As new housing goes up, old barns come down. Are the old structures a cliché subject for painters or can askilled artist can find something fresh to say?

My friend and artist extraordinaire, Marianne Miller, is a country girl at heart who loves old barns and farm houses.  She’s a dedicated scout who travels the county roads looking for great scenery and structures, calculating where we could park, and deciding on the best lighting.  We have had some interesting experiences this summer on the backroads of Knox, Fairfield and Licking Counties.

I have learned a lot from painting with Marianne, (after I got over being awestruck by her talent).  She doesn’t look so much at a particular subject, but the angles, shapes, sunlight and shadows.  It works because she comes up with outstanding paintings time after time. She’s focused and she’s fast. I haven’t included any of her paintings here, but you can see her award winning painting at the American Impressionist Society.

Here are some of the scenes I’ve painted on our outings – a bit more limited in nuance than hers, but a whole lot of fun.  There’s no place I’d rather be than the middle of a field!


We tried to ask permission to paint on the property above but no one answered the door. So we ended up painting from the edge of the road.  As you can see, this barn got a make-over back at home.  I exaggerated its flaws/charms.

I painted this sycamore tree at Rustling Brook Farm and then painted it again weeks later.  It’s good practice to redo a scene.  I went with a horizontal format and decided the tree should be the star of the show instead of the house.


Here’s the brook at Rustling Brook. I will paint the barns there eventually.  The owner is almost 90 and he is so gracious when we come there to paint.  He’s also an expert on the local history.

I did the two paintings below from photos I took on our trip to Branstool’s Orchard with a stop at the Old Mill in Utica for ice cream ( justifiable ice cream because we ate some healthy apples first). These were both painted in a workshop with Sean Wang, another artist I really respect.


One last barnstorming painting which was painted earlier in the summer with a larger group of barnstormers including, Sean, Rich Clem and Diana Andrews.

The weather is getting cooler but the barnstorming will continue!

Spiraling Out of Control

I grabbed a book at the library called Paint Lab: 52 Exercises inspired by Artists, Materials, Time, Place, and Method by Deborah Forman:.  One of the exercises showed how to draw the nautilus shape based on the golden ratio The page also included a design that intrigued me.  It was a cross between a mandala and a spiral made of dots.   There were no instructions on how to create it.

My curiosity led me to our modern font of knowledge, You Tube.  I searched on the word “mandala”  and quickly got sucked into the vortex of Dearing Draws and My New Compass just to name a few.

I was fascinated so I started playing with the ideas in a sketchbook and then moved onto greeting cards.

I tried various media including pencils, Sharpies and pens.  The card stock I was using wouldn’t handle much liquid so watercolors are out.

I liked them even more after jazzing them up with Krylon glitter spray.  Since I need to fidget when I watch tv, I’ve been playing with these in the evenings while I waste an hour or so on Net Flix.

I even learned a little bit about how to use a French curve in the process.  I never did figure out the design I saw in the book, but I’m sure it’s based on the same principles.

It just goes to show that when you’re curious you become creative!

Linwood 2017 in the Rearview

I have been neglecting this blog lately and I tell myself it’s because I’m painting so much. Good excuse, right?

The highlight of my painting year is our annual Central Ohio Plein Air retreat at Linwood Park, organized by the super-organized painter, Nancy Vance.  We all look forward to it, but at the same time we know it’s signaling the end of summer. So it’s a happy time but, for me, a little melancholy.

It’s also a good benchmark to measure your progress as a painter from year to year. The 2015 version of the bridge was painted in the morning light and I remember struggling for quite a long time with it. In 2017 I was there in the afternoon and able to choose the view pretty quickly. I blocked it in and caught some highlights and reflections in the water that made it a much better painting.


Vermillion River Bridge 2017 in pastel

Vermillion River Bridge 2015 – oil













Although the residents of Linwood Park are happy to have us come, most aren’t interested in buying paintings.  The lady who lives across from the lodge expressed an interest in this little 8×10.  If I were a skilled sales person I would closed the sale and pocketed a check.  Instead I told her about the sale scheduled for Saturday (where she bought a painting from one of the other painters).  The upside is that I got to keep the painting!



