Abandoned Mine Building, LaGrange California

In the hills just a mile or two outside of LaGrange California is the remnants of a mining complex.  I don’t know the history of it, but it appears to be associated with gold dredging in the nearby Tuolumne River.  I stumbled on the small cluster of buildings several years ago almost by accident.  I wasn’t prepared for a plein air painting opportunity (I should have been) but at least I had my camera with me.  This is a 20″ x 16″ oil on linen studio painting from the photo.  It makes me want to go back with my gear and paint on site…

Young Asian Girl – A Quick Portrait Study in Oil – Step by Step

I had painted this lovely young woman during an open session at Patris’ Studio and Gallery in Oak Park, Sacramento about a year ago. Fortunately I had taken a picture of her at the same time. During yet another rainy day – we are drenched and flooding is happening all over the area after a five year drought! – I found the photo and did a quick sketch on an 8×10 oil primed linen panel.

Step One: I started with a drawing directly on the panel using a small bristle filbert and a mix of transparent oxide red and yellow ochre, both Rembrandt oils. I established the size and location of the head on the panel first, then followed with ‘mapping’ the general location of the facial features.
Step two: I don’t like the lower portion of the face. If he relationships of the features, one to another. is wrong at this early stage, it will be impossible to get a likeness without a lot of repainting and ‘fixing’ later on. Using a paper towel, I gently wipe the wet paint.  I don’t want to wipe it entirely off…which I could do.  But this time, I wipe and “paint” at the same time with the towel as my brush.  That gets rid of most of the sketch in the jaw area as well as the lip line.  In addtion the smeared color begins to model the form of the head by loosely establishing where the midtones and darks will be. This in turn helps me see where specific shapes and features should be with more accuracy.


Step 3: The wider shape of the fact is much clearer to me now. I re-establish the jaw line and the proper placement of the lips in relation to the chin is more obvious. The very first darks are located.


Step 4: There are not many darks in the face…it will be mostly halftone shades. The very dark, nearly black hair will frame it.


Step 5: The halftones are added, working from darkest toward lightest. At this point the white of the canvas represents the lightest tones of the skin. A dark background seems the best choice. I use a color of the same value as the hair, but a different overall hue. The final steps happen so quickly that I forgot to take photos, but they were done in approximately this order. The eyes are drawn in with a soft pointed synthetic brush. (I also realize that I have allowed the eyes to ‘drift’ upward a little. It’s relatively easy to re-drawn and lower them slightly at this time.) Using the same brush, the pupils are drawn with almost pure black. A small bit of color is added to lower pupil area. A few highlights are added. The lightest lights are painted into the area of the cheek bones and on the bridge of the nose. Some of the darker areas are restated and transitional halftones leading from darker to lighter are added to smooth the surface of the skin and to enhance the overall modeling of the head.
The final study: This small study is done. There are corrections and additions that could be made, but the goal of painting the head without overworking it has been accomplished. (Actually I could have…and maybe should have…stopped a little sooner.  I heard a painter once say that the hardest lesson to learn was to stop 15 minutes before the painting was done.  I couldn’t agree more…and yet it is great advice. And it is hard to learn, indeed.   But even so, the likeness is pretty good, the modeling of the face is OK…and there are many lessons learned. That’s the hoped for outcome of a quick study on a rainy afternoon. I’m happy.  Total time was less than two hours.



Painting Ted – Step by Step

Recently I had a chance to paint with fellow artists Ted Smith and Howard Rees just outside of Jackson California in the Gold Country foothills. It was one of those days that seemed to threaten rain constantly and yet when the sun managed to break through, the light effects were gorgeous. I snapped a lot of landscape photos for future use and just incidentally took some of my fellow painters.  The one below is of Ted Smith.


One evening, while going through my photos looking for painting subject matter I came across the pictures of Ted.  I liked the one below, so I played around with cropping and eventually tried my favorite landscape canvas ratio of 1:2 (6×12, 8×16, 10×20, etc).  I decided to do a portrait of Ted using that format.  Here is the cropped reference photo I used for the painting.

