Monday, December 30, 2013

"Spence" An oil portrait

It's been a while since I painted a portrait.  This is from a snapshot I took of artist Chris Spencer of Locke, CA.  On this day, Spence was 'holding forth', as he often does, in front of Al the Wops.  Spence is not only a gifted artist who has made Locke his home for more than 30 years, but he is also one of those 'characters' that you run across now and then and who stay with you forever after.  I've had a lot of fun painting with Chris in Locke and the Delta and I've always enjoyed his outrageous (and insightful) take on life. 

I'd prefer to paint from life, but sometimes - often - that isn't possible.  I liked the photo and so I decided to try it.  It's a fairly large portrait - 16" x 20".   The compostion was difficult because of the hand, which I considered essential to the portrait.  It forced the head to the left of center, just the opposite of what I would normally want with the head also facing to the left.  As a result, the painting may be crowded on the left side. I'm not quite sure.  I've considered cropping closer (into a square) to see if that helps and I've tried it on Photoshop, but for now, I'll just let it sit for a week and then decide if it needs to be fixed is some way, or if it's ok as is.

Spence    oil on canvas   16" x 20"

Spence in Black and White  
Spence   Oil sketch on canvas

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A great print experience!

I've never pursued the idea of selling prints of my artwork, but the concept got a significant boost the other day.  As an experiment (and at the request of two buddies) I sent off for a variety of prints using one subject photo.  I choose on the recommendation of a friend, and I'm glad I did. I new venue for my work might have opened up. 

My friends wanted prints of a Model A that I had done using a great old truck that I photographed at the Amador County Fair.  The painting is a small 8" x 10" oil on an Ampersand panel.  I liked the painting itself...and the color range from very dark to stark white made it a good test run candidate.  I ordered a 8x10 photo print lustre finish, a 9x12 inkjet lustre print (an upgraded process) and a 9 x 12 giclee on canvas (unstretched).  I was able to easily crop the photo of the painting on the firm's website to accommodate the slightly different size ratios.  The costs were very reasonable and the service was prompt and the prints were delivered impressively and securely packaged.  Honestly I'm blown away by the quality of the prints.  All of them are just great....and the prices for the work are very reasonable.  I'm delighted with the the whole process and the end result.  No, I'm not on the PR staff.  I just appreciate good work and value.  A few times I've commented on products and services that in my opinion, deliver what they promise and make the artist's life a little easier and more fun.  I'll try to do that more in the future, but for gets a California Painter Thumbs up!

Here are the sample prints l to r.  Photo print, 9 x 12 giclee (unstretched but with 3" canvas all sides for stretching. Can also be glued to a panel, of course), and the 9x12 inkjet.  

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Noyo Harbor Watercolor Sketch

I'm working on an oil painting of a downtown Sacramento scene.  The focus is strong evening light on a beautiful, very old highrise with lots of deep shadows in the foreground.  I'm trying very hard to maintain the light and the shadows as the star of the painting without getting lost in architectural detail or people in the shadows.  On a couple of occasions, when I've felt the urge to began 'refining' the scene, I've stopped and broken out the watercolors.  With big brushes and washes and very little planning, I dive in.  With only a quarter sheet of watercolor paper and an hour of time at risk, it's easy to just let go.

This quick sketch took about an hour.  I used a plein air oil painting I did a year ago in Noyo Harbor at Fort Bragg, California for the subject matter.  It's obvious I'm still learning watercolor technique.  My washes are overworked and my painting approach is clearly that of an oil painter...strong and even a bit ham-handed...but I really enjoy these little sketches.  In a very short time it's done for better or worse.  I plan to try the same subject on a half sheet next...and with a bit more pre-planning.  Meanwhile, it's back to the shadows and the skyscraper.
Watercolor Study Noyo Harbor, CA   W/C on paper  approx 10"x14"


My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Monday, November 4, 2013

Morning Light on the Jackson Court House

This painting started as a plein air study and ended up being completely repainted in the studio.  My friend Howard Rees and I met in Jackson (Howard's home) and visited the old courthouse, now a museum, to paint.  We both set up in the same location where the morning light coming through the trees and skimming across the side of the building made a striking scene.  (Fortunately I took a picture as I was setting up - the one thing I did right that day!)

I made the classic mistake of 'chasing the light' which very quickly lit up the entire building as the shadows fell away.  Doing that, I lost the very thing that was so appealing earlier in the morning.  On top of that basic error, I had committed a number of drawing mistakes.  My perspective wasn't correct and I had placed the building too far to one side of the composition.  There were a number of simple drawing and relationship errors as well. In short, I had done a very poor job of planning the painting in the beginning and then compounded that mistake with lousy, rushed execution.  Normally I would have wiped the painting down to save the RayMar panel or simply set it aside to join a pile of other failed works.  But I was bothered that I had missed the target so widely on this effort and I decided to try to learn from it.

After the painting was completely dry, I redrew the building directly on the panel with charcoal.  I paid attention to the perspective in particular.  The colors in the original plein air work were dull, particularly in the sunlit areas, including the side of the building.  I pushed the color a bit in some places....or so I thought....but interestingly it turned out much closer to the 'real thing' than I would have guessed.

