Nocturne, Iglesia San Jose

I spent part of last fall working as an on set visual effects supervisor on a Netflix movie being filmed in New Mexico (not ‘Rust!) One night we were shooting in Corrales, near Albuquerque, and unexpectedly wrapped a little early. I drove the back way to Cerrillos and wandered around taking photographs a little before 5 am. This is the church of San Jose just a little ways off the main square. It’s a ways before sunrise, but the sky had just begun to lighten a little, and I was entranced by the quiet mood.

This is just a little messing about after putting down a sky underpainting.
Early attempts at getting light and shade in there. Everything is pretty crude, but it gives me an idea of what needs to happen. That dark sky got light pretty fast as I worked on the foreground.
Balancing things out a bit, and starting to try and get the right color and value in.
Beginning to work in the harder, more complex areas
Getting close, but a few areas still need work. Also the sky needs to be darkened at the top for the mood to be right.
Here’s the finished painting.

Nightfall, Springer NM

I was returning from delivering paintings to Lovetts Gallery in Tulsa, Oklahoma and took the back way home, as I often do. I drove through Springer, New Mexico just as night was falling and was struck by the mood there. I walked around taking photographs for a while as the light faded, then headed home in the dark. This painting is from that evening.I ended up painting it twice, as the first painting was destroyed in a van fire on my way to Cherry Creek Art Festival on Labor Day of last year.

This is just setting it up. The sky has a first pass of graduated blues, and the foreground is sketched in with pencil and marker.
This is pretty ghastly, but things will settle down later on. The clouds are roughed in, and the base color of the old building are in now, as well as some scumbling of the foreground road.
Still ghastly, but a little better. Some of the warm light on the building has been added, and the background has a little work added, as well as the foreground road.
More sense of light now. The streetlight pole and the wires have been added, and some light and shadow on the main building as well as more work on the other buildings.
Here’s the final of the first version. Everything has been touched again and things sit more in the same world now.
Months later, here is the second version. I’m sure if I painted it a few more times it would improve! This is with Leslie Levy Fine Art in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Summer Moonrise

This is a scene from last summer; I was walking the dogs towards sunset and looked over as the moon rose over a hill. Something was really arresting to me about the full moon rising with the evening clouds. Here’s the phases the painting went through:

I started with a traditional primatura of a dark lavender gray. Then I sketched in the basic scene using markers.
The marker sketch gave me enough confidence to loosely paint the scene. For the foreground trees, which are crazy complicated, I thinned the paint so I could still see the dark shadow indications.
Now the scene is roughly laid out in oils. Everything is kind of right, but nothing is actually right, and everything will get covered over!
I worked quite a bit on the foreground, and about this time I realized that I had a ton of work to do on the sky.
Here the sky has been repainted. I needed to emphasize the light cerulean in the middle of the sky behind the moon, and then would need to rework the clouds and feather them into that sky.
Here is the final painting, with reworked clouds and general clean up and refinement here and there. This went to a dear friend in Michigan.

El Rito Nocturne

This is an oil painting of the little town of El Rito northwest of Santa Fe, just as night was falling. I loved the sense of being a little out of time here, and was fortunate to catch a worker renovating the Martin’s building while he was taking a break. Here are some of the steps in the process:

I decided not to do a traditional underpainting for this, as each section was so different in color and value. Instead I roughed in an underpainting for a few areas. One of the first things that an artist has to overcome, I think, is how terrible the early stages of a painting can look!
I’ve come to like using markers to sketch out a painting, as they give me a better road map once I start painting in earnest. Some of this is oil, and some of the more detailed areas are marker.
This is the same process, just a little further along.There is just a hint, now, of the feeling of the scene when I was there.
Now it’s a painting, with all the marker sketch covered. A long way to go still! One thing I love about oil paint is how one can indicate an area somewhat crudely, and then later on go in and refine it, as opposed to watercolor (which I painted with exclusively for many years) which is not so forgiving.
Here I’m slowly working on the light and dark of the scene, as well as the weathered quality of the central buildings. There’s a lot of back and forth and reworking; once one area changes, it changes the area around it as well…
Here is the final painting, which went to a collector in Italy.

Morning, Aspen Forest

In the height of the pandemic lockdown, I got an inquiry about a painting commission. A company called Better Place Forests, who buy forest land and create memorial forests as an alternative to traditional cemeteries – here’s a quote from their website:

“We want to change the way we talk about, plan for and create end of life experiences. Rather than cemetery grounds, we imagine lush, natural forest lands. Your legacy lives on in a memorial forest—for you, your loved ones, and the planet.”

