Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Mysteries (and challenges) of Painting ...

Last week, I met with artist friends along the Mokelumne River above Jackson, California.  This is Gold Rush country and it seems there is something to paint everywhere you look.  On this day, we ventured away from architectural subjects and found ourselves facing a rapidly moving river and GREEN everywhere.  I won't go into the problems I have consistently had with painting 'pure' landscapes made up almost entirely of GREEN.  Suffice to say that on this day, I came away with no painting at all, having wiped down my very pathetic attempt in order to save an expensive panel.  That is always a bad feeling.  But I resolved not to let it remain simply an un-fun experience.  If I am to make progress, such outings have to be LEARNING experiences.

I followed up with several hours of study and experimentation with mixing greens which I might talk about in another post, but I also thought deeply about my mental state and how very important that is to a successful painting.  On this day along the Mokelumne River, I was not mentally prepared to paint.  It had been a busy week in the office with several challenging situations arising that remained unresolved.  I brought along my little dog Dixie Doodles for the first time.  She was a good girl all day, but this was an experiment on my part, and it was distracting and new for me.  I kept checking on her and worrying about shade and water.  I was very aware of my previous struggles with "pure" and green landscapes.  And finally, I compromised on what to paint, selecting a location that accomodated Dixie instead of one that I preferred for the subject matter.  The outcome was predicable.

The side of the Murphys Hotel, Murphys, California
I thought back to a successful experience and searched for contrast.  I remembered the first day painting in Murphys, which I have talked about in a previous post.  Of course the architectural subject matter was something I was more comfortable with, but my mental state on that day was wholly different than my day on the River.  On the evening of arrival I walked the town of Murphys and found this wonderful wall of windows with the balcony.  It's the side of the Murphys Hotel, in operation since 1856.

Just enough room to avoid being run over!

I knew as soon as I saw it that this was going to be my first painting of the trip.  In the morning, I set up along the street next to the scene.  I was fresh, excited and mentally focused on this subject.  I was clear on what I wanted.  I envisioned a bold painting with thick paint to capture the rustic, aging subject matter.
The final result and a happy painter!

In my opinion, the Murphys Hotel painting was my most successful effort of the trip.

So what were the lessons I learned by this comparison?

1.  Focus.  Painting isn't easy.  It requires my FULL attention.
2.  Know why I am painting a subject. What do I want to capture and record?  Go for that and minimize everything else. 
3.  Have a plan of how I am going to approach the painting.
4.  Have a vision of what the result will look like.  This doesn't have to be a perfect vision.  There should be lots of room for change and creativity, but I should still have a conceptual idea of the outcome.
5.  Be enthusiastic about my subject matter AND my concept.  If I'm not, it's going to be a struggle.
6.  Don't rush the beginning.  Take time to consider, study.  Make a sketch or two.  Get everything ready BEFORE starting.  Have the right colors, brushes, medium.  


  1. Great post and it is fun to see your painting and the old hotel. You have listed some good lessons to remember.

    1. That's a gorgeous gold with the green balcony wrought iron contrast. The photograph didn't seem to offer much potential but then that's the difference between the two, I imagine. Your particular composition didn't allow it - space - but it might have been interesting to include the hotel lettering as well. Very nice work.

  2. Hi Kansas...Actually, the reality was much more intriguing than the photo, at least to me. I'm fond of architectural subjects, and this one appealed to me immediately. I actually thought about moving the lettering over into the 'frame' of my painting, but in the end, I just didn't ...ran out of time and was afraid to screw up the painting, which I liked. I can't really explain the goldish yellow color I painted the walls. They were much more 'pinkish', but didn't have much life. The gold just showed up.
    Thanks for the good comments!

  3. One of the best images of the Historic Hotel I have seen yet! Will it be one of your entries in Ironstone's Spring Obsession Art Show? Sure hoping to see some of your work up here! Thank you for sharing such great observations and the story of your journey. Inspiring to say the least!

    Thank you!

  4. Wow...thank you so much. One of the highlights of my painting trip to Murphys was a day at the Ironstone Winery painting on the gorgeous grounds....my first visit. I wasn't aware of the Spring Obsession Art Show...but I am now! Thank you!