Studio Painting: Lazy Days

“Lazy Days” 12×16″, a/c
Value study (6×8″, a/board)
Initial concept sketch
Reference Photo
This scene is from the summer days when I’d pass by a field of cows in Columbus, TX on my way home. It started with that initial glance of the lazy cows trying to find shade under a sparsely branched cedar. I shot a quick photo as I passed by. Months later, I was flying to Marblehead to visit my brother and his family and flipped through the photos on my phone looking to sketch on the flight. Seeing this photo, I was able to zoom in cropping the rest of it, focusing in on the heart of what I saw in that glance. Months later, I was flipping through my sketch book and thought I’d post it to my Instagram account (@teveman) and after watching a DVD of John Poon teaching his method, figured I’d give it a go. I did the small value sketch last night to both work out the composition more and find some good brush strokes. This morning, I woke up and it went quickly! I thought it’d be fun to mix up my palette a bit and colors I don’t normally use that leaned towards the warm size. As I went, I saw the need to make the cows tan, rather than white to really stand out against the green surrounding and remembered the cows I’d seen around my home. I took a risk, but it seemed to work out well. I thought the cows might need more detail, but then stopped. It’s usually better to have bold, defining strokes than a bunch of strokes searching for a way to say what one careful stroke can do. Fun study! The enjoyment really is in the process of the painting.

I highly recommend John Poon’s Landscapes DVD. He has great organizational skills and presents how to use a busy scene, clarify the focus and work through a four step process. He also works in acrylics, but it’s equally good for oils as well.

Plein Air: Small Statue

For a change in subject from the usual landscapes, I painted a small cement statue of a boy holding grapes and a cup. My grandmother has owned this for probably longer than I’ve been alive, and now that she lives away from home in assisted living, I think she’d enjoy this one. 

What caught my eye initially to do this sketch was the deep shadows cast across the face and body, but as I started painting it, all the colors and the dry texture were so interesting, it became a secondary focus. Over the years, lichen has grown onto it in deep purples, greens and rust colored oranges. It was a unexpected challenge to find those colors both for the shadow and the lit sides! For the painters out there, if you take a picture of it, seeing it in the camera screen will clearly show you where you are probably off in both color and accuracy of the proportions (but not value). I found several times I was not painting with a warm enough color in the sun-lit side and making that adjustment really helped to offset the cool colors in the shadows! Nice way to check yourself as it progresses. 

Studio Work: “Sunset over Sedan” Weimar, TX

A few weeks ago, I rode my bike down the road in Weimar, TX around dusk, and found an amazing scene with clouds rolling up behind the treeline. I had just enough time to catch the mood in a quick sketch and the basic colors. It wasn’t anything show-worthy, but the information was gold. It’s more than just a sketch, but more like a short story without words. It was calm, warm, the clouds where changing behind the trees while the setting sun changes the color. Cows were grazing slowly along the tree line. It was serene. 

That’s the first part of the journey. A studio painting takes on a story of it own. It starts with a replica of the sketch, just enlarged, but as the painting developed, the composition calls for changes. The tree line on the right and background trees needed to be reduced to support the focal area around the big tree where the sun meets it. The field in the foreground had no road, but it added a the viewer access into the area mentally to explore. It didn’t change the serene feeling, which is the central role the painting is founded on. It may call for little tweaks over the next few weeks, but it’s a solid finish already.

Plein Air: Ol barn in Weimar, Texas

Indoor pic
On-location picture

I had a chance to get in a quick sketch before the sun went down of an old barn with a raised water tanks used for the house or cattle back in the day. This is on the edge of town about two blocks over from my house (small town!).  What struck me about this scene was how the light on the red barn and rust of the tower contrasted with cool grey greens and blues of the field and background trees. It’s a simple composition, but if I play it right using deep, warm colors in the shadow of the barn, it can be a very dynamic, yet peaceful painting. The other aspect that draws me in is the softness in the grass and background vs the sharp edges of the barn and water tank. It was hard to catch this with the limited time (about 45min), but the image is cemented in my mind from studying it so closely.

