Painting in a cave

June 24, 2015

Painting in a cave!!??!!

You just never know where a plein air painter may turn up; one of the local parks, a sidewalk on Main Street, parked along a back road, or even In a cow pasture …….but in a cave???  Yep, they’ve even been known to turn up in a cave too!

I, along with some of my fellow plein air painters, recently had an awesome opportunity to set up and paint in a cave, Onondaga Cave to be exact.  This location was listed on our schedule to paint during the recent Steelville Plein Air Event.  When I noticed the location on the list, I just assumed it meant that we would be painting around the Onondaga Cave State Park grounds.  That was, until I received an email from the event organizers asking for confirmation of how many painters wanted to paint inside the cave.  “Wait, what??  We’re going to be allowed to paint inside the cave???  Count me in!  How many times will you be allowed to paint in a cave??!!? “   I like to think of myself as more of an adventurous plein air painter.  I like to get off the beaten path, so, this was definitely a must!

There was a brief list of rules, one of the most important being necessary steps to protect the cave by not touching any of the formations, putting a drop cloth under our equipment and not spilling any fluids or paint while in there.  Pack out everything you packed in (standard trail ethics).  Dress in layers because the “cave weather” would be cold and damp.  Try to leave room or step out of the way when tours or other visitors came through.  And finally, make sure we were escorted in and accounted for throughout the day.

This cave is a state run/commercial cave so, there were certain amenities such as; stairs and walkways to set up on, limited lighting, and guides to help out if needed.  With that said, it was still a plein air adventure!  The limited lighting was primarily on some of the cave features themselves and along parts of the walkway so, it was up to the painters to figure out how to see their palette and surface well enough to actually paint something.  In some parts of the cave, painters were occasionally dripped on or even experienced “full-on” rain throughout the day as ground water seeped in.  Everything ended up with varying degrees of dampness and depending on your medium… potentially wreaked havoc on your finished painting.  There were also the temperatures to deal with.  Since I am a painter that prefers the cold temps over the heat any day, I thought the cave temperatures were fantastic painting temps., especially since it was very hot and humid above ground.  However, I will admit, towards the end of my last painting, I did notice that I could see my own breathe and it was only after I started the hike out of the cave that I realized my nose was rather cold.  Lastly, the backpacking…..everything had to be packed in and depending on the location you chose, it was an uphill hike.

No worries, by the time I reached the spot in the cave that “spoke” to me, I paused and caught my breath, unpacked and set up…..I thought to myself again, “How lucky I am to get this opportunity.  The time, out-of breath, the dampness, it is all worth it!”  I immediately got to work and painted all day, only stopping once for a quick break.  I painted three paintings; one 11”x14”, one 8”x10”, and one 6”x8” because I had decided I was going to make the most of this opportunity and paint as long as they allowed us to be there.

My paintings aren’t necessarily masterpieces but, how often do you get a painting that was painted entirely on location, underground, in a cave?!?  It was such a peaceful experience, almost meditative that each time I look at one of my paintings; I’m taken back to that peace.  Just the soft light of the cave’s  limited cave lighting, my book lights illuminating my easel, the focus of applying paint onto canvas, and the soft drips of new cave formations in the making….just enough to break the silence……total painting zen.

Another fellow painter/friend wrote a fantastic article; “Plein Air Goes Underground”, on the experience of painting in the cave and interviewed several of the other artists.  I suggest you give it a read…..she is a bit of a better writer than yours truly…’ll be glad you checked it out!  Here’s the link:

For the love of the “fight”

June 4, 2015

“Rain, falling snow, wind…all of these things to contend with only make the open air painter love the fight”  ~Walter Elmer Schofield



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We are in, what I would consider some of the most prime plein air weather here.  Temperatures have been mild and absolutely beautiful.  We have some beautiful color created by flowers and trees blooming and then the grass and leaves have gone from drab to green almost overnight.  Birds and peep frogs serenade you as you paint and the wildlife can sometimes appear out of nowhere to keep you company.  Yes, you can paint outside any time of the year or day—just that you quickly learn there are certain times of the season and even certain times of the day that are more pleasant and appealing.

