Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I can't paint Yosemite

Question for you artists out there:  What imagery are you drawn towards?  For me, I tend to love the landscape... but usually specific elements of the landscape really get me going.  The light at midday or big grand vistas don't usually do it for me.  Late afternoon is my favorite, when the colors deepen, shadows get long and the play of lights and darks offers plenty of contrast.  I have a soft spot for trees, particularly singular trees, in the landscape.  I am drawn to water, fog and where sea and sky meet.  To me, these moments are full of drama, but I tend to think of them as more intimate moments. 

Don't get me wrong...  big dramatic places like Big Sur are really beautiful, but I'm not as compelled to paint them.  I think perhaps if I found a little cove and if the light was just right... well, I'd paint that.  
I found myself thinking about this over Thanksgiving weekend when my family and I took a trip to Yosemite National Park.  I really enjoyed it all and took lots of photos. The Sierras are gorgeous and we visited Yosemite Valley, taking in the towering waterfalls and immense granite cliffs.  We also visited Mariposa Grove to see the ancient Sequoia trees.  All in all, breathtaking. 

What I will most likely end up doing a painting of is this one tree that I spotted on our road trip.  We came across a large reservoir in the Central Valley where we stopped to stretch our legs.  The light was gorgeous and I found myself drawn to this one wonderful tree down in the water.  

The closer I got to this beauty, the better it got:

Don't be surprised if you see this image come back in the form of a painting in the near future.

My husband snapped a photo of me at work, doing research for paintings.  You can see it on his blog here:

House on Bear Mountain 

This is me in Yosemite, at Tunnel View.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Be Still


Oil and wax on a cradled birch panel


This painting involves oil mixed with a cold wax medium.  The surface is soft & luminous.  This painting does not have spackle under the painting, unlike the recent paintings that I've talked about, so it does not have as textured of a surface.  It's also on a cradled wood backing, so it hangs off the wall and does not need framing.   I'm excited about these new landscapes, and I really like working with wax and wood.  

Whaler's Cove

Whaler's Cove


Oil and wax on spackle over an un-cradled panel


This painting continues along in the same spirit as the piece below.  This particular image is inspired by a tucked-away beach along California's Pacific Coast Highway.  Whaler's Cove is up near Pigeon Point, about 25 miles north of Santa Cruz.   

This painting reflects a recent approach that I'm taking in my work.  I wanted to use oil and wax, paint on wood, paint over spackle, and wanted to use an image that feels like a vintage photograph.  I wanted something that felt old and timeless, but with a contemporary edge. 

Blackbird Crossing

8x8" Oil and wax over spackle on un-cradled panel.  

This painting reflects a recent approach that I'm taking in my work.  I wanted to use oil and wax, paint on wood, paint over spackle, and wanted to use an image that feels like a vintage photograph.  I wanted something that felt old & timeless, but with a contemporary edge. 

I received an email recently from a beekeeper on the East Coast.  After some talk back and forth about the paintings, he mentioned that he enjoyed some of my earlier work that involved wax.  It got me thinking:  what was it about that medium that I enjoyed?  Why did I move away from it?  I thought I'd go back in and give it another whirl.  The beauty of using cold wax medium is that when mixed with oil paint it becomes more matte and creates interesting textures.  You have to really play with it to figure out the right ratios of oil to wax and pay attention to drying times.  I also mix in alkyd medium to control gloss and flow.  So, that's what I'm using here and in some other works soon to follow.  The spackle came again from earlier works that I had experimented with.  The spackle creates a textured surface that emulates an old frescoed wall.  I wanted the painting to have that texture... of feeling a bit rough, not so pristine and smack of something old.  As for the imagery, I have birds on the brain lately. as I'm reading a book called Birdology.  I had done a recent painting using a similar image, and just really wanted to paint birds in flight again.  In keeping with the mood that I was after, I was thinking about vintage cameras and film and what the image would look like if it were taken with a pinhole camera.   I wanted a painting that had an image that was fleeting, with a look that speaks of age and time passed. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

I'm continuing my exploration of encaustic paint on a small scale.  In this painting, I'm working on creating a landscape that feels similar in spirit to those that I create in oil paints.  The wax lends itself to a depth and luminosity that adds to the ephemeral or fairytale-like essence of this piece. 

At Forest's Edge

4x4" (on a 2" deep panel)

Encaustic paint

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

My vintage computer & scanner that I use in my studio is on the fritz this week, so I'm going with pics uploaded from my phone.  

October was a crazy busy over-scheduled kind of month and somehow it flew by with very little studio time.  As we head deep into November, I jump at any carved-out time that becomes available to run to the studio.   Pictured here is my glass palette where I take quite a bit of time mixing up colors before I even begin to paint.  I'm playing with wax medium combined with a bit of alkyd medium to get certain effects that are unique to using this combination.  

Because my studio is not heated, I'm thrilled if it's a warm enough day that I can work with my doors open to the outside.   Not pictured here is my ever-present dog Bella, who considers it her job to accompany me to the studio. 

