Tuesday, January 29, 2013


FALLEN WILLOW    8x10    oil on canvas panel
I was caught by the abstractness of this scene.  So, I tried doing a little study focusing on the shapes and values without much development.  I was surprised by how complete it feels.

I've started pre-mixing my colors before jumping in to paint.  I break down the composition into its basic, abstract shapes and select what seems to be the average color for each shape.  Two things are especially critical in doing this. First is to mix the proper value for each color in relation to the others, and then to try for the hue and intensity of each.

I see the shapes here as the sky shape in the reflection, the dark tree mass shape in reflection, the horizontal bank, the background trees and the focal shape of the willow tree.  Five shapes.  I try not to work with more than that.  It's usually all that's needed if you've done the work of selection and editing your subject to what's really important.  Three is even better, if you can manage it.  SIMPLE MASSES AND EXTREME CONTRASTS ARE THE KEY TO STRONG DESIGN.

Design isn't waiting for us in nature.  The artist must impose a design in order to express the one thing that is the organizing motive for the whole. Everything in the picture must support that chosen motive.The design we find in nature deals with the realities of survival and co-existence.  There is certainly beauty of design to be observed and learned from in nature, but it is rarely ready for transcription into a painting.  We, as artists, must choose from what we find, and then edit and re-arrange the material to express the thing we want to say. Radical simplification is necessary in order to deal with the vast amount of information available in any scene.

The camera non-selectively records everything the lens brings in.  This record is not an esthetic expression.  It is cold, factual and impersonal.  Even the photographer must, in some way, manipulate the image if he wants to emphasize esthetic concerns.  Simplification of shapes is the beginning of sound design.  From these we can effectively deal with line, size, direction, value, color and texture.  All of these need to be brought into a balanced harmony with unity.  Abstract simplification is absolutely necessary, unless you happen to be interested in copying information and detail, which is just too much work and no fun.

Monday, January 28, 2013


NOON COMMUNE    11x14    oil on canvas panel
Neither of these paintings tell the factual truth.  Both scenes are derived from places I enjoy painting, but both images arrived via my memory.

MEMORY SERVES   11x14   oil on linen panel
For me, one of the chief values of plein air painting is to obtain firsthand experience and notes from what goes on in nature.  When I'm out to paint plein air, I'm not thinking of coming back with finished work, or even something I intend to finish in the studio.  I do that now and then, but I don't want that kind of pressure when I'm out to study light and color.  I have a pile of oil sketches on small panels done out of doors, but I don't consider myself, primarily a plein air painter.      

When I come back to the sketch, weeks or months later, I have a recollection of the spot and the experience of painting it.  From the combination of the two, I begin to invent a picture in which my intention is to bring out a distillation of one thing that made me want to paint the scene, and how it makes me feel.  Everything is on the table, arrangement, subtraction or addition, color, key, sizes, whatever.  The memory and feeling become the filter for the facts of "reality".  

Thursday, January 24, 2013


QUIET OF MORNING   11x14  oil on linen panel
I have trouble making paintings out of overcast days. So, I keep trying one every now and then. Light and shade color relationships are different, values are closer, and without the definite shadow patterns, designing good shapes is a challenge.

On a sunny day the warm light of the sun brings out all the positive feeling warm colors (yellows, oranges, reds, pinks...), and the shadows take on the blue influence from receiving the reflected light of the sky.  The strong light casts interesting shadow shapes that are so nice for designing and making patterns.  Form is revealed by light, and color becomes beautiful as it is  varied to describe the form.  A sunny day just has so much to work with!

Gray days are very beautiful in their own way, but they're very subtle and more difficult to turn into a well designed painting.  To begin with the color relationships are altogether different.  The light filtered through the clouds is soft and cool, and the shadows retain more of their warmth without the blue sky to illuminate them.  The clear shadow shapes disappear and values are closer together.  Shapes are defined more by the inherent light or darkness of things, and subtle color shifts must be noticed and used to define form. The difference in effect feels much like that of the difference between a major and minor key in music.  There's a softer, more moody feeling to a gray day.  They are expressively different, and open a broader range of what the artist may have to say.   

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


HOMESTEAD   11x14   oil on linen panel
An interested reader asked about my choice of sizes, and panels panels versus stretched canvas. (If you like, you can read my answer in the comments of the previous post.)  So, here's an example of that at work.  This painting is not the plein air sketch, which though interesting had a number of problems that will keep it from being the kind of thing I want to show or send to the gallery.  For instance, the drawing was out of proportion and edges were poorly handled, but the feeling and color was interesting.  It captured the light and mood that had interested me to paint this subject in the first place.

