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…

IMG_6139_2 3

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!


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!


Saguaro Bloom Serial Painting


Saguaro Bloom 2016 pastel plein air 40×50 M.Milstead

Tumamoc Hill is a place in Tucson where I observe and experience “biodiversity” in an “artistic” way. This Spring I chronicled a saguaro cactus blooming. It took about two months with 12 two hour visits to the same cactus. I made a different drawing for almost each hour of the day. (The painting shows, from upper left to bottom right, the dawn to dusk sequence).

The color of light changes throughout the day and, since I am interested in color, it made sense to come at different times to look for different colors and color effects. I also learned more about the Saguaro (and myself), which is always a subtext of work, to learn more.

The most memorable insight gained was unexpected. I was able to visit the Cactus 11 times while it bloomed. When I returned for the last square the bloom was over.  As I sat on the rock and observed the evening light, the feel was very different.The frenzy of reproduction over. The cactus came across calm and strong, so different from the bloom-time in the strong sunlight. I had thought that my project was a failure because every square was not blooming…If I hadn’t made the last trip, after the action, I wouldn’t have had the experience of the calm quiet strong spent cactus, which transferred to me, enabling an unexpected equanimity aka. peaceful feeling. A mutual Adieu!

Nature is the best teacher, no doubt.


Colorado Cornucopia

It has been a busy July traveling and painting wise.

Some of the booty:


My painting philosophy and/or artistic viewpoint is to record what grabs my attention on any day, at any time or otherwise whenever possible…the less pondering, the better. Later, in a reflective mood, I can look at all of it and begin to see ideas strong enough for further exploration…or just enjoy the fact that I did something or went somewhere and made an effort to remember it (as is the purpose of this blog).

So much (for) forgetting…

Each painting has a story, here to follow, a little elaboration on the process.

So, why Colorado?

It all revolves around the Durango Art Center, of which I am a member. Anyone can apply, but the judges want to look at each work in the flesh, not on a monitor, to decide…I like this because much work that looks good on a screen does not always look so great in situ and conversely, work that does not read on a monitor could be dynamite in person…Kudos to DAC for their old-school approach.

So, back and forth we go delivering work and picking it up, getting out of the stagnant hot n sticky Tucson studio for summer inspirations.

We arrive to participate in the Plein Air Show, juried by Dr. Don Cooke. We win Honorable Mention(s).

Dr. Don Cooke gives a lecture

Dr. Don Cooke gives a lecture

Janice Mackenzie, Honorable Mention

Janice Mckenzie, Honorable Mention

M.Milstead, H.M.

M.Milstead, Honorable Mention

That was fun.

We have a week or so between the judging and the opening so we explore the nearby lake

and, when it is raining, the cabin we are staying in.

Our doggies are patient, mostly.


And now,

a brief return to Tucson.

More Still Life since it is too hot to paint outside…

I want to say more about the blue Grid painting but that will wait for a Grid Blog…another time.

A quick trip to Yuma to see Grandma, she is 102, wow. She is very fun and has a good attitude and an interesting sense of humor, she is easy to love.


And view Art.


And back up to the beautiful CO for another round, with new painting buddies (yes, but no, not the doggies).


Road trip=Special Treats=yummy!

This time, we start in Rico and environs, on the other side of the mountains from Durango.

After warming up in Rico, we head over to “Watertown” to ride the Train to Silverton.


We take the car with an Historical Interpreter, recommended.



Trainview of the bluegreen Animas River.

We paint up Silverton.

Sans train, we head over Red Mountain Pass to Ouray.



Rained out…this happens a lot. But, fear not, Sunshine is on its way!


The view from our hotel is perfect for painting.

i go gaga for the floral explosions along the streets…perfect timing for peaking petunias! Gosh, I can see giant flower paintings in the future, must return next year for more R&D.

And on back to Rico via Telluride where we take a little detour up the mountain to visit Bridle-veil Falls.


Dallas Divide



We say goodbye and settle down for a day of R&R with a nice fire on a cold and wet day…painting of course.



Still Life set up of Carved Figures

Something to ponder, later…


Happy tails to you!


Until our next Excursion, adieu.


Oh, and here we are, back in the Studio…it never ends! Jack is cute, no?


Bloom du Jour # 7: First Fruit

Fruits are in full force. The crown I picked is slower because of its orientation away from the rising sun (I think). Today it is humid and cooler and so I go up at the dreaded noontime hour.

Reward! Fruit (well was fruit, all gobbled up now).


This means PINK, long wait, at last…here is the tetrad with red-violet (pinkish), yellow-green, red (pink) and green.

IMG_1506 IMG_1502

I am using sanded (400-600 grit) U-Art pastel paper for these studies. You can’t mess around with the sanded paper…see it-state it, as they say.


Mixing the two reds and then applying alcohol for a quick drying wash/tone of the entire page. When in a hurry, 90 minutes, and with a larger format, 12×12, pre-toning the paper will let you leave areas alone that match or support the overall image.


The draw-in takes one-half hour.


Got my extremes in first; darkest darks and lightest lights.


And there it is! The, Aha!


And for the Grand Finale, a little gnat catcher swings in for a sampling of saguaro fruit deliciousness. This bird is really hanging out, long enough for me to find the camera, focus and snap a picture, well 20 pictures…so the fruit must be really worth it.


Big risk=Big reward, that’s our mantra.