Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Winter Still Life Retreat

 After a couple of months painting alone in the studio, I gladly accepted John Lasater's invitation to join him and Jason Sacran for still life painting in his studio near Siloam Springs, Arkansas. They are both outstanding artists and I was hoping I could bring some encouragement or advice to the table also.

John liked to set up complex scenes and then crop in on them.

John's most ambitious painting still in progress. The photo does not do it justice.

Jason's first piece. His work defies labelling as either traditional or contemporary.

Jason finishing up his second painting, a daring composition.

For my first piece, I chose a traditional setup with complimentary colors.

My second painting, "No Cream, No Sugar" 9 x 12, oils.

To see more of John's work:
To see more of Jason's work:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Getting Even Looser


Transformation, 8 x 10, oil on canvas.
This is part of a series of paintings that I'm doing to force myself out of old habits. This time I did most of the painting with a palette knife but also added soft sable flats for modelling the paint. I photographed this spectacular sunset back in April and when I looked at my photos thought that it was too dramatic to paint. It took six months for me to even consider trying, which I guess makes it the perfect candidate for taking chances. First I toned the canvas with burnt sienna and wiped that down. I then painted the shadows in the lower portion with thin paint. Time to get crazy with the palette knife and all the brightest colors in the sky. After all that it was a push/pull of finding/losing edges and the play of cool vs. warm. I'm pleased with the moody, impressionistic results.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Palette Knife Study


Hay Bales, 6 x 8, oils
This little study is part of a series I'm starting to shake myself out of my comfort zone. I still tend to fall back on my illustration skills when a painting gets tough so I needed some exercises that make that harder to do. That's where the palette knife comes in. I've used one before to help lay extra paint down but I would always do the initial block in and then finish with brushes. This time I used the knife as my primary tool. I also made it an emphasis to not over mix paint on the palette. With paint this thick I found myself editing by scraping paint down or picking it up in one area to put it somewhere else. Try doing that with thin paint!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Big Cedar Paint Out 2012


Sunlight Portal, 10 x 12, oils.
   It was late October and I was in shorts and a t-shirt with the AC on. An unseasonable 82˚F as I drove through the Missouri Ozarks on my way to Big Cedar Paint Out, the perfect exclamation mark for the end of the plein air season. (Eight events in five states over a period of seven months, I probably overdid it this year.) During the three days at Big Cedar Lodge, we were hit with a wet cold front that brought temps down to 26˚F before all was said and done. It sent some artists indoors to warm fireplaces but many of us stuck with it.
   I ended up with five paintings, entering two in the nocturne and quickpaint competitions and two more for final judging. The painting pictured above was executed during two mornings in Dogwood Canyon. When I came upon the scene, the glow under the bridge was intense but only lasted a few minutes. As I continued it became overcast and I had to abandon the sunlit areas but could still work on the shadows. The second morning was cloudy and 40 degrees colder. Eventually the sun came out and I could proceed with the sparkling creek and glow under the bridge, painting for a few minutes at a time before having to warm my hands in my pockets.
   The painting took Third Place Best of Show in competition and was purchased by Big Cedar owner Jeanie Morris. I also sold another painting from Dogwood Canyon but was unable to photograph it before the sale.

Accepting Third Place Best of Show with judge John Budicin.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Painting an Urban Canyon


Equinox, 12" x 16", oil on canvas
I've had this idea in floating around for over a couple of years to paint the sunset streaming through the streets of downtown Kansas City. I quickly realized that this only happens around the Spring and Fall equinox when the sun sets due west and not too far north or south. I've been there on a couple of occasions and still haven't caught what I'm looking for but at least it was close enough to work from. I did everything I could to make the warm distance the center of interest but the couple in the foreground is giving it some serious competition. I underestimated the power of the human figure.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Six Inches by Six Inches


Windows Made of Sky, 6" x 6",  oils
   I had so much fun painting for last years Randy Higbee Six Squared show last year that I got a head start on it this time. I spent six weeks in Rocky Mountain National Park in the last year and all four paintings are based on that experience. The first is from near an old logging road in the foothills. What attracted me to the scene was the sense of air between the trees and the ridge across the valley. Pallette knife was used extensively to really lay some paint down. I kept thinking of Monet's poplar series while working on it and even looked them up for pointers on getting the value and color temperature of the trunks right.

