Sunday, December 26, 2010

Softer Winter Dawn

Soft Winter Dawn, pastel on Wallis paper, 12" x 9."

I wanted to paint another version of the winter dawn such as I've been observing during the past week. Most have been more muted, with the softer colors of a cloudier, more veiled atmosphere (with the snow almost gone). I thought pastels would allow me a different way to achieve the effect. I didn't realize I needed a wider a range of colors to make those subtle transitions from violet-blue to pink and peach in the sky. It's nearly impossible to mix pastels and keep the colors pure--you have to get as close to the exact val-hue as possible when you are dealing with pure pigment. A rough approximation, my painting seems a bit limited in range, but it strikes the right mood of mystery.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Winter Dawn

Winter Dawn, oils on panel, 9" x 12." Contact artist for price.

This past week I started a new job much closer to home. As a result, I have been able to sleep later in the mornings and see the sunrise as I am getting up, instead of starting my morning commute in the dark. At our latitude, the sun doesn't rise until well after seven this close to the Winter Solstice--a date I look forward to as the turning point of the year.

On Thursday we had a light snowfall, perhaps an inch and a half. The next morning, the sunrise was gorgeous, and I took some photos to help me remember the amazing colors in the sky. I finally had a chance to paint it today, putting in a bit more snow than there actually was on the ground. I keep wondering what kind of winter this will be: will it be as harsh and snowy as the last one?

Monday, December 6, 2010


Staggered, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 16." Contact artist for price.
The weather has turned quite cold and I haven't been motivated to endure the freezing temperatures outdoors, so I am continuing to experiment with painting from photos.

One afternoon a couple of weeks ago I went out to the McKeldin area of Patapsco State Park. With the season's shorter days upon us, there wasn't enough time to complete a painting before dark, but I had just enough time to further explore some of the trails where I have been painting, looking for new locations for next year. I took my camera with me in case I came across some interesting sights.

I made a circle from the Rapids Trail to the Switchback Trail down to the North Branch and walking back up the hill, came across this six point stag browsing the vegetation. I was able to take several shots before he heard the shutter and turned around to look straight at me. After a few seconds of staring, he took off with a flick of his tail, running down the hill. I followed, but by the time I got back to the river, he was crossing the stream too far away for a good shot. The sun was setting, illuminating the tops of the trees on one bank with that orange light so characteristic of the season and the reflections on the water were brilliant. The whole scene was reminiscent of Winslow Homer's unforgettable paintings.

When I got home and printed my photos, I thought combining two shots to put the stag at the edge of the stream might work. Here is the result of my experiment. It is convincing?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Golden Beeches

Golden Beeches, pastel on Wallis paper, 12" x 9." Contact artist for price.

This is a vertical format painting of the golden beeches on Rock Creek Park, based on the same series of photos from the week before. There are subtle differences from the previous week's painting in the way I handled the colors. I wanted to cool down the foreground leaves a bit so I experimented with layering some lavender on top of the yellow-green.

Both paintings have something of that lovely effect of a magical moment in nature that is so fleeting. By now most of the leaves have come down; the few that are left on the trees have dried to a crisp straw color.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Beech Wood at Sunset

Beech Wood at Sunset, pastel on Wallis paper, 9" x 12." Contact artist for price.

Last Saturday as I was driving home from my plein air session on Rock Creek Park, a sight compelled me to stop at one of the pull-offs. I was on a steep slope deep in a wood of ancient beeches, with the sun sinking behind the hill. The leaves at the horizon were glowing with golden hues and the light reflected on the fallen leaves. The gray trunks of the beeches were blueish, a lovely effect. I had to capture this before it vanished.

A photographer had stopped there with his wife and young son in tow. We agreed this was a rare moment, and took as many pictures as possible. When I got home and downloaded my photos, I knew I had to paint this! Pastels, which I haven't worked with for some time, seemed like the most suitable medium for the piece. I happened to have a couple of pieces of Wallis paper prepared for such an occasion. Here it is--I'm working on a another image in vertical format which I'll probably finish this weekend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Time Out of Time

Bridge Over Rock Creek, oils on canvas panel, 14" x 11." Contact artist for price.
In the city, with the temperature warmer than in suburbs, the trees usually turn later than where I live. Now that we've set our clocks back an hour, it's light enough in the early morning when I traverse Rock Creek Park on my way to work that I can see the colors of the foliage, and it seemed that last weekend would be the peak of color there.

Saturday was a rare day in a string of beautiful, sunny days we've enjoyed this fall. There was frost on the grass when I went out to get the morning paper, but it would soon be gone. I packed my gear and a sandwich, and set out late morning on my usual route to Rock Creek. On weekends and holidays, the main road through the park, Beach Drive, is closed to car traffic down to Blagden Road, about halfway downtown, so I had to take another road that parallels the creek high up on a steep hill.

A six-point stag scurried out of the way as my car started climbing up the hill. The beeches were golden and one could see bits of the creek way below peeking through the gaps in the foliage. I stopped to take photos along the way, and managed to find an empty place in the parking area across Blagden Road. The cyclists, joggers and nature-lovers were out in droves. I walked around looking for the best vantage point to paint the bridge on Beach Drive, and decided to have my lunch before starting to paint, to give the sun overhead some time to establish the direction of the afternoon shadows.

I put my easel in the middle of a thicket of vines, set back far enough from the bridge that the vines hanging from the trees framed the view nicely and painted all afternoon. Lost in my effort to get the right colors and shapes, I stopped only when the light had changed so much that the vines were now completely in shadow. I packed up my gear and walked back to my car. Surprisingly, it was only 3:30 PM--it seemed like so much more time had elapsed! How wonderful to feel for one brief afternoon as if one had stepped completely out of time. We would all be better people if once in a while we got some time out of time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Glowing Embers

Autumn Pastoral, oils on canvas panel, 11" 14." Contact artist for price.

