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February 25, 2018

ralph-painting sepia cropped


I’ve written before about my tendency to move often from one art discipline to another, and even between genres within those disciplines. I love to draw and sketch and I love to paint. I love landscapes and portraits and old barns and storybook art.  It is, in some ways, a curse. I suspect this shifting focus has cost me over the years. It’s hard to build a reputation as a painter if you don’t always paint. And it’s hard to build a reputation as a pencil or pen & ink artist if you don’t pursue that work consistently. The admonition “Find what you’re best at and focus on that” certainly comes to mind. The other version of that is “Find what you love to do and focus on that.” It sounds so simple.

Several years ago, my dear wife bought me an electronic keyboard, the musical kind. She rationalized the purchase in her mind by saying “You don’t have many toys.” So I began to play, learning not only the melody lines for songs, but also the chords. Eventually I made a CD of several original improvisational pieces of music. It really wasn’t very good, but when one of Nell’s sisters heard it, she commented “If Ralph would just focus on one thing, he could become pretty good at it.” And therein lies the problem.  I have too many things to focus on and I love every one of them.

The music fell by the wayside as I put more emphasis on painting. The keyboard sat in a corner of the studio and, while I plinked around on it occasionally, I spent most of my time trying to learn to paint. When we became fulltime RVers, the keyboard went to a grandson.

When Nell and I got married, I was drawing, primarily in graphite pencil and occasionally in Prismacolor colored pencil. Our first forays into the world of art shows/markets came with acceptance into the Huffhines and Cottonwood shows in Richardson, Texas. About that time, three of my pencil drawings pulled a blue ribbon and two honorable mentions at the Texas State Fair.  I ultimately did Texas Indian Markets in two cities and a large market in Houston. While there were a few early acrylic paintings in the mix, the bulk of my work was pencil and a bit of pen & ink and it would stay that way for several years.

My sister-in-law’s observation came around the same time I started learning to paint. I don’t know if I took her thoughts to heart or if it was just some sort of raw dedication on my part, but for the next couple of years, I worked 40 to 50 hours on my day job and painted into the wee hours of the night. I chose gouache as my medium and painted religiously. When I finally retired from the day job, the painting hours extended into the daytime. We took my work to the First Saturday Arts Market in Houston.  My traditional, representational paintings were in the minority at the time, surrounded by abstract and decorative art.  We did reasonably well for someone with relatively low prices and art that didn’t exactly fit the average Millennial and Gen-Xers decor.

When sales began to slow down at the Market, we developed Whimsitecture, a collection of miniature artworks that were a collaboration of whimsical drawings by me with bold quirky color added by Nell. Thus, drawing came back into my routine.  The whimsical art had a good run, but the crazy low prices for these tiny pieces of art don’t generate huge revenues. I’m convinced that people who were used to my traditional paintings were confused by this new work, but it’s still a lot of fun when someone buys one of them.

After my heart surgery we took a few 11×14 paintings, a mix of gouache and acrylics, to The Mason Gallery in Mason, Texas. They kept several of them and told me to paint bigger, with an emphasis on the Texas landscape. Experience had taught me that gouache paintings at 16×20 are a bit complicated, so I spent the next roughly three months producing a number of paintings using acrylics, something I had done only briefly some twenty-five years ago. When we carried seven paintings to the gallery, they kept all of them. At their request, I have completed a larger piece at 24×30 and will deliver it in the next few days. Meanwhile, while we wait to see how those paintings are received, I’ve started doing some smaller 5×7 very loose landscape paintings in acrylics, again trying something different.

After twenty-eight years of being married to me, Nell has come to accept that it’s impossible to predict what I’ll be working on tomorrow. She just knows that it is rare for more than two days to go by that I haven’t drawn, sketched, painted or studied art of some kind.

Somewhere along this meandering road I’ve lost the “focus on one thing” idea. From where I sit while writing this, I can see several pieces of art, all mine, done in gouache, acrylics, and pen & ink. There is “serious” work and there is whimsical work. They range in size from 24”x30” to 2.5” x 3”. There is an unfinished book, and there is a note with a dozen ideas scrawled on it. At this point in my life, I’m finding it hard to feel guilty about losing that laser-like focus. Instead, I feel guilty about all those unfinished or yet-to-be-started projects.

