Thursday, October 4, 2012

Unusual day on the coast

I went out to paint in the early morning this week.  I was up in the dark and drove for over an hour through the mountains to catch the rising sun and early light at the coast.

It was beautiful painting, but what made the day most memorable was all the wacky things I came across through the day:
  • First off, I was startled by a huge deer with a massive rack standing just 3 feet from the road as I drove by in the dark through the mountains.  He just watched me drive on by and didn't flinch a bit even with me so close.  I guess if he's lived this long he knows what he's doing when around mountain roads
  • another deer ran across the road just 25 feet in front of me as I turned a switchback going up the mountain
  • family of sea otters
  • dolphins
  • pod of killer whales
  • seals
  • pair of airplanes practicing aerial writing (they were just making pattens, not sure what else this could have been).
  • a different biplane doing stunts, dives and stalls
  • and to wrap it up, a skinny dipper out enjoying the surf and prancing around the pescadero beach.
Here are a pair of paintings from the day:

 Pescadero Shallows, 8x14, oil

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Value of Value

Thought I'd post a quick example of how value makes the painting.  Value, or dark and light, is what holds a painting together.

Here's a recently finished oil painting done from some studies along the American River:

I started this piece with a neutral underpainting value study.  I first quickly toned the canvas with a bright yellow rubbed out with gamsol thinner.  I then painting with a thin purple/yellow mixture that is fairly neutralized (but not a completely neutral grey).  This resulted in a monochromatic painting that lays out both the complete composition and value (dark/light) structure of the painting:

Notice how monochromatic does not necessarily mean black and white (nor grey).  You can paint monochromatically with any single dark color.  It just means one (mono) color.

It's interesting to compare this underpainting (above) to a black-and-white version of the completed painting (below). 

When you compare the monochromatic and B&W versions, it's obvious there is a lot more color in the monochromatic underpainting than you might first think.  By starting with a value study, I find I can work out lots of problems and design pleasing paintings before even starting to consider color.  This is a great way to simplify the painting process.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Painful Birth of a New Website

I just launched a new completely rebuilt website.

For some time I’ve envisioned a site I could use to manage my entire art inventory.  It had been getting more and more complicated to track paintings out at galleries and shows.  It had been almost impossible for collectors to find paintings of the appropriate size on my website.  It had been impossible to post multiple images of paintings (with and without frames).  My site just wasn’t scaling.

I imagined an “amazon-like” website with clickable filters to find paintings by size, subject, media, cost and/or location.

If figured that I have lots of experience given my high-tech background, and that I l could leverage this brave new outsourced world to find someone to efficiently (and economically) build me a new site.  In high-tech I’ve developed huge projects using teams from different countries.  How hard could it be to build a new website?  Trick is – I don’t have the same kind of budget in my art business that I’ve had in the past with venture capital backed startups.

Knowing how important it is to carefully document what one wants to build if you’re working with people who are far away and for whom English is a second language, I carefully specified what I wanted.  Then I put the project out to bid on, an outsourcing website that lets employers find contractors from around the world.

I had bids come in from literally everywhere – India, China, Africa, Russia.  At least 20 people replied to my post within 24 hours.  Wow I thought.  This might really work.

I interviewed and picked someone from St. Petersburg to do the site.  He got the new site half way built, but when I paid him for 50% of the work he apparently decided to cut and run.  He left the site in an unusable state, and I had to throw out all that work and start over.

On my second try, I again put it out to bid and got someone from Romania to build the site.  He really did a great job, but when he was 80% done he too cut and run.  Said he had an emergency come up, and he stopped replying to emails.  At least he left me with some working code, and I was smarter this time and had insisted up front that I’d only pay once it was done.

For the third phase I decided to work on it myself.  This is a big complicated site with lots of backend code do this the advanced filtering that I wanted.  I have a software background (somewhat dated at this point), but I’m happy to say that I was able to get in there and fix the worst of the problems.  Good news is that I proved to myself that I could figure it out and support the site.  Bad news – it was going to talk way too much of my time to get it launched.

Forth phase – back out to bid.  This time I figured I had a very specific list tasks I needed done, and this might be better suited for an odesk contractor.  I found someone in India who seemed to have a strong background, but once he started I realized that much of what I was doing was out of his league.  He fixed a few things, but there was still more to do.

So this last weekend I just buckled down to see if I could get this done myself.  Two very long days later, and I have the site launched.

That was a painful birth four months in the making.  It was much harder than I had imagined when I started, but I’m really thankful that I’m there now.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t blow up this week J

You can find the new site at:

Check it out, and drop me a note if you find any problems or if you have some feedback.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

American River Paintings

Here are some of my paintings from my quest to seek out whitewater.

I painted right in the river to try to stay cool in the crazy temperatures that hovered close to 100 degrees.

 River Study II, 9x12

River Study V, 9x12

Great trip - lots to paint around Coloma, CA.  I'll have to go back when I'm less likely to melt while I'm there :-)

Monday, August 6, 2012

OK – that was a bit crazy

OK – that was a bit crazy.

