Sunday, December 18, 2016

To Cold Outside, How About Car Sketching?

It's important as representational artists that we make sure to spend some time working from life.  I'll admit I've been rather slack about that this year so I decided to remedy that a bit today.  While today was sunny it was also very, very cold, 23*F when I went out today.  I'll admit, I'm quite the wimp when it comes to the cold so my solution today was to sketch from inside the car.  Even with the engine off it was bearable, (no doubt thanks to the sun beaming through the windows) though the windows fogged up after a while.  Not breathing was not an option so I had to work quickly, besides it was late afternoon and the light was changing fast and would be gone altogether soon.

art sketch plein air car charcoal drawing pastel

A steering wheel makes a passable easel, though movement is somewhat limited inside a car and that does effect the sketch because it's pretty much impossible to make marks from your shoulder, at best marks were made from the elbow but even that wasn't easy.  Having to sketch from inside the car also limits the subjects available but this wasn't about making a polished piece of art, it was about practice from life, any subject would do as long as it had interesting and challenging shapes.  Obviously I'm more used to sketching classic cars.

art sketch plein air house charcoal tree pastel

Here's the finished sketch, if you can call any sketch finished.  I used charcoal then added some touches of color using pastel.   I'd rather not sketch from inside a car, but in a pinch it will do.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Variety of Charcoal Studies

I'm still very much focused on charcoal.  I find working with charcoal to be both fun and educational.  Charcoal sketches are a good way to test ideas for compositions before committing to paint, but they are works of art in their own right.  The last two weeks (yes, I missed last week) I've experimented with a variety of subjects.

art drawing charcoal forest tree root evergreen

"Roots II"

12" X 9", Charcoal on Paper

This is the second in my series of roots studies.  Not only was it a study in roots and nature it was an experiment in charcoal technique.  I wanted to do a better job of getting rid of the little white specks of paper showing through so I did a lot more blending and used more powdered charcoal.

art drawing charcoal rural barn shed tree road field

"Barn Study I"

9" X 12", Charcoal on Paper

Another series begins, hopefully.  Well, as much as I love old, wood barns and rural landscapes I'm pretty confident I'll do more.  While "Roots II" was pretty good I felt maybe it was a little overworked so my goal with "Barn Study I" was to dial that back and bit and still have the same effect.  I treated this one in a more sketchy way, working faster and not so deliberate about shapes and details, I think it worked pretty well.  I discovered my finger makes a great blender for large areas.  I've formed a new basic technique.  First I go over an area with the woodless charcoal pencil creating the general tones I'm after.  Then I use a Q-tip to apply powdered charcoal over the area blending it as I go then I do further blending with my finger.

art drawing charcoal truck Ford grass abandoned tree

"Truck Study I"

8" X 10", Charcoal on paper

And finally we have an abandoned old truck, a 1946 Ford to be more exact.  This was drawing practice as much as charcoal and composition practice.  This scene is partially from a photo reference taken in a small rural Utah town and partially from my imagination.  The truck in the photo didn't have a bed and the tree was farther back and didn't overlap the truck.  The rest is pretty much my invention.  Since this one required more exact drawing it took longer but I still tried to keep it fairly sketchy. 

Stay tuned, I'm sure there will be more to come.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Week for Sketching

I kept my art activities strictly to sketching and playing on the computer this week.  I don't know why, I just wasn't in the mood to pick up the paint brushes.  I think maybe I enjoy sketching quickly and loosely with charcoal rather than doing the tighter, more detailed drawings I've been doing lately.  I think charcoal is a good medium for studying compositions and subjects for painting.  It seems like many figurative artists use charcoal a lot for studies but landscape painters not so much.  Charcoal seems to have a kinship with oil painting that other sketching mediums don't have, I think that's because the marks made with charcoal are so malleable, they can be relatively easily be removed, adjusted and blended much like a brush stroke in oil painting.  Maybe these experiments in charcoal will lead to me giving oil painting a shot again.

art drawing charcoal tree evergreen roots nature

"Roots I"

8" X 10" Charcoal on paper
Original - $80

I really like tree roots, especially those that grow from the bases of pine trees when the soil has eroded around them and they no longer have much more than rocks to cling to.  I found this scene in Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch National Forest in northern Utah.  This area is a short drive from where I live.  I need to visit the local canyons more often, I used to go up there nearly weekly, however the crowds have become kind of overwhelming.

The alternative to going up in the canyons is staying near home and visiting the Jordan River Parkway.  The Parkway is an oasis of nature running through the middle of the heavily populated Salt Lake Valley and even though it's very close by, (I used to walk to it) I don't visit it often enough.  Seems I've been getting more and more lazy every year.  Today I took a step to rectify that and went for a walk on the Parkway and I took my camera and sketchbook of course.

art sketch plein air graphite nature jordan river parkway

art sketch graphite nature plein air jordan river parkway

These were very quick and basic sketches, just ten minutes or so each with .9 mechanical pencil.  The idea was just to practice observation and get a feel for the sense of place.  It's easier than ever to take great photographs but cameras aren't experiencing machines, they don't feel.  I feel art should be about the human response to our subjects, not our response to an image captured by a machine.  That said of course I often work from photos, far more often than not.  Part the reason for that is the fact that I still work full time. From November and into March the lack of evening light limits me to only getting out on the weekends and even then the weather often does not cooperate, not to mention I have other interests and often they take up time on the weekends.  I believe a good compromise is to just take out a sketchbook and a pencil and make some direct observations of nature.  Not only is this good drawing practice but it fills your memories with sights, sounds, and smells that just don't come through in a photograph, even if you take that photograph yourself.

