Returned to the Easel

“Plane Compression”
Transparent Watercolor 22 x 30 inches

Okay I am back! Hawaii was fantastic ! Frankly, however, I have been itching to return to the easel here at home.

This piece is quite similar to the other non objective pieces I have completed in the last few months. It was half finished when we left for our Hawaiian Holiday
All I needed was one look at it’s lonely, half baked existence on the easel to awaken my juices and get me rolling once again. I arose quite early this morning (4AM) to get after it. I am still not certain that it is complete. I may let it hang around for several days before I declare it final and finished.
On another note, I put the last few non objective pieces down on my studio floor this morning and lined them up next to each other. They all look very similar . . . . .which has both good and bad points . . . .it is a spur in my sides, though, as it indicates that I am becoming stale. Gotta move on to another ‘theme’ . . . . .which may not be all that easy. I like the motif of floating planes and shallow space, which is what all of these are . . . .and I noticed that the compositions are quite similar, too! A change up is due!!
Until next painting . . . .

Answering Urges

“Autumn Heat”
Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches

In my last post I mentioned that Open Studio is approaching this coming October 9,10 and 16,17. Okay. So you already knew that.

In getting geared up for it, I have spent much time in the studio cleaning, tidying, making displays for visitors and other stuff. While there, of course, the ideas for paintings keep showing up as I am puttering. Eventually, I find myself in vivid dreams at night until I cannot stand it any longer . . . . . . . . . . .I rise at 4AM, make the coffee and head to the studio.
Did I mention that I am going on my annual trek to Yosemite for a week long painting retreat at month end? Oh yes!! And I always begin the build the excitement a month ahead.
So, there I am in the studio mucho early and thinking about Yosemite. What am I to do? give myself a manicure????? Heck no!!! I turn on the computer in which there are hundreds of my photos of Yosemite and begin sketching. And the ideas are romping through my head at a fast gallup!
Recently, I have been playing with some opaques in my paintings, using gouache in various places to gain different effect. There is another place where I am excitedly chomping at the bit to ‘see what happens’ when I put the opaques to work. I am finding I can contrive some very interesting effects with them, as you can see in this painting.
I’ll be posting more about my experiences with gouache, as I have already completed more paintings and put it to use.

Planely Scattered

“Planely Scattered”
watercolor 30 x 22 inches

The title today relates to what my life is like at the moment: Lots of different things going on, very little of it to do with painting.

Scattered, for sure. Distracted, yes, but my thoughts, dreams and actions all are centered around moving pigment in a related way to cause a viewer to entangle him or herself in a visual conversation with a painting.
Decidedly, a painted appeals to us on very deep, often unidentifiable levels. Questions like, Why do I get a feeling in the pit of my stomach when I look at this? Or, What is it that makes me want to touch this painting? Why doesn’t this look like a ‘regular’ watercolor? This piece makes me relax. Why am I so curiously inspecting every inch of this painting?
These should be questions that us painters should be able to answer easily and create the visual stimuli necessary to ensnare them. We are the creators of the work, we should be able to steer the viewer to feeling something.
Often, in lectures to those who will listen, the ideas of what makes a ‘good’ painting are openly discussed and argued. There are three things by category, but those three things involve volumes of explanation. They are “”Content”” . . . .that which arouses our feelings and sensibilities, or a story . . . . .””Design”” . . . .The relationships between the marks on the canvas and/or paper, or how all the painting parts fit together . . . .and “”Technique”” . . . .how the paint is applied and is technique in concert with Design and Content. They are all inter-related in one way or another. That is, the technique and design must support the content. However, if the content is extremely strong, and the design equally as strong, technique can often take a back seat . . . or not be as important as the other two areas.
I am often asked what is necessary to be accepted into juried shows. These three items must be in concert to win that admittance. It may seem daunting to the novice painter, but the study of these aspects of making art is what this journey is all about. It really is much more complicated than just making a pretty picture. To grow and to learn about ourself and all that we can do with art is a high calling. It is a step into our higher self.
Not that there is anything wrong with ‘pretty pictures,’ mind you, but how many millions of them are out there? To put one’s self onto the track of learning all the above aspects about making art is to put our minds to the purpose of being our highest self. I would say that is worthwhile, wouldn’t you?

