Blind Hog

“Reflecting Garrapata”
Oil on Canvas Panel 12 x 16 inches
Where I live, it can be gray most of the time.   In the vicinity of Big Sur (The Pacific Coast south of Monterey, CA) even in summer, it can be foggy, windy and cold . . .especially in August.   When the call came from my friend, Scott, to go to lunch and paint afterward near Big Sur, I jumped at the chance.  Even though I knew the weather conditions could be, shall we say, unwelcoming, the opportunity to be in extraordinary scenery, painting with someone as enthused about it as I, I could not pass on the chance.   So, we decided to leave late in the day, go out to a nice seafood lunch then paint afterward.   
We arrived at Garrapata State Park around 2:30 PM.   I have never, ever witnessed such perfect conditions on this coastline . . . .and I have lived here since the age of 12!    The sun was shining, there was no wind, the waters was as quiet as a lake!   Usually, there are waves breaking every 10 to 20 seconds . . .one after the other and the water is rough and roily . . .no a place anyone would opt to swim.   This water was as calm and quiet as a mirror.
The scenery there offers a morass of rocks, ice plant, water, dark trees and colors that would make any painter swoon.   The problem with that is there is sooo much input that it is overwhelming.  Us guys who have painted outdoors for many years understand the necessity to simplify . . . .to cut out all the superfluous and to focus on one idea.   We have the experience of having decided to make a painting full of the whole scene for several hours and have it kick us six ways from Sunday.  It is better to choose one thing and to make a painting of that one thing and be successful, rather than try to include everything and fail.   
Upon our arrival, we immediately noticed the reflections in the water of the big rocks near the shore.   I decided immediately to focus on that one thing.   Mind you, I was painting in oil.   I had never tackled painting sensitive reflections in oil before.   What did I know ?   I mean to say I knew nothing of how one could go about this . . . .I was Blind!!
As an aside, my eldest daughter (age 45) has taken up painting recently and is experienced frustration in wanting to be successful in all her early attempts.   What I have failed to tell her in her introductions is that we never fully know how to paint everything that comes at us painters.   We are always fumbling and making blind attempts with little or no experience.   After many, many years of experience and painting frequently, one comes to know his or her medium and what it will and won’t do.   One gets to know a few tricks here and there that help a painting come to life.   But there are A LOT of failures getting to that point.  

So, one comes to expect poor or lackluster results while one is in the learning mode.   ( I have been messing round with oils for four years and am just coming to where I have a sense of what will happen when I put brush to canvas . . .but I have a long, long way to go).   I think the goal is to accumulate 10,000 hours of good experience.   Meanwhile, I am a blind hog searching for acorns.

I am told that even a BLIND HOG can find an acorn once in a while.   Yesterday was such a day!

Revisiting An Old Flame

“The Big Bluff”
Oil on Canvas Panel 
8 x 10 inches
Approximately four or five years ago, I took on a mistress who stirred me and caused me to have strange dreams at night.   Her sometimes slick skin would arouse my thoughts and enliven my senses in a way that I hadn’t had for, what seemed like, years!   She would whisper to me and taunt me outdoors or in the confined privacy of my studio.   She had a come hither about her that was, quite simply, disturbing.
Well, as you know, Dear Reader, these highly charged, chemistry driven, lusty affairs rarely become “the one.”   They seem to be defeated from the start . . . perhaps because there is another in the background to which one must answer, if not for reasons of love, but of duty.  Or, there might be some other reason, such as some sort of toxicity from seeing too much of each other.   Mistresses can become quite demanding and often fail to understand one’s other callings in life.   
And, after all, are we not to answer to those callings or duties or obligations?   What of integrity and honesty?   Need they be ignored enough to cause ones self inflicted detriment?
Her name?   Oil Painting!   Yes, even after putting her aside for a few years her spirit has called to me repeatedly asking to come back into my life.  As you know, “the one,” Ms. Watercolor, has quite dominated my life of late.   Not that I object, you understand, for she is as capricious and flirtatious as Ms. Oil Painting.   In fact, Ms. Watercolor has been my muse from the outset.   She has been both faithful and even mysterious sometimes, yet always ready to stand up for me come what may.   How could I possibly turn my back on her?   Yet, of late, her competition has been secretly nosing around and making whispered suggestions to me in the dark of night.
And so, Dear Reader, I must confess!   Today I crossed back over the line !   You might call me a fallen man, or unfaithful or of little integrity.  In my defense, I must say that I did cross back over as a means to satisfy my burning curiosity about . . . . .well, . . . . . .Do we really belong together?  I had to know!  Today in the privacy of my studio and the absense of my dear beloved wife, my old mistress and I made love again . . . .rapidly and with furious energy  . . . . . Twice !!!   And at my age, that’s a biiig deal!  🙂
So, you get the grist of this tongue in cheek idea.  I have come back to painting oils, after a four year hiatus.   I had to think it over a bit first and plan my approach and set up some parameters to follow.   Namely, I kept one brush for each color family I was using (Fortunately, I have a few extra brushes!)  just to see if I could attain clean, bright color.   What an amazing difference!   And I had to shun my watercolor habit of rinsing my brush for each new color, which will turn clean turp into motor oil in nothing flat . . . . and that dreary mess will permeate every color.   So, today, after nearly 25 years of painting, I am still learning (thank goodness!).   And I have decided this mistress is going to become family . . . . . .(if she’ll have me!)
That isn’t to say that my favorite lady, Ms. Watercolor, is going to receive any less attention (or intention)  she will always be my first love!

