Back in another professional life before I became a painter in oil I worked in gouache and also a mixed media technique I learned at Mark English’s Illustration Academy. I also used watercolor and pen and ink for some illustration class assignments when I was getting my BFA Illustration at the Academy of Art (then College) from 1987-1989. Since spring is on the way I thought I’d share four that have a landscape or plant subject…two that play it straight and a two where I, well, didn’t and went for a humorous touch.
Most art shows have gone virtual due to Covid-19 but they’re still happening! I recently rejoined our local Redwood Art Association in time to enter the 2nd annual Humboldt Paint Out with was held from September 29- October 3, Monday through Saturday. The sticky part was that, due to a wildfire to the east of us it was smoky for the entire time (three out of four weeks total). Time to “make lemonade”. I was intending to head out and see what, if anything, I could find as a subject but saw the sun rising above the evergreens to the east of us and decided I’d try to capture that. Grabbed my painting gear walked three feet from my studio, set up and got to it. I had already decided to paint in gouache (opaque watercolor) which I’ve used on and off for decades. Here’s the result:
That same day I painted “Smoke” from the same spot trying to capture the visual texture and color of it. So instead of just photos I have some of it recorded in paint.
The next few days were really bad and we didn’t want to be outside at all unless absolutely necessary. But Friday, Oct. 2, rolled around and I decided to hit the road and head north. My original idea had been to do one painting at each of the lagoons- Dry Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Freshwater Lagoon, Stone Lagoon and I hoped that maybe some or all of them, being right by the ocean, might be clear enough to be ok. Alas, it wasn’t smoke but heavy fog that put paid to that idea. I’d also wanted to paint at Prairie Creek State Park, which is also part of Redwood National Park, so I went on north with fingers crossed. And when I got to Orick, not far to the south, SUNSHINE! And, although it was hazy, it the air was ok enough to set up and paint a scene of the namesake prairie. I’d taken one of our collies, Hailey, with me and she happily settled down at the base of my easel for the duration. In fact, she got a little stubborn when it was time to leave.
By the time I was done the smoke was starting to thicken so home I went back into fog and smoke.
At this point I decided to stay home and finish up the event at our house and in our own neighborhood. When we bought the acre we built our house on there were almost no trees left from when the previous owner had it logged. But there was one special tree, a very old alder. I created the basic floor plan for our house and put the window over the sink such that it framed it. It was challenging to paint in the shifting smoke light but I finally felt I’d captured it. I’d been wanting to do this big old bole for years and had only managed a couple of sketches. I did it in the afternoon after I got returned.
One more day to go and, of course, it was smoky at first. On the road one takes before turning onto our street one of the properties to the north has a few very tall old pine trees, probably what’s left from a windbreak. After lunch the wind must have changed because suddenly we had clear blue skies! So I loaded up my painting gear and drove the whole couple of minutes or so to the corner where I could set up under some very old cypress trees. I work pretty fast. One of the things I like about gouache is that it dries fast so one layer colors quickly. Which was good because I had about ten minutes to go and back came the smoke. I’d taken photos when I gotten there so was able to get the last bits done in the studio (which is NOT cheating). I did have fun playing with color temperature.
On deadline day, Saturday the third, I scanned all of them, made necessary adjustments so they would be as accurate as possible and submitted them. And then waited, as we do when entering shows. The juror was Randall Sexton, a very accomplished artist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since I’m not really a plein painter like those who do it as their main art activity I didn’t think much about getting an award. For me it was more about getting involved again in the local art scene and getting started doing location work in gouache. But…to my surprise and pleasure “Our Old Alder, Smoke Light” took 5th place! The reward was a check for $200, a $100 gift certificate from our local frame shop and another gift certificate from a local spa for a massage! I loved that the judge liked the one that is the most special to me.
And wait, there’s more! I also enter the RAA’s “Halloween” show. Once again I used it as a springboard to try out something new, a combination of pen and ink and watercolor. Once again my purpose was to have fun participating. Scott W. Prior, nationally known painter, was the juror and he picked “Quoth, The Raven” for an Award of Merit”!
So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last month or so. I’m currently working on a set of three oil paintings for a Nov. 13 deadline. In my last post I showed the value and color studies for them. I’ll post a full step by step when they’re done.
More about the warthog in a moment, but first some good Covid-19 news. As of this past Saturday there were no new cases in Humboldt County for four days in a row! I don’t think any of us expect this to last, but it suggests that by following the shelter in place order for the past three weeks, we’re at least flattening the curve. There was no update on Sunday but there should be one today after 4pm. I’ve seen estimates now of a five or fourteen day incubation period, so we’ll see. In the meantime we’ve got plenty to do around the house and property and it’s sunny!
Now on to the warthog. During an art workshop safari I went on in October 2004, with the late Simon Combes, one of the places we went to was Lewa Downs Conservancy. The lodge was on a hilltop with a great view. We were watching Simon do a plein air demo and then set up to do our own. This warthog walked right in front of us less than 20′ away and stopped. I got some great photos, including this one.
