Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays!

"Desafinado" (18x18)

Well it's just about Christmas time and I'm sitting here with a bad cold, but enjoying some family who flew in to surprise me on Friday for my birthday. Birthdays are one way to mark the passing of time, but when you're an artist, so are your paintings... I hope my work is improving as the years go by, but I certainly know my approach and knowledge of painting is changing with time...


Here are two new pieces heading for Bonner David Galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona. I am still much interested in music-themed work (obviously) so I am continuing that exploration. As writers are best when they write about what they know, so too is art when artists paint subject matter they understand or have connection with...

"Instruction in Grace" (16x12)

I have been reading a book on drawing by Robert Fawcett (British 1903 - 1967) that is strongly influencing. Drawing is a broad term that applies to all stages of a painting; from rough sketch on paper to finishing strokes on canvas -- it's all rests on design (which is drawing, which is design).


Fawcett says in his book (from 1958) "The artist cannot communicate unless he understands, and the moment of understanding becomes the moment of communication." I know from my own frustrating experiences that I do best when I have understanding about something. Understanding something happens when interest develops beyond casual to passionate, and when you can convey that passion through imagery...well, then you've got something.

Hopefully that will become apparent in my paintings some day (
preferably before my next birthday) but until then, have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Back in a Moment:

o/p (12x16)

We've always kept photo albums in my family, but I've never seen a pic of a relatives backside (let alone a naked one, thank God). Photographs are usually always from the front -- smiling, but there's something intriguing and mysterious, even beautiful on the flip side of the human body...

pencil (8x6)

These of course are just studies, but for artists they're important to do. For one, it's information they need to know to understand the whole form of human physicality and two, studies help develop an understanding of the varied types of backsides of the human body while developing shape, line & value practice as it pertains to figurative rendering...

pencil on newsprint (20x16)

The illustrator and instructional art book author, Andrew Loomis once said the back is "a tough old bird" -- memorizing it's myriad amount and function of musculature is worth going over and over again. After all, even chiropractors and surgeons are still learning the depths of the human torso...

Your average portrait painter may never render a commission from this angle, but nevertheless there's as much character & interest back here as there is in the front... if you look for it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Confessions of a Closet Tree Hugger...

October Moon (20x16)

Trees have always fascinated me; from when I climbed my first one as a kid, to when I fell out of one and sprained my shoulder a couple of years ago... their beauty, their majesty and the way painters have captured them throughout history. Examples that come to mind are the watercolours of Percy Grey, or the California Impressionists of the early twentieth century and the sarcastically labeled "Eucalyptus school" -- (Eastern art critics just never understood it)

Here on the Oregon coast, we have a variety of pine that takes such a beating from the hurricane winds that they often resemble the Cypress trees of the mid-California coast -- ragged and spindly, it's amazing how hearty they must be to survive the winters.

Every region of our country has it's own indigenous species of tree that is equated to it's landscape. I miss the Sycamore and Eucalyptus of California, but the Oaks we have here are gorgeous in the fall and the white trunks of the Birch and Aspens are an excellent subject when the light is right and makes them glow. Painting trees are a joy and a freedom from the riggers of figure work too -- you can add a limb to a tree to enhance a composition, but that somehow doesn't work as well with the human form...

Oh Well, Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Monday, October 4, 2010

But Can She Act?

"Variations on a Diva" (24x30)

Why do I still assume because a model looks good, that she'll pose good as well? Actually, this girl did (does) so I've painted her again... But I do know some rather attractive people who couldn't make a facial expression or strike a convincing pose to save their life -- too bad, because you really need to be able to act a little bit to help the artist make a convincing picture... This girl is an excellent figure model, but when I asked her to give me a smoky night club singer, she went to town making up dozens of great poses without any direction -- it was fun just watching the wheels turn in her head as she kept trying new ideas...

Even though these poses are still, they're not static -- due to her imaginative acting skills, and loose edges in the brushwork. If I did anything right in this painting, it would have to be this one stroke on her infra-spinatus (don't quote me) muscle just left of the scapula shadow edge -- like Dean Cornwell said, when you pull off a happy accident like that, you should fall on your knees and thank God for it!

