Sheila G Ticen

Thoughts about painting and places to see my work

Category: Notes

Getting Out

I love being outdoors, and after the rain we’ve had this winter, the hills are calling to me.  However, the last plein air workshop I took made me realize that my full sized French easel was way too heavy for me unless I stayed very close to my car.  I’d been wanting to take another workshop soon, but needed to be able to get on location without the help of a prairie schooner and a team of oxen.  So, after doing a good bit of research (i.e., checking out other artists’ blogs), I ordered an Open Box M, pochade box.

I fitted it with a Duralar liner to protect the wooden paint mixing surface while adding very little weight.  Then I went through a trial run, setting up the new easel in my studio.  I found the lightest tripod we own and fitted it with a cloth sling to hold gear and help keep the whole outfit from toppling over with the first good breeze.

A couple of weeks ago I packed up my gear, lunch and dog and drove over to Jack London State Historic Park to try out my new easel.  Although I had tried to limit my gear, I still ended up hauling too much stuff.  My day pack held my easel, paints, brushes, solvent, sunscreen and paper towels.  I slung my Raymar panel carrier over my shoulder where it refused to stay, as the backpack strap prevented the carrier’s strap from resting squarely on top of my shoulder.  I also carried my lunch, including a sandwich, yogurt and apple in an insulated lunch bag with one of those little ice inserts that won’t get your food all soggy when the ice melts.  At least I left the folding chair in the car!

While being watchful to keep the dog out of the poison oak and managing my assorted parcels, I took a nice walk out to the ruins of Jack London’s Wolf House.  I had passed a nice spot along the way and after eating my lunch near the Wolf House, I backtracked to the promising spot and got to work, completing a 5″ x 7″ oil painting on location.


All ready to get started at Jack London Park, watched over by my dog, Belle.


The day after my trip to Jack London Park I went through my painting gear, getting fairly serious about lightening my load.  I had packed carefully to start with, but found a couple of ways to reduce and lighten my gear.

Yesterday my friend, Carol, and I went out to Moore Creek Park, near Lake Hennessey, just east of Rutherford.  We were surprised to find that we had to wade across a stream near the trail head, but managed it without getting soaked.  We just pulled off our socks and shoes, rolled up our pants legs and waded across.  Easy as can be, except that neither one of us is accustomed to walking barefoot on sharp, slippery rocks.  Surprisingly painful, considering that every kid in the world would have been barefoot in that water and having a blast.  I doubt that the weight on our backs helped with the discomfort, and definitely not with the balance.

Once we had dried our feet and put our shoes back on, we made good time and covered a couple of miles of trail at a good pace.  For some reason, we thought that the Shoreline Trail would take us closer to the actual shoreline of the lake than it ever did, but we were still happy that we had located the trailhead and braved crossing the stream.  The trail wound through oak woodlands that opened up to grassy meadows strewn with wildflowers.  Yep, Julie Andrews would have been spinning in circles and singing her head off out there.

One thing about painting outdoors is that you do just have to decide at some point to set up your gear and get started painting.  The potential view from the next bend in the trail always lures you forward, but sooner or later you’ve got to do what you came there to do before it’s time to start the hike back.

Carol quickly and quietly spread out a waterproof cloth, pulled out her watercolors, sketchbooks and watercolor paper block and got down to work.  I looked around for a couple of minutes before settling on my subject, getting the dog situated and setting up my easel.  We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day to be outdoors.

This time I had forgone the lunch bag, ice insert and yogurt in favor of a peanut butter sandwich and some trail mix, which fit into my backpack.  I had managed to put the Raymar panel carrier into the rear compartment of my pack along with the Open Box M and could still, just barely, get the zipper closed.  A partial roll of painter’s tape had been replaced by a much smaller bit of tape, which was plenty.  I think I’m starting to get the hang of this.  My next plot to lighten my load is to use tin snips to cut off the empty ends of paint tubes, which I’ll re-crimp, leaving the useless weight behind.

My setup_taken by me_web

I still seem to be wildly optimistic about how many pieces I’ll be able to complete in a single outing.  It would be a shame to get all the way out there without enough panels to paint on, yet I’m finding that getting one painting (even at this size) done or nearly done on location is plenty when I’m hiking more than a mile or two each way.  I would love to hear how others plan and execute outdoor painting trips, especially with canine company!




