Thursday, September 4, 2014

Figurative Friday: Monticello Murals Sneak Peek

If you haven't seen much of me lately, it's because I've been in the studio every. waking. moment. (And some non-waking moments, too.) Along with the summer's Plein Air competitions, some illustration jobs, and the Deseret Book Lunch and Learn, I've been painting some murals.

Detail of "Adventure: The Readers' Circle"
Earlier this year I was commissioned by the San Juan School District to create some original art for their new Monticello Elementary School. I was excited, because I had a great time working with them a couple of years ago and also because my wife attended the old Monticello Elementary School.

These are big paintings: 3 and a half feet tall and over 7 feet wide. There are six of them. These pieces have challenged me, engaged me, and delighted me over these last few months. They've been a great project. 

I wanted these paintings to be both site-specific and universal. I worked with people from the community for models (including some teachers who actually teach at the school) and used local landscapes. At the same time, I tried to capture themes that are common to childhood and education. My main goal was for the kids who walk under the paintings every day to see them and get excited about the possibilities of the things they were learning. I wanted the paintings to give Monticello Elementary School students a connection to where they came from, who they are, and what they can do.
Detail of "Discovery: New Friends at Loyds Lake"

This post is just a taste of the murals. The complete set of 6 will be unveiled next Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 at the new Monticello Elementary School. A description of the event from the San Juan Record: "Dedication services are set to begin at 5 p.m. Afterwards, an open house and celebration will run from 6 to 8 p.m. The event will include food, tours, and activities for kids and adults. Six paintings by local artist Richard Russell will be unveiled at the event." (Read more: San Juan Record- New Monticello School . . . )
Detail of "Creativity: Kid Made"

I hope you'll join us for the unveiling and check out the new school!

Wednesday Wanderings: More Plein Air Rockies

Every piece I completed at Plein Air Rockies has its own story. Every one is, for me, connected to the moment in time that I was capturing and to the unique character of each place I stood.

The following piece is connected to the perfect serenity of Rocky Mountain National Park. At times, I found painting there to be almost meditative. This piece, titled "Boulder At Rest," was painted beside the rushing water of the Big Thompson River, in a shady spot between boulders and ponderosa pines. The entire time I was working I heard the song of the river and felt the remarkable calm of things that have been still for a very long time:
Boulder at Rest painting by Richard Lance Russell
Boulder At Rest
Oil on Panel
14" x 11"
Plein Air Rockies 2014

This piece on the other hand, is not connected to serenity:
Moraine Park Morning painting by Richard Lance Russell
Moraine Park Morning
Oil on Panel
16" x 20"
Plein Air Rockies 2014

Sometimes an idea for a painting just hits you in the face as soon as you see your subject. Other times, the actual painting hits you in the face. That's what happened with this piece. I was in Moraine Park, surrounded by grassland and towering peaks and WIND. It was an incredibly windy day, one on which I might have, under different circumstances, stayed in the studio. But in a timed plein air competition, every day matters. You have to take advantage of every moment that the light is catching your subject just right. It was the last day I would be able to paint Moraine Park in the morning, and I couldn't stand to miss it.

So I put my hat down further on my head, leaned into the wind, and painted. I had just finished the sky and peaks and was working on the tree when a huge gale simply picked up my painting and smacked it flat into my face. I had blue across my nose and forehead and grey on my cheeks. The worst part was that the painting then landed face down in the black dirt of Moraine Park. I suppose that's what makes a plein air painting authentic, though, right?

This piece holds memories for me that are different from the other pieces. This was painted at Lilly Lake, which has a popular walking trail around it. I was set up on the trail, and all the people who were out walking the trail would stop and see the painting and chat for a few minutes. It was a very social, engaging place and I could see that it was much beloved by all its visitors. Some of that fun community feel permeates this piece. There is a huge fallen tree with crazy sticking-out branches right beside the trail, which people love to climb on and comment on as they walk by. It had real personality and was a character I had to capture in paint.
Guardian of Lilly Lake painting by Richard Lance Russell
Guardian of Lilly Lake
Oil on Panel
14" x 11"
Plein Air Rockies 2014
People who make scrapbooks or slideshow videos or keep journals of their travels know the particular joy and satisfaction of returning to that place and reliving a single moment of your experience there. It's like a gift. I love finding those moments again through each painting.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rocky Mountain Plein Air Festival: An Epic Challenge

I'm having a great time here in Estes Park, Colorado participating in the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Festival. Rocky Mountain National Park is a National Park in the grand old style. It's the high country where the light changes fast and the views are breathtaking. 