Storm Over Chapin Pass, 6" x 6", oils
   The second piece was supposed to be a plein air painting at Horseshoe Park but as soon as I got set up and ready to paint the storm hit. Then I was breaking it down and racing to the car as fast as I could. I did manage to snap a couple of pictures though. On this one I wanted to tell the story with colorful grays of similar value.

Reflections, 6" x 6", oils
   The third painting is from the trail to Mill's Lake but it could be so many places. The highest contrast and brightest color would place the center of interest where the water flows past the footbridge. But it's not what excited me about the scene. For me the "holy grail" was the reflection of the sky on the water in the foreground. I've seen a few painters capture this and I wanted to try it for myself.
   For my fourth submission I revisited that '55 Chevy from Estes Park. Update: Three of the four were accepted in the show. Only "Reflections" missed the cut.

'55 Chevy, 6" x 6", oils

Monday, September 10, 2012

Plein Air Rockies 2012

The Big Thompson River runs right through downtown Estes Park.
I was again honored to be juried into Plein Air Rockies. In previous events I've spent most of my time painting pristine nature in Rocky Mountain National Park. This year I decided to change it up and feature more architecture and man made elements.

Big Tom's Lazy Side, 9 x 12, oils.
  I started by painting the Big Thompson River as it meanders it's way through downtown Estes Park. The light kept changing from sunny to cloudy but I feel like I captured the it pretty well.

Upon this Rock, 12 x 16, oils.
I also challenged myself by attempting a 12" x 16" painting which is big for me. I chose the complex architecture of St Malos Church. It took three mornings to finish this piece.

The Spirit of '55, 9 x 12, oils.
I'm really not into old trucks. I have to ask the owners what the year make and model are. I do like painting them though.

In the Shadow of Stone's Peak, 4 x 6, oils.
Once again we were given a 4 x 6 Sourcetek panel to submit for a miniature competition.

A Show for the Old Man, 9 x 12, oils.
This year they added a competition to paint Mrs. Walsh's garden across from the Cultural Arts Council gallery. I chose to setup inside the garden but paint a vista featuring Old Man Mountain with Deer Ridge in the distance. The piece won an award of merit. This combined with some sales helped make the trip worth all the effort.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Summer Studio Work

Heading for the Light, 12 x 16, oils.
After four back-to-back plein air events I retreated to the studio and it's beckoning climate control. Just like last year, I found that months of painting from life had improved my eye for color, values and brushwork when applied to studio work. I started by going over photos and studies from the last six months. I might spend a whole day playing with photos, re-cropping them and making notes to simplify or move elements. I was also eager to try a new canvas size: 12 x16. It is now my favorite. It's strengths are that it is large enough to take ambitious subjects and have impact on a wall but small enough to finish while the entire painting is still wet. This gorgeous effect is so prized that it has a couple of fancy names: Alla Prima (Italian) and Premier Cru (French.)

The two pieces I completed could not be more different. "Heading for the Light" was based on photos taken on a cold, January hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was one of the most spectacular scenes I have witnessed with my own eyes. I love how Hallett Peak is casting such a defined shadow on Flattop Mountain. "Darkness on the Edge of Town" is from Van Buren, Arkansas at the end of the hottest day of the year. It had hit 114˚F that afternoon and was still in the nineties when I did a plein air study of the side street. The two different colored street lights are the obvious center of interest but what drew me to the scene was the train overpass in the shadows. The final piece is based on the study and photos taken at the time.

Darkness on the Edge of Town, 12 x 16, oils.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Extreme Painting: Arkansas in July

I paint on a lot of cliffs. At least this one has a rail.
With temperatures going above 100˚F everyday, painting outdoors is not a good idea. Artist Jason Sacran and I tried to create a plan that would be safe and bearable. We would get up early and try to do a painting before the heat really kicked in. We'd spend the afternoons in the studio and end each day with a sunset or nocturne. The first morning worked like a charm. We drove to the top of Mount Magazine, the highest summit between the Appalachians and the Rockies. It was at least twenty degrees cooler on top than down on the plains. With a slight breeze, I was actually comfortable.

