Monday, September 16, 2013


Each day I enter the studio, I do so with a plan. Today's plan is to continue my quest to paint on a larger scale, both in the studio and outdoors. On the easel is a 24" x 30" canvas. This would be the absolute top end for me to paint en plein air...or so I think. If I can't get it done start to finish in less than three hours, then there's no point continuing the experiment.

The scene I've chosen is a gully near Riverside, California. 
I 've drawn a sketch from three different reference photos. The distant hill came from one, the gully came from another and the group of trees to the right from a third. The left hand trees I have made up to balance the painting.
On a bookshelf sits a timer I've set for three hours. I'm anxious to see if I can get this puppy finished in the allotted time.

The focal point of the painting will be the large group of trees on the right side of the painting. After blocking in the shadow pattern I go ahead and paint in the light side. I paint these fairly complete because the entire rest of the painting will be done to support these trees.

Now for the two distant hills. Notice how large I've left the sky holes in the trees. This is done because I will fill them in later as I get further along in the painting.

Looking at these photos I realize I should be painting with a larger brush. The middle hill and distant hill are near completion. Notice the grayish/purple wall of the gully underneath my hand. In my original design this was going to be my visual lead-in, the design element that would draw the viewer into my painting. But things change...

I have put in the middle ground that is between the gully and the middle hill and I am putting in the trees on the left. As I mentioned earlier these are put in for balance. Any time you have a large object on one side of the painting you must throw something in on the opposite side to balance it.

I put in the far wall of the gully that runs left to right along the lower one-third of the painting. At this point I took a bathroom break, went to the kitchen to get some tea and upon my return realized I had a major design flaw. The gully that was suppose to be my lead-in is taking up way too much space, attracting way too much attention and my photo reference is so poor that I'm going to have to make up the entire wall in my head. What was I thinking? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

As with all paintings this one has hit critical mass. The point where I have to decide to save it or trash it. After looking at it for a while I decide to extend the main group of trees downward. In a bold move I decide to get rid of the gully altogether and instead I'm going to make this a flat field with a dirt road going through it. The dirt road will act as my lead-in.  You can see the line I drew indicating where I'm about to rub out a portion of the painting.

And here I go...all or nothing. The next thirty minutes are critical. This painting will either rise from the ashes or burn a hole into my brain as I see a painting that had potential end up in the trash.

Out with the with the new. I extend the shadow pattern of the main tree group downward.

I paint the left side hill, throw a shadow across the road
and a bright ray of light at the base of the trees. Moving very fast right now anxious to see a positive result.

I'm so excited I can barely stand it! By putting in the road to act as my lead-in and by throwing the foreground into shadow the main group of trees look like proud sentinels.
My heart has stopped racing and my hand is once again steady as I apply finishing touches to each area of the painting, balancing the values and adjusting the light patterns.

I use a small brush and palette knife to put in the branches of the trees.

The finished painting. "Gully Sentinels"  24" x 30"  oil/canvas.

Unfortunately the timer went off a long time ago so I did not make my three hour time limit. But what the heck, I've had a very exciting day in the studio.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


I have been in the studio the last week working on two large pieces simultaneously. When I get tired with one I switch to the other. They are both at stages where I need to let them dry before continuing. I noticed this morning that I was starting to tighten up, stylistically speaking. I want my studio pieces, regardless of their size to stay loose like my plein air work. When things begin to get too tight,  I head outdoors to grab a couple of field studies and that typically loosens me right back up. 

Today it is 102 degrees in north Texas so going outside is not an option. I decide to set up my En Plein Air Pro easel ( and pick a nice photo to paint from. I need to do another piece for the Collectors Covey Miniature Show so while working on getting loose with my paint I will create a piece for the show at the same time. Its

So here's my setup and I have already started laying in the drawing.

Just like being outdoors, except I have a bathroom close by. I don't like that big boulder at the bottom left so I am going to redesign this area to get a more pleasing design and it will help with the lead into the painting. The photo is of Alberta Falls in the Rocky Mountain National Park by the way.

As with most paintings I start by painting in the darks and the shadow patterns. I tend to paint over the darks so even though this looks like a really yucky dark blackish color it is actually a purplish violet with some occasional ultramarine blue thrown in.

Continuing with the darks. Notice as I get toward the area above the waterfall I have lightened the value and added more blue to the color because this area gets more light than the area at the base of the waterfall.

