Taking Breaks

I took a much-needed break from all things art-related and relaxed at my in-laws’ house in the mountains the past couple of days. Well, I delivered some paintings to the gallery up there yesterday, and I guess that’s technically art related, but I didn’t paint, take photos, or do anything remotely business-oriented other than that, and it was REALLY nice to take a breather. Now I’m nice and refreshed and excited about what I’m going to work on next. Sometimes I forget how good it can be to have some time off!

A Challenge

“Up the Hill”
Oil on Panel
24 x 18″

Well, today was my first full day back in the studio since being sidelined by the crud last week. I lasted four hours until standing at my easel had totally exhausted me, then I spent the rest of the evening trying to be an interactive mom while lying on the couch. Hopefully things will go better tomorrow, because I don’t want to waste the time when Aspen is with a sitter!!

Anyhow, I managed to spend an hour at the easel last week and finished this painting of aspens that I had started the week before. I don’t know why, but I have the hardest time painting aspen trees. I swear, I’ve probably trashed more paintings of aspens than any other subject matter. They totally frustrate me because I would love to be able to paint them well – I love the way their white trunks just glow in the landscape and their knots give them character. (It also doesn’t hurt that the galleries are always asking for them and they always sell!)

Anyhow, since I’m not under much pressure to meet deadlines right now, I’ve been tackling some scenes that are challenging for me, and this was one of them. For starters, it’s got the aspen trees which I know are always hit or miss for me. Then there’s the fact that there is no strong light and shadow pattern on the grassy hillside, which I have a hard time with because I’m so much more comfortable with strong value contrasts.

At last year’s OPA national show, I had my work critiqued by one of the master signature members, and his main suggestion for me was to explore more intimate scenery and concentrate more on the character of the trees and plant life in the foreground of my paintings. So that’s sort of what doing a painting like this is all about – it’s all very organic, much more so than my usual subject matter of mountains and vistas.

I don’t know if I really succeeded here or not. It looks nice in a frame, and I like the luminous color of the aspen bark, but I’m still not sure about the hillside. Oh well – I’m learning!


Oil on Panel
Well, Nate and I officially made an offer on the lot we’ve been looking at up in Granby. The owners are in Spain, so we’re waiting on their signature, but it’s all been agreed on verbally and we should close near the end of February. The lot is currently under three feet of snow, so there will be a long time waiting for the snow to melt and the ground to dry before we can even break ground on a house. The plan is to rent something in Grand County for the summer while Nate builds the house. If we decide at the end of the summer that we don’t like living in a small mountain town, we’ll sell the house. If we love it, which we probably will, we’ll move on in!

I’ve always wanted to live up in the mountains, and we’ve already passed up a few chances to buy property when it was affordable and have been kicking ourselves ever since. Now is a good time to try it out, and the lot is in a good location. Our house would be right over the hill from Sol Vista Ski Resort, which is a small family friendly kind of ski mountain. It backs up to open space with some ponds and wetlands, so the view should always be nice from the back porch. And best of all, we’d build a house with a nice roomy studio for me – yay!
This painting is a rainy day scene from an area a few miles from where we’d be living (and this photo is blurry and bad for some reason, so imagine it looking a bit better!). I did a plein air painting at this location, then turned around a shot a few photos of the view in the other direction. This was probably my favorite painting in my solo show, because when I look at it I remember being there, hunkered down in the rain on a foggy day when you couldn’t see the high mountain peaks. Of course, I’d bet that the majority of people who came to the show didn’t even notice it. Sometimes that happens with the more quiet pieces, and that’s okay – I’m happy having just painted them.


I’ve been enjoying the freedom to do some smaller work the past couple of days. The nice thing about working small is that I can finish an 8×10″ or 9×12″ study while Aspen takes her afternoon nap, which means I can paint on days when I don’t have a babysitter! Also, working on small paintings is more fun and less pressure, since I don’t really mind if I have to trash a small panel or scrape an hour’s work.

As I was working on a couple of these smaller paintings, I took some progress shots just to prove that I’m not always as analytical and methodical about my painting process as I am when I work large.

This first study is a 10×8″ of some aspens in the fall. First step is a rough sketch in thinned paint. This study is mostly about color, so I’m not too concerned with the drawing.

Next I block in the general area of the yellow aspen leaves. This is probably the only time I’ll ever paint something other than the sky first! I just did this to make sure my yellow stays nice and clean.

Next, I block in the sky with thinned paint.

Then, the rest of the foreground.

And finally, I go back in with thicker paint and add texture and refine everything.

About an hour and I’m finished. This is just a study to see if it’s a subject I might want to do slightly larger, so I won’t do any more work on this one. I think it might work better in a slightly taller format so that I can exaggerate the height of the taller tree – maybe a 16×12″?

Large Landscape Demo – DONE (for now…)

Well, I went in and tweaked some things this morning, most noticeably the foreground, which is a bit improved I think. At this point, I’ve spent way too much time with this painting, and I need a break. So, here’s a better image of it – about 98% finished. I’ll go back in and do the remaining 2% with fresh eyes in a few weeks.

I wanted to put this painting in the Governor’s Art Show in the spring and use the image in the catalog, but I’m not sure it’s good enough. I might still keep it for the show (I can have two large and two small paintings in the show), but I just don’t know if I want it in the catalog. The painting in the catalog needs to be eye-catching, and I’m so tired of this painting that I’m not sure whether it is or not. Decisions…

Now I’m going to hide this somewhere so I don’t have to look at it, and get to work on some small paintings. An 8×10″ is going to seem like nothing after slaving away at this thing all week!