Monday, December 14, 2009

Painting: New Year's Resolutions for 2010

I'm working on my painting resolutions for next year. The first one is something I've been thinking about for a couple of months. I want to sit down with my paints and brushes and just practice brush strokes until I find every kind of stroke I can make with each of my favorite brushes--wide strokes, skinny ones, curvy, loopy, wiggly ones, straight, horizontal, vertical, angled. With thin paint, thick paint, dry brush, wet-in-wet, and any other way I can think of that's different. The only excuse I have for not having done it the first time it occurred to me, is that I'm very lazy and a professional procrastinator.

Second is to keep working against a habit that I've almost broken. Even though I've always felt that my goal is to capture the feel of a place, the essence of it, I've always been a slave to copying what I see. Even though that copying is counter to my goal, I do see a reason for trying to doing it: it's a way of testing your ability to produce a particular image. I feel like it's the first stage of creation, training your skills, and using the way your results look to tell how well you succeeded. The problem with that is that I always feel obligated to not get creative with the image, but to represent it faithfully so its viewers will see what I saw. I don't want to feel that way any more. I don't plan on doing any documentaries, and I really do want to evoke a feeling with a painting. If that happens now, it's purely by accident. I wouldn't begin to know how to do that, or how to tell if I succeed. I want the viewer to feel what I feel.

It's too cold not to (stay in and) paint

Welcome to winter! Plenty of time to paint now, with the temps outside too cold to garden--at least for me. Last week was actually pretty much frozen, at least it's back to "normal" this week, back in the 40's--which feels pretty warm after the mid-teens and 20's.

Actually I've been pretty busy painting since October, first for the change-over at Howden Art gallery, then on one commission and then on a potential. Now I'm back to doing color sketches, working on my brushwork and color practice. I happened to get yet another technique book from the library, Landscape Painting Inside & Out by Kevin Macpherson, which as most of the other books and videos I've studied lately, talks about working in large blocks of flat color when you're first laying out your painting. I first noticed this in Carolyn Lewis' video, as I mentioned earlier this year. I've been trying to follow that practice since then, with varying degrees of success. Even though I had switched over mentally, my brushes and paints didn't seem as ready to stop my old habits. I'm not really sure why it was so hard to get there, but it definitely didn't happen overnight. Between canvas paintings and quick paper sketches, it took about ten paintings to get here.

Something must have clicked lately though, just in the last two weeks, because I'm finally getting the look I want in these sketches. I had a couple photos from a nearby city park that I took right at the height of the fall colors that I really wanted to try. I set up my sheet of paper to put two 8x10's right next to each other, thinking I would try the same composition with two different color schemes. However, when I finished the first one:

Wilsonville Park Path 8x10 $40
Acrylic Paint on Paper

I decided to use my second color scheme for the other composition I wanted to do:

Wilsonville Fall color 8x10 $40
Acrylic Paint on Paper

I let them stay rough--that's the kindest way to describe the brushwork on them--but the colors I got were a pleasant surprise. I finally started to get the hang of making believeable branches, with the long edge of my flat brush, and got good service this time from my new-ish red-handled Windsor Newton flats for acrylics and oils. They're still new enough that the ends aren't splayed out from my scrubbing. I was using the thinned out Golden regular paints that I've used for all my "burridges", the ones that let me work fast and loose, getting some wet-in-wet effect before it dries.

Yesterday I started another one, from a photo of an old garage with some dahlias in front of it that was discovered on a plant-buying trip with three other committed plant addicts during the first major storm this fall. Sidelight: At Sebright Gardens near Salem, where we went to snag some prime hostas, the wind blew a big fir branch down, which downed the nursery power line and trapped our car in the parking lot until PGE came and put it back up. We heard the snap and thud but stayed oblivious, touring their really beautiful garden, and we got a little extra time to choose the 30 or so plants we left with (addicts, for sure). So it goes. Anyway, here's the old garage:

Garage On The 99E 8x10 $40
Acrylic Paint on Paper

I'll probably tone down the blue wall on the left a little bit, but not too much. I'm not usually much for painting buildings, but this garage was so old, leany, and mossy it was about as close to being compost as anything. It looked one good wind gust away from becoming a lumber pile. Maybe the dahlias were holding it up.

I had taken 2 photos of the garage, one pretty much as shown here, and another showing the whole length of the garage, including the front and door that were sloping about 15 degrees off vertical, giving it even more whimsey. I decided no one would believe it really was that crooked, and couldn't figure out how to balance the length. When I initially blocked in the dark shapes in dark blue, I saw that the half-garage really did make a nicely balanced composition. That's what you always want to have happen, but this time it actually did.

I was so happy with these I spent a few hours last night sifting through my photos for more things to paint. I found a few more from the Rhododendron Garden that I'm eager to try, maybe even on canvas. More trees! More flowers! (And hopefully, more days in the 40's and 50's.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Reference And The Subject

I took a couple new mixed media paintings down to the gallery this last week. One of them turned out to be kind of a sequel to one I finished last winter. The first painting is called The Grotto, and was based on a small cave in the Santa Monica mountains west of Malibu:

The Grotto 22x30 $600
Ink & Colored Pencil on Paper

And this is the new painting:

The Journey 22x30 SOLD
Ink & Colored Pencil on Paper

It's funny, all the things that go through my mind when I'm painting. Sometimes I'm wondering if I'm going to muck it up in the next minute, to make some mistake I won't be able to correct. Other times I'll be wondering what people will think of it. But the more I paint, the less time I'm spending worrying about it. In fact every now and then I'll be patting myself on my back for any part of it that's going well. I figure it's safe to compliment myself once in a while; reality always wins in the end. As a work gets close to being done, I'll start wondering how it fits into my small body of work, whether it's going to be a failed experiment, where my ambition overreached my skills, or whether it might turn out to be a high spot, a piece where everything works and the whole thing comes alive with its own energy. Not that I have anything against failed experiments, I consider them to be the most important work I'm doing right now, trying to do things I don't know how to do yet. In every one of them I learn new things, both things to do and things not to do. And when you know you're working on a piece that "isn't going anywhere", you have so much more freedom to play with new ways of holding the brush, or putting the color down. In fact, I'm strongly feeling the need to sit down and do nothing but make brush marks.

What I really enjoy, however, is when I'm not thinking about anything but the marks that the brush or pencil is making, the colors that I'm mixing and putting down, the wetness and texture of the paint and how it's going onto the surface—smoothly, or with effort.

I used to spend too much of my painting time focusing on the reference photo or object I was painting from; I actually thought that if my entire focus was on the subject, if I was absorbing it through all my senses, that a perfect copy of it would magically appear on the painting surface. Sort of like the Think Method from "The Music Man". I was blurring the line between the reference and the subject—the reference being outside the painting and the subject being in it. I notice that I seem to be shifting more of my attention to the painting instead. I'm beginning to think more of the design that's appearing, what the overall pattern is, and if there's anything I can change or add—or remove—to make the pattern stronger. I'm looking for opportunities for visual texture with either stroke marks or color changes. I'm looking at the colors already on the surface, how they relate to each other, and if additional colors would make the painting richer, or just more complicated. I'm looking for where the pure hues are, and where the neutrals are. I'm thinking less of what the colors were in the original subject, and more of what they need to be in the painting, in order for it to work. These are all things that I've read about for years, from the many sources that say how important they are. But more and more, I'm feeling them as I'm painting.

I got another great painting video from the library, one by Stephen Quiller. He shows several examples of combining watercolor and gouache, in small studies and in a plein air color study and the studio painting done from it. He mentions as he begins the studio work that he doesn't want to copy the color study, he wants to create something new, based on it. Those words are really sticking with me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It's A Party and You're Invited!

It's Party Time at Howden Gallery in Oregon City this Friday, July 10th, from 6 to 9 pm. Come down and see Annie's beautiful gallery and the hundreds of great works from Clackamas County artists in paintings, photography, sculpture & glass! Many of the artists will be there (I will) and we'd love to meet you. The address is 1512 Washington Street, just a few minutes off the I-205, with parking behind the gallery.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Open, at last!

I finally had a reason—well, two reasons—to try Golden's Open (slower-drying) acrylic paints, and I'm hooked already. Decent-sized blobs of paint will stay moist and un-skinned overnight, and some have lasted through a second night, without any help or covering from me! Hooray! I've been putting off buying them as long as I could, but I finally got to a point where I wanted a good yellow-orange, and I happened to have a 25% coupon for Art Media, so I splurged. I bought their two little intro sets, a couple other colors I wanted, and some medium and thinner, and I've started one big painting and am finishing up a previously stalled work:

I haven't really made a lot of use of the paint staying moist longer on the canvas, but it's obvious that it does stay moist longer, so I hope to be doing some wet-in-wet on the other painting I'm working on. So, I won't have to rely exclusively on glazing for "mixing" colors on the canvas. I expect it to take me back to a bit of oil paint technique, which is exactly what I'd like to be able to do. But glazing with the medium does work just as well as it does with the Atelier paints I've been using for several years.

So thank you, Golden, for bringing out this unique capability in these paints. I would like it if you'd add a few more violet hues and a good yellow-green.

This painting had to sit for a long time after I had done the first 90% of it I had started it with only the vaguest feeling of where I wanted to go with the colors, and it took me a long time—weeks—of ignoring it to reach some level of comfort with where it ended up going. When I picked it up this morning I made just a couple corrections, muting some of the violet and adding some yellow-green and gold touches. I still have it in my mind to do another version of this composition with completely different colors, but that won't happen anytime soon—too many other things on the list.

I got another lesson in color harmony doing this. The predominant colors are violet, blue, blue-green and yellow-green. So it's one of those analogous schemes with holes in it, but a very cool one. I wanted to add a warm color accent, and my first thought was yellow orange, the "resolving" complement of violet and blue. I painted that on the tree trunks but it was not the solution I was looking for. It added warmth and brought the tree forward, but it looked out of place with the rest of the painting. I didn't know where to go next with it so I played with the image in photoshop, and found that dark red was the accent color I was looking for. I painted the highlights as dark red and enriched the shadows on the trunks with dark, slightly neutralized blue. It had the same effect of warming and bringing up the tree silhouette, but it fits in much better with the overall color scheme. I think the dark blue shadows helped integrate the tree into the rest of the painting.

The sensation I was looking for, that "click" inside you that says that the colors are working together, is the same feeling I get when I hear a pleasant-sounding musical chord, where there's a richness and variety, but all the parts are working together. It might be a sparse chord with just 3 notes in it, or it might be one with 7 or 9 or more notes. The key is that together, no one stands out, but each one needs and fulfills the others, and the result is a pleasant, energizing sensation.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Harmony, Shmarmony

I've been reading a lot about color harmonies and trying to learn "What all great artists know". But once again, after a period of focused research, the main thing I've come up with is that I don't agree completely, with anyone. I bought a couple of books because I found information and color schemes in them that I really like: Color Is Everything by Dan Bartges introduced me to the idea of a tetrad color scheme, which I had never heard of. I ordered a copy of Dan Quiller's Painter's Guide To Color so I could get a copy of his Quiller Wheel, which shows most of the manufactured water color pigments where they would actually show up on a color wheel. I have a few other older books that have really good information on color. The first one that really opened my eyes on color mixing was Jeanne Dobie's Making Color Sing. Another book from which I learned about the importance of greys from was Ted Goerschner's Oil Painting: The Workshop Experience. Even though he doesn't talk about color theory as such, I ended up studying his use of color, and of greys, a great deal because of how much his paintings appealed to me. The idea of mixing up greys ahead of time to use along with pure hues was revolutionary to me. Robert Burridge is another painter whose very original approach to color really made me stop and rethink my habitual approaches to color. He has invented his own, unique and non-standard color wheel, and uses it to make beautiful paintings that really don't look like anyone else's.

After spending a fair amount of time really reading and studying these books, I took out my standard color wheel and went through several online archives of my favorite world-famous artists and tried to analyze their paintings to see what were at least the 4 or 5 significant colors in each painting, and to figure out which, if any, color scheme they were following. What I found is that almost none of the paintings and artists I really like follow someone else's, or even the standard color harmonies. There are some works that have recognizable triads, or complements, or split complements, but the exceptions--even what I could find on the web--so outnumber them as to leave me with a strong conviction that I just need to make my own rules. Take my new painting:

I was so enamoured of a tetrad painting in Color Is Everything which used blue, orange, yellow-green and red-violet, that I wanted to try a similar one of red, green, yellow-orange and blue-violet. With just those four colors, though, even adding neutrals and sub-neutrals of them and providing enough dark and light values to give me the depth and contrast I wanted, I still wasn't happy with the results. Eventually I ended up adding blue for the sky and several yellow-green tones to the trees and other foliage. So technically, I end up with what amounts to a combination of the original tetrad plus an analogous scheme with holes in it. I'm willing to bet that no book or teacher you ever come across will propose that you use an "analogous scheme with holes in it".

But I think starting with the tetrad was a good idea, because I got the rich range of colors I was looking for. The red really wakes up the green, and the pale yellow orange of the clouds plays very well of the blue-violet of the shadows and distant hills. Visually, it feels like a full meal, and that's what I wanted.

I think that ultimately, my subject combined with the time of day dictated my color scheme. Perhaps with a more abstract subject, or a more controlled background like an interior, I can get satisfactory paintings that follow standard color schemes. I do plan to do a lot more experiments with color combinations I've never tried. If there's an ounce of nurd in you, I think you'll really enjoy conducting a color analysis of your favorite artists and paintings. And I think at this point that copying color schemes from other paintings you like is just as good a way to experiment as starting with a color wheel.

But, anything you can learn about color is useful. A couple years ago I was amazed to find I could make nice tree colors by mixing sap green and red-violet. Now it's really nice to be finding so many more colors I can use for shadows and highlights—blues, violets, reds, browns and golds. I want them all! I want all the colors!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Attempting the Rhododendron Garden

The Rhododendron Garden in East Moreland, southeast Portland, is one of my favorite gardens to visit and photograph. There are hundreds of rhodies and azaleas that bloom from mid-winter through early summer, and the fall color is equally spectacular. And in between the color shows it's still a beautiful, mostly tranquil space with an abundance of quiet paths, rippling streams and ponds, sporting several flocks of ducks and geese, some wild and some escaped captives.

I've even painted en plein air there, and might again, as there are lots of places you can park an easel and a chair without attracting too much attention. But this painting is from a photo I took in May 2007. The rhodies were in mid-bloom and it was a perfect spring day.

It's the most ambitious foliage painting I've attempted. I'm happy with the way the path turned out, and I'm surprised at the sense of depth in it. Now that I've finished it, I'd kind of like to paint the same scene again and see if it comes out any different. I'd like to try making a looser version, and see what happens.

However, I'm not ready to make good on that because I already have another panel on the easel, getting its preliminary drawing done! So more rhodie paintings will have to wait.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Experimental, without the mental

It's really hard not to think when you're painting. It's also hard not to worry, especially if there's a deadline or a specific goal or client or a shrinking budget or basically, *ANYTHING* to worry about. No one suffers like worriers, because we get so incredibly professional about it.

I've spent a lot of effort for several years to lose as many worries as I could, and I have to say, I enjoy my life a lot more than I used to. Practicing meditation made the biggest difference, and finding out that thinking, and therefore worrying, can be shut off. You do have to learn how, and you do have to work at it, but it can be done.

