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!


Drawing and Painting classes start soon!

This Summer,  I offer several classes in drawing and painting:


May 1-22: Oil Painting Basics: Self Directed Projects ( 4 classes), 1-4 PM, Sundays, $125 all four/drop in one-at-a-time for $35. Intermediate to Advanced

May 8-29: Drawing with Color: Part One (4 classes), 9-12, Sundays, $125 all four/drop in one-at-a-time for $35. Beginning to Intermediate

Where? Tucson Pastel Society Building, 2447 N Los Altos Ave. (Northwest corner of First and Grant)

For more information and to sign up, email

Sign up today!

Slideshow below shows examples of drawing lessons covered in the first four sessions of Drawing with Color: Still Life Set Up, Blind Contour, Observed Contour, Measured Line, Angles, Calligraphic Line, Two Temperature Tone Line, Two Color Fill in, Mr. Pepe.

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Tumamoc Twofer

Had a free day (or two) recently so made plans to go up the Hill to draw. Well, it rained both times! The rain view from Tumamoc is always spectacular, you can see the entire Tucson Basin and watch the storms move all around. Up top the blustery wind howls through the Saguaros. Stimulating.

I started early looking west and then moved to the east to complete an earlier in the week (rained out) drawing.

West view around 10:00 AM.


Clouds are starting to build up…

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I track one texture off another to keep the scale right, but I often lose my way, or start making things too big, or my mind starts to wander, so it’s an exercise in starting over and over and over….returning to the same landmarks and tracking off of them.


…orange vest view…

Rain comes just as I complete the session (90 min). Lucky me.

Now for a lunch break and move to other spot.


Good sign! More luck.

I like to draw intensely like this, au plein aire, as respite from painting, because it is so relaxing and different. This way, I can maintain a creative and visual mindset and not get burnt out. Change it up, but stay in the flow.

My new spot in the shade of  palo verde and fave saguaro. Afternoon.

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I “grow” one linear aspect off of the next. Looking for the difference between things. Zig-zag thinking.


This one is a little looser, as it happens, due to fatigue, previous practice and…so much fabulous texture. I think I’ll do another one here, to get it “right”, more accurate, but not mechanical.



Tumamoc Tapestry, 20×20, pen and ink, M.Milstead


Two Storms Worth, 20×20, pen and ink, M.Milstead

Drawing Yuma: Desert Oasis


A recent trip to Yuma, AZ, took me to the University of Arizona’s Extension Demonstration Garden also known as the “Moody Garden” (love it) after Robert J Moody, long time UofA extension agent to Yuma.

Naturally this blossom catches my eye so I sit down to draw it. (Draw whatever catches your eye.)

Normally it is over 100 degrees in Yuma at this time of year and too hot to draw this…a rare opportunity indeed. DSC_0078 Later I make a photo copy and color it in. I’m going for the strong luminous and iridescent quality of the trichocereus bloom. Colored pencil is easy to layer to attempt to get just the right color. Perhaps that’s why it is often a chosen medium for flower blossoms. Good luck!

Colored pencil is good for just figuring color out.DSC_0079 Continuing to take advantage of the unbelievably fabulous weather,  I set out to do something I’ve always dreamed of. Draw Yuma!

I start with the backyard (that’s as far as I get-this takes time you know).

This is my Mom’s garden, she is a long time Yuma MGM Extension Garden and Yuma Garden Club patroness…


 “unstitched” photo panorama


Eight 10×10 panels into the pen and ink drawing.

Below close up shows two different times of day. Each panel has a little over an hours’ worth of work and was made at different times of day over two days.

I want color for this too but will use gouache (opaque watercolor) instead of colored pencil.

Hey, I just saw that Christy Olsen is offering a gouache class at The Drawing Studio in June, just the ticket for me, since I don’t know the secrets of gouache, yet. Stay tuned.DSC_0081

Not pictured in the composite is the third and upper tier which includes the almost top of the looming Guamuchil tree on the right back (in photo).

The Mexican Guamuchil,  Pithecellobium dulce,  produces sweet astringent fruits in its seed pods.

This subtropical tree won’t grow in Tucson, one must pilgrimage to experience firsthand.


Pod, fruit, and seed of Pithecellobium dulce, Yuma, AZ

Yuma is so exciting.

Other amazing places to draw include the Colorado River Delta West Wetlands, Yuma Prison Hill, Old Train and Train Trestle, Betty’s Kitchen Wildlife Area, Mitry Lake, Date Palms, King Of Arizona (KOFA) Mine Wilderness Area, The Yuma Dunes….the list goes on.

And, for the art-interested, the spacious and modern Yuma Art Center, 254 S. Main Street,  in old town Yuma. This is a wonderful (did I say spacious) exhibition area.

Current show is the Southwestern Invitational 2015 “An exhibit of exceptional contemporary Arizona artists”. April 10-May 30.

Yuma…a secret paradise…discover it…later.  (it’s too hot now).

Equinox on the San Pedro River


Lucky us, it’s the Vernal Equinox, a perfect day for a field trip up to the Triangle Bar Ranch on the San Pedro with the AZ Land and Water Trust.


