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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fine Art Studio Online - Brush with the Big Time

I just found out today that one of my blog posts, the one of travelling with paint, has been featured in Fine Art Studio Online's BrushBuzz Daily Top 10.  If you go to the link, you'll see that Robert Genn and  Alyson B. Stanfield are there, too.  I'm honored to be in their company.

In case you haven't read my post on making your travelling life more easy, here it is again.

"Into the Flow" 12x16, oil - contact Michael

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tending the Garden: Agricultural Art Marketing

I like to think of marketing as tending a garden.  Yes, the metaphor is a bit trite, but it fits.  You can't just Rototill up last year's garden and throw down a few seeds.  You've got to get out there with the hoe and pull out the dandelions and Johnson grass, cull the stunted plants and mound up the soil around the healthy ones.  Then you have to be vigilant for cutworms and - well, you get the picture.

Marketing workshops and new paintings is a lot like that.  (Only usually I get to do it at a desk with a cup of coffee and in the shade.)  You can't just design a website and place an expensive ad in a glossy magazine.  Marketing is a lot of work.  When I talk to professional artists, most agree that the bulk of their time is not spent painting but in seemingly-peripheral tasks like marketing.

There should be something similar to the USDA's Cooperative Extension Service for painters.

With that in mind, I leave you with the following painting while I go off to sharpen my hoe.  It's a painting I did over two sessions in the field plus a little studio time for tweaks.  This is a more muted palette than some of you have seen me use, but I was trying very hard to get the color I saw matched exactly.  Sedona's not as garish as you might think!

"Warrior" 12x24, oil, $1500
Available through Windrush Gallery (800-323-0155, )

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Exhibition - Arizona Plein Air Painters

"A Grand View" 9x24, pastel

"Runoff" 12x16, oil

As I've mentioned before, I have two pieces in the Arizona Plein Air Painters' Third Annual Juried Members show.  The show is now upon us.  It opens next Thursday, March 31, at the Sedona Arts Center in Uptown Sedona.  I'll be at the reception on Friday evening, April 1, which runs from 4-8 pm.  In addition to engaging in lively talk with the artists, you can also listen to a band!  (I'd like to know how many exhibition openings feature a band.)

Above are my two paintings, both featuring some of Sedona's fabulous local scenery.

Here is the press release:

Arizona Plein Air Painters (APAP) third annual Juried Members Show opens March 31 and continues through April 13 at the Sedona Art Center Special Exhibition Gallery.

A "meet the artist" reception will be held on Friday April 1, from 4 to 8 p.m., complete with refreshments and musical entertainment from the "Mountain Saddle Band." 

The winner of this year's show will be announced at the grand opening, and awards will be given to Best of Show, Awards of Merit, Peoples Choice, and Artist's Choice. Visitors are welcome to vote for their favorite work of art which will be awarded the People's Choice Award. Entry to the show is free.

"This will be our largest show to date with 36 of our most accomplished artists participating. You will find a fantastic array of beautiful oil, acrylic, watercolor and pastel paintings showing this year for very affordable prices. This is a great opportunity to view paintings of a wide variety of Arizona scenes, most of which were painted on location, 'en plein air.'" says APAP president David Haskell.

The Special Exhibition Gallery is located in the historic "art barn" located behind the Sedona Art Center main gallery at the north end of Uptown Sedona at State Route 89A and Art Barn Road. There is plenty of extra parking just below the art barn.

APAP, a statewide organization of artists who are dedicated to the tradition of plein air painting (painting out of doors), has been very active and growing since its inception in 2007. The group includes in its mission statement the commitment to work to protect public access to landscapes and historic areas with in the state. APAP has been partnering with various statewide organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy and Arizona State Parks to promote painting the landscape from life and to help protect important natural and cultural landscapes, as well as promoting art education in Arizona. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Two Views of Dry Creek

Dry Creek, as the name would suggest, is dry.  But in winter and early spring, with enough snowmelt from the hills around Sedona, Dry Creek can be quite wet.  I like to clamber down among its boulders and sycamores to paint the pools of water.  It doesn't matter if the water is tranquil and restricted to isolated pools or rushing like a river; so long as it has water, it still draws me.

This winter, even though we haven't had a great deal of snow or rain, there's been enough somewhere up in the hills and along the Mogollon Rim to feed Dry Creek.  I've had several opportunities to paint it.  Here is one scene I did as part of the Plein Air Southwest event in March.  A little snow still remained in the shadows.

Dry Creek in Winter, 9x12, oil

Here is another that I did yesterday.  The snow is all gone, and we are into spring.  This is the part of the creek near the historic Van Deren cabin off the Vultee Arch Road.  A great shelf of red sandstone lies revealed by centuries of spring snowmelt and summer monsoons.  You can walk for some distance along the shelf.