I had a 10 X 20 Ampersand Gessobord panel in the studio.  Gessobord is a very fine grained panel and takes paint much differently than canvas or linen.  I’ve done a couple of small paintings on it, and I’ve been intrigued by its unusual properties.  But I don’t have a lot of experience with it, particularly at this medium size; however, it was handy so I plunged in.

Gessobord is very smooth.  There is no grain or texture at all.  However it is fairly absorbent so to facilitate easy paint application, I brushed a small amount of linseed oil over the surface, and then immediately wiped it down with a rag, leaving only a thin film. The linseed oil eliminates any ‘drag’ and permits the brush to glide over the surface of the panel.  It’s just wonderful to sketch on that surface!  Although I was working from a photo, I wanted to proceed as though I was painting from life, so I did not use a grid or transfer paper.  I began sketching directly onto the canvas with the photo showing on my computer monitor.  (I need a bigger monitor!)  I used a small bristle filbert and a mixture of transparent oxide red and a little ultramarine.

This is the ‘final’ sketch just before starting to lay in color.  I established the darks (shadows!) in the foreground areas, but left the background alone.  I was conscious of the need to keep Ted and the easel well separated from the middle and background of the painting.  The fact that Ted and his easel were in bright light with distinct shadows while the background was mostly cloudy and without shadows was the key to doing just that.

With the sketch done, I put in the basic color notes.  Notice how the totally smooth surface of the Gessobord combined with the linseed oil makes the first oil application look almost like watercolor.  When done carefully and intentionally, that can be an interesting effect and something to remember for the future.  For my purposes, the important thing is that the white surface is covered and colors and values are suggested. Also, when dry, the first layer of thin paint will form a ‘barrier’ on the surface of the panel, reducing the absorption.  Subsequent applications of paint will lay on the surface and appear richer and more substantial.  The next phase is to adjust values where necessary primarily by refining colors in shadow and light.

Now the painting becomes fun!  The paint goes on with texture and intensity.  I am also searching for a likeness since ultimately, this is a portrait!  I spend a little time on the easel and the stretched canvas as well, since these are important pieces of the story of Ted and therefore of his portrait.  I’ve left out Ted’s glasses so far, primarily because I don’t want to have to paint around them while also trying to capture the subtle transitions in the shadow of the hat.  Later, I wrestle with whether to put Ted’s glasses in the portrait, but finally, like the easel, the glasses are a part of Ted.  It isn’t quite him without them.   The painting is nearing completion. Yep…the glasses were important!  The last steps include a little modelling and final touches.  It’s done.

Portrait of Ted Smith, Artist.   10×20 oil on Panel

Eva — A Portrait Study in Oil

Eva is a study done on Classen’s oil primed linen temporarily taped to gator board.  it is approximately 16″ x 12″.  The painting was 90% completed in about 2 1/2 hours and then was allowed to dry for several days. I then oiled it out and worked almost every part of the painting to a higher degree of finish.  Primarily I modeled the form, pushed and pulled edges and darkened many of the darks with a richer mixture of cad red medium and ultramarine deep, both Rembrandt brand oils.


Female Portrait Study on Oil Paper

I’ve been enjoying exploring the properties of the Arches Oil paper…which is essentially a 140# watercolor paper treated to resist deterioration by oil paints. It can be painted on straight from the pad, no other prep or sizing needed. The manufacturer does not claim the paper is ‘archival’, but that it will not be affected by oil mediums. That’s plenty good enough for studies…and much cheaper than linen canvas. This study is approximately 16″ x 12″ and was done from a photo reference.

Gallery 10 Show In Sutter Creek – You Are Invited.

gallery-10-show-october-20a6I hope you can drop by to visit with Howard Rees and me at the reception for our joint show, “A Mixed Bag”.    We call the show that because it is a collection of a bit of everything: Watercolor and Oil, Plein air and studio work, landscapes and seascapes, still life and portraits.  We think the mixture is fun and demonstrates our mutual enthusiasm for painting of any kind.  Please come by and say hi.








Mr. Rembrandt Tribute Accepted in New Jersey Gallery Show!