During the shorter days of November, an exquisite seasonal melancholy sets in that I relish. With the greens of summer gone, the orange-golds and crimson of October leaves burn to deeper shades, like glowing embers on the trees. The effect is particularly striking in the late afternoon when the sun's rays slant low, casting a reddish tint wherever the light lingers.

There is something wonderfully solemn about it, perhaps elegiac, in this light--I'm not the only artist who has felt it. I've been reading Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo, and in a recently memorable one, he writes: "don't let me leave before there is something of the autumnal evening in it, something mysterious, something important."

I started this painting late on Friday afternoon by Clarks' farm down the road. A flock of sheep was grazing on the hills across busy Route 108 while the shadows crept along. The traffic roared past with deafening noise while I raced to get the pastoral scene down on my panel before the light completely disappeared. The sun heated the bleached grasses as sunset approached. I managed to get my last strokes in as the sun's rays were leaving the tops of the trees. Packing my gear, it was amazing to see how quickly the colors and the sky had changed while I painted.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The View From Riverhill

The View from Riverhill, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."
Last weekend was gorgeous--perhaps the peak of color for this fall. Friday was quite windy, but I had too many errands to run so I couldn't get out to paint. By Saturday afternoon entire stands of trees had been denuded, but there was still lots of color left. I just needed to go out and find it.

I drove out Brown's Bridge Road towards the banks of the Middle Branch of the Patuxtent River, but there was nothing much there. Going back to my neighborhood along Route 108, I drove by our local garden center, Riverhill, a favorite of mine. The seasonal arrangements at their entrance are usually eye-catching and this one of mums and bales of hay with cornstalks was no exception. I pulled into their parking lot.

Across the road, fields of green beans grew over rolling hills that sloped down to distant pastures. I've been wanting to paint this view for some time because it looks so rural one would hardly believe it's actually in the middle of Howard County's plushest suburbs, but the fact that there is no place to stand out of the way of the traffic usually discourages me--cars drive by at an alarming speed on this stretch.

I set up my easel in a safe corner of the parking lot at Riverhill and started blocking in my painting. I hadn't expected it, but I attracted a lot of attention from shoppers coming and going. Several people who were painters stopped to chat, and a couple of families with children who liked art. I think my fields may be too green for the season, but I managed to get a good sense of the shapes of the trees and the rolling terrain in the afternoon light.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Jug Bay Paint Out

Jug Bay Wetlands, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.
Last Saturday the weather was beautiful for the MAPAPA Paint Out Plus at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary on the Patuxtent River.Thanks to MAPAPA President Gary Pendleton, our group had obtained access to River Farm, an area of the sanctuary not normally open to cars. Two master painters, Lee Boynton and Sam Robinson, would demonstrate and talk about their approach, offering helpful tips. Since I have not been in the plein air class this fall, I was really happy to have an opportunity to see Lee and some of the artists who have become my friends through his classes.

Lee Boynton's painting demo, early stage
By the time I got there Lee had started his demo and was holding forth about his favorite subjects: color and composition. He had chosen an old red barn with an inviting curve of road leading to it for his subject. His panel was almost covered with paint, but there were still some bare spots where I noticed  a deep Mars Violet tone showing. This was new for me--Lee usually recommends we start with white panels the better to judge color--so I asked him about it, and he shared that at one time he used to tone his panels, but several of his students would tone theirs in such garish colors, he decided it was better to recommend everyone start with plain white panels. Over the summer he had gone back to toning his panels and was enjoying the results. To tone or not to tone? That IS the question.

After watching Lee paint for a while, we all started our own paintings. I set up by a picnic table overlooking the river so I wouldn't have to bend down to the ground to set up my palette. I had a molar extracted two days earlier and was still hurting (my face was quite swollen); I didn't want to move around too much. A young lady I'd met at another paint out shared the table with me. Lee came around to offer advice. He asked me what the focal point of my painting was to be. Frankly, I hadn't figured it out. He suggested I try to place something where the lines of movement in the composition were leading. I decided to place a boat on the river, but I am not sure just how successful it is. I like the colors and the rest of the composition, but I think the boat may be too small for the desired effect.

While I was eating my sandwich, Sam arrived and set up his kit. I went over to watch--he was working with water media, but it was not transparent--it was gouache (I had thought he was a watercolor purist). He was working on a toned panel too--a mid-tone neutral brown--which served him well. He explained that gouache allowed him to work with a technique similar to oils, except that it dried so quickly he could build up layers of color for a loose, impressionist look. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to take photos of his work--fascinating!

Jug Bay Beach, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12."
In the afternoon I moved down from the hill where I'd been to a small beach on the river. Here the width of the river was more apparent, and the golden reflections of the trees on the water glowed. Despite the loveliness of the afternoon, I'm afraid this painting did not turn out very exciting--I was definitely not feeling my best and the painting shows it. Still, I was glad to get the practice and spend a wonderful day outdoors in this special place. I'd like to paint here again before the season ends.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Golden October Afternoon

Golden October Afternoon, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9." Contact artist for price.
Last Saturday was a beautiful fall day, sunny and warmer than the day before. In the morning I had to run errands, among them picking up my paintings from the Ellicott City Paint It show (none of them sold). By afternoon the wind had died down and the temperature was delightful, so I went out to paint at my current favorite spot by the Patapsco River.