All that said about photographs I still take lots of them, (thank heaven for digital cameras!), here are a couple from today's walk.

nature autumn jordan river parkway outdoors walking

late autumn nature jordan river parkway outdoors

As you can see while autumn is winding down it's still spectacular.  It was a perfect day for a walk, sunny and 60 degrees.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Autumn Draws to a Close

Daylight savings time has ended and most of the trees have lost all or the majority of their colorful leaves.  Autumn is a wonderful season but it is all too short.  Now we have freezing temperatures, at least overnight and daylight so short you blink your eyes and it's gone.  Now the transition into winter begins.  This time always induces a bit of melancholy in me, yearning for the summer past and dread of the coming winter.  Sorry, I just really dislike winter.  At least I can paint any season I want any time of the year.  Here are the last two autumn scenes I painted.

art painting autumn fall foliage aspen trees mountain

"Red Mountain Aspens"

16" X 12", acrylic on panel

This painting is based on a photo I took on one of my hikes in the Wasatch mountains.  The hike was during summer so obviously I took my liberties with color.  This painting was mostly done with a palette knife as well.  I really should have got out for an autumn hike this year, but I didn't, the painting will have to do.

art painting autumn tree fall foliage rural road

"Roadside Attraction"

12" X 9", acrylic on 1/8" panel

I can't help it, I look at trees when driving, a lot, they are actually a roadside distraction for me.  Especially in autumn, not just because of the colors, but once the leaves start thinning out I see more of the tree's structure.  Whenever I see an interesting tree I have the urge to stop, get out of the car and photograph it, of course I have to resist that urge when on the freeway.  I decided to leave the palette knives on the table for this one and only used brushes.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Rural Charcoal Landscapes

It's been a while, over a month I think.  I've been taking a break from blogging but I'm returning now, hopefully I'll post at least once/week from now on.

I've been doing a lot with charcoal lately, experimenting with techniques to get the results I want.  I like the moodiness that's possible with charcoal, it can be both mysterious and soothing. 

art drawing charcoal landscape rural farm hay agriculture

"High Desert Hay Field"

8" X 10" charcoal on paper

Both of the drawings I'm showing today are based on photos I took in Ogden Valley, Utah.  Ogden Valley is an interesting place.  At one end of the valley and taking up a large section of the valley is Pineview reservoir where a lot of recreational boating and fishing takes place. This reservoir is surrounded mostly with rural scenes as well as many beautiful nature spots.  Most of northern Utah is considered to be high desert.  High desert differs from the low deserts.  We still have frigid winters and often with plenty of snow fall and enough moisture to still support agriculture and keep rivers flowing so course there are plenty of pockets of natural green, mostly along rivers and other bodies of water.  The area is heavily populated though and with water systems such as irrigation and reservoirs there are lots of areas that are green only due to the management of water by man, too many in my opinion, to the point that natural areas that should be green end up drying up even in a mild drought to keep our lawns green.  I won't get on a soap box about that but Utah has a water management problem that's only getting worse every year and it seems to me not nearly enough is being done to correct it to avoid the destruction of our natural resources.

"Hay Harvest"

8" X 10" charcoal on paper

It's one thing to consume water for life sustaining reasons such as to support agriculture but it's another reason to consume millions of gallons of water every year just to keep lawns green.  Ya, green lawns are nice but we live in a desert here, our priorities are out of wack.  It's far more important in my opinion to keep the wetlands wet than to keep your lawn green or your car clean.  Sorry, I guess I did get on the soap box a bit there, this wasn't my intention when  I started writing this blog post but there it is so I'll leave it.

I usually only talk about my art in my blog posts, so I'll talk about today's art in relation to my little rant.  Both of these charcoal drawings show agricultural scenes, hay fields in particular.  Hay is grown a lot in northern Utah, not just because it's needed to support the cattle industry but because it's relatively easy to grow in our arid conditions, a responsible use of our land in my opinion, though I'll admit I don't know or understand all the details, I'm not a farmer. Another thing I think these drawings show is that the high desert is beautiful.  Besides the hay fields all the flora depicted in these drawings is more or less natural.  I'll admit some of the trees wouldn't be there if not for the existence of the canals and ditches used for irrigation but many trees will spring up in areas where there is no discernible water source, nature has it's ways.  But even the natural grass and chamisa (rabbit brush) depicted in the foreground is beautiful in it's own way.  Desert does not mean "lack of life", life and beauty are abundant nearly everywhere, we just need to open our eyes, minds and heart to it.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Autumn is in the Air

The temperatures are dropping. I have to have my headlights on for my morning drive to work now.  The other day my windshield was covered in morning dew.  Even here in the valley some of the trees are starting to turn golden.  Yep, it's that time of the year when we get relief from the summer heat and nature starts to put on her annual color show.  While the trees are still mostly green around here right now I couldn't resist doing a small autumn painting.

art painting landscape autumn fall tree foliage palette knife

"Autumn Delight"

12" X 9", Acrylic on 1/8" panel

But then again it doesn't seem to matter what time of year it is I can always find the motivation to paint a fall scene.  This painting was painted mostly with a palette knife and then finished off with brushes for a variety of rich textures.  I'm certainly in a fall mood now!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

More Things With Wheels

I went back to playing with the pastels again, I decided to try a vehicle painting.

art painting truck abandoned ford flatbed rusty

"Glory Passed"

Pastel on paper 9" X 12"

The truck is a 1946 Ford flatbed abandoned on desert ranch.  It's kind of sad to think of the current state of this old workhorse.  Just think of all the useful work it did for some farmer or rancher back in it's glory days.

