Sunday, May 29, 2011

A trip to Vallecito reservoir and creek

Yesterday was just too perfect to stay inside and paint, so we took a drive up to nearby Vallecito reservoir, which is popular with just about everyone who enjoys the outdoors:  fisherman, boaters, hikers, campers.  It is also one of the entry points to the Weminuche wilderness area of southern CO.

Some photos from the trip, featuring some of my favorite subjects:

Old Ford Pickup
Along the highway leading to Vallecito, this old rusted truck attempts to maintain some of its former glory via the bright yellow hood paint

Rocky Mountain Iris (Iris missouriensis)
These native iris are starting to bloom all over in moist woodland areas

Western Serviceberry (Almelanchier alnifolia)
These attractive shrubs are found throughout the Vallecito area
Shooting Star Columbine [aka Crimson or Red Columbine] (Aquilegia formosa)
Found in shaded, moist areas, these lovely flowers are just starting to come into bloom

Star Lily (Smilacina stellata)
The small, delicate flowers on this plant are easy to miss along the side of the trail
Canada Violet (Viola canadensis)
Also found in moist areas of the forest, and often near Western Blue violets
Four-Spotted Skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata)
The first dragonfly photo of the season!  These skimmers seldom sit still, so to find him on this tree stem was a treat.  Isn't he fabulous?  His front pair of legs, used to snatch mosquitos and other prey, are folded up behind his head.  

Four-Spotted Skimmer - rear view
Another shot of this amazing insect to show the beautiful patterning and detail in his wings.    

Back to painting...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A painting and its life stages: I-III

Here now I thought I'd do something I don't think I've done before, and that's post a painting in-progress.  In the past, when I've shown anything of this sort, it was either a pastel underpainting or the loose burnt sienna underpainting for an oil.

I'm taking a risk posting this painting - it won't be that enticing as a thumbnail on anyone's blogroll list or on their dashboard, but that's the way it goes...

Comb Ridge Shadows Stage I - newborn underpainting
18x24 inches
oil on alkyd-primed MDF board

I've been wanting to try a larger canvas size for paintings for a while now, but for various reasons, have not.  I made one attempt this past winter, but it stumbled right out of the blocks, and promptly got axed.  In fact, this is the same panel with another coat of alkyd primer over it, and you can see a faint ghost image of the old painting through the white in the top left.

Anyway, readers may recognize this from a photo I posted about 6 weeks ago from our trip to Comb Ridge and Cedar Mesa, UT.  I decided this was a good subject to try and go "big" on.  Me and my never-ending fixation with roads and highways.

And, coincidentally, this weeks DailyPaintWorks challenge, hosted by Carol Marine, was the Value Challenge using nothing but burnt umber and the white of the canvas to create a full range of values, emphasizing the importance of value in a composition.   Unlike some of the other entries in the challenge, this one is nothing to write home about; it looks exactly like what it is:  a scrappy underpainting.  I just find it difficult to achieve anything more with Turpenoid and burnt umber - it dries very quickly and doesn't handle well.  

But, it works well as a road map for defining values and composition.

Comb Ridge Shadows Stage 2 - walking upright

I guess I've done enough oil paintings now where I know what techniques work reasonably well and what doesn't work at all.  These underpaintings work well for me.  And while I generally prefer to finish a painting in one session if I can, with a painting this size, and starting late in the afternoon yesterday with the oils, it wasn't going to happen.

I don't have the patience to paint in multiple thin layers or glazes anymore, at least for any 2D works, so I try to lay down paint quickly and just finesse things as I go, wet-in-wet.  For this painting, I decided to try the Gamblin Neo Meglip that I bought last week.  The spec sheet says it adds body to the paint.  I did find adding some to paint which was on the thicker side did much to improve its texture and spreadability.  However, it seemed to behave similar to Liquin, in that it made the paint tacky pretty quickly, making it difficult to add or rework areas after 30 min or so without pulling the paint off.  It's still sticky wet this morning on the board.  It did give a nice texture to the paint, though.

I think many artists can relate to the "ugly stage" that an awful lot of paintings go through.  It's like parts of adolescence, I think, as the painting struggles for identity and purpose at times.  Awkward and gangly and rebellious, leaving parent and teen wondering:  "will this end well?"

Comb Ridge Shadows Stage III - Teenage years

The road and sky are essentially finished.  I may come in and tweak a few parts with another layer, but no major reworking needed.   Paint now covers most of the board, save for the pale sandstone sections within the main cliffs, and the distal monocline to the far left of the horizon.  

I don't care for the burnt sienna-based red for the slopes.  Too warm.  Thinking back to the last time I was painting similar subject matter in oils, I recalled that alizarin crimson was a constant in my palette.  I left it out for this, but I see it needs to be brought in to cool down those reds; the purple lake isn't enough to do the job.  I find some annoying detail wanting to creep in there that needs to be banished as well.

We are doing our quarterly road trip to Aztec and Farmington, NM today, so the painting will have to sit in its gangly state for the rest of the day.  I hope to get more work done on it perhaps this evening, and I promise not to drag out multiple posts on its progress.  Probably one more to show its final stages and conclusion.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Kitten and his toy - DPW challenge, 6x6 oil

My Favorite Toy
oil on 1/4" board

As a devoted cat lover, I couldn't resist painting this week's Daily Paintworks challenge subject of this adorable tabby kitten, posted and hosted by Dreama Tolle Perry.   Dreama says this could qualify as a still life as cats spend so much time sleeping!  I would be inclined to agree.  And, the legless "bread loaf" position is always a favorite resting position for felines.   Cats are simpler to paint when they look like a bedroom slipper.

Nelson has his favorite toy, which he carries around and brings up on the bed with him.  So, I decided to use one of the toys in the other image she included for the challenge and add it to my version.

On a semi-related note, I went to our local art store yesterday and purchased some Grumbacher refined linseed oil.  This, as per my previous post/rant about the paint problems I was having.  I used it for this painting, and I believe I may have solved my problems with the tacky, sticky paint; a small amount worked very well to soften the stiff W&N Artisan oils, and never tacked up.  I was even able to do some minor adjustments to the painting this morning as the paint was still wet.   So, I will conclude that the walnut oil I was using was probably the culprit in my troubles.

I also purchased a small jar of Gamblin Neo Meglip, as it sounds like something I'd like.  It is a synthetic, modern replacement for the original meglip medium, a soft gel produced from boiling lead in linseed oil combined with mastic varnish and used by painters like Turner to achieve the luminous quality of his work.  Unlike other glazing mediums, such as Liquin, this maintains the body of the paint.  I'm excited to try it, and will report my impressions here when I use it.

And, since we are on the theme of animals, here are some photos of Canyonlands creatures, from our trip.  No mammals or birds, unfortunately, but the warm weather brings out the little reptiles of the desert out for basking and feeding

Unidentified species, posing for a photo
Lizards always delight me when I see them on hikes.   Some dash off immediately, and others, like this one,  maintain a cautious eye while maintaining their position.
Bee Fly - Heterostylum
I saw several of these fascinating insects on our hike, and I became somewhat obsessed with getting photos of them.  They have these incredibly long pollen or nectar-gathering proboscis, and never actually land on the flowers; their long legs appear to stabilize them while they are feeding.  As scary as these look, they are harmless and do not sting.  

Common Sideblotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana)
Unidentified species of lizard

What on earth is this??
While checking out the one and only location of water along the hike, I noticed what first appeared to be a piece of grass or a thin twig floating in the water (not flowing), but then watched as it began to move and twist itself into loops and knots!  It was close to 12" long and 2mm in diameter.  I did an internet search, but can find nothing.  It was the only one of its kind in the water.  Some type of desert worm?  
Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus Undulatus)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A trip to Canyonlands NP in pastel and photos

Curves Ahead
9x12 inches
pastel on black Strathmore
-from snapshot taken in the car on the road leading to CNP

Well, our planned three-day car camping trip to Canyonlands was cut short by a day and a half due to this intense pacific storm that is currently hitting the entire region.  We planned the trip last week starting with a perfect weather forecast, and as it got closer and closer to the date, the forecast continued to worsen to a "20% chance of rain on Tues night".  That ended up turning to a "100% chance of rain on early Tuesday morning" as we discovered waking up to the light patter of drizzling rain hitting our tent.  

