Sunday, February 28, 2010


It is actually snowing as I photograph this. The challenge here, of course is to convey that sense of near-white all around. The pear is slightly shadowed from being beside the house, therefore there isn't as much scattered light on that side.


I am in the middle of hanging three shows for March.

This is a show of works by my students in community ed oil painting landscapes class. Contact the center for hours when the room is open for viewing.

EXPOSE YOURSELF: A project of artists helping artists
8 large landscapes in a downtown storefront at 5th and Alder. Walk by and enjoy some sunny afternoon.

8 smaller paintings in the US bank building. Banking hours.

No receptions, just art to go and see.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Looking left up the beach, I see a series of shadowed capes, with mist rising between them, a value painting. Looking right, I see rock in full sun, a color painting. I opt for the color.

Wind is strong and gusty, too strong for an umbrella. I point my easel into the sun and hope for the best, taking great care to read my values on the palette. My canvas box blows away and I chase it down. Brush cleaning paper unrolls from its tube. But the sky is clear and intense, and I am in joy to be here.


This is nearly the most difficult painting conditions I have ever tried. I am looking out of a hotel room at the sunset. The room is quite dark, and there are no lights I can bring to shine on my canvas. I am staring straight into the sun. So while I can see lots of color out in the landscape, My canvas is nearly black to me. I am painting almost by feel. That it looks anything like the sunset is some kind of miracle.


Today I paint a gray morning sky. Values are close. Excitement in this painting depends on subtle variations of color. I decide to approach it with a different process than usual. Usually I choose the predominant color of a shape, lay that in, then make alterations according to variations that I see. This time I work backwards. The sky is predominantly blue-violet. Because it is very neutral, there is yellow in there. I find the most yellow part of it, identify it as an orange -yellow, mix it to the proper value, and grade that in from most to least. I continue in this manner with blue-violet, red-violet, and several other colors, grading each from its stronghold into the mix. I end up with a sky of proper value, with varied gradations of gray, ready to receive details.

The effect is almost magical, and much more vibrant than the effect I get by starting with gray and mixing color notes to reflect the variations.

What I think is going on here: This result is a recognition that the gray is never really gray at all. The reading of neutral colors is always problematic, particularly with very light and very dark neutrals. By starting with the less neutral qualities in the color, we invite the eye-brain to compare from the outset. Then the painting is variations that, when the eye-brain moves over the color field, allow it to form its own conclusions about the neutrality of the color.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


This painting is relatively high key, whether it looks like that on a monitor or not. I have the most difficulty with my photos when I look at them on my laptop. This is when they look least like themselves.


Hard to see in this photo, easier to see in the painting, the light here was very violet, with cooler shadows. There are scattered clouds, and the early sun is pinking them up. Unfortunately, the pear again chooses to pose on its side, this time looking something like a lime. I'm going to have to hire a new pear.


We had a lot of fun with these. A lot of the pears in class looked vaguely like avocados. I made sure to put the bud end on to avoid just this problem. But maybe, in reality, it is more a problem of inexact observation of shape, or the unfortunate pose that this particular pear insisted on--and it did insist!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Notes and thoughts on a classic title.
Here’s what I’ve been working on in the studio. It has nothing to do with the topic; just thought I’d share.
I’ve been reading and studying this book written and illustrated by Emile Gruppe’, and have found much worthy of thought and discussion. This will probably take many posts, so here’s the first.
Gruppe’ grew up with an artist father, and he also studied under two well-known landscape painters: Charles Hawthorne, and John Carlson. This gave him lots of material to discuss, and he quotes both these teachers throughout the book. The nice thing about Gruppe’s book, though, is that he is a much more accessible writer than Carlson, and much more forthcoming than Hawthorne. And he appears to have compiled the best of the ideas from both teachers. So, here go some of his thoughts.

Gruppe’: “Paint the tree in front of you. Note how it relates to things around it, interacts with the forest, branches react to each other within the tree itself.”

This idea has to do with painting the particular rather than the general. Of course, the most particular would be to paint every leaf and branch of the tree that’s visible from your position. And the least particular would be the lollypop. So... somewhere in between the two is a happy place (different for every artist) where observed particularities can be recorded, creating almost a tree portrait.

