All about the inspiration behind the art. Acrylic Paintings, Impressionism, Art, Southern, Modern, Contemporary, Coastal, Flowers, Famous Places, New Orleans, Florida, Gulf Coast, Food, Expressionism, Fauve, Cityscapes, Architecture, Decor, Painting, Beach, Tropical, Seascape, Landscape, Still Life Mona Vivar Fine Art: January 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014

When White is Not Really White

In my last post I talked about Frank W. Benson's beautiful handling of white in his paintings.  I learned that his visions in white are actually a result of many colors working in tandem.

I recently did my own experiment with white by depicting an egret in the surf.  I used oil paints to create some of the color notes that I saw in the white dresses in those Benson paintings.  When we look at the egret in Surf Fishing quickly, superficially he does look white.  But closer inspection reveals much more.  Notice the shadows on the bird.  I mixed titanium white with small amounts of alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, phthalo blue and cadmium yellow to darken it and to add reflections coming up from the turquoise water.  White in any lit setting with other colors around it will reflect those colors.


The places on the bird that are the lightest are actually a mixture of white with a tiny bit of cadmium yellow mixed in.  That produced a rich, brilliant color that reads as bright white in this particular painting.  I never use any white straight out of the tube in representational paintings because white out of the tube is not what we see in nature. 
Lesson to be learned: white is not really white when we paint!

Copyright Mona Vivar, Surf Fishing, oil on canvas, 14 inches by 11 inches
Now available on Ebay at Mona Vivar Fine Art

Friday, January 24, 2014

Frank W. Benson, Ibises and Girls in Bright Dresses

I have been painting a lot of bird images lately.  I strive to make each painting better than the last, so I look for ways to improve.  White birds can be especially tricky.  How do you make sunlit white shine in a painting?   

To answer this question I looked back to the paintings of American impressionist, Frank W. Benson (1862-1951).  His paintings of women and girls in white dresses are beyond compare.  Here are two of my favorite examples.

Frank W. Benson, The Sisters, (1899) oil on canvas
Frank W. Benson, Summer, (1909) oil on canvas

I find that the only way to learn from a master such as Benson is to do a study of one of his paintings.  I worked up a small study of the girl in the hat from The Sisters painting.   I painted in oils in order to more closely duplicate the color, tone and style.  I learned that the whites in the painting are reserved for the brightest highlights only.  All the other colors are anything but white! 
The surrounding colors are quite dark when taken separately, but look deceptively light.  The shadows on the dress and hat are full of rich colors--turquoise, pink, blue, purple, yellow.  I would have never understood this had I not tried to duplicate the painting.  This exercise was well worth my time.  I want to paint white birds such as Ibises and Egrets in sunlight with the same dazzling shine.  Now I have a guideline to help me do that.  Here is my completed painting.

Mona Vivar, Girl in Sun (study), 6 inches by 6 inches, oil on canvas
And here is an Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill painting in acrylic using some of the same reflective colorful shadows.  Next week I will have an Egret in the surf worked in oils to discuss.  I like the way these turned out.  I always benefit from taking a lesson!

Copyright Mona Vivar, Mixed Company, 11 inches by 14 inches, acrylic on canvas
Available on Ebay at Mona Vivar Fine Art


Friday, January 17, 2014

Painting a Roseate Spoonbill

I think Roseate Spoonbills are the best birds to depict in paintings.  They are graceful and odd looking at the same time.  The long, wide-tipped bill adds a comical touch to a bird who competes with the flamingo in color.  Spoonbills also add a nice contrast to the rich greenery of Florida.  I jumped at the chance to do a commissioned painting of a Spoonbill recently.  Here is my step by step process of painting Beauty in Motion.
My customer liked a Spoonbill painting that previously sold, so I used that image as a starting point.  I sketched out another pose so that the two paintings would not be exactly alike.  My reference set up and vital coffee and drinking water is shown below.  The book peeking out from the sketch is Artist Confidential: Secret Guidelines of Professionals by Jack White.  I have followed artist Jack White and his artist wife Mikki Senkarik for art advice and find all of their information extremely practical and wise.  The book can be found on  No one paid me to say this.  It's just my honest assessment.

