Tuesday, July 31, 2012


OLD ROCK CABIN     9X12     oil on canvas panel
100+ degree temperature, insects that were barely discouraged by my Deep Woods Repellent,  a subject entangled in foliage and deadwood limbs.  I'm not making an excuse!  I'm talking about plein air painting in late july, in the Texas Hill Country.

I let it get to me.  I started with the best of intentions, and was enthusiastic about the subject, but 45 minutes into the painting I was being overcome by the circumstances, and I fell out of inspiration land.  I finished, because that's part of the game for me.  Do your best, and learn what you can.  No one painting defines your ability, and it's good to be overcome now and then.  It strengthens your resolve and makes you look deeper for what it takes to meet the challenge.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


HILL COUNTRY PASTURE     16x20    oil on linen
This was a delight to paint from beginning to end, and I had high expectations for a decent finish through the whole process.  One of the surest ways to help insure a successful painting is to have a solid plan before you begin.

There's a world of stuff out there competing for attention, but we need to simplify things down to a working plan.  In general, if you will design the scene before you into no more than three to five major shapes and arrange for a clear, well placed focal area the painting will have a better than average chance of being successful.

I've posterized this tonal version of my painting, and drawn lines around each major puzzle piece, to illustrate what I mean.  I've designed the sky, hillside, mid-ground trees, and foreground plane into four simple major shapes, and assigned them each an average value.  If you will stay close to the average value of each shape as you make your color choices, you can avoid chopping up your design and causing a "power failure".  It's the big simple shapes and values that usually make a painting strong.

Then, making a good decision about what and where the focus of the  painting will be just about insures that you'll come out on top.  Think about placing your focal area somewhere other than the dead center, or against one of the four boundaries.  Someplace, that is a different distance to each boundary is just one good guiding principle.  Draw attention to your focal area by using the greatest contrast of values, color, detail, texture, shape, hardest edges.  Whether you're painting outdoors, or in the studio, If you'll give consideration to these few things before beginning to paint, you're likely to have a lot more fun, and you'll better your odds of painting a winner.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


HAZY DAY IN MAY     12x16     oil on canvas panel
The last painting I posted was done on an overcast day.  Like I said, I usually steer clear of painting on these days because of the reduced contrasts and flattening of patterns due to the lack of light and shadow.  Still, I find myself drawn to the quiet muted color harmonies produced under this kind of lighting, and there's really no reason not to experiment with what's going on. It's still beautiful, just a bit more difficult to control.

This composition had to be designed in simplified bands of value shapes: sky, thicket, ground plane. If you're not careful the whole thing can become chaotic, because there aren't marked differences in the values. If you pay close attention to what's happening within these subtle value groups you find opportunities for working in temperature changes rather than strong value patterns.  There still has to be some type of organizing pattern of light and dark to unify the painting into an interesting design.  Here's what it looks like in values only.

See what I mean?  If the values don't work as a stand alone image, you don't have a painting worth painting.  I really like the look of this value study.  It invites my imagination to close on the picture.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Gray Day Harmony     12x16     oil on linen panel
I'm partial to painting sunny days.  The shadow patterns just make for such wonderful design and color opportunities, but hey, sometimes the sun won't shine.  There's still beauty all around, but it's a bit more of a balancing act to bring off a successful painting.

You need to pay close attention to the light/dark contrasts.  On a sunny day, the difference between shadow and sunlit areas can be as much as four value steps.  There will be a dramatic difference in the appearance of a particular hue when seen in the light and shade.  That difference accounts for wonderful color harmonies, with warm colors in the sunlight playing against cool, sky-lit colors in the shade.  On a cloudy day, often there are no apparent shadows to work with, so values and color temperature needs to be closely observed.  Also, atmospheric perspective plays a key role.  Things in the foreground will appear much warmer, while distant colors become more muted and cooled by the veil of moisture in the air.  Color, in general, can have a more uniformly saturated feel, being neither washed out by strong light or obscured by shadow, and grays play an important role as a foil to all the color.  Is it blue-gray, violet-gray, greenish-gray…?  

