How to Paint a Landscape Background in Your Figure Painting

William Bouguereau, was a 19th Century French Academic painter. His technique was the zenith point of representational painting. He was able to catch the very nuances of light shifts and color changes to create breathtaking, life-like figure paintings.  Mr. Bouguereau’s realism is unsurpassed, before or since, in all of art history. With that being said, let’s learn from the best, just how do we paint the landscape as a background to our figure paintings?

Bouguereau’s work, “Breton Brother and Sister“, is the perfect example of a very effective way of using the landscape to create a background in a work of art. Notice that in this piece, the stars of the painting are the two figures in the foreground. Their colors are well saturated and vivid with a full dynamic range of values. Their warm skin tones and red skirt leap out of the painting. Light and dark tones are next to one another to attract your attention.

The background, or “supporting actor”,  is much more muted with an abbreviated range of values. The colors of the foliage are less saturated and cooler in temperature.  All of these elements push the landscape much further into space while pushing the figures even closer to us.  Everything is done intentionally; much as a movie director composes a scene in a film.

Remember that the background needs to be painted as a backdrop and never to compete with your figures. Keep this in mind next time you work on your figure painting’s composition.

Please check out and subscribe to my YouTube channel,  where I give free lessons and demonstrations on airbrush, pastel and drawing techniques.

What is the best Air Pressure for Airbrush?

The Best PSI or Air Pressure Revealed

Since I have been blogging and posting videos on YouTube I have been asked this question a lot. It has always been a big mystery.  Some airbrush artists say 15 PSI while others say over 45 PSI. That is quite a disparity!  I was even more confused than when I started my quest for the best PSI, years ago.  I am going to share my own answer from what I have learned with the countless hours of painting in airbrush and much experimentation.

If you are not airbrushing t-shirts, you always want to reduce your paint to the consistency of skim milk or thinner (ink is already perfect out of the bottle). Since you are working with thin paint or ink, set the PSI on your compressor to 30 PSI. This will help you if you need to shoot out a rich opaque like white.

Make sure that you have some kind of micro adjustment valve on your airbrush. With the MAC valve you will be able to adjust the air pressure at the airbrush that works best with your paint and the amount of detail you are desiring.

Remember to always try and find the sweet spot, fine tune the MAC valve while you are working and don’t worry too much about the exact PSI. If your paint or ink is spidering, lower the air pressure on the MAC valve or increase the airbrush’s distance from the surface. Play around with it. Much is to be learned through experimentation.

If you follow my advice, you won’t need to worry about PSI again. If you are working with t-shirts, that is a different story.

How to Control the Airbrush

30 minutes per day will make you an “airbrush control freak” in one year.

That is all that it would take.  Nothing takes the place of consistent practice, By practicing a small amount of time every day for one year, you will create muscle memory and your airbrush control will happen naturally.

If you set your practice schedule as immovable blocks of minutes, you will be able to reach this seemingly lofty goal of practicing every day. I make sure that I do my paintings in airbrush during the one hour in the morning before the phones will ring.

I learned more about controlling my airbrush through the act of practicing than any lesson or seminar could ever.


My Airbrush and India Ink Story

How to Airbrush the Portrait in India Ink, Each Week and Why?

Timothy John-Luke Smith

Portrait of John Coltrane

India Ink and Airbrush

I didn’t set out to work in airbrush and India Ink. I am a classical trained artist with an extensive and intense curriculum. For over 8 years of training, I learned how to use many mediums such as oil painting, watercolors, pen and ink, acrylic, graphite and pastels.  How did a classically trained artist ever pick up the airbrush, you might ask?

After graduation from art school I finally set my mind on the medium that I would concentrate on. That medium was pastel painting. I learned how to paint the portrait and figure in pastels with Harvey Dinnerstein, at the National Academy School of Fine Arts.  For many years I only worked in this medium but I am also an innovator at heart. Painting with pastels over and over the same way was boring to me. I love the underpainting method of the 19th Century French Academic painters such as Jean Augusta Dominique Ingres and William Bouguereau. I wanted to use this technique with my pastel paintings.

Since I was trained with India Ink washes and the paint brush, I started to use this technique as an underpainting for my pastels. The one problem that I did have was that these ink washes weren’t as detailed as I wanted them to be. The paint brush was very limited to broad results. Then one day on YouTube, I seen an airbrush black and white painting and the light bulb went off.  What if I shot the India Ink through the airbrush? I bought my first airbrush. Then I had gotten very good at the India Ink and airbrush and my underpaintings were as tight as I had wanted them. The unexpected happened for me. I fell in love with the India Ink and the airbrush. This is when the medium and the technique that I am developing now was born.

