Tuesday, December 22, 2009


This is another 18 x 24" acrylic done from my memories of Halloween. I am not sure if it will stay like this, but I am really liking doing this research into the recesses of my visual memory. It is amazing! I have focused on remembering the mood and light more than anything. In these memories I am the viewer, so none of these children is me. I am not forcing the composition or anything. The revisions I have done have more to do with values and colors than with content.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ball Games

This 20 x 16" acrylic was done entirely from a collection of memories I have of my childhood in Puerto Rico. The top one is the most recent version. I took some licence with the houses as I did not want to make the background too distracting. I did not want to remember every detail either. After all, the genre is defined by the absence of small details.

The composition came out ok, considering I did not plan it. I find it very interesting to paint something I remember without a set plan, because you never know what's going to show up, it's like planning an impromptu dinner. So although the painting would look more beautiful if I planned it more, I am not sure "the doors would remain open," so to speak, to welcome stray visuals of my childhood.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Poet Karen

At first, one sees the person who is modelling; but little by little, all of the possible sculptures that could be made come between artist and model.
Alberto Giacometti

This is a 24 x 24" acrylic that I completed at the Firehouse in Berkeley. It took me six hours because I had a lot of trouble with the hands, but I like the light and the background. I learned a lot struggling with it!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bay Street, Crockett

This 18 x 24" acrylic on canvas has an interesting story. Manicured places and objects have never held my interest the way deteriorated stuff does, so I pretended I was painting the view of the bay, but I was painting the house directly in front of me. The boat's owner, I overhead, was leaving the following day for Colorado, so I took a cell phone camera picture and left after two hours with just an underpainting and some quick color notations. The challenge was to finish the painting maintaining the color scheme I had seen. I also wanted to preserve the detail I could have noticed while standing in front of the house, but all I had was my memory and a cell phone pic as references. So the brushstrokes aren't as loose as my other work, but I think the colors came out ok.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our Friend Adrian

If every person who commissions a portrait was able to pose this well, I would be done in record speed and they would pay less. Adrian had never before modeled for a group of painters. He held the pose extremely well! The result was a decent 24 x 18" painting, with good color. I hope he was not in pain when we ended. Modeling is very hard work and it's best to be in shape.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Berkeley Figure Painting Session

I was invited to a painting group that meets in Berkeley, at the home studio of a local artist. I have painted the model before, but this time, because of the strange size of the canvas (15 x 30") I extended the view to include a fellow painter hard at work. This palette had Titanium White, Pyrrole Orange, Pthalo Blue, Dioaxine Violet, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Lemon Yellow and Pthalo Green.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Our Standard Schnauzer

This painting started as a family joke. Kafka, our schnauzer, is a perfectly well-behaved dog until he sees either cats, picas or squirrels. The later seem to flip him into another channel! Standing is his favorite position once he has spotted one. Because I am teaching a basic painting class at Richmond Art Center, I wanted to do this painting completely from references. Thus began a series of life sketches (all interrupted because he is 16 months old and barely able to stand still), diagrams of his muscle system, and a value study followed by a color study. By the time I grabbed this small (20 x 16") canvas, I was feeling much more comfortable working from photos. A friend gave me permission to base the background on a photo of El Sobrante Ridge, and I painted the squirrel from memory. It has this tinge of magic realism, which is what I was going for.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Two Moods, One Lake

We went to Lake Anza in Berkeley for two consecutive weeks and I worked in acrylic again. On the first week it was quite sunny, but on the second week the day was overcast and even dark, with an approaching storm. I revised the sunny painting (24 x 18") on the second week because I thought the water reflections were duller than they should be, and I had time to embark on a second painting (20 x 16") with the same palette: ultramarine blue, pthalo blue, lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, pthalo green, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, permanent violet and titanium white. It wasn't exactly a split primary palette or even a colorist's palette, but it worked well for this subject. The woman in the background is a colleague who recently joined our East Bay Plein Air group.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bruce at The Firehouse

I occasionally visit the Firehouse group on Tuesdays to do figure painting. This 20 x 16 acrylic painting felt wonderful, because it flowed. The model was excellent! I was happy with the light and the modeling of this figure.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Hotel W for the Momentum Conference

