Saturday, December 31, 2011

What have you learned in 2011?

Okay, I'll go first....What have I learned in 2011? I know - a daunting question. But I find it helpful to try to boil it down to the essence...just like a good painting! And, I always like to look back and find the leaps, and even baby steps, that I've made. After all, if life is a journey, I want to recognize forward momentum and celebrate it! Great motivation for the New Year...

Luckily, there are many possible answers that come to mind. But to keep it simple, my answer on the art front is...Composition. I concentrated a lot of effort on that concept in 2011. No, I didn't learn it all (with art you never do!). Can't check that one off and move on. But I do feel I made good strides by taking it to another level in my brain processing.

With my Yellowstone Squared project, I stayed conscious of focusing on good compositions  - and I did a lot of plein air painting which strengthens the 'composition muscle'. A sampling of my Yellowstone Squared paintings....

Sure, there are rules about good design that you can lean on, and that's a good place to start. But acquiring that innate sense helps immensely. Especially in plein air painting, where speed, along with a myriad of other aspects, are all calling for your attention. 

I've read many books on composition and the theories are vast - but the basics hold true through them all. Here are some of the basic rules to lean on as you exercise that "composition muscle"...

 - Look for diversity in spacing and shapes - same is boring and feels stiff. Every shape you create and place on your canvas makes both a positive shape and a negative shape, be aware of both as you try to create diversity and harmony.
 - Watch putting your center of interest right in the middle. (It can be done successfully, but if you choose to try it, go in with a plan.)
 - Don't put anything too compelling close to the edges of your canvas. You could easily lose your viewer. You want to guide your viewer's eye around the painting, not right off the edge.
 - Watch the strong shapes and lines within your painting - none should create an awkward tangent (meeting of the two), divide your canvas in half or take you right out of the picture. (Again, it can be done, but know the rules before you choose to break them, so you can make a plan to address the issues.)

Composition is vital - without a pleasing design, you cannot have a successful painting. Period. It's that important. It's hard to appreciate those great colors, when the composition is too awkward to get past. And rearranging major elements in your painting is not easily fixed later on.

So, with the importance of design in mind, I'll post a follow-up demonstration on composition tomorrow to kick off the New Year in a 'good composition' direction. Remember, a good design is the foundation of a great painting!

Take a moment to recognize (and celebrate!)
your leaps and bounds this year -
or even those baby steps.
They all add up...

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Warm snow?

Yes, to painters there is such a thing!

I thought I'd touch on a technical (and somewhat challenging) aspect of painting...warm colors vs. cool colors...color temperature.

The knowledge and proficiency a painter possesses of color temperature can make a HUGE difference in a painting. And this time of year, when I'm tackling snow, I'm thinking about color temperature a lot! The temperature shifts in snow can be subtle, but if you don't get them, snow and snow shadows won't work. It's definitely a leap when color temperature is assimilated into a painter's brain.

For a while, I remember understanding the concept on a rote basis. But it hadn't REALLY sunk in. Then, the 'ah ha' moment, when I realized - 'I got it'! It had finally sunk into the depth of my brain. It was working on a different level. Then, it was just a matter of practice. Now, I really enjoy the concepts of warm vs. cool in my paintings.

Here's a primer....
Many people understand that red is considered a warmer color than green. So in painter terms, viridian (a green) is cooler than alizarin crimson (a red). Okay, got that. BUT, alizarin crimson is a cool color when compared to cadmium red. IT'S ALL RELATIVE. You can't judge a color, unless you have something to compare it too. So that means...even a red can be cool. Or a blue, warm.

The quality of light also ranges from warm to cool - warmer light on a sunny day, cooler on an overcast day. A landscape painter must be sensitive to this quality in order to capture the feeling and mood of the day. And generally, a landscape also cools in the distance, so it can really complicate matters - or, make for a lot of fun - depending on how you look at it.

Below is a plein air sketch to illustrate my point. I was over near the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone the other day, following up of a tip from a friend. Three bull moose had been spotted hanging out together. She had photos, and I was hoping to get some of my own.

