Welcome to M.E. BAILEY ART . . . .

Here you will find adventures in painting. . . . Victories, absolute defeats, frustrations, highs, lows, lessons learned, commentary and thoughts from me and other artists.

As an art instructor, I don't wish to hide the fact that I crash and burn often. I will always be learning. So, it all gets shown here . . .good and bad. Every painting we do counts in the learning and experience process. The failures actually are much better teachers than successes. Every piece made is a teacher. That's the fun of it: the challenge to learn.


Join in and comment or email me, if you would like.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Resetting Perspective

"People Perspective"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

Funny how some paintings / challenges / problems seem to stick in one's craw.   After painting the painting in the last post and discussing my difficulties with it, I could not wait to get to the easel . . . . . . . . . . .but even with that enthusiastic nagging in my head, my wife and I had to take a long road trip to the Northwest for a family affair.   Gone for a week, yet the nagging continued.   

Mind you, this painting isn't much better than the last except I did resolve the people perspecive difficulties I had with the last version.   Notice that as the figures recede into the background, their values become less dark and there is much less contrast.   The figures also become grayer and less colorful as they go back into the distance.

My sole purpose in making this painting was to resolve that difficulty.   I am afraid that I was so focused on that aspect of this painting, I neglected so much else.   

I have found as I have grown more into being a consistent painter, I am much less concerned with the end result of most painting and have reached a place where I have acquired a very cavalier attitude about whether or not any painting is a success.   So, I slobber on the paint rather carelessly and even draw in a haphazard manner.   I could even say that I am careless to a degree.   I am not sure if this is healthy, of if it is, in fact, a natural progression of being sooo familiar with what the paint will do that I can paint without concern.   This is a biiiig change from when I first began to paint . . . . .my knuckles were white with fear of ruining a nice, expensive piece of paper . . . . I was mostly distraught during the painting process for fear of ruining a good effort . . . . . and I was in continuous doubt about my ability or my skill.    Where is that angst when I need it?   What has become of that drive to be the master over a painting's outcome?

Is this a sign of being too familiar?   Whatever the cause, this I know:   Painting has become pure fun!   Spending a full day in the studio putzing about, slinging paint and singing to myself is common fare these days.   What could be better?? 

How did I get here?   Miles of brush strokes and acres of paper!! 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Figure Perspective

"Parisian Promenade"
watercolor 15 x 22 inches

I have found there is much to learn about putting figures into a painting . . . . .

Figures can and do put a substantial amount of perspective and depth into a painting if they are done right.   What may seem as necessary, such as various body parts and details, simply does not apply.   That's right, details and anatomical correctness doesn't matter.   The human mind does that for us.   Ratio of head size and height seems to make a bit of difference.   

There is two things I have noticed about this painting that makes me think twice (or three times) about doing the painting over again:   One is values.   Notice how the values of the scene itself diminish toward middle tones.   Yet, the figures have very stark, almost strident, value contrast with the surroundings.   I think the figures need to blend in more.  That is to say that the figures need to feel as though they belong to the value range in which part of the painting that they sit.

Color, also, plays a part.   Color saturation of the figures needs to settle in with the rest of the  surroundings, too.   In this painting, the colors certainly call attention to the figures, but that isn't the purpose of putting the figures in this painting . . . . .it should feel like a complete scene . . . not a stage on which there are action packed players.

The last thing that makes a big difference is the heads all need to be at the same level, relatively.   Notice the figures in the foreground;  they all stand on the same level ground.  It is as if the viewer is at the same eye level as those players.   Those that stand on the white surface have their heads slightly above the eye level of those figures in the foreground.   As those figures (on the upper deck) recede into space, their bodies become shorter, but the heads remain at the same level. . . . .which gives the impression of distance.

I am off to the studio to try a remake of this painting to see if I can make the necessary adjustments.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Plain Trap . . . .

 "Natural Bridge"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

"The Big Lump"
Actual Photo

After spending hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of hours painting outdoors, en plein air, I have come to know the traps.

The biggest trap is the distractions, of course.   Huh?   What do you mean, Mike?

Notice the photo.   This photo seems rather pedestrian in terms of a ‘beautiful scene’ already set to paint.   I just is NOT one of those scenes.

This is what I saw when I first came onto the beach yesterday. . . . .   And noticed, immediately, the blast of light between the two “Lumps.”   Of course, I decided to explore the area more to try to find that perfect scene to paint.   I walked all over the area, spent a good 45 minutes trying to find that perfect spot, with the perfect point of view of the big rock that has a tunnel through it.  

No matter where I went, I wasn’t enthralled with what I was seeing.    That “lump,” as I call it, was nothing more than a lump with a hole through it.   It wasn’t a nice shape, it had no character, it just wasn’t what anyone would call inspiring or spectacular.

So, having exhausted the possibilities, I decided to go near where I had entered the beach and where I had seen that blast of light.   I could make a painting that emphasized that wonderful light and not worry about finding the ideal scene.   But then . . . . .look at all the pelicans on the rock!! (lump! ) . . . .what if I painted the pelicans? . . . . .and look at that shadow being cast on the sand and into the water . . . . .Oh!   There’s a wave crashing against the “lump” and making a spectacular slash of white foam . . . . and what if I painted the sky orange . . . .could I make a sunset scene?   So many possibilities came to distract me from my one idea of the blaring light between the two big rocks.
I was being tempted by the biggest trap of all:   All the other possibilities.   And, I must say, some of those possibilities were very alluring.   But I have learned . . . . .oh, yes!   My lessons have been hard won by sooooo many painting failures . . . .all of which failed because I didn’t focus on ONE IDEA.   I have made so many paintings in which there was too much included.

