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Category: Painting

Looking Backwards, Going Forward

“Gallery shows are fine, but Open Studios is the best because you get to see the whole history of what the artist has been working on. It’s much more fun to see the themes that develop over time.”

This was one of the best comments I heard during this year’s Open Studios. I was thinking about that, and the work I put up during Open Studios, and made some connections that I might have otherwise overlooked.

I’ve been billing myself as a printmaker for the past 7 years or so, but before I took up the carving tools most of my work was painting. Particularly, highly saturated and very personal landscapes. Trail’s End and Trees on a Ridge are fairly representative of the work I was doing.

Trail's End  Trees on a Ridge

Over time, I became somewhat dissatisfied with the work I was doing. Color was (is!) great fun, but what about structure? Layout? Was I too stiff? What about gesture? Was I being seduced by the pretty, and missing the essence? And so I began to remove color, and started working primarily in black, white, and blue.

I began more or less representationally, with a black & white(ish) version of Dead Tree. There’s actually quite a bit of subtle color, put in with colored pencil.
Dead Tree 2

I began edging toward abstraction with Pothole #1, North Fork of the Tuolumne River.
Pothole #1

Then I found a compass on eBay, the kind teachers use to draw on chalkboards: big. Then all chaos broke out and I went all abstract. This is one of the black/blue paintings I had on display during Open Studios; it’s called Schism.

And two of my favorites, Minotaur and Stoss.
Minotaur  Stoss

Part of the great fun of these paintings is that they are BIG. I had a live-work loft in Oakland at the time, and tacked huge sheets of watercolor paper — that I bought by the roll — up on the wall. Here I am during Open Studios, standing in front of Palm Trees.
Me and Palm Trees

So what does this have to do with where I am today? Having dragged out and looked at some of my older work, I have noticed this:

Themes: line, motion, circles, cycles, myths, legends, ice, air, the wind, the intangible.

Color: I can see where the exploration of a limited palette led directly to the pleasures of working in black and white on linoleum. And when I put color back into prints, I go right back to the intense saturation of my painted landscapes. (This is not a bad thing.)

Going forward: My prints have been getting larger and larger, and this is a trend I want to continue. Last year I created a lot of prints with intense color; this is also something I want to get back to. And I want to continue to explore line and motion and even time in black and white.
And I want to get back to painting, too. I want a wall that I can tack paper on to and go wild. I want to sweep my whole arm to make a mark. I want to integrate my paintings and my prints in a sort of unified field theory.

I want to get back to work after a couple of months of shows and events. Stay tuned.

Creative Framing & Gallery: Tales of a Traveler

On Monday I wended my way north to Oakland, my old stomping grounds, to hang a new show at Creative Framing & Gallery. I’ve known owner Heather Piazza for a few years now, first through the Frank Bette Center in Alameda, and then through Four Oceans Press, an independent print and publishing company. So I was delighted when she asked if I’d like to have a solo show at her shop. Yes, please!

Here are the boxes of prints, ready to be unloaded and hung.
Boxes at Creative Framing ready to go

Hanging is not always easy. Heather says “Darn painting; why won’t it hang straight?”
Heather tries to straighten the painting

I thought I had brought too much work, but there are lots of interesting nooks and walls, and I just barely had enough. Here’s one corner:
Painting and mini prints in the corner

And a space near the front window. I can count nine brand new pieces in this photo, and overall, there are 13 new prints and paintings. I’ve been busy!
Paintings and prints next to the window

I am obviously very pleased with the way the show looks.
I am happy with the show

Tales of a Traveler
August 2 – August 29, 2010

Creative Framing & Gallery
5015 Woodminster Lane, Oakland CA [see map]

Reception: Saturday, August 28, 2010
6:00 – 8:00pm

Please come to the reception! We’d be delighted to see you.


A palindrome seems a good way to start my first blog entry of the new year, as I look both backwards at the year that has passed, and forward to whatever adventures 2010 may bring.

Somehow, in thinking about the new year, an old painting of mine jumped into my head.

Milky Way

I painted “Milky Way” in 2003 after spending a vacation down at Big Bear Lake with my sister Joanna and niece Katherine. One night we went out on the beach very late and watched for shooting stars. We saw a few, but it was more the calm night-time lake and star-studded sky that stuck with me, and the look of the white plastic beach chairs at the edge of the lake. The chairs seemed to extend an invitation to become part of the spectacle of the universe, offering us the ride of our lives.

I have that same expectant feeling now, guardedly optimistic as we enter a new year and a new decade.

Here’s wishing the best for all of us, with peace and prosperity and good will towards all living creatures.
Let’s go!

I Am a Plein-Air Artiste!

I took my new French easel out on my first plein-air outing this morning, and I’ve already learned a whole lot about painting outdoors. The first lesson learned: remember to bring your canvas!

