Monthly Archives: December 2012

Marla At Work

Last Thursday, I got up very early to drive my friend Eva-Maria, her daughter, dog, cat, and worldly goods sufficient for six weeks in a new home in Germany to SeaTac.  She’s moving back to Germany after more than 20 years in the US. Eva-Maria and her daughter Alexandra, who I met as a cheery six-year old, were exhausted from packing.  What a relief for them to finally get on the plane!

On the way home, I stopped In Olympia to visit a friend, and then drove back to Portland just in time for my pastel painting class.  I was happy to learn that Marla would demonstrate for us that night – I was much too tired to be enthusiastic about painting that night myself.

Marla and the Image


Marla had selected an image from Tryon Creek Park.  She likes a small image, and will draw that image into a thumbnail of volumes and values – a starting point.  The white frame leaning against the easel is used to mark a larger paper down to a specific size.

The image depicted a path through trees just leafing out in early spring.  The steps in painting trees have not been clear to me.  Trees that are just a suggestion in the distance – no problem.  These trees are a grove – trunks catching the light, leaning together. Marla speaks about how much she likes the angles of the trunks, rhythm, motion…..    Foliage is dappled in the light, and the foreground is full of broken color.  Marla starts with a sheet of pastel paper prepped with a green under painting.



With a few swift gestures, Marla establishes the structure of the painting, and indicates where the deepest values will be seen.  Tree trunks are suggested.  A violet gray roadway will be blocked into the lower left corner.



Marla adds some subtle greens, and begins to apply color above the horizon line where the sky will begin.  The extra paper to the side gives a place to check colors.  The tree trunks are visible through the veil of later color.  Marla has told us that she prefers to work within a square shape.

Sky Detail


A few minutes later, a pale blue is worked between the tree forms to make sky.   Warm color is added to the path through the trees.  The forest floor begins to be created, with wisps of color.

Finished Pastel


A few more minutes, and the painting is completed. It’s lovely.

There are painters in our class, and they ask Marla to talk about how this painting could be done with acrylic paints.  She rustles around her studio and produces a large – maybe 32″ square underpainted canvas – and sets it on the easel.  She opens the jars of acrylic paints on the glass-topped shop cart on her left, and is mixing paint before we know it.  She has just one brush, pedigree more Home Depot than Windsor & Newton, and starts to work without hesitation.

The same image is painted with acrylics in about half an hour.  My classmates and I are happy just to watch.  There’s a little conversation, some about painting; we talk about the guy on OPB who painted “happy little trees.”

Marla says, “It’s not finished” and begins to clean her only brush.  It’s time to go home….  I think about painting all the way home, and decide to buy an easel.



Sigh… A Week Without Studio Time

This past week has been spent at the computer, finishing up my crop plan for 2013 and ordering seeds.  I haven’t made a dang thing in the studio, or picked up a pencil to draw.  I did take some pots down to Bill Bachhuber for some jury images.  The pots are very bright – the last B Mix pots – and I will have to use the images as a set of 4. They are “greener” and “whiter” than stoneware images from the past couple of years. It seems to me now that some of the pieces were really NOT special enough for jury slides, as I see them now in these images.

If you’ve never been to see a professional art photographer at work, it’s pretty interesting.

Bill B

I take my work to Bill Bachhuber here in Portland.  He’s very professional – extremely particular, in fact, and I love to see his photos of my pots.  It’s like really see them for the first time.    All the jury process has moved on line now, for the most part – either to Zapplication or Juried Arts Services – so it’s really different than when I started doing shows in the 90’s – we mailed slides to shows.  What a transition….

Bill went digital about four or five  years ago.  Before that, tidy little boxes of slides and their dupes came in the mailbox. I have a big box of extras to this day, just rubbish now.  Everything but the camera and the processor are about the same – lots of lights, cables, control boxes, huge rolls of tinted background papers and a big table to roll them out on.

Lights Ready

My job is to fetch the pots, and operate the switch for the room light.  We talk about the height of the camera, the light and shadow on the pot. Bill sits in a chair and gets the camera ready.  He takes a shot or two, and then we take the memory stick in to his big Mac and we look at them on the screen.  I’m always thinking about how they will look to the jurors; those mystery beings.  Most of them circle in orbits different from those of we lowly functional potters….

Side Panels

Many pots have to be shot with side panels in place so more light can be cast on the pot without creating glaze.  Bill cleans glare from the pots at the computer with painstaking care.  He’s a master of Photoshop, he must really like that part of the transition from film.  He’s really happiest when I bring in really matte pieces, I think.  He has a way of saying “shiny” that is loaded with disapproval.

Ginger Steele1205

This is the shot from the session that I like best.  It’s an utterly silly and useless pot that makes the best kind of slide.  It was fun to make, but the lid flew off the wheel while I was trimming it and is vaguely irregular.  You can’t see that in this photo.  The knob also blew off in the bisque – I didn’t pierce into with a trim tool as I was instructed now 20 year ago.  But I joined it on with glaze and it is secure.   There is also a tiny crack in the center of the base, which also cannot be seen in the image. Now you know all its’ secrets!

