Saturday, December 29, 2012

Playing the blues

untitled blue 6x6 oil, copyright 2012

A week or so ago I found myself very frustrated with a pastel - it wasn't (and really still isn't) working out and I needed a break from it.  There are a few of this little gallery wrap canvases lying around, so I decided to attack one with blue paint and a palette knife.  The original plan, such as it was, was to paint the sky with a few clouds.  That notion disappeared as the paint got thicker and took a life of its own.   If you squint a little bit, it almost looks like a landscape, maybe water rushing around hills or mountains.    Or not.  

I haven't decided if I will keep or paint over it, but it was therapeutic to not have to worry about the end result.  And of course I do love my blues!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Get on your boots

Girl with a Cat 12x16 charcoal, copyright 2012

I was able to get to Life Drawing this week, not that I had much choice; my daughter was the model.  At the request of some of the artists she wore boots.  She has quite the collection now, and they are fun to draw.  The gallery cat, Gilda, loves Life Drawing too since it means she gets to curl up with someone who has to stay and pet her.  

Black and white charcoal works quite well on grey toned pastel paper, and I like how this one turned out overall.  I'll have to play with this set up more often.

In other news, right now I have a pastel landscape with a dramatic sky sitting on my easel, trying to duplicate the "wow" factor of the previous one.  It's not going as well as I'd like and with the frantic-ness of the holidays, it's hard to tell when I'll have the time or the right mind set to get it done right.  I may not post again until after Christmas, so have a good one for those of you who celebrate the holiday!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fresh eyes

Breaking Through the Clouds 9x12 pastel, copyright 2012

Sometime working in a home studio is a bit isolating.  Being surrounded by fellow artists can offer unexpected insights as well as lively discussion on color theory, perspective, art history... all the technical details of what goes into a painting.  But sometime the technicalities and techniques can bog you down, especially when the only insight you really need is, does it look right?

Despite his protestations of "I'm not an artist", I have managed to convince my husband that his insights are quite helpful.  With this painting, he pointed out that it looked much better when the large, closer tree was more defined.  There are reasons for this having to do with perspective and line and depth; the simple truth is, he was right and it does look better.  Sometimes all it takes is fresh eyes.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Back to landscapes

Silos 9x12 pastel, copyright 2012

The right lighting can make just about anything interesting, even something as ordinary as grain silos.  Spotted from the road on the way home from Oxford after a football game, this grouping was catching the sun in just the right way.  

One of the challenges of painting metallic objects is "bounced" color.  Bounced color refers to the color that objects reflect onto one another.  It is not a true reflection but more about how the color and light of objects in close vicinity affect each others' appearance.  It's more obvious in more reflective objects such as metal and glass, but it happens on others as well.  For a good discussion on how artists can address bounced color, check out this post by Canadian artist Gaye Adams.

On a more personal note, I've found that the break from landscapes has been an excellent refresher.  I was getting a bit bogged down and frustrated, and starting to have doubts about whether my work was truly unique and worthwhile.  After all, there are a lot of landscape painters out there.  But stepping back helped remind of what I find most attractive about painting - capturing those fleeting moments when bright light and warm color and deep shadow come together to create a "luminous brightscape".  I think the description fits my work, and that is where I need to focus myself.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Beyond blue

Reveal 16x20 oil on panel, copyright 2012

Clouds breaking apart to let a bit of sunshine peek through inspired the last of these sky paintings.  I have to admit that this one gave me a lot more trouble than the other three.  The problem seemed to be that I tried to hard to make it look like the photograph instead of just letting go where it wanted to go.  The paint got pretty thick, then hard to move around and impossible to create the softer feeling of the previous painting.  After a few days of drying I worked on it a bit more, let it dry slightly, then went over it with a dry brush to soften some of the edges.  I still see places that could be changed, but over working is always a danger and it's best to quit while you're ahead.

This is the last of the sky paintings only because I had only four panels.  They were a good break from my typical landscapes, a way to get the creative juices flowing again.  I will be purchasing more of these panels to keep handy when breaks are needed, so you can expect to see them at random.  And the paintings were certainly helpful - I got back into pastel landscapes this week and will be posting one soon.  It's one of my best yet, at least in my humble opinion!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tis the season

Red Ornament 6x8 pastel, copyright 2012

It's the holiday season, so I decided to try a quick sketch of one of my favorite things, a glass ornament. My brother and his wife bought this one for me in Venice.  My glass collection includes a number of pieces from Venice as I find handmade glass far more appealing than shoes and handbags.  May is the best time to visit, before the tourists swarm the place and the heat and humidity get unbearable.  It's good place to get lost, wandering through the back streets admiring the architecture and the locals - just don't cross a bridge, or you will get really lost!

