Wednesday, March 22, 2017


On March 5, 2017, I made the 8-hour drive to Big Bend National Park, and spent the next week painting with a group of about 40 people from the Outdoor Painters Society. This was my 2nd trip to the park. The first time was February, 2012(!) It was nice to get reacquainted with old friends, and make new ones. Springtime is probably the best time to be there, because there are blooming plants and wildflowers, and it's not too hot yet. I stayed in the town of Terlingua, just outside the park. On the day I arrived, I drove up one of the local roads and found a nice spot to set up. It was getting late, and I knew I would have to work quickly before the sun went down. I painted for about 15  minutes before I lost the light, so I was never able to hit the really bright highlights and define the rocks. I figured I'd come back to complete the painting the next day, but couldn't find the location again, no matter how many times I drove through the area. Good thing I took some photos to go along with the study I painted... 
Somewhere in Terlingua, Texas

Start of an evening's painting in Terlingua, Texas, 9x12" oil
The next morning I drove into the park. When you get there early enough, you see all sorts of wildlife. Mostly jackrabbits, but sometimes you see folks like this guy at the edge of the road. One of the painters in my group saw a cougar cub (it still had its spots) and told the rangers about the sighting. He said they seemed surprised to hear about the cub.
Wile E. Coyote proves he's not drunk
I painted at Santa Elena Canyon twice. The first time was on an 11 x 14" piece of canvas, which gave me a painting surface of about 10.5 x 13.5" after I taped it to my board in the way I learned from New Zealand painter John Crump. Santa Elena Canyon is a spot you want to paint in the morning. I got there about 7:30 AM.
Santa Elena Canyon # 1, Early Morning 10.5 x 13.5" oil
Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend Natl Park

The second time I painted there was toward the end of the week, and I thought I'd use a piece of synthetic canvas that was left over from the end of a roll. The dimensions made it very appropriate for a landscape painting. 
Santa Elena Canyon #2, Early Morning 10 x 20" oil
 When I finished, I turned my easel around and painted the opposite direction.
Near Santa Elena Canyon, Late Morning 8.75 x 11.75" oil

The road to the Chisos Basin is pretty scenic, and I went up there a few times to paint.
The Road to the Chisos Basin, Afternoon 10.25 x 13" oil
The coolest thing about doing this painting was when I was finished. I looked up to find a young buck mule deer staring at me from about 10 feet away. He let me go to my car to get my camera so I could take some pictures of him, while he calmly munched on some greenery. After a while he wandered off, followed by his gal pal.

Another painting I did along the same road.
The Road to Chisos Basin, Morning 8.5 x 9" oil
A visitor to the park asked to take my photo as I was getting started. I let him, provided he took one with my camera.

Finally, some more of the pictures I took around the park. The first one was taken on my iphone, and the others were taken on my Canon.

Monday, January 9, 2017


I picked up some colorful and interesting leaves during my morning walk, so that I'd have something to paint in my sketchbook during my lunch hour. I've probably painted everything in my office by now. Sumac, Bradford pear and the different varieties of oak trees are the most colorful in this part of Texas during the fall. This one is about 8 x 10" and painted on some stretched hot press watercolor paper.
Sumac Leaves
These Bradford Pear leaves were painted in a 3.5 x 5.5" Pentalic Watercolor Sketchbook.

This image of a red oak leaf includes the actual leaf I painted. I thought it was interesting to mount it to the watercolor paper. Too bad the color won't stay as vibrant; it's already gotten a lot duller in the short time since it was painted. It might be interesting to watch it change color over time compared to the painted version. It's about 9 x 12."
Red Oak

This was painted life size. I'm not sure what 
variety of oak this is but it has ENORMOUS acorns.
Insert your own joke here. 
Oak and Acorn

More oak leaves in various states of decay. The ones that are more damaged are always more interesting to paint.

Finally, the first new paintings of 2017. I stumbled upon this abandoned house about 30 minutes from my home, and spent about 2 hours painting it in oil. I'm about 70% happy with it. I'm bothered by the issues with perspective in the front gable, as well as the way the shadow underneath makes it look like it's floating there (it needs some grass to break up that edge. Both things are easily fixed, if I want to adjust them in the studio. I'm sure I won't get to it, but you never know.

