Lake Bled

I usually paint from photos I take myself, but sometimes someone I know takes a photo that I find so inspiring that I ask permission to paint from it.  My sister Nancy, who lives in Italy, recently took a trip to Slovenia and visited Lake Bled.  She took a stunning photograph of the lake and the beautiful cathedral on the island in the middle.  The surrounding mountains were shrouded with clouds, but the sky above was blue.  This made for beautiful reflections in the water.  On the distant shore stands another church. Anyone interested in following Nancy’s adventures as an American ExPat in Italy should read her blog.  Here is Nancy’s photo of Lake Bled. I cropped it to get the scene and composition I wanted.
Lake Bled Photo

The nice thing about this photo is that it’s portrait orientation.  As a landscape painter, most of the scenes I paint are landscape orientation.  Many are panoramic – I like painting in a footprint that is twice as long as it is tall.  We have this electrical box in the hallway just inside the front door of our condo in Northern Virginia.  It’s ugly and I’ve been wanting to cover it up but it requires a portrait orientation painting that is fairly large.  I had an 18×24 inch board that I thought would be perfect for the job, and Lake Bled would look beautiful there.

The painting was challenging.  I wanted the star of the show to be the island in the middle, with its contrasting green trees and red roofs.  I also wanted to capture the image of that reflecting in the water.  This was very challenging but a lot of fun.  The water was not still, so I had to capture the ripples with a series of small horizontal brush strokes of the varying colors.  These also had to fade to the white of the clouds and ultimately the blue of the sky.  There are actually four different sections of color in the water in addition to the image of the island.  The area near the distant shore is almost white, the gray-blue reflection of the mountain, the white/gray cloud layer on top of the mountain, and finally the bright blue sky.  Interesting that you can only see bits of that in the photo, but it’s evident in the reflection.  I actually broke my engineer brain’s connection to reality when I was painting this.  I was focused on shapes and colors and didn’t realize the sky above was blue until I stood back and looked at the almost finished product (below).
Lake Bled

I am very pleased with this work.  It’s one of my best efforts to date.  Alas, it may not hang in the hallway at my condo, but that’s a good thing.

A few weeks ago I was at work.  My office is a gallery of paintings I don’t have room for.  I also like them because they remind me of my other life – what I’d rather be doing.  I was talking to Catherine, a colleague and she asked, “How can someone buy one of your paintings?”  I laughed and said “They’re all for sale!”  We continued talking and I mentioned that I was working on a painting of Lake Bled.  She announced, “I want to buy that one!”  As it turns out, Lake Bled was the destination of Catherine and her husband Mike’s first overseas trip.  She is looking for a unique gift for his November birthday and decided this painting would be it, sight unseen.  I shared a photo of the partially finished painting.  She still hasn’t seen it, but now that it’s done I’ll take it into work this week and if she likes it in person, it will be sold.  Fingers crossed.  I’ll post an update with the final result.

One of the things I’ve learned in my short artistic career is that people buy art for personal reasons.  Usually they choose a painting because it touches them emotionally in some way.  There is really no way to plan for that.  I paint for myself, and hopefully along the way my art will touch others as well.

Update:  Catherine did indeed buy the painting and she loves it!

Umbrian Hill Town

Four years ago we took a trip to Italy with my sister and her husband (who now live there) and some other friends.  We rented Il Casale di Mele, a farm house in Umbria, for a week.  It was a wonderful place with spectacular views.  From the table out on the back terrace we looked out over a town called Collazzone.  This painting was painted from a photo that I took of that town.

I had fun doing this, although it took a while.  I focused on the values.  By that I mean I looked at the lights and darks of the shadows and the brightly lit facades of the buildings.  It took several sessions to paint this and it was done in the mountain house.  That allowed each layer to dry before I began the next.  First I did the drawing, which took a long time all by itself.  I drew each building and roof. I painted the sky up to the roofline.   Then I painted the roofs. Then I painted the light surfaces followed by the darks in a separate session.  Then I painted the windows, doors, railings, chimneys and touched up some of the shadows along the roof lines.  Finally I painted the trees.  I’m happy enough with the result.
Umbrian Hill Town

This was a good exercise for me because it forced me to focus on shapes and colors rather than thinking about the “things” that I was painting.

Reflections in the Tiber

I just finished a painting I’ve been working on for a while.  I painted it from a photo I took walking along the Tiber river in Umbertide, Umbria, Italy during my Spring visit there to see my sister.  It was early Spring and the leaves were just barely coming out on the trees.  The mountains in the distance were still brown. There was a row of evergreen trees and their blue-greens contrasted with the yellow-green of early Spring. It was a still day, so there wasn’t much movement in the water.  The reflections were clear and sharp.  I’m happy enough with the result and I enjoyed painting it.