Will post the studio version soon!

Still Life Studies: Value Sketches

Quick post: After doing a value sketch (limiting the still life to 4 values: light, medium light, medium dark and dark), I wondered how it would apply to easing the panting process. I matched the colors and values to roughly block in the orange and it went great! So, I figured, what’s next? I threw in spoon that just helped me finish off a tub of Blue Bell ice cream, worked for that too. I liked how it was going, so I figured I’d make a theme of it and threw in the sketch pad and white charcoal pencil. Boom. Done. Fun study with a limited palette: Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, and Titanium White. Oh, by the way, I finished reading “Bold Strokes” by Mark Weber and it really helped! Great book.

Plein air: Weimar, TX

It’s been a while since my last post since Instagram has been popularized as an artist hangout, but blogging is really the place to tell the story behind the painting. So, I’ll begin again.

I’ve enjoyed cycling on the country roads around Weimar, TX filled with scenes of farm life, cows, hay bales and old crooked barns. I have a small day pack with my favorite Walmart field easel strapped to it, which is something the locals aren’t quite used to seeing. When I find a scene and pull off the side and set up my tripod-easel, they think I’m a surveyor or something practical. To see me painting, well that’s just weird. With repetition, I’m slowly breaking them in and now have the western side of Weimar used to me, waving and checking out what’s new on the easel. 

I ventured out to the eastern side for this scene and found a small shallow creek winding through the grasses and large Live Oaks. The bridge over it had just enough room to set up on the side. As folks passed, they had no idea what I was doing and I got the “stink eye” from some. It’ll take some time, but they’ll learn and soon enough, start to wave. It’s the Weimar way. Change takes time, but anything new is refreshing. 

I was fascinated with the different shadows being cast on the ground and water by the trees and grass. It’s hard to catch everything in the small 6×9″ sketch pad, but shadows from small moss patches shadowed the creek bed like clouds do on a large open space, following the contours of the bottom.

Well, if your an Instagrammer, my username is @teveman. 

Studio Work: Afternoon Grazing

14×18″ acrylic on stretched canvas, “Afternoon Grazing”

While driving to and from work at an artist’s studio in Columbus, TX, I pass by many fields with cows. One field in particular is on the west side of the road and the cows hang close to the fence, back-lit by the sun. When I saw this young cow with the fuzzy hair on the ears lit up like they were glowing, I hit my brakes, rolled down the window and caught this pose just in time.  A couple days later, I needed a painting to start on my Friday “artist-in-studio” sessions at the local Live Oak Center. I propped up my laptop on a table, and got started. That was a few weeks ago, and since then, this painting has hung around the kitchen at home. It seems if I see it around in passing, my mind works on it and when I see it again, I think “this needs a cactus”, or “I need to change the background cow’s color. The last time I passed it, it just seemed like it was done. I had the goal in the starting point to add color into the shadows on the main cow to draw interest and past that, I really didn’t care. It was a simple goal and if the rest of the surrounding parts support that cow as the main character, it’s a success. I was going to name it “Moo”, but I think a gallery would prefer “Afternoon Grazing”.  Fun times.

Plein Air: Exploring Watercolors

I’ve been testing out watercolors in the past weeks around the area I work at in Columbus, TX as a new way to do outdoor sketches. I see it with “Urban sketchers”, in James Gurney videos, and many illustrators who use gouache, a opaque watercolor (ex. Mike Hernandez… awesome). Also, other bloggers in the WordPress art community are trying this as a challenge. Thanks for the inspiration, Martha! I thought I’d write down some thought I’d had while doing these studies, making all the mistakes I could as I went (which is a good thing).  As a rookie, now I have a HUGE appreciation for the works of master watercolorist like those seen in this article “Famous Watercolor Artists” (check out John Singer Sargent!).

Here are a few sketches I’ve done, each with a description and date.