In the end, I felt good that I had not given up...that instead, I found solutions and worked through the problems.  The next time I go out to paint on location, I'll have this little exercise to fall back on.

Morning Light On The Jackson Courthouse   Oil on 16" x 12" canvas panel

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Exploring Watercolor - New Mexico Ranch House

I had a very short time to paint yesterday afternoon...a good opportunity to continue exploring watercolors while keeping it loose.  It's hard to express the sense of freedom I've enjoyed while painting these small watercolor 'experiments'.   It feels just like what the Doctor ordered.  I have been so bound up, so confused with oils lately.  The watercolors have come along at just the right time. I am aware that I am painting them like an oil painter...and missing the subtle magic inherent in w/c ....but just letting it go and seeing what happens has been a terrific feeling. 

This 1/2 sheet was done in less than an hour....including clean-up, which mercifully is almost non-existent.  I used a photograph and oil painting I had done of an abandoned ranch house on the Acoma Reservation in New Mexico simply because both were right there when I decided I had an hour to "play."  I'm still very much re-learning watercolor process and technique, but for this sketch, I tried not to think too much.  One or two minutes of object placement with a pencil was all that went into the planning.  After that it was placing color with one of those wonderful razor sharp flats...whether that was the right brush or not!  Many mistakes and just a whole lot of FUN!

New Mexico Ranch House   watercolor approx.  14 x 20

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Early Morning in Noyo Harbor - Plein Air

I've painted in Noyo Harbor at Fort Bragg California a number of times now.  There is so much great subject matter there that I can't resist, even though  finding places out of the way isn't always easy.  The light in the harbor can be difficult at times also.  It is surrounded by cliffs and high hills so that it is in shade early and late in the day.  At times I've found myself wishing for some light on the subject.  At other times, like the morning I painted this study, the light is very intense, almost blinding.

On this day I set up at the very mouth of the harbor, looking into it from a distance. Even though it was about 10 am in the morning, the sun was just reaching the harbor basin.  The low light streaming in from the left created a bright reflection on the morning mist that blocked most of the buildings and boats in the inner harbor from view.  There were intense reflections in the water as well.  I was hesitant at first to try to paint the scene because it was difficult to see into the harbor at all, but it was very striking and I couldn't resist trying.  As I painted the mist lifted and a few more of the distant structures became visible.  I omitted some for simplicity and barely suggested others, letting the light dominate.

This was a quick attempt to capture some of the feeling of that morning light.

Early Morning in Noyo Harbor   Oil on canvas panel   8" x 16"

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mendocino WATERCOLOR?!!

During my recent trip to Ft. Bragg and Mendocino, only one of the group, Judy, used watercolors.  It was interesting to see her daily paintings.  Some 40 years ago, I did paint in watercolor, learning from books by John Pike and Charles Reid and other fine painters, and I've always liked it.  My artist friend Howard Rees paints in both oil and watercolor.  In fact, he does quite a few watercolor workshops which are very popular.  Howard and I have frequently discussed watercolor and he has encouraged me to give it another try. I've resisted a little bit, thinking that it would be an unnecessary  'detour', but each time I see his watercolor work, I'm tempted. 

Recently I found two books on pencil drawing the head and the figure  and I've been doing some of the beginning 'lessons' on drawing the head again(more on that in another post).  For some reason, drawing with the pencil made me think about watercolors and Judy's nice work from Ft. Bragg.  I have a small kit of watercolor paints and brushes and a few sheets of watercolor paper gathering dust in the studio, and I couldn't resist any longer.

Yesterday, I found the reference photo I took of the buildings along Main Street in Mendocino, dug up the watercolor stuff and did my first watercolors in several decades**.   What a lot of fun.  It's so incredibly different than painting in oils.  In some ways, it feels like sketching...very immediate and quick.  The colors are so bright and clean too...except where I overworked them!  Many forgotten lessons and techniques came back to me as I painted...most of them only after I had done it wrong!  Anyway, here's my watercolor attempt at some of the same buildings I painted in oil in Mendocino (previous post).  I can't wait to do some more!

Main Street, Mendocino   Watercolor approx. 11" x 15"

(**Well, that's not entirely true.  I took two watercolor workshops about two years ago.  One was a two-day workshop and the other, mercifully, only one day.  If anything, they dampened my enthusiasm rather than energized me.  I had purchased some new w/c supplies for the workshops, but packed them up afterward.  Fortunately they were still there yesterday, waiting and raring to go for a fresh start!)  

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Main Street, Mendocino, CA

 In a previous post, I described my recent four day plein air painting experience in Fort Bragg and Mendocino, CA.  What a great time with amazing weather, the incomparable Pacific coast scenery and old artist friends.  

On the second day, we traveled the few miles from our home base in Ft. Bragg to Mendocino to paint.  Having painted the ocean the day before, I was interested in something different in Mendocino.  I've painted there before so I knew what to expect.  I had in mind that I would walk toward the ocean from Main Street and then turn around to paint the store fronts of Mendocino.  When I did that, I realized that the scene was not quite as dramatic as I had remembered.  I did a quick pencil sketch and changed some of the elements....moving the watertower, omitting some buildings and changing the relative size of others.   I also decided to try a 10" x 20" Ampersand Gessobord.  I love the 1:2 ratio for seems to depict the scene the way we naturally see it...but Gessobord was a little bit of a wrinkle.  I've painted on smaller Gessobord panels, but I had no experience with the larger format.

As a result of the different painting surface and the realization that I was 're-imaging' the scene anyway, I did something much different than my normal approach.  I painted quite broadly, trying to catch the essence of the scene...the lights and darks...without attempting to represent even a rough level of detail.  The result is a significant departure from my 'norm'....not a bad thing at all!

Main Street, Mendocino, CA   Oil on panel  10" x 20" 

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ft. Bragg and Mendocino in October. Spectacular!

McKerricher State Park just north of Ft. Bragg
For the third time (fourth??) I joined many artist friends at a Howard Rees workshop in Ft. Bragg and Mendocino.  October is a magnificent time on the coast, and this trip was proof!  Cool mornings, warm afternoons, and just one windy afternoon (an understatement...a couple of easels went over.) to  remind us that plein air painting is not for the timid.

Here are a few of the wonderful scenes that greeted us each day....and a some of the artists and friends who were along on the trip.  Not pictured....Julie, Vickie, Judy, Barbara, David, Renee. 

Bob ..traveled from Dallas Texas!!!


Howard, Bob, Ted, Norm

And here are some of the scenes I got to paint...

Mendocino  (This painting sold) 

Along the coast near Ft. Bragg


None of the pictures do the trip justice, but they do give a hint of the incredible scenery and beautiful weather we had.  I wish I had taken more pictures of the painters who came from Washington, Dallas, Berkeley, Vallejo, Rescue, Jackson, and other places I'm no doubt forgetting.  As you can see below, it was a great group!!

Dinner with friends in Ft. Bragg, CA October 2013. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Delevan Wildlife Refuge - A Landscape

At least once a year, I visit the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge located at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley here in California.  It's in the path of the annual migration of millions of geese, ducks and countless other water birds.  A visitor in December will usually be rewarded with awe inspiring views of clouds of Canadian Geese blanketing the sky.

This scene is out on the wetlands looking back at the buildings that make up the park complex.  There's a visitor center and a old observation tower (now closed, unfortunately) and a cluster of maintenance buildings for the park service equipment.  Beyond are the foothills and the coastal mountain range that form the western wall of the valley.  On the other side of the mountains is the Pacific Ocean and the Ft. Bragg, Mendocino area where I will be painting with friends in less than a week!

It's fall, so the migration hasn't started.  There are only a few geese on the water now, but in about two months all that will change dramatically.  Hundreds of thousands of very noisy geese and ducks will darken the skies and cover the wetlands.  Bald and Golden Eagles that follow the migration will arrive too and there will be activity, noise and life everywhere. But today, it's a quiet, lazy fall afternoon at Delevan.

This is oil on MDF panel and one of the largest paintings I've ever done...perhaps the largest.

Delevan Wildlife Refuge   Oil on panel  approx 22" x 45" 

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Squinting at Sunflowers

This simple still life was painted in a 2 1/2 hour session at a recent workshop.  The goal was to establish the basic shapes of the subject with minimal brushwork and detail, using value and edges instead.  The subject matter did not have a lot of color other than the yellow and muted green of the sunflowers.  Squinting was the order of the day. 

Squinting - now there's an interesting painter's tool.  After years and years or reading and hearing about squinting, I'm finally beginning to get it.  In the still life below, squinting helped me see the three basic shapes in the subject: the can, the group of foreground flowers that swoop up and to the left and the arc of background flowers.  Not only were the shapes apparent by squinting, but I could see quickly where they belonged...foreground, middle ground or background.  And I was able to paint them that way.  During a recent plein air session, which took place after I painted this still life, I deliberately and consistently squinted at the subject.  The result was one of my more successful plein air sketches. 

Squinting simplifies the subject, and shows you what's important...what  detail is important and what isn't.  In plein air situations in particular, squinting allows you to see light and dark patterns quickly.  And when you can see shapes and light and dark in simplified form, you can see the bones of your subject and the 'plan' for your painting.  And when you see that, you can see ways to alter or arrange them if needed to suit your composition.  For instance, the grouping of the flowers in this still life was not actually what you see in the painting.  The arrangement in the painting is the result of conscious decisions on what to leave out and what to add or just plain make up in order to build a design.  You are freed from the subject in front of you   

I can't wait for the next opportunity to "squint"! 

Sunflowers  Oil on canvas panel  16 x 12

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Another Summer Morning in Locke

The first Saturday of each month is a standing Sacramento Plein Air Painters gathering in Locke, California.  I don't always make it, but as anyone who reads my blog knows, Locke is one of my favorite places to paint around Sacramento.

I joined Martha Esch, a Locke shop owner, resident and facilitator of the Plein Air Painters Meetup site, along with several other painters for a gorgeous summer morning in Locke.  I've painted both of these buildings before, but this is the first time I've put both into the same scene.  I tried to keep things simple...going for the major shapes and resisting the temptation to paint every detail.  That can be a fatal error in Locke, where there is so much going on that it can be overwhelming.  I tried hard to remember to squint all the time, looking for the lights and darks and sticking with that.

This is a small 9 x 12 oil on a RayMar panel.
Locke 9.7.2013   Oil on canvas panel.  9" x 12"

Martha Esch snapped this picture.  I can truthfully say I never knew this was going on.  I think I need to step away from the easel once in a while.  My workshop instructors...Suchitra Bhosle, in particular...are always telling me that, but for a different reason.

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sutter Creek Pizza Patio - Plein Air

Today I joined artist Howard Rees for a plein air painting session in Sutter Creek.  Time was limited so we picked some locations close to our parking and other "conveniences".   I was intrigued by this deeply shaded patio across the creek from our location, but it was not an obvious painting subject and I thought it might be a struggle to get something recognizable out of all the shadows.  I knew the umbrellas would provide some focus and color, but much of the building behind was in deep shadow from trees.

I selected a small canvas and toned it with yellow ochre and a touch of Alizarin.  Then I tried to block in all of the darks that dominated the composition.    In reality, the building is a deep barn red/brown, but I need more contrast, so I left the tone as the building color in the beginning, adding brighter highlights as I went along.  I simplified the umbrellas and pushed the color of two of them.  The stairs added a little detail and I spent some time suggesting tables and other "clutter" in the darks under the umbrellas.

Later we had some delicious pizza (and beer) and sat at the window next to the green screen door.  I highly recommend Pizza Plus in Sutter Creek.  Fabulous...and a small pizza is enough for two, easily.  Check 'em out.  

Pizza Plus Patio - Sutter Creek   Oil on 9 x 12 canvas panel

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Glass Bottle and Pitcher on Book - Still Life

Another still life set up with very little color.  It's a challenge to manage the values.  Control is definately the order of the day, since there's no opportunities to let least with color.  There is much to learn in these seemingly simple setups.

Glass Bottles and Pitcher on Book    12" x 16" Oil on canvas panel

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Corn Dogs!

Like the post immediately before this one, the subject matter of this sketch was a photo taken at the Amador County Fair this year.  That's a great event that I would recommend to anyone.  Small, on beautiful grounds, family friendly....the way I remember that Fairs used to me.

Anyway, I've been a little worn out from wrestling with complicated and more formal paintings, so I decided to do another small sketch.  Once again I used Ampersand Gessobord and once again, my idea was to try to paint quickly...under an hour if possible.  I had planned to paint big shapes rapidly, and then come back to add the little details and calligraphy that can create a feeling of detail in a quick sketch,  but the figures caused me to slow down quite a bit.  I noodled on them much more than I should have, and as a result I ended up spending twice as long as my goal.  Oh well....I did enjoy it a lot.  As I painted I had Qaing Huang's beautiful little urban sketches with people in mind.  Of course, I didn't even land on the same planet as that gifted painter, but I am not displeased.  I like the perspective on this sketch....I think it has a feeling of depth, even though it is not a large landscape. 

Corn Dogs    Oil on 8" x 10" gessobord panel  

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Model A Flat Bed

I had a lot of fun doing this small sketch of a Model A Ford flat bed.  I took a picture of the car at the Amador County Fair this year.  Regretfully I forgot to get the exact identification.  I think it's about a 1927 model.

Late next month, I'm going to be painting by invitation at the Ironstone Winery Concours d'elegance, an annual event in Murphys, California.  I'm told that last year there were some 400 classic cars entered!! I imagine there will be chances to paint a few of the classics, so I'm trying to practice a little.  This sketch took about an hour, a little too long, I think.  I'm aiming for about 30 -45 minutes.  Overall, I managed to keep the shapes simple and to maintain a lot of contrast, which seems suitable for a quick sketch. 

This was done on Ampersand Gessobord, a perfect surface for quick studies and sketches.  I plan to take a lot of these panels with me to Murphys. 

Model A Ford flat bed    Oil on panel  9 x 12 

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Monday, August 12, 2013

Blair - A Portrait

At a studio session with Suchitra Bhosle, I painted this portrait from our model Blair.  This is the second time Blair has been our subject.   This time Suchitra added a bit of a costume and a glass bottle as a prop.  I didn't feel that I did well in the studio session.  Time was even more limited than usual and I didn't feel that I had control of the painting when I left for the day.  Fortunately I had a decent photograph of Blair and I decided to see if I could pull the painting out in my own studio.  At first it didn't go well....I felt I was adding layer on layer of wet paint and everything felt mushy.  Finally, gathering my courage....and fighting the urge to call it quits....I scraped the face area down with the edge of a palette knife, leaving just a ghost image.  I started again, blocking in shadows and adding lights slowly. 

I'm satisfied with the result.  Mostly I'm glad I didn't give up on it.  It is a much better feeling to see a painting through to an acceptable - if not totally successful - conclusion.

This is my final portrait of Blair.  It's oil on canvas panel.  12 x 16.

Blair   Oil on 16" x 12" RayMar canvas panel. 

