With this year’s solo show complete, it’s time to clear out my studio. This first clearance sale is focused on seascapes. I’m offering 27 paintings at less than half price–all under $100! These include very recent paintings of Carmel, Monterey, the Central Coast of California and Ventura.
These special prices are only available to subscribers of my blog and Facebook pages for one week, then the page will be available to the public. So, act soon!
As each person sat for their portraits, they told us of incredible stories of survival in the face of widespread bigotry and transphobia. Here’s what Thomasina DeMaio had to say about the project:
“It has been a joy working with my fellow artists on this Donna Personna project..she has put her heart and soul into bringing to studio not only leaders in this community of transgenders but individuals with stories and histories that changed and educated me as to who and what its all about.It has been enlightening and I feel privileged to be able to participate in documenting this incredible community. Our intention is to leave behind a comprehensive series seen through 6 different artists eyes for the public to view ,eventually in a book( fund raising for trans issues) and for the public to embrace and understand what has been in front of them for years and is not going away. Two spirit individuals are powerful, special and simply a force to be reckoned with. I will always treasure this experience and I thank each and everyone of our subjects for taking the time to come and sit for us…you made it happen!”
“Isn’t it intensity of thought rather than calmness of touch that we are seeking? And in impulsive working conditions such as these, out on site and of this nature, is a calm, well-ordered touch always possible? Dear Lord, it seems to me no more so than when on the attack in fencing.”
Vincent VanGogh in a letter to fell artist John Russell
VanGogh captures perfectly the essence of a struggle plein air painters face: balancing the heart and head in the battle to create art on the spot. When you’re painting, how do you balance the impulsiveness driven by the excitement of the moment, with a deliberative approach that substitutes intuitive painting for thoughtful—and some would say “tight”–painting? Or is this a false choice and do both?
Painting and studying with some of the best in our field inform my opinion. Of those teachers, the great Ken Auster comes to mind. In short, his approach was that you start with the head (deciding what to paint and why, designing the picture, drawing…), move to the heart (reacting, for creating the kind of expressive brush strokes and sophisticated grays he’s known for) and end with the head to thoughtfully consider the painting from an objective standpoint, and ask yourself, “is it done?” Judge it.
I agree with much of what Ken taught me about this question, but I have a slightly different although complementary take: Painting en plein air is possible through building a solid foundational of skills that make automatic as much of the process as possible in the moment.
Have you ever commuted home from work, realizing when you got there you were on complete auto-pilot, barely remembering the drive? That’s what building a skill means to me: having the most complete toolbox of artistic skills so that I can be intuitive and responsive to nature without thinking about it. I want to use my heart completely in a picture. This is my goal, but I’m not quite there yet. I’ve worked in the corporate world too many years to escape a structured, self-critical mind.
But like Ken, I do start and end deliberatively. Perhaps this is my failing, or an essential truth to live with.
This is a painting of mine that represents for me this principle. I started with a careful design—especially large shapes, light and shadow—and switched to a complete intuitive state (athletes call it “the zone”). I skipped the evaluation, self-judgment phase until the next day. I’m glad I did. I like it just as it is.
On the way to and back from my recent solo show in San Francisco I stopped at Pacific Grove (and other spots) to paint plein air, capturing natural light in what was a beautiful week. I hope you enjoy these new works. All available online unframed (reach out to me if you’d like a price quoted for framed works).
To be honest, solo shows are a bit stressful (and a lot of work), but everything went so well! Thank you to all who were able to attend in person, and the messages from many on social media commenting on my work. Perhaps I’ll do this again next year, but in the meantime, Spark Arts in San Francisco continues to represent me, as well as the Buenaventura Art Association gallery in Ventura. Also, a heads-up that I’ll be exhibiting portraits of local San Francisco Trans community members, opening May 11. I’ll post about that soon.
The problems most growing artists try to solve often boils down to a lack of singular purpose. For example, a common question plein air painters ask is, “how much time should I take seeking a location to paint?” I’ve been there, all too often taking longer to find a scene than painting—a frustrating experience I know many of us share.
Seemingly simple questions never have simple answers, but the solution depends on the goal for going out: are you out painting today to work on a particular technical skill, like color or drawing? To prepare for a show? To commune with fellow painters? Do it all? When I go out, even though like anyone I’d prefer to be inspired by a scene, I: choose a goal; quickly narrow my visual choices to achieve that goal; and then focus on it alone.
The most common goal for me is understanding natural light, and with that, accepting the constraints of plein air painting. Most of the time, we only have about 90 minutes to finish a picture before the natural light shifts to the point where the scene has changed enough to require a new start. The skills I’m most focused on is composition and color—and sometimes just one of the two. I try not to expect too much from one 90-minute painting: draftsmanship, color, selling, or winning a competition (or “likes” on social media).
Plein air painting is
an essential tool for understanding natural light. When I judge a show, I
can easily distinguish between a painting that captures natural light and one
where the artist spent too much time and “followed the light” too far, for
example, spending 3 hours on a scene where the light has moved far past the original
light moment. To illustrate this, I’m sharing two plein air studies where I had
the singular purpose of capturing the effect of light. Capturing light can be achieved
by mixing small, exact color spots. I learned this from reading Charles
understood how to capture natural light through color spots. If you’re a
plein air painter and haven’t read “Hawthorne
on Painting,” by Charles Webster Hawthorne, you’re missing out! Buy his wisdom immediately! He describes an essential truth in painting
in general, but especially true of plein air,
“Painting is the mechanics of putting one spot of color next to another. That’s the fundamental thing.”
This is a simple, essential truth often missed by painters who expect too much from a single painting session.
