Vallecito Valley

Vallecito Stage Station park along county S2, towards Ocotillo.  I passed this scene on my bike during the Stagecoach Century in 2010.  11 X 14 oil.


San Dieguito

11 X 14, oil

14 x 11, oil


Back to Work

Now that I live in a marine environment, what did I most want to paint once I got the oils back out of storage?  The desert, of course! Warmth and sunshine, and dry air.  These two studies were each done in 30 minutes, because my tendency after a layoff is to overthink.  A time limit results in a response to the scene, rather than an attempt to remember "rules" about how to paint.

Yaqui Pass, Anza Borrego.  11 X 14"  oil

Yaqui Pass 2, 14 X 11" oil


Home on the Ranger

We've lived aboard our Ranger 33 for three weeks now, and it has been intense. Some extreme highs and lows (like the tides, right?) but mostly good and truly exhilarating in ways that defy description.  Living on a boat puts one so close to the weather, as my husband has always said, and also incredibly close to all the life around us.  We can actually hear the fish through the hull.  We have toadfish here, who make a magical croaky humming sound that's only audible onboard the boat, every evening as we're going to sleep.  There are small shrimp that make a sound against the hull that's very similar to milk being poured on Rice Krispies.  Not to mention the bird life, varied and stunning.  We share the docks with several species of herons, who pretty much take over during the nighttime hours.  They're generally pretty tolerant of the humans, but when disturbed (quite often), they unleash quite a scolding.  Their beautiful presence is never unnoticed, in one form or another:

The boat itself is a work in progress, as they always are, which makes them a perfect metaphor for life and art.  And just as in artwork, simplification adds strength.  We've made the conscious decision to forgo any unnecessary complication.  No microwave, no hot water, minimal plumbing, a composting head instead of a holding tank.  The very fact of living in such a small space means that all possessions are carefully considered, and nothing superfluous comes aboard.

If it's true that the unexamined life is not worth living, then the ultra-examined life must be exceptionally worthwhile.  It feels that way to me.  I'll have some new work to post soon.


A couple earlier sketches...

Here are a couple small works that I never posted last fall when I did them.

Abstracted view of a saltwater marsh--started as an underpainting, but stopped at an interesting point.
6 X 8", gouache on paper

Young magnolia tree, plein air graphite, 6" X 4".


Big changes

Here's the biggest change:

It's a 1978 Ranger 33 sailboat.  Twenty two years ago when my husband and I were first married, we lived aboard his Ericson 30 sailboat for nearly a year.  A true test of compatibility, which I'm happy to say we passed with flying colors.  We had to move back onto land when family issues and graduate school intervened, but promised each other many times that one day we would again live aboard and cruise a sailboat.  More than two decades later, the time has come. The last four months have been *consumed* by the search for a boat, and this is the one.  She has a very interesting story of her own, and now she'll become part of our story.  We have named her "Promise."

I'm looking forward to having time for something besides boat-hunting.  I can finally get back to work!


sketchy too

4" X 6" gouache.

Falling behind on posting, because life's been hectic in a good way.  These are more little experiments in gouache.  It's a medium that often appeals to oil painters, because it can be used in much the same way and is very forgiving especially when painted over gessoed paper (like below).  But used as a thin wash on paper, it behaves pretty  much the same as transparent water color although with less granulation.

4" X 6" gouache on gessoed paper.  This started as a thumbnail (below).



4 X 6" gouache

6 X 5" watercolor and gouache


Zombie Self

 7" X 5", gouache on canvas panel



Fellow AIR Lisa Jetonne (check out her amazing residency blog) has designed a promo card and poster for the upcoming Cabrillo Centennial show.  If you're in the area, please check it out:

You can also see 2013 AIR Bill Griswold's book of stunning photos here (click "preview" to see the whole book).


Sun Pillar and "Brushstroke"

Took this in January from our balcony with my phone camera, and still just love this photo.