Painting an abandoned home in Webberville, TX

Abandoned house, Webberville, TX, Afternoon 9 x 12"
My first studio painting of 2017. I found the bird (which I call The Maltese Sparrow) at a junk
store. The books are "The World of Li'l Abner" from 1953, "The Sad Sack" from 1944, and an English Phrasebook for Italians from 1907.

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Still Life with Red Books 11 x 14" oil

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Barton Creek, Morning, 9x12"
Winter has finally arrived, but I got out to do a little painting this past autumn, whenever I had the chance, and the weekend weather cooperated. In this part of Texas, "winter" usually just means rain on the weekend and clouds or sun the rest of the week (when I'm at work), with the occasional chilly day. Barton Creek and Bull Creek are my go-to places in Austin.

Trattoria Lisina, morning 9x12"
I also made another stop at Trattoria Lisina in Driftwood to paint the exterior of the restaurant. It's a terrific setting looking out over a vineyard. I think this was my 3rd time to paint the grounds.

I refuse to be sucked into the whole Black Friday shopping thing, so once again I went outside. This year found me in Luckenbach, Texas in a misting rain painting the iconic post office.
Luckenbach, TX , Rainy Morning 9x12"
Painting the Luckenbach, TX Post Office

Guthrie Bldg, Kerrville, Night 9x12"

Afterward, I went to Kerrville, where I set up to paint one of the Christmas-decorated buildings.

I've been having a lot of fun recently with small sketches in my watercolor sketchbook. I mainly have been doing these during my lunch hour at work.

Ringo Starr turned 76 this year, and I painted a drumstick in my sketchbook in his honor. By an odd coincidence, I had painted a Granny Smith apple on the previous page of the book.

On my office windowsill I have a Happy Buddha figurine that was given to me a few years ago as a souvenir. The shells are from the time I took a flight on a WWII B-17 bomber (it was awesome!) The copper one is a
50 caliber, and the blue one is 70 mm (I think).

These sketchbook pages are 5 x 8" and feature things I have in my desk, or I found in the supply cabinet at work. I've owned that "Snoopy Harp" since about 1970. I can verify that it REALLY hurts when it whacks against your teeth, but I can sound like a Cylon from the original Battlestar Galactica, or imitate Peter Frampton's talking guitar!

For some unknown reason, there were clothespins in the pencil drawer of our office supply cabinet. I pressed a few into service as models for about 45 minutes.

I think Eberhard Faber Design Markers were the best magic markers on the planet for doing marker comps. They were discontinued, but I still have a few that I hoard jealously. This is another way of saying that I can't bring myself to get rid of them. They also make good subjects for watercolor sketches.
I have painted the inside of quite a few of these mini Altoids tins with white appliance enamel, so I can make watercolor kits with different color palettes, or give them to people who might want to make their own portable set. They will hold 5 half-pans of watercolor. I buy empty ones and fill them from tubes. Many art supply stores carry these empty pans, or you can find them on ebay (cheap!), if you are willing to wait a month to get them shipped from Hong Kong! They are great for a travel set when used with water brushes like the one I painted in this page from my sketchbook.
Altoids travel set and water brush

color chart (5 colors)
Here are the 5 colors in the one shown above (Turner and Daniel Smith), and a chart showing the mixes you can make with them. They are: Hansa Yellow Medium, Sap Green, Phthalo Green (Red Shade), Phthalo Blue, and Alizarin Crimson.

watercolor tubes

And finally, a 3.5" x 5.5" sketchbook page 
Altoid Smalls Cinnamon

Monday, June 6, 2016


I just returned from a painting workshop (May 19-22, 2016) in Santa Cruz, taught by the trio of John Crump, Richard Robinson, and Scott Hamill. John is New Zealand's best plein air oil painter. I've wanted to take a workshop with him for a long time, and own all of his DVDs. It was a bonus having the others teaching at the same time.

The first thing that I learned by going to this workshop was: Always make sure your driver's license hasn't expired before you go out of state and try to rent a car.  I ended up having to take an Uber car to the AirBnB place I was staying, and begged rides from other workshop attendees (thanks, Mireille, Mary Jo and Reiko!). Scott, John, and Richard were kind enough to pick me up for the first day's painting at Shark Fin Cove. I'd never painted along any coast before, so I was pretty anxious to begin.

The workshop started on Thursday, but I arrived on Tuesday, because I wanted to have a day to settle in, buy any extra art supplies I might need (like solvent and paper towels), and maybe do a painting or two. Unfortunately I was slightly hobbled by the whole "no car" thing, so I couldn't go too far. Luckily, Mission Santa Cruz was about a 10 minute walk away.

