Painting Grace

Introduction       (This painting was started in late April, 2017)

This is a new commission I am working on of a cute little girl named Grace.  She is outside leaning against an Adirondack chair, with a dock, a pond (I plan to indicate the water a bit more) and beautiful oaks on the grounds behind her.  I love the pose with the sunlight streaming across her face and dress.  I actually put a few elements together in Photoshop using a couple of different photos I took that day.

Final Painting Plan-April 2017


Why a value study?

This section primarily serves as an instructional aid for my students, or any artist interested in learning a technique I always use when beginning a portrait.  Since it can also be one of the most challenging areas for to some to achieve, I wanted to spend a little time on the very first step of a painting: laying in a value wash.

Occasionally a student does not fully understand the purpose or importance of the process, or seems to have difficulty seeing the relative values during this step, although that skill can be honed with practice.  Sometimes, a student is so eager to jump into the color of the painting that this step is skipped altogether, or met with resistance.  But it can be so helpful!

So first I want to discuss WHY this step is important.  Many years ago I painted a 16×20 portrait of an old sea captain.  He was wearing a navy blue jacket and a dark-billed cap.  Eager to dive right in, I started with the face!  I was painting over my drawing, on a white canvas.  I laid in various colors, interesting shadow areas, and I really liked the effect!  On the next painting session I added the navy blue jacket and the hat with its dark bill.  Once his face was surrounded by dark he became ghost-like!!  He was completely washed out!

Since that time, I realized the benefit of first toning the canvas to remove the white.  Over the years, I developed the process further, especially in portraiture.  I apply a sepia-toned wash over the fixed drawing, then pull off the lights, and finally lay in more darks.  This process helps establish values, and will give a good idea of how the painting will look after it’s completed…well, if you squint your eyes a lot!  🙂  Also, at this stage it would be very easy to make some changes that might affect the overall composition.  This brown-tone stage is done and allowed to dry before any color is applied.

Another benefit: where darks have been added and allowed to dry, the later application of dark paint (say in shadowy areas of trees, for example) can often produce a nearly final result in one coat.

First Step: Fix the drawing!

This is important!  Once you’ve gone to the trouble of creating your drawing, it would be nice if you didn’t wipe it all off during the wash!  Sadly that has happened to more than one of my students!  Also, make sure the pencil lines are sufficiently heavy to be easily visible…a very light touch might not hold up in the second step.

So, before the wash, you MUST fix the drawing!  Turpentine or odorless mineral spirits will easily wipe off pencil marks!  I have found that a cheap brand of hair spray, extra hold, will do fine as a fixative.  You could also use workable fixative, but that is much more costly, and also has a strong unpleasant odor.  For this stage in the painting, hair spray does fine.

You don’t want to use so much spray that it runs or has heavy areas.  You can check by looking at the canvas from the side.  If that has happened, simply blot it lightly with a paper towel while still wet.  You do want to use enough, however, that the pencil marks will remain after a light rubbing with mineral spirits.  Two light coats may be preferable.  I always test a small area first with clean mineral spirits before proceeding to the next step..

Step Two:  The Wash

I prefer a cool wash under flesh tones, and usually mix  raw umber with chrome oxide green for added coolness.   Do NOT add any white to this mix, as you’ll be allowing the canvas itself to show through for the lighter values.  Also, white is a much slower-drying pigment than, for example, the umber colors (or mixtures made with umber and blue or umber and opaque-green).

Usually the turpentine wash with the umber mix will dry overnight.  Winton makes a very cool-toned shade of raw umber which I love (and have often used by itself for this step), but any brand, further cooled down if desired, would be fine.

I prefer to use odorless mineral spirits in place of artist’s turpentine (trying to avoid fumes whenever possible) for all my painting needs, although that is a matter of preference.  The brands Mona Lisa, Gamblin or Turpenoid are all very good for “Odorless Mineral Spirits.”  I avoid the cheaper brands found at home improvement stores, as they are still quite smelly.  For simplicity, in this discussion I will use the word “turpentine” or simply “turp” in place of odorless mineral spirits.

