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.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Figurative Fridays: Christmas Cards

Just wanted to let everyone know we received our "Let Us Adore Him" Christmas cards and they are ready to ship! Those of you who already placed your orders should have already received them. If you haven't placed your order yet, they're here while supplies last, so order soon!
 To refresh your memory, here's what the cards look like inside and out. This is a pack of 20. They are also available in packs of 10, 25, and 50 (click on the dropdown arrow) at our online store: 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Church Rock

As the weather shifts and we're getting our first hail and rain storm I'm posting another plein air piece from Moab.
Church Rock
8"x 10"
Oil on board
I started this painting just as the morning light hit the rock. Those of you who have traveled this area will probably recognize this formation. Church Rock is a local landmark near the entrance to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The small cave bellow was blasted out by a local rancher in the 1940's to store salt licks and feed. Church rock is particularly striking as it sits freestanding in Dry Valley.

One of the fun occurrences that happen in the red rock country is the color mixing that occurs in the shadow side of the rocks and canyons. The usually clear blue skies reflect and mix with the deep red and yellow rock colors with the result being some spectacular color shifts. Fun stuff to paint though the colors change quickly when you're painting from life. This painting is a good example of the great color you can observe in the shadows along with the beautiful fall colors of the desert brush.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Hang In There

Sometimes life is easy. Sometimes it's decidedly not. One thing I love about painting in the desert is seeing how the living things face this very tough climate and survive. 

This juniper was beautiful not because it was a perfect, symmetrical specimen, but because it was not. Its struggle to survive was evident in it's gnarled bark, its bare twigs, and its broken branches. Those details made the brilliant greens of its living branches all the more striking.  
14" x 11"
Oil on Board
In the desert, every tree, every little bush, every bit of grass, even the little clump of yellow flowers at the base of this tree makes a sacrifice for its survival. That sacrifice is what makes them strong and beautiful and fun to paint. The forces that they endure shape each one in unique ways. So it is with people. As we get through each tough thing, we become stronger and more unique.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Purple Canyon

Well it was a wild wonderful week. I got to explore the desert and do what I love. I was able to paint and talk shop with a lot of my fellow artists. I painted in the sun and the rain and the wind and I came home with some big ribbons, which is always fun.

Along with the First Place in the Quick Draw Competition that we posted about last week, I also won an award in the Saturday evening competition. One of the judges, Vern G. Swanson, paid me a great compliment during the awards ceremony by comparing my work to that of Sorolla, who is one of my favorite painters. Vern is well qualified to make that comparison, having authored or co-authored 15 books on art/art history as well as serving as the director of the Springville Museum of Art, Utah’s oldest art museum, for 32 years before retiring in August 2012. So his kind compliments on my work were well appreciated.

One of the hardest parts of this week-long Plein Air competition is the fact that you can only enter one piece for the final judging. I selected "Purple Canyon" to be my entry. It wasn't the more standard epic landscape that most artists enter for jurying. However, something just pleased me about the color and fresh view this painting offered.  It was fun because the placement of the tree allowed me to do the kind of intimate desert portrait that I love to do while also allowing me to capture some of the grand vista in the background. Those sandstone buttes, with all their planes and shadows, are fun to paint. And as is often true here in the Four Corners there was such wonderful morning color.

Purple Canyon
Oil on board 14" x 11"
Sometimes I ask myself if another painting would have pleased the judges more. Could I have tailored my painting more toward the judges' tastes? In the end, I have to enter the painting I most love. If I don't, why am I painting? I could try to paint how I think others would like. But then how would my artwork ever be my own unique vision and passion? You must be true to yourself to truly love what you do.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: And the winner is . . .

Well, Richard is off wandering this Wednesday, so I'm stepping in to write the Wednesday Wanderings post. His wandering this week is tied into the Moab Plein Air competition and it has been wild and fun!

