Saturday, December 21, 2013

Passport to Winter

"Bear Creek Tree Study" oil on canvas 8x8

Click to Bid on DPW--Thanks!
I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. 
Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn't show.

Andrew Wyeth

Happy Holidays and Winter Solstice Everyone!  Whew it’s been an exciting and hectic December which included completing and delivering a large commission (yay), a consulting project (yay again), and unfortunately a few days of being under the weather with a cold weather bug (which sounds a lot cuter than having it.)

This week though the sun returned (Wed. it was almost 70 degrees!) and that helped me quick recover and get back to teaching and painting—my two favorite things.

I also took some time out of holiday shopping to meet up with some fellow artists to see the beautiful “Passport to Paris” show at the Denver Art Museum which included 125 paintings from dozens of French masters painters.

The evolution of subject matter and style from pre French Revolution to the turn of the 20th Century was fascinating.  I particularly enjoyed the colors in these two works by Tissot and Sisley.
"The Fan" by James Tissot  1875

"The Pike" by Alfred Sisley 188
The show (as well as the Winter Solstice today) inspired me to paint a small snowscape study. After working on four 40x30 paintings I was really looking forward to painting a more manageable quick daily painting like my posting today. Looking for more winter art ideas and inspiration? Visit my Pinterest Winter's Wonderland board. Thanks and have a colorful first week of winter everyone!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Painting Around in Circles

Commission in progress 30x40 oil on canvas
Happy December everyone! This past weekend we had some nice sunny weather but tonight we’ve have an arctic cold front moving in.  As much as I’d like to get some holiday shopping done this frigid weather sounds ideal for putting finishing touches on this autumn inspired commission painting.

This is panel 2 of 3. Each “panel” is 30x40 and these have been a joy to work on—I’ve especially enjoy mixing the colors. Speaking of color, I decided to change up my color mixing routine (and when I say routine I mean like 20+ years!) for this series.

Quite simply (and intuitively) I switched to a larger circular palette. Technically I drew a large circle on a rectangular foam core board covered with plastic (paint drop cloth from Home Depot). You could also use a pizza pan or cut something into a large circle. I plan to have some foam core cut into a circle and use a large pizza box for the cover. This should work quite well.

I've used a circular palette before (the Quiller is one of my favorites for watercolor)  but like many artists for oils I’ve usually used the standard rectangle 12x16 plastic covered palette. Which is handy for pets, classes, etc. Even my small handheld palette for figure painting was a rectangle.

But I’ve found mixing in a circle even easier- I can see why it’s the preference for many artists. It feels very organic and natural. Plus, mixing color complements across the wheel is a snap. 

Since white is not one the color wheel, I’ve been putting the white sometimes in the middle and sometimes to the side. Both seem to work fine. So if you haven't painted in a circle give it a try and let me know what you think!

Before I go: Special thanks this time of year to my collectors and of course my students who continue to paint with me during a busy season.  Wishing you all a happy and colorful holiday season!

Friday, November 22, 2013

20 "Gotta Have It" Art Studio Tools

Got tabby? Always.
Happy Friday everyone! Recently AHA featured a podcast about "favorite artists products”—(I don’t know about you but I really love these “checklist”shows.) This show inspired me to look around the studio and share my own “must have” studio stuff.

These are “tried and true” tools (rather than brushes, knives, and paint) I keep near my easel and use almost every day. Most are fairly inexpensive and low tech. With a few exceptions...

My iPad is a splurge but honestly, it’s changed my art life. So here are 20 items that I at least for me make my creative life a little easier and more enjoyable--hope they help make your art life a breeze too!
  1. iPad—holds my reference photos, paint from it, crop, watch art demos...
  2. Joby iPad holder (Note this one is for original iPad)
  3. Crank easels (old, new—Don’t get me started on the ratchet or sliding kind.)
  4. Gray palette paper (like the mid tone and don’t care for glass)
  5. Mini plastic spring clamps (assorted sizes)
  6. Green Frog tape (varies widths—it’s a ruler on a roll!)
  7. Large and small T-Square and rulers (great for quick canvas or paper gridding)
  8. Saral transfer paper—especially the white/yellow—Just comes in handy
  9. Big Sharpie and Post it Note Pad (good for supply notes, title ideas, etc.)
  10. Rolling red taboret cart from Harbor Freight (see my post on taborets)
  11. Red plastic value sheets (red acetate from art store)
  12. Foam plates and foam brushes
  13. Good old Kemper Wipe Out Tool (or similar)
  14. Round grippy rubber jar opener (from dollar store, hardware, etc.)
  15. Adjustable height rolling drafting chair (no arms)
  16. Paper towels: Bounty (watermedia) and Viva (oil media)
  17. Hand creams (Aveda, Skin Safer, and my new fav: Desert Essence Vanilla Chai--yummy!)
  18. Winsor Newton Brush Cleaner (non toxic but powerful)
  19. Old mats/frames for checking composition
  20. And most importantly...A studio manager/muse. Mine are always striped and furry. 
Thanks to everyone who stopped by to check out the paintings from my YUPO workshop--Plan to post more YUPO paintings soon but this week I'm working on a large 3 panel oil painting commission. So I better grab some of these tools and get back to work!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Flying High with YUPO + Birds!