As the sale was going on I painted one of the nearby cottages.  My idea of a cottage is a lot smaller than this, but I guess they’ve added on over the years.  I really wanted to catch the shadows on the sunlit side.  Although it was much admired by browsers coming to the sale, there were no offers so it’ll grace my wet paint shelf for a while. I took it down a few days ago, ran it through my self critique process and touched it up a bit.

Now it’s time to soak up those last few days of good painting weather and look forward to next year’s retreat. Thanks, Nancy, for making this wonderful experience possible.

Environmental Centers Part II

A popular scene to paint at the BFEC



If I had to choose just one place to paint for the rest of my life it would be the Brown Family EnvironmentalCenter at Kenyon College.  I painted there four times this summer and wouldn’t run out of scenes to paint if I went there 400 times.

There’s so much material to choose from:  flower gardens, a lily pond, a mini waterfall,  buildings, farmland,  the Kokosing River and bike path.  It makes me want to move back to Knox County!

A water feature in front of the farmhous 


The evening I painted the water running over the stones, the sun was being selective with the highlights.  I captured it as well as I could but I’d like to revisit that lighting in a new painting.  It’ll have to be plein air.  A photograph doesn’t have the nuance I want.

The View From Observatory Hill



I’m working on being a bit more subtle with color and texture.  I felt like I nailed it in this panoramic view looking down into the valley on the Fourth of July.  What I nice morning!




Stonehenge at Kenyon

I painted “Stonehenge” on COPA’s Saturday paint-out.  By the time I drove to Gambier the garden was already swarmed with painters and I was too lazy to walk to the river.  So I decided on the rock garden because I liked the shadows.  When I got home it looked much darker than it did on site, so it took a bit of adjustment to get it into shape.


The center’s manager, Noelle Jordan, welcomed our Central Ohio Plein Air group multiple times throughout the summer, keeping the center open on Wednesday evenings and the Fourth of July as well as one Saturday morning time slot.  All that work resulted in a show that opened at the end of July and runs through September.


Painting the Environment Part I

Photo of the Barn at Shepherd’s Corner

Most of my paintings this summer have been scenes at two environmental centers – Shepherd’s Corner, in Backlick, operated by the Dominican Sisters of Peace, and The Brown Family Environmental Center at Kenyon College.  This post will focus on Shepherd’s Corner.

I painted at Shepherd’s Corner one Friday last fall and spoke briefly with the gardener there.  This spring, the center’s director, Sister Rose Ann Van Buren followed up to see if I would help recruit other artists to paint there and donate the artwork to be sold at the center’s 25th anniversary celebration on September 16th.

A.J. the Shepherd

Inspiration for painting is everywhere you turn.  Shepherd’s Corner has a flock of sheep kept in line by A.J., the resident llama. He’s really quite vain and seemed to pose for photos.  He was once a show animal, so he’s got the modeling thing down pat.  This is an 8″x8″ pastel done from a photo.  While A.J. is an experienced model, I’m not skilled enough to paint a moving target.




Wild Ones

The farmer and volunteers raise vegetables sold at a farm stand, with massive amounts being donated to local food pantries.  While they are not certified organic, they do use organic practices.  This oil painting of the wild flowers was done plein air near the garden fence.







This painting was done from a photo taken on a day when the sky looked like rain at any minute.  I took the photo from a low angle looking up under the porch roof on the barn.




Reflections in the Vernal Pool


Part of the area is wild with meandering meditation trails and a labyrinth.  There’s a vernal pool with a bridge over the wetland.  There are surprising little spaces with benches or interesting views.




I really enjoyed painting there. I have so many more photos that I want to work into paintings.   I hope these paintings sell for a good price during the Shepherd’s Corner anniversary celebration in September.  It really is a worthy cause.

