Friday, November 30, 2007

Last Cane Field

Last Cane Field
12 x 15 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Pastel board
Miki Willa
I chose this cloud picture because of the drama in the clouds that seem to arise from behind the hill on the right. I also loved the freshly plowed field of our good old red dirt and the stand of unharvested sugar cane in the distance on the right. This is a scene found along the road connecting leeward Oahu and the North Shore. Until recently, all that could be seen was never ending fields of pineapples and sugar cane. It is very different now.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Prairie Sky

Prairie Sky
5 x 9 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Will
My goal for this painting was to show distance in the clouds. The cloud reference photo was taken from the car while driving with my daughter and son-in-law to Eastern Washington. We were passing through winter wheat country when I couldn't resist the wonderful clouds. On the return trip, I asked my son-in-law to pull over so I could get a photo of this barn out there all alone. I realized I had to put the two together some day. Today was the day. The only thing I may change is to lighten the sky near the horizon a bit more. I think that will enhance the illusion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


7 x 13 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa

My friend Nancy paints the most exciting and vibrant skies. She uses colors I would never think to use. When I was looking at the reference photo for this painting, I wanted to see if I could get that kind of excitement. The colors in the photo are very subtle, so I had to push them. When I was done, I realized that I had kept my hands away from the daring colors that Nancy might have used, but I was pleased with the overall results. When I was done with the sky, I knew I had to put the waves in, but I was very hesitant. My experience with waves has not always been that positive. I thought about all the things Maggie Price said in her workshop, and all the wonderful waves my husband, Tom, has painted, and I plunged ahead. I had a very good reference photo, and I paid attention. I think I may actually learn to do waves after all.
During this season when we think about giving, here is something you can do that will help a great deal with little effort. Go to and challenge your vocabulary knowledge while you help feed the world.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Buttermilk Sunset

Buttermilk Sunset
7 x 9 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa

When I was growing up, my father and I loved to drink buttermilk. I loved the patterns the milk made on the sides of the glass as the cool drink disappeared. We used to see the same pattern in the sky on high cloudy days. I haven't seen that kind of sky for many years. That is, until I moved to the islands. One late afternoon, on my way home, I rounded the corner of my street to be greeted by a wonderfully vivid buttermilk sky sunset. That, I had never seen before. I had my new camera with me and hurridly found the right setting before taking several shots as the sky faded. I decided to paint this as my second cloud study.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Clouds, clouds, clouds

Kaua'i Sunset
8 x 10 soft pastels on Canson
Miki Willa
I have decided to focus on sky paintings for a time. More specifically, I want to work on clouds. I have selected some photographs we have taken over the last couple of years in case we needed cloud references. Some are sunsets, like this one. This was taken from the beach at Barking Sands on the west end of Kaua'i, in August of this year. I kept taking pictures, waiting for the brilliant pinks and oranges that I knew would come. I gave up before that happened, but I was very happy with this shot, even though there are few pinks. While I was painting this, I wanted to get the feeling of the underside of the big cloud on the right. I also wanted to show the glow of the sun behind this group of clouds. I almost left off the small island on the horizon, but decided it made sense in the composition, so left it in.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The perfect studio

Tom and I have had many discussions about where to set up a studio in the house. This is what evolved. In what was designed as a dining area part of the great room, we discovered a workable area. The kitchen portion of the room is just behind the photographer, giving us a sink and all the snacks we want. Tom has his French easel standing near the back wall, and I use the old dining table, covered with what I hope is a protective cloth. Of course, there is not enough room to put our pastels, so we move them around as we use them. We have a table for still lifes, a lamp we share, an overhead lamp and fan, and the kitchen lamp for lightening. I would love to have better lighting some day. I think we both dream of having a studio that is dedicated solely to painting in the future, but this space has done well for us for the past five years. The best part is it is big enough for both of us to paint at once.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


12 x 16 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa

This is another painting done from a photo I took on our September trip to Kauai. We were standing on the rim of Kilohana Crater looking out at Wai'ale'ale, the distant mountain. This is said to be the wettest spot on earth. It is a bit over 5100 feet above sea level, but there is a huge mountain swamp that backs up to it on the other side from where we were looking. That, apparently, has something to do with the moisture. The nearest mountain, Kawaikini, is some 200 feet taller, but has less rain. The grasses in the foreground were quite wonderful and were plentiful at the crater rim, along with tiny orchids, and other wonderful treats. I would like to go back there to paint, but it would be difficult to get permission since it is on private land. I am must glad we got to visit briefly.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Victoria in Kaua'i

