Happy Hour – The Roosevelt

Happy Hour – The Roosevelt
Oil on board, 8″x6″
We’re returning to the still life series called Happy Hour. Cocktail #2 is hot off the easel and ready for your guesses. But first, time to reveal the answer to cocktail #1 from Happy Hour – Angostura… it was a Whiskey Old Fashioned! The Old Fashioned is one of the classic cocktails, but despite the simplicity of it’s composition, there are a number of subtle changes one can make in the base ingredients to create a wide range of variants. A very good recipe can be found here on PUNCH, my go to resource for all things cocktail. If you have a favorite riff on the Old Fashioned, please share in the comments!
Returning to Happy Hour – Roosevelt, the hints are few but specific. I excluded the city name from the napkin, but suffice to say it’s arguably the most important cocktail (and food) city in North America (although I defer to our Canadian readers for any challenges to this claim), birthplace of many classic libations. Any guesses? The answer will be revealed in the next cocktail series piece in a couple weeks.
The Roosevelt is another oil composition on an 8″x6″ gesso board. The type of cocktail glass is not something I would have tackled at this point, as it’s very complex and a bit beyond my comfort zone, but it was true to the cocktail, so I gave it a go. The other challenge was the color of the drink itself, a mix of cadmium red medium, cadmium yellow deep, titanium white and ultramarine blue; there are also some bits with cadmium yellow.
Next time I’ll pay more attention to the dark values in the drink itself, as I strayed from that tenet early on, getting a bit obsessed with trying to nail down the elusive pink/orange color of the drink. If you look at the block-in picture, it’s obvious that I knew there were very dark values in the drink itself, but I didn’t paint them in properly.
And beware the challenge of painting words, especially words with fancy letters… with lots of curves… on an undulating cocktail napkin! Definitely not something to do if you’re jacked up on caffeine – it requires a steady hand and a lot of patience. I had to make a big withdrawal from my limited Bank of Zen to get through it.
I was pleasantly surprised with the ease of doing the blurry, colored bar of illuminated bottles in the background. This is also true to the actual setting of The Roosevelt and a handy approach to call upon in future compositions.
Thanks for visiting and don’t forget to post your critiques and cocktail guesses in the comments!

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.

Happy Hour – Angostura

As the saying goes, “It’s happy hour somewhere in the world”, but seeing as it’s 10am here in Austin, a post about cocktails is about all I can muster.

HH Agostura 20200108
“Happy Hour – Angostura”

This is a small piece, oil on board, 5″x7″. This is the first in a series I’m going to do over the course of this year called “Happy Hour”. I’m always trying to think of ways to make art creative and engaging, which can be done in a number of ways. Instructors and workshops will often stress composition and technical prowess, which is very important, but I consider that table stakes. What’s often missing is intrigue, of which I’m plenty guilty of excluding in my works. To get the interest piqued with the Happy Hour series, I’m not going to reveal the specific cocktail in the name of the piece or initial blog post. The intrigue is for the viewer to figure it out based on bartender savvy hints.

Take this initial piece, “Angostura”, which is very simple in terms of composition. What do you consider valid and helpful hints in the painting? When putting this together, I wanted to provide 3 hints that a savvy bartender – professional or simply someone like me with a well stocked bar at home – would be able to use to identify the drink. In this case, those hints are some, but not all of the ingredients, color of the cocktail, and glassware. Can you figure it out?

If you want some help, PUNCH is a fantastic libation focused publication that is a notch above pretty much everything else out there, at least as far as I’ve been able to find. Once you crack the mystery of “Angostura” (hint: think simplicity… I’m not being clever with this one), dive into PUNCH and see what I mean about great cocktail insights.

Maybe 2020 should be the year of artistic intrigue?

Danube – larger scale

Took another shot at the Danube river village. Originally did a small piece on canvass last year, which was challenging but fun. Took another go at it, but this time on a larger scale, going up to 24” x 12”, which for me is a considerable size leap. It worked out well, albeit slow going. The finished piece is ok, but I clearly leaned too heavily on the warm, red end of things, instead of capturing the fading cool light at the end of the day, which was the setting on this piece. That said, it came out pretty well and I learned a lot about details and the need to consider atmospheric perspective.



1 Hour Challenge – Run Sandpiper, Run

Moving these updates to the blog to motivate myself to do them more frequently. The goal is to hone my drawing skills by doing sketches in 1 hour.

This session is from a reference photo taken by my brother. Very challenging given the need to incorporate movement of the bird and the advancing waves. Oh, and drawing ocean foam is hard as hell. I think the key is to not draw it. 

Yosemite – El Capitan

Started a new project this week, El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. This is a massive wall of rock that is a marvel to see in person. I haven’t been able to find them on the photo, but there are a number of climbers on the wall. If I hadn’t taken the picture myself I wouldn’t believe it either.

This composition is actually a study to get some key aspects of the hues and values figured out prior to doing a much larger piece. This particular effort is being done on a 12×18 canvass board, all oils, using palette knife only.

