Monday, October 22, 2012

Pt. Reyes Workshop

I taught a 2 day workshop for 14 participants near Limantour Beach a few weekends ago, hosted by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association. The bulk of the class participants stayed at the Clem Miller Center, just down the road from the youth hostel, while a few stayed outside of the park, and commuted in every morning. I was prepared for a foggy overcast weekend, but was surprised to find plenty of sunshine on both days. Here's a few pictures with notes about how the weekend went.

I drove up around noon on Friday to do a little more scouting out at Pierce Pt. Ranch, as I felt we might paint up there on Sunday if there seemed to be a shortage of things to paint where we were situated. It certainly turned out to NOT be the case. I did two studies up there for future reference, one under the gaze of 2 Tule Elks seemingly crouched in the foliage a few hundred yards away. I drove back through Inverness and out towards Limantour. The image above was the underside of a windswept tree on the property of the Clem Miller center. This was around 4:30 on an overcast afternoon. One of the assistants showed up from a run while I was painting, unlocked the dining center and classroom, and we looked things over. I put up some examples of my work and made sure the projector was working, while Marishka put out a cheese plate, and I opened up some wine. Folks from the class started arriving around 5, pulling out snacks and we had a nice evening, meeting new people, and revisiting some who had taken other workshops with me.

I went out early on Saturday and scouted around the beach a bit. It was clear and sunny. There's a variety of elements and views to paint, but I picked this view of bishop pines as my first demo to give the class the sense that the 'unremarkable' sort of views can have as many interesting challenges as the iconic (and more difficult) ones from the same viewpoint.

Here I am painting my second demo of the morning from the same spot as above, but looking towards the spit and the estuary. This is a tougher view primarily for the shallow diagonals of the water in the distance. I also felt that I let the sky dictate my value range too much in the background. I should have been looking more at the tree in the foreground earlier! (don't do what I do, do what I say!) 

Back in camp for lunch and lectures, I did a few more demos in the afternoon. This is the second one, looking into a wooded hillside above the road.

Late on Saturday, some of the class went back to the beach, so I went down there with a few others a bit later. There were some crazy undulating clouds drifting over, with holes between them. I had left my easel and main box of colors in camp, as I was intending to do walk arounds, but we couldn't immediately find the others, so sat in the parking lot and went to work, chasing the light up the hill. Intense warm light slamming into a hill of dead grass can turn green objects practically into orange. Against those clouds, it was over-the-top color, but fun to try and get it in paint, as the shadow relentlessly rose upwards, squeezing orange to pink... Other folks from class appeared almost magically, some on the road, pulled over to paint, some walking down the hill, all as if drawn by the strange clouds and colors. An amazing sunset to witness. We had a potluck that evening that was an absolute feast. Artists know how to cook and eat well!

Sunday morning was foggy, which gave us a change of palette and values to explore. Here's another view towards the estuary with one pine, and a lot of grasses coming up to the foreground. One interesting thing I noticed is that this kind of light can be reproduced in a sort of 1:1 correspondence with pigment. It is not so intense as to exceed the value range of the medium of paint or pastel. In bright light we are compressing value immensely to express that brightness, but it is different on a day like this. Maybe that it is an obvious comment to many, but it was a new discovery for me, as I haven't painted in this type of light very much. 

Here I am doing that demo, and you can see the value range on the ground is close. Ok, the sky is blown out in the photo, I admit. My umbrella is up, because a mist of drizzly stuff was landing on my paper..

We painted until noon, as I made my rounds, seeking out participants on sand dunes, the main trail, and one individual way out on the edge of the marsh, whom I spotted through a pair of binoculars. We returned to camp for lunch, a final crit, and then to clean up and say our goodbyes.

I really enjoyed the group, and the location is full of things to paint. I feel we barely scratched the surface. As a result, I'll be teaching another 2 day workshop out there in the spring. Stay tuned. Thanks to Arden Johnson for allowing me to use her photos, the 2 assistants, Marishka and Janet, and my gratitude to everyone for bringing so much talent, energy (and great food) to the workshop.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sonoma Plein Air

I had a great time painting this last week up in Sonoma County for  Sonoma Plein Air. I am fortunate to be able to participate in this event, and have done so for 9 out of the 10 years it has been in existence. I have met many artists who have not only  become friends, but provide a great stimulus and camaraderie  throughout the week over impromptu group dinners, discussions about our work and ideas about painting. Being able to see the scope of their weeks efforts on the day of the show is humbling and inspiring. I learn plenty simply by observing what others have chosen to paint, how they handled it,  and for the repeat participants, witness their continued growth from year to year. We all evolve in some way.   I have to also mention the generous hosts and patrons of the community who support this event through volunteer work, providing housing for the artists, and buying the art. It really is a well run event in a beautiful part of the world, all to provide funding for art education in the public schools of the county. Bravo to the organizers and patrons for making this work so well, year after year. 