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Dancer Revisited - Portrait

I photographed this beautiful 'belly dancer' at a recent Festival in a park in Rancho Cordova, a suburb of Sacramento.  I'm painting a nearly full length figure / portrait of her, but in spite of the wonderful subject matter, it has been a struggle.  Along the way, I painted a quick sketch of a head and shoulder portrait that I posted earlier.  It was an entertaining break from the larger painting.  However I have continued to struggle with the larger work.  Even the background has me completely stymied.  Once again I turned to the portrait to try a completely abstract...and very light....background.  I also couldn't resist taking the actual portrait to a higher degree of finish.  It's still far from finished, but it was a good exercise once again.  I like the very bright and warm background against her dark skin and costume.  Back to the bigger painting again....

Here's the Dancer portrait revisited.  It's 16" x 12" oil on canvas.

The Dancer Revisited  16 x 12 oil on canvas.

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Kiwi in Locke - Plein Air

 Today the Sacramento Plein Air Painters met in the on-going First Saturday paint-out in Locke.  A good number showed up and it was a really lovely summer morning.  I found this little spot looking through a vacant lot on Main Street and into the back yard fence and yard of a small house beyond.  At this time of the morning the west facing house and fence were in deep shade, but the tin roof was beginning to emerge into sunlight and the yard was getting full sun.  A New Zealand flag hung from the beam of the rear porch.  I learned learned later that the lady living there is a New Zealander...and I had a chance to say hello.  

I pushed the darks hard on this Plein Air Study in the hope of emphasizing the lighted areas.  The roses were in the light for the most part and were quite striking, but I didn't have an appropriate red to make them pop.  When the painting drys a bit, I'll add a little emphasis in the rose blooms.

It was a great morning in Locke once again.

A Kiwi in Locke   Oil on panel   16 x 12 

This original plein air painting is available unframed at
My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

White Vase and Peonies - Still Life

Still life paintings are usually a chance to "let go" with color.  It's one of the reasons I find them so invigorating to paint.  Yesterday's still life was quite the opposite: a lesson in restraint.  The white vase and white flowers made this painting all about values.

White Vase and Peonies   Oil on canvas  12 x 16

This original oil painting is available at
My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Yellow Roses and Pink Flowers - Still Life

I'm beginning to think of still life painting as a sort of therapy.  When I'm totally frustrated and at a loss with whatever painting I'm currently working on...or even if I just need a break...still life seems just what the doctor ordered.  This still life served just such a therapeutic purpose.  I'm currently working on two involved paintings, one a figure in a complicated costume and the other a large landscape.  Neither seems to be going particularly well at the moment.  It was time for a break from the struggle. 

Last weekend I wandered into the garden, clipped some yellow roses and some pink flowers. (I don't know what the pink flowers are...but the "bush" they are growing on is the size of a small to medium tree.  I don't cut it as I probably should because it provides some much needed shade on the small patio adjoining my studio.)   I haven't used this particular vase before so I put the flowers in and around it, draped a white towel over my cardboard still life "stage" and away I went. 

I have about four hours in this 16" x 12" painting.    I'd like to do a bit more study on still life painting and in particular, learn more about painting flowers, but until I do I find these simple setups a lot of fun to do.  There's something pretty freeing about still life...and those wonderful colors are just great to dive into! 

Yellow Roses with Pink Flowers   Oil on canvas  16 x 12"

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Murphy to the Rescue! Cleaning Old Brushes

When I first began painting, I was pretty careless with my brushes.  For the most part I used bristle filberts which held up reasonably well to my vigorous painting style, but not to my neglect.  I rarely cleaned my brushes thoroughly: if I did any cleaning at all it was a quick dunking in the OMS and a wipe off.  Over time I collected jar after jar of stiff, unresponsive and virtually useless brushes.  Most of them should have been thrown away long ago.

Some time ago, I was told about Murphy Oil Soap as a brush cleaner, and I've even tried it a few times with success, but I never paid a lot of attention, frankly.  Recently I noticed the jars full of useless brushes littering my studio, and Murphy Soap came back to mind.  It's available at any grocery or hardware store, so the next time I was shopping I picked up a bottle.  I can't remember what I paid, but it's inexpensive.  I partially filled a glass jar and tossed in a few of my worst brushes.  I checked back a few days later and found a minor miracle had occurred.  My brushes were almost like new...the bristles clean, soft and pliable again.  I'm now going through the whole collection of ruined brushes a few at a time.  I don't know what the heck I'm going to do with all these "new" brushes.

Here's a picture of Murphy Oil Soap for your information.  Next to it you'll see my brushes 'soaking'.   One thing you'll notice is that the Murphy in the jar has coagulated to the consistancy of vaseline.  I imagine that is due to evaporation of some part of the soap.  However, I haven't noticed any lessening of the cleaning power as a result.  I just dunk the brushes in the gunk!  It works.  After a few days, I wipe the brush down and then wash with either a conventional brush cleaner or plain ol' dishwashing soap.  I have found a couple of brushes that were beyond repair.  If the old paint is too built up at the base (or belly) of the brush, just above the farrell, it may not be possible to clean it out to a new condition.  It could be that eventually Murphy would even get that problem, but I figure if it won't do it in a couple of days of soaking, it's not worth the effort.

Nowadays, I'm very careful with my brushes and I clean them properly after every session, but it's been fun to see my old neglected brushes ready to go again.  I have more than I know what to do with!

