Channelling Artistic Hate

Mirror Pond, Austin TX | 6 x 8” | Oil on Linen Board

Taking in more of the great Spring weather, I headed out to do some more plein air. This session was at a place called Mirror Pond in Austin, very close to Lady Bird Lake and part of the Zilker Nature Preserve, which was the first nature preserve created in Austin back in 1935 (learn more at No dogs allowed, so my canine assistant, Zip, could not join me today to keep the pesky squirrels away. 

Mirror Pond is gorgeous and tranquil when it has water, but I was pretty sure today it would be dry, which it was. What I wasn’t expecting was such a pretty site despite the lack of water. I probably wouldn’t have noticed half of the cool geological formations had there been a pond to ogle over. 

For those of you not familiar with plein air painting, one of the challenges is finding subjects that you can paint quickly and not get scuttled by the fast moving sun and shadows. I’ve included a gallery of photos below that show this effect and why it’s important to a) move fast, and b) take lots of photos early so you have something to work from in the studio to finish the work.

This composition started out as nothing more than a “get out there and paint” goal, but once I got the piece back in the studio and began fiddling around with some compositional ideas, it sucked me in for hours! 

I was asking myself “why the hell am I painting a cedar tree again?” As noted in previous posts, I hate cedar trees for many reasons, but it seems that I can channel that fury-based energy into artistic currency. In this particular case, I pivoted my initial focal point from the sideway limestone arch to the interestingly shaped cedar tree above it.

The first thing that caught my attention was the cool shape of the cedar tree; it’s actually the inverted shape of the limestone arch upon which it sits. See it? It’s not perfect, but close enough to draw my interest. Secondly, I used some artistic license to accent the red (representing my burning hatred of these trees) of the cedar limbs to make the entirety of the greens pop. It also had the unintended side effect of increasing the value contrast against all the other greens in this composition. 

Painting Mirror Pond has also reminded me that the craft of plein air is often about making a mediocre landscape come to life. Not sure if I managed to pull it off this time, but I learned a lot along the way.

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #pleinairaustin #cedarallergies #austinparksfoundation #zilkernaturepreserve #atxartist #atxart #atxlife

Dangling Paws

Dangling Paws | 18” x 12” | Oil on Canvas Board

This piece is inspired by playtime with Wolfy, who loves fetch despite the challenge of galloping around with his huge paws!

Dangling Paws

There were a few new challenges with this piece, namely capturing the various golden browns of Wolfy’s shepherd-hound coat, as well as the texture of his paws. The key to the coloring was working in various reds and warm yellows, but it took a lot of experimentation to get the right likeness. The paws were more about the texture from using a painting knife instead of a brush, which made the surface of the paws look rough and realistic.

However, the hardest part was the dog bed. I got it in my head that the pattern of the bed would help give the sense of plush comfort that Wolfy’s 85 pounds was enjoying as he slept with his head and paws dangling off the edges. It turned out to be effective, but the next time the bed will have no artistic flair.

Thanks for reading!

Varnishing Made Simple

Today I wanted to share some simple varnishing techniques that can quickly and easily protect a painting. Nothing earth shattering here, but if you haven’t done a lot of varnishing of finished artwork before, or simply curious about other techniques, hopefully there are some tidbits for you in this post.


  • Varnish – I use Gamblin Gamvar Picture
  • Cosmetic Wedges
  • Rubber gloves
  • Paper towels

There are various types of varnish that can be used to get a good protective coat on a finished painting, but I like this particular varnish because it’s virtually odorless and very easy to use because it doesn’t become tacky too quickly. Instead of a wide soft brush to spread the varnish around the painting, I like to use cosmetic wedges instead because a) they don’t shed hairs like a brush does, b) they’re cheap, and c) it’s easier to spread varnish. 

I’m varnishing 2 pieces, one large canvas and one small panel. I’ll focus on the larger canvas piece, but I wanted to provide the smaller panel periodically to illustrate another surface. 

Varnishing Setup

This painting, Zip’s Flowers, was finished a couple months ago and has been stored on a drying rack, largely away from dusty conditions. Even in a nicely controlled drying condition such as this, I still take the time to wipe down the painting surface to get rid of the dust. What I find works best is first sweeping the surface with a wide clean brush, preferably one that hasn’t been used before, followed by a few wipes with a Swiffer dust cloth. The idea is to ensure that there isn’t a fine coating of dust anywhere on the painting, otherwise it’ll clump up when you apply the varnish.

To apply the varnish, lay the painting flat on a covered surface with some bright light overhead. Pour some varnish directly onto the painting. I like to pour a small puddle, about the size of quarter, in the middle of the painting, then slowly spread it around using one of the cosmetic wedges. Don’t overthink this part – just pour and spread. This allows me to see how the varnish will spread and the kind of coverage I can get with a small amount to start. It’s much easier to add more varnish than it is to try and gracefully remove excess; trust me, it’s not pretty. For every one of the DIY YouTube videos demonstrating varnishing techniques out there, I assure you there are 10 deleted videos of instructors slopped in varnish and/or furious at brush hairs drowning in tacky varnish.

