Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April Sparrow


April Sparrow, 8x8, oil painting on canvas panel.

I had such a fantastic time painting a sparrow yesterday that I'd thought I'd do another but this time challenging myself to change the composition (to a square), keep a higher and warmer key, use Gamblin's "environmentally friendly" Torrit Gray, and switch to a new (and better) brush cleaning method (baby wipes as recommended by oil painter Kevin MacPherson.)  I thought that was enough for one afternoon.

I did a much more careful drawing (I think of it more as a design or organization of shapes) than I normally would, but I find that helps for then in turn having more freedom with the colors. As I tell my students, when you paint think values, shapes, then color--even if that's what really inspired you in the first place.

Next week I'm hoping to branch out (no pun intended) to some other birds. I'm determined to take as many of my own photo references as possible to work on this series, so I'm planning to head up to Barr Lake State Park in Brighton where hopefully I'll find some willing feathered models.  I see the Barr Lake Bird List is quite extensive! And I also see where our Denver Zoo has some special days where you can arrive early just to take photos. 

While I'm not a very strong photographer, I think this would be great way to get some wildlife photo references, which is never easy living in the city as I do. Also, if you enjoy animal oil paintings be sure to check out Maryland artist Mark Adams work. His cats are wonderful and I love his oysters too!

As always, thanks for visiting! Please don't hesitate to email me if you have any questions about my art, private classes, or Monday group workshop which starts on Monday, May 3.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Firethorn Sparrow

Bon jour everyone! I hope everyone is having a great spring week! As many of you know I've always painted (for better or for worse) in a variety of styles, but if I could paint in just one style for the rest of my life it would be abstracted nature. The other day I was struck by the interesting pattern of this little fluffed up sparrow perched on my thorny and unruly pyracantha (fire thorn) bush and took a quick reference photo out the window.

The small birds love it but it has taken over our side yard and I fear it may be it's last spring as we look to do some fresh landscaping. I knew it would be an interesting challenge to paint the red and greens as well as the abstract pattern of the leaves in shadow and sunlight.

I almost always mix my greens, oranges, and violets but here I decided to add a green to my palette for additional color mixing challenge. I chose Gamblin's Viridian--a beautiful cool (bluish) green a more controllable than Pthalo Green. I had a wonderful mixing a range of cool and warm greens here.

Before I go, quick welcome to all my summer students--it's great to have you and I look forward to painting with you throughout in my favorite season. For more information about my summer painting classes and "Colorful Connection" Monday group workshop please visit my Classes & Workshop Page. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Call Me Tuesday

I started out early this morning painting on a small representational oil bird study (After my cardinal the other day, I've decided to paint my way through all the state birds this year. Next Alabama, which I believe is the Yellowhammer.)

Anyway, while I was painting the beautiful Eastern Bluebird (the state bird of Missouri and New York) I was enjoying one of all time favorite studio albums, Abbey Road. The intriguing and imaginative lyrics never cease to amaze and entertain. So when I took a short break from my bluebird painting (so I would not overwork him), I decided to start an abstract. For me, I an occasional creative break from representational work really helps to fortify my brushwork, design eye, etc. 

Getting back to Lennon and McCartney, one of my favorites lines on Abbey Road has always been "Sunday's on the phone with Monday, Tuesday's on the phone with me."  (The next time you are looking for abstract inspiration consider a visual interpretation of one of your favorite songs.)

In addition to listening to the Beatles, I had spotted my vintage Remington typewriter in the corner of my office this morning. It's become a giant dust collector and I keep thinking I should donate it, but I've always been drawn to the graphic design of the simple san serif black letter forms against the yellowed keys...

And so in this piece, I decided to combine the two as my inspiration. Here I started, as I often do, with an very quick gestural drawing in oil pastel on the primed (gessoed) Masonite. And then I start layering with some earthy, warm transparent acrylics and moved on to some nice rich, yet relatively transparent Ivory Black oil paint.  I rarely use tube black in my representational work so it's a special treat to have in an abstract like this. As with most of my abstracts, I'll continue to work on this some more but I wanted to post what I had so far.

