Saturday, December 27, 2014

Looking Closer at Reference Photos

Every time I look through my personal reference photos for subjects to paint I seem to find something I hadn't noticed before. Especially if I zoom in and crop out unwanted details. 

For example, this recent oil, Seven Points Sheep, was maybe 10-percent of the original photo of a cotton gin near Waxahachie. He just happened to be grazing nearby. 
Seven Points Sheep - 10x8-inch oil on canvas panel

This calf was just a small background compliment in a photo I took of a barn. Zooming in he became the center of interest. 
Calf Romp - 9x12-inch oil on panel
And finally, in my original photo you could hardly see these pigeons warming their bodies atop this structure in Grapevine, Texas. By enlarging the image they became the center of interest and really make the painting more successful.
Pigeon Warming - 12x9 oil on panel

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thankful for Time to Paint - Thanksgiving 2014

Here are three paintings from over the Thanksgiving weekend. 

#193 From Bethel Road - 9x12-inch oil on canvas panel. I don't know the name of this creek but it flows near Little Bethel in Ellis County. Little Bethel Church was featured in the movie Places in the Heart.  

#194 From Greathouse Road - 11x14-inch oil on canvas panel. As I have said before, this is the prettiest part of Ellis County. It's not the hill country but it has some of that feel to it.

#195 - From Green Gulch Road - 11x14-inch oil on canvas panel. Another view from the most scenic drive in Texas. This road (which is subtly hinted at in the distance) winds through the Chisos Mountains into the basin of an extinct volcano in Big Bend National Park. This is a plein air painter's dream, but I have yet to actually paint there since I haven't been back since I started painting outdoors.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Make Your Own Paint-Saver Container

This is a handy little gadget that will pay for itself in no time by keeping your oil paint moist for several days.

I like to pre-load my colors using this device before heading out to plein air paint. Then I clip the small palette to my mixing palette as an extension. When I'm done I put the bottle in the freezer for re-use later on. It should keep for several days, if not weeks, depending on your oil brand of choice.

I have to say that you can buy a similar product called a Garage Palette for about $22 if you don't want to go to the trouble of making your own. The Garage Palette website recommends using clove oil to help slow down oxidation so I suppose that a couple of drops on a cotton ball placed under the palette would work just as well. Other oils might also work but I haven't tested any.

What you need:
Thermos Water bottle (about $8)
Back saw (or saw of your choice)
Piece of cardboard or mat board
Wooden palette (preferably used)

First, cut a piece of cardboard or mat to the size you need. This will be your guide for cutting the finished piece.

Don't make it too snug since you may have some paint build up over time that will require you to sand it down.

Cut your wooden palette to size. I used a back saw which worked well.

Super easy and keeps your paint where it belongs.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Painting at Festivals

Last Saturday was the annual Texas Country Reporter (Bob Phillips) Festival here in Waxahachie. I remember attending the first one several years ago when you could actually park on the Square during the event. These days it's so popular that parking extends for several blocks in all directions and usually involves a pretty good walk.

Even though the idea of painting a large mass of people can seem intimidating I tried to look at this the same way I would paint a field of wildflowers-grouping them as a whole and not at all interested in painting each one.

I set up shop in a parking garage directly above the masses. It was a great location with some shade, great smells from nearby food vendors, live music, and a nice breeze. All of the things that make plein air so much of a wonderful departure from studio paintings.

Texas Country Reporter Festival - 10x8-inch oil on panel SOLD

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I'm thinking about going smaller in my paintings. I get impatient with and try to hurry them along at times. Working smaller might be a good option. 10x8-inch oil on gessobord.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Zabriskie Point Death Valley California

It is said that Rembrandt coined the phrase, "without atmosphere, a painting is nothing." As far as art goes, no truer words have ever been spoken, and no other art-related quote has stuck with me more. Even in a portrait painting you can have a hint of it in the few inches from the tip of the nose to the ears.

But landscapes sing when atmosphere is included. Nothing makes your center of interest pop more than muted grays of distant mountains, trees or just thick air of hot Texas summers.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Classic Car Show and the Wrath of Wipe

A few weeks ago I tried a plein air painting at a local classic car show in Getzendaner Park in Waxahachie. It started out fairly well but somewhere along the way, as often happens, I lost my focus and eventually lost the painting to the wrath of Wipe.

