Category Archives: Photography

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.

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.



Photography concepts where shadows add more umph.

Slide1Every once in a while, I take pictures to show depth or repeated shapes for teaching purposes. But if you study these, what is it that draws your attention first? Look them over, do you see color first? The top left one has the blue reflection of the sky in the window, which does add interest. Notice the one beneath it where all the arches are the same.

The sun creates shadows in the crevices and enhances all of the shapes. Without it these would be flat nothings.  I think these show that the importance is the values in the contrast. Maybe we could try to take the same pictures when the sun is not out and see the power of what happens to surfaces.

Arches add a certain dramatic effect, but look, one is looking in and the other looking out, but the depth is there showing the diminishing sizes. These are creating the depth and add interest in breaking up the picture plane. If you took a straight on picture, it would have all the same sized arches (or windows in a building picture). I always try to paint coming from an angle just because it is less repetitive in size.

So my challenge to you is to go out and see what you can shoot thinking all of these concepts;  Repeated shapes, contrast, angle to create depth and do it on different days for comparison purposes. It is nice to not have to worry about not having enough film anymore. Digital cameras allow us so much more freedom.

Challenges for artists, complete a piece where SHAPE plays it up.

Slide1Knowing the ten design elements can help you flourish in your artwork. The best photography course I ever took was one where we were to use each element and do photos using just one element at a time. LINE was the first. SHAPE came next.

So I am asking you to create work with the design element of SHAPE this month. Paint or shoot for this and see if you can spot good shapes, ones that are positive and negative. And try not to repeat the same sized shapes. Notice how bothing is centered in the photos so the negative shapes are all uneven. The triangle piece has repeated angles which makes for exciting shapes. In th4e florals below, the same thing happens when you do not center something, the outsidfe shapes become interesting. Remember this when taking ohotos of people, keep them near the line of thirds so the negative shapes become part of the piece. sha shshap shep

I notice in my paintings, I often don’t realize that I do accidentally have spaces that are equal shapes, until it’s too late. So if we can understand this concept early on, our artwork will be much better. For instance, if doing a church steeple, you have a quadrant of shapes that are usually pretty much equal. The building takes up the bottom two quads and then the sky and the steeple are the other two. The best defense you have is to break up those areas with shruberies and maybe to frame the top where the sky is and put a tree branch there to round off the top half.Slide2

So take this advice and go for it.

I do remember people in the class getting confused with SHAPE and FORM. Form is three-dimensional, has shadows and highlights. Imagine the distance between trees, those are the repeated shapes that will do most painters in because we tend to make them to same distance. I suggest one goes and takes photos first and you can see how the perspective changes that on a flat plain.

Underexposed but now ready to expose vacation photos

So sorry but I was doing  some major “research” in Cabo, Mexico this last week.  I took loads of pictures on & off the Sapphire Princess cruise, especially for your viewing pleasure. SO here goes–

Slide5Got off the ship in Ensenada, MX. and was immediately drawn to photograph this brilliant yellow structure and the shadows that were cast by the upper cross beams. Mexico is so full of color that my shutter finger hurt when I got back LOL!

Slide6Cannot wait to share  boat pictures as we spent two days in Cabo due to an unfortunate situation. There was a medical emergency on board with one of the passengers, and the Captain turned the ship around and back to a hospital in Cabo San Lucas. So we never made it to Puerto Vallarta, but I am hoping to get some inspiration and paint some of the fabulous scenes from Cabo. We did get to go to Todos Santas (an old town with fabulous buildings anmd a mission surrounded by artist galleries!) and then Santa Maria Bay, where we tried to learn how to snorkel. We really learned how not to drown! Never did get to see the fishes, but they saw my husband and me kicking like crazy as we attempted to use the flippers provided on the catamaran that we went out on.Slide4

These are just a few of my thousands of vacation (to Cabo)pictures and I promise to keep them coming.

The sky, the night when we left, was soooo amazing and as the minutes went by, these extraordinary shots were taken as the sky went rainbowy-red. I did take loads of sunsets and even managed to get up early and take some sunrises!

Keep on taking pictures yourself and painting too. Here’s an assignment:

DeSIGN ELEMENT-      “Shape” (and repeated shape too)

Use your camera or brushes and create work using this topic! Good Luck


Where the WILD things are!

Slide1Sometimes in life, you just have an encounter that blows your mind. Seeing animals in their natural habitats has always held a favorite place in my heart. What a surprise we had when going back to see some deer running across a field. When we returned, this is what we witnessed.

Slide2The fawns here are 4 months old (I was told by someone who knew this kind of stuff). We were just amazed that they could get down on their knees to nurse like this. Holy cow, I mean…. Oh Deer! is all I can say.

It reminded me of the another wild scene my husband and I witnessed in Denver, CO. this year. Having been on a photo safari at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, I remembered the park ranger saying that male deer and elk sniff the air to find a female who is “ready.” (And yes we did see one of these “parties” going on in the background in SD!)rockympontains1

I noticed two elk males sniffing in the Rockies and knew something was up, (or going down soon). I looked around to see if there were any little kids watching and then  2 males starting jumping up and rutting. I think it was about who would lead the pack because there was no hanky-panky elk style goin’ on! Slide2

Another thing on my bucket list was to visit Dinosaur National Park. The most amazing thing about this place is that it was an ancient riverbed loaded with fossils that was uplifted on an angle and some fabulously brilliant person decided to build a structure over it. This made it into a museum around the actual dig site. (See photo montage at the bottom of this blog below, that’s me touching a huge Hadrosaur femur!)

whalekidsAnother trip on my bucket list was going to see where the baby whales are born in Mexico. One day while at the Birch Aquarium in San Diego, I saw they were offering a 5 day motor bus trip to Baja Sud to touch the gray whales. I immediately signed up with my sister and we went. On this particular trip, there was a family (Jeremy, Carrie, Nathan and Seamus Simmons) who make a TV show entitled “Travel With Kids” and they filmed our trip. This is the family and the funniest thing was that the boys couldn’t reach the whales, so one of the guys actually dunked Nathan into the water by his ankles so he could do it! If you get CreateTv on PBS, watch for it because we are in it. We witnessed a baby whale playing with some seaweed while his mum and us were entertained. The naturalist with us said she had never seen this behavior before. I wanted to jump in and take the huge mass of it off of his eyes but he wasn’t concerned at all. But, after several other whale sightings, I got to touch one in the wild and I hyper-ventaliated afterward giggling so hard I could not breathe. (I have a video of this too but cannot figure out how to put it in the blog). Luckily my sister was in another boat so she took the photos of me with my hand on the whale. What a rush that was, especially in a boat smaller than the 14 foot, several ton whale. FYI: The whales come to the boats to scratch the barnicles off of their backs. So we get the pleasure of their company while they go under and try to rock the boat!Slide2

One more wet thing on my bucket list was to swim with the dolphins. When we went on a cruise to the Panama Canal (which was another bucket list activity as I am intrigued with locks and have been since I was a kid), my daughter and I had an opportunity to go to a special water park in Acapulco, Mexico where you could swim and even kiss the dolphins. They included a video of when the two dolphins pushed us each across the pool by our heels. Talk about breathtaking, we had to lift ourselves out of the water as high as we could or be pushed under the water to drown with the dolphins!

Penni Rubin Balloon 078One wild ride, (not wild nature) on my list was to ride in a hot air balloon. I have been very fortunate and have done this three times. This photo was taken from above as our balloon was landing next to this one. My husband and granddaughter went on the last one in Calidfornia with me and we were actually above the clouds, in heaven!

My next encounter with a live animal was so thrilling but not “au natural”. I always wanted to ride an elephant, and while at the Del Mar Fair in San Diego 2 years ago, they had a “ride” for $7.00 you could take a trip around the race track on the back of a real, wirey-haired, huge pachyderm. My daughter took the pictures of me on this fabulous ride on a decked out elephant.Slide1

And please note that is a picture in the middle of me and an orangatan kissing (it’s a theme with me I guess, kiss a monkey or a dolphin, whatever!). While at the rainforest in the Cleveland Zoo, I met Lena, this lovely lady.  I played with her with hand movements and imitated whatever she did. She played along with me for a half an hour (I had a bottle of bubbles with me and blew some for her to see!). When I left the building, the docent said that Lena kept looking for me. When I returned, she was visably mad and tried to hide. When I started walking away, she knocked on the window and this happened. OMG! Good thing my friend had a camera on me at that minute ’cause no one would believe this for a second!

The giraffe “leaf” feeding with the long blue tongue (and apples for gushy rhinos too) was at the Wild Animal Park. The parrot in the picture is from Dana Point, where a guy with his collection of several birds hangs out and let’s people play with them. The last time I was there though, the same bird bit me!

Whenever we see wild nature “up close and personal” like these experiences, I tell my granddaughter how lucky we are on this planet. So I beg you to go out and make a list and go for it yourself. I guess I am just a Wild Child at heart because these are the things I will remember and cherish (and glad I witnessed them), the rest of my life.

Value and Contrast are the keys to successful artwork

Slide7This may look like a lesson in using no color, or black and white photography, but it goes farther than that. I am just using photos that do not have a lot of color so not to confuse the issues here.

I took a special class in color theory last year and learned about how to see value and color in a different way. Understanding KEY has to do with using objects that can be charted within the values chart. You get to decide with each painting or a photograph whether you want to have something with lots of contrast using the full range of the chart from blackest to whitest, or choose just black & white with not many other values between.This is the most dramatic I feel, and is very stark.highkey

HIGH CONTRAST is exactly that, using the blackest and the whitest, not much inbetween.

When using objects that are closer in value range, you go into color KEY. If you use the lower end of the values chart (darkest values), it is called LOW key. Using more lighter whites, (the higher end) is called HIGH key. And of course you can keep it in the mid range, a softer contrast that will create another kind of mood. When painting, we try to add shadows and more contrast, but there is something to be said about pieces where the contrast doesn’t pop out at the viewer. The shadow contrast photos here are really only 2 values, but not the blackest and whitest ones. Slide3

Usually we use a range of 1-13 values, number one is the blackest. I used 7 but you can guess the ones between each of these. The objective is to create a mood by the values in your piece. These below have an atmospheric feeling because they are low in contrast and are pretty much high key.

Slide2 Slide1

Look on this chart and see the differences in the range of what you can do with this knowledge. Night photography can be challenging but look what you might be able to accomplish. Photos in the darkest, (low key) make some things pop. If doing a painting, this can be effective also. Generally we like to light our paintings in natural light, but by making the sky dark, you can try to create something different from what you are used to doing. Keep the colors in the same range which will read the same color when done correctly.colorkey

So, how about trying to take some photos or do some paintings in different contrasts and keys now.

Below are some of my “pieces parts” that I love to shoot for. I also use the design element of LINE and TEXTURE a lot in my abstract-like photos. Slide6 Slide5 Slide4 Slide8

Now add the color and see what happens. Remember how the old black and white movies were so vivid? Once the color came in, the spirit of the filmed changed a little. So when doing your photographs or paintings check out the range of values and see how you too can get in the spirit and create moods (or mood swings! LOL)

keyvalues keys

Photographing Animals

Slide1My philosophy is if you can capture nature in action, it makes for an amazing picture!


Slide4Problem is that you cannot always get a great composition because you have to grab it when you can. So always trying for that line of thirds or using odd numbers is the way to go for it.

Recently I had to choose three pictures for a photo contest in “Nature” studies, and these were the choices.

Slide5My friends and family each picked different ones when I asked for their opinions. So I went for the ones that were spontaneous and hope for the best.


Slide6I wound up entering the ones my husband chose and they were the unexpected ones because other people couldn’t have achieved those: the thirsty dog, the flasher seagull, and the rutting elk. We’ll see if “he” wins!!


One of my favorites was the close up of the bird, it was so clear and you could count the feathers. The other is the shot I used for the cover of my “Why Is The Sky Blue?” book with the seagull up in the air over the Hotel Del in Coronado in San Diego California.

Slide2Tell me your choice, thanks, Penni

Slide4Odd numbers make for better pictures, one or three will create a good composition. These bird shots show how to capture sitting “pigeons!”

Watercolor: how and why we save “whites”

In watercolor, the paper is the whitest thing (unless you paint acrylic or Chinese white paint over your work). You have to leave the white places showing until you decide where you want your main “accent”, focus, or center of interest. Your lights should wiggle in and out of the picture plane but not be a deterrent and take away from other more interesting features.

mission5How white is white? I know that is a strange question, but whites can have glazes of  paler colored washes so the whitest thing will become more white (if that makes any sense).


Especially when painting boats, of course you want to have them Slide2white, but choose which one you want to be the whitest and drop washes of watered down colors into the others. Back painting darker shades will also make things lighter in front (negative space). Paint a darker shade between the grass blades or flowers to bring them forward and brighter and lighter.


Look at these boats, they are white but the contrast and the shadows bring out different places. You can’t really adjust the whites in a picture, but taking them on sunny days provides the opportunity to capture the whites with shadows. Look at the deep shadows below. They are essential in paintings.

Slide3I have noticed that some new painters do not ground objects with a shadow. Use a light source and see where the shadows lay. It is great to show a color or two reflected in a shiny surface (like metal or glass) even in a window, a touch of a color repeated from somewhere else adds Photos 237interest.

Shadows can create angles to bring the eye into the picture. So do clouds coming in on an angle instead of white little puff balls. (Go out and look at clouds, I take pictures all the time to remind myself that all clouds are not the same.) The problem when painting from a photograph is that in the 125th of a second, a real shape gets snapped. If you watch clouds, they are constantly changing so soften the edges to make them fluffy, do the same with shadows. Wet the edges as you paint them in to create this effect.

Have fun painting or shooting for the whites and don’t forget your shadows.


Red White and Blue won’t give you the “blues”!

Photography By Design1Photography By Design I have this obsession and it is to try to capture the flags’ stripes as they show them on our stamps. I’m pretty sure it is impossible.

In pursuing this effort, I have captured some pretty fabulous photos of flags in the wind. What I have learned is that one must spend lots of time taking many many pictures of flags to capture what I have here. (I must take 30 pictures when I am attempting this.) My favorite is the top one. But this series is also pretty spectacular, don’t you think?

If you ever get the shot of evenly scalloped stripes please send me a copy of it so I can stop this obsession at some point in my life. I do not believe it is real, because I have not come close yet!

Photography By Design2I have taken some other kinds of striped shots and think it is a fun theme to go for “Red, White and Blue” in your photography too. See what you can do with this as a theme. Here’s to stars and stripes, may they wave forever (and you should try this and see if you are better than me at it!).

The picture collages above are from a new book I am working on entitled ”Photography By Design”. It is an ongoing project as I carry my camera with me everyday and keep taking pictures to teach Slide2others. So one day, I will let you know when it is ready.


When taking shots of “pieces parts”, I generally take one Slide5vertical and one horizontal. Remember you are breaking up the space and when looking through a camera lens, you can see how much you want to show and make the composition work for you. Other than blue skies peeking through, notice that sometimes the shadows become the blue.

Slide2One of the design elements in many of my photos is “repeated shapes” in the picture plane. Even when painting, you’ll need to decide how much you want to show within the rectangular area and repeating shapes adds to your work.

Slide5Anything can become a photograph if you know how to create a good composition!

Slide3It is nice to have a theme and I have several favorite ones and get excited when I see how I can create a photo using them.

Some photos are just simple and others more complex, but having something to shoot for often gives great results. Here are a few that I just love. Slide1

This one of my granddaughter by the stained glass window is called “Raisins?”  and it won an award in an art show.

You never know when and where your “prize” shot will happen. Just go out and take pictures. If you get some good ones this Fourth of July, send it to me for a critique!Slide2Slide3Slide1