strokes on the brush before new paint needs to be picked up on the palette.  (Okay, this is just a guideline to keep from pushing the paint around the canvas rather than applying paint.)

Brittany Tuna Boats - Edgar Payne

Lastly, I noticed reading about Payne that he sounded exactly like another of my favorite artists, NC Wyeth.  Wyeth considered himself an illustrator, but in so many ways their stories were similar.

So, check out the show if you get a chance.  Most of all, pay attention to the artists that you like and what they’re doing to achieve the affects you admire.