Category Archives: Teaching/Learning

Constructing a Landscape in Acrylics

Taking a Leap in Constructing a Landscape

I had been thinking of creating this painting for a couple of years before committing this image to a  24″ x 36″ canvas. For me, this really was taking a leap in constructing a landscape in acrylics! It was inspired by a short photo shooting day trip through parts of Sturgeon County Alberta. Standing on the bridge that over looks this scene, I knew right then that it was going to be something worth exploring in paint.

 summer river photo

Above: Here is the original photo that I used for my main reference.

What drew me to paint this image in the first place was the the atmospheric depth, the stillness of the water and the diversity of greens in the vegetation. I also saw potential in the ways in which I could change some elements and alter the mood, thereby adding more of myself into the painting. It’s all about the myriad of choices made along the way.

Red, Yellow, Blue, Purple and White

Completing this piece required several steps taken over a period of about five weeks. Because of the size of this canvas, there was room to include a lot of detail that just can’t happen in a miniature painting. There were no tubes of green paint used. Only two sets of primary colors (warm and cool), plus dioxazine purple and titanium white. These tubes were all that was needed to create all of the colors in this painting. A challenge which I never seem to tire of.

white canvas with some dull blue paint

The very beginning of this landscape construction.

It is helpful when working on a water scene, to paint the sky and the water at the same time because the color mixes are usually similar. Even though the hue closely matches the photos I was referencing, it became disappointingly obvious later in progression, that the water was not saturated enough to create the depth that I was looking for. I was a little nervous about correcting this while not wrecking it completely.

large canvas with tree line painted near the top

Once I was happy with the sky and sun, the horizon line was added next.

Mapping it Out

I made marks to delineate the center point, halves and thirds on the canvas. I then set to decide where to place some of the landmark points. A watercolor pencil was used to draw out the river banks. Corrections are very easily made by wiping out offending areas with a damp cloth. After that, the trees and hills on the high horizon line were next. You may notice that the horizon line slopes differently from that in the original reference photo. Already, it was exciting to see the atmospheric depth that was beginning to become apparent. 

construction of a landscape in acrylics

More detail is added to the stand of trees beyond the river.

Making Changes

Many changes were made to the scene in order to improve the composition. I moved the focal points, simplified the background behind the river and changed the horizon line. I was enjoying the depth apparent in the background. Adding the warmth of the sun in the sky, which did not appear in the photo, seemed to be a great choice. Because the light was flat in the photograph, a lot of thought would have to be put into creating more light and shadow in the painting.

landscape river scene progress

More progress is made on the further bank of the river.

Easy to Get Lost

Getting lost in the detail was becoming a problem. Too many of the shapes were too much the same and had the same level of picky detail.  That’s what happens when I zero in on observing the photograph to closely instead of trusting my instincts around the ability to create believable patterns found in nature. This would be corrected by softening some of the edges and colors once more area was covered.

river scene landscape painting in progress

Now to work on the river bank and block in the major shapes and colors.

Fast and Loose!

The bottom two thirds of constructing a landscape in this example happens very quickly and is one of the exciting parts! Using larger brushes and incomplete color mixes make for quick work and a better understanding of the how the composition is or is not working in the matter of an hour or so. Here, I am concentrating more on the larger shapes in this landscape and how the river banks might like to meander. I have begun to add the sun’s reflection and deepen the color of the river. It is tricky to achieve a seamless gradation from light to darker and took quite a bit of time testing color mixes. What adds to the challenge is that acrylics tend to have a color and value shift when they dry. Quite a bit of time is spent watching paint dry!

painting a river scene in progress

Now to the right hand side of the river. Constructing this landscape is well on its way!

Quick and Dirty Stage

It’s a lot of fun to watch this come together quickly! Once more of the canvas was covered, I could see that the river water should contain more saturated color. I repainted most of the river again and took note of how the banks would need to become more irregular. It was unnatural looking at this point (photo above).

landscape painting in progress

You can see I have deepened the color of the water here and added more detail to the bank’s vegetation.

Painting this scene was quite meditative and even looking at it now, it is soothing to my eyes.  The detail was hard to decipher in the photo and I had to make up a lot of it, which is a good brain exercise. The reflections of the banks in the water really made this landscape under construction come to life as you can see!

brushes used to create a landscape painting

These tools were very handy in creating the shrubs and grasses.

