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Mar 20, 2015

The Mystery of Seeing Color...

Okay, this is in fact a commercial but it still made me tear up a bit because the technology is real. I read about it a few months ago in a scientific journal. Fifteen years ago, when I ran an illustration department in a BFA program I once taught a young woman how to paint who was congenitally colorblind. Somehow, we made it work.

If you can't see this video click here...

Mar 19, 2015

Painting in the Desert with Friends...

As many of you may know, I spent last week down in the low desert area of Southern California. I flew down to open a show in Palm Springs and paint the native California Palms found in the canyons of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. (I'll post those paintings soon.) I then spent a few days painting with a couple of friends in the Borrego Springs area, further south: Joe Forkan and Eric Merrell.

Here is a short video of Eric and Joe working on a morning painting:

If you can't see this view click here...

I did not get a shot of their finished paintings but if you want to see examples of their work you can visit their websites here:

Both are experienced, dedicated landscape painters who spend a lot of time outdoors painting directly from life. What a pleasure it was to spend some time with them...

I will also post about the the shading system Eric made for himself that you see in this video. It is very clever. I am rarely a fan of painting umbrellas but Eric's set up created a much cooler space to work under. It was already pushing 90 degrees F at 9:30 am and under his umbrella it felt much cooler. Plus, those black panels reduced the amount of light bouncing into his eyes and on to the canvas. A good thing.

I must make something similar myself before I return to the desert!



Would you like to improve your outdoor painting skills in Italy next September? If so, click here to learn about my annual Plein air Tuscany! workshop.

If you want info send me an email requesting a FAQ Sheet. The US dollar is strong against the Euro right now so there may never be a better year to go than in 2015. Registration is open and folks ARE signing up!... (Seven spots left!)

Mar 9, 2015

Making Your Own High Quality Plein Air Panels...

I am off to go paint in the Californian desert tomorrow morning before opening a group show in Palm Springs and I got caught short on ordering some plein air panels. (So busy, in and out, in and out. Doh!...) So I had to make some panels Saturday afternoon for this trip. Since I keep the necessary materials around for such an emergency I can make panels at a moment's notice. But usually if I have enough turn-around time I order them from my favorite suppliers. I don't find the cost-savings of making them to be enough of a motivation to do it regularly...

But hey, if if you are pinched for time like I was, here is a quick walk through. The key to doing this easily is in the adhesive.

The Materials You Need: 

1. For small panels, 1/8 or 3/16 inch hardboard (often called Masonite™). Tempered or untempered is fine. At least one side must be smooth.

2. Some pre-primed linen (For these panels I used the remainder from a 6 yard x 64 inch roll of double-primed Claussen's linen purchase at 50% off using a coupon from my local art store. A steal...) 

3. The secret ingredient: Dap Water-based Weldwood low VOC Contact Cement. (Recommended to me by Karl Bostwick last year and I have found it to easy to apply and works well in the field. I have not experienced any edges lifting or panels warping as of yet.) 

4. Disposable foam roller and shallow paint pan. 

5. Brayer or acrylic roller.

6. Sharp carpet knife. 

All told, if I disregard the time it takes to go to the hardware store to get the hardboard the shop time ran about one hour.

The Process: 

1. Cut the hardboard to desired panel size. Wipe or blow any dust off the surface you will apply to the adhesive on, meaning the hardboard and linen. Use a smooth side of the hardboard for the adhesive.

2. Cut your linen 1/2 inch over sized because it will shrink immediately after applying the water-based adhesive (Canvas shrinks will as well but not as much.). 

3. Use a disposable surface under the masonite and the linen when rolling on the adhesive because glue will drip and overrun the edges. I keep scraps of foam core around for this reason. Roll the contact cement on to both the board and the linen and let dry to the touch (about 30 minutes). Read the can for more detailed instruction.

The linen sheets will curl aggressively as the adhesive dries so keep a close eye on them. Once the curling begins gently flip the sheets over to prevent them from rolling up entirely. (If you don't do this they will roll up like papyrus.) Don't press the linen into to the surface, just let the corners raise the  sheet and this will keep anything from bonding.

