The leaves are changing and pumpkins are out along the front yard walls in Marblehead. I saw this riding my bike around town and it seemed like it’d make for a cool fall-style painting. It’s one of those you can put up temporarily for the month as a fall celebration. I think I’ll add a few maple leaves to finish it off in the studio.
After yesterday’s experience painting plein air with water soluble oils, I couldn’t wait to try again. I finally found a prickly pear on the road side near a fence with good backlighting for an ideal composition. I did a quick value study sketch and then dove right in. I noticed the grasses were dull from too many paints mixing, so when I got home, I made up a big pile of light green and smeared it on. Love those thick, juicy brush strokes!
I read on Wet Canvas forums an idea of putting two cheap frames together with the wet panels facing inwards, the rubber banding them together. Works perfect as a carrier!
After finally getting past the worst case of chiggers I’ve ever had (thank you Borden Lake), I took a jog near the house and crossed over Nolan Creek on the overpass. Normally, you can smell this creek hundred of feet before you get there even in a wind, but today it was clear and … well, reduced from pungent to semi-odoriferous. Not ready to tackle another bout of chiggers, I decided to get my painting pack, get on the bike and look from spots along the sides of the creek’s rockbed. I wore boots and jeans just in case (chigger deterrent) and looked a bit strange riding on my mountain bike dreaming it was horse, but it’s in the name of art, right?
Scanning the area, I saw some rapids moving from the shadows into the sunlight, which make a full spectrum of color and motion. In the water shadows, I saw the steely-blue reflections of the sky countered by a dark green. As it moved into the light, it became a washed out yellow-green, but in the mid-shadow just it entered the sunlight, there was a translucent glow. If I could capture that glow and the sense of motion, nothing else in the study mattered.
There’s a reason most painters avoid moving water. It’s dang hard to paint. But this is what distinguishes the great painter, such as Zorn and Saergent.
After feeling like I caught the last scene, I was about the head back when I saw this clump of grass casting a shadow on the rocks in the setting sun. The lit part of the grass seemed to sweep the light into the air against the dark background, like a dramatic pose. I figured I had a good hour of “good” light left and quickly painted the basic colors of the shadows and lit portions of the scene. It didn’t take long to work in some detail with a variety of brushes and “poof”, it was done. It’s nice when that happens.
It was a battle with the water. The reflections in the shadows seems to defy logic being a midtone, but seeming to be a highlight next to the dark colors of the water. Squint and look at the whole scene to see how “dark” it is compared to the light areas. As far as how to apply the brushstrokes to emulates moving water, I’m a rookie and hope you have advice for me! Keeping the banks relatively grey kept the emphasis on the focal point where the water moves into the bright yellow-green.
The clump of grass was pretty straight forward, but there is one note: I kept the background greens cooler and closer to a midtone, so the bright, warm sunlit side of the main clump had definition. Also the hint of dark shadows on the foreground clump were darker then any shadows in the background to punch it forward. Hope this helps!
If you don’t see anything to paint, squint and look for the composition (darks contrasting lights). More often the problem is that there’s too much to paint. Keep it simple.
Yesterday I beat the clouds again that rolled in today for another go at a shallow creek with grasses at Miller Springs. This scene was upstream of the last place. In fact, I’m up on the hilltop in the background of the last painting! There’s just something sweet about painting water and hearing the sounds of it gently rolling by. It’s so calming. An hour and a half rolled by in maybe ten minutes. It’s magic.
If you need some inspiration with viewing a master at this type of subject, look at Renato Muccillo’s work. He can take scenes like this into a world of poetry.
Here’s the quick five minute sketch I did beforehand to plan and see the design before starting. The reason it’s so effective is that it forces you to see the scene in values (light/dark) and is a perfect spot to emphasize how to say what you want the viewer to see.
