Monday, December 27, 2010

A Bear

This is the bear for Wilderness Art Challenge. I've wanted to try painting a bear for a long time. Before that, I wanted to purchase a painting of a bear. I was especially fond of bears by Scott Switzer. My particular interest in bear images dates back to our family trip to Alaska, where my two sons and I had a pretty close encounter with a bear. Not a grizzly but a black bear. We were taking a nature walk watching the salmon swim up to spawn and everything else wonderful. When this bear lumbered onto the path right in front of my older son. Behind him was my other son, then me, followed by a little boy who belonged to someone else. The bear stopped and seemed to be watching us. In perhaps my least maternal move ever, I started to slowly back away. I don't think abandonment was my plan, but the facts are as I tell. Well, the bear didn't eat my sons, or the other little boy either. It moved along and splashed into the water. After his pulse recovered, my son regretted not getting a picture. He bought a little toy bear at the gift store, and it became his totem. And we reenacted our adventure for my husband and others. I was not the hero.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Card and a Thought

I wanted to create something with an idea, rather than render life or some other source material. So really I'm rather proud of this, although I don't know if it works to convey the idea. It's a thought bubble, with a light bulb to represent an idea, only instead of an ordinary light bulb, it's a Christmas light bulb. Because the idea is about Christmas. The idea is let's celebrate; let's decorate; let us adorn our trees, our houses and our food. Let us be demonstrative in our affection. Let us be generous in our giving and effusive in our thanks. Let us sing loud and be merry. Let us be reflections of our Creator who gave us this magnificent world and our brilliant lives and the sweet gift of a baby born on Christmas morning.

As a painting, it is a little disappointing. I wasn't really sure if I wanted the background as an even wash. One thought was even to make it a forest. But I think what I have is a little messy and indecisive, and it has the ghost of an eraser mark. I think If I'd experimented more with placement, I might have found a better composition. I do like the light bulb though, and it's running watercolor glow.

I'm submitting this for the Calypso Moon Artist Movement challenge. But of course, it's for you too. Merry Christmas, from the bottom of my John Pike palette and my heart.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Cookies are served. I had plenty of help baking and decorating, so I can take little credit for the artistry. My creative passion was poured into the mulled wine.

Interesting editing blunder. Too difficult to sort out. Perhaps too much mulled wine. href="">
Because I haven't received any blogoversary cards (broadly hinting) I borrowed a birthday card I made for my spouse. I haven't told him I borrowed it, which makes it somewhat like stealing. You can wish him a happy birthday, although it would be 17 months late.

He asked me if I knew how many hits the blog had received in a year. I said yes in fact I do. 3,802. Impressive, he said. Not so, said I. It's mostly me.

But to the rest of you, who have become my friends, and those who always were: thank you for making this such an excellent adventure.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Past

From the time I was in my teens up until my thirties, I made Christmas cards every year. I'd do a design and then get several printed and mail them to friends near and far. I didn't stop when I had children, but it became more sporadic, in fact rather rare. Also, I had an interfaith family, which called for interfaith holiday cards. That wasn't too big a challenge. There are consistent themes of peace, light, miracles, and the enormous abundant generosity of God. Or I could do a collage with pictures of my beautiful children and the pets. It wasn't so much that children took up all my time; I think it was just that my holiday celebration priorities changed. Being Santa Claus was a very challenging job. These are a couple of old card designs, on slightly yellowed paper. I may try to find some more of these. I have a suspicion about where they are. These two are among my favorites. Sometimes when I look older artwork of mine, I'm struck by the difference between then and now. I think I may be a more proficient draftsman; I'm certain my materials are better. But the old stuff seems more imaginative, more creative. I think the reason may be that I've needed to become much more practical and all the extra capacity that requires of my brain has pushed my imagination out of the way. I'm going to try to exercise my imagination more. I'm not sure how to exercise an imagination, so let me know if you have any ideas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In My Own Backyard

Today the paint-out location was my backyard. It was a beautiful day. I'm pleased with my painting. This is the view looking beyond the yard to the north. It's uncanny how much it really looks like this. It was very interesting and fun to see other painters' takes on my yard. I'm kicking myself for not taking photographs.

