Monday, May 30, 2016

Fechin, Bongart, Reese and The Link

There is a Link.....
.....that ties all these books (and more) together.  That joining began long ago in New Mexico when Mary Balcomb began volunteering to teach art to elementary students.  Mary's real job was as a very successful architect and designer who wanted to spend time giving back to the residents of Albuquerque.

In one of the classes a young student walked in to show Mary a portfolio of drawings done by her grandfather.  The drawings, which were kind of thrown into and sometimes falling out of a folder, took Mary's breath away.  A Chicago trained art student herself, she knew that what she was looking at represented genius.

I don't recall how long it took her to get to know the family of Nicholai Fechin, how much time was spent doing the research and gathering of materials or the extraordinary amount of time it took to find a publisher, put together a paste up demo, or how she got funding.  She was, after all, working and raising a family with her husband Robert 'Sam' Balcomb (a prominent photographer whom I have featured in another post).  Internet and email was still way in the future.  Everything had to be done with a stamp but the book was published and we all benefitted.

I first met Mary and Sam soon after she published her second book on another prominent artist, William F. Reese.  Years later, I would stop by their house where we would sit in their garden gazebo with a glass of wine and talk of the complexities of her book about Sergei Bongart.  These were enjoyable times with two remarkable people who, for some reason, accepted me as a friend.

The books above represent just a small portion of Mary's literary and artistic output.   She continued with her architectural design work, her oil and watercolor paintings, countless etchings and the creative talent it takes to raise two exceptional kids.

A wall of our home is full of etchings by Mary and Wm F. Reese.  At the center of them all is this exquisite piece about sunflowers shown as they approach Autumn.  Here are some others:

Mary taught me how to etch in one feverish weekend, but she remained the master.  Both she and Sam have always been generous to other artists.  Sam, an engineer, photographer and actor (although I should reverse that order) was always willing to model for Mary and her likeness of him is spot on.

As artists, I think we all owe Mary Balcomb a debt of gratitude for preserving the legacy of these other artists who would have been dusted over, their history, impact and imagery being lost to time and lack of attention.  Instead, they remain vibrant artists for all of us to study, enjoy and steal from like crazy.

Finally,  just so you know the power of her devotion to art, Mary did much of the work during the last decade of her life in constant pain.  The Bongart book, very lovingly done, was completed only through sheer grit and determination, somehow overcoming physical difficulties with the strength of her artistic spirit.   She continually did what she did to help others and for the love of her craft.

Thank you Mary.

PS.  Mary and Sam still had the original mockup of the Fechin book in their possession up until the time they sent it to the Cowboy Hall of Fame where there is a major installation of his work.  Before it got mailed off they allowed me to snap some photos of things that didn't get into the final book, including the small photos he used as sources for his drawings and paintings.  I have a few of those pics in a post HERE.

PPS.  Sam and I still go to lunch occasionally.  How lucky am I?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Shig's Place, 20x24

First, There Were Huge Trees.....
....but they were cut down and, at one time, Bainbridge Island had the largest sawmill in the world in one of its harbors.  Croatian, Scandinavian and Chinese saw work.  Japanese and Philipino immigrants saw the possibility of farms and, once the trees were gone, the island became home to lots and lots of strawberry plots.  That led to packing, processing and shipping plants.  Shig's place was one of those farms.

WWII came along and on a sad day the Japanese were rounded up and shipped to camps.  Their well tended farms went vacant and would have been destroyed but for those remaining immigrants to the island banding together to pay the taxes and mortgages until the Japanese residents could return.

Shig was one of those sent off and it was a wars worth of years before he could return to his family farm...and it is still here, a token left by a dedicated island family and rich historical past.  I hope it remains with us and not just fodder for more homes.

I don't think there is a painting I've done that wouldn't be changed if I could paint it over again.  This was my second attempt and probably there are several more in me, so we will see.   The grass in the foreground was a challenge but was a valiant attempt within the constraints of plein air....or my ability to do more.   I like the piece and the experience of painting it.  It's always the light.

It does capture the flavor of the place and hints at the long history it represents.  By the way, the trees have grown back.

