Time for a Little Q&A, Lori Putnam

Artists are always looking for answers. We see a technique that catches our eye and we want to know how that person did that. We hear someone speak or watch a demonstration and we want to be inside that person’s head to understand what they were thinking. We want to know about the latest tools, how to get into galleries, and what success really means. We need business practice tips, which organizations are beneficial to join, and how to inventory our work. These and countless other questions make their way into my inbox every day. Some of the questions would make entire blog posts all by themselves, others can be answered in only a paragraph or two. Here are five of those questions and my “short” answers.

Lisa writes:

I really enjoy your paintings. Hopefully I will take one of your workshops one day soon. What I really love to read about is when artists share what has worked for them to improve as artists.  What has helped you to take your work to higher levels. This can be instantaneous or a process of course. Both are interesting to me.[example in particular] -How do you get through artistic discouragement?

Dear Lisa,

First of all, I think sometimes it helps to be in a position like I was where quitting just isn’t an option. Still, not knowing your situation, you may be in a different place than that so let’s move on. Every artist I know has days when they wonder if they should be doing this at all. EVERY artist. You wouldn’t even believe who if I told you. The roller coaster analogy is a good one. Some days are awesome and some days not. Sometimes a painting just paints itself and you wonder how or who did it. Other days you feel you are in a battle with the canvas and the paint and it feels as if you have never done this before in your life. You can’t catch a break. You were declined for a show. You turn to Facebook and see someone else’s faboo painting and yours needs to be scraped off. So here is what I would say, when you feel that discouraging voice creeping in, allow yourself a small amount of time to actually think it (because a little of this helps keep us humble); find a trusted friend with whom you can express what you are feeling; then pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. I know that is easier said than done. Just remember, you are in a sea of like-minded individuals who all swim against the tide and practically drown now and then. It will pass. Keep swimming. It helps to write down what the perfect scenario or where you see your work 5, 10, even 15 years down the road. Pin it close by and do not worry if someone else sees it what they think of it. Read it often. As you continue to grow, you may need to change it. That’s okay too!


From Deborah:

When beginning a painting outdoors, discuss your method for editing a scene in front of you. This question was posed recently at our salon group paint day together.  I meet with 5 talented artists, that use direct observation by getting outdoors to paint or have astill life set up for reference.  An artist in our group recently attended a week paint out in Maui.  As we viewed photos of the scene and the finished painting, we were curious to learn the process used.  Obviously the before and after photos were very different, meaning a work of art was rendered, not a photo scene reproduction.  As a seasoned participant at Paint Out events, please share your process.  This question is a foundational one, but having a process would benefit us all. Many thanks for sharing and helping artists grow.

Dear Deborah,

Kudos to you and your group! That is wonderful to have artists around with whom to discuss these things. The editing is personal on some level. Each of us would make different choices even standing in front of the same scene. That is why we can all be painting in the same location and no two paintings look anything alike. Yes, it has some to do with technique, but I think it has more to do with personal vision. What is yours? What was your painting neighbor’s?

It helps me to write down what drew me to the scene in the first place on a thumbnail sketch. (And by thumbnail sketch, I do not mean drawing, I mean quick sketch). EVERY decision needs to reinforce the original vision. That first “Wow, I want to paint that,” thought. The longer we look at a scene, the more watered down our thought and vision become.

Try this the next time your group goes out on location. The split second a scene strikes you, even if you are not sure it is what you will eventually paint, write down your first thought. Continue walking around and writing down thoughts until you just want to paint something so badly that you have to stop and do it. (Don’t fall for making this an excuse not to paint, however. Give yourself a 30-minute time limit.) By practicing this every time you go out, over time, your thought and vision will be less about a particular subject, and more about things like color harmony, pattern, line, rhythm, shape, relationships, light, etc. Once you have stopped to paint. Look at your scene for five minutes. Develop your thought (not the subject) more clearly in your mind. Turn away from the scene and, without peeking, paint your vision of the subject, not the subject itself. You will be surprised how much more exciting your paintings become by doing this.


