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  • Artists of the New Century at the Bennington Center for the Arts
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Fly on Little Wing

May 6, 2019 by admin

It’s not often I write about my little individual painting experiences. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram then you probably get too much of me posting. But a friend of mine while visiting at the end of the day over drinks, we were telling tales of our painting experiences so far this week and thought I ought to share…

here goes nothing…

Let me set this up a little bit, I was taking part in the 17th Annual Augusta Plein Air Festival in the wine country along the Missouri River. It’s beautiful country, rolling hills, nice bluffs, farms, creeks, small towns, everything one could want for subject matter. A lot of times when I’m searching for something to paint, it not so much what it is, but more of “where you going to park”? You have long windy roads  that are sometimes narrow, with no shoulders, so you see something interesting to paint, and by the time you find a place to park, you’re 1/2 mile away, with no safe way back.

So I look for parking, and then work from there.

On this occasion, it was early in the day, the weather was pretty much rain, rain, and every now and then you might get a break and have some rain. It’s spring time in the midwest, get used to it. Well what I was looking for was a place I could set up, where I did not have to travel far from my car so that I could use it for a wind break, and a cover from the rain if needed. My new Outback has a hatchback I can stand under if needed. This was one of the features that was a must when shopping for a new ride.

I found a gravel road between the fields in the bottom land near the river. In the bottom of a draw was a rock bed that looked wide enough I could park, and still have enough room for any farm vehicles to get by, well except a combine, but you don’t use combines for planting, and the fields I thought were way too wet for actually getting in to do anything.

I liked what I was seeing, the farm road, the fields, and then the hills.

What I chose was something to maybe reflect the day, my mood, the area. I liked the way the bottom lands were leading off into the distant tree covered hills. The land was cleared there for some farm buildings on the hill, probably the owner of the property I was one. I might soon find out.

When I paint outdoors, I never put headphones on. It’s just me, I like to hear the sounds around me, which is unlike me in the studio where I have music of all sorts on, and sometimes blaring away. I really love music, I always have, but when outside, it’s the mother nature and all it has to offer that provides the hymns in my head. I just like being aware of what’s going on around me. I think it helps me capture the scene better, maybe.

I set up on the edge of the gravel wash, and I’m painting away on my scene. On occasion, but not too often a car comes along the bottoms road and they bend their neck as they try to see what I’m up to down here in the wash. There’s not a lot of traffic on the Augusta Bottoms road, it stretches between 3 different counties as it winds its way through the Missouri River Valley, and of course with each different county, they have a different degree of interest in maintaining the road, or “not”. It’s paved in part, gravel in another, and then kind of obstacle course of pot holes and water pits that makes folks think twice about coming this way. Some with better, more precious vehicles and more time on their hands would travel the extra 8 miles around to avoid this mess, and sometimes I did too when I had my minivan, but with my new Outback, it was like another challenge to conquer.

Anyway, little traffic if any, so it’s mostly just me and mother nature around and I’m liking it.

About an hour or so into my painting, maybe more I hear this bird chirping. That’s common, there’s all sorts of birds around, there is loads of life in the fields and I have some good-sized trees on either side following the waterway, so there is a pretty constant array of sounds of calling birds, but this one sounds pretty close from behind me where there are no trees.

So I chirp back.

I found out recently I’m not supposed to do this, it confuses the animals when you mock them or try to copy their call. They think there is another bird in their territory and the get distressed and freak out. I’ve thought my entire life that it’s the beautiful singing of the birds, but listening to some birder friends of ours, it’s just the opposite. It’s “get the “H***” out of here!

But still I chirp back.

It’s what I do, and if the birds knew me, they would understand, that’s just Greg being Greg. I do the same with human folks too, and yes humans get annoyed with me quite often for me and my childish games. Oh well, it’s what I do.

Anyway, this bird did not let it go, but I kept painting and every now and then, I chirp back.

But this bird wasn’t just going to chirp and let me forget it, it came closer and kept yapping… and yapping. It was reminding me of someone who comes up to you while you are painting in a quick paint and they start talking, and then just won’t go away. They just keep talking to you, and don’t get the subtle hints that you are working and need to finish. They just keep bending your ear, and that is exactly what this bird was doing, and it was getting closer still.

I’m thinking I shouldn’t have chirped back, now it thinks I’m a bird and wants to be life long friends or something.

