Back from the Gorge; a plein air painter's paradise!

Looking west down the Columbia River in the late afternoon. Notice how light the water is than the sky.

I'm back from the Pacific Northwest Plein Air event and finally posting my experience. The region is so beautiful I didn't want to come back home to suburbia, but I missed my family ever so much. Let me tell you...the scenery is intoxicating, and makes me itch to return to paint more. Everywhere I looked, there was another painting to create right before my eyes! The terrain is varied with high cliffs, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, golden hills full of blonde grass, farms with fruit and vineyards rowing the hillsides under the warm sunlight...and wind! Oh yes, the wind! Luckily I didn't lose my painting hat over this cliff!

"Blueberries, Pears and Adams" 10x8 Pastel on sanded paper (incomplete)

"Hillside Patterns" 10x8" Pastel on sanded paper

The first day out was spent at the Gorge White House. It is an old farmhouse that serves as a wine tasting room with a fruit stand, scenic views of flower fields, fruit trees and dramatic views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. I painted these two pieces and by 1:00 the gusty wind started to pick up. Packed up my easel and I set out to visit with fellow artists Thomas Kitts and James McGrew on the upper summer porch of the White House over a complimentary glass of wine. (Thanks Thomas!)

The wind finally died down a bit so we set out to paint a very quick 1 hour piece just before our taco dinner with the other artists.

"Dark Clouds Over Color" 8x6" Pastel on sanded paper

The 2nd day the artists split up and went their separate ways because the proposed location (Mt. Hood) was hosting it's Hood to Coast event. Not a great idea of peace and beauty when there are 12,000 runners launching from this location. So I spent a most quiet day with my wonderful host and artist friend Christine Knowles. We toured the scenic Hwy 30 and stopped to paint at 2 different destinations.

"Lyle Passage" 16x12" Pastel on sanded paper

Painting water and marina scenes were on my wish list, so Christine took me to Meyers State park looking East on the Columbia River. We both painted and afterwards we headed out to the Hood River Marina and bravely took the challenge to paint boats. We thought we'd give it an hour at best, but we ended up painting much longer than intended. The wind picked up as we began to tear our easels down. What timing!

"Hood River Marina" 10x8" Pastel on sanded paper

On day 3 the artists met at a most beautiful location. At first glance, I wondered what the heck I'd paint, but as all the artists seeked out their real estate, it became clearer to me that this was a magical place. A distant walk through a field of wild blonde grass revealed a most beautiful view of dramatic cliffs. Artists began to line up here to paint, some deciding not.

Elio Camacho, Michael Orwick, James McGrew, Jeanne Young, and her friend Karen Whitworth overlooking the cliffs.

Can you say Gangsta Artists?

And now onto some more serious stuff... Michael Orwick shared his "Value Glasses" with those on the ridge. We started our value under-paintings while viewing through those red film specs and here is what came of the colors.

Value study with red value finders. Not much to the color, but here is what came of this little experiment....
"Morning Cliffs" 10x8" Pastel on sanded paper

"Sentries of the Gorge" 16x12" Pastel on sanded paper

And my final piece of the event. The late afternoon came, and sadly, to an end for me. I came down the hill and into Hood River for an artists' reception at Springhouse Cellars. The next morning I framed and delivered my 6 pieces and returned home to my family. The Preview Collector's Party is this coming Thursday, Sept 2nd at Columbia Center for the Arts. First Friday Art Walk is on Friday Sept 3rd. I will be attending both events so please come on out! Info listed to the right.

For more pics of the event, click here.

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Up in 10, & Pre-preps!

Morning Path, 10x8" Pastel on sanded paper

Came back from a weekend camping trip with the family and had the best of intentions to paint A LOT! But the East side of Mount Hood is breezy, if not down right windblown! So I decided I'd probably work in the morning times when the wind is resting. Woke up at 6:20, with eyes propped open with toothpicks, and set out to paint...with NO WIND! I had already picked out my scene and left my belongings there ready to set up in 10 minutes so I could catch the light at daybreak. By the time I had the piece blocked in, the sun began to stream between the trees like a relentless searchlight. I was a happy camper to say the least!