They were making a new forest north of Flagstaff Arizona into a conservation memorial forest and wanted to have a painting of it for the guest center. I of course felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Because it was drivable, I was able to travel there during the pandemic. I spent about 2 1/2 days wandering around at dawn and late afternoon taking photographs. After going through and grading the photographs, we shared a group of selects and then slowly reduced it down until there was an image that was approved for a painting.

Since the forest was recently acquired, it hadn’t been groomed and turned into a finished conservation memorial forest yet. So grooming was added digitally; things like a path and a bench area, which were modeled after their other locations and on some existing buildings. I called up a friend of mine from the visual effects days who is a master matte painter named Rick Rische, and he agreed to help with that. Meanwhile I began painting, and left the areas where he was working until they were approved. Here are some of the phases of the painting:

Since the underpainting would show through here and there, I made a very simple version of the scene, as opposed to a uniform color everywhere.
Here is a sketch of the forest, using a combination of markers and oil paint. Most of this will be covered, but it serves as a road map.
A baby step forward here. The trees are solid here, as is the pathway, but still tons of work ahead.
Things are a little more fleshed out here, but still pretty rough.
This doesn’t seem much further, but represents a lot of work! In addition to the rocks around the path, the endless leaves are a little closer to what they should be.
Here’s the final painting, which will hang in the Welcome House. Color and value are more balanced and accurate now, so it feels like the real scene. Also, I don’t usually do this, but I had some photographs of some deer from early morning in other parts of the forest which I swiped and added to this scene; I felt like it added a sense of the early morning wonder that I was after…

Fall colors 2020

I recently went out and made some photographs in the Sangre De Christo as the aspens reached peak color, and then a few days later, headed north to the Chama River Canyon to see the cottonwoods. Here are some of the images from those trips:

I wanted to be up in the mountains at sunrise, so headed up wicked early. Here’s the moon setting as I headed up from the trail.
There are some cliffs above Tesuque Creek which seem kind of inaccessible, but if one looks after passing them, you can climb relatively easily, and it’s a wonderful view looking out towards Santa Fe just as the sun was rising.
I bushwhacked over to another trail through various stands of aspen. Here the sun is just hitting the trees above me as it climbs down the mountain.
It’s wonderful to be in this dense, almost field painting abstraction of trees.
Here is a little aspen getting hit by sunlight reaching through the trees.
This is looking out towards the mountain range as I headed down to the other trail.
Here’s a shot of the popular Aspen Vista Trail from above.
This is probably the most expensive photograph I’ve taken. It’s a little lane that leads one to a plank bridge over the Rio Grande west of Espanola. When I got back to the car (I was on my way to the Chama River) someone had heaved a huge rock through my driver’s window and stolen my backpack and camera bag with 5 cameras! (used cameras)
This is just before dawn on the Chama River. (I still had two cameras and a tripod fortunately)
Here the sun is just hitting Laguna Mesa in Chama River Canyon. This is taken from a bridge over the Continental Divide.
Looking out over some cottonwoods over the river. (I was maybe a week late for peak color)
This is right after the sun rose enough for full day to hit the valley.
Looking out over a bend in the river later in the day.
This is a lovely little recessed wood below a bluff next to the river.
Looking west as the sun set in the canyon.
Here are some friends who decided to allow me to pass as the day was ending.

Conundrum Creek

This is an oil painting from a long – and beautiful – hike up to Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen, Colorado. I looked back up the mountain on the way down, completely soaked, and loved the view up to the top with the mist still swirling from the rain. Here’s the stages along the way:

This is the primatura, or underpainting. I roughed in the clouds very loosely and just put a reddish umber in the ground so I wouldn’t see that nasty white as I worked.
This is the beginnings of the scene sketched in with markers.
This is a sort of cartoon of the whole scene, a mixture of oil paint and marker sketch. It’s very rough, but gives me an idea of where to go.
This is a little further along. I am slowly going through and painting area by area – it usually takes me three or four passes of this before I can stand it. This is maybe two, and one in places.
Here’s the final painting. I left the edges a little loose and blurry on purpose here, wanting to draw the eye more in the middle where I was focusing at the time.

Cottonwood Trail Oil On Canvas 24″ x 36″

This painting is from a visit to Crestone, Colorado early last fall. It’s on the west slopes of the Sangre De Christo Mountains, and overlooks what was once the huge Lake Alamosa, and is now a large plain. The Cottonwood Trail heads up into the mountains and I was struck by this exquisite scene. The early sun was just starting to rise high enough above the mountains to illuminate the magical world I was in, and I decided to make a painting of it. It’s crazy complicated, but kind of perfect, and I was sort of entranced by the combination of landscape and light. Here are the stages along the way:

Here again is the primatura, or underpainting. I didn’t want to show white underneath as I painted, so did a very loose approximation of blues and greys before starting.
These days I’m using alcohol based permanent markers to sketch out the scene. This is just the beginning. I recognize that there is something wonderful in this early stage, and hope that after perhaps a few more years of painting, i will be able to retain something of this sort of mystical image in the finished painting.
Here the drawing – the marker drawing – is fairly well along, but still nowhere near completion.
Now the drawing is pretty complete, and the real work begins.
First I’m working in the darker areas, trying to put some foundation in.
I’ve done more some work in the leaves and the water in the distance, and begun laying in parts of the foreground.
The thing is, there are lots of areas addressed, but there is so much still to do! A little more work on the water in the foreground. The leaves are are a little loose and I don’t feel the light hitting the leaves at the top center, and the leaves along the edges aren’t right yet…
This is kind of getting there, but I still don’t feel it’s quite right. The next stage is to make little changes all over…
It sometimes, as in this case, takes me a while before I can see the painting enough to go in and make little improvements here and there to where it feels complete. A lot of the leaves have been more clearly delineated, and there is more clarity in the light and dark areas. The foreground had little areas where I discovered I had sort of forgotten about them, then adding detail to the leaning tree in the foreground was one of the last steps.

Aspen Forest in Rain Oil On Panel 36″ x 48″

This is a painting from a hike in the Pecos Wilderness in the summer. I was up on Hamilton Mesa and got caught in a heavy rainstorm, and ended up standing under a tree for over an hour waiting for the rain to abate. As usual, I fell in love with the image and the mood, and as I started working I realized how challenging it would be. But by then it was too late! I started this almost exactly one year ago, and just finished it. Here are some of the stages of the painting along the way:

This is the primatura, or underpainting. I wanted to help myself by having this show up in the background as I worked, so the painting started to feel like something earlier in the process than if I had left the gesso alone or used a solid underpainting.
Just beginning to lay in the scene. I’ve been experimenting with different ways to sketch for an oil painting, and have been using alcohol based permanent markers – Winsor and Newton Brush Markers usually. They allow me to work on detail relatively quickly without getting oil paint on everything. Once I start painting in oils, I usually can only work a bit before starting to smudge the painting if I’m not working loosely, even using a painting mahl.
This is a lot of marker sketch, with a little oil painting starting.
Now I am slowly painting into the scene, using the marker sketch as a topographic map to help me know where I am.
This is after scumbling in lots of paint to start to get the values right, instead of just seeing underpainting.
I finally starting tackling the detail of the grasses and stuff in the foreground, as well as slowly going through the leaf canopy and painting leaves. A fair amount of the foreground is still markers. Now the mountains and sky in the background feel wrong, as they are still the underpainting and don’t have the right value.
Now the mountains have been painted in, and most of the foreground is painted.
None of the rain the was falling showed in the photograph I had taken, and that was important to have in there to convey the mood of the scene, so I added raindrops with a brush and lots of Liquin medium to make the rain transparent. If it didn’t work, I would pretty much ruin the painting, so I did a little study (shown here) to try and figure it out.
Here is the final painting, properly scanned instead of photographed in my studio.

Morning, Aspens in Autumn

Here is a little evolutionary study. I have been thinking for a long time about painting more the way we see and perceive; so that the center of the painting is clear and ‘realistic’, but the edges are less defined. I have, I suspect, many years ahead of working this out.

Here I started with a fairly loose painting of a scene I found in the Sangre De Christo Mountains early one fall morning. I neglected to take a photograph of any earlier stages, including the ochre to blue to yellow graduated underpainting…

First I focused on tightening up the center of the image and leaving the rest to steep in my mind. I left the underpainting towards the edges and just indicated the trees there.

The scumbly quality of the yellow canopy bothered me, so I cleaned it up a bit and added a little more detail in the trees at center. After each of these stages I worked on other things while I thought about it. This stage irritated me when I looked at it.

Now where I left the underpainting on the trees at the edges bothered me, so I worked enough on them to show the darkness there, and just began a little to show some detail in the foreground. There are, if you look close, still pen and felt marker marks in places, particularly in the small branches.

Here’s the final painting. A LOT of time went by as I kept looking at this. I decided I wanted to show the differentiation in the yellow leaf canopy, and worked on the foreground more, as well as cleaning up lots of other areas. There are things I love about the first stab at this, but I think it will take a while to be able to get both qualities in one painting!

Finally, a brief word about photography. I work from photographs that I take when I am pretty far away from civilization, and usually at the early and late ends of the day, or else in the middle of the night. I learn a lot from plein air painting, and intend to do more of it, but usually the scenes that I am moved to paint are momentary and change quickly, as well as being wicked hard to get to with painting gear. I shoot RAW images, and then grade them in Lightroom to be more like what I saw or want to see. Here is the original image before being graded.

This is the same photograph after being graded…