Monday, December 12, 2011

Arctic Spring

In 2009 I travelled north through the Alaskan arctic. This was at summer solstice. The sun was above the horizon all day, and when it was overcast, as in this painting, 4PM and 4AM looked about the same.

I didn't have the opportunity to stop for plein air work. However, I made sketches and lots of color notes, and did paintings from memory at the end of each day. This painting began as one of those.

The arctic is wonderfully green in June, with rolling plains leading off into the mountain ranges. This is the country of the great caribou herds. In this view, there is a small river, with snow still hanging on at the edges. Small wildflowers, deep green flowering shrubs, and slender grasses cover the tundra. A mysterious place.

Arctic Spring
9 x 12
oil on linen panel

To purchase, contact me at

A couple of blue horses

Sometimes an object will just grab me. That's what happened when I saw these two little horses.

About a year ago I started the Blue Horse on Red, as a demonstration during a class. I didn't get it finished, and it waited in my studio for many months. I knew I would paint the other horse, and finally got to work on Blue Horse on Green at a gallery demonstration. Didn't get that one finished either.

But the day came when I just couldn't wait any longer to put these two ponies right. For one thing, they were a great experiment in high chroma! Not much in the way of subtle grays here. Since they are only 6" x 6", though, the viewer is in no danger of being over-dazzled.

Blue Horse on Red
Blue Horse on Green
6 x 6
oil on linen panel


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Polychrome Overlook

This is the painting I began at Polychrome Pass. When I got the two panels home, I permanently joined them by fixing narrow strips of wood to the back. The result is quite sturdy, and the seam is not very noticeable.

If you enjoyed the photos of the bears and rams on my previous post, you might like to visit my Facebook page to see an album with more photos.

16 x 40, oil on linen panels, joined.

Please direct inquiries to me at:

Plein Air in Denali National Park, Part II

I only lasted 3 hours on my first day of painting, due to the high winds, and almost gave up. After I got to camp and had a meal, I felt better and decided to stick it out. The next morning the winds were down a bit. By eleven the wind died, the sun came up, and it was a glorious day. In a lull between buses, I had an unexpected visitor. He appeared from around the corner with very quiet steps.

Then there were two.

Over the next hour or so, several rams emerged from over the edge of the cliff. They were making an annual migration, and probably nervous about being at an altitude where bears might turn up.

Before long, there were photographers all over the place. Funny how that works.

I needed to catch the 5:10 bus, and got busy packing. I moved gear to the other side of the road so that I could hail my ride, but had to wait for the rams to mosey along. That's my easel and paint box on the ground.

Turned out they wanted me to move, so that they could comfortably hike up the trail behind my position. I did my best to keep a respectful distance, but soon found myself in a bit of a swarm. Eventually we all got sorted out, the bus arrived, and everyone got to see them again, up on the hill around the corner.

The next day, the weather was back to cold and windy, but it never got as bad as the first day. Here is a photo taken by Mr. Michael Mauro on painting day 3.

I'm particularly grateful that he sent it, because I had managed to damage my own camera. Thanks, Mike! I lasted another 2 days, then headed home to complete the painting in my studio. My next post will show the final result.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Plein air in Denali National Park, Part I

Right after Labor Day I made my annual plein air painting trip to Denali National Park. In past years I have camped at the west end of the park road, and concentrated on the views in the vicinity of Wonder Lake. This year I stayed on the east end, car camping at Teklanika campground, and riding the green buses west to my painting site.

I also changed how I worked. Previously I painted as many small panels as I could during my week in the park. This year I decided to go for the big picture. I set up at Polychrome Pass on the first day, and spent the entire time on one painting.

Because I was riding the bus with all my gear every day, I needed a way to carry a large wet painting without completely disturbing the paint, my fellow passengers, and the wonderful bus drivers. My solution was to use two 16 x 20 panels. I clamped them together to make a 16 x 40 surface, and packed them in a 16 x 20 panel carrier for the trips to and from camp.