This particular ornament has gold leafing wrapped around it, but I haven't quite figured out how to paint gold yet.  I have another ornament made from Murano beads that needs to be painted sometime, though with its many colors it won't be a quick sketch.  Another ornament, painted in oil, is currently available at the Preble County Fine Arts Center in Eaton, Ohio.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cobalt blues

Light of Dawn 16x20 oil on panel, copyright 2012

Inspired by a photograph taken several years ago, this is my favorite of the skies so far.   The photo had quite a bit of purple, but the painting wanted to be more blue, so I just went along.  Some time ago a friend was generous enough to give me quite a few oils that she no longer had an interest in using, and cobalt blue was among the colors.  It's been fun mixing it with white and the other blues to find new colors, and I am loving the brightness of it.  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Art for the holidays

Nautilus 9x12 pastel, copyright 2010

Hayloft, Evening Light 9x12 pastel, copyright 2010

Bank Barn, Early Spring 9x12 pastel, copyright 2012

If these three pastels seem familiar, it's probably because you've seen them on the blog before.  This morning were dropped off in Sidney, Ohio at the Gateway Arts Council.  During the month of December the GAC is having an exhibit, Give the Gift of the Arts.  It's a show made for the holiday season, with work from a wide variety of artists, all priced under $300.  The reception is December 7 from 6-8 and it looks like I will be able to attend.  There are some very talented artist participating, and I feel honored (and a bit humbled) to be among them.  Hopefully I will see some of you there!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Charcoal portrait

Contemplating 6x8 charcoal, copyright 2012

Every artist should draw or sketch every day.  It's like exercising or doing your homework, a necessity to keep up your skills.  I know this, and while I have good intentions, it often doesn't happen.  Life gets in the way, as it tends to do.  But really, that's just an excuse, one that I need to quit using.  

Over the weekend, Black Friday in fact, I stopped in one of the few remaining art supply stores around to look for some of my favorite pastel paper.  They didn't have any so I picked of a pad of gray tone papers, thinking it would be good for sketching.  Today I decided to quit using excuses and use this paper instead.  I flipped through my reference photos and found this one.  Hands and faces and the two parts of the body that I have the most difficulty with so of course I had to put both in the same sketch.  Obviously I still need a bit of practice, but it's not too bad for a half hour of work.  Now I just have to convince myself to keep sketching every day.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Autumn creek

Along the Creek, Late November 12x9 pastel, copyright 2012

Not surprisingly, it didn't take long before I returned to pastel landscapes.  This one wasn't really planned, but the weather was so perfect last week that I decided to wander down to the creek and see what I could see.  A couple of tree trunks that had piled up during last spring's flood served as both seat and easel.   It took about an hour to work it out and the details were finished later in the studio.  I might play with it a bit more, perhaps eliminating the grasses since they feel a bit distracting to me.  It can be difficult to filter out what's unnecessary when working plein air - there can be too much too look at sometimes, though I certainly can't complain about the view.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Garden favorites

Budding Roses 4x4 pastel, copyright 2012

Turning Koi 4x4 pastel, copyright 2012

These are the last two of the small pastels and they also happen to be my favorites.  Again and again I've tried to paint roses without much success.  For some reason portraying the intricacy of the layered petals eludes me so I decided to take a different route, focusing only on the buds.   This time it actually worked!

The red of the roses and the orange of the koi just seem to pop against the dark background.  Though it doesn't show up well in a photograph, the koi in particular seems to shimmer as it slips along the edges of the paper.  Finally I have a good grasp of how to use rather than fight the rough texture of the paper.  I think both of these are candidates for larger paintings.

Below are all eight of the paintings together.  In my etsy shop I am offering an option to purchase the paintings individually for $25 each or all eight of them for $175.  

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S., it may be a bit before I get back to posting, but rest assured, I have a few more paintings ready to show off, including more sky.  For those of you celebrating, have a good holiday, and keep safe!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Zen in the garden

Stacked Stones 4x4 pastel, copyright 2012

Water Lily Blossom 4x4 pastel, copyright 2012

Piles of stones have been used for millennia to mark boundaries and trials.  In some Buddhist circles a stack of three rounded stones are said to represent three Buddhavistas.  To others it is a meditation, a symbol of balance.  More recently stacked stones have simply become a decorative element.  These three came from our creek; I'll let you decided the meaning behind them.

