Espresso Pot – Still Life Daily Painting – Karen Winters

Java Jolt
5 x 7 inches oil on canvas panel

There was a time when I could drink espresso any time, day or evening after dinner and fall asleep like a baby. Well, a sleepy baby, not a cranky crying baby. My espresso drinking days may be over unless I can find a decaf drip. I would imagine Starbucks has something of that sort, too. Christmas Blend ground for expresso sounds pretty darn good, in fact. With steamed skim milk and a dash of hazelnut flavored syrup. Yum.

Anyway, this is our old espresso pot which has seen better days, but has been well loved and used. It hung by the handle off of a pot rack and hit the floor once, but it kept working just fine although a bit misshapen. This little painting started out as a study to see how i could render the different facets of the aluminum vessel using an Anders Zorn palette of white, black, yellow ochre and cadmium red.


Lacy Park San Marino Plein Air California Oil Painting – Fourth of July 2009

Lacy Park on the Fourth of July 2009
9 x 12 plein air painting

Click the image for a higher quality, larger version.

Interested in this painting? Please write.

Remember that old “Chicago” song … “Saturday, in the park, I think it was the fourth of July.”
Well, this time it really was! My husband and I have gone to Lacy Park in San Marino through the years, but it’s never livelier than on the fourth when everyone turns out for picnicking and fireworks.

There was so much color and excitement everywhere I hardly knew where to begin. Finally I settled on this familiar view of the palms surrounding the big lawn. By the time we left there was hardly a patch of green grass to be seen.

For those people who stopped by to take a peek at my work in progress, here’s the finished version, soon to be signed and framed.

Onion and Peppers – Still life by Karen Winters

“Onion and Peppers” 5 x 7 oil on canvas

After months of watching virtually nothing but election news on TV and radio, I decided that I am finding the whole thing too stress producing and have switched some of my viewing habits to Food Network. Yeah, I still keep tabs on what’s going on, but I no longer choose to have political speak as the soundtrack for my life. With that influence, I’ve probably seen more closeups of peppers and onions and garlic cloves in the past week than I have in years. And they’re really fun to paint, too!

So here’s a closeup view of some ingredients headed for the chopping block. Get em while they’re hot … the pepper, that is.

Fortune Cookie – Karen Winters Daily Painting

“Fortune Cookie” – 5 x 7 – acrylic

This painting was done in response to a creative challenge to “draw or paint something wrapped in plastic.” Since we had Chinese food the other night, I still had this fortune cookie sitting around, so I decided to paint that. The problem is, I can’t read the fortune inside without opening the plastic and I think I might like to paint it again. So, it will sit on my desk enigmatically with the life-changing fortune and lucky lottery numbers safely sealed inside. I have a feeling that if and when I do finally tear it open it will say something like “this fortune is past its sell-by date and has expired.”

I was thinking a little bit about how I’d approach the painting of transparent plastic and I finally settled in with the realization that it’s no different than painting anything else … it all comes down to color, value, shape and edge. Simple concepts when you get right to it.

Keeping to my art resolutions, tonight I started a figure drawing class with a new teacher and what was the first thing he said about modeling the head? “You have to pay attention to value, shape and edge …(we were working in charcoal so color wasn’t a factor.) So there you go – three teachers out of three and they all concur … value, color, shape, edge – that’s how you render any object – no matter what the medium. So the next time you want to paint a lake or a cloud or a parsnip – you know the answer.

The Open Pomegranate – Karen Winters Daily Painting

The Open Pomegranate – 5 x 7 inches – oil on canvasboard

Yes, I know it is a little radical compared to yesterday’s more sedate persimmon and plumbago composition, but sometimes a girl’s just got to cut loose and do something different. I had purchased a few pomegranates to put in a still life arrangement and then I got the idea to break it open and see how I could convey the feeling of that juicy flesh and seeds scattering in all directions.

This was a great deal of fun to paint, as you can probably tell from the enthusiastic brush strokes. And I can’t really say what tomorrow will bring …

Call of the Desert – Pinyon Crest

“Call of the Desert” – 12 x 16 – oil on canvas

This new painting – of an Inland Empire desert scene – will be one that I’ll display at the Redlands Centennial Plein Air show and sale this Saturday at the University of Redlands. It depicts a typical byway on the road to Idyllwild – up highway 74 – in a little community called Pinyon Crest. If you live in that area you know just the kind of terrain I’m talking about. Very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. The sale includes not only paintings of the University of Redlands and the city of Redlands but also scenes of the surrounding Inland Empire area – including San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

Last Saturday’s paintout was a great deal of fun. I got three paintings done that day – two 8 x 10 sized ones of campus buildings, and one small 5 x 7 painting, done feverishly at sunset – showing a long view of the quad with students lounging on the grass. Surprisingly, it was not windy on Saturday and the weather was in the low 80s, quite mild. There’s another paintout tomorrow but I don’t think I’ll be going – too much wind on the freeways bouncing around big 18 wheelers.

