Sunday, December 27, 2015

Is Indigo Blue or Purple?

color study, 7x7

I took the puppy for a walk this morning, hoping to wear her out so I could have more time to do the things I'd like myself, and the sky to the west was a deep, rich blue that I would call indigo, though when I searched the web for definitions, I was surprised to find many people who believe that indigo is really nearly purple:

I have always thought that indigo was a deep blue, slightly toward the red scale, the name derived from the natural dye used on the original Levis.  More like this:

Needless to say, my color sketch didn't quite catch a true indigo, either.  Working from my fast-fading memory of this morning's sky, I veered a little toward Prussian blue and not really fully Ultramarine.  Maybe cobalt would have been a better place to start.  Still, the quick sketch managed to catch something of the mood of the tree line on the crest of the rolling field.  I think I ought to assign myself the task of gathering visual memory on my morning walks and then committing it quickly to color studies, in order to improve the feeble memory that operates now.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Kayaking the White Salmon

White Salmon - 24x30 oil

Working from a decades-old black and white photo printed on copy paper, I tried to introduce color in a way that maintained the feeling of cold beauty.  Flowing water is a tricky thing to paint, since any competent boater will be able to tell when it is not true to nature; the most important skill is being able to "read" the water, knowing where to place yourself so you end up where you want to be down river, using the map printed on the surface of the moving water.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Artist at Work

For no apparent reason, I thought I would take a look at artists working in their studios.  Maybe I'm just trying to work up enough motivation to get in there myself.  It's pouring down rain and will continue to do so for at least another week, a sleepy puppy is at my feet, needing a walk, but not in this rain, and it seems like a quiet, dead time in December.
So if you are interested, bored maybe, see if you can identify all these fine folks at work:

Compared to this, my studio is spotless.

Runner up in the messy studio contest.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.” 
― John SteinbeckEast of Eden

I've always loved Steinbeck and his love for the common man, his connection to the earth and the simple truths.  He lived in a different time, and his preference for individualism (as noted in the above quote) seems very American, in both the good and the bad ways, but he also believed in the social contract, the rights of man and something much bigger than just the individual.  And then again, he was also a really good story teller.  I went through a period in my youth when I probably read every thing he had ever written, including journals and letters, but that was so long ago that it is probably time to revisit his best pieces, like The Grapes of Wrath, or some of the warmer, funnier ones, like Tortilla Flat.

This painting was started a little differently, for me, with no drawing at all, no checking to see if proportions were right: I just slapped down some thin paint and blocked in a rough head, simple masses, then worked the darks and then the lights to try to place facial features.  I wouldn't say it is a perfect likeness - I think Steinbeck's face was meatier, fuller, craggier.  But it caught enough of a resemblance to satisfy my goal, which was to test my feel for laying out a face without much measuring.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Wet and Dry

Lake in October, 12"by24" oil/canvas

The light has changed, the colors are more muted and softer, the details are foggier, but that is the way the lake looks now and this painting was from just before those seasonal changes started taking effect.  In October, the light was still crisp and clean and the atmospheric distance was more pronounced.

But for a little diversion, I decided to try my hand at a southwestern scene, an entirely different palette, inventing colors to make a copy of an old sepia Curtis photo, Canyon de Chelly from a century ago.  I think it might be fun to spend some time down in Arizona and New Mexico and really see what those colors are like.

Canyon de Chelly, 16x20 oil/canvas

And then of course there is another portrait study from an old black and white photo, someone long since dead, imagining some color in their face, wondering about the personality behind the eyes.  This boy might have been a runner for Western Union or maybe a street urchin, or perhaps both.

12x16 oil/canvas

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Green Leaves of Summer

16x20 oil on canvas

I've had a good run the past few days, with plenty of time for painting, few distractions, and the turn into autumn to spur me on to capture what I can of this fading light.  I've decided to name this painting "The Green Leaves of Summer" because when I shared it with a friend in Carmel Valley, he said it made him think of this:  Now I can't get it out of my head!