Life on the moon? I thought that's what it looks like. Really, I just very desperately need to clear out the porch light.

Finally here's green lynx spider with its egg sack. Life is wonderful. I have fallen a bit behind on the Christmas preparations.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What I Learned

I completed my oil painting class with Timothy Tien. Here are my remaining paintings from the class, and notes from my recollection of what I learned. In the order they popped into my head. I need to practice with oils, but I think the class was very helpful. I am more aware now when I look at things and when I paint them. I will continue to make the same mistakes, but I will recognize them and learn from them, until good design and painting principles are like breathing.

Design and composition are most important. It doesn't matter what the painting is. It may be an abstract, and the same principles will apply.
A triangle is a good design - if lines and shapes in the painting make a triangle, it will help it be a good design.
There should not be big solid unvaried shapes, unless you want them to be the most important thing in the painting.
Shapes can be broken by variations in value and temperature as well as lines.

The painter should relocate elements to improve the design.
Know why you place elements where you place them and what affect it has on the composition.
Patterns of dark and light are important because they are most visible. Squint your eyes and lay them in first.
Artists draw shapes with straight lines because it helps to give them direction and locate the planes for light and shadow areas and highlights.

Contrasts are important - light & dark, warm & cool, large & small, horizontal & vertical.
Things in the painting should not be equal.
It doesn't matter what your subject is. What you paint won't always interest you; it is your job to make it interesting.
You should know what the most important thing in your painting is. It might be an object or a group of objects or a shadow or the foreground. It is what you want the viewer to look at. It is the story that your painting is about.
Colors have the most intensity when you look directly into them. If they are in the periphery of your view, they will seem less intense. The important thing in the painting should have the most intense color.

You are limited by the paint on your palette. You can't paint anything lighter than white or more intense than your pure color.
Start finding your colors with the most intense color; everything else will key off of that.
It is the relationship between the colors rather than the individual colors that you are painting. Look at the interplay between your colors, even as you mix them on the palette; try them next to each other.
Test the background color in different parts of the painting. It should make objects appear to come forward. The background and background objects define the edges of the objects in front.
It is oil paint. You can cover anything.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In a Canyon

The painting conditions were good yesterday. Mostly it was cool and still, with moments where the wind picked up and bit my bare hands and made idle threats of rain. It was a California Art Club paint-out and I also directed my small group of Saturday painters to Eaton Canyon. I met new painters - new to me that is; I'm sure some of them have been painting for a long time. It was a fine time. By the way, if any of my art blogger friends want to paint out with me, because you are close by or stopping through the Los Angeles/Pasadena, CA area on a Saturday, let me know. How great would that be?

I painted a scene with a sycamore tree and rocks. I go back and forth on this painting. I think it has some good technique, but also some obvious blunders. It's challenging to paint layers of trees and shrubs and grasses. Shapes are amorphous and colors undifferentiated. I'm going to spend some time looking at successful watercolor landscapes for new ideas on how to attack it. I'm also going to go back to using the oils sometimes, having completed my oil painting class. More on that later.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


I found this picture this week along with other stuff from my student days. I have a few paintings old and new to photograph and post. This I thought would be good for a post called reflections. But in fact I'm not sure I'm reflecting now. Really I'm thinking of what to do next. What to do with my painting, my free time, my life, what is left of my evening.

