Saturday, December 31, 2016

Last Chance For 2016

I don't know why Apple keeps messing with things when they force upgrades, but I find they have ruined my ability to try to fine tune the color in photos, giving me fewer choices, dumbing me down.  This painting of the Willamette is much more blue than the blue-green that shows up here, and it was a major element in why I wanted to paint this, so it's disappointing that it doesn't show that way.  In searching for the right blue, I decided to try mixing Prussian blue with Manganese blue, and it really was just what I was after.  That's a combination I may want to hang onto.

On a recent morning walk up Oswego Creek, I came across a Great Blue Heron taking a peaceful break.  The dog wanted to lunge across the stream and give chase, but I held her back and finally the heron decide we were just too annoying, so it spread its huge wings and relocated downstream a bit.

Friday, December 23, 2016


Sometimes, in putting in the time to practice rendering a face, the underlying structure is so unique and powerful that it makes it feel easy.  Such was the case with Paul Newman, who had such a strong face: the brow, the nose, the cheekbones that seemed to be cut from marble...  it was a pleasure to try to interpret that which made his face unique.

It has been a busy time with little freedom to paint.  I thought briefly of posting some works in progress that stalled out, but decided to spare you all.  A recent trip to Santa Maria/Santa Barbara left me hungry for the chance to paint those hills, vineyards and trees.  The eucalyptus and sycamore trees especially have magnificent form, but I was driving with family and had no opportunity even to pull over to look, and when I did, it was never the best vantage point.  Still, I was consoled with the wine tasting, and nursed my wounded Art Spirit.

Best wishes and merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

You Reading This, Be Ready

In Foothills Park, in Lake Oswego, there is a grouping of basalt pillars, and on some of the honed or polished faces are inscribed poems by William Stafford.  The following (You Reading This, Be Ready) is one of them.  The painting above is the view from near the pillars, 12x12 oil on panel.

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened 
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life––

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around? 

William Stafford

What a fine way to return to one's day after a walk along the river, remembering to be here now.

And then another quick face.

And another view of Oswego Creek; I'd like to revisit it and tame the orange background, cool it down for distance, maybe, rework some reflections and trees.

Now we have snow outside, and I want to switch gears and paint the cold...

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Charcoal vs. Painted Heads

I recently received the new instructional book How to Draw Portraits in Charcoal by Nathan Fowkes. I have long been an admirer of his skills, and he has such a gentle and generous teaching manner, as seen in this youtube demo/discussion of light and temperature, and so I have been awaiting the release of his new drawing book for some months now.  It arrived just before I had to take a trip to Tennessee, so I haven't had much time to enjoy it yet.  Skimming through the book, I see there is still a lot I need to learn, and with luck and practice, I hope to make some progress.  The above sketch was not done following his instructions, but just to dip my toes back into charcoal drawing, and I left it at just a sketch without trying to fill in the tones and blend and express a broader range of values, because when I got to this point I was happy enough that it caught an expression and I ran out of time anyway and got called off to other duties.

The next study (nearly all of my studies are from photographs, having no live models to work from) was intended to explore a little more the depth that can be achieved with a little more attention, but I found myself struggling with the medium, either the charcoal I was using or the paper, I couldn't get past smearing and losing the value range.  But it is another head to add to the collection, working toward the goal of 10,000 heads (I really have no idea how far along on that path I am - at least 300 or 400, but barely started.)

Oddly, after spending so much time the past few months working in oils and not drawing much, other than to work out thumbnail sketches for painting compositions, I find that even the portrait sketch is easier for me in oil now, faster, more confident.  I find I don't need to resort to measurement to get resemblance, unless I somehow get the eyes off initially, and then I have to stop and figure out where I went wrong.  The above portrait was satisfying in that I feet a bit of the elegance of the model, but since I was working in a paper sketchbook I didn't worry to much about making it a "painting" and I think a little more attention to the overall look might have helped, such as carrying the background red down a little more and away from just the frame of the profile.  I was using left-over colors on my pallette from a landscape; normally I don't think I would use Prussian Blue in a skin color.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

In Search of a Landscape

This little back road led from Chateau de Panisseau to the little village of Cunege.  We had arrived at our gite and were stretching our legs when a little car zipped by and screeched to a halt.  "Meetch!" we heard from the car.  It was our friend, Andre, a sculptor and mayor of a nearby village.  Suddenly the world didn't seem so large.  The painting proved overly complex, and will take more time if I want to tackle it again in earnest.  The dappled sunlight on the dirt road will take some careful brushwork to seem less splotchy, and the light at the curve in the distance might want to be slightly cooler.

Chateau de Panisseau

Morning at George Rogers Park

This is from a recent morning walk, and the light was dramatic and uplifting.  I was concerned about adding the beach in the foreground, worried that the angle detracted from the composition, and I think I was right.  I'd rather try it without.

