My search to paint Heaven in earth...

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

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

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

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

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

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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Chinese Mastery Comes to Malibu

Anyone familiar with plein air painting in these times knows that there are several Chinese painters that are making their mark, through their use of color, application of paint, individual brushstroke technique, ability to draw, and sensitivity for their subjects. I am thinking right now of Mian Situ, arguably one of the finest figural/historical painters in the world, and excellent landscape painters Michael Situ and Jason Situ.There is nothing halfway about any of these master painters.

So it was with no doubt that I predicted that my week was in good hands as I left for Los Angeles, to study with Ruo Li at his two workshops, one in a studio complex on San Fernando Road for two days, and then on the beach at Leo Carillo State near Malibu for the third day.

  Ruo Li deliberately begins his painting from a photograph in the studio.

The primary properties of color, we learned according to his opening speech about the Nature of Painting, are hue, value and purity. It is most important that the color be applied as deliberately selected, and unsullied by other colors foreign to the artist's intent of the moment. Even as he began his color work, we could see how deliberately he selected and applied his color.

Working always seated, Ruo is limber and focused.

In just about an hour and 20 minutes, on a very smooth linen canvas proportioned about 8x16, Ruo achieved this result:

Clean, loose, dynamic, controlled yet decisively and confidently free in the making, this painting was truly a masterpiece!

We moved to Malibu for the third day, where Ruo sat on a tiny ledge to paint a scene of rocks and waves (and wind!) at the state beach:

  Ruo shades both his palette and panel, enlisting the aid of a student to hold the umbrella!

Careful color choice and pure application of paint--despite the very best efforts of the wind to discourage him--produced this result:

  This, from this:  

The three paintings I produced that afternoon, Friday,with Ruo's input were these:

9x12      8x10  8x10

(and this little 6x8, Monolith, before the workshop started that morning):


Ruo Li was an excellent demonstrator. His wife, Whitney, translated more complex and abstract concepts for him, from his Chinese. Mostly it was the strength of his demonstrated mastery of the nature of painting that best communicated his teaching. On the drive home, I found myself reciting, "Hue, Value, Purity--Hue, Value, Purity..." Though I still don't know the Chinese word for "excellence," I know I've seen it.

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Painting with the Man

\Dry Wash, Tombow pen, 4x5"

This week I had the unusual opportunity to paint in an undeveloped wilderness reserve on the last family-owned ranch in California. Ranch staff provided three vans to transport the 14 artists out to sites where we could fan out to paint unspoiled nature. Live and scrub oaks were massed on the golden hillsides, quarried reservoirs with deep blue-green water were carved out of the slopes, tall reeds and wavy grasses undulated in the ocean breezes. Two coyotes had succumbed to the pressures of living in the great outdoors, and turkey vultures were just finishing their cleaning of the carcasses as we stopped at our first painting site.

Mark Fehlman and I set up along the stony curve of a creekbed, next to renown illustrator and fine artist, Ray Roberts.

                                                                                        RAY ROBERTS, artist extraordinaire 

Ray has a way of working with color and design that is simply phenomenal. Invented color, but compositions and atmosphere that are true to the site are characteristic of his color sketches outdoors. And he moves quickly and efficiently--he did three color sketches in that area as I was just completing one. That's what makes him a master: experience, effective decision-making, and a heart for the essence of his subject. You can view more of Ray's work here, and that of his talented wife, Peggi:  .

Everyone in the group that day had the opportunity to see this first-hand, when Ray volunteered to give a ten-minute demo at the end of the day. The vans drove us to a dry wash shaded by a giant oak that Ray had been drooling over on our way past to our first site that day--now he was back to paint it, apologizing to all of us for indulging him in his desire to capture this place in paint. He quickly went to work, without words, and whacked in all line and darks that were the foundation of the composition. Mark F. served as the timer, and at 5 minutes reminded Ray he was halfway finished--which Ray proved by laying down some quick mid-tones and indicating plane changes. And VOILA, at 10 minutes Ray had color notes on an 8x10 linen mounted on gatorboard that he could take back to the studio to guide him in the creation of a larger work. TEN MINUTES!!! It was one of the most amazing demonstrations I've ever seen.

Wow, it's time to step it up!

