Category Archives: Basic Techniques

Picasa 3 Techniques for Producing Pop Art Template

Picasa 3 was released recently and the feature descriptions seemed too good to be true. Sure enough, they’re real and the user is greater with a friendly interface that is intuitively easy to manipulate for what I call, the Artist’s primary photo editing functions.

And its superb for producing Pop Art Templates, both advanced and Basic. And the additional beauty of this process is you can play around with the canvas color to see what specific color you’d like to use for the first application. This set of step by step instructions will show you how.

Now, if you’re reading this article and havn’t ordered the Basic Techniques of Pop Art from us or know how to create your own “Warhol” style of painting, this article may be a little confusing to begin with. But I’m going to clear the mystery for you right now.

Pop Art is created by painting your entire canvas with a basic color and then tracing a template over the canvas of the individual, animal, pet or object you’re painting. The key to producing good pop art is the photo editor one uses to create the template.

Let me walk you through the basics.

Launch Picasa 3 and pull up your own photo. For my example, I’ll be using a photo of myself that my grand daughter took. She loves taking photos even though she’s six. So I’ve been spending time teaching her how to shoot photos.

This is the photo of Sabrina that she took of me.


She also took a photo of Joe, who manages the security of our systems and custom applications such as the help desk.


Picasa is quite nice. You can perform the following basic Fixes effects in batch:

  • Auto Contrast
  • Auto Color
  • I’m Feeling Lucky
  • Sepia
  • Sharpen
  • Warmify
  • Film Grain
  • Black and White
  • Rename
  • Rotate Clockwise
  • Rotate Counterclockwise
  • Resize Images (Although only to pre-selected sizes)

The first thing you need to do is crop your photo to a rectangle roughly representing the canvas. Your photo, if created using a digital camera produced in the past couple of years will probably larger than the canvas size. In this event, you’ll need to resize your photo.

So, crop the portrait photo so that the face is dominant like you see above.

Next, resize the photo so its equivalent in size to the canvas: 6″x8″ is generally what I do.

Double click on the photo “Joe”.

On the top left you’ll see the Windows Applications bar line. Below that is a single function, Back to Library.

The third row is what we’re looking for. Three tabs entitlled “Basic Fixes”, “Tuning”, “Effects”

Click on the “Tuning Tab”

Slide the highlights and shadows to the right all of the way. Notice the effects each sliding switch has on the Photo.

Now look for the Fill Light Slide. Slide it to the right until you’re satisfied with the image.


Now click on the Effects Tab and go to “Saturation” then slide the saturation slider all the way to the left. In my example below, I slid the slider all the way to the left.


Go Back to the Tunning Tab and slide the Highlights and Shadow sliders all the way to the right. Adjust the Fill Light until the photo looks good. Save a copy, print your template.

To choose what the basic canvas color should be, once you’ve completed the above and saved your copy go back to effects and click on “Tint.”

You’ll notice a color square like a prism on rainbow in the center of the screen, click on it. An eye dropper will appear and as you move your eyedropper to the left or right, the photo will change its tint. This is a great way to review what color would work best for your pop art painting. What do you think looks great for Joe?

joe5.jpg joe-step-3.jpg joe-step-4.jpg joe-step-5.jpg

Here’s how the pop art for Darrell turned out:

First crop the photo as we did above and resize to your canvas size.


Set the Shadows/Highlight/Fill Light slider switch on the Tuning tab.


Go to Effects, set slider for Saturation all the way to the right. then go back to the tuning tab and again readjust the highlight/shadows/fill light slider switches until you have the appropriate template. Save a copy of your photo.


Go back to the Effects tab and click on tint. Click on prism box and maneuver your eyedropper until satisfied with the final color for your Pop Art Canvas.


This photo editor is free and available from Google.

Enjoy and share with us all your photos and final paintings. I would love to hear from you.


So………What About Using A Video Camera?

Darrell, you’ve been talking a lot about using a digital camera for photographing reference information, so what about using a Video Camera? Does this make sense? Sharon Blevins.

Hi Sharon, actually uzing a video camera is an excellent choice. And like a digital camera, you can download the photos (film) into your computer. But there are distinct advantages you will enjoy once the film is loaded if you know how to use your film editor. Let me review them for you.

