About David Gray

David Gray (b. 1970) acquired a strong foundational education in art while obtaining his BFA from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. His art education has continued with independent and occasional formal studies in pictorial expression and oil painting. The resulting work reveals a personal and contemporary expression of beauty and order which pays homage to the Classical Tradition in its craftsmanship. David's paintings have earned several national awards and his career has been covered by major art publications including Southwest Art, Art of the West, and American Art Collector. David's works are included in many discriminating private art collections throughout the United States and abroad. "Whether he is painting still lifes or figures, Gray brings a deep knowledge of and respect for the masters that translates into an elegant minimalism on canvas or panel. His tonalist portraits usually focus solely on the head and shoulders, while his still lifes feature timeless objects such as copper pots and china teacups surrounded by generous doses of negative space." --Bonnie Gangelhoff, Southwest Art

Questions about color? Visit HueValueChroma.com

Hi Everyone,

I hope you are having fine weather wherever you are. Here in the Northwest we are having…you guessed it — Rain. But it’s actually rather pleasant as we had previously had a very nice stretch of beautiful sunny weather. And as we who live here know, when the sun is out in the Pacific Northwest there are not many other places on earth that can rival the crisp, clean, sapphire and emerald brilliance. Makes all the rain worth it…almost.

Speaking of sun (light) and brilliance (chroma) I want to introduce to you what I consider an absolutely indispensable source of color knowledge for the realist painter: HueValueChroma.com. All of you who have asked me about color really need to visit this site and get this information into your artistic thought processes. It’s going to be a little rough going for some who shy away from technical language. It’s also going to challenge some of the conventional color “wisdom” that has been taught in art schools for years. I personally find the information fascinating and VERY USEFUL.

This site is not going to give you recipes for perfect skin tones or how to paint silver, but it will give you a grasp of light and it’s relationship to how we see color. It will give you a vocabulary and some key knowledge about what you are seeing in nature and how to apply it to painting. So check it out. If it seems a little hard to grasp at first, stay with it and give it a chance. Some of you are going to find this the very thing you have been looking for. Color was really an enigma for me until I was taught some similar information by a great mentor Douglas Flynt. Color is definitely still a challenge for me but it is not the elusive ghost it once was. It’s still up to me to continue my studies in color and experiment. Having the knowledge presented here puts my experiments into a context. I hope HueValueChroma will give you more control over your color choices as it has me.

Happy Spring!


A Recent Commission

Oil/canvas, 18×24 inches

This painting was recently shipped to its new owner in Cincinnati. My client said she wanted something along the lines of “The Storyteller”. I photographed several ideas and this is the composition we settled on.  A double portrait is never easy, but this one didn’t give me too much trouble. I’m pretty happy with the result. What I really enjoy about this painting is the presence of simultaneous similarities AND differences between the two girls. I know there’s a better way to say that (someone help me out). I enjoy the way they confront the viewer in a strong way, yet they are also peaceful and non-threatening. That’s not a quality I can plan for nor consciously try to communicate. It comes directly from the subject. It’s an example of one of the pleasant surprises that sometimes happens in painting. When the work starts to take on a life of its own, the artists knows she/he is on the right track.

On the teaching side of things, note the LACK of detail in the eyes. I particularly like how in the figure on the right the eye itself merges seamlessly into the lower eyelid. To me, the key to painting ANYTHING is just to paint what is absolutely necessary. I’m always surprised at the comments I get about my details. My surprise comes from the fact that every time I pick up a brush I am squinting down on my subject so as NOT to see the details. Now I know I paint more “details” than some artists but I hope you get what I’m trying to say here. I try to keep things relatively soft — almost slightly blurry. The number of razor sharp edges in this painting is probably five or less.

Until next time…


Color Study

Obviously the goal here is to get a grasp of the basic color relationships that will work in your painting. Doing two or three is a great idea if you want to explore other possibilities. When executing your actual painting you will now have a reference for what you are shooting for in terms of color and value. It doesn’t mean you can’t change things as you go. But doing little studies like this is a great low effort investment to get you started in the right direction.

