Taming The Lion

“Harbor Impressions”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

Occasionally, one stumbles into a mood that prevents anything serious from being played out in the studio . . . . .or anywhere else.   I am not sure if this is just a spilling out of happiness . . . or a vacation from being too serious.    And I am still not sure of the source . . . .but I know in my soul that it is important to take on that sort of mood while operating a paint brush on occasion.
Eh?   What do you mean, Mike?   After all, isn’t learning to paint a serious pursuit?   Well, yes, it is.   In fact, it is one of the most serious forms of study that any sane person can take on.  But there must a be a time when us painters must throw much of our inborn caution to the wind, take a big risk and paint something in a manner not done before.   Putting paint down on a dry canvas or a dry piece of cotton paper is about as commonplace as it can get.   Change that surface so that the paint does different stuff with the paint than we are accustomed to trying to control . . . .that packs all sorts of failure risks!!
Aw!   Go ON!!   Take a risk!!   What have you to lose?    If you are a watercolor painter, try this . . . . . . with a big clean, water saturated sponge, wash down both sides of your paper a minimum of three times . . .  .wiping with lots of water . . .  .until the paper gives up all of its native stiffness.  It should have the consistency of a saturated rag.   Really!!
Once done, place the paper on your board so that it is perfectly in the place you would want in order to paint on it.   (Caution:  You may have to staple it down at some point, so be sure your paper is on a board that will accept stationary staples.)
Lay out the saturated paper.    Roll up a terry cloth hand towel in a very tight roll.   Hint:  fold it lengthwise first, then roll from one end of the long dimension.    Pressing firmly onto the paper roll the rolled up towel over the paper in order to take up the majority of the water on the surface, in the fiber of the paper and underneath the paper.    What will remain is a piece of fairly damp paper with no shiny spots on the surface.  
Use a flat, syntheticwatercolor brush to apply the paint when the time comes to make marks.    Why synthetic?    It won’t hold much water in its bristles.   You will want to have the paper do most of the adding of water to the paint . . . . DO NOT saturate your brush.
Now, go ahead and paint what ever subject you like.   Lots is going to happen that you don’t expect . . . .  .beautiful ‘granulation’ . . . . soft, even fuzzy edges . . . . intermingling of colors in places you least want or expect . . . . values will significantly fade . . . .just about everything you would normally fight, in order to hold onto control will happen.
Go ahead . . . . . paint on it . . . take chances . . . what will happen if your brush is too wet?    What will happen as the paper begins to dry?    Yikes!   What if you make a mistake?    Can you wipe it up?   Can you lift?   Can you make a graded wash?   Can you give up control?   Well . . . . CAN YOU?
Here is the point:    The only way you will ever get to know your medium well enough to master it is to challenge it (and yourself) in every way you can!!   That’s right!    You must test it and test yourself so often that you get to the place where you can anticipate what it is going to do before it happens.
By going on a mental “vacation” and opening yourself up to courting absolute failure and letting happen what will happen, you will find that it is actually fun!!   That’s right, it is play!!   
There’s more to goof around with than just the paper and how dry it isn’t.   How about painting everything in a painting (and I do mean everything) with a three inch flat brush?   Or a big hake brush?   What if you confined yourself to just three colors?   Or, what if you put ox gall in your water?   What would happen?    Or, horrors!!!   Paint with your paper absolutely vertical!!    Could you stand it?   Or could you put yourself into a frame of mind to give it a go and let it do whatever it is going to do?
At some point in our painting life, we have to face every sort of challenge.   The masters never had much trouble with challenges because they actually practiced every possible thing that could happen and practiced how to handle the conditions that arose.  
Just because “it’s hard” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tackle it!!!!!    Get into that lion’s cage and tame the lion !!!    (You won’t die or even get scratched!)

Color Harmony . . .

