Friday, December 11, 2009

REVIEW Acrylic Painting Techniques, by Stephen Quiller

When I picked this book up, I thought I would be discovering a world of acrylic painting techniques that could be applied to watermedia. Those techniques are in the book (divided into thick, oil-like applications and thin, watercolor-like applications) but what really enchanted me in this book were Stephen Quiller’s paintings. Each is filled with surprising, complex color, with startling, expressive harmonies. Beyond that, Quiller is a superb shape maker. His shapes are intricate, balanced, filled with windows, brushed with veils of acrylic color. Forget the acrylic techniques. Give me a book of Quiller paintings and I will sit, rapt for hours. That said, you could pick up this book and learn much about transparent, translucent, and opaque layers, special colors and mediums, and even collage. Tidbits on glazing, resists, and opaque passages are some of the highlights. And as always, Quiller fills his book with his special approach to color relationships. This is a book to study on multiple levels.



This was nominally a one-hour painting exercise. We North Americans have trained our brains to stay focused for about an hour (although some would argue less.) Schools have one-hour classes, TV programs are an hour long (we won't talk about commercials), and so on. Keeping the time for this painting short will encourage sustained focus, as well as stopping us from fussing with the paintings (there won't be time).
Students selected their own subjects (though I encouraged simple ones). I chose to knife paint the tomato, since I had missed that exercise, lacking a tomato that day.
While we talked about the painting process, their brushwork choices, and the like, everyone laid out their paint and drew in the composition. I emphasized that deliberate brush strokes rather than frantic speed would be the key here. I promised not to interrupt them with suggestions, but let them keep their focus. Then I set the timer.
The results were fascinating. For me, the by-now familiar tomato allowed me to go to color with some confidence and less searching. Also, the choice of a knife was a speeding-up choice, since I could lay whole swaths of color at once. I was able to complete the tomato with about ten minutes to spare, and while there were things to mess with, I could easily have overworked the painting, so I stopped.
Student results were also interesting. About half the class forgot to key in their values, and while we had been focusing on brushwork for the entire quarter, forgetting value was a fatal oversight (in the same sense that Windows experiences fatal errors.) Those who had held to a strong value structure had successful paintings, even when significant details were missing.
Going back to their paintings, the students corrected the values and brought them to successful completion before the end of class... still an expeditious painting.
While painting quickly might not be a goal, as an exercise it encourages focus and attention to essentials.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009



I know, it doesn’t look like a tomato, but this is exercise two of the tomato series. The idea here is to break attachment to realism, and throw a wrench into the works. Palette knife is unfamiliar to almost all of us, and we struggle to produce something that looks like a tomato. (In my case, a rock, since I ran out of tomato photos.) The problem, as I see it, is in creating soft edges. I can either find some way to blend with the knife (not happening in my world), or create an intermediate color to soften the edges that need it. Because this rock has a lot of edge variety, it challenges my ability to express it. Later I try a tomato. Much better.

Monday, November 30, 2009



You are invited to tour my studio
December 5, 10–5
December 6, 10-3

Karen E. Lewis
4155 Calaroga Dr.
West Linn, OR 97068
(503) 699-0817

(80+ plein-air paintings from Fall 08 to Fall 09)

Brand new works in Oil on Canvas
PLUS many other paintings, cards, prints, and demos throughout the day
(I'll probably be working on a large canvas throughout the day.)

Hope to see you there!


Friday, November 6, 2009


Oh, my. It's been a long time since I painted this, and I got it uploaded, but not posted.

A fall painting, done from my living room window.


This started out as a class demo, during which I painted the clouds and the trees against the sky. Having painted several times in the late afternoon at the boat launch, I used my color memory to enrich this painting, inspired by photos of a highly mobile cloud bank I caught one afternoon.


Again, painting alla prima. Only this time I go back. There are some shapes bothering me, and I feel a need for more light on the right. Will post the finished painting later.


Painted basically alla prima. The painting feels mostly done, but I need to live with it for a while.

After a few days, I add some transition shapes to the clouds on the bottom left. Then I am done.



Building on the previous exercise, we now block in the main shapes, but then lay more expressive brushstrokes on top. Lately, I’ve become interested in the effects of stroke direction. Just pulling a long line of color makes a difference in the energy of a shape. I like solid strokes for solid objects, lines with movement for water. Here, the apple seemed solid to me, but I tried to add some roundness with the brushwork, and even a feel of growing in the stem.



