Posts tagged oil on panel
Bee and Manzanita Blossoms
Bee and Manzanita Blossoms
Volcan Mountain
12x16 oil on panel

In late February I was entranced by the waxy white blossoms that covered all the manzanitas as I hiked up Volcan Mountain. It looked as if there were drifts of snow on either side of the trail. The hardy plants, with their famously hard wood and their thick, rigid leaves produced the most delicate blossoms in pristine white. With the lyrics of Edelweiss ringing through my brain, I took photo after photo of the delightful clusters. 

 I found one composition that I loved for a juxtaposition of bright white blossoms and a crazy cast shadow pattern on the leaves below. I was framing a number of compositions of it when one of the bees that were moving all over the mountain flew into my photo. Magic! 

My focus in this residency has been on the plant life on Volcan Mountain. As we all know, there would be no plant life without bees. The depth and breadth of the work done by these industrious creatures is nothing short of miraculous. 
 In a series of paintings about plants there must be a Bee!

The completed painting is at the top of the post.

Peeling Manzanita
Peeling Manzanita, Volcan Mountain
18x24 Oil on panel

One of the pure pleasures of hiking on Volcan mountain is walking through an extensive tunnel of manzanita at the base of the Five Oaks Trail. Never before I first ventured to Volcan Mountain had I found myself enclosed by a tangled forrest of 10 to 12 foot high manzanitas. Such a pleasure! As long as I can remember I have loved manzanita's satisfyingly smooth bark that seems to glow with an inner light. It's trunks and branches look almost animal, as if there are muscles rippling under the surface of the warm and lusterous surface.

The plants are interesting all year, producing delicate blossoms, berries of multiple colors, and then they do this! Starting around May the trunks and branches start shedding their old bark. As the plants grow, cracks develop and the old bark begins to roll up into tight curlicues. The newly exposed bark is a bright green but transitions within a matter of days into the gorgeous orange, red, purple colors the plants are known for.  The color combination lit my art heart on fire, and I felt like giggling when I focused on the curling shapes of the old bark.

Like a snake, the plant sheds the outer skin that has protected it for the year. Tannins make the bark bitter and even toxic to some invasive organisms, and they also give the plant it's distinctive coloring. By November the shedding process is complete, and all the old curled up bark has blackened and fallen away. The new bark has matured into it's luminous reds, oranges and purples and is silky once again. 

The finished painting is at the top of the post.

Last Leaves - Volcan Mountain

Last Leaves - Volcan Mountain

This painting is the second painting done for my residency with the Volcan Mountain Foundation ( My mission this year is to capture the change of the seasons through the cycles of the plant life in the Volcan Mountain wilderness area.

This image was captured on a cold and rainy day in late October when clouds sat low on the mountain. As we hiked, trees we neared would emerge from the fog while others remained simple silhouettes.  There was a hush broken only by the drip from branches creating a rhythm that changed as mist gave way to passing bands of rain.

The grays were endless in number, and created a reflective mood. The browns of plants pulling in and down were wrapped in white as fog blew around and through branches, shrubs and golden grasses. In this quiet setting the very last of the fall leaves provided startling flashes of color. They drew the eye, creating a beautiful counterpoint to all the subdued, muted colors. 

The panel with my value drawing, in Burnt Siennna.
I use this to place the elements in the composition and make sure I can capture what I am after. 

Here, after several sessions of work, I have the basics of the background and the branches painted. I have yet to begin work on the leaves, so there you see the underpainting. It took several more days of work to complete the image to my (and my family's) satisfaction. The completed painting is at the top of this post.

Acorns - Volcan Mountain

Acorns - Volcan Mountain
12x16 oil on panel

What better subject for the new year than the acorn! Beginnings, possibilities, great things to come... All the rich potential for a majestic oak is contained it the beautiful nut that wears a cap! All the birds that will find homes in the oak's branches, the squirrels that will store it's nuts for winter,  all the deer, coyote and bobcat that will pause in it's shade in the hot summer, and all the oxygen the oak will release into the air is in that beautiful nut that fits so perfectly in the palm of your hand. Magic!

