"Our Redwoods" Show, Reception, and Interview...

“dry creek, Muir Woods”, 5 x 15, 250$

“dry creek, Muir Woods”, 5 x 15, 250$

Howdy everyone! Today, Saturday the 11th, I’ll be having the reception for “Our Redwoods” at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery from 4-6 pm. If you’ve been following any of my Instagram posts over the last 9 months, you’ll know I’ve been painting in the redwoods. (By the way, if you want to follow me on Instagram, you can find me at “stephenadamberry”). This show features the fruits of those explorations. For blog readers, this painting from an earlier post is featured in the show-

“Under the canopy”, 15” x 22”, 500$

“Under the canopy”, 15” x 22”, 500$

It has been such a satisfying pleasure to return again and again to the forests to hike and to ponder this painting conumdrum. The woods are deep and wild and full of life— they’re messy, and yet, simultaneously, the trunks of redwoods can be monolithic shapes. The combination can make for wonderful contrasts and yet also lead to many wrong steps. Lots of failed paintings in the trash been along the way.

“nursery tree, muir woods” 11” x 15”, 400$

“nursery tree, muir woods” 11” x 15”, 400$


The show will be up for the month of May, and will come down after June 2nd. This weekend in particular (5/11- 5/12), I am sitting at the gallery and have brought an assortment of additional new work to share outside and around the gallery- paintings from Lands End, some Yosemite paintings, etc. If you’ve not had the chance to peruse some of my stuff for a while, it should make for fun viewing! I’ll have over 20 paintings combined, up for sale and to view.

“emerald, Muir woods” 11” x 15”, 400$

“emerald, Muir woods” 11” x 15”, 400$


I also wanted to share this interview from the local Benicia Herald. It’s a good read, and talks a lot about my love the redwoods, and why I paint them-

Local watercolor painter Stephen Berry will be May’s featured artist at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery. Through his show “Our Redwoods”, he invites you to experience the redwood groves so precious to Northern California. Walk amongst the damp ferns, smell the iridescent green leaves of Bay trees, and remember what it is to be ancient.

“I like traveling out to the groves,” Stephen says, “like a pilgrimage of sorts, to stop whatever I’m doing for a day and recharge. Stepping on to the velvety forest floor, listening to birdsong or to the creak and sway of the boughs high above… Everything smells rich and verdant. It’s that kind of experience that makes painting there a joy.”

“Painting on site is a wonderful way to really see, to sink into the moment and pay attention,” Stephen notes. “My hope is that people viewing my paintings can experience some of that attentiveness too. Each location, and each day, is its own special thing.” With that mentality in mind, Steve has been traveling up and down the coast over the last 9 months, exploring old growth redwood forests. With paintings from locations as diverse as Muir Woods, Armstrong Redwood Reserve, Navarro State Park, and Hendy Woods “Our Redwoods” gives the trees, lighting, and mood of each location its due.

Greens have traditionally been looked down upon in art, as a color to be muted and with which to show restraint, but Stephen doesn’t hold back in these paintings. “These old growth woods, in the words of Frost ‘are lovely, dark, and deep’ but they’re also very alive and very, very green. With areas back lit by sun or cut through with shafts of light, the greens really pop against the shadows.” The goal is to have the paintings let you “peak into the woods through the wall”, and to let those greens glow!

Thanks for reading! I hope to see some of you at the show! :)

Benicia Open Studios This Weekend

I will be participating in the Benicia Open Studios this weekend, downtown at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery. I’ll be bringing in additional work for sale, such as these paintings from Lands End and others. If you’re interested, please let me know. I’ll also be bringing in some larger versions of them as well.

I’ll be doing a demo outside from 12-2, at the gallery. Here’s hoping its not too hot. It should be fun, and it’s always a good time to visit, pick the brain of an artist, and take a piece of art home with you! :) I’ll have extra work up on Sunday as well, but won’t be participating on site. If you’re interested in seeing something specific, or a certain type of art of mine, please use the contact page to let me know, and I’ll try my best to bring it down to the gallery.