The blog has been inactive for a while, but I should have some new work to post before too long.  Sometimes we all need to take a break, when life gets in the way.  It's okay to stop for a while, as long as you don't quit.  Hoping that everyone else has been doing good work and most of all, enjoying the process.


Life Class

Couple, 40-minute pose.  10" X 10", oil/gessoed BFK

There's a recently-organized life class available at the SD Art Institute (where I often show), and I finally had a chance to check it out.  Here's what I did there, in reverse order--the painted sketch above was the final (and, at 40 minutes, the longest) pose of the night. Prior to that, a 20-minute pose:

Couple 2, 9" X 9", oil/BFK

I've missed working from the figure, so even these short poses were fun to do.

Here are the earlier, shorter poses, done in pencil:

^Ten minutes

^Five minutes

^Two minutes...

and to be honest, I like some of those two and five-minute drawings best of all. 

I'll be traveling a lot for the rest of the month, two trips to Washington DC and lots of museum and gallery-crawling!  Hopefully I'll have some new work to post in November if not sooner.



10" X 8", oil on panel.

An artist friend of mine refers to his self-portraits as "selfies" and I love that term.  It makes them sound so much less pretentious, and they really should be, I think. (There's nothing quite so humbling as staring at yourself for an extended period of time and trying to be honest about what you see.)  Anyway, it was time for me to do a new one, to document some changes in the past few months (hair length, glasses, weight loss).  I should try to emulate my friend Bill Sharp, who has done an annual selfie on his birthday, for many years.

Other news:  the painting a couple posts ago, Solar Charm, was awarded Juror's Choice in the September SDAI show.


Art in the Park

I've got six paintings exhibited through Sept 8, at the Cabrillo National Monument Visitors Center.  This is the annual Art in the Park event, and the Center is filled with oil paintings from Southern California artists.  These are my six, done during my artist residency at Cabrillo:

Untouched--Intertidal Zone is 20X24", Dudleya Live-Forever and Searchlight Shelter are both 10 X 8", and Stairs on Tidepool Path, Pelican Scanning, and End of Point Haze are all 6 X 8".

To pick up the thread of the last post, a few more thoughts about memory.  We can train ourselves to allow memory a role in our work.  Henri talks about memory training, and so do modern teachers like Kevin Macpherson and Terry Miura.  Henri envisioned a studio where the model would pose in one room, and the students would look and ponder, then go to another room to paint or draw.  Macpherson recommends a similar exercise with landscape--spending 20-30 minutes just meditating on a scene, then going home and painting it from memory.

But why do we need memory when we paint from life?  Well, because sometimes conditions change, or are different to begin with, from what would best express our inner experience of a subject.  And, in the case of plein air painting, there are always some edits and always gaps to fill.  If you can envision it, you can fill that gap and have it speak as clearly as the rest of the elements.  But if you don't have this skill, whatever you improvise will look contrived and not convincing.  It won't fit.

Memory is a skill you need to have in order to speak your personal truth about the subject.  And that's what you're going for--not the truth, YOUR truth.



Solar Charm, 9 X 12", oil/canvas panel. Awarded Juror's Choice, SDAI Regional Show, September 2012

I am happy with this painting.  It says what I felt when I found this scene, and that was not easy.  I've been re-reading Robert Henri's The Art Spirit (which is a must-read and must re-read).  He talks about the importance of relying on memory whether you're working plein air or in the studio, and for very good reason:

"The most vital things in the look of a face or of a landscape endure only for a moment.  Work should be done from memory; the memory is of that vital moment.  ...  It is very difficult to go away from a subject after having received an impression and set that impression down from memory.  It is yet more difficult to work from memory with the 'subject' in its changing moods still before you. All good work is done from memory whether the model is still present or not."

