Saturday, October 30, 2010

Varying marks

Whidbey Island
Brushwork exercise
11 x 14, oil

Friday, October 29, 2010

Taking Refuge at the Refuge

Put the top down on the convertible and come with me to the Refuge! Driving down the gravel slope, I couldn't help but look up at the light in the trees. Across the bridge (one car wide) to cross the slough, then into the wetlands.

My pleasure comes in a "V" formation!

Hundreds of Sandhill Cranes made quite a racket with their trumpeting trills. I always feel better after visiting the Refuge. You should try it sometime.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gift giving

One of the joys of being an artist is the opportunity to donate artwork to worthy causes. I am donating this painting and Aurora Gallery is donating the framing (of my piece and many others) to be auctioned at a benefit for Community Voice Mail.

Homelessness is on the rise and people who are trying to get their feet back under them need resources like Community Voice Mail. All proceeds from this event will go to Community Voice Mail, helping people living in poverty, transition and homelessness, rebuild their lives by connecting them to jobs, housing, information, and hope.

December 3, 2010
812 Main Street
Vancouver, WA 98660

Be sure to check their blog for further details about the art sale and to discover other ways you might help.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


It has taken me a few days to feel up to getting out to the studio. I have been sick with some kind of energy-zapping, voice-robbing, coughing bug but I am starting to feel a little better today.

Practicing brushstrokes and discovering how to use my brushes to make diverse marks reminds me so much of practicing scales and feeling my way to making music. Never mindless work for me, scales were a chance to push myself to do something new every time, to see how creative I could be within the framework of major, minor, chromatic, and blues or jazz scales.

I tried to remember all of the techniques of brushwork Thomas demonstrated last Friday. How to load the brush and pull the paint off of it, watching for the lift and the pressure I put on the brush during the lift. How to push paint around. How to wipe it off with finger or paper towel. How to knock it down with brush or finger or knife. It was great to play and experiment and then wipe it all away when I was done. I hope to feel up to more practice tomorrow.

I was thinking today about how practice always calmed me. I never believed that I had TALENT (with piano or art or anything else, really). But I always believed that with practice I could become competent at whatever interested me. Practice is putting in my time to wrap my mind, my muscles, my soul into the journey of discovery and play that is part of competence.

So it was with piano. And so it is with art.

Now, golf ... that's a different story for another day!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Making marks

Another session with Thomas Kitts, today it was all about making marks with the brush. I got to practice with some of my own brushes and with some of his, too. Have you heard of a brush called an "Eggbert"? Looks like a filbert with longer bristles. I liked the marks I could make with it and the bounce of the longer bristles was fun to use.

I like learning how to use oil paint. More homework for me, to practice my brushwork. I'm excited!

Inspiration at the Museums

Soutine at Portland Art Museum

Renoir at PAM

Seattle Art Museum
no photos allowed at the Picasso exhibit

Frye Art Museum seating for 3

It's been a great week for studying artwork and looking at oil paintings. First, the Portland Art Museum on Tuesday with Celeste. I was on a mission to look at the "Little Pastry Chef" by Soutine, a French expressionist painter from Belarus. Lively brushwork, thick paint, and that beautiful red background and chair! Wow.

Not possible to ignore the Renoir on the wall. Nope. Can't ignore that one.

Thursday a run up to Seattle to catch the Picasso exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. Do not miss this show! You have until January 11, 2011 to see it. I got to see it with Celeste and Carolyn. What fun.

Another stop at the Frye Art Museum where we saw a portion of their collection displayed in a great room with floor to ceiling artwork. Nice that we could share the 3-person chair!

Now, time to get back to oil painting. I am inspired and juiced up with all of the soul-touching masterpieces I have seen this week. Oh, yes, life is good!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Sketch done with Elegant Writer calligraphy pen with a water wash.

Today was a scouting day for me. I heard from fellow plein air artist, Barbara Szkutnik, about a small wildlife refuge in the Columbia River Gorge. Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Washougal, WA, nestles between Highway 14 and the Columbia River.

After parking my car in the gravel lot, I brought my camera and sketchbook and pens with me on the trail. I saw nice views of grasses, rows of trees, glimpses of Mount Hood and Vista House on the Oregon side, and ponds and lakes. The trail was nice, but long to get to the viewpoint I finally sketched. Not a great spot for pastel painting because my gear is pretty heavy, but maybe when I am ready to take oils on the road, I would consider the mile and a half hike to a painting locale.

Mount Hood in the distance and the glint on the far right midway point is Vista House.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

North Fork of the Lewis River

pastel and pigment dispersion
18 x 24 on Wallis Museum Paper

Lewisville Park is a special place for me and filled with memories. For about 15 years I took my sons to this park to play in the river, to throw rocks and frisbees, to run around, to climb on play equipment, to picnic, to walk and talk. Now my sons are married and live far away. My trips to the park are for walking or painting. I steer clear of the play equipment.

