• Tag Archives learn to paint
  • Monday Muse – Heiner Hertling

    An inspiring, yet unassuming artist and teacher

    I’ve recently discovered a TV oil painting teacher who seems very humble, unassuming, and inspiring.  I’d like to tell you a little about him.

    Not just copying…

    For years I’ve watched Bob Ross on TV and later on Netflix.  I’ve never really tried to paint to along.  One thing I do notice of his approach to teaching though, is that what you learn to do, for the most part, is to reproduce a Bob Ross original, rather than learn what to do to paint what you want.  Now don’t get me wrong, I know if you followed along and painted enough of his paintings, you’d learn plenty of techniques that you could eventually apply to your own original work, but kind of like the paint and sip classes I teach, you learn by copying exactly what someone else is doing.

    No, “Happy Little” references, or beating the devil out of your brushes…

    Recently I discovered another TV painting teacher, who doesn’t teach in the same way.  He isn’t in a dark studio painting from memory or imagination, rather he is outside, painting what is in front of him, he also doesn’t just teach you to paint what he paints, rather he teaches you the techniques, the steps to take, in order to paint whatever scene find in front of you when you go out.  Also different is that you won’t here him refer to “happy little” trees or clouds, and he doesn’t clean his brushes by “beating the devil out of them” and in the process splashing paint and thinner all over the place.  His name is Heiner Hertling, and the show he teaches on is called “Your Brush with Nature”.


    Two artists creating in plein air.
    Two artists creating in plein air.

    Not just entertaining, but really teaching…

    Honestly from an entertainment perspective, Bob Ross is funnier, and more entertaining to watch, but I think from a learning perspective I like Heiner better.  He teaches how to roughly sketch in your scene with earth-tone oil paints on a canvas he has already covered in an earth-tone acrylic base, how to block in your darkest areas first so you can get good darks before your thinner gets clouded.  Then how to block in your major color areas, and mix colors on your canvas as you go.  He also doesn’t only teach you techniques, but teaches principals of good composition, methods of creating depth in a painting, etc.   His paintings have a painterly, spontaneous, impressionistic look which I love.
    Basically, he teaches you how to approach a scene and make the decisions you need to make in order to paint it yourself, rather than just teaching you how to copy a mountain lake sunset.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I think Bob Ross’s method would definitely be worth learning, and you’d learn plenty that could apply to your own painting, but Heiner just gets down to business with some serious teaching right off the bat.


    No exclusive supplies

    For Bob Ross’s method, there are certain supplies he uses that you can only get through the Bob Ross company.  Things like liquid white, liquid clear, liquid black… those are things that not just any art store carries.  Now I’ve read online that some people have found ways to make substitutions for these things, but usually only after working with the Bob Ross brand first, to figure out what products are similar enough.

    Heiner Hertling on the other hand, uses oil paints, mineral spirits, and sometimes linseed oil or turpenoid, all things that you can pick up easily at any art supply store, and some of the things are even available at hardware stores.  So all in all, his system requires a little less investment to get started.

    Since discovering his show, I’ve watched an entire season on Netflix, so far I haven’t painted by his method, mainly because I haven’t really had the weather or oportunity to gather everything and head outside for some plein air painting.  However, I do know that I’ve learned a lot, and plan to rewatch again, taking notes, while I wait for the weather to become more agreeable so I can head out to do some painting myself.


    Now, I may have just discovered this show, but its been around a while, I found YouTube clips of it that are 9 years old, still its new to me, and its on Netflix if you’re interested in watching more.

    Here are two videos, one shows the intro to the show, and the next shows a brief excerpt from the middle of an episode, if you want to see an entire episode though, you can see it on Netflix, just search for “Your Brush with Nature”.



    Embedding isn’t allowed on the second video, so all I can do is link to it… you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/419Psm3P6nM


  • The Hindrance to Realistic Painting

    Why Can’t I Paint Realistically?

    This is a common cry of would-be painters.  They want what they are painting to actually look like what they are painting, but it doesn’t come out that way.  It may come out looking like something completely different, or it may look like a childish version of what they are trying to portray, but realistic? No.

    Here I will insert a disclaimer, I am not the most realistic painter in the world either, but I do feel that if I paint a fox, no one is going to look at it and mistake it for a rat or a possum.  Its also unlikely they will think that a second grader painted the fox.  I am most certainly not photo-realistic, but my paintings, for the most part, also do not look like caricatures of the subject at hand.


    The biggest roadblock to realism in art.