"Groovy Bird" watercolor and gouache on YUPO (9x12)--collection artist
I had a fantastic Saturday yesterday thanks to all the creative artists who attended my YUPO/bird painting workshop. Thank you again to the Heritage Fine Arts Guild for inviting me to share my passion for YUPO painting -as well as birds! A perfect painting match IMHO!

Much like my YUPO painting above, the workshop artists began with an abstract background using watercolors to which we added texture (stamping, stencils, lifting, salt, etc.). Many of the artists then worked their bird painting into their abstract painting. (I plan to post a step by step demo on this technique soon.)

Artist Sue rolled black gouache around her rooster shape--Love the colors and texture!
How sweet is this colorful hummingbird??
Beatrice working on her lovely snowy cardinal.
Since YUPO is "erasable" your subject can be developed using a positive or negative approach which yields really cool and unique effects. At the end of workshop we had at least 20 great paintings to show for our hard work. I wish I could post every one but here are just a few of the inspirational paintings that took flight! Awesome work ladies!
Great example of abstract with representational component. 

Anita added colorful leaf printing (from real ones) to her vibrant rooster--which looks great on YUPO!
A lovely jay on a really high energy background.
A gorgeous owl in progress--love all the color splatter!
Beautiful cool colors in Amber's abstract and texture painting.
My sincere thanks again ladies (guys you'd enjoy YUPO too!) for sharing your creative time with me on a Saturday!! I know your paintings will help to inspire other artists (as they did me) to give YUPO a try (or another chance!) the next time you want to "play" or just re-energize!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

From Beignets to Gators: NOLA in November

Natchez Riverboat on the Mississippi
"New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”  Mark Twain

Where have I been?? As a lifelong “Francophile” and artist one of the places I’ve always wanted to visit for as long as I can remember was New Orleans. Last week I had the very good fortune to get a first rate tour of such an amazing place from a good friend who was born there. If you happen to know someone from NOLA you know they are among the friendliest and most generous folks on the planet. There's nothing like a local guide for a first time trip--thanks Deb--I can see why you love (and miss) your home!

Mmm...Piping hot chocolate bread pudding @ Red Fish Grill!
But before I get back to the easel I wanted to share some of my favorite photos and sweet memories from the beautiful Crescent City... Am sure I’ll be painting some NOLA inspired paintings soon…
Beautiful boats and reflections on Lake Pontchartrain

Artist station at the Mardi Gras Warehouse where they create colorful floats year round.
The magical Honey Island Swamp--Like nothing I'd ever seen....
Lovely statue in Audubon Park
Who can resist a fruity glowing green cocktail on the famous Pat O's patio?

Thank you again to everyone who helped make my first trip to NOLA a true artist’s delight! Can't wait to visit again but now it's time to get back to work. It’s going to be a super busy week in the studio painting and getting ready for my YUPO and bird painting workshop next Saturday. Look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

It's YUPOssible!

"Thinking Pink Orchids" 9x12 watercolor on YUPO (collection artist)
Happy Hump Day everyone! Looking forward to my presentation/demo tonight for the Heritage Fine Arts Guild in preparation for my upcoming YUPO workshop! And on that note, I've been talking about it but the official workshop registration link is now live so here's the save the date info:

Workshop: Spread Your Wings with YUPO
When: SAT. November 16
Where: Littleton, Colorado
Time: 9A-3P
Cost: $30 members/$50 non members
You can find the supply list on the workshop page the Scarlet Owl Studio website.
To Register please visit the Heritage Fine Arts Guild workshop page.

Painting Workshop Description:
We'll warm up with YUPO (which you may purchase from me on that day) but the rest of the day will be dedicated to helping you with a bird themed painting in any watermedia of your choosing--so watercolor, acrylic, etc. You may also choose to work on YUPO for the rest of the day or you can paint an acrylic on canvas.

Space may be limited so please don't wait to reserve your space. Questions about the workshop? Please feel free to contact me (you can email or call) through the SOS website.

Friday, October 4, 2013

10 Fabulous Fall Painting Ideas

Indian Corn at South Pearl Street Farmer's Market
“I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”  L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables)

Happy October everyone! What do you like most about fall? I’m guessing that if you polled 100 artists the majority would pick fall as their most inspiration painting season. I love warm weather but I love the look of fall. There are so many vivid colors, tantalizing textures, and interesting shapes—I rarely run out of painting ideas this time of year.