I also got skunked for the 3rd month in a row with plans to shoot moonrise photos due to cloud cover.  A bummer, because watching the moonrise up over Canyonlands would have been almost magical.

However, we did get in a good solid day of hiking on Monday, having left Durango at 6:45 a.m. for the trip.  The primary reason for this was to procure a camping site within the park (sites go fast at this time of the year, and it's first-come, first-served).  We lucked out there, and it allowed us extra time to do our one and only hike on the trip.  

Destination hike:  Chesler Park, and center of the Needles District of the park.  Should you ever venture to Canyonlands and are an avid hiker, put this on your "to do" list.  The hike was incredibly scenic - one of our favorites.  The weather ranged from sunny and warm to overcast and chilly to downright windy.  

Wildflowers were in abundance, and small lizards of various species darted across the trail and rocks, occasionally posing long enough for a photo.  With regards to photography on these hikes, I've begun bringing both my general purpose zoom (18-70mm) and my telephoto (55-200mm) along allows the best range of photos.  I usually start with the telephoto and switch to the general zoom on the way back to get wide-angle landscape shots.  

Here are a handful of photos from the hike; I'll share some wildlife and floral photos in subsequent posts.

Along the Trail

Sandstone formations pano in black and white
4-part vertical oriented pano @55mm created with Double Take stitching software

Trail leading through a joint in the rock

Chesler Park panorama
5-part horizontally oriented pano @38mm
click on photo to see larger version with more detail

Wayne on the trail leading through Chesler Park with The Needles behind him

Trail leading to Devil's Kitchen, Cyclone Canyon and The Grabens
Colorized photo of a long fin of layered sandstone as the trail gets ready to drop off slickrock and into a canyon

Sandstone, pinyon and juniper against a cloud-filled sky along Elephant Hill Canyon 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Still life of glazed clay vessel - 6x6 inches

Glazed Vessel
oil on 1/4 wood panel

Painted sometime last week from a wonderful little glazed vase that I purchased not too long ago from the DAC gallery shop one day when I was volunteering.  It was made by a local ceramic artist Sherry Potter Walker; unfortunately, I cannot find a website for her work.   It has this beautiful mosaic of glazes in purple-blues, blue-greens and earthy browns, and even though I knew it was a test of my still life skills, I couldn't resist painting it.  

It wasn't easy to paint with its high-gloss reflections.  The twin white shaped white spots are the reflection from my lamp, and the light curvy rectangular shape to the right is the window next to my studio.  

When I first painted this and photographed it, the photo was so horrendous due to glare from the paint and brushstrokes that there was no way I could post it.  Now that it's dried, the glare has gone, and photographing it outside on a small easel helped a bit.   Still looks better in person, where the shadows cast by the vase can actually be seen.

This was the first time I've ever incorporated tube black into a painting.  It was a staple of my equine art days, but something I haven't felt necessary to use in 2D work.  It definitely has its uses periodically.  

On a completely unrelated note, someone posted this video to an outdoor forum I read, and I just had to share it.   These kinetic wave sculptures are simply astounding, and you will not regret spending 10 minutes watching this.  The artist, who lives in the Bay Area,  is a mathematical and artistic genius; Da Vinci is probably channeling through him.  

The fact that he uses found or recycled materials for many of his sculptures makes them that much more wonderful:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Animas River plein air pastel painting - 9x12 inches

Spring Runoff
9x12 inches
 pastel on Strathmore paper

From Friday, done at the same location along the river as the earlier river cottonwood painting.  I knew I wanted to come back and do a painting that focused on the rapids and river rocks as abstract forms.

