Monday, June 30, 2008

Peppermint and Sweet Onions

I did not paint this morning, it was looking a little too overcast at 4:30am. Yesterday and today the thermometer hit 108 degrees, but it had cooled to a comfortable 100 when I went for my walk at 7:30pm this evening. I say comfortable because it was mostly overcast so the sun wasn't beating down, and there was a gentle breeze blowing the perfume of the bordering peppermint fields into town -- much better than if it were blowing from the direction of the feedlot or potato processing plants. Most of the mint flavorings and processed potato products consumed are grown in this area. Sometimes the aroma of the Walla Walla sweet onion harvest or a freshly cut alfalfa field would waft in, which is also fine. I walked by the park where a slow pitch softball tournament was underway, and most lawns still had children cooling off in the sprinklers. The skies tomorrow morning look suspect, but I will get up and have a look.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bullfrogs, Jackrabbits, Muskrats and Prairie Dogs

The road was closed where I had hoped to paint this morning. I wandered around for a bit and thus missed the early light. Not wanting to get completely skunked, I finally just stopped somewhere and set up to paint a simple scene at one of the numerous "potholes", the little ponds and mini-lakes that dot the wildlife refuge. It took me a couple of minutes to puzzle the sound I was hearing; I finally figured out that it was large bullfrogs in a croaking chorus echoing off the basalt formations. On the trail I startled a young jackrabbit and a muskrat, the latter making a cute "oh no!" sound before it disappeared into the mossy depths of the pond. I could hear the occasional prairie dog whistle, checking my whereabouts to see if it was safe to venture out. Small fish were meandering in the pond, jumping for breakfast mosquitos, not really disappointing the big black and little neon blue dragonflies flying figure eights above since there are plenty of mosquitos to go around. Even though the pond is shallow, the clear water and the dark rock lining make it look deeper and inviting like a black bottomed swimming pool. It was already getting hot by 7am -- today will be a scorcher. The warm sun intensifies the fragrance of the sagebrush and reminds me to watch the ground for slithering motion as I hike back to the car. It isn't a very good study, that's what I get for losing patience in trying to find a location. 

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Columnar Basalt and Sagebrush

I had a four day hiatus from painting, having been ill for a couple of days and then having to actually work for a couple of days. This morning I painted on the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Washington State, which is where I grew up. And I will paint there for the next few days until I return to NE Oregon. The refuge is full of little irrigation runoff lakes formed in coulees of columnar basalt formations, surrounded by buttes and mesas. They call this constellation of pockmark geological features "scablands", which sounds revolting but looks beautiful. Lots of sagebrush, raptors, migratory waterfowl, mule deer, coyote and rattlesnakes. This morning I almost bumped into a mule deer on the trail and the coyote tracks and scat were fresh. At regular intervals I could hear a large ungulate animal nearby using its hoof to rhythmically paw the hard ground, the sound of which transmitted through the rock as a deep resonate thump. This is the area where we would find swimming holes as kids and where keg parties would form as teenagers. I often rode my bicycle out here to scavenge for arrowheads and shed snake rattles -- a completely different life from suburban kids who hang out at the mall. The mosquitos, deer flies and horse flies can be tenacious and vicious, especially since they are skilled at biting through clothing. There is always something ready to suck your blood out here, even in the water there are leeches, which are preferable to the horseflies out of the water. The basalt has bright red (iron oxide?) and sulphur yellow patches and streaks on the surface. The thermometer hit 106 degrees F today so it was a good idea to paint at 5am. I love insect repellant clothing!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Soft Greens

This morning's little study was an exercise in greens and soft edges, both of which I can use all of the practice I can get.  I like the quiet mood of the piece, but as usual, it could be composed better.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Aspens, Herefords, and Columnar Cumulus

The early morning was very fine, but by 9am columnar cumulus clouds were starting to form over the mountain ridges in advance of today's thunderstorms. I would like to return to this aspen pasture at some point and do a different composition, but this will have to do for now. Kim White would like this painting, partly because of the aspens but mostly for the steer on the right peeking through the trees. There are things to fix as always, but overall I am very happy with this little study.I am learning the hard way that when painting clouds, it is wise to not use so much aklyd medium so that the paint doesn't get sticky too quickly. I don't have that silky smoothness of blending that I would like to have, it looks like a sticky mess.  

