Methods & Materials

It’s no secret I love to paint. Maybe you do too?

First a quick note regarding instruction. It’s an honor to be frequently asked about teaching.

After many years of teaching on a regular basis, I have now pulled back considerably to focus on my own work. Please subscribe to A Day in Vermont weekly newsletter where I’ll be sure to announce all demos and workshops. Until then, you can check out my videos HERE to see a bit of what I do, as well as read the info below. Thank you and happy painting!

For those of you interested in the technical side of things I offer the following details of my process. That process evolves daily. It’s my favorite part. I contradict myself often, change my mind frequently, and experiment relentlessly.

If my uniform doesn’t get dirty, I haven’t done anything in the baseball game.

Rickey Henderson

I enjoy working in a variety of media. In all cases I use only the highest quality of artist grade materials available. Integrity and longevity should be important concerns for the artist and collector. I am personally committed to creating art that will stand the test of time.

Each medium has its advantages and inherent limitations. Subject, mood, time constraints, and even painting environment may influence my media choice. For me, having something compelling to say is most important. How I say it is secondary. Media and technique should always be subservient to authentic self expression.

Watercolor is an incredible medium. I respond to its spontaneity, transparency, and all manner of organic destiny. I use a variety of techniques and most often choose to work wet into wet for prolonged periods in order to maintain a soft edge dominance. The untouched paper serves as “white” and must be reserved to reveal the full range of value from dark to light. I most often use Da Vinci artists’ watercolor. Big tubes of paint help lead to rich juicy paintings. I use 100% cotton rag acid free papers in Hot, Cold, and Soft Press textures by Fabriano, Lana, and Waterford.

Colors on my current watercolor palette include: Cadmiums Red, Orange, Yellow Deep, Yellow Medium, and Lemon. Sap Green and Leaf Green. (convenience colors) Cobalt Violet and Turquoise. Ultra Marine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Manganese Blue, Phalo Blue, Magenta, Permanent Rose, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Transparent Burnt Orange, Paynes Grey, and Titanium White Gouache.

Beginners Beware…you don’t need all these to paint a masterpiece! Less is more when you are learning. I have them on my palette for specific purposes related to body, granulation, opacity, and such, which are nuances compared to “color”. Master Value, Hue, and Chroma with a basic palette, then get fancy.

Watermedia paintings can harness the best of both worlds. (Watercolor/Oil) I use a variety materials such as watercolor, gouache, and occasionally acrylic. Watermedia adds the visual quality and physical attribute of opacity. Contrasting transparency against opaque areas can yield stunning results. My watermedia paintings are sealed and varnished, and may be framed with or without glass.

I am often asked what I am painting on and what brushes I am using. I prefer a rigid panel for my Watermedia work. current surfaces include acrylic primed belgian linen, Ampersand Gessoboard, Aquaboard or Clayboard. I often choose various custom prepared panels using various surfaces, gesso or matte medium.  I occasionally use collage and choose it when I want to impose an organic textural element. If you get the sense that I enjoy experimentation, you’re right. Painting on different surfaces (as long as they are stable, compatible, and archival) lends an element of surprise that I love.

Brushes include every shape and and size. Mostly flats and synthetic hair. I have very expensive “kolinksy sable” that I never use, and old hardware store brushes I use all the time.

My general advice regarding materials? As much as we would love it to be true, (and some brands are happy to tell you it is) the magic isn’t found on a surface, from a brush, a particular color, or in an art store. The real magic is in you. How you let it out is secondary. Try everything, have fun, paint more, (a lot more) and worry less. The right materials and techniques that work for YOU, will be found in due process.

Oil paint offers a complete range of opacity is possible, as is the delicious buttery brushstroke. I use a variety of artist grade paint brands, brushes, knives, and painting substrates. Currently my preferred support is a double oil primed Belgian linen mounted to hardboard. For a very smooth surface I use Ampersand Museum Series Gessoboard.

My current oil palette includes Cadmiums Red Medium, Orange, Yellow Deep, Yellow Medium, and Lemon. Yellow Ochre Light/Pale, Transparent Oxide Red, Viridian, Perm Alizarin Crimson, Terra Rosa, Ultra Marine Blue Deep, Cobalt Blue Light, Ivory Black, and Titanium White. Occasionally, Transparent Orange (Gamblin), Kings Blue, Cobalt Violet, and Permanent Magenta. For mediums I use walnut oil, liquin, or Gamblin Galkyd Lite.

Out of necessity (for convenience, price, and selection of pro level supplies) I shop online at Jerry’s Artarama, Dick Blick, Cheap Joes, AWS,, etc.

Regarding the ever-popular question, “Do you paint from photos, on location from life, from sketches, or from your imagination?”

Yes, all of the above.

I do love painting out of doors on location, aka “en plein air”. Nature is the greatest teacher of all. Many of my smaller pieces are done, or at least started, on location. For larger work I prefer to sketch on site and gather a few photos for reference back in the studio. The important thing is to find your inspiration and have something compelling to say about it, in paint. During the heart of Vermont’s winter, you bet I can find ample inspiration from a photo I took, inside the comfort of my warm studio.

Go looking for inspiration. Find subjects that speak so strongly to you that you can’t wait to paint them. Immerse yourself in the energy of the location, and then it won’t matter how you bring it home alive – sketches, studies, or photos – just as long as your passion is stirred. Put that into your paintings and see what happens.

Mike Svob

The process of making art is a swashbuckling adventure of surprise, evolution, and discovery. One thing ALWAYS leads to another. I enthusiastically seek and inevitably stumble upon new methods, techniques, ideas, and processes. I combine, modify, and play. I fail and succeed in equal measure. Failure, by the way is part of an artist’s job description. Embrace it in the name of progress and improvement!

And regarding the idea of talent, I agree with Mr. Godin:

Actually, it goes the other way. Wouldn’t it be great to be gifted? In fact…it turns out that choices lead to habits. Habits become talents. Talents are labeled gifts. You’re not born this way, you get this way.

Seth Godin

I am occasionally asked what “style” I work in. In my view style is simply an authentic voice. Like distinctive singing, handwriting, personality, and fingerprints, we are all different. Thank goodness for that! Style is an ever evolving synthesis of influence, experience, interest, and genetic disposition. Something unique and personal emerges from the long earnest hours of doing.

Hopper said “If I could say it with words there would be no reason to paint.” That makes sense to me.

Forced to provide a formal, verbal, or academic categorization of my approach I might answer with the appropriately meaningless mouthful: I’m a hopelessly romantic contemporary impressionistic exhibitionist of idealist realistic and symbolic semi-abstract representation, honestly manifested as a sincere expressionism of gratitude.

I could go on but now I think it’s best to heed the wise Robert Genn quote hanging in my studio that reminds me daily: “Shut up and paint!”