For a general overview of the materials I use in my paintings, click on the following supply list links below. Further information about my painting process, artistic influences and detailed information about various supplies can be found throughout the rest of this page.
Oil Painting Supply List
Solvent Free Oil Painting Supply List
Acrylic Painting Supply List
Watercolor and Gouache Painting Supply List
Why do you choose to paint landscapes?
Landscapes have a certain ethereal quality and can be subtle or strong. I find more variety in landscape painting. In the early morning when the sun has just come up, I see inspiring shapes of light and shadow. I've always enjoyed the great outdoors and love nature, painting landscapes is a very natural expression of those feelings.
What is your definition of art?
Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. For me art is an expressive, visual language used to show others what I feel about the world around me, to share my personal vision. True art has life imbued in it and gives some kind of presence.
What is impressionism?
Impressionist painting focuses on conveying an idea and not a detailed exact realistic rendering of a landscape or thing. It is the idea of a place and time, say sunset at Monterey Bay, or Pumpkin season in Half Moon Bay. Impressionist painting has an emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time) on common, ordinary subject matter. I prefer to paint in a way that expresses my response to the subject.
How do you define your role as and artist?
My role as an artist is to be honest with myself and paint what is meaningful to me. Art is my life, I live and breathe it. I am almost always thinking about painting, it seems as if my mind is always converting everything I see into painting and noting color details. Its hard to shut it off.
How does one find their individuality as an artist?
Draw and paint miles and miles of canvas, acquire the skills to be able to self analyze with occasional help from both peers and non artist viewers. Be persistent and true to your artistic vision. Our artistic style is something we are born with, it naturally emerges as we paint and can't be held back. I also believe that your style has to evolve as you evolve as a person.
Do you see your personality reflected in your work?
All painters paint a little of themselves into every painting. Its even evident in portraits, evert artist paints a little of themselves into the portrait of whoever they are painting. I'm a very happy person and I think that my inner joy is reflected in my work. I'm attracted to vibrant and beautiful scenes and I think I see more beauty in ordinary things than most people. I'm also a fairly quiet person and content to work alone. I think that tranquility and admiration for nature is also reflected in my work.
How do you handle changing light and shadow while painting outdoors?
I include the shadow shapes in my underpainting and wipe out the light areas. I don't see changing light as a challenge but rather an added benefit of painting outdoors. I like the changing light, sometimes nature gives us an unexpected gift in the form of a beautiful shadow or a new beam of light, if I think it will further enhance the painting, I add it to the painting. Working outdoors has many challenges; wind, tide changes, etc. Capturing some of these changes in a painting adds life and movement to the work. Painting from life is a joy and nature is our greatest teacher, showing us the truth in color, texture and all other visual aspects of the subject.
What is the major thing you look for when selecting a subject?
I am drawn to beautifully lit subjects. I especially like early morning and late afternoon light, they are the most dramatic in terms of color and shape. I tend to look for a combination of elements, not a "thing". I think that having a concept in mind of what you want to paint before beginning is extremely important. You need to define your intent, set your sights on a visual goal and go for it. Paint what makes you stop and say "wow". I can stand in one spot and see 50 things I want to paint, usually the challenge for me is picking which one.
What is your major consideration when composing a painting?
The arrangement and design of shapes. I usually begin with 3 large major shapes of 3 values; light, medium and dark. I determine a center of interest and compose the painting by using surrounding elements to support it. I begin with soft, loose, simple brushstrokes then refine them as I go, adding more and more detail until I decide it is finished. Composition is like creating a stage so that I can have a clear setting to demonstrate what I have to say.
How do you create atmosphere in your paintings?
Atmosphere is what gives a painting a sense of air and depth. To create it I start by thinking about what kind of weather I want to depict for instance do I want my painting to feel hot or cold, humid or dry. Colors tend to get greyer as they recede and edges tend to soften. I tend to use more instense darker values and transparent colors are in the foreground and in the center of interest. This is also the area of the hightest value contrast. To make interesting greys, mix any color with another color that is close to its opposite. For example, to grey green, mix in a little red. Cadmium red light and cobalt blue make a beautiful rich grey.
How much of your work is intellectual vs. emotional?
My paintings begin with an emotional reaction to the subject, as I progress I try to hold on to that emotion because I believe that is what makes each painting so special and separates paintings. The emotino imbued in a painting is what makes it a work of art. As I progress, the painting process becomes more intellectual and analytical. Some of the painting is intuitive and in the finishing stages, I shift my focus away from the subject and communicate with my painting. Great art is like poetry, a mixture of intellect and emotion.
Do you paint from photographs?
Yes, I carry a camera with me at all times. In the studio, I draw from photos, on site sketches or plein air studies and from my memory of years of keen observation. All of these things come together in the creation of my paintings. I sometimes finish plein air paintings in the studio from photographs.
How do you use a field study when creating a larger studio painting?
I use field studies for their color notes and emotion and combine them with a composition created from a group of photographs.
Do you only work in oil?