So that is one way I come out of this week: grateful to be a part of something  that has given me so much back for the effort I put into it. From the 'effort' side of the coin:   Getting up before sunrise on many days, driving around looking for places to paint, trying to stay out of the sweltering heat of Monday and Tuesday, dealing with a foggy morning on another, spending one whole day painting on the coast, and coming away with three 'dogs' to show for it, worrying about having enough pieces for the show, etc. I find it to be  a real challenge to be consistent in the quality of my work, and this week was no exception. Here's a few pieces that made the cut with notes:


Painted on Monday afternoon up in Sugarloaf State Park. I've painted up here before in previous years, often to get out of the morning fog that filled the valley. On this occasion, I headed up there to sit in the shade of the creek that runs through the park to stay cool, as the temperature was around 100°. I did two paintings in the park, this one, and  a failed experiment to paint a view between the trunks of a tree revealing a stomach shaped image of foliage in light and shadow. The creek  was familiar territory. While the dappled light was moving across the creek bottom, the reflection stayed put, so I had some visual structure that wasn't going to run away from me. I've learned  that the smaller the spot of sun light hitting any object, anywhere, the quicker it is likely to move somewhere else. Its primarily a matter of scale that this 'illusion' exists. For example,  if one were painting a shadow cast on the grass of a football stadium from the grandstand, the volume of light area is quite large, and it might take a shadow an hour or more to cover up the region of light. A sun dapple on the other hand may be only a few inches across, and is in constant jeopardy of being obliterated in a matter of minutes due to the rotation of the earth. 

I had exited the park, and was driving out Adobe Canyon Road, when I saw this curve going into the late afternoon sun. I stopped the car and studied it, back-tracked to a parking spot, then hiked back along the road. It was visual stimulus that I couldn't pass up. I had a couple of such accidental encounters during the week, and made me realize that a lot of my planned efforts did not yield results as fresh as the unexpected ones. The light and shadow masses combined with the gradating color hues were the structure of the image. It wasn't about painting individual leaves at all. On the advice of my artist friend, Paul Kratter I chose this piece for the Friday night auction, where it sold and also picked up an honorable mention award for Artist's Choice. 

Another chance encounter that made me stop and paint was this view between two buildings near the plaza in the center of town. I got up before sunrise to paint the dawn light on the hills with the plaza in shadow. While I got some decent color going, my buildings needed a lot of work to be presentable. I'd have to come back another day to finish it. Meanwhile, I was wandering down the block and saw the early morning sun illuminating this little alley space behind a wrought iron gate.

My hosts for the week had a koi pond right outside the cottage I was staying in. I had walked past the pond on the way to my car numerous times and kept imagining I would paint it, but was always headed somewhere else. We had fog on one morning, which kept us from running out to paint, so stayed in, prepping work for framing... trimming, signing, photographing... another part of the process of doing a show like this. Meanwhile the pond was beckoning right outside the window.... paint me! I painted the first one as a gift for my wonderful hosts. After it was done I realized someone might actually buy it, so the next morning I tried another one, which happened to be sunny.

The afternoon light this time of year has a specific warm softness. By soft I mean not as bright. The sun is lower in the sky, so attenuated by more atmosphere which also changes its color. Combine that with the brown hills of fall and there's a specific palette one could see every afternoon, rolling towards the western horizon. The rows of eucalpytus windbreaks along many roads allow these sorts of gap views to work with.

Painted later the same day, doing some half hearted scouting on the way back to the cottage. I ran into another painter at a location I had painted at in past years. We chatted a bit, and I hopped out and plowed into a quick view of the sun blasting through an oak across a field. This fleeting golden light to the right of the oak I consider the province of the artist Christin Coy, who has painted many wonderful views in such light.