This week’s Inktober52 prompt is “Red”. I don’t have any “red” ink as it turns out (that will be remedied, I hope, on Friday when my order of Dr. PH Martin’s Bombay inks arrive). But I did have a small sample container of Noodler’s Ink Burgundy and that’s what I used, as seen above. The nib this time was a Hunt 22, a good sturdy drawing nib. I started out by doing a graphite drawing. This solves all the drawing and value problems first so on the final drawing I can focus on the penwork.
I overlaid the drawing with a piece of Clearprint Heavy Vellum. It worked well but I prefer to do pen and ink work on paper so experimentation will continue.
In other news, I belong to a Facebook group called Sunday Paintout, which meets around 10am on, well, Sunday mornings every week. It’s not the best day for me but I participate when I can. Because of Covid-19, the paintouts are happening virtually. Members are going out on their own on Sunday morning and posting images of the art they’ve done and maybe the location they went to. Our ornamental cherry trees are in full bloom and I’ve had the itch to paint them so yesterday morning I got out my watercolors for the first time in ages and did this quick sketch. I used Winsor Newton watercolors on Saunders Waterford 140lb coldpress paper. It’s 8×8″.
Spring has sprung so I’ve gotten out the past few days to paint and sketch in our garden. I use a Yarka full-pan set of paints, a variety of brushes and either a 9×12″ Arches cold press block or 8×8″ pieces of Sanders Waterford cold press taped to a piece of foamcore with taped edges.
I really wanted to do the lilacs before they faded, so I focused on them.
I got so involved in what I was doing that I forgot to take any other step photos of this first one. My goal was to limber up for the painting season and catch the lilacs against the dark green of the English laurel behind it. I stayed with really simple shapes working, as one does with watercolor, from light to dark.
I then went around to the other side to do a close-in version of the lilacs.
I kept it loose, starting, as before, with a light pencil drawing and then laying in the lightest areas of color.
As you can see I treated the lilacs as simple shapes, not getting into painting individual flowers. I also paid attention to color temperature, starting warm in the lightest area and going cooler in the shadows.
All in all, I’m pretty happy with the way they came out. The roses are just getting started so stay tuned…
I’m back home after my Wyoming trip with no big juried show deadlines to paint for, so it’s my time of year to work on my painting process, in which I review the work I did over the last year thinking about what worked and what didn’t, what I might want to do in the coming year and how. I’m also going back to basics in a couple of areas to improve my skill set. One of those areas is contour drawing. I shared some of the those from the SKB workshop in last week’s post. Another is value studies or, as David Rankin, the nationally-known watercolorist who I studied with at the workshop, calls them, Gray Studies. You can find a number of his excellent tutorials on his Facebook page here and on his website here. (Go to “Watercolor Training Files” on the left hand side and then “Grey Studies Training Files”.
I spent quite a bit of time one afternoon at the workshop simply figuring out, with his help, how to put down a correct single tone watercolor wash (the *secret* is plenty of water) using a 1″ flat brush (I usually use rounds). The really important exercise was learning his four value “recipe” for doing gray studies by painting along with him as he did one.
Once back home in the studio I wanted to build on what I’d learned. I’ve done value studies as a preliminary step for my paintings for years and it was something I’d learned in art school. I’d done them as graphite drawings or very small oils and it always felt a bit time consuming, however necessary. But this way of doing them in watercolor was an eye-opener. So easy, really. Paint around the whites, covering everything else. Then add layers of middle values. Save the darkest dark, if there is one, for last. But it took some new thinking and seeing to be able to do it and know what I was doing.
So I’ve spent most of the week painting gray studies from my photo reference. It was fun to revisit some of my Kenya wildlife images. These are all in Payne’s Gray (which has a very nice blueish tone) on an Arches 140lb cold press watercolor block, using sometimes a flat and sometimes a round. None took more than an hour or so. The stork above was the second one. In order:
At this point I felt that I understood the process enough to paint some that might become finished oils.
I did the quick preliminary drawings with a 9B Cretacolor Monolith pencil. It’s important not to labor over them, just indicate the basic shapes, plus where the white of the paper will be. So there you have it…a quick and inexpensive way to try out art ideas and value patterns.
Last year I joined up with an informal “Sunday Painters” group. One person posts the next location on his Facebook page on Saturday and then whoever wants to shows up. There’s been close to a dozen of us at times. It’s about a 50/50 split between those who work in watercolor and those who paint in oil. I’ve mostly been using it as a busman’s holiday and doing watercolors. It’s always great fun and camaraderie. Here’s a selection of what I’ve done over the past few months.
I use either a set of Yarka poured watercolors or a Winsor-Newton set of half-pans on Arches cold press 140lb. watercolor blocks or loose 8×8″ pieces of Saunders Waterford 140lb. cold press. I’ve also been experimenting with Lanaquarelle cold press and hot press. I’ve got a variety of brushes. My current favorite is a large synthetic round that I got at Cass Art Supply in London last May, but I also like Robert Simmons’ Sapphires. I just got a new Stephen Quiller flat, the same as my friend and nationally-known watercolorist David Rankin uses, and plan to try it out this weekend since so far the weather forecast is looking good. David has posted a ton of wonderful tutorials on his website and his Facebook page. If you do watercolor or want to, check them out. I’ve learned a lot from him, not only about handling the media, but picture-making in general.
