Dog Cures Ornithophobia

Bird Dog painting, 18 inches by 24 inches, oil on canvas board
BIRD DOG | 18 x 24″ | Oil on Canvas Board

BIRD DOG is intended to capture the pure joy of a dog playing on the beach. If I got it right, you should smile or giggle at the scene. For those of you who love birds, rest assured no birds were harmed in the making of this painting.

I was inspired by a photo of a dog playing on a beach, but the most striking thing for me was the stylistic impact of the silhouette. There’s something compelling about the lack of details in the darkened shapes of the dog and birds, perhaps giving more to the imagination of the viewer, allowing it to be personalized. Additionally, the silhouettes lend themselves well to a sense of motion. I’m not sure why it strikes me this way, but I think it has something to do with the stark value contrasts created by the silhouettes on the colored landscape.

Broken Color Palette

My mom happened to mention her recent use of the broken color technique on one of her compositions, something I’d not heard of previously. As it turns out, the technique whih proved to be a very exciting way to add depth and vibrancy to the composition. In short, broken color is a technique often used by the Impressionists that leveraged optical color mixing to make things look less flat and murky. This article, Broken Color and Optical Color Mixing, does a great job describing and illustrating the technique.

I used this approach to re-do the reflective elements on the beach, which I must say was a huge improvement. I took a black and white photo of the color palette of the beach to ensure the values were the same, which makes the technique more effective because the various colors work as one and don’t compete with each other. I’m very excited to use this in my plein air landscapes in the coming months!

BIRD DOG is also a foray into waves, another subject relatively new to me at this level of detail. I enjoy seascapes and incorporating water into my landscapes, but most of that has been lakes and streams. Capturing the force and complexity of ocean waves is a whole different endeavor, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and will incorporate waves in future works.

The final decision to be made was regarding the birds. My wife, a frequent source of very helpful suggestions and insights to work in progress, suggested I pare down the array of birds. At some point, she noted, the number of birds pushes the feel of the work from playful fun on the beach to terror at the seaside. And she was right! As I added the bird silhouettes in the final stage, at 14 it felt like any more would start to slide into Hitchcock territory. Compared to the study, which had 21 birds and begged the question “who’s chasing who?”, the final composition was more playful and struck the right “dog on beach having a great time running around like it was the best day of their life” tone.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to go play with your pups!

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Unbridled Zeal For Life

Barks & Birds (study) | 9 x 12” | Oil on Canvas Paper

The unbridled zeal for life is hard to epitomize more than watching a big dog playing on a beach. While I don’t support a dog chasing wildlife, in the case of birds I don’t mind because in all my days I’ve never seen a dog come close to catching one. But the pure joy of exploring and running on a beach is something that brings a smile to every doggy parent out there. 

Barks & Birds is a study to figure out the technique and subtle variations in hues and values needed for a larger composition. I’ve seen photographs of dogs on the beach in silhouette, but I think a painting lends more atmosphere to the scene than most photographs I’ve seen. I made some basic mistakes with this study, having painted the silhouettes first, but I wanted to get the darks mixed properly and take a crack at the shapes, especially the dog, who I like to call Mr Happy Pants. 

The study also allowed me to mix a number of grays to capture that end-of-day post sunset atmosphere. I gambled with the underpainting, using a very saturated orange, but I love how it turned out… a happy accident indeed. I initially thought it would provide some nice highlights around the silhouettes, but as it turns out it nailed the sunset color behind the clouds. 

Lastly, the waves. I didn’t really care about this detail as part of this study, but probably because I kept my technique very loose (i.e. didn’t care how it looked) and fast, they turned out really well. I concentrated on the mix of greenish-blue, which will show better in a larger, more finished composition, but I’ll be keeping it very loose when I do the waves next time. Might need a bottle of wine for that part. 

Thanks for reading!

