December 9, 2022

The Freedom of Using an Opaque Medium

Authored By Lisa Larrabee

Why are we so afraid of change? Wow, that’s a big question. Let’s reign it in a bit. Why are we so scared to make changes in our paintings?

Artwork by Lisa Larrabee

Often, the biggest fear is that we won’t like the result. Maybe we are feeling pretty good about a painting and are afraid it won’t be as successful with the change. Sometimes the fear is that we won’t be able to disguise the change and that it will be visible in the final result. Whatever the reason, the fear is more of a mental obstacle than a physical one if you use an opaque medium.

Lisa Larrabee
Opaque vs. Transparent Pigments

Using opaque pigments means that you cannot see through them. This allows us to cover existing areas and make changes directly over the previous layers. Even if you are creating luminous, transparent glazes, you can make opaque changes to your painting and then glaze transparent layers over the top to unify the correction. The most important step is being willing to make the change in the first place.

One way to tackle any uneasiness you have over making changes to your painting is to practice making changes. It sounds too simple, but it is essential to gain the confidence to make the change when it counts. Often, we are willing to take bold steps with our work when we are completely unhappy with the piece. It places us in a what-have-I-got-to-lose mindset. This can be frustrating, but it is also a golden opportunity! Once in this mindset, there is no more fear! The trick is to allow yourself these opportunities without going through the pain of a failing painting. How? Create a designated time for studies and experiments. Give yourself a safe place to fail, rebuild, test, and explore without negative consequences.

Let me use my portrait demo as an example. This demonstration was done over three sessions. With each session, there was a variation I chose to incorporate. It was fun changing her hairstyle and altering her gaze. I enjoy looking back at the stages and seeing how each change affects the overall image. (It’s important to note that objects like the flower and strand of hair could have been covered completely, but I enjoyed the looseness and seeing a bit of the history in this painted sketch).

Art Challenge

  • Choose a simple subject that changes over time.
  • Paint a small, simple study of it from life.
  • Make changes to your painting as your subject changes.

Some things change faster than others. Paint a flower as it blooms and/or wilts, ice cream that melts, or the mountains at different times of the day.

You can choose to document your painting stages to keep a history of the evolution, but don’t allow it to become too precious to paint over. Remember, this exercise is designed to give you the confidence to change your paintings.

Did you accept the Art Challenge? Share your progress on our private forum with friends of the Art Verve Academy.

Follow Lisa Larrabee
on her instructional blog at
or visit her website at

October 27, 2022

Why Draw or Paint from Life?

It enhances essential skills such as visual-spatial thinking, depth perception, creativity, and color awareness. Most of us may be unfamiliar with the benefits.

Drawing or Painting from Reference Photographs

There's nothing wrong with using photographs for reference material. Cameras are a great tool depending on the situation, especially for animals or children that don't stay still. However, they do not fully replicate what we see with our own eyes.

The human eye is a subjective device that works harmoniously with your brain to create what is perceived in your mind. Our vision is complex. Like all other primates, we are unique in that we have both stereoscopic and color vision.

A camera is an absolute measurement device that measures light hitting a series of sensors. It only translates one view through one lens into a two-dimensional flattened image, which may create distortions. It can not replicate the spectrum of color that our human eyes can perceive, and unless you change the settings, most everything is in focus.

Visual-Spatial Thinking

It takes less time to draw from a reference photograph because the three-dimensional shapes have already been translated into two-dimensional shapes.

Drawing or painting from life involves relating one object to another and defining their unique relationships. This is called visual-spatial thinking skills.

Directly translating three-dimensional objects into two-dimensional objects is a skill that involves careful observation to translate shapes into forms that conveys perspective.

Depth Perception

Depth perception is the ability to see objects in three dimensions and to judge how far away an object is. It is a process called convergence. Stereoscopic vision is needed for depth perception and refers to a set of human eyes that are both located on the same plane and look forward with overlapping visual fields.

Although similar to the structure of a modern camera, our eyes will each get a slightly different view or perspective. From there onward, it's all about your brain, which has to fuse the two sets of information together to formulate a view.

Color Awareness

If you are capturing the color, this involves color awareness, a subjective visual human experience that may be influenced by life experiences, gender, age, culture, or biology. You will see fantastic color in life observation. A camera simply cannot replicate the color spectrum that human eyes perceive.

