Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Painting mountains

Mt. Ka'ala
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
One of the things I never tire of here is the well weathered look of our mountain ranges. The reference for this one was taken from a park in Haleiwa Town looking toward the Waianea Range and Mt. Ka'ala. I selected a variety of greens and blues to work the ridges and valleys. I put my darks in first, then found I had to tone them down as the mountain developed. My sky is not as developed as I usually like, but I was really concentrating on the mountain and ran out of painting time. Isn't that always the way? I really like the feel of this one.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gray Skies

The Wall
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I was hoping to post the reference photo with this, but it is not where I thought it was and it will take me some time to find it. Maybe tomorrow.
This was a very high overcast day near Hilo, Hawaii. Even the greens were toned down. The only bright color was the red in the rock wall on the right. My husband thinks it is too vibrant. It is true. I pushed it. Maybe a small amount on the left wall would help. I don't know. I like the boldness of it. Sometimes I break the rules. A friend of mine said it was okay to break the rules if you had the name to do it. Why should they get all the fun?

Monday, April 28, 2008

A challenge

9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
On Sunday, I went through my files looking for reference photos I still wanted to paint. It seems I came up with some real challenges. Either the photos were taken on really horrid weather days, or the subjects are just plain difficult to paint. I decided to start off with a difficult subject matter.
On our wonderful Kauai trip, as we were hiking along the coast, we came to a place where there was a hole in the cliffs that opened to the sea below. Tom and I both took photos. I have looked at and rejected these photos for a long time. Yesterday, this one appealed to me. The challenge, of course, is to show the depth. I don't think I totally accomplished that, but I am coming along. I do feel there is a sense of depth, but I think it was deeper in real life. There is a serious problem at the lower left from the viewers point of view. I think I need to darken this to emphasize the shadows at the depth. Another problem is the wave foam above the rock formations. The surf was very big that day, and the waves broke big, but I think it distracts from the height of the rocks.
What I am happy about is that I feel I captured the feeling of the place. I will have to work on this again some day.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Playing with Color

Snags at Twilight
9 x 12 soft pastels in Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
This morning, I just wanted to play with colors. I have to say my inspirations have been Julie at Virtual Voyage and Casey Klahn at Pastel (see their links on the side). Julie takes wonderful photos and paints with fantastic vibrant colors. Casey also uses great brilliant colors. I wanted to do something with gold, orange, turquoise, and purple. I also wanted to get some depth in the painting. At first, I just stared at the four pastels I pulled from the box. Then, this vision came to me of dead trees in a highly polluted twilight. I wanted bands of color so I chose orange for the land in the foreground, turquoise for the polluted water, and gold for the heavily reflective polluted sky. The darkest purple I have served nicely for the snags. I seem to think in "statements" when I work in the abstract, which is very rare. I wonder why that is. I think the painting is a little brighter in real life, but I didn't want to mess with it in Photoshop this time.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Oh What a Beautiful Morning

Oh! What a Beautiful Morning
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
This is another based on a photo my husband took. One of my favorite places for views of the Waianae Mountains is from Hickam Air Force Base. There is a wide channel that runs from the ocean into the lochs at Pearl Harbor, and it runs by Hickam. There is a great park and path that goes along the waterfront. I have done a few plein air paintings there, but I don't think I have posted them because it was before I started this blogging adventure. You never know what you are going to see there. One day, I watched a nuclear sub make its way to sea. It is also directly under the flight path for the landing fields for both Hickam and Honolulu International, so all manner of interesting planes come and go. But I go for the trees, water, and mountains.
The skill I was working on for this painting was using value to create perspective. I am pretty pleased with the overall outcome. This is also my first boat. I did a close up of part of a derelict barge, but not a whole boat before. The lines can really fool you if you are not paying close attention.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Beneath Kaua'i Skies

Beneath Kaua'i Skies
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
My husband took the reference photo for this painting while we were on Kaua'i. We were at Salt Pond Beach and right behind us was a vast sugar cane field. The cane was tall, but not quite ready for harvest. He climbed up an embankment to get the photo. I loved the idea of it and when I saw the clouds, I decided I had to paint it.
I know it breaks a few "rules", but it does what I want I want it to do. It celebrates the cane which is disappearing from the islands so fast. It also celebrates the wonderful clouds that so often a part of our sky scape here. I have long been fascinated by water, and clouds are just another form of water that I really appreciate.
I have not finished with the desert series, but decided I need a little break. I still have a few more I want to do over the next few weeks. Since we will be leaving the island in a short time, I still have a few memories to paint to take with me, so I will be painting more local sites and local flowers as well.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day