 “Walk to the Lighthouse”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches


“On Chimney Rock”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
The words “Color Harmony” are frequently spoken, but it is my concerted opinion that many painters simply miss the meaning of the words and, moreover, how to apply them to their paintings.
On a recent trip to teach a short Plein Air painting workshop at Point Reyes National Seashore, every day was overcast and foggy . . . . .and some of the painters were disappointed in the fact that there ‘was no sun or shadow.’    I understand their disappointment.   When the sun is out, there are shadows and lots of predictable color.   But there is predictable and even beautiful color when us painters are faced with overcast or foggy days.   In fact, we can achieve wonderful color harmony in painting foggy or overcast conditions.
Eh?   Whaddya mean, Mike?   Simply this:  Gray is present in EVERY color.   Rich, saturated color simply is not present, for the most part, in overcast settings.  Granted, flowers seem to be of neon in those conditions, but the overall general dominant color is of the gray family.
Harmonies have to do with relatedness.   We can really affect harmony by selecting one characteristic of color and insuring that that one characteristic is present in every color in the painting.   For example, we can establish a temperature harmony where there is a cool or warm dominance through the painting.   Or, we can set a harmony by assuring that the dominant condition of all the colors in a painting are fully saturated, high chroma colors.   Indeed, when painting in overcast conditions, the gray sky color dominates the landscape.  There is a noticeable lack of shadow, so ‘things’ must be connected through their relatedness of color . . . . in this case, the presence of gray in every brush load of pigment.
Gray is a relative term, actually.   Think of “gray” as toning down a color . . . . .add its compliment . . . . . . it isn’t necessary to take the mix all the way to near black or neutral . . . . . . . . .just reduce the chroma of the color so that it is noticeably neutralized.   If every color has that characteristic, there is a distinct relatedness to all the colors in the painting . . . .a harmony.
A gentleman by the name of Faber Birren made his career in color harmony.  Google him and read up about how he set different painting harmonies (I call them painting strategies!).   You will see that there is something very worth your time (if you are a serious painter) by studying his work.
And if you ever get the chance, Point Reyes, in northern California, is a must visit sort of place.   It is a desolate, wind swept and exposed section of the coast that holds an enormous wildlife population and scenery worthy of your time.   Sir Francis Drake discovered the wonderful bay there and kept his ships from the ravages of weather on that coast by hiding in that bay.

A Plein Air Set Up For Watercolor

A Well Thought Out Plein Air Painting Kit
When a watercolor painter decides to paint outside in the open air the first few times, it can be a terrible experience . . . . .Imagine all the things one must carry in order to paint!   A palette on which to mix paint, an easel to hold a board, on which there is paper fastened, brushes, plenty of water, a place to set a palette and a few tools and, yes, an umbrella, warm clothes, a hat to shield ones eyes from the sun, and just about anything else you could think of.  (Yes, I made a run on sentence on purpose . . . for effect!)   
I remember the first few times I set out to paint outside.   I had to make multiple trips from my car to get everything to the painting site.   Sheeesh!   Was this really worth all the effort?
Eventually, and over time, ease of carrying such a boat load of stuff became the priority.   I have tried nearly everything in the journey to establish myself as a habitual plein air painter.   Starting with an acute case of ignorance, I listened to the wrong advisors when I first started out.   Jeeeze!   In addition to all the stuff mentioned above I brought along TV Trays and two different kinds of stools!   It was hilarious!  I might just as well have brought a couch!
I began, somewhere back there, with a full sized french easel . . . .which is nice and stable, but heavy and awkward.   (You won’t find many ladies carrying one of those around!)
Then, I went to the “back packer” half french easel.   Yep!   Still the same problems, but a step better.   I found there is no place to set things unless you reach around behind the work to do so.
Then there were various telescoping, three legged easels.   These were an improvement, but with them, there is NO place to set anything . . . .and a palette need a place to sit flat.  They work fine if you haul in a small table (like a TV tray) along with a bunch of other stuff.
Eventually I have arrived at a terrific set up.  Here it is. . . . .
It begins with an inexpensive, very light weight camera tripod.   I now use the Sunpak 6601, available from Amazon.com.   Shop for price on this, there are places that sell it for double Amazon’s price!
Onto the tripod goes the Sun_Eden “Travelling Adapter.”   This device is what holds the painting board and paper.  See it here.   This nicely made “clamp” is strong and lightweight and breaks down into a small 14 inch package you can easily jam into any sort of carrying gear.
That “adapter” is screwed into the quick release attachment that comes with the tripod.   It then is clipped into the tripod which makes a terrific easel.
Under the “Travelling Adapter” on the tri pod, I have found a simple, rugged shelf which merely sits on two of the tripod legs.   It is available from enpleinairpro.com.   You can see it here.  There are no parts to worry about or fancy adjustments.  It slips onto the legs and is very stable.  It has a big hole to hold a fairly good sized water cup.   It also has a number of holes into which brushes can be inserted so they don’t roll off into the dirt someplace.
The shelf easily holds a full sized watercolor palette or a folding palette.   I have evolved into a plein air painting equipment junkie!   So, I recently acquired my new “Color Gizmo,” as I have dubbed it.   It is a hand held palette with LOADS of mixing capability.   See it here.  Each well is big enough to absorb a 1 1/2 inch flat brush and the mixing wells are simply fabulous!
Add two small (4 oz) plastic bottles . . . .a sprayer and a dripper.   I use the latter for adding water to my large washes in the mixing wells of the palette. ( I dislike having to remix more paint midway through a wash! Having to do so outside, where the paint dries quickly, it can cause big trouble!)
I carry a quart of water in a plastic container.  That container has a loop on it which allows me to hook it to the outside of a small day sized back pack via a carabiner.  That carabiner is useful for hooking the backpack to the easel when it is set up in a windy situation.  The backpack has extra weight that can help the easel hold on in good breeze.   On the other hand, I carry a “pouch” which clips to the legs of the tripod and can be filled with rocks, sand or dirt to really weigh down the easel.   The one I use comes from Artworkessentials.com and can be seen here.  Called the “Utility / Stone Bag” it is reasonably priced and has saved my setup from blowing away more than a few times.

The last item is seemingly unimportant to the novice, but I can attest that it is enormously helpful. . . . .the plein air painting umbrella.   The one in the above picture is “okay” and is also from artworkessentials.com and can be seen here.   They have improved their clamping system from the one shown in the picture above and seems to be fairly good.   I recently bought another umbrella for my oil painting kit, “Best Brella” . . . .which has a superior clamping mechanism and really tuffs it out in a wind.  Their website and product can be seen here.  If I was able to compare the two side by each, I believe I would have opted for the “Best Brella” because it is a superior product.  These both clamp to one of the tripod legs.

You wouldn’t believe the positions these umbrellas take when attached to different artists equipment!   You’ll see them sticking straight out, parallel to the ground, when the sun is low.  And you will see them at all sorts of odd angles as the day’s artwork progresses.

The umbrella will be of immense assistance in mixing your colors when subtlety is necessary.  Sun glare bleaches out what we see on our palette, causes our eyes to dilate down to null and reduces our proclivity to see color nuances.   In addition, the umbrella shades the work in progress.   The sun creates evil on the face of a watercolor while painting, believe me!   So, make sure that you have this piece of equipment.   If you go cheap, you will be very disappointed!

While you and your work are protected from the sun with the umbrella, you are also vulnerable to the least amount of wind, should it come up.   The umbrella, though designed to be in a wind, can act as a parachute and will carry away your gear if you don’t weigh down your easel with plenty of weight. And it does happen.   Chasing a renegade easel in the wind can be very dis-heartening!  (believe me, I know!)   When painting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean it would be tragic to see your equipment sail over the edge and be lost forever!

There are a few other items, which I have found imperative  . . . .one of which is a wide brimmed hat.  Aside from UV protection, that brim shades your eyes and continues to give you the vision acuity you need to be able to truly see color subtleties.  Another is a pocket full of Kleenex (tissues).   These necessary for a variety of little chores while painting . . . .and nose blowing isn’t one of them! . . . .palette cleaning and blotting paint being the chief chores.

The last and final item is a back pack.   You might find this humorous, but I brought all my paraphernalia into a shop and, with the help of a sales clerk, loaded pack after pack until we found the right pack that could accommodate everything (with room for a lunch in the pack) and was comfortable!  Once found and assured that all would indeed fit, the test was to fill the pack and walk around the store with it on.

Now, instead of needing a trailer attached to my car to get the gear to the painting site, I can literally RUN with all my gear on my back and do so in comfort.   The pack I chose was a small “day pack.”   It isn’t big and bulky and there is lots of room inside to add the incidental stuff, if needed.

I have yet to mention the important board and paper . . . . I use Gator Board, extremely lightweight, and stretch my paper on it the day before going out  . . . . and I carry that piece in my hand.   I have paper stretched on both sides of the board (to protect the board from warping under the pressure of shrinking cotton paper) to allow me the luxury of making more than one painting when I am out.   Generally, I paint on half sheets (15 x 22 inches) but this equipment allows me to work on full sheets, 22 x 30 inches.

If you have questions about any of this, leave them in the comments.  I promise to answer.

Breaking Out of Bad Habit

“Three Directions”
Watercolor 15 x22 inches
As any other painter knows, we can get caught in painting habits we don’t like . . . .and we can repeat them over and over, knowing all the while that this is a bad habit.
I suppose that I am as vulnerable to the vagaries of age as anyone and was blaming my bad habits on age . . . . .well, dammit, I am not that old!   And furthermore, I knew well what I needed to do to break out of this bad habit if being too tight in my painting adventures.   I needed to loosen up . . . . .But HOW?
This last week, I spent in Yosemite co-teaching a wonderful group of painters with Dale Laitinen.
I have always admired and respected Dale’s style of painting, but more than that his design skills.   As well, he is a fine teacher in that he can articulate his thoughts and what he does on the painting as he paints.   As I was teaching, I could not help observe him in his demos.   It was exactly what I needed to break free of my absurd tight habit.   
The day this painting happened began quite cold while we began painting at the edge of the Merced River.   As we laid in our first washes, the paint crystalized right before our eyes!   It was 26 degrees and the river was freezing up, too!!   Nevertheless, as I stepped to the easel, I had a bit of a conversation with myself about how I was going to attack this painting day:  Solid designs and painting with big, loose gestures instead of making tight looking things in my painting.
As the day and the paintings finished, I pulled Dale aside and thanked him for the quality of his instruction . . . . .no it wasn’t directed at me . . . . . .just the stuff I had seen and overheard was all that was needed to break out of a bad habit.   
What I gathered from this experience was an idea:   When I find that my habits are causing me concern in the way I paint, go paint with the very person who does the absolute opposite . . . . maybe some of it will rub off!
Happy Painting! 


“Bridge at Castelfranc”
Watercolor 22 x 15 inches
The trip to France is glorious!   I’ll say that again and again and again!   The old medieval villages and their quiet little streets made just wide enough for two horses to pass in opposing directions is enough to arouse the most cynical person.   Cobblestones, eroded limestone buildings and facades which have stood for centuries can really get the painter in us excited.
This little arched bridge is in a little village, Castelfranc, that is no bigger than a few football fields.  It is right on the Lot River and at the junction of where the Vert river runs into the Lot.   Reflections, water rushes, gardens, odd structures, like the old Pidgeoners, abound in this village.   As I walked through parts of the village my camera was heating up from all antics I was putting it through.   Then we set up our easels on another bridge looking upstream to the little bridge in the painting.   We painted for about 90 minutes then had to fold up and get out of the heat and sun.
The painting I had was a fair representation of what was there, but needed a lot of work to bring it to life.   Plein Air painting is often that way . . . . .put the skeleton on the paper, go back to the studio and flesh out the painting.   This is where one must gather all of their courage . . . . .this is the “hard part.”
Really, Mike?   What do you mean?   I just need to work from my photos . . . . . NOT!   It is definetely tempting to put the photos into the 50 inch flat screen and set about copying.   In my opinion, that simply is not art  . . . . . . what is left out is the artist and his (her) feelings.   
The hard part is to put the incomplete painting up on the easel, look hard at the painting, without any reference to photos and ask what does the PAINTING NEED?   In other words, the artist must inquire of the painting what is needed to bring the overall design to a place that, when done, will stop a viewer in his or her tracks.   Then to muster all the courage we can and paint it. 
Making good paintings is way more than copying a pretty picture of some cute place.   It is a painting. . . . .an object of art created by a person . . . . .not a painted version of a photo.   The Shapes, values, colors, textures and contrasts must all come together in a way to make a stunning composition that cries out the music of creativity.   Difficult to do without a reference, you say?  Of course it is!   This is why really great paintings are so few and far between.
If you are a painter, take the challenge!   Go out to a painting spot, block in the image, pack up and go to the studio and turn your back on what you saw and photographed and answer what the painting tells you that it needs in order to be stellar.
Here’s where the inexperienced painters scream in fear of failure.   Note that nobody ever gets hurt or dies if a painting fails.   What does happen is the painter learns what he or she did wrong.   This is where the painter gathers that experience that is so valuable in setting oneself apart from all the other wannabe painters.
Go ahead!  Turn your back on it.   Make a piece of A R T . . . .not just a copy of a photo.