I also recently did this mixed media sketch of an abandoned car;

art sketch charcoal car abandoned mercury tudor sedan

"Has Potential"

Mixed media on paper, 5.25" X 10.5"

This poor 1939 Mercury tudor sedan certainly has seen better days, but what a project it would make for a restoration or a cool custom car.  The sketch started with watercolor washes for some subtle underlying color.  Once the washes were dry everything was sketched out in charcoal and then some colorful touches were added with pastel pencils.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Daily Painting Challenge - Pastel Landscapes No 5

For painting number 5 in my daily painting challenge series I decided to paint a familiar seen, one I see every day.

art painting landscape pastel nature tree field summer

"Good Morning Summer"

8" X 10",  Pastel on sanded paper

This is what I see on summer mornings when I look out my kitchen window.  The morning sun lights up the grasses and the tree trunks.  I don't really feel like I fully captured the effect but that's what keeps us artists going, always chasing the effects of light and trying to put them into our paintings. The developers took the field to the north of me, hopefully this beautiful field that borders my backyard will be around much, much longer.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Daily Painting Challenge - Pastel Landscapes No. 4

It's day 4 of the daily painting challenge and I'm still hanging in there but I will admit I'm struggling to keep the steam up.  Maybe that's why I painted one even smaller than the last.

art painting landscape pastel cottonwood tree autumn fall foliage

"Lone Cottonwood"

7" X 5", Pastel on paper

I did something a little different for this one.  Rather than start with a photo reference I painted from a mini painting I did in acrylic some time ago, it's only 2" X 3 1/2", and it was painted using a 12" X 16" painting I did a year and a half ago as reference.  So this painting is three generations removed from the original reference photo and it still works.   This tree is a cottonwood that stands all by itself in a conservation area in the Heber Valley which is on the east side of the Wasatch mountains directly across from the Salt Lake Valley.  This reminds me of how thankful I am for the movement to restore and/or conserve areas of public land in a natural state.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Daily Painting Challenge - Pastel Landscape No 3

Here we are at day three of the daily painting challenge.  I'm keeping this post simple, here's the painting;

art painting landscape pastel rural farm ranch countryside

"Across the Acres"

6" X 8", pastel on mounted paper

This scene is based on a photo I took somewhere in the central Utah county of Sanpete.  That area of the state is more open than most of the rest allowing for broad vistas like this one of some storm clouds intersecting the peak of a small mountain in the distance across the acres of hay fields.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Daily Painting Challenge - Pastel Landscapes No.2

Day two of my daily painting challenge has come and gone and below is the result.  I decided to make a bit of a demo out of this so further below you'll see some photos of some intermediate steps of my painting process on this particular piece.

I have many photos I've taken on my hikes in the Wasatch Mountains, within minutes I can be out of the crowded, noisy suburbs and in a wild nature wonderland.  The thing that appealed to me most about this scene is the cool, dark shapes created by the foreground shadows and the background trees contrasted by the sunlit grassy area.

art painting landscape pastel mountain wasatch hiking trail

"Day Hike"

9" x 12", pastel on sanded paper

I have a bunch of sheets of 9" X 12" Colorfix sanded paper that comes in all kinds of different colors and I've decided to try using them up for this daily challenge series.  The painting from day one used a dark gray-violet tone.  Because I wanted to emphasize the coolness of the shadows in this painting I decided to use dark blue paper for this painting.  I lightly sketched the composition using a light gray hard pastel.

art painting wip first stage pastel

Next was a loose block-in using a couple layers and a light touch.  I often use a lot of violets for my block-ins, I'm not sure why but they seem to work.  In this case I used some greens and oranges as well.

art painting wip pastel block-in

This stage is basically more refinement of the block-in, gradually introducing more of the final colors.  I'm careful not to get too crazy with using too many different colors though.  I think I used less than 20 colors in this painting.  As you can see the dark and light shapes are better defined.  This is the stage where I want to be sure the composition is what I want before I get too detailed.  I'll spend some time evaluating the painting from a distance before moving on to the final refinements you see in the finished painting at the top.

art painting wip middle stage pastel

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Daily Painting Challenge - Pastel Landscapes No. 1

I'll admit it, I've been in a bit of a slump lately.  It's not that I haven't made any art, it's that my heart hasn't been fully into it and so I've been kicking around from one project to another not really finishing anything, at least not to my satisfaction.  I decided it's time I gave myself a good, swift kick in the butt, it's time for a challenge.

It's been some time since I last painted with pastels.  Pastels were my first painting medium but I've largely abandoned them lately.  I enjoy painting with acrylics but I figure a change of medium might help me get out of my slump so I got the pastels out.  To really kick it in gear I decided to challenge myself to not only paint with pastels but to also finish one small pastel landscape painting every day for at least a week.   Hopefully this will create the jump start that I need.

Just like much of the country northern Utah is experiencing a bit of a heat wave, though if memory serves me 100 dg+ weather used to not be all that uncommon in July and August but by the way they are making a big deal of it the stats must say different.  Anyway, it's way too hot to be painting outdoors in the late afternoon, or evening and that's the only time I have available during the week so I have to settle for using photo references and work in my comfortable, air conditioned studio, boo hoo.

To cool myself down, at least mentally I picked an autumn scene and to help keep it simple I chose a nature scene.  I encountered this quiet, shady spot while taking a walk on the Jordan River Parkway in the Jordan Narrows section.  I enjoyed taking in all the various colors and textures of the foliage, trees, grasses and bushes while I rested a bit, of course I enhanced those things a bit in the painting;

art daily painting landscape autumn pastel foliage fall

"Quiet Moment"

9" X 12", pastel on paper

I really enjoyed getting dusty with the pastels again, this should be a fun week.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Good Summer Day for a Hike.

I was on vacation for the 5th of July, I decided to take advantage and go for a hike without the usual masses of weekenders.  I decided to go to the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon and hike around Silver Lake and up to a little cutoff trail that takes you to an incredible overlook.

After walking the boardwalk around the north end of the lake I headed west on the trail to Lake Solitude.  This photo shows what this trail is like more or less.

mountain trail hike Big Cottonwood Canyon Utah nature

The trail is a bit steep for a while and has many rocky parts but overall is of moderate difficulty for someone healthier than me.  After maybe a quarter mile you get to the cutoff trail which heads diagonally approximately southeast back towards the Twin Lakes trail.  I love this little trail that wanders peacefully through a beautiful aspen grove.

Where the cutoff trail joins the Twin Lakes trail is a big rock slide that at some point in the past apparently took out a bunch of trees and makes it difficult for new trees to grow so we still have an amazing view looking down on Silver Lake from the rock slide.

nature view overlook Silver Lake Big Cottonwood Canyon Utah

It was only mid morning and still relatively cool and not another person visible on the trail so I just sat on a rock and soaked it all in for at least 10-15 minutes.  Could life get any better?

