Sunday, July 12, 2020

Canyon Abstract No. 2, 16x20 Oil

Canyon Abstract No.2
16x20 Oil - Available Here

This past week, I went through my “Pandemic Sketchbook,” looking for another canyon sketch to turn into a larger painting.  One of my favorites is this 5x8 gouache sketch:

I like it because of the unsettling, vertiginous feeling I get when I look at the boulder on the left.  It seems almost suspended in mid-slide,  as if it would take only a small touch to get it going again.  I thought that, if I made an even larger image, I could intensify that feeling.

I first toned the 16x20 canvas with a thin wash of acrylic yellow ochre.  Then, as with the last canyon painting, I used Van Dyke brown to lay in the dark notes, followed by burnt sienna in some of the shadows to indicate where warm light would be bouncing into them.  I had a lot of fun playing with greens, blues and reds in the shadows.

It was all smooth sailing—until I reached the right half of the canvas.  I wanted this to be a large, mostly empty area to make the boulder seem even more precarious.  In the gouache sketch, I had a couple of thin trees in that area, anchored by a shadowed ledge, but I decided they weren't necessary as they detracted from my idea.  But what to put there?  The area needed something, some dark shape, to balance the visual weight of the boulder.

I repainted this area twice, each time missing the mark.  My first attempt, a large dark shape, felt too heavy; my second, a smaller shape, still seemed too much.  Finally, I hit upon the solution.  A thin crack pulled the eye just enough to balance the boulder.

Here are the steps in the process, followed by some details shots.

That dark shape on the right was going to give me trouble!

I replaced the big dark shape on the right with
another, smaller one down toward the bottom.

I finally got rid of that annoying dark square
and replaced it with a simple, thin crack.
Finished:  Canyon Abstract No. 2 16x20 Oil

Some detail shots:

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

To Sit or Not to Sit—That is the Question

"Artist in his Studio" by Rembrandt van Rijn
(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Here, a painter steps back to view his work.

Hamlet never had to wrestle with the one question that plagues every painter:  “To sit or not to sit?”

Most of us were instructed early on in our art education to stand when painting.  We were given two reasons.  First, standing makes it easier to step back frequently so we can see how the painting is (or is not) coming together.  It you're sitting, it's a lot of trouble to heave yourself off your seat, push back the chair or stool, and then re-seat yourself after looking.  You probably won't do it much.

Second, standing allows for full arm movement, which is critical for making long, gestural strokes.  If you're hunched over your canvas, it's impossible to swing out your arm to make elegant, curvy lines.  That graceful tree you hoped to paint will end up a cramped, arthritic thing more fitting for a Halloween greeting card.

But there are valid reasons for sitting.  One is personal comfort.  I'm a tall person and prone to back pain, so if I am painting all day, I often will stand in the morning but choose to sit in the afternoon.  Even so, I will make sure to get up and step back now and then.  Another is scale.  If I'm painting in a very small format, as I do with gouache, I will sit, understanding that I can simply hold the work out at arm's length to get the distance I need for judging unity of effect.  (Illustrators will often sit, partly because of the precision their work may demand.)

One last reason is laziness.  Don't we all feel lazy now and then, but still want to do a little Sunday painting?  There's nothing wrong with just sitting and noodling once in awhile.

Here are a few painters, studio and plein air, sitting and standing.  Take your pick!

Camille Pisarro.  Will he stand or sit?

Dean Cornwell

Frank Benson
This might be a staged photo.  Benson
would have to squat to paint this low.

Frank Vincent Dumond

Granville Redmond

Henri Paul Royer

Howard Pyle

J.H. Wijsmuller

John Singer Sargent

Willard Metcalf

James McNeil Whistler

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Canyon Abstract 20x24 Oil

Canyon Abstract
20x24 Oil
Available - Contact Me

As you may recall, I spent several weeks this late spring hiking into the canyon behind my studio, studying the canyon walls with my gouache kit.  Some of the sketches struck me as worthy of expanding into larger paintings.  One in particular caught my fancy, a closeup of the canyon wall, and I thought it had an enchanting abstract quality.

So, I took this 5x8 gouache sketch and based an 18x24 oil painting on it.  The larger version is very similar to the small sketch with respect to shapes, but I added or amplified some of the color, and also the texture.   I also removed the juniper bush in the bottom right, as I felt that made this "abstraction" more representational that I wanted.

Also, one thing I like to do when I base studio paintings on my sketches is to change the medium; this makes for a more interesting process and forces different color choices.   Also, for these studio pieces, I don't use any photo references--just the gouache sketch.  The sketch really contains plenty of information for a larger painting.

Here's the original 5x8 sketch:

Here are some of the steps in creating the larger piece:

Here is the final painting again. Please let me know if you are interested in purchasing it.  

Canyon Abstract 18x24 Oil
Also, some detail shots of the painting:

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Awakening in Taos: The Mabel Dodge Luhan Story

I can't recall ever having blogged about a movie before, but after seeing Awakening in Taos: The Mabel Dodge Luhan Story last night, I wanted to share it.

I've painted in Taos, New Mexico, many times, and it's one of my favorite locations.  Why?  It's not just the scenery—beautifully-sculpted adobe houses, often nestled among golden-leaved cottonwoods; broad-shouldered Taos Mountain watching over the village; and the deep, black gorge of the Rio Grande—but also its history.  Artists discovered the beauty of Taos in the very earliest years of the 20th century.  Instrumental in bringing artists to Taos was the socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan.  She invited many painters, photographers, writers and sculptors to her home, including Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin, Willa Cather, Ansel Adams and Marsden Harley.

Over the years, I've led many students and retreat participants to Taos.  We've even painted on the grounds of “Los Gallos,” Mabel's estate, and have toured the interior.  I'm looking forward to our next retreat this October.  (The retreat is filled, but I will be happy to put you on the wait list.)  I like Taos so much that I am making this fall painting retreat an annual event.

The movie tells the story of how Mabel got to Taos and what she found there.  What's more, the movie is beautifully filmed, and shows the Taos landscape at its finest.  I suggest you rent or buy the movie here: .  And for more on Mabel, visit this site:

Detail of "Los Gallos"
You'll note the chicken on the right.

"Los Gallos" in early spring.

Mabel's gravesite.

A little sketch I did while at "Los Gallos".
"Mabel's Gate" 9x12 Oil.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Painters on Wheels: Lyman Lake State Park, Arizona

5x8 gouache on 300 gsm cold-press paper

In my last post, I told the story of getting our PleasureWay, touted the benefits of painting by RV, and mentioned our first trip, to Lyman Lake State Park in Arizona.  In this post, I thought I'd share some of the sketches I made on that trip.

We'd last been to Lyman Lake maybe 20 years ago.  I scarcely remembered anything about it when M.L. Coleman, posing it as a possible painting destination, asked if I'd ever been there.  All I could remember was flatness—the lake is a manmade reservoir used for irrigation—but that there was something scenic about it.   It hadn't seemed to make a big impression on me.

After fighting the afternoon winds across the shale hill flats south of St John's—even in our Subaru Outback, I would have been fighting the wind—we descended into the park.  I don't know where I dredged up that sense of flatness, for the lake was surrounded by little interesting hills, topped with rocky bluffs.  I looked forward to not just painting them, but also to hiking some of the trails we'd heard about, trails that wandered through outcrops decorated with Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs.

After stopping at the little store to claim our reservation, we headed down to our campsite.  M.L. was already there and hooked up.  Our site was directly across from his, and I could see that every site had a view of the lake.  Although we had tested some of the RV's systems, I'd not hooked up before, but it was extremely easy hooking up to electricity and water.  The electricity was especially important, as the highs were supposed to be in the 90s for our two days there, and neither Trina, Raku nor I can tolerate heat.  We had the air conditioning running almost 24/7.  From bed, I'd reach up around 3 a.m. to switch it off until shortly after sunrise, when we'd turn it on again.  (Yes, we like it cold.)

Mornings were quite pleasant, and M.L. and I would head out shortly after breakfast with our packs.  The hill on Petroglyph Peninsula was like a magnet for us with its morning shadows and picnic tables that were ideally placed for plein air painters.  Then, in the middle of the day, we'd take a break.  (I've been working my way through Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, which is set in a global pandemic.  Believe me, our current pandemic could be a lot worse!)  In the late afternoons, our attention was drawn to a hill closer to the campground, so we'd set our chairs up in the shade of a cottonwood.  Although the mornings were cool and calm, not requiring any shade, afternoons were hot with a gale blowing, and the tree was important not just for shade but also for protection from the wind. 

Before painting each day, Trina, Raku and I hiked the trails at Petroglyph Peninsula.  There are enough interconnecting trails that we were able to do interesting variations each day, with panoramic views around the lake.  If I'd had another day or two, I would have taken my gouache kit on the hikes to do some very early morning painting, as the sunrise light on the rocks was spectacular.  The light was particularly rich because of smoke from the wildfires east in New Mexico, tinting the light with all the warm colors of the spectrum.

I took both gouache and pastel on the trip.  I had time for six sketches, four in gouache and two in pastel.  You'll find some “repeats” of scene in these; I don't mind painting the same feature over and over again.  I always see something different, and thus the experience is always different.

5x8 gouache on 300 gsm cold-press paper

5x8 gouache on 300 gsm cold-press paper

5x8 gouache on 300 gsm cold-press paper

9x12 pastel on UArt 500-grit paper

9x12 pastel on UArt 500-grit paper