Queen Victoria's Profile
12 x 16 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix board
Miki Willa
When Tom and I went to Kaua'i in September, we went on a backroads adventure that took us to a rocky outcrop looking back toward the Ha'upu Mountains. We didn't know it at the time, but we were looking directly at a little known tourist attraction: a mountain peak in the shape of Queen Victoria's profile. It is so named on tourist maps. Our guide didn't point this feature out to us until we were driving parallel to the range on the other side. It wasn't until I was trying to locate this bay on a map that I realized what the peak was. So much for my imagination.
This is my second painting on the new Art Spectrum Colourfix board, or plein air board. The same gritty surface has been sprayed onto 550 lb watercolor paper to create a lightweight board that is pretty sturdy for taking outdoors. I am not so sure it will hold up well in a wind, but it will probably do as well as paper mounted on foam core. I like working on it, so far, but I can see it may warp if not matted and framed right away. I do like working on the colourfix surface, and am glad the Art Spectrum people have stayed with that. I haven't tried the supertooth paper they have out yet. Someday, perhaps.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Two Date Palms

Two Date Palms
7 x 10 soft pastels on Unison sanded paper
Miki Willa
I took the reference photo for this last summer at the bottom of the road up to Waimea Falls. I was so entranced by the tropical feel of this scene. I have put off painting it because I thought it was too complicated. I posted it as a reference when I hosted the landscape challenge on WC in October and have the advantage of seeing how several other people treated it. I was working on an unfamiliar surface, using a sample collected at a PAH meeting. The surface reminded me of Wallis, which I am not terribly fond of. It does hold quite a bit of pastel, but you have to put quite a bit on to cover the surface enough to blend colors the way I like. I really don't know why the date palms feel tropical to me, since they often grow in desert areas. It is probably just that they are palms.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ketchikan reflections

Ketchikan Reflections
8 x 10 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa

Monday, November 19, 2007

Practicing perspective

8 x 10 WIP
Miki Willa
This morning, I decided to work on perspective. I selected a photo I took a long time ago while I was on an Alaskan cruise. I have always liked the photo, but it is small and presents quite a challenge. The most obvious is that the boardwalk on the water side of the buildings is not in a straight line leading to a distant point on the horizon. I can see in the photo, I still have some alignment work to do before I go much further. I haven't even started on the water. Each and every piling and building has a wonderful reflection on the fairly still water. I have to figure out how to convey watery reflections without making them muddy. I also need to pay some attention to the sizes of the pilings. Right now, they all look the same width. I wish I had better light to paint by.
I paint at my desk in my library very early in the morning. I go to work very early because I want to miss the dreadful traffic. When I get there, the first thing I do is set up my portable studio on my desk. My space is very limited, but I make due. The lighting is the most difficult thing to overcome. It is still dark when I begin to paint, so I rely on the standard overhead recessed bar lights covered in nice plastic protectors. As the day dawns, I am often surprised at my hues and values. As my scheduled starting time approaches, I hurry to put everything safely away, stand the painting in the window behind my desk (facing away from the light, of course), open the doors and start my day. On Friday, I pack all my pastels and paintings into my studio on wheels, and head home for the weekend painting in my studio. I am glad I am able to paint every day, but I would love more time each morning in my studio. Some day, that will happen.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wai'anae Ridge

Wai'anae Ridge
12.5 x 15.5 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix board
Miki Willa

Two of my favorite things about Oahu are the two mountain ranges that are remants of the two main shield volcanoes that make up the island. The Ko'olau Range is best viewed from the Windward side of the island. The wind and rain have deeply eroded this range, and it is painted often. Tom and I have both done several paintings from different view points. The Wai'anae Range can be seen from the Leeward side and the North Shore, and is less often found in local paintings. We live on the lower slopes of the leeward side of the Ko'olau Range. From our house, we can see the Wai'anae Range. Last weekend, it was so clear, we had to take a drive up our hill to get fuller views of the mountains so I could paint this. Most of the time, there is a bit of a haze and the ridges and valleys are not very clear. This tree is a mystery to us. We have them all over our neighborhood. The leaves are deep burgundy and dark green. In the spring, they are tinged golds, rusts, and oranges. We had a good laugh our first spring up here about the "fall" colors.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Looking back, a little

Orange and Blue
11 x 14 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa

When I first started using pastels, I tried valiantly to teach myself with my husband's helpful hints. For a Christmas gift, Tom signed me up for a series of classes taught by Helen Iaea. Until that time, I had been copying other people's work. In Helen's classes, we painted still lifes she set up for us each week. After several months, we started to work on glass. For me, this was quite a challenge, but I was fascinated with the process. I finally got to where I really enjoyed it and looked forward to my Saturday classes. Once I finished each of these paintings, I dutifully took a photo, and put them back in the storage area for paintings done in class. Today, I spent some time on the computer trying to find all the photos of Tom's and my paintings to put in one folder to create a back-up disc. When I came across this one, I was reminded how much I liked it when it was first finished. I may have to dig this one out and take another look.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Barns and kahili

The Barn
2.5 x 3.5 soft pastels on drawing paper
Miki Willa
I decided to try one more of the miniatures. I like the concept, and am impressed by the ones I have seen, but I think it is better suited to other medium. I think it would be easier for me in watercolour or oil, even though they are not my medium of choice. As I said in the beginning, this is a learning journey and this is just another marker along the way.