I’d been itching to go hunt out some whitewater to paint.  I’d planned a trip into the Sierra foothills to paint the American River.  I was packed to go, but a last minute weather check showed it was going to be almost 100 degrees all week.

I went anyway.

Goes to show just how addictive painting can be. 

Good news is that my plan worked.  I literally stayed wet all day every day.  I just painted standing in the river (being careful not to get washed away).  Once the river started rising so quickly I had to make a mad dash to get out of there and climb back up the cliff I had precariously scrambled down.  The water flow is controlled by a dam release upstream, and the water was rising as it does each day around 10am to accommodate whitewater rafters.

In the end - no heat exhaustion.  I painted dawn to dusk (just breaking for an air-conditioned lunch spot midday), got lost in the painting, and had a great time.

I'll post some paintings from the trip soon ...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Los Gatos Plein Air Festival

I’m just now beginning to feel fully recovered from a week spent in the Los Gatos Plein Air festival.  These events are truly exhausting.  Invited artists from around the country come into town to paint for 5 days (mixing in social events throughout the week).  On Friday we deliver one piece for auction at for evening gala, and then the next morning we deliver more work and a big show goes up in the town square.  All the work needs to be framed and gallery ready. 

"Evening Approaches", 9x12, Pastel (Sold)

People often just don't appreciate just how much work it is to paint and frame like a manaic for a whole week.  I'm up before dawn and painting until sunset every day.  On top of that, I'm often framing in the evening.

I'm getting smarter as I do more of these events, and I'm taking a siesta in the middle of the day to try to keep my energy level up.  I'm also trying to spend less time traveling and hunting for painting locations, and more time painting.  I spent the majority of the week painting in the Portola Pastures ranch in the Palo Alto hills.  This hidden treasure offers some of the last remaining grand vistas of the bay area rolling hills.   I’m really pleased to have captured some paintings of these classic California views.

"Tack Shed", 8x8, Pastel

The Los Gatos Rotary put together a terrific event.  They are really going the extra mile to make this event as good as it can be.  The only downside was completely out of their control – the weather.  The day of the outdoor show in the downtown square was close to 100 degrees.  It was unlike anything we’ve seen in some time.

Here are a few more of the paintings I did over the course of the week:

"Baby Eucalyptus", 8x8, Pastel (Sold)

"Receding Afternoon", 15x15, Pastel

"California Gold", 12x16, Pastel

This last painting, “Twisted”, is 18x18 – larger than I normally work plein air.  I went out to do a little 8x8, but as I was setting up my easel something possessed me and I decided to go big.  It was lots of fun and I’m very happy with the result.

"Twisted", 18x18, Pastel

All-in-all a great week.  Lots of fun and well worth the effort requried for events like these.  Here's a list of all the artists invited this year (from the event webstie):

Michael Bagdonas, Placerville,CA
Andrew Ballantyne, San Jose, CA
Maria Boisvert, San Jose, CA
Brenda Boylan, Beaverton, OR
Judith Cameron, Rancho Santa Margherita, CA
Larry Cannon, Sausalito, CA
Hiu Lai Chong, Rockville, MD
Ken Christensen, Los Osos, CA
Michael Clements, Kula HI
John Crawford, Soquel, CA
Mark Farina, Pacific Grove, CA
Robert Frank, Novato, CA
Scott Grabowski, San Francisco, CA
Carole Gray-Weihman, Penngrove, CA
Darrell Hil, Kamuela, HI
Sterling Hoffmann, Sebastopol , CA
Sibyl Johnson, Carmel, CA
Thomas Kitts, Portland, OR
Sheryl Knight, Santa Maria, CA
Paul Kratter, Moraga, CA
Gretha Lindwood, Portland, OR
Sergio Lopez, Santa Rosa, CA
Ed Lucey, Los Gatos, CA
Will Maller, Los Altos, CA
Linda Mutti, Santa Barbara, CA
Donald Neff, San Jose, CA,
Erich Neubert, Dana Point, CA
Anton Pavlenko, Happy Valley, OR
Dana Phillips, Granite Bay, CA
Charles Prentiss, La Selva Beach, CA
Lori Putnam, Franklin, TN
Carole Rafferty, Palo Alto, CA
David Savellano, Alameda,CA
Timon Sloane, Los Altos, CA
Mary Stahl, Palo Alto, CA
Robert Steele, Larkspur, CA
David Stonesifer, Los Gatos, CA
Linda Sutton, Martinez, CA
Timothy Tien, Alhambra, CA
Claire Verbiest, San Jose, CA
Sharon Weaver, Valley Village, CA
John White, Long Beach, CA

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Returning from from the Carmel Art Festival

I just returned from the Carmel Art Festival in Carmel, California.
The festival is an invitational plein air painting competition where juried artists converge on the town to paint and then show ‘wet’ paintings through the weekend.

As artists we have just 48 hours to paint.  We arrive on Wednesday evening to get our canvases stamped on the back, and then we’re off and running.  Running can really be the operative word here, because if the weather is bad you can spend a lot of time driving while seeking out better conditions. 

