Portable Art


With Amuna Laima at the Los Angeles Latvian Center, having a pop-up show in honor of Latvia’s 97th Day of Independence.


Recently, I’ve been showing my work at a lot of “pop-up” shows. I use this term to loosely describe any show that is short term, and as such I typically am not able to hang pieces on existing walls. There is truly an art to figuring out how to make a body of work portable enough for these shows. Here are three steps to being that guy that can show anywhere:

Step One:

Paint Small. It may seem obvious, but many beginning painters go through a “huge painting” phase. I was no exception. I remember starting out with oils for the first time, and going after that massive 4 foot by 8 foot canvas with reckless abandon. While it is a creative high to paint on a large scale, it is just not practical, and these days I rarely paint larger than 18″ by 24″. There’s never any problem with fitting the art into the car and storage is a snap.


The edge of my paintings – canvas mounted onto gator board with a layer of gesso.

Step Two:

Use a light, sturdy surface. I paint on a material called “gator board“. It’s often used in the film industry to build models from. It’s basically like standard foamcore, but ten times more durable and just as light. To prep my surface, all I do is put down a layer of gesso onto the gator board with a mud knife, then lay a piece of pregessoed canvas right on top. After about 4 hours it’s totally dry and ready to paint on. The end result is a painting surface that is both ultra durable and extremely light – great for transporting, unlike stretched canvas that tends to get divots from other things in your car. I just can’t stand stretched canvas…

A great, lightweight easel that breaks down small and is easy to set up.

A great, lightweight easel that breaks down small and is easy to set up.

Step Three:

Find a good, lightweight display easel. There are a ton of options for display easels out there, so this is totally up to individual preference. I found this super cheap model on the Michael’s online store and found it to be satisfying. It breaks down to about 28″ long, and the simple black wood goes nicely with black frames. At the Illuxcon convention in October this year, I was surprised to look around me and find that nearly all the other artists were using exactly the same easel. Apparently the deal is pretty good 🙂 I actually added additional support to the two front legs to give it a little more staying power, but it’s not all that necessary if the painting on it isn’t over 7-8 pounds.


The black easel + black frame combo – classy!

The Making of “Summertime”


“Summertime” on display at the 97th Independence Day Celebration this past weekend at the Latvian Hall in Los Angeles.

I recently finished a painting inspired by traditional Latvian folkwear, titled “Summertime”. Many people responded positively to this piece at an popup show in LA this past weekend, so I thought it would be a great piece for a “Making Of” post.

With “Summertime”, I actually started by shooting a model in various poses before settling on any one particular idea. I knew from the outset that I wanted to paint a portrait that was inspired by traditional Latvian folkwear, but wasn’t sure on what potential pose would work the best for the concept. Dzoanna, the model and I had never worked together so I didn’t have a good idea of her character. I decided to let the photo session lead to a pose naturally instead of coming with a preconfigured idea of how I wanted her to look.

Luckily for me, Dzoanna did a great job and gave me a number of wonderful poses to work from. I went with the fourth photo but any of the previous three could have worked as well.


I then used a grid process to draw the photo reference from my computer onto a 12″ by 16″ piece of sketch paper. Gridding is a common transfer method and I like it for a few reasons – it helps to keep the drawing proportions accurate and also forces me to pay attention to every individual gridded section of the piece. It’s very simple – by using a grid that’s overlaid on top of the photo, I simply match up the grid sections that in equal number and proportion on a piece of sketch paper, and then copy them by hand.

I find that I don’t ignore the random folds and drapery as much in favor of juicier areas like the face and hands when I use a grid method. It’s a little more laborious than other methods but I like the observation that it forces.

Underpainting stage.

Underpainting stage.

First layer of colors.

First layer of colors.

Second layer - focusing on primary elements like the face, hands, and also the background around the figure.

Second layer – focusing on primary elements like the face, hands, and also the background around the figure.

Adding refinements - pattern on sleeve, pattern on skirt hem, flowers. Another pass on the face and corrections to the hands.

Adding refinements – pattern on sleeve, pattern on skirt hem, flowers. Another pass on the face and corrections to the hands.

I believe this took around 4-5 sessions to complete. After I have the painting transferred, the process is a number of passes that go from an underpainting to successive layers of mostly opaque paints. I don’t use a lot of turpentine at all, and linseed oil is mostly reserved for the later refinements. I try to let the paint really handle the job and have been trying to avoid thinning it overmuch or using a lot of washes. This avoids both over-refining and lets me finish the painting in a relatively short period.

