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Facebook time out

When I was on vacation last month I enjoyed being off the grid. It was super nice to live in the moment and forget about the world outside our little climbing and painting bubble down in Utah.

After I returned, I tried to improve the paintings I did down there. But it turns out I couldn’t do much for them in the studio. I seem to be an on location painter, period. I tried to breath more life into them…but the oxygen they need is down in Moab, not in my studio. I did at least try not to make them worse. And I only worked on one of them, but eventually gave it up as a lost cause. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the painting, I tend to do that. I’ve had paintings  sell that I thought were broken.

But finally I posted them up to Facebook to see what my friends thought of my work. But after posting them, I got to thinking about why it even mattered to me what my friends thought. And that made me realize I needed a break from Facebook. I haven’t been on for a week, and intend to stay off for a while.

I like to thing that my art is an activity that transcends time. One of the reasons I love making art is that I am creating something that lives all on it’s own. A good piece of art, whether it is a book, a song, or a painting, has a life of it’s own. We are creating beauty where beauty did not exist before.

There is a reason why drawings still survive from the 1500’s and earlier. Everyone who sees them recognizes the beauty, and treasures them. Now this is not to say my art is that good. But perhaps someday it will be, if I keep learning and improving.

I have one of my great aunts paintings on my mantel. She painted it around 1910, and it has been handed down through the family. I love the way art lives on it’s own merits. If it’s pretty, people will hang onto it because it adds beauty to their lives. If the art is bad, it gets thrown away, and that is as it should be.

I also have tons of old photos that have come down through the family, including some of my great aunt, the painter. But the funny thing is, I have no use for them. They don’t add any beauty to my life. Her painting however is lovely. Art is cool, and I feel very lucky to be a painter.

I have all my recent paintings up on my landscapes page on my main website: my landscape painting page

I have a lot of administrative work to do this quarter. We are planning more changes in our program. They will be good changes, and will help our students get jobs, but it’s a lot of extra work above and beyond my normal full time teaching job. Still, I shouldn’t complain, I’m happy to be working. It’s fun learning new things.

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Indian Creek climbing and painting

Indian Creek, Moab

Daphney on Scarface
Daphney on Scarface

I’ve been back from climbing at Indian Creek for 10 days. Daphney and I had a great time.  We spent the first day with

cave route
cave route

Craig, who was on his way home from working in San Diego. That first day we climbed at the Donnelly crag. I tried to lead a 120 foot route called “Generic Crack”. The rack is one red, 9 yellows, two blues and a 4. I was fresh off a 24 hour drive on two hours of sleep…I bailed early. Craig and Daphney both led it clean. We also did the Cave route…or rather, they led it, while I took pictures. It was all reds, which is my worst size. My hands don’t fit in red cracks.  I found out later that, for guys with big hands, learning to master reds is the hardest thing to learn at the creek.

That was Saturday. Sunday we went back to Donnelly and climbed a few things we hadn’t got to the day before. She was super tired from on sighting 5.11’s the day before with Craig. We decided to take a rest afternoon. I offered to teach her how to oil paint.

crag near donnelly canyon
crag near donnelly canyon

We each did a nice painting of this rode side buttress in the afternoon light. It was her first oil painting ever and she did a fabulous job! We both started with  monochrome wash using Raw Umber. It’s a lot like using pencil, except it’s oil paint. You simply have to do a value study. I got bored with mine and broke out the color to make what you see here. The light was flat…no cast shadows, so the painting turned out almost abstract. Normally I hate painting in flat light, but something about this little painting works.

That night…might have been Sunday or Monday, it poured. We woke up to soaked sandstone and decided it was a good day to drive to town for some shopping and showers. We stopped by to see a hay bale house she had helped to build a couple years ago. It was a standard Ranch style house, one story, but the interior was all done by hand using hay and mixes of special mud.  The floor was not concrete, it was mud mixed with hay. You aren’t supposed to ever mop it. The owner can’t hang pictures on the walls with nails because the walls are hay bales covered with 2 inches of adobe plaster. I heard that this style of home construction can outlast standard buildings.

north fork mill creek canyon waterfall
north fork mill creek canyon waterfall
My painting, north fork mill creek canyon waterfall
My painting, north fork mill creek canyon waterfall

We still had time to kill before some of her other friends got off work so we hiked up to the North Fork of Mill Creek where there is a cool waterfall. There were some folks with a couple slack lines, but we ignored them as we set up our easels to paint. I decided to do this one with palette knife.  It was once again flat light, even raining a little bit but we found an overhang under which to paint. I was fully expecting this one to bomb. I still don’t know what to think of it, but it feels very fresh and lively. I use instagram to reach out to other like minded artists. When I posted this little waterfall, I was shocked to see it rack up more “likes” than any other painting I’ve ever posted.

