Painting in the “Pink”

Pretty in Pink Image
“Pretty in Pink,” 30″ x 40,” oil on canvas, © 2017 Trowzers Akimbo

At Risk Image
“At Risk,” 36″ x 18,” oil on canvas, © 2017 Trowzers Akimbo.

After completing two abstract bird paintings (“At Risk” and “Modern Building Materials”) for the “Avian: Birds in a Changing World” exhibit (a show to benefit our local Audubon Society chapter and Sierra Art Trails), I began thinking about what I wanted to enter in the Yosemite Renaissance show this year.

Modern Building Materials Image
“Modern Building Materials,” 30″ x 40,” oil and collage on canvas, © 2017 Trowzers Akimbo.

For those unaware of this exhibit and competition, Yosemite Renaissance is an annual show held in the Yosemite Museum Gallery, in Yosemite Village, in Yosemite National Park. It takes place in February, encourages non-traditional approaches to artworks focused on Yosemite and the surrounding Sierra Nevadas and offers a stiff competition, with only a 7% — 8% acceptance rate. After leaving Yosemite the show travels to various venues around California for a year. I love it, when I get into this show!

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Swinging Bridge Image
“Yosemite Falls from the Sentinel Swinging Bridge,” 30″ x 40,” © 2017 Trowzers Trowzers Akimbo.

I had one piece, an abstract view of “Yosemite Falls from the Sentinel Swinging Bridge,” which was an appropriate piece to enter, but I wanted to submit something brand new, fresh off the easel and into the competition for the show. Around this time, a mountain lion had been spotted in our neighborhood, encouraging me to take a baseball bat with me each night, as I traveled out to the far corners of our property to turn on security lights. I believe this got into my head, as I decided to take on a mountain lion in my next painting. I’m going to walk you through my steps in painting “Pretty in Pink” here.

Mt. Lion Sketch Image
My preliminary rough sketch.

I started this one with a rough sketch, done with a Wacom Tablet and stylus connected to my computer. The computer is a great preliminary visualization tool, allowing me to easily grab a section of my sketch, move it, resize it, rotate it, etc and try what ifs, by turning layers off and on. Doing the same thing on paper, would be difficult and much more time consuming. Living in the Sierras, I’m told mountain lions are often near by, when I hike or mountain bike into wooded areas. They’re just out of site. I recall this being portrayed well in Michael Mann’s film version of “The Last of the Mohicans,” as Hawkeye and his Native American adopted father and brother are guiding the British colonel’s two daughters to a fortress to join their father. The older daughter silently perceives a mountain lion under the foliage, just off the trail, watching them pass. I decided to portray this silent laying in wait, graphically.

Sketch on Canvas Image
My charcoal pencil/oil paint drawing on the canvas.

Often my sketch is just a rough concept, a starting point to be further developed on the canvas, but this sketch was spot on, so I started recreating it on my canvas, just as portrayed in the original sketch. Due to the complexity, it proved difficult to recreate accurately and I told myself next time I had a sketch this complex, I’d use a grid system to create the drawing on canvas. After a lot of adjustments, in charcoal pencil and oil paint, I finally had a drawing I was happy with on the canvas.

A few painting sessions and I had all the base

Mt. Lion 02 Image
Most of the base color blocked in.

color blocked in. If I think of a way I might want to vary the color, as I’m blocking in, I execute it right then. If it doesn’t work out, as I begin to refine the painting, I can always paint things over, but I rarely just lay in solid flat colors at this stage. Note how I’ve moved the cat’s muzzle down, as I blocked in the color. I continue to refine my drawing, as necessary, as the painting develops. With the base color in, my cat, background and foreground leaves are all pretty equal in importance. While my goal was to hide the puma, to a great degree, in its environment, I’m going to need to separate the lion a bit more from its environment.

Mt. Lion 03 Image
Adding patterns.

