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 IV
Cactus Shadows IV
12x16 oil on panel
The fourth in a series, this painting examines the other worldly color combinations and shapes that cactus offer up.  Caught in the early morning desert sun, the arresting shapes of the cactus were accentuated by the shadows they cast on the broad, extraordinarily colored surfaces of neighboring leaves. 
The first step is the under painting where I work out placement and values
Laying in the first color. I look to capture the basic color of broad shapes, while adhering to the values I  established in my underpainting.
Now I slow down and begin to look for more subtle color and value changes. I build depth of color with glazes, dry brush and constant looking to see more and more detail. I continue to check for accuracy while trying to ultimately express what I found compelling about this specific sight.

The finished painting is at the top of the post.

Cactus Shadows 3

This is the second of  three Cactus Shadow paintings I have completed in the last month. Like it's mates, this is a 12x16 oil on panel.  An early morning trip to the Living Desert in Palm Desert set the wheels in motion and my fingers itching for my paint brushes. 

The foundation - a tone drawing done in Burnt Sienna.

The first several layers of color. 

I continue to build thin layers of color on the big surfaces, and find the light and shadow that define the forms of the blossoms. Then there are the decisions that will give me plenty to do in the sessions between now and the finish - namely correcting the 2 suddenly emerald green leaves in the lower right!

Finding the right color and value for all the background elements, the final glazes of color on the almost translucent broad leaves and all the small finishing details on the blossoms and spines took days of concentrated looking.
The finished 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.

Indian Wells Seedpods

Indian Wells Seedpods
8x10 oil on panel

This elegant bunch of seedpods hung just to my right as I sat cooling off after a long hike in the desert. As I reviewed the magnificent canyon we had spent the day exploring while shaking the sand out my shoes these bright pods danced against a deep brown wall in the late afternoon breeze. Discovering them reminded me that inspiring sights come in all sizes and are literally all around us. All we have to do is notice!

The tonal drawing, done in Burnt Sienna,
which helps me place things and establish
the pattern of light and dark

The first day, blocking in the basic colors

After allowing the paint to dry for several days
I returned to the panel to lay in the bright
aqua and green needle like leaves.

After letting this layer of paint dry I
spent another session on further detail and
 the shadows the leaves cast on one another
and the pods below - seen at the top of this post.

In The Barn II

In The Barn II
12x16 oil on panel

I completed this some time ago, but have been hesitant to photograph it. When painting this image I experimented with a painting different medium that I had read was more healthy to use. Painting mediums are used to thin paint and make it more supple, and since I'm spending so many hours a week now inhaling fumes I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately I found I didn't like the way it performed. It made my paints tacky to the point of being gluey and then dried with a very high shine. I was not sure how to photograph such a reflective surface, but when I finally tried it I found it did not present a problem. I don't care how many brain cells I'm damaging, I decided to return to mixing my own medium, the traditional mix of Turpentine, Varnish and Linseed oil for all future work. So… if you ever witness me struggling to find the word I'm looking for, it's the fault of my painting medium! 

The panel has been covered with a thin coat of
Burnt Sienna and wiped smooth. Then I do a quick line
drawing to place the objects.
Next, I wipe away areas of light and brush in more paint
where I want areas of shadow.
This phase allows me to really think out the composition
and gives me the skeleton on which I will
build the painting.
This is several sessions into adding color. At this point
I tend to become so involved that I rarely remember to
stop and take photos. I begin with bright colors and
moderate them as I work toward the finished piece,
seen here at the top of the page.

Saturday Morning, 1964
Saturday Morning, 1964
12x16 oil on panel

At our house Saturday mornings were spent gardening and doing any needed repairs on the property. The sound of the mower and the smell of cut grass meant that it was the weekend, everyone was home and that order was being established. It was the only time that my very formal father would remove his shirt and be seen in public in his "undershirt". Khaki pants and a pair of wing tips that were too old to wear to the office completed his working uniform. My brother or father pushed the mower and pruned the shrubs, and my mother always picked up and bagged the clippings. I was thrilled when at an early age I was allowed to cross the gender line and make the mower sing and spray my Vans with bright green confetti.
Value study, burnt sienna on panel
I painted over the value study, establishing the colors I planned to work with. Trying to stay true to the values I had established, I worked to capture the vivid quality of my memories. In following sessions I refined the details of the machinery and the colors of my memory. The final piece, at the top of the page, has the feel of the super saturated Kodacolor photos of the time.