Midmoring Path, 8x6" Pastel on sanded paper

Later that morning, I went at it again. By the time I finished this one, the wind began to blow hard again! I wondered if this was the same famous wind that blows the windsurfers down in Hood River?

This week on out, I have been preparing my frames and mounting boards with a new product that I discovered. I am now using a sheet of dry mount paper (new) that I apply to my Museum Boards, then affix the Wallis to these prepared boards. I will be working on these boards for this coming weekend at the Pacific Northwest Plein Air 2010 Event in Hood River. They are cut to drop right into a Plein Air frame with Anti-Reflective glass and backing. Easy as that! I love the Pre-prep process and the freedom it gives me to relax and enjoy this upcoming weekend.

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Lost and Found 12x12", Hillside Attendance, 16x12

Lost and Found, 12x12" Pastel on sanded paper

Life is getting back to normal for me, whatever normal is. With my family needs comes little time to paint, but in the process of being back in the groove comes along a lost and found painting from the chaos of the workshop. Posted above is the finished piece from this post. This was an independent study from the workshop, returning back to the Walnut Grove for more study on lost and found edges. I think I got some of that going on here and then some. I'm not sure if it needs any additional work, so I'll put it aside and return to it sometime later with renewed eyes.

Hillside Attendance, 16x12" Pastel on sanded paper

I did get back out and paint again twice this past week with my friends Michael Orwick, Romel Delatorre, and Gretha Lindwood, but it was so hot I couldn't think much about the process of painting than the heat on my skin. One of the destinations was one of my favorite views from the workshop, a hillside that sweeps down in beautiful waves with crisply cut wheat and an occasional fir tree that hesitates the view. I love this spot!

Beaverton Waterway, 16x12" Pastel on sanded paper

And again back at the Beaverton Waterway, nestled in a business park. I had to paint this one under 96 degree direct heat! Augh, it was hot! Next time, umbrella, you will be my best friend!


Day 5, Trees and Conclusions

This was the last day of Albert's workshop and the fatigue was beginning to hit a few artists. I too, was even more quiet than my usual gregarious self. It was all starting to sink in, all the info, all his wisdom, all the colors! My eyes began to open more and became sensitized to shape, form, value, and colors all around me. Everything I looked at, I looked at with an observant eye. Saddened that my sensitivity will dull a bit, unless I continue to paint every day. It seems like a daunting task at times with a family to raise.

Albert's demonstration was on painting trees. It was a two part demonstration. The first was focusing on the drawing aspect of the art of trees, and the second half was on the local color of trees.

The shape of the tree was important and how it's drawn. He talked about the calligraphic lines and how they are lighter where the source of light is coming from and darker on the shaded area, defining the volume of the trees by marking the curve with lines. Then by using his arm to show how a tree twists, he showed us the foreshortening of the tree (arm) and using his hand as the roots as they grip into the ground.
We were to imagine how the bark on a tree would twist too. We are to indicate the twist of a tree by the direction of the bark. Trees are characters, they are like people with twisted bodies and branches reaching for the sun above. Albert also discussed the cast shadows on the branches that are behind another branch, always keeping in mind what direction the sun is coming from. He stressed that drawing each day makes for better paintings.

here is his drawing on the twisted tree. Albert shared with us that when he came upon this tree, he thought it was hilarious.

After the sketch portion, he began on the local color portion of the demo. He shared many thoughts about how local color is more important than shadows and lights. You know it's a gray trunk, but it has mauves, grays and greens in it too. He first established the shadows...remember, darks first then lights thereafter? Yessiree! Albert prefers NuPastels for his grays and used a variety of pinks for the lights. He also shared that the grays marry as the color slips around the tree.

Foliage is a different texture than bark. It has volume and different shapes and angles. He paints the under part, or base of the foliage first, with darks as well as the back side of the foliage. Trying not to indicate each and every leaf but softly indicate the dense masses first, staying with two greens and modifying them later. Then adding the lighter areas to the branches and leaves, he modified the colors with purples. Remember, too, that the cast shadow of the tree will be rougher on the surface it falls onto.

Another beauty!

