Monday, April 22, 2013

Hare Trigger in it's new "Forever Home".

Just before Christmas of 2011 "Hare Trigger" was installed into it's new home. Anne Snodgrass of Tucson, AZ very graciously invited us down to put the painting into it's rightful new place. It fit the space perfectly and has since been shown at the Tucson Museum of Art. Anne has been so supportive of my journey as an artist, even calling me out in the recent article that was written about her in Tucson Home magazine. But the greatest support any collector can give is to buy the art of the artists they follow. It allows us another day to paint and create! Thank you Anne...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Hare Trigger" step by step 5

"Hare Trigger", 60X40, oil/linen

Hi Everybody, I hope you all had a Merry Christmas (those of you who celebrate it). I finished this painting during the last week before Christmas. Ann and I delivered and hung it on December 23, and now it's permanently in it's new home in Tucson, AZ.

When I posted last, I hadn't even finished laying in the saddle and the cowboy's boot. That was my next step. Once the canvas was covered, I set about refining the painting. The rabbit was an important element and I spent a lot of time making sure he was hauling tail and kicking up lots of back lit dust. I reworked the cowboy's shirt and added a pinstripe and pearl snaps. The shirt needed a bit of interest and the western details were just the thing . I made sure to keep the cowboy's face dark so it was not the first thing you look at. I worked over every inch of the painting, making sure the values, colors, edges and details all were working together. Things like deepening the value and color of the chaps, making sure to work cools in with the warms. That's why there are violets mixed in with the oranges/browns. I changed the headstall that I had roughed in on the horse, and changed the bit to a snaffle bit. I added in details such as the reins that are flying away behind the cowboy. I also added a hint of carving detail in the saddle fenders. The prickly pear cactus were then feeling a bit dark and dead, so I bumped up the color and made sure to mix in warms and cools, and made sure to add lots of back lit spines to add drama and to remind everyone what was at stake here! Then definition in the flying mane, leather fringe on the chaps. The last thing I did was to increase the size of the cowboy's boot by about 15% or so. As I was painting, I had that little voice in the back of my mind telling me it was just reading too small, and when Ann asked if I thought the foot was reading a little small, I knew my little voice was right and that I had to change it.

Then all that was left was to put it in the frame. The frame was a 5" molding and added 10" in either direction. So the final framed dimensions were 70X50". The frame is from America West Frames in Flagstaff, AZ. They always do a great job and work with me to get just what I want.

That's about it! You made it to the end of another painting with me.... thanks for coming along for the ride, and we'll do this again real soon.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Hare Trigger" step by step 4

Hare Trigger, step 4, 60X40"

Hi Everybody,
I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and have sufficiently recovered. I've had to do a bit of art show related traveling and have been away from my easel for too long. But I'm back now and have taken the next step on our painting. This is actually two days of work. I didn't post after the first day because I was working to lay everything in and with the light effect of all the dust and running rabbit, it wouldn't have made any sense to you to show you until I had it all down and relating to each other. This is a pretty good sized canvas and it takes longer than a single day to get your things laid in. Something that slipped my mind when I started this step by step.

So, where are we now. Well, I have the prickly pear, rabbit and dust laid in. But I put it in a little darker than some of it will end up being. A lot of my time was spent in making the prickly pear appear to be partially obscured by the layer of dust the horse is kicking up. In the next step, besides putting the rest of the saddle and cowboy's boot in, I will be going into the foreground to add colors and bouncing light into the cactus and dust layer. I want to lighten it a bit, but not so much that the painting feels top heavy. Remember that it's always better to go from dark to light with oil paints... thin to thick. But for the top dust layer I'll be scumbling on the paint. Scumbling is just a way of saying I'll be adding lighter paint by dry brushing it on over the existing layer of dry paint. If done right, it's a very convincing way of painting dust and making adjustments. Also, I'll continue to add the cactus spines to make it the place the cowboy does not want to end up. As I'm looking at it, I'm feeling that I need to add a few paddles to the cactus that are coming toward the viewer to make it more of a 3D effect. I will be adding a few rocks and twigs in the foreground being kicked up by the bolting hare. Also, it's time to get the light effect around the rabbit perfected. Right now it's a bit dark. I want it to pop a bit more.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Hare Trigger" step by step 3

Hi Everyone,

I just returned from my Greenhouse Gallery 4 person show. It was a great time and I got to meet Mark Smith and Jim Janes, the gallery owner/operators, as well as the whole staff. We were treated like royalty and for that Ann an I are so grateful. Also, I got to meet, and hang out with two of the three artists who showed with me, Gregory Packard and Andre Kohn. In some ways we couldn't be more different, but in most ways we are fraternity brothers who share so many experiences in life. More on that in another post. We also had the pleasure of meeting many collectors, some of them who have collected my paintings in the past. It's always like meeting friends or even family, when you get to meet people who cared enough about one of your paintings, to take it home. Not to mention the collectors who care enough to put your show on their Friday nite schedule and come out to meet you. Thanks to everyone who took the time to come out, not only for the Friday night reception, but also for my Saturday morning demo. It was my first one at Greenhouse and I hope not the last. There were some awesome people in the audience who asked some very good questions that made me think. When I get the chance, I will be putting up photos in the next week....

