Scouting Paintings

April 21, 2016

Spring is here! It has been most of 5 winter months, with very little plein air painting.  I have ventured out a few times since January to paint.  Only to return home with frozen paint fingers and very little actual painting started.

Now that spring is definitely here.   Everything is blooming in a wide range of colors and compositions.  Spring offers lots of opportunities to paint, especially with the wide variety of Texas wild flowers here that deckle our rich historical architecture and homes. It’s truly inspiring but can be overwhelming too.   The challenge is selecting a location to paint.  To discover a spot that will still be interesting at the end of the painting.

So a few weeks back I opted to just look for painting locations.   Luckily the local town was founded in 1848 and has a large selection of historic architecture and homes nestled among wild flower and poppy gardens.  So there is a lot to choose from.    Thankfully, the weather was quite comfortable for walking through the neighborhoods. I happily spent my Saturday morning, just scouting out new opportunities looking for possible compositions.

As with all plein air painting there are challenges to consider, like location, safety, shelter from elements, or traffic?  Is it safe to park and set up your easel in a new area?  Is there sufficient shade shelter to protect you from the sun or unexpected shower?  How much street traffic can have a major impact on the ability to start let alone finish a painting on-site.   Is there a decent spot to stand without disturbing any unwanted pests like fire ants or wasps?


I also find it very helpful to include pictures of the street signs to help remember where my best locations are. Lastly,  it always a good idea to introduce your self to the locals before you discover you are in “someone’s spot.”

Luckily my scouting about the poppies worked out.  As I was recording possible spots, I stumbled upon a lovely side street garden.  It was so inspiring!  I decided to introduce my self and say thank you for such a wonderful spot.  Now I have another place to go and share the fun of painting new garden stories.

Since then it has rained a fair amount with more rain.  Which means my plein air painting outside will be very limited for me in the next few weeks.  So I have been perusing my stash of pictures scored on my outing and working out preliminary sketches.  Which means should I get the chance to go paint I will know just where is my next stop!

Fresh Paint, Clean Paint!

October 30, 2015

– Realization #2

It has been most of 4 weeks since my painting trip to Dutch Mountain. The afternoon and evening sun was just as dramatic.

These days I find myself pressed to paint. I want and need to paint! Keep in mind that, I have several circuses to manage here daily, so painting is not always the priority.   Yes, I could be pressed by a deadline, but i try not to dwell on that.  I am also a bit more selective on what is the exciting prompt for choosing my next subject.  (See Reflection #1)

The key here is Clean, Fresh paint.

I am also very keen on establishing a pigment wash to establish a feel for how the painting will fit on a panel.  I start by painting the shapes and wiping out my lights in undertones of cool or warm tone sequence mixed primarily from cadmium red light and quinacridone rose.  These are somewhat transparent and allow light to reflect as warm or cool.  The undertones set the pace for my painting.  Then I gradually build into the layers of colors and values.

20151029_190131 blue and violets

The trick is to build up the colors without quickly making mud on a small 6×6 art panel.  I start by painting a thin color coat of the local colors.  For a landscape that means mixing and painting the sky first. Then I generally lay in my next layer of cooler shadows in values of blues and violet tones to establish depth and shadow forms.

Next, I check my progression and mix for the next layer of warmer lights. Color harmony is very important and adds a dynamic balance to most of my paintings.  For this painting I chose warm earth structures and cool ground shadows.  After establishing my shadow I added yellow tint to all the lights sparkling on the rocks and highlights.  I try to mix my paint values and check them as I go, before adding the next layer of light and forms.  If it doesn’t match or fit with the harmony I take off, remix and match new color.

20151030_102118 blue violet yellows

Greens are much more challenging.  I generally try to establish greenery by simply scrubbing in loose greens and lemon yellows over the blue and violet patches.  Then check for balance in contrast to finalize the atmosphere, highlights, shadows and rugged surface.  Soon after, I begin adding the last few pieces, building up to the brights and final highlights.


Clean paint is integral to all good painting. Be sure to know your color ranges and mixtures.  Clean paint is important to establishing the mood of a painting.  It is critical to preserving reflected light within the painting. Fresh clean strokes quickly establish atmosphere, depth, and volume of a painting through a tight space.

The important thing to remember is start clean, work clean, paint clean before you know it you will have beautiful color harmonies.

Paint the Exciting!

