Alla Prima Portrait

by Lisa Larrabee

I have only recently began painting alla prima (wet into wet).  This was my second attempt at painting a model in a single session.  In the past, I usually used dry mediums for open studio or figure drawing sessions.  I feel like I learned a lot from the first painting that I was able to use with this one.  Two things made a huge difference: soft natural hair brushes (mostly red sable), and using more paint. 


Painting In Progress

by Lisa Larrabee

I created studies of my son in preparation for this figurative landscape painting.  I also painted Spring Light to work out colors for the landscape.  My intention is to use the tree to portray the incredible intellectual, spiritual and physical growth of a young child.


Pear Study

by Lisa Larrabee

This painting was done as a relatively quick study as a teaching demonstration.  The focus was on shape and shadow relationships.

You can see that this study began with a horizontal composition.  My painting surface is a sheet of paper canvas which is convenient for quick studies.  The surface was toned with a mix of Gamblin's Transparent Earth Red and and Phthalo Blue thinned with Gamsol (OMS).  The purpose of the blue was to neutralize the orange tones in the Earth Red.  I chose Phthalo simply because it is transparent as well.  


Painting a Child Portrait

by Lisa Larrabee

It is a unique experience to paint the portrait of a child verses an adult.  The proportions are a bit different, and the edges all seem softer.  Even with this in mind, I had to take careful measurements and correct the placement of features and key shapes.  I started this painting demo with a thinned wash of Gamblin transparent earth red and torrit grey.  I have previously started this process without neutralizing the wash with grey.  I found that it was more difficult to block in with accurate color over such a warm base, so I added the grey.  Blue would have worked just as well to neutralize the orange tones. The image below shows how far I got in part one of my painting demo.


Painting the Light

by Lisa Larrabee

Westward Moon
2nd Place Acrylic & Oil, Richeson 75 
International Competition
24" x 18"
artist Lisa Larrabee

Sunrises and sunsets are so beautiful that it can be hard to take your eyes away from them and turn around. When you do, the reward can be equally as great.  Capturing the blazing red-orange light hitting the tops of the trees with the moon still overhead was my goal.  This began as a demo that I did over two painting sessions for my Acrylic & Oil painting class.  The final session was painted in my studio.

In the first class, I used Gamblin Gamsol (OMS) to thin Transparent Earth Red to cover the panel (oil primed linen).  With a little OMS on my brush, I lifted out the moon and wiped it white with a paper towel.  The trees were blocked in with a little Cobalt added to the mix.  What I love about this method is that I can adjust and move around elements on my panel with incredible flexibility.  It is my new favorite way to begin!

Spring Light: Painting Stages

by Lisa Larrabee

Spring Light
Oil on Panel
16" x 12"
artist Lisa Larrabee

This landscape painting is a study for a larger piece that I am working on.  The larger painting will include my son, Nathan.  It is intended to represent intellectual and spiritual growth and transformation.  I realized as I was working out the composition that the original tree reference I chose did not support this concept.  I created this study to experiment with color and mood to better tell the story.


Self-Portrait: Finished

by Lisa Larrabee

I am beginning to wonder if you can paint a self-portrait indefinitely. I feel like I have achieved what I wanted to, so I am declaring this one finished. There are several other projects in the works that I am excited to devote some more time to. Overall, I enjoyed this entire process.


Self-Portrait: One Thing Leads to Another

by Lisa Larrabee

Have you ever noticed that the closer you get to something the more there is to do? When I start to get some areas more accurate, other inaccuracies present themselves.  Tonight, I worked to get the pieces (drawing/proportion, values, color temperatures) into better relationships. Correcting some relationships made the incorrect relationships become more apparent.  For example, it bothered me that the eye on the left had looked dull.  It looked dull because the values were too close to the eye on the right that was in direct light with a highlight (but the left received no highlight).  To make the left eye feel more in shadow, I needed to make it darker.  With that realization, I noticed that all of my shadows were too light in value.  I also discovered some issues with the eye shape and the relationship of the left eye to the nose.  Changing the nose affected the mouth, etc.  The good news is that it keeps moving in the right direction. 


Self-Portrait: Painting Eyes

by Lisa Larrabee

I think one of the biggest tricks when painting eyes is not to paint too much.  It is so important to simplify. The goal isn't to capture every eyelash, but to convey how the light travels across the form.  Ideally, if this is done with accuracy, the eyes communicate with you.  I think these eyes are fairly close to finished, but I feel that they look a little startled.  I also intend to drop the value of the eye on the left a bit.  It doesn't read that it is in shadow compared to the eye on the right (except that it doesn't have the highlight). We shall see how the rest of the painting develops.

I want to mention how much fun I am having with this painting.  Because it is a study just for me, I feel free to push myself.  I really wanted to focus on color temperature and I think I am making progress.  I don't know why I didn't do this sooner!


Self-Portrait: Stage 3

by Lisa Larrabee

I realized when I sat down, that I needed to get the rest of the orange covered. It was still affecting my skin tones way too much. I also needed to push the darks so that I had a better range of values. There is more to do, but I am happy with the progress I made.

Self-Portrait: Adding Color

by Lisa Larrabee

At this early stage, I wanted to get areas covered with an approximation of color.  I needed to tone down the warm under-painting because it was affecting the cooler skin tones that I was putting down.  At this stage, I feel that I lost some of the likeness because I was working to get better color notes.  Still a long way to go.


Self-Portrait: Blocking It In

by Lisa Larrabee

Who will sit patiently at odd hours as I work to improve my skills? ME! This is a picture of the first stage of a self portrait. I began without a preliminary drawing. It took a little time to get a feel for how to push and pull the paint. I lifted out highlights to reveal the lead white primed linen panel. I liked starting this way. It allows for both freedom and control.


Two Pods: Painting from Life

by Lisa Larrabee

I was given some advice from an amazing still life painter, Scott Fraser.  He told me that I needed to paint from life.  It was the most obvious, yet necessary advice.  After seeing his paintings in person, I already knew that was exactly what I needed to do.  The richness in his work comes from observing what is in front of him without the limitations of the camera.  This is something I have known, yet I have found too many reasons not to follow this advice (limited time, limited space, expediency...).  I came home and saw my work with fresh eyes.  Eyes that saw the limitations of working from photography alone.  So, here is my goal.  I will be giving myself assignments.  I know where I want my work to go and I have a good idea of what it takes to get there -time and hard work.  Drawing and painting what I see without shortcuts.  The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a short cut when it comes to developing as an artist.

In the early stages, I experimented with a different way for me to block in the shapes.  I started on white, brushed on a thinned layer of transparent earth red and began wiping out highlights and pushing darks.  It was important to me that the shapes were accurate.  I used a view-finder to help keep the shape relationships correct.


Fleeting: Final Painting Stage

by Lisa Larrabee

I want to make a point about lighting for other artists and students.  Unless you have a studio with amazing north light (and don't need to paint in the evening) you will have to rely on artificial light to paint.  I have used a mix of OttLite Natural daylight bulbs and GE Reveal daylight bulbs in my studio.  OttLites were recommended, but I found them very hash to paint under.  When I posted my last image, the color was adjusted to closely approximate what my painting looked like in my studio.  However, in the daylight, much of the warmth was reduced (even though I was using "daylight" bulbs).  I replaced the two remaining Reveal bulbs with OttLite bulbs to finish my piece.  It was difficult to adjust to the harshness at first, but the following morning my painting looked the same in the daylight as it had in my studio.  It may be difficult to notice a difference in the photographs, but it is noticeable in person.  I also bumped up a few of the brightest highlights.  I can now officially say that it is finished.  I hope that you enjoy it.

~ Lisa


Fleeting: A Painting in Progress -stage 4

by Lisa Larrabee

The process of finishing this painting has become a balancing act between the tree and the figure.  I played with more contrast and harder edges on the figure, but decided that I was happiest where the two were more harmonious.  I most enjoy the repeating patterns of the arms and branches.  I had felt that it was finished, but on further reflection in the daylight, there are some additional changes I want to make.

~ Lisa


Fleeting: A Painting in Progress -stage 3

by Lisa Larrabee

As I worked on the figure, drawing issues became more apparent.  I spent much of my time measuring, checking and rechecking the proportions.  I think it is pretty close so it's time to move on for now.

~ Lisa


Father's Day

by Lisa Larrabee

3 a.m.  
Graphite and white pastel on toned paper
artist Lisa Larrabee

Happy Father's Day to my husband, Greg, the father of our amazing twin boys.  All my love!

~ Lisa


Fleeting: A Painting in Progress -stage 2

by Lisa Larrabee

I had a lot of fun bringing some color into the landscape.  At this stage I discovered that the Eucalyptus study that I started with proved to be invaluable.  It is still at an early stage, but I was capturing the essence of what I wanted very quickly.

~ Lisa


Fleeting: A Painting in Progress

by Lisa Larrabee

I have typically shared my painting stages as an overview upon completing a piece.  Instead, I am going to share my process while I am in the midst of creating my current painting, Fleeting.

The inspiration for this piece is the Eucalyptus across the street from my house.  I loved the color of the light hitting the leaves and the pale bark of the branches.  I stepped out my front door and took some photos for future reference.


I began by creating a small (14" x 11") color study of the Eucalyptus to work out colors and techniques that I wanted to use on the figurative landscape.  I hope to keep the warmth and softness of the study on a larger scale.

I knew that I wanted to use loose draping fabric and bring up an arm (or arms) to create repetition with the branches.  Once I had shot some photographs, this pose jumped out at me and altered the overall direction I had intended for the piece.  The narrative began unfolding and I had to shift focus to the right.  After composing and editing in Photoshop, I was ready to proceed.  I used a sepia hard pastel pencil to draw directly onto my toned panel. 

La Primavera: Painting Stages

by Lisa Larrabee

La Primavera
Oil   24" x 18"
artist Lisa Larrabee

This painting is of a mother, pregnant with her second child, interacting with her young daughter.  I took photo references very informally in her home, where her daughter was more relaxed.  Blooming magnolia trees were added in Photoshop to create the more symbolic setting of springtime and renewal.

I began this piece by toning a 24” x 18” museum series gesso-board panel with a thin wash of burnt sienna.  Once dry, I used a blue toned transfer paper to accurately put my drawing onto the board.  So as not to lose the accuracy of the transfer, I carefully began blocking in the face and branches in oil using only brown and white.  I continued with key elements like the hands and face of the girl.  In areas where the values were too similar to the background, I painted some darker values into the background to help keep the value relationships aligned.


Landscape: Capturing the Light

by Lisa Larrabee

Breaking Through
Oil  18" x 24"
artist Lisa Larrabee

I created this painting in an attempt to capture the brilliant but fleeting  moment when light breaks through the clouds after a rainstorm.

I generally like to begin on a warm toned background.  It allows for additional depth and richness in the colors layered over the top.  I blocked in the main shapes loosely to get the composition set.


Indelible Branches: Painting Stages

by Lisa Larrabee

Indelible Branches
oil 36" x 24"
artist Lisa Larrabee

This painting is a labor of love that I worked on over the course of a year.  It is a self-portrait of me with my boys, but it also tells a more universal story.  I began by manipulating rough images in Photoshop.  This piece is a combination of about 8 photographs and 4 color inspiration references (that changed as the painting evolved).  Part of what made this piece such a challenge was that there was an intangible goal that could only be found by working through the painting process.

First, I roughly blocked in darks and lights to establish the overall composition. 


Sketchbook: Demo to Final

by Lisa Larrabee

This drawing was done as a teaching demonstration for my students.  This is how far I got during the class.  The following day I was able to complete the drawing at home in my studio.


Monochromatic Profile Triptych

by Lisa Larrabee

These paintings were created using a modified version of the piambura technique coined by the contemporary naturalist painter Adrian Gottlieb.  They began with the classic earth toned foundation of traditional imprimatura  underpainting developed during the Renaissance.  The application of paint is minimal with a focus on accuracy right from the beginning.  Much of the background color shows through.  Unlike Gottlieb's piambura technique, I used glazes and minimal overpainting.  It is very similar to the process that I used for Wyatt, but with a monochromatic color scheme to create a more classic old-fashioned feel.


Sketchbook: Little Shoes

by Lisa Larrabee

It must be my subconscious mind that is not prepared for my boys to turn 4. Foreshortening makes these look like baby shoes! (Although they are much more worn out). It wasn't until I stood that I realized just how much bigger the shoes are from most any other angle.

~ Lisa


Sketchbook: Aleppo Pine

by Lisa Larrabee

I thought I would try this in pen.  I usually simplify branches by softening edges and painting negative spaces.  It was interesting building this up one line at a time.  Quite a contrast.

~ Lisa

Sketchbook: Female Profile

by Lisa Larrabee

This one was just fun.

~ Lisa


Flat Brush Painted Sketch of Tangerines

by Lisa Larrabee

I gave this assignment for a 4"x4" value study painted with a 3/4"-1" flat brush in 50 strokes or less. Since I rarely use a flat brush, I decided I could benefit from the challenge also. The goal was to use deliberate thoughtful brushstrokes, but I confess I lost count. It was completed in less than 30 minutes and was fun to play in a different style.

~ Lisa


Sketchbook: Self-portrait Lift-out Technique

by Lisa Larrabee

I started this sketch with an overall value and then began lifting out highlights with a kneaded eraser.  Being able to push and pull the values felt much more like painting.  I think it made a significant difference over the last attempt.  That, and a more defined light source (usually a good idea).

~ Lisa


Sketchbook: Zipper & Key

by Lisa Larrabee

I am working on sketching everyday.  It's funny how it always used to feel like an assignment (because it was!).  Now, I am just enjoying myself.

~ Lisa


Sketchbook: Tangerines

by Lisa Larrabee

You have probably heard the best way to improve as an artist is to practice.  Paint or draw everyday.  Work from life.  Study.  Observe.  Repeat.  This is certainly not news.  In spite of this advice, I have never been good about keeping a sketchbook.  I always loved the idea, but never really committed to it (except to jot down thumbnails for future paintings).  I want to make this my new habit.  I hope to build some momentum by posting sketches with regularity.  If you don't already, I encourage you to keep a sketchbook too.  Best of luck!

~ Lisa


"Oil Out" for Color

by Lisa Larrabee

Oil  16" x 12"
artist Lisa Larrabee

I am continuously experimenting with how to paint trees.  Previously, I have shown the process to define shapes and branches through negative space painting.  In this example, I decided to show a softer technique, because I currently have students who are discovering that trees can be a significant challenge to paint.

I also want to show the tremendous benefit of oiling out your painting to create an even finish and bring out the true colors of the painting.

I began by roughly painting in the colors and shapes where I saw them.  Significant branches were included, but all other detail was left out.