Here’s a recap of the colors I used for this study (Note: The white balance on my camcorder is a bit on the warm side. My particular model does not allow for custom white balance):

Hair: raw umber

Skin tones (shadows):raw umber, burnt sienna, titanium white (“white” hereafter), venetian red

Skin tones (average lights): burnt sienna, yellow ochre, white, slight tint of veridian in the neck/upper chest

Skin tones (lightest lights): yellow ochre, cadmium orange, white

Shirt and Headwrap (shadow and average light): raw umber, white, burnt sienna, yellow ochre

Shirt and Headwrap Lightest Lights: white, cad orange, hansa yellow deep

Background: raw umber, yellow ochre, white, a bit of orange on the left

So you can see that almost everything I did was some sort of mixture of raw umber, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and white. As most of you already know, one can achieve incredible diversity in color with just a few tubes of paint. Since I use a more naturalistic approach to color with a definite leaning toward warm-neutrality those four tubes are my workhorses. I definitely use my other colors but not a whole lot (depending upon the subject). One exception to that is my increased use of viridian in my skin tones, especially in the half tones as the form turns away from the light into shadow.

As I alluded to in the video, I definitely use color studies but not nearly as much as I should. Doing color poster studies like this is going to be a more regular activity at David Gray Studio — especially when working from photos.

Update 5-29-12
Below is the completed painting based upon the photo reference and color study notes:

“Niña”, 12×16 inches, oil/panel


Real Time Underdrawing in Oil

Hi, Gang!

Thanks for visiting. Today I am starting a painting with a slightly more advanced method of beginning. No toned canvas and no careful drawing in charcoal. I am using Raw Umber thinned with OMS on acrylic primed hardboard. You can see that I am measuring but in a different way. You can tell that every mark I make is executed with extreme care. I am visually measuring distances; constantly comparing the spaces between such landmarks as hairline, bottom of the chin, etc. I will be posting the process of this particular painting in fast motion in a future installment but for this post we are just addressing the underdrawing.

I really wanted to give you the gist of how careful I am when I start the process. During the last workshop I taught I was just amazed by how quickly (and inaccurately) the students were laying down paint. If you want to be a realist you must train yourself to sssllooooooowww down and make marks that you can be reasonable sure are accurate. Double check and triple check your measurements before moving on to the next one.

If you are still relatively new to this type of painting I still advocate careful comparative measuring with some sort of measuring tool such as a knitting needle (my preference) and drawing with vine charcoal (also my preference). When you have many paintings under your belt with this method you can start to try the way I am demonstrating here in this video.

Stay tuned for a near future post that will take us through this painting from start to finish in a matter of minutes…

Happy Spring!!


Update 5-29-12 — Something is going wrong with my computer or my video editing program. I have the promised video ready but I can’t get it converted to the proper format for Youtube. I’ll try one more time. If that doesn’t work I’m going to need an IT person.


Hi Everyone,

Wecome back! “Paris” is still on hold. The piece in this video is a commission that needs to be finished soon, so I decided to demonstrate the usual fourth step of my process with this demo (The first three steps being 1) Underdrawing, 2) Underpainting, 3) Overpainting). I will still do something like this with Paris when time allows.

The quality of video I’m currently using does not really show the subtle changes I’m making. From the explanations and watching my brush move around you can kind of get an idea what I’m doing, but I wish it was more evident. Some parts of some paintings require more adjustments. In this particular case there was not a whole lot needed.

Gregg Kreutz

Believe it or not, I’m really new to the whole youtube thing. I had no idea how much stuff is on there. As I’ve begun adding my own videos to youtube I have been stumbling upon some good stuff from time to time. This morning I found this little gem.

Gregg Kreutz is a former student of David Leffel, which is still fairly evident in his current  work. In my book list I name Gregg’s Problem Solving for Oil Painters as a big influence in my painting education.

I always enjoy watching a good teacher/artist at work. I also enjoy contrasting their process with my own. I always seem to learn something new. Take a peek at this video. When I work I see my subject in a more optical (or literal) fashion. Gregg sees in much more of a conceptual way, taking certain creative liberties with his subject while capturing the essential truths of what the light tells us about the surface of the subject. He works up the entire painting all at once, where I try to visualize the whole painting while working on it piece by piece. In both methods the same problems have to be tackled. We’re both concerned about color and value relationships and the effective translation of form, not to mention a good likeness — which in my art vocabulary means good draftsmanship.