I posted an invitation to artists on three art organizations’ Facebook pages, but  I don’t think there was much response.  I understand why many artists aren’t keen on donating work. Sometimes charities sell it below market value which can have an impact on the rest of the artists portfolio.  Also, most people who request donations don’t know that artists can only use the cost of materials as a tax deduction, not the value of the artwork.  I’m very fortunate that neither of those considerations has a big personal impact, so off these paintings go to Shepherd’s Corner.  May they turn into dollars which in turn become vegetables for hungry people.



From Nothing to Something

Last summer I promised to do a landscape painting for the highest bidder in our parish festival silent auction.  One of my painter friends warned me that I’d be likely to get photos that would be difficult to work with, but I went blindly ahead.  (Pun intended.)

The couple who won the bid wanted a painting of the view from their favorite campground.  They promised to get a photo with fall color and email it to me.  Ideally I’d like to visit a location and take my own photos but the campground was more than an hour away so I waited for their photo.

After a gentle reminder, here’s the photo I received.

Oh, the challenges!  I needed to imagine a composition with a center of interest.  I loved the sky and I imagined that rolling hills were beautiful in person so I at least had a starting point.   When I enlarged the photo I could see some buildings near the fields in the distance so I decided on a barn as the focal point.  I emailed the couple and told them that I’d need to make some adjustments and asked if the rolling hills were their main interest in this scene.  They agreed so I started with a pencil sketch to work out my ideas.

I decided to go with oils instead of pastels or watercolors and chose a 16 x 20 inch canvas so that I could wrap the scene around the edges in case they didn’t want to frame it.

I started with an underpainting using burnt sienna.  I haven’t been using earth colors from the tube in my oil paintings, but I thought it would unify this fall scene and provide a framework. I sent  the couple a pic so they could follow the progress.

I let if rest a few days while I worked on other things.  As I began adding color to the background I shot a few photos along the way.


The road was definitely not working yet.

I smoothed it out and added the couple.






The foreground still needed something interesting and I wanted to get across the idea of a campground. Maybe a few camp chairs facing toward the view, as if the couple had just gotten up?  That didn’t work, so I decided to do picnic tables.

The tables started out a bit grey but I warmed them up with the burnt sienna. (I’m not a fan of the color gray.)   I was  waiting for the painting to dry so I could varnish it and send it to its new home when I decided it needed more highlights.  So here is the final version (I think).



I’ve been wanting to do a picture of Lucy for quite a while.  She’s the faithful sidekick who nestles under my desk chair when I’m blogging.  While most of February was warm, we did have one snowy morning where I sat in my rocker reading and drinking tea while  Lucy watched robins in the snow.  She’s pretty vigilant about any activity outside that door.  I didn’t get any good pictures of the robins, but I did get a few of Lucy.

I’ve found that my oils and pastels turn out much better if I do a detailed pencil sketch to really study the composition and work out the shapes and values.  Overall I liked the sketch  but there was too much foreground.  I was going for a feeling of coziness with snow and cold outside the door, so I decided to leave in the rocking chair and granny square afghan (made by my granny, better known as Baba).  I let those details sink into the shadows so that Lucy could remain the starring attraction.

I had just watched a DVD by Richard McKinley about the stages in creating a pastel.  I wanted to experiment with Pastelmat but wasn’t sure if I could do a watercolor underpainting like McKinley sometimes does. Some pastel paper will buckle  or get too soggy if you wet it.  My ace advisor, Nancy Vance, said she thought it would work but backed up her advice with a reference to Karen Margulis’s blog.

(Sometimes I need a village to get the job done.)

So I transferred the basics from the sketch to the Pastelmat and did the watercolor underpainting.  The paper reacted differently than the UART paper that I’m used to, just as Karen said it would.


With a solid underpainting it seemed like the pastel painted itself.  I started with the darks and worked from large areas to smaller ones.  Usually I’m in too big of a hurry, but I did this painting in increments over several days, taking my time and leaving details until the end.  Here’s “Lucy on the Lookout” or “Watching Robins in the Snow”.

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