Thanks for looking.  More is coming.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Breaking the Mold, 14x18

First She Broke Into...
Men's Minnesota Softball.  Then hockey.  Then football.  On top of that I learned she grew up just a few miles from where I did.  Awesome.  Kari is a delightful person and a terrific model.  It took her about 15 minutes to get into the humor of our group and begin dishing it back.  I, of course, was the model of civility.

She had some of the strongest facial colors I've seen which might be from her Norwegian background.  Good old Scandinavian Minnesota (and, yes, I used to drink beer and dance polka at many German halls also).

The portrait class asked for a demo so I did this one in about 90 minutes including breaks.  I got most of it done but during the remainder of class added some touches on her blouse and the chair.

My friend Nancy took shots of the process:


These beginnings look a little weird...maybe scary.  Most of the time I begin with strong color.... which usually gets a gasp from someone.  It eventually gets modified and painted over as the painting progresses.  I find it difficult to ever recover from a 'wimpy color beginning'.  Maybe that's a life lesson too.

Thanks for looking...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Chief Steve LittleSalmon, 11x14, 9x11

The Montana Painter's Alliance....
....has invited me on their painting events a couple of times.  Lucky me.  One of those times was in the Flathead Valley and the National Bison Range....and there was a morning when Chief Steve LittleSalmon agreed to pose.

Chief LittleSalmon has an impressive presence about him, especially when he puts on his traditional garments.  If I remember correctly he sat for about 90 minutes assuming a few initial poses before settling on this one.  I chose a spot that emphasized all the shapes and colors in his headdress and played down his face a bit.  His profile is accurate but hardly noticed with all that color.

Here is one of the sketches I did before the painting.   It played up his face and would have been just as interesting.  The under drawing for my painting was also sketchy like this.

 I ran across this piece when pulling some things together for my last portrait class...had forgotten all about it.  At the same time I ran across some photos of the Chief from after the painting session when he put on other traditional costumes and let us photograph him.  How often does that happen in a lifetime?

I wanted to show what could be done from a photo and painted this one last Tuesday before class.  It is certainly 'tighter' than the one from life but I tried to keep the paint application lively and interesting.

And here is the reference photo:

And there you have it.  I searched for warms and cools wherever I could find them and pushed them around a bit.  Also lightened some shadows and darkened the lights.  The green band in the painting was inspired by the need of an abstract shape that would symbolize a man who was of the outdoors.

Thanks for looking.  Back soon....

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lost in the Vine Maple Forest, 8x16

This was Fun to Paint.... I was never quite sure where it was going.  The sun came through the branches but didn't really stay in one place very long so, like most forest paintings, it came down to what I could remember and what was important to say.  

Growing conditions make Vine Maples assume all sorts of shapes.  We have some outside our home that are long and tall.  Fighting for light inside a forest they stay fairly low and spread out.  Their branches reflect many hues and they grow in all directions.

I blocked in the background with broad areas of warm burnt sienna/orange or subdued greens, some areas warm, some cool.  Then I used a rubber scraper that a friend gave to me to make the major tree shapes.  After that it was just adding all those doodads that form the illusion of plants, bark colors and a few branches with leaves.

It was a nice day in the woods with friends and I am satisfied with the result.

Back soon with some portraits.

Marker Workshop this next Saturday, May 14th.  Get more info at the Winslow Art Center.

Thanks for looking.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cave Drawing 2016 and Workshop Announcement

Cave Drawing?.....
......On my Facebook page (HERE) I posted an article about some recently found beautiful charcoal images that are 35,000 years old.  Sensitively drawn, they were found deep in caves in southern France.  They are of the things that were important to the artists of that time.  In pristine condition, they have been sitting untouched for all that time.

When I am out placing my own marks I know that the urges I have to create form where nothing existed before is probably very similar to the cave artists in France long ago.  I can use modern forms of charcoal and ochre to communicate what is important to me at the moment.  Not having to haul torches to the far reaches of a cavern to find an appropriate canvas means I've got it pretty easy.  Just a portable sketchbook, a pen and a few markers.

