Wednesday, September 3, 2008

August Rains

August is wet in Mexico. You´ll never know when it will be sunny or raining, but you´ll get plenty of both, depending on what path storms and hurricanes decide to take.
I painted this plein air piece from a balcony of a friend´s house in Tapalpa, in Central Mexico. The clouds hurried across the sky and the shadow patterns on the ground changed rapidly. Luckily I had a previously stained linen panel with me, which made the painting go much faster.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yet Another Seascape

Here´s another one.
Different beach, different view point.

In this scene I loved the fact that the ocean, though in constant motion, gives a feeling of tranquility and, because of the repetitiveness and predictability of it´s movements, a sense of permanence.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Seascape

My best client loves seascapes.
This one is not sold yet and I would not mind keeping it for myself. I have been to this beach dozens of times and on every occasion I find a new view that I simply have to paint. I can´t keep up!


A couple of decades ago I was reluctant to paint seascapes. It seemed dangerous ground, not because I did not know how to paint one, but because so many hobby painters love this theme. (Along with reclining nudes and children´s portraits.)
And I did not want to be thrown in with the wrong group.

But no topic should be too intimidating nor too banal for a serious painter. In the end it´s what you make of it and I learned that among buyers, there is a taste for both good and bad interpretations. So, who´s to say?

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Black, just like white, is not a color.

Colors have three dimensions:
Hue, value and chroma.
Black is undoubtedly a hue.
As far as value goes, it is the darkest of all values on the scale, but it cannot vary in value like colors can. As soon as it is a bit lighter, it is not black any more.
And chroma, or intensity is fixed too, there is no blacker than black.

In painting, black has to be treated with a lot of respect. First of all, black easily dirties other colors. Also, black objects show a variety of color and values where the light hits them and it is important to look carefully to determine the hue of those colors. The most illuminated spot on a black object can be lighter than the darkest shadow on a white object.
I hardly ever use black (I believe there is still some paint in the one and only tube of black I ever bought), but rather mix the colors to interprete black with the three darkest transparent colors on the palette: Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Viridian Green. Real Black is only needed in the deepest of all accents, where no direct, nor reflected light hits the object.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

White - is it a Color?

No, it isn´t.

Many years ago, when I studied oil painting with Sebastian Capella, I learned that White and Black are not colors.
Let me explain:
Color has three dimensions, hue, value and croma.
Hue, as in the tone like red, yellow, blue, etc.;
Value, referring to the degree of light or dark on a scale between black and white;
And Croma, as in intensity or purity of the color.

White fits within the first dimension, it does have a name, so it qualifies as a hue, but it does not have any variation in value, nor in croma. White will always be the lightest on the value scale and there is no more than one intensity - white is white.

Any color, added to another one, will change that color´s hue. For example, if you add red to yellow you get orange, blue to yellow makes green, and so on.
White, added to any other color does not change that color´s hue, it will only affect its value and diminish its intensity.

I don´t use pure white when painting a white object, pure white is rarely found in nature, there is always a hint of another hue present. Shadows and reflected colors will show us the white object in a lovely variety of colors! It´s only our brain which reads them as white.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Painting versus Photography

Even though photography and painting (or sculpting) have a lot in common with respect to the perceptive mind of the artist, I believe each of the two art forms has a different ideal or purpose.
Photographers capture the beauty of one moment in time, even when this moment depicts a subject in motion. A painter, who´s work takes a few hours to do, witnesses the subject matter over a longer period of time, and interprets a personal impression of it. This impression should be charged with the painter´s emotions and will give not only a more or less accurate account of the scene, depending on the style, but also a glimpse of the artist´s character.
For me painting in a realistic way does not mean trying to compete with what a a photographer can do, that would be a waste of time, as the camera can deliver so much more precision.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


This is another painting I made of Rosa. It was done in a single session and I believe I painted over an old canvas. I am always happy with the rough brush work that results from doing that and, because there is already color on the canvas, the painting goes so much faster.
The windows of our studio looked like those of a factory, hence the title.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Rosa used to be one of my favorite models. I remember clearly when she came to my group for the first time, shy and worried that she would have to model in the nude. She had recently immigrated to the US from the Middle East and was still steeped in the traditions of her country. As it turned out, after she modeled for us countless times fully clothed, one day she decided that there was nothing wrong with modeling nude.
Every model has a unique way of projecting her - or his - personality to the artist. Some gorgeous looking models turn out to be absolutely boring, other, less perfect figures surprise with a lot of spunk and personality. In Rosa´s case, I was always most interested in her face.

