Category Archives: Education

For those new painters in acrylics (or oils).

how to paint acrylicsI noticed a lot of  beginners do not know the steps involved in doing fine art in acrylics (or oil). Step one, save photos, magazine pics, cards, books and any visual aids that will inspire you. Don’t copy them but use these as reference materials and that will make you more aware and give you ideas for your work!.

Look through art books (or go online) of different artists. See how they use values and contrast. Look for some of the ten design elements they use. 1. Line, 2. Shape, 3. Form, 4. Color (learn the color wheel), 5. Light (contrast/values and know where your light source is coming from), 6. Motion, 7. Texture, 8. Pattern (repeated things = color, shape), 9. Space, 10. Time. Our job is to create space on a flat canvas (or board, paper or wood).

design elements

Go to a home improvement store and get some free paint samples. Make a color wheel, start with the three primary’s (red, yellow, blue) and fill in the colors they mix for you secondary’s. Pick up samples of black to gray and white to gray and create a values chart. Tape it together in the back so you have this tool in front of you to remind you to check you values. Black is # 1 and White is # 7 on your homemade chart (or artists use thirteen and seven is mid-range)

Start out by preparing a canvas by under painting it (use a sponge foam brush) to cover the entire surface. The Old Masters started with a beige (like paper bag brown). This neutral color helps you to see that your colors are darker or lighter. When using a plain white canvas, everything is darker and you need under painting to make your piece cohesive! For my florals, I used an amber (warm tone) but under these samples is the gray tone and I mix and I put the paint right on the canvas. I use craft acrylics and just pour the colors on and with that sponge brush, and cover the front and sides of the canvas. I hope this helps some of you as I would love to see your progress! Keep painting- Penni Rubin

FYI: when learning to cook, you may have bought all the pots and pans, ingredients and tools, but still you need a little guidance to become a cook. It is the same for beginners in art! There are some basics we need to proceed in our adventure with becoming a painter! Experience helps you develop your style, no one can teach you that but there are some tips that artists can hand to people who would like to do well and don’t know how to go about it.

Thank you for the tips. I found the under painting tips most helpful. This is always my #1 mistake. Will this help the texture as well? I see others who’s paintings appear smooth or you only see paint texture and/or brush strokes sometimes but my paintings are rough because I can see the texture of the canvas through my paint. Rookie issue big time wink emoticon    from Stephanie
Brian I have a great respect for anyone with that much experience who is willing to share, and want to Thank you.
 I started painting in 2014 at 53 and need all the help I can get but mostly just need time to paint. From what I can tell there are basic does and don’ts that any newbie would find helpful. Sometimes on the internet everyone takes everything so literal, its frustrating. The way I learn is to take someone with more experience ideas and suggestions and give it a go, in the process I usually end up altering or changing it somewhat, or I toss it out the window after I make a determination. At the very least I have a starting point, or something new to try. None of this effects my creativity it only adds to it, so thanks again for posting.

Judy Penni I am a real newbie to painting with acrylics. Actually to painting. I have some done watercolor with some success but struggling with acrylics. I have printed your instructions and advice. I am excited to try them! Thank you for taking the time to try and help us (me:)

Lina Thank you
Dee Dee Penni Ruben ,thank you so very much for you help .You are correct those of us who are just starting out do need help. I found your information valuable.

Katrina  Thank you!!! I love this information as I begin dabbling in art.


Greek and Roman Architecture

I was taking a class through Yale on in Roman Architecture (FYI: you may have seen the Roman Paintings exhibit I blogged about before). I have always adored Greek columns and pediments, etc. I could never figure out how they raised those heavy pieces to create the columns, but they must have had a great system because they erected loads of them all over. The cement carved decorations are amazing and I cannot figure out how they did that way back when! These are from Balboa Park which is celebrating its 100 year. It was built for a World’s Fair I think, bu don’t quote me on this. San Diego’s park has the most wonderful decorations on all the buildings. I love to paint there.


When I was in Greece the second time, I painted the Parthenon, as it was a dream I had most of my life. I wanted to become an architect, but never had a chance. I actually went into Interior Design at Parsons and worked in the field for many years. I am now more into re-design, but that’s another story. Anyhow, the first trip I did a contour line drawing of the front of the Parthenon as I did not have my paints that trip. I took many photos but of course, no digital stuff back then.

