Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lessons from a Fly (or was it a Bee?)

“Study … the Wonderful Snowfall of June the 9th”
(Winter Ridge, Oregon Basin & Range)
Oil Sketch on Centurion Oil Primed Linen Panel
5” x 7”


A week after cutting my way back into Oregon, in June of 2018, and before I got up to Three Creeks Lake (see my last post), I was up on Winter Ridge, 3000' above Summer Lake, and a couple miles north of Fremont Point. The 8th of June was a peerless day, and drifts of buttercups were shining brightly in the green grass of any open meadow that I happened to pass by. Winter was the last thing to be expected, but it's not called Winter Ridge for nothing. I awoke to a wonderful soft snowfall, of a couple of inches, increasing to four by the time I meandered down the west slope to Thompson Reservoir, where the campers there were only experiencing a bit of rain.

It was a wonderful, magical snowfall, and it's been on my list to paint since then. The soft snowfall at my camp on April 4th this year, got me to thinking about my June 9th, 2018, Winter Ridge experience, and so I dug out the reference photos, and painted away. I had taken the photos during an intermission in the snowfall, so the hardest part of the painting was remembering where each and every snowflake had been before the snowfall took its pause;D (chuckle), but I got ‘er done! This small Oil, turned out to be a study, for a larger (9" x 12"), finished Oil painting of this magical moment, so I'm warning you in advance that that one will feature in my next post, and quite a bit more costly, I hasten to add.

I am going to change the subject now and return us to the camp I was in when painting the “Ode to an Ancient.”, several postings ago. It was here that I was reminded yet again of how interesting and surprising the Natural World can be, even in the smallest of observances. As children, I believe we noticed many more such things, that we as adults completely overlook, or, indeed, do not take the time to let the small things come to our notice. Whilst supping breakfast, early one morn, I noticed a shaft of light coming through the trees, and reflecting off a tiny object suspended about ten feet off the ground. I had been gazing at it for some time, before it actually registered in my consciousness. At first I took it to be a spider dangling on its gossamer strand, but then I realized it was a small bee, or one of those flies that look like bees. It hung there, staying in position, seemingly motionless, but obviously hovering by the sheer rapidity of its wingbeats, which upon inspection were a blur. Now I’ve seen bees hover over flowers for a second or two and then move on, but this wee beastie, hovered ten feet off the ground for 10 or 12 seconds at a stretch, and then would dart  in some direction for a distance of 10 to 15 inches, halt and go rapidly back to its original position. I had never noticed this phenomena before, but thanks to a shaft of light glancing off it, and causing it to glow like a jewel in the forest, it had come to my attention. A bit of  scanning throughout the clearing revealed several more of these hovering creatures, but none were lit up like the one that first caught my attention. I expect I might have seen this behavior many times before, but had not noticed. I kept my eye out for it the next morning and sure enough it was there. Perhaps this hovering and periodically darting forth only to resume it’s position, was a mating ritual, or maybe it was a defense of a specific territory, or was the darting an assault on some unseen prey (I doubt this latter) … I'll probably never know, but now that I have seen this, l will notice it again, and in fact I did so, later last Summer, in another clearing, 25 miles west of Klamath Falls.

“Inconsequential … who cares(?) … Let's drink beer, get neked and drive fast!,” I hear you say … well, some of you, perhaps … actually, none of you. But some of you have thought it … in your darker moments … however brief (come on, admit it) … but of course you never acted upon such rebellious desires, as no doubt I have a better class of reader (aside from the possibility of arrest or fatal accident, or both).

But enough of the meandering mind. What I am postulating is that to take notice of your surroundings, taking time to see the small, inconsequential things, as well as the larger, more sublime moments (storms, snowfalls, the magnificence of the Desert Night Sky come to mind), enriches your life, and takes you outside the realm the mundane. I know my life is richer for it … even noticing a fly/bee hovering in the dark forest, caught like a jewel within a shaft of light.

The Pigments used in the painting are:
Imprimatura & Drawing: Rublev Italian Burnt Sienna;
Pigments: W&N Cobalt & French Ultramarine Blues;
Rublev:  Blue Ridge Yellow Ochre, Italian Burnt Sienna, Lead White #1.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Early Summer on Three Creeks Lake

“Early Summer on Three Creeks Lake”
(Oregon Cascades)
Oil on Raymar L64C Oil PrimedPanel
12” x 24”

Private Collection

After I had cut my way back into Oregon (here), in early June 2018, at the end of my year long journey back from Minnesota, it still was another two weeks before I returned to my base of operations. During this time I further explored, places I had been to before, and also new areas. One of the latter was Three Creeks Lake, about 16 miles south of the town of Sisters. Later in the year I received a commission to paint Three Creeks Lake. Of course the view that was ultimately desired, I had not discovered on my one time there, so had no reference photos to hand, and it was too late in the year to get up there, as Winter had already begun at that altitude.