Testing Limits

“Chestnut St.”
Unfinished– watercolor 22 x 30
When are we NOT LEARNING how to paint? Do we ever stop learning? Should an artist only paint what he or she knows? If I am the person to answer, I would say absolutely NOT to the last question. It is ALWAYS about learning!

So, what should an artist be stretching to learn after painting for 22 years?

Let’s start here: How about learning more about one’s capability? What about testing one’s self to remain in control no matter the circumstances at the easel? What of practice to smooth off rough edges in a project or series? How about testing “What Ifs” in color strategies? If you are a watercolorist, how about painting on wet paper and hurrying the process so the paper doesn’t dry? Or, what about a challenge to finish a full sheet in 90 minutes and driving one’s self a little bit nutz in the effort?

All of these things are about stretching. They are about experiencing circumstances out side of the comfort zone more often . . . . .so when they really do arise in a serious painting situation, the artist is more comfortable in working through the ‘emergency.’ It is in these times of horsing around to find out what happens that an artist gains precious experience.

So!! You tell me. Which is more valuable? A wide range of experience, or a few successful paintings done in the artist’s comfort zone? Do you suppose there is value in being able to anticipate the outcome of something the artist does, either by accident or deliberately? Of course there is! It is called mastery of the circumstances. And the only way one develops mastery is to try different stuff and create challenges. In other words, expand the comfort zone. So what if the painting tests aren’t masterworks?

The above painting was done on wet, saturated paper inside of a time limit . . .in a fairly large format to cause me to hurry to keep up with the drying process. I had fun in the challenge, didn’t finish, messed up perspective, but found some lovely little passages that made me want to do this again and again.

See If You Can Explain This . . .

“Meadow Stripes”
oil on stretched canvas, 16 x 20 inches
Warms advance and cools recede, right?

I have been painting the wildflowers in this meadow over the last few weeks. In meddling with one of the last paintings to make repairs, I decided to take license with color. That is to change several things to see what would happen (the cool thing about oil painting is that you can cover up anything! So you can experiment till your heart’s content and not waste a single piece of canvas . . .you can always go back over it!)

In this painting, the dark tree line in the rear of the picture space is cool red. While the hills in the back are pale, warm blue. The sky is a warm, pale yellow. The big tree on the right is green and the foreground ranges from blue violet to yellow grays to dull greens. My color logic says “no, this won’t work” . . .but it does.

If I think in literal terms, red is warmer than blue. That part is okay. But why does the red recede like it does in the tree line? The two green trees in this piece scream with warm, intense greens in the light, but out of the light they are icy blue in places.

Maybe the key to this piece is the warm, orange underpainting, which leaks through the colors in the foreground giving it an overall warm, advancing presence. Do ya think?

Thinking about the color wheel, I suppose that the yellow greens live higher, more toward warm than does the alizarin crimson based tree line. Whadda mind trick this painting is. Maybe you can explain it to me. ( I am serious!)

P.S. I’ll be signing off for a few weeks. I am going on a ‘walkabout.’ That is to say I’ll be travelling for a few weeks. This time no paints will accompany me (ouch!) Painting has always been my mistress, but this time I am taking the real mistress with me. She gets all my attention on this junket. If you knew her, you’d wonder who’d be able to pay attention to anything else! I’ll prolly be chewing my nails and twitching from the absence of paint and making art when I get back, but we are going where it’s a bit cold. So, there’ll be some snuggling happening, I am sure of it! 😉 (Maybe that’ll help!)

Meanwhile, be sure to tell me what you think about this color curiosity in the comments section.