My sister and I were at the site but it was about 100 degrees and going to the top of the Acropolis to paint would’ve been way to hot. So I painted the theater below it until it cooled off a bit and then very quickly, we ran to the top and I painted for a very short time. Well, I since decided to paint the Erecthian (with it’s lady columns across from the Parthenon). I had painted one gal and realized I was in deep over my head because all 5 had to be exactly the same. I thought about it and came up with the idea that I would put Marilyn Monroe, Carman Miranda, Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo in for the other statues and have Athena peeking out from the Parthenon. I went online and printed out the photos and voila, this is it “The Gals of the Erecthian.” Slide1

Mixing and knowing about colors is well worth the effort!

Slide2Recently in a class, we could only use three colors to paint with and they were the primary colors; Red, Yellow and Blue. Only, we had to use certain ones together to get different effects. These were watercolors and I did not have all of the names Annette Paquette chose, but I saw the differences in the ones that I did have. Some made very bright colors, others dulled them done and were great for saturated color paintings.Slide1



Taken from a chart that Annette used in class.

We all know what secondary colors are with red and blue, and yellow and blue and red and yellow, but WOW, when they can be changed like this, “you wonder where the yellow went” (have to be my age to know what  that is from!) and the blue and the red.

Greens should always be mixed. in fact my word of advice to any painter, phtylo green is ONLY for mixing – there is nothing in nature that is “POISON” green (unless it is a painted sign or roof or plastic chair.). BUT – mix it with violet and get this gorgeous gray tone that is a cool color, mix it with a red and dull it down to make it a warm color.Slide4

Color can be warm (reds, yellows, oranges) or cool (blues, greens) but when you add yellows to greens and blue to greens they change temperature. Knowing about how color works, is a great advantage.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.


Slide5I helped one of our newer plein air painters with how to connect and make a painting cohesive  by using complementary colors;  like throwing a wash or glaze of red in the green tree shadows and green washes in the red (barn) shadows. There is a scary moment when you think it is nuts to do that, but, it does make everything come together. Also, saw an art exhibit by Sorrello at the San Diego Art Museum, and he said that “the Impressionists gave us the color purple,” and that is the color that I remind painters and students that adds the pizzazz to any shadow in a watercolor (add a drip of cobalt blue in a corner and voila), a fabulous painting with a few tricks of the trade, plus the bonus of the use of color knowledge.Slide6

A Colorful Past, Present and Future


These cannot be mixed, they just are real pure color! We use them to mix all the other colors (hues).

We all learn how to mix the primary colors in preschool, or there about, but there is an important reason why we learn this. Color is all around us, in the things we purchase to wear, to sit on, to eat,and to paint with too. So I decided to teach my 100 year old Mom, about color theory and you get to learn it along with her.

Once you understand that the PRIMARY COLORS are the basic color mixers, you can make any color. So yellow and red make orange, yellow and blue make green, blue and red make violet (that’s what it is called in the art world).These are called the SECONDARY COLORS - they are mixed with the primary colors.redgreen Across the way from each of these colors, are the COMPLEMENTARY COLORS.

Any GREEN object you use next to RED, will make the colors brighter and more exciting. If your red is a bluish red, than a yellower green will be it’s complement. If you can imagine all the colors in between red to yellow, or red to blue, you can see that there are so many to choose from, but the opposite one will make the magic.


YELLOWS and VIOLETS can set a mood if they are pale, but the brighter ones also will do the trick. And look at BLUE and ORANGE, a wow factor when there is just a touch of the complement in a photo can make your work so much better. Use your hand and take away the complementary color and see what I mean. The pizzazz goes away. Just a little hint in the ball by the boat dock was what drew me to take the picture.blueorange

The next color concept is using that color wheel to find ANALOGOUS COLORS. When looking at the chart, see where the colors next to each other can enhance the ones on either side.analogous



.All of these slides are from a book I am working on teaching the basics of “Photography by Design.” Some year, I will get this published but I can give you hints to taking better photos or making more of your paintings using these theories. In a class I am taking we are exploring pale to bright, to washed out whites to saturated colors. When you use some of these mixtures together you can get great explosions of color. A bright red in the middle of dull, grayed down tones can “sing” out loud, and the opposite can happen too. Ladies, you can try adding a scarf or jewelry to an outfit and see it pop when it is with the right color combination. So experiment with your colors and find out what you can come up with to make your life more colorful.

