Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Mobile Painting Studio

It's mid-November and we've slipped into a cold spell here in central Pennsylvania (like much of the rest of the nation), but it was a beautiful fall season and I tried to make the most of it with several plein air painting outings. Now that I'm beginning to explore oil painting, I'm delighted to combine two of my favorite things in the world: Bike riding and painting!

The result? A mobile and nimble painting studio. Woo hoo!

The benefits extend beyond getting a workout. Thanks to the lighter and leaner set up associated with oils, as opposed to hauling a bunch of pastel sticks into the field, I can now get to more rural locations and places off the beaten path. It's genuinely tricky to find safe places to pull off of Pennsylvania's narrow, winding backroads. Arriving by bike solves that issue.

In addition, we have fantastic mountain biking trails in our area. And while I'm not the least bit technically astute for the rocky trails, I can handle basic trails. Even this low level of proficiency opens up a whole bunch of possibilities for me, which is perfect because I've been increasingly intrigued by interior woodland subjects in my recent landscapes.

Shown here is my set up on my mountain bike from a recent outing to the Scotia Gamelands near our home. I use two back wheel panniers and a rear tire rack to carry everything that I need. Of course, it helps that today's cell phones also double as decent cameras and portable music players. With this compact set up, I'm able to take everything I need, including snacks. It's fantastic fun and I look forward to doing more of this when the weather warms up a bit again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Figuratively Speaking

Cool Contemplation original pastel
"Cool Contemplation" 20 x 30 original pastel

I've been on a figurative kick with my recent pastel pieces, and my latest works, "Cool Contemplation" and "Brown Bagging It," continue this trend.

I enjoy the myriad stories that these subjects evoke. If I wasn't an artist, then my back up career plan would have been to become a writer (I've always been extremely pragmatic; I even started my college education as a music major). And I think that's why these subjects are so compelling to me because I have an opportunity to share a story with the viewer while diving in with bold colors and shapes.

"Brown Bagging It" 18 x 18 original pastel

I'm really enjoying creating these works, and as I dive deeper into working with oil paints, you'll start to see these themes pop up there, too. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Something Different

Lady Slipper Painting, in progress

Above: Pink Lady Slipper 12 x 18 original oil on canvas in progress on my studio easel

Occasionally, I like to take on projects that are different from the artwork that I usually create. Right now, I'm working on a commissioned piece for a client that features a Pink Ladyslipper flower. I decided to do this work in oil, and I'm having a lot of fun channeling my inner Georgia O'Keefe. This is a sneak preview of the work in progress on my easel as well as a glimpse of my palette as I work. I love immersing myself in the colors of this medium!

Palette with Paint

Above: My Palette I'm really enjoying the challenge of mixing and applying colors in oil. I think I've found a new lifelong endeavor...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Double Easel Threat?

It's like bad urban sprawl in my studio these days. After repeated struggles to change my workspace from pastel to oil, I got sick of the "toggling" from one set up to another and I just decided to invest in a second easel. I'm chuckling at myself because now I'm becoming like one of those artists that I've seen photographed in books about "Artists in Their Studios." Y'know, the ones who have about thirty different easels and tubes of paint lying everywhere.

But in all seriousness, this is a big deal for me because I'm quite a minimalist with my set up. Unlike the stereotype of the eccentric artist, I don't like clutter and chaos. But I had a drafting table in the corner of my studio that I just didn't use any more, so I replaced it with another easel that will be used exclusively for my oil painting. This makes life a lot easier for me because I run an air filtration unit when I work with pastel, and it's not the easiest thing to take that apart and remove it each time I want to spontaneously pop an oil painting up and start working.

Behold Oil on masonite, 30" x 30".

Shown here is the spiffy new easel as well as a new cityscape in progress, "Behold." For me, this is a fairly large piece measuring 30" square. It's on Masonite in a 3" birch cradle and it's based on a study that I did in pastel earlier this year, Study, Behold. I still need to put the finishing touches on this piece, not least of which include the storefront window reflections to the properly set the depth of this composition. I've been sneaking in snippets of clandestine studio time to work on this in the midst of other work with my pastels. But I thought I would share a sneak preview with you as long as I'm yammering about the great furniture shuffle in my studio. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Recent Landscapes