This is another view from near the beach, looking back up Oswego Creek to the footbridge.  All three of these landscapes seem to have in common the focal point in the upper center.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


12x12 oil on board

This is a take on a plein air study I did last week, and I'm trying to push myself in a slightly different direction, though I don't feel I'm there yet.  This is a little bend in the Tualatin River where Randall Tipton and I set up on a nice foggy morning.  My paintings didn't go along these lines and were crudely representational, as is my bent, but there was something in the color that I wanted to work with.  But when I started into this one, the color got abandoned in search of something else, something a little more abstracted.  This photo is not good: the warms are too warm and the cools are too warm, too, not quite like I was going for.  But the conversation on the riverbank as we sat there painting was exceptionally fulfilling, as usual.

Another couple of landscapes from this week.  The first is a detail from a larger painting that is a bust, but there was something about those poplars as I drove past, with the blue of the mountain behind showing through, but it might take revisiting at some point.

The last one is a simple little sketch of a hillside near where I walk the dog on Luscher Farms; the fallow fields, the working farm still going on so close to the city, a private little space tucked in the hills near the commotion of modern life.  I don't know why this one appeals to me so much; maybe I'm just imagining what Pissaro might have done with it.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Another Go

I decided to give it another go, see if I couldn't paint a more finished portrait instead of stopping at a sketch.  Below are three stages of the painting on a 16" x 20" canvas: the drawing, the block-in and the nearly completed piece.

This certainly looks more like my Zach, though there is an undefinable difference that just misses a bit of his essence, leaving me with the challenge to keep working at finding a way to achieve it.  In laying out the features, I have used the standard approach of drawing the vertical center of the face and locating the cross lines for the eyes, the bottom of the nose, the mouth.  But once I was nearer the end of the painting and trying to make small adjustments to reach a closer resemblance, I found that using the points used in facial recognition software - which look to be based more on a three dimensional approach, rather than a two dimensional one - seemed to help.  I will look into that a little more on my next portrait, though I don't think the software points of reference would be as useful in initially laying out the drawing.

Saturday, October 22, 2016


9x12 Oil on paper

Last night I made a little time for painting again, and not ready to start a large landscape, I decided to do a portrait sketch of my youngest when he was about 12.  My problem with portraits has always been an undesirable blotchiness from not blending well, perhaps because I don't use enough paint, maybe the Liquin dries too quickly, or maybe I still don't know what the hell I'm doing.  But achieving a reasonable likeness is coming a little easier now, and the colors don't seem to be so hard to chase down.    Maybe it's true that we need patience, because all these hours of practice will finally lead us closer to our goals.  My goal has never been to sell a painting, or even to paint in a way that would sell, but to be able to put down enough of my idea or catch enough of the emotion that I can share it.  That seems to be reward enough for me.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Light Begins To Fade

Morning on the Willamette

Now that we have tipped toward the coming of Winter, the days are shorter, the light less intense, and the colors are often richer, or at least I am more likely to be out and about during the hours around dawn and dusk.  The camera, though, is really useless for trying to catch the quality of the light and color I see, and I continue to try to hone my ability to remember long enough to get home and get it down on canvas or board.  This isn't one of my natural strengths, as it turns out, but I do believe it is possible to get better with practice.  And in the end it becomes a matter of relying more on imagination and making it up, rather than trying to recreate what is before one's eyes.  I still argue you can't do a good job of making it up or trying to recreate the emotional experience if you can't also match what you see in front of you.  The skills required to mix a color or match a temperature are hard-won.  But without them, how can one practice Intention?  

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Self Portrait

In the interest of learning more about tone and temperature on the human face, there is no better study than the live model.  Photographs just won't do.  But there is never anyone around who is willing to sit still for me for two hours while I try to decipher what is going on with the light bouncing off their skin.  Except for me.  I'm always available, and so I find myself doing self-portraits from time to time.  It's a way to practice the drawing - getting proportions right, quickly capturing the shape of the nose or the placement of the ear.  But it isn't as if I want a bunch of paintings of myself, so I don't set out to do a nice painting, and often I grab a sketchbook, painting with oil on paper.  It doesn't make for very nice blending, since the paper absorbs too quickly, the paints are too thinly applied to stand up: they get blotchy.  But that isn't the point, so it doesn't bother me too much.  What does bother me sometimes is that I'm not focused on flattering myself and I end up looking stressed or crazed, probably because of the intense focus on the act of painting.  (Or maybe it is more of a psychological study than I think.)  And then I end up with selfie after selfie, and I begin to worry about that, too.  Recently, a well-known painter whose blog I follow has been posting self-portrait after self-portrait, and as much as I understand the need to use oneself as an available subject, I can't help a part of me reacting with a "oh, get over yourself!" It seems a little self-obsessed.  It seems as if he finds himself so compelling that he believes others will, too.  Why can't I cut him the slack that I cut myself?  He's studying color and temperature and drawing.  

