Thursday, January 27, 2011

Winter at Casa Grande

"Casa Grande"
New Almaden
14" x 11" Watercolor

Here is a really different view of January. Today the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society held their plein air session at Casa Grande in the old mercury mining area of New Almaden, Quicksilver Park, within the San Jose city limits but it is country. In marked contrast to the winter in the Northeastern US, we are having a mild, dry stretch, with temps about 40 at night and 72 during the day. I sat in shirtsleeves as I painted this piece.

At first I was a bit overwhelmed by the grandeur and my desire to include the stately palm trees. Of course, simplicity is the answer. Also, I artistically relocated some trees and elevated the mountain behind the house (It was there, but my vantage point did not make it visible above the roofline.

From the website: "Mining operations in New Almaden first began in 1845 under the claim of Mexican Cavalry Officer Captain Andres Castillero. Castillero discovered that the red rock used by the local Ohlone Indians to paint them and the walls of the Santa Clara Mission was cinnabar, an ore containing mercury. The valuable mercury was needed to process silver in Mexican silver mines. American companies eventually acquired ownership of the mines." Casa Grande was the 27-room home of the superintendent. Today it serves as the New Almaden Quicksilver Museum. Fishing, catch and release, is allowed in the park, which now consists of some tailings and old equipment, and lots of wonderful trails for biking, hiking, and horse back riding.. Of course, people are cautioned not to the eat the fish from the area.

Wallace Stegner wrote a terrific book about this area, "Angle of Repose." Stegner was longtime head of creative writing at Stanford University. He divided his time between California and Vermont, so I can really relate to his background.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Winter in the Garden

"Winter in the Garden"
North Danville, Vermont
14" x 11" Watercolor

A few days ago my son Jeff sent me a picture of his garden. They were experiencing subzero weather. When I was there last summer, they had just put up their scarecrow. At the time she was wearing a large hat with Beth's dress and looked quite stylish as she protected the prolific plants from pesky birds. The crops have been harvested and eaten, canned, or frozen. The garden was put to bed a few months ago. Ms. Scarecrow continues her cheerful watch in the Northeast Kingdom.

Monday, January 24, 2011

John Salminen Demo and Monday Drawing Class

John Salminen demo

The start of another pastel still life

Yesterday I attended John Salminen's demo for the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society. Some lucky artists are attending his workshop this week. Our demo's are open to the public at no charge, so anyone in the area can learn from the masters we engage for workshops.

John has wonderful teaching skills and imparted a lot of wisdom during the 2.5 hour demo. John is known for his magnificent urban landscapes, which you can check out here. He has received many awards, including a recent first place in the international competition in Shanghai. Those large paintings take 40 to 60 hours each, so obviously he did not have time to do an urban landscape. John created a scene inspired by photos he took in the Gloucester, MA, harbor. I recalled it fondly from my stay in September. He basically chose some great shapes and totally rearranged them into a strong design.

Like some of the most respected watercolor painters of our time, he has been greatly infuenced by Ed Whitney through classes taught by Cheng-Khee Chee in his home town of Duluth, Minnesota. He begins his paintings by creating a good white shape, defined as irregular, unpredictable and a bit oblique. The white shape covers about 1/3 of the surface and goes off the page at least three times. This shape will get modified in places with some color as he progresses. He emphasized the importance of good values. He surrounds his shape with a mid-tone value wash. Next he adds the very darkest darks, which he says will look garish until they get surrounded by shapes that step down gradually to the mid-tone value. In other words, using the 9 value system, put value 8 next to 9, value 7 next to 8, etc., until you are close to the mid-tone value.

At a certain point John turns his painting upside down to see if it is working as an abstract . Then he begins what he calls his integration phase, where he starts modifying edges and areas of dark and light shapes. He showed us several handy techniques as he worked to achieve a certain lighting effect:

1) Use a mouth atomizer to add value and texture - he recommends the Pat Dews atomizer
2) Use Paynes Grey to put some of the painting in shadow
3) Use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to lift color (there are no chemicals in the ORIGINAL eraser)
4) Use masking tape to create a stencil to allow you to remove color; you can even cut out shapes in the masking tape using a Snap Cutter from the hardware store to create a stencil.

Don't overdo any of your special techniques.

Then John used a #4 brush to add calligraphy. Finally, to enhance his focal point, he added a tiny figure on the deck of the largest boat. His advice includes starting with a blob for the torso, paint a head down into the figure, not on a neck, and make the legs disproportionately long.

John prefers Stephen Quiller paints, made by Richeson to the very expensive Blockx formula at a more reasonable price. He uses Arches 140 pound watercolor paper. Though he used larger brushes for this demo, his urban landscapes are done mostly with a #4 brush.

This morning I attended my drawing class. You can see I didn't get as much done as I did last week. There is no background yet and no part of the painting is finished. Also, I cropped the photo a bit as the paper got wrinkled on the way home.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winter on the California Coast

"Winter in Andrew Molera State Park"
11" x 14" Watercolor

Continuing with my versatile approach to art, the medium is watercolor and the subject category is landscape. I must say, there is just something so satisfying about working with watercolor -- the way it flows, moves, and mixes on the paper is delicious.