Add more varnish as needed to get the entire painting surface covered, but remember it’s not about thickness, just coverage. The reason I suggested having a bright light overhead is to allow you to see the reflection of the surface and thereby quickly find spots that you missed.

First Coat Complete

Another advantage of using the cosmetic wedges over a brush is the complete mindlessness involved in spreading the varnish over the surface. Again, go back to any of the DIY YouTube videos and you’ll see how obsessed they are with brushing carefully so you a) don’t end up with too many brush hairs in the varnish, and b) getting a smooth surface. By contrast, the wedges are very soft and don’t even snag on impasto areas of the painting, so you can easily manipulate the varnish around the painting. Note that you might end up with some very tiny bubbles if you’re spreading quickly or pressing down too firmly, but they will go away in a few minutes and in my experience are never an issue.

After the varnish has been applied, I return the painting to its dust-friendly rack and let it dry. The varnish I’m using dries pretty fast, but I wait another week before applying a second coat. You can see in the gallery at the end of this post the results, but to set expectations remember this is not a high gloss finish, although you can use varnishes that give a more intense finish. Ultimately I’m looking for what I like to call fresh protection for the painting, meaning the varnish recharges the hues and vibrancy of the painting which also providing a protective layer that will allow your masterpiece to last a few hundred years.

The whole process takes about 15 minutes for the initial session and it’s very simple so there’s not a lot of trial and error involved.

Have a great week!


Pandemic | Oil | 5″ x 7″ Panel

This week’s composition is going to be auctioned off for charity to support the Central Texas Food Bank, which needs donations to support the growing demand generated by the Coronavirus pandemic. Despite the lighthearted nature of this painting, which is intended to inject some humor (at nobody’s expense) into a bleak situation, the Coronavirus is a serious challenge for the world that needs leadership and creativity to overcome. Details regarding the auction and how to participate are at the end of this post. 

I’ve enjoyed working on more still life this year and I’m starting to get a better feel for various objects. The use of toilet paper and a beer can struck me as an interesting challenge because they are so contrasting in their own composition. In fact, if you really think about it, beer and tp have quite a strong relationship despite their contrasting structure, but that discussion is for another day. 
When I started this piece we had recently returned from a couple of trips to various grocery stores to stock up on supplies and at the very least, secure a couple weeks worth of toilet paper, beer, and wine. Priorities, right? Local news coverage continued to highlight hoarding and runs on tp (sorry, just can’t help myself), at which point my nervous laughter and need to find something positive in all the bad news led to the idea (hard to call any of this “inspiration”) for this composition. At the very least it gave me an outlet through art and a chuckle at the madness the world sometimes throws our way. I hope you get a guilty giggle from this piece too, but if the work is offensive in any way, please accept my heartfelt apologies as my goal was well intended. And ultimately, the related auction of this piece will provide a donation that will feed many people in need during this serious time. 

Special Art Auction Details

This week’s composition is going to be auctioned off for charity to support the Central Texas Food Bank, which needs donations to support the growing demand generated by the pandemic. 

Auction Overview

  • Artwork is called Pandemic. My Austin friends will recognize the beer can, but for the uninitiated, it’s Austin Beerworks’ Fire Eagle IPA. The source of the toilet paper, however, is uncertain.
  • This is original artwork, completed March 18th, 2020. The painting is done in oil on a 5″ x 7″ wood panel. The artwork is being sold framed.
  • The auction is being done as an Event on my Facebook art page, “Impasto”. Direct link to the Event is here.
  • 100% of the winning bid will go directly to the aforementioned charity, Central Texas Food Bank. The winning bidder will receive a copy of the receipt from me showing the donation was made in full. 
  • No shipping fees if sent to a United States address. International shipping rates will apply.
  • Letter of authenticity will be included (proves provenance and confirmation of original artwork).
  • Winning bid must pay via PayPal, Venmo or check. Artwork will be shipped upon processed payment. 

If you want to participate in the auction, follow these simple steps:

  • Go to my Impasto Facebook page here, and navigate to the Events section, or navigate directly to the Event here; look for the event called “Special Art Auction Benefitting Central Texas Food Bank​”. ​The About section of the Event will reiterate these auction guidelines and information about the artwork. ​Go the Discussion section to place bids via the Comments section.
  • The opening bid must be at least $50. Bidding must be done in no less than $5 increments, which means your bid must be at least $5 more than the previous high bid listed. Of course you can feel free to make incremental bids much higher than only $5! 
  • The comments should sort old to new, so scroll to the bottom of the comments to see the latest high bid. WARNING – sometimes Facebook gets a mind of it’s own and the comment sorting logic gets whacky, so just make sure you pay attention. 
  • Bidding opens at 12Pm CDST, Saturday, March 21, 2020. Bidding will close at 5pm CDST, Friday, March 27, 2020. 
  • Winning bidder will be notified Friday, March 27th, 2020. 


