Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Night Shift

Night Shift is a new painting that shows a scene in Joshua Tree National Park in California. The size is 11" x 14"/28cm x 36cm, and the coyote is a little over an inch/2.5cm long.

This piece shows the influence of both the American 19th century Hudson River School artists and the 20th century surrealists on my work. In my own mind, sometimes it makes a nice combination!

Monday, June 29, 2009


It's monsoon season again. I'm not sure if it's my imagination, but it seems like it's earlier than usual.

Monsoon season is what we in the Southwest get during the summer. Moist tropical air from the gulf of Mexico works its way north into Arizona, which often results in summer thunderstorms and rain. Further west in the California deserts, however, we don't get the rain as often. We mostly just get the humidity -- lots of it!

So we don't always get the dry heat that deserts are famous for. In fact, it feels very tropical and muggy around here. The skies remind me of the heavy, moisture-laden landscapes of the Old Master Dutch paintings, and in fact are the types of skies I typically paint.

I like the way these skies look, I just don't like the way it feels!

Unfortunately, we don't have air-conditioning. We have an evaporative cooler. Most of the time it's more than adequate, but when it's humid, it barely cools at all.

So we're in a good news/bad news situation. The good news: I have lots of reference material for painting skies. The bad news: the weather is miserable, and so is this artist right now!

The photos above look across the valley in which we live. In place of those deep-blue cloudless skies, we have atmospheric hazes that separate the overlapping mountains, along with the cloud shadows and spots of light that dramatize the land. And clouds. Lots of 'em!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dates with Eternity

David Carradine. Ed McMahon. Farrah Fawcett. Michael Jackson.

I know we're all destined to face eternity. I just didn't think so many were going to do so at the same time. Who knows...Patrick Swayze's turn may be coming up.

Rest in peace, folks.

Goin' to Town!

Most of the saguaro cactus I've seen in bloom usually had the flowers at or near the tops of the branches or main trunk (like the one on the right in the top left photo). But THIS particular specimen here in town is goin' to town, with flowers all over the upper portions of the cactus!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Laguna Beach

Whew!! It's getting hard to squeeze in the painting time I need, in between working outside on the house trim, doing computer and promotional stuff, and dealing with the fact that I get REALLY sleepy in the afternoon. This last item is a tendency I've dealth with all my life, but these last few years, I can't seem to ignore it anymore. I end up taking a nap (whether I want to or not) for an hour or so, then I'm groggy for another hour! Sheesh!!!

So as long as I'm sleeping, I might as well dream about one of my favorite places: Laguna Beach, CA.

Besides the natural and parklike settings there, Laguna Beach has a cute village atmosphere that also features -- surprise! -- art galleries! Many of them show works that I personally don't care for (in fact, some of the pieces are such turn-offs, I actually feel discouraged about the entire art world!) But some of the work is wonderful. Thankfully, I know which galleries to visit to see the good stuff!

California has lots of beautiful beaches and beach communities, but IMO, Laguna Beach is without peer. And the art scene there is the icing on the cake.

Friday, June 19, 2009


WIP stands for "Work In progress."

Following are a set of pictures showing progress on a painting I'm currently working on:

"A" is the original photo I made of a scene in Joshua Tree National Park in California. I like the look of the place, but I think it could use a little more "oomph."

In "B," I've finished the sky (complete with a setting sun) and distant granite formations. The foreground is mostly blocked-in as well.

Now I'm at a point where I need to think about where to locate the foreground Joshua trees. Sometimes I'll locate objects exactly where they are in nature, but in this case, I wanted a more intriguing composition.

To help me with my composition before making the major commitment of painting over my hard-worked sky, I placed a sheet of glass over the painting (which is dry at this point) as you see in "C." (The glass is heavily scratched because I sometimes use this sheet as a palette, scrapping dried paint off with a single-edge razor blade). I paint some rough sketches of Joshua trees on the glass, scrapping off images I don't like, making adjustments until I think I see what I want.

