Painting in San Miguel de Allende

Workshops are an important way to improve all around; new place, new people, new ideas…all coming at you super fast. It all works its way into the psyche and comes out in new and exciting ways…and continues to influence work miles ahead.

Here is a quick recap of my recent Art Travel Trip to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico this winter. I love this workshop because you get an awesome good deal with three amazing artist instructors: Anne Blair Brown, Thomas Kitts and Frank Gardner.


Before the workshop starts, I tour around San Miguel. There are botanical gardens, courtyards, easy-to-read-signage. The city is a colorful, magical place.

We begin most days in front of Frank’s Gallery. My fave morning vistas from the short walk there:

And coffeshop stops:

During the program, we divide into three groups and rotate. Each day a different instructor teaching a different aspect of plein air.

Thomas in the Garden; cast shadows, pedestrians and architecture.

Anne in a quiet courtyard; warm imprimatura (underpainting), loose brushstrokes, composition and perspective.

Frank at his land off the Old Camino Real; forced perspective, cactus, animals and tack.

There isn’t a lot of down time, but I manage to work on Tiny Sketch San Miguel, 100 pages almost!

Paint a few studies:


Meet critters…

…and great people!







Painting Process and Series: Examples for Independent* and Self Directed Projects*

*Oil Painting classes offered now through The Art Verve Academy:

Figuring it all out takes time.  Process is important, you don’t always know where it’s going to take you…then, surprise!

The following 7 examples of process and how series can develop are meant to get you thinking about what might go into the creation of an image, where it comes from and where it (might be) going.


Egg and D-Art*

(*after egg and dart, a neoclassical motif)

It began with a pastel sketch of an abandoned beaver dam full of small beaver gnawed branches, some of which I collected. Later, in an oil painting class, students worked from portable still life’s which I made using the gnawed sticks, painted egg-orbs, and other collected material. After the class was over, the little dioramas sat on a shelf. Eventually, on their way into storage, I made some drawings, for the beaver dam memory, and now, the drawings are becoming paintings.

The Hawaiian themed backdrop is for fun (variety).

First painting pass: Tone (colored background) and roughing in shapes and general colors.

2nd painting pass: Glazing (transparent layering) and scumbling (opaque layering).

Continuing on: Glazing and Impasto ( impasto means “like paste”, in other words, thick paint.) In process.

Sanctuary Cove

On a recent Plein Air outing with The Pastel Society,  we discovered this wonderful piece of the Tucson Mountains. To explore this new place, I opted for a series of color sketches of some of the things that jumped out first time through.

This feels like a place to explore more.

Such is the process of Plein Air.

Vingettini Italia

(tiny vignettes of italy)

On a recent trip to Tuscany, Italy we had a good time living it up, eating and traveling. It was so good, I almost forgot to paint. Work needed to get done, fast. My friend pointed out tiny sketchbooks for sale at a local market. How about that?! The tiny sketch allowed for a composition, including colored pencil, to be completed in less than 20 minutes. 90 tiny pictures later, my mission to make art in Italy was satisfied, without regrets.

Two tiny paintings inspired from tiny-book, so far.

At this point waiting for paint to dry so painting can proceed. Just because they are tiny doesn’t mean they take less time to paint.


While in Florence we visited the Galleria dell’Accademia where Michelangelo’s David is displayed.


In a adjacent room are many plaster casts of original sculptures. Determined to bring something useful back, I made quick, near blind-contour pen drawings of a few, capturing gesture, if not proportion…managing one color sketch and a few photos too. Time constraints can be very beneficial.

The freshness of the drawings and the rainbow gradient of natural light over the white forms will make interesting paintings.


A friend showed me her charm bracelet of 40+ years…

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I borrowed it thinking it would be a challenge to figure out a way to paint it…after several trials I’m combining 5 charms next to each other for each painting. Something like this…6×6 inches. Puzzles.


There are 60 charms on the bracelet. If nothing else, this will be good composition and painting practice…

99 Bottles of Beer

Marketing can be pretty colorful. I am naturally drawn into the clever illustrations that adorn some of the craftier products, in this case beer.


