The Underside

“Quail Hollow Livery”
oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches
More plein air work . . .more room for improvement . . . .having a ball fighting through it.

Some say that to learn to paint, one must get the first 500 paintings out of the way first. Only then do we begin to understand what is happening . . . .and only then to we begin not to care much for the ‘details’.

This painting, though poorly photographed, really showed me the importance of the underside of a tree and how that underside and the cast shadow on the ground sets up a beautiful value pattern. You be the judge.
As for photographing a wet painting, I wonder what will happen if I use a polarizing filter to cut out the light reflected back from the wet paint surface.

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.

Itching Continued

“Intersection at Walnut Ave.”
oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches
Yesterday, I scrambled to get to Walnut Ave. to paint the light and the tree covered street. This street is historical in that all of the homes are old Victorian “painted ladies.” The street is like stepping into a painting with neatly trimmed landscaping, blooming blossoms and dappled light everywhere.

I picked a difficult one, yesterday. Dappled light is something I have never done before . . . .so I can see I have much to learn.

This piece presents one of those interesting space division challenges . . . .and am not sure that it really works that well. What I have in mind is a much more subdued sort of lighting, but the way the sun was reflecting off the pavement yesterday was dazzling. I had to use every bit of the little I understand about aerial perspective and color, as well as edges, to make this little painting work.

I have resolved to visit again, perhaps today, to consider a different angle of attack and a different composition. I still itch to capture that which is in my mind. I may never quite get there, but the practice is most precious. I can feel a few gains in understanding from yesterday’s experience. I hope I can capitalize on that.

Itching To Get Out Again

“Live Oak Farm”
Oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches
Friday, I went out to paint . . .on a cold, foggy day. I discovered this old little farm, just like a small island, right in the midst of our town. It seems the same family has owned the land for over 100 years and the ground is still being worked. So, I painted it. As I was doing so the fog bank rolled back and the sun came out briefly.

After coming home and putting the painting in a trial frame for a few days, it gave the paint a chance to dry and me a chance to look it over with new eyes. So, yesterday, I spent a few nice hours making adjustments and revising a few things. I so enjoyed myself that I am going out again today. I think Walnut Avenue will be a good place for the day.

One of THOSE Days !

“At The Edge of Walnut Ave.”

Oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
(a better photo injected a day after posting)
On balance, most days are just fine. I mean there isn’t much that I have to complain about, if anything. But some days seem to stand up and scream they are so good. Today was one of those!

A few weeks ago I wrote an article and submitted it to a magazine . . . .and it was accepted. Nice!! Then they wanted hi res images. No problem (I thought). Boy!! Was I ever wrong!

LSS: (that is Long Story Short) I ended up buying a new camera . . . . .wellllll, it was for the magazine article!!! It WAS! Really!! (Yes I am a gadget nut.)

I have spent the last two weeks at the computer learning Photoshop at a breakneck pace and all sorts of stuff about color spaces, workflows, color gamuts, calibration of monitors, cameras, printers and all sorts of non painting stuff in order to be able to send flawless photos of my work to accompany the article. Okay! I am learning something . . .and not just a little bit. I am learning a ton! And I have hardly had the chance to truly investigate my camera.

The plan today was to get out of the house with a great friend to paint en plein air. Oh! The weather was sweeeet. We had lunch together and talked of our younger, sillier, days of lechery and debauchery. The light was uplifting, the shadows gorgeous and the company was almost splitting my sides from the laughter.

Standing on a sidewalk on busy Walnut Avenue, I painted this little lane of a street. Ho Hum, you say? For me, this was a biiig step. I have a tendency to slam my darks and to overdo them so my paintings become overly moody. So, today, I set out to hold down the darks and work in a higher key and depend upon temperature and intensity of the color more than value. I had an absolute ball while I was doing it, too!! I love plein air oil painting!! Every smudge of paint can be felt. Today was one of THOSE days !!! 🙂

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!)

Plein Air Quick Draw

“Walnut Avenue”
oil on cavas panel, 8″ x 10″
This last weekend, I participated in a plein aire event organized by the local art museum. It is a fun event and turned out to be nicely profitable in many ways for me. Not that you care about that part, but I did get to meet and talk with some very uniquely talented and thoughtful artists. . . . . . and that alone was worth the time spent. I sold five of my paintings and made a few solid contacts for future business. The event attracts a very knowlegeable and informed crowd who are not only interested in art, but willing and able to acquire pieces for their collections.
On the last day of the show, which runs Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, the museum holds a “Quick Draw” competition. I had planned not to take part, but in the end organized my stuff and went for it. Long story short, the artists check in to have their canvases stamped and signed at 8:30 AM. They are to choose a site, set up, paint and return to the museum with a finished painting by 11:00 AM. That is roughly 2 hours of painting time when one considers set up and take down of equipment. I actually had quite a few giggles in this little event . . . .and had an opportunity to step out of myself and see my real painting process.
As you can see by the resultant image, being rushed is not conducive to fine finished work . . . . . . . . . .which made me notice that I LIKE fine finished pieces. I could have spent another hour tweaking this painting and bringing out the aspects I wished to refine and show off. It also showed me that I could, do this and that in order to do so, I would just need to get used to “plowing through” to a conclusion . . . .what ever that was. I found it to be exciting! Moreover, it might be a discipline I should develop more in order to train myself to be more direct, less fussy and to refine my value and color perception so as to get colors and values correct on the first attempt.
A very valuable experience it was!

Just Before Dinner

“Aspens Corner”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
In the late afternoon, yesterday, I ran out of gas. I HAD to sit down and rest. We have been ‘touring’ through Wyoming . . . .driving, walking, standing, shopping, gallery looking, etc . . . .and I came to a physical halt. Just couldn’t do any more. I had to rest.

So, I found a stool, took my paints and went to our front yard to sit and paint for a while. This is what came out. And this is what it really looks like!! Rough neighborhood, eh?

I had taken about 15 photos with my digital camera (has an SD card) . . .and none of the photos recorded onto the card. When examining the card on computer, the numbers assigned to the images skip those numbers of the photos taken, but the images are no where to be found. Does anyone know why this might happen, or how to avoid it in the future?

Another Plein Air Attempt

“Rincon Cove”

oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16

Today held another plein air attempt.

I suppose I can always be counted upon to pick the most complex subject to paint. There are certain things I am drawn to . . . . rocks and water have never failed to hold my interest, but to smite me with their subtle lighting changes, striations and reflections. Here I am supposed to be making paintings to provide to the museum . . .and what do I do? I choose something that has challenged me since I began painting. Nope! Don’t pick an easy one. Go for the stuff that’ll beat me up if I don’t get it right.

Chalk up another one.

For some reason, the image does not upload. Maybe it broke the camera? Do ya suppose it is trying to save me embarrassment?

Finally got it to upload. Here is the effort. I had fun, but I didn’t get that delightful “kick” when a great one comes along.