.....In the mean time, here is the latest step in the progress of Hare Trigger.

Hare Trigger, 60X40", step 3

The lay-in continues, as well as the comparing of values. To bring the front legs forward on the horse, I keep them darker than the back legs. Those back legs will be covered in dust in the final painting, but it's important to knock them back visually now. Get it as close as you can now, even if you know you will be covering over it later. Since I knew I would be out of town during the lay in stage, I knew I would be working a dry painting at times. When that happens, and I'm ready to start on the dry painting, I will lay it on the ground and give it a good liberal coat of liquin painting medium. This enables me to work on a painting that has the look and feel if wet into wet. It's not the way I prefer to work, as I would much rather work wet into wet straight away, but that's not always possible, particularly when it's a big painting. So with the background sky now blocked in, I lay in the rest of the horse and a good portion of it's saddle. Some of the tack is also added, such as the reins, cinches and stirrup. Along the horse's belly, I've added some greenish reflected light from the cactus below it. It may look a bit odd now, but when I've added in the ground and prickly pear, it will look right. That light is bouncing around, you need to marry together objects by making sure their reflections are there effecting each other.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Hare Trigger" step by step 2

So, as you can see, I've jumped right in on the cowboy's face, then shirt, hat and finally I've roughed in some of the sky, just to make sure my relationships are right. I'll keep beating the "Don't get caught up in the details" drum. This painting will change considerably as I work on it.

Working down the canvas, I continue to lay in the chaps, jeans and glove. Then it's on to the body of the horse. I will work along areas that touch each other, rather than jumping from the cowboy's face to the rabbit or prickly pear. It's easier to judge values when you have objects next to one another than trying to guess how they'll line up once they do come together. I try to make it as easy on myself as possible. Also, I'm working on the clouds and sky in the background. It's easier to work the edges of the cowboy and horse into the background when everything is wet, rather than coming back to them later when they are dry. I tend to keep my edges soft at this point, knowing that #1) it looks more natural that way, and #2) it's going to be a painting that has a lot of dust in it and that demands softer edges.

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Step by Step of painting "Hare Trigger"

Hi Everybody,

Yeah, I know, it's been forever since I've posted. I'm sorry about that. I've spent the Summer doing paintings for the Greenhouse 4 person show, "Through the Artist's Eyes". It opens on November 8, 2011, and runs through the month of November. I'm done with the paintings now and they are at the gallery. I've started working on my largest painting so far, a 60X40" I'm calling "Hare Trigger. It's one I've been preparing to do for a while and I was excited to finally put paint to canvas. I've been collecting my reference, taking photo reference and doing sketches, refining the design and composition. In this blog, I will be taking you step by step, day by day to the painting's finish. The only break I'll be taking is for the show opening coming up. But I hope you'll hardly notice. As I work it, I'll post it. I hope this will be a help to you artists just starting out, and help to take some of the mystery away for you collectors. There's nothing mystical about what we artists do. It's very logical.

To start, let me share with you my sketch, and the reference I've taken and used to assemble this painting.

These sketches are for information/design use only.... The whole idea is to get the compositional elements in place and work out all the problems such as focal point. I don't spend a lot of time on these and don't think of them as precious in any way, they're just a tool. Right now things are fluid and I don't want to be locked in along the way, and doing finished drawings are a good way to fall into that trap. I want just enough information to get things onto the canvas in the area they need to be. Here are the reference photos I took in preparation to assemble the concept. Again, nothing fancy, but it's imperative that the light source is consistent. For this painting I needed the horse/rider, the bronc rider is from a rodeo and doesn't have the right kind of saddle, so I had to add that to the horse. I used one of my saddles and took lots of photos of it in different positions (things like the stirrups and the fender). From that photo shoot I selected the one that was right for the horse and rider photo I had. Next, I needed prickly pear cactus reference, which is easy enough around here. The next is the running rabbit. Since I knew I was going to be painting this, I kept my eyes open for good reference. I was open to inventing the rabbit, but knew that it would be more successful if I had reference. Luckily, I was in a local shop and discovered a statue of a rabbit running, in just the pose I wanted. I don't get lucky often, but once in a while.... so, I photographed the statue in the postion I needed it to be in. The final reference is a cloud shot I had in my reference morgue. I'm showing everything in black and white because the colors don't matter now, just the values (lights and darks). It's all about simplicity and structure in this stage. Colors can be deceptive, but values don't lie.





finished sketch

So now, once this prep work is done, it's time to transfer the drawing onto the canvas. I grid the drawing, scale it up, and draw it onto the canvas. Now it's time to start painting.... finally! But remember, it doesn't do any good to short yourself on this prep work. It's as important, if not more so, than the painting part. The more problems you solve on the front end of the project, the easier it will go when you get to painting. Then you can concentrate on applying the paint, not on having to move things around. This is a large painting and I'll have my hands full of other problems as I go along, but not composition problems.

