How To Draw Portraits with Dramatic Light & Shadow

Your excellent questions have led us to take a closer look at the subject of the portrait. In this lesson, we’ll explore methods for creating dramatic light and shadow effects in the portrait using only a few pastel pencils on toned paper to capture the likeness in a monochromatic approach. This timeless technique has been used by great artists throughout the ages from Michelangelo to Caravaggio. You can take advantage of this wonderful technique as well!

Enjoy this full portrait demonstration, as I answer many of your questions on the subject of portraits while we create a dramatic light and shadow drawing together. 

How to Paint Trees Part 1

Want to paint loose, impressionistic trees in pastel?


We’ve all struggled to convey those pesky little leaves at one time or another. And if we’re really honest, we'd admit that we have fallen prey to the perilous trap of painting one leaf at a time! 

Well take heart, because in this lesson I’m going to show you how to harness the power of suggestion by creating the impression of leaves without actually rendering each of them. Let freedom ring!

By the end of this two-part video lesson, you’ll know how to create loose painterly trees with wonderful color and bold fresh marks that sparkle against the sky. 

Make sure to sign up below to download your, “How To Paint Trees Step-by-Step Guide,” so you can follow along at each stage of development. 

Are you ready to be liberated from the leaf-induced shackles of painting foliage? 

Watch Part One of, “How To Paint Trees”!

P.S. Look out for part two of this video lesson coming to you on April 17, 2019!

How To Mount Your Pastel Paper

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received questions from artists asking me how to mount sanded pastel paper to board. While delegating the assignment to your local framer is a valid option, there is a DIY approach.

Sanded papers like UART are produced on rolls and have a tendency to curl up at the edges over time. It’s definitely no fun to fight those curls while you’re trying to paint, not to mention the problem of buckling the paper during washes! 

Well, get ready for buckle free bliss, because I’m about to show you my personal method for mounting pastel paper to board right in the studio without the use of an expensive dry mount press. By the end of this video, you’ll be empowered to mount your own pastel surfaces like a DIY pro. 

Want to create stable, buckle free boards that can take the abuse of wet underpaintings, and frame up beautifully?  Then be sure to sign up for the DIY MOUNTING GUIDE below, because it’s time to conquer the curl together! 

Let’s do this. 

What Pastel Paper Should I Use?

Believe it or not, the paper you use has a dramatic impact on the overall look and finish of your work. Yet it can be overwhelming to figure out what to buy with all the materials on the market. The truth is, not all papers are created equally! 

Don’t worry though, I’ve developed this video and the accompanying pastel paper supply list to help you understand which surfaces I recommend in order to accomplish a painterly style.

Simply watch the video to see my full explanation, and click the link below to download your pastel supply list and follow along! 

Painting Clouds in Pastel

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the season, I hope you'll take some time to enjoy this relaxing and inspiring video that will lift your eyes to the clouds. Enjoy "Painting Clouds in Pastel” as my special gift to you this Christmas, and learn how to paint big billowing clouds in a loose and painterly style. 

In this painting we’ll explore a beautiful late afternoon cloud-filled sky over the pristine lakes of Sweden. These sunlit clouds are the true stars of the show. Let me know in the comments below if you enjoyed the video, and whether you like to paint clouds as much as I do. 

Have a Merry Christmas!

From Ashes to Glory

My last blog post and video, “5 Ways To Cultivate Your Creative Voice,” generated a lot of interesting conversation from you all around the theme of artistic inspiration. I’d like to share a story in response from my own artistic journey, hoping to reassure you that we all go through difficult times creatively, and struggle with a lack of inspiration. 

I was 25 and just a couple years out of college with a degree in Illustration. I was renting a commercial studio space in Danbury, CT and engaged full-time in the noble pursuit of becoming a working artist. One evening, while I was working alone in the studio, an electrical fire sparked across the hall in our building, engulfing half of the second floor in flames and leaving my entire studio—and all my artwork—covered in a black blanket of ash. While very thankful that the fire was extinguished on the other side of the wall, I was left with a feeling of real loss as I moved my studio into a small bedroom at my parent’s home for a few months during renovations. Even though I continued to work, this was one of the darkest creative periods of my life. 

Attempting to get my creative juices flowing again, I drove three hours to attend an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston by the great Anglo-American artist, John Singer Sargent. I had no idea how profoundly this day would impact me. Sargent’s one man exhibition illuminated my senses with a combination of bold painterly realism and experimental impressionism spanning subjects as broad as seascapes, landscapes, figurative paintings and society portraits. The sheer scale of Sargent’s work alone stunned me, with life size multi-figurative canvases bursting forth with artistic energy and technical wizardry.  I was laid bare. There was no turning back now. 

