Thursday, December 11, 2008


A typical fall day, starting with heavy fog, promising maybe rain, maybe clearing. Several other painters are here, some working in pastel, oil, acrylic. As usual, I am amazed at the variety of approaches to the subject. Some begin with texture and variety of color. Some focus in on the cattails, or the fall bushes. I quickly block in my main value shapes, then go to work adding in variety of color.

I have set up under a large fir tree. When the promised drizzle comes, I am completely undisturbed, continuing to pick out colors within colors, adding to the sky as the clouds shift.

One by one, my companions grow cold and leave. I am wearing a winter wool hat, thick socks, and my muk-luks. Perhaps warm feet are the secret to staying warm. Or maybe standing, instead of sitting so that I move around a lot. The ducks seem plenty warm. I wonder how they keep their feet from freezing, just skin muscle and bone, hanging out there in the cold water all day. Or maybe they just don’t care, the way I don’t notice aches in my knees until I am almost finished with my painting.

Friday, November 21, 2008


A student asked what advice she could pass on to a friend who has taken a break from painting and wants to get back to it. Here's what I told her:

1. Make a place to paint. Find someplace where you can leave yourstuff out, so all you have to do is clean your brushes and cover yourpaints when you quit.

2. Set aside 5 minutes every day and paint for five minutes. If youdo more, great. If you paint 5 minutes a day, your brain decides thatit is an important activity and rewires for it while you sleep. Don'tskip 2 days. Do it every day. The same time every day is good, too.

3. Paint for fun. If you've set it aside for a while, paint onlywhat you want to paint, what you're driven to paint. Play a bit.Give yourself premission to paint awful stuff. Give yourselfpermission to paint wild stuff. Look at what happens and solidify theparts that you like.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Rick and I visit to Bend to hike and chase waterfalls. Today we drive to Tumalo Falls, which we missed on previous trips because of snow. We hike up to middle Tumalo Falls, and take lots of photos. I have discovered that if I give Rick a camera, he will walk slowly enough to allow me to take pictures. Clever, eh?
Now it is late afternoon, and I feel a need to paint. I send Rick to the swimming pool, and find a parking area with a great sky view. I love this time of day. The clouds are almost certain to be warming in color, even if sunset is hours away. There are plenty of shadows and nuances to the light.
Today, the clouds are changing so fast, I can hardly make two brush strokes that still represent the shapes. Again, I must choose and paint without an overall plan. I struggle with the foreground grasses. They are very light, and their color pulls some of the warms of the clouds together, yet I don’t want them to dominate the painting. When I leave, I feel satisfied that I have captured the feel, if not the fact, of the scene.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


It is harder to get up before sunrise this morning. During the night I thought I heard great winds (probably trucks on the highway), and kept listening for sounds of rain, wondering whether there would be good enough weather to paint out at all. So I am delighted to rise to the sound of my cell phone alarm, look out the window, and see Orion shining clear and strong in a black, black sky. I dress in minutes, knock on Irene’s door, and microwave my breakfast and her coffee. Then we head for the lake.

Along the dam levee, there is already someone parked to watch the sunrise. We choose a spot where we have a view of Mt. Hood, plus a bit of lightening sky to the right. There isn’t a whiff of cloud, so I compose my painting around the dark shapes of hill and mountain, and the lozenge of lake.

The show begins. I am amazed that every morning there is a new display. Every morning the footlights are a different color, the sky costumed in different clouds, the dance of the wind taking its skirts this way or that. Colored light bounces on fir trees, rock, snow fields and water with subtlely different intensity.

As the sun comes up, a wind stirs the lake, then builds to a blow, dropping the temperature. But the show is worth braving the weather. Gradually, sun hits the snow fields on Mt. Hood, then the dark green high rolling hills, then the oranges of the lower elevation trees. Lights up on grass and water. The lake is awake now, the day begun.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Miraculously, I am out of bed in time for another sunrise. Consider going to someplace new, like Trillium Lake, but decide that Timberline is closer, and the sunrise won’t be the same anyway. The van knows the way.

The sunrise is, indeed, quite different from yesterday. It reminds me of my resolve, made while in Hawaii, to walk down to the river every non-rainy day for the sunset. (And have I done that? Noooo.)

This time, I set my colors a bit earlier in the show. I am painting a very small canvas, so I zoom in on the golden glow just above the ridge. Put the colors down with a certain intensity, trying to compensate for the lack of light in the van. The painting comes together quickly.

Once my painting is finished, I pull out the camera for the rest of the show, drive to a few new viewpoints, and capture some variety. Even the side of the sky away from the sun has subtle and exciting color play. I am a confirmed sunrise lover. (As long as they aren’t too early.)

Friday, October 24, 2008


Now that the days are shorter, sunrise isn’t so ridiculously early. I set the cell phone for 6:15 and go to bed early. I dream that it has snowed three feet and I can’t get out of the driveway. About 5:30 I wake up for good. Snuggle in bed for a little longer, then dress, grab some fruit, and head out the door as the cell phone alarm goes off. It takes only 10 minutes to get to Timberline Lodge.