In recent years we've spent a few days by ourselves over Christmas in Big Sur. That tradition was broken this year as adult children marry and start new traditions with blended families. However, I still went there in my mind's eye. Among the larger parks there is modestly-sized Andrew Molera State Park with a hike-in campground and some trails along Big Sur River to where the mouth of the river joins the mighty Pacific. At that juncture, the scene is very wild and powerful. However, as I looked at my old photos, I was drawn to this quieter scene a short ways from the ocean.

The day was overcast and colors were quite grayed out; the land masses were reflected in the river. Using just my brush, no drawing, and editing the scene mentally, I created the land and water masses using Stephen Quiller' watercolors -- permanent orange and thalo blue for the greyed green of the hills and trees, the water is cerulean blue with some ultramarine blue in the foreground, the sky remains the white of the paper, the tree limbs were done with alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue and permanent orange. I used a touch of alizarin in the weeds of the middle ground. I recalled the damp, cool air against my skin as we hiked the mile to the sea, and the peaceful, muted vista that says California Coast and Big Sur on the shortest of winter days.

This painting was done ala Tom Fong style-- just go for it. View another Andrew Molera scene, "The Coast" -- I sold that painting at my "Trois Artistes" reception on the Santa Cruz Wharf.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Drawing Class and Some News

"Lemons in Clay"
14" x 12" Pastel

Here is the piece I worked on today. As usual, it was half-done when I left class and I applied a bit more pastel tonight from memory. Not a "finished" work, and it will join the stack of other almost complete pastels.

Yesterday I attended the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society Holiday Party. My job this year was easy -- buy and deliver the ice. The party was great fun. I showed a couple plein air pieces and enjoyed seeing the work of others. The entertainment was a creative group competition. Each table was given a bag of goodies to create a Ms. or Mr. Neptune (the theme of the party was New Year's on Neptune). We had great fun costuming one of our good-natured table mates.

Our current leader, Karen Wong, announced that I had agreed to become leader of the 400-member society in 2012. When the nominating committee asked, I told them that I am unable to do the leader position in 2011 (I should be starting in July) because Bob and I will be touring the East Coast on our tandem bicycle. Immediately following the tour I travel to France with a girlfriend for an masters art workshop. So they've agreed to let me begin a year's term January 2012. SCVWS is a great organization and I am honored to be asked to lead.

About the bike tour: We leave San Jose on March 30 for Hilton Head, SC, to attend a family wedding, then proceed to Key West to begin our ride north to Bar Harbor, ME, and then to Vermont to visit family. We expect to finish by the end of June. I've hired a house sitter who will move in and live here during our tour. I don't like leaving the house empty. Bob's daughter and her husband (then almost fiance) lived here the summer of 2008 while we crossed the USA on the tandem, but they've since married and bought their own home.

In case you are curious, we documented our 2008 USA tandem tour here:
You can get a flavor of this adventure by checking out days 28, 42, 43, 71, 79, and 82.

We will be setting up a journal to post daily reports as we travel. I will take a brand new Koi pan paint set with watercolor brush and small Moleskine watercolor journal and a sketch pad. I plan to do small paintings and sketches along the way. When we get the new touring journal set up, I will post a link.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Another Oil Painting

"Bassoon Rhythms"
9" x 12" Oil on Canvas

Happy New Year, Blog Friends! Here is my first art adventure of 2011.

The other day when I tried water miscible oils for the first time, I created a landscape. When I was done, I adopted an idea from wonderful artist Don Michael Jr and used the leftover paint on another canvas in an abstract fashion. Unlike Don's approach, I wanted to simply use the abstract as a background. I left the abstract for about a week during the busy holidays and went back to it contemplating what I might paint. I was enveloped in sounds of Bob playing the bassoon in his music room. Bob is an accomplished musician on all the woodwinds and I feel very fortunate to do art while listening to live music. Suddenly I realized that the swishes of paint made me think of the rhythms and sounds of the bassoon. I had taken two snapshots of Bob a few days previous as he played, so I selected the best and used that as a basis for this painting.

I totally do not know how to paint oils, but I've heard it said you paint from dark to light, the opposite of traditional watercolor. In some places I managed that. I adjusted the background a bit after I completed the figure. There was the loveliest swish of Hanza Yellow in the upper left corner, but I found it too eye-catching. I recalled Mike Bailey's advice not to fall in love with a part of the painting if it doesn't contribute to the whole. So I applied the swish of Ultramarine Blue over the yellow. I also added a bit of the blue around the lower part of Bob's face so he didn't blend too much into the background. I did most of the painting last night with my weekly session of our South Side Art Club at my kitchen table. This morning I darkened Bob's hair (he had asked is my hair really that white? and it's not), added some light to his jeans, adjusted the background, and called this one done. I surprised myself -- I like it!