4. Once the board and linen is dry to the touch, flip the linen back over (meaning, the primed-side should now be down) and carefully position the top corners of the hardboard panel inside the top and sides of the linen sheet. The corners will grab each other. Confirm there will be excess fabric beyond the edges before laying the board down on the linen. Take care with your alignment because you will not get a second chance to reposition things. 

5. Gently press the two pieces together and flip the combo over again. Use a roller on the primed side of to securely bond both the fabric and board together. Push the brayer from the center to the edges so any stretching of the linen will be uniform. 

6. Stack your panels in a neat pile and place a weight on it (That is what the Utrecht bucket of gesso in the photo was used for... Again, I was using pre-primed linen here.) 

7. After a couple of hours, flip the panels face down and use firm pressure to trim the excess fabric off the edges of the panel with a sharp carpet knife or x-acto blade. You can use the edge of the panel as a cutting guide, but please, keep an eye on your fingers. I've seen folks cut themselves pretty badly because they weren't paying enough attention and their knife slipped or jumped the edge. Do NOT cut in a direction that takes the knife across your body. Keep the direction of your cuts towards the outside of your body. If you were once a Boy Scout then you know what I mean.

8. Flip the panels over one last time and rub off any contact cement that may have gotten onto the front of your painting panel with your finger, and VOILA, you are done!

While this will be cheaper than purchasing quality commercial plein air panels making them yourself requires time and effort and you should remember that the time you aren't actually painting is worth something too. Personally I'd rather spend my time pushing paint around than making panels so I prefer buy my panels unless I am caught short as I was this weekend. And this really isn't a kitchen tabletop project unless you happen to live alone and don't mind messing up the table. Making your own panels becomes a convenience only if you make do a large batch at a time or you prefer to paint on a surface you can't get elsewhere. If I had to guess, the 9 x 12s you see here cost me about $2 to $2.50 each, but that is a rough estimate.

If you prefer using lightweight Gatorboard™ as your substrate the adhesive should work on it as well.

Of course, if you don't want to make your own high quality plein air panels you can find some here:

I am off to the low desert next!... Follow me on my Facebook page if you wish...


Would you like to improve your outdoor painting skills in Italy this next September? If so, click here to learn about my annual Plein air Tuscany! workshop. It is a fantastic experience and garners rave reviews! 

If you want even more info send me an email asking for a FAQ Sheet. It will detail where we will stay, what we will do, what we will learn, and of course, what it will cost. But wow, the US dollar is strong against the Euro right now so there may never be a better year to go than in 2015. Registration is open and folks ARE signing up!... (Seven spots left!)

Feb 19, 2015

And Here is a Reader's Post-Mod Hack that is now a Post about my Post about my Mod... ;-)

I received this today from a reader in response to yesterday's post – it is another nifty way to install a glass palette into the Strada Mini. I would think this would work for the full size Strada as well...

Posted with permission:
"Hi Thomas, I saw your blog and I solved the problem this way. I had a friend build me a small insert into which I glued glass. I put it between the notches and inside the area where the side trays go. So far I have been very happy with it." 
  –  Marie H.
(Photos by Marie)

It is great to see other folks making hardware hacks to their gear. It demonstrates creativity and ingenuity in another way, if those two aren't already the same thing...


Another email about another palette mod for the Mini...

Hi Thomas 
I enjoy your blog and thanks for all the great info. 
I wanted to share one thing. For over 5 years I have used acrylic plastic for a palette, I paint the back side grey. I saw another artist who did this and I thought as you did you cant scrape it with a razor blade so it cant be as good as glass. Well I was wrong...I tested it out and yes it scratches eventually, I change mine every few years...but my glass scratched too over time. Having broken a couple in transit I made the change. You would not have to mod the box by grinding it down etc. you could just caulk it in. It would be so much lighter and easier and leave the box intact. 
I asked Tap plastic about plexi or acrylic, and they said acrylic is harder( and cheaper) I have used all kinds of solvents, turps gamsol, mostly, no problem. But once I left a clove oil q-tip in and the clove oils melted a spot a bit, and so will Winsor Newton Brush Cleaner and Restorer. 
I scrape off the thicker stuff, then wipe with a towel and final clean with an alcohol pad....the same system as Schmid, only on acrylic instead of glass.
Just thought I'd let you know in case you want to share with readers....My 3 year old palette is about ready for a change, but its still useable, just have to use the alcohol a bit more to get the paint all out, to squeaky clean. 


