Friday, November 14, 2014

Settling for Fewer Plein Air Paintings

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Fall is the best time to go out and see the colors in nature before winter settles in. Late summer is what I had to settle for this year. August was as far as I got.

To not belabor the facts, I started with a leg infection in June, it went to my artificial knee and I ended up only having one knee after the surgeon plucked out the offending joint, mid October. There went my plein air painting for the better part of the summer and into winter. Can you say envious???

But I did manage to get to Maine to paint about nine paintings, some of which are still awaiting finishing details and slight attention in the studio. This painting is one that was done totally onsite, so very early in the morning, that the pink was still in the sky. It made it into the Randy Higbee 6 inch squared show in Costa Mesa. Some day I am going to go and actually see one of my paintings hanging alongside some people whose work I greatly admire. This entire show is populated by pieces no larger than 6x6 inches. Its a big show made up of teeny tiny paintings. 

So if you get the chance to stop by and take a peek, its on Kalmus Street, Costa Mesa, and will run from Dec 6th through the month.

Here is my little painting "Dawn, Port Clyde Me."

Dawn, Port Clyde Me.
6x6 oil
Currently showing at the Randy Higbee Gallery, Costa Mesa, December 2014
Plein Air pieces may be sparse from me for a bit.......there's a new knee that's gonna be under the Christmas tree this year. About time!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Panting in Maine

Life has been hectic since my return from a painting trip to Maine, combined with a BIG loop to visit family and friends, through Tennessee and North Carolina. I intended to paint along the way, but the rain followed me and dogged my route. Huge sheets of it. I thought Texas was having a drought?

Coupled with last minute preparations for the BRAI sponsored plein air competition and show we are having October 9th to the 12th, getting into the El Paso International Show, and the Clifton AZ  Colors of Copper Show, makes my plate just a tad bit over overflow right now. But I thought you might enjoy a few of the paintings I did in Maine. I am intuitively dialed into that palette and have to feel my way to the palette of the Southwest. Growing up under a canopy of trees makes you welcome the quiet places, shadowy and light dappled. Occasionally I have to return to refill my soul and to hear the accent that filled my ears as I grew up.

The first piece is the view to the left of the Port Clyde, Me. Lighthouse, titled “The Sentry”. I love the pines in the Northeast. They have obvious character, having survived the onslaught of numerous murderous winters. They reach for the sky and they thrive. There’s a lesson there.

The second piece is a view of a garden along Turkey Cove, an ocean inlet just outside Port Clyde and Thomaston, Me. The light filtered through the boughs, and gently teased it’s way through the branches to fall on the flowers. The house was nestled in among the trees and was totally at home surrounded by the huge pines. You could smell the ocean on the breeze. The entire experience was timeless. There was a feeling of permanence to the lovely grounds, so I call this piece “Timeless”.

Both of these pieces 8x10 were executed during a workshop with Don Demers. He is astounding. Best of all for me, was his total New England wit; slightly sarcastic, self deprecating and insightful. Loved it. It was wicked good. His ability to drill into the crux of the painting problem you are having, and gently suggest solutions was very helpful. His demos were worth the trip alone. I have at least six more pieces from that week that are not ready for viewing and one is a germ for a much larger piece to keep me busy while the winds howl here this winter. It was worth every interminable mile that I had to drive in the mugginess and rain of the Eastern part of the country. 

The sun came out to play the whole time I was on the coast. Maine sparkles in the sun, like a gem. It was a welcome to remember.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

You Know What They Say About The Best Laid Plans

You wait for a nice spell of weather, thinking to get out and paint, and then you get an infected leg and artificial joint. So much for careful plans. All the result of a little tiny bug bite, the leg and subsequent hospital emergency room visits, and doctor visits have slowed down any outdoor painting plans that I had. But my friend Gay Scheibl called and said ”lets go paint at my  house.” She just got a new deck put on the south side of her Silver home and it even had a roof! So there would be no painting on the ground, subject to bug bites and no sunscreen. Just a lovely day of painting.
Her property is so cleaned up since the first time I saw it. They have certainly been busy. When you buy an older home you are required to spruce it up, and they have been sprucing. There are lots of outbuildings of various configurations and ages too, not to mention a deep arroyo carved out by Whiskey Creek. It’s a great place to paint.
She has an old shed, complete with old wringer washer, and that is what I painted. There was no laundry on the line, but the added in bits were necessary to explain the washer. So I put out her laundry for her (figuratively speaking). And the soil where she lives (we are separated by only ten miles) is far redder than the limestone cap we live upon. I loved the complementary play of the very green trees with the red pigmented earth.
11 x 14 oil on lined prepared board

