Progress in Painting

Hello and good day! I know it has been quite some time since I have created any new blog posts. I have devote the bulk of my available time to study with the Evolve Artist training program and have made great strides in my oil painting skills. I would recommend the program for any artists looking to improve their control of the fundamentals or simply looking for guided instruction on realism and the oil paint medium. Note that I do not receive compensation for this statement, just a satisfied artist with the education received for the cost.

Here are a couple of recently completed works:

9″ x 12″ Oil on Canvas Panel
9″ x 12″ Oil on Canvas Panel

I hope everyone is having a great week! – Jim Sponseller – 2022

I’ve Been Painting!

Hello! And welcome to September! So, it has been a bit quiet around this blog lately. There is a good reason for that, actually. I have taken what time I have as free time and dedicated it to learning to paint. Unfortunately, I haven’t left enough free time to drop in updates to the blog and so it has suffered. However, if you would like to learn more of my experience so far, just keep reading…

How are you learning to paint?”

I am glad that you asked! After a few conversations with my amazing wife, we agreed on a time when I could sign up for the Evolve Artist program. I was able to enroll on Saturday, July 24th of this year and the ball started rolling. This program is designed around the concept that art works are composed of three moving parts, Value, Edge, and Color. Controlling these three aspects of any scene will allow you to realistically recreate the scene of a subject on canvas. This course includes most of the materials needed and by the following Friday (6 days later) I received my first supply box!

The Evolve Artist box has arrived!

I did not record an unboxing video but if you would like to see what is in the box, here is a video by Mithrilda of just that! She has a whole series on her experience with the Evolve Artist program and it has been a real joy to follow along with her. Go check it out!

Diving Right In

The very next morning, I completed my first assignment! This course is broken in to video clip instruction and demonstrations, followed by you completing a homework and submitting for review. Upon review, the instructors will provide feed back of things you need to keep in mind and work harder on with your upcoming assignments. The homework tool is also useful to ask questions and tell them about any hurdles you faced while working on the assignment. During the week days (M-F) they strive to respond to any homework submissions within 24 hours, while on the weekends that time frame can double up to about 48 hours. I do know they are working to hire more weekend instructors to bring this closer to the 24 hour time frame as well though. So, here it is!

Exercise #1 – Value Squares

Doesn’t look like much, does it? Well, they understand some of their students, including yours truly, have very little experience with an artist paint brush so the first exercise is quite simple. You are mixing your paint to the correct consistency, practicing sharp edges, and getting a feel for the values of the paint you are using. There is actually quite a lot of learning going on even though the result appears simple. On to the next 2 exercises…

Exercise #2
Exercise #3

You can already start to see some improvement in the gradients between exercises 2 and 3. See, edges are generally two types as taught within the course. There are sharp edges and graded edges. Now, there are thousands of variations of those 2 in the quality/level of the sharpness or gradient and the general edge shape but from a technique standpoint, they can be grouped into those two techniques. So here we are, 3 exercises in and we’ve already been taught the two edge techniques. Now we will continue to improve our control of these techniques through out the rest of our painting career! There is something else going on in these last 2 exercises as well…value transition! When in grayscale (and likely in color, though I’m not there yet) most of the value transitions are 1 step or 2 steps when moving from shadows into lights as taught in this program. There are 3 sets of gradients here, a transition from extreme shadow to moderate light (2 value steps), moderate shadow to moderate light (1 value step), and moderate shadow to extreme light (2 value steps). As a general rule, you typically will not see a transition from extreme shadow to extreme light (3 value steps) along a single edge. I am sure there are exceptions but that is the rules we have to learn by at this point in our studies.

“Wait, Exercises?! I want to paint Pictures!”

You’re in luck! Starting with the 4th exercise, we start putting our learned techniques to work. Exercise #4 is all sharp edges and starting to get a grasp on what is in the light and what is in shadow.

Cubes – 4.5″ x 7.5″ oil on Canvas Sheet

Next up, first use of gradients!

Sphere – 4.5″ x 7.5″ oil on Canvas Sheet

As you can see, we are already starting to be able to paint realistic still lives and that was all within my first week! As we progress through the program, each still life begins to get more and more complicated in little steps. The next paintings are all now full 8″ x 10″ scenes shown here in the order of progression.

Cylinder, Ball on Cube – 8″ x 10″ oil on Canvas Sheet
Cylinder on Vase – 8″ x 10″ oil on Canvas Sheet
Two Cubes and Bottle – 8″ x 10″ oil on Canvas Sheet
Mushroom and Cone – 8″ x 10″ oil on Canvas Sheet
Bottle and Tape – 8″ x 10″ oil on Canvas Sheet

My favorite of that set is the 2 cubes with the bottle. At this point the course adds in two new elements to handle, reflections and highlights. Now we are given constraints for now of only using a 1/2 value step to represent these elements so we can build an understanding of the relationships relative to the items they are on so in many cases they are understated here but on a path to better understand how to achieve them down the road correctly.