It was only three days, but the folks from Tides pampered my paintings at the Hotel W. Marika Holmgren the event coordinator, made sure I had everything I needed. My work was shown at the Community Room, together with the work of Amanda Lopez. This photo was taken by Kevin Tuney, the engineering assistant who hung my paintings with 100 lb nylon line from screws placed on the ceiling of the hotel walls. Making sure they were evenly spaced and level was very very hard, but Kevin was great to work with. I want to thank Bruce DeMartini, the Tides program cooedinator of Tides Shared Spaces, who thought of this series and invited me.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Still Life Process

The way to form transcends its own destination, goes beyond the end of the way itself. Paul Klee

I set out to paint a still life this week. Since I have northern light from a large window, I placed a large piece of foam board on top of a table right by it. I had a birch panel that I had primed with gesso, the cheapest acrylics available on the market, and some cheap nylon and hog brushes. I experimented for a while with various household objects as subjects, because their properties attracted me. Wanting to demonstrate certain principles in figurative work to my future students at the Richmond Art Center is what propelled me to go beyond my comfort zone.

I settled for a lineup composition and began painting. But I didn't bother to check some important things, such as whether my lines were straight, because I was too excited by the beginning. I was not thrilled at having to watch things like symmetry and whether or not a reflection makes sense or not, but this is what we get into when painting man-made objects. I "forgot" I have astigmatism, which means that when I am not wearing glasses I distort lines. And I don't wear my glasses because I like not seeing all the details so I can concentrate on other things.

So towards the end of the ten hours it took me, instead of looking at the overall values, I had to spend time correcting the vertical lines in two of these objects with a straightedge. Ugh. Then I noticed there was a lot of room for play in this painting and my mood lightened up. The reflections were subtle and so was the lighting. There was some color, but nothing too dramatic. So I could contribute much to the painting merely by making subtle choices in execution, values and color. And best of all, I could spend as much or as little time as I needed, which is the biggest advantage of working indoors.

I have "desaturated" a picture of the finished painting in Photoshop (the black and white photo). This lets you see pure value and you can check if the values work. One of the purposes of studying painting as a discipline is to train your mind to do this on its own, without Photoshop. You want to develop the ability to ignore color at will, and ignore value to concentrate on color if you need to evaluate either. I started out with a palette composed of eight colors, but ended up using mostly titanium white, pthalo green, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow and cerulean blue.

If you compare the photo of the setup with the finished painting, you will notice all of the values and color an artist's eye can see, versus what the camera captures. This is why it is much better to revise from memory, because the colors I remembered were much more vivid than those in the painting. Even though painters are limited by the pigments with which we imitate the effects of light, it is still possible approximate those effects with good pigment choices and good value work.

Finally, I feel I should say this was not a mere exercise. I love the juxtaposition of forms in this still life, and the subtle color. But mot important for me is to train my perception to think of all of these factors.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Annie's Annuals

I gave this painting to my mom because I know she loves flowers and she loves this nursery too. The truth is plants are always a challenge! The place was lovely and they were very nice to the seven of us who showed there to paint. The light changed midway through the session and the nursery posed compositional as well as time contraint challenges. This is always a good exercise, but can feel overwhelming. Acrylic, however, lets you work rather quickly and so when the sun came out I had worked out the composition, the perspective and some of the underlaying color. I am happy with this piece.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kiva Beach, South Lake Tahoe

I have never revised as intensely as I did with these two acrylics. Maybe it was the unusual sand color, or the fact that the light was so strong. The one with Sarah, Kafka and my mom (16 x 20") was done quickly because they didn't know they were posing. The one with the mountain (18 x 18") went slower. Intense light and many interruptions were big challenges, then I went home and finished them from memory. I keep finding that memory is much more reliable than photos when it comes to color.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Bridges of Grants Pass, OR

Well, it's actually the same bridge with arches, seen from opposite sides of the Rogue river, at roughly the same time in the day. There is a beautiful park on one of its shores that I've been dying to paint, but the water was calling...We don't have rivers like this in the Bay Area. I painted the purple bridges (18 x 24") on Saturday, and the yellow bridge on Sunday. If you look at the purple bridges, there's a spot by the water between the two, and that's where I sat on the second day to paint the yellow bridge (18 x 18"), on the opposite shore.

To get to the purple side, I parked on 5th St and descended to the water's edge via a steep path that led through some hobo beds. No one bothered me there, but while I was on the opposite shore painting the yellow bridge, a creepy, disheveled man approached from behind quietly. When he was within less than ten feet said, "Nice painting!" out loud. My nerves rattled, I muttered a thank you, and swore to myself I will carry my pepper spray when Kafka is not with me.