Tiber in Umbertide

Since I have my new-found watercolor skills I decided to do a study of this in watercolor before I did the oil.  I think this was a good exercise and I might start doing it more.  It has several benefits.  First, it helps me keep practicing watercolor.  Second, I found that doing the watercolor first made me much more familiar with the nuances of the scene, allowing me to capture them in the oil painting, which I probably would not have done otherwise.  Below is the study.
Tiber in Umbertide WC Study

Spring Storms

I’ve said from the beginning that this blog is about my transformation experience from engineer to artist, and not just about showcasing my successes. Today I’m going to share something I consider less than a success.

A while back I completed a painting of a photo that my friend Sharon Littley took from her porch in Fairfield Virginia.  It was after a storm in the very early spring.  The sky was still wicked dark with white clouds along the front edge of the storm. The sun had come out and there was a partial rainbow contrasted against the dark sky.  The sun was shining on the hills in the foreground, highlighting the pale greens and other colors of early spring.  It really is a lovely and inspirational photograph.  I asked her if I could paint it and she graciously said yes.

Sadly, I don’t think I did it justice. It’s not my best sky.  I did capture the pale greens in the hills well against it.  I knew the rainbow would be hard but it came out okay – although my husband said he doesn’t like it because it looks too solid.

In the foreground of the original picture there were a few shrubs and a young tree, but there was also the end of the gravel road they live on.  I decided this would look better as a meadow. I also added a forsythia bush. My engineer’s brain still had trouble improvising. I think the perspectives in the foreground are off.  I also think it is somewhat unimaginative.  I tried to add a couple of Adirondack chairs in the meadow, but couldn’t get the proportions right so I took them out.  I guess I just need to keep practicing and going off script till it get better at it.

16 x 16 oil on board

16 x 16 oil on board

Sharon takes many lovely photos from their porch. I’ve told her that if I lived there I’d just set up an easel out there and paint every day.  The wonderful thing about nature and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains is that the view is different every day.  It’s a wonderful place to live.

In the meantime, I have two more pieces in the works that I like much better. Both are from my travels in Italy.  Stay tuned…

I Sold a Painting!

I posted a couple of weeks ago that I’d entered two pieces in the Falls Church Arts Plein Aire Contest.  Neither of them won prizes, but I learned today that my painting of the Mad Fox Brewing Company (our local brew pub) sold on the morning the show opened and was the first painting in the show to be sold! That’s kind of like winning, isn’t it?

Mad Fox

It’s not my favorite painting, but part of that is because I’m partial to landscapes more than cityscapes. Still, art speaks to people in different ways.  I’m thrilled that this painting meant enough to someone for them to purchase it.    Apparently others inquired as well, which is very flattering.

I really enjoyed painting it.  It has a story because it got rained on the first day and I had to repaint most of it.  I was self-conscious at first but people were curious and very nice. I guess I’ll have to do it again and see if I can repeat my success.

This is a really big step for me. I’ve been validated.  Can I quit my day job yet?

Finished Painting from the Wedding Rehearsal Experience

Several weeks back I wrote a post about the wonderful experience I had plein aire painting at the Devil’s Knob overlook when the group showed up to rehearse for a wedding that was scheduled for the next day. I promised to post a picture of the finished painting.  I did the sky and the mountains on location, but was forced to leave before it rained.  I finished the foreground, including the fence and trees in studio. I’m happy with the result.  More important it is an experience I will remember!
Wedding Rehearsal Day

Falls Church Arts 2015 Plein Aire Competition

Every year Falls Church Arts has a plein aire painting competition in the Spring.  To be eligible, paintings must be done between April and June and they must be done outside on location, within the City of Falls Church.  Artists register to participate and then they must have their supports (canvas, paper, etc.) stamped by Falls Church Arts before painting.

Last year I registered, but I didn’t actually put anything in the show. The only plein aire painting I’d done prior to that time was in an “Art in the Parks” class I took with Jennifer Schoechle about ten years earlier.  I did one painting of my friend Susan’s house.  I was very self-conscious about painting outside among crowds, so I decided Susan’s front yard, which was protected by a hedge, provided the privacy I needed.  The painting did not meet my expectations, so I didn’t enter it.

This year I registered again.  The one big thing that’s changed since last year is that I’ve gotten over some of my self-consciousness. I don’t really care if people watch me paint now. That’s a big step. As a result, I’m starting to do a little more plein aire painting.

That said, there are many other challenges.  Falls Church is pretty urban.  I’m much better at painting nature thank I am man-made objects.  I have challenges with straight edges, corners, perspective, etc.  Nature is much more forgiving when it comes to those things.  Urban scenes also have people in them.  Learning to draw people takes a lot of practice.  I took a portrait painting class more than ten years ago, also from Jennifer Schoechle, but I haven’t drawn people since.

This year I have two paintings that I’m going to actually enter.  As it turns out, I don’t really like either one much.  They are very primitive (that’s my nice way of saying that the perspective is bad and the people are not very good).  I’m entering them anyway because I want to support my art community with my participation.