Painting up here presents a special challenge as I try to capture this amazing place in its best light. We hiked up to Alberta Falls, and on the way passed through a stunning Aspen grove. With the light streaming down through the leaves, the place was magical. That's where I stopped to do my first piece for the festival: 

Richard Lance Russell painting en plein air
Richard Lance Russell painting en plein airOn The Edge of Evening by Richard Lance Russell

 When you're painting plein air, you have a limited amount of time to finish your painting, because the light changes as the sun moves across the sky and whatever you are painting looks completely different in a couple of hours.

That is something many people don't notice. Changes in light influence the color of what you are seeing, the contrast between it and everything around it, and the shadows that fall on and around it. Naturally, for a realistic painter like myself, plein air paintings are necessarily small so that they can be finished before the light changes.

But when I arrived here and saw Rocky Mountain National Park towering around me, I knew I was going to have to give myself a particular challenge. Though my small canvasses worked great for the small, intimate portraits of the landscape like the aspen grove (above), the front range (which is a row of incredible 12- and 14-THOUSAND foot peaks) is an epic view. In order to capture it like I really wanted to, I had to have a large canvas.

So I got up before dawn, set up in time to see the first light, and undertook the creation of an 18" x 36" painting of the front range:

Richard Lance Russell Plein Air Painting

And it was a challenge. But it was also exhilarating to race the sun and complete the piece:

Richard Lance Russell Plein Air Painting
Richard Lance Russell with First Light On The Front Range Painting

Here it is:

First Light On The Front Range painting by Richard Lance Russell

And people really responded to this piece. It was as if the spirit of this bold and rugged place came through to viewers. The piece sold quickly, and tonight at the awards ceremony I received The City of Estes Park Award:

Awards Ceremony Plein Air Rockies Richard Lance Russell

Everybody loves a big blue ribbon, right? This piece was a huge undertaking, and it tested my limits as a painter. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much. 

I actually completed many paintings up here and learned something new from each one. I'll show you some more of them in future posts.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Everyone knows Chopin's Nocturne In E Flat MajoOpus 9, number 2  (or if they don't, they should). It's a beautiful piece of music. Many people don't know that there are also paintings called nocturnes. James Abbot McNeill Whistler (remember? the guy who painted his mother?) applied the term to painting, and, like musical nocturnes, they are inspired by the nighttime, evocative of it, or simply depicting it.
I am enjoying painting at the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Festival this week and they keep us busy with painting events. Tonight I participated in their "Nocturne Paint Out," where we all met downtown and created Nocturne pieces.

I chose this charming house for my subject because it was slightly lit by the streetlamp in front of it and because it had these strikingly warm lit windows, which complemented nicely the cool colors of the night. It was great meeting and visiting with the other artists, listening to the river rush by as I painted, and tackling the challenge of a nocturne piece.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Figurative Fridays: Pioneers and Plein Air

This has been a busy summer. We kicked it off with the Easter Show at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which I mentioned yesterday, and then we had a lot of fun at the Plein Air Fest in Jackson Hole:

Oil Painter Richard Lance Russell at Plein Air Fest in Jackson Hole

My wife Josi and I had a fantastic time in Jackson Hole at the Museum of Wildlife Art's Plein Air Fest! I arrived with a blank canvas and spent 4 hours filling it with the beautiful and scenic East Gros Ventre Butte.

East Gros Ventre Butte by Richard Lance Russell at Plein Air Fest Jackson Hole

Timed competitions are always intense, and this one was no exception. There was a great crowd, though, and the painting sold at auction that afternoon, benefiting the amazing Museum of Wildlife Art.