So . . . . .I set up my gear slowly, while I contemplated what I was going to do with this painting.   Then after the equipment was in place, out came my sketch book and pencil.   I made four different value sketches to determine how I was going to achieve my goal of telling the story of that light between the rocks.   Oh!   I almost forgot to mention that the first sketches immediately showed poor compostition.   I needed to find the right layout . . . . .the right positioning on the paper for that big shape of  the land jutting onto the beach.   What’s more, I realized that making an active water painting, or including exciting splashes and waves would be another distraction from my singular idea:   The light between the rocks.
Obviously, dear reader, you get the idea here.   The trick to making a lot of successful paintings in plein air is to ignore the distractions and stubbornly stick to your single idea that you want to emphasize.  

It seems so simple!!  Doesn’t it?   How could anything be more simple???  

Well, I am here to tell you . . . . . . .it ain’t!   But it is terrific advice for ALL paintings.   Make up your mind about what you are going to paint (that is the idea, not the all encompassing subject) and don’t be dissuaded from it.   Stick to your plan.   Commit to your plan.   Ignore the distractions . . . or save them for other paintings.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Plein Air Set Up For Watercolor

A Well Thought Out Plein Air Painting Kit

When a watercolor painter decides to paint outside in the open air the first few times, it can be a terrible experience . . . . .Imagine all the things one must carry in order to paint!   A palette on which to mix paint, an easel to hold a board, on which there is paper fastened, brushes, plenty of water, a place to set a palette and a few tools and, yes, an umbrella, warm clothes, a hat to shield ones eyes from the sun, and just about anything else you could think of.  (Yes, I made a run on sentence on purpose . . . for effect!)   

I remember the first few times I set out to paint outside.   I had to make multiple trips from my car to get everything to the painting site.   Sheeesh!   Was this really worth all the effort?

Eventually, and over time, ease of carrying such a boat load of stuff became the priority.   I have tried nearly everything in the journey to establish myself as a habitual plein air painter.   Starting with an acute case of ignorance, I listened to the wrong advisors when I first started out.   Jeeeze!   In addition to all the stuff mentioned above I brought along TV Trays and two different kinds of stools!   It was hilarious!  I might just as well have brought a couch!

I began, somewhere back there, with a full sized french easel . . . .which is nice and stable, but heavy and awkward.   (You won't find many ladies carrying one of those around!)

Then, I went to the "back packer" half french easel.   Yep!   Still the same problems, but a step better.   I found there is no place to set things unless you reach around behind the work to do so.

Then there were various telescoping, three legged easels.   These were an improvement, but with them, there is NO place to set anything . . . .and a palette need a place to sit flat.  They work fine if you haul in a small table (like a TV tray) along with a bunch of other stuff.

Eventually I have arrived at a terrific set up.  Here it is. . . . .

It begins with an inexpensive, very light weight camera tripod.   I now use the Sunpak 6601, available from Amazon.com.   Shop for price on this, there are places that sell it for double Amazon's price!

Onto the tripod goes the Sun_Eden "Travelling Adapter."   This device is what holds the painting board and paper.  See it here.   This nicely made "clamp" is strong and lightweight and breaks down into a small 14 inch package you can easily jam into any sort of carrying gear.

That "adapter" is screwed into the quick release attachment that comes with the tripod.   It then is clipped into the tripod which makes a terrific easel.

Under the "Travelling Adapter" on the tri pod, I have found a simple, rugged shelf which merely sits on two of the tripod legs.   It is available from enpleinairpro.com.   You can see it here.  There are no parts to worry about or fancy adjustments.  It slips onto the legs and is very stable.  It has a big hole to hold a fairly good sized water cup.   It also has a number of holes into which brushes can be inserted so they don't roll off into the dirt someplace.

The shelf easily holds a full sized watercolor palette or a folding palette.   I have evolved into a plein air painting equipment junkie!   So, I recently acquired my new "Color Gizmo," as I have dubbed it.   It is a hand held palette with LOADS of mixing capability.   See it here.  Each well is big enough to absorb a 1 1/2 inch flat brush and the mixing wells are simply fabulous!

Add two small (4 oz) plastic bottles . . . .a sprayer and a dripper.   I use the latter for adding water to my large washes in the mixing wells of the palette. ( I dislike having to remix more paint midway through a wash! Having to do so outside, where the paint dries quickly, it can cause big trouble!)

I carry a quart of water in a plastic container.  That container has a loop on it which allows me to hook it to the outside of a small day sized back pack via a carabiner.  That carabiner is useful for hooking the backpack to the easel when it is set up in a windy situation.  The backpack has extra weight that can help the easel hold on in good breeze.   On the other hand, I carry a "pouch" which clips to the legs of the tripod and can be filled with rocks, sand or dirt to really weigh down the easel.   The one I use comes from Artworkessentials.com and can be seen here.  Called the "Utility / Stone Bag" it is reasonably priced and has saved my setup from blowing away more than a few times.

The last item is seemingly unimportant to the novice, but I can attest that it is enormously helpful. . . . .the plein air painting umbrella.   The one in the above picture is "okay" and is also from artworkessentials.com and can be seen here.   They have improved their clamping system from the one shown in the picture above and seems to be fairly good.   I recently bought another umbrella for my oil painting kit, "Best Brella" . . . .which has a superior clamping mechanism and really tuffs it out in a wind.  Their website and product can be seen here.  If I was able to compare the two side by each, I believe I would have opted for the "Best Brella" because it is a superior product.  These both clamp to one of the tripod legs.