Painting abstracts turned out to be a major training ground for me, for learning to not think. Robert Burridge is a great teacher for not thinking. It turned out that my creativity did not depend at all on thinking, any more than it depends on brushes. The thought process is just another tool you can pick up and use, or put down and go forward without. It turned out that "things come to me" as soon as I start working. I can stand over a piece of paper waiting for an idea for hours, or I can start moving. As soon as I reach for a color, the right color "comes to me". As soon as I start cutting or shaping a mask, the right shape "comes to me". Without thinking. I don't have to think "There's yellow and red and blue, and green and purple and orange...", I just grab for one or two or three, and there they are.

Some ink, some wet paper and masks, and pretty soon I have a background, like this:

So now I've got a recognizable shape on a background, what next? I know, I'll worry about it for a while. Hmm, pretty nice colors, how many different ways can I ruin this? What if it doesn't turn out any good? Can I turn it into mud? It's a multi-colored horse—who's going to be interested in this? What was I thinking? What is this hang-up on horses? Why did he turn out green? Who ever thinks of green horses? Was there ever a My Little Pony who's green? I doubt it.

Okay, let's be bold. Let's try something I haven't tried before. I'll import the photo into Photoshop and play with it. I like to scribble, I'll just scribble on it. I can do that without thinking, and I might even stop worrying. For a little while, at least.

Oooooo, look what happens when I throw some red & yellow lines on there, ooooo I like that. Suddenly he doesn't look like a My Little Pony any more, he looks like a dream or a phantom, or something electric. I like scribbling. Let me try it with the other background I made:

becomes this:

Ahhhh, that felt good, those pinks and reds and blues and greens. Lots of energy going on there, lots of play. Energies in the people, activity and life. Thoughts and feelings, pulses and emotions. Visual imaginings, not anything I ever saw, but something I could feel, something inside me. Did I think it up? Nope. Did I do it anyway? Yep.

And so the little old painter translated her computer scribbles into pastel drawing on the ink backgrounds, matted them and took them to the gallery (without taking photos of them, duh), and went back to her studio where she worried happily ever after. THE END.

Breaking a composition into shapes (with help from Carolyn Lewis)

If a painting has been inspired by a scene or photograph or visual memory, most of the work is likely to be focused on arranging the shapes and colors to mimic the vision you began with. Like this one, for instance:

Early last winter I was driving toward town one evening when I looked to the west and saw an unusually brilliant sunset. For the most part where I live there are almost no places to pull off the road, and much too much traffic to stop in the middle of it, but I was fortunate to be right close to a small dirt area on the edge of a Christmas tree farm, so I was able to park my car, walk a few yards and take photos of the beautiful evening light. I had to change very little from the photo to the painting. Looking at this now, the two small tree clumps on the left look too dark. Oh well, always something to fix.

I enjoy trying to make good landscapes from photos I take. It gives me a chance to work on my color mixing and brush skills. Copying from reality has a built-in feedback mechanism—if the painting looks like (or better than) the photo, then you did a good job, and if it doesn't, then you get to see where you need work. If the painting works as a whole, then you made a good composition as well, either in the photo or when you translated it into the painting. If you're lucky, you get a lovely record of a scene that means something to you, and a way to share something you love with others.

At my stage, this kind of work is mostly about building skills. I am sooooo learning the basics right now, but this painting felt like a major advancement for me because of the way I approached it. I recently borrowed a painting dvd from the local library called "Painting Mood and Atmosphere in Oils" by Carolyn Lewis. In it, she took a plein air sketch and a reference photo and created a studio painting from them of a sunset beach scene. I am still trying to develop a consistent and efficient approach to painting, and the guidelines she gave made a lot of sense to me. I really liked the way she worked and the colors she chose. I decided to take my sunset photo and use her steps to turn it into a painting. For me the biggest change was to mark off the large shapes and masses in the sketch, and start by blocking each one in with a single color, on a peach-tinted canvas. When you've completed that important step, then you know whether your composition is going to work or not. Only then did she go through one section at a time, working in the secondary hues and rough shaping. The last step was to apply the fine details and to correct any problems in one section at a time. Even though her demo was in oils and she was working constantly into wet paint, her basic approach worked just as well for me in acrylics.

I kept replaying her dvd over the three days it took me to finish the painting. I still didn't feel like I'd seen it enough times, so I ended up ordering a copy from Amazon. I look forward to seeing it again. They also have her companion book by the same title, and it's on special right now. The book goes over the same principles with many more example landscapes, but I really recommend the dvd. Maybe your library will have it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The color comes from...?

Color is most of the reason I paint. Some days, it's the only reason. Although one of my goals is to learn how to capture and reproduce the colors I see around me, another one of my goals is to make paintings with glorious disregard for the "normal" colors of things. On one hand, I really want to become skilled in recreating what I see. On the other, I have a growing urge to for my work to result in what can be recognized as existing only in the imagination. I want to get off the train before it gets too far into cartoonville. But I do want to ride it past the "that's exactly what it looks like" to where "that's exactly what it feels like". I think color has a lot to do with creating that sensation.

I want my imagination to have ultimate control over what ends up in the painting. I'm thinking now that including imagination in the process is what makes the difference between a painting that just sits there on the surface, and one that lives and breathes on its own—a painting that looks back at you—and says something to you.

Here's another quick color sketch, this one from a photo I took last fall in North Clackamas Park. the actual colors were just shades of green and pale gold, but I wanted to try out a color scheme I found and liked in a John Holland painting. That color combination was really an effect in itself, something that you would never see in real life. The other special thing about this painting was that the value scale created an enhanced sense of airiness and light that particularly coordinated with the colors he used. The end result was an unreal image that came across as an extremely real feeling.

I painted the background and foreground above in separate sessions, and did a bit of correcting in the second session. I have a few more touches I want to add, and I see some correcting I want to do, so I will be working on this one a bit more.

I've also done more work on my ferns, and it may be finished now:

The illusion of water completed itself, and a distant shore and evening sky with clouds developed to add the final touches. It's very rare that these ink paintings turn themselves into landscapes with any illusion of depth, so this one was a pleasant surprise. And in this one I got to explore a wonderful relationship between hues of turquoise and rich red-browns. Mmmmmmm.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Getting (maybe) too technical...but I am a nerd, after all

So, my friend Jackie left me a comment a post ago about composition being an important feature in a non-objective painting, that a good composition can "draw you in".

Okay, I'm tossing that around in my brain, and the same question keeps coming back—what would it be about the composition that would bring about a reaction of feeling? What exactly do you mean by composition? Simply the arrangement of elements, or are you considering the elements themselves? Do the colors play a part, and if so, how important are they? How does a set of meaningless forms, with no connotations or denotations of their own, "work"? Or "draw you in"? If the most descriptive thing we can say is "it works", then do we really know why it works, even for us as individuals? Okay, it draws you in. Then what happens?

If you, in making a painting,manage to arrange the lines and forms so that the seer's eyes keep bouncing around in the painting, is that enough to make it interesting? Or is a painting like a box of cookies, where if there aren't any cookies in the box, the box itself ceases to hold any interest. I want paintings I look at to have cookies in them, something that makes me keep wanting to look.

So that's one question I can ask—is composition a cookie? Will a black and white pattern that causes your eyes to focus on some particular point within the confines of the canvas make you feel good?

What about the shapes and lines in the painting? Is there anything there that makes you feel good to look at it? I think the answer to this might be yes. I have fond associations with colored blocks. I don't know if it's because I still like looking at any jumble of primary and secondary colors, or if it's because I really loved playing with colored blocks when I was a baby. I feel like I've always been attracted to color, but I was also really attracted to Lincoln Logs, partly because my parents didn't ever let us get any. We had to get by with cold, colorless erector sets. Well, we had tinker toys too. Boring beige.

Color is definitely a cookie to me. Interesting lines are cookies. To some extent, repetition is a cookie, especially repetition combined with variarion. Three red rectangles is interesting. Three red rectangles and one red circle is a subtle morphological statement.

I'm not like Kandinsky, I don't have synesthesia—I don't see music, or hear colors. But I do feel like patterns in visual objects affect me the same way patterns in music affect me. Maybe those stimuli are just moving chemicals around in my brain in a way that creates a physiological response.

Or does a non-objective painting stimulate your emotions because it fools your brain into thinking you're looking at something else? Does it see a puzzle that it can't solve, and that's what interests it?

I think what I'm trying to do here—besides just arguing—is look for the underlying reasons that exist within us, not within the paintings, why some nonobjective paintings appeal to us and some don't. When you see something that "works", why does it work? Does it remind you of something else that you like? Does it make your mind feel like it's getting a massage? Does it trick your eye somehow? Or am I just responding to the colors, because I looooove that color, or those colors together?

For The Sun-Drenched Afternoon (2 posts ago) I think part of its appeal to me is the sheer randomness of the elements. It seems to de-focus my mind when I look at it, perhaps inducing a more meditative state. Each little element can be taken individually, or I can look at the painting as a whole and feel as if it's much more than two by four feet. It creates an illusion of space in my mind, and that feels comfortable to me.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Out of hibernation

I know it's not officially spring yet, but I think we've had our last freezing night. At least I hope so, because I'm ready to get out and garden! I have lots of plants on my patio that I've gotten since the warm days last fall that want to get in the ground and start growing. And that's just where I want them. I'm always so happy to see March come because things are starting to grow and the thermometer keeps climbing toward 60, but I always forget that March is burning month—smoke everywhere—that it's still cold and rains a lot, the wind still comes out of the northeast, and only the toughest flowers are ready to show their faces in Beavercreek. But even though spring here doesn't really come until late April and the month of May, when the whole universe seems to be in flower, I can still jump up and down this bright sunny day and wave my arms, and yell, "It's SPRING!!!!"

So what have I been working on all this winter? For starters, it really took some effort to wrap my head around the idea that I'm now really, truly, completely retired. For someone who's worked full time for thirty years, there are some major mental adjustments that have to be made. I also made the decision that I was no longer going to put the idea of sales ahead of my desire to become the best painter I can be. I decided, after working really hard and long hours all summer and fall to complete as many paintings as I could, it was more important to me to say, I'm going to pretend I'm back in art school, and I'm going to work on building the basic painting skills I have not acquired before. I want to be able to make solid compositions that are as interesting in black & white as they are in color. I want to really learn how to "draw" with my paint brush. I want to learn how to make quick sketches, either in the studio or outside, so I could become more competent (and confident) in experimenting. I want to get really good at capturing the colors I see. In summary, I want to become skillful enough to be able to paint completely intuitively, to basically improvise paintings at will—and have them turn out to be really good paintings.

In other words, I want to change my fundamental painting goal from one of completing paintings, to one of acquiring skills.

So my activities have changed a little. I'm reading more. I got a library card. I'm recording the useful painting shows off PBS and watching them very closely, looking at how they handle their brushes, how they actually put the paint on the canvas, how they go about creating a painting. I'm getting more videos on artists I don't know enough about, listening to them talk about their art (that is, the ones who are alive, like David Hockney). I'm doing sketches—a one or two-pass painting that isn't intended to look like a finished work, but gives me a chance to try out a color combination I've never tried, or make a composition from one of my favorite photos. For instance:

This is a two-pass sketch from a photo I took at the top of Council Crest Park in Portland. It was one of those beautiful late winter days in-between storms and I got lots of pictures. My ultimate goal is to paint a panorama (inspired by Hockney), but before I do that, I want to do several sketches to get the feel of the place, and just get some practice. This feels like retirement thinking to me, not get it done now because you're running out of time. This is saying, play with your ideas, play with the picture, try whatever you want to try. Work on paper. Work small, work fast, work slow, work however you feel like working.

I like that.

At the same time, I am working on a couple of paintings that I started late last fall and early this winter. One of them I'm enjoying is an ink print of ferns. It's not finished yet, but here's what it looks like now:

It started with a contact print of the ferns in acrylic inks, and now I'm adding colored pencils. I'll post more pictures of it as I wrap it up.