Rocky Butte WIP
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I really hope this is not as dark on your screen as on mine. It looked perfectly fine in Photoshop. I have not finished the foreground at all. In fact, I sort of gave up on this because it was not working out, and I ran out of time. After discussing this with my wonderful artist husband, I have agreed to revisit this painting at a later date. I was totally entranced by this place when I was there. I don't feel I captured my feeling entirely. I will keep working at it.
I used my pan pastel sample on this for the sky. I got a very light blue. This is the fourth time using it and I have to say I am not on the bandwagon. I know there are those who just love it, but it is not for me. I used a very light paper, and the pan did not cover, no matter what I did. You can see the yellow showing through near the hill top. In this painting, it worked out well, but I would not be happy if this happened on a darker ground. I also found that blending with stick pastels was programmatical. I will stick with more traditional pastels for the foreseeable future.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pastels and old buildings

The Desert Wins
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
I really like using pastels on old buildings. When I first started, I had some trouble controlling my touch. Every stroke was just like the one before it. Now, I am pleased to say, I am getting better. I can use a different touch on each layer to get just the look I want for weathered siding like in the eave of this building. I also enjoyed the different strokes to create the adobe feel of the building. The foliage of the big bush was great fun to do with light strokes in several colors. I really had fun doing this painting.
This building is on the east side of the built up area of the Antelope Valley. In fact, it is right across the street from a very new housing development. As I was driving east, this scene grabbed my eye. I don't know what the yellow wildflowers are, but they really look beautiful with the tumbleweeds and Joshua Trees. I will be doing another Joshua Tree painting tomorrow. This one has tons of character.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Painting childhood icons

9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
This is an unfinished piece. I was totally surprised by the stark whiteness of the blossoms on the cactus. They don't look like this in real life. I will have to take another look at them. There are several things I still need to so. The sage and tumbleweeds need to be worked further. These are the low growing bushes in the desert. The line of distant cactus is much too repetitive. I need to vary the heights. I want to put some detail in the yellow wildflowers in the foreground. I also need to work on the middle hills. The value is much to dark in relationship to the front hills.
That all being said, this is the desert I grew up in. The poppy fields came once a year. This was a constant. We had a prized Joshua tree in our back yard. That is the cactus that is the focus of this painting. I thought I was growing up in the most beautiful place in the world. I was surrounded by Joshua trees, tumbleweeds, sage, and all manner of incredible desert flora and fauna. I made pets of Horned Toads and Trap Door Spiders. I wasn't so fond of the rattle snakes, but I was never bitten. We had a desert tortoise who resided in our back yard. His name was Bradshaw. Each morning, he made his slow way from his den under the Joshua tree across the concrete surrounding our pool to the patch of grass on the other end. He really did not vary his path. If you were laying out in the sun after a dip in the pool, and you were in his path, he would climb over you. I am always amazed when people don't see the beauty in the desert that I do.
On a completely different note, I received a sample of pan pastels earlier this week. I got some tools and one color, a pale blue. I used the blue in the lower part of the sky for this and yesterday's painting. I liked the way it went on using the wedge sponge tool. However, it reinforced my love of pastel sticks. I love the feeling of only having the stick between my fingers and the paper to create my paintings. I have read about so many people loving the new pan pastels, but I am not a convert. I will be sticking with the sticks.

