Thursday, October 26, 2006

Of Patience and Persistence

We visit Oregon frequently, three or four times a year. Along Highway 5 there is a stretch of land with an excellent view of Shasta. I wanted to paint it when we first began stopping there for a break from the driving, so eventually, I began bringing my watercolors along. The first results were disastrous. The colors were just not what I wanted, so I would get home and toss them in a pile. To be more specific, they weren't timid, but they weren't bold. In my opinion, the colors were not accurate. I define accuracy as the ability to convey the place's "feel" with color. Too often the only thing that saved those watercolors was their composition or range of tonal values.

I have learned that my eyes need some "aclimatizing" before they can attempt to register the full range of color, hue and value in an outdoor scene. I have a hard time describing the process. My color perception appears to be highly correlated to the amount of time spent at a location, whether I'm wearing shades or spend time indoors. So I do not try to paint right after arrival. I wait at least a day or two if I can manage.

But what if I'm just passing by? I was finally able to paint something more satisfactory after the fourth try. In this painting, I got rid of Payne's gray and used purple to define Shasta. The hills are suggested by two baseline transparencies (yellow ocre and a turquoise blue) overlapping at the horizon. But I had the most fun with the bobcat. I love mechanical objects. If you do watercolor, you will notice the sky's wash is quite imperfect. I have stopped trying to create perfect flat areas of color unless the painting calls for it. To me, it is what gives the medium its own vulnerability and appeal, otherwise, little will distinguish it from silkscreen or Flash.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Small Pieces

We were very broke upon arrival from my visit to Brazil in 1991. I threw myself into obtaining a teaching credential and later into graduate school. Watercolor was the only media I worked on during these years. I used the 7 x 10 blocks, or cut larger sheets to these dimensions. At times I also used 10 x 14. Because my work is usually not based on photographs, the larger formats seemed inconvenient; they took way longer to execute. I loved painting people, but it was very hard to catch them for more than a few seconds. So the small size enabled me to catch an impression.

Later on, I learned to “resolve” the issue of detail in my larger pieces. After I started working in oils again, this media helped me realize I could suggest instead of document. As a result, I started experimenting with much larger sizes, up to 22 x 30.

I also learned that watercolor society curators would not consider works under that gargantuan dimension, so I tried... and failed. In retrospect, none of those big pieces seems satisfactory to me. 22 x 30 is a studio, not plein air size. You need time and entire pans of color to make it work. You need a table. I went back to 10 x 14.
Currently, I still cut large sheets in half or quarters. 140 lb paper rarely curls anyway, so I seldom carry more than the tubes, a mixing pan, and my two brushes when I go out.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Details, Details, Details

I've been busy "inventorying" (does this word exist?) my work of the last five years. Yes, I have been lazy, I'm one of those people who don't even sign most of their work because they think they'll go back and "resolve" whatever issues later on. So, if I don't even sign my own work, coming up with a title, media, dimensions, and value feels even more troublesome. But now that I am getting ready to market my work (see how ugly that word feels?) I need to have an inventory. So I've used Excel to create a primitive list.

I've had to go back and measure my oils, and try to remember in what paper did I do those watercolors from a few years back. But that's easy, I've been in love with Lanaquarelle for some time now. I don't even have flat files! I have many portfolios where I keep my works on paper. All very confusing and not much of a system.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Still Life

Still life is difficult. Just yesterday I started one in acrylic and I stopped. I am so used to oil now that the acrylic painting proved to be too hard for me to tackle. Am I being overly ambitious by crowding it with too many objects? Should I do it at a time when the light does not change so rapidly? I set this one up on the table where I normally keep the miter cutter.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Figure Drawing

These are 20 minute poses done in a more restricted palette, Paine's Gray, Burnt Sienna, and Sap Green. But this paper could not take light erasing (it behaved as if it had lost its sizing) so I am going back to Lanaquarelle. This means I will beat myself over the "bad" watercolors one inevitably produces during a three-hour session, because good paper is so expensive. You are looking at the good ones. I don't photograph the bad ones.

I love this model. You can see all of her bones and muscles.


So here's the background so far. There are still some problems, but I am satisfied the figure is very much at the foreground. I loved doing the bicycle.

20 Minute Figure Drawing

This semester I thought I'd keep myself sharp by taking a figure drawing class at the Richmond Art Center, which is very close to where I live. I really wanted to bring my watercolors and acrylics, but wasn't sure what kind of class it would be. I didn't need to worry, as instructor Laura Paulini was very accepting of anything which furthers self-expression and a search for knowledge. So after the first couple of classes, I began using ink, and later, watercolors.

The longest poses are twenty minutes! That's a short time... If you're using watercolor, consider that sometimes you may want paint to dry before you add a transparent layer. All cannot be done wet-on-wet. In the first few I was using a Velasquez palette, but soon abandoned this approach in favor of something a bit more restricted (two colors), which takes less time. I spend about 7 of those first twenty minutes measuring and drawing with a pencil. I could work without the pencil drawing too, but it takes longer.

So in these quick pieces I have been dealing with the problem of how to interpret the human body in a very short time frame, using a liquid medium. This context makes the work wonderfully loose and unpredictable, even with cheap paper.

Friday, October 06, 2006


I had a chance to work some more on the migrant worker's portrait. I added the background and worked on the chair. I have been debating on what to do with the background for a while. I wanted it to tell a story, then I scraped that idea and decided to just do the exact background in the studio, which includes objects completely unrelated to the sitter's life. So now I am getting ready to do just that. I won't mess with "reality" until I have a much better idea of why I am doing it. Probably later, during the next few portraits.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Where I Started

Two years ago I had a very stressful job and decided to return to oil painting. I had been doing watercolors all these years but had never had the space to commit to larger works. So I decided to experiment and converted a shack in my Sacramento yard into a studio. The pieces I completed during this time reflect the beautiful sunlight of the region.

An 80 square feet shack soom became too small, so when we returned to the Bay Area my partner and I looked for a garage I could use. The home we eventually found had a very old, termite ridden garage, which we remodeled. I went from 80 to 400 sq feet, which was the maximum my budget allowed.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


I am working on a series about migrant workers, many of whom congregate at the home improvement warehouse about five minutes away from my studio. Here you see the results of five and a half hours of back-breaking work. I have to start and finish on the same day because models are often not available again the following day. I will work on the background later this week, and post a photo of the finished piece.

The hardest thing is to explain, in Spanish, that they will get paid for "just sitting." I pay the standard rate they would receive if they were out there doing their usual work. I also translate the contents of the model release form, and give them a photo of the painting.

This Is The Place

...Where I will start posting about my painting. The posts will be short unless I find a typist or a cortisone shot. I have repetitive motion damage to my tendons, but I'll do my best.