By the way, Murphy works fantastically on dried acrylic brushes also.  In fact, it seems to clean them more quickly than the oil brushes.

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Rose in a Coke Bottle - Still Life

More roses!  Today was a hot Sunday afternoon.  But I'm not complaining: it was a perfect California Summer Day!  About 3 PM I'd finished all the chores to prepare for the week and I had the urge to paint.  I knew I wouldn't have much time, so I decided to do another simple still life.

My granddaughter Lily had left a coke bottle on the table on the backyard deck and it caught my eye.  I pruned a couple of roses from the garden and set up this simple still life.  The yellow roses quickly wilted because they weren't in water, and by the end of the painting, they were flat and shapeless...and that's my excuse for why mine look flat and shapeless in the painting!  I really need to spend some time learning to paint roses!

This painting is done on Ampersand Gessobord.  It's a very slick surface and I like it quite a bit.  It takes some getting used to...and I'm not totally there yet...but the colors stay on the surface nicely.  I have about 1 1/2 hours in this small study.  When it sets a bit, I'm going to have another go at the roses, I think.

Roses and Coke Bottle    12" x 9" Oil on Gessobord  

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Roses among the Thorns

This is a scene in my backyard near my small studio.  The roses were the gift from a former owner, and although I am anything but a gardener, I've managed to keep them alive, if not thriving, for the last six seasons.  Each year, on precisely the first of April, the first rose appears.  (I've paid attention to the date the last two years.)  After that, I have a summer of wonderful color.  I've become a rose fan.

Yet, lurking in the corner of the property is one of the ugliest telephone and electrical poles you've ever seen.  If there were anymore wires hanging on it, I'd fully expect it just to topple over, if it could!  Most of the time, I never even notice it, I suppose because we've generally become immune to the ugliness that is all around us in the city.  But at times, I've been fascinated by the pole....and more than once I've thought of painting it.  (There are some that are even worse in the little town of Locke...and I've often considered trying to paint those.)  Anyway, on Friday, I noticed the morning sun hitting the roses....and towering above them, Mr. Ugly.  I got out my EasyL and set it up in a spot where I could see both the roses and the pole.  I cut an elongated piece of canvas and taped it to a scrap of lightweight foamcore.

The weather has been cooking this weekend, so I painted for awhile on Friday morning, set up again on Saturday morning and pretty much finished.  After looking at it last night, I decided it needed something else, so this morning about 7 am, I set up my camera tripod and took a number of pictures of myself in the garden.  I went out to the Studio, turned on the A/C (it's supposed to get to between 106 and 111 so it's hot already at 9:30 am.) and painted myself into the picture.  So one could say it's essentially a version of a rose(s) between two thorns.  

Roses Between the Thorns   Oil on canvas   approx.  17 x 9

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Dancer - a Portrait

 I've been working on a full length painting of this beautiful belly dancer.  It's been a real challenge.  Hopefully, I'll be posting the result one of these days, but for now, there's a long way to go.  Today, I did this quick portrait study just for a change of pace.  It doesn't do her justice, but it was fun to do...

A Portrait of  The Dancer   9" x 12" Oil on Canvas

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Roses and Blue Pitcher - Daily Painting

I don't do daily paintings, although many painters I admire do them regularly or have done them at times in the past.  I'm convinced it's a worthwhile undertaking for practice, experimentation and brush mileage..  I've been working on paintings lately that take a lot of time, and while it's fun to watch the images emerge over a series of sessions in the studio, I miss the gratification of sitting down for an hour or two and creating a 'finished' work.  I've always been drawn to alla prima painting techniques and small daily paintings foster that approach. 

Today I clipped a few roses from the garden and found a blue trimmed pitcher among my meager still life props and made this simple setup.    I sure need practice painting roses!  They are a challenge!  But within an hour or so, I'd competed this little 6" x 6" painting.  For lack of a better term, I think of it as a "daily painting."  Great practice and fun to do. 

 My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fair Oaks Village Coffee House - Plein Air

I joined several other members of the Sacramento Plein Air Painters at the park in Fair Oaks Village this morning.  It was gorgeous weather and the park was in cool shade all morning.  I've painted the Coffee House across from the park on previous occasions, but this time I tried a bit different approach.  The biggest change was to go to a 6 x 12 format, which is becoming a favorite.  It feels so much more correct for landscapes, and even some cityscapes seem to fit well.  I started the painting on a 9 x 12 panel, but realized almost instantly that I was going to end up with exactly the same painting as previous attempts if I didn't do something different.  I quickly picked up my preliminary pencil  sketch and drew in the elongated border of a 6 x 12....and it looked like it would work fine. I had one panel of that size with me. It was already pre-toned and away I went. 

I resolved to paint loosely and to strive for contrast.  I exaggerated the shadow darkness and I like the result.  The umbrellas were the obvious color focus, so I pushed those just a bit in brightness as well. 

Before I finished, the owner of the Coffee Shop came over and bought my painting.  This photo is all I have left to remind me of a good day in Fair Oaks Village.

Fair Oaks Village Coffee House   Plein Air oil on panel   6" x 12"

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Long Road Traveled (The Preacher) - A Portrait

With almost 20 hours on this portrait, I think I've reached an end.   It's on canvas taped to a board, so in a few days...maybe this weekend, I'll decide on a final size and stretch it.  I wouldn't be surprised if I find a few more things to tweak, but for now, I'm done. Time to sign it. 