A natural fall season subject is of course a beautiful autumn landscape--here in Colorado that usually means a scene with with golden aspens. And those are wonderful subjects. But I was thinking about other “iconic” fall symbols or associations which would also be intriguing painting projects.

Of course you could paint most of these themes and/or subjects year round but these are just some things that I tend to associate with autumn or a fall color palette. Don't forget to check out your local farmer's market, flea market, corn maze, cider mill, etc. for fall photos that you can use year round like the one I took for today's post.
  1. Harvest Fruits (apples, pears, figs, pomegranates, etc.)
  2. Root Veggies/Pumpkins/Gourds/Indian Corn
  3. Sunflowers/Dried Flowers
  4. Leaves/Acorns
  5. Barns/Covered Bridges
  6. Quilts--For texture and color as a still life background!
  7. Books/Antiques
  8. Fall Color Abstract
  9. Candy/Treats
  10. “Spooky”—skulls, ravens, black cats….
Looking for more fall inspired art and painting inspiration? Check out my newest Pinterest Art Board: Fantastic Fall. Have fun and enjoy an art world where there are Octobers!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Challenge Day 30: Fun at the Finish

Ab Ex Chicken-Acrylic On Canvas--Collection Artist

Happy Fall everyone and congrats to all of you who participated in Leslie’s “30in30” challenge! We made it to the finish! Personally, while I wasn’t able to “paint and post” every day I did paint and post more frequently. There was no doubt that a challenge like this is motivating in the studio! 

In the past month, I’ve shared my thoughts on color and painting more spontaneously. Today’s whimsical acrylic painting is just a fun tribute to both of those topics. 

First, this was painted entirely with a wood shim. That’s right no brush, no palette knife just a good old hardware wood shim. As you can guess, a tool like this really challenges you to paint in a different way.  From a color standpoint, I wanted to emphasize the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue). I felt this would help support the more graphic illustrative look which was my intent.

Once in a while, I think it’s nice to remember why we love making art and just enjoy the process...

YUPO & Bird Painting Workshop: Sat. November 16, 2013
I’ve posted some details for my upcoming painting workshop on both my website and on the workshop page of my blog.  If you have any questions about the workshop or would like to sign up, please write to me.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Challenge Day 29: Two for One Sunday

"Carol's Colors" oil study on Ampersand Gesso Panel 8x10
Focus and time limits - works for me. Small size canvases are also good tools to increase focus. (Liz Reday)

I had a really easy decision for my second to last day of the painting challenge this morning. Thankfully Carol Marine offered up this gorgeous sunlit autumn leaves photo for this week’s DPW painting challenge.

I rarely use photos other than my own but I just loved the glow of the leaves and colors in this. My other Sunday goal (allowing me some Broncos game time) was to “get in and get out” and do this 8x10 study in under two hours.

This required some upfront planning but can definitely save you painting time in the long run.  First, I took a few minutes to crop the photo reference. Selecting my own composition helps me not only familiarize myself with the subject but also gets me thinking about the painting before I start.

Next, I grabbed an already warm toned  8 x 10 Ampersand Gessoboard. While I usually prefer the tooth of linen or cotton panels, I find loose and fast brushstrokes work well on this smooth hard surface.  

My other tip is that in general fast=keep it simple. For example, I used just three transparent primary pigments and white. This not only enhances your color harmony but it makes color mixing decisions much easier.  Here my three oil paints were ultramarine blue, Indian yellow and alizarin crimson. (Note : Thalo, lemon, and permanent rose would have been an interesting choice here too.)

Another key factor is what I like to call painting “mise en place.” You may have heard chefs use this term in a busy kitchen. It basically means your initial organization and "everything in its place." This prep helps ensure that your painting time stays on track.  

Finally, thanks to everyone who has taken the time to stop by and comment in September--I greatly appreciate all your interest and support during the challenge!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Challenge Day 27: The Personal Nature of Color

"Coastal Tide" watercolor on YUPO (collection artist)
“Color may come purely from imagination and, so long as the value and relationship is good, may be even more beautiful than life. I do not consider that faking.  That is understanding color.”
Andrew Loomis

Since I’ve taken a bit of side trip into watercolor land during the 30 day challenge I’ve been re-reading some of my watercolor books. I have some wonderful books but over the years they've taken a bit of a "back shelf” to my oil painting books. (Which reminds me, if anyone has read the new Alla Prima II yet I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!)

