My search to paint Heaven in earth...

Painting the Perfect Subject


Horseshoe Falls, 36x48


Is there such a thing—the “perfect” subject to paint-- on any given day?


Like song-choice for a musician, the subject an artist chooses to paint carries his/her personality, abilities and message to the viewers who will see it. Possibilities abound: perhaps a 300-foot tumbling waterfall, the sun poised on a dramatic orange horizon, or that striking profile of a most beautiful model. What really makes for a “perfect” subject?



      Outpouring, Horseshoe Falls, 36x48



Let’s see what some other artists say on that “subject:”    


“The subject itself is no account; what matters is the way it is presented.”  (Raoul Dufy)


“Content is more than 'subject matter.' It is all the feelings and ideas you bring to your painting.” (Rene Huyghe)


“There has to be that magical ‘urge’ and excitement to paint the subject, or it just will not work.”  (Randall Sexton)


“Just because it is there, doesn't mean you have to paint it.” (CJ Rider)


When I'm seeking a subject to paint, it is often an outgrowth of my attitude or mindset that day, or week. It might be inspired by an idea I have been carrying around for awhile. Or it just “happens”: some transcendent impression of a greater reality is conveyed to me that urges me to explore that. With my best paintings, it seems that the subject reaches out to choose me--it demands that I paint it. But over the years, painting in plein air or the studio, observing subjects from the farm, figure or in the field, I have learned that it’s not the subject itself that will be painted—it’s what I want to say about it, and how I will say it, that will result in the greatest impression on the canvas and for the viewer.


When choosing what to do next in their college courses, or in their personal lives, or in their careers, I have told my daughters, “choose to W.I.N.” Ask yourselves, "What’s Important Now?" --then do that. That is an aid to stay focused, look at the Big Picture, and avoid getting frustrated or sidelined by details.


  Fiat Lux, 16x16, oil


When selecting subjects for painting, I choose “W.I.L..” Before I begin, and when it comes to sorting out the significant from the stuff, the lasting from the lesser, the memorable from the minute, I remind myself that I most need to focus on "What's Important Long-Term?" A painting that will be remembered will be invested with the love of the artist for life and living, his passion for his subject, and a clear message about his reactions to it. It will be obvious that he has made choices, and prioritized certain elements from among all that he could have painted. The result is stunning, spectacular, or, in a more intimate way, personally striking. There is a new and unique connection between the artist and his audience. How might we more consistently do that as artists, to create that electric connection?


   Fortress Cove, 40x30, acrylic and oil

The artist making a memorable painting has decided to create a certain interpretation of a particular subject. His or her excitement about that subject drives every decision in the creative process. “How” the artwork is done grows out of the purpose for that artwork, the artist’s desire to produce the clearest translation of his idea, which will produce maximum visual and emotional impact. A forgettable painting has usually been done before, and its subject is one that is usually obvious. Without a unique vision for a subject, and/or a deep emotional response to it, only its obvious appearance is visible to the artist--an exterior that is visible to everyone. But a memorable painting is full of life, and speaks of the artist's priorities and passion in expressing that same subject in a unique and insightful way. My hope and dream is that those who see my work will remember it because it is purposeful, passionate and personal.


“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.”    --Antoine de Sainte-Exupery

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The Art of Drawing

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Capri boat, ink and graphite, 8x10

There just aren't that many exhibitions curated around drawings, are there? There is one, the first I have participated in since the 80's, at Gallery McCollum in Laguna Beach this month and part of next. Karen Tobin and Vanessa Rothe have assembled drawings and smaller-scale paintings from the "Realism without Borders" collective, comprised of several Russian artists and others-- including the well-known American plein air painter John Burton--and their guests, of which I have the honor of invitation. A portfolio of six drawings, a framed drawing of the Uffizi gallery and museum in Florence, and two paintings of the Laguna Beach coast comprises my own part of the show.


An interesting account of the show is found in the newsletter of "Fine Art Connoisseur" Magazine, in its newslettter "Fine Art Today:"



Drawing, in my view, is the most fundamental skill involved in all of the visual arts, as it relates what is seen and not seen with the interpretation and skill level of the artist. Artists around the world, in every city and country, are daily drawing and transforming what they see into insightful works of line, shape and value. You will see some outstanding examples of drawing from life here in this exhibition, portraits, landscapes, animals, and urban and rural views. The exhibition opened December 27, and will be in place at the gallery until January third.

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The Hand of a Master

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Any artist knows that seeing a master-craftsman demonstrate his/her skills in person is one of the most effective ways to learn about techniques, strategies, and concepts.

Just as significantly as seeing a quality artwork created are the intangibles communicated to onlookers, through the hairs of the artist’s brush directly into the minds and hearts of the spectators.