This is “Washday”. An 11 x 14 that saved my sanity after not painting for 5 weeks. Shoot.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Thrilled to Get Best Of Show!Open For Business

I had not planned on painting in the Ralph Love Plein Air Competition. But, I went and painted for two mornings. There were other artists there, painting the week long. You could see plein air artists up and down Front Street, Temecula on any given morning. The light was perfect, the heat held off till midday and the passersby were congenial and interested. How fun.

We handed in all paintings on Saturday from 12 to 3. They were hung for the public to view in the convention center, downtown, Old Town, Temecula for the remainder of the weekend. It was a lovely facility.

On Sunday, I went to retrieve my two submitted paintings. Only one could be submitted to be judged.  So I picked the small one, an 8 x 10 of the store European Living. The owner of the store had been particularly friendly and the spot was lovely, with parking directly in front and the light breaking over the right back side of the building. Open for Business was its title. When I entered the convention room, I was thrilled to see a ribbon. I thought, ‘Great! I won a third!”.
The Judges awarding the Best Of Show Prize
Yup, to me!!!

As I got closer, I read the ribbon – BEST OF SHOW !!! Holy C#&p! 

I have waited a long time for that elusive award. I had resigned myself to never getting it. I had told myself that many artists went their career long never getting the Best of Show, and to be happy for anything thrown my way. A grateful heart is far more becoming than sour grapes.

The only thing I can say is that there was an over abundance of paintings of the new bridge in town, and that each one had to be compared to the next one. You can only do so much with a landmark. Originality of concept is as much a part of painting as are the actual strokes. There were some competent paintings there. But there was a commonality that ran through the most of them.
Open For Business
Part of the Municipal Collection of Temecula CA.

It was a purchase prize show; which means that my little $260 painting got me $500 and will hang in the City Hall as part of their permanent collection. My daughters who live in Temecula will be there to accept the award in my place. My granddaughter Taylor was there when it was announced. How cool for her to see her grandma win.

I have always wanted to paint Old Town Temecula. What a lovely experience. I am glad I waited.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Big and the Little, Views, That Is

I have spent the last two months or so bouncing between Texas, AZ, CA and NM, having company and hosting an oil pastel workshop. And I will be going back to CA later this month to see the Sorolla show at the San Diego Museum. So I have not painted as much as I would have liked. I have painted several still lifes, and because they were painted from life, probably qualify as a plein air experience. The studio windows were open so that counts, right?
But while I have been home, I have painted several views of the area here. Two specifically come to mind, one a mountain range view of the Mogollons and the other a far more intimate view of the road leading up our mountain. Both are done on 11 x 14 prepared wood boards with linen. I find I am pleased with that format for the road piece, but wish I had used a wider one for the mountain range.

Other differences include color choices and the angle of the sun. I was looking square into the sun when I painted “The Plume Is Blooming” and the sun was coming up over my right shoulder in the “On the Way to Mogollon”. I think the treatment of the paint in the Apache plume piece is far more impressionistic and uses a wider range of color. Conversely, the more limited range of color in the Mogollon piece leads to a more harmonic painting. Both have their strengths, but I feel as though they look to be done by different people. To be fair my goals were different in both. Maybe one is by my evil twin.

The Plume's a Blooming
Oil on linen covered board
The plume is blooming is actually a rework of a piece that I had painted last year with Ken Auster’s limited palette. It took me two weeks to figure out that that palette was not my personal one. The alizarin was way too strong a purple. I am currently trying out a couple of madders that have purple undertones but are not as all consuming as alizarin. So when I spied this piece in the studio, I took it down to the flats of the canyon and decided I couldn’t foul it up anymore than it was already. The amazing thing is that I gave myself permission to fail with this and have fun.  It is far more successful than the first attempt. And you really get the feeling of the muted silvery plume being lit on the tips by the sun rising. And the evergreens are believable, and not little stick trees.
On the Way To Mogollon
Oil on linen covered board

On the way to Mogollon was an amazing morning, golden with hints of the hot day coming on. The most memorable thing about this piece is how EVERY single car or truck passing by slowed way down. I know that out here, in the country people stop to offer help to those who have broken down. Distances are far and roads are long. But once they saw my bright blue umbrella and realized what I was doing, they often honked their horns and waved as they went on by. To be serenaded by the cows and refreshed by a soft summer breeze is a great way to start the day. The only real pain about doing this painting, was that as I packed up to go, the view over my backside had changed so dramatically that now I need to go back and paint it. Nobody would believe the blue of the mountains.

