So You Think . . . . .

Sketches and trial composition and color studies of Linemen at work

pencil and watercolor

So you think it’s all talent?? I say Baloney !

It seems every time people comment on the work of artist, including my own, these statements are overheard:

“You are soooo talented.”

“I could never do that.”

“I tried it once and didn’t do well, so I never did it again.”

I say “Baloney!” because over the years I have spent painting . . .and counting all the failures which no one ever sees . . . . .it has been hard, focused and devoted W O R K ! That is not to say that the efforts have been unhappy, or that there has been no frustration or disappointments. Quite the contrary! Underneath all of the paintings before now has been study. Diligent, concentrated investigation and attempt after attempt to resolve unsatisfactory results has been the daily rigor.

Here is an example of what sort of effort goes into developing a painting from an idea.

First, there are the sketches to determine how the artist wants to compose or present the subject. Often, the effort stops there. Once in a while, though, an idea persists and further development is called for.

Rather than paint the mundane, ordinary stuff we see daily, why not elevate it to a different stature. In this example, I spent a full week exploring different color schemes while also considering different compositional ideas. Oh, sure I had reference photos from which to select ideas and approaches, but after several drawings on tracing paper, modifications had to be made to make clear what was being said visually.

In the end, I did develop a painting from these studies, which I will show in the next post. The point here is not the finished product, but the effort over fully two weeks of daily work to bring that painting to life.

Talent? Baloney!! It is trial and error and error and error and trial and more trials and more errors. It is having the stubbornness to not be swayed by the failure to deliver the goods on the first try, or the second or even the third, but to attempt again and again making refinements along the way.

Mastery is not a trait someone is born with or is given as a gift. Every good artist I know puts in way more time than many folks do at a job. They dream about it at night. They read and study about it. They drill themselves in exercises and studies. They are often compulsive about it. They are willing to risk failure daily in order to have the opportunity to make a single success at painting.

So, if you want to really compliment an artist (musician, dancer, actor, painter, sculptor etc.) let them know you appreciate their insatiable efforts to get better and better. It really is quite a cool way to live . . . . .it is most fulfilling!!

Facing My Difficulties

“Ice Blankets”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
The colors of the ice plant on the sand dunes of nearby beaches has been a source of fascination to me for as long as I can remember. Vivid, intense colors combined with the near white sand and neutral decaying matter on the edges are a painters challenge for sure. Combining complementary colors (red and green) yields neutral grays. So, capturing the uniqueness of the comingling complementary colors in this ice plant makes for rich entertainment at the easel. I have attempted this subject many times in the past, but I come back often because of the difficulties I must overcome with the edges and colors.

Edges are key in this subject. Softer, lost edges don’t hold the eye. While sharper edges grab the viewer there must be a happy medium of the two. Blending the edges between colors is necessary ( I think), but, sometimes, I can get carried away and lose the brilliance I sought. It is all in the practice and learning, I suppose. When enough paintings have been done that one more doesn’t matter, then the artist does things without the worry of failure. That is why it is so important to paint often without concern for the outcome.

It seems I am gaining ground a little at a time. Sort of like climbing a sandy hill; up three steps and slide back two. Progress comes from repeated forward steps, each time with small (but significant) gains.

Making it Difficult

“Your Table is Ready”

oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
Sometimes, I need a thorough head examination!
This daily practice piece should have been spun out the door before I began it. Why? Let’s just say that something this complex should not be in rhw queue for a daily trial. Just look! All sorts of angles, perspective changes, vague and subtle value changes (thru the windows), repeating patterns, textures and a ton of other things to entertain and dazzle any painter for more than a day. But I did it anyway. That’s why I should have my head examined!
Simplification is so necessary in painting, yet it is as though I go to sleep sometimes. Sometimes I just ignore the obvious and make it difficult. Go figger!

Still Searching

“Sometimes It’s Windy”

oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
I am still searching for the ideal brush and painting surface. The last two paintings have been worked at the end with a sable flat. It has a nice feel and leaves a beautiful streak of paint . . .as opposed to bristle brushes that often leave ragged edges . . . .I still use the latter for much of the work but find the sable is a great brush for finishing a piece.
I recently obtained some Ray Mar canvas panels. The weave is made for landscape painting and seems quite absorbant. This painting, I took someone’s suggestion to coat the panel with a good coat of gesso. It takes a little while for the paint to soak in, so I will check later to see if the canvas drank everything or left signs of brushwork. Still so much to learn!
Today, I wasn’t in a rush. I think it made a difference. Looking at the photo, however, it looks different than the actual piece in a frame.


