Monday, December 31, 2012

Amish Country

You're not supposed to take pictures of the Amish people; they don't like it. So I was careful to never take any direct pictures when we visited Penn Valley in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country, but I did take a number of photographs of the buggies from far away. This woman drove by in her buggy and up into the driveway of a farm I was painting en plein air and I took a picture quickly. This is a Nebraska Amish farmhouse. Our innkeeper told me the difference between the Lancaster Amish and the Nebraska Amish was apparent from their buildings. The Nebraska Amish do not adorn or paint their houses and barns. they keep them "plain".

11" x 14" 
Nebraska Amish Farm

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sun, Sand and Friends

Still a little cold here and the paint was on the palette already so I used another reference photo taken last summer to create this painting. I always change the faces - I don't want some kid's mom calling me up and yelling at me for posting their child's picture online. These small pieces are so impressionistic that the people don't really have faces. They have the suggestion of a face. I love the interaction between the kids. The girl in the center is the same one I used in the other piece but I've made her much younger here.

6" x 6"
Oil on Gessobord™

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Beach Art

 When it gets chilly I start thinking about the beach. Sand, sun, and sunscreen. Time to pull out the reference photos from my vacations and see what kind of painting I can come up with.

oil on panel

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fruit Basket Art

A friend dropped off a basket full of fruit, nuts and other great snacks before Christmas. I hadn't painted anything in almost a week because Christmas does kind of push you out of the studio and into the kitchen, so I welcomed the opportunity to paint what was left of the basket today.

Just three pieces of fruit but I was inspired. OK, I am more easily inspired than most people, I will admit to that. I just need some colorful objects and a bright light. This time I took a picture of the set-up because I'm teaching another painting workshop next month, I don't think you can ever overemphasize how much better things look when you paint from life. The visual below will prove it to the students: a picture of the actual boring looking fruit and my representation of what they really look like. (At least to me... :) )

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ho Ho Ho

Art is fun. I can honestly say that because I believe it with all my heart. In the beginning, when you are learning color theory, perspective and composition, it sometimes seems more like work. But later, after you've put in thousands of hours and gained some confidence -- that's when your efforts pay off. I wouldn't have been doing it this long if I didn't enjoy it so much.

Oil painting is the most fun for me. I have tried all the other mediums. Watercolor (mistakes are not easily fixed), pastels (lovely results but I don't care for all that dust- and framing is expensive), acrylics (easy to work with but the colors dry different colors and the texture is similar to plastic in most cases). So I stay with what I know and love- and that is the infinitely correctable medium known as oil paint. I make a lot of mistakes and when you cover up a mistake in oils you have the option of scraping to remove or just painting over it. I use both methods. Sometimes the paintovers and the scrapings create very cool pieces of art, that would not have been possible without the initial "mistake". I am spontaneous and this medium is designed for people like me.

My friend Martin came into my office the other day and I asked him if he ever played Santa Claus because he was perfect for it. He said that he had been playing the jolly old elf for years, but this year for health reasons he had to take a break. He was very accommodating when I asked him if I could take a picture of him and paint a Santa. Martin was wearing a flannel shirt and no hat, so a lot of this painting was imaginative.

So here is my seasonal contribution for this blog. I usually try to do at least one. Maybe Martin will show up on my Christmas cards next year. This is my idea of fun-- creating an original piece of art from something ordinary.

11" x 14" oil on canvas

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Even a Modern Home Makes a Great Subject for a Painting

Most of the commissioned house paintings I do are of older homes, ones that exhibit a lot of "character". While it's true that older homes are sometimes more picturesque and have a lot of interesting angles, a newer home can be a beautiful subject for a painting as well. The lighting is important and if the reference pictures are taken in nice light the entire effect can be spell-binding. The client took their photos of this house close to sunset and the violets and reds in the sky bathes the mostly white brick in an appealing peach colored tone. Their landscaping is wonderful too and adds to the overall beauty of this home. The reference pictures showed a house with a dead lawn and one thing a painter can do is alter reality. The lush green lawn is what we want to see when there isn't a drought, so I painted it in.

11" x 14"
oil on canvas

Monday, December 17, 2012

Another Family Home

The client told me it was very important to get the look of the bricks in this house. It is their family's old farmhouse and it has been in the family for many years, as the previous house had. This one was built by an ancestor from reclaimed bricks and the bricks are extremely uneven. It adds to the charm of the house and makes it unique.

I liked the woody setting but the bricks were a challenge to present accurately.

