Wednesday, July 26, 2017


I've been experimenting with making paint from natural pigments. I've purchased dried pigment from several sources: Natural Earth Paint, Natural Pigments, The Art Treehouse, but I wanted to try making paint from rocks I pick up, such as this stone I found on a hike in the woods behind my home.


Step One, Grinding. I break a chunk of it into small pieces with a hammer. This particular stone crumbled pretty easily, so it wasn't too much trouble. I grind it into a powder with a mortar and pestle that I only use for art supplies, never food. Here I added a little bit of water to make a paste, because I found it made the job easier.

A rock I found in the woods behind my house
Grinding with a mortar and pestle


Step Two, Levigation and washing. I stir the powder (or paste) in a container of water. Any organic matter will float, and I can pour it off. I top it off with water again, and stir it. I let it settle for 30 seconds or so while the heavier particles settle to the bottom. Only fine particles are still suspended in the water. I pour the water into another container, and let the fine particles settle, leaving clear water at the top. I pour off as much of this water as I can, without losing any of the fine pigment particles. I'll grind the heavier particles again, and repeat the process to get more usable pigment.

Pigment stirred into water
After 20-30 seconds settling time


Step Three, Drying. I pour whatever's left onto a piece of glass, in this case an old picture frame with silicone caulk around the edges from its days as my primary studio palette. I set the frame outside to allow the remaining water to evaporate, and then scrape the dry pigment into an empty container until I'm ready to use it.

Pigment poured onto glass to dry
Dried pigment


Step Four, Mixing. I pour the dry pigment onto a heavy piece of 1/4" glass (my studio palette) and mix it with a small amount of linseed or walnut oil using a palette knife at first, then a glass muller. It takes less oil than you'd think, so always add a little at a time.

Mixing linseed oil into pigment
Using a muller to mix paint thoroughly


Step Five, Tubing and Testing. I Fill an empty tube of paint and test it out. Here is the color straight out of the tube, and mixed with white. It reminds me of a Terra Rosa paint, which is logical, since the original rock was pink.

tubing paint
test driving the paint


As a bonus, I mixed a little bit with some Gum Arabic and a tiny bit of honey (which I read aids with paint flow), and made a half pan of watercolor. I tested it out in my sketchbook, using it to paint the half pan I made.

pigment made into watercolor
test driving the watercolor in my sketchbook

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