The air is still and blue. Only a faint light in the east shows where the sun will probably rise. It is in two spots split by clouds, so I go eeney-meeny-miney-moe to pick which part of the sky to compose around. I set up quickly. The nice thing about sunrises (as opposed to sunsets), is that you set up your paints and get everything ready for the show, then the show happens and you paint quickly, then you have lots of light with which to finish up. Today, I begin painting so early that I can hardly see the colors I have mixed. As the sun slips above the horizon, my colors say, surprise!

Bonnie arrives, and I teach her stuff about color mixing. After lunch, we go up to Timberline and set up for a view of Mt. Adams. As we paint, the wind gets stronger and colder. We make a few color notes, then pack up our paints to finish tomorrow in the cabin. (Painting on previous day's post.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008


(Afternoon painting, done another day)

I drive to the arts cabin and meet Betsy, who helps me settle in. It’s a lovely, homey building, with a collection of old furniture and space for painting in the living room. Artists who come here to teach have gifted the house with paintings; I am surrounded by the work of friends and acquaintances. What a treat to use this cabin as a base for painting and classes.

There is still some daylight, but the clouds have socked in the cabin. I set up an easel to paint a group of trees in the last hour of daylight. Before I begin, a phone call from Rick tells me that he has a clear view of Mt. Hood from Portland. It’s all in the point of view, so I resolve to move mine up in elevation. I drive to Timberline.

I am in a sea of clouds, tops glowing pink with the remaining sunlight. Across the mountain, long, sweeping scarves of shadow undulate across the ridges. I photograph trees that seem sculpted for the purpose. By the time I return to the cabin with my precious photos, the daylight is gone. Time is finite, and I have traded mine. For today, I am content.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Today, I explore the Willamette side of the park, taking in the view upriver toward Oregon City, and downriver toward West Linn. The cottonwoods on the island are hinting at fall color, and milkweed along the river has turned brilliant yellow. I pick a spot in the sun and put up my big easel. Jonathan shows up and paints from a pochade box.

Geese are gathering. They skim the river below us and land gracefully on the moving water. Before long, they will be gathering in large numbers, travelling over our river in long v-shaped flocks. But for now, they are content to socialize on the local sandbar.

Clouds sail across the blue, mostly to the north, leaving us in full sun. I am soaking up the last of the year’s heat. At this time of year, each day is a gift, made more precious by the imminent cold weather. I have a studio paint date tomorrow, which seems like time stolen from outdoor painting. Stay in the moment. Paint now. There is no heat, no cold, no fatigue. Only the brush and the color moving on the canvas.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


A beautiful fall day. Jean and I drive all over the countryside, trying to find the best way to Dodge Park. I follow the old route we took on canoe trips, up the Sandy River, up and down the hills, and around Bull Run. Pretty quickly, we discover that I have taken the long way. The old lake that was in the center of Ten Eyck is gone or empty, looking more like a cranberry field with dikes. I wonder which dam they took out the last time I was here, when Bull Run was in flood.

The park is a classic northwest woods. Hints of red and yellow color the maples and undergrowth. We find a spot by the river and begin to paint, Jean in watercolor, and myself in oil. I start an 18 by 24, hoping to have the time to mostly finish it. The weather is cool and overcast, but the clouds promise to burn off, and since it isn’t windy, we are able to paint in relative comfort.

We paint in relative quiet. A few people drive into the parking lot and walk around the river. Almost all of them stop to see what we are painting. This is more attention than usual, and I wonder if my conspicuous setup has something to do with it. I am using my new Beauport easel, which is a huge a-frame, and my umbrella is up. One lady walks by saying "I’ll buy it." Unfortunately, she is kidding, but it’s a nice compliment.

The sun comes out, making me wish I weren’t standing in the shade. Maybe I’ll have to adjust my shade rule for fall painting, especially since the light isn’t as strong. Blue sky is reflecting in the water, setting up a rainbow of new colors. I am finishing this painting with less fatigue than usual, even though I’ve been painting for four hours. Why? More breaks? It’s an idea to consider.