No sign of the moose (except LOTS of foot prints), so I thought I'd do a painting while I waited. Sometimes when I stand there quietly for a couple hours, wildlife passes by. No such luck this time. They never did 'show up', but I enjoyed my warm and cool practice....

plein air study - oil

detail of snow to show warm and cool color transitions
(Can you see the warmer blues and cooler blues within the shadows of the snow?)

my scene with my easel set up
Our Yellowstone Zoo -
Photos from out the windows of our gallery....
I missed some great eagle shots out the windows yesterday, but this elk cooperated.
a bull elk wandering through Yellowstone National Park
(notice the warm spots where the sun hits the elk and the cool of the snow in the shadows underneath him)

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Tribe

While we were out of town we went to see the Russian Moscow Ballet perform. Amazing - how singularly devoted to their art they are. To be at that level takes immense focus and effort - it permeates their life. I have the utmost respect for the effort they had to put in to become such fabulous dancers.

Also, while we were out of town, in a small coastal shop in Oregon, I saw a book published in 1929 by Borlase Smart. A painter (and plein air devotee) from Cornwall England - The Technique Of Seascape Painting. Had to pick that one up. I love some of those old art instruction books from the serious artists of the past - often having little hidden gems of knowledge tucked in the pages from another generation. And in this case, another nation. Can't miss out on that.

I appreciate an artists' effort to pass on their thoughts about art. Borlase Smart worked hard at his craft. Took it very seriously. And wanted to promote the creation of art based on art principles that stand the test of time. I admire that. I wonder if it crossed his mind that artists, across the ocean, in 2011 would still be affected by his words?

In Portland Oregon, we headed to Powell's Books - a really large bookstore that is a favorite destination for us in that area. Of course, we headed to the Art & Architecture section to peruse. much knowledge on those shelves. So many others who have gone before us, and taken a similar path.

From my last post, you know in Spokane Washington, we headed to the Northwest Museum of Art to see the Impressionist exhibit. (see my last post about that show).

Then I realized - that's my tribe! ALL of the above. I hear a lot about 'my tribe' anymore and this one is mine.

I, too, have art permeating my life. Just like the dancers and the artists of the past. I understand the devotion it takes and the hours of unseen effort. The permeation into your entire life - until you realize it IS your life. Yes, even on "vacation" - what do we do?...try to soak up art. Try to learn more.

I drag along my paints and plein air paint any chance I get - "on vacation". It's not a job. It's a skill that takes an enormous focus and effort to keep building and improving upon. And it takes a certain amount of sacrifice and a lot of hard work to do that.

No, it's not always easy, as it may appear from outside the tribe. The others that have gone before me and walked a similar path, spur me on. I hope I will do the same. They know the effort it takes quite well. They get it. You definitely have to be willing to do the hard work, even sometimes when you don't feel like it. And a lifetime isn't even enough.

We don't go "on vacation", since our job is always with us. The desire to improve and learn more, always deep inside churning away. Always driving me to set up my easel and paint.

So we're back home now, refreshed from new scenes and experiences. With renewed enthusiasm, I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and keep painting in the trenches - because that's just what my tribe does.

Monday, November 28, 2011

We're back...and refreshed.

We just returned from a quick trip to Oregon and Washington...refreshed and relaxed. Fall had been feeling particularly hectic and sometimes that's exactly when we need to get away and 'recharge the batteries'.

One of the highlights was the Northwest Museum of Art in Spokane Washington. VERY inspirational. They had a great Impressionist show...Seeing Impressionism. Since my current book list is heavy on the Paris art scene in the mid-1800's, (Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland and The Greater Journey by David McCullough) it was the perfect show to complement my reading.

A sampling from the show....

The Meuse River At Rotterdam by Eugene Louis Boudin - 1885.

The Seine At Saint Cloud by Stanislas Lepine. 1860-1870.

 Heads of Two Young Girls or The Two Sisters by Pierre-Auguste Renoir - 1890.

All of the above painters were French.

