Monday, December 17, 2012


On the Rio Grande, Big Bend
This is from my recent trip to Big Bend National Park.  Thanks to my friend, and fellow painter, Jim Bragg, for the photo.  It was a fun and worthwhile painting trip with a group of avid plein air painters from the Outdoor Painters Society.  We spent a week painting together throughout the park.

I love to get out like this.  It primes the pump of enthusiasm, offers the circumstances for intense focus on painting, supplies reference sketches and photos for more studio work, and the opportunity to be with a great group of like minded people.  If you're trying to improve your painting, and expanding your inspirational resources, I strongly recommend joining a group of painters who are committed to similar goals.  

Friday, December 7, 2012


FROM DESERT MOUNTAIN LOOKOUT   11x14  oil on linen panel
If you're painting outdoors regularly, things are going to evolve.  Sometimes it's by purposeful experiment and sometimes it's just an accumulation of confidence and things learned along the way.  This painting has both.

First, I'm experimenting with painting larger in my plein air studies.  That, in and of itself, has caused a shift in the way I handle the paint.  It feels natural to put more on and move it around more freely.  Learning to state shapes and values more directly.  It makes me want to try to keep the same approach when I try small studies. again.  Looking for what's essential, and putting it down with broader, more expressive strokes.

Then, surprisingly, I've noticed that I feel more control over edges and color variation as I paint wet-into-wet.  The process reminds me of learning to surf.  You're never quite sure what nuances the wave will present, but you're gaining the techniques to handle what comes up.  That's fun!  Granted, you have to be out on the edge, and you're going to "wipe-out" frequently, but it's way more exhilarating.  COWABONGA!  ... for those who remember.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


DESERT DESSERT  9x12   oil on canvas panel

I usually have trouble finding exciting subject matter around noontime, because of the flat overhead light.  But, when I've made arrangements to go to a special location to stay and paint for a number of days, I'm just uncomfortable losing the entire middle of the day.  One of the things I've learned is that as with most things, you generally find what you've set your mind to receive.  So, I reminded myself to to keep an open mind, and expect to turn up some treasure.

After completing my morning painting at Contrabando, below Lajitas,Texas, I sat down to have lunch in the shade of one of the adobe huts. When I was done, I peaked out the back door to see what I might find to paint from the shade.  This little scene was right there at eye level waiting to be devoured.  It was like ice cream on cake, painting this brightly lit arrangement of values, shapes and colors.  A good reinforcement for remembering that as artists we need to be nourishing a sense of discovery!

Monday, December 3, 2012


SANTA ELENA CANYON MIDDAY  14x11  oil on panel
Hey, I'm back!  It was nice to find emails from folks who noticed I was gone.  I just returned from a week of painting at Big Bend National Park.  Perfect weather, and a group of other Outdoor Painters Society, plein air painters made for a wonderful time.  Lots of painting and good times.

This week, I'll be posting some of my studies from the trip.  I have a lot to do to catch up around the studio, so I may not be writing too much about them until I'm back in the flow of things around here.

This one is from a scene I watched develop as I was eating my lunch by the river, after my morning painting.  The light and dark pattern just knocked me out.

Friday, November 9, 2012


MAKE MY DAY   20x16   oil on canvas panel
MID-DAY   9x12    oil on linen panel
Both of these paintings were done from subjects that just jumped out and grabbed me.  The first, "MAKE MY DAY", did just that. It's unusual to come upon something so ready to go.  I did very little rearranging of elements other than to work on designing the rhythms of the shadow shapes.  Running into something like this is like peach pie and vanilla ice cream with good coffee!

The other, "MID-DAY", also surprised me, but not in such a "pie-and-ice-cream" way.  I'm usually not very excited by what I find at mid-day.  The sun is directly overhead, colors tend to be a bit bleached-out and shadows don't offer up the same excitement and possibilities for patterns.  When I saw this one, it just seemed to say, "Oh, come on, try me!".  I enjoyed arranging the elements of the scene into a nice composition, and opening up my thinking to be on the lookout for opportunities to paint, even during the mid-day doldrums.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


DAYBREAK    11x14    oil on linen panel
I came upon this scene as I was heading out to paint near Kerrville, TX. for a planned day of painting and gathering reference for studio work.  I had left well before sunrise, in a big hurry to get where I was going.  20 miles into the drive, my stomach turned over as I suddenly realized I had left my camera by the front door! DOH!!

Nothing to do but turn around and go back for it.  Beating myself up all the way, I was trying hard to get myself back in a positive state of mind after feeling that I had squandered the best part of the morning where I was planning to paint.

