Painting Surreal

Surrealism is an art style that combines unusual elements together to produce a dreamlike effect; merging reality with fantasy, simulating the subconscious mind. But sometimes paintings are just “a little bit” surreal. The unexpected, unreal, or dreamlike qualities may be so subtle that viewers of this style of art may not even be aware of it, and yet, they’ll probably sense that something is different that they can’t quite put their finger on.


In “Kitchen Devotions“, there are several elements in the composition that are unexpected. why are the flowers in a food bowl? Why is one side of the curtain moving slightly, even though the window is closed and the other side of the curtain is standing still? Why are the walls that odd color and pattern? Why does the mug look like it was made by a pottery student? Why is the bookmark floating rather than in perspective? Why does the book look “ghostly” and blank? Why are the flowers spaced evenly apart and straight?

Artists who paint “freestyle” (painting an idea rather than prioritizing a careful, realistic technique), may inadvertently paint in a slightly surreal style. “Kitchen Devotions” was a freestyle exercise to paint whatever came to mind, without looking at a reference or planning ahead. This type of exercise is beneficial for any skill level of artist and may even emerge to become a favorite work or a signature style.


Freestyle painting is a good option when an artist depicts a past event in which there are no photographs or existing places to re-visit for reference. When recalling the painful real life memory that “Darkened Woods” represents, it wasn’t my intention to paint an unreal, dreamlike scene. I imagined myself back in time, re-living those moments when I was running through the woods. The result is an aerial perspective that is unnaturally flat, like what one might recall seeing in a dream.

Even the video for “Darkened Woods” is a bit surreal, because the opening segment of my cheerful face is juxtaposed to the melancholy in the painting footage, placing unrelated and completely out of sync elements in one place. This was not intentional and it comes across as uncomfortably awkward. I’ve since thought I should edit the introduction out.


People usually see only my hands, so I was trying to put myself in front of the camera more often. This was an odd time to do it, but isn’t life like this? There’s never a good time for profound sadness, nor is there a bad time for a joyful spirit. The two often appear side-by-side. So, at least for now, the video stays as it is. Surreal presentations remind us that life isn’t tidy; it’s often a confusing ball of “good and bad” that defines the human experience.

Painting a dreamlike composition may happen naturally when an artist is daydreaming while painting. “Pumpkins and Mums” was a project assignment for a book, but there were no plans for this art beyond painting pumpkins and mums in a “pumpkin patch” sort of setting. So, I imagined a pleasant autumn scene that I’d personally enjoy.


The result was a painting that expanded to include more things I wanted. Why not add a couple of chairs and alfresco dining? Would I care for a cup of coffee or tea? Let’s add some food on the table for hospitality, as I’m welcoming you to join me. What’s behind us? We need a pretty autumn backdrop. As I painted my ideas, the art took on a dreamlike quality. It was a good dream, indeed, and it’s now a real place to visit. It became real when I shared it here with you.

Painting Diary

When artists paint a diary of their lives, their work may be recognized globally, regionally, or locally.Flag at Tybee Island” is a famous icon, as it is displayed on the only road to or from Tybee Island, Georgia. Tybee’s beaches attract tourists worldwide, and because the Internet brings every corner of the globe to the far reaches of the Earth, one doesn’t need to visit a place to be familiar with it.


This particular icon was also given international publicity. The flag was featured in major media after police officers rescued it from flood waters after a hurricane. That news story was then distributed widely online. So, while I painted this scene because it is my personal happy milestone telling me and my family that we are nearing our favorite weekend place, it is globally identifiable. When I posted this art online with no description, someone recognized it immediately as the flag from the Tybee Island roadside. What may be a personal “diary share” in the artist’s mind, may be globally recognized.

When paintings depict objects, people, or events that aren’t globally recognized, they may still be regionally identifiable.Floral Cross” was inspired by a table display I admired on Easter morning at a new church I was attending. Each guest was invited to place real cut flowers into the cross display. I’d never experienced this beautiful Easter service ritual before, but the same experience was shared by all who attended that service, and was likely heard of throughout the region.

Even the things we see in our own backyards may be recognized, at least locally. I enjoy this little guy who comes to our patio hummingbird feeder often. He seems like “our” tiny wild pet, but he is of course an ordinary common bird belonging to nature. “My” backyard birds are all over the neighborhood, and little birds identical to him are local visitors to everyone in the surrounding area at the same time, as we share the same seasons, specific environmental conditions, and localized weather impacts.

When artists paint the things that they see in their daily lives as a shared diary of sorts, their work may be relatable on a global, regional, or local scale. However, spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally, any shared art can still be relatable, even if the viewer doesn’t recognize or connect with the painting through personal experience or prior knowledge. The beauty of sharing our personal lives with others is that we often find that other people have experienced similar joys, sorrows, and the full range of emotions that make us human. When we share our humanity, we are never alone.

Painting Jesus

Classical paintings of Jesus Christ emphasize form, simplicity, balance, proportion, and aesthetics. This type of art, such as Jesus at the Table, often looks vintage even if painted by a contemporary artist (like me) living in present day. Realism in the portraiture, earth tone hues, and highly detailed compositions are what make classic art rich in color and storytelling.