After having so much fun mountain biking and painting yesterday at Miller Springs in Belton, I couldn’t wait to get back out there. A park ranger at the entrance happened to be walking by while I scanned the area map billboard and gave me some great areas to visit. There’s an entirely new section I didn’t know about with huge cliffs… another day! Today, I wanted to explore a bit especially in the spring fed creeks. At a very shallow crossing the rocks sky reflection lit up the water among the grass, reed and rocks. As I looked down near me, the reflection gave way and the algae covered rocks were visible. Great challenge! While painting, that Bob Ross video popped into my head today, so I dedicate this one to all those “happy little grasses”, thanks Bob.
I thought about getting a bigger canvas to fit in the detail, but the aim for this is to just get all the color and basic design. If it turns out, I think I’ll scale it up to a 18 x 24″, getting most of it done in the studio, then head out there at the same time, same place to get the final details. The studio definitely has it perks (constant lighting, loads of paint, big easel…), but there is nothing like being there. I want to catch the feel of it so close you can practically hear the water bumbling over the rocks and smell the wet grass. Hopefully it’ll work. Great day!
Oh, for the artists: you know what a fantastic little backpack transport is for your brushes? A wide-20oz. mouth Gatorade bottle! I had to chop off some of the ends of a few brushes, but it’s perfect. If I can figure out how to carry a wet-paint canvas in there, it’d be worth trying out those water-mixable oil paints! Any tips?
Here’s a pic after the light had almost set on the horizon (meaning the park rangers are going to kick me out):
I had a chance to get out to Miller Springs Nature Center to mountain bike the trails and get in some plein air painting. On a previous hike with the Belton Outdoor Adventure group, I saw a lot of potential for this area with fifty foot limestone cliffs, natural springs, meadows, forests… it has it all. I didn’t make it far until I parked my bike and set up to paint on a cliff side. I stood there looking at the views trying to figure out how in a heck to fit all the scene in on a little 6×8″ canvas panelwhen I looked down I saw blocks of the top limestone layer fragmenting off and grass growing up through the crack producing a neat design. Holding up my thumbs and forefingers into a frame to look at the composition, it looked good with the stones leading into the meadow and beyond. Plus, I look like some kind of pro to the people passing by thinking, “Wow, he MUST be good if he knows the finger frame thing!”. Just kidding. I’m sure most of the time parents tell there kids to hurry along and don’t talk to strangers when I do this.
Here’s the initial sketch and a picture reference:
The angle is slightly different from the view when I stand up and the lighting changed. All the more reason to get that initial sketch in at first!
For the trip story, read on. For the “Painting Stuff”, skip down to the end. (I got kinda wordy on this one)
Day 1: I’m headed to Colorado Bend State Park to a weekend of hiking, painting, mountain biking and possibly spelunking! Can’t wait! I throw gear and the mountain bike in the truck and head 60 miles west of Harker Heights, west of Lampases. Smooth sailing down the highway until the Google Maps failed with bad reception. Hmm. I check the sun feeling outdoorsy… west? It’s 1pm, no clue… I remember reading “take left”, told myself that “left is right”, and took a right. About 20 miles later I curse the countryside, pull a U-turn and finally arrive at the park around 2pm. I look at the park lady and she says “Usually we have tons of sites, but we’ll almost full from six scout troops!”. I asked where the troops are located and then what’s at the other end of the map. She understood perfectly and gave me “the best spot” (next to the compost toilet in drive in camping)… hmm. I hope for quiet neighbors.
I park, grab the paints, camera and ride on River Trail towards the famous Gorman Falls. The falls is “living”, meaning it is depositing minerals making cave-like formations . As I get down the trail and it starts getting weedy with grass up to my waist. This can’t be right. I think this is an unmarked path (deer path?). I find scout troop #1 base camp and ask where the trail is. They look at me kind of funny and point to the trail up on the hill 20 feet. Yep, it’s large, double-wide path. Thanks troops! Ah, so much better. I look over the river at beautiful cabins on other side tucked along huge bluff.
