Thursday, September 1, 2011


Phlox, oil on canvas board, 6"x6"
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I love how the objects melt into the back ground in low-key paintings. Low-key paintings are those using the bottom half (more or less) of the value range. The light bathes the objects producing a soft glow. It can produce a peaceful scene with a feeling of mystery about it. Other appropriate terms might be "moody" or "atmospheric". I have attempted to create some of these effects in this 6" x 6" study.

Each type of painting style has a set of problems (lets call them challenges) and creating the effects I spoke of above are some we face when painting in this style. Any painting can be thought of in this way. It is a set of problems and the artist's job is to solve those problems. It is an equation (or probably a set of equations) to be solved. This is true whether the artist is a beginner or a seasoned professional.

If you paint in a representational style, it is useful to analyze a prospective painting in this way before you begin. That is one of the reasons that doing a preliminary small sketch of a larger painting is so useful. You are able to address (and hopefully solve) many of the challenges such as composition, use of values, etc. before you begin your large painting. If you do not make a preliminary sketch, you should at least take the time to think through the painting you are beginning so you can plan your strategy. The combination of good technique and being purposeful in planning your attack will deliver much better results than blindly painting away will little thought to the problems you will face.

This is part of my thought process and procedure whether I am doing a small still life or a large landscape. I find when I take the time and do a good job on preplanning, my job becomes much easier, more enjoyable, and the end results are so much better.

thanks so much for your visit!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Acorn Squash

Another small still life study (6"x6"). I actually bought the acorn squash a couple of weeks ago. It was mainly green when purchased and has changed over to a pumpkin orange since then. I always loved acorn squash - split it apart add butter, cinnamon, brown sugar and bake it - yum! 

The orange squash reminds me of fall and pumpkins. It is late August and fall is really on the way now. The mornings are now getting cool and I am sitting here watching the news on Hurricane Irene which they are saying will probably hit my beloved NC Outer Banks. I wish the best for the people there. The color and angle of the sunlight is also visibly changing. Fall is my favorite time of the year, but like spring it does not last long enough.

I will have to start painting outdoors more now that it is getting cooler. Thanks for your visit and I hope all of you have a great autumn!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Buddleja Davidii

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The house and land I currently own was in sad shape when my wife and I purchased it years ago. Part of the clean up process included moving and disposing of  a huge mound of limbs and other yard waste which was next to an old shed on the property. As I tore into the pile, I began to experience a wonderful discovery. From under the pile emerged an old flower garden from one of the previous residents. Some of the treasures I found included rose bushes, Iris, pyracantha, lilac bushes, hollyhocks, and three butterfly bushes. One deep purple, one lavender, and one white. All of the plants were in pretty bad shape, but with a little care judicious pruning they revived and were healthy and beautiful the following year.

Not only do I enjoy the beauty of the bush but they also provide an amazing sight each year as they draw an gathering of beautiful butterflies and moths. "Buddleja" is the genus of the butterfly bush and "Davidii" is the white flowering form of the bush. This is the time of the year when I see the most butterflies around the bushes. And for some reason, they seem to enjoy the white bush more than the others. Maybe some of my more knowledgeable friends can comment on this. All types of butterflies and moths are drawn to the plants and it is truly a glorious sight to see the plants hanging full of different colors and sizes of the insects.

The 5"x7" study above is a sprig of blooms from the white bush. I have used all of the different bushes in still life and other paintings in the past and I will keep doing so. The painting above was a challenge as the sprig started to droop quickly as it was not in water. This forced me to work quickly which is actually a good thing as it keeps your image somewhat loose and fresh. You might say it is the same concept we use in life drawing when we start out with 1 minuet, 3 minuet, 7 minuet, etc. poses. Your aim is to reproduce the most important and obvious visual information and not worry about the small details. The viewers mind will fill in the details. The resulting quick sketches can be quite beautiful in their simplicity.

I hope you have enjoyed seeing the painting and my butterfly pictures and will return often!

Thanks - Ralph

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

From Silver Lake

From Silver Lake, 24" x 36", oil on linen

There are few places I love better than coastal areas and indeed many of my paintings depict those areas. Most of my coastal wildlife, landscape, and seascape reference comes from a small island off the North Carolina coast called Ocracoke Island. The name derives from the Woccon tribe of Native Americans who lived in the mainland tidewater and came to the island for seafood feasts in fair weather.

Ocracoke Island, established as a port in 1790, has a rich history. Sir Walter Raleigh landed on the island in the late 1580's and Edward Teach (Blackbeard) was captured and subsequently beheaded  in 1718  as he and his ship hid in waters behind the island. The only access is by ferry and the island community is still small, charming, and life is leisurely. There is not a great deal of the resort type construction you see in other coastal towns and the National Park Service has preserved over 5,000 acres on the island, including 16 or so miles of beach. So there is a great deal of natural beach and marsh area on the island. In fact, I would say most of the island is undeveloped.

