Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cat sketches in charcoal

From the archives....

I did these quick charcoal sketches last fall, but they never made it onto the blog.  They are based on some photos I took when I attended a CFA cat show in Groton, CT.  I love cats, and it was a delight to wander around and see all the fancy felines.  Many of their owners were more than happy to allow me to take photos of their kitties.  Some made for perfect subjects for sketching.  You can see the photos I took in this Picasa album.

These are charcoal on newsprint, 8x11, I think.

Is there anything cuter than a kitten?  Maybe a fluffy Persian kitten named Harry.  He was off-the-charts adorable.

Yes, these are cats
The Persian female on the left, named "Cleocatra", is staring at "Goody", an exotic male.  Exotics are essentially short-haired Persians.  Watching the staredown was hilarious.  I don't know how these poor cats are able to breathe through those tiny noses, but they are so gentle and sweet.

Monday, December 27, 2010

By the Hand of Man - photoessay

From the archives....

Here is a collection of photos taken in various locations, showing historic and prehistorical marks of humans upon the land.

 Newspaper Rock 

This amazing petroglyph panel spans 2000 years in its creation.  Location:  near Canyonlands NP, southeastern Utah.
Anthropomorph pictograph in red

Found on the wall of a protected alcove formed from sandstone, this was the most elaborate of the designs.  Location:  Canyonlands NP.
Roadside Granery

Likely built by the Fremont in the 8th or 9th century, I believe, these small mud-and-stone structures were designed to store and protect grain and corn from damage from pests and weather, as the nomadic people traveled from season to season.

Historical hunt(?) scene

A herd of bighorn sheep are shown surrounded by riders on horseback, dating these petroglyphs to at least the mid to late 16th century.    They are skillfully executed.

Location:  along trail to Delicate Arch, Arches NP.

 Frog/lizard figures and.....?

What is that figure on the lower right side supposed to be?  This panel predates Picasso, suggesting that Cubism was perhaps invented by the Navajo living or passing through Chaco Canyon, NM ;).  It is believed to post-date the Anasazi who lived in the area in the 9th through 12th century, however.
Another Chaco Canyon panel

Birds and animal quadrupeds are seen, along with a few sun spirals.  These panels are unreachable except with a ladder, suggesting that the lower rock the artist(s) used has fallen away.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter in Old Forge, NY - #2

Last week, on impulse, and based on the webinar lectures given by Johannes Vloothuis, I decided to try a snow scene in oils, based on an image provided in the December challenge on the landscape forum of Wet Canvas.  Normally, I prefer to work from my own reference material, but as I've done a few times in the past, I was charmed by one of Paula Ford's photos of Old Forge, NY.  In fact, last year, I used another one of her photos as a reference for a pastel landscape, that can be seen here.  It sold almost immediately.

Winter scenes with snow may be my next series after the Southwestern Skies is completed, so this was a good experiment.  I started it last week, and after watching a live demo this past Sunday, where Johannes painted a snow scene, I rushed down and finished the painting that evening.  There are things I would change on it, like toning down the blue of the water - it's cerulean, but a tad too chromatic.  Johannes was kind enough to critique it for me during the Monday night webinar, and we discovered it looks even better with most of the foreground cropped away.  

It is painted on a reclaimed painting from the Four Corners series.  

Winter in Old Forge, #2
oil on canvas board

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Light and Shadow on Rt 491

Each of the paintings in this Southwest Skies series have increasingly challenged me, primarily as they have become more complex and require more time to paint and consider how to best render the clouds.  These were definitely not easy, but with oils, one has the luxury of moving, adding and manipulating the paint for extended periods.  I tried out some new techniques here, all based around creating pleasing lines, abstract shapes and harmonious colors, but I still see things that bother me in these categories that I will address when I get back home.  I think after I have 100 cloudscape paintings under my belt I will be able to execute them with far less effort.

Hard edges, soft edges, lost and found edges are all found in these clouds and their amorphous forms.   Some crepuscular rays add to the drama of the clouds as they silently move across the landscape of northern New Mexico.

Light and Shadow along Rt 491
oil on panel

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice and Holidays to all!

Busy, busy today!  As is always the case, I didn't have enough time to get everything done that I'd hoped before we head out tomorrow.  I did finish another painting in the latest series, which I will have to have set to post after I can take a photo.