I also ordered a new easel, and I was really happy with it. This design is called a Take-It-Easel, and is beautifully made. The first painting day was difficult, with wind gusts up to 40 mph. My easel was steady! The weight of my paint box anchored it well. I went for the original rather than the cheaper knock-offs, and am glad I did.

I also carried a piece of heavy cardboard, measuring about 10 x 30, to help brace the outer edges of the panels. That was the most awkward item to carry on the bus. However, once the panels were clamped in place, all was well. Until that moment I had to throw big rocks on whatever I needed to put down to have a free hand.

Here's my notebook with rocks and my foot, since both hands are holding the camera. No matter how hard the wind blows, I make my Munsell notations. For those who are interested in such things, the view was very much in the 5YR range, with some variations in the YR and R hues. Luckily, I used my notes from last year to mix up and bring what I needed.

I chose Polychrome Pass primarily for that great sweep of glacial plain, with rivers, mountains, snow, skies, and weather. My second reason was human presence. Every one of the many buses traveling the park road stops at Polychrome Pass. I met 50 - 60 friendly and enthusiastic people a day, had my picture taken about 20 times a day, and ran out of business cards. Next time I'm bringing at least 300.

I figured that, because of the many buses, the wildlife might choose to be elsewhere most of the time. As much as I like to see wildlife, I preferred to see wildlife at a respectable distance.

Once I had spent a few days there, my attitude shifted a bit. There was a bear close by for several days, and I am sure the bear knew of my presence, but like all the other bears in the area, my bear was too busy putting on fat for the coming winter to indulge in idle curiosity. Just in case, though, I kept the bear spray on a belt around my waist.

Before long, just about everyone in the park knew about the crazy woman standing out in the wind 5 or 6 hours a day, easy to see from a distance in her bright yellow rain gear.

Many thanks to Mr. Rob Chambers for the photo at the top of the post, and to the kind person who took this one with my camera! More photos in Part II, coming soon.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A wildlife commission

I don't think of myself as a wildlife artist, but every now and then I get a commission for a wildlife piece.

The task is to depict the subject accurately, in a characteristic pose and setting, with a sense of life and liveliness. I don't think it's at all easy. My hat is off to artists who dedicate their careers to this work.

The bird in the painting is a Bohemian Waxwing. We get them in flocks during the winter. They love the mountain ash berries above all others.

This is the painting at the beginning. It was a second beginning. There was actually another start, which I discarded when I realized I had misjudged the composition. I started over on this new panel. The good thing about starting over is that it goes much faster once the problems have been sorted out.

When I was a volunteer at our local wild bird rehabilitation center, I made some sketches of a bohemian waxwing who was our guest. I used other references to pin down details, especially the color notes. If you look closely you will see my Munsell notations for various parts of the bird. Waxwings have the most beautiful subtle coloring, with very gradual transitions from one hue to another. Their plumage has a fantastic smoothness.

I have not posted for some time because I was traveling out of the country. Now I am about to make my annual trek to Denali National Park, so I hope to have some good photos to post in a few weeks.

6" x 8"
oil on linen panel

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Demontration from First Friday: Elemental

I'm calling this painting Elemental. I painted it at Upstairs Studio on June 3, First Friday. It was an open studio night, so visitors could come into my workspace and observe. I amazed myself by completing the painting in about 8 hours, while also taking time out to talk to visitors about what I was doing.

I wanted to do something with harmonious, subdued color. The stones seemed ideal subjects for such a project. The background I used was an old watercolor landscape of mine, turned upside down. The sky colors of that old piece were just what I wanted in this new one. I considered leaving the curved shape of the paper, but the landscape qualities of the background persuaded me to give the piece a horizon instead.

As you can see from the progress photos, I eventually eliminated one element (a tiny leaf). I felt, in the end, that it did not contribute much to the overall feel of the piece.