Monday, June 2, 2008


There are various ways of expressing movement which go beyond the photographically correct depiction of a scene.
Paintings and drawings are by nature still objects, so, if action is depicted, the artist has to convince the viewer that movement is actually happening.
The great master Auguste Rodin once defined movement as the "transition from one attitude to another". He advocated what he called "progressive development of movement" , meaning that he liked to depict successive phases of an action in the same sculpture, condensing the action of several moments into a single figure.
For me, distortion is a good way of expressing movement.
In my example of the horse jumping over the hurdle, the head of the horse has already cleared the obstacle, moving away from us, the hind legs, however, are just about to move into our field of vision and their muscles are in the moment of greatest activity. I made the exaggeration in size intuitively but I like the result, as it helps to create the illusion of movement.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


The rainy season is about to start in central Mexico. For about five months straight, there will be a downpour every afternoon. Some days it may rain lightly all day long, but most of the time there is sunshine in the mornings and precipitation starts around 4 or 5PM.
The landscape turns green within days after the first rains and the moisture in the air creates beautiful atmospheric layers.
This is a great season for plein air painting, especially if you like to do clouds. The light can get very interesting in those last moments before the clouds burst and since oil does not mix with water, I don´t worry if the rain catches up with me.
As long as the car is near!

Thursday, May 29, 2008


At the river mouth of Rio Tomatlan, just south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, pelicans are ever present. They are excellent fishers, dropping themselves from high above into the sea, folding their wings and making a slight turn just before they hit the water. They hardly miss the fish they are after and carry it off in their expandable lower beak.
But why work if you can get food for free? Fishermen who gut their catch right at the river´s edge are very popular with the birds and have to be careful, or the pelicans might take their fish as well as the entrails.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Trees are amazing living things.
They provide humans and animals with oxygen, they absorb all kinds of pollution and improve the climate. Their roots anchor the soil to prevent erosion and desertification, in winter their decomposing leaves make nutritious, new soil. They give shelter to birds and other animals. Some trees have roots capable of desalinating ocean water. Managed sustainably, their wood provides us with excellent building material. Even dead trees still work for our benefit, enriching the ground in preparation for new vegetation.
These are just some of the wonders trees do for us, yet sadly, we humans don´t care for them the way we should. I guess we still have not woken up to the fact that trees offer extremely high benefits for extremely low cost. And that life on this planet could not be possible without them.
Now, lets compare that with what cars do for us. !?! But, oh yes, we do take good care of those.
At some point I might paint a whole series of different trees, but then, there are so many other themes, that it might have to wait a bit.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What Are You Painting?

When I do plein air work, inevitably someone comes up to me and asks: What are you painting? Or, even better, what are you doing?
Well, its nice that people find the process of creating a painting interesting, but for the artist, concentration is gone at this point.
I normally don't paint and talk at the same time, so I take visitors as an opportunity for a little break and tell the inquirers that I am painting the scene in front of me, but that I am barely starting, and if they came back in an hour, they would see more. With some luck I am finished by that time.
I made this painting at the river mouth of La Ticla, at the Mexican Pacific coast. Lots of white birds played and looked for food in the shallow water. A recent storm had uprooted a tree and the current of the river had brought it down to the ocean where it got stuck between two sand banks. Could not leave such a scene unpainted!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Life Drawings

My Friday life drawing group prefers female models, but sometimes we get male models to pose for us.
Over time, those who did not feel comfortable with quick gesture drawing dropped out of the group and the remaining artists opted for more one minute poses at the beginning of each session. I love those quick ones, they get you going, loosen your hand.
This drawing was probably done from one of the long poses, which last 10 or 15 minutes.

