Thursday, December 31, 2015

Birds of Paradise

Birds of Paradise, 16x20 oil on panel

Wishing you a great new year! I believe that if we all do our best in our own sphere of interest 2016 could be an extraordinarily wonderful year. Shall we give it a try?

In response to an invitation to a show titled "Bouquets" I painted some of my favorite California  flowers.  They grow with no tending and almost no water, adding brilliance and verve to everything between parking lots to elegant  dining tables. Their clear complementary colors are upstaged by the scrappy strength of the stem and base of the flower from which rise delicate ballet dancers in a wild array of shapes and colors.  

Forgot to take a photo of the underpainting, but here you can see it with some of the early steps of painting over it using my entire palette.

The first stage of the full color painting. It's all here, but all the hours invested in pushing the darks back,  bringing up the lights, and finding the distinctive details in each shape make the finished painting-

The finished painting is found at the top of the post.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos, 12x16 oil on panel

I recently showed up to a holiday lunch wearing an orange and black striped blouse and one of my witty sisters-in-law commented that I seemed to be not one but TWO holidays behind. I think this may be why! I've been working on paintings from some of the photographs I took in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico when we were there for their Dia de los Muertos celebrations (which falls at the same time as our Halloween).

Time spent observing their rituals was enormously moving. All over the city, in stores, restaurants, on the steps to homes, and most notably in the town squares there are altars created for those who have  passed away. They are thick with marigolds (the flower of remembrance) and a velvety bright magenta flower I had never seen before. The favorite food and drink of the departed are presented on lovely platters, bowls and glasses, there are photos of the person, and often items that they particularly loved or that represent what they enjoyed doing. The altars are decorated with candles, incense and often skulls or skeletons.

The painting above is of one small detail of a large altar in the public square. The festive crown of flowers pays tribute to the beauty and vibrance of the departed and the field of marigolds is an assurance of respect and remembrance. Crowds gather for 3 evenings to circle the square,  look at the altars and remember those lost, and to admire one another's costumes. Skeletons are everywhere, reminding us that it is simply a thin veil of flesh that seperate us from our ancestors and from those we have recently lost.

The first day I lay out the composition in light and dark values of Burnt Sienna

Once the value study has dried I return to the panel and paint over it placing the first layer of color and trying to adhere to the values I have made note of in the monochromatic underpainting.  Squint your eyes and look at this image and the value study above it and you'll see that I toyed with a different background idea.

In this session I decided to return to the darker background and added  a bit of the stone sidewalk rather than more marigolds. I continued to add definition to the flowers, trying to capture their countless layers of petals without getting too detailed. I tried to define how the sun came across the skull and it's flowers, and how the short wall behind it cast a shadow behind it. More than anything else, I tried to capture the beautiful vision of a culture that honors it's dead and continues to include them in their community and family life.

The finished painting is at the top of the post.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


6x6, oil on panel

This is the second of the two mini paintings I recently completed. I keep returning to this subject, and have to admit to having a love/hate relationship with it. I begin with enthusiasm having been drawn by the wild light and shadow, warm and cool thing that these delightful succulents present. I get part way down the path of trying to nail down the curves and turns that I love so much in the frilly edges of the leaves and I begin to grumble. "Wait, which bend in the road am I on? Grrrr, I missed a critical turn!"

In the end I love the twisting road I've traveled, and enjoy looking back on the trip.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happily back at work

The Crown of Autumn

As I confided in my last post, I have taken a holiday from the easel, so have not been posting as regularly as I have in the past. My early Fall break was utterly delightful, first spending time on the beach after the crowds had left, swimming in the extraordinarily warm Pacific, reading great books, and enjoying the kind of time with friends and family that my very busy last year did not allowed.  Recently I enjoyed a mind blowing, heart expanding trip to San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato during the celebration of  Dia de Los Muertos. I wish Americans could assimilate some of the sweet, family oriented traditions of our neighbors to the south. We would be a kinder, happier people.

Now I'm happy to be back at work. I painted 2 6x6 inch pieces for a December show at the Randy Higbee Gallery. I have never painted this small, and I would like to say that it's HARD! It took as long as a larger painting, and after a session of painting my eyes refused to focus on anything beyond my arm's reach. However, I like the intimate scale of the tiny pieces, and may return to 6x6 panels periodically.