Therefore I have penned,

Five Nice Things You Could Say Upon Stumbling Into A Plein Air Painter:
1. Hi, I like to watch artists work. May I look for a couple of minutes?
2. Wow. I don't paint, but I appreciate art.
3. I'm with my kids, would you mind if they get a bit closer to see?
4. Ooops! Are we blocking your view? Please let us know if we are.
5. I'd like to buy your painting when it's done. Do you have a card?

And, Five Mood Killers For Plein Air Painters:
1. How long does it take you to finish? And how much do you sell it for?
2. Whatta wonderful hobby this must be!
3. Are you painting?
4. Shhh. Be quiet, don't you see she's painting?
5. Carol, come over, there's an artist here, PAINTING!

Also, Five Great Conversation Starters To Use On Plein Air Painters:
1. How long have you been painting?
2. Do you have a studio?
3. What drew you to this place?
4. Do you ever use photographs?
5. Do you sell prints of your work?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What I Learned From Watercolor

Benicia's Waterfront, Acrylic on birch panel, 16 x 24"

I don't know if many of you know that for years I did not have a proper studio. Because oil and acrylic demand a certain amount of space, I felt I had to paint in watercolor all of those years. Now, I made this choice joyfully as one of my most admired art instructors happens to be a superb watercolorist and he influenced me. As a result, through high school and for the next 15 years, I saw the world through the demands of the medium. So what did I transfer once I was in my forties and financially able to build my own studio? I asked myself that question and the results were amazingly rich.

I am impervious to the seductions of heavier media. Let me explain. Oil and acrylic are so sensuous, it's like playing with lotion, or butter. It's hard to get on with the program. But watercolor, specially when you are doing figurative work, forces you to draw, to make at least a primitive plan before you begin. You must also take care of all the midtones before you lay your darkest values. So you learn patience and delayed gratification in several ways.

I never stopped observing. Because I was continuously presented with practical problems (now how do I depict those palm fronds?), I got into the habit of observing with these in mind. I may have not had a studio, but I painted with my mind when I was not doing watercolor.

My colors stayed pure. I learned to make the maximum use of the white of the canvas. I learned to stay away from muddy colors and use transparencies. I used the same pigments you would find in acrylics, trying not to overwork the surfaces.
Now I know when to stop. There is a point in watercolor when you've done all you can. Because it is a demanding medium, you learn to tell. You learn this the hard way too, by ruining nice paintings in a manner that is often impossible to disguise or scrape.

I think this is all. Whithout considering myself a real watercolorist, there is much I owe to this medium once considered appropriate only for field scketches and preparatory studies.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What do artists want?

Artists, it turns out, tend to be almost universally frustrated by having to give time to pursuits other than art. Staying away from distractions, switching from the left to the right brain, organizing life so that they can sculpt, assemble, draw, or etch, that's the hardest challenge of all. I belong to a very active group on Facebook called "The Life of An Artist." The goal is to get artists from all over the world to communicate with each other, and they do. I was reading the message board, where there are several topics under discussion, and it's fascinating.

Right now, I can tell most of the artists on this group like being able to focus on their art, connecting with other artists, and getting recognition in the form of cold, hard cash. But even more revealing is the topic of what artists don't like. Lack of time to work is number one, followed by having to interact with other artists who take themselves too seriously. Wasting expensive materials, people who analyze paintings to death, and strangers who assume art is a wonderful hobby are next on this list.

On the topic of professional jealously, I found a few gems, great thoughts by fellow artists that should be framed:

Human beings always act from mixed motives. The presence of feelings of admiration does not necessarily negate the presence of feelings of jealousy.
Mark Peters
There will always be someone who is a better artist than me...I can't get hung up on that.
Anne Kullaf
Jealous of another artist would be like I lost something or threw in the towel and gave up.
Michael Corcoran

Finally, this group provides plenty of space in its message board to praise the work of others. What a wonderful idea, and so many have taken advantage of this thread to talk about favorite artists. If you are wondering where to start collecting, or simply admiring art, this is it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Models At The Firehouse

The male model, Otenio, is sitting at a table beautifully arranged by Vicki Salzman. This acrylic (16 x 20") took almost two sittings to complete. The painting of the Barbara in the other acrylic of the same size, took a three-hour session. Both are models from the Bay Area Models Guild.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Two Strikingly Different Places

The edge of the Parchester marsh was an acrylic done on a 15 x 30" canvas. It took two visits. We had to park near a shooting range near the Richmond dump, and walk to the southern edge of the marsh. The biggest challenge of this painting is that the weather conditions kept changing so rapidly. The second challenge was that the sky was overcast and the lovely marsh greens and reds turned into a nondescript muddy green. But I persisted.

