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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Large Format, Yet Again

Well, the vote here at home was to retain the foreground hill, but to minimize its influence in the painting. So, I increased the amount of real estate the shadow occupies on the hill's left side so that it is almost entirely in shadow now. I left a little light to give an idea of its form. I also minimized the detail in the shadows; elsewhere in the painting, that's the way the shadows are working. Small details and rich color will appear either in shadow or light - but not in both. In this painting, all the detail and color really is in the sunlit portions, so this helps with the consistency of lighting.

Also, I wanted to post the other large painting, the one that really had two paintings in it. Here are the two halves. I've put the bottom on top, so your mind won't inadvertently rejoin the two halves.

I've really enjoyed reading the variety of suggestions and opinions. I'd like to hear what you think of these revisions.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Not Done with the Large Format - Yet!

Several days ago, I posted the "finished" version of a couple of large pastel paintings I did on-location. One obviously needed more work, and it provoked a number of useful comments. (To be sure, I have actually taken scissors to the painting and cut it in half. I'll post the "new" finished version of this one once I take some good photos of it.) But the one that I thought really was finished also got a lot of comments, especially over in the plein air forum. As a reminder, here's the painting (9x24):

Some folks had a problem with the foreground hill, claiming it read more like a staircase or pathway into the distance rather than like a little hill. One commentor suggested that changing the shape so it wasn't triangular would solve the problem. Well, I can't do that because it's a well-known landform, and the local residents would get upset if I just took a backhoe to it. Others suggested hardening lines, darkening shadows, etc., to correct the illusion. Or move it to the left a bit so it didn't point so directly into the distance.

One suggestion I made was to remove the hill entirely. The reason I suggested this is that there is probably some point near where I painted where I could have had a very similar view, but without the hill. I'm not sure the hill is entirely necessary. So this morning I ran the image through the Photoshop mill, and below is the result. I find Photoshop a really useful tool in these cases. Hasty erasures or cuts with scissors are impossible to "undo" otherwise.

I'm interested in hearing your opinion on this piece. Remove the hill, fix it in some way, or just leave the thing alone - your vote counts!

Normally, I wouldn't spend this much time on a plein air painting, But my intention was to get this piece (and the other) as close to completion outdoors as possible. With any plein air piece, large or small, you will run into problems like this that would perhaps be more easily foreseen in the calm and quiet of the studio. And since I have invested considerable time on them, both outdoors and now inside, I'll keep at it. It's a great learning experience!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Picking a Subject - New Video

I've finished a new mini-video in my Plein Air Essentials series. This one is called "Picking a Subject." I've had lots of students in my plein air painting workshops over the years who pick subjects that just don't work. This 6 1/2 minute video is designed to show you what guidelines I follow when looking for a suitable plein air subject.

The video, which features some of Sedona's fabulous Red Rock country, is only $1.49 and is available through at my store,

I'd love to hear your thoughts about the Plein Air Essentials series and about this one in particular.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Free Pastel Painting Demonstration

I'm doing a free pastel painting demonstration today from 3-4 pm at our studio gallery, Pumphouse Studio Gallery. We've got a big Arizona sycamore tree down by the old pumphouse, and I've been aching to paint it. If you're not familiar with these trees, they are huge! Here's the one I'll be painting. I took a photo of it for you yesterday:

I hope to see you at the demonstration! In case you don't know where we are, we are in the lowest level of Creekside Plaza, just across the road from the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. They've finished construction on this road, and we even have a nice crosswalk from Tlaquepaque.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Large-Format Pastels - Revisited

I've had a chance now to revisit the two large pastels I did in the field the other week. I'm very satisfied with the 9x24 panorama of Lee Mountain and the Rabbit's Ears. Here is the finished version:

On my second trip, which immediately followed the first day, I spent three hours refining my first day's work. As you may recall, that first day I was able to capture the light and shadow patterns and basic color temperature relationships. In the second outdoor session, I refined shapes. Refining shapes also meant breaking up bigger shapes into smaller ones and thus creating an illusion of more detail. Like most outdoor painters, I then spent some time in the studio - two hours - adding finishing touches. One major change I made in the studio was to the foreground hill. It was simply too warm and jumped out of the picture plane. To integrate it more fully into the painting, I severely cooled down the colors, both in the shadow and lighted areas. I think this painting works just fine.