This particular sketchbook is dedicated to this sort of thing. One good reason to keep a sketchbook, or two. Here is a spin on bottle(s) labeling, so to speak.


Parts of these may be incorporated as tertiary aspects of still-life paintings, virtually unrecognizable and significantly out of context enough not to infringe on copyright.


Fruits are most beautiful and colorful; wonderful inspiration. I take a lot of pictures, mostly of stuff that looks interesting to me. When reviewing photos, themes become apparent. Sometimes these themes prompt more observation in the form of drawings and paintings, sometimes, they are just pretty pictures that go nowhere.

This smoothie chronicle honors the fruits of life, (not the nuts…although a mixed-nut job might be an interesting challenge…who knows).

Pay attention to the stuff in your life. Draw and paint it. Use variations on a theme to get inspired and motivated to do the work. Have fun with it!


Big Red

Heading back to Tucson from Colorado is a trek. Parts of the drive are gorgeous, other parts are a struggle to stay awake…so, entertainment and some imagination are necessary.  I like to stay on the relative backroads.

We gas up in a place called Waterflow in between Farmington and Shiprock, New Mexico. The 7 to 11 there is like a little museum of edibles and etiquette I remember from the way past traveling with the family back and forth across the Southwest.

Being visually inclined I am particularly inspired by “eye candy” literally. I don’t eat the stuff, just like to look at it, although I do love a sip of the Big Red, it tastes like fizzy strawberries and bubble gum…uh, yum.

So, here begins another project! You never know when these projects are going to sneak up on you. This one is taking more than the week to fulfill so I’ll give you the process and some “in progress” pictures and some unrelated stuff too.

Here we go:


Now there’s something entertaining to look at.

Until the forest fires…5 on this trip.


Ajck, that’s Jack and Pepe. Total opposites when it comes to the car. Entertainment, none the less.



Nice City Park in Snowflake, AZ.


After driving for 10 hours, a plan has hatched for a new Grid Painting.

Now, to accumulate some related momento mori…to make 9 squares.

  1. Pocket Knife
  2. Falcon Feather
  3. Fake Hummel Figurine
  4. Antique Jump rope
  5. Tic-Tacs (inedible except for the orange ones)
  6. Big Red Soda (which I find in northern Arizona near or on a Reservation)
  7. Candle (to relax the eyes, focus and for remembering)
  8. Antique Spurs (kid-sized)
  9. Porcelain Horse (made in china, from Chinatown SF)
  10. Saddle Blanket (backdrop)


I like the natural light from the window so I will paint the piece in this light, which limits working time to 1-4 in the afternoon on sunny days, which proves to be a bit difficult since we are having such wonderful thunderstorms in the afternoons here in Tucson. This is why it is ideal to have a couple of projects going at the same time which have different parameters, think trash collages or glass cubes etc.

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Halfway through, I assemble the squares to see if a change in scale or composition is needed to create balance. There are always changes so, the sooner, the better.


Further work and another configuration:


The grid paintings come about because they don’t take up a lot of space to make. Great practice for figuring out color and light. Small bites, not overwhelming. Easy to fit into a busy schedule. Thought provoking. Fun.


Or try a short series exploring subject, concept, color harmonies, composition, like this next image. These works have a different impetus. Not meant to be a grid. I show them to you now because I’m working on them at the same time as the big grid but, at night, under controlled  lighting and off of a computer screen. Will give you the rundown later.


Next week, we’ll see how it went with one or both of these projects…or maybe something completely different.

Practice, practice, practice!

Mountain Light

This light is awesome!  Strong, cool and crisp, you can’t find it in the desert. I travel for the light…not complaining, there is nothing like working from natural light. You have to get it while you can!

On this early summer, mostly-plein-air trip to southern Colorado, I squeeze in a still-life at the art-shack (studio).

Last year we introduced Duckie (and friends):

This year, Duckie makes another appearance.


” The Fisherman’s Catch”



Adventures At Altitude

During the second leg of our journey, the sky is the limit.