I hope you are enjoying Fall as much as I am. I love the low sun and long shadows, the pumpkins, gourds and pomegranates, and the urge to stir slow cooking soups and stews to warm the people you love from the inside.

A big thank you to my friend Suzanne Redfearn, author extraordinaire, for the bag of pomegranates from her backyard. I had a very messy, fun time breaking them apart and arranging and rearranging their pieces until I found a composition that called out to me. I hope it pleases others as well!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Back to work!

I haven't posted in some time, and I'm pleased to be back!  I spent the summer happily exhibiting the paintings you watched develop on this blog at the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts. They were well received and the entire experience was wide and wonderful. In September I took some R and R, reading thick novels, swimming in the extraordinarily warm Pacific and reacquainting myself with  my sweet family and friends. 

During that time I had an on going conversation online with the Volcan Mountain Foundation and ultimately wrote a proposal and was selected to be their first Artist in Residence. Volcan Mountain rises to the East of the historic town of Julian in beautiful Northern San Diego County and is the top of the watershed that delivers water to northern San Diego and points north. The Foundation bought or helped facilitate the purchase of some 17,000 acres of the mountain, just ahead of the developers. This forward thinking group is hosting scientists and artists to come, do their work there and look at the mountain through their own lens. 

I plan to visit Volcan Mountain several weekends throughout the year to hike and take photographs of the plant life documenting seasonal change. I will then generate a series of paintings that will be exhibited to help develop awareness of the wilderness preserve and the importance of the rich flora and fauna thriving there. I will also post the paintings here as I generate them.

You know that something is meant to be when everything in you sings "yes!" My love of  Southern California, hiking, plant life, painting and the preservation of wild spaces are all satisfied in this new opportunity. The stars aligned, and I couldn't be any happier!

The dramatic gate to the wilderness preserve designed by local artist,  James Hubbell.
 After the hike to the 5350 foot summit we took refuge under gracious old oaks as a rainstorm (!) passed. It was silent, drippy and soul satisfying.

After the storm passed I ventured out with my camera to capture some of the Autumn display of nuts, berries and falling leaves. The trail moved through Riparian and Chaparral ecosystems then into grasslands, high meadows and forests of pine and 5 varieties of oak.

As we descended the sun began to break through and drew my camera lens left and right as it dramatically touched the landscape here and there.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Oil Cans

Oil Cans
8x10 oil on panel

I hope you're fortunate enough to still be close with some of your best friends from childhood. I'm blessed in this way, a number of the kids I grew up with are still a part of my life. Sharing decades of experience is simply delightful, and the depth of understanding is beyond belief.

In the mid 60's the tomboy who ruled the neighborhood on the other side of the school yard and I decided to join forces, and we sealed the deal by climbing down a storm drain, pricking our fingers and pressing them together. My blood sister and I have made each other laugh while riding bikes, boards and horses, while confessing hopes and fears, and while exploring new places, lifestyles and fashion choices. We've celebrated countless birthdays, holidays, highs and lows and have stood by one another's side through thick and thin for over 50 years now.

We spent a weekend together on the central coast of California a couple of years ago and talked endlessly while walking the rocky shoreline and poking through antique (junk?) stores. It shouldn't be a surprise that we both fell in love with the same thing in one store, but you have to admit that it's a little unusual that it was a grouping of beat up old oil cans. Yup, our co-mingled blood called out for the very same odd ball stuff!  The cans went home to her place in Santa Ynez, but I borrowed them so I could have a painting of them!

I began by doing a tone drawing in Burnt Sienna oil paint 

After the paint dried I applied the base color for all the objects and the environment. While working to capture the color I try to remain true to the values that I established in the underpainting.  I let this stage dry and then I analyze my decisions and make note of where I want to make changes or corrections. After seeing to them I go in and fine tune all areas and add the finishing details.

The completed painting is at the top of the post.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cactus Royalty

Cactus Royalty
18x24 oil on panel

This is a large version of a painting I completed in December. I love the scarlet bulbs arrayed like jewels in a crown atop the cactus. Their satisfying round shapes invite you to reach out for them, and the brilliant colors contrast with the smokey cool greens of the leaves in a way that satisfies me.