After enjoying the view I headed back down to Silver Lake via the Twin Lakes trail and then followed the path around the south end of the lake to make a loop out of the hike.  This is a photo of the south end of the lake from lake level.

nature mountain Silver Lake Big Cottonwood Canyon Utah

The walk around the lake is an easy one so by late morning there were plenty of people out around the lake making things more crowded and noisy than I like but it's a small price to pay to be out enjoying such natural beauty. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A New Painting Series Begins?

A few weeks ago I painted a small autumn scene using palette knives.  I decided I liked the composition enough to paint a spring version of the same scene;

art painting landscape spring nature palette knife

"Edge of Spring"

16" X 12", acrylic on panel

This is a simple scene but it says so much.  A fence marks the border of a farm or ranch field out in the open county.  The freshness of spring fills the air and the senses. Before too long this beautiful verdant green field will turn yellow and the green leaves of the tree will have turned darker and less vibrant. Spring is a relatively short, transient state in the landscape, the time between the frigid desolation of winter and the stifling heat of summer, a time of renewal and change.  I can't say I had all this in mind while painting this piece but it was probably there subconsciously.  I often wonder why I am so attracted to painting the landscape, maybe it is because of the many emotions and moods it can evoke.
So, now I have two paintings in the "Edge of" series, I guess I'll have to do summer and winter versions as well, stay tuned...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Sketch, From Plein Air to Studio

Sometimes making art on location (plein air) just doesn't work out.  There are all kinds of challenges.  There's a time limit, you don't have long before the light changes so much that the scene you started to sketch just isn't there anymore.   Then there are environmental factors, wind, sun, rain, noise, bugs, animals, people, etc, all kinds of things that interfere or distract.  There's also the challenge of having a limited "studio" with you.  You just can't pack all the supplies and materials your studio holds and it seems like almost without fail you forget to pack something.  For these reasons and more my attempts at making a finished work of art on location more often fail that not.  This is a story about one of those failures that was later resuscitated in the studio.

On Memorial Day I decided to spend half the day up in a local canyon to attempt the charcoal sketching techniques I'd been developing in the studio, on location.  I had some success in the studio so I was confident, well nature humbled me pretty quick.  I parked along the highway where I could see this copse of trees growing on the mountainside.  I applied some watercolor washes mostly in green.  My intent was to keep the color subtle, it came out even more subtle than I expected.   People complain about color shift with acrylics as they dry, my experience is watercolor is far worse.   It's darned near impossible to draw with charcoal on a damp surface so waiting for the paper to dry is a bit aggravating. 
Remember those environmental factors I mentioned before?  Well, it was a nice enough day, a bit breezy but not enough to be annoying but made things a little cool for comfort.  The big problem I had was noise.  I was sitting just a few feet off the highway and being a holiday, thousands of people were traveling to the mountains, the traffic noise was irritating to say the least and by the end of the morning I had a headache.  The main thing the noise did was make it hard for me to get into the "zone", that state where the world disappears and you are alone with your drawing or painting.  It also didn't help that my subject was on the other side of the highway so I was seeing all those noise makers rushing by.
Finally the paper was dry enough to get serious about applying the charcoal.  The session seemed to be going well enough but I just couldn't seem to really get into it and was dissatisfied the whole way.  This makes it sound like I was having a bad time, I really wasn't.  To steal from the fisherman's mantra; "A bad day of plein air is better than a good day at work".  At the time I just chalked it up to experience and learning and pretty much forgot the artwork I'd produced that day once I unpacked it at home.
Fast forward to nearly a month later.  I was looking for some watercolor paper to use for the next project and instead accidently dug up that first sketch from Memorial Day.  With the passage of time I could see it with fresh eyes and realized there was some potential there.  Instead of starting that other project I started reworking that plein air sketch and this is the result;

art sketch plein air nature tree charcoal outdoors

"Nature Study No 3"

Charcoal on paper with watercolor wash 9.8" X 6.9"

The end result has a classical feel that I really like, it was definitely worth the time to refine this plein air sketch in the studio.  Occasionally I find that I can save previously failed artwork attempts...sometimes, some still die on the easel despite all attempts to save them.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Resurrecting Paintings

I have a box full of rejected paintings.  Many of them are plein air paintings that just didn't work out, which is most of them since my success rate with plein air is very low.  The majority are studio paintings that I gave up on.  Then there are those paintings that I haven't given up on that just kind of hang around the easel.  Every now and then I put the painting back on the easel, fiddle with it a bit and take it back off out of frustration. I see potential there so it doesn't go right into the reject bin but I'm not sure how to save it, so it languishes near the easel waiting for another shot.  I have one painting that's resting near the easel that's been on and off the easel for over a year, but at least I haven't given up.  Every once in a long while I decide to look through the paintings in the reject bin and see if there's any potential there that I missed.  Today's blog post is about two paintings from these categories that have been saved, one a "hanger on" and one a "reject".

This painting has been on and off my easel for over a month.  I'd work on this painting when I wanted a break from charcoal drawing.  The painting just didn't seem to be coming together.  I thought the composition was solid but the execution was lacking.  Finally I decided it was "do or die" and got the palette knives out and went to town on it and threw lots of thick paint at it and pushed it all around, this is the result;

art painting landscape autumn palette knife nature tree


"Edge of Autumn"

Acrylic on panel, 12" X 9"

I acknowledge that it's a bit weird to be painting an autumn scene in the middle of spring but I just can't resist the warm colors of fall.  I was pretty happy with how this one turned out so I decided to go though the reject bin and see if there was anything in there I thought I could salvage with some judicious palette knife work.  I pulled out a few paintings, one an 8 x 10 failed plein air piece made it to the easel first.  Unfortunately I did not strike gold that time.  Either I need more practice with palette knives or not all subjects are good candidates for that technique.  Needless to say I won't be sharing that one here. 

However the rummaging through the reject bin did net me one little gem.  I'm not sure why I rejected this one, I just spent a few minutes with it and decided it wasn't half bad.