October 23, 2015

– Realization #1 

My recent painting retreat sparked a new creative energy.  More to the point it has spurred quite the internal thought process even while away from my easel and studio.  Just what I needed.   Typically, in an academy settings I would share my enlightenment with fellow artist.   But instead I am sharing my thought process and perspective here, lucky you.

North view from Dutch Mountain, Llano Cnty.

East view from Dutch Mountain, Llano County.

So back to my internal musing.

While away on my painting retreat. I was lucky enough to witness the changing colors as the sun passed over the granite hills and boulders.  I found myself giggling at the joy of the immense beauty of Llano county even in a drought.  That night I stepped outside under a hushed canopy of tree tops and cicadas to see the blinking of the night stars transform into a swirl of the twinkling milky way.  I gave myself permission to just BE a part of it all.  I could choose to paint. I could also choose to just watch the colors change.  I did not need to feel overwhelmed or pressured to choose the one great painting.  I could and should enjoy painting a thousand paintings instead.  Each one would be different.  If I managed to capture a small part of the fantastic beauty, I was successful.

I resolved to paint what EXCITED me.

I chose to paint that which invited me to pick up my brush and mix my paints.  I could capture the play of lights as they carved into the boulders. For me exciting was painting the flow of energy from light to dark, through the shadows and down sun-kissed edges.  The collection of patterns and shapes reflect and capture the EXCITEMENT and energy found there in nature.  If the light changed, I could stop and revisit it later.  There was no need or pressure to force a painting.

20151014_114012 East view boulders Dtch Mtn

East view boulders Dutch Mountain. 6×6

The Exciting subjects offer an unspoken challenge to just BE, to absorb, observe.  Somewhere along the way, it becomes a dynamic dialog within me and my subject, the composition, the patterns, color palette and values.  Sometimes it begins to paint itself.

So Paint the Exciting!

prepping fresh ideas...

Fresh ideas to choose from~ lots more to paint.

I can’t believe it has only been two weeks since my recent painting retreat.  It was a much-needed break just for painting!

I found my self so excited to paint.  Yet, the analytical part of my artist was overwhelmed with cataloging the variety of compositions and palette possibilities.   Everything was already painted in raw pigments and it changed every few minutes.  No kidding, the morning light changed so quickly we could barely contain our excitement let alone finish drink our coffee.  The afternoon and evening  sun was just as dramatic.  I could barely record it all on my camera.  So I painted what I could, and came back home to paint more in my studio.

I came home ready to paint.  Over the next few days I walked into my studio and promptly froze at the easel trying to pick a painting to start next.  It should not be this difficult.  It’s not, I was just over complicating it ~ trying to guess what the next sale could be.  And yet, there I stood.  I turned around and walked out of my studio more frustrated than I realized.

A few hours later I had regrouped, cropped and printed most of 20 plus thumbnail images from my recent adventures as well as other local plein-air treks. These were all in my “to paint” files.  I took them upstairs and sat on my studio floor.  Meanwhile I lined up all of my fresh RETREAT paintings to remind me of what I wanted to paint.

I made a fresh cup of tea and just looked at the images. I spent a few more hours just evaluating the unique interest I had with each printed reference.  Eventually, the exciting ones made it into a smaller pile, which I then taped to my easel wall.    I discovered I was looking for a certain tangible energy in my subjects and paints.  I realized I was finally gaining a bit more clarity in my studio again for a little while before family life returned.

I came back with some great paintings but I also came back with a few new realizations for determining what is driving me to paint these days.

  1. Paint the Exciting!
  2. Fresh Paint, Clean Paint!
  3. Don’t wreck it trying to “fix it“.

In the past week I have painted a least 7 paintings.  I  have wiped away several of these after realizing they were “fix its”.  I realized I could revisit the composition in a new way any time I wanted.  Or I could simply paint something else EXCITING at the moment and see where it might lead.  I have definitely scored a few surprises as well!

I will blog more on the 3 realizations later in the week…


A Retreat on Painting!

October 11, 2015

After spending very little of my summer painting I was beginning to feel the frustration of bottled paintings.  I was definitely looking forward to some much-needed focused down time just for painting.

Last weekend I was able to take a much-needed Retreat on Painting.


North view from Dutch Mountain, Llano County.