Cameron Bluffs, 6 x 12, oils.
That afternoon we headed for the studio where Jason finished up some in-progress paintings and I started my first self-portrait. The plan of attack was to paint just like doing a landscape, blocking in the major shapes and then breaking them into smaller ones and saving a few details for last. It was great having a portrait specialist around for feedback.

Fifty-Two, 11 x 14, oils.
For the evening we went back up Mount Magazine to paint the sunset. I ended up chasing the light and creating a piece that I will not post here. Hey, they aren't all winners. The most exciting moment was coming upon what we believe was a young mountain lion. We were within 50 ft. and got a good look at it. It was larger than a German Shepherd, had short hair, no stripes and roundish ears. The last three details don't match the description of the more common bobcat.

A Bit Drafty, 6 x 12, oils.
We had a stream in mind to paint the next morning but found it completely dried up and ended up painting at an old farmhouse near the studio. Jason painted Mount Magazine with an old fence line in the foreground. The composition required standing in full sun and Jason had to quit after only 45 minutes. He still pulled off a nice piece. I chose to set up in a shady spot and paint an old barn. I loved the yellow green light pouring through all the cracks. Still, it felt dangerously hot and when we got back to the studio, his outdoor thermometer read 105˚F in the shade. It would eventually reach 113˚F. We opted for a nocturne that evening but got caught in a thunderstorm after about 20 minutes of painting. The rain felt great and was desperately needed.

I'd love to paint in the Arkansas River Valley again but next time let's make it Fall or Spring.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Surrounded by Fire


Fall River at Aspenglen, 9 x 12, oils
   My second week in Colorado was unofficial business and more of an opportunity to paint and shoot photographs on my own in the national park. The High Park Fire was in full blaze and more fires were popping up in Boulder, Colorado Springs and even one right in Estes Park that destroyed 21 homes. It felt a bit inappropriate to be painting at such a time but I have no expertise in fire-fighting and if people were afraid this would hurt tourism, then the best thing I could do was to continue my trip and support local businesses financially.

St Vrain Creek, 9 x 12, oils
After last weeks alpine vistas, I started out with an emphasis on painting water and it's effects. I'm sure I will paint it the rest of my life and never tire of it.

Horseshoe Park Haze, 9 x 12, oils
   OK, that was fun, now let's get back to some mountains. I was in Colorado and the snow in the high country was melting fast. It would not be there when I came back in August. The Highpark fire was creating a haze that made the mountains look even more distant than normal as you can see in the painting of Horseshoe Park. Thankfully it also created clouds which eventually brought us some afternoon thunderstorms.
  My last painting was from near the Cub Lake Trailhead. I've been coming to Rocky Mountain National Park regularly for most of my life and I just discovered this view! May the discoveries never end.

Spruce Canyon, 10 x 12, oils

Monday, July 23, 2012

OPA Plein Air Tent Sale


Misty Morning, 9 x 12, oils
 The first day was called "The Pampered Paint Out" and was hosted by Southwest Art Magazine Sales Manager Kimberly Moore at her mountain hideaway. It was surprisingly foggy and cold after weeks of heat and drought. I got in my first piece in the morning and then headed down the hill to join the other artists for a cookout featuring live folk music. Did I mention wine? Pampered it was.

Kimberly's View 10 x 12, oils
 The clouds broke up a bit in the afternoon and I was able to get in a second piece. I really needed the practice on granite boulders and pine trees which are not so common in Missouri. I also discovered that oils dry much faster at high/dry elevation than I'm used to.

Perched on the cliff at Juniper Pass. I'm on the left in the dark shirt.

 The second day I joined Dave Santillanes, Susiehyer and other artists at Juniper Pass, one of the many beautiful pullouts on the road to Mt Evans. I chose an extreme vertical format to paint the incredible cliff wall I was looking down at.

