Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Summer flowers

Oil on linen panel, 11 x 14

These flowers are from a local fruit stand. I love how organic and different they look, unlike those ones you usually see in grocery stores and even flower shops. 

I remember Quang Ho said in his still-life painting video that the best still-life has a sense of randomness in it. Like you just happen to find it in its current state. It does not look staged. You can experiment and put different things together, and see how they look. You might even spend hours arranging it yet it looks a bit haphazard and beautiful. 

These flowers fell into a graceful arrangement once I put them in a tall vase, bursting with colors and life. I really slowed down for this painting. I usually paint flowers very fast, carried by the initial excitement and the urgency that the flowers will soon change shape. But this time I was drawn to study each flower, its structure and character. There is clarity and satisfaction in observing those details carefully. 

That light green flower literally took me over three hours. I had to scrape it and start over the next day. It's very engrossing. What I learned is if I stare at it long enough I can actually paint its every petal instead of going cross-eyed, and come to a better understanding of the light and shadow pattern on the flower. And the silhouette of each flower is very important. It tells the distinct character of each flower.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Joshua Been lecture and demo

I went to a Joshua Been lecture and demo last Saturday at my friend Hai-ou Hou's place, Chesapeake Fine Art Studio. It was great. He basically has it down to a science, including figuring out a myriad of plein air gear and his approach to plein air painting. He has a very disciplined way, which I lack, that includes always doing a pre-sketch with four value markers before he starts painting. This neat little pack is what he uses to make black-and-white sketches. You can buy it on his website.


That pen with a little white sphere on top is what he uses to determine the precise direction of the light source. 

He breaks down the visual language into four elements, values, shapes, edges and texture. The values are the foundation and you lay it down by doing pre-sketches. I used to do it sometimes, like a thumb-nail sketch, but usually for my studio paintings, or figuring out a composition for my ideas. When it comes to plein air painting, there is this urgency because the light changes so fast, so I tend to jump right in. If the first composition doesn't work, I just wipe it out and redraw it, and that tones my canvas too. I almost like the chaos, the not-knowing, and the unpredictable nature of the process. My friend Janice has been doing these sketches. Maybe I should start making them now!


This is his palette on the day-tripper easel he designed and sell on his website. Janice already bought one. It's very lightweight. He only uses seven colors: titanium white, lemon yellow(missing?), cadmium yellow medium, cadmium orange, burnt sienna, cerulean blue hue, alizarin crimson, and ultramarine blue. No black. He starts the painting thick, no thinned washes.


This compact little thing is his fly-on-the-wall easel. It's good for painting in tight places where you really don't want to cause a scene! He used this to paint the dinosaurs in the Smithonian museum in DC. I like his dinosaur paintings.



And this little sunset(sunrise?) painting.


Then he did a demo, a larger piece from a smaller study. 



He's a great plein air artist, and articulated his methods clearly and wonderfully. I bought his book. It will come in the mail. Now the thing is go out there and do it myself!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Outdoor figure painting

Oil on linen panel, 12 x 16

This is actually my first ever outdoor figure painting. Can you believe it? I painted this with my artist friend Abigail on my deck. Abigail has a lot of experience painting outdoor figures since she studied with John Ebersberger and at the Cape Cod School of Art. She's done many mud heads, figures on the beach, etc. She couldn't believe I had never painted a figure outdoors. But it's true. Somehow all my portraits and figures were done indoor with controlled lighting. But I'm liking the outdoor light with the cool reflected light on the model's face.

It was a cloudy day and made for an interesting study of the colors on the model's skin and kimono. Later the sun kept coming in and out of the clouds, making painting more difficult. It's a complete different painting when the sun is out! 

Kuniko is a great model. She always arrives early, times herself, and holds the pose very steady. We are happy to have her working with us.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Azalea garden



The weather is getting warmer and better for plein air painting. My artist friend Janice knows about this pretty azalea garden in Clarksville and I painted with her there a couple of times in the past two weeks. There are tons of azaleas of different colors, white, pink, fuchsia, and violet. They peaked last week and are going away now. But what a beautiful sight when they are all blooming by the water!  

Friday, March 3, 2017

Figure studies


Same model in both paintings. I'll have to work more on the second painting at the second session. 

Friday, February 17, 2017


Self-portrait, 9 x 12

Painting a self-portrait is always an anxiety-laden process for me. I don't know whether to make myself prettier or uglier, since capturing an exact likeness is elusive. Out of the desire to paint from life, this is the model who's always available. I worked on keeping the edges soft.