I added a hair pattern all over the mountain lion and different granite patterns to the rock surfaces. This adds a bit more complexity to the scene and, because patterns recede, is the first step in separating the mountain lion from the rest of the environment. Once the patterns dry, I’ll be able to use transparent glazing, as well as opaque painting to move planes forward or back and bring more importance to the cougar.

Mt. Lion 04 Image
Glazing, grass tufts detailing and leaf patterns.

With a lot of the glazing completed I’m happy with the level of separation between cat and environ and the way certain planes advance, while others recede. I’ve also done some detailing on the stylized tufts of grass here. With so much of the painting completed, I determine how I want to finalize the foreground leaves, deciding on a here and there line pattern, inspired by the veins present on oak leaves.

At this stage, all that’s left is to apply the pattern to the remaining leaves, add a few last bits of detailing here and there and somehow take the uniformity away from the violet glazing around the leaf on the right, above the lion’s rump. I decide that some loosely applied ochre paint is the answer here. All these final additions can be viewed in the finished painting at the top of this post.

I completed “Pink” just in time to make the Renaissance entry deadline and recently learned it has been accepted into this years show!


Left to the Village Image
“Left to the Village,” by Trowzers Akimbo, rejected by the 2016 Yosemite Renaissance exhibit/competition

First, let me apologize for my lack of new posts over the last two weeks. I’d received two new commissions for mural paintings from two different children’s hospitals a few day apart from each other and they required me to create 4 designs in 16 days. This, along with the 3 workshops I’ve been teaching each week, made it impossible for me to put together new posts.

Anyway, now that I’m writing again I wanted to talk about rejection. It seems to be going around lately! I recently ran into an artist friend, at an opening, who told me her submission had been rejected from a recent exhibit/competition. This from one of the most sought after, financially successful artists I know.

Two days later, at a local art organization holiday party, two more artist friends presented their work, prefacing with the fact the pieces had been rejected by recent shows. This prompted me to ask all present (about 50 artists) to raise their hands if they’d ever been rejected from an exhibit or competition. Every hand in the place shot up!

These bold admissions illustrate an important point for all artists, beginning or well established, to remember. Rejection is just a part of being an artist and rarely has anything to do with the piece of art being rejected. Instead, it has everything to do with the judges making the selection: their personal tastes or bias, their education, life experience, relationships, mood, even what they had for breakfast and their drive to work that morning. Different judges or a different day, completely different result.

Vincent Van Gogh only sold a single painting, during his lifetime.They hated his stuff! The Impressionist proudly chose their art movement’s name from a “catty” art critic, rejecting their work in whole as simply impressions of paintings, in a newspaper review he’d written.

All artists, big and small, are faced with rejection of their work. It goes with the territory. It signifies nothing. Don’t let it discourage you!

Painting Andersen’s Mountaineering Cabin

Anderson's Mountaineering Cabin Image
“Anderson’s Mountaineering Cabin,” 12” x 9” oil on canvas, Framed $913.00, Unframed $785.00

I recently finished this painting, begun en plein air, in Yosemite, during my stay as a Yosemite Renaissance artist in residence and I thought I’d walk you through its various stages from start to finish.

As many of you may have heard, during my residency, I invited many of my local artist friends to come up to the park and paint with me. This whole trip came together quickly, but even with short notice, 7 of them were able to make it. On this, our last day, 4 artists were painting with me.

Anderson’s Cabin, is located in Pioneer Village, in Wawona, a collection of historic Yosemite structures from all over the park, brought together in one location to form a little trip back in time hamlet. There are many great structures to paint there, but we all decided on this one on that particular day.

Anderson Cabin Turp Wash Image
My ink blue turp wash underpainting, quickly maps out the scene lighting.

I started this outdoor painting, as I most often do, with an ink blue turpentine wash (50% painting medium, 50% solvent) underpainting. I find shadows outdoors tend to be cool, so the blue is a good choice and since I always work from dark to light, using the one color prevents me from having to mix multiple dark colors, prior to getting all my darks blocked in. Mapping the scene lighting out quickly is critical in plein air painting, as the light changes very quickly. Not having to mix multiple dark colors significantly speeds the process.