Several sizes of brushes and other tools were used in constructing this landscape in acrylics. Many of them were smaller and well-worn and were especially handy to create grasses and tree shapes. It always takes a period of trial and error to decide on just the right brushes for the job at hand.

landscape under construction nearing completion

More details and refinements are created everywhere in the scene.

A Tricky Part

The lone spruce tree is the main focal point of the painting. The reflection of the tree in the water must be created as well as other refinements. The color of the water still did not seem right, and so I proceeded to work on that. It was really tricky to get a seamless gradation without wrecking the work I had done previously. To make it a bit easier, I allowed what appear to be gentle ripples at the bottom right remain and work with them instead of insisting on a perfect gradation. In the end, I think the ripples added to the appeal of the scene.

summer river landscape painting

Getting very close to complete!

The photo above was taken with a different camera and in a different location which accounts again for some of the differences in color over all. There are a few minor details that are still bugging me here, as well as the desire to add some small birds and dead branches. Oh, and maybe the tiniest beaver swimming near the riverbank (center of the canvas), just for my own entertainment.

summer river scene painting

Calling it complete! Here is the final version of “Teaming with Life”.

Constructing a Landscape Complete!

So there it is. The level of detail is hard to see in these photographs, but I am very happy with how it turned out looking at it in person. The actual painting is different than what I had first envisioned. Part of the process is to learn to let go of preconceived ideas and allow the work to develop in it’s own way. I am extremely excited to report that this painting now resides in a lovely art collector’s home in my area!

person holding a painting

The framed painting! Getting ready to package and deliver to the client. The photo makes the painting appear a lot darker than it actually is…

Best Laid Plans and Curve Balls

 Even with our best laid plans, curve balls can appear out of nowhere , as we all know.

This was the first step in the process. Some of the ladies were happy with their backgrounds and were waiting for further instructions. )Photo Thanks to Jilene Schafers)

Paint Nights have been a popular activity in the last couple of years. I had been wondering recently, what it would be like to put one together. How challenging would it be? Could I pull it off successfully?

 Using skills to help others

The St. Albert Urban Agriculture group was looking for a fund raiser to purchase the plants and materials needed to expand the community food forest. Since growing food is something I love to support, it was an easy fit for me to pitch in and facilitate a Paint Nite event for them. But, I had never instructed one before. I had not even attended such an event! I had no idea about what I was getting into….
It was exciting to think that some of my skills could be used to help others and help me grow at the same time. This would be a push out of my comfort zone, put me in front of a new audience, help grow my experience, and exercise my problem solving muscles. I knew that coming up with a simple, quick painting would be a bit tricky. A painting the size of the one I was offering for the paint nite normally takes around 20 hours for me to finish. I tend to get totally lost in the process and time doesn’t usually matter that much….The time-frame for everyone to complete this project was approximately 2.5 hours!

Approaching the Challenge

 The first thing I did was to sketch out a few possible design ideas. The criteria was that the image had to be colorful, have a pleasing composition in a garden theme, and be simple enough for unpracticed painters to create. 
Checking out paint parties on the internet and talking to people who had attended similar events really helped to wrap my mind around how to make this as good an experience for the participants as possible. Writing down lists for supplies and methods of approaching the project really helped me to get started. It also helped to have some recent teaching experience.
More cost effective ways to paint would have to be explored because artist quality materials are quite expensive. Using supplies unfamiliar to me, meant that it would be important to use the exact same paints and brushes etc. as the attendees were going to be using. I had to understand fully how everything worked and how to solve the problems that might arise ahead of time.

 Environmental concerns

It was also important to incorporate as many environmentally friendly features into the project as possible. Consideration was given not only to the cost of supplies ( to leverage fund-raising efforts) but what would happen to the used resources afterwards? Leftover paint would be scraped into a container for use later in my studio; recycled paper towels were sought out and dollar store brushes would be carefully cleaned for re-use. Used paint water was to be collected, brought home to settle in a pail, and later taken to the eco station. Because they are easily recycled, tin foil pans were chosen for the paint palettes. All of the packaging materials would be recycled as well as the paper covering the tables. As little plastic as possible was used for the project.
These environmental efforts by no means take care of the waste and footprint problem perfectly. But, they are an attempt, at least, in the right direction.  I felt that this way of doing things would also fit with the concerns of the group I was serving as well as my own.

