Improving The Past

Many years ago I read an article about wildlife and landscape artist Ralph Oberg in Southwest Art magazine. I was impressed by a statement Ralph made about comparing painting to juggling. To paraphrase, he said a juggler can only juggle so many balls. When he keeps adding more balls, at some point he will drop one. Likewise, an artist needs to remember composition, value, color temperature, aerial and linear perspective, variation, edges, eye movement, and more. At some point, it’s easy to drop one of these “balls” and the artist needs to pick it up again and continue.

I was reminded of this Ralph Oberg article when I was painting Chamisa Yellow. I thought I had finished it and at first I was satisfied with the painting. But, as it sat on my wall in the “look at” stage, I felt something wasn’t quite right. I was about to ask for a critique by another artist when I realized the problem with this painting. I had dropped a painting ball. I didn’t direct the viewer’s eye and I didn’t vary the yellows. My yellows were all the same across the painting. With the sameness, the viewer doesn’t know where I want their eye to rest.

I went back to work on the painting to vary the yellows. I made the yellow chamisa blooms on the bottom left darker than the yellows in the upper part of the chamisa. I made many of the yellows more intense in color. I also made variations in the stems, adding more dark areas and light areas. I felt the blue mountains in the distance needed some adjustments too. I added a bit of muted red violet and intensified the blues.

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Venture Into The Unknown

I have been a traveler most of my life, much longer than I have been a painter. A recent talk with a friend got me wonder how travel has been impacting my creativity now that I can call both painting and traveling my passions.

Whether you are a fearless, adventurous type or prefer a more organized group tour, travel is all about getting out of routine to explore and discover the unknown. It usually rewards you with amazing experiences that enrich your life and makes you appreciate what you have in your life. When I travel, I am not keen on visiting must-see sites and usually do not walk around with a guidebook or a group, which may make me a little more of an independent, adventurous type. I take more delight in venturing out with no agenda, meeting people and learning about different lifestyles and cultures. This aspect of travel inspires me a great deal as in my recent trip into the Amish country in Northern Indiana. Seeing the Amish people keep their tradition alive, not to mention, beautiful landscapes that surround where they live, opened my eyes and gave me new ideas for future paintings.

By changing the familiar surroundings to a unknown setting, we will face challenges on a daily basis. The experiences can be all positive or can involve some negative or even risky ones. If they can be thoroughly enjoyed, that’s great, but usually they present some situations where we must make hard decisions. While traveling, we have no time to waste thus no choice but to make the best judgements possible and go through it all in order to go home safely. The whole experience will give us the encouragement to push on and, more importantly, new perspectives on life, however trivial they may be, that make us reflect on the ways that we have been set in so deeply. Travel helps us be courageous, stronger, kinder, more humble and respectful, and it feeds our soul in a most unexpected way. In a way, to me, it resembles a painting process.
Bigger Equity

We do not have to travel to a far-away place for inspiration. If I open my eyes and mind, I can find things that inspire me almost anywhere. The connection between travel and creativity, as I see it, is all about taking risks by diving into the unknown. As artists, we must find a way to tap into the area in our brain to be more free-spirited and not complacent.

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San Diego, My Painting Paradise

Knowing I’m an avid plein-air painter who travels around the world often, many people ask me where my favorite place to paint is. I could name spots in the Mediterranean region, Japan, California, etc… but that’s not an easy one to answer, in fact, because, to be honest, it is not really where or what to paint that I consider the most important when it comes to plein-air painting.

What grabs me, what inspires me, what excites me can be found anywhere and can happen any time. Then, if I take the time, or seize the moment, I will begin to establish an emotional connection to it, and then I decide whether or not I can execute a painting from a design point of view. This process, to me, is prerequisite to a meaningful plein-air painting experience. Where or what to paint doesn’t matter to me. I care more about how to paint what inspires me. Having said that, I must admit that I have a special affinity to San Diego, my current home. I am not exaggerating to say I live here to be able to paint outside due to the nice weather most of the year.

So I am extremely delighted and honored that I have eight plein-air watercolor landscape paintings of San Diego featured in the June issue of Watercolor Artist magazine. In this article, written by NY-based arts writers, I share anecdotes behind my paintings and my thoughts about plein air painting and watercolor techniques as well as some advice for beginners. The magazine will be on newsstands in April in the United States. It is already available online.

I’d like to thank Kelly Kane, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine and Beth Williams, Senior Editor for giving me this honor, and John for working with me. Beth also shares some more of my plein-air paintings of San Diego on their blog artistsnetwork.

Coincidentally, I am happy to announce that my second book of 100 plein-air paintings of San Diego landscapes will be available later this month. I’ve been working on this book project for almost 2 years. Check back on my website for an update or contact me directly if you’re interested.