Thursday, December 12, 2013

Back to Indiana and Illinois in November

Every year, we travel through Indiana and Illinois to visit my in-laws in Missouri.  It is very flat, with lots of farms and very few towns.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Even More Limited Palette Ohio Landscapes

If you've been following this blog, you've probably noticed that lately I tend to work in very limited palettes of 3 up to about 5 colors. The colors vary slightly, but typically include some kind of red, blue, and yellow. You can see other examples, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Some Experiments in Color

A few weeks ago, I rambled about a workshop I'm taking with Barb Smucker on color.  She started by talking about gray scale value, moving to limited palettes, and then to color.  (If you live in the Cincinnati Metro area and ever have an opportunity to take a workshop with Barb, I'd highly recommend it.)  My reinterpretation of her lessons in value are here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Four colors three ways....

I was experimenting with, what I would call pure color paintings--where the intent is to place paint color at very similar values, and then use a little bit of value (maybe) to finish the painting.

This is a challenge (i.e., hard) if you're an impatient watercolor painter like me.  I end up with numerous bleeds, and mixing because I don't wait for the paint to dry, and I don't always have the color values quite right.

Anyways, here are three paintings that use identical palettes of four paints.  Quinacridone orange, carbazole violet, manganese blue hue, and undersea green, all from Daniel Smith.  The first, (at the bottom) I was randomly placing paint.

The second, since I liked the colors, I was thinking about tit a bit more (the photo is a little too dark). 

And, the last I used gray to turn them into a landscape.  I may try something else with this combination of colors since it makes lovely grays.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

View From Sanctuary

Last Sunday, instead of listening in church, I was studying the view out the window.  Our church lucked into some life long dedicated gardeners, and on the grounds you can see all sorts of bits and pieces of their handiwork.  The sanctuary windows look out on to some of their plantings, and the turning leaves against the dark backdrop caught my eye.  
A couple of weeks ago, I thought I should start carrying a sketch book around with me.  I ordered a 6x6 inch one that fits in my purse with the idea that I'd draw every day.  (I haven't quite managed that, but I am drawing.)  I whipped out the sketchbook, and.....didn't have a single thing to draw with.  I ended up scrounging a green pencil, and did a quick study with notes about colors--see below.

When I sat down to paint, I purposefully limited my palette to Prussian Blue (two o'clock), Alizarin Crimson (ten o'clock), and Quinacridone Gold (six o'clock) and looked at various values and ways that the paints mixed before I started--again, see below.  In the past, I haven't planned things quite so much.  I'm not sure if I like this or not.

 The final result took two tries.  I tried the first painting on 140-lb paper, and I was having trouble with the paint drying too fast.  I tried again on 300-lb paper, and liked the result much better.  The painting is alla prima, and is 4x7 inches.  Definitely makes me think of fall.
From the sketch book.

Planned palette.  That's Prussian Blue at two o'clock, Quinacridone Gold at six, and Alizarin Crimson at ten.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Mill Course at Sunset

My younger son is taking golf lessons at The Mill Course in Winton Woods, which is part of the Hamilton County Park System.  It's very difficult to predict when he'll finish a round of golf, so when I pick up, I frequently have to wait.  Luckily, they have a beautiful patio that overlooks the course.  And, of course, I end up studying the trees and the light.

One of the things I've learned, is that my phone takes terrible pictures.  That turns out to be okay though, since at best, I use the photos as jumping off points for paintings.  So, to the left is a pic I snapped one evening while waiting for golfers.

Then, a week or two went by, and all I remember is that the line of trees looked lit up against the darker tree line, and that there was a golf flag.  I planned my painting around the idea of trees versus dash of red flag, and did a couple of thumbnail sketches to see what I though about different value plans.  The sketches are only about 1.5x1.5 inches.  You can see them to the right.

I like the bottom value sketch better, but ended up loosing the top light portion when I did the painting.  It's interesting--I'm not a big fan of golf, but this course is beautiful.  It's hard not to feel at peace as the light comes by.   You can see the final product at the top. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Starting With Value, Or More Pears

This fall, I'm taking a color workshop from Barb Smucker.  It's a lot of fun, and very useful.  Barb is an excellent teacher, and the class has such varied participants that it's hard not to learn and get excited about art.  I'm going to try and restate some of the things we're learning, to help give me the language to talk about art.  Bear with me!

