25 December 2007

The end of the year

The year is almost over. Time to tie projects up and declare the unfinished ones finished. The weather right now is spectacular so I hope to still fit a few more plein-air pieces. I've learnt about chalky painting surfaces , Gamblin grey and transparent colors (thanks Jennifer), portable easels, composition and value matching. I am extremely grateful for the lessons learned, and not only the painting ones. I am very grateful for the new friendships and the fact that I still see the glow of hope in life. I have invested a lot of my self-worth in my art and it is time to spread the wealth and paint more but invest less. Not everything has been easy for sure. I still need to deal with my tiny and cold studio, but we will get there.
For now, I just want to feat my eyes in the water of recent rain and the beautiful freeways that fly like cathedrals over the last flaming plantains.

28 November 2007

Meeting James Gurney

Today at work at met James Gurney, the author of the acclaimed series of "Dinotopia" books.
He even signed a copy of "Journey to Chandara" with a little dinosaur doodle for me. He is a remarkable illustrator. In this book there are clear influences from Gerome and the "Orientalistes" as well as from Alma Tadema and other decimononic painters. The first thing that struck me was the similarity of the cover -which I won't reproduce here- with the Leon Belly painting : "Pilgrims to Mecca". It is a good exercise of inspiration without plagiarism. Even though I love his landscapes and I took a good look at his amazing travel notebooks (unpublished) I still think his human characters are not properly integrated and look as if they are just modern people with operatic costumes and hairdos straight out of Supercuts.
Nevertheless, he is a great illustrator by any measure.

07 November 2007

Jury Duty

I had Jury duty yesterday and I thought to myself. Great. may be I'll be able to practice my greyscale drawings there. I did. And now I am addicted to the little suckers. I even made one while waiting for an oil change this morning.

Downtown Los Angeles, who knew, has some nice views around "Angels Flight", a quite pathetic little tram in the middle of nothing. And more importantly, what a discovery it was to see the Grand Central Market! Oh my oh my oh my (gasp for air) . If you can get a couple of bodyguards it must be the best place to paint...evah! Sure there are hookers and hobos and nasty looking security that couldn't outrun a dead lizard but the colors! ...and the the prices for produce are ridiculous!

( A few minutes later) Well, I called the manager at Grand Central Market and she thought that I was either going to rent a stall, paint the walls or do a graffiti performance. I don't know what she thought. Some people live in this bubble .... She just said "No you can't 'paint' , goodbye'". I'll prove her wrong soon enough. Now it is a challenge.


...and day Three

I was not feeling all that well this day but I managed to produce a quite "delicious" little piece to quote Miss McChristian. Again, she had good suggestions and I am very eager to see if I can use some of the "revelations" on my own next time.

I like this painting because it is both bucolic and urban. The "urban" side is merely a suggestion of cars in a freeway and a lightpost hidden behind the trees.

28 October 2007

Workshop . Day Two.

So we arrived with NO homework done to speak off. I mean, we are all so damn busy during the week. But everybody had made little improvements to their setup: a new gesso'ed canvas here, some new colors there...
We did a gray-scale drawing with three values. It as amazing to see that such a simple exercise would simplify the scene a big deal and become a road map for the painting. My usual mistakes: punching contrasts too much, over-detailing of areas that are not the foucs of interest, etc...became apparent in 5 minutes. I am enthusiastic about this technique and shall exercise it often.
We painted our hearts out while Jennifer hovered around giving pointers that mostly dealt with the true observation of color. The scene had little contrast due to the gloomy day but that made the work even more of a challenge. Jennifer made some color corrections as I painted. I tend to automatically blend the backdrop of mountains with the sky color. Not this time. I tend to eliminate warmth from the sky the same way children paint all tree trunks brown. Not this time. Jennifer's notes were dead on. Note to self: Observation has no shortcuts. Nature will be obeyed. I loved the result and I a glad I organized this workshop.

22 October 2007

The workshop. Part deux.

The workshop tested our endurance of heat as the Santa Ana weather created really hot conditions in the middle of October. But we all soldiered along as Jennifer laid her big dark shapes first. She doesn't fuss with color, she observes , mixes a clean batch and applies with accurate eye leaving the lighter areas and thin calligraphic details for the end. There is very little on-canvas blending or scrubbing. McChristian is a sharp-shooter and the queen of economy as far as the amount of paint or meddling with the paints. A good brush stroke is worth more than a thousand smudges.