You wouldn't believe the positions these umbrellas take when attached to different artists equipment!   You'll see them sticking straight out, parallel to the ground, when the sun is low.  And you will see them at all sorts of odd angles as the day's artwork progresses.

The umbrella will be of immense assistance in mixing your colors when subtlety is necessary.  Sun glare bleaches out what we see on our palette, causes our eyes to dilate down to null and reduces our proclivity to see color nuances.   In addition, the umbrella shades the work in progress.   The sun creates evil on the face of a watercolor while painting, believe me!   So, make sure that you have this piece of equipment.   If you go cheap, you will be very disappointed!

While you and your work are protected from the sun with the umbrella, you are also vulnerable to the least amount of wind, should it come up.   The umbrella, though designed to be in a wind, can act as a parachute and will carry away your gear if you don't weigh down your easel with plenty of weight. And it does happen.   Chasing a renegade easel in the wind can be very dis-heartening!  (believe me, I know!)   When painting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean it would be tragic to see your equipment sail over the edge and be lost forever!

There are a few other items, which I have found imperative  . . . .one of which is a wide brimmed hat.  Aside from UV protection, that brim shades your eyes and continues to give you the vision acuity you need to be able to truly see color subtleties.  Another is a pocket full of Kleenex (tissues).   These necessary for a variety of little chores while painting . . . .and nose blowing isn't one of them! . . . .palette cleaning and blotting paint being the chief chores.

The last and final item is a back pack.   You might find this humorous, but I brought all my paraphernalia into a shop and, with the help of a sales clerk, loaded pack after pack until we found the right pack that could accommodate everything (with room for a lunch in the pack) and was comfortable!  Once found and assured that all would indeed fit, the test was to fill the pack and walk around the store with it on.

Now, instead of needing a trailer attached to my car to get the gear to the painting site, I can literally RUN with all my gear on my back and do so in comfort.   The pack I chose was a small "day pack."   It isn't big and bulky and there is lots of room inside to add the incidental stuff, if needed.

I have yet to mention the important board and paper . . . . I use Gator Board, extremely lightweight, and stretch my paper on it the day before going out  . . . . and I carry that piece in my hand.   I have paper stretched on both sides of the board (to protect the board from warping under the pressure of shrinking cotton paper) to allow me the luxury of making more than one painting when I am out.   Generally, I paint on half sheets (15 x 22 inches) but this equipment allows me to work on full sheets, 22 x 30 inches.

If you have questions about any of this, leave them in the comments.  I promise to answer.

With the Studio You Have, WHY . . . .?

"Strafe at Low Altitude"
watercolor 15 x 22 inches

"With the beautiful studio you have, why do you bother to paint out doors?   I mean, packing all that paraphernalia, the water, the sketch books, an easel, a chair and so much more!   What a drag!"

Yes, I go out almost every week to paint out doors.   Maybe this story will help you understand why I do.   In short, there is so much more to it than just painting or having to worry about moving all that equipment . . . . . .

I wrote this last week to some email friends.   It pretty much sums up the "extra goodies" waiting for outdoor painters.

Plein air painting again yesterday.   We went north of town about 20 miles to a big beach where the outlet of a creek (Wadell Creek)  enters the ocean.  What made us stop there was an enormous 'lake' that had formed on the beach and a beautiful shaped headland at the end of the beach shrouded in a mysterious mist.   It was in the morning hours when we arrived.  The weather was a pleasant 68 degrees with an ever so slight slight breeze.   While painting I began to notice flights of pelicans floating over the waves and how they would fly very close to the face of the wave and just glide along.   As the morning progressed, more flights would show up, until flights were coming down the beach every 20 seconds with something from 10 to 30 birds in each flight.   As I began to take notice and look more carefully, I realized that all these birds were landing into the lake at the far end of the beach, almost out of sight.   As the birds poured in from every direction, I was beginning to think that something was really "up."   So many many pelicans and they just kept coming and coming!   They fly in formations that are remindful of fighter jets as they fly low and strafe the wave tops.

Eventually, I could take it no more.  I had finished my painting and decided to walk down the beach to investigate.   As I drew closer (very slowly) I could see that the pelicans were bathing in the lake, then, when finished, they came out of the water to sit on the beach with their brethren. . . . . . .  . .and there were thousands of them sitting there looking out to sea and preening.  What an incredible sight!

Pelicans are anything but small.   A normal adult bird, when sitting, will stand three feet tall to the top of the head.   With thousands of birds on the beach, all one could see was a forest of heads and beaks!   It was just a blur of these strange looking, fuzzy 'stumps' sticking up for nearly as far as one could see!   I only got within about 50 yards of them when they began to get agitated and took flight, which was another of those OMG moments because there were so many of them lifting off at once . . . the sky nearly black!

I walked back to put my painting gear away and to head home.  My buddy and I loaded the car while we watched more and more birds pour into that spot, while others took flight and headed southward along the beach and parallel to the highway.  While we drove down the highway, we noticed that there was a flight of about thirty pelicans immediately to our right and keeping pace with our car!!   Scott looked at the speedometer to see that we were moving at 50 mph and those crazy birds were staying right with us . . . . . .and so effortlessly!   They were merely gliding!   They hardly flapped their wings.    

What is so cool about watching these guys is that they follow the edges of the cliffs that face the ocean and fly just above the edges.   The breeze coming in from the sea forces an updraft there which sustains the birds' altitude and they simply slide along at 50MPH !