The painting above is looking across Silver Lake towards the Ocracoke lighthouse. Silver lake is a beautiful small harbor which is surrounded by the town of Ocracoke. I was intrigued by the rustic old waterfront building and dock which rests below the view of the lighthouse. I wonder how long the old building will be there. Even though many of the old structures still remain, I am sure that money and shiny new buildings will win the battle in the end. It seems to  most always end up that way. But for now Ocracoke is still a small piece of paradise to me, a breathing space in a insanely busy world. I hope it stays that way for my grandchildren to see.

Thanks for you visit - I do so appreciate it!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Green Glass and Rose

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Today I painted another small still life study. The green vase is from my wife's grandmother and the rose is from a bush that grows outside my studio door. I was reflecting on how my paintings tend to feature "treasured" objects. Objects that my wife and I will one day pass on to our children or others we love. I wonder if these items will bring fond memories to them also. Hopefully of a house filled with love and fun in the short time spent here.

Thank you so much for visiting!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hydrangea and Peach

When we think about seasons of the year, certain images comes to mind. Those images are part of the reason we anticipate (or sometimes dread) a certain seasons. Think about it; fall and apples, winter and snow, spring and daffodils, summer and the beach. What do you reminisce about?

Another set of summer images that play in my mind are depicted in the painting above. The hydrangea bushes in my yard in all their glory and peaches from the local orchards. Both have significance to me beyond their beauty as mere objects. Memories from my life are triggered by simple objects such as these. Possibly I reminisce too much, but my recollections are always with me. They give my life a richness that is both pleasurable and painful. It is one of the main reasons I paint - I want to share what is important to me. Even if it is just hydrangeas and peaches.

Thanks so much for visiting.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

“Making Change” Waterfront Park Pier, Charleston, SC

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What is it about a street vendor that draws our attention? Somehow they seem to wake up a sleepy place or calm down a busy one. How can they possibly do both? With their offerings and many times colorful wares, they draw both young and old. Either way, artists have always felt compelled to paint them as they interact with their buying public.

I met this vendor at Charleston’s Waterfront Park Pier when she needed help raising her umbrella (she was not tall enough). After helping her, my daughter and I took some photographs of her as we watched her greet and serve her customers. The small oil study I have painted above will eventually be a larger painting.

Waterfront Park Pier is a great place to paint or get images to paint. People are about like the vendor I mentioned above, or others sitting on benches, resting with their loved ones, or reading newspapers. There will often be folks fishing off the end of the pier. You also have the chance of photographing a passing sailboat and of course the water and marsh areas present many other opportunities. As an artist, I am always looking for places and scenes like this. For me, it is the rare place that has so many artistic possibilities like this pier has. I always find myself drawn to Charleston – and this place is one of the reasons why. 

Thank you so much for visiting! 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Sugar and Cherries"

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Still life artist are always on the hunt for objects to use in their still life studies. Some items literally call out to be used. This small sugar server has been one of those objects for a long time.

I always enjoy the challenge of painting white objects. If we look beyond the obvious white of the object, they tend to have a multitude of soft and colorful pastels and greys in them. It is these shades added into the white that really gives life to the objects. The sugar sever has had it's day and is now back in service, beside the coffee pot. Thank you so much for your visit.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Black-Eyed Susan

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Friends came for dinner a couple of weeks ago. She was holding a bunch of Black-Eyed Susans for a friend offering. She picked them from around her barn where she is caring for several geriatric horses. One of her horses may need to be put down soon and as she was telling us the hurt was evident in her eyes.

In Victorian times, different flowers had meanings attached to them. The meaning attached to the Black-Eyed Susan is encouragement. I wonder if she knows that.

Thanks so much for your visit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Figure Study 1

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Drawing. Foundational, critical, the corner stone upon which the height of an artist’s skills and abilities depend. And historically, figure drawing from life is the standard which artists have used to develop and refine their skill sets. Sadly, it is also the most neglected of all skill sets. I know – early in my art career I also neglected drawing.

Concept such as light and shadow, massing shapes, edges, line are learned. These foundational skills are then able to be transferred to most any type of painting. I paint most all subject matter and I can truly say that my current level of drawing proficiency is very telling when I pick up a paint brush.

You see, how well you draw is very much dependent on how much you draw. As soon as you stop for several weeks you will notice a difference. The longer you do not draw, the more you will notice a degradation of your skills when you return. That is why master artist continue to draw every week. Yes, they can stop and two months later they will still be able to draw better than you or I, but they will not be able to draw as well as they did before stopping. And they know that the loss of drawing skill will at some level translate to loss of their painting skills. I draw and paint weekly with well known artist Scott Burdick and Susan Lyon. Besides painting, Scott and Susan draw every week, usually multiple times a week. They consider it absolutely critical in maintaining their expertise.

