Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hannah's First Haircut

This painting was a gift to my boss for Christmas. His wife took it as their little girl was getting her very first haircut at age three. Right away he showed it to me and asked didn't I think this was a great photo and wouldn't it make a great painting? He was right. Something about the composition and the angle it was taken at seemed to make the child almost iconic. Her wispy blond hair and brave little face were a great subject. I cropped the photo and made Hannah the center of attention literally and figuratively.

I used an ultramarine blue wash under the paint and the Andres Zorn palette of red, black, yellow ochre and white.

8" x 8" oil on canvas
Hannah's First Haircut

Friday, December 20, 2013

Two Small Still Life Paintings

Just a couple small still life paintings done from life. The first explores the relationship between yellow and violet. The second is a more colorful painting that looks at analogous reds and violets on the warm end of the color wheel.
8x10 oil on canvas

6x6 oil on gessoed masonite

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lake House, 11" x 14" oil on canvas

Vacation homes always hold good memories so they are good subjects to paint. This is a modern lakefront cottage and the client specifically asked for a sliver of lake to show in front- even though it would not show in reality because the house is too far away in the photo provided. She also asked if I could paint the house olive green because her parents were in the process of doing just that. I added some flowers pots with brilliant blooms at the base of the stairs too. Good painting is all about pushing the boundaries of reality I guess.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The "Big House" at The University of Michigan

I finished this piece over the weekend and just in time. They will give the pair of paintings to their boss on Thursday and they need to get them framed yet. I am pretty sure I would NOT like to be an illustrator, working under these tight deadlines. I would much rather leisurely paint the things I want to paint.

16 x 20 oil on canvas

The Big House - University of Michigan Stadium

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Painting A Memory

These two paintings were a joint effort between the client and myself. She had a little money and a cool idea and I have an imagination and a hand that has painted many similar scenes from life. :) Her idea was to present each of her parents with a painting representing their childhood home. They are going to be so surprised when they open these on Christmas! I have asked for a picture of them with the paintings and I never do that. But that's how much effort we both put into making their gifts perfect.

Her mom grew up on a farm and the client had a few pictures of a milk shed on the property and a detailed description of what it looked like in the 1960's, when her mother lived there: the flowers, her yellow tabby, the woods and the cow paddy in back etc.  Today there is a huge building behind the milk shed, but in this painting the building is gone.

These are small paintings at 8" x 10", but I managed to fit everything in using my no. 1 and 2 flat bristle brushes.

Her dad also lived in a rural area and enjoyed fishing in their pond with his dad. I had three pictures of a pond and a detailed description of what her dad and grandpa would have looked like in the 1960's. This one was a bit more difficult to get right because the figures are so tiny, yet needed to represent the "character" of the people they were supposed to be. The client knew grandpa had a paunch, wore suspenders and always wore a red and white hat. These were fun pieces to do, allowing a bit of creativity and helping someone give a gift that they will treasure forever. That's another reason I love doing the pet portraits. They will be well loved.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Riva, A German Shepherd Dog, oil painting

My final painting in the 2013 Canine Parade of Christmas Pet Portraits: Riva!!

Riva will be a Christmas gift for Kira's parents. Their German Shepherd passed away this year and they miss her greatly so hopefully this painting will provide some comfort and a nice remembrance of her. When your children are grown and out of the home your pets can become almost like children. I know mine are very close to my heart.

The reference photo had some problems. You know how the animals look in the road at night right before you slam on your brakes to avoid hitting them? They have this unholy gleam in their eyes. Well, Riva's picture had that too and this was the best reference I was offered. Once again, Google to the rescue! I found a dog at L.A. German Shepherd Rescue that looked almost identical to Riva and I used her as the reference for the eys and a few other details that simply were not clear in the low res blurry photo I was given.

People- I can't stress enough how important a good reference is if you want a good painting. I could never produce a head and shoulders painting of Riva from the photo provided but I was able to make a pretty good painting of her guarding the door to her home. This was her parent's favorite picture so I really tried to work that door into it. And the red does look wonderful against the black fur and accented by her red collar.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Someone asked me to bid on a couple paintings of downtown cities. They didn't want detail, just something suggestive of the city. It's for a gift for their boss, who is expanding the company's market to Ann Arbor. I had never done anything like that before but I am willing to try anything.