Mission Santa Cruz 9x12"
John did a demo at a local art supply store on Tuesday afternoon, and Richard did one on Wednesday.
John Crump painting demo at Lenz Arts in Santa Cruz, CA
Richard Robinson painting demo at Lenz Arts in Santa Cruz,CA

I thought I'd watch Scott paint his demo on the first morning at Shark Fin Cove, since he decided to paint the view that attracted me. Unfortunately, by the time he finished, the light had changed too much; I wasn't interested in painting it any more.

Scott Hamill demo at Shark Fin Cove
Instead, I painted a view through a hole in the rocks, where some algae was glowing in the sunlight. Richard came over as I was finishing, and took a photo of me on location.

Painting at Shark Fin Cove

Shark Fin Cove, Afternoon 9x12"
Day two was at Garapatta State Park near Carmel. This time, I set up to paint right next to Richard while he demoed; I could listen to him and take the occasional photo of his progress while working on my own canvas.
Richard Robinson, Garapatta demo
My painting Garapatta State Park, Morning 9x12"
Scott was off somewhere else doing his demo painting, and I didn't get a picture of it. John painted nearby; I got a photo of his finished painting.
John Crump, Garapatta demo
My afternoon painting was less successful. I was doing a backlit painting of some rocks, but the clouds came in and I lost my light. Plus, I wasn't too thrilled with it to begin with.
My attempt to paint in the afternoon (thanks, Scott, for taking the photo)
Day Three was at Panther Beach. I didn't paint along that morning; I watched John paint his demo instead, so I might actually learn something (I couldn't concentrate on my own painting and learn from Richard at the same time on the previous day). I wanted to buy this one, but another student got it before I opened my mouth.
John Crump's demo at Panther Beach
After John finished, I walked out onto the cliffs where I set up to work. I even caught sight of a whale swimming past. Richard thought I was too hard on myself for hating this one. (Frank: "It's lousy." Richard: "Compared to what?" Frank: "Compared to art.") I was very disappointed with my painting, but I can use it as a color study for a larger painting if I want to. Unlikely, but anything's possible.
Panther Beach, afternoon 9x12"
Day four was held at Moss Landing, where a bunch of boats were in for repair. I set up to paint a boat called Jennie Rose, which happened to be the same boat that Richard and Scott put in their paintings. Once again, I took photos of Richard's every so often; he was set up just to the left and in front of me.

Richard Robinson demo of the Jennie Rose
My painting, Jennie Rose 9x12"
I started another study of a small boat, but didn't finish it, because I wasn't happy with the way it was headed (that seems to have been a trend this week with afternoon paintings). I wasn't the only one unhappy with the afternoon's painting. John scraped down two of his because he didn't like the way they were going.
My afternoon small boat study 9x12"
John Crump's afternoon painting in progress, just before he scraped it down.
I got the guys to sign my easel and had a photo made with the trio before we all packed up for the day and got dinner at a local fish restaurant. Luckily for my vegetarian self, they had a really good roasted artichoke, onion rings, and beer. I can never think of artichokes without saying the line from the Little Rascals, "It mighta choked Artie, but it ain't gonna choke Stymie." I clearly had a serious addiction to TV as a kid.

Robinson, Hamill, Crump, and Gabriel
I bought a painting from each of the guys. John forgot to bring his to the last day of classes, and so he and Richard delivered it on Monday, as I had no car. I pointed out to John that he'd forgotten to sign it! I grabbed my gear, and he quickly remedied that.

John Crump signs the painting I bought from him.
Richard's was still wet, so I don't have it yet. Scott is finishing a larger studio painting based on the one I bought from him, the demo he painted on the first day. So far, I've bought at least one painting from each of the people whose workshops I've attended. A good way to build a collection.

I called another Uber car to take me to the airport, and watched the driver scrape hell out of his rear hubcap as he pulled to the curb to pick me up, then straighten out and scrape hell out of his front hubcap. Oh... then he backed up and I had to holler "Stop!" before he bumped into another curb. He didn't inspire confidence. I got to the airport early enough so that I had some time to scribble a few drawings in my sketchbook as the disembodied voice over the loudspeaker called for stragglers to get to their flights.

sketchbook scribbling