All that being said, there is something special, and moody feeling, about gray days.  For me, they have a quiet, dignity, and a unified feel that resonates with inner peace and a more reflective frame of mind.    

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Morning Pool    18x14     oil on linen panel
I frequently stumble into choosing to paint this kind of subject, because they're always so dramatic when encountered. Backlighting gives us the chance to make the most of the color harmony in the shadows.  Illumination is when the light source shines through a semi-translucent object, such as the leaves on trees, and I love the feeling of the light and bright color.

I was three quarters of the way through this one when I found myself struggling to bring the painting to a close.  "What's the problem?", I thought.  Ahh!  It's the value relationships.  I had to go back through all the shapes and carefully "key" the values so that the shadows were light enough to reveal their colors, and the hi-lights were high enough to produce the effect of illumination.

This one almost got away.  VALUES ARE KEY!  You can wind up in a big disappointing mess if you fail to plan the value range needed to pull off an effect.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Along The Pedernales    18x14  oil on linen panel
When I go out to paint, I'll usually have my camera with me.  I'll shoot a lot of material, almost randomly, to try and catch just about anything that may catch my eye.  I don't over-think the selection, because I'm primarily in search of a subject to paint right now, and there isn't the time.

Back in the studio, on rainy days like today, I'll pull out my file of photos and go through it tossing the obvious junk and culling the "possibles" into a folder.  When I'm done, I go through that folder to see what it was that I responded to in these photos.

Often, it's obvious, but other times it takes a bit of zooming in, re-cropping and re-designing shapes to dig out the gold nuggets.  What I end up with may often be only a very small piece within the original reference photo, but after doodling thumbnails and a bit of imagineering, my pulse quickens and I get that wonderful feeling…" I'm gonna paint this!"  I call these finds "magnificent incidents".

This particular subject was only an insignificant detail, relative to the full photo it came from.  But it became a magnificent incident once I stopped to appreciate the way the light was playing on the rhythmic forms, and the way they came together.  As a matter of fact the "mother photo-reference" still has a couple more magnificent incidents in it.  The painting I did that day, while out there, was just another study.  I'll probably never show it to anyone.  But it provided everything I needed to remember the way it all felt that morning.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


After The Bluebonnets     12x16    oil on canvas panel
This one is from a photo I shot while out painting on a friends ranch (attached below).  When I'm out painting I'll usually gather photo reference from the location to review later.  It comes in handy as information I may want to study more closely for a painting started as a plein air study, or it may be a springing point for an entirely new composition.

In this case, I was wowed by the vitality of the color in late spring. The bluebonnets had finished their display several weeks earlier, and there were now pastures carpeted with brilliant yellow wildflowers.  When I took the photo, I had no thought for what I may eventually do with it, although I knew it did not move me to want to paint the scene as I saw it.  The stuff in the scene, yes, but the composition was lacking design.

Back in my studio, a month and a half later, I was reviewing my photos.  When I saw this one again, I just decided to give it a go.  I asked myself, "what can I do to this to make it more interesting?".  I knew, of course, I wanted to take advantage of the gorgeous yellow carpet, but the question was how to create an abstract pattern of the landscape that included interesting shape relationships, with spatial cues and a center of interest.  After scribbling a few thumbnails I began to get a feel for it.  I added the left and right foreground shrubs to help unite the masses and give some shape variety.  I chose to place the caliche road to take the viewer into the picture and to the focal center.  I opened up the view to the distance a bit.  I decided to create a stronger light source than that of the hazy day when I shot the picture, and that allowed me to design some nice foreground shadows.

This is where the value of painting numerous plein air studies comes into play.  It gives you the confidence to invent what you'd like to see.  After all we're not cameras, we paint what moves us.