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Daily Painting (2014), by Carol Marine, review and notes by Sean MaryHelen Johnson


"Overabundance," painting by  Carol Marine

"Overabundance," painting by Carol Marine

Artist Carol Marine called herself a “starving artist” before she finally took the advice she had long ignored, “paint everyday, or nearly everyday if you want to make a living as an artist.” I try to paint everyday, but I need a lot of inspiration to keep at it. So I’m reading her book. Maybe my notes will help you, too.

Marine is an oil painter but recommends her method for any medium. Here are the basic recommendations:

    1    Paint often and small. Daily painting means painting often or most days. She paints 6x6 most often, but anything you are comfortable with is fine as long as you can finish in an hour or two.

    2    Do a lot of work close together and you will learn more and feel more free to experiment. Set a goal of 500 paintings in 3 years (I think I could do it in less). If you plan to put in 10,000 hours for mastery don’t spread them out; do them close together so they can build on one another. Makes sense.

    3    Put your paintings online in a blog so you can see your work progress. Myself, I send my daily stuff to my Facebook page and/or Fine Art America website. I also have a website ( that sends my followers both places.

    4    She lists ideas for subjects and discusses ways to find them. Included are still lifes and flowers, landscapes including skyscapes and seascapes, animals, people including figurative, portraits, children, sports, cars and buildings including interiors and cityscapes, and abstracts. Both painting from life and from photos, Carol advocates, are fine with the caveat that the eye can see better than a camera. (I agree this is mostly true, but not entirely — sometimes the camera sees more than the eye can all at once and often captures color in interesting ways beyond what we ordinarily see.) Drawing and painting is an exercise in observation, but it is also one of simplification.

    5    Carol features a wide variety of artists who also give tips and advice about making painting into a daily exercise, selling online and recharging. Included are interesting exercises, e.g., do a self portrait by either looking in the mirror or taking some selfies, paint what you see not what you think.

    6    Carol also shares her daily routine which includes room for marketing and development alongside making art. She says when she’s not excited about painting, she takes time off and does a variety of other essential things for her art business, particularly focusing on refueling the creative fire when she feels this way. Limits are set by following this protocol when she works: 1) Call it work when you begin even if you’re not leaving the house; 2) turn off the computer; 3) no phone calls; 4) listen to music if it helps you get into the groove. Very practical stuff.

Materials: she uses two easels, one in her studio (one by David Sorg) (she uses a Sorg Super 8) and the other to travel or do plein air painting (ArtBox) (she uses mini version). She packs all her supplies in an Osprey Quantum backpack. Try this German backpack for travel and day tripping. She uses a tool cabinet on wheels from a home improvement store as a place to store supplies in her studio. She uses the top to keep her palette on. I can see this as an effective watercolor setup with some modifications. She mentions wet panel carriers from Raymar Art.

What she carries on the plane to travel: paints in a tupperware container inside a ziplock bag with a material safety data sheet (MSDS), which you should be able to get from your paint manufacturer on their website (this soothes the TSA). A PVC pipe container from ArtBox to store brushes. See German backpack above to double as travel carryon.

Value, color mixing, drawing and proportion, composition, painting with oils, resisting or recovering from artists’ block, and marketing are all covered succinctly. Briefly, here’s what I found valuable:

Value: “Squint” — tape this word where you can see it as a reminder to squint as you work. Value is most important aspect of composing the image. Locate 4–6 main values and then value map your composition with them. Divide values unevenly into dominant, secondary and smidge units. The dominant value will set the mood of the piece (dark+mid=drama and dark mood; mid+light=playful and light). Make sure your biggest contrast is at or near the focal point.

Color mixing: Colors have a value (light to dark) and a saturation (intense to dull/grey). Then there’s the color wheel: primaries=red, blue, yellow (very saturated); secondary=purple, orange, green (less saturated but still saturated); secondary+primary directly across color wheel, or the one you did not use to make the secondary=grey (unsaturated). She suggests going through your palette and learning how your colors “lean” — is your yellow (blue or red?, i.e., cool or hot). When painting with white, if it looks chalky, add yellow and/or red. Her palette: burnt umber, alizarin crimson and permanent rose, phthalo blue (the priceless troublemaker — just use a little, good for mixing turquoise), cadmium red medium, cadmium yellow light, ultramarine blue, white (Utrecht brand oils).