Here it is on the canvas. No heavy duty details, just an simple drawing with everything in place. The shadow you see on the lower left side of the canvas is from my painting table (I'm a lefty), and the shadow on the top of the canvas is from the canvas holder attached to my easel. I work on a Hughes Easel, which makes working on a larger canvas a breeze. I can move around the canvas with the touch of a finger. Up and down, or side to side, it doesn't matter, it's easy to work the entire canvas on this easel. As you can see, I started applying the paint around the face area. If I'm going to have a problem with an area, this is probably going to be it, so I'd rather know it early on when I'm still fresh and eager.

Well, that's enough for the first day back to blogging. Thanks for taking the time to follow me and I hope this will take some of the mystery out of the artist's studio. If you have questions as I go along, don't be shy. I'll try to cover everything I can think of, but you know how it is.

Happy Painting, Steve

Thursday, February 24, 2011


"Bradley" © 2011, 16X12, oil on stretched linen
Phippen Museum's 37th Annual Western Art Show and Sale
May 28, 29 & 30, 2001 Prescott, Az

Like most working artists, I've been putting in lots and lots of time in the studio. I'm working on getting together as many new paintings as I can for my first year's participation in the Phippen Museum's Western Art Show and Sale on May 28, 29 + 30, 2011. I've attended the show many times as a visitor, but this is my first ever participating in an outdoor show. I'm learning lots about tents, display walls and what services are available for commerce challenged artists like myself, so I'll be able to take credit cards as payment.... I'll also be participating in a quick draw for the first time. It takes me back to my college days when I worked at an amusement park for a summer, while on display airbrushing tshirts.


"Welcome to the Family" © 2011, 24X30, oil on stretched linen
Trailside Galleries (480) 945-7751

In the mean time I just finished this painting for Trailside Gallery's Western Art Classic Show, March 7-19, 2011, in Scottsdale, Az. It's always a good show with very good turnout. I'll be at the artist's reception on March 17, 7-9 pm.


"Guardian of Honor" © 2011, 24X36, oil on stretched linen
Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art (800) 453-8991

I'm also pleased to announce that I've added two new galleries to represent me. Windrush Gallery in Sedona, Az and Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art in San Antonio, Tx. I'll be adding new artwork to both of these galleries in the coming months, so check back often.

and as always, Thanks for lookin' ---Steve

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cowboy Reading Light

Hi Everybody,
this is my latest painting, which I call "Cowboy Reading Light". The inspiration for it came from the great cowboy song titled "Night Rider's Lament" by Michael Burton. I've heard that Garth Brooks recorded the song, though I haven't heard his version, but then many cowboy musicians have recorded it. I've also heard that this is the only cowboy song Michael has ever written. I'm always moved by the message in the song. It paints such a vivid picture...... Here are the lyrics:

Night Rider's Lament
Lyrics and Music by Michael Burton

Last night as I was out a ridin’

graveyard shift, midnight ‘till dawn
the moon was as bright as a readin’ light
for a letter from an old friend back home

Chorus: He asked me why do you ride for your money
Why do you rope for short pay
You ain’t getting’ nowhere
And you’re losin’ your share
Boy, you must have gone crazy out there
But he’s never seen the Northern Lights
Never seen a hawk on the wing

He’s never seen Spring hit the Great Divide

And never heard Ol’ Camp Cookie sing

He tells me last night I run onto Jenny
she’s married and has a good life

Ah, you sure missed the track
when you never come back

she’s a perfect professional’s wife

She asked him why does he ride for his money
Why does he rope for short pay

He ain’t getting’ nowhere and he’s losin’ his share

He must have gone crazy out there

But she’s never seen the Northern Lights

Never seen a hawk on the wing

Never seen Spring hit the Great Divide
And never heard Ol’ Camp Cookie sing

Well I read up the last of that letter
and tore off the stamp for Black Jim
When Billy rode up to relieve me
he just looked at the letter and grinned

He sang . . .Now. . . Why do they ride for their money
Why do they rope for short pay

They ain’t getting nowhere
And they’re losing their share

Son, they all must be crazy out there

I do know that this song paints such a vivid picture in my mind, that I had to put it down on canvas. My goal was to give it a dream like quality. I hope I've come close to doing it justice. I also know that nobody would have understood the meaning of the title if I had given the painting the same name as the song.... besides, the name is a bit of a downer. So, "Cowboy Reading Light" seemed like a perfect fit for it!

Thanks for looking, Steve

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Skull Valley and Beyond

Skull Valley, 9X12, oil/cavas panel ©2011

Hi Everybody!
Last week I got out of the studio long enough to paint this piece on location. I found this view when I was out geocaching, which is a modern day treasure hunt (hidden are little capsule which contain a log book to sign in and some small trinkets you are free to take with you, as long as you leave something of equal value. But for me the treasures are the locations I'm taken to by other geocachers who hide caches for the rest of us to find. Locations I might never find on my own. Breathtaking views and vistas are the norm). Anyways, when I found this site, I knew I would have to come back to paint it. We've had plenty of snow here in the high desert and this scene is evidence of that. True enough it usually doesn't stay around long, but if you're quick you can get it down before it melts. As the name implies, this is a view of Skull Valley which is a ranching area.