And people wonder why I am so crazy to be going out doors to paint when I have such a fantastic studio!!!

Apparently, these big birds migrate north from Mexico.   Where they go, I don't know.  For now, there are enormous schools of anchovies in our bay and these birds are swarming to grab their share of the extra chow.   They are being aided by whales, dolphins and sea lions chasing the tiny fish to the surface.   It is a sight to see pelicans diving out of a cloud of birds into the water to gobble up the tiny fish!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Breaking Out of Bad Habit

"Three Directions"
Watercolor 15 x22 inches

As any other painter knows, we can get caught in painting habits we don't like . . . .and we can repeat them over and over, knowing all the while that this is a bad habit.

I suppose that I am as vulnerable to the vagaries of age as anyone and was blaming my bad habits on age . . . . .well, dammit, I am not that old!   And furthermore, I knew well what I needed to do to break out of this bad habit if being too tight in my painting adventures.   I needed to loosen up . . . . .But HOW?

This last week, I spent in Yosemite co-teaching a wonderful group of painters with Dale Laitinen.
I have always admired and respected Dale's style of painting, but more than that his design skills.   As well, he is a fine teacher in that he can articulate his thoughts and what he does on the painting as he paints.   As I was teaching, I could not help observe him in his demos.   It was exactly what I needed to break free of my absurd tight habit.   

The day this painting happened began quite cold while we began painting at the edge of the Merced River.   As we laid in our first washes, the paint crystalized right before our eyes!   It was 26 degrees and the river was freezing up, too!!   Nevertheless, as I stepped to the easel, I had a bit of a conversation with myself about how I was going to attack this painting day:  Solid designs and painting with big, loose gestures instead of making tight looking things in my painting.

As the day and the paintings finished, I pulled Dale aside and thanked him for the quality of his instruction . . . . .no it wasn't directed at me . . . . . .just the stuff I had seen and overheard was all that was needed to break out of a bad habit.   

What I gathered from this experience was an idea:   When I find that my habits are causing me concern in the way I paint, go paint with the very person who does the absolute opposite . . . . maybe some of it will rub off!

Happy Painting! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Should an Artist Discount ?

"Yosemite Humpback"
an older watercolor painting
22x30 inches

Recently, I watched a bona fide buyer offer an artist $1000 for a $1500 painting.   That would be 33% off or 2/3 of the asking price.

Should the artist have accepted the offer?

Let’s have a look at the thoughts of the artist  before we decide.  . . . . . . . .

This painting, an original painting without any reproductions of any sort, is the ONLY PAINTING LIKE IT IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE.  This painting exists completely ALONE in the entire world!!  That is to say that this painting did not come off a production line where everything before it and after it were exact clones of each other.   In the case of manufactured multiples, where there are myriads of copies of any product, the inherent value decreases.  

Moreover, what is not considered by the buyer is all of the years of developing the skills and all of the spoiled paintings that led up to this one painting.   For all that the buyer knew, there could have been 50 failures in the attempt to make this one painting (in many cases there are far more than 50!!).   When one really thinks about all of the experience, study, trials, errors, frustration and years of non success, which must accumulate before such a painting can come to life, it is almost overwhelming.   In fact, when it is all put in front of us, we would actually wonder why anyone would attempt to become a painter?

We painters refer to this process of accumulating experience, in a humorous vein, as brush miles.    Thousands of brush miles must accumulate before an artist can actually become “good” at what he or she does.

And did I mention the artist’s frustration and emotional angst  (that we live with daily) to make this one painting come out as it was intended?  

Some art viewers, and, sadly, buyers, believe that artists are born “talented”  . . . or skilled.   That making paintings is some magical gift and that the artist has done this, effortlessly, since birth.  They somehow have the impression that painters make paintings without sweat or effort.   Obviously, considering all that has been said to this point, that is not the case!   Talent is only the desire or the compulsion to make art.   The skills must endure the crucible of hard won experience and lots of failure before becoming refined.

So, do you think the artist should be insulted by the obvious underlying meaning that the buyer doesn’t acknowledge the value in the painting?

This artist declined the offer and the painting remained for sale at the asking price.   Aside from the need for money, was she right in doing so?

And all of this discussion really brings into focus the question:  “How Much is a painting really worth?”

Your comments are not only welcome, but solicited!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

That Time of Year . . .

"Sonoma Foothills"
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
OMG!   It's that Tuff time of year again!   I am spending most of my time preparing for my annual Open Studio.   I know!  It is only the first part of September.   Truth be known, I have been prepping since the last ten days of August . . . .and not without a few challenges!
This year, I will be away during September, giving a workshop at the annual Florida Watercolor Society convention in Sarasota, Florida.  Then I return home only to leave again to judge an art show.
By the time I return from all that stuff, I will have but a short ten days to be ready to receive guests who come to see the art work . . . .and there will be PLENTY of NEW WORK.   
Painting en plein air nearly every Wednesday really makes the paintings pile up!   I have actually had to cull out the "non qualifying pieces" in order for there to be room.

There will be lots to see . . . . .20 new beautiful oil paintings . . . . and as many new watercolors . . .along with a few special pieces that I happen to think deserve the honor to be included.

So, Save the date, Friends!!  October 5,6 and 19,20.   Drop me an email for address and directions!  mebaileyart@comcast.net

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Waitng Game . . . .

"Noon Nap"
Oil on canvas
24 x 36 inches

At last!   This painting has been BEGGING to be finished for four, or more, years.   And now it is done!   I have loved the idea since drawing it on the canvas.   As an oil painter, however, I have been in the learning mode for quite some time.   (Does it ever end?   Doubtful, Mike!)