Last night I was reading Watercolor Free & Easy by Washington based painter Eric Wiegardt. Since I love color I tend to skip to the color chapters read those first—like eating the cream in the Oreo!  In this book, I particularly liked the section about having a “Personal Color Sense” or “Color Instinct” if you will.
Along the way, you’ve likely heard from other artists that if you get the value relationships correct then you can paint that “super dark” any “super dark” hue of your choosing. But how do you decide exactly what that color will be? 
That’s a great question. Some of that answer for me is “intuition” and painting—a lot. But in addition, Wiegardt offers some helpful questions to help you select a color that works best for your painting and not necessarily the one you see in front of you:
  • What color best expresses the painting’s mood and/or emotion?
  • What temperature dominance makes sense (note the colors follow this choice)/
  • Could I use complements to add excitement and interest?
  • Are all my colors the right intensity? Should some be brighter or grayer?
  • Is there an overall “mother” color or tone that would work well? (Think of a night cafĂ© scene.)
  • Is there some “bounced” color I could take advantage of?

So the rest of the week I plan to keep this idea of color choice in mind as I hope to finish out the challenge month with at least a few more posts.
P.S. Thanks Rick B. for lending me his lovely Oregon coast sketch/photo (as well as some salt!) for my YUPO landscape painting today!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Challenge Day 20: Colors on the Fly

YUPO and watercolor negative painting exercise
Am continuing to prepare for my upcoming bird themed November workshop. Here’s how I painted this easy and fun “negative” YUPO painting in less than 10 easy steps:

Materials: YUPO pad (9x12), transparent watercolors, large and small acrylic flat brush printer paper (Legion Paper has a YUPO sample pack for just $3.00.)

  1. I tape the back of my YUPO sheet to a foam core board so I can easily move it around without touching it. YUPO doesn't buckle so you don't need to stretch it.
  2. To start, I applied a variety of transparent watercolors (blues, reds, golds) with a big flat (over 1 inch). A sponge brush also works.  Remember, colors don’t fade much on the YUPO so don't be shy!
  3. For more dynamic color blends tilt your board diagonally at a 45 degree angle.
  4. Paint rolls off the YUPO quickly so it helps to have an old beach towel, etc. handy to catch the drips or go outside.
  5. When the I get the colors the way I want them I let the painting dry flat overnight (I prefer this to hairdryer).
  6. Then I printed out a simple bird, branch, leaves shape on plain printer paper and cut around image to make quick stencil.  (You could also use heavier printer paper or transfer your design/drawing to stencil paper.)
  7. Using  an 8x10 window white mat, I decide where I want the stencil over the painting.
  8. When I’m happy with the placement, I gently tack on the stencil over the painting with a small piece of tape.
  9. Then carefully use a damp (not too much water) small  acrylic brush and a tissue to “erase” around the stencil.You could certainly add more detail to the painting at this point as well.
Also, you can seal your YUPO on watercolor with an archival acrylic spray so it's protected from water. This exercise will also help to fine tune your negative painting skills which come in handy no matter what medium and subject you prefer. Thanks for stopping by, have fun, and keep painting!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Challenge Day 15: The Half Time Report

"YUPO Feathers" 9x12 watercolors on YUPO (collection artist)
Happy Sunday everyone--How’s your challenge painting going? Whew, today’s the half-way point. 15 days down, 15 to go…

Briefly, today’s painting is a study of feathers in YUPO. It’s a photo I took in the park this summer and have been thinking about for a while. Maybe for a larger abstract. So I thought it would be interesting to do a color study in the YUPO. (FYI, came across some helpful YUPO tips from the Beautiful Hello blog for those of you who want to "Do on it on YUPO.")

I’m not a runner but I imagine if you’re a long distance runner at the half way mark in a marathon it’s a mix of emotions. Elation that you’ve made it this far yet at the same time disheartened to that you’ve still got a long ways to go…

I was thinking today too even though it’s the weekend why is it sometimes so difficult to focus on something we actually enjoy? Is it guilt? Is it changing priorities? Is it fear of success? I love painting so it's not the desire that lacking. I think most artists I know would love to paint for hours upon hours with no life interventions...Music on, colors flying, lost in creative bliss...

But like any other creative passion, it’s finding that balance that I think is the tricky part. For example, if I start painting like crazy, I tend to need a long break at some point. Nothing wrong with that approach per se.

But I often wonder if I’d be more productive over the long run if I just maintained my creative energy inside of “sprinting” too hard and too soon.  So if an artistic life is like a marathon that you plan to run your whole life what’s the best strategy for success? Can’t say I have an answer for that right now. But I do think I’ll have a better idea at the end of the month…And thanks again everyone for cheering me on along the way. Because cheerleaders do make a difference!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Challenge Day 14: YUPO at the Beach

"YUPO Gull" watercolor on YUPO 8x8  (collection artist)
In watercolor, the experienced know that seeming chaos is usually the precursor to a strong painting... (Hilary Page)

I have to admit I’m really enjoying my “watercolor vacation” this week.  If you ever feel like you need a creative break (and who doesn’t?) you might want to try a different medium. It’s unbelievably liberating and refreshing!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m dedicated to improving my oil painting skills but for my previous challenge painting, I had such a good time cavorting with the YUPO and watercolor that I just had to try another. I bought a whole pad after all…

I took this gull pic last January when I was in Marco Island Florida. I liked the speckles on his head and the bright yellow eyes.

