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May 2008 - Las Flores de La Mancha


I’ve often been asked whether I ever have “artist’s block”. For some reason, I’m always a bit amused by the question. I mean, how can an artist, living in this world of beauty and wonder, lack for creative inspiration?

 I’ve seen the whole universe reflected in the faces of the wild California poppies that spring up at the edge of the woods, next to my house. The same is true for the reflections of the morning sun bouncing off the sprinkling can in the garden. We are surrounded by countless images waiting for the interpretation of the artist’s brush.

We are like the Magdalenian cave painters, reaching across the ages to describe their environment and share their experiences with contemporary viewers. It’s a daunting responsibility, but our world is full of subject matter waiting to be utilized as a springboard for our artistic expression.

I derive my inspiration from many sources: scenes I paint on location, photos from my travels, flowers around the house and the stacks of sketchbooks I’ve amassed from my travels at home and abroad, to name a few. Which brings me to this current painting demonstration.

I stumbled across a watercolor sketch from La Mancha, Spain. It’s not a spectacular rendering, but it immediately recalled to memory the plaintiff villages, with their tiled roofs, the dust-colored castles, the windmills of Consuegra and Campo de la Criptana and the vast fields of flowers that stretched to the horizon. Well, my artistic juices got flowing, and I figured I’d found the kernel of something that I needed to say.  


I thought the watercolor design had possibilities, but I recall that, despite some hills, La Mancha impressed me with its expansiveness. I figured, right then, the final canvas would be a fairly large one. But first I needed to work out some of the design elements on smaller canvas. I eliminated the hill on the left and opened up a view to the horizon. I also decided to bathe the scene in a diffused light. Although this lighting sacrifices the drama of dark shadows, I know from experience that colors are enhanced on overcast days, and, since the colored flowers would drive the painting, this seemed like a prudent choice.



Click on any step to see a larger image

Step One:

I select a 36”x48” canvas. I indicate a rough drawing and strike in the sky, using a combination of Hansa Yellow Light, Cobalt Blue and some touches of Alizarin Crimson.

I’ve decided to keep the general value relationships in the sketch, but push the painting toward the warmer side.


Step Two:

I immediately go after the distant mountains and the general shapes of the structures. In order to keep these areas grayed down, I use combinations of the three primaries.

Step Three:

I now mass in the foliage, using ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow medium, some quinacridone gold and some touches of cadmium red. This upper section now gives me a full value range to measure my values for the rest of the painting. The reddish roof, the red highlights in the trees and the faint reddish tone on the distant plain will help connect this section to the warm foreground. (Elapsed time around two hours).


Step Four:

Now I lay in a gray wash that warms as it comes forward, and darkens as it goes from left to right. (Note: All surfaces in nature grade warm to cool and dark to light. That will be a whole other newsletter). When I lay my grass and flowers over this wash, some of that gray will show through and connect the foreground with the mountains and buildings in the background. This is not a technique I generally employ, but I instinctively felt it would help the final painting. I then begin to mass in the foreground foliage. This step took about forty-five minutes. This pretty much lays in the foundation for the painting. I decide to let this tack up overnight. I’ll begin the finishing work in the morning.


Step Five:

I paint the field, using warm greens and reds, being careful to keep the values tight, so that the plain isn’t fractured. I add some windows and details to the buildings.


Step Six:

I begin painting the poppies, carefully stating two or three in the lower left. These two or three more delineated poppies will help sell the rest of those red blobs as additional poppies. I also fine-tune the foliage around those keynote poppies by sharpening a few edges and adding selective highlights.


Now I paint the daisies in a similar manner. The ones around the detailed poppies are more rendered. The rest of the flowers are impressionistic daubs of paint – varying in size, temperature, color and value. I bring them out into the field and I’m carefully attempting to make a believable transition. Now those red streaks in the field become masses of poppies and other flowers. I like the painting so far, but my eye seems to wander off the painting on the upper left.



I add some grazing cows and additional foliage to the upper left side of the field. These small elements seem to help contain my eye, and balance the composition. Overall, I feel pretty good about the painting. It’s got some busy areas and some areas of rest, and it seems to hang together as a whole. I’ve wanted to return to paint in La Mancha, and for a couple of days now, this painting has basically allowed me to.


Happy Painting!


“Las Flores de La Mancha” – 36x48 oil