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

Basket of Zippers
A Basket of Zippers
8x10 oil on panel

When a simple basket of zippers caught my eye as I was walking around the Mission District in San Francisco fond memories came flooding back. I realized how unusual it is now to mend existing garments, much less make your own from scratch. Daily life may be easier, but it seems a little light on the pride of ownership that once was a natural part of things.

When I was growing up the women I knew sewed. In Junior High School girls were all required to take Home Economics, which had a large sewing component, and the boys took Shop, where they learned basic wood and metal working. It was generally understood that part of growing up was learning to use tools that would help you fix, maintain and possibly create things.  My mother didn't just sew her own clothes, she periodically reupholstered our furniture, measuring out and creating her own patterns. My friends and I routinely made our own clothes, and enjoyed trips to the fabric store, and discussions of our plans and progress toward the final product. School dances and events always sent us into high gear. I've gone out on a limb here and included a photo from the archives.  

On our way to my High School graduation, my mother and I model the clothes we made for the event.  It appears that she bought a bit more fabric than I did! After choosing the pattern, selecting and purchasing the fabric, laying it out on the carpet and cutting, pinning, sewing, pressing and fitting the garment we hand finished the  hems. It gave a woman a different kind of pride in what she wore!

8x10 oil on Panel

These sturdy, well used old French Binoculars caught my eye. They hung quietly on a rough wall, against a broad leather cinch strap. Were they used for hunting, bird watching or were they a tool of the French Resistance, at the bottom of the basket of long loaves on the back of the bicycle the solid baker's wife peddled around the country side? The years of wear, whatever it may have been, only made them more beautiful.

The tonal drawing, done in Burnt Sienna on a gessoed panel

The first day of working in color on the image I lay in the broad areas of color with as much accuracy as I can. The following days will be spent on details on top of this layer, refining the color and shape of the work done on this day.  

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.

In The Shed
In The Shed, a 12x16 oil on panel I finished yesterday.
String, who doesn't love it? How many purposes does it serve, and how long does a spool of it last? Every household develops a collection of various weights needed for different projects, and they sit together nobly waiting on a shelf in a shed or a garage to be called to duty.  Mending, wrapping, fixing. It occurred to me while painting this that you might be able to judge the stability of a family by their string, twine and rope collection. A wide variety represents not only many years together, but an active effort to care for, maintain and improve things.  I inherited a few spools of my father's collection that now nestle in with the collection we had developed, all destined, I'm sure, for some shelf in our children's future homes.
I started by covering my panel with a thin coat of Burnt Sienna and then doing a line drawing using my brush. Once I felt that I had the objects properly placed I differentiated the tones by lifting out the light areas, and stroking in a little more Burnt Sienna in the darkest areas. This helps me see the value pattern and will give me  a structure of values to abide by as I develop the color.
This is part way through my first day of working with color. The first step is to get  the average of  each color, abiding by the light and dark pattern I established in my tonal sketch.

Here I have completed getting the basic colors down and I begin refining. I  look at how the light hits each object and develop it's light and shadow, and the overall relationships of color and value.
Then comes hours and hours of detail. I begin to introduce the tiny paterns created by the way the string is wound on the spool or ball, darken the back wall and the shadows cast on it by the uprights in the shed,  and continue to become more accurate with the local color of the objects.
 I stand back and look look the overall. The final step is to make last minute adjustments ( I realized that after all the hours of looking at this, the tall white spool was too narrow at the top, and leaning in a Tower of Pisa kind of way)  I tone down the blue of the basin, thicken and darken the knotted rope on the right, and eventually find myself making such small adjustments that I realize that I'm done.
In The Barn

 I found these well worn, stacked galvanized buckets on the floor of a big barn. The doors were thrown open and the late afternoon light bounced off the concrete floor and illuminated these old work horses as if they were devotional objects. The notion of all the loads they'd carried, the powerful hands that had clutched their handles and the velvety soft muzzles that had carefully found every oat within them made me smile. I think I might have heard the angels sing.