The memory is not of details, it's of the momentary impression that struck us as we looked at a scene and decided to paint it.  So yes, some of this scene is invented.  Convincing invention has never been my strong suit, but that's something I will focus on.  More Henri for you:

"He who has contemplated has met with himself, is in a state to see into the realities beyond the surfaces of his subject." 

"Cherish your own emotions and never undervalue them."

"Don't try to paint 'good landscapes.'  Try to paint canvases that will show how interesting landscape looks to you--your pleasure in the thing."


Red Hills

Near Abiquiu, 8 X 10", oil/panel.

Not one of Georgia O'Keeffe's red hills, but mine.  Although Abiquiu is famous for O'Keeffe's work, there are plenty of red hills throughout the region beyond Ghost Ranch.  It's a truly beautiful part of New Mexico.

The red earth shows up in swaths of land throughout this region.  Within a few miles, it can all be sandy brown, and then these breath-taking red formations rise up.

Near Jemez Pueblo, 9 X 12", oil/canvas panel.

There are some very dark red formations right in Jemez, but this light pink hill was striking agains the blue sky and surroundings.  Sure makes a painter want to reach for the saturated colors, but in the end I think a more neutral palette said it even better.  This painting took some time to evolve, whereas the one at the top was a quick snapshot.

I have one more from New Mexico to post, in the next few days.


High Desert Noon

9 X 12" oil/BFK. 
A couple more to post yet from Albuquerque, heading home to San Diego in a few days!


Route 66

9 X 12", oil on canvas panel.  These are some of the beautiful formations amid the wide-open spaces along Highway 6, which was old Route 66. July and August are monsoon months in New Mexico, so the sky is frequently filled with huge, beautiful clouds.  The rain greens things up quickly.

On the subject of limited palettes (which I hope you're all trying), I want to emphasize patience in the exploration of possible color mixtures.  Whatever three colors you choose to function as your "primaries", the possibilities are much more vast than it would seem at the outset.  The differences in color notes may be quite a bit more subtle than you're used to, but there's a lot of power in subtlety.  Try different limited palettes based on your subject.  A landscape painter that I admire, Jeff Reed, starts every painting by asking himself "how few colors can I get away with?"



Trail at Kim, 11 X 14"  oil/BFK

Having this time in Albuquerque to devote to painting has been great, because I'm rediscovering the value of patience.  Painting plein air, we get used to working as quickly as possible in a race against the changing light.  Back in the studio, we might still put too much priority on finishing a work quickly, scrapping it if it doesn't come together well right away.  After all, Hawthorne advised making lots of  "starts"--if you run into trouble, he said, "know when you're licked, and start another one."  The painting-a-day trend in recent years reinforces the need for speed.  And there's nothing wrong with any of this, as long as we slow down sometimes to take a breath and patiently work, or re-work, a painting. 

 Stagecoach Rd at Kim, 11 X 14", oil/BFK

Both of these paintings have been reworked extensively over the last week.  This one was posted a couple weeks ago, but after a few days I could see it wasn't working as well as it could.  That's one reason why it's a good policy to sit with a painting for a time, and allow yourself to see it objectively.  Titian used to turn his paintings to the wall for six months before finishing them, so he could make objective assessments and complete them with a fresh eye.  We probably don't need to let them sit for six months, but a few days, or even just overnight, can really help us see the work.  As John Cage said, "Do not try to create and analyze at the same time.  They are different processes." 

Give it some time, analyze the work objectively, and if there's anything you're not happy with, fix it.  That's where I disagree with the toss-it-and-start-another philosophy.  There's a lot to be gained by struggling with a painting, regardless of the result.  You either end up with a better painting or a lot of lessons learned.  Sometimes both!


The Beauty of Neutrals

South from Placitas, 6" X 8", oil/canvas panel

Continuing with the limited neutral palette of yellow ochre, earth red and ultramarine, and exploring just how much potential these seemingly-limited colors have.  That's something that we should always do as painters, but with a fuller palette, we might get lazy and settle for easy solutions or reach for more saturated color where nuance would serve the purpose better.  One more reason why this can be such a valuable exercise.

North from Forest Loop, 8" X 6", oil/canvas panel

Whenever we make changes to our palette, it's good practice to make a quick color chart.  It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just grab a sheet of newspaper or cardboard, and make some mixtures to get (re-)acquainted.  I combined the three pigments in pairs, and added varying degrees of white to see the range of tints.  The first thing that struck me about this little chart (below) was how much I like all these colors.  They immediately felt good; in fact, some colors which I feel have become over-used to the point of cliche aren't even in this palette's vocabulary.


ABQ week two

This week, I took a different approach to the palette.  More on that later...

High Desert, 9" X 12", oil/BFK

All last week, I fought to neutralize my saturated colors.  The landscape is subtle here and the atmosphere hazy, so it seemed like this week would be an opportune time to try a limited palette.  It's always a good exercise, because the whole strategy is turned around 180 degrees.  Instead of fighting loud pigments, the goal is getting the most color possible out of the limited, neutral palette while letting value and color relationships play a bigger part in making the statement.  When we struggle with rendering a subject, we often reach for more intense color instead of carefully considering what else might be lacking.  That's when a more neutral palette can really help.

The colors I chose (in addition to white) were yellow ochre, red earth, and ultramarine.  These are great as primaries, producing a beautiful range of warm and cool greens, reds, and blues, but they're much more understated.  That means that the relationships of the color masses are even more important, and value really comes into play.  I love working this way, because I've always been a tonalist at heart. 

For a terrific compendium of information about limited palettes (which are virtually limitless in variety), take a gander at these posts on Terry Miura's excellent blog.  The possibilities are endless, and when you think you've tried them all, go for a Grab Bag--a Kevin Macpherson exercise that I first blogged about back in 2008.  Here are other examples.  Highly recommended to get you going when you think you're stuck.


Outskirts of Albuquerque

Here are some paintings from the first week.  The air was hazy from nearby wildfires, which are dissipating now for the moment.  The colors in the landscape right around Albuquerque are surprisingly subtle, not what I expected.  For one thing, the Sandia Mountain range was given the Spanish name for "watermelon", commonly interpreted as referring to a reddish color.  Actually, the naming probably referred to what the Spaniards thought were watermelons growing nearby (in fact it was squash).  These mountains are very dull in local color, though the effect of sunlight through the hazy atmosphere gave them a soft beauty. 

Rebonita  9 X 12" o/cp

It's been extremely hot, with strong afternoon winds.  The monsoon season will start soon, and things should cool off a bit.

Desert Highlands  9 X 12" o/cp

Both of the above scenes are right at the edge of residential neighborhoods which are expanding right up to the foot of the mountains.  The one below is from a forest service road at the entrance to a recreational area, at the northern end of the Sandia range. 

Forest Road 333  9 X 12", o/BFK


Honey Springs Road

12" X 9", oil on canvas panel.

A couple weeks ago we drove out to East San Diego County where there are some truly beautiful scenes to paint.  You'd never know it's just minutes from urban San Diego.  This is near a very hilly and well-loved bicycle training route which we've ridden previously.

Last week I had a chance to paint with my friend (and student) who lives at the Coast Guard residences at Cabrillo.  We painted studies of this sunlit gate which looks out over Zone 3 of the tidepools.

8" X 11", oil on gessoed BFK.

Last week, this painting was juried into the new show at the SD Art Institute.  And this week, I'm getting ready to head to Albuquerque for a two-month painting trip.  Hopefully lots of good things will show up on this blog, so stay tuned.


Anza Borrego

9 X 12, oil on canvas panel.  A recent trip to the Anza Borrego desert east of San Diego, on a very windy and beautiful day.  It was calm when I started this, but within half an hour the winds had increased to the point that it was difficult to hold my upper body still enough to make a decent brushstroke.  A panel any larger would have been a kite!