A Breakthrough

“Straddling the Mean”
Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
This last week was a big week in my class, entitled “Watercolor Beyond the Obvious.” It is a ten week long course with multiple goals: to paint a series of paintings around the same subject, to learn about and apply the elements and principles of design and to get past mental barriers preventing success. The class is lively with lots of lecture and examples presented, while the participants paint two 22″ x 30″ paintings each week and bring them for critique. Each class session features over 40 paintings for the class to see critiqued.
The above painting was a preparation for class to illustrate the design principle of Harmony. It also was used to introduce the idea of the Golden Mean and how it might be applied in composing a painting.
Using M. Graham’s richly pigmented watercolor paints, this painting was developed using the red and blue green complimentary colors . . . . .opposites on the color wheel and showing a possible way of relating the opposing / contrasting colors and values via the small colored lines across the picture plane. On the red side, the blue green, blues, and greens were employed in the little line strips to relate to the other side of the painting where the same colors appeared in the rectangular shape. And, conversely, the strips within that shape were colored in the colors that appear in the big square shape on the left. The objective was to relate the two sides.
George Post, a famous California Regionalist painter from the past taught his classes to “paint relationships.” That is bucket full of words which sailed right over my head the first time I heard them. But now, after many years of painting, I could not agree more! Relating dissimilar things by emphasizing their similarities, or imposing similarities, as I did in the above painting, is what Post meant. It helps bring a unity to the painting and offers the artist seven different avenues to approach imposing some sort of relationship . . . . .through the use of line, size, shape, direction, color, value or texture. As you can see, line and color were used to impose something of a relationship between the contrasting spaces in the above painting.
It was a big lesson for everyone, including me! It took me many years of painting to come to this understanding so I could express it in words and show it visually, too. A breakthrough!

Spending Tuesday in Heaven



“Orange and Blue”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
As promised, here is the result of Tuesday’s session on a hillside near Big Sur, California. As you can see from the about photo, the ice plant is colorful at this time of year . . . . .and finds itself in the most in hospitable places which, I think, are impossible to reach in order to germinate. But there it is!!
For me, this day was a day of, literally, falling in love! I have been dreaming about putting these images on paper with watercolor for weeks now. And here I was, back to the wind, being cautious not to spill my easel over the edge and into the water. What an incredible, beautiful day!!!
Putting the varied colors of the ice plant into a painting like this is a challenge. There are many greens mixed with reds of varying temperatures and intensities. After many attempts, I find that exaggeration seems to be the only way to intermingle those colors and to carry the emotion of the place. Rocks and water are one thing, but rocks and water with brilliant reds and oranges . . . . . . . .? Now THAT is something to dance for!!
I had to miss Wednesday, but am going back out on Thursday and hope that the forecasted rain doesn’t appear until late in the afternoon.
Ciao !

And Another . . . .

“Merced Gold”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Thsi subject is simply terrific for putting strong compositions together. The shapes really lend themselves to commanding and dominating the picture space . . . . .everything else in the painting is just support of that one idea. Which, incidentally, is how all good paintings should be . . . elegantly simple.
Just look at Sargent’s works . . . .not a lot of extra stuff . . . . just simple shapes of figures or buildings . . .and generally they beguile the viewer because of the light and the way the shapes occupy the picture space.
This big rock is a large as a small house in reality. And its shape and edges are fascinating. I love the way the white sits in the yellow dominant field. The yellow provides such a feeling of light and season.
Am still ‘at it’ as I am putting nearly three paintings a day away. There is more to see! Stay tuned!

Breaching Fear

“Just Plane Spilled”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches

After a long layoff of painting abstracts/nonobjective paintings, I began to wonder if I could, indeed, do it again. Painting linemen, stilllifes, teaching, presiding over a large national watercolor association, working part time, etc. all take their toll on developing one’s skills in the art world. My dear wife has been challenging me to do more of these kinds of works. Alas, I am as most of the other artists I know . . . . .afraid I might not be able to do it once again.