This is an exercise in making every stroke count. The rules I gave myself were: Count every stroke. A stroke begins when I put the brush down, continues through any direction changes, and ends when I lift the brush. That old habit of repeatedly stroking in the same spot... won’t work for this. Some interesting things happened. I found myself slowing down, making long, thoughtful strokes. No automatic mark-making. Is that a good thing to continue in everyday painting? How much consciousness is useful in getting paint on the canvas? Even though every stroke involved prolonged decision making and slow execution, the painting was completed fairly quickly. Maybe a lot of the marks I usually make on a canvas are the equivalent of “ahem.”



This is actually one of my two main approaches to plein air painting, so not so much of a stretch for me, but still a stretch for many of my students. In order to make this approach work, you need to be able to lay color on top of wet color cleanly. This you can do by lowering your brush angle so that you are pulling the brush parallel to the canvas, allowing the paint to pull out of the brush as it grips with the surface below, and keeping the bristles of the brush from digging into the still-wet layer of paint.



The idea here is to see a color, mix it, and paint the spot of color in the right place. By carefully comparing and mixing colors, you gradually build up the impression of the object. Most artists who paint this way use a characteristic brush mark, so the painting breaks up into spots of color as you look at it closely, but from a distance, looks more real. It has an abstract quality, a breaking of the illusion of reality. Interestingly enough, the technique works best for me if I compare color mixes to one another on the palette rather than just on my painting. (Please excuse the fuzzy photo. I'll try to fix it later.)


I have been interested in exploring different aspects of brushwork, particularly in encouraging my students and myself to use fewer brush strokes in their paintings, to lay down the paint thoughtfully, and have confidence in the mark. I did the exercises along with them, partly as a demo, partly to experience the exercises myself. This first example is painted with plenty of blending, as a sort of baseline. For most of my students, this is a comfortable way to paint. It has the familiarity of realism, which is an important stage in most painters’ development.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Cast Shadows; Pacific NW Plein Air Aurora Gallery, WA

Reception Friday November 6, 2009

5:00 pm -9:00 PM

Aurora Gallery, 1004 Main St. Vancouver, WA 98660

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Some of these illusions have been around for a while. What's interesting about this talk is the way he explains what's happening visually. Our brains interpret images based on what has been useful in the past. This has great implications for how we as artists express the world of light in paint.

Beau Lotto: Optical Illusions Show How We See

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

REVIEW The Oil Painting Book


by Wendon Blake, Paintings by George Cherepov

After recently seeing the movie, LOCAL COLOR, in which I was intrigued by the paintings glimpsed throughout the movie, I searched out a couple of books by Cherepov, who was supposedly the basis for the curmudgeonly old artist, and this was one of them. Turns out, I read this book years ago, when I was just learning to oil paint. At that time, I learned two things from it: that paintings are built in layers, and how to paint vibrant skies. Interestingly enough, if this book has more to teach me now, I wasn’t able to see it. The approach is step-by-step, with prescriptions for what colors to use, which I have never found a very useful approach to learning painting. And because it is a relatively old book, there are few color illustrations, with age-dulled inks, making it hard to see the artist’s use of color. Most disappointingly, I didn’t get to see the vibrant, energetic paintings I glimpsed around corners in the movie. The search goes on.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Carol and I meet at the park in late afternoon. It is a clear fall day, tempting me to just sit in the sun and read. But I’m here to paint, and that must be done in the shade or I won’t like the painting I take home.

We are both enchanted with the light and shadow patterns on the trees across the river. Carol zooms in on the scene; I include more river, and we paint away companionably.

The light is changing fast. These fall days are times of multiple, accelerating change. Every day the leaves are more colorful. Every day the sun sets more quickly. Every week has more and more rainy days. Time for outdoor painting is running out.

