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!! ;-))

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 !

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!!!!

Rocks in My Head

“Rocks In My Head”
15 x 22 Inches, Watercolor

For as long as I can remember in my painting life, painting rocks and water has been an endless fascination. Reflections, currents, textures, shapes, and the contrasts between granite and fluid draw me into a state of which I cannot describe.

I remember the day well. I had risen from breakfast to go outdoors to paint. The weather was perfect. But where should I go? There was so much from which to choose. Then it struck: rocks in the river!!!!!! I couldn’t get to the car fast enough!!! It wasn’t long before my shoes were wet and I was assembling my easel as fast as my hands could move.

In reviewing the paintings made in Yosemite, this week, with a friend, I commented that I got the same overwhelming calm and simultaneous excitement when I was fishing at the edge of a small river or creek. I have experienced that feeling since I was a little boy and can remember well being at a certain spot when I was six years old picnicking with my parents.

Then there are the towering rocks of Yosemite. When I am there, they fill my dreams. And I like very much the sheer fun of painting bizarre designs from sketches and memory. In those paintings I allow myself the freedom to Play. While at creek side, however, I am swept up in all the dazzling light, the movement of the water and the glory of the fresh air and wildness of it all. It seems to me that I could no more shift into the ‘play’ mode there than to fly.

But put me into the studio without distractions . . . . .anything can happen . . . .and that is for another post.


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!!

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!

Another Shot At It . . .

“Floating Horizon”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches
After dreaming all night about yesterday’s painting, I still wasn’t satisfied. So I took another shot at it. Since I usually attack these paintings as an experiment, I went at it with multiple goals in mind.
I still haven’t captured the scale of the ship. I suppose I will have to put another boat in the piece for size comparison . . .or something that shows comparative measure. But I was able to reach a few of the goals I set out to accomplish.
This time I decided to reduce the size of the relective surface of the water (the white area) and to make it the center of interest, silhouette the bridge of the ship against the sky using value counterchange and to subdivide the large foreground shape using strong shadows from off the picture plane. And . . .I pushed the value contrasts to give the sense of distance to the ship and to enhance that reflection of light off the surface of the water.
I really worked at pushing the darks in this painting, also. As most watercolorists do, I have struggled with my darks over the years. It is imparative to make them full of color and to have them appear fresh. I think I may have a breakthrough in that area in this painting. It peculiar how we do the same things over and over and over again, then, one day, something clicks and we change. That happened this morning.
While I am also working hard at teaching value design to my classes, I figgered I had better put the lessons to work. I employed a very dark foreground shape to set up the contrast of light and medium values in the piece. (I wonder what the next one will look like.)

Manipulation of Technique, Design


Three Different Moods
watercolor all are 15 x 22 inches
I am still working on the “Miroir d’ Eau” painting of people on a grand reflecting surface (Last few posts). Progress is slow, but it is mostly about practice.

Meanwhile . . . my classes have begun and I am in that space of dreaming up different ways to show painters ‘how to’ and to help them capture new paths of thought in their work.

I am spending more time emphasizing the interrelationships of Content (subject), Technique and Design and how those relationships affect the mood outcome of a painting. Of course, I have been demonstrating different techniques to some of the classes . . . .recently, painting into wet or damp paper . . .to achieve different edges and textures of the paint. That technique, with variation, and the manipulation of value arrangements, color and edges can express many different moods.

In the paintings above, the drawing has not changed (except just a little bit, unintentionally), but dominances of intensity, hue and temperature have definitely changed. See how the emphasis has shifted from the top of the painting to the bottom? See how the process of moving from painting ‘things’ to constructing an overall atmosphere can completely shift an idea? See how limiting contrasts can affect the mood? And how the increase of contrast can move the mood, too?

Isn’t it interesting how such different feelings can be generated without changing the actual drawing?

Stepping up To The Job

“miroir d’ eau”
watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
This is the first real attempt at making a painting of this subject after many practice sessions sketching, fiddling with the brush and silhouettes, value studies and all sorts of seemingly unproductive ‘time wasters.’

I can say, without hesitation, that all this practice has set up several different ideas and has bolstered my confidence to attack this subject with a loose approach. And it has alerted me as to where the bombs are buried in the path to completion . . . .and there are many, as I have learned.

Values . . . .this subject behaves like a backlit subject, but the light comes from the reflected sky in the floor of this ‘fountain.’ Incidentally, the floor is black granite on which there is 1/2 inch of water. The reflections are incredible! I have learned that there must be a value comparison between what value is in the background and the figure . . . .the darker the background the lighter the silhouette. Conversely, the lighter the background, the darker the figure. Multiple sources and bounces of light make this a very challenging painting subject which holds enormous potential for some dazzling images.

Color is lost in the figure and details disappear in back lighting.

Clothing shape and figure attitude say much . . .and accuracy isn’t always necessary . . .it is the impression that matters.

The large shape of the buildings in the rear also make for an interesting shape, but must be toned down to not call attention . . .with a cool to warm temperature transition left to right. The top edge of the buildings tell the story . . .not the building faces.

Having said all that, It’s time to step up to the job. I have more changes to make and will be making more of these in the next few weeks to become intimately acquainted with the subject and lighting. This is the first.

Taking Chances . . .Again

“Backwash”
watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
Having just received a shipment of new paper (never tried this type before now) from England, I just HAD to take the most unfamiliar type and put it to the test . . . .or, shall I say, to many tests?
Waterford paper, made by St. Cuthberts Mill in the UK, is quite beautiful in its whiteness and its textures. The finish they make on cold press and rough are really lovely. But how well does it take a wash or glaze or . . .how does it work wet into wet . . .or if the paint is scrubbed in with a bristle brush? How well or easily does paint lift? And what of the edges? Can the image be manipulated after a base layer has been laid down? What becomes of the paper surface in vigorous lifting? And, what happens to the color when the sizings and chemistry of the paper’s structure mix with various pigments?
The heavy package arrived from England late last week. I had never seen shipped paper packaged so well! It arrived without a single sheet being even slightly tweaked! I couldn’t use it right away because I was working on the last painting posted . . .remember? The one that was taking all the time with so many glazes. Maybe the distraction of wanting to paint on that wonderful new paper was enough to cause the slaughter of that painting. I know I *wanted* badly to get to it and try it.
So, here is the very first piece . . . .Waterford 200lb cold press. That’s right: two hundred pound! Yummy paper. I took every risk I knew of to challenge the surface and try to find the achilles heel of the paper. I washed, glazed, scrubbed, lifted, scraped, pushed, tarnished and did everything I could to see what would happen. And, WOW!! It responds so beautifully and continues to show off the glorious character of the paper itself. The transparency of the colors works better on this paper than any I have tried to date. The white water with a slight cool wash just glows in this piece. (P.S. The lower right corner is orange in the photo because of a lighting goof.)
In all, I am extremely pleased with how well this paper responds! Now to find a source for it here in the USA.