I kept telling myself that this could all work for the good, and that it was up to me to see the benefit rather than the loss.  Having retrieved my camera, I was hurrying through the pre-dawn illumination of the sky, wishing I was where I was "supposed to be".  The sun was just coming up behind me as I turned off the Interstate into the little town of Johnson City.  I've been through here many times, but never at this particular time of day.  When I saw this gorgeous display of light and shade, I knew it was time to stop the mind-fussing and get into the moment.  The beauty and unhurried peacefulness of the new morning completely took over, and it turned out to be a wonderful day of painting, and this was the unplanned, high-point!  Lesson:  Keep your eyes and your mind open to the unexpected. 


GANT HOUSE   11x14  oil on canvas panel
I've been scrambling to catch up around here since returning from the Columbus, Texas Paintout.  I'm very pleased to report that my paintings, GANT HOUSE, and HWY. 90 BRIDBE, were awarded first and second place in the competition, and I sold three of the five paintings I produced for the event.  I had a lots of fun, met knew friends and learned a lot.
HWY.  90 BRIDGE   12x16    oil on canvas panel

Thursday, November 1, 2012


COLORADO CROSSING    12x16   oil on canvas panel
These are the last of my five entries for the Columbus, Texas Paint Out.  The quickdraw event and judging will take place on Saturday (Nov. 3).  The paint out has been a fun and helpful experience for me.  Competitions have a way of bringing focus to the things you hope to include in your paintings.

In a recent blog post of The Painters Keys, Robert Genn wrote about the benefits of going out to paint with a list of what you're looking for.  This is something that I've done as a habit since the timeI began making a focused effort to improve my paintings.  The list        
STUCCO HOUSE    9x12   oil on canvas panel
evolves as I grow. Certain things become ingrained revealing new areas to work on.

Here are some items on my current list:
• a clear motive that I can radically simplify and visualize as a finished painting
• a clear notan design
• 3 to 5 major shapes
• 3 value groups, one dominant
• 3 spatial planes, one dominant
• focal area contrasts (value,   temperature, edges, size)
• variety of edges (soft, hard, interrupted, broken, lost)

The list can easily become overwhelming, since there is really no end to the things I can  learn as I'm trying to get at what I want to say.  But, the trick is to bring a conscious focus to a few things that I know I want to see in my paintings.  Without a map and a clear destination, we may cover a lot of ground, and stumble on some nice things, but we're likely to waist a lot of time and energy, and arrive nowhere in particular.  It's expedient, and a lot more fun, to know where you're trying to go.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Much of Columbus, from the town square and courthouse to the tree canopied neighborhoods, feels like it exists in a time warp of the early past century. As I was painting this little compound of buildings, folks from the neighborhood would stop by and tell me about the history of the place while I painted.  Fascinating!  

This is another of the paintings I'll enter in their show.  I will be returning this weekend to turn in my paintings, and participate in the quick draw event. 

It's so nice to know that this peaceful little Texas town is still holding on.  I'm looking forward to seeing some of the friends I made on my first visit.

Monday, October 29, 2012


GANT HOUSE    11x14     oil on canvas
This is another of my entries for the Columbus Paint Out, "Paint Texas History", which I mentioned in my previous post.  Columbus, Texas is a beautiful memory of a small town built in a curl on the Colorado River and covered with ancient live oak, pines, pecan, magnolia, and elm.  The neighborhood streets are wide and canopied, many without curbs.  Many of their sleepy neighborhoods are filled with proud, old victorian homes with flower gardens, sidewalks and front porches reminding you of a neighborly culture that has disappeared from modern times.  Columbus was, and still is, a railroad town, and must have once thought its future was prosperous and secure.

I set up to paint this scene at 8:30 in the morning, with hardly a sound but the chirping of birds.  I had just about finished blocking-in the color shapes when I heard a series of distant, long, moaning blasts that were growing louder.  Suddenly the bells began ringing at the crossing, red lights began flashing and the traffic arm slowly dropped across the road.  Three linked diesels rounded the corner a hundred yards down the track and came rumbling and thundering my way blowing their horn.