Anyway, I'm no DC, else I'd do it on command everywhere I wanted, but that little shape sure helps this piece. Working quickly through a multi-figure painting of this sort helps you stay fresh and not get bogged down in finessing the details (which would only drag the whole thing down into the manikin basement at Macy's).

After working out the composition, this one was all about edges and subtle value shifts in her skin temperature. I kept her eyes in a lighter value range to deflect too much attention to that area and keep a balance with the rest of her form...

The interest happens up close in the abstract edges of the strokes that break contours and create chaos amongst shapes that actually lend themselves to movement, keeping the original concept more fresh & alive. Of course I could never do that without a great looking model...who can act to boot.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Goodbye Summer

"Haystack Rock"

Like the fog bank rolling in on this beach, here comes Autumn... In fact, it has been building all summer , so I could have written that line back in July. Every once in awhile we get short changed on summertime weather, and this seemed to be one of those years, yet there were definite highlights and some 90 degree days too.

This was painted spur of the moment -- it was 11 AM when I decided I would chance a run to the coast (about an hour and a half away) and see if I couldn't get one more beach scape in for the season and get back in time for dinner -- which I did. I also managed to go with my family a week later and painted some more that I'll post next time.

The fog
receded when I arrived, then rolled back in before I left so timing was good and worth the trip. If you haven't been to Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock is a spectacularly huge and well known formation and surprisingly not the only one shaped like it on our coast -- an hour and a half or so south is another haystack almost identical to this one in Pacific City, several stories high and even another one or two similar to Cannon beach's elsewhere on the Oregon coast I'm told.

Anyway, Fall is here and with it's long shadows, light & colour, more reasons to get out and paint before the rain starts... of course then comes figure paintin' time!

Happy Fall everybody!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Lonely Oregon Coast

"Gleneden Morning"

Since growing up in California, I've always had a love of the beach -- specifically the southern California beach where you can actually play in the water without hypothermia or being crushed by a rogue tree log. The central Oregon coast however, is a special place with unique attributes all it's own. Somehow (and I'm sure the climate has mostly to do with it) things are slower up here; you can drive for miles along undeveloped coastline and still get a sense of what Lewis & Clark must have experienced when they first arrived. That, and the fact that I have some roots up here where my mother and her sisters grew up and once owned a beach shack together in Seaside, Oregon helps to create a fondness of it's solitude for me...

"Small Town Beach Road"

There is a 'loneliness' here, especially after school starts that I truly enjoy -- where the weather is still nice, but the vacationers are gone. In many of the coastal towns you can see remnants of the businesses of years gone by that catered to the summer beach goers; an old A-frame structure that once was a kite shop now empty and grown over with wild blackberry, or a one time family seafood restaurant turned auto parts store that still has it's old signage, cracked and peeling. Many older shacks and buildings still painted the pastel colours of the fifties & sixties; mint & pink, peach & aqua blue hold a nostalgic attraction... Perhaps it's middle age, but my own nostalgia really kicks in when I'm here, and coming to paint makes it all the more enjoyable.

For about 15 years before my mother passed away, she had a beach house north of Neskowin, a little bit hidden away where you had to drive through a forest to get there... the beauty of which was best appreciated in doses of seasonal extended weekend trips. Rain or shine, there was always something to do; beach comb for sand dollars or read a book, barbecue on the deck or watch the stormy surf by a warm fireplace...

In many areas with only service road access and fir tree forests all the way down to the shore, there are hidden spots yet to be discovered and I hope to get out here next month and tap that experience again. Like generations of families before us, I'll spend memory making time with my own family combing the beach for shells and agates, sandcastle building & flying kites and with permission, sneak off to discover another spot to paint and create new memories of this place I've come to love, the lonely Oregon coast...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Studio Condemned...

