Inspired by photo reference.

On a recent trip to Sonoma, California I took some photo reference in hopes of producing some larger paintings when I returned.  Some artist's take photos of scenes they paint in plein air,  I don't.  I find that painting larger painting from photos and pleir air studies bores me. I've done the painting already why do I want to make a larger version of it.  I usually get my best photo reference while I'm driving around looking for something to paint.  I often find scenes that appeal to me along the road but,  for some reason I can't paint on site at that time.

That was the case with this photo I took while driving around the coastal section of Sonoma County.  Perpendicular to Highway one I found a road that went up and up and as I climbed I stopped along the way and took shots of whatever caught my eye, trees mostly.  This shot below was one of a few I took of some cows crossing the road. 

In this blog I wanted to show you the process I followed to come up with a painting.  First I took the original image and thought about what feeling I wanted to portray. I really liked the idea of the mother and baby cow together.  Using photoshop I started playing around with the above image.  Basically I omitted the black cow altogether and overlapped the baby with mother.  Next I got rid of the asphalt road and created a field of grass in front of the two cows.  Below is what I came up after I bumped up the saturation and cropped it.

Below is my value block in.  Notice my drawing is off (mostly the mother cows head). I try not to use any grid system for blowing up images on the canvas because it plays with the spontaneity of the painting.

Below is both images (the block in and photoshoped) superimposed on top of each other.  this gave me a better idea of what needed to be fixed drawing wise.

Here is the final painting!

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Week in Belize

My wife and I just returned from a much deserved week long vacation in Belize.  Since the birth of our first daughter, ten years ago, we haven't had this much time by ourselves.  The experience was rich in culture and beauty.

I think this poem that we were introduced to in an art museum in the town of Punta Gorda says it best about the belizean people.


I am rich with


Sunshine, Trees, Birds

Caves, Waterfalls and Mountains

I am rich...

I have Creole


Maya, Meztizo

and East Indian

I am Rich 

I have a cool house from the green forest

I have fresh Fruits

Ground food and Vegetables

Fish from the sea

And good friends for everlasting

I am rich my dear

for I am Belizean

Poem by Dr. Ludwig V. Palacio

After several forms of transportation and many hours my wife and I arrived at our final destination at the Cotton Tree Lodge.  The lodge is in the belizean jungle 15 miles west of the Town of Punta Gorda in the Toledo district of Belize.  We arrived on Saturday and were of course welcomed by a tropical drink. Each day of our trip we had the option of taking a tour of a local area attraction.  

The first day we chose to explore a couple of Mayan Archaeological Sites near the lodge.  

Day two we were driven back to Punta Gorda to check out the market day.  

Day three, and definitely my favorite, was the Blue Creek Cave (entrance pictured below).  The tour was a full three hours of swimming in

the cave.


Day four we visited with a local woman that showed us how to make tortillas from start to finish in her home.  She makes 75 tortillas per meal everyday.  That's 225 tortillas for her and her 10 children and several grandchildren each day.  After the tortilla making we kayaked back to the lodge for about an hour and a half.

Day five took us to Eladio's Cacao farm in the hills.  Cacao is what we make chocolate from and what the Mayan people make a drink they enjoy each day as well.  Eladio (pictured below with a cacao pod) is a passionate farmer with a sizable tract of land that grows not just cacao but many other edible plants and fruits.  After the tour of the farm we went back to his families house and had a wonderful lunch made by his wife.  After that his wife and daughter showed us how they make the cacao paste which they use to make the drink.

I was so busy the whole trip I was only able to paint three small plein air paintings (pictured below).


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Another Hunting Island Painting

Hello again!  Here is another painting from my trip to Hunting Island, SC.  I wanted to include this in the last post but, I guess I'm tired. This one, unlike the one before was done all in one session in plein air.  Besides touching up a couple spots and knocking off the multitude of dead bugs that where on it this painting was created Alla Prima.

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New Lowcountry Work

Gosh it's been ages since I last blogged.  I've decided to take it easy on this one so I don't hurt myself getting back into it.  