 

We hung out with Ranger  M and his girlfriend J when we were in town on a rain day. My favorite route was “where’s carruthers”. It’s a 10+ left of Scarface that I led clean after following on top rope. As Daphney said, “Learning to accept top ropes when they are offered is part of how you become a creek climber”.

I did 4 paintings down there, all in a three day period where the rains came in at night. We drove to town, and I painted a waterfall up a canyon outside of Moab. When we woke up, I was ready to climb, but she said the rock needed another day. When I found out Delicate Arch was half an hour away, she went hiking and I went painting. I did two paintings that day.

delicate arch painting
delicate arch painting
soulfire 5.11
soulfire 5.11

I’ve had  the first one on my easel for the last few days. I’m trying to bring it to life. A lot of people liked it, perhaps more than any other painting I’ve done plein air. But I didn’t like it. I felt it was weak in many places. I’ve been slowly building in beauty, but it’s such a delicate process. The light is extremely tricky. It’s all reflected reds and tans. I’m trying to work from the photos I took as I did the plein air work…but I really miss the real light. Cameras don’t capture what I need, so my colors end up being guesses. Still, I was guessing on location, and it’s good practice to work in the studio.

Daphney gave me some great advice for the creek that applies to painting as well. “Forget about all your preconceived notions of how to define sucess. Do the best you can, and if it can’t be perfect, it’s fine to fail. You learn stuff either way, and it’s all fun. We are out here in this beautiful place, living the life we dreamed of. Who cares if the route was climbed perfectly, or if the painting is magnificent. Life is about learning and growing.”

Another cool route was mudslide 10+ over at Optimat0r wall. I followed D up Soulfire 5.11+: 130 feet of reds, capped by 3 greens near the anchor. I did quite well, only hung 3 times. I can’t wait to go back. It is the best crack climbing area I’ve ever seen.

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Self Portrait at 63

self portrait done

Staring at Mirrors

I finished another self portrait today.

Self portrait senior citizen pencil
Self portrait senior citizen pencil

I will post in order, first to last, along with a few notes about my thinking.

I started in pencil, made sure it was accurate, then sprayed it with fix. This pencil drawing was about 4 hours of work.  I intentionally made the eyes oversized. Several months ago I watched a movie called “Big Eyes”. Continue reading Self Portrait at 63

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Self Portrait March 2017

Another Self Portrait

I started another self portrait a few days ago. Pencil seemed like a good starting medium, but I got lost in the details and forgot it was going to all be covered up with oil paint. In hindsight I should have just done a nice pencil drawing and called it good. I’ve got some lovely Rives cold press 80# Illustration board that makes awesome pencil drawings. But I started this on gesso covered board, so an oil painting it will be.

Self Portrait from mirror, pencil
Self Portrait from mirror, pencil

I posted the pencil version on instagram  and my friend Kristi said I should leave some of the pencil showing, for an unfinished look. I’m not sure if that will happen, but I do like the look of the hair in pencil contrasted with the skin tones. I mean, if I wanted it photographic, I’ve got cameras for that. I’m trying to create art, but art is so hard to define.  It means different things to everyone.

Anyway, I’m happy with the progress, and look forward to spending more time on it. I’m still hammering out the color scheme. For example, what color is reflected light on skin? I’m using two lights: a shop trouble light (incandescent) for the main, and a much smaller fluorescent trouble light for the fill light.

I honestly can not see the hue. I keep guessing at violets and greens, but nothing rings true. They say any hue will work if the value is correct. And it’s true that if I flatten it to black and white the values look accurate…but that doesn’t help as I agonize over paint colors at my palette.

Self Portrait, 7 hours in
Self Portrait, 7 hours in

It’s lovely to have the spare time to paint. This quarter has been too much work and not enough play, up until this week.

Lisa and I did our usual birthday ski Tuesday. We went to Crystal this year where I tried out some borrowed downhill skis. My normal tele boots didn’t fit them so I tried out some boots from the early eighties and they were horrible. Now I realize I need to invest in new boots that will work for modern downhill skis. But I can’t afford both downhill boots and backcountry boots…assuming I want to ski randonee style (AT) in the backcountry.

At Crystal I quickly shed the downhill gear and went back to my telemark set up. That was awesome in the deep powder and I made it all day in those. But it’s all about the boots. My tele boots are only a few years old and they work great, very supportive in deep snow. My son said he would help me look for modern downhill boots when they go on sale this spring.