Anderson's Cabin Plein Air Image
My painting at the end of the plein air, on location painting session.

With the darks laid out, I quickly washed in general area color, prior to roughing in opaque paint. That way, if I miss tiny patches, known as holidays, with the opaque paint, they don’t show, the underlying canvas having been pre-tinted. With my darks down in ink blue, I begin adding medium value opaque colors, then lights and finally start replacing the ink blue dark wash with dark colors of the correct hue. Here’s the painting at the end of my 4 hour, on location, painting session.

I’m rarely happy with the final result of my plein air sessions and generally either work into the canvas back in my studio or use the painting as a color sketch for a larger studio painting. I’d committed to a show of the works we produced during the week, so, in the interest of time I’ve decided to add more detail to the actual plein air canvas this round.

Anderson's Cabin 5/25 Image
After 1st day in the studio

Reviewing the reference photos I shot on location, I realize that in painting the roof I painted out all the shadows from the trees. During this first session in the studio, I begin returning the shadows to the roof, add dark grout to the chimney and lines separating the individual logs that make up the walls of the cabin. I also finalize the sky and clouds, since everything else will be painted over this.

Anderson's Cabin 5/30
End of 2nd studio session

During my next session I finish most of the detailing to the roof (I found I needed to add light values, as well, in order to get the shadows correct), I begin to detail the log walls of the cabin and start adding back branches (painted out by the sky) and foliage to the trees behind the cabin.

Anderson's Cabin 6/1 Image
End of 3rd studio session

Another day and it’s about working the values on the chimney side of the cabin. I needed to adjust until that side of the building  looked like it was truly in shadow. Detailing the stone chimney, including adding the light that hits its stones here and there was a bit tricky, but I finally got it to a point where I was satisfied. I realized the ground shadows, there in the morning, but painted from memory, at the end of the day, were wrong, so I changed those.

Anderson's Cabin 6/6
A couple of sessions later

Through a couple more sessions I detail the foliage and trunks of the trees.

One last session of final details, including the detailing of the rock border around the grass in front of the chimney, takes me to the finish, shown at the top of this post.

I popped the painting into a floater frame and took it wet, along with the other finish (El Cap & Dogwood) and plein paintings I created during the week, over to Gallery 5, so I could help Jon Bock install the show. The show is titled, “A Week in the Park: Plein Air Works by Trowzers Akimbo & Friends.” It’ll be there through June 22, 2017.

Artist in Residence in Yosemite – Day 7

Anderson's Cabin Image
My days work, © 2017 Trowzers Akimbo

We traveled out to paint, a large group, this final day, Sunday, May 13th, of my week-long Yosemite Renaissance artist in residence stay in Yosemite. The painters, in addition to myself, included Terry Robinson, Lura & Kerby Smith and Vicki Thomas.

We decided to avoid the tourist insanity that was going in the Valley on Saturday and select a painting location closer to the cabin. Our first choice was Alder Creek, but the two ladies in our group were leery of navigating the steep drop, while carrying there painting equipment from our parking location, along the roadway, to the bank of the creek. Lura had recently injured her leg and wasn’t sure how well it would hold up traveling down the steep trail. While beautiful, the vistas offered by Alder Creek were too similar to the churning water paintings I’d created of Chilnualna Falls the first 3 days of my stay, for me to bother nudging the ladies down the hill. We decided to choose a location from the offerings of Wawona’s Pioneer Village.

After individually scouting the many offerings presented by the Pioneer Village, we all independently  set up in front of the Anderson Mountaineer’s Cabin. There’s plenty to choose from, as far as painting goes, here, I highly recommend it as a painting destination, if you’re in Yosemite. The local artist group I belong to, Yosemite Western Artists, travel up here as a plein air group often to paint. In fact, they’re heading up there again today.

