Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Using Art to Balance Life

Duboce & Buena Vista Park, Gouache on Paper, 4x6"
Duboce & Buena Vista Park, Gouache on Paper, 4×6″

I’ve enjoyed a long, fulfilling career in Silicon Valley.  It’s an incredibly diverse, constantly changing place and state of mind. It’s easy to be consumed here in a world where creating disruption is your job. It see it everywhere as I walk the city (my favorite past-time). I notice the first-time tourists who see San Francisco through fresh eyes contrasted with the emerging technology class glued to their latest device. Watching them, I ask myself, do they miss the wonder in the eyes of newcomers around them?  Can we maintain curiosity, and see the world anew every day?

As an Industry Analyst at Altimeter Group, my job now is to understand and council others in technology disruption. But I need a constant: a foundation that puts these ceaseless changes in perspective. How can you understand change without understanding the starting point? For me that starts with family of course, but also, seeing and expressing the undeniable beauty around me every day. So, I paint and sketch. Every day. Maybe it’s a “left brain, right brain” thing, but for me, creating something of lasting beauty in a world of ephemeral apps, devices and marketing campaigns gives me the foundation I need to notice. And noticing—being aware—is the first step in understanding the world as it is and can be.

Sunrise or sunset?

Whether this is a sunrise or sunset depends upon your perspective, however, I think it’s a false choice.  It’s not one or the other–it’s both.  It’s sunset in San Miguel de Allende and sunrise in somewhere else. I find this same truth in life all the time, and I try to recognize it when it happens so I can see both sides of any situation.  Enjoy!

Sunset (San Miguel de Allende), Oil on canvas, 12x9"
Sunset (San Miguel de Allende), Oil on canvas, 12×9″

Big Sur Mountians

Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.
Henry David Thoreau

One of the challenges I (and I know many other landscape painters face) is learning how to simplify.  Capturing the essence of your subject with as few marks or shapes as possible makes for a strong design (one you can read across the room) and in general makes a stronger statement.  I love this example of how Picasso evolved the drawing of a bull from a detailed representation to just a few lines.

To work on this skill, I selected a reference photo with as few shapes and color variations as possible.  This painting was done from a reference photo I took in Big Sur, CA.  Notice in this study how there are very few shapes and only about 7 main color mixtures.  I could have rendered this more fully and modeled the clouds or other shapes, but I think (at least for this composition and study) it would have detracted from the impression.  Of course, this is also somewhat a matter of personal taste.  It fits the bill for me, as I strive towards more abstraction in my work. Simplification is part of that path.

Big Sur Mountains, Oil on Linen, 12x9  (Big Sur, CA)
Big Sur Mountains, Oil on Linen, 12×9



This painting of Timberfield model Chase sat in my studio for a while, unfinished (I thought). I like to work “ala prima”, wet into wet. I wasn’t able to finish this one that way, so it sat a few weeks. But it grew on me as is, so here it is.


This painting is an exploration. Art is a viable pursuit for me as long as I have the opportunity to push myself through experimentation and growth. Having just finished Door County Plein Air, I was reminded that I need to avoid creating works that veer on “trite”. Yes, I like to capture beauty, but I want to create works that are more intellectually stimulating. That’s how music evolved from Bach to Portishead :-).

Pushing the viewer by capturing images that are beautiful (in an abstract way), yet have mystery–and maybe confusion–is a direction I’m exploring. This is one example. When you see this image, what do you think?

What you don’t see, is that Chase is jumping out of a tree, so his body is contorted in an unusual way, you don’t see the tree, but you probably get some sense of movement. This is similar to Robert Longo’s “Men in the city” series, who I recall used to photograph his models while throwing rubber balls or rocks at them.  Their contorted bodies made for an interesting subject, and without the balls for needed context, the viewer wonders what instigated the movement.  Mystery in art…it’s a good thing.

Boy on Dock

Yes, I took another day off today while painting the Big Sur area (the “game” was called off due to rain), but I did find this recent figure study to entertain you.

On second look, it’s a bit dark, but I did want to use saturated colors in light, which does force the darks down a bit. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. My goal with this one was to capture late afternon light on skin, and to play with thick paint near abstraction. Enjoy!

Boy on Dock, Oil on Linen, 6x8

Turbulent Times

It’s been a turbulent few weeks, so I’ve not painted much.

Spoiler alert: this story does have a happy ending. Some of you may know I was diagnosed with cancer in July. I had a rare malignant tumor in my ear canal. After 2 painful operations–one that completely reconstructed my canal–I was told I still wasn’t in the clear. If you’ve gone through something like this, you know how it can make you re-assess life and your priorities. In fact, a similar health scare in 2000 is what propelled me into art. Without a clear end, I decided to get a third opinion, Dr. Jack Resneck at UCSF. In our first meeting I formed an opinion of him as a careful, thoughtful doctor. He believed the diagnosis was rare enough that a re-test of all my biopsies and tumor were in order. I got the good news the week before Thanksgiving: I didn’t have cancer! The growth was benign. I was relieved and pissed off at the same time, but thankful in the end that the treatment could end and I don’t have to worry about it. I’ve lost a bit of hearing in that ear, and have some scars, but I’ll take that over the alternative.