11" x 14"
Laura's Retreat
oil on canvas

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Sometimes a client wants a painting of their house because they are moving. In this case the couple was moving but they were being forced to move by developers. The old farmhouse had been in their family for generations and it will be torn down to make way for a housing project.

It's sometimes more fun when you have to get creative. The client sent a few pictures of the house covered with now and one picture of it in the spring. I was told that the important things to get in were the barn, the pear tree, the pine tree behind the house and the  potted plants on the porch. I actually had to move the pear tree a bit to get it into the picture plane. I did a lot of reconfiguring to make this house portrait work but I didn't mind the extra effort after hearing the story about why they wanted it

11" x 14"
Oil on canvas
Kendra's House

Friday, December 14, 2012

House Paintings Make Great Gifts for the Parents

More than half of the people who buy my house portraits buy them as a gift for their parents. Many times the parents are moving and the painting will be a memento to hang on the walls of their new home. Something about a painting is just more personal than a photograph of the house. Is it the color? Maybe the personality of the house comes through better in a painting? I'm not sure, I only know that when people tell me to emphasize something I can do that pretty easily. I have noticed that a flag flying in front of a house is always more noticeable in person than it is in a photograph. Is that because the flag is waving at me? I don't know, but that knowledge helps me create better paintings from photographs. If they have a flag in the photo and I put it in the painting it is always bigger than life and it is always fluttering, regardless of whether there is a breeze.

This painting was for the girl's parents and she took the pictures with the Christmas decor on the lawn- actually there was more- another couple of reindeer and more lights. I toned it down and it is still somewhat busy for my taste, but not, I suppose for people who decorate extravagantly, as this couple appear to do. In this painting I had an overcast photo of a house with a muddy lawn to work from and I asked her if we could add snow and even a snowman to make it more Christmassy. She said yes and that was kind of fun. Another option with a house painting is to put it on your Christmas cards-- this one was a good fit.

The last request? The little dog on the porch was a Bichon Frise they owned for a long time. 

11" x 14" oil on Canvas
Reindeer on the Lawn

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another House Painting-- in the Summer

When people commission a house painting and they live far away it is impossible to take pictures. Many times they will want a different season than the one we are in at the moment anyway. So I have to rely on their pictures, which are not ideal in most cases. Sure I would love to take my own pictures but when I can't be there and the client mentions that they want the painting because the house is being SOLD, a light bulb flashes on in my brain. Realtors take4 a lot of pictures and they get pretty good at it over time-- or they move on to a different career.

These people had some really awful pictures, foggy, upside down, faded. I am not kidding. Then they had one tiny realtor photo from the summer. I asked them to ask their realtor if we could use their photos and luckily she said yes. Otherwise this paitnign would have looked a lot different.

Turns out- summer is the ideal season to view this house-- not a foggy fall day. The clients agreed.

I have never painted this many houses in one week- except when I have been on a paintout at Lakeside, Ohio. Even then I did water or boats for a break.

Summery Cape Cod
11" x 14" Oil on Canvas

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Winter Scene Can Really Enhance a House Portrait

This house is in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. The client originally wanted a fall theme but she provided me with two pictures of the house covered with snow. It was really impossible to guess on the color of mulch and the roof, so I painted it with snow and sent her the proof after realizing it was a very picturesque scene. She asked for the street sign to be added-- no problem, try doing THAT with a camera. It looks like a Christmas card now.

She was happy and so was I because I seldom paint snow scene.

Lamarck Ave - 11" x 14" Oil on Canvas

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Yoshi-- a Very Cute Dachshund

This little Dachshund was commissioned by J. Biddle of New Mexico as a Christmas gift for his sister. He gave me several good reference pictures of the dog and told me which one he liked best. It was a picture of the dog on a blue couch with a blanket. I changed the color of the couch and turned it into a drapery type material and came up with this little painting of "Yoshi". His eyes are irresistible. Makes me want my own Dachsund.

11" x 14" oil on canvas

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Why Does Everyone Wait Until the Last Minute?

It is typical, I suppose. Most people do not realize the amount of time that is required to create a custom piece of art. I specialize in creating "home portraits". I did two small 11" x 14" paintings last week (plus a dog) and now I have four more to complete and get into the mail before Christmas.

Feast or famine in the art world, I suppose.

My international sales are going well. One painting to France and two to Japan last week.

This is "MeeMee's House" 11" x 14" oil on canvas

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Some Dogs Have Personality Plus

Moose is an Old English Sheepdog. This painting will be presented to his owner as a Christmas gift. I can't say it enough- the key to a great painting of your pet is a great picture, which Moose's mom was able to provide. The multi-layered hair was a LOT of fun to paint.