As always thanks for stopping by. For more information about my Curtice Street Monday painting group which starts on May 3, please email me. All levels and subject matter are welcome. Have a wonderfully creative week!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Inking Big

Happy weekend everyone! A few weeks ago I saw that local Colorado watercolorist Peggy Stenmark was doing a demo of her amazing watercolor ink resist method at Meiningers Art Supply (the "mega" art store in Denver) over the weekend.  Many years ago when I took a break from working full-time to concentrate on painting,  I was lucky enough to paint almost every week with an extremely diverse, supportive, and talented group of watermedia painters at Foothills Art Center in Golden. CO.  

Peggy was one of the many amazing painters in that group and she was kind enough to share her white tempera/waterproof India ink resist technique with us at the time. If you visit her website, you'll see has won many awards and is truly a master of this unique watermedia resist application.

I remember how much I loved the organic wood cut look and the graphic black lines, which give you an instant dark value to work from. I also recall trying the technique and that it took a bit of planning, patience, and practice. Seeing Peggy demo the technique again inspired me (and my watercolor student) to give it another try.

Here, I probably overdid the detail in the iris and quite frankly my student's simpler boat is more successful.  I'll explain the technique in detail in another posting, but basically imagine that the white (so it does not stain your watercolor paper) tempera paint works like a masking fluid around all the dark lines (so you paint up to the line on both sides) and then let that dry completely. Note that Peggy suggests mixing the tempera from powder to the consistency of "pancake batter" so that it covers the paper well and is also easily brushed on. (My nearest store was out of the powder so I did try a very thick brand and it seemed to work OK in a pinch.)

The next step is to sponge brush black waterproof India ink completely over your surface and again allow the ink to seep into the paper. The tempera protects the paper when you rinse it off with water. Yes, this process could get messy, so I used my garden hose in the backyard.  This results in a beautiful rich black design or outline on your watercolor paper as you can see here. The best part is now you can paint with bold, rich colors if you want because of the black--which works wonderfully for shadows, backgrounds, or "black value" details.

I know Peggy prefers Quiller paper and paints, here though I used Arches 140lb CP and a variety of watercolor brands. Because you can't quite control what you'll get from the tempera/ink combo it's a very exciting technique that I look forward to trying again later this week. 

For more information about my classes or new Monday workshop, please email me. Have a great week all and happy spring painting!


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Red Bird Wednesday

It's a beautiful sunny spring day in Denver so a wintery cardinal study might be a bit of an odd choice for a painting today. But I really wanted to paint something bright red and I had the studio doors open to the backyard and could hear the vociferous songbirds (cardinals have about 12 songs, I read). 

And while owls (obviously!) are my personal favorite bird, my grandmother always loved cardinals and red, as I do, so that was additional inspiration for this little 8x10 cardinal oil painting study.  Did you know seven states have cardinals as the state bird? And this is a male of course because of the showy plumage.

I also knew it would be fun to play with the green complement as well as the red hue temperatures--balancing the warm and cool reds in this case. This study was painted with a limited oil palette of: Titanium White, Ultra Blue, Cerulean Blue (which I don't often use but thought I would use for my cool blue today since Thalo is sooo strong), Cad Red Light, Permanent Rose, and some Cad Yellow Medium.

To soften the edges I used a flat sable brush (rather than a stiffer oil bristle brush) which I don't always use either because I tend to loose some of my edges, but it's the perfect tool for for feathers and fur.

For more information about my classes and NEW Colorful Connections workshop please click on the Classes link on the top right. Have a wonderfully creative day!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Monday Painting Workhop for the Summer!

Van Gogh once said: 
You can't be at the pole and the equator at the same time. You must choose your own line, as I hope to do, and it will probably be color.

And on that note I'm very happy to announce that starting in May I will be teaching a Monday painting workshop in Downtown Littleton focused on color--since that's my driving passion as a artist and has been since I opened the lid of the Crayola 64 pack way back when...Ahh magenta, periwinkle, chartreuse, copper..Just some of my favorites!

