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The Bird Won

Alone, oil painting

It wasn’t so long ago, but almost forever and a day, before the sun fully lifted into the sky.

The light broke, and now Freely into Blues.

Together alone

Variations of the same oil painting while playing with glazing and color mixing on birch wood.

Oil painting variations were completed during the period of time that I participated in an art class called Painting on the Edge taught by Michael Orwick, offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

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There are people whom I carry with me, in my head and my heart.  I am finding the time, through my paintings, to bring them back into view.

Street children  have lingered in my memory for decades.  In this case, I recollect two boys playing cards on a heavily utilized footpath near the dhobi ghats where their parents were working as laundry washers, on the streets of Mumbai, India. I call this painted moment, “Unity.

I took notes describing the scene.

“The boys play their game as though they are alone. Yet, in fact, they are surrounded by people swiftly walking past them. The boy’s feet touch, defining their play area. The sidewalk patterns mimic the shape of their feet and legs, further symbolizing the boys’ sense of land ownership and unity.”

Personal notes
“Unity”, Oil painting

I took a quick photo of the people walking nearby.

Walking area, personal photo

Most likely, the children’s parents were working in the dhobi ghats where laundry workers wash and dry clothing. The urban work space looks like this.

Personal photo of Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat area, Mumbai, India

Each laundry washer, or dhobi, has a small area to work from where clothing and bedding are washed and hung them out to dry.

Clothing drying on lines, Mumbai, India, personal photo

Children are around the scene, and on the streets, as many of their living arrangements are very nearby. In some cases, children are living on the sides of streets, with family members, some under difficult conditions.

Children living on the streets of Mumbai, India, personal photo
Home of mother and son, on the side of a busy street, Mumbai, India, personal photo

Cars and trucks hurriedly stream by some of these tiny home shelters.

Street shelters, Mumbai, India, personal photo

Successfully capturing the surrounding light and colors, depicting the boys’ levels of intimacy, illuminating their likely concerning situation and yet at the same time, highlighting the strength and endurance of these children, abstractly, is the challenge for this painting.

Work developing ideas for this oil painting are showing in an earlier blog, here. This oil painting has been completed during the period of time that I have been taking the art class called Painting on the Edge taught by Michael Orwick, offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

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Somewhere between the art of tonalism and luminism is a painting of all the colors seen on the horizon at the moment of sunrise. It depicts the time when a night-darkened horizon line breaks loose from the underground with bright light. Colors go from soft grey to white streams of light that allow colors to jettison through the atmosphere, bouncing onto the grounds and waters below.

It is a moment of rainbow color craziness, lasting only a few seconds before the plain morning light breaks, leaving the simpler blues and yellows of breakfast sunshine.

An en plein air painter might have 10 seconds to observe the shifting array of sunrise colors.

Photography and painting alter it, limited by the technology, techniques and mechanisms used to depict it.

I call this painting, Alone Together.

These sketches were completed during the period of time that I have been taking the art class called Painting on the Edge taught by Michael Orwick, offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

Alone Together, oil painting

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These sketches are notes prepared for planning a future painting.  In the process, I  play with brush marks and edges on cardboard, first in black and white and then adding some more abstract color perspectives. 

I am thinking about a simple painting of a person and a bird on an ocean beach, and am wondering what direction to take. 

Where should the person and the bird be positioned?  Should their lines be hard edged and realistic or might these objects be better depicted in a more  abstract and reflective way?  Should they stand out and burst with color or be more tonal in nature, positioning themselves smoothly between water, sky and beach?  When and where should the sky, and the water erupt into being?  How does light run through this?

These sketches on cardboard are for me, a form of meditation.

They are a kind of warm up where I roam about the gessoed cardboard with ink, some acrylic and finally oils, while playing with shapes and soft edges, varying the texture to see what affect it has on the person and the bird.

Person and Bird, Acrylic on cardboard

How important is this bird?

Water Bird, acrylic on cardboard

What about reflections, and of what?

Water bird with reflection I, acrylic on cardboard

Playing with water reflections and edges.

Water Bird with Reflection II, more abstract, acrylic on cardboard

Let’s try mixing it up a little, who has the sharp edges and who is soft and fuzzy?

Sketches for future painting called Alone Together, acrylic on cardboard

A person and bird on an ocean beach, with greater emphasis on the bird.

How complex should the textures be when sketching the bird and person? How about varying brush strokes and types of edges and how these variations create differential emphases on the sky, beach and ocean? How much color should I add?

There are five parts to this simple painting: bird, person, waves, beach, sky, However, this bird seems to be taking over.

Person and Water Bird, (oil paint on cardboard)

Shifting to color when thinking about the horizon and light, I paint some potential perspectives on the background.