16" x 12"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Munson Has Great Presence

This American Pit Bull, named Munson, is owned by the Jordan family of Athens, GA. This painting is a gift for Munson's owner, and was ordered by two of her daughters. The photo reference they provided was great, which is always the most important thing. The dogs appears majestic and at ease as he lies on the soft green grass. His pinkish skin is a natural foil to the yellow greenlawn and I played that up quite a bit. The intelligence shining from his eyes is unmistakeable.

Wonderful dog... sometimes you just know when a painting will become a popular print order. I am so tired of Pit Bulls being demonized by the press. Sure there are bad pit bulls, but there are bad dogs of EVERY breed. Owners need to take responsibility for their dogs and train them. You don't keep a loaded gun in the house without knowing how to use it and you don't become the owner of an aggressive type of dog without learning how to train it and make it listen to you.

11" x 14" oil on canvas

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Favorite Birds

Cardinals are my favorite birds. I guess because they are so beautiful and also because the father takes care of his offspring. My husband's favorite baseball team is the St. Louis Cardinals and the cardinal is the official bird of our home state: Ohio. They are also fun to paint.

9" x 12" oil on canvas
"Sitting Pretty"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I'm No Expert on Cows

I am not an expert but I just love watching them and when I am out painting and their are cows around happily chewing their cud, I get happy just watching them. I am NOT thinking about burgers; instead I'm just basking in their tranquility. They are such peaceful animals. We painted in Williams County last year and these cows were amazingly beautiful (to me). I took some pictures of them in the water and on the banks. I even snapped a shot of the bull when he crossed the stream to check us out. He figured we were harmless-- he was right.

This is a composition featuring a mother and her calf. I think they are Jersey cows, but I'm not positive.

14" x 11"
oil on canvas

Monday, November 19, 2012

Stephanie's House

This is a painting I did on commission for Stephanie K. She found me on Etsy. I ask to see pictures before I agree to do a painting of a house I haven't seen. The photographs are the key in this instance. They need to be well-lit and in focus. I liked the fall theme Stephanie had going with her house. It really adds character.

Unlike a photograph it's pretty easy to edit out the cars parked in the driveway.

14" x 11" oil on canvas

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Complementary Underpaintings

If you're an artist you are probably familiar with the concept of using a complementary (or contrasting) underpainting. I don't always do this, especially when I'm painting outside. I do like to use the technique if I am painting from a photo and the photograph is dominated by one color. In this instance I had a client commission a painting of their cabin. It's a beautiful house, set among tall pines on a cool mountainside. From experience I knew the green would overwhelm the piece if I didn't do a little prep work. I completed a loose underpainting in transparent red oxide before I tackled the color and it made a world of difference in how the piece turned out. The base color created harmony and also prevented the greens from becoming too "strong."

I like this kind of project because I have a lot f freedom. I choose the composition, I determine the mood and I am free to make the home more attractive- within reason. It really helps to have painted in many different locations and in all kinds of weather when you paint a house you have never seen. I am always gratified when the client tells me they love the painting and they don't understand how I could paint their house so accurately when I had never been there.

A few things I've learned from painting plein air: the colors are always more brilliant than they are in the photograph. Flowers "pop" in real life, but not necessarily in the photo. Little details like mailboxes and flower boxes are what really personalize the place. Grass is made up of cools, warms and lots of colors in between.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Sometimes I will take a complicated image and reduce it down to a few strokes and/or colors to get to the "essence" of the meaning. My friend took this picture of these boys when we were painting at a lake last year. One boy had just caught a fish and she managed to capture a note of jealousy on his companion's face when she took the picture. It is priceless! She loaned me the picture and instead of doing a full size painting I decided to create an impressionistic 'snapshot' of the moment and keep the focus on what I think makes the image so great: emotion.

6 x 8" oil on canvas

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Portrait of Dave-- Finished

I am finished with Dave's portrait. Can;'t wait to see what he does with mine. I will explain a little about my process when I paint a portrait from a photo. It is very different from what I do when I paint from life. I prefer to paint form life because there is no guessing about what color something actually is or how a certain form turns, eye color etc. Plus it is really more like plein air painting, as you have a limited time period to capture what you see in front of you on canvas and I really enjoy plein air painting.

So when I do a portrait from a photo I try to encourage the person to give me a picture that flatters them and that actually says something about them. I am going to post the picture Dave initially gave me and that I rejected. Here it is beside the one that I eventually chose as a reference.

Again, the one I chose was not necessarily the one that had the best "portrait lighting", per the instructions at the beginning of the WC! thread. BUT it was one I thought made Dave look good and he seemed to be in his element and enjoying himself. He had told me he fixed boats and was on his way to work on one this past weekend. I asked him if he would mind getting some pictures of himself with the boats. That's the look I was interested in.

I think the pose with boats is much more "Dave", but I would be guessing because I don't really know him. Very well. At all.

This portrait was a lot of fun because I got to paint Dave's wispy hair and beard. It is the perfect kind of hair for a wet in wet technique, which is what I always use.

I increased the contrast in the original photo to make the lights and shadows easier to see. I did the umber underpainting and after I had all the values pretty close I did couple coats of color. You can see the umber color is still a big presence in the painting and it helps harmonize the other colors.

This is a limited palette painting. I used titanium white, yellow ochre, ivory black, raw umber, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, cadmium red light and cad yellow light.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Dave from the UK

Every year I participate in the Holiday Portrait Exchange at WetCanvas in the Portraiture Forum. I am a long time member of WC! and the artists there are like family to me. This is the ninth year I've participated and the pairings are random. You can state at the beginning whether you prefer to exchange portraits with someone in the U.S. or if you are willing to ship internationally.

I drew Dave from the United Kingdom this year. He is an interesting looking fellow with w fun beard and I asked him to pose outside after the first pictures he took inside a studio were too dark.

This is a 9" x 12" piece of linen canvas which he can trim to an A4 if he wants to frame it in a standard UK size frame. It will also be relatively inexpensive to mail to England, as it will less than 10 Oz.

Here is my initial underpainting, done in raw umber.

Sarah Posing in Costume

The Hyter Group where I paint each Saturday had a pair of new models on Saturday. Sarah was dressed in a "bonnie" green dress and an interesting kerchief. I think she said it was a sort of Nordic vintage look. Whatever it was, it worked for me. I found her fair skin and lovely red hair inspiring to paint.

If I want to be truthful, I am always inspired to paint when we have an interesting model who can hold their pose and who has made an effort to become something more than he or she is when he/she is not posing. I hope that makes sense. You can sense when the model's heart is not in it and on the other hand an artist can become motivated to paint better if the subject is interesting to her.

12" x 9"
2 hours
oil on canvas


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Drawing Matters

I like to paint so much that I often neglect drawing. When I was a child I drew and doodled all the time. As I grew older I lost the desire to draw and I immersed myself in earning a living. Then when my daughter was born the desire to draw returned. Suddenly I wanted to create an image of her that represented how wonderful and beautiful she appeared to me. That was 14 years ago and I am still drawn to create portraits, although I seldom draw them. Today I "cut to the chase" and execute my drawing as a block in made of different values. Line becomes secondary. I don't often think in terms of line anymore; it's all about shape and value.

We had a guest at our Black Swamp Art Guild meeting last month and she posed for members who were interested in drawing from life. It was a great exercise for me because it forced me to pick up the charcoal pencil I had been carrying around forever.

I discovered that I now draw like I paint. There are not many lines. The edges blend and the tones become gradients that connect to shapes. I think if I want to draw and actually make lines again I will have to switch to a medium like pen and ink.

This is our lovely model, Brittany- about 40 minutes.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Back to Anyo - the Final Piece

I am pretty happy with the way the final version of Anyo, our Caeroon model, turned out. I ended up using a lot of paint on my palette knife to go over the rougher edges left by the old landscape painting beneath her. Overall I would definitely recommend the process of "rework" if you have a quality canvas or board that can take the additional layers. I don't think I would put more than one painting over another, although my friend Jim had suggested he might eventually be able to produce a 2 inch thick painting if he kept covering up his disasters. I hope (know) he was kidding but I don't see anything wrong with doing the recycling process once.

The artist has to be aware of and know how to deal with previous bits and pieces from the old painting. If you're someone who likes to paint in a thin layered style this technique will frustrate you  greatly. But if you are someone like me- who likes to experiment, scrape and sometimes even destroy the layers underneath to create some kind of new craziness you will enjoy it.

If you have varnished the old painting you will need to remove the varnish before attempting this technique. I don't usually varnish my loser paintings so that's not going to be a problem with me. If I thought one was good enough to varnish I usually put it up for sale and it's long gone.

20" x 24"
oil on canvas over board (Pintura™)



Friday, November 02, 2012

Quantity Verses Quality: Is That an Equation?

Robert Genn talks about quantity and productivity this week in his "twice weekly letter". This is something I've always kind of suspected so reading his article just affirms it. If I could summaraize the contents in one sentence I might say:

You will learn more from actually making art than you will by studying and talking about it.

Here is Robert's letter, copied with is permission, and below you will find a link where you can go to subscribe to the "Twice Weekly Letter". I have been a subscriber for many years and he is a common sense kind of guy with a great sense of humor; an artist and writer who is competent at both disciplines.

Because this is a bit personal, I'm not using their real names. They're both about 40 years old.

"Jack" got a BFA and then an MFA from a Midwestern University. He's visited many of the major contemporary art museums and follows the work of several "important" contemporary painters. He's written articles on Philip Guston and others. He subscribes to several art magazines and is "the most knowledgeable art-guy in any discussion." After university he worked for a while in a commercial art gallery. He sometimes writes me long, well-informed letters. He's painted eleven large paintings (two unfinished) since leaving school. He's not represented by any gallery. He thinks you need to move to New York and "get lucky" with a dealer who "really represents you."

"Jill" took two years of art school and then quit. She pays little attention to other artists. She subscribes to no art magazines but has taken several workshops. Her hobbies include bowling and travelling. At one time she also worked in a commercial art gallery. On two or three occasions she's written to me. She's painted "approximately two thousand paintings" since leaving school. She's represented by four commercial galleries in four, well-separated mid-sized cities.

There's a great story in David Bayles and Ted Orland's Art and Fear. Here it is: 

"The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work in the "quantity" group: fifty pounds of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B" and so on. Those being graded on "quality," however, needed to produce only one pot--albeit a perfect one--to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busy turning out piles of work--and learning from their mistakes--the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

Best regards,


PS: "Artists get better by sharpening their skills or by acquiring new ones; they get better by learning to work, and by learning from their work." (David Bayles and Ted Orland)

Esoterica: Both subscribers Jack and Jill are thoughtful and enthusiastic artists. Art is central to their lives. And while success and "being able to function as a full time artist" may not be important to some of us, their current situations are quite different. Jack rents an apartment and makes $2150 per month (plus tips and benefits) as an airport porter. Jill works daily in her converted garage in a home she now owns. These days she's averaging $18,000 per month. She has "no benefits."

Visit his site and read more: Robert Genn's Twice Weekly Letters

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Recycling Old Canvas or Board

I paint so many pieces that there are bound to be failures. I know- everyone else has perfect paintings.

So once in awhile I will paint a landscapes over a bad portrait and a portrait over a bad landscape. It recycles the boards so it saves some money and it also encourages experimentation. Why? I think it's because the painting underneath provides the unconscious with a direction to go-- or at least a direction to cover up. lol

Anyway--- this is a start of one: the landscape was a 20" x 24" plein air piece that was a disaster in my opinion. The model is from Cameroon, and she modeled for our portrait group this month. Unfortunately I could not be there every session so this is as far as I have gone. I have some photos so I may try to finish her up. She is the most beautiful and inspirational model we have had in a long time.

You can still see a little bit of the building that was a focal point in the old painting. The texture and the rough spots in the old painting encouraged me to go a little farther with the background and really lay the paint on- so that was fun.

Monday, October 22, 2012

State Parks are Nice Places to Paint

I live pretty close to three state parks. They are all very different and offer a lot of variety. State parks are usually an excellent place to paint. This morning I stopped at Maumee State Forest, a wooded area with trails not too far from my home.

When I arrived I was the only one there but while I painted a school us arrived with a high school biology class. The peaceful atmosphere was gone 'like a freight train', in the words of Carrie Underwood.

I still finished the piece and enjoyed the day. It was a seasonal 70 degrees and the woodpeckers were hammering away and I was standing near a lot of deer poo but it was just nice to be out painting.

11" x 14"
Maumee State Forest

Thursday, October 18, 2012

House Paintings - Commissions I Love to Paint

I'm not sure why, but I love to paint houses for people. I've never wanted to be an architect or create structural drawings, but there is something irresistible about painting a home with character- one that has been taken care of and loved for generations. I have painted a lot of house commissions, usually as gifts around Christmas time or for a birthday. I can say with certainty that a house painting will always look better than a photo of the house. This is not always true of a portrait of a dog or a person, or even a cat. Up close and intimate photos of people and animals can capture personality and depth. It's a lot harder to photograph an inanimate house and get the same level of detail.

Whenever possible I like to start the house painting en plein air. This extra step allows me to judge the color more accurately and to take in things that will not be obvious in the photograph. (Trust me on this- there are tons of things that you see in person that you would never think of from viewing a static photo.) If the client lives a good distance away or the order is placed in the cooler months, I always ask them to provide as many detailed photos of the area surrounding the home as they possibly can.