It's been so warm many trees are just starting to change color; this year the leaves are not as colorful as in other years due to our summer drought. Still, I wanted to paint the fall colors and the late afternoon light had set these trees at my favorite spot a-glow. I had just about two hours to do my painting--I didn't want to get caught here after dark should the park gates be closed at night.

Sometimes pressure can be a good thing: it forces one to focus and make decisions quickly. I managed to lay in blocks of foliage in yellow-orange tones in the background with warm shadows fairly fast. I knew the light would vanish soon, weaving the golden orange glow in the water into darker shades. I kept to the warm earth tones for the shadows throughout (Mars violet is a versatile pigment), and worked the greener foliage in the foreground with the branch details and the rocks last. I am pleased and feel the painting captures the wonderful light of that afternoon.

By the time I finished and packed up my gear, the sun had gone from all but the tops of the trees, and the air was getting chilly. The day hikers and picnickers had left, and a few campers were settling in for the night.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Cylburn Arboretum

Gazebo at Cylburn Arboretum, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12." Contact artist for price.
On Friday, the Howard County Plein Air group met at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore. I'd heard about the Cylburn for a number of years, but I'd never gotten around to visiting it. I was surprised to find how close and easy to find it was. The historic Cylburn Mansion was built right after the Civil War and has an incredible luxury of architectural details and interior furnishings such as wood carvings, plasterwork, mosaics and tapestries. The property is surrounded by over 200 acres of gardens and some very unusual trees.

The Cylburn Mansion
Fascinating as the house was, it would have been a two or three session painting to do it justice. Instead, I opted for a view of a gazebo in one of the gardens that was a bit sheltered from the wind (it was a bit chilly and quite windy). The sun lit the leaves of one tree from behind, turning them to gold. The contrast with the purple-mauve flowers in front was lovely. The plant was not labeled so I have no idea what it was. I looked up in my botanical books and sites to see if I could identify it, but my search was in vain.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Old Seneca Artisans Festival

Pumpkins at Rocklands Farm, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.
Last Saturday I participated in the Old Seneca Artisans Festival at Rocklands Farm in Poolesville, MD. I'd been invited by the organizers, three young college grads who work on the farm and whose brainchild was the festival. Rocklands Farm is a historic property with a unique house built around the early 1800's I'd guess, and a collection of interesting outbuildings in a beautiful setting.

 We artists had a choice of hanging space in the barn or setting up outdoors. Since I didn't want to take a chance on the weather, I paid the fee for the barn. The weather was great--very warm and sunny, so my precautions were not necessary, but the barn turned out to be a really neat space: our hosts had rigged spotlights to light the interior, but the light filtering in from the window slats was what gave it a special feel. I sold one painting and have a nibble on a couple more.

I'd brought my easel & panels to paint during the festival, but forgot to bring the bag with my brushes, solvents, etc. so I was very glad to find another artist, Evan Goldman, who had also brought his gear. Evan kindly loaned me a few brushes and let me dip into his bucket of solvent and oil medium so I could paint. We couldn't resist painting the fabulous display of colorful pumpkins on a truck right by the old silo. It was so much fun, I hope they'll do the festival again next year.

Evan Goldman painting the pumpkins.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Purple Asters

Purple Asters at Brookside, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12." SOLD.
This past Friday the Howard County Plein Air group painted at my favorite site, Brookside Gardens. I was the first to arrive and used the time to walk around and see what was blooming. I had hoped for a spectacular display of fall mums, but those plantings were barely budding. A small army of volunteers was working on putting up lights for the Christmas display, pruning and planting spring bulbs, and repairing the handicapped ramps. It reminded me of my visit to Giverny where troops of gardeners maneuver on Mondays, the day the gardens are closed to the public.

A clump of purple asters in one of the formal gardens reminded me of my mother's garden in the fall. She loved the icy lilac-blue of these asters against the rusts and yellows of the foliage, and I share her predilection. Looking at this particular scene, the shade of the shadows on the stone paving was so close in hue to the flowers, it was remarkable. The other plantings added interesting touches of unexpected color to the scene.

I tried to keep the painting as loose as possible, and think I managed it in the background, where there is just a hint of trees and wall. Now if I could dare to stay as loose in the nearer parts of the painting, I may yet achieve what I'm after. Each attempt brings me closer.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Howard County Conservancy Fall Festival

Goldenrod on the Hill, oils on canvas panel 12" x 9." Contact artist for price.

Late Afternoon Hills, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.
Yesterday the Howard County Conservancy was holding its Fall Festival. I had not known about this local organization, whose headquarters are in a 300-year old farm donated to our county by the last generation of its owners. The non-profit group's mission is to help preserve agricultural farmlands and unique historic sites in the county. The conservancy has built a community center on the site, the Gudelsky Center, which has an art gallery now exhibiting "Vanishing Howard County: A Collaborative Art Exhibit Pursuing the Themes of Conservation and Preservation in Howard County" (Whew, that's a long title for an art exhibit!).

The Howard County Plein Air Group had scheduled a paint-out during the festival and we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day: the crisp early morning temperatures warmed to a delightful afternoon.
I met my two new pastel artist friends, Deborah and Maria. The morning dew was heavy on the grasses; the fields of goldenrod and dry grasses amid mown fields formed wonderful patterns. A few more painters joined us as the morning wore on, and lots of visitors stopped by to look as we worked on our paintings.