Humans have "Trichromatic" color vision. We have three types of cones or color photoreceptors in the retina (short-wave, middle-wave, or long-wave). Unlike other mammals, this allows us to distinguish between a large set of hue or color families. The cones see in color, but they need a lot of light to fully operate.

We see well in sunlight or moonlight because each eye contains a self-correcting aperture or an automatic focusing system. As light bends through the lens in each eye, you are constantly adjusting the focus and translating the light or photons into electrical impulses.

The more you study color with your own eyes, the more colors you can detect. Drawing or painting from life builds essential skills that will enrich your daily life and heighten your artistic growth. Like any other individual skill, it may be learned with practice.

October 4, 2022

Ancient Pigments

Greek and Roman statues appear white today, but many of these sculptures have confirmed traces of pigments. Statues were brightly painted with rich colors thousands of years ago, proven with modern infrared technology.

Pigments in their natural state (Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece)

Pigments were used to make paints during the Greek and Roman times. Dyes and some dye-based inks are liquid, whereas pigments are not. They come from the earth's minerals.

Pigments in their natural state on display (Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece).

Minerals are collected and pulverized into fine powder by a stone. The fine particles are then held together with a binder like oil or gum arabic. However, before oil or watercolor paints were invented, beeswax bound pigments together in ancient times.

Pigments were in their natural state on display (Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece).

Lead white was also used. Created from a complex process that involved a ceramic pot with vinegar from grapes, producing acetic acid in the bottom. A metal hanging plate (usually lead or copper) was placed inside the pot and heated. This process exposed the metal to acidic vapors without any direct contact. 

Stone is used for pulverizing minerals down to finer particles on display (Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece).

After ten days, a crust would cover the metal (white on lead and green on the copper), which was removed by scraping. The scrapings were washed with water and pulverized into powder using a mortar and pestle.

Mortar and pestle break down the minerals into smaller pieces on display (Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece).

Ancient Greek pigments on display at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, include:

  • Azurite (Netural Blue)
  • Cinnabar (Red)
  • Conichalcite (Green)
  • Hematite (Red)
  • Hydroniumjarosite (Yellow)
  • Lapis Lazuli (Blue)
  • White from Melos Island (White)
  • Malachite (Green)
  • Ochre (Neutral Yellow)
  • Ochre from Cyprus (Neutral Yellow)

For more information on each pigment or the timeline of these pigments, visit "Pigments through the Ages."


  • 2018. Exhibit on pigments. The Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece
  • 2022. "Pigments Through the Ages". Retrieved from

September 11, 2022

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526 – 1593)

Created innovative portraits with exaggerated character traits, using optical illusions that pushed the witty and playfulness of his subjects. His work also reveals an artist's mind, increasingly interested in nature and deeply influenced by his own time, the Age of Exploration. Exotic specimens collected from the New World were meticulously drawn and documented by artists, which would eventually become the disciplines of botany and zoology.

Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. Winter. c. 1563. Oil on limewood. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, Vienna.

"Nature and Fantasy," an exhibition of Arcimboldo's work, was shown from Sep. 19, 2010 - Jan. 9, 2011, and included 16 paintings of fantastic heads on loan from the Musée du Louvre, Paris, the Kunsthistorishes Museum, Vienna, and other private collections. It was the first time his works had been shown in the United States. A 15-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture by American artist Philip Haas, inspired by Arcimboldo's painting Winter, also was on view on the East Building Mezzanine of the National Gallery of Art in association with the exhibit to celebrate the artist's unique portraits. Following the exhibition in Washington, the fiberglass sculpture traveled to the gardens of Versailles, the Palazzo Reale in Milan, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. In contrast, Arcimboldo's oil paintings were relatively small, which would have made these details even more challenging.

Haas, Phillip. Inspired by Winter. c. 2010. fiberglass sculpture, 15' tall. National Gallery of Art.

Arcimboldo was born in Milan as the son of Biagio, a painter who worked for the office of the Fabbrica in the Duomo. Early on, he enjoyed a conventional artistic career, working alongside his father at the Milan Cathedral and learning his trade. He was commissioned and provided designs for stained-glass window stories of St. Catherine of Alexandria vitrage at the Duomo. He later worked in other cathedrals at Monza and Como.

Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. Summer. c. 1563. Oil on limewood. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, Vienna.