    Ray's 10-minute painting

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What can an Artist do about it?

  "The Third of May," Francisco Goya, 1814

Any American would have been shocked by it: the senseless murders of three spectators in the bombings fifty yards apart at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15th; over 250 injured, at least eight of them children; the death of an eight-year-old boy; the amputations of limbs for ten others.

It was one of the most violent terrorist acts on America’s soil in recent history, at the world’s oldest annual marathon. Thousands experienced it locally and firsthand, as the event traditionally draws over 500,000 spectators. Millions viewed it on TV, replayed in shocking detail on every major national network.

Film showed runners who had just completed the race running back into the course to help the injured. Police and first responders rushed to the aid of the wounded with blankets, gurneys, and medical assistance. Viewers at televisions across the nation could only sit or stand transfixed as they tried to comprehend the carnage of the

innocents who had suffered the shrapnel of a death-dealing blow. In living rooms everywhere, far from the smoke and violence, we were unable to think, breathe, or even lift a hand, transfixed by the horror of an ultimately cruel attack.

I have had the privilege to run the Boston Marathon three times. The highlight, for me, was The Hundredth, or Centennial Boston Marathon, in 1996, that set the record for the world’s largest marathon at 38,708 entrants and 35,868 finishers. It’s properly called the “Boston Athletic Association Marathon,” and is begun and run in cities largely outside Boston—in fact, runners don’t even see Boston until five miles after Heartbreak Hill, at 24.5 miles. In fact, in the early days of the marathon, what was printed on the finishers’ medals was the name, “the American Marathon.”

                                              Long Beach Marathon

Marathon running is a thinking-person’s sport. Like painting, it allows you to think about anything and everything, but the need to focus is ever-present. And like painting, one needs to have a goal, a plan to reach that goal, and the skills, mindset, and conditioning to go with it. It offers victory to those who persevere.

But there was to be no victory that day, April 15th, for those runners on their way to the finish line at 2:49 p.m…. even for those who were turning that final corner onto Boylston Street to finally realize their dreams of completing “the Boston.” The bombings destroyed those dreams of the finish line in the same instant that they devastated the crowds gathered around that line. It was hopeless to go back, to wish it hadn’t happened. Only one question remained: “What can we do now; what should we do?”


That brings it all the way back, to each one of us. As artists, what can we do in the face of this disaster, and others, that threaten to destroy even the survivors?...that threatens to overwhelm all the good that exists in society, in any works of man and art, and which is powerful enough to reduce our creative morale to rubble? powerful that we might ultimately consider that the arts are nothing in the face of real evil, and that the artist and his/her artwork has “head in the clouds,” and is standing in front of tragedy without real weapons, or even an answer to man’s inhumanity to man.

Should we continue to stand, or run? Shouldn’t we feel defeated, then get angry, and seek revenge? Should we abandon our principles? If we do that, then we fall prey to the very behavior that we condemn in those who try to steal and destroy that which is good. In the wake of senseless acts like the Boston bombings, I feel all of those emotions—but that’s all they are. As an artist, I would rather attempt to do something positive, than to believe that there can be no response or action that is worthwhile, and helpful. So once again I have been considering the power of Art in light of this question: as an artist, what can I do to counteract this violence that exists in the world, this evil, this threat to all we hold to be true?




              “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” 

                                                                                     --  Romans 12:21



 “Blessing,” 24x24

 Artworks have the capacity to convey a positive message, to reveal the truth of the unseen, to describe beauty, to define the good that still exists, to communicate between cultures and without spoken language, and to heal. Perhaps that is why occupying armies frequently seek to destroy first the artworks of those they wish to vanquish—to immediately banish beauty, order, and hope in the good from the oppressed.

But each working artist that believes in the power of Art to convey the good is like a Florence Nightingale on the battlefield, among the tents where the wounded lie, going from one victim to the other and ministering to the spirits of those who would otherwise lose hope. Grace and strength will always win out over malice and wickedness. There is power in benevolence, and hope in the sight of the loveliness of a creative spirit. Art that expresses the truth in kindness and gratefulness will disarm the rage, and advance the welfare of all who see it.

As artists, we can do good, and strive to create great artworks. To create at the highest level is a victory over all who would strive to destroy.


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