If you love to paint portraits, this is the kind of subject you wait and wait for. What a wonderful face.   In the high quality photo reference that I used, the colors in this gentleman's skin are amazing.  There are golds and reds and oranges and the highlights are amazing blues.  The biggest challenge is not to get too caught up in all that wonderful color and let the painting become a patchwork quilt- beautiful but not unified.  That wasn't easy.  The other issue for me was maintaining the overall darkness of the face, even though on close examination so much of it is beautiful bold color.  I used a lot of what I learned from Suchitra Boshle on the control of values and I think it helped.  (  Although I've only had a few sessions with Suchitra, I've become acutely aware of values in portrait painting, thanks to her instruction and example.  I've drawn on another teacher, Dan Edmondson, as well.  (  All through this painting, Dan's admonition to "Make beautiful brushstrokes" has been constantly in mind.  I've resisted smoothing and 'licking' - as much as I can! - and instead I've consciously struggled to maintain brush strokes by mixing a color, applying it and leaving it alone.   I'm trying Dan, I'm trying!

But above all I hope I have captured the warm and gentle spirit of this man that shines through in the photo reference...

Here's the final portrait....(The whites behind the head slightly to the left are not there....I continue tos stuggle to get faithful photographs. sigh) 
A Long Road Traveled   Oil on linen   20 x 16 approx. 

Below are some notes and a picture of The Preacher in progress.
At that point I've got about 12 - 15 hours in it:

I'm nearing the end, but I'd like to let it sit and set-up for awhile before I make the final finishing strokes.  I'll add highlights to the crown of the head and a few other spots like the bridge of the nose.  It's amazing how that can add dimension and life to a portrait.  It's also amazing how easy it is to overdo it and mess up the whole thing!  I can see that the tip of the nose needs more modeling so I'll spend some time there.  I may also continue to tweak the background a bit.  Generally I'll drag it into the head to lose edges here and there, but perhaps not in this painting. In fact, I may try to push the background away to make the head come forward, increasing the three dimensional effect. Finally, stepping away for a bit and looking at photographs of the painting is a great way to see drawing errors and areas that need more work.  But it's almost complete so I'd though I'd show a WIP (work in progress) photo.  (Not to mention that I need something to POST!) 
The Preacher WIP  oil on linen approx. 20 x 16

and here is my oil sketch 'block in'

The Preacher  WIP  Initial Block In  Oil on linen

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Monday, May 27, 2013

Suchitra's Model #2 UPDATED

Nothing seems to expose problems in a painting like the old artist's trick of looking at it in a mirror.  It's amazing what jumps out as obvious when you do that.  In a similar way, taking a photograph and studying it later is just as effective.  After I made my original post of this particular painting, I saw several problems that bugged me and needed attention.  I think I have everything straightened out now.

I like this particular portrait study.  The blonde hair came out well....I stopped when I should have, successfully resisting the urge to start being clever and over painting it, as I often do.  The result is a light, airiness that feels authentic. The coloring came out better that usual as well.  The eyes are in deep shade which was quite a challenge to recreate.  It was a test of  painting values.  I also like the background.  I felt there were some lessons learned on this one. 

Suchitra's Model No. 2    12" x 9" Oil on linen panel

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Preacher - a sketch

When I paint portraits, I invariably start with a direct sketch on the canvas using a brush and thinned paint. I just use a lot of OMS in the mix.  That keeps the chroma a bit subdued and it causes the sketched lines to dry fast.  They are therefore less likely to mix into the skin tones.  The color varies, usually depending on the overall skin tone, but it's usually some variation of transparent oxide red or burnt sienna.  Sometimes a gray is appropriate.  The brush is generally a small bristle filbert, but I also like the sharp edges of a very small flat. (They quickly become 'filberts.'   I'm a bit rough on brushes.) 
Once the major facial landmarks are located, I typically establish the darkest darks and then begin to move to halftones and then lights in color.  In other words, I begin painting right away.  However, occasionally I take the first block in further using light and dark shades of the sketch color only.  I just love these block-ins, and frankly, I'm often more satisfied with them than I am with the resulting completed painting.  (I'm aware of the classical technique of grisaille, and I guess this is a version of that....but I don't think of it as an under-painting for glazes to follow, but just a 'black and white' sketch that will guide me as I paint -mostly opaquely- over it.)  Here's The Preacher in the first sketch.  I've gone past this point already and I'm well into the fully painted portrait.  In this photo I see some of the initial drawing errors that I hope I have corrected in the more complete painting...but still I almost wish I had stopped here!

I'll post the final version when it's done.  Still have a way to go.
The Preacher
Oil on linen   Approximately 20 x 16

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Suchitra's Model #2 Portrait

 I had the good fortune to spend another studio session with Suchitra Bhosle a week ago.  I've posted about painting with Suchitra before, so I won't go into it again, except to say that it is always a challenging and energizing experience.   Once again, I felt a bit like a child with his first finger paint set, except I wasn't nearly so free and unconstrained!  Values, values, values.  I learn a bit more each time about values. 

