FOUR into Forty — the journey begins

File Nov 03, 6 45 05 PM

My neighbor’s pine. 8″ x 10″ plein air watercolor

Over the past several days I’ve been mulling over the workshop with Michael Riordan.  It was a great amount of information, and I want to get the most out of it, to really make it part of me, part of my artistic practice and skills.

So I decided to create a personal challenge that I’m calling Four into Forty or for short: 4 –>40.    I will spend the next forty days taking skills taught in the four day workshop and blogging about what I’ve discovered, show what I’ve painted, and talk about the process.  That will take me into mid-December and I’ll be “in shape” for January’s 30 paintings in 30 days challenge.  Wow, that time flew!

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The last two days I’ve been doing plein air painting in my back yard, and trying out various home made types of easels.  After extensive research, I put in an order for a travel easel, but I’ll tell you about that when it arrives later this week.

So here are photos of my two setups, one using an easel that would be used in a conference room with a big newsprint notepad and markers. The good thing about it is that the cross sections provide a place to put a piece of backing/plywood that I can use as a table.  The bad part is that I have to paint almost or completely vertical.  On top of it is the first green chart I’ve made using viridian and various yellows/oranges/reds.  More on that in another post.

2015-11-03 14.54.50The second is a heavyish and unwieldy music stand which has the great value of being to go from flat to almost vertical, but it has no accompanying table area.  So I dragged over the first easel and used that as a table.  All of this trying to stay in the shadow of a tree or pillar so the dogs across the street don’t constantly bark at me!  but I digress…The background is a bleached out sun view of the pines I used as a reference.

In both I’m using a neat travel palette with 18 wells and a thumb hole.  I’m really liking it and plan on  using it probably even with the coming easel.  but we shall see.

So I hope you’ll come along with me on this journey of discovery.  4–>40, day one completed!

My travel palette with thumbhole

My travel palette with thumbhole

Riordan workshop wrap up

Cloud_Shadows #2_rachel_murphree_watercolor

Cloud shadows #2

When I was unhappy with my clouds in “Storm Approaching” there was some extra time, so I figured I would try another clouds/mountains landscape. This one is it, and I’m happier with the clouds because they are expressed confidently and freshly. But the rest of it? hmmm….I think the mountains are a bit wonky as is the cloud shadow, but regardless.  it is what it is!!

Views earlier in the morning

white winged doves on a dead scrag with the beautiful Organ Mountains in the background socked in with clouds.

The last workshop day (Friday) was plein air and it was a chilly, windy, cloudy, spitting rain cold day for here.  We were huddled under a shade structure watching the demo and trying to scout out places to paint.  I wished I had brought a hat and gloves!  You can see the earlier cool of the day in the photo of birds in the desert brush. This might be an interesting photo to paint from some day.

Michael gave us a several good tips on finding a subject when painting plein air:  Look for the area of deepest contrast and work out your back, middle and foreground. Move around other components, like trees or bushes, from elsewhere in the landscape if they make the composition more effective.  Also if you’re doing architecture, roofs are lighter than you think because they reflect the sky.  I guess now is a great time to say that he has a new book coming out in February where all the stuff he drilled into us, and tons more I’m sure, will be in.  

Eventually the weather warmed up and the sun came out, followed by sprinkles, and it was a beautiful afternoon.  I think I was just tired from the whole four days and the driving and parenting stuff in the evenings, and didn’t want to do another landscape.  They’re not really what I’m passionate about.

So with his cautions I tackled a more difficult subject, santa rita prickly pear plants that were getting old and tough.  And because it was plein air, I sketched a value sketch but didn’t take a photo.  Silly me.  Those cactus pads are pink/purplish when fresh, and as they age, these ones got very cool gradations of peachs/lime greens/purples/browns, and they really drew my eye.  They were sprawled on the ground and a challenge to work out (invent) a foreground and background.

So in the end, it was an off day.  I didn’t come out with something I’m proud of, but I sure did have fun mixing deep colors wet in wet and playing on  how to pull out edges to make the stiff bristly bits on the edges of the pads.

plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

playing wet in wet

plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

santa rita prickly pear plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

On the left is a play piece I made and then on the right, the not -so-fresh planned one heavily cropped!!  but still, it was fun, and I was proud of myself for persevering to get something halfway representative. And yes, on more than one bush, I’ve seen prickly pads that are distinct heart shapes, as the little one here in the center.

And I had my first sighting of the year of white crowned sparrows (winter visitors) squeaking to each other in the brush, and a I had to shade my eyes from the warm fall sun to get a gorgeous sighting of a hawk (either  sharp shinned hawk or coopers) flying low overhead.  WOW!  you can’t get better than that for a day that started out dismally!

Day 27 — Desert’s Green Glow (plein air)

Plein air painting of mountain with green patches

Desert’s Green Glow. Click image to view larger. 8″ x 10″ watercolor. $25

The El Paso area is bisected by a mountain range.  The mountains are a beautiful rocky presence in the life of the city.  For most of the year, they are subtle shades of ocher, sand,  gray, blue, purple, and browns, tinged into a watermelon color for the several moments of the gloaming before sunset.  We get 7″ of annual rainfall, and most of it falls in late summer/early fall.  It’s called our “monsoon” season which is a laughable name in some respects! It is during this period that we see the subtle green glow of grasses on the mountain. It’s an exciting time for me and lets me feel like a true El Pasoan (even though I’ve lived here less than 20 years) because I know that freeway travelers passing through will not even notice this green glow.


My painting set up under a shade overhang of a picnic table in the state park area of the mountains. The mountains across the road are what I focused on. Click image to view larger

I traveled over the mountain today through the pass created when the road was built, and set my plein air paint set up on a covered picnic table in the state park area.  You can see it here.  The weather was cool, even with the sun’s heat, and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours painting and experiencing nature on a quiet Sunday morning.

Day 25 — The back garden

My back garden. watercolor 6

My back garden. watercolor 6″ x 10″ watercolor $25

Here’s today’s quick sketch of my back garden in early morning sunlight.

I like how it turned out,, and  I think it’s because it was done outdoors, I did a bit of planning and had patience to let layers dry before going back in to add more — that’s when you get mud.  Mud in a garden is good; mud in a watercolor painting is not!

Walk with me?

Walk with me.  Cholla blossom watercolor by Rachel Murphree

Watercolor of cholla blossoms, 11″ x 14″ Click on image to view larger.

The cholla cactus attaches very easily to passersby, and it is never a fun experience for the human or animal. It’s much more fun to enjoy it from afar. Its common name is Walking Stick, and it’s one of my favorites.

This is the product of plein air painting on mother’s day in my side garden. It took me a while of  trial and error, to find my technique to show you the character, spines and spirit of this cool plant. This plant hangs its head over my side wall into the sidewalk below, and it makes me smile as I start my dog walk this time of year. I plan to paint it from that angle as well, backlit by the sun.

This one  will be framed and put in August’s show.  As it gets closer, I’ll give you the dates and location.  I may consider putting it in a square frame.  We’ll see….

Thanks for stopping by.