Friday, November 7, 2014


Field Study

I am regularly asked if I ever rework my plein air studies when I get back into the studio. The answer is yes I do. Most times my hunting and gathering trips into the field end with a good set of finished paintings that are ready for a frame and a trip to the gallery. But once in a while I just miss it and I do a piece that 
is functionally a good painting but at the end of the day, it just doesn't measure up. This is one of those paintings.

About a month ago I took a week long painting trip to Estes Park in the Rocky Mountain National Park with the Outdoor Painters Society. Over a five day period I painted four paintings a day for a total of 20 paintings. Not a bad week's worth of painting, but along the way I realized my focus had turned to getting four paintings done a day instead of producing paintings of true quality. It hit me the day I did the painting of the cabin pictured at the start of this blog. I was painting alongside Randy Saffle and Frank Gabriel.

Randy Saffle

Frank Gabriel

We stood pretty much in the same spot so we all were painting the same scene. As I was doing this 12" x 16" I was actually pleased with what I was doing but the minute I saw Randy's result I realized just how far off the cliff I had jumped and how badly I really missed capturing the scene.

This kind of experience leads to plenty of inner soul searching and questioning of one's approach. Had I gotten so cocky that I thought I could go out and totally ignore the true beauty of what I was seeing? Do I need to have my eyes checked? When did I decide I could just wing it and not really seriously study my scene? Where had my sense of study and dedication to capturing the true essence of the scene gone?

When I got home and looked at my photos from the trip and, in particular this scene, I knew I had to correct the situation. I can't have a bad painting hanging around the studio. Its just bad Karma and it infects all the blank canvases yet to be painted, so I have a duty and obligation to keep the Karma positive in the studio.

So today is the day I put that bad boy on the easel and slap it silly with new paint.

The first step is to cover the entire painting with a layer of Liquin. This evens out the values and returns my darks back to their original value so when I put new paint on top I can match values where necessary.

The cabin is my center of interest and I realized I needed to adjust its shape and value. The entire rest of the painting will be done to support the cabin as the main object in the painting.

"Be bold or go home" is my approach on this one. I decide I want to drop the mountains really far back so I paint on a very light purplish gray and cover the entire mountain range in it.

I'm going to be completely redesigning the mountain range so I want to obscure anything I had before so it doesn't influence my new design. Even at this point I like the sense of distance and atmosphere this is creating.

Between the cabin and the distant mountain range is a smaller tree covered hill so I put this in to be able to judge the values I will use on the mountains.

Now I move to the next level of mountains. With every brush stroke I am judging color temperature and value in comparison with the middle hill and the foreground cabin. Something I should have been doing in the field. I have to create the feeling that this part of the mountain is farther away than the middle ground hill and that the hill sits between the mountain and the cabin.

I have completed the first row of mountains. Notice how much bluer the color temperature is than the middle hill. Now its time to carry the painting out the top with two more rows of mountains.

I decide to create a little tension in the upper right corner of the painting. The cabin sits kind of low left of center. By putting in the sky it will help take the viewer's eye past the cabin, through the mountains and out the top. If I had taken the mountain all the way out of the painting there would be no reason to view the entire painting and the viewer's eye would get stuck on the cabin. This way my painting tells a complete story.

With this close up you can also see how close in value each mountain is and yet they still separate visually.

After a little more work on the cabin and trees I have finished reworking my plein air study. Now the question becomes "what did I learn from this process?" Well the honest answer is I realize that I blew it in the field and that I have to get better at studying my scene. Many times I am an illustrator stuck inside a painter's body and the illustrator takes over at the worst moments. I am going to have to fight that tendency in the future and trust the painter in me to make the proper judgments when in the field. 

Monday, May 19, 2014


I am pleased to announce two new workshops have been scheduled in the coming months. The first one is coming up in a couple of weeks in the Austin area and the second one is scheduled for October in Lindale, near Tyler.

Workshops are a great place to get out of your comfort zone and experiment with all things plein air painting related. I offer sound, constructive methods for developing observation skills, design choices and painting techniques. I will help you explore the subtleties of light and form in the landscape with concise, easy to learn methods that have proven to be successful.

You will be encouraged to work fast, painting two or three paintings a day. I want to help you gain confidence in your approach to painting outdoors and to find or rediscover your passion for plein air painting.

Classes include daily demonstrations, group exercises and plenty of one-on-one personal instruction and encouragement. Reserve your spot...sign up today.

June 9-12, 2014
Sponsored by Austin Plein Air

Location: Austin area
Tuition: $400 
Contact: Ellen Willis 512.454.2747

October 23-26th
Sponsored by Killaby Fine Art School and Studio

Location: Lindale, TX
Tuition: TBD
Contact: Maureen Killaby 903.830.6694

For more information on daily schedules and supply list, please go to

Friday, May 9, 2014


I want to thank the Associated Creative Artists for having me as guest demo artist last Tuesday night. I always enjoy visiting with the members of the group and I'm honored any time I'm asked to do a demonstration painting.

