Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"High Sierra Meadow"

"High Sierra Meadow" - Oil - 11" x 14" - SOLD

"In the clear, cool air in the Sierras, the rhythm of the trees and well-traveled path made this scene an inviting subject." --- SFG


Work in progress -- Feel free to send your questions and comments.

Here's a simple landscape using the rules of perspective and value. I'll make it interesting by creating shapes that please the eye. I'm painting in my studio from a photo I took several years ago.

To begin the drawing, I started with the horizon line high on the canvas to divide the picture plane into unequal spaces. Quickly, I shaped the main trees, the mountain contours, and the curves of the path.

Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting described the four main planes in landscapes, each a different value. Normally, they are, from lightest to darkest, the sky, the ground, the mountains or hills, and the trees. For this work, I'll generally stick to these rules, but I often vary them to create drama or emphasis. At least, if you know the rule, you have a yardstick by which to check your work. See my reading list for the book.

Since the trees are usually the darkest plane because the light hitting them from above is the most indirect, I made sure they were darkest and varied in shape and size. The distant tree masses against the peaks are cooled and lightened, because the light from them passes through more air and the color is effected by that aireal perspective.

Here, I've described the mountains, sky, snow, and path. The snow and the pathway are exceptions to the values rules, as they often are. Buildings can be, too. Once the canvas is covered, the middle stage of the painting is a matter of correcting color and value. This should get the most attention.

In the finished painting, I lightened the mountains a bit but didn't jump from the proper value relationship. Where the air is more moisture and particle laden, the mountains would be lighter, but the clear air at the altitude of this scene tends to reduce, but not eliminate, the effect. Last, I added the calligraphy that describes the brush and the path-side banks.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Sacramento River Shine"

"Sacramento River Shine" - Oil - 24" x 30" - $1800

"The Sacramento River, running through Redding, CA, defines this 'river city.' Looking west, the afternoon light has a special drama. I'm glad that I chose a large foremat for this spectacular scene." --- SFG


Work in progress --- Please send your questions and comments!

As I started drawing with my usual directional lines, I set the horizon high on the canvas to describe the spread of the river plane before me. At the bottom right, the shapes of the shrubs lead the eye to back up to the bridge and the light beyond it. The zigzag- lines on the left are to signify the reflected light off the water that is the most eye-catching element of the painting. This shape must be in perspective, too, and will lead the eye from the top again, completing a cycle through the work.

The first darks show how effective the directional planning is. Note the gap on the left side of the middle line of dark. Without it, the viewer's eye would find it hard to pass into the background.

I wish I had taken this photograph just before I put in the highest plane of the trees in the distance. At first, all the planes were the same value and it was very flat. There was no feeling of aerial perspective at all. As soon as I cooled the tops of the trees and laid in the far bank of the river, it began to fall into place. Keep those edges in the background soft!

There's no harm in putting in some of the lights at this stage to help you decide what your value range will be. Here I put in the sky to help me judge the other lights in the painting. It will guide me when I determine the value of the water, the value of the light on the water, and the value of the gravel bars in the both foreground and middle ground.

As I continue to lay in areas and adjust the values, I keep checking to see that each dark is on the proper plane in respect to the others. Nothing should jump too far forward from its location in perspective, nor should it lay back too much.

I had anticipated having a problem and was watching for it. The gravel bar in the foreground was too light. I darkened the middle ground gravel bar, so it reads correctly and won't be mistaken for water.

After I took this photo, I finally switched to a smaller brush right after the entire canvas was covered. I had used a 12, and now I'm going to use an 8.

The artist must find a balance between too frequent repetition that's boring and repetition to create a rhythm through the scene. I must make choices as I return to each area. One choice might be to simplify the area. Or one could be to put more interest in another area, thereby subordinating the first. Said differently, you can change the area that doesn't fit or you can change another area so the original one fits.

As I work through an area of color, I try to make each area interesting while maintaining the overall value of the area. When creating interest, you follow the same principle you follow as you design your painting. Consider direction, value, shapes, variety, and so on.

Here I finally laid in the lightest values that were the reflections on the water. As you can tell by this commentary, I concentrated on controlling the values throughout the painting so that this lightest value can still have some color in it. It paid off.