The workshop

We finally gathered for the Jennifer Mc Christian workshop at the Verdant Equestrian Center in Atwater. Jennifer was a little nervous. She is a novice in this "teaching" business after all. But she did a great job at laying out her techniques and materials. We are an eclectic group at very different levels of experience and that was a concern . However, there was something for everyone. Jennifer has a technique that she has refined by studying other artists (like Kevin Mc Phearson et al. ) and accommodating it for herself.
She uses canvas that she gessoed and sanded herself taped to the surface of her Guerrilla pochade box. We used color "isolators" and viewfinders and some red gel whatchamathingie to understand value. jennifer demoe's how to do a value study as a roadmap for the whole painting. Strong design stands out even form afar.

09 October 2007

The lesson of nature

The main breakthrough while I was in San Luis Obispo was the fact that I understood that the nature outside is not the only important subject in a painting. Most painters understand color and composition but the really good ones understand that the painting is a natural ecosystem in itself. Color and matter and texture help us recreate the natural world outside by acting as themselves, not being forced and overworked. Watercolor needs to flow like watercolor and oil needs to behave like oil. pounding the materials only makes them dull and lifeless.

08 October 2007

San Luis Obispo was fantastic.

I will try to condense my S.L.O. experience in three or four posts because there was so much to love during the plein-air week I haven't slept for the last two nights just reminiscing.
First: The landscape is painters' heaven: majestic barns, statuesque cows, glowing vineyards, solemn eucalyptus, plunging cliffs, derelict tractors and mystic marshes... heaven. Second: The event organizers were simply the best and they worked so hard at making it all run smoothly I can't still fathom how they did it. Third: The other painters were in*credible. They managed to complete at least 6 paintings in 4 days with stunning results in quality and sales. I am so humbled by the experience and so pumped. Fourth: The sales were awesome ...but enought about that. And finally, a special word of thanks goes to my immensely gracious hostess Mary Cardoza. She has a zest and a sparkle and a compassion most twenty-somethings would and should envy.
A word a gratitude here for Wendy at the Art Center for her generosity and to Kevin Mc Gavin from "Just Looking" gallery for his interest and for saving my framing skills in a pinch.

Love, Jose

22 September 2007

Lincoln Heights, hidden paradise.

Oh no no, Don't think palm trees and beaches. This is a rust and cement paradise as only the mangled urban planning in urban America can manage. The kind of planning that converts the original floor of the town into a basement. Jennifer, Eric and I had a blast painting in this area which is about to explode with lofts and gentrification. For now, it is full with the carcases of giant hangars and railways to nowhere, bridges and graffiti.

09 September 2007

Global Warming is here

Los Angeles reached 110 degrees last Labor day weekend. It was miserable. And yet, Iwent out to paint. Besides shifting light, plein-air painters are exposed to the weather. Can you capture weather in painting? If you ever saw a Miyazaki movie you know weather can be evoked. In his movies, the landscapes are more of a character than any of the humans that populate them.

Little witty tid-bits aside. This is what I managed in the 100PLUS weather. It is a view of an Altadena road. After painting this I have observed cars more closely. Nothing in a landscape can be brighter than the metallic reflection of the sun on a car's body on a sunny day . Not even the sky. From now on, I'll keep this in mind to be able to evoke the specular glints that make cars so distinct.

20 August 2007

A purchase

I was surprised my partner Armando took to like Jennifer McChristian's art so much. Armando and I have such different tastes in painting. That is a testament to the fact that good art tends to be universal. So we bought the painting we are standing by. We are officially collectors of McChristian's work now.

Non-descript urban

I painted this Glendale bridge in an outing with mega-talented Jennifer McChristian. We stood on a freeway ramp in the summer heat.