Monday, May 19, 2008

From my Ethnic Series

When I visited Oaxaca for the first time in the early seventies, the markets were still held in the streets and the ware was spread out on the ground.
There was a street where baskets were sold, another one for clay pots, toys, flowers, crafts, etc., only some food was sold in an indoor market. Women (mostly) were busy arranging, weighing or unpacking whatever they sold and some of them were still wearing their traditional outfits.
If you go today, you´ll need to get a cab to the outskirts of town where you´ll find a market with regular booths, where everything is sold in one place. I bet it´s more comfortable for the people who work in it, but from the artistic point of view, the change was for the worse and one gets the feeling the merchants are banned from the touristic areas in the center of Oaxaca. There´s no longer a reason to proudly wear ethnic clothing, as hardly any tourists venture to the edges of town. A similarly unfortunate decision was made by the local government when they banned artisans from the center square during the Guelaguetza festivities. They too were relocated in an artificially created market in a remote area. I wonder whether the officials in charge of tourism ever ask tourists what they like to see when they come to Oaxaca.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Middle Key of Contrast

In this painting I used a middle key of contrast.
The colors are neither very dark nor very light in value, keeping the range wide, but without using the extreme dark values 1 and 2 nor the very lightest one, corresponding to 9 on the value scale. Even though it can be, the choice of key of contrast is not often a deliberate one for me. I just respond the scene in front of me.
On this particular occasion, some friends and I were on a plein air painting trip in New Mexico, and this rural scene caught my eye. The time of day was late in the afternoon, color in general looked rich and the cast shadows were glowing. What a privilege to be a painter!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Low Key of Contrast

In my last post I spoke about high key of contrast. Here´s an example for a low key of contrast painting.
The day was mildly sunny, with a lot of early morning moisture floating in the air, which softened the contours of all the shapes.
On a scale of 9 values between black and white, black being 1 and white being 9, the colors in this plein air painting would correspond to no more than three values: 6,7 and 8, with just a touch of a darker or lighter accent here or there.

Friday, May 16, 2008

High Key of Contrast

Any painting, abstract or representational, can be done in a high, middle or low key of contrast.
There is no advantage or quality issue connected to either of the three, it is mainly a question of personal preference , but in landscape painting, choosing one over the other can be due to the light situation of the scene.
In this example, the sun was very strong and almost directly overhead. Seen from my vantage point, the scene was back lit. I remember struggling with the discomfort of heat and strained eyes, standing there in the open, dry landscape, but I managed to establish the main features and high key of contrast between illuminated areas and areas in shade as well as cast shadows, before packing. The finishing touches I did in my studio.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shade or Shadow?

When I teach color theory, I always explain to the students, that in art there is an important difference between shade and shadow.
When light falls on an object, it illuminates the side that is facing the light. The other sides of the object, which are not pointing towards the source of this light, are in shade.
The object will, in turn, cast a shadow onto the surface which is underneath or behind it.
The change between an area in light and an area in shade can be soft and gradual if the object is rounded (like the forehead), or abrupt if it has corners or pronounced plane changes (like the violin).
Cast shadows have sharp edges close to the object that casts the shadow (like the cast shadow of the bow on the violinist´s arm) and softer edges the farther away from the light source the shadow gets (like in the case of the cast shadow of the arm and violin on the red curtain).
The handling of the brush strokes, using soft and hard edges, has to be according to that principle in order to give a realistic impression.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Black Clay

One more from my Ethnic Series.
There is a village in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico, which is famous for the production of black pottery. Its name is San Bartolo Coyotepéc. Contrary to what people might believe, the clay is no different from any other, it is the process which produces the black color: The pieces are fired very slowly and at low temperatures, in a kiln which is completely devoid of oxygen. After firing, the surface of each object is burnished - rubbed with a quartz stone until shiny. Most of the pots have rounded bottoms, and are to be displayed on a wreath of wicker. They look very attractive, but you can´t use them with water because the firing at low temperature does not make them impermeable.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Ethnic Series 2