I wear latex gloves and use paper towels for the initial wash.  After creating the shade of color I want for the wash, I heavily soak a portion of the paper towel in odorless mineral spirits (“turp”)  and make a soupy mix with some of the paint on my palette.  I then evenly rub down the entire painting, adding more pigment and, or turp as needed.

After that sits a bit, and using a fresh paper towel, I lightly rub off the excess paint.  My goal is to have a smoothly-toned canvas without streaks, so as not to interfere with my drawing.  Some canvas surfaces grab the paint more than others, so you will have to adjust your timing accordingly.  You may need to thin the pigment even more, and immediately smooth the surface in that case.

For a commissioned portrait I stretch my own canvasses and like to paint on Fredrix Portrait linen 589 .  This surface does not grab the paint heavily, so I have plenty of time to work with this first step.  I have also used pre-stretched canvasses for other paintings which have worked quite well with the wash.

I would caution you to avoid the cheapest canvasses, which usually come in a two-for-one pack, or more.  It has been my experience that they are made with poor quality canvas material which not only is very thin and could easily puncture, but also tends to grab the paint badly.  They are also constructed with very thin stretcher strips as well, making them flimsy.  While I love a good bargain, the saying “you get what you pay for” definitely applies here!

For this painting I neglected to take a photo of the very first steps (the drawing and initial application of pigment for the wash), as I decided to create this instructional writing after-the-fact.  I had photos of that step for another painting, however, which will suffice here.  These two photos were showing the initial progressions of a painting I did a few years ago of turkeys in the woods:



First wash:


In this case I had used a warmer brown wash, but you get the idea.

Pulling Off Lights:

Moving to Grace’s portrait:  After that  brown tone wash has been evenly smoothed, I pull off the lightest areas with a clean paper towel.  I start with the VERY lightest values, and then apply less pressure for less-brightly lit areas.  As you work, constantly compare various values across your source image.  You are not going for the perfection of a completed painting, but just the general idea.


Occasionally the paint has started to set up quickly or, after working a while, you may decide an area should be brighter, but the paint has already settled in.  If that happens and the paint no longer easily pulls off, simply add a bit more turp to the paper towel and it should come right off.  Re-wetting with turp, however, will pull the paint off right down to the canvas surface, so if you just wanted a LITTLE bit to come off, you may have to re-apply some pigment to that area and repeat the first steps.

Don’t stress here if it’s not perfect.  Again, you’re not going for a finished painting at this stage…just a value study.

Adding Darks:

At this point I will use more paint, sometimes applied with a paper towel, sometimes with a brush.  If I want to add some detail, I will usually use a brush.  I don’t go for a lot of detail, however, as this stage is not good for blending.  Often the paint will pull off if overworked, so I try to avoid that.

This represents the painting at the end of the day.  If time doesn’t allow, you could save the “adding darks” stage for the next painting session:


The First Face Coat:

The next day the paint was sufficiently dried to go into the first color coat on the face.  This is still a rough stage.  Before adding a second coat to the face, I will completely apply color to the whole painting.  Even though I have established values early on, there are often corrections to be made.  I prefer the face to be the final area I paint.


This shows more detail…still just a suggestion:


………………………more to come!………………………………………

I HAVE been working on this…just not posting much.  Actually, I am getting close to being finished!

This has been a fun one!  Hopefully I will be ready to deliver it in a couple of weeks.  Here are some stages that were not posted earlier………………

Grace 5-11  Grace 5-20-a

Grace 5-20-b  Over a few days I have laid in the background.  Once all this is established with a first coat, I can continue with the other skin areas and dress.

Early June, 2017:

Grace 5-27-17  Still early stages at this point.  It has been approximately one month since I began.