Light skims the tops of the trees, slanting down through the leaves. It makes visible streaks in the atmosphere, as if air were a semi-solid thing. Something hidden, revealed by a quirk of light.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I drive over to Cedaroak Boat Ramp for a (small) group paintout, and find the ramp quiet. Two boat trailers stand in the lot. I set up my paints at the end of the floating dock for a view of the river and parting clouds. I’m just beginning to wish I’d sent Mark a map when he shows up.
We are surrounded by exquisite changing scenes as the light comes and goes on the lagoon and cloud formations work their way up river. The clear spots of sky are turquoise and glowing. The clouds have that warm golden cast they get in late afternoon. One behemoth drops a few raindrops on us, then passes on. We are undisturbed.
After a lovely paintout in which Mark produces two little gems and I paint this:
we adjourn to my house to watch the movie LOCAL COLOR. Maria joins us, and my husband, Rick. The non-painter’s review of the movie is “enh”. I myself am thoroughly entertained by the painterly elements. The scenery is exquisite, and beautifully filmed. In the houses are tantalizing glimpses of paintings, at which I go... wait! Zoom in there, I want to have a look at that. I want to look up Nicoli Seroff and see his paintings. And I am extremely curious about the parade of bad and less bad paintings the young painter trots out for critique.
It’s fun to watch the painters. The young man looks really awkward with a brush in his hand, and dabs at the canvas as if he were told: for this scene, dab a bit on the canvas here. I can just imagine some artist directing him how to stand, how to hold the brush, how to look at the landscape. But he just isn’t convincing. The old man, he looks like he’s painted before. I don’t know, they usually do a pretty good job with piano players in movies, but then you can always photograph a pianist’s hands. (I hear Hugh Laurie is a pretty good pianist.) Sitting down with my computer and Wikipedia, I find that this is a semi-autobiographical story about George Gallo, and that he pulled out actual paintings that he showed to his actual mentor artist to make the film. You can see his real work at: I still want to see the paintings by “Seroff.” They didn’t quite look like the gallos I saw on the web site. Who painted those?
There are a couple of really fun scenes in the film. When I saw the master artist behaving badly at the local art show in the trailer, my thought was, “what a jerk.” Interestingly, in the movie I was with him as he had to listen to pretentious art talk to validate art that involved no skill. And I loved the scene with the “abstract” oil paintings being praised by his art critic friend.
There’s a little too much pontificating in the film for me, but hey, there were some tidbits in there too. Anyway, a fun show for an artist, and for a non-artist, probably not so much.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Last summer, we spent most Friday evenings down at the river with a picnic, watching the boats go by, and the sun go down. This summer we didn’t get down a single time. Our spare hours were occupied with preparations for our trip to Peru, and when we got back, to recovering from Peru. So it is nice for a change to be sitting by the river once again, painting to the music of jet skis.


The sun doesn’t rise until seven! This, of course, is an invitation to me to paint sunrises, my favorite time of day. At the boat ramp in my neighborhood, the mornings are quiet, it not being salmon season, and the only creatures out here at six are the ducks and geese. As I set up my paints, I can hear them but not see them, squawking occasionally at one another. I see glints of sky reflections from their wake ripples as they swim around the island.

I am still learning how to manage the light at sunrise. One morning I produce a painting with fairly garish color. This is mostly the result of not being able to see my paint until it is too late. This morning I have brought with me a headlamp. It is not my favorite headlamp, being un-aimable, but it works okay. I can see my colors, and when I look up at the landscape, the beam strays off into nothingness. When I bring my painting home, I find that the colors work much better.


It’s a beautiful early fall day, and Rick and I decide to take in the plein air art show in Hood River, and go for a hike at Rowena Plateau. And maybe hang out somewhere where I can paint and he can read in the sun.

The art show is fascinating. Many of my favorite artists have produced wonderful paintings, some of interesting places I haven’t been, some of undefinable and universal spots.

At Rowena Plateau, Rick and I step out of the van and are blasted by the wind. Then I remembered how windy it was there when I painted the meadow in the spring. It was too windy to paint outside, even too windy to paint with the van door open. (I guess that was a whole year ago.) Anyway, there is no question of painting on the plateau. We decide to hike up the hill a ways, until it gets steep, then turn around and hike down, keeping our hike to the flattish areas. Of course, this plan doesn’t work. The farther up we go, the more we can see into interesting canyons. Mt. Adams peeks above the gorge rim, and we can see new bits of the river. The trail winds through meadows, through patches of scrubby oak and poison oak, back and forth across the inclined escarpment.

A pair of birds circle overhead. (We had a discussion about them at the car. I thought they were swallows, and Rick held out for turkey vultures. Now I can see that they are very small raptors, light underside, and much too small for turkey vultures....also too large for swallows.)

Up and up we go. I send Rick out ahead of me, preferring to poke along, and let him catch me on the way down. I turn a corner, see the summit still a ways off, and turn around, hoping to get back to the car with my knees intact. Rick catches me just as I am reaching the car. Perfect timing.