This thought seems to leave out a sense of design. That is, the artist makes choices. Which leafy masses are particularly characteristic of the tree? Which shapes serve the design of the painting? Gruppe’ seems to be responding to nature primarily as observer and less as designer. Again, there is probably a wide-ranging scale among artists, with the copyist (flesh-and-bone camera) at one end, and the highly abstract painter at the other (in which the inspiration of the tree may be barely, if at all discernable), and each individual artist falling somewhere in between. Interesting choices to make consciously.

Another dimension of this element that interests me is the ways in which a particular tree is a better representative of universal “treeness” than a very generalized lollipop tree is. For sure a lollipop tree includes the idea of trunk and leaf mass. But it leaves out many other ideas that are part of being a tree. It leaves out branches. It leaves out the broadening of the trunk where roots go into the ground. It leaves out any hint of growth pattern. And of course, it shows nothing of the tree’s interaction with its environment, which shows it to be a living, responsive thing. By painting the patterns of a particular tree, the artist expresses more about all trees.

Friday, February 12, 2010


More on that troublesome painting. After posting my first revision, I get another critique, one that addresses my feeling of the clouds being too solid. I feel that I should do something about it. I want to do something. I go to the studio to see if the paint is still wet. It is, just. I can still fix it. But something makes me delay, and I go downstairs and spend two hours studying Spanish. After which there is no more time....
Okay, clearly I am avoiding the issue. Is this fear of digging into the painting, or am I avoiding changing what is really fine? I send this question out, and put it from my mind. Within a half hour, thinking no more about the problem, it is clear that the image on the canvas is keeping me from seeing what might be.
I get up the next morning (it is still wet... whew!) and scrape the troublesome cloud down. The ghosted first version retains my base design, while giving me clear space to apply fresh color and paint with a fresh mind.
This constructive/destructive/reconstructive process is something I rarely do, but it is surprisingly freeing


These light studies are a series that I set up outdoors in various light conditions, then imitated in class using cellophane to filter light color. It's amazing how well we can duplicate the lighting conditions with one color on the lamp and another over the box top to indicate sky color.
This pear is painted in lighting two hours after sunrise, with broken clouds on a winter day. In the class, we used magenta sky filter and yellow light filter, with the light placed distant from the box.

The colors of the photo aren't particularly true to the painting, but give something of the feel of it.


Coming back to old photos is fun, when you come on one that still inspires.


Painting still life with some friends. Can you say STRETCH?

It's good to get out of the comfort zone occasionally. My tip of the day, To get rid of a really loud area, take your brush and smush it together. I can't believe it but it works!

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Every once in a while, every artist runs across a painting with some element that’s just not quite right. This happens more often when you’re just beginning, and less and less over time. It still happens to me.

There tricks for getting a fresh look at your work– turn it upside down, let it sit for a week, and so on. When they all fail, sometimes an outside opinion helps. And sometimes it doesn’t.

I meet regularly with a group of professional artists for critique. These folks are really good at spotting composition problems. So when I was stumped over the painting currently on my easel (above), I took the problem to my meeting. I also got critiques from some other folks. Here is what people said about it (paraphrased, filtered and interpreted):
*The land and the lower clouds are really peaceful, but the swooping shapes in the upper sky are distracting. Take them out and the whole thing will be really peaceful.
*The sky is great. Leave it alone. On the land, the large dark shape is too busy and makes a big M. Maybe take it down a notch, or break it up some.

At first glance, these two comments look like they conflict. Someone must be wrong. Unless you put this in a greater context. The strong values and shapes in the lower land conflict with the strong shapes in the sky. One has to be the star. What should I do? I go back to my original intent: to express the movement of the large sky and relative insignificance of the land. The sky stays. I break up the dark shape and soften some of its edges. I lose a little of the depth in the landscape, but gain emphasis in the sky.

Then I punch some air into the middle bank of clouds and make them more irregular... the thing that was bothering me in the first place, which no one commented on.

So how do you respond to critique? Ask yourself how it fits with your original intent. Do you want to go in a new direction, suggested by the painting, or hold to your first idea? Knowing what your painting is about, that is key.