John F. Carlson interview: Studio painting

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John F. Carlson (1875-1947) was born in Sweden. His work is admired by many; the list of prizes and museum acquisitions of his canvases would fills a long column in “Who’s Who in American Art. His clear and excellent teaching has helped many an artist interested in becoming a better landscape painter. If you want to become a better landscape painter, you’ll learn a lot by applying the lessons taught in his famous book, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, published by Dover Publishing, Inc.



I am fortunate to own a December 1942 copy of “American Artist” magazine in which Carlson was a featured artist. Parts of that article I wish to share with you over the next few weeks, because of the direct interaction with Carlson himself. In this fourth installment, he discusses studio painting.


Studio Painting 

“Usually I make a pencil layout on paper before beginning any work on the canvas. This is a useful transitional step between the mental conception and its realization on the canvas. It makes for more directness in attack when one picks up the brush to paint. I never draw on canvas with pencil, charcoal or crayon, as I dislike any foreign substance on my painting surface.

“After this pencil layout I begin to draw on the canvas, brushing-in outlines of the big forms with a half-dark mixture of rather neutral, warm violet-gray.”

Following a pencil layout, Carlson begins to draw with his brush on canvas using a mixture of neutral, warm-violet gray oil paint.

Following a pencil layout, Carlson begins to draw with his brush on canvas using a mixture of neutral, warm-violet gray oil paint.

The dark masses are first laid-in with pure, rich color applied with a palette knife and stiff bristle brushes.

The dark masses are first laid-in with pure, rich color applied with a palette knife and stiff bristle brushes.


“The next step is to smear in the masses, darks first. In this lay-in I paint the colors a trifle darker than they will finally be and make them more vibratory. The canvas, at this point, is set aside for a few days. I do not expect anything of this first painting except that the main compositional masses be correctly established.

“Bear in mind that I have previously determined upon the general color key or tone for the whole; I have decided whether it shall be dark or light, mellow, cool or cold; whether the forms shall lean toward the severe or the playful, or a quiet, meandering mood.

“When I take up the canvas again I repaint the masses but do not obliterate the underlying color. I modify the intensities as needed. I like to start a canvas with the palette knife and vigorous bristle brushes. These apply the paint in a ‘fatter’ way. For the final painting steps, I use Bright’s sable brushes; invaluable for ‘dragging’ one color over another.”



“I’m careful not to grind the colors together, as that would destroy the vibratory luminosity which results from juxtaposition of pure hues. On the other hand I never leave hunks of paint to stick out in order to make my technic appear ‘bold.’ I create texture where I need it; not all over.

“Once the big color relations have been established, I try to bind these together in the ‘unity of light’ which pervades them. This requires a good deal of going back and forth, slightly changing the tones that are out of harmony. I do not repaint such tones but I jab other colors into them until I have swayed them into harmony. This procedure insures color vibration within the masses and engenders luminosity.”



“I paint my darks with pure colors, never with black or brown pigment. After deciding what the dominant color of the ‘black’ is to be – cool, warm, or hot – I mix the exact shade with my deep blue, deep red, and deep yellow or viridian green. Browns and blacks are especially unfortunate in landscapes. So are manufactured violets and oranges; they produce a tailor-made set of colors that lack vitality.”



I am very pleased to announce the release of my first instructional DVD, Limited Palette Landscapes, professionally produced by Liliedahl Art Videos. The video contains over 15 hours of instruction and follows my painting process from selection of the canvas to the final brush stoke. For a detailed description of the video contents, including a short video…and order instructions…please click HERE. Thank you in advance for adding this DVD to your video library. Upon viewing, if you would kindly share your comments with me, I would greatly appreciate it. THANK YOU.




John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE


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