This was definitely getting annoying.

The little critter had gone from maybe 25-30 feet away to now within my backup zone, and that is not a safe place for people or animals to be, I just without warning start backing up to look at my painting. Put a stroke down, back up, look at it, and do another, and for the last 10 minutes I’ve not backed up because I didn’t want to scare my new friend away.

But I changed my mind, it was time to confront this guy and lay down some guidelines for our new relationship.

I turned to face the bird, and just when I did it turned its tail to me, fell down on one knee, raised it tail feathers up in the air, and then started fluttering it’s wings and making a strange hacking type sound of “eh-eh-eh” over and over. It startled the daylights out of me. It was really quite the spectacle, and I was impressed.

Killdeer

That’s when if finally dawned on me!

I had heard of birds feigning injury to ward off predators from near its nest, but I wasn’t a predator, I’m an artist. And then nest? There’s no nest around here, it’s a rocky wash with nothing but dirt and rock, maybe some sticks that had washed down from the rains.

I took a step towards it and then it flew about 20 feet and did it again. Ha, I’m no dummy, I just saw he could fly, and now it’s doing the broken wing thing again. I searched around and around and nowhere could I find what might be a nest.

I’m going back to painting, so I did. And my fine feathered friend kept trying to get my attention and draw me away. But seriously, I had work to do, and every now and then I would search around for what might be a nest, but no, nothing.  Nothing that I could see at least.

Had to have been a good 45 minutes or so before it figured out that I wasn’t moving. But as I painted, every time I stepped back to better evaluate my work, I searched around not wanting to accidentally step on its nest. Nothing!

I did not finish my painting in my first take, but the day had moved on too far and light had changed too much to keep going, so I packed up with plans to come back in the morning. I thought tomorrow that I could park the car in a different spot, and then set up my easel more in the middle of the road, and if a tractor or truck did want to get out in the fields I could easily pick up and move out-of-the-way. But this way I would be a little further from the edge where my crazy little bird friend wouldn’t be so eager to get me out of the area.

Well as it happened it rained much of that day, and through the night, with warnings of flash floods and the river rising but my painting wasn’t going to be affected much by this so off to the bottoms to finish up.

I wasn’t surprised to see where I was painting from was now under a bit of water, and saw that it had been considerably higher judging from the high water mark on the ground, with the little trail of debris, so I put on my waders and set up in about the same spot as the day before, more towards the center of the road than before and went back to my work.

Not much had changed looking across the land, the pool of water in the field was a bit deeper, but other than that it was that peaceful scene of Americana that was before me, and that’s what I painted, all in relative quiet. Less auto traffic because a “road closed, water on roadway” sign was up. And then noticeably my chatterbox companion from the day before was gone. It was nice not to have to be sociable and focus on work, but then what dawned on me was that the heavy rains and flooding had probably washed his, I mean “her” more likely, nest away. Kind of sad in a way. There were other birds I heard here and there. A crane in the waters searching for brunch, and I went back to painting.

Not meaning to make a long story longer, but it wasn’t before too long, but I looked out to my right down the road and heading right towards me was this skunk. That was all I needed was this guy to see me all of a sudden and in a start, decide to spray me with whatever it is they spray to give him his so-called nasty reputation. I did not move, and it did not look up. It kept coming towards me, and there was no way it was going to avoid me at all. Do I call out, “no, turn around” or what do you do? It still didn’t seem to notice me as it meandered along. Someone said they don’t have good eyesight, so wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing. I wonder what kind of “olfactory” senses it has?

This is when it did something I would never have thought a skunk would do, instead of bending down the road to where I was, (I guess they don’t really know what roads are for anyway) it kept straight, went into the grass, and then dove in the water and began swimming upstream. I’d never have thought that was going to be an option for it, I thought it was see me, spray and run, or see me spray and me run.

Whew! I had dodged a bullet.

I guess if you are an animal in the Missouri River Valley, you’ve got to know how to swim, and swim it did. Never saw it again, and I’m grateful, though I did smell one close by when working on a nocturne painting in town the next night. Here in the bottoms it never came back.

And I finished my painting. Not a dramatic painting at all, the only real drama around was in the act of painting, and I’m not one to invent drama where there is none, well not too much. The painting I think captures the surrounding area nicely, it’s a quiet piece as is much of my work.