The Last Farm

The Last Farm
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
When I was growing up in the Antelope Valley, the west side of the valley was filled with vast alfalfa farms. There was plentiful water from the artesian wells under the valley. In the few visits I have made back over the years, I have observed the decline of these farms. This last visit revealed only a couple of large green fields. I did see a very large herd of sheep along the road. I took this reference shot looking south from the south loop trail of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. It may not be the last farm in the valley, but it is certainly one of the last.
Once again, I used the oranges from my Terry Ludwig and Great American soft pastels. I am really enjoying using these colors which have gone largely unused until I started this series. The paper I used for this painting and the Lupine painting was aubergine, a very nice complement to the oranges.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
When I was small, the lupine were all over this area. This year, there were few healthy plants among the poppies and goldfields. So few, in fact, that people created areas off the paths near the plants to take photos. In doing this, they killed every other living thing surrounding the lupine. This painting shows an area where this happened. It worked out well for me so that I could showcase the lupine, but it is not so great in the long run.
As I look at this photo of the painting, I can see a couple of things I need to address. The shadow area to the right of the lupine needs to be gone, but I need to add the cast shadow area to the left of the plant. Sometimes, in the morning, I don't see these things right away. I will fix this tomorrow, but I don't think I will re-post this. Just try and imagine it.
Overall, I am very happy with this painting. It really expresses what I was seeing and feeling at the moment. I was on a high trail to the east of yesterday's viewpoint. The path you can see is the one my sister-in-law and I walked on Sunday morning. If you followed that path around to the other side of the closest butte, you would come to the bridge from yesterday's painting. The mountains in the background are part of the Tehachapi Range. The buttes are part of the Antelope Buttes area.
Once again, I relied on Terry Ludwig pastels for this painting for the most part. The greens are Great Americans. I really like working with both these brands. I love the square sticks. I have much more success with this shape for all the different kinds of strokes I use. I am so happy that Great American has gone to the square format.
Tomorrow, I will work on a view from the poppy fields to the farmland and mountains to the south of the park. The west part of the Antelope Valley was filled with alfalfa farms when I was growing up. Most of them are long gone now. I was glad to see at least one left.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Desert Series #1 - Goldfields and Poppies

Goldfields and Poppies

9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix

Miki Willa

Goldfields are very small yellow-gold wildflowers that reflect brilliantly against the brilliant oranges of the California Poppies. There are also Lupin in several shades of purple. This scene is looking north as the North Loop Trail becomes the South Loop Trail in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

When I decided to do this series, I realized that I wanted to share my impressions of all the wonderful colors as well as the terrain. In this one, I included the path, but in most I won't. The bridge in the lower center is over a wash that is dry most of the year. There is another wooden bridge I will paint later that goes over a spring fed wash. It has a completely different look.

The oranges and yellows in this painting are Terry Ludwig soft pastels. He makes the most brilliant oranges I have tried.

Tomorrow, I will be working on another look at the distant colors from a higher vantage point and a different direction.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Deserts and wildflowers

Sketches from the Antelope Valley
Miki Willa
For the past week, I have been visiting the place of my childhood, the Antelope Valley in Southern California. The valley is very large and surrounded by wonderful mountain peaks which are covered with snow part of the year. The desert floor seem vast and empty at first. That is before you get to know it. The two major cities are Palmdale and Lancaster. If you drive east from Palmdale, you are into the land of Joshua Trees and buttes. This time of year, there are also carpets of wildflowers.
About 15 miles west of Lancaster is the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. I spent two mornings wandering the trails wondering at the intense golds, yellows, ochres, greens, and purples covering the desert floor and the sides of the Antelope Buttes. All of this set off by the clear blue skies.

This last photo shows how big the fields of color are from a distance. The first day, I took the trails that lead across the tops of the buttes. That is where I took this photo. The second morning there, I took a trail that led down into the area shown. The colors are amazing from a distance, but incredible when you are in the middle of them.

I am looking forward to working on my desert wildflower and geography series. Look for them starting tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Look at the difference a day makes

The painting on top is the finished version. The one on the bottom is the same one I posted yesterday. I wanted to put both of these up here so I could see the difference. They were both shot with the same camera under the same lighting conditions. All the changes you see were made intentionally by me after a critiquing session with my wonderful husband last night. I am much happier with the finished painting. Too often, I see changes I would like to make on these small morning paintings, but put them off so I can start something new. I put it into my storage booklet. Have I told you about that? I use tracing paper tablets to store my morning paintings. This way, I can carry them back and forth easily and they are protected. Since I am moving shortly, I am very happy that my paintings will all be moved in a safe and protected way. The other advantage of having them like this is I can take a tablet when I am visiting friends and show them what I have been doing.
Since I have no idea if I will get to a computer during the next several days, I bid you aloha until next Tuesday. Please come back and visit then.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Linear perspective - a WIP