This is me, from the knees down, in the bathtub of my youth. I spent a lot of hours there, observing the still water with its pale aqua color (not shown here), and the remarkable reflection that appeared to double the number of my toes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


My car was stopped at the rail crossing at California just west of Arroyo Parkway where there is a car wash. I think these people are waiting for their cars to be washed. The man sits. The woman has picked up a few things she needed at Trader Joe's. I like the way the light hit the woman. I like her efficiency and her cool boots. I like how you can barely see the child, and yet you know she is an adorable little girl, sprite-like in her own boots. Although you can see the man's face (not too well painted), he is less interesting because he is just sitting and the light isn't shining on him.

I painted this for the Calypso Moon Artist Movement challenge,Painting History,and I'm glad I did. Happy Thanksgiving, painters and pilgrims.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What it isn't

I went out yesterday for my weekly dose of painting. It was raining. I was going to paint from the shelter of the band shell at Memorial Park, but there were people there already who needed the shelter a lot more than I did.

I wound up not painting. I did walk around and take photographs, which is almost always my first step. That was a far as I got. I don't regard myself as an art photographer. But I liked some of shots I got yesterday, not as prospective paintings, but as interesting images as they are.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Milkweed Bug

This is an interesting study in bug identification. I used to think these were harlequin bugs. Because I knew there was such a thing, and I thought these looked somehow very harlequin-like. But then I learned that harlequin bugs were something else. So I went to some lengths to identify these based on their appearance. I tentatively determined they were box elder bugs. But they aren't. They're closely related, but I don't have box elder, and these guys live in and on the milkweed. I could have just googled "red black bug milkweed." Or not even googled "milkweed bug." My son just called them f*** bugs, because of their very pronounced reproductive drive. This happens to be the same sort of bug that's on the cover of the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

La Laguna

If I had done a better job of painting this, if I had not belabored the dappled shadows, you still might have trouble figuring out what this is. It is just possibly the best playground ever. Art in concrete by Benjamin Dominguez, circa 1965. There are several play structures, in the form of sea creatures, sea monsters, a lighthouse and sinking ship all adrift in a vast sea of sand and imagination. You can climb on everything, and there are many slides. I didn't slide but I did climb to the highest point. If you need to find this (of course you do,) it is located in Vincent Lugo Park in San Gabriel, California. I'm not crazy about my painting, but I have no regrets about my time spent in the presence of sunlight and happy children.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pomegranate and More

My fourth class with Timothy Tien, placing me at mid-term. This was an easier still life, since Tim didn't bring the blue bottle that was going to be the challenge. The pomegranate was challenging enough. It has an odd but interesting shape and difficult coloring - bright here and muted there. It has to compete for attention with a couple of bright yellow lemons.

I learned again the importance of backgrounds to still life paintings. The color of the background should bring the objects forward; the background will define their edges. It should compliment, but not distract. It shouldn't be too big an unbroken shape, but it shouldn't be choppy. This background is remarkably similar to the background used in school portraits.

And I got to paint a little brown jug.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Best of Both Worlds

I painted at St. Luke's Hospital in Pasadena. St. Luke's has been vacant for years now, but remains a wonderful building with the protections of landmark status. Happy squirrels inhabit the grounds. This is not the iconic view of the hospital, just a wall and a shadow and two kinds of palm trees.

I love to paint of course, but some Saturdays I go reluctantly, because I am feeling lazy or else because I have something else pressing to do. Yesterday I hosted a party, so I was torn about painting in the morning. I compromised with myself and only painted for an hour and a half. It was a lovely hour and a half. I have painted outdoors in many different conditions, but yesterday was the first time I was nearly overwhelmed by falling leaves - little yellow elm leaves on my palette and in my water.

I like this painting. When I like a painting, I don't put in in the back of the car. It rides up front with me. Sometimes I like a picture one day, but not the day after. I still like this one, and the party was very nice.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Painting Lessons

This is the painting from my third class with Timothy Tien. We skipped last week. He sets up still lives that are fraught with problems such as many similar hues, bright backgrounds, shadows on dark surfaces, and objects that barely show. I need to find the story - the main and supporting actors, the composition, the pattern of dark and light. My big mistake this time was laying in the background first, and then trying to adjust the watermelon color. Better to start with the watermelon, which should be the most vividly colored. So I redid it. Tim liked my persimmon, I understand because it reads true without being literal. It took a while. The whole time I was smelling watermelon.