Let's face it.  Us artists are sometimes in over our heads when it comes to matching our skills to what our ideas for paintings are.   I suppose we simply must paint and wait for our skills to catch up.

My beautiful daughter has recently stepped into the ring to learn to paint.   And, Wow!  Am I ever excited for her!!!   However, I can see pain in her eyes and hear her cries for help as her frustration comes to the surface.   Sadly, I know that she must endure the frustration and keep working (hard!) until her skills catch up to her visions.   It is in the doing that we artists truly learn.   Instruction is good for suggestions about how to go about something, but there is simply nothing but the long, stumbling journey that forces our novice ways into mastery.   Acres of paper (or canvas) and brush miles is all it takes.

Even advanced artists learn that sometimes the vision is one thing and the outcome of a painting about that vision simply don't come together.   It's part of the deal that we sign up for, even though we don't realize that we face that every day in our painting career.   (I am told by a maestro that this never changes.   We will always be reaching beyond what we can do now.)

I have 20 flat file drawers.  Half of them are for paper storage.  The other ten drawers are for paintings in various stages of being "finished."   Many paintings have entered those drawers to live there for a few years (yes, years!) until I could instantly see exactly what needed to be done to accomplish that state of being 'finished' and well done.   I learned, some years ago, not to become angry or frustrated when I came to a dead stop and didn't know what or how to do to complete a painting.   After a few days of sincere contemplation and considering alternatives without a final decision of how to proceed, the painting would go to the drawer to live.   I sort through those paintings approximately every six months . . .  .sometimes only annually.   It is amazing how a single glimpse at one of them can startle me into knowing exactly what to do!  

This painting, above, has lived in the studio for at least four years waiting for that singular moment when I knew exactly what it needed.   That moment arrived a few weeks ago when I couldn't put brush to canvas.   It has waited patiently on my easel for me to execute the solution.   Each time I walked into the studio, it would beckon . . .until today.

And so it is, Painters.  We must learn to accept the fact that we may not be ready to fully expose our ideas onto canvas or paper until our skills and creative muscle are up to the task.   We just put a stubborn painting in a drawer and wait for our skills to mature properly . . . . and enjoy the journey getting there.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blind Hog

"Reflecting Garrapata"
Oil on Canvas Panel 12 x 16 inches

Where I live, it can be gray most of the time.   In the vicinity of Big Sur (The Pacific Coast south of Monterey, CA) even in summer, it can be foggy, windy and cold . . .especially in August.   When the call came from my friend, Scott, to go to lunch and paint afterward near Big Sur, I jumped at the chance.  Even though I knew the weather conditions could be, shall we say, unwelcoming, the opportunity to be in extraordinary scenery, painting with someone as enthused about it as I, I could not pass on the chance.   So, we decided to leave late in the day, go out to a nice seafood lunch then paint afterward.   

We arrived at Garrapata State Park around 2:30 PM.   I have never, ever witnessed such perfect conditions on this coastline . . . .and I have lived here since the age of 12!    The sun was shining, there was no wind, the waters was as quiet as a lake!   Usually, there are waves breaking every 10 to 20 seconds . . .one after the other and the water is rough and roily . . .no a place anyone would opt to swim.   This water was as calm and quiet as a mirror.

The scenery there offers a morass of rocks, ice plant, water, dark trees and colors that would make any painter swoon.   The problem with that is there is sooo much input that it is overwhelming.  Us guys who have painted outdoors for many years understand the necessity to simplify . . . .to cut out all the superfluous and to focus on one idea.   We have the experience of having decided to make a painting full of the whole scene for several hours and have it kick us six ways from Sunday.  It is better to choose one thing and to make a painting of that one thing and be successful, rather than try to include everything and fail.   

Upon our arrival, we immediately noticed the reflections in the water of the big rocks near the shore.   I decided immediately to focus on that one thing.   Mind you, I was painting in oil.   I had never tackled painting sensitive reflections in oil before.   What did I know ?   I mean to say I knew nothing of how one could go about this . . . .I was Blind!!

As an aside, my eldest daughter (age 45) has taken up painting recently and is experienced frustration in wanting to be successful in all her early attempts.   What I have failed to tell her in her introductions is that we never fully know how to paint everything that comes at us painters.   We are always fumbling and making blind attempts with little or no experience.   After many, many years of experience and painting frequently, one comes to know his or her medium and what it will and won't do.   One gets to know a few tricks here and there that help a painting come to life.   But there are A LOT of failures getting to that point.  

So, one comes to expect poor or lackluster results while one is in the learning mode.   ( I have been messing round with oils for four years and am just coming to where I have a sense of what will happen when I put brush to canvas . . .but I have a long, long way to go).   I think the goal is to accumulate 10,000 hours of good experience.   Meanwhile, I am a blind hog searching for acorns.

I am told that even a BLIND HOG can find an acorn once in a while.   Yesterday was such a day!

Monday, August 5, 2013

"That's the Way it Was. It was THERE!"

"Pont Valentre"
watercolor 15 x 22 inches

Ever since first seeing this fortified medieval bridge for the first time, I have wanted to paint it.   There is something stirring about the vision of this amazingly old structure, built in 1350 AD, standing over the Lot River in Cahors, France!   It is the last standing fortified bridge of this age in Europe.  