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #atxartist #atxart #pleinair #beach #beachdogs #atxlife #rescuedogs #bestfriends #dogsofinstagram #dogsofinsta #dogstagram #oilpainting #fineart #petsofinstagram #contemporaryart #fosteringsaveslives #dogsofig #austinpetsalive #mutts #muttsofinstagram #snouts #wetnoses #shephers #hugyourdog

Fishing for Edward Hopper

Fishing Shacks | 7 x 5” | Oil on Board

These fishing shacks are located, appropriately, on Fishermans Point in South Portland, Maine. Anytime of day is wonderful to visit the point to soak in the sea breeze, watch the activity in the bay, or simply smile at the beautiful landscape. While this spot has intrinsic beauty and plenty of subject matter for painting, these fishing shacks jutting over the water are inescapably paintable. This is one of what’s sure to be multiple compositions I do at this location. 

This was a particularly challenging piece due to the weather. In the photos you can’t see the wind, but trust me it was whipping around like a petulant child, something that wasn’t typical for this location. Despite the wind, it proved to be a stunning afternoon for late day sun, which lit up the shacks in that special way that only the sun can do. 

I definitely called on my inner Edward Hopper for this piece. My wife also influenced the outcome, noting a need for color so it wouldn’t be so blah with all the gray wood. Pushing the contrasts was easier than expected, in large part because the magic of plein air really helps with getting the light right.

Thanks for reading!

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Stop With All the White Boats!

Casco Bay Boats (study) | 7 x 5” | oil on Canvas Board

The weather and views were so fantastic, frankly I didn’t care how this plein air piece turned out. The vantage point was from a hillside trail in the shade looking out across Casco Bay. I had originally setup along the water, but had to move due to the rantings of a homeless guy who felt me and another guy nearby had infringed on his oceanfront property.

The boats were tricky to paint because the scale was so small – this was the first time I’d painted a seascape with various boats on a small canvas. I realized I had to pay more attention to giving the impression of details with singular brush strokes, almost dots in some places. The other challenge with boats, maybe it’s just in this particular bay, but the vast majority of them are white, the entire boat, not just the sails.

Overall this was a successful study and I’m looking forward to future compositions, both in plein air and studio refinements. There are also some great hues to work with in the sky, water, and the backdrop of green forests and islands. What’s not to like?

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #atxartist #atxart #cascobay #portlandmaine #landscapesmaine #pleinair #maineart #sailing

Coastal Plein Air

I’ve been traveling a bit this summer and managed to get in some plein air work! At first it was mostly drawings of coastal scenes – lots and lots of boats and beautiful coastline. But lately I’ve managed to get in some solid time with the paints and I’m working a few pieces in parallel.

I still need to return to a few of the plein air locations before I can finish with studio refinement. One basic change I’ve tried with the recent plein air compositions is essentially simplifying the focal areas and zooming in so there’s less to tackle. That’s been hard for me because I typically want to capture as much of the landscape view as possible in any given composition because it’s so damn beautiful.

Next projects will be some very photogenic coastal lighthouses. I’ve done a few practice sketches to get a feel for how I want to approach the works and not self-inflict panic during the speedy reality of painting on site. What’s really apparent, at least in my drawings, is that the lighthouse is going to be a piece of cake – it’s the rocky seaside that might well drive me insane. But I believe if I keep it “fast and loose” and focus on the lighthouse, the rocks will be simplified in a supporting role.

Hopefully I’ll be able to post a couple of completed pieces in the coming week.

Keep Those Pencils Sharp

Central Coast – Morro Bay | 9 x 12” | Colored Pencil on Paper

A few months ago we took a trip to indulge in wines of Paso Robles, California. This is a beautiful area, a little hard to get to, and the wine is fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no wine snob… my palette is worth a $40 bottle of wine at best. However, over the years we’ve done a lot of travel around the world and there is no better way to find wines you like than to be in the actual region and explore. Again, we tend not to go to places for the purpose of doing wine tastings, but what else are you going to have with dinner?

