Blog - Phil Starke Studio

Frank Tenney Johnson

Frank Tenney Johnson (June 26, 1874 – January 1, 1939) was a painter of the Old American West, and he popularized a style of painting cowboys which became known as "The Johnson Moonlight Technique".  He was born near Big Grove, Iowa.  Raised on a farm on the old Overland Trail, he observed the western migration of people on horseback and in stage coaches and covered wagons. This exposure to 

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Victor Higgins – Member of The Taos Society of Artists

Victor Higgins

Born William Victor Higgins in 1884 to a Shelbyville, Indiana farm family where the only art Victor was aware of as a child was his father's love of flowers. "He loved their forms and their colors, and he tended his garden as a painter might work a canvas." At the age of nine, Victor met a young artist who traveled the Indiana countryside painting advertisements on the sides of barns. He purchased paints and brushes so the young Higgins could practice his own artwork on the inside of his father's barn. He also taught Victor about art museums and especially about the new Chicago Art Institute. This information never left the young artist, and he saved his allowance until his father allowed him at the age of fifteen to attend Chicago Art Institute. He worked a variety of jobs to finance his studies both there and at the Academy of Fine Arts.

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Trying A Different Medium

Oils are considered the best medium for learning how to paint because there are forgiving (you can scrap them off) and you can work with them for a period of time before they dry. Acrylic and watercolor need a basic understanding of color and values first, because every stroke is permanent. The same with pastels, all the mixing and layering is on the paper.

In art school I focused on oils, but I had to do some work in acrylic, watercolor and pastels. The idea being that you reinforce, and have better understanding, of what you know by trying different mediums. When I move from oils to pastels or watercolor it helps me see that the same aspects are important in both. It keeps me from getting too caught up in technique and think more about what’s important; design, values, patterns and color temperature.

I don’t do as much water color anymore but I will do studies and some outdoor painting in pastels. It helps me see color and contrast differently, to think outside the box of my usual routine.

I don’t have to spend a lot of money to try a different medium. I have a small outdoor palette of dry watercolors and a small portable brush along with a 5×7 watercolor block of paper. The same with pastels, a box of hard pastels to do small color studies on pastel paper is all you need.

Remember, it’s about learning how to design value patterns and suggest light with color temperature not using tricky techniques.

Van Gogh’s Bedrooms – An Exhibit

We all know Van Gogh as a person with a troubled personality, but he saw Art is a vocation not a career, something to be shared with others, not for his own glory.  The show is a deeper look at his surroundings.

From the Art Institute of Chicago:  

Van Gogh’s BedroomsRegenstein Hall, February 14, 2016–May 10, 2016

Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles is arguably the most famous chambre in the history of art. It also held special significance for the artist, who created three distinct paintings of this intimate space from 1888 to 1889. This exhibition—presented only at the Art Institute of Chicago—brings together all three versions of The Bedroom for the first time in North America, offering a pioneering and in-depth study of their making and meaning to Van Gogh in his relentless quest for home.

Van Gogh painted his first Bedroom just after moving into his beloved “Yellow House” in Arles, France, in 1888. He was so enamored with the work, now in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, that after water damage threatened its stability, he became determined to preserve the composition by painting a second version while at an asylum in Saint-Rémy in 1889. Identical in scale and yet distinct from the original, that second work is now one of the icons of the Art Institute’s permanent collection. Van Gogh created a smaller third version, now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, as a gift for his mother and sister a few weeks after making the second. While the three paintings at first appear almost identical, when examined closely, each reveals distinct and unique details.

This exhibition is the first to truly delve into the fascinating history of these three paintings. Beginning with Van Gogh’s early canvases of cottages and birds’ nests, the show explores the artist’s use of the motif of home—as haven, creative chamber, and physical reality—and follows the evolution of this theme throughout his career, beyond the Yellow House to the asylum at Saint-Rémy. The presentation concludes with Van Gogh’s final residence in Auvers-sur-Oise, where he once again painted a series of cottages—returning to the idea that first evoked in him a sense of home.

Van Gogh’s Bedrooms features approximately 36 works by the artist, including paintings, drawings, and illustrated letters, as well as a selection of books and other ephemera known to have been in Van Gogh’s possession. Enhancing the exploration of the artist’s works and his longing for a place of his own are several engaging interactive presentations. A digitally enhanced reconstruction of his bedroom allows viewers the chance to experience his state of mind and the physical reality of the space that so inspired him, while other enriching digital components bring to light significant recent scientific research on the three Bedroom paintings. The result is an innovative yet intimate look at one of the most beloved and often-misunderstood artists of all time.

Visit the exhibition preview site here:  Van Gogh’s Bedrooms


Charles Movalli Talks About Dark & Light Pattern

Charles Movalli was a student of Emile Gruppe.  In this short video he talks about finding the simple pattern in the painting and eliminating detail.

Adjusting Values

Values make our paintings work, so if the values in photographs are not always reliable we have to have a way to adjust the values in our painting. Here is an explanation at my thought process with values.  

The Illusion of Depth

In this latest video I talk about what it takes to take a 2-dimensional surface and make it feel 3-dimensional.  Since we paint on a flat surface, it’s important to understand how to create an illusion of objects receding. This is a quick look at that illusion.


Learning How To “See” A Photograph

It’s important to “look correctly” at a photograph so our painting doesn’t look like one.  Here’s a few ideas.  I’ve created a free checklist for you so it’ll be easy check your photos when you work with them.  Just click the red button below and grab your free copy now. Please SHARE if you know of other artists who might enjoy this video.

Click the red button below to download your Free “Working With Photographs” Checklist.

Seeing Abstractly

This is a quick look at why its helpful to think abstractly when painting representational subjects.

Painting A Street Scene

When painting a street scene, or even a rural area with buildings and structures, there are elements involved that make things a little more complicated. First is linear perspective, finding the horizon line and the vanishing points to give the buildings and roads depth. There are a lot of small simple books online that explain artistic perspective, easy to read and understand. Just a simple understanding is all you need. John Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting has a good chapter on linear perspective. But the most important part is simplifying the scene. Finding that overall shadow pattern that sets up the larger shapes and makes it easier to paint. It’s easier to see the whole composition and set up the drawing with an overall shadow pattern.

Always working with large shapes first, getting the right value and color relationships, then working smaller deciding what details to use and what to leave out.

It’s a good idea to do a smaller value study first, using ivory black and white or raw umber and white. This way you can concentrate on the values without thinking about color. Remember values are always more important than color. Then do a color version, using the value painting to check the values of your color.

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