So, here we are embarking on a new journey, painting in India Ink and the airbrush on tinted paper or Masonite boards. I am doing live streams and videos each week that teach this technique step by step. I am meeting some incredible people and sharing our inspirations. Our community and I are growing together. We are building a community of inspiring and pushing one another to get better with India Ink and airbrush. Come join us on my YouTube channel:





Day 35 My Blogged Book: “The Pastel Palette Method” How to Frame Your Pastel Painting

How to Frame Your Pastel Painting

There are many different ways in which people insist that you must frame a pastel painting. That’s because there is paranoia concerning the pastel becoming smudged and damaged. Is this correct?  Should we fear?  Why can’t pastel paintings look sleek and beautiful with just a frame as oil paintings are?  Well, I have some hope for you.

I never use fixative on my pastel paintings because the colors become dulled with the spray. My pastel paintings are even more delicate than others. Some crazy words of advice that I received from other pastel painters was to put plastic spacers between the glass and the painting. First, this method was ugly and it allowed pastel dust to move around inside the frame. Second, these spacers also gave room for tiny bugs and moisture to attack the painting over time. This is not a good method although it is what many in the pastel world use.

Another popular method of framing pastel painting is to use a mat board. I hate this look. Nothing says that a pastel painting is less important than an oil painting is a mat board. No thanks!

I am always looking for a better way when it comes to my art and I have no reservations looking for an edge on my own. This is when I came up with the best framing solution for a pastel painting. I carefully apply the glass flush against the painting inside the frame with no mat and no plastic spacer. What I found is astonishing.

The glass holds the pastel pigments in place and there is no chance of moisture, insects or dust to get to the painting. When framing with just the frame and no mat, all the viewer will see is your work and not be alerted that it is a pastel painting. Try this for yourself. You will be able to put more money into your frames and less on mat cutting and spacers.

So, in conclusion, the mat board is actually more of a liability when framing your pastel paintings. I have even reframed paintings using this method and the pastel looks as fresh as the day that I painted them. There is no smudging or lifting of pigment whatsoever.

Now whenever I exhibit a pastel painting in a group show, my work looks no less serious than the oil paintings next to it.  A win not just for me but for all pastel painters.

Day 34 My Book: “The Pastel Palette Method” My Pastels, What You Should Begin With.

My Pastels, What You Should Begin With.
There are many pastel brands out there. Each brand with its own degree of softness and color saturation. With so many pastels on the market, it could be very overwhelming. I will be breaking down my pastels and why I use them.
When I start a painting in pastel the initial pastels I use are from the Cretacolor Pastel Carre 72-piece set. These wonderfully saturated pastels leave a minimum amount of pastel on the painting surface. They are perfect for not over loading the painting too early.
After this initial layer, I will go into the pastel brand that is my main staple throughout the pastel painting’s progress. These pastels are from the Holbein Soft Pastels 72-piece set. They are the perfect bridge both from the hard and to the softer pastels. They have the an exquisite amount of saturation and they still won’t over load the painting surface too early. The Holbein Pastels also have a very nice coverage when wanting to paint in opaque passages.
At the end of the pastel painting, the surface will get heavy loaded with pastels and this is when the softer pastels are needed. My favorite brand for this is the Sennelier pastels. A set of 40 half sized sticks are a great way to start your collection. These pastels have a creamy consistency and cover other pastels marvelously.
There are moments in every painting when you need to have the point of the pencil for tight detail. The Pitt Pastel Pastel Pencil is perfect for this. They have a beautiful saturation and they can give you the laser focus of a pencil point. A set of 36 is a great start with this wonderful tool.
With the pastels that I had outlined here, you will be able to fully utilize all the techniques of the Pastel Palette Method. This is a great start and then you can always add individual pastels and sets from other brands. You will will always be building your collection.
Here are the links where you may purchase these pastels I outlined that are available on Amazon:
CretaColor Pastel Carre 72 Piece Set
Holbein 72 Piece Set
Sennelier Half Stick Set of 40
Pitt Pastel Pencil Set of 36

Day 33 My Book: “The Pastel Palette Method” How and When to Use Pastel Pencils

How and When to Use Pastel Pencils
Pastel pencils are the perfect marriage of drawing and painting in one tool. The precision and familiarity of a pencil is hard to resist. It could be tempting for you to paint your whole picture in pastel pencils. Not so fast! Although they are a very wonderful tool, I feel that the pastel pencil has its rightful place in the painting process.
You do not want to use the pastel pencil in the lay-in stages of your painting. This tool is not well suited for covering larger areas of color. Its small point doesn’t allow for even blends. Although pastel pencils come in a very wide range of colors, they will rarely be the exact color that you need.
When the pastel pencil does shine it’s during the “end game” of your pastel painting. This is when you are painting in the subtle nuances of your portrait. You want that laser focus of these smaller areas and the pastel pencil is up for such a challenge. A few perfect times are the reddish black of a nostril, the crease of the eyelid or the wrinkles in the upper lid. For those moments and many more, you will find that there’s no better tool than the pastel pencil.
Resist the temptation to use the wonderful pastel pencil for larger areas of your painting. If you are working on the smaller and more detailed areas of your pastel painting then the pastel pencil is made exactly for that. The pastel pencil is a “must have” for the pastel painter using my method, especially if you use it correctly.