"Lone Pine"

Acylic on panel 8" X 6"

This was originally a plein air piece painted in Big Cottonwood Canyon about two years ago I think.  It was an experiment in taking different elements  from my surroundings and creating a scene on the spot that doesn't actually exist.  In this case the rock was in one area and the tree came from another and I combined them.  I think I moved the other vegetation around a bit as well.  In the studio I just adjusted some values and added a bit more color.

It's a good idea to save your failed paintings, besides giving you something to measure your progress as an artist against, as your skills develop you might find you can resurrect those failures and turn them into something worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Another Charcoal Study

I can't explain how meditative charcoal drawing can be, at least the way I do it.  While I enjoy doing it I'm not sure I'd call it fun, it seems too quiet and serious for that.  I've always felt a close connection with the subject when drawing, more so than with painting I think.  When drawing I'm going much slower and studying the details deeper and without the distractions of mixing color.  Sure, color has it's place and can be a lot of fun, but the simplicity of only having grays to work with has it's own reward.  Anyway, without further delay here is my latest small charcoal study;

art drawing truck international charcoal abandoned rusty derelict

"Vehicle Study No 1"

5" X 7" Charcoal on paper

This abandoned early 1950's International Harvester truck resides right in the middle of the suburbs of Utah County in Pleasant Grove.  The immediate area is still somewhat agricultural but is also surrounded by housing developments, it's kind of like the calm in the eye of the storm.  In the actual scene there is a tractor parked behind the truck, to keep the drawing simpler I replaced the tractor with bushes from another reference photo.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Sketchy Morning in the Mountains

I decided I need to get back into some form of hiking shape, for two reasons; 1. for my health, 2. to spend more time in nature.  So, the plan is to go hiking once/week weather permitting and get in plenty of walking time in during the week.  Maybe by the end of the season I'll be able to hike uphill for more than 100 yards without running out of breath. Of course if I'm going to be out in the mountains sketching must happen, as a bonus carrying a backpack full of sketching supplies and equipment (16 lbs worth!) adds to the work out.  The Wasatch Mountain canyons are just a 10-15 minute drive from my house, of course this easy accessibility to the mountains from a heavily populated valley means you've got to get up early to get a parking spot at the trailhead. I arrived at the "Mill B" trailhead parking lot by 7:00 am and the primary parking lot was already mostly full.  It was a little cool for comfort that early in the morning but bearable, I knew the hiking would get me warm soon enough.

My first sketch was by where a tributary creek empties into Big Cottonwood Creek, this sketch is of a small waterfall in Big Cottonwood Creek and was done in charcoal in a Stillman and Birn Beta 9x12 sketchbook;

I'm not sure I care for the paper in the Beta sketchbook for charcoal drawing, or maybe it was just my lack of experience with working with charcoal on location, I may have to adjust my technique.

Next, all I had to do was turn around walk a couple steps, sit on a rock and sketch this scene by the tributary creek with a large pine tree leaning over the creek.  The tree seemed to have sprouted out of a pile of rock.  I used a 7" X 10" Stillman and Birn Zeta sketchbook and pen for this sketch.

The paper in the Zeta sketchbook is thinner and much smoother than the Beta, it was great for pen work, the pen flowed very smoothly, very little resistance which helped to sketch a very complicated scene quickly.

Finally I got to hiking up the actual "Mill B" trail.  Previous to this I'd just walked up a paved pathway, it was uphill but nothing too strenuous.  The "Mill B" trail is very rocky in spots and can be challenging to climb, especially for a heavy, old guy with bad knees but I made it easy enough to my next stop, another small waterfall.

Even though the paper in the Zeta sketchbook is fairly light it takes watercolor very well, I didn't experience any buckling, however I didn't put down any large, heavy and wet washes.  The watercolor seems to more sit on top of the paper than be absorbed by like it would be real watercolor paper but it worked just fine. I combined the watercolor with some pen work.  I held the sketchbook and watercolor palette with one hand and used a waterbrush to paint with the other.  However this sketchbook is larger and heavier than the sketchbook I used to use for this and my left hand tired easily.  I'll have to use my homemade stand next time.

I managed to hike up the trail quite a ways but I didn't want to overdo it on my first outing of the year.  I could tell I was reaching what should be my limit for the day when I spotted the perfect rock to sit on and sketch just off the trail so I walked up to it and looked back to see if there was anything worth sketching, I decided the view back down the trail was good, though would be a challenge to simplify.

I decided to use charcoal again in the large Beta sketchbook.  I was also smart enough to get out the sketchbook stand this time.  The stand is just a platform I made that attaches to a small tripod which I also carry.  I've been carrying this stuff around the whole time I might as well use it right?  There is a trail in that sketch, can you see it?  Probably not for all the rocks!  Yes, you have to scramble over the rocks as part of the trail, it can get a bit challenging at times, especially on the way back down. 

Well, it was a good first "hike and sketch" outing for the year.  I hiked further than any day I did last year and it wore me out pretty good but I didn't push it too hard.  Hopefully I'll make a weekly habit of this and actually lose some weight and be in some semblance of hiking shape by fall.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Start of a New Series

It's just one so far but hopefully the first of many to come.  I've decided to start a series of small charcoal drawings for a couple reasons.  First, to develop my skills with the medium.  Charcoal is a relatively new medium for me but one I'm finding to be possibly a very good match for my temperament and for what I want to express and how I want to express it.  At least for now charcoal is my primary medium and I think doing a series of small studies of various subjects will help me develop my skills with the medium a bit more efficiently than tackling nothing but big projects.  Second, to test different materials, primarily paper.  Possibly the most difficult thing, I'm running into materials wise is finding the ideal surface to work on.  Charcoal is coarse grained so it needs enough tooth in the paper to hold those particles but I also enjoy detail, especially on vehicles which is hard to get on toothy paper, the studies will hopefully help me to find a paper that is a happy medium.  Without further delay here is my first study in this new series;

art drawing charcoal nature evergreen tree forest mountain

"Nature Study No 1"

7" X 5", charcoal on paper

This small drawing is based on a photo I took during one of my many hikes in the Wasatch Mountains.  This is actually just a small part of the photo and it is very simplified compared to the photo.  I also changed the value pattern somewhat compared to the photo.  There were some very bright spots in the background, I subdued them.  I also darkened the tree trunk some near the top so that column of light tone doesn't take you eye right out of the picture.  I used mostly a reductive technique.  Reductive means I applied a base of charcoal to an area and then removed charcoal to create the light areas.  Larger light toned areas such as the tree trunk were kept light from the start. I used a kneaded eraser, poster tack and a Tuff Stuff vinyl eraser cut to a chisel point to remove charcoal. The paper is Arches 140 lb hot pressed watercolor paper. I think this paper is about as toothy as I'd want to use, but I might try some that are more textured just for experimentation.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tractor in Charcoal

Okay, I've shown you sheds and barns in charcoal, I decided it's time put some wheels on it.

art drawing charcoal tractor farmall agriculture abandoned


12" X 16" Charcoal and watercolor

A vintage Farmall tractor sits abandoned in a grassy field looking towards a stand of cottonwood trees being looked over by a distant hill and backlit clouds.  These old Farmall tractors are scattered all over rural Northern Utah.  This one with it's unusual configuration and attachment is part of a collection in Wallsburg.  I haven't been able to figure out what those things do that are mounted just behind the fuel tank, but there sure are a lot of levers and linkages involved.  The field is more or less from my imagination, the trees from another reference photo taken somewhere in the Heber Valley and the clouds from yet another reference photo taken in some rural area.
I didn't know what I was going to call this drawing until close to halfway through.  The composition along with the use of charcoal created a mood.  I couldn't put my finger on it at first but as the drawing went along it came more into focus.  This lone tractor sitting in a disused field seems to look off into the distance with longing for the days when it could have been put to use to till that field, now it just sits all broke down, a shadow of it's former self and can only wistfully recall those days long ago.  Yes, I just anthropomorphized a farm tractor.  Yes, the tractor is just an inanimate object, but at one time in the hands of an operator it was very animated, and did a lot of work achieved a lot of constructive aims.  Can anyone look at a scene like this and not project some kind of human emotion on it?  Haven't we all felt at one time or another similar to how this tractor must feel if it could feel?  I remember showing my Mom my first abandoned truck painting and it actually seemed to make her a bit sad and her first comment was, "It just seems so lonely.".  She must be getting used to my style because when she looked at this one she didn't have that reaction but she did look at it a good bit.
I never really intend to get philosophical with my art though I do want it show the beauty of the subject and to evoke some kind of emotion, without meaning to I think this drawing took my intentions a step deeper, or maybe I'm just getting soft in my old age.
Now for the nuts and bolts.  At 12" X 16" this is the biggest drawing I've ever done, and is about as big as I can comfortably work on with my current drawing table.  I've tried drawing at an easel several times but I just don't have enough control for that plus it hurts my shoulder more, so 12" X 16" may be as big as I get, we'll see. I started with Arches hot press paper in a block, (I don't really want to stretch paper.) and after a light and simple graphite sketch I applied some subtle watercolor washes.  After the washes dried the rest was just straight up drawing using charcoal pencils, stumps, tortillons, and erasers.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Spring Painting Outdoors

The weather was a bit iffy.  The air was quite breezy, however it was also quite warm for the season, well into the 80's.  Pockets of storm clouds were threatening, but alternating with pockets of intense sunshine.  All in all far from ideal conditions for painting outside with acrylics, I packed up my gear and headed out anyway.
I knew exactly where I wanted to go, it was a spot I saw while on a "sketch and walk" over a month ago.  The trees were still bare then and much of the landscape was still a bit brown but now the foliage is nearly full and everything is very green, we've been having a lot of rain lately, a lot.  So, even though the weather was far from ideal I saw an opening in the rainy weather and dove in.

art painting plein air nature tree path trail park

 "Spring Walk"

14" X 11", Acrylic on panel

This little scene is by the banks of the Jordan River in Murray, Utah and is part of the Jordan River Parkway.  The Parkway is an endless source of artistic inspiration and my favorite section, the Murray-Taylorsville section is a very short drive from my home, even walkable without a backpack full of gear.  I really liked how the seldom used pathway meanders through the grasses and wildflowers and ends at the large tree, it made for a near perfect composition, I embellished very little.  I spent a few minutes in the studio making some minor adjustments, but the painting is at least 95% painted on location.
I took my larger plein air set up that uses a tripod easel but figured out a way to pack it all into a backpack rather than the huge tactical duffel I usually use.  This meant using a handheld palette but the tradeoff was worth it and it actually worked quite well.
I did get rained on just a bit and the wind was a bit of a handful to deal with at first but later settled down, overall it was a pleasant plein air painting session. The forecast is for continued unsettled weather, no telling when I'll be able to get out with the paints again but that's normal for this time of year.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

More Experimentation With Charcoal

After a short return to painting I decided to revisit charcoal.  First I did this small drawing;

art drawing charcoal wheeler farm shed barn agriculture


"Wheeler Farm Shed"

Charcoal, 9.45" X 6.92"

Small works are a good way to get lots of practice with a medium in a relatively short time so these first few charcoal experiments have been on the small side.  However, at least for me drawing still takes considerably more time than painting.  Working small also allows me to try different kinds of paper, in this case I used Stonehenge which I found to have a little more texture than I like but I made it work.  The drawing showcases how charcoal is good at providing strong contrasts.  The subject is a shed at a local working historic farm owned by Salt Lake County.  I took a little liberty with the scene, in particular I added a window to the shed.

I have to admit I missed color a bit so I wondered how to put color in a charcoal drawing without having the color compete with the charcoal.  I decided to try an experiment, this is the result;

art drawing charcoal abandoned shed hay shelter landscape rural


"Soon Forgotten"

Watercolor, charcoal and pastel, 7" X 10"

I started with Arches hot pressed watercolor paper for this one.  After lightly outlining the composition in graphite I applied watercolor washes in various subtle colors.  Once the  paper was dry I started drawing using the charcoal.  Every now and then I decided it needed a touch more color and used pastel pencil but I was always careful to keep it subtle.   I still wanted this to look like a charcoal drawing, just with a bit of color.  To finish I splattered a bit of watercolor in the foreground to add texture and interest.  The subject is a scene that used to exist in the lot next to where I live.  Unfortunately the owner sold the lot where he used to keep sheep and horses to a developer who promptly leveled everything, (why couldn't they have at least saved the apple tree?) that was nearly two years ago, the lot is still empty.  Luckily I took photos before the lot was cleared, so I guess this little drawing is a tribute of sorts.  I really like how this turned out, it has a bit of a tonalist look. I'm sure I'll be experimenting with this process more.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

What is it About Cows?

I painted my first painting with cows in it a couple weeks ago.  Cows seem to be a favorite subject of artists, in particular landscape artists, but why?  I enjoy seeing cows in the landscape as much as anybody but I've always resisted putting them into my paintings until now, maybe because it seems a bit cliché to me.  Cows are interesting animals, more intelligent than they appear.  I remember sitting at Wheeler Farm trying to sketch them a couple times, like anything when you take the time to observe and sketch you learn about the subject, I learned that when cows aren't just relaxing in the shade or grazing they often do interesting things to entertain themselves, even playing games with each other. Cows are also very curious,  I remember trying to get some photos once in a rural area of a cow lying in the shade of a tree, the darned cow just had to get up out of the shade even though it was a hot day and come over and see what the heck I was up to, ruined my photo op.
Anyway, what was the point of that bit of rambling, I'm not sure, just a preface to the introduction of my latest landscape painting I suppose.

art painting rural cow Bear River grazing agriculture

"Grazing by the Bear River"

16" X 12", Acrylic on panel

The painting is based on a photo I took in Cache County, Utah, near the town of Smithfield and that's the famous Bear River in the background that meanders through this lush agricultural area known for its dairy production.  After under toning the panel I used a palette knife to block the whole painting in then refined it with brushwork.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Perfect Spring Day for Sketching

It was a beautiful spring day today so I just had to get out and go for a "walk and a sketch" at the Jordan River Parkway.  The leaves are only just barely starting to come in so the trees are still mostly bare, so I took a pencil and a small sketchbook since this would be mostly linear work.

art sketch plein air pencil nature jordan river parkway
This little scene was right on the bank of the river, there are a million similar scenes all along the river.

art sketch plein air pencil nature jordan river parkway

This scene wasn't close to the river bank but not on it.  What interested me was the little pathway full of small rocks with the tree background.  There was nowhere for me to sit for this sketch so I did just a quick tonal hatch sketch just to record my impressions of the scene quickly.

art sketch plein air pencil nature jordan river parkway

There's a small ditch that meanders around this section of the parkway, in fact on one part it's lined with cottonwoods, (hence the name for this section of the parkway, Cottonwood Park). This ditch hardly ever has water in it but a section of it did today, not much but enough to create an interesting lead in to the tree.  I just sat and watched the trickle of shallow water for a few minutes, it was kind of mesmerizing.  Even though I'm studying nature by doing these sketches I've found I often get so involved in the sketch I miss other surroundings.  It's always a good idea to stop and just observe, be in the moment so to speak.

art sketch plein air pencil nature jordan river parkway

This looks complicated, but I simplified it quite a bit.  These trees with the multitude of trunks always create interesting shapes.  I had one of those "stop and observe" moments while sketching this.  Something landed on my knee, my automatic reflex is to brush the thing off but I looked first this time and noticed it was a lady bug.  I stopped and watched it walk around on my knee for a couple minutes then coaxed it to walk onto my finger and watched it walk up and down my finger until it flew away, A short break from sketching that was worth it.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Searching for Focus

This post is a bit lengthy, but please bear with me, there's a lot of text here but I think it's worth the read, or at least a solid skim. It's been a month since I last posted, the reason being is I've been kind of meandering of late, art-wise that is.  I'll pick up the pastels one day, pencils the next, then acrylics or even edit a photo. Right now my studio is a mess, all kinds of stuff out all over the place. I'll work on an abstract, then a detailed realistic drawing then an impressionistic painting.  I've been all over the map lately, which means I've been spinning my wheels a bit, starting a lot of things, experimenting a lot but finishing little.  One of my internal debates has been "What should I focus on?".  It seems most accomplished artists have had a primary focus, if not in medium at least in subject and/or style. I've been somewhat consistent on subject, mostly natural and rural landscapes but I've used quite a variety of mediums, everything from oil paint to watercolor, to graphite to pen and everything in between.  My style is kind of consistent, meaning my art is representational but generally speaking not realistic, however every medium has it's own look and requires it's own set of techniques.  My pastels don't really look like my acrylics, for example even though they are both impressionistic. I believe my portfolio is far from consistent though some have said I do have a distinctive style, at least with the acrylic paintings and the graphite sketches. The quality of my portfolio isn't exactly even either, but that's to be expected for somebody that's been at this art thing for only a few years and part time at that. 
I believe to become a true professional artist I need more focus, either that or just accept that art is little more than a pleasant pass-time, a hobby, not that there's anything wrong with that. However, I feel driven to make this more than just a hobby, but am I ready yet?  Maybe not, at least not until I find that focus.  Lately I think it might be charcoal...

art drawing charcoal rural ranch Oakley Utah

"Oakley Ranch Entrance"

8" X 10", charcoal on paper

Okay, it's no Leonardo or Michelangelo but with time and focus I could get there, or at least much of the way there.  I did learn a lot about technique and materials with charcoal when making this small drawing, I'm finding charcoal more intriguing lately, to the point where I could see it becoming my primary medium.