We all fear failure and, worse, going public with it. There is that ever lurking voice “Forget it! You never had it in the first place. Those others were an accident when you really had it. you’ve lost the touch,” etc. etc. One must step up and face it head on, if for nothing else but to once again be able to say, “yes, I CAN.”
What a difference in how life tastes when we can say that. Right?
I have had a sketch of an interesting composition taped to my easel for over a year. The day I painted the last painting of linemen (see last post) I decided to take the challenge. Working at it some four to six hours per day (every day save two) has gotten this piece to this place.
It is a fine effort to take on something like this because it forces one to focus on the elements and principles with nothing more to use as a reference, except for the initial shapes of the composition. Then it is a matter of subtle adjustments of value transitions, textures, movements, shapes, tangents, convergences, not to mention color dominances and harmonies. In other words, I have found that painting a piece like this takes every bit of design knowledge and calls into play techniques and color skills which have been developed over a long time. . . . . . . .and all of these can become stale if not used.
The last comment is that this sort of work is pure creativity. Copying, referencing, emulating, reproducing or mimicking cannot be part of this kind of painting. it all must come from within and from the hints the painting offers as the painter moves forward.
Now I can go back to my linemen and put some of these ideas to work . . . but wait! I have another abstract piece that I must complete first!
Yes, I CAN!!!!!!!

Conflicting Urges

“Yosemite Humpback”

watercolor, 22 x 30 inches

I just finished this piece. It was a challenge in color management because I first tinted the paper with yellow. As you already know, the addition of violet would be grayed and any blues would appear green. So, I had to play with pigments to get the desired effects of a sunny haze.

As I am preparing for Open Studio, which happens Oct 9,10 and 16,17 here at home, I am often hammered with the desire to escape from all the work and just paint. Making this event happen is fully three to four weeks of continuous work from framing, to tidying, to building display facilities in the yard to sorting the piles of work to see what qualifies and what does not. Since I am not one who does well in boring tasks, this big chore pushes me every year close my eyes and forget it. I suppose, the deeply felt urge to paint is an excape . . . . .but I painted anyway. And it is a good thing I did. The act of painting, for most of the painters I know, is a positive energy tonic for us all. It felt so good, I just HAD to paint another . . . .which I will post later . . . .and have ideas for more.

Oh! You are invited to my open studio. If you didn’t receive a card in the mail, send me your address and I get one into the snail mail right away.

After Hiatus . . .

“Slopes and Weather”
Oil on canvas panel
8 x 10 inches

I suppose vacation is something few artists ever get. Just look: I go on vacation and what do I do? Paint, of course!


Up in the mountains where everything is green, I was confronted with the choice to make everything green or should I exercise my artistic license and slather on some color Just for the heckuvit. I chose the latter and, frankly, I had fun doing it.

One thing I have learned over time . . . .that is if your values are right, you can do just about anything you want with color and come up with some interesting things. This little plein air oil painting was just such an effort. . . . .evening shadows, exaggerated slope angles, tree lines that became just shapes of color and a little angular house for contrast. The orange underpainting peeks through in places just for sparkle’s sake.

It all added up to a late afternoon of fun.

Why Bother to Doodle??

A doodle to settle down . .
Several years ago, a painter friend was telling me about studying with George Post. Yes, the famous California Regionalist painter. I asked, “what does he teach?” The answer was short, quick and unforgettable. She replied, “Paint Relationships.”
I nodded with that “of course” look on my face while I wondered “what in the hell does he mean by thaaaat?”
That question haunted me for years. It wasn’t until four or five years ago that I awoke one day with the answer. I had been reading books about design . . .(not just looking at the pictures!) . . . . . . .and, while asleep, something gelled in my mind. I understood what he meant! Man!! That took some time to digest that one!!
There are seven ways to cause things to relate. Yep! Seven. The very same as the elements of design: Line, Size, Shape, Direction, Color, Value and Texture. Take any two dissimilar shapes in a painting and one can relate them via manipulation of any of the seven elements. Color and Texture, for example . . . .give both shapes similar color and texture and they will relate.
A painting is a great combining of all of the elements. . . .those elements are the marks made on the canvas or paper. Relating all the parts of the painting is the art. Of course, there are different kinds of relationships, like absolute ooposition or harmony. The goal, usually, is unity . . . . .to make all the parts seem as though there is a feeling of belonging in the painting. I can assure you, it has nothing to do with things or objects.
So, then . . .should I set out to do a masterpiece every time I paint? Heck NO!! There are times when it is necessary to do warm up exercises . . .or when it is necessary to simply try something that might be niggling away at our consciousness . . . .or to just paint to feel the brush slithering out paint onto a surface. Doodling has a place in painting. To put it simply, to just try stuff without fear of ruining a ‘masterpiece.’
It is my contention that all we artists do is try. (there is a big difference between ‘try’ and ‘do.’) We move paint around and often hope for the best. So, why not doodle for the sake of finding out new solutions?
The piece above was a ‘sanity doodle.’ That is to say, to paint just to keep my sanity. I was in Kanuga working hard to bring tough subject matter to reality for a group of driven workshop participants. Preparation for such anxious people can steal all one’s painting consciousness, much less painting time. So, an hour before class, I doodled. Yep. Pointless, silly, exercises I made up just to see if I could find different ways to cause different areas of the painting to relate.
The painting will never, ever see a mat, much less a frame. But it does call to me to remind me that the doodling not only helped me settle down and be ready for class, but it taught me a few more little nuances about relationships that I needed to fully understand . . .and I will put that to work in a serious painting one day, maybe . . . . .or maybe not. But I feel more comfy in the knowledge that when needed, I can establish relationships in any painting. Doodling has shown me that.

