‘Rio Grande Island’
12″ x 12″  Oil on plywood

I painted this on location at the Rio Grande river in ABQ, NM. It was a warm sunny day, where I packed my french easel and limited palette paints. I like to use a limited palette because for one, it’s a lot less hectic than using a dozen. This painting shows these results, and I’m satisfied with it because of its color and brushstrokes. But I have always been consistent in using a limited palette, going back to my college student years. Consistency matters, have you been using certain habits for many years in your work? Sometimes it’s a matter of which yellow or red or blue to use. That’s where you experiment and see what looks good for you. Currently, I prefer an ultramarine blue, hansa yellow, napthol red and titanium white.

Now I’m about to talk some technique and about using your brain. Despite a limited palette, it’s still challenging to mix your own colors and values. Yes even after 20 years, the challenge is still there. Not only that, you have to make your values appear true to the scene that’s before you. I first try to get the darks in first, and then the lights. You have to know your strengths and weaknesses as an artist too, so you know what to work on. For myself, I struggle sometimes to get the darkest values and the very brightest values. I don’t use black because I think it would dull my colors. So I mix the primary colors to get a dark value that looks good to me. And I try to save the brightest values towards the end of the painting. Usually, the brightest highlights are just a few strokes of light, the thickest and most noticeable strokes on the painting. If you act too quickly, it could easily turn to mud. Timing is everything here. I used to overwork everything because of not being satisfied. Now I work my mixing on the palette to get the right values before swiping my brush on my painting.

Here’s a simple concept: The less strokes, the better. Why not challenge yourself making a painting with fewer strokes? You will be forcing your left brain to make more conscious decisions in the mental process before the painting process. I hope I’m not trying to sound too intellectual, but there is a huge left brain process going on while I’m outdoors or painting a portrait. It sometimes feels like a chess game, where every move is such a calculated one. My advice is too not overthink the painting so much, let your left brain guide, not overtake the right brain into creating your masterpiece. And most of all, don’t forget to use your heart. That’s why you have one. Keep painting, amigos!


This original painting is now in my gallery for $250.