Still on the Edge of Heaven . . .

“Carmel River Mouth”
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
A hiatus on Wednesday to carry out a work assignment prevented me from painting, but it sure didn’t stop me from thinking about being back at the easel while at work! Sometimes, plein aire painting can be a full blown compulsion for me! This week I was certainly in that compulsive behavior zone!
One of the very first workshops I ever attended was at this location some 20 years ago from a gentleman by the name of Gerald Brommer. You may know of Gerry or even attend his workshops. I know that he has given some 600 workshops all over the world. The Monterey area in Northern California (which is where this painting was done) was one of his favorite haunts. It was his paintings of that area that swept me into taking up this delightful pastime. I will be forever grateful to him for his encouragement and for setting an example for me to follow for the rest of my life.
That said, I wish there were spectators attending this painting session. I could do nothing wrong it seemed. It nearly FELL off my brushes. There was a mellow feeling as I set up my gear and proceeded to lay out the composition. Every move, every stroke, every wash and every glaze seemed as though nothing could possibly go wrong! There are occasional moments like that in the pursuit of painting. They don’t come often, but when they do there is incredible excitement (almost like a drug high!) that follows and keeps me floating for many days afterward. One would think that after 24 years of painting that sort of feeling of euphoria wouldn’t come around much, but it sure does for me. When I think about this sort of reward, I become very spiritual and quite grateful for the gifts I have been given. (amen!)
There are a few more paintings that happened this week, two of which are still in the category of “starts” and must be resolved in order to declare them finished. I will post them as soon as that happens. Meanwhile, I am returning to teaching my ten week class “Watercolor Beyond the Obvious” on Monday of this coming week. So, I must prepare, rather than paint.
Knowing me as I do, though, I imagine this compulsion that throbs within will win out in a day or two!! ;-))

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!

Disdain for the Ordinary

“Sentinel Autumn”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
I suppose it is possible to tell much about a person by the way he paints and the paths he or she chooses. In fact, in my own case, it seems my disdain for ordinary work is written all over me and my work (at least, I hope my work shows that!)
There are many paintings out there of the same tired subjects. Half Dome in Yosemite is, perhaps, an icon, but it is also in soooo many paintings that I try to avoid it. That isn’t to say that it is a bad thing to paint. Again, it is HOW it is painted . . .NOT WHAT was painted.
Looking back at my last post, speaking about having the paint speak up as paint and not something else, that really is another comment about avoiding the obvious.
Sentinel Rock in Yosemite drew my attention for most of the week there . . .and I painted it multiple times. This time, I worked at letting the granulation of the pigment speak up. (click on the image to see it). The tall rock was shaped somewhat like this, but that is where the reality gave way to the paint and let the paint make its statements.
There are one or two more pieces to post from that trip. They’ll appear soon.
“Royal Arches”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

Depending on who you talk to, SIZE is an element of design. Size actually means “scale” or “Proportion” or “Measure.” That is to say in order for the eye to assess how large something is, there must be comparative objects or sizes to measure against.

We all ‘know’ how big a human being is (roughly) or the size of most trees. When we see a very tiny pine tree next to a large cliff face, we get a sense of the proportion of the cliff side. It is through clues like this that we artists are somewhat able to communicate that sense of enormity.

In this painting (on site in Yosemite) the scene is in the meadow near the Royal Arches. Those arches appear in the cliff side of the rock which stands straight out of the meadow and snuggles close to the very recognizable Half Dome. One simply cannot imagine the size of that cliff side without comparative objects nearby.

So, here is the attempt. In the early morning, the sun rises behind Half Dome and projects its light onto the face of the arches. It is an amazing . . . .and nearly overwhelming sight! To paint it . . . .that is another story entirely. It sure made me feel like a teensy little ant!!

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 !!!

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!

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

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Photo 3.

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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.