This is the second painting that I have repainted on a larger scale. In general I have never felt drawn to cover the same ground, and am eager to describe another subject. However, I was interested in seeing how scale would affect the feel of the image, and I am a fan! It changed from a beautiful little glimpse to a majestic vision. Fun! And I found that having painted the subject before the painting took shape quickly and with great confidence. We knew each other through and through and had worked out the bugs in our relationship months ago!

Below are some of the steps along the way to the completed painting.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


12x16 oil on panel

When I was growing up the National Geographic came like a bolt out of the blue each month. The photos made clear to me that the world was a very big place that I didn't know the first thing about. The wonder grew when my brother was given a globe for his birthday one year. Although our family was all about maps, seeing the globe gave me, for the first time, a sense of our planet, which implies spinning through space... infinitely more I didn't know about!

My brother and I spent time turning the globe and trying to pronounce the names of all the countries we had never heard of. We were taken by the vast swaths of luminous ocean that had been, for the most part, missing on the maps we had seen.  There was a slight relief to the continents that indicated where vast mountain ranges ran and depressions where camels struggled across punishing deserts. We spent a good amount of time running our hands and eyes over that globe.

Eventually the globe was placed on the top of the book shelf that my brother and I shared. At night I routinely looked up at it as I was going to sleep. Some nights it was a way of avoiding the shadow cast by the bed posts our twin beds that looked  EXACTLY like the boogie man. Other nights I simply looked at the globe and mused on how large the world must be and how tiny mine mine was. I wondered how I would ever get to the Amazon, to see those amazing Indians hunting barefoot in the jungle with blow darts.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Brilliant Disks

Brilliant Disks
18x24 oil on panel

A couple of years ago I painted a small version of this image that I really liked. As my brother took it home, he told me that he really looked forward to seeing me do it in a larger scale. When I was looking for a few images to paint in a large format recently, his words came floating back to me.

 I'm really glad for his advice, this painting leapt off my brush like it had been just itching to be big all along! 

The burnt sienna value drawing/underpainting

The very start of laying in color over the value drawing.  

The first layer of all color completed. Now I let it dry fully before beginning to make all the refinements and adjustments it calls for. 

Several days into the process of defining the way sunlight and shadow weave the gorgeous leaves of this plant together into a dramatic composition.

The final, completed image is at the top of the post.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mighty Mixmaster

Might Mixmaster
oil on panel, 12x16

My Vintage series is a fun balance to the Native plants that my most recent blogs have focused on. The Cactus Shadows series had become a bit hallucinogenic, and a few of you expressed concern for my mental, emotional and pharmacological state… I'm OK, and this happy little scene should put you at ease!

One of my dear sister-in-laws and I have a long standing annual date. We spend 1 day each summer at the County Fair. It began when we would take our kids to walk through the barns to see the chickens, goats and pigs and then dutifully sit at the bottom of one spinning ride after another. As the kids grew older, we began to slip into the exhibition halls as they enjoyed the midway. We combed the displays of doll houses made of match sticks, collections of beer cans, astonishingly beautiful woodworking, vests made of pop tops, exquisite quilts and needle point portraits of hamsters. The mix of inspiring next to horrifying is just up our alley. The kids are long gone, but we remain true to our date.

This proud Mixmaster was found in the cooking hall of last year's Orange County fair. Part of a display on a high shelf I loved the grouping, and the sleek power of the Mixmaster. It makes me think of Buicks with tail fins, beehive hair dos and Tang for breakfast.

I covered the panel with a thin coat of Burnt Sienna and then did a quick line drawing of the subject with my paint brush. Next I used paper towels and Q tips to lift the paint in the areas of light, and brushed in additional paint in areas of shadow. When I feel happy with the accuracy of the shapes and values I set the panel aside to dry.

Once the Burnt Sienna has dried I begin laying in the color, keeping true to the values I had established in the original drawing.

Painting the reflective surface of not only the Mixmaster but the corrugated metal behind it was a fun challenge.

The completed painting is at the top of the post. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Cactus Shadows IV

Cactus Shadows IV
12x16 oil on panel
The fourth in a series, this painting examines the other worldly color combinations and shapes that cactus offer up.  Caught in the early morning desert sun, the arresting shapes of the cactus were accentuated by the shadows they cast on the broad, extraordinarily colored surfaces of neighboring leaves. 
The first step is the under painting where I work out placement and values
Laying in the first color. I look to capture the basic color of broad shapes, while adhering to the values I  established in my underpainting.
Now I slow down and begin to look for more subtle color and value changes. I build depth of color with glazes, dry brush and constant looking to see more and more detail. I continue to check for accuracy while trying to ultimately express what I found compelling about this specific sight.