So start drawing, and draw every day or at least several times a week. Join a group, do it on your own. If you have not had formal instruction in drawing I would advise you to consider doing so. The payback is considerable. At least get a good book or video on drawing as there are definite techniques you need to know, and you may or may not learn those on your own.

You may not become a master by practicing your drawing, but I can guarantee that you never will if you don’t. Thanks so much for your visit!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Rose of Sharon"

Outside of my basement door is a Rose of Sharon shrub. It is full of blooms all summer long and reminds me of my childhood because my neighbor had several of these plants in his yard. It is really amazing how many blooms it produces in a years time - seems like it should get tired producing all those flowers...
I have decided that I need to produce more small studies along with my larger paintings. This painting is one of my first efforts in doing that. An artist is never through learning, no matter how good their artwork is or how experienced they are. Small studies are one way we use to work on our technique and they also have become very popular to collect. You can bid on this painting at the Daily Paintworks site where I have begun to auction some of my small works by clicking the link below. Larger works will still be sold through my galleries (see my website for links).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

2011 Birds in Art - Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum

"Solitude" American White Ibis, 24" x 30", oil on linen - this is my 2011 Birds in Art painting
 This year I have the honor of being one of the artist included in Leigh Yawkey Woodson’s Birds in Art exhibit in Wausau, Wisconsin. It is always a thrill to be included in the lineup of artist from all over the globe. My painting is one of approximately 112 accepted entries that will hang in the exhibition.

This year the museum has asked the artist to consider contributing one or two small (4 x 6) paintings that the museum will sell during the opening as a fund raiser to help the museum. I am so happy to be able to help the Woodson museum with this.

You have to understand how the artists are taken care of while they attend the exhibit. Besides travel expenses, most other cost are taken care of by the museum. Large exquisite dinners are provided along with lodging for the artist and their guest. Transportation to all events (there are many) in tour buses is a great place where I have met and talked with artist from all over the world. Events with sponsors and the general public opening are heavy with opportunities for promotion with various media representatives. For instance, the last time I attended (2009) the Wall Street Journal sent a reporter to cover the exhibit. And the last event of the weekend is a trip north to the Woodson’s family compound where the artists are treated to an incredible picnic, boat rides, nature walks, games, and just general relaxation.

So it is with great joy that I am able to contribute back to a museum that has given such great support to me and so many other artist all over the world. I will be beginning to paint the small paintings today – we will see what I come up with!

You can read a more thorough article (and see many photos) about my last Birds in Art (2009) on my website by clicking on the following link:  note: I have two websites running now – this link is to the site that I will be closing out soon – when I close it out the site this article will be on my new site (the link for the new site is on my profile)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An Artistic Journey

A local publication (Winston-Salem Monthly) wrote an article about my art which was included in their July issue. The link is to their web edition of the issue. I really enjoyed working with the folks at the magazine.

Being interviewed like this really makes you think about your philosophy and process and put it into words. Putting it into words has never been easy for me - it hurts my head! I think that is why painting is so important to me because it is how I communicate easily. So I am going to try harder to develop my verbal communication as it seems that it is being required more of me. So much for hiding in my comfort zones...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Paying it Forward

"Sisters", 14 x 18, oil on linen

Besides posting my latest paintings, part of my intention is to also explain my technique and thoughts for those of you who might be curious. Part of my job as an artist is to pass on what I have been taught by those who have so freely given to me. I have been blessed by the teachings of many great artists who have encouraged me with their instruction.

There is the tendency among some artists to be stingy with the “secrets” of their success. Most of this really arises out of a fear of competition. The problem is most of what we learn we are taught by others – a treasure that has been entrusted to us to be passed along to future generations. How can we let that knowledge end with us? Our job is to add to the chest and pass it forward.

The overall importance of art is far larger then our individual efforts. So we must pass on encouragement. We all need to pay it forward

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Fine Art Journey...

So here we go. Blogging, a new experience in my journey. I guess I am late getting into this. In the past I hesitated starting a blog wondering if I would keep it up. After all, I seem to be insanely busy, so how am I to fit this in my schedule? But lately it has become apparent to me that blogging is something I will have to do. It will have to accompany me on my journey.

I will mainly be writing about (and showing) my artwork and related experiences with the occasional foray into other subjects that interest me. I will do my best to be brief with very little whining and with the aim of helping you leave my blog as happy or happier then when you arrived. Hopefully along the way I will begin to learn how to not brutalize the English language. Ha! We will see.

I so look forward to communicating with many of you in the future!