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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Packing Up, Heading Out

Today is our last day in Sedona for the winter. We spent yesterday packing up, and now we're in the final search for items that tend to be forgotten. (Where did that library book get to?) We'll head out early tomorrow.

I made one last painting last night of Doe Mesa. I've painted it several times this winter, and I wanted to say goodbye to it. I've enjoyed the sunset on its cliffs every night.

"Farewell to Doe Mesa"5x7, pastel

Until early May, when we will arrive in Old Forge, New York, to teach a pastel-only workshop in conjunction with my judging of the National Northeast Pastel Exhibition, I doubt I'll do much painting. The impact of this is a possibly scarcity of blog posts. Rest assured, you'll hear from me again. If I don't paint, I plan to take in some good scenery and shoot some photos for reference. Our trip includes Cloudcroft and Taos, New Mexico, to hike and see galleries; Chicago and Cleveland to visit relatives and friends; then Old Forge for the workshop and show judging; and finally, Vermont and then Campobello.

Till then - happy trails!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sketching Surface for Oil

Yesterday was my day to clean up all my oil gear. After this week's workshop, which is a plein air pastel class for the Sedona Art Center, Trina and I hit the road. I won't have the opportunity to paint in oil for another week or so. Both brushes and palette needed to be made ready for a week of storage and car travel.

Because I didn't want to throw away the bits of paint that were left on my palette, I decided to play with Judson's "Cartón Board." Last week, I had a student give me a couple of small samples. Here's what Judson says about the board:

"Toulouse-Lautrec and Vuillard used tan card stock for oil painting. This thin resin-sized card stock is far more permanent than that used by the famous painters of past centuries. Great undercolor for oil paintings."

I doubt the board is archival, but it's great if you just want to do some quick sketching. You can secure it with a few pushpins to a sheet of corrugated cardboard. The board is very absorbent, making it perfect for oilier paints.

We had a big windstorm yesterday - 55 mph gusts - but I found a sheltered nook to do the below sketch in.

"Stormy Villa"
6x6, oil - SOLD

Update:  I asked Carl Judson about the board's properties.  Here's what he says.  " I have been using this carton board for nearly 20 years. I tested some of it at the beginning by taping it up in the roof of my greenhouse. After six months or so there was some minor fading. The resin sizing that makes the board somewhat brittle stabilizes and protects the cardboard fibers. For oil painting I like to prime it with a coat of acrylic matte medium, which also helps with stabilizing. Although an unconventional material, I think of it as quite reasonably archival if it can be protected from mechanical damage, which is why I mount it to something solid before I let it out into the world.  "

For those of you looking for the board, here's the link:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Experimenting with Vasari Oils

"Oak Creek Eddies"
8x10, oil

For several weeks now, I've been trying to get together with painter Adele Earnshaw (, who lives in the Sedona area. Adele does a lot of wildlife paintings and works en plein air whenever she can. She's also the author of the North Lights book for the watercolor artist, Painting Things You Love. Yesterday, after my last mentoring workshop ended, we were able to spend a few hours together painting.

We went up Oak Creek Canyon to a spot where the creek has lots of eddies in it and is surrounded by tall, red cliffs. Adele was hoping to catch the evening light, but since we were early, she worked on making oil studies of the prickly pears with a toehold on the steep canyon walls. I chose to work on a water piece.

I also played with a set of Vasari ( oils that I was given. You've heard me mention the Yellow Ochre and Terra Rosa this winter, but I until yesterday, I hadn't played with the full set. For my painting, I used:
  • Cadmium Yellow Lemon
  • Permanent Bright Red
  • Ruby Violet
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Sap Green
  • Titanium White
Some of these colors - the yellow, red and violet - are not ones that I use ordinarily. So, in addition to using a new brand of paints, I used new pigments. I gave myself two variables to deal with. (You scientists out there will know this is the wrong way to set up an experiment!)

To tell the truth, I made a painting earlier in the day with the Vasari palette - and it was a scraper. I found the Vasari paints to be much "looser" than I'm used to, and the Ruby Violet is a very strong pigment, stronger than my usual Alizarin Crimson. But by the time I got to this second painting, I was feeling pretty comfortable with the physics. I like the way "Oak Creek Eddies" turned out.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More on Creating Light

Yesterday we went up to Slide Rock State Park. Slide Rock was an apple orchard back in the 20s and 30s, and although it's an Arizona state park now, it's still run as an orchard. On my last visit a couple of weeks ago, the apple trees were just beginning to bud. I wasn't expecting blooms yet, but I was hoping they would have budded out even more. Alas, but things move slowly in the cold canyon. The trees were still, as one student says, "just sticks."

Still, there's plenty to paint. I've had my eye on the apple-packing barn for some time now. I loved the way the strong, late-winter sun lit up the rusted tin roof. Using a textured surface - stretched linen, rather than a gessoed panel - really worked to help the sunlit effect.

