My first Death Valley National Park painting

I’ve finished the first of several paintings I’ve planned to do of my trip to Death Valley National Park last February.  I ran the Death Valley half marathon in Death Valley National Park just as the wildflower superbloom was starting, and it was a wonderful experience.  Just as the sun was rising and the runners lined up at the start line, the race director lead the crowd in singing “America the Beautiful”.

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Death Valley Superbloom, 20″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2016 Kathryn Beals

You can click on the images to see detail shots from the finished painting.  I had fun working with yellow on this one:

Here’s a gif of the painting coming together.  You can watch my coffee cup moving around:

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The painting is now live in my Etsy shop as a photo print or canvas print, and up on my website.  The painting is for sale and I will be entering it in several shows this fall.

New firefly painting, step by step

Hi!  I’ve been pretty busy with baby #3, but now that he’s coming out of the newborn phase I’m finding time to paint a little bit.  Here’s a painting I’ve just completed:

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Fireflies, 16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2015 Kathryn Beals

Here’s a photo of me painting with my little guy from my Instagram:

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You can watch a very quick demo of the process below, or click through to read the steps in more detail.

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Goodnight Moon and the North Star Painting

This is the latest in my starry night camping series, just finished today:

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North Star, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2015 Kathryn Beals

For this painting, I decided to experiment with more of a turquoise blue.  I have always loved the night sky in Clement Hurd’s illustrations on the last page of the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, a book I enjoyed when I was little and now read to my children.  The room gets darker and darker on each page until the last page when the lights are out, little bunny is asleep, and the stars are shining through his window:

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“Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”(Photo from our copy of Goodnight Moon, 1947 by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd, Harper Collins)

I always liked the way the night sky in those pictures is not black but actually a bright turquoise blue. As an artist, it inspired me to try painting a night sky using little or no black.  I want my night sky paintings to have the same calm, wondrous feel as the sky in Goodnight Moon, even in the very different setting – sleeping on a cold mountaintop, instead of safely tucked into a warm bed.

For this painting, I used my usual combo of Anthraquinone Blue, Paynes Gray and Titanium White, with clear glazes of Quinacridone Magenta, but I also tried adding Turquois (Phthalo) in areas to make it more of a greenish blue like in the Goodnight Moon illustration.

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The tent is something I like to add to bring more emotion and connection to a landscape.  This scene isn’t based on any particular mountain or trip, but it reminds me of the feeling of camping in the high Sierras or the Rockies, above the treeline and under the stars.  I didn’t plan on it being a snow painting, but like many of our camping trips, sometimes it turns out that way.

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This painting is available in my Etsy store as a photo print or canvas print.  The original is for sale through my website.

Moonlit Sky in Smalt Blue, Finished Painting

This is one of my night sky paintings:

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Haven,  16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I like lighthouses, although I wasn’t thinking of any particular place when I painted this.  I wanted the painting to be mostly about the beauty of the sky, overwhelming the tiny symbol on the horizon, a theme I’ve been working with in many forms.  This painting features a lot of Smalt Hue, one of Golden’s historic colors.

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Smalt Hue is a modern synthetic approximation of the blue color that was once made from ground cobalt glass in 16th and 17th century paintings in place of Ultramarine or Cobalt blue, which were made from crushed precious stones and very costly to use.  Blue is a rarity in Renaissance paintings due to cost of the pigments.  The method of making blue paint from cobalt glass was much less expensive, but the colors faded over time.

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Working with modern paints, I don’t have to think much about the relative cost of the colors on my palette (although some still cost more than others) or worry about the lightfastness.  I still discovered Smalt Hue as a beginner artist because it was relatively inexpensive (as a Series 1 color, it costs roughly half as much as Cobalt Blue, which is Series 8) and I fell in love with the slightly purplish shade for skies.  As you can see from the swatch on the tube, it’s very transparent and easy to layer.

The other main colors are Paynes Gray and Dioxazine Purple, with some Titan Buff in there for the moon:

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You can buy this image as a photo print or canvas print through my Etsy store.  The original is not for sale.  

Mt. Whitney, Yosemite National Park, Finished Painting

This is a painting I did a few years ago of Mt. Whitney in Yosemite National Park, California.  I painted it on a travel easel outdoors, near the wonderful Whitney portal store, as my husband was hiking.  We did a shorter backpacking trip in the Glen Aulin area that summer, and did Whitney as a side trip.   I still had too much altitude sickness that day to attempt the 14,505′ climb, but it was fun to hang out at the base that day and paint.

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Mt Whitney, 16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

The painting took about 45 minutes, which was good since it was very hot and bugs kept flying into my wet paint.  I used reference photos to get the distinctive shape of the peaks right, but I exaggerated the colors of the sky and rock for dramatic effect.

We love the otherworldly feel of the high Sierra mountains, and Whitney is an amazing place to visit.  You can also read about some of our other Sierra backpacking trips, and the paintings that came out of them.