Can you imagine trying to get the others back in the cave to come the the First Friday Art Walk, er, crawl? (yes, bad joke.)

Here are the stages the above drawing plus another drawing I did today at lunch with some good friends.  We all drew, also sharing symbols of what we found important.

The beginning.

The Completed Drawing

The First Pass With 30% Marker

Almost Complete with 60% and 80% added.
The One From Today:
Outside Mora's

This is of a mother and daughter enjoying frozen yogurt sitting in the Spring sun.  Simple shapes create interest and emotion in a viewer.  Twenty minutes before it was only a blank sheet of paper, waiting for an artist.  I find this whole process fascinating.  Not just the creation, because I often don't make the connection that I'm the person actually doing it, but what other people recognize in the mysterious mish-mash of marks.

I wonder if those cave artists had the same feelings?  Likely.

There is a one day workshop in Drawing With Valued Markers coming up in May.  Contact the Winslow Art Center (HERE)  for more info.

Thanks for looking.  I'll be back soon and show you Chief Steve Little Salmon from the Flathead Valley.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Red Notes, 34x34

On the last day.....
..... of my painting classes we do a critique at the end of the day.  Coincidentally, this old painting floated to the studio surface the week before.  It was done about ten years ago...maybe more.... and I felt it lacked something back then, and it hadn't improved itself in all those years.

So, to get people into the spirit of looking critically at their work, I propped it up on an easel and asked the group what could be done to improve it.  At first they seemed to be hesitant but as one person after another offered a suggestion the bus got rolling.  We talked each of the suggestions over and what you see is the end result.

Not much was really added.  It was a series of subtle changes: petals and leaves fallen on the bottom rug, a leaning screwdriver, some flower buds, a curtain cord....nothing substantial in any one change but it added up and now I like the piece.  They were all changes to move the eye.   'We get by with a little help from our friends.....'

I used to build and set up room interiors for my paintings.  This 'farm porch' was one of them.  Henry Stinson has done this much more than I have, making whole bathrooms and beauty salons.  You should go take a look at Henry's stuff (HERE).  We studied with many of the same artists....but when you see his paintings you'll see how differently people can interpret the same information.   Henry's a great guy.  If you ever are able to study with him you will learn a lot.

I'll be back in about a week.

Thanks for looking.

(Oh yeah.  I have a gouache workshop coming  up on April 9th, a marker workshop in May, a two session portrait party in April and the Italy workshop in October is almost full but you could still get in, I think.  Go to the Winslow Art Center to learn more.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Color Vibrations, 30x30

It was this last January 1st.....
.....and I wanted to begin the new year in the right spirit.  Remembering that this still life was still set up downtown at the Winslow Art Center,  away I went with a blank canvas and spent an enjoyable afternoon.  I Facebooked a process shot of it but never followed it up on the here you go.

Still life is handy for studying color, what to emphasize, what to lose, and where color vibrations can be enhanced.  It doesn't move, make comments about my technique (or lack of it), complain about holding a pose, or attract gnats that fly in my mouth.  All pluses.

There are parts of this I'm enamored with and parts I'd like to change but know I'll never get around to it and will likely use the canvas for something else.  While it is still around I thought I'd share the result and a few process shots taken with my phone.  It was a dark still life and I was standing in a 'light hole' in the room.  As a result I began plans for redoing the studio lights which are much better now.  The process shots:

Beginning block in.

Fully blocked in

Where I ended.  It photographed fairly dark.

OK.  It is time to get back up to the studio and finish up the paintings I've gotten started before I lose interest or, more accurately, something else grabs my attention and months go by before I get back to them.

Hope you are having a great day.

I'll be back.  Thanks for looking.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Color Comps

Color Comps....
..... were taught to me by Ron Lukas who, after being hired away from teaching a bunch of us how to paint, spent more than a decade doing mostly color comps for Dreamworks.  Ron was looser about it than I am, but the value for me is still realized....and I sell a few.

(Now that I've mentioned his name I can't keep from saying what an incredible artist he was to learn from.)    

This is a 6x6 of a still life I had set up for classes.  I wanted to see where I could go with the color....where were the edges of still keeping it mostly a blue/purple painting?  I think I found some of them and am happy.

Here are two more, they are 4x5 and 4x4, plus one of the paintings that came from it.  I do these with a palette knife on inexpensive card stock as they are just for study....although some have been around for ten years and still look as good as new.  They only take 20 to 40 minutes to do and give me not only good information but allow playing with ideas before committing to a larger painting.  Likely I should do more of them.

Wild Roses, 20x24

Thanks for looking!  I have some more stuff in the works coming up soon.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Evening in Umbria Study, 8x10

In only a week....
..... since being announced, the Italy trip to Umbria is close to filled with signups.  If you are even thinking about it,  at least email or call with some indication of intent.  Of course those who have made a deposit will get first dibs.  It will be a fun trip staying at a villa in the country, visits to Orvieto and a castle, plus lots of painting and/or drawing time.  Should be relaxed fun.

I've done several studies lately that are going larger and with slightly different color interpretations, all of the Italian countryside (with a couple from France).  They range from 14x18 ( this one is already sketched in as that) to 30x30.  I'll post them as they get finished.

There is a looseness and tiling of brush strokes in the smaller pieces that I want to keep while also playing with new color ideas.  This one I have in mind for a green/red complementary color arrangement, straying into yellow orange for the bits of glory.  Having five of them going all at once is influencing my eye, keeping it fresh as I bounce from to the other.

Amy D'Apice, who lives in Thailand during the winters, has an interesting blog called ArtConspiracy you might want to check out.  Amy is a talented painter and sketcher with a delightful writing style.  Her word play is as enticing as her art.  You can find her HERE.

I have some upcoming workshops which I will announce later in the week.  You can find out about them and the Italy workshop at the Winslow Art Center  HERE.  The Center has a wide variety of workshops, trips and classes for any artist, beginner or advanced.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Leaving Orvieto, 8x10

The Winslow Art Center.....
.....has just announced my painting workshop in Umbria, very near Orvieto which we will visit.  I spent seven days in Orvieto during our last trip to Italy and not only is the city amazing but the countryside around it, where we will be staying, is terrific.  Take some time to check out the details HERE.  There are already people signing up.

Open to sketchers and/or painters in oil, gouache or acrylic, we will work both independently and as a group, around the villa and on day trips in the area.  More details on the website and from me later.  It looks terrific.

This small painting is actually on top of a portrait that ended up less than inspiring.  Turning the panel upside down I just blocked in the major 'dark' shapes.  I don't have a pic of the painting process but the block in looked something like this.....but with an upside down face under the paint.

Perhaps this will help to see it:

To me, when I squinted, the buildings were mostly in shadow and the sky and road carried the light.  You could just as easily have said the buildings are warm and the sky and road are cool....doesn't matter.  It's the division of shape characteristics that carries the weight of the painting.  As long as I did't go too far out of my original values (or temperature if that is how you see it) it was going to work.

Yes, there are light shapes in the dark areas.....or there are cool shapes in the warm areas....whichever.  Yet there aren't enough of those to break up the initial vision.

With those shapes loosely blocked there was no reason to draw any lines or create more definition.  I could begin 'paint carving' right away, using a limited number of values both lighter and darker than the shape.  Painting is just 'big shapes and doodads'.....I used to title my painting class that name.

By the way, here is a drawing I've posted before that was done just to the right of this vantage point maybe twenty feet and back.  Those houses on the lower left are the ones in the painting.  I drew it in the rain, shading my paper, markers and gouache with my hunched body.  It was fortunate that the heavy drops held off until about 2 minutes after I finished.

Thanks for looking.  Back soon.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Nancy meets Zorn, 16x20

Yesterday was the third session.....
......of Painting the Portrait which should end next week, although there is mention of it continuing for a bit more.  We've explored charcoal drawing and painting with just one color (Burnt Sienna).  This time it was a brief exploration of the Zorn Palette.