I've recently returned from a week long trip to Hunting Island, SC.  While there I painted a number of small plein air paintings and I wanted to share one in particular. 

Some painters out there are sticklers for painting plein air all on site.  You know who you are.  I have to say I do some of my best work when I can take a break from it and return fresh in the studio to put the finishing touches on.  This painting I did just that, and then some. When I got back from the trip I looked through my 15 or so sketches and some just spoke to me as good pieces.  This one I liked but something wasn't quite right.  What I decided to do next (don't try this at home boys and girls) is make this painting a night scene.  I wish I had taken a picture of the original because a comparison of the two would have been a lot more interesting.  Anyway you will just have to believe  me that the original version kinda bit it. 

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A Finished Painting

When teaching plein air workshops I often get questions like "how do you know when a painting is finished" or  "how do I keep from overworking my painting.  My answer to this question lately is simply, under work the painting on site, then take a break from it and then finish it in the studio. 

I was out painting with my good friend Stuart Roper a couple days ago and I started this 22x22  canvas on site.  I lose track of time out painting but, I think I worked on this for maybe two hours at the most.   When I returned with the painting to the studio I knew there where some changes that I needed to make.  Having some time away from the painting but not to much gave me a fresh eye to take the painting to completion.  

The first changes I made was I warmed up the mountains in the background. As we all know objects get cooler as they get further away from us.  I made the mistake of making the mountains to cool which made them lifeless.  The second change was the upper left corner needed some interest to it. Instead the mountain exiting the canvas at the top of the canvas I painted in sky which gives this area a much improved airy quality. The last change was I made a pattern out of the foreground flowers which help unify the whole painting.

I converted image 1 (the plein air version) and image 2 (the finished painting) to black and white so you see the changes without being distracted by color.

Here is the plein air piece (unfinished).


Here is the final painting.

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Creating Art

Painting requires very little.  Usually paint and something to apply it with (brush, trowel, or fingers) is all you need.  Creating art on the other hand requires thought and skill.  When it comes to plein air painting anyone can go out and copy whats in front of them but, to create good art one has to do some editing.

Here is a recent example, another Florida painting, of editing in the field. My focus here is on creating a composition out of a lot of confusing stuff.  The photo above I took in a little fishing village (just south of Marco Island) called Goodland.  As you can see if I tried to paint everything in this photo I'd be painting for days and my outcome probably wouldn't be so good.  What I liked about this back lit scene right away was the foreground boats and the boat in the middle ground.  I knew from the start I wanted to emphasize these two elements.  What I did next was squeeze the large space between the boats together getting rid of a lot of unnecessary mess.  I kept a couple key shapes (or buildings) that would help give the painting a since of place.  I enlarged the palm trees on the right also giving the scene a since of place. Without the palms this scene could have been painted in any harbor.  Excluding these elements would've made the scene to generic. We wouldn't want that.  Lastly I omitted one of the foreground posts and played with a radial pattern with the 3 remaining posts to help the viewer travel through the foreground better.

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Everglades painting

"Evergaldes Morning Fog"    11"x14"

I'm on spring break with the kids this week.  As we often do this time of year we head down to Marco Island, Fl.  Marco is about as far south as you can go on the Gulf side before you hit the Glades.  Sometimes when I'm down here there is lots of water in the Everglades. This time not so much.  This morning I headed out to paint about 7:30 am. Driving about 20 miles east of Marco on the Tamiami Trial I had a spot that I wanted to paint that I'd painted before.  As I approached the general spot a fog started to roll in.  As I passed the spot because of the fog and the fact that it's hard to see anything when your going 65 miles an hour I got a quick gleams of it.  As I pulled of the road to make a U-turn to head back to my spot I saw this scene which I liked very much. I left the car there and pulled out my equipment out of the trunk and set up.  As I started I knew time was against me.  Sometime it pays to be quick. When the fog is lifting as fast as the sun is rising you don't have a lot of time to paint. From start to finish this painting took an hour. Even though I like the finished product I might touch it up here and there when I get back to the studio. I also would like to take this idea further with a larger painting. That's a blog for another day.

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Still life

"Apples and Kettle"                                          18"x14"

Now that autumn leaves have fallen and the days are gray and blustery, I find myself in the studio painting still lifes.  My experience has been that artists are not neutral about their feelings for still lifes:  they either love them or they hate them.  One artist recently blogged that the reason for his distaste for still lifes was the fact that they can be seen simply as decorative art.  This can certainly be said of a lot of modern day still lifes, but the same can also be said of a lot of landscape and figurative work produced today.  I approach a still life as I would a plein air painting:  I'm looking at and being true to form, light, and color.  When I'm choosing a subject or painting a still life I'm not worrying whether or not it’s going to match someone's sofa.
In my never-ending pursuit of excellence I look at a lot of paintings in books, magazines, museums, and the internet.  I find great inspiration in what other artists have done before me, and I'd like to share a little of that inspiration.  Two still life artists who’s work I can’t get enough of are Danish immigrant Soren Emil Carlsen (1853-1932) and his son Dines Carlsen.  Both were prolific still life painters and, as you can see from the examples of their work below, they had a very similar approach to painting.  These paintings are very straight forward with no cutesy or unnecessary fluff.  I really connect with the simplicity of the objects' placement, and how the light on the objects creates a positive and negative spacial pattern that is pure poetry.

Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed, to be simple is to be great. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Soren Emil Carlsen                                                     Dines Carlsen

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Cashier follow up and the Easton rundown

Unfortunately I was unable to keep my promise and blog about Easton while at the event.  Sorry, my old Dell laptop bit the dust somewhere in between Cashiers and Easton. 

Anyway to follow up on Cashiers which at this point seems a lifetime ago. I won third place in the competition for the Painting "Robins 57 Chevy"

Third Place Winner!

 I would like to Thank all that was involved in making this event a great succes on many levels.

Speacial thanks to: Mary Palmer Dargan, Trish and David Wariner, Karen Weihs, and Robin and Jacques.

What can I say about Easton that I didn't last year. Well, it was HOT! 

Easton is the preimere plein air event in the country as far as most artist are concerned. This year was a banner success for the event. They almost doubled sales this year at just over a quarter million dollors. 

During the four days of brutally intense heat and humidity I completed the required two competion paintings plus the alotted 8 back up sale painting for the event.  

I'm not going to post all the paintings I did but here are a couple. The first painting entered into the competiton won "BEST MARINE PAINTING" sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

"Crow Bothers Last Stand"        SOLD      22" x 22"      BEST MARINE PAINTING

Unfortunantly I didn't get a photo of one painting I sold of an interior of a Resturant/Bar. 

This painting (below) was painted at the Winners Brunch on Sunday the last day of the event.  All the winners from the competition and the quickdraw on Saturday were allowed to paint the morning of the brunch. The burnch is always held at one of eastons premereie properties and this year was no let down. The estate was spectacular. Latter that day all the paintings were auctioned off to the collectors that were present that day.

"Harleigh Boathouse"                      SOLD                      12" x 16"     

Thank you to all that make Easton a huge success and to Ginger and Marion Bevard.  

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Last paintings from Cashiers

As promised I took a photo of a Gypsy horse for your pleasure. They are all so different. Some are almost all black and others have more white on them then this guy. I think a guy anyway.

Today is Friday the last day to paint for the competition. I took it easy today though and didn't paint. 

I completed my last two Cashier painting yesterday with what I think is a big BANG. Rich and I got word the night before at a cocktail party about what was the most spectacular view around. Well we weren't disappointed when we arrived at this residence. It's amazing to me that this spot wasn't declared a National Park. It truly was breath taking. I wish I took a better photo of it.
"Whiteside Mountain Through the Trees"            Sold              20 x 24

I choose to obscure part of Whiteside Mountain with the garden at the bottom and the pine trees to the left. 

The painting I did in the afternoon took me back to our host families property yet again. Again the night before at the cocktail party they showed us what they had in there garage. When I saw this 57 chevy pickup I couldn't get it out of my head.

"Robin's 57 Chevy"                             16 x 20

Tonight is the official opening of the event and I expect it will be quite the time.

More later. 
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