This is the first of the paintings I will be producing as the Resident Artist for the Volcan Mountain Foundation. I was approached by representatives of the Foundation while exhibiting at the Festival Of Arts in Laguna Beach last summer. They were looking for an artist to kick off their residency program. I love the wild lands of northern San Diego County and investigated the Volcan Mountain Foundation. I found that it was a group that had purchased, bit by bit untouched tracts of land on Volcan Mountain in order to prevent development and preserve open space. I admired their mission, and my work seemed a perfect fit for their desire to celebrate the wilderness preserve that now spans 2,900 acres rising behind the city of Julian, CA, and offering sweeping views of both the coast and the desert on a clear day. See

I wrote a proposal, submitted a portfolio of my work and was selected by the Volcan Mountain Foundation. I plan to produce around 10 paintings of the plant life on the mountain through the cycle of the seasons. At the end of the year the Foundation will hang a show of the collection of paintings at the time and place of their choice.

Being involved with this organization is deeply satisfying for me. I greatly admire their mission, and the success they have had in preserving land that is still so untouched and will remain so in perpetuity. I get to routinely hike the mountain and gather photos of all the plants there, and I have the pleasure of developing a series of paintings that will be used to draw attention to the preserve and the unique beauty of the California environment. Perhaps it will help inspire others to protect and defend our shrinking wild environments.

This is a photo of the underpainting. Done in Burnt Sienna, this is how I place my image on the panel, develop the pattern of values and make sure I like the composition.

Here I have begun to weave the background of leaves that the branch I am focusing on is nestled into.   

Here I have spent several sessions on the acorns and leaves in the foreground. Several more are required to finish the detail of the subject, and to balance it with the background.

The finished painting is found at the top of the post. 

Birds of Paradise

Birds of Paradise, 16x20 oil on panel

Wishing you a great new year! I believe that if we all do our best in our own sphere of interest 2016 could be an extraordinarily wonderful year. Shall we give it a try?

In response to an invitation to a show titled "Bouquets" I painted some of my favorite California  flowers.  They grow with no tending and almost no water, adding brilliance and verve to everything between parking lots to elegant  dining tables. Their clear complementary colors are upstaged by the scrappy strength of the stem and base of the flower from which rise delicate ballet dancers in a wild array of shapes and colors.  

Forgot to take a photo of the underpainting, but here you can see it with some of the early steps of painting over it using my entire palette.

The first stage of the full color painting. It's all here, but all the hours invested in pushing the darks back,  bringing up the lights, and finding the distinctive details in each shape make the finished painting-

The finished painting is found at the top of the post.


6x6, oil on panel

This is the second of the two mini paintings I recently completed. I keep returning to this subject, and have to admit to having a love/hate relationship with it. I begin with enthusiasm having been drawn by the wild light and shadow, warm and cool thing that these delightful succulents present. I get part way down the path of trying to nail down the curves and turns that I love so much in the frilly edges of the leaves and I begin to grumble. "Wait, which bend in the road am I on? Grrrr, I missed a critical turn!"

In the end I love the twisting road I've traveled, and enjoy looking back on the trip.

Happily back at work
The Crown of Autumn

As I confided in my last post, I have taken a holiday from the easel, so have not been posting as regularly as I have in the past. My early Fall break was utterly delightful, first spending time on the beach after the crowds had left, swimming in the extraordinarily warm Pacific, reading great books, and enjoying the kind of time with friends and family that my very busy last year did not allowed.  Recently I enjoyed a mind blowing, heart expanding trip to San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato during the celebration of  Dia de Los Muertos. I wish Americans could assimilate some of the sweet, family oriented traditions of our neighbors to the south. We would be a kinder, happier people.

Now I'm happy to be back at work. I painted 2 6x6 inch pieces for a December show at the Randy Higbee Gallery. I have never painted this small, and I would like to say that it's HARD! It took as long as a larger painting, and after a session of painting my eyes refused to focus on anything beyond my arm's reach. However, I like the intimate scale of the tiny pieces, and may return to 6x6 panels periodically.