For the demo I chose a photo from my recent trip to Carmel. The scene is in Pacific Grove right across the street from my hotel. I got up early each morning, grabbed a cup of coffee then sat on a bench and watched the sun come up.

Before I started my demo I made the point that I was NOT going to stay married to the photo and instead would change the light based on my memory of my morning coffee sessions. In so doing I made the point that painting from photographs is okay as long as you are the person who took the photograph and actually experienced the scene. There are so many reasons to not paint from photographs, but when I look at photos I've taken I can usually remember everything thing else that went into taking the shot and most times those things come back to me as I paint.

"Early Light at Pacific Grove"
12" x 16"  oil/linen

Saturday, April 26, 2014


So I've been home a week and have had time to process everything that happened last week in Carmel when I attended my first plein air convention along with 700 other like minded folks. It takes a while to absorb everything because it goes by so fast, but if you can imagine what it feels like being six years old as you walk through the front gates of Disney World, then you have some idea of how I felt for five straight days.

The Plein Air Convention is the brainchild of Streamline Publishing owner Eric Rhoads. In conjunction with Streamline's Plein Air Magazine and editor Steve Doherty, he has taken plein air painting into the mainstream of art culture.

Eric Rhoads and Yours Truly

Getting to the convention was a trip in itself. Once I landed in Los Angeles my plane sat on the tarmac for an hour and I missed my connection to Monterrey. When I was told it would be six hours until the next flight I immediately headed to Hertz to rent a car figuring I'd much rather drive up the Pacific Coast Highway than sit in a terminal.

Only in LA can you rent a Lamborghini for a day for mere $3,000 a day. I passed and got a Toyota Tercel.

Back to the convention. Kevin MacPhearson gave one of the most entertaining keynote speeches I ever heard to open the convention. Then I had the chance to meet Kevin and Wanda which has been a long time goal of mine. 

Each day started with the Marketing Boot Camp led by Eric Rhoads who is an impressive and convincing speaker. I took excessive notes to the point that my head hurt. After Boot Camp the rest of the day was spent mingling in the hall with all of the product suppliers and watching demos by many of the painters I admire most.

Without a doubt the very best part of the convention is to finally meet and spend time with other artists I've been Facebook friends with for years and whose work I truly admire. 

Christin Coy on my right and Lori McNee on my left.

Lori Putnam

Charles White

Bryan Mark Taylor

Kate Starling and Kathleen Dunphy

Did I say meeting all my Facebook friends was the best part. No that's not it. Watching all of these great demos was the best part. Sometimes there were several going on at once so you had to move from room to room to catch them all.

Randy Sexton and Larry Moore painting in tandem

There was a main stage where the artists did their demos and then to each side were two large high def screens that showed the artists up close and for the first time there was a palette cam that showed the artist's palette as they worked.

Shot of the screen showing a close up of Randy Sexton's painting.

Marcia Brutt and Kate Starling on stage together.

Shot of the big screen with Marcia working on her painting and another camera on Kate's painting.

Joseph McGurl discusses his palette. First time I had seen this chap's work. Absolutely stunning plein air painter.

The Daniel Gerhartz demonstration was worth the price of admission. Painting from a live model his verbalization of what he was doing while he was doing it was priceless.

In addition to the main stage were two other rooms for demonstrations. Even though there was some overlap if you planned your day carefully you didn't miss any of them.

Shelby Keefe

Gene Constanza

John Burton

Lori Putnam

Bryan Mark Taylor

Rosemary shows how her brushes are hand-made

The Lifetime Achievement presentation for Richard Schmid by his daughter Molly was a touching tribute to one of our favorite painters. Molly gave us a rare glimpse of the man behind the brush and showed many samples of unpublished and some never before seen paintings.

Did I say the demonstration paintings was the best part of the convention. I was wrong. Each day the convention closed down and everyone headed out to a specific location to paint. You could either paint or move from one presenter to another and watch them paint. How many opportunities do you have to watch the best plein air painters on the planet painting together in a single location? Never right? 

Brian Blood painting with Kate Starling

Jesse Powell trying to get a good picture of Brian's painting

Brian Blood

Kate Starling

Thomas Kitts painting with Daniel Gerhartz

Gerhartz and Kitts

Painting elsewhere on the beach were Kathleen Dunphy, Joseph McGurl, Lori Putnam, Brenda Boylan, Camille Przewodek, James McVicker, Timothy Tien, Aaron Schurer, John Burton, Gene Constanza, Larry Moore and I'm sure others I just didn't get to.

You may be asking whether or not I got any painting done. And the answer is yes, but that will have to be in my next post.

All I have to say is the convention was a life affirming, life altering event for me and I can't wait to go back next year.