They also had non-French painters represented at the Show, since the influence of impressionism went far and wide. So I'll add a couple of those in...
Harbor Scene by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida - circa 1900.
(Sorolla is from Spain - an AMAZING painter)

Glacier Peaks Spring Sunshine by Abby Williams Hill - 1903.
An American woman who painted in Yellowstone - and even brought her children along. There are some great stories and photos of her plein air painting in Yellowstone National Park. She studied impressionism at the Art Students League in New York before moving to Tacoma Washington in 1889.

It's a small show, but a nice variety with some real jems. If you can make it to Spokane Washington before the show ends on February 25, 2012 - check it out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Out of clutter; find simplicity...

Albert Einstein

My mind has been on that lately....Focus, focus, focus...simplify, simplify, simplify. Something I try to remember for life AND painting. 

As I take this time to organize my physical environment, it also spills over and seeps in. I'm trying the concepts out to a greater degree in my painting lately, as you saw in my last post on my 'egg phase' at the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center.

But focus and simplicity REALLY is a challenge in plein air painting, since that one is such an 'intense sport' with so much visual stimuli to orchestrate onto a canvas - quickly.

How much can I simplify - where's too much? Keep focused on your priorities and eliminate the unnecessary details...

Am I speaking about life or art? For me, they are one and the same. So I've been plein air painting lately with these concepts in the forefront of my mind.

This recent painting I'm putting out there as my effort to focus and simplify - strip away the unnecessary and find the beauty that remains. No, I don't consider it totally successful, but an honest effort in that direction. Am I going in a good direction, or do I need to 'scrap those ideas' and move on? Too soon to tell, but that's part of the process...

9" x 12" plein air oil
 For me, it's important that what I choose to do, I do well. And that involves a lot of practice - or in painter terms... covering a lot of canvas! Trying out new ideas, putting out the effort, covering that canvas, keeps me pushing my limits, keeps me hiking up that learning curve.

The good thing about painting, is if you keep up the effort, you'll never need to worry about sliding down the other side of the learning curve! There will always be new hills to climb - if you choose to take that challenge. And THAT'S a personality thing, that we'll save for another day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Getting my eggs in a row....

So this time of year, I regroup. I know, most people do that in January. But for me fall feels right. Our little town of Gardiner, REALLY becomes little this time of year. As the human population shrinks, the wildlife population swells. Change is in the air. The mountain peaks are white now and the kids are back to their school routine. A slower pace presides. I find myself paring down, sorting, simplifying, getting things in order, appreciating what I have – and so my ‘egg phase’….

At the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center, I’ve been painting small, simple egg portraits. The variety of eggs in their collection is astounding – and not something you often get to see. Taking the time to look closely at an egg...the colors, the shapes, the differences among them. It’s my way of appreciating the small, simple things – and finding beauty there.

(3) 6" x 6" oil on linen
all eggs are in the collection of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center
Left to right:
#1 - robin egg, crow egg, red tail hawk egg (from the 1920's and 30's)
#2 - a trumpeter swan egg from 1959
#3 - 3 grouse eggs.

Time has a wonderful way of weeding out the trivial.
Richard Ben Sapir

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Our building "hobby"...

We designed and built our own house – ourselves - along with our studio and gallery, which is attached. (In our 'spare time', since we don't watch TV.)

This isn’t the first time. During the process, I don’t recommend it, but upon completion, ‘life is good’. The fruits of your labor are particularly sweet - and you get to live within them, enjoying them each day.

All this ecstasy may be coming from just knowing we survived it, again. But whatever that ecstasy comes from, we’re getting close. We can almost taste that fruit!

We’ve done a few things along the way that particularly make 'life good', and we wanted to spread the word…

For maximum solar gain, we designed our home, studio and gallery long and narrow with a southern orientation. From our property, Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone River are due south. Great for solar design - AND awesome views and wildlife watching, too.

We use solar water panels to heat our hot water and tied that system into our radiant floor heating, to heat the house. (We unplugged our on-demand water heater in May and have all the hot water we could use, thanks to the sun.)

