Barbed Wire Idyll

The unifying theme for these California landscape watercolors is the interplay between roughness and beauty. Any scene I select for te final compilation, or maybe just the compilation as a whole should have one trait complicated by the other. In this case, access to the perhaps desirable landscape is denied by the twisted, ragged barbed wire fence. At the same time I tried to lead the eye to the distance and tie in a few points to unify the composition. I hope it worked. I will call it done for now. On to another Kidwell Farm painting next. Thanks for reading.



Leading the eye

20140310-235207.jpgI am now getting to the part I like most about painting, the part where the composition starts to emerge and I can see how it will turn out, how the eye will move through the composition.

Ultimately the eye should settle on the house, but along the way there should be a few paths to get there, either from the largest fence post, down to the left past the cows (a brief distraction), and arcing back around via the foreground foliage (not finished but to be revealed soon), middle distance bushes and boulders, and up to the house. Alternately one could follow the hillside down and across, or skip the right side altogether and just dwell on the right half. I am probably making more of this than it deserves. We will see when it’s done, but this is what I am hoping at least.

Finishing the foliage in the foreground will be the biggest remaining challenge. I don’t want it to be the lump it is, and I should have handled it differently from the start. That said, I used mostly liftable pigments in this painting, and for much of my palette, so this should be salvageable.

Thanks for following along with this one.

Some more California painting before work

Up early again thanks to my crazy cat. My daughter joined me too and we painted together for a bit.

This painting has been a struggle–part of why it was so nice to do the smaller farm painting as a break–and I am rushing some because I want to finish, which is the wrong approach. I think part of the problem has been applying paint too wet and then overworking some wet areas. Maybe this isn’t apparent in the image–and I am sure it will work out nicely in the end–it just hasn’t felt right. Not direct enough I think. Then again, this is always how I feel at the midway point of a painting.

Time to head to work. Thanks for reading.

Cows–full painting


I started this one last week but didn’t get far enough to post it. In the middle I decided once again to drop two colors from my palette–raw sienna and burnt sienna. Too muted, at least the Maimeri. I will try relying more on my permanent alizarin crimson and azo yellow which I can adjust as needed.

Not so sure how I feel about this one. I need to think about it more. Unrelated to this I need to spend some time practicing drawing people. I want to incorporate more people into my paintings, and people aren’t as easy to fake as elephant seals and cows.

Thanks for reading.


Utility Pole, Route 1

20140125-181021.jpgI was kicking around a few different ways of dealing with this scene. My reference photo was expansive and somewhat standard, as taking photos from the passenger seat of a car would tend to be, but there were interesting possibilities when cropped. This was a crop ignoring the expansiveness of the view and focusing on this utility pole. I tried some colored pencil scraped on in the foreground over some different diluted dabs of color to get the grassy texture. It seems to have worked out ok. More to play with I think, but I got a few good things out of this.

View from Hearst Castle #1: Concept Sketch

On our way up the coast one Route 1, we stopped at Hearst Castle. What a strange place. Beautifully maintained in many ways, but certainly beyond over the top. I can only imagine it in its heyday, with guests arriving by plane and out of place animals roaming the countryside. There must have always been subplots in every step, every interaction. There’s a Bronte tone to it, I think, even today, though that’s softened a bit by Alex Trebek’s voice giving the back story on the bus ride up the hill.

I have a few paintings I want to do based on our tour there. I want to bring out that tension between the manicured and the sublime, and give a sense of those imagined subplots. Here’s a concept sketch I did of one of the views. Maybe my notes are legible. Here again I will handle things roughly, especially in the foreground, and mix in some gouache to heighten the tension.

Thanks for reading.


Goals for a New Watercolor Project of California Route 1. Also, the First Painting–Elephant Seals of San Simeon

In The Art of Fiction John Gardner advocates above all else that a writer must not break the vivid continuous dream of a work of fiction (he exempts meta fiction from this rule). I always liked this idea. So much of writing is about editing, and this idea gives a great rule to follow when reading and revising. Anything that breaks the dream must be removed or fixed. It’s an instinct-based approach that can be honed by practice both in writing and in editing. A good “natural” writer will produce that vivid continuous dream more fluidly, so less re-shaping may be required. Dreams can take many forms and styles, and exist in or across many genres. The writer of the dream need only stick with that dream’s set of norms.

I have been thinking about this idea with my painting. I have done a scattering of subjects, working out techniques and styles. In some I hope that sense of a vivid dream has existed–I think most in my Old San Juan painting–but that dream hasn’t been continuous, and that’s what I want to strive for.

The Brooklyn Museum show of John Singer Sargent’s watercolors brought several dreams into focus.The thematic groupings, coupled with his lively almost magical style, stuck with me, and I have been studying his work closely since. I had a similar experience several years ago when the National Gallery had a Cezanne show. A lot to learn from those two.

So here is my project. I want to create series of paintings in a style that will create and perpetuate that sense of a vivid continuous dream. Like I wrote in my last post, I want to make an album that flows together, that’s both encompassing and varied, but very much unified. The unifying theme of this album will be California’s Route 1.

Two years ago we visited some very close friends in Santa Barbara. The landscape and the feeling of being there were so potent that I dream of living there someday. It was not enough just to visit. We spent a few days going from Santa Barbara to Monterey and back on Route 1, stopping in a few places along the way. I took a lot of photos, which I will filter through memory and paint. I won’t paint them in sequence, but I will approach them in an emerging unified style. On the blog I will post everything, though like with any album, not everything posted here will make the cut. I will arrange the final selection in a proper order, perhaps put them out in a short book if I think they’re good enough.

Below is my first work, shown in sequence as it developed, of elephant seals near San Simeon. The seals gather here to rest and fight–a groan and craning of the neck is about all I saw of it. The fighting is brief because rest seems to be most important to them. The way they arranged themselves while resting was interesting. Generally nestled in with each other but with some outliers. One could be forgiven for mistaking them for rocks.

In painting these I tried to handle the scene roughly, mixing swipes of the brush with some wet-in-wet work to convey an overall materiality. I was generally less precise, focusing on believability and composition over accuracy, though with the main seal in front I put in just enough detail to get it to read as a seal.

Also new in this work, and something I will continue in the rest of the series, is my use of M. Graham white gouache, in some cases mixed with my Maimeri Blu and Sennelier watercolors, to pull out some details and give some more materiality to the works, at least in the focal points. Materiality, roughness, and believability will guide my style through this series. Maybe I need to start thinking through a set of values like Calvino’s Six Memos.

Thanks for reading.