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.