Grace 6-2-17  Yay!  All the surfaces have received a coat of paint.  I next plan to go back into the face and develop it further.  It appears a bit washed-out next to the deeper surrounding color.

Grace 6-3-17

Face det 6-3-17      There, that’s better!


Mid July–2017

After another month and a half, I am at this stage…not finished yet, but getting closer!  I plan to work more on the lower dress and some areas in the background.  But I am at the really fun part now!

Grace 7-15-17

Face det-7-15-17

This is also the stage where I will highly scrutinize details, especially with the face.  So often the tiniest little change can affect the greatest difference between looking just like them, or being “almost”.  I strive for the former!

So, I will “play” with it til I am completely satisfied, but also attempt to “keep it fresh” as I go!

Will post the final when I am finished………………………..

August 2, 2017

The painting has been delivered, and they were happy!  I have uploaded a higher resolution image of the final painting here, and am including a face detail image as well.


Grace-Face Detail






Paul Cardall

Blessing-insert           In Concert-insert

Why I created these two paintings

While painting one day, I was also creating and refining stations on Pandora which I had recently set up at the Gallery. This day I chose piano, to see what I might find.

When I would hear a piece I especially enjoyed, I would walk over to note the artist. After “liking” a few, I realized that I kept seeing Paul Cardall’s name appear on the screen. There was one song in particular, titled “Gracie’s Theme,” which was very moving to me. Such power and emotion filled the room when it played, especially when the full orchestra and drums came in to accompany the piano, that I often put down my brush, turned up the volume, and just listened, sometimes near tears. It spoke to me. I just HAD to learn more about this pianist.

I later typed in Paul Cardall on my home computer, and was quickly led to various places: his website, YouTube, and a Tumblr page. I easily found a video for “Gracie’s Theme.” While watching this, the viewer also sees a brief story superimposed on the screen. (See link to the music video, “Gracie’s Theme,“ below.)

I learned that Paul Cardall had been born with a major heart defect, eventually receiving a heart transplant as an adult. Other factual information is also displayed about treatment costs for children born with heart defects, and the Saving Tiny Hearts Society ( which funds research for this #1 birth defect, Congenital Heart Disease.  Sadly, Gracie was a child born with CHD who did not survive her struggle.

What an inspiring story as well as a moving musical presentation! Paul Cardall donates one dollar from the sale of each album, “Saving Tiny Hearts,” to this non-profit group.

I enjoyed several other videos as well, especially one about love for family (, and another about the music business (, which was actually about much more than that. These videos were a view into the genuine and kindhearted person Paul really is. He seemed like family to me.

While watching the videos I felt inspired to paint his portrait. The next morning I contacted someone on his website to receive permission to do so, and I later came to realize that the PR person with whom I communicated was his wife, Tina Cardall, a lovely young lady. Early on, I had the thought that if my plans went well, I might like to “gift” the painting to him, as a way of saying “Thank You for what you do,” and for being an inspiration to me and so many others.

Since Tina Cardall was so gracious and helpful, I suggested my gift idea to her. She was very enthusiastic about this, and we decided to keep it a secret, discussing a plan to make it a Christmas gift.

It occurred to me that I might even create two paintings, one to display in the gallery, and one for his family. I shared this thought as well, telling her that I would let her choose her favorite if I was somehow able to complete them both in time. This was September so I got busy.  With a lot of help from above, I managed to do just that, with no time to spare!

The first painting is titled “Blessing.” Following are the two main source photos I used:

Photo sent from Tina

(Photo sent from Tina Cardall)


(Photo captured from video “Scarborough Fair”)


Final Painting:


“Blessing” (Oil on Linen 22×28)


I loved the light streaming in through the windows surrounding him, and enhanced that aspect. Intentionally I kept the background very loose, tightening up on the foreground. The title, “Blessing” spontaneously came to me one day, and seemed to say it all in one word.

