Category Archives: Art

Verde Paint-out Today

The Verde Artist Guild held a paint-out today on the grounds of Stanford University. More than 30 artists attended! It started out a bit foggy, but thankfully cleared up quickly. The area includes beautiful fresh-spring grasses, grand eucalyptus and oak trees. Given the slight fog in the atmosphere, it was a great day to practice arial perspective. We struggled somewhat with the sun going in and out of the clouds, but in the end, everyone created some great work.

Congratulations to Cynthia DeBenedetti! She’s been accepted into this years annual National Oil Painters of America show.


Here’s another page from my sketchbook.  This was done in the small village of Aurel, France.  I took in the scene, and looked for a combination of shapes and values that lead my eye.  The arrow drawing on the right is the desired eye path, and the end point, which I assumed to be in the window of the lower-right.  A center of interest that is centered on thirds (top-third, lower-third, both vertical and horozontal).

In the bottom drawing I drew the composition and kept notes on the scene. It was really striking.  This is something I can take back to the studio and paint.

Aurel, FR

Painting the Sierras

Just back from a long weekend in the Sierras.  Alas, the weather was not exactly cooperative.  Had a good day Friday, but Saturday it was both raining and foggy.  The snow scape painting I did was a smaller, 6×8 plein air sketch.  I painted on linen on board, definitely my favorite combination right now.  The linen was toned with a pure Yellow Ocre color, something I picked up from Ted Georschner.  I left bits of yellow show through between the strokes, which gave the painting a nice warm glow. I had fun with the shadow patterns, and think the composition works really well.  This may make a nice studio painting…we’ll see.
Although it rained and stayed foggy all day Saturday, we ended up having a great time at Sam and Phil’s family home on Alta Lake.  Ate, played cards (Shanghai Gin-Rummy), and had lots of laughs.
Of course, Gracie and Jackson have fun, wherever they go.  This is their play time at the cabin (which is at about 3200 feet, no snow)

Brannes sketch, composition sample

Here’s another example of a sketch I do (before I paint!) to figure out the design/composition, and how the eye moves within the painting.  The asterisk represents the start point, and the arrows represent where I believe the eye will be lead.  The top-left composition is based on a triangle.  I think the eye will start at the top-right building (because it sits higher than the lines below it), the eye to follow down, and then lead back up either via the distant hills or the bottom of the hill line.


The Sierras in Winter

This weekend I’m headed up to Alta to paint the Sierras. I’m staying with Sam and Phil, close friends that have us up at their home on Alta lake a couple of times a year. I hope there’s snow at the lake, as there are compositions ready to be painted everywhere! I also may head up to Blackwood Canyon, just outside Tahoe City. I completed a series of autumn Aspen paintings there this past Fall. Can’t way to see it in Winter. Maybe I’ll paint the same location/composition to compare. Might be interesting, much like Kevin MacPherson’s great project.

If I can figure out how to blog and post new images from my cell phone using Flickr, I’ll try and update my blog remotely.

Learning composition and design

I’m re-reading Edgar Payne’s Composition of Outdoor Painting. What a classic! I think it was Kevin Macpherson who said he re-read the classic art books often, because he learned something new each time. Sometimes your own experience painting informs your ability to really understand what the book is trying to teach. Design is, I think, the most important thing to learn. A well designed painting can easily overcome other short-comings.

Edgar Payne Landscape

Seirra Morning, by Edgar Alvin Payne


Leading the eye, Abbaye de Valsaintes

Before I start a painting, I think about design, and how the design leads the viewer’s eye around the painting. In these sketches from France, I looked for patterns of dark/light that form interesting shapes. They eye is attracted to areas of great contrast, so that makes a good starting point, or focal point for the image. I trace how I’d expect the eye to travel from the focal paint, in a pattern that stays within the picture. In these small sketches, I also capture the direction of light (as represented by the small sun, where the sun rays remind where the direction of light).

I have sketch books filled with images like these. It’s great to look back at them and again wander the beautiful villages of the south of France.