Our new heater from the kitchen/dining room side. The top door is for the brick oven.

In our last house, we had a masonry heater – an efficient , comfortable and attractive way to heat your home with wood. The inner core was built by Albie Barden of Maine Wood to be swept away to their web site  - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! And just like the last time around, we did the exterior stone work ourselves. After enjoying our last one for many years, that was something we knew we could not live without. So we did it again.
View from the living room side.

Our heater has a see through fire box, so the fire can be enjoyed from both the dining room / kitchen and living room sides. On the living room side, there is a heated bench. The lintel stone on this side, we hand picked - the depressions have fossils in them!


Mass being a key to comfortable passive solar living, (retaining the heat AND the coolness), the heater fit into the plan perfectly. We faced it up with local Montana stone - and while we were at it, used some on the interior walls and some countertops too. Another ‘bonus feature’ of the heater is the hot water coils within it – also feeding into our solar hot water tank. And if that’s not enough accolades for our masonry heater, there’s also a heated bench and brick pizza oven in there, too!

So, yes, we’re getting a little ‘heady’ around here, as we finish up and live within our creation – enjoying our Yellowstone views and eating our homemade brick oven pizza – while the sun keeps life cozy inside.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rockin' in Cody...

Our Gallery Rocking Chair, took a quick trip to Cody, Wyoming the other day, to sit on the stage of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Hilary Heminway, a friend and designer, was giving a lecture and asked us if we could bring it to be part of her talk about design and comfort. We made the rocker in 1998, out of apple wood and cherry wood and I even put a small painting on the back as a finishing touch. It's traveled far and rocked a lot. Many people have rocked in that chair over the years, and we hope many more will! It's back in it's spot now, so if you get a chance to stop by the Gallery, sit for a moment and try it out.

PS - The Buffalo Bill Historical Center has a fabulous western art collection, which of course we perused while we were there. If you can't get to Cody to see it in person, here's a link to take you to their web here

Monday, September 26, 2011

An Artist Statement

Creative writing is an art.

Being an artist is a way of life, not a job.

Do not write to make a living; write to make living worthwhile.

Write to make sense of my life and then pass that along.

Robert Fulghum - excerpt from “What On Earth Have I Done”

In my case I substitute “paint” for “write”. To Robert Fulghum it's an "Unfinished Manifesto", visual artists may call it an artist statement.

I've been thinking about writing a new artist statement, so I've had my radar up for any thoughts on the subject. My artist statement is something I revisit now and then. It keeps me on track. I'm gathering and percolating at the moment. Fall is a good time for that. I'll let you know when and if I come to a consensus and can put all those thoughts into a concise few sentences.

In the meantime, I paint...

I was on my way to Yellowstone Lake with my easel, but I didn't make it through Hayden Valley without a quick painting. That's often the problem. Mornings in Hayden Valley are filled with wonder - paintings are everywhere! I HAD to stop. As I painted before the sun rose, elk were bugling and bison were grunting, as the fog was shifting with a sliver of a moon above it all. Pure wonder....
Hayden Valley Wonder 6" x 6"  Plein Air Oil

Visitors at my spot on the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley...a flock of Canadian Geese landing.
I did make it to Yellowstone Lake as the sun was coming up. Always a treat. I found a quiet sandy corner to set up - perfect temperature and no wind. A plein air painter's paradise....
Gull Point  6" x 6"  Plein Air  Oil

Visitors passing by Gull Point on Yellowstone Lake....otters swimming by.

Then home I went, thinking more about that artist statement. But I was in a good place for my thought, since my mind was filled with wonder and beauty from my morning in Yellowstone.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Clyde Aspevig at the Danforth

Clyde Aspevig and his wife Carol Guzman are friends of ours here in Montana - both are fabulous painters. Last night, we went to a private reception for Clyde's solo exhibition at the Danforth Gallery in Livingston, Montana. Clyde gave a short talk at the reception - always a treat. He speaks eloquently about art and conservation and I thoroughly enjoy listening...especially while surrounded by his wonderful landscape paintings in the room!