The Village West Gallery in New Jersey put out a call to artists to submit entries for their “Under the Influence” show to be held in September and October.  The idea for the show was that artists influence one another.  Each artist was asked to submit a particular work that was inspired by another and also provide a copy of the inspiration.  42 artists (and their influences) were chosen for this show, which will be up at Village West Gallery at 331 Newark Avenue in downtown Jersey City, as well as in a satellite location at 150 Pacific Avenue in the Bergen Lafayette section of Jersey City during the month of October.  I am happy to say that my painting, “A Self Portrait With Apologies to Mr. Rembrandt” was among the work selected.

All of the entries can be seen here: http://villagewestgallery.com/past/undertheinfluence/influence.html

By clicking on a particular entry, you will also see the work that influenced it and a statement by the artist about the influence.  Below is my painting and the work my Mr. Rembrandt which inspired it.  Here’s the statement I included with my submission (I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which!):

“What painter hasn’t studied the work of Rembrandt van Rijn with admiration? His majestic pieces grace every art history textbook and millions of coffee tables around the world. But tucked away among the dramatic masterworks that Rembrandt produced is a simple, slightly odd self portrait that has fascinated me since I first saw it. This tiny painting, roughly 6″ x 5”, shows the very young artist appearing to turn quickly to the viewer with a startled, wide-eyed expression. Was he interrupted while deeply lost in the creation of a painting? Was the interloper someone unexpected or not entirely welcome? While one would never compare the two paintings, it is a more intriguing expression than that of the Mona Lisa, in my opinion.

For reasons I could never explain, I decided to copy Mr. Rembrandt’s fascinating little painting but insert my own image. I justified this sacrilege by telling myself that while I am certainly no young man, I am also no Rembrandt.

2016-5 PO Hancock Portrait 8 x 10 Self Portrait with Apologies to Rembrandt





Main Street, Locke (Plein Air)

I find endless painting opportunities in this tiny Delta town.  I never tire of spending a morning or afternoon sketching or painting among the leaning, fragile looking buildings of Main Street.  Recently there was a fire in the second story of one of the structures.  It is a miracle that the entire town wasn’t lost. It was a sobering reminder that one day, little or nothing will be left.  Now is the time to capture the unique feeling of this one of a kind place.

Old Well Cafe & Motel (Plein Air)

Painting with my artist friend Ruth Andre (http://ruthandre.com/) in Drytown California, I focused on the Old Well Cafe & Motel, one of only a few buildings in the tiny gold rush town.  We stood in the shade of a tree next to a monument erected to the gold miners who found gold in the creek running through Drytown in 1849.  I’ve painted at least three other versions of the Old Well, and I think this is my best attempt so far.  Practice counts!

An enjoyable morning in beautiful country.

Lazy Day in Murphys

The California Gold Rush country is full of the most fascinating little towns and scattered buildings from that era.  One of my favorites of all the towns is Murphys California.  I have taken several workshops in Murphys including one from Kathleen Dunphy.  I have visited other times just to enjoy the town, have a beer and hamburger at the Historic Murphys Inn, sip wine at Ironstone Vineyards and generally just soaked up the beautiful country side.  I have painted en plein air there many times, however this painting was done entirely in the studio from several photographs taken during one of my visits.  This charming home just off of the main street is actually a bed and breakfast now.  I don’t know its history, but I was drawn to the shady quiet street with this beautiful building almost lost in the trees and growth.

I’m not sure when I took the photographs, but I finally got around to trying to paint this tranquil scene.  I think I got the feeling of a quiet summer day in Murphys.  This is 20″ x 16″ on stretched canvas.

No You Decide! – Summer on the Andre Ranch- Plein Air

As I mentioned in a previous post, I spent a recent hot summer day painting at artist friend Ruth Andre’s ranch in the gold country foothills. This was my second painting.  I was huddled in a tiny spot of shade under my umbrella and still nearly passed out.  (Well, not quite, but you know…it was HOT!)  I marveled at how Ruth’s two horses stood for close to two hours in the direct sunlight, even though they had a nice covered shed nearby.  It seems that there wasn’t an ounce of sense between the three of us!

This is the ranch from near the creek.  I made the charming ranch house much more rustic than it actually is.  I’d like to claim that I did it on purpose, but it might have been my eyesight failing from heat stroke.  (Well, again, no really, but…..)

This is on a 12″ x 9″ raymar panel.  My quick preliminary sketch is below.