As a side note- I was unable to get things in order to participate in the Figurative show in Livermore, so I will not be there on Sunday, nor do I have any work in the show. Life just got too busy.


Save the Date- Upcoming Events and Shows!

This is a quick post to let everyone know about some upcoming events. In particular, I’ll be the Featured Artist at the Benicia Plein Air Galler for the month of May. I’ll be doing a show all about redwoods. Scroll down for the details! :)

a sample piece from my upcoming may show “our redwoods”

a sample piece from my upcoming may show “our redwoods”

April 26, 27, 28th Plein Air Expo-


Since the Expo is in SF this year, I will be attending the event as a volunteer, helping out some of the demonstrators, painting plein air for fun, and checking it all out. I’ve never been before. I’m definitely NOT there as a presenter, but if folks want to connect, I thought it worth mentioning. It should be fun! :)

May 4-5th, May Benicia Open Studios 2019-

I’ll be participating in the Benicia Open Studios again, as a member of the Benicia Plein Air Gallery. The Open Studios occur the weekend of May 4th and 5th. We’ll have the tent out with additional work in it, and I’ll be out painting and doing an informal demo on Saturday from 1200-200.

Arts Benicia hosts the event, and will have a “teaser” show up at their gallery, featuring the work of participating galleries and artists. I’m representing the Benicia Plein Air Gallery this year, with a piece in that show. From there, you can take the shuttle to different locations, or start elsewhere, as you see fit.

Website for the event- https://artsbenicia.org/benicia-open-studios-2019/

This is the address for Arts Benicia- 991 Tyler St # 114, Benicia, CA 94510

And the address of the Benicia Plein Air Gallery- 307 1st St, Benicia, CA 94510

May 3-5th, The 11th Annual “Essential Figure” Show


This group show is all about... you guessed it- figures! I’ll have 4 of my figurative paintings up for sale, as well as some extras in sleeves. If you’ve been following my on Facebook or Instagram (as stephenadamberry), you’ll have seen some samples of my work over the last year. I aim to be there on Sunday morning, until around 200 or so. If you’d like to connect, please contact me directly. This event is happening the same weekend as the Benicia Open Studios. Busy Stevie!

Website- http://www.bothwell.lvpac.org/events/2019/5/3/the-essential-figure-fine-art-figurative-show

Address- Bothwell Arts Center, 2466 8th Street, Livermore, CA, 94550

May 9- June 2nd- My Solo “Our Redwoods” Show

May 11th, 400-600- Reception!

Ferny grove.jpg

I will be May’s featured artist at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery. The weekend after the Open Studios my work will go up, and I’ll have my reception. This year, my show is all about redwood forests. I’ve been traveling to a variety of groves, and my paintings are all about them- Muir Woods, Armstrong Redwood Reserve, Big Basin, Hendy Woods, and the Navarro River Redwoods State Park. If you’ve been watching some of my posts, or follow me on Facebook or Instagram (as stephenadamberry), you’ll have seen some of the work I’ll be showing- ferny groves, CA bay trees, redwoods, fallen nursery trees, etc. Come and view them up close and maybe take one home! :)

Website: http://www.beniciapleinair.com/

Address: Benicia Plein Air Gallery- 307 1st St, Benicia, CA 94510

A Reading Guide to Dow's "Composition", pt. 5- Notan in the Field

9 Notan hand renditions.jpg

This is the last post in the series on Notan. I wanted to start with this video of Albala’s.  It’s a great introduction to applied notan, and the nuts and bolts of “arranging contrast-patterns” (whatever the contrast might be, whether color, value, texture, etc).

Around the 4:00 mark, Alabala begins to pick apart a notan of an image. I really love this section, where he shows two notans of the same painting, the first based on what are globally the lightest lights and the darkest darks (the one that doesn’t work), and the second based on localized value and color contrast (the successful notan). Part of what makes Notan so interesting as a mental tool is that it’s not objective, but rather is flexible and reflective of the viewer-- you can take the same subject and make different notans from it, depending on how you apply mid-values.