Say hello to PB&K the latest addition to the Dog Toys series, although it might be more appropriate to start a new sub-category called “Cheeky Still Life”.

The Kong was done with a painting knife to give it the subtle texture of a well worn, go-to Fido favorite. As any dog lover would attest, especially the big chewers, a peanut butter stuffed Kong is a great source of entertainment… and protein. Even the most hearty chewers have trouble putting a dent in one of these rubber wonders, but they do lose their sheen and get a roughed up look over time. By contrast, the (creamy) peanut butter and the remainder of the composition is all impasto-free brushwork.

Ultimately, the intent of the composition is to make every dog parent look, nod, and laugh at the reality of what we’re all willing to do for our lovable canine companions.

  • Oil on canvas paper, 8″x10″
  • Palette knife and an array of brushes (rounds and flats)
  • Key colors
    • Peanut Butter – Yellow Ochre, Naples Yellow
    • Kong – Ivory Black + Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna + Ultramarine Blue

Meteor Spray

The mission to Mars is complete! This larger piece was a lot of fun on many fronts and allowed for some variations in technique and colors. This is largely an abstract project, although I worked to replicate the essence of the Martian surface, albeit with some wild colors. 

After the block-in, which was described in the Meteors and Squirrels post last month, I focused on the colors. It was at times infuriating trying to create other worldly space dust hues, but I kept at it until I found something that resonated with me. Along the way, I will admit, there was a lot of wasted paint. The solution was glazing, whereby I was able to push and pull the hue and intensity as needed through thin layers atop an initial color scheme. There were 3 glaze layers in total, but the first one was the most impactful, essentially making the whole piece pop and really come alive! It was an exciting moment and something I absolutely love as an artist, namely when you make a creative decision to change the approach and it actually works! Hell yeah! 

After 2 glazing layers, I made another compositional decision to invest more time and effort in multiple craters. The piece needed to convey the powerful impact of the main focal crater, but the addition of other craters enhances the overall painting and incorporates some needed texture. The craters also unwittingly added a strong sense of value contrast and lighting direction that I didn’t realize was lacking until I started dropping them into the Martian surface. 

The final glaze layer was more opaque than previous layers and it was selectively done across the composition to soften and blur many of the larger craters so one gets the sense of a dusty surface – otherwise they simply looked too crisp and clean, an effect I wanted on the focal point but not the other craters. 

Overall, this piece was fun to do, but I’m not excited about the outcome. I absolutely love the impact crater – still now sure how that came together so nicely – and the projection of colored Mars dust (meteor spray) worked well, but I realized the composition isn’t something that appeals to me visually. The final colors aren’t what I’d envisioned and I simply couldn’t get away from the red orange… and I don’t really like that hue, so in the end it was a stupid decision on my part. That said, I’ll be interested to see who likes this piece, either because of the pronounced coloring, or perhaps the Martian space theme, which isn’t a typical painting subject.

Technical details for my fellow art dorks:

  • Oil on canvas board, 30″x24″
  • Glazing done in final layers, but not atop the focal crater
  • Brush sizes were primarily 2 or 6, mostly Flats and Rounds,

Happy Hour – Shaken

It’s happy hour time again! Before moving forward, it’s time to reveal the name of the cocktail from the Happy Hour – Roosevelt post from a few weeks ago… the Sazerac! It’s a great drink and the next time you’re in New Orleans I highly recommend a visit to The Roosevelt for the original recipe.

This latest addition to the series should be much easier for you to figure out, although it wasn’t necessarily easier to paint. Happy Hour – Shaken is an iconic cocktail indeed and something that James Bond fans will recognize instantly, although 007 preferred a stirred version.

This cocktail is a top choice in my household – even the dogs like it! Well, they probably would love it, but they just get to have the ice cubes after the drink has been strained. Yes, it’s hilarious – they hear the shaker, come running to the bar, and proceed to sit (without a command mind you) until I’m done, at which point they each get a piece of ice. They are, without a doubt, very lovable booze hounds.

Back to the painting…

I’m very happy with the outcome and feel like the repeated efforts on this Happy Hour series is starting to show demonstrable improvements in the artwork. This was a challenge on 2 fronts. First, the ongoing challenge of glassware in a still life has been tricky to refine, but I finally figured out the right value scheme to make it work – the solution for me was simply being more aggressive with the darker values. Secondly, I lacked experience painting truly reflective metal in still life compositions. Again, a more concerted approach with the darker values made a difference, but more importantly was simply waving the wand of artistic patience and working through the various reflected elements.

