Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cumbres and Toltec Steam Train: Comin' Round the Mountain

"Cumbres and Toltec Steam Train: Comin' Round the Mountain"
19" x 14" Watercolor
Bob is a train buff and I enjoy them, too. So when I planned my Colorado ranch workshop with fellow artist Jeanne, we decided to spend the week before riding two famous steam trains that are remnants of the narrow guage railroads operated by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway. The railroad was built for mining operations with narrow guage because it was easier to make tight turns.
First we flew to Durango, CO, and then I drove us 2.5 hours to Chama, NM, where we would board the famous Cumbres Toltec train. It travels over 60 miles at a slow pace over Cumbres Pass (10, 015 feet elevation to Antonito, CO, crossing the boarder between NM and CO eleven times in the process. Passengers board before 10 and arrive in Antonito about 3:30. I just completed this painting based on various snapshots taken when rounding Windy Pass. Here is one of several photos.

Rounding Windy Pass
I wanted to capture the steam coming from the train, the long vista, and the colorful trees using knowledge gained at Steven Quiller's workshop.

We rode in the beautiful parlor car with a hostess to take care of our needs. Midway we stopped in Osier for lunch in a large dining hall, toured old buildings, left some passengers behind who boarded another train to return to Cumbres Pass or Chama. We continued on to Antonito where we spent the night in the Steam Train Hotel. Antonito is a old, high dessert town, now known for the surrounding agriculture. I was amazed that they produce a large quantity of crops. The town itself had a couple restaurants, three liquor stores, a nice supermarket, a marijuana dispensary, and a Dollar store. Like many towns, it is in a slow recovery from the mines closing.

The Parlor Car is luxurious complete with hostss

The Steam Train Hotel occupies a 100+ year old hotel 
The following morning we made the return trip to Chama where we spend another night at the Chama Station Inn, a sweet, local property lovingly run by a family.

The Station Inn in Chama, NM

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Plein Air with Friend Jeanne

"Falls Creek"
11" x 15" Watercolor
After friend Jeanne and I returned from Colorado, we were motivated to do some plein air painting. I always love doing it with the watercolor society, but both Jeanne and I live far from many of the locations. With Bay Area traffic, we just have to pass up some places. Because Jeanne was slated for some surgery almost immediately, we had to act fast. I suggested I travel up to the Santa Cruz Mountains where she lives and we find a local spot.

Jeanne's favorite location is Falls Creek in the Henry Cowell  Redwoods not far from her home. We walked in about a half mile carrying our gear and set up next to the creek shaded by Redwoods. I had to improvise on gear as my workshop supplies were enroute, including my field easel. I carried my wooden French half easel and the Quiller full-sized pallette.

When we got done, I was not quite satisfied with my piece. So the other day I pulled out the piece and repainted it. I am much more satisfied with this attempt. I wanted to show the beauty of the place left in its natural state with fallen logs and debris beside the creek. The redwoods are awesome trees and very tall so here we see just the trunks of the three trees. The fall sun was shining in the grove.  I used some of what I learned in the Colorado workshop. I rather liked the "happy accident" that resulted when I was impatient and did not wait for the paper to dry to paint some of the background trees on the right. I will incorporate that technique in future work!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Toddlers Make Fun Subjects

"Goats Only Please"
15" x 20" Watercolor
In 2016 we were blessed with the births of two granddaughters who have continuedto delight us from both coasts. Sydney, not in this painting, lives in the DC area and Amelia, with her head in the goat rest area, lives nearby. Both sets of parents have done a great job limiting their exposure on the social media sites and sending grandparents photos along with frequent updates. We marvel at how very quickly the infants became real people.

A few months ago, Amelia's mommy sent out photos from a visit to Happy Hollow, a children's park in San Jose with animals and rides. Amelia has visited many times and her favorite animals are the goats. Here she is with her little friend Dierdre. I couldn't resist painting this from Mommy's photo. I loved the way the perspective showed their diminutive size, enhancing the effect of their curiosity.