Pasadena City Hall

“A Bright New Day” – (Pasadena City Hall) 9 x 12 oil – SOLD

More Pasadena Paintings here

A week ago Sunday the members of the California Art Club assembled at Pasadena’s City Hall for a plein air paint out to celebrate the rejuvenation and retrofitting of this revered local landmark. I don’t usually paint architectural subjects, but I enjoy challenges and this one was a good one. Compounding the challenge was the changing light, which is always a factor in plein air work. During the hours that I worked on this – from 1 -5 pm or so, the facade became more radiant and glowing, which prompted opportunities to add impressionistic color.

A week later, after the painting was dry, we returned to the same venue for a show and sale. The City Hall painting went home with a collector, as did this painting of Eaton Canyon, completed on a paintout earlier the same week.


To see more Pasadena paintings that are still for sale, go to My Gallery Site.

The Ducklings and the Dam: An Art Fable

“Duck and ducklings” 6 x 8 acrylic on matboard


On Saturday afternoon, just before sunset, my husband and son and I decided to take a walk in the Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena, which is spanned by several enormous bridges. A river runs through it, although this time of year it is usually a trickle. The river comes out of Hahamongna Park, another area that I like to go to paint and draw.

Having left the parking lot, we were heading toward the bridges when both my husband and I spied something extraordinary down in the flood channel: a mother duck was leading her five ducklings upstream. The channel, paved with cement, was mostly dry, but the area where they were walking (and they were walking, not paddling) was damp and slick with algae. The mother kept a brisk pace and the ducklings ran their little buns off trying to keep up with her. Where did they come from? How did they get down into the channel with its vertical sides which they clearly couldn’t get out of?
I was not concerned about them drowning. They are ducks after all and even if the meager flow in the channel increased, they could simply float on top of it. But I was worried about one hazard that lay ahead; a steep 45 degree ramp that formed the dam’s spillway that held back the upper pond. If they could not get out of the channel, the group would be easy picking for predators (such as owls) and night was approaching rapidly.

We gave up our desire for an aerobic walk and paced the ducks as they continued their trek. At times some of the smaller ones would take a tumble, but they quickly regained their footing and put on the speed to catch up with the group. The mother did not hesitate nor look back but would occasionally issue sharp quacks which I took to be a sort of encouragement to keep up. She set the pace and their imprinting forced them to follow.

Soon the steep ramp loomed ahead. We crossed a bridge and continued watching them as they approached this obstacle. We wondered how they would fare and held our breath. My husband was already assessing the situation and figuring a way down into the channel in case he had to do a rescue operation. That’s just the kind of man he is – always at the ready to help a damsel in distress.

The mother duck bravely led her charges up the ramp, avoiding the slick area and keeping to patches of dry paving. Her children struggled behind her but kept up the pace. But there was a final obstacle – a small protruding ledge, jutting out no more than 3 or 4 inches that they would have to go around. It was this ledge that had kept the slope dry for their ascent, but going around it and entering the pool of water at the top would mean stepping into a slippery stream of slime. We could practically see her assessing the situation and she opted to go around the corner of the ledge, her babies following. The safety of the pool was only a foot away, but the steep slippery slope was too great a match and she tumbled far down the slope, sweeping the ducklings with her. As soon as she recovered from the fall she turned around and headed back up the dry area again, and the ducklings followed. Thankfully, none seemed injured in the fall. As she approached the barrier ledge, this time she fluttered her wings and hopped over it. She was safe … but what about her brood?

The mother duck turned around and issued a few sharp quacks and the babies, unable to fly enough to get over the ledge, went around the ledge as they had before, but with their lighter mass and without the mother falling and carrying them down, four were able to scramble through the slippery scum and just barely get a webbed foothold on the top ledge, to join the other in the waiting pond.