I'm working on these panels that have been prepped first with spackle & artist's gesso to create a surface that's reminiscent of an old frescoed wall.  My reference photos & colors are mostly from iPhone photos that I've taken.  I'm using the wax & oil combination described above, going for a very seductive and beautiful surface.  As always, I'm after a particular sense of light, mood and atmosphere. 

Hopefully I'll get that scanner back up & running soon and will post detailed images of these newest works.  In the meantime, be sure to check out my available paintings page.  There are a few small scale paintings that would an excellent option for upcoming holiday wish lists!  

For available paintings, click here. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Oil on panel


Golden Bee

Oil on canvas


This is one of my smallest canvasses yet.  At 2" square, I think it qualifies as a mini. 



Encaustic on panel


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blackbird Bramble

Blackbird Bramble
8x8", Oil on panel


This image seems fitting, as we head into the last week of October.  Something about this images reminds me of old fairy tales.  Like something out of Grimm.
I've been interested in birds lately, keeping an eye out for them.  I've been taking photos of birds gathering on power lines and tree tops.  I'm sure that the images will find their way into my paintings.   

When I began this painting, I wanted the surface to feel like an old fresco.  Instead of my usual smooth surface over canvas or panel, I began by adding a layer of spackle, which then was coated with a layer of gesso.  The surface was exactly what I wanted:  textured and highly absorbent.  My oil glazes played off of the surface that gave me that old world and mysterious look that I was after. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

October Update

October began with a party.  We had our big fundraiser for our local school, where I had donated one of my paintings.  I'm happy to say that bidding was lively and it looks like we raised some much needed funds.  My painting went to a great new home that night.  

Bidding closing on the art portion of the auction.  My painting is on the easel. 

My work is currently in a couple of venues here for you local folks in the Bay area.  If you go to Los Gatos Framing, I have a couple of paintings there, including one of my mini bee paintings.

My work is also at Many Hands Gallery, in Capitola.  It's right near Gayle's Bakery, in case you need an excuse for a little field trip.  I have a lot of work in there, including one large painting of Moss Landing, several medium sized paintings, and a lot of my small-scale paintings.  These include some of my encaustic paintings as well my paintings of birds and bees.  This work should be up through the month of October.

I also have one painting up at Saffron and Genevieve, in Santa Cruz.  If you haven't been to this shop yet, it is well worth the visit.  Scarlett, the owner, has an amazing eye for one-of-a-kind pieces and I hear tell that she just got back from a buying trip to Texas. I'm not sure how much longer this painting will be up, but it's there in the shop now.

Keep checking back as I am back in the studio working on the next round of paintings.  I can tell you that I have one large painting on the easel, several small-scale paintings in the works, and I've had a few days of playing with encaustics.  I'll be sure to share new work here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why This Place Is Full of Awesome

Four years ago, we made the crazy leap across country, moving from Virginia to the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.  My son was 3, my daughter 6.  We landed in the mountains, which felt a little wild & untamed & exciting.  We also set out to explore our newly adopted state. 

 Ben, at 3, at the Golden Gate Bridge

 Bear Creek House, crazy driveway

 Skyler, with freshly picked lemons.

 Beautiful red moss on madrone trees, Santa Cruz Mountains.

 View of Monterey Bay, as seen from the Santa Cruz Mountains.

 Ben amongst the redwoods, at Big Basin Park.

 Coastal drive down to Big Sur. 

 Miss S. with Snow.

What we didn't expect was how important the local mountain school is to this area. What we found was a very tight knit and welcoming community, and that has made us feel very much at home.  We also came to realize that California is in a terrible fiscal mess, and the schools are struggling.  It's up to the schools to raise their own funds to keep teachers & programs.  Our little community has stepped up by fundraising throughout the year.  I have to say that one of the most heartwarming events is the Jogathon  that's held in the Spring, because it's the kids who are working the hardest.  The kids all run (kindergarteners, running an average of 2 miles!) to raise money.  It's an incredible event with everyone involved: the teachers, kids, parents and community members coming out to cheer on and run with our kids. 

 Rallying to save our teachers.
 School spirit at the Jogathon.
 Jogathon, 2011

With this in mind, I was asked to create a painting for another great fundraiser, our annual Gala which is held in October.  I couldn't help but think of this unique California landscape, so different from the East Coast that I know so well.  One view that never fails to make me feel like I'm in a unique and beautiful place is whenever I drive north toward San Francisco.  Driving up 280, you go through a gorgeous area where the highway is flanked by the foothills of the Diablo Range.  These foothills are covered in a golden grass that much of the year is bone dry and is the color of lion's fur.  Interspersed are these gorgeous oaks and shrubs. Every time I drive through I try and take a few photos.  The photo below doesn't quite do it justice.   Instead, I made a painting that captures the essence of the hills with some of the color that I catch a glimpse of from time to time. 

 View of the foothills of the Diablo Range

Painting of the same view of the Diablo Range.
Oil on canvas, 30x48"  

This painting will be available for bidding at this Friday's Gala event.  100% of the proceeds goes directly to the school.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Evolution of a painting

I just finished another large painting in the studio that will be making it's debut at an upcoming fundraiser for our local school.   I documented the process and revealed the day by day progress on my artist page on Facebook.  

 Day 1 involved a blank canvas.  Prior to this stage, some work went into prepping the surface with artist based gesso sanded carefully between coats to create a smooth and porous surface. 

 This image represents the first day or two.  I began by laying down an underpainting, basically blocking in the shapes and color relationships.  The initial layers tend to be loose and painterly, with opaque layers of oil paint. 

 In days three and four, I continue to paint in both the details of the landscape in alternately layers of opaque paint and semi-translucent layers to adjust color and temperature.  With each day, I typically add 2-4 layers of paint, covering the entire surface.  As I paint, I'm building on the layers below. 

Detail of my work in progress:  Day 6.  I continue to add washes of semi-translucent oil glazes, allowing the layers below to come through and adding subtle transitions of color.  Each layers is allowed to dry before adding the next.  I reveal layers below by wiping away with rags & my fingers when the paint is still wet and carefully sanding when the layers are dry. 

Detail of work in progress:  Days 6 & 7.   With each layer of paint, the painting gains depth and luminosity.  Light filters through the top semi-translucent layers and reflects back from the more opaque layers on the bottom.  In the right light, the painting has a luminous glow.  Because of the thin layers, it also has a smooth surface. 

After approximately 10-12 full working days, the painting is complete.

Oil on canvas

Available for bidding at the Gala 2011, Magic On The Mountain event.  Proceeds support the Loma Public Education Fund. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

First Friday, Santa Cruz

Join me this Friday, August 5th for Santa Cruz's First Friday Art Tour. My work will be Saffron & Genevieve, a fabulous shop in mid-town Santa Cruz. Info about the art tour is here, and just so you know... Roudon Smith Winery will be pouring at our location.

I'll be there from 5-9 pm. I have some new paintings that are making their debut. I have to say, that in Scarlett's shop, mixed in with her unique offerings, you get a good idea of how well these paintings would look on one's own walls at home.

To participate in the Wine Walk, you'll need to get tickets in advance. No need for tickets to just come by and enjoy the art and say hello!

Beach Glass
Oil on canvas


Friday, July 29, 2011


The making of a painting

I begin with an image in mind... an idea that eventually needs to be realized. I typically work from my own photographs, and I take hundreds of reference photos that I sort through and make choices about which ones will become a painting. I sometimes work from direct observation, sometimes from memory and always with a bit of invention. My bee paintings tend to be more about memory and invention and narrative. My landscapes tend to be more about capturing a particular feeling or quality of light or a sense of place.

I prep my surface, which is either stretched canvas or a wood panel, with layers of artists' gesso which is sanded between layers to give a smooth surface. I then take quite a bit of time mixing up my paint before even starting on the canvas. I have a big glass palette and lots of tubes of paint, though I go through periods of being in love with particular colors and will be biased towards using them again and again. I use oil paints, mostly because I love everything about them: the smell, how they handle, the slow drying time and the magic of what pigment does optically when suspended in an oil based medium. Oil paints look luscious to me and is exciting to me in a way that other mediums just cannot reach.

Ok, now about the painting...

I typically start with an underpainting. I cover the entire canvas and get the basics of the composition and color relationships down. The painting starts loose and mostly undefined. I tend to work with a medium like Liquin to make the paint flow and dry faster so that it's ready for painting by the next day.

End of day 1.

By the next day, the painting is dry to the touch and I can go over the whole thing again, building the painting. I cover the entire canvas again. The layers here are semi-opaque, so I can see the layer below. Here I think about overall color relationships and composition. I start to lay in the specifics and details.

Detail of sky: Day 2.

By the following day, the painting is dry to the touch and is ready for the next layer. My colors are again mixed up on the palette and I mix in a medium to increase translucency and flow. Again, the entire canvas is covered, but the translucent layers add depth and color to the layers below. I work up close, playing with the subtle transitions between areas, enjoying the details. I try to stand back often to make sure that the painting is on the right track and to make big editing decisions.

Day 3.

This particular painting goes through the same process for several more days. I take a good look at the previous days' work, assess what needs to be done, mix up the paint, mix in the medium and cover the whole painting again. Layers are mostly semi-translucent glazes at this point, with some opaque areas here and there. As I build up the painting, it gains complexity and depth. I resolve areas that need work. I fix trouble spots while keeping my eye on the whole. I make sure that every area holds up to the standards of the whole painting.

Detail: Days 4 & 5.


At some point, the painting feels done to me. Even so, I let it rest for a day or so, letting the pigments settle into the canvas. I take the painting out of my studio and bring it into my house so that I can assess it. I live with it a while, observing it under the different times of day and decide if it needs any further changes.

The finished painting, after some drying time, gets a coat of varnish, the edges of the canvas painted, wired on the back for hanging, labeled and photographed. Only then is it ready to make it's debut.