Ruth and Tom's Place 2016-12





In the Shade By the Little Stream – Plein Air

Summer is coming on, and in the foothills of the gold rush country of California the lush green grasses of late winter and spring have turned to golden brown.  And as the rains and snow cease higher up, the little springs and creeks that flow to the flatlands of the Central Valley begin to shrink.

I journeyed to visit my artist friend Ruth Andre and her husband Tom for a day of plein air painting at their small ranch tucked away in a small valley in the foothills.  ( ruthandre.com )  Bordering the property is this small creek.  Ruth tells me that recently it was flowing full and swift, but on this summer day, it was laying in small interconnected pools.  It was very hot in the sun, but in the shadows of the trees that line the creek it was cool and inviting.  I knew I was biting off a difficult scene for a quick plein air painting, but I decided that maybe I could do it almost monochromatic, with just a suggestion of color here and there.

Here’s my preliminary sketch and the final result on 8″ x 16″ RayMar canvas panel.

The creek on Ruth's ranch 2016-13




Summer Morning on a Bishop California Ranch – Plein Air

One evening, after a day of plein air painting in Bishop, our small group of painters drove around looking for subject matter for the next morning.  When we drove by this scene, we knew we could stop looking and get the paints ready.  In the morning, with the owner’s permission, we set up inside the gates and spent the next three hours painting happily away.  And listening to the cows, who wouldn’t shut up!

This plein air painting is done on 16″ x 12″ linen panel.  The location is along Pine Creek Road, Bishop California.

A Summer Day at Lake Sabrina – Plein Air

One of the amazing things about the Eastern Slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range is the way the mountains seem to jut up from the high desert landscape without warning.  One moment you are diving along the nearly flat desert floor and the next you feel as if you might run into the mountain!  There’s little or no transition from one to the other.  And the Sierras do rise up fast!  A case in point was this painting location.  Only about a 30 minute ride from Bishop California, Lake Sabrina is at a whopping 9,100 feet!  And it is surrounded on three sides by sheer rock walls that go much higher.  On this day, it was cooler than the desert floor…at least according to the thermometer….but the thin atmosphere let every one of the sun’s rays through and it felt HOT!  The clear blue sky reflected brilliantly in the water.

I painted this scene of rental boats waiting for fisherman on a 16″ x 12″ linen panel in about 2 hours.  In the heat and the altitude, it seemed much longer….but wow, was it crystal clear and beautiful. I tried to capture some of the intensity of the color and the sunlight.

Summer on the Eastern Slope – Bishop California

Bishop California is on the Eastern Slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  Unlike the Western Slope, where miles of rolling foothills slowly transition from the Valley floor into the rugged Sierras, on the Eastern side, the mountains seem to shoot up from the high desert country almost without warning.  They seem to loom over everything and their size and majesty is almost startling.  The diversity of California’s landscape is amazing.  Bishop remains a small but active city with a distinctly ‘cowboy’ feel to it.  It’s a fun place to visit because of the range of subject matter.  In the morning, it’s possible to paint a ranch scene and in the afternoon paint a lake at 9,000 feet only 30 minutes away.  And that’s what we did.  This scene is along  Warm Springs Road, looking to the West.



Jackie – Oil painting from life

The longer I paint, the more I understand that there is really no substitute for painting from living models or from life.  It can be a still life, a plein air landscape, or as in this case, a portrait sketch.  Each offers the exciting challenge of translating a living scene into oil paint on canvas.  The alternative, painting from memory or from photographs is a poor substitute most of the time.  Sometimes it can’t be avoided, of course.  The artist who paints a subject that exists in his or her own mind has special requirements and special skills.  The painter of children’s portraits has to rely on fleeting impressions to bring life to photos of the subject – or be patient beyond my poor abilities!

This is an oil sketch of Jackie, done at Patris’s Art Studio and Gallery.  http://patrisstudiogallery.blogspot.com/  I am indebted to Patris for this weekly opportunity to practice.  Her boundless artistic energy allows her to create her own art, run a full art Gallery and also provide constant opportunities for all other artists to use her space for workshops and open studio sessions.  In her spare time, she is able to find and engage lovely models like Jackie for the ongoing open sessions.  Here’s my painting in development with model Jackie in the background.