I don't know why canvas boards photograph so badly.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bailey Canyon Park

Bailey Canyon Park is a lovely small nature park in Sierra Madre. You can leave your car there and head into the mountains. It may be tacky to mention, but it might be of interest, that the restroom is spectacularly well-maintained.

It rained over night. It was still drizzly and gray when I set out from home on Saturday, and I had thoughts of sitting in my car and sketching. But when I arrived at Bailey Canyon, it sparkled in the morning sun and birds were everywhere. It's a rather simple painting, but the friendly and courteous dog-walkers said they liked it very much.

Friday, October 29, 2010

All Souls

It was a while ago that I found the dead green fig-eater beetle in my compost barrel. I suppose it metamorphosed there, and then couldn't get out. I was sad to find it dead, but it was beautiful and iridescent even in death, so I took pictures of it. I thought I might paint it, but I wasn't sure, because it was dead. Then it came to mind when I started to think of Halloween pictures. I imagined a little monster's treat bag, which included candy of course, but also some genuinely creepy things like the dead bug, a poison apple and maybe some bones. After a few confused tries, I came up with a composition I kind of like. The painting almost does the beetle justice. And while the poor beetle never had a life of flying, at least it will be remembered.

This is my painting for the Calypso Moon Artist Movement challenge. I wish I had been able to complete a brush-less painting as well. I'll keep that idea in mind for another day. It was my hope to get this one painted and posted much sooner, but things often don't go as planned.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The bug series is progressing slowly. I would say I have about half as many paintings as I want. I just don't paint as much at home as I'd like; mostly I putter around on the computer, and work up guilt about all the things I'm not doing. Painting is just one little piece of what I'm not doing. I do have plenty of insect photographs to choose from, and my knowledge of insect life is expanding. This, you may have been clever enough to notice, is two views of the same bug. I made it (her, them?) redder in color, but was true to the spots. I was once bitten by a ladybug. It hurt a little, and disillusioned me a little more.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Here's the church

Do you know the rhyme, "Here's the church; here's the steeple. . ." ? Well, obviously I thought of it because this church, the Sierra Madre Community Church, has such a prominent steeple. According to the internet, there are two more lines after "people." But what are the corresponding hand movements?

I'm not sure how well I like this painting. I love the fog and the mountains. I thought the stark white steeple against the almost white sky would be more interesting than it is. I should know better. In paintings, contrasts are more interesting that similarities. Similarities play better in life and literature. My tree trunks and light poles are all too stout (like me), and the perspective on the front wall is all wrong.

I once shared with other people that I entertain myself by making song sets or play lists in my head. For instance, the most romantic songs I can think of, or songs that give me courage. I've given lots of thought to my funeral playlist, although I have no thought at all of having a funeral anytime soon. Box of Rain. From the Morning. I Don't Want to Live on the Moon. There's others too that I can't think of just now.

Friday, October 22, 2010


This is the painting from my second class with Timothy Tien. There is a fair amount of Tim's work on this painting. Ordinarily I'm pretty adverse to instructors drawing or painting on my work, but I'm determined to get the maximum benefit from this class. The emphasis of class so far (to review, for my benefit) has been on design, drawing, composition, choices, and contrasts. Plus basic suggestions on how to lay out a palette so there is space for mixing dark colors and space for mixing lights. Possibly there are life lessons in this.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wound Up

You may not remember, but I remember. I said I'd find this piece sometime and post it, and now I have. I did this for my two-dimensional design class as a young college student. Based on a wind-up toy. I'm sorry about the reflection; it wasn't only laziness, but lack of technical acumen that made me leave it in the frame.