The hardest thing to paint was Amelia's Alizerin Crimson dress with a pattern, but I liked the stripes and patterns as design elements, so I went for it. I had a blast painting this one and am hoping to do a painting of Sydney soon

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Colorado: Days 5 and 6

"Mountain Mist"

Day 5 dawned with rain and cold. We were a brave bunch, venturing higher into the mountains on the muddy road. At least today, no one ended up in the ditch as one of the car drivers did on Thursday. Fortunately she was able to drive out of it. Steven was set up overlooking a pasture with some cows. His work include the cows, but I decided to complete this scene sans cows until I practice strokes needed to create a herd. Jeanne and I were soaked to bone by the time Stephen finished.

The demo
Stephen Quiller's painting

Though some hardy artists remained behind, we went back to the workshop studio. I used Steve's approach to mist with the gouache underpainting. We returned late to "Station 15" as the stretch of Goose Creek is known at about 10,000 foot elevation, so numbered for the ranch fishing lotteries. Two years ago we painted at this station. Today we enjoyed a fish fry done by the chef and his staff.

We finished painting at 3:30,  saving critique for Saturday morning with our final farewell session. That evening we cleaned up and went to Steve and Marta's home where they hosted a lovely buffet. We got to see Steve's studio, which is a dream come true to any artist, sitting over the Rio Grande and just a short distance from his home, which is beautiful and filled with art. 

Day 6 started with a buffet breakfast and then critique. By now, some of our fellow students had left to get an early start on their return home. Jeanne and I had plenty of time as we planned to make our 2.5 hour trip back to Durango and stay overnight before flying home to California. After pats on the back for our final paintings, we packed our supplies and took them to the office for shipping. The day was threatening weather for going over Wolf Pass. We experienced some rain, some thunder and lightening, and snow in the pass. We stopped in sweet Pagosa Springs for lunch at a very popular cafe.

Here a miracle occurred. As we parked a man approached the car and showed us a credit card that was adhered to the trunk of the car. It belonged to a fellow artist who rode with us to Steve and Marta's home. Patty must have set her purse down and the card fell out. The water tension kept it snuggly on the car for over 12 hours and many miles! We got hold of Patty and I promised to send it to her home,

At some point during the whirlwind week I accepted the wrangler's invitation to go on a trail ride. Four of us women participated. Mind you, I had never ridden a horse, in spite of having granddaughters who own horses in Vermont and one is in Equine Management  at UNH. I learned the basics of communicating with the horse and then road up and down hills and through water crossings. I made it back without falling, thanks to a horse who has likely nurtured many novices and could deal with the rider's poor communication skills.

Jeanne and I had such a great time that we decided to do plein air by ourselves on Thursday in the mountains near her home. We also promised ourselves to consider returning to this perfect workshop and ranch in a few years. Twice was not enough!!

Colorado, Days 3 and 4

"Fishing the Rio Grande"
29" x 15" Watercolor

On our third day at the ranch, Steve arranged for the Chris, the ranch hand in charge of fishing, to do some casting at the Rio Grande that runs through the ranch near the entrance. We would make quick sketches and take photos. Rain was forecasted shortly, so we were planning to return to the workshop building.

It was a cold morning and very overcast so not much detail was seen in the distance.  Chris chose a spot where he knew he could catch fish and within seconds, pulled out a large one. We admired the fish and then he was returned to freedom. Chris then moved downstream where Steven wanted him to "pose" backed by gorgeous scenery.  He quickly caught three more fish. Steven demoed how he would capture the moistness of the morning and we returned to our work space. After lunch Steve braved the rain and painted outside the building looking across the narrow value, capturing a scene of an outbuilding with a white roof. He managed to finish the painting with minimum raindrops included. I watched briefly, but was too uncomfortable and returned to my painting.

