First, let me give props to the reference photo, which I came across randomly while mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed. Thank you @lakeaustin360 for the wonderful shot!
I started this painting as a visiting student in my mother’s art class, using my plein air setup, but inside… which was a little weird at first, but it was better than sitting down for 2 hours! I guess this piece is a pseudo plein air piece, especially given the subject matter, but ultimately it was finished in the studio back in Austin earlier this week.
This is intended to be a study, as I anticipate making a go of this on a larger scale. I love the colors and the serene nature of the composition, despite knowing the rower must be exhausted. Or about to be. I struggled a little with putting the rower in the center of the canvas, so I made sure the horizontal positioning was dropped to the bottom 1/3rd. I tried to use other compositional elements to ensure the piece was balanced, namely the oar bars pointing into the rower, and the color sandwich effect of the orange from the trees on shore and reflected in the water. Lastly, the subtle glance of the rower to the right gives some additional interest in terms of what’s happening just out of sight. Like I said, it’s one hell of a reference photo!
Lastly, Lake Austin is so crowded with paddle boards most of the year, the mere fact that a rower could find some peace and quiet brings a smile to my face.
DISC DOG is inspired by the life we live with our canine family members and those bonding moments that form lifetime memories, like frisbee on a beach in the waning daylight hours.
A few months ago I did a piece called BIRD DOG, which was a silhouette similar to DISC DOG, but it pushed the contrasts more intensely. DISC DOG incorporates more hues while maintaining the impact of a silhouette and the unbridled enthusiasm for life that only a dog, especially those thankful rescue dogs, can convey. The underpainting was a light cadmium red and burnt sienna, which shows through in some areas, but more importantly served as a helpful guide for laying down the clouds with a setting sun somewhere “off camera”. I painted over a previous composition for this piece, something I rarely do, so I was pleasantly surprised to essentially have a pre-treated surface on which to work. Somewhere under DISC DOG lurks a really bad painting of monochromatic wine bottles.
Oddly enough, the most challenging element of DISC DOG was the frisbee. As you can see from the sketch, I noted the idea of using a frisbee instead of a ball. While the ball would have been much easier, the body position of the dog is more akin to waiting to jump at a frisbee rather than chasing a ball in the air. The trick with the frisbee turned out to be the odd look it had as a silhouette. For the life of me I couldn’t get it to convey “FRISBEE”. I kept wiping out and repainting versions of what looked like UFOs. Ultimately I switched gears away from the dark shape and allowed the light from the setting sun to make it pop, but tried to do so without making it the focal point of the composition. The angle of the disc, the lines of the waves, the red collar, and various other elements try to move the viewer to the dog as the star of the piece.
Special thanks to Austin Pets Alive! for all the great rescue work they do for the animals of the city of Austin, the state of Texas, and various cities throughout the United States. In Austin alone, every year there are thousands of rescue dogs playing frisbee, like DISC DOG, thanks to the tireless work, innovation, love and compassion of APA! and their wonderful staff and army of volunteers.
As you well know about my artwork, I like to bounce around with subject matter and styles. This week’s work is a return to still life that I can relate to, namely a dram of whisky, in this case The GlenAllachie from the Speyside area of Scotland.
The artwork style is influenced by the work of Neil Carroll, the whisky by Billy Walker (more on him later). What I like about his work is the realistic look of the glass as it’s affected by the drink, be it beer, whisky or a pile of strawberries. He’s masterful with reflections, glass sweat (don’t know if that’s a real thing, but sounds good to me), and other elements that give a sense of realism while maintaining a painterly look.
WEE DRAM is a nod to the best Scotch whisky I’ve ever tasted, The GlenAllachie distillery in Speyside just outside the town of Aberlour. My wife and I visited this fantastic distillery on a recent trip to Scotland and loved everything about their operation – the people, the idyllic location, and of course the whisky. They have something really special going on at this Speyside gem, with Master Distiller, Billy Walker. We came home with one of their finest offerings, a 2006 Single Cask limited edition for The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2022, which serves as our new “special occasion” libation. While the 2006 Single Cask is no longer available, it looks like they’ve done it again with a 2007 Oloroso Puncheon. Fantastic!
The challenges with this piece were largely in the balance of orange, red, and yellow that seem to shift and shine in the glass. One of those situations where the actual whisky looks a little fake when you really think about it – I mean where does that bright yellow sparkle come from?! I’ll have to try this again with a lighter background, allowing the whisky hues to be the star of the composition. I might need to go get another bottle from the GlenAllachie collection!
Hopefully you have a special occasion libation in your home. If not, go to The GlenAllachie have a dram of their magical elixir and bring home a bottle.
Art for the People Gallery in Austin has included 2 of my new paintings in their Winter 2023 group show “CELEBRATION”, running January 28th – March 24th, 2023. I’m very excited to be included in this VERY talented group of artists! If you’re interested in original artwork by Austin artists, check out AFTPG either in person in Austin or browse their online store.
If you’re interested in any of my pieces, I’m happy to answer questions or better yet, go to the gallery and check them out in person!
MOTHBALL was inspired by a photograph I saw at a gallery show in Roundrock, Texas. My apologies for not citing the photographer’s name for this piece (I simply didn’t note his name at the time), but I did include the original photo for reference and if I can figure out his name I will update accordingly. Regardless, what grabbed my attention from the photo was that it was from the perspective of the moth, like a pilot landing a plane.
My goal with MOTHBALL initially was to simply emulate the photo as a painting, but about halfway through I got it in my head to steer towards the whimsical, which I did by taking the moth’s perspective via a few beers and a dram of whiskey. To achieve this goal, I incorporated 2 key design decisions. First, an assumption that the vision of a moth is very different from ours. Granted, I have no idea how a moth sees the world, but it’s safe to assume the focus is the flower and everything else is Mothvision noise… and probably green. Secondly, and most importantly, I wanted to get in the head of the moth and emulate how she saw the flower – this is where I shifted from beers to whiskey. What I came up with was something that screamed “YUMMY DELICIOUSNESS!”, essentially a rich, vibrant, active flower with pollen roiling on top like the surface of the sun.
The time lapse video below starts at the point I decided to go full Mothvision. If you pay close attention you can see the changes and deletions made along the way to make things work better.
Overall I’m very happy with MOTHBALL, although I recognize it’s a niche audience who might be drawn to such a concept. Hopefully the explanation provided here can at least drive some appreciation for the intention of the art.
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 (www.pleinairaustin.org), 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.
BLOWN AWAY is a foray into a new area for me, namely the wonderful world of whimsy.
My wife and I were exploring Scotland earlier this year and were impressed by the art presence throughout many of their cities and towns. The inspiration for BLOWN AWAY came from street murals in Glasgow, Scotland, which are amazing by the way. Some of the work is jaw dropping, not just in it’s artistic beauty, but also in its messaging and creativity.
This composition was challenging on many fronts, most notably the profile of the child blowing the dandelion. To be clear, I’m not a portrait artist, never will be, don’t have any interest… BUT it comes in handy from time to time. This was my first portrait, aside from a painfully horrible self-portrait attempted years ago and subsequently burned shortly after completion. I have to admit I’m very happy with the outcome – well, if I’m honest, I’m more surprised than anything.
The umbrellas were my wife’s idea, which resonated with me as soon as she made the suggestion. However, the artist in me forgot how hard they can be to get just right, especially when their arrangement is pure chaos. I should have done a time lapse video so you can see the constant turning of the panel to paint the umbrellas in their varied orientations.
The final challenge was compositional. While I don’t fully embrace, nor know, all compositional rules and recommendations, I’ve come to appreciate the effectiveness of not straying from the core basics. Case in point, how do I avoid actively moving the viewer off the painting while embracing the action of blowing seeds off a dandelion, which magically turn into umbrellas. The solution I tried to incorporate – if it works is up to you to decide – was the use of brilliant light on the dandelion and the boy’s face, which are concentrated on the left side, and pull the viewer’s gaze back to that area after they initially follow the unfolding umbrellas to the right. Secondly, the shape of the overall mass of the umbrellas was intentional, so as to point to the focal point of the dandelion. Lastly, and this is a bit more subtle, the opening of the two largest, far right umbrellas was done as a sort of barrier with regards to being opened in a way that points back to the focal point.
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.
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!
This is a follow-up piece from SNIFFER, a very similar composition of the wonderful nose of a dog. If you’re a dog parent you’ve seen this perspective before, so I hope it makes you giggle. WET NOSE came to fruition because the original SNIFFER was accepted in a show at Art for the People Gallery in Austin earlier this year, but I had promised my wife that if it went to the show I would make her a new one that could be hung in the house.
I tend to like to move around with composition topics and challenge myself with new subjects, so I haven’t done many repeat compositions in the past. Painting SNIFFER for the second time in a few months was going to afford me a rare opportunity to learn from the first piece and see if I could make improvements on WET NOSE.
The first notable benefit of the repeat performance was speed. I didn’t have to spend much time thinking through an approach, and the setup / block-in went very fast. The other time efficiency was in mixing paint colors properly on the first effort without much, if any, experimentation. This is where having a painting journal comes in handy, as I’d made notes of color mixtures for SNIFFER and only had to make some minor tweaks for the new piece.
I would love to do more dog noses from this perspective, but switch up the mutt mixtures so there are different nose types and hair colors. It would also be interesting to really push the details further painting on a gesso board instead of canvas and see how realistic the nose could become.
Thanks for reading and please remember to foster or adopt or BOTH. It’s a rewarding experience for everyone involved, and for those who are very breed focused, remember breeders don’t make breeds, they make bread. If you want a particular breed of dog, note that there are thousands of breeds at the shelter and rescue groups (Austin Pets Alive if you live in / around Austin area). As for me, I’m a mutt kinda guy.
Pardon the vanity post, but I had to share the news that my avocado still life, “Just the Ripe Size,” has been selected for inclusion in a national juried show at Main Street Arts in Clifton Springs, New York.
The show runs November 5 – December 23, 2022. See the Main Street Arts website for more pics and information www.MainStreetArtsCS.org. If you live in upstate NY you can attend the opening reception on November 5th – there will be wine and prizes. For the truly ambitious art enthusiasts, you can also make a purchase… or two. After all the show is full of smalls, so prices tend to be more tempting.