We drive down the hill out of the worst of the wind, and settle in a park along the Columbia. Here I paint the colors of grass and cliff, a hint of the sky and water, and some islands in the river. A large group of ducks are sheltering in the lea of an island. They take off suddenly, beating their wings against the water.

As I paint, I have spectators: two children who ask many questions. They profess to love the painting, even before I have put the first colors on canvas. This hopeful admiration is a bit puzzling. After the painting begins to emerge, the little girl says, “That’s what I want to do, Mommy.” I tell her she should start right away.



This trip to Peru was life-changing. I deeply appreciate little things: toilet paper in public rest rooms, hot running water, clean drinking water, mattresses, chairs, and having more than two outfits. We in the United States are extremely rich in stuff. We are impoverished in time. My days have been filled with things that need doing. I vow to spend some time every day, just being, enjoying the trees in the back yard, watching the sun rise or set, visiting with my family and friends.The trick with vacation revelations is to bring them home, and integrate them into your life. A month after my trip, I look back and find that some of these resolutions are hard. I try to take them in little steps. Tomorrow, I will start reading my E-mail only once a day.


We decide to give up on the boat trip that never happened (did I mention we were supposed to be going on a boat trip through the jungle?) and see some other part of Peru. Figuring in all the travel, we don’t have enough time for Machu Picchu, but we can visit Cuzco.
In Cuzco, we stay in a hostel where we enjoy many luxuries. Like hot and cold running water. A mattress. Laundry service. Bottled purified drinking water (sin gas). It is eleven thousand feet here, so one of the luxuries we are not enjoying is oxygen. It is clear what to do about this. Chew coca leaves, drink coca mate, and walk slowly.
Our Spanish works a lot better here because everyone speaks a little English, so we can compromise...a few words of Spanish here, a few words of English there. Our favorite waitress coaches us when we say silly things.
We eat lots of salty food. Guinea Pig. Alpaca. An exquisite fish soup. Chile Rellenos made with small hot peppers and salty, salty cheese. We eat salads and vegetables. And about this time, I get travellers digestive problems for the first time.
We visit ruins. Cuzco is the city of the Incas, and Inca stonework abounds. Not far from the city is Saqsaywoman (spelled various ways), where we see classic Inca stonework. (Husband in picture for scale.)


Friday 8/28
The markets here are full of cheap souvenirs. Many of the venders have the same stuff, machine-woven cloth, neon-bright patterns and made into stuff like bags and purses. To buy una manta mas fina y grande is very difficult. We go up and down the stalls looking for the hand-woven designs like the ones Maggie brought home. No one has anything that nice or that big. We tried the market in Pisaq and found nothing. Went to the artisans’ market and found some fine but not large, large but not fine. Bought a machine-made manta pretty and cheap, and a table runner, small and fine. Finally in a store, we find a blanket that is a joy to look at.--


We head back down river to Pucallpa, which is a city of some 200 thousand, sprawled across the cleared banks of the Ucayali river. In the dry season, it is dirty and dusty. Very few people have cars, so the roads, both paved and dirt, are filled with motocabs. I’m not sure that is what the locals call them, but they are like a motorcycle attached to a rickshaw.
It is a wild ride, I’m guessing 30 plus miles per hour with the wind blowing dust in our faces. Many of the roads are about two lanes wide, but these drivers don’t know about lanes. They drive three across, weave in and out, make left turns from the right side of the road, honk and toot and flick their hands in half-hearted signals. They cut the corners so close that I am certain they will clip the curbs. On the rutted dirt roads, the ride is nightmarish, jostling and bumping, and jarring my spine. Please, stay on the paved roads!
It’s easy to find a motocab. The roads are full of them. Step to the curb, and 3 motos will compete for your business. The ride is pretty cheap, as long as you negotiate the fare up front and have some idea of where you’re going and how much it should cost. And have the right change!
There is so much to see. Streets are lined with houses, with yards boarded up with miscellaneous lumber. Stores have flat fronts, with garish printed signs in their doorways. The downtown area looks much like any small town, except that the storefronts are narrow with minimal signage. My favorite area is the market. Produce is displayed in huge arrays, right along the street. Melons. Plantain. Many, many fruits and vegetables and goods of all kinds. I want to jump out and wander through the stores. But we are whipped around the corner and down another street.



