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.

Daily Sketch #24: San Francisco tower


Quick sketch for San Francisco fans. This is Coit Tower, an iconic part of San Francisco, from one of the surrounding neighborhood streets. I think this is on the downslope side that  trickles down to North Beach.

Despite the ridiculous clown car at the bottom, the rest of the sketch holds up pretty well. My challenge tonight was drawing varied perspective very fast. When drawing any of the San Francisco architecture, it’s not long before it loses it’s charm and starts to drive you insane! So many lines, curves, and wickedly detailed bits. And don’t get me started on the cast shadows on a sunny day. That said, it’s very rewarding when you’re done b/c you look up at your drawing and “BAM!”, you’ve got a beautiful urban landscape.

This will likely become a knife painting project in the near future. The colors are simplistic, but there’s a good mix of fun stuff in the shapes and angles that an oil painting would work well.

Lines and Blossoms – Finished!

Overdue for this post, given that I finished this one a few weeks past, but better late than never. The final “touches” took more time than I thought, but it was important to get the depth of the tree right, which took some long steps out of my comfort zone with a very high value white to represent the bursting blossoms in bloom. It was a bright day, so the photo looked washed out and a little flat, so I went with my gut on what would work on the pseudo shady side (left side). Probably could have gone a little darker to add the right value contrasts, but at some point you have to say “done”!

In addition to the density and value range updates for the cherry blossom, I added more focus to the windows directly above the main doorway. Notice the curtains in their various states of being drawn up or back.

Having taken time to consider the finished painting for the past month, I’m happy with the technical variation and palette. However, as a composition I think it’s lacking. I tried to draw the viewer into the painting in a few ways: 1) the shape of the tree on left side curled around the entrance to the 2) main doorway with the stairs leading light steps up into the darkness, and 3) with more crisp details in the windows immediately around the top of the tree. There’s also some good compositional layout with the various angles of the building lines. That said, I don’t feel that the painting does enough to engage the viewer. I’d be interested to know what others think, so please offer up your criticisms, comments, guidance.


San Francisco and Golden Gate Diptych

Long overdue for a post. Been working a lot on drawings (animals), finishing the Lines & Blossoms piece, and started this new diptych.

Reference photo was taken by me a couple years ago. It’s an amazing vantage point from the Marin headlands looking back towards the city. Breathtaking!

SF and Golden Gate reference photo
SF and Golden Gate reference photo

This is my first true diptych, as well as my first painting on wood. The panels are small (5″x7″) and pre-treated. Below is the rough drawing outline, which I had practiced in my sketch book a couple times prior. What worked best for me, which wasn’t the way I first tried to do it, was to draw from the horizon/back of the composition “forward” to the bridge and foreground. It was much, much easier to get the angle and proportion of the GG bridge with the city roughed into the background for reference points.

rough drawing to get scale on panels
rough drawing to get scale on panels

This first session was short by my standards, perhaps a couple of hours. It moved quickly because of the small size and the color mixes came together faster than usual. The details will come in the next session, but I think getting the lighting on the cityscape is going to be tricky but critical to ensure the piece has the right depth.


Lines & Blossoms – Impasto Strikes!

Spent a couple of sessions working through the latest challenges with this fun, albeit difficult composition.

Since the last update, a number of things have been tackled, some more than once.

First, the focus remained on the buildings and supporting cast of what will be the cherry blossom tree. This set of sessions updated a number of touchup items, but the primary focus was a) laying in the window woodwork, and b) getting the base layer of the tree on the canvas. It turns out I don’t have a great brush for the type of detail work on the window frames, but I made do with what was available. Adding narrow detail brush to my supply list, but anyone with specific brand/type suggestions is welcome to make comments with the details.


Next session worked on elements of the composition and the next stage of the tree, including some experimentation with impasto effects.

The most significant update aside from the tree was the addition of a sidewalk (thank you Nina), which added missing structure to the bottom of the work, and gave more strength to the 3-point perspective I was working towards. It’s also going to be a critical part of the composition because it plays an important part in leading the viewer into the painting, whereby there is a clear break in the curb of the sidewalk that leads one into the stairway of the main doorway. The framing of the cherry blossom will enhance this effect.

The impasto on the tree are hard to see in the photo, but believe me they’re there. I dove into my first true impasto medium experience, mixing conservative amounts into the purples and pinks. Its very addictive, especially after having spent hours working on very exacting lines and angles of the homes, then being able to run wild with an array of brushes and styles in exploring how best to represent the beauty of the tree blossoms.

Some other minor updates were made in this session, but things are close to completion. Still need to work a significant layer on the cherry blossom, ensuring there is the right balance of light pinks and whites on the right side of the tree, whereas the values on the left are in shadow and more subdued and less saturated. Furthermore, the black door down the street needs work, as well as some updates to the window panes and their reflections of the sky on this particularly sunny day.