Soup for You!

The Soup Peddler (study) | 12 x 9” | Oil on Canvas Paper

I’m learning a lot more lately en plein air, painting outside essentially. In 2023 I intend to get in at least 30 days outside – I’ll keep track and post updates against that goal… more to hold myself accountable, but perhaps it will entertain all of you as well. 

There is a great artist group in Austin called Plein Air Austin (, which organizes multiple outings monthly for members – non members are encouraged to come join us to see what it’s all about, too. This particular outing was what we call “Urban”, where we get together in an area of town that has great architecture and buildings, as opposed to nature-based landscapes, and try to capture the scene. This particular outing was on South 1st near Mary Street, which has plenty to work with in terms of urban scenes. I tagged along with one of the other artists who had scoped out these great blue green umbrellas at a restaurant called The Soup Peddler. 

The weather was ideal, a little chill in the air, but the clouds cleared out around 10 and gave us plenty of sunlight. It was tricky to simplify this scene, an ongoing challenge for me with plein air compositions, so I tried focusing on the umbrellas first and building the painting outward. Having just painted umbrellas in a recent studio piece, I was able to quickly get the bones of this piece on the canvas before the lighting changed. Luckily the lighting was steadily improving all morning, so I never panicked due to major shifts in value. 

In terms of compositional challenges, I got most of it worked out in the field because I was happy with the umbrellas themselves. I also got very lucky in getting the structure of the building, sign, and patio details on the first try. Sometimes those architectural details trick me and I have to make a few attempts to get it right, or at least avoid having it tank the painting before it even begins. The updates I made in the studio were pretty straight forward, building on what I had already started, but I did leverage some artistic license. Most notably I opted to exclude the cactus coming out of the metal planter, in large part because it was nearly the same color as the umbrellas, and even a deviation from the coloring would have been a distraction. And while I don’t love the final look of the metal planter it serves as a good balance for the composition. Maybe I’ll add some other plants in the future, but for now I’m calling it done. 

Thanks for reading! 

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #bernabplanalp #austinartists #atxartist #atxart #atxlife #bullcreekaustin #pleinairaustin #souppeddler #souppeddleraustin

Umbrellas of San Juan, Puerto Rico

20” x 30” | Oil on Canvas Board

This composition was one of the more complex and difficult pieces I’ve done to date. I’ll admit that after painting close to 100 umbrellas, I seem to have developed a bit of an umbrella-related phobia, which apparently is a thing called “Umbrellaphobia or “Pellebaphobia”. 

This piece was a commission for a good friend from my college days, who was very patient and helpful throughout the process. I couldn’t have taken longer to get this done, but the size was a new challenge for me, and because it was for a friend, I really wanted to get it just right. Initially there was going to be an empty street with beautiful, bright buildings and a canopy of umbrellas. But the end result was less than festive, so we agreed that adding some people would liven things up a bit. 

The guidance for this piece was to capture the vibe and beauty of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fortaleza Street was a prime choice, as it’s not only beautiful with the umbrellas, but its a very significant landmark that leads to La Fortaleza​, the residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico. The residence is essentially a fortress that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

When it comes to painting people, there was a lot of additional practice needed “off canvas”. I’d done street scenes previously, but for this piece there were some new twists to figure out. First, and probably most challenging of all, the scale of people on this street seemed out of whack. The doorways and size of the windows seemed far too large, but when I checked numerous reference photos for Fortaleza Street, I found that the reality was, well, kinda Lilliputian. It’s very hard to paint reality when reality doesn’t align with expectations, like a very old city with strangely gargantuan doorways. Not sure what was going on in San Juan when Fortaleza street was conceived, but it should be investigated… something strange was going on.  The second obstacle was how many people to drop into the scene. In highsight, I think a few more could have been added, but I also like the sense of either early morning or early evening timing with this scene, when fewer people would be wandering around. 

​The focal point of this composition was initially going to be the glowing element of the most crisply painted umbrellas, which I know is something that would piss off all of my past workshop instructors and teachers because it breaks about every rule out there for compositional structure, but it’s what was important to my friend. That said, ​​when I added in the people, I had a lightbulb moment and made a point to really focus on the couple holding hands in the lower right foreground. They are literally walking into the scene, which works really well at also drawing in the viewer to look left for the rest of the street activity (couple sitting at cafe table), and then up to the umbrella canopy, which effectively redirects the view back down to the governor’s residence at the end of the street.

