Friday, December 4, 2015

The Passing of Oddysseus and the Fate of the Sirens

Been a long time since I posted here. But I thought I would get back into it by sharing a recent oil painting I did for a show I participated in called "Taking Sail" down in San Diego's Little Italy neighborhood a couple months ago. I love landscape painting and I also love figure painting. So I wanted to create something which incorporated that in a nautical setting.

(click image for larger view)
Painting of the Sirens dying on the rocks

A classical style mythological painting came to mind as a great way to work in all that I wanted to do. There was a lot of planning and research that went into this. First, I decided that that the story of the Sirens might have some potential since it involved the ocean. As you may remember from Homer's The Oddyssey, the Sirens were beautiful women/bird chimeras whose song drove sailors mad and made them steer their ships into the rocky shore. Many depictions of the Sirens throughout history show them as fully human women too, so I thought that would work best for my needs. After some reading, I discovered that, according to some of the myths, if a Siren ever let a ship pass them by, without killing the sailors, they themselves were cursed to die. It struck me as a particularly emotive subject to show the moment when the Sirens realize Odysseus and his men have successfully avoided them. Most artwork throughout history that show this famous passage from The Oddyssey, generally stage it from hero Odysseus' perspective tied to the mast of his ship, and beset on all sides by the malevolent Sirens. After I discovered that the Sirens had their own reasons for doing what they did in the stories, I wanted to flip the traditional perspective and show what the consequences were for these sad creatures.

After deciding on a subject and general composition, I scouted all over my local coastal areas for just the right shape of rocks. Then I did three different plein air studies at the beach location at different times of day to figure out the lighting I wanted (a stormy overcast sky seemed more fitting to the tragic subject). And finally, I got a model to pose for the Sirens themselves. I worked mostly from photos I took while referring to my plein air color studies.

I wouldn't mind continuing to dig through old myths for new inspirations on paintings in the future.

The finished piece is 18 x 24" on stretched linen.

Friday, January 16, 2015

It's been about a year, so I figure it's time for another blog post!

Let's see. Since the last time I checked in here, I've been doing my normal studio illustration and private commission work throughout the year for various clients. In August and September, I went to Austria to give a presentation at an artist's convention. In October I got married, and went to Europe again for our honeymoon to England, Belgium and France. And I have been oil painting for pleasure whenever I get the time. Most months, I lead an informal outing of plein air painters with the San Diego chapter of the California Art Club. And most Saturdays, I paint portrait studies from models with a small group of artists in La Jolla.

Here's some highlights from 2014:

 Commemorating the passing of local legend Tony Gwynn.

 A canine watercolor portrait

A few oil painted studies from life...

 This portrait was an unusual request from a local gallery. But was fun!

 Giving a seminar at a small artist convention in Vienna.

 Enjoying Bruges with my new wife.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Portrait Workshop

Just started teaching a private oil painting workshop for artists working at a tattoo parlor here in San Diego called Bearcat Tattoo Gallery. They're a great group of guys who are looking to broaden their skill set and get more into artwork that is not directly applied to the skin! We're focusing on portraits and still life. Thank you to art model Valerie Lopez.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Painting in the Sierras with Jeremy Lipking

I recently returned from a week in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains in California. I attended a workshop given by one of my favorite fine artists, Jeremy Lipking. We painted at least twice each day for five days, with Jeremy giving daily live demonstrations and he also would come around to help each of us as we painted.

The first time I had ever been to the eastern Sierras was on a week long backpacking trip with a school group in 1989, hiking from Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite Valley, across some rough terrain. And I had gone back a couple of times to Mammoth and Mono Lake with friends. But this workshop took me back up into the really high country--painting at around 10,000 feet almost every day. There wasn't too much hiking involved in this trip. But the little bit we did do was made a bit more taxing with the thin air and the fact that I am no longer a teenager! But it was an awesome backdrop for plein air study, so I didn't mind.

This workshop was also the first time I have done so many plein air paintings in so short a time. Usually, back at home, after I've done one three hour outdoor session, I'm ready to call it a day. But we stayed out all day, in the sun, wind, and occasionally bad mosquitoes to do two paintings each day of the trip. The constant focus and mental energy required in these outdoor environments really showed me some of my weaknesses.

The main bad habit that was made obvious was how I often rush through the early stages of a painting to get to the "fun part." Watching Jeremy work so carefully and methodically was really great to see. He took his time laying in the initial drawing, and then still took his time as he started blocking in the big shapes with color. He took great care to design the strokes and edges, right from the beginning. Jeremy could have stopped his painting at any time and still had a really nice composition. That's something I need to remember well.

The other bad habit I noticed is how I always include too much subject matter in the composition. There's nothing inherently wrong with trying to paint a grand panorama in 3 hours. I generally work pretty small. But I do that too often. Which usually results in a blocky, crudely captured scene with very little subtlety. One great demo Jeremy did one day was at the edge of a large grove of aspen trees in Lee Vining Canyon. He spent all his time on one single aspen and the shadow it cast on the ground. It was more of a meditative portrait of that single tree than what most people think of as a plein air landscape painting. Everything else was sort of out of focus ending in a vignette of the scene. By focusing on just the one tree, he was able to really explore the subtle shifts in color within the shadows on the trunk and give a nice variety of edges to his shapes.

Finally, one other thing I learned in the workshop was how it's not important to always try to pick "the perfect view" which lends itself easily to a classic landscape composition. A great painting can be found in a small corner of a canyon, or next to a couple boulders, or some small detail you might pass by on a nature hike. It can be minimalistic or not classically "pretty." The critical thing is to just get out there, no matter where you are, and find something that catches your eye. Plein air painting teaches you how to compose and re-arrange elements to serve the composition, how to economize your brush work, make quick on the spot decisions, and learn how to capture the light and atmosphere of the time of day.

Here are some of the pieces I did on the trip. They range in size between 6 x 8 and 8 x 10 inches. Click on the images for a larger view.

At Mono Lake with most of the workshop group.

Friday, April 19, 2013


Here's a new little oil painting I did this week from a photo of Lincoln. I love antique photos. The people back then had so much character--wearing their life stories on their faces more than we do today. I had to invent the color, of course, keeping the values darker than the photo and a bit on the warm side. I wanted the mood to feel warm, inviting and reminiscent of older paintings that darken with age, and where the original artist was likely to have painted the sitter by candlelight.

This is 11 x 14" on a linen panel.

And a larger detail shot.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Here's a painting of model Valerie from last week's Art Gym open workshop at the San Diego Art Institute. She was posing for the figure, not portrait, and had to change her pose shortly after she began because of discomfort. So I ended up scrubbing my first session and had a little less than two hours to do this study. 12 x 16". Oh, and I had to set up pretty far from the model--about 20 feet away. The distance and the short time helped me stay loose, I think.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

At the Presidio

The quarterly paint out for the San Diego chapter of the California Art Club met at The Presidio in Mission Hills last weekend. I haven't done a lot of architecture in my plein air studies in the past. Generally, I prefer the look of untouched nature. But the old missions around California do provide some pretty good subject matter.

I painted this by starting with a warm Burnt Sienna wash in the dark areas, and then kept the colors relatively warm throughout the painting. The morning started off very overcast, but when the sun came out, thankfully it was behind this building so everything here remained in shadow for the two and a half or three hours I was there.

9 x 12 inch gessoed panel