Karen LeGault ~Fine Art Blog

November 8, 2015

How Long Does it Take to Do a Painting?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 11:28
Tags: , , , , ,

This is a question I get occasionally from people who are visiting my booth at an art festival.
The answer is almost as varied as the paintings.
There are so many factors involved. Of course there is the smart-assed reply that it took however long I am old, … not admitting anything here : ) .

Seriously, skill develops over time with an artist’s maturity and interests, and there is some truth to that answer!

But in real time, it depends on the size , approach and the complexity of the piece.

A painting I completed recently, “On Spanish Creek VI” was painted over a five year period. I would work on it for intense week or two week long bursts of time at the site of the scene, and then work on it over another few weeks or months  in my studio, but not as intensely, each year.

That time of actually painting that painting was preceeded by 12 years of painting other paintings in the same series as well as numerous pen and ink studies, small watercolor studies and studying Asian landscape techniques which I was also teaching to others during the same time period. (If you want to learn something well, then teach it!) I am a believer in becoming familiar with your subjects.

An original painting is being invented for the first time, imagined into being, whether it is based on a real place or an imaginary place. Composition is critical. You cannot simply paint over a watercolor painting if you don’t like where you put something! If the main shapes don’t work together, or the lines are not elegant, it can be lost. With oil or acrylic you can change the painting to something entirely different if you don’t like it. This means that the further you get into a watercolor painting, the higher the stakes in making it work. A wrong turn can negate hours and hours of work!

Having already completed a number of small studies before undertaking a large project helps to solve some of the problems that the eventual larger painting will present. Working those problems out helps to ensure a strong beginning.

A large still life painting starts with having some interesting seasonal offerings – fruit, flowers or vegetables available. If they are from someone’s garden, they seem to offer even more energy. The “energy” of the subjects is important too!

The subjects begin to attract objects and the color palette of the composition of the painting begins to fall into place. None of the subjects or objects can be the same size or shape (unless it is one of several types of the same thing, like several tomatoes that all might be similar in size) There are several other considerations that go into the composing of the piece, but a dedicated period of time is required to work on it before those things go out of season or spoil or the painter (me) looses the momentum of the vision or time and has to put it aside to work on next year.

Again, as with landscapes, a large still life painting is best approached with some small studies to work out some of the technical problems that will present themselves. Once begun it  will take a minimum of 7 to ten days to complete.

Of course there are paintings that can be painted in a few hours. They have usually developed out of a line of interest in the particular subject. Some of the more traditional brush paintings like plum blossoms, bamboo, or simple flower paintings in small sizes can be painted in a couple of hours by the time you put in a background refine the details and mount them. The more realistic they are, though, the longer it takes to refine, detail and balance the work.

There are other hidden time costs besides time in the actual production of a painting. Maybe subject for another time!


January 22, 2015

Engineering in Art ~ The Creative Process in the Evolution of a Painting

Filed under: Artists,Floral/Botanical — by Karen LeGault @ 02:44
Tags: , ,

by Karen LeGault

All writing and paintings in this article copyright by Karen LeGault. If you share please give credit to Karen LeGault and post a link to my website – http://www.karenlegault.com.

Engineering in Art 

“One of the things that really struck me when talking with you is that you use a predictable and disciplined approach to your creative work – it’s not a random walk in the dark that I think many non-creative types think creativity is about.  Rather you have the structure built into your process to allow the creative juices to flow and the art to take form through “design” and iteration.  That’s the core of any successful innovation, in my mind anyway.” Kevin McGourty http://www.inpdcenter.com

How my Persimmon Paintings Have Evolved

Recently I was speaking with my friend Kevin McGourty, who helps engineers and manufacturers figure out how to reformat existing tools to create new products. As a visitor to my studio he was particularly interested in the creative process of how paintings evolve.

He said that one of the issues he often faces with engineering types was they wanted their answers in a straightforward manner. One of his challenges was to get engineers to let go of the need for a direct answer and to “play around” with some ideas and options to see where they lead.

One of the many subjects my students have painted as a class project over the years has become a Persimmon Painting. It didn’t start out as a persimmon painting. It started out as a Loquat Painting.

In teaching Chinese Brush Painting we learn by copying the excellent compositions and brushstrokes of paintings of Master Painters who we admire.

One of the many Masters who we have emulated is Chao Shao An, who excels at the Lingnan School style of painting. The Lingnan School is a “Southern” style exemplified by an environment that is warmer, hence softer, intimate and even somewhat tropical. By contrast, to give you an idea, the “Northern” style often shows imposing and cold looking mountains, sharp and angular composition and brushstrokes as opposed to flowing and rounded.

Chao Shao An is widely collected and shown by the Asian Art Museum in SF. His brush strokes are wonderful and the control of dark and light ink very compelling.

Here is a picture of  Loquat Painting by Chao Shao An that I have long enjoyed.