The second painting, the one of the canyon beneath the view of Munds Mountain, I'm not so satisfied with. I followed pretty much the same process as with the Lee Mountain painting - light/shadow and temperature relationships the first day, and refining shapes the second day. Once in the studio, though, I realized I had an obvious composition problem, which a large mirror helped reveal to me. I wiped out the area and repainted it. I also felt the temperature difference between near and far could be pushed a bit, so I adjusted it. I played up the reflected light in the shadows, lessened the contrast in the mountains and cooled them down a bit.

Yet, I intuitively feel something is still "off" in the painting. I've tried to reason it out using the five basic questions:
  • Is it a composition problem?
  • If not, is it a value problem?
  • If not that, is it a problem with color?
  • Well, then, is it a problem with aerial perspective?
  • What about the mark-making, then?
I'm still thinking on this one. To me, it seems like there's too much going on and the painting still seems a bit flat, with not enough depth in it.

I'd love to hear your opinions! Here it is, 24x18:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cottonwood Colors

"Cottonwood Colors" 9x12, pastel - available

On our trip this fall, Trina and I were fortunate in being able to follow the wave of autumnal color change. When we left Campobello Island in mid-October, foliage in that part of the world was at its peak. (There are few things prettier than New England's sugar maples in autumn! ) As we drove, passing from New England into the Midwest and then into Texas and beyond, we rode a crest of color - reds, oranges and yellow-green.

I've always lamented the fact that, in five years with the Sedona Plein Air Festival, I never saw any good fall color, except far up Oak Creek Canyon near the West Fork trailhead. The reason, of course, is that the Festival happens a bit too early for the change. But now, nearly a month later, we're hitting our peak here along Oak Creek. We drove out yesterday to some of the spots I thought would be good, and I wasn't disappointed. I did a small pastel of Red Rock Crossing, looking out over the colorful cottownwoods toward Cathedral Rock.

For those of you in the area, we've opened up Pumphouse Studio Gallery officially. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5, or by appointment or chance. This Saturday, November 27th, I'll be giving a free painting demonstration at the gallery from 3-4. For more on the studio gallery, please visit

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

2011 Calendar Available - Seascapes and Arizona

Now that the holiday season is fast approaching - or already here, if you heed the retailers - you're probably trying to figure out what to give Uncle Harry. Uncle Harry may be the sort of person who likes to scribble down appointments on a calendar rather than key them in on his iPad or iPhone. If so, you might consider giving him my calendar. Not only does it have 12 new paintings from this year (plus an extra one on the cover), it has plenty of room to write in doctor's appointments and other important memos. I think he'll also enjoy the selected paintings of the Canadian Maritimes, coastal Maine and the Southwest. I picked my personal favorites.

The calendar is only $17 this year, plus shipping. You can order it on-line at my Lulu store:

By the way, Lulu is discounting 40% off the calendar. At checkout, use the code:


Thursday, November 11, 2010

More on Large-Format Painting

Lee Mountain and the Rabbit Ears Formation (WIP), 9x24, pastel

As I mentioned in my last post, this week I'm teaching an advanced workshop, the topic of which is large-format painting. A student asked: But why paint large outdoors? Indeed, large paintings are a lot of trouble, especially outdoors.

Usually, you'll see outdoor painters painting small pieces. Small pieces go faster, and they're easier to transport. They also force you to work mostly with big shapes, which is a real plus if your goal is to capture the sweeping generalities of mood and magic. Large pieces take longer, and if the light changes quickly, they must be completed over several sessions. They're also harder to lug to the field - watch out for prickly pears and cat-claw acacia! - and if you tote them in your compact sedan, it'll be hard to keep paint off the back seat. But worse yet, it's easy to get trapped in detail too soon, causing unfinished areas of the painting to suffer.

