Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Back to the studio

I finally made it back into the studio today, I've been so busy since I got back from Alaska I haven't had a chance. I'm really aching to start on some bigger paintings from the studies I did in Alaska, but I need to get stretcher bars and organize first, so I worked on finishing my still life I'd started before my trip. It's coming along. Here's the in progress picture:

I'm finding it oddly difficult to paint wooden blocks. Alaska did me good though, I definitely shook the slump I was in before I left. I'm so excited for all the painting I have planned for the next two months before I leave for France.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


After leaving Denali we drove up to Fairbanks, and back down the other loop of the highway to Seward. The drive from Fairbanks to Seward is gorgeous, seemingly endless mountains upon mountains, some with evergreens, some with glaciers, valleys carved by spring snow melts, meandering rivers, groves of birch and aspen, small lakes mirroring the enormous sky, the occasional moose. It was hard not to ride with your face pressed against the window. We spent two days in Seward, which is a fishing town on the water, and then drove on to the Homer Spit, a narrow strip of beach protruding into the bay, where we spent the night before heading back towards Anchorage.

Here is are some pictures of the second half of the journey:

The Matanuska Glacier.

Day one in Seward it rained. There is nothing fun about painting in cold rain. The water gets everywhere, in your paints, on your palette, in your shoes, down your collar. I make a rather cranky cold and wet person. It was hard not to be frustrated by the weather, especially as the clouds hid the mountains we knew surrounded us. Despite the discomfort, Kelly and I ventured out in the rain to do three different studies.

This is one of the studies I did in the rain, the only one to turn out, really. It was done right near our campground, from the bed of Stony Creek.

We were very lucky, though, because the rain didn't last, and we spent our second day in Seward in sunshine. We hiked up to Exit Glacier, which was just fabulous. All the reading about glaciers in the world cannot compare to actually standing next to one.

We hiked back down from the glacier and found a spot in the valley below where you could see the river from the run off and a bit of the glacier between the mountains. It was a fascinating subject to paint with endless complexities; there was enough information to work with I could have stood on the spot for a month and barely have completed a painting. I wish I had had more time to develop the colors in the snow and ice, as it was, I focused more on the drawing and values. I guess that's why you do studies, I'll just have to come back and try again.

It was definitely spring in Alaska, the wildflowers were everywhere and so lovely.

My last afternoon in Seward, I spent a long time sitting on the rocks by the harbor, watching the sea otters at play. It was so sunny and warm, and the otters so amusing, I lost track of time forgot I was supposed to be painting. I decided though, that I needed another shot at a snow capped mountain, so I did this quick study in about a half an hour before the tide came and chased me from my perch on the rocks.

That evening, we watched the fishing boats come into harbor. The fish were enormous, some bigger than me. Boats and fishermen make for such interesting subjects, I have so much more painting to do this summer! One of our group went out on a halibut fishing trip for the day and brought us back fresh fish to grill at our campsite for dinner. It was our best meal all trip.

After Seward, Homer Spit was quite a change. While they are both fishing towns on the water, Seward sits on a narrow fjord, and while you know you're just off the sea, the various rocks and mountains meeting the water block it from view, making it feel more like a mountain town than anything, and Homer Spit protrudes into Kachemak Bay, narrow and low, making you feel as though you're almost sitting on the water. After painting so much nature, I guess I needed a bit of a change. I was just caught by the houses along the shore with their piles and porches, and quickly set to work painting.

I think this is my favorite painting of the trip.

The moon, durning twilight.

Our night in Homer corresponded with the Summer Solstice. Kelly and I stayed up to watch the sunset and talked late into the twilight, which was as dark as it every got, until the sun started to lighten the sky just a touch to the right of where it'd gone down a few hours before.

As we didn't need to be in Anchorage until very late, we drove slowly and stopped often on our way from Homer. We hiked to the Russian Falls and saw the salmon swimming upstream, another sight to which retelling and reproduction cannot possibly do justice. The perseverance of the fish in the face of seemingly impossible odds amazes. In the later evening, after dinner time, we stopped at a reed-filled pond between the mountains, which was reflecting the partially clouded evening sky. We decided that seemed like a good place for one last painting.

My last painting of the trip.

While I was standing here, a woman was kayaking in the pond. She took pictures of me painting on the bank, reflected in the water. I gave her my e-mail, in hopes that she would send them to me. If she does, I will post them here, and also ask her the name of the pond.

