2016 Workshop Schedule Coming Soon!


Hi My Friends!

Sorry for the long silence. Just wanted you to know that I will be posting my 2016 workshop schedule soon. Overseas locations will include France, Belgium, Spain, and Ireland. And in the States: California, Georgia, and Washington. Most of the venues will be repeats from former years and I am glad to have the opportunity to work with these studios again. Details coming very soon!

Don’t give up early!


Last Call for Alla Prima Class in the Bay Area


I’m excited to return soon to the Bay Area to teach my alla prima sketch technique. The New Museum in Los Gatos, CA will be hosting this class September 18-20. Alla prima is Italian for “at the first” or “all at once”. This kind of approach to the portrait usually results in a more spontaneous and organic character to the paint which I find irresistable. Morning demos will be followed by late morning and afternoon sessions where you will get a chance to apply the principles in your own studies. Space is limited and time is running out. I hope you will consider joining me for this three-day intensive.

To register please click this LINK, or you can contact Gabriel Coke at:

email: numustudio@gmail.com

Phone: 831.345.1845, or 408.354.2646

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Defining Your Path


The other day a fairly well-known artist posed a question on Facebook. The way I understood it, it went something like this, “Should we expend energies finding new ways of expressing ourselves, or merely refining an artistic dialect?”. You can see from the wording (which is my paraphrase) that this artist puts more value on pushing boundaries and exploring new frontiers. I don’t deny that this is indeed valuable in its proper place and time. But for where I am at this point in my life with my art I’m still enjoying the process of further refining my particular mode of expression. I believe there are rewards still to be had both for my audience and for me.

Today I want to deal with this aspect of the craft. Not so much with what we want to say, but with the finer points of how we want to say it. For me this how has been a very interesting and essential part of my journey. Defining my stylistic path (the how) has been helped by a particular type of study of other artists. I touched on this in the past with Dave’s Tips to Becoming a Better Artist. Point number four reads:

“Pick three artists (minimum) that you want to emulate in your work. Study everything you can about them. Try to identify what it is about their work that you like. Do some master copies of their work.”

Using a single painting by a particular artist, I want to give a practical example of how point 4 played out in my own artistic development.

Some years ago I started making lists of my favorite artists — the artists I wanted to emulate in some way. These were the ones that made me say “I want to paint like THAT!”. One day I wrote down about 15 names, give or take. A few days or a week later I did the same thing. Interestingly, the lists were not identical. But as the lists piled up I realized that there were 6 or 8 names that made the “cut” every time. These were my Masters. These were the artists whose pictures I was really going to meditate on and learn from.

Joseph DeCamp is one of the artists who made the list nearly every time. In 1908 he painted The Guitar Player (above) which has become one of my very favorite paintings of all time.  As I have studied this painting I have tried to identify its qualities I hope to infuse into my own work.  My theory has been that the better I can describe to myself what it is about a painting that really turns me on, the more it can influence the way I compose my pictures. Over time The Guitar Player has become key in defining, and refining, my pictorial language.

A few characteristics of this painting that I really like are the division of space. the quality of the light, and the seeming simplicity of the composition. I love DeCamp’s use of subdued color here (he didn’t always do that). The neutral tones balance the red notes perfectly. Even though the subject is playing a guitar, to me this painting feels quiet. It’s meditative. I like to think that maybe she has just plucked the last note of her song, and I hear it sustained but slowly dying away. A single perfect note expressing a delicate and delicious moment of solitude. These kinds of musing about a painting (or any other inspirational material) are my “…[identifying what it is about the work that I like]”.

Below are some images of my paintings that I feel may share some of the same qualities as The Guitar Player. I hope this illustrates how this kind of study can help define, and indeed refine, how you express your subjects in paint.

Best wishes

— DG

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Blue and Gray


Jessica with Ingres


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Be Good to Yourself and Your Art


Hi Everyone,

I just want to send out a quick reminder. Don’t forget to exercise today. If all you do is take ten minutes to get your breathing going and your blood flowing, your body’s going to like that. And your art, too. All that sweat will clear your mind, heighten your mood, and get you ready for whatever challenges you have coming today. Oh, and by the way, do it again tomorrow…and the next day…and…




To Project or Not to Project…

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My demo piece from last year’s workshop at Flemish Classical Atelier.

Projecting a photo onto a canvas before painting — is it “legal”? Is it legitimate to project? If I project can I call myself a real artist? When I project how do I deal with that little voice inside yelling “Cheater!”. I think there are some things to consider here. It’s not just cut and dried “wrong” or “right”. Here’s my take:

I like to ask this question: WHY are you projecting? Is it because you can’t draw, or is it to save time?

If you are projecting because you can’t draw, you’ve already discovered you WILL lose your drawing in the painting process. If you can’t draw, you’ll still screw it up. You know who you are. You’ve done it many times. You still have to be a good draftsman to pull it off. Let me tell you, if you still struggle with drawing and you’re projecting because you think it will help you, you’re fooling yourself. You NEED to learn to draw first. I don’t care who told you otherwise. They are dead wrong. I’ve seen learning painters lose their projected image over and over again. They project and trace a photo. Then they start losing the drawing within the first few hours of painting. You HAVE to learn to draw.

