Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My New Studio

A few years ago, I moved my studio out to the garage and created a sort of Man Cave. I posted some photos a few months ago. Last night I decided to move back inside the house, for a number of reasons: I miss my boys and all the action and noise they provide; I wanted to be a part of things and still be able to paint; and it was cold out there.

Here is the new set up. It is very sparse and organized. All of my art supplies are in my red taboret; notebooks and reference books, reference photos are on the shelves, and in-progress paintings are against the wall. I will use my garage to make a nice framing department, and of course a hang out space for smoking cigars and talking with my boys.

Sketchbooks and Journals

I have a large collection of sketchbooks and journals beginning in 1979. Back then I used an A4 Architect's and Designer's Diary. Now I use a Lett's weekly planner for my scheduling and journal entries, a Aquabee spiral sketchbook for drawing and a pocket Moleskine sketchbook for both. This photo also shows my Canson Montval watercolor sketchbooks and my collection of Canson All-Media sketchbooks.

I recently discovered the very large Moleskine sketchbook, shown at the top. It is 12" x 16.5" and is perfect for capturing large landscapes and nice horizontal vistas. You can see its size as compared to my pocket version. I usually keep this one in my car and just pull it out when there is something big to sketch.

Waiting Sketches

One of the advantages of having a sketchbook with you at all times is those times when you are waiting for someone. Time passes quickly when you are doing something else and it is much more interesting to draw than just sit and wait. These sketches were done fairly quickly, 10 minutes each. I used a Sanford Uniball Micro pen, with some of the lines enhanced with a Sharpie fine point. I painted them later in the quiet of my studio.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Daily Journal

I carry a Lett's daily diary in addition to a sketchbook. I use it to plan my year, schedule meetings, and note significant events. I also use it as a sketchbook, design notebook and photo album. My journal and my sketchbook tend to influence each other: I write in my sketchbook and draw in my journal. By the end of the year, the book is thick with photos and watercolor- crinkled pages. And it seems to weigh more than a new, unused book, but that could be my imagination.

By the way, I know its Christmas morning, and yes, I do have a life. I woke up early to do this post, and soon will be cooking breakfast for my three boys (and my middle son's girlfriend), opening presents by the fire and celebrating the day with Suzanne.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Love Los Angeles

I grew up in Colorado, in Denver for many years and then in a small town in the northwest corner of the state. I loved it of course, but always dreamed of moving to California, which I finally did after I graduated from art school. Here are a few sketches of life in L.A., a night time drive down the Harbor Freeway in the rain, and a view of the subway.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where I Live

I live in Pasadena, a beautiful city at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. I have lived here since 1980 (and on a few occasions before that). It is where I started to paint.

This is one of my favorite subjects: the Pasadena City Hall. I have sketched it many times. These are a few choice views, both done with pencil, pen, ink and watercolor.

Where I work

I work in South Pasadena, California, in the top floor of a two story brick building that was built by a ceramicist many years ago. South Pasadena is a great little town, full of restored craftsman houses and historic architecture.

The top sketch is the Rialto Theater. Above is the Fair Oaks Pharmacy, just north of the theater.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Design Sketches

I carry a small Moleskine sketchbook with me to project meetings as well. I am a partner at SKA Design, an environmental graphics firm in South Pasadena. We are currently doing a wayfinding and signage project for Griffith Park and I used my sketchbook to develop some design concepts while we were touring the facility. We are also developing a signage program for the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. We fleshed out some ideas at lunch after the project meeting. We are also proposing a citywide signage program for the Town of Danville, California. Here are some preliminary thoughts.

Everyday Sketchbooks

I use different sketchbooks for different phases of my life. I used to use the Aquabee Super Deluxe 808 all the time, and while I still love them, I like the Moleskine pocket sketchbooks more these days. I like to travel light, and the pocket sketchbook fits in my jacket pocket very easily. The top photo shows a row of completed ones.

Chris and I had to travel to Sacramento last month, and while we were waiting in the terminal to board our plane, I had a chance to sketch it. I painted it later in the studio.

Z and I went to La Costa for a weekend getaway. This quick sketch is the view outside the patio door.

Monday, November 15, 2010


For many years we had a large couch and a chair in the living room. It had fallen into hard times and showed its 20+ years of use and abuse from three boys, two dogs and three cats rather badly. We seldom used it. We were also paying for satellite TV that no one was watching. Finally it was time to move on. We cancelled the satellite service and gave away the furniture and in its place put an IKEA wood and canvas chair and two director's chairs. Now we have a simple little living room for relaxing by the fire, reading and watching the occasional DVD. It a nice sanctuary.

At the other end of the room is a low book case full of my art and architecture books and my collection of Christo books. Sitting atop the shelves is a wooden tripod table lamp I found on sale at a hardware store. Across the back wall is a series of six drawings I took from my sketchbook and mounted to gessoed hardboard panels.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Building a Model

I love scale models, particularly architectural ones. Back in 1974, when I was in art school, I designed and built a model of an artist's community that consisted of a series of triangular shaped gallery spaces, studios and loft living spaces. I don't know what happened to the original model but fortunately I had taken a number of photos that I could reference in rebuilding it. Beginning with a 12" x 12" x 2" gessoed hardboard panel as a base, I cut 1" squares and triangles out of mat board and assembled the miniature complex using white glue. I finished it with some dried yarrow weeds to represent trees. This was a nice break from my usual painting time.

Back to Work

After a little break from my normal routine of painting to do some teaching, exploring acrylic abstracts and building a model, I am back doing urban scenes in pen and ink and watercolor. I found a slide I had taken a number of years ago of the Chinatown district in San Fransisco that has everything: buildings, signs, people, cars, and the Bay Bridge beyond. This is an overwhelming scene. To keep myself organized, I started from the center and worked outward, taking my time and enjoying the drawing process, not thinking yet about how I am going to paint it.

I decided to use the sketch I did of Chinatown in Los Angeles (top) as inspiration. It started as a detailed pen and ink sketch to which I added bright colors, splatters and white paint. I left a large part of the sketch unpainted.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Refining an Earlier Series

The other evening I returned to this series of abstract washes and started playing around with color, shape and composition until each one started to look like something. I still had my Reno trip in mind and all I could see were aerial landscapes, so I added some roads and fields and lights. The upper right one is a winter scene in Colorado. These studies become nice little 5.5" x 7.5" paintings.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dividing Up Space

Tonight I concentrated non-objective paintings that consisted of dividing up space with shape, color and line. Each of these went through a number of iterations before I decided that I was through.

Monday, October 11, 2010


This started out as a landscape but ended up a pure abstract.

Finishing Last Week's Sketches

I went back to the paintings I did last week and tuned them up a bit, adding some clarification, detail and contrast. While they started out as non objective abstracts, they now look like small landscapes.

Aerial Landscapes

Here is a series of twelve 5.5" x 7.5" acrylic sketches.

More Exploration

Here are the last four from this evening's session.

Landscapes Exploration

Here are some additional explorations I did tonight. I used 140# Arches cold press watercolor paper, gessoed on one side, and began with a color wash over each sheet. I added colors intuitively without thinking, just to see what would happen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Repainting Some Earlier Images

The next thing I did was to dig out some earlier paintings I did of downtown Los Angeles to see if I could improve them. The original paintings were pen and ink with watercolor done on sketchbook paper and mounted to gesso'd panels. I tackled them with some thick acrylic paint, ignoring the foreground sketch and trying to simplify the composition, and make it more exciting.

Abstract Landscapes

The next thing I did was to choose a theme: landscape; three colors: green gold, phthalo blue and cadmium red (+ white); and a composition format: horizontal. Using the same gesso'd sheets, I prepared these quick studies.

Compositions Number Two

These are the last six: uneasy, golden section, spiritual, diagonal, meandering and constellation.

Composition Studies

The next thing I did was to review the basic composition formats. These are quick black and white studies illustrating six of the twelve composition styles used in most abstract paintings. They are: vertical, circular, overlapping squares, horizontal, cantilever and cruciform. Following Robert's technique, I painted gesso on one side of a 140# Arches Cold Press watercolor paper, cut up into 5.5" x 7.5" rectangles. Then using black and white acrylic paint, I quickly painted the exercises.