Old Brick Firehouse (9x12)

Recently one evening while I was downtown hunting for a subject to paint, I came across this old firehouse -- there used to be several of these around Portland, all built 100+ years ago and long since converted into commercial properties. I actually used to work in this one -- shared a studio here with a couple of other artists until we outgrew it. A number of studios were located on the ground floor with an architects office occupying the entire second floor. The original barn doors were still on the front when I moved in -- they used to have a photograph of the horses that pulled the fire wagons hanging in the entrance when you walked in. This building now boarded up and slated for demolition, is in a neglected part of town near the train & bus stations.

When we were working there (often late into the night) there was always plenty of what we called "theater" going on behind the building. More than once my studio mates called 911 while witnessing addicts shooting up or the local gals servicing their clientele right outside our window... One night a bottle flew through the window, and you always had to wear shoes in the summertime when taking trash out to the dumpster as the side parking lot was usually littered with hypodermic needles every morning. Still it was a cool building to work in and I learned a lot from the other artists there -- hard to believe that was 20 years ago, but I'm glad I got to capture it now before it's gone. This painting is currently hanging in the Laguna Plein Air Painters "Best of Plein Air" show in Laguna Beach, CA.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Recent plein air work...

Finale (9x12) o/c

Prelude to Summer (8x10) o/c

Mt Hood Study (8x10) o/p

Multnomah Village Antique Shop (9x12) o/p

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Avoiding Temptation...

Diva (16x12)

After a long figure painting session, we asked our tired model if she would strike a pose or two for photos (with the heels that she couldn't endure during the pose she held earlier when we painted...). The temptation of course with photo reference is that you have the luxury to return to your frozen subject over & over whenever you like, usually resulting in too much detail and an overworked piece in the end (if you ever get to the end!).
So, I tried to stay away from too much detail by using the edge of a #4 brush for the smallest areas -- the idea is to keep more freshness to the brush strokes & paint texture. Another trick many painters use is the 'time limit method'; set an equivalent amount of time on the clock that you would have under a live figure model condition and quit when the buzzer goes off.

Rehearsing Young Dancer (16x12)

This was done from a black & white photograph, so I stuck to a limited palette (it's very difficult to invent convincing colour) but the mood reads better like this anyway....again, avoiding extraneous details that are tempting with smaller sized brushes.


Without small brush work, this painting has a fresher and more spontaneous feel than if I had noodled the details with tiny brushes. I'm not a great painter, but I have learned that a well placed heavily-loaded larger brush stroke will read as detailed as a multitude of smaller, finely finessed brush may take a few tries, but the end result will have a fresher look to it.

Oswego Homestead (16x20)

Last but not least, this piece just received the Purchase Prize award at last nights"Chronicles Invitational Exhibit" at the Lake Oswego Festival of Arts. The Festival selects one painting annually into their permanent collection that chronicles the history of the town of Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Say "NO" to Flesh Tone!

Lindsey (8x6 0il)

Figure studies are done quickly -- just long enough to capture gesture, shape, colour. Something to consider when working quickly in an editing mode is the use of exaggeration of colour and contrast. Often in figure drawing studios, the lighting is less than optimal so improvisation is helpful if you know what to push...

(12x9 oil pastel)

Think in terms of temperature, not colour. The phrase "Skin tone" has a premeditated effect on your choice of colour so I try to not use it. "Flesh tone" is even worse (not to mention prejudice) -- it immediately conjures up pinks where greens, violets, and a variety of unnameable grays & browns are much more accurate. Skin (of any race) has a unique, absorbing surface and is always visually effected by it's surrounding light and background colour.

Sue (12x16 dry pastel)

In most cases (especially with lighter skin) the larger the form, the grayer it appears/ the smaller the form, the redder (or warmer). Blood runs closer to the surface on small forms; the nose is redder than the face, the face redder than the head, the head redder than the torso, etc. Exaggerating the temperature of forms helps define them while adding interest palette-wise. Extremities such as wrists & ankles, fingers & toes, ears & nose, knees & elbows have a warmer tint compared to broader parts such as thighs, torso/back, etc. By keeping the larger, broader areas of the body cooler and the smaller parts warmer, you will have a more convincing palette of colour in your studies as well as your finished works of the human figure.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On the EDGE...