Beyond Photo-Realism

Have you ever wanted to paint a subject that you were a little intimidated to draw?  I have.  I’ve used various methods to get that initial drawing onto the canvas, including projecting the image and tracing in the key elements.  Many folks object (wildly) to that and consider it cheating.  Not sure where these good people were able to locate “The Official Rule Book of Art”, but I do have my own issues with using a projector and have stopped doing it– because it doesn’t suit me.

What many people don’t realize is that Photo-Realism refers to art that incorporates a photographic view of the subject and specifically, to art that is made using mechanical means to transfer the image onto canvas.  When I do paint from photographs I only use my own photos, so the concept, composition and lighting, all of it, are mine.  I’m not taking anything away from anyone else, so if I think projecting the image is a defensible practice, why don’t I do it any more?

The reason I quit projecting my images is well articulated by artist David Gray, in his blog post To Project or Not to Project.  What people may not realize is that using a projector doesn’t actually help all that much.  It just sets you up to start out your painting in a very tight and self-conscious manner and there are much better ways to start a painting.  Plus, as David Gray points out, “…you WILL lose your drawing in the painting process.”   And when you lose your drawing, you’re going to have to get it back on your own, which requires drawing skills.

These days I start paintings in a couple of different ways.  For smaller paintings and paintings with more simple subjects, I just draw the key elements onto the canvas with thin paint, wiping off and correcting as needed.  For larger paintings with more demanding perspective lines and architectural features, I start by painting a barely visible grid onto my canvas and laying a transparency with a matching grid over my reference photo.  This allows me to quickly get the big pieces into the correct places and move forward with the painting.  I find that when I get everything too perfect the painting loses some of its energy, so I’m gradually loosening up and letting my imperfect self be part of the process.

I had already abandoned my projector at the bottom of a closet when the film, Tim’s Vermeer, came out.  In the film, Tim Jenison, an inventor, explores how Johannes Vermeer may have been able to achieve the extraordinary level of detail and accuracy in his paintings.  He makes a very good case for the technique that he believes Vermeer may have used and I highly recommend watching the film.  The hour and twenty minutes I spent watching Tim’s Vermeer really shook me up and gave me a lot to think about.  I don’t want my studio practice to be something that feels like drudgery!

I find that I’d actually rather that my paintings didn’t look just like a photo.  If I wanted a larger copy of the photo, I could get that made with minimal effort and expense.  I want the paint to look like paint.  I want the image to read as realistic from a distance, but for closer examination to reward the viewer in ways that only a painting can.

"Chai" in Progress

“Chai” in Progress

"Chai", 2012 © Sheila G. Ticen, oil on canvas, 36 x 25.5"

“Chai”, 2012 © Sheila G. Ticen, oil on canvas, 36 x 25.5″

Wet Paint

This is the painting I’m working on now.  I’m happy with how it’s coming along and thought I’d share a detail shot of part of the painting.

Detail from a work in progress© Sheila G. Ticen, 2013

Detail from a work in progress
© Sheila G. Ticen, 2013

Good Company

I was very happy to find that my painting, Long Haul, received one of the Honorable Mention awards given by Renny Pritkin, the juror for the 2012 Fall National Juried Exhibition.  The exhibition opened on Saturday, August 25th, and will be on display at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato, California through Sunday, September 30th.

Renny Pritkin giving the Juror’s Talk

Mr. Pritkin is the Director of the Richard L. Nelson Gallery and The Fine Arts Collection at University of California, Davis.  During the Juror’s Talk, which he gave at the opening reception, he discussed his choices for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards.  He was even kind enough to include the pieces selected for honorable mentions in his remarks, which at LEAST one of the artists in attendance really appreciated.  A lot.  I really enjoyed hearing what he had found most interesting and successful about each of the pieces he selected, and okay, I’m not above wanting someone to like my work enough to be willing to talk about it.  As you can see by the above photo, there are some incredible artworks in this exhibition, and I’m delighted to be in such good company.