A Review of Some Basics

I am going through Robert Burridge's book Loosen Up, with the hope that it will not only give me some good pointers on abstract painting but also will inspire me. The first step was to get some additional acrylic paint at the art store and prepare a color wheel.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A New Start

So I am doing something different, at least for a while: exploring abstracts and abstract landscapes in oil, pencil and mixed media. Here is my visioning board, some preliminary pencil sketches and some early oil painting studies.

Time For A Change

I had a bit of a crisis the other day. I was scheduled to go paint at an event where patrons could come and watch the artists at work, eat some food and drink some wine, and hopefully buy a painting. I have been to a number of these and for some reason, while I always have a good time, I seldom if ever sell anything. This fact usually does not bother me, but for some reason, this time it did. I just couldn't do it, so I didn't go.

I have been painting the same subjects the same way for many years now. Yes, my style has evolved and become more colorful, but I seem to have lost the spark of originality and uniqueness that some of my earlier work possessed. I must have painted the Colorado Street Bridge over 200 times by now. I can do it in my sleep. Is that good? People love it as a subject and I have made a fair amount of money from it, but is that good? I don't know. In any event, I need a change.

One of my heroes is Miles Davis, the jazz musician. He once said that he stopped playing ballads because he loved them so much. He was always changing, innovating and trying new things and consequently, he invented entirely new forms of music. He would try something new and his fans would rebel, hating the new and wishing he would go back to the old. He didn't. He kept pushing and finally his fans would follow too. I loved that about him.

So I decided to work on my Visioning Board. I started it years ago and I grows and changes as I do. It has pictures of Christo, paintings by Robert Burridge, a photo of Alexander Calder in his studio, and some of my own art. Working on it helps me get a grasp on what I want to do, and how I want to change.

I worked on it again this week. This time, I covered up some old images and added some new ones: images of works by Richard Diebenkorn and Franz Kline; a panoramic photo of my studio, a written narrative of what I want to do, and some new abstract paintings of my own.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Train Station

Many years ago I was looking for a hobby. This was before I re-discovered painting. I had already built a tiny model train layout and spend a year and a half building a model wooden ship and I needed something new. While perusing the local public library I happened upon the book David Gentlemen's Britain and decided to get a sketchbook and draw my city, Pasadena, California.

My original intent was to document the changes I saw every day as buildings were built and others torn down. One of my first subjects was the train station. At that time, back in the late 80's, it was quite active, serving four Amtrak trains a day. Freight trains passed every few hours and there was even a freight station and a siding for deliveries. If I was out with my boys in the evening, we would sometimes stop at the station and wait for the evening long haul Amtrak to pull in for its first stop after departing from Los Angeles Union Station on its way east. We would look in at the dark and cozy sleeping compartments and wish we were on board.

I have drawn the station many times since that first sketch, and have seen it through many changes. One day as I was coming to work, the Santa Fe Super Chief was there for a movie shoot. That was the height of its modern life. Eventually, Amtrak moved out and the freight trains stopped coming. The signs were taken down and the station fell into disrepair.

One day they took it apart and moved it across the street to the park before building a new mixed use retail residential transportation development on the site. Then they completely restored it and moved it back to its original location and turned it into an excellent restaurant. Now it lives on, better than before.

This view is my favorite however: on a quiet summer day, with passengers waiting patiently for the afternoon train.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Urban Sketching Redux

This is a sketch of another famous eatery: Philippe's - Home of the French Dipped Sandwich. It has been there for many years and hasn't changed one bit. The food is fantastic and the parking is free.

I have sketched and painted this scene many times and in many different ways: pen and ink; watercolor with pencil; pen with watercolor; I have mounted a version to a hard board panel, done it in mixed media and painted it as a demonstration for the workshops I teach. I really enjoy the image because it has a lot of texture, it is gritty and full of stuff, it has good darks and lights and it has a lot of colorful signage.

This version was completed last week and is my new favorite. This is slightly ironic because I had done it as a demo last year for the Learning and Product Expo here in Pasadena and was unable to complete it during the class time, so I filed it away. It was an acceptable painting at the time and had done a good job of illustrating my teaching lesson but finding it again and looking at it with fresh eyes, I found it lacking. I decided to try to fix it. What did I have to lose right?