    Regardless of my own abilities in realistic painting, I do posses the knowledge of what the biggest roadblock to it is, and it is something that some painters do not want to hear.

    The biggest roadblock to realistic painting is lack of skill development in drawing.  Yes, I said drawing.  With a pencil.  I also said skill not talent.   That is because, while certain parts of art are talent based, drawing is largely a skill developed through training and practice.

    Yes, virtually anybody who can see at all can improve their drawing skill.  We may not all posses the ability to become the next Dirk Dzimirsky, but we all can progress past stick figures and flat looking figures.

    We can all learn to draw better than we do on just natural instincts alone.  I would also say that probably 99% of us can learn to draw a more realistic fox than this:

    A cartoon-ish, childish fox I drew on MS Paint, in order to demonstrate my point.
    A cartoon-ish, childish fox I drew on MS Paint, in order to demonstrate my point.

    But I Want to Learn to Paint, Not Draw!

    If you made that objection, then I need to let you in a little secret.  While certain types of abstract painting can be done without learning to draw, realistic painting is drawing, for the most part.

    It is drawing with paint.  All the rules of regular drawing apply, composition, proportion, perspective, shading… if you want to paint realistically, you must study drawing.  Now by study I don’t mean you need to take a college class, there are many very good “learn to draw books” out there.  A really good one to begin with is also a pretty old one, it is titled Learn to Draw with Jon Gnagy.  As I said, it is a good starting point, after which you could probably learn the rest of what you need by practice and occasionally looking things up on the internet.

    Basically in that book you will begin by taking your basic shapes, and learning how to turn them into your basic forms instead.   In other words, if you are trying to draw a ball, you will how to go from this:

    Just a circle... not a ball
    Just a circle… not a ball

    To this:

    Not just a circle, a ball, or sphere.
    Not just a circle, a ball, or sphere.


    Then you learn how to take those basic forms (which are sphere, cone, cube, and cylinder) and find or “see” them in the objects around you.  For example, that ice cream the child is holding.  It is a sphere resting on top of an inverted cone, that dog’s head is basically a modified sphere, with a modified cone coming off of it, the ears are basically half cones… etc.

    In the book though, you take this step by step, you learn to turn the cylinder into a bucket, the sphere into an apple, the cube into a stack of books, the cone into a ti-pi.

    Then it moves on from there and teaches you the common mistakes in landscapes, you learn to draw a dog (great dane) using the basic forms and shapes already discussed, you learn to combine elements to make well composed drawings.

    I did all that, but I still can’t Paint!

    If you have learned the basics of drawing, but are having trouble translating them to the medium of paint, don’t despair.  Every new medium has a learning curve.

    Start out by going back through your drawing lessons again, this time using paint instead of pencil.  At first, just do them in black and white paint, then later start adding color, make sure premix your colors so that you have a least four or five different values of each color.  In other words, if you are going to be painting something blue, you want a nice dark blue, then one a little lighter, one medium tone, one just a little lighter than medium tone, and one that is almost white, just a slight hint of the blue in it.  You will use these different values to create the shading in your painting.

    Keep practicing your drawing skills, because it will translate into your painting in time.  Even after you are painting well, you should still grab your pencil on a regular basis and draw.

    Of course, after completing the Jon Gnagy book, and then repeating those lessons in paint,  you’ll still want to learn more.  Learning to draw complex things using a grid can really help you learn to draw what you see.   Instructions on that method can be found HERE.

    Of course there are also many other excellent drawing books besides the Jon Gnagy book, the main thing is to get one that will teach you to go from flat shapes to forms, and then turn those forms into realistic objects.

    But I don’t care about realism!

    If you don’t care to paint realistic objects, than you might not absolutely need to learn how to draw, but it is still good practice.  In drawing you will still learn how to add dimension, which can help in some abstract painting.   Of course, if you like to paint abstractly in a kind of “spatter” or “flow” pattern, and you have no interest in painting anything of a different style than that, you can probably skip the drawing lessons.


  • Sunday Skies #5

    Painting Skies in Acrylic

    Acrylic paints are wonderful in many ways, they are versatile, they dry quickly, but they also have some draw backs, it is trickier to paint some things in acrylics than it is in oils or watercolors, skies are one of those things that are more challenging.  The quicker drying time makes it harder to make gradual transitions of color or to blend clouds out into the sky.

    However, in spite of the challenges, I still like working with acrylics, so my solution has been to practice.