Here is my starting step. You can still faintly see the grid I painted first, to help organize the composition. Then I sketched in the main shapes, and finally drew them in with soft charcoal.

News Flash: I am the featured artist in Alaska Home Magazine's summer issue. It will be on news stands in a few days, and when the online version is published, I will send out the link to all my friends and fans. You will find the article on pages 68 and 69.

10" x 8" oil on linen panel

To purchase, contact me at

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Squash Study, and a class update

When I teach a class, as I did this past weekend, I grab a little panel and demonstrate the various steps of building a painting. I never know whether my demonstration will come to anything, because I am really focused on teaching, and that's where I spend most of my time. Sometimes I like my little panel, so I sign it.

I bought this squash in January and set it out as a potential model in every one of my classes, but no one chose it. It kept just fine in the refrigerator, and I grew fond of it. After I immortalized it in paint, I took it home, chopped it up, and made soup!

I have finished my series of oil painting classes. However, my students are collecting names of people who would be interested in taking classes in the autumn. When enough people have signed on, we will set some dates and get to work on more paintings. To get on the list, and to have a say as to class dates and times, contact me at

To see photos and read about my most recent class, go to this post on the Upstairs Studio Blog.

6" x 8" oil on linen panel

To purchase, contact me at

Monday, May 9, 2011

Soup and Crackers, in several steps

This is the third of a 3 painting commission. The other two were posted on the blog here and here.

This was the most challenging of the three. Everything in the painting is manufactured, and such objects have to be completely correct in detail, whether in their brands, fonts, and colors, or simply because they are made with precision. This painting also required me to show more kinds of materials and textures than either of the other two. Below are some progress notes.

The first application of colors; some parts still show the underpainting. I had to leave the cracker wrapping paper for later, since the translucence depended on the final colors of the objects behind the paper.

The monochrome underpainting.

The final drawing, arrived at in consultation with the clients. In hindsight I wish I had taken more time on this step, especially on the fonts. Later, I spent a lots of time adjusting the way the lettering moved around the curved surfaces.

A color study based on my color analysis with the Munsell chips. Some colors changed and became more complex in the final piece, but this gave me a place to start, and allowed me to show the clients the direction I was going.

The basic palette, though that deep yellow never got in. It was on a part of the cracker box that did not show in the final composition. I mixed these colors in quantity and stored them in plastic syringes. I was so glad later that I had taken the time to do that! This project stretched out over 4 months, but every time I sat down to it I could reconstruct my palette in minutes.

8" x 14" oil on linen panel

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Apple Study

When I am teaching, I usually demonstrate the steps of creating a still life by making a small study. I show each next step in the process for my students, then I spend time going around giving hints and help. So, the demonstration painting is necessarily quick and small.

This little study is what I worked on during the last class I taught. (I did work on it more afterward, I thought it was worth a little extra effort.)

There is still room in this weekend's class, which is the last I will teach for the time being. Please contact me at if you are interested in joining us!

6" x 6" oil on linen panel


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Link to an interview, update on classes

Artist Wendy Gingell is doing a series of interviews of Upstairs Studio artists. You can read her interview of me here.

Wendy is a wonderful ceramic artist. She makes the most amazing and unusual things! I recommend a visit to her site.

Even better, come see her work at the next First Friday (5pm - 9pm this coming Friday) at Upstairs Studio, 406 G St, in Anchorage.

I have just finished a long term project, and will post progress photos some time in the next week. Also, there is still room in my May 14/15 Still Life in Oil class. Please email me at if you are interested.

Some photos from a recent class:

Here I am demonstrating color mixing technique. Color management is a big part of the curriculum. Below are photos of student work. You can see that each completed a color study before going on to the final painting.

Erin's work.

Kevin's work.

Everyone learns a lot and has fun! This upcoming class will be my last until the autumn.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Four Inch Brush, completed

The Four Inch Brush from my last demonstration is finally finished. The image below is the last one from the "in process" series I posted a few weeks ago. I had quite a way to go in the finishing step.

