Finished painting: Light in the Desert

A few years ago I was asked to create a piece on the Nativity story, so I painted this scene:

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Light in the Desert, 20″x 24″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I wanted to create something peaceful but mysterious, with a dark sky.  I decided to keep the composition very simple and limit the palette to mostly blues and purples, to make the focal star more striking.

As my style developed as an artist, it kind of split into two styles; abstract/surreal and more realistic landscapes.  The more realistic landscapes tell a story or recall a certain place, the surreal ones are more emotional and abstract.   I love hearing others’ impressions of these pieces, and I’ve found that viewers interpret the surreal landscapes in very different ways.

For me, this painting shows a vast desert – sand dunes in the foreground, the star in the sky – and has a dark but hopeful feeling.  Other people have told me that this painting is the moon over huge ocean waves, and it has kind of a scary but captivating feel.  Others have said it is snow-covered mountains, cold and stark.  I like that these images can be different things to different people.

This painting is available in my Etsy store as a photo print or canvas print.  The original is not for sale.  Happy holidays!  I’ll be back to posting in the New Year.

6 Beginner Painting Mistakes that are Easy to Make

This is part of my guide for beginners learning to paint in acrylic, based on my own experiences as a self-taught painter.  These are some mistakes I made when I was starting out, and how you can avoid them in your own paintings.

Mistake #1: Not modifying your photo composition

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I strongly recommend working from photos as a way to improve technical skill.  If left to my own devices, I would probably just paint the same landscapes over and over, but my work doing custom paintings from photos helped me learn new skills and find enjoyable subjects that I never would have tried.  However, it’s important to think of the photo as a starting point, not your end goal.  Many new artists get tripped up trying for photorealism. We have cameras for that.  Move things around, take things out, change the sky, make it your own.

Mistake #2: Cleaning your brush too often

Taking care of your brushes between painting sessions is important, but while you’re painting, resist the urge to clean your brush thoroughly between each color.  Instead of rinsing it off completely each time, just wipe off the excess paint on your apron or a rag, and let a bit of the color stay on your brush.  This will help tie together the colors in your painting, and help you to discover new combinations you may not have tried.

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Winter Wonder Juried Show at the Pacific Art League

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Last night, we went to the opening reception for the Winter Wonder juried show at the Pacific Art League gallery in downtown Palo Alto.  My snow painting Solstice was selected to be part of the exhibition, and will be on display there until the end of the month.  There was a lot of beautiful winter artwork in the show, and I recommend you check it out if you’re in the Bay Area.

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Solstice, 24″x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2014 Kathryn Beals

Solstice will be for sale through the gallery until the end of the month for $1000.  You can buy this painting in my Etsy shop as a digital print or canvas print.

Acrylic Painting Demo: Blending Colors on your Palette

This is a quick demonstration of my color blending method, for people who are learning to paint.  It seems pretty basic, but as a beginner I had a tendency to overmix my paint, resulting in flat colors. This method will give you a wide variety of closely related shades that will make the objects you paint look more luminous and three-dimensional.

To start, put dabs of paint on your palette a few centimeters apart.  Try to distribute the paint so that the colors you’ll be mixing will be close to each other, but don’t overthink it. Some artists use a circular arrangement of paint on the palette, I tend to just make a few groups of associated colors with some space in between.  For the demo, I’m just using two colors of acrylic paint; yellow and green.

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Begin by adding a little bit of water to your brush and pulling some color out of the side of the paint dab and onto the clean palette area next to it.  Spread the paint around a bit so that you have some room to work. Next, without washing off your brush, do the same to the adjacent color so you have a thin gradient of paint that changes from the first color to the second color.

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Winter Wonder Juried Show at Pacific Art League

I just got notified that my snow painting, Solstice, was selected for the Winter Wonder Juried Show at Pacific Art League in Palo Alto, CA.  The opening reception will be December 5, 2014 from 5:30-8 pm.  The exhibition will be up for the month of December.

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Solstice, 24″x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2014 Kathryn Beals

You can buy this painting in my Etsy shop as a digital print or canvas print.  The original will be for sale through the Pacific Art League gallery for $1000.

Dreams and the Pacific Crest Trail, Finished Painting

Nine months pregnant with my first child, I had a vivid dream of climbing up Forester Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, in the high Sierra mountains of California.  This pass, also part of the John Muir trail, is the highest point on the PCT, which I had hiked several years earlier with my husband.  In my dream, I reached the top of the pass, pregnant and exhausted, where I found my baby safe and brought him home.