There have been some amazing self-portraits over the years.  Van Gogh did many that are well known.  Rembrandt was the master.  It never seemed to be about him, but about the painting instead.

And then there was Gauguin, with a work less well-known.

And then there is this one by Tissot.  It has long been one of my favorites.

A couple of nights ago we took the boat downtown for dinner, and on the return home the evening sky was remarkable, exploding with color, endlessly fascinating and changing, and I tried to capture of bit of the feeling in a 6x6 oil.  I'm not ordinarily interested in sunset paintings, but I might need to try this one on a larger scale with some blending to soften it like it was in reality.  The darks are easily laid in, full of mystery and very true to life.  But that yellow was very hard to nail down with paint.

And this was a little effort to try out a different palette of colors, Prussian blue and Naples yellow, with Alizarin Crimson.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

More Pissaro

Madame Pissaro - Pastel

Poul Webb continues to add to his posts on Pissaro, halfway through the project, and I am fascinated to see the variety in Pissaro's work.  With so many paintings from private collections, we are allowed to see beyond our preconceptions of his style and watch as he experiments in pastel and gouache and watercolor.  We see the influence of those around him - Signac and Cezanne and Monet.  His brushwork changes, his colors are more impressionistic, and yet he remains dedicated to painting the common life as he sees it in his surroundings.  What a treat!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

If You Like Pissaro

1870 Road to Versailles at Louveciennes

I have always enjoyed studying the work of artists from the past, and I assume most people with an interest in art do the same, but I particularly like to follow the changes over time as an artist finds him or herself, responds to the movements of the time, becomes more confident, etc.  Pissaro has long been a favorite of mine, and now we have the chance to see much more of his work gathered in one place than I have seen before: Poul Webb, an artist in the UK, has a blog on which he gathers and presents the works of a variety of artists, posting day after day until he has exhausted his resources, and if you are interested in checking it out, his website is

His current series of posts focuses on Camille Pissaro,  and he intends 21 posts in total; the first two posts are up and ready to view.  One of my first impressions (no pun intended) is that Pissaro tended to lean on a couple of compositional crutches: he loved the road or lane or path leading into the picture, and nearly always he inserted figures to give a sense of scale, populating his work with people going about their everyday business.  He also seemed to like having the dominant mass descend from the upper left corner of the painting at an angle toward the lower right, and then leveling off somewhat below the horizontal center on the right.  I find this in painting after painting in his earlier work, and you can see it in several of those I have posted below.  Often he used both tricks in the same work.  But that minor observation aside, I enjoy seeing his growth over the years as he finds his voice.

1874 South Norwood, study

1871 All Saints Church, Upper Norwood

1856 Women Chatting by the Sea

The above painting, done when he was 26 and living in St. Thomas, reveals that he was skillful at an early age, and had already developed a part of what would become his signature style.  But he was hundreds if not thousands of paintings away from discovering the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism for which he would become famous.

1859 Houses by a Road

1864 The Banks of the Marne

Now I need to confess that the reason I chose to post the works of someone else is that I have done no work of my own over the past month.  I took on a project of a different sort that demands 12 hour days of me, six days a week, and I am exhausted and stressed and looking forward to a time in the near future when I can return to a more civilized life style that allows me a bit of leisure.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Why do we paint?

Fields at Luscher Farms

As we were sitting in the shade on a warm almost summer day, our eyes focused on our paintings, but our minds free to converse, my friend and painting mentor, Randall asked me why I wanted to paint, what it was that I expected to get out of it, or something to that effect, as he sees me struggling with my self-education.  I responded with something about how I am such a literal person and need to learn the fundamentals before I feel able to express myself more competently.  I'm not creating Art, I'm "practicing."  And while that is a dodge, an excuse that I frequently use, it is also based in truth; I don't have a cranky art instructor critiquing my work and telling me to tear it up and start over, so I have to play the cranky part myself.  But assuming my practice does result in acquiring the skills to paint what is in my heart and mind, then why indeed do I want to paint?

Annie Dillard, in her book The Writing Life, does a good job of pointing out what it is we seek in Art.  If you substitute "painter" for "writer" the following might apply:

Why are we reading, if not for the hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?  Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts?  Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms?  Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?  What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered?  Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love?  We still and always want waking.  We should amass half dressed in long lines like tribesmen and shake gourds at each other, to wake up; instead we watch television and miss the show.

It is so hard to explain what grabs us when we see a painting that reaches out and touches our hearts, but whatever it is, Randall has it is spades: his work is so poetic and filled with the emotions Nature has evoked in him.  I aspire to reach just a bit of that ability, and so I practice.  Some of that practice is of the human face, in all its subtlety.   Here is the latest effort on that front: