Tag Archives: Painting

Searching for Anders Zorn

B @ Legion

I am a John Singer Sargent fan.  When I first saw his portraits, I thought they were not only expressive, but also accessible – Sargent’s use of broad brush strokes seemed like a style that was within reach for this would-be-painter.

To learn how to paint more like him, I wanted to look at his portraits up close, to see how he put paint on the canvas.  Unfortunately, the de Young Museum in San Francisco only has a couple of Sargents on display, but earlier this year, the Legion of Honor hosted an exhibition by Anders Zorn, one of Sargent’s contemporaries, someone who also employed a healthy dose of bravura while laying down his paint.  On the last day of the exhibition, I went to the museum in order to convince myself that, with a little practice, I too could paint like Sargent and Zorn.

I took my eldest son with me, and before we left the house, he said, “Can we bring our sketchbooks?”

I thought the exhibition would be crowded, which would make sketching difficult, but I said, “Sure, that’s a good idea.”

So I grabbed our sketchbooks and some pencils, and off we went.

I was most interested in seeing Zorn’s large oil paintings: his portraits, and the paintings in which he captured Swedish life in the late 19th century.  I had heard his watercolour paintings were also stunning, but I wasn’t prepared for what we encountered when we entered the show.

Zorn.Anders.Fiskmarknad.I.St.IvesZorn.AZorn.AFiskmarknad I St Ives (courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons)

 My response to seeing Zorn’s watercolours was similar to Emmet’s reaction when seeing Wyldstyle for the first time in The Lego Movie –  “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” (although my son enjoys visiting fine art exhibitions, he also likes going to children’s movies).  I was speechless.  Controlling water on paper is difficult even for the most accomplished painters, but Zorn’s techniques go beyond what I thought possible.  In Portrait of Cristina Morphy (my son’s favorite), the details of the lace on the girl’s right shoulder are so fine that I felt like reaching out to make sure it wasn’t real (I would have included a picture of the painting in this post, but the online images don’t come close to doing justice to the real thing).  And even after staring at a few landscapes, I still can’t grasp how Zorn captured the water’s surface and its reflections.

Summer-Fun-largeSummer Fun (courtesy of www.anderszorn.org)

It wasn’t long before I thought my view toward the “accessibility” of Zorn was beyond naïve.  But when we walked into the second half of the exhibition, where Zorn’s oil paintings hung, I gained renewed confidence.

Zorn’s oil paintings are impressive, particularly his self-portraits, and Midsummer Dance, which is a Swedish national treasure.

Zorn_Self-Portrait-in-RedSelf-portrait in red (courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons)

Anders_Zorn_-_Midsummer_Dance_-_Google_Art_ProjectMidsummer Dance (courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike the river of visitors who strolled through the exhibition, stopping for only a handful of seconds to view these paintings, I crept up as close as the security guards would allow, to study the brush strokes of each one (here I must commend my son that after an hour and a half of such behavior, he never once asked me to leave or quicken my pace).  I saw the thick layers of paint.  I saw the different brush sizes that Zorn used to paint the faces and the clothing.  And after seeing touches of similar colour throughout a painting, I gathered that Zorn did not always clean his brush between strokes.  I was inspired, and I left the exhibition feeling the artistic thermals push my wings outwards and upwards.

After leaving the show, I figured my son would be ready for lunch, so I was surprised when he said, “Can we sketch now?”

So for the next hour and a half, we strolled through the rest of the Legion of Honor, and periodically sat down to sketch a sculpture that caught my son’s eye.

BB_LOH sketces

Finally my son said, “Can we go now?”

I was as impressed with my son’s staying power, and his genuine desire to draw, as I was with Zorn’s paintings.  I didn’t want the day to end, but after three plus hours of walking through the museum, I was also ready for a cheeseburger.  So we left, and over a plate of fries, we looked at each other’s sketchbooks and talked about drawing and painting.  In this post are a few of our sketches from the day (frankly, I like my son’s better than mine).

DB_LOH sketces

Later that night, after our boys were asleep, I told Stacie that I was going to the back room to start a portrait.  Zorn was fresh in my mind, and I wanted to get down to what I knew would be my best painting to date.

Zorn makes it look easy – he lulls you into a false sense of confidence that once you squeeze paint onto your palette, magic will flow.  That night, after only two brush strokes, I realized the foolishness of my thinking.  Zorn and Sargent are special, and no one should assume that he or she can paint like them.

I don’t paint like Anders Zorn.  I paint like me, and with practice, I will improve.  But artists like Zorn and Sargent motivate me, so I will also keep visiting museums and galleries to seek inspiration, particularly if it means I can sketch with my boys, and share a cheeseburger and fries with them afterwards.

P.S. Although the Anders Zorn exhibit at the Legion of Honor has come and gone, the exhibition is currently on display at the National Academy Museum in New York City.  But it ends on May 18th, so if you are in New York, make the time between now and then, and go see Anders Zorn’s works in person.


R__1R__y, oil on canvas, 10” x 10”

It’s been a busy few months, so I haven’t updated The Hipping Post since December.  But in my last post, I implied that I would challenge myself, and try to push my art forward.

For a variety of reasons, I am interested in painting portraits, so when my friend asked me if I would draw a picture of his daughters, I said, “Of course.  I’d be honored.”  But instead of using pencil and paper, like I did for the drawings of Stacie and of my sons, I decided to give oil painting a shot.  Since he’s a close friend, I figured my buddy would forgive me if the paintings didn’t work out.

R__2R__e, oil on canvas, 10” x 10”

But the paintings turned out better than I had expected, and I learned a lot during the process.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity, J & L – I couldn’t have asked for two cuter subjects.

P.S.  I am still experimenting with oil painting, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that painting in layers, using poppy oil to thin and blend the paint, was a good method for depicting smooth young skin.  I also found that various combinations of Terra Rosa, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Scarlet, and Titanium White created a solid foundation for skin tones.  If you have recommendations for other techniques / colors, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Digital Experiments with David Hockney


“I haven’t stopped painting or drawing – I’ve just added another medium.”
David Hockney

Last weekend, I saw David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, which focuses on Hockney’s work over the past decade.

The variety of art, which includes landscapes, portraits, video collages, and sketches, is impressive.  Even at the age of 76, Hockney continues to experiment with all sorts of media, and one of the most interesting parts of the exhibition was his collection of digital drawings and paintings that he did on his iPhone and iPad.  He used an app called Brushes, which includes a cool recording and playback feature.  The de Young displayed a selection of Hockney’s digital works on a series of flat screens, so you could see exactly how Hockney created his art, stroke by stroke.


I was so taken by this display that when I got home, I downloaded the Brushes 3 app on my iPhone so I could try it out.  Included in this post are three of my digital paintings.  I completed the flower on my iPhone in about 20 minutes between the Orinda and West Oakland BART stations.  With the apple, I took more time so I could learn more about the app’s functionality.  Finally, I used my iPad Mini and a Bamboo stylus, to paint the above portrait of David Hockney.


If you have a chance, I recommend you visit A Bigger Exhibition.  The art is fantastic, but it’s also a reminder to keep experimenting.

“The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.”
– David Hockney

P.S. Although the new version of Brushes includes the playback feature, you can’t export the video, as you could on older versions.  Apparently, the developers are working on an upgrade, but unfortunately, I couldn’t include the videos in this post for any of you who actually care about seeing the steps I took to create these paintings.

10 Things I Learned While Copying Jonathan Yeo


Jonathan Yeo is one of the most talented living portraitists.  His subjects include Tony Blair, Nicole Kidman, Rupert Murdoch, Sienna Miller, and Damien Hirst.

I only recently encountered Jonathan Yeo’s works, but I took Betty Edward’s advice that I referenced in my post, Why I Drew a Can of Campbell’s Soup, and copied his portrait of Sir Michael Parkinson.

I used acrylics instead of oil paints, but I learned the following ten things while painting this study:

1) Jonathan Yeo has incredible control over his paint brush and color palette;
2) I am nowhere near as good as Jonathan Yeo;
3) I always go through a period of doubt while painting, but if I persist, good things can happen;
4) Focus on values, not colors;
5) But I still need practice mixing colors;
6) Be grateful to those who lend a hand when I’m stuck (thanks Patsy);
7) Acrylics dry fast when it’s hot;
8) A fresh perspective is helpful (I painted some of this study with the board and the reference turned upside down);
9) Painting is NOT a relaxing activity;
10) Do what I love to do.

P.S. John Singer Sargent said, “Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend.”  Fortunately, Stacie is still speaking to me.


Tora BoraAfghanistan, acrylic on canvas, 4″x6″

One of my friends flies helicopters in Afghanistan.  While flying troops and supplies to forward bases, he takes photos that he often posts to Facebook.  His pictures are stunning, including the one I used as a reference for this painting, which is of a fertile valley at the foothills of the Tora Bora mountains.

I had wanted to paint this picture for a while, and this weekend, I finished a small acrylic painting on canvas.

My friend travels a lot, so I figured that if he doesn’t hang this painting on a wall in his home in Whistler, it should be small enough for him to fit in his backpack, so he can hang it somewhere in his barracks in Jalalabad.