White Izzzn’t White

“Sully’s Fresh Crab”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches

Nope! It just Izzn’t!

Our eyeballs just can’t see what we think we see.

Yesterday was another beautiful day in the sun . . .warm and bright . . . .a perfect day for Butch, my painting buddy, and I to go out and paint. So we went back to the harbor where lots and lots and lots of white boats live. I am telling you true: What seems white just is NOT!

The little device you see above is a value viewer. It is very helpful to look at an area, (such as the side of a white boat hull in shadow) to judge the value. When peeking through the little hole and comparing the value of the white in shadow, one can instantly see that it is more a mid value than a light white. Then . . . comes the problem of getting that value onto the paper or canvas. That big piece of white paper can really throw off our judgment, too. We make a paint mark on the big white page and the mark seems darker than it really is because we are unconsciously comparing all that white field with the value of the mark . Yikes! That little viewer helps.

BUT . . . .there is still another problem (these difficulties are some of the reasons artists find plein air painting so difficult) . . . .that is if you are painting watercolor, the paint fades after it dries. Which compounds the value difficulty!!!!! One must be able to predict how the value of a mark or wash after it is dry. GAAAADS !!!! Is there any end to this stuff??? !!

How does one solve it? The viewer helps. The rest of it is fixed with plain old mileage.

Huh? Did you say Mileage?

Yep! That is what I said. Let me clarify: BRUSH mileage. Translated, it means tons of practice.

I have been painting for 20 plus years and still find plein air painting full of problems and difficulties. Yesterday was no exception. After getting home from a 4 hour painting stint and looking at the painting in normal indoor light, I could see the values of my boat hulls were wrong . . .not dark enough. Like I said, white just izzn’t white!!! So, several glazes later (and spoiled pristine washes) I came up with this painting. A lot of fussing and much self talk about what I will do next time and solemn vows about not letting this happen again, I finished the painting attempt.

You may think this is an okay painting. It was certainly fun and most instructive, but I simply MUST go back and try again and again. Butch and I discussed this aspect of being a painter: the compulsion to get better . . . . .and it is indeed a compulsion. Maybe someday, with enough brush mileage under my belt, it might happen. For now, though, it is best to focus on doing the best I can and having fun in the process because to be out there is simply a total gassss!!!!

Watercolor En Plein Air

“Three Graces”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

For many years I painted watercolors outdoors with friends. Some worked and some didn’t. There was, however, a certain energy about the paintings that made them very recognizable from studio work.

Perhaps that energy is a result of the difficulty of painting with watercolor outside. I consider myself confident in executing an outdoor piece, but I must say that in spite of my confidence and speed of delivery, there is just something that keeps me in the studio. Plein air painting is a giant pain in the rear, if you know what I mean.

While I have worked out the kinks and the difficult processes of setting up and operating in a ‘studio’ outside, in the wind and blinding light, it is still a love / hate relationship for me.

While in Yosemite, I made, at least, one plein air piece per day . . . .and usually did a studio piece each day, as well. This piece, of the ‘three graces’ (I think that is the name) was one of those incredible days where every wash behaved, every color did what it was supposed to do and the wind only come along at the finish. Out in this meadow, near the base of El Capitan, the light sparkled on the edges of this giant set of rocks, while in the crevices the light hid in mysterious darks. The light coming through the yellowed trees at the base of the rockwalls were luminous. It was a blast to paint! But inside all of the processes, more lessons came forth which reminded me what I should be doing in the studio.

One of those lessons was to paint vertically if I want great washes. Having gravity naturally pull the pigment laden water down the page reveals granulations and effects one can never cause on a piece of paper, no matter how expert the painter might be. So, I am doing exactly that. I had forgotten how important it is and allowed the comfort of control to take over. Invariably, the discomfort of a painting getting ‘out of hand’ is when the great stuff shows up.

On to the next one! Let the paint flow downward.

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.

Another Experiment . . .

Water based oil experiment
on gessoed masonite . . 10″ x 10″
Just before departing for Europe in a week, I am toying with the idea of carrying water mixable oil paints with me. I had never used or tried those that I purchased for the same reason last year . . . and left in a drawer. I obtained a sample of the fast drying medium made by WN “Artisan” water mixable oils and went to work.
In less than 40 minutes I laid down a grisaille in ultramarine blue and white, then overpainted with color, using just a warm and cool of each primary (and white). Also, I tried two new brushes . . .mongoose bristle . . .which is sort of an inbetween bristle between sable and hog bristle. I like what the brushes leave behind and their softer feel. More play and experiments are called for, but so far I like what I see.
I found the paints to be fun to use, but it took a little getting used to a somewhat gummy feel at times . . . .I would expect this without the lovely buttery feel of oil saturated paint.
This is, by no means, a good painting . . . .but it was an effort for the day and a revealing exercise about a variation on a medium. For international travel, I think these paints will be just fine! And I won’t have to hassle buying materials on the other end (where every place and art supplie are unfamiliar) that are prohibited on airplanes. I may even take them out here to see what they’ll do under real circumstances.

Back At Last


“Elkhorn Wetlands”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
As you may know, I have been busy preparing and teaching a color workshop in San Jose, California. The energy and preparation for such an enterprise is no quickie deal. So, I have not been posting . . .and with a family wedding and guests here, also.

At last, I am back at it . . . into the great outdoors and painting.

Yesterday, I spent a wonderful afternoon with a friend wandering all over the county looking for a painting site out of the coastal fog and wind. What we ended up doing was painting the wetlands of Elkhorn Slough. This is another location where one could spend a lifetime painting for all the light changes, scenery, color, wildlife etc. But, we spent so much time talking we barely had enough time to paint.