Summertime - 16" by 20"

Summertime – 16″ by 20″

Finally, the piece comes together as a finish and it’s ready to display. I had a fun time with the beautiful patterns on the sleeves and decided to break out of my normally quite somber range of colors with a burst of summer flowers that complement the bold palette of the skirt and sleeves. Weirdly enough, I am happiest with how the black skirt turned out. Black clothes are always a challenge, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever managed to paint them convincingly. Bring it on, black! I hope you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for more like these in the future 🙂

Character Portraits, Real and Imagined

"Mia", 12 inches by 16 inches, oils on canvas.

“Mia”, 12 inches by 16 inches, oils on canvas.

I have recently begun attending a figure painting session with fellow bay area artists. It’s been a great weekly routine in which about four to six painters and a model crowd together for warmth in a cozy garage studio in the Oakland Hills and together struggle to depict the human form for four hours. Beer and bad art puns are shared amongst all. I’ve been to a lot of different drawing and painting groups over the years, and I have to say this one is my favorite so far. Sometimes I pull off a great portrait, and sometimes I just learn from mistakes (usually the latter).
"Mickey," 12 inches by 16 inches, oils on canvas

“Mickey,” 12 inches by 16 inches, oils on canvas

Sometimes in my initial lay in I go for something more than a simple portrait. The above painting of the model Mickey was one of these. I struggled with her posture and proportions pretty much the whole time, but at the end I was reasonably sure I captured her silhouette somewhat accurately. It’s not a knock-out painting by any means, but I learned a lot, which is what it’s all about.
In progress character portrait

In progress character portrait

This practice is in turn translating into what I am doing at the studio. I’ve recently started up a series of small character portraits that are inspired by a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I’m running. I’m not sure what this series will turn in to, but I’m having a lot of fun translating what I’m learning into narrative works. Stay tuned for more coming soon!

Illuxcon 8 Recap


My very first showcase booth at Illuxcon 8! (photo credit: Shawn Hendricks)

About one year ago, I remember debating with myself whether or not I wanted to try exhibiting at Illuxcon. With every convention, there are certain calculations one undergoes before settling on whether or not to attend, along with a plethora of questions. For example: Will my work be received well? Will it sell? What is the cost of amenities in the surrounding area? Can a hearty breakfast of flapjacks and scrapple be found for a reasonable price? (more on scrapple later)

I finally took the leap and decided to sign up, fully aware that the distance from CA to PA involved significant up front travel costs that could only be somewhat recouped if my work was received well. It was a gamble, with my art squaring off against the uncertainties of a entirely new east coast audience that I’ve had yet to encounter.

The Allentown Art Museum, where the Main Show and Weekend Salon took place.

The Allentown Art Museum, where the Main Show and Weekend Salon took place.

Luckily… it paid off! I couldn’t have asked for more from my very first Illuxcon. I found a great new group of friends and discovered an incredible range of artists whose work I’ve never seen anywhere, online or off. I sold a nice amount of prints, cards, and even an original painting! I attended workshops by Rick Berry, Donato Giancola, Marc Scheff and Lauren Panepinto. The only thing I didn’t experience much of was sleep, but it was worth the sacrifice. I am still buzzing with excitement!

Downtown Allentown.

Downtown Allentown.

One of the great things about Illuxcon is that the show is divided into sections that allow artists move about freely when they aren’t exhibiting. I actually didn’t realize this until I got there. There are three exhibition sections in the event: the Main Show (Wednesday through Sunday), the Weekend Salon (Saturday through Sunday), and the Showcase (Friday through Saturday). I exhibited in the Showcase. The important difference is that the Showcase takes place in the evenings, whereas the Main Show and Weekend Salon are during the day. This timing allows artists to see each others work from the different events and fosters a sort of continual milling about. I talked to many of the more veteran artists who were able to stop by my booth while they were off duty and it was a wonderful opportunity to exchange ideas and inspiration.

Another benefit of the staggered timing is that I was able to attend workshops and demos that happened during the day while I was off duty. So cool! I am used to missing all those events at other conventions where the scheduling is not so friendly to exhibiting artists.

The demo by Rick Berry and Vanessa Lemen was particularly interesting. Rick is a very cerebral character and his entire ethos is based on going back to childlike roots of creativity. His demo included the audience and was a sort of big paint swap. Never seen anything like it!

Witness - SOLD!

Witness – SOLD!

