Monday, November 30, 2009

John Singer Sargent

Mrs Knowles and Her Children
Youngstown, Ohio
Butler Institute of American Art

The Official White House portrait of
President Theodore Roosevelt
Washington, D.C.
The White House

Oyster Gatherers of Cancale
Washington, D.C.
Corcoran Gallery of Art

It's hard to choose a favorite among John Singer Sargent's large body of work. His paintings cover a broad spectrum of subject matter and his style evolved in the course of his long painting career. Here are a few of my favorites.

I like the informality of the top painting. As a mother with two sons, I instantly identified with the mother's attempt to get the boys dressed in their good clothes and her relaxation in letting them be themselves while they sat for the portrait. Her face is serene. One son cuddles close to his mother. The other is missing his shoes and is sprawled on the loveseat. This painting feels like more than a portrait to capture their likenesses. Sargent captured their relationships and personalities, too.

The formal portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt is gorgeous. It knocks me out! I feel like I could hear the man speak at any moment. TR had a respect for the beauty of our country and a mindset for conservation that resonates within me. Maybe my fondness for this president prejudices my admiration for the portrait, but it is awfully good, don't you agree?

Finally, Oyster Gatherers at Cancale. The figures are real people engaged in a real activity in a real landscape. When I think of the other paintings of that period (think of it, 1878!) I can only say that Sargent was a genius. He saw what he saw and felt how he felt and painted all of that in a miraculous way.

a wonderful website to check out. Which of Sargent's paintings are your favorites?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Carried away by color!

I had to turn on the heater in the studio to get things warmed up after a few days away for Thanksgiving. But, nothing was going to stop me from using my new pastels. Here you see my efforts.

Both of these were done from photos I took in Santa Cruz, where I went with three art friends for a week of painting and art adventure last year.

Neither painting is finished, but look at that color! Wow. In the top painting you can see how I got ahold of an orchid colored pastel and sort of let it take over the painting. If a little is good, a lot is better, right?

In the bottom painting, I put down some of those gorgeous nearly neon yellow greens. Felt like sunshine was pouring out of the paper!

More tomorrow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

New pastels ready to use!

ready to use!

me making one of many purple pastels
Kitty Wallis' portrait of Jack
looks like he's peeking over my shoulder
(posted with permission)

You may be wondering why I have made such a fuss over the pastels made at Kitty Wallis' studio with her Moist Pastels.

Simply put, they are PURE COLOR. Kitty has spent years creating formulae for mixing pure color from pure pigments and finding just the right white chalk so that there is no hint of gray in even the lightest mixtures.

Painting with Kitty's pastels is like painting with light.

Light is a thing that cannot be reproduced, but must be represented by something else – by color. (Paul Cezanne)

Tomorrow, I will use them! I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


18 x 12
Dakota Board

under painting


Incredible people who know and understand a language of symbols. People who anticipate what is to come. Tricky meter change at the end of the movement. Build up the intensity to the next phrase. Hold the tension of the rest before entering with the note, subito piano.

Her thumb on her bow, but her mind on Hindemith.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009


13 x 13

Little boys and water. Little boys and sticks and water. Little boys and sticks and rocks and water.

They seem to go together in a magical way.

When my boys were little, I spent hundreds of hours with them near water and helped them throw sticks and climb rocks. Now they are grown men, engineers, who work long days in offices and have wives and homes and other things that take up their time.

But, when I was at the park painting, and saw this little boy with his mother (I could hardly miss them since they walked right past my easel to get to the river), I was flooded with memories.

Of course he had to step out onto the rocks in the water. Of course he had to throw a stick (many sticks). Of course his face split into a huge smile each time he heard the splash. His body would stiffen and he would hop in excitement. I asked his mother, through tears (mine), if I could photograph him. Yes. Are you sure he's not in your way? I shook my head and smiled, because I could not trust my voice.

Littleboysandsticksandrocksandwater. The title of today's painting.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

End of Figure Drawing Class

front row l to r: Carolyn, Sandra, Eileen
back row: Suzanne, me, Kitty

30 minute pose

Sign up for a figure drawing class for an entire year? You've got to be kidding me! But, the idea of getting a year of instruction and practice in drawing the figure was appealing (kind of challenging, but still appealing).

