Mamaw & Papaw's House

I delayed posting about my latest painting, since it was commissioned as a special gift and I didn't want to spoil the surprise. It was painted for a young woman named Alison, from her dad Mitch. This is the country farmhouse which was Alison's maternal grandparents' home when she was a child, so she has many wonderful memories of time spend there with her cousins.

The grandparents are deceased, and now the home is under different ownership. I had visited the property a couple of years ago when it was for sale, and wandered around the farmyard, with its rustic outbuildings and weathered barn. Old oak boards on the inside walls of one of the small sheds had various names written in chalk, with the year they were written, like "Alison 1995." Although quiet and deserted, the homestead had revealed some of its past life to me.

My challenge was to paint this home with contemporary photos as my reference, altering it to look more as it did a few decades ago. Mitch visited the current owners and took numerous photos, following my suggestion to photograph it either early morning or late afternoon, whichever lit the front of the house best.

From Mitch's reference photos, taken in the late afternoon sun on a late November day, we chose a slightly angled view of the front of the house, with one of the big maple trees framing the scene on the right. Mitch wanted me to depict the home in an autumn landscape, and reviewed some of the "changes" in the house details to make it look more as it did when Alison was young - no porch railings, different roofing, move the swing chair, etc.

I decided to emphasize the warmth of the autumn afternoon light, and cast a golden glow on the white clapboards. This was greatly accented by the bright foliage colors too. For the clapboard siding, I used a mechanical pencil with a hard fine lead (so it wouldn't smudge) and drew them with a ruler. As in many of my acrylic paintings, I used glazing of transparent paint over these pencil lines, giving a blue cast to the shadows and yellow near the strongest highlights.

As a final touch, Mitch had a custom frame made from rustic boards saved when the barn was dismantled. I hope it will be an image Alison will long treasure, along with the happy memories of her days there.

Watercolor Exhibition on PBS

The Tennessee Watercolor Society's 32rd Exhibition, which took place last summer in Chattanooga, was professionally videotaped and will be shown on Tennessee PBS stations this weekend. So if you are in TN, tune in on Saturday, January 29, 2011, 7:30 pm ET and Sunday, January 30, 2011, 3:30 pm ET (adjust for Central Time, my friends to the west!).

The paintings chosen for this biennial exhibition were truly superior, and I was proud not only to be accepted with both of my entries but also to be an award winner. The very first painting shown in the video is my chocolates painting "Decadence," being viewed by two people involved in the exhibition. It's shown again with juror George James using it as an example in the workshop he presented (unfortunately, there's no audio at that part!), and once more with the chairwoman of the exhibition... so it gets lots of airtime! My dogwood blossoms, "Nature Paints a Picture," is shown as the video scrolls through all the paintings on display. The juror critiques some of the top award winners so the video is informative too. See which painting is your favorite... mine is "Orangina," an amazing still life of glass jars and goblets.

If you miss the broadcast, I own the DVD as well as the show catalog and would be happy to share them.

Painting a Snow Storm

The monochrome tones of this painting are quite a departure from my usual use of color, bright lighting and shadows. I wanted to do something different from the snowy barn in sunshine that I most recently completed. And I admit being influenced to try a primarily gray painting after seeing the oil paintings of an artist I met on Christmas Eve, Phillip Anthony, who does exquisite landscapes entirely in black, white and grays.

Still inspired by our recent snows, I've painted another barn, this time in the midst of the storm. Lack of light limits the range of colors our eyes see. If you've ever done scuba diving, you know that the deeper you go, less sunlight filters through the water (especially the red end of the spectrum), and fewer colors are visible. I love the way this phenomenon is described in the lines below, which you might recognize as having been recited at the end of the Moody Blues' 1967 recording "Nights in White Satin:"

Cold hearted orb
That rules the night
Removes the colours
From our sight
Red is gray and
Yellow white
But we decide
Which is right
Which is an Illusion

- From the poem "Late Lament" by Graeme Edge, drummer and lyricist for The Moody Blues"

In this new painting I set the horizon line high, since the sky was less interesting than the foreground. Other than mixing black and white, my palette was limited to Raw Umber (a dark brown), Burnt Sienna (rusty brown), Jenkins Green (in the foreground tree boughs), and a little Quinacridone Red (for the metal fenceposts) - all toned down by mixing with black and/or white. I think the warm browns add just enough interest to make your eyes go to the horses, within the otherwise gray landscape. I used a lot of very light gray, even on the snow on the ground, so that when I used pure white it would show up a little better. As the final step, I held my breath and spattered fine drops of white over the entire painting, hoping I wouldn't ruin the whole thing!
"Before" I spattered with white to create the falling snow.