One house on top had a 100ft vertical zigzag staircase. I imagine setting up a repel station! Drooling, I ride on. Then 40-50ft limestone cliffs appear on my side. the potential rock climbing routes are everywhere!! Weaving all over the trail. It’s worse than text driving. I hear whining and pull over for scout troop #2. Poor kid up front, maybe 6-8yr, hair matted with sweat and drooping with a 40lb pack. “I think my I over-packed.”. I wish I could stop and go through his pack with him, telling him to ditch most stuff. I just smiled and thought “Been there kid”. The scout master at tail end said, “You think you’re good enough you don’t need a helmet??”. “Sure!” I replied (Bad answer). He looked at me, not saying anything and passed on. I’m really impressing the troops today. So, finally made it to Gorman Trail, but misread “Gorman Spring Trail” (not “Gorman Falls Trail”). After getting lost in the woods twice for an hour, I finally realize the mistake, curse at the countryside and head to the falls. It beautiful. Sort of surreal. It’s a 50ft cliff with slopes on either side, but the water still goes off the tall edge.
I head back to where I parked my bike, but somehow get really lost this time. There are so many deer trails, its easy to veer off. There’s rocks and prickly pears as far as I can see. I find a random dirt road and decide it the map’s maintenance road, then head 1.75 mi running into the entrance. Wrong direction. I curse the countryside again, and jog back 1.75 miles to the falls, passing all the people I had seen before, but going the other way. Along the way I met a cool scout master from Austin who pointed me in the “right direction” this time. It was another path that lead to the “entrance”. Great. The sun is now on the hill top now with a yellow glow. I jog back to the Falls (again ~1.8 mi) and cross another person who’d previously also given me directions. I explained I don’t want to go to the “entrance”, but the “bike rack at the front of Gorman Spring Trail”. “Oh, that right around the corner the other way.” I instantly see the Dumb & Dumber bus scene. Less then 0.5mi later I’m back at my bike. Exhausted. “Well, at least I have my hiking legs back”. I shoot down the trail 3 mi to camp site, set up my tent just before dark and make P&J Sandwiches at picnic table at site. I’m starving. About to take huge bite, I see standing six feet to my right, a big deer! It’s just staring at my food like a dog. “It’s not right to feed the deer.” I tell myself and chomp through two sandwiches and a can of peach slices in no time. Open up peanut butter crackers and deer comes up around other side. My neighbor’s nuclear powered lantern hit a glint in the Bambi eyes and I fold. I throw him a cracker. Silence, sniffing… Crunch, crunch with a cow chew motion. Peanut butter must be sticky to him. Amused, I toss a couple more. By now I’m talking to the deer and say,”Do you agree with Obama giving out so much free stuff to those who don’t want to work?”. I picked up a clump of grass and tossed it to him. He walked away! I named him “Freebie”.
So now I’m in my tent warming up the sleeping bag. A group of frat guys farting and talking about women and “Space Balls?” is to my left. Hmm, they might be hillbillies. I don’t think Lampasas has a college. I’ll check for mullets tomorrow. To the right (w the nuclear lamp) is “Nathaniel” a boy who cusses loudly at his parents w no punishment. Ahh, the sounds of “nature” … And a deer right outside, circling my tent staring at me! Unbelievable! “Go away! Eat some grass”. Note to self … Reservations for “primitive, no-neighbor, camping” next time.
It was really cold last night. I must of slept, but only nose was sticking out of bag. With the sun coming up, I touch sides of tent – ice! There’s a solid blanket of condensation frozen and my down sleeping bag is soaked (so that’s why I was cold).
I woke up pumped to hike out and paint places I saw, but the warmth of the sleeping bag feels so good. “I will not get lost”, I say out loud and jump out of the tent wearing shorts and jacket. I shivering like crazy, but get my campsite packed up. It feels good to face the challenge. It’s like having a renewed sense of faith and confidence in myself. I head up to the truck and there he was “Freebie!”, standing there waiting for a breakfast cracker.