After a quick trip back home to pick up a canvas (doh!), I was ready to settle in with paint and brush. Whenever I’ve mentioned wanting to try my hand at painting outdoors, people have immediately asked whether I’ll be doing coastal scenes. So since I had to begin somewhere, and popular demand said “coast”, I picked a spot on the headlands just south of Davenport. My hike with Kimlin came in very handy, since I’d walked the coast before and remembered where all the access points are.

This is the spot I picked:
My first plein-air location

I’m glad I practiced setting up my easel at home before going out to paint; it’s not immediately intuitive. Luckily there are on-line lessons on how to unfold one of these gizmos. Here is the easel, set up and ready for me to begin painting. :
My easel set up

And here’s the painting after a half hour of work, blocking in colors.
Colors and values roughed in

Here are some of the lessons I learned on my first day, in no particular order:
1. A hat and a windbreaker are good things to have.
2. There’s no need for paper towels if you have a good rag.
3. Plastic bags are bad for the environment, but good to have with you for packing out any trash.
4. It’s probably not a good idea to drink a giant cup of coffee before going out for a long painting session.
5. Eventually, I should have two sets of paints, one to have at home permanently, and one to carry in the easel permanently. This will help prevent disappointment, like realizing you’ve left a key color at home.
6. While the easel folds up quite cleverly, a bungee cord would be good to help keep it from unfolding as you walk back to the car.
7. Fruit is good to bring as a snack. Bananas are not the best choice.
8. A good strong coastal wind dries out paint really, really fast. I had a bit of a struggle to find the balance between enough paint to work with and not so much paint that it dries into a crusty gob.
9. It might be a good idea to have several canvases in the car so you can select the best shape for the spot you’ve picked. Ideally, I’d have used a slightly wider canvas for this painting; as it is, I’ve squeezed the cliff a bit to make it fit.
10. The sun moves, and so do shadows.
11. Painting outdoors makes you hungry.
12. Painting outdoors is hard work.
13. Painting outdoors is fun!

After working for a couple of hours, the sun had moved quite a bit (see #10 above) and I had to quit. I thought about this a bit, and when I got home I looked at some of Van Gogh’s paintings, and confirmed to myself that he usually did not paint strong directional shadows, but instead painted a strong overall light. Or one could be like Monet, and paint the same thing over and over with slightly different light.

One of the things I like about this easel is that you can leave the painting attached while folding it back up, giving a handy way to carry the painting when the canvas is still wet.
Packed up after working

I painted for two hours today. I can’t go out tomorrow –darn the day job!– but will go back again on Saturday to try and finish it up. All in all, paint me satisfied.
Moi, the plein aire artiste

Plein Air Affaire in Santa Cruz
If you are interested in more plein air painting, you should make sure to attend this weekend’s Plein Air Affaire. Located at the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz, the event takes place both Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 5pm. Our friend Andrew Purchin is one of the artists participating.

WIP: Paintings, Sneak Preview

I’ve been mostly blogging about my prints, with good reason: that’s what I’ve been working on lately. But it’s time to get the easel out and finish the paintings I’ve started. Plus Sarah-Hope gave me a plein-aire easel as a combined birthday and anniversary present, and I’m planning on going out to paint in the open. That’s a whole new venture for me, and I’m very excited about it. It will be the best of both worlds: hiking and painting, all at the same time!

So in no particular order, here’s what I’ve got queued up. Be warned that their sizes in this blog are not proportional to each other; pay attention the the dimensions listed to get an idea of the actual size of each painting.

Black Oak
28″ x 22″
Black Oak
This is almost finished; I just need to clean up the top 2/3 a little bit, and finish the hills and foreground grass.

Fire Road
28″ x 24″
Fire Road
A fair amount of work still to go: I want it all to be more fantastic, like the shrubs in the center. Think Van Gogh in the insane asylum. Fire roads, in California, are the dirt roads cut through the forests to allow crews to clear brush and fight fires, and they can be very hot to hike on. This time, think mad dogs and Englishmen.

Hill Road (working title; I’m not sure what it will be named)
18″ x 24″
Hill Road
This is actually a very old canvas that I found tucked away behind others when I moved to Santa Cruz. I’d have to guess I started it in 2003 or 2004. I’ll keep it pretty much the way it is, just finish details and surface texture.

View From the Train
36″ x 24″
View from the Train
There’s a fair amount of work to be done on this. The tire tracks need some color changes, and I might consolidate them so there are fewer of them. The hills and house in the distance need work, or the house may disappear altogether.

Eucalyptus Forest
12″ x 16″
Eucalyptus Forest
I’m still finding inspiration from my pilgrimage in Spain. This image is based on the forests in Galicia. It’s almost finished, just a few touch-ups to the sky color, and making the foreground shrubbery a bit more dense in color. Phtalo blues and greens tend to be transparent if you use them straight-up.

The Road (working title)
24″ x 24″
The Road
Again, an image from Spain. Specifically, looking down from the ridge you climb after leaving Castrojeriz. This is just roughed in, so there’s lots of work left to do, but the color balance is about right. I’ll add more reds-yellows-ochres to the fields.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me! So I’m off then, to paint.

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