I particularly like how he uses the background color in the transitional middle tones between light and shadow. He mentions this in his book as well. I don’t consciously do that but I do make my transitional tones more neutral, which does, in the end, relate to my typically neutral backgrounds. So the thought process there is different, but I think we both accomplish about the same thing. I think I would like to try a few paintings where I execute my halftones more like he does. That will necessitate a good color study before I start so I really know where I’m going. Should be interesting.

Happy painting!


4-10-12 UPDATE!Gregg Kreutz is giving a five day workshop at Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio April 22-26 of 2013. If you are in the Seattle area or are able to travel save your spot now. I’m seriously considering it for myself. I’m overdue for a workshop. Details HERE.

Concerning Skin Tones

I’ve had a lot of requests about my exact use of color for skin tones. I do plan to post something about that, or maybe a series of posts. But in the mean time check out this short video by Michael Siegel. I don’t know Mr. Siegel but I REALLY liked his comments about skin color. The material point being: there is no real correct skin color. It all has to work within the color world — or “key” as Michael puts it — of your painting. If your colors work well together (what we call color harmony) then the colors will be correct.

Exercise Regularly. Your Painting Will Thank You.

Hey, Everyone,

I’m going to eventually post everything I can possibly think of that is pertinent to my art life and particularly my painting methods. No doubt that will become a never ending project. But today I wanted to write about something that may get overlooked by many people that I consider absolutely essential to making the best paintings I can — health and fitness. We all know the benefits of a regular exercise regimen and a proper diet. I’m not going to bore you with that. But I do want to share a little of my experience that I hope will encourage some to begin a healthier lifestyle.

I grew up on good healthy home cooking and a fair amount of regular exercise. Eventually I got seriously into sports and even competed in college a bit. After college my workouts became sporadic but I still jogged regularly, which is something I’ve always enjoyed. When I began painting full time in late 2002 I really started to lose my tone. In large part this was due to the stress of self-employment. Money suddenly got very tight and so I was working all the time in hopes I could compensate. This was really the beginning of my failure to take care of my body. I still ate well, but I wasn’t exercising regularly. I never did have a weight issue but my core just got really soft — YUCK! I still jogged but it was not very regular. I could still tackle five miles without much trouble but I didn’t do it very often.

Okay, fast forward to Spring of 2011. Chronic back pain. Oh yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Every day. All day. Not fun. And me only at the tender age of 41. So I visited my doctor and got an X-ray. Yep, a bit of arthritis in the lumbar region. Perfect! Well, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it got me back on track to working out regularly and eating even better. I started with some physical therapy; God bless those guys. They gave me some great stretches and exercises to do to strengthen my poor, weak back. About this time my wife started doing P90X. If you don’t know what this is you should check it out at beachbody.com. It’s a fantastic workout you can do at home. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart and it will rock your world. I started working out with my wife and it was amazing. It was just the ticket to get me strong again. I didn’t lose a bunch of weight but my body sure changed shape. My back started feeling better and I just felt better all around. I started reaping the benefits we all know about.

So did my art get better? Everything got better! There is such a huge mental benefit from working out intensely on a regular basis. You can wake up in the morning stressed about finances or whatever it may be. You go do your workout, get the blood flowing and get your lungs working. Afterwards you feel tired but whatever you were worried about just doesn’t seem quite as bad. Now this happens to me ALL the time. I’ll also share that I suffer from mild depression. I take a small dose of anti-depressant with my lunch every day. Do you think a little depression can affect your work? You know it can, and does. It’s funny about that. Many, MANY artists have had depression. You start reading about these guys and you find it over and over again. Does it just come with the territory? I don’t know but it seems to be danged common among us creative types. Does regular exercise help that condition? Oh yeah.

So that’s it. If you’re not in the habit of exercising regularly do yourself a favor and start by taking a brisk walk. Half a mile. If it’s raining wear a rain coat. Just do something. Please don’t think I’m all high and mighty about this. I’m not. It’s tough to exercise. It’s not my favorite thing to do. But I LOVE the benefits. And I’m not getting any younger. The reason I have arthritis in my back is because my core got so weak from years at sitting at the easel everyday and doing nothing else. There’s no cure for arthritis. It’s not going to go away, but I can strengthen the muscles around those joints, stretch, and do weight bearing exercises. Walking is great for my back — Fast walking. My art benefits, my family benefits, and my ability to deal with stressful situations is much, much better.

So, for what its worth…