Skull Valley photo reference

I got this down between 3 and 5pm, and touched it up a bit in the studio. When I started out it was intermittently cloudy, but was clearing up. Here is what the scene looked like when I started painting it. As the afternoon wore on it cleared up and I was able to get the light effect I was looking for.

Thanks for looking! Steve

Friday, January 7, 2011

Painted the Grand Canyon yesterday

Grand Twilight, 10X8, oil/linen panel

Hi Everybody,
yesterday I was fortunate enough to take a road trip with fellow painter extraordinaire Bill Cramer. Bill is an extremely talented painter who spends a lot of time outdoors painting on location. So when I had the chance to get back up to the Grand Canyon with him, I jumped at it. Though you would have thought having my plein air butt kicked there last September would have been enough! But I figured, Hey, It's a new year, there's snow on the ground, and well.... it's the Grand Freakin' Canyon. Many thanks to Bill for all the coaching and tips he shared with me about painting the Canyon. Plein air painters joke that painting the Grand Canyon is like getting your graduate degree in location painting. I couldn't agree more. We only had time for a couple of studies. Today in the studio after a good night's sleep, I decided one of them was good only for a color study from which I can do a larger painting down the road. Which is the real reason to do these in the first place. But the second one had possibilities if I did some repainting. So, even though this painting started as a plein air, it is squarely a studio piece.

The painting ended up being set at twilight with the stars just becoming visible. The colors are saturated and the shadows in the canyon are long and deep. It retains the feeling of a plein air because I kept my brush loose. I don't believe it would have improved the painting by tightening it up. What's important to me here is the feeling and mood of the light.

Thanks for looking, Steve

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Canyon Glow

Canyon Glow, 9X12, oil on canvas panel

Hi Everyone,
Things have been busy in the studio. I've been working on several figurative paintings lately, which for me at least, take more time to finish. But I found time to do this landscape studio painting last week, just before Christmas. Ann and I have a tradition of going to Zion in early November right after the peak season finishes. The cottonwood trees are at their peak and the weather is cool and comfy (ok, sometimes it's cold and frigid). At this time of year, the sun's arch is low in the sky and it takes a long time for it to light up the canyons, but boy when it does, it's glorious! I always joke that at this time of year, you can't throw a stone without killing a photographer.... they're EVERYWHERE! And since we're all there for the same reason, it's like you're part of this fraternity that's on a working holiday. Most of our time is taken up with being with friends, so I didn't bring my paintbox this time, but my camera was never out of my hand. I remember taking the photo from which I painted this picture. I stood there for some time making mental notes about what the light was doing, the color temps and why it would be so effective as a painting. The smaller trees which are still in shadow in the foreground were surprisingly green compared to the line of cottonwoods being lit by the sun. This helps to separate them from the focal point of the glowing foliage. There was quite a bit more detail in the canyon wall, but if I had painted it in in the same detail as was there, it would have competed with the tree line, so I minimized it. I have a quotation taped to the top of my easel which I see every day to remind myself, "Minimize the Obvious, Maximize the Essential". That about says it all!

Thanks for looking, Steve

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering 2011 poster announced!

First String

Hi All,
I've been in the studio and have some new work that I'll be posting for you in the next few days. In the meantime, I wanted to share some exciting news about one of my pieces that was featured right here as a day by day painting demo a little while back. "First String" was selected to be the image used for the 2011 poster for the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. Every year some of the nation's best cowboy poets and musicians gather in Prescott, Az in August for a few days to tell stories, poetry and share their music. I've been fortunate enough to meet and get to know some of these talented performers and I'm honored to be associated in some small way with them. They are artists in every sense of the word. The dates for this year's gathering have yet to be set, but I will be there every day signing posters and meeting folks who love cowboy poetry as much as I do. I will be sure to add the dates here, as soon as they are announced.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Steve's painting given as AWEE's Spirit of Volunteerism Award

Barbara Jean Polk Spirit of Volunteerism Award
"Promise" painted by Steve Atkinson

Hello Everybody,

I'm pleased to present you my latest painting titled "Promise". It's a very special painting to me, and I was excited to do it for many reasons, but I think the most important one is that it's been done to honor a very special woman by a very special organization. Arizona Women's Education and Employment, Inc (or AWEE, from now on), is doing some incredible work here in Prescott as well as Phoenix, Arizona. What do they do? Well, pretty much what their name implies. In 1981, a few trailblazing Arizona women took on the challenge of changing lives through the dignity of work for the growing number of individuals relying on welfare. AWEE has been successfully investing in women, families and local communities through life and career success planning, training and support. To date they have served and supported close to 100,000 individuals on their career journey to obtain quality employment that creates positive changes and successful beginnings for themselves and their families.
AWEE provides a number of programs and services to unemployed and underemployed men and women. Their participants may be re-entering the workforce or seeking to improve their current employment situation. But to boil it all down to the basics, their mission is all about changing lives through the dignity of work.