History aside, the painting challenges presented by this structure and the river would entertain any painter . . . accomplished or otherwise.   There were, originally, three towers on the bridge . . .one at each end and one in mid river.   Should the artist paint the whole bridge?   I mean "one must paint what one sees, correct?"   I don't think so.   After all, whether the viewer of the painting has or has not seen the actual location, the viewer is still confronted with all the vagaries of the painting itself:   There must be a strong composition.  Dark and light shapes must be considered and how they are placed inside the picture plane is what holds a viewer's attention.   It doesn't matter if the correct colors are used . . . .or if all the bricks and limestone blocks show up or not . . . .It really doesn't matter if the details, like the shapes of the windows in the towers, are shown.   It boils down to the composition.   Yes, reflections and that sort of thing make the painting entertaining, but, if one really looks beyond naming aspects of the picture, those reflections are still part of the light / dark arrangement of shapes in the picture plane.
So, I omitted the mid span tower.   Why?   Well, it served the composition better to omit it.

Then, someone will remark about the ripples in the water . . . . .Originally, those ripples didn't exist in the painting.   It was originally set to show the water as a flat mirroring plane.   But, alas, the eye fell right out of the picture as those long reflections led the viewer straight down and out.   As we read left to right, there was nothing to halt the eye from wandering off the page to the right side.   So, the ripples were put in to break up those straight verticals.   And they were sloped upward, as they moved to the right, to slow the eye and to hold the eye in the picture.

Trickery, you say?   I suppose you could even say "cheap tricks."   Fact is that the artist must resort to these sort of design considerations in every painting he or she makes . . . .even if it doesn't look like what's there.   The artist's job is to make well designed paintings . . . .not a photograph using paint.   Just because it was "there" doesn't mean that it needs to be painted

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


"Bridge at Castelfranc"
Watercolor 22 x 15 inches

The trip to France is glorious!   I'll say that again and again and again!   The old medieval villages and their quiet little streets made just wide enough for two horses to pass in opposing directions is enough to arouse the most cynical person.   Cobblestones, eroded limestone buildings and facades which have stood for centuries can really get the painter in us excited.

This little arched bridge is in a little village, Castelfranc, that is no bigger than a few football fields.  It is right on the Lot River and at the junction of where the Vert river runs into the Lot.   Reflections, water rushes, gardens, odd structures, like the old Pidgeoners, abound in this village.   As I walked through parts of the village my camera was heating up from all antics I was putting it through.   Then we set up our easels on another bridge looking upstream to the little bridge in the painting.   We painted for about 90 minutes then had to fold up and get out of the heat and sun.

The painting I had was a fair representation of what was there, but needed a lot of work to bring it to life.   Plein Air painting is often that way . . . . .put the skeleton on the paper, go back to the studio and flesh out the painting.   This is where one must gather all of their courage . . . . .this is the "hard part."

Really, Mike?   What do you mean?   I just need to work from my photos . . . . . NOT!   It is definetely tempting to put the photos into the 50 inch flat screen and set about copying.   In my opinion, that simply is not art  . . . . . . what is left out is the artist and his (her) feelings.   

The hard part is to put the incomplete painting up on the easel, look hard at the painting, without any reference to photos and ask what does the PAINTING NEED?   In other words, the artist must inquire of the painting what is needed to bring the overall design to a place that, when done, will stop a viewer in his or her tracks.   Then to muster all the courage we can and paint it. 

Making good paintings is way more than copying a pretty picture of some cute place.   It is a painting. . . . .an object of art created by a person . . . . .not a painted version of a photo.   The Shapes, values, colors, textures and contrasts must all come together in a way to make a stunning composition that cries out the music of creativity.   Difficult to do without a reference, you say?  Of course it is!   This is why really great paintings are so few and far between.

If you are a painter, take the challenge!   Go out to a painting spot, block in the image, pack up and go to the studio and turn your back on what you saw and photographed and answer what the painting tells you that it needs in order to be stellar.

Here's where the inexperienced painters scream in fear of failure.   Note that nobody ever gets hurt or dies if a painting fails.   What does happen is the painter learns what he or she did wrong.   This is where the painter gathers that experience that is so valuable in setting oneself apart from all the other wannabe painters.

Go ahead!  Turn your back on it.   Make a piece of A R T . . . .not just a copy of a photo.

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Baran Poppies"
watercolor 15 x 20 inches

What's a Baran, you ask?   Actually, this "Baran" is the 'Domaine du Haut Baran' in Puy L' Eveque, France.

My wife and daughter and I just returned from there where I held a painting 'workshop.'   Actually, it was more of a painting retreat rather than a full on workshop.  This beautiful location is more than any photo or written description could possibly do justice.   It is a 300 year old, limestone French country Inn run by American owners who out do themselves every summer to welcome guests from around the world for art pursuits, cooking, horseback exploration, biking and all sorts of unnique and wonderful passtimes.

Our first trip was in 2012.   We returned this year with 12 wonderful people who were rollicking, laughing, painting and having a wonderful time for ten straight days!   I am so impressed with the hospitality here that I have booked dates two more years in advance:  2014 and 2015 . . . .and am seriously considering booking 2016, too!   Frankly, I don't think there could be any place more accomodating and more comfortable than this wonderful, relaxing spot.   The food is simply amazing.   And the surrounding countryside has so much to offer, starting with a history that goes back 25,000 years.   Neanderthal man leaving cave art, to medieval battles and citadels, open markets, and native people who will warm anyone's heart are the order of every day in this region.

Right at the edge of a gravel driveway, where no one would expect to find a painting subject grow these delightful poppies . . . . .I believe they are named "Coquelicot" . . . .and I may be spelling it wrong.   Just sprout out of the edge of the driveway, just like they are in the painting.   And, yes, they are this red!   I could not resist trying to capture them!   