In many eastern traditions, water lilies are symbols of rebirth, renewal and awakening.  This particular one was blooming in a koi and goldfish pond at the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, one of my favorite places to find some zen and an excellent urban spot for land snorkeling.

Both of these paintings are available in my etsy shop.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gardener's delight

Fancy Orange Zinnia 4x4 pastel, copyright 2012

Buckeye Butterfly 4x4 pastel, copyright 2012

Sorry about being slow on posting these, I'll get them all up in the next few days.  The top one is one of many zinnias that fill up my flower garden every year.  It's the first time I've tried this particular variety which turned out very well.  It's a rather bright orange which the photo can't quite capture, and was quite popular with the butterflies.  The Common Buckeye below it was a frequent visitor.  Both are available in my etsy shop.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A tiny garden

Perennial Sunflower Pair 4x4 pastel, copyright 2012

Pink Zinnia Facing the Sun 4x4 pastel, copyright 2012

I haven't abandoned pastels altogether, just decided to move in a slightly different direction.  My first intention with this 16x20 piece of black matboard was to paint something larger, as I've done in the past.  But as the pastel primer on it was drying, something dripped from the ceiling, right into the middle.  Instead of just letting it dry I wiped if off, ruining the surface at the drip. In frustration I started cutting up the matboard - the pieces kept getting smaller and smaller until I had a stack of 4x4's.  

These have turned out to be fun little sketches.  It can be quite challenging to compose an interesting painting in such a small space, and the rough texture and black surface make it more difficult.  So far I have painted 11.  Eight have turned out well enough to show off and two have the potential to be painted again larger.  

Here are the first two that I like, I'll post two at a time.  The weather has been turning more winter-like which I have decided to defy with garden scenes.  These eight, and hopefully more, will be made available in my etsy shop.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Deepening Blue 20x16 oil, copyright 2012

Finally this painting is dry enough to photograph, though it's still a bit tacky in places.  I love this color, ultramarine blue, but I'd forgotten how dark it is, and how much oil is in it, slowing the drying process. For some reason the darker and more saturated or "pure" colors tend to have more oil.  

It was inspired by the same photo as the previous painting, and was painted the same day.   While I often start with a photo, which leads my color palette, once I get started the photo is largely ignored and the painting becomes intuitive.  It's a different way of thinking for me, and I'm rather enjoying the freedom it allows.

In other news, the brownstone that was being auctioned went to a friend of mine, one who was with me  in NYC when I took the reference photo.  A check is on its way to Red Cross and the painting is on its way to Cleveland, so it's win-win all around.  I love it when that happens.  Thanks Tracey!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Blue skies

Searching for Serenity 16x20 oil on panel, copyright 2012

After a series of failed pastel paintings, I decided it was time to switch it up a bit.  Oils have been neglected for the past nine months or so while I worked on my pastel technique but recently I've been feeling a bit burnt out on the landscapes.  I won't abandon pastels altogether but instead will take the opportunity to explore a few alternatives.  

One of my favorite past times as a kid was to stare up at the sky, watching the ever changing clouds and shifting blues.   We lived near the airport, so contrails would some times crisscross the view, and I often wondered about the people on the planes, where they were going and what they were thinking.  In fact, my first sky painting was titled Where Are They Going?  I played with a few more paintings, but none came out quite as well as the first and the idea was ignored for quite awhile.  But it's always been in the back of my mind to paint a whole series of skies and I find myself rather compulsively photographing sunrises and sunsets, clouds and storms.

A few weeks ago a decided to paint a little acrylic as a get well gift for a friend, which worked out  quite well for both of us.  It really got me contemplating sky paintings again, and a few days later I painted two in oil, one right after the other, over the course of several hours.  It had been a frustrating, stressful day and the work became an almost meditative exercise, and a very satisfying one.   I think I'll have to keep a stack of panels on hand, ready to be used when needed.  I'll post the second one once it dries a bit more.

Don't forget, the art auction to raise funds for the Red Cross is still going on; you have through Friday to bid on my brownstone!

Monday, November 5, 2012

A judgement call

Brownstone with Geraniums 8x10 oil, copyright 2010

Don't forget, the Red Cross fundraiser is still on.  So far I have three bids for my New York City Brownstone painting, let's see if we can keep it going!  You have until November 8 to help out this great cause.