Last nights event was sponsored by the American Prairie Foundation. Clyde's conservation efforts are focused a lot on the American Prairie Foundation's work these days as a board member. It's a fascinating project with big plans - To find out more about the project, click here.

Clyde will be giving a public talk on Tuesday Sept. 20th at 6:00 PM at the Danforth, surrounded by his work. I highly recommend it. We'll be there. Like I said, I thoroughly enjoy listening to Clyde speak about art and nature AND seeing his painting. I don't pass those opportunities up.

If you can't make it Tuesday, definitely put the show on your calendar. His work is phenomenal - truly a great painter. You need to experience it in person. The show runs through Oct. 1, 2011. Don't miss it.

For 'instant gratification', try this link straight to Clyde's website.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Night at Norris

Over the weekend, we visited Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park - at night. The moon was close to full and made for a very surreal experience...gurgling water, steam venting out of the ground and geysers erupting. Too bad I can't add the sounds effects into these photos.
It's not too late. Tonight is the true full moon - the Harvest Moon. So if you can make it to Yellowstone, go for a geyser night walk.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Horse Dentistry Kit - painted in oils, really!

Horse Dentristy Kit  16" x 20"  oil  by Shirl Ireland

From the collection of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center....
In their archives is a horse dentistry kit. A very interesting still life - with a very interesting 'Yellowstone past'!

Now, you can say you've seen a horse dentistry kit painted in oils. 

And while you're here - some of my 'wildlife shots' from around Yellowstone lately....
You can feel it (even though I'm sitting here in T-shirt and shorts and the temps have been really warm for this time of year). Fall IS coming. It's a great time for wildlife photography in Yellowstone, so you'll be seeing more. And of course, it also inspires my wildlife painting, which I'll keep you posted on, too. 
Mule Deer

Big Horn Sheep in the Gardiner Canyon

Big Horn Sheep - close up

Sunday, August 28, 2011

You haven't missed it - yet.

It's the final hours of Studio Tour weekend. If you didn't get to stop by, I thought I'd post some photos of our Gallery today for your 'virtual tour'...or come by QUICK!

If you did make it in person - thank you so much for joining in and supporting the Arts in Montana. We appreciate it!
Our gallery this weekend showcasing our furniture, lighting, sculpture and painting. We designed and built the building too. Yes, it was all made with our 4 hands (John's and Shirl's).
We also have smaller items like notecards, my Beauty Of Yellowstone book, bookmarks, small lamps, etc. out on the buffet. For browsing (the old-fashioned way) we have our portfolio for you to page through.... a selection of photos from our past commissions over the last 16 or so years.
If you're taking the virtual tour, browse our web site -  Elk River Art .

Also here on the buffet, you can sign our guest book -  if you're taking the 'virtual tour', send me an email at

My Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center wall of paintings. All still life artifacts are part of their collection and part of the vast and varied history of Yellowstone. A fascinating way to experience Yellowstone in a different way!  

And the view out the window of the Gallery of Yellowstone National Park over the Yellowstone River isn't bad either.

This photo I didn't take today - but the above photo I took of the gallery interior didn't show the view out the window. So I thought I'd add a 'view photo' so you get the full experience.

Hope you enjoyed your gallery tour - whether it was in person or virtual. 

Friday, August 26, 2011


A reminder that the Livingston Art Walk is TONIGHT from 5:30 pm - 8:30 pm. John and I will have work in 2 places on Main Street in Livingston Montana.....

You can see our work at the Danforth Gallery where they're hosting the opening reception for Studio Tour weekend that we're participating in this Saturday and Sunday.

I'll also have work at the Livingston Art Center. Plein Air On The Yellowstone - Wet Paint Exhibit will be their featured exhibition during the Art Walk. I was awarded 1st Place and Purchase Award (!!), so stop by and see the Show in person.

We'll be traveling between the 2 Shows - luckily, Livingston is a small town - so you'll be able to catch up with us somewhere on Main Street in Livingston, Montana tonight!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Yellowstone Squared

Oh, I've been having fun with my Yellowstone Squared project this week. Some computer issues (that have been resolved!) kept me from posting them as I went. So here's a quick catch up on some of my painting spots from the week....