Anderson's Cabin Plaque Photo
© 2017 Kerby Smith
Trowzers, Terry & Vicki Painting Photo
© 2017 Kerby Smith

At one point during the day we were joined by a visiting artist, who plopped down on an available log bench and began an ink drawing of the cabin in his small sketchbook. We introduced ourselves and he shared the drawing on which he’d been working. Turns out he and his son have got a challenge going to each do at least one drawing a day. I love the people you meet when you’re out painting plein air and in a location like Yosemite, those you meet are from around the world. Someone looking over my shoulder, as I work, told me I was new Bob Ross. Whether that’s a complement or a cut depends on how you feel about Mr. Ross. Must have been my “happy little trees.” Given the enthusiasm of the delivery, I’m sure it was meant as a compliment. That’s how I’m going to accept it, anyway!

We put in another long day, wrapping around 5pm, when the sun began shining through the backside of our canvases.

Trowzers Painting Indirectly Photo
Indirect painting, © 2017 Kerby Smith

Those of you who’ve been following these posts may recall that I set out on this week-long outing, switching from my normal indirect painting approach to direct painting to see if that technique would be faster and allow me to complete a plein air painting in a single day. Well, unhappy with the direct painting results, I switched back to my indirect painting technique on Day 5, the Half Dome painting from Glacier Point. I paint from dark to light, realizing that the darks are the armature that paintings are built upon. Direct painting required me to constantly clean my brushes and mix up darks of various hues. When I paint plein air indirectly, my underpainting is a monochrome turp wash (50% painting medium, 50% solvent) of ink blue, requiring no brush cleaning or additional color mixing. I get all my darks down more quickly (critical, given the rapidly changing light with plein air painting) and can move on to the opaque laying in of medium and light polychrome values. I’m much happier with the end results of this approach.

The bottom line is, I just don’t like my plein air painting final results. They look like color sketches to me. I can’t help but feel they require more time to deserve hanging in a frame. While I love the process of painting plein air (you absorb information about the scene unavailable painting from photos alone). In future, I think if the result warrants it, I’m just going to use the plein air painting as a color sketch for a larger, more finished painting.

As the day ended, I put my visitors in their vehicles, wished them a safe trip home and after a quick clean-up of the cabin, started down the mountain to my home in Oakhurst…a melancholy ending to a wonderful, fruitful week with friends!

P.S: I’ve just been informed there’s going to be a show of the work produced during the week, at Gallery 5, in Oakhurst, CA in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned to my blog for the details, which I’ll post once they’re available.


Artist in Residence – Day 5

Half Dome Painting Image
My in progress 12” x 9” oil painting of Half Dome from Glacier Point.

With a promise of rain, we rose Friday morning, May 12th, and still headed over to Yosemite Valley to see if we could capture the stunning POV of El Capitan we witnessed yesterday. We were hoping we could get something accomplished, before the storm hit and, when it did, that the rain would be light.

Halfway there, our hopes faded, as we climbed into misty clouds that required the occasionally swish of windshield wipers to refresh our view. On arrival, it wasn’t raining, but all the rock monuments in the Valley were hidden behind clouds. We stopped a Pohono Bridge, hoping to set up and paint there.  Didn’t need clear skies for that, since it’s on the Valley floor, but with the snow melt swollen Merced River, there was no bank to set up painting gear, on either side of the river. Anyone wanting to paint this bridge will need to wait until later in the year.

We decided to pick up the Valley Loop trail there and walk the 1.5 miles to our El Cap beauty shot. We wanted to hang out in the Valley awhile and see if the clouds cleared from the monuments. A walk along the trail was a pretty beautiful time-killer. Much of the loop was underwater and we had to make our way forward, roadside, until we’d passed the flooded sections. A word of caution to anyone planning to trail in Yosemite Valley in the near future: if you’ve got summer mesh hiking footwear, be sure to bring along an extra pair of socks, you’re likely to get your feet wet.

El Cap was still deep in cloud cover, when we reached our destination and it started to rain. So, we pulled our hoods up over our heads and backtracked along the trail, the mile and a half to the cars. I decided I was heading back to Wawona to do some painting, in the cabin from reference shots taken earlier in the week, if I had to. Let the rain come down outside, I wasn’t going to miss out on a day of painting. Kerby decided he’d stay in the Valley for a while: he had a few photographic ideas he wanted to play out.