Thanks for sharing, Marie and Colleen! Always welcome to see.



Would you like to improve your outdoor painting skills in Italy this next September? If so, click here to learn about my annual Plein air Tuscany! workshop. It is a fantastic experience and garners rave reviews! 

If you want even more info send me an email asking for a FAQ Sheet. It will detail where we will stay, what we will do, what we will learn, and of course, what it will cost. But wow, the US dollar is strong against the Euro right now so there may never be a better year to go than in 2015. Registration is open and folks ARE signing up!...

Feb 18, 2015

Modifying the Mini...

No, no, not this Mod and Mini...

I mean modding this Mini...

If you are a loyal reader of this blog then you know I have already written about the Strada Mini plein air easel. (That post can be found here.) And you already know how nifty I think the Mini is too!...

If you are a long-time reader then you also know I am not one to leave my gear untouched or unmodified. I am always tinkering or tweaking my gear to make it suit me better and the Mini is no different.

But before I continue – based upon my experience with a stock Strada Mini – I want to clearly state I think it is one of the best options out there for the outdoor painter wanting a bomb-proof easel – modified or not. There is no reason to change anything about it. Unless, like me, you don't like mixing your color on a white plexiglass palette.

Instead, I prefer to mix my colors on a grey glass surface because I can clear off an area quickly with a razor blade. Being able to do so makes it easier to keep my lighter tints clean without the need for a huge palette. (I used to make ginormous palettes and attached them to my teensy-weensy easels but once I switched to using glass and a razor blade Small became beautiful again.)

So the ONLY mod I could imagine for the Mini was switching out the plexi for glass. And honestly, even I knew I was stretching the need.

But glass is brittle and can be easily shattered so there are some mods that must be made to the Mini before it can be installed.

If you lift the plexi-glass palette out of the main mixing pan you will find there is a receptor for your tripod mount sticking up above the surface. Not much can be done about that, you have to leave it alone. But in each corner there is a corresponding 'pin' to keep the corners of the plexiglass level with the center receptor. If I wanted to insert glass in a secure way I would have to caulk it in place against the sides and bottom of the pan with no void underneath. Otherwise the glass sheet would eventually break from pressure applied from above, or perhaps a shock from the side when the easel was knocked around. Darn! If I could only get rid of those pesky pins the manufacturer had so firmly set in place. Then I could use the structure of the aluminum box itself to avoid breakage.

What to do? Hmmmmm....

Oh right, as a friend mentioned to me over a coffee, I have a Dremel tool! I could use it to cut the corner pins off and then grind what remained until everything was level just like your dentist does when he fixes your broken crown. (Er! Sorry for that mental image...) This would take care of the corners but what could I to do about the center receptor?It still projected up above the pan. This had me stumped until I remembered automobile windshields often have holes drilled in them to accommodate an antenna. And voila, I had a strategy!

So here you go: a  Drill 'n' Fill solution for inserting a glass palette into a Strada Mini. Call a local auto shop to cut and drill the glass, 3/16 inch thickness for the center pan, and 1/8 thickness for the side palettes, and use a little clear silicone to glue the glass into place.

The glass will add weight, though. A 3/16 thickness means the center receptor is now just below surface and I expect the divot to fill in with dried paint. Adding glass to the center pan and side shelves increased the total weight to just under 7 pounds. This may sound hefty and almost killed my desire to do it until I realized my entire painting kit weighed in at about 20 pounds. So adding three more wasn't going to be an issue. At some point you have to consider your entire system, not just a single component, before you can make a rationale decision.

I will be taking this baby to Mexico this week to paint and teach. Yes! It will save a lot of room as I move around. We'll see how it feels and how it performs. If I don't like the glass, or if it breaks somehow, I'll knock the pieces out and paint in the pan. My palette always end up looking like a Jackson Pollock anyway, so why not?