To me painting is a peaceful thing, and I try to capture that in what I do. It puts me at peace, it takes me out of this tumultuous world we live in, and helps me cope, or maybe not cope with reality. Before I escaped in other ways, now I escape through paint. I have not lost my addictive personality, I think I have only changed to a more productive addiction.

The painting is “Fly on Little Wing”, something from Jimi that was going through this mind that never stops, and I like it.

Fly on Little Wing

Going Green

May 6, 2015 by admin

I do not write advice or tips very often on painting, and probably for good reason.

I’m just a beginner!

Though not the sole reason, that is a good one. The other is I don’t really like advice, probably something I picked up along the way, but growing up I always knew that I knew more than my parents or any of the establishment, so what could they tell me? It was not till later years I found that maybe I should have been paying attention instead of playing around.

Now you tell me!

But I’ve been asked a number of times in the recent months to write something about the “greens” of my paintings, so here I am. This way I think, or I hope, that at least those people will read this and be satiated by my banter.

My mother’s favorite color was green, so I have to like it. I’ve always said my favorite color was blue, but I’m not sure anymore. If there was only one color I could keep for the rest of my life and it had to be one that’s actually on the color wheel I might pick maybe a blue that was leaning a bit towards green, though a blue that has a tinge of violet in it is pretty nice too.

But GREEN? I don’t even have it on my pallet!

Krugg Park 007Many of you know already that I use a limited pallet of 4 colors and white. 2 warm colors, and 2 cools. Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarine Crimson & Ultramarine Blue.

First it was Phil Starke in the spring of 2011 that threw out most of my paints and left me with 7 to use, then in the fall of that same year when I began mentoring under Rick Howell, he whittled that pallet down to what I am using now. No greens, no earth tones, just the 2 reds, a yellow and a blue.

Now get out and paint!

I live in an area where most times of the year when you go outside to paint you are going to see green. Green grass, green trees, green water. It’s pretty much the dominant color.

So why no green on the pallet? Seems like it would sure make things so much easier and quicker just to go ahead and throw a Viridian, or a Sap green on the pallet.  Maybe it would, but right now I seem to be doing okay without, and just in case, I actually have a tube of Viridian in my backpack and have for years. It’s for that time I might need some color I can’t get, or that extra punch that I’m not capturing with my typical 4 paints, but so far I’ve not pulled it out. I mean I love all those wonderful tubes of green that they have made up for every scene you could think of, but I’m still liking the greens I get from my primary colors.

It’s not just mixing the greens the way you like, but you really need to see them first. Phil taught me how Shoc & Awe demo startto look and separate the greens, and push them one way or another. Different times of the year the same trees are a different green, along with different times of the day. Cool greens, warm greens they are what the forests are made up of, but just because you know it’s green, you don’t have to paint it that way.

It’s like everything else you see, and everything else you paint, comparing one tree to the next, one color to the next. Is the tree bluer, or does the tree have more yellow in it?

I love painting outdoors and if you go out in the spring and summer around my neck of the woods there is going to be a lot of green, and you want to keep it interesting, so push those greens one way or another seemed to make a lot of sense to me.

If you’ve read any of Carlson’s landscape painting books you know you have to learn the tree, and where it’s from and what holds it up. It’s not just leaves on branches, but knowing and understanding how they grow, and what makes them twist, and the unbelievable amount of weight that each limb holds up. Just seeing your subject is not enough, it’s the understanding that grounds it into believability. It’s like trees with larger leaves are going to reflect more light, trees with smaller leaves will generally be darker, the earlier the season the warmer the foliage. There is a lot involved, and I do find it helps to understand, but I don’t quite go into the politics of trees as Mr. Carlson sometimes does 😉

One could spend an entire life just painting trees, and I’ve seen master artists doing just that, and still  they study and learn. I don’t know if I have painted a tree that I am completely happy with. I don’t know if I ever will, though I will continue to try.

When I mix up colors to paint, I don’t make giant piles of color, I mix a bit up and then start pushing one direction or the other. Lighter/darker, warmer/cooler. These are the things I continue to say to myself throughout my painting.

I have no formula for my greens, each time I approach a subject, there is no preconceived notion. I start afresh. I let the light dictate what I do, and what I mix up.