Another painting in the ethnic series.
Women carry more than their fair share of the burden in Mexico and many other developing countries of the world. I don´t want to jump on the feminist band wagon here, but it is worth mentioning. Mexico´s culture is still a male dominated one, especially noticeable in rural areas.
Women who have many children, few modern inventions to make life easier, and little in the way of income, necessarily have a hard life in a place where it is seen as weakness for a man to help at home.
This young woman is preparing tortillas. She has the corn dough or "masa" sitting in front of her on the "metate", a volcanic stone. Next to her is the hot "comal", on which she bakes the tortillas, turning them twice in the process while the man in her life stands in the background, hands in his pockets.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ethnic Series

I am working on a series of ethnic Mexican scenes for a possible exhibition in my native Austria a year from now. Europeans seem to be very interested in the folklore of this country.
Due to its diversity in indigenous cultures, Mexico is extremely rich in native crafts and folk art: textiles, pottery, basket weaving, masks, jewelery, embroidery, wood carvings, rugs, hand painted decorative items, hammocks, toys, mouth blown glass - you name it, they have it.
This woman is a Huichol Indian. The Huicholes traditionally live in the Sierra Madre Occidental, where the States of Durango, Zacatecas, Nayarit and Jalisco meet. They were the only indigenous tribes that were not defeated by the Spaniards during the conquest and they continued to live in relative isolation until very recently. In the last ten years, more and more Huichol people have come to the cities to offer their beautiful and very popular yarn paintings, jewelery and other decorative items, which they cover with intricate designs in colorful beads. Their work has been shown in museums in the United States and other countries and they are now internationally famous.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Resisting Kitsch - Or Not

I have stayed away from sunsets for the first twenty years as a painter, in order to avoid kitsch.
This one is my second ever and the first one I like. I think it works, probably because I simplified a lot, which is always a good idea. Or maybe it is because I just finished it!
I had been painting the whole day today, first blocking in a portrait for a commission I have been putting off, then finishing a seascape, also commissioned and finally, even though I was tired, I felt like doing something fast and fresh before quitting. I had a lot of color on my palette and a previously stretched 15"x15" linen ready to go. A couple of years ago I had painted at this location but resisted the sunset. Now the photograph of it was exactly what I was looking for.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rodin on Portrait Painting

My husband keeps telling me, I should paint more portraits, he feels they are my best work. I don´t know if they are, what I do know is, that I feel happier painting outdoor scenes.
Portraits are a triple challenge because, besides getting the features exactly in the right place (likeness), and having to penetrate deeply into the consciousness of others (character), you have to please the subject of your painting.
I love what Rodin said, and I quote again from the book I mentioned a few posts ago:
"But the greatest difficulties for the artist who models a bust or who paints a portrait do not come from the work which he executes. They come from the client for whom he works."
A few lines below he continues:
"It is very seldom that a man sees himself as he is, and even if he knows himself, he does not wish the artist to present him as he is."
To that I might add another aspect: People know their faces mostly from their mirror image, not the way others see them. Since no one´s face is totally symmetrical, their real appearance looks a little wrong to them.
I have done portraits of married couples and it did not surprise me that he liked hers very much and she was very pleased with his. Their own likenesses, they thought, were a bit off.
I am glad that, in the case of Teresa´s portrait, both husband and wife were happy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Plein Air painting

I made this little PA painting from one of the terraces at the Villa Amor resort in Sayulita, Mexico.
It was a particularly sparkling day, the sun was hot and high, and after years of visiting that beach, I knew the light was special and I had to capture it quickly before it changed.
I have a series of 8x10 s of Sayulita beaches hanging at home, painted in all kinds of light and weather. Makes me want to go back!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Painting skin is fascinating.
I was lucky enough to have my eyes opened by the great Spanish painter and teacher Sebastian Capella, who carried forward the legacy of Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida. Sorolla brought skin alive through the use of color.
Like any other surface, skin can have many colors, depending on the quality of the primary light source (warm sun, cool stage light, etc.) and whether there is any reflected light bouncing off nearby colorful objects.
We are used to seeing color in everything, but when asked to reproduce what we see, the left side of our brain tells us a different story: Certain things are supposed to be a certain color. Skies are blue and skin is skin color, for example. Not for me, thank goodness.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Handmade Amate Paper