That evening we carpooled to the town of Creede to visit Steve's gallery and to tour the amazing mural he painted for the local theater. We started getting snow and were told it was about a month early. The next morning we awakened to a beautiful dusting of snow on the valley and some with staying power on the high peaks.

Thursday morning we all bravely lined up behind Allie and headed up the now mushy, muddy ranch road toward the hills in the above photo. Steve had positioned himself to paint the old Miner's cabin. By the time we started our own work, Steve was standing in a puddle of water and mud from the warming temperatures. He showed us how to prime the paper with white gouache on the top portion to achive the misty effect.

Steven's demo painting
Jeanne and I painted a similar scene from a different perspective and it's one I would like to redo, so stay tuned. Tiring of my poor attempt, I turned to the mountains and painted the scene I showed on my first Colorado post. I used Steve's technique of priming with white gouache to create the sky. I was happy to have Steve tell me to stop and soften a few edges and call it done. He liked the mood I captured with little detail.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Colorado, Days1 and 2

"Autumn Gold"
15" x 20" Mixed Media

We arrived at the ranch on Sunday afternoon, enjoyed a chance to meet fellow participants at dinner and an evening introduction. The following morning we began days filled with painting outdoors, delicious meals, and evening sessions in the workshop building. There was little time wasted. Steven began with an introduction to his approach to painting plein air. To familiarize us folks from California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Connecticut, and other states with the landscapes of Colorado, he had us practice creating the tree shapes in the mountains. These were 30 minute sketches at most.

Sketch 1
11" x 8" watercolor

Sketch 2
11" x 8" watercolor
After lunch we queued up behind Steven's very able assistant, daughter Allie, and headed out on the dirt road higher into the mountains. There Steven demoed and then we all tried our hand at creating our first piece. Here is my first plein air piece of the workshop on Monday afternoon.

"Mountain Color"
14" x 18" watercolor
After critique, Steve showed us how he sometimes primes the paper with an acrylic underpainting, this time in Cadmium Yellow. The acrylic will not lift when we paint watercolor over it, and we can easily lift back to the yellow if we want.

Steven Quiller demos painting watercolor over acrylic on Day 2
We then tried our hand at it, and I did the painting at the top of this post. I fought that thing all the way as I selected a more complex scene. The yellow you see is the underpainting. In some cases I lifted back to it. To put in the blue sky, I used gouache and cerulean blue at Steve's suggestion. Here is the scene. As you can see, I was not wedded to every element in the scene.

Mary's view

On Tuesday evenings, the ranch throws a cocktail party for guests, so we all gathered round the fire pit outside the bar and had a great chat. Steve's wife Marta joined us. We were also treated to surry rides by Damon, a cowboy who has worked the ranch for 18 years and is raising his daughters on the ranch.

Riding in the surry with the fringe on the top.
(That tune went through my head during the ride.)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Colorado Workshop

"Snow and Aspens"
10" x 20" Watercolor

In late September I attended a plein air workshop given by Stephen Quiller, a noted watermedia artist from Creede, Colorado, known as a color specialist who has authored books and DVDs.  The workshop was held at beautiful 4UR Ranch near Stephen's home. I went with an artist friend who had attended this same workshop with me in 2015. Again, we were amazed by the beauty of this ranch in the San Juan Mountains. We were treated to beautiful meals, a lovely workshop space, and several fun events.

The weather in 2015 was consistently sunny warm days with very cold nights. This year we had entirely different weather, ranging from sunny and cool, to rain, to snow. We found this a benefit, allowing us to learn some new techniques. Steven makes use of acrylics, watercolors, and gouache to interpret the landscape in an artistically unique fashion. His approach to color uses complimentary or near complimentary colors to make colors glow. By mixing these colors, an artist can "neutralize" or "grey down" colors. By surrounding pure color with neutralized colors, I can enhance the effects of the pure color. Additionally, Steven uses thick, dark mixtures next to pure color to make it "sing."