Needless to say, this took a lot longer than I imagined it would and I was doing it at the same time I was painting a lot of other commissions.

One thing I learned: You can't just suggest buildings very well if they are close the viewing angle. Ipainted the Toledo version first because there is a lot more detail in it and I wanted to get it out of the way. I was happy with it in the end but after painting so many angles and perspectives that change and curve, I am not looking forward to the Ann Arbor scene.I started it last night and I'm showing the underpainting here so you can get an idea of how little I think about where things are until I actually begin to paint them. It's a matter of putting something in and then correcting it until it is right. I would never be a watercolorist.

Yes, these are a rush- they are a Christmas gift and need to be dry by next Wednesday.

16x20 oil on canvas 
Downtown Toledo

The Beginning of MSU Stadium 16x20

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Pretty Pair of Westies

Another pet portrait! These two belong to an Atlanta couple and their son commissioned a painting from a really bad photo. Once again, Google comes to the rescue. It seems like all hair on Westies looks about the same, so if you can find a good reference image and just use the photo for the basics, like size and shape of eyes you can get a pretty good painting. Well, that's what I tell myself every time I accept one of these less than perfect pictures. I will share the picture just in case you doubt me. :)

They really are darling I want some of these too.

12" x 16" oil on canvas

Monday, December 09, 2013

Black Lab painting, stopped in the water

I am producing plenty of pet portraits this Holiday Season! (No cats this year- only dogs.) Four down and three to go-- by Dec. 17. This is Joey, a champion UKC Lab who has won lots of ribbons for retrieving stuff in the water. Here he is stopped in the water waiting for a hand signal. Joey's owner will receive this as a gift from his daughter, and I think he will be happily surprised.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Baltimore Fan

I have done quite a few of these hat and glove paintings, most of them for people who make a request. The very first one was a painting of my husband's short stop glove, Cardinals hat and baseball. He loved that painting and told me I should do some more. I did a Cleveland painting and I still have that one but I've sold a lot of prints of it. Someone contacted me about doing a Yankees version, which I did and I've done the Cubs, the Tigers and a Bluffton after the bus crash.

My friend's husband loves Baltimore so she mailed me her husband's hat and glove after confirming I could get it done by Christmas. I am so glad it's a new glove. Usually I paint my husband's glove and it gets boring after awhile. This is a catcher's mitt and I loved painting the weathered leather. I am not a baseball fan but perhaps I will eventually memorize all these logos if I keep painting the hats. Baltimore has a cute little Oriole on it. Reminds me of the Mudhens version I painted a few years ago. No one bought that either so I donated it to a charity auction. I hope someone bid on it.

11" x 14" Baltimore Fan

Friday, November 29, 2013

Historical Portraiture

I have a lot of fun when I do one of these projects. The challenge of trying to imagine what a person really looked like from such a poor reference requires thought and creativity. I was given two references and asked to create a painting of the client's great-great grandfather, who was a member of the 69th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. There was a family situation and all the old pictures of this man were thrown away except for two. One image shows Private Borton in military uniform but is badly stained and discolored. The other photo is a black and white image taken with his son and grandson later in life, after he suffered a stroke.

Surprisingly, the image of the grandson seemed to help me with this task more than the other references. The client shared that he was of Irish descent and the hair color tends to be brown and eye color hazel in the family. In the end, I think it's more about getting the attitude and the demeanor correct than worrying about details you will never know. He was a very good looking guy with a wide face and a nice square jaw.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Another Christmas Quickie!

Sometimes you get a picture of a house that is perfect in every way except the angle. I used tow different picture to completes this painting for Kaitlin, who will gift it to her parents for Christmas. The straightforward angle of the first picture showed the bushes in bloom and was lovely. In order to get a little more dimension to the painting she went to Google Maps and grabbed a pretty good picture of what the house looked like from an angle. The resolution of those photos has really improved over the years.

What I really like about doing these house paintings is that I am learning how to advance the important stuff and delete the extraneous data. There was a time when I would have painted in the background houses- now I know it's better just to suggest them and keep the focus on the house.

Kaitlin's House
11" x 14"
oil on canvas

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Shall We Have Tea?

You might think I haven't been painting, as I haven't posted much lately. You would be wrong. This is my busy time of year, and I am up to my ears in commissioned pieces for Christmas. I have stopped accepting them as of now. I want to enjoy my Christmas too so I plan to have the last one of the seven I still need to paint in the mail by December 15. There- I have said it and posted it publicly so it WILL happen.

Still, I could not miss the opportunity to paint Jessica form life again. She is such a great model and I loved her outfit. I had the distinct advantage of arriving with an underpainting done form a photo my friend Jim emailed me. so it was just a matter of making some adjustments and coloring it when I arrived last Saturday.

I wish I had used oil primed linen. The canvas I used has a glossy look that is hard to photograph. It looks fine in person but I'll have to take it outside to photograph it without glare sometime soon.

Time for Tea?
11" x 14" oil on canvas

Friday, November 22, 2013

Drama with Still Life

I love this painting. In it I have finally achieved a level of expertise that allows me to think I might be on the right track. What did I do differently than normal? Not a lot. Perhaps it is just my love for the curvy objects and the way they are arranged that somehow transmits itself into the piece. It is definitely a keeper and I will need to figure out what makes it so interesting. Is it the push/pull between warm and cool? The composition or the background. or maybe a combination of all three.

Shades of Green
11" x 14"
Oil on canvas

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Taffy, a Cockapoo and a Christmas Miracle?

This adorable little dog has passed on and her owner misses her greatly. His son commissioned a painting but unfortunately he didn't have any good pictures. I am going to share the reference photo I used because I have never had one this bad and been able to make it work.

Now we will rename my studio the Miraculous Pet Portrait Emporium... for coming up with a likeness based on this photo and numerous googled reference images of 'white cockapoos'.

The client liked the result so I hope the bereaved owner recognizes his little friend in this portrait too.

I have to emphasize that this is a miracle that even the most skilled photographer probably could not replicate, so we oil painters do perform useful services!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Archie-- an Older Lab

This is a portrait of Archie that I did over the weekend. The portrait will be a Christmas gift. This dog really has personality plus. Every photo I was given had the dog smiling with his tongue hanging open. So, I guess that's his typical look. We strive to be authentic here at the Magical Instamatic Pet Portrait here it is:

9" x 12"
oil on canvas

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tea Time

I pulled out my pastels on Saturday and went to the Hyter Group, a weekly portrait open studio that I try to attend whenever possible. Jessica has posed for us before and she always comes up with something 'different'. This time she seemed to be dressed as a rich lady having some tea. Whatever, it was certainly interesting!

I finished this at home and I still may do some more to it but this is where she stands now. I think the tipsy teacup is pretty funny.

18" x 21" pastel on Canson paper

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jezabelle, a Lab Mix

You never know what kind of pictures you're going to get when someone asks you to paint their dog. You can ask them to take the dog outside and put her in the shade and take a few close ups and some from far away. And you will still have people who take out their cell phone and shoot a couple photos indoors with bad lighting, email them to you and ask, "Are any of these good?"

Sometimes it works Ok, though, even if the photos were taken inside. This dog has an obviously needy look to her and she is quite adorable. Yes, her nose was too large thanks to the odd perspective in the photo, but I made it a bit smaller and her pretty eyes are just begging us to love her.

9" x 12"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Winnie, a Goldendoodle

Winnie is a surprise for the client's niece for Christmas. She is a very sweet looking dog and as soon as I saw her picture I thought to myself-- I want one of these! Then I thought- No, I can't have another dog. Then the voice in my mind said, "Sure you can. What's one more?" I have a Golden mix and she is a joy. I can see why these Goldendoodles have become so popular. They look like stuffed animals and they reportedly have the even temper and loving personality of the Golden Retriever. Plus they don't shed.