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summer Solstice

I think because the winter was especially long this year, the locals seem to be stoked to celebrate the summer solstice tonight. However, as I type this we are in the middle of an intense thunderstorm with hurricane force winds (I'm not exaggerating) and horizontal rain. Everything is rattling and shaking and the dogs are stressed-out. My husband went out for a photo club barn tour, somehow I think they are hunkered down somewhere by now. You can tell when you're in for a good blow because the deer and critters find shelter early. The day started out lovely though and maybe it was appropriate that I was painting on Hurricane Creek Road. The canyon visible in my painting is the Hurricane Creek drainage.  If I had painted this view yesterday, a full moon would have been setting in the saddle of the snowcaps at this time of morning. I had my eye on this scene for a couple of days, I was intrigued by the opposing triangles of the barn and the canyon. It seemed like a great exercise in visual weight balancing, which is something I particularly enjoy. If I had more value separation between the lit masses on the trees and the lit area of the mountain behind, it would work much better. When I finished this little study at 6am, I turned around to find that I was painting the only remaining blue sky as the clouds were quietly creeping in.  

Friday, June 20, 2008

Continuing the Old Barn Theme

There are so many wonderful old barns in the area, most kept in excellent condition, that it is tempting to paint a few of the more picturesque ones, at least until I get tired of painting barns. They are an easy target for a subject when driving around. The morning had thin stratus clouds filtering the sunlight. Thunderstorms are in the forecast for tomorrow and sunday; it will be interesting to see if painting will be an option or if there are any towering thunderheads to paint. With this painting, in hindsight, I wish I would have painted the background hills in closer values, they jump forward too much, and the nearest hill needs to be simplified and better structured. I may go back into this one later. Bill Cone suggested that I had been neglecting my palette knife too much, so hopefully he will notice that yesterday and today I didn't forget.  

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Meadowlark Serenade

When I was a little girl walking to school in the morning, I often heard the sound of meadowlarks singing. It is such a happy sound, it makes me think of sunny alfalfa fields in raking early morning light while lugging heavy books. This morning I was lucky enough to be serenaded by them while painting this little wheat farm study near Lostine.  
          The afternoons have been windy lately, but this afternoon was a little calmer which allowed for these cumulus clouds to form over the mountains. I have decided that painting clouds is even more difficult than painting the ocean; at least the ocean repeats itself. It is a good exercise in subtle color mixing and value control. Next time I'll try more front-lit clouds.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday, June 18th

I painted this pond last winter when the trees were defoliated and the pond frozen. It was nice to return to this location to see how it looked in the spring. I liked the hint of snow capped mountains peeking through the trees. There was a yellow-bellied marmot playing peek-a-boo with me as I was painting this. I need to fuss with the tree shapes a little bit more. It was another calm and beautiful morning. 

Tuesday, June 17th

Today was the only day so far with morning clouds. I noticed this cottonwood tree on an island in a full running creek. The shape of the tree and the pattern of the clouds looked old-fashioned t me, like it could have been painted a hundred years ago or more. I had to work at subduing the clouds enough so that they didn't overwhelm the image. Areas of the water need to be reworked for better color and the island looks like it is floating on the water instead of planted in it.  

Monday, June 16th

This was definitely a light and color observation and paint mixing exercise.  I didn't have time to really compose anything in particular.  There isn't much time to get something down; it certainly was a good challenge and a gorgeous morning.  There were a couple of guys out in a little red boat getting in some morning fishing.  

Sunday, June 15th

The sun rises early in mid-June in northeastern Oregon. To catch the early morning light, one must be willing to get up about 4am. Fortunately for me, I can seem to make myself do it. The Pacific Northwest has had a very long winter this year so it is only now late spring here. Late daffodils were still in bloom a week ago. Everything is lush green and there is still plenty of snow on the mountain tops, and the creeks and rivers are rushing with snowpack runoff. The whitetail bucks still have velvet on their knobby antlers, the elk have headed for the high country, the foxes have kits in their dens, and the yellow-bellied marmots are out sunning themselves on the rocks and woodpiles after a long hibernation. The air is intensely perfumed by the profuse number of lilac bushes that grow everywhere because the deer don't eat them. Unfortunately, the unusually long winter has wreaked havoc on the morel mushroom season. So far, it has been a paint-mixing exercise, getting used to the local colors and light here, so I've needed a few warm-up paintings. I'm mixing fresher and richer greens than I've seen for a while. And it is taking awhile to get to know the area and to scout some locations.        
          In the first study, the color in the snow doesn't really come through in this image, and I'll probably crop it at some point. I had a dozen young bucks in velvet walk through while I was painting this. This is a location that I painted last year in the snow. The view in the second painting is only a few feet from the first painting, the tree fringing the first study is this cottonwood tree.  I composed a little too tight here and ran out of room.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I happened by these weird rocks in Marin, near Tomales. I found out later that they are called the Elephant Rocks. They do kinda feel mastodon-like. They are definitely very challenging to paint. It is difficult to not tighten up when trying to paint something this unusual. Sometimes there are cattle grazing near the rocks which would have helped to put the large rocks in scale. Then I went into Tomales to meet the workshop group. I was drawn to this little building with a red sliding loading door. It is looser, but not in a controlled way. Then I went wandering again near Tomales and ended up standing in a muddy creekbed where I managed to lose my paints. I guess I will be going out that way again tomorrow to retrieve them. The creek painting has some areas of interesting color, but I would have liked to have composed it better. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Groundhog Day Wishlist