The other painting is a 16 x 24" acrylic on birch panel done at Dimond park in Oakland. Here I chose an entirely different palette, with three colors I never use with acrylics: burnt sienna, pthalocyanine green, and quinacridone red. On top of it all, I forgot to bring white and had to borrow a small amout. Those people on the painting stood there for a few minutes and I struggled to capture their pose quickly. I like how their faces are undefined. I also like how warm the colors look despite the cool green I used.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

China Camp

Our plein air group went to China Camp for a month. I got to go for two weeks in a row, and these acrylics are the result. The square one measures 24 x 24" and the rectangular one measures 20 x 16." The square one is an acrylic on birch panel, the other one is painted on canvas.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Two huge watercolors I did outdoors a few years ago, about 18 x 24" I was remembering them because I will be traveling to Tubac (about 20 minutes south of Tucson) next week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


These are three recent paintings. The first one is an acrylic, the last two are oils. The last one is a large format oil (47 x 24") done at the Whittel Marsh in Point Pinole. The pickleweed is barely noticeable. It was a nightmare to keep the easel stable in that wind. It fell twice in the sand, and this is after I had placed bags with rocks on the easel legs. The middle one was done at the Carquinez Strait Regional Park, but it is a view of the road that leads to Port Costa. This is a fairly small painting, 12 x 16" in size. The first is a view of the Parchester Marsh at Point Pinole, another windy location. You can see the Chevron refinery at Point Richmond in the background.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It Was A Wild Success

Open Studios went well for me. I had a total of about 80 visitors, mostly local traffic. For a location like mine, isolated from the major art centers, this was very good. One in every six people who came bought something. I kept the prices low intentionally, even though a collector told me I was charging too little. I did not sell portraits, but I sold a lot of landscapes to people who had hiked these parks and loved those views. I also sold a couple of drawings of the figure.

I had made an invoice form and had it ready on my laptop, along with a printer. This will ensure I keep good records come tax time. And I didn't have to go anywhere else in order to get it printed so I could talk to the buyers while I completed it.

In retrospect I wished I had been able to place my watercolors on mats, but as it turned out, this didn't prevent people from buying. I had the watercolors and some figure drawings in portfolios, on plastic sleeves, atop my flat files. I hung everything I wanted to sell and removed anything I didn't want to sell. I also prepared price lists, because I showed about a hundred pieces and couldn't keep it all in my head. This proved to be a good way to keep track of sales and the information that goes on the receipts. Buyers told me they liked the price lists because they felt everyone was getting the same treatment regarding price. They were on a small table so people saw them when they started looking at the paintings. Some lookers took the price lists home along with a postcard.

I met many neighbors and local art lovers. It was a great experience! Many thanks to Pro Arts for organizing it every year.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Open Studios June 6-7 and 13-14

Sarah and I went to the Pro Arts Gala this afternoon. We were listening to the wonderful jazz ensemble when I got a call on my cell. I stepped outside to take it and discovered it was my friend Karen Sherr, telling me a reviewer for the East Bay Express had named me as one of the top ten picks for Open Studios. I was happy. I hope many people come to see it.

East Bay Open Studios
More than four hundred Alameda and ContraCostaCounty artists are opening their studios to visitors on June 6/7 and 13/14; samples of their work, in all media and styles, are now on display at Pro Arts. If you're staycationing this summer, support your artist neighbors by perusing, schmoozing, and noshing(come for the cheese, stay for the broccoli). Check out the show, pick up a free directory, with photos, web sites, and maps, and plan your excursions. Some show standouts: Rebecca Garcia-Gonzalez, Martin Webb, Deborah Barrett,Alicja Coe, Deborah Harris, Hadley Williams, Elena Zolotnitsky, Liz Maxwell, Bart Trickel, the Pfeiffer Sisters, Lisa Beerntsen, Vicky Mei Chen, Terry Furry, Benjamin Chan, Afton Badger, and James Lovekin. Several art-worlders dared to formulate itineraries this year, so decide for yourself if our eyes or heads need examining. East Bay Open Studios runs through June 14 at Pro Arts Gallery (550 2nd St., Oakland). ProArts Gallery.org or 510-763-4361.

