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Quick Look: Download my new free book, "Advice on Painting from
John Singer Sargent"

This forty-six page digital PDF file is suitable for viewing on your computer or tablet. It contain two authenticated accounts of Sargent's teaching and painting methods, illustrated with full color paintings and annotation by Thomas Jefferson Kitts – Free and available to share with your friends!

Oct 9, 2015

Introducing the Strada Micro...

Photo shot in Zagreb, Croatia, on my kitchen table after painting the domes of Mirogoj Cemetery.

First there was the Original Strada. Then there was the Strada Mini. And now, there is the Strada Micro...

I am speaking of the smallest of the relatively new line of Strada plein air field easels that are constructed out of heavy-gauge anodized aluminum, with a design which features a hinged painting support that is quick and easy to set up. (You can read my previous reviews of the Original and Mini Strada easels here and here

Quick Review: Strada Micro...
Pros: Compact and incredibly durable. Fast and easy to set up and use. Awesome build quality. Cons: Limited to small panels. Limited mixing area. Deep well in the mixing area.
Manufacturer's website: StradaEasel.com

The Strada Micro™ measures 7 x 7 x 1.5 inches and weighs in at 1 lb 8 oz and the manufacture claims it can hold a painting panel up to 10 inches tall. It also comes with two side shelves that can be used to hold your painting tools or used to increase your mixing area. (I opted to use the shelves as extra mixing space, as I have with the Strada Mini.)

The Micro as shipped is limited to supporting a maximum panel height of ten inches but there is one workaround that can increase the size panel it can support. (seen right) It is a separate Strada accessory called an 11 inch Top Canvas Panel Holder and it fits into the same slot as the stock Micro's panel holder. Theoretically, this 11 inch t-bar extension should increase the Micro's ability to support 14 inch panels. I say theoretically because I have not tested the extension out on the Micro first hand. Also, the extension must be treated as a separate component since it is too long to work as a latch to hold the lid shut. Yet as a bonus, the length of the t-bar means it can be used as a mahl stick when it is not being used to support a larger panel. Handy, if you find yourself painting a lot of cityscapes. Tiny cityscapes...

At its core, the Micro shares the same robust build quality and proven design of its bigger and older siblings. It can be easily opened and closed to access or protect your paint as you move around or store the easel. Like its kin, it won't suffer the indignities of being crushed or broken, nor will it bend or deflect from the inevitable blow-down caused by an unanticipated gust of wind. In other words, the Micro, like its brothers, is pretty much bomb-proof, sleek, and built like a tank. But it is a size that best serves the specialized needs of the ultra-light plein air painter who wants to set up far away from the car, or the itinerant artist who is planning to live out of a backpack during a lengthy trip. The Micro can work for the plein air enthusiast who never wants to paint any larger than ten inches tall. In truth, the Micro can stand up against its bigger brothers in every way except that the vertical limit is something to consider.
A Quick Side Bar on Tripods for the Plein Air Painter: 
I also field tested one of the tripods Strada bundles with the MicroSince the Micro rightly targets the fast & light outdoor painter, I intentionally chose the Sirui T-005kx, the most compact tripod Strada offers. (shown right) To be fair, I have never seen a tripod offered by a manufacturer that is robust enough to withstand the rigors of outdoor painting, and frankly, the T-005kx is no exception. First, it is a little undersized for the painter who stands six feet tall. (I'm a little taller.) Second, the integrated ball-head and build-quality of the Sirui falls far below the build quality of the Micro itself. And finally, the weight capacity of the T-005kx, a unit designed for photo enthusiasts and digital cameras, is too low for even the Micro, especially if you like to aggressively push your paint around or have to deal with the wind. (My benchmark for assessing push and wiggle is whether or not an outdoor easel/tripod combination moves more or less than a stretched canvas does in the studio.) In fact, the first time I set up this tripod in the field I accidentally pulled the last section out of one of the legs and lost the pin or ring that keeps that section connected. I never found that part in the grass below so it must be tiny. It isn't fair to fault Strada for this failure because the manufacturer is just trying to provide an attractive (and competitive) price to the buyer, but you should read my post on tripods here if you want a full summary of what to look for in a plein air tripod. In a nutshell, don't try to scrimp or save on your tripod because most push and wiggle can be directly attributed to the tripod's ball-head and legs, not the easel itself. However, having expressed my strong personal reservation, there are painters who like the T-005kx very much, Marc Dalessio being one(link to autoplay video) I just don't agree.
As a point in comparison, I now have eleven different kinds of outdoor easels. That's crazy, I know. They run from funky cigar pochade boxes I made myself to most of the sophisticated options you can buy from a commercial manufacturer. Because of this excess I have designated the Micro as a special use easel, the one I can jam into a modest gear bag when space and weight are of critical concern. Or it has become the easel I leave in the car for those times when I might spot a drive-by painting and just want to grab a quick sketch. It's handy.

