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.

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.  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.


The Importance of Memory

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

Robert Henri's The Art Spirit (which is a must-read and re-read) talks about the importance of relying on memory even when you're still on site, 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

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 amazingly colorful 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 against the blue sky and surroundings.  Sure makes a painter want to reach for the saturated colors, but I think a more neutral palette said it even better.


High Desert Noon

9 X 12" oil on paper (BFK).


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?"


South of ABQ

Trail at Kim, 11 X 14"  oil on paper (BFK) SOLD

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


North of Albuquerque

South from Placitas (north of Albuquerque), 6" X 8" (not currently for sale--the one below is available)

Continuing with the limited neutral palette of yellow ochre, earth red and ultramarine.

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


ABQ week two

High Desert, 9" X 12", oil on paper (BFK) SOLD

The landscape is subtle around Albuquerque, and the atmosphere hazy, so it seemed like 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.  The colors I chose (in addition to white) were yellow ochre, red earth, and ultramarine.


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"oil on canvas panel

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", oil on paper (BFK)


Honey Springs Road

12" X 9", oil on canvas panel.

East San Diego County has some truly beautiful scenery.  You'd never know it's just minutes from urban San Diego.


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!


Ocotillo Late Day

11 X 14", oil on gessoed BFK
Sun getting low, colors changing.  This might be the prettiest time of day in the desert.

Not Currently Available (Inquire)

One more ocotillo plant, with the Carrizo Badlands in the background.  The ocotillos only leaf out and bloom very briefly, so it's pretty amazing to see them with all their red flowers.


Ocotillo Late Morning

Ocotillo, due east from San Diego, is a beautiful, wide-open space.

Looking north.  (not currently available--please inquire)

The scrub is still quite green from recent rains, and the ocotillo is still leafed out and blooming.

Looking east.  (not currently available--please inquire)

The subtlety of the colors in the desert and the beauty of the "big empty" (not to mention the hot, dry air) make this a magical place.

Looking south.  11 X 14", oil on gessoed BFK

We got there in the late morning.  As we got out of the car, we saw two desert iguanas--and one of them came right up to us!  It was the smaller of the two, so probably male or possibly a juvenile, although still well over a foot in length.  He was eating buds on the small weeds, unconcerned with us; then he kept getting closer:

Finally, he jumped right up on my husband...

Much later we learned that they are attracted to the yellow flowers of the creosote bushes, so that is probably what this guy had in mind.  Eventually he calmly meandered off, in search of more succulent buds to eat.


Palm Canyon

 9 X 12", o/cp.  This is Palm Canyon, one of the beautiful Indian Canyons south of Palm Springs.  It's very near where I painted last year.  Things are still very green over there from a lot of winter rain.


Morrow Canyon

 12 X 9", o/cp.  A stand of palms in Morrow Canyon, one of the three Indian Canyons near Palm Springs.


Strategies for Becoming an AIR

My artist talk (see previous post) met with a lot of enthusiasm and interest in how to become an Artist in Residence.  I thought it would make sense to post my suggestions here, so they are accessible to all who are interested.  As I get feedback from all of you, I'll update and correct this post so it will evolve to be even more helpful.

There are different considerations for applying to an existing AIR program, and proposing to create a new one.  First, here are some general strategies when applying to existing programs.

1.  Know the place and/or entity that you're applying to.  You'll know a lot more when you're done with your residency, but it's important to have some depth of knowledge beforehand (so that you know what you're getting into and are sure you want to go ahead with it). 

2.  Be sure to carefully read the description in the application materials--how THEY see the residency--and consider how your work fits the venue and the program.  Address every point very clearly when you write your statement of purpose, answer every question they've posed.  Think deeply about what you want to say with your artwork. 

3.  Submit your portfolio in exactly the format that they request.  For example, if they want a digital format, make sure to note the dimensions and medium that they want.  Don't send color slides if they want a CD, and vice versa. Always choose your strongest and most relevant work, and don't dilute it by unnecessarily increasing the quantity or diversity of the images.  More is not usually better, and may only show lack of focus.

4.  Make sure that you understand the terms of the residency up front.  What is included, in terms of housing and workspace?  What opportunities will you have to show your work, what percentage of sales do they keep, and are you obligated to donate a piece?  Do they want you to give talks, workshops and demos, or just work and not interact with visitors?  These are just the basics.

5.  Follow up.  Some places (like National Parks) don't always run like clockwork.  Things aren't on a hard and fast schedule, so if some time goes by without hearing back, check in with your contact person.  It's okay to take some initiative, within reason.