The fifth duckling was not so fortunate and tumbled down the slope a second time. We were surprised to see that the mother duck was not anxiously looking over the ledge to see what happened to the final one. She had four to keep track of on top. Nature, or instinct probably told her to look after the greatest number. The fifth duckling shook itself off again, and with inspiring determination trudged up the slope a third time, got to the most treacherous part, fluttered and made it over the top to join the family. We, and some other walkers watching this episode all broke out in applause. The duck then quickly shepherded all the ducklings under some willow trees that were overhanging the pond. This, no doubt, would be their safe haven for the night. We saw her later diving for food in the pond, but the babes were nowhere to be seen.

Questions arose that we will never have answers for. Had the family been nesting elsewhere and just decided to relocate? Or were they always living in the upper pond and the mother had taken them all out for exercise and strengthening. Had she been a duck raised in that area or was she from somewhere else? Where was the drake? Was she unconcerned about the fate of the fifth duckling when she turned her attention to the others? Was she obeying an instinct that told her to keep her eye on the greatest number? Or did she have faith that the last little one would make it?

And what, if anything, does all of this have to do with making art?

Here’s what I’ve learned from these duck adventures:

1. Getting where you want to go isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun. It can be a lot of hard work just trying to keep up. But whining and falling behind really isn’t an option.

2. When you’re on a journey (creative or otherwise) it’s good to have companions to help you keep the pace. Make friends with other artists and take part in activities that challenge you. “Play up” as they say in sports. Do things with people who are more skilled and experienced than you are. Be inspired by their determination and energy.

3. Find a good mentor who knows the way and who will lead by example. The mother duck didn’t try to carry the babies on her back or worry about whether they were all comfortable and having a good time. (“Are we there yet?”) She set the pace and the expectations. She didn’t nag, cajole or make snarky comments about their paddling technique. A few directive quacks seemed to be enough to keep the group in line. Imprinting and instinct did the rest.

4. Unexpected obstacles will arise. Take them in stride. Just when you think that your journey is going to be a walk in the park, you come upon a 45 degree wall of slime with only a small semi-dry pathway to the top. Try to avoid the slime if you can. And if you can’t …

5. Don’t let a setback (or two, or three) stop your journey. If you’re pushing yourself you will certainly face seemingly insurmountable problems. But the truth is, everyone trips. Everyone falls. Everyone makes a fluttering, crashing spectacle of themselves at one time or another. But those are learning experiences and the next time you face the obstacle you might just try something different or decide to gather yourself together and muscle your way through. If you’re a duckling, failure and giving up is not an option. Don’t make it an option for you, either. Even if you’re the fifth duckling and everyone else has “arrived”, keep going. You can all party and pig-out on polliwogs at the top.

6. Struggle makes you stronger. My guess is that those ducklings were going to sleep well Saturday night. But Sunday morning they’d be stronger and more experienced than if they hadn’t had that field trip. Maybe the mother duck knew that, too. If you avoid a certain type of drawing or painting, tackle it. Face the hill.

Below: The real mom and ducklings in the channel. Sorry it’s not a good picture but low light conditions, distance and shooting through a chain link fence complicated things

Let’s Play – Daily Painting

“Let’s Play” – 8 x 10 acrylic on canvasboard

A few days ago, at an art gathering, one of the people mentioned that a local art club was having a show on the theme “Americana” and invited me to submit something. I realized that it was too late to paint something in oils, due to the drying time, and I wanted more of an oil look instead of watercolor. So I decided to paint this in acrylic instead. I don’t often paint in acrylic but I have to say that the convenience of having something done and ready to show quickly is really appealing.

I’ll also consider this something for the Everyday Matters “Draw some sporting goods” challenge.

The more different media I explore, the more I come to realize that painting is just painting. Although there are specifics that are pertinent to the particular medium (painting from light to dark in watercolor, vs. dark to light in oil … having to ‘save whites’ in watercolor vs. the freedom of painting white over other layers in oils) … a great deal of painting is much the same. Brush handling, painting values and shapes, composition, modeling forms – these things are very much the same no matter the medium. The other day I picked up one of Charles Reid’s books on flower painting and I was amazed at the consistency between his watercolor and oil painting. They both portray Reid’s characteristic style and flair, even though rendered in completely different media.

So if you’ve been avoiding experimenting in a different medium, give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised that it’s not as difficult a stretch as you might think.

Lemons and Silver – California still life oil painting

“Lemons and Silver” – 8 7/8″ x 7 7/8″ – oil on masonite –