Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Back to Basics (Strathmore Online Workshop -- March 2014)

WIP image from a bonus video we shot at the Fort Worth Botanical Garden last week

Hi everyone!

As you may recall, I usually spend the winter months re-honing my drawing and painting skills in preparation for the New Year's art adventures (both near and far afield.)

This year Strathmore Artist Papers has invited me to share that experience with others and I have happily agreed to teach a four-lesson online workshop for them in March. My film crew and I are already busy shooting the lesson videos (and several hours of "bonus" video that I think you may enjoy.)

some (but not all) of the papers I'll be working with

We have a number of papers we'll be working with and an extensive range of media and techniques to explore. (And, best of all, registration is FREE!) So, I hope to see you there and, please, feel free to bring a few friends. 

Oh, and watch for a series of "behind the scene" and "making of" articles here, too, as we lead up to the beginning of the workshop. It should be fun!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cornish Cliffs and & ("Ampersand" That Is)

Having lived on the Gulf Coast, I love the ocean and sandy beaches. But I really love the ocean and rugged cliffs! Fortunately, my wife has an aunt who lives in Cornwall -- just 10 minutes by car from the Lizard Peninsula, the South West Coast Path, and rocky serpentine panoramas that quicken my pulse and render me awestruck. I could easily spend months, seasons, or years, studying, sketching and painting this inspiring corning of the world!

Lizard Point No. 1, oils on panel, 5"x7", $75

During our last visit I sometimes completed a sketch of one view, and then followed it up with a detail from the same vantage point. Sometimes I sketched in one direction, and then turned around to sketch the opposite view -- without taking a single additional step along the SWCP.

Lizard Point No. 2, oils on panel, 5"x7", $75

Basking in the sun and trying to shelter against the unrelenting southwesterly wind, I sketched jagged rock formations and tiny, delicate seed pods (wondering all the time what these plants look like in spring or summer, when they're in flower).

The wind makes conventional easel painting challenging (if not impossible). A stretched canvas can react like the sail of a boat (and sometimes alarmingly like the wing of an airplane!) But a rigid panel (like the Gessobord, produced by Ampersand  in Austin, Texas) and lap-sized pochade box handle the meteorological conditions with ease.

when toning the panel is completed just pull the sock inside out and discard: no fuss, no muss

The water's blues (from gunmetal at the horizon to to phthalo and turquoise in the shallows), the earth tones of the cliffs (topped off with the autumn grasses' fading greens), and the pale cerulean of the sky are an artist's delight. But the brilliance of the clear sky light can be harsh reflecting off the panel's titanium white surface. So, before heading out for a day of plein air, I opt to "tone" the board with yellow ochre -- applied in a circular motion and textured with a clean old sock.

And, to deal with the issue of wet panels when traveling, panels are carried in a beautifully designed and constructed panel carrier from the folks at Artwork Essentials in Irvine, CA. (I love a beautifully crafted piece of wood. And this piece of artist's furniture certainly is that -- brass hardware, leather handle and all.)


& (am•per•sand) a logogram representing the conjunction word "and", a ligature for the letters et, Latin for "and". ORIGIN mid 19th century alteration of and per se and ("& by itself is and")... and the name of the company that manufactures outstanding artists' panels in a wide range of readymade sizes -- and an even wider range of custom made (more about the latter in a future post).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Pochade Collection

Down Lake, Lakeshore Trail, oils on panel, 5"x7", $75 plus S&H

po•chade \pō'shäd\  a rough or quick sketch or study, 19th c. fr. from the verb pocher meaning "to sketch"

 Every year about this time I begin my routine of preparing for next year's art adventures. During the winter months I hike, ride my bike... and alternate between onsite sketching and plain air painting. And, over the years, I've built up a sizable collection of small paintings, drawings, and watercolors. So, to make room for next year's works (and to raise a little ready cash for the 2014 voyages and expeditions) I've decided to put a few gems up for adoption.

Up Lake, Stehekin Landing, oils on panel, 5"x7", $75 plus S&H

So, beginning today, if you're looking for a little something that is both unique and affordable ($50US to $200US unframed, plus shipping & handling) for yourself, or to give as a gift during the upcoming Holiday Season please check out my offerings at the Drawn to Nature Art Emporium here. And, of course, your purchases will also be providing much needed (and appreciated) support for my upcoming art adventures, both foreign and domestic.

Coon Lake, oils on panel, 5"x7", $75 plus S&H

All future works posted on my blog will show the price in the caption line if they are destined for the art emporium. (FYI, I'll be adding new works to the gallery each week.) To guarantee that all sales are safe and secure, transactions will be billed exclusively through PayPal, while shipping will be via USPS or UPS (fully insured, with tracking number and signature-verified delivery).

Spring Bloom,  oils on panel, 5"x5", $55 plus S&H

Email or PM me with any questions or enquiries. If you see something you like but are not currently located in the United States please email me for a shipping quote. 100% of all sales goes to support my ongoing art research and field work. And, as always, thank you for your support!

Isle Mont St. Michel, oils on panel, 5"x7", $75 plus S&H


Monday, November 11, 2013

Mont Saint-Michel (A Step-by-Step "Pocket Painting" Demonstration)

An part of this winter's "training" regime I'll be adding small scale (usually no larger than 5"x7" or 6"x8") plein air painting to my usual routine of sketching and journaling.

From time to time I'll post the results of my pochade box adventures here in a new series of articles called "Pocket Paintings" -- beginning this week with a brief step-by-step visual description of my current working process. And, if there's any interest, I'll try to post a video of a painting from beginning to end, at some point in the series too.

So, someone cue up the Black Eyed Peas, and "Let's Get It Started!"


It's late afternoon and the autumn sun is low in a clear blue sky -- casting bright warm highlights and long, cool shadows. But the light won't last long and, oh yes, my wife just reminded me that the lower level parking lot will be flooding soon. (No pressure there, right?) So, I'd better get started.

my N0. 12 Bloc Rhodia is perfect for thumbnail comps

A quick value and sketch in my small Clairefontaine pocket notebook establishes my composition.

I pre-tone my 5x7 panel with burnt Sienna applied with an old sockand establish the dark 
areas with a mixture of Dioxazine Purple, Cad. Red Med., and Cad. Yellow Dark  

I begin to rough in the shapes and establishing the dark areas.

blocking in sky and haze is done with Cobalt Blue and Flake White Replacement 
(a warm white produced by Gamblin Artist's Oil Colors)   

As I block in the sky I continue to refine the iconic silhouette of the island village and fortress-like monastery.

The cools of the shadows, warm middle tones of the walls, and grays of the exposed sands and causeway blacktop are established -- again, as I continue to refine shapes and positions.

beginning to rough in the parked vehicles (residence above the high 
tide level, daytrippers below) and pedestrians

Areas of foliage -- little islands of greenery amidst stone forms (manmade and natural) are introduced.

The eastern end of the village is blocked in, shadows are strengthened, and the causeway's low east wall is added.

I complete the parking areas, add a few wispy, high altitude clouds, tweak the shadows and buildings, finish the two pedestrians and sign my initials -- we're done! (And with a little light to spare.) 


A few thoughts over a well-earned cuppa tea --

There are many ways of approaching plein air painting and quick sketching in oils and I I've shared just one of them with you this week. I hope you find it useful and maybe even decide to try it yourself. But please keep in mind; if it doesn't work for you, no worries! There are plenty of other options for you to try and sooner or later you're bound to find the medium, technique and subject(s) that are of interest to you.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Pochade Boxes, French Easels... and Thou

"A book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"
-- The Rubáiyát, Omar Khayyam

If you've become aware of my artwork within just the past few years -- say, since I first became active on Facebook or, even more recently, since the creation of this blog -- you are familiar with my fondness for journaling. (Flora, fauna, people, and places -- I love to sketch it all.) And you may have even noticed that I'm quite keen on sharp-edged studies, sometimes complex compositions, and detailed note-taking. But you probably wouldn't know that when I first came to art my first passion was for oils done all a prima. Nor would you have any way of knowing that I like to mix things up from time to time; when one thing starts to feel too routine I like to go off in a completely different direction (artistically speaking) and explore something that gives me a fresh outlook on things.

I generally find standing more comfortable (and less restricting) 
than sitting when sketching al fresco

For example, when I was producing studio oil paintings on a monumental scale (as in 20 foot tall figures) I would sometimes grab my French easel and head out into Nature for some fresh air and a bit of on-location sketching in paint.

Lakeside, another painterly (Boneless Method) landscape (5x7, oils on panel)

Of course, with nature and travel journaling I can manage all the fresh air I want. But recently I've been thinking that it might be time to get some of the rust out of my artistic system. So, I decided to get out one of my pochade boxes, shift mental gears, and do a little plein air work.

Impression, evening cloud study (5x7, oils on panel)

The first (and perhaps biggest) "shift in gears" involves switching from the working on paper approach (i.e., generally working from the white of the paper toward the darkest darks) to that of working in oils. This is necessitated primarily by the drying qualities of oil paint. That is, dark colors generally dry faster because of lower oil content while light colors (with their higher oil content) generally dry slower. (Putting dark layers over light ones can frequently result in surface cracks that can threaten the longevity of the painting.)

The second "shift" is giving up detailed underdrawing; to add to the immediacy and freshness of the experience I work directly in paint.

Luke, a linear (Bone Method) portrait (6x6, oils on panel)

Ste. Mare Eglis, Bone Method landscape (18x27, oils on canvas)

And finally, the third (and forth) "shifts" are a switch to wet-in-wet technique, the adoption of softer, more painterly edges (being fascinated with Chinese art, this correlates for me with a switch from "Bone Method" to "Boneless Method"), and greater focus on form (less on detail.)

Kerry, Boneless Method landscape (5x7, oils on panel)

All of this is done to maintain old skills (and maybe develop a few new ones), to force myself to work differently and to think carefully about what I'm doing -- and, hopefully, to see things with a fresh eye. 

Sunset, Normandy (5x7, oils on panel)

And you never can tell when the portability and convenience of a pochade box will make a sublime experience possible. For example, our first evening in Le Pre, Normandy we popped out to the nearest grocery store (in Saint James) for some provisions... and we greeted by the scene depicted in Sunset, Normandy when we exited the store. (Our kids were kind enough to put the groceries in the trunk while I took my portable sketch box out, and dinner was only a little later than expected.)


I generally prefer to keep the legs shortened on the 
French easel for stability on windy days

My very first plein air kit was a French easel -- a beautiful piece of woodwork, plenty of space for paint tubes and brushes, and the most versatile when it comes to working with larger stretched canvases and panels. But it's heavy and can be a bit wobbly if the legs are fully extended.

...seated on a camp stool...

...or in your car (where the solar effect can make it shirtsleeves-comfy, even on a nippy autumn day)...

...or (with the use of the thumb hole on the underside of the box) cradled on your forearm

the Julian pochade box proved itself an extremely useful tool for cabin and trail 
during my 10-week wilderness adventure in North Cascades National Park

My second plein air sketching kit was a Julian "pochade" box (pronounced pō•shā) -- another beautiful piece of woodwork (Do you see a pattern emerging here?) and bare-bones small: just enough room for a single 6"x8" uncradled panel in the lid/easel, a few dollops of paint on the built-in palette, a few brushes, a capped cup of medium, and a rag for clean-up.

the Julian's simple design harkens back to its 19th century origins as a modified cigar box

And my third (my wife says, "final") plein air oil sketch box is a 6x8 Guerrilla Painter ThumBox (Version 2.0).

built like a tank (for years of worry-free painting afield) and, with an adopter 
plate installed, can be mounted on a standard camera tripod

the Guerrilla Painter box offers an ingenious adopter that allows me to work with 
6x8, 5x7, or 4x6 panels, stretched canvases, or even watercolor blocks

a Guerrilla Painter bag is available that turns the pochade into a piece 
of light weight carry-on luggage weighing less than 2 pounds


Smaller pochade boxes are too short for regular length brushes. So, the plein air painter may opt for a separate brush carrier, or s/he may look for short-handled alternatives.