The image of a pioneer woman was chosen, in part, because of the can do spirit of the people of Arizona, and a strong belief in self reliance. She is standing proudly and facing into a sunrise of a new day. The wind is blowing into her face, breathing life into the scene. I chose to have her holding a child, because 70% or so of the women who are helped by AWEE are single heads of households. A staggering number, and one that reflects a breakdown in the traditional family, and the strength of the women in our society.

As I work on a painting, I have a lot of time to think about what it is I'm doing, and trying to accomplish in the piece. I'm constantly asked how I come up with the name of a painting. Well, there isn't an easy answer since it's never the same twice. But they all have one thing in common, I never force the name, and trust that it will come to me when the time is right. Since this piece was for the AWEE Spirit of Volunteerism Award, as I was painting it, I spent much time reflecting on how one person could make such a difference in the life of another. It really comes down to living up to the potential of our Humanness. The simplest things can make the biggest difference in the life of someone who is in need. The name "Promise" was an easy choice for this painting, as it can have so many meanings . It stands for the Promise we've made to each other, to be there in our time of need. The Promise of God's Love to give us strength and to see us through the good times and bad. The Promise of a Mother to her child; in teaching what needs to be taught, and the Promise to let go when the time comes. In a larger sense, it also means the Promise to accept help when it's needed and offered. And, of course, the Promise of the rewards of a life well lived.

This is the first year for the Barbara Jean Polk Spirit of Volunteerism Award, and as the name implies, the inaugural recipient is Barbara Jean Polk. Barbara's volunteer efforts are legendary in Yavapai County. She works tirelessly to make the community she lives in a better place. Since this painting was going to be awarded to her, I decided to ask her daughter Julie, who just happened to be visiting from London at the time, if she would be the model for the painting. I think she was a little reluctant at first, but she soon agreed. She fit perfectly into the pioneer dress my wife Ann had sown, and with the addition of a period apron and baby we had our models (Thanks Julie, you were GREAT!!). The setting in the painting is a pond on the Polk's ranch, with which Barbara is very familiar. So with all the elements, it is a painting that will have more meaning than just an image. It's the things that she loves, and it makes me very happy to have been able to be a small part in giving back to this incredible woman. And I join with AWEE to say, Thank you Barbara!!

First of all, Barbara is a person who has devoted more hours volunteering to her causes than most of us ever do in a work day and her volunteerism started virtually the first day she set foot in Prescott back in 1956. Her resume summarizing her volunteer activities covers 3 full pages and an array of areas concerned with children in foster care, homelessness, mental illness, infant drug exposure, child abuse, status offenders, permanency planning for abused and neglected children, Prescott Arts and Humanities, and Prescott recreational services. There is obviously not enough room for me to cover everything, so I’ll just highlight a few.

Barbara was a founding member of Catholic Social Services, now Catholic Charities, in Yavapai County in 1976, and she was instrumental in expanding the services from a small one- room office to a countywide agency with many programs for the underprivileged.

For at least 30 years, Barbara has been involved in every level of foster care from providing a home to infants, to her appointment as a charter member on both the Yavapai County and the State Foster Care Review Board where she has served since 1979. Today, Barbara volunteers as a CASA, a court appointed special advocate, for children in foster care where she advocates for the best interests of children in the court system. Barbara is a co-founding board member of the Yavapai Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and has been a Big Sister to several young girls over the years.

I have barely made a dent in recounting for you Barbara’s volunteer work and the significant impact and difference she has made in the lives of the less fortunate here in Y.C., nor have I told you about the many local, state and national awards far too numerous for me to cover. What I want to specifically mention is the uniqueness of Barbara’s model of volunteerism. I think what I have learned from Barbara's unselfish model is just how much of a difference one person can make in this world. It reminds me of that old story about a man that was walking along a beach in the early morning. As he walked he would stoop over, pick up a starfish that had been stranded on the beach by the receding tide, and toss it back into the ocean. Someone who was also walking the beach at that time asked the man, "why are you even making the effort to save these starfish, there are thousands of them on this beach alone. You surely can't think you're making a difference?" The man stooped over and picked up another starfish and tossed it back in the water. "Made a difference to that one", he said.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bullets and Water Tanks Don't Mix

Bullets and Water Tanks Don't Mix, oil/canvas panel, ©2010

I did this painting on site, but put it away for a few days to let it dry and come back to it with a fresh eye. When I did take it out again to look at it, I felt I needed to do a few things to make it better. I simplified the trees in the background to the right. Once I set them back, the bullet riddled water tank became the star, which is as it should be. I also added a couple of prickly pears at the base of the tank.