The first painting, is of the Mad Fox Brewing Company, a local watering hole on the first floor of a retail/residential building.  I wrote about this a few weeks ago, because in my first session I got rained on which took quite a toll on the painting.  I got a chance to do a second session where I first repaired the damage and then I finished the work.  This painting is 12 x 9 oil on canvas board.
Mad Fox

The second painting I did yesterday at the Tinner Hill Blues Festival.  This festival is held every year in Cherry Hill Park in Falls Church.  I started the painting early before there were too many people there.  I did try to capture this one guy who shows up and dances every year, along with a few other people sitting around watching the early acts.  I did this in oil pastel, which is not a medium I have much practice working in. It was a good choice on this occasion because it is not liquid, making it easier to transport and use in a crowded environment.  This piece is 10 x 8.
Tinner Hill 2015

These will both be on display with the show at the Falls Church City Hall and then at Artspace.  I’ve seen a few of the other pieces and they are lovely.  Next year I expect to be even better at this.  Now if we only had some mountains in Falls Church.

The Wedding Rehearsal

I had the best afternoon!  I am at our house in the mountains.   The weather is beautiful. At 1 o’clock it was mostly sunny and in the mid 60s. As I sometimes do when I’m here on Friday’s I decided to take the afternoon off to paint.

I had lunch outside on the deck and then decided it was so nice I had to plein aire paint.  I decided to go to the Three Ridges overlook just up the road.  I drove up there, set up, and started painting.  Not too long after I got there a woman showed up and told me that they were about to have a wedding rehearsal there for a wedding tomorrow evening.  I asked if I was in the way and she said she wasn’t sure. I’m sure she was worried about how her clients would react.  We agreed that I’d move my car out of the way but not my easel since it was all set up for the scene I was painting. Obviously if the wedding party objected I would have to move.

The wedding party showed up shortly thereafter.  They were very friendly and seemed delighted that I was there. I think I added to the ambience of the experience. They watched me paint, took pictures of me painting.  The father of the bride took a picture over my shoulder of the bride posing behind my painting.  It was a lot of fun. They had their rehearsal.  Since I was painting outside I was trying to paint fast so I made pretty good progress while they were doing their walk through and taking photos.  They were all very complementary of my work, which was very nice. The father of the bride took my business card. I ask him to share some of the pictures they took.  Hopefully he will.

It clouded up and I was worried it would rain on me. After last weekend I know that’s a bad thing.  I’d also lost my light so I packed up and came home shortly after they left.  I’m going to have to finish it in studio from a photograph.  Here is a picture of the unfinished painting on location. The chairs were added for the rehearsal. They were not there when I started.
Plein Aire at the Overlook
The mountains and sky are pretty good. The light had changed from when I started. The sun had come around and the mountains in the foreground were much hazier than earlier in the day.  I still need to do the details in front.  Now I feel I need to make it special since it was part of a special occasion. I will share the finished product.

Plein Aire Painting

I mentioned in a previous post that I really like water soluble oils.  They have many of the same characteristics as regular oils. They dry slowly so you can blend the colors on the canvas. They have that nice sheen to them.  The main advantage they have over regular oils is that you don’t need harsh solutions like turpentine.  Today I learned they have a disadvantage that I hadn’t thought of.

Falls Church Arts has a plein aire show every year.  Entries must be painted outside on location and the scenes must come from inside the Falls Church City lines.  This presents me with several challenges.  First, I’m not a very practiced plein aire painter — I usually paint from photos.  Plein Aire is something I need to get better at because it will sharpen my skills in many ways.  Second, I’m mostly a landscape painter and Falls Church is pretty urban.

Last year I painted a scene from the front yard of a friend’s house.  It was a lovely scene.  The azaleas were in bloom. The painting wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, so I didn’t enter it.

Today I decided to sit out in the plaza in front of Mad Fox Brewing Company and paint the awnings, windows, and tables out front.  It is a lovely day with a mix of clouds and sun. I was a little intimidated by the people at first but most people didn’t pay much attention. Those who did were polite.  Kids were fascinated.   I relaxed and painted and the painting, which was challenging, started to slowly come together. Then it started to rain.  A disadvantage of water soluble oils is that they run in the rain (only when they are wet – once dry they are as permanent as regular oils). The painting can probably be repaired, but it’s going to take some time. I was going to post a picture, but it’s just too sad.   All is good though – I got to to spend the afternoon painting.

Waterscape, etc.

It’s been a while since I posted anything.  Primarily that’s because I had the good fortune to go to Italy for a week to see my sister and her husband.  As always, Italy is wonderful and so picturesque.  It’s also very hard to paint.  I’ve already become discouraged, but I will keep trying.

There was a half finished painting on the easel when I left and I finished it while I was trying to get over jet lag from my return flight.  I like it so I thought I’d share.

I haven’t done too many waterscapes, and I’ve always been very unsuccessful with pictures of surf.  On this one I had more success.  I painted it from a photo I took along 17 Mile Drive in Carmel California a few years back.  It was a windy rainy April day and the skies were mean.  I enjoyed capturing the different colors in the surf and the sky.  The rocks, as always, were a challenge.  I like the end result well enough.  As is true with most paintings, it looks better in from a distance rather than in a close up photo.
17 Mile Drive
I’ve got many other things to share so I will try to write another post this weekend.