Jesus Christ remains the “most popular” historical figure of all time, according to several sources that rate such things (it is unknown how accurate rankings are, but when doing a search for art and writings about Jesus, it’s obvious that the rankings are likely accurate). Because people are very familiar with how Jesus is typically painted, an artist is taking a risk when painting Jesus Christ. However, taking risks is how artists grow.

Nativity is painted in a traditional way, in the style that one might see on a cover of a Christmas card. Indeed, I have sold several such cards. This traditional style of painting Jesus depicts him as a baby with Mary and Joseph, and is associated with celebrating Christmas. While the figures are somewhat detailed and arranged in a traditional way, the composition is simplistic. This keeps the focus on the figures and the story.

Representational paintings of Jesus take creative license and may be more of a design than a composition. In “Angel Watching over Jesus, viewers understand that the bundled baby is the Christ child because of the presence of the angel and the golden hues in this painting. This style is very far removed from the classical style, and from the dynamic of painting Jesus as a man instead of as a baby.

Taking a risk as an artist is not only about the subject matter chosen (a religious, historical, or political figure will certainly bring risks), but also in the style of painting. It is presumably less of a risk when an artist paints Jesus as a Christmas baby, than when painting Jesus as a grown man in a classical style, with a composition that symbolizes his teachings.


However, it may surprise you to know that I have received more threats, hate, and crimes committed against me over the paintings of baby Jesus and angels than I have for painting Jesus as a man. I’m not sure what that says about the state of man, but I’ve long realized that I must be willing to be hated. I will not allow the deranged malice of others to stop me from creating. Artists must be brave.

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New Painting – “Wolf”

Fresh off the canvas NEW

Just finished today! “Wolf” is now added to 2021’s art collection “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Nature


Prints are available here. I’m thinking of making a fashion design from this art… something to play around with in the near future.

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Watch Natalie paint this wolf in just over a minute… (time lapse!)

This art is included in the collection “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Nature“.

Small Print “Wolf”

All small prints are approximately 8 x 10. Giclee Somerset Velvet Fine Art paper. Free shipping. No frame.


Medium Print “Wolf”

All medium prints are approximately 16 x 20. Giclee Somerset Velvet Fine Art paper. Free shipping. No frame.


Large Print “Wolf”

All large prints are approximately 24 x 30. Giclee Somerset Velvet Fine Art paper. Free shipping. No frame.


Painting Yellow

Painting yellow is generally associated with positive emotions. Artists who paint in the healing arts and other areas connected to therapeutic positive thinking may go through many tubes of yellow paint. Nature, landscape, and children’s book painters rely heavily on yellow for trees, grass, plants, and sunny skies.

 “Little Girl in a Tree” depicts confidence and carefree attitudes of childhood through her bold red and blue hued clothing, casual body language, and facial expression. But it’s the yellow in the tree that frames this scene with happiness. The yellow hues are repeated throughout the tree bark and her ponytail hairstyle. Yellow says “happy”!

There’s nothing freer than a bird, and when the bird is yellow, the connection between freedom and happiness feels clear. Of course we can see what we want to in this painting, and when I painted this it was merely a project assignment to illustrate a book. But, overall, vivid yellow shouts “feel good” vibes, especially in the context of uncomplicated, nonpolitical, no-strings-attached art.

Candle and Bible” is a much more profound and complicated example of painting yellow. For some, viewing this art will bring up happy feelings from childhood like “Little Girl in Tree“. Yellow appears in the flame and wall, golden candlestick and Bible pages, and is woven through highlights in the wooden table. Sunny warmth might call to mind fond memories of traditions, holidays, and special family moments.


The white candle may represent purity, simplicity, and tranquility. Some may feel peaceful, assured, and as spiritually free as “Goldfinches“. Yellow may seem like warm spiritual light.


But while some see “uplifting” in this piece, others may feel that this scene is oppressive, and the composition may stir up uncomfortable emotions, melancholy or even resentment. Hopefully the soothing yellows and golden browns make this art acceptable as “sharing and communication”, personal storytelling from one human to another. Sometimes the right color choice can soften our differences in how we think and feel.

“Little Girl in a Tree”

Watch Natalie paint “Little Girl in a Tree” in under 2 minutes in this time lapse video.

This art is included in the collection “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Nature“. It was originally painted as an illustration for children’s book “Fred”.

Small Print “Little Girl in a Tree”

All small prints are approximately 8 x 10. Giclee Somerset Velvet Fine Art paper. Free shipping. No frame.


Medium Print “Little Girl in a Tree”

All medium prints are approximately 16 x 20. Giclee Somerset Velvet Fine Art paper. Free shipping. No frame.


Large Print “Little Girl in a Tree”

All large prints are approximately 24 x 30. Giclee Somerset Velvet Fine Art paper. Free shipping. No frame.