I wanted to explore the potential of the idea further, so using the 8x10 I had done in the field, I took out an 11x14 to continue in the studio.  I was interested in getting the correct relationship of values, so as to make the warmth of the sun really shine on the house. Because of what I wanted to express about this scene, I chose the color to have the more barren feeling of late autumn, rather than, say, mid-summer with warm puffy clouds and flowers.  I discovered that what I liked about the color was the relatively deep, somber harmony of the landscape contrasted with the sun shining on the old house. Even the sky is a full value step darker than I would normally paint it.  That allowed me to have plenty of "muscle" left to make the light on the house appear more brilliant.

So, the studio piece was a further "study".  I didn't choose a larger canvas, because I was still searching for the elements that would bring the painting closer to the expression I'm after.  However, having gone this far with it, and obtaining interesting results. I am considering doing a 16x20 as a finished version, and really looking forward to carrying the theme forward. Make sense?

Friday, January 18, 2013


LITTLE OAK    12x16    oil on canvas panel
One of the best things I did for myself last year was making a commitment to do 100 paintings at Pedernales Falls State Park.  Not that I made my goal, but 73 isn't bad.  You do that many paintings in one place and your going to learn some things.

I went from happy anticipation during the first dozen to "Just go out there and paint.", after about three dozen. Then it was, "What am I doing? I've painted everything out here that I'm interested in!".  I had to dig deeper, and the edge had long gone where I was intimidated by painting duds.  I thought I already knew this, but the lesson was really coming home that you've gotta paint a lot of duds to get better.  So, I began inventing, using the scene in front of me as the reference material for what I want to say.  After a bit of this, it started getting to be more fun, and it began to look like there's all kinds of great stuff out there to make paintings from.  By the time I got into the sixties, I was starting to get the hang of it.  I still paint the duds now and then, but hey, that's part of the deal with going out to do studies.  The thing is, now I come back home with stuff I want to paint from in the studio.  I'll probably finish up my 100 studies this year, and then I'll see what's next.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


AUTUMN MOOD   11x14  oil on linen panel
This is from a trip I made to the Frio River in the Texas hill country this past fall.  The cypress were aflame, and the banks of the river were crowded with them.  The problem I found was that you could be on a stretch of the river where the display was so similar as to frustrate doing multiple studies.  This painting is my tribute to the whole glorious show.

Friday, January 11, 2013


UNDERCUT   8x10  study
I'm loving the Texas Hill Country more and more, the more I paint it.  Granted, we don't have anything like the Grand Tetons, or the California Coast around here, but there's a subtle beauty to be discovered in this "backyard" to my studio.

As my ability to see grows through continually painting, I'm attracted to paint what's all around me.  I guess some would say it's just not that spectacular, but I think that it's not what you paint but the way that you paint it.  I've got miles to go in improving my painting before I pass over this intimate landscape that is my home.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


AT THE SCULPTRESSES BOOTH   14x11   oil on linen  

A great way to dust off the cobwebs and shake out a few wrinkles is to try something totally outside of what you've been painting.  It tests your drawing skills, compositional thinking, use of color and approach.  It's been awhile since I've done anything figurative.

This, of course, is not a plein air painting.  It's composed from several photos I shot while visiting with a friend at an art fair.  I've been looking at this composition idea for a number of months and decided to just get it out of my system.  Lot of fun applying things I'm learning through my plein air work.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


RIVER TUNE     11x14     oil on linen panel
I'm going through past work, looking for possible entries in upcoming shows.  This one is from last November on the Pedernales River.

When I'm working on a painting that gets into a nice groove, and things begin to work together, it often reminds me of music.  There's a rhythm, a key, melody and harmony, and it's all played against contrasting elements. When it's right there's a feeling that comes with it that makes it all so worthwhile to paint.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


NEW YEAR    11x14   oil on linen panel
2012 was a good year, with some wonderful surprises.  I was honored to win Best In Show for the Outdoor Painters Society Associates Showcase.  I won an honorable mention in the Plein Air Southwest Salon.  I was awarded first and second place in the Columbus Texas Paint Out, and second place at the Marble Falls, Paint the Town competition.  I enjoyed making many new painting friends this past year, and attending several very good painting workshops with favorite painters.

  It's been a good a holiday, and now it's time to get on with plans for the new year.  My own goals and plans are not especially long term.  I tend to wind up not following through on those, for whatever reasons.  The things I've set in front of myself to accomplish mostly target my painting.  Painting more regularly, outside and inside.  Entering certain shows and competitions, adding certain galleries, and getting better about letting others know what I'm doing.  My mom used to say, "It's a poor dog that won't wag his own tail".  I'm looking forward to another good year, and I hope yours will be happy and prosperous.