 My painting of the model was not especially good.  When I started, I felt that I was on the right track, but time was short.  For some reason, after about an hour, I felt completely lost.  The drawing felt completely out of control, and I realized my mind was a jumble of conflicting thoughts.  Once again I wiped my canvas down and determined to start again.  I'm not any more comfortable doing that than I have ever been - it always feels like defeat to me - but I've begun to realize that if I do not have a plan and if I am not careful and methodical in the beginning, there is very little likelihood of rescuing the painting no matter how long I dabble and poke at it.  Better to wipe it down and THINK.  Anyway, the remaining time wasn't enough to take the painting to any level of finish and I left with yet another panel to pile up in a stack somethere.

After letting it sit for a week, I decided to see if I could bring the painting to a higher degree of finish and at the same time, identify and work through some of the problems I had left unresolved.  Fortunately I'd taken some pictures at the very end of the session, so I had important reference material as a guide.

This is Suchitra's model #2 (of course, I've forgotten her name!).  I would guess that there is about five hours total in this small canvas, counting the 1 1/2 - 2 hours spent in the studio session.  I feel that I learned a lot by finishing up this portrait and I have a much nicer feeling of completion.

Suchitra's Model #2   Oil on 12" x 9" panel 

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Adapting in Locke!!

 Any plein air painter will tell you that a part of the process is adapting.  Wind, rain, heat, cold, various critters large and small, all add an element of adventure to the if getting a decent painting wasn't tough enough.

On Saturday I went to the small Delta town of Locke to paint.   I've mentioned Locke in many previous posts, so I'll just say that it's a favorite spot with endless subject matter.  It was a quiet morning, with beautiful weather.  I picked a building and started the block-in.

A tranquil morning in Locke...

As I sketched, someone mentioned that a Cinco de Mayo motorcycle ralley was on the way.  Motorcycles are nothing new in's a favored stop on most motorcycle runs in the Sacramento Delta area, and, of course, it's also home to the famous bar "Al the Wop's" ...a classic biker watering hole.  


And a deafening roar, they showed up!  I'd guess about 100 bikes rolled into main street.  I was surrounded!  

Adapt!  Paint Motorcycles!!

 There was nothing to do but adapt.  In a near-brilliant flash of self preservation, I added the bikes to my painting!

 And I even won over a few admirers.  I painted on.    What a blast!  My painting didn't come out that well, but it was a great morning...and I have a lot of material for future paintings.

Adapt!  Pretend nothing unusual is happening!  Paint on!

Here's my 9 x 12 painting.  A fun sketch...and maybe inspiration for a larger studio painting?  

Adapt, adapt!  There's really nothing quite like plein air painting. 

My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Finally I set up an online Art Website!

Just finding time and energy to paint is struggle enough, it seems to me.  But art study and professional exposure are important as well, and I've finally begun to devote some much needed efforts on both. 

It's time to begin to establish a presence as an artist that will set the stage for the next phase of my artistic journey.  My friend Ruth Andre ( ) has long been sending me marketing (exposure) tips; she is quite accomplished at it.  And my online 'mentor' Dan Edmondson has included a huge amount of information about beginning to establish yourself as a engaged professional in his "Art Masters Program."   So armed with good advice I have finally taken a first,  small step and set up an online art website. 

I chose Fine Art Studio Online as my online service provider.  I'm sure there are other equally competent services out there...and I checked out a couple of them...but in the end I selected FASO because they seemed to provide all the necessary tools in a convenient and accessible way, and, maybe most importantly, nearly every current artist that I pay attention to and follow seems to have selected FASO as well.  That was important to me. 

I still have quite a few 'tweaks' to do to the website and many more paintings to upload, but it's in place and fairly presentable so check it out and follow along as I update and polish it.  You can find it at 

My next effort will be to set up an inventory tracking process.  I'm currently reviewing several programs set up do keep track of paintings, gallery submissions, sales, etc.  I'll keep you posted on that. 


My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Meeting Kathleen Dunphy

There are special moments along the way that I know will continue to bring a smile years from now.  Yesterday my FatBoy friend Steve Kobely (aka Sterling Saguarro) and I journeyed to Douglas Flat near Murphy's California to experience one.

In an earlier post I expressed my excitement over receiving a merit award at the Ironstone Winery "Spring Obsession" art show.  Of course it was a pleasure to have my painting, "Miner's Cabin" selected, but the special part of that was that the judge who selected it was Kathleen Dunphy, nationally known plein air artist. ( )  Now THAT was exciting.

Although I got to thank Kathleen and shake her hand during the flurry of activity at the show reception, I didn't get a picture.   My FatBoy buddies, Steve and Mike Tompkins (aka Tall Fescue), badgered me into writing Kathleen to ask for a photo op, something I'd never do on my own.  Amazingly, Kathleen gratiously agreed and yesterday I met her in Douglas Flat near Murphys for the big event.  Kathleen was holding a workshop for 15 painters (all her workshops are sold out well in advance!) and at lunch break we took the photos.

She could not have been more gracious.  And as for myself...well, it was a special moment in my artist's journey.  Thanks Kathleen...once again.

Kathleen Dunphy

My Art Site