Extra Magic

“Boulder Dash”
Oil on canvas panel
12 x 16 inches
Have you ever been suddenly thrust into painting at dusk, when the light is about to disappear?   Or have you ever been painting and you suddenly realize that you MUST finish in some very short time period?   If you have, you probably have noticed that the actual resulting finished piece ( assuming you did so in the short given time) actually came out rather well.
You could, very well, be shaking your head and thinking “not a chance!”  Or, something along those lines.   But, if you did notice that your painting had a loose, but enticing quality about it . . . sort of like a hurried sketch does.   There is magic that happens in that short little spit of time. . . . .
It seems to me that a complete mental shift takes place under such conditions.   And that shift is to move away from worrying about being perfect, or attempting to make a “good painting.”   We get into a state of haste and an attitude something like this:   “Just get something down on the canvas and I’ll fix it later . . . . but for goodness sakes, HURRY!”
Do you notice the difference in thinking?   It isn’t about the quality of the outcome.   The thoughts are more immediate.   In fact, I find after every stroke that my judgement steps in and says something to the effect of “close enough!   Now hurry!”   
In the short time, as the light fades, I rush to fill in the canvas and pack up.   As I do so, I see that my painting is much looser . . . .more relaxed . . . .more tuned to approximations, rather than represenations or copying.   In fact, I see something in front of me that is, frankly, charming!
This has happened to me enough to put two and two together and realize that concern for the outcome and attempting master work is my enemy.   I do much better when I am “slinging paint as fast as possible.”   It is letting one’s subconscious take over.   It is painting by impulsive reaction.   It is grabbing a value of color, stabbing into a spot and moving to the next spot.   In actual fact, it is relaxing the mindful tension and trusting myself.   It is reaction upon reaction upon reaction, without fussing and waiting until the end to judge what actually happened on the surface of the canvas.
Painting under pressure often has this affect.   And, it seems to me, to be a positive affect.   I just need to say to myself, when I step to the easel, “Get off it, Mike!   Just trust your instinct and put paint on the canvas!   Don’t argue with it or try to adjust it.   Just do it!”

Awakening to The Light

Watercolor 22 x 15 inches
May 23 was the date of my last post.   It was the day before my wife and I left on a fabulous road trip, from which I only just returned, which included lots of painting.
We drove south down the eastern side of California after crossing the Sierras over a 9900 foot elevation pass which is only open three to four months of the year (lotsa snow!)   One of the great parts of the trip was to meet with several other painters in Santa Fe, New Mexico then on to a wonderful three days of continuous painting together at Ghost Ranch . . . .the famous retreat of Georgia O’Keeffe.
I learned something on this trip.   To get out of bed before sun up and get outdoors just as the sun is coming over the horizon.   I know that sounds rather silly to be blogging about, but I must say that there are paintings everywhere at that time of the day . . . . .the light is coming in horizontally with  a golden hue that seems to make everything glow.   Mind you, I would much rather sit about in a leisurely way drinking my morning coffee and begin the days operations around 8 to 9 AM.   Shadows are so very dramatic at that time of day which set up completely unique value schemes for dramatic compositions that I could never have imagined.
The painting above of a baker taking a break at that time of day was but a single incident caught on my camera on one of those days.   There are few people out at that time, but those who are are usually “interesting” in some unique way.   If you are wondering why I found this time of day so special, I can explain easily . . . . . .I live in a part of the world where fog is the order of nearly every day in the early mornings.   Being close to the edge of the ocean has its pleasures, but golden sunny mornings are somewhat rare.   Early risers face cool gray, overcast mornings where there is little shadow.    Being in the southwest was a glorious change for me as a painter.

By the way, this painting, like most all of my paintings, was an experiment.   The challenge with this painting was to make the figure on the hydrant appear to be close to the viewer without using some absurd dramatic effect.   If you can imagine him to be in the foreground while all else in the picture space to be in the “background” (a term I rarely use), you will quickly understand my painting strategy as I explain it here:   To use all transparent watercolor on the entire background and to push the colors there toward cool, neutral grays.   If there was color there, the intention was to take the “edge” of the color saturation and press it toward cool.   Additionally, to reduce the amount of contrast in the back ground so there would not be attention grabbing distractions there.   To bring the subject forward and to have him appear closer, I painted him entirely with gouache . . . .very opaque watercolor . . . . . his opacity versus the transparency of the background brings him forward in the picture space almost to the extent that the viewer has a sense of wanting to touch the figure.