-- By DeWitt Cheng
Time & Date: May 27-June 14

Saturday, May 09, 2009

More Models

Two professional models, both posing for the Long Pose Lab that Karen Zullo Sherr and I have organized. We will start a new six-week cycle in a new location, at the Firehouse Collective North, on June 9, from 10 am to 1 pm every Tuesday. The fee is $20 and it goes to pay the model and expenses for the collective.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Studio Painting From Nature Part I

I wanted to paint a big landscape, but the size prevented me from lugging it to the locations I normally scout for plein air. So I decided to gather as much information as possible so I could paint it at my studio. This is a series documenting the progress of a relatively big landscape painting.

Photographic References
I don't have a projector, but I took protographs with a small digital camera that I then printed not as an aid to understand color, but as an aid in the drawing of the landscape objects. I taped the photos together to form a panoramic view. I used this view to draw with a brush on the canvas.

On my second visit I took a much better camera that redered color more accurately, but even these photographs would not convey what my eyes remembered. Again I used them only as place and textural references.

This time-honored way to register the color nuances of a landscape was my first attempt. Since it is spring, I knew there would be lots of foliage with small variations in hue and texture. I went to Wildcat Creek at about ten am, and used a 9 x 12 watercolor pad and black ink to scketch the color, structure and location of the trees and plants.

I returned home very satisfied with myself, only to discover the small size of the pad left out lots of details that would be necessary in a 30 x 40 canvas. So I started painting, but only those elements I felt sure about.

Value Studies
I didn't do any during my first visit, and soon realized they would have helped me to pin down the differences between each of the objects I was painting. The watercolor only told me where the areas of biggest contrast were, but was very vague about the mid-tones. And this did not facilitate the work of traslating landscape elements onto the canvas.

Color Indication
On my second visit to Wildcat Creek, I decided that more than a bigger watercolor, what I needed was a "color indication map." This time, having started to paint on the big canvas, I was more acutely aware of what I needed, and next to a simple drawing of each object, I wrote a short "recipe" for the color. These recipes clarified the subtle differences seen by human eyes and would enable me to go back to my studio and mix them with some degree of accuracy. Interestingly, I could only come up with these recipes because I had been painting on the previous day and had these colors fresh in my mind.

Monday, February 23, 2009

More More More

We've been going to the part of El Sobrante north of San Pablo Dam Rd. This is before the rains ruined our Mondays! These are small oils I did in about two hours, without my puppy Kafka.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Two Sessions, Two Paintings

These oils on canvas are the product of three hour sessions with a wonderful model from Berkeley. The square one is 20 x 20" and the rectangular one is 16 x 20." I was joking about the difficulties inherent in doing the pattern on her jacket when the previous coat of paint has not dried. For this, I avoid hog brushes and use something much softer, like sable. I have many nylon brushes but they are stiffer than natural hair and tend to scrape the paint even when dragged sideways.
The truth is I have been trying out some Escoda Kolinski oil brushes. They are fantastic, very responsive, they retain their shape well, they last long... and so do the Escoda hog oil brushes. In addition, the handles are more ergonomic. I will have to make that special trip to Barcelona, as the company resides there since 1933.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Two Models

Two professional models who posed for a total of six hours. They chose their pose. These are oils on canvas, approximately 18 x 24." I bought this new chair and I'm asking everyone to sit on it, perhaps because I am tired of the old chair.
I confess I love the heater next to one of the models. That is, I love the painting of the heater. It was a lot of fun to do, toward the end. I have removed a lot of paintings from the wall and have stored them. Only small landscapes remain.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Business Part of It

Getting my work professionally photographed over the winter break wasn't hard because I didn't do it. The hard part was packing it again for storage! Canterbury Media did a great job of preparing the images for reproduction, something I could learn how to do eventually, but that is not cost-effective right now (and it would wreck my arm).

I have now uploaded the initial seventeen images to Imagekind. Most are landscapes done in watercolor, acrylic and oil, but soon enough I will be posting portraits and other pieces. I will be posting more as I get subsequent batched photographed and processed. If you like any of them, you'll be able to order glicee prints in a variety of sizes and papers directly from Imagekind. Isn't that great?

The Undocumented series will also be turned into giclee prints. However, Canterbury Media will print them locally and I will do the shipping. The percentage that a company like Imagekind would have received will go directly to Oakland's Centro Legal de la Raza.