So, that was Alaska. Kelly stayed on an extra five days, returning to Denali. You can see her blog of the trip, it's listed to the right, as Kelly Medford. We're to have a show at The Gallery, also listed there, in October, of the work we did in Alaska. It was such a wonderful experience, Kelly and I were already planning a return visit before we had even left.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Mt. McKinley from the south

To make a great understatement, Alaska's amazing. We, myself and three friends, two of whom are also painters, rented an RV in Anchorage and set off to see Alaska. In ten days we drove from Anchorage to Denali National Park, from there up to Fairbanks, and then down the eastern loop of the highway through Paxton, down all the way to Seward, from Seward to Homer, and from Homer back again to Anchorage, stopping along the way as the fancy, or more like the vista, took us. We covered nearly 1500 miles, most of which were vast expanses of wilderness with only a highway cutting through it. And, as we were there during the summer solstice, we had near endless daylight with which to work. Tonight will be the first time in two weeks I've seen the sky grow truly dark; it seems almost unnatural. Overall I did twelve painting sketches. The number seems small to me after all I saw, but it is more because there was too much to look at and choose from than too little to paint. But from the twelve, and the hundreds of photos I took along the way, I have plenty of material to develop larger and more finished paintings in the coming months.

Here are some pictures from the first half of the trip:

My easel set up in the brush at Denali National Park.

This is the first quick study I did at a river at the fifteen mile mark in the park, as far as you can drive a private vehicle without special permission. It was at this point I realized how long it'd been since I last did proper plein air painting, and just began to realize the learning curve involved in painting rocky mountains (later I would discover the even larger curve for painting snow capped ones), and how dozens of paintings of the nice rolling Tuscan hills and English countryside do not quite prepare for the raw intensity of Alaska.

Here is our RV. My friend, Barbara, is sitting on the back bumper painting the view down the road.

We were amazingly lucky and saw Mt McKinley three days in row. Apparently, as many people who failed to see it informed us, it is only visible sixty days of the year. I did this sketch of it on the second day, after realizing the rarity of the sight. It is an amazing subject to paint; its colors and values change so rapidly with the shifting clouds. I discovered, at the Anchorage Museum, the works of the painter Sydney Laurence who spent years painting McKinley. His paintings blow me out of the water. For that matter, just blow my mind. After seeing his work, I feel like I know at least what I'm lacking. I mean to spend many months studying him before returning to try again, hopefully next year.

Here is Kelly, another fellow painter, painting a view down a river bed in Denali on our second day. We stood back to back on the bank here where we were, mostly because we each liked the opposite view, but it gave us the added bonus of knowing a grizzly wasn't going to wander up behind us.

This is the study I did from that vantage point.

As we didn't see any bears, our biggest problem at Denali was the wind, which left us all sorely windburned and knocked over my easel frequently. It seemed particularly to like to wait until I had turned my back for a moment so I couldn't catch the falling easel, or, even better, would get a wet painting in the shoulder. Here is the best solution I had to the problem: big rocks.

This is the last study I did in Denali. I was struggling to remember that distance makes things blue/purple, no matter how colorful they look. With this painting I finally realized just how tricky it is to paint glowing white snow on dark gray rocks with a light sky and get the values right. I'm not sure I ever nailed it on the trip, but I learned so much trying!

Last but not least, the road from Denali. Long and deserted, seemingly. I did take this picture standing in the middle of the highway.

The second half of the trip will have to wait for tomorrow, I haven't yet recovered from the overnight flight back to Chicago that robbed me of a night of sleep.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Last few days in the studio

I've been trying to get some of the paintings I'm working on in my studio finished before I leave for Alaska. I'm afraid I'll lose momentum with them being gone for two weeks. Here is the 'in progress' image of the latest Sebbie painting:

I should be able to get at least one more full day working on it, which should bring it close enough to where I'm happy leaving it. I've also 'finished' my orchid studies, which means that the orchid has started to lose its flowers. Here are the two studies I did:

Study #1

Study #2

I'm happier with the first one; I think the flowers are more 'flower-like'. Flowers are always a good challenge, they're so deceptively simple. They are far too easy to accidentally paint so they look like cartoons of themselves.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Today, I prepared fifteen canvases for my Alaskan trip. Five each of three different sizes. Hopefully that will be enough for two weeks of landscaping. I leave a week from tomorrow!

Here's a picture of me from three years ago winning a hilariously large 9th place trophy and bottle of wine at a brilliant landscape painting competition in Marcialla, Italy: