Virtual Paint-Out: Hawaii & Marathon Garage Clean Up Continued

Hawaii Virtual Paint-Out, Watercolor

Hawaii Virtual Paint-Out, Watercolor

I’m back on the blog after an intense week spent alternately deep in the bowels of a massive garage clean up/reorganization, and obsessively fighting the acrylic version of the watercolor sketch above. After finishing the garage on Saturday afternoon it was time to clean up in the house and studio and prep for my Sunday morning watercolor class (which went great with a terrific group of artists who left me feeling inspired).

Virtual Paintout: Hawaii

For the Virtual Paintout we went to Hawaii this month via the very cheap Google Air (just kidding—to participate you use Google Maps’ Street View feature to find your painting spot and all travels are virtual). Here’s the original scene:

Hawaii - near West Maui Forest Reserve

Hawaii - near West Maui Forest Reserve

The painting got off to a good start with Golden Open Acrylics. I was trying to work from both my watercolor sketch above in which I’d changed the colors, warming up the scene, and also from the Google photo which just has a blur for the foreground. I first painted the gate purple for fun, but nearing completion realized the gate was too prominent and acting as roadblock into the painting so I repainted it green.

Then I started fighting the foreground. Over and over I painted, repainted, scraped, repainted. Here it is in its current state with the foreground (and some of the fence) scraped off again .

Hawaii with Scraped Off Foreground

Hawaii with Scraped Off Foreground, Acrylic, 11x14"

Part of the problem may be the Utrecht Masters canvas panel that I was experimenting with. The canvas texture is too coarse and too absorbent so first I painted a layer of regular acrylic to smooth it out and reduce the absorbency (which is OK to do according to Golden). But then I had a paint adhesion problem, easily peeling off several layers where I’d painted thickly or repainted over not quite dry paint.

Since I wasted so much time messing with this painting and because I really love the top half of it I just didn’t want to give up. But to enjoy the second half of my vacation I’ve banished it to the closet and have gone back to working on a big watercolor of a tulip that is going great and makes me happy when I paint, not frustrated. I’m becoming convinced that I’m meant to be a watercolor painter and should forget about oils and acrylics.

The Garage

At the dump

Cody unloading and saying "Bye" to his junk at the dump

When I bought my house 10 years ago it had been a rental for many years before that and the standalone garage probably hadn’t been cleaned forever. Then for 9 years my son used it to dismantle and rebuild his 71 Firebird, leaving grease, car parts, tires, miscellaneous junk, and bondo dust on top of years of grime, cobwebs, and worse (we found a literal rats’ nest made of fluffy chewed up shop towels in one corner behind a piece of plywood but no sign of recent rodents).

After moving most of his stuff out and the initial trip to the dump above, the real clean up began. I hired the smart, hardworking 15-year old boy next door to help me clean and we worked together most of Friday and Saturday. He vacuumed the wood walls and concrete floors after cleaning out the Bondo-filled ShopVac, removed and cleaned all my storage bins from the shelving units and then cleaned the shelving too. Meanwhile I sorted my junk and took a carload to the recycling/donation center and made another pile for the dump.

Finally the garage is ready for its new life as studio annex and multipurpose room. And I’m ready for my last week of vacation which I will fill with art fun, rest and recreation!

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Church on the Corner

Church on the Corner, Acrylic on canvas, 8"x8"

Church on the Corner, Acrylic on canvas, 8"x8"

On Solano Avenue in Albany to do an errand I looked up and saw the bell tower of this church against the very blue sky and was sorry I’d accidentally left my sketchbook and paints at home. Fortunately I did have my little camera and took a few photos I could paint from.

The title of the painting is actually the name of the church. According to their website this 100-year old church community changed their name from “First Baptist Church of Albany” to “Church on the Corner” in 2005 because “many people in the community refer to it that way.”

I can’t stop pondering the implications of this: like what if other businesses started dropping their identities and brand names and Apple Computer became “Big Corporation in Cupertino” or Starbucks became “That Coffee Place on Every Corner.”

Golden Open Acrylics and Utrecht Masters Panels

This painting had been nearly finished when I tried glazing over the sky and it failed miserably, lifting off some of the previous layer. So I painted the sky again. Not sure if it was something I did wrong or that the Open Acrylic Gloss Medium doesn’t work well for glazing over layers.

For this painting I used an archival-quality Utrecht Masters panel which is medium-textured canvas on MDF (medium density fiberboard). The surface seemed too absorbent and coarse for the soft Golden Open Acrylics so I applied a first layer of regular acrylic.