I chose the title "Let It Snow" after thinking of the Christmas carol by the same name. As a native of New England, I know snowstorms can cause lots of problems, inconveniences, danger, and even tragedies. These days I am fortunate to work from home, and I can stock up on food and essentials before a storm, and we've cut and stacked plenty of dry firewood to keep the woodstove going… so I don't have to drive anywhere until the roads are safe. Here in Tennessee, the snow rarely gets very deep, and usually doesn't stay on the ground long enough to get dirty and ugly… although our recent January storm lingered for a while. So I've been happy to have the snow and see the beauty it has created in my woods.

If you've visited me, then you've passed the barn in this painting, on the left before my driveway gate. The end I've painted is facing the little yellow farmhouse; the end more visible from the road is leaning considerably!

Technical Note:

I drew in the fine lines of the woven field fence which enclosed the barnyard with a .01 tip Pigma Micron permanent black artist's pen. It was a subtle detail, but I didn't like how the black lines looked - to sharp and clear. Because the lines of the fence mostly fell against the white snow background, it was easy to tone them down by painting white very thinly over the lines. Can you see the difference? It made the fencing blend in with the rest of the scene just as I wanted it to.

Great Grandpa Bunny Bunny - My Mentor?!?!

Do you know who Great Grandpa Bunny Bunny is? You might think this is silly, but the beautiful blue shadows on the snow that fell here earlier this week have made me think of this character from my childhood. In a Little Golden Book called Walt Disney's Bunny Book, Great Grandpa Bunny Bunny teaches all the little bunnies in Bunnyville to paint everything around them - the flowers, the autumn leaves, the butterflies, the ferns… and the winter shadows. The little 22-page book had great illustrations of the happy bunnies creating all this beauty. "They painted up that whole wild wood till it sparkled and it gleamed." I loved this book, and a few years ago I accidentally found it in an antique store, with its retail price of 39¢ on the cover… so it has a place of honor in my art library! Do you think my early reading had anything to do with how much I love to paint nature, especially capturing its magnificent colors? I certainly enjoyed painting the blue snow shadows in "December Snow."

Perhaps bunnies painted these blue shadows from last summer's Japanese irises!

December Snow

My newest painting is a result of our Christmas Day snowstorm, which left 6+ inches of fluffy snow. Freezing temps kept it on the ground, and, when the sun came out two days later, everything twinkled like a fantasy-land! The roads were a mess, so I donned my hiking boots and grabbed my camera and set out to capture the beauty… and ended up with oodles of inspiration.

There are working farms with aging buildings all around this area, and the subject of this painting is one of my favorite barns. It has so many interesting elements that added to the challenge of capturing it in a painting: multiple roof angles, worn white painted barn doors, a glimpse of the dark barn interior, round haybales stacked under cover, and the rough bumpy barnyard creating texture in the snow. The sky and clouds were fabulous on the day I traipsed through the woods - walking along the barbed wire fence line - and the nearby trees were casting cool blue shadows. The twisted rusty barbed wire was what initially stopped me in my tracks, and I could see how it would help me create the "layers" of foreground, middle-ground (the barn), and background (the distant trees). Barbed wire fencing is so characteristic of old property borders in this area, functioning like the old stone walls in New England. I could hardly wait to start painting.
Back at my painting table, I lightly pencilled in my shapes on a 20" x 16" canvas, creating a low horizon so there would be lots of sky. My palette of fluid acrylic paints contains many "blue" hues, and I decided the sky would be best done using Phthalo Blue / Red Shade, mixing it lighter and lighter as the sky merged closer to the treeline. For the clouds, I used a more grayish blue, Anthraquinone Blue, mixed with white gesso, and applied it with pure white so I could mix shades on the canvas and soften the edges. Clouds look smaller the further away they are, lower and lower in the sky, and the bottoms are darker than the sunlit tops. I knew I'd be painting a big tree trunk along the right side of the canvas, so I wasn't too concerned about the weird cloud shapes there.
Snow shadows are a "cool" blue, as opposed to the warm blues I used in the sky. I chose Payne's Grey mixed with white gesso. Painting the snow on the ground was much like painting ripples on water. Next, I painted the distant hill and leafless trees. Then came the best part - painting the barn. The haystacks were so fun… no wonder Monet painted them over and over again! I love to depict texture and details, and this barn is full of both. With the barn complete, I moved on to finish the snowy background evergreens, the tangled web of branches on the large tree on the right, and the loops of loose barbed wire.

One of the prettiest things about fresh snow in the sunshine is the way it is faceted to reflect light, sparkling like tiny diamonds have be tossed all over the surface. In an attempt to mimic this effect, I spattered the foreground and the barn roof on my finished painting with Fine Iridescent Pearl paint (Golden Acrylics) thinned with gloss varnish, which contrasts with the matte varnish I had already used to seal the painting. It's a subtle effect and one which you can only see in person and with light hitting the canvas at a particular angle, but I liked what this added.

Fortunately, there are many terrific barns all around Tennessee, and I've been collecting photo references for the past few years. I think there will be more barn paintings in my future, since I enjoyed doing "December Snow" so much.