Leesburg Art Association Workshop
with Stephen Bach
March 23-24, 2011

“It is so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas” - Paul Cezanne


Thank you for attending my workshop. Painting is a pursuit like few others. There are no rules, no licenses required, and no degrees demanded. If s a challenge that is simply stirred by what's inside us.

Landscapes are my passion in painting. Light and color fascinate me with their complexity of brilliance and subtlety. The act of capturing the light on a field or on a group of trees is an endless challenge.

You might find still life's to your liking or even portraiture. No matter the genre, "seeing" is the foundation to advancement in painting - how we perceive. Development of physical skills and material knowledge is also a part. The biggest part of learning is doing. So paint as much as your time and energy allows, and watch your improvement.

My contact information is there for your use if you later want to contact me for answers to questions or advice.

Following are some notes to keep. I paint with oils but other mediums such as acrylics or watercolors can be used with the same principles with just minor compensations:


I fail every day in painting at some level. In the studio there is always something I wish I did better or differently.

But because I fail, I know I am challenging myself. Treat the time here as playtime and enjoy the painting process without that fear of failure. Use your creative abilities with joy and courage. Know that when you fail, you are in plenty of good company.


TUBE COLORS: Titanium White, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber, Permanent Green Light, Cadmium, Orange, Cadmium Red, Dioxazine Purple, Cadmium Yellow, Prussian blue, Turquoise Blue, Sap Green, Cadmium Green, Yellow Ochre,

SOLVENT: Turpenoid - expensive but doesn't smell © tip: buy at the hobby stores or JoAnne's with coupons. Save 40% or more!

BRUSHES I LIKE: Princeton 6300F (or similar) filbert long hair bristle, medium coarse, a couple of small sables, a large flat brush (brand not important) for toning canvases or large areas on larger canvases.

PALATE KNIFE: for scraping palate or applying and manipulating paint.

PALATE: wood, glass or waxed paper pad.

CANVAS: Pre-sized canvases are fine. Fredrix is a good brand. Make sure they are straight, not warped. Add a coat of gesso if you feel it needs it. Pressed wood (Masonite) is good for a hard surface. You can adhere canvas to that surface for the texture. Illustration board or watercolor paper can also be painted on. Use gesso to seal the surfaces.

“All artists create from a place of inner peace.” - James McNeill Whistle


Pick a subject that you feel some passion for, or one that you have a connection. Tone the canvas to a earth color or the intended hue of the piece. Having some pre-toned is the best way to be ready to paint. Start loose and lay in masses with paint. Apply thinner layers when you start. Nothing has to be permanent or precise. You'll quickly find you see the images in paint better than pencil. Use a rag to move or erase. As you work, use the dominant color theme of the piece.

Edit if needed - what do you want to communicate? What can be left out?

Happy Mistakes- Luck happens. When you get some, acknowledge it and incorporate it. Then teil others you planned it.

Edges are important to the design of the image. They can call proper attention to the leading focus of the piece and generally add interest.

Working wet on wet is fine, until it builds up and gets mushy. Scrape with the palate knife if necessary.

Color passes are initial guesses of correct color and value. You will not get it right most of the time! Not even the greats did. Make successive corrections until you are satisfied.

Brush strokes are good.


A successful composition is a sum of parts that appear seamless. Balance, rhythm, and harmony are often used to describe the process. No rules govern, but ifs good to think within the bounds of certain sensibilities.

When we paint from life we don't have a picture plane boundary - the edge of a canvas. You must edit, manipu- late and emphasize within those bounds. Thumbnail sketches are useful for working out issues before painting.

A viewfinder is a great compositional tool, (matte board corners work well) when painting from life or photos.  Drawing grids are fine - just don't make them so small that you get overly fussy.

The precise center of the canvas should generally not be the center of focus.

Horizon line - What do you want to emphasize? Is it a skyscape or landscape? Don't allow the horizon to split the canvas 50/50. Compose the piece to call attention to one or the other.

When groupings objects, use some variety in spacing. Don't make five trees the same distance apart.

Counteract a horizontal subject (flat horizon) with some diagonals when possible.

Don't be afraid to fail. But come back and try again if you do. Thought and reflection on a painting will give you more insight into its flaws. Go away from it for a night and look at it fresh the next morning. Things seemingly change when left alone overnight.

“I am a night painter, so when I come into the studio the next morning the delirium is over. I come into the studio very fearfully, I creep in to see what happened the night before. And the feeling is one of, “My God, did I do that?". - Philip Guston"


“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment”. - Claude Monet

It's all within.

“There's no retirement for an artist, it's your way of living so there's no end to it.” - Bono

Value - light and dark
Hue - color; red blue yellow etc
Chroma - the intensity of a color; the absence of gray or white, cadmium yellow higher - yellow ochre,
Complementary Colors - opposites on the color wheel
Analogous Colors - colors that are related chromatically such as red and orange. These colors lend a predominant theme to the color composition.

Use white sparingly when you can. It dulls or lowers the chroma.

Refer to a 'color wheel' when it helps.

LAYERS - they give the painting depth and richness of color. Don't be afraid to leave your mistakes and work over them.

“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all.” - Michelangelo

Exercise - brush on some themed colors for your painting in no thought of form or design. Work on top of it with your intended imagery. Leave some of the under-painting in place and work into it. Don't worry about what you lose or keep. Just paint.

Successful paintings usually have relatively simple color themes. There should be a harmonious theme that indicates the overall color of light.. Expressive color is changing the scope of the reality. Color has to be controlled though. Garish or overly bold color may work to express passion but not be successful aesthetically. Balance and nuance still has to be considered.

If you liken it to playing a piano, a pleasing musical piece is achieved by considering each key's role in the harmony.

Good exercise: Play with "themed" colors. Start with green and work out analogous colors that are compatible. Then try blue or red.


Shoot your own. Work at becoming a better photo-grapher as you become a better painter. Each skill complements the other.

Remember the camera doesn't "feel" anything towards its subject. Interpret the image. The artist needs to supply that emotion or passion towards the subject. Regard the camera as a tool like a brush. Same goes for projectors.

Learn to edit your photos either digitally or with sketches and cardboard view finder.

Using digital cameras and a computer software allows you to drastically manipulate and edit. With a powerful program like Adobe Photoshop you can crop, adjust color or contrast, erase unwanted elements and zoom to ultra-detail when needed. If you can't buy the full Photoshop program which is very expensive, try Photoshop Elements, which is much less to purchase and has many of the same features.

Explore Artistic Effects:

See if you can use the ideas generated with artistic filters in the software. Go to Filters and try some commands. Palette knife is a good one, so is water-color. These can be useful to get us to see simplistic forms and masses of color. You then can use these as launching points when you paint.

One digital trick I have learned is with the Color Picker tool, you can isolate a tricky color you aren't seeing right or want to see unaffected by its surrounding colors. Great for mixing a color you want to use as a reference point or particular accent. A low tech version is a hole punched white card over a printed photo.


It is good to acknowledge we have bad days in the studio. It keeps us humble but also provides us goals.

When you get overwhelmed or feel over matched by a painting, take a break from it. Look at it fresh later, 12-24 hours.

Close the door or turn it around on the floor. Do some- thing removed from painting until your frame of mind is better. Every one of us goes through these times. Creativity is not a flat linear path. Relax. Don't lose confidence.


Have a digital camera and a computer? Load a picture and put it out there to your art friends. Ask for critiques.

Use those critiques sparingly and for temporary hang ups, but remember what you wanted to say when you started painting a piece. Don't kill a painting to make it the vision of someone else.

To get your work out to people, start a blog. They are free, mostly user friendly and have easy photo loading features.


Turn the painting upside down to see it fresh. Not seeing the subject in the same orientation gives you a new way of seeing it. It should look as good as it does right side up. Try it.

Stand back and look frequently. I used to think I was crazy for constantly backing up all day long looking at a paint-ing on the easel. I do it subconsciously tripping and falling occasionally. Then I once took a tour of NC Wyeth's studio in Chadds Ford PA and saw he had worn a groove in the wood flooring of his studio where he had done the same thing. Now I know I have one thing in common with a great painter.


Artists can inspire and motivate in different ways. One conveys the mood you like, others the sensibility of handling subject matter, color palate, or brush work. Study all the aspects that pertain to your vision.

Besides books and periodicals, the internet offers countless images of art. Explore and discover the artists that inspire or instruct your journey as a painter. Here are only a few that give me inspiration:

Peter Poskas,-Peter
Michael Workman
Wolfe Kahn
T. Allen Lawson
Jeremy Mann


* If you like stiff paint, stiffen it by squirting it on corrugated cardboard and letting it      set. The oil will leach out of the paint and stiffen it.
* Put oil palettes in the freezer (covered with plastic wrap) it will keep paints fresh for extended period
* Baby oil gets oil paints off your hands without using harsh solvents.
* Cloth rags are much better for painting than paper towels that don't have paint absorbency.
For a comparison, check your hands after using each for a few hours.
* Recycle that mineral spirits or turpentine. Pour the used liquid into a spare can . I use a turkey baster to suction the clear liquid from the settled particles . You can use it over and over.  BIG $$$ Budget savings.

Happy painting!

Stephen Bach

Stephen Bach contact info: Phone: 407.491.7712
facebook: @Landscape Paintings by Stephen Bach

ADDITIONAL NOTES:  Atmospheric colors – 'cooler colors' – aid in distance & perspective
“L” cut mats (8” x 12”) help frame subject in pictures
Umber & Mauve = Blue Gray