I’ve read blog posts and articles about several of the die-hard plein air painters and the more adventuresome painters.  There are those painters that have trekked up mountains and roughed it, just to catch a backcountry scene in the morning light.  Those painters that have toughed it out in extreme temperatures on both ends of the thermometer, braved the snow, sleet, rain, and wind, not only for the painting being produced but for the thrill and adventure of it.  I love reading these stories—some of these artists are not only talented painters but entertaining writers as well.  If you’d like to read some of these posts and see the art created from these adventures, I suggest you check out the work of Josh Been , R. Gregory Summers , or Shawn Cornell  and hey, for kicks and grins, check out my adventure page…it’s not all about painting but my wanderings too

As I read about some of these artist adventures, I wondered what would drive someone to paint in the less than ideal conditions.  Painting en plein air can be challenging enough.  I’m somewhat of an adventuresome type but wasn’t sure if I loved the “fight” as Mr. Schofield mentioned, enough to actually try to paint during the wind, snow, rain, or sleet.  Then I tried it.  The first time, I painted in the wind and my clunky French easel blew over and cracked “…..awesome…..just awesome”, I thought.  That easel and I had a love/hate relationship.  It used to randomly collapse one or more of it’s legs on me while painting….but that’s a different “fight”.  I tell you this, I didn’t give up.  I started taking a few workshops in an attempt to improve my plein air skill.  These workshops are scheduled and they happen, rain or shine.  Well, at another workshop, I ended up painting in a rainy mist….ok, not so bad….it was light and I don’t melt.  My hair likes to curl and frizz, but hey, just avoid any mirrors or the public en mass and it’s all good.  Then I braved the winds of the Kansas Flint hills….again, not so bad because I weighted my easel down.  Oh, and did I mention, I finally saved up and sprung for an Easy L easel and tripod.  World of difference!!!  I could adjust the tripod legs to lower the center of gravity and then hang things from the middle of the tripod to weight it down.  OK, I conquered the wind.  Next, I set up and painted during one of our snows this past winter.  I wanted to study the color and values of snow.  I got snow alright.  Half way through my first painting, I started getting snowed on….”eh, no big deal, it was actually pretty and peaceful”.  Next up, it changed to sleet, “great….who ordered this???”  It ended in a very cold, wet, rain……..OK, I’m done with this painting….and packed it up.  I have painted in a mild weather rain as well and produced a couple of my favorite plein air paintings.  I’ve learned that the key is get paint on the canvas and learn to deal with slick, oily paint.  Next up…..hiking more than a couple of miles to paint…..  I hope to conquer that this fall!

OK, I get it, I see what some of the “fight” is all about.  It’s another challenge to add to the mix.  It separates some painters from others.  It is a learning and growing experience that can have the potential for rewards (and some fails), both in the finished painting and in the satisfaction of winning a “fight”.  I get it and I’m in!  Let’s do this!

Lose yourself

June 1, 2015
Shaw Pond

Shaw Pond

Pinetum Lake

Pinetum Lake

“Art washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

Amen, Pablo—no truer words can be said.

For the artist, the creation of art can be therapeutic, a chance to shake off the day to day grind, the baggage of a fast-paced world with information overload.  The creation of art can give the artist a chance to breathe, a chance to get out and rehabilitate our senses.  I can feel so exhausted after a day of painting and completely refreshed all at the same time.

For the artist and art appreciator alike, art can stir emotion.  Art can take us to another place, time, or memory.  It can make us feel the soft summer breezes, the warmth of the sun, the cold of a snowflake, the chill of a fresh rain, smell the aroma of newly blooming wildflowers, or remember a place or person special to us.  Art can make us lose ourselves, even if just for a moment.

Take some time to lose yourself in some art—trust me!  You don’t have to go to a museum or “artsy fartsy” (as my fam describes it) gallery to lose yourself.  This is THE season for plein air in this area, get out there and watch art as a spectator sport.  Watch as an artist creates their own spin on a scene right before you.  If you can’t attend and watch, go to the show afterwards and see the finished pieces and meet the artist who created it.  Hear some of the stories of the process.  See if you can spot those paintings created during the prime mosquito and gnat hours or those that may have had a mishap and kissed the ground a time or two during creation.  Attend a local fine art/craft demo at some of the historical re-enactment events or grab some great food to munch on while browsing an outdoor art fair.

If public gatherings are not your “thing”—there are great online sites that post all levels of artwork on a daily basis.  Check out  –while you’re there….look me up!

Now, get out there and lose yourself—either as an artist or appreciator!

I’m a work in progress, and so is my art

May 21, 2015


This post itself has been a “work in progress”, behind the scenes of my blog for a while now.