The best laid plans come together 

Initial Paint Night ideas that I didn’t really like.

I painted a couple of my design ideas, but was not thrilled with any of the samples that came from those efforts. Searching for another simple, but colorful spring inspired concept was challenging. One evening in my studio, I turned around and noticed the miniature painting on my windowsill which had been completed a few weeks earlier. Why not try that design with a few changes?  The event organizers decided that this was the most exciting project I had submitted. The only problem was that it took me longer than 2 hours to paint…. I had to practice this painting 3 times over in order to find shortcuts and the best way to demonstrate the method.

A friend volunteered to come over and be my guinea pig. We had a great time and it only took about 2 hours and 15 minutes to coach her through it. That would have to do, it should all work out great! Little did we know that life would throw a slight curve ball the evening of the event….

Ways to lessen the stress

Having everything loaded up a few hours ahead of time made for a lot less stress!  I am learning not to leave things to the last minute….
My daughter, Jilene and our friend and event organizer, Jill, would be my assistants during the event. We we pretty sure that we had thought of everything. Even hair dryers to speed up paint drying time, just in case. Jill and Jilene would make sure everyone had enough supplies and refreshments (wine!), answer questions and help clean up. I would concentrate on the painting part. All the bases were covered.

The curve ball arrives

As we all know, even with our best laid plans, curve balls can appear out of nowhere. Shortly after we had arrived to set up, the venue’s caretaker asked what time we would be packed up and ready to leave. At the time, I thought this was a rather strange question. We told him that we should be finished with everything by around 9 or 10 pm. He  mentioned that he thought we would be done by around 8:30 pm and that he was expected at another event by 9 pm. This was stressful news! We  requested and had been approved to use the space until about 10 pm.
An hour less would really rush everyone’s painting experience which was what I wanted to avoid. Later we found out that there was a miscommunication with the person who recorded the booking. A lesson learned in double checking the details!

Half way through the project, with wine and treats to compliment the evening! (Photo Thanks to Jill Cunningham)

No time to over-think

Pictured here are most of the paint night participants. Despite the time challenges, their paintings turned out great!(Photo Thanks to Jill Cunningham)

These Paint Night attendees were a tremendous group of ladies! After explaining our dilemma, they were really good about it. Our rushing through did lessen the enjoyment for some, and some did not get their painting finished the way that they had hoped, but it all worked out ok. Someone commented that there was no time to over-think anything! Many of them we so kind as to help pack up the supplies and bring it to my van. With their help it took only about 15 minutes to get out of the space so that the care taker could meet his next obligation. Once home, Jilene and I had quite the mess to sort through; a few hours of scraping paint and cleaning brushes!

In the end, it was a great experience. Would I do it again? Well since I have a decent design and most of the ground work figured out…. You might twist my arm.

A Momentary Disappointment

judy-with-wf-bookMy work has officially been published in a fancy book!!
Almost a year ago I was approached by the Walter Foster Company to be a contributing artist for their new painting instruction book, “The Art of Painting Flowers in Oil & Acrylic”. One of the editors found my work on a photo sharing website called Pinterest, which is in itself a miracle, given the millions of photos and artists that post on the site. Never having done anything like this before, I had envisioned, that  a number of mistakes requiring a series of do-overs would be made. They were a great company to work with and had only asked for minor revisions to two of the four painting projects that were requested. Turns out that it was a lot of fun and I learned so much about the whole process of creating step by step instructional material, consistent photography and the absolute need for clear communication among other things. Figuring out how it is that I do what I do and articulate it in writing, was probably the most difficult part.
In mid-October a dozen of these books arrived unexpectedly. They were due in mid-November so it was a wonderful crown on top of an already great day!!

Until I opened the book…..

Low and behold, there was a full page print out of an orange tiger lily that I had painted as one of the projects for people to follow. It was really neat to see it in this beautiful, glossy full color book. As I was drinking it all in, suddenly I discovered a glaring error in the photo. On one of the last steps for creating this painting I had supplied a photo of how to use painters’ tape to decide on the placement of a leaf that was not in the reference photo. This piece of tape, plain as day flaunted itself at me in what was suppose to be the finished piece. Oh well, the rest of it should be fine. I’ll get over it. Continuing through to the end of that project, there it is again!! That piece of painters tape, large and naked as can be, sitting on the last photo of the tiger lily painting where the final step was suppose to appear….. wow. Ok. And to think that this was one of the projects that I was asked to re-work….