I have been playing with this strategy for some time and find the different opaqueness of the parts of the paintings to be a most valuable tool.   I am using it more and more in my work.

Thanks to digital cameras, I came home with virtually hundreds of reference photos with some very dramatic scenery full of amazing light and shadow.   And, since being home, I have been stowed away in my studio furiously slobbering paint on various surfaces.   A most exciting time!!  

Driven by Weight Loss

“Toes In The Water”
Oil on Canvas Panel 
12 x 16 inches
If one does much painting en plein air, one finds out quickly that they have plenty of superfluous stuff in their painting kit.   Hmmmm.  Did you say “kit?”   Somehow, the word “Kit” implies something small to me.   Painting outdoors, if you aren’t just playing in a sketchbook, involves lots of stuff.   The further one must walk to get to the painting spot, the more one recognizes the need to LOSE the extra stuff.   Soon, the painter’s thoughts turn to “how can I make this lighter, smaller, handier, faster, etc.”
For some painters, this thought process becomes an obsession . . . even beyond the act of painting.   I have never gotten to that point, but there is something to be said for having a lightweight, efficient set up.   I have found myself assessing every single thing I have in my pack.  (Oh!  did you say “Pack?”  As in back pack?)   Exactly!   And not a cheap one, either.   Walking for a mile or two, to arrive at the place you wish to paint, weight and comfort can (and do) become a fanatical religion.   I recently invested nearly $200 on a very nice back pack and am absolutely tickled pink with how nice and comfortable it is to carry all my stuff to my painting destinations.
But the religious fervor has now invaded my consciousness to the extent that I am examining and re-examining every bit of the pack’s contents.   A few days ago, I realized that my nice little lock box of paints (inside my pack) had gotten very heavy and difficult to close (from having too much stuff in it!!)
So, to the art store I went, thanks to Kathleen Dunphy and her terrific recommendations for a limited palette, I acquired  Rembrandt Brand Permanent Red Medium,  Utrecht Brand Cadmium Yellow Lemon,  Ultramarine Blue,  Rembrandt’s Naples Yellow dark and Cold Gray (and Titanium White, of course).   I then took some nine or ten tubes out of my little lock box (amazing !) and carried them to the studio drawers to live there permanently.   Today, I went to this lovely little isolated beach with my friend Scott to while away a gorgeous morning to paint in the sunshine and fresh air.  (What a way to live !!! )
After setting up my tripod mounted pochade box, I set about putting the new paints out on the palette and mixing big puddles of the secondary colors . . .Orange, Green and Violet.  I now had  nine little piles of beautiful paint, ready to go.   But wait!    I then took a very close look at the colors and values of the big bluff I was about to commit to canvas . . . .and mixed more puddles of paint (with a palette knife) of the exact color and value that I would need.  Soon, my palette was full of paint puddles.
I will confess to, in previous painting sessions, not being a bit happy with the outcome of my colors in my paintings (often muddy) and being frustrated with how milky and muddy my turps had become during painting sessions, thus transferring all that muck to my colors.   
Today was a BREAKTHROUGH!   Before I even had a drawing or a sketch, I had all my colors mixed and set, ready to drop onto canvas in exactly the right spots!   This may not seem like a big deal to you, dear reader, but I am a died in the wool watercolor painter who has habits formed over 25 years of painting (They are not easy to break!)   Having been a watercolor painter, I have been accustomed to mixing colors with my brush and rinsing my brush with nearly every stroke!   I stand witness that this is not good with oil painting!    If one follows those habits, the paint on the canvas is thin and often muddy.
Premixing so many colors and correct values before anything else happened set me to truly concentrate on applying the paint in the right spots . . .  .not stopping between strokes to mix color . . . . . . .and in that concentration, the act of painting was like music flowing through me!   I was in a zone . . . .a pleasurable trance, if you will, of really and truly making my painting really work!   
I can’t wait to do it again and again and again!  (Thanks, Kathleen!)
And to think that weight loss is what drove me to this!   Why didn’t I see it sooner!!   

It’s The Challenges !