Figuring out the variations of grays, both sunlit and shaded, is proving to be an enjoyable challenge. This is a great way to really learn the subtleties of warm and cool grays.

Another session or two and this preliminary piece should be done. Still need to get the right half of the shadow area done, but it’s moving along at a faster clip now that the value scale has finally been figured out. There’s more paint on this piece than I’d like to admit.


Heceta Head Lighthouse

This was a fun one! This is Heceta Head Lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. Breathtaking coastline and this area is particularly rugged and beautiful. One day I’ll replicate this painting en plein air, but for this iteration I had to use a reference photo. At least the photo was taken by myself, so I had a sense for the place; hoping some of that personal experience made it into the final work.

This piece is on 12″x18″ gesso panel and took about 8 hours to complete. While I still have a couple of minor highlights to add, this is close enough to the final product to call it done. I have never painted ocean, so the waves were a challenge, but I’ve started taking some lessons with a new instructor for a few hours every other week, and she was a tremendous guide when I ran into problems. If you like landscapes, check out her work at Mary Watkins Fine Art.

The palette is what I’m most excited about with this piece. While there’s a lot of (for me) technical skills that come into play with the water/waves/rocks, it’s the hues that I’m most excited about. Mary was very instrumental in teaching me about landscape warming and cooling using hues I hadn’t considered. Previously I had thought in terms of strict color wheel compliments to adjust saturation, but I learned how to think through the balance of what makes up colors that trend towards one end of the spectrum or another. For example, the use of Lemon Yellow, Cad Yellow Medium, or Yellow Ochre was actually a critical decision for this entire piece. Can you guess the winner and why?

Reference photo and progression timeline below. Enjoy!


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.


Diving Whale Tail

Stuck with the whale theme for this next project. This is a diving whale based loosely on a reference photo I found on-line. Also bought some Payne’s Gray to work on a more balanced value gradation on this piece that is dominated by the tail.

I think this is pretty close to done, but I don’t like the matte finish, so I’m going to do a final glaze layer in hopes of giving the entire piece a wet look.

This is a diptych, each panel measures 9″ x 12″. I was pretty specific with the panel choice so as to get good proportions for the tail. In fact, I think the painting looks better than it really is b/c of the diptych layout. Curious what others think, too.

Technical Details:

  • 2 gesso panel boards, 9″x12″ each
  • Brushes – 2 flats (sizes 2 and 4), 1 round (size 4)
  • Tail palette – Payne’s Gray, Titanium White, and variations of Black and Ultramarine Blue
  • Ocean – Ultramarine Blue + variations of Pthalo Blue, Pthalo Green, and Titanium White.
  • Water dripping off tail – Titanium White + Naples Yellow + Paynes Gray + Ultramarine Blue
Quick practice sketch.
Quick practice sketch.
Rough in with diptych composition.
Rough in with diptych composition.
Ocean with initial tail shadow.
Ocean with initial tail shadow.
Tail almost done
Tail almost done
Water running off tail and updates to ocean near tail with ripples.
Water running off tail and updates to ocean near tail with ripples.

French Countryside – Practice Study Done

Got back to the first painting study of the French Countryside (Loire Valley) landscape. Been awhile since I had worked on this one, but past post for reference here.

I liked how this came out, and ended up investing more time than originally planned. I definitely learned a lot about how I will change the composition when I do the “real” thing on a larger canvass (as opposed to this paper session), but enjoyed working in a  lose style and worked very hard on not sweating the details.


I was pleased with a number of things:

  • Good balance of greens. The photo doesn’t show it very well, but the range of values also gives texture that I didn’t intend initially, but you can bet I won’t forget how it came together.
  • Dark rain clouds in the far distance have the right effect of coming storm.
  • Rose bushes, a complete improvisation, came out really well, especially given the speed at which they were done, ~ 15 minutes. I also find the red on green background works well to make them pop a little, giving them a good foreground effect to draw the viewer into the painting.
  • The fence line, meant to be wire strung along old wooden posts, can be painted better in a future composition, but I’m happy with how the variation in direction of the fence gives the sense of an undulating field. Also meant to direct the eye along the fence, across the field, and into the village and beyond. Not sure if that’s actually happening for viewers, but happy to be told I’m way off base here.
  • Trees have good depth and capture the direction of the sunlight well.
  • Clothes line, another improvisation, serves it’s primary purpose of giving a sense of wind from the approaching storm, as well as a nice focal point in the center of the composition.

What to do differently next time:

  • The village buildings are not well done. I wanted them to be muted, but I lost focus on them too much and the value variations between them are junk. For me, there are buildings further back in reality that appear to be too far forward. I also don’t like the roofs, which need to have a wider range of colors.
  • The green field in the distance is too saturated and a little too light. Need to push that back a little next time.
  • The clothes line is good, but can be improved. Wanted to add a person pulling down the clothes, but quickly learned that I don’t have that skill yet.
  • The clouds are awful. Need to practice in some other sessions, but globbed on paint too thickly and focused too much on the cloud shapes.