I am seriously considering it. No, I'm not. Yes, I am. Feeling. Ambivalent.

8" x 10" oil on canvas

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Northwest Ohio, Farms and Photography

I drive past this barn every time a train interrupts my regular route. I had my camera with me a few weeks ago and I stopped and took a few pictures. I have always liked this barn for it's sheer size, its wonderful 'cool' red color and the way it contrasts against the surrounding countryside. When I approach from the west the sun is rising in the east and the contrast between light and shadow is gorgeous. I hadn't noticed the smaller buildings before; that barn is so massive it screams. "Look at me!"

This is where a photograph really helps to build a better composition. No matter how much I love the big red barn, it would easily take over my whole painting if I let it. I had to think about the painting as a whole so I moved the path a bit, making it more serpentine. When I was finished I thought it needed something else, so I added a dog. The dog appeared lonely so I gave him a friend and a master.

Now I scrutinize the painting and decide I like it even better. It has progressed from a painting about a red barn in the fall to a story about two dogs and an old woman raking her yard. Does it need a truck parked in front of the barn door as one person suggested to me? I;m not sure. What would the truck be? A way for the woman to escape her labor? I think she's pretty happy just being outside on the last days of autumn enjoying the exercise and the company of her furry friends.

This is the kind of painting I am more interested in doing lately. One that tells a story without falling into too much sentimentality. I have painted many plein air pieces over the past three or four years and while I enjoy doing them I need to keep in mind the main reason I began painting them was to learn how to paint a believable background for my 'people paintings'. Landscape painting has never been my main interest. People and the realities they live in have always been that.

Farm on County Road F

Friday, November 08, 2013

Another Holiday Portrait Swap at Wet Canvas

Judy Manuche from San Francisco is my partner this year in the 10th Annual Wet Canvas Portrait Swap in the Portraiture Forum. I think this is my tenth year and it will be my final one. I have all the paintings of me that I and my two children will ever need. WHAT will happen to them when I die? I know my kids won't want them so they will be relegated to the burn barrel, and that's a shame. Because many of them are quite wonderful. I think the artists always try to flatter one another a little bit; delete some wrinkles here and there, leave out the zits etc. Why not? We are painters or sketchers...not photographers. Why not do something that is easy with paint but (perhaps) more difficult with a photo.

Judy sent me a great photo with Rembrandt lighting and I have had fun trying to do it justice. The mod asked us to show progress pics if possible so I did take a series of photos when I began. The last two hours I spent on it were not photographed as I tend to get too involved in the process of fixing all my mistakes.

I used the same size I usually do-- 11"' x 14". This kind of thing is never fun unless you turn it into a self-lesson, so I decided to limit my palette to Indian Red, cad yellow light, black, yellow ocher, violet-gray, ivory black, aliz. crimson and pthalo green. The pthalo green and the Indian Red are both REALLY strong and they formed the basis of my color scheme. Judy's photo had a red background and she is wearing a green sweater so it seemed to make sense to me.

I used a failed plein air painting as my base, and it always helps me to have SOMETHING on the canvas before I start. Eliminates all that 'white canvas anxiety'.

11" x 14"

oil on canvas

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Finishing Touches

I had to go back in and "finish" this painting, especially after doing the drawing of her and seeing how much information I missed when I did the initial study. Here is a link to the first two hour painting if you want to see where I started.  I had a picture I took with my phone for detail so that helped. I mostly wanted to correct the values. Doing a two hour drawing emphasized the difference between light and shadow and I think I missed that the first time around. So here is "Amended Ami", with the areas in light just a bit lighter, the darks just a bit darker, some manganese blue added to cool the background and a few edges softened.

9" x 12" oil on linen

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Kiowa Chief- Sitting Bear

Sitting Bear 
11" x 14
Sitting Bear is well documented as the leader of the Kiowa 10 Bravest War Society (called the Ko-eetsenko in the Kiowa Language).  The chief was born in the Black Hills of South Dakota around 1810. He had six wives and several children before his death in 1871. This poainting was done from a photograph taken near the end of his life when he lived on a reservation. There were many photos of Sitting Bear but I found this one the most interesting. Edward Curtis, the photographer, created black and white portraits of thousands of Indians during the late 19th century and early 20th. The Indian's way of life changed drastically during that period and without Curtis' photos  much of their history might have disappeared.

Sitting Bear lived in Oklahoma when it was simply called, "Indian Territory." He was honored for his bravery and leadership. During his lifetime he watched as Indian families were separated and relocated to reservations. He strived to keep his family together.

One story in particular illustrates this well:

"Old Chief Sitting Bear left the Kiowa reservation against the threats of his U.S. Army overseers. His reason was to retrieve the bones of his son in Texas and bring them back home. Following Kiowa beliefs, the family unit was of primary importance throughout ones life.

Upon his return, he was captured, shackled and taken by wagon to Ft. Sill for leaving the reservation. With Ft. Sill in sight, he told the wagon driver and escort, "See that tree up ahead? You will not live to see the other side." He then stood up and began to sing his death song:

 'O sun. You remain forever, but we Ko-eetsenko must die.

 'O earth you remain forever, but we Ko-eetsenko must die."

According to Kiowa oral history, when he ended his song, he pulled a knife that he had been concealing and took the life of the wagon driver. The escort immediately shot Old Chief Sitting Bear to his death. It is said that Sitting Bear would rather give up his life than live without the remains of his cherished son."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Orange with a Touch of Yellow

I just bought this beautiful orange pitcher off eBay. It is hand-thrown and I love the contours and the color. My camera does not like the color however and I had a difficult time getting my white balance set correctly so this color reads right. I see the base color of the vase as a mixture of cadmium orange with a touch of cad yellow. I initially tried a neutral background behind the set up, but the whole painting was just too warm. So I decided to use the slate tiles that make up the back splash in my kitchen.. I love the texture and color of natural slate. It provided a really nice contrast for the warmth of the pitcher and I was able to get a better photo too after toning down all that orange. Eventually I plan to use this pitcher as a vase for some wildflowers in another painting.

As always, I learned a few things doing this still life painting:

1) Too much warmth needs a balance of cool!
2) I love cadmium orange! (Well- I already knew this one).
3) Sometimes you can break the rules of composition and make it work. Here I placed the lightest, and only yellow object in the center of the painting and I made it work by creating some linear tones and interest in the background.
4) Repeating a round shape with a very similar color in a different texture is fun and challenging to paint.
4) Still Life is not for sissies! :)

9" x 12" oil on linen
(before background added)

After background added

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Drawing for fun

Here is a drawing of our model, Ami, who I had already painted at the beginning of the month. I was feeling quite lazy so I sat down to draw. This reminded me why I usually stand when I do portraits and the model is on a stand. The perspective is just odd to me. Looking up, you feel as if the model is too "grand". I was sitting in pretty close too so there are problems of proportion to deal with. Things closer to you might appear larger than they actually are. It reminds me of the writing on my car's side view mirrors: Objects are closer than they appear. So if we are aware of it should we compensate for it? Or should we just try to make things appear as they normally would? A question I don't really have an answer to. I just drew it the way I wanted to. I don't put a lot of thought into drawings. Working in black and white is so much easier than color that I can let my mind drift off as I often do.

I listen to audio books when I paint. This week I am listening to the final book in the Stieg Larsson trilogy about Lisbeth Salander, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I find it sad that Larsson died before he could publish his books and see how popular they have become. I am not liking the final book as much as the earlier ones but maybe it will get better. I think tiny Lisbeth Salander is a daring heroine, almost an anti-heroine. She rejects society because society has rejected her but in the end she is unable to reject her innate humanity.

Ami, Pencil, 12" x 18"

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mirrors are a scary thing....

Mirrors can be frightening. Especially when you get a bit older and your eyes start to lose the ability to focus well. You have to put on glasses to read, to see the computer, to paint etc.

Sometimes it helps to take the glasses off though. Then you don't see the lines as clearly as you would with them on. The paint goes on a bit looser.

As always the point of painting a self portrait is to experiment. This time around I used a mix of Shin Han Violet Gray and titanium white as a base for the skin tones in light. Then I went over the cool base with an approximation of the actual skin color. The violet base was wet when I did this so even though the top layer was darker and should have read warmer, it mixed with the lower layer and became a warm-cool, grayed down color that appears very realistic. I like the way the violet shows through in some areas and reads as very cool. keeping the neck area cool by leaving the violet showing was an easy solution to shoving it back in space. I discovered that I like this color a lot so I will see if I can mix it with my normal palette of colors, which is very limited. If not, I'll be adding it to my portrait palette.

9" x 12"
No Glasses

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rework it if you're not happy-- it's only paint

I've had this painting of my daughter sitting around for a couple years and I knew I wanted to crop it and make some changes. She agreed to sit for me if I let her watch a movie so she is not looking AT me in the painting. The movie only lasted a couple hours though so I didn't have time to get to a point where I was happy. The danger with reworking a piece like this is that you may lose some of the freshness associated with painting from life. But in this case I hated the portrait so much it didn't matter. It was a case of fix it or throw it away.

The original painting was 16"x20" and I cut it down to 12"x16".

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Little Bit Off The Wall

Sometimes my subjects are a little different. This is the case with this one. I painted the set up from life and then I added the violet background and the creepy craw-lie. Some days I just like to paint and it doesn't matter what I'm painting as long as I do it from life so I can try to capture the light and shadow correctly. It's always a challenge to create an interesting composition and put your own spin on what 's in front you.

This painting accomplished the added bonus of eliminating an ugly portrait from my studio. Sometimes you just have to do a paint over.

11" x 14"
Oil on canvas

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mr. Chip's Barn

I painted Mr. Chip's barn again yesterday. I had to get outside on what will more than likely be one of the last few nice days. Mr. Chips is a bull who is staying at my friend Sue's place for another couple weeks. Then he will head for that corral in the sky. He's a pretty happy guy right now though. I was smart enough NOT to venture into the pasture with him this time.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Seasonal Subject

Last night I did a demo at an art opening for the annual Black Swamp Art Guild show. The reception was scheduled for 6-7:30pm so I knew I had to choose a simple subject that I could paint in about an hour. Even though I spent a lot of time talking to people I had to stretch this piece to make it last an hour. A small orange gourd, paired with a complimentary green napkin and lots of thick paint creates a nice little still life and a good way to pass the time. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, painting is just a pleasant pastime, and it builds a lot more cognitive receptors in your brain than sitting in front of the TV.
Orange Gourd 6"x6" oil on Gessoboard

OPAS Paint Out at Tipp City

I painted at the annual Tipp City paintout last Saturday. It was a beautiful fall day and I was happy to sell this piece to resident of the city: Bryan & Michele Blake.
It was a a challenging perspective to paint and a very busy restaurant where we ate lunch when we were finished painting. People were constantly stopping and talking and standing in front of the restaurant- obstructing my view (lol). 

Sam & Ethels 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Walter White, AKA Heisenberg

11"x14" Have an A-1 Day
(If you watched the series you 'get' the title)

This is Bryan Cranston.....I just binge watched all five seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix over the last month and I was fascinated with the transformation of the main character, Walter White, as he morphed from high school chemistry teacher into meth kingpin. Great acting by the cast and the writing was excellent as well. I don't watch TV anymore so you know it was a good series if I took the time to watch it.
More info, and the series is on AMC if you want to catch the reruns:

Walter Hartwell "Walt" White Sr. (also known by his clandestine alias, Heisenberg) is a fictional character in the American television drama series Breaking Bad on AMC. He was portrayed by Bryan Cranston and was created by series creator Vince Gilligan. Once a promising chemist who was one of the founding members of the multi-billion dollar company Gray Matter Technologies, Walter left the company for personal reasons and became an unhappy and disillusioned high school chemistry teacher. After being diagnosed with Stage IIIA lung cancer, he resorts to manufacturing methamphetamine to ensure his family's financial security when he dies. As the series progresses, Walter gradually becomes darker and takes on a more villainous role.
Although AMC officials hesitated to cast Cranston due to his previous comedic role on Malcolm in the Middle, Gilligan cast him based on the actor's past performance in the X-Files episode "Drive". Cranston has contributed much of his character, including Walter's back story, physical appearance, and personality traits. Gilligan had described his goal with Walter White as turning Mr. Chips into Scarface, and has deliberately made the character less and less sympathetic.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


When I attended the Art at the Arnold Competition in March I took some pictures and video of the ballroom dancing competitions. The couples who competed were mesmerizing to watch. I didn't know the difference between a samba or a waltz but it was all fascinating. I combined a couple of pictures to create this scene and used a lot of inventive color to keep it interesting.

16" x 20" oil on canvas

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Ami, a Portrait from Life

I like how this one turned out. Our model, Ami, posed nicely. She hardly moved, and I had a very good place to paint in. This is a 9" x 12", oil on linen, painted at our Saturday morning painting group.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Gold Star Program 2013

Last week I participated in another Gold Star program sponsored by the Auxiliary of the VFW. They honored 18 Blue Star families and two Gold Star families. Army Chief Warrant Office James Groves III was near the end of his final tour of duty. Retirement was less than a year away when he was killed in Afghanistan on March 16, 2013.

I prepared a talk for the program which I will share here, along with an image of the painting I did. This is the eight Gold Star portrait I have painted and they are not easy to do.

I don’t paint the Gold Star Portraits to glorify war. We all hate war, but at the same time we realize someone has to take on the responsibility of defending our country and keeping us safe. I paint the portraits to honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. They are some of the more difficult paintings I do because there is so much emotion attached to them. The Gold Star paintings are presented to the mother of a soldier who was killed while serving on active duty. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with oil paintings, but an oil painting can last a long time. We know our museums are filled with them. Photographs fade over time, but there are oil paintings that were done a thousand years ago and still look as fresh as the day they were painted. I like to think that maybe this portrait of James will survive even his own children. Perhaps a hundred years from now one of James’ great, great grandsons will have this painting hanging in his home and he will have an opportunity to tell HIS grandchildren about his great-grandfather James,-- the hero. I mean you never know what’s going to happen to the painting when it leaves your hands but I can easily imagine this scenario.

I ask the family for pictures when I am ready to start the painting and I ask for some background about the soldier, so that I can make the portrait a little personal. I like to put in some stuff that tells the viewer a little bit about the subject: What he enjoyed doing, things he loved etc.. Sometimes I get good pictures and other times not. I was lucky this time--James’s mother, Leslie, emailed me some excellent pictures and she shared some great stuff about James.

James had a lot of interests. His mom told me loved to cook and he was always trying new recipes. What he really loved was spending time with his family more than anything else. He was a huge Michigan football fan. When you live around here it seems like you love Michigan or you love Ohio State. James was in the “Go Blue” category, so I decided to incorporate a little of that love into his portrait. Leslie told me he owned a Harley Davidson motorcycle that was his ‘pride and joy’ and that he was also looking forward to inheriting his grandfather’s 1949 Harley one day. I thought I could work that in somehow too. James enjoyed life, that was obvious from the pictures his mom sent.

The very first picture I opened up in Leslie’s email cracked me up. It was a picture of James clowning around and wearing some Mickey Mouse ears on his head. That told me something about James right away. He was someone who loved to have fun. You don’t put on Mickey Mouse ears and pose for a picture if you’re worried about looking silly. Other things he loved----James was a marathon runner who ran 3 or 4 Disney Marathons and he ran the Savannah Marathon and the Marine Marathon in Washington DC too. I loved seeing the picture of James with his two boys. They are so handsome and they look so much like him. James was an animal lover too and he especially loved Great Danes. My son owns a Great Dane and I know how wonderful these dogs are. I think my favorite picture though, was the one of James in his camouflage gear and helmet, sitting down in what looks like a helicopter or some combat zone. And he is reading a magazine—and the name of the magazine is The Disney Insider Club – for MEMBERS ONLY. To me this photo is such a contradiction. Here’s a tough soldier guy in a combat zone—and what is he doing? He’s reading his Disney magazine. So I realized serous James was about his love for all things Mickey and I knew I had to find a way to incorporate that into his portrait too!

Leslie sent one picture of James and his wife, Katie, sitting in a tree together and she told me this was her favorite so I used it as the basis for my portrait. Painting a piece like this is never easy. The loved one is gone and you know that the portrait will occupy a place of honor in someone’s home. You want it to be perfect. So there is pressure here to make it GOOD! I hope my painting honors James and comforts his mom when she looks at it. If it does, it’s a successful piece.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fall in the Country

It was a beautiful early fall morning and I finally had some free time on my hands. The kitchen is done for the most part. There is still some painting and moving and sorting of 'stuff' but we are looking at the finish line. All the things that seemed to weigh down my calendar this year have happened and I fell as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

I took a ride to my friend Sue's house. She has seven acres just outside of Delta and a very nice barn, some pastures and even a creek. It is my go-to place when I want to paint something quickly. There will always be a nice scene waiting for me.

Sue wasn't even up when I arrived but soon her two pit-bulls, Jake and Diva, came trotting out to greet me.

I am NOT a country girl. Sue told me there was a steer in one pasture and some donkeys in the other. I really wanted some pictures of the donkeys so I lifted the fence line and walked into the steer's corral. OMG! It was huge. I had not been expecting something so big and black and 'friendly'. I stayed out of his way and took some pictures of the donkeys and slowly backed away and went under the fence again.

"You know that's a bull," Sue remarked as she walked down the path, sipping her morning coffee. A steer is a bull? Is a bull a steer? I was confused. I thought all steers were neutered. Apparently not. I am NOT a country girl. Before I exited his arena I took some nice close-ups of the steer's head, and he had almost seemed to be smiling. Maybe he was laughing at me too.

9" x 12"
oil on linen

Saturday, September 21, 2013

I Buy Pottery

I buy pottery with the intention to use it in still life paintings. That's how I justify the purchases. Most of it is acquired at art fairs or on eBay. Some of the pottery I get on eBay does not arrive in the condition it left the seller's house in. I wish people were more careful when they pack fragile items. I have shipped over 500 paintings via the Postal Service and NOT ONE has been damaged, thanks to the generous use of BUBBLE WRAP. Bubble wrap creates a cushion of air between your object and the box. I use two layers of the stuff. Unfortunately the person who wrapped my pottery last week did not and I found pieces of shattered ceramic in my box when I opened it yesterday.

Oh well, I am digressing. Here is a pot I bought at a local gallery that represents myself and other artists. It is beautiful. The two pears HAD to be painted because they were picked from our very own dwarf pear tree. It's only three years old and I really did not expect fruit so I had to record this for posterity.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Not Going As Planned

This painting started out as a routine plein air. Not that plein air painting is EVER routine. It's not. It is difficult and demanding and that's why sometimes I fail. This painting was one of those. I got it home and I started scraping it off. That's when I realized that I truly liked what the scraped image looked like. I decided to add a horse. I scraped the horse. Pretty soon I had a painting that looked like it had been done int he pouring rain or else when the artist was in the middle of a migraine.

I do like it though.

9" x 12" oil on linen

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Girl's Best Friend

A girl's best friend is NOT diamonds. It's her dog. I painted this for my son who will give it to his friend- the model. The photo had really nice light and shadow and even though it was a very low-resolution cell phone picture it is possible to get a lot of information from this kind of picture. The lack of detail encourages an artist to "lose" the detail, which is usually a good thing for a painting. This allows you to keep the focus on what's important. Here it's the girl and her companion. Her 'best friend.'

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Painting at the Williams County Fair

A friend and I painted at the Williams County Fair this week. I was attracted to the colorful concession stands and the angles of the grandstand. I added the people later at home because there were too many people to think about putting them in when I painted. Fair food, petting goats and painting out side made for a great day.
9" x 12" Coles Cotton Candy