Here's the actual photograph I'm working from so you can see where I'm going with the painting and see the design change I make at the bottom.

Okay so now you can see the design change. I have removed the big boulder at the bottom left and increased the length of the waterfall. The upside down "V" shape at the bottom leads the viewer's eye from bottom right to the left taking the viewer directly to the base of the waterfall then up the waterfall and out of the painting at the top.

Satisfied with the design I begin moving rather quickly to finish the painting. Here I am using the "magic brush" to put in the waterfall.

Finished the waterfall now I am painting the water runoff at the bottom. This close up gives you an idea of the textures I've created.

Finishing up the bottom pool of water. Notice how I've created the feeling of the river rocks below the water. 
Pretty nifty. Learned that from Scott Christensen.

Using the palette knife to create texture in the aspens.

The completed painting. I'll let it sit in the corner for a week then give it one final going over before sending it to Collectors Covey.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I will be teaching two workshops this fall. The first one will be in Port Aransas, Texas October 14th-16th and the second one will be in McKinney, Texas October 31-November 2.

Registration deadline September 30, 2013

Port Aransas is one of my all time favorite painting locations. The small fishing village by the sea offers 
countless opportunities to capture the best of the Texas coast. Shorelines, sand dunes, shrimp boats, sailing vessels, oil tankers, wildlife and life on the beach.

"Coastal Sunrise"  24" x 30"  

"Dunes"  9" x 12" 

To register contact Cameron Pratt at 

Registration deadline September 30, 2013

For course description and supply list go to my website, look for Workshops on the home page.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


I recently spent four days painting in and around Fredericksburg, Texas. I've painted in this area many times, but I've never really just gone out on my own cruising the back roads to see what I could find. This time was different and I had a blast. I averaged four paintings a day over four days which is cranking out the work when you're just driving down the road hoping something good to paint shows up. I learned a very valuable lesson "do not search for a painting location with a preconceived idea of what you want to paint"!

I discovered if I went looking for a particular scene I never found it. On the other hand if I just drove down the road and let the scene find me, I found an abundant supply of paintable locations. I also learned that the most valuable tool a plein air painter can possess is the ability to do a u-turn on a two lane road.

With this in mind what follows are a couple of my paintings.

First up is this hillside cedar with a few yellow wildflowers in the foreground. This is on the south side of Highway 290 from Johnson City to Fredericksburg. 

This is my typical setup. I use the En Plein Air Pro easel with either a Bestbrella attached or a freestanding ShadeBuddy. If I'm near my car I will use the ShadeBuddy most times. I have my backpack hanging on the easel. I find this weighs it down and gives the easel a nice sturdy feel and it helps keep it from blowing over in the wind. 

Notice that both the panel and the palette are in shade. It is vitally important to have the surface you are painting on and the surface you are mixing paint on be in the same light. 

Here's my palette setup and it is set up the same way every time.

The initial block in. Notice I blocked in the foreground in a warm burnt sienna and the distant ground in a cooler blueish color. This helps me separate the layers right at the start of the painting.

Half way done. The major land masses are blocked in. Now I'll work toward finishing up.

 The finished painting. About an hour and half start to finish. On to the next location.

Bob Rohm

Next I met up with good friend, Bob Rohm, to paint along Cow Creek outside Marble Falls.

Painting almost completed

I chose a location in the riverbed. I liked the green maple bush against the gray river bank. It was so hot there was only time for one painting then I hit the road looking for next painting.

Completed painting #2

The third location for the day is along some road going west north of Johnson City. At this point I was lost but enjoying the drive.

Again using the ShadeBuddy for protection and shade.

This painting is mostly about the sky so I knocked in the farm scene along the bottom fairly quickly.

Completed painting number 3.

My final location of the day is this big tree along the side of Highway 16 north out of Fredericksburg. I had spotted this location on a previous trip and had logged it into my GPS. So I looked it up and drove straight to it. 

About half way done with the major masses blocked in.

The completed painting and by this point I'm exhausted, looking for BBQ and a beer to end the day.

Below are photos of a couple of other scenes that interested me but I didn't have time to stop and paint. So these will be done in the studio at some point.

Thanks for traveling with me today. If you liked this post and would enjoy more like this one, please leave me a comment.