Wednesday evening and Thursday were both lousy days for painting – overcast and dreary.  On Wednesday I drove back into the valley hoping to find good weather.  Not.  It was dreary, cold and windy.  I did a painting – but only because I was feeling the pressure to get started.

Thursday morning was no better.  I wound up driving 40 miles south along the coast.  I finally came across good weather, and was able to paint atop a cliff looking down into the Big Sur coastline.  When you’re standing in good weather it’s hard to imagine that it’s bad elsewhere.  I made this mistake and figured the weather must have improved back in Carmel, so I headed back and wound up mired in the fog again.

I was checking the weather forecast Thursday night and it looked pretty bleak for Friday.  Lots of fog was projected.  To my great surprise, when I got up and stepped outside the light was just terrific.  I skipped breakfast and didn’t even stop for a cup of coffee.  Instead, I headed straight for the coast and got two paintings finished before 11am – both painted from the same spot.  As it turns out, these were the two paintings that I entered and sold over the weekend.

Here are the paintings I did that morning:

"Illuminated Break", Pastel, 9x12

"Pacific Grove Morning Surprise", Pastel, 12x18

These events are kind of like the ‘x-games’ version of painting.  It’s kind of crazy to be painting under such time pressure and with the huge variable of unpredictable coastal weather.  I do, however, love the energy and enjoy meeting up with friends over dinner and drinks at night.  At the beginning of the week I was wondering if it was all worth it, but by the end of the week I came away invigorated and glad that I had made the effort.

Here are two more paintings completed during the event:

"The Way Down", Pastel, 12x16

"Portrait Study of Big Sur", Pastel, 9x12

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2 Day Workshop

I just announced a new 2-day workshop coming up soon:

May 29 & June 5th, 2012

Capturing the Light of the Landscape

May 29 & June 5th, 2012
Two consecutive Tuesdays
9:30am – 5pm both days

For more info, visit my website by clicking here.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Paintings from Santa Barbara

Here are a series of the paintings I did when I was down in Santa Barbara ...

These are all 9x12 oils on panel ...

You can click on any of the images for more info and additional details.

This last pair of paintings are both of the same scene, the first in the evening and the second in the early morning.  I love the contract and the different take on the same location ...

What a great trip.  Terrific light and good weather (while it was raining away back home).  Well worth the effort to get myself away for a week.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Richard McKinley workshop

I just spent the better part of the week in Santa Barbara, CA painting.

I took a workshop with Richard McKinley.  This is the second time I've taken one of his workshops, and he's the only painter that I've ever felt motivated to study with more than once.  At the first workshop of his that I took I think I was the only one (of 18 or so) who hadn't taken a workshop with him before.  I remember thinking that I couldn't imaging taking a workshop with anyone multiple times (usually I feel like I learn what I can from each instructor and move on).  To my surprise, here I was 2 years later back for another dose.

This time it was an oil painting workshop (Richard is best known as a pastel instructor).  I've been getting back into the oils, so when I got a call that a spot opened up on the waiting list I figured I'd give it a go.

Richard has boundless knowledge that he's more than happy to share, and a unique capacity to help painters at all levels.  He has a unique capacity to talk while he demos, usually discussing what he's thinking and doing but also to be able to answer arbitrary questions that might not even be related to the painting in process. 

Richard also demos a different technique during every demo.  At the first workshop he demoed twice a day for 5 days in a row.  That's totally unheard of.  This time around he demoed once each of the 3 days of the workshop.

If you ever get a chance, I'd highly recommend one of his workshops.

I'll post some paintings from the trip in the next day or so.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Studio Painting Process

I recently used one of my Point Lobos studies to do this larger pastel painting in the studio ...

"Serpentine Coast", Pastel, 18x24

Here are a couple of shots of the pastel painting in  process.  First I started with blocking in some of the darker shapes. 

I then washed this down with isopropyl alchohol using a large brush.  This turns the dry pastel into something very close to watercolor, and it sinks into the painting surface.  This process allows me to quickly establish the composition and the major shapes.  It also sets up my darks and established some initial color I can then react to as I develop the painting.

Notice I don't underpaint the sky.  I did lay in a bit of pink right at the horizon, but I wanted to use the color of the board as the underpainting for the sky.  I also find underpainting tends to darken things, and I find it essential to keep the sky light to generate a feeling of luminosity.

I unfortunately don't have a picture of the painting just after finishing the underpainting - so you'll have to use your imagination.

Here's my studio setup.  I have both a swivel mounted computer monitor (on the left) and my framed plein air study on the right.

Here's the painting as it develops.  See the tree on the foreground rock?  I completely scrubbed it out because I thought it was looking overworked, and once it was gone I thought the painting was stronger as it let the eye move into the painting a little more easily.  This painting has a number of different secondary subject areas, and I decided simpler would be better ...

And then the final piece:

"Serpentine Coast", Pastel, 18x24
For those who like all the details, this was done on pastelmat that I had mounted to rigid gatorfoam.