Saturday, December 18, 2010

Up the Hill

Boy! Did I want to get out and paint today. But - rain, rain rain. So I went to a photo that I took last week when the weather was clear and worked some more with my limited pastel palette.


8 x 10 pastel on sanded paper

Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Desert Study

I had a 45 minute window to do a little painting so I scribbled out this little study from a photo I took on a recent trip to Sedona. I'm still playing around with my mini kit - trying to decide which pastels to take. Decisions, decisions....


6 x 8 pastel on sanded paper

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Traveling Light with Pastels


With the arrival of winter here in Southern California and probably the best light of the year, I’ve been spending most of my brush time outdoors. A recently renewed interest in pastels got me thinking about a better way to move that medium outdoors as well.

I’ve been using a wonderful backpacker box from Heilman Designs that works very well outdoors. The main problem is mine – I can’t keep myself from filling up the box with as many pastels as I can cram in there. The result is a very versatile kit that also weighs about eight pounds for the box alone. With everything else you need to carry that’s a lot if you travel more than a short distance from your car.

I know myself well enough to expect that if I walk away from my car I’m quite likely to end up two or three miles away. Wanderitis is what an old friend called it. So, I decided to put together a smaller pastel pochade box that would be lighter and smaller (so I’m not tempted to overfill it).

I’ve tried this before with small cardboard or cigar boxes for pastels and a small board to draw on but it always turned out to be too many pieces to keep track of. Also, I really like having a fixed support to paint on instead of holding something in one hand or on my lap. I decided to look for something else.

What I came up with was a small pochade box with enough space to store a basic collection of pastels but not so big that weight could become an issue. Pastels are heavy little buggers and once you gather up 80 or 100 of them it’s surprising how much weight you can create. Artwork Essentials has a number of boxes that will do this well but are all a bit big. Ben Haggett’s Alla Prima boxes are marvelous and can also be adapted but again are just a bit heavier than I was thinking.

So here’s what I found:



This is a little 10 x 12 box from Sienna Plein Air. These are lightweight, reasonably priced pochade boxes with some interesting features including an optional pastel container that you can see in the top photo. They’re all made overseas and certainly not as well constructed as Ben’s pochade boxes but I’m hoping that the one I selected will hold up. I’ll report back on how this unit fares. The final weight of the box with the pastel tray, clip-on extension and pastels is about 4.5 pounds. Much better!

So that was the hard part, right? Well, I thought so until I went to fill the tray with pastels. My Heilman box holds about 200+ half-sticks and the new one holds about 80. What do I take and what stays behind? I fussed over this for hours and in the end I just tried to select a range of values from the warm and cool family of each color group. After a couple of trips I’ve swapped out a few sticks for ones that I left out and don’t think I could live without. Otherwise I just need to get used to the idea that I’m not going to have the choices I’m used to in the studio.


But here’s the interesting thing. The fear I had about being restricted in the colors I have available is not only less than I expected but in a way it’s kind of liberating! Instead of sweating over finding that perfect green I only have a few choices so I just pick one and move on. I’m finding that this helps keep the session more spontaneous and as long as I get that value right… It may just be me but I feel like the studies I’ve done, so far, have been a little fresher.

Of course, I’m notoriously fickle when it comes to equipment so we’ll see where this all leads. But in the meantime I’m a happy painter.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fall in December

I had so much fun with my new pastel sketch box that I took it out to Pala Valley this morning. It's really tricky using a smaller number of pastels but I'm thinking that in a way it makes it a little easier. Fewer choices to fuss over.

We finally got some morning frost a couple of weeks ago and now the perpetually confused trees here in Southern California decided that it was fall and went all colorful on us. Nice! It'll only last another week or so. Maybe I'll try to get out again tomorrow.

8 x 8 pastel on sanded paper

For purchase information please contact: Randall Smith


Friday, December 10, 2010

Quickie at the Park

Oops. Maybe I should re-phrase that

I've been whining about being so busy at work and not having a chance to get out and paint so I decided to pack up a sandwich and my little sketch box and head out to a park close to work during my lunch hour and see what I could come up with.

This one was done in about 30 minutes. Probably good for spontaneity but not so much for attention to details. But I sure had fun!

8 x 10 pastel on sanded paper

For purchase information please contact: Randall Smith

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Big Rocks

We're in between rain storms so I figured I should "make hay while the sun shines". So, I headed out to paint with the San Diego Plein Air Group in Santee - in East San Diego County.

Incredible weather. And, it's a great bonus that the early rains this year have started to green things up. So nice!

8 x 10 oil on canvas panel

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Sunday, November 14, 2010

John Budicin

Spent a fabulous 3-day weekend painting at a workshop by John Budicin. John’s a great painter and teacher and we all had a wonderful time painting in the bright November sunshine. The weekend was hosted by Highland Valley Studio in Ramona CA.

I decided to work small so most of my efforts were 6 x 8 with a couple of 8 x 10’s. I need to go back into many of these studies and make some corrections in the studio. Until then, here are a few “in the rough”

6 x 8 oil on canvas panel

6 x 12 oil on linen panel

6 x 8 oil on canvas panel

To purchase one of these paintings contact: Randall Smith

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Across the Canyon

It’s been a while since I’ve worked with pastels so I thought I would shake things up a bit and bring out the chalk.

This is from a small 6 x 8 oil study that I did in Zion a couple of months ago. I’ve been there painting several times now and I still find it a very challenging place to figure out. Guess I’ll just have to go back again!

9 x 12 pastel on sanded paper

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Sometimes I don’t get outside to paint because I don’t have several hours to lug out my gear and work through a study. But I can’t discount the value of being outdoors to sketch and study the light. So, what I need is a way to do some quick color studies along with pencil sketches.

I’ve been watching some very talented artists like Deborah Secor, Larry Seiler and Ralph Parker produce some wonderful little sketches using gouache which is really just opaque watercolors. I tried watercolors and missed the ability to mix colors that same way I can with oils or acrylics. So, I picked up a few basic colors and started playing around with this.

I don’t know a lot about this yet but I can already tell that gouache looks like just the ticket for doing quick outdoor studies. And it travels light too!

Here are a couple of my first attempts:

3 x 5 gouache on hot pressed watercolor paper




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 3 3 x 5 gouache on heavy sketch paper

Monday, September 6, 2010

Borrego Valley Inn

I found this photo the other day that I took on a weekend trip to Borrego Springs (local desert) last winter. I put in on my computer and it's been calling to me all week.

9 x 12 oil on canvas panel

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Studio

Someone recently asked me where I found enough space in my home to paint so I snapped this photo. A couple others have also asked so I thought I would publish this picture.

It’s not huge but – very comfortable!


Looking Back

I’ve been trying to get some of my photos organized from last year and I came across some that I forgot about.

Last year I spent a delightful week painting with Michael Chesley Johnson in Sedona, AZ. On one of the first days we spent the morning near an area known as Red Rock Crossing (if I recall correctly). It was a little overcast and quite cool. Being still a little early the in spring, a lot of the trees by the river were still minus their green leaves. Kind of a somber mood. So, that’s what I tried for in this little study….

8 x 10 pastel on sanded paper

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tuolumne River

It's summer and time to get back up to the High Country! This is a study of one of the infinite number on beautiful scenes along the Tuolumne