This is precisely what occurred on the occasion of Mian Situ’s June demonstration for the Orange County Chapter of the California Art Club at the Higbee Gallery in Costa Mesa, California. Fifty artists and collectors were treated to Mian’s process in creating a portrait of Linda Stern, wife of Jean Stern, executive director of the Irvine Museum.

Mian Situ has a reputation not only as a fine artist, but as an historian and one who loves his traditions and homeland. He came to the United States from the Guangzhou Institute of Fine Art in mainland China, via Canada, where his first portraits done publicly in North America were in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, drawing and painting passers-by. Over time he decided to paint those subjects he knew best, and he began to concentrate on figures in traditional dress in historical settings. With decades of practice, he is able to create portraits that are amazing in their lifelike quality, and inspiring in the spirit and technique with which they are created. In the demonstration, he painted for three hours with barely a single word--- Mian told us he does not talk while he paints. It was by far the quietest demonstration I’ve ever attended!



“Show your soul—paint what you know.”                                                                      --Mian Situ



This night, Mian started with a delicate but deliberate drawing in charcoal, held at the very end as he blocked in the portrait with angular marks, some long, some short.

Then, using a dark earth color, he carefully placed the darks at the edges of the cheeks and nose, in the hair, and indicated the shapes of both eyes and eyebrows.

Medium-value flesh tones were laid in, with reds featured across the eyes, nose and cheeks. Mian’s intense observation created a complex system of grays in the skin tones, as he left highlights, blouse and jewelry for last. The way he handled the brush indicated deliberation in each stroke. Mian’s concentration was focused, his strokes confidently placed, his edge treatments considered and integrated into the whole. Even the background strokes were poetically applied, with a flourish and flick at the end of the stroke, to prevent smearing of completed passages. The blouse was created simply but masterfully with deft strokes of the palette  knife.

What did we learn that night, from this master who taught without words?


  • Compose with care
  • Think and feel, then paint
  • Make every stroke intentional
  • Concentrate throughout the process
  • Never lose sight of “the big picture”
  • Love what you do


Perhaps most impressed with Mian’s work was historian, lecturer, juror and museum director Jean Stern—the model’s husband-- who said at the portrait’s conclusion, “I’ve been in the art business since I was ten, and I’ve never experienced anything like that—that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!”


Art has that capacity: to amaze, to edify, to reveal the soul of sitter and painter—to everyone who sees and appreciates. That also is the power of the master: to bring the highest beauty to earth, to help all of us see what he sees within.

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New Tools


Field kit, with Strada easel and side trays

Today I purchased my second Strada easel, for plein air painting. The brand is Strada, and it's called the "Mini", because it's smaller(11x7.5x1.5) and lighter (2 lbs. 9 oz. as opposed to a not-heavy 4 lbs. 3 oz.) than the first Strada I purchased. It's built for travel, is strong and durable (made of aluminum, not wood), and can hold a canvas or panel up to 16" high, with unlimited width.

The Strada is truly a modern design, created and developed by noted plein air painter Bryan Mark Taylor, with some techno-assistance from his friends in Northern California. Well-planned features include two position-control hinges to hold the box open at any angle, with one adjustable hand screw for height-positioning of the painting panel, or canvas. In fact, it will accomodate 1/16" width-panels, 1/8", 1/4", 1/2, and even a 1/ thick canvas. And it has side-trays for holding brushes, or tubes of paint for easy access, even a jar of medium. I've put my first Strada through some rigorous testing in plein air competitions and different weather conditions, and carried it on over-distance on hikes, and find that it is durable, light enough to pack, and very stable on its smooth-functioning, solid Manfrotto tripod.Easy to set up--I can be fully operational, ready to paint, in 2-4 minutes.

Strada currently markets the larger easel at $299, the Mini at $249, with the Mangrotto tripod available at $210, all on the Strada site at I'm mentioning it here because I would recommend this easel to any painter who is tired of losing knurled nuts, frustrated with jammed legs, or replacing or jury-rigging broken wooden parts. It appears to be bulletproof. It could be the only easel you'll ever need to buy, for painting mid-size and smaller paintings.

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The Way

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The Way

Just received confirmation that "The Way" was selected into the Oceanside Museum of Art's "Artist Alliance" exhibition February 7-May 11 at the OMA/ Herb B. Turner Gallery in Del Mar, Ca. Each artist who submitted was asked to send an accompanying description of the paintings which they entered. This is the description that I submitted with this painting.