Each time is a learning experience, and know there is something wrong if it’s not. I can paint something a thousand times and still feel the beginner. There are not more shades of one color than another, it’s just that the human eye can pick out more shades of green because of where it is on the light spectrum.

I know, boring so I won’t go there.

Just get out and paint, really look at what you are seeing, and see how the light and surrounding objects affect that subject… and then push it one way or another to best suit your needs.

Sometimes it works, and then other times…  scrape it!

Prairie Fire

Prairie Fire

Give me 4 for the Road

January 30, 2014 by admin

I really don’t talk about my art much here, or how or why I create it. Not sure why, I just don’t know enough about it to be out trying to act like an authority on something.

I try not to give advice, I find it better to speak of experience, and folks can take what they want from that.

So let’s talk art for a little bit, and specifically colors. I love them! Since my very first little paint set I just loved squeezing out the paints onto a pallet and mixing those things together. I have no idea how many paints that cheap little paint set had in it, but I know it had to have at least twice as many colors as I use now. I thought then that the more paints you had the better you would be, or at least the potential to be better increased.

Many people feel the same way, and some for good reason. They probably know what to do with that magic color they just found at the local hobby store. Me, not so fortunate. I bring home the most awesome tube of color that I could find, and like I was talking about the other day, you could tell in my next painting exactly which store I went to to buy that “perfect” color.

Growing up I painted some, but what I did the most was drawing. Pen, pencil. It’s what was around. I did not have a lot of

RGS circa 1977

RGS circa 1977

disposable income, so drawing on anything I could find was the way I honed my skills. A paint by number kit for Christmas at some point was fun, and loved the results, but it was only a temporary detour from my love for the line.

It was my drawing skills and eye for detail that landed me a job at Hallmark in the 70’s, training to become the Master Engraver that I am today. I loved it, and it paid well. Taking 2D art and creating something 3 dimensional, giving it form, and depth, creating that illusion of reality with edges and shape.

Though it was the draftsman skills that paid the bills, I found painting a wonderful release from reality, a place where one could go for a time to escape the chaos of the world around. Taking a large white canvas and throwing color on it, step back and feel what develops. Finding shapes, colors, textures all mixing to bring my imagination alive.

At first I stayed away from painting what I saw, but rather painted what I wanted to see in a world of crazy fantasy inspired by the times. I don’t know if the times changed or it was me, but the imagination took a sabbatical and I began creating from reality. (which at times can be just as odd)

In this mixed up world of art where breaking the rules is the norm, and following them is like the worst thing in the world one could do, there was this rule that I always stuck to since the beginning of time…

“Do NOT to use paint straight from the tube!” Okay, Okay already.

I took this rule and etched it deep into my psyche and still to this day I get this feeling that if  I put straight paint on my canvas someone is going to come up to me and put “cheater” on my forehead. And the number of paints on my pallet was limited only to how many I could find. That and  the size of my pallet…

till 2011

In 2011 I met a man that would change my pallet, my art, and my life. A quiet man, who spoke with his art and his actions. He took that crazy art store of colors, literally shipped it to a needy artist in Africa, all save 4 simple colors. 2 cool colors, and 2 warm colors, and said “go little grasshopper!” And I went.

My pallet

My pallet

“Why?” Is it easier with 4 colors, what are the advantages, and how about the drawbacks?

At the time I thought Rick was crazy telling me that I was going to be painting with only Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, and Ultramarine Blue. Sure I had heard the stories about “you can make every color using just the 3 primary colors”, but I thought that was like an Urban Legend or something… not reality.  But I was about to find out. That or have the most gawd awful paintings the world has ever seen. (and there are some bad ones… not mentioning names)

I began my seemingly impossible task of creating art with my new pallet.

It was/is a challenge, but I must say after a while you begin not to miss the fact that you have no tubes of green paint on your pallet. I had to go so far as not even to put one in my back pack so I wouldn’t be tempted at first. I love some of those greens that they have out there, and when painting in the area I’ve grown up in, the summers cannot be recreated without every single shade of green being used!