A few additional observations and details about the composition:

  • Reference Photo: As you can tell the shaker is not exactly the same as what’s in the photo. I used a reference photo blending technique, using the real shaker as my primary source, but simplifying the object by looking at other photos and paintings on-line that were, quite frankly, better cocktail shakers.
  • Brush and Knife: The vast majority of the piece is done with a Flat #4 and Round #2 brush, but the olives are all knife work. They are the focal point of the composition, and as such I wanted them to have some more texture and a reflective quality of their own.
  • Size: This is more than twice the size of previous Happy Hour series pieces, 8″x10″ vs 5″x7″ boards. Usually when I go bigger, the work is harder technically, but this time it seemed easier. Like I said, progress.

I haven’t figured out what the next cocktail in the series will be, but I’m leaning towards something with a shaker. Cheers!

Dances With Squirrels

Dances With Squirrels (study)
6″x8″, Oil on canvass paper
This simple study piece is done, although I invested more time in the composition than originally planned. I rarely do a study as a painting (if you’re not familiar with the term “study” in this context, here’s a short summary on Wikipedia here), opting for a drawing instead (which I had already done previously, as noted in the Meteors and Squirrels post last week), but my goal was to practice the brushwork needed to capture a dog in motion from a short distance. I also wasn’t sure how well this composition would translate to the canvass. I learned a lot in this exercise. 

First, I was surprised that the dog (Wolfgang) portion of the painting wasn’t very difficult, probably due in part to the various practice sketches done previously. The trick was to apply the darker parts of his coat last, which might technically be incorrect, but it was easier to manipulate the black shapes on his coat if it was the last step.
There are a number of compositional changes that will need to be made for the “real” piece:
  • The fence was both boring, distracting, and worst of all had many of the same values and hues of the trees and the dog, which made it hard to work into the layout effectively. I think the fence will be removed going forward. 
  • The trees were tricky from a color perspective. In real life, they’re a weird gray black, basically a color graveyard, so making them interesting took time. The other problem, which I haven’t yet solved, is ensuring their coloring isn’t too similar to the Wolfgang’s black and golden brown coat. 
  • ​The coloring of the grasses are fine, but the shadows will need more attention in a formal composition. They’re a real highlight of the work because they give a more comprehensive feel of the height and breadth of the tree tops, which are out of the frame.
  • Last but not least, that pesky squirrel. I was so focused on how to paint the dog that I hadn’t given any thought to the squirrel. Have you tried to paint a squirrel? The good news is that my lack of practice painting rodents might have worked to the benefit of the composition because the squirrel is very hard to see against the light blue sky background, so the viewer has to follow the gaze of the dog to find the squirrel. And there’s our compositional intrigue!
I’m going to wait a few weeks before firing up an actual painting based on this study, but I think it’ll be an eye catching, tall, narrow canvass layout that should be fun to create.
Thanks for visiting! ​

Meteors and Squirrels

It’s been a couple months since I worked multiple pieces simultaneously. I like having the ability to bounce between works in progress for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that alternating allows me to shift gears and keep my focus fresh on the piece in front of me, rather than getting burnt out banging away on the same composition for multiple days. Thus far in 2020 I’ve been working on small pieces that don’t take a long time to finish, so I’ve not had the opportunity to work in parallel. Well, that changes this week​, means blog updates will have more progress updates along the way and not necessarily include the finished product in a singular post.  
Last week I started 2 new pieces. I’m still waiting for inspirational names, but for now we’ll call them Meteor Spray and Squirrel Dancing Meteor Spray is an actual Mars meteor impact crater, which will be a mix of realism and abstraction. Compositionally I’m already excited, in large part because the splatter inspired block-in stage turned out to be damn near good enough to stand on it’s own as a monochromatic painting. The colors in the reference photo are wild, but might be tricky to replicate. The plan will also incorporate knife work and impasto to build up the texture of the Mars surface. This is a larger piece, oil on canvass board, 24″x30″. 

Back on planet Earth, Squirrel Dancing is a study more than a formal composition, at least for now. I want to improve my skills in painting dogs in motion, so the study will focus heavily on the body language of the dog in an effort to capture an element of motion that gives the piece intrigue. In the case of Squirrel Dancing, the focus is the dog ready to spring into action when the squirrel makes a move. I’ve included a couple of sketches that helped me get a handle on the composition structure. Based on these sketches, I opted for the zoomed out approach that captures the height and separation between the taunter and the taunted. The painting study is 6″x8″ oil on paper. Before painting Wolfy into the study I did a small practice version before committing it to the composition – see the picture with these side by side. 

I’ll keep working on these 2 pieces over the coming week. Stay tuned!