With some unexpected luck, Arcimboldo's work came to the attention of Maximilian the second, who happened to be the Holy Roman Emperor. Maximilian II invited him into his Vienna cour,t and in 1562, he became the court portraitist. Here, he painted the first of his famous vegetable portraits, called Spring, a clever arrangement of fruit, flowers, and vegetables that forms the likeness of a handsome noble at first glance or from far away.

Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. Spring. c. 1563. Oil on canvas. 26 x 19.50 in. Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain.

Many of his portraits are whimsical with fantastic wit but also produce a visual representation and narrative. His work became immensely popular with the Holy Roman Emperor and his successors. His results were so popular in the court that he painted several versions of the same one to supply the enormous demand for them during this time. Even after Arcimboldo returned to Milan to retire, he continued to receive recognition and was honored to accept the patronage of Rudolf II, who was the son of Maximilian II.

Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. The Gardener. c. 1598 - 1590. Oil on panel. Museo Civico Ala Ponzone, Cremona.

His portraits were dictated by his subjects but were built with fruits, flowers, vegetables, books, fish, or other objects. Some still life paintings, when turned upside down reveal a portraits. His work also may have had hidden meanings with underlying moral, political, or symbolic significance that would have been well understood by the contemporary viewers of his time.

(Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. Water. c. 1566. Oil on limewood. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, Vienna.

Arcimboldo's portraits were mainly produced for the court and its settings but reveal his unique skill in designing and manipulating the compositional elements and characterized by Mannerism, an artistic movement manifested in the late renaissance, prioritizing ornate aesthetics or self-expression over pursuing idealism.When his eccentric "vegetable" portraits were rediscovered in the 20th century by the Surrealists, his work enjoyed a resurgence of popularity and remains a fascination today.

Reference: National Gallery of Art. "Arcimboldo: Nature and Fantasy," Washington D.C. published by the National Gallery of Art, 2010.


August 15, 2022

Manuel Orazi (1860 – 1934)

Was an Italian painter, draughtsman, illustrator, and poster artist, who elevated a global philosophy in response to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, precisely what we now call the "Art Nouveau" style.

(Orazi, Manuel. Poster for Job Cigarette Paper. c. 1902. lithograph.)

In 1892, he moved to Paris and worked as a newspaper, magazine, and book illustrator, where he illustrated periodicals for L'assiette au beurre and Le Figaro illustre. He also illustrated books by contemporary authors, including Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, and Oscar Wilde.

(Orazi, Manuel. Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt. c. 1895. lithograph.)

In 1892, he moved to Paris and worked as a newspaper, magazine, and book illustrator, where he illustrated periodicals for L'assiette au beurre and Le Figaro illustre. He also illustrated books by contemporary authors, including Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, and Oscar Wilde.

(Orazi, Manuel. L'Atlantide. lithograph.)

His poster designs for the opera and other Parisian theaters heightened his fame, and he soon began to exhibit his work at the Salon des Artistes. In 1896, he received the commission of his career to design a poster for a gallery art show initiated in 1895 by the German art dealer Samuel Bing. This show was to be held at the Maison de l'Art Nouveau gallery (which translates to "House of Art") and exclusively featured the most prominent modern art of its time.

(Orazi, Manuel. La Maison Moderne. c. 1902. lithograph.)

The focus of this show was coordinated in design and color installations of modern furniture, tapestries, and objets d'art (which translates to "everyday objects of art"). Objects shown became so strongly associated with the Art Nouveau style that the name of his gallery subsequently provided a commonly used term for the aesthetics of the style and propelled Orazi's career.

(Orazi, Manuel. L'Atlantide. lithograph.)

In 1912, he illustrated the novel Aphrodite by Pierre Louis. After completing the illustrations for the novel Les fleurs dumal by Baudelaire in Paris, he passed away in 1934, leaving a legacy of work inspired by curved lines, nature, natural forms, and the structures of plants or flowers. He embodied the Art Nouveau style and was famous for being a participant in forming these beautiful aesthetics.

August 1, 2022

Tamara De Lempicka (1898 - 1980)

She was independent, opinionated, and attractive. She embraced her feminine sexuality and used it to her best advantage as she charmed her way into some of her time's most prominent art circles of her time. When well-behaved women rarely made history, she would not go unnoticed and eventually collaborated with other famous artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georgia O'Keeffe.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Jeune Fille Vert. c. 1929.
Oil on canvas. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris.)