For those, such as myself, who are creatures of light, it's always exciting when the winter solstice arrives and the days begin to get longer again.  It won't be physically noticeable for a while, but psychologically, it means a lot.  And, of course, yesterday's solstice was marked by a rare celestial event - a lunar eclipse.  Apparently, the last time it fell on the solstice was over 350 years ago.

We haven't seen the sun here since Friday, due to the same storm system that is wrecking havoc across the pacific coast through Utah.  I wasn't expecting that I'd be able to see the eclipse, let alone photograph it.  My friend Jala reminded me just in time, and when I went on my kitchen deck, I had a clear view of the moon...through a thin layer of fog.

I didn't stay out for the entire event, as it was cold and wet, but here are a couple of photos.  A clear night, a 400mm telephoto lens and a sturdy tripod would have given phenomenal results.   But, these are better than I expected for being hand-held and shot through fog @ 200mm.

Shots were taken about 15 min. apart:

Solstice Eclipse #1

Solstice Eclipse #2

I want to also wish everyone safe travels and a happy holidays, and a Merry Christmas to those that celebrate it as a religious holiday.  And thank you all for your support, comments and readership of my humble little blog; I greatly appreciate all of you!   

I look forward to the New Year and wish you all the best in your artistic endeavors for 2011.



Monday, December 20, 2010

North of Gallup

Here is #3 in the Southwestern Sky series.  I had Johannes critique my last painting, and based on his suggestions, I tried to incorporate many of those into this piece.  It's done in a single session, and I find working alla prima to be a bit challenging when it comes to doing the edges of clouds against a blue sky - it's all too easy to get things smeared and over-blended.

North of Gallup
oil on board

Looking at the painting, I could have probably pushed the yellows in the sky a bit more, and I think the blue is a bit too chromatic.  One of the beauties of working with oils is the color harmony that comes with using a limited palette.  Here, I pulled some of the purples and blue-grays of the sky into the grasses, and what had been discordant suddenly improved.  I also experimented with Torrit Gray, made by Gamblin, that is free with the purchase of two of their tubes.  I know some artists like Kevin McPherson use mixing grays in their work, and I see why.  It may be on the regular palette line-up.  

We are leaving in a mere two days for AZ to spend the holidays with family, and will be gone over a week.  I am going to try and have at least a few blog posts set to post while I'm away so there isn't prolonged radio silence.  Probably mostly photos of places and things I didn't have time to share when I first took them.   I will probably have limited internet time while we're gone, but will try to get in my blog reading fix when I can.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Two Gray Hills

Finished last night,  this was a fun painting to do.  The clouds were a delight to paint and after experimenting with Indian Red as per Johannes Vtoohuis' webinar workshops, I have decided I love it for southwestern landscapes.  Much better than Alizarin crimson, which I'll probably relegate to use in other subjects from now on.

Two Gray Hills
oil on board

One of the concepts that Johannes has been emphasizing in his workshops is to focus on values.  He repeated the quote I've heard before:  "Value does the work and color gets the credit".  So true!  And it's so easy to seduced by warm, high-chroma colors and misinterpret their values as being lighter than they truly are.

Everyone who paints landscapes is familiar with value planes and probably most of us have read or are at least familiar with John Carson's landscape painting guide.  In it, he discusses the four basic planes of light:

  • 1 - sky, which is always the lightest value, save for snow - usually 2-3 on the value scale
  • 2 - slanted plane:  ie, mountains - usually 5-6 on the value scale
  • 3 - upright plane: ie, trees - usually 4-7 on the value scale, with 8 for darkest shadow areas
  • 4 - flat plane:  ground - usually 4, maybe 3 or 5.

While painting this piece, I was mindful of that.  I have had a tendency in the past to make the undersides of rain-laden clouds too dark.  Even as dark as they appear to be, seldom are they ever darker than the lightest value of the land.  This is easily verified by converting a photo to b/w.  

The only exception I've personally seen is in a scenario similar to the one above:  a deep, deep blue sky at the zenith, and a solid blanket of pale faded grasses in the winter.  Or, dark stormclouds behind a front-lit hill, cliff or mountain of pale rock, where the light is hitting the surface close to 90 degrees.

Out of curiosity and edification, I converted the painting and the reference photo to b/w.  And while I was correct about the sky and grass value, it turns out my grasses are still about one value too light.  The darkest darks of the clouds were only slightly darker than the lightest lights of the grasses.  