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Switching gears

Chimney Rock, Jtree
Chimney Rock, Jtree

I’m back at work from my Winter Break. I have one class this quarter. The reasons for my low class load are complicated, and best not discussed here. I can say however that enrollment at our college is down 14% across all programs. Enrollment in state technical colleges like ours is directly related to unemployment, which is also very low at 5%.  The one class I do have is fully enrolled. I love sharing my passion for the internet and all the clever things you can do with code.

Because of my reduced class load, I’ve decided to stop painting and focus my energies on web design, which has a better chance of earning me money in the short term. Painting full time was a dream I’d always wanted to pursue. And over the last year I got that chance. True, I was working 2 days a week, but that left 5 to paint, and I painted a lot…to the point where making art felt like work. Doing it full time literally took the fun out of it. I felt like every painting had to suceed because of that burning pressure to get good enough for a big show in a gallery.  Many, many of my paintings were just plain bad. In my wifes words: “A sixth grader could paint that”.

Chimney Rock, Jtree
Chimney Rock, Jtree

I did do some really nice work, and I treasure those moments of happiness when my paintings were going well and I knew I had a winner. But I never felt they were good enough for  a large gallery. I think a couple years in a fine art program would do the trick, but I really can’t afford to pull that money out of my savings…especially without a guarantee of sucess.  So for now at least, I’m spending my days off  studying new web technologies, and  updating my front end web skills to current standards. I’m not that far off, but my website definitely needs an overhaul.

I have a working demo here, but I can’t link to it because it’s been taken apart when the site when live. (edit 2-27-15)

It is fully responsive to changes in the viewport width, and features some unique transitions between thumbnails and full size images. I used to use a prebuilt jquery slideshow plugin. However this new webpage uses a thumbnail function that I wrote almost entirely from scratch. I’m still working some bugs out, but it’s been lot of fun creating a gallery page using my own code and ideas.

Specifically, the two main new functions I’m using are flexbox and column-count. They enable me to have variable height thumbnails that wrap in columns. I merged that concept with parent columns built with flexbox, and have nailed the classic: “In search of the holy grail of web design“…without using floats, or positioning.

In case you don’t know, the holy grail  in web design is to get 2 fixed width columns on left and right, with an expanding liquid center. It’s easy enough to do with floats and positioning. Since tables died out, I’ve been teaching that style of interface design for 10 years.

I’d been hearing from my students that there were new technologies coming online that made it easier. Things like the grid systems, and prebuilt web aplications like WordPress, which I use to manage this bog. They manage the columns for you, so you can concentrate on content.

But when I heard from a student last quarter about Flexbox, I decided it was worth a look.  I studied a couple training lessons at www.lynda.com and realized the browsers had finally matured enough to support real graphic design style column functionality.

I’ve got that nailed down pretty tightly, and I’ve got it fully responsive.

My Christmas break was super fun, and we had a great time down in jtree this year. Here are a few pictures, including recent backcountry snowcave camping trip. We got back from Cali’, and immediately went snowcamping.

Chimney Rock, Joshua Tree
Chimney Rock, Joshua Tree
Me climbing F8, Joshua Tree
Me climbing F8, Joshua Tree
Sue in the Iron Door cave, Joshua Tree
Sue in the Iron Door cave, Joshua Tree
Craig playing banjo on top of Chimney Rock, Joshua Tree
Craig playing banjo on top of Chimney Rock, Joshua Tree
Craig leading with his banjo, Joshua Tree
Craig hiking to the top with his banjo, Joshua Tree
Sue following a 5.8, Joshua Tree
Sue following a 5.8, Joshua Tree
Me with my painting New Years day 2016, Joshua Tree
Me with my painting New Years day 2016, Joshua Tree
Sue digging the snow cave
Sue digging the snow cave
Sue at our snow cave
Sue at our snow cave
My daughter cooking dinner
My daughter cooking dinner
Coffee is ready
Coffee is ready
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Painting dad’s shoes

Over two months have passed since my last entry. I’ve been doing my usual blend of climbing, painting and teaching. We lost another of the family elders a few weeks ago at age 90. A week later, his grandaughter had a baby. My brother coined a nice phrase: “The grand circle of life goes on.”

Dad's Shoes
Dad’s Shoes

I have a Facebook business page now:

https://www.facebook.com/websterart2

And I started an instagram account:

https://instagram.com/markhwebster/

My most recent art can always be found at the root of my website:

http://websterart.com/ 

I wonder at times why I bother with this blog. One lasting reason is because it is so easy to forget huge chunks of time. Reading back over this blog reminds me of what I did. I can go back to 1997 via this online journal, and as far back as 1971 via my paper sketchbooks. My sketchbooks are places where I draw, and write down my thoughts. They can be fun to look at, like an old family album.