Here’s a color spot example. I was out on a beautifully clear day in San Francisco, a city where subjects to paint are endless. I ended up at a favorite, Crissy Field, where I could have painted architecture (including the Golden Gate Bridge), beachcombers, rocks and surf, long city views, hillsides, etc, but I was struck immediately by the dramatic color of this building.
I started a color notes journey by painting small color spots for each element: the main structure walls in light and shadow; roof; lawn; sky and distant bay water behind the building (see below). I didn’t fill in the broad shapes of color until each spot related first to each other. And if one color note was off (I first painted the roof too dark), there’s a domino effect and adjacent colors notes change too. In this study, I repainted the sky color spot several times after all the other spots related correctly.
To keep focus, you’ll notice the building has no windows or doors. Of course, it actually has, but painting that detail would have taken time away from my singular goal. Having captured these key colors in this study I can later paint a larger studio work that includes this detail, but there was no need to do so in the 90 minutes I took to capture color notes here.
This is another example, a Pacific Grove scene of color notes I painted last week.
My solo show at Spark Arts San Francisco will include a mix of oil and watercolor across many themes, including local city scenes, sea/landscapes, figurative and some new abstracts. Join me for the reception, April 4th, 6-9PM. Here’s a slide show of some of the works that will be shown.
I will be showing the landscapel below at the Harvey Milk Photo Center January 8-February 7 with Art Saves Lives, curated by Thomasina DeMaio. The reception will be held January 18th, with live music featuring the incredible Tribal Baroque! It will be an amazing reception, hope to see you there.
What: Winter Exhibition
Where: Harvey Milk Photo Center, 50 Scott Street, San Francisco, CA
Impressionistic realism has been the foundation of my art for many years, but that’s starting to change as I explore mixing identifiable forms that are relatable to abstract forms that work on a different level. Abstract art has merit, but I hadn’t pursued it until now because I struggled with how to communicate with it.
For me, the human figure is the most relevant symbolic subject in art. People are complex: outwardly transparent, but inwardly hidden. We respond to the Mona Lisa because while her body is drawn to perfection, her veiled thoughts through her smile intrigues us and draws us to this painting. So how can a painting be both approachable and mysterious?
Fast forward 450 years from Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to the 1950’s Bay Area Figurative movement (lead by David Park), when an intriguing fusion of figurative art combined with Abstract Expressionism. Painters in this school ( David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, Wayne Thiebaud…) had different reasons for mixing figurative representation and abstraction, but many found a dead end in Abstract Expressionism’s ability to communicate. They resisted being constrained by a formal “school”, but instead believed in taking freely from both figurative and abstract traditions.
I’m working on a series now that uses the figure as an anchor, like this movement. In one of these paintings (“Green Shorts”, below), a solitary figure stares out at an abstracted plane, resembling the sea. (or, is it a clouded sky?).
The figure is used as an entrance into this world of sunshine and contemplation. He stands on the picture plane as if an observer himself to the alternating bands of blues, violets and grays. It’s designed in such a way that his surroundings are open to interpretation: he could be in a museum (barefoot—probably not allowed!) surrounded by a large painting himself.
I had a lot of fun with this one. While the reference photo I used is in fact of a man at the beach, the viewer can have fun with this and imagine other scenarios. For example, he could be standing on flat land, looking out at distant snow-capped hills, sky, and clouds above. If you were not told this was the sea, could you see alternative realities like this for his view?
This ambiguity is what interests me, because I believe strongly that the best art requires participation by the viewer. Just as decoding the Mona Lisa’s thoughts are the viewer’s creation, I seek to give the viewer the opportunity to find their own meaning. This makes the painting theirs through co-creation between viewer and artist.
So that’s what I’m working on. It is fun creating these worlds, but not easy—art never is!
Postscript: This series will probably be shown in San Francisco at Spark Arts, in April, but specifics TBD.
I will be leading a 2 hour color and design workshop in San Francisco on Saturday, May 19, 10am-Noon. It is free. No need to bring materials, this is a 2-hour slideshow discussion. In this donation-based class, you’ll learn and discuss with other artists:
“For a few weeks in August, 1976, Hollywood magic flipped the coasts of the United States and transformed the coast south of Moñtana de Oro State Park into Passamaquoddy, Maine. A lighthouse was built near Point Buchon as part of Pete’s Dragon, the most expensive Walt Disney production to date.” So reported local papers as Disney built a lighthouse on the Buchon Trail, the subject of a new show at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art October 5-8. I’m honored to be one of several invited artists invited to capture this landscape “en plein air” for a show of paintings fresh off the easel. The gallery above shows some of the paintings I plan to hang.
This incredible coastal area was only opened to the public a few years ago, and as far as I know, this is the first show dedicated to the unspoiled beauty of this land. Being there last week, driven with my painting equipment in a 4-wheel drive on seldom used private dirt roads, I had a chance to see how the earliest Native Americans and their Spanish invaders witnessed an unspoiled California coast.
If you’re an artist or collector, chances are you’ve seen countless paintings of Laguna Beach, Point Lobos or Morro Bay–but you’re unlikely to have seen this incredible landscape chosen by Disney studios to amaze movie goers.
And it is an amazing landscape. Of particular interest (which I’m not posting here–come to the show and see it!) are the large rock stacks just off shore that are considered the “Stonehenge of the Pacific.” They really are incredible, and I had a great time painting them to prepare for the show with fellow artists. Several of us painted these icons, and they’re each unique. Come see what each artist saw.
So, join us, by either viewing the show at the museum, and/or watching the artists (including me) paint the area live. As a bonus, the proceeds from the show will help fund this local icon of Central Coast arts, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. Click here for more detail, if you come, say hello!