The finished painting is at the top of the post.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cactus Shadows 3

This is the second of  three Cactus Shadow paintings I have completed in the last month. Like it's mates, this is a 12x16 oil on panel.  An early morning trip to the Living Desert in Palm Desert set the wheels in motion and my fingers itching for my paint brushes. 

The foundation - a tone drawing done in Burnt Sienna.

The first several layers of color. 

I continue to build thin layers of color on the big surfaces, and find the light and shadow that define the forms of the blossoms. Then there are the decisions that will give me plenty to do in the sessions between now and the finish - namely correcting the 2 suddenly emerald green leaves in the lower right!

Finding the right color and value for all the background elements, the final glazes of color on the almost translucent broad leaves and all the small finishing details on the blossoms and spines took days of concentrated looking.
The finished painting is at the top of the post.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cactus Shadows 2

This 16x20 oil on panel is one of a trio of paintings that I have just completed, all titled Cactus Shadows.

My last visit to the extensive gardens at the Living Desert was in the cool of the morning. The low morning sun  accentuated all I love about cactus - the sculptural quality of its varied forms, and the unexpected color combinations.  Several varieties were in bloom, and I loved the design the shadows made.  

My first step is to do a tonal drawing on the panel in Burnt Sienna

Here I have completed the first layer of color. I seek to find the median colors of all areas while staying true to the values  I made note of in the monochromatic underpainting

When I come back to the painting, after allowing the last layer to dry, I double check placement and proportions and the relative values. I make note of how the colors are working, what areas need to be greyed and pushed back, and where I want to boost the light and color to draw the eye. I spend as long as it takes to get these fundamentals working with my vision for the piece. Then I start in on the smaller details, the rounding of all the individual cylindrical shapes and then all those pesky spines and their shadows.

The completed painting is at the top of the post.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Want a Ride?

Want a Ride?
16x20 oil on panel

If you were lucky, you had a red wagon of your own. If you didn't, neighborhoods seemed to have some free floating wagons that you could spot in the driveway of your friend from girl scouts one day and then by the back steps of your brother's friend's house later in the week. When you were eating dinner the rattle of a wagon going by drew you to the window like a giant magnet. Wagons were what made the neighborhood interesting. They  hauled kickballs, last Halloween's candy, the little brother that could never keep up, and all the stuff you needed  for building the fort in the bushes on the other side of the schoolyard. There was always the temptation to ride one down the big hill by your house, but a couple of attempts were all it took to realize that the steering mechanism left a lot to be desired, and that your mom was going to kill you for losing the bottom of your sneakers trying to keep from rocketing out into traffic (such as it was) at the bottom of the hill. The 18 wheeler of childhood, the red wagon rocked.

The Burnt Sienna value study 

The first layer of color

Now I  really slow down. First I double check proportions and relative values and make any adjustments necessary. In this case the lower wheel gave me quite a run for the money. I spent the better part of a day trying to make the changes it needed.  Once I felt that was resolved I began focusing on details.  I try to bring depth and character to the subject at the end by attempting to capture some of the surface texture and adding the nuts, bolts, rust spots and mood that will bring back what it felt like to pull one of these workhorses through the neighborhood.

The finished piece is at the top of the page.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Indian Wells Seedpods

Indian Wells Seedpods
8x10 oil on panel

This elegant bunch of seedpods hung just to my right as I sat cooling off after a long hike in the desert. As I reviewed the magnificent canyon we had spent the day exploring while shaking the sand out my shoes these bright pods danced against a deep brown wall in the late afternoon breeze. Discovering them reminded me that inspiring sights come in all sizes and are literally all around us. All we have to do is notice!

The tonal drawing, done in Burnt Sienna,
which helps me place things and establish
the pattern of light and dark

The first day, blocking in the basic colors

After allowing the paint to dry for several days
I returned to the panel to lay in the bright
aqua and green needle like leaves.

After letting this layer of paint dry I
spent another session on further detail and
 the shadows the leaves cast on one another
and the pods below - seen at the top of this post.