Trout Pool-ACEO

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What is ACEO?

Trout Pool is an ACEO collector card. I’ve explained what they are in detail in this post. Basically, they are collector card sized paintings (3.5”x2.5”) with a following of collectors worldwide.

Trout Have it Made

If you are very observant you might catch the similarity of this painting to another, larger oil painting called Forest Stream I. I enjoyed creating that painting so much I decided to repurpose it as “Trout Pool ACEO” so I could write a bit about how Nature’s surface beauty usually veils far more than meets the eye.

The occupants of this trout pool beneath the small waterfall for instance, are blessed with ideal surroundings. Insects from the upper canopy are blown into the water by the wind or rain. And in certain seasons insects hatch on the forest floor and even beneath the water. They emerge and drift about, some landing on the surface of the trout pool. Where they are promptly taken as sustenance.

So, aside from having a delightful cold water habitat, trout have their food served to them from Nature herself. Their only adversary being humans, and their location usually being somewhat to very remote, they pretty much have a good life. All that veiled by the beautiful flowing water and scenery taking center stage. Likewise for lizards, salamanders, frogs and good ol’ worms. They are there, we just don’t notice.

A Studio Piece

Forest Stream I is currently available and hanging in the studio. So it was easy to reference it to paint Trout Pool ACEO. Using a large reference painting to paint an ACEO collectible card can be a challenge due to the huge difference in size.

To make it easy to transfer the image I used the ages old grid method with a modern twist. There is an app called “CopyIt” available for iPad and Mac that loads a pic of any painting upon which you want apply a grid. You then lightly pencil the same grid (only proportionally smaller) on your blank ACEO card.

Now you have easy reference from the large painting as it relates to the grid and the small painting as it relates to the grid. This makes it simple to transfer the rough sketch to the ACEO card.From there I painted in watercolor washes to get the rough layout down. Then followed that with gouache (opaque watercolor) to finish the little painting. Painting with gouache is similar to painting with oils, only in the finished result. The techniques and methods are very different. Gouache being much faster to dry and allow layering. It’s a really fun and handy medium once you master it.

Rather than purchase a set of gouache paints, just purchase titanium white and zinc white gouache and use your existing watercolors to mix your colors. Titanium white will give you absolutely opaque colors. I use zinc white to develop steam or fog passages since it’s semi-transparent. Here’s a good example of a zinc white mist effect with titanium white opaque used in the waterfall and stream in another ACEO painting.

Gouache is truly versatile

Whether you’re painting en plein aire, sketching in color or working in the studio, you will find gouache readily adapts to the situation. With a very simple watercolor kit and a tube of titanium white and zinc white you’re all set. Watercolor sketchbooks or paper are ideal for gouache since its water based. Hand Book journals make a nice outdoor format for either sketching or formally painting gouache landscapes outdoors. Likewise for Moleskine watercolor journals.

I like the non-watercolor Hand Book Journals for sketching in watercolor and gouache. Even though the paper is thin, it takes lightly applied wet media well, and when dry, buckling is minimal. If you’re going to be heavy with the water the go with the watercolor journals of either Hand Book or Moleskine.

I really like the portfolio size Moleskine watercolor journals because they are larger. Watercolor blocks are also a great option indoors or out. Arches watercolor blocks and paper are hard to beat for wonderful handling of watercolor and gouache.

By the way, all these links are products I use daily and I’m not an affiliate to any of the vendors. They just happen to be the best prices I’ve found and provide great service and products. They are my go to suppliers.

Alpine Stream-ACEO

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Colorado Alpine Stream

This is an alpine stream scene from an area in Colorado known as Paradise Divide, near Crested Butte. There is a beautiful headwater alpine stream that runs through the narrow valley and eventually feeds into the Gunnison River. This alpine stream piece was done on site and is an ACEO collectible card. Read more about ACEO art by having a look at this piece when you’re done here. I explain about the genre there.

Painting Outdoors

I’ve come to enjoy painting outdoors in nature. Alpine stream scenes like this offer a lot of different angles and viewpoints for setting up your equipment. Several paintings can be sketched out or even completed without having to move everything to another location via the car. At worst, you just have to walk a bit upstream or down to reconnoiter another good view. And let’s not forget the fishing license and light equipment for a little change-up in the day’s activity to take care of lunch or dinner back home.

What Inspired Me?

The motive for painting this painting was the depth of field provided by the distant mountain and conifers that are common alongside alpine streams like this. I also liked the somewhat shallow angle of the shoreline rock slabs and the coloration of the plant material growing on the varied surfaces. It was overcast that day and I conjured up a thin fog in the distance to add to the sense of depth. Little solutions to problems such as uninteresting overcast light can simply be overcome with artistic license and a little imagination.

It’s All About Illusion

Interestingly, I struggled for many years with the idea of utilizing artistic license in the creation of artworks. My professional career background was in design engineering which involved technical drawing and the communication of precision and specific dimensions. There was no artistic license. Whatever was on a drawing was precisely what was going to be made by someone or many someones. It had to be right, approved and free of error.