So what’s the thought here? 

Little view or the big picture, which is your favorite?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dare to Fail UP - thoughts on the creative process

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According to the Huffington Post’s third metric, redefining success beyond money and power, truly creative people often “Fail Up”.

What do they mean? Simply stated, truly creative minds often set themselves a goal or a problem, and try multiple solutions. They ruminate and allow their inner voice to be the guide to truly wonderful and some not so wonderful pathways. They fail more than they succeed. But the difference is that they do not translate that failure into a measure of personal failure. They tend to look at periodic and often repeated failures to achieve a goal as simply steps in their process of discovery to what does work. It’s that miles and miles of canvas thing again, rearing its insistent head.  And have you ever heard of WD40? Thirty nine failures? No - thirty nine tries to get to the success.

Lucky for me, a friend once said that the bulldog could use persistence lessons from me. Thanks John.

I often try things that do not work. I often change media just to shake up my unconscious  work habits.  New formats cause me to think in a different way. A rut becomes something to avoid at all costs. So I change supports and their measurement ratio. Changing a comfortable subject for one painted less often becomes a good idea. I might try working with oils more as a watercolor at first application. I might try glazing over an acrylic underpainting. One time I might try drawing with the brush on a canvas, only to use a color block in method the next time or a tonal wipe out on the third piece. An undertone to my painting support might become a raucous color tone of the opposite color on the color wheel, to what I envision the finish to be. I DO envision the finished piece before I start; the better to know when I am done.
Block In - Avoiding trail horses and almost as big ants

I read. I read about how to think of my work differently, to try something new, to critique it for different things. I love Maggie Price’s book on how to work through creative blocks. I read it even when I am not blocked. It keeps the creative juices flowing.
And I am not alone. Meredith Milstead, in her blog Excursions, shows a wiped out attempt at a plein air pastel followed by a lovely desert landscape. She showed the wipeout for crying out loud! Yay Meredith! She worked through it. But she got there by learning that what she tried before wasn’t going to work this time. She failed UP, and she succeeded.

I fail UP, choosing to put the emphasis on the UP part and not on the fail part of that term; because lately I am learning ever so much. A lot of my work lately has been wipers. I tell myself that it is the process. I am still building strength. I am still honing my eye.  I am becoming a critical viewer, a step that is essential to becoming a critical painter.

Painting certain elements in a composition are fraught with frustration. Maybe this time it’s a car, or a truck or a building. I have been known to wipe out an entire rocky beach because it contained, you guessed it , ROCKS. So it is with some trepidation that I show you this painting “Triangle  T Trail”, painted at the Triangle T Ranch in Texas Canyon, just off the I10, East of Benson AZ. It’s of an area known locally as Boulder Cove. I think that might have made a better title, had I known it. It’s between that rock and  a hard place, just south of the  interstate. I recommend stopping by if you need a place to stay and rest. The folks there are super.
Triangle T Trail
Oil 12x16 - Available

So regardless of the pressure to produce works, I find it more of a pressure to produce GOOD works. I paint and sometimes I wipe and paint over. I keep reminding myself to aim for higher than I think I can grasp and to allow the process of ‘failing UP’ to help me fulfill my promise.
Failing UP can be a really good thing, you see.

"Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often," Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein's creative genius.

Calling All Artists! 
Please click here to go to Black Range Art for exciting news about an October 2014 opportunity to show your art, win prizes and take part in a new New Mexico Art Event!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Prepping For An Oil Pastel Workshop

Because there are no supports to get the result that I like with oil pastels, I have devised a way to get my preferred surface by making it myself. Soft pastel artists also do this because of the desire to work with a non-commercially prepared support, with predictable evenness of texture. Karen Margulis comes to mind, with her unique homemade supports.

My very first plein air was in oil pastel. I had no idea what they were or how to use them. They simply seemed easy to travel with. After all, my set was in a wooden box with a handle. Now how convenient was that, for trundling through the fields with paper or board under my arm looking for an aesthetic epiphany?  