Every other day or so, our Shipibo friends rake the clearing and burn all the dried leaves. This is a curious tidiness to me. Aren’t the leaves beneficial to the soil? Maybe they’re protecting us from lurking jaguars... snakes... well, probably insects.

In the city we see signs of this same tidiness. Yard care is a matter of heading out with your machete and hacking down everything that grows. One can only imagine what happens to this bare dirt in the rainy season. Not speaking Spanish well enough, I cannot ask the reason for this curious yard care, but can only speculate. Maybe a lush green lawn means something different here. I can’t help remembering the morning I sat in the grass by the river bank washing laundry in a bucket, and returned to camp with my legs covered in chigger-like bites.

Signs of insect life abound in our jungle clearing. Here is an ant tunnel, plastered over by the ants for use when the jungle is several feet deep in water so they can go back and forth between the ground and their tree.

Decomposition happens fast in the jungle. Ever curious to know what dung beetles do? (Excrement 5 minutes old.)

A spider has been hiding in my stuff. Somehow he got inside my mosquito netting and here he is, facing me down, three inches from my pillow. I am frozen in indecision. In my growing reverence for all life, I don’t want to kill him. But every spider I’ve pointed out to our Shipibo friends has been pronounced “venomoso”. Is this one poisonous too? There is no one around to ask. And I can read his mind. He is about to make a break for cover and hide in my stuff again. He’s too quick, and I won’t be able to catch him. And I can’t read his mind and find out if he would bite me. He had all night and didn’t bite me, but would he bite me later out of fear? I act out of fear, and swat him down, feeling sad and guilty for a couple of hours.

Rick takes me for a short walk along a path where he has found a surprise. “Watch out for snakes,” he says, so I keep my eyes glued on the path. So of course, I miss the surprise, which is a tree covered in butterflies. I have scared them away, so we wait until they come back. There must be something special in the sap of this tree. There is a butterfly every few inches. The lovely aquamarine butterflies are here, along with some zebra-striped ones. I took photos, but they aren’t much good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


We decide to go to Peru, but neither Rick nor I can speak Spanish. We have two months. Because this is a budget trip to Peru, I check out every Spanish program I can find at the library. We listen every free moment. At first I try to understand everything on the tape. It is futile. After “Hola!” and the ABC’s, I am lost. I thought Spanish was supposed to be an easy language. As soon as I hit the verbs, I know this is not true. Then I relax and let my brain work on it as it wishes. Still, as I leave for Peru two days ahead of Rick, I am not particularly well equipped.
For the first two days in Pucallpa, I have no daughter to help translate for me. I am SO GLAD that I studied Spanish. I can at least make some basic needs known. For a long time, I can understand nothing that anyone is saying. Then they slow down and talk baby talk to me. Present tense only, clear enunciation. V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y.
The brain is miraculous. After nonsense sentences for hours and hours, it somehow kicks into gear. First a few words start to make sense. Then, here and there, whole sentences.
I plunge into speaking Spanish. I use every bit of vocabulary I have learned. I stumble through verb forms, self-correcting when I see glazed looks. When my vocabulary fails, I make up words out of English with vaguely Spanish endings. Sometimes they work, sometimes not. From somewhere in my foreign language storage cabinet, come bits of foreign language. Ooops. Some of them are French.
I say totally ridiculous things. Sometimes I don’t know what I’ve said until days later. Instead of refreshing, I think I called the shower a soft drink. And I meant to tell someone that she should talk to me like a child, but I’m told that what I really said, was, “talk to me like a guy.”
Now that we are back in a land where everyone speaks English, my Spanish ability is fading. But we go to a cafĂ© for an open mic and, hey, the people are from Peru! I pull out the Spanish (It’s just as wobbly as before) and have fun trying to decipher the sounds flying by. I can see that I need to keep studying this very important language.


Every day we swim in the river. To get in, you slap the water a lot, then once in, keep swimming vigorously. This is to discourage the little fish that bite. (They say they aren’t piranhas, but we can’t see them in the muddy water.) I’m not talking about the lippy nibbles that our local fish sometimes give. These are toothy bites, quite sharp and startling. You don’t dare stay still (and it’s not a bad idea to swim in your shirt.)

I wonder what all the teeth are to do with. Probably they’re about eating other fish with bones. The fish here are the boniest ever. You lift a fillet off the rib cage, and it still has three layers of branched bones in it, as if to say “you may bite me, but it won’t do you any good.”

We are served a fish with lots of bones, somehow getting most of them out. There are pockets of boneless muscle in the cheek near the head. Rick points out the fish’s teeth... large, with two fangs almost 3/8 inch long, and sharper than sharks’ teeth. I pull my fish’s jaw open to see if it has the same teeth. It does. The jaw springs shut and it bites me.

Nature, red in tooth and claw. The jungle is far from benign.

Thursday, September 10, 2009



Mosquitos are here all the time. Despite this being the dry season, I have bite marks all over my legs from mosquitos, bites on my thighs from little hard things something like fleas, and big welts from biting flies. I sat down in the grass to do some laundry, and now I have bites at my ankles like chiggers. And more mosquitos.

There are many kinds of mosquitos, some that you hear as a whine in the back of your head, some stealth fliers. There is even a large one with wide black stabilizers like x-wing fighters, decorated with white tips, which makes it especially easy to spot. What’s up with that adaptation?

The occasional mosquito in the day is tolerable, but at dusk they become a horde. At around 5 when the sun is low in the sky and about to set, we construct our nests and climb into our mosquito nets where we read or rest or journal, for at least two hours.

In our huts, bats live, hanging from the palm fronds during the day. At night, they fly around the room after mosquitos, fanning us with their wings. I feel safe inside my net, and enjoy knowing that they are out on patrol.



Our Shipibo folks come by boat every day bringing us food. We have one big meal a day which they cook over the fire. Then they leave us with a few things to eat later, so it’s like a two-meal day.

Fish, fish and more fish. And plantain. Here are ways we have eaten plantain, times two depending on whether it is young plaintain (platano) or ripe (maduro). Grilled on the fire in its peel, grilled on the fire without peel, boiled in peel, boiled out of peel, sliced and fried, whole and fried, boiled and mashed, boiled in much water and mashed into a sort of juice with sediment (chappo).

Fish is of many types, mostly small. On my first day, they cut the head off for me and told Maggie to show me how to eat it. They no longer bother cutting off the heads. Much of the time, the fish is grilled whole over the fire. One day they made a great fish meal of fillets, stuffed with tomato, peppers, and onions and cilantro, wrapped in a banana leaf and tied with palm-like strips. The result was exquisite.

Rice comes with most meals. Sometimes beans. It hasn’t been too much of a problem, but occasionally they feed me fish fried in flour. (I'm allergic to wheat.)

Fruits have been really varied. I’ve had at least 5 fruits that I’ve never seen before. My favorite looks superficially like a fig, but it has more sour notes, chambers inside, and large black seeds. There are tiny red apples that come from a desert area of Peru. And bananas of many colors. Another day they show up with oranges. How boring!


JUNGLE SOUNDS Tues 8/18/09

The rainforest at night is alive with sound. We are close enough to people that we hear people-related sounds, motorboats on the river, music blaring insistent rhythms, dogs barking, and the ever-vigilant roosters. But those sounds are distant and minor. All around our jungle clearing, the animals of the jungle call to one another. There’s a constant buzz of cricket-locust-cicada-like sound, with a variety of trills in it. There are songs that I take to be birds, one with a tong-like bell ringing, others that sound more like North-American birds, though none that I recognize. (That makes sense, this being summer in North America and the birds at their summer home.)

The bird calls change through the night, with the bulk of the chorus during mosquito time. Besides the animal sounds, there is constant dripping from the trees of I don’t know what. The big umbrella-like leaves of the tallest trees dry out through the weeks, turn brown, hang down, and eventually fall. They crash against things as they come down during the night, making it sound as if big-foot has taken 3 or 4 steps in our back yard. And something snuffles through camp several times in the night. It might be the local dogs, but if it isn’t, I’d rather not know. About 2 or 3 in the morning, it sprinkles.


THE DAY Tues 8/17/09

My husband and I have come to Amazonia to visit with our daughter and some Shipibo people. We are living in leaf-thatched huts on stilts in a small clearing in the jungle, a 10-minute walk from the Ucayali, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, about an hour by boat from Pucallpa. Our day is very short. It begins at dawn (around 5-6) when we finally decide we’ve had enough rest and crawl out of our hut. We do our things, mostly eating, healing ceremonies, meditation, and sitting around talking. Then as it gets close to sunset, around 5 or 6, we clean up camp, retire into our huts and into our mosquito nets.

