Plein Air Painting Again

October 15, 2011

It has been a spell since I managed to squeeze in a bit of Plein Air painting in the Austin hills.  Though I spent last Saturday at the Round Rock Chalk Walk and finished a small city scape. It’s not quite the same as venturing into our local creeks and hills to paint. There is just something special and energizing about painting out in nature.

Painting under the Oak tree.

Today, I joined fellow Plein Air Austin artists for painting adventures. I trekked out to Bull Creek Park located on the West side of Austin.  The park has recently been reworked to feature restrooms, plenty of picnic tables, hiking trails and a pavilion near the creak as well.  There you find limestone cliffs chiseled and weathered into  wonderful cliff faces.  Large rock slabs make up the beautifully carved creek bed of Bull Creek nestled amongst hiking trails and large shading oaks. There was even a bit of trickling water to sooth the mind for a spell of painting before the sun rose to high over the hills this morning.

Bull Creek offers plenty of great spots to paint. The hard part to plein air painting is of course toting all of your paints and easel to where you want to paint. The second part is settling on a spot and finding a workable composition. So today, I settled in under a trusty oak tree near enough to hear the babble of the creek but still offer plenty of shade and 2 agreeable compositions. On of the hill side shadows and a second of the rock slabs.

I find it best to stick with small formats (3.5×5 up to 5×7) when in the field.  This ensures completing a scene before the lighting changes significantly.  Yes, some times I can manage to paint more than 1 while out, like today.  But that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with the results.  So I cam home to put a few finishing touches on the hill-side and try to resolve the rock slabs.  But even with good reference pictures of the rocks, I still struggled to get it together even here in the studio. I have to venture out another day for a better chance at resolving the rocks in to a solid composition.

So I shall conclude today’s painting with just the one little gem.  Yes, there are actually houses on the top of the hill edge, up there.

Bull Creek, South East face. 2011.10.15. image: 4.5" x 5"

Hot Color Flows.

October 4, 2011

Glass Blowing!  A new love in art for me.

First Blue Glass!

I have always been drawn to admire elegant glass pieces with striking colors swirled through them.  Learning to create glass work has been on my list for quite some time now.  (Almost as long as I have been painting.)

So for my birthday this year, my sweety, found a glass blowing class for me and made the arrangements.  I got my first taste this weekend, oh boy, that’s Sweet!

setting jack line

I have learned and tried a lot of art processes besides painting.  Clay, carving, college, printmaking, drawing, embossing, fiber art, iron pour, paper making, photography, sculpting, and welding.   But few come close to eclipsing my love of color and paint.

Glass blowing is like suspending liquid color in a solid state. I could sit and stare at glass for hours watching how the colors change with the time of day.  Simply noting how the transparent layers of colors affect one another to create new patterns and movement as they swirl in the sun light.  I also find great joy when considering how to paint colored glass to capture the reflections and light changes.

WoW!  It is so cool to start with a hot 2000 degree lump of nothing and create something so simple and elegant in just in a few minutes.  Watching the glowing glass shift and form as it is rolled and manipulated int to a cylinder, bubble or form is mesmerizing.  It truly becomes a delicate dance balancing yourself the artist, glass, fire, and the forces of Earth.  (By that I mean gravity, centrifugal force, fluid dynamics, temperatures, and more.)   Or picking of broken shards recycled glass and fusing it into a glowing liquid form as it absorbs new colors.  It all about the anticipation of the way a piece will capture and reflect light tempered by wisdom and patience to let it cool.  And humbled by the natural faults and affinity of glass itself to seek its own form despite your push.

Forming the bulb.

adding color frit

forming the cylinder

opening glass

Glass blowing is not a simple process.  Respecting the medium while learning the limitations and boundaries of any medium takes decades.   One I hope I will have opportunities to explore more in the years to come.  For now I will find joy each morning as first light illuminates my first creations of liquid color.

The Next Stage

October 3, 2011

Yes, I know it has been several weeks since I have managed to post to my Blog.  I have been recovering from Bronchitis an juggling several other projects here as well.   So tonight I’ll offer you a sampling of my latest painting project and walk you through it’s stages of development.

What is this new subject?  Hamilton Pools!
For those new to our lovely hill country, Hamilton Pools is a gem in our own backyard just outside of Austin. Best known for it’s scenic sunken grotto featuring 45ft waterfalls, massive rock overhangs and hiking trails to the Perdenales River.  Well, it’s somewhat more like dripping falls in our drought here.  Even in the warmest summer, the natural lake is quite cool.  It is however , most of a 1/2 mile high down to the pool. But it’s definitely humbling and breathtaking to see and worth planning a day for picnicking to calm your nerves a bit..