We started in January. I missed several months because of travel. Others started out with good intentions but fell by the wayside. The top photo shows the most tenacious of the group: these are the ones who made it to the end.

Using a combination of Nicolaides' book "The Natural Way to Draw" and her experiences from figure teacher Nicolas Carone (at Cooper Union), Kitty Wallis taught us much more than how to draw the figure.

She taught us how to see the figure. To feel the weight. To sense the tension. To see the angles and curves. To draw with sensitivity. To stop feeding the ego's need for pretty pictures. And to do the hard work of rigorous practice and draw the figure.

Endings are always bittersweet. This ending is no different. I will miss the weekly meetings and Kitty's instruction and critiques of my drawing. I guess now is the time to put into practice all that I have learned and draw. Draw. Draw more.

There's a saying among artists that if you can draw the figure, you can draw anything. I am still learning, but my final drawing shows that I have come a long way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


13 x 14, pastel on Wallis Museum

Dorothy has modeled for me for the last couple of years. Her mother was an artist (and so is her son) and she had the desire to help me with my art path, too. Now she is facing a move to California. Wow. I will miss her a lot. And regret not having her over to model more than I did.

I left this painting in the scribble-y stage. It's so easy to go too far. Here I have not gone far enough, but I can tell it's Dorothy.

I keep checking my new pastels to see if they are ready to use. Nope. Not yet. They feel cool, almost cold to the touch. They are still too wet to use. When they're warm, they'll be ready. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Pastel Party ... for ME!

Soon after I lost all of my pastels when I fell into the water in Bremerton, Kitty Wallis told me that she wanted to have a pastel making party to replace them. Many of the pastels I lost were pastels I had made by hand in Kitty's workshops. Nothing that could be replaced at a store, even a great store like Dakota Art Pastels in Mount Vernon, WA.

Today was the day for the pastel making party. Kitty hosted the event at her studio. Five of us worked for many hours to mix, roll, shape, and create the pastels you see above. I got to specify which colors I missed most, and that directed our efforts. I have really missed my purples and greens, the aquas, pinks, oranges. Heck, I missed every pastel stick I made myself. Who am I kidding?

I did not take home all of the pastels you see, but I took a lion's share. When the pastels were done, Kitty and the others waited in another room while I picked out the pastels I wanted to take home.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! My deepest thanks to Kitty for giving back to me the irreplaceable pastels I lost in the water. Thanks, too, to Kimberly, Suzanne, and Slambo for making such beautiful pastels and for giving your day to the party. I am humbled by and grateful for your generosity.

Now I have to wait for these colorful sticks to dry all the way through (they will no longer feel cool to the touch) and I can start to use them.

Woo hoo! A pastel party ... for me! What a great day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I wish it didn't get dark at 4:30!

Here's the other half of yesterday's 9 x 24 hot press paper. This extreme format idea is interesting and certainly bears more consideration, but I think I am not making it work for me.

Today was windy and dark and gray in Washington. Dark at 4:30pm. No exaggeration! I was warm and cozy in the studio, painting a scene from a warm day at the beach with friends. And longing for summer. How many days before we're at the shortest day? Another month?


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Extreme format

I really enjoy working in the 18 x 24 format. Somehow that 3:4 ratio rectangle makes sense to me. But, I am very attracted to paintings that are done in less expected formats.

On her blog, Loriann Signori posted an interesting demonstration and discussion on this very topic. I think you will enjoy looking at it, too. Click here.

So, I cut my 18 x 24 paper in half and came up with a 9 x 24 surface for this painting. I'm not sure that I like it, but I like the idea of it. It feels to me like a glimpse of something between the slats of a picket fence.

Done on hot press Arches with watercolor and pastel. Daisies are her favorite flower. I favor tulips. How about you?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Instead of drawing the entire figure, we selected a portion of the figure and tried to create a dynamic composition in class last night.

How do you decide what interests you most in a pose? The light? The line? The shape? The combination of shapes?

Add to that the admonition to NOT chop off the model at a joint.