Why Charcoal?  Well, there's the bare bones simplicity of it for one thing.  You could make a great drawing with nothing more than a single pencil and piece of paper, but having a few accessories is useful such as a blending stump, a chamois, hard plastic eraser, kneaded eraser, and several grades of pencil.  Even with all that, drawing with charcoal is far simpler than painting. But what about color?  Well, I'll admit that it's tough to let go of color, but there's also something special about a well done black and white image.  When the color is gone the language becomes much more simple yet mysterious. All there is to see is the subject itself, the shapes, the tones, the texture. There's great potential for drama in a black and white image, especially with charcoal which is capable of creating deep, rich blacks.  You don't have to forego color entirely with charcoal though.  I've been experimenting with applying washes to my charcoal drawings, sometimes to the charcoal itself also watercolor washes and pastel washes.  Pastel can also be added dry and mixed in with the charcoal.  I think it's best that color be kept subdued and simple charcoal, it should be something that enhances  the charcoal, not compete with it. 
"It's about the process, not the result" is the advice often given to artists, sort of like "It's the journey not the destination" pop culture saying. What I take this to mean is that the artist must enjoy the process of art creation first and foremost, which means enjoyment of the process must factor into the choice of medium.  There are things I like and dislike about using every medium, each has it's advantages and disadvantages to it's hard to say I enjoy one over another.  However with drawing I have to say I find myself "in the zone", (that zen-like state where you get totally lost in what you are doing, it's as if for a moment the rest of the world doesn't even exist) far more often when drawing than when painting. I take this is a possible sign that maybe drawing is more my thing than painting.
But, have any artists made a career out of charcoal?  Yes, they have, quite a few too, many of them have artwork owned by museums even.  Charcoal is a serious medium.  Of course I couldn't help but do a search for accomplished artists that use charcoal as their primary or only medium, and more specifically, have chosen the landscape as their primary subject. I found a few but two in particular stood out to me.  Both artists use charcoal as their primary medium and the landscape is their primary subject but that's where the similarity ends.
Sue Bryan ( creates low-key, tonalist images that have a strong air of mystery and drama about them, the edges are soft and the forms not entirely definable.  Sue's subject is mostly the landscape and mostly pure landscape, only a few drawings have a structure in them. Sue works on paper and as small as 3" X 3" and as large as 18" X 24" or so.  Other than a series that has a bit of green pastel added Sue's works are purely charcoal and applied dry.
Michael Wann ( while also a charcoal artist has an almost polar opposite style to Sue Bryan.  Micheal's drawings are mostly high-key, they still have plenty of mystery and drama but they have a much lighter feel to them.  While you rarely find a line in any of Sue's drawings except to indicate a twig or branch, Micheal's drawings have plenty, yet he makes good use of tone as well but his drawings are far from tonalistic. Micheal's subjects are somewhat more diverse as well, everything from a fully described landscape to a pile of twigs and branches, from an ancient, crumbling structure to a single window right in the middle of the composition. Micheal is also not a purist, he makes use of pastel, washes and graphite, yet he keeps his use of color simple, subtle. Micheal works on canvas and large as well as on paper and small.  I'm finding that it is possible with the use of fixatives to be able to frame a charcoal drawing without glass.
I present these two artists as examples of what's possible with charcoal drawing and the landscape, basically there is no limit, it's easy to see how charcoal can occupy the whole career of a professional artist. Will it occupy mine?  We'll see...

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Surprising Twists and Turns of a Painting

I've been on a bit of a break from the easel, either not doing much of anything or drawing or experimenting with sketches in other mediums.  I finally returned to the easel this week determined to paint a new painting start to finish, no breaks to work on something else, no drawing, no sketching, just focus on this one painting.  My intention was to paint a simple landscape but in a square format.  My reference was an autumn photo I took in Murray Park in which a brilliantly colored Chinese Elm tree featured. The rest of the photo didn't really interest me, just that tree, I figured I could make up the rest of the landscape from my imagination.  An hour into the first session I knew I was in trouble but I persisted.  After another hour I had to give it up for the night and I was thinking I might end up abandoning the painting altogether.
The next day while mulling the problem of the painting over in my mind this thought suddenly occurred to me, "What would an abandoned car look like in that scene?".  Of course the first thing I did when I got home was look through my photos of abandoned cars and I found three that I thought might work, out of the three I selected a 1960 Ford Fairlane Club Sedan that I photographed in a salvage yard in Nephi, Utah. The only thing I didn't like about the car is that it was white, but I'm a painter, I can make the car any color I want.  I loosely blocked in the car and decided I liked the new direction and continued. 
By the end of the second session I decided the addition of the car just might salvage the painting, however it still wasn't quite right, the landscape was still a little dull.  When I came home from work on the third day I looked through some of my landscape photos that featured wild ground cover such as grass, bushes and weeds for some possible ideas.  I didn't print anything out, just filed some ideas into my brain.  In the third session I refined the car some more and added some bushes, adjusted the tree a bit, and adjusted the background.  Now I thought I was pretty much done but something was still nagging me.  I studied the painting on the 4th day and finally it hit me.  I had created several parallel bands of space in what should be a pretty wild and disorganized space.  Our minds like to create order out of chaos and that is one of the enemies of a good landscape painting, too much order and a landscape will look unnatural.  In my case I had created a band of red bushes, then yellow grass, then car, then yellow grass and then another line of red bushes.  I altered the shapes of the two groups of red bushes to break up those bands, in particular I made sure they connected to the car.  Finally I decided to call it done.

art paitning acrylic autumn fall foliage car abandoned Ford

"Under the Chinese Elm Tree"

Acrylic on panel, 12" X 12"

So, to recap: This painting started out as a portrait of a Chinese Elm tree in a simple landscape consisting of a field and a path...boring.  I then added an abandoned car to make a more interesting composition....landscape areas still too plain.  I then added bushes and modified the background, much better but too organized.  Finally on the last session I broke up the bands to make the scene appear more natural.
I'm sorry I didn't take progress photos, I didn't expect the process on this painting to take so many twists and turns.  There is still one question about this painting and it will just have to remain.  Is this a portrait of a tree or a junked car?  Both I guess but I'll live with that even though it breaks the "rules".