Wet Paint Blog

Untangling a Mess


Paintingbuddy Bob and I headed down to Sedona to paint.  It was sunny in Flagstaff, but as we drove south through Oak Creek Canyon, high, thin clouds edged in.  Soon we had a “wax paper sky”; no direct light and very little shadow.  We debated where to paint.  Looking eastward, the sky seemed a bit more blue, so we headed southeast toward Red Tank Draw and Wet Beaver Creek.  We settled on a spot along the Creek that gave a nice composition…sort of.  This would be a challenge.  All the foliage, a tanglement of branches, rocks and roots all over the banks. And all that moving water!  The scene would need to be distilled down to simple shapes.  The creek provided a nice flattened “S” curve and the red rock shelf was a nice lead in.  When I squinted down, I could summarize the foliage into areas of dark and light.  A painter is never finished learning and you don’t get any better if you avoid a challenge.  AND it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to “be”.  With that little pep talk, I started in.  Bob was already halfway into his painting when I felt mine finally start to shape up.  At the end of two hours, I had a little 9”x12” I rather liked.


Riparian Respite   9” x 12”    Oil

Step by Step

Where to startThe CanvasWhere to start?Chosing a colorWork the shadowsWhat color IS that?Working light and shadowKeep pushingClose upCovered!Finished!

Scrutiny wall


There is a point with some paintings when I’m not sure if they’re truly finished or not.  There is a wall in my house, the “scrutiny wall”, where I’ll hang them and just live with them for a week or so.  It’s good to look at a piece with fresh eyes and see what it might say it needs before it goes in a frame. I ask myself: does it communicate depth and distance?  Does it have anything annoying in it?  Does my eye go to the center of interest right away?  Does it invite me in?  Does it give the eye a little route to travel around the painting?  Does it have a neutral resting place for the eye?  How are the values (dark and light balance)? What does it need that will make it a better painting?  

In this case, I intend to put a vertical element on the lower left side.  With the slant of rock from upper right to lower left, the viewer’s eye slides right off the bottom of the canvas.  A branch or edge of rock should fix that. I need to consider whether or not to put hikers on the trail.  I don’t often include people in paintings, but doing that might give a better sense of scale and distance.  Good thing with oil paint, if I put them in and don’t like how they look, I can wipe them off.

Do you see anything else?

Meet my Framer


John has several vices


Let me introduce you to John Wisniewski and his business in Camp Verde, Classic Picture Frame.  I met John way back in 2005 when I lived in Cottonwood.  Several painting-friends highly recommended John and since our first meeting, I’ve never gone anywhere else for frames.  John’s service is immediate; if he doesn’t have framing material in stock, he’ll order it and have a frame ready for me within a week or less.  He made the frame he’s holding that very morning. 

John’s good judgement has been invaluable many times.  I’m a Pisces and when presented with many choices, I have a difficult time making decisions. When I bring a painting in, John will go to his wall of samples, and start selecting possibilities.  Sometimes he tries out a sample I’d never have considered and it’s just the perfect match; and we have a good laugh when it’s not.  

If you’ve purchased one of my paintings, chances are it’s wearing a frame made by John!

Meet my photographer


Ken evaluates


Ken and Pele

I’d like to introduce you to several important people in my life.  First in this short series is Ken, my photographer.  I’ve been seeing Ken ever since 2005 when I lived in Cottonwood.  I needed someone to photograph my paintings and make prints.  A painter friend of mine, Cody DeLong, recommended Kenny to me.  Kenny doesn’t try to impress me with his camera and computer prowess; he knows I have limited understanding and limited time.  He uses top of the line equipment and is meticulous in color adjusting and fine-tuning images for reproduction.  I’m often asked why I travel all the way to Cottonwood to have my paintings photographed and I say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  I like Kenny’s precision, his fine sense of humor, and excellent results.  And any man who exclaims over my fine histogram is OK with me!