You can go frame by frame through the scene you’re investigating until you get the exact, correct frame you’re looking for. You can wait for the perfect lighting, the perfect composition, the perfect ‘power pull’, etc… (The power pull is what I call the attractiveness of a scene that pulls a viewer into the painting. Have you ever been drawn into just staring at a particular painting? Well that’s the power of the pull of this painting, hence the term.)
Most video cameras have a low-light capability so if you’re taking photos at night, you’re chances are success are very good indeed. So if you’re planning a night photo scene, bring along your digital video.
And its great for shawdows as well. The video camera adjusts to the lighting and does a better job in bringing in the details of subjects in the shadow.
You can film your subject in as many positions or 360 degrees in a relatively short time. I especially like walking in a half or full circle around the subject, and the video will quickly help you ascertain which frame provides the best delivery of the scene and with ‘Power Pull’. This is especially powerful when I’m arranging florals, or outside photographing a flower bed.
As with a digital camera there’s no cost for development or film. So you can take as much film as you want, choose what you like, erase the rest and there’s no cost.
Action selection. I found the use of a video camera unbelievable in capturing the essence or character of animals when filming them. For pets, this is a great assist. For wildlife, it is indispensable. As we do portraits of both, we’re really putting the ‘character’ into the ‘power pull’ of the animal.
Once loaded into the computer, you can immediately view your scenes, make compositional choices. And cropping choices. I would suggest you make compositional choices by using thumbnails. If your composition will not grab your attention as a thumbnail, it will not do so as a large painting. Your first pass in viewing your stills or frames should be in viewing the pull and composition from thumbnails. Your painting needs to grab your viewer’s attention from as far away as 30 feet. To provide this, review all of the paintings you’ve done, picking out the ten most popular. Place them 30 feet away. How do they look? Do they still grab your attention? Put your unpopular paintings up? See the difference. Have you ever noticed that juried shows will frequency ask for 35 mm slides or thumbnails of your art upon submission. This is their first pass in eliminating applicants. So get tough on yourself by making the initial composition selection using thumbnails.
If you need a pattern, you can print out your candidate the very size oyou need. Often you’ll need a software program like a layout editor or publisher allows you to position a photo across several physical pages of the size your printer can print out. I happen to use MS Publisher, but Quark and others are really good for this as well. Has anyone does this with Wordperfect or MS Word?
I like to print out an 8×11 of the scene so I can laminate the printout. With the laminated printout, I can put smudges of paint onto the subject I’m painting to match up color, brightness, shadows, etc…

So Sharon, yes, by all means use your video camera to shoot your reference material. But your success will be directly proportionate to your ability to use your video editor.

I’m Just Getting Mud When I Tap In Grass

Let’s review the basic steps for highlighting grass.I like using either the 1″ or the 2″ brush and believe the video shows both.

1. Take a clean brush.

2. Dunk about 1/4″ of the brush into medium white or medium clear

3. Go onto your palette and in a clean mixing area, tap down so that the excess medium is removed from the brush.

4. Move to an adjacent area, or into the yellows and load up your brush with paint. Add green, blues, blacks, reds, or whatever you’re using to the yellows to mix the paint to the desired grass color.

5. While mixing, be pulling your paint toward you (flat) with your brush until the edge is almost chiseled.

6. Now you’re ready for the final loading.

7. Slide your brush forward in the paint mix at a 45 degree angle so that a small bead of paint begins to form on your pallette. Then tap slightly at a 45 degree angle until the bead of paint is at least an 1/8″ thick.

8. Look at your brush. The top of the brush will have a similar bead of paint on it and when you turn the brush 180 degrees over, there will be no paint on it.

9. Now beaded paint side of the brush is on top.

10. Hold the brush at a 45 degree angle whereby your hand is below the bristles edge at a 45 degree angle.

11. Lightly tap onto the grass surface. The canvas will take the paint it wants and leave you the rest. Don’t hit the same spot more than once. Jump around if you like, but don’t hit the same spot again.