You can buy this image as a photo print or canvas print through my Etsy store.  The original is for sale through my website.

Star painting in progress: Is it finished?

This painting has been hanging on my wall in a half-finished state for quite a while, since I can’t decide what to do with it next, so I’m seeking feedback from you guys.

With most paintings, I have a natural moment where I sense that it is done, and I know I should step back before I overwork it.  It is hard to find the balance between making your work precise and polished, and keeping the life and spontaneity in the brush strokes.  I don’t have that sense with this painting yet, but sometimes it’s helpful to seek ideas from fresh eyes.

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This is the painting hanging on a wall in my back yard, so you can see it in natural light.  Overall I like the look and energy, but I’m wondering if it needs something in the foreground, or if it’s something about the colors that is not quite right.  I wanted to try a painting that mixes my two landscape styles; the more abstract, linear hills with the more realistic starry sky.

What do you think?  Should I stop here, or keep going?  Just for fun I’m trying out the poll feature in WordPress, so you can weigh in:

 

Other artists, how do you know when your painting is finished?

Pacific Art League Exhibition January 9-29

Happy New Year!

I just dropped off my newest starry sky painting at the Pacific Art League gallery in Palo Alto. Their annual members exhibition will run from January 9-29.  This is my painting of Mather Pass, from the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail:

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Amazed, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

You can read the original post on this painting, and check out progress photos of the starry sky.  This is from a favorite memory of our highest campsite in the Sierra mountains.

This painting is in my Etsy store as a photo print and canvas print.  The original is for sale through the Pacific Art League gallery for $800.

Finished painting: Light in the Desert

A few years ago I was asked to create a piece on the Nativity story, so I painted this scene:

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Light in the Desert, 20″x 24″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I wanted to create something peaceful but mysterious, with a dark sky.  I decided to keep the composition very simple and limit the palette to mostly blues and purples, to make the focal star more striking.

As my style developed as an artist, it kind of split into two styles; abstract/surreal and more realistic landscapes.  The more realistic landscapes tell a story or recall a certain place, the surreal ones are more emotional and abstract.   I love hearing others’ impressions of these pieces, and I’ve found that viewers interpret the surreal landscapes in very different ways.

For me, this painting shows a vast desert – sand dunes in the foreground, the star in the sky – and has a dark but hopeful feeling.  Other people have told me that this painting is the moon over huge ocean waves, and it has kind of a scary but captivating feel.  Others have said it is snow-covered mountains, cold and stark.  I like that these images can be different things to different people.

This painting is available in my Etsy store as a photo print or canvas print.  The original is not for sale.  Happy holidays!  I’ll be back to posting in the New Year.

Dreams and the Pacific Crest Trail, Finished Painting

Nine months pregnant with my first child, I had a vivid dream of climbing up Forester Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, in the high Sierra mountains of California.  This pass, also part of the John Muir trail, is the highest point on the PCT, which I had hiked several years earlier with my husband.  In my dream, I reached the top of the pass, pregnant and exhausted, where I found my baby safe and brought him home.

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I woke up inspired to paint the place in my dream, secretly hoping that it would somehow bring on labor.  It worked!  Twelve hours after finishing the painting, labor began.  Just like in the dream, I finally met my baby after a difficult journey that took several days.  I like to imagine that this place is where he came from:

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Origin, 30″x 40″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I decided to keep the surreal, dreamlike aspects of the scene, over preserving the realistic details and colors of the pass.  This is probably my very favorite painting now, although just looking at it made me sick for a few weeks after the birth, since it brought me right back into the dizzying feelings of labor, mixed in with memories of altitude sickness.  I like it when I can harness a powerful memory into a piece of art.

Here’s the southern approach to Forester Pass, the place in the Sierras that the painting is loosely based on.  We spent a day walking towards that pass, wondering how we would possibly climb over it since it looks impossible, but when you get right up close, you can see the steep trail zigzagging up the rock.

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This is me, hiking down the other side of the pass quickly just as a storm rolled in.  You can tell it’s a high pass (13,153 feet) when there’s snow, in California, in July. The high Sierras have such an otherworldly feel, and I find myself coming back to paint them again and again.

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I also filmed video of the painting coming together.  The video quality’s not great since I didn’t have my new camera and tripod then, but I’m glad I filmed it anyways.

This painting is available in my Etsy store as a photo print or canvas print.  The original is not for sale.

Montana Valley after a Fire, Finished Painting

This is a painting from a trip I took several years ago to Montana.  We visited a valley ten years after a fire, facing the Beartooth mountain range:

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Regrowth, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

My former career is in forestry, so I have particular interest in forest fires and the changes they can make to landscapes and plant communities. This area was so beautiful and vibrant, and the open space supported a huge diversity of  wildflowers and small animals.

I took video of the painting from start to finish.  The quality is not the greatest since it’s my first video, before I got my new camera, but you can still get an idea of the process:

Here are some detail shots, since it’s a big painting:

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