Dry Creek in Spring, 12x9, pastel

I might mention that this is not my usual pastel surface.  It's a piece of Gatorfoam with a layer of Liquitex Clear Gesso applied to it.  The gel has some grit to it, and Liquitex says it's good for both oil and pastel.  I found it didn't hold the hard pastels very well, but worked fine with my softest ones.  When working in a small format, such as this one, it gives a loose, impressionistic feeling to the marks.  (Thanks to Tony Donovan for the sample!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Compare Shape Relationships

One of the most important skills a painter can learn is that of comparing relationships between shapes.  In the early stages of a painting, I'm concerned most with value and temperature.  (Color, though something that fascinates us, really isn't as important as value and temperature when it comes to creating an illusion of atmospheric reality.)  As someone who paints out in the field perhaps five days a week, I work hard at comparing value and temperature, and students who go out into the field thinking they'll get it right the first time are often disappointed.  It takes practice to learn to observe these properties accurately.

Following observation comes the effort to reproduce the observation in paint or pastel.  Before engaging in wholesale blocking-in of shapes, it's best to locate a "sandbox" in your composition where two or more shapes meet.  In this sandbox, put down a test spot of your color for one shape, then lay down next to it a test spot of color for the next shape, and so on.  You can't compare two color spots that are widely separated on your surface; you need to make them butt heads to see if they are different enough.  Here's an illustration in pastel of how that works.  First is the full sketch with a sandbox in use, and then a close-up of the sandbox area.  The close-up shows a nice little landscape color theme going.

By the way, I recently put together a 30-minute video of a demonstration in which I show you how to adjust shape relationships.  The video, plus this blog post, should give you great help in your own efforts to capture the landscape.  You can preview the video here and purchase it here. (Many other videos in my Plein Air Essential series are also available from the same link.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Landscape Paintings as Found Poems

You English majors out there (I was one) are probably aware of what a "found" poem is.  It's a poem made out of phrases from usually non-poetical sources that have been rearranged or edited into free verse.  For some amusing examples, visit this link to read some poems made out of news conferences given by the former US Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld.  More serious examples can be found in the book, Mornings Like This: Found Poems, by serious writer Annie Dillard.

In some ways, every landscape painting might be considered a found poem.  We painters, like the poet who makes found poems, pick and choose what goes into a painting.  We leave things out.  We move things around.  We add things, many of which would look quite prosaic in their ordinary settings.  If you've ever painted a studio piece from plein air sketches and photos, you probably did some of this.   Like the author of a found poem, you worked to create a pattern pleasing to behold.

Here are two views of Courthouse Butte, and they are very different, partly because they were painted from different locations.  But in each of them, I minimized the foreground to emphasize the butte.  In the one with more obvious dead snags, I didn't paint the snags literally.  In fact, I didn't use the snags in front of me at all.  I chose instead to use some that were nearby but out of my viewfinder frame - these are my "found poem" elements.  (These sketches are available for $60 each plus shipping.  Contact me if you would like one or both.)

Courthouse Butte Sketch (#750) 9x12, oil

Courthouse Butte Sketch 2 (#748) 8x10, oil

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Utah Workshop

I still have some space left in my Utah workshop coming up in April.  The workshop is based at Ivins, near Snow Canyon State Park and other beautiful spots.  We had a great time last year, and I expect we'll have a great time this year, too!  If you're interested, here are the details, followed by some of the 8x10 oil demonstrations I did.

April 18-21, 2011: Ivins (near St George), Utah 

Join Michael in Ivins, Utah, for four days (Mon-Thu) of painting in the beautiful southern Utah landscape. Home to Snow Canyon State Park, Ivins is a thriving art town. We'll be based at Blue Raven Studio, a gallery and working art studio, in the Coyote Gulch Art Village. All levels welcome. All media.
Price: $280
Contact: Kathy Heiner, 435-674-7425,

By the way, I am starting an "Interested in New Paintings" mailing list.  This is for people who are interested in my new work and getting the first chance at purchasing it.  If you want to be on this list, let me know.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Keying off the Light

"Riding to Jacks Canyon" 24x30, oil 

When I start a painting, I typically block in my darks first.  (Just as a refresher, most plein air painters start with four values in a landscape - dark, mid-dark, mid-light and light - as recommended by John Carlson.)  However, if you make that darkest value too dark, you'll end up with a painting that's overall darker than it should be.  By starting with the dark, you are keying your painting to that darkest value.

Of course, you can always lighten that dark later, but then you will need to readjust all your other values.  And that's a lot of work!

And easier way to give your paintings a lighter feeling is to key off your lightest value.  For example, in "Riding" (above) I first made the lightest possible mixture I could - a pale blue for the sky - and then darkened it just a tad.  I let that be my lightest light, blocked it in, and then keyed all my other values to it.