I know a few artists who regularly project a photo, or part of a photo in order to save time. I get it. When you have to make a living with your art you don’t always have the luxury of maintaining your ideals. Especially if you have a family to support. Then there are deadlines. It’s competitive out there for the working professional artist. It’s tough. Many do what they can to survive these difficult times. But these artists are also EXCELLENT DRAFTSMEN. They don’t really NEED to project. But it saves time. Their paintings are still excellent. Personally I don’t have a problem with these artists who do this.

Do I (David Gray) project?


I have a family. I have a wife and two kids. My wife doesn’t work for pay (She actually works harder than I do. She home educates our children!). I have a home mortgage. I have all the financial responsibilities of the working family man. I have to make ends meet. So why not project? Why not save time? The answer has two parts to it.

Part 1: Remember I said if you have responsibilities you don’t always have the luxury of maintaining your ideals? Well, I do anyway. For me it’s a point of honor to hand render everything. Even when working from photo reference I hand draw my composition without the aid of a projector. Have I EVER projected? Yes, I have. And I don’t like it. So I don’t. Drawing skills are at the core of my work. I like honing those skills every time I do a painting. It’s a personal decision for me. If you’re a good draftsman and you want to project to save time, okay, fine. I don’t have a problem with it. But it’s just not for me.

Part 2: I’ve found that I tend to edit what I see when it comes to a photographic image. The camera is monocular. It doesn’t see the same way we see (Assuming you have two eyes. Not everyone does, of course). Therefore I find little disturbing ways the camera sees that I don’t like. So I edit that part. I find when I personally hand render the image, subtle things happen in my drawing that are more pleasing to me. I do tend to idealize my subjects a bit. Or maybe I should say I tend to draw my subjects the way I WANT to see them. Hand rendering the image allows this to happen to a greater degree. My own aesthetic and artistic sensibilities are allowed to emerge in the drawing if I render it myself. I didn’t always realize this. I discovered it by observing my finished paintings of photographic imagery. My paintings didn’t look quite like the photo. If fact, I PREFERRED my painting to the photo. I was delighted at this discovery and it made me even more determined NOT to ever project a photo.

In the end, of course, it’s up to you. I STRONGLY recommend a consistent regimen for building your drawing skills. Find out what your weaknesses are and build them up.

There’s an opportunity for you to do this coming up this Summer. July 1-11, 2015 I’m teaching a ten-day intensive portrait class in Bruges, Belgium with Flemish Classical Atelier. We are going to be spending the first 4 days drawing. I’ll be teaching my way of building the drawing in preparation for doing the painting. You’ll see that there are no fancy tricks. I break the process down for you and demystify this essential skill. Please consider joining us. I know we’ll have a great time learning together. And Bruges is a lovely and inspiring place to be. I look forward to working with you…and then sipping a beer or two after class. Please click this link to find out more or to register: http://www.flemishclassicalatelier.com/david-gray-painting-the-portrait-from-life.

Hope to see you there!

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A scene from last summer at Flemish Classical Atelier. Students working on the portrait drawing.

Last Call for 4-day Portrait Workshop in Atlanta

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Detail of demo from a past workshop.

We will be working from the live model from May 14-17 at The Art School in Sandy Springs (Atlanta, GA). We have room for two more. Please join us for a fun and intensive time of learning techniques and concepts for painting the portrait from life. For questions regarding this class please contact Donna Thomas at 404-313-7356, or theartschoolinsandysprings@gmail.com. See you there!

Ned Mueller Video


Ned Mueller – The Source-Glacier Park, Gouache on Panel, 10″ x 12″

Hi Friends,

I want to share an instructional video by a great artist and friend Ned Mueller. In The Art of Seeing – Simplifying Harbor Scenes,  Ned explains the major pictorial concerns we should all have in making a painting. I know we all love tricky effects and painting details, but if we don’t understand the foundational principles Ned teaches in this video, our paintings are just going to keep lacking the visual punch they need. Although this video focuses on maritime subject matter, these basic principles will apply no matter the subject matter or medium.

Check out the trailer HERE.

Ned Mueller has been around the block. He graduated from the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles. As an illustrator of 25 years he’s worked for just about everyone, including Disney and other major corporations. Ned has also augmented his education and experience by studying under many other great painters such as Richard Schmid, Harley Brown, and Sergei Bongart. He is a popular instructor in the Seattle area and elsewhere, having taught workshops throughout the US and abroad. Ned’s a painter’s painter, always looking to grow and improve his craft. This new video should be a staple for all of us, especially if you have not had the benefit of formal training in design and composition.

Check out Ned’s website at NedMueller.com.


Ned Mueller – Hanging In There, Oil on Linen, 14″ x 11″



Ned Mueller – Minaret Range – Upper Meadow, Oil on Linen, 12″ x 9″



Ned Mueller – Fishermen of Kino Bay, Gouache on Panel, 7″ x 10″

Being Consistent


You just got back from a great workshop. You learned a LOT and had a great time with the other students. You got inspired. You vow to find more time to paint. But you get home and life sets in and you keep putting off painting and six months later you find your art stuff has a light layer of dust on it.

Most of us have lives outside of art. Regular jobs, families, and other responsibilities. We want to get better at our painting but we really don’t have time for it…or do we? Here are some tips to consider to help you create some consistency in your art life.

1. Set up a permanent work area. You really don’t need a huge space. Talk to your spouse or partner about setting up a committed area in your home or apartment so as to avoid unnecessary set up and break down time. If you fear it’s unsightly when guests come over, find a creative way to hide it. A Japanese screen. A decorative curtain.

2. Schedule consistent time to paint. Yeah, I know, you’re laughing at me already. But get creative and be determined. Also, don’t derail yourself by thinking you have to block out huge amounts of time. One hour is better than nothing. Even thirty minutes a day, or every other day, will be beneficial to your craft.

3. Be healthy. Eat right and exercise regularly. I’ll not insult you by listing the benefits. You already know them. Just do it!

4. Join an art club or co-op studio. Find a place locally where you can join others in consistently scheduled painting sessions. I get together with a group most Friday mornings to paint the portrait from life. It’s great practice and I find working in a group setting to be energizing. If something like this is not available in your area, look harder, you might be wrong. If all else fails, start your own group.

5. Plan to enter a contest. I think one of the best ways to help keep you consistent is to find an art competition and plan to submit an entry. This can help motivate you and keep you on track with your schedule. There are lots of competitions and contests out there for artists of all levels. If you’re not world class yet find something local and low key. Just give it a try. Check out this website for some ideas: http://www.artistsnetwork.com/category/competitions.

6. Set achievable goals for yourself. I think many aspiring artists set the bar WAY TOO HIGH for themselves at the beginning which can set them up for failure and disappointment. Set up smaller projects. Do something that’s not going to take you six months. Succeeding in smaller projects that won’t take too long will not only grow your abilities and confidence, it will eventually propel you to larger and more ambitious projects.

7. Define a stylistic path. Once you can create some consistency in your painting schedule, capitalize on it by being consistent in your artistic direction. Defining a path can take some time and soul searching, so don’t rush it. I’ve seen many people jump from style to style. They attend many workshops with teachers who paint very differently from one another. The result is they NEVER master anything. Now some people just love this. They don’t really care about getting better. They just like the excitement and fun of attending workshops. I get it. But if you really want to get good at what you do, you need to settle into a particular methodology and master it. I touch on this in another post “Dave’s Tips to Becoming a Better Artist”. Check out points 2, 3, and 4.

Have a great day!


Alla Prima Portrait Sketch

Hi Gang,

Welcome to DG Paints. In this video I am painting myself by looking at a mirror set beside, and slightly behind, my easel. I have also hung a gray piece of fabric behind me to simplify the background.

In the first ten minutes I try to block out a fairly accurate drawing. Note these first marks are made with a soft filbert brush. I’m laying the paint on very thinly. You can see once I lay down a ghosty image I reinforce and correct it with a second darker pass.

This painting took me 160 minutes. I think it’s important to note that in the first hour I used nothing but a no. 10 filbert hog bristle brush. This is something I’ve had to learn with lots of practice. Many of you know I often favor small brushes in my usual work. But for alla prima I’m learning to use something larger. I can cover more real estate more quickly. I do as much as I possibly can with this one brush. I don’t switch to a smaller brush until I can’t go any further with the big one.

Each brush stroke is loaded. I’m laying down opaque paint. In the beginning you can see me “patching around”. What I’m doing is finding my value and color key. I’m also making sure my drawing is working out, correcting as needed as I go. So each stroke includes three decisions: value, color, and position.

Smaller brushes aren’t employed until the larger, simpler form is established. Smaller brushes are used to refine and create form nuances within the larger structure. Very small, softer brushes are used toward the end to tackle some critical areas of detail, mostly around the features.

Ninety-five percent of this sketch was done using hog bristle filberts. I employed some softer red sable brushes for subtlety and key detail.


Brushes: hog bristle filberts, red sable filberts

Palette: titanium white, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, cadmium orange, cadmium red light, terra rosa, transparent red oxide, raw umber, ivory black, quinacridone violet, ultramarine blue, viridian

Canvas: Centurion LX (oil primed)

Medium: a mixture of half walnut oil and half mineral spirits (only as needed)

I will be teaching this method in Brattleboro, Vermont at the end of this month. We have a couple of spots left. Please consider joining us. You can find out more by emailing Andrea Scheidler at highstreetpainters@yahoo.com.

Happy Painting!


Tips, lessons, and other musings on the art life