It's summer and I've been painting out in the field in between our torrential downpours this season, but because I haven't been out as much as I would like, I've focused on some landscape subjects inspired by other seasons. These two new additions celebrate seasons that I would almost prefer over summer were it not for the fact that summertime is the best time for veggie gardening.
Winter Passenger

Winter Passenger 16 x 24 original pastel

Nonetheless, here are two brand new pieces, fresh off the easel. The first is Winter Passenger, a work inspired by a rural road here in Centre County. This is a location that I discovered through my bike riding, and during a particularly beautiful stretch of winter this past season, I thought it may be a worthwhile location to check out. I was richly rewarded by this gorgeous sunset.
Autumn Dance

Autumn Dance 16 x 20 original pastel

The second piece is Autumn Dance, a landscape from the interior woodlands of Poe Valley State Park. I liked this subject because of the movement of fall color throughout the composition. Enjoy!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Outdoor Office of Summer

It's a busy summer. While I'll be the first to admit that my artistic output has been a bit sluggish, it's because behind the scenes I'm moving my entire portfolio web site to a new hosting platform and I'm updating the email service that I use to send quarterly updates to my clients. Nonetheless, apart from these bureaucratic activities, I'm preparing for a couple of upcoming art shows, the Long's Park Art and Craft Festival as well as the Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show in Philadelphia. And as part of an overall juggling act, I continue to work steadily at my oil painting. I'm slow. I don't have any new pieces to show just yet, but I have lots of ideas and I'm really excited about this new frontier. I hope to have some things to share with you later this fall. Stay tuned.

My Easel in Reeds Gap State Park
Maple in Reeds Gap State Park

In the meantime, when it all gets to be a bit too much, I enjoy retreating to my "outdoor office" of plein air painting. Last week, I ventured down to Reeds Gap State Park and I spent the whole day working outside on a couple of small landscapes along Honey Creek. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I worked in Honey Creek. One of the advantages of using a metal easel (I have a Soltek easel), is that I can put it right in the water. It's a stiff test for my Gore Tex boots, but to really get the right vantage point, sometimes it's necessary. My trusty studio mascot and guard dog, Maple, joined me and we shared a beautiful summer day together. Shown here are a couple of photos from the outing. You'll see these completed landscapes on my portfolio site soon.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A Bridge Into a New World

Earlier this year, I began to add oil painting to my body of artwork. I've made slow and steady progress, and as I prepare to exhibit in this weekend's Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College, Pennsylvania, I'll have several new oil landscapes to debut.

One thing that has helped my progress a lot is to do small pastel studies of a motif before diving into the oil paints. Since I've been working in pastel for over a decade now, I can problem solve and work very intuitively in the medium. And "practicing" an idea before I befuddle myself with mixing and applying oil paints has helped me a lot.

Study, DriftedStudy, Drifted
8 x 10 original pastel[/caption]

A recent example of this technique is shown here with "Study, Drifted." This piece is the latest addition to my ongoing series of Winter Pines. I wanted to create this as a fairly large oil painting, but before I started that piece, I did this smaller, preparatory study. I find that using my knowledge in pastel really offers a valuable bridge into the new world of oil painting.

I caught this view this past winter along the Star Mill hiking trail in Black Moshannon State Park. In my recent landscapes, I've been increasingly fascinated by the play of light and shadow in interior woodlands. For another example of this interest during a different season, check out Study, Spring Dance from earlier this year.

If you're in State College this weekend, c'mon out to the art show and see this work as well as its larger version in oil!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

From Concept to Creation

When I first began my art career, I would get so excited about the things I saw that I couldn’t wait to start painting them. Problem was, however, that I’d often get to the middle of a piece and then get lost. And then, I shall neither confirm nor deny, there was a temper tantrum and the whole piece ended up in the proverbial “vertical file.”

I finally cured myself of this irrational exuberance (thank you for that priceless phrase, Mr. Greenspan) by disciplining myself to do initial studies. This is something that I preach to my students whenever I teach at the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania, because I see the same impatience in many of them. It’s understandable. There are so many things out there competing for our attention, and it’s only natural to want to rush home to one’s studio and dive right in.

A peek into one of my sketchbooks showing an initial black and white value study for Against the Tide

But over the years, these initial studies have really helped me to strengthen my compositional skills and to understand WHY I am choosing a particular subject. And the studies don’t have to be any massive investment of time. As you can see here, quick, perfunctory sketches are sometimes all that’s required to get a concept imprinted into one’s mind.