Detail 1

Detail 2

Detail 3

This was painted at the Spider Ranch in Arizona, which is a cattle ranch about 30 minutes from where I live. The foreman and his best hand kindly offered to take me back to where they were scattering salt in preparation for the gather later this month. It's very rough country out there, and not easily gotten into. We could have gone on horseback, but the salt blocks are 50 lbs apiece on their own and we needed to take in quite a few. So, the foreman took his pickup loaded with salt, hay and dogs, the long way... roughly a three hour trip. That left Amy and myself to take the quads in, going over what can only be loosely called roads. OK, they were roads back in the 70's, but now they are more of a suggestion of a road on a lunar landscape. It took an hour and a half to get to the tank, stopping along the way to set out the salt blocks. When at the tank, we had a great lunch of beef wraps and a very cold beer. Then I was left to paint, while they went out and did their work. The tank did have holes in it from hunters who practice their marksmanship by shooting this poor defenseless tank. Hey, how hard is it to hit a huge water tank anyways? I'm just askin'. The myriad of colors on this rusty metal tank is what caught my eye. When I got done, I realized I hadn't brought my panel box with me, which protects a wet painting from smudging. Luckily, Gail offered to take it in his truck and saved me from having to wipe it. Thanks Gail and Amy for allowing me to tag along. It was a very special day for me. I was grinning for days with the memory.

Thanks for looking, Steve

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monument Valley *UPDATE*

Where the West Was Won, 12X16, oil/linen panel

Monument Valley Backlight, 12X16, oil/linen panel

Added to the Monument Valley painting was a mounted rider who has stopped just to admire the view. Monument Valley is widely known as the backdrop to some of John Ford's classic western movies such as "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" starring John Wayne. That's why I decided to rename this painting "Where the West Was Won".


Hi Everybody,
this painting was done as a result of my trip out to Jackson, Wyoming. On the way, we drove through Monument Valley. The artist reception at Trailside Gallery was the next day, so I didn't have time to set up and paint. But I did manage to take some great photos of the area. This setting was right behind a roadside Navajo stand, where they set up and sell their arts. So much of the jewelry and pottery is beautiful, and I'm a sucker for turquoise jewelry anyways, so, I usually end up leaving with something (so does Ann, bless her heart).

As I've mentioned before, I love painting backlit subjects, and these sandstone formations are no exception. When you see rock formations in the distance, you are looking through the veil of atmosphere that is between you and it. This veil flattens out and minimizes the values and definition of such formations. It's important when you paint these, to keep your values close and remember to paint the planes you see. A vertical plane catches less light than a flat plane, so it needs to be painted darker. But if you paint this area with just one color, such as blue or grey, you will not achieve the illusion of depth. It's important to mix warms and cools in those shadows. Just as important as doing it in the lights. You just need to keep them closer. Also, there is a natural color difference in color in this type of stone. It's important to pay attention to these subtle changes. I make sure to simplify the rock formations in the distance. It's sooooo easy to get lost in the detail that you see, but don't fall for it. You'll be much better served if you pick out a few defining cracks and crevices. Keep your detail in the foreground and allow the detail to fall away as your distance increases. It's the way our eye sees, and it's the way to fool the eye into believing it's seeing depth in a two dimensional surface. If you do these things, your paintings will have the atmospheric perspective that is much more believable. And in the end, you will have a painting, not just a copy of your photograph. Use your photos for the shapes and selective detail, but never be a slave to it. Make compositional changes to make your painting better. Nobody cares if that bush or that tree was painted exactly in the place you put it. What matters is, for you to end up with the best painting you can!

Thanks for looking, Steve

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quickie from Labor Day Camping Trip

Hi Everybody,

I've been busier than a cricket in a chicken coop these last few weeks, so, taking a long Labor Day weekend camping trip with friends to Lake Powell was a welcome relief. I did manage to take 45 minutes to paint this 6X8 of Castle Rock at sunset. When you do a small study like this with an end of day light effect, you really have concentrate on simple shapes, blocking in the shadows to lock them down. Once the shadow shapes are down, don't touch them. The easiest way to fail on one of these, is to keep adjusting the quick moving shadows, trying to keep up with what you see. Put down the big puzzle piece shapes, working as fast and as accurate as you can be.

Earlier in the day we had gone out kayaking and had strong winds and white caps kick up on our way back.... we weren't sure we were going to make it back to the harbor, being the land lubbers we are. But, since I'm here writing about it, we made it. Of course, when we made it back to the marina, we couldn't help but sing the theme song to Gilligans Island..... "a three hour tour, a three hour tour".

I've been working on some larger paintings which I hope to post for you soon, and haven't been able to post some of the paintings from the recent Grand Canyon paintout, but plan on doing that one of these days. Painting the Canyon was quite the challenge for me, and I found myself failing more than I succeeded, but by the end, I was producing some work I was happy with.

So, here is a quickie to hold you over till the next post....

Castle Rock Sunset_Lake Powell, 6X8

This is a photo of Bill Cramer, one of the painters at the Outdoor Painters Society Grand Canyon paintout. Bill is a wonderful painter, even if he is a little extravagant. Here's a photo of him looking for a place to set up his easel to paint. Come to think of it, I didn't see him after he painted from this spot....hmmmmm.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Hi Everybody,
Here are three on location paintings done last week before I left on my Wyoming trip. All three are Arizona high country scenes.