I felt kind of bad as several onlookers wanted to see what I had accomplished and I had nothing to show them.

Here is the studio version of the same subject, a 1955 Chevy Bel Aire:

55 Chevy Bel Aire - 9x12 inch oil on Gessobord

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fossil Hunt

I've painted this limestone creek several times over the last few years as it's just down the street from our home in Waxahachie. The center of interest here is my son and his red shirt and shoes exploring the white rock banks of Mustang Creek.

Fossil Hunt - 9x12 oil on panel

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pasture Prime - plein air and studio versions

Earlier this year I posted this plein air of a classic John Deere from Windy Ridge Farm in Ellis County, Texas. Recently I completed a studio version, from a slightly different angle. Here they are, side by side.

Pasture Prime - 11x14 oil on canvas panel. Studio piece.

Windy Ridge Deere - 9x12 oil on canvas panel. Plein air.

I'm always amazed how the previous plein air looks so different to me after I complete studio version. In this case, the length seems way off. But when painting on location, proportional accuracy is something you strive for but obviously it's never as good as working from photos in a time-is-no-object studio.

By the way, I don't project images on my canvas. All of my art is free-hand sketched as I feel it enhances the piece with its inherent flaws. No offense to those that do project or trace, but that's my personal preference. I will say that mapping out the image with the proportional square-to-square technique is probably the best of both worlds and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Uncompahgre River

The Uncompahgre as it winds its way through Ouray, Colorado. Studio painting from a photo I took in the Summer of 1994.

12x16 oil on canvas panel

Caliche Road

Not much to say about this one. Just a typical caliche rock road in Ellis County, Texas.

11x14 oil on canvas panel.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Roadside Furniture Series

I'm not exactly sure why but there's just something funny to me about roadside furniture. Maybe it's because they sit by the curb so completely out of place, like one of those tuxedo t-shirts. Once a proud possession of its owners, and now sitting in the elements, getting marked by passing dogs and soon to be headed to the dump (or picked up by someone really down on their luck) with it's only value being whatever loose change might still be found under the stained cushions.

It struck me that it might be fun to paint a series of stumbled-upon roadside couches, recliners, love seats and the like, just to see how they might be received in the art world. You just never know what crazy thing might catch on.

Admittedly this will NOT be a plein air series. Can you image the looks I would get from anyone passing by as I seriously paint a 20-year old Lazy Boy?

Roadside Furniture I - 8x10 oil on gessobord

Monday, July 7, 2014

Back in the Saddle

Finally back in the studio after a plein air frenzy.
@173 Horse - 14x11 oil on canvas panel

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Website Redesign and a New Blog

My Mac finally bit the dust a few days ago which has forced me to consider other options for my website design. I've used Wordpress in the past and really like having the ability to update things without being tethered to one computer.  Most of you are familiar with Wordpress blogs, but they have a more powerful option which goes beyond just blogging. 

I'm mulling over the idea of providing a website design service exclusively geared for artists and their portfolios. If you like what you see and would like to have your own portfolio/gallery-type of site, let me know and I will try to give you an idea of pricing and options. 

You can check out my new layout at and feel free to signup for my newsletter.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Changing on the Fly

Sunday afternoon would be my last plein air session for the upcoming Paint Historic Waxahachie. The month-long event ends on Friday, followed by a wine and cheese reception and awards on Saturday. I've painted this view before but never en plein air.

Having spent many evenings at this location I knew that the sun would cast a wonderful warm light on the tip of the 1889 Masonic Temple (currently the Ellis County Museum), right around sunset.

I set up my easel well ahead of that moment so that I could get my drawing rendered correctly leaving me plenty of time to concentrate on values and colors. During this process of sketching my composition, a truck parked in front of me which completely changed the composition.

The driver suddenly noticed that I was painting as his group was walking across the street and asked me if he should move his truck. I immediately gave him a thumbs up that he was fine right there. It wasn't a problem for me as it actually improved the composition since I wasn't happy with a particular electrical box that dominates the corner there (see first photo).