Watching him work this week, I've come to realize that there is a special energy about painting from life, trying to catch what you can before the light shifts, before the clouds come, before the subject changes. It's painting at its finest: capturing your vision just as it is in one fleeting moment of time, preserving a subject that will never be exactly the same again.

In this competition, artists registered last Saturday and have one week to paint any subject within 50 miles of Moab, Utah. On Saturday Richard had the honor of painting in Moab Plein Air's Main Street Gallery, where he did a painting of a live model whom you may recognize.

The most exciting part of the week so far, though, was yesterday afternoon. Richard participated in a 3-hour "Quick Draw" competition at the Red Cliffs Lodge and Castle Creek Winery on the Colorado River.  He only had 3 hours to find a subject and complete a painting.

To me, that's almost incomprehensible. It's a challenge to create no matter how much time you have, but going from blank canvas to finished, framed piece in 3 hours is a tough test of skill. I think his finished painting was impressive. Apparently the judges thought so, too!
Castle Creek Casks
10" x 8"
Oil on Board
He was awarded first place and a purchase award for this gorgeous piece. My personal favorite part? The barrels. I love the way the light hits them and shows the warm, worn wood.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Figurative Fridays: Seeing An Old Scene In A New Way

There are certain scenes that artists have painted over and over through the years. Whatever the reason, that means many of the finest artists have painted those scenes. It can be intimidating to tackle a painting that was painted by the masters of bygone days. But if you're drawn to paint one of these scenes, you shouldn't avoid it. Painting is a very personal and intimate activity. Nobody will paint it just like you will.

Perhaps because I am a father of young children, I feel a great empathy when a family welcomes a new child. I still have strong memories of my own feelings when each of my children were born. Therefore, I wanted to explore that moment from the life of Christ.
Let Us Adore Him
16" x 16"
Oil on Board
When I painted the Holy Family painting "Let us Adore Him" I was a bit baffled on how to portray them. I initially thought about painting an elaborate manger scene with all kinds of livestock. But the more I thought about it the more I felt it should be about the little family itself. Accordingly, I took a much more simple approach by focusing on just the Christ child, Joseph, and Mary. The fun part of that simplification was I was able to create a very tight and clean composition and consequently a very intimate focus on the relationship.

You'll notice I worked very hard to create a circle from Joseph's face down to Mary then to her hand holding Christ's little hand then back up to Joseph through his arm. There is also a secondary circle created by Joseph's robe and left hand following around with the light on the cloth under Jesus. I wanted it to bring to mind the familial relationship between Husband and Wife and Child.

As a side note, in response to requests for Christmas cards of this piece, as of today we have them available on our online store: They are  4.25" x 5.5," folded, and have the words "Let us adore Him" printed on the inside. They are available in bundles of 10, 20, 25 or 50. Free shipping and envelopes included. Please come and preorder now as we are doing a limited print run and will be shipping out orders by November 1st.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Let's Talk about Rocks.

The Four Corners area is full of rock. Much to the dispair of the first pioneers, but much to the joy of artists, rocks dominate the landscape. And to be frank, rocks are just great fun to paint. They provide sharp, crisp shapes against any vegetation and create wonderful shapes and shadows. They are at their essence very simple basic shapes.

Wait--simple, basic shapes are boring, right? Wrong. Simple shapes quickly become very complex in nature. Just add a few variations and simple can become very interesting. Simple shapes are a great anchor to start your paintings on.

One of the basic concepts in painting is defining directional planes. Think of a box, each side of the
box receives different amounts of direct light and environmental bounce light. In almost all cases the light bouncing around the cube, or indeed any object, changes compared to the color of the direct light. If there is any blue in the environment, like the sky in most landscapes, then the bounce light will become cooler or bluer than the direct light. Along with the obvious value changes between direct light and various degrees of shadow, this color shift is how our minds read the various directional planes to define shape. Add that with the base color of the object (red for most of the rocks by me) and you have all the colors you need to describe that box.