I hope you are enjoying Fall as much as I am. I love the low sun and long shadows, the pumpkins, gourds and pomegranates, and the urge to stir slow cooking soups and stews to warm the people you love from the inside.

A big thank you to my friend Suzanne Redfearn, author extraordinaire, for the bag of pomegranates from her backyard. I had a very messy, fun time breaking them apart and arranging and rearranging their pieces until I found a composition that called out to me. I hope it pleases others as well!

Cactus Royalty

Cactus Royalty
18x24 oil on panel

This is a large version of a painting I completed in December. I love the scarlet bulbs arrayed like jewels in a crown atop the cactus. Their satisfying round shapes invite you to reach out for them, and the brilliant colors contrast with the smokey cool greens of the leaves in a way that satisfies me.

This is the second painting that I have repainted on a larger scale. In general I have never felt drawn to cover the same ground, and am eager to describe another subject. However, I was interested in seeing how scale would affect the feel of the image, and I am a fan! It changed from a beautiful little glimpse to a majestic vision. Fun! And I found that having painted the subject before the painting took shape quickly and with great confidence. We knew each other through and through and had worked out the bugs in our relationship months ago!

Below are some of the steps along the way to the completed painting.

Brilliant Disks

Brilliant Disks
18x24 oil on panel

A couple of years ago I painted a small version of this image that I really liked. As my brother took it home, he told me that he really looked forward to seeing me do it in a larger scale. When I was looking for a few images to paint in a large format recently, his words came floating back to me.

 I'm really glad for his advice, this painting leapt off my brush like it had been just itching to be big all along! 

The burnt sienna value drawing/underpainting

The very start of laying in color over the value drawing.  

The first layer of all color completed. Now I let it dry fully before beginning to make all the refinements and adjustments it calls for. 

Several days into the process of defining the way sunlight and shadow weave the gorgeous leaves of this plant together into a dramatic composition.

The final, completed image is at the top of the post.

Mighty Mixmaster

Might Mixmaster
oil on panel, 12x16

My Vintage series is a fun balance to the Native plants that my most recent blogs have focused on. The Cactus Shadows series had become a bit hallucinogenic, and a few of you expressed concern for my mental, emotional and pharmacological state… I'm OK, and this happy little scene should put you at ease!

One of my dear sister-in-laws and I have a long standing annual date. We spend 1 day each summer at the County Fair. It began when we would take our kids to walk through the barns to see the chickens, goats and pigs and then dutifully sit at the bottom of one spinning ride after another. As the kids grew older, we began to slip into the exhibition halls as they enjoyed the midway. We combed the displays of doll houses made of match sticks, collections of beer cans, astonishingly beautiful woodworking, vests made of pop tops, exquisite quilts and needle point portraits of hamsters. The mix of inspiring next to horrifying is just up our alley. The kids are long gone, but we remain true to our date.

This proud Mixmaster was found in the cooking hall of last year's Orange County fair. Part of a display on a high shelf I loved the grouping, and the sleek power of the Mixmaster. It makes me think of Buicks with tail fins, beehive hair dos and Tang for breakfast.

I covered the panel with a thin coat of Burnt Sienna and then did a quick line drawing of the subject with my paint brush. Next I used paper towels and Q tips to lift the paint in the areas of light, and brushed in additional paint in areas of shadow. When I feel happy with the accuracy of the shapes and values I set the panel aside to dry.

Once the Burnt Sienna has dried I begin laying in the color, keeping true to the values I had established in the original drawing.

Painting the reflective surface of not only the Mixmaster but the corrugated metal behind it was a fun challenge.

The completed painting is at the top of the post. 

Cactus Shadows 2

This 16x20 oil on panel is one of a trio of paintings that I have just completed, all titled Cactus Shadows.

My last visit to the extensive gardens at the Living Desert was in the cool of the morning. The low morning sun  accentuated all I love about cactus - the sculptural quality of its varied forms, and the unexpected color combinations.  Several varieties were in bloom, and I loved the design the shadows made.  