12. Rewatch the grass video and you’ll see what I just shared with you above.

Some of the common problems are:

1. Way too much medium on the canvas when it was initially prepped.

2. The dark underneath layer is not dark/green enough.

3. Not enough paint on the brush.

4. Too much medium on the brush

5. Pressure is too hard.

6. Brush held at the wrong angle.


is the last one. What happens is most grass work is done mid to lower on the canvas and people are standing above their canvas and its impossible to hold the brush correctly where your hand is below the brush bristles by 45 degrees when you’re standing above the canvas. So sit down, pull the easel to the edge of the table and lower that hand and you’ll be amazed at the results.

Suresh, good to talk with you again. It has been awhile.

How’s Texas these days?


How Do I Get The Snow To Break When Painting Mtns?

Darrell. I have a question on mountains. I have your video. When you go to highlight your mountain, is there quite a bit of paint on the edge of the knife? I talked to a certified TV instructor and she says there is a lot of paint on the edge; that that is the only way you can get the highlight to break as you go down the mountain? Is that true??? –Loren

Hi Loren,
You’re actually asking two questions…..(1) How do I get the snow to break when painting mountains? and (2) how thick should I have the bead of paint on the edge of a palette knife?

Yes, you do need to have a good bead of paint on the edge of the knife. Is it Large or small? Mine is typically 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick. Any larger and the bead will work against you.

Let me explain the concept behind painting with a knife.

The knife’s small edge is the only surface that comes into contact with the canvas, so the only way you can paint with it is by having a bead that looks like a small welding bead along the length of the knife. As you paint with the knife, the paint quickly transfers to the painting surface. The bead helps you to keep the knife edge loaded with paint so you can paint longer. The larger the bead, the longer you can paint without reloading.

Imagine for a second you holding your knife at a 90 degree angle to the canvas. As you move across the canvas the paint is transferred from the edge onto the canvas. Before long you’re out of paint. The only way to have more paint is by lowering your handle of the knife until its almost flat up against the canvas. This means you’re using a lot of pressure to force paint off the knife and the paint is coming from halfway up the knife. Neither gives you the control you need. So a good bead is essential to keep your knife supplied with paint.

Getting the white paint to break is a matter of little to no pressure on the knife. Using no pressure, simply guide the knife along the mountain. The canvas will take what it needs as the knife passes over causing the paint to break, giving the broken snow affect.

So when painting snow on a mountain using a palette knife, use a 1/8″ or slightly larger bead of paint and little to no pressure as you apply to the side of the canvas.

My Waterfall Looks More Like a White Cottonball

Darrell. I’m having so much trouble painting that beautiful waterfall on your Basic Techniques of Oil Painting Water DVD. What am I doing wrong…….Vivian.

Hi Vivian, let me review exactly how I paint that waterfall and you let me know if anything is different from what you’re doing. First, I take a new canvas and coat it with Black Gesso and let it dry thoroughly. This should take about 30 minutes. Faster if you use a hair dryer on high heat.

Then cover the entire surface of the canvas with Clear Medium. Wipe off the excess with a clean, dry paper towel.

Now cover the canvas with a thin coat of Prussian Blue (or any other dark blue you have).

Using a #3 Bristle Fan brush, load your brush with a small amount of medium clear, Titanium White and a touch of Pthalo Blue until you’re satisfied with the color. I generally pull the fan brush toward me 3 or 4 times across the paint, flip it over and repeat the process. This gives me a nice chiseled edge.

Go to the top of the waterfall. You want to paint an upside down “L.” Hold the paint brush level so that the tips of the brush is against the canvas and draw a line from right to left. Make sure your paint brush bristles do not bend. If the brush bristles begin to bend it means you’re using too much pressure. Just relax your grip until the bristle s straighten and you’ll be find.

Pull the the paint brush straight across from right to left to where the waterfall drops. Then without stopping and using normal speed, simply go straight down the canvas without bending the bristles. Continue the stroke in one movement from the top of the waterfall to the bottom. Repeat this process to make the waterfall as wide as necessary.

The key is a small amount of medium clear and little pressure.

I’m Having Trouble Getting My Buildings Right

Darrell … When I try to do a painting from a picture post card, I find I am not sure how to start or set the scenes up for buildings. I can do the medium white background, the skies and clouds, and no trouble with the mountains. But the buildings are something else. Phil

Hi Phil, Often I use one of two options to ensure I get a building absolutely correct. Especially if its shape is unique.
Option 1: Contact paper.
I’ll trace from the photo or resource information to capture the exact shape of the building. Just the outside and any distinguishing windows doors, roof lines, etc…. Next. I re-enforce the lines with a script liner. I use the ultra thing black script liner. Then I will go down to an paper copier and blow the drawing up to the actual size I want to use on my canvas. Trace the drawing onto the self-adhesive contact paper. Cut the drawing out, peel off the paper from the sticky side of the contact paper and place the drawing exactly where I want it in the painting. I’ll then paint the scene as I normally do. When the painting is completed, I’ll peel off the contact paper and paint in the building.
Option 2: Copy drawing onto wet canvas.
I’ll trace from the photo or resource information to capture the exact shape of the building. Just the outside and any distinguishing windows doors, roof lines, etc…. Next. I re-enforce the lines with a script liner. I use the ultra thing black script liner. Then I will go down to an paper copier and blow the drawing up to the actual size I want to use on my canvas. At this time, I’ll paint the painting as I’d normally do and then when I’m ready to do the building I’ll grab the drawing. Place it on the painting where you’d like the building, and using a pencil trace the drawing onto the canvas. When done remove the paper and you’ll see the outline of the building in your wet painting. Now you have a choice, (1) Use a palette knife and scrape out the the area for the building using the techniques as shown on the Basic Technique of Oil Painting: Cabins and Buildings, or (2) Use a paint eraser to scrape out the area for the building. All that remains is for you to paint your buildings with either a brush or palette knife. Should the paper smudge at all while you’re putting the tracing on, its easy enough to fix.

Painting A Crashing Wave.

Some suggestions for painting a crashing wave.

On the dump, do not bring your highlights all the way over to the bottom of the crash. Pretend your dump is going over a barrel. Just highlight enough to show the direction that the water is going. That way, there will be dark between the dump and the splash underneath.
When doing the splash and foam up and around the eye, do in 3 steps.

  • Block in the grey.
  • Highlight only top half of grey.
  • Blend border between grey and highlight.

    Optionally blend, very, very lightly the foam.

    Your foam pattern is important to show the curvature of the inside of the eye of the wave. Ensure the work is coming along very nicely.
    Make sure your beach is well laid out and always try to design the beach such that it is not going off the canvas on both sides. One is OK.

    Complement the sky color with the beach color.

  • I’m Having Difficulty Painting Clouds On Artboards

    There may be another problem than how to make clouds.

    First, you’re using artboards. They have a tendency to absorb way too much medium white. That makes layering of paints difficult and translates into all kinds of problems.

    You might try using a lot less medium white on your artboards. If that doesn’t work, than try the next suggestion.
    Now…. artboards require different levels of pressures than using on canvas. You may be pressing way too hard. Try extremely light touches with your brushes.
    Consider the following as a low cost alternative to using canvas.

    Buy a pad of canvas papers from AC Moore. The 16×20 or 18×24 whatever you like. And then buy a canvas of equal size. Thumbtack a sheet of canvas paper to your canvas. Paint your painting and then thumbtack a new canvas sheet to your canvas each time you want to paint one.

    This gives you the feel of canvas at a much lower price. Then I just thumbtack finished paintings to a basement wall until they’re dry.

    How Can I Make Beautiful, Fluffy Cumulus Clouds?

    There’s an unlimited way of making clouds. I will share just a few with you.

    First off, do not be concerned if your white is old or new. What you should be concerned about is the dryness of the paint. The dryer, the more difficult the paint to work. The more flexible, the better. Titanium White is thick to stand up to the severe brush strokes used to make clouds and highlight mountains.

    So brand is perhaps the most critical criteria for successful clouds.

    Given you have sufficient quality of the white paint the next question is what brush are you using? That will determine the application of paint onto the canvas. I typically use a large fan brush (#10), the 2″ brush, the 1″ landscape brush, or the filbert.

    The easiest method is the 2″ brush. Than the fan, the 1″ and finally the filbert.