The next project looks good! What a relief! it is a multi- colored pansy and it is satisfying to see how it came together. I can forgive the tiger lily fiasco.

I then turn the page and … oh no! They flipped the next project completely on its side. Well that’s strange and also disappointing since the photos were submitted to them right side up. Hmmm. Most people would not notice, I suppose, except for avid gardeners. Otherwise it is not terrible, except that the design is less striking and maybe a bit confusing with it oriented the wrong way. It’s time to make supper so I put the book down and mull over whether or not I should say anything to the publisher. I kind of chuckle about the whole thing and try to recall if the editor had sent me proofs that were somehow missed in all of my busy-ness.

After supper, I am curious about the rest of the book and what the other artists had presented. There is a wide array of styles and techniques portrayed, which should be helpful to new and intermediate painters. On the last page of the book the artist’s biographies appear alphabetically and I set about reading them in order. Looks like there are some well-established and accomplished artists included in this book, and it feels good to share the space with them.

My biography is list listed second to last and I set about reading it as well.
What? Why does it sound so strange? Did I write this? I don’t remember writing this. It seems juvenile and lists details that are not at all pertinent for an international audience. Checking the original file that was sent to them, I see that the whole thing was re-written without my knowledge. Ok, now I had better talk to the publisher….

2015 Studio Painting Classes

Below are several photos from my October 2015 studio painting classes. There were 6 different painting projects offered and participants could choose as many classes as would suit their schedules and interest. With this set of classes, the focus was on tips and techniques used for painting in acrylics in a realistic style.

Alicia at work.

Alicia at work.

The room is silent a good part of the time as everyone gets into right brain mode.

Halle is excited to get going!

Halle is excited to get going!


Everyone is working at a different level and on different paintings.

Everyone is working at a different level and on different paintings.

The classes were kept small so that everyone could get the attention that was needed.

Nancy is an experienced painter and teaches watercolor classes.

Nancy is an experienced painter and teaches watercolor classes.

Deborah's completed painting! She is new to acrylic and her rose hip turned out really well!

Deborah’s completed painting. She is new to acrylic and her rose hip turned out really well!

Patricia is also new to acrylic painting and did very well with her sunset! It really did not take her very long to complete.

Patricia is also new to acrylic painting and did very well with her sunset! It really did not take her very long to complete.

This is Robert and his very first painting. Ever! Congratulations, Robert! I hope you will do more.

This is Robert and his very first painting. Ever! Congratulations, Robert! I hope you will do more.

Hopefully in October of 2016 I will be able to offer another set of classes. It was such a pleasure to get to know everyone a bit better and have the chance to work together!
Now it’s time for me to finish up the yard work and focus on completing several commissioned paintings.


Details About Painting Classes

Just in case you are curious, here are a few more details about painting classes that I am offering this spring.
Please scroll down to the bottom of this page to see the current time slot availability.

If you have taken instruction from me before, please bring the stay moist palette you had used previously. If that’s not do-able, a palette will be provided for you. You may also bring your unfinished painting to work on, or your own photo to use as reference. Canvases, paint and other supplies are provided. You may bring your own supplies if you wish.

Step 1) I instruct everyone on how to prepare their canvas before starting their painting. This may be a refresher for some students.
Step 2) for those who are interested, there will be some time devoted to learning how to put together an inexpensive stay wet palette which will be used in the class.
Step 3) is about choosing the design/subject for their painting, laying out the palette and some of the techniques we will be using.
There will be points mentioned about the type of paint to use and why.
I will also do a demonstration focusing on the first layer of paint and what to expect when working on their own canvas.
Step 4) students will lay down the first layer of paint and while this is drying, I will demonstrate how to draw the design onto the canvas and/or how to proceed with a landscape.
Step 5) Students work on their background layer (nature up close), sky layer (landscape) or draw their design.
At this point I usually do another demonstration and talk about some problem solving techniques.
Step 6) Lots of coaching on individual progress while students work on their projects.
Step 7) Clean up instructions and information about how to dispose of acrylic paint waste in a more environmentally friendly manner.
This is a summary of the first one or two classes, depending on how quickly students work and how much problem solving is discussed along the way.
In subsequent classes, there are  demonstrations and lots of personal coaching to work towards as close to a finished painting as possible. Everyone is encouraged to work at their own pace. Some may finish their projects while others may even complete two.
Students may take their paintings home to work on in between classes if they wish. If so, we will discuss what challenges were discovered and how to correct anything that is unsatisfactory.