Yesterday I picked up some art supplies in Seattle, as well as some epoxy resin to make a foot mold for the shoemaker who is going to build me a pair of custom rockclimbing shoes.

Making the foot molds works very well, though expect to blow at least $150 on two feet. Especially if you make  a mistake, as I did. I didn’t mix enough Alja-safe and was only able to cover part of my foot. One thing that did work well was I bought some clay along with the Aljasafe and sculpted a “dry dock” one inch larger than my foot into which I could mix the Aljasafe.

I’ve been custom modifying my rock shoes for the last 10 years to fit my wide feet. But my last pair blew out in two months. I destroy the engineering of the shoe when I cut them down, and the quality of materials in commercial shoes varies widely. My usual problem is blowing through the sides of the shoe above the rand.

I’m hoping this custom pair will last at least a year. At work we’ve been building an animated banner. I used to do those in Flash, but needed to teach animation that works on smartphones. Make stuff move has alway been fun, and doing it using cutting edge programing code is especially nice.

Here is some of the code we’ve been developing:

.from(“#webster”, 0.9, {opacity:0, y:50, ease:Elastic.easeOut, delay:0.5})
.to(“#wrapper”, 1.5, {opacity:0, scale:0.5, ease:Back.easeIn, delay: 0.5})
.to(“#banner”, 0.1, {backgroundColor:”#dadada”, delay: 0.3})
.from(“#diagonal”, 0.5, {x:-600, ease:Cubic.easeOut, delay:0.3})
.from(“#callUs”, 0.5, {x:-350, ease:Cubic.easeOut, delay:0.5})
.from(“#phoneNumber”, 0.5, {x:-300, ease:Cubic.easeOut, delay:0.1})
.from(“#showTime”, 1, {x:-900, ease:Cubic.easeOut, delay:1})
.from(“#sentenceOne”, 1, {x:-900, ease:Cubic.easeOut, delay:0.2})
.from(“#sentenceTwo”, 1, {x:-900, ease:Cubic.easeOut}, “-=0.5”)
.to(“#banner”, 1, {backgroundColor:”#666″, delay: 1})

Programming in Javascript is a lot harder than Flash. You don’t get the friendly timeline on which to visualize your movement. With scripted movement you have to do a lot more guessing. I suspect there will soon be something that does it all for you, so the designers can have fun too, and not write any code. I’ve heard that Adobe Edge does some of that, but I’ve never tried it. I’m soured on Adobe in general after they stiffed me for $120 when I canceled my account.

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Tacoma Old City Hall painting

I finished my painting of Tacoma’s Old City Hall. Simultaneously there was a community push to save the old building from neglect and abandonment. I posted my painting on the “save old city hall” page, and the guy who runs it liked it so much he made it his profile image. A week later Tacoma bought the building priced at $4,000,000.  That got me thinking that I need to start an open artist Facebook account to promote my art. My current Facebook account is just for climbing friends…people I know and like personally. I have it locked down tightly for privacy. As a teacher (part time), I try to be careful about my professional image. But that does not serve me well as an artist. I will work on that.

Here is the painting. It took me three Friday afternoons to finish it. Below it is my latest Nisqually painting. This is the first time I’ve painted down there in oils.

Tacoma's Old City Hall
Tacoma’s Old City Hall
Nisqually Delta, 9 x 12 oil on board
Nisqually Delta, 9 x 12 oil on board

I’ve got 3 hours in a new painting of Stadium High School, which I will post later.

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Mother’s Day bouquet

Mothers day bouquet
Mothers day bouquet

I have a long standing tradition dating back to my high school years: whenever a bouquet of flowers appears in my home, it gets painted. Doesn’t matter where it came from, or who bought them for what occasion…they end up in front of my easel.

So when Lisa bought her mom a nice bouquet for mothers day, it took me about 2 days to realize I needed to paint them. Simultaneously I’ve been getting more comfortable with oil paints due to all my recent plein air work, and I decided this was a perfect opportunity to step up to the larger canvas size of 16 x 20.

I promised myself that I would approach some galleries in Tacoma or Seattle as soon as I mastered oil paints. After nine months of constant painting I think my skill with oils has matched or maybe even exceeded my skill with pastels. It’s been a long road. There were weeks when everything I did was terrible and I dispaired of painting anything beautiful ever again. But something in me refused to give up. When a painting failed to fly, I plugged in my belt sander and ground it back to masonite. Three coats of gesso later, I was ready to try again…and again.