In analyzing this one, I find that there is something about it that appeals to me, and I think it might be that cobalt in the sky in conjunction with the soft greens of the field.  The photo distorts the values somewhat, and the copse of trees on the right is not quite that dark, but the composition does seem to be off balance, though that may be part of what gives the rest of the painting the sense of space.  There is nothing unique about the thing; in fact it feels like I am turning back to old habits of painting what I think a landscape should look like.  But it is honest, too, and came from a quick snapshot I took while driving through the Oregon countryside on my way somewhere in the Willamette Valley.

I spent a little time in the garage yesterday cutting up some scrap 1/4" plywood to make painting panels, and now I have about forty of them in various smaller sizes up to 11x14.  I feel like I am storing up for a continued onslaught, a siege on the World of Art, banging my head against the wall, trying to get in.  Sometimes it feels like trying to do the impossible, like teaching a dog how to use a toilet, but then when I look back at what my work used to be like a couple of years ago, I can definitely see that I have made progress.  Here is a quick study of a Rembrandt from yesterday.  (I need to do some correcting around his eyes, etc. but it was just an attempt to squeak out another sketch for the day):

8x10 oil on panel

And here is something from two years back:

I think this last one is a pastel, but it is obvious I was focused on trying to get some sort of likeness and not concerned about the overall look of the painting.  Why does it seem to take so long to pound these things into my head?  Maybe an old dog can learn new tricks, but it takes a boatload of patience.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Ackerman Island

Ackerman Island, 12x24 oil on canvas

I've been playing with different methods of laying down the paint lately, more smearing around and wiping out, more tonalist in color range, and the finished work above (it's so hard to get good photos with my meager set-up) is moody in much the same way the Columbia River seems to me to be at certain times of the year.  The water is wide and slow and powerful.  The light is clean and soul-piercing, the setting is timeless, and one feels somewhat insignificant in the presence of relentless Nature.  Or at least that is what I was trying to paint here.  I'd settle for moderately interesting.

I was drawn to the light coming through the trees and being reflected in the near branch of the river, and the slender sandy island, dependent on the water levels of the river, and the narrow band of trees strung out down the length of the island.  I drive past this place a dozen times a year, and I am always interested to see its changing moods.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Young Woman in Green

12x16 oil on canvas

Having been working in a style very different from what I am accustomed to, and having wiped a number of canvases in a row, I felt it was time to use one of those canvases for a portrait, going back to the familiar, just throwing it down to get past discouragement, which is invading from other areas in my life, as well.  This young woman is from an old black and white photo; she is likely long since dead.  But she once was young and beautiful and full of hope.

I guess I'm ready for some rain, for a change.  Bring on the grey.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Summer at the Cabin

24"x24" oil

Not content with a single portrait at a time, I try for the group pose, arranging the elements in an "arc of friendship" curving from upper left to lower right, and I don't know if the composition works all that well, but the intent was to get the eye going in a clockwise circle, following the hands.  This is still a work in progress, though I doubt there will be any major changes at this point, perhaps a few alterations and some glazing to make the colors richer.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

One Last Hot Day

After dropping off in temperature and raining a bit, the weather turned and climbed back into the 90's again, if only for a couple of days.  I took advantage of the heat to sit out on the deck and do a plein air painting (within a few steps of a cold pitcher of iced tea!)  Frequently when I try painting outdoors, I am frustrated that I don't capture what I am after; the brushwork is sloppy and the values seem off.  I find that if I bring it back to the studio, I can sometimes do another piece using the color information from the sketch, and that redeems it somewhat.  But this time, for whatever reason, the value and color shifts seemed more accurate, lending a depth to the painting, which was what I was focusing on, and the trees in the foreground do seem to be closer and shaded.  