Crossing, 2012, Oil on panel, 24 x 18″, © Sheila G. Ticen

We were on our way to somewhere else, just taking the shortcut behind the police station across to the park on the other side of the river.  If we had gotten rain that week, this crossing would have been under water, but we could just get across without getting our feet wet.  The afternoon sun slanting through the trees prompted me to ask Colleen to pause for a moment, just long enough for me to capture some reference photos.  The images I had planned to shoot in the park didn’t turn out so well, but I kept coming back to the images of this brief moment at the river, which were completely spontaneous.

Juror’s Merit Award

Nancy Dempster enjoying the exhibition

My dear friend and fellow artist, Nancy Dempster, at the Juror’s Talk with me for the 2012 Left Coast Annual Juried Exhibition on May 20th.  The juror, Michael Schwager, presented me with one of the Juror’s Merit Awards for my painting, Hereafter.  Now wasn’t that nice?

The Leap

First Glance, Digital photo,
©Sheila G. Ticen, 2011

It has been many months since I first I stood there on the front porch, peering through the rippled glass beside the leasing company sign.  I had shielded my eyes and leaned in, looking past the reflections of the porch columns, and the trees in the park beyond, and through my own reflection, into the empty rooms.  The morning sunlight, slanting through the tall windows, filled the living room and the dining room beyond it with a warm, honey-hued glow.

I was on a location scouting trip, looking for a space, almost any space would do if the light was good.  It intrigues me how a painting that really captures the quality of light in a place seems to relate both to a specific moment and to something larger, something more to do with just being and with the passage of time.  In fact, the more mundane the location, the more pointedly significant the quality of light becomes.  So I don’t seek out grand spaces, far from it.  I was in the area looking at industrial buildings, and it was just curiousity and a soft spot I have for grand old houses that drew me up onto the wide vacant porch.

I had snapped a few photos that day, wanting to capture that quality of light, not really knowing why.  Back in my studio over the next few weeks I kept coming back to those images.  Of the well over 100 photos I had taken that day, these were the ones I couldn’t leave alone.  So I printed them out and pinned them up and wondered why I liked them so much.  They were interesting images, full of layers and broken reflections and bright shards of color, but obviously not what I was looking for.  Obviously not.

Finally, it sunk in, and of course it was perfectly obvious.  What I really wanted was to get into that space with one or two models and lots of time and lay the ground work in sketches and reference photos for some figurative paintings.  This was a somewhat daunting realization, since I didn’t really think I’d be able to arrange it.  However, I made that leap from wishing for something to working toward it.  I went into my office, reached for the phone and started the process of research, introductions, explanations and letter writing.

Now, many weeks later, and thanks to some very cool people who obviously have a soft spot for the arts, I have an appointment to go back.  I’m going with a couple of my artist friends as models and will have lots of time to lay the groundwork for a new series of paintings.  I’m looking forward to that day immensely, both for the chance to spend some time with my good friends, and for the chance to spend a day with a graceful old dame of a house.

Dancing in the Grid

© Sheila G. Ticen, Leaf Pane I, 2012, Oil on canvas, 7 x 5″

I am working on a painting of a large, World War II era shipyard building, now standing empty.  The huge space is  filled with natural light from row upon row of windows, each divided into many panes.  On one wall a smaller window, through which the sky is visible, soars over a much grander window that resembles a mosaic of stained glass.  There are plants of some sort outside, but their shapes, transformed by the rippled glass of the large window, form a series of abstract images.  Some glow, their blues and greens flowing together.  Others crackle with graphic crispness, their greens pushing toward blackness and the flooding light nearly white.

I am drawn to the light and space in the building, and want to capture the peaceful, yet almost underwater feeling I get from the light streaming in and pooling on the floor.  However, I’m finding all the linear details constraining to say the least.  As I worked on the large window, it occurred to me that I would like to do a series of small paintings, each using the basic composition of a single pane of the large window as a jumping-off point.

Why do I like these images so much?  Probably because one of my favorite memories from childhood is watching the shadow of a small tree my mother had planted outside my bedroom window cast dancing leaf patterns on my wall each morning.

Here is the first of the window pane series – a joyful little side trip of a painting.