Back to Basics

Back to Basics isn’t a bad thing

Even though my focus is on abstract art or pop-art portraits, sometimes you have to get back to basics. Robert Burridge says “behind every good painting is an abstract painting” and there’s a lot of truth in that. Especially at the beginning of a painting, when strokes of paint are just being put down on canvas. It always looks so random and arbitrary, but then there are still so many layers to go. I never get tired of the process. It’s still fascinating to me even though that’s what I do every day.


Plein Air Disaster

So this past weekend, in celebration of earth day, I worked in the garden, but it was so beautiful here in Northern California that I also did a little plein air painting. It was really windy on Sunday and no matter how much extender, or how much misting with a spray bottle, it was difficult to keep the acrylic paints moist. Was wishing I had used oils instead. Anyway, I wasn’t happy with the way it turned out so I decided that I needed to get back to basics. Whether I was painting inside or outside I really needed to get better at mixing my colors and painting looser. I find that when working in spurts and bursts and very quickly the looser my abstract and portrait paintings are. That spontaneous movement gets captured in the final painting and is responsible for bringing it to life.


Studio Time

Back to basics, here we go, I worked from a photo in the studio. I used 5 paints (6 counting the toned canvas color), 3 brushes and 2 palette knives. I was trying to get it done in one hour – I went over – by ten minutes. Now the canvas panel is only a 8 x 6″, so that’s not a lot of real estate to paint. Especially when you consider the painting I was working on this past Friday was a 24 x 48″ canvas – quite a difference. Regardless, the painting process is the same, it starts out looking haphazardly and then many, many layers later – it finishes itself.

back to basics, mixing color
Using an orange toned canvas and 5 paints


Keep it Simple

This painting came together easy, very simple impressionism that I think captures the feel of a spring day here in Sonoma County. And even though I’m not “into painting realism”, it felt good to mix colors and to put pressure on myself to paint loose and quickly.


Why Be Normal

I also realized that I need to do this more often so I can become a better painter. Next time, I’m going to experiment with a different color palette though. I don’t want to be too normal! Oh, that reminds me of a bumper sticker I had – “Why be Normal?” and on the other side of the bumper there was one that said: “If you don’t like the way I drive, stay off the sidewalk”.


Could this Be Habit Forming?

I know several painters who complete a painting everyday, and that intrigues me. It usually takes me a few days, to a week to finish a painting. Maybe I should do a small, quick 1 hour painting everyday? I’m not a good multi-tasker so I’m not sure how that will go, but either way, it might be fun to try. Does anyone else do this? Let me know how it works out for you, what’s your process? Maybe this will be good practice for me…


Thanks for being here, hope you are having a gorgeous day, or brilliant night, wherever you are – know that everything is as it should be – and it’s all good!


Love ya bunches,

deb sigline



This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. maryellenwall

    Thanks so much for your personal story! The step-by-step of it made me almost feel the wind blowing my hair into my face.

    1. Deb

      Hah, was a beautiful day, just that darn wind!

  2. Pati

    Thanks for sharing your experience. The painting turned out beautiful. <3 And the last few words… a good reminder "you are know that everything is as it should be" 🙂

    1. Deb

      Thanks Pati, it’s sometimes hard to remember that!

  3. graham mcquade

    Hi Deb, following your comment on Life drawing, you could do some painting at a life group. As the class lasts for a finite time you have time pressure to get the image completed, as well as the observational demands it requires, it can really help you – well it certainly helps me.

    1. Deb

      Oh Graham, I’m scared and I’ll tell you why. Many years ago in school, I tried so hard to draw the human form, he came out so disproportionate, in spite of all my “measuring”. Standing figures were a bit better, but sitting, oy vey – it was horrible, and I was utterly embarrassed. Now faces are so much easier, still working to improve though. I have a sketchbook full of figures and every one of them looks like a Picasso inspired MESS. THAT’S why I’m in awe of your talent of drawing them~!

      1. graham mcquade

        Dont worry, Deb, we’ve all had to start at the bottom, so we’ve been there and sometimes the bad ones still happen, but its worth putting yourself on the line. There’s not much talent to it, it’s just practise and the will and desire to keep going and improve.
        Give it a go – it’ll pay dividends and open up other opportunities. Best of luck.

        1. Deb

          Probably at some point I’ll develop an interest again in drawing or painting the human form, we’ll see. At least now I know what to be expect, thanks Graham!

  4. It looks good! There is nothing wrong with being normal.
    I do realistic things because I am too good with drawing, and I find there is a lot more challenge in trying to make bad quality acrylic paint work right. I sometimes have spent years at just one still life painting. Acrylic isn’t oils and it never will be. I feel bad that I am sooo sensitive to oils now, but wasn’t before.
    Your abstracts look very impressive and it is so great to employ such a painting style because it is very much in demand.
    I do here and there heavy texture abstracts that look good in reality and bad on pictures, that’s why I do not post them.
    I think challenging oneself is a big part of creativity.
    I know how they want one to specialize with one subject, one palette, etc. I find that very boring. I need some difficulties to overcome. I think that hyperrealistic copy of photo is again overboard. I love drawing from reality. I used to do that daily and made university tuition drawing portraits. I don’t know, there is something I do not like about using a photo. Must be the way I started out, I did not ever have a camera until I moved to Canada. I think I did not need it. Thanks to drawing memory became very good and allows to really registering anything. I think you also like going outdoors and painting. That is the best. When the weather is not too bad, nothing beats that for me.
    Your portraits are outstanding, but I’m seeing good effects on the small landscape piece.

    1. Deb

      Your works in realism are inspiring Inese. Somewhere along the way I drifted away from the basics. I still sketch and enjoy it, but my color mixing needs work! A lot of work. I do enjoy painting realism but not nearly as much as the vibrant abstracts. BUT, there is no substitution for for good composition skills, and I have fallen away from that too. So THAT is the reason for getting back to basics, I’m looking to strike a balance of both. Practice is key and I’m behind this year (when compared to last year) so from here on out – it is ACTION! Thank you for your thoughtful input Inese, am always appreciative of what you have to say, you inspire me!

  5. clinock

    Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon. Pablo Picasso

    1. Deb

      Words to live by? Might have to adopt that – no rules, just right 😉

      1. clinock

        another one i like is the answer from one of my past students when I asked him what he though art was, he said: “it’s taking something and doing something to it.”

        1. Deb

          Haha, that’s perfect, THAT resonates with me totally!

Comments are closed.