We started by talking about value, which reprents the light to dark range in art. Many, many artists recommend doing a value study when planning a painting.  This is a monochromatic small study to lay out where the lights and darks will be.  By extension, this leads into "notan," which is a Japanese design principle that applies to how the lights and darks are massed, or the composition.  If I understand this correctly, and I may not--you can do a value study without notan.  When you have reached a well-designed composition in your value study, then you have notan.  Here's a description from Mitchell Albala on notan and another example from Diana Mize for Empty Easel.

By extension, you can use an color for a notan study, and once you've laid out the lightest and darkest values, you can start to add in mid-tone values.  For watercolor, for the darkest value, I'll use a lot of paint and minimal water.  For light, I'll preserve the white of the paper.  And for a mid-tone in a monochromatic painting, I'll use more water with my paint.   Here are some thumbnail sketches for value studies for a still life using raw umber with three values--dark, light, and middle tone.  This study has three different interpretations--a mid/dark center of interest against light.  A light/mid center of interest against dark, and finally a dark/light against mid.  You can see, that how I choose to lay out the painting affects the mood and energy of the painting.

Then I need to extrapolate to color.  This is where it gets tricky.  I think I'll save another post for talking about the next step.  In the meantime, though, here are two of my paintings that I tried to translate from the value study (which, hopefully has some notan).  Both are limited palattes with prussian blue and indian yellow.  The high key light background painting at the top of the page includes quinacridone orange  (at this point, we'd eaten some of the pears, and we were down to one!).  The dark background (below) painting includes quinacridone gold and raw umber.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

And, The Leaves Turn Again...

When I started putting this blog together, one of my first posts was a plein air painting I did of some sycamore trees.  Every once in a while, I cycle back around and paint more the spring, and again here and here.  I apparently really like trees.  Now, almost a year later, the leaves are starting to turn again--although, barely.  The colors seem later this year.

Some of my best lessons of the year?  The grass does not need to be green.  That you don't need to be looking at the tree to paint the tree.  And, that my favorite season is rolling back in.  

A new group of trees caught my eye.  They must be a little bit stressed, since they're turning much earlier than the trees around them.  This was painted alla prima, with about four colors (Prussion Blue, Indigo, Indian Yellow, and a tiny bit of Permanent Orange Deep).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bike Trip Along the Ohio River

Over Labor Day Weekend, I went on a bicycle trip with a truly wonderful group of women, known as the Babes.  We went from Cincinnati to Maysfield, KY to Portsmouth, OH to the Hope Springs Institute, and then back to Cincinnati.  For much of the route, we followed the Ohio river on KY Route 8.  Route 8 is is named for Mary Ingles, and her trek back to VA when she escaped from the Shawnee Indians in the mid-19th century.  

Before I left, I really debated taking my good camera--I knew I'd have lots of opportunities to take pictures (and if you have your camera out, it's an opportunity to get off your bike).  But it's heavy.  Really heavy.  And, even though it's not a super fancy camera, I was concerned about getting it wet even with a plastic bag cover.  (It did rain a lot on Saturday.)  In the end, I left it on the counter.  I think I made a mistake.

There were so many beautiful views of the river, of the fields, of barns still in use, and barns that had seen better days.  When the clouds settle over the mountains that ring a valley in KY?  You wish you had your camera.  

I tried to recapture the feeling I had on the road in three tiny paintings--they are all 3.5x3.5 inches, or smaller.

If I go again next year--I'm taking the dang camera.

Monday, August 26, 2013

From the Kitchen Table to the Window Sill

About the time I started writing this blog, I posted about a series of still lifes I was painting  from objects I set out on my kitchen table.  Every once in a while, I'd loop back around and do another still life.

Then I just got away from still lifes.  I've been working on getting my paintings looser after several years of getting tighter.  And, as part of that, I've been trying a lot of imagined or abstract paintings.