In the meantime I had begun the second painting. For this one I wanted something more formal, perhaps in concert, and with more of the grand piano visible. I had seen a video with candles burning, and started with that idea. This is a screen capture from his video: “Father in Heaven,” and was the primary source photo used:

Source Photo-40 Hymns-1

I wanted to show more of his right hand, enhance the word “Steinway”, bring up a slight reflection in the raised top, and add something that looked more like a book of music.

Hand suggestion and Piano reflection-insert

From these images I created the painting, adding a greater glowing effect to the candles.

Final Painting:

In Concert

“In Concert: Paul Cardall” (Oil on Linen 24×36)


Tina chose the second one, “In Concert” for the gift. Although she loved both paintings, she especially liked this one which showed more of the piano.

Evidently it was something that pleased them both. I wished I could have been a little mouse in the corner on Christmas morning, but was delighted by a personal call from Paul, expressing his thanks for the painting. Both he and his wife told me how touched they were by the gift.

Creating these paintings has been a delight for me. My students and Gallery guests were happy to be included in the process, and as a result I have shared links to his website and videos with many people. My desire is that viewers of these paintings will perhaps sense the awesome uplifting quality I feel when listening to him play. Perhaps they will also be inspired to discover the music of Paul Cardall for themselves.


You can watch the video of “Gracie’s Theme” here:,

You may also like to visit his website at:


Post Note: Besides just sharing a story about his music, this was an opportunity for me to “Give Back.” Painting is something from which I receive a great sense of fulfillment. It is a gift which I occasionally feel moved to share with another human being, with no strings attached. It has nothing to do with money and everything to do with inspiration and a spiritual connection. It is my way of thanking God for the many blessings I have received throughout my life. It is my hope that I might touch someone else as well. The world needs more good feelings.


Tinkerbell and Puff

I’m forever looking for ideas…especially ideas with great lighting!   So, here I go again!

I came across this photo by Natasha at “How cute is THAT?” I asked myself.


However, that site no longer is active, so I could not reach her for permission to use her photo.  So I decided to change it up, which I would have done anyway!  Just like to have permission whenever possible.

First of all, I wanted to go with a format which was not so tall.  I cropped it to work on a 20″x24″ canvas size.  THEN I decided to see if I could find a different face that I would prefer.  I DID, and superimposed that using Photoshop, blending and lightening to make it work.  Came up with this:


As I painted I got another idea.  Her little toe sticking up was cute, but I thought I’d like her looking at something more captivating.  How about a little fairy, perched on her toe?  I played around with that idea, deciding to curl the toe back down.  The fairy is holding something up to the little girl, but just what it is, is up to the viewer to decide!  Here’s a detail of that part:


While I was painting this one, I thought “Wouldn’t it be cute to have a matching ‘bookend’ painting, of a little BOY in the window?”  Hmmmm!  Rather than a fairy, perhaps he could be looking at a little dragon!  The search was on, which would prove more challenging than I thought!!  I had a difficult time finding any little boy sitting on a shelf or ledge (let alone a sunlit window!) but I kept looking.

I finally found a little boy leaning over to pet a dog.  The lighting was great, but he wasn’t sitting on a ledge, so had to find the legs from somewhere else.  I finally found an older boy on a window ledge.  So I played with that idea, making his legs shorter to match the younger boy.  Here are the sources for that:

Flicker-4-edit Legs-source

Of course, I had to reverse the little boy image as well, to put him on the other side of the window, giving the “bookend” look I wanted.

Then to find a baby dragon!  I found the perfect image, even though he was rather “mean-looking” and I wanted more cute.  But I’d work with that.  (My sister said “Well, he IS a dragon after all!  Aren’t they supposed to be mean?”  I thought…”Not THIS dragon!  I want cute and innocent!  :))


After a lot of manipulation in Photoshop, I came up with a painting plan:


Not perfect, but not too bad.  I could work with it.  One of the biggest issues was the lighting.  The sunlight is obviously coming in from the right of the image, yet the little boy is lit from the left.  That wouldn’t work!!  So I created the light coming from behind him and to the right.  Had to use my MSU on that one.  (“Make Stuff Up!”)  I tell my students that ALL artists have an “MSU” in Art!  🙂

I also liked the “turned up toe” idea, which I eliminated from the little girl’s foot, but decided to use here.  I changed the hoodie color to gray, and added a touch of red in a shirt tail.  Here are some details, including face details of both paintings:


 Face-Detail Face-det

…and here are the “Bookend Paintings” together.  I had to make some structural changes in order to incorporate all the features I wanted, so the windows aren’t exactly the same.  The little boy is a little smaller, since his feet are hanging off the edge, and I had to make him smaller to “fit”. Even with those inconsistencies, I still think they make a cute pair!

I plan to make giclées of “Tinkerbell” and “Puff” soon.

Here are the final paintings:

Tinkerbell   PUFF

As I painted, I got the idea for a name for each of them.
“Tinkerbell” and “Puff!”  Cool!  🙂

Painting Ron

Painting Progressions for Advanced Class

I decided to paint this photo I had of Ron, taken a few years ago in Fairhope, AL. I chose it because of its clarity and especially the interesting play of light. I was also fond of the subject matter!   🙂


Here are some progressions:

Brown tone: 5-28-14:


This stage helps set the values.  Although many of my students would like to skip it and jump right into the painting, this is a very important step.  For one thing, the toned background will help you to see the true value of the paint when you begin, rather than getting it too light (a strong tendency when applying paint next to white.)

Painting start: Day 1

That said, it can STILL be scary!  (Now, it wouldn’t have appeared so drastic if I had done a detailed value study on the face as well. But it does show that you shouldn’t be “afraid of the dark”!  🙂

sorry face_2


First Scary Strokes…


 By the end of the first day’s Demo, it looked better.  He still looked pretty dark though!  But if you have very carefully matched colors, and you like what you are working from, then just go with it, rather than second guess yourself.  As the painting develops, the initial effect will be altered by the painted surroundings.

Left side of face painted, initial coat:

Left side of face painted-initial coat

Day 2: Other side of face—first coat


Now, my students tell me they want to watch every stroke!  (That’s GOT to be B-O-R-I-N-G!)  But they say not!  So I try to move along as quickly as possible.

They also tell me they WANT to see any mistakes I make…well, trust me, I make them!  But I’m sure it is helpful to see that, and to know that if they go astray, then with diligent effort (and perhaps a little help here and there) they can succeed!

Still, it was difficult looking at this “detached head” all week!  I was antsy to move on!

Painting-Day 3:

I finally added the neck!  Still a ways to go. I did a bit of tweaking on the face, but it will not receive a true second coat until after the background is established.


Painting-Day 4:

My plan this day was to paint the jacket, and to demonstrate that even with a complex subject, like plaid, the idea could be suggested with minimal effort.  I started by blocking in the darkest areas, and then added some lighter areas.  Painting wet-on-wet is important at this stage, as I wanted it to “blur together” somewhat.  I finally threw in some of the smaller woven lines of the plaid, and added shadows representing folds of the fabric. It will receive more attention during the final painting stage, but is sufficient to establish the initial effect.  And the final stage will not be a LOT more detailed.  Just cleaned up a bit.

Detail section from the first coat on the jacket :


Now, this was very quickly done.  It’s really easy to get bogged down in the details, but try to avoid that…and stand BACK to see where it is…frequently!

Having done the plaid, I moved onto the shirt, and having done that decided “Well, I might as well throw in some of this background stuff, to see the overall look of it!”

And guess what!!  His face then appeared a bit washed out!!!   I saw now that the following week I would need to darken it a bit.

Day 4-End of Demo:


Painting-Day 5:

This day I spent revisiting the face.  I wanted to pull it together a little more with the overall values (i.e. darken and brighten it some) so it would pull your attention more than the background.