So the idea of tweaking an alpine stream landscape to improve its beauty or communicate a feeling or sense of place presented great conflict to my career training. It was a foreign concept for me. I wanted to capture every leaf and the precise shapes of mountain profiles and trees, exact color matches to what I thought I was seeing. Precision, precision, precision.

Frankly, difficult to do without tremendous patience and time. Not to mention how those restrictions I thought so necessary actually killed any chance of spontaneity and artistic expression. I was a frustrated soul trying to figure out how to create landscape art that I enjoyed creating! An alpine stream scene like this one was a perplexing undertaking for me back then.

Studying Other Artists

It wasn’t until many years ago, I saw a life-sized oil painting by John Singer Sargent at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, that everything clicked in my mind’s eye. Up close, abstract, bold brush strokes of color flooded the canvas. Seemingly making little sense as to why they were there. What purpose was held in that twisted stroke, that straight one, that clipped one? But I stepped back twenty feet and that painting turned into an almost photographic unified piece depicting the personhood and persona of Mr. George Washington Vanderbilt, the man who commissioned the building of the estate.

In another room, a portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted by Sargent described beautifully the lifelong commitment of Olmsted to creating beautiful, natural landscape spaces of worldwide renown. Again executed such that up close, little sense could explain the “why” of many of the brush strokes. But from twenty feet, Olmstead appeared to be emerging from the very landscape he had designed as though alive on the canvas. Several other portraits by Sargent were also there, Richard Morris Hunt the architect of the estate, and several of the Vanderbilt women. I studied them carefully in amazement to what they revealed to me about painting in general, regardless of subject.

From then on I realized painting was a loose process, not a tight and restricted one as in the technical and engineering drawings in which I was steeped. I was a free man! I began my journey toward enjoying the wonderful blessing of creating landscape art in the open air of the great outdoors.

Forest Waterfall I-ACEO

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Forest Waterfall Series

A few months ago I decided to paint a series of ACEO cards with a forest waterfall or other natural forest scene that included moving water. (The link above explains what an ACEO card actually is.) This scene is from a favorite place I like to visit up on the Grand Mesa in Colorado. In the spring this otherwise small creek swells and roils with snowmelt water, making it an interesting study in how water moves.

Painting en Plein Aire

I enjoy taking a sketchbook and watercolor box along when I visit with Nature. I’ve also found that stuffing a few blank ACEO cards in my kit allows me to have a more spontaneous approach to capturing scenes like this should I decide to create something a little more refined than a pen or pencil sketch. Painting outdoors (en plein aire) builds ones skills far better than referring to photos.

Sketching on site has the same effect, but at times a sketch and a reference photo or two are all that time allows. So I’m not knocking photos at all. They are valuable references for painting in the studio, particularly for larger, formal pieces. One just has to realize their limitations compared to painting on site and not get stuck with just copying a photo.

This forest waterfall piece was done en plein aire and is actually a compilation of several scenic elements that exist there at the creek. I generally take artistic license with any landscape or nature scene unless there is a need to capture an accurate sense of place, such as a monument or well known location. Niagara Falls or Mt. Rushmore comes to mind. Artistic license then is a tool used to refine the painting into a cohesive communication of what I’m feeling and sensing as I paint a forest waterfall. It’s not about copying a scene precisely.

The Motivation

My aim with a scene like this is to capture the movement of the water and the steadfast resolve of the boulders and rocks to impede that movement. Of course that’s a perception and I realize boulders and rocks don’t actually possess “steadfast resolve”. However, that is the feeling such a forest waterfall scene evokes when I ask myself why I’m drawn to it.

That is what landscape art is I believe. A means by which humans communicate the spirit or feeling of a scene or place as the artist experienced it. As mentioned above, it’s not about accuracy or photo realism. It’s about beauty, finding it and expressing it convincingly.

Even a landscape depicting a sporting scene of hunters killing ducks, which doesn’t evoke beauty when worded that way, in reality depicts human friendship, the cycle of life, and the need for food and procuring it in way that is direct rather than far removed. Such a scene removes the innocence we all experience by shopping instead of hunting and evokes the sense of respect a hunter must possess for the prey they take. And those are beautiful human emotions, hidden in the painting yet expressed by the artist with hunters shouldering their shotguns and firing.

All surrounded by Nature’s beauty, the act itself is revealed as beautiful as well. Because of the depth of emotion involved in stopping a life to sustain another. Because of the design and beauty of the sporting guns, clothing and grace of the hunters in using them. And because of the grace of the bird on the wing in its innocence and beautiful lack of a mind that obsesses about its own existence and future, but rather, is mindful of and lives in the moment.

All these reflect the beauty of nature in such a scene if given thought and contemplation. Landscape art is meant to evoke thought and contemplation through capturing all the aspects of beauty in a scene. Particularly the beauty hidden but revealed only by contemplating the scene as a viewer or the artist who created it.

Natural Boulders-ACEO

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What is ACEO?