The all time high for me was selling my original painting “Witness” to a collector on Saturday night. I had no expectations of this whatsoever and it was a delightful surprise. The other aspect of Illuxcon that makes it a great show is the audience of art lovers that flocks to the con floor. Nowhere else have I seen so many originals picked up by collectors who directly benefit the artists without going through a gallery or agent. I actually kept track and figured out that all of my neighbors in my particular row area had sold at least one original. It seems like this is what really keeps both artists and collectors coming back!

At Allentown Center City Diner with the illustration crew!

At Allentown Center City Diner with the illustration crew!

Lastly, I had the unique opportunity to try “scrapple” for the first time ever. Scrapple is kind of like a meat patty that’s been pounded into a square by an oily hammer. I don’t really know why anyone would want to do that to a meat patty but it’s not too bad. Apparently, Illuxcon is moving from Allentown to the city of Reading (pronounced “redding”) next year. I hope that they have scrapple…

The plate with the brown square on the upper right - an Allentown delicacy known as "Scrapple".

The plate with the brown square on the upper right – an Allentown delicacy known as “Scrapple”. (photo credit: Becca Solow)

Illuxcon and the Road Ahead



I am excited to release several new developments! I have been working hard the last few weeks to prepare for my first ever exhibition booth at Illuxcon. Illuxcon is a “ground-breaking art show, symposium, and celebration dedicated solely to imaginative realism” that takes place on October 21-25 in Allentown, PA. Yours truly will be participating in the Showcase, an event during the expo that is at the Allentown Center City Holiday Inn’s on the evenings of Friday, October 23rd from 8 p.m. to MIDNIGHT and Saturday, October 24th from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. It’s my very first time exhibiting at Illuxcon, so wish me luck!

“Messenger” and my other recent paintings will be on display and available for sale, as well as prints and a new series of small drawings that I plan on bringing to the event. I am quaking in my boots imagining the incredible amount of talent on display, but am also extremely excited and looking forward to soaking up as much inspiration as possible!

In other news, I have recently switched to a new web hosting service. Enjoy the much decreased loading speed here at colinnitta.com 🙂 I also plan on releasing many more blog posts than I have previously to take advantage of this optimized service and hope you will enjoy my ranting on about the wonders of art. More process posts and how-to posts are forthcoming. Several colleagues and friends have mentioned that they enjoy the strange macgyver posts I occasionally create about how to build maquettes, set up a photography studio on a budget or build custom frames, so I will bring more of that sort of content to the table. I am also aiming to rerelease my online print store, which has gone through a number of iterations up to this point but I hope the next one will stick. Thanks for stopping by, I hope that you are as excited for the future as I am!

Time and Inspiration







I recently heard an interesting statement. I was sitting in on a drawing class, and the teacher said that there are three elements to a work of art: size, media and time. Size and media are the obvious two elements that anyone trying to make a picture considers. Time, however is a tricky piece of the puzzle. It could be quite literally how much time you have to make something. If a model holds a pose for five minutes, an artist literally has five minutes in which to draw that particular pose. The pose ends and the drawing is done – the drawing may be a fabulous success or a total failure, but after those five minutes it is finished.

Sometimes though, the time limit is not so literal. With my studio work, I tend to place time restrictions on myself just to frame the painting with some sort of endgame, ie “this must be finished in a week” or “I’m going to try and get this done in order for it to be dry before my next show”, that sort of thing. But there is another aspect about time and art that is more interesting to me and this in the conceptual domain.

Whenever I paint a picture, I am documenting my current place in history. My experiences up to this point change my relationship to the painting and every brushstroke builds upon the last with the knowledge gained by experience. I frequently find myself looking at work not more than a few months old and more often than not, I see mistakes that the few months of distance have revealed, like wiping the condensation off a foggy window. I have realized that I want to comment on this strange relationship of proximity and time in my work. Right now it is coming through in landscapes. In a few months – who knows? Time will tell…

Painting Abroad – Part 3

"Ancient Elm", 14 inches by 11 inches, oils on canvas.

“Ancient Elm”, 14 inches by 11 inches, oils on canvas.

You never know where a good painting will happen. During my six weeks in Europe, I was looking for inspiration in all the epic cultural monuments: magnificent old castles, beautiful cathedrals, the classic boulevards that dominate so many of these old world cities. It turns out that I was actually the happiest with a painting that I made of a relatively simple subject I could find just about anywhere: an old tree.