Well, then, for that matter, why paint large in the studio? Besides the convenience of a coffee maker and a bug-free zone, it gives you a chance to work with larger rhythms, rhythms that are impossible within the confines of a 9x12 format. You can put your whole arm into sketching the sweep of a mountain range. You also have the opportunity to play with more complex compositions that may not succeed in a smaller size and to develop more fully small areas that, when scaled up, may seem flat otherwise. And ultimately, it gives you a chance to really breathe while you work.

All these also hold true for painting large outdoors.

Above is a piece I started today, a 9x24 pastel. I'll go back on location tomorrow to work more on it. Below is the scene.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Large-Format Pastel and the New Studio Gallery

Trina and I have spent the last week getting Pumphouse Studio Gallery ready for the first in a series of Sedona plein air workshops. Although we bought the space mostly because I needed a place to hold workshops, we decided it'd also be a great place to hang and sell my work. So, over the last week, the space has metamorphosed into a full-fledged gallery. The only thing left to do is to put up the prices.

You'll note from the pictures that the space is, well, spartan. We purposely left it uncluttered and open for my students. Although my Paint Sedona painting workshops are small - never more than four students - and, of course, outdoors, we do need a place to meet in the mornings, for critiques, and for the occasional day of iffy weather.

Although we won't officially open the gallery until November 23, we'll be there off and on, and if the sign says "Open," come on in! You can also call us for an appointment (928-274-8043.) Pumphouse Studio Gallery is located in the lowest level of Creekside Plaza (across the road from the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village) and below Ken's Creekside restaurant. Regular hours will be Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5, and by appointment or chance. You can find out more about the gallery at

This week's workshop is an advanced level one focusing on large-format paintings. Large format for me is anything 16x20 and bigger. I started a pastel yesterday that is 18x24. We worked as long as we could before the light changed so much that we had to stop. We'll go back again this morning to finish up. For my first session, I always like to get the big shapes blocked in and to get the value and temperature relationships right. In my second, I work on breaking up the big shapes into smaller ones and working my way toward detail. Here's the painting in the field and then back in the studio. Keep in mind that this painting is a work in progress. I'll post the finished piece next time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Two Upcoming Shows

"Oak Creek Flow" 9x12, pastel - in the Arizona Pastel Artists Association Fall Juried Show

"Prickly Path" 12x9, pastel - in the Sedona Visual Artists Coalition show

Two local shows open this weekend that I'm part of: the juried fall Arizona Pastel Artists Association (APAA) and the Sedona Visual Artists Coalition show (SVAC).

Here are details on the APAA show:

November 6-20, 2010
Manheim Gallery
747 North Main Street Cottonwood, AZ 86326-3644

From the Manheim Gallery site: "The Manheim is proud to host the first fall competition of The Arizona Pastel Artist Association, juried by award winning artist Don Rantz. The show will open Saturday, November 6th with an opening reception with the artists 2:30 – 4:30 pm. Winners will be announced at the reception. The show will hang in the gallery through November 20th."

The Manheim gallery hours are Wednesday - Saturday, 1:00 - 5:00 pm, and other times by appointment.

Here are details on the SVAC show, "Pathways - A Visual Journey":

SVAC's annual fall show begins Nov. 5th & is open 10:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m. daily through Nov. 19th, 2010 in the Sala de Milagro Ballroom (above RENÉ) at Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, 336 Hwy 179 at the Bridge, Sedona, AZ.

Please join the SVAC artists for the Opening Reception of Pathways on Saturday, Nov. 6th from 5:00-8:00 p.m. on the Sala de Milagro Ballroom Terrace. Hors d'oeuvres, beverages, music & a silent auction are all part of the fun under the stars.

For those of you in the area, I hope to see you at the receptions. How convenient, that they are on the same day and timed so you can attend both!