While doing that (repainting the face), I am always watching for little details that will better capture the likeness.  I saw that the top edge of his left eye might need to be raised a bit…things like that.

Day 5-Revisiting Face


Painting-Day 6:

This day I continued with small corrections I saw, as well as worked more on the hair.  There were interesting lavender lights cast onto it, as well as on the face.

Day 6-Revisiting Face-Painting Hair:


Hair Detail:



Painting-Day 7:

I continued to work on the little details.  Worked more on the mouth, and the important shadows in the corners.  Also brought up more of the cooler colors on the face.

Day 7-Face Detail:


Day 7-Overall Painting:


Painting-Day 8:

Mostly just tweaked things I could see on the face.  Added some more Magenta/Lavender highlights, and worked on the mouth and the neck, as well as feathered edges on some of the light transitions, especially on the chin and neck areas.


And Finally……….here is the final version.

Ron (Completed Painting)  8-26-14


Ron-Face detail (Completed Painting)  8-26-14


Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II has been very special to me.  After his death, I had prayed to him to assist me with some situations in my life which had been highly stressful.  He has always come through for me, in ways which, to me, were often miraculous.  I have been ever thankful to him for his intercession, and decided to create a painting of him.

My research for the painting started with many photos which were in the public domain.  I found a photo of the Vatican with the Tiber River in the foreground, and another photo of the pope in his later years, clutching the crooked crucifix which he always carried.  I took the dove image from an interior window of St Peter’s Basilica and superimposed it in the exterior cupola of the dome.  I painted the pope somewhat transparent, especially from the shoulders down.  This was painted on a 28×22 linen canvas.

When people come into the gallery and comment on it, I can tell the story of how it is my way of saying “Thank You” for prayers answered.  I am hopeful that this painting will move others to be touched by his gentle spirit, and perhaps give hope in a world which seems so much in need of that.

I have various sizes of giclées of the painting so that it can be more easily acquired by anyone who may wish to have it.

Memories of His Own

Memories-of-His-Own-for Blog

This portrait was created in 2012. A gentleman and his wife came into the gallery and I was intrigued by his face. He had a certain presence, and seemed both intelligent and distant at the same time. His gaze was intense as he viewed the paintings, and when looking at me, he seemed to look into me. He was simply dressed, with long scraggly hair. He had politely removed his tam when he came inside.

I asked if I could take his photo, feeling that I HAD to paint him. His wife was delighted at the idea, but took me aside and said “You know, he has Alzheimer’s; but he used to be very intelligent.” I replied that I could see that in his face. The gentleman was very accommodating with my requests as he posed. He was a great model! The light was pouring in from one side, and I was able to capture just the look I wanted.

Once home, I began my photo editing. I darkened the surroundings, keeping the suggestion of the bouquet of flowers which were on the table, and added a partial oval painting behind him of a young woman, but faded it out greatly. I decided on a 24×30 format. After a few months I achieved this painting.

There is so much we don’t know about the illness of Alzheimer’s. It is common knowledge that the mind loses its ability to remember things which have occurred, whether recently or long ago. But what ARE their thoughts? Can they relay them? Perhaps these are questions which will never be answered. Thus my title: “Memories of His Own.”

D. Arthur McBride Portrait Studio and Gallery

D. Arthur McBride-for blog


This site is being created for lovers of traditional art, whether you enjoy viewing it, or are a student, or a professional artist.

I have taught art classes to small groups since 1979. I currently have my own gallery in Havana, FL, where I teach 6 classes per week (four morning and two evening classes).  Some of my students are also professional artists, receiving commissions or selling their own creations.

In addition to teaching, I accept commissions and work on whatever may intrigue me at the moment. Some of my favorite themes are portraiture, equestrian art, Native American subjects, landscape scenes, and more.

I will be sharing what I have been working on, or perhaps a new idea, or an old trick which may be new to you.

By the way, Arthur is my maiden name.  My friends call me Darlene.