Spending Tuesday in Heaven



“Orange and Blue”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
As promised, here is the result of Tuesday’s session on a hillside near Big Sur, California. As you can see from the about photo, the ice plant is colorful at this time of year . . . . .and finds itself in the most in hospitable places which, I think, are impossible to reach in order to germinate. But there it is!!
For me, this day was a day of, literally, falling in love! I have been dreaming about putting these images on paper with watercolor for weeks now. And here I was, back to the wind, being cautious not to spill my easel over the edge and into the water. What an incredible, beautiful day!!!
Putting the varied colors of the ice plant into a painting like this is a challenge. There are many greens mixed with reds of varying temperatures and intensities. After many attempts, I find that exaggeration seems to be the only way to intermingle those colors and to carry the emotion of the place. Rocks and water are one thing, but rocks and water with brilliant reds and oranges . . . . . . . .? Now THAT is something to dance for!!
I had to miss Wednesday, but am going back out on Thursday and hope that the forecasted rain doesn’t appear until late in the afternoon.
Ciao !

A Little Bit of Heaven . . !!!

“Lobos Rocks”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Some days seem as though I live, literally, on the edge of heaven. Monday and Tuesday of this week it seemed that way.
We are staying as guests of a favorite art colleague right near the Monterey Penninsula in California in a place called Carmel By The Sea. And it really is on the edge of heaven. Some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet is in that vicinity. Pebble Beach is part of that area.
My wife and I are staying there with only one thing on our minds . . . .to paint and to relax. The holidays and various travel obligations have kept us dancing through the coals, so to speak.
While it has been a piece of heaven, it has been COLD ! Beautiful, clear weather, but ice on everything in the mornings. But I am going out painting anyway!! Bundled up, with long underwear, wool cap and everything I can carry from my studio to sit by the sea and paint! Wow !!! The wind bites. The people stop with silly questions, but it is still one of those times for which I am grateful to be alive and able to immerse myself.
So here is the result of Monday’s painting excursion. Tuesday’s is in the wings ready to show her face, too. Rain is expected, but I have taken enough photos to be able to paint this beautiful place, rain or shine. Sadly, I haven’t got internet access where I am staying. So, stay tuned. It might take a few days to get all this stuff posted. Meanwhile . . . . . .Yippeeeeeeeeee!!!!!

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!!!!

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.

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.

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 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.

No Sooner . . .

“Edge of Quail Hollow”
Oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
No sooner do I think of something, often, and someone else publishes a commentary about it.

As you know, I have been plein air painting like a crazy fool . . . .just racking up brush mileage. While I have been getting better by increments, I have also noticed that I haven’t been paying much attention to good value composition while in the field. Hmmm! That just isn’t like me! To not plan for that, is to plan for mundane, not so cool, unaccomplished paintings. Then, Robert Genn (http://painterskeys.com/) published this missive in his twice weekly letter about value patterns. ( I think this guys is psychic, sometimes! (or, I am)) ;-))

He made note that it is often after coming in from being sidetracked by trying to capture a scene that we realize, days later, that we didn’t give composition its due effort . . . .and then we set about repairing the image to come to life with a strong pattern of dark and light. Now, that does NOT mean contrasting tones. What he means is a strong proportion of massed dark shades as an organized shape (or grouping of shapes) next to a mass of lights. Mind you, this isn’t about objects or things. It is about groupings of assigned values in order to pull off a strong abstract design onto which the objects are superimposed.

Some painters refer to this as Notan, which is a Japanese word for the same idea . . .massing darks and lights in an organized pattern. This pattern is usually what makes a composition sing out . . . . is is NOT the things in the picture or the subject. We painters call this ‘design’ . . . .or, at least, value design.

So, I caught myself making some re-statements in my recent paintings. Those chunks of dark, or little select areas of clean light against a dark are what makes the viewer sit up and take notice. Thanks for reaffirming what matters, Mr. Genn!

P.S. Robert Genn has one of the finest, most informative art blogs on the internet. His biweekly letters are always welcome and get read, often with more investigation following. If you aren’t familiar or haven’t subscribed, you might want to give it a trial. It is very non commercial and worth your time. Here’s the link: http://painterskeys.com/

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!

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.