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October 2009

Keeping It Simple

Okay, I admit it: I've tried to reinvent the wheel on more than one occasion.  Particularly when it comes to organizing the upcoming deadlines for submitting applications to juried shows or art associations I might be interested in joining. 

Last year I missed several important opportunities, so at the beginning of this year I came up with an elaborate system using one of those multi-pocket file folders plus a monthly calendar where I dutifully filed the applications and entered each date.  And then I stowed the file folder and calendar where they would be convenient and...

It's the out of sight, out of mind thing.

So, I've developed a new system.

DSC04608It's called a clipboard.

And those little post-it flags. 

And a red pen.  

And a small nail where I can hang it up right where I can see it.

Now when I find something interesting on the internet I print it off and file it on my high-tech clipboard.  I list the date when the application is due on the post-it note and then put the applications in order.  

I am optimistic that this system will work better for me than the old system.


Yes, sometimes it is hard to tell whether you are moving forward or backward.

But at this age, any movement is a good sign. 

A Peek Into the Art Studio

I thought I would give you a peek into my art studio as I work on a new painting.


I've planned carefully, doing my preliminary sketch in a moleskine sketch book so I'll know exactly what I want to do.  As I start painting, I remind myself to place single brush strokes over a warm toned ground.  (That's my reference photo at the bottom.)


I want to keep my palette organized - warm on one side, cool on the other.  Of course, as I need more colors I realize I can't fit them in the right order, so I revert to Plan B, which is to put the paint wherever I can find an open spot. 


Still under control, though.  This single brush mark seems tricky, but after a lot of work I'm starting to get the hang of it.  Oh yeah, that's g-o-o-o-o-d, I'm really on a roll here, yes-sir-eee.  I think I GOT that brush mark thing, except ...humm...something about it all being the same value.  Okay, we can deal with that.  But what about it being all the same color?  I was doing so well, really in the flow, that sky is pretty darn fantastic...


Okay...fine.  I'll scrape it all off, then will you be happy?  How could it have all gone so wrong?  Now I have to start all over, put out more paint, no, gotta wait for that surface to dry a bit or it will all go to the same color again.  And you know how I hate waiting...


okay, done waiting, putting on more paint how...eeegaad, it's worse!  What is happening to me...I'm melting...oh, sorry, that's from the Wizard of Oz, but something has happened to all my skills, maybe the studio gremlins threw invisible melting water on me or something....

DSC04589 copy

Well, dang!  That wasn't so bad.  You just have to know what you're doing, and that takes ...oh, years of practice...that brush mark thing?  I got a handle on it.  I gave up on the brushes, you know, they were inhibiting my creative flow and all that, just took out my painting knives and went at it.  I felt the German Expressionists right there at my elbow the whole how that whole gestalt thing where dead artists from the past can put their influence into the ether and I can just, like, tap right into it's an "over 50" thing.  Young artists can't tap into it.  Oh yeah, they'll just have to wait...a really l-o-o-o-o-g time. 

Early Light

DSC04569 copy

 Early Light
Oil on Linen, 18"x18"

This painting is just off the easel and it's still wet, but I wanted to write about it anyway.  I've talked about my inclination to paint alla prima, all in one shot.  But work schedules being what they are, I started this painting a while back and could only work on it a few minutes at a time, which forced me to concentrate on each part of the painting far more intently than I might normally do. 

I'm using one of the linen canvases I primed with rabbit skin glue and oil primer.  I like working on the oil-primed surface and I'm learning how to layer on thin paint so that the initial toned ground shows through.  With this painting, I had toned my ground using transparent oxide red, which I discovered that - even though very thin- is an extremely dominant hue.  I tried toning the "glow" down with raw umber, which helped, but the red color made it more difficult to get the sense of "coolness" in the greens.(The red is most obvious in the sky, but that actually helped in creating the sense of light - go figure.)

These are things I'm learning , understanding, and trying to master.  I've always felt like I had a reasonable sense when it comes to composition, although I generally paint scenes that contain a great deal of visual depth.  I recently viewed some excellent plein air paintings and noticed that - like the daily painters - many plein air painters focus on a single element, usually placed in the middle ground.  I don't know if this is the influence of photography for the past 100+ years or not - but it's an approach used to masterful ends by many artists today. And becoming aware of this difference in the way I approach my compositions and the way others I admire do has helped me to stretch out of my familiar "box."

Well, stretch a little bit, anyway.  This painting started with the hillside and the top tree being the focal point, but then I realized I was using my typical approach, drawing people into the depths of the painting by placing my focal area along the back edge between the middle and the background.  I made a conscious decision to pull my focal point forward into the front of the middle ground, and that - in turn - required me to make the back trees less of a dominant element.  By challenging myself this way I had to work through middle ground issues that perhaps I've been avoiding in earlier paintings. 

Another skill I've been working on is being aware and deliberate with my brush marks.  In the early stages I start loose and slowly build up my forms, but I would like to improve the visual end result of my brushstrokes.  My goals have been to come back to an area and repaint it with thicker, fluid color, striving for a "freshness" in the marks.  Sometimes areas look too dry and "dauby" - which I know is the result of not having enough paint on the brush.  Okay when first blocking in, but now I want to create a balance between lush, smooth "one stroke" areas with a more layered, detail areas.  This is another element that I would not have thought about a year ago.  It's exciting to get to a point where I realize I'm thinking more like an artist and seeing small results - which is the consequence of painting a lot of paintings - and why as artists we strive to paint every day, even if it's only for fifteen minutes before leaving for work.

This scene is inspired by one of the streams on the east side of Mt. Hood, on a foggy morning, very early.  We had decided to drive the "back way" to Portland, because it was more scenic, but the heavy fog obscured nearly everything.  I was trying to capture the dampness in the air and the indirect light bouncing around in the fog that was just starting to burn off.  The bank was actually strewn with white rocks and boulders of all sizes from the heavy winter/spring washouts, but as I worked I realized the foreground rock pattern would compete with the tree pattern. There needed to be quiet areas to contrast and emphasize those areas in this painting that were important.  My subject was the atmosphere, the light and coolness of the fog, so the trees became a more important communication element than the rocks.  I took a very large hogs hair brush and just swept broad strokes of paint across my rocks, wiping out several days worth of work in this area, and I think the painting is stronger for it.  Again, a few years ago this is something I would not have recognized as important - creating a balance between active and quiet forms.  At least I would not have been able to articulate it in these terms, only wonder "what was wrong with this picture." 

So why do I paint every day, even if I only get 15 minutes in the morning when the light is good?  Because practice gives you understanding, which gives you control...which gives you confidence and ultimately personal artistic success.
As for the photograph, light reflections off the wet paint make the water look more choppy than it actually is, plus some of the rock edges look a little weird as the camera picked up the blue more intensely than the other colors. I really have to stop being so casual about the way I photograph my art...