That solved the absorbency problem but the texture is still a little too rough for the way I like to paint in thin layers. I have several more of these panels so will continue to experiment with them, using paint more abundantly so the texture isn’t as problematic.

Benicia Meadow and Visitors Center

Benicia Meadow and Train Station, 9x12", Acrylic painting

Benicia Meadow and Visitors Center, 9x12"

The day I painted in this meadow was gorgeous: warm and sunny with the air full of the scents of spring and the sounds of birds, bees and frogs. The plein air painting I did wasn’t worth posting but served as a memory guide, along with my photos for this painting. It is painted with Golden Open Acrylics on a RayMarArt canvas/hardboard panel.

I know I’ve been a bit quiet here lately—just a bit of spring fever and choosing to be outdoors and/or painting,  not at the computer.  (:

Borges Ranch Painted 3 Times in 3 Years: Seeing Progress

Borges Ranch View, Acrylic on canvas panel, 10"x12"

Borges Ranch View, Open Acrylics on canvas panel, 10x12" (studio painting)

It’s springtime in California and those famous “golden rolling hills” are actually a million shades of green right now, thanks to all the rain (which we probably won’t see again until next winter).  When my plein air group went to Borges Ranch in Walnut Creek last month for our paint out, I used the time to hike, sketch and take photos. Then I made the painting above in the studio from my photos memories of the day.

You can see my recent sketches of Borges here. The two Borges paintings below from 2009 and 2008 help me see that I am making progress.

March 2009; Plein air, Oil, 9x12"

Borges Ranch Plein Air, March 2008

March 2008, Plein Air, Oil (Ick!)

I really like going out sketching with the group and experiencing everything about the day without the frustration of trying to make a 2-hour painting as the light and scene changes completely. I’m better suited to doing sketches in the field and paintings in the studio.

Last Sunday I tried again to paint on site. I thoroughly enjoyed the sounds of birds, crickets and frogs in the meadow where I painted in the sun along the bay in Benicia. The painting was a 50-50 flop that might be salvageable but I took some photos which I altered in Photoshop to match my memories, from which I will make a painting

Blake Gardens: Tulips, Tulip Trees: Sketches and Paintings

Blake Gardens Tulips & Tulip Tree, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

The tulip trees (Saucer Magnolias) and tulips were blooming when we painted at Blake Gardens on a sunny Friday a week ago. Of the multiple sketches and paintings I did of the scene, I think I’m happiest with the one above, done in my journal when I got home, from a combination of memory and photo. I clipped the text from their brochure and pasted it on the journal page.

Here is the final painting and below that are the steps in between:

Blake Tulips & Tulip Tree, Acrylic, 10x8" on Gessobord

Blake Tulips & Tulip Tree, Acrylic, 10x8" on Gessobord

After I picked my spot to paint and set up my easel, I did several thumbnail sketches (left below) to plan my composition. While each thumbnail improved on the one before it, none were great compositions and as a result neither was the plein air painting I did on site.

Journal spread with thumbnail sketches

Journal Spread with thumbnails

I was working with Golden Open Acrylics, my first time trying them outdoors. A Golden expert suggested I put a drop of Golden Open Acrylic Thinner atop each blob of paint to keep them moist when painting outdoors. Instead, thinking I was so clever, I mixed about 25% thinner with 75% water in a spray bottle and misted the paints occasionally.

But I should have taken her advice as my method didn’t work. She’d warned me that adding water to the Open paints will make them dry faster, which it did, and they started getting icky-sticky about the time I needed to quit and head for the critique anyway. Indoors they stay wet all day and in a closed palette, for a week or two.

The plein air painting was so UGLY that I’m glad I only expect my plein air paintings to be learning studies. My plein air painting goal is to fully experience and participate in a scene and embed my memories of color, light, texture, sounds and scents.

Very BAD Plein air study

Plein air study

And there were sounds and scents: not only were the many magnolias overly fragrant, but shortly after I set up, two gardeners fired up a gas-powered industrial-strength chain saw, cut down a huge tree and sawed it to pieces about 20 feet away from me. The sound was horrible and the smell was worse.

Below is a photo taken when I first arrived,  cropped into a more pleasing composition. I like the diagonals and the way shapes of shadows and colors lead the eye into and around the painting.

Photo at Blake Gardens

Photo at Blake Gardens

From my watercolor sketch and the photo above, I started working on a studio version of the painting. Below is the  underpainting with the main shapes and colors blocked in.

Underpainting in acrylic
Acrylic under painting

I liked just as it was and was hesitant to paint over it so I left it for a few days before working on it again until it decided it was finished.

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