Several of my Plein Air Austin buddies booked the remote ranch on Dutch Mountain in Llano county for a weekend of painting.   We eagerly ventured out of cellular reception and drove into the remote dirt roads of Llano county.   A 3 day weekend of Glamping (camping in a remote area with a glorious hot shower and full kitchen!) and painting – Plein Air style. No internet, no painting quotas, just take it in, and paint what you find.  Look, relax, recharge, Paint, recharge, Paint…It was fantastic.

North view from Dutch Mountain, Llano Cnty.

Each morning I found my self awestruck and giggling with the joy of simply watching an unobstructed view of the sun rise across granite basalts and open scrub brush and paint the sky in new tones of pinks and blues every few minutes!  Then watching as hushed deer calmly walked across the grounds.  And the views were simply amazing!

Then we would grab our breakfast and coffee before packing up and driving out into the mesquite brush and harsh granite rock hills.   The 5 mph drive trough Sandy Creek and UP to high point was a feat all its own, to which I was amazed I managed it so many times.


But it was so totally worth it to park at the top and look across the miles to watch people the size of ants pop up on top of Enchanted rock as we painted the morning lights and shadows.

AlexisMcCarthyArt Ampersand panels

Amongst all the excitement and giggles I did actually manage to paint a few the first day and a fourth on the last day.  To which I must say I am rather pleased and even some what enchanted with them as well.  I can admit I do  a little happy dance inside every time I see these paintings on my shelf.  My only regret was not remembering to bring my 35mm camera and zoom lens for better pictures.  But I was not disappointed by the 12 megapixel camera my phone had to offer.
But I had gone there to paint and paint I did.  Now I can’t wait for the next paint out!

Georgetown, On the Square!

September 25, 2015

Back to painting square by square ~ On the Square!

On the Square. Aubin Buliding.  6"x6"  #2015_09_19.

Aubin Orange, On the Square, Georgetown. 6″x6″ #2015_09_19.

Last weekend, we were invited back to Georgetown, TX to paint more of the the historical buildings by the Heritage Society.  As I mentioned in earlier blog posts Georgetown proper was founded in 1848!   That adds for a lovely collection of architectural blending of old and new.  This time as I walked the square I was drawn to a vibrant aged red brick building nestled next to one of the first buildings.  Behind them was the top spire of the county courthouse.

I have probably walked past that spot a handful of times. Occasionally, even snapped a few pics of the buildings thinking that would make a great painting. I have though to myself, “Oooh, that could be interesting for composition.”  However, the timing, light, location and energy didn’t fit those times.  But on that September morning, the light and the shadows offered plenty of opportunity to play with my paint.

I knew my light would change soon so I opted to stay within the smaller 6″x6″ square.   I quickly washed in a few loose oil sketches to get an interesting composition. Then pushed in violet shadows and added loose color spots on a panel.  Before long it was well underway.  The Aubin building offered vibrant orange to balance against visual textures of the older stone building, voluminous clouds and cooler violets of the shadows and distant dome.

I feel that some places are always paint-able, some more than others.  But you have to look and listen to your subjects for all the pieces to fit to best capture the ambiance of the scene.  With in a few hours, I was pretty sure I could not improve the painting.  So packed up my gear and brought it home to put my finishing details in with a steady hand.

I am very pleased to have captured a square of the Square surrounding such a place rich in history.  Next week it will be displayed in part of the Heritage Society exhibit as part of the Heritage awareness month with an artist reception on Oct. 1st.  I plan to have a few other Georgetown gems for show then too!

Front porch special!

Blue Porch on 1st Street.

Blue Porch on 1st Street. Oil on panel, 6×6.

Yesterday, we were invited to paint the historical part of Georgetown by the Heritage Society.  Georgetown proper was founded in 1848!  Much of the down town features homes, buildings and architecture from the early 1900’s. The weather was great already warming up into the 80’s and the last of the Georgetown poppies were gorgeous.  It made it quite challenging to pick just the one spot to paint.

So I settled for walking just beyond the town square and discovered a lovely little spot to paint.  I chose to work smaller on a 6″x6″ panel to be sure I could finish most of it while on site.  Then set to work out an interesting composition within the square format.   I love the dynamic juxtaposition of blue green porch with the vibrant red-orange poppies.

I am happy to say that I am very pleased to have captured the bright morning glow and shadows surrounding such a lovely place.  Even better to have it displayed next week in part of the Heritage Society exhibit as part of the Heritage awareness month.