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.