Then I painted in the Joshua trees. In "D," the trees are blocked in, and I'll add details during the next painting session. Then all I should have to do is finish the foreground shrubbery, maybe add a critter of some kind, and I'll be done!

Composing an image is often a "no-duh," but sometimes a little help can be nice. It may already exist in a photo I'm using, or I may make a detailed pencil sketch or even a small painting so I can see it before working on the "real" piece. But this time, the old "paint on the glass" stunt seemed to do the trick!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


"ACEO" is an abbreviation for "Art Cards, Editions and Originals". They are the size of a trading card -- 3.5" x 2.5"/8.9cm x 6.4cm. As the name implies, they can be original mini-paintings, or they can be prints (like lithographs) or reproductions.

Apparently, these little items are the hot thing in the art world these days. They're small, to be sure -- but it's a way people can own an original work of art for a very small price. Like trading cards, they can be traded, bought, collected, used to impress your friends, whatever! Buyers can find ACEOs on sites such as etsy.com and, of course, eBay.

So-o-o...I'm just gonna have to give these a try! I have sold original paintings on eBay before, and I've set up an account on etsy but really haven't done much with it before. Offering ACEOs should be a way to produce lots of little paintings that anyone -- even YOU! -- can afford. I think it'll be fun for me to make these, too.

Stay tuned for news on the ACEO front!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Varnishing Act

Yes, that's varnishing, not vanishing, act!!

Varnishing a painting is the last thing I do to the artwork itself (framing is a separate issue). It's not a particularly fun or glamorous activity, yet it's so necessary. Varnish darkens the dark areas, so I don't really see what a painting looks like until it's varnished. It also unifies the surface, which often appears as a checkerboard of shiny and matt areas.

As you may have picked up elsewhere, I do lots of transparent glazes when I paint. This gives a stained-glass quality to the piece; however, the effect isn't immediately obvious. Varnishing is an important aspect of bringing out the glazes, much as polishing stones brings out their patterns and characteristics.

After the final brushload of paint goes on the work, I allow the painting to dry thoroughly for five days or more. Then I spend a day applying permanent acrylic varnish -- at least five-six coats of it, two hours apart to give each coat time to dry. The varnish is glossy, and with each coat, the depth and transparency of the glazes gradually come to life.

Unfortunately, water-soluble acrylic varnish remains somewhat tacky forever, so anything that remains in contact with it for a long time begins to bond to the varnish. If I (or a customer) decide to switch out a frame, the edges of the painting will be damaged when the frame is (literally) pulled off.

So after a few more days, I apply a final coat of a removable varnish called Soluvar. It's still acrylic, but it's suspended in turpentine instead of water. Soluvar is not tacky, so the painting isn't as likely to stick to other things, including frames. Also, if the painting ever gets too dirty for cleaning, the Soluvar can be stripped with turpentine, which will strip the dirt along with the varnish. Then more Soluvar can be re-applied.

Soluvar comes in glossy and matt finishes. I mix glossy plus matt in about an 80:20 ratio. This cuts the gloss a little so it doesn't look so danged wet and shiny; yet, the finish is glossy enough to allow those glazes to glow with an inner light.

Serious artists know varnishing is an essential part of the process of painting. It's a varnishing act!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I Don't Watch Sports on TV: Reason #1

I don't watch sports on TV. Not very often, anyway.

I've never been that excited about sports -- watching it OR doing it myself. I can think of 100 things I'd rather do than watch sports.

Still, I'll break the pattern once in a great while. Today was one example: we watched the Belmont Stakes. At least we like horses, so sometimes we'll watch horse-related sports.

But I was reminded of some reasons why I don't like television sports. The number one reason: the INANE and CONSTANT chatter!

When was the last time you heard anything intelligent spoken during a sports broadcast?

Commentator to losing team member: What happened today?

Team member: Well, the other team had a really strong offense, they were really on their game, they had some good moves; our team's defense was weak and had a few holes in our plays, but we'll come back even stronger and get 'em NEXT time.