I was set up about five yards from the track, and it was absolutely deafening as that behemoth began to pass. Diesel engines pounding, horn blowing, crossing bells ringing, earth vibrating under my feet, wheels shrieking and clacking and the wind-draft blowing the pages of my sketchbook and hat.  I finally sat down and weighted patiently while over a hundred freight cars of all types clattered by.  As the giant retreated and faded away, the quiet seemed extraordinary, and the birds slowly picked up their chattering.  I returned to my painting with more keen attention to gathering the crucial information I needed, and a heightened sense of getting down the essentials.  I figured there would be another train coming, and the sun wasn't going to hold still.  I learned something from that kind of "seeing".  It cuts out the finicky dawdling that can sub-consciously plague a painter.  I was forced to see the important things in relationship to one another, make judgements, mix colors and values, and put down the marks with an uncommon definiteness of purpose. What may be lost in the way of detail and diddle is replaced by an invigorating vitality of awareness.  I wrote a reminder on my pochade box, "Paint like a train is coming!"

Saturday, October 27, 2012


HWY. 90 BRIDGE    12x16     oil on canvas panel
I was gone all last week, painting in the Columbus Paint Out, 'Paint Texas History', Plein Air Competition.  I don't have a laptop, so I haven't been able to post.  This is one of the paintings I'm entering in the competition and show.  I usually do paintings 6x8 up to 9x12 when painting plein air.  I decided to push things a bit and did "Hwy. 90 Bridge" as my first attempt at a 12x16 plein air painting.  I like it, but as usual my compulsive nature went overboard.  I tried to get too much information into the painting.  I'll be working on doing a better job of simplifying, doing more of these larger paintings outdoors.  It's fun and very good exercise.  I'll follow up with my other entries in the next few days, and let you know what happens, no matter how things turn out.

When I got back to the studio, I had good news waiting.  My phone messages told me I had sold another painting through Austin Street Gallery in Rockport, Texas. Nice!  Pays for my trip to Columbus!  Then, I checked my email and learned that I have been awarded Best In Show in this years Outdoor Painters Society Associates Showcase for my painting "Morning Walk"!  I'm honored and gratified to have received this recognition from this group of very talented and accomplished outdoor painters.
Morning Walk    8x10   oil on canvas panel
Please, forgive me for blowing my horn a bit, here.  (My mom used to say, "It's a poor dog that won't wag its own tail.")  But, it is nice to receive the positive reinforcement.  Sometimes we feel that we're just in our studio working away unnoticed, and then - some GOOD THINGS HAPPEN!

Monday, October 15, 2012


GHOST YARD   11x14   oil on linen panel
It's interesting how hard, focused work seems to bring forth the very thing you need to clearly grasp in order to progress.  The saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." has proven true for me again, and again.

I'm reading my new book on the transplanted Russian painter, Sergei Bongart.  Nice job of telling his story, but invaluable for capturing so many of his clear and concise pieces of painting wisdom.  Here are two that have helped me recently:

Please, first paint dog, then the fleas!

Simple Masses and extreme contrasts are the key to strong design.

A jewel like that can be such a wonderful find!  There are no immutable "rules" for design, however there are principles that will help us immeasurably in our exploration of making better art.  I've mentioned NOTAN before in this blog.  It's one method of synthesizing an arrangement of simplified masses for a balanced and interesting design. It's strength is in the way it forces us to think of the scene in two major masses, expressed in light and dark.  Here's a notan version of my composition GHOST YARD.  It is not a "value study", rather  it is a plan for the way the major masses will interact  expressed in "extreme contrast".
Notice that one group dominates (in this case, it's the dark).  From this simplified arrangement, I can see if my visual idea 'works'.  Does it pique my esthetic interest?  Is it a compelling arrangement?  If so, I can now more clearly approach a simple value study (below), in which I separate a dark, mid-value and light group of value ranges.  You can do more if it suits you, but if you'll take it even this far (again, letting one dominate) in your planning, you'll have a very solid start to begin your painting.

By mixing all of your color values to fall within their specific value group you'll gain wonderful control over the color relationships.  With this in hand, you'll be far more capable of paying attention to other important things like brushwork, shapes and edges.  Which brings to mind another favorite jewel:

Careful planning promotes spontaneity!

It may, at first, seem not to be so, but it will prove to be        the case if you try it.  The musician who is able to freely
and beautifully improvise has put in hours of practicing and learning scales, chords, arpeggios, modes and all the things needed to spontaneously express his music. The same holds true for the painter who wants the power to create a beautiful image.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Hill Gate    12x16    oil on canvas

Here’s a brief step-by-step of the painting I did today.  It’s another run through of the approach I posted a little while back. If this is helpful, please let me know.  Sometimes I feel like I’m wasting your time.