My first step is to do a tonal drawing on the panel in Burnt Sienna

Here I have completed the first layer of color. I seek to find the median colors of all areas while staying true to the values  I made note of in the monochromatic underpainting

When I come back to the painting, after allowing the last layer to dry, I double check placement and proportions and the relative values. I make note of how the colors are working, what areas need to be greyed and pushed back, and where I want to boost the light and color to draw the eye. I spend as long as it takes to get these fundamentals working with my vision for the piece. Then I start in on the smaller details, the rounding of all the individual cylindrical shapes and then all those pesky spines and their shadows.

The completed painting is at the top of the post.

Want a Ride?
Want a Ride?
16x20 oil on panel

If you were lucky, you had a red wagon of your own. If you didn't, neighborhoods seemed to have some free floating wagons that you could spot in the driveway of your friend from girl scouts one day and then by the back steps of your brother's friend's house later in the week. When you were eating dinner the rattle of a wagon going by drew you to the window like a giant magnet. Wagons were what made the neighborhood interesting. They  hauled kickballs, last Halloween's candy, the little brother that could never keep up, and all the stuff you needed  for building the fort in the bushes on the other side of the schoolyard. There was always the temptation to ride one down the big hill by your house, but a couple of attempts were all it took to realize that the steering mechanism left a lot to be desired, and that your mom was going to kill you for losing the bottom of your sneakers trying to keep from rocketing out into traffic (such as it was) at the bottom of the hill. The 18 wheeler of childhood, the red wagon rocked.

The Burnt Sienna value study 

The first layer of color

Now I  really slow down. First I double check proportions and relative values and make any adjustments necessary. In this case the lower wheel gave me quite a run for the money. I spent the better part of a day trying to make the changes it needed.  Once I felt that was resolved I began focusing on details.  I try to bring depth and character to the subject at the end by attempting to capture some of the surface texture and adding the nuts, bolts, rust spots and mood that will bring back what it felt like to pull one of these workhorses through the neighborhood.

The finished piece is at the top of the page.

Agave Americana
Agave Americana
20x24 oil on panel

I painted this large because this variety of Agave is massive. I was dwarfed by an enormous stand of its tangled arms in the Huntington Garden in Pasadena California. Focusing on the base of a single plant gave structure to the web of leaves, reaching and bending around and through one another. I read a description of this variety of Agave as looking like a plant that is growing underwater, flowing with the currents. I certainly felt a bit drifty while painting this.
                                         The tonal drawing, in Burnt Sienna

                                             I decided to start by laying in the darkest areas
Sticking to the median color and value of each shape,
I developed the underpainting

Then I spent days finding the variations within each shape,
and the rhythms of the whole

Echeveria 2 and Echeveria 3
This 12x16 oil on panel is Echeveria 2. 
This 12x16 oil on panel is Echeveria 3.

These siblings grew up together in the same garden. As I painted them simultaneously I became a little worried about the family relations. It seemed early on that the big sister, Echeveria 2, was very outgoing and assertive, with a "look at me" streak a mile wide. Her quiet little sister, Echeveria 3, was so retiring that I foresaw problems in their future.

Imagine my delight when I found that they had found balance when I wrapped up the paintings. Instead of becoming bossy and domineering, #2 had mellowed with age, while still retaining her beautiful depth and range, and her dramatic flare. Mousy #3 had come into her own with the passage of time ( and brush) and surprised us all when she applied her bold lipstick.

Tonal under painting for #2

#2's bold teen years

Tonal underpainting for #3
#3's quiet phase

OK, perhaps I'm spending a little too much time alone.

Trio of paintings all about pattern

This trio of 11x14 oils on panel are all patterns that I found in plant material. I worked on them in unison and they are an interesting little tribe.

Close Quarters is a close up on a plant that I found on the fringe of a parking lot. It's soft leaves crowded together in a beautiful tangle that I couldn't resist.

Palm Herringbone is the beautiful wreckage of past seasons. The muscular base of old fronds ring the trunk in a dapper herringbone.

Blue Agave 1 gets lost in the giant arms of an agave I saw at my beloved Lotusland (see former posts for more praises of Madam Ganna Walska's extraordinary creation).

Now can I paint something simpler? Perhaps not monochromatic? Fewer thorns, hairs and twists and turns? Please?