If you have to travel for 100 miles to find some pristine area of majestic natural beauty, you are painting something less and less people get to see on a daily basis. That is unfortunate, but it is a fact of our time. Today's urban painters might have no money for gas to travel to Wyoming and be "pretend-cowboys" for a month and appeal to real estate developers with large canvases of mountains soon to be developed, crouching cougars and long-gone scenes of native-american nostalgia with silly titles like "Sorrow in their eyes" or "Warriors of the plains." Carl Rungius, Clyde Aspevig, Howard Terpening, Bill Anton and others have earned their place in art history for sure but can this retro kitsch be held for long? Same goes for european traveler wannabe aesthetes inflicting yet another Tuscany SingerSargent-y farmhouse watercolor on the world. It sells but ... it leaves you with that vanished world emptiness, you might as well have painted the Roman Forum in its full 30BC splendor.

I see a trend to paint what it is in your backyard, even if it is a freeway. The time will come when it also becomes difficult to paint a beautiful industrial/urban wasteland but for now...

29 July 2007

Why I hate Los Angeles in summer...

The model fell asleep in the 100 degree heat....and my studio is sweltering and lacks ventilation so I can't finish anything until the temperatures fall or I'll die of heat exhaustion and fumes inhalation.

Labeling Cuba 20's style

I am done! I am done! I successfuly finished this long drawn-out commission of a painting: The island of Cuba, yes, the map of Cuba. I consider this more of a "label" than a true painting. It has the national bird, flower, coat of arms and a couple of scenes from Camaguey and Habana. In the last minute I added a poem form Dulce Maria Loynaz in the bottom (not visible in this pic) that reads "Rodeada del mar por todas partes, isla asida al tallo de los vientos..." or "Surrounded by the sea all around , island knotted to the winds' stem..."

Sheesh, it's hot.

I made this painting while escaping from a tumultuous family reunion in Palm Springs. I started it late so as not to be killed by the heat. Light conditions changed fast. A lady called Diana stopped her SUV and commented "Good, I'm glad you are documenting the natural beauty around here before it all starts looking like Los Angeles."

11 July 2007

The horror, I made a Kinkade!

So what happens when you overwork the glows and the ambers of late evenings in your painting? You actually get something resembling a Kinkade. I might have been aiming for a Frederick E Church..... but hell no, I got this victorian pastiche with american flag included (It was July 4th). That said, I still like it so here it is. It is definitely time for me to find less bucolic subjects , they reek of bourgeois contentment and melancholic nonsense! Next thing you know I'll be titling this "Walking the Dog" or something cute like that.

"Walking the Dog" 16x20" Oil on canvas.

01 July 2007

Et in Arcadia ego.

Well, not quite Poussin's Arcadia, but Pasadena. I returned to the corner of Meridith and OakGlen and spent a good 4 hours hammering at this painting. It still needs 30 more minutes because the right side is lacking definition and , as a result of the long time spent in the street, the shadows seem a little incoherent. This will be my entry for the Playhouse District Artwalk Contest.

25 June 2007

Einstein's hood

Yesterday I left late on purpose to capture the evening light. The theme of my painting had to be "Streets of Pasadena" for an upcoming contest. I drove around a while and realized that Pasadena is place ill-suited for the narrative larger-scale landscape. The only big perspectives that haven't been painted to death (say, the Colorado Bridge or City Hall) consist of long rows of trees filtering the light. Heavenly but too abstract a subject. Because even the business district of Pasadena is too "prettyfied" , I am convinced Pasadena's best paintings are to be found in private backyards but I am usually taken by a hobo while I scout around nosily so invitations haven't been forthcoming. ha ha.

In the process of searching I stumbled upon what I thought could have been Einstein's house. A reward for my exploratory ways? The guys at Cal-Tech corrected me. Einstein lived in 707 South Oakland in 1931, not this house. Darn.

Picture from the Einstein's Papers Project website. Reproduced without permission.

I finally settled the corner of Oakdale and Meridith close to Cal Tech. I'll post the results soon. This is Einstein's bungalow:

22 June 2007

Donna's garden

Two weeks ago I painted two scenes in one sitting each. Donna Wolff was moving out of her house so she allowed me to paint from inside her very steep property in Mt. Washington. Her garden was somewhat "gaudi-esque" full of nooks and crannies.

This was a quick sketch from the street. Lovely row of trash cans made a good impression.

21 June 2007

Jose's Art Journal Inaugural Post

One step a time, or like grandma used to say:
"From lillypad to lillypad, the frog crosses the lake".