I visited my parents in Montana about a month ago and spent some time trying to sort through the boxes and bins of things that I’ve been intending to take with me over the last 10 years or so. I came across this painting of Rock Creek near Red Lodge, Montana that I believe I started painting in 1998. My uncle, Jim Poulson, took me on a painting trip to help me figure out how to use my newly acquired easel and oil paints. Jim is an amazing landscape artist and definitely one of my biggest art influences. I remember him helping me figure out the composition and how to start with shades of red under the trees to give them life and keep the green from becoming too dominant. It’s amazing how early lessons in life can come back to you and have renewed meaning.
When I found the painting, it was mostly as you see it above. But, the lower-left corner, in front of the tree, was a flat patch of permanent green that had been scraped off and left unfinished, until now. I spent some time over the course of an afternoon in my studio to finally finish Rock Creek. It’s amazing to me how connected I feel to this painting. It was from a time before I knew many of the conventions of art and composition but it feels like a very honest representation of what I really know about painting. Jim was a great teacher and I’m glad to have found this, to remind me of our painting trip. Maybe I’ll get the rest of my stuff from my parents house next time…
It feels like Spring has fully arrived in San Francisco. I am very much enjoying the 60 to 70 degree temperatures with clear skies and have been trying to get outside whenever possible. I painted this small canvas after a walk to the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park. I’ve been very interested in square format compositions and the effect of light and shadow on different colors. It reminds me of my limited training in darkroom photography where one of the challenges was to capture highlights and shadows without losing all of the information behind them. Similarly, I’ve been trying to neutralize colors by mixing compliments to create shadows that are delicate and still show the colors underneath.
I’ve also been experimenting with brushwork. Specifically, I’ve been working towards letting go and finding a way between tight and loose. Brushwork, it seems to me, is like the rhythm of a song. It can vary greatly and change the feeling of a painting from controlled and orderly to chaotic to lyrical and rhythmic. In the painting above, I experimented with using different sized brushes to capture some of the movement of the waves near Land’s End by the entrance to the bay. A light fog was coming in and obscuring the hills in the distance and, in the end, I found this to be the most interesting part of the painting. I’m definitely going to explore the idea of using fog or haze in future paintings.
Again, thank you for reading and your comments are always appreciated!
For a while now, I’ve been visualizing how I could capture some of the feeling I get walking around San Francisco at night. The air feels cooler and the lights have a glow that reveals just a feeling of what’s there. It reminds me of the light washes of water and color that, when they’re cooperating, give just a suggestion of what an artist might have seen and felt.
I’m always drawn to my watercolor trays like a moth to a flame but I mentioned last week that I’ve been oil painting, so below is one of the paintings I was referring to. The buildings are downtown on California Street along one of the cable car routes that runs through Chinatown. I tried building up the surface, in spots, a bit more than I usually do and it occurred to me that an oil painting can sort of go on forever. I just mean, you can keep adding paint and the surface keeps growing until you reach that point where you’ve decided everything needed has been said and the painting is finished. In contrast, I feel like I almost have to sneak up on a watercolor painting, building slowly or quickly and stopping as soon as something comes to life. Of course, there are no rules for how to make a painting, just so many different ways to try.
The watercolor, San Francisco Night, is available HERE on Etsy. I don’t have any of my oil paintings listed on Etsy yet, but if anyone is interested in any of the work on my blog or having a custom work created, please feel free to contact me through this blog or send me an email at email@example.com. As always, thank you for being a part of this blog and supporting creativity!
I woke up early yesterday and drove down the coast from San Francisco to take in the early morning hours at the foot of Mt. Montara and do some plein air painting. I took pictures with my cell phone camera to help share the experience. After a short climb up some steep trails with my easel and supplies in tow I settled on a spot where the sun was casting a shadow over the side of a hill dotted with trees. Here is the spot with the lighting as I painted it.
And here is my basic setup for oil painting outdoors:
I forgot two important things on this outing, water and bug spray. I should know by now that each of these can make painting much more pleasant but I still managed to really enjoy the day.
The sun was shining but with the Pacific Ocean just to the right of the picture and a bit of fog hanging around, I felt a chill and a coolness to the landscape so I started with an ultramarine blue underpainting to help relate the finished painting to how I experienced the morning.
Over the next couple of hours, I developed each section using the underpainting as a guide for value relationships and leaving small flakes of the underpainting exposed here and there in the final painting which took on a cool and shadowy feeling.
By the time I finished painting, the light had changed quite a bit and the hill in the foreground no longer had the large shadow cast over its side, as you can see here:
Changes in light, clouds, and weather present some special challenges to painting outside but I always try to keep in mind that I’m not copying what I’m seeing, I’m responding to it and the painting takes on a life of its own at some point.
This was my first trip to Mt. Montara at McNee Ranch State Park but I’ll definitely be going back for the beautiful views and relative seclusion from life in the city. I’m finding that the bay area has quite a few nearby place where you can forget how close you are to a big city and explore nature. I’m sure there will be more examples of plein air paintings in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading and, always, thanks for your comments!
I’ve been thinking more about how important the relationships of shapes are in each painting. It’s not only the shapes themselves that create a certain feeling within a composition but their relationship to the borders of the surface. A shape very close to the edge of a plane can feel tense, as though it’s ready to fall off or it’s unwelcome. Shapes with edges that are tucked in about a third of the way from the edge feel comfortable and settled. The edges themselves change the way one shape relates to another. A softened edge welcomes and blends with an adjoining shape. One that is crisp can push away other shapes and divide the surface. The more I think and learn about composition, the more the elements on the page have a narrative quality. There is still so much to learn and, I think, that’s what keeps pulling me back to paint again and again.
I painted Into the Fog from a photo I took of the Golden Gate Bridge while in Tiburon, across the bay, through the cloudy sky and fog. I’m still working on several paintings on small panels, like this one, and started a slightly larger work yesterday. I’m still considering what to do with the 36″ x 36″ canvas leaning against the counter behind me. It’s interesting to think about, having painted small works for quite some time.
I’ve been busy reacquainting myself with oil painting over the last couple of weeks and it feels great. I’ve even gotten out and done some plein air painting north of San Francisco. This first painting, August Field, was started that morning and finished at home. I’m still focused on thinking in terms of composition and experimenting with how the elements of a painting support each other. It really makes the whole painting process more enjoyable and engaging. I’m planning to continue oil painting on small canvases or panels like this one, experimenting with composition and, eventually, produce some larger works. This second painting was produced from a photograph taken on the same morning of painting outdoors.