It's probably time to re-read Carson for probably the 3rd time...

Monday, December 13, 2010

New series - Southwestern Skies

Finally something done in the studio!  For the past week, I've been totally absorbed in listening to daily 3+ hr. webinar lectures  from landscape artist and instructor Johannes Vloothius, who has been graciously sharing his extensive knowledge for free to anyone interested.  The information has been invaluable, and is probably the equivalent of 3-4 artist workshops.  In addition to critiquing participant's work, he has also used the work of top landscape artists Clyde Aspevig, Jim Wilcox and Scott Christenson.  My head is exploding with all the information I've learned and it has almost totally changed the way I look at paintings.
He will be holding these daily webinars through Dec 22, along with live videos of painting demos on Sundays (I believe).  Here is a link to his artwork, and for anyone interested in attending the webinars through Dec 22, here is the link to his cyber art learning website.  Click on the yellow bus to register for and join the webinar (starts at 5 p.m. EST).  Follow the instructions for registering, and you're in.

In the meantime, I have been cogitating on what to begin as my next series.  I kept coming back to the photos I took during our Thanksgiving trip, so I decided that they will be the basis for the new series, which I've informally titled "Southwestern Skies".

The emphasis will be on the clouds and the patterns and abstracted shapes they form in conjunction with the desert landscape of southern NM and northern AZ.  No particular order - just what suits my fancy at the moment.  These all have one thing in common:  Drama.  Uncertainty.  Nothing cozy or predictable.

Clear Skies Ahead
 oil on canvas panel

There is definitely a challenge to working wet-in-wet with abrupt value changes, such as those of the highlighted cloud edges against the sky.  It's also a challenge to prevent mechanical, contrived edges and produce nice abstract shapes with melodic lines, as Johannes says.  Experimenting with a different palette here - Indian red, purple lake, cad. orange, yellow ochre and ultramarine blue, with titanium white.  I will probably re-work the clouds and reduce their value; it's a bit too close to the land, and see if I can get improved edges by drybrushing the edges.

And - some sunsets from a few days ago:

Dec 9 - pink cumulus gang
Dec 10 - to the northwest

Dec 10 - over Perins Peak

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Final in Four Corners/Colorado Plateau series

After thinking about additional pieces I could do for this road trip series, I decided that this painting will be the last.  I finished it a few days ago, jumping ahead of the others posted yesterday, with the intent it be the last piece.   I had originally planned to sandwich at least 2 more in between yesterday's and this one, of the western part of Mesa Verde, but just decided I'd rather wrap this up and move on to a new series.

This painting is a bit of a cheater, in that: 1) it's based on a photo I took during last summer's trip; 2) it technically should have been the first in the series, as it is what you see as a passenger heading west along Hwy 160.  C'est la vie.  The view I shot on the way home didn't have enough appeal to paint.

Sleeping Ute Mountain is the southwestern-most mountain found in Colorado.  It is not part of the Rockies, but is a separate, small range, and is older than the volcanic San Juans.  Like the Abajos and La Sal mountains of southeastern Utah, Sleeping Ute is a laccolith - formed of volcanic intrusive rock breaking through sedimentary rock - vs. the Rocky Mountains, which were formed by movements in the earth's crust (plate tectonics).

When I took the photo for this, a single, amorphous cloud was positioned to cast a shadow across the main peak of the mountain, giving it an almost surreal feel that I really liked.  So, I kept it - compositional issues be darned.  I removed evidence of civilization, aside from a small cluster of trees to the left, and that was it.  The mountain lies on the Ute reservation, and the small town of Cortez is to the east.

Cloud over Sleeping Ute
oil on panel

In all, I did 46 oil paintings for this series, and learned much about the handling of this medium in a new format for me.  It brings my total of oil paintings to date to 51.  Thank you to those who followed the journey across the land I love and added encouragement along the way - I appreciate it!  

With the first 50 oils under my belt, I'll now consider the direction(s) I want to head with my next series.  I've painted enough green to make my head spin, so I'll probably beg off of painting green-heavy landscapes for a while.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

#44 and 45 in Four Corners/Colorado Plateau series

Two smaller pieces, completed yesterday.  We are now back in Colorado, perhaps 15 miles east of the AZ border.  To the south, a shallow mesa composed of Mancos shale emerges as we head west.  Its slopes are similar to those of the Chinle formation, having a beautiful array of blue, mauve and rose-colored shales and mudstones.  I was drawn to the colors and abstracted shapes and curves of this un-named series of cliffs.