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.

Square Deal

“Elkkhorn Backwater”
oil on stretched canvas, 12 x 12 inches
Having never painted on a square format before now, I have always shied from it because there was no dominant direction in the format. That is, neither dominantly horizontal nor vertical. Considering the golden mean, there is no way to express it in the square, at least, as far as I am aware. So, it is very important, in my opinion, to place dynamic, unsymmetrical, ‘moving’ shapes inside the square to excite the viewer. Otherwise symmetry leads to boredom.
The long, leading linear light valued shape on the water’s edge leads the eye deep into the square in an oblique direction, thus giving the internals of the square some tension and movement. The end of that shape, or line, the viewer is immediately attracted to the orange shapes lying out in the distance. Much is going on in this seemingly quiet, static square.
On the way to another painting site a few weeks ago, we stopped at this location to photograph the beutiful contrasts of the hills, the swarming green succulent, the orange fungus ( I think it is a fungus), and the water / reflections. Having just finished painting for the day, we only had time to photograph and go.
Working from my computer monitor in my studio, I was able to take a few days developing this painting . . . .glazing, reshaping, refining, recoloring . . .what ever was needed to refine this to the art piece that it is. I enjoyed it and like the result!
Meanwhile, I am painting the interior of our home and removing old “popcorn” ceilings. the labor is abusive, that is for sure. What’s more, the abuse doubles because I am away from my beloved easel. Some deal!!

Disappearing Act

“Flat Foot”
Oil on stretched canvas, 16 x 20 inches
This scene is a familiar one to me. I used to park at the end of this long spit of rock, in my car, when I was an older teen, to neck with my girlfriend. The road went all the way out to the end. Since then, much has been lost. And even recently, the sea eats away at this spectacular chunk of rock and sandstone.

This subject has been attempted before, several times, but this time my senses were able to add some interest by allowing some colors to be present that most folks would never associate with this grayish rock. Instead, I figured, let’s entertain the viewer. That’s the really cool part of being a painter. I can make that rock look any way I want it to appear. Hope you like it.

Oil Brushwork

“Henry’s Purple Patch”
Oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
I am not sure this painting shows it off well . . .or that any of the others do either. The reason I am not sure, is that brushwork is actually ignored, infavor of no brushstrokes being evident, in watercolor. I am a watercolor painter learning painting. Yep~! Us artists are ALWAYS learning. Always on the lookout for another way to say what needs saying . . .(or to avoid it).
As an element of design, texture is right up there with Line, Shape, Value and Color. It is clearly visible and adds a sense of tactileness to a painting. In watercolor, one must work to obtain texture. It some cases, texture is almost an after thought. Not so with oil. No siree!! With oil, you get texture with every brush stroke! It is when texture is not wanted that a conscious effort must be made to eliminate it. Just the opposite from watercolor.
I have been scolded and complimented on “brushwork.” And it is the least able to be articulated verbally or in print in order to teach how to do it ‘well.’ It is perceived as good, or it isn’t. At least, that is my take on it. Swirls, swishes, schmushes, schlobs and plops all count in the brushwork world. Its when to and when not to that makes the difference (I think). Brushwork expresses texture and edges throughout the painting.
I suppose one must have a sense for aerial perspective to know when and when not to emphasize it . . . .is that correct? Anyone have any ideas about brushwork? Sometimes, I think I am coming to terms with it and it becomes automatic. Other times I catch myself wondering.
Painting these meadow paintings is giving me lots of practice and plenty of room to try stuff. I am learning that holding that long brush by the last end of the handle makes better brushwork. I am also beginning to consciously make an effort to make it all different . . .lots of variation. I know there are some who would argue that, but I sure am not informed about it.
So, here’s your chance, oil painters. Tell me bout it, if you can. I can’t say I am mystified, but I am not far from it.

Brush Mileage

“Reflected Umbers”
oil on linen panel 8 x 10 inches

A few years back I ran across a group of oil painters who were doing a painting daily. There were a few who were pretty good at it, but most were wrestling with the different painting skills. I have since looked up a few of those same painters and am astonished by their accomplished work. No one injected them with some masterpiece serum or told them “the secret.” (There isn’t a secret, save for one concept.) No one passed along some ancient potion to drink or introduced them to the teacher who could miraculously transform them into master painters. Nor did they arrive at mastery suddenly.

They already knew the secret to achieving mastery . . . .and they exploited it. For us painters, we call it brush mileage. That is to say that the more one paints, the better one becomes. Reaching mastery simply comes from a ton of practice. (Whadda concept !!!)