She was born in 1898 to a wealthy family in Poland. Her parents divorced when she was thirteen, so she moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to live with her aunt Sefa. Her mother eventually remarried and sent for her, but having grown up in boarding schools, she was already independent and wanted freedom from the aristocratic family. It was a man's world and an aristocracy at this time in Russia. The only way out for women was to marry.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Autoportrait. c. 1925.
Oil on wood. Private collection.)

When Tamara was only fifteen, she spotted the man of her dreams in the audience at the opera in 1913. Although her groom-to-be was a well-known ladies' man, her hefty dowry appealed to the prominent attorney, and they were married three years later. Sadly, the newlyweds would not find happiness. In 1917, Russia was in chaos.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Femme dans Dentelle.)

The Bolshevik party, made up of the working class, began to revolt against the aristocracy. They broke into their house in the night and arrested Tamara's husband. The Petrograd was overthrown with the Red Army rising. During the October Revolution, she searched the prisons for weeks to find her husband. Once found, she secured his release by flirting with the necessary officials. They, with many other upper-class refugees who managed to escape, fled to Paris.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Les Filles. c. 1928. Oil on canvas.)

The couple did not fare well in financial ruin as refugees. Tamara supported them initially by selling her family jewelry. Her aristocratic husband was unable or reluctant to find a job, while Tamara gave birth to their first and only child, Kizette. The domestic situation put a significant strain on the relationship. Tamara took matters into her own hands and began painting portraits to support them.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Portrait de Madame Boucard. c. 1931.
Oil on canvas. Collection Boucard, Paris.)

At this time in the 1920s, Paris evolved as the epicenter of the bohemian lifestyle, embracing creativity, diversity, decadence, and extravagance. In this hot spot of expressive society, Tamara became fascinated with the idea of seduction and the effects of desire. She started to paint from live nudes, which was unheard of for any female during this time.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Kizette Sleeping. c. 1934.)

Tamara began spending more time in the studio than at home to support the family and developed a busy social life to earn commissions. She publically associated with the novelist Violet Trefusis, most notable for her openly gay love affair with Vita Sackville-West, and with the scandalous French novelist and former actress Colette, also known for her famous lesbian kiss on the stage of the Moulin Rouge, which nearly caused a riot at the time. The police were called in to suppress the public.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Printemps. c. 1928. Private collection.)

Collaboration with Picasso and Braque heavily influenced her toward "soft cubism," but eventually, she intentionally developed her own signature style. Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Tamara painted the openly gay French singer and actress Suzy Solidor at different times. In Tarama's case, they eventually became romantically involved with each other.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Suzy Solidor. c. 1933. Oil on wood.)

Frustrated by Tamara's rumored sex life, her husband abandoned her. They divorced in 1928. With her newfound freedom, she soon became obsessed with her work and her ongoing social life. She was commissioned to paint the mistress of her long-time patron, Baron Raoul Kuffner. Tamara finished the piece and then took her place as the new mistress.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Femme a Guitare. c. 1929.
Oil on canvas. Private collection.)

Tamara traveled to Chicago in 1933, where she met and collaborated with Georgia O'Keeffe, Santiago Martinez Delgado, and Willem de Kooning. Tamara married her lover, Baron Raoul Kuffner. After his wife passed away, they eventually moved to the United States.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Andromeda. c. 1929. Private collection.)

The famous pop star and actress Madonna is a huge fan and collector of Lempicka's work. Andromeda was featured at the beginning of Madonna's "Open Your Heart" video in 1987. Femme a Guitare was also shown at the beginning of Madonna's "Vogue" video in 1990.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Portrait de Marjorie Ferry. c. 1932.)

The set, fashion, and costumes of Madonna's "Express Yourself" video in 1989 were heavily influenced by the Portrait of Marjorie and Dormeuse.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Dormeuse.)

Tamara was a pioneer in the twentieth-century art arena for women and proved that they could not just be models but be on the other side of the easel as professionals. Her contribution and legacy leaves style that is unique and still inspires today.

March 26, 2022

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656)

Was a female Italian Baroque painter in a time when women were not accepted as artists, and most were certainly not allowed to paint unless they lived in an Abbey. Today she is considered one of the most accomplished painters in the generation of artists who came after Caravaggio and is well known for painting courageous or strong-minded women from mythology.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Self Portrait. c. 1638. oil on canvas. Royal Collection, Windsor.)

