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!

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.

Plein Air Vertigo

“Red Carpeting”
oil on canvas panel 12 x 16 inches

No Kidding! That cliff edge is over 150 feet straight down . . . .and a few bumps along the way!
Standing at the edge and painting really required me to concentrate because the vertigo was always nagging at me.
This location you might have seen before in other paintings and posts. But I must admit that I keep going back there for more. Yes, the vegetation is definetely that color . . . .ice plant . . . a succulent which carpets the area and displays these vivid colors. What a joy to paint . . . .even if I was a little bit dizzy!

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.

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.

Exploiting The Rare

“Violet and Mustard”
oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
It is a rare thing when nature gives up something so extraordinary that a painter feels he must return over and over and over. That is precisely what has happened over the last two weeks.
The blooming vetch full of violet flowers is under painted with yellow mustard flowers and bright yellow orange poppies. Yellow and Violet? How perfect is thaaaaat?!!
When nature hands us lemons, we make lemonade. When it hands us roses over and over again, we keep making bouquets . . . .and never for a moment taking it for granted.
So, it has been bouquet after bouquet as I trek to the meadow expecting to see the flowers burned out and gone and being surprised each time to find even more color! Normally, at this time of year, such a meadow has turned golden and dried out. I don’t know why it isn’t happening this year, but it is a rare occurrence. I may never get the chance to see it again. So, I MUST paint it!
I have done ten paintings of this site and may yet do more. Am hoping to produce one of large scale . . .30 x 40 . . . .to truly exploit this rare event.

Painting Wetlands

“Elkhorn Morn”
oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches
Here is another of the painting binge I have been on. Elkhorn Slough . . . .wetlands on the Monterey Bay in California. Just pull the car over and start painting! So much goes on here . . .wildlife everywhere of all kinds . . .birds, seals, sea otters, deer, . . . .and a few people.

As you can see, there is much to paint! Shapes, reflections, textures, shadows, lines . . . more experience to rack up (brush mileage). This was a wonderful day!

More Meadow

“Early Shadow”
oil on linen panel, 6 x 8 inches
“Cowell’s Vetch”
Oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches
I can’t stay away! I know that in a matter of days, all the purple flowers will be gone for the summer. A ranger, who has worked in this state park for 35 years has told me he has never seen such a crop as this year. The sheer size of the area covered with purple flowers is truly awesome.

Nature has a way of sprinkling lots of different yellow among the violet, too! What a place!

Standing in the same spot, there were paintings all around!

Painting Vetch

Vetch plant

“Near Roaring Camp”
oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches

“Cowell’s Meadow”
oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches
In the last ten days I have made four trips to a local meadow at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in California. The meadows there are overrun with “Vetch,” which is a plant in the pea family with violet colored blossoms. Spectacular would be to understate the colors and beauty of this meadow with interesting red tones, yellows and yellow greens against the violet swaths of vetch.

Beginning early in the morning (7 AM) I scramble to capture the light and the shadows. On this day (and every other day, so far) I have made two paintings. These two were completely different. The first, “Near Roaring Camp,” was a speedy study looking directly into the sun as the dew was glistening and the sun was coming over the edge of the trees. The light was changing fast so it was a race to capture the feeling.

By the time the second painting (“Cowell’s Meadow) was ready to start, it had become overcast. The light went from yellow orange to a cool gray with no shadows. Colors intensified and I was in painting heaven. I had moved to another location where there were greens to off set the violets and the slightly orange red grasses (an almost perfect secondary triad of color!). I took my time in the overcast, standing up to my hips in violet flowers with little bright yellow poppies at my feet.
I couldn’t wait to come back to paint. Watch this blog for more paintings from that site.

Crimson Ride

“Crimson Ride”
oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
While painting another scene adjacent to a local fisherman’s harbor, I labored over getting that painting right. After throwing in the towel, I turned, went accross the street and slapped out this little painting in twenty minutes. I had become very tight and fussy with the last one and needed to cut loose. This painting will never see a frame, but there are parts of it that I find arresting. I will probably go back and make a larger, highly engaging piece from this subject.
Right now, this whole plein air thing is to practice practice practice. I can feel the skills sharpening with every painting. This one was just plain fun!