Anders Zorn was a brilliant Swedish artist who often used only four tubes of paint: Ivory Black, White, Cadmium Red and Yellow Ochre.  With that limited selection he was able to achieve luminous color effects.  It is a good approach to use for introducing color to the figure.

The limiting of choices allows for a focus on 'possibilities' rather than copying or coloring.  It sparks creativity, avoiding a slavish reproduction.   The image you see here doesn't show the more subtle colors that are in the painting, especially the soft lavenders and greens that the original has.

During the times that I didn't want to hover over people, I sat on the floor and did this one.  The steep angle up at Nancy....a good friend.... I found interesting and attractive.  Backlit subjects are always more intriguing as they allow for more color to seep into the image.

Signing it for Nancy.
Thanks for looking.  I haven't posted for a two months.....but l think I'm back now.

(It looks like we will be going to Italy for a workshop in October.  Stay tuned.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Lost at the Dahlia Farm....

Lost At the Dahlia Farm, 10x12

October Dahlias, 11x14
Painting on a Dahlia Farm.....
......doesn't really require much movement.  Standing in one spot will give you any number of ideas for paintings.

I was at a workshop with the immensely talented Colin Page (HERE) and back at a spot I had been to in 2013.  That was another workshop of his and, when he came around to look at our paintings, he looked at mine and said, 'I have only one thing to say to you....think "lyrical".'  Then he smiled mischievously and walked away.

For two years I have been pondering what he meant.  Sometimes I got a bit of a glimpse of a meaning but no clear, of course, I bugged him about it this time.   When I came away from this workshop I actually think I got closer but don't think I can yet put it into words.  I think it has to do with what a writer does when being poetic.  With words it is a unique and creative linking of word meanings, sounds and literary picture making.  In painting it is the same thing but using design,shape, tone and color to invite people into your pictorial world.

I might be getting closer.  Like getting lost at a dahlia farm....

Thanks for reading.  


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Piggy Blue, 10x12 and How Oils Dry

Trapped inside the day that nine feet of rain came down......
...... (Yes, that's correct.), we painted still life.

Because I was leaving Maine in a few days I switched to Gamblin's Fast Matte pigments so my paintings would be dry in time to be packed.  I don't think I got the hang of using FM paint.  After two paintings I abandoned trying because, even though they got tacky while I was painting them, in three days they still weren't dry enough to pack.  Plus they didn't exactly 'flow' like real oil paint.

This was my second attempt using them and was better than the first, which I may still post someday.  I confess that I did sneak in a little non-FM Quinacridone Red into this one  for that pinkish cloth.

Flying back I was thinking about a person who has taken several classes with me and is a retired chemical engineer.  Who better to ask about what happens when paint 'dries'?

His name is Chuck Witham and he spent some time writing up the following short description of what happens to paint on the way to being solid and ready for varnish.  At my request this is a simplified version for non-techie consumption.  Chuck said he could have gone into much more depth of how and why certain pigments dry faster than others or all the chemical changes that occur within the paint structure.  I didn't know, for example, that at one point it gives off hydrogen peroxide.

Anyway, for your interest and edification this is what happens.  Remember it the next time you are in a hurry to get a painting into a frame.  Thanks to Chuck.

Drying Oil Paint
Monday, November 30, 2015

Before we start, we need to understand what the paint on the canvas really is.
  * Pigment.  Finely ground particles of an insoluble material in a variety of colors.
  * Oil Medium.  Polyunsaturated fatty oil (linseed, walnut or other oils known as drying oils).
  * Thinner.  Any volatile organic solution (turpentine, Gambol, Terpenoid, etc.)
The pigment and oil is mixed together until a uniform mixture is achieved.  This mixture is placed in sealed tubes until used by the painter.  When we squeeze out an amount of paint, we add thinner until the desired consistency is reached and spread it on our picture.

Now we are ready to understand what happens as paint 'dries'.
First, we get rid of the thinner.  The thinner evaporates off the surface but the rest of the thinner within the paint mixture must travel to the surface before it can evaporate.  This travel is controlled by diffusion and/or capillary action and is drastically influenced by the thickness of the paint.  A paint film twice as thick will require four to eight times longer to get rid of the thinner!