“Sur Sunday”

oil on linen panel, 8″ x 10″
This weekend was a blast. I spent most of it scootin’ around with my buddy Mark Mehaffey from Michigan. He came out west to teach a workshop here in my local watercolor society.
Since he had never seen the California Coast, we wove our way southward about 100 miles and nearly wore out our digital cameras taking photos. Great times, for sure!
This is one of the stops we made looking accross this bay of sorts to the hills of Big Sur. While I rarely use photos to paint from, this morning was an exception. It gave me the opportunity to try a few more things with the brush and paint. Incidentally, the bright red shapes are of a succulent that grows here called Ice Plant. It turns incredible shades of red during the early fall.

Cobalt Blue Light

“Cobalt Blue Light” Oil on linen on panel, 8″ x 10″

Today I got a late start. After attempting to paint this cobalt blue vase and all of the light going through it, it had gotten later than I planned. This li’l bugger was a challenge.

Am starting to have pangs about being outside now, so I better git busy and wip my plein air gear into shape. I haven’t done any of that in oils for over a month.

There is a shade of blue violet that I just could not come up with. I figure that I needed the warm blue of ultramarine, but transparent. Of course, I don’t have anything like that , so I improvised. Why the read block? Well? Doen’t it fit nicely? After all, this is painting practice, isn’t it? It must be, because I learn something every time I do it!

Puttering Day

“Surf Stump”

oil on linen on panel, 8″ x 10″
Big family events are afoot. Today we are meeting our daughter’s future in laws and entertainting them. As well, Daughter and mom are out seeking wedding locations for a not so far off date. I got stuck with tidying up. Stuck might not be the right word. Shall we say ‘elected?’ 😉
I know what will happen this evening. Everyone will want to go to the studio to see what goes on there. And it is a big mess. I gotta git bizzy!
Today’s painting really isn’t done today. It has been held back for a few weeks waiting for a day like today when I simply cannot paint. I almost got my feet wet doing this one. I was perched on a rock with my easel and the waves were lapping at my feet while I tried to characterize this ‘stump’ of a rock and how it is being clobbered every single minute of every day.

Reflections and Light

“Reflective Surfaces”
oil on linen on panel, 6″ x 8″
Today’s piece was out of necessity. Necessary because I didn’t go outside to paint today. Now that I think about it, I should have. It is beautiful weather! I also promised I wouldn’t paint more ocean cliffs.
Elio Camacho, an extraordinary painter who really understands the characteristics of color and working temperature, intensity and value simultaneously, is gracing my paintings with some truly instructive critiques. So, when I went to the studio today, I had his crits in mind and set out to put some of that stuff to work.
Ouch! I got lost in making the reflections work!! And value relationships. I am going back to the studio, pulling out another study canvas and painting colored blocks and going to work on temperature contrasts.
Am going to fool around with cobalt turquoise and indian yellow and quinacridone rose. That should give me a start toward making something new and exciting happen with color.

Why Fascinated?

“Nearing Sunset”
oil on linen on panel, 10″x 8″
Sometimes there are subjects that defy logic or conventional formulas . . . .like rocks and broken faces of cliffs . . .and evidence of layered strata in cliff faces with all the random planes. I suppose that is why this subject held my interest in watercolor for so many years. And, I guess, it is the reason I keep going back and back and back and coming away less than satisfied.
In short, it is a tuff subject to paint. The painters who do the Grand Canyon amaze me. Those who do Sadona and Zion, etc make me stare in wonder: How do they do thaaaaat?
All this work in the past few days has been in answer to that constant fascination. Each day, it seems to get a little easier. Today, some things fell into place. Light and shadow is the part which complicates matters. Separating the two and keeping them separate is a big part of it. Another is working with color relatives inside those areas . . .or so I think. Cools and warms. Value and color transitions. Edges. Sheesh! This gets complicated! Oh, but there is more! I won’t go into it now, but you get the idea.
And you are bored with looking at this subject? Okay. I’ll take a break. But not for long.