Painting Wetlands

“Elkhorn Morn”
oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches
Here is another of the painting binge I have been on. Elkhorn Slough . . . .wetlands on the Monterey Bay in California. Just pull the car over and start painting! So much goes on here . . .wildlife everywhere of all kinds . . .birds, seals, sea otters, deer, . . . .and a few people.

As you can see, there is much to paint! Shapes, reflections, textures, shadows, lines . . . more experience to rack up (brush mileage). This was a wonderful day!

One of THOSE Days !

“At The Edge of Walnut Ave.”

Oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
(a better photo injected a day after posting)
On balance, most days are just fine. I mean there isn’t much that I have to complain about, if anything. But some days seem to stand up and scream they are so good. Today was one of those!

A few weeks ago I wrote an article and submitted it to a magazine . . . .and it was accepted. Nice!! Then they wanted hi res images. No problem (I thought). Boy!! Was I ever wrong!

LSS: (that is Long Story Short) I ended up buying a new camera . . . . .wellllll, it was for the magazine article!!! It WAS! Really!! (Yes I am a gadget nut.)

I have spent the last two weeks at the computer learning Photoshop at a breakneck pace and all sorts of stuff about color spaces, workflows, color gamuts, calibration of monitors, cameras, printers and all sorts of non painting stuff in order to be able to send flawless photos of my work to accompany the article. Okay! I am learning something . . .and not just a little bit. I am learning a ton! And I have hardly had the chance to truly investigate my camera.

The plan today was to get out of the house with a great friend to paint en plein air. Oh! The weather was sweeeet. We had lunch together and talked of our younger, sillier, days of lechery and debauchery. The light was uplifting, the shadows gorgeous and the company was almost splitting my sides from the laughter.

Standing on a sidewalk on busy Walnut Avenue, I painted this little lane of a street. Ho Hum, you say? For me, this was a biiig step. I have a tendency to slam my darks and to overdo them so my paintings become overly moody. So, today, I set out to hold down the darks and work in a higher key and depend upon temperature and intensity of the color more than value. I had an absolute ball while I was doing it, too!! I love plein air oil painting!! Every smudge of paint can be felt. Today was one of THOSE days !!! 🙂

Painting Relationships

“Life on the Edge”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches
New painters are usually held in absolute hypnotic focus on the details of a subject. That seems to end in frustration most often. That frustration comes when ‘something isn’t quite right’ and the painter cannot identify what it is.

It usually has to do with relationships. What relationships, you ask?

How red might behaves next to green will be different than how it behaves next to, say for example, violet. How one value reads next to a darker value might be quite different in how it might read next to a more medium value. In other words, everything in every painting reads in the context in which it lies. If a triangle shape is the only triangle in a group of many circles, the triangle will seem way out of place, or will absolutely draw the eye due to its’ difference. (contrast!)

As I was painting this piece, the tops of the dark cypress (seen over the edge of the ridge and between the face of the big bluff) they drew the eye away from the focal point at the top left of the painting. Not good! So . . .how to fix it? It was merely a value relationship problem: the bluffs were lighter in value then . . .I had established a contrast that wasn’t consistent with the rest of the painting. Darken the cliff face . . .and keep the color contrasts at a minimum . . .was the solution.

Several difficulties like this arose all through this painting. The beach and the edges along the foam and sand were dangerously distracting the eye, also. Again, value differences and sharply defined edges (sudden value changes) pulled the eye away from what was important in the painting. The beach is meant as a quiet area to rest the eye, not attract it. The white of the foam had to be calmed, the edges blurred, the values brought closer were all slight but significant adjustments that were needed for all the different pieces in that area to relate and act as a whole, rather than individual parts.

Contrasts are what make a painting work, but building harmonies with them and setting up transitions and gradations between contrasts is a great challenge. It goes beyond painting “things” and “details.” As artists, our charge is to paint relationships.

A Nagging Image

“Don’t Trip Here”
watercolor 22 x 15 inches
Late last summer, my painting buddy and I went to this location to paint. It was one of those magical days where one could hardly concentrate on the painting because the sights and happenings all around us were so distracting.

I came home with an oil painting that day, but wasn’t all that happy with it. It has been hanging in the back of my mind for months. Really! The scene has been nagging at me so badly that when I sit down with my sketch book, my hand seems to draw it. With variations, of course, but my subconscious is poking me over and over with that incredible landscape. I came home from the workshop last week and was very tired. For exercise, I decided to use a sharpie pen and a large piece of newsprint to just scribble out any sort of drawing. Guess what showed up !!

So, I tackled the idea in a vertical format, which presented some challenges . . .because the bottom of the page was a long distance from the focal point way up on top. I had to design the entire lower 2/3 of the painting to keep the viewer entertained and the eye moving upward. Also, I had decided to use a similar color scheme to some other pieces I had painted.

I am on a tear to paint this week, since I have to teach another workshop the first week of May. I have much to do to get ready, so I must take advantage of the time I do have.

Left Behind to Wander

Here in California and a few other regions of the USA, we are briefly treated in the spring time with the blossoms of wisteria vines. This vine is trained and domesticated to climb various arbors, arches and patio covers by home owners. It is truly spectacular when it blooms, but drops it’s blossoms in but a week or two.

A friend called me to paint with him this week and urged me to come to his neighborhood because the wisteria is in bloom.

Evidently, the last remains of an old, over grown home site are the scrambling wisteria that no one notices among the entangled trees during normal months. Somehow, this vine was left behind to grow wild. In the spring, it jumps to view as a cascade of lavender blooms falling from the crest of an old oak some fifty feet off the ground. And, it has spread over a wide area, virtually invading every plant that extends above the ground.

Yes, we painted. Who could resist? Rather than post the painting, I think it more a gift for you to see this fleeting wonder of nature. Amazing, no?

Finding Balance

“Flotsam
Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
This painting kept me challenged for the best part of 2 days. Admittedly, it gave me fits. The angst came from building the value contrast from left to right with the strong, dark reflection on the far right shore of this beach pond. The brilliant light on the left opposing that reflection on the right caused serious balance difficulties. The rivulets at the bottom of the painting took a few hours to design in order to lead the eye into the painting and provide an interesting abstraction. You wouldn’t believe how much eventually was scrubbed out of this piece in order to get it to behave . . .it may take me a few days before I actually decide if it is a show piece or not.

The far shore is what this piece is about. Every thing else in the painting is supposed to lead the eye to that point. Click on the painting to expand it so you can see what’s happening there. Hopefully, the monitor resolution is good enough to make out the color detail there. The stark value contrasts there and the edges keep the painting in balance (I hope!). It took nearly six different attempts and glazes to dial it in.

I have been on a tear to paint lately, since I have another show coming up, which has a theme of water flowing to the sea. So, I am painting big, strong pieces in hopes that a few will be show worthy. This is a welcome break from the web work on my website last week. If you haven’t seen the new site, check it out here.

An Update

“Greyhound Rock”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
This painting is of a landmark north of here called Greyhound Rock. I have, as you probably already know, a fascination with the vivid colors of ice plant. On this day, however, the foreground ice plant was green . . .almost kelly green. So, taking artistic license, I chose to use different colors to help throw the focus up onto the rocks and sea. (By now you must be getting bored with this, but I can’t help myself!)

On another note, I should say THANKS to all who came to my open studio. Many artists, including myself, often measure the success of such an event in the numbers of paintings sold and the dollars brought in. I must take pause, however, this year for the obvious reasons relating to the economy, and make sure that I don’t drift too far into the mercenary mire of revenue versus artistic success.

Considering the financial climate we are all suffering, I had a fabulous open studio. The first weekend averaged about 130 visitors per day. The second wasn’t quite as well attended, but still, very worthwhile.

The studio was set up with several lessons that the lay person and artists alike would find to be interesting, such as a simple still life set up painted in 9 different color strategies to show how mood is often determined by the artist’s color choices. There was also a large board onto which I collaged (loosely) around 20 plus pencil sketches of preliminary studies. This board was next to two watercolor paintings (posted a few weeks ago) which were derived from those sketches. People found these displays fascinating . . . and the studio, too. ( Art studios are where mystical magic happens!) There was something for everyone from over 100 framed, original paintings on display around the property to the studio to the informative displays.