I wanted more texture in this YUPO painting, so I added some paint splatter (tapping brush) and salt (with a salt grinder). Both work great for beaches.  Also, I lifted some of the lights in this with a damp Q-tip as well as a stiffer brush (such as an inexpensive acrylic round).  You can also spray the YUPO surface with alcohol or fine water spray for additional spots of light and suggested texture.

Are we there yet??  Kudos and sincere thanks to all the fellow 30 in 30 challengers who’ve stopped by, took time to write a comment, etc.  Painting is certainly a joyous part of my life, but it’s not always easy. In fact a sign in my studio says: Make time for your art. It’s important. So on that note, happy weekend painting all! 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Challenge Day 12: Visiting an Old Friend...

"YUPO Chickadee" Transparent WC on YUPO 9x12 (collection artist)
Hmm..You may notice a gap between um Challenge Day 5 and today. OK. About a week. The good news is that one reason I got a little behind in the challenge (in addition to out of town guests) is that I've been planning my new November workshop which will be bird themed and feature painting on YUPO--one of my all time favorite painting surfaces. (Sorry for the all caps that's just how YUPO is.)

Briefly, YUPO is a synthetic waterproof "paper." It's super smooth, clean bright white, and you can much more easily make value corrections such as lifting out your lights. It can feel a little strange at first and like any other new art technique take some adjustment, but now I just love it.

A few years ago when I became more of a "daily painter" I moved away from watermedia to oils. But I've always had a special place in my heart for watercolor and fluid acrylics. So you can imagine my delight when I was asked to teach a workshop that featured watercolors and YUPO and birds. Honestly, I can't think of a more exciting combination.

There was only one tiny problem. I had to confess I hadn't painted with YUPO recently but even as I was saying this I was heading toward the garage so I could run up to the Guiry's art store by my studio and buy a pad. (YUPO comes in pads and large sheets--online at Dick Blick.)

So today's painting is a watercolor and YUPO study of a chickadee in my backyard aspen trees. One quick YUPO tip: Use just 3 primaries (red,yellow, blue) because this takes a while to dry and it will run around on you. The 3 primaries will create wonderful harmonious mixes on their own.

If you have any questions about my SAT., November 16 YUPO workshop please email me. I'll have a link for it soon as well. Happy Challenge Painting everyone--we're almost half way there!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Challenge Day 5: And the winner is....

"Reedy Redwing" 8x8 oil on panel
Please Click Here to Bid--Thanks!
Challenge Day 5. Yesterday I posted that  was giving away my pink rose painting to an artist who posted on Day 4 of Leslie’s 30in30 Challenge.  So drum roll please…

And the lucky random number was entry number 229!  That's a a lovely landscape by painter Ms. Donna Pierce-Clark from Ohio—Be sure to check out her gorgeous watercolors. Congratulations Donna and welcome to my new followers!

Like a lot of folks this time of year I’ve got a slew of things going on—Some art related, some not. Like out of town visitors, taking a new class, enjoying the weather, fall shopping, etc. Or today a massage which sounds relaxing but I’ve tweaked something in my upper back and want to be back at the easel as soon as possible.

Thankfully I painted a few small paintings in anticipation of the challenge and this is one of them. One of my favorite summer birds in Wash Park near my studio are the red-wing blackbirds. They’re lcheerful and fairly easy to take a pic of which is always helpful for painting.

My challenge was all those green reeds. So I toned the board with a warm (acrylic) coral wash of quin. burnt scarlet--one of my favorite toning colors. FYI, I just use a small cheap sponge brush for the toning (not too much water) so it takes less than a minute to cover the panel.

If you love painting anything with wings and feathers like I do, stay tuned for more details regarding my November painting workshop here in the Denver area. OK off for my massage where I’ll need to explain the hazards of a daily painting challenge! And hopefully they’ll get me back up and running for the challenge! It's only Day 5...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Challenge Day 4: Giving Thanks with A Rose

"Leslie's Rose" 5x7 oil on panel
Challenge Day 4. Keeping today’s post short and sweet so I can get back to the easel.

First, I want to thank Leslie again for hosting the challenge thus my painting title today. I know many of you also enjoy the AHA show as I do.  And if you do, you know Leslie and her co-hosts are always promoting giving back to the art community.

So in the spirit of AHA, I’m going to give away this rose (does that sound like something they say on The Bachelor??) to an artist who posts today in the challenge. (At the end of the day, I’ll go to and draw a number.) I'll announce the winner tomorrow!

My quick tip today:  I think pinks (like some greens) can be a tricky color range. I like to try to look for and really push the whole range from  warms and cools—so from almost peachy into the cooler lavenders. Find this can help whatever the subject read pinkish, but not too pink.

So good luck, post your painting today join the challenge (it’s not too late) and enjoy your painting time today!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Keeping the Light in the Light: Challenge Day 3

"Broken Light" 10x10 study in progress oil on panel
The sky is the source of light in Nature and it governs everything. (John Constable)

OK. Challenge Day 3. Only 27 to go….Whew, even when you love painting it can be a challenge to complete a painting every day. Big kudos to all of you in the 30in30 challenge!

Since it’s OK to post a painting in progress (thank goodness) I got a pretty good start on this 10x10 oil tree/landscape study this morning. As with most of my recent paintings, I painted this from my iPad. I saw this beautiful old cottonwood along the Bear Creek Trail in Lakewood, CO late last spring. My three painting goals today: 
  1. Good value organization before getting too wrapped p in the color. 
  2. Paint each value group at the same time--So darks, then mediums, then lights. 
  3. Keep the lights in the light and the darks in the darks.
If you’re interested in strengthening your compositions through value simplification check out this excellent post by Michigan artist Sharon Tarr regarding notans—or the placement of your darks and lights.

Monday, September 2, 2013

From Comfort Zone to Twilight Zone: Challenge Day 2

"The After Hours" 8x10 oil on panel
Click Here to Bid--Thank You!
Happy Labor Day everyone! Before I talk about today’s challenge painting, I wanted to announce that I’ll be teaching a fun and exciting November painting workshop in the Denver area.  I'm super excited about the workshop (it's one of my favorite subject themes!). As soon as I have more details I’ll share them here.

In the meantime, for today’s Challenge Day 2 I wanted to paint a subject a little out of my let's say out of my nature subject "comfort zone." My first thought was a figure which used to paint frequently but rarely now. Then I remembered a photo reference I took earlier in the year...

One of my “guilty pleasure” classic TV shows that I sometimes catch late at night is the original black and white Twilight Zone. And one of my favorite TZ episodes is The After Hours. 

This is the episode where a young woman name Marsha, who’s shopping  in a creepy department store for a last minute gift, slowly comes to realize (spoiler alert) that she’s really a mannequin.
Edgar Degas--The Millinery Shop (Art Institute of Chicago)
I was reminded of this episode when I saw this “party ready” mannequin in a closed boutique late night in my neighborhood. The color palette also reminded me a little of one of my favorite paintings, Degas’ The Millinery Shop—also a “boutique” painting.  Hmm..Coincidence?

Happy Challenge Painting everyone and thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Passion Sandwich

Autumn Oil Paining Commission in Progress (30x40)
One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested. (E. M. Forster) 

While I continue to paint this large autumn leaf inspired oil painting (in progress for a client) yesterday morning I was listening to the Artists Helping Artists interview with award-winning California plein air artist Ken Auster.

Ken offered many helpful insights but one really struck a chord. And that’s the importance of the “passion sandwich.”  In a nutshell, it’s the benefit of separating the intellectual aspect of painting with that pure joy and passion stage.  Perhaps summed up in a simpler 3 word motto (which I quickly taped up by my easel):

Create with Passion & Joy!

Or Plan. Paint. Fine Tune. You get the idea. This makes sense and should be relatively easy. But what I witness often for painters of all levels (myself included) is the tendency to rush to the painting process too quickly with little or no forethought or understanding.

Now, I’m all for unbridled enthusiasm in the studio. But what happens when we paint without some planning? And all the passion, excitement, and creative may come to a grinding halt.

Or maybe we did do some planning (like a value sketch) but while we are in the middle of the creation phase we are still "second guessing" ourselves. Each time we hit the pause button we have to ramp up again.

This “stop and go” pattern may work for some artists but I agree with Ken. I think we’ll have a more productive and pleasant painting experience if we try to protect our passion and joy by bookending our  planning and evaluation.

I can tell you I've tried to stick to the "passion sandwich" diet during this painting. And so far it’s worked really well. For example, in the first "think" step I painted an mostly transparent acrylic underpainting where I worked out some design issues before I switched to oil paint--making the create stage much easier and quicker. 

P.S. For those of you getting ready to join in Leslie's 30 in 30 challenge (see her tips for doing the challenge if this is your first time) tomorrow I want to wish you all happy and passionate month of painting!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

30 Days (and Paintings) Has September

Initial color washes for abstract leaf painting. 40x30 on gallery wrap canvas.
September is one of my favorite months here in colorful Colorado—turquoise skies and glowing golden aspens.  And it's also one of my busiest. As many of you may know California oil painter Leslie Saeta (host of Artists Helping Artists podcast) is kindly hosting another 30 in 30 day painting challenge in September—which is (yikes) only a week away!