The easiest way of demonstrating this color and value shift of each plane is the simple box. And guess what most rocks are? That's right, slightly irregular boxes.

Take a look at this closeup from my painting Canyon Watchman.  Notice the rocks are made up of planes of various colors and values. If you pull back and see the painting as a whole you see the structure of the canyon wall.

Love those rocks . . .

Friday, September 27, 2013

Figurative Fridays: Personal Investment . . . and Robots

Here is one of the original models I found at my hardware store. About 1983.
(I particularly like the misspelled FRIER instead of FLYER.) 
When I was growing one of my joys was robots. Somewhere I picked up some Japanese robot model kits; strangely, I think it might have been my local hardware store. I was captivated with the beautifully painted illustrations on the boxes. They were painstakingly painted with dirt and rust lines and flaking paint as if they were real well-worn machines. Someone had spent a lot of time and thought painting these non-existent robots. Someone really loved and cared about this imaginary world. Because someone, or a group of people, had spent so much time and energy that they made beautiful illustrations for the humble cover of a four-dollar plastic model box, it made me want to know more about this story.

Look at this guy, wouldn't you want to learn about him?

I later found that these models came from a anime/cartoon. I was living in the american world of Hasbro, where the box illustrations were marginal at best, often not even matching the contents of the box. I think that the difference was that the artists that did the boxes for Hasbro had little personal investment in the image. It was just a pay check, just another toy to be sold. The Japanese robot boxes didn't take the cheap and easy way. They didn't resort to using screenshots of the cartoon or even nice photographs of the models, as the eventual american release of the models did. They were real paintings. The artists that painted the Japanese model artwork were often artists that helped worked on the original series it was created from. They understood the characters, they knew the plots: these scenes lived in their minds. In short, they had a personal investment in the story and, consequently, in the art.

Here's the other original model I found as a boy. I couldn't even read most of the text.  and....
This is the eventual American company's release of the same model. Hummm . . . which one makes you want to find out his story?
The lesson I learn from these boxes is this: The artist's love of his subject or his love of painting comes through to his audience. Your viewers will be more likely to engage with your artwork if your own personal investment is evident.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Brisk Morning Light

Just got back from a brisk morning's painting session. One of the joys of living in the Four Corners red rock area is being able to wander out early and find a wonderful subject easily.

As you may have noticed from some of my previous posts, I love the local juniper trees.  They're a scraggly and tough breed of tree. They live in an harsh landscape. Every drought, dry wind, and freezing winter shapes them. Often the trees may lose a large section of branches or die back severely. This process makes each tree unique and beautiful. Each tree a portrait of survival.

Prickly Pear
14" x 11"
Oil on Board
This particular tree was living quite happily alongside a patch of prickly pear cactus. Painting on the spot--Plein Air--has a few difficulties I have had to learn to work with. The main trick is the light. I love to paint in the early morning or evening when the sun is low and I get that golden glow and warm colors. But the sun doesn't stay still. My shadows are slowly moving and the highlights change. The downside of that is sometimes I end up with a painting that just isn't working and there's no time to fix it. I've had to learn how to paint fast with and use my paints with economy.

This thrift of paint has a few advantages too. I don't have time to get caught up painting details or shapes that aren't important for the painting. If something isn't working I just wipe it off and start over. I've learned to make quick, sometimes painful, decisions because I just don't have the time to fiddle. Because of the time factor I often finish with a stronger, more direct painting.

However, the biggest advantage of painting from life is that I am painting directly from the source. There's no color shifting or camera distortion or any other device between myself and the subject. It's just me and what I'm painting. It's more personal for me and, I hope, for the viewer.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Figurative Fridays: The Beginning

The beginning is a very delicate time.

I've been at work on a lot of new pieces recently. When I start a painting or drawing sometimes I get slowed down by the huge amount of possibilities that present themselves as you begin.  Every mark you make presents a new road you can take. How do you present the figure? Even a slight change of the hand can change the whole feel of the painting.  