On a completely different note, my kumu, Namahana, showed me how to make a small kahili. The kahili was, and is, a symbol of the Hawaiian ali'i, or royalty. It is made with feathers and a long staff. The one I made is a very small version, only 12 inches. I thought I would share it with you.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christmas Croton

Christmas Croton
2.5 x 3.5 Pastel pencil on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I thought I would try my hand at the ATC, or artist trading card. Tom took a photo of a wonderful green, red, pink croton. Most of these plants here have oranges and browns. I decided this would make an interesting Christmas card since it resembles the poinsettia. Working that small is quite a challenge, and I stuck with my pastel pencils. In my travels through WC, I have been really impressed with some of these miniature paintings, or ATCs. Some of the artists do complete and wonderful landscapes in that size. I also understand that there is an Ebay community where artists sell these cards. There are quite a few collectors out there. I am not sure I will do many this size, but I may try a few more since I have the cards already cut.

Late Autumn

I think I have finished this one. I think it is a 9 x 12, but I haven't measured it. I wish the photo was better. Next time, I will work it in Photoshop until the brights are the way they are in the actual painting. I am happy with the sagging roof and the leaning bell tower.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Old Schoolhouse II

Here is what I was able to do this morning. I am having fun with this painting. The photo shows the golds as brighter than they are in the real painting. I still have to put in the sky and work on the tree. I may try a fall look, since the photo reminds me of late summer, or fall. I am hoping to finish this tomorrow morning. It is not big, so I should be able to. I want to mention that jemgold is the photographer and the original photograph can be found in the WC RIL.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Drawing for detail

Abandoned School
Miki Willa
After a few weeks of painting without doing the drawing first, I decided to go back to putting in my charcoal sketch before adding color. This is the only way I painted before trying the Secor challenge. I enjoyed the freedom that gave me, but I love drawing and wanted to get back to it for a while. I may not have a lot of time to paint this week, so this may appear in different stages over the next couple of days. Right now, I have the sketch done with vine charcoal and some charcoal pencil to set up the lightest lights and the bones of the tree. This photo of an old schoolhouse was in the RIL on WC. Ordinarily, I don't like to work from other people's photos, but there are times I just can't resist. If you are wondering if the bell tower is supposed to be so crooked, it is. That distant tree, however, may be a bit too big. I look forward to working more on this tomorrow.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Using an underpainting

Today, I decided to try another painting with a brilliant underpainting on Wallis paper. I chose a reference photo of the Koolau mountains taken from Bellows Beach. I drew in the major shapes with vine charcoal. I then used Nupastels in the colors you see above. I used the blue label turpenoid to melt the pastels into the paper. Then I let it dry for quite a while.

After the underpainting dried, I started with the sky. I put in patches of colors that I saw in the photo of the clouds and sky. After getting what I wanted on the paper, I used my fingers to blend. I added more color until I got what I wanted. From there, I moved to the mountians, dark coastal trees, and finally the water. The water on the east side of Oahu is this brilliant turquoise. I wanted to capture that. I also wanted to get the ridges and eroded valleys in the mountains. There is no clear focal area.

I worked on the water meeting the closer shoreline where there was a very small shore break. I darkened the valleys near the focal area and worked the mountains more. This painting, when it is finished, will be 12 x 20. It is done in Nupastels, Terry Ludwig Iaea Tropical set, and Great American McDaniel set, on Wallis professional white. The working title is Koolau Mountains in Waimanalo.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Business Cards

Almost Heaven
24 x 30 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
As Tom and I were out doing errands this morning, I thought about making myself some business cards. I don't know why I hadn't thought about it before. Perhaps it is because I just recently started selling my paintings. I am also just beginning to wear the title of artist more comfortably. The upshot is that now I have a set of business cards. What fun!
Almost Heaven was done a couple of years ago from a photo my sister-in-law took from the Kalalau Overlook on the island of Kauai. It is such a beautiful place. There is a very steep trail that winds down to the beach. Another access is by boat around the Na Pali coast. I believe it can also be reached by a trail that starts at the end of the road on the North Shore. It is interesting to see how much my style has changed since I painted this one.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Morning Palm