The Way, 24x36, acrylic on linen

Many of the artist’s works, particularly in his “Living Waters” series, concern themselves with parallels between events in the natural world and those in the human sphere. Here a body of water rushes through a forest unimpeded, until it smashes into a boulder and caroms in another direction, down and around a tree that is struggling for its own survival, but still standing. The water flows onward, regardless of obstacles in its path, and the tree stands despite the forces tearing at its roots. For the artist, the painting is about the necessity of living in such a way as to adapt and stand against forces that would threaten basic existence. Brush movement and overall compositional design communicate this concept to the viewer in a practical though subconscious way:  the painting is composed of different directions and diagonals that suggest the conflict of opposing forces; complementary colors suggest opposites, or rivals; above it all, the living green foliage is hardy and thriving, suggesting a positive outcome.

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Nature as a model for life

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SPLASH! (John 7:38)

Painting the landscape is not only inspirational for me, it is instructive.

I see in its rhythms, patterns, and happenings a model for my own life.

I believe that by closely observing nature, we can see God's plan for our very existence illustrated in natural events.

Take this scene, for example, of water rushing thirteen miles down Willow Creek from Yosemite National Park, toward its destination in Bass Lake. The way is not clear, occluded and obstructed by boulders, fallen trees, twists and turns.

In places the water blasts on, in others it moves more slowly, and in some events, that liquid speed crashes against those objects in its path.

It may cause one tp think about how water finds its way downhill: it doesn't resist an obstacle or challenge, it simply finds a new path.

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When Creation Speaks

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This past month I received a commisssion for an artwork that was intended by the collector to be a vision of the "spiritual" in nature.

The collector's vision described how the light and the water in this landscape would be paramount. There was not to be as much concentration on the land, because the vantage point would be directing the viewer's eye toward the distance, and the heavens. An overall feeling of warmth would permeate the image, and would be dependent primarily on a yellow and orange palette.

This is how I see Creation as well: with the evidence of God's hand in it.

The Biblical Scripture that inspired this piece was Psalm 19: 1-6--

"The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Day to day pours forth speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.

Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world.

In them He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridgroom coming out of his champer;

It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.

Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat."

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A Repeating Miracle

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A View Toward Heaven, 24x36

Pines Park has always been a miraculous place for me. Located in Capistrano Beach, CA, which is a town with personality, Pines Park is the gathering place for lovers, dog lovers, nature lovers, and sunset lovers. Rolling hills of grass, clustered pine trees, lamps along the sidewalk and a playground make this park the perfect place for this community. It's the perfect vantage point to view the ocean, boasting a view of the Dana Point Harbor that is constantly changing in the various light. People come from miles around to see the sunsets from here.

Sometimes when you turn your back on the lawn, then turn back again, the grass is hugely populated by ground squirrels, like buffalo on the Dakota plains! They come out of the surrounding brush to see what new food folks have dropped on the ground.

I had recently purchased a "Take-It" easel, a continuation of the Gloucester-model easels used by New England painters throughout the 20th century. It is lovingly-made, of fine wood and brass fittings, but most importantly, it is a perfect design to hold larger paintings done outdoors.

Due to its wide base, it won't easily blow over. I took this easel to the park to paint a 24x36 of the park at sunset. I arrived late the first evening, and the sun was gone in an hour--I had just achieved a bit of a block-in.

I returned the second night, and the sun was going down into a blue fog-line that built up behind the hills surrounding the harbor.

The third night I went back earlier, to complete more details in the daylight, in advance of the sun's setting. This night there were con trails arcing across yellow and pink and violet clouds, all backed by the most lovely turquoise sky. Each evening episode was just as spectacular as the others, just spectacular in different ways. I edited and included elements from all three nights. Each evening I spoke to several passerby about the view and why I was painting it. Everyone seemed to be in agreement, that these miracles of nature made up an entirely worthy subject.

"Look up to the heavens and see, and behold the clouds which are higher than thou."  Job 35:5

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Beyond the Superficial

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Underlying this painting is my own conviction that we may see God's hand in all of Creation that surrounds us. Every natural scene, to me, is sending a message about God's power, creativity, design. We can view this painting, "Story in Stone" (18x36 in.) as a description of a rocky portion of the Point Lobos coastline near Big Sur, California. Or, as it is to me, this is an illustration of nature's capacity to inform us of God's glory.

The Scripture that inspired this piece concerns Christ's approach to Jerusalem in Luke 19:

"And as He was now approaching, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully for all the miracles which they had seen...

And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to Him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples."

And He answered and said, "I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!"

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A New Year


Deep Sky Mountains, 24x30

2014 promises a lot.

And there will be challenges along with those promises.

It will be upon me to know what, and who, is most important in my life in order to be able to respond to both, appropriately, effectively, and with wisdom.

I believe that my true life is with the Lord, and does not depend on circumstances or human systems.

Considering that, I have just finished this painting, entitled "Sky Deep Mountains," a 24x30 acrylic on linen, inspired by this Scripture:

"Thy lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Thy faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Thy rightousness is like the mountains of God; Thy judgments are like a great deep."

Psalm 36:5-6

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