​Lastly, to the umbrellas… lordy lordy, so many umbrellas! The geometry of an umbrella is hard for me, but the added element of linear perspective as they fade back into the horizon line of the composition was a real brain teaser. ​Additionally, the power of value contrasts that ultimately made each individual umbrella get the right shape, namely they looked like blobs of color until I painted the actual metal rods within each umbrella. At that point it started to work better and things moved along quickly.  

If you’re ever in San Juan, go check out Fortaleza Street and let me know if the doorways are really that large!

#oilpainting #fineart #atx #berntx #crashboomzip #oilpainting #austinartists #abplanalp #fortaleza #sanjuan #puertorico #Pellebaphobia

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Oil on Panel | 9” x 12”

This composition is from a trip we made to Germany not too long ago, although after this awful year it seems like a hundred years in the past. Since traveling isn’t an option, I’ve decided to start painting great locations as a meager alternative.

If you Google Rothenburg ob der Tauber, this scene is what will show up in the list of photos. While I agree it’s an outstanding view, I wanted to drive the focal point to the clock tower instead of the orange wooden house in the foreground.

This is the end of a late Fall day, which wasn’t very clear without the addition of bundled up people walking through the streets. I struggled with the decision to add people to the piece, but in the end I wanted to convey the sense of season and a more idyllic time without tourists.

New Orleans Street Car

Oil on Paper | 8” x 10” 

This is a study of one of New Orleans’ iconic street cars, specifically the Saint Charles line, which are a national treasure and are on the register of National Historic Landmarks.  

The intent of this study was to capture the fantastic late afternoon light as it enveloped the street car scene. There’s a lot of green, but the metallic nature of the street car is reflective and a distinct texture against the backdrop of the old New Orleans oak trees. 

This study gets me excited to do a larger composition, which will have similar lighting but some additional details that I didn’t want to tackle with this test drive. I’m happy I took careful notes regarding the color mixtures, too. Always take color notes! 

Aperitivo Time!

Painting | Oil on Canvas Panel 11” x 14” 

I’ve had the privilege of spending multiple vacations in Italy and am of the opinion that it is simply one of the most fantastic places in the world. The people, food, wine, traditions and, of course apperitivo time! 

Final painting of Aperitivo Time
Aperitivo Time!

This particular scene is from a street in Lucca, Italy. The reference photo is earlier in the evening, just when the street lights go on, but I pushed the timing back a few hours so the lighting was more prominent. And just like magic, it was apperitivo time – break out the Aperol and snacks! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, rather than stumble through an explanation, just Google it yourself and promise yourself that one day you’ll go experience it first hand. Now back to the art…

This was another session to work on street scenes with people milling about their business (see the previous composition on this topic here, Lilliputian Italian Evening Painting). Ironically, the people were the easiest part of the composition, as the rest of the street and buildings took a lot of rework and adjustments along the way. Not sure why, but sometimes things don’t go smoothly. The other challenge was the surface of this particular canvas board. I had to really load up paint on the brushes in order to make progress, which was due to either the very toothy surface or the fact that it was very absorbent – this canvas board really drank down paint. 

This piece is also meant to be displayed in softer, yellow lighting. It was an experiment that I haven’t purposefully tried to do in the past, but the result is pretty cool. See the side-by-side comparison below, one with “normal” lighting, the other under the yellow/orange soft light. I feel like it adds to the mood and to some degree makes the street glow. 

Progression gallery below shows the block-in, early color layout, and final composition.

Lilliputian Italian Evening Painting

Italian Evening | Oil on Canvas Paper | 6 x 8

I’ve been working on a large seaside landscape piece for the past week and ran into a brutal reality… people! The focal point is a group of brightly colored boats sitting on very saturated blue green water, which has been enough of a challenge in and of itself. I had made good progress on that part of the composition and then realized how many people were in the photo along the harbor walkway. Initially, I thought I’d simply wave my artistic license wand and exclude them, but came to the realization that it would be very creepy and vacuous without people enjoying the sunny day.  

Here’s the problem – I can’t paint people!

The large landscape is on temporary hold while I figure this out; I’ve bounced over to this small piece as a way to practice painting Lilliputians. 
This is an evening landscape, I have no idea where, but I’ve declared it to be Italian, which aligns with my current artistic needs. I kept things loose and painterly, but tried to leverage high contrast values to emphasize the lighting on both the building walls as well as the light spilling out of the restaurants. The people were put in last, and I’m pretty happy with the outcome, although I used 5 or 6 different brushes to figure it out.