Steven  also emphasizes using granulating colors in neutral areas and often starts a painting with neutralized, granulating colors[. These colors do not sink into the sized paper, so it easy to lift areas back to almost pure white, as I did in "Snow and Aspens," to add the golden foliage. In other paintings, many of the white aspen trunks and branches were lifted from the background.  Acrylics make a good underpainting as it will not lift when watercolor is applied over it and one can lift back to the underpainting very easily. 

He also makes use of gouache and casein with his watercolors to achieve certain effects. In the above painting, done on Day 4 after snow had fallen in the night, I used gouache under the background mountains to achieve the swirling fog and obscure mountain tops. The white gouache mixed nicely with the cerulean blue of the sky.

Sometimes Steven uses dry bush techniques, other times he paints wet into wet. He emphasizes how you control the paint application with the ratio of water to paint. When painting into the wet surface, use a dryer brush with lots of pigment. That is how I created the trees in the foreground. As most instructors will tell you don't mess around after applying the paint. "Let it do what it will do" and "It is what it is." Steven uses the landscape for inspiration, but is not a slave to the scene. He told us "listen to the painting." He always approaches each stroke with a designer's eye. He also completes the last 15% of his plein air paintings in the studios so he can "listen to the painting."

The next post will show you how we began the workshop and other works created plein air with very stunning vistas.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Another Work of Bob

"Scottish Man"
12" x 15" Pastel
In 2013 Bob came into Monday drawing class to meet me for lunch. He was wearing his orange vest and a hat. Our instructor Bob Semans has become our friend, and the minute he saw Bob, he asked if he would come pose for us. That day, Bob chose to wear his Scottish Balmoral hat that he wears with his formal kilt. Here is is in his full kit.

Bob Semans did a demo piece on a large piece of pastel paper and gifted it to Bob in exchange for his work. We students were working on our own renditions, but I only partially finished. I only do pastels in class so I set aside. The other day I found the piece and decided to complete it in our hiatus of working without an instructor while he recovered from surgery. I was fairly pleased with my work, though you can see why Bob S. is our instructor. He gave me permission to post this piece. I was obviously sitting at a different angle. No two are alike.

Bob E. by Bob S.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Combining Collage and Paint

"Sounds of the City"
10" x 10" collage and acrylic
on museum quality canvas
I've been wanting to come up with ways to combine painting and collage with figures. I've painted Lisa Taylor before. She is a marvelous singer from Santa Cruz, CA, and I've danced to her live music a number of times. Her band's Facebook page gives you lots of info. I got permission from Lisa to use photos I've taken of her as subjects for my paintings.

I decided to use an unsuccessful canvas that had a highly textured surface. That is the least successful part of this experiment. I painted the background many different ways before settling on simple, then drew the figure in acrylic and painted it. I wanted a modern, flattened approach. I then found some interesting magazine pages for the collage and applied those with glossy medium. 

This method intrigues me enough to continue experimenting. Next I want to use a smooth surface canvas. I will also try watercolor on Arches with collage.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Drawing Class: Guglielmo Winery Supplies a Subject

"2015 Dolcetto
12" x 15 Pastel on Pastel Mat Board

Napa Valley is known as the wine valley in California, but Santa Clara Valley, known today as Silicon Valley, was the first premium wine production region, called "The Valley of the Heart's Delight." French and Italian immigrants brought their vines to our valley during the Gold Rush Era. That tradition continues with at least 30 wineries located here. We belong to two wine clubs and recently enjoyed entertaining guests with Guglielmo's wonderful 2015 Dolcetto.

Our drawing instructor is recovery for surgery, so we are meeting on our own at his suggestion. I created a setup with my empty wine bottle, a wine glass, and tea substituted for wine. Pastel colors are such a challenge. I had to mix multiple colors to achieve the shades I wanted.This time friend Susan gave me a sheet of Pastel Mat which can take lots of pastel. I found it a very nice support.