Second painting session:

When I leave an unfinished painting, I have several choices. I can return soon (I make sure the studio stays very cool) and scrape any undesirable areas and then rework wet into almost-as-wet. Alternately, I can let the painting dry completely. When I return, I sand off any hard ridges or artful globs of paint that would interfere with applications of the next layer of paint.

You'll see here that I've scraped some of the light areas that I was not happy with. By the time I returned to the work, the paint was a little "chewy" and would not have worked as wet-into-wet. Since I was satisfied with most other areas, I scraped and knocked off the tops of these strokes so they would not interfere with new applications.

Remember, the quickest way to learn is from someone else's mistakes! You don't have enough time in your lifetime to make them all yourself.

As I finished this painting, I concentrated on keeping the edges soft, even the edges of the reflected light. I added interest in the brush of the foreground so that the foreground and background would be balanced. Also, I darkened the right side of the bank of the shoal in the middle ground. Just the last few tweaks....

Monday, May 26, 2008

"Saturday In the Studio"

"Saturday In the Studio" - Oil - 30" x 30" - $2250


"On a gloomy Saturday, my great friend Geri Acosta and I painted this bouquet. She had contributed the stunning red and yellow roses and the pink roses and Shasta daisies are from my garden. I thought both paintings were successful." -- SFG


Monday, May 19, 2008

"Quiet Day"

"Quiet Day" - Oil - 18" x 24" - NFS (yet)

"I found this streamside setting
peaceful with the quiet gurgling of the
water, twittering birds, and warm sun.
The goal of the painting was to allow
the viewer to experience this, too." ---

eBay Auctions


Work in progress --- Your questions and comments are welcome.

This is my photo-sketch upon which I
based the upcoming painting. I like its
color and interest, but want to use a
horizontal format instead of vertical.
That will take some recomposing so I’ll
have to be on my toes, especially during
the drawing stage.

Working on an 18” x 24” canvas, I have
placed the foreground trees, paying
attention to variety, shapes, and
spacing. I make sure neither grouping
lands in the middle of the canvas by
creating a 1/3 to 2/3 division of space,
basically using the principle of the
golden mean or divine proportion. I
don’t want to make this too obvious,

(Unfortunately, I didn't take another
photo at the end of the drawing phase,
but if you study the next shot, you'll
find what I've referred to.)

Next, I place the point at which the
water flows into distance and nestles
under the darkest area of the background
forest. Again, I’ve placed it 2/3 of the
way from the bottom of the canvas. This
creates what will be a square within a
rectangle, an interesting compositional

You’ll notice there are a lot of
rub-outs and changes during the drawing
stage. I was constructing the painting,
considering not only the placement and
direction of the lines, but shapes like
the overall shape of the water. I opted
to open the space between the trees by
leaving out the dark boulder so the
viewer’s eye can enter at the bottom and
be led back up to the more interesting
parts of the subject, not trapped in the
right corner. Rather than extending the
middle-ground bank all the way to the
left-hand edge of the canvas like the
photo, I chose to bring it back toward
the middle of the painting. It will draw
the eye back in to discover another
element or two. I added a shape, which
is going to be brush to the left of the
left-hand tree, which is more
interesting than a line that takes you
out of the picture so quickly. (Did I
just say “picture”?)

If I’ve solved all of my
compositional problems at this stage, I
can concentrate on color, shape, and
edges for the rest of the process.

I begin to add more darks. That darkest
dark is in the background and I have to
be careful that it is not so dark and
heavy that it becomes an advancing dark
instead of a receding dark. Also, I’ve
laid in the darks of the water. The
water as a whole will be darker than the
sunlit foliage and foreground. I will be
using the shadows of the trees in the
foreground to set a line of movement,
dividing the foreground and keeping it

Notice that I am painting beyond the
edges into the adjacent color areas, so
that they will overlap and lie together.
With each meeting, I evaluate the edges,
softening or reinforcing them. I don’t
want obvious gaps of unpainted canvas,
though I often leave exposed small
red-toned areas to become unifying
accents. (Sometime I’ll tell you the
story of why I do that.)

The water in this scene in interesting
because part of it is in shadow, part of
it reflects the sky, and in other parts
you can see the colors beneath the
surface. In addition to that, it
reflects the bright foliage in the
middle ground. That will be a challenge.

I’ve put in the darks of the trees, as
well as the cast shadows of the ground
and you can see how that serves as a
lead-in from the bottom to the water.

Things are going pretty well here. I have my big
basic shapes in, my values in, and have recorded the comparison of
greens. And so from now on, I will be dealing mostly with fine-tuning
the colors, perhaps using less green and more orange or pink, and
getting more color variation going in each area.

After the previous photo, I scraped my palette.
Since I will be revising colors, I want to be required to remix them.
I’m more likely to make the jump to a little different color, rather
than just painting over an area in the same color. By this means,
desirable color vibrations are created, but I must hold the values
together while I’m at it.

The shot of the palette are to show how many greens
I used. Most are mixed using blues, yellows, magentas, cadmium red,
yellow ochre, and so on. None are straight from the tube. I find those
too raw.

Here are further color corrections in the
background trees. You'll notice that I’ve changed the shape of the two
trees on the left, especially the right-hand one. I will add more to
this blog entry when I return to work on the painting.

Second Painting Session:

When I return to a painting after a break or even
several days, it takes a while to retune your palette to the colors in a
painting, so I’ll go a bit slowly and conscientiously for a bit. You can
really wreck things fast if you do not pay a lot of attention to the color
palette you used originally.

Here, I’ve added a lot of purple and red to the trunks of
the trees. It adds a lot of color vibrancy because there’s so much green in the
painting. If I see a change like that, I’ll run with it for a while and see
whether it works. If not, I can always change it back. I pull some branches of
the trees down over the water so the elements in the painting won’t be so

Pay attention to the rhythm of your painting. By that I
mean the way color moves through the painting, the patterns, the direction of
the brush strokes, and so on. These let you paint more efficiently, more
confidently. An example is the way the oranges are spotted around at this stage.
You’ll see more examples later.

I’m finding that the sharp contrasts of the leaves, the
addition of bright yellows to the background and the foreground leaves, are
contributing a lot of life to the painting, so I’m going to leave them and work
with that. The painting may go off in a more lively different direction, but I
like it and I’m going for it. Again, I’m responding to what I see is working,
rather than trying to be in total control. Doing so may be a factor of
personality or a reaction to the weather that day or whatever, but it is a
wonderful way of expressing mood in a work.

As always, I keep the edges of the lights near the sides of
the painting softer than those close to the focal point. By simplifying the form
and color of the near brush, the color of the sandy flat foreground changes and
is working better. Again, it’s another illustration of changing something by
changing what’s next to it.

Rather than adding small brush strokes to the middle
ground, I decided to use the dark leaves of the trees on the left to balance the
accents on the right. I can do that because I painted the middle ground very
simply to begin with.

You’ll see I’m using calligraphy-like strokes. These are
some great accents and should be artfully done. I’ve drawn them best in the
lower right. Sergei Bongart was a master at this and often his whole painting
was a series of strokes that held the shapes and went throughout the painting
and gave it so much energy and design.

Sometimes you hear a little voice in your head that says,
“Stop,” and it’s very good to listen to it because it is usually right.

As I looked at the painting later, I realized that I had
used not just values to create the distance in the painting, but unconsciously used temperature. I put warms in the front and cooled them slightly as I went back
two or three layers. The lighted foliage in the middle ground is much cooler
than anything in the foreground. Doing that also helped move the eye through the
painting successfully.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"Forenoon, Mendocino" - Oil - 14" x 18" - SOLD

"Mendocino is one of the most picturesque locations in California. It has the feel of a New England town set in California light." --- SFG

More info about this painting eBay Auctions


Work in progress...

I'm designing this painting so that the diagonal of the trees runs along the back, with more diagonals to show the slope of the hill and also in the water at the bottom. There are lines in the sky that are perspective lines. They are helpful in bringing the viewer's eye back to the center of interest. Next, I'll refresh the paint on my palette, to start with fresh, juicy paint.

This second photo shows how I've divided the space using the darks, which are put in first. I back away often, evaluating how each new area works in the composition.