Through this blog and Facebook, I’ve had a lot of people around the world say they have gained from watching what I do. Total strangers and friends have paid money for things I have created. At 74, I am still able to do what I love, and continue to be encouraged by someone I love.  When I stop and think about it, isn’t this what an artist’s life is supposed to be about?

It certainly works for me.


Barn in Acrylics

February 24, 2018
0223181114 650s

Barn, 5×7, Acrylics

This little painting is a departure for me. Nell says she has seen me paint up to this point many times and then keep going, adding more detail and realism. I know the point she’s talking about. It’s somewhere after the initial block-in.  And she’s right. It’s that point where I see it as an unfinished painting, but if I left it alone, it could stand by itself.

This time, I focused on keeping it simple and loose.  I’ve recently discovered the work of Ukrainian painter Aleksandr Kryushyn, whose Ruussian Impressionist style intrigues me. He uses far more color than I’m used to, and my little painting in no way compares, but his work touches something in me.  My larger work is directed at a specific viewer, one who likes and appreciates greater realism.  These little works are fun to do and, at least for a while, I’d like to play with the idea of simple, more colorful small paintings.

We’ll see how it goes.

River Walk

February 17, 2018

Sneak Peek


River Walk, 24 x 30, Acrylic

This is a sneak peek at a new acrylic painting, large for me at 24 x30. The Mason Gallery in Mason, Texas recently took seven of my 16×20 acrylic paintings and Bob Terrell the owner requested a 24×30 to serve as a “center piece” for the others. This is the painting that resulted, and we’ll be taking it to Mason next week. My apologies for the poor photograph.

Because we live in an RV, space is limited to store finished work as well as materials, especially stretched canvas, which the gallery prefers. I had resolved not to paint any more “large” paintings until the finished ones moved out. Fortunately, the gallery solved the crisis by taking the entire batch of finished paintings. This large one has been a challenge in our limited space, but it has been a joy to create a scene at this size.

I love painting. I love drawing. But over the past year, I’ve found myself a bit at loose ends occasionally, and my concentration has suffered. Part of that could be residual effects of open heart surgery. But I’m convinced that part of it is Facebook.

I was, honestly, just one click away from closing my Facebook account this afternoon.  Nell convinced me that the benefits of seeing new art every day, along with the contact with so many artists and friends old and new just might outweigh the political snark and general meanness that was affecting me. So here we go with another new leaf being turned over, a renewed commitment to limited Facebook time, aggressively scrolling past the things that disturb me.

I would much rather reconnect with the readers of my blogs, so many of whom have been so gracious in their comments, comments that really do give me a feeling of accomplishment. I want to clean up and update my website. There is a lot of older work that doesn’t excite me anymore and it needs to be removed or replaced. I want to spend more time with Back Roads & Brushes. I love writing, and would like to make our local excursions interesting, even if we aren’t moving around in an RV. And I have books to write. Poor Sherwin has been badly neglected and deserves his own book.

So my commitment is to spend a limited amount of time on Facebook and more on the things that make me happy and give me a feeling of worth.

Stand by.

Acrylic Paintings, The First Batch

October 24, 2017

I’m doing a lot of acrylic work these days. The new gallery suggested a 16×20 size, so I’ve been busy, learning acrylics and producing work that hopefully might find its way into the gallery.


I’ve posted several of these previously, but here’s the past few weeks work. All acrylic on stretched canvas, all 16×20, and all done with just a few colors: ultramarine blue, primary yellow, burnt umber, yellow ochre and white. I may add a few more colors if I start focusing on skies and clouds a bit more, but this is the basic palette I’ve always painted with and it seems to be serving me well.

I especially enjoy the river paintings and plan to try a few more as I continue to learn my way around with acrylics.


Finding The “Best” Way

October 20, 2017
IMG_1393edited at 400

Pencil Sketch of a Rembrandt Etching, 1973

I came across an article from copyblogger recently, titled “This Common Belief Could Be Blocking Your Creative Potential”, written by STEFANIE FLAXMAN. Thinking it was probably just another “here’s how to make money from your art” article, I almost scrolled past it. Instead, I opened and read it. It was a short article and, maybe because this has been on my mind lately, it made sense.

In it, she writes:

“Once you’ve learned the basics, you have to give your project your own color and richness, rather than try to mimic or duplicate someone else’s “best way.”

“The best way” to do something may not work for you at all.

If you keep searching for “the best way,” you’ll never discover your way.”