    Practicing to get Better

    I’ve practiced painting skies every Sunday, trying to improve my ability to paint a believable sky.  I usually use photos that I take, but soon I hope to do some in plein air.  My first attempt was laughable, my second was better, my third sky wasn’t what I was aiming for, but I really liked the post-impressionist appearance of it anyway.  Here was my third sky:
    Winter Sky Acrylic Painting
    I based it on this photo:
    Photo of a Winter Sky from my porch

    Seeing Improvement

    I saw even more improvement the following week, with this painting:

    Morning Sky acrylic painting
    If i had made done this with more pink, and less orange and yellow, it would have been closer to the photo.

    Painting is Becoming more Realistic

    Well, I based today’s painting on the same photo as week three, except that I first edited the photo to bring out the colors in the sky more.  I didn’t add colors, I just turned up the saturation so the colors would really stand out, I also cropped it so that I was dealing with just the sky, since that is my focus.

    Here is the edited photo:

    Notice how the colors of this winter sky really stand out, all I did was turn up the saturation.
    Notice how the colors of this winter sky really stand out, all I did was turn up the saturation.

    Now here is this week’s sky painting:

    Sunday sky 5
    Painting of a winter sky.

    It still isn’t an exact match of the photo, but I am coming to realize that doesn’t really matter, I think my favorite sky so far was week three, because it looked a little Van Gogh-ish, and Van Gogh is my favorite painter.

  • Sunday Skies #4

    Learning to paint skies.

    As my regular readers know, after one particularly frustrating experience of repainting the same canvas over and over and over again before finally being satisfied with the way sky came out, I decided to do a practice painting of a sky.

    I am happy to say that I feel my overall painting skills are improving as a result.  This shouldn’t surprise me, after all as they say, “practice makes perfect”.  Well, I’m not sure about perfect but I am finding that…

    When it comes to art skills, practice makes steady improvement.

    Today’s painting was based on a photo of the sky at sunrise which I took a couple of weeks ago.  Photos never seem to capture the true colors of sunrises or sunsets without some post processing, so I edited this photo immediately afterward until I felt the sky in the photo looked like what I had just seen outside. It was a cell phone photo, so some details in the landscape weren’t very clear, but for my purpose it was fine.

    It is interesting to note that while this is sunrise, the most colorful view was in the western sky, at least from where I stood.  Of course, some towering trees blocked my view of most of the eastern sky, so that might have the problem!

    The colors of the sky are often the hardest to capture.
    Ironically, on this particular morning the western /south western  sky was more colorful than the eastern sky.

    I am getting better at painting sunrises and sunsets in acrylic paint.

    Now, skies like this are a challenge, they are difficult to render so that they both capture the dazzling spectacle you see, and still remain believable, so that people don’t look at them and think its just fanciful embellishment.

    I think this week I did better than any of the previous times I’ve tried to capture a sky with colors like this.

    Now, I know it’s not a perfect duplication of the photo, but then again, I am not a camera! Excuse the glare, the paint was still wet, the kitchen light was shining down on it, and I had to get the photo so I could publish my Sunday Skies blog post on Sunday and not Monday!

    Morning Sky acrylic painting
    If i had made done this with more pink, and less orange and yellow, it would have been closer to the photo.


    While I can still some room for improvement, I can see that I’m already learning more about painting the sky.

    When it comes to art skills, practice makes steady improvement. #learntopaint #acrylics Click To Tweet
  • Sunday Skies #3

    So this is the third week I’ve done the Sunday Skies, and this week’s sky is from a  photo I took a while back when we had snow in our yard.

    Here is the photo I’m using for reference:
    Photo of a Winter Sky from my porch


    Now, I sat down and painted a blue sky for a background to the clouds I would add, and I can see improvement even in my “just blue” skies.  I was somewhat tempted to leave it this way, but I do want to practice more challenging skies than just this.



    In order to learn how to better do clouds and skies, I need to challenge myself. If I am going to learn to paint better, I can’t just do the easiest thing.  That is one of the challenges about self teaching, it is tempting to “go easy” on yourself.  So I tackled the clouds I saw in the photo, as usual, the land is just a black silhouette.

    Winter Sky Acrylic Painting
    Well, the result didn’t look as much like the photo as what I was hoping for, but I decided that I still liked it.  I feel like I am learning a lot about how to paint skies.  I may do a second attempt at this same sky painting next week, or I may base next week’s painting off a different photo.

  • Sunday Skies #2

    Well, even though I did decide this week that I needed to stop beating myself up over how I paint skies, I still do want to improve in that area.  So, I am continuing the Sunday Skies feature for a while longer, it is good practice for me in a non threatening situation.