Study for Betty Carter (16x8)

Edges -- there are several kind; Soft, Hard, Broken, Lost... Without a variety of edges, a two-dimensional painting will appear either out of focus or as flat as flat can be. Edges of course turn objects in space, and give the illusion of space itself as well as make the subject of a painting relate to it's background plane. Edges also create texture, energy and movement...

In this study sketch, all of the main edge categories are present -- mostly created without much thought by painting rapidly with little investment. One of the joys of painting this way is not worrying about the outcome -- it's a "study" not a final product, so there's plenty of bandwidth for mistakes along with happy accidents -- stuff you leave behind or carry over to the next version. Her cheek on the left side of the picture has a soft to lost edge -- this soft edge turns the curve of her face away from us. Conversely, the drop-shadow of her lower lip casts a hard edge on her chin. Those edges create form. Other edges present in her hair, dress and even the edges of random strokes in the background express energy & movement...

Banjo Player study (detail 16x12)

Broken edges are interrupted lines, either skipped along with repeating staccato-like strokes, scrubbed in with a coarse brush or achieved with a dry brush technique (thicker paint, dragged on lightly). Sometimes a wet-into-wet squiggle will suffice for a broken/soft edge as with the banjo player's shoulder -- this also creates energy within the composition.

Lost edges are just that -- they don't really exist where you know an edge really does. These edges are atmospheric tricks of the eye where the value of one shape runs into the area of another shape without any defining border. These edges are often found within shadow shapes because of the lack of defining light, but can also be used (or exaggerated) in the light areas as well to create moody effects or to help in unifying the subject with it's background. A lost edge gives a receding effect to a shape adding extra dimension to the picture plane, but of all the edges, this one should be used the least -- too many times or in too large an area it can read more gimmicky than believable. Back lit objects have a halo effect of soft and lost edges and are a good exercise to render along with hair or folds in clothing and when studying edges.

Monday, May 24, 2010

More Life Drawing...

Heather (oil pastel 16x12)

Kira (charcoal 12x9)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Accent Waiting to Happen...

Kira (12x16)


Here, the accents are the 2 dark cast shadow strokes of her knee against her shin, and the robe against the couch. Accent strokes are only effective when executed with an obvious spontaneity -- a deliberate single stroke. In other words, not rendered, finessed or smoothly overworked in several brush strokes. Make it work like an exclamation mark to amplify a statement. Used properly and sparingly, accents marks can say a lot with little and lend integrity to the overall picture.

For far better inspiration than mine, study the trinity of Sorolla, Sargent & Zorn; masters of the accent stroke and saying more with less...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Sun Hat (20x16)

Heading up to the Seattle area for the Howard/Mandville Gallery anniversary show opening (and mom's day getaway) tomorrow, but was able to do this study yesterday... this model, Quinn has posed a few times for us before and I've always been happy with the results. Sometimes no matter how good the model is, you just can't keep up (which is why I don't post everything) but I got out of this session what I was after; interesting strokes and texture, lighting and edges... working information that contributes to the next painting.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Just the facts, ma'am...

Grace (25x15)

When sketching from the live model in one session, you just go for the facts; light & shadow, edges, value & colour....but no details. Details will bog you down with unnecessary information and cause you to lose spontaneity and kill the overall freshness of the picture. Instead of trying to record everything you see in the time allotted, edit as you go, deciding what's essential and what is extraneous -- it's surprising how little information is actually needed to capture the spirit of a subject. A few accent strokes will will do for the illusion of detail and help hold the shapes together... the tricky part is to know when to walk away and quit messing with it (something I have yet to learn my lesson on...)

Monday, February 22, 2010

And now back to our program...

I just can't stay away from painting blues and jazz subjects...and I have no idea if anyone would buy such a painting, but they're going to have to pry that #6 flat Simmons Signature series hog bristol from my cold dead fingers before I give it up...

Tenor Sax (9x12)

These are more or less studies for possible larger pieces (or parts of larger paintings) but are O.K. to stand alone as small works. I'm both a music lover and an art lover, and the older I get, the more I appreciate the music of my parents generation and am inclined to explore that as subject matter.