Abstract I, Oils on cardboard, hard horizon
Abstract II, oil paint on cardboard, soft horizon

How to depict with horizontal lines, those beautiful shifts in color, the blended statuses that occur, between sky and the imagined ocean horizon; repeated when ocean waves become still waters and beach sand?

Abstract III Oil Painting on Cardboard

And how would it look if it all turned out in blues?

Abstract IV, oil paint on cardboard, lines upon lines

These are early thoughts about edges and brushwork that I might use while preparing a future oil painting of a person and a bird, positioned on the soft and often merged horizontal lines between water, beach and sky.

Time will tell how this all turns out.

These sketches were completed during the period of time that I have been taking the art class called Painting on the Edge taught by Michael Orwick, offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

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Calligraphic messages seem to be everywhere in nature. They emerge from our natural surroundings and are etched into our consciousness.

By referring to “nature’s calligraphy”, I refer to a form of art that is inspired by nature, yet looks like handwriting or calligraphy, and has artistic implications that go beyond the written word.

Sauvie Island Calligraphy, oil painting on birch wood

How do I ever know what to paint when standing in such beautiful natural scenery? Where does land end and water begin? What color is the in-between?

I know by my feelings when to start painting. I will sense when that moment is here.

It is when my eyes stop at a point, where I ponder what I see, where I wonder how this place even exists it is so ephemeral. Then it is time to paint.

This quiet moment is in March and occurs while walking off-road at Sauvie Island, near Portland, Oregon We are standing in a field, looking at almost still waters. The scrub bushes and small trees on the other side of the pond are sending what looks like a calligraphic message, punctuated by clouds.

It is our first time out in a long time, owing to COVID constraints. This is also a global pandemic moment for us, an outing free of other people, social-distancing not required.

There is no noise, but for soft sounds of birds. It is a perfect moment.

It is now a painted moment.

In my mind’s eye, I see this same scene in another way, as calligraphy.

I plan to paint this again, but in a much wilder, simpler way, via the style of a notan.

The above painting was completed during the period of time that I have been taking the art classes of Michael Orwick, offered by the Oregon Society of Artists.

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When I was a child, some of the first things I thought to draw were pictures of the sky. It would seem that clouds were the easiest thing to draw in the world. I took my crayon, put up a white oblong shape, perhaps with the yellow sun peeking out, and was done. Voila! I had painted a cloud.

Clouds over Water, oil painting

Now that I am an adult, painting clouds as part of a painting exercise for an art course, I am amazed how elusive, expressive and complicated they are. Where does a cloud begin, and when does it end? How does the sky manage to peek through the clouds in such soft and unimaginably subtle ways? Do I ever really paint a cloud, or rather an allusion to one?

The more I paint them, the more amazed I am with the ephemeral nature of clouds.

Clouds over Island Sunrise, Oil painting

It is a challenge to use less and less color in a painting, yet still have the colors of the atmosphere roaring through, bouncing everywhere, not respecting boundaries. I think this happens often because of our focus on light streams and reflection, in addition to shape.

This seems to be true, even when painting clouds from the light of the moon.

Clouds in Moon Light, Oil Painting
Clouds in Moon Light, Water Color, Ink and Gesso

Now that this idea of painting clouds has become part of my daily art routine, I expect to see many new ways to relate to them with canvas, brushes and paint. Once discovered, never forgotten.

The above paintings were completed this year, during the period of time that I have been taking the art classes of Michael Orwick, offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

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The whole reason for taking an art course it to break into new territory, and that is what I am doing. Since the beginning of this year, I have been following the courses taught by Michael Orwick through the Oregon Society of Artists. Knowing what kind of teacher he is, I decided to carry several pieces of work through his entire set of courses to see what I might learn about each aspect of art that he teaches. The first course he taught focused on The Value of Design. The second course, that I am now taking focuses on Creative Color and Luminescence.

After several weeks of reading, painting, thinking about color, and trying various ways of approaching this painting, I feel that my painting of a Winter Bridge is now reaching a point that the painting shows new growth and development on a color perspective. I appreciate the commentary and critique of our instructor, Michael Orwick, and the many talented art students who have offered observations and suggestions about directions to take.

Michael Orwick’s course is three hours per weekly session for six weeks and on Zoom, leaving us all deep in thought and happily tired from all the thinking and planning that we do during these intensely focused three hour sessions. I look forward to discovering next steps in this art series.

As a suggestion to anyone who decides to take this course, I have found it very helpful to carry several paintings that I want to complete through the entire series and adapting them according to what I learn as I go along. This approach, thus far, has resulted in some adaptive best practices for how to adjust and rearrange my existing art plans to meet current needs.