Photographs hardly capture the beauty of this marvel. Seriously, I had to piece several photos together to reference the distance across the lake, not to mention to adjust for the change in lighting under the cavern.  I can only hope that I can capture it’s impression and vastness with my painting.  I realized after a few initial sketches it was very clear that a small painting would always feel cramped and and limited in translating the vastness of Hamilton Pools.

But I do have to start somewhere. So Once I had determined that I definitely wanted to work the composition in a 1:3 ratio. I started by enlarging my sketch to 18″x36″ drawing to work out the scale and values. It will simplify conversions for a larger panels later as well.

Sketch for Hamilton Pool.

I prepped this color study on two 18″ square panel boards, and designed the composition across them.  Why, did I choose panels rather than canvas? The cradle board panels offer the ability to seamlessly piece multiple panels together.  Not to mention the added advantage of less warping, square gallery depth edges and they don’t require a frame later.

The second part of the challenge would come in determining a workable color scheme.  Establishing solid atmospheric perspective (depth) will be influenced by the color choices.  I started by laying in a violet under painting, to establish warmth and depth for the cliff work.


I continued to layer colors and work the transitions between warm and cool patterns.

Hamilton Pool, stage 1.

Hamilton Pool, stage 5.

The study is close but not quite there yet.

Test editing

So in my time away from the studio, I have used photo shop to work out what I want to develop further.  It helps me test potential color changes before I jump back into it.  It lets me live with it a bit too.  I’ll post an updated version soon with the resolved areas.  So stay tuned.

Tools of the Trade.

August 25, 2011

Funny thing about us Artists, there’s not much we won’t try to do. We are generally a jack of all trades, an expert in a few, and crazy enough to say why not?

This weeks adventures resulted in a glass tiled kitchen back splash.

Tiling projects require lots of math checking.

Today’s project was a more “labored” sort of project in the Home Improvement. I was helping lay out tiles for a friends kitchen.  Lots of people take on these sort of DIY projects every weekend. There are lots of YouTube demos and TV episode showing what to do. But It’s funny to consider how much real math goes into doing just that.  Once in a blue moon everything adds or divides up evenly with little headaches.  But most often you encounter something that just doesn’t work like you planned. It’s Murphy’s Law.  So then you have to resort to a bit of imagination to solve the problem with grace and elan.  Easier said than done.

Turns out, it’s a good thing I’m a fearless artist, and I know how to cut glass, measure and divide fractions, and remembered to bring along my trusty bucket of favorite tools. Inside it you can find a small level, framer’s square, shims, box cutter, chisel, putty knife, trusty cordless drill, 2 pairs of work gloves, vice clamps and safety glasses.  There are other items in there, but can’t recall everything off the top of my head.  Having access to a Dremel tool and pastry bag made it even better.  The Dremel cuts glass tiles very well with a steady hand.  The Pastry bag pipes small spots of thin set into tight spots the trowels just won’t go.

The trick is a willingness to learn something new, apply the knowledge you have, put some time and thought into it and you usually end up with something pretty darn good.   Yes, I’m bragging a bit.  But it really comes down to knowing your tools and how to best use what you have to do the best job.

So here is some thoughts for those thinking about a career as an artist or contractor… know your math.

Each year I hear these questions along with why are you an artist?  That much like asking Why do you breathe?

  • What do you do?  I create / make stuff.  I just have to do that. 
  • What materials do you use? Depends on the project and scale of the job.  But I have several buckets of tools for various projects. One for Framing art. One for house projects and several more for specific to each Art area I work in.
  • What did you have to learn?  That’s a bit harder to answer, see I have lots of applied knowledge (learned).  I have to know lots of math, fractions, proportions, some chemistry, more science, history, more color theory, basic construction, basic mechanic principles, economics, book-keeping, marketing, computer programs & languages, and researching. I’m sure I missed something in there.
    • Just when I think I have it together the game changes and I find myself heading back to the books.
  • What is the most important parts to my process / career?

Imagination, Discovery, Planning, Education and believe it or not lots of Math!

The grand Scale of things.

August 21, 2011

It has been 3 months since I completed my Master’s degree. YAY!  or so I thought.  I have yet to throw a celebratory party since I figured it best to find a solid job.  Looks like that’s postponed too.

See apparently while I was attending classes and working on a preferred degree for career advancement the job market most effectively shut down.  So these days I spend my days updating resumes and cover letters to submit for new listings in a wide range of active job postings.  Or researching software tutorials to get updates on the new software requirements. Honestly, I have more than 30 active applications out from recruiting to office assistant, with little activity thus far.  But I still have all the bills piling in all the faster and wanting payment.

