At the Peruvian Paso horse show


Each summer, the Northwest Peruvian Horse Club holds their Championship Show at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, WA. It is always a treat to attend, as this is one of the friendliest groups of horse people you will ever meet. Everyone is happy to share the history of the breed, answer questions about the tack the horses are shown in, and pose their horses for pictures.

The Peruvian Horse was developed within Peru using a trio of foundation breeds. From the NAPHA website: The Spanish Jennet gave its even temperament and smooth ambling gait, the African Barb contributed great energy, strength and stamina while the Andalusian imparted its excellent conformation, action, proud carriage and beauty to the new breed.

Peruvian Pasos have a smooth, ground-eating gait that is appreciated for both its style and comfort. As I have seen visiting the show, the horses have friendly, engaging personalities and love interacting with “their” people and strangers alike. I can’t wait to start painting some of these beauties! The painting at the top of the page is one of my first watercolors of a Peruvian gelding ready for the show ring.

Peruvian Paso Orgullo Del Peru waiting for a cookie

Peruvian Paso Orgullo Del Peru learning tricks

Peruvian Paso Orgullo Del Peru shaking off the sand

Peruvian Paso looking for treats

Peruvian Paso ready for the show ring

Painting “Buster”

Buster is a little Quarter Horse that I photographed at a show at the local fairgrounds.  He had a string of ribbons across the front of his stall, and a very long, complicated name tag that ended in “AKA Buster.” When I snapped the photo, Buster was standing in his stall, a little tired and prepping for a nap.

While all of Buster was captured in the original photo, I decided to crop down to get an almost life-sized painting of his sweet face. In the reference photo, you can see his lovely chestnut coloring. I wanted to boost the contrast a bit, and bring in shades of blue and purple that would play off all of the red tones.

The very first step for me in any portrait is to paint the eye(s). I feel that if the eyes aren’t right, the finished painting just won’t work, so it’s a good place to start! From there, I’ll paint out towards the ears and muzzle. Since this is such a tight crop, the typical ears/eyes/muzzle center of interest isn’t visible, so the eye really had to carry the painting.

Do you notice that I’ve bent one of the rules of composition? The center of interest shouldn’t be in the literal center of the painting, yet his eye is very close to center from top-to-bottom. If you were to divide the painting into thirds vertically though, it is to the right of center. The white blaze and dark background are strong elements on the left side of the painting, which helps balance the detailed eye. So, rules can be pushed a little, if done with intention.

This painting is on a half sheet of paper (15 x 22″), so it was painted in large sections. A lot of it was painted wet-into-wet, meaning the paper was wet with clear water, then color dropped or brushed in. The speckled area at the top left was done with a spritz of water as that section was nearly dry. Once the entire sheet had been filled with initial washes, the real fun of layering and creating texture began.

This is what I call “trainwreck” stage. All of the elements are there, but the different areas don’t blend together, and the value map is all over the place. Some areas need to be lighter, some darker, and the warm chestnut color needed to be more prominent to balance the coolness of the dark tones.

The final step was to compare it to the reference and make sure the underlying structure of the face was correct. You can take a lot of liberty with color, value, texture, etc. in a painting, but if you’re going for a representational portrait, it has to look like the subject!


“Hardened” revisited

Sometimes, “finished” means “done painting for now.” That turned out to be the case with this painting of a weathered padlock on a rusty gate. In the before painting at left, the colors are saturated and bright; the dirt and rust are nicely rendered, and the overall composition is pretty good. Do you see what it didn’t have? A shadow for the lock!

This piece had been signed, photographed and entered in two different shows – both of which it failed to be juried into. As I sat watching a slideshow of all of the pieces entered into one of those shows, the lack of shadow and contrast leaped off the (large) screen at me. So, back to the studio for a few relatively small adjustments.

With the addition of a darker value across the entire bottom third, including a shadow for the lock, the “floaty” feeling of the main subject has been fixed. I also darkened the shadow at the bottom right of the ring, so it ties into the deep shadow below the lock. The lesson? Don’t be afraid to look critically at a finished painting, and ask yourself if it is as strong as it could be. You may find yourself pulling the brushes out again…

The pleasure & pain of fall

It’s an odd thing to say, but today was almost painfully beautiful. As autumn fully takes hold, the big leaf maples are in the peak of their gold and orange glory. Ornamental trees and shrubs are showcasing hot reds, bright yellows, lime greens and even rich shades of purple. And still, remnants of summer surprise with their tenacity.

hydrangea bloom in fall

Why is it painful? First, because I want to paint it all, and of course that’s not realistic. Worse though, is knowing that the light, warmth and color of the last few months is staging its grand exit. Once this display fades, the dark, cold and rain of winter in the NW will settle over us.

fall color reflected in water

Yes, there’s a subtle and sometimes harsh beauty in that too, and as an artist, I’ll find it…but welcome winter? Only in celebration of the shortest day of the year, knowing that each day will be a couple minutes brighter…



One of my favorite things to photograph is rust. Rusty locks, rusty tractors, gates, trucks, chains, railroad lanterns…if I can find it, I’m probably going to take a picture of it. And when I take those photos, I’m always composing them with a future painting in mind.

That was the case with this gate and lock. Besides the rust, wear and general patina, I was captivated by the bright colors. Not wanting to create drab, brown, dirty rust paintings, this felt like a great candidate for a vibrant image.