One decent storm came through but now it’s back to sunny and cool to cold. I went up to Trinidad yesterday afternoon. It was very windy and pretty cold, so I set up in the van just like I did when it was snowing in Yellowstone last September. I sit in the driver’s seat and use the wheel as support for the piece of foamcore I tape the watercolor paper to. The paint and water container are on the passenger seat.
I’m really liking this rock and the way the light lands on it in the afternoon. It may end up being my version of Monet’s hay bales for awhile. It’s around 9×6″.
Last week I drove down the hill from our house to the parking area across from the beach and did this quick study (motivated by the nippy temperature) of Trinidad Head, so-called because a Spanish ship made landfall there on the Feast of the Trinity on June 9, 1775. You can read more about the town and its history here. It was cloudy with no sun, but I wanted to get in a little location painting time so figured I’d do a small piece. It’s about 6×9″.
The top piece was done on Saunders Waterford 140lb. hot press. The other two were done on Arches 140lb. hot press. I used my set of Yarka watercolors and a ProArte synthetic round brush. I have a bunch of different brushes and am trying them out one by one to see which, if any, I like best these days.
And, yes, we’re very fortunate to live only fifteen minutes away from such a beautiful beach.
In the early 1980s I was living in Berkeley working as a freelance graphic designer. I hit a very rough patch, rough enough that I had to sit back and figure out what to do career-wise. I saw my choices as getting a job, re-dedicating myself to my freelance design business and really digging in on marketing or “taking some classes” to increase and improve my skill level. What ended up happening is that in 1987 at age 35 I went back to school full-time at what was then the Academy of Art College (now “University”) in San Francisco for three years and earned a BFA Illustration in 1989. While I had intended to focus on graphic design and also take some illustration classes (a relative and a friend had both trained as illustrators there so I knew it was a good program), within a few weeks I knew Illustration was what I wanted since I had FINALLY found the art field where traditional drawing skills were still highly valued.
I had up to nine hours of drawing a week. It was a struggle to undo all the tics and faulty perceptions I’d built up trying to teach myself and, in fact, had become so frustrated that I didn’t draw at all, other than for work-related jobs, for close to ten years. But class after class I just kept going, drawing after drawing. I never won any awards, but at the end I had the knowledge and skills to keep improving. Within a few years I felt that I could finally say that I knew how to draw.
In the Illustration Department we had to do an illustration a week, every week. The first semester required us to use first pen and ink and also gouache. Below you’ll see some of the initial exercises we did. I was one of the very few who liked gouache and I was interested in greeting card work, much of which was painted in that media at the time, so I stayed with it all through school. The second semester was watercolor and dyes like Dr. Martin’s. From the third semester on we could use the media of our choice.
Among my favorite classes was one taught by Stan Fleming, who did storyboarding for quite a few LucasFilms, including at least of of the Indiana Jones movies. He would come to class in his leather Indie jacket, to our delight. Our assignments were movie-based, like doing a storyboard for Ghostbusters or object designs for a fantasy movie, and a lot of fun. Another favorite instructor was Dennis Ziemienski, who is now a nationally-known fine artist, but became a well-known illustrator for, among other things, his Elmore Leonard book covers. All his assignments were based on actual jobs that he’d done. He also brought in guest critiquers. For me the memorable one was Neil Shakery from the legendary design firm Pentagram. I’ve posted three images below, for a children’s magazine, from the assignment he critiqued. I encountered him downstairs afterwords and he took a minute to tell me how much he liked what I’d done. That meant a lot to me, as you can imagine. We also had guest speakers who included Robert Heindel and Drew Struzan.
So here’s a trip down my illustration memory lane:
As you can see, I took advantage of the opportunity to try all kinds of styles and approaches. Next time I’ll share some of the work I did after graduation for my professional portfolio.
I’m back home now from my two week trip to Wyoming, where I spent three great days in Yellowstone National Park, a day and a half in Jackson Hole and five days at the Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop (SKB).
I painted and sketched along the way and at the workshop, trying out a variety of combinations of paper and water media. Here’s an album of some of my pieces, all done on location:
Since I don’t really paint North American wildlife anymore, I found it liberating to not worry about getting “the shot”, although I ended up with lots of great photos, but instead to focus on sketching the live bison.
The third day I was in Yellowstone it snowed in the morning. I drove out to the Lamar Valley and set up my watercolors on the passenger seat of our VW Eurovan camper, then just looked out the windows to do these three studies.
There’s a huge mountainous cliff on the east side of the park that is known as a place to spot mountain goats. And, sure enough, I spotted this nanny and kid with my binoculars. I got out my spotting scope (a Leica Televid) and managed these two quick pen sketches before she and the youngster got up and moved off out of sight. Then it was back to bison.
One of the locations at the SKB workshop was a ranch that has been in the same family for over 100 years. Hope to be able to go there again next year.
Next week I’ll share photos and stories from the workshop.