So it was the following Summer that the photos were finally taken.  I went up there twice in 2019, and it was on the second trip that the perfect photography day occurred, with the early morning light and then the right amount of interesting clouds casting shadows across the landscape. Half my life seems to be taken up with waiting for cloud shadows to move while on photo-recon, but sometimes the day has just the right amount of cloud, and this day was one; the bonus was that the clouds were also interesting. The painting was worked on throughout the Autumn, and finished in January. It's always surprising to me, how long it takes to paint the various areas of a painting. You'd think I'd know by now. In this work, the foreground (everything on this side of the lake), took longer to complete than the whole rest of the painting! When I started on the foreground, I figured I was almost done with it, thinking it would take about half as long as it actually did … the eternal optimist. Nevertheless, it was an interesting piece to do, thanks to the perfect photo-reference day.  

The Imprimatura & Drawing
The Block-in

The Imprimatura and the Drawing took most of the day to do. The bit of blue sky in the photo was part of the Block-in phase, begun the next day; I just forgot to photograph it before I started on the Block-in. Two afternoons were spent on the Block-in. The first afternoon's Block-in was spent mostly on the sky, and the rest of the landscape on the second. If I had been in my studio, and painting far into the night like I used to do, it would have been blocked in, in a day. But painting next to a lovely Autumn creek out in the Wild, under natural light … well, those Autumn days are getting shorter (the Autumn creek is incidental to the story).

In the pigments list below, I mention using Genuine Lapis Lazuli. It is not an affectation. Oh, the first tiny tube I got on my 30th birthday, from Winsor & Newton, might have been, except that I wanted to see what the Old Masters had used for their finest blue. However, it was Oil, and I painted mostly in Watercolour in those days, so I never used that one; it's still good, however, and I will use it eventually. But when I bought the Michael Harding Lapis, the size of tube was such that I had no qualms about trying it out; it was also not that expensive for what it was! I first used it in a painting commissioned by a Middle Eastern Potentate (no not the obvious one ... there are others), through the Federation of British Artists.  I first used it as a glaze, but where it excels is in mixtures within the landscape … I can only describe it as a soft blue colour, not very powerful, which mixes well with the quieter landscape colours, especially in the distance. I kind of liken it to the Lead Whites, which mix so well with the colours on your palette, that you don't have to worry about it, unlike Titanium which is cold, powerful and opaque, and readily lends itself to chalkiness if care is not taken. I pity the poor European artists these days, who are stuck with only Titanium to paint with … if they have a mind to paint like Rembrandt they will never achieve it with Titanium; poor sods. But I digress. Let me just say that using Genuine Lapis Lazuli, for some applications, allows quicker and easier results, than the stronger, man made Ultramarines. Make no mistake, I use the manufactured Ultramarines for most things when those blues are needed, but the Lapis has found its place on my palette. And by the way, I do use Titanium, sparingly, when a strong, opaque white is needed.

The Pigments used in the painting are:
Imprimatura & Drawing: W&N Venetian Red;
Pigments: W&N: Cobalt, French Ultramarine & Ultramarine Deep Blues, Cadmiums Yellow Pale & Orange, Venetian Red;
Rublev: Blue Ridge Yellow Ochre, Italian Burnt Sienna, Lead White #1 & #2;
M. Graham: Cobalt Teal;
Gamblin: Permanent Magenta;
Michael Harding: Genuine Lapis Lazuli.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Watching of Weather.

“Evening Storm Passing Away”
(Oregon High Desert)
Oil on Pannelli Telati fine Cotton Panel
8” x 16”

One of the interesting things about the Oregon High Desert in Springtime is the variation in the weather.  For several days there might be clear cold or days, and then a sudden front comes through with snow or rain … or both. There might be a warm southerly wind which brings in a day or two of promise of Summer to come, and your base layers need to come off, followed by a drop in temperature, necessitating your base layers to come back on. You could say that is true most places in temperate climes, but out in the wilds you are aware of it more, especially in those landscapes with wide open spaces, such as the Oregon High Desert. Of course I'm well aware that this is not unique to the High Desert, but it is here that I am, and where I was last year at this time, watching storms marching along in the distance and occasionally over me. Late last Spring there was just such a day, and the last storm of the day, Zeus (or was it Thor?), flung a few lightning bolts around, making it doubly interesting. And the lowering Sun behind had broken through and bathed the landscape in this magical light.  Today, as I write, the showers are marching past, although no sign of lightning, and  even with the Sun breaking through, I don't expect the magical light this time … the storms seem to be ending earlier in the day today.

The Imprimatura & Block-in.