We finish off the day with a walk to take photos, and a different country drive to find our way home. A great fall paint day.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Who says you can’t paint outdoors in the rain? My group and I have taken shelter under a highway bridge with a view of the Clackamas River. We are studying water patterns. Under the bridge there is a small patch of swiftwater, with a v-shaped light pattern. The clouds may come and go, but the strong current holds the ever-shifting sky reflection in place.
The rain comes, with a bit of wind whipping spray into our shelter. Though the ground here is bone-dry, with no sign of ever having received rain, yet beads of moisture dot the primed surface of my canvas. I wipe them off and begin to paint, confident that the real rain will be kept away.
The river is a mirror of the weather. The stronger winds come in gusts, punching the river, sending ripples upstream, like storm gods blowing on a full cup. We all put our hoods up and hold on to our canvas.
Later, the sun comes out, creating confusions of light in our paintings. The clouds offer interesting possibilities. It has been day rich with weather.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


This is a favorite paint spot of mine. There is no one here except me. The picnic shelter has been closed up for the season, it’s midweek so the traffic on the highway is down, and I have a spectacular view of beacon rock and the Columbia River.
Several other creatures are happy about the quiet as well. There’s a bird with a funny whooping call, and a frog that sounds as though it’s nearby, though frog calls can be deceptive.
I begin my painting in full sun. Quickly, a high haze moves in, changing the sky color and the intensity of the shadows. I stick with my pattern, and use the new colors. After about an hour, I stretch out on one of the picnic tables and rest my back.
An 18 by 24 painting is a real stretch for me en plein air. I keep pushing myself to do them, hoping they will get easier with time. After another hour and a half of painting, I am becoming impatient. I wish I had the time to just walk away from this for a half hour. Unfortunately, I have left the foreground for last, the place where I need the most detail. This means that my fatigue is keeping me from putting in as much as I meant to. Either I will have to get faster, or I will have to find ways of planning around my fatigue.
The canvas is covered–twice. I am out of time; the painting is, perforce, done.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I’m in Hood River to see the Gorge Plein Air exhibit. There are stunning paintings, some by friends and acquaintances of mine, and I am admiring everything so much that I go through the exhibit several times. I particularly notice brush strokes and the way the artists use color. My own eye prefers a lot of variety in color notes, and the simple shape-designed paintings just don’t do it for me. How many color notes? The more the better, I think, until it becomes too blended, or too chaotic.
Once I leave the exhibit, I’m inspired to go paint. But first, some lunch. And there are peach farms, just across the river. I head across the bridge and drive up the White Salmon valley until I find a farm stand with peaches, the last of the year. They are ripe and juicy, yum! And look, I’m just a few miles from Husum Falls.
Back in the day, I used to paddle whitewater kayak. The White Salmon has a cold but fun section that ends up at a waterfall just before a bridge. There was a log jammed in the base of the waterfall, so we thought that anyone who ran it had a death wish, but it was always fun to speculate about it. Some years back, someone or some storm yanked the log, so now the falls has what appears to be a clear channel. So the boaters of today seem to take it as a routine rush. (Never mind that there is some rock down there, or the log wouldn’t have wedged there in the first place, and we hear rumors of boats hitting bottom now and then when they run the falls.)
Today, the waterfall is a perfect place to paint. There is shade under the bridge, and I have a great view with just enough river above the falls to make an interesting design. And I have the added entertainment of watching boaters come through from time to time.
This is really fun, but I’m hit with fits of jealousy. These twenty and thirty-year-old kids don’t even have very good technique. They drift over the falls at odd angles, with sloppy paddle strokes and plunge into the foam, disappearing into the white. They pop up, right-side up or upside down, execute some of the weakest rolls I’ve ever seen, and come out smiling. I could do better than that. Of course, I can’t do better than that--I can’t fit in my boat, but I want to be twenty-five and kayaking again.
Painting will have to do. And today, it does quite nicely. I enjoy coloring in the patterns of rock and water. About the time I pack up to leave, a retired couple comes down with some beer to watch the local entertainment.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Painting on the bluff with my class. We start out with morning clouds, and a view of Oaks Bottom. Sounds of birds and local wildlife (Screaming kids on roller coasters at Oaks Park, just below us.) I’m enjoying the September temperatures, which are comfortable in a light windbreaker.
The sun burns through the clouds. I keep hoping that Mt. St. Helens will peek through the clouds, as it did the day I scouted this location. The horizon remains stubbornly hazy.
Every once in a while, birds rise from the pond, circling in the river valley and rising toward us. Egrets look white as paper in the sunlight. A small raptor that I can’t identify swings overhead. Kids’ screams and laughter rise in waves, with the train-like roar. We share our paintings and they are as individual as tropical fish.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Was going to paint at the river this evening, but I forgot my wallet at Trader Joe’s, had to go home and get it, then back to Joe’s for the groceries. I walk out to the car and the sun is settling into a bank of colorful, corrugated clouds. Shoot! I will never make it to the river before it sets. And, hey, there’s a good view here. Why else am I carrying paints around in my car? I set up to paint in the parking lot.
Trader Joe’s customers stop to see what I’m doing. "You going to put that Safe Lipo billboard in?" I explain about artistic license. I’m painting on a 6 by 8 canvas. How much do they think I can fit? A white-haired lady stops by saying that she used to paint. Watching me, she seems to want to paint again. I am standing, separated by a fence and ten feet of hillside from the freeway. We can barely hear each other.
As always with a sunset, the sky is changing minute to minute. I keep reminding myself: paint the parts that will change the fastest first. The clouds become more orange, then more rose as the sun lowers. It angles sharply across the horizon. Maybe that is why the sun seems to set more slowly in these latitudes than in the tropics.
After the sky is finished (frozen just before sunset), I cover the bottom edge with a dark line of silhouetted trees. The white-haired lady comes back out with her groceries just as I am packing up. "Oh, those trees really make the picture. Otherwise, it’s just blobs of color."
It is always blobs of color. But never "just".

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Back to the Willamette River on a gray, cloudy day with my paintbox. I have barely an hour, so I set up on the near bank. There’s a lovely swoop of clouds pointing where the river rounds a bend. I like the movement, so I set up there.
The clouds shift subtlely, but it’s early enough in the afternoon that the changes are slow. Paint the sky first. The blue-gray overtones of the sky overshadow everything, influencing the colors of rock, plants, water.
I hear the buzz of a hummingbird behind me, catch a glimpse of his silhouette over the blackberries. I was gone for the last week of their plumpness, and now they are shriveled and drooping. This may be my last summer painting down here this year. Before long, leaves will turn color. The river will rise and I won’t be able to get out to the island. I am filled with the desire to paint every day, tomorrow will be changed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

HAWAII, Rainbow Falls

My family is at the farmer’s market looking at crafts, but I get dropped off at the waterfall to paint. The falls itself pales next to the wonderful plants. I walk along a trail that leads to a huge banyan network. It’s hard to tell where one tree begins and the next one ends. Back at the waterfall I climb over the barricade to where I can sit on the rocks and actually see the falls. (Why do they always put barricades where the view is no good?) I make a twenty-minute sketch that does little more than remind me I was here. My ride shows up. Time to go. Isn’t there a law against hurrying this much in Hawaii?

HAWAII, Black Sand Beach

We have come to a black sand beach merely because the sand here is black. The sand is black. Not just dark, but particles of what was black rock. It’s just like any other beach in Hawaii except for this quirk which seems somehow wrong. Is it my imagination, or is the sand more gritty, like walking on a bed of nails? Anyway, I have a grass mat to sit on and spread out my paints.
A little girl comes over and asks what I am painting. I point out the water, the sky, and the promontory in front of me. She looks, carefully, comments on the colors. I begin talking with her as I mix. "What color should I make the sand?" "Black," she says, quite reasonably. "Ah, but what kind of black? It looks orangey in the sun, and blue-ish in the shade, see?" I mix the colors, and ask how she likes it. "I think it needs more red." And she is right.
She chatters and helps the whole time I am painting. She lives in Hawaii. She has never been off the island in a plane or a boat. It’s good to live in Hawaii. She lives with her mother, and her dad lives next door. She goes to a charter school. Every week her class goes on a field trip. Next week they are going to some fabric place to get fabric so they can make bags. She is petite and bright-eyed, and her lashes curl tight against her eyelids. I am enchanted.
Her brother joins us. He is smaller and has reddish hair. He watches, wide-eyed, as she keeps up her chatter. Two more kids join us. I have become a travelling circus. I put away my painting, and sketch on demand, a fish, a star, some rainbows. As I give them away, I explain about how to hold them to not get paint on them, wishing for watercolors. The kids dance away with the paintings. I have been given a gift.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MAUI, view of nearby Island

We snorkel early today, while the water is calm and the beaches aren’t crowded. See a lovely large octopus, trying to hide behind a coral flake that he is much too big for. I’m surprised he doesn’t squeeze himself out of sight, because they seem able to compress themselves infinitely small.
After lunch, we brows art galleries in Lahaina. It’s wonderful to see all the strong painting styles, and different approaches to handling paint. My favorite gallery is full of local artists’ work, very fine landscape painters and a few botanicals. I am really curious how much Hawaiiana people buy and take home with them. Memories of the wonderful vacation? A lovely place to retire to? There arevalso paintings of Venice. In fact, that is the number two location. Go figure.
We stop at a beach on the way back, and I paint a view of the next island over. (Will have to look at a map to see what it is.) I’m always amazed at how many of the islands you can see from one another, as if they were just down the street. I have trouble capturing the exact color of the hills. Again, I indulge my endless fascination with the colors of the water and the light.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MAUI with Palms

Our last dive day, because we fly on Thursday. We went to Ulua Beach, and I though it was so lovely, I am back for my afternoon painting. I sit in the pokey, flat-bladed Hawaiian grass under a tree that gives a kind of sketchy shade, and paint the colors of water and clouds, which are completely different from yesterday’s. Of the bushes in front of me, I choose a few to put in the foreground, along with a couple of palm trees I can’t resist. It’s almost too bad, because now you don’t quite notice all the colors I put in the clouds.
Today I am the bird lady, or at least the birds think so. They come right up to my feet and peep or squawk at me, depending on their respective voices. I get a close look at a dove, and a brown quail-shaped bird with a v-necklace. And a little brown job. I know the bird guy told me what these are, but I just don’t remember. It’s all I can do to remember the fish, who are my old friends from previous dive trips.
So maybe I’ll go back in the water, where I belong. I spend an hour snorkeling, and return to the hotel, and my family wants to go shopping! I mean, really!