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose  Oil on Canvas by John Singer Sargent, 68.5 × 60.5”

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose Oil on Canvas by John Singer Sargent, 68.5 × 60.5”

One of the featured works in the exhibition was this wonderful large scale painting, “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.” I can still recall how moved I was by Sargent’s treatment of these two children with such grace, style and sensitivity. I bought the exhibition book and brought it home with me for further enjoyment and inspection. This encounter set me on a new trajectory in pursuit of bolder, more emotive portrait and figurative paintings that combine subtle realism with expressive impressionism. This pursuit would take decades to fully realize. I’m grateful for the difficult time I went through that allowed me to open up to a new creative discovery. 

Edouard and Marie Louise Pailleron  by John Singer Sargent 1881

Edouard and Marie Louise Pailleron by John Singer Sargent 1881

Home Fields  by John Singer Sargent 1885

Home Fields by John Singer Sargent 1885

So how about you? What unique works or experiences have inspired you? Please share them in the comments below, and post your favorite painting. Let’s fuel our inspiration together!

5 Ways to Cultivate Your Creative Voice

“How do I develop a unique style? Is there an effective way to do this?” 

Recently, while I was setting up for a morning workshop demonstration, a student asked me the following question; “How do I develop my own unique style? Is there an effective way to do this?” 

I responded to her while arranging my art materials for the morning with a handful of ideas. I want to share them with you now.  Here are five ways to cultivate your creative voice. 

1.    Establish a Rhythm. When you are working toward the development of your own artistic voice, the first pillar to establish is regular working habits. Consistent work will bring you both confidence and momentum in the development of your artistic voice. Take out your calendar and schedule weekly studio time. This is a critical step in the process that should not be ignored. Otherwise, you may end up feeling like a phony and spending valuable energy second guessing yourself. Regular work cultivates the confidence and momentum you need to continue growing.

2.     Gain Inspiration. Discovering your own creative voice requires an understanding of what inspires you. So be sure to fill up your inspiration tank! Who’s your favorite artist? What moves you about their work? Describe it, write it down. What is your favorite painting? Do you remember the way you felt when you first saw it? I remember viewing an exhibition by John Singer Sargeant at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when I was 25. It permanently altered my creative journey. Why not try copying a favorite painting, just to understand the artist’s mindset and methodology in the work. This is a process of sensitizing yourself to your own artistic tastes, and then moving toward the subjects, textures, colors, shapes, designs, and even finish quality that moves you. Describe how you want to make others feel when they view your work. It can also be helpful to articulate what kind of art you don’t like, and stay away from it in your work! Try creating a mood board of your favorite colors and paintings, textures and surfaces, subjects and designs, and then hang it in your studio to keep you motivated. Get really clear about what you love, so you are moving toward this in your own personal work. 

3.     Be An Explorer. Your artistic voice needs space and time to engage in creative play that allows you to explore new territory. This is when you paint just for yourself. Not for the client or the exhibition or the accolades, but for the pure joy of creating. These other motivations can nurture a performance mindset that obscures our true artistic voice. Basically, we are trying to impress people instead of painting what we love. I don’t know about you, but when I’m performing for approval, I put on a mask. I hope you don’t make this mistake the same way I have. Instead, put on your favorite music, turn off Facebook Live, take off the mask and allow yourself to explore your creative passion. Be an explorer for a while instead of a performer. In time, amazing things begin to happen as you cultivate this type of creativity. Honest work emerges. Authentic expression develops. You discover your voice. 

4.     Get Feedback (from people you trust) It is very difficult to both create and critique your own work toward the development of a unique personal style. As artists, we have a tendency of getting in our own heads. What we often need is the encouragement of others! A great way to do this is to connect with other artists that share your passion and get valuable feedback from them on your work. I joined the CT Pastel Society as a young artist and made wonderful lifelong friends who have encouraged my creative development in powerful ways. Early on, I connected with a few artists at my church. We shared our work with one another, spurring each other on to develop our potential. Not only was I greatly encouraged, but I was able to provide encouragement to others as well. You could be a fantastic source of inspiration to someone else in their own creative development! Here’s the truth, you’ll often be the last one to see the genius in your work. But others will point it out right away. You’ll discount that little painting you made during your personal studio time, thinking, “It’s not even finished, what a mess!” Then your friend will see it and say, “don’t touch it, I love it!” This feedback is invaluable, and creates a trail of breadcrumbs along the way to realizing your own unique style.

5.     Be Patient. Your inner creative voice is more like a dove than a peacock early on. It’s not audacious and showy. It’s sensitive, avoids attention and can get scared away easily at first. You need to give yourself time and space to develop naturally, and trust that consistent, honest work will encourage the dove out of its cage. Forcing it is never a good idea. Give yourself permission to research, explore, create, copy, share, review, revise as well as rest and renew your senses. Before long, you’ll find yourself soaring with a unique creative voice of your own. 

I hope these five points will encourage you in the development of your own personal style. Don’t give up, keep on painting, and keep pursuing your passion!