Poul Webb, over at Art & Artists, is a great source for in-depth study of various artists.  Currently he is doing a 13 part series on Fantin-Latour, someone I have not paid much attention to over the years.  But when I saw some of his portraits and lithographs, I was utterly charmed.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Storm Warnings

A Long Cold Winter
11x14 oil on canvas

The seemingly endless summer is at last giving signs of running its course; the winds and rains of the past two days here instantly remind us that we live in a gray and soggy land, something that had slipped our minds in the suspended disbelief of summer's long reign.  Some among us long for the return of the soft and muted grays of winter, easier somehow to lace with emotion on the canvas.  And the fires in the mountains are begging for rain.  Just give us, please, this one last month of sun, this glorious September that frequently combines the best of all worlds: children returning to school and dry, colorful days of leisure, souls uplifted and comforted before the harsh turn of season.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

For The Time Being, As Good As It Gets

9x12 acrylic on canvas
I have been using the excuse of dashing off sketches in order to convince myself that they didn't need to be "perfect" and that my scratchy brushwork was acceptable.  But I decided it was time to try for a more finished portrait, and I chose for a subject my youngest son, Zach.  Back from a trip to France, I picked up acrylics for a change, trying to find my sea legs after the hiatus, and they do dry faster, making blending a little harder, so maybe oils might have been a better choice for putting my skills to a real test.  And I wasn't about to spend days and days on this; it took about four hours.  I might dab at it some more, blending away some of the grosser shortcomings, but I think I really need to admit that this is about my skill level at this point: it's not a painting that will hang in a gallery, but it is a damn fair likeness, and that's been my goal all along, so I'm going to declare victory and move on about my business.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer on the Lake

The heat is unrelenting, no rain for weeks on end, and the algae bloom is thick.  But at certain times of day, when the warm sun is bouncing off the rock cliff, the water takes on a warm glow and contrasts nicely with the cool cobalt blue of the reflected sky.  The colors are quite different from just a couple of months ago, though different times of day will yield different results.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dark Profile

Continuing to investigate the use of darks in oil paint, I mix thalo green with alizarin crimson to get the dark for the background, and then lighten some thalo for the green of the cap.  The photo snap does not do justice to the richness of the combination, but I think I like this dark as much as the dark from combining ultramarine blue with burnt sienna.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Transparent Darks, Opaque Lights

I find that the application of the dark undertones first - in this case a mix of ultramarine blue and transparent red oxide - in a thin wash, and then an overlay of cerulean and white for the lighter areas works wonders in creating the look of sun-washed skin.  I see that the symmetry is off a bit in the eyes and nostrils, but rather than muck with the transparencies I will move on to another painting.

Endless days of heat and sun and projects to do has left little time for making headway in the painting game, but I find myself curiously looking forward to winter.  That's a first!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Faces Old and Young

Ron 7x7 oil
Aging gracefully in the south of France, still dapper after all these years, still the bon vivant, the wit at dinner parties, the tap dancer, fine cook, flatterer of young and old.  We can always learn lessons from those among us living well.

Austin 7x7 oil
It was just yesterday that Austin was a young boy, eager and innocent, studying dinosaurs.  Now he is  headed off to college and life as a grownup.  But to his parents, he will always be their little boy, probably about this age, nine or so.  It is the curse and the blessing of parenthood: to retain that youth in our hearts no matter what Time may do to us all.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Plein Air Event

In honor of the local plein air event going on right now, I tried my hand at a couple of landscapes, the first in oils, the second in acrylic, and I see that I need to take the plunge and just buy some real oil paints and stop trying to work with these water-soluble oils that are too sticky and hard to clean up.  I see other oil painters who just leave their brushes in some solution or other and don't waste time cleaning and cleaning.  I've been worried about making my studio space (commandeered from a library/entertainment space) proper and undamaged.  Maybe I can figure out a way to keep the solvents from ruining everything.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Apologies to Mr. Sargent

oil 5x7

But then, Mr. Sargent had his own ideas about how he should look on the canvas:
In Sargent's self portrait, he is nobler, fresher, younger, a little more aristocratic.  I have painted him grayer, more tired, and my trademark splotchiness that can only portend the onset of a grave illness.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Uncle Ernest, or The Importance Of Remembering Ernest