Sneak peak of our greatest heights (with Chihuahuas for scale):

Melting snowdrifts make the best patterns, so amazing. Todd is cool…

Actually, the more shapes in your composition, the easier it is to get the proportional relationships right (if you are measuring).

Our route takes us from Durango to Pagosa Springs, over Wolf Creek Pass, to Creede, through Wagon Wheel Gap, over Slumgullion Pass to Lake City.

We camp above the Gap. Quick Gorge sketch.

This eerie landscape is created by massive spruce beetle kill. The forest will always be an inspiration to me, no matter.


I make a transparent tracing of the scene I want to paint. I let the sun shine through it onto the paper and trace over the projection with charcoal pencil. Then, using the traced lines as guides I mix up hues and lay down the paint with a bristle brush.


Palette: Titanium White, Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Scarlet, Magenta, Ultramarine and Cerulean. This palette is cool in the mountains.

Near Lake City is Lake San Cristobal, created by an earthflow eons ago. A little icy still for swimming…

Up from Lake City are two high passes, Cinnamon and Engineer. We take Cinnamon but first camp at Mill Creek Campground, where it is warmer and less windy.

Gorgeous spot, so I paint. (watch out for ticks…eek!)

DSC_1132Oil on Arches.

DSC_1136Palette: Titanium White, Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine, and Magenta.

Mill Creek feeds the campground faucets-good water.


At the pass, me and Jack take a roll in a meadow, (again, watch out for ticks…eek!)


…and meet Mr. Surly.




We leave you here for now.

More Adventures At Altitude to come.



We are traveling. Pepe is a veteran. Best travel dog ever! (Jack is a mess…)

First stop, Vallecito Lake, near Durango, CO.

Forget painting, let’s go sailing!

This post explores quick ways to get oil paint down outside/on the road/en plein air with minimal materials.

First, a “dry run”, walking the lake paths making tracings on a transparent film for composition and scale/perspective. After a trace,  I make a detailed drawing with line.

While away from the lake, I daydream about it, remembering the colors and qualities of the trees, rocks and water.

Working with the sun is fun! Speed things up with this trick: Project the trace right onto the canvas or paper, then, trace the projection, fix it, and paint over it. This takes the pressure off when measuring proportions or drawing is not your forte or just to get a really general outline, or map, or composition.


The projection can be distorted, fun!


Accomplice, Mr. pepe.

A lightweight and space-saving alternative to canvases/canvas boards is paper. Try out different “mixed media” papers. So far Arches Oil Paper is my fave because it doesn’t soak up the color.


After drawing, when I go to paint, I can simplify, focusing on formcolor temperature and value contrast.

Palette: Cerulean blue, cadmium scarlet, indian yellow, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna and titanium white.

Try It!



  1. Trace
  2. Transfer
  3. Fix the Drawing

4. Limited palette of red, blue, yellow and white:


5. Wash of tones

6. Apply layers of thicker paint

See you in a week!


Jack’s Glass and Trash

Okay, it was a busy week painting (the house).


Art-wise, we made time for collecting and practicing our design skills. Better than nothing!


Collecting while fast-walking Jack makes for “multitasking”, although I prefer “collaboration”.  Always more fun with more than one!


Finally completed our smashed glass cube. Leftovers to the right, not all glass.


Good thing I have more than one cube. I get pretty excited when we find glass that isn’t clear. Pink is rarest, blue second rarest, brown is next, green, then clear.

In addition to the glass, we finalized the Yellow composition.


There is an abundance of blue in trash. Not so, yellow.



I am selecting for a dominant hue with complementary accents.


Bricks for scale. Compositions are 14×14 inches.


It will take more time for purple and green, something to look forward to!

Food for thought: Collage is a great way to practice design and composition skills. Organizing magazine clippings, bits of collected papers, scraps of anything into arrangements that feel balanced and expressive is great practice, if not the final concept. Just look around wherever you are; plane, train, downtown, France, etc.

Never let time be an excuse for not playing with the elements (and principles)!