The Animas River drains a very large portion of the surrounding San Juans, with its headwaters found about 50 miles north above the mining town of Silverton.  With the warmer temperatures, the snow melts off the mountains rapidly, cascading down hundreds of small mountain ravines and canyons, into smaller creeks before entering the main drainage of the Animas.

Between the time I was last at the river painting 10 days ago, and Friday, the river went from about 800 cfs to 1800 cfs.  The river went from its usual green/gray appearance to a frenetic churning muy colorado (very red) condition.  A cooling trend a few days ago knocked the melt back a bit returning the river to a state more favorable for painting....and river running.  Several kayakers and rafting trips passed me while I was painting on this most perfect day.

I chose this large boulder as the focal point for this painting, with its interesting patterns of whitewater.  I had to stop and consider how to paint the foreground water, which was more shallow and composed of reflected light from the bottom as well as ribbons of light along the diagonal ripples.    I find river hydraulics of rapids to be both mesmerizing and fascinating to watch, and interesting to paint.  I could probably do a whole series on this subject alone.  

With the window of good weather, we are heading out to the Needles district of Canyonlands NP early tomorrow with plans for a 3-day, 2-night stay.  I'm bring my pastels with me, and with luck, will have time and good weather to paint between the hikes.

I'll schedule another post or two for the days I'm gone from some previous work not posted before.  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Durango Arts Center artist's reception: Durango Blooms!

Durango in Bloom!

Yesterday was the artist's reception for the Durango Art Center's month-long exhibit of floral art.  As I'd mentioned in a previous post, this was the first time I've ever been part of a juried show, so attending the reception as one of the included artists was a novelty, and quite fun!

These DAC show receptions are always well-attended, and this one was no exception.  I had the pleasure of meeting some new artists and conversing with a few others I've met before.  Gallery rules prohibit photography of the artworks, but I thought I'd have no problem soliciting individual artists for photos of them beside their work to share on the blog, and I was indeed correct.

My painting "Family Gathering"

Here are few of Durango's fine artists and their works.  I wish I could have gotten more, as there was an amazing amount of wonderful work in all media that I would have loved to share.

Pat Smiley with her beautiful pastel painting "Tenderness", which won the pastel award for the show

I first met Pat a couple of months ago when we were hanging the DAC Member's Show, and she is part of the plein air group I plan to go out with on Fridays.  She also works in oils, but not surprisingly, pastel is her medium of choice.

Kathleen Shepard with her two paintings, L-R, "Hope (for Nathan)" and "Lady Slipper Dance".   

Kathleen explained to me the time-consuming process she uses to create these Art Nouveau-inspired mixed-media arts (colored pencil and pen (l), and pen and marker (r)), which includes the use of blueprint paper for the originals.  The photo doesn't show the detail in these paintings, but you can see the fancy matwork on the larger painting - done by her husband who owns a frame shop in town.

Sue Giddings and her lovely watercolor "Garden Symphony"

This was one of my favorite pieces in the show, and not surprisingly, won the watercolor award.  Sue has been painting watercolor for years, but since her recent retirement, she's been able to devote more time to her artwork, and is having more work accepted into juried shows as well.

Eric Pahlke and his two photographs, top to bottom:  "Tulip and More" and "A Daffodil Among Us"

Eric and I worked the wine table from 7-9, and as photographers, we spent the time chatting about everything photography.  Like me, he's also a member of the Durango Camera Club, and like me, he often forgets to go to the meetings.  He shot these two colorful photographs of flowers in a glass vase against a sheet of black velvet with natural light and minimal PP.

It was a fun evening, and the reception also coincided with the monthly Gallery Walk, and with absolutely perfect weather, it was a great evening to be out in town viewing artwork in various venues!

Thank you Pat, Kathleen, Sue and Eric for allowing me to use these images of you and your work for my blog!  If you'd like a copy of the photo, please email me and I'd be happy to send you the file.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Adventures with misbehaving paint

Lime Solo
4x6 inches
oil on canvas paper

I've mentioned previously that I've been experiencing problems with my oils, in that no matter what techniques, brushes, mediums or surfaces I use, I continue to have issues with them as far as acting like tar and becoming sticky or gummy on my painting palette shortly after I start painting.  The smooth, buttery quality that allows them to be laid down with ease and blended (or not) - that never happens with me on a regular basis.  Interestingly, I never had these issues when I worked in thin layers and glazes - just alla prima painting.

Maybe it is the palette I use for my paints - it's well-seasoned now, and I clean it with walnut oil after scraping off the paint.  Is it somehow affecting the paint texture?  Let's try a piece of clear acrylic instead.

Due to the problems I had with the last two paintings I did, yesterday I decided to just do some quick studies on canvas paper, which I've definitely had problems with in the past.  But, I wanted to use a surface I would be fine tossing out.

The problems started right away.  The oils tacked up almost immediately after application, and additional paint just caused the brush to drag across the applied paint.  The painted area almost felt dry to the touch within minutes, and minimal paint  came off on my finger.  It was a tedious fight to do this small painting.  I'd add a few drops of walnut oil, or Turpenoid, or both and was lucky if I could get a couple of brushstrokes out of a pretty loaded brush before it just didn't work.  The brushes got stiff and useless.  

If I wanted paint to act like this, I'd use acrylics.   But, there's a reason I don't paint in acrylics, and it's because I really dislike the way they handle.

Seriously, I have no idea what the problem is, but it is driving me nuts.  The paints are not old - the new white I bought is doing the same thing.  

After trying to paint a head of garlic on the canvas paper after this lime, and having the process be an even bigger chore, I got fed up, and really annoyed.

Is it because I'm not using enough paint?  Possibly.   

Large squeezes of the new tubes of burnt sienna, ultramarine blue and the white, along with some Utrect chromium green barely used, went onto the palette.  I grabbed a large hog bristle filbert rather than the softer synthetic flats and washes I've been using:

oil on 1/4" wood panel

I show this somewhat as a joke.  Not to mock abstract works at all, because I am a fan of them.  It was literally done out of frustration and irritation, and not with the intent to produce a painting, but to pile on paint with no medium and see what happened.  It was actually cathartic to paint and I rather like the colors together.  It's not signed, as I don't intend to keep it or sell it [although there are probably some who would say it's better than anything else I've done...not sure if I would laugh or cry over that assessment].

But, I thought it might be fun to share it here, as a toast to the moments and periods of frustration that I'm sure hit us all at some point in our studios.  One thing I did discover is that these colors are almost a perfect palette match for this fabulous little glazed vessel I bought from the DAC gallery shop a few weeks ago.  Maybe a successful painting will be hatched as a result of this one.

I'm going to make a trip to our local art store and pick up some refined linseed oil and give that a try.  It's all artist Karin Jurick uses, and her paint behaves wonderfully for her.  

Anyone else have any similarly frustrating experiences with materials or anything else?  Feel free to share.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Paint your fruit and vegetables - still life paintings in oil, 6x6

Salsa Lessons #2
 oil on 1/4" wood panel

Everyone remembers the reminders from mom to "eat your vegetables", and "an apple a day keeps the doctor away", right?  Maybe the same applies to painters:  painting vegetables is good for you, for challenging one's observational skills, color mixing abilities and compositional eye.

This weeks' DailyPaintwork Challenge is "Paint Your Vegetable", hosted by Diane Mannion (see a link to her blog in my blogroll list).  

This painting was probably harder than any landscape I've ever done, which probably sounds absurd, but it's true.  The fact it is difficult means it is pushing me outside of my comfort zone, which is a good thing.  I have been humbled by vegetables - the onion in particular.  

And, since the vegetables weren't enough of a beat-down, I followed up with dessert:

Cantaloupe Cross-section
6x6 inch
oil on 1/4" wood panel

I love the patterns formed by cut sections of fruit and vegetables, and this cantaloupe was sitting in the refrigerator, beckoning.  The fruit itself was easy to paint; it was the cast shadow and reflections on the wooden box that were a bear.  I'm not very happy with them, but this was literally as good as I could get them.  

One of the frustrating parts of the whole "learning curve" process is when your finished result falls short of your expectations and your abilities.  But, it's the reason we all keep plugging away.  

Palette used here:  alizarin crimson, brownish madder, cadmium yellow light, cadmium red medium, cadmium red dark, yellow ochre, ultramarine blue, sap green and a new Grumbacher "soft white", which is a mix of titanium and zinc whites.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Afternoon at Haviland Lake - pastel painting, 9x12

Lakeside Ponderosa
9x12 inches
pastel on black Strathmore

Yesterday was another perfect spring day, with temperatures in the high 70's.  Because it was predicted to be a bit breezy in the afternoon, I was planning on a studio still life painting....until Wayne said he wanted to drive up to Haviland Lake to toss a few lures and to assess the fishing situation (verdict:  not good).  Good excuse to head out with the pastels for more plein air work.

Despite the scenic views, it took me a while before I settled on a location to paint.  There is so much going on, and how to decide?  There is the lake itself, the cliffs to the west, nearby meadows with small ponds and streams running through them to the south and east.  

Ultimately, I was drawn to this ponderosa pine situated near the edge of the lake.  The afternoon light provided dramatic shadows and warm colors against the cooler, grayer masses of the distal Hermosa Cliffs in the background.  

In his book, Carlson talks about trees, their relative sizes, and reminds us that if the tree is large, you won't be able to see it all in a single view if you're close, so don't show it all in your painting.   This tree was large, and even though I wasn't that close - maybe 20-30 feet or so - including it in its entirety didn't work.  The viewfinder confirmed this, and cropping the top makes for a more interesting composition via the negative space elements formed by the sky.

A foot path circumnavigates most of the lake, and there are these wonderful outcroppings of marbled granite or schist that made for an interesting foreground.  When I think of master pastel painters and rocks, two contemporary artists immediately come to mind:  Albert Handel, and Bill Cone.   I am a self-admitted rock and geology geek, and I have decided I enjoy painting rocks.  I will continue to be inspired by these two gentlemen's work in that subject matter.

The painting was 98% completed on location, but I did make a few adjustments in my studio this morning.  

And, here are some reasons to always bring along one's camera on a plein air trip, even if you don't think you'll need it:

A Flower for Mom
[Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there]

Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla ludoviciana)
These gorgeous, early-blooming flowers are found in areas of recent snowmelt.  A whole patch of them was in a meadow area below the lake.

Wild Candytuft (Noccaea montana)
Found in the same area as the Pasqueflowers, this member of the Mustard Family also grows in large patches.  It also blooms throughout the spring and summer, growing taller as it produces more flowers and flattened, paddle-shaped seedpods.

Along Hwy 550 on the drive back, this group of elk cows were seen partaking in the spring grass.  Behind them, a stand of aspen is starting to get going with its leaf action.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A walk along the Animas river - photo series

Plans to paint today got sidetracked by errands and more great weather.  So, instead, we took a walk down along the Animas River Trail, camera in tow.

Here are some select photos, which I hope you'll enjoy:

New Beginnings
The early leaf growth and seed tassels on this riverside tree create an interesting still life photo

River Sentinel
Squirrels can be a real nuisance at times, but this fellow just made me laugh

Tree Flowers in Crimson
Small catkin-type flowers precede leaf formation on this unidentified tree

Tiny Nest
This unoccupied nest, situated pretty far up in the tree, was only a couple of inches in size, suggesting it might be built by a hummingbird

Protective Parenting
While painting yesterday, a pair of Canada geese and their goslings were about 20 ft. away.  This isn't the same pair; the babies are much younger  

Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis)
This little insect landed just long enough on these small yellow flowers for me to quickly get this photo before dashing off to places unknown

Frilly Tulip
This flower was part of the public gardens in Santa Rita Park, located right along the river's edge

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