Uncle Ernest

My grandfather’s brother, Ernest, owned a small ranch on the north fork of Little Butte Creek, while my grandparents had a large working ranch on the south fork.  The north fork was fast and cold, dropping through a dark canyon of steep slopes and tall firs.  Ernest had a cabin there, and he diverted water from the river through a channel in which he had a water mill for producing electricity.  I remember the burnt-out refrigerators and washing machines sitting around his property; his regulator for the power was not very effective.

My grandmother didn’t think highly of Ernest: she thought he was lazy and a “smooth operator”, not a compliment in those days.  It’s true that Ernest took a relaxed approach to caring for his land, and he did not run cattle of his own, spending a good part of the year in Arizona.  Sometimes he would come to our ranch to play guitar while Papa played the fiddle and Celeste played the harmonica.  I think he must have enjoyed his life a good bit.

Once when I was quite young he showed me the bullet lodged in his wrist; the doctors had been unable to extract it without doing damage.  He and my grandfather told the story of how when Ernest was 22 and Papa was 18, (around 1910, in Arizona territory) their father bought a gold mine from a fellow they called the Frenchman.  Apparently the Frenchman changed his mind and wanted the mine back, and a dispute resulted.  As the two young men were riding with their father up a canyon to the mine, the Frenchman ambushed them and shot my great-grandfather and Uncle Ernest.  Ernest, though wounded gravely in the stomach, shot back and killed the Frenchman.  My grandfather was arrested for murder and held in jail for a month while the authorities awaited Ernest’s recovery, so that he could give his version of the story.  Papa loved to tell us that he wore out a brand new pair of boots pacing in that jail cell, not knowing if he was headed for the gallows.  I still have a copy of the newspaper account of the events.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Two portraits

7x7 study from Curtis photo

Edouard Manet 8x10

I have always thought Manet was fascinating, clinging to a more classic style of painting, yet joining or even leading at times the Impressionists, loosening up his brushwork in later decades.  He broke with the tradition of painting biblical or historical themes and chose to paint scenes of common life, and yet his love of figurative paintings kept him grounded in the use of form, rather than letting loose with the light effects of Monet, et al.  They say he became so absorbed when painting that he took on an intense look, which I tried to replicate in the above painting.  Others who knew him also painted him, without making him look like a dangerous lunatic.

 Portrait of Manet by Fantin-Latour, from a group portrait

Manet self portrait

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Quick Sketch

Edgar Allan Poe 5x7

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, 
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before…

Recently I have been caught up in too many different activities, with work, vacation planning, and a never-ending array of demands on my time, and I find it difficult to make time at the easel.  So I decided I might just as well use what little time I can squeeze in and do very quick studies like this one.  I plunge in with no preliminary drawing and slap some paint down, trying to get a resemblance in twenty minutes or so, not worrying about the brushwork or level of completion, and when the time is up, I am done.   Poe's face, looking deeply troubled, lends itself to caricature, and the simplest rendering finds some of that emotion.

Another quickie, 5x7

While these studies aren't great wall-hangers, they give me hope, since I am finding some improvement in my instinct for proportion and accuracy, with no measuring or fussing, just slap dash grab, trying to capture the essence.  I don't kid myself - I have a long row to hoe before the level of finish is what I would like, but as a carpenter, I understand you need to gather your tools before you start building a table.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Willamette River

This view of the Willamette River at Foothills Park was painted following a morning walk a month ago or so, when the trees were just beginning to show signs of life, and the last color of winter was allowed to shine in the rising sun.  In some ways, I still like my preparatory color sketch better:

And then, yet another face on the wall: