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:

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Now there’s something entertaining to look at.

Until the forest fires…5 on this trip.

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

 

 

Nice City Park in Snowflake, AZ.

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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)

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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.

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Further work and another configuration:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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” The Fisherman’s Catch”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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…and meet Mr. Surly.

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We leave you here for now.

More Adventures At Altitude to come.

Travel-Trip-Trace

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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.

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The projection can be distorted, fun!

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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.

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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!

 

Steps:

  1. Trace
  2. Transfer
  3. Fix the Drawing

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

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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).

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

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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.

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

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I am selecting for a dominant hue with complementary accents.

 

Bricks for scale. Compositions are 14×14 inches.

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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)!

 

Who Doesn’t Know about Jack?

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This Winter, my creativity took a tangent towards trash collection. Here are the results and a brief explanation, in case you are wondering…

Meet Jack (Jacques, Giacomo, Jackie-O, Jackie-jack)

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and Pepe ( Peps, Peeps, Pee-pee, Pepperoni, Giuseppe).

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We walk almost every morning.  A good daily walk makes for happy dogs, no matter how small. To get around the occasional frustration of geriatric chihuahua walking, I collect stuff off the ground…naturally.

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After observing the ground-trash in the immediate neighborhood and surrounding alley-hoods, a certain aesthetic emerged, based partly in my training as a painter/drawer and partly in my principles, idiocyncracies and basic philosophy.

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I made a list of limitations to keep the look of the trash consistent. Collected trash must correspond to the following:

  • Must be nonperishable
  • Must be flattened, by a car or other large fast thing
  • Must be found within a certain area in the north university housing district in the public right-of-way
  • Must be collected while walking Jack and Pepe (to maintain consistent rate of collection)

Here is an example of one walks worth of flattened-trash collection:

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Several walks worth, enough to frame:

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Until most recently, I had no way to present the trash. Thanks to Aaron Brothers buy one get one for a penny deal, I found four shadowbox frames for nearly free…which worked perfectly in principle and aesthetically for the flat-trash.

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I managed 4 compositions before resources became scarce due to over-collection. How about that?!

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So, it may be cliche, but it is also very unique.

No other collection would exist anywhere but in the North University Housing District.

It must be car flattened, not just any trash.

It comes to us only through dog walking, not any other deliberate action.

It ultimately presents a slice of life in my neighborhood, nicely sealed in a shadowbox, forever frozen in a lightly composed and crushed construction.

I love the effects of reflected and refracted light that the trash creates. In these flat-trash compositions I see the elements and principles of design including; line, shape, light, form and sparkling color combinations. My imagination and story-telling impulses are much inspired by the random collections, quite entertaining.

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All thanks to Jack (and Pepe).

And…while I’d like to say this project ended, I can’t say the trash did.

And…not being able to resist flat trash now, I find a bigger, deeper box for the Spring session. Maybe more to come on this, or maybe not.

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Happy Collecting!

Saguaro Bloom Serial Painting

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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.