Isn't all of that obvious? Didn't the winners simply play better than the losers, assuming the teams were evenly matched in the first place? What ELSE could the team spokesperson say to explain their loss? In which case, why bother interviewing the guy/gal in the first place?

Back to the Belmont: lots of interviews, lots of utterly forgettable comments made. Constant chatter. Do viewers really like this stuff? If so, why? Does drinking more beer make it all go down better? If viewers actually attended the race (or other event), they wouldn't hear the chatter then. Why bore us with it in the comfort of our homes?

And the Belmont Stakes at least a two-hour broadcast! Two-three minutes of racing, preceeded and followed by interviews and mindless blah-blah.

I realize a program like this probably can't function by airing only the race itself. OK, so maybe the trumpet fanfare, the race itself and the awarding of the trophy. Half an hour. If necessary, raise the advertising rates to make sure costs can be recovered in 1/2 hour. On TV, I've seen rooms decorated and paintings completed in that amount of time.

By the way, Summer Bird won. And I'm done watching TV sports for a long time.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

I'm one of those who tend to feel extreme empathy for critters, especially if they happen to be cute.

Partly for that reason and also because I photograph the wild critters around here to use in paintings. As you can see from the attached pictures, bunnies and Gambels quail rank pretty highly on my scale of desirableness. (Is that a word?)

So to ensure I have a steady supply of critters around to photograph when I need more pix, I put food out for them every evening before sundown: rabbit pellets for the bunnies, and chicken scratch for the quail. I also have hummingbird feeders (two) for their namesake and a suet feeder, originally intended for woodpeckers. And I have containers of water outside -- I replace and refill them with fresh water every day. It all makes for happy critters.

But then there's this danged thing called the Law of Unintended Consequences. All of these types of food have been attracting more than the critters I wanted to attract -- some of these are OK, some are not.

Among the undesirable critters: ground squirrels. The worst ones are the species that look like tree squirrels (although their tails aren't quite as bushy), and they DIG HOLES!! Lots of them. They live to dig. Some holes would be okay--it does help aerate the soil. But it can be overdone.

It seems like these last few years, the squirrels have been cranking out LOTS of offspring. We have a lot of cholla cactus growing around here, so I suspect it's hard for predators to catch them and keep the numbers under control. And, of course, having food and pans of water so easily available to them isn't helping the situation, either.

Last year I bought a "catch-'em-alive" trap which I've used to capture and relocate squirrels, one at a time. But this year, I can't seem to catch up. It appears as I reduce the numbers of squirrels, other squirrel "families" move in to take their place. So I'll think: "Ah...only one more squirrel to catch and that's it." Nope--the next day, I see five new ground squirrels!

So, decisions decisions. Do I stop feeding and watering ALL of the wild critters in the hope the ground squirrels will go elsewhere, or at least not be encouraged to take up residence here? Maybe. I hate the thought of it, and I hope I don't put out enough food to the point where the bunnies and quail are entirely dependent on me to survive; otherwise, they could starve to death without me feeding them.

But the ground squirrels are slowly destroying this area--even the parts that are natural desert. They even eat the cactus, roots and all! How do they do that without embedding millions of stickers in their mouths and faces?

Maybe this is one of those cases where the few have ruined it for all. Let's just hope I have enough pictures. And let's pray for the bunnies and the quail. But not for the ground squirrels.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Quail By Moonlight

I try to make it a point of getting new critter pictures whenever I can.

Here, I was able to get a shot of a male Gambel's quail by moonlight. Impressed?

Na-a-h-h...don't be. It's a daylight shot, but I didn't realize I had this particular adjustment on the camera set for tungsten light. Thus, daylight pictures came out too blue.

Oh, well. I discovered my mistake soon enough and corrected the setting. For painting purposes, what I really need is the overall form of the quail. I have other references (including the live quail running around outside) to get the coloring right.

Besides, maybe this male is seeking a romantic encounter...by moonlight!