Check out my YouTube channel where I give free video tutorials in pastel, drawing and airbrush:

Day 32 My Book: “The Pastel Palette Method” Do You Need Fixative for a Pastel Painting?

Fixative is No Real Fix
Many people have asked me over the years whether or not I use a fixative on my completed pastel paintings.
In an earlier chapter I had mentioned that I use a workable fixative in emergencies when the painting’s surface becomes overloaded during the painting process. That is as far as I will go when it comes to the use of fixative in my studio. Here are the two reasons why I don’t use fixative to preserve my pastel paintings.
The first reason, is that the fixative will darken all the values of your painting and the pastel loses the vibrancy of the pure pigments. The spray fixative is applied in a wet spray that causes this darkening down of the values even after it dries. You most certainly will need to reintroduce the lights and highlights on your pastel painting for a second time. My feeling is, why paint it twice if you don’t need to?
The second reason, is that the fixative spray creates a uniformed texture to your pastel pigments. The hard work that the artist does to create a variety of textures such as hair or skin, is negated by this uniform texturing of the fixative.
Lastly, if you frame your pastel painting correctly, which I will go over later in this book, your pastel painting will look as vibrant and fresh as the day you painted it. This can always be done without fixative.
You may also check out my YouTube channel where I give free demonstrations and tutorials in a variety of mediums including pastels:

Day 31 My Book: “The Pastel Palette Method” Broken Pastel Sticks are a Good Thing

Broken Pastels are a Good Thing
Have you ever had your favorite pastel color drop to the floor and shatter into tiny pieces? Some of these pastel sticks are quite expensive and I yelled out a loud “Oh no!” on occasion. There is a very good silver lining to this seemingly disastrous dark cloud scenario.
When I was in Harvey Dinnerstein’s class at the National Academy School of Fine Arts, he wanted me to put the tiniest detail on the pupil of my portrait’s eye. I went in with a pastel pencil and he stopped me. He dropped one of my pastel sticks on the ground and he told me it was on purpose. I was puzzled as he proceeded to pick up one of the shards of shattered pastel between his thumb and index finger. He then with the sharpest point of that pastel shard, rendered that tiny detail perfectly like the focus of a laser beam.
I learned so much about pastels in Harvey’s class. What I discovered that day, was that a piece of broken pastel is perfect for those final details such as the highlights and the dark accents of a portrait.
Next time you drop your favorite pastel stick remember that it’s a good thing and to save those valuable shards of pastel.
You can also check out and subscribe to my YouTube channel where I demonstrate tips and tricks in pastels, drawing and airbrush:

Day 30 My Book: “The Pastel Palette Method” Every Painting is Tending to Your Bamboo Seed

Every Painting is Tending to Your Bamboo Seed
We all want to grow as artists and our road of mastering the pastel medium is part of that growth. Our personal growth does not always happen at the same pace as others around us. This can be very disheartening and it’s easy to get discouraged. We have all had our hopes dashed at one time or another. Can we get out of our own way and through the obstacle of discouragement?
Yes! We most certainly can and we will get through it if we work in spite of such emotions and adversity. Each drawing, each painting is a learning experience, a rung on the ladder of our artistic growth. When you want to throw in the towel, buckle down and continue to work. How you feel doesn’t matter because this is a process. If a painting or drawing is giving you a hard time, continue. The painting or drawing is part of the bigger picture that is larger than itself. The bigger picture is your life’s growth as an artist. Remember if you are standing still, you are going backwards.
A friend told me about a story of a farmer and the life of the bamboo plant. This plant begins with a seed and the farmer that is willing to wait. That person will water that seed every day. Years go by and seemingly nothing is happening. There is no evidence of growth at this point. Is all the watering and keeping the ground fertile an act of futility? Others may wonder what in the world is he doing? They may also wonder why he is investing all this time in a seed that is obviously not growing. But one day, after five years, something happens. The plant emerges from the ground. In 5 weeks after this plant emerges, it grows to over 90 feet tall.
That’s you, the farmer and the seed is your growth as an artist. Don’t worry whether or not you can see the growth of your art. Just continue to tend to your seed. Nature rewards this kind of faith that the farmer had and you will be rewarded as well.  Work through discouragement and have faith in the process of being an artist.

Airbrush, Pastels, Drawing, Inspiration