What Tools Does Notan Give Us?

The last two posts have focused a lot on master studies, but in this post I’ll focus a little on how to apply that knowledge to real world images-- the raw data, so to speak, before a master has simplified and arranged things for us. Having said that, the notan master studies help us practice two skills that are very useful—

1) Learning how the mid-values can be shifted to the dark or the light, and

2) Integrating patterns to create that ever-elusive “beauty of intermingling dark and light shapes”

Those two kernels will guide us as we move forward into our own studies. We can get pretty far if we keep them in mind. But notan can also help with another skill set, which we’ll also be exploring here as well-

3) Understanding and fixing logistical value-issues through creating a notan

I’ll show you what I mean in the studies below.

Shifting Middle Values In Different Notans-

Alternate Notan a color crop.jpg

This is an exercise that can really help you explore a subject. Below is a black and white version with 4 values assigned to it, and a notan based on it with values 3 and 4 being the darks. I’ve added in the person who was passing through after the photo was taken.

Alternate Notan b&w crop with numbers.jpg
Notan from b&w photo.jpg

Not bad, all in all. Are we done? It depends. If we shift the middle values around, moving our big shapes, we can explore things…

Below are four little notans. Each is about the size of a business card, so the shapes are very simplified. Sometimes, when I look at the subject I’ll squint or close one eye and let the other go blurry on purpose, just to see the bigger shapes better, and to stop focusing on detail so much. If I’m looking at a photo, I’ll actually shrink the image as much as possible (sometimes to something about as small as a stamp), which also helps me see the big shapes.

Alternate Notans from value studies.jpg
Alternate value studies with numbers.jpg

Each notan creates a different contrast pattern, which helps us focus on slightly different things. I’ve noted them with the red arrow. When I made little follow-up watercolor sketches, I separated out the values again, but you can see how I’ve tried to gently nudge the values one way or the other, to express the basic value-shapes that specific notan was expressing. Each version says something a little different, has a different mood, focuses our eye in a different way, but they’re all largely the same subject.

Different Orientations Affect the Intermingling of Shapes-

In these two follow ups, I explore different compositions as I alter the orientation of the image. Altering the orientation affects things in a variety of ways. Most importantly, the focal point often shifts, which requires some sort of change in the value patterns as well. This is one of the things that a notan can help us see really well.

In this pic of a suburban street after rain, the focal point shifts from somewhere in the sunlit midground, where the house is in the horizontal piece, to somewhere in the puddles and reflections themselves in the vertical piece. Each orientation requires us to push and open up contrast in a particular area. As we develop that area, deficiencies can become clear, and this is where the notan will help us decide how to nudge the middle values around.

Puddle Reflections square.jpg
Value Sketch and Notan 1.jpg

In the horizontal photo above, you can see that the house is blown out and needs more dynamic values to read properly. In the vertical piece below, the limited values of the house are unimportant and left pale, and instead the reflections and seam of the path defining the tree trunks become more important. The process of making each notan points out to us the strengths of each composition, and what we might need to change to improve upon it specifically.

Puddle Reflections vertical.jpg
Value Sketch and Notan 2.jpg

In the photo below, I explore two orientations again. In the horizontal, the goal is to let the long, sinuous shadows guide you to the tree, so I focus more on those, pushing and stretching the contrast between relatively similar faraway values, while letting the foreground remain uncomplicated.

Grassy slope horizontal.jpg
Value Sketch and Notan 3.jpg

In the vertical version, those long shadows are cropped from the picture plane, and the foreground and fence on the embankment become much more important. Here a problem is introduced. There’s simply not enough to really grab ahold of visually.  I decide to 1) introduce contrast for the fence to make it more dominant and 2) to magic some interest and contrast out of the foreground, which is pretty uniformly bright.  I get a result like this-

Grassy slope vertical.jpg
Value Sketch and Notan 4.jpg

Notan Is a Logistical Assessment Tool-

9 paintable subjects. I refer to them by number, with #1 at the top left, #3 at the top right, #7 at the bottom left, and #9 at the bottom right

9 paintable subjects. I refer to them by number, with #1 at the top left, #3 at the top right, #7 at the bottom left, and #9 at the bottom right

Here we have a collection of 9 color photos. Some are nicer than others, but they all seem paintable to me. However, photos are sneaky. They often have emotional content, or are a record of a memory, a trip, a place. And we imbue these images with that emotion. They sometimes have compelling color content as well. All of these elements are important, because they’re often why we want to paint something, but, in the voice of Yoda… “None of these things a good composition make!”