Nobody told me they melt when left in the car, and we lived in sunny southern California at that time. Nobody said how like lipstick this medium was to work with, all smooshy (technical term) and greasy to use. Nobody warned me how difficult it was to get them to stick on some papers, I guess Bristol was a poor first choice. And there was a real lack of direction on how to go about using these things, and precious little in the way of receptive papers, when I first started working in oil pastel.

I was pretty upset with my first effort. And it did seem curious that everyone in the plein air group came by to remark on what the medium I was using was, and gee, they couldn’t understand why I was using that particular medium. My first piece was not what I would call a rousing success. I was challenged. It was difficult. And yes the oils and watercolors did look easier to use.
Well there were several reasons for the shortcomings of my then chosen medium:
1.      There were no commercially prepared supports available in my city that I knew about.
a.      I had to prepare my own
b.      I still do this
2.      There was little in the way of recipes that I could find on how to prepare a ground
a.      Recipes were available for homemade soft ground pastel supports, not for oil pastel
b.      Soft pastel grounds were not ‘toothy’ enough and filled too quickly with oil pastel
3.      I had to mail order my materials
a.      This is still true as my local art store does not carry what I need, though where I get my materials has changed
4.      I had no work area where I could prep boards and let them lay about until they were dry enough for multiple layers of applied ground
a.      This is the one thing that has massively changed – I now have a HUGE studio where processing supports does not impede my work flow

Thinking about the problem led me to understand that I could use a combined approach, and start by making my own supports. The first time I tried this medium after the plein air foray, I ordered an abrasive additive from a supply house in Washington state. This supplier no longer carries the abrasive, so I now order from Jerry’s online. A material that Matisse Derivan (Australian art supply maker) calls crushed garnet, is similar and yet, still finer than what I used to use. When suspended in diluted gesso and rolled on with a fine foam roller, it leaves a surface that is similar, if not as rough. The rougher version gives more broken color upon application, but I have yet to find a supplier for a rougher grade crushed garnet or crushed marble dust.
Crushed Garnet Abrasive Additive For Oil Pastel Grounds

Start with an MDF board or untempered masonite board no thicker than 1/8 to ¼ in thickness, precut to the desired size. Sand the side you will use, the smooth side. This provides a surface to which the gesso will adhere effectively.
Rough Back Side on Left - Smooth Side on Right

 Then start by applying one coat of gesso, unadulterated from the container, on the reverse side to seal in the board. Seal the edges at this point as well. Let dry. Drying time will vary as to the moisture in the air and the ambient temperature. If it is dry, it should not be cool to the touch.

Using a large, empty Cool Whip container with lid, as the mixing bowl and the storage for unused recipe, I assemble the following:

  • 1 wooden paint stirring stick
  • 1 measuring cup
  • 1 container of crushed garnet
  • 1 bottle or can of white acrylic gesso
  • Cut, sanded boards, my choice of size
Mix the abrasive ground in roughly this manner:
To 3 cups gesso, mix in one cup of water and the entire container of Matisse Derivan crushed garnet. If you prefer a toned support, mix in acrylic color at this point, to the desired color saturation.
Mix thoroughly with a wooden paint mixer stick, suspending the crushed garnet. There will be tiny little dark red dots similar in look to vanilla beans in cream.
One Coat Applied - Wet Area Still Shines
(I use wooden blocks under the boards to forestall sticking to the work table)

With a foam roller, roll this mixture onto the sanded boards. Go in one direction. Go in another direction on the second layer. 

It is not a commercially made product, so do not trouble yourself about evenness as there will not be a uniform deposit of garnet. The unevenness of the materials deposit allows for some serendipitous effects down the road when working with this support. You must wait until it is totally dry to paint on another layer. Failure to wait until the first and any subsequent layers are dry, before over-painting to even things out, will result in picking up with your roller what you have initially laid down. In other words it totally fouls up the works and you will have to do more remedial layers to approximate a semi-even layer deposit.  Keep your gesso thinned and the suspension stirred for the best results.
Finished Board With Uneven Texture
Happy Effects Waiting to Happen!

I keep my little roller in a zip-lock snack bag to limit air exposure between applications to not waste time, water and product washing out my roller, not to mention my hands.
I hope you will try this as it is a really fun support to work with.