I awoke at 4:30 and grabbed my gear and headed out. I was set up and painting before daybreak at the ocean.  It was a refreshing morning with an invigorating sea breeze (chilly). It wasn't going well, I misjudged where the sun angle was going to be, I didn't plan for the foreground to be in shadow. Then suddenly, an amazing thing happened, a man was standing on the beach rim not too far away, playing the bagpipes as the sun was rising! I love bagpipe music, it is one of those sounds that thrills me to my core, maybe it is my Scottish ancestry longing for haggis, plaid and red-haired freckled men in kilts. So it didn't matter so much that I did an ill-planned overworked little painting, I knew the day was one of those that made me glad to be alive. I would want it in my Groundhog Day. If you imagine the sound of bagpipes, my painting looks a lot better.
          After that wonderful beginning, I drove down to Marshall where the workshop was meeting today. My morning study did not go well either. It is definitely an exercise in how to choose better. I don't particularly like painting buildings, especially in mid-day light. And I have the bad habit of often trying to include too many elements and ending up with something staid.  

Monday, June 9, 2008

Barking Dog Perspective

The good thing about having a really bad painting day is that it makes the rejects from a good day look better. The dogs sit in the corner and bark to get your attention. This is one that yesterday I had relegated to the recycle pile. It makes me feel not quite as empty-handed today. When I painted this, I was intrigued by the opposing shapes of the shadow and the water. And the reflection of the breaking wave in the surface sparkled like a jewel. The scalloped edge of the spent wave on the beach next to the hard massive dark rock was a nice contrast. The sand looked velvety soft in juxtaposition. I got lost in these opposing textures and shapes. It is easy to see now how painting the ocean can become addicting. 
         I am starting to realize that I don't paint well in workshops. In fact I end up wiping them all down. I just can't seem to settle and focus. I'm convinced that I'm learning something through osmosis in the workshop, but it certainly doesn't show. I am very thankful that Randy understands and is very patient.  I am hoping that if I get up really early tomorrow and paint before the workshop starts that maybe I can get into a groove.  

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Now That Was Fun!

I arose early again today, this time with a plan to intentionally drive to the beach. I must be a glutton for punishment after yesterday, but I kept thinking about a spot to return to that looked promising. These two 10x8 studies were painted within a very short walk from each other. I had the beach completely to myself, it was so serene.  When I was painting these I was thinking of another one of my talented painting buddies, Bill Cone. He creates pastel paintings that are pure lyrical poetry. He has such exquisite line quality and mark making that take his unparalleled draftsmanship and design to a level rarely achieved. He also has an extraordinary understanding of natural illumination. His paintings frequently take my breath away. Check out Bill's blog.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Is That the Sound of the Ocean Or My Stomach?

I left home early this morning eager to begin my painting sabbatical with the goal of a painting a day. I thought I might return by ten for breakfast. I didn't really have a plan and got in the car and started driving west. Nothing inspired me to stop. I ran out of west and found myself at the ocean where something interesting finally caught my eye. I stopped only to find that somebody else was already set up and painting. Not wanting to interrupt his reverie, I kept going. By this time I was becoming seriously hungry and frustrated, so I finally set up and did this rough little sketch. It looks a little over-saturated here. It is my second-ever attempt at a seascape; even though it feels akin to self-flagellation, painting the sea is a fascinating challenge. By the time I finally made it home for "breakfast" it was three in the afternoon.  

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Importance of Being Ernesto

Ernesto Nemesio is a painting buddy, good friend, and work colleague. He is an inspiring artist. His work is so expressive, not in a flashy way, but it a quiet and powerful way that rewards closer inspection and subsequent viewings. His sense of design is strong and fresh; it somehow feels intuitive and studied at the same time. His color restraint is sophisticated, intimate and inviting. Maybe because it doesn't scream from across the room, one has to look a little closer and longer, and then you see this extraordinary subtlety that comes alive. His discreet palette works because of the structural support of his impeccable value control within and between his masses. His brush and edge work must be seen in person to be truly admired. It isn't flamboyant, but is in balance with all other elements, adding a tactile surface temptation.  His draftsmanship is masterly. And lastly, he is able to harness that elusive Gestalt that comes from the harmony of everything working together. Ernesto is generous with his knowledge and enthusiastic in his support; it is fun to paint with him. Check out his website at