Looking at photos of the Precht house might lead you to conclude that there is nothing very special or interesting about their home. But when you are there and seeing it for yourself the colors are brilliant; you notice the details like the red mailbox and the waving flag and the brilliant color of the perennials. Spending a few hours on location allows you to create correct perspective and gauge color more accurately. The time of day is critical too. Some light on the house is desirable but you don't want to be painting with the sun behind the house.

The two hours I spend creating a plein air sketch are well invested. While I painted their cat appeared at the window where it sat and gazed at me for a good thirty minutes. This was providential; I'd received photographs of two cats that they wanted somewhere in the painting. Birds were flying up to the bird feeder continually. Would I have noticed this from a photo? Would I have even seen the feeder? Probably not.

Here are a few photos of this project taken while I painted. Notice the lack of detail.

Painting from life gives an artist ideas and allows her to immerse herself in the atmosphere of the scene. This creates a more accurate portrait of the setting and often a better composition.

18" x 24"
oil on linen

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When Flowers Die

I planted some wildflowers in the spring and they have been blooming and re-blooming all summer. The frost has set in these past few weeks so I picked the remainder and put them in my small white milk pitcher. I wanted to do one last flower painting and I especially loved the firecracker daisies. Even when they're on their last legs they have unique colors and shapes that are fun to paint.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What to do when you are bored

I was stuck in a hotel room a few weeks ago and I don't really watch TV so I decided to paint a self portrait. It was pretty dark in the room but vanity lights over a mirror create surprisingly good light to work by. The problem was with the light behind me. It was difficult to see the colors I mixed so I stuck with a very limited palette to avoid making any garish colors.

The next morning when I took it outside to take a picture it was a lot better than I thought it would be. Maybe I should paint in the dark more often.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Gold Star Portraits

Sherry Ann Franks coordinated another memorable event on Sunday. Every year Sherry Ann puts in countless hours to put together a Blue Star/Gold Star program that honors the families of local military families. It is a solemn ceremony with a color guard, bagpipe player and inspiring music touches the hearts of everyone who attends. This year the mothers who received Gold Stars (their sons were killed in the line of duty) released white doves as well. This is the fourth year I have done paintings for the families and it doesn't get any easier. The photos I use are not ideal and the time frame is tight- usually four weeks to get two paintings done. But I know these parents will treasure their portraits as a reminder of their loved one and I'm honored to be a part of it.

American Frame donated the frames again this year.

Click image to view full size

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Exotic Models are Truly Inspiring

Our portrait group at Common Space II had a special treat yesterday when Anyho modeled for us. She is a 24 year old student at the University of Toledo and is incredibly beautiful. She wore an exquisite African dress and brought jewelry to complement. If we had a model life her every week there would be standing room only on Saturdays. Many thanks to my friend Charlotte Loetz for asking her to model.

This is where I am after a two hour pose. The dress has a very complicated design and it will take another week at least to finish.

16" x 20" pastel on Ampersand Pastel Board

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Style verses Substance

Style verses Substance... what exactly does that mean? Sometimes it means you put aside the actual reality of what you're viewing and dramatize what is ethereal and poetic (to you) about your subject. It's no secret that I enjoy painting FRUIT AND VEGETABLES. I've done so many different versions of pears and garlic and tomatoes-- you name it, that I feel compelled to change it up now and then. I like to ask myself, "What if?" In this instance I wondered what would happen to the roma tomatoes if I used a trowel of a palette knife to lay the color on. I paint differently when I use the knife. It makes my strokes a bit more intentional and keeps me from becoming too invested in detail--which can quickly lead to the death of a painting.

I found that using my cadmium red light straight form the tube really captured the glowing red of these tomatoes. A simple grouping of similar objects arranged artfully and painted with a heavy hand. But I really like it that way.

Roma Tomatoes
oil on Gessobord™


Friday, September 21, 2012

Mixed Greens, or "Why I Don't Put Green on My Palette"

My basic palette consists of cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow deep, cadmium red light, raw umber, rose madder, yellow ocher, ultramarine blue and cobalt blue. Sometimes I will add a color to experiment with here and there. I tried 'hydrangea blue' --made by Shin Han, on this expedition, and I found it a strong mixer (probably some pthalo in there) but also a beautiful color that creates deep mysterious greens as well as subtle golden greens. You can't always get a brilliant green from ultramarine so it's definitely a color I'll keep in the paintbox, if not on the palette.

September on the Miami
14" x 11"
oil on canvas

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Exciting Weekend!!

Tomorrow night is the opening reception for my juried show at The Parkwood Gallery in Toledo. The show runs through Sept. 28 and also includes the large abstracted paintings of Mike Huffman and there is a great deal of contrast between our works so it should be interesting. This is a really nice gallery located across the street from the Toledo Art Museum at 1838 Parkwood St.. It is funded through a grant by the Ohio Arts Council and I had to apply to the Toledo Area Arts Commission last year for consideration. I found out last December that my application had been accepted so I have been saving many of my better landscape paintings for this show. Not all-- I'm still listing a few on eBay and Etsy, but when this show is over I will have some inventory of whatever doesn't sell.

I should mention that only landscapes will be included in this show, and 90% of them are plein air landscapes. I'm saving the still life pieces and figurative work for another show. :)

On Saturday, Sept. 22, Charlotte Loetz and I will be selling our artwork in Waterville at The Roche de Boef Festival. Show hours are 10:00 AM-5:00 PM. I will have plenty of sports prints available to purchase.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Another Plein Air Painting --Down by the River

Sometimes these paintings practically paint themselves. A cool sunny day with no breeze and no bugs, unless you count some tiny red beetles that apparently decided to hatch right beneath the sycamore tree where I was standing. They didn't bite so I wasn't terribly worried.

I wish they were all this easy. Looking downriver this painting was easy to compose. Foreground--rocks, Midground--sandbar, Background-- distant trees. A really lovely location and an equally lovely day spent painting.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September Breeze

When the month of September finally arrives I have usually done enough plein air paintings throughout the summer months that I have become 'accustomed' to the haphazard life of an outdoor painter. Not this year! It's been so danged hot that I have languished in the studio painting fruit or people for the most part. Now that the temperatures have finally dropped I am enjoying the late summer breeze.

A visit to the river over the weekend sparked this plein air painting.

16" x 16" oil on canvas

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wildflowers in a Vase

I planted some wildflowers in May and they are starting to look a bit droopy so I picked some of the better ones this morning. After I arranged them in a small vase I took them outside and proceeded to paint. The lovely yellow daisies look awesome contrasted with the lovely violet specimens. The dark shadow behind them is our white shed, in deep cast shadow. I'll miss my flowers when they're gone but I have this little painting to remind me that spring will be here again in April.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Second Soldier Portrait, Marine Lance Corporal Steven P. Stevens II

Another fallen soldier, gone too early. These portraits make me sad but I know they will provide comfort to the families and will e treasured more than most paintings I do. Stevens, age, 23, of Tallahassee, Fla.; was assigned to 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.;  he died June 22, 2012 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The 23-year-old U.S. Marine had yet to meet his infant son born after his deployment to Afghanistan when he died Friday.

We will present this portrait, along with the one of Joseph Lilley, at the annual Blue Star/Gold Star program Oct. 7, 2012 at the VFW in Wauseon.

Private First Class Steven Stevens grew up in Detroit and went to Afghanistan on March 21—just days before his son was born March 29, family members said. He is survived by his wife, Monique, of Florida and his parents, Steve and Lois Stevens, of Detroit.

“I’m sorry that he never got a chance to see his son,” said his grandmother Dorothy Atkins, 85. “I wish he could have had that blessing." The officers who told Stevens’ family about his death said the preliminary report showed he was hit with shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade, said Dwight Atkins, Steven’s uncle. “He's going to be sadly missed,” Atkins said. “But like my mother used to tell me, his work on Earth was done, and God called him home.”

Stevens grew up in northwest Detroit, attended Detroit Technology High School and went to Florida A & M on a swimming scholarship, his uncle said. As a baby, Stevens had asthma, so the doctor suggested finding a sport that would help him breathe, relatives recalled. Stevens’ mother put him in the swimming pool and he had been a swimmer since.“He took to the water like a fish,” his uncle said. After two years of college, he joined the Marines to serve his country. Family members say the thought of traveling the world and studying abroad was enticing to him.

“He quit college in order to join,” his grandmother said. “I guess he had the calling because he just went and joined.” Stevens was good in art, wanted to be an architect, loved to laugh and was a jokester who was good at imitations, his family recalled.

“People who know him know he was a very funny guy,” Dwight Atkins said.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sgt. Joe Lilly, Posthumous Portrait

This is the final version of one of the portraits we'll present at the Gold Star Ceremony, October 7th, followed by his obituary. I am so tired of this undeclared war and the deaths of these young men and women. When will it be over?


Army Sgt. Joseph M. Lilly, 25, of Flint, Mich., died June 14, 2012, in Panjway, Afghanistan, of wounds caused by an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. 

A combat engineer from Flint who died two days after being wounded in an insurgent attack in Afghanistan believed so strongly in the Army’s mission that he volunteered to serve his latest tour there, his aunt said June 18. “This is what he loved. He loved being a U.S. Army soldier,” Martha Alexander said of her nephew, Sgt. Joseph Lilly. The 25-year-old was injured June 12 by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar province and died two days later, the Pentagon said. Another member of his unit from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Spc. Trevor Pinnick, 20, of Lawrenceville, Ill., also was killed.

Alexander — the sister of Lilly’s mother, who died 13 years ago — recalled a recent conversation the two shared via Skype. In it, Lilly told his aunt, “I’m going to sound weird, but I enjoy it.” Alexander responded: “Not everybody gets to do what they wanted to do. You’re very lucky.”  Lilly was hit by a sniper’s bullet only weeks before his death, resulting in a wound on his chin that required a few stitches, Alexander said. “He was just upset that he was sidelined,” she said.

Lilly was a 2005 Carman-Ainsworth High School graduate, where he was active in stage crew. As a soldier, he also served in Iraq and in South Korea. He is survived by wife Katrina and their son Alexander, 3. Michael Lilly, 55, said he was proud of his son’s choice to fight for his country and said his son’s ideals have much to teach. “Joe knew what the consequence was,” the elder Lilly told “It was worth it to him because he believed in what he was doing. He was trying to keep us free out of the clutches of terrorism. He accepted the risk. That right there is someone who has a lot of guts.”

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Sweet Girl from our Portrait Group

Lexus' parents named her after the car. She doesn't mind the name and it seems to suit her. She is a very classy and adult-looking 14 year old. Painted at the Hyter Group in Toledo. We meet on Saturday mornings to paint or draw from the live model at the corner of Hill and Holland Sylvania in a former school building.
12" x 9" oil on linen

Friday, September 07, 2012

On My Easel This Week: Honoring Those Who Fight For Us

There's precious little a person like me can do when to defend herself, let alone her country, so I have great respect for the brave men and women who serve in  our military. Especially now, when the world is a more dangerous place than it has been since the attacks on 9-11.

Every year a division of the local VFW Auxiliary chooses to honor local families by presenting the families of those serving in the military with blue starts. The mothers of soldiers who have died get a gold star. The ceremony is meaningful; filled with bagpipe music, tearful ballads and an honor guard.

I do oil paintings of the deceased soldiers and I present them at the end of the ceremony. These are tough paintings to do. You have to divorce yourself from the circumstances while you look at the reference photos of smiling young men who are hugging their girlfriends or hiking up a mountain with their favorite dog. The trouble is you know these young men will never hike or hug again and it's hard to accept that. As hard as it is for you to accept it's a thousand times harder on their family and friends.

So I try to create a painting that honors the soldier and will provide some sort of comfort to the family. Oil portraits last hundreds of years so the painting is likely to become an heirloom. The soldier whose life too early will become a legend in the history of his family. He's a hero, and while we don't worship our heroes we do recognize their valor and the courage it takes to put yourself out there in harm's way.

This year we are honoring two soldiers. I started the under-paintings this week and I hope to finish the paintings next week.

Joseph Lilly and Steven Stevens

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Composition and Simple Subjects

I teach a few art classes and workshops every year so I am always trying to come up with "easy" ways to approach simple subjects. I use these exercises for the first class to give everyone a bit of confidence. It's my firm opinion that a painter with confidence and a big brush will create a better painting than a hesitant painter with a small brush (or any size brush).

Fruits and other organic subjects are deceptively simple subjects. I still have these pears because we haven't munched our way through them yet and I never get tired of doing still life paintings. So I set up another composition using my favorite fruit and did a quick 45 minute study this morning. It was important to be able to paint this quickly because I want the students to be able to start and finish their piece in one 2 hour session. I usually give them a photograph of the finished painting so they can see how my version turned out and a choice of photographs of the still life set up. I begin the class with a 15 minute demonstration on how to approach the painting, leaving them with a couple hours to do their piece.

The first class in this session starts Tuesday, October 2 at the Bryan Community Center on Buffalo Road in Bryan, Ohio. Classes will be held from 6-8:30 PM for four consecutive Tuesdays. Contact Cindy Rau at to register for the classes or obtain more information. This is an oil or acrylic class and there is a $30 supply fee payable to me the first night of class.

Perfect Pears
6" x 6"

Sometimes I will check the composition using the "THRESHOLD" function
in Photoshop, which reduces the values to black and white and creates a simulated ink drawing.
If the black areas match my initial block in I know I have
remained faithful to the initial concept. I was pretty close with this one.