Monday, September 15, 2008

MAUI Clouds

The weather has changed and a stiff gusty wind is beating the park. I paint from our balcony (lanai?) Hoping it will give me a little shelter.
Today’s painting is an experiment. I have a piece of 18 by 24 canvas that I primed, let it dry, took off its support, and rolled for packing in my suitcase. My idea was that I would clip it to cardboard after we’d been to Costco. Well, Costco only had small boxes and it takes two to make my 18 by 24 board. Which leaves me with a ridge in the middle. I can see immediately that I am going to get blips in my paint from the ridge. So I discard the board and lay the canvas directly on the glass table. Once I get that far, I enjoy painting, standing over the table the way you do with watercolor. I have posted a very poor photo of this painting, which shows the wrinkles in the canvas. I have faith that they will disappear when I restretch it.

The clouds over West Maui are my subject. I can’t believe all the colors in them. Even the colors of the ocean are so varied, I never get tired of adding new notes. As the sun sinks, the clouds warm up. When I finish the cloud painting, I have time for a small sunset sketch.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

MAUI Afternoon

After a walk on the beach and snorkeling (snorkeling always comes first), I head to the park with my paints.
It is a humid, hazy day. The most striking feature is the clouds, huge puffs of pink and powder blue. I set up a composition with a couple of trees, the blue, blue ocean, and a hint of West Maui under the clouds. By the time I get to painting the clouds, the sun has lit the cloud tops with gold.

I take a break and walk around. A guy has a towel spread out in front of him and has sprinkled bird seed on the towel. He is surrounded by birds. I ask what they are and he tells me... not one name but about ten. He knows the birds. It occurs to me that we all do that... learn a lot about one little bit of the world. Not often that anyone even asks about our little bit of knowledge, and it’s fun to share it when we get a chance.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

MAUI Sunset

Had a pleasantly uneventful trip to Maui, leaving not too early in the morning, and arriving early enough to settle into our room and snorkel a bit before sunset.

Kamaole Sands Park is just across the street. I carried my paints over to the lawn and set up while the sun was (I thought) still two hours above the horizon.

The sun sets faster here. There wasn’t as much painting time as I thought I’d have, and the colors changed quickly. I’d lay in some oranges and pinks. Then the sun would slip behind a cloud, and the light would disappear from the water. This happened several times, so that the colors I saw in one part of the sky were gone when I painted another part. Rather than chase the light, I just painted areas one at a time, creating a sequential record of the sun going down.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I park at the end of the street and drag my rolling paint box down the hill to the Willamette River. The tide is out. I head across the gravel bar toward a small blackberry island. Midway across the channel, the wind picks up, but back on shore the view that I want is blocked. So I set up as close to the berries as I can, trying to get a little shelter from the wind.
I struggle with my equipment. I have chosen to paint an 18 by 24, the largest piece I’ve ever done on location, but quite a bit of canvas for today’s wind. The easel is plenty stable with its legs spread to their widest, but the bottom canvas holder isn’t doing its job. I have to keep pushing the bottom of my canvas back in, and I worry that it will sail away.
The afternoon is enchanted. In September, the sun sinks behind the line of trees to my left, sending slanting shadows across the riverbank, backlighting the maples. A hint of clouds lights the horizon, promising an interesting sunset. "Paint first what will change the fastest," I have been taught. It is all changing ridiculously fast. I block in the shore first, hoping to set the patterns of slanting light. Orange light in the distant shore, golden sunlit trees.
A heavy splash in the river ahead: an osprey has caught a fish. It climbs to my right, over the trees and away from the sun. Two teen-aged boys arrive on bicycles, watch for a while, then take off after blackberries.
The sky fills with color. The clouds that I could barely see are now declaring themselves in yellow and orange. I block in the sky and settle into a rhythm, finding colors, adding them in wet into wet.
I am putting finishing touches on the painting when I look toward the path I came down. Oops. The tide came in while I wasn’t paying attention. There’s no rolling my box back across, and the water is deepening fast. I whip out my cell phone for help, then frantically pack my stuff. When Rick arrives, we carry my box across the inlet of knee-deep water. Ah, the sacrifices we make for art!