Now, on to my advice for you hardy trailblazing souls who want to propose (and help create) a new program where there is none.

1.  If you have a prospective host in mind, find any similar park, company, facility, museum or institute which already has an artist program of some kind, and (if it's successful) hold this up as an example to help show the potential for success.  This will help them to envision how such a program might work in their context, and can provide a framework for your mutual efforts in this new endeavor.
Conversely, if you don't have a place in mind yet, learning about existing programs elsewhere can help you envision a residency at a similar venue in your own community.  Start here.  The example I used in my talk can be found by clicking "Pacific" and scrolling down to Norcal Sanitary Landfill.  Yep, it's a dump in the Bay Area, and they have a very successful, longstanding AIR program.  Are there any landfills in your community that have AIR programs?  Maybe not, but maybe they should!  How about museums?  Know any in your area that have AIR's?  If not, maybe they should.  A listing like this can give you ideas and inspiration for programs elsewhere in the country that you can initiate locally, and can also show a prospective host that such a program can work very well.  Google "artist residencies" or similar keywords to get even more listings. 

2.  Think long and hard about why you want to do a residency for your chosen entity, so you can communicate that clearly.  Do your research, because having a depth of knowledge will show them that you know what you're getting into and have thought it through.  That will increase their faith in your judgment, and will indicate to them that you're a "self-starter" who isn't going to be high-maintenance. 

3.  Once you've picked a target and done your research, put together a proposal.  My first contact with Cabrillo was via email, with a brief description of what I had in mind, and four or five images of my work attached to the email.  I followed this up with a printed proposal, resume and portfolio sent by regular mail. You can try email if you have contact information for a person who might be interested.  In a National Park, that is the ranger in charge of  Interpretation and Education.  In a different setting, you might be looking for Public Relations, Community Outreach, Publicity, etc. Do they already have a Volunteer Program of some sort?  Perhaps a new AIR program could be part of that.

Include some images that represent your work.  Pick just a few of your very best and most relevant works. And, make those images immediately visible.  Not on a CD, not even a link that they have to click on.  If you make initial contact by email, attach or better yet embed some images of your work in the body of the email. When you follow up by regular mail, include printed color photocopies of your work.  If there's even one additional step required for them to see your work, like putting a CD into a computer or even opening a physical folder, it may never be seen.  Remember, they didn't ask for this submission.  You want to make it as easy as possible for them to see it instead of putting it in the "circular file".

4.  In your proposal, make your motivations clear.  Ideally, this will be along the lines of giving something back to a place that has meaning for you, enabling others to see the place as you do, community outreach on their behalf, etc.  Your motivation is not prestige, self-promotion or selling work.  Even if it really is. 

5.  It is important to keep a mindset of flexibility and willingness to adapt and improvise.  Especially if you're starting a program from scratch, let your prospective hosts know that you're prepared to do the work to establish the program, and you're not expecting monetary or personnel support (most places do not have the budget to provide materials or facilities for something like this).  By excusing them from financial obligation, you've taken away one of their reasons to say "no."  After all, you are going to gain a lot from this experience.  You'll grow as an artist, you'll have an impressive line on your resume, and you may very well sell a lot of work.  Your host will benefit from your artistic representation (there is just no better form of  PR), and if they take a percentage of your sales, they stand to benefit financially too.  It's really a win-win.

6. Don't give up if there is initial resistance.  If there is even one person who sees this as a good idea and believes that it can work, perhaps all it will take is some gentle persuasion to push it through. In my case, it took several months to get approval; but because there was one ranger who saw the value and potential for a program like this, and because he was relentless, it became a reality.

If anyone has thoughts or feedback about this, email me and I'll update this post--so keep checking back!


My upcoming Artist Talk

If you happen to be in the San Diego area, come on by.  Many thanks to Lesley Anderson for putting together this great flyer.  See next post (above) for my suggestions to all future AIR's!


Last Lighthouse Painting

A couple weekends ago, my show was still up at Cabrillo and I painted there on site with the local Meetup group of plein air painters, looking forward to interacting with Park visitors and hopefully sending some of them to the Visitors Center to view the exhibit.  Normally I don't paint that well when I'm mostly devoting my energy to conversing with the visitors, but this one didn't turn out too badly.  It is probably the last lighthouse painting I'm going to do for quite some time.

12" X 9", o/cp. Sold.