After three weeks there, eating, drinking and absorbing the countryside, as well as trying to paint, I am exhausted and trying to get my body back to this time zone.   But I am not anxious to move my thoughts away from being there.   It is just too sweet, too precious, and too beautiful to want to forget.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Extra Magic

"Boulder Dash"
Oil on canvas panel
12 x 16 inches

Have you ever been suddenly thrust into painting at dusk, when the light is about to disappear?   Or have you ever been painting and you suddenly realize that you MUST finish in some very short time period?   If you have, you probably have noticed that the actual resulting finished piece ( assuming you did so in the short given time) actually came out rather well.

You could, very well, be shaking your head and thinking "not a chance!"  Or, something along those lines.   But, if you did notice that your painting had a loose, but enticing quality about it . . . sort of like a hurried sketch does.   There is magic that happens in that short little spit of time. . . . .

It seems to me that a complete mental shift takes place under such conditions.   And that shift is to move away from worrying about being perfect, or attempting to make a "good painting."   We get into a state of haste and an attitude something like this:   "Just get something down on the canvas and I'll fix it later . . . . but for goodness sakes, HURRY!"

Do you notice the difference in thinking?   It isn't about the quality of the outcome.   The thoughts are more immediate.   In fact, I find after every stroke that my judgement steps in and says something to the effect of "close enough!   Now hurry!"   

In the short time, as the light fades, I rush to fill in the canvas and pack up.   As I do so, I see that my painting is much looser . . . .more relaxed . . . .more tuned to approximations, rather than represenations or copying.   In fact, I see something in front of me that is, frankly, charming!

This has happened to me enough to put two and two together and realize that concern for the outcome and attempting master work is my enemy.   I do much better when I am "slinging paint as fast as possible."   It is letting one's subconscious take over.   It is painting by impulsive reaction.   It is grabbing a value of color, stabbing into a spot and moving to the next spot.   In actual fact, it is relaxing the mindful tension and trusting myself.   It is reaction upon reaction upon reaction, without fussing and waiting until the end to judge what actually happened on the surface of the canvas.

Painting under pressure often has this affect.   And, it seems to me, to be a positive affect.   I just need to say to myself, when I step to the easel, "Get off it, Mike!   Just trust your instinct and put paint on the canvas!   Don't argue with it or try to adjust it.   Just do it!"


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Arresting the Viewer

"Just in Time!"
watercolor 22 x 15 inches

There comes a time in every artist's development that he or she see's the ordinary through different eyes.   For me, I believe that I am just awakening to the wonder of what confronts me on a daily basis.   In my last blog post, I commented on the fact that I had awakened to early morning light.   Yes, I always knew it was there, but had not paid much attention.   

This painting, above, was of a gent caught in crossing the street in the early morning on his way to work (I suppose.)    It wasn't him that caught my attention, but the light and shadow on the side of the building with him thrown into the mix.   Geometric shapes all aligned and the human figure thrown in for contrast.   I doubt you could say this is an extraordinary painting idea.   Surely, paintings like this have been done before.   

There is something about taking the common . . . .the mundane . . . .the ho humm . . . .and exalting it to the extraordinary.   I think it was Bob Burridge, years ago, who stunned me into realization by painting ordinary coffee cups.   I can still see those paintings in my mind's eye!   Coffee cups fer gawd sakes???   Gads!   I trip over them.   They always seem to be in the way!   What painter would stop long enough to infuse beauty or some stunning attribute into them?!   He sure did.  And the affects were extraordinary!

How many of us have seen people crossing a street?   How many times?   My guess is that we see them long enough to stop our car if we are driving, in order to avoid hitting them.   But to really notice something about them and their surroundings might be a big reach for most of us.   I have to say that it is those painters who can make a common face, a coffee cup, a pedestrian, a piece of fruit seem way out of the ordinary that make us all take true notice of their work.   

When you think about it, there are literally MILLIONS of paintings and attempts at paintings that try to capture the magnitude and scope of fabulous scenes.   So, why follow the mob?   I have found that the paint is often the most fascinating subject of a painting.   If arrangements of textures and colors and shapes can hold our attention in fascination, then what difference does a subject make?   Actually, I hesitate to say, subject is hardly what drives our fascination.   It is how we compose and arrange Edges, Shapes, Colors, Textures etc. that holds a viewer's attention . . . . .not a subject.   All the subject does is provide the beginnings of the arrangement of those elements.   

Note the granulation of the violet in the painting above . . . .in fact, when you click on the image, you can see how violet and yellow were used to imply flashy lighting.   Putting the cool shadows of a white shape against that arrangement of shape and color set up an attention grabbing contrast that the viewer cannot resist.

It really isn't what we paint.   It is HOW we paint it that arouses and arrests the viewer.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Awakening to The Light

Watercolor 22 x 15 inches

May 23 was the date of my last post.   It was the day before my wife and I left on a fabulous road trip, from which I only just returned, which included lots of painting.

We drove south down the eastern side of California after crossing the Sierras over a 9900 foot elevation pass which is only open three to four months of the year (lotsa snow!)   One of the great parts of the trip was to meet with several other painters in Santa Fe, New Mexico then on to a wonderful three days of continuous painting together at Ghost Ranch . . . .the famous retreat of Georgia O'Keeffe.

I learned something on this trip.   To get out of bed before sun up and get outdoors just as the sun is coming over the horizon.   I know that sounds rather silly to be blogging about, but I must say that there are paintings everywhere at that time of the day . . . . .the light is coming in horizontally with  a golden hue that seems to make everything glow.   Mind you, I would much rather sit about in a leisurely way drinking my morning coffee and begin the days operations around 8 to 9 AM.   Shadows are so very dramatic at that time of day which set up completely unique value schemes for dramatic compositions that I could never have imagined.