Apple on Pot with Ball – 8″ x 10″ oil on Canvas Sheet
Pear on Cylinder with Pot – 8″ x 10″ oil on Canvas Sheet
Jug with Apple on Cylinder – 8″ x 10″ oil on Canvas Sheet

My favorite so far is the last one. This photo does it justice as in other lighting conditions there are a few blemishes in the painting I am not happy with, a couple of errant reflections in the shadows.

What’s Next?

So here I am, 5 and 1/2 weeks since signing up and I have already painted 2 – 4.5″ x 7.5″ paintings, and a total of 8 – 8″ x 10″ paintings. My skills are progressing nicely and I am confident that this program will help me achieve my goals. It is very well planned and the founder, Kevin Murphy, has really been very thoughtful on how to present this learning. He is articulate, careful, calculating, and practical! It has been a joy thus far and I look forward to where this program can take me. Thank you Evolve Artist!

Jim Sponseller – – 2021

Site Overhaul 2021 – A New Journey

If you’ve followed along recently, you will know that I am planning to sign up with the Evolve Artist program to expand on my artistic skill set. Well, I am now enrolled and anxiously awaiting my first supply box for blocks 1 and 2. The journey has begun! As a result, the direction of this blog and my site at will be transitioning to a more art related platform as I share more original works of art and some of the learning exercise results along the way.

To further support this initiative and represent the art works more directly, and to give me something to occupy my time while waiting for the course materials, I have updated my theme and layout. If you have a moment, any feedback on the new layout would be great. Simply head over to for a look-see and reply below.

Teaser image:

Site layout 2021
Site layout 2021

Thank you for your time and for stopping by! Have a great day!

Jim Sponseller – – 2021

A Landscape in Pastel

Snowy Sunset

Welcome back to this art journey I’ve undertaken. After completing the flower pieces I talked about previously, I decided to try my hand at a landscape/sunset piece. I really love a good sunset and love to take photos of them as you are likely aware if you have followed along for awhile now, so I figured it would be a good subject choice.

I managed to do a few things right, and well, more things wrong. I feel it lacks a the flow of the land in the first snow covered field just behind the trees. The next field, where snow lays between rows of harvested corn stalks is a bit too dark. I do find the snow covered hills far off in the distance visible through woods and tree lines turned out nice. The sky has some nice colors but overall the blues I used were way too dark in comparison. They should be lights and be in the upper half of the color values but here they are darker than some foreground elements.

I mostly was happy with the piece though as overall it is pretty representative of the initial photo I was using as a reference. I chose a light blue hued pastel paper figuring it would show through for the sky better but the paper is so toothy I had to fight to cover the blue elsewhere in the image. If you look at the trees in the foreground you can see it showing through so I felt I was fighting the paper the whole way through. After I finished this piece I went searching on google for some additional information on pastel and landscapes. [Who asks for directions before you get lost? 😉 ]. I happened upon a wonderfully informative learning blog: Landscape Painting in Pastels by Deborah Secor. There is a wealth of information on painting landscapes using pastels with topics from additional helpful tools, how to select good pastels, and which surfaces work well. She discusses technique in laying down the pigments and points on various landscape elements. The site even provides the entire tutorial set as a PDF download free of charge! Thank you Deborah!

In the chapter on surfaces to use there was a segment on the very paper I have here at hand, which she expects most pastel artists use at least briefly in their art simply because it is affordable and readily available. This is cotton pastel paper in various shades by Canson, of which I have the 9″X12″ size. She mentions the toothy-ness issues and her own struggles with it:

“The screen­like grain on the front (the side that bears the watermark) left so many tiny holes
in the painting that I often found myself blending too vigorously and far too often.” (Landscape Paintings In Pastel, Deborah Secor)

And is exactly the experience I am having too. She goes on to say that the back side texture is quite different and was softer, something my inexperienced self had not thought to explore. So I have since turned the paper over and am enjoying using it much much more. So if you have an interest in pastel painting, even if you don’t intend to paint landscapes, this book is a GREAT free learning tool that will help in so many ways. It is 142 pages long, laid out in 35 chapters and covers topics related to landscapes, color theory, pastel technique, selling art, getting gallery representation. The whole of topics in the career of pastel painting artist!

As for me, I moved on to a few portraits as I am still searching which subject category I am most drawn to by experimenting with many. Landscapes are sure to rank up there as I love landscape drops against sunsets. Sunsets, however, may be overly done since they are loved by many and may lack that bit of creative spark to draw the viewer into your painting, or so I have read in other search result content.

Next time I will talk a bit about my experiences with portraits in pastel so far. Until then, thanks for stopping by and may your travels through life be safe!

Jim Sponseller – – 2021