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Below are photos, sketches and paintings that I prepared for our class called Creative Color and Luminescence taught by Michael Orwick offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

This is an unfinished painting. I have ideas how to soften the red water on the right side and want to do some glazing to smooth out certain parts. For now, I am not touching the painting because it needs to dry a bit before proceeding.

This painting is of a Portland bridge that I started sketching back in January when I prepared ink sketches of it for variations in Michael Orwick’s earlier course on design and composition. I have now carried these earlier sketches into the current class on Creative Color and have begun painting it using oil paints on a birchwood panel.

Portland Bridge, unfinished oil painting on birchwood panel

This week we turned our attention to color value and as an assignment, we broke down colors on our palette into gradations between very light and very dark values of the same color. We also began painting color perspectives of our planned composition. Michael Orwick spent three hours with us on zoom, detailing ideas and illustrating color value. It was a very good explanation and I learned a lot.

He asked us to summarize our aha moment and here’s mine.

In landscape paintings, clouds are a big part of the sky’s atmospheric infrastructure, bending light and casting shadows altering colors and their hues. Similarly, on the ground, trees, buildings, hills and mountains are important parts of land’s infrastructure again bending light, casting shadows, altering colors and their hues. Paying attention to the horizon helps to illuminate how these big natural infrastructures interact when light is infused into the picture.

We use our paints to sculpt and make textures while also measuring brightness and shadows. The system of mixing colors for specific purposes may create moods, alter reflections, enhance shades and encourage brightness and may intentionally create feelings of harmony or disharmony, as needed. We spent time considering how color does this, by shifting values, varying brushwork or color marks and color mixing. Here is my takeaway from this week.

Color is all about perspective.

Colors may have value which can be deepened or softened according to whether they are:

in the sky;

their proximity to the horizon;

how light is being infused (i.e. angle of the sun); and

according to the shapes and angles of objects around them.

Understanding this about color, we ask as we plan a painting:

  • Where is my horizon;
  • Where is my light source;
  • What is my color harmony (could be seasonal, time of day, mood, feeling.; and finally,
  • What is my mother color? Reference to mother color summarizes the predominant color of a perspective.

If I understand correctly, the mother color is not a “true” color based on the facts of an observation. It is instead, the color we might choose to mix in all the other colors of the palette while painting, to encourage harmony. In the case of my painting up above, I consider purple to be the mother color. I mixed up all the colors in this painting to see what color I would get, and here it is. This would indicate that I will get soft shadows from the palette I have chosen. It is late afternoon in this painting, and the soft purple light over the Willamette River pervades.

Learning to use color in a painting is like learning how to drive a car. One’s beginning understanding may be that we must know how to turn on the car, stop, go, and turn the steering wheel. With time, we learn the necessity of checking our mirrors and estimating angles of the car to comprehend where we are and how moving our car will impact on others and their locations.

Color, like design and composition, complicate art in the most wonderful ways. It is much the same way mirrors complicate driving…but also improve the experience.

I expect to add glazing to this painting for harmonizing colors and will prepare some speculative drawings for figuring out options on the glazes.

Sketch paintings and glazing options appear below. I have prepared them on on cardboard since I do not plan to keep them, except for this planning stage.

Color options for painting
Color options for painting

Below, is the graph that I prepared for the class showing four possible variations in color value for each color in the palette.

Illustrative example of color value changes prepared for the course as an assignment.

It is turning out to be very useful that the same painting ideas I chose for the first course are being carried through the next course, so that I continue to work on the painting across the big art concepts that we are being taught. We did not have to do this, but I chose to, as a learning experience and I would recommend doing it again.

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This year, owing to the global COVID pandemic, my husband and I did not head to our beloved island community of the Abacos, but instead have stayed at our permanent home here in Portland, Oregon. One important thing that came out of our staying in Portland for the winter under COVID conditions, is that I have the opportunity to participate in winter art courses.

In the art course I am currently taking called Creative Colors and the Luminous Landscape sponsored by the Oregon Society of Artists, our instructor Michael Orwick is encouraging us to experiment with color using recycled cardboard as our canvas.

Because my husband and I live part of every year on an island where there are limited stores, our island art community often uses beach junk and throwaways as well as natural products such as leafs, fronds and vines for art projects. It was a pleasant surprise to hear that they use throwaways and recyclable materials here in Portland as well.

Given our current use of delivery services for groceries, home staples and art materials during the pandemic, we all have plenty of extra cardboard around. Prior to this art class, I had already started using cardboard as a readily available cheap canvas for my oil and acrylic painting exercises. I don’t worry so much about how the painting is going to turn out, but play with the art scene instead, knowing that my relationship to this canvas is “temporary.”