The painting above of a baker taking a break at that time of day was but a single incident caught on my camera on one of those days.   There are few people out at that time, but those who are are usually "interesting" in some unique way.   If you are wondering why I found this time of day so special, I can explain easily . . . . . .I live in a part of the world where fog is the order of nearly every day in the early mornings.   Being close to the edge of the ocean has its pleasures, but golden sunny mornings are somewhat rare.   Early risers face cool gray, overcast mornings where there is little shadow.    Being in the southwest was a glorious change for me as a painter.

By the way, this painting, like most all of my paintings, was an experiment.   The challenge with this painting was to make the figure on the hydrant appear to be close to the viewer without using some absurd dramatic effect.   If you can imagine him to be in the foreground while all else in the picture space to be in the "background" (a term I rarely use), you will quickly understand my painting strategy as I explain it here:   To use all transparent watercolor on the entire background and to push the colors there toward cool, neutral grays.   If there was color there, the intention was to take the "edge" of the color saturation and press it toward cool.   Additionally, to reduce the amount of contrast in the back ground so there would not be attention grabbing distractions there.   To bring the subject forward and to have him appear closer, I painted him entirely with gouache . . . .very opaque watercolor . . . . . his opacity versus the transparency of the background brings him forward in the picture space almost to the extent that the viewer has a sense of wanting to touch the figure.

I have been playing with this strategy for some time and find the different opaqueness of the parts of the paintings to be a most valuable tool.   I am using it more and more in my work.

Thanks to digital cameras, I came home with virtually hundreds of reference photos with some very dramatic scenery full of amazing light and shadow.   And, since being home, I have been stowed away in my studio furiously slobbering paint on various surfaces.   A most exciting time!!  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Driven by Weight Loss

"Toes In The Water"
Oil on Canvas Panel 
12 x 16 inches

If one does much painting en plein air, one finds out quickly that they have plenty of superfluous stuff in their painting kit.   Hmmmm.  Did you say "kit?"   Somehow, the word "Kit" implies something small to me.   Painting outdoors, if you aren't just playing in a sketchbook, involves lots of stuff.   The further one must walk to get to the painting spot, the more one recognizes the need to LOSE the extra stuff.   Soon, the painter's thoughts turn to "how can I make this lighter, smaller, handier, faster, etc."

For some painters, this thought process becomes an obsession . . . even beyond the act of painting.   I have never gotten to that point, but there is something to be said for having a lightweight, efficient set up.   I have found myself assessing every single thing I have in my pack.  (Oh!  did you say "Pack?"  As in back pack?)   Exactly!   And not a cheap one, either.   Walking for a mile or two, to arrive at the place you wish to paint, weight and comfort can (and do) become a fanatical religion.   I recently invested nearly $200 on a very nice back pack and am absolutely tickled pink with how nice and comfortable it is to carry all my stuff to my painting destinations.

But the religious fervor has now invaded my consciousness to the extent that I am examining and re-examining every bit of the pack's contents.   A few days ago, I realized that my nice little lock box of paints (inside my pack) had gotten very heavy and difficult to close (from having too much stuff in it!!)

So, to the art store I went, thanks to Kathleen Dunphy and her terrific recommendations for a limited palette, I acquired  Rembrandt Brand Permanent Red Medium,  Utrecht Brand Cadmium Yellow Lemon,  Ultramarine Blue,  Rembrandt's Naples Yellow dark and Cold Gray (and Titanium White, of course).   I then took some nine or ten tubes out of my little lock box (amazing !) and carried them to the studio drawers to live there permanently.   Today, I went to this lovely little isolated beach with my friend Scott to while away a gorgeous morning to paint in the sunshine and fresh air.  (What a way to live !!! )

After setting up my tripod mounted pochade box, I set about putting the new paints out on the palette and mixing big puddles of the secondary colors . . .Orange, Green and Violet.  I now had  nine little piles of beautiful paint, ready to go.   But wait!    I then took a very close look at the colors and values of the big bluff I was about to commit to canvas . . . .and mixed more puddles of paint (with a palette knife) of the exact color and value that I would need.  Soon, my palette was full of paint puddles.
I will confess to, in previous painting sessions, not being a bit happy with the outcome of my colors in my paintings (often muddy) and being frustrated with how milky and muddy my turps had become during painting sessions, thus transferring all that muck to my colors.   
Today was a BREAKTHROUGH!   Before I even had a drawing or a sketch, I had all my colors mixed and set, ready to drop onto canvas in exactly the right spots!   This may not seem like a big deal to you, dear reader, but I am a died in the wool watercolor painter who has habits formed over 25 years of painting (They are not easy to break!)   Having been a watercolor painter, I have been accustomed to mixing colors with my brush and rinsing my brush with nearly every stroke!   I stand witness that this is not good with oil painting!    If one follows those habits, the paint on the canvas is thin and often muddy.
Premixing so many colors and correct values before anything else happened set me to truly concentrate on applying the paint in the right spots . . .  .not stopping between strokes to mix color . . . . . . .and in that concentration, the act of painting was like music flowing through me!   I was in a zone . . . .a pleasurable trance, if you will, of really and truly making my painting really work!   
I can't wait to do it again and again and again!  (Thanks, Kathleen!)
And to think that weight loss is what drove me to this!   Why didn't I see it sooner!!