Sometimes I take a road that is a dead end and have to reverse course. Many times as I work a new road presents itself that I didn't even consider before I began. Those are some of the funnest moments in a painting. I have heard them called "happy accidents". It can be magic as you paint. 

Every time I make a mark on the canvas my mind perceives new possibilities. They can freeze my progress if I am unsure which path to take. So many possibilities. Am I making the right choice? When I was teaching Life Drawing and Painting at Brigham Young University I had many students that got hung up on making all the right choices. They would sit dawdling around, paralyzed with indecision. They were afraid to make the wrong choice so they never made one. Often I just had to come over and prompt them on a road, it almost didn't matter which, as long as they started moving they would be able to develop a painting. There are many wonderful roads. How can you know what road you want to be on until you've walked down many? In fact I have often take a wrong path in my paintings. But if I don't start walking I'll never see the fruition of any of my ideas.

Even some of my favorite pieces have a shadow of "What if I had taken a different road?" to them. That is why you can tell an artist how much you love a particular painting and he or she may not be completely happy with it. Sometimes all those competing possibilities they still see on their canvas can overshadow the beautiful path that was taken. 

Now that I have painted for many years I've begun to be able to appreciate each trip without obsessing about paths not taken. But still . . . the untaken road captures my imagination.

For example, one of my ballerina paintings: "Backstage," is a painting that highlights a path taken when many presented themselves to me. In my initial lay-in I really liked the rough unfinished quality of the paint. I could have polished every detail, defining each feature.  
Backstage (rough)
14" x 11"
Oil on board
However, as I finished the painting I endeavored to keep it a bit raw and rough with only selected details and fun paint. I felt it really emphasized the hard athletic work involved in ballet. I quite like the results, but . . .what if I had really tightened up her face and torso?  I could have really emphasized her beauty. It would have been a completely different painting. Not necessarily better, but another good road taken.
Backstage (final)
14" x 11"
Oil on board

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Old Friends

"Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf." -Albert Schweitzer.
Among the Tumbled Rocks
8" x 10 "
Oil on Board

One of our great joys in buying our older home was the mature trees on our lot. It can get very hot in the summer in the high desert.  And the wonder of the shade of a tree is greatly appreciated.  There is something very comforting in the shade of a tree.  In fact it's hard to imagine our house with out those trees. They are old friends at the end of the day.

Wise Old Cedar
12" x 9"
Oil on Panel
The same familiar comfort can be found in the surrounding red rock desert.  Nothing anchors the beauty of the canyon rocks like a tree. In our desert we are blessed with the twisty gnarled pinon trees. Painting these beauties is one of my favorite subjects. It's amazing how tress can thrive in so many harsh conditions. Every tree tells the story of its struggles. Each tree is a unique individual. The winter wind  twists and turns the branches the summer sun scorches the bark. Each struggle the tree endures gives it more character.

Wise Old Cedar
12" x 9"
Oil on Panel

10" x 8"
Oil on Board

Friday, September 13, 2013

Figurative Friday: Perception

It's fun to revisit a theme after a long time.  As time goes by you have different experiences. They change you and your perspective changes with you. 

Some people think painting is just copying what you see. Really, painting is a process of interpreting what you personally perceive. The human eye receives vast amounts of data, but it's up to the mind to sieve though and find the information that it feels is useful and relevant. 

You can find many interesting examples of how the the mind edits what it sees in documentaries on psychology and perception. My favorite is the one where subjects watching a video were told to focus on how many times players pass a basketball. Subjects counted the passes and often came up with the right answer. BUT. In the middle of the video, a man dressed up as a gorilla walks onto the basketball court, pounds his chest, and walks off the opposite side. The subjects in the study didn't even notice the gorilla until the scientists directed their attention to it and showed the video again. You can see more about it on Dr. Chabris and Dr. Simons' website: The Invisible Gorilla. Magicians have used this mental editing to their advantage for centuries.