Overall, I try to make these classes a fun, relaxed way to learn how to paint. But remember, this is only one way of painting with acrylics. If you are interested in asking for more details about these painting classes, please call or email me.


Mother and daughter, Halle and Jill with their class projects. They had a great time painting together in the studio!

Please feel free to call me at 780-459-3747 or email me at if you have further questions or concerns and to register.
Below is the current time slot availability.

Tues May 9
1 to 3:30 pm
Thur May 11
6:30 to 9 pm
Sat May 13
10 am to 12:30pm
Sun May 14
1 to 3:30 pm
 Patricia M    Alicia M.  Julie W  
 Grace F    Carla I Connie O  
 Sandra B   Oonagh A  Patricia E  
     Jill B    
     Deb H    
  Tues May 16
1 to 3:30 pm
 Thur May 18
6:30 to 9pm
 Sat May 20
10 am to 12:30 pm
 Sun May 21
1 to 3:30 pm
Sandra B   Alicia M Deb H  
     Carla I  Patricia E  
     Oonagh A
     Jill B Connie O  
     Connie O  Julie W  
 Tues May 23
1 to 3:30 pm
 Thur May25
6:30 to 9 pm

Sat May 27
10 am to 12:30 pm

Sun May 28
1 to 3:30 pm
Rachel     Deb H

 Connie O    Betty G ?  Patricia E
 Grace F        
 Patricia M        

Feeling Like a Real Artist

The wobbly old easel as it is now.

This old thing made me feel like a real artist!.

One of the first paintings done on the old easel.

One of the first paintings done on the old easel.

Pictured directly above is one of the first paintings I created on the easel (top photo) that was given to me as a teenager. It was a gift for my parent’s anniversary and they loved it. It felt like a major accomplishment and I was really proud of it then. My Dad still has it hanging in his living room.

Funny, but looking at it now I cringe just a little as the mistakes are glaringly obvious. I must remind myself that I was just learning and this was the largest painting I had done up until then. It was painted on a warped canvas board after having just begun using acrylic paints. (Oils were what I had started with a year or so before then.) Using the easel made a huge difference for me as the canvas board, which was all I could afford at the time, was thin and not all that stable compared to a quality stretched canvas. This piece presented a new challenge because it was the first time I had used 2 reference photos and put them together. The left side was painted using one of the photos and the right with the second photo. The easel really helped me to see the painting as it progressed with each brushstroke.

I remember how hard my brain had to work to get this scene to look somewhat believable but it sure felt great to paint like a ‘real’ artist!

Setting Myself Up

Practising my artist talk in the garden.

Practising my artist talk in the garden. Turned out to be quite a hoot! (photo Thanks to Jilene Schafers)

It seemed like a great idea about 6 months ago.  Then, I went and spoke about it out loud to some friends. Then I announced in my newsletter that I would give my first Artist Talk. So now I’ve set myself up.

It will be good for me, I said. I will learn something, I said.  It will be fun, I said…..
Now it is getting close to the time when I promised to give my first Artist Talk. A few nerves have already come to the party! Trying this out on home turf during my ‘Art and a Country Garden’ event should be the safest route to take with this facet of my personal and artistic growth. It takes courage for artists to speak out loud about what we do and why. At least it takes courage for me.

What exactly is an ‘Artist Talk’ ?  Apparently, it is something like a short lecture, meant to give the artist a chance to explain their art so that it connects more deeply with the viewers. It also helps the artist understand their art better.  I attended one years ago, but that artist was more interesting!  He was a sculptor in an unusual medium and spoke about his process and inspiration.