Colored Cliffs
oil on panel

As the colored cliffs gradually disappear, the landscape opens up, providing a sweeping view to the south of northern New Mexico.  An iconic landmark of the Four Corners region - Shiprock - comes into view,  immediately commanding attention.   Shiprock is probably the largest, and certainly the most well-known of the dozens of diatremes in the region.  Against the surrounding sedimentary rock, the weathered remains of this explosive volcanic neck look almost out of place, and surely enigmatic for those not familiar with the region's geology.  

oil on panel

I was specifically going for an abstracted image here, to depict Shiprock as a shadowed and silhouetted form against the otherwise featureless land.  It didn't work with a higher horizon, and even though the sky dominates the composition, space-wise, there is no doubt what the point of interest is.  Clouds add some interest and help balance out the open sky.  

Here is another photo of Shiprock, taken along Hwy 491, with the view to the northwest, and partially obscured by the winter storm.  I am sure it will figure into many photos and probably more paintings in the future.

And, finally, here is a shot from last night's sunset.  Abstract-style, for my blogger friend Jala:

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Teec Nos Pos" - #43 in FC-CP series

In my road trip travels over the years, I've always been interested (and often amused) by the ways in which towns announce their presence to passers-by on the highways and interstates.  In the northeast, it ranges from a simple DOT green-and-white sign along the side of the interstate to a hand-crafted and painted wooden sign "Welcome to _____" as you enter the quaint town or village on a 2-lane road.

In the midwest, I saw town names painted on the sides of barns, and Adair, Iowa, has the town name with a huge smiley face on one of their water towers.

A uniquely western trend, however, is the placement of white rocks on the side of a mountain, hill, or cliff with the first letter of the town.  As a kid, I found this neat, and I guess I still do.  In Tucson, where I went to college, it was "A" Mountain, and was maintained by U of A students.  Prescott, where I spent early childhood and part of the first decade of '00, has its "P" on the mountain.

So, when I saw the full name of the small community of Teec Nos Pos on the slope of a small mesa, I knew I had to paint it.  The name means "circle of cottonwoods" in Navajo, a typically descriptive term of the area.  It is here that the highway heads in a more northeastern direction, and the Four Corners monument is a few miles away.

"Teec Nos Pos"
oil on panel

Painted from a composite of two photos, I completed this rather quickly in one session yesterday.  However, I had to wait until today before adding the lettering, using a tiny liner brush.  I'm also really digging painting on these oil-primed panels I made. 

And here are two photos from this morning's sunrise.  At this time of the year, the magical light is right around 7 a.m., just when I'm getting up.  What a great way to start the day!

The pink glow on the La Platas to the northwest was unreal, and sadly, not captured as well as I'd hoped in this photo.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Turning Point - #42 in FC-CP series

Washes, drainages, draws, and watersheds - all terms applied to areas of water accumulation and flow in the west and southwest, and often imply water as an ephemeral presence.  Driving across the deserts and plateau country, one notices the meandering paths that washes take, seldom direct and never in a hurry.

Number 42 in the series is such a wash, one of the countless and un-named that carry water from mountains and mesas to the south along our drive.  I was drawn to this image for both the curve and somewhat ambiguous path of the wash and its bright sandy bed and the small outcropping of crumbling sandstone that is directing the path.  It has contrasts in color, line, texture and shape that appealed to me on many levels.

Turning Point
oil on canvas

After tinkering with it a bit over 2 days, I'm finally satisfied with the result.  As I approach the reference photos for painting sources, I do often make small adjustments:  eliminating distracting elements or shifting of others to a more harmonious position.  I also try to be mindful of things like intervals, such as the shrub locations, shapes and colors.  I don't obsess about the "rule of thirds" or making sure there is a specific focal point, but rather an "area of interest", and making sure there is nothing that leads the viewer out of the painting.   In this case, the large shrub acts as both a point of interest and blocks the path out of the painting.   

I've seen artists get overly analytical about their paintings in terms of these principles, and the paintings sometimes look contrived and formulaic.  So, while it's important to understand the rules and why they exist, I admit that I often go with my gut reaction as to what to paint - images that trigger my emotions on some level and take me back to the moment I was there and the feelings the view inspired.  That is what I hope to share with viewers in some way.

