Thoughts on Painting 8: Difference

If I were doing my own impression of the paining and not a copy, I wouldn’t have painted the background that way. I would have textured it in some way. Maybe with shadows, a variation of a light side and a dark side, just to break up the flatness of the background. He has no shadows to speak of. You can manipulate shadows to draw interest where there is no interest.


Doing an impression and doing a copy are different because, for the latter, I’m trying to represent another painter’s choices. At the National Gallery, I’m a copyist, not an improv.

Thoughts on Painting 7: Boundaries

Many years ago I was asked to show my work in Pacific Grove. I had the whole hallway; I had 20 or 25 paintings up. And I remember thinking, “I’ve reached the top. I’ve arrived in Monterey. Look out world, here’s Bob.”

There were a lot of people at the opening reception, a shoulder-to-shoulder thing, looking at the artwork. I stood behind somebody who commented, “Oh, this guy outlines.” He probably expected me to follow the style of the California impressionists: they don’t outline. I rely on outlines; I think they’re effective. If Van Gogh did it, it’s good enough for me.

I never paint with black, though. I use fiddle blue, and medium cadmium red, and that's how I get my black. I can get a dead black with that combination.

Thoughts on Painting 6: Expectation

Some of my best plein air paintings are done in three or four hours. I initially thought I could paint the Van Gogh in two sessions, or about eight hours. But, so far I’ve spent nearly 16 hours on this painting, in four separate sessions. I found the effort much more challenging than I anticipated. Painting Van Goghs from photographs, I could finish in eight hours because I didn’t need, or force myself, to be faithful to the texture and his application of paint.

Thoughts on Painting 5: Fidelity

I teach my students that painting from a photograph is deadly because the only information you have is what’s in the photograph. Sometimes photographs hide detail. You don’t see shadows.

Copying from National Geographic is especially deadly because the editors manipulate the color. The colors are so intense, so beautiful. But that’s not the real place. They make the greens greener, the blue sky bluer. It looks very idyllic. I tell my students, “Don’t copy from National Geographic.”

When you’re painting outdoors, because the sun changes overhead, your light and shadows change. Sometimes when I start a painting, the shadows get better—or they get worse—but I can pick the time of day. As an artist, I can set the time, the angle of the sun, and bring in things that aren’t actually there.

Thoughts on Painting 4: Transformation

One time I did a quick painting of Half Dome. I was into doing all the shadows in magenta and blue and then using Naples yellow for the brown and grey rocks. I had finished it to some degree, and I walked over to another guy who was painting nearby. He was trying to use grey to represent Half Dome. He wanted to match the color perfectly. I said, “Look at what I did.” He took one look at my magenta, and his mouth dropped.


Being there, it’s much easier to manipulate the scene. I’ve drawn those rocks so many times that I was bored with trying to paint it the way your eye perceives it. That’s why I started manipulating the color. I did a whole series of Yosemite with magenta and Naples yellow.

Thoughts on Painting 3: Theater

I often paint in touristy spots. Whenever you paint in Yosemite National Park, for instance, you get an instant crowd. When I start a painting, passersby will look and go on their way. Then after a while they’ll start looking a little closer. Three or four hours into it they want their pictures taken with me. That develops to a point where I eat it up. You get really involved; you get energized, like an actor on stage. You rise to the occasion.

Thoughts on Painting 2: Style

On a museum website, you can zero in on the details of the painting. You can see where he put the background around the flowers. The flowers are just a stroke of the brush. You can also see how he simplified the greenery and the shrubbery. He just used strokes of paint rather than putting in any detail.

Also, rather than using shadows, he creates interest by the contrast of the intense foreground against the soft background—and by outlining where the two cross. Around the leaves and flowers and even the vase, you can see the soft black lines he used to make them stand off from the background.

My basic sketch is outlined in black. I used the leaves as my outline because they’re so dark in the original. I relied more on the leaves, less on the flowers themselves. He has a lot of variations of color in there, a little bit of purple in there, and I wanted to get it right.

Thoughts on Painting 1: Likeness

It’s easy to paint from a photograph, but it’s much more difficult when you can see the textures, especially from oil. In the painting I’m copying, Van Gogh applied the oil so thick that it creates shadows, giving the painting added dimension. Acrylic doesn’t create the same effect, so I have to compensate with color.