Archive for the Category » Newsletter Archives «

July 2014 Newsletter

Category: Newsletter Archives  Comments off

I just watched a short video clip of part of the commencement address given by Jim Carrey at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield Iowa. He made some very insightful and meaningful points, among them:

  1. That we need to dedicate ourselves to a personal ministry – his was to free people from concern. What is ours?
  2. We can fail at something we don’t enjoy, so why not take a chance on what we love.
  3. (worth quoting) -“All there will ever be is what’s happening here. Decisions we make in this moment are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear, disguised as practicality.”
  4. (also worth quoting) “How will you serve the world? What do they need that you can provide? The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”

If I had had any sense when I was a student I would have chosen something other than art. I was in Graduate school. I was married with four children. I had only a vague sense of what was waiting for me after graduation. No prospects. No idea of how I was actually going to support my family after the Gi bill ran out and I was booted out of the university with my diploma. I should have been scared to death, but fortunately I didn’t have enough sense to be scared. I was only hopeful and filled with anticipation.

Doors opened up that led me into teaching at Snow College. That somehow led to teaching a Summer Snow art workshop that slowly took off and is still going strong. That workshop led to other workshop offers, which led to writing an article for a national magazine, which led to a book, and another…I could not have scripted that scenario and I don’t know where it will eventually lead. I don’t care. I just love doing what I am doing. I love painting and I love sharing what I learn as I go along – passing the torch. That in itself is good enough for me. I am grateful.

I recently received an e-mail from Mr. Steve Pill, editor of Artists and Illustrators magazine published in London. He asked me to write a couple of articles for the magazine. I just sent in the first and am looking forward to several more.

Jim Carrey is right. If I had made decisions out of fear…”How am I going to make a living?” “I had better get a second degree in something I can use a a back-up in case I can’t make it in art.” What if I can’t sell anything and can’t get a job in some related art industry?” ” I don’t have a safety net!” “Was everyone right? Is art impractical?” The world is going to eat me alive and I have a family depending on me!” “I am not as talented as all those making a living in art.”

If I had followed the litany of fear I would never have done the things I did. That thought scares me now in retrospect. I am glad I didn’t have enough sense to be scared

So we choose to do art. Now isn’t it strange that we look at a subject and fear to change it? We fear a departure from what is actually there in case the painting might fail. What will others think of the painting. Will they discover that I am not as good as they think? And so our fear pushes us into mediocrity. We fail to achieve the potential painting we feel existed in the subject, and produce instead a safe rendering. I challenge you to step out of that comfort zone and face the fear of…whatever.

Let me illustrate.
Nan and I were taking an evening stroll down the banks of the Dart river near Totnes, England with nan’s sister Pam he husband Billy. On the other side of the river I spotted this collection of yachts and boats on a pier. The evening light was scattering pieces of white across the hulls, and the pattern of shapes seemed to dance across the pier, while a chorus of lines sang the music for the dancers across the dark background. I photographed it with the idea of exploring it later.

totnes patterns

Much later in my studio I looked at the image and recalled what initially interested me in the subject; namely the repeat pattern of shapes, no two exactly the same. Drawing is the means for exploring a subject. So on a sheet of drawing paper I extracted the various shapes and motifs to see them out of context.


There were curves that repeated, rectangular shapes with letter forms inside, linear patterns in the rigging and railings, dark shapes under the boats, etc. This study acquainted me with the motifs and separated me from the act of copying. Now that I knew what I was dealing with, what building blocks I had, I could arrange these in whatever order I wanted. So my next step was to explore possible arrangements; juxtaposing, overlapping, increasing sizes, repeating without reason or logic. This is fun because it is so liberating. It frees one from the tyranny of the photo.


These drawings did not take long. This one was done as a demonstration of the search process during last year’s Summer Snow workshop. It has some very good possibilities. Then I did another one exploring a different pattern of values – the arrangement of the dark shapes weaving through the light shapes.



The other day I looked at this drawing anew. I had not taken it to the next step – a painting. So I studied it awhile, drew it out on a half sheet of watercolor paper and began. I had to approach the painting just as I had the drawing, with a willingness to follow wherever it would lead me. The drawing, like the original photo was only a guide. The final product is the painting below. Was it a little scary? YES! But the fear of the unknown, a willingness to go into uncharted territory is a part of the creative life. We just have to embrace the fear and plunge ahead. Which I did. Timidity only guarantees a mediocre failure.

The Yacht Sales

I was happily surprised with the outcome. And I hope that the rest of your Summer is full of wonderful surprises. Embrace the fear that precedes every good painting and every new venture.

February 2014 Newsletter

As I write this, it is snowing. After a January that was more sunshine than storm, it is finally snowing. Truth be told, I am not overly fond of shoveling the stuff. I would love to have it snow 15 feet in the mountains because the runoff is our source for irrigation during the Summer. Green grass and gardens are blessed by the snow up there. The snow on my driveway does little for the water table.