Morning Palm
10 x 7 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
Palm trees are always moving in the breeze. It is difficult to capture that movement unless you concentrate on the light. Tom took the reference photo early in the morning on a clear day. I loved the way the oranges and yellows of the lower foliage contrasted with the greens. The magentas in the shadows pulled out the deep reds in the trunk. I really like this type of palm because the trunk is such fun to paint. I have done a series of paintings on the Hickam Chanel, where this palm is found, some plein air, and some from reference photos. I will probably do more because there are trees I haven't painted yet.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Road

The Road
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
This painting is a learning experience. I really liked the mood in the photograph - lonely fall day waiting for the first frosts of winter. Unfortunately, the photo was pretty dark and I couldn't really see the detail in the foreground. My first attempt created unrecognizable mud on the right side of the road. Then I remembered that I could change that, interpret it differently. I am much happier with this version. Fall colors are such fun. I will have to look for more foliage next time I am on the mainland in the fall. This is the third painting for the WC November landscape challenge. I will be back to painting Hawaii starting tomorrow.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Rainbows and promises

I was greeted by this beautiful rainbow when I got home today, and decided to share it. I have seen painted rainbows, but I have not seen a good one. Even my photograph does not really pick up all the wonderful ways the sunlight dances off the water droplets in such a remarkable event. I understand the physics behind rainbows, but I still consider them magical. I am not sure why they are so difficult to capture in photos or paintings, but it may have to do with their transient nature. There is also the transparency. It is there, but it is not. Perhaps, somethings are not meant to be painted. As to the promises - in Hawaii, there is always the promise of the next rainbow, but it is always a welcome surprise.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Panting on black paper

Morning Calm
9 x 12 Soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix (black)
Miki Willa
This is another painting I did for the WC November landscape challenge. The photo seems to be of a dark, dreary morning. I thought the black paper would be perfect to capture the mood. I think it worked great for the pier, the reflections, and the boats. Unfortunately, I brightened the sky too much to keep the mood. One person suggested that I use the sky to indicate a bright morning and brighten up the boats. I will have to look at this one for a while before I decide where I want to go with it. I am happy with the bottom two thirds. This is a learning journey, after all.
The good news is that another of my paintings sold. The show has been hung, and we are hoping to sell even more.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Aerial Perspective II

Peaceful Dreams
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Sprctrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I have always wanted to paint a picture of a scene like this. The problem has been that I have not spent any time in places where this happens. This month's WC landscape challenge offers this plus two other great photos to paint. Not only do I love the subject, it offered me another opportunity to work on aerial perspective. I had to work to make the fields move from near to far using value and hue. I wanted to have the lighter field in the front slightly darker than the light fields in the distance. It was an interesting challenge, but I really enjoyed doing it. If you are interested, the reference photo was taken on Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Aerial Perspective

Maui Hills
9 x 2 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I heard it again from Maggie Price, but it has taken a long time for it to sink in that when it comes to values, cameras lie. Aerial perspective is based on the notion that as we move farther away from something, the makeup of the atmosphere interferes with the colors and intensity of what we are seeing. Distant mountains are much paler in color than the tree in front of us. If you stand at the top of a mountain in the middle of a mountain range, each successive ridge gets less distinct with distance. In painting, value is one way to indicate this. That is fine if you are painting en plein air. If, however, you rely on photographs, you have to be careful about the values you are seeing. A camera will show a distant line of trees as dark as the trees in the foreground. Cloud shadows on the mountains will show up as dark as the shadows under a nearby bush. If you paint it that way, you will loose important depth. It is a hard lesson to learn. This is the third time I have painted this scene. I think I finally have the depth, or aerial perspective, I want. I really like this area in Maui. One day, I would like to visit it again.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Photorealism or Visual Impressions

Old Fishing House
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
A friend asked me a question about pastels today that caused me to think about how I use them. She asked me if one could get a smooth look with clean edges. I started thinking about how that was what I tried to do when I first started. I wanted to create an image that was exactly like what I saw. I think it is called photorealism. Susan Borgas has the ability to create this in her paintings. I really like her paintings for that quality. I, however, decided that I would rather try and convey the feelings about what I saw in a looser, more representational way, because that was more important to me. It took me a long time to come to that, to let go of trying to copy creation exactly.
This painting is not finished. I wasn't sure of that until I saw it on the computer. The red line of the pier does not stand out so much in the painting. I also want to push the lights a bit more. I am a sucker for old, abandoned, weathered buildings. I thank the photographer at WC who shared this for anyone to paint.
I will be away at retreat until Sunday afternoon. Look for a post then.