Gwen wants to know:

Perhaps you could blog on the sun in different places you have painted ... which places you liked best because of the sun ... what you did to take most advantage of the effects of the sun, etc.

Dear Gwen,

This is a tough one because I love all kinds of light quality and effects. In fact, one of my favorite times to paint is when it it is moody and the skies are a grayed yellow.

If I had to think about intense sunlight, however, I would have to say in heat-drenched or tropical areas where the strong, “blasting out” of the sun on every surfaces it hits, turns those surfaces into mini, light sources too. Each of those surfaces reflects beauty into the shadows. Dawn Whitelaw taught me once to see where the most intense chroma is, in the lights or in the shadows. That helped me so much. One will be colorful, the other more neutral. When the sun is really strong, it zaps all the color out of everything it hits. This give me a great opportunity to really indulge myself in the shadow areas.


Diane is seeking advice on:




Your experiences

As an emerging artist, I would appreciate help on all of the above!!

Dear Diane,

I’ll tackle one of these at a time. For today, let’s talk about organization. I am an organizer by birth. Seriously. In my previous careers, I could staple and paper clip myself into ectasy. And when label makers came out, nirvana. Actually, for me it has been good to learn to let a few things go and get a little disorganized because I could easily use it as an excuse to NOT face a canvas that’s been giving me fits. But for a lot of artists I know, organization is the last thing on their minds.

Keeping track of your paintings in an inventory management system is key. You don’t want to have to keep all that stuff in your head, when there are other options available to make it easier. In the old days, like before Mac, artists had notebooks with pages and pages of lists and tabs and dividers about these sorts of things. It was crude, but it worked well enough. (Heck, I still know a few artists who do it that way.) But I can look through my computer database of paintings all the way back to the day I first went full time on April Fool’s Day, 2005 and tell you EVERYTHING about every painting that has ever been on the market. When collectors need the provenance of a piece, bam, it’s there. When I need to know which contests something has been entered into, if it was accepted or declined, or if it won an award, boom, right in front of me. Can’t remember the size and price? Why should you have to? My best advice is that it is never too early to start. If you have even one piece that has ever made its way out of your studio into the public eye, it needs to be documented. If you have never had an inventory and data management tool and you’ve been in the business for years, don’t fret. Start today. Better late than never!


George needs clarification:

After completing your DVD, I have a question.

I'm at the point in your DVD where you have completed your value sketch, set up your composition and are painting in the background shapes that you will put detail over. In putting down these shapes, your are dealing with brush and shrubbery.

In your paintings like Bumper Crop, Bird's Eve View and Changes in Cattitude, your subject is pickups, small towns and barns. In putting in background colors, shapes and values, for these more structured subjects (as opposed to brush & shrubbery), are you a lot tighter in your approach?

In other words, would you work within a sketch on the canvas board that would keep you between the lines? Hopes this makes sense?

Dear George,

WONDERFUL QUESTION. I really should blog on this.

No. Not really. I rarely sketch much on the canvas, and when I do it is with paint rather than charcoal or pencil or something.

I do approach paintings differently based on a number of factors, but not subject.  For instance, all of the paintings you mentioned are basic light and shadow pattern paintings and all done en plein air. Starting with a very loose mix, then blocking/massing in shadows and adding the lights works well there.  When the sun moves, I have my shadow pattern established which keeps me on track. If, however, I was painting say an overcast, local tone-type of day, I might begin differently just because I have the benefit of consistent lighting on my side. In those cases, I may decide to mass in similar colors or start with mid tones or something. The only difference between something with brush and shrubbery [like in the DVD] and something with more structural shapes [the paintings mentioned], is the brushwork and brush shape.  One shape requires more egbert and riggers, the other more long flats.



Thanks for the questions, folks. It helps keep me on my toes!

Lori Putnam6 Comments