 This was done from a rough pencil sketch for design and value pattern, and a photo I shot while exploring a wonderful ranch in Kerrville, last weekend.  This is just one way to make a painting, and not the only way that I use.  The benefit of this approach is that it helps you stay focused on a strong and simple design structure.

In the first stage, you can see that I’ve painted a warm, transparent undertone to represent the mid-value range of the painting, and on top of this I’ve scrubbed in the notan pattern I designed.  I’ll talk more about “notan” in another post.  For now I’ll just say that it’s a two value design in light and dark meant to represent a balanced and evocative arrangement of the major forms in a design.  It’s a good idea to make either the light or the dark shape dominant (occupying 60% or more of the overall design).

In the second stage, I’ve dropped in the light value group, and placed the brightest color note near the focus.  In this particular approach, I like to begin with a balanced design, grouping the dark, light and mid-values so as to avoid the spottiness of values that can occur if you don’t make a conscious decision about how they will be grouped.  If you’ll keep the three values in simple related groups, and emphasize the focal area (in this case the gate), you’ll have a pretty good chance of making a strong painting.

In stage three, I pre-mix the colors I want in the shadows, making sure they all fall within the shadow value range.  In this case, I mix nothing lighter than a fifty percent value.  I like to lay in colorful grays.  Just a personal preference for what turns me on.  If you try this, try to keep the intensity, or chroma of the various colors fairly subdued, or they will have a conflicting relationship to the colors you choose to appear in the light.

In stage four, I finish laying in the canvas by placing a couple of light, mid-value colors over the mid-value shapes.

All of this kept pretty loose and flat without much effort to control the edges of the various shapes.  I leave that until the next stage, finishing.

In stage five, I go back into all the shapes giving attention to edges.  Edges need to be soft, hard, interrupted, broken or lost.  You really only need a couple of hard edges, usually somewhere around your focal area.  They will draw the eye right to themselves.  Too many will kill the focus and give the painting a brittle feeling.  I also adjust the accuracy of the various shapes, the temperature relationships in the three value groups, and enhance the contrasts around the focal area.  Once all this is done, I add a bit of calligraphy to tie things together and give some indication of scale, and I’m done.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Sheftall Jewel    6x8    oil on canvas panel
This was my entry from the "quick draw" portion of the Kerrville Outdoor Painters Event, this past weekend.  We were limited to one block in the Kerrville historic district, and had 90 minutes to complete our paintings.  I chose this little bright spot at the entrance to Sheftall's Jewellers, and was very flattered to have it bought right off the easel.

I enjoy these events because you have the opportunity to hear directly from the public while you're creating your painting.  The comments and questions can be very enlightening as to what people actually think of your work.

"This is so gorgeous!  My friends and I have named you Mr. Shadows."

"So, how do you get the colors so pretty, together?"

"Have you done this before?"

"Hmm.  No one else is doing what you're doing."

"I guess you know you're painting for women, right?"

"That's interesting.  I guess you couldn't get the rest of the building on your little canvas thingy."

"Your colors are just perfect!  How much do you want?"

"Did you mean to leave out the stuff on the door?"

"Oh…my…GOSH!  I need to go get my husband.  Will you, please, not sell this while I'm gone?"

Are you painting, mister?  I like it.  Can I paint. too?"

Sunday, October 7, 2012


SHADY SIDE    8x10    oil on canvas panel
This was one of the four paintings I turned in for the Kerrville Outdoor Painters Event, this past weekend.  It was a Pein Air event,  and a great place to paint.  I thoroughly enjoyed the three day paintout, and had a wonderful time.

One of the things I learned was that size actually does matter. (hee-hee)  My paintings were all 8x10's.  The judges did not recognize work below the 11x14 size range.  And I saw more entries than ever before that were even up to 20x24!  Not necessarily better paintings, just larger.  Lesson: if you're planning to compete, be prepared to work and frame larger.  The down side is that the public attending the event is less likely to part with the money to cover the prices of the larger works.  So, the sponsors and organizations hoping to benefit from the show, don't see the level of proceeds they hope for from their commission on painting sales. Maybe I'm the last one learning this?

Past events have considered small works every bit as viable as any size in the show.  I think that there has been such a burgeoning plethora of plein air events across the country that size has become the means of distinguishing your work in the competition.  Unfortunate, since paintings aren't necessarily better simply because they're bigger.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


FALL MORNING   11x14    oil on linen panel
I'm packing up to head for the Kerville Outoor Painters Event, but I wanted to do one more painting before I go.

This is one of my probable entries for the CFAI "Colors Of Autumn" show.