We took a beautiful drive from Paso Robles, CA to Morro Bay. Along the way we came across this stunning view, giving a first glance of the ocean as we wound through the hills. As you can see from the reference photo, it’s beautiful, but as an artist you see a whole lotta green! 

I chose to do this piece in colored pencil instead of oil paint for two reasons. First, I’ve recently started experimenting with colored pencils and the investment in a new pencil set needed some return. Secondly, it gets brutally hot in my upstairs studio during the summer, so having the pencils setup downstairs is an easy way to get my creative fix for the day if I don’t feel like running the AC for 3 hours in the middle of the afternoon. Pragmatism, go figure. 

I’ve done a few practice sessions with colored pencils after taking a workshop from Jenny Granberry, who is a great artist and instructor, a rare combination. This piece was a challenge and intended as a massive practice exercise with the goal of something “completed” in the end. This composition was a challenge for reasons beyond my lack of colored pencil experience. First, I can’t remember the last time I’d done a drawing-based landscape, and secondly, the greens! 

What I find the most interesting part of this piece is the fact that I worked from the top down (far to near), and I don’t know about you, but I can definitely see that the bottom part of the drawing is notably better than the top. I can hear Jenny now… keep your pencils sharp and go slow. I hear you Jenny, I hear you, it just took half a page to get there. 

As to the greens, I focused on blending variations of blues in the more distant hills, segueing to stronger yellow in the foreground. I wasn’t excited about the final look initially, as it lacked warmth from the sun, so I drank some wine to work up some liquid courage to grab an orange/red pencil to add an overlay to the foreground hills. Unlike oil painting, you can’t just wipe off pencil – true, it can be erased, but then you’re compromising the “tooth” of the paper, and at some point I hope to be good enough that something like that matters. 

In the end, Central Coast – Morro Bay was a great learning experience and provided a wealth of knowledge through trial and error. I also think I’ll return to this subject matter in landscape perspective for a larger oil painting. 

Thanks for reading!

Barton Creek Greenbelt is on Life Support

Barton Creek Tree 30°16’11.0″N 97°49’42.5″W | 6 x 8” | Oil on Canvas Board

This is another morning plein air session along Barton Creek just down from the base of the Hill of Life. This was the first session at this particular spot, which I originally chose for the water chute between the rocks, but the lighting wasn’t very good for the water, so I opted to focus on a cool tree on the other side of the creek.

I brought along my trusty plein air sidekick, Zip, to help keep the squirrels in check while painted. The heat was pretty bad today, so we had a hard stop at 11am so Zip wouldn’t get overheated on the way back up the trail. She made sure her temperature wouldn’t be an issue by instantly jumping in the water once I let go of the leash to setup my easel. 

I somehow made this piece more difficult than expected. I think the problem was a lack of structure in values and simplification of the greenery from the get go. I used to hate painting trees, but over the past year I’ve managed to get the hang of it and they’re not as frustrating as years past. That said, this composition was tricky because the focal point is a tree within a sea of trees. But I was outside with my dog painting, so I didn’t really care.

The progression gallery below illustrates the various artistic detours I drove along before finding the finish line. The biggest singular challenge was the lack of foliage on the “real” tree, as you can see from the reference photo, so I improvised some leafy bits in amongst the long, spindly trunks. Initially I balked on the vines, thinking they wouldn’t translate to the viewer, looking more like spaghetti, but after a few failed attempts I managed to weave them in convincingly. 

The last design decision was using a palette knife for finishing the trunk. I didn’t like the blended look using a brush and invariably a palette knife can add texture, which is ideal for rendering bark on a tree. 
If you’re curious about the specific location of this plein air site, I’ve been dropping POI pins on a Google map so I can find my favorite spots in the future. This particular one is located at 30°16’11.0″N 97°49’42.5″W. 