For the lit portion of the roof, I scrubbed in a thinned mixture of Cadmium Yellow Deep and Cadmium Red Light with a touch of Ultramarine Blue. My initial pass was too dark, so I wiped it out with a paper towel, leaving a nice, transparent stain that glowed. I worked my darker mixture, without any thinner, back over this lightly, letting my brush "skip" across the surface. I include a close-up below of the texture.

I've always disliked the texture of canvas and linen, which is why I paint mostly on smooth, gessoed panels. But this is a moment when nothing but linen would have worked!

"Slide Rock Apple Barn"
12x16, oil/linen


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Creating Light

Creating a sense of strong light has to do with correct value and color temperature choices. Many people think strong value contrast alone does the trick, but it's not true. Temperature contrast also plays a part. In the demonstration pastel sketch below, not only did I keep my lights well-separated from the darks, I kept the shadows considerably cooler than the lights. I started off with a red-violet underpainting for Cathedral Rock and then layered more neutral browns and greens over it - but still keeping the color cooler than the sunlit greens and "rim lighting" along the edge of the rocks.

"Cathedral Rock Sketch"
5x7 pastel

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Return to Small

After painting that BIG canvas last week, and now with a new group of students in for this week, I've returned to a smaller size for my demonstrations. Yesterday we went out to Schnebly Hill where I did a 5x7 sketch in oil.

I wanted to focus on color temperature relationships. As you can see, I wasn't so interested in "grounding" the composition. Normally, a landscape would have something closer and perhaps darker at the bottom to anchor it. Here, I'm treating the landscape as more of an abstraction. I indicate depth by the use of warmer colors. In particular, note the sunlit greens. In the far distance, I used Gamblin's Radiant Green, straight out of the tube. It's a rich but cool blue-green. I used the same green, but with the addition of a bit of Cadmium Yellow Light, for the sunlit area beneath the rock that is rim-lighted.

"Rimlight Sketch"
5x7, oil

Friday, March 13, 2009

The BIG Canvas

My student from Newfoundland, Peter Lewis, left behind one 3x4 stretched canvas he didn't have time to paint before flying home. Knowing that I've been pushing myself to work larger, he said, "Why don't you use it?" Trina also gave me a nudge or two, and so here I am today, announcing that I actually began - and finished - a truly large piece.

I didn't have an easel big enough. My Gloucester easel is back home on Campobello Island, and the biggest I have here is my French easel. I improvised some deck furniture, as you can see below.

In order to paint a surface that is five times bigger than the largest painting I've ever done (a 16x20), I decided to pick up a couple of large painting knives. I thought I'd get bored, scrubbing on paint with a brush from the get-go, so I felt knives would allow me to pile on the paint more quickly.

I ended up using the knives only for the bottom portion, the landscape. I used my biggest brush, a #12 flat, to lay in washes for the sky and clouds. Then I went back to the landscape with the brush and adjusted the texture so it looked more like it had all been done with a brush.

The painting took about six hours yesterday and another two hours today. Most of yesterday was spent outdoors with it, working from life, until the thunderstorms rolled in. (Yes, thunderstorms in mid-March! We had a hard rain and then a few sloppy snow flurries.) Surprisingly, the land portion went quickly, and it was the sky that took the most time. I finished today in the garage, looking out the window at my scene. I consider this a plein air piece, though some might argue with me.

"Virga Over Coxcomb"
3x4 FEET

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Have Knife, Will Paint

When travelling, I take a variety of different setups for oil and pastel. In a particular day, I choose the one that makes the most sense for whatever medium and surface size I plan to use. While packing for the day, I end up moving lots of little things around - oils to this box, brushes to that one, tripod quick-release plate to this bag, and so on. I've been pretty lucky so far in ending up with the right tools when I get to the field.

Until today. I forgot the brushes. I stopped short of gathering yucca leaves and chewing them down to suitable brushes like the Indians did. Instead, I turned to the two painting knives I had in the easel. I don't paint with knives very often, but when I do, it's always an enjoyable experience. The color is always richer and cleaner. (You really have to work hard at making mud with a knife! It's almost impossible.)

I could lighten my load a bit if I painted with knives exclusively in the field. For me, knives means no turps, no medium, and no big handful of brushes. I do go through more paper towels, though, by wiping the knives clean between each color mixture.

"From the Dawa Trail"
11x14, oil with knife

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pastel Video - Trailer

It was a beautiful day today, and I decided to go out and shoot footage for the pastel video. (As you may recall, I plan to release two videos as companions to Backpacker Painting.) Everything went right today. That's a rare thing in outdoor painting, and even more rare when a painting session is combined with a recording session! No wind, no interlopers, no air traffic and a good painting. Here's the painting I did:

"A Perfect Day"
9x12, pastel - SOLD

and here's a little trailer I put together. Enjoy!

