Monday, October 29, 2012

Does This Work?

I can't see the painting for the paint.

Oh my, this painting has kicked my butt. I'm still not sure it is actually finished but I've got to give it a rest for a minute. I've lost count of how many times I've painted the wet sand now, and I'm still not entirely happy with it. I think I need to lighten the curlew's legs a bit. I also think the wet sand may be too dark and too blue, but I've been working on and staring at this painting for weeks now so my brain is starting to go numb. And so Dear Readers, I humbly turn to you to ask does this work? Does the wet sand read as wet sand (especially if I de-blue it)? Are the curlew's feet that have sunk a bit into the wet sand believable? Or should I just toss it in the trash and console myself with an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie? Thank you for your input.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Dragonfly on a lotus bud at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, OR

Although I am still finishing up the curlew painting, I am already reviewing my reference photo collection in anticipation of my next painting. Each time I go through my reference photos I notice that I definitely like subjects that have wings. I've got lots of good mammal reference shots, and I've even got some interesting fish photos but I never seem to choose those subjects to paint. I'm much more interested in birds and insects and I'm sure if I had any reference shots of bats I'd be painting them, too. (Wildlife artist Carel Pieter Brest van Kempen has done some beautiful bat paintings, but did you know that Vincent Van Gogh painted a bat?) I've just got a thing for wings, I guess.

One of my first attempts at an acrylic painting, inspired by the photo below. 5" x 5" on canvas.

A beetle of some sort on a death camas.

Both the dragonfly photo at the top of this post, and this silk moth photo below appeal to me. (The silk moth would make an absolutely beautiful watercolor, don't you think?) Perhaps one of them will be my next subject. But I also know how fickle my muse can be and I may end up doing something completely different. For me that's the fun of inspiration, but chances are whatever I end up painting will probably have wings.

A silk moth at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge visitor's center, in Montana. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nature IN My Studio

My guest, apparently measuring a little over 1 centimeter.
We can find nature everywhere, even inside our homes. I had an unexpected guest in my studio just the other day. I spotted him (her?) jumping from brush to brush on my desk.

After a quick visit to, I identified my visitor as a Phidippus audax, or a daring jumping spider. I noticed it would extend its two front legs towards its next destination and wave them slightly for a moment before jumping over to it. Perhaps it was calculating the distance?

The red spot on his abdomen is rather handsome.
I had a tricky time trying to get a good photograph of the spider as it was very sensitive to my movements and would hide behind my brushes if I moved towards it at all. As much as I would've liked to have sketched my guest, it was too small to see well from a distance that didn't scare it, so I simply enjoyed watching it explore my desk.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nearly There

These feets is made for walkin', as soon as I paint them in.
Despite the glorious fall weather outside, I spent the day inside working on the curlew painting. It's getting there, slowly but surely. I'm finding this painting to be very rewarding, but also very tiring. I'm pushing myself beyond my comfort zone in so many ways with this piece that it is taking fierce concentration and energy. One of the biggest challenges is to make the curlew's markings accurate enough for a discerning viewer, but not so perfect that the piece becomes photo-realistic. I don't think I've reached that balance yet.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

My Play Book

A page from my Play Book. It started with painters tape left over from some paint mixing charts I was working on. It looked so cool that I added them to my Book. Later I noticed the way the paint had transferred onto the opposite page and it reminded me of aspen leaves so I had to go with it.

I have a cheap unlined notebook that I use for artistic play, for times when I only have a few minutes to spare but want to do something creative, for getting the creative flow unstuck, for just having fun rather than making "serious" art. I rarely show the notebook to anyone since these creations are just for my enjoyment at the time. However, I know that many artists (like me) are curious about how other artists live their artistic lives and so I share this in the hopes that you'll share in return. Tell me what fun artsy things you do to clear out the cobwebs or to keep yourself from taking yourself too seriously as an artist!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Ready To Move On. I Think...