Dahlias revisited

14" X 11", oil on linen panel.  Awarded Honorable Mention, Art In Bloom, San Diego 2011



20" X 24", oil/stretched canvas. Sold, private collection.

This painting is the centerpiece of the Cabrillo Series.  This is how it looks there mosts days, overcast with a cool breeze off the ocean.  Included are most of the elements which not only identify this place, they define it.  

The Old Lighthouse still stands watch over the Point.  The radar towers are active and maintained by the US Navy, who is responsible for establishing and helping maintain the Point Loma Ecological Preserve.  Coastal scrub and Shaw’s Agave, endangered native plants, flourish here.  The viewing stations overlooking the ocean at right offer information and an ideal vantage point to those who watch migrating Pacific Grey Whales passing nearby between December and March.  The beautiful crumbling sandstone bluffs remind us that all of this is ephemeral.  We can feel the importance of protecting and supporting this place here and now, as it continues to protect and enrich our lives.

The reception for the show is tomorrow, so with this post I conclude the Cabrillo series.  You can see all 26 paintings in the show here and all work done on the subject of Cabrillo here.


Old Lighthouse with Torrey Pines

9 X 12", oil/canvas panel

This started as a plein air painting at a very popular spot near the Lighthouse, with scores of visitors constantly walking by and stopping to chat.  I absolutely love interacting with the visitors there, they're from all over the world and are always so appreciative and complimentary.  But the painting usually suffers a lot due to my inattention and lack of focus, so this panel was headed for the bin when I got home.  At first I tried to salvage it, and only made it worse.  Then I completely changed it, moving the lighthouse to the left, changing the vantage point, and including much more of the trees.  Sometimes you have to completely let go before things will begin to come around.  The only part left from the original painting is the small dark area at the lower right, but now I'm really happy with it.  It would be interesting to x-ray this one.


Bayside Trail Revisited

12" X 16", oil/canvas panel

One of my favorite plein air studies in this Cabrillo series was the Bayside Trail 6" X 8", painted on site.  Studio paintings done from studies have their own unique identity.  A remembered impression, rather than an observed one.

About the Bayside Trail:  This former Army road now provides a wonderful 2-mile hike for visitors, with information plaques describing the vegetation, birds, and other wildlife they might see there.  This vantage point is at the end of the trail, looking back toward the starting point (at upper right, near the radar tower and Old Lighthouse).  Behind me was Ballast Point, where Cabrillo made landfall in 1542, which is now part of the Navy's SPAWAR division.


Spirit of Cabrillo

12 X 16", oil/canvas panel.

Visitors enjoy a clear view south toward Mexico, as a military transport plane (probably a C-130) comes in for a landing at North Island Naval Air Station.  North Island is a stone’s throw from Ballast Point, probably the site where Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo made landfall in 1542.  The commemorative statue of Cabrillo was donated by the Portuguese government (Cabrillo was Portuguese).  The original statue, created in 1939, eroded over time and was replaced in 1988 with this exact replica, made in Portugal.


Egret Surveying Zone 3

12" X 16", oil/canvas panel

This is from a photo taken during a visit to my friends at the Coast Guard outpost, not far from the New Lighthouse.  Shorebirds are a beautiful presence at the Monument, and their numbers are closely monitored by Rangers and volunteers.  A count is taken by hand every time there is a low tide (exposing the tidepools) and a tally is kept of which birds, and how many, visit each of the three zones of tidepools.   This Great Egret is unconcerned with the solar-powered monitoring station right beside him.  He was a bit concerned with us, though, so we took a photo and quietly moved away so as not to disturb him.



20" X 24", oil/stretched canvas. Sold

Today I  hung the last three paintings in the Cabrillo series.  There are 26 paintings at the Monument Visitors Center, and one in the show at L Street Fine Art (shown second from right, top row, on their website).  Now I can finally get the blog caught up with all the work I haven't posted here yet.  

This is a Darkling beetle, an abundant species of the genus Eleodes which can be seen scurrying all over the area here.  They are also known as Clown Beetles or Stinkbugs, and are unique among our local beetle species for their daytime activity.  They move about fearlessly because they have a pretty effective defense mechanism:  when alarmed, they will stop and raise their rear end and spray an offensive substance to foil their pursuers.  They're large (about an inch and a half long), harmless, and make a beautiful, satiny black color note against warm hues of the sandstone rock and sand.  

I love insects, as well as reptiles, amphibians, and birds.  They're beautiful things.