I haven’t a clue as to how to begin preparing or what to say. As usual, I turned to some friends with a bit of experience and the internet to see what I could learn about the subject. I found these articles helpful:

So here goes! I have scheduled my first talk on Friday, July 17 at 2:00 pm in my garden here on the farm.  While I am at it, might as well practise by having my second talk take place on Saturday, July 18 at 1 pm in the same location (weather permitting). Check here for details on the location of the event and more info.

A Golden Time

Golden morning view from my hotel room, November 6, 2014

Golden morning view from my hotel room, November 6, 2014

About 3 weeks ago I took a little trip to Golden Colorado, travelling for the first time on my own.
The main purpose of the trip was to attend a seminar related to growing and maintaining my art business. It was hosted by Alyson B. Stanfield, whose advice I have been following for a number of years. There were approximately 80 other artists in attendance form all over the US and only one other Candadian.  It was surprising how we had never met, nor heard of each other. She lives less than an hour away! It was a great pleasure to meet her and everyone else who attended.

There was quite a mixture of artists, some who were very advanced in their careers and others who were just beginning their art businesses. Everyone was friendly and open to sharing their knowledge and experience. One of the social highlights was the enthusiastic trading of gorgeous business and post cards!

Two of my new friends, Pat from Michigan and Stefanie from Illinois.

Two of my new friends, Pat from Michigan and Stefanie from Illinois.

We were guided to think about why we make art, why we might want to share it and the level of commitment required to be successful. Other topics included how to talk about our art and why others might be interested in what we do. There was also information on some of the nuts and bolts such as good computer software for artwork inventory and tips on how to give great customer service among many other topics. Various experts in the art industry were available for advice as well.

The Table Mountain Inn in Golden is where the event took place and where I stayed. It was a beautiful hotel, very professionally run.  Alyson and her team thought of everything and pampered us while we were there. Golden seems to be a very charming little town from the little bit that I saw. It has a distinct old west flavor. I would go back again, given the opportunity!

Now that I have some solo travel success under my belt, who knows what my next little adventure might be?

Trying Something New

airplane-wingI am generally not the nervous type. Lately, though, there have been a few butterflies fluttering about. They say that this is a good thing. Trying something new is not unusual for me. In fact, it is rare that I follow any routine for very long. But this experience will be quite different for me.

Very, very early next Wednesday morning, I will be travelling to Colorado, all on my own. Now you might not think that this is an epic undertaking except I have never gone anywhere outside of Central Alberta without at least one other person from my family. Finding my way through an unfamiliar airport and then the 45 minute drive outside of Denver….. all by myself. If my daughter, Jilene can travel all over the world by herself, surely I can do this! It is obvious that she did not get the courageous travel bug from me…..

I will be meeting many other artists in Golden for an art related workshop. Adding to my uneasiness is the fact that I have never met any of them before. I am going with the intention to make many new friends and learn everything I possibly can. My shyness in new group situations might make it difficult to participate fully, at least at first.  I am expecting that it will be a lot of fun once I get there.

Coming home after an action packed few days will be somewhat interesting. My flight leaves Denver at 8 am which means I will have to be checked out of the hotel by 4:30 am and I am so NOT a morning person!
(Photo above Thanks to Jilene Schafers)

Art Club University


Something I could not have imagined 19 years ago! Painting in public at the Painters Guild Show in the Lobby of St. Albert Place.

In April, I entered the Painters Guild Show and Sale for the 37th time. I pondered how much my horizons had broadened since nervously joining the guild in 1994. They were a small, but welcoming group that made it easier to gain confidence. Networking with other artists is important if one dreams of becoming a successful artist, so I felt that this was a necessary step.

grew from sitting on my hands during meetings and leaving quickly afterwards, to serving on boards, to speaking at meetings! By volunteering my time in many of these supportive groups, I learned about the business side of art as well as the not for profit organization side. They all afforded amazing growth opportunities in every aspect of art making and presentation. Joining in on critique sessions, participating in numerous group shows, observing others create and present their artwork as well as helping with the myriad of details that go into producing an exhibit are a short list of valuable experiences gained on this path.

Not only have life-long friendships been cultivated as a result, but a huge network of opportunities to show my work has opened up. I would not have been able to successfully create my Open Studio Weekends without all of this experience, nor had the courage to approach galleries. It was my university education, in a round about way.

I believe that by choosing this road I gained knowledge that university could not have given me but will always wonder how my career and work would have been different had I taken formal art education.