Fascinating Rhythm (9x12)

Since my mother passed, I have repeatedly returned to the popular Samba influenced pop that was in the background when I was small (Astrid Gelberto, Sergio Mendez & Brazil 66, etc.) perhaps I'll venture into that genre for subject next... Interesting how much of the memory of our lives music can store and trigger when the timing's right.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Time on your side...

TIME usually gets a bad rap since most of us want more than what's allotted, but when painting outdoors on location, time can actually be your ally...the setting sun, moving clouds -- elements we can't control that change the shadows, values and colour can keep you from overworking a piece, which is a good thing. Spontaneity is a desired and important quality in a plein air painting, and too much time will steal it from you. In the case of the piece below, a delivery van parked right in front of me just as I was nearing the finish -- I thought I wanted more time, but later realized it would have gone down hill from here (maybe it already had a little, but it still has some freshness to it).

Urban Assault Vehicle (9x12)

Bridge of Size (9x12)

Like many landscape paintings, urbanscapes are more interesting in the hours of early morning or late in the day when shadows are long and more interesting things are happening abstract-wise... Of course you're asking for it when staying in the confines of an hour or so, but that hour of golden light is worth the pursuit. For the piece above, I took a reference photo so I could add the white van later when I got home. Moving vehicles are almost impossible to paint, but leaving them out of a city scene (along with pedestrians) can sometimes have the "neutron bomb effect"...

Monday, February 8, 2010

"I'm bored..."

Probably the most foolish two words a ten year old boy can mutter in the presence of his mom on a summer afternoon... At our house, if you didn't have your wits about you and decreed such a statement out loud, it guaranteed time in the yard pulling weeds. Artists should never be bored. We should always be working on something -- be it a commission, heading outdoors to paint, cleaning the studio, promoting our work or filling up pages in the 'ol sketchbook. Of course when at all possible draw from life, but if a live model is unavailable, doodle off the top of your head or from photos in the magazines lying about the house.

Doodles from magazines and/or imagination

Like painting, it's about the mileage -- whether it's a successful painting or not, you learn and grow from each experience. With sketchbooks, you're honing your drawing skills, recording ideas & reference and providing yourself a journal of progress all at the same time. And it's a personal thing -- doodling in your sketchbook can be a relaxing past time because there are generally no rules, no deadlines and no one looking over your shoulder (unless you're doing it in public).

studio models

A couple of famous painters both told me, "Work on 'starts' and don't worry about the finishes...they'll come on their own". That's what drawing in sketchbooks is like -- a lot of starts that ultimately contribute to my progress as a painter. So if you ever feel bored, draw -- it's the foundation of everything you create...and it definitely beats pulling weeds.

Monday, February 1, 2010

New Blog, new work, new year

I recently read an article about the misconception of artists; how beautiful works flow effortlessly from their fingertips while they enjoy a fun-filled life of leisure...uh, sounds good. Actually, just the other day I checked in with a much more talented artist friend to see how things were going, but our talk was cut short -- he said he'd have to call me back as there was someone there to see him about a kidney...(true conversation). Yes, the flowery description of the artist's life you may have read about in a Danielle Steel novel contrasts quite starkly to the real thing (mine anyway). But before I contemplate hocking any vital organs, I thought I'd start this blog to see if I could generate some more interest in my work. So please check back often -- I promise to update regularly and do my best to keep it interesting (although I can't help but wonder what a kidney fetches these days)...

Shimmy Dancer (36x24)

This piece was inspired by the old vaudeville/1920's jazz age entertainers who sang as well as danced... although there are no instruments depicted as with my other musical genre paintings, I felt this still relates to the same subject matter.

Trumpet Solo (8x10)

I've done so many guitar players I thought it was time to branch out a little... This is a fairly quick sketch (for me) about 3 hours, including lunch and a very limited palette.

Good as it Getz (12x16)

Here are Stan Getz and Benny Goodman jamming -- been studying Soviet painters lately, and after getting over the initial depression and subsequent inferiority complex, I took a shot at these guys in cool values...again, limited palette.