Color Tests

Pyrrol Red Tests
Click on image to see color results
watercolor 22 x 30 inches


Still Life – 92
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Recently, I gave a workshop to the Sierra Watercolor Society on color. The 20 people who took that workshop had not a single moment of lighthearted play during the 3 days. They worked extremely hard to understand color, color relationships, harmonies and, of course, color mixing. M. Graham of West Linn, Oregon made paints available to the workshop so everyone could see the value of extra fine pigments and how they behave on the palette and all get the same results. A salute to the Grahams, Art and Diana, would be minimizing the value of their contribution to these artists and myself. To see the lights come on and the realizations dawn for these artists is absolute pleasure to witness. As the three days progressed, I could see a fluency develop in every single participant. I wish the Grahams could have seen the outcome!

They sent a few of their new colors for me to try. One was Pyrrol Red. I haven’t the slightest idea what the derivation of that color is, but I certainly squeezed as much from that color as I could in determining how it would behave ‘under fire.’

From what I could tell, (see the above chart) it seemed to reside at or very near the 9 o’clock position on the color wheel, midway between orange-red and quinacridone rose (primary red). As you can see, I tested it’s wheel position and validated it’s relationship with other colors. Compared to Cadmium Red, this color is absolutely transparent and brilliant in intensity. I am VERY tempted to put Cad Red aside as this color mixes so beautifully with others and dries with that same brilliance. I need to assess it a bit further before I give up such a stalwart pigment such as Cad Red . . . . .but I am certainly leaning in that direction.

Following the tests, I made another design in the series of still lifes I have been playing with over the last few years. I used Pyrrol Red throughout the painting to make the sienna tones, the greens, the violets and the darks, as well as the semi-neutral reds (browns). The paint performed marvelously!

All the while the testing was going on in the painting, I was mentally busy exploiting more design possibilities in the painting. After 90 some paintings on the same theme, one would think I would run out of ideas, but they just keep coming . . .though much more slowly. More about that later.

Still Life #83

“Still Life #83”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches
Life offers few surprises, if one lets it become boring. The same is true in art. One can let the same subject become boring . . .or not. I have been working on this series of still life paintings off and on for two to three years. And it wasn’t because I loved still life paintings. It was for a challenge and to learn something about what my creative muscles could do when confronted with the same subject to be painted in a long series. I have been surprised by what I have learned about design, what is art and what lies inside of me. Certainly not boring.

This is the 83rd pass at it. I never dreamed it would come this far . . . .nor that I would be painting it in front of 220 artists. But here it is. I painted it last Monday evening at the Kanuga Watercolor Workshops in Hendersonville, North Carolina. I completed most all of the painting, with a few errors, in about 40 minutes and introduced the audience to this series process and what benefits and surprises it has brought into my studio. One and a half days later . . .and quite a bit of thought . . .I finished the piece.

This project was what I have been working on so much these last weeks . . .and the reason for being so quiet here. This project was exactly the reason for my last post . . .the Rainbow Connection . . . .

To be introduced to such an august group of painters from all over the east coast . . . .and some of the finest painters in the world today . . . . .was a very high honor. If you were there, you know it was both humbling and exciting. This ‘confab’ of artists and the workshops were the finest I have ever seen and it was run with an expert hand . . .first class all the way . . . .if ever you thought you would like to learn from the best, rub elbows with the most committed and expert painters or just go to such an event for the adventure, this annual workshop is a must. Check it out at this link.

Another Shake Down

“Vessels”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
This painting is the result of taking a few simple ideas and pushing them to shake down any problems and to see what comes out.

Beginning with an under-painting of orange, quinacridone gold and blue, I set about drawing image over image over image over image . . . .much like I had done in the previous two posts . . . . .on top of the painting of the abstract color arrangement. I chose to have the colors dominantly warm with cool accents.