Any artist with a website has probably received one; an email that almost makes your heart sing.  “Dear Ms Sutherland, my wife has been on your website and I secretly looking over her shoulder realized she is in love with your work.  Please email me with the price on your painting "Threading the Needle”  There’s more and I’ll go into that in a moment.  Um…”I secretly looking”?  The English is not quite right.  And, if they’ve been on my website, they’d know the price of the painting because I always list prices.  You realize something is a little fishy, then reading on, it starts to really stink.  It’s boilerplate; “I have a second home in the Bahamas (Tahiti, Aspen, San Diego) and I’d like to furnish it with your works”  OK, this guy is rich except it’s “work” not “works”.  “I’ll be passing through your area on my way to my second home next week and will stop in with a check” Interesting how he might be driving to Tahiti.  Sometimes these emails attempt to tug at your heartstrings:  “My only daughter is leaving for college”, “my wife has an incurable disease”.  That’s when you’d better realize that this is a scam and delete it.  

And what if one did follow through?  Either the wealthy writer or his courier comes to your home with a check or money order much larger than the worth of the paintings.  Then the artist is asked to just write them a check for the difference.  They drive off with your good check and the paintings and later when you get to the bank, you find that the one in your hand is worthless.  

I know at least one artist who nearly fell for this scam  He had a sculpture ready for pick up when he excitedly told me of this sudden windfall.  I told him he’d fallen for this common scam.  He called his wife who was supposed to meet with the courier and warned her to NOT let him have his work.  Just in time!

Quest for the Perfect Pochade Box-3

Alla Prima Series

Vista EncantadaSet upPreloadedDrawerAlmost readyAccommodationCanvas choiceCanvas #2Ready!

Quest for the perfect pochade box-2


Meet the Alla Prima “Blackfoot” model from Montana woodworker and artist Ben Haggett.  This is the second pochade box I purchased back in about 2011.  It is a marvelous piece of equipment, very versatile, and all held together with magnets, springs and hinges.  As you see in the next photo, there is room in the lid to hold at least four canvases, both 8x10s and 6x8s.  


You hold onto the d-ring, pull that little door open and pull the whole lid back to reveal preloaded paints.  There’s a drawer on the right for a few tubes of paint and a tray that lifts out for increased work space.  A coil spring allows a painter to fit any size canvas onto the magnetically operated wood canvas supports.  No wing nuts, no screws, pretty easy on the hands.  When the lid comes down, there is a plunger that presses into the drawer to keep it locked in place. 


I really like this box, so why isn’t it my go-to pochade box?  It’s a little chunk, is heavier than my Open Box M,  and doesn’t fit right in my backpack.  The space for preloading paint is a little limited, but I can work around that.  That’s really not a good reason.  OK, I’m heading to the North July 11th.  I’ll take this one along and give it a go.

Quest for the perfect pochade box-1


I’d like to do a little series on my adventures with pochade boxes.  Most painters start out with a “French easel”, a three legged studio-in-a-box.  I used one so long ago that I cannot find a photo of it and I’m too lazy to set it up right now.  The one pictured here, however, is my first real pochade box which I still use most of the time.  When I first started painting plein air, I struggled to keep up with the guys who had everything tucked away in their backpacks.  I clunked along with my French easel, the size of a small carry-on.  My friend, Cody DeLong, advised me to order the one you see here from a company in Cody Wyoming, Open Box M.  As you can see, it has had a lot of use.  What I like about it is it will take almost any size canvas, has a large work area, is fairly light weight and folds up into a pretty thin size.  What I don’t like about it is the four wing nuts and two thumb screws that catch on everything in my pack and are tough to turn when my hands are freezing in the wintertime.  We’ve learned to get along, however, and I find this one is my “go-to” box.  I have three others I will show you over the next installments

A word about that word pochade…its French, meaning “quick sketch” and that’s what we do with these boxes.  We do a quick little painting which hopefully results in capturing the essence of a scene.


Dawn@DawnSutherlandFineArt.com  © Dawn Sutherland  2017