One thing about painting people into a landscape – it will make you remember to step away from the painting repeatedly to see if they look “right”. To look at them up close is a real horror show – oddly shaped legs, disproportionate torsos, and some of the worst wardrobe decisions ever made. But step back 6 feet and they look fine. 

There are also some areas of the window sills and exterior wall faces that were done with a palette knife, wet into wet paint, which worked well in terms of giving a realistic, aged look. 

Some notes on color mixing:

  • Green awnings = cobalt teal + variations of yellows including cad lemon yellow, cad yellow deep, and cad yellow light. Darker areas are a more traditional mix of ultramarine blue + cad yellow deep + alizarin.
  • Orange red exterior walls = another wide range that used burnt sienna, cad red medium, cad yellow light, and ultramarine blue. 
  • Lights = exterior lights leaned more towards Naples yellow and a touch of cad red light and white. Interior lights utilized the outside lighting mix plus cad yellow light. 

Lastly, I finally remembered to spread the palette around the entire painting to balance the hues. This was especially true across the vertical faces of the building exteriors, giving the scene a better sense of continuity. 

Thanks for reading!

Zip’s Flowers

Zip’s Flowers: 20″x16″, oil on canvass

Sometimes art is very cathartic, but at times it can be maddening. However, I’ve learned over the years to rethink the frustration and consider those pull-my-hair-out-of-my-head moments as learning experiences, and more often than not it works. When I just can’t get a piece to work, either compositionally or from a technical skills perspective, if I focus on what I need to learn to fix it rather than become irritated at my shortcomings, I tend to get back that Zen painting zone.

Zip’s Flowers has been a long learning experience! Wars have taken less time to finish. That said, it’s chock full of newly acquired knowledge, of which I’m very excited about. There’s also some personal interest in terms of the background of this photo. This flower shop is a few blocks down the street from where I lived one summer in San Francisco. We lived in a great neighborhood along the border of the Mission and Castro districts, on 18th between Hartford and Noe. This flower shop, now called Urban Flowers, was along the way to the dog park. My wife would take the dogs at least once a day to the dog park. One day, the 1 year old puppy, Zip, decided smelling the flowers was no longer satisfying, so she opted to taste them. As the story goes, she reached out and grabbed a dangling flower from one of the pots and proceeded to knock the whole thing over! I wasn’t there, but my wife said the people at the shop were very friendly and weren’t concerned about Zip’s flower chomping. Of course I had to see this for myself, and a few days later I was walking Zip past this flower shop and sure enough, she tried to gobble down a basket of roses as we walked by.

The composition itself was probably the hardest hurdle to overcome, which I took license to adjust reality to make things work. The reference photo shows a wide variation of building colors and construction materials, so some adjustments had to be made on various fronts to make it look less contrived – ironically, the reality in the photo was too hard to believe in a painting. The values also had to be exaggerated to give depth and a sense of place, whereas the photo was very flat. Finally, the amount of tissue papered flowers was overwhelming and a bit distracting, so that was scaled back significantly.

My favorite part of this painting is the right foreground. First, the flowers in white paper came out much better than I had anticipated and they really frame that side of the painting. I also like the realism they add to the scene. Secondly, I’m very happy with the tall yellow sunflowers going up the stairs. These two elements combine to draw the viewer into the painting (hopefully) and consider wandering through the rest of the composition.

The sheer multitude of color is initially distracting for me, but once I stepped away from it for a day and returned to the completed piece, the colors were more welcoming and a source of excitement.

Do you like this piece? I’m guessing people either love it or hate it, given the colors and somewhat busy nature of the scene. Suggestions and observations are welcome.

Lamar Bridge into Austin

Getting close to finishing this Austin urban landscape piece. The view is from the south across the river towards downtown. The city has grown a lot since this photo was taken, so those familiar with the area might wonder why I excluded some buildings; not the case, they just weren’t there a few years ago.

Oil on gesso board, mostly brush work, done in studio with photo reference (included below). The bridge was tricky, despite having done a couple of practice drawings. It’s been an exercise in patience, having to redo various parts, but it’s been a great “learner” piece, specifically with the sky and water. I’ve started taking some formal art lessons every other week, and my teacher gave some great guidance with the sky and the water reflections. Confidence with these elements is 10x what it was a month ago. Not sure if it comes through in the photos, but the colors are rich, probably a tad too saturated, but the values and reflections are solid enough to carry the composition.

The bridge needs some tweaks to the facade so it’s not so flat, the addition of cars on the road, and a few street lights. At that point I’ll call it done. One more short session should do the trick. I’ll post the final product this coming weekend.