And, here are two sunrise photos from yesterday morning:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter comes to the San Juans

No painting today; instead, we took advantage of the mild weather (read: a sunny day with no wind and temps in the high 30's) to head up Hwy 550 to Molas Pass to snowshoe.

Winter, for me, is a contemplative time of the year.  Everything is subdued and at rest, and there is a sense of peace and tranquility that aren't present during the rest of the year.  As one who doesn't handle cold or short days particularly well, and loves being outdoors, winter is admittedly my least favorite season.   I found it particularly difficult when living in Connecticut, as the skies were often gray and the damp, bone-chilling cold and wind made it unpleasant to be outdoors at any time.   I found the landscape to be dreary and utterly depressing.

However, after our move to Durango, I found I wasn't dreading winter as I had while living in New England.  In addition to returning to a landscape that remains attractive in winter, I was excited to be able to resume winter recreational activities I'd enjoyed while living in northern AZ, namely snowshoeing.   I love the ability to head out into the backcountry and enjoy the solitude and quiet that come with snowshoeing, along with the ability to go virtually anywhere.  

As predicted, Molas Pass (~10,900') had plenty of snow from the recent storms that went through the area, and ideal conditions for snowshoeing and Nordic skiing.   We went along the road to Little Molas Lake and the Colorado Trail (CT).   The day and the scenery were just spectacular, and we were blessed that the area wasn't over-run with noisy, obtrusive snowmobilers.  

Here are a few photos from the day that I hope you'll enjoy:

 Sultan and Grand Turk Peaks

This is the view to the north just off of the road leading to the CT trailhead.  For a fun comparison, here are photos from the same trail taken during the late summer hike we did.
 Twilight Peak

A view to the south along the road shows Twilight (tallest) with Snowdon Peak to the left.

 Winter still life

Dried grasses emerge from the snow to cast delicate shadows in the low afternoon light.
 Little Molas Lake and Twilight

Another view of Twilight Peak, with LML in the left foreground, frozen, of course.  A couple was actually ice fishing on the edge of the lake.
Me with LML and the Grenadier range in the distance.

A rare photo, since I'm usually behind the lens.  I look like some sort of snow hippy with the vest and ear band, and it was warm enough that I didn't really need them.

Snow along the road here was less than 1', but  in other areas was over 2', making for slow going and a real workout.
 Crystalline abstract

While heading up a hill for a view of Engineer, I noticed these amazing and delicate ice crystals forming along the edges of the snow and in the shallow depressions.  I never miss a chance to find abstractions in nature, and this was a novelty for me.
Engineer Peak

Looking great, as always, in this view to the west.  

We are south of the CT here, which is also about 50-100' higher on the side of the ridge.  


Tracks from an earlier snowmobile romp form a interesting shadow pattern against those of the evergreens.

I love colors formed by cast shadows on snow, and always spend a lot of time observing the subtleties in colors and values that are present.  In this case, my camera did a respectable job of capturing the range of blues.
Long shadows and tall clouds

More glorious shadows cast by the omnipresent evergreens back near the start of the road.  A lenticular type cloud adds some contrast via its curves and amorphous shape.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Two more in Four Corners/Colorado Plateau series

Nothing completed today - I started doing layer 2 on the next larger piece in the series, but the first layer wasn't dry enough, and I decided to stop before I made a complete mess.  I took a indoor flash photo of it anyway, just to share.

Here is the small canvas paper study done yesterday, based on a blurry, out of focus photo.  Another windmill and tank.  I've had this fascination with these water-pumping windmills ever since childhood, and now that is beginning to manifest in paintings.   I could easily do a series of them - bigger and more accurately painted, of course.  

Along this section of Hwy 160 heading east, Red Mesa, which was the first painting in this series, is to the left/north.  To the south are the Carrizo Mtns, Toh Chin Lini mesa and Black Rock Point.   We are now less than 20 miles from Four Corners NM.

Water near Black Rock Point
oil on canvas paper

#43 in progress 

In dealing with the frustrations of the paint, some of which is annoyingly stiff, I decided to utilize it for tinting some panels and canvases for future use.  Some Turpinoid, a paper towel, and I was off to the races.  These are drying in the garage to keep the VOC's out of the living space as much as possible.

Sizes are 5x7, 6x8, 9x12, 11x14 and the large 18x24.  That is slated for a specific project that I hope to begin working on soon.

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