This is both the Imprimatura and the Block-in for the painting … I suppose you could say it's also the Drawing.  When I was painting Watercolours, almost exclusively, I usually laid down a fairly comprehensive under-drawing. The comprehensiveness depended on the subject and the amount of detail within my normally highly detailed Watercolours. With Oils it's a different matter. I draw with the brush in pigment, as opposed to drawing with a graphite pencil. Then the painting is normally blocked-in, and subsequent layers include modelling and detailing. This is the method used for what I am calling ‘Studio Paintings.’ For the quicker Sketches and Studies, I usually lay in an Imprimatura layer, then a quick drawing, and go straight into the painting whether the Imprimatura has dried thoroughly or not. If I was painting architecture in a Super-realist or Surrealist manner, I would probably do a detailed drawing with sharpened charcoal, and over draw that with India Ink, before continuing with paint. Why charcoal and not graphite? Graphite can show through subsequent paint layers.

The Pigments used in the painting are:
Imprimatura & Drawing: W&N Venetian Red;
Pigments: W&N Cobalt & French Ultramarine Blues, Cadmiums Yellow Pale & Orange, Venetian Red, Cremnitz White;
Rublev: French Red Ochre, Blue Ridge Yellow Ochre;
Schmincke: Caput Mortuum;
Gamblin: Permanent Magenta.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Over the Bearcamp Road.

“Evening Glow”
(Mount Bachelor, Elk Lake, Oregon Cascades)
Oil on Pannelli Telati fine Cotton  Panel
9” x 12”

Back in 2009, at the end of May, I first encountered this view of Mount Bachelor from Elk Lake. I hoped and waited for an evening glow, such as this, but it turned out to be a relatively colorless and grey Sunset. Nevertheless, I made a Sepia wash drawing heightened with white on Turner’s blue-grey paper. Over the years, periodically looking at that drawing, in conjunction with the uninspiring photographs taken at the time, I finally decided to paint the evening I had hoped for, all those years ago … that is why, for me, painting is so much more enjoyable than photography. I get to create those moments, not only seen, but those hoped for. I did use the cloud formations, in the bland reference photos taken then, as a starting point, but the colour comes from years of experiencing evening skies, both through actual seeing and remembering, and of photos taken.

An aside here is that the above image looks perfect on my computer, is a bit too colorful on my tablet, and downright garish on my phone. So if you are thinking that you are looking at a caricature of an evening, I guarantee you that, although a colourful & bright painting, it is more natural than you might be looking at on whatever screen you have in front of you. This goes for any of the images of my paintings you might be viewing … past, present or future.

The Underdrawing 

Last July, after the opening weekend of the Coos Art Museum Maritime Show, I headed out for the Crater Lake area, to meet up with an old friend of mine that I had not seen since 1976. That was also the last time we had been in contact until sometime in 2018. The younger generation does not recall the days when it was so easy to lose track of people, especially in the transient bedsitter land of London in the 1970s, where phones were either public call-boxes or, if you were lucky, a payphone in the common hallway of the house your bedside was in.

I decided to take the small roads through the Coast Range. I'm not sure when the Coast Range becomes the Klamath Range, or for that matter, the Siskiyous, but I believe I touched on all three ranges. As I was dropping down towards the Rogue River crossing on Forest road 33, north of Agness, I spotted my second Oregon black bear. Only a little cub, and no I didn't stop to spot it's Mom. The other bear I spotted, in a similar situation, was back in 2010, also in southwestern Oregon. About a mile back up the road I had had a conversation with a guy, who was pushing his heavily loaded bicycle up the hill. He was going to camp soon. Hope the bears left him alone.

My plan was to cross the Rogue and climb up the Bearcamp Road (coincidentally aptly named) onto the ridge that it follows, and find a camp on one of the few logging side roads up there; which I did. I camped at 3340', thinking I was near the top, but I had over another thousand feet of altitude to go, before the descent began, the next day. For you British, that's like driving up over Ben Nevis.

Bearcamp Road was where that young family from the Bay area was stranded in the snow after Thanksgiving 2006 … it doesn't seem that long ago. In actual fact they took a logging road off the Bearcamp Road, the 34-8-36 road, and were stranded 22 winding miles down that.  The thing is, that if they had continued on the Bearcamp Road, instead of inadvertently following the logging road, would the snow rapidly increasing with altitude have caused them to turn around sooner than when they attempted it at the lower altitude they were at? Now having been on the Bearcamp Road in mid-Summer, it would be Hell in the snow. I kept imagining sliding off the road in the slippery snow, and disappearing down into the extremely steep sided ravines … that could happen in Summer if you did not pay full attention to your driving on that ‘single track with turnouts road’ that the Bearcamp Road is. For those of you not familiar with the story, after 9 days the mother and two young girls were rescued, but James Kim, who had left for help 2 days earlier was found dead, after walking 20 miles for help. A tragic, but very heroic, attempt to save his family.

Even though I will be updating about last year, I will also be mentioning this year. I am camping at present, where I was last year at this time. Spring was about a month early, back in the Yamhill Valley … the first bank of wild Daffodils were spotted on 9th February, whereas in the previous several years, that same bank brought forth their Daffs on or about the 7th of March. When I arrived out here in the wilds on April 1st, it was colder than last year, and the vegetation didn't seem so far along … I arrived in camp in a driving snow, for the last 20 miles (although it wasn't sticking), at about 21:00 hours, and then it immediately stopped and the Moon came out … must've just been testing me.  Three days later it lightly snowed all day, but amounted to only a dusting, until at 19:00 a deposit of 2 inches was left in about ten minutes. The next day was a snowy magical morning; gone by midafternoon.

Imprimatura: Rublev’s Ercolano Red;
Drawing: Schminke’s Caput Mortuum;
Painting: W&N’s Cobalt & French Ultramarine Blues, Cadmiums Orange & Yellow Pale, and Cremnitz White; Gamblin’s Permanent Magenta; Rublev's Blue Ridge Yellow Ochre, French Red Ochre; M. Graham’s Cobalt Teal.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

“All Trees are Heroes.”

“Ode to an Ancient”
(Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon)
Oil Painting on Pannelli Telati fine Cotton Panel
6” x 8”

I thought about calling this painting “Ode to an Ancient Hero.” I have referred to trees as heros, before, and they are. They offer a place to rest in the shade from Summer Suns, and provide fuel to keep us warm in the cool of the night ... and Winter. They provide the means to build shelter from the storm, and a home in which to reside, and keep ourselves and our belongings safe from those wild things that would do us harm. Trees provide oxygen, and thus we breathe. Many give us sustenance, both for our bodies and aesthetically for our minds ... trees are beautiful ... in short ... trees are Heroes. 

The Drawing

The Block-in

This Ancient Hero is at the place I camped last July, 17 miles down the road from the south entrance to Crater Lake National Park. I was aware of this old stump, mouldering away on the forest floor, as I gradually become familiar with so many things in each of my camps, especially the longer I spend in any one of them. Because of the advanced state of decay, I do not know for sure whether it was a natural fall, or a victim of the logger's saw. I suspect the latter, as there did not seem to be the remnants of the fallen log. I was aware of it, but it was not until this late afternoon shaft of light threw it into high relief, from the darkened forest beyond. I took many reference photos,  and began what I thought would be a sketch, but somewhere in the process, it became, what I would call, a studio painting ... but done outdoors. Sometimes the painting just takes over from your original intent.

And this led to me concentrating on a few studio paintings, including a commission, worked on throughout the Summer and Autumn, and why my blog postings have been sadly lacking. I am continuing work on this type of painting this year, but I hope to more regularly post to the old blog. Blog ... blog ... what a funny word ... where did it come from? ... ‘Oo do Oi get in touch wiv, mate? ... I expect I could find out if I was really desperate. I digress. My intentions for the forthcoming few postings are to fill you in a bit on my travels, since July. Not a blow by blow account as per my year long 2017/2018 Minnesota to Oregon journey, but more on thoughts and observations made while ‘out there.’  I didn't travel all that much, since the order of the day was to get ensconced into a secluded camp and paint away. I did, however, get as far south as Lake Tahoe, and spent a concentrated 40 hours on photo-recon. Beautiful colours, especially Emerald Bay, although not as astonishing as Crater Lake's amazing deep blue.

And as I write, I am ‘out there' ... in the Oregon High Desert, practicing social distancing by about 40 miles! I am tucked into the edge of the Ponderosa Pines, and looking out over miles of Sagebrush & Antelope Bitterbrush, and as usual ... drinking in Nature. Last night's full Moon was so large and so bright that Some colours were actually, although dimly, discernible ... very grey green of the Ponderosa needles, and many of their trunks showed distinctly reddish.

I will forego the comprehensive list of pigments used in the above painting, this time, other than to say the usual suspects. I will mention that the greens are mixed greens. I do have green pigments, but I’ve  almost never use them, in Oil, and only occasionally in Watercolour.

Having said that, I did use Schmincke Green Earth a lot in my Watercolour landscapes for my brighter foliage greens. Michael Wilcox, in his book on Watercolour Pigments, says of most of the Green Earth pigments, but especially Schmincke's, that it's gummy and nasty to work with, and all but impossible to lay a wash with. For me that was a plus, as wetting the foliage area first with water, and floating the colour in left a mottled area of colour, much like the foliage textures I was after ... upon this one could build.

Since I'm out in the Wilds, apologies for how this post, and any that follow, might look while using my phone to make these posts.