Monday, March 9, 2009

New Gallery

I'm proud to announce that I am now represented in the Southwest by Windrush Gallery in Sedona, Arizona. Better yet, John McCullough, the owner, made my first sale just minutes after I dropped off my work!

John is specializing in plein air landscapes. This makes him unique in Sedona and, in my mind, in all of Arizona. I can't think of another gallery doing this right now. I'm very happy to have my work there.

The Windrush Gallery web site is

I leave you with the following painting, which is now at Windrush. I don't normally put wildlife in my paintings, but two ravens appeared out of nowhere and asked to be added. They were pretty insistent. I think they add a sense of scale to the painting.

"Two Ravens Watching"
9x12, oil - SOLD

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Without Frames

This winter, I'm trying to do as little framing as possible with the hope of selling my oils and pastels unframed. When you're on the road and traveling light, frames are a hassle. One of the problems I've discovered though, is that unlike oils, pastels are hard to display this way. With oil-on-panel, I can just put the paintings on a table and prop them up against the wall. I don't yet have a good system for displaying pastels on paper. Most of what I've done is stacked under glassine in my "leaf press" pastel painting carrier, hidden to the world.

Because of this, I've been reluctant to do as much work in pastel as I should. I did two small pieces last week, though, that I just fell in love with because of the color. I'm sharing them with you below.

I have a variety of ideas of how to display unframed pastels - velcro tabs on the back, matting without glass or frame, and so on. (I do have several 5x7s matted and in "clear bags.") I'd be interested in your suggestions.

"Sail Rock Shadows II"
5x7 pastel

"Above the Trees"
5x7 pastel

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Painting the Wind

A few years ago, I taught a workshop on Cape Cod. It was a very windy spring. Out of the variety of easels students brought, only two stood up to the bluster of Cape Cod Bay: the tried-and-true French easel and the Gloucester-style easel. The latter, of course, was made popular by Emile Gruppe while at the Gloucester School of Art. (Visit for more.) I showed a picture of Peter Lewis using this easel the other day.

We sometimes get fierce spring winds in the Southwest, too. Although I left my Gloucester easel at home, I did bring my French easel. It was just the ticket for the 35 mph gusts that came up while we were painting at the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town just up the hill from Jerome, Arizona. We'd gone to paint some of the old trucks littering the grounds. Wouldn't you know that, as I got to the finishing stages of the painting, all heck broke loose. Having a sturdy easel didn't help my brush hand, which jiggled and shook with every buffet. I ended up adding the finishing touches at home.

I wanted to do a large (16x20) painting with quick, easy strokes, much as I do my little ones. For this painting, I needed a shape that was clearly defined and with lots of contrast - this GMC Diesel fit the bill:

"GMC Diesel"
16x20, oil

Monday, March 2, 2009

On the Cover of Judson's

I just found out today that my painting, "Low Tide, Friar's Bay," is on the cover of the latest Judson's Art Outfitters Almanac No. 7. Also, an excerpt from my book, Backpacker Painting, appears on page 42. If you don't get this catalog of fine outdoor painting gear, you should, even if it's just to see the cover! Visit

Today, I took my 9x12 Guerrilla Box (from Judson's, of course) out to Slide Rock State Park. The park offers some incredible slickrock, and with the snowmelt happening now up Oak Creek toward Flagstaff, some pretty rough white water. But it wasn't the torrential flow that caught my fancy. It was a quiet pool full of green water surrounded by pink rock walls. There's a little bathhouse on one of the rock ledges, and I chose to make that the focus.

I've been playing with some of Gamblin's Radiant oil paints. In this one, I used Radiant Green. It was just perfect for the sun-lit trees on the rock ledge and some of the reflections.

"Slide Rock Bathhouse"
9x12, oil

(By the way, I was going to title this, "The Cover of the Rolling Stone," but the old Dr Hook & The Medicine Show song may not have clicked with some of you younger readers.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Few Brush Strokes, Many Brush Strokes

"Secret Canyon Pools"
12x16, oil/linen

"Secret Wilderness Butte"
9x12, oil/panel

Few brush strokes, many brush strokes - what's best? Well, it depends.

Here are two paintings I did at the end of the week. For the first one, I hiked up past Midgely Bridge and into Wilson Canyon to find a cool, shaded spot with little pools of water. My goal with this painting was to capture the scene with only a big brush and as few strokes as possible. I used two #12 flats. Although I might need to hit the darks a little harder in the foreground, I think it came off well.

For the second one, I hiked with Prescott artist Bill Cramer ( to Dead Man's Pass Trail, where we wandered off the trail into the manzanita and cat claw acacia. While I painted this 9x12, Bill did two paintings that were a bit bigger. "I'm fast," he says, and he does a great job. His pieces were masterfully blocked in and captured the light well. I put lots more brush strokes into this one than I did for the first! Even so, I think I avoided making it too "fussy."