I still like this piece quite a bit, although it wouldn't look right on the walls I have now.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

House on St. John

I painted at Singer Park this misty morning. This is looking across St. John at the houses. Somebody drove past and called out Hi Barbara, but I couldn't make out who it was. I should probably look at cars and not faces at that distance; it might improve my chance at recognition. Speaking of cars, I think this might be one of my best, although there's still lots of room for improvement. It's a pickup truck with a camper shell. I used to live in a house that looked quite a bit like this one. This could probably be a thousand places in California. If not for the palm tree, it could be a fifty thousand places in the United States.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trying Again

I signed up to take a beginning oil painting class with Timothy Tien on Wednesday nights. It turns out I am the only student. For all that I wish there were other students, and the focus were not entirely on me and my painting, I think this is pretty amazing opportunity to learn to paint. I'll let you monitor my progress. I painted this in the first class.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oldest Grapevine

On Saturday, I painted two paintings. This is the second one. This scene is directly across Mission Street from the previously posted painting. It isn't really a grapevine, which you can tell if you know grapevines. The oldest grapevine in San Gabriel (which is I don't know - probably well over a hundred) was locked away on Saturday, so I painted the gate. Undoubtedly it is one of the oldest gates in San Gabriel.

Possibly the most wonderful thing about painting is the way it forces you to observe things - to really see them, see what color they are and how they are put together, see the relationships between shapes and values. After you've looked at something and painted it, I think you've internalized it, and probably don't even need a picture, but a picture is a nice thing to have. I've looked at this gate uncounted times over many years, and I never noticed it's unusual angles.

There is an art supply store close to here - right beyond the restaurant I posted yesterday. Mission Art Supply. I went there and got a little plastic dish for water after the first painting, so this painting was easier. Which doesn't make it better, or worse. I sat on the ground outside a convent to paint this one. It wasn't terribly comfortable.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Restaurant on the Corner

I was pretty sleepy this morning, and I thought that was why I forgot my water container. So I had do do a watercolor without water. Not really without water, but I didn't have a container, so I poured a lot of water into the well in the palette, and I wiped my brush often to keep it a little clean. I actually kind of like this painting, although I'm pretty sure it's the nice composition and not my paint application that carries the image. I think the restaurant is called La Luna, but I'm not sure. It used to be an art gallery, but now it has pretty good Mexican food. It turned out I didn't forget my water container; I've lost it. I guess I have to eat another container's worth of Trader Joe's licorice scotty dogs.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Lucky Stripes

I live in a place that is noteworthy for its lack of remarkable weather, but these past couple of weeks we've had some. When I went out in back this morning, I was sprinkled on. Then there was a rainbow in the west. Rainbows are always opposite the sun, but, it my experience, usually in the afternoon. Here's a little slice of my rainbow.

And as if that weren't cool enough, I was inspecting my plants for signs of bug life, and I saw something I've never seen in my yard, but earnestly hoped for: a monarch butterfly's child. I rubbed my eyes, and it was still there. I snapped a picture.

A little later this morning, I went to the South Pasadena Woodland and Wildlife Park to paint. It took other painters a while to show up, and I didn't really want to paint alone. There's wildlife and then there's wildlife. After I set up and sketched, I realized I forgot my palette. I did have my tubes of paint though. I scavenged around my car and from the other painters and came up with something to stand in for my palette. I decided, since I had to squeeze out all new paint, I'd use colors I never use. I don't really recall how I even got them - they might have been giveaways. I chose the view of the backs of houses on the other side of the Arroyo. I really like my resulting painting; I especially like the freshness of the color.