Loquat Painting by Chao Shao An

After a few years of painting (every so often) paintings inspired by this painting as a “jump-off” point, I began to think to myself that since I rarely, if ever, have seen a Loquat Tree that I would turn the painting subject, in a similar composition, into a Persimmon Painting. I do adore Persimmons and I had painted them from life into many of my still lifes.


Persimmon in a Silver Dish, still life on hot press paper circa 1996

View from my bedroom window

Inspiration when I wake up…A view of a persimmon tree from my bedroom window.

 People forget that when you paint on rice (actually a mulberry source) paper, there is no going back and redoing your composition. The strokes need to be in the right place, or you need to be able to follow up on seeming poorly placed strokes to recover the balance and movement that you are aiming for.

So it started to look like these, from imagination using a series of various brushstrokes.



or like these – from life examples I placed on my work table to work fromPersimmons


Sometimes I revisit the original composition and opt for minimal brush strokes.


After that the painting began to look more like these

Persimmon Branch - Version 2


… and I started going back and forth between a direct brushy style and a more built up and layered style.


I enjoy both styles, but as an artist ultimately want to move towards an expression that is uniquely my own.


40″ wide

Currently this is the evolutionary development.

This long horizontal was a radical departure from the earlier compositions. There are many small branches rather than one main branch. Maintaining the interest while “spreading out” the subject matter was a challenge. If poorly planned, the shapes could be repetitious and uninteresting. I want a flow across the paper, the “breath of the dragon” to still be in play.

Partly from life and partly from imagination, I created a sense of overlapping leaves to lead the eye back and forth into the depth of the painting to stay engaged.

Currently I was  inspired by a new client to create a painting based on it that would be taller. This was even more of a challenge,  creating a sense of movement across a frontal space with fairly repetitive forms. I had to keep the forms balanced in the lights and darks and wanted to keep the rich fall colors. One of the challenges is to avoid parallel lines. Basicly this is a composition of lines balanced with oval shapes. The space between the branches is really critical to a dynamic composition. The placement and turnings of the leaves and fruit shapes has to keep the eye in motion and in the picture. It would be a simple matter to let it “die on the vine”, so to speak.

Here is the painting in progress. It is currently being created. Several studies preceded its inception.

Cameron commission persimmon painting in progress

In Progress – Cameron commission persimmon painting

November 7, 2013

Working with Pen and Ink

Filed under: Floral/Botanical,Uncategorized — by Karen LeGault @ 19:01
Tags: , , ,


by Karen LeGault

In my high school art classes everyone had a chance to work with pen and ink. In those days we used the crow quill pens that you would dip into a jar of ink to draw with. Inevitably there were always blobs from the nib that drop here and there, or smudges from a hand as the quill moved across the paper dragging a splotch from a blob.

A few years later a friend encouraged me to work with a rapidograph pen, a technical pen with a vulnerable filament of a needle that had a chance of bending if you took it apart to clean it. The beauty of using the pen lies in its perfect lines and permanent ink, non-soluble ink.

Fortunately rapidograph pens evolved and the vulnerable needles are now encased in a cartridge barrel that protects it from the user. The cartridges can be replaced when they wear out.

The drawback of these technical pens is that the ink that is formulated to be used in these pens may dry between uses, causing the needle to stick in the cartridge, requiring a thorough soaking with water and a dissolving agent to free up its movement and release of ink. There has been more than a few times when I soaked a pen cartridge for a few days in a solution of ammonia and water to get it to loosen up.

In Today’s Art Stores there are numerous disposable technical pens, drawing pens that do not have the problem of drying ink. Line work looks pretty good, though nothing really beats the clean line of ink released from a metal nib in a barrel such as a Rapidograph.

When I first started drawing plants in pen and ink, I drew them using the cross hatch style that grew out of the printing industries need to receive image images that separated the ink on their plates enough so that ink wouldn’t look blotchy and build up on the printing plates too thickly after repeated printings. Using cross hatching you can indicate the shading and subtle changes of plane that plants have a lot of. Think of the drawing of Durer for example.

As I grew dissatisfied with the mechanical look of cross hatching and began to aim for a more free and fluid look I began to draw without the cross hatching and to use instead scribbles and dots to help see the shifts in plane.

I spent several years drawing almost exclusively with a pen when I had time, refining my ability to record “place in space”, passing many hours at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden “interviewing” single plants and filling my notebooks with our meetings.

Drawing with the limitations of a pen, which has a singular sort of line, eventually segued into applying everything I had learned into the multi-dimensionality of the bamboo brush used in Oriental Brush Painting.


I found that a pen and ink “study” would increase my understanding of the forms within a subject rapidly so that executing the same with a brush was more successful.

Above is an example circa 1986 of a pen and ink drawing that I added watercolor to.

©Karen LeGault


Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.