Guerrilla Painter short handled filberts and a painting knife 
(this one with 3 convenient painting edges)

The folks at Guerilla Painter offer a nice set of 4 brushes (in your choice of flats or filberts, sizes 2, 4, 6, 8) or (if you want a more personalized selection) you could opt to make your own.

after shortening the handles and rounding the tips with sandpaper you can dip the end in enamel 
(i.e., fingernail polish) to seal the wood(I also sharpen and clearcoat one of the leftover handles 
as a "signature stick" -- for fine lines and inscribing through multiple layers of paint)


Add, maybe, a picnic basket filled with antipasto, a crusty loaf of bread, a little cheese, some fruit, and a small bottle of wine and you just may be set to enjoy the perfect day out.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Sense of Place, Part 8 (The Final Workshop)

Log Cabin Village -- the perfect venue for an advanced sketching workshop

Or alternately this post could be titled, "Tools of the Trade #3.2 - Toned Paper (The Workshop)."

Last week I revisited the subject of toned paper as a support for sketching and journaling. Yesterday I met with a group of sketching enthusiasts for the forth, and final, workshop in the series sponsored by the Fort Worth Central Library's "Worth Reading" Program. Our host venue was (for the second time in this series) the Log Cabin Village... and our medium was black and white Prismacolor pencil on toned paper.

show and tell (looking at a few examples of toned paper sketches in the school house)

After a brief session in the one-room school house to distribute new Strathmore Softbound Toned art journals to each participant, and to discuss the process of working on toned paper (and how to avoid overworking toned paper sketches) the group members went off to explore the Village's flora, fauna and architecture to sketch.

"find your bliss" (sketching near the tipi)

Temperatures were quite mild and the overcast sky was just thick enough to guard against glare and sunburn issues. And, while the humidity was much higher than normal for north Texas, the toned paper of the Strathmore journals held up admirably -- allowing both excellent tone and line control, and easy erasure.

using horizontal and vertical cross-referencing to sketch the gris mill

Most of the students were working on toned paper for the first time and were pleasantly surprised to discover just how much faster a tonal drawing on toned paper progresses compared to the white papers they have usually worked on.

some worked outdoors...

The quicker working time translated into more time for observing and recording the detailed nature of their subjects, or more completed drawings in a given period of time. (Participants were able to complete several fully developed sketches in the two hours we met as a group. And several opted to stay on and explore the medium further after the workshop concluded.)

...while others chose to sketch in

The folks at the Village very kindly opened up several of the interpretive cabins so members of our group could sketch the interiors.

some were attracted to the artifacts (in this case a farmer's milk can)

discussing toned paper/color pencil technique...

The Village is also small enough that I easily managed to visit with each student, answering their technical questions, offer options and advise for further exploration of toned paper, and sharing the occasional humorous anecdote. 

...and having FUN

everyone (except our early departures) showing off their new 

Among the many "dividends" of teaching sketching and journaling workshops -- the smiles that everyone seem to be wearing by the end of our time together.

presenting Diane with her Sakura Pigma Micron pen and pen case set...

...and Lynn Dee with her Sakura Koi watercolor Pocket Field Sketch Box

Many thanks to Julia Stafford and the folks at Fort Worth Central Library for sponsoring the workshop series, to the folks at the FW Botanical Gardens and Log Cabin Village for so kindly allowing us to use their sites as workshop venues, to John Wittmann at Strathmore Artists Paper for turning me on to the new 400 Series Softbound Toned art journal series, to the folks at Sakura of America for generously donating the "door prizes" for our two lucky winners, and most of all to the workshop participants; it was a delight working with each and every one of you.

Happy sketching!