Also, from each position of drawing the image, I changed the height of my point of view, from looking up at the still life set up, to looking straight at it, to looking down upon it. Then, just for giggles, I put a piece of reflective silver mylar partially under and behind the set up which added some repeated shapes in the form of wobbly reflections. Once the line drawing was finished, I left the still life model in another room where I could not see it. My interests were to create shapes by the interweaving and overlapping line drawings and to utilize the warm / cool underpainting as light variations in the painting. By randomly glazing over parts of the painting and implying light from the far left, I wanted to see what sort of design would emerge. Eventually, this design began to take on its own personality. The pitcher appeared in places and merged with the Madonna figure in others. The Madonna figure formed much of the repetition and rhythms in the piece.

I was very cautious (over three days) with this piece not to push the value contrasts too harshly. I believe the darkest dark is but a medium value. By keeping the values more closely aligned, without using white at all, the characteristic differences in the colors used became the prominent interest in the piece. That is, the colors shift from near perfet neutral to slightly increasing intensities, which gives some areas of the painting a feeling of luminosity. That luminous characteristic seems to add a spiritual mood to this painting along with some ambiguity and mystery.

Precious Ambiguity

The Set Up


The Drawing . . .andWork In Progress

The Painting . . .
“Precious Ambiguity”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

As a person with an analytical mind and a nature for curiosity and understanding through logical process and detail, I have had to build the right side of my brain. That process hasn’t been easy. My nature is to crisply copy what is in front of me. And doing otherwise has been more than difficult.

Merging shapes, distorting ideas and color for the sake of making something a bit ambiguous is a process which must be learned. That goes for losing edges, creating color harmonies, assigning values . . . .all stuff which is outside of “reality.” For the person of logical mind, these things can be daunting to learn. But, if making art is the goal . . .and fine art at that . . . . .then they MUST be learned.

Someone once said, “Irritatingly precise – Charmingly incorrect.” I think that says a lot about making art that is magically attractive. Those four words hold much wisdom, I think.

The above process shows how a piece is developed to deliberately create ambiguity and hold a viewer’s attention. It is a terrific way to create ‘shapes’ that would otherwise not be possible via sudden epiphany. In this process (also see last post) the overlapping of multiple line drawings makes for serendipity discovery. And, believe me, it is confusing, but truly fun!

Stretching Muscle

“Shards”
watercolor, 15 x 11 inches
When we don’t exercise, muscles atrophy. Not good. Exercise is important.

There are times in the studio when one needs to exercise the creative muscle, if, for nothing else, to regain it’s strength . . . . . and to experience something new . . . even if it doesn’t come out right.

Early yesterday morning, I was busy working on a lesson for a class. This idea came to mind as a way to break open barriers to doing something new and different. My classes are encouraged to CREATE. And I attempt to give the participants access to some possible paths they might employ to start the creative thought process. Those hints lie in the seven elements of design, Line, Size, Shape, Direction, Color, Value and Texture.

In this exercise, I took each of the elements and asked myself “What could I do with______? (Insert one or more elements). First, I decided on a dominance which had to pervade the picture space . . . .that, of course, sets up the environment for contrasts and harmonies. Here I chose a yellow green dominance (color) with violet contrasts. Also, I sought an angular dominance (line and shape). By subdividing the shapes into angular ‘shards’ (shape) I created a repetition which set texture dominance. You can also see a diagonal dark crossing the vertical composition which adds other contrasts (value, color and direction).

Some wonder about the disappearance of ‘spontaneity’ in this kind design planning. All the above paragraph does is set a framework under which the artist can explore different design choices. By doing so, the artist assures a degree of success while stretching the imagination. The outcome is that the artist can see more easily the results of interrelationships of the elements. It is in that stretching, exploration and acquiring new experience that can contribute a spontaneous insertion of *knowledge* into future works. All paintings cannot be masterpieces, but they can certainly be part of the cumulative experience which leads to anticipating outcomes and, thus, mastery