Friday, July 11, 2008


My cold and I, and my friend Irene arrive in the late morning to say Hey to the artists painting along the Yachats shoreline. In the estuary, sinuous trails of water are left behind by the tide. I am tempted by the shapes, but the wind...
Along the north shore, there is less wind, and I set up my easel in a wide stance with a small canvas, not wanting to set much sail for the gusts to grab. Every once in a while I look down at the gulls. They are feasting on something among the rocks, and every once in a while one takes a bath in the water left by the tide. The trees here attest to the wind, and the weather, and the difficulty of hanging on to their needles. Every single branch is bent and even the twigs turn away from the prevailing blow. Struggle creates bonsai.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Cummins Creek, Neptune State Park

I have a cold. My nose has become a trumpet and my head feels stuffed with balloons. I can’t sleep. So I go out with the other painters to Cummins Creek.
It’s a beautiful spot. There’s a bridge arcing over a creek and the windwept trees are backlit. Painters are nestled in and among the rocks, where gusts of wind are not quite blowing over their easels. The wind makes the balloons in my head expand. So I climb in my van and drive to another overlook where I can paint from within my steel and glass cocoon.
A happy, toasty two hours inside my cocoon has me contemplating the colors of the rocks (purple), the recession of greens (dramatic), the various ways to make the ocean look as though it’s flat. Thinking of color keeps me from thinking about my cold until suddenly my canvas is covered. No more decisions to make. I decide to go home and take a nap.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The wind is howling from the north. All along the pathway down the south cliffs, painters have set up camp. The rock scouped against our backs is like a reflector oven. I feel almost, but not quite, warm.
The rocks have arranged themselves wonderfully for my painting. A fog drifts in, shifting the colors to violets and greens. I capture the color notes in the fog, ignoring the brightening colors when it burns away.

In the afternoon, I join my friend Carol on the sand. We both paint the scupted sand cliffs above us. The sands are so full of color, from soft blue-grays to deep rust. The sand is everywhere, in my equipment, in my palette, and embedded in my painting. Evidence that it was painted en plein air.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Today I meet Erik Sandgren, and a whole lot of painters from all over the place, mostly Oregon. He has a certain sense of humor. "The dog’s name is Sage. If he walks real close to you and rubs against you, it’s called a Sage brush." Twenty plus painters disappear into corners all over the park. In the afternoon, we get together and share our paintings. Lots of big watercolors with energetic brush work. It almost made me want to paint in watercolor.
My painting spot is just at the edge of the bridge, and I sit behind a bush to stay out of the wind. The water has surprising purple and orange tones. I enjoy the variety of colors in the water and in the greens of the shore. When I quit, I am sunburned and my hands are cold. Ah, the sacrifices we make for our art.
Sorry about the poor photo of the painting. I'll take another one soon.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ona Beach

Same paint spot as yesterday, but better weather. Because of the sun on the water, the values were reversed from yesterday. Attached my umbrella to my cart today. It has the virtue of not pulling my easel over, though I don’t know how steady the cart would be in wind. I pulled the car in front of me to give me some shelter and painted in the shade of the tree.
There’s a lot of color in this tree. Greens of mosses, dark-blue not-whites and almost black grays. It is easy to get lost in seeing a lot of difference and miss the relationships.
After painting, I walk around and take photos. This is a beautiful creek, with a different view from each picnic table. I meet several frisbee dogs, and pass a couple of people swimming in the creek. They must be a whole lot warmer than I am.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Ona Beach

Foggy again, less windy, but definitely misting. I drive to Ona Beach, and set up under my tailgate, facing a group of Aspens along a stream. The scene is placid, complex, and very green. I suspect, as I mix my greens, that this is going to be a problem. Indeed, I have a great deal of difficulty differentiating the greens in the foreground from those in the background.
Not a speck of wildlife appears to challenge the spitting fog. A kayak or two ambles by, leaving ripples in the green water. The landscape against the brilliant yellow and orange looks even more green.
A photographer passes by, looking for a way down to the creek. He’s interested in the water, not the trees. I am in love with the twisting leaning branches, and the variety of colors on the trunks that are not green. The mist gets heavier. I pack up my paints.
Bringing the painting into the house, I take a quick look. I was afraid of that. Way too much green. Greens running into each other, a complex, monotonous soup. These things happen.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Alsea Bay

It is misty and windy at the beach, so I drive 2 miles up Alsea Bay to a view of colorful grasses and hills across the bay. I decide to paint two paintings. One with careful attention to realistic color. The second, pushing the colors to create a brilliant, colorful scene. I am foiled almost immediately. The grasses provide an irresistible temptation to show lots of color, and I find I am pushing color automatically. I paint a scene of trees for my second painting. I will have to try this exercise another time.
Despite being right beside the road, the scene is very peaceful. I have a nice wide berm and am not threatened by cars coming along the straightaway. The brisk wind is softened as it comes around my car door, and I have bungeed the umbrella to the doorway for extra stability. It’s like having a portable windbreak. The wind sighs through the grasses, and redwings call, flitting in and out of their hideaways. A dragonfly visits my colors, perhaps hunting the gnats that hover around my palette (one volunteers to be part of the painting.) As I finish my second painting, sunshine breaks through the clouds over the bay.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


My favorite spot at my mother's house is the back porch. A trellis supports wysteria vines that completely surround and roof the patio. We can sit out there and read and talk, oblivious to the fact that it is 85 degrees and humid. In fact, I don't want to leave the porch for painting, so here you have my view from under the trellis.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mentor, OH