Many things have changed over time, but the river remains the same. It mirrors the trees and sky in its flat places and allows peeks of its rocky bottom if the light is just right. It whispers and roars over boulders and swirls and eddies and finds its way past. Relentlessly, it runs to the mighty Columbia River, and from there out to the sea.

Today I painted the water as it flowed over the rocks. And I felt the prick of sadness that my sons are grown and no longer go to the park with their mom. And painted just a bit of the jumbling of thoughts and feelings and the beautiful sight of flowing water.

It was a day like that.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Open Studios

This was the second weekend of Portland Open Studios and I zipped into town to visit a couple of my artist friends. My first stop was the studio of Kitty Wallis, internationally celebrated artist and inventor of Kitty Wallis Sanded Paper. Kitty is also my mentor and dear friend. She was instrumental in starting Portland Open Studios about 13 years ago, when she moved to Portland from Santa Cruz, CA (where she had also been involved in their open studios tour).

In the second photo you can see Kitty's demonstration of a new abstract painting. Visitors are always interested in how she achieves her eye-popping paintings. It starts with a pigment dispersion underpainting and finishes with application of her hand made pastels. You can see more of Kitty's work on her blog here.

Next a stop in Northwest Portland at the studio of Michael Fisher. Michael, a premier pastel artist, has a passion for architecture and urban landscapes. At one point during my visit, I was the only non-architect in the room. His nocturnes are lush with brilliant color and his landscapes show his sensitivity to the nuances of land forms. Click here to see more of Michael's work. Michael and I participate together in structured critiques and also have the chance to paint together from time to time. He is a wonderful, focused, passionate artist, and a good friend.

I do not live in Portland, so I am not eligible for Portland Open Studios. But, my new studio door knocker is installed and my door is open for guests. I hope you'll come see me some time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lone Fir Cemetery

Yesterday, several fellow Portland Plein Air and Studio Painters members went to the Lone Fir Cemetery for painting and sketching. I even got to spend time with my good friend, Celeste!

We sketched this Celtic-styled monument and she shared the story behind it of a "sporting" woman who was buried here and whose male friends erected the stone. I love the story. Especially the part where the horrified sister has the body exhumed and the name ground off the stone. Who knows where the body is now? But, the stone remains and is lovely.

The cemetery is an historic park and the names on some of the headstones are well-known to Portlanders. The trees are ancient and lovely, the stones of all different sizes and shapes, even the mausoleums are impressive.

It was a beautiful fall day and a fun way to spend it.
You can see more sketches and paintings from the day at Behind the Scenes and Celeste Bergin's blog.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thick and thanks

8 x 8
oil on BFK

10 x 8
oil on BFK

Thank you for commenting on the post from yesterday! I appreciate your encouragement and feedback, Celeste, Sam, and Loriann ! (Thanks to Gregory, too, for his Facebook comments!)

I have been trash talking my new oil paintings and that's not productive and smells a bit of behaviors I don't find attractive, so I will stop. Right now. Thanks for calling me on it!

Today I took stock of what I've painted so far. I wrote little critiques of each piece (which I will share with my teacher at our next session) and found something good to say about them. Of course, I had many criticisms, too. A common criticism was the miserly amount of paint I applied. Today I determined to lay it on thick!

On the top you see my return to fruit. The beautiful pear, lit from below. I wanted to play with the complementary color and leave big globs of paint untouched. The pear is floating and that's a problem I created with the odd lighting, but I still kind of like it.

Next, I tried a painting using only palette knife. It was like frosting a waterfall cake! Oil is fun and I will remember to apply it more liberally in my next paintings.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Landscape with water

Tomorrow it's back to fruit!

Seriously, I feel like I'm wrestling with a pot of spaghetti noodles. Making a mess, fumbling around, thinking that I got a handle on it only to have a tangle of noodles in my hair and hanging off my sleeves!!

I hope that Thomas Kitts is having a great time in Laguna Beach, but I can hardly wait for him to get back to tell me to twirl or cut.

Tomorrow I will paint fruit again. Sigh.

Monday, October 11, 2010


looking north at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

American Bittern, a good hider Sandhill Cranes

the heron and the snake, a fable

It was a beautiful, sunny day as I crossed the slough on the one-lane wooden bridge and entered Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The volunteer at the guard shack told me that it was still a little early for ducks and cranes. "It's just not been cold enough to bring them down here." But, just the day before, a few Sandhill Cranes were seen in the area. I had high hopes.

Sandhill Cranes are slightly larger than Great Blue Herons and have a distinctive call. They tend to avoid people even more than the herons do, so I wasn't surprised that I heard them before I saw them. Listen to what I heard here. When I took the photo, I also noticed a coyote nearby. He did not attack the birds while I was watching, so maybe he was just considering his options. Over the next several weeks, these early cranes will be joined by their buddies and will fill the skies and wetlands with their song. I will be watching.

I was excited to see the American Bittern today. Talk about a guy who hides well, his feathers and skinny profile make him hard to see in his tall grass home. I feel lucky to have seen him.