One of the many eucalyptus trees planted in windbreaks alongside roads throughout the area. Each one unique in its gesture, colorful bark striations, and unkempt manner. Paul Kratter is quite a master of  painting trees,  and advises designing and pruning if necessary to get them to look presentable in a painting. I think he's right! This painting came together fairly quickly, and I credit Paul's wisdom as part of its success, as I left out several prominent branches and bark debris in favor of a more unified form defined by light and shadow.  One could do a whole series of these. Hmmmm... Something to consider for next year.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Summer's End: Warming up for Sonoma

Starting tomorrow morning, I'll be spending a week in the Sonoma Valley as a participant in the Sonoma Plein Air event. I've been fortunate to have been able to paint in all but last year's event, and have enjoyed it every time. The hosts are amazing and generous people, there's plenty of good painting to be had, and I get to spend time with other artists whose work I admire, and whose company I enjoy. The auction dinner on Friday is sold out, but all the artists will be exhibiting in the plaza next Saturday, so I hope to see some familiar faces up there. The artwork below is work I've done over the summer and early fall from a variety of locales and will NOT be in the show next Saturday. The work you'll see there will have been painted in the next 5 days within the confines of the county. Its a real workout, and I've been literally warming up the past few weeks, by taking a class from work off campus to paint for a few hours 3 times a week, in addition to scouting locations for a 2 day workshop I'll be teaching in Pt. Reyes in a few weeks. Here's a few images with notes about their origin. 

I've been scouting, sketching, and painting up in Pt. Reyes on weekends to get a better handle on where to take a group to paint. We'll all be staying at the Clem Miller Educational Center near the Hostel at Limantour, so naturally we'll be painting that area first and foremost. Here's a study I did yesterday of the estero and the spit, looking west. I've tried higher views from near the parking lot, and there's also some good stuff to the east. I do like the compression of the meanders in the estuary, as there's good shapes there regardless of the light and weather.

This is from the class from work that I was teaching. We were able to get off campus in the afternoons.
On this warm day we chose a small lake in Tilden Park to paint at. I was struck by the 'exploding' tree in front of the larger mass.

Painted in Oregon, at Black Butte. There is a spring next to a bicycle path that I've only seen appear a few times over the last 20 years we've been vacationing there. It was back this year, and made an instant creek that drained into a pond.  With the exception of the flowers floating above the grass like butterflies, and the darker shadows in the foliage, the bulk of the image is very close in value, separated primarily by hue. That got me wondering if it would 'work' as a painting.

I also taught a workshop in July up at the Sierra Buttes for the third year in a row. I really enjoy teaching at this hidden gem of the Sierra, and I had a wonderful, energetic group of people to work with. We made the rounds of the lakes, valleys, and other spots. This one is a rock wall just downstream from Love's Falls, on the Yuba River as it tumbles down towards Sierra City.

Here's a view across the Sierra Valley in the afternoon. The class set up  behind a windbreak of huge poplar trees, which afforded us some useful shade on a hot day. Those brown spots are pastel semiotics for cattle...

That pretty much wraps up summer. I don't have any big outings planned for awhile, and will be working up some larger studio pieces for the next few months. Of course if the weather stays the way it currently is, I'll be painting outside instead. Come to Sonoma next Saturday to see the show. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sierra Packtrip 2012

 I finished a packtrip a few weeks ago in the Ansel Adams wilderness with a great group of artist friends, Paul Kratter, Terry Miura, Michele DeBraganca, Jim Wodark, Kim Lordier, Ernesto Nemesio, and Robert Steele. Each year brings a different set of  experiences....  due to weather, place, and other circumstances, and this trip was no different. We hiked in as clouds were building up, and ended up in  a thunderstorm for the last few hours of the hike. We arrived in camp late afternoon, put up our tents in a downpour, then all crawled inside and slept for a few hours, emerging to eat dinner in the dark. We hit a pattern of afternoon rain and thunder for most of the week, so most of our productive hours took place from sunrise to mid afternoon, before we had to beat a retreat to our tents. 

The image above is a study from the first morning. All these pieces have been pinned up in my studio for a few weeks, so most have benefited from a fair amount of touchup/repair/cleanup. When I was up there, I felt pretty limited at times regarding my color choices when faced with certain lighting conditions. Backlit trees in warm morning light, and distant blue shadows in a certain value range were two recurring lighting setups. I was aware of it up there, and it was evident when I got my work home. I needed to knock down certain saturated hues, and also add more complexity and variety of color to some areas. Maybe if we had painted more at different times of day I wouldn't have felt constrained as much. I did a lot of morning paintings. Here's a few more:

I always enjoy the subtle temperature shifts of the light bouncing off of shadowed granite. Plenty of boulders were available to explore and celebrate this quality. I would just wander out of camp slowly, studying views. I usually didn't get too far. This one is about 100 yards from my tent. 


This is part of the shoreline of a pond about a few minutes walk from camp. 6 years ago we camped near here, and I swam in this pond almost every day. This year I swam in the lake.

Mid-morning, probably around 10-11-ish... After a swim, back to work!

