High Desert, Big Sky

I've been eying a special photograph since I snapped it last month. It was taken on the road between LA and the Goldstone facility one of those days considered partly sunny, which equated to lots of interesting clouds.

I decided to use it now because the big sky called for Stan Sperlak style. I laid in the colors and sprayed it down once with water. Trying to preserve most of the ghosts created, I carefully put down more for some additional definition.

Painting skies is one of my favorite things. Sperlak's method gives me a great excuse!

High Desert, Big Sky


Lost Coast

There were four workshops at the MAPAPA Annual Meeting: Stewart White (watercolors), Michael Skalka (Painting supports, NGA associate), and Marga Fripp (Art of Doing Business.)

Of course, pastels caught my attention, although all workshops were excellent. Presenter was Stan Sperlak, a Jersey shore artist in a big sky mentality. Over the course of 90 minutes, he did two large paintings and one small.

The next painting is one on which he used huge pastels and blended with the side of his hand. For the upper 2/3 of the sky, he used sweeping motions; for the rest of the sky near the horizon, he used horizontal strokes. For the land, he laid in darks, then brushed on isopropyl alcohol to blend with a brush. After that dried, he began with details for the sea and land. I'd never seen a daytime moon in a painting, but I like it. This was done on mounted Wallis, if I remember correctly.

Just look at his happy jumble of pastels!

The following method really caught my imagination. Stan worked on a large Pastelbord. The ground (i.e., a purple strip) was laid in and fixed ahead of time. Primarily using the large pastels, the sky was laid in heavy, layering in values and hues. He stayed away from light colored pastels b/c the chalk in them floats too much and can overwhelm the painting.

Stan then put it on the board on the floor and proceeded to spray it down heavily with water. He carefully picked it up and swirled it gently, then set it aside. You could see the pastel forms floating on the surface. When it had dried, he gave the ground more definition with some streaks of deep green, but he left the sky alone. For any errant pastel settling in the wrong place, he used a push pin to tickle them out. I think a straight pin would be pretty easy to add to my kit. A cheap art supply!

Here's my version of Stan's method.

I did not put in a ground and fix it. Instead, I worked in all the colors like he'd demonstrated on the above paintings, then sprayed with water and let it sit. It was lovely seeing the ghost images rise up, float, and land. I made adjustments and sprayed it down twice more, then layered in a few final details on the lighthouse.

I added a few steps to his method, but it suited my image, which had a bit more detail. I was working from several pictures I'd taken at Hidden Cove, CA.

It would be wonderful to work in this style en plein air. I could lay in the color, spray it, and put it aside while I develop another piece. It would be a lot of fun to work back and forth on several paintings at once. The serendipity of this method makes it a real treat.

Lost Coast
Pastel on Pastelboard



Life is an evolution. Sometimes you arrive at a good place. That's where I am.

Tonight as I drove back from the MAPAPA Paint Out and meeting, I had on the radio. "I'm just waiting on a friend" by the Rolling Stones came on and I felt the fullness of that song as it applies to me and painting. I think the word "networking" sounds so businessy and cold. Instead, art networking to me is more about making friends, earning my Kindergarten teacher's smiley face in the 'works and plays well with others' box.

Today, I had to miss the Maryland Pastel Society (MPS) meeting, which overlapped with the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association (MAPAPA), because the prospect of painting on a winter morning 7-9a with a bunch of other crazy people was quite alluring. As I found out, these crazy people out in the cold are actually quite warm.

It began Friday evening when Patsy was kind enough to open her home to three painters: Jane Ramsey, Mary Pritchard, and me. I can't thank Patsy enough for her hospitality.

After the Paint Out, Saturday brought four workshops which were interesting beyond belief. I'll blog about them separately, as they are deserving of their own turf.

In the mean time, if you are interested in painting en plein air in the Northern Virginia area, please join MAPAPA. I volunteered to be the Paint Out Captain for this area. A group of us contributed some ideas for the MAPAPA calendar: Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg and Sky Meadow State Park in Paris. There are also some painters in the Alexandria area, as well as Mary Moon from Centreville, who are interested in getting together on Fridays, so there will be a variety of impromptu subgroup activities as well.

And so it all comes full circle. I'm just waiting on a friend to come out and play paint with me. And I thank the many friends I have online, too, even all you lurkers, who play with me regularly.


Underpainting with pastel

My normal painting style is to go outside, open my stool, open my French Companion, open my KOOOL Binder, do a quick sketch, and paint. I paint like I think: directly. The sun is moving; my style is loose; it all fits.

Working in the winter with pictures makes me fret about representation much more. Although I do know better, but if the picture says it, then it must be so. And I fuss over the details. I am out of my element.

I think operating outside of my element is strengthening, though.my instructor generally works with some sort of underpainting or preparation. One such preparation would be the pumice surface, similar to my Poppies in the Rough. Another means of underpainting is using pastels and painting them in. I used water here on white Wallis, but you could use alcohol or turpentine substitutes on any surface that will accept a wet medium. In a few weeks, I'll show a watercolor underpainting. I also hope to try the oil underpainting done by Richard McKinley, although he discusses pastel underpaintings here. (This is one of his most beautiful paintings and at his blog you can be privy to the underpainting supporting it.)

Here is my reference picture, taken from the car on the way to Monterey, CA.

My values drawing is a very simple thumbnail sketch. The right side will have a few extra mounds installed for balance.

Here are four shades of red colored into their values spot. The three darkest are hard ones from a Van Gogh set. It lacked a light one, so that is borrowed from the French Companion of Mystery. Shades of red work well as a compliment to the green landscape.

In this shot, just the dark value has been wet. I used water with an inexpensive Chinese calligraphy brush.

Here, the middle two values have been wet. Notice, I'm not letting each dry before doing the next. Drips are good and hard edges are not.

I like these great cauliflowers, which in different circumstances could be disastrous. Knowing my style, however, they'll be covered up. If I were looking for a lake reflection, it might be a different case.

The whole piece is wet, but dried fairly quickly. I think the Van Goghs came out rather grainy. I might try a different brand next time or see how it works with alcohol or terp.

Goodness, the reference photo is so much prettier than this!

Since this stage, I've begun layering pastels over the reds, although I keep forgetting to leave some underpainting showing through. Discombobulated, I feel like I'm doing a paint by numbers! Although I have done this before, sometimes it takes practice when one moves beyond one's comfort zone.

Tomorrow is the MAPAPA Annual Meeting with a Paint Out from 7-9am. The weather looks to be a clear 37 degrees, which is much better than the 20 degrees I was fearing from earlier in the week. Despite having my spiffy EasyL Pro, I plan to do pastels and am bringing the coarse pumice paper in light orange in two sizes as well as KOOOL Binders in two sizes, prepared for whatever this Londontowne MD location offers. Yeah, go back to reread my first paragraph. I'll be in my zone.


Poppies in the Rough

Trying new things is fun. Very happy using Wallis and the occasional Art Spectrum paper in my KOOOL Binders, I didn't often feel a need to be creative with my paper surfaces. After having it for months, I recently dove into my UArt Sample pack from Dakota Arts; I used the 500 grit, results to follow. For my tastes, I felt that the 500 lacked the grip I'm accustomed to with Wallis, so it held fewer layers. I look forward to comparing the three other versions of UArt.

Because of beginning a new class at the Workhouse last week, I was reminded about making my own sanded paper, although I'd bought the supplies a good while ago. Lynn's syllabus has us creating a surface in a couple weeks, but I decided this weekend to try it out with the Golden's Coarse Gel I bought at Michael's. Fine gel is recommended for pastels, but I thought making the paper with what I had would be good practice nonetheless.

I used the coarse gel tinted either red or light orange with acrylics and applied it on several top pages of watercolor blocks. With a spoon, I spread the clumpy gel onto the papers and tried to distribute it around. I smoothed the orange pages with a 1" watercolor-turned-acrylic-turned-all-purpose brush dipped repeatedly in water and the red with a flat fuzzy house painting sponge pad thing. With the gel this coarse, I don't think the application method mattered too much and I'd choose the pad next time, particularly if I were doing several pages in succession, because it cuts a wide swath.

As you can tell, the surface is incredibly coarse and didn't like taking detail, but I could duplicate a photograph I took at Green Springs meaningfully in my loose style. I think the coarse gel makes sense for me, someone who appreciates impasto oils, but burnishes in pastel. This is a great compromise.

Soft Pastel on Red Acrylic-Tinted Golden's Coarse Pumice Gel on 140lb Lanaquarelle Watercolor Paper


New Affiliation

I am pleased to announce that I was juried in as a Workhouse Arts Associate (WAA) at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia.

Several years ago when the transformation from federal prison to arts center was announced, I was ecstatic at the prospect. To aid in my inspiration, I love both taking classes and having galleries to peruse; now I have both only three miles away! Being included in the WAA exhibits is icing and a real honor.

As a member of WAA, I'll have several pieces on exhibit all the time. Exhibits rotate every month or two. To clarify how this fits, there are two other possible artists' memberships at the Workhouse, those with studio space and those part of the guild, the latter participating in monthly juried exhibits.

Please visit Lorton Arts Foundation for more information about the activities on the campus, to include a Suffragette museum devoted to the women housed and tortured there, who turned the tide for the vote. Mikhail Baryshnikov has a studio and, further, there is an amphitheater with 300 more seats than Wolf Trap expected to draw similar acts.

Photos are of two of the prison's towers, one the water tower, identifier of the facility from a distance, and the other a guard tower, languishing in these days of retirement.


NOVAL at the Government Center

In an exhibit that rotates quarterly, I now have four pieces with Northern Virginia Artists League at the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway. Thanks to the Arts Council of Fairfax County for supporting local artists.

About 50 of NOVAL's member's works appear the third floor south and the cafeteria January through March, 2009.

Sounds of Wolf Trap
Soft Pastel, 5x7


New Works Exhibit, Lorton

Students, faculty and staff of the Workhouse will be exhibiting original works created just for this New Works exhibition. On display will be works in all media. Two other exhibits are running concurrently as well.

My submission is a 8x10 soft pastel entitled Barrett House Meadow, which was created in September 2008 en plein air. The Barrett House is located nearby on another parcel of the prison property. Go check it out and tell me you enjoyed it. I appreciate the bold sky coupled with its charm. It reminds me of a Van Gogh, although that's not a goal I'd had when creating it.

There will be an artist's reception to celebrate this exhibition on Sunday, January 11 from 3PM until 5PM. Come to meet and see the artistic work of the creative individuals who are part of the Workhouse arts community.

Runs January 7 through February 15.