Save the Date! Upcoming Reception and Demo

“The Sound of Wind on the Grass”, 24” x 36” framed

“The Sound of Wind on the Grass”, 24” x 36” framed


The reception for my solo show at the Melinda Perry Gallery, aka Gallery Cavallo, will be Friday November 1st, from 500-700 pm. This show features 19 pieces of my work, with a variety of subject matter, sizes, and price points. There are landscapes big (24” x 36”) and small (18” x 16”), new redwood forest pieces, local work from the Benicia area, figurative work, etc. All work is for sale. The show runs until December 31st.


The Gallery Cavallo is located at 117 East F St., Benicia, CA.

Here’s a little video tour of the gallery and show-



I’ll also be doing a demo at the Gallery Cavallo on Saturday, November 16th, from 1130-130. If I can, I’ll be attempting to do a landscape piece and a figurative piece or two, as well. I always aim to make demos fun and educational. If you’re interested in my process, or the work on display at the show, it would be great to have you come down and visit.

I hope to see some of you all at the events!


Anatomy of Notan Sketches


Ever since my series of posts about Notan back in the Spring, I’ve been doing more and more preparatory notan studies. Sometimes they’re just before a painting, but sometimes I do one in conjunction with a photo, especially when I don’t have time to do painting. Notan’s provide a different way to gather info about a site and, most importantly, they help you make decisions about how you want to present and simplify things. Visually busy locations can be hard to decipher later on just from a photo, but if I’ve done a notan on site to crystallize my thinking, I have a gateway back into the subject.

Both value studies and notans help with perspective, composition, and proportion, but they’re not the same. Value studies help you (obviously!) see transitions in value, and therefore they help you decide how you want to layer your glazes and washes. A notan, however, through its reduction of all values to black and white, is better at helping you see shapes and compositions— where dark valued shapes stack against dark valued shapes and will be lost (and pale against pale too), where contrast must be emphasized to distinguish between forms, where prominent distant shapes must recede to allow the focus to work better in the midground, etc, etc. Let’s take a look at different situations and see how I use the notan-making process.

Zooming In & Separating Values—

Here you can see the photo, which shows how far away everything really is, then the 6 x 4 notan, and then my 15 x 11 plein air piece. What the photo makes clear is how busy the location was visually— ferns everywhere, branches and twigs and such. My goal is to simplify and tell a story, and to capture the feeling of a place, the sound and smells. Our eyes do a very good job of pulling out objects and separating them from all of the hubbub, but photos do not. I know, from memory, that the site didn’t look as crazy as this photo. This is where the notan is very useful. Drawing it helps my mind see what my eyes see. This informs the painting process a great deal.


Notice too, how the notan makes me choose— all shapes must be assigned to the dark or the light. Some are very obvious— the dark stone is very dark, the almost white background is almost white, etc. It’s the mid-values where most of the really important choices reside. The creek, for example, is much darker than the background, but I assign it to the whites, to help it define the shape of the creek edge. The trees and foliage on the right, clearly much lighter than the primary stone, are brought in to the darks, to create the necessary transition from midground to background.

Difficult Images That Don’t Have Solutions-

Sometimes the notan shows you how hard an image will be to paint. Or that you don’t have the answer… yet!

Here, I stepped down from a bridge to the bank of a creek, and was pondering painting this little waterfall. The notan convinced me otherwise.


I was having a very hard time gathering strong enough black-on-white-on-black transitions to build the shapes the way I wanted too. A really big part of the image is entirely mid-values without much separation. That’s tough! There may be a painting in here, but I didn’t know how I was going to approach it. So I enjoyed the sketch, stepped back, and moved on to another site.

Choosing Your Details-

In the studio, I’ve also been doing notans. I was interested in doing the image below, and I knew, even before I began, that it would be difficult. It’s a mess of shapes. I wasn’t sure I could do it. Doing the notan actually convinced me it could be done. It helped me simplify, choose my details, and assign them to the darks or the lights. You can see how I corrected as I went— there are spots where I went back in with gouache to push the lights again.


The thing that became clearest to me was that there were just two big shapes— the light horeshoe up top (almost an “O”), and the darker insert down below. Whatever sophisticated detailing I wanted to bring in, or nuance of color shift, those two shapes needed to clearly remain. Towards the end of the painting, I also recognized a mistake in the notan, where I did not follow my own thinking— I had left those little slivers of white branches in the dark background area. It was too dominant. In the painting, they recede and are bonded to the darker background, as they should be, if I want the lit leaves to glow. I very deliberately darkened them towards the end of the painting process.

Dark to Light to Dark—

When you don’t have forms that read correctly, you have to change things to make the forms stronger. You have to push the experience of dark against light against dark. I’m interested in painting this broken tree from Muir Woods. It seemed like a very strong shape. However….