Morning Drive 9x12 pastel, copyright 2012

Just how subjective is art?  After a few touch ups, last month I entered this pastel in two different shows - and was rejected from one and received a Special Recognition award in the other.  Go figure.

The first was the Richmond Art Museum.  This is a very competitive regional exhibit that I have tried and failed to get into before.  They have an open judging that I went to for the first time, a truly hand wringing experience.  There were at least 300 pieces being judged, many of them by well established artists, so the competition was quite stiff.  I managed to get through the first round but was then rejected in the second.  That was frustrating but at least the other artists were both supportive and sympathetic.  

The second was Light Space Time, a well established online gallery with monthly, international exhibits.  This time there were about 450 pieces and although I didn't win a top award I was part of a group that received special recognition and ended up on page 33 of the online catalogue.  I still feel like this is one of my better pieces so I will try for a few more shows - there is a local landscape show this spring that I might finally get into.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bid on a brownstone

I've been to New York twice in my life.  The first time was to visit with a college friend, a native of Queens.  The second time was with a group of friends from all over the map, meeting up for a holiday. Both were very intense but enjoyable experiences.  It's a very different world than I am used to, one that I don't think I would be comfortable living in, though I certainly love visiting from time to time.  The last time I was there, in 2010, my friends and I stayed in the Upper East Side for a few days, soaking in the culture and the Park, before switching to Mid Town for a few more days.  I fell in love with the architecture of the UWS and felt like I could have spent several more days wandering among the brownstones.

Like the rest of the country, I intently watched Superstorm Sandy as it rolled over the East Coast, worried for those in its path.  The brownstones remained intact, but I haven't heard yet from my Queens friend, who now lives on Long Island.  Hopefully he and his family are suffering through nothing more than a power outage.  Other friends in the area have made it through, their lives seriously disrupted but intact.  Many others were not so lucky.

To help raise funds for relief effort, the art web site Daily Paintworks is hosting an art auction, with the proceeds all being donated to the charity of the artist's choice.  I've decided to donate my oil painting Brownstone with Geraniums to the cause, with the funds raised going to the Red Cross.  The auction lasts one week, ending on November 9, and the starting bid is just $25.  I'd like to make a big donation, so please consider bidding.  The money goes to a great cause and you get one of my original paintings for your collection - it's win-win!

Brownstone with Geraniums 8x10 oil, copyright 2010

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rural route

Morning Mail 12x9 pastel, copyright 2012

In the weeks before the leaves started turning gold, there were dramatic swings in the temperature - cool nights and warm days - which meant foggy mornings.  Not far from our house there are old trees and carefully manicured lawns along one side of the road and brush and weeds on the other before it opens up to pasture.  The morning I took this reference photo the sun was just starting to break up the fog, filtering through the leaves along the road.  I haven't quite figured out how to capture fog in pastels without making a smudgy mess, but I think I caught the early morning light here.

A few weeks later there was a phenomenon I had never seen before.  Everything was covered in light frost, even the tops of the trees.  As the sun came up and evaporated the frost, it turned to fog at the tops of those trees, looking like smoke as wisps trailed into the clear blue sky.  Then slowly it sank down into the fields as the sun rose, becoming very dense at ground level and burning off in the sunlight after only half an hour.  It was beautiful sight, one that made me grateful to be living in the country.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

site renovations

A studio clean up and the launching of a friend's web site inspired me this week to make changes to my own web site and blog.  There is a theory out there that having a black or very dark background makes artwork pop forward a bit more and reduces eye strain, which is why I went with that scheme when I started my web site, now nearly three years ago.

But now I'm not so sure that works as well as I thought it did.  After looking at any number of sites, including this one belonging to my friend Katie, I started to realize that what the dark background actually did was emphasize the dark areas of the images and that a lighter background makes them brighter.   Brighter images seems a bit more appropriate for "luminous brightscapes".  Simplification seems to help as well, though a blog will always be rather busy - it's the nature of the beast.

I'd love to hear what you think - should I keep the the lighter scheme, or go back to the dark one?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Playing with paper

Fields at Dusk, 8 1/2x11 pastel, copyright 2012

Dairy Barn, Evening Sky 8 1/2x11 pastel, copyright 2012

Thanks to a post by pastelist Karen Margulis (check out her work - she's very good!) I have discovered a new pastel paper called Shizan.  It's handmade 100% cotton rag made from recycled material and is quite reasonably priced.  The texture is irregular, as are the edges and sometimes the size.  

With the first one I quickly discovered that it won't hold many layers, and vine charcoal does not work at all.  That was a bit frustrating, although it does make for a sort of vague, sketchy painting.  On the second one I added a single thin layer of pastel primer, which gave it enough tooth to hold more layers.  The texture and color of the paper still come through and force looser, sketchier images.  That's a good thing since I usually feel that my looser paintings are better.

Both of these paintings are from reference photos taken a few weeks ago when my husband was kind enough to drive me around just before sunset.  A native of the area, he chose the route down a winding, quiet road that ended at closed bridge (and haunted) bridge.   It was a beautiful drive, and I was able to get plenty of good photos that will hopefully find their way onto this new paper.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Along the North Fork Highway

Along the North Fork Highway 16x20 pastel, copyright 2012

As promised earlier, here is the result of my studio clean up.  If it looks familiar, that's because it's the same formation that I painted over the summer, a volcanic dike overlooking the valley of the North Fork Shoshone River.  This painting took a lot longer as I slowly worked in the layers bit by bit, starting with a basic charcoal sketch.  This one also ended up more yellow and purple as opposed to the red and green of the smaller study, which wasn't a conscious decision on my part.  But I did consciously make it brighter and more detailed, hoping for a late afternoon feel.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sale and clean up

Winter Reflections 6x6 oil, copyright 2011

Last year in the winter I painted a series of little 6x6 oils landscapes for practice and fun, including this one.  A few have sold and the rest have been decorating my studio walls.  Over the summer I decided to enter this one in the Preble County Fair on a whim - it looked the best in the gold frames I had.   It seems I chose wisely, as it won second place in the oil category.  Smaller pieces often get overlooked, so this was a pleasant surprise.  

Feeling rather confident about its reception - I received a number of compliments from fairgoers and my fellow artists - I then decided to hang it in the gallery at the Preble Fine Arts Center.  This week I went to pick up my pieces and was told that it had been sold to one of the those artists.  Having another artist purchase a painting is wonderful pat on the back, thank you Kathy!  Here is the original post on this painting.

Unfortunately work in the studio lately has been slow as life sometimes gets in the way of inspiration, so I took advantage of a temporary lull to clean my studio to see if that would help.  It did, and I have been working on a larger piece which is going very well and will post about soon.  It's amazing how much easier it is to work when you can tell your blues from your oranges.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reworking it

Remember this one from earlier this summer?  There were aspects of it that I liked, such as the mountains, but I was never very happy with the foreground.

So I cut it off.  I've done some cropping before, but this was the most radical one yet, especially since it involved a saw.    But I was in a rather frustrated mood on Saturday, having just returned from a show in which I received no reward despite expecting one.  And really, it shouldn't be a big deal.  It's happened before, will happen again, and the pieces that did win were certain deserving.  But this one bothered me for some reason.

I moped around for a bit, then decided I needed to just do something.  My daughter has found that her soccer playing is better when she is mad at herself - I wanted to see if it would work for my painting.  This time it did.   

This is probably the most reworked painting I have ever done, even requiring a title change.   Now I just need to figure out what to do with the other half.

First Light 24x9 pastel, copyright 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Scenes from the Fair, part 2

View from the Ferris Wheel  20x16 pastel, copyright 2012

Friday night at the County Fair is the most popular night.  Most of the animals are gone and teenagers (including my own) roam the grounds enjoying the rides and greasy food.  My original intention that night was to sit around with other artists and get some painting done, but instead two of us wandered the grounds taking reference photos.

The sunset that night was quite beautiful with pinks and purples behind the lit Ferris wheel.  A number of my fellow artists had taken photos of the Ferris wheel, so I decided to try something different - the view from the top.  It has always been one of my favorite rides, as I get the thrill of heights without the stomach plunging queasiness of a roller coaster.  

This painting presented a number of issues that I had not really tackled before, including artificial lighting, an unusual perspective, and throngs of people.  The perspective issue wasn't too difficult, although I did have to rework the shape of the round carousel top a few times.  Using black paper helped with the artificial lighting, which caused the pale greens and bright yellows and oranges to really pop.  And to my surprise, dashes and blobs of color read quite well as a crowd of people.  I knew that this was a technique used by other artists, but I wasn't sure that I could pull it off.  Happily, it all seems to work.

The public reception for the exhibit is on Saturday from 1-5 if anyone local would like to stop by.  It is also the grand reopening of the Art Center following extensive renovations of the gallery space.  Come on in, take a look, and as they say, buy local!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Scenes from the Fair, part 1

Carousel Horse 20x16 pastel, copyright 2012

My pastels for the Scenes from the 2012 Preble County Fair exhibit are finally finished and framed.  I debated quite a bit on what to paint and finally settled on my two favorite rides: the carousel and the Ferris wheel.  The latter painting will be the next post.  

When I was a kid riding on the merry-go-round was a special treat.  Like many girls, I had a big love of horses and even then an appreciation for the artistry of the carved figures.  They were rapidly disappearing from the landscape due to neglect and the attitude that they were old fashioned so a ride on one was a rare occasion.  

During the fair I took a number of photos of real horses, but the dramatic lighting and pose of this one caught my eye.  It was a spontaneous decision as I had been working on another painting which was frustrating me.  After setting it aside for a bit I started on this one and nearly completed it in one go.  All the wonderful curving lines were a lot of fun and the pressure of making it look like a real horse was not as strong.

This now has me thinking about how much fun it would be to paint a series of these.  Unfortunately there aren't any carousels near me.  Perhaps some time when I am in Columbus I will have to make a trip to the zoo just to see the beautiful, nearly 100 years old carousel there.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Morning Drive

Morning Drive 12x9 pastel, copyright 2012

Last week was the start of the back to school routine of getting up far too early for my taste.  The dog is happy though, as it means we are also back to our morning walk.  And really it's a good thing for me as well, so long as I remember to bring my camera along.  Or in this case, my cell phone.

One of our neighbors has a long gravel driveway that wanders between a little creek and a corn field before heading up the hill.  Friday morning the sun was just breaking through the mist behind the trees as I walked by, making wonderful highlights.   Here's an excellent discussion on what artists refer to as the "magic hour", the time around sunrise and sunset.

I tried something a bit different this time: working from the image on my phone rather than loading it on to the computer.  Having to work from such a small image was challenging yet good, as not being able to see the details made simplifying easier.  The fact that the image was still fresh in my mind helped too.  I initially tried getting the sunbeams in the mist, but that didn't really work and as it turned out, wasn't needed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

North Fork Shoshone River

Overlooking the North Fork 5 1/2 x 8 pastel, Copyright 2012

Headed back out west with the smaller format, this time along the North Fork Shoshone River.  The highway that runs along the river takes you from Cody into Yellowstone Park, and it is a breathtaking drive.  Closer to Cody the terrain is less rugged and there are scattered ranches, many offered for rent to tourists.  Further upstream the gorge gets more narrow and walls more steep until the highway climbs up the to the rim of the caldera inside the park.

East of the East Entrance into the park the evidence of past volcanic activity is abundant.  Many of the ridgetops are formed by the sharp spires of volcanic dikes - long, narrow cracks where lava pushed through and solidified.   Morning and evenings (the reference photo was taken in the evening), the low angle of the sun creates dramatic light and shadows on the formations.

My intention with this one was for it to be a quick study like the previous ones.  But I found myself so caught up in capturing that light and shadow that any sort of time limit went out the window.  What I did unintetionally limit was my palatte, to only 16 colors, and four of those were blues for the sky.  It's quite satisfying to see how well that worked.   But I think it's time for a better camera - the photo doesn't do it justice.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Morning in the Badlands

Leaving the Badlands 24x18 pastel, copyright 2012

There is still plenty of inspiration to be had in my vacation photos from out west.  Badlands National Park is a fascinating place where rolling hills suddenly give way to colorful, fast eroding formations that drop off just as suddenly to the rolling hills of a river valley.  The entire formation is only a few miles wide, which surprised me.  The surrounding hills are covered in blue-gray buffalo grass that is slowly being replaced by a yellow blooming clover imported from Europe.  A very dramatic storm the night before left lingering clouds in the morning.

I experimented a bit with this one.  It's a pretty large format for me and I wasn't sure how to cover up all the pastelboard.  Turning the pastel sticks on their sides, making large patched of color worked pretty well and coincidentally excellent marks for the rock formations.  The hills and sky took a little more work though and at one point I almost gave up on it.  Instead I left it to sit for about a month before finally pulling it out again a week ago.  A focal point for the clouds and higher contrast in the foreground hills created a far more interesting landscape.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fair sunflower

Sunflower study 8x10 pastel, copyright 2012

Last Thursday I was back at the Preble County Fair for a demo, this time trying my hand at an award winning sunflower.  Two sunflowers actually, but the second just wasn't working for me.  It was erased and cropped out so that I could focus on this one.  Although I love to paint sunflowers, my heart wasn't all that into it that day.  I did take a few photos though, so I may try again later.  And again, I just can't get enough of that blue!

Friday evening I was back, supposedly to paint again, this time with a group of artists.  There was a bit of chatting before most of them got to work, but I couldn't seem to focus.  Instead I ended up wandering around the fair getting frustrated with my camera's inability to take good night shots and eventual dead batteries.  A few of them did turn out, and hopefully I will find inspiration in one of them.  Or even better, I may borrow inspiration from a friend who has a much nicer camera.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fair Daze

Begonias work in progress, 12x16 pastel, copyright 2012

It's fair week here in Preble County, and in rural places the county fair is still a big deal as the community comes together to show off the best of the best.  This year the Preble County Art Association became deeply involved in the fine arts display, and I am on that committee.  It means that I haven't had a lot of time for painting the past few weeks, though I finally got a chance yesterday.

Local artists have been taking turns doing demonstrations at the fair, and yesterday was my turn.  The art display is housed in the same building as the flowers, and it's turned out to be an excellent combination.  For my demo I chose to start painting a pot of begonias.  This is the result of a few hours of work, punctuated by greeting and chatting with visitors.  The leaves will need a bit of work - the lighting wasn't ideal - but I feel like it's a good start.  I'll have to finish it from memory though, as the flowers were cleared out at the end of the day.

I'll be back tomorrow for another demo, and possibly Friday night when a group of artists plan to get together to paint scenes from the fair.  The Art Association's September show will be "Scenes from the Preble County Fair", so I need to get to work.  I've taken a few reference photos, but working plein air in front of a crowd should be a good experience.

By the way, I entered three pieces in the fair, and two of them, Winter Reflections and Bank Barn in Early Spring placed second in the oil and pastel categories.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Grand Fountain Geyser

Grand Fountain Geyser 5 1/2x8 pastel, copyright 2012

A little bit north of Old Faithful in Yellowstone is another (somewhat) predictable large geyser, Grand Fountain Geyser.  We just happened upon it during an eruption, which usually lasts about one hour.  We didn't stay for all of it of course, but it was a rather dramtic one as water sprayed in several diractions at once, sometimes quite high.  Shallow terraced deposits have formed concentric pools around the geyser.  It's fascinating and little bit scary when these pools overflow almost to the boardwalk.

White on white is not an easy thing to paint.  The combination of spraying water and rolling steam make for a pretty dramatic view but a challenging subject.  Creating contrast to give it depth seems to be the key.  I used a lighter, yellow paper here, I'm wondering if it would work better on darker paper.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Devils Tower

Spirit of the Bear, 16x20 pastel, copyright 2012

Northwest of the Black Hills is the iconic Devils Tower, the remaining core of ancient volcano long since eroded away.   It stands in the middle of a valley, surrounded by red sandstone and prairie while the Belle Fourche River meanders at its base.  We took the shorter of the paths around the monument where aspen and pine predominate.

The monument is considered sacred to many Native American tribes, most of whom associate its unusual formation with the claw marks of a bear.  Throughout the forest many prayer bundles can be seen.  These are small offering tied to the trees in brightly colored cloths.   

Most images of the monument include only the tower itself, but I liked the idea of seeing it in its environment, as a part of a bigger landscape.  I still haven't decided, however, if I should remove some of the leaves to make it more visible.  But I am pretty happy with how the trunks and branches of the aspen turned out.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Along Yellowstone Lake

At the Edge of the Lake, 5 1/2x8 pastel, copyright 2012

This painting is from the same spot as the last one, but looking along the shore of Yellowstone Lake instead of across it.  I'm still finding reflections in water a bit tricky.  The images of the closer trees and the clouds turned out, but it's the distant images that I'm struggling with.  Maybe I'm being too self critical, but they just don't quite read right.  Part of the problem perhaps is that the distant tree line is too regular.  Making tree lines regular and symmetrical, especially distant ones, can be hard to avoid.  It seems the eye (and the hand) tends to create patterns where none exist.  More yellow in the foreground shoreline would help too.