My easel set up at Lower Falls Lookout
 I timed this one perfect. I got there before the sun came up and painted frantically as it just hit the top of the falls. Gorgeous colors there! By the time the light was to the bottom of the falls, I was done.

Lower Falls Lookout  6" x 6"  plein air  oil  by Shirl Ireland

Confluence - Soda Butte and Lamar  6" x 6"  plein air  oil  by Shirl Ireland

I painted this from an overlook up a VERY steep hill - feels even steeper when I'm lugging my easel up it. But, man, it was worth it! Cranes were calling and bison were grunting....
A large bison herd was wandering through.... Great sound effects while I was painting!
  One of the grand geysers of Yellowstone. It's hour long eruption has several phases. A spot I love to be at, as the sun comes up....

Great Fountain Geyser  6" x 6"  plein air  oil  by Shirl Ireland

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Straight from the horses mouth

My subject in the collection of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center....

Any ideas???

A few more hints...

Have you guessed it yet??

A horse dentistry kit!

I have it blocked in and should have the finished painting done in the next week or two. I'll post my results so you will be able to say you've seen a horse dentistry kit painted in oils...just in case anyone ever asks.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I won 1st Place!...

AND the Purchase Award!!

The juror was Howard Friedland - a signature member of Oil Painters Of America and also a board member of Oil Painters of America. I respect him as a painter, so I was THRILLED that my piece was awarded 1st Place - and won an additional award to boot!
Hope On The Horizon  9" x 9"  Plein Air  Oil  by Shirl Ireland  -  SOLD
This is the piece that won 1st Place at the Plein Air On The Yellowstone event sponsored by the Livingston Center for Art and Culture. It was painted one VERY early morning this week, at the southern end of Paradise Valley.

Old Livingston  9" x 9"  Plein Air  Oil  by Shirl Ireland
This was a really fun (and challenging!) piece to plein air paint. I loved the colors and the light on the buildings. I was actually turning around to go back and paint a scene I had just driven by, when this one 'stopped me in my tracks'. I've said it before - I do like painting architecture and really enjoy the drawing component of it - so this was a real joy! LOTS of perspective and angles to get right, along with the shadows and light. I know....boy do I know how to have fun.
Breakfast In Cooke  6" x 6"  Plein Air  Oil  by Shirl Ireland
A little piece I did over by the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park - yes, that's in Park County Montana too. (It's a BIG county.)
Kohlrabi On Stage  10" x 10"  Plein Air  Oil  by Shirl Ireland
This is a different piece to be part of a plein air event - you usually don't expect vegetables! But, you know, I do like to keep you on your toes.

As part of Plein Air On The Yellowstone, a Quick Draw was planned at the Livingston Farmer's Market. So off I went in search of a 'spur of the moment' painting - these kohlrabi caught my eye immediately. And the bandstand stage in the middle of the Park was the perfect backdrop for them. (I made the newspaper - the Livingston Enterprise - painting it!)

When I first started painting, it looked like rain. I thought it would be interesting to paint them wet with water drips. But as 'the Livingston weather turns', the wind kicked up for a moment and then the clouds shifted and the sun came out. So my painting changed from Kohlrabi In The Rain to Kohlrabi On Stage.

The Plein Air On The Yellowstone exhibit is particularly interesting to view in person. All the artists are given the same assignment at the beginning of the week...paint outside in Park County and return at the end of the week with 3 wet paintings. Oh, what a variety that assignment brings! The exhibit has been extended through the beginning of September. They wanted to have the pieces hung for the Livingston Art Walk at the end of this month. If you have a chance to stop by, please do!

The Livingston Art Walk is Friday evening August 26. I'll have these pieces exhibited at the Livingston Center and John and I will both have pieces exhibited at the Danforth Gallery in Livingston that night as well. Art Walks in Livingston always get a big crowd and are lots of fun, so plan to 'come on out' if you can.