Plein Air: Belton, TX along Nolan Ceek

“Playful Moments”, acrylic on paper, 8″x6″ish.
June in Texas is a game of dodging thunderstorms! I saw blue in the sky and actual shadows on the ground, so I headed out to paint along Nolan Creek that runs through the middle of Belton, TX. Everyone and their dog (literally) was in the river tubing, feeding the geese and getting a nice sun burn. 

I wanted to express that great feeling of sunlight and sense of fun along the creek bank and snapped a few photos from my phone of the geese. Right then a girl that had been feeding the geese walked down to the water with the geese following. I quickly set up, did a few 1 minute sketches of the geese and gesture of the girl as practice, took ten minutes to do a small thumbnail color map (blobs of color next to each other to see the relationships), and dug into the sketch. I wanted the feeling of sunlight to fill the painting, so I toned the paper with a watered down yellow and layer down paint over that. It peeks through in areas nicely. After spending about twenty minutes roughly filling in the background and grass, keeping it somewhat abstract, I filled the geese and kid in from the pic on my phone with enough detail and form to add a sense of realism. It’s so much fun! It feels like it adds movement and life into the sketch getting a bit closer the the feel of being there. 

One hour later … dark skies, rain and thunder. Ha. 

HONK! Goose for see ya next time (and you better bring bread).


Plein Air: Chalk Ridge Falls

This is an area along the river in Chalk Ridge Falls in Belton, TX,  a local hot spot for me where I can explore and consistently find something to study. Rivers, creeks, grasslands, rocks, caves… it has it all.  Plus, it felt great to paint over a previous painting that flopped big time. 

What initially struck me about the scene was the deep curelean blue sky against all of the greens of the land and the shadow of the main bush cast over the sandy ledge. It’s always a challenge to get the right value (darkness) and color of the shadows to coordinate with the sun-lit areas. When it’s right, it’s seamless and the eye just accepts it. The temps are rising as summer approaches and soon enough that green grass will tan. You can bet I’ll be huddled under a tree somewhere out there, thankful for the shade and living in the moment.  

Plein Air: Chalk Ridge Falls lots of Sketching

Some days are made for hiking and sketching outdoors and Chalk Ridge Falls in Belton, TX was the perfect place to go. Shallow spring fed creeks, hidden caves and waterfalls and enough places to roam that you can escape any hiking traffic.

I’m doing “abstractions of nature” as a series, which are patterns that you’d know immediately in context of a place, but when taken out of the setting, it’s beauty is set apart. I hope this will help others to take a closer look at nature in parts and as a whole. 

First sketch: “Submerged” (acrylic/paper, 4×4″)

In noticing the aquatic plants that have grown in a previously dry area, it was rich with warm and cool tones of every color there is. It has subtle shifts from the deep blues and purples into the greens and yellows and even reds as the plants emerge from the deep. Soothing. 

After that almost meditative warm up, I headed up the back alley, where limestone has been warm down by years of spring water eroding it into something resembling a quarter mile bob-sled track. I knew a tucked away place in an off-shoot of the alley where a tributary spring feeds into the main alley. This spot has a hidden rock wall with water always dripping down it and ferns bursting out of it at every crevice. Along one shaded wall, sun lit up one area and with a big branch hanging over the edge it appeared like I was in a cave. So I went after that impression for the second sketch, also somewhat abstract. 

Second sketch: “Entrance” (acrylic/paper, 4×4″ish)

On the way back to the main limstone alley, sun had fallen just enough to shade the offshoot part I had gone on, but the main alley was fully sun-lit. The contrast of gray-purples to the bright yellow white was amazing. It even had a small stream of water leading into the scene. 

Third sketch of the tributary and lit main alley. (a/p, 5×7″)

This is a picture of the alley.

It was time to head home to feed the grumbling stomach and I almost made it until I drove over the Stillhouse Lake Dam near the entrance to the park and saw the setting sun over the water. One u-turn later, my painting kit was out again. 

Fourth sketch: View of Stillhouse Lake at Sunset

Ahh, that hit the spot. What a great way to end a very full day. 

Plein Air: Dana Peak Park (Belton, TX)

First sketch at the park entrance.

I risked the overcast skies and high chance of rain to get in a few sketches at Dana Peak Park today. It’s always a question mark in my head,”Do you really want to do this?” as I drive there, but as soon as I start down the entrance trail, I know it was right. Every time. The thick atmosphere really set the hills in the distance back with deep blues, contrasting to the warm greens of the cedars around me. In five minutes, I was roughing in the most simple statement of the scene, as I’m learning in class in Nathan Fowkes Schoolism class. Fourty minutes later, I put in the last touches and was off to explore more. It was fun seeing people pose at the far end of the trail, hoping to be immortalized in the sketch. 
Second sketch. Named “Clarity”

 I’ve started a series on an Instagram account (@sw_abstractions) that will explore slowly pushing myself into the abstract expression I see in nature, more directed by what I feel than the literal scene. In fact, I name the sketch for the emotion it portrays before I start, stopping myself frequently as I paint to ask, “Am I painting this emotion?”. Often, I’ve gone too far trying to copy the scene and half of my time is spent painting over my careful rendering, back into abstraction. Today I found a deer trail leading off of the main path and almost stepped on a prickly pear cactus almost tucked away in the grass. I saw the big thorns and noted how I focused so closely on those, that the rest of the surrounding grasses faded away. “Clarity” was the feeling I was greatful for, those times in life when everything else in the mind clears and you are in the moment. I think I painted the grass about five times, getting it just right, then seeing I’ve lost the softness and scribbling over it. Good lesson.

Third sketch, old oak skeletons.

After “Clarity”, I walked about four miles over the hills, dodging the Sunday mountain bikers, and found myself just enjoying the exercise. Sensing I was done for the day, I walked toward the entrance when a brief glimpse of sunlight hit some big oak skeletons, weathered and clear of their bark, showing the smooth silver layer underneath. The background hills were still in shadow, so the warm sunlight lit up those oaks brilliantly as if they glowed. I gave myself 45min for uber-fast sketching and really paid attention to catching the boldness of the trees in relation to the softness of the brush around it. A lady stopped by, liking my easel set-up and I had a chance to explain how it’s just a Walmart easel, modified to be much more useful along with my other cheap, rigged gear. It was so fun to see her realizing with a big, excited smile that with about $40, she can do this, easel, brushes, paints paper… everything. I live for those moments to witness a spark of inspiration. So satisfying, and a perfect end to the day.

I just finished varnishing a commission painting and will post that up tomorrow.

Plein Air: Dana Peak Fishing Area Trail

6x8" acrylic.  This is a rough sketch. Can't wait to get out for another try!
6×8″ acrylic. This is a rough sketch. Can’t wait to get out for another try!

This is quick post before I head out to a welding interview.  After getting some steel toe boots and staring at job listings all day, I saw a chance to get out this area around Stillhouse Lake that I’ve seen before.  There is so much detail out there, I felt it was a good time to study how to simplify a scene into big planes. I lost the light before I finished all the way and tried to add the final smudges of paint at home.  After doing this, however, I can see this really does have a good composition and I can’t wait to get back there for a larger sized plein air painting.

Off to the interview (two-day interview!).  Keep your fingers crossed for me.


Another “Bob Ross” Day at Miller Springs

painting at Miller Springs
Painting at spring fed creeks at Miller Springs (Belton, TX). 8×6″ Acrylic on canvas panel.

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 wish I caught the colors while the sun was lighting the grasses right in front of me. Next time!
I wish I caught the colors while the sun was lighting the grasses right in front of me as in the painting. Next time!

( #Painting #Art #Pleinair )

Plein Air at Miller Springs

Painting at Miller Springs
8×6″ Acrylic. This is a quick plein air at Miller Springs (Belton, TX).

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!

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!


Initial sketch to find the design and values.
Initial sketch to find the design and values.