You want to be in your net when the mosquitos come. You can hear them come, an insistent whining from the jungle around us, a voracious presence rising from the damp forest floor. During the day there are mosquitos, but at night there are MOSQUITOS. After 2 or 3 hours, the mosquitos settle down a bit and you can climb out of bed if you don’t put on a light to attract them. If not, and you stay in your bed, you have 12 hours to read, sleep, journal, or meditate. It is an enforced retreat, and nothing like it for recovery from busy-ness.

Monday, August 10, 2009


These old maples are bulging with burls, festooned with leaves up and down their trunks that catch any rays of light filtering through the canopy. Light and shadow change minute by minute. In paint, I try to remember the light.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


A cloudy day, and I am tucked in below the largest bridge in the park, with a view of the creek and overhanging trees. The park is bustling. Families, kids, dogs, people on horseback, all clomping across the bridge. The sun peeks out for a few minutes, then disappears.

A pair of women on horseback keep calling to the kids not to run and scare the horses. Apparently one of the horses is young and easily spooked. I am wondering why she chose to bring it to a park full of people and dogs before it is ready.

The water under the bridge has barely a ripple. The woods is a dark place, overhung with trees, the creek set in a hollow. I take advantage of every bit of light, pushing the various shades of brown, adding lighter colors. At home, the painting is far too dark, but will serve as notes for a studio piece.


BOOK REVIEW: Bold Strokes: Dynamic Brushwork for Oils and Acrylics, by Mark Christopher Weber. North Light Books, 2009.

This new book by Mark Christopher Weber takes the highlights of BRUSHWORK ESSENTIALS, his previous publication, and goes one step further, with step-by-step painting exercises to teach you expressive brushwork. He begins with the basics: how to get paint on your brush. Then, with three main ways of loading the brush, he demonstrates the variety of strokes you can make. Once you have the basics down, you’re ready to tackle the paintings.

Weber takes a subject and walks you step by step through initial washes and expressive strokes laid on top. By going through these exercises, you can begin to get the feel of how to choose where to put your paint to make the most impact. You can learn how to vary the width of your stroke with pressure and with twisting the brush. You can practice the essential color notes and highlights to simply capture a subject. The illustrations make it very clear where to put the paint in the exercise paintings, but not as clear how to get it exactly there.

The painting demonstrations are in both acrylic and water-miscible oil, a nice bonus if you are having trouble finding books in this relatively new medium. Personally, I’d prefer some demos in traditional oils. If I could wish for anything, it would be that he’d spend more time demonstrating how to lay paint on top of wet paint, how to create gradations, and how to add color into already painted areas.

If you’re looking for a spur or need some guidance in creating your own signature brushwork, this book is worth playing with.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Here's a book I recommend reading, especially if you get criticism from friends and family about being too illogical or emotional:

HOW WE DECIDE By Jonah Lehrer

Lehrer goes into aspects of decision making, both emotional and logical, and guess what? There are times when the logical works best and times when the emotional works best. And they aren't what you think they are. It turns out that much of experiential expertise relies on the emotional decision-making process.

"Every time you make a mistake or encounter something new, your brain cells are busy changing themselves. Our emotions are deeply empirical."

Enjoy the journey!



All week I have been watching day camp children gather here for songs and lunch. The shelter seems like the center of the park. While I am painting here, a doggy parade goes by. Dogs of every shape and distinction, with blue bandanas around their necks, prancing up the road. Next comes the marching band. They march across the meadow in front of the shelter, turn, and march back to the arena, playing all the way. What a fun way to celebrate a neighborhood park!


I begin my second day of the Mt. Tabor Centennial painting near the art show tents, along with pastel painters. The park is very active today. The first show of the morning is “Men With Sticks.” We have no idea what that is. A man with a stick shows up, and he doesn’t know either, but he is looking for them.The grasses have lovely patterns of light and shade. I paint the patterns, along with a golden tree, glowing with sunlight. Lots of people come and watch. The pastel artists are the official “demonstrators” of the hour, and have their names on the back of their easels. This strikes me as a good idea. People ask about lessons. Everyone in Oregon wants to be an artist.