Anyway, my plan is to have an "open studio" group class where we have an assignment but also enjoy painting with each other, sharing ideas, etc. If any of you have had the opportunity to be part of an ongoing group like this you know it's a fantastic way to grow as an artist.

For more information about my New Colorful Connections Workshop or Magenta Mondays (as I may call it) please email me ASAP if you are interested.. The room is wonderful and will hold about 8-10 painters  comfortably, but these groups tend to fill up fast. Also, I welcome all levels, if you are more advanced I hope you will enjoy the weekly assignments and if you are beginner I think you will enjoy learning in a relaxed and supportive environment.

Also, I'm proud to say that this morning I "graduated" from this year's CBCA Leadership Arts Class--for any of you in the Denver metro area interested in learning more about how you (or your business) can get involved in the Denver non-profit arts community it's a wonderful and unique program. 

Happy Painting Everyone!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Art Springs Eternal

Good Morning Everyone--First I want to welcome my new students (three this week!) and any prospective students from TeachStreet. I'm happy to say that this week I'm a Featured Denver teacher. So thank you all for stopping by.

Also, I'm featured in the Creative Coupon Book produced as part of our Create Denver Week and am looking forward to attending the Creative Denver Expo downtown this afternoon (as you'll likely see me Twitter.)  As an artist, I feel very lucky to be in a city where the "Creative Class" is recognized as a growing and integral part of our economy.

Also, I'm hoping to announce as soon as tomorrow my new Colorful Connection Painting Workshop which will be a fun group workshop focused on color but for all media (watercolor, oil, and acrylic) one day a week. So please stay tuned for more info about that.  If you haven't painted in a group setting before it's a great way to meet new artists and learn from them as well.

Finally, I unfortunately was a bit pressed for time this week teaching and planning the workshop, but I was able to practice some watercolor and tried this quick negative painting of spring trees taken from an exercise by painter Linda Kemp.

For more information about my classes or new group workshop please email me--I'm looking forward as I hope you are to a fantastic season of color, art, painting, and creativity! Namaste!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bon Painting!

As I may have mentioned before, in addition to painting, I love to cook and try new recipes for relaxation. I've always admired small, fresh still life oil paintings of fruits, vegetables, desserts, etc. There are some amazing daily painters out there who do marvelous things with simple, edible subjects.

Inspired by these painters, I was planning to set up a small scene of wine and cheese in my studio. But I decided I wanted to paint a much larger piece of Swiss cheese (I really wanted to paint the holes) than I had on hand. Quite frankly, I thought a photo would have less caloric impact as well and summer is just around the corner... 

So I'll confess here that I reluctantly used an online photo reference for this study. I try to "borrow" as little as possible and certainly I would never do so for any art competition. But there are times when I really want to paint  a particular subject matter that I just don't have easy access to such as a charging African elephant, a spewing Fiji volcano, or the Helsinki skyline.

Let's face it, most artists today are busy multi-taskers and I'll take some help where I can get it especially if it saves me time. While I do utilize online photos as learning and teaching tool, I do feel strongly about indicating when I'm NOT using my own photo, set up, etc.

And when I do work from these helpful reference photos I also prefer to print them out in black and white so I'm at least applying my own color sense. In this particular case, I immediately knew I wanted to work with a lively, mostly high key yellow green/red violet complementary palette--one of my favorites. I have to say though while this piece is not quite complete, I loved playing with the colors and textures (i.e. glass vs. grapes vs. cheese).

Call it artistic karma, but I also can't help but notice without my own reference material, as much as I enjoy the process these paintings always lack a certain spark and charm. Still any dedicated painting time in the studio is a pure luxury and learning experience.

This week I'm looking forward to several new students (Welcome all!) as well as hopefully taking some time to take a painting class myself. 

I'm also working on an abstract for the annual WOW (which stands for Wide Open Whatever--and trust me, they mean it) Art Show at Core New Art Space. The show has a special place in my heart because it was one of my first large oil painting sales almost 20 years ago.  I'll never forget when the collector invited me to her home to help her decide where to hang it in her home. And on that very positive art note, I'll wish everyone a creative and happy week!       

