Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Last week I painted this scene in Big Bend. On the left bank is Mexico and on the right bank is Texas. Kind of neat when you think about it....but I digress. "Abstracting the landscape" is a common phrase thrown around in art books and workshops. I myself throw it around a lot. All it really means is if things aren't the way you like them, move them around.

When I paint plein air (outside on location) if the scene is not exactly the way I like it, I will move Mother Nature's design to get a more pleasing result in order to make a painting. This scene is one of those scenes. At the top is the scene as it exists in nature.

Here is the same scene with six areas I plan to "abstract" or move or redesign in my painting. These are the decisions I made about the scene before putting a single stroke of paint on the canvas.

"Along the Rio Grand" 9" x 12" oil/linen

1. I eliminated the second butte. By doing so I made the first butte more important to the scene and it simplified the scene.

2. I increased the size of the first butte. Again, this gives it importance.

3. I eliminated the third butte and in its place put a very distant blue hill and actually placed it behind the fourth butte giving the scene a sense of depth and distance.

4. I moved this butte towards the middle and increased its size. I wanted something between the main butte on the left and the distant hill thereby adding to the sense of depth.

5. I made this bush on the bank my focal point. I increased its size, increased the contrast in this area of the painting and dropped the river behind it to isolate it more from the rest of the painting. This gives it importance.

6. I eliminated this bank altogether.

7. And finally I designed the rocks in the foreground river so they would lead your eye to the left bank which takes you to my focal point and then down the river and out of the painting. By making the painting a vertical instead of a horizontal I am able to force the issue of a lot of depth on a small painting. I angled the row of rocks behind the focal point bush so they point down the river. In the photo they go straight across the river and I felt this would have stopped the viewer's eye movement if I painted them that way.

The nice thing about a small painting is there are fewer decisions to make. When I make this into a larger painting there will be three times as many decisions. This is one of the reasons I enjoy plein air painting so much. You get to see the result of your decisions quickly. The "abstractions" I made in this painting worked out well. The painting I did after this one ended up as two hours of total frustration and I eventually wiped it off.

One final note, I find it to be extremely important to plan my paintings, to "abstract" the scene as necessary to end up with a quality painting that engages the viewer to participate in the painting. Without the participation the viewer will dismiss the piece and move down the wall to another painting. I find it very challenging to make a powerful statement on a small painting and painting en plein air satisfies that challenge like no other form of painting.

Monday, February 20, 2012


"Frozen Lake" 8" X 10" plein air

Painted on location in southern Colorado. Now available at Dailypaintworks auction.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012


"Silverton Mining Cabin" oil/linen

Painted on location in Ouray, Colorado a couple of years ago. Anyone who has visited Ouray is familiar with this group of buildings that comprised the mining camp. As you come out of the overland pass from Silverton heading down the mountain toward Ouray there's a group of five or six buildings. You have to look quick because the road is only two lanes and very curvy at this point. I painted here with the Outdoor Painters Society and a few painters from Colorado. Six of us shared a cabin in Ouray and each night we would our paintings from the day. Great trip.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012


"Canyon Plein Air" 8" x 10" oil/linen

Painted on location at the Grand Canyon a couple of summers ago. This
actually Moran Point and is a favorite artist spot. I have placed the painting up for auction on DailyPaintWorks. Click on the link to bid.

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Friday, February 17, 2012


Using my very best dramatic movie voice... "This is a story of triumph over evil. A story repeated every day in art studios across the world. It is ugly. It is beautiful. It is full of suspense, drama, pain and JOY." There is no nudity and violence is minimal. How's that for the start of a blog?

I tell workshop attendees and audiences all the time that every painting reaches a critical point where it will either fail or succeed. When I paint I know exactly when I have reached the point of failure and I will step back from the painting, give it a very hard, critical look and then decide to either trash it or keep painting. Early on I operated on a 50/50 success to failure ratio meaning I was just as likely to fail as I was to succeed. As time has gone by my ratio is 90/10 success to failure due to my experience (meaning many failures). This is a long introduction to my latest adventure in failure and my triumph over it.

I recently decided to tackle a 36" x 60" canvas, the largest painting of my career. There is something very intimidating about a large blank canvas, but I was committed to doing it. I chose a mountain range just outside Sedona as my subject.

Staring it down! Got to admit, I'm a bit nervous.

After putting on a simple burnt sienna sketch I block in the bottom foreground which will be in shadow. This creates depth and throws the viewer deeper into the scene. This was the one area of the painting I was totally confident about so it helped me get over my jitters and get some paint down.

Sorry for the bad photography.

I shot video of the process as well. The movie version will be released on YouTube soon.

Now I know why my back hurts when I paint.
I'm blocking in large areas of color and adjusting values as I go. Why am I standing so close to such a large painting?

At this point I'm still feeling good about everything. The color and value relationships are working well. The design looks good and the flow through the painting seems appropriate. Not a bad first day's work.

The completed block-in except the sky. This may sound weird but I have no clue what kind of sky to put in. I'll decide this later.

What I would give for a Hughes easel about now!

Ending day one. Six hours of labor. My brain hurts. My back hurts. Will try to finish the painting tomorrow.

The start of day two. A very serious...critical review.

I'm not liking it. I see problems. Its not flowing, I don't like some of the things I liked yesterday. Do I spend today fixing the problems or do I go a different direction?

"CRAP! FAILURE!" "36 inches by 60 inches of miserable FAILURE"

Decision time. I am going to keep the foreground....don't have a sky....I am going to completely scrap this mountain range and paint in some red cliffs I liked from Arizona.

Three hours later. Out with the old, in with the new. You can still see the cliffs from the first painting in the background upper left.
The foreground has remained the same. I finally feel like I have control. This might work.

Probably the most important decision I made was to create a sense of scale by adding a farmhouse at the base of the cliff. I quickly drop this in to see if it works. The spot of cool blue on the roof really sets it off from the red cliffs.

The completed farmhouse and additional buildings. Now it is time to finish things up.

I'm smiling again. I have yanked this painting out of the mouth of failure and turned it into a triumphant success. Now I have 36 inches by 60 inches of drama. I decided to paint a sky I have seen many times where the low clouds bump into the red cliffs and pick up all kinds of dirt. Even on a clear day it looks like it is going to rain any second but never does.

I have a really nice lead-in at the bottom of the painting that takes the viewer directly to the valley and the valley has a red gully that leads you to the farmhouse near the center of the painting and the farmhouse gives you the sense of the massive scale of the cliffs. All-in all a good effort.