Here's to happy sipping at the wineries of Santa Clara Valley.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"View from the Paladar in Havana Old Town"
18" x14" Watercolor
Recently we returned from a wonderful land tour of Cuba with Road Scholar. Relations between the USA and Cuba have been thawing, though the embargo we placed on them remains. President Obama opened travel with Cuba, but it remains quite restricted. You travel on a cruise ship or with a sanctioned tour company. Of course, there have always been ways to get there, but they are illegal. We choose Road Scholar because the company was one of the first US companies in Cuba even before Obama's actions. They've been doing tours since 2010.

The day we arrived with our Road Scholar manager on a flight from Miami, we were met by the Havanatour Company guide, Eneides. The company is owned by the government ad we had been told activities and hotels could be changed at the discretion of the government. If changes were made, they were not evident to us.

The first sights we saw from the bus reinforced some preconceived ideas -- there are few cars, which are mainly the old US classics from the 50s or Russian Ladas; and the beautiful architecture is suffering from decades of neglect due to lack of resources. We spent the rest of the day until 5 pm touring the city before checking into our hotel, the Capri, where the stars stayed when filming the 50s classic "Our Man in Havana." We found many of our preconceived notions to be statically stuck in time and did not reflect Cuba today.

Old Town Havana is a beautiful area with a 16th century fort and handsome architecture. Some of the buildings have been restored and more are in the works. While having lunch on the rooftop of a paladar (a privately owned restaurant), we looked up to see a wonderful old building, badly in need of repair, where one of the apartment inhabitants had hung the wash on the balcony. Bob took photos for later reference.

I wanted to show everyday life in this busy city. It was important to show the aging walls of the building. I stumbled upon a good way to do the cracked areas after applying the overall texture with sponge and a mop brush. I happened to get too much paint on the paper and voila, I had a crack filled with dirt.

Here are a fews photos from our first day in Havana. The descriptions are quoted from Wikipedia.

Built initially in 1589 in response to raids on 
Havana harbor, el Morro protected the mouth of 
the harbor with a chain being strung out across the 
water to the fort at La Punta.

The basilica and the monastery of San Francisco de Asis 
(Saint Francis of Assisi) were built in Havana, Cuba at the end of 
sixteenth century (1580–91) as the home of the Franciscan 
community, and were altered in the baroque style in 1730

In Plaza Vieja. The plaza was originally called 
Plaza Nueva (New Square).[2] It emerged as an open 
space in 1559, after the Plaza de Armas and San Francisco. 
Plaza de Armas

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Monday Morning Drawing Class: The German Beer Stein

15" x 15" Pastel

Drawing instructor Bob Semans brought in a beautiful beer stein and fruit. Usually I do a pastel in a single morning, but this one took two. The design was a challenge and though it looks complex, I simplified it quite a bit. As always, values are everything in making a successful drawing or painting.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


"Thundering Waters"
12" x 15" Watercolor
I changed out my old Windows machine for a Macbook Air which I love, but I had problems working on my blog. Bob solved the problem by installing Chrome. However, if anyone else has suggestions for a good blogger app, I would appreciate hearing from you. 

Now for the happy news: Recently I received an award at the 49th Annual Members Show of the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society. You can see the winners from the show and the juror's comments.

We were heading for a multi-week vacation and I almost did not enter the show. Usually I create a painting specifically for the show, but this time I entered a recent painting inspired by our winter storms. California has suffered a prolonged drought. After four years with two of water rationing, we have had more than the normal rainfall. In January the Anderson Dam spillway was in high gear and I loved a photo my sister-in-law, Jackie, took of the water. She gave me permission to use the photo as inspiration for my work. I was very honored to receive the award as the show was of a very high quality.

Check out the winners on the SCVWS website.

For those who are local, the show will be open until the end of April at the beautiful Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos. The show is hung on the second floor of the main building.