I worked this painting in acrylics.  I use a limited selection of colors to keep my colors from becoming muddy.  I also put a Sta-Wet Masterson paper on top of damp paper towels to keep the paint wet for long periods of time.  I keep my water for brush cleaning handy.  The next photo shows my handy spray bottle and a low sided container with water that I lay used brushes in to keep the paint from drying on the bristles while I am in the middle of painting.

I use a mixture of ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson to sketch out the bird and basic guidelines on my canvas.  The canvas was previously toned with a thin wash of yellow ochre.  I don't like to see flecks of white canvas showing on the finished painting, but I do like a uniform background color to give cohesiveness to the final image.  Toilet paper roll to the left of the painting is the best way to wipe off brushes as I go.  The trash can is just below but not shown.
Everything is constantly changing and being corrected as the painting progresses.  I have to tell myself not to panic at the awkwardness of the middle painting stages.  It's always kind of messy!  I work from the background forward.  The bird will be the center of attention (literally) so I save him for last.
I keep developing the background and bringing color forward.  I lightly spray the canvas with water from time to time to keep the paint workable.   Unlike oils, acrylics dry extremely fast and are a challenge to keep workable on the canvas.
Now I tackle my favorite part, the bird itself.  The pinks, whites and yellows contrast nicely with all the green and blue of the background.  Again, there are constant adjustments of wings, head, body of the bird as I keep going.

Here is the final version (below).  I softened the tree line in the very back because I thought the hard edges made them look like mountains!  I also finished highlights on the water, shaped the bird's head and added his eye.  Of course, I signed the piece at the end.  This bird is now on the way to his new home.
Copyright Mona Vivar, Beauty in Motion, 14 inches by 11 inches, acrylic on canvas




Friday, January 10, 2014

New Rich Thick Oil Paintings

I spent this week working with thick impasto oils.  The experience was very different from working with acrylics.  Instead of racing to keep the paint wet and workable, I had to luxury of loading the paint onto the canvas and working it for as long as I wanted.  I could walk away and take a break during the day without concerns of the paint drying on the palette or the canvas.  I could scrape off any places on the canvas that I thought needed reworking.  A nice experience.
The wait time for the paintings to dry was not excessive.  I used an alkyd gel mixed with the paint to speed up the drying process.  It took about a week for the new oil paintings to be touch dry. 
Here are two of my new paintings for you to enjoy.
Copyright Mona Vivar, Rose Extravaganza, 10 inches by 8 inches, oil on canvas
Available on Ebay starting Sunday, January 12 at 6:00 p.m. PST at
Copyright Mona Vivar, Spring Color, 10 inches by 8 inches, oil on canvas
Available on Ebay starting Sunday, January 12 at 6:05 p.m. PST at

Friday, January 3, 2014

New for 2014

I always view January as a month of fresh starts.  A time to look closely at what the past year brought and to consider what ideas to keep working on and what to change.  No resolutions--just thoughtful revision.
So in addition to my acrylic paintings, I will be adding oil paintings on a regular basis.  Sometimes slow is good.  I do like the rich thickness of buttery oil paint.  Here are a few of the new pieces.  Oh, I am  also running a one week only clearance sale on Etsy paintings (25% off).  It ends January 9.  Enjoy!

Copyright Mona Vivar, Dressed Oysters, 10 inches by 8 inches, oil on canvas
Now on Ebay at Mona Vivar Fine Art
Copyright Mona Vivar, Gladiolus, 14 inches by 11 inches, oil on canvas
Now on Ebay at Mona Vivar Fine Art

Copyright Mona Vivar, Irises, 10 inches by 8 inches, oil on canvas
Now on Ebay at Mona Vivar Fine Art
Copyright Mona Vivar, Flowers for Vincent, 10 inches by 8 inches, oil on canvas
Now on Ebay at Mona Vivar Fine Art