I made the drawing of this horse on a handmade mexican paper, called "papel amate".
Since prehispanic times, the indigenous people of Mexico used to make paper out of a variety of natural fibers. Papel amate can be made from the bark of several types of ficus trees: The macerated bark is placed on a wooden board and beaten repeatedly with a volcanic stone until the fiber releases a sticky substance which holds the resulting pulp together. It is pounded flat and arranged into the shape of sheets, which have uneven edges. Then it is air dried.
The paper has a beautiful, irregular surface and the color can be from very light beige to dark brown.
In the Mexican states of Puebla, Guerrero and Morelos, this paper is used for either monochrome or very colorful, naive paintings, depicting traditional events like weddings, harvests, rodeos etc..

Abstraction vs. Realism

There is no right or wrong in art. Both representational and non representational art can be good or bad. Good art, at least for me, is one which creates a response in the viewer which is similar to the artists own initial impression or intent in relation to the subject matter.
Even though I paint representationally, I am always using a certain degree of abstraction. Nature is three dimensional and my canvas has only two dimensions, so, by definition, I need to abstract. How much I want to stick to what I see or how far I want to simplify is up to me and they way I feel that day. Sometimes I enjoy playing around with both abstraction and figure in a painting. It is just a matter of shapes and colors put together in a harmonious way.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Music and Visual Arts

I believe music and visual arts have a lot in common and many artistic people have a sensibility for both.
I went to high school in Vienna, Austria, and I still regret the fact, that at a certain age we had to choose between art education and music. I chose visual arts, but would have loved to continue with classes about music as well.
Both art forms can express moods and atmosphere so well, both can evoke emotions in the audience (as can language, I guess, but I never got much into writing).
Recently, when I started teaching a course in color theory, I found myself using a lot of comparisons and referring to technical parallels between the two.
Both art and music benefit from contrast between economy and variety, rhythm and calm, a strong statement and an element of surprise. Accents make the work come alive but the general layout of the composition is more important than the detail.
In any case, I feel it is best not to say it all, but to leave a little room for the pleasure of interpretation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Children in Portraiture

A few years ago I was commissioned to paint the portraits of two sisters. Children won´t hold still for you, so I worked from a family snapshot for one and a studio photograph for the other. I knew the kids quite well, as they lived across the street from me. Otherwise I would have had to ask for a whole bunch of photographs to get to know them better - I do the same when I have to paint a portrait of an adult whom I don´t know well and who cannot sit for me.
And being familiar with their personality was very helpful.
The older sister, the blond girl, was very outgoing and full of spunk, her little sister rather sweet and shy. Their mother left the choice of backgrounds up to me and was quite happy with the prickly cacti in back the older and the soft meadow behind the younger child.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Trends in Art

Art is not exempt from fashion.
Every time has its preferences and trends and, most people, with few exceptions, follow them.
The last century has seen its share of abstract or non representational art, some of it exceptional, some of it bad, some hardly art at all, but as long as it is in fashion, everything goes.
Now it looks like realism begins to have a comeback.
Recently, work which is shocking, offensive, violent, or which otherwise causes raised eyebrows is being favored by the critics.
Novelty at all cost - but is it art?
I choose to paint representationally, because I feel attracted to the (often hidden) beauty nature has to offer. There is plenty of tragedy and ugliness in the daily news, I don´t need to contribute to that. Besides, I am convinced that it is within the human condition to crave beauty.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rodin on Drawing

I have a model and a bunch of artists over to may studio every Friday.
We put on some classical music, turn on the spotlight and set the timer to 1 minute. Everyone works with frenzied speed and concentration to capture these quick poses as best he or she can. Next are 2 minute and 5 minute poses, like the one in this example.
More than a warm up, they bring out the best in us. Not only do the models strike more interesting poses than when they have to hold it for 10 or 15 minutes, but the artist has no time for, what Rodin called "..the inexpressive minutiae of execution and false nobility of gesture which please the ignorant."
Quick drawing does not give you time to be afraid of mistakes or to worry about style. And that is good. The purpose is not to create masterpieces but to practice; to grow as an artist and to keep in shape. Says Rodin: "Craft is only a means, but the artist who neglects it will never attain his end, ............. in short, no sudden inspiration can replace the long toil which is indispensable to give the eye a true knowledge of form and of proportion and to render the hand obedient to the commands of feeling."
I feel so lucky that my profession as a painter allows me to enjoy every minute of this "long toil"! Well, almost every minute, with the exception of washing my brushes...............

Friday, April 11, 2008

Rodin on Beauty

Santa Teresita is a - well, how should I say it politely - pretty ugly part of Guadalajara. But that does not mean that beauty cannot be found there.
I had been invited to participate in a water color show and, even though I am an oil painter, I accepted.
My aim was to stay away as far as possible from the artificially sweetened, the pretty, from what´s commonly perceived as beautiful. I looked around for a subject that the other participants would not consider worthy. I found it in the tangle of telephone cables and electrical wires strung between the roofless houses of this part of town.
And I could not help remembering a passage I read in a wonderful book, called "On Art and Artists", published by Philosophical Library, New York, which is a summary of interviews given by the great Auguste Rodin, in which he says - and I quote: "..... In short, Beauty is everywhere. It is not she that is lacking to our eye, but our eyes which fail to perceive her. Beauty is character and expression." In another chapter he offers this: "There is nothing ugly in art except that which is without character,....... And that which is considered ugly in nature often presents more character than that which is termed beautiful......"
I recommend this book to everyone who does creative work.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Painting in a realistic, or impressionistic way is nothing more than interpreting what the eye sees and what the mind perceives in one´s own, personal way, creating a two dimensional illusion of a three dimensional reality on paper or canvas.
The illusion of distance or depth of
field can be achieved in a variety of ways: Objects become smaller, contours less sharp, and color and its temperature change too.
Atmosphere acts like a series of veils which "hang" between the foreground and what can be seen far away. The farther the distance, the thicker the accumulated layers of veils. Shapes behind these atmospheric layers will therefore look less defined and cooler in color than what´s up close.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


The modern aniline violet was discovered by accident in the XIXth century. A British student who was working on a remedy against malaria, tried to produce a synthetic substitute for quinine. He invented a beautiful purple instead.

In México, in the area around Tehuantepec on the Pacific coast, purple was made for centuries from an excretion of the púrpura, a sea snail. When squeezed, the animal produces a liquid which can be used to dye thread. The curious thing is that the thread first turns white, then changes its color to green, followed by yellow before it finally becomes purple.
A similar mollusk from the Mediterranean was used in the Middle East to produce another shade of violet. The difference was that its excretion had to be mixed with urine and lime in order to fix the color.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


In past centuries, artists had all kinds of difficulties with green pigments. First, none of them were permanent, second, most were either weak or toxic. Of course, greens could, and always can be made by mixing blue and yellow, but there were also other sources in nature:

In ancient China, a greenish earth was used to make porcelain, but it was very pale in color. Malachite was ground to obtain a beautiful tone of green, but it could not be ground finely, or it would loose its color. Suspending copper over a bath of vinegar would produce a patina of another green, however it was corrosive and short lived.

In the late XVIIIth century, Scheele, a swedish chemist, experimented with arsenic, when he accidentally produced a wonderful, but highly poisonous green. He knew about the toxicity, but was advised not to disclose it, as not to jeopardize the potential economic success. It became known as Scheele-Green and was indeed immediately very well received by society. Textiles, carpets and wall papers in green became the latest must have in fashion.
By the way, Napoleon, who was exiled in Santa Helena and lived in a room decorated with Scheele-Green wallpaper, died in 1821. It was later determined, that his body was preserved like a mommy because he died of arsenic poisoning.