If I take it to a show, there will be women – usually serious, tidy homemakers  from the sturdy peasant stock – who will ask “What’s it for?”  I will act as if I have never heard that question before, and I will say (as I always do) that is for serving tapioca pudding to your darling grandchild.  If a guy should ask the question, I will smile and tell him it’s for safekeeping his $100 dollar bills.  The real truth, of course, is it that it was thrown, trimmed, carved, bisqued, painted, and fired in my demon salt kiln just to get the attention of some juror in a stuffy little room somewhere staring at a Zapp screen with a latte in her hand.

Pastel painting, the saga will continue….

I raised my hand last night when Marla asked, “who will continue with the next four classes?”  It was almost involuntary.  It’s painful to be the beginner in the class, therefore it must be good for me.  I’m even going to buy some additional soft pastels….  darks.   I also purchased a little sample of a new pastel-color-delivery model, pan pastels.  These may have been invented by or for those tidy souls who don’t like having their hands and clothing covered with gray dust.  You apply the pigment with tools borrowed from make-up application as far as I can see, sponges and sponge-tipped tools.  I bought a small set of 6 pans of different colors of blue – sky making stuff.  Swipe dash!

I had a really great picture to work from last night, from a freshly delivered 2012 calendar from the civil engineers who did some survey work for me this past year.  Nice landscape images….  I can’t be going to class without an image from which to work…  I really struggled last week with an overly-complex and badly colored image from the farm.  My printer was running out of yellow ink so the image was dim and grey.

I like what I painted last night, and to my delight my daughter Mad even wanted it.  I told her it was just opus 5, why not wait?  The paintings will surely get better.  Some of my classmates were discussing another artists; website – a blog, most likely, where an artist creates and posts a painting each day.  Were I to do a painting each day, bet I could make some serious progress.  It’s a fact that nobody can learn to make pottery one night a week…  same surely applies to pastel painting, I will need an easel…  more art materials!  Better sell some pots this weekend at my Christmas studio sale.

I soon lost the scale of the original photograph, mostly as I was working around the treeline dividing the top and bottom of the painting.  Gotta have those soft darks!  By the time I got the background colors laid on, I could hardly make a mark with my hard Rembrandt pastels. Guess that’s what they call artistic license..

Here it is…  on to the next.


A Sunday morning walk…

On Sunday morning, there were a few hours of sun.  The view to west from my back porch was so beautiful that I decided that the dawglet and should take a walk.  I’ve had a project in the works for a couple of years with the local NRCS – National Resouce Conservation Service –  that includes the reforestation of 1.5 acres of my farm.  I thought I would take a walk down there and see if any of the grass seed sowed about a month had survived the recent heavy rains and germinated.

Looking west, December morning.

We walked up through the nursery, and then down the little hill to what’s been called the duck lake.  I learned the name of that place from all my neighbors who showed up, asking to hunt ducks and geese there after I moved here in 1997.  My duck lake is completely encircled by trees, and is considered to be one of the better ones around, not that I would know. My tribe has tofu turkey for Thanksgiving….

 Chi – the dawglet – was cavorting, eager for the outing.  There’s nothing she likes better than to accompany rounds in the nursery, looking at crop.  But  a walk in the woods is better than anything if you are a terrier.

Coming down into the duck lake, I could see that my grass seed was surely goners.  The entire area was covered with straw that had floated in last week when the the first episode of the winter monsoon was upon us.  I didn’t have access to a real drill – we just broadcast the seed and dragged it.  the NRCS had specified that row spacing for my reforestation trees should be 8 feet, meaning that all the 10 foot wide tillage equipment of my obliging neighbors was not usable.  Sigh.  There was still quite a lot standing water down there…


As soon as I took the picture above, Chi raced head.  The peace of the morning walk was forgotten.  To my surprise, there was a duck hunter!


Aw, it was just my new best friend Larry and his dog Sally.   I explained to Larry that it was my farm and there would be no murdering of ducks.  Larry was deaf as a post and I don’t think he understood a single word I said, but he did tell me all about Sally’s recent operation – the $1,700 one, not the $4,000 one – for a torn tendon in her right hind leg.   Sally is half Chesapeake Bay retriever and half lab, and she’s only 18 months old and already a really good bird dog, so why not?  He and his wife were brokenhearted when their last dog died, and they were really happy to find such a good pup even though they’ve always had purebred dogs in the past.

Then, he must have realized I was still talking, maybe trying to tell him something, maybe that he couldn’t hunt on my land, and he started a completely bullshit story about how Dave had sent him to gather up all the lumber that they had gotten together to build a new duck blind on the property just to the west of mine.  The lumber – which was evidently railroad ties – had floated down into my woods, riding floodstage Dairy Greek south with the straw.  I have to say that he didn’t look exactly like he was out to reclaim wood, what with his brisket decorated with duck calls and his stylish camoflauge-painted shotgun.  I guess when you dress up to murder ducks you take your hearing aid out.

duck call

I asked him about the duck calls and he gave a toot on each one of them. Sally was very excited, but Chi was off varminting and could have cared less.

I shook his hand like a man, and headed home to get ready to go to Portland and go sell pottery.  Chi was content with the outing and came along home to spend the day on the couch.  By the time we were home, it was raining steadily and the sun was gone.

Camo Chi

Here’s the dawglet in full camo……