I'll let you know how it goes, when I get back.  Hope I'll feel like posting my efforts.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


MADRONE    14X11    oil on canvas panel
I ran across this while preparing to enter the Outdoor Painters Society Showcase.  This was a commission by friends who have a beautiful ranch high up in the heart of the Texas hill country, near Tarpley.

If you've never seen a Madrone, they're beautiful, bony trees with a thin sheath of cream colored bark that peels away and reveals a trunk of gorgeous vermillion, pink, and gold.

One of the nicest things about painting is having the opportunity to do something that is intended to fill a special place for a collector who admires your work and wants you to interpret their world.  

Friday, September 28, 2012


CELEBRATION    12X16   oil on linen panel
It was overcast today, and threatening rain, so I decided to stay in the studio.  I pulled out an old study and re-invented the color scheme to suit my mood.  Guess I'm ready for fall!

Sometimes painting just feels like celebrating.  I know I'm going to have to buckle down to my studies again, but today I just had that feeling like sneaking off to go fishing. You know what I mean?  Just taking some time and doing whatever you want.

Imagination released to create is a wonderful thing.  I turned my stereo on to some easy be-bop jazz, and started mixing colors. All kinds of nice things were happening, and four and a half hours later I felt like I had caught a five pound bass.  As John Lennon once sang, "you can celebrate anything you want."

Thursday, September 27, 2012


MORNING WALK   10x8    oil on canvas panel
The composition is what first caught me on this one.  I was struck by the way the bridge, which was all in shadow, offered a unified shape arrangement.  I decided to push the color to the extremes of hot and cool contrast, something I enjoy doing.

Some times people will tell me that there's no way those colors are right.  "Uh huh, and your point?"  Believe me, I'm aware that not everyone cares for this type of color, but I figure it's my painting - I can do whatever I like.  What I see is up to me, if it's not for you, that's cool, too.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


TUMBLING DOWN  14X11   oil on linen panel  
Sometimes I become so caught up in trying to learn to paint, avoiding mistakes and overcoming bad habits that I forget to just have fun.  I suppose everyone has their reasons for painting, and persisting.  Mine is that it's just so much fun, and when you get a painting that makes you feel good when it's finished you've got a win-win situation.

I pulled the reference for this one from my sketches at Pedernales Falls.  It needed some redesigning to make it into a balanced composition, and for me, that's where the fun starts.  It's while I'm looking for the way to arrange the elements that I begin to sense a pull towards a subject that feels like I have something I want to say about it.

Once I had designed the big light/dark pattern in my pencil sketch I was ready to jump in and make it happen.  These are not the colors you'll find if you go hiking out at Pedernales Falls.  These colors are the way I feel about being there, and just being alive on that gorgeous day.  While I'm painting, my mind recalls the way the falls sounded, bird songs, how fresh the air was from the rising mist, the coolness of the shade I was in, and the brilliant, warm sunshine on the rocks. FUN!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


END OF SUMMER     8x10   oil on canvas panel
I returned to a scene I had painted early in June, to see how it would come out.  I hadn't referred to the first painting before doing this one, and it's interesting to see the differences in the impressions.  The one from early summer (below) was at a time of extreme drought conditions and 100+ degree days.  This one is after we had a number of days of wonderful showers.  Several inches of rain had fallen on the parched, Texas hill country, and the temperatures are now fifteen to twenty degrees cooler. What we're feeling about what we're painting does make a difference.

HILL COUNTRY PALETTE   11X14   oil on linen panel


PEDERNALES FALLS    8x10   oil on canvas panel

This is one I tried to post last week right after finishing the painting.  I had taken a series of step-by-step photos to show the progression of one my plein air paintings.  After spending a couple of hours preparing photos and writing comments on the step-by-step, I inadvertently touched a wrong key, and... (stumble) everything disappeared.  It was the end of the day, I was tired, and I just didn’t have it in me to re-create it.  I decided to wait until I could look back at it and see the humor.  I still don’t gag with laughter, but I decided to put it up in a very abbreviated format, without my incredible wit and wisdom from the original version, for better or worse.  

Here's the scene I was painting:

Step one:  My NOTAN sketch.  (from a Japanese word used to describe the harmonious arrangement of 2D, light and dark shapes)  It’s a quick way to begin by designing rather than 
rendering, and it provides a strong basis for what’s to come.

Step two:  I often use exaggerated hues to separate the major light and shadow shapes.  This is fun to put other color over, and can end up giving some surprising and interesting color notes. 

 Step three:  Covering the major shapes with the approximate values and color notes.  I’m thinking of flat, abstract shapes at this point, with little concern for edge quality.

Step four:  (see the finish avove)   Refining.  Time to give attention to shape accuracy, edge quality (lost/found, hard/soft...).  Tuning up colors and temperature relationships.  Developing the emphasis in the focal area using contrasts of edges, colors, values, detail, texture.  Adding a bit of color sparks and calligraphy (lines, dots and dashes that help to indicate scale, and tie things together). 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


OVER HER BANKS    8x10    oil on canvas panel
I suspect that everyone who attempts to develop their skills as an outdoor painter, faces repeated disappointments, set-backs and downright discouragement.  I scraped this painting down to the canvas twice, trying to pull it together to make visual sense.  I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong.

When I feel stuck, stymied and stupid, I try to remember that improvement, for me, has never been steady or easy.  It seems to go from one plain to the next in erratic steps.  Part of moving to a new plateau seems to be accompanied by a deep dissatisfaction with everything I'm trying to paint, and the feeling of, "What am I doing?  Why did I ever try to do this?  I obviously don't get it!  Nothing I paint is really of any value."  I've learned not to stay with those thoughts, but to recognize them for what they are, the signal that I'm ready to go to a new level.  When I can't figure out what's wrong, my job is not to focus on discouragement, but rather the next painting, and the next, experimenting with the things I want to see developing in my paintings.  I am competing only with myself.

I often take advantage of Robert Genn's wonderful blog, The Painter's Keys, when I'm dealing with painting issues, looking for encouragement or insight to what I'm experiencing.  From the artist's quotes section on frustration, I find these to be very much on the mark:

"I had gotten to the point where I was either going to play the violin much better or I was going to break it over my knee." (Ellen Taaffe Zwilich)

Have you worked on your craft to the point of frustration?... have you gone to bed thinking you're dog shit, that you just can't get it right? If you haven't had this feeling, you're never going to make it. (Bob Lefsetz)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


LATE IN THE AFTERNOON   14x11   oil on linen panel
This one is from a plein air study I did last October.  It started off fairly well, but then it got sick on the easel.  It contracted serious but undiagnosed symptoms that may even lead to death.  I'm used to this happening, and have learned to accept that I'm not going to hit homeruns every time I set up.  It's about the process and time spent working on things.

When I come back from painting outdoors, the studies go onto my drying rack.  After awhile I go through what has accumulated and do a bit of painting triage. culling out the ones that are hopelessly sick beyond recovery.  The Junkers. They go into my scrape down and paint-over stack to re-use the panel.  Then, I choose the ones that stand up as paintings that I'd like to see finished and framed. The Keepers.  There are getting to be more of these, and that's nice.  What's left goes into my hospital,  the reference and re-work stack. The Patients.  What's nice about these is that they have a very low intimidation factor for me since I feel like they can only be made better with a little attention.  They're great for having something to operate on when I'm feeling blocked or in need of a subject.

It isn't hard to find plenty to choose from!  :)    Anyway, I'll grab something that I can see had some redeeming quality or potential, put it on the easel, sit down with my sketchbook and start to analyze the piece as if it were done by someone else: "Hey, nice start there.  What seems to be the trouble?  Looking at it objectively, here's my diagnosis for how to treat this." I do a rough sketch, trying to improve the compositional plan, make notes about the shapes, edges, values, colors, and design principles that I think should enhance the piece.  This is usually enough to get my enthusiasm up enough to put out the paint and get underway.  Besides the healthy thinking and painting workout through diagnosis and surgery, there's a nice feeling of accomplishment when I'm actually able to turn one of these into a Keeper.

Friday, August 31, 2012


CREEK FLOW   11x14   oil on canvas panel
Not that anyone has asked, but hey, it's my blog, I thought I'd tell you my palette color choices.  Some painters like to take out a couple of dozen different tube colors, some only three primaries and white, and some choose something in between.  I'm an "in-betweener".

In the past years, I've tried the limited, three primary color palette, and it was a great experiment for learning about mixing hues to achieve a broad spectrum of colors and how to vary color temperature.  It also somewhat assures a harmonic color scheme, due to the repetition of the same hues. Only thing is the limited palette is just that, limited.  Expressively, you can't reach certain color notes you'd like to have.  You must settle for the closest approximation within the available gamut of your chosen primaries.  On the other hand carrying around a large range of colors affords you all kinds of color choices, but it's both cumbersome, and increases the likelihood of producing whacky dissonance.