Each time I finished one I’d show it to Sue, my best critic, and carefully watch her face as she examined the work. She knows beauty when she sees it, but I think she may be biased by her desire for me to return to computer programming, with it’s more reliable paychecks. Getting a favorable review from her is challenging. I think she sort of liked this one, or at least thought it wasn’t too bad.

Here are a few more of my recent plein air paintings. Painting outside taught me to work quickly.

I have a lot of memories here. Dad worked for the Supreme Court for 25 years. I wasn’t sure they would let me stand on the lawn and paint here on a work day. I was literally 100 feet from the governors mansion and security was tight. Fortunately the State Police seemed to like my painting, as did a bunch of people in very expensive suits.

Olympia State Capital
Olympia State Capital

We drove up to Pt. Townsend where there is good access to boats.

Pt. Townsend boatyard
Pt. Townsend boatyard

I’ve also spent 3 Fridays working on a painting of Tacoma’s Old City hall. That was fun. I spent so much time there I started to make friends with the homeless people who hang out in the park, and the nearby restaurant offered to let me hang my paintings. Last Sunday I painted the West Point Lighthouse in Seattle. They need a few tweaks before I can show them. Mixed in with all this painting I’ve done a little climbing…but my main focus this spring has been painting.

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Painting Mom’s roses

In 1970 I was a typical troubled teen full of angst. There was marching and protests in the streets over the Vietnam war. With all the turmoil, not to mention the draft, I was confused about what I wanted to do in life. But mom had a garden full of roses and knew I loved to draw. She would pick roses and set them on the coffee table in the living room where I would see them.  I drew her roses, repeatedly in a variety of mediums. I still have those old drawings.

Fast forward 45 years and I’m still painting roses, or trying to. I bought a $15 bouquet on the weekend and got two paintings out of it before they wilted too badly. I read a lot on www.wetcanvas.com about painting. They have a FAQ page for beginning oil painters. One of the top 5 common mistakes is called “Licking”. This is where you brush the canvas, then re-brush the same spot repeatedly trying to make the brush stroke perfect. It’s called “licking” in reference to a cat licking it’s fur.

When I read that a light went on in my head. In the roses paintings below I am practicing my new “no licking” policy.

Three recent paintings from the last week:

roses palette knife
roses palette knife
roses
roses
roses
peppers and teapot
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Painted Mt. Shuksan

Dear Mt. Rainier,

I regret to tell you that I have a new lover. We had a good long run. It was on your lovely slopes that I first met the mother of my children. You gave me decades of wonderful skiing, though I could have done without the white outs. And that time you tried to kill me at 13,000 feet in January of 1982…well…I’ve mostly forgiven you for that.

But today I met another mountain, and she stole my heart. Her name is Mt. Shuksan.

Sunday, Sue, Lisa and I skied Mt. Rainier. The snow sucked and I didn’t take a single picture…but it was nice to get out. On the way home Lisa was talking about her bucket list of hikes for the summer, and she mentioned Artist Point on Mt. Baker. I told her that Tuesday is a work day for me, but that I could paint at Artist Point just as easily as at home in my studio.

We decided to do it together. I met her at her house Monday after work. She, Tim and I drove up to the trailhead at Mt. Baker. We hiked a block up into the woods where I slept under the stars while she and Tim slept in her new tent.

In the morning we started skinning up the snowed over road at 10 AM, arriving 2 miles and a thousand feet later at Artist Point at 11:30 AM. I promptly set up my easel and went to work. I’d forgot my glasses, it was snowing lightly and overcast, with a temp of 29, but I drew and tried to stay warm. At first the painting sucked hard.

“Ah, here we go again” I thought, “Even my faithful old pastels are sucking. I have truly forgotten how to paint. Oils have ruined what little skill I had!”

“But…I have nothing better to do, I hiked all the way up here. I guess I might as well keep throwing color at this abomination of a painting.”

So I did. I kept grabbing yellows and purples, trying to match the colors of the far away Mt. Shuksan. I was remembering things I’ve been studying, such as: Values. How do the far away values compare with the foreground values? And if they are the same, how can I alter them to make the mountain appear high and far away…even though it is basically crystal clear, and seems  close enough to touch.

Call it luck, intuition, or even skill, but I stumbled on a combination of purples and yellows that seem to make the mountain come alive. The sun started to gradually poke through the overcast and cast the most exquisite light on the mountain. Little patches of bright white and pale yellow snow appeared as the sunlight speared down through the clouds.

I got better at defining those pale shades of snow and rock, and soon I felt the painting began to breath. I will post pictures later. I don’t have photoshop any more. That was a great couple of days.