It's hard to photograph this painting because of the glare. I feel the colors are cooler and richer in the actual painting. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Fishing boats

Fishing boats, 16 x 20. 

Done from a photo I took on my recent trip to China. My sister took us to a small fishing village called Nan'ao in southern Guangdong province, and we had the best seafood there, as fresh as you can get. Hope I can go back there. 

Sometimes a painting just paints itself, and this one did. I was done in less than two hours. I think I'm getting more confident about leaving things out and not getting too hung up on details--spelling everything out for the audience. Case in point: those boats in the distance. I don't need to paint everything to death so people know those are boats. I only need to suggest there are boats and other things in the distance. It's actually more fun to paint this way and the painting comes out looking fresher and better.

Another thing is this painting is actually painted over a not-so-successful portrait sketch. I start to like painting over old pictures. I just turn the old painting upside down and start painting over it. The chaotic background provides a nice counterpoint and creates some excitement for the new painting. My paintings are done faster and almost come out better because of the layer of paint that's already on the canvas. And I like to paint landscape over portrait and vice versa because the warm tones of a portrait make a nice background for a landscape, and the cool tones of a landscape (blues and greens) work very well as an undertone for a portrait. So maybe it is like this--that no effort is ever wasted. But I do have plenty of old paintings that cannot be salvaged. They need to go in the trash.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Portrait sketch

Jen, 12 x 16. Just a quick portrait sketch, painted from life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Reclining nude

Reclining nude, 12 x 16. Painted last night at Zoll Studio.

I have come to realize that when it comes to a good painting, composition is probably the single most important thing. Because in the end, all the great drawing, value plans and pretty colors won't save a bad composition--if things are in the wrong place.

Also it really helps to look at great artists' works, if just to train your eyes to get used to a higher level of drawing, color harmony, and edge handling. And to calibrate your brainwaves to vibrate on a higher frequency, so to speak. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Sunflowers, 11 x 14

Friday, January 13, 2017

Two studies

Tuesday was a painting day.
Gisele, 11 x 14

Figure study, 16 x 20.

When I paint figures, I tend to elongate the form and the figures end up looking like models in fashion illustrations (blame it on years of doodling fashion models on the margins of my notebooks). So this time I really tried to correct that, and did a little too much. The model looks short and stumpy. Oh well. Maybe next time I'll get the proportions right. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Kuniko, 12 x 16.

The model is a kimono consultant. She makes kimonos and teaches people how to wear them. She is also a Shinto priestess. I watched a video of her doing a beautiful Japanese dance with a fan. She has a presence, and carries herself with a quiet dignity.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The painting that went nowhere

The new year brings new hopes and resolutions. I remembered I have this blog and start to really think how this blog can sustain itself with my snail-like speed of posting three or four times a year.

I mean, do people still read blogs? Seems like everybody is on Facebook or Instagram now. But Facebook is not conducive to longer posts. So here's a long post about a painting of mine.


The title for the painting is "She Will Rule." 18 x 24. Yes, you guessed it. I did it last year to support Hillary. 

The idea came to me when I was taking a nap. Not really asleep, just lying there. I saw a vision of the painting rose in my mind and I had to bring it to life. 

Then I was like a possessed woman. I had to have everything ready. I searched for all the props. Found the crown and the scepter on eBay, and they came from China. I ordered two scepters, one silver, one gold. I liked the gold one better. Plus, I stepped on the silver one when it was on the floor in my messy studio (not a very organized person) and broke it. 


I found the chair (the "throne") in a second hand furniture store. It took me a long while but I finally saw this one. It was expensive, but when I'm possessed I don't care how much I spend.

I designed and made the costume myself. It's really all pinned and tied together by ribbons, although I did hand-sew the skirt.


I had to buy the fabric twice because the first time I miscalculated and it was too short.

I asked my friend Joanne to model for me. She is such a sweet girl and wouldn't let me pay her. I treated her to Chinese food. She worked and studied in China for three or four years. 

But she didn't want to be a queen. I wanted her to give me an almost mean look with authority, she just giggled. But she did a good job and I got some nice photos. 

I did two quick sketches from life, and then started on the big painting with the photo references. At the time I was still trying to get back into figure painting. I can't say I'm very satisfied with the result. 

In the end, I can only say this painting did not turn out the way I wanted it to, just like this election. 

(Now my paintings like this one seem to require much longer time to finish, from the idea to completion. But if it has to be this way, then so be it.  And a figure painting is a collaboration between the artist and the model.)