    Do not use pure white. Always tint your color, even slightly with another color. I typically use yellow ochre for bright, bright red or alizarin for sunny days, blue for cloudy days, grey for darker moods and sets of colors. I guess my most common tint is either Alizarin Crimson or Yellow Ochre.

    The next consideration is your canvas. Is this a black or white canvas? Are there other colors background painted onto the sky?

    The reason for this question is you do not want a really dark sky and then untouched white for clouds. The contrast is too great. Match the intensity of the color of your sky with the intensity of the color of the clouds. For beginners, this may sound complicated. But if you learn to ask yourself one question each time you mix color, it will dramatically improve your skills. This is the question.

    Do I need a lighter or darker color because I sure don’t want to use pure white?

    Now, surprise, surprise. Making clouds is not about how you put the paint on the canvas. The secret of beautiful clouds is in the blending. You can mix the best color in the world. You can apply the paint to the canvas with perfection. You can shape the cloud during application more dramatic than this planet has ever seen, but if you have a heavy hand during blending, you destroy everything.

    Cultivate the light touch. Beautiful clouds are the product of proper blending.

    I use either the two inch or the blender brush only to blend. To develop a light touch, I suggest you learn with the 2″ brush.

    Preparing the paint for the clouds is a matter of tinting with a warm, light or cool color. Than deciding if you want to soften the paint. I never use liquid white. If anything, I may use a slight amount of liquid clear.

    Notice the word “slight.” That means very little.

    The only time I use the liquid clear is if the paints or the canvas or the lack of humidity is drying the paint really quick and I’m having trouble getting the paint to stick. Than I’ll add a bit of liquid clear so the paint will stick and I’ll have an easy time to blend. I must use more caution and an even lighter touch for blending.

    Another decision to make is on the use of a shadow in the cloud. I’ll typically use a blue or red lavender or a blue grey. You swirl this color into the area which will be the darker portion of the cloud, blend and then apply the lighter cloud color above the dark. Blend the border so one cannot tell where one color begins or the other ends and fluff the tops of the cloud.

    Application of the paint to the clouds can be done with several brushes as previously stated. For the 2″ brush I will tap the top 20% of the bottom edge of the brush into the paint until a lot of paint is loaded. Than I will tap in the same fashion onto the canvas shaping the clouds as I go. Once this is completed, and I’ve outlined the entire top shape of the cloud I will tap in the body of the cloud and then blend. For the 1″ brush I will load the brush as though I was making a bush and then using small circular strokes, shape the outside edge of the cloud. Once this is completed, I will swirl the remainder of the paint to fill in the body of the cloud and then blend.

    For the Fan brush I thoroughly load the tips of the large fan brush so that each side of the brush has a narrow, but plump bead of cloud color. Than using tight circular motions, I will apply the paint to shape the cloud. Once the shape of the cloud is completed, I will fill in the body of the cloud with the remaining paint on the fan brush and blend.

    Blending is the process of smoothing out the paint onto the canvas to remove the brush strokes, but leave in the color variation. It requires a light touch that is developed over time. Most problems with cloud making comes from too heavy a hand when blending. Lighten up. Begin at the bottom of the cloud using just the top 10-20% of the bristles on the 2″ brush. It’s long length is what makes it an excellent brush for blending. Using a small, tight circular motion lightly blend the bottom of the cloud and move up toward the top of the cloud. Stop just short of the edge. You do not want to blend the edge. Once the cloud is blended, than you need to fluff. Fluffing is taking your brush and lightly arching up the edge of your cloud. You’re using very, very little pressure.

    It’s like almost three hairs of the entire 2″ brush. Always fluff toward the center top of your canvas. This will catch the edge of your clouds and lift them up slightly and toward the canvas center.

    Stand back and you should have perfect clouds.

    If you find the edges are too dull, reapply paint with a pallette knife to the edges you want to brighten and refluff.

    I cover all of the steps above on my Basic Techniques DVD which I give away free. This is a special offer I’m giving people who visit my website this summer. It will end shortly, so take advantage while you can.