I will be doing a free, one day workshop in Silver City on how to proceed from the finished support on June 7th, 2014. Email me if you would like to participate.  For hands on, there is a materials charge for your prepared board.

Calling All Artists! 
Please click here to go to Black Range Art for exciting news about an October 2014 opportunity to show your art, win prizes and take part in a new New Mexico Art Event!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

New Mexico Peppers - A Pastel Workshop

In New Mexico, February is usually cold and blustery, with snow and ice thrown in for good measure. That is why I have my yearly pastel workshop, here, in that month. Also, it’s a really good thing to have something to look forward to after the holiday stuff has been packed away and everyone hits the mid-winter doldrums. So while this is not plein air, there is a setup available for the students to look at.

This year, it was in the mid 60s! What’s up with that? We did have the wind though.

I always ask myself what I can do to make the next workshop better than the one we just completed. Next year, I am going to include how to frame a pastel correctly. We did not even get close to that topic. And perhaps it will be a two day Friday/Saturday workshop with an optional Sunday to finish if a body feels pressed for time.

Julie working away

For this project, I thought that everyone might enjoy a piece of the Southwest. So I took my handmade Indian pots and set them up with some bright red peppers that were available in the market. Below you can see the efforts of the students. A couple of them had never worked this way. 

Ruth - working to done
Diana - almost there

Lyn - almost there
Mary Jo - almost done

Marianne - with her piece close
to finsihed
Julie - almost done

It’s not a scrubby way of working. I usually save that for my landscapes in pastel. Following this deliberate way of working, an artist works out compositional problems at the drawing stage and once that is done, the artist can just immerse themselves in the passion of applying the pigment in a rich saturated way.

Need help with title - suggestions please?
I like that at that stage, I can concentrate on value and temperature to make the piece coherent. Color is then the reward I get for the prior work. And I love the juiciness and satisfaction I get of applying that color.

This is in need of a title…..never did get around to that. So help me out here. What is its name?

An 8x10 print goes to whoever names it.

Favorite quote:
Artists must know what they are doing and how they are going to do it, while allowing room for spirit and intuition to influence the creative experience.    (Donald Demers)

Calling All Artists! 
Please click here to go to Black Range Art for exciting news about an October 2014 opportunity to show your art, win prizes and take part in a new New Mexico Art Event!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An Art Lesson From the Beatles

This week, in fact in four days, those of us who are old enough will remember the Beatles and the British Invasion of the 1960s.
Why is this important? Well why are the Dutch masters important to Western Civilization’s Art?
Both are important for the very same reason. They were and continue to be seminal influences on the generations of artists that came after them. I heard one commentator say that on February 8th 1964, nobody knew who they were, and that on February 10th, every kid wanted to BE them. Such was the power of the Ed Sullivan Show In those days. Every kid had a garage band and everyone wanted to sound like them.
But the interviewer for CBS had a far more profound observation than “they looked so happy and they were having such fun”. If you are old enough to remember, you hear their music and even today it puts a smile on your face. They were smart, they were energetic, they were happy, and they were fun. And we needed it.
The really smart musicians thought through the imitation and developed their own talents, using the Beatles as their unknowing mentors. But even as they did that, the ones in the know noticed that they no soon as got the sound down, than the Beatles’ sound changed. That’s right they kept reinventing themselves. They even went to India to study and learn Eastern instruments well after their fame and fortune had been insured. They never stopped changing their sound while keeping their focus of producing great and often thought provoking music. They continued to change and redefine themselves even after the group's disbanding and the death of two of their group. I'll never forget the day when one of my girl's asked me if I knew that Paul McCartney had belonged to another group before he was in Wings!!!
I think as a listener and definitely a fan of the four young men who needed a haircut, I knew what they were doing from an artistic standpoint, even though what I know about music is minimal.
They consistently REINVENTED themselves. They learned. They grew. And they took us along for the ride. Whether you like the Beatles or not, you have to admit that John Lennon’s “Imagine” is about as far as you can get from “It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night” and their early sound bites. They evolved.

What better lesson for artist or musician than that?

For a prospectus to take part in a great Plein Air Event in Southern New Mexico, this October 2014, please go to

Favorite quote:
·        People can relate to the musicality of shapes... Painting is 'silent music'... Soft and hard edges are similar to loud and soft notes... Harmony, chords, pitch, rhythm, syncopation and timber can all be translated to the visual arts.
     Clyde Aspevig