Here are the first two steps I took in making the painting. I covered the panel with a layer of Burnt Sienna and then did a line drawing with my brush to place the objects. I then wiped the paint off the panel where I wanted to place light tones, and brushed in more Burnt Sienna in the areas I wanted dark. This helps me to place the objects and make sure it is a composition that I think is interesting.

After this initial decision making I got so caught up in the painting that I NEVER ONCE remembered to pick up the camera in the many days that followed. Suffice it to say that it was an epic battle between light and dark, warm and cool, hard edges and soft and painting time and sleeping time. I can only hope that all the right forces won out.
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?


As promised, I've been dilegently working. No, that makes it sound too unpleasant... I've been spending long and happy days at my easel. I'm letting the house, garden and the bulk of my social life go (not without some regret) in the interest of creating a chunk (that's a technical term) of work.

This 11x14 is one of a series that I will share with you piece by piece that I came in very close on, creating an abstraction as well as a specific vision. I love that zone between realism and pure design. What a beautiful place to be!
Cactus Generations

I see it's been an entire month since I last posted. Well, I want you to know that I've been busy in all the right ways. I painted up a storm before the holidays, selling things before I had even completed them! Then of course I took time off to properly whoop it up with family and friends for Christmas. Directly after that our entire Fletcher family gathered for a week on the coast of tropical Mexico. It was delightful to be there and soul satisfying to see 20 some relatives from 87 to 1 year old laughing and playing their way through the days together.

I am now back at work like never before. I have been juried in to the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach this summer! Since I sold virtually every painting I have ever made at Christmas time, I have buckled down, cleared my calendar and am enjoying painting in an uninterrupted fashion.

I will be posting more regularly once again… I promise!
Shiny & Bright

This 8x10 oil on panel is a shiny bit of joy. Last Christmas I bought our son a surfboard and it was too large to wrap, so when I saw a big bright bow in a store I snapped it up. When we were cleaning up after Christmas I just couldn't throw it out, so, like many things do, it came to live in my studio. In the following months I found that it cheered me whenever I focused on it, and one day when at a loss as to what to paint, it caught my eye.

I love this painting and may not give it up. It describes the complex shapes of the shiny ribon without becoming too careful. I have photos of my easel next to the set up with the bow under studio lights that I 'd share if I hadn't just returned from a holiday party… Instead, I will wish my beloved family and friends, who have been so receptive to my work, a big wide merry, happy and all the best. I love you and hope that the new year brings you the joy that you so richly deserve.
Fern Glen

Perhaps in celebration of getting a little rain (oh thank you, thank you!) I painted this crowd of ferns, an 8x10 oil on panel. The dream of moist soil and cool shadows with spots of brilliant sun pulled at me. Usually the areas of a painting that are lightest have the most detail, but in this instance the sun hit the frond so sharply that all the detail was washed out. The brightest area simply radiated warmth.

Unlike my last post, this painting did NOT leap off my brush. I knew it would be a challenge because it is a sequence of flat shapes. I am usually drawn to rounded forms that I can bring to life with direct light, core shadow and reflected light. These patterned flat forms vexed me. Why did I choose to paint it? Well, as I mentioned, I blame it on the rain!
Catching The Sun

This 8x10 oil on panel just really wanted to painted. It jumped off my brush so eagerly that I felt like an innocent bystander! I stopped the action long enough to snap a few photos along the way.

After toning the panel with a little Burnt Sienna, I made a quick line drawing placing the elements.
Can you see how eager the values were to get put down? They already leapt into the upper left corner!

I then brushed in the rest of the darks and lifted the lights by rubbing the panel 
with paper towels and Qtips dipped in solvent. 

 Next I moved to developing the color. I try to remain true to the tonal pattern I've established in my value study. I began by putting in the vivid colors that made this composition particularly interesting.

Then I moved to the more subtle colors in the greenery.

And I continued to make the decisions of warm and cool, light and dark 
that give the painting form, depth and temperature.

After letting the painting dry for several days I came back to it and refined the details, pushed the darks where I wanted more depth, and brought up the high lights.

Hope you like it, I had a ball painting it!