Original Background

In the previous post about the new painting I was working on, I was struggling with the background. Since then I scrapped that background completely and started over again. I realized that the rocks in the painting and the fact that you could see the horizon might skew the perspective and scale, making the curlew appear to be a giant species. I checked my hunch in Photoshop:

Isn't Photoshop an artist's best friend?

As much as I liked the background, it wasn't going to work for this painting unless I made the curlew very small, which I really didn't want to do. I spent the weekend repainting the background and then redoing major parts of it to try to get everything to make sense visually. I thought the scale on this version was acceptable, but it just wasn't a terribly dynamic scene:

Background Attempt II

This is what I finally came up with, below. I am hoping that all the foam and multiple layers of water will be interpreted by the viewer as being close in to shore, not breakers viewed from a distance. (What IS the technical term for that final, very shallow foamy part of a wave as it skims the sand, anyway???)

Final Background?

Using Photoshop again, I double-checked how the scene would play out and I didn't see any glaring problems. However, I've been staring at this for a while so I might have missed something. If you see any problems, let me know!!!

Through the wonders of Photoshop, I added my model to check on scale and perspective before committing myself to painting it. Seems pretty good.

Once the curlew is in place in the actual painting, I'll probably add some strips of wet sand and maybe a hint of a reflection, too.I just don't want to make the painting too busy. Funny, I started out with a vision of a very minimalist, abstracted background...

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Could you pick a more beautiful day to paint outside?

On the last day of the art conference, most of the participants opted to paint on location at a historic ranch about 20 miles out of town. Our gracious host allowed us to wander all over this wonderful property that has been in his family for over 100 years. I imagine it must've been a treat for him to see all the different ways everyone interpreted his ranch.

I just love stuff like this.

Scattered all around the main house were outbuildings and relics of ranch life from a different era. I am very thankful for the many modern conveniences we enjoy and especially thankful for the medical and hygienic advances we've made, but at the same time I am drawn to old places. This ranch was almost as good as a time machine.

Many people in the group spent a good part of the day taking reference photos of all of the wonderful buildings and old farm equipment.

There was a beautiful river that flowed through the property and many of the artists decided to paint on the bridge or along the banks of the river. The cottonwoods were stunning in their fall colors.

Looking down at a group of plein air painters (center of photo) from the steep dirt road that led to the ranch in the river bottoms.

Because the dry conditions were not favorable to acrylic painting again, a lot of people brought their oil paints and some, myself included, worked in watercolor instead.

Watercolor sketch of a dead cottonwood tree.

The Wind River area is known for great trout fishing. This seemed like a beautiful spot to cast in. It certainly was a beautiful spot to sketch in.

What a wonderful day this was. I felt a little sad to leave, but since I had 10 miles of dirt road to drive before even reaching the main road back to town, I left a little early so that I would have time to wash off the dust before dinner. However, if I had waited just a little while longer before I left, I could've seen a herd of Rocky Mountain big horn sheep come through! That's the wonderful thing about painting on location - you never know what you'll see.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Background Adventure

Experienced model available. Will work for worms and crickets.

I'm starting on another painting. This one is a 16" x 12", so fairly sizable for me. It will feature a long-billed curlew. It probably comes as no surprise that I'm doing another birding painting. I just can't help it. I mean, check out my model. He's just screaming to be painted. This dapper fellow lives at the Seattle Aquarium and has been my model for other pieces.

Very loose watercolor sketch of my idea for the painting.

Since I am a fan of the Pacific coast and long-billed curlews winter there, this seemed like a good subject to paint.

Background so far, painted in acrylic. Not exactly what I had originally envisioned, but...

I wanted to continue working on abstract backgrounds that just suggest a habitat, but this one got away from me a little. I was just having so much fun with the pallet knife and all the colors in the sand that I got detailed without even realizing it. I'm still on the fence about the sky color (among other things). I think it needs to be more gray, more wintery. We'll see how it all comes together.