We’ll be going through some of them specifically, but I first wanted to give you a broader set to explore. What we’ll see as we go through the photos is that having a computer-generated notan is fine in some respects, but lacks the decision making required by the artist to make a notan achieve its full potential.

Below, we have the grid converted into a 4-value black and white set (on the left), and a 2-value Notan on the right. Most of the 4-value set still reads. The simplification just makes seeing the bigger shapes easier. But for some of the 2-value photos, the difference is stark and problematic. Some still read because of sneaky computer stippling that creates the feeling of a 3rd value (photo #1, 3, 7, 9). Some issues are very severe and obvious (#2 and 7 are the worst), and some are more subtle but just as problematic (#1, 3, 6, and 9, for example). It is at this point that we must begin to change things, and insert ourselves more thoroughly into the art-making process.

4-value grid

4-value grid

2-value Photoshop grid

2-value Photoshop grid

Below are the notans I made for each. Each handmade notan looks to solve certain issues clearly visible in the 2-value computer generated versions. Common issues to assess include- dark reflections in already dark water (that then get lost) (#1, 4, 6), a blown out sky that makes the ground plane seem too dark (#2, 5), and dark midground objects that can’t separate from a dark background (# 8, 9). Sometimes I change certain things, the shape of trees or forms, to better “intermingle” the darks and lights, and let the eye travel through the subject (#7, 8). Sometimes the notan just makes it clear that certain subjects will be difficult to paint well (#6).

notan grid

notan grid

Let’s take a look at a few of them up close.

Photo #2-

Obviously the 2-value computer generated notan doesn’t equate to the color photo. The handmade notan respects the gentle, localized shifts in value that makes the subject appealing and assigns importance to certain elements. This is very similar to notan #5.

photo2 2value.jpg
photo2 color.jpg

Photo #4-

Here the computer generated notan is adequate in many ways, but two things fall away- the reflections in the water, and the sense of the distant mountains. I’ve provided two notans. Both open up the reflections on water, but one lets the mountains recede, while the other makes the mountain range a very important part of the composition. Is one better than the other? I don’t know, but they’re most definitely not the same. You’ll find similar reflection issues being solved in Notan #1.

photo4 2value.jpg
photo4 color.jpg
photo4 notan.jpg
photo4 notan2.jpg

Photo #9-

Here the notan I’ve made fixes a number of problems in the photoshop version. Most notable is that a) the shed structure now has a roof, and b) that the foreground mudflats feel bright again, the way they do in the color photo. What is much more subtle, however, is that the dock was disappearing into the background, because they’re both dark values. This is actually a problem with the original photo too. What begins is a process of capturing some sort of directional light on the surface of the dock and pylons, as well as some judicious editing. These sorts of things are what makes making a notan a really stellar logistical tool. You’ll see similar sorts of dark against dark issues being solved in Notan #8, with the trees.

photo9 2value.jpg
photo9 color.jpg
photo9 notan.jpg

And that’s it for now.

I hope the posts provides folks with enough input to get them reading Dow’s book, learning from master studies, and with making their own notans. I was in NY last week, at the Met and the MOMA, and a huge part of how I was viewing work was as notans, whether with the delicately interlocking shapes of Vermeer, the dark and moody shapes of Rembrandt, the color-based shapes of Monet, or the scattered, woodblock-like shapes of Van Gogh. Even when I’m painting my own figure studies, I’m still thinking of Notan then too. It can be a very useful artistic tool, and affect how you see the world. It can be fun, honestly…

Happy intricate viewing! :)