There is public access up the west side of the river. ALWT holds land bordering the river.


Triangle Bar Cows.



I am here to sketch! It is so easy just to look, to sketch takes fortitude.


What’s this behind the hay bales, the salt lick stash..


This is mining country with much faulting and mineral precipitation. This train trestle runs ore from several mines in the area.


A dam of possible partial beaver making.


This spot is significant for a number of reasons, one being that it is the confluence of Aravaipa Creek and the San Pedro River. That’s Aravaipa Canyon to the east.



Where there’s water, there’s (wild) life.

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This curious thirsty one entertained us pretty well.

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Can’t forget lunch. Alas, no food pictures. Yes, it was delicious.


After respite we head up the wash to a natural spring which wells up right out of the sand. There is much geologic interest. See uplift.



Butterflies abound on the damp surface.


Putnum Spring plus ooze.


Yes! Really.



Tumamoc Hill at Tohono Chul Park: Art, Culture and Science


Tumamoc Sketchers featured in the book, “This Piece of Earth”, are showing in the entry gallery at Tohono Chul this winter. NOW. The book is comprised of Poetry and Images made on Tumamoc. (It is available for purchase at Antigone’s Book Store on 4th Ave and the Tohono Chul Gift shop in Tucson, AZ or online thru amazon of course).

5 diverse visual artists are showing: Chip Hedgecock, Kathleen Koopman, Meredith Milstead, Paul Mirocha and Barbara Terkainian. Photography, graphic design, installation and found sculpture, painting and drawing, and illustration. It is a cohesive show nonetheless. Tumamoc as Muse. Many thanks to Curator, James Schaub.



Following is a peek into my process and inspiration for the image below called “Tumamoc Texture: Botany”. It is impossible to read in this tiny picture and you must see it right up close.

Please come see the show!


I’ve been slightly obsessed with the passage of time and square and grid formats.


I change media depending on how I want to talk about what I’m observing. In this case it’s black and white, pen and ink, of textures generated from botany in various stages of dying (or living) on Tumamoc Hill. The above grid is one of a series of “Tumamoc Textures”. It is freehand, made mostly on-site.

Flanking my artwork is Kathleen Koopman’s circular impressions on paper.

DSC_0673pens of choice for this project

This is how “Tumamoc Textures” started:

Aside from my predilection to look down a lot, I began to notice that there was ALOT of texture on the Tumamoc ground…way more than “normal”. I like to think that the more visually complex something appears, the more excited the connection between the eye-brain-mind, thus stimulating and strengthening neural networks…which has to be good for you, right? I am not a neurologist but looking at a plant has got to be better for your biology than looking at, say, the sidewalk.  Plus, this is nature-made, not man-made, and nature is profoundly more complex than man. Complex=good. ( but then man is nature made too which makes him infinitely more complex than what he can make aside from a sub-atomic particlesplittersupercollider which is pretty complex-but, what do I know? Slippery slope. Best to stick to drawing textures…many men, over time.)

While walking I noticed metal frames placed strategically on the Hill, for future signage, and I liked the way the sign-holes framed the ground. I felt compelled to fill the empty rectangle.

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I thought it would be a good idea to let the sign-holes determine which textures to capture from Tumamoc….sort of like a collaboration with something incapable of collaboration




… but it wasn’t (a good idea) and I  ventured away from the corralled textures to hunt down wilder specimens.

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Many ink drawings later I was able to choose a collection which represented the most iconic textures of Tumamoc, for me, and perhaps others too, maybe, hopefully, I wouldn’t doubt it, you decide.



Central square as it hangs in the gallery. Notice the little words and numbers? They show date of drawing and sequence and sometimes the time of day, or the name of the texture or species of plant, if I like the way it sounds or whatever comes to mind while drawing.


After getting my feet wet with botany, and discovering many more categories of visually different types of texture on T-Hill, I felt directed to make a few more grids which I’ll show later. For now, I’d like to talk more about this show, so the next few posts will focus on other work from the Hill.

Stay tuned.

Plein Air Sketching: San Rafael Valley and Mowry, AZ

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We are continuing to explore this valley and watershed of the Santa Cruz River, a major source of water for southern Arizona. These big healthy Cottonwoods are tapped in, sucking hundreds of gallons a day. This experience is particulary aural, as wind sweeps through the branches from across the plain. There are many birds and a Red Tail Hawk nest way up in the top of one.

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Main reason for this spot? Shade!

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Interesting how value planes shift out here. The sky darker than the ground and the tree lighter, glowing.

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M.Milstead, Vaca Cottonwoods, ink

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“Car Drawing” is another way to beat the sun.


After being in the exposed valley, we opt to head to the eastern slope of the Patagonia Mountains. We see small ranches in the trees. Near the ghost town site of Mowry we meet resident artist and rancher Robert on the road.

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M.Milstead, Soapy Waters, ink

Windmills have a special historical charm…this one has a solar panel attached to it.


As we head home in the late afternoon, the mountains light up with the most saturated oranges and yellow greens (lots of lichen)….alak, alas, we must paint this too!

Until next time, safe and happy plein airings to you.