I have come to the show late (to find that one of my paintings has sold. Yay!) I chat with artists, visit the ice cream social, and take in the energy of all the people. Since I am really tired from the market, I decide to break my rule and sit to paint. I choose a tree in the low sunlight, and a family on a picnic blanket. Oops. Just when I block in the blanket, they pack it up to leave. I look around and find a gray-haired couple at a picnic table. Except for shadow patterns, they are just right. I reverse the shadows and finish the painting.


I love the license a painter has to change reality. I am painting a flower stall with no shelter, but I love the umbrellas elsewhere in the market. VOILA! An umbrella sits over the flowers. Change the color of the man’s shirt? Why not.


Last time I painted at the market, I laid in my background first, but found that there were too many people in the way for me to paint the produce. (And much of it was gone.) This time, I take a tip from my mistake, and paint the produce first. It is not a perfect solution. Because I have all this lovely produce, I am reluctant to put in more people. But the painting is colorful and fun.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


I have come to the top of Mt. Tabor to paint the late afternoon light and the sunset. I haul my cart full of paints and easel up the road beyond the blockade. There I find another artist, sculpting a canvas with trees. It is hot, but thankfully not as hot as the previous three days. Looking around me, I see the puffs of clouds built by the
humidity. This is unusual weather for Portland. The thick atmosphere, the torrid air building into cottony clusters. I paint the clouds, the atmosphere, and the hint of distant hills almost
visible through the haze.

As I hold the canvas up to show my companion, my fingers fumble. I
drop the completed canvas against my box. A large stripe scrapes
across the face of the painting. This is easy to fix. But there is
also a small hole, poked through the canvas. This too is fixable, but
not until the painting is completely dry. It will have a delayed
entrance into the show.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Sunset is coming, but it is still hot. I just can’t face turning into the blaze to prepare the shapes on my canvas. Instead, I paint the effects of the warming light on the distant vista to the East.

Three other painters are here, one oil, one acrylic, one encaustic. I pause in my painting to watch the encaustic process, which involves a camp stove, a skillet, and a torch. Very interesting. Not the medium I would choose to haul around, but then look at me with my huge box of painting supplies.

The sky is turning rose. It suffuses the landscape with an orangish glow. I can’t really see Mt. Hood, only hits of colored shapes that are not quite clouds. The sun goes down behind me, and I scramble to finish before I cannot see my colors. Ah, for the luxury of a sunrise.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


As I paint through the day, the pattern of sunlight changes its scattered patches across the grass. A group of children at their summer day camp stop in the meadow for lunch. They leave, and the sunlight patterns shift again. The trees stand still and watchful around them.


The trees seem to be part of the sky, reaching upward with growing energy. Here is a meeting of the energy of sunlight, the blue air, and the giant green organism.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Sorry about the bad photo. Lots of glare today on my photographing wall.

Today I join the plein air painters who are painting in Mt. Tabor Park. I meet someone who is painting trees, and several people who are headed up to the top of the hill. I walk around, trying to decide what would best represent this large and varied park.

The thing I notice most is the trees: huge old Douglas-fir towering above substantial big-leaf maples. They feel aged, wise, strong, and almost impossible to represent in full. How can you show this giant on a canvas? It seems silly to put a little person in just for scale. I choose a 2 x 1 proportion canvas, and make a stab at the grandeur.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


This painting is named (partly) for what is NOT in it. Just to the left of my selected view, about twenty wetsuited diehards are out on well-waxed boards, riding the waves. We arrive at Indian Beach at 9 AM, plenty early, I think, to beat the crowds. But already picnickers are setting up barbecues, and surfers are putting on wetsuits. The park is hoppin’.

Mist comes in and out of the hills, creating stepped tree silhouettes like shadow-box cutouts. I would love to paint the wind-sculpted trees, but I know that the mist is far too ephemeral, and the sun will be burning through within an hour. Out on the ocean, the cloud layer pulls back to a violet stratus, lined with dusky gold.

I am always amazed at the variety of color on the same stretch of ocean. Yesterday’s surf was almost khaki. Today it is violet and blue. Something about the quality of light glints orange on the rocks.

I love the energy of this place, and spend a few moments imagining that I am 20 again and getting ready to surf. Okay, maybe 25 was better--less angst. On my way back from the rest room, I pass a guy walking with a backpack and playing his guitar. Families have umbrellas down on the beach, and little kids run in and out of the waves’ edge. When we leave, cars are lined up on the narrow road, waiting to get into the already full park. I guess we had it pretty good.