I put my trusty EASYL, by Artwork Essentials, and an 8” x 10” canvas panel to the task in a slight breeze and went to work! As we began to paint, the sun came out of the fog and the colors began to dance. It was a great day!

What’s an EASYL, you ask? Look at the link. It is a terrific pochade box that every oil painter should own . . . .even watercolorists would like this guy!

I spent a good part of the painting forcing myself to consider temperature as a device for showing volume and depth. From a bad experience a few weeks ago, I learned a tough lesson . . . . color temperature is much more exciting than extreme value contrasts. I tend toward the latter aspect of color and must force myself to think in the terms of warm and cool. It just doesn’t come naturally to me. My wonderful wife, Diana, loves the painting . . . . . .which is a testament to my efforts. (She is surprisingly perceptive!)

Resuming Life

En Plein Air at the Firehole

Yellowstone and Jackson Hole were simply mind blowing. The Grand Tetons and the light on or behind them never stopped jolting our senses. This little slice of the area included wandering Bison just to the right of the barn. In a coincidence encounter 100 miles away, we met one of the family who occupied this old homestead! That was a story by itself!
We arrived home yesterday after a three day jaunt cross country through Idaho, Nevada and California. This shot of me painting near the Firehole River in Y’stone park is revealing of the gear and the necessary protection from the trees I am hiding behind. The wind was whipping about, as mentioned in a previous post, which made a sun umbrella impossible. . . .the trees gave the shade and blocked the wind enough to let me work.

Now that I am home, it is time to resume a normal life (if normalcy is possible for me! ). I have to sandwich my art activities in among other things. No servants. No large bank accounts. No poking through the days wondering about what to do. There is always a list!

The other photo is a sample of the terrific wildlife encounters we experienced throughout Wyoming. This gorgeous Bull Moose was nearly oblivious to our presence . . . .or so it seemed. There are some 300 more photos which will make for some nice reminiscing this winter.
I thought you all might like to see some of what we saw and experienced.

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!

Transparent Oxide Red

“Speed Bump”
oil on linen panel, 8″ x 10″

I have fallen in love! Yup! I did!

With a color! In fact I like it so darn much that I even ordered it for my watercolor pallett. (sp?) Transparent Oxide Red is sooooo versatile! It combines with greens to make the most natural greens any one can imagine. Yet, the greens never go to that forbidden totally neutral place called black . . . or worse . . . M.U.D. ! It just keeps pushing the greens to a place that gets more neutral but stays green somehow. And with other colors . . . .Oh, Yes!! This lil girl flirts with em all.

That said, look at the greens in the last 6 or 7 paintings. (The monitor could be off a lil bit, so don’t take what you see too literally). It has earned a permanent spot on my palette!

Studio Experiment

“Hot Ice”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
Today I am fooling around with a new studio tool . . . .at least new for me. I have always worked from sketches for a lot of reasons. Copying photos is just not my style. I believe in design and what it can do for a painting . . . . .most photos need a ton of redesign. I have always used photos from which to sketch and build the design for a painting. And photos just don’t have what it takes to be good reference material beyond shape and value.
But, it is time to enter the 21st century. Digital cameras and compters make soooo much possible. This painting was painted from a digital photo I took while in Carmel two weeks ago. I took about 30 pix that day . . .all possible painting subjects. This, and yesterday’s, were a result of that outing. The experiment is to put the digital photo on a big LCD flat panel display. . . . . . . . . . . . . .and paint directly from the monitor. What a hooot !!! There is sooo much one can see on the monitor!! Bright, full of color, zoom capability, and all sorts of cool stuff to work with! It is very much like being in plein air, except that the light isn’t changing.
My 17″ screen lap top computer is the subject of the experiment. It works well, but it is my business computer. It just wouldn’t do to have it covered in paint . . . .or for it to be jammed up with art stuff (it is now!). Christmas is here . . . .who knows if Santa might bring a biiig monitor to paint from. I’ll have to ask.
I have been a good boy! Really! I have. I have !!!! Really I have. 🙂

More November Challenge

“Think of it This Way”

watercolor on treated paper, 15″ x 22″

About ten days ago, I took up a challenge from Myrna Wacknov to use a grid pattern to compose a painting built on a figure drawing using some interesting drawing techniques. The outcome, then, was not as good as I had hoped for because I became lost in all the variables I had set up. This little project had its way with me absolutely! I have been dreaming about it at night for the last week or two. So, I killed off some of the variables, or ‘hooks’ as I called them in that post. I changed the drawing. In fact, to achieve the content I had hoped for, the contour drawing and all that detail had to go over the side. Next, more attention needed to be paid to the grid and the sort of compostition I was looking for. (Yes, I did more value sketches).

The more I assessed the direction in my mind of the emphasis being on one lady’s hand, the more I had to hold down the detail in other places. That hand is only a gesture, but it says so much about the communication in between the women. Also, the posture of the woman on the right had to press inward more to show that she was making a point . . . .and bring both women closer. Once that was done, then I could work on value alternation, abstractions, textures, directions, shapes . . . without disturbing the story inside the painting (content). It took two full painting sessions to complete this, but I think this is more of what I originally had in mind.

Paper treatment? After stretching and mounting the paper on a board, the paper was coated with a solution of half and half acrylic matte medium and water then allowed to dry for 24 hours. This gives a surface that is very forgiving. Paint can be lifted back to pure white. It doesn’t take the paint as well as untreated paper, so new techniques have to be discovered to make it work well. This was fun.