Tranquility Lake, 9X12 oil/canvas panel


Seen Better Days, 9X12 oil/canvas panel


View from Table Mountain, 9X12 oil/canvas panel


"Tranquility Lake" was done early morning at a small lake on the property of a local cattle ranch. The people running the place have been so very nice and supportive about letting me roam around the place and paint what I want. It's this artist's dream come true.

"Seen Better Days" was done at the same ranch around noon. They have a number of great old buildings in disrepair, but just oozing with personality. This buildings days are numbered, I'm told, so I'll be back soon to do more of this one.

"View from Table Mountain", just behind our home is a plateau known as Table Mountain. The views of the valley and surrounding area seem to go on forever in 360˚. It was an extremely windy day on top of Table Mountain, and even my Soltek held down with boulders was blowing over. So I painted with one hand holding the easel in place. Wind that strong and constant is really disconcerting after a few hours, and I can tell you I was glad when I was finished with this one.

On a more personal note, I'm pleased to announce that my painting "Hell For Leather" was selected as a Finalist in Raymar's Art Competition for July 2010. The judge for this month was Randall Sexton. My thanks to Randall and Raymar for this honor.

Thanks for looking, Steve

Friday, August 6, 2010

Buffalo Heart Studio

Native Head Dress, Buffalo Heart Studio

Hi Everybody!

Today's post is going to be different from any I've posted before. As a western painter, I have to keep a good number of articles of western clothing on hand. Chaps, chinks, guns,hats..... anything I might need to use as reference in a painting. The cowboy clothing is easy to obtain. But the period pieces for Native Americans or mountain men are harder to come by. Harder to get still, are pieces that are historically accurate. I do my research and know a little bit about a lot of things (as the song goes), but I don't know enough to be an expert in period clothing. That's when it helps to have a "Guy". Someone who can take your request for a piece and give you exactly what you need. Today's collectors are a savvy bunch. Particularly ones who collect a certain period or genre, like Native American art. Not only do they require the work to be top notch, but they know what they're buying. I want to share with you my best kept secret and secret weapon, Dave and Jan Hagstrom at Buffalo Heart Studio. They've been doing this work for some time, but the website is brand new. This is what they write on their site about what they do,

'Buffalo Heart Studio has been owned and operated by Dave & Jan Hagstrom since 2000 however Dave has been making creations of this type since the mid 1970's. We create historically accurate, museum quality Plains Indian artifact replicas for collectors, western artists, reenactors, interior designers, a few selected stores and galleries, museums and the film industry. Everything is done in-house including our braintanning so we retain complete control of the finished piece. We are proud of our work and we take it very seriously. This is what we do...this is how we make our living'.

that's quite a claim, but they back it up! Their creations are nothing short of spectacular. I know of several world class artists who use Their services and trust in their expertise to deliver museum quality show pieces which they use in their art and display in their home. Recently they delivered to me a stunningly beautiful head dress. I will be using it for future paintings, but I also display it in a place of honor in our home. And no, I didn't receive or ask for a discount, to put up this post. I just believe in what he does. And I want the rest of you artist's out there, who are in need of a good affordable source for accurate Native American or mountain man costumes, to have one.


'Dave Hagstrom was born in 1947 in northwestern Wyoming not far from where he now lives which is 60 miles from the east entrance of Yellowstone Park and 15 miles from Montana. He was a taxidermist and tanner for many of his teen and adult years and has worked as a hunting guide in Wyoming and Tanzania. While Dave makes a living at creating these historically accurate artifact replicas, he is also a painter in acrylics and sculptor in bronze plus a Northern Traditional powwow dancer. They spend a good deal of time with friends and extended family on the Crow rez in Montana dancing, hunting and attending sweats.

Jan Hagstrom was born in New Mexico but has lived in Wyoming since the mid 1970's. She is an accomplished beadworker, seamstress and works on many of the pieces created by Buffalo Heart Studio. Jan is also an herbal healer and a multi award winning baker. Her talents and abilities are a large part of what makes up the business and she is the glue that keeps it all together.'


Here are a few examples of Buffalo Heart Studio's work, starting with the head dress they created for me.

Feather Headdress

Approximately 32 hand painted golden eagle feathers tipped with natural or dyed horsehair and ermine spots. Cap can be old felt hat (historically accurate from 1860) or buckskin. Back of cap has hand painted eagle body feathers and fluffs and Sun Dance plume. Lazy stitch beaded brow band with hawk bells. Split and tubed ermine drops and ribbons at the temples. Split and decorated buffalo horns available.


Now some pieces are very labor intensive and don't come cheap. Native American shirts are one of those. The amount of work that goes into one of these shirts in ridiculous! They can make you any tribal shirt you need. Dave will research it to make sure it's accurate.

Crow Hair Shirt

Approximate replica of a Crow hair shirt. (Please note that this shirt has been sold and we are now in the process of making a new one which will have some differences. Description is of the new one) Braintan deer. Fringed with about 100 real human hair locks wrapped with colored thread. Many ermine drops split and sewn into tubes. Shirt is painted with earth and mineral paints. Crow style beaded arm and shoulder strips. Beaded tradecloth and buckskin neck flaps front and back. Back of shirt is very close in appearance to the front. Only a very important man in the Crow Nation would wear a shirt such as this.