But, yesterday my neighbor gave me a bag of tomatoes, and I set some out on the window sill. They are an intense orange red against the white and blue gray of the window balanced against the green outside.  They shout (almost scream) end of summer.  I had to try painting them.  The painting is alla prima, in just a couple of hours, and measures about 11.5 inches square. 

And, just in case you're wondering...did you know there is a whole class of paintings called "Widow Sill Paintings?"  And, there's a whole movement called "Paintings In A Day?"  I've hit two milestones!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Exploring Gray Through A Messy Palette

Confession:  I keep a messy palette.  I use two John Pike Palettes, deep well, and I usually have colors flowing everywhere.  Once a week (or month), I like to clean my palatte, and it is very satisfying--similar to dusting after a long break.  Sometimes, the mess on my palette produces interesting grays, and I like to try and incorporate them into new paintings, and here are two paintings that lean towards muted grays done from what's happening in the mixing area of my palette..

The first painting (left) is called Move Into The Light, and shifts from the grays to tonal reds, blues, and yellows.  It is 4 inches by 11.   The second painting (right), Horizon Line, and is 11 x 6 inches.  It's a balance between two grays, and has a minimalist wintry feel.

In both cases, I was just playing with some colors that mixed on my palette, but I was especially pleased with how the paintings came out.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Purple Mountain Majesty

When I posted about reference photos, I included a dusky sunset from Idaho.  I took numerous pics throughout our travels, and many had to do with sky and mountains.  Sometimes there were structures (barns, silos, homes) and sometimes not.  

Here's a trial at a landscape, w/o looking a any reference photos.  You can see that I imagined a house at the top of the middle ridge and then painted it out.  The pencil lines are emphasized in the photo, and not as noticeable otherwise.  The bottom photo gives an idea of what I was riffing from.

I really miss big sky.  The sky in Ohio can be beautiful, but the sky out west is, well majestic.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Hosted Site Experiment

I tried getting fancy.  I though I'd consolidate my work and blog into a web site.  I went right along to and bought a domain and installed wordpress.  I spent 48 h trying different themes and messing around with things, but I never could get something that I either understood or even liked.  To the left is a screen shot of where I left it when I gave up.  (I should mention that despite my frustration, Bluehost was very agreeable and easy to work with):
Right now, I'm using the following sites:

Blogger:  For blogging (which works well and looks great with minimal effort, I have to say).  It was easy to import my posts into wordpress, but I was going to need to go back through and update the media files and links.  I didn't get that far since I never got the wordpress theme to display to my satisfaction.  For consolidated easy access to portfolio display.  I like that I can send people to and then they can get directly here or to Etsy.  However, you need a site to integrate with your portfolio (i.e., photos) and for that I use....

Flickr:  Maybe it should have been instagram, but for right now, flickr works fine.  Here's my flickr photostream.

Mailchimp:  For a newsletter.  Although, I have to confess I've never sent one.  I have very few subscribers, and I don't want to hassle them.  Feel free to sign up--there's a link at the top of the page, or you can sign up here.

Etsy:  For selling.  I have to confess the online selling is hypothetical, but it's always nice to dream.  If you're interested you can look at my shop here.

Finally, I just started using my Facbook Page, which you can visit here.  And sometimes I post to google+, but just to my own personal profile.  

Why all these sites?  Consider that to start a hosted wordpress site, was a couple of hundred dollars up front (although it covered 3 years), and I was still spending a ton of time getting things looking right. These site are all FREE.  Love that.  And, they look reasonably professional with minimal effort on my part.  Love that, too.

I'm sure there are better ways.  It's actually hard for me to keep up.  If there's something that you use to get your work up online, tell me what you think, and why you're using it.  I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

When Frustrated, Paint a Tree

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some pictures that I was planning on using as reference photos for paintings.  I decided to start with third picture of the tree because I liked the colors.  What a bust.  I've tried this painting five different times, and every time it comes out a muddy mess.  Is it the orange/rusty background?  The shapes?  I don't know.  All I know is that nothing is working.  In fact, it's so bad, that I'm not going to show you my failures.  

When I start to get frustrated with my paintings, I have to switch to something that's more enjoyable.  Most trees, for example, like so (see here, for another recent example):

Or, an abstract like so:

I'm going to get the original painting organized the way I want.  I'm hoping it doesn't take another five tries, it's almost starting to feel like I'm wasting paper.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reference Photos & Summertime

When I started painting, I painted from still lifes or outside.  Then, I gradually moved to painting from reference photos.  I found that my paintings from photos were looking stilted and fussy (at least for me) since I prefer a really loose style in my watercolors.  Over the last year, I've been working on getting back to a quick, fresh watercolor style by doing abstracts and painting alla prima. 

Now, I'm going to try using some reference photos as a jumping off point to design some paintings.  Why?  Well, we just returned from a western adventure, where the sky is big and the colors are amazing.  I didn't have my paints, but I had my camera.  Here are three photos that I'm planning on using to design paintings:

This is dusk over ID.  That's Idaho, not identification.  The oreground would be a no.  Sky is a yes. 

I like the line of the reflection here, against the line of the waves and the muted colors.

And this a sculpture by Richard Serra called Wake as a backdrop in the Olympic Sculpture Park, which is part of the Seattle Art Museum.  Aren't the colors gorgeous?

The trick will be getting time to paint, since it's busy in the summer!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Eggs Alla Prima

The title sounds like a breakfast dish, doesn't it? 

In return for a favor, I received six local chicken eggs.  They're lovely pale blues, greens, and browns.  I took some pictures--here's one:

It's hard to see the variations in the egg colors--it's overwhelmed by the wood grain in the table.

When, I went back around to paint them (different arrangement), I set the eggs on a white surface.  But, I made a poor choice for the background.  I wanted delicate, and I ended up with overwhelming--like the wood grain.  I also painted them alla prima (not drawn first), and I'm not sure that it worked well for something as symmetrical as eggs.

I'll try and paint them again, of course! 

Here's the finished version of the painting:

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Another Small Abstract

Untitled abstract with limited palatte.
This is a small abstract I painted using burnt umber, phthalo blue, carbazole violet, manganese blue hue, and permanent yellow deep.  The painting is about 6x8 inches.

This time I wanted to explore the bright yellow/orange against blue grays.  (This sounds like I planned it out--it's more along the lines of: I like blue and orange, let's me see what happens when.....). 

I found that I love the blue grays I got when I added burnt umber to manganese, it sets a beautiful mood.  I carried these colors over into an abstract I talked about here.  You can see the blue gray in the sky.

In the past, I've done some small pure color abstracts (see here), and I've found that the abstracts are helping me to loosen my landscapes and use more interesting colors (and see here).  Again, not always planned!

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Plein Air Adventure

Last week, Clair Breetz,  my fellow studio mate from the Art Circle invited us to Ryland Lakes to paint plein air. It is a country club community, surrounded by cottages and summer homes.  It was so beautiful it qualified as bucolic.  I did a couple of plein air paintings, one of which, I'm showing the evolution of here. 

At the end of a long lake, sat a triangle house, nestled at the bottom of the hills and the edge of the lake.  Really.  Triangle.  And, it was framed in white.  On the left is my first attempt, and on the right is a second version.

I like the sky, and I like the water.  The middle section?  Not so much.  That house looks out of place, and where the shore meets the tree line is under defined and washed out.

What to do?  I went back in and weighted the shore line with darker colors.  When I rephotographed the painting, you can still see the house.  That is a powerful triangle.  (The inconsistent blues of the sky have more to do with my photography skills.  I'm working on it, but watercolors can be challenging to photograph, in my opinion.  See here.)

And, here's a picture of me painting the 1st version, taken by my +Connie Springer , who does lovely portrait photography.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Revisting a Failed Painting

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about a painting I tried to put together from my memory and a thumbnail sketch.  You can read that post here.  I just got back around to trying it today, and here's what happened:

You can see I've made composition more consistent with the thumbnail sketch, which improves the painting.  I've also restricted the palette (5 colors:  indian yellow, ultramarine blue, carbazole violet, manganese blue hue, and burnt umber).  Finally, for the most part, all the colors are unified across the painting, and the indian yellow is left for intensity.  The painting is also much larger--about 14x14 inches. 

Does it convey the feeling I was shooting for?  Well, no.  It makes me think of winter rather than spring.  But, overall, it's an improvement over the first attempt.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Photographing Watercolors

If you ever want to try an exercise in frustration, try photographing watercolors.  The frustration level ramps up if you are stacking the colors in the painting (ie, transparent layers) or using intense colors that are close in value.  Take for example the following painting I tried, which has the following Daniel Smith colors: phthalo Blue, phthalo green, quinacrodone violet, carbazole violet, and permanent yellow deep.  The emphasis was on shape and hue (or color), so I tried to de-emphasize value. 

The picture on the right shows how close the values in the painting are.  There is some variation, but there it is small across the painting.  The picture on the right shows an attempt at getting the color correct.  I really like the painting to look at, but the photograph of the painting?  Not so much.  It should be much more uniformly--teal?  I'll keep trying to work out how to get an image that accurately represents the painting.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Failed Painting....Try and Try Again

I was driving my boys home from a lacrosse match south of Dayton when we happened upon a tree lined field.  It was late in the afternoon, and the trees were casting long shadows that looked like fingers.  I love landscapes like this.  I stopped and gawped.  My boys wondered what the hold up was.  I tried later to do a thumbnail sketch to lay out the composition, like so:

The tree shadows were an grayed down ultramarine blue, and the trees and sky were about the same value in blues, greens and golds.  Since it was early spring, you could clearly see the tree branches, and the field tended toward a brown and gold.

I did not take a picture.   A thumbnail sketch and my memory is all I've got to work from for composition.   For more on thumbnail sketches, you can read here.
The painting did not come out at all like I planned....I need to go back and try again and adjust the colors and shapes.  Try and try again.

You'll notice, I've been repeating paintings--frequently it's for scale.  I'll experiment small and then scale up if I like the small work, or the study.  Or, it could be to fix issues like shape and color.  When I'm working from my imagination it can be hard to strike the right balance the first time out.  You can see that when you compare the paintings here and here.

Hopefully, next week, I'll be able to show you an improved version of the same landscape.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Take 10 Minutes for Slow Art Day, Saturday, April 27

Saturday, April 27, 2013 is Slow Art Day.  Slow art  is the practice of taking the time to savor and really look.  They have a great Facebook Page with lots to look at--slowly, of course.  Slow Art Day was the idea of Phil Terry in 2008 when he spent several hours looking at Fantasia by Hans Hoffman at the Jewish Museum.  Compare that to the 17 seconds Art News estimates the average museum goer spends looking at one piece of art. There are a number of locations participating around Cincinnati:
The formal idea is to spend 5-10 minutes looking at several pieces of art (that's 5-10 minutes on each piece!) and then go to lunch to talk about what you see. If you can't attend one of the organized events, see if you can just look at something for 10 minutes and just see what you see.

Take some time look and think about art.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bloom: A 2nd Try at the Crab Apple Tree

Earlier this week I posted a small painting of a tree.  I wasn't especially happy with the painting, so I tried painting another version of the same thing. 

I think this one is better.  It has a better composition, since the tree trunk is no longer placed dead center and the canopy is balanced across the page.  The tree is integrated into the background, and the paint quality enhances that integration.  The colors are unified across the painting, and it has a nice feel.  One of the biggest challenges with this tree, is that I'm painting from memory and feeling rather than looking at the tree.  It's a mood rather than a realistic image.  The joy of spring is diluted by a persistent cold that's slowing me down this month. 

I still think it could be a better painting though.  I'll have to think on how.  It's very difficult as an artist to look objectively at your own paintings and figure out what is good and what could be better.  Artists are like the women in the Dove video, we do not have a sound perception of our own work.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crab Apple Tree

Spring has arrived in southwestern Ohio.  Everything's blooming, including the crab apple trees.  They look elegant against the dark blue of a stormy sky.  (Because this is OH, there are regular thunderstorms that roll through.

I think the colors of this painting worked, but the shape is "meh."  I meant to have the tree much more towards the left side of the page, but got carried away when I was laying in the indigo blue.  I think I'll try again on a larger scale.  This painting is about 7.5x6 inches on a piece of scrap paper. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Show at Wyoming Wines

I have a show up at Wyoming Wines through the end of April 2013.  The shop runs wine tastings on F and S evenings, where they have a selection of wines to try.  It's an awful lot of fun.  If you get a chance, stop on by for a taste and a look.

When you visit, make sure to also see Bilog Coffee Tea & Gleato next door, where my friend and studio mate, Diana Marra also has her own show up.  I recommend staying for dinner.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Beautiful Beets

Three quarters of my immediate family likes beets.  Preferably pickled in the refrigerator.  (One member would like nothing to do with them.  I'm hoping he'll change his mind as he gets older. ) 

If you've ever grown beets--they're easy to grow, they're nutritious, and they're such a beautiful shade of red purple.  They should probably be going in the ground RIGHT now in OH.  (Always behind on the garden....)

One of the things that calls to the engineer in me (and these are out of my imagination) is how they get planted in such neat rows and have a nice rhythm of root and leaf.  This ended up a 5x7  (top) hand painted card with envelope (bottom).


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Asian Pear

Last week, the sun came out for a few days.  It was lovely.  I was able to work on my kitchen table series, which you can see here and here.   I just bought three Asian pears, which were a beautiful orange gold and called out to me.   This painting is a very limited palatte:  aliziron crimson, ultramarine blue, hansa yellow medium, and quinacradone gold.  It's in a very loose style.  Some day, I aspire to be as good as Charles Reid.

The sun's back out again today, after several days of snow and gray.  I think I'll paint.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pears x3

I still paint on my kitchen table.  And, I continue to build my still life series from things I find around my house.  Frequently, I just pull things out of my fruit bowl, since we all love fruit--bosc pears, especially.

This series of paintings was done in natural light.  I find the mood of the painting is determined by the condition of the light, and it was a gray day, so the light is very indistinct from overhead.    (Frankly, it's been a cold, gray, depressing spring.) 

It's the same pear done in three color sets.  The linking color is phthalo blue gs (Daniel Smith).  The paintings are all approximately 6x8 inches, and they reflect my thoughts on this spring.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Donation for Creative Solutions

If you've met Maggie Barnes, you know that she's a whirlwind of positive energy and has a very generous spirt.  She is in the process of planning a fundraiser called Creative Solutions to help establish a chapter of ARTZ: Artists for Alzheimer's, which is part of the I'm Still Here Foundation.  Maggie's fundraiser is scheduled for Sunday, April 28th, at 5:00 pm at the Centennial Barn here in Cincinnati.  As part of the fundraiser, Maggie's also got a  call for artists out to donate, and part of that is very specific--she would like for artists to use a piece of song or poetry or whatever, and incorporate the wording into the art.

I told her I'd donate, and I based my piece around one of my favorite songs:  If I Were Made of Metal by Patty Larkin--you can listen to a sample of the MP3 here.  It's an old song, originally, released in 1985.  It starts, "If I were made of metal, if I were made of stone, my love it would move mountains, and I'd follow you home...."  The painting that goes with the lyrics is here, and you can see the lyrics through the blue.  I think I'll title it Metal, with apologies to Patty Larkin. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I saw an article in the NY Times this morning about how photographers flock to Yosemite National Park one week in February to capture El Capitan when the light hits the granite perfectly.   If you're an artist, you probably obsess about the light too. 

One of my favorite times is sunset in Cincinnati (or the midwest) especially in the spring and the summer when the evening light seems so clean, clear, and golden.  I have a theory that the light is equally lovely at sunrise, but morning is never my best time.  You'll see where I've posted about sunset paintings here and here.

I have a second paining I did from our trip to MO at Thanksgiving--captured at sunset in IN.  Land of field farms, and beautiful light.
The title is Outbuildings.