It won't be easy (I guess that's why it's called a challenge!) but I’m looking forward to participating as much as possible. As of this AM there were already over 150 artists participating! A daily painting challenge like this is tremendous way to stay motivated, improve your painting skills, and share your art with a new audience almost every day.  So be sure to join in if you can! 

One of the series of paintings that I hope to share is an autumn leaf inspired triptych (three 30x40 vertical gallery wrapped canvases) which I started this week.  This is my initial value and color undertone block in with acrylics. I like to use mostly transparent higher chroma (usually out of the tube colors) on the undertone and then "calm" down the colors and use more opaques in the next layers for more interest. 

Ready to go big?
This painting is a commission for a wonderful client I met over the summer for her new home.  I’ve always enjoyed working on larger paintings when you've been working on smaller paintings for a while can be like writing a series of short poems and then switching to a longer more complex novel.

But for those of you who already “go big” in your paintings you know that bigger isn’t necessarily more difficult. It’s just different. I find I take a few more careful steps to prepare but then I’m off and enjoying all the extra canvas space.

When you scale up you’re using a photo reference be sure it’s cropped to the exact same size ratio of your rectangle canvas or support.  For a 40x30 painting like today, I cropped my photo to the same 4x3 proportion. This way when I do my sketch in/mass in of big shapes I’m comparing apples to apples. (Of course using a square photo and and a square canvas is even easier to scale.)

At first I found this method somewhat tricky but the more I scale up this way the quicker and easier it is. My other tip is to block in and connect your darkest value masses first. I find the dark masses easier to see and judge for scaling up. Once those dark masses are in, the other shapes tend to fall into place. Here you can see how I started (that warm wash is Golden Quin. Gold):

P.S. A warm “back to school” welcome to all my new fall students—another reason I love this time of year. Now let’s all get back to our studios—we’ve got some paintin' to do!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

To Dream a New Dream

"Steppin' Out" 12x12 oil on canvas (collection artist)
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. C. S. Lewis

I’ve always been fairly focused and goal oriented. This tendency served me well in a business or educational setting.  As you know, in the corporate world a typical goal goes something like this: Increase sales of the XYZ oil brush at the new Atlanta store by 10% by end of the year.  Here, the goal is both specific and measurable.  At the end of the year, the answer is either yes that happened or no we missed the boat.

However a typical artist goal might be:  I want to improve my plein air painting. (Yes, that’s one of my actual summer art goals.) Seems reasonable and true but kind of vague now that I see it in print.  This morning for example (photo evidence below) I actually ventured out of my studio (yay!) and painted in the park? So did I achieve my goal?
My Coulter plein air easel in Wash Park this AM. Whew hot but shady!
But aren’t we always hearing that art is a journey not a destination? Or maybe that’s not true anymore in today’s art market? No easy answers, right?  

Thankfully, I recently came across two timely goal themed posts (no pun intended). One from OPA artist Susan Blackwood who nicely summarized an OPA presentation by Joe Paquet. And the other from award winning Colorado landscape artist Stacey Peterson who writes about “keeping your eye on the trail.”  

I particularly enjoyed Joe’s theme of “knowing yourself” and “finding your own gifts." More specifically, he suggests you grade yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 on these key criteria:
  • Drawing (I think of this as interesting shape/mark making as well as accuracy/proportion)
  • Color
  • Harmonies
  • Design
  • Brush strokes (I think of this as edgework as well)
  • Values
To help evaluate my own skills I added 2 additional key criteria that I also feel are important to my growth as an artist:
  • Starting with clear purpose and intent
  • Finishing (actually finishing, detail work, or knowing when to stop)
Not only did I find it helpful to grade myself but I thought this would be a very useful list to take to a class or workshop to help you have a specific dialogue with an instructor.  Or to score yourself after a series of new paintings. Where was I at the start of the year, where am I now?

Goal making may not work for every artist but personally, I’ll always find this kind of “self diagnosis” helpful. One of my own goals will always be to "be a better artist"—but I think I understand now that how I define that is up to me. 

P.S. Thanks to Dan Oakleaf for sharing this "dreamy" snowy egret photo (taken along the So. Platte in north Denver) for today's egret painting to help me meet my "wildlife painting" goals.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Nature is Imagination Itself

"Let's Twist Again" oil on 11x14 Raymar panel--collection artist
The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.
William Blake

My primary inspiration is nature.  Even though I live in the heart of the city, one aspect that I think all Denverites love about our mile high city is that the "wild west" is just minutes from home. As Denver plein air artists will attest, you could be painting an urban landscape in the AM and then a more rugged sunlit western landscape in the PM. You simply head west into the foothills or south toward New Mexico.

In an attempt to explore my “region” this summer I bought a Colorado State Park Pass. Within about an hour or so of the city there over half a dozen state parks—each with its own wildlife and unique landscape. So my tip today is to paint a State Park in your area--FYI for more park inspiration check out Paint the Parks--a website devoted to park painting.

One state park I’d heard about many time from other painters was the Castlewood Canyon State Park about 30 miles southeast of the city. It’s a beautiful 2,300 acre park with colorful rock formations, a wide variety of wildlife, and a stunning Pike’s Peak view on a clear day (it’s about a mile higher than the city.)
Pike's Peak from Castlewood Canyon Trail

Because the park is also part of the Black Forest region there are some wonderful old pines and shrubs. This twisted wind worn tree caught my eye right away—it had such a distinct figural quality.  This painting took me a few sessions.

My thanks to one of my own painting mentors (yes, teachers have teachers!) Dan Oakleaf for his guidance on this. Particularly since I wanted a more natural palette for this.  Also, this painting was not a quick alla prima study-the drawing was more complicated but worth it. I'm really motivated now to visit all the parks in the area before winter in search of painting subjects.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Midsummer's Dream Owl

"Sweet Dreams Owl" acrylic on gallery canvas 30x40 Private Collection
A day without sunshine is like, you know, night. Steve Martin

What’s your favorite time of day to paint? For most of my artistic life I was a night owl painter especially in the summer. Now the more I paint and pursue my passion for color I’ve become a morning or afternoon painter.  I love the light and the calm in the morning when the fresh canvas is full of possibilities and my favorite part is starting out loose and free...
Start of "Night Owl" with primary color sketch (blue, magenta, yellow)

Once in a while though I still paint late into the night. I also love night paintings and moonscapes. Interestingly some owls--such as barn owls--are technically ”crepuscular” (one of my favorite Latin based art terms) meaning they're most active at dawn and twilight.

As much as I enjoy oil paint, fast drying high chroma acrylic is the perfect medium for these large colorful owls. My favorite part the multi-hued acrylic skins or “jewels” as I prefer. Basically pieces left over acrylic paint pieces (from mixing) recycled back into the piece for extra color and a unique texture. (FYI, I use a soft acrylic gel as the "glue." You can achieve these leftover paint jewels by using any palette that allows you to easily peel the paint up when dry.

I’ve tried the so-called peel off palettes buy but for a larger and much less expensive alternative simply wrap or tape a piece of heavier (at least 4mil) plastic drop cloth around or to a piece of Masonite, cardboard, gator board, plywood—any hard smooth neutral colored surface. If you prefer to paint large and use lots of paint you could also just cover your work surface with the plastic sheet (which comes on long roll) and let it dry afterwards.
New Holbein Gessoes come in a variety of colors and textures
One quick acrylic tip is that I prefer white and black gesso for my black and white acrylic paint. I find the gesso has better coverage, mixes cleanly, and is often less expensive. Speaking of gesso, I haven't tried these yet, but I just saw that this unique line of "squeeze bag" gessoes from Holbein which looks like a great idea. Thanks and have a colorful summer week--day or night!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Painting with a Magpie Mind

"Minty Magpie" 8x10 oil on Raymar cotton panel
I have a magpie mind. I like anything that glitters. Lord Thomson of Fleet

I think many artists I know, including myself, are attracted to shiny things too! It's been week of artistic I've thoroughly enjoyed painting some of my favorite summer subjects. First sunflowers. Then birds. And the minty background color is an homage to my favorite summer treat--mint chocolate chip gelato.

Artist Tres Taylor uses "house paint" for his colorful creations.
This Year's Cherry Creek Art Festival Poster--that dark background is tar paper!
Over the holiday weekend, I also enjoyed the amazing variety of art at our biggest local art event of the year at the Cherry Creek Art Festival.  This year I really enjoyed an entertaining and unique demo by this year's poster artist Tres Taylor who paints on tar paper--yes like for a roof--with beautiful layers of latex paint. I really loved the effect he gets and his "sgraffito" technique inspired me to scratch into the background of today's painting.

I’ve wanted to paint a magpie for some time but I just didn’t have any decent reference photos of them. Finally, a few weeks ago I spotted this magpie (which are related to crows and ravens) in the tall grasses near some fencing at the Cherry Creek State Park.  I've read that magpies are one of the most intelligent birds and like how their feathers are a mix of dark jewel tones-- emerald, amethyst,  and sapphire.

A few material and painting tips notes: 
Typically, I prefer using paint right out of the tube. As I’ve mentioned before I tend to avoid solvents, petroleum based products, etc. as much as possible. (Healthy studio= healthy artist!)
But, I’ve recently discovered (thanks to a student) that Gamblin offers safflower oil based solvent free oil gel painting medium.  So I tried a pea size amount in for this 8x10 study. The result?  I liked it quite a bit-- No or little odor, very smooth and clear, and so far so headaches or sneezing like I tend to get with most mediums.