Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Very Pleasant Surprise

A Clear, Rocky Stream in Lee's Summit
 The town I grew up in was surrounded by beautiful Ozark streams and rivers. I took them for granted. I have spent the last twenty five years living in the Kansas City area and, in spite of all of it's great qualities, it is surrounded by muddy gray waterways. As a landscape painter, I have spent the last couple of years pouring over topo maps and driving hundreds of miles trying to find the nearest Ozark type stream. Until recently my nearest find was over 100 miles away.

A few years ago I was driving west on Third Street in Lee's Summit where I currently live. While crossing a bridge I looked south and thought "that is one rocky looking stream." I past over the spot many times and told myself it must be my imagination. The stream is insignificant. It isn't named and is not listed on maps. Then I notice what looked like a trail beside it. Last month I finally decided to go investigate. Instead of muddy walled banks and water that looked like it came from a washing machine I was greeted by a limestone shelf, jumbled rocks and crystal clear water. It turned out my search was over. It does have a name, Cedar Creek and a large segment of it runs through a public park giving it a easy access via trails. For at least a mile it cuts through Bethany Falls limestone making several two to three foot waterfalls along the way. Why I have never heard of it or seen photos is a complete mystery. It is the city's best kept secret. It's only downside is that, being in town, quite a few plastic cups and grocery bags have washed into it. A small cleanup effort would do wonders.

Untitled, 8 x 8, oils - Laura Kratz
 This past Monday I went to paint there with local artist Laura Kratz. It was a perfect day to paint, classic early spring with lime green foliage and intense violet/pink redbuds. One of the great things about painting plein air is that, if you succeed at painting the colors you are seeing, you capture a sense of time and place. There is also a natural harmony to the colors. I think the pieces that Laura and I did reflect this. Learn more about her work at

Cedar Creek Falls, 8 x 10, oils - Larry DeGraff
 For those interested in finding my new painting spot, it is in Charles David Hartman Memorial Park behind the softball fields. The Lee's Summit Park and Rec Dept. website does not mention the creek at all!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hunting for Rusty Old Trucks

No Particular Place to Go, 6 x 8, oils.
After doing four studio paintings back to back it was great to be out painting from life. I was wanting to paint either an old truck or tractor and thought it wouldn't be difficult to find one. I found out otherwise. I live five minutes from the country and it took me over and hour to find this one. When asking the owner for permission to paint his truck, I think he thought I was talking about an actual paint job. I doubt anyone had ever asked to set up an easel on the property before. It was a great day to paint, 80 degrees (!) and I was in shorts and a t-shirt. The only downside was the 35 mph gusts that blew my hat off and paper towels right out of my hand. With painting outdoors it's always something. Still, after so much studio painting, I felt spoiled to have all that great visual information coming right into my eyes and not secondhand through a photo or sketch. I missed plein air.

For those interested, the truck is a Chevy 1948-1952. The model changed so little during those years that it would take an expert to tell the year. I've since taken country drives with the express purpose of tracking down cool old vehicles. Finding fewer than expected, I now feel an urgency to paint them before they are gone like the old gas stations they used to frequent.
Here's a '72 Ford with potential!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Drawings from High School Years

The Boss, 11 x 14, graphite
I won't be able to post anything new for a few days and thought it might be fun to revisit "The Vault." The portraits of Bruce Springsteen and Jacques Cousteau were done when I was a sophomore. They are from an old sketchpad and were not part of any class assignment. I think I was just starting to get into Chuck Close's hyper realism. Be thankful I have spared you from my surrealist teen angst period.

Jacques Cousteau, 11 x 14, graphite
The drawing below was from my senior year. It's also from an old sketchpad and is from life. I was laying on the bed drawing my reflection in the mirror on the far side of the room. Since I'm somewhat near sighted I must have been squinting. A decent drawing.

Self Portrait at Seventeen, 5 x 5, graphite

This gives me the opportunity to briefly get on my soapbox. The biggest problem I see in workshops is poor drawing skills. People can't wait to squeeze out those piles of color and get loose while freely admitting they can't draw. But painting is drawing with a brush! You will never be happy with your work until you get some competency at drawing. I may have been born with a gift but I also spent hundreds of hours drawing with my brother while growing up and many more since. Drawing is an artist's foundation.