The article was primarily aimed at writers, but it works for artists as well. There have been times when I was afraid I was just a mimic, an imitator, a copier… because I studied other artists when I was trying to find a way to accomplish something in a drawing or painting. I still do that today. When trying to solve a visual issue, I look to see how others did it. What I’ve discovered is that when it’s time to actually apply the paint, I do it my way. And I remind myself how many artists derive most of their art income, not from selling paintings, but from teaching, doing workshops, and selling books and CDs. There is nothing at all wrong with that.  I even have a book out myself on painting with gouache. The point here is that for every workshop by an artist, there are 5 to 20 people attending that workshop. Why? To learn how that artist does what he or she does.

When we go back into art history, we find that most, if not all, of the great masters of the past studied under someone else. Art historians can tell us what qualities in an artist’s work reflect who that artist was apprenticed to. Most of today’s well-known artists studied or learned from someone else. I can sometimes look at an artist’s work and tell whose workshops or books that artist learned from. When I started painting, I was told that my work reminded one sometimes of Corot and sometimes of Constable. The truth was that I had studied the work of both of those masters. Influence is hard to hide.  An artist mentor once said he believed that the more different influences an artist studied, the more likely that artist would develop his/her own personal style. Even after ten years of painting, I keep studying and hoping that will eventually happen to me.

While I agree with Ms. Flaxman’s premise, I seem to have modified it in my own work. My way has developed because I’ve continued to search for the best way.

The search continues.

Peaceful Color

October 18, 2017
untitled 900

A Quiet Place, 16×20, Acrylic

The two paintings in my previous post were part of five acrylic paintings I’ve done in the past month. This is another one of those five. (One of them was a clinker and has been painted over.) This painting, A Quiet Place, is one that started out as one scene and morphed into something else. While there are still a couple of things to be done, there is just something about this one that I can’t explain. Maybe it’s the color. Maybe it’s the shadows and the light. Or it might be the almost borderline storybook quality about it that appeals to me.

There was a reference photo in the beginning. I did a preliminary study (seen below) that had sheep in it. The sheep were replaced by a cow. The painting was almost finished but as I let it sit and as I studied it, I wasn’t happy with it. I finally painted out the cow and what remained was this painting. Now I’m happy with it. It already has a potential buyer, but even if that doesn’t go through, I’m still pleased with this painting.

To show where this acrylic painting started, I’m attaching the preliminary gouache study:

grazing goats at900

The setting came from a random 70 mph highway shot, and the scene as painted was pretty faithful to the original photo.  The sheep and the bluebonnets were added. I normally tend to stay close to the original reference photo as far as composition is concerned. Yes, it’s just a guide, but it’s my view that I took that shot for a reason and even at 70 mph I try to compose the image as I shoot it. For me, the reference photo is very often part of the process.

It’s a sweet painting, and I’m okay with that.


Continuing To Explore Acrylics

October 13, 2017

I’m slowly beginning to find my way with acrylics. The only similarity I’ve found between gouache and acrylics is they both dry very fast. Beyond that, it’s a whole new ballgame. Fortunately, much of what I’ve learned about painting still comes into play, but there are some dramatic differences between the two media and I’m learning by trial and error. What I’ve posted here are the two latest pieces, still not complete, but far enough along to share.

Along The North Fork 900

Along The North Fork, 16×20, Acrylic

Both of these are views taken on the San Gabriel River that passes near our home. It’s a short walk, which affords me the opportunity to take lots of reference photos, which these paintings are taken from. Along The North Fork looks downriver from the landing below the RV park, and is a view we see often

A walk downriver takes us to this spot, and I’ve selected the view looking back upriver. I chose this scene because it’s more complicated and I needed the challenge. It’s allowing me to develop new skills and techniques in a new medium.

The painting size was requested by my new gallery.  I’ve chosen to use acrylics because the finished painting doesn’t require any special treatment, whereas gouache called for either varnish or mat and glass.  I did have to pull the french easel out of storage, because my Easyl Lite doesn’t work well with 16×20.

Morning on The North Fork 900

The rocks in the paintings are limestone, found in abundance here in central Texas, and a standard part of most Texas landscapes.  As part of my education, I’m going back and studying some historically famous Texas painters, such as Julian Onderdonk and Porfirio Salinas as well as more contemporary painters like Bob Wygant and James Robinson. Of course, there are always things to learn from western artists like Howard Terpning, who has always been a favorite of mine.

At 73, open heart surgery has given me a new lease on life and I’m moving forward with new work.