Portions of figures = good
Amputated figures = bad

A new challenge to bend my mind around. A new very interesting challenge.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


24 x 18, watercolor and pastel on hot press Arches

Last week I used hot press Arches to paint the figure model "Rachel" and I enjoyed the feel of the smooth surface of the paper. I am definitely exploring this new surface for painting on. It doesn't hold much pastel, but more than expected. It's worth experimenting more with this mixed media technique. Being a painter, I don't have to make excuses for trying new things. It's expected!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Running out of steam

As much as I love the refuge, I think that this will be my last painting of it for a while.

I do not feel excited to paint it and lack of excitement is deadly to a painting. I feel it. The viewer feels it. It's like biting into a garbanzo bean. Bland and boring and just a little bit yucky in your mouth.

Stay tuned for a new subject tomorrow!

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Refuge

It's not really my refuge at all, it is the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, a public place open to anyone who goes there during the hours they are open.

But it feels like my place. This is where I go when I am feeling low, strung out, anxious, overwhelmed, in need of inspiration.

I drive down the dirt and gravel road, cross the one lane bridge over the slough, and enter the refuge. I drive the almost five mile loop through the wetlands, and I stop whenever I want. I sometimes paint. Often sketch. Always peer across the landscape with binoculars and my Audubon Field Guide handy. I take photos. I take mental pictures. I try to absorb as much of that space as I can before I have to leave.

It is for me a very special place. I'm sure that's why I feel compelled to paint it so often. Today's painting is all about the light on the water and the bands of cool and warm color. 10 x 12.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


It was a gray day today and I barely had any time at the refuge to get in the big shapes before I had to duck for cover. Back in the studio, I added a few more touches and called it good.

The urge to do "just one more thing" is powerful. It's what can ruin a painting, and I know that because I have ruined many. Self-restraint does not come easily.

10 x 12

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The value of value

It's not pretty when values run amok! After gaining such insight into values at Kitty Wallis' workshop earlier this fall, I have been disappointed to see that I must have amnesia or something.

How is it possible that I understood something so perfectly, even down to the lightbulb over my head, only to lose that insight as soon as I left the workshop?

After confessing this to Kitty this week, she suggested that I go back to the value palette exercise and practice it daily for a week. I already posted my first attempt and here are the others I've done so far.

So far it's difficult, but I'm starting to like what I see in the results. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Cast Shadows" reception at Aurora Gallery

It was a great evening tonight at Aurora Gallery in Vancouver at the opening reception of "Cast Shadows: NW Plein Air Landscape." Beautiful artwork, happy artists, lots of people looking at the beautiful artwork, wine, food, good music. You can imagine, it was excellent.

The show will hang until the end of November. I hope you'll make it over there!

Thursday, November 5, 2009


24 x 18
watercolor and pastel on hot press Arches

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

18 x 24
painted with limited value palette

Working with Critique Comments

using feedback from critique to improve painting


Once a month, I meet with a Structured Critique group. Kitty Wallis leads the sessions by first giving her feedback and constructive criticisms of the paintings. Other participating artists also give feedback. Yesterday there were four of us at the meeting. Four excellent artists! Kitty Wallis, Celeste Bergin, Michael Fisher. And me, of course.

I brought in this refuge landscape for critique. I liked the atmospheric quality to the forms, but I knew it had some value problems and wanted to hear what others thought. Some of the comments related to the extreme values in the main tree and the line of grasses near the tree. In addition, the painting seemed to be sagging off to the side because of the drooping horizon line.

Today I addressed those helpful comments and you can see the results of the improved painting in the top photo.

It is not easy to take criticism. But it is crucial for growth. I am grateful for the generosity of the other artists in considering my work and offering their feedback about how it misses the mark. Eventually, I will improve my aim.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Subject to Interpretations

9 x 12

For our Winter Project this year, the Portland Plein Air and Studio Painters will paint from a common photo reference and post the results on a new blog (created for this project) "Subject to Interpretations." The blog will be updated as entries arrive. I will post a new photo reference around the first and fifteenth of the winter months.

You can see it by clicking here or by scrolling down my blog roll on the right until you get to it, then click.

I am excited about this project and I hope that we have lots of participants. It's interesting to me to see how different people view the same subject in different ways.

This is my interpretation for the first subject. I can see that I've painted the grasses more golden than the photo reference indicates. Maybe that tells you a little about me -- how I long for the warmth of the California sunshine!