What I’ve found so far is that watercolor isn’t as limiting as I thought. I had figured, less pigment in a watered down form… meh. However, the light colors such as yellows, green and light blues have a luminescent quality because they are transparent over the white page, making a glow effect seldom seem with acrylics or oils. As I adjusted to this painting style, I’ve found it follows all of the same rules in painting, just in a different way of applying the paint. Design, lighting effects, values, edges … all the things that are used to represent the scene, don’t change. Rather than laying down a dark shadow color, then layering light color over it in acrylics and oils, it goes light to dark, adding the shadows last. Either way, matching values (how light or dark it is) is key. For example, the wood pile was much darker than the brightly lit background grass. At first, I had made the wood pile much lighter and it seemed to look bland, but going back into it with a darker grey-brown really gave it a realistic punch. Edges, the line between two object, can be hard or softened by loosening it up with water to let it spread a bit. At the end, when all the lights are darks are painted, there is a white tube of watercolor paint in the kit. Even though it’s limited in power because it’s fairly transparent, it can help to give a little definition along an edge. For example, “Gray” the dog, had bright hair along his feet and hairs on his face. Going back in with the white really helped contrast the feet from the dark hair.

The best bonus I can see with watercolor is the small size of the painting kit. I’ve seen kits that can practically fit in your jeans pocket, perfect for a backpacking adventure where weight and size are crucial. It’s a great option to have!!

Plein Air: Columbus, TX

I did a bunch of sketches today. The day started with a hazy, overcast sky, which greyed down everything, but it also enhanced the appearance of trees in the background looking like they were miles off rather than just a few hundred feet. I drove up to a scene right outside of Weimar, TX and had some trouble with all the colors being so close to grey, but it was a good warm up:

I went and worked for a couple of hours and saw the lighting just get better by the minute. The Weather Channel app was calling for rain three days in a row starting tomorrow, so I went out to do some quick studies hoping I’ll have some good ones to enlarge tomorrow as an “artist in residence” in the Columbus Art Center. I drove just outside of the Columbus city limits along the highway and tuned off on a road that said “no outlet” and was full of cracked pavement with a lame attempt to fill it with gravel. Perfect. It led to a gate along a fence with a scene full of depth. Here’s a couple small studies from that area:

I like the dark shadows and more saturated greens of the close trees versus the blueish shadows and more muted greens in the distance.

That went much quicker than I thought, so I headed back to the highway, and somehow found myself in a Beason Park, in Columbus, a place I’ve painted before. Huge oaks! I set up to do the same thing with close up trees and distant trees, but I’d be in the oak grove with soft spotlights through the leaves on the green grass. When I checked the distant trees closer, I saw the tower of the famous courthouse poking through the tops of the trees like a postcard image. It was a no-brainer. After a 5 minute value sketch and a ten minute color study, I got out an 11×14″ canvas panel and tried my luck. It would be a perfect scene for tomorrow! After about 2 hours, here’s what I ended with:

“The Columbus, TX Courthouse Bell Tower” 11×14″, acrylic

It could use a bit of adjusting, but this will work! I’ll start a 16×20″ or larger of it tomorrow in oils. Another fun adventure.

Plein Air: Old Ranch House in Weimar, TX

Ol’ Ranch House at Sunset, acrylic, 8×10″ (Sold! Thanks, Sharon and Glynn!!)
I went out to paint close to sunset at an old ranch house surrounded by Live Oaks just down the road from me. In fact, it’s the same ranch with the barn I did a study on in an earlier post a week or two ago. What drew me to it was the bright white of the house lit up by the sun shining almost directly against it, in contrast to the dark live oaks. I had just enough time to slap down the color notes before the sun set and then took it home to finish it. I softened the edges of the trees and sky to give it a sense of mystery but maintain the peace you feel when viewing it. 

I was curious what else is down this street since I now have about ten paintings just from the first three miles, so tied on the jogging shoes and did the full loop (7+ miles). I saw at least three more paintings and have seriously sore calves. Worth it!