I primarily work in oil but also paint in watercolor and gouache. I just received a set of Rembrandt Cobra water-based oil paints and am excited to try them.
What advice would you give a beginning painter?
Have fun and don't focus on the end result but rather delve into the process of painting and learn as many techniques as you can. From what you learn, pick and choose what suits you best for your schedule and way of working. Buy good materials. Becoming familiar and comfortable with your materials is very important step. Having a good understanding and familiarity with your supplies frees you to be more creative and think less. Draw as much as possible, sketches to artists are like scales to musicians. Futher develop your observational skills. The first step to learning how to paint is learning how to see. This may sound silly but its true. Artist's eyes are finely tuned. Try to imagine being able to see as well as a blind person can hear. Its truly a gift to wake up every day and see the world through artist's eyes, this is a gift you can give yourself.
What deceased artist's work do you admire most?
That's a hard question because there have been so many great artists. My picks would be J.W. Waterhouse, Monet, John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla, Edgar Payne and Rodin. I could easily name a hundred and a hundred living artists as well.
Who has had the most influence on your career?
My grandmother, she was an artist who loved nature and art. She provided me with a lot of art supplies and spent countless hours teaching me how to paint and sketch. I have many fond memories of hiking and painting together in the Sierra foothills. She also took painting workshops with me. If it wasn't for her I may not have become a professional artist. My parents were classical musicians and encouraged me to be creative, insisting I take private music lessons every week and introducing me to many forms of art by taking me to art museums, concerts and shows at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. where my father was a full-time musician. Marilyn Simandle was the first art teacher that taught in a way that resonated with me. It was after my first workshop with her that I started to understand color, composition and painting. Ned Mueller, Neil Boyle and Donald Putnam were also extremely influential teachers.
What colors are most often found on your palette?
I have a fairly extensive set palette and occasionally add new colors in both oil and watercolor or gouache. I use artist grade oil paints by Rembrandt and watercolors by Winsor and newton and Holbein. I have a warm and cool color of each hue plus earth tones and white.
To view my complete list of colors and other supplies, click on the following links:
Oil Painting Supply List
Water-Based Oil Painting Supply List
Acrylic Painting Supply List
Watercolor and Gouache Painting Supply List
What brushes do you use?
Brushes are one of the most important painting supplies, they are an extension of your hand. Its important that they be fairly new, especially for doing finishing work on a painting. I use a variety of hog bristle brushes and brushes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes: #’s 2-12 in flats, brights and filberts. I also use a synthetic or real sable rigger brush, synthetic or real sable brights and filberts in small sizes #'s 2-6. On occasion I use a long #8 mongoose hair brush for soft blending. There are many good brands of brushes, my favorites are Robert Simmons and brushes from The Silver Brush Company.
What surface do you paint on?
I mostly use double-oil primed Belgian linen It has a beautiful, refined look, is classic and durable. I prefer Claessens #66 and #13. I stretch my own canvases in sizes 16 x 20 and up. I also like to paint smaller paintings on linen panels made with the same Claessens linen. I buy most of my panels online from Sourcetek. I enjoy painting on Baltic birch panels that I prime with Gamblin oil ground.
Do you varnish your paintings?
Yes, I use Kamar varnish, Winsor and Newton picture varnish or Gamvar, it protects them and makes the paint look fresh and lustrous.
How long does it generally take you to finish a painting?
Every painting is different. A lifetime of painting plus however long it takes to finish a particular piece. It took me 25 years to get to the point where I can paint one small painting in 2 to 4 hours, larger paintings can take up to a month to complete. The length of time of course depends on how much detail and color layering I decide to do.
What kind of easel do you use for plein air painting?
I use a tripod easel from a company called, “Open Box M", I have an 11 x 14 size folding palette that attaches to a Manfrotto tripod. A sturdy tripod is essential. I also have 2 smaller pochade boxes in sizes 6 x 8 and 8 x 10, also from Open Box M and an Open Box M watercolor easel. They all use the same tripod attachment. For many years I used only a french box easel and I still have it. I think its a good easel but the problem with it is that the palette has to remain flat which doesn't allow you to angle it to avoid glare and they are bulkier to carry. Tripod easels are lightweight and can be tilted and turned easily to avoid glare on your painting or palette from the ever changing sunlight. I use a painting umbrella that is black underneath and silver on top so it keeps the light more constant when painting outdoors and reflects the sunlight. In my studio I have a larger free standing wooden easel that can accomodate very large paintings.
Are there any art books you can recommend?
I have so many art books, they are my treasures. The must haves are, "The Art Spirit" by Robert Henri, that is the one I read for inspiration if I need it. "John Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting", for composition and any books with paintings by John Singer Sargent that have close up plates of his incredible brushstrokes. Sargent was a master who made every brushstroke meaningful to the painting.
Do you ever give painting demonstrations?
Yes. I enjoy giving painting demonstrations for various art groups, during workshops and for my galleries, its a great way to share what I know, meet other artists, be available to talk about how I work and answer questions. To see my current schedule, go to my events page.