Drawing, proportion, perspective: Practice. Clean, confident marks. Carry your sketchbook; use it daily. Use a viewfinder (or take lots of pictures and edit them). Get big shapes and then see detail. Try painting on top of a value study. Generally heres checklist: ignore your brain and paint what you see; squint, check relative positions of things your drawing/painting, measure proportions with your brush, use viewfinder to get angles right (see negative space), use mirror to look at your drawing backwards (or take photo), back up, mentally zoom out and see big picture, forget what the subject is and look at the shapes and how they fit together, turn your work upside down, take a break and come back. See her trick for ellipses, p. 92. Books she recommends:

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards

Your Artist’s Brain: Use the Right Side of Your Brain to Draw and Paint What You See — Not What You Think You See, by Carl Purcell

Composition: #1 Rule: Never make any two intervals of distance, length, spacing, and dimensions of shapes — the same. The human eye loves variety! This rule can be applied to color, saturation, soft and hard edges, direction and size of brush strokes, warm and cool colors, and just about anything else (more and less visual energy, transparency and opacity, paint thickness, etc). Listen to your instincts. If you break rules break them with gusto and confidence. Rule of thirds: divide panel into thirds horizontally and vertically and where the lines meet are the magic spots, which is consistent with the #1 rule — be inconsistent. She likes to think of her thirds as four quadrants and she avoids the middle, the edges, and even distances from the edges horizontally and vertically. In other words shake it up! No evenness or “balancing” — variety is key. Avoid “kissing” objects (go for overlapping); avoid rows of objects; avoid kissing the edges of the panel. Don’t make lines or other objects go directly out the corner. Avoid unfortunate tangents. Fixing something often means breaking something. Don’t make something like it appeared if its weird looking — change it. Odd # composing may be easier but it’s possible with even #s. Now forget the rules.

Her favorite composition book:

The Simple Secret to Better Painting: How to Immediately Improve Your Work with One Rule of Composition, by Greg Albert

Painting with oils: Most of what Marine has to say applies to alla prima oil painting for which I have little interest at the moment. But she does say some great things: There is no right way to paint. Question everything. Experiment constantly and learn what works for you. Don’t try to fix bad paintings. Just move on. Squint often to see values and saturated color. Compare everything to the extremes you see. They are the locators. See the “Playing with Edges” exercise, p. 128, and the “Four in Four” exercise, p. 113.

Artists’ Block: Just realize that things ebb and flow. When you need a break, take one. Use distractions and other things needing to be done to focus on if you are feeling burned out. Better yet, don’t go there. Rest and refuel the fire as needed to avoid the catastrophe of burning out. Read a book; take a workshop. Drink wine; eat chocolate. Do errands and personal grooming. All these can be part of refueling times. Don’t forget to add pleasure in your life. Have some fun. Play while you work. Don’t take it all so seriously. (Remember: Martyr vs. Trickster — be the Trickster!)

Marketing: Use promotionals to hand out wherever you go. Print a book of your best works, post cards, business cards. Get professional advice. Listen to Artists Helping Artists (hosted by Leslie Saeta) online radio (about selling art online). Read books (she recommends I’d Rather Be in the Studio, by Allison Stanfield which seems to be out of print at the moment). Put ads online (Facebook and Design Blogs). By ads in magazines like American Artist, Artist Mag, etc.). Participate in forums, blog regularly, start email list, use social media. Comment on other blogs. Trade links. Enter shows, contests, challenges. Make special offers (free shipping, free frame for first customer of the month, gift wrapping, buy one get one half off), have giveaways, donate to charity. Send out press releases. Hire a consultant (Leslie Saeta, Allison Stanfield).

Watercolorists featured (You probably know, this is where my interest lies) with links to them:

Joyce Washor

Belinda Del Pesco — (linocut and watercolor), a favorite, love her style.

Dean Shelton

Jacqueline Gnott

David Morris — Good painter.

Barbara Fox — Another one of my favorites. Amazing work.

Nora MacPhail — really cool sketchbook style and fun style.