A final iteration of the value study where I refined and finalized the concept in my mind’s eye.

These black and white value studies are always part of my initial planning for any piece. For these value studies, I use broad-tipped markers in varying shades of grey. Prismacolor makes a good line of products for this purpose, but if you order a set, make sure you test the markers upon arrival to verify that they are not dried out from too much time on the shelf.

Against the Tide

Against the Tide”
20 x 30 pastel

If I need more rehearsal, then I’ll also do some simple color studies. I omitted that step for this piece, Against the Tide, because for me this was all about the light and dark value contrasts throughout the composition. The color was ancillary. Indeed, if you look carefully here, you may see the same thing that I saw, which is a somewhat off-balance 2×2 checkerboard of light and dark values, beginning with a light value in the upper left quadrant of the composition, counterbalanced by light in the lower right quadrant. It’s these types of patterns that help simplify what can otherwise be an overwhelming subject.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


"Illumination" 12 x 18 oil on linen
Sold, private collection.

There are many scenic treasures in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains area, and one of them is definitely Hickory Run State Park. This sprawling park covers almost 16,000 acres, and within it you'll find a variety of scenery from the National Natural Landmark Boulder Field to gorgeous, tranquil streams like Sand Spring Run, shown here.

This recent oil landscape painting captures the park in early autumn. I discovered this view along the park's Shades of Death hiking trail, which is named in tribute to the rough, hilly terrain that early settlers encountered when they first came to this area. I love that name, and while I was sorely tempted to use it on this piece, I knew it would be a little heavy-handed. So I chose a title that symbolizes the opposite sentiment, "Illumination." This piece recently found a home with a local collector.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Winter Haven, 12" x 24" original oil on linen

Winter Haven, original oil on linen
"Winter Haven"
12 x 24 original oil on linen
With my studio work, I was always lag behind the actual season. So even though we're steadily progressing into spring, I'm still exploring winter source material from this past season. This new panoramic landscape, "Winter Haven," was inspired by a sunset vista just outside of Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania this past January.

I love to explore color contrasts in my artwork and winter subjects are fun because of the juxtaposition of warm and cool colors. While this type of palette has figured heavily in my pastel work in the past, it's fun to explore it anew in this medium.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Cross Pollination

I’ve devoted about half of my studio time so far this year to practice in oil painting and it’s definitely been easier to get out and do some plein air painting with gloves and brushes rather than bare hands and icy pastel sticks during these cool, early days of spring. One additional benefit of working with oils is that they are changing the way in which I work with pastel. I’m finding it easier to translate the complex motifs of my cityscapes with a loose underpainting done in oils. This idea is not my own. It originated with the well-known pastel guru Albert Handell and his student, Richard McKinley. Both artists are based out west, and they use this loose, ethereal approach in their landscapes to great effect.

Years ago, I took a workshop with Richard McKinley down in North Carolina. Unfortunately, the workshop occurred just days after I lost my grandfather and I ended up missing a portion of the workshop while attending the funeral in Wisconsin. Nonetheless, I saw McKinley demonstrate this approach with a plein air landscape and I filed it away for future use. It wasn’t until I started practicing with oils late last year that I felt I would want to experiment with this approach in my own work.

This first example is from a brand new piece, “Market Street, San Francisco,” an original 12″ x 12″ pastel on paper. Shown here are some photos of my working process from initial concept to finished piece as the work progresses on my studio easel. Although I found this subject during a bright, sunny day in the city, much of the street was shrouded in shadow by the tall office buildings of the financial district. For this reason, I laid down a predominantly cool underpainting. This work is done on paper with a custom pumice ground applied. I enjoy this approach because it allows me greater control in the “toothiness” of the surface and, therefore, the amount of detail that I can incorporate into the final piece.

The initial underpainting.

The first block-in, beginning with dark hues first.

About midway through, with some highlights and more definition.

More refinement and re-balancing of lights and darks.

This subject was appealing to me because I liked the contrast of the fiery red tail lights and the warm, distant sky against the geometric pattern of cool shadows throughout the composition. I'm still mining the source material that I collected from San Francisco this past fall and you can expect to see more pieces inspired by this fantastic city in the near future.

Completed and signed.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Sunset on Winter?

It's finally April, and could it also be the end of winter? I was in Washington, DC this past weekend during the height of the cherry blossom festival, but because of our unseasonably spring to this point, there were no blossoms as yet. But the weather is slowly warming up, and I'm looking forward to getting out and doing more painting in the field.