Friday, April 2, 2010

Yupo Friday

Happy Friday everyone! I'm thrilled to post these inspiring and exciting Yupo floral paintings today painted by Richard K., one of my watermedia students.  Thank you Richard for letting me sharing these with all the Yupo fans out there. While Yupo can be a challenging surface especially if you are used to a "toothier" paper,  I think these paintings are wonderful examples of how well Yupo works for painting organic subjects such as flowers.

Richard also used the Golden Fluid Acrylics to help him achieve these tropical saturated hues and amazing textures.  Check out some of the "bubbly" texture in the spiky leaves of the bird of paradise. I just don't think you could mimic that on paper, even with hot press. And Richard makes an excellent  point when he told me that after painting on Yupo for a while he had a new found "respect" for painting on watercolor paper.

It's true, at least for me, that trying new media, surfaces, subject matter etc. is a very helpful way to strengthen your overall creative skills.  For example, if I'm having less than a stellar day with a difficult oil  painting (yes, it happens even after 25 years), I switch to watercolor the next day or do a layered acrylic abstract. Speaking of moving between styles I noticed in the March issue of Southwest Art (one of my favorite art magazines) the beautiful and angular oil landscapes of Arizona painter Ed Mell and his quote about how "moving between abstraction and realism" also helps keep him fresh.

Friday is usually my own studio day so I better get to work. I'm planning on a representational oil still life painting, but we'll see what happens...Also, if you are in the Denver area quick reminder that it's First Friday today so go out and support your local neighborhood galleries and artists and have a great time!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What's the temperature?

For those of you with an iPhone, don't you love happy yellow sun weather app? For some reason, I love to look at the weather all over the world and compare it to chez moi. Today, I'm happy to report my iPhone says i's a beautiful spring day in Denver and so I'm going to try to paint without a quin pigment on my palette...LOL. No, that's not going to happen. Sorry some weak art humor for April Fool's...

But it is Thursday, often my watercolor day, so I decided to do a quick pair of paintings. A warm and cool watercolor roughly the same subject matter for fun. I recalled I'd seen an exercise like this in artist Mark Mehaffey's book Creative Watercolor Workshop and so that's where this particular painting comes from.

For the first higher key warmer version here I used a primary triad of Cobalt-Quin Rose-and maybe Gamboge? (Normally, of course, I'd know what I'm using but I say maybe because I'm using a very nice, but "inherited" Pike palette from another artist.) Just as Mark suggests in his book, I started the painting by with a warm "wet in wet" wash, let that dry and then directly painted over that using a variety of flats and rounds. Speaking of flats, I love the short handled red synthetic Cosmotop Spin DaVinci flats--these are some of my all time favorite watercolor brushes. It always amazes me how much variation you can get in watercolor with just three pigments like this. Also this was painted on a CP Quiller block.  

In the darker and cooler painting, I had as you can quite likely see a bit of an "uh oh" moment when I applied too much yellow and even worse an more staining cool Hansa Lemon instead of the Gamboge...Oh well, this happens in watercolor especially when you've got some nice jazz on and are painting away. The brush has a mind of it's own. To get to the darker values you see, I added Thalo Blue and very small amount of Permanent Green (I think) to the same Cobalt, Rose, and Mystery Yellow palette. This was painted on a CP Arches block.

I tried every trick in the book to soften this yellow streak (it looks worse in the photo, but I still don't like it).  At some point, I may just take this painting even darker and see where that leads but for now I'll let it dry completely and sleep on it. That's sometimes best when you want to "fix" or should I say "creatively adjust" a painting.

Before I go, quick shout out to my new student Ruth from Wyoming--have fun exploring liquid acrylics! I can't wait to see where they take you.  Enjoy the journey!  For more information about my ongoing watercolor, acrylic, or oil painting classes please visit me on TeachStreet or send me an email

P.S. I've just added an Etsy store for my smaller available paintings for sale--mostly oil paintings under $100 with Free Shipping.