I was staying in Vidzeme Region near Riga, Latvia at a friend’s residence, and after taking a tour around the town (basically a small village on the outskirts of a huge forest, of which there are hundreds in Latvia), I saw this large tree that bordered on a nearby stream. It was the sort of tree I would have been drawn to like a magnet as a child – wide enough to hide behind, with a large exposed trunk that invites one to climb aboard.

Apparently, in Latvia, if a tree is old enough and has enough imposing stature, it is actually granted protected status from logging by designation as an “ancient tree”. This intrigued me. That a country with so many trees would take special care that a few of them that are particularly grandiose be protected shows that they have sort of institutionalized nostalgia for these beautiful giants.

I remember paying very close attention to the relative value of the trunk, and waiting to paint the dappled light on the ground cover until the sun moved out of the clouds. I think this really helped capture a special sense of atmosphere.


I also painted at the house we were staying at. Here is my depiction of the roses and a homemade greenhouse in the backyard. Many Latvian homes in this area had greenhouses and gardens, built by their owners for growing vegetables and other foodstuffs.

I could go on and on about the many experiences during my stay in Europe… but that might take a while. If you’d like to see more, check out a Tumblr blog that my girlfriend and I curated during our travels. It includes many images and descriptions of our adventures. Needless to say, I am chock full of inspiration for a long time to come! Stay tuned as I take many of these memories and translate them into the most vivid medium of all: oil and paint on canvas (that’s my opinion, anyhow!). Thanks for stopping by!

Painting Abroad – Part 2


“Street Lamp, Krakow”, 11 by 14 inches, oils on canvas.


Plein air painting in cities is a challenge. European cities full of tourists are no exception! During my travels, I was often staying in city centers where the most culture was present, and consequently, the most people. While sightseeing, I would keep an eye out for passageways with alcoves where I could prop up my easel without too much trouble and not have to worry about being in the way of a horse drawn carriage full of Asian tourists.

Another challenge is that cities are full of an incredible amount of detail pretty much everywhere  you look. Most interesting churches and old public buildings that make for compelling subjects are covered in an incredible amount of baroque and art nouveau filigree. It’s beautiful, but how am I supposed to capture that in a painting in just 2.5 hours?

The above scene was painted near the old town in Krakow, Poland. Krakow was the old capital before it moved to present day Warsaw, so the city is full of royal history from the days when the Polish royal family used to reside there. Below is a photo I took of Wawel Castle, where the king and queen liked to hang out back in those days. Check out those rotundas! Wow.


Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland


Speaking of Warsaw, I also traveled there and visited a friend of mine from my college days, Alek Morawski. It was great to see him again and see what he’s been up to. If you’re a fan of cartoons, hip-hop, and psychedelia (I mean, who isn’t??) then you’re probably a fan of Alek. – check out his website here!

Sharing a beer with the legendary Alek Morawski.

Sharing some Polish ale with the legendary Alek Morawski

While visiting, I stayed with Alek in his apartment which also was situated right on the edge of the Old Town district in Warsaw. It was yet again another part of town that was typically covered in streams of tourists. I happened to find this great spot right near the old city wall that in medieval times was the outer fortification of the city to defend it against invaders.

"Bulwark," 11 by 14 inches, oils on canvas.

“Bulwark,” 11 by 14 inches, oils on canvas.

While I was painting, several people came by to ask me about it in Polish. Needless to say, I couldn’t offer much. One lady said something to me, and then proceeded to dump a bucket of food scraps about five feet away from where I was painting. I think she said, “Sorry! Have to get rid of this. Right here.”

What a beautiful country. I can’t wait to return!

Painting Abroad – Part 1

This is my first blog post while painting and traveling in another country! I’ve spent the last four and a half weeks sightseeing and painting in Latvia and Poland, Prague (Czech Republic), Salzburg (Austria), Venice (Italy), Croatia, and Budapest (Hungary). It’s been a hell of a trip so far and is far too much to talk about in just one post. I’ve seen incredible paintings from European painters that I didn’t even know existed and visited some gorgeous old castles, ruins and palaces. To be honest, right now I’m having some difficulty processing all that I’m seeing. The wealth of visual culture here is staggering. This series of posts is just a notation on my experiences. 