Gentileschi was born in Rome. Her mother passed away when she was twelve. Her grieving father unexpectedly took her on as his apprentice and taught her how to paint like a master. She was the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, an accomplished painter, and talented artist. He introduced her to the famous artists of Rome of the time, including the infamous Caravaggio with whom he was close friends. Caravaggio casually stopped by their home to borrow props and perhaps even encouraged her to paint.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Judith and her Maidservant. c. 1612-1613. oil on canvas. Galleria Palatina, Florence.)

Artemisia's style is characterized by "tenebrism," from the Italian word "tenebroso" (dark or gloomy), which describes a painting style where dark colors dominate over the light ones or the extreme contrasts of light and dark areas have dramatic illumination.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes. c. 1625. oil on canvas. Detroit Institute of Arts.)

In 1611 when Artemisia was 18 years old, Agostino Tassi, an artist who worked with her father, unfortunately, secluded and raped her. When her father found out, he demanded justice and filed formal charges against Tassi for the injury and damage to his daughter's honor.

The trial was horrendous and lasted over seventeen months. Artemisia was physically tortured publicly in the courtroom to recant her statement and test the truth of her accusations. Tassi also presented painful counter-accusations that she was not a virgin, a whore, and a talentless painter.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Penitent Magdalene. c. 1630. oil on canvas.)

During the trial and after, Gentileschi began to design and paint the story of Judith slaying Holofernes from the Bible. Judith was already a popular subject matter of the time, but Gentileschi's portrayal is both original and presents a unique perspective. Tassi was finally convicted and sentenced to prison for the rape but he only served less than one year. He was freed because he had connections with the pope.

(Gentileschi, Artemisia. Yael and Sisara. c. 1620. oil on canvas. Budapest, Szepmuveszeti Museum.)

In 1614, Gentileschi became the first official female member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, only made possible by her most famous patron, the Grand Duke Cosimo II of the Medici family. Artemisia's unusual liberties combined with her traumatic experience allowed her to create some of the best chiaroscuro paintings of her time.

February 1, 2022

Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898 – 1972)

Was a famous Dutch graphic artist otherwise known as M.C. Escher. Uniquely left-handed like Leonardo and Michelangelo, his optical illusions, mind-boggling puzzles, and mathematically inspired woodcuts, mezzotints, and lithographs prints are still in high demand today.

(Escher, M.C. Ascending and Descending. c. 1960. lithograph)

Born in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, Escher was the fourth child. His family moved to Arnhem, where he spent most of his childhood. His father, a working civil engineer, significantly influenced Escher's obsession with architecture and mathematics. Although incredibly intelligent, Escher failed all of his exams in high school and barely made it into the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem.

(Escher, M.C. Hand with Reflecting Sphere. c. 1935. lithograph)

However, his graphic art teacher, Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, looked at his sketches and immediately encouraged him to continue on with the visual arts. With only one week at the school, Escher informed his father that he would study graphic art instead of architecture.

(Escher, M.C. Sky and Water. c. 1938. woodcut)

Escher traveled to Italy after finishing school and was inspired by the countryside. He spent long hours drawing and sketching the designs for the various prints that he would make after returning home. In addition to several trips to Italy, Escher also traveled through Switzerland and Spain. He met his wife in Italy in 1924, and they were both settled in Rome by 1935. As the rise of fascism became prominent, they moved to the Netherlands, where Escher spent the rest of his life.

(Escher, M.C. Belvedere. c. 1958. lithograph)

The patterns that were sculpted into the walls of the Alhambra, a fourteenth-century Moorish castle in Granada, Spain, and the tessellations found on the floors of the Italian basilicas and churches had a significant influence on Escher's work.

(Escher, M.C. Swans. c. 1938. woodcut)

Tessellations are created from repeating shapes covering a plane without gaps or overlaps. A reoccurring theme in Escher's later work. His artistic style is characterized by positive and negative shapes interacting together built around the concepts of infinity, unrealistic constructions, and architecture.

(Escher, M.C. Reptiles. c. 1943. lithograph)

Manipulated architecture, perspective drawing, and fantasy, Escher created his own unique worlds with meticulous detail, mathematically accurate but physically impossible, and his work is certainly amazin.