Sketches of France

Planning a painting

Since I’ve been on the subject of technique lately, here’s something I learned from Barry John Raybould–use of the notan sketch. The notan sketch is a great way to try out several different compositions of design, based on a 4-value plan. Why not do this before committing to paint?

I use 3 felt tip pens by Tombo, a black, medium grey, light grey, and white for the lightest value. I’ll try different combinations out, and see what works. I’ll often note below what I like or don’t like about the design.

Each row below represents a painting, for which I tried out three different designs. Try it!

Playing musical scales, with color

As many of you know, I occasionally teach. Not nearly enough. I have a queue of students (thankfully!), but lately have been too busy to schedule a workshop. I hope sometime this summer. If you’re interested, let me know. In the meantime, showing up for the monthly Verde Artist Guild paint-outs is a great way to watch and ask questions.
But, back to the topic at hand, “Playing Scales with color”. What does that mean? Bottom line, this is a GREAT exercise to play with color. You’re an artist/collector, so you love color, right? Maybe not. Regardless, you may find this interesting.

First of all, my first paying job (well, outside of paper-boy at 13 and a very short–two week stint–at Knotts Berry Farm) was as a musician. I played professionally starting in high school. Like art, I couldn’t BELIEVE people where paying me for doing something I absolutely loved. Enough said. I know not everyone is in that situation, but that’s a good future topic. I played Jazz, so am fluent with the concept of improvisation.

Improv applies to art. In order to make things up in a fluid way, yet stay within a defined structure (musical key, color palette), your options (notes, colors) must become second nature. Once they are second nature, you can sit before a subject and apply that key/color-scheme to reach the artistic ends you desire, be it an exiting emotional painting, calm, mysteries, whatever.

So, here’s how I apply this to developing my painting skills. First, I define a “color key” that matches the mood I want to convey. In color theory, there are several: analolgous colors, complementary colors, split-complementary colors, triadic colors, etc. To get experience with these “color keys” I take a very simple 3-value design, and re-paint it using several different keys. These color studies sometimes result in great paintings (I’ve sold many), but like a musician, I don’t count on scales/exercises to sell. They’re through-way, for learning.

Look at the example below. The top-left is an analogus color scheme. Colors are adjacent on the color wheel. Top-right is a triadic color scheme (blue/violet, orange, and green are equi-distant). Bottom left is a complementary color scheme (Orange and Blue), and bottom-right is a split complementary scheme (Orange + Green/Blue and Red/Blue). What do you think? Doesn’t each version have a different emotional tone?

When it comes to painting nature, drawing skills are abolute, but let yourself go with color!
Color Study Example

BTW, this techique is also discussed in Ted Georschner’s book, The Workshop Experience. Try it! It’s only paint!

Painting, the Flu, & Skunks!

What’s the connection between painting, the flue, and skunks? Well, generally none, although last week I experienced all three.

I’ve been working on a sunrise commission for a good collector of mine (hi, Noel), and frankly have had a hard time with it. Getting up EARLY is not my strong suit. I’m a late-night cat. Anyway, I did get some decent studies in Carmel a few months ago, but none that really knocked me out, so I thought I’d try last week.

I noticed that we had some pretty spectacular sunrises (from my bedroom window, just getting up), so figured it was worth gettnig up and trying to get some good plein air studies painted. I got up at around 5:30am to get set up for painting by about 6:30 at Baylands Preserve, a great spot for capturing both sunrises and sunsets, due to the fact there are locations with depth of field (hills, so on) and water combinations to get those great reflections. So I arrive, and it’s FREEZING and there are skunks everywhere. A couple kind of “charged me”. I don’t know much about skunks, but they seemed to approach me on their hind legs. Weird, I know. Well, I avoided the skunks, but got the flu. It was so dam cold, I was quite sick the next day, and out the whole week. I know, it’s a virus, but I’m sure that painting experience weakened me. Or, you know, I just like to show how much PAIN is involved in creating art.

In the end, I did get this little study done, as well as a couple others I ended up wiping off. I’ll let you know what I end up with for Noel.

Bay Sunrise

BTW, paintings of sunsets are available to see on my main web site, on the Miscellany page.