There are these days….these moments….. where I question why I am doing what I’m doing in life and if I’m failing at my purpose.  Why I’m using my a LOT of my spare time trying to be an artist?  Am I failing at being a parent, at being a spouse?  What am I doing, trying to belong in a career as a “techie”?

It’s been a rough week this week.  I have a lot going on in the next couple of months in my home life, work life, and art life and it just all sorta came crashing in on me this week.  It goes without saying, I am STRESSED OUT and without intending to, I snap and end up letting my stress get the best of me and overflow into my mood and my actions.  I turn to my daily devotions and prayer of a morning to try and start the day off right.  I try to wear my inspirational bracelets to remind me throughout the day to; “Just breathe”, “Let go and let God”,  “Have faith and remember I am blessed”, “Good girls rarely make history” ….oh wait, that last one’s a different reminder!  Anyway, reminding thyself that it will all be OK and to just chin up and keep on…..yeah…..all of that is easier said than done……  So, to try and stamp out some of the stress, I’m trying to focus on joy.  I’m trying to make myself take a little extra “me time”.  This means making myself take a few minutes to paint, draw, read, spend time with my newest lil nephew, visit with a friend….things that make me stop and take a deep breathe and that bring me joy.

One of my absolute, favorite movies, “Mom’s night out” is based on these thoughts; being a mom and feeling like you’re failing at everything you do.  A hot mess.  If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it for both guys and gals.  For the guys out there, it may give you a little insight to the female mind and it’s thought processes.  It may help you to understand why we sometimes freak out about the littlest things and subsequently help you to avoid a meltdown, blowup, or worse; a trip to “the doghouse”.  For the gals out there, it will remind you that you’re enough, sometimes failure is just our perception and no one else’s and above all, that we’re way too hard on ourselves.

Speaking of being way too hard on ourselves, I have a saying that I try to pass on to fellow artists and painting buddies when they’re doubting their work and that I often try to mumble to  myself when I want to toss a painting on the burn pile, “We are our own worst critics.”  I should probably yell it at myself instead of mumble it but then anyone around may thing I’m full blown, straight up crazy instead of thinking I’m just a little off.

This trying to be an artist is a love/hate thing –sometimes what brings you joy can also be a thorn in the side.  I’ve really been trying to paint en Plein air more often because I feel that it will ultimately make me a better artist in general.  Painting from life brings it’s own challenges but it gets the crutches of working from a photograph out of the way.  Something I only realized after painting from life more.  I’ve had some great teachers try to get me to see that point but it just hadn’t sunk in until I experienced it.  Painting from life forces you to really see and make your own decisions on the process of creating the painting.  It is not limiting the view or color range or depth as a photograph does.  Don’t get me wrong, painting from reference material is definitely a must for some work but I feel like the foundation and the knowledge gained from painting from life is still showing through in the studio work.  Some paintings leave me feeling like I am really making progress and then other days, I wonder, “What was I thinking????”  I guess I just have to remind myself that I learn or take something away from each and every painting.  Sometimes it is how to mix that perfect green or finally getting my brush to achieve just the right stroke, or experiencing the way the light hits my subject…..and then again, sometimes what I learn is that I definitely need more practice!

At any rate, it’s all good.  I just need to pour some Velvet Red, sit a spell, and remind myself that I can’t do it all but I am enough.  I am a work in progress and probably always will be….oh, and so is my art.

Painting snow, en plein air

March 21, 2015

Plein air painting, is a term used to describe a painting done outside/on location rather than in a studio. The term comes from the French en plein air, meaning ‘in the open air’.

So, I’ve dabbled with plein air painting on and off for the past few years.  It wasn’t until recently, probably within the last two years, that I started painting en plein air on a regular basis and making more of a “serious” effort towards being a better plein air painter.

The benefits of painting en plein air, finally seeped through that hard head of mine.  I’m seeing how this is all intertwined and helping to make me a better painter in general.  The benefits of being there, feeling the elements, seeing the color, seeing the way light plays on everything, seeing the form and making quick decisions on drawing, studying value, color, and composition…..I get it….these are all necessities for a good painter.  Painting en plein air forces you to make decisions and go with them.  I feel like it makes you really study your subject…..really open your eyes and see.  Because of that, I notice that I pay a lot more attention to subtle color changes and how colors relate to each other.  I started paying more attention to colors in shadow and reflected color.  I have noticed that I have started finding myself looking at things during my daily wanderings and thinking to myself, “how I would mix that particular color?”.  Hmmm, wonder if other artists find themselves doing that?  I’m sure they do….yeah, that has to be a creative brain thing…….  ummm, right?

Oh, and hey, by the way, snow is really all white, right?  I finally had a chance to get outdoors and paint snow en plein air.  Unfortunately, every chance I got to get out and paint it, it was on an overcast day and while the fluffy stuff was still falling.  I tell you this because that day, snow definitely wasn’t just white.  I found grey and blue and in some cases purples in the snow (we won’t talk about the brown and yellow snow that I found in horse pen).  I also found that laying straight titanium white down just didn’t get that “snow” look that I was looking for.  I always mixed in one of the above colors or lemon yellow…..yes, a yellow.  I found by doing this, I was able to get more of the true look I was seeing in front of me.  I found that I was able to give more form to my snow.  After all, it did have shadow, mid-tones, and highlights (not much since it was overcast) but, it had “shape”.  This “shape” makes it more believable.  For example, I had to make it look like “a blanket” on top of the haybales and “pillows” on top of the old parts tractor.  I probably wouldn’t have noticed all of this had I not set up and painted with my subject in front of me.

So, getting out in the cold, braving the snow, wind, and sleet… worth the knowledge.  I will admit, I truly didn’t feel the cold while I was painting except when I started to notice certain colors “froze” quicker than others.  My white was a very, thick, gooey mess by the time I was done.  As I get out and paint in the elements, I’m also learning what types of clothing and supplies are a must and what I can leave at home (remind me to tell you about my alpaca socks….they rock!).  I’m also learning how to lighten my painting pack.  … for future posts on that.

I have a long way to go with this “plein air thing” but I feel like if I learn one thing from each painting or each outing, I’m winning!  Some days I learn I should wipe off the painting and just pack it up for another day but hey, it’s all good.  No worries!

Here are three of the paintings that I did during our snow this year.  I think you can really see the gray and blue in the snow on the “Parts Tractor” painting.  The other two paintings look as though I used straight white but there is a subtle yellow and grey in them.  I think they just look true white because of the colors around them.  It’s all relative, right?  I feel like the form of the snow puffs is more believable in the tractor painting.

Bull elk–Day 28

March 4, 2015


Day 28

5″x7″ oil on canvas panel

Being creative is not a hobby, it’s a way of life”

Day 28–The final day of my painting a day challenge for the month of February!  Finished-whew!  In some ways, it’s been a long month, in others, the time has flown by.  I started this project with the intention of just doing small paintings each day (all are 5″x7″).  The first week, I started with doing value studies and had so much fun with that and finding out what a learning tool this was becoming, I decided to stick with that.  So, the full 28 days- I focused on drawing and values.  Something I can always use more practice with.  I also decided to keep with the western/wildlife themes–just because that’s what was inspiring to me at the moment and because I have a lot of reference material that I haven’t had a chance to use yet.

With the exception of just two paintings, all paintings were completed with either burnt sienna (sepia color) or burnt umber (deep brown) or a bit of both.  There were two paintings that I used a bit of “dirty white” on.  For the mono-colored value studies, to get the darks, I just laid in thicker paint, to get the extreme lights, I just used solvent and a bristle brush to wipe off some of the paint.  It was interesting to push paint around on the canvas and be able to form detail/line by moving the pigment itself into a line and then leaving the bare canvas to give form/shape.  I can’t express how much fun some of these little paintings became.  So much so, that I plan to do a few larger value studies….so, stay tuned on that.

With this project, I also decided to start a monthly membership with Daily Paintworks as a way to get these little value studies out to a bigger audience.  I was not focused on selling these studies but, hey, if I can sell a few to help pay for supplies it becomes even more of a win/win.  I am humbled to say, as of this post, I’ve shipped paintings to three different states.  I think I will continue with the DPW for another month and see how that goes.  By the way, if you’re interested, you can view my whole project on the DPW website at this link:  I have to admit, I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment at viewing this gallery and seeing the 28 paintings in a row–some with red dots!  Woo hoo!  Looking back at the project, I think I definitely accomplished what I set out to do.  I gained brush mileage, I learned a lot about values and am improving my drawing skills, I learned the benefit of washing the canvas with a color and then carving out my subject, I’ve met some new fans of my work, I’ve added a few new states to my “collector locations list”, and I’ve fueled the fire for more creativity with ideas for larger paintings.