Painting Shapes

Living Sand Dollar” is a simple shape, a circle. As a circle is round, painting this shape follows the same basic principles as painting other round objects, such as oranges. However, since the object is mostly flat, creative shadows and highlights emphasize the edges and create an illusion of dimension.

When painting symmetrical shapes, such as in “Butterfly of Hope“, it often works better to paint symmetry as slightly imperfect and organic. Nature isn’t usually precise. Even mirror-image patterns can have small differences from left to right, top to bottom. These differences bring character to the painting.

Painting geometric shapes like in “Dove of Peace” is a great exercise for training the brain to see balance through lines, angles, and triangles. This type of thinking helps an artist see how round, symmetrical and geometrical shapes come together in mathematical harmony. The angles of the dove’s wings make a triangular shape. This type of simplistic art can be reduced further when creating designs for logos, embroidery, crafts, and other projects that require clean shapes without much detail.

When training the brain to see shapes, future projects that are more complex can be broken down into manageable parts. Focusing on each shape within the shape, and repeating this process while working through the entire composition, is a mathematical approach to a project that prioritizes harmony and balance as whole. Life is much easier when we focus on only one step at a time. Before long, we can look back on the journey, amazed at how far we’ve come.

Painting Nostalgia

Painting nostalgia invokes wistful yearning for the past using generational clues, natural time markers and vintage compositions. “My Parents’ Wedding Day”, is a remembrance painting. Viewers know that this art is a period piece through the depiction of artifacts (my father’s military uniform and my mom’s now-vintage wedding dress) as well as the wistful hues that make the oil painting look almost like a colorized photograph.

Nostalgia art is easy to recognize when it features people; clothing is a basic and powerful generational clue. A vintage wardrobe is also supported by hair styles, color scheme, and other objects (for example, trends in floral bouquets). In remembrance paintings, nostalgia is created through period piece compositions.

Another style of nostalgia painting is reminiscent. Reminiscence happens when we see something that reminds us of something else. Trees are often older than we are, and have seen many generations come and go. For many people, the sight of trees creates nostalgia for days gone by. For this reason, painting nature can be a type of nostalgia art.

Perhaps an old tree like “Tree on Rock Hill” encourages us to let go of yearning to recreate memories, and instead accept the past as in the past. Like the roots of a tree, even when our past is no longer visible it remains. We are meant to grow from it, not remain stagnant or wither; the past is our foundation for growth. Letting go of pining or regret while embracing positive reminiscence, inspires the pursuit of new life adventures.

A retrospect style of nostalgia painting invites the viewer to look back on the past. While remembrance art such as “My Parents’ Wedding Day” shows itself clearly as a period piece, and reminiscence art like “Tree on Rock Hill” takes the opposite strategy (not straightforward, uses one object to remind viewers of something else, and this may not even be noticed by the viewer), a retrospect painting is a comfortable middle between overt remembrance and so-subtle-as-to-be-missed reminiscence.

A retrospect painting is a soft journey into the past, where warm fuzzy memories await. In “Peach Pie” comfort food served up by golden brown, red, and yellow hues welcomes us to the table. Painting simple joys creates positive, feel good recollections that see the past fondly, a universally sought-after and cherished human experience. When artists paint nostalgia, the world is in a small way a bit better than it was before.

Painting Optimism

Painting optimism is conveyed through the confident use of vibrant colors, committed textures, and open compositions. Children often have an easier time painting boldly than adults do. For adults who are reluctant to let their paints loose on the canvas, it may be a helpful exercise to view children’s art, which is generally fearless and authentic.

When painting optimism, choose subjects who naturally radiate a positive attitude. “Puffin” is a delightful contented character who assures us that our world is a good place to be. He’s boldly black, white, and shades of fire colors, dominating the green landscape. His feathers are heavily textured and more detailed than the rather undefined background. As he stands tall on his rocky perch, the puffin’s optimism makes this funny stout little bird as majestic as the king of the animal kingdom as he overlooks the place he calls home.

When painting optimism, an artist must not be afraid to break the rules. Be symmetrical when art and design “experts” tell you not to be, and when they expect symmetry, skew the composition in a way that sets their teeth on edge. Let your confidence lead the way, listen to your intuition, and let the paints boldly flow.

Be as the “Sunflower” who turns his face toward the sun. Let no worries hold you back as you seek what will help you grow.

Sound on for good vibes

Painting optimism requires confidence from the artist. When we choose to focus on positive outcomes and our ability to make sound decisions, we see possibilities in hopeless situations and create solutions to our problems. The trivial constraints and insignificant expectations placed on us by others simply roll off us. We stand like the Puffin, strive like the Sunflower, and fly like the Hummingbird.

Bold art is created by bold artists.

The “Hummingbird” is impossibly small, yet that doesn’t stop him from flying. Now, obviously the bird has wings- whereas, a platypus can’t fly, no matter how much he wants to. So, when we speak of confidence, we assume that we have the proper wings to fly.  With that assumption in place, self-belief is critical to anything we want in life. When we believe we can, we can.

When the simplicity of that truth really lands, we are unstoppable.