The Conservancy is quite close to my house, about fifteen minutes, so I decided to go home for lunch and return for another painting in the afternoon, though by that time all the other artists were gone. The the late afternoon light glowed on the dry grasses of these fields turning them red and gold. It's such a difficult color to capture! I set up amid the tall grass to avoid being in the path of the hay-ride wagon, and worked until about five-thirty. By then the hay rides were over and it was so quiet I could hear the cries of birds.

I kept thinking of Henry Hensche's dictum that every change in form is a change in color, wishing I had been able to make more of a distinction between the near and far grasses on the hills in the morning painting. The afternoon painting is more successful at giving a sense of the shape of the folds of the hills. Now that I know about the Howard County Conservancy, I will be going back there to paint soon--there are lots of trails to explore there.

* * *

The Field at Tanglewood, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.

Above is one of the paintings from the Olney Plein Air that I hadn't photographed earlier (my painting of The Backyard Naturalist sold and I didn't get a photo of it). Interesting to note how the vibrant greens of summer vegetation have changed to the earthier yellow-greens of early autumn in a scant three weeks. The trees are starting to change, though fall color won't be at its peak for another few weeks.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Clark's Elioak Farm

Clark's Elioak Farm, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 16." Contact artist for price.

Yesterday the weather once again was magnificent. The Howard County Plein Air Group whose acquaintance I made at the Ellicott City Paint It had scheduled a paint-out at Clark's Elioak Farm, a quarter-mile away from my house, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to join them.

I got there at nine AM just as the owners were opening the gates to their popular petting farm, and asked permission to drive up their private road a bit further so I could get to this lovely view and set up my easel under one of the venerable old oaks along Route 108. This area is named after what must have been an ancient oak known as 'Eliot's Oak' and a cross street is called Elioak Road.

Shortly after, Deborah Maklowski, a pastel artist who is the organizer of the group, came by and set up a bit farther down the hill. It seemed we were the only artists there today. The morning passed pleasantly. I was struggling with the shadow in the foreground when I decided to take a break to see how Deborah's work was going. She was just finishing her pastel, and it had turned out lovely. She packed her gear and then came over to look at my work and offer encouragement.

I worked a bit longer, but feeling I was not improving the painting at that point, I packed up and was back at home shortly after noon. After lunch I worked on the shadow a bit more on and off during the afternoon, changing the shape a bit and softening the edges, until it became less distracting and more unified with the rest of the painting. I like the variety of colors in the rolling fields and the way the road moves towards the farm buildings in the distance.

Inner Struggle For Harmony

September Morning on the Patapsco River, oils on canvas panel, 14" x 11."
Lately I've been feeling I'm in a rut with my painting. Lee's classes have taken me rapidly to the point where I understand how to organize what I see into a workable composition: how to use color and value to express light and shadow, as well as separate the perceptible space into background, middle ground and foreground. Yet from an intellectual understanding to actually being able to achieve the effects on the canvas there is still some distance to go. Not to mention that ineluctable quality of excitement so necessary to catch the viewer's eye and capture the heart.

With these frustrations roiling my psyche, the pressure of competing at Paint Annapolis this weekend was more than I could deal with, so yesterday I made up my mind to skip it this year, both the MAPAPA member's show and the Dueling Brushes Competition. There's no need to put that kind of pressure on oneself when one is stressed so close to the breaking point. Besides, it's unseasonably hot--too hot to be trudging on shadeless streets looking for fresh & original views of our capital city, struggling to find parking, working on a tight schedule, etc.

Instead, this morning I went back to the McKeldin Area to paint. I had intended to re-visit the same composition I'd struggled with a few weeks ago, but walking along the path I saw this bend in the river. The light on the trees and reflections on the water were so lovely on this still morning with the burbling of the stream as the only sound, I was entranced. I set up my easel right on the path and started to block out the painting.

I exaggerated the blueness of the distance for a mistier effect than in reality, and that in turn accented the yellow of the sunlight on the foreground trees. I took my time balancing the colors and bringing out some details on the rocks, the reflections and ripples on the water. The trees dropped leaves on my palette from time to time while the occasional hiker walked around me. It was so relaxing--this was exactly what I needed, and I think the painting shows it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Olney Plein Air

Elena painting at The Backyard Naturalist on Georgia Avenue
Last Saturday Sept. 11 was the Olney Plein Air Festival. This year we had only one day to paint: we checked in and had our materials stamped in the morning. At five our work was to be handed in unframed, to be displayed for sale at the Olney Farmers and Artists Market the following day.

The weather was wonderful and it was a joy to be outdoors on such a day. I forgot to bring my camera along so I am not able to show you the two pieces I painted. I had hoped to take photos the next day but the following day was very rainy and the organizers rescheduled the art display and sale for Sunday Sept. the 26th.

In the morning I did a small painting at one of my favorite local stores, The Backyard Naturalist on Georgia Avenue. You can see some of the colorful whirlygigs and banners in front of the store in the photo that organizer Bobbie Staat took of me while I was painting. The traffic on Georgia Avenue became quite heavy by mid-morning and the noise was deafening. I wished I'd brought along earplugs, but then I couldn't have chatted with a man and his young son walking by who had never seen a painter at work before.

For the afternoon I chose a quieter spot at Tanglewood, a private historic estate a few miles from Olney. The new owners had invited our group to paint on the property--the house is in the process of being restored and is quite interesting, but I found the surrounding fields and woods far more appealing in the late afternoon light. You'll have to wait until Sept. the 26th to see my paintings. The Olney Farmers and Artists Market takes place every Sunday from 9 AM to 1 PM from early May to early November. Come on by to see some lovely paintings and buy the freshest produce at great prices!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Watercolor vs Oils

The Patapsco River at McKeldin Area, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12"
Last weekend I went out to paint with a friend at the Mc Keldin Area of Patapsco State Park. It was a gorgeous morning, sunny and clear, with just a hint of fall in the air. We were at a trail just below the rapids where there is a wide pool before the river turns its course to flow through the forest.