I quickly altered my sketch and blocked in the truck, not knowing how long they would be parked there. Distant cars are not a problem as details are irrelevant and can easily be rendered from memory if need be. Even though this wasn't my center of interest I really needed to be accurate as far as details such as how things appear looking through the glass and the mid-values needed to keep this from competing with the focal point which was the tip of the Masonic Temple on the left.

I've completed about 8 paintings for this show, and all of them will be available to view and purchase on Saturday and Sunday in downtown Waxahachie at the old Citizens Bank building on the southwest corner of the Square.

On a side note - as a last touch I had to pick a color for the traffic light. Red, yellow or green? I settled on yellow and titled it #172 Sunset Yellows - 12x9 oil on Gesssobord.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Windy Ridge Farm

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours on what has to be the prettiest property in all of Ellis County. The owner allowed several of us to paint en plein air. I had to quickly decide between probably a dozen potential subjects including four old barns, a 1902 farm house, vistas looking down from the ridge to distant farms and hills, or a 1950s John Deere tractor.

This will be one of my entries in the upcoming Paint Historic Waxahachie plein air event, June 2 - 6.

Windy Ridge Farm John Deere - 9 x 12 oil on canvas

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Paint Historic Waxahachie - 2014

The Paint Historic Waxahachie annual plein air event has expanded from one week (in previous years) to every weekend in May, leading up to the awards dinner and sale in June. So I've been pretty busy lately exploring the designated areas on the outskirts of town. I feel like I've abandoned my family this month but it is just once a year that I do this. At least I don't play golf, right? Here are a few of the plein air paintings from the past few weekends:

Maypearl Water Tower - 12"x9" oil on canvas panel. There were turkey vultures warming there wings on the catwalk when I started this. Wish they would have stayed longer.

From Anderson Road - 9"x12" oil on canvas panel. An early morning plein air. I saw exactly one car on this little road near Five Points. An he was a fellow artist. This was an experiment in using an earthy limited pallet of yellow ochre, chromatic black, burnt sienna and white (with just a touch of cad yellow).

Five Points Hay - 9"x12" oil on canvas panel. From Five Points Road, hay bales for miles. Another limited pallet painting.

Brake Lights - 11"x14" oil on canvas panel.Another from Five Points Road, where the wind was blowing 30 and the cars 90. Not ideal conditions but turned out okay since I survived without becoming road kill.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Finally Spring!

Thanks to photographer Steven Ng for this great shot of me painting on Mach Road near Ennis, Texas.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sugar Ridge Road Bluebonnets

After work on Good Friday I headed out to Bristol, Texas for a little plein air action in one of the best bluebonnet locations in Texas. The area has lots of rolling hills and Sugar Ridge is one of the highest points in Ellis County so there are some great vistas to work with. The smell alone was worth coming out for.

By the way, Bristol is home to some of the best sushi in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Hard to fathom considering the population is probably 50 on a good day, and is completely off the beaten path. You don't stumble upon Bristol. You have to want to go there since it's not on the way to anywhere. Don't let the humble building/gas station fool you. Personally, if someone hadn't told me about this place there is no way I would have stopped here. But the food is worth the drive even when the bluebonnets are long gone.

9x12 oil on canvas panel

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter Weekend Plein Air Oils

Lake Worth Bridge (Jackboro Hwy) 12" x 9" oil
Mach Road Bluebonnets - 5.5" x 14" oil on canvas panel

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Little Pub - Plein Air Magazines Online Newsletter

Very happy to have my previous blog entry published on OutdoorPainter's Parting Shot section of their online newsletter. Check it out here: Wouldn't Hurt (to paint) a Fly

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Crane Flies In My Paint

I usually get annoyed by the annual crane fly invasion here in Texas in April. Especially since they always seem to find a way to get inside my art studio and, inevitably, in my paint. But for this occasion, I found them to be welcome. 

I was about 2 hours into a still life when two of them landed on my main subject, an enameled tin. Since they were sitting so very still for me I thought, "why not," so I decided to try and include them in the painting. Easier said than done since I hadn't planned for them in the beginning stages. But, I figured it was worth the risk, and a great example of being flexible when it comes to painting.

