Portrait Painting at the Fair

As the superintendent of the art gallery at the county fair, I got to hang out most of last week at the show. To take advantage of the time I brought along some acrylic paint and canvas panels to work on a series of portraits that has been on my to-do list for months now – everyone at work!

And so, in black and white on 8×10 panels, the team at the Art Supply House.


The series isn’t done – but I ran out of both time and canvas. As a warm-up I started with my favorite subject – my wife!


A Blank Page

Perhaps it is the artist in me, but there is something wonderous about a blank page. There is unlimited potential there, clean and unblemished.

A blank canvas is just waiting to become a painting – perhaps a lively abstract full of bright swooshes of color or a sombre portrait of an esteemed businessman. A sheet of paper can hold a charcoal scene of a mountain brook, a watercolor horse race, or a pastel still-life of flowers.

New materials provide a similar potential, waiting to be unleashed. Pencils, uniform in length and perfectly sharpened. Paint tubes still unsplattered and not yet twisted out of shape. Charcoal in precise bars, corners still sharp.

Others don’t feel the same way. They don’t see the future projects in the scraps of wood that I keep. They overlook the potential in the pieces of wire and bits of shell and stone that grab my attention. The art/craft section of a store holds no interest for them and they don’t wander about a hobby store in awed reverence, flooded with the swell of ideas and future projects.

By the same token, they probably see a notebook as just a collection of papers. A place to jot down ideas and capture information. There is no joy in picking up each different notebook, seeing how it feels in their hands, finding the one that calls to them.

To their advantage, they don’t feel the fear that a blank canvas, clean sheet of paper or new sketchbook provide. Aware of that potential, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by it – afraid that whatever marks I make will fall short. This is not a conscious fear, one that makes me shiver and hide. Unconscious, it is far more devious. A collection of new notebooks grows over time. A stack of canvasses and papers deepens. While I have a list of projects to work on, the fear holds me back, scared that what I see in my mind won’t be communicated through the work.

A common fear

I am not the only one who finds myself intimidated by a new notebook. Colin Wright has talked about it – to overcome his fear he immediately turns to the first page and scribbles all over it. From then on he can work freely, knowing that whatever he creates will be better than that original mark.

Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, would call this fear The Resistance. That subconscious fear that would hold us back from completing our work. His advice for overcoming The Resistance is to continue to be aware of it and to Do The Work anyway. Push through, completing the work in a scheduled manner so that the schedule – working the plan – will overpower The Resistance.

This is a common fear, shared among artists. Numerous examples of the advice “make the first mark” are given. That first mark, no matter how small, releases the tension as if popping a balloon. With a mark made, we are free to continue on with our work – the terrifying empty perfection of the blank page has been marred. That first mark can be covered up and even the artist will forget where it began. Writers, staring at the blank sheet, need only start writing to cure writer’s block. The first few lines or paragraphs can later be thrown away as the day’s message begins to take shape.

A new notebook

I purchased a new notebook a few weeks ago. It was on sale at the store (I still love the back-to-school season) and I couldn’t resist picking it up, though I had no specific plans for it. But then, not knowing what to use it for, I have been afraid to mess up its blank perfection.

Now I have an inkling of an idea, but that doesn’t matter. I’m going to write on the first page. My name seems safe enough. I can’t mess that up, but it also serves to claim the notebook as mine – a place to capture my thoughts, ideas and visions. I am going to doodle, scribble, and otherwise fill the first page with something.

Ahh.. marks are made. The first page is filled. In pen.

As I started, more ideas came. Popping that balloon, releasing that pressure, provided an escape for ideas and I can continue on.

Blank pages are intimidating. But they can be over-come. Action has power and boldness strikes away fear. Make that first mark and begin your work!

Hiking To and Sketching At Ice Lake

A few years ago (5?) I was told to check out Ice Lake and to take a jaunt over to the nearby Island Lake if I get up there. Well, I finally made it.¬†Yesterday morning I headed up into the mountains for a bit of day hiking. It’s a bit of a climb, but oh-so worth it!

Here’s me capturing the view from my lunch spot:

It was pretty chilly and my hands get cold pretty easily, but I needed my right hand free for dexterity…

I’m pretty happy with the results. Taking more time certainly helps, and I tried some new tools (like a bigger brush and gator board for backing).

Working in the Studio

After building my easel and setting up a studio space, I didn’t get around to working in it for a couple of weeks. But this morning I jumped up when the alarm went off and headed out with coffee mug in hand.

Since I was working with watercolor pencils and had to wait for each layer to dry I bounced between two different projects.

Here’s the watercolor on the easel:

While it’s drying, I cut down a larger sheet of paper and then centered my Tree of Life drawing inside it and taped it to the window with the sun shining directly on it. Sometimes, having a free lightbox is just an amazing convenience!

And here it is once I finished transferring it to the larger paper:

Good progress made before heading off to work. I call that a creative success!

Studio Creating

One of the perks of moving out of the RV into an apartment was the chance for me to set up a studio space. I really lucked out with the new place, since it not only has an un-used bedroom but also a shop space with plenty of empty cabinets on the walls!

Here’s the original set-up:

And the current configuration, with my “studio” growing in the corner.

After much debate and research I decided to build an easel instead of purchasing one. This would give me a sturdier, more adjustable product for only a slightly greater cost. Here’s most of the components laid out, waiting to be attached together:

And here’s the completed product, ready to go:

I really should stain or seal it, but I’d rather be painting on the easel, rather then the easel itself!

Here are the plans that I used, if you’re interested in one for yourself. It cost me more than the $15 mentioned in that post, but I don’t think it was much more than $30. There are a lot of different designs and plans out there, but the back leg on this one folds in so it will store fairly flat and that convenience may be pretty nice in the future!

Here is the first work that I did on it…

My One-Sheet Sketchbook

Thought I’d share a few more details about my current one-sheet sketchbook. It’s a single sheet of watercolor paper that I’ve cut into a zig-zag shape and folded down. This means that I can unfold it in sections, up to 4 panels at a time for a long landscape (or vertical) image. It also folds up pretty compactly so I can Continue reading My One-Sheet Sketchbook

Accordion Folded Durango Sketches

I’ve really been enjoying the fall colors here in Durango, Colorado. Trying to make the most of it, I’ve been going out on my lunch break and quickly sketching scenes from around town in ink and watercolor.

Instead of carrying a pad of paper with me I followed Mark’s advice for making a sketchbook with me, a single piece of watercolor paper cut and folded into a long, accordion notebook. Here’s my current journal, all laid out:

It’s been nice to have a good-quality, heavy watercolor paper in my sketchbook. This has allowed me to really throw down a lot of water quickly – an important ability when I have no more than 30 minutes to get everything finished.

I’ve taken these opportunities to work on both my sketching abilities and to play with the watercolors, something that I’ve always been a little timid with.

This tree caught my attention the first time I saw it, and it was an easy decision to portray it when I first started sketching. It’s a tall tree and I probably should have unfolded another “page” to capture it more accurately, but I love the colors!

This old powerhouse is now a science museum. I haven’t been inside, yet, but it’s definitely on the list of places to visit!

This church is just on the the other side of the block from one of my favorite coffee shops, so I see it all the time. The architecture jumped out at me and when deciding where to sketch it quickly came to mind as a great option. I sat across the street on a bench to capture it.

I was aiming for a nearby section of trail but the spitting rain drove me inside. I snagged the last seat in Durango Coffee and sipped my java while drawing the bar and patrons at this downtown cafe. It was a lot of fun to have the extra space afforded by the additional panels, and I expect to return and fill in the other “page” on another day.

Here’s the river trail that I was aiming for when I ended up at Durango Coffee above. This view of the path through the trees beside the river came out much more abstract that intended, but I really like the deviation from my normal, detail-oriented approach!

Sketching the Denver Skyline

Ashley had a week-long training in Denver, a work-paid rental car and hotel room, and I had nothing pressing going on… so we spent a week in Denver! It was a great opportunity to explore a city without the pressures of finding parking and squeezing an RV around traffic and was generally relaxing.

Here’s the view from our 12th floor balcony, looking downtown.

Leaving Savannah, GA

After a busy week with family on vacation in Savannah, GA, it was time to head back home to Durango, CO. In a three-phase journey, the first leg was driving to catch a plane in Atlanta. Here’s how the view looked from the back-seat:


Better than a back seat driver, right?!

Only three pages left in my last mini sketchbook…

Family Vacation in Savannah, GA

For a few years now we’ve talked about having a family get-together of some sort. This year we went ahead and reserved a house in Savannah, Georgia. With a few month’s notice and everyone’s buy-in, the family gathering finally happened. It was certainly nice to get together without the event of a funeral or wedding.

Here are some of the sights from the week: Continue reading Family Vacation in Savannah, GA