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.