Vertical Vista, 8 x 14, oils SOLD
For the afternoon I headed down to Idaho Springs to get my lovely wife and bring her back up to Mt Evans. It's a drive that is best shared. I chose to setup at Summit Lake while Gina took off to explore the summit and meet some regular mountain goats and bighorn sheep. At 12,900 ft., Summit Lake is the highest I have ever painted (500 ft. higher than Trail Ridge Tundra Walk for those keeping score.)

My right hand is holding the easel down due to the wind.
 One minute it would be perfectly calm and the next the wind off the lake was coming at me at 45 mph. The light was changing quickly so I had to move likewise and by the time Gina returned, I was ready to pack up.

Afternoon at Summit Lake, 9 x 12, oils  SOLD
 I could only turn in two paintings for the OPA Tent Sale so I chose the last one because of the sunshine and dramatic scenery. The best part? Both paintings sold, paying for my whole trip.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

STEMS Plein Air 2012

Without cluttering it up with a bunch of copy, here are my best efforts:

Striking Similar Poses, 10 x 12, oils.
A Midnight Snack, 6 x 12, oils.
Grandpa Dible's Tractor, 9 x 12, oils.
American Counter Culture, 8 x 10, oils.
Portrait of a Sycamore, 8 x 10, oils.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Painting Close to Home

With a couple of weeks off between the White River and STEMS plein air events, you would think I would want to take a break from painting outdoors but the perfect weather beckoned otherwise. I decided to treat the time like it was another paint out, this time making home my base of operations. It's easy to think that there is nothing interesting to paint close to home but that's seldom the case. It's one of the most important challenges an artist has. So I revisited local places and themes, always trying to find ways to keep them fresh.

Sailboat Cove, 8 x 10, oils.
 First stop, Sailboat Cove at Lake Jacomo. As always the biggest challenge was the boats spinning in circles. It's a great way to learn to paint from memory. Hold that image!

Cedar Creek, 8 x 10, oils.
Next, in real competition mode, I went for two in one day. I hit Cedar Creek in the morning and also got close and personal with a water moccasin. I took an afternoon break from the heat and then caught Bone Hill right before sunset. I wish there were more local places that offered this kind of atmospheric distance.

Bone Hill, 9 x 12, oils.
By this time I was really craving something old and rusty. Fortunately I found a man who has this thing about old Chevy's within a mile of home.

'61 Chevy Bel-Air, 8 x 10, oils.
I love painting subtle things. Others don't always notice them, but they are my favorite parts of a painting. In this one, I noticed that the blue sky was bouncing ambient light back into the shadow side of the barn red workshop. It shifts the color slightly to violet. Others may be wowed by chrome or glass but to me that magenta wall is what makes the scene believable.

The moral of this story is that you don't have to take a trip to some exotic place to find things to paint.

Friday, May 18, 2012

White River Paint Out 2012

"Fletcher Mountain Vista" 9 x 12, oils. Best of Show
    I spent a lot of time in the '90s hiking and canoeing the Arkansas Ozarks. It's like the Missouri Ozarks on steroids, everything is just bigger and wilder. I've wanted to paint there but lacked the opportunity since I got into plein air about a decade ago. Thankfully some folks have finally created a paint out right in the heart of the region.

"Solitude" 9 x 12, oils.
    The event was in early May and I went down a day early to scope the place out in search of scenic spots. I headed first to Buffalo Point on the mighty Buffalo River. It's towering bluffs and crystal clear water never disappoint. I drove through the national forest, Norfolk and then on to Cotter looking for other access points to the Buffalo and White Rivers. This was going to be an awesome place to paint.

"High-Water Mark" 5 x 7, oils.
  I ended up doing five paintings in two days including taking an Honorable Mention in the Quick Paint competition. On the awards day I won my first ever Best of Show. I also won Best First-Timer and the Anna and John Riggs Purchase Award. There were so many areas I still want to paint that I'll have to go back next year.

"Enjoying the Ride" 8 x 10, oils.