I used the same color mixtures throughout the process, but they look different in the two photos. The finished photo was taken in natural daylight, while the process photos were taken under indoor light. The photo above shows more accurate color. I did change the colors of the brush in the final version.

I will be doing another First Friday demonstration on April 1. I hope those of you in and around Anchorage will drop by the Upstairs Studio to say hello. In addition, my still life weekend classes are ongoing and have openings. If you would like to join us this weekend, or during April or May, please get in touch through my email:

8 x 10
oil on linen panel

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Four Inch Brush, another First Friday Demo

Many thanks to photographer Paul Younger, who came to the Upstairs Studio First Friday opening and took this shot of me with my painting, my glass palette, and my set up.

The subject is another old tool I have had for a while, just waiting for the right moment to paint it. Because I try to work quickly on demo paintings, a simple object is best, but I added the cloth to liven up the color. Besides, brushes and color go together!

You can see my mixtures of pink and pale yellow paint, to match the fabric, on the palette. My green and violet mixtures are also there, but outside the photo.

The first sketch, getting the composition in place. You can still see my initial grid. The panel is 8 x 10.

The block-in is about done here.

First color pass, looking like a painting now. I had fun incising the individual bristles with the pointy end of my brush.

I continued to work on Saturday, and this is what it looks like now. It is not necessarily finished. I will let it dry for a few days and look it over for needed refinements. Then the "official photo" will go to the website.

This process is what I teach in my weekend workshops. There is still space in March, April, and May. Please contact me if you are interested in signing up.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

First Friday final versions

In honor of the upcoming First Friday, I am posting photos of these completed demonstration paintings. The one above is now called Frank's Pointer. Everyone thought it was a gardening spade, but actually it's a mason's tool. I began it at January's First Friday.

Below is Slotted Spoon, from February's First Friday.

March 4 is First Friday, and I will start another painting. Please come by to see the show at the Upstairs Studio Gallery. Location: 406 G Street, Suite 209, Anchorage, Alaska. The opening goes from 5 PM to 9 PM.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

First Friday Demo, a Slotted Spoon

On Friday, February 4, I did another all-day demonstration for the First Friday festivities at the Upstairs Studio gallery. Thanks to Daniel, of Daniel Jackson Photography, for this photo of me at work! What follows is my step by step progress.

This is the basic sequence I take people through in my weekend classes on classical still life technique. There is still room in the workshops coming up on the next 2 weekends, and beginners are welcome. Please contact me at if you are interested. There are also classes planned in March, April, and May.

Here is the set-up. This old slotted spoon came from a friend's grandmother's kitchen. Another friend gave me the deer antler. These objects seemed to get along well.

This is the block in for the composition.

At this stage, I am working up the values in monochrome. I am also thinking about the final colors, since this set up was mostly monochrome anyway.

Here is my first color pass.

This is what the painting looked like at the end of a rather long day. It isn't finished: the antler needs more modeling, and I will adjust values and sharpen some edges.

At some point I will post my demo paintings in their finished state. Thanks for your interest!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Report from my new Classical Still Life classes

Here are some photos from the classical technique still life workshop I taught over the past two weekends. My students did their final paintings after completing monochrome underpaintings and color studies. Go to the Upstairs Studio blog to see a longer report, and to view work by the other Upstairs Studio artists.

You can also go to the Upstairs Studio website to find out about studio events and to download the schedule of classes. It's a wonderful group of artists, and their gallery is well worth a visit next time you are out in Anchorage on a First Friday.

Interested in taking one of my workshops? I will be teaching two weekends a month through May. Dates are as follows: Feb 12/13 and 19/20, Mar 12/13 and 26/27, Apr 9/10 and 16/17, May 14/15 and 21/22. Contact me for details and to register at

This is student Katie Fallin working on her painting, having already done her underpainting and a color study.

This is student Susan Dixon, also bringing her final painting to completion.
Thanks to everyone who took part!