As for a bit about the final painting, well, it started out as three different paintings.  By this, I mean, I started three other paintings and wiped each one of them off.  When I stop and think about it, I guess I could say it was technically four paintings because I was re-using a canvas that I had done a quick little plein air study on over my lunch hour at the state park.  I wasn’t thrilled with the study, so, I didn’t think twice about wiping it off.  I did learn a bit about snow and color and describing snow as a form on top of a rock so, it was a beneficial exercise that had run it’s course–no need to keep the painting.  As I was working on the final painting, I was getting a bit frustrated so, I finally just put a little turp on a paper towel and started wiping out shapes…loose shapes with no real form in mind.  One of them reminded me of part of the body of an elk…so, after some more push/pull of paint and wiping out of paint, the final result is this guy…. Sometimes you just have to let the paint and canvas tell you what to paint!

Thanks for following along with my challenge.  I will try to continue to post new works and ramblings but it probably won’t be as frequent as the daily challenges. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my blog so you’ll get updates as I post them–or, you can just check back whenever you feel so inclined, whatever suits your fancy!


No Scrub-Day 27

February 28, 2015
5"x7" oil on canvas panel

5″x7″ oil on canvas panel

Day 27 of my painting a day project–one more day to finalize the project and to end the month of February.  This guy was spotted on one of our hikes in the Rockies a few years ago.  He was walking among the scrub and sage brush….he was definitely no scrub!  He had a nice set of antlers and bulk to match.  He had recently finished shedding the velvet from his antlers because there were still a few bits hanging from them.  He was a beaut and even better, he didn’t seem to mind our presence so, I got some fantastic reference material for later paintings/drawings.

Here’s the link to this painting on the Daily Paintworks Gallery, thanks for looking:

Antlered–Day 26

February 28, 2015


5"x7" oil on canvas panel

5″x7″ oil on canvas panel

Day 26 of the painting a day project.  I was fascinated by the patterns, highlights, and shadows of the antlers on this guy so, the crop is a bit different than I would normally do when painting this type of subject.  If I had set out with the intent of painting a mule deer value study, I definitely wouldn’t have cut off the nose/muzzle and would’ve probably shown more of the body.  I didn’t want to get too “fussy” with the antler detail but, I did want to get those contrasts that show the form and curve of the antlers.  This was a fun but challenging painting–subject I will definitely like to explore larger!

Here’s the link to this painting in the Daily Paintworks Gallery, thanks for looking!

Ram-Day 25

February 28, 2015
5"x7" oil on canvas panel

5″x7″ oil on canvas panel

Day 25 of my painting a day project. This is a painting of a bighorn my husband and I saw in Glacier a few years ago. He was a very curious fella. He ended up standing and staring at the reflection of himself on our rental vehicle for quite a while–my hub couldn’t get out of the vehicle.  We were both sweating it, thinking he was going to ram it.  He eventually moved around to the front of the vehicle and then over the side of the mountain to graze.  I definitely got some great reference material!  While this was all going down and I finished laughing about the situation, I handed the hub my camera to snap a few pics.  This guy almost seemed to know what the camera was for and started to “work it”, cocking his head, looking into the camera, etc.  It was pretty humerous watching the two of them….him, curious, and my hub both curious and concerned!

Here’s the link for this painting on the Daily Paintworks Gallery, thanks for looking.

Wisdom–Day 24

February 26, 2015
7"x5" oil on canvas panel

7″x5″ oil on canvas panel

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Day 24 of the painting a day challenge.  Four more days of the project–whew!  It has been a hectic month and especially a hectic week this week, between my “day job”, class, and keeping up with this project.  Sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day and I begin to feel like I’m treading water and slowly sinking!  That’s when I have to take a moment, take a deep breath and say the serenity prayer to myself.  It’s great meditation, even if it’s just for a moment.

This subject is a barred owl that I happened upon on my way to work one morning, on, of all days, April Fool’s day!  I happened to be doing the photography project at the site  so, I did have my DSLR with me.  I quickly turned around, pulled over and set my camera settings to what I “thought” they needed to be because I knew, when I stopped, the owl would fly.  I figured I would have one shot at it.  Turns out, I was basically right.  I was able to snap 3 shots!  One of him perched on the fence post and two of him flying away.  I ended up being late for work but so, worth it!

Here’s the link for this painting on the Daily Paintworks Gallery, thanks for looking!


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