This week, I gessoed some cardboard, taped it up into various sizes of squares and started experimenting with colors. At first, I played with the basic four or five colors we will be using in this course as our basis for mixing an essential palette.

Here are some warm-ups where I played a bit before getting down to work on the course assignment.

Sunset over water, playing with Oils on Gessoed Cardboard
Volcanic eruption
Ancient tales
Cool meadows

In our assignments for this week, we prepared a variety of color wheels while experimenting with color palettes and mixing and matching capabilities. I found that using cardboard, again, made my color wheels more playful and I tried out moves with my brushes that I could not have done were I preparing something more formal.

Playing with color wheels

It didn’t really matter what kind of crazy ideas I had, or what mood I was in, I could tape another piece of cardboard and keep on going. The final results have made me think more about what I expect to get out of this class.

I need more practice mixing a set of basic oils into a wider palette of colors using four essential colors: Cadmium Red Light; Cadmium Yellow Light; Ultramarine Blue; and Titanium White.

Similarly, I need more practice mixing three additional colors of Magnesium Blue Hue; Indian Yellow or Hansa Yellow; and Quinacridone Red into the basic palette.

Thirdly, I have a personal preference for three additional colors (Cobalt Teal, Naples Yellow and Earth Red) that I want to add to the mix for those special moments that appeal to me. I prepared one color wheel adding them in, as an extra color wheel thought.

This is probably enough color experimentation to last me for the next several years, if not a decade or more, and I will work hard to push these colors to their limits. It seems that there is going to be a lot more cardboard in my life as I mix and play with colors.

This creative color course is encouraging us to use the colors that we have and mix to get what we want, rather than trying to purchase each specific additionally desired color.

For sure, under such constraints as painting on an island, or during en plein air sessions, it is better to carry fewer paints. Improved paint mixing should greatly enhance color options under such constraints.

In this class, I hope to address a number of questions, for example, how close can I get to the color or hue I want through mixing basic colors? How pure and clear can a color mix be? Which colors blend in more easily with the colors around them? How do I avoid over-mixing and killing a color; is there a way to reverse a color that has gone astray? Which colors shift easily across a variety of palettes, which ones offer soft entries and exits into specific palettes, and which ones really need to stand alone? Also, I hope to unleash some additional power through a greater understanding of transparencies and opaque colors.

In addition to experimenting with variations in color wheels, I also am mixing colors for skies using the traditionally expected color transitions as well as some imagined ones. Since this was also part of our assignment this week, I played with a variety of variations in sky colors and they are shown below.

Breaking basic principles of color into building blocks offers increased opportunity for creative exploration and experimentation.

I think that we have a busy six weeks ahead of us. This should be fun.

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Learning the value of design


This last week, I completed an art course taught by Michael Orwick through the Oregon Society of Artists .

“Upwards”, Oil painting

From this excellent course, I learned that design, once achieved, allows an artist to paint more freely and expressively.


Although it may take more time initially to design and structure a painting, in the long run it saves time and frustration. As our instructor Michael Orwick said, you can paint a painting in an hour, or you can take 30 hours; it’s your choice. Without some preparatory thought about where one is going, it is possible to spend extra hours trying to clear a path on the canvas through a maze of ideas while struggling with too many shifting parts, be they lighting, perspective, color, value, shape or design.

We learned in this six-week course, to take our time and design a plan, to envision our painting. In the process we tried out different perspectives, shapes and structures to express our point of view. We learned that this is a journey, and when we slow it down a bit and enjoy the trip, it is a whole lot more illuminating and interesting. When we get to the actual painting, we are familiar with our territory and can enjoy the painting’s execution more fully.

Through these classes, I learned a lot.

I learned that painting without a design is a bit like driving through a forest without a road. Eventually, one might arrive where one wants to go. But with some advanced planning, one might reduce the amount of time and energy needed to set a path through the trees. This allows greater time for the sheer enjoyment of appreciating and painting the forest, while we are surrounded by interesting trees.

Michael Orwick provided us with a variety of techniques and approaches to design and encouraged us to experiment with all of them and to decide which were most personally useful in completing our paintings. He also encouraged us to know the rules, but to also understand that we can do most anything we want with art. The point of learning techniques and rules of artistry is not to inhibit us, but to free us to think about what options we have. The more options we have, the more creative and innovative we may be.

We were encouraged to improve on our questions about art while we decide on what are our intentions, what are our options, where do we go from here?

I have decided that I want to learn more about brush strokes and to more clearly establish ways to manage and vary them. I am also interested in improved ways to mix and understand color. I want to be able to ask more specific technical questions regarding choices of color and value.

Lucky for me, this course is followed by a six week course on Creative Color and the Luminous Landscape again taught by Michael Orwick through the Oregon Society of Artists, and I intend to take it.

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