I've mentioned this before: as an artist you must train yourself to look beyond what you initially perceive and really see what is in front of you. I have heard it described almost as a form of meditation. Just as you can have a focus point in meditation, when painting you can choose to really focus all your attention on your subject. 

That being said, there is a vast amount of information in front of you. You must choose your battles as you paint. What is it you want to say about what you see? Is there an overriding element that intrigues you? What visually impacts you the most? You have to see the gorilla and then choose whether you want to include it in the painting.

Creating a good piece of art is hard mental work. If you were to sit down and watch me work you would see me stopping and staring at the canvas a lot. It's not because I've forgotten what I was painting, it's because I'm constantly analyzing how what I've put down is being perceived. Does it say what I want to say? Is it understandable? Does it please and interest the eye? Does it relay my perception? Is it significant to my own human experience?

The last question is critical. Part of your perception is your experience and you can reach a viewer more effectively by telling part of your own story.
A Sea of Trouble: Hamlet
16" x 20"
Oil on Canvas
That's  the main reason I keep coming back to painting Shakespeare's plays. His plays talk to me about the human experience in a universal way that has spoken to generations of audiences. Every audience finds themselves reflected in his characters. One of my personal favorites is Hamlet. He struggles through hard choices and we hear his internal thoughts as he struggles. Many of us forget to listen to our own voices as we thrash through life. I find it useful to be reminded. And it stirs up struggles that I've not settled that I need to ponder on. No wonder it has been such an enduring play.
The two paintings were finished years apart from each other.  The top is the earliest. Perhaps you can perceive some of the experiences I had between that time and the time I painted this one:
What a Noble Mind is Here O'erthrown: Hamlet
30" x15"
Oil on Linen

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: S'winter!

Oops. Wandering Wednesday has somehow slipped into Wandering Thursday. And also, I missed a week. Well, I guess that's what wandering means, anyhow.

As Fall begins to creep in I can't help but think about the cold season coming. Those early snowfalls make great dramatic painting possibilities. You still have some of the great warm colors of fall contrasted with the cool white snow.

That is what happened for me in the painting below. Not only did I get the snow but I also had some of the warm colors of fall left over. There were beautiful water and slush pools reflecting everything around them. And the snow covered mountain barely shows up against the grey sky.  Even though it was cold and wet it was beautiful to be there.

Verdure valley
11" x 14"
Oil on board
So get ready to enjoy the change of season.  I especially look forward to Fall, although it's a brief season here in the Four Corners.  There are great opportunities for dramatic cool to warm paintings for all you painters out there.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Figurative Fridays: Sometimes You Have to Choose the Dark Side

Today, I'm going to talk a little more about sketching.  Although these design principles can be applied to any medium.

In any particular drawing or painting there is an overriding idea you are working with. For example in the drawing below I was very interested in the dramatic lighting of the character. The light was very stark and I had to choose a side to join: I can only make a limited range of values with a pencil.  Would I use my available tones for the Dark side or the Light side?  You can see that I chose the dark side as I used almost all my tonal values describing the shadows.  I left the light side of the range almost completely as the white of the paper.  This focus on the shadow side increases the drama of the piece and complements the subject's pensive pose.
 Pensive Sketch by Richard Lance Russell
Other times, like this concept sketch for the Gilded Butterfly painting, I'm working out the overall shape and flow of the image I want to create.

Gilded Butterfly Sketch by Richard Lance Russell

Gilded Butterfly Painting by Richard Lance Russell
Gilded Butterfly
20" x 16"
Oil on Panel
I often use a sketch as a way for my mind to work out visual ideas. Sometimes it is helpful to have a visual note of my intentions to look at as I work. 

Not all drawings are intended to be complete finished works of art. In fact, some just don't work out at all. Although I will say, often, because of their strong focus on one idea or element, the process sketches themselves can be beautiful in their own right. 