Sun light rose over river bluff and the temps rise from freezing to 50’s instantly! In the shade it’s freezing, sunlight it’s hot so much so that one side of my truck tire was frozen, the other side already warm! I head down towards Gorman Falls to paint and as usual, get lost. Luckily, it was a great thing! I saw my first painting spot!
Spent an hour getting colors just right so I can have them at home for bigger oil painting. Then, on way to the falls, find a huge entrance to a cave down by the river!
Trying to get down to the entrance, I slip down the muddy path directly on bum. I wouldn’t care, except it looks like a big terd stain and hikers behind me will wonder. Oh well, maybe they’ll give me some space. I didn’t have light, but I went about 40 feet in and it looks like cave goes back pretty far! Never made it to falls, but am exhausted and it feels awesome. I feel like myself again.
There’s no question this was a trip that required a bit of patience, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. So much fun!!
This is a spot on “Dog-leg Side Trail” about 1/4 mi from where it meets River Trail. I wanted the viewer to feel like they are sitting right there (and hopefully will want to go see it for real!). I took the plein air painting I’d done (photo above) and did a larger oil painting of it as soon as I got home while it was fresh on my mind. The changing light was hard, so I took a reference photo beforehand for later. I took a bit of artistic license and added more green than there really was to liven it up a bit.
Thanks to Amanda Danning and a benefactor, I headed to the Amarillo Art Institute to soak up painting wisdom from Josh Sorenson (Mon-Wed) followed by camping in Palo Duro Canyon (Thurs-Sun). To make it worse, it’s going to have a highs in the 70’s and 80’s. Torture.
Sunday travel: 8 hours travel time from Harker Heights to Amarillo through Ft. Worth. Almost instantly after passing through the sky scrapers and scent of cow manure Ft Worth was gone and so was my cell phone reception. I realized after about 20 checks to see if my FaceBook new reel updated and failed, I might have to face reality: a flat, open non-digital land.
This photo of the “24/7 Yum Machine Store” caught the character of Chillicothe, TX pretty good. As I passed through Quanah, I saw a train car with “Hooker” sign. It was turned into a shack sitting next to the high school football field. Do they still have brothels?? I stopped in the Dairy Queen and the workers were a whole mix of town personality. The teller guy was goth. Black hair, clothes, everthing. His buddy cooking the burgers was still in his camo-gear. I’m guessing he was hunting before work. The lady manager said hi while digging through a box of spare parts to “fix the speaker”. “Is this for real?” I thought. Then the teller said, “Sorry, we only take cash.”. Yep, it’s real.
I arrived at the Ambassador Hotel in Amarillo half shaven, with a shirt I paint in, swim trunks and flip flops expecting it to be an upscale motel. I could kick the cockroaches off the bed and hunker down. Nope. Mercedes, Escalades… it was the Ritz. I entered the hotel and I had to laugh silently in surrender. There was an “art event” around the corner with people dressed up everywhere. I stood out. The man checking in was in slacks, shirt tucked in, and the woman looked like she just spent hours getting her hair to freeze perfectly. The man turned around and was speechless. I actually apologized. Quickly reminding myself nobody knows me here, I went to my room, took a shower and shaved.
Day 1 and 2 : I found my way to the Amarillo Art Institute and “Spunky”, the Art Institute director (very cool lady!) met me. She showed me around, introduced me to some folks and made me feel at home. Josh Sorenson met me and we started talking art right away. He’s right at the point where he’s breaking in to his own style, so he paints every day, passionate about what he does. It turned out I was his only student, but he still did the workshop! Thanks Josh! He did a demo and explained the process he goes through when painting and design element that will help me. I still see triangles in composition now, thanks Josh! I also met Kirk Richards (master portrait painter) and visited his studio. Hopefully we’ll get out to paint at Palo Duro, a favorite spot to paint.
Day2 (Tuesday): I started with my first oil painting from a iPhone pic of “Cody”. Oil is going to take some getting used to, especially when I get to landscapes. I can see definite color intensity though! Nice.