Northern Plains Bowcase & Quiver

This one is a Northern Cheyenne style replica bowcase/quiver made with braintanned deer. Lazy stitch beaded panels at both ends of quiver and bowcase. Please note that beaded panels and the fringe on both the bowcase and quiver are on one side only which was not uncommon in the old days however some were on both sides and we can do that as well. Both seams wrapped with tradecloth and laced with braintan deer. Tradecloth backed carrying strap has two beaded panels. Three historically accurate, sinew wrapped, iron trade pointed arrows and non-shooter bow. Altered commercial buckskin model is also available. Other tribal style and designs are available.


Painted Buffalo Robes

This one is painted with acrylics however we can and have painted them with natural pigments. Good soft robes. As you can see this one is of a buffalo hunt but we can also paint horse raids or battle scenes or anything else you might want. Subject matter is historically accurate. A design like this can be done on
deer as well. We also offer painted elk robes. If you prefer braintanned robes let us know and we'll check on current prices and availability at that time. Stake holes can be added for slight additional charge.


Split-Horn Ermine Headdress (Blackfoot style replica)

Several tribes used the split-horn ermine headdress but the Blackfoot headdresses were different in some ways. For example, most used split buffalo horns and other horns were made of wood and wrapped with wool tradecloth. Two other identifying qualities are that all ermine pieces are split and sewn into tubes including those on the cap and side drops which is very time consuming. The other is that very rarely did they use a beaded brow band. Trailers were usually full length but some were shorter like this one and others had no trailer but used extra long ermine skins instead. Please note, this one pictured here was a custom order created for a well known western artist and we agreed not to make another exactly like it for other artists. Pronghorn antelope horns are available instead of split buffalo horn. Full trailer instead of half length with approx. 50 hand painted in-line golden eagle tail feathers available for an additional charge.


Gros Ventre Style Shield

Approximate replica of a shield that belonged to Bull Lodge. This is the only shield we've done that is a very close reproduction of an original. Most shield designs came to men through dreams and visions so we don't like to copy them closely. There are some changes on this shield that are not like the original for that reason. Buffalo rawhide wrapped with red tradecloth on a willow hoop. Twenty-one hand painted golden eagle feathers, two beaded medicine bags, hawk bells and two horsehair locks. Hand and arm carrying straps. Paints are ground up earth and charred wood pigments applied with willow and porous bone brushes in the old way. Deer rawhide over willow hoop version also available.


Well, there you have it. I hope you've enjoyed this posting and will visit Dave and Jan at the Buffalo Heart Studio website, not only to buy, but just to browse. Please pass this info along..... I believe it's important that we support those people who make it possible for us to create accurate works of art.

Thanks, Steve

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Rancher

The Rancher, 14X11 oil on linen panel

Hi Everybody,
I decided to take an afternoon and do a quick portrait study. Something that wouldn't take a week or two to finish and throw caution to the wind. In my latest painting, The Rancher, I worked quickly and with more paint than I'm used to putting down. But in the end, I think I got the look I was going after. There is nothing more exciting for me to look at than a painting in which it's pretty obvious that the painter enjoyed him or herself while doing it...


I have to thank my sister-in-law for being responsible for this painting happening at all. Ann's brother's family came up for the Prescott Rodeo on the 4th of July and we were all having lunch at a local BBQ joint, when I spotted this gentleman having lunch with his family too. I leaned over and quietly told them that he had the look I was looking for and that I would love to paint him. But I was too shy to go up and ask a perfect stranger if I could paint a picture of him, so we left without saying a word. We spotted him again when going into the rodeo, and again a few rows away from us in their seats. On the way out, I had stopped to get a refreshment, but my sister in law spotted him again, and taking it as a sign from the Gods, went up to his wife and introduced herself and asked if Jim ( I later learned was his name) would be open to meeting me, an artist who would like to paint him. She came up to me and asked if I would like to meet my model. Jim was as nice as could be and we talked for a while. He is a rancher and roper and was very gracious in granting my request for some photos. It was too crowded there, but we met up at the local courthouse square, where we got to know each other a bit and he posed for me. Thanks Jim for being so willing to help out an artist... your print is on it's way. And thanks to Danyelle too for being my nerve on this one. I now have a specialty business card that I give away to prospective models so that they know I'm on the level and ain't some kind of crackpot. The front of the card has a portrait I've done so they can see my work, and the back not only has my info, but also a short model release that they can sign and date for my records.

original photo

I kept the background more abstract but also retained the greens of the pine tree in the background. It's a nice neutral color which compliments skin tones. The colors are broken and unmixed in the thicker passages. Also I worked in some of the reds/pinks from his shirt into the background. I did that same mixing into the figure, adding some of the background colors.

Detail 1

Detail 2

Detail 3

Detail 4

Detail 5

Thanks for looking and let me know what your thoughts are. Happy painting, Steve