"Hasta baby!"  – TJK

You may have missed out on my winter Mexico Workshop but I've got another fantastic international plein air class lined up in Tuscany for this September. Details can be found below...


Would you like to improve your outdoor painting skills in Italy this next September? If so, click here to learn about my annual Plein air Tuscany! workshop. It is a fantastic experience and garners rave reviews! 

If you want even more info send me an email asking for a FAQ Sheet. It will detail where we will stay, what we will do, what we will learn, and of course, what it will cost. But wow, the US dollar is strong against the Euro right now so there may never be a better year to go than in 2015. Registration is open and folks ARE signing up!...

Feb 6, 2015

Plein Air Tuscany 2015!

Experience an Amazing Workshop in the
Heart and Soul of Italy!

September is the the perfect time to paint in Tuscany. The landscape has turned to gold, the days are still warm, the light is clear, and the harvest is underway. If you come to Tuscany with me this fall I'll take care of the details and logistics and all you have to do is paint and enjoy the best Tuscany has to offer. So why not join me this year?

Here is a video from last year's trip:

Can't see the video? Click here...

To receive a FAQ and Workshop Itinerary, email Thomas at

Attention Folks: I am offering an Early Bird Discount for this workshop! Register by May 31st and you will receive a 10% discount off the regular price of 1770 - 2320 Euros.

So you pay only
1590 to 2090 Euros!
(depending upon your choice of accommodations)

But don't wait, people are registering now!

Here are a few highlights for 2015...

• Paint in the ancient hill towns and countryside of Tuscany.

• Personalized instruction from an internationally acclaimed, award-winning artist and knowledgeable instructor.

• Gain confidence and improve your skills in a positive and encouraging environment. See immediate results while you are still in Italy.

• Fun and exciting activities and events with your fellow students – plus after-hour discussions with me and your new best friends!.

• Enjoy freshly prepared gourmet meals that feature authentic Tuscan cuisine. (yum!)

• Spend a day in Florence touring little known paintings from the Macchiaioli Painters – Italy's own 19th century plein air masters.

We paint, we eat, we drink, we have a good time...

I know some of you weren't able to join us last year so I wanted to offer this workshop again....

Here are a few comments from 2014:
"No matter what your level may be, Thomas has a wealth of skills to share, and is adept at keeping your frustration at bay, and the group energy positive. Lots of learning and lots of laughs. I can't recommend this painting opportunity enough. Go for it!"

     – Kay Elmore, Oregon

"Practical pointers, great plein air subjects, and a fine time in Tuscany: I'll go back!" 
     – Bob, New Mexico  (Bob signed on again last month – TJK)

"I had a great opportunity to attend Thomas Kitts' Tuscan workshop in 2014. Thomas is not only a wonderful artist, but is a knowledgeable, kind and generous instructor. The Villa where we were hosted at was breathtaking. We were fed amazing home cooked meals and cared for very well. What a great week it was, making new friends, painting the Tuscan country side and being immersed in the Italian culture. Thank you Thomas!"
   – Kerrie,  California

So if you have always dreamed of painting in Italy then give this workshop some thought!... 

It will be both fun and instructive. Plus, right now the Dollar is the strongest it has been against the Euro in years, which makes this trip a fantastic opportunity to live your dream!

And don't forget to subscribe to my Early Bird Workshop List. So you can be the first to hear about my workshops, domestic and international!...

Feb 2, 2015

How to Fly with Oil Paint...

Hey All: Recently, I have been updating some of my workshop information sheets in preparation for the 2015 season and can't remember if I already posted about this topic on this blog, so here it is again in case I haven't. My apologies if you've seen this before.

"Me and my sweet ride, back in 2012..."

I am constantly asked what is the best way to fly with oil paint, mediums, and solvents. Here is what you must do to keep your paint from being impounded…

Important: While the following advice conforms to TSA’s present rules and regulations it is still possible to have your paint seized if you pack it incorrectly or act inappropriately. Also, since what the TSA allows seems to change on a regular basis I recommend that you call the airline you plan to fly prior to your trip...

• First and foremost, if an airport security person at any point asks "What are these?" do not say oil paints. Oil and Paint are hot button words for the TSA. Even water-based acrylics and watercolors have been impounded because they have were identified as "paints" by an artist. So if asked, politely inform the security representative that they are "Artists’ Colors”. 
• Technically, you should be able to carry-on your 'artist colors' but it is unwise to try. It is better to check them in your luggage. Specific instruction for how to do so can be found below. 
• Please Note: The US Department of Transportation defines "flammable liquids" as anything with a flash point of 140º F or below. (60º C)  
• Every manufacturer should post a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) online for each color they sell. Sometimes they provide one MSDS sheet per color, sometimes one sheet encompasses range of colors. You will find MSDS sheets by visiting the manufacturer's website. If a manufacture fails to provide one then reconsider no longer using that product. Lack of a MSDS sheet often mean something is being concealed from the general public. Never a good thing with art materials.

After you have printed out MSDS sheets for all your colors 
follow these instructions exactly:
• Wrap the paint tubes in a way the bottom corners will not puncture other tubes around it. I also recommend packing your tubes in a tupperware-like container with leak-proof lid so that if one does get punctured nothing else in your suitcase will be ruined. Packing your paint carefully will engender goodwill from the TSA agent that will inspect your luggage. And a TSA agent will open and inspect your suitcase once the tubes appear on the scanner. 

• Using a bright yellow highlighter, call out the manufacturer’s contact information, the flashpoint of the paint, and where the manufacturer clearly states the artist color is vegetable oil based and is not hazardous. Most MSDS sheets will list the flashpoint for their oil paint as 550º F or higher. Well above TSA’s safety threshold. 
• Staple the sheets together neatly. If you have a business card, staple it to the top sheet or write your name and cell number at the top. I’ve never received a call en route but you never know. 
• Lay the document on top of your artist colors in your suitcase in a way the TSA agent will immediately see it. Again, if you make it easy for them they will make it easy for you.

Mediums and Solvents: 

DO NOT attempt to carry-on any liquid mediums or solvents and do not pack them inside your checked luggage. Just don’t. No mineral spirits, turpentine, or linseed oil can be guaranteed to make it past the TSA. From my experience, it is the liquidity that is the concern. (Gel mediums in a tube are viewed differently.) The TSA always errs on the side of caution so if you attempt to fly with liquids mediums you may trigger a more critical look at your paint. Instead, check the internet to see if what you want can be purchased at your destination. If not, you can ship such mediums ahead, although it can be expensive and take a while. Or learn to paint without.


IMPORTANT: Do not attempt to carry on a palette knife. It will set off the metal detector and be impounded. Ask me how I know. The only thing a TSA agent will hear after the alarm goes off is “Knife! Knife!” So pack it in your luggage with the paint.

IMPORTANT: Wipe all the paint crud out of your empty solvent container. It doesn’t need to be squeeky-clean but there shouldn’t be anything that looks suspicious inside. Before I fly, I pull the screen out of my Holbein brush washer, wipe it with a rag, and let everything dry overnight. Then I stuff the parts into a clean zip-lock bag with the lid off so the TSA agent can easily see there is nothing else inside.

And finally, if you are approached by TSA about something...

Keep your cool because if you followed these instructions you are not doing anything illegal. Don’t hassle them for stopping you because they have an important job to do. Again, present the MSDS sheets and explain how you are going on a painting holiday. Stress the holiday aspect. You can try to argue with the TSA but you will not win. The agents are given wide discretion in deciding what is and isn't allowed on the plane so your best strategy is to be prepared, look professional, and remain non-threatening.


Hey all, would you like to work on your outdoor painting skills in Italy this September? If so, click here to learn about my annual Tuscan Workshop. It is a fantastic experience and has garnered rave reviews! 

If you want even more info send me an email requesting a detailed FAQ Sheet that outlines where we stay, what we do, what we learn, and of course, the cost. But wow, the US dollar is strong now which means there may never be a better year to go than 2015. Registration is open and folks ARE signing up!...