Normally I would wet the entire paper, staple it to a board and tape the edges. This helps keep the paper from buckling while you work. Having just attended Carol Carter’s demo, where she said she likes to leave the paper loose to expand & contract naturally with the water, I decided to give that approach a try.

first washes in

At this stage, each surface of the gate had been wet with clear water, and the color dropped in to merge and mingle. As washes began to dry, more concentrated pigment was placed to create some of the “dirt.” I knew I wanted the lock to be brighter and look shinier, so I wanted to establish the background elements first.

starting lock

With the gate pretty well finished, it was time to start on the lock. This gives a really good idea of the section-by-section approach. The vertical portion of the lock was first, and then the blue base. By the time the base was finished, the vertical section had dried enough to start the flat top.

just needs details

The very bottom of the painting was a bit of a challenge. The reference photo had a board that featured peeling paint and lots of distressing. Beautiful, but too busy and distracted from the lock. Wanting some depth and color, I put in a wash of cadmium orange, french ultramarine and shadow violet. Now to let it all dry so details could be added…

curve detail

The focal point of the painting, and the title, is the stamped-in “HARDENED.” I love how the rust had started creeping into the letters, partially obscuring the shape of each, and nearly making the word unreadable.


Finished – 15″ x 22″. The board at the bottom of the gate has been simplified to look like unfinished wood that has weathered. The goal throughout the process was to create a vibrant, interesting portrait of something most would find mundane, if it was noticed at all…

The look of a steamer trunk

The company I work for is having a “designadore” contest. The idea is to take a single cabinet door and decorate it. You can paint on it, collage it, bedazzle it…whatever works. The theme is “what America means to me.”

Lots of ideas came to mind, but I wanted to do something that represented travel, especially to national parks. Inspired by a box of luggage labels that I’ve had for years, I decided to turn my door into the top of a steamer trunk.

The project was inspired by these travel labels.
The project was inspired by these travel labels.

The first step was a Google search of steamer trunks. Many common features stood out, including strips of wood, metal or leather protecting edges, metal corner guards, decorative hinges and leather straps for closures.

Leather-look paper, washi tape and "metal" hinges start things off.
Leather-look paper, washi tape and “metal” hinges start things off.

A quick trip to the craft store gave me the parts and pieces needed. The door is beechwood with a java stain, and it was way too pretty to be a well-travelled trunk. Some sandpaper and markers gave it a bit of patina.

These aren't even all the supplies used!
These aren’t even all the supplies used!

In fact, every component was aged in some way. Wood strips for the edge protectors were painted, then distressed. Some of the labels were sanded, then colored with markers and colored pencils. Grey leather was toned with shoe polish and markers to make tabs for the leather straps. Bright brass tacks were toned with three colors of metallic Sharpies.

Everything was aged and distressed.
Everything was aged and distressed.
Before and after of the leather tabs.
Before and after of the leather tabs.
The brass tacks were a bit too shiny...
The brass tacks were a bit too shiny…

The finished door steamer trunk took about 9 hours to complete. The labels were the last item added. Some were aged more than others to represent years of travel, and one has even been partially torn off. Once the contest is over, this will definitely have permanent wall space in the studio!

The completed "trunk."
The completed “trunk.”






Subtracting paint

Years ago, I took a “treated paper” workshop with local artist Kay Barnes (see her treated paper gallery). Smooth, “hot press” paper is coated with an acrylic medium, giving the surface a slightly textured yet plastic-like surface.

At that time, I was still learning the basics of watercolor, so the treated surface was simply too frustrating. I kept the blank sheets we’d prepared though, because, well…they were art supplies!

Fast forward a few years, and one of those sheets found its way to my desk. In a previous post, I talked about searching for simplicity in a horse portrait. With that goal in mind, I dropped lots of granulating colors onto the treated surface, and let it mix & mingle.

Treated paper progress

Once the paint dried, I started lifting out the horse, using clear water and a medium-sized round brush. Once the shape was established, more pigment was added, and edges were adjusted.

The finished piece (7″ x 10″) has a very earthy quality, with the feeling of a cave painting. I’m already planning a larger painting, with a trio of mares in a Montana field.

Now I just need to figure out how to sign these – with pen, white paint, or by lifting it out? (It has a digital signature for now!)

The story of Jacob

This painting was very emotional on a number of levels. Jacob was born with a terminal illness, and at age 7, had been aggressively fighting it for more than two years. His grandmother’s sister wanted the family to have a reminder of their feisty, brave and mischievious warrior.

While on a family vacation, she snapped a dozen pictures of Jacob. They reflected his illness, of course, but also captured the “little shit” that always looks like he’s about to pull a prank. We quickly agreed that we wanted that to be the focus of the painting.

Jacob's Eyes

I believe that the eyes are the key to a successful portrait, so after laying in a colorful base, that’s where I started. At this early stage, I sent it to his great aunt. Her response – “it makes me cry” – was a green light to proceed.


This painting was all about acknowledging Jacob’s illness without painting him as a sick kid. So the eyes are a little shadowed, his face a bit gaunt, and the hair is wispy. To balance that, the colors are bright and energetic, and his eyes shine with the fun of a recent swim.

His grandmother loves the painting, and told her sister that when Jacob saw it, he got a big grin on his face. He turned to his mother and said “hey Mamma, that’s me!”


“Breakin’ Out ll”

One of my favorite places to visit is Western Montana – we go at least once a year, to visit family. We always try to get at least one good wander in on the back roads, looking for wildlife and painting subjects.

These guys were part of a small herd of mares and foals. The late afternoon light was breathtaking, and I’m so happy to have caught the moment.

Little landscapes

Watercolor - 7" x 10.5"
Watercolor – 7″ x 10.5″

At the spring Samish paint-out, there is always a race to post paintings on the wall. Since I usually work on fairly detailed pieces, I rarely get anything finished enough to post.

This year, my strategy is to work on the detailed pieces, but also to paint small landscapes so I have something for the wall. At the end of day one, these little landscapes are my contribution…