Some exciting news for me


Opening reception: July 5, 2014

I was asked to have a show in San Diego finally. The Carmel Valley Library has a fabulous wall and some showcases and I intend on filling them up. Here is the postcard and handout I am working on. I love doing graphics, although in college hated doing stuff like that.

I may be including too much, but I am hopeful that people will love my artwork and save the flier. Then maybe when looking to purchase art, they will think of me.


I went to Michael’s and got a lot of frames so I can do the entire wall like a checkerboard. What do you think? Too much when you see art side-by-side?


If you live in San Diego, here is the address. 3919 Townsgate Dr, San Diego, CA 92130 (off the 5 after Sorrento Valley). (858) 552-1668  I will have goodies for breakfast treats if you are able to join us.

Here is my bio so far- back cover:

PENNI RUBIN: artist/teacher
At six years old, Penni copied the Old Masters and
created an art museum diorama. People could not
believe that someone so young could replicate fine
art in such a manner. From then on, her parents
enrolled her in art lessons. . She discovered that we find
our vocational interests at age 7 and compiled her original
songs & created a play “At Seven the Musical.” As an Enrichment Specialist,
Penni continues to create discovery WONDERlabs for
children that integrate science, art, math & music (SAM).
She gives private art lessons, designs parties, & writes
the blog for the S D Watercolor Society (
Penni has designed dishes and wallpaper, trains teachers,
and enjoys doing plein air painting. She is passionate and
is considered the ultimate masterful teacher to this day!

Inside info in the little pamphlet:

PENNI RUBIN: Artist/Art Teacher /Enrichment Specialist
Watercolors, gouache, acrylics and photography.
A colorful, multi-talented person who also writes
books & blogs. Rubin is a photography judge, an Interior
Designer, & teaches both children and adults. She paints
many subjects to capture the rapture, or rooster!

EDUCATION: Parsons School of Design, NY Fashion Institute of Technology, Cleveland Institute of Art, Tri-C College, Cleve., OH (Assoc. Early Childhood Ed), Capital University, BA Education,,continues online at

SHOWS: Butler Institute of Art
“Scene It”Libraries in Cleve. OH
“See the Music”- Libraries in Cleve.
“Good Gouache” Shaker in Residence
“Photos a ‘moré” Shaker Hts., OH
La Bonheur Children’s Hospital Memphis, TN
San Diego Watercolor Society, SD County Fair,
Elijah’s Deli in La Jolla, CA

“Why is the Sky Blue?”
“Math in Motion”
“Connec-TABLE Science”
“Science in the Sandbox”
“What’s Under Your Feet?” (USGS)
“Mommy I Have Nothing To Do” Book
Crazy Daze CD…….. and others


Is it black and white, or shades of gray?

When we go to workshops and art classes, the teachers always talk about values. There are thirteen values from black to white (1-13, with 7 being the mid gray tone), I go to Home Depot and get the paint chips and check values that way. If something needs to be darker, paint it so, and visa versa.Slide1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4

Well, in my crazy photography of shadows and things that aren’t there, the values are very obvious. I was just talking with an artist who said his one eye is only seeing light and shadows now and I teased him and said he was lucky, we have to figure out what the darkest dark is and the lightest light and then balance them in a photo or a painting. So here are some black and whites. There is not a huge variety of values in many but the lines and curves are what I enjoy and placing them in the view finder of the camera just right is what I am after. My daughter always accuses me of slowing up our walks and errand runs because I stop to take pictures all the time. Oh well, I like my weird pictures and I had an art teacher who thought I should paint them. I am not crazy about abstract art, so I am not running to do that, just capturing it is enough for me right now.

But my art is getting a liltle more black and white so who knows?

There’s bark and then there’s California Bark with no bite.

barksOut here in California, they have trees that defy what most think of bark.  Eastcoasters have no idea that tree bark could look so different from what we are used to seeing. But they make very interesting pieces parts shots. I take pictures all the time, they are so photogenic and make for weirdo pictures sometimes.  Some have little crotchity looking things or paper like peels, some have round knobs that can look like faces and you never know what the shadows create when you shoot them. The colors are even weird, reds and golds, and the whites and rusts are the ones that blow me away. They can look like painted debarkserts or abstract art. weirdtrees

When I go out to paint, some of the trees look strange and I stop myself and ask if they are “readable”, meaning if the viewer is looking at them, would they believe they were real. Look at the root system on this one and the bark looks like Balooga whale skin (which by the way feels like kid leather gloves!). The Birds of Paradise on the tree are white and black and huge. And the paper bark peels away to the next layer. If you are a painter, try to capture bark in your neighborhood, it is fun to paint it.

redbarkAnd if you like to take photos, go see if you can find some gnarly looking knot holes and find a face or something. Gooey sap is fun to take also and insect sacks are interesting if you get up close and personel! these are good abstracts and people won’t know what it is.