Capturing a little piece of the beautiful and rugged terrain of Wyoming added some perspective to the pioneer paintings I tackled when we got home. Those early settlers traveled so far and sacrificed so much. And, just last weekend, we spent a great time at Deseret Book in downtown Salt Lake City unveiling two of those new pioneer paintings and doing a live painting demonstration for Deseret Book's lunch and learn:

 Richard Lance Russell live painting demonstration at Deseret Book in downtown Salt Lake City

My beautiful wife was kind enough to pose for me in a pioneer costume. It really made Pioneer Day come alive! As many of you know, July 24th is Pioneer Day in Utah, a day commemorating Brigham Young's 1847 entry into the Salt Lake Valley with the first group of Latter-day Saint settlers who had crossed the plains. It's a day that represents family, and history, and culture, and reverence, and fun.

I've been working on a new series of pioneer paintings and I thought the Pioneer Day weekend, across the street from the Salt Lake Temple, was a great time and a great place to unveil the first two pieces in the "Come, Come, Ye Saints" series:

With Joy Wend Your Way
Come, Come, Ye Saints Series #1

With Joy Wend Your Way: Come Come Ye Saints Series #1

Grace Shall Be As Your Day
Come, Come, Ye Saints Series #2

Grace Shall Be As Your Day: Come Come Ye Saints Series #2

Another great model here, both for life and for paintings: Josi's mom, Carol, posed for this one. She makes beautiful quilts off the canvas, too.

Keep an eye out for some more from the "Come, Come, Ye Saints" Series. They're in the works. I've also been commissioned to do 6 murals for the new Monticello Elementary School, so that has me busy! And now, back to the easel . . .

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wednesday Wanderings: Old Friends

It has taken me a while to get this posted, but it's worth doing, even if it's a bit late!

This year I participated in a fantastic Easter Art Exhibit at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. It was a great time, with about 40 artists exhibiting, including myself and Robert Barrett, who was one of my instructors in the Illustration program at BYU and an artist I really admire. My friend, a great illustrator and artist Sam Kennedy, also dropped by the show and we had a great time catching up. 

There is a certain camaraderie among artists. Few others understand the trials and triumphs of trying to capture your vision in just the way you want to. Few others can relate to the ins and outs of the business and the unique personal investment it takes to create. I value their input and their friendship and getting to see them made the show even better.

Isn't the Joseph Smith Memorial Building an amazing place? Look at that beautiful ceiling! I've been accepted into the Inspirational Art Association's Christmas Showcase 2014 on December 3rd-6th, which will be held there, too. I'm excited to show there again!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Albus

Meet Albus. I recently painted him for my sisters' birthday. And yes, Albus means white in Latin, but I suspect he's named after the much more famous Dumbledore. I haven't done a lot of animal painting. But it's always fun to tackle a new subject.

The interesting challenge with Albus was that he is almost completely white.  White, you say? Well what's wrong with painting white? The thing about white is it's, well white. White is almost always very high keyed. Meaning it's just so much brighter than everything else. As I paint in oil I'm lucky to get eight separate value steps. If I use all those values on white fur Albus is going to look pretty grey and dirty and his eyes are going to appear too light in relation to his face. And the real Albus has astonishingly bright blue eyes. So without the use of all my values to define form and shadow I have to use color.

Our mind's eye has been wired to use color to separate shadow and form. Using a combination of cool and warm colors in the same or similar values still allows me to separate light and shadow without eating up all my value range. Essentially, I can keep Albus white and his pupils dark.
Now with Albus and other white-furred animals (my family had a Dalmation for which this held true as well) the skin under their fur is often a different color. Albus' is pink. That means where the fur is thin, like above the nose, that pink will show through. So now I have another color introduced into the mix. It can be tricky. I use my painting experience as much as anything to know how to push values here and there, and sometimes take some guesses to have my painting reading how I perceive it should be.
All in all, I like this portrait of Albus. I managed to stay loose with my paint but still catch the dimension in his fur and his head so it comes across as an accurate portrait. Plus, it's always fun to paint for someone in the family.