I chose this view because the light coming through the leaves of this small sycamore maple was so lovely: the light breeze set the leaves to dancing and the water beyond glinted in the sunlight. I was working in oils and Mary Jo in watecolor; we worked on our paintings for about three hours, until the sun was high overhead. By this time huge clouds had gathered and the wind was picking up speed. Mary Jo didn't seem too happy with her painting--she doesn't use watercolors often--and I could see there were some problems with her work. Her strokes were much too much the same throughout the surface, with not enough color variation to give a sense of the space, of foreground and background.

After I got home and looked at my painting again, it seemed to me that mine had lost a good deal of that initial sense of light, of the warm light and shadows in the foreground against the cool background. This can easily happen as the light changes rapidly, and my work had clearly suffered from this confusion.

The next day I decided to paint the same scene, this time using watercolors, which I haven't worked much for the past year. I had some reference photos I had taken when I was finishing my oil painting.

The Patapsco River at McKeldin Area, watercolor, 10" x 14"
I think the watercolor is much more successful than my oil (it's cooler in color overall, since the photo was taken as the sky was becoming overcast). The background in the watercolor remains more nebulous and cooler, while the foreground leaves, despite a soft focus, are in the proper relationship. The real difference, however, is the value of the tree-trunk, which should have been much darker and cooler in the oil to make it pop to the front. The distance should have been lighter and bluer in the oils to make it recede.

In the watercolor the softer darks on the left are more suggestive, it could be a footbridge or merely trunks, but they balance the darks of the tree trunk on the right, so the composition reads better. This illustrates perfectly a case where, as Mies Van de Rohe said, "Less is more." I must learn to restrain my impulse to put everything in minute detail into my paintings, in order to subordinate all other elements of the composition to the focal point. Somehow, I find this easier to do in watercolor than in oils. Could that be because I've learned to plan my watercolors more methodically or does the medium lend itself more to simplification? Hmmm...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ellicott City Paint It

Old Ellicott City Fire Station, oils on canvas panel, 9 " 12."

Painting the Firehouse from Main Street. Photo by Vesselinka Warren

Last weekend (Aug 28-29) was the "Paint It" plein air in Ellicott City. There were about thirty artists juried for the event and it was my first juried plein air competition. We had two days to produce our paintings, then bring the framed paintings to the Howard County Center for the Arts ( for the exhibition.

On Saturday morning I headed over with the idea of starting with the old railroad station, now operated as a museum. I had not realized that the museum did not open until 11 AM. I had my rolling cart to drag my ever-increasing art supplies, so I decided to use the time painting a street scene in front of near-by St. Paul's Church.

The day was sunny, and getting hotter. By the time I finished my first painting at noon, standing in the sun was unbearable, and my painting was nothing I cared to show. Chalk that one up to a warm-up. An old friend and fellow artist, Mary Jo Tydlacka, walked by and saw me--she was painting another view of this scene from the porch of the house next to the church, and she had been smart enough to set up in the shade.

Ellicott City Station, oils on canvas panel, 11" x14."
After gathering my stuff, I rolled my cart over to the B&O Railroad Museum to ask permission to set up on the platform. The lady behind the counter said that would be fine as long as I paid the entry fee of $5 and didn't block anyone. Done! I asked if I could leave my stuff there to go pick up a sandwich across the street, ate quickly and was back at the station before one o'clock. Another attendant opened a gate to the ramp leading up to the platform so I could get my cart up.

The afternoon passed quickly while I painted. Quite a number of folks, many with children in tow, came over to see what I was doing and asked questions. I explained about the Ellicott City Paint It and urged them to come see the exhibit later on. One little girl in particular was fascinated and stopped to watch me for a long time.

I finished around four, utterly dehydrated and done in by the heat. Where were those volunteers from the tourism office who were supposed to bring us water bottles from time to time? I left the station and got everything back to my car, and drove to the parking lot near the Howard County Tourism Office to get some water. I debated whether to try for one more painting or call it a day--eight hours on my feet in that heat was just about enough.

After drinking a bottle of iced water I felt better and walked about looking for another painting. There were two pastel artists right across the street from the Tourism Office doing some very nice pieces. At the corner was an antique shop that had several chairs set out on the sidewalk, and I sat on one to rest my aching feet and take in the view. The Old Ellicott City Fire Station (again now a museum) perched on a hill above Main Street would make a nice painting.

A man came out of the store and started to bring things in. It was almost five so I asked him if he was closing soon. At five, he said. Perfect! I could bring my own chair from the car and sit here. The crowds thinned out a bit after the stores closed. I was deep into painting when a lady walking by asked me if I would mind having my photo taken. Of course not, I said. Her charming accent betrayed her foreign origin and I asked where she was from--Bulgaria--we chatted a bit and she offered to send me a copy of the photo so I could use it here.

By the time I finished my painting the sun was long down and it was getting dark--it was eight o'clock and I was completely exhausted. I had barely the energy to drive home, eat some dinner and hit the sack. I was asleep in an instant.

Patapsco River Bridge, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14"
The next morning I left the house earlier, hoping to use the cool of the day to paint by the river. It was a little hazier than the previous day, but the early light was beautiful on the water and the rocks. Deborah and Maria, the two pastel artists I'd talked with before were there, and shortly after I started, another artist came by. Janice had begun her painting the day before but had not finished it, so I moved over a bit to allow her some room. Her painting was gorgeous and it received a well-deserved award. She also made a few helpful comments about mine that I really appreciated. Overall, I think this was the most successful of my four.

Quitting around noon, this time I was ready to head home and frame my wet paintings (always a tricky proposition) to hand them in that evening for the exhibition. On Monday evening there was a reception and awards ceremony--there were a lot of wonderful paintings there and all are for sale. Go see the show at the Howard County Center for the Arts; it will be up until October 15.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Return of the Stinkhorns and Other Backyard Sightings

The stinkhorn fungi have made their reappearance in my front yard after the recent rains. There were quite a few more this time, popping up in the flower bed and lawn under the maple tree. This time I was able to photograph them immediately while they were intact, and thanks to the site, I can now identify these definitely as Mutinus caninus. The spores from that first one must have been spread by the insects it attracts and the fungi have now colonized the area. Herb called my attention to these structures that look like a small egg partially buried in the ground. These are the first indication of the fruiting body of the fungi and form the covering for the tip.

* * *

This morning I woke to a soft rain. I was downstairs fixing myself a cup of tea, looking out the kitchen window when I spotted a creature of reddish color under one of our cedars in the back yard. At first, without my glasses on, I took it to be our neighborhood ginger cat making his rounds, but a second glance told me it was too large for a cat. Could it be one of our resident foxes?  Herb told me he has seen one out in the open (maybe the same individual?) on a few occasions during the day; one time he was lying in the shade in our neighbor's front yard on a very hot day.

I ran upstairs to get my glasses, and sure enough, it was a fox. He started to scratch  himself furiously, turning around from time to time to bite whatever was tormenting him. After a good while of doing this, he lay down, but rest eluded him and he kept turning from side to side to scratch incessantly. I took some photos and sat down to read the morning paper.

After a while I got up to make my second cup of tea, and looked out again. A doe had come out of the woods to browse under our trees. I got the camera out again. The fox sat up to look at the deer, perhaps calculating whether he had a chance at it, and the deer looked back at the fox at the precise moment I snapped this shot.

After that glance, the deer went back to browsing unconcerned and left after a few minutes. The fox stayed under the tree for a bit longer and then he too left. Altogether he must have been in our back yard for some forty minutes or so. I don't think I've ever had a chance to observe a fox this closely for this long before.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Winnaford Farm

Winnaford Farm, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.
Last weekend MAPAPA members were invited to paint at historic Winnaford Farm in Baldwin, some miles north of Baltimore. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day: clear and sunny with moderate temperatures in the seventies. The old farmhouse was surrounded by cornfields and a yard shaded by enormous trees, with several ancient horse chestnut trees loaded with the huge green fruits (they must be a sight when in bloom!).

There were about seven or eight other painters already set up by the time I got there a bit after nine. I picked a spot under the ancient trees overlooking the cornfields and this lovely cottage with the classic white picket fence. Except for the occasional sound of a motor wafting from far away, it could have been a summer day a century ago--the pastoral scene seemed so timeless.

The time passed quickly while we painted, and most of us were finished by lunchtime. Most of the painters left at that time--no critiques were offered, though I asked a few to show me their paintings or sketches.

I had brought a sandwich so I could last through the afternoon, and our hostess, Ann Dance, supplied iced tea. A handful of us stayed on. After lunch I walked around the other outbuildings and decided to paint a patch of sunflowers taller than I am. There were chickens cooped right under the sunflowers and, as anyone who has ever been around chickens knows, their droppings stink to high heaven, but I figured out in the open the smell wouldn't be too bad.

Sunflowers, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9."
Wrong! I was downwind, and after a couple of hours in the late afternoon sun the stench was overpowering! It was hard to stay on task and focused on painting, but I stuck it out for as long as I could. I wouldn't say this one turned out well--the light had changed too much from beginning to end of the painting and the colors lack luminosity--but under the circumstances it was the best I could do. Next time I'll know better than to get that close to a chicken coop.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Painting on Mattawoman Creek

Lotus at Mattawoman Creek, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12." 
My friend Linda sent word that the yellow lotus on Mattawoman Creek was blooming, so last weekend I went down for a visit. The hundred-degree days of the previous weekend had moderated somewhat--we figured it was safe to take out the kayak to paint the lotus from up close.

It was a beautiful morning, still cool, when we rigged the double kayak up on my car and drove down to Indian Head to the boat ramp at Mattingly Park. I had brought my Guerilla painter box and canvas supply bag to work on a small oil painting, and my camera. Linda took her watercolors, a sketchpad and camera. With all this gear, extra water and our lunches, it was a wee bit crowded in the kayak. We lathered on sunscreen and bug spray, and started paddling with our stuff wedged between our legs.

The tide was high and allowed us to paddle into a shallow inlet to pull up close to the flowers. Wild rice was blooming in the marsh. We tied to a clump of Pickerel weed and proceeded to set up for painting. Once again the knob of my Guerilla box had come off--it must have fallen in the trunk of my car but I hadn't noticed it until it was time to set up. It took some maneuvering to balance the paint box on my thighs and wedge the lid at the bow, thus holding it open. More maneuvers to prop the solvent jar upright by one leg and the brush holder on the other side. At one point a couple of brushes fell overboard, but the handles being wood, they floated and I was able to retrieve them. Ah, the things one endures to paint in nature!

Linda wasn't having such a difficult time: watercolors and paper are much lighter and easier to deal with in the field, though I don't find the finished product as satisfying. It took about two hours to complete my small oil, at which point we were both burnt out and stiff from our cramped quarters. My thighs were dripping with sweat and had the imprint of the rubber feet from the paint box on them. The tide was starting to turn when we pulled out onto the main channel.

It was now time to cool off with an afternoon dip and lunch--we paddled a bit farther to another channel where there is a high gravel mound and pulled the kayak up on the shore. The water felt great, even if the hydrilla growing thickly underneath tickled. There were wild hibiscus plants with white and pink flowers around the shore and a huge roost of swallows on one tree. A pair of ospreys circled overhead. It's hard to believe a pristine marsh like this can be found only thirty miles from the hustle and bustle of downtown Washington, D.C.

All too soon it was time to start back, grungy and tired. Back at the house Patrise was  cooking the baby-back ribs I'd brought for our dinner. We showered and rested a bit and then went to an evening performance of a colonial wedding enactment at National Colonial Farm. We enjoyed a delicious picnic before this fascinating look at what a wedding in the 1750's would have been like, with wonderful period costumes.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lavender Fields Again

Lavender Fields in Provence, oils on archival linen panel, 12" x 16." Contact artist for price.

I sold one of my remaining paintings of the lavender fields of Provence last week, and that made me wish I could go back to France right away, to paint some new ones on location. Since that was not possible--at least not this year--I went back to look at all the old photos from my two trips to the Luberon. Both of those trips (2002 and 2004) took place before I owned a digital camera, so the photos I have are limited in number, and not all are suitable for paintings.

This spot was one of the highlights of our trip, taken one afternoon when we went out painting with our artist friend from Rousillon, Francoise Valenti. The lavender in this field was not quite in full bloom yet, but a little imagination helped. I recall painting a watercolor there which sold very soon after our return.

The challenge here was to capture the spirit of plein air and apply all of the lessons about color to a work created from photos. I think my colors appear realistic, giving a good sense of depth and distance. Provence is such a lovely place... I wish I could paint there every year!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Red-Hot Bouquet

Red-Hot Bouquet, oils on canvas panel, 16" x 12."

Last weekend I went to the Olney Farmer's Market at its new location--Montgomery General Hospital's Thrift Shop--and the market was better than last year. The new location has some trees and grassy areas and there seemed to be more vendors, including a few new artist's booths. It's an improvement over the treeless parking lot of the Town Center where they used to convene.

I stocked up on farm-fresh veggies and fruits including corn. The sunflowers in particular were irresistible--splurging on these three and a stalk of peach-colored lilies, I set up this still-life in the dining room. The red background happens to be a wonderful scarf one of my nieces gave me a few years back, set against my company blue tablecloth.

The painting may be too bold a juxtaposition of colors, too fauvist (I need to start collecting cloths of interesting colors for backdrops, at the moment my stock is very limited), and I may knock back part of the background to a darker, more subdued shade later on. For now I'm enjoying experimenting with wild color, just to see what happens. Is the effect too disturbing, or just exciting enough?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Basignani's Vineyards

Basignani Vineyards, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.

I signed up for the Falls Road Plein Air sponsored by MAPAPA and St. Paul's Schools in suburban Baltimore. The designated painting locations lie along the Falls Road Scenic Byway, an area I am not too familiar with, so I thought to explore it this weekend. Friday was too muggy to make being outdoors bearable, but Saturday, although just as hot, seemed a little less humid--I loaded up my gear and set out in search of a good spot to paint.

There weren't many places to pull off along the road, but just as I was reaching the end of the designated limits, I saw a sign for Basignani Vineyards. I turned into the driveway and followed it up a hill where there was a house surrounded by several out-buildings. One of them was the winery and tasting room. Beyond one could see neatly laid out rows of vines rising over a hill where there were some trees for welcome shade. I walked up to check out the view and yes, it had the makings of a nice composition. There were only three other cars in the lot but no one immediately visible, so I went into the tasting room to ask permission to paint in the vineyards, which the owner granted.

I set up under the shade of a cherry tree--there was a bit of breeze but at four o'clock it was still quite hot. The sky became overcast--I thought I heard the distant rumble of thunder--would I get rained out again? I wasn't going to stop painting unless it became really threatening. After about an hour the clouds passed and the sun came out again. The effects of the light became more interesting as the shadows lengthened, and all that was necessary was to shift their lines in the composition to cover more of the foreground and the rows of vines.

The afternoon brought back pleasant memories of the vineyards on the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary, where four years before I had spent a month as artist-in-residence. These grapevines were not as manicured as those in the vineyards of Provence, where vineyards are small family plots, but a real working vineyard in a surprising spot: Baltimore!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Blue Hydrangeas

Blue Hydrangeas: Homage to Margaret, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9." Contact artist for price.

Last Sunday was the Fourth of July, and much too hot to be outside for any length of time. I wanted to paint a still life with a red-white-and-blue theme, but all I had on hand were the last of these blue hydrangeas from my garden: a lace-cap variety with deep blue flowers surrounding the foamy centers and an ever-blooming type with the classic light blue clusters.

Blue hydrangeas always bring to mind my mother-in-law Margaret--she used to have many bushes of this variety growing all around the shady yard of her house in DC. These hydrangea flowers vary in color from pink, deep purple to light-blue depending on the PH of the soil--the more acid the soil the bluer. Hers, growing under a blanket of leaves from the huge oak trees, were a lovely shade of sky-blue. She liked to cut the flowers to display in this graceful robin's-egg blue vase, where they made one feel cool in the wilting summer heat.

The yellow tablecloth, brought back from one of my trips in Provence, made a great backdrop for the flowers and vase--the colors just sizzle!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer Heat

Summer Heat, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.