Open studios, as I reflect on it, are exciting and fun, like ‘open house’ kinds of parties . . . . . . . . .where friends and neighbors drop in, munch a little, chat, visit, update each other and eventually wander out refreshed and glad they came. This is similar, but there is much that happens in the way of expanded networking and being introduced to other artists and art events. In short, it is a function from which many new challenges and activities grow. Aside from selling nearly thirty paintings, this was a rich and enlivening experience. I could go on and on about the value (priceless!) of such events, but I shan’t bore you with my verbosity. Just know that with all the complaining about the amount of work, I will do it over and over again.

Thought you’d like to know how it went. If you came, thanks for coming. If you didn’t, I hope to see you next year!

Some Days Are Just Better

“Beach Trap”
oil on linen panel, 8″ x 10″
Some days everything just seems to fall into place with ease. Today, this painting almost fell off the brush by itself . . .developed from another sketch. Do you suppose practice has anything to do with it? I do.
The way the light hits these cliffs and dances about is a constant source of delight to me. I hope you don’t get tired of them.
While cleaning my studio this last month ( a HUGE task, incidentally!) . . . . . .(why does it get that deep?) . . . . .I sorted through all of the last years’ panel paintings and culled out all of the unsuccessful ones . . .then painted over them with a light coating of orange paint and put them to dry. Those panels have been what I have been painting on for the last 7 paintings. I allow the orange undertone to peek through in a few places. It adds a nice ‘warmth and sparkle’ to the work. Also, I am testing a new medium as I paint these. . . . . Gamblins’ “Meglip” . . . . . . . . . . . . .I have never used it before, but I am noticing that the paint takes on a nice glow since the medium is nearly crystal clear. It will never yellow, supposedly. The paint also seems to shine a bit more than when I use “Liquin.” I will keep playing with it and see what comes up. . . . .and do some more research about it. Do any of you painters out there use it? Care to comment? I would appreciate any thoughts or guidance you might have.
Tomorrow, I open the studio to the public. I am ready! If you live in the Bay Area, or are travelling there this weekend or next, stop by. My address is on my website.
Whoops! It isn’t there like I thought it was! Best to email me if you need address and directions.

Seeking Drama

“Cliffside Dusk”
oil on linen panel, 8″ x 10″
Every artist is confronted with the problem of entertaining the viewer. Entertaining is something that takes more than a mere glance. There must be something other than the usual, mundane descriptions of what ever the artist is painting. This is especially true when there is little more than two shapes in the painting . . .one light and the other darker.

I have been playing with the same motif of the cliffs and bluffs along our coast for as long as I have been painting. Against the sky or the sea, the cliff is nothing more than a severe bump or rise out of a flat area. What makes a “bump” entertaining? Go on, tell me ! what?

The answer is not in the reality, but in what the artist creates. The more we copy what we ‘see’ as reality, the more mundane it can become. So the artist must do something to arrest the viewer and hold his attention. Or, the painting must hold some degree of shock value, I suppose. The artist only has a few tools to play with: Value, Shape, Color, Texture and Line. That is it. Value, shape and color hold the greatest potential for developing that ingredient of ‘shock’ or ‘visual stimulus.’ (Notice that details are not mentioned! . . .or considered . . .it is NOT details that matter.)

So, here is my shot at value, shape and color to carry the day with a ‘bump.’ I long ago let go of the photos and the actual subject to help me. Sketches from memory and establishing a strong compositional design (value sketch) before doing any painting is the basis for a strong, bold painting.

A Return to Normalcy

“A Sailor’s Delight”
oil on oil primed linen panel, 8″ x 10″
At last, most of the preparations for Open Studio are finished. I hung the show yesterday outdoors . . .over 80 paintings out there!! . . . .and because it is outside, every painting and hanging spot had to be coded so we could take down all the pieces then, on the day of the show, replace them in minutes. It is an arduous task, believe me, to arrange the show in a cohesive way and to get all the positions just right. Now, it’s clean house and do a few small details and we are ready! Yay!!!!
With the extra time now, I can putter away at the easel . . . .wellllll, sort of! I have a gallery show coming up in November, so now it is time to prep for that. Then another show in January of just watercolors. Busy!
This little fella was fun and interesting to work with color and values. I apologize for the slight glare on the painting . . . .I can’t see that in the camera . . . .it happens.
Normal is back!! 🙂