The last photo shows a Great Blue Heron with a snake. I came in on this story at the mid point, so I can only imagine the beginning of this morality play. When I arrived, the snake was alive and had its tail wrapped around the heron's leg several times. The heron had the head in its bill, but couldn't seem to bite down hard enough to kill the snake. Whenever the heron let go of the snake, the snake turned and struck the heron until the heron grabbed that head again. The heron kept pulling on the head, stretching out the snake's body, trying to free his foot, but the snake, as long as it was alive, would not let go. It was fifteen minutes later that I saw the coils of the snake's tail let loose the heron's leg. The snake was dead. And then the snake was a snack for the heron. It makes me think that there must be a fable, a story with a moral, of the Heron and the Snake. Maybe I'll have to write that one.

Still painting every day. Today's painting was so bad I couldn't post it. But, I'll try again tomorrow.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Expressive stroke

10 x 8, BFK

Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting by Richard Schmid is a must-read for oil painters. My copy is open and I am taking notes as I read what a living legend has to say about the very thing I am trying to learn. In an aside, Schmid comments that he enjoys painting flowers in an informal set up. His paintings of sprays of roses, scattered pansies, and baskets of other flowers are beautiful and simple and elegant and WOW!

That inspired me to pull the sunflowers out of my bouquet from October 1 (here) and see what I could do. So much of this painting is mediocre (again, contributing to the crappy painting pile) but there are a few brushstrokes that I put in just the way I imagined them. A few expressive brushstrokes out of hundreds and I am giggly with excitement.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Turles, Gram, and more fruit!

Still no cranes at the refuge. But today, in the last bits of sunshine before the weekend storm arrives, the turtles are up on the logs sunning themselves. I don't know why they do it, but they strain their necks up and it always reminds me of my grandmother. Gram used to pull her chin up and kind of clench her teeth and ask, "Do you think my neck is wrinkled?" Even though it really did look wrinkled, I answered, "No, not at all." I might have been young, but I wasn't stupid!

A trip to the market for some new painting material. Ah, more fruit! On the right is my palette. I probably need something bigger for mixing my colors, but I'm not sure what to use and how to know what I need. What do you use for your palette and how big is it?

I'm calling it good enough. Now that I'm done painting it, I can eat that beautiful Honeycrisp apple I've been looking at all day!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More fruit

Plum, No Drape
oil on BFK (gesso)

The paint slid across the surface of the gesso-ed BFK paper. What an improvement over the unsealed straight paper (from Lace Capped Hydrangea sketch)!

In the last still life, I did not like how the shadow was a separate shape from the fruit, so in this piece I tried to get the shadow dark enough but lose it with the dark side of the plum. I really enjoy the creamy texture of oil paint. So much to learn! I hope I live long enough ...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Migratory Stops

October is a magical month at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The summer-dry ponds start to fill again and migrating birds come back. Sometime this month, the Sandhill Cranes will make their magnificent stop here on their way south. Today I watched this mother Nutria and her four babies as they ate their leafy greens. A little early for Cranes, I guess.

On my own again in the studio, playing with oil paint and fruit. I joked today with good friend, Celeste Bergin, that I am "adding more crappy art to the planet." She assured me that eventually I wouldn't make crap. At least, we both hope that's true! Maybe Crappy Art is just a migratory stop on my way toward painting Something Beautiful.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

oil on BFK
10 x 10

My neighbor brought me a bouquet of lace cap hydrangeas from her yard and I set them up in a little pedestal vase. I still have not stockpiled oil-painting supports (oh, goody, an excuse to browse the art supply stores! hooray!), so I painted this one on Rives BFK paper. It seems like the paper absorbed the oil and dulled the color, so it's probably not the right thing to use.

For now, I am just excited to play with the paint, to mix the color, to hold my brush in different ways, and to have fun. And, I did have fun. Does it show?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Breaking news ... OIL!

Today was a banner day! For the first time ever, I painted with oil. Can I tell you? It was amazing! Not all of the paint in the painting you see above was applied by my hand, many of the strokes were made by Thomas Kitts, who has honored me by taking me on as his student. But, plenty of what you see is my effort, my color mixing, my brushstrokes, my fledgling steps at learning something new. I am so excited, I can hardly see straight.

You can see the still life set up here and my panel ready for my first marks. Thomas painted beside me, demonstrating on his painting and on mine, guiding and explaining all the way. It was great! You can see my easel to the right and some values laid in to the sketch. I had some drawing problems, which frustrated me, but the paint was a joy.

As homework for the next couple of weeks, I will be in my own studio, painting some still life set ups, trying to apply what I learned today and making it my own. I'm sure I will have a bucket full of questions to ask Thomas when he returns from his trip to California where he will paint in the 12th Annual Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational.

I have wanted to learn to paint in oil for a long time, but have postponed it for various reasons (excuses). One advantage to travel is that it helps me put my goals into sharp relief. I knew, after spending four months on the boat, that I definitely wanted to learn how to paint in oil. I am happy to report that I have started!

Friday, October 1, 2010


Bouquets of flowers always cheer me. Sometimes I even enjoy painting them.

Sunflowers. Hydrangeas. Mums. Carnations.