Rick and his mom have gone out to visit a garden. I sneak out the back with my paints and a chair, and notice again the pattern of sun on the meadow next door. This time I include a different tree at the edge of the woods.
The colors feel more natural today. I wonder if painting is like writing. You write every day, whether it feels difficult or effortless. On the difficult days you find, on later reading, that the writing is just as good as on the effortless days. The experience of the writer doesn’t translate into quality. (However you might debate this point, it’s been my experience, and that of many professionals.)
Is this true of painting? I imagine it depends on whether the difficulty of the process changes your behavior. Do you hurry through the painting on a difficult day? Do you go with your first choice of color, instead of second-guessing your choice? Do you put down shapes too simplistically?
Today is an automatic painting day, and I enjoy it, never mind the results.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lake Erie, OH

We have come to the beach to swim. There is the usual chop and steep break at the shoreline, and a brisk wind is blowing up the beach. The water is cold. Even the kids who have come to swim are popping out after just a few minutes. The temperature on the beach is pleasant, at least ten degrees cooler than at Mom’s house. I wish we could stay here for the afternoon, but we haven’t brought any lunch with us.
Casting around for painting subjects, I am once again attracted to the line of trees along the right-hand shore. The cottonwoods stand forward here. A line of cumulus clouds is stacking against the shore, a sign of the thunderstorm expected tonight.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cleveland, OH

Rick’s mom’s house is set on a lovely wooded lot, with lots of maples in the backyard. I’m particularly attracted to the line of trees that border the meadow next door. Golden-green grasses show through the trunks of the trees. I try to capture the pattern of grasses and trees, creating a dark fence out of the trunk patterns.
I am challenging myself to make more interesting color combinations. Shadows need some variety in the darks, and I’m even tempted to add a touch of white to get them out of the black range. What about a little zinc white? I don’t carry it, but maybe I should try it out. I am painting today with Lead White Replacement, which is working beautifully in the hot weather. It seems less chalky than Titanium White, but I’ll need to try it in the Oregon chill before becoming attached.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


After days of rain, I am escaping to paint in the Columbia River Gorge. The forecast is for "mostly cloudy, 6 mph winds." I arrive at the high, open plateau in full sunlight and a brisk wind. More wind than I feel like battling with my easel. So I set up in the shelter of the van's open doorway, and paint there. Uncomfortable, but wind-free.

Pretty quickly, the shadows on the cliffs across the river have disappeared. I clean up my paints and take a short walk out on the plateau. Wildflowers are everywhere; balsamroot, bachelor's buttons, yarrow. They scatter across the meadow in clumps. The path winds around, gently downward, offering a variety of views of a shadowed gulch and the Columbia River. I take a small side trail, to find a small outcropping filled with swallows. they dart in and out of nests nearly at eye level, swooping after invisible bugs above my head. I raise the camera, but quickly give up, as their snap changes in direction make it impossible to predict where the swallows will be when the shutter opens.

My knee complains, so I head back to the car and drive along the highway toward Mosier. the view at a pull-out snags my attentio. Out come the paints, again in the shelter of the van, for this view of inclined cliffs in the Columbia Gorge.

Friday, April 4, 2008


The clouds have moved in, and with them, a stiff wind. I am glad to not be skiing or bicycling today, as the wind across the open spaces, even on a gentle day, can mimic a steep uphill climb. I paint a small painting, conscious that the light has changed. The colors of grass and trees are closer in value, and more violets are visible in cloud and shadow. Stepping on the deck to retrieve the bicycles, I find that the birds are silent today. It is a wind to drive all creatures to shelter.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


The shadows of the trees swing around during the day, so I have caught them in yet another long slanting array. I am enjoying designing the plantings. But I make mistakes. Had to chop down two trees in last night’s paintings and plant some bushes in their place. The painting looks much better.

Is it my imagination, or is the grass getting greener with the warm afternoons? It is still bitter cold at night, and I would think that enough to keep the grass dormant.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


We moved to a new room, with views of the swampy waterway. The view is lovely, so I set up my paints in front of the door to the deck.

Despite having a water feature to paint, my arrangements aren’t coming any easier. Trees need to be moved, shorelines curved, grasses reshaped. If I could stand anywhere, I could make the landscape work as it is. But I am restricted to one viewpoint of about 120 degrees.

In the afternoon, I paint out on the deck. Ducks and geese are calling, chuffing, conversing. I wonder about a goose’s social life. Is it filled with best friends and bullies, geese you get along with and geese you don’t? Is someone always getting the best food, and someone always left behind? What do they have to say to each other?

Later in the day, the redwing blackbirds take over the conversation, calling to one another from among last year’s cattails. A mourning dove from the other side of the building fills in the rests. Somehow these sounds speak to me of peace and quiet, more peaceful than absolute silence would be. The message feels subliminal, primal, something ingrained. Maybe a place where birds feel safe to sing is a safe place for humans. Something within us knows that, without having to reason it out.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Even colder today. Too cold, Rick says, for painting from the car. I look out the window at the golf course and puzzle over composition possibilities. How can I rearrange these elements? I decide on a hint of a pathway, with trees receding in the distance, and a semi-portrait of the most interesting tree of the bunch. Again, moving things around to suit myself.

Both paintings end up similar in color, with a strong sense of sunlight. I may want to re-balance the big tree, or detail the foreground a little, but otherwise this painting looks finished.

Winter is a hard time for me to paint from life. I love the snow, and love to be out skiing. But painting is so sedentary, and therefore not enough movement to keep me warm. I find myself clinging to the warmth indoors. It makes travelling less appealing. More and more I am drawn to the tropics, to warm places, and to water of all kinds...water with movement. I wish I had a river I could paint away on.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Sunriver, OR

Signs of spring are everywhere, but it certainly isn’t spring. Redwings call from the remnants of last year’s cattails, catkins fuzz out on the green-yellow willow twigs, little buds of green show in the brown grass. But snow patches abound and the flooded fields are still frozen, tempting would-be ice skaters. And it is cold, far too cold for me to paint outdoors. That leaves the shelter of the van, the lodge, or our room.

The room, the most convenient option, has a golf-course view. This means that the hills and trees are arranged more for the order of the golfer’s terrain than for my painting composition. Trees line up in unpleasing regularity, and the hills are all of a height. But the slanting morning shadows on the snow add a lot of interest to what might otherwise be a bland landscape. I rearrange some trees, take others out, and create a composition which is faithful in feel rather than in fact.

Most of the time, I am more inclined to move my viewpoint until objects and spaces offer a more ready-made composition. It is much easier to invest time in painting with confidence the composition that you can actually see. One side effect: it’s easy to forget that, even then, little parts will need to be moved. Some artists claim that you can just paint nature as it is, and all compositions will be perfect. Yet I notice that even they will leave things out. And even artists in the national magazines make mistakes, including things in their paintings that are better left out.

The room is dark, far too dark for seeing the painting properly. When I take it off my easel, I find far more variations in the greens, which is good, and much brighter snow, about which I am uncertain. Rick suggests adding some bright color in the brush front left. I will wait until I get home to decide with the painting in my studio light.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Yesterday I blocked in half of a painting. Today I finished blocking that one and three others. The benefits of batching.

Several factors contribute to this efficiency. First, the materials for the task are all out and don’t have to be organized. Solutions to the first project can be carried to the second, and so on, speeding the decision making and eliminating work time on side trails. The mind routinizes parts of the task, allowing you to perform more quickly and efficiently. I even feel as though my physical movements become more direct.

Another piece happens overnight. What was difficult one day can sometimes be trivially simple the next, with no apparent thinking about the problem. And never underestimate the power of a good nap.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Seaside, OR

There’s a group of trees along the promenade that I admire every time I come here. Their twisting trunks and dense needles are a testament to their struggle. Wind from the ocean curves nearly all major branches away from the prevailing blow, but new branches continually struggle toward the light and moisture, creating a counterpoint of swooping branches and cantilevered clumps of needles.
I set up my easel with a two of these sculptures silhouetted against sea and sky. Find that my medium is missing; I must have left it in Cannon Beach yesterday. Need to make a habit of checking my paint site AFTER I pack up. This reminds me of the time that we were skiing and Rick left his boots outside the car. (I think that he really just wanted a new pair of boots.) Anyway, need to remember to put a new jar of medium in the box when I get home. So I’m painting with straight oil paint, which is okay, just different.
I have a great time mixing a variety of greens and golds for the beach grass. In March, it looks even more dead than it does in the winter, more beaten down, defeated. When does the new grass grow? What happens to the old dead grass when new blades take its place? I’ll have to come back to see.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Cannon Beach, OR

Cannon Beach offered us a cloudy morning, but by the time my husband, Rick, and I have finished visiting galleries the gray is burning off, leaving behind a clean, cobalt sky garnished with golden mist. We find a small beach access park to the north of Ecola Creek, with a lovely view of the creek as it meanders toward the ocean. I set up my easel on a pile of basalt, about 6 inches above sea level, find a way to attach the latest umbrella to the back, and begin to paint, facing straight into the sun.
Across the creek, clusters of people wander across the sand, looking very much like the footless figures of stylized paintings, with their boxy chests and legs that disappear into points. A bit of leftover cloud sneaks around the back and at the knees of haystack rock. The sun reflects off the rocks at my back, and I feel warm and welcome.
Families with small children look at me curiously. "Can we go swimming? There’s a lifeguard." I point out that, since I am distracted by my painting, I would make a very poor lifeguard. A small boy wants to know what everything is in my setup. "Are those your colors? How does the box stay open?" Somehow, amid all the distractions, I finish the painting, and drag my supply case back over the sand. What a great first paint day of the season!