These past 3 months have been crusher, from emergency room visits to major house repairs. We have cut and trimmed back everything we can think of.   No, we don’t have cable we dropped that 8 months back.  We have to keep the web access for my husband’s job access but nothing else in the extravagant category.  Shopping is limited strictly to necessities and critical food options.  And the attrition of numbers still grow longer than the gravy train while our last reserves dwindle into the negatives here.

I’m still pushing against the rock trying to get up the hill.  Every day I hear:

Where do I want to go these days?  Well, working would be a start.   As an artist would be a bonus!  Realistically, I know very limited availability these days. I have plenty of real skills too. I have plenty of quality ideas but no means to capitalize on them because that requires more capital i don’t have.

What do you want to do?  I would be happy starting the day knowing I could contribute intellectual value and help someplace or some one grow in the community.  I am a jack of most trades have worked everything from retail to non-profit to public education.  I went back for the masters because I was loosing out on good job opportunities without it.  So now what?  Go back to classes for more software instructions that will be outdated as soon as I complete the courses?

More recently, I keep hearing from random sources look on the bright side of things. You have your education now!  The right thing will come along.  Maybe your supposed to do “something else”.

As an artist I have been most productive, completing more than 30 paintings in the last 2-3 months. I didn’t paint for most of the last 3 weeks b/c of other obligations.  I have prepped and hung 2 shows and saw a total of 6 people visit between the two.  I’m still trying to focus on the next one lined up, but it’s a bit disheartening to see so little turn out in an area that loves the arts so much.

But the Reality of it?  I have a brain, and I can see that it means at this pace I am going to lose everything we have worked to keep through all the other set backs and catastrophes.  Including the house we haven’t been able to sell in 3 years.  So I’m still at the bottom of the hill.

I am a working artist, on the starving list, trying to push the what paints I have left, but the rest is bogged up on the hill waiting…

Chapel Dulcinea, West view. 5x7. 2011.08.20

Well, It has been most of 3 weeks since I have managed anything worth claiming from my studio much less the opportunity to paint en-plein-air.  Today, I cheerfully took the drive out to the southern edge of our Austin hills here to explore the Chapel Dulcinea.  And it is a bit of a trek from the rocks north of Austin, with lots to distract along the way.

Chapel Dulcinea is a small open air chapel perched on the edge of the cliff.  The Spanish style stucco and roof tiles offer and old world contrast to the rugged hills of the central Texas. The walking paths tucked among the Chapel offer sweet spots to stop in the morning shade trees to take in the view of the open hill country that makes up the lower part of Travis / Hays county and the Edwards aquifer recharge zone.  It is a favorite for hikers and bikers on most any day.

But today I am all packed up and ready to explore with paint!

Painting on site today with my EasyL.

I am glad I stuck with the plan.  Find the perfect shade spot, sketch quickly. set up my EasyL, layout palette, mix values, and paint.  I managed to finish this sweet little gem all before the sun was high in the sky.  I can’t wait to go back for a sunset!

Fresh Eyes.

August 4, 2011

Knowing what you see and Painting what you See is only part of the equation.

As an artist, I paint.  I record moments in history or life on a visual plane using the medium of watercolor and oil paint.  I have been on consistent painting schedule completing a small painting a day for most of  2 months straight.  Wow!  really? Then Life tripped into my studio and I have been a bit side lined prepping for shows and trying to endure our summer heat.

I just checked the studio thermometer, it’s 9:31pm and its a cool 97.3 degrees out there.  Did I mention that we are at voluntary power conservation here in Texas with our record triple digit temps.  So in contrast to 100+ temps 97 could be cool.  But not advisable studio conditions.  Those kinds of temps create lots of havoc trying to paint not to mention how it responds during the application.  Excessive temperatures be it heat or cold, really discourages long spells at the easel.  Even my water-soluble oils are limited to how much I will work with them in poor conditions.  And watercolors just want to evaporate and buckle just as quickly. No to mention the heat has an adverse effect to getting proper ventilation and air movement in a west-facing garage.

It does not thrill me to know the difficulties that await when I resume my mixing/painting routine, to regain the ground and consistency I am looking for in my work.  But it does lend more time to meddle in the mind and what to do with the precious time I can devote out there.

So back to my point here.  Fresh Eyes.