Ko'olau Vista WIP
9 x 12 soft pastels of Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
When I was a kid, my favorite thing was to create streets or villages using linear perspective. You know. One point, two point, three point. My favorite was two point so I could create an intersection for my dream shopping streets. I carefully measured all my angles, putting in all my signs, windows, and plantings so they were just right. I think I did this for many years. I still think on two point perspective fondly. If only things were that simple.
Anyway, I have really gotten away from linear perspective as I have been working on aerial perspective. There are times, however, when I have to pay attention to both. This painting is an example. The trees are an important element in this painting. They represent a planting scheme in this park that will provide shady spots for families and display different trees that grow here. I have been looking at this painting all day trying to figure out what was bothering me. It is the most distant tree. It is too tall. I was so concerned about value, I forgot size. And what about that really dark area on the mountains right in the middle? What was I thinking? Sometimes it is so hard to get it all together. I have come a long way since I started seriously painting, but I have so far to go before I can stop thinking about all the rules with every stroke I make. Or does that ever happen? Or, are rules meant to be stretched once you know how to play by them?
I will try and post tomorrow, but after that, until next Tuesday, it will be dicey. My father passed away and I am traveling to California for his services. I will take my laptop, my camera, and my moleskine, but may not have much time for drawing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Coconuts palms in pastels

Coconut Infancy
12 x 9 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
If you are an artist in Hawaii, it seems you must do a coconut palm. The first juried show I entered here, the top prize went to a close-up of maturing coconuts in the crown of the tree. I was a bit confused because I had seen that image in so many other galleries by so many artists. I vowed I would never do one because I wanted to be different. How quickly our words can come back to bite us when we see something so cool to paint.
These are very immature coconuts, still very green. I had so much fun painting this. I chose not to be specific about each palm frond, but to indicate palm frondness. I guess I am now a real Hawaiian artist. I think I may keep this one for those cold winter days in the Pacific Northwest (Washington).

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Painting light and shadow

Akaka Falls
12 x 9 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
Some time ago, I painted a very small waterfall along the path to Akaka Falls near Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. This morning, I decided to paint my impression of the big falls. I wanted to keep it loose because I wanted to concentrate on the shadows and light areas created by the morning sun the day I visited.
The trail to the falls starts in a small parking lot at the end of a road with breathtaking views of Mauna Kea and the sea. The path is old with stone stairs in places, asphalt paths and a bit of worn concrete. There are so many exotic plants along the trail that I have not seen anywhere else. There are pink bananas, helaconias that look like centipedes, and climbers with leaves bigger than I am. After about ten minutes, we came to the overlook for the falls.
Hilo is not known for having many sunny days, but this was one of them. Because of the angle of the sun, the left side of the falls was in dark shadow but the right was in brilliant sunshine. I tried to convey the sense of what I saw in this painting. I do love waterfalls, but I think they might appear cliche in paintings. I hope I was able to move beyond the cliche by focusing on the play of the shadow and the light. I am very happy that I was able to keep this loose. Maybe, just maybe, I am breaking free from my little realist voice. It remains to be seen.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Painting the swamp

Swamp Bush
9 x 12 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
Miki Willa
There is a large swamp on the east side of Oahu, the Kawai Nui Swamp. It is currently being restored to its natural beauty. Tom and I went for a walk along a border path on a very dreary day. I was struck by the bush that is the focal point of this painting. Even without the sun, it called out with its brilliant yellow green foliage.
I have always loved certain complementary color combinations. Purple/yellow is one of my favorites. When I ordered paper this time, I ordered a mixed pack of 9 x 12 Colourfix. There is a black sheet in there and that is what I used. I have found that black is a very fun color if you want dramatic paintings. Taken all together, black base, purple mountains, yellow-green foliage, makes me happy about this painting. This is the first painting I have done where the top of the mountain is hidden by the clouds. Interesting challenge.
Having said that, I do think the hill on the right is too flat. I had some contrast in it, but at the last minute decided it was too dark. By the time I got it lightened, I noticed my painting time for the morning was done. I will definitely address this problem soon.