Me Painting in Cabin Photo
Photograph © 2017 Kerby Smith

Back at the cabin I looked around outside for something to paint. Itwasdefinitely going to rain, but I was willing to get started out in the open, take some reference shots and finish inside. I seriously considered the exterior of the cabin we were in staying in. It was interesting enough to paint, but who, other than those of us staying there, would find it interesting enough to want to buy it. I could imagine the gallery curator’s pitch, “It’s the cabin Trowzers Akimbo and the rest of his artist friends were staying in, while they were up in Yosemite painting for a week.” “Trowzers who?”

I decided a better idea would be to paint from one of the photos I’d taken earlier in the week. In fact, I had some good ones on my new Verizon phone, that I’d taken at the destined El Cap location. I just needed to get the photos from the new phone to my laptop and from there to my iPad. I linked Bluetooth between the two devices and attempted to send the photos over…nothing. After a few more tries, I gave up. This wasn’t going to work. Android didn’t seem to be interested in conversing in OS X with my MacBook Pro. With no Internet connection, I couldn’t get online to run down a solution to my problem. I seriously thought about chucking the idea of painting, at this point, and taking a well deserved nap the rest of the afternoon. A lessor man would have, but I’ve learned to embrace my neurosis and harness the fears of failure lurking there to keep me plodding forward towards success!

Small Half Dome Photo
Thursday’s photo of Half Dome from Glacier Point.

My digital SLR camera memory card was full and I’d emptied it onto my laptop, the night before, so I could clean the card and make room for new photos. I poured over the photos in the folder for something worthy of a painting. The only candidate far enough removed from the Chilnualna Falls paintings I’d been creating all week, was one of the shots I took yesterday of Half Dome, from Glacier Point. I loved the photo, but I wasn’t sure that once it was translated into a painting, it would still be legible as Half Dome to on-lookers: so much of the rock was obscured by the clouds and the Glacier Point perspective offers a less than typical point of view of the monument.

It having reached 3:30 or 4 pm, it was going to be this image or nothing. I set up my french paintbox near a window that would offer me the latest possible natural light and began slapping paint down on the canvas.

Only the finished painting will tell me whether Half Dome reads of not, but as you can see by the in progress painting above, at least I didn’t allow myself to succumb to a nap. Remember what Salvador Dalí said, “No masterpiece was ever created by a lazy artist!” Okay, Salvador, I skipped my nap, now where’s the masterpiece!

Artist in Residence – Day 3

In Progress Chilnualna River Painting
Today’s in progress plein air painting of the Chilnualna River.

No, you didn’t miss a blog post, I’m posting day 3, before day 2, because I’m back in my studio tonight and I forget to bring the day 2 painting back with me from the cabin.

I don’t have an Internet connection (I’m told they shut their Internet connection at the cabin down in the winter. May is winter?) or even cell phone service anywhere in the Wawona area of Yosemite National Park, where the Yosemite Renaissance artist in residence cabin has been provided for me. Thank you AT&T! What are you thinking? No one with one of your cell phones visits Yosemite? I’m going back up to the cabin tomorrow afternoon, after I finish teaching art to  my two 5th grade classes at Woodland Elementary School tomorrow, so you won’t see another blog post, until I’m back in the studio, late Sunday.

Here’s today’s in progress plein air painting. It was my second day painting with artist friend, Sandy Kowallis. This time we hiked down the trail that runs from the top of the falls, along the river, to where it joins the south fork of the Merced River. We picked a section we liked and set up there. The water is so ice cold that any slight breeze sends air-conditioned air in our direction. It made for a very comfortable day, at a temp much lower than what we found, as soon as we left the river’s edge.

Tomorrow I’m painting with friend, photographer and artist, Kerby Smith. Something other than the Chilnualna, I suspect.