If I'd started off  the painting with darks, this painting, which has a great deal of shadow in it, would have been too dark.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Plein Air Southwest - Exhibit Paintings

"Hillside Town" 9x12, oil

"Mitten Ridge with Snow" 12x16, oil

"Undercut" 9x12, oil

Above you can see the three paintings I'll be putting in the Plein Air Southwest exhibition.  All three of them have snow - not something you'd expect in the Southwest, but as you can see, it does happen.  I always have enjoyed painting snow here, as it livens up the sometimes-dull color of winter.  I wonder how many other snow paintings will be in the show?

If you're in the Dallas area, I hope you stop by to see my work.  They'll be available to view (and purchase!) at Southwest Gallery starting April 8th. Here are details on the show:

April 8-30, 2011
Opening Reception April 9, 6-9 pm
Southwest Gallery, 4500 Sigma Road, Dallas TX 75244
 800-272-9910 /

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Color of Shadows

"Hot Day at Submarine Rock" 9x12, pastel - $150 - contact Michael

A reader recently asked me to address the color of shadows.  Sometimes we see shadows painted with cool blues, and sometimes we seem them painted with hot reds.  But do we really see them that way?

First, let's look at the way we discern any color, shadow or otherwise.  When I teach my students, I tell them that what's important is value, temperature and hue - in that order.  Hue, or color, is the least important.   Shadow value and temperature really "make" the sense of sunlight, or the lack thereof.

Most of us don't have any trouble understanding that shadows are dark.  (In the landscape, they tend to be more of a mid-dark because of all the light bouncing into them.)   But when we come to the next characteristic, temperature, we stumble.

Here's a useful law.  There are rarely any "laws" in painting, but this one goes beyond being a mere rule.  It's a proven fact of ocular physics.  Warm light, cool shadows; cool light, warm shadows.  Whatever temperature the light is, the shadows are the opposite.

But it's sometimes hard to tell what the light temperature is.  It's much less difficult to determine shadow temperature.  Let your eyes rove across the scene without fixing on any one point, and you can usually tell whether the shadows look warm or cool.  Another trick is to crumple up a sheet of white paper, toss it at your feet, and look into the shadows created by the folds in the paper; usually they will be very distinctly bluish (cool) or yellowish (warm.)

Most often, we have warm light, especially on sunny days.  Overcast days, where you may have a silvery light, you'll find shadows more yellowish.

Now here's the trick.  If you really can't determine temperature, just decide - one way or the other.  And stick with it, throughout the painting.  Nothing destroys the illusion of reality faster than inconsistent temperature in lights and shadows.

Finally, as for hue, it doesn't really matter.  If you have cool shadows, use any cool colors you wish, so long as they are definitely cooler than anything in the lights.  This goes even for the "warm" glow of light reflecting into shadows.

Above is a painting I did today with our workshop, and it's a good example of color in shadows.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sedona Workshops - Time is Running Out!

I only have a few weeks left here in Sedona before heading east for Campobello Island, so I want to let everyone know that I still have some space left in this season's Paint Sedona workshops.  Also, I have just one spot left in my four-day, all-media plein air painting workshop for the Sedona Art Center.  The weather has gotten really nice - it's supposed to be in the low 70s every day this week - and some of the cottonwoods are beginning to show some of their spring colors.  Here are a couple of photos from this week.

Also, please don't forget my new video.  It's only $3.99 and is 30 minutes long.  In it, I take you on location in Sedona and show you my approach to adjusting shape relationships.  You can preview the video and then order it from my store.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Plein Air Southwest Week, Part 2

Yesterday, I caught up with the Plein Air Southwest group in Jerome for a morning of painting.  It was absolutely beautiful with a little snow still in the shadows and good sunshine.  Usually when I'm up in Jerome, I paint some of the scenes on the lower tier of streets, but this time I decided to go to the top.  I found a little perch at the edge of the road with an overlook into the Verde Valley.

Here's the painting I did, a 9x12.  I like it, but I'm curious to know if you think the shadowed buildings are too warm - or just perfect.  Other comments are also welcome, of course.  (By the way, Blogger seems to do something to my images - makes them a little duller and darker.  Go to my Facebook page if you want to see it with better color.)

In addition to the folks I mentioned yesterday, Anita Mosher and Richard Prather also came to town to paint.

After a morning painting session, a few of us - Rusty Jones, Linda Dellandre, Cindy Carrillo and myself - went to Grapes for lunch.  The place was packed, but we found room on the outside porch.  We all thought that would be the best place, since we'd been outside the whole morning and had been pretty comfortable in the fresh air.  Wouldn't you know it, but the restaurant had the outdoor heat blasting to keep customers toasty!  So, it was a little hot.

After lunch, I had errands to run, so I headed down the hill to home for the rest of the day.

By the way, if you've not been to Jerome, below are some pictures.  Jerome is a resurrected ghost town and quite lively in the evenings.  Back when it was built in 1876, mining was in its heyday, and the miners thought little about building hotels, bars and brothels on a 30-degree slope.  Today, tourists brave the hairpin curves and lose-your-stomach views to shop and stroll.