Last Touches

As usual, the painting in the last post was crying out to me about that big light valued shape jutting out from the painting. It was too ridgid, too edgy, too long, too “a lot of things.” It needed changing.

But how does one change something which, in many ways appears ‘right?’

I have learned over the years that if my gut is niggling at me about something in a painting, I should pay attention. So, I did.

A mere value change at the left end of that long shape . . .a lost edge here . . .a slightly cooler tinge at the far left of it, but warmer than the tone under it . . . then put it in. Oh! that changed how the other stuff around it reacted. So, a little wash over a shape or two to make them settle back and . . .there! I am calling it finished. My gut is quiet now.
PS . . .Some have asked “Did I do a sketch first?” Yep!! It didn’t have all the nuances in it, but most of the compositional arrangement of light and darker valued shapes were planned.

Experimenting with the Elements

Line Experiment
watercolor 14 x 21 inches

It has been a while since posting last. To get back into the painting mode I will sometimes take on a familiar subject and ‘let her rip’ by applying the paint in ways that are completely different than my normal painting ‘style.’ In this painting I used wet paper and an oil painting filbert brush to scrub in the paint. This yields wild and brilliant colors but also opened the door to using line in an otherwise different way. In the end, all of the elements (7 of them) are present, but some are emphasized in such a way as to attract attention.

This painting of half dome in Yosemite was more of an experiment than a painting. It may never see a frame or a mat, but it certainly allowed me to ‘get off the leash to run’ and get the crazy urges out of my system. It served another purpose: discovery. While fooling around in a free fashion, I found a few little ideas (like red shadows) and using dense, opaque colored line (integrating gouache into the watercolor pigment) atop the trees. This shifted the focus from the dome to the trees and the white shape behind them. These discoveries of how to exploit the different elements of design can often lead to new approaches in more serious paintings.

Open Studio is finished for 2009. Now I am putting everything away for next year and attempting to get back to living a normal life. Thanks to all who came and a special thanks to all my enthusiastic patrons.

Playing “What If”

“Still Life-98”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

As you already know, I have been working on many different versions of this same still life.

Nothin’ new, you say?

I would beg your indulgence for just a moment. Playing “What If” is no boring pastime. It is the sure path to discovering something new, something unusual . . . . .and certainly the path to finding one’s personal voice in painting. Y’see, when the artist has nothing to lose and it doesn’t matter what others think about a piece, that artist is much more willing to take chances and try things that may not make sense or to take risks when more ‘serious’ approaches would cause risk avoidance.

As this painting was finished today, there was a missing element in the lower right foreground. It was here that the risk was staring back at me and mocking me to go ahead. The pattern of “dotted i’s” on the green vase needed another repetition and that lower corner needed some of that neutralized green to balance things. So, there it is. Could I have spoiled the painting? Yep. Was I taking a risk (can’t erase here with all that surrounding texture)? Yep. Does it make sense or seem ‘real?’ Nope. Did it work? Yep.

I think, frankly, that little silly touch is actually funny. The entire tone of the painting (mood) is sort of tongue in cheek. The entire painting is constructed of “what if” shapes and colors and values. Reality is suggested when it couldn’t possibly be that way. So, the doodling around with an old theme, just messin’ with ideas to see what would happen exposed some new approaches having to do with repeating patterns, gradations, shapes and color intensities. I learned more today!

Isn’t that what this painting business is all about? Growth and learning?