So, after the demonstration we were to go out and paint at a new location from the workshop. Loaded with all this fresh information, I set out to paint a tree. And a large, beautiful old oak it was! Here is my underpainting with a touch of blocking in on top...

I was really happy with my start, thinking all the while of todays lesson.
It was fresh and my thoughts were running strong. I felt strong. Soon afterwards, Albert came around to conclude with a farewell at my easel and told me my painting looks great. "You're getting it!" He warmly shook my hand and told me to keep on working and great things will happen. Thanking him for the great instruction I asked if he'd return back to Portland again. There's always the possibility. Maybe his mentoring program will be next on my wish list.

Here is my finished piece. I still have to resolve the foreground a bit.

Tidbits from the day:
There is no money in drawing, only value.
Always be knowing where the direction of the sun is coming from.
Trees are very proud of their color.
Foliage is a different texture than the bark.
It takes two people to paint a picture; the artist and the viewer.


Day 4, Oils, Independent study & Critique!

I last left off with a marathon day looming on Thursday, coming home and hitting the hay at 12:30 each night. I'm trying to digest all that went on and so hopefully I can journal with some sort of semblance.

Thursday actually began with an Oil demo. He painted on linen mounted onto masonite board that is sturdy. He began with a very light mapping of the image in charcoal, a gesture of sorts, and followed with a beautiful thin wash of oils (burnt sienna and others) on the canvas...

He stressed that this technique (for the pastel students) could be done with pastel and washed with alcohol or turpenoid to get the same "look". Next, he began working on the center of interest, working outwardly, like a camera focuses on it's subject and the outer areas get blurrier. He used a palette knife for the entire painting process. Showing lost and found edges...it was magical!

What was really cool was the skyhole...he stressed that he uses the same high key as in the water, but with color, and then covered it softly with the trees in the most distant area. It just pushed back ever so nicely. He shared that he worries more about the energy of the skyhole and not it's shape. In the highlights on the water, he used pure white. (Not sure what white it was) but it just sparkled.


After his demo, as with all the others, he always tells the students that the piece is available at his gallery or off the easel. He also shared that he will return to his studio and put the finishing touches on it prior it's conclusion. He transports a wet oil in a neat folder of gator board.

After the demo, we broke for lunch and were out for independent study. My painting buddy and I returned back to the walnut grove and painted away for 2 hours or so. Here is my underpainting but unfortunately, I can't find my finished piece in my messy studio! Yes, it's already messy again! Augh!

We gathered around 6:30 with 8 or so pieces of our work. It could have been all from the workshop, or a selection of our work in the past. His goal was to find a "strong vein" in our work and share with each student his/her strengths. This was great because it gave me something to bite onto!

I shared these pieces and here was his comments:

"Too monochromatic, looks like it's from a photo"... (funny, this one is in the IAPS show!)

...and then this one he just pushed it to the side.

"Nice study, make it larger, but too much black in it"...

"Not bad"...

He really liked this one, "needs to be bigger"...

"Nice, looks wet, liked the waterlilies on top, nice, very nice"...

He liked this one very much, said I need to change the color where the ripples are, because they are like vertical planes.

His recommendation: My stronger work is the plein air work and should work on location more. He said he has a funny feeling that I work better with compositions that are uprights...vertical formats. "Focus on working upright until I get nausea" ....yes, nausea! Then he asks if I have any questions? I asked him which ones look ready for frames, and he pointed out the the last 5 posted.

I was thrilled with the critique and went down to my car and pulled out a desert wine that I'd been saving for my painting buddy and I to enjoy when we got through with the evening. Whew!

He wrapped up the night with a 60 slide show of his work. It was fascinating to see the body of work together. He showed us examples of where he has lost and found edges, and several other aspects that related to what he has been teaching throughout the week. We admired it all.

Tidbits from the day:
The focal point has the most details, crisp and clear, fussy on the edges.
Focus on the energy of the skyhole, not the shape.
Light rich colors obscures the upper background.
Modify colors to calm them down.
When you have a great painting, measure every other painting next to it. If it is less than great, then get rid of it.
Dont' give excuses for poor or incomplete work.


Day 3, Confetti, Underpainting & Walnut Grove

I forgot to post this photo on my first day, and I felt it was important, so this is a little out of order.