The bluff in the foreground was added next in a broad, loosely painted way. This is still part of the darks and, along with the trees, forms the largest mass of the painting.

Next, I laid in the shoreline and a little bit of the water. Loose and sloppy is often the safest way to paint a foreground. Then I went to the sky, putting in a light color that is still dark enough to be able to make the sunlit buildings the bright spots in the painting.

I want to make the buildings really glow, so I put in the shadow sides carefully and even some of the roofs to add color and balance. These color notes will also keep the eye moving through the painting. I reminded myself to hold the brush at the end. When I do so, I make completely different strokes, more desirable strokes, than when I hold it midway or near the bristles.

Now I have the lighted sides of the buildings in and I will soften the edges where needed as I go to keep the focus on the most attractive element, the church. Softened edges also reduce barriers for the viewer's eye as they travel through the painting. Also, I've added a little action in the sky.

This is moving pretty well with the white buildings stair-stepping down the slope and the larger white building on the right to balance, and so I'll continue to develop the more interesting elements.

Here I'm nearly finished. There are always areas to tweek. I've added dark accents to lead the eye where I want it to go. Rather than reproducing the town's map, as a photograph would, the artist's objective is to produce a pleasing painting. With this one, I've moved the buildings around for compositional reasons and changed the foreground as well.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"Laguna Palms"

"Laguna Palms" - Oil - 11" x 14" - SOLD

”I took the reference photo - I call it 'photo sketching' - on a visit to Laguna last fall. Tempting subjects are too numerous to paint in the week I was there, so here's my impression painted in the studio.” SFG

More info about this painting
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Work in progress...

I started with a simple sketch for placement. I find that doing a detailed one causes me to relax my attention to drawing during the remainder of the work and leads to errors. I must continue to draw from start to finish. The only difference is that I'm using color instead of thinned paint, charcoal, or pencil.

Here I've gone to my middle darks first. (I consider my darkest darks to be accents only.) I knew that I wanted the slope to reflect the light of the sky, though it was in shadow, so I kept the paint so thin that it trickled down. That's OK as long as it keeps me in the right value range.

I moved to the lighted areas, the ocean, and the sky next. No color in these areas can be as dark as any area in shadow or backlight, so I will re-evaluate the darker blue band in the water as I go.

Next, I go back into the shadow side of the bluff and restate the value. In doing so, I see how much I should lighten the blue band in the ocean. If I had not done that, it would be confusing as to whether that area was in light or in shadow.

I varied the color of the foreground to anchor the palms and added detail and color in the palm fronds. I did the same with the palm trunks and added the lightest values in the painting on the sunlit side.

In the final version, I added detail to the beach and wave and more texture to the foreground. Most of my signatures now go wet-into-wet.

Monday, May 05, 2008

"Soaring on Sunshine"

"Soaring on Sunshine" - Oil - 11" x 14" - SOLD

"There really are PERFECT days in California. The sunlight shimmered, bouncing off the water and the wings of gulls. Even the wind cooperated.” --- SFG


Work in progress...

On my usual toned canvas, I drew my subject, composing as I went. I worked for lines that repeated a parallel line, stopped and were continued further on, and lines that oppose one another. For example, the shape in the sky area was intended to repeat the tree outline and oppose the angle of the bluff.

I laid in the darks in the foreground and the tree on top of the bluff. Initially, I thought there should be two areas in the bluffs that were in sunlight. Later, I decided that there was an almost equal distribution of light and shadow, which is undesirable, so I put all of the nearer bluff in shadow. Such decisions are a part of the self-critique that must go on forever. If you don't see the errors in your own work, and relentlessly expunge them, you will continue in ignorance.

Next, I added color to the beach and near surf. Here, again, I later saw that the beach and the hills in the distance were too near in value and I lightened the distant area.

Now it was time to lay in the sky area. I paid close attention to the value and shape of the cloud area.

A big, messy palette makes it more fun!

Now I've darkened the near bluff with its jumble of rock, soil, and vegitation and I've lightened the distant hills. I softened some edges and made some more crisp. And just for fun, I added the gulls that inspired the title. Just a few more modifications took place before I called it complete.