Before synthetic colors were invented, yellow pigments came from the strangest and most diverse sources: Concentrated cow urine, ox gall, minerals, tree resins and saffron, among others.
Yellow is a primary color, as is red and blue, and when mixing it with the latter, green is obtained.
The hue of any color, when mixed with yellow, becomes warmer in temperature.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Red pigments have an interesting history.
Up to the XIIIth century few people knew that the most beautiful reds were made from an insect which lives primarily on the nopal cactus in America and in the bark of a tree in Asia. The fact that the intense crimson red, used for cloth as well as for paint, was obtained by squishing thousands of bugs, was kept a secret for obvious reasons - it was not very appetizing. The name crimson, carmesí in Spanish, Karmesinrot in German and carmine in English, has its roots in the persian word "kermes"- the name for the bug.
The facts about another ancient source of red are not much better, at least not for the health of those who produced it: Vermillion was made by mixing mercury and sulfur, both highly toxic.
As was Lead- or Minium red: It was obtained by heating toxic lead white.
Apart from their repulsive or toxic ingredients, none of these reds were permanent.
What a relief that today´s artists don´t have to deal with any of that!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


A few days ago I finished this harbor scene.
While I was painting it, I remember thinking what a pleasure it was, being able to mix these precious blues, not having to worry where the pigment came from nor how much of it I could use.
A few centuries ago artists were dependent upon shipments of Lapizlázuli from Afghanistan, or Cobalt from Iran. If they could afford them. Lapizlázuli was rather expensive especially if you wanted the really deep tone. Cobalt, which is found in the presence of arsenic, had the disadvantage of being poisonous. The third option for old masters was a blue found in copper mines: azurite. It was less expensive, but also less permanent and less beautiful.
By the way, today´s most basic tube color "Ultramarine Blue" got its name from the fact that the pigment had to be brought from "beyond the sea" (ultra mare), not from the comparison with the deep blue color of the ocean.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Oaxaca, La Calenda

On the Saturdays preceding the Guelaguetza dance festivals (see my blog from March 30), a procession of all delegations walks through the streets of Oaxaca, everyone in their colorful costumes and with musicians playing tunes from their region.
At the head of the procession, known as the "Calenda", are two drummers, dressed in white. Long before the start of the event people line the sides of the road to get a good view and a chance for a good photograph.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Fog at Trinidad Bay

Light and shadow are normally my best tools when I am painting. But on this trip to northern California I was hoping for something else: fog.
My daughters were studying in Arcata, at Humboldt University at the time and they had told me that on most days it was either raining or foggy. Well, it looked like it would not be either during my visit. However, as the last day approached, I had my wish granted. My painting buddy and I set out for Trinidad beach early in the morning and put on all the clothes we had - it was cold, the ocean agitated and the fog thick. After hiking north along the beach, looking for the ideal spot, visibility started getting better and we set up our easels and painted two pictures each.
I worked with a very limited palette, just white, cad yellow pale, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue and green. It´s the ideal set up for traveling, less bulk, light and really all you need.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mexico: La Guelaguetza

Twice every year, in July, Oaxaca presents it´s internationally famous dance festival, La Guelaguetza, part of the "Lunes del Cerro" (Mondays of the Hill) festivities.
Guelaguetza is a Zapotec word, meaning "to participate and cooperate at the same time". It is a gift that demands reciprocity.
Ethnic groups from all seven regions of the State of Oaxaca gather in the capital to make their offerings to the city. Performers of each group, dressed in their gala outfits, present a regional dance to the rhythm of their music. At the end they offer their "guelaguetza" of products typical of their region, to the public.

This painting is from my series of ethnic Mexican scenes, it shows dancers from the region of Pochutla, performing at the Guelaguetza.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Georgia O´Keefe´s Mountains

What an interesting, inspiring landscape Georgia O´Keefe chose to paint! The mountains in Ghost Ranch and near Santa Fe offer a feast for the eye, both in color and in shapes. No wonder that so many artists settle down in New Mexico.
During a trip with like minded artists I did a series of plein air paintings in the area and I can´t wait to go back and paint there again.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Reclining nude, pen and art marker

The human form might well be the most timeless subject in art. Like many artists before me, I enjoy drawing the nude model as I would enjoy drawing a tree in winter - the beauty of its shape apparent and unobstructed. Every angle revealing another line, another plane, another shape.