Unfortunately I wasn't totally happy with the one sitting on top so I wiped him off, but the one clinging to the tin on the left is still there. Most people looking at this probably wouldn't notice him, but I think it adds a little interest and a conversation point. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#152 Paint Gap Road - Big Bend National Park

Many years ago a buddy and I went camping at this "primitive" camp site along Paint Gap Road in Big Bend National Park. If you have ever wanted to camp where seeing another human was rare, this is the place.

The distant Chisos Mountains are the main attraction in the park.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Revisiting Santa Helena Canyon 24 Years Later

#003 Morning in Santa Helena Canyon - 12"x16" watercolor (1990)

#150 Morning in Santa Helena Canyon - 12"x16" oil on canvas panel (2014)
24 years ago I painted a watercolor I titled "Morning in Santa Helena Canyon." Last week I decided to revisit this exact same subject thinking that it would be interesting to see the two paintings side-by-side. Might be fun to see how the years have changed my approach to values and color, not to mention using oil vs watercolor.

After many years of painting I've learned a few basics about color. One being the rule of thumb that warm colors come forward and cool colors recede. So one of the challenges of this particular subject (and one I probably didn't consider in 1990) is dealing with the cast shadows from adjacent canyon walls which appear cooler than the color of the walls in the background which are catching some warm reflected light from various angles. 

My goal was to trick the eye into figuring out that those distant walls really are behind the ones in my center of interest in spite of that pesky rule of thumb. 

We've all seen those optical illusions where things can appear completely different depending on the viewer. The one that comes to mind is the ink blot vase... or is it two profiles facing each other? In a sense, this was the issue here. Which canyon wall is in front of the other in the viewer's eye? 

Looking at this newest painting (#150) you can actually force your eye to see either. But if I was successful, the viewer would be naturally drawn to seeing the cooler walls as closer in spite of their cooler temperature. I'll leave that up to the viewers to decide.

The main thing I got out of this experiment is discovering that it is very beneficial to revisit old subjects years later, if nothing else, to see how you have progressed... or not.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

#148 Grazing Grace

I really wanted to focus on making my brush strokes count on this painting in an attempt to simplify things. That may sound backwards since focusing on every stroke before placing it doesn't seem to be a looser style. But, when you place a well-thought out load of paint on your canvas, and... here's the key... leave it alone, it should turn out more painterly in style. Not that you can't make a few alterations along the way, but for the most part, they should not be altered.

12"x16" oil on canvas panel

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Plein Air From Pigg Farm

Latest plein air painting and a story about a good puppy-dog. Last weekend I joined several other OPS members for an afternoon of painting at a farm near Maypearl, Texas. Windy but beautiful weather. The farm had lots of subject matter to choose from with two or three barns, an old abandoned farmhouse, and rolling plains. And to keep us company, a friendly puppy-dog that apparently lives there by herself. I was told that a Mr. Pigg feeds her daily but from the looks of the giant food dish on the front porch, it's probably more likely a weekly thing. Anyway, this dog was clean (considering his circumstances), well-mannered (as in no jumping on you), and probably needing a good home since she wasn't wearing a collar. But I'm not sure what her situation is. I'm thinking she would probably not be very happy in a small yard considering her current status as a free ranger with rabbits to chase and lots of room to roam. But I fear that she is not long for this world with coyotes lurking, or just the lack of veterinary care. Kicking myself for not taking a picture of her. About 45 pounds, lots of fur and tan to yellow/white in color.