Required time away from the studio easel can be a positive.  It gives me a chance to see the progress in my paintings and determine if what I have actually painted matches or represents what I intended.  Did I capture and reflect the light and subject the way I wanted.  Are the values and shapes reading clearly to relate what I saw, what I felt, more than just what I know.

I will freely admit I have a difficult time putting the paint brush down and stepping away from the easel.  Perhaps even at the risk of ruining the painting, all to often.  I’m still learning my limits and effective processes.  But as an Artist I still have to step back and really look at what I have done and evaluate it for what it is.  Somehow I must remain objective and critical of my own work to achieve a credible visual recording.

No, the Texas heat is not an ideal set back in my studio schedule.

On the bright side I am able to look at some unfinished pieces with fresh eyes to determine what I need to do to finish them!  I’m hopeful I can grab a few hours to get some more fresh paint moving soon. Even if it just watercolors and only for a brief spell, between life commitments.

The Value of a painting?

August 2, 2011

Really now, So what’s in the value of a painting?

Well truthfully there are 2 parts to that.

  • 1. the $$$ someone will trade for an intrinsic item of interest.
  • 2. the light and dark that compose the painting.

For now I’m particularly interested in the Value definition that describes the light and dark of a painting. The human eye can see all the subtle gradations of light as it illuminates an object.  Painting a recognizable object on a flat surface requires relating the values as they describe the object in space.

Since I have been away from my studio for a spell, trying to sort out other details, my paintings have been drying and cooking (sort of).  So the next time I get to start a painting around here I have to go back to a clean slate and fresh mixed paints if I intend to maintain clean paintings.  That actually requires mixing 11 distinct values of gray from my white and black.  The outer most (1) being closer to white, 5 being the middle range, and (11) black the last on the corresponding gradation.  I limit my scales to 5 when working plein air.

Gray Value Scale (11 steps)

Why?  The gray-scale establishes a consistent means to measure and test the lightness / darkness of any additional color mixtures I want to paint with.  This allows me to establish credible depth within a flat surface and limited plane.  Color or hue is all relative to its surrounding environment.  But the value or lightness / darkness of yellow measures differently when compared to blue or red.  Not to mention the infinite possibilities we can create from mixing pigments.  The more variations you have of a single color (hue) the more depth ranges you can create, even within a monochromatic (single) color study.

Color value mix. Oil samples.

But why do I mix new paint? As paint ages it dries and oxidizes.  It looses it’s luster and wetness and frequently darkens in value (especially common with oils and acrylics).  This is why I find it critical to mix fresh values regularly when I paint.   This provides a fresh clean scales to judge my other mixtures against or even more importantly try to match against.  Notice that I have taken a few extra steps for checking the relative light or dark of mixing colors by adding a piece of middle gray under my glass palette as well as a few small strips of the value scale to check against as I mix.

Taking the time to mix clean accurate values will take you r paintings a long way to helping push the contrast and add more visual interest without overloading the colors.

In the end it’s always about achieving a readable balance when we are painting –  regardless of subject or style.  It even is applicable to abstracts.   So next time you are looking at a painting, photo or cartoon that grabs your attention see how many different values you can distinguish and consider if it really does add $value$ too.

Prepping and Framing

July 24, 2011

Some days you just have do the prep work.

Today, I wanted to paint.

But spent the day prepping and framing paintings for the Georgetown show on August 13th.   The second stage to finishing a painting is of course signing it clean and legibly.  That requires the right brush and paint consistency applied with a smooth steady hand.

Framing art is not terribly difficult and I actually enjoy it.  But it is somewhat tedious, time consuming, and somewhat costly if you make a critical error.

Always Measure twice and mark your spots before you drill the brackets into the frames.  Some frames can crack easily if you are not careful.

Assemble all necessary tools and to reduce frustration and time lost hunting for the missing drill or brackets. Tools you will need: small and large wire clippers, needle nose pliers, screw driver, small cordless drill is very handy, ruler and tape measure, and pencil.  I keep my framing tools in a designated tote for easy access. And added portability when I deliver art work for any required quick fixes.  I also keep small band aids for unexpected nicks or cuts when framing paintings.

I should mention that it is very handy to have small portable tables to add works space when framing.  I have 2 small 2’x4′ folding tables be sure to clean them before you start framing to avoid any unwanted spotting on art work or frames.   It’s always a good idea to watch for curious little ones interested in you tools, accidents happen very quickly and can be very serious with framing or sharp tools.

Lastly there is recording important inventory details on each painting like title, subject, media, dates, and sizes for printing labels and contracts.  So that’s been a day of counting, checking, prepping, and recording just to get the work hung for August.  So I try to keep a system and check them off as I go.