For me, the built-in ten inch limit is fine when I am off on a trek and I need room for other essentials such as food, a tent, and rain gear. Or the times I am heading out the door on an adventure that may include a couple of ill-defined modes of transportation. You know, trips that begin with a plane, train, or automobile...and end up involving a ferry, a whitewater raft, miles on a trail, riding an elephant, hopping into a tuk-tuk, or hailing a passing rickshaw. (Okay, those last three are still on the bucket list, but they ARE going to happen...) 

But if you are a recent convert to plein air painting and have been avidly searching online for the One and True Outdoor Easel that can do it all...well, the Micro ain't it. Instead, I'd steer you towards its older brother, the Strada Mini. At twice the size, which is still relatively compact, it can hold a panel or canvas up to eighteen inches tall and that should cover most of the panels sizes you want to carry out into the field. Anything bigger and I suggest you step up to a Gloucester Easel. (Yes, I have one of those easels, as well.)

But do not misunderstand me, the Strada Micro is just as awesome as its larger bros. It just loses out in the fraternal wrestling department because of its shorter reach. (Which is like dissin' Isaiah Thomas for being a little undersized for the NBA.) The Micro was never designed to be a big-boy bruiser, it was always intended to be the little punk in the family. The scrappy kid who is plucky and willing to be packed into tiny spaces as a surprise. Ultimately, there is no point to diss'ing Micro for its size because it is good at what it was built to do. You just need to appreciate you won't paint anything taller than ten inches as it comes stock.

So if you are waiting for a something smaller, and perhaps more compact to come along, don't hold your breath. With the Micro, I think the line of Strada easels have reached a certain size threshold and you are not likely to see anything more portable or durable come to market soon. Unless it is the Strada 'Nano'.

And honestly, should that ever happen maybe it will look like this...

I'm kidding. At least I avoided the 'Papa bear, Mama bear, and Baby bear' analogy, right? Thank goodness for that!...


Oct 1, 2015

Filling the Holes of My Life...

How many of you have experienced a puncture in a tube of oil paint? 

 You know, when despite all your precautions, one corner of a tube pokes a hole into the body of another so the next time you pick it up things get messy.

I travel a lot with paint. I drive, train, fly, and yes, now even take ferries across expansive bodies of water with large and small tubes of paint. Normally I pack everything so carefully that punctures don't happen to me. Well, at least, not as often as they should.

But halfway through my last trip to Croatia I opened up my paint box and grabbed a big ol' 150 ml tube of white and started squeezing...and immediately felt my palm filling up with a big ol' pile of paint. 


First I wondered what I should do. Then I began rummaging around in my backpack. I found a scrap of t-shirt I had been using as a rag and wrapped it around the leak and spent the rest of the trip gently squeezing out color as needed, consistently applying pressure right above the hole. A few days later I after I got home I pulled out the paint box to start prepping for yet another trip. To my surprise I found the paint between the cloth and tube had dried, sealing the leak like a patch on rubber bicycle tube.

How cool is that?