Oh, and the painting... I call this Pigg Barn because I was told that this property belongs to Mr. Pigg. 9"x12" oil on gessobord.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

#145 The Blackest Land, The Whitest Roads

16"x12" oil on canvas panel - studio piece
Here in this part of north Texas we have a soil type that is referred to as the "blackland prairie" for obvious reasons. It truly is black in color. Years ago in Greenville, which is about 100 miles to the east, there was a sign at their city limits that welcomed visitors to "the blackest land, the whitest people." Political correctness has since done away with the sign since the "whitest people" part might not be taken in the way it was originally intended which, in Webster's definition, meant: of good character marked by upright fairness <that's mighty white of you>. Understandable that it no longer exists, no doubt... I get that. But I'm pretty sure that the racial overtones weren't intended back in the day. The interesting thing about our soil, and the reason for the title of this piece, is that it sits on a bed of white limestone just a few feet down which makes for intense contrasts where exposed. I tried to represent this union of opposites in this painting, with the plowed fields next to the limestone dirt road winding around the tree.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

#144 Calf Romp

I painted Calf Romp from one of my photos taken while exploring a cattle farm near Waxahachie. I've completed three oils from these photos so I can safely say that this was a productive afternoon of searching for subject matter.

The actual photo was focused on a barn to the right. Looking at this photo later I noticed the beautiful late-afternoon light on this calf's face as it romped almost out of view. 

I will probably enter this image, along with three others, in the National Cowboy Museum's Winter Art Show. I've never entered this show before but I would love to get in. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Revisiting An Older Painting

This was originally done about 60 paintings ago as a 12"x16". I decided that it might be a stronger painting if I cropped out the foreground since I didn't find it interesting and really added nothing to the work other than to make this a larger painting. This is one benefit to using panels rather than stretched canvas. You can crop a stretched canvas but you have to glue it down on a panel afterwards. Here it is, now as a 9" x 12" oil on canvas, resigned:

#83 Langford Ruins - 9x12 oil on canvas

Monday, January 13, 2014

#142 Roadside Tree - plein air

Plein air from this past weekend. Painting with several other artists in rural Ellis County near Five Points, including Doug Clark, Olivette Hubler, Nancy Bozeman, Tina Bohlman, Steve Miller and DeBob Jacobs.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

#141 Leans To The Left - plein air

9x12 oil on gessobord
Another example of really nice folks living in rural Ellis County, after a few of us had set up to paint along a fairly busy country road near Five Points, the owner of the property pulled up and offered to open her gate for us to go inside for a better (and safer) location. All we had to do was lock it up when we were done. My friend Doug left her a nice thank you note on the barn door.

The only inhabitant of the place appeared to be an overly friendly white cat that was quite taken by Mary Rabien's petting skills, leaving her with only one free hand to paint.

My first attempt at painting this "lean-to" was not so great so I wiped it and began a smaller version. With not much sunlight left in the day I quickly established my local color and ended up finishing this in about 45 minutes.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Closing Out 2013 en plein air

#140 Winter Bales - 11x14 oil on canvas panel
Over the Christmas holidays the weather was good enough to work in two days of plein air painting in rural Ellis County. I, along with several other artists from the area, eventually settled on the thriving community of Five Points, which is about 6 miles southwest of Waxahachie.

The best thing about these two outings was just discovering how beautiful this area is since I have never really explored it since moving here in 1997. Lots of rolling plains, rich farmland, an old cotton gin, white rock creeks, barns, open vistas and the very beginnings of the caliche escarpment that runs from Cedar Hill to Austin. That ridge forms a nice blue backdrop to the area that reminds one of the Texas Hill Country.

The people in the area seem to be quite friendly and interested in our "intrusion of culture" in their very peaceful community. One farmer stopped and told me he thought I was out there "grilling burgers." Once he saw what we were doing he seemed very interested in purchasing some of our art since he's a collector and even offered to let us paint on his property. "I'll even grill you some burgers" he told me.

#139 Five Points Cotton Gin - 12x9 oil on canvas panel
 Mary Rabien, a fellow artist and good friend, was talking to a man that lived across from the Five Points Cotton Gin Co-op and found that he was a little confused about us wanting to paint the gin... not realizing that we didn't want to actually paint the building itself, with buckets of Sherwin-William exterior.  Maybe a nice creamy yellow satin.

Along that line of confusion, the owners of the hay field where I was painting had heard that some artists were painting their hay bales. Laughter ensued when they finally figured out we had no desire to paint the bales themselves, though I suppose stranger things have been called art. Such is the way of plein air painting and interaction with people, which simply enriches the whole experience. Just one more reason that I love plein air so much because of the story behind the painting that happens more times than not.