Where and how did you learn to paint?
I have painted and drawn pictures since I was in kindergarten. I grew up in Maryland and spent many happy days going to The National Gallery of Art and The Philips Collections museums in Washington, D.C. My grandmother, an artist, was really my first art teacher. I went to the University of Maryland in College Park and earned a BA in Geography with a double minor in Fine Art and german language. I learned a little about painting and drawing at the university but wanted a more traditional art education. Their program's focus was on abstract art which wasn't a good fit for me. After college, I spent the summer with my grandmother in California and took 3 art workshops and painted every day. After that summer, I went back to Maryland and was accepted into my first gallery in Annapolis. I sold a painting 2 weeks later to a senator. Next, I moved to New York City and studied at The Art Students League on a full scholarship. It was a wonderful school, but I wasn’t happy living in New York so I headed west and moved to Los Angeles where I attended several classes and workshops over 2 years at The California Art Institute and Otis Parsons. I worked part time for KLM airlines and painted and drew intensely every minute that I wasn't working. Since then I continued to take workshops and paint with various plein air groups. Painting every day is the best thing anyone can do to improve their skills.
Do you ever judge contests?
Yes, I enjoy judging art contests and giving awards. I also like to give a short talk about what is so special in each winning painting. I make myself available to talk with the artists whose paintings didn’t win to give them tips for how to improve. Sometimes its just one or two little things that kept their painting from winning.
What’s next on your art horizon?
On a personal level, I will work to improve with each successive painting and to see more every day. I believe in being a lifelong student and trying new things. I’m going to keep drawing, whatever tool you have in hand while painting, drawing is at the heart of it.
Do you have any upcoming shows or workshops?
Yes, I have a one-woman show coming up in March at Portola Art Gallery in Menlo Park, California, a group show that begins this Saturday at Gallerie Mistral in Redwood Shores and several workshops and classes. Information about these events and more can be found on my website, KristenOlson.net.
How do I purchase a print of your work?
You can own high quality reproductions of much of my original artwork and are able to customize the print style and size and even design your own framing to suit your decor. To see available prints click here .
Do you plan to release a DVD or instructional book?
I’m working on an e-book called “finishing a painting”. Its essentially a checklist for analyzing a painting that is past the midpoint and close to being finished. It also explores the process of taking a plein air painting into the studio and finishing it. I am also working on a series of instructional videos. The first one will be out in 2013.
"It was like something exploded in my brain yesterday!! I can't stop thinking about everything I learned yesterday.
I have been very focused on light/dark, and on getting more confident in my drawing, and color has not ever been much of a focus. I have completely ignored color. I had begun to stumble on things, on my own, like the interaction between opaque and transparent paint, and even though I had read about warm and cool colors, and about complimentary colors, and shadow etc., It just didn't click until yesterday. I get now why the palette has to be set up that way...because you have to have everything out to mix. You can't just be lazy, pick a green because you like it, and use that, it actually has to be the right green. :) I was listening to things you were telling other people as you went around the room, and learned a lot from the demo. I LOVED your class."
"Well, Kristen, thank you so much for that class! I’m extremely happy I now know such a talented professional artist as yourself, I’m very grateful for your advice on materials, (brushes, thinners, cleaners, containers, and palettes), I loved your tips (such as “three strokes and you’re out” and turning your work upside down to assess the value contrast), and I’m extremely inspired to get some Carl Larson books for reference. All in all, I gained so much from the day, and I’m really looking forward to doing it again!"
"Kristen Olson is a truly remarkable teacher. Not all great artists are great teachers but Kristen Olson is both. She tailors her teaching to each student by expertly identifying how each student can achieve their best. Her understanding of painting and painting techniques is unparalleled. Kristen's knowledge of contemporary artists is also impressive, she often references this in her teaching."
"Thanks a lot for your encouragement. It was a great being in class yesterday. I felt like I discovered something about myself and gained some confidence :) The more I look at the tiny painting from yesterday, I like it more. Thanks again for all your help and guidance.
"Your own work is such an inspiration and your willingness to let us tackle difficult tasks that let us stretch is commendable."
"Kristen is a great artist and an excellent teacher. I've learned more about painting from her than any other artist I've known.
I feel very fortunate to have her for a teacher. Mahalo, Kristen"
"Kristen, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for my first three art classes with you. In that I have not been a figurative painter in the past, I am presently surprised and delighted with my first two paintings under your instruction. Little did I know that my blank canvas had such unlimited possibilities... Your teaching style is subtle yet powerful!!!! You are bringing out the best in me and I look forward to my fourth class."
"Thank you so much for yesterday. I am really enjoying getting to know you better. You make me feel more comfortable when I am painting than any other teacher I have ever had. And I appreciate your extended kindness to my friend, Mary."
"I am very happy with you as a teacher. You are kind and gentle. Your spirit is such a joy and it is contagious and your way of looking at things is helping me adjust a negative part of me."