February, Aflame original oil painting
"February, Aflame"
8" x 16" original oil on linen.

To celebrate the end of the winter season, I'd like to share with you a recent landscape, "February, Aflame." While the bitter cold wears me down by this point in the year, I never get tired of the clear atmosphere and beautiful colors found in winter skies. I caught this view on the edge of State College, Pennsylvania last month. You just don't see this type of rich, indigo sky during the hazy, humid days of summer, and I thought that this piece was a fitting tribute to the conclusion of winter this year. Enjoy!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Aerodynamic Painting

They say, "March comes in like a lion, but goes out like a lamb," yet so far this month, it's been mostly like a lion. In fact, there's snow in the forecast this week! Nonetheless, this past weekend brought a brief warm up, so I ventured up to Pennsylvania's Black Moshannon State Park to do some plein air painting. As I get started in the new medium of oil painting, I'm seeking out some familiar subjects to help smooth my learning curve.

My field easel, suspended underneath the tripod base.
When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

In later posts, I'll share some photos of my plein air kit. I use a field easel from Artwork Essentials, and most of my oil painting set up fits into a standard L.L. Bean backpack. Unfortunately, I left one key item out of my kit this past weekend: The cleat that secures my easel to its tripod base. Unable to mount the easel on the tripod, I was forced to improvise by suspending it underneath the tripod and then sitting down to work. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because the March winds were roaring heavily this past weekend, and my usual approach of standing at my easel to work would not have been very successful against the strong gusts. Could this be called aerodynamic painting? Hmm.

Shown above is an 8" x 12" field study in progress. There was still a thin layer of ice on the bog and there was even some snow left in the woods (although that didn't stop a tick from climbing onto the head of one of our dogs, argh). It felt good to get out, and once March finally tip toes out like a lamb, I'm looking forward to more outings during the milder days of April.

Monday, March 17, 2014

At Square One?

Two years ago, I updated the look and feel of my portfolio web site, During that process, I folded my pastel painting blog directly into that web site. But over the past few months, I've begun to add oil painting to my body of artwork. It seemed like resuming my entries at this place on the Internet, the original site of my art blog dating back to 2006, was the best way to share my journey in this new medium. I'm very excited about this new endeavor. I have so much to learn, and I've already learned so much, too. It's wonderful to add something new to the mix because I love to continue challenging myself.

Oil painting color mixing charts on the floor of my studio.

To get things started, I want to share a snapshot of the color mixing exercises that consumed the last six weeks of 2013 for me. Following the conclusion of my art shows for 2013, I dedicated the last six weeks of the year to just focusing on this simple but elusive exercise of mixing all the colors in my oil painting palette with one another. Each of the charts shown here features 2" squares of flat color mixed along a 5-value spectrum. The charts were done on Arches paper, primed for oil paints.

This color chart idea is not my own. It comes from the excellent book, "Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting" by Richard Schmid. Now in a second, expanded edition, I highly recommend this book to any artist who wants to master a painting medium, whether it's oil, acrylic, or watercolor because the concepts he covers in this book are universal and valuable.

Sometimes I feel like I'm starting at the proverbial "Square One" with this new medium. I can realize my ideas and vision much more quickly in pastel, so creeping along in a sometimes painstaking fashion with oil painting can be a real test of my usually impatient self. But I know I'm not really at "Square One." Ten years of pastel painting have lead me to this point. I'm ready for a new challenge, and I have experience in problem-solving, composition, color choice, and subject choice to help me with this medium. Moreover, I've taken some really valuable workshops over the past couple of years with artists including Kenn Backhaus, Peter Fiore, and Kim English. So it isn't Square One. And even all of the squares on these charts won't make me feel like it, either (!)

Philly Night
Philly Night
Original Oil on Linen, 6" x 12"

As I get rolling with oil painting I'll be doing small studies. One of my first pieces, "Philly Night" (above) is a 6" x 12" original oil on linen. It captures a gorgeous summer night vista down 13th Street in Philadelphia.

Stay tuned for more new works in this medium as I complete them. I'm still figuring out how I want to incorporate these works into my portfolio web site where I've shown my pastels exclusively to this point, but in the meantime I'll share new pieces here as well as on my Sarah Pollock Studio Facebook page.