I had done it as a pen and ink sketch on Arches hot press watercolor paper. I liked the original line work and the initial wash of color was not so strong as to prevent me from adding more, so I tackled it with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm. (I find that easier to do with a painting that has seasoned for a while; I am not so worried that I am going to ruin it so I am very relaxed and feel free to take more chances.)

I started by redrawing it with my Sanford Uniball Micro pen. (Please note that the pen acts very differently drawing over painted areas.) Looking back at my original reference photo I noticed that I had mis-drawn the awning, so I just drew it again, correctly this time, ignoring the painted awning underneath. I also drew in a third vehicle and left it unpainted as well, giving the painting a very casual sketchy feeling. I added some narrative copy along the bottom edge and made a few color notes right on the painting.

As the original was lacking in color and contrast, I enhanced the darks, but I did it with color: the shadows are a mixture of blue, red and burnt umber. I exaggerated the color shifts: look at the phone pole - it is dark at the top and very light at the bottom. I also boosted the colors and white paint in the signage. Finally, I painted a stormy sky and put some loose reflections in the foreground to suggest a rainy afternoon.

What started as an average painting is now something I like very much. I encourage you to dig through some of your earlier mediocre pieces and see if you can improve them.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Little Abstract Landscapes

Here is an interesting exercise you can try: paint a series of non-objective abstract studies on a single sheet of paper, all at the same time. I discovered this by accident. I was commissioned to do a watercolor landscape of no place in particular and I didn't know quite where to start. So I took a full sheet of 140# Fabriano cold press paper and divided it up into squares. I used 1/2 white tape to make clean a clean edge between images.

Then, without planning anything or having a pre-conceived idea of what I wanted, I started laying down color. I painted large areas of solid color, small shapes, wet paint on dry paper, colors mixing on wet paper, gradated washes, everything. I painted all of the squares, one after the other, all at once, without stopping to evaluate or ponder. I was bold with color, and bold with mixing unusual and illogical colors. I was free to paint like a child who doesn't know all the rules he isn't supposed to break.

As the washes started to dry, I started to sculpt each little image, adding an accent color, scraping out some whites, throwing in a complimentary color, and splattering, still with no idea what I was making, just having fun and playing around.

Gradually, each painting started to look like something: a dramatic storm on a distant plain, a sunset, a beautiful valley in late afternoon, a brilliant sun peaking out from behind a cloud. It was then that I started to add shapes and colors to help describe and clarify the vision: furrowed rows of a farm field, a grove of trees on a hillside, a distant lake. I finished by adding some strokes and spots of white paint on a few of the scenes for some added interest.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

White Paint

There are two kinds of water-color artists: those who use white paint and those who are going to use white paint. Just kidding. Actually, there are quite a few watercolor artists who absolutely refuse to use it, and I support them. I even, on occasion, refrain from the good old Titainium. There is an unusual beauty to the clean, pure expression of a transparent watercolor. It's what attracts most people to the medium, both painters and patrons.

On rare occasions however, the judicious use of white paint can be the perfect accent to a watercolor painting. It can clarify branches in the midst of a thick dark mass of trees, create window mullions on a deep blue pane of glass, suggest subtle complexity in the background of a city scene and provide the interesting graphic accent of signage on a street corner.

The key is restraint. Be delicate with your brush. I use a rigger or a swordliner (a long, skinny brush with a good tip). I wait until I have completed the painting and done all I can without white paint, and then I add the little spots and accents. I like to continue a dark painted stroke (let's say, in a tree) with white paint, so the line goes from dark suddenly to white. It is unexpected, illogical and very exciting.

This is a scene of people waiting in line to eat at the Pantry in Los Angeles. It is a classic diner that is always open, and has been since 1924. You don't leave hungry. For this painting, I used Arches 140# hot press watercolor paper. I did a loose in sketch in pen and ink before applying bright colors of thick, juicy paint. I wanted this to have lots of color in the buildings, people and the cafe awnings so I really laid it on. I painted reflections in the foreground to create interest but in reality, it wasn't raining. I also left plenty of white space though out the piece: the door frames, window mullions, random little areas along the street, and the architectural detailing in the skyscrapers.

After all that, I came back in with white paint for a few little touches: the pantry sign, the street sign, a few window details and a little splattering here and there. Not much, but enough to give everything some sparkle and energy.