There was a large area towards the west end of the lake that was dotted with numerous erratics such as this one.  The recurring threat of afternoon rain kept us from moving too far afield from the shelter of our tents. Consequently, we never hiked to the beautiful upper meadow and melt pond at the base of the peak. I hope to return there another year.

 A quick sketch of the north shoulder of Mt. Banner as  clouds start boiling up around noon from the west. On a few days the clouds came from the east. 

A good example of the typical afternoon weather (cloudy and threatening to rain) vs. the 'rare' sunny evening. The large snow patch is part of Mt. Ritter, viewed over the south shoulder of Mt. Banner.


Painted on the last afternoon. I had been walking by this view all week, and finally gave it a shot. The 'wall' of the mountain in the background was in shadow from overhanging clouds. The light on the rocks was intermittent. It was the oblique angle of the cliff with the tree shooting up that kept catching my eye.

A view across the lake. The last piece I did the morning before we hiked out. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Figure Group

On Tuesday nights I attend a figure group at work. I want to enumerate the ways in which I enjoy this:

1. I get to paint with other artists, and see how they are solving the same problem.
2. We listen to music... I hear new songs, new artists... good work music.
3. The figure is an endless challenge, and I get to practice and explore different techniques in a more stable environment than plein air landscape generally provides.

The image above is roughly an 8 hour pose over 2 sessions. I must thank Maria for pointing out my proportion indiscretions, Rona for her excellent taste in music and miniature painting technique. Paul, Ernesto, Randy and Tom for ongoing visual and philosophical inspiration. And last, but not least, Larissa, the model, for a wonderful pose.

Monday, June 18, 2012

One Day Workshop in Palo Alto

I'll be teaching a one day workshop in Palo Alto on August 4th, sponsored by the Pacific Art League.
We'll be painting at the Baylands, as well as somewhere up in the hills, once I find the best spot to bring a group. Demos, one on one time, as well as some lecture material will make it a busy and fun day. Click here to find out more information and to sign up. Here's a few paintings from this past weekend when I was down there scouting locations, dealing with some of my favorite subjects: reflected light in shadow, atmospheric color, and water. There's plenty to paint in and around Palo Alto!  Hope to see some new faces as well as some familiar ones.

Monday, April 30, 2012


Warm weather, wildflowers blooming, longer days, all signs pointing towards the migratory trend out of the studio, and into the field to tackle the profusion of color and complexity that nature provides in abundance this time of year. Here's three recent pieces in my quest to decode the textures of foliage I often see driving to and from work. I noticed the forget-me-nots about a week ago on the way home in the afternoon light, and made plans to come back and paint. This tiny pale blue flower is rather bleached out by direct sunlight, but pulses a blue radiance in shadowed areas, almost the exact value of the green neighborhood it resides in. There's about a 2 week window where this flower blooms. Hopefully I'll get a few more of these in before they're gone for the year.
This bottom one has a myriad of 'issues', all self-inflicted. There's really more than one painting in here, I readily admit, In addition, though I have a spotty success rate in painting tree roots, I keep trying to sneak them into my work. Did I almost cut the painting in half with that illuminated edge of flowers on the right? Guilty! Plus, that tangled weave of branches in the background tempted me with its persian rug complexity. In short, its a kitchen sink painting, full of too many good intentions. Periodically I fall into this trap, and spring has a beguiling way of deluding me into trying to get it all going in one image. Sometimes I know I'm walking right into it, and still keep going. One can think of images like this as a page full of math calculations, or notes about various painting problems, all tackled with varying success rates in a single image. I find its still worth the effort at times, even if it doesn't gel into an image with a strong, singular impact. There's always next time.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gallery Talk tonight in San Francisco

In my last show at the Studio Gallery, my talk was scheduled the same evening as a playoff game between the Giants and some rival team.This time I won't be competing with any sporting events that I'm aware of, and hopefully the weather will curtail its recent outbursts, so there will be some folks willing to make a trip to the gallery this evening at 7.
I've got a range of work in the show of what I might call the usual suspects and terrain, which will be the basis of my talk. I'll try to explain what it is that draws me to paint what I do, and also go into the issue of my evolving studio efforts, and what I can get out of that process that I can't get in nature (and vice versa). I welcome hecklers and those that ask questions, along with the polite listeners. And, of course, as a bonus, all the secrets of Art will be revealed.... Hope to see there!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Upcoming art show (and recent studio work)

My 3rd annual solo show at the Studio Gallery in San Francisco opens this Wednesday. Here are the 7 studio pieces I did for the show. The other 26 paintings were all done onsite at a variety of locations around California.

