Sunday, December 20, 2009

Santa Cats!



Our cats are not quite in the holiday mood, but we're working on our little Scrooges. Could it be the Santa hat and beard making them so unhappy? Just wait until they find the little decorated Christmas tree in their litter box!

Have a happy and safe holiday everyone, and see you in the new year with fresh art!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


We had a very wet week here in northern California and that always puts me in the mood for watercolor work. These little paintings are from my sketchbook and were done this weekend. Enjoy!

Hilltop near Farm Hill Road

Top of the trees.

Starling, darling...

My whistler in gold water...a study for color change for the larger oil version.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tufted Puffin
6 x 8
oil on panel

When I was knee deep in my 50 birds last summer, my friend Shawn emailed me and requested that I paint a puffin. At the time I had not given any thought to painting these clown like birds, so I immediately responded that I thought puffins were "lame" and "the bottom feeders of the bird species" and would not waste my time painting one. I'm sure he was surprised by my rude response and nothing was ever mentioned about puffins again.

What Shawn didn't realize was he gave me the perfect idea for a gift for his 50th birthday which was celebrated in Monterey this weekend. For the past few weeks I've been working on the painting above in preparation for his birthday party, eager to hand it over to him. He was blown away by the gift as he thought for sure his good friend the artist dissed him in painting his favorite bird. Ha! Let it be known to the world that I am still full of surprises!

The tufted puffin can be found in Point Reyes National Seashore, which is very close to us, so they are a local bird. I like the expression on this one, with his "hair" combed back, he reminds me of an aging rock star...happy birthday, Shawn!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Balancing Act
oil on canvas
24 x 36

Here we are at the end of a full weekend filled with family and food, a tide of silence has descended upon our house, a deep and slowly undulating stillness moving room to room. There's always a void left after all participants have left and fanned across the state back to their own homes, carrying their conversations with them, tucked away in pockets and suitcases. During the holidays we balance many things, family love, emotions, sometimes walking on eggshells, but always loving them with fierce gusto. Our families are like spinning plates on top of very long wavering poles, and we, the performers, play to the audience our balancing act.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Dunes
oil on canvas
12 x 14

I was in southern California this weekend and I got a chance to photograph this painting I did while I was in art school. The painting hangs in my mother in law's foyer now, it was originally a gift from me to her mother, (April's grandmother), but when she passed, Judy inherited it. I'm sure it will eventually end up in one of my daughter's hands when April and I buy the farm.

This is my very first plein air work, it was painted at Point Reyes. I was 21 and my whole life lay before me. It was a great time and I remember really loving the idea of being an artist. This painting is so special to me and I look forward to seeing it every time we visit Judy.

Have a great Thanksgiving everybody, we have a lot of family coming in and I'll be busy at the grill smoking the bird over a bed of mesquite coals!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A few years ago I had a stream of painting jobs where I'd go into children's hospitals and paint their new CT scanners to make them less ominous to the patients. It was a fun series of gigs, my first job was painting two scanners for Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. It was a little intimidating at first, since these are obviously very expensive machines and they would make internal clicking and whirring sounds every so often.

This machine is a combo CT and PET scanner located at Children's Hospital of Dallas. I ended up painting three scanners for them over an 18 month period. I painted this one in two days. It was a very long weekend but having my ipod helped a lot. Here's the sequence:

The blank plastic "canvas".

This may look like a quick and simple coat of blue green but it took hours! I had to be very careful around all the buttons and laser openings inside the tube.

Fish detail.

Done deal on Sunday afternoon, I catch a plane back to San Francisco the following morning. Sponge Bob watch out!

Monday, November 9, 2009

One of the most important foundations of painting or rendering with color is the understanding of values using a range of grays bracketed by black and white. In any beginning painting class, a gray value scale is used to compose a picture using varying tones to achieve an overall composition. A student's first painting may only be painted in grays. In my design class, I run my students through a series of exercises rendering interiors in pen and ink and then in gray markers. This lays the groundwork for color in the following semester.

Here's the same interior using markers, which are very fast to use and can save the designer a lot of time. I'm always pushing fast methods of getting ideas to paper using markers and quick sketch techniques.

We also render with graphite, achieving the same tonal results but with a softer look. I encourage my students to include the details of the scene that make a picture ring true. In this interior, the reflected light on the the table top in front of the sofa is an important detail in bringing realism to the rendering and leading the eye into the scene.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I got a little paint time in this morning before heading off to work so I thought I'd throw a couple of studio shots onto my blog. As you can see, I'm working on my whistler duck and the water is almost finished.

This is my desk where a lot of artistic battles are won and lost! The ink drawing of the ship on the wall is a study for a sculpture I'd like to someday build- it's called "New Ark".

Monday, October 26, 2009

Old Car

Last week I turned 50 and this scratchboard of this old Ford was Emily's gift to me. (Didn't she know I really wanted a 2010 Ford Mustang?) I think this is her subtle way of saying that I've become a "classic" and headed for the junkyard!

With all kidding aside, I think it is a beautiful work of art and it's displayed proudly on my dresser where I can look at it everyday. Emily has been enjoying college life at UCD where she's been milking cows and goats, flipping sheep, and chasing pigs. And still making art.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

White Faced Whistler
15 x 30

When I made my 50 birds last summer, I knew I'd want to go back and paint larger versions of some of them. Working on a 6x6 surface, though quaint and intimate, really lacks some of the expressive brushwork that I enjoy with painting. This familiar bird has been greatly enlarged onto canvas and the painting probably will be more about the free and loose water patterns than the duck itself in the end. This is the underpainting, where I lay down the composition and color temperatures of the painting. Some of these colors will "peek" through the subsequent layers of paint.

Between Two Worlds

I'm so close to the end of this painting, the branch has been a struggle. I need to find the correct gray value of the dead branch while highlighting the glowing light from the distant fire. The challenge has been balancing the values of the branch so it sets properly against the background and doesn't get lost. Throw in the correct chroma of orange highlight and you have a problem to be solved, mostly by trial and error. Ahh, this is what we artists live for!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Yesterday I took stock at the works in progress in my studio and realized that I'm still not putting enough hours on my work. This is something I'm still getting used to, now having the time to paint and make the best use of my time. I've been visiting a lot of other artists' blogs (you know who you are!) and have been blown away by the quality of work and output these artists have demonstrated. I feel I have so much catching up to do. As fall settles in, I'm hunkering down and pushing a lot harder on the studio work. I've got to if I'm going to amount to anything as far as my artwork is concerned. That means I'll probably cut down on my blogging to one or two posts a week so I can focus on my painting more.

I want to thank everyone who's followed along so far, checking in daily (or almost daily), commenting, etc...that means so much to me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bristlecone Pine sketch

This sketch was done at the Bristlecone National Forest in the White Mountains. My intentions were to sit with my paint box for a couple of hours and paint one of these trees, but the snow was coming in and I only had time to shoot a few photos and sketch. This is the first time I sketched in the snow with ski gloves on. It was a strange, awkward sensation.

We love it when the pavement ends.

Shawn sitting on his lunar rover.

The road to somewhere.

We arrived at the ancient forest where the oldest living things on earth reside. Some of these living trees are nearly 10,000 years old, quite remarkable to have these in our own California backyard. Even though I didn't get to paint one on site, I have some great reference photos and the memory of stepping back in geological and dendrological time.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sierra Crest
plein air oil sketch
6 x 8

I'm back from my five day camping trip with my friend Shawn. This year we dipped a bit further south and set up camp in the White Mountains to avoid the incoming snowstorm which was due to hit the Yosemite and Bridgeport areas. Good thing we did. Though the weather was cold, (my water bottle was frozen solid in my tent most nights), we did avoid getting snowed on and stayed dry. The days were crisp and sunny for the most part.

During one "warm" afternoon I managed to break out the pochade box and paint up a rendition of the Sierra crest to the west. This is the view from our home base campsite at about 8500' elevation on the White Mountain range.

The first night we stayed at the Tioga Lodge which is perched at the edge of the western shore of Mono Lake in Lee Vining. It is the last bit of civilized comfort we enjoy before heading for the hills. This photo was taken just as the full moon was rising over the eastern shore of Mono Lake.

We found these branches along the shore, they were bleached bone white and were crusted with a powdery coating, probably dried salt from the lake.

As an artist I'm always "branching out". The following morning we would go off road a bit to explore the Mono cinder cones and eventually drive down the Owens Valley to Big Pine where we'd begin our ascent up the White Mountains to visit the oldest living things on earth. More about that on Friday.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Orange Canoe
oil on panel

Going camping today...back next Wednesday!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just another day at the office...

No cube farm for me baby, no way. I never had an interest in the corporate world and What Color Is Your Parachute? could have been written by a slobbering biomorhpic alien for all I care. It's all about the studio and what comes out if it that interests me, not a desk job. But certain responsibilities are attached to being a solvent (no pun intended...well maybe a little) artist in this day and age. I never bought into the suffering artist myth and I've always believed a successful artist carries a strong work ethic. Also, an artist needs to know basic business skills and have a firm understanding on how to handle his or her money. These are themes I'll expand upon over time as this blog develops. I believe an artist can be successfull in many different ways, not measured only by sales of artwork.

I'm busy packing for my trip to the Sierra in two days and looking forward to "sharpening the saw" as author Stephen Covey puts it. I'm so hungry for granite walls and alpine meadows now....rrrrrrooooowwww!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New Light at Mono Lake
32 x 47
oil on panel

Just finished watching the first installment of Ken Burns' doc on the national parks highlighting the induction of Yosemite and Yellowstone as national parks. Perfect timing because I'm going camping in the Sierra on Friday with my pal Shawn. Five days visiting Yosemite, Mono lake, Obsidian Dome, the high desert, Bridgeport, and long stretches of dirt roads into hidden canyons.

Do not worry my friends, take refuge in the knowledge that I will be sufficiently geared with camera, sketchbook, pochade box, food, sleeping bag, and the writings of John Muir.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Green Frog
Emily Holland

Emily has only just recently started painting and like her sculptures, she started painting very small and worked her way up to larger paintings as her confidence grew. Her first landscapes were snow scenes painted on pennies. They are just too small to photograph for this blog without a macro lens.

These moths were painted after a visit to our friend's ranch in Montana last summer.

This little oil painting of a gorge is from the same Montana trip. I love how she captured the play of light on the rocks.

A simple snow-capped mountain with beautiful, loose brushstrokes

As you can see, Emily's got quite a head start with her art and it will be exciting to watch her grow and develop over the years. One can only imagine what her work will look like in twenty years. She's definitely giving her old man a run for the money!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Today we take a look at Emily's fantasy sculptures. She's a big fan of the Pern series of dragon books so a lot of her sculptures revolve around the characters in that series. Her original sculptures were so small and detailed she would mount them on pennies. As you can see, she's working larger as her confidence builds.

She finished this character this week. She uses Sculpey, a soft polymer that you bake in the oven to harden.

Like April's doll collection, I'm convinced these things come alive when I'm asleep at night. I swear I heard this beast flap its wings last night...

This dragon chess set was also finished this week, each piece individually sculpted, no casting was used. Though she's an animal sciences major at UC Davis, I think she could work at Pixar as a maquette modeler for the computer animators.

Friday we close with a look at her landscape oils.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Old Fence
Emily Holland

This week I get to brag a little about my youngest daughter Emily who starts college at UC Davis today. I'm going to feature her artwork all week so you can get a glimpse inside her world through her art. All my daughters are smart and creative in their own ways, but Emily really got my "art gene" in a bad way. She has been blowing us away from an early age with her abilities to work and be successful with different media.

These are examples of her scratchboard drawings. Scratchboard, if you don't know, is thick white paper with a thin layer of black (I think clay) on top. You simply scratch away the black with a sharp tool (like an x-acto blade) to create your drawing.

This forest scene was one of her first scratchboards and it's got to be my favorite. It has such a German Expressionist feeling to it. For me, it vibrates with the same intensity of the artwork from that turn of the century era, a time when the world was changing and the images born reflected that unease. Art critic Robert Hughes called it, "the shock of the new", when all the academic ideals of art were challenged. So perfect for Emily, (who's always questioning and challenging the status quo), as she enters college and the beginning of a new century.

On Wednesday we'll take a look at her sculptural work and on Friday her oil paintings.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Watercolor interior

Why are we doing these by hand when it's so much faster to create them on the computer? That question is a common one in my classes. True, clients probably aren't going to pay you to sit for hours to render a complex concept image of their design project. What I try to convey to my students is that they need to develop the skills to sit and draw out a quick sketch of an interior arrangement, a piece of furniture, a built-in, etc., on a piece of paper in front of their client. It's all about visual communication from the designer to the client.

The best visual presentations combine both digital and hand rendered images. The parts done by hand add a certain warmth, style, and soul to the project. And sometimes a little eye candy will seal the deal.

On another note, this weekend April and I officially become empty-nesters. Emily leaves for UC Davis on Sunday so in celebration of all her hard work, I will highlight her artwork here next week.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A 75K kitchen on a 50 cent piece of paper...

This drawing was created with Prismacolor markers and pencils, it took about ten hours to complete. I demonstrate this exercise to my advanced class and spend two class sessions doing so, just because of all the complex elements involved. In this picture we're dealing with gradient planes, reflective surfaces, a variety of materials, perspective, and different lighting sources all rendered by hand with the pencils and markers. It's a grueling assignment to get through but in the end, my students come away with achieving a great deal.