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…

Marguerite & Barney

A dear friend and ex-colleague asked me to make a painting of his stepdaughter (daughter) and her horse. I just sent it out today, and thought I’d share the steps along the way.
Just before I closed the box to ship
I started with a marker sketch and loosely laying in color and value.
Now I’m slowly going around and laying in the next level of detail – not really accurate to call it detail yet…!
more in the same vein… still a mess
This is that point where I realize how much trouble I’m in. Everything I’ve touched is still crude – and not in a good way!
This is quite a bit later; lots of little steps along the way to get here. Still pretty disappointing though!
The final piece- there is a lot of time between the last image and this one. 

Moonrise, Chama River

I wander around at night sometimes, partially to be out in the wilderness at dawn or twilight, but also because the night itself is so powerful and magical to me. This is overlooking the Chama River as the moon rose early one morning; I was actually heading somewhere else but had to stop. This is another painting ( 3′ x 3′) that I started as an acrylic, and then was able to finish once I started painting in oils.

Just the beginnings of a sketch, using colored pencils on a prepared panel.

Starting to put in some values with the water, and acrylic markers for the shadows. The milky way ended up disappearing.

One of the ten times that I would paint the sky and the reflections…

Now with the background details begun there is a cartoon, giving a sense of the piece.

New sky, new water…

Another new sky…

Okay, sky is massaged back into place. I just began using oils on the distant hills, making them darker so that I would have to balance everything to that. It’s amazing how much harder this would have been as a watercolor!

Here, a lot of the painting has been repainted in oils. It’s still a little cartoony, though, and the trees aren’t right and are too dark…

The trees are participating in the moonlight now, and everything has been touched. Not right yet, but it’s easier to see what to do once one gets closer all around.

Moonrise Chama River
Here’s the final painting. 

Morning, Canyonlands

This is a large (3′ x 4′) painting that I started a while ago and just finished, showing the valley and mesas on the way to the southern entrance to Canyonlands National Park one morning. It’s from a car trip back from San Francisco when my wife Melinda and I traveled through Utah, where she is from originally. I began it as an acrylic painting and got stuck for a while. Even using Open Acrylics, I had a hard time feathering edges and gradations of transparent color. Once I started painting in oils, the problems that I couldn’t overcome using acrylic seemed solvable to me, (still hard but solvable) so I was able to finish.

This is the initial sketch in acrylics.

Still initial work, with the sky darkened, and a little more detail added. 

Right about here was when I realized how hard this was all going to be.

I slowly started working on the foreground grasses and the mid ground line of trees. There is no way to do this without music.


Much more work on the foreground in this stage, and a little re-working of the sky and clouds. For someone who has worked for so long in watercolors, to be able to mess around and revise is pretty amazing! (Although it’s still pretty rough)

Now the sky and  clouds and part of the mesas have been repainted in oils.

This is the final painting, with everything reworked – and finally a proper scan as well.

Big Ivy North Carolina

These are from a lovely foggy autumn day in Big Ivy, North Carolina driving up state road 2173 to Douglas Falls. I was visiting my sister and her family in Asheville and my brother in law and he took me to this special place.

This was a year ago, and I was too depressed with the political news, and a beloved dog dying to post them, so I waited a year to do it. It’s such a lovely place that I didn’t want to not post them! And now of course we are surrounded by two new young canine family members…

On the foggy road up Big Ivy

As we were walking to Douglas Falls, the fog cleared for a little while and revealed this lovely view.

Douglas Falls in fog…

..and after the fog cleared

Peach Orchard Creek

Staire Branch in the fog

Walker Branch

Little Andy creek

Walker Branch after the fog rolled back in

A view from the trees near Asheville

Seattle & the Olympic Peninsula

My lovely and talented wife, Melinda Tidwell, recently traveled to Seattle to work with the great Carla Sonheim ( to film a series of online collage/composition workshops. I took the opportunity to wander around up there and here are some photographs from those rambles.

This is the ferry to Southworth on the first morning. It was delightfully (for a Santa Fean) overcast and rainy as we headed west to the Olympic Peninsula)

This is the view from near Union, Washington looking over the Hood Canal towards the mountains.

This is overlooking Lake Cushman above Hoodsport, Washington.

Looking back towards Seattle from the 6:10am ferry to Bainbridge Island.

The beautiful Lake Crescent.

Elwha River at the entrance to Olympic National Park, which unfortunately had the road closed this day.

Ruby Beach, on the Pacific. Time to turn around.

Looking south along the shore.

Next morning I headed out to the southern entrance to Olympic National Park at Staircase on the Skokomish River.

This is a wildly beautiful place, and of course I didn’t encounter a soul.

DSC07848 Panorama
Some of the amazing staircase rapids on the Skokomish River.

End of the day on the Skokomish River, near where it enters Hood Canal.

Looking back towards the mountains as I head to the ferry.

An Edward Hopper moment on the ferry.

The night skyline of Seattle as the ferry approaches.

People’s Choice Award

I got some lovely news yesterday: my watercolor, Winter, East Fork Jemez River, won the People’s Choice Award at the New Mexico Watercolor Society Fall Show! It also won another small award, but I’m especially pleased by the People’s Choice Award.

East Fork Jemez River

Winter, East Fork Jemez River

A couple of winters ago, I went through the canyon of the Jemez River near Valles Caldera in New Mexico. I wore some cheap waders and some good crampons, as the landscape was filled with ice and snow. This is a watercolor towards the end of the day from pretty far in the canyon, but out of the rocks. I had been following a coyote for most of the way, and wanted to include his (her) tracks. Here are some of the stagesof the painting along the way.

It’s always tricky knowing how to begin a complicated scene. In this case, I put in some of the foreground snow and the warm reflection on the water before starting on the trees.

Some of the darker trees in the middle are indicated, and the pattern of ripples on the water. 

This gives an indication of the slow process of painting the crazy detail of snow covered forest!.

Now that things have started to be in the right place, I realized I needed to bring things to the right value, so the river gets darker and more accurate now.

This is a photograph from my phone. The trick that I use for complicated scenes is to print the photo from which I’m working at the same size as the painting, and then cut it into little pieces that I can use for reference when I work.

East Fork Jemez River
Here’s the final painting after being scanned at high resolution.The final steps were to finish the coyote tracks and to add an ultramarine blue wash to the foreground snow.

Diablo Canyon Commission

I had an unexpected inquiry from my website last fall; someone had recently bought a home that was near Diablo Canyon and was wondering if I would be interested in a largish commission to make a painting of it. That began a months long process that just finished recently.

I had taken several photographs of Diablo Canyon – they had done a google search for ‘paintings + diablo canyon’, and the keywords on my photographs had led them to my website, as it turns out. We went through about 12 of my photographs maybe, and culled that to 4. I went to their house and took photos of the room where the painting would go, and mocked up each photograph as if it were framed to scale there. Eventually I made two full size color prints of their two likeliest choices on not great paper, and they taped them up on the wall. Once they had chosen the image, I got started.

It wasn’t really possible to make a watercolor as big as they wanted, so I decided to use acrylic on canvas for weight’s sake. My friend and master oil painter, Madison Cawein, persuaded me that I would appreciate working in oils and promised to help get me set up and share which mediums he used, etc., so I changed courses and started my first oil painting since I was 12…

Here is an abbreviated version of the process:

Next began the time intensive process of the complex landscape of rocks and plants. The next few stages are more of a cartoon, where things are indicated in almost a comic book fashion. I shared key stages with the collectors, and fortunately they didn’t freak out!

Sorry for the wet paint here that is shining. After indicating the darker shadows, often with a marker or colored pencil, I scumbled transparent washes to indicate larger areas, like rock shadows or the chamisa in the foreground. It’s hard to see here, but the edges of the clouds have been sketched with a white colored pencil.

Here’s where the underpainting helps. It’s actually showing through a lot as I am working on filling in various areas, but because it is close to the actual rocks in color and tone it starts to read. This is a small image, but on the actual painting it looked pretty darn rough. I used thin white paint to fill in my sketches of the clouds, leaving the dark interiors more untouched.

Basically I went through and worked on each area at a time. The cliffs have had a second touch, and I just beginning here to work on the accursed chamisa in the foreground; you can see the dividing line in the middle of the painting on the bottom between the comic book on the left and the first stab at detail on the left.

Now the entire foreground is  addressed, and it’s time to add in the clouds.

The sky needed to be reworked as I added clouds, not to mention the sun’s glow over the edge of the cliff at left. Knowing that I would need a big brush and big movement, I used a watercolor trick, and cut extra adhesive frisket paper and adhered it over the cliffs so I would minimize the amount of work I had to redo.


Beginning to work on the clouds…

This shows my first pass on the clouds. They’re a little too smooth and phony. Bummer.

Late Afternoon Diablo Canyon
Here’s the final painting. I printed a better reference for the clouds, which helped, and also went around and tightened or re-worked various areas. Sometimes they needed detail, and sometimes there were areas that I had missed. (I could have done this process for weeks.)

Here’s the final framed painting after installing it my delightful client’s house.