    I Make Mud Well, But Want Beautiful Bushes Instead

    Hi Darrell: I have been working on the bushes DVD, and I am having a hard time getting my bushes to look like the ones on the video, One thing is when I go to highlight, I find that I have so much paint (for me anyway) that I seem to only get mud, If I cut down the paint I don’t get any highlighting, or so light that you can hardly see it, also the dark comes off on to my brush and when I go to the palate for more paint it mixes in and gives me a horrible color, I have tried to wipe the green off but I cant get enough of it off with out taking off the liquid white, then I have to go through the whole loading thing? Do you have any suggestions, I am using the 2″ landscape brush, and I have tried the 1″ also. Chuck.

    Hi Chuck, hardly a days goes by that someone isn’t talking to me about how to make better bushes. Seems this is a major problem areas for students. So I’m just picking your letter as the one to respond to on the Newsletter. You did a fine job in explaining your issue.

    I’ve thought about your email quite a bit. You’ve provided a lot of details and as I evaluate your email your problem could be caused by one or more of the following problems.

    Sometimes I think you’re problem might be too much pressure.
    OR, maybe you’re doing something while you’re pressing that’s getting you in trouble
    OR, maybe it’s the way you’re loading the brush.
    OR, maybe it’s the way you’re mixing the color.

    So, let’s go over the fundamentals again.

    The dark, base color is already painted onto the canvas and it has NO medium in it.

    Mixing Color.

    Take a clean 1″ brush and dunk in the last 1/4″ to max 1″2 inch into the liquid white. Now the Liquid White (TM) should be thin, not real thick. Most of the time I find when you open a never-before-opened can of Liquid White, its way too thick. So I take odorless thinner and add some to it. Re-seal the can and shake it up real good. Liquid White, in my opinion, should be thin enough that if you put the handle end of a fan brush into it that 2 or 3 drops fall from the handle back into the can. If it doesn’t add more thinner. This is what you dip your 1″ brush into.

    Now look at the bush video again. See how I take a 1″ brush with liquid white and pull it through the paints. It’s a wrist action. I hold the brush straight up and down. Pull toward you letting the bristles pick up the paints. Once the bristles have passed over the paints, lift up the brush and repeat the process. As you’re repeating the process look at the palette. If the paints where you’re pulling start to look like they have a latice imprint on them, you have sufficient paint on your brush. So now you’ll be ready to paint your bush.

    Remember on the video how I show to touch the canvas with the brush. Angle the brush so that as you come into touching the canvas only the top 10 or 15 hairs are touching the canvas. Keep those hairs at that point while you finish making the impression. Now push in gently toward the canvas so that the hairs underneath the top 15 bend upward and lightly touch the canvas. This is what causes the latice impression that really gives you big excitement on the canvas.

    A word of caution here. Too often I’ve observed in my classes that students do a real good job of putting the first 10 or 15 hairs onto the canvas. But, as they bend the brush upward to bring the lower brush hairs into contact with the canvas, they kind of slide the brush upward or flick it upward. This is a major no no. Those 10-15 hairs must remain stationary. Do not let them move. So double check yourself here.

    Remove the brush from the canvas and move to the next spot to highlight right next to your first impression. Repeat this process until you’re entire bush is painted. Then I will go into the interior of the buush using the same process but with even lighter touches. This allows the bush to look darker and darker as you effectively look into it. Brightest highlights are on the outside.

    Now the hardest thing, but it’s a must, is when making many bushes, save the darks. Save the darks for the interior of the bushes and save the darks to separate bushes. You can break the rules now and then, but not always. Your darks are your friends, so preserve them for the most part.

    I try to complete one bush before I go to the next. Don’t forget to scratch in those sticks and twigs with a palette knife or liner brush.

    I only reload when I need to. I can tell when its necessary on two occasions.

    First, when I’m running out of paint, it will become harder and harder for me to make those lattice impression. I’ll find myself pushing harder and harder on the brush. At this moment, its best to just relax, remove the brush from the canvas, wipe the dark off, if any — and generally there is, with a paper towel and then reload.

    Second, if I need to change colors. Remember the next time you’re in the woods, look around. All the vegetation and bushes, while green, seem to have their own shade. Nature has never been in the military so vegetation will not grow in formation, nor do they all dress the same and look the same. Nature is a rebel and all of creation has their own irregular shapes and colors.

    I think these suggestions will help you out quite a bit. Let me suggest you rewatch bush making on the DVD again a couple of times and compare these notes.