So don't be afraid to play around and risk some ugly drawings, oftentimes it is the happy accidents in sketching that have given me the inspirations for my favorite paintings.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: The Process of Painting A Landscape Vista

Today for your weekly Wednesday Wandering fix: I'm posting sequential images of my latest landscape painting. It's a gorgeous vista at Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park, amazing in itself and really fun to paint.
Although I do sometimes tone my canvases, I really like the vibrancy and transparency that you get from working from white with light washes of color, so I started this one with a white-gessoed board.
I started out with the sky.  First because it is the largest shape in this composition, but I also started with it because it is such a large cool blue area and I don't want to be blocking in the warm and cool colors at the same time or my colors will quickly turn muddy.
I worked the general shapes of the clouds out initially.
After refining the color of the clouds a bit I broke out the warm colors to block in the canyons below.
Next I tackled the very tricky skyline border between the warm and cool colors.  There is actually quite a long time gap between these two pictures. Whenever I paint this area in a landscape I am always amazed at how high keyed those midland colors are.
Since I had a hold on the the transition skyline values I started defining the canyons themselves.
Next I looked for edge-defining highlights and hit those.
Here I was working on more definition of the canyons.  You'll notice I was still adjusting general values and warming up the light sky peeking through on the left.
It is a little hard to see in these smaller images but here I was still refining canyons and playing with my brush work to create fun and interesting paint strokes and shapes.
Now that I had my canyons well defined I jumped back up to the clouds. With the very warm sunrise color and values of the canyon completed I could see I needed more warmth bounced up into the clouds. Additionally I felt the clouds' edges need to be softened to emphasize the sharpness of the canyon walls.
And here is the finished piece with the addition of the all-important signature.

Now let me say at the end of this post, that the pictures were not evenly timed as I shot them. Frankly sometimes I got a little involved with what I was painting and would finish up an entire area before I remembered to get up and push the camera shutter.  But a lot of the major decisions were documented in this sequence.  Anyway, it's a little glimpse into my painting process.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Figurative Fridays: The Number 2 Pencil

Sometimes it's fun to pull out the old number 2 pencil and draw. I think most of us are most comfortable with this instrument because of our many years doodling on the sides of our schoolwork assignments. 

One of the joys of drawing is working in simple value (you know, the darkness or lightness of something). When drawing, you are automatically forced to analyze and simplify the world to black and white. Half the work of simplification of form is already done for you. Even with that narrowing of the visual field, the ways you can choose to make your marks are endless.

Are you using line with the tip or shading with the side of your pencil? Will you choose to concentrate on value and tone? Working with edge and contour? Perhaps you want to distort certain elements and use caricature and cartooning in your drawing.  
Pencil on paper

In this drawing I concentrated on the contour or the line that defines the edge of the form. I also wanted to think about the direction of each line and the emphasis "or darkness of the mark" I used. I threw in a bit of tone to define the shape as well. Usually I make these little sketches to work out the direction I want to go with a painting. As I work, I ask myself: what are the most important bits of this image? Is it readable to the viewer? And is it saying what I want it to?

So, everyone, break out the old number 2 and start drawing!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Creating Motion

I am enjoying these Wednesday Wanderings. They give me a chance not only to share my latest work with you, but also to reflect on my technique, how and why I do things, and how to do it better.

One of the challenges of working in a 2D medium is interpreting the 3D world. Especially in today's culture of media immersion, we know the importance of engaging a viewer. Great art has always given viewers that sense of immersion, that feeling of being there.

But you don't have to paint hyper-realistically or photo-realistically to do that. You can create the sense of reality by using other techniques.

