Building a Studio

Like many artists, I have created space for my art in a spare room in my home to paint. I used an old easel I had purchased 45 years ago for painting until I had a good paintings sales month last year and I bought a terrific American made “Best” easel that will tilt forward for pastel work.  I have a made a temporary Taboret that works fine for now, but eventually want to replace it with something more functional.  The room is otherwise comfortable and has worked well for a number of years.

Unfortunately like many bedrooms, the room is not well lit and it is on the north side of the house. Although I have added track lighting, and it provides sufficient light, it is too warm a light.  This gives me incorrect readings for my pastels and I have to take whatever I am working on out into natural light to check my values and shades.  I find the values way off in this light and wonder if other artists have this problem.



In warm but not hot weather when I am doing a studio piece, I will sometimes move my French easel out to the back deck and take advantage of the natural light to paint my landscapes. This summer with too many hot days in the high 90’s and low 100’s that has been out of the question on too many days. 

Checking values and shades is so much easier when doing plein air work.  The light on the subject is more natural and one sees shadows more correctly.  Painting from photos is more of a challenge than plein air work because the camera does not have the ability to capture the scene as well as our eyes.  I enjoy plein air painting when I have the opportunity to get out on my own or with friends and can use plein air studies to create larger works or if I am happy with them, frame them as is.

I have wanted to build an actual dedicated studio on the east side of our home for many years.  This year I saved some money from a long contract job with UC Davis that will allow me to build the new studio. The studio will occupy space that is currently an open redwood deck on the north side of our home that has outlived its life span.  I have spent the better part of the last ten days demolishing the deck, moving sprinkler lines, pier supports for the old deck, a concrete patio made from square paving stones and moving a fence and preparing the site to begin construction.  There is still a sidewalk that must be broken up and eliminated. There is so much junk to demolish, and dispose of and I am exhausted!

The final plans for the studio are almost done.  I reviewed the preliminary sketches and made some changes.  The plans have to be reviewed by an architect to make sure that proper calculations for the roof load and ridge support are all correct.  I am getting excited about construction starting this month if we can get the plans approved by the county without delay.  Today, I am taking a day off from all this work to relax and paint.  

Plein Air Painting

Some people have no idea what plein air painting is since the words are French and mean "fresh air painting." There are many plein air painters today and even a great magazine dedicated to the subject that inspires one to want to go out with the group. I have been trying to get out more to paint on location having read how much it improves one's art and sense of color. I would have to say that those who tout painting outdoors on site are right on the money.   

Two weeks ago I packed up my French Easel, grabbed my Dakota pastel carrier, and Better Brella and a bottle of water and went off to paint a barn I had been wanting to paint. The barn is located on Wise Road at Linnet Lane on the back road way to Lincoln from Auburn. It was a sunny cloudless day, and a comfortable temperature when I arrived on scene at 9:15 am.  I decided that I would set up in the back of my Nissan P/U because it afforded a nice spacious level platform that was safe to stand on, and raised me a foot or so higher than if I had been down on the road.  

My plein air painting setup

My plein air painting setup

I took out my viewer and made a decision as to the dimensions of my painting on the 9"X12" piece of Wallis sanded paper I had taped to the wood pallet board. I first did a value sketch in my sketchbook of what would be my painting using a #3 pencil. Once that was done, I sketched the barn lightly on the Wallis paper along with the trees in the background.  I then roughed in an undercoat using some NuPastels in the major blocks I had determined. I used an orange behind the trees, some light yellow, in the sky and a darker brown where the barn would go, and a dark ochre undercoat where the foreground grasses would be. I then used Turpenoid and a 1/2 brush I had brought along to liquify the pastel and give me a nice base to begin my painting. Since it was warming up quickly, it only took about ten minutes for the undercoat to dry.

I then began using various hard and then soft pastels to bring the painting colors together, and capture the essence of what I was looking at. The barn began to take shape with its rusted roof, and multicolored wood siding. I managed to lock down the values on the shady side and in the surrounding trees and grasses. There were a lot of corral fences around the barn, and I roughed them in to get the correct placement, figuring I would complete those details at home in my studio. The sun was getting warmer as it rose and I was grateful I had brought along my umbrella to shade my painting and part of me as I worked. I locked in the sky, tree and grass colors to bring the painting together and felt comfortable with the paintings foundations. I packed up around 12:30 to head home since it was getting quite warm and the light was changing significantly. I was glad I had shot a few pictures when I first arrived on scene as a reference.

Sounds of Silence

Sounds of Silence

Once I was home and had a chance to have some lunch I began to tackle the fences and to add some detail and shading. I have entitled the finished piece "The Sound of Silence". Unfortunately, like many old barns, this one is no longer used and sits quietly, gradually deteriorating with no maintenance against the elements.