So, here's my personal solution.  Nine tube colors, total.  Cadmium Lemon Yellow (a bright, cool, powerful yellow),  Terra Rosa (a moderate red that's a bit cool when white is added.  It's a real workhorse in beautifully modifying all the other colors in my landscape palette.  I never have found much need for the high-powered cadmium reds in landscapes).  Permanent Alizarin ( a very cool, dark red, also useful in many mixtures).  Ultramarine Blue (wouldn't want to do without it).  Viridian Hue (regular Viridian is beautiful and useful, but lacks the punch I want in influencing mixtures.  Viridian Hue, like all the so-called "hue" colors, contains thalo blue or green, both of which will easily take over your mixtures if you're not extremely careful).  To these five spectrum colors I add three modifiers, Burnt Umber, Mauve Blue Shade, and Caucasian Flesh.  These enable me to quickly achieve subtle hue movement in mixtures that are well suited to the landscape.  For white, my favorite is LeFranc Titanium.  It has just the right creamy consistency for easy handling and it's very opaque.  Second choice is any of the combination titanium/zinc whites, because they're not as "stiff" as many of the straight titanium whites.

If you're an experimenter, I think you'll enjoy the range of beautifully harmonious colors you can produce with this palette, plus the convenience of not having to tote so much paint.  As an added plus, with the exception of Cadmium Yellow Lemon, these are very reasonably priced pigments.  Have you looked at the price of Cobalt or Cerulean Blue?!  Wow!  That stuff will run up your supply expenditure fast.    

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Through the Hills   8x10    oil on canvas panel
Speed is essential to getting an impression down before the sun has moved so significantly as to leave the subject unrelated to what you started with.  It's one of the main skills you must develop to paint successfully en plein air (out of doors, in usually one go).

Speed isn't necessary to produce good art, and it may not serve to produce works for the gallery, since until its mastered our work appears raw, unfinished, even clumsy.   Still it teaches important lessons, and faster than any other means I know of.  Like consciousness of "the big picture".  You need to decide what the painting will emphasize and then everything else must be subordinated in the design.  When working slowly, in the studio, it's easy to get sidetracked into developing various things within the scene that create competition for the big picture.  It's the big picture concept that supplies impact, and not just technical virtuosity.

Paint handling is another skill that develops quickly as you go for speed.  How thick, thin, transparent, slippery the paint is makes a difference in what you're able to accomplish.  Only way to gain the skill is by lots of time painting, but going for speed forces the issue and shortens the learning curve.  Values and color judgement have to be brought into hand, there usually isn't time to develop a careful underpainting step to build upon.

When speed begins to be mastered, the artist usually finds pleasure in the spontaneity of the painting act. It's like jamming on a musical instrument, and coming up with some surprisingly nice stuff.  It also gives the brushwork a freshness, and directness that is often appealing.  Like any worthwhile skill, it comes at a price, and progress can seem painfully slow, but it's worth the discipline if you want to play the music you see.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


CAMPSITE 17   8X10   oil on canvas panel
Much of the subject matter available in the Texas Hill Country is a matter of what I call "clump management".  I mean you're confronted with a rather homogeneous tableau of scrub oak, mesquite, and lots of cedar (actually mountain ash).  You have to put on your sorting vision in order to differentiate the clumps.  Then, you need to identify something that the painting is going to be about, or you'll end up with a painting of indistinguishable clumps.

It's actually great practice for learning to impose design into your paintings, which is, I think, what good painting is about.  Although, sometimes it's easier to do than others, at all times it's the artist's job to create order from what we confront.  Painting is just a lot of work if all you're doing is reporting on appearance.

Once while I was out painting, a man and his little family stood watching for a few minutes, and then just before walking off he huffed and commented, "Wouldn't it be faster to just take a picture?"  Depends on what you're after.  For me, the fun and inspiration comes from doing something with the information before you to raise what is seen to something felt and admired.

Friday, August 24, 2012


HILL COUNTRY PALETTE   11X14    oil panel
Everyone sees and feels differently. The two are inextricably rooted in what we do as painters. I think there's a personal vocabulary we have to discover through persistent work if we want to communicate visually about our subject. I think I'm just learning the baby talk for the landscape I love.

With all that goes into just learning how to put paint down, and considering the arrangement of what's before you, and solving the tactical problems of painting outdoors, there's a point at which we're just becoming prepared to translate what we see and want to say about our subject.

My four year old grandson does a marvelous job of expressing himself.  With his limited experience and vocabulary, he's still able to let you know how he feels in terms that are direct, non-pretentious and to the point. Sometimes I'm amazed at the skill he's gained, and the words he uses and understands the meanings of.  He gets it not from trying to impress anyone with what he can say, but through his desire to communicate about what he's happy about, what excites him, and how he feels.  He's keen to learn and incorporate the new words and phrases that he realizes fit his expressive needs, and he's not worrying about what he hasn't mastered, yet.  Often, his toddler talk is more listenable, and full of real joy, than the drivel we adults adopt.  Saying something beautifully in a painting arises from a similar motivation, and it requires learning a personally meaningful vocabulary. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012


GOOD TO BE OUT!   9X12    oil panel
Contre jour - painting against the light.  It's a beautiful and dramatic effect, but it doesn't last long and you've got to get with it fast or you're left with a view that doesn't even resemble your motive.  When that happens you may as well pack-up.

When the light is coming up from behind the subject, you get interesting rim lighting, illumination of semi-transparent elements and attractive shadows.  A lot to recommend it, right?  This is where your skills get tested.  There's no time to lose.  You have to keep the painting moving forward as soon as you begin, striving for the big important shapes and their value relationships.  The more you can readily access, on the fly,  the skills you have the better your odds of success.  Design, shape simplification, value relationships, edges, color recession, contrasts, dominance, gradation, repetition, etc. Accessibility and application of skills is why there's a need to be out regularly. Knowledge is a must to have, but without regular exercise it goes dormant.  It's Good to be out!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


RUGGED BEAUTY    14X18     oil on linen
From time to time, I like to take a painting that I've done and rethink it.  Like, "How could I treat this differently, and learn something?"  In this case, I wanted to make some conscious color decisions using schematic choices tied to the color wheel.  In this painting I raised the value relationships to a lighter "key", and increased the chroma levels of the main colors.  I also enjoy the more somber colors of the original painting, but the experiment was very helpful to my understanding of color, and its expressive qualities.  It "feels" different.  It creates a different mood.

Below is the first version of this painting, and a color wheel tool that I put together to compare the hue positions in three different popular color systems.  These are the Triadic, Munsell and Real color wheels.  All three will provide harmonies using basic color scheme plans, but the results will differ depending upon which system you use.

Some of my painter friends respond, "!?", when I talk about this stuff.  They tell me they just do what comes by natural intuition, and don't want to be hindered by any "artificial systems".  Intuition is certainly a valuable asset to a painter, but not a useful excuse for being uninformed about what makes color and design work.  Besides that, intuition improves as our familiarity increases with respect to how various elements are known to perform.  Most musicians prefer working within the structures of musical scales, rather than what they may discover while working with random noise.  The point is not to be hindered, but freed to experiment with purpose and predictability.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


EARLY PASTURE    12X16    oil on linen panel    
For the most part, this one is a fig newton of my imagination.  I had a reference photo, from a trip to a friend's ranch, that had the two tree clumps with a view to the distance that is somewhat similar to this in configuration.  The color, however, was dull green and brown, and there was no creek winding through the pasture.  I played up the carpet of spring wildflowers, invented a creek that helps get you to my focal area, and imposed a more spunky color scheme with early morning in mind.  Reference is a launch pad for us to paint what we want to see.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


PEDERNALES CLIFFSIDE    16X20    oil on linen
Sometimes it's good to just go for it, and see what comes out.  If you're painting regularly, which is the only way I know of to improve, you get to a place where you just feel like something's about to happen with what you're doing.  It's an accumulation of what you've been working on, what appeals to your gut, and where you sense things are going.  That's what's going on here.

I've been concentrating on improving the value structure of my paintings and getting away from painting "things".  I want to be in that zone where I'm thinking more about shapes, values, pattern, color, edges, design.  After all, that's really what painting is about, right?  Squint at this painting, and try to identify the big division of light and dark shapes.  It should look something like this.

 Hmm.  I see some problems with the lack of simplicity in all those finger shapes.  That's the value of thinking about a big simplified pattern. by grouping your lights and darks into simplified groupings you improve the chance of coming up with a successful painting.  When you begin to lay in color, you can mix your colors to fall within the shadow family or the light family.  This is what gives a painting punch.  You can, also, juxtapose cool and warm colors in both families, which will make your color more exciting.

I intentionally pushed the chroma (intensity or vibrance if you like) on all my colors beyond my usual choices.  It was a lot of fun to paint this, and I'm going to experiment with it more.  Try it yourself.  Design a big, simplified light/dark pattern, and just let it rip!