How to Organize a Palette

Whenever movies portray painters painting, they're either passionately slashing color onto the canvas, or mindlessly daubing some spot. What the movies never show is the artist carefully mixing colors, moving mixtures of paint, adjusting them, and working with the palette knife. This unglamorous process takes time, skill, and is indispensable. Jorge Alvarez used to repeat over and over, "An organized palette makes an organized painting." This is true; Clear, descriptive, and vibrant colors are the product of a disciplined palette. To this end, I offer some tips, and a photo of a working portrait palette at about 80% preparation: 1. Mix with a knife, not your brushes. 2. Keep your pure pigments on the margins and make your mixtures in the middle. 3. Organize your pigments in a way that makes sense. I keep white and black in the corner, warm colors up one side, and cools across the top. 4. Take your time. Mixing colors is a huge part of making a painting, expect to spend nearly as much time with a knife in your hand as you do with a brush. 5. Don't wallow! Scrape up the used, muddy mixtures and make the colors you really need. Those old colors may seem "close enough," but they aren't. This rule will keep your painting from getting murky as you move toward finish.
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How Painters Make Pottery

This summer, Pottery Northwest threw their annual "Salad Bowl" fundraiser. Resident potter James Lobb invited me to glaze a platter for the event as one of the guest artists. I chose to depict "The Duocephalous Bull," which first emerged in my sketchbook, and has found its way into several prints and installations. Glazing a ceramic object provided lots of new challenges. First, the colors change drastically during firing, so what you see is nothing like what you'll get. Second, you can build up colors through successive layers like watercolor, but each layer dries to an identical opaque finish before firing. You just have to remember where you've been. It's only after a final trip through the kiln that the work reveals itself. The event, like most everything that goes on at PNW, was lots of fun. Thanks to all the people who came out to support the arts in Seattle!
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Airport Sketching

The saving grace of a long layover is the time it affords for candid sketching. People really zone out in the airports and hold still for a long time. This is also true of city buses, but airports have the added bonus of not bouncing on pot holes. I furtively watched this gentleman eat lunch on a recent trip through Chicago Midway. I noticed that his ear was really important to his likeness- a crucial outpost of the face out there in the center of the head. I did this in my 4x6" sketchbook, in about the time it takes an old couple to eat a Polish sausage and an Old Style.
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WPA Posters

Carolyn and I are on the road this week celebrating my sister's wedding up in the Sierras. My sister and her husband both work for the the National Park Service. So when they asked us to design their wedding invitations, we took our cues from the WPA posters of the late 1930s. These serigraphs were made as part of the WPA's Federal Art Progject, which supported a generation of American artists through public works commissions during the Great Depression. Our design borrowed the simplified colors, abstracted shapes, and strong typography. Stealing tricks from these brilliant designers was lots of fun. As painters, designing for print is an uncomfortable process, but we're very happy to contribute to the couple's new life together.

More on the Fedral ArtProject and Tim Appelo's case for a new one.

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Drawing with Pablo Neruda

This August, Jethaniel and I had the opportunity to develop and teach a two-week intensive drawing program for teens at Gage Academy. As part of my course, I read the teens a poem each morning as we began work. The poems were not discussed, explained, or analysed. They heard the following: Singsong- Rita Dove, My Worst Habit- Rumi, O Pioneers- Walt Whitman, Oh Little Soul- Hadrian, You are the Sea- Anis Mojgani, Like, You Know?- Taylor Mali, This is just to say- William Carlos Williams, A Man Like You, But Older- David Kirby, Ode to a Lemon- Pablo Neruda. I can't be sure, but I suspect the poetry was helpful. No one understands the still-life like Neruda, and it's good to have a little honey in your ears before Ryan yells at you about negative space all day.
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Matt, Metal, and Mingus

I had my friend and neighbor Matt Lee in the studio for a portrait a few days ago. I  often invite sitters to tell stories, drink coffee, and eat the occasional Vietnamese sandwich. Matt especially relished the opportunity to play DJ. During the early phases of the painting, I roughed in major planes and broad values to some gut-wrenching Olympia-based sludge metal. As I spiraled in on the more refined work, lighter touches, and subtleties, we enjoyed Charles Mingus on piano. My gut tells me that these guys really understand painting.
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Goodbye Summer

Seattle is slouching toward autumn. The long, sunny days are waning, and the sun is slipping southward. In addition to summer gardening and dry cycling weather, I'll miss my view of Mt. Rainier from the the studio. I did this over two evenings in August from my studio window.
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This site is for…

This site is my way of opening my studio and my practice up for the wider community. I'll post several times a week with artwork, sketches, news, and insights as I learn from my life and practice as an artist. This page is an open window for my friends, colleagues, students, gallerists, collectors, and internet stalkers. Look around, come by often, and keep in touch!
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