…what immediately became clear on doing the notan is that there are lots of mid-value shapes around the log that don’t let it “pop”. The area under the trunk is too close in value to the dark log, and the area above it has the same issue. If I want to paint this, those things will need to change in some way. You can see my white-gouache corrections in the notan, where I began to massage the image, creating contrast so the log will read more dominantly.

Unwinding Tangles of Shapes—

For this piece, I was very intrigued by the tangle of shapes in the logjam. I also knew that each log needed to separate itself in some way, so it could be tracked across the image, if it was going to be legible. This was a big push with the notan— how to reduce things, remove things, and by doing so choose what is essential. Note how much foliage and how many stones in the stream I removed. They’re both still there, but the story is about the logjam.


Fall Figure Painting Marathon


2 weeks ago, I participated in the fall Figure Painting Marathon with the Bay Area Models Guild. This was a blast! If you’ve not done something like this, but are serious about pushing yourself with your figure drawing and painting, this is a great opportunity. It was really an extravaganza, and a steal at 45$ for the day.

Me and probably 50 other artists painted from about 930-430, with a half hour lunch break in the middle. The guild had 4 stages set up, with each stage featuring different pose lengths. Each stage also had multiple models- men and women, all with different body types and ages. That can make a multi-figure work, like this one below, more intriguing—


There were all sorts of artists- charcoal, watercolor, gouache, etc. Oils not allowed though! :( I set up my plein air setup at the 5/10 minute stage (but within view of the 20 minute stage too) and painted like mad all day long. Hee hee! I was prepped, and had brought 25-30 sheets of watercolor paper. A few were fresh, to be used after I had warmed up, but most were just the backs of old paintings (some of them unsuccessful figures). I brought a few half sheets for multi-figure poses, but most stuff was done on quarter sheets, where I usually fit one to two figures. If I get a figure I particularly like, but that’s stuck on a page with a messup, I’ll take it and repaint it at home, like this one—


Every 20 minutes, everyone would take a 5 minute break. That’s when I would put my boards and paintings outside in the sun to dry, and switch to a new set of boards. I brought gatorboard backing for quarter sheet paintings and 1/2 sheet paintings, all in an oversized sales bag from Blick. Haha! Very sophisticated. ;P Then, in a flurry of activity, I’d wet the back of my paper, and get ready for the next set. Bam! Bam! Bam! It sure did keep me on my toes.

With so many poses flying by, you start letting go, judging less, and just… start… painting! I definitely got into a groove, and felt myself paying better and better attention as time went on. This is the real pleasure, to me, of painting live models. It requires focus. It requires letting go. There’s no time to mess around. It’s like plein air on steroids. LOL!


The more frequently I paint, the easier it becomes for me to see the notan in each subject- even for these quick figures. This is really critical to seeing the form with ease. I’m sure, like any muscle, the more you search for the notan in a subject (and sometimes fail!) the better you get at it. The more you restart the watercolor clock, the better you get at reading it. There’s no time to do a background wash or whatnot. You’ve just got to find your darks, leave your lights even when they disappear into the page, and trust that the notan will communicate what it’s supposed to.


These sorts of quick poses are my favorites- I work them less and have to pare things down to the essentials. Given my approach, I honestly don’t get a whole lot more out of long poses. Often times, it’s less. Fortunately, with so many stages and models set up, each of us artists could really focus on what we wanted!

Video- Figure Painting Demo


I wasn’t able to record my process at the Doyle Street gallery demo from last weekend, but I did get some pics from it. Additionally….. I finally went through the process of setting things up to record myself at home. Oh lala! It’s all very simple and lo-fi, but I hope that it’ll be the beginning of (oft requested) future recordings!! :)

at play in the doyle Street gallery.u

at play in the doyle Street gallery.u

Here’s some of the pics from the Doyle Street gallery demo. It’s a cute little space. You should check it out! :)

i decided to paint the statue to have a “live model.” Man, that was tough!

i decided to paint the statue to have a “live model.” Man, that was tough!

the first of a series of figures on a half sheet.

the first of a series of figures on a half sheet.

Here you can see a quick sequence of photos, as I drop in water to soften the head and darken an arm.


I wasn’t able to set things up properly to record things at the demo itself, but in this video I go over much that I chatted about there. I talk about a number of things folks have asked me about- how I wet the back of my paper, how I mix my pigments, what brushes I use, etc. Of course, I also paint a figure! …and therefore talk about my approach, how I construct the body, etc. etc. If you have questions, please ask away. It’s fun to share, and it all goes by fast. 15 minutes. :D


A couple of folks have been asking about my paper and if I use a stay-wet sponge. My current preference is Saunders Waterford 140 lb Rough, although I use Arches 140 lb Rough too. I don’t use a stay-wet sponge. I just wet the back of the paper, like I do in the video, and then turn it over on to the Gatorboard. I’ve not heard of a stay-wet sponge before. Time to go and see what the internet divulges!