Natural Boulders is an ACEO collector card which I’ve explained in detail in this post. If need be, have a look there for the details once you’re done here. Basically, they are collector card sized paintings (3.5”x2.5”) with a following of collectors worldwide.

A Jeep Ride for Scenery

I decided to rent a Jeep over in Ouray, Colorado and take it up to Engineer Pass. There’s a dirt road winding it’s way up the mountain for about 20 miles. It’s a fairly good road but slow going due to all the scenery and tendency to stop. You will need a 4-wheel drive but you won’t find yourself needing “low”. It was an 8am to 8pm trip for me by the time I washed and returned the rental. It was on this trip I happened upon these natural boulders.

What Did I See?

Scenery paradise would be a great description! From deserted mining buildings, a waterfall or two, vistas, creeks and meadows, I was overwhelmed. I pulled off the road and took a little hike up one of the rolling meadows because I thought I could see an interesting landscape feature from the road up there.

Mother Nature is Patient

As I got closer, behold! This lonely stack of gorgeous boulders was sitting on the mountainside meadow naturally stacked just as you see them. As we used to say in Little League Baseball, “Good eye Don! Good eye!” The boulders were a great find indeed.

A few scattered rocks and natural boulders were in the vicinity but this was no typical exposed boulder field. I’m inclined to believe they arrived at their current location hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago, tumbling down the mountain in a giant rock slide. Over further thousands of years, millions of tons of land slides and avalanches covered the boulders with dirt trees and flora from above.

What we see today is a beautiful rolling, grassy meadow of immense proportion with a few of those original buried boulders featured on the landscape. The rest remain buried deep in the ancient debris. They may eventually be revealed as well, if not covered even more by another landslide in the future.

The unusual thing about these exposed natural boulders is the stacked arrangement. That was what made me excited to find them and capture the unique nature of the arrangement. Not to mention the lovely variations in color and surface deposits.

The Result

I sat on the ground, pulled out my sketchbook and a pre-cut ACEO watercolor card and painted the gist of this in watercolor (notice the background trees). I took a few reference photos with the phone for finishing back at the studio. Upon turning toward the road and Jeep I was surprised how far up the meadow I had hiked! Maybe 30 minutes up and 20 minutes down, it becomes obvious why the trip made for a 12 hour day with multiple stops like this.

I took a lot of quick phone photos along the way and made a number of sketches like this one:

Sketches roadside stream engineer pass colorado
Roadside Stream, Engineer Pass

The photos and sketches from a day trip like this make great reference material for paintings back at the studio. This one day expedition was well worth the drive and effort and I arrived home happy, motivated and excited when it was all done. I can’t say enough about the positive effects on the mind and body that Nature can provide simply by getting out and communing with Her.

It doesn’t have to be a remote Jeep trip. Your own back yard, even in a big city, will no doubt provide short trips with rewarding scenes and details of Nature intertwined with our human made urban landscapes. Local parks and botanical gardens are replete with scenes, particularly closeup details of plants. Ever do a tree portrait? Parks provide great opportunities for them and they make beautiful paintings! Get out there friend and experience for yourself the therapeutic and cathartic effects of en plein aire painting and sketching!

Canyon Waterfall-ACEO

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What is ACEO?

There is an interesting format in the world of collectible art known as “Art Cards, Editions and Originals” or ACEO. The only criteria is the size of the art. ACEO cards are 3.5″x2.5″, the size of a typical trading card. An artist can use whatever medium they prefer and create any type of art desired on any substrate. Most often they’re done using traditional mediums on watercolor paper or bristol paper.

Where Can I Find ACEO cards?

One of the best places to shop for these is on eBay. Just search ACEO and refine your search from there. The prices vary from very inexpensive to quite pricey depending on the interest in the artist. But the format offers a wonderful way to collect original art on a budget and in a compact size suitable for keeping in a nice coffee table display folio.

This piece was done in the studio after a trip to Arches National Park in Utah. Highway 128 is a beautiful scenic drive from the I-70 expressway down to the Moab, Utah area. It runs along side the Colorado River and the scenery is awe inspiring from the Dewey bridge onward. In fact, many of the western films of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were filmed in the region.

I made a few sketches along the way and reference photographs with my phone. Back at the studio I was inspired to cut up some thick watercolor paper and paint a series of ACEO cards themed around flowing water. I already had a fair amount of reference sketches and color notes from other trips so subject matter wasn’t going to be a problem.

This particular view was looking at the canyon wall where numerous waterfalls well up in the spring. They are draining off rain and any snowmelt from Arches National Park which occupies the region high up behind the canyon. I enjoyed painting this scene because of the strong contrast of the waterfall and spray against the varnished canyon wall. The green grasses and sage in the foreground were helpful in giving the scene some much needed depth.

Nature reveals so much to us in scenery and details. If we develop a mindful eye, even while rolling down the highway, we can notice the beauty that exists in the landscape we previously neglected. Eventually, the scenes and details we notice begin to draw us in by touching some inner, undefinable sensitivity. For those of us who draw, sketch and paint, this is a calling to capture that sensitivity as best we can.