What I began to see immediately in my art was something that I didn’t pay attention to before, (being self taught in this world

Rick on the Conejos

Rick on the Conejos

of color), and that was a harmony in my work. When they first spoke of seeing this in my paintings I had to step back and compare. And the more I became familiar with these colors, learning how to mix properly, making some of those colors that we find in our world, the more I began enjoying them, and the challenge of creating the art that I do with my limited pallet. It is very rewarding, and freeing at the same time for me. I don’t have to look to hard to see if I have all my paints before I leave on an outing. I just count them on one hand. Simple, even for me!

I use the same pallet for winter as I do for summer spring and fall (or is it autumn?) In each color I use a little bit all 3 of my primary colors. Whether the red I use is alizarin, or cad red depends on the temp I am trying to achieve at the time. But I always put a red, blue and yellow in all of my mixes. It’s that harmony I am still trying to achieve in my work, along with knocking down the tone a bit.

So is this another one of those “rules” that I have to live by, do or die type thing? No way! I really have no qualms about using a yellow ochre or a viridian sometime. I know they are very useful colors, and I’m sure my art would benefit by throwing in an extra tube of something or two, and I’m sure I will. Rick told me when he went to paint overseas he added another blue to his pallet. I wish I could remember which one, but if and when I travel across the water I’ll know.

In the meantime my goal is to become well versed at what I do. I have a long ways to go, and a short time to get there. No idea how short.

I love my 4 color pallet, it’s simple, easy to pack up, and I can still make a total mess of things with these 4 as I did with 44.

This would have been Rick’s “Golden Year” Born in ’57 and 57 years old.

Thanks Rick

LaSauses Turnaround

LaSauses Turnaround

 

Finding Shortcuts

June 13, 2013 by admin

I love shortcuts, if I can find a way to somewhere that is quicker than the regular route, I usually take it. In this world  of convenience shortcut to successstores and the microwave, time is everything. I think mankind has been trying to find shortcuts to thing since the beginning of time. Now this I am assuming, I’ve only been around for about 55 of those years.

Maybe it’s my coming into the AARP age that has made me look a little bit harder at these decisions to do the fastest route. I mean on this road of life, there is no turning back, but maybe I can extend the ride just a little bit longer, or make it a bit more worthwhile.

I had read a blog by an artist I admire about their purchasing a “candy store” of colors, with the thinking these are the ultimate colors for their newest painting. What this did to their work was create a dissonance to it that was nothing like what was originally intended. I found this same thing true in my art without even knowing it. If someone would have told me that my painting lacked a harmony of color, I know I would have thought “harmony?” It’s not trying to sing something.

Well it was not till I eliminated this modern convenience of color did my art become a little more soothing on the eye. No more shortcuts on my pallet, I put 4 colors on my pallet and figure it out from there. I know that for me, less is better, though it may not be true for others. I am finding that it has really helped me.

I knew nothing of “color theory” when I first took my paints beyond the studio door just barely 3 years ago. Cools, warms, chroma, hue, tertiary, analogous… it was really someone speaking a whole new language to me. I really just put paint on the pallet, and painted, with no real thought. Sometimes I came up with a “pretty” painting, but always something lacking. Not what I so admired in other artists work. Now everytime I go out I approach everything a bit differently. Not rushing in, but still being quick, because this is “plein air” you know, and that rain cloud is coming your way. I now enjoy trying to evoke a mood or capture an atmosphere of some sorts through my limited pallet. Sometimes it works, more often not, you would think I would learn from some of these mistakes, but it takes longer for some of the “unteachable”.

Sure it’s frustrating at times, struggling to get the right color, but when you finally get what you are looking for, what a sense of accomplishment! Did you mix up enough of it? It’s been many a time that I didn’t and found myself in need of more

limited pallet

limited pallet

and wondering how in the world I got it in the 1st place. There are some who say, “if you did it once, you can do it again”…”yeah, right”,  in theory!

It’s all a process, and I’m sitting here learning it everyday. I believe my work has benefited from taking away those shortcuts, plus it’s much easier to make sure you have all your colors packed when you only have to count to 4… I can handle that.

When speaking with someone in a favorite gallery last week, he mentioned how my paintings have improved and grown more sophisticated over the short time he had known me. I believe it is due to my working very very hard to improve, the hard work of my mentor to bring me to a higher level, and the taking away of those shortcuts to painting. I know that there are other ways to get from point A to point B, and I know I will take them at times. But it’s like learning anything, learn to do it the right way, before you take the shorter route.

It works for me, but then I’m “old school”

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