How does it all come together, in art that is?

Slide5Inspiration comes in many forms I am finding out, as I have been painting every day now. So I analyzed how this happened, especially when I was rejected from four art shows! This is probably what got me turned on all of a sudden to try to create a new style or different kinds of works.Slide2

Started with a class where we were to do various color schemes using only red blue and yellow in different paint colors. (ultramarine, cobalt, or cerulean blues, alizarin crimson, cadmium red or rose madder, yellow ochre, yellow or lemon yellow). The staining colors and the bright colors change the mood of the piece.Slide4

Then we were to do one where Slide1the background was black, using white highlights and using bright the colors that would pop. (see above). I also am taking a course online at and the teacher was showing a Matisse studio painting of his studio in red. In DRew Bandish’s class, we were doing Trees and negative space, so I related the work of the two kids on the swings and combined the duller graytones that were going to be next in Annette Paquette’s class- so I joined the two in this piece.

I continued to do black backgrounds, creating “wallpaper-like” designs and experimented with adding colors. A friend loaned me the post cards of paper cuts by Matisse and I pulled out my Braque books (and on Cubism). I especially love the “Round Table.” I actually saw it in person once in the Phillips Collection in Knoxville TN. and when I was at Parsons School of Design, I had an opportunity to see the Lasker Collection. They have a Braque in their front drawing room, (wish I had one of those)!

Slide3The next set of influences paintingshappened because at the next JCC Senior “Senior” Prom this year it will be the ”Asian Promenade.”  I also went to a Japanese Brush painting exhibit and saw what students have been doing in this course. I checked out some Chinese block prints also and attempted one of those in watercolor. I also pulled out my old paintings from brush painting class and found the ”4 gentlemen- 1. bamboo, 2. chrysanthemums, 3. plum blossoms and 4. orchids”, and started practicing sketching them. I created these 2 huge banners for the event using acrylic on the back of used advertising banners. I remembered that I have a huge fan and other oriental things I could use for inspiration for this prom also nd pulled those out. Adding all these events  is how I got so inspired to paint everyday now, and I created “My Studio,” the painting shown below.  It is truely a culmination of all of the above (and just think, I could paint this for anyone if they sent me pictures of things they love.) I love my stuff and they sure look appetizing in this montage.

OK- Play a little game here, see the differences between the finished one on the bottom and the one I took before I put it behind plexi so you could see the colors better!Slide6 Slide1

I tied it all together and you can see the influences here within the paintings. My studio was really fun to create because I even put in the painting of the trees with the kids in the swings taped to a board on my easel. However, I never use blue tape, so that was just for fun.


FYI: I adore Braque’s work and I once coaxed my students into painting (copying) their favorite painting. Since I never did this myself, I did a Braque (the one with the clarinet) and glued sand on it to create that texture as he did it. I have to tell you it was a fabulously fun and rewarding assignment, I reccommend you try it, then you can “own” a sort-of original painting by your favorite painter!

It all depends on your point-of-view!

Slide4When deciding what to take a picture of, I often take what is not there. Then sometimes, using Photoshop, I can place someone where they are not. My favorite things to shoot are textures and shadows, and the shapes they form create such contrast and add drama.

Slide1Our job is to break up the space in an interesting way. This is a straight shot looking down from a tall building. Looking up also gives fabulous opportunities for great photos. Cropping can make all the difference because you can choose how much of a shape is needed and where your center of interest is needed.

The usual format for taking pictures is a rectangle, but once I took a photo course, and we had to shoot for a square, a triangle and a circle. We cut out these shapes and placed them in front of the lens before choosing the shots. It is a good excercise and take practice to be able to see it without the croppers.

Slide2But shadows at a certain time of day do something magical. The diagonal ones, especially those that cast lines across items or walls are always exciting. And don’t think normal things cannot be exciting to take. Look at the shadows on these walls, they add texture and make a great composition to boot. Slide3

So whenever you are “oot-n-aboot”, remember it isn’t always there, you have to look for it and make it happen.

So go and shoot something different.