    This week, I used the same reference photo as LAST WEEK.

    I’ll post it again so you can see the photo that was guiding my painting:





    Once again, I didn’t worry about the land features in the painting, though I did give them a little more care than I did last week.  But the land was still just silhouette, because my focus is the sky.

    Sunday Skies 2

    Well while there certainly is still room for improvement, I believe this week’s rendering turned out much better than last week’s.

    Just as a reminder, this was how I painted the same sky last week.
    sunday skies 1

    I think next week I will move on to using a different reference photo, perhaps one with big billowy white cumulus clouds… we’ll see.


  • Monday Muse #1 View of Vetheuil in Summer, by Monet

    I’ve decided that each Monday I should post about a “Muse”.  For my purposes a Muse can be any thing or person that brings me inspiration.

    Today’s Muse is this painting, by Claude Monet:

    Monet - Ansicht von Vetheuil im Sommer
    Claude Monet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
    Why did I pick this painting as my Monday Muse?

    Well, as my readers know, I find it very difficult to be satisfied with my renderings of clouds.  I have produced a few paintings where I was genuinely satisfied with the clouds.  However, those paintings are the exception, and I certainly seem unable to reproduce the results at will.  Its more a matter of “luck” than skill when I produce a sky I am truly happy with.  Sometimes grueling hard work gives me results that I find acceptable, but not really pleasing.  Well today, I was doing something I frequently do, browsing paintings online.  I started looking closely at many of the impressionists’ work, particularly their skies.  What I was seeing was encouraging to me.  These paintings are beautiful, but if I isolate the sky like this:

    Monet_-_Ansicht_von_Vetheuil_im_Sommer (2)

    I see brush strokes of blue, white, some yellow, a little that is kind of dirty yellow-gray…  What I don’t see is photograph-like realistic clouds.

    In fact, the closer you look, the less cloud like they become:
    Monet_-_Ansicht_von_Vetheuil_im_Sommer (3)

    Monet_-_Ansicht_von_Vetheuil_im_Sommer (4)


    To me this is a wonderful encouragement, because the overall picture is amazing, even the sky is amazing.  No person knowledgeable about art would say that Monet didn’t know how to paint.  Yet when I look at the sky closely I realize that if I had done it myself, I would not have been satisfied.  It is showing me that perhaps I need to step back and look at my paintings from further back.  It’s okay for them to not look like photographs.  The are PAINTINGS.  I am my own worst critic of course, because when i saw this, at first I wasn’t thinking anything negative, I was admiring the beauty of the painting.  The reason I looked closer at the sky was to see how he did it, and that’s when I realized that I would not have liked it if I did it, but I loved it when Monet did it.

    Now does that mean that I will stop trying to improve my skies?  No.  It does mean though that I can stop stressing every time I fail to make it look exactly like what I see.  I don’t necessarily have overwork my sky to the point of frustration, it is OKAY to put in brushstrokes that give the impression of clouds, especially when the sky isn’t the central point of the painting, but merely a backdrop for the rest.

    I really don’t know why I didn’t grasp this concept before, after all, the artists I admire most are Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, neither of which are particularly preoccupied with Photorealism in their paintings.  In fact, one of my frustrations with other aspects of paintings is that I find it difficult to loosen up enough, and yet with clouds, I was refusing to loosen up.  I was trying so much to control every aspect and get the EXACT image held in my mind.

  • Ugg… Sunday Skies #1

    So, if you remember a few days ago, after once again struggling and struggling to get a sky in a painting the way I wanted it, I decided to start a weekly feature on this blog where I will try to do a sky, just for practice.

    In theory, doing it on paper, just for practice, and not making a part of real painting, should relieve me of some of the pressure of perfectionism, and allow me to just practice the sky.  In theory.

    Okay, anyway, here is the photo I used as a guide.  I told myself I wasn’t trying to reproduce the photo exactly, but was just looking at it to give me a rough idea of what I was going for.  I snapped this photo yesterday in anticipation of needing it today.



    Now, here is the painting I did for practice, note that the land elements are just black/gray silhouettes to indicate a horizon.  Also note, that I didn’t do a very good job on those clouds!

    sunday skies 1


    I was working on a very small piece of paper, and I actually think it might have been easier with a larger one, because I’d have had more room to work.   I see lots of problems with this sky… but it is still better than what I often get when I try.

    I will try again next week, perhaps from the same photo, perhaps from a different one.  after all, this is just for PRACTICE and DOESN’T need to be PERFECT!  Perhaps if I keep shouting that at myself I’ll believe it.