An hour after I got the good news (while at work) that my tumor was benign, I got a call from my husband, Mike: his mother was dying. Talk about a roller-coaster. We both left work right away, and we made it to her bedside less than 24 hours before she passed. It was very sad, but she’d been suffering for some time, and was ready. She was really terrific. We’ll miss her.

Amy Estrada, 1929-2009
Amy Estrada, 1929-2009

And yes, there is finally a painting. I’m trying to get life back to normal.

This was done from a reference photo of Avila Beach, while I was there painting for San Luis Obispo Plein Air this year. The “golden hour” light was striking the rocks like fire. It was quite a site. Enjoy!

Cliffs at Avila Beach (Golden Hour), Oil on Canvas, 8x10
Cliffs at Avila Beach (Golden Hour), Oil on Canvas, 8x10


Painting the Sky

Painting the sky is so much fun!  There’s a natural synergy between that subject and the tools of the painter, especially the brush.  The right-shaped brush can render the sky naturally, and the fluidity of paint adds to this perfect fit between subject and materials.  They’re also among the best subjects to create compelling compositions, because there are so few rules of structure that dictate them.  You can use clouds and openings in the sky as compositional devices. (BTW, I even found a “Cloud Appreciation Society”, with a section dedicated to painters!)

Some of my own favorite sky paintings include Casa Cosmos Sunet #3, San Luis Obispo Marsh, Colorado Drama, and Cloud Burst (Lake Tahoe).  Some of my favorite painters of the sky include Deborah Paris, Kevin Macpherson, Marc Hanson, Mark Kerckhoff, Terry DeLapp, and William Wray.

With my series of “high key” paintings, I’m painting subtle color/temperature transitions, which I think shows in this piece.

Sunset Calm, Oil on Linen, 12×16″


Our Wedding Day!

No art, today: after almost 20 years together, Mike and I decided to make it official.  Surrounded by friends and family (and CBS News, yikes!) we were married in a civil ceremony at San Francisco City Hall, where the same-sex marriage in California began.

Ed & Mike, Wedding Day, San Francisco City Hall

I hope you’ll join us in opposing Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that would deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.  We were interviewed by CBS News after (and they filmed the ceremony), so who knows, we could become the “Joe the Plumber” of same-sex married couples!
You’ll find our online wedding album here.  Enjoy!

Update: our wedding kiss is part of this CBS Evening News segment on Proposition 8.

Playing with abstraction

One of my top few observations from being a painter is the importance of abstraction. Although I’m primarily a representational painter, a painting ultimately succeeds or fails based on abstract qualities, especially design.

I painted this study in a loose abstract manner, without my eye glasses. This helps me accurately record color and value, as our mind has a way of convincing me of things that aren’t always true (eg, that grass is green, the sky is blue). Towards the end of the painting, I pull it back in to a representational state bty adding a details/lines that “pull it together”. I didn’t do that here. I paused at this point, and thought, why not, it works as it is now: a pleasing combination of color and shapes.

Hmmm….I may fast becoming an abstract painter. Oh well, it’s what’s selling 🙂

Beach Canyon Abstract – Oil on Linen – 8×10

A Fateful Connection

Yesterday was…conflicting. On the one hand, it was an extraordinarily beautiful day–one with the level of clarity you see after a couple of days of rain–and on the other, a very sad one.

I painted the view below of the Golden Gate Bridge from El Camino Del Mar, just past the Palace of Fine Arts. When I was done, I was approached by a stranger, Tod, who’d told me he’d lost his brother two days before in a car accident, 20 yards down from where I was sitting. Thirty minutes before I’d taken a break and walked down to see the flowers left at the tree where his brother’s car had struck, an old Monterey Cypress. Since we’d had our first big rain the day of the accident, and it’s a sharp turn on a steep hill, I can image the slick roads that day must have combined to create this tragedy.

This isn’t the first time a painting has had a special connection with someone. As artists, it’s something we seek, but of course can never plan for. A place remembered or one you’d like to visit is the norm. You’ll never know when that connection will be made. I’m grateful I was there at the moment Tod came back to visit that tree, and hope this painting brings him comfort, some day.

“Brothers” – Oil on Linen – 12×9

“Jewel By the Bay”, Wrap-up

I painted a couple of quick studies Saturday while selling my week’s work in Jackson Park.  The crowd was small, but appreciative. I did end up selling two paintings, so not bad.  Unfortunately, I really misjudged how much display space I would have, so ended up under-painting for the event.

Jackson Park Doorway Study, Oil on Linen, 8×6″ 

I hate to be negative (here it comes), but I think I’m getting burned out by these plein air shows.  In the beginning, they were a terrific way to get my name out there, meet other artists, and get basic experience selling, but lately, they seem like a chore.  I also feel I keep painting for show after show, constrained by the location I have to paint, which limits my creative choices. I want to work on a series of paintings of Buena Vista Park, or other ideas which I define and control.  So, I think I’m going to either stop doing these next year, or scale back considerably.

Is this a “step up”?  I’m not sure.  I hope the results show it is 🙂  Cheers!