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I woke up inspired to paint the place in my dream, secretly hoping that it would somehow bring on labor.  It worked!  Twelve hours after finishing the painting, labor began.  Just like in the dream, I finally met my baby after a difficult journey that took several days.  I like to imagine that this place is where he came from:

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Origin, 30″x 40″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I decided to keep the surreal, dreamlike aspects of the scene, over preserving the realistic details and colors of the pass.  This is probably my very favorite painting now, although just looking at it made me sick for a few weeks after the birth, since it brought me right back into the dizzying feelings of labor, mixed in with memories of altitude sickness.  I like it when I can harness a powerful memory into a piece of art.

Here’s the southern approach to Forester Pass, the place in the Sierras that the painting is loosely based on.  We spent a day walking towards that pass, wondering how we would possibly climb over it since it looks impossible, but when you get right up close, you can see the steep trail zigzagging up the rock.

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This is me, hiking down the other side of the pass quickly just as a storm rolled in.  You can tell it’s a high pass (13,153 feet) when there’s snow, in California, in July. The high Sierras have such an otherworldly feel, and I find myself coming back to paint them again and again.

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I also filmed video of the painting coming together.  The video quality’s not great since I didn’t have my new camera and tripod then, but I’m glad I filmed it anyways.

This painting is available in my Etsy store as a photo print or canvas print.  The original is not for sale.

Montana Valley after a Fire, Finished Painting

This is a painting from a trip I took several years ago to Montana.  We visited a valley ten years after a fire, facing the Beartooth mountain range:

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Regrowth, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

My former career is in forestry, so I have particular interest in forest fires and the changes they can make to landscapes and plant communities. This area was so beautiful and vibrant, and the open space supported a huge diversity of  wildflowers and small animals.

I took video of the painting from start to finish.  The quality is not the greatest since it’s my first video, before I got my new camera, but you can still get an idea of the process:

Here are some detail shots, since it’s a big painting:

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Pacific Crest Trail Painting in Progress: Painting Stars

I took progress photos of the second half of my Pacific Crest Trail painting, and turned them into a GIF, so you can watch the sky coming together:

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After filling in the background colors with a large brush, I started putting in the stars.  I had a breakthrough in my starry sky paintings when I stopped using mostly black, and used a mix of blues instead for the background colors.  This painting has very little black.  The main sky color is Anthraquinone Blue, a strong transparent blue, with some Phthalo Blue and Titanium White.

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Another trick I’ve learned: use the handle end of the brush to make the stars.  They come out rounder, and you can adjust the pressure to make bigger or smaller dots.

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I like to vary the colors of the stars to add depth as well.  For some, I used a mix of Titanium White and Phthalo Blue, then added white dots over top after the first dots had dried.  For others, I used a bit of Titan Buff instead of white, to make the stars yellower.

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After putting in most of the stars and letting them dry, I experimented with the colors in the sky by adding in a bit of Quinacridone Magenta and transparent Zinc White here and there over top of the stars.

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I also added a bit of the magenta to the snow on the mountaintops below to tie it together. Here’s the finished painting:

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This painting is in my Etsy store as a photo print and canvas print.  The original is for sale through my website.

Starry Night on the Pacific Crest Trail, Finished Painting

I just finished this one this morning.  This is my painting of the area below Mather Pass, on the Pacific Crest Trail:

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Amazed, 20″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I paint a lot of night scenes, because night skies are one of the most amazing parts of backpacking trips, but the hardest to photograph.

I have an emotional connection to this pass from our experience hiking the high Sierra section of the PCT several years ago.  I’m somewhat prone to altitude sickness, and this spot was our highest campsite on the trail at just over 11,000 feet.

That night however, I slept better than I had in months. In my dream, I found myself going underground, entering a room and finding everything I had ever lost.  I know that many others have drawn strength from this trail, and the feeling lasts long after the exhaustion and bug bites are gone.

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I took progress photos throughout the painting, and I’ll do a technique post soon.  I just added this image to my Etsy store as a photo print and canvas print.  The original is for sale through my website.

Alpine lakes painting in progress

I’ve been working on this painting of an alpine lake scene from the Pacific Crest Trail in the high Sierra mountains of California.  This one is loosely based on the area south of Mather Pass. We encountered it on the PCT, but it is also part of the John Muir Trail.

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I need to make adjustments to the composition of the foreground with the lake, but the basic colors of the painting are coming together.  I’m really into starry skies right now and I plan to make a sky similar to this painting. I’ve painted alpine lakes several times and I enjoy the chance to use really intense colors.

This is where my husband and I camped just below Mather Pass, at just over 11,000 feet, our highest campsite on the trail.  This was one of my favorite spots on the trail and I’ve always wanted to paint this amazing place, since the photos really don’t do it justice.

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