This is certainly a learn as you go process in which I am finding both where I am doing well and where improvements need to be made.  This is the last small piece completed to this date, so I need to sit down and do more.  Although I know I need to work on my reflections more, the idea of trying a few geysers sounds like a lot of fun.  Maybe they will help me to loosen up my painting a bit and not fuss so much over the details.  We shall see.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Into Yellowstone

The Last Tree, 5 12/x8 pastel, copyright 2012

After the last little pastel I decided I needed some practice with reflections on water.  Creating a reflection in water is a bit different than it would be in a mirror.  The reflection tends to be slightly darker and not quite a clear.  There were a few times when I turned this one upside down to get a better feel for it.

The reference photo for this image was taken on our first day in Yellowstone National Park, not too long after coming through the East Entrance.  It was a very still morning, and Yellowstone Lake made nearly perfect reflections.  Our timing was perfect, as the wind picked up later in the day, and continued for the next few days, making the lake choppy.  I think this one is a good candidate for a larger image.  But I've thought that about most of my paintings so far!  

Yellowstone, by the way, is truely remarkable place.  It's hard to take a bad photo, and there are amazing things to see around every bend - it's one of those places that should be on everyone's bucket list.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The space between

Crossroads on the Flats, 12x9 pastel, copyright 2012

Between the Badlands and the Black Hills is an expansive prairie called Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.  There are washes, gullies and low hills throughout, but in a few places it's very flat and the view goes on for miles.  Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the mountains and the clouds.  Unpaved roads are the only connections between the scattered ranches.  It seemed like a good spot to try out my new understanding of distance in a larger format.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Starting to get it

Rain Moving Across the Mountains,  5 1/2x8 pastel, copyright 2012

So this is how you paint mountains!  I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of it now.  A strong contrast between light and shadow seems to be lot of the trick, at least if you really want the mountains to pop forward dramatically.  A bit more care in defining the highlighted snow helps.  And perhaps the much darker color of the paper makes a difference too, as I felt like I was using the color rather than trying to cover it up.

The most difficult part of this one was the foreground lake, which looked more like ice and snow than water.  It took a while, but I finally figured out that it was too light - lighter than the sky in fact, something which is generally only true for snow.  Painting choppy waters still eludes me a bit, though contrary to my pervious post I'm back to enjoying the smaller format.  Obviously I have yet to embrace the idea that these should be studies rather than finished paintings, but I just can't help myself, especially when it comes to painting the sky!

By the way, I'm still in Grand Teton National Park for this one.  If you ever find yourself in Yellowstone or Jackson Hole, it's worth a day trip to check out this park.  The mountains are amazingly picturesque and there are many lakes and rivers to reflect their images.  Not surprisingly, there are a number of plein air events and we spotted a few artists working away to capture a little piece of the grandeur.  I'd love to be able to join them someday.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Still learning

Across the Valley,  5 1/2 x 8 pastel, copyright 2012

I'm still working out how to paint mountains and create a sense of space with this one.  The middle ground aspens seem disproportionally small, though it might be the foreground sagebrush that is the problem.  It isn't detailed enough, which somehow makes it appear larger.  At least the mountains are bit better.  It's hard to decide how much detail they need, though perhaps a bit more shadow would help.  It was rather overcast and dull when this reference photo was taken, which doesn't help in creating a bit of drama.

By this time I'm starting to get a bit frustrated with the smaller scale of these paintings.  They are not intended to be "finished" pieces and I need to get past that frustration and have a mind set that they are only studies meant to give a general impression of the place.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Judging distance

Beyond the Aspen, 5 1/2 x 8 pastel, copyright 2012

Staying in Grand Teton National Park, this is from a photograph was taken a short distance from the first one, just the opposite end of the same parking area.  All the trails here were roped off due to "wildlife activity", i.e. black bears with cubs.  We didn't see any of them.  

Because this one was a bit more complicated, I gave myself 30 minutes on the timer.  The greens are more appropriate, not so bright and varied.  Getting a sense of distance was the challenge here.  In Ohio one can typically see a few miles at most due to the rolling hills and trees, so it takes a big adjustment to create a big space.  Generally speaking, duller, cooler (blue) colors show distance and brighter, warmer (red/yellow) colors are used for closer objects.  The cooler grey-green of the ever present sagebrush in front presents a bit of a problem, but reddish purples in the shadows helps.

Mountains have their own set of challenges.  They dominate the landscape, yet are often far in the distance.  Deciding how much they should dominate a painting dictates both color choices and the amount of detail needed.  Undoubtably it takes a bit of practice to get the balance right.

Looking back through my old paintings before posting this one, I've discovered that this is the first time I have attempted to paint a snow capped mountain.