And that was my very rewarding morning.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Great Golden Digger Wasp

I am pleased to have completed another bug painting. The great golden digger wasp was a new visitor to my yard this year. It is quite big and beautiful, and fully deserves its two adjectives. The eye, which I believe is more or less accurate, has a kind of disney-character look about it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Eddie Park

In South Pasadena, where the paint-out continues, there is a very small park with a big house in the corner of it. In 1934, the house was bequeathed to the city by Ellen Mary Eddie. It's a pretty impressive house, with its two story columns and wide oak door, but it is modestly used by AA and Mommy & Me groups. The park, which you might drive past and not recognize as such, has places to cook, sit and climb. It's too small for athletic fields, and like its neighborhood, it's very quiet. Thank you Ellen Mary, for this lovely gift.

I painted at Eddie Park yesterday. I would say I took a lesson from the portrait exercise, and worked harder to perceive color. I included a squirrel, which you might not have noticed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Am I blue? Orange? Violet?

This didn't go as I'd planned. The mouth is very wrong, mostly I think because I couldn't decide how to hold my mouth and I kept moving it. I'll shut up about how I don't like my face, because I think in fact I'm nicer looking than the painting. There's a hint of me in this, just as there's a hint of a painting that's not so bad. I give myself credit for being courageously loose here. I obviously could use a lot more practice on my portrait painting. But I'm also looking forward to retreating into my comfort zone. Calypso Moon Artist Movement Challenge, take two.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Colorful Me

I don't really like the way I look, and I don't mean in this picture, which isn't the same. I feel some guilt about not liking my face because I have a perfectly decent face with useful parts - eyes to see, a nose to smell and support my glasses, a mouth to eat and speak and kiss. I guess I just always kind of wanted to be beautiful, and except for fleeting moments and deceptive photographs, I'm really not. So I haven't done many self-portraits. I haven't painted many portraits period, because a little practice didn't get me anywhere near portraits that I liked. They lacked the mysterious spark of life that I appreciate in a good portrait. I should paint portraits though; we should all paint portraits. What could possibly hold more interest for us than ourselves and other humans?

This was done for the Calypso Moon Artist Movement Challenge, which again pushed me outside the normal boundaries of my painting. I set up a wall mirror in the breakfast nook, and made a large pencil sketch on drawing paper. My plan had been to transfer it to watercolor paper and paint it there. But I captured some good value information in the sketch, and decided to work right on the drawing paper. I also decided spur of the moment to use pastels. I never use pastels, but I have an old box that belonged to somebody else, and lately I've spoken with a number of very passionate pastel artists. So why not? I think in some ways, working with pastels was good for me for this challenge. Since I couldn't mix the colors, there was no temptation to tone them down or neutralize them. I used bright red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. I added a little black (eyes, glasses and shirt only), and a little reddish brown just in the hair. I love the colors, and I think vivid colors may be part of the secret to alive-looking portraits. I think the top half of the portrait is a pretty good likeness. The nose isn't long enough and the jawline isn't square enough. I like the worried forehead creases.

One problem, however, that I overlooked, is that I need to paint the challenge piece. So, back to the drawing board.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Moreton Bay Fig Tree

Right next to the library, there's this wonderful tree. It casts deep shade, and has laid its generous roots above the ground. Little children make circles around the tree, jumping from root to root. Older people, but not too old, may find a comfortable seat on the roots to read a newly borrowed book, or to drink coffee from the shop across Diamond.

This tree is also the meeting place for the annual California Art Club/South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce paint out. This was my third South Pasadena paint out, but the first time I painted the moreton bay fig. Like a room in my house, this painting is a little cluttered. There are spots I like very much, and spots the irritate the heck out of me. Most of my paintings are like that. This is a 12x18 watercolor.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

One Percent

You may or may not have noticed how extremely circumscribed this blog is. It explores my drawing and painting, past and present, and my photography, pretty much limited to my yard. That's it. My family and friends hover around in anonymity, and I do not express views on politics or religion. It's not that I'm a slave to rules, not even my own. But I do well with boundaries.

I'm busting out tonight. I don't have any paintings to post, and I have over 700 photographic images from my recent trip. I needed to upload them anyhow, and sort, and further cull. Here's a few of the pictures I especially like.