Koknese Castle in Latvia was at the top of list of landmarks to visit long before I arrived. I found this particular ruin in an online database of castles in Latvia and knew that I had to see this place. Although it hasn’t been maintained over the years and doesn’t have the grandeur of other structures, decomposing appearance makes it mythical somehow. Archaeologists don’t know much about the place other than that it was strategically situated at the fork of two rivers in front of a settlement for defensive purposes. I’ve found that castles in Europe tend to fall in particular category, depending on how they’ve been cared for over the years. Here’s how I would define it:

  1. The castle hasn’t been used for a few hundred years and has fallen into complete ruin. Anything wooden has deteriorated and there are no floors or windows.
  2. The castle has had moderate maintenance over the years, or has been rescued from ruin for the purpose of sightseeing. Walls and floors are intact. Rooms have been remade into exhibits. Tapestries have been replicated and hung from the walls.
  3. The castle is still being actively used. Sometimes, this means it is still a government office, in other situations it has become a restaurant or other attraction. Modern lighting and plumbing have all been installed.

I’ve found castles that are all along this spectrum. Koknese was definitely a prime example of Category 1.

Photo by Gunta Klavina


Cesis Castle was what I call an example of Category 2. Cesis is one of the oldest towns in Latvia and has a very detailed history. The castle was besieged many times, and was captured by Russian czar Ivan the Terrible in 1577. As was often the case with desirable fortresses, it was taken back a few months later (of course). It’s captured the imagination ever since and has been kept up over the years as a prime sightseeing destination.

As a matter of fact, it was still being worked on while I was painting this very picture. If you look carefully at the picture above, you may see a small dark silhouette at the top of the tower. This is actually a construction worker assembling the new roof. The old roof was made of wood, but it was suffering from weathering and damage. A local tour guide actually informed us that we were the first artists to ever depict Cesis Castle with it’s newly built roof!


Fellow painter Amuna Laima studying the same tower from our vantage point of Cesis.

We went on to tour many more castles and had the chance to paint a few of those, as well as other landscapes unique to this part of the world. More to come soon!

The Making of “Supernatural Disaster 5”

Supernatural Disaster 5 - for an ongoing project, copyright Centipede Press, 2015.

Supernatural Disaster 5 – for an ongoing project, copyright Centipede Press, 2015.

I was recently given permission to post some additional work from an ongoing project called “Supernatural Disaster.” I’ve been working on this project for some time now with the publisher Centipede Press. I can’t say much about it at the moment, but a first release should be coming soon. Big thanks to art director Jerad Walters for the project!

This piece called for some very evil trees, reminiscent of those found in The Wizard of Oz. Before making any sketches, I like to do my research. In particular, I studied this clip carefully:

What really seems to make these trees so eerie is their very human expressions, as well as the feeling that they are constantly watching. I think the idea that you can’t get away from a menacing presence that seems to watch your every move gets to a very primal sense of horror. It became clear that I needed to have a few evil trees in the scene, to show this sense of being surrounded and unable to escape.

24a 24b 24c

After studying the clip, I began brainstorming and coming up with ideas for the illustration. In addition to the trees, I needed to include a priest character fighting them off with a bible and a vial of holy water. At first, it was a challenge to figure out how exactly I should communicate visually that the water was a kind of weapon. I eventually figured out that holy water is typically carried in a bottle with a cross at the top, and it became clear that this would definitely say “holy water” more than anything else.

I always try to send at least three sketches to the art director with the hope that at least one of the three has a chance of being a decent idea.  After the second sketch was approved, I moved on the fun part – shooting reference!


For the evil tree, super sculpey turned out to be the perfect material to get the reference I needed. I loved working with this stuff and had a ton of fun carving the sculpey into the perfect expression of twisted malevolence.


After getting the tree just right, I hire the nearest model (myself) for the priest character and spend hours getting into character and hunting down all the proper priestly vestments, props and accessories. (Actually, any old book, liquor bottle and a dress shirt will do.) I overlay the reference on top of my sketch in photoshop and then it’s just a matter of matching up the different pieces to create a pleasing composition.


Then it’s time for the final sketch. I try to always take time for this step, even if the reference is really solid. I find that I always add or discard information, so a final sketch is key to figuring out how it’s actually going to be painted.


After all the preliminary steps, it’s just a matter of painting the final and sort of just feels like “filling in”. I had the most fun with getting the tree’s texture just right and used the palette knife to give it a rough, gnarled surface. There is a certain pleasure in scraping the paint onto the canvas that I just can’t get in any other media… I suppose this is why oil paint, despite it’s cumbersome set-up, expensive material cost, dangerous fumes and long drying time, is still my weapon of choice. I guess I have to learn to love it, because I definitely can’t let it go!

I hope you enjoyed my latest “making of” post! Thanks for looking 🙂