I don't think I would risk flying with a patched tube due to the unpressurized baggage area of a plane, but I will be happy to use the rest of this paint in the comfort of my studio. I'll buy a replacement tube for my next flight in November to Scottsdale. 

And, in the interim, I'll start applying this other nifty trick I just figured out.

Two or three layers of duct tape – with excess material to blunt those dang corners...


Sep 6, 2015

Painting en "Rain" Air in Oregon...

This morning, on my way to paint, reminded me of
"Winter is Coming..." (Game of Thrones...)

I went out painting today with an old friend, Eduardo Fernandez. (You can see some of his work here.) We've known each other for years now and we try to meet up at least every couple of months or so, if not sooner, to paint side-by-side.

He called last night to ask if I would like to come out to paint on Sauvie Island in the morning. The weather was looking a little dicey so I checked the forecast and then said sure, yes. The forecast was for a single morning shower and then partly cloudy skies the rest of the day. When I woke up this morning I was feeling a little lazy and decided to just pack the watercolors. So I had some coffee, hopped into the car, and drove out to meet Eduardo. When I arrived we decided to consolidate into his car and leave mine behind. We then drove off to find a suitable subject and eventually ended up somewhere in the middle of the island on the edge of somebody's private property, looking down a picturesque dirt road.

However, by the time we pulled over the rain had settled in slow and steady, and...oh, hey, did I mention I only brought the watercolors? I might be new to this watercolor thing, but even I know you can't paint with it in the rain. So I asked Eduardo if I could set up in the car and he said sure, no problem, and he decided to do the same. Thinking of myself as pretty clever, we switched seats so I could use the steering wheel as an easel and he set himself up on the passenger side with his Open Box M on his lap. Comfy and easy-peasy, right? Plein air from behind the windshield.

Here is my set up:

Nope, it was more like trying to paint a picture while sitting in an airline seat, with about the same amount of space to lay out your stuff. But unlike most planes, a car has an infinite number of narrow nooks and crannies for stuff to drop into. Really, what were automotive engineers thinking about when they designed contemporary car interiors? It's not just all about airbags, impact absorbing knee panels, and cupholders, right? Shouldn't they be considering the needs of the in-the-car painter as well?

Here is Eduardo, immediately to my right, already well into it. I had to lower the driver's window to take this shot. The wide angle lens is lying. It makes it appear there is a lot of room when believe me, there wasn't...

Here is one of two clamps Eduardo happened to have in the back of the SUV. Good thing too, because if he hadn't remembered they were there my hopes of painting inside the car would have been dashed at the first raindrop. But once the clamps were fixed to the wheel I was able to rest the watercolor block at a convenient angle. So far so good. However, since the horn was now directly underneath the painting I took care not to press too hard on the brush...

And speaking of brushes – there was no place to put them where they wouldn't roll off into a nook or cranny so I 'Macgyvered' a temporary brush bandolier out of some masking tape and hung them on my left out of the way. This was, of course, after I managed to fish the roll of tape out of the cranny between the driver's seat and middle console, where it had dropped as I was attached the clamps...

And... um... yes... well the rinsing reservoir had to go somewhere, right?

So for the next three hours Eduardo and I painted through the windshield, as if we were seat mates on a regional flight, elbows tucked in, trying not to hog the middle arm rest, and awkwardly trying to not impinge upon each other's space. "Would it be okay if I moved your roll of paper towels?" "Can you reach the cad yellow behind my seat?" "Hey, careful, that's the turpentine!... OMG, don't spill the turpentine!" (I was glad to be in his car. ha!)

Here are Eduardo's oil brushes, conveniently cantilevered out from a small dashboard shelf below the CD player. A perfectly fine place to put them where they can quickly be picked up or set down. That is, until I somehow I accidentally raked my best Kolinsky sable brush across the tip of the big green one, a brush loaded with a lot of peach colored oil paint. I winced as I swished the Kolinsky in Eduardo's turps, and quietly put it away for later cleaning...

I should add that as we were working we were constantly turning the wipers on and off to clear the windshield, and rolling the windows up and down as needed to ventilate. Even so, the drops kept collecting and the interior kept steaming up and eventually we discovered when you run your car's wipers and windows for three hours it runs down the battery. We were dead in the water miles from the main road and it was still drizzling. Geez, who would have thought?

Fortunately, Eduardo drives a stick so it only took a little push down the dirt road to pop the clutch and fire up the engine. More 'Macgyvering', eh? I wonder how many of you kids today know you can do that?

Here in Oregon, when it rains it rains. And when you gotta paint, you gotta paint...

Afterwards we drove towards the bridge to find some lunch. We found some tasty sausages and beer at a local farm. And, my watercolor painting? The one I worked so hard to protect? Never mind. It was a complete disaster. Even my wife said so. 

It sucked so much it will never, ever, see the light of day...



Sep 2, 2015

Scottsdale Artists' School Demonstration...

Here is an announcement about an upcoming demo in Arizona. You may have already heard of it on Facebook. If you are going to be in the Phoenix area, or are coming to the American Impressionists Society show being held at the Trailside Gallery in Scottsdale, I hope to see you...

Scottsdale Artists’ School Painting Demonstration: 
Painting the Landscape:  Covering the Ground and Much, Much, More… 

Come watch renowned painter Thomas Jefferson Kitts demonstrate essential elements to painting the landscape. Thomas will discuss and present many alla prima outdoor techniques used by Sargent, Sorolla, and Zorn, and the information he will share can be applied to any genre of painting – indoors or out – be it from life, from photographs, or your field sketches. Thomas will also host a Question & Answer session following his demonstration.

When: October 14th, 6 to 9:00 pm 
Where: Scottsdale Artists’ School – Scottsdale, AZ 
Cost: $20.00 online, or at the door

Seating is limited. So to guarantee your spot, advanced tickets may be purchased here: http://tinyurl.com/scottsdaleTJKdemo

In addition, Thomas will be teaching an informative 5-day workshop this November 16th - 20th, called “From Plein Air to Studio”. This class will focus on using photos and field sketches to create larger, more developed work in the studio. For information about his class please visit: http://scottsdaleartschool.org/course/from-plein-air-to-studio

And here is the painting used in the ad above...

12 x 16 inches, oil on panel, en plein air, 2015
Available for purchase

Aug 19, 2015

Hey, Perhaps Oil and Water Can Mix...

Or, maybe they can at least play nicely together...

I dunno, but lately I have become interested in painting with watercolors again.  Initially this felt like crazy-talkin' to myself because watercolor is hard and incredibly time-consuming if you are going to do it at a high level. It requires draftsmanship, focus, skillful technique, and the acceptance of chaos. I think I feel pulled to it now because most of the painters I venerate, living or dead, seem able to switch back and forth effortlessly. So I it is time to go back to trying to master the media and endure the inevitable crashing and burning and bad, bad work. And how best to make myself do this, other than to bring the watercolor kit when I go out to paint in oils? The kit that has been sitting in a dark corner in my studio for over twenty-plus years now.

Here is yesterday's efforts, my first ever bi-media outdoor experience. A day without competition, or teaching, or meeting any other expectation beyond going outside to push some color around with an old friend.

Photo credits: Brenda Boylan

7:30 am, Sauvie Island – 30 minute watercolor, on an Arches WC block. The live area is about 6 x 8 inches or so. This is the third watercolor I've done in perhaps, oh, I don't know TWENTY YEARS! (did I mention that already?) I was killing time waiting for some shadows to lift off a field of sunflowers to my right and thought, "Hey, Now would be a good time to sneak a watercolor in before my friend showed up. (I called her to see how far out she was.) You can see I tried out that paint-into-the-wet area thing and well, I must say the technique remained a complete mystery to me. I am definitely going to have to work that some more. Mental note: "Looser is better. Looser is okay. Loosey-goosey makes it juicy..."

Same location, the next painting up – oil on a taped sheet of Claussen's linen, live area about 10 x 14 inches in size. I was looking for the shapes in the sunflowers amidst the greenery of the leaves, not the individual flowerheads themselves. The sunflowers were the small kind, about three feet tall, not the giant gnarly showerheads Van Gogh liked to paint. I'll likely mess around with this sketch sometime during the winter just to tease out the abstract qualities, and spend some time practicing brush strokes, but I doubt this painting will ever see the outside of my studio. More likely, the dark and moist confines of a landfill...

Next stop, later in the day, and a new location. This time I thought I might actually do the same scene twice, one in watercolor and the other in oil. 

My impromptu WC set up. When I was packing up to go out this morning I realized I could use the same easel for oil painting AND watercolor if I flipped the easel upside down and used the pegs to hold the WC block. (This being an Open Box M easel). 

There was enough pressure between the pins to hold the watercolor block in place while I fumbled around with badly handled pigment. So the Open Box M easel can be turned into a kind of 2-'fer-1 sort of solution without extra any pomp or circumstance. I've always liked multi-use devices... you know, the spork, the toaster oven, the swiss army knife, duct-tape, the beer-hat...

Thirty minutes later it was time to switch over to oil. Only this time, I clearly wanted to avoid making any sort of useful comparison. I arbitrarily decided to paint in oil using my big brush. Something I made a student do last weekend during an outdoor workshop. (She did awesome, BTW.)

So here is the"Big Bertha" in my kit. It's a Rosemary & Co., a stiff 1.5 inch nylon brush that still has a chiseled edge after two years of hard use and careless storage. (My goodness, this brush takes a lickin' and it keeps on tickin'!) It is the ONLY brush I used for this painting except for the rigger I picked out to sign the painting with. I set the timer on my iPhone to one hour, with the idea of keeping things moving along – but somehow I finished up before the alarm went off. At that point my friend and I had already packed up and were on the other side of the dike looking at another painting site. So I estimate I put about thirty minutes into it.

Again, maybe this is not the greatest painting in the world, and the point wasn't to paint it like an unsupervised Red Bull-fueled teenager driving the family sedan – the point was to force myself completely out of my comfort zone and make me try something new. First in waterolor and then in oil. I doubt I'll make a point of painting like this in the future, but hey, I had fun doing it anyway.

So there you have it. Me painting watercolor again. Who would have thunk it? So much to learn and so little time. Look out!. Conserve those whites...


Aug 13, 2015

Last, Last Call...

Sadly, a student had to drop out of this workshop due to a family emergency so we have a spot open for any last minute registrant. If you wanted to go this year, or dreamed of joining this crew, but missed out, send me an email and I will respond.

7-Day Outdoor Workshop Taught by Thomas Jefferson Kitts
 When: September 12 - 19, 2015
Where: near Florence Italy

If you live in Europe I invite you to consider this workshop as well! Last year we had a Belgium student drive down from Germany and she had the best time ever. And she didn't have to worry about arranging last minute airfare.

And finally, the morning view you see in this post is right out the window of our 18th century villa, one of our many fantastic painting locations! And yes, that's San Gimignano in the distance to the right. Another one of our painting locations...


Jul 30, 2015

New Landscapes: From Carmel to Big Sur...

Well, my new show is now up on the walls at the
James J. Rieser Fine Art gallery in Carmel, California. 

This show of thirteen paintings opens this Saturday, August 1st, but I am confident if you want to preview the work before the official opening James would be happy to accommodate you. 
Rieser Fine Art is conveniently located between 5th and 6th, on Dolores Avenue, and it is also nicely situated next door to the Jack London Pub, my favorite watering hole. (ha!) 
If you see something you like, and want to jump the opening with a purchase, I'm sure James would be happy to help you out with that. Just let him know I sent you.
I will be flying down August 8th for an artist reception, which will be held from noon to 4:00 pm. So hey, if you are going to be in the area come by. I'd love to see you!

"New Landscapes: From Carmel to Big Sur" will be up until September 30th, 2015.

Can't attend the show? View the paintings here: www.rieserfineart.com