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.