PLEASE NOTE this part of the Barton Creek Trail is severely overrun and trashed, especially during the Spring and Summer months. I found tons of trash, especially beer cans, throughout the area. The stretch of the waterway from Hill of Life Dam Falls (northwest) down to Sculpture Falls (southeast) will continue to suffer environmental degradation at an accelerated rate if the City Council and the various environmental groups in Austin (@SaveOurSprings @sosalliance @austinparksfdn @austintexasgov) don’t institute some level of admission controls. Police enforcement and citations for infractions are helpful, but they don’t address the primary issue which is too many people on this sensitive waterway. And last, but not least, the City of Austin needs to honor their legal commitment with the neighborhood to close the Hill of Life trailhead, which they legally agreed to do when a temporary easement was granted by the neighborhood in 1999. 

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #bernabplanalp #austinartists #atxartist #atxart #atxlife #hilloflife #HOL #bartonsprings #oilpainting #fineart #contemporaryart #saveoursprings #closehilloflifetrailhead #moveHOLtrailhead #sosalliance #austinparksfoundation #atxparks

Fighting the Heat at Bull Creek

Bull Creek | 8 x 10” | Oil on Canvas Board

I might have chosen the wrong year to ramp up my en plein air experience, case in point the month of May in Austin is already registering 100 degree days. Ugh! Regardless, the mornings are bearable and I had to break in a new pochade box called u.go. by New Wave Art… more on that later.

This session was at Bull Creek Park with a few other painters from Plein Air Austin. For those of you familiar with Austin, this is the northern stretch of Bull Creek near the Spicewood and 360 intersection. For the uninitiated, it’s ideal for painting outside because there’s usually some good water options along the creek and lots of shade. 

The focal point of this composition was the rocks in both the foreground where the shade and light merge, and secondarily the larger rock bathed in sunlight. I was very happy with how this turned out even before I got back into the studio for refinements. I went into this plein air session committed to focusing on values, starting by driving the darks into darkness-of-a-bat-loving-cave kinda dark, then finding high contrast opportunities for the lightest lights. I took some artistic license in this area, fabricating some water movement that wasn’t there, but it made for a more compelling viewing experience in my opinion. 

Additionally I muted the trees on the banks, especially the left side, so as to ensure they didn’t distract from the main focal points in the water. I had initially used much lighter, saturated yellow/greens on the trees, but that muted all the lighter values in the composition, which absolutely killed the scene. I’m pretty sure this is what I’ve done in past plein air sessions that has confounded me. I’ll keep my fingers crossed this will carry over into the next outing. 

The use of olive green variations on the shadow parts of the distant water were also a change in approach. One of my fellow painters made this suggestion and it proved to work really well. 
Painting outside is fantastic! This particular outing was of note because I got to share ideas and chat with the other painters. We even treated it like a workshop and did a mini critique of our works at the end of the morning. This was particularly interesting because of the 4 painters, there were 3 different mediums represented – oil, water color, and gouache. 

Lastly, my new u.go proved to be a great upgrade to my plein air armaments. Thank you to my awesome wife for giving me the perfect artist gift! The best part about the u.go is the portability. The length and width dimensions are almost identical to my EasyL pochade box, but it’s very thin, so it fits much easier in my pack. Very sturdy and compact design make it a must have piece of equipment for me.

Thanks for reading!

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ARRAY show at Art for the People Gallery! 

My favorite Austin gallery has included one of my recent pieces in their current group show, Array

Sunrise Trail View (12” x 9”, oil on board) is a plein air piece I did recently in Sedona, Arizona. You can find more about this piece from an earlier blog post here. If you live in Austin, I highly recommend swinging by Art for the People Gallery, as it has a wide range of fun, quality artwork for, well, the people. You can find more information about the current show, Array, at AFTPG web site. If you’re not in Austin, note that all of the pieces (including Sunrise Trail View) are available for viewing / purchase in their online store. 


I have a few more pieces that I started plein air in Sedona, so if you like Sunrise Trail View, stay tuned for a couple others in the coming months. 


Thanks for reading!

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #atxartist #atxart #atxlife #sedona #pleinairaustin #artforthepeoplegallery #aftpg 

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 AustinTexas.gov). 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