We got a short break from the heat last week--all of a sudden the air cleared, and the temperatures and humidity dropped to more pleasant levels. On Saturday morning when I went out, the temperature was beginning to rise again. I decided on Brookside Gardens once more--there in the shady path behind the pond I could paint the same gazebo on the island from a different angle.

At this time of the year, the crape-myrtle with its rose-pink blossoms contrasts nicely with a purple beech and the vegetation in a wide range of greens. I started painting at eleven in the morning and finished around two-- you can almost feel the heat of high noon in this piece.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fay's Bloomers

Fay's Bloomers, oils on canvas panel, 14" x 11." Contact artist for price.

MAPAPA had announced an invitation to paint during an open house at a private garden in Davidsonville. As a garden lover, this seemed like a wonderful opportunity to me, but the day promised to be another scorcher--better get an early start. There were a few people set up in the driveway when I got there and buckets of tagged plants lined up. I gathered they were volunteers to help with plant sales, and  introduced myself as a MAPAPA member coming to paint.

Fay's Bloomers is designated as a display garden for the American Hemerocallis Society. The garden covers about 1.4 acres and is beautifully landscaped with hundreds of day-lilies of every imaginable variety and color, as well as many other unusual ornamental perennials. Well-placed statues of maidens made nice focal points for the flower beds, with whimsical ornaments like elves, iridescent birdbaths, and garden balls tucked in here and there for fun.

With so much beauty all around it was hard to choose what to paint. Eventually I found a shady spot on one side of the lot where the woods behind made a good backdrop for the riot of color in the flower beds. I wanted to give a sense of the expanse of the garden, so I exaggerated the rise of the slope a bit to make it more dramatic. The painting was finished around noon; I took it back to the car and got my lunch and another bottle of water out. It must have been over a hundred degrees inside the car parked in the sun--both were very warm.

I ate my lunch under an unusual Japanese maple shading the patio--was it "Palmatum Beni Kawa"?-- I forget. Fay and two other volunteers were sitting there and we chatted in between their attentions to the customers.

The heat and humidity were increasing but I wanted to make the most of this lovely garden, so I opted to stay for a second painting in the afternoon. I wanted to focus on just a few flowers, to treat them as a still life. I walked around looking for a variety that appealed to me the most and settled on 'Tom Wise'--one of the gentlemen there told me this was a relatively old variety hybridized in the 1980's.

'Tom Wise' Close Up, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12." Contact artist for price.

Its deep scarlet red overlaid with orange-yellow offered a wonderful opportunity to use my cadmium colors almost straight from the tube--but the plant was in a spot in the merciless sun. I worked as fast as I could, taking frequent breaks in the shade to cool off--the heat was unbearable--and managed to last long enough to come up with this. I left the garden around five, completely exhausted but happy with my day's work.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Old Crownsville Farm

Old Crownsville Farm, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12." Contact artist for price.

For our last class of the session we met at the same farm in Crownsville as the week before. It was a gorgeous June day: not too hot nor humid. We walked around for a bit, once again discussing the finer points of site selection for composition.

Sometimes as artists we can re-arrange the landscape a bit to improve a composition, such as moving a tree from one side to another, raising or lowering the horizon line, or re-arranging the line of a road or hill. But there are views and angles, no matter how interesting, that present problems too difficult for the painter to solve. These are best left alone--the artist can only invent so much, but when we get too far away from what our eyes can verify, our inventions fail to convince.

We picked this particular view because it has all of the elements for a great composition: a nice curving road to lead the eye into the painting, old ramshackle outbuildings in the foreground for a focal point, trees in the middle ground and a bit of distance in the background. We emphasized the distance by exaggerating the color differences between the rear plane and the middle ground, pushing the colors to the violet-blue spectrum.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fun with Cuban Zombies

Cuban Zombies (Clockwise from upper left): Zombie Raul, Zombie Che SOLD, Zombie Fidel, Zombie Dalia, Zombie Mariela. Five 3" x 2" oil paintings for sale at The Soundry, $75 each, or $250 for all five.

I signed up to create five tiny 3" x 2" oil paintings for the "Baby Canvases II" show at The Soundry because the idea seemed like a lot of fun (I'd done a similar project for Art House last year, the Canvas Project. and everyone loved my Zombie--it was selected for an exhibit at the Atlanta Airport).

That is how I came across The Soundry. It's a really cool new concept in independent artist spaces--a combination coffee shop/internet cafe/performance/artist studios/co-op gallery space that promises to start a new trend and put Vienna, VA on the DC art map.

Cuba has been in the news recently because of the death of one of the political prisoners on a hunger strike and the subsequent escalation of repression against their relatives, the Ladies in White, so it seemed timely to make a little fun of the old dictator and his entourage. If there's one thing evil can't stand it's being laughed at.

I turned each of these characters into movie-style zombies: a senile Fidel Castro maniacally poking his finger in the air--his brother Raul mimicking him; a woozy Che Guevara pointing his gun at you. The female contingent was represented by Fidel's current wife Dalia, an elderly fashion maven trying to look still beautiful, and Raul's daughter Mariela, who has been assigned the role of advocate for tolerance towards homosexuals (in a traditionally homophobic machista Revolution!) holding something that might be a bloody microphone, or is it a penis?

If you live in the DC area, go out to the Soundry, enjoy the show, and scoop these great original miniature paintings at a bargain price. The opening is next Saturday night June 26 from 7 to 10 PM. If the five little pieces don't sell there, they will auctioned off here on this blog at the end of the show in July. If they do sell but you'd like to have some Cuban zombies of your very own, I will be happy to produce a similar version of any or all of the zombies for you--just Email your request and contact information.