Having said that, I will admit that I profit from the exercise involved. And there are some wonderful artistic blessings that come from the snow.
First is the fact that the snow tends to cover all the things that are not aesthetically essential in a scene. All those little items that can creep into our paintings and take over like mold on cheese. Snow scenes tend to look more like paintings, paintings in which the artist selected the main shapes and left untouched white paper for 50% of the painting.
See how we don’t miss what is covered up by snow in this photo?


All that is left is the large rock form, complemented by the simple shapes that surround it. In the Summertime this scene would contain a lot more information which we would have to simplify in order to create a strong image like this.

Nan and I were going over the Logan Pass in glacier National Park in June. The pass had just been open for a week!  I photographed this peak which was made stark and powerful by the contrast of simple white areas.


Like most of us I am often seduced by all those little things that are in a scene and don’t remember the lesson that snow teaches me every winter: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!  Every year Winter snow make me see afresh the sights in my own neighborhood. Things I drive by every day and don’t really look at because they are presented amid a plethora of competing details. I suppose it is like ambient noises in a crowded restaurant that make it difficult to hear what is being said at your own table.

Snow also brings strong value patterns into view that might otherwise be lost. The connectedness of dark values in the peak, the middle ground rock forms and the foreground trees in this photo might not be seen without the snow to blot out the other clutter.
Here is a drawing I did on site at Logan pass. It benefits from the simplicity and pattern seen there.


The high contrast is also a quality of snow scenes that has to be sought out in other times of the year. A consistent quality among beginning watercolorists is the lack of strong contrast. The paintings usually exhibit a range of values from very light to medium value. Learning why snow scenes are so appealing can offer us the encouragement to explore the darker side of the value scale. A pianist who only plays the keys on the upper end from middle C has never experienced the beautiful contrast that can make the music sing. Similarly, painting only in the upper range of values can diminish the otherwise rich experience of contrast.

Here is a scene just around the corner from my house. I drive past this often, and always enjoy  the arrangement of shapes, but in the snow it takes on a more graphic quality.

I was drawn to the linked value pattern leading from the fence on the left, through the building and out through the fence on the right. In my mind I eliminated even more than the snow did, and pictured it without the trees on the left and the distant buildings on the right. That would create a value pattern that touched three edges of the format. Then I put that in a preliminary drawing.


So, even though I have to do some shoveling, I love the snow for its visually transforming effect on the world around me, and the encouragement it gives me to simplify. For those of you who live in regions without snow, come visit the rest of us who inhabit the lands of winter contrast.

January 2014 Newsletter

Category: Newsletter Archives  Tags: ,  Comments off

The holiday season is always a busy time of year, family and family traditions take up most of the time. Before it starts we think how much we will
get done when all that free time arrives. Then it hits. There is barely enough time to get all the necessary preparations, shopping, visiting and
decorating accomplished, let alone doing any art. It’s natural to think of art as completed paintings, requiring a significant commitment of time, and so we don’t begin.

Perhaps we should think instead in terms of honing skills in smaller projects. Drawing is the perfect answer. We don’t have to set aside hours of
time to do a drawing. The great benefit is that drawing teaches us everything we need to know anyway if we are going to do a painting, but it
only takes a fraction of the time. No technical concerns, no medium to get in the way, no clean-up, just direct observation and joyous mark-making.

What would be a good subject for a drawing? The answer is, anything! Pick up a pair of scissors, your camera, or purse and draw it.
This sack was a perfect subject for the practice of seeing relative values.

















Pull out some photos you have considered for future paintings and do quick drawings to plan a painting. Decide things like the eye movement through the composition, the pattern of lights and darks, the area of dominance, what things you could leave out of the painting. Watch the drawing progress and. Don’t think of it as an act of recording a collection of things. Think of it as arranging shapes and values within a format. These drawings are valuable sources for painting.

Portraits are excellent subjects, as the topography of the face is a study in planes and volumes. Time spent drawing faces is never wasted time.
What you learn from doing it will pay dividends in the future. Here is a suggestion. Instead of practicing from your own photographs of family
members, use the photographs of others. After all, this is not for public display, only for practice. A great source is an internet photo-sharing
site. I belong to one called If you go to the site and type rock4art in the search window you will find me. You can choose “search everyone’s uploads” and type in a subject like “homeless” and you will pull up photos from all flickr members who have posted photos with “homeless” in the title.

Here is a drawing I did a couple of years ago from a photo posted by a flickr member in Moscow. This face was a study in planes and also in leaving
thin lines for whips of hair. My challenge was to draw the beard without drawing hairs. So I studied the patterns of values and drew the patterns
instead of hairs.


















Most flickr members join multiple groups. There are many groups for drawing and watercolor, oil landscape etc. I joined a group called Julia Kay’s  Portrait Party. The rules in this group were simple – post only paintings and drawings of other JKPP members – artists drawing artists. Here are a few portraits I posted of fellow KKPP members.































So sneak in some drawing during the hectic break and anjou the search. I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas filled with love and joy, and that you have a most rewarding 2014, filled with growth and learning. I plan on it.

Happy New Year!