Now the oxygen in the air can permeate the oil and start the process of curing the oil through oxidation followed by cross linking of the oil molecules.  The result is a firm flexible film that is stable in most normal environments.

Can I speed up the 'drying' process?
Room temperature air blown over the surface will help evaporate the thinner as it reaches the surface, and provide an ample supply of oxygen to start the curing.  Providing a gentle heat (100 degrees F) to the BACK of the picture will aid in the removal of thiner and increase the rates of oxidation and cross linking.  Do NOT blow hot air on the paint surface as this will cause the paint to 'skin over' and drastically INCREASE the 'dry' time.

There you have it.  Hope it helps.

Thanks for reading and checking in.

Back soon.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Waiting for Alice, 32x42

Alone in a cabin in Maine....
....I spent the evenings contemplating what I was going to do.  Roby-King Gallery had decided to make their December show based on the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland.   This was not exactly in my comfort zone.....but why not give it a whirl....

One evening, with sketchbook sitting in my lap, I began to let my pen wander across the page with only a minimum of conscious control.  As the drawing developed I realized that I was putting down what was going on just before Alice happens to enter Wonderland.

From where she is she can't really see Lewis Carroll riding by behind the tree, or the other characters behind and above her.  It's one of those quiet moments just before something momentous happens.

We have all experienced these pivotal points and how, on one side of that life changing event we are going along pretty normally, and on the other everything has dramatically altered.

Here is the initial sketch plus some of the extra drawings I did to work things out.  Not all made the cut.  The opening of the show is this Friday, December 4th at Roby King here on beautiful Bainbridge Island, WA.

There are more drawings but you get the idea.  Thanks for stopping by.  Leave a comment if you have time.

ADDENDUM:  Here we are on opening night....

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Megunticook Isle, 12x16

The warmth of the Maine afternoon sun....
.....was just waning when I got my big idea.  It was an idea I had been wanting to try for several years but when I saw a photo of Colin Page doing it, and on this very lake, how could I resist?

My only problem was I didn't have a boat.  Yet here I was staying in a cabin not 60 feet from the shore and there were, after all, some kayaks hanging about....and one was open cockpit.  Admittedly there was not a place to set up my easel in it and it didn't have an anchor....and the wind was blowing hard.

And yet I had to do it.  So I found a hunk of cord and an old propeller to use as an anchor, threw my stuff in the bottom and headed up the lake into a brisk wind.

Finding a sheltered spot I carefully climbed over my gear to the front of the boat and threw in the anchor and played out the line.  Making it back to the seat, again carefully, I jammed my palette between my legs and began painting.  Only one foot was wet by this time.  Not bad.

All was going really well until the paddle fell overboard.  The physics of a kayak are interesting.  Something about for every action an equal and opposite reaction kept coming to mind.  Reaching for the paddle caused the boat to move in the opposite direction.  The paddle was now further away.

Scooching my butt to try and wiggle me over had a similar effect.  

I began using my hands to paddle to it yet each time I got close the action of my hands made it drift away again.   The wind was beginning to catch the blades. 

As a last effort I grabbed my largest and longest brush, stretched out as far as able without getting swamped and tickled the paddle back to me.  My seat was now wet.

So.  Basically that's how I painted this one....but I haven't told you about the cramp in my leg from being bent up around the palette for so long or how the wake from motor boats came over the side.  

I came back smiling anyway....they call this plein air.

Thanks for reading.

Be back soon with a larger piece I've been working on.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Helene, 14x18

Vocal artist, attorney, supporter of the arts,......
......I first met Helene when she was hosting art displays of a mutual good friend, Bill Johnson, at her home.  She probably appears a bit older in life than you see in this painting, but I paint what I see....and sometimes what I want to see.

I think the first task of an artist is to convey a feeling, and, secondly, to make an interesting painting.   Hopefully I did both of those successfully.  After that, if you can get a likeness, so much the better.    We are all working toward better.

The colors are pushed slightly and the reds, especially in her face, are not that intense.  I still like the result.  

Thanks for looking.  I'll be back soon with some of the Maine paintings.