Rush Hour
Pastel on Canson Paper
16 x 14

Pastel on Canson Paper
14 x 16
From a raft trip down the Colorado in 2008. I can't tell you how many paintings drifted by while on the raft. Here's two that I couldn't let get away. Nankoweap was actually a view from shore in camp. I have a field study of this one.

Drake's Beach
Pastel on Canson Paper
16 x 20
There are 2 other pieces in the show painted on this day. Ernesto Nemesio and Sharon Calahan and I spent a whole day exploring different areas of the Pt. Reyes locale.

The last 3 are all from last summer's pack trip to the Rock Creek drainage. We camped at Chickenfoot Lake and many of us hiked up to the Gem Lakes area to paint, as the views were spectacular.

Splintered Shore
Pastel on Canson Paper
12 x 16

Gem Outlet
Pastel on Canson Paper
12 x 16

Treasure Beyond
Pastel on Canson Paper
15 x 20

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Edgar Payne Show

Edgar Payne wrote a book called 'Composition of Outdoor Painting' which is considered a classic. I have to confess that I've never been able to read the whole thing, as I find his writing style to be incredibly ponderous and dull. However, the redeeming strength of his book are the numerous thumbnail compositional studies and examples that describe his ideas, analysis, and advice in a very clear and succinct
fashion. To say that Payne practiced what he preached is an understatement. While he may be a less than ideal author for my tastes, his paintings are as strong and clear as his compositional thumbnails, and are full of vigorous brushwork and luminous color. One can learn plenty by studying his originals which are currently on display at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento.

The show features a good selection of his well known subjects, the mountains, the fishing boats, the Southwest, and seascapes, most of them sizable studio efforts. I could only find about 3 pieces that I felt were plein air studies... 2 small seascapes and an alpine scene. What struck me about his work overall is how consistently he adhered to a strong compositional division of tone into 2 major value patterns. If he wanted to further direct the eye, he would push saturation and value more in a specific area, while remaining within the key of that region. His brush scaling was straightforward: the bigger the canvas, the bigger the brush! No more image detail was to be had in the larger paintings, just big, thick strokes of paint. He also seemed to exemplify Charles Hawthorne's oft-repeated advice about ''...putting the right spot of color in the right place", letting edges 'take care of themselves', so to speak. This was especially evident in some of the fishing boat paintings with figures, where there was a lot of blank canvas between brush strokes, yet the image was resolved about a few feet back.

It was clear that the bulk of his imagery was devised in the studio, though based on plenty of firsthand observation from his numerous field trips. He landscaped many of his iconic mountain scenes with lakes conveniently and reliably placed at the bottom of the frame, whether they existed that way in nature or not.
Some of his seascapes contained foam 'serpents' that rivaled a Frank Frazetta painting, all in the service of strengthening the composition

Most of the Southwest paintings had a small grouping of figures on horseback strategically placed to provide contrast of scale to the cliffs and sky.

Payne, a scenic painter and muralist by trade for many years, created a body of work that established an iconic language of landscape in his consistent use of these devices. A critic might dismiss all this as mannerism or formula. Some might call it style. Regardless, he's an excellent painter from whom one can learn and be inspired by. His compositions are rock solid, he captured light and color of various locales and time of day beautifully. Just google image his name and you can read his imagery easily in thumbnail form. There's really nothing obscure or murky about his work. And they are luminous!

In the Flesh

4 hours of an 8 hour pose

8 hour pose

4 hours

12 hours.
I've never spent this long on a single image for my personal work that I can recall. What interests me is that one can keep finding something to paint....or repaint, correct, restate, etc. while trying to keep it fresh. Still after all these hours of labor, I can glance at it as a thumbnail on my desktop and ask myself questions like, why are her arms seemingly so long, her hand so large, what's that rash on her upper chest, why is her right breast lacking form, is her head way too small? Then again, does it matter? This kind of 'work' is more beguiling than I ever imagined. The body is a landscape full of beautiful color shifts, receding planes, valleys, translucency, reflective color in shadow, edges... the list goes on. It is a great, immersive workout. I just dive in and start painting, then repairing, then wandering through different regions conducting experiments on form description and edges... then the pose is over. Time flies by. I don't quite know how to wrap them up yet, or what to leave out. That'll take awhile. Go check out what Terry Miura is doing with the figure if you want to see how strong a reductive approach can be.

Sierra workshop full, Colorado workshop cancelled
For scheduling reasons, I've had to cancel my Colorado workshop. Unfortunately, I could not find an alternative date that worked for this year. My apologies to those that were interested in taking it. Hopefully I can do one another year. My workshop in the Sierra Buttes is full up, with a waiting list.