In both of today's paintings, I worked to capture the motion of the world. With "Desert Fire":
Desert Fire
8" x 10"
Oil on Board
that motion in the real world was created by the wind in the Brigham Tea bush I was painting. I tried to suggest that motion with the directional brush stokes of the reeds contrasted with the blocky rocks and the simplification of the background.  In "Canyon Watchman":
Canyon Watchman
16" x 12"
Oil on Board
the motion is in the rocks: the viewer's eye is meant to move across them and delight in their intricacy and subtle color variations. The clefts in them lead your eye to other engaging elements in the painting, and the lone tree becomes both subject itself and background for the rocks.

The natural world is dynamic: moving and changing as the sun moves or the wind blows or the clouds shape and reshape themselves. In my landscape paintings I try to suggest that same movement and energy. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Figurative Fridays: Beauty All Around

Everyone is beautiful. Everyone. Everywhere. You have to recognize that if you want to be an effective figurative painter. 

"Evening Out," 9"x 12", Oil on Board
Because that's the key to figurative painting: finding how to convey that beauty through paint. Don't limit yourself to the ideals that are prevalent in our culture right now. Current trends in our culture try to downplay what makes each person absolutely unique. They strive for a "sameness." The figurative painter's job is the opposite: you have to really see each individual subject. Really look at the person you're going to paint: something about them is going to grab you. It might be the shape of their hair, the color bouncing from their clothes, their eyes. Ask yourself: "What is visually interesting to me?"  

Detail from "Beijing Afternoon," 24" x18", Oil on Board

Sometimes you have to step back and evaluate what you're seeing not who. Look beyond your limited knowledge of how people like this subject have been portrayed before. Look at the shape, color, and value you see in that individual subject in front of you.

There is always something about another human being that delights the mind and eye. Paint what truly visually interests you and the painting will be beautiful. But paint what you think beauty is without really seeing your subject and you will just have a caricature based on preconceived notions. The world is full of beautiful people you just have to stop and really look to see them. 
"Sweet Music", 8"x10", Oil on Board

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wednesday Wandering: It's the Little Things

Today's Wednesday Wandering is another painting from the Southwestern landscape. Sometimes the breathtaking vistas around here completely absorb my attention, and other times its the smallest details that seem to leap out of the landscape.

Today's painting is of a piece of sun-smoothed root sticking up out of the sand. I run across them often on my hikes, and I like to call them desert driftwood because they are so similar to pieces you'd find on the beach.

I kept this painting small and really tried to showcase the intricacy of the twists and turns of the wood, the color playing across it, and its fascinating shape. Still life is fun because you can devote all your attention, all your focus to a single subject and try to really capture what makes it uniquely beautiful.
Desert Still Life
8" x 10"
Oil on Board

Friday, August 9, 2013

Figurative Friday: Simple Shapes

Welcome to the first Figurative Friday! I'm going to use this series to explore and discuss figurative painting.

Sometimes when you're painting the figure, it's what you don't paint that is most important. By simplifying the shapes, deciding on specific details, and controlling color, you can effectively tell a story without excessive rendering.

Bubbles Painting By Richard Lance Russell
10" x 8"
Oil on Board
This is why so many artists love to paint black or white dresses. There's a lot you can do with them. They can be large, simple shapes, or you can add detail to render them more fully. Either way, they read well on the canvas.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wednesday Wandering: High Desert Mornings

"Arroyo's Edge" Painting by Richard Lance Russell
Arroyo's Edge
10" x 8"
Oil on Panel
Wednesday Wandering is a blog post series where I'll post my plein air landscape paintings.

To start out the Wednesday Wandering series, I decided to emerge from my bed unthinkably early and beat the sun getting up.  It was worth it.

The high desert is fantastic at sunrise. See?

Summer is a great time for plein air painting around here. I live in the middle of the American Southwest, with all its red rock grandeur, gnarled pinon junipers, and silver sagebrush. I've spent this summer just soaking it all in and trying to catch it on canvas. I'm particularly fond of this piece, which captures a little rabbit brush on the edge of an arroyo as the sun is rising.