Thank you Patris and Jackie!

2016-7 PO Hancock Portrait 12 x 9 Jackie small

Self Portrait – with apologies to Mr. Rembrandt

I’ve never done a self portrait before, mostly because I can never find a mirror when I need one.  But a couple of months ago, the Sacramento Fine Arts Center did their second annual “Inspired by the Masters” show.  The idea is to paint a copy of a work by a Master or paint an original work in the style of a Master.  My painting “Campaspe” in the manner of John Godward, won the Best of Show in the inaugural event I’m pleased to note.  For this most recent show, I decided to do a self portrait using the style of Rembrandt who painted many self-portraits over his life time.  The particular painting I based my SP on was done by Rembrandt when he was a very young man.  In fact, it is often called “Self Portrait as a Young Man” although I think that was a name assigned by curators to help differentiate between other SPs done by him.  The silence of the reception my painting received at the SFAC show was deafening.  I guess there weren’t any Rembrandt admirers there.  Or maybe there were!  Hmmm…..

The original work was done with heavy impasto (thick paint) in goopy, ropey texture which wasn’t that common in Mr. R’s work, I don’t believe.  The painting was (is) also VERY small at only 6″ x 5″!!  My copy, with my own mug inserted, is 10″ x 8″ on panel. I had fun trying to mimic the heavy impasto texture and the stippling effect that texture had on the paint.  I also did a LOT of glazing, particularly on the shadow across the face.  It was the only way I could figure out how to match the depth of the shadow done by the Master.  A fun painting to do!  I’ve now entered it in the Jerry’s Artarama (a major online source of art supplies) self portrait contest.  Maybe the judge will be a fan of Mr. R’s.  Wait, maybe that wouldn’t be a good thing!


McClatchy Library, Sacramento Plein Air Oil

It was so cold and cloudy yesterday morning that I decided against joining a group of painters for a MeetUp downtown, but at the last minute the sun came out and I changed my mind (again!).  The subject was the Ella K McClatchy branch of the Sacramento County Library, located in the midtown area, a region of stately old homes and tree shaded streets.  Frankly, I had never seen the McClatchy branch of the Library and I was a little disappointed speaking strictly from a painting perspective.  The building has a long distinguished history, but is fairly plain without a lot of appeal.  Some of the houses located nearby were much more attractive subjects, but with the direction of the light and the company of a couple of other artists in mind, I set up across the street from the library.

The first task was to make a sketch to determine what I would paint and where I might find a focus for the painting.  Once again the 15 minutes I spent on this seemingly innocuous task made all the difference.  What became immediately obvious was that painting the entire building would be too much for the limited time I had, not to mention that much of the building did not have any areas of interest…just flat two story walls.  I zoomed in on the entrance to the library and came up with this rough sketch…

2016-4PA Hancock Plein Air 9 x 12 sketch


From this sketch I could see that by using the cast tree shadows and other natural shaded dark areas, the the very light walls above the entrance and the columns  and column bases on one or both sides would become prominent….and surround the dark entrance making a focus.

Since I had arrived late the eastern morning sun that lit up the building was moving quickly overhead and soon the entire face of the building would be in shade, so I had to paint quickly.  I chose a small 9 x 12 oil primed panel and resolved to ‘put it down and leave it’!  For the most part, I did.  With a mixture of transparent oxide red and ultramarine (my favorite ‘dark” mixture) and a broad soft brush, I painted in all of the shadow areas without sketching in the building first.  It was interesting how the shape and form of the building – and the painting – jumped right out from this single value block in.  In fact, at this point a passer-by was kind enough to comment favorably on the painting….but in a sense there really wasn’t one.  That struck me….one of those little aha! moments.  I wish I had snapped an iPhone pic at that point.  But it’s something to remember.

the rest of the painting was adding color among and around the shadow block-in and a few broadly painted “details” to make sense out of the forms.  I resisted strongly the urge to paint window and door frames and even the entrance, where I had started to “draw” them in, I stopped.  It’s surprising how that leads one to “know” what is there, and yet it doesn’t become an undesirable focus.  My total painting time….not including the sketch…was about one hour.

2016-4PA Hancock Plein Air 9 x 12 Ella K