This painting looked like mush when I finally threw in the towel. Some careful thought, a wise crit from a friend and 15 minutes of patient rework brought what I wanted to say out of it. Those simple minutes seemed almost absurd. It came so easy. It sure wouldn’t have been easy 100 paintings ago! Something came about in the last 100 paintings.

It was the brush mileage that was adding up to bring a confidence with the brush that I didn’t have without all that practice. That’s what the daily painters knew. They knew when they started that a painting per day would deliver extraordinary skills. Amen !!!

Walnut Tunnel

“Walnut Ave. Dappling”
oil on stretched canvas, 20 x 30 inches
After three plein air sessions at Walnut Ave, it was time to do a large piece . . . .wellll . . . . . . . .let’s just say larger. By comparison, this piece is huge. But not as huge as a five footer.

This was another test for me . . . . A test to remain spontaneous and loose. My tendency is to get tight with my work, but I adore the looseness of both oil and watercolor as it enlists the viewer to employ the imagination.

The textures of the trees, the warm to cool transition, as the viewer goes down the ‘tunnel’ and all the color and edge variations in the shadows are the three things I had really concentrate on the entire time I was painting. It may seem silly, but I needed to take an athletic stance in front of the canvas and hold that long brush all the way at the end of the wooden handle. This painting was painted from my ankles up . . . .moving my entire body to lay in the strokes, sometimes. By the end of a six hour session, I was exhausted physically . . . . .but pleased with the outcome.

A few days later, what needed work was quite apparent. I attacked those areas with the same mental attitude of *suggesting* and *Implying* rather than explicit explanation.

After this painting was finished, I began to think I might be catching on to oil painting.

June is for Plein Air Painting

“Arana Walk”
oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches
Living here on the California Coast, the marine layer (coastal fog) can be depressing at this time of year. So, when the sun comes out, I cannot wait to go outdoors to paint. For me, the light is energizing. Last Friday, I agreed to meet some friends for and early day of plein air painting. We were in luck. It was the first day in fourteen that the sun was out at sunrise! Whoopee!

In a large meadow at the edge of town, called Arana Gulch, we painted this trail.

Meanwhile, I have been out nearly daily since then . . .AND working hard in the studio, too. I have been holding off posting until the paint dries on some of the paintings so the photos will not have glare. This one is the first of ten paintings made in 7 days.

Scratching the Itch

Photo 1.
Photo 2.

Photo 3.

Photo 4.

Photo 5.

Photo 6.

“Noon at Walnut Ave.”
oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches

On my third painting trip to Walnut Ave, I saw for the first time!

You think that’s silly? I walked this street at noon almost daily all the while I was in high school! I drive through the street often. My mom lives nearby. I take guests down that street to see it. On my third painting trip, I suddenly saw it differently . . .and made a huge realization. I saw big, amorphous, individual shapes in the canopy of trees over the street. Wow!!

So, here is a progress documentary of how this painting developed . . . .The decision was made to double the painting size, affording more room to express shape, color and texture.

Photo 1. First, the space division problem from yesterday had to be resolved. The sketch was roughed in using transparent oxide red. This is where I spotted the individual shapes in the canopy. Thin color washes were thrown in using a lot of mineral spirits so to set up a progression from warms to cools to the end of the ‘tunnel.’

Photo 2. Continuing with the thin washes I get excited at the progression of yellow greens to grayed blues down the tunnel. I am becoming aware of another possible space division issue with the band of white light on the street surface across the width of the painting. What to do?

Photo 3. A few warm spots, such as the stop sign and a few points toward the end of the tunnel are put in and a few suggested darks are placed into the under side of the canopy. The warm red tones are such a contrast to the green that they act as parenthesis around the white shape at the end of the tunnel, the center of interest. Perfect! I am getting more excited, but the space division issue needs to be resolved soon.

Photo 4. Now the thicker paint layers are put into the greens and other places. Am conscious of the strokes and their direction as each is placed. They help define the light. A false start with the wrong tone is placed into the foreground shadow . . .it is too dark and too warm . . . .but that sets up the hint of what to do with the space division challenge.

Photo 5. Connect the shadows across that white shape! Link them, thus leading the eye directly back to the center of interest. Now the foreground “lights” are warmed up with a pale yellow and very light magenta (hard to see in the monitor) . . .thus bringing the foreground forward and setting up the recession into the tunnel. Edges are softened along the shadow exteriors and some of the interior ‘holes.’ The suggestion of a line of parked cars is begun.

Photo 6. Fine tuning now before it is time to fold up my easel to go home. I can see some places which need more fine tuning, such as the cool grays toward the end of the tunnel in the canopy. Will have to fiddle with that one, but not today. A few darks are added on the far left and the tree trunk is softened. Maybe that isn’t the correct move. Will need to re-evaluate that later, too.

Overall, this was a great day in plein air! I can feel the process becoming easier as I tackle more difficult tasks. This experience really slammed home the idea that one must truly OBSERVE and look again before diving into the obvious.