Have you ever wondered how Albert Handell's pochade box is arranged? We waited with baited breath to see what he'd unveil and to our amazement, it was all arranged like confetti! I thought there would be a method to it all, neat as a pickle, but to Albert's defense he says when it's chaos, he doesn't get bored...and it is more interesting to just seek and find the right color/value. Very interesting, and surprising!

OK, now on to the day's work...

Today, Albert demonstrated his watercolor under painting method and told us we could do either watercolor or use pastel and wash with alcohol effectively while out in the field.

He began with a drawing in pencil on UART paper. He was thoughtful where he wanted the trees to go, taking great patience with their placement. He then implied darks, and with such intention he threaded the cast shadows of the branches.

Then he took Paynes Gray, Sap Green and a few other watercolors to create a very soft and wet underpainting. Again, his process took as long as the drawing. He then shared that the edges should be hard and soft from left to right, and top to bottom. Midway through his painting process, he said "feels good". Yeah, I'd like to say that too! Each phase of the painting took the same amount of time, 2 hours total.

Another beautiful piece!

We then went out to a magical Walnut Grove that had some really incredible trees and lighting. The shadows moved very fast because we were closer into the subject matter as opposed to a great expansive area.

Here is my pastel with alcohol underpainting. The alcohol dried so fast, that it didn't drip and wash over like fluid. Kinda blocky, but I didn't want to fuss with is so to get on with the party!

My resolve of the Walnut Grove.

Afterwards we met back at the studio for today's critique. In my piece, the lower portion is weak and the values in this area need to be darkened. Also, the sun spots need to be brighter and possibly more orange to show the filtered light dappled on the ground. The upper portion is "strong".

Tidbits from todays workshop:

Take your strong points and strengthen them.
Compare edges by top to bottom, left to right...one edge should be sharp, the other soft.
When in doubt (with an area of your painting), do nothing.
Use the negative space to shape trees with soft and hard edges.
When the sun comes through the trees, it goes through a prism and gets warmer. ( I gotta use this tidbit on today's painting!)

Tomorrow, will be a really long one, starting with a demo on trees, eat lunch, then each and every one of us are to bring in 6 pieces, (either from this workshop of from past work) and he will critique till 9:00. By this time the sun will be down, and then we will have a slide show of his work and a lecture. So I don't think I'll be in any shape to post tomorrow. :(


Day 2, Work hard, play hard...

Today was a blast! I say this because the laughter... it could be a bit distracting to others, but is most enjoyable for me when a painting session is going well, or even bad, because a bad day painting is better than a good day at the office. I will explain later....

This morning upon our 8:00 arrival, we were to return to the site of our first painting to view it in the different light. It was very different to say the least. From my post yesterday, the site was much cooler, with a high key and fog, soft fog that made any edge blend. The artists were to paint beginning at 8am and be ready for Albert's demo at 11:00. So here is today's first out of the gate...

He has been talking a lot about vignettes and letting the imagination complete the edges. And so I've been trying this myself.

Albert's demonstrations always begin promptly. He was clear that he wanted us to wait till the end to ask questions. As the demo went along his instruction became less frequent and he spoke more quietly, all because of his intense study of the subject and painting. Funny enough, people still blurted out a question here and there, with a short quip they were quieted. I found this interesting and wondered how many times this happens to him at workshops.

As Albert became closer to the "resolve", he didn't speak at all and you could hear a pin drop if there were one! He began with the farthest area first and worked forward, towards the foreground where the "party" is. To tone his paper, he did it by a soft wisp of pastel, then wiped it downward with a paper towel. He did that incrementally as he progressed in the piece. He also modified his colors with another like-valued color to make it "dance". It was magical to watch this process and wish I could explain more, but even he didn't explain it...all I could do was watch with complete enjoyment. It's a language, yes, a visual language that I believe artists can only understand when they are creating. Ok, I digress...

Anyway, here is his finished piece.

Yes, beautiful!

So after the admiration had died down, we all spread out to get down to business. Everyone was feeling more comfortable today after settling in and the work improved as well.