“Rock Soup”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches
Gaaaa !!!   To begin, my Photoshop crop tool isn’t working and I don’t know how to fix the problem!
But that is a small bother and nothing for which to become upset.   At least you can get the idea of what you are looking at in this photo . . . .
From a few days ago at Garrapatta State Park, this is the end result of the plein air painting.   All manner of challenges arose that day, including rain on the paper leaving little white dots in places that would appear to be some sort of painting imperfections.  My attitude at the time?   “Oh well!    Keep on painting!”   Most would have dashed for cover, but my buddy and I decided to just tuff it out.
I have reason for publishing this painting in its still unfinished state . . . .
That is the importance of values and paint density if one is to achieve depth and a sense of atmosphere.   Between the rocks in the very rearmost background, and the big dark rock in the foreground, you can see that there is considerable difference in the density of the paint.   In the background, to a moderately wet surface, I applied grayed color in the shape of the rocks with very little light or shadow.   It was most important to let the silhouette of the rocks do the talking.   I used transparent pigment in that part of the painting to further imply atmosphere.   In the very front, the large dark rock in the foreground was painted with a combination of opaque white gouache and other watercolor pigments to achieve the strong density of pigment to imply the feeling of closeness of that big heavy rock.
Also, if you click the image, you can barely see a little bit of texture spritzed onto the surface of the rock in order to make it seem even closer to the viewer.
As the other rocky peninsulas jut into the picture plane from the right side, edges and lines became less defined as they receded into the distance.   
So, you might ask, how much of this completion was done in the studio?   Very little actually, save for the foreground rock and a few lifted out highlights on the peninsulas.   Little adjustments to the flat plane of the water surface were also accomplished.   That was simply done with a rigger brush and wavy line to indicate foam lines.  
Painting rocks is a very challenging (and highly fascinating) process for me.   There are myriads of planes, cracks, seams and line that can become very confusing, not to mention temperature, texture and value changes that would baffle even the most skilled painter.   I suppose that is why I get so excited about painting them.   It doesn’t always seem so, but I do get slightly better at it every time I tackle it.
It’s the challenges that make painting so entertaining!

Having A Purpose for Painting

“Big Sur Bump”
Oil on Canvas Panel
12″ x 16″
As you have all read in the previous post, I have returned to painting oils.   Yes, this is an old ‘love’ who is as passionate and as troublesome as any woman who decides that other competitors need move aside and give her first rights to  . . . uh . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..permanence.
Part of the allure for me is that I know nothing about it . . . .or didn’t until a few years ago.   Technique, is, of course the chief concern as I plunge back in to attempt to make art that is worthy of the name “Fine Art.”   I already know, from my experience in watercolor, that unless I muster a lot of painting experience with the medium my work will be relegated to the category of “Just a hobby, nothing serious.”
A few years ago, I began this blog with the intention of completing 100 oil paintings in 90 days.   If I didn’t hit the goal, I came very close to it.   In that short time, I had quickly educated myself by watching other painters, observing various technique strategies and trying a lot of different things.    That entire experience awakened me to how beautiful oil paintings could be.   That is when the siren really started to call me and kept me dreaming about it at night.
For the last few days, the studio has been my refuge.   I spend my morning there with a large tankard of coffee and attempt to make a complete painting in a few hours.   For me, this time is not spent just to make another ‘pretty picture.’    There are goals that I expect to accomplish.   These ‘goals’ or ‘objectives’ are not about the completed work necessarily.   They are more about the process I shall follow and what I want the paint to look like when finished.   That is to say NOT the image, but the paint.
In this painting I wanted fresh unsullied color.    That means color that isn’t necessarily saturated, but clean, crisp color.   Secondly, I wanted big brush strokes to show and I desired those strokes to delineate planes of light and shadow.
One would think that these were worthy and fairly easily accomplished objectives.   It seems so, but just wait until you try it!    It seems my biggest enemy in the color department has been the turp or the OMS (odorless mineral spirits).   An enemy because, as a watercolor painter, I was rinsing out my brush in the OMS continuously.   I isn’t long before the solvent takes on a greenish gray color that permeates every brush load of paint.   Not good for clean color !
So, today, I swore OFF the solvent.   Just don’t use it at all, Mike!   That requires using many clean brushes.   What I ended up doing was using a single brush for every color,  including very dark, near black, and white.    I think, by the time I had finished,  I had used some ten different flat brushes.    I think this painting is an improvement over my last one . . . .the colors are definetely clean.   And the strokes are obvious, as are the planes of light and shadow.
Of course there are a few areas that could be much better (duh!).   And the photography could certainly be a heck of a lot better.  But still! . . . .I am happy enough with this outcome to take my gear out with an oil painting friend and join him in the plain air tomorrow.   It seems progress is being made!