Ok, so about the laughter...
As we began our afternoon work, the sun finally came out, and boy was it sunny! So, like any fair skinned blonde, I sprayed my sunscreen all over me and enjoyed how nice and cool the mist of the spay was. After capping the bottle, realized I just sprayed SpectraFix all over me! Now I'm preserved and ready for framing! We LAUGHED so hard that the other painters nearby wanted to know what was so funny... Anyway, I guess you had to be there.

This was my afternoon piece, looking Southeasterly. Oh, I will have to tell you about the location of this workshop in another post, it's incredible to say the least! More on that later, I promise!

We were to meet again in the studio for our day's critique and we went through everyone's pieces from the day. Albert commented that he has noticed a good amount of improvement in many of the artists. Gladly, I got kudos from Albert on this piece just above. I just need to work a tiny bit on the small Queen Anne's Lace that is in front of the fir tree.

After the crit, my painting buddy and friend Gretha Lindwood and another artist Eileen Holzman went out to a quick dinner and back to the site to do a 45 min study with Amanda Houston. The light and scenery was spectacular! I was so truly impressed, that it nearly took my breath away. Amanda, Gretha and I raced to get that one last mark down before the days' end. I painted the same scene again, because that is where I last left my easel and didn't want to waste any precious time finding a new location and set up. This one looks a bit yellowy on screen.

Tidbits from the day:
(sorry about the underscoring, I can't get rid of it)

Aerial colors look like this as they recede into the distance:
Blue gets lighter in the distance
White and yellow get gray or mauve
Red gets greener.
Even if you can't see it, you can make believe.
When you are painting close in subjects, the light/shapes change quickly than a large expansive area.
Translucent (light coming through trees) light is painted yellow.
Albert refers to pastels as chalk!
Never wear red, orange or yellow while painting. Wear muted colors because the warms will reflect and influence your work.



Day 1, Resolve and other Words Of Note

Today was an exciting and exhaustive day. Promising to post my take on the day, I'm getting this out late but much to journal about. (note: I'm a bit tired and may not make sense.) Albert is actually a really funny man by way of a dry sense of humor and sensibility. His depth on the pastel subject is from years of experimenting with pastel when the medium was just a blip on the art radar. It's funny to hear about his discovieries on what and how he sees things.

Here are a few snippets and words of wisdom from today:

A good painting has an inner glow all it's own.
We don't "finish" a painting...we resolve it.
Work from dark to light. (this is a hard one for me)
Get the proportion and placement down first. (plein air specific)
Use 2, maybe 3 colors of the same value for a spanse of sky. (or a shadow area) to create excitement.
Greens in the landscape can be modified by purples and mauves. (This was nice to hear.)
Landscapes are patterns...no blending allowed! Let the eyes do the blending.

He also talked a lot about "the touch", meaning that you can get different colors, or values from the pressure of a pastel. For example: Taking a light value pastel and just ever so lightly brush it onto the toned paper. It appears darker than when it is applied with a lot of pressure...

as in the peachy color on the right. See how it is feathered and with additional pressure the peach gets "lighter" in value? Albert stressed that you can get more values by using this technique with just one pastel. (meaning you can travel with less pastels and get the same results on location as you would with your entire collection of pastels.) The same goes true with a darker pastel too, but with a reverse effect, ie: the lighter you press, the lighter the value, and the harder you press will give you darker results. Hmmm,... I hope to see this in action tomorrow when he is at the easel.

After the lecture and lunch, we got down to business. Albert asked us to just do a painting, and photograph it in 30 minute stages. I'm posting just a few from my long 2.5 hour session.

I used a turpenoid underpainting, pulling out my favorite complementary colors for the intended colors.

Starting to block in and establish values. I am now noticing that I didn't work from dark to light. Augh!

Creating depth in the distance and varying the colors of the lawn and sky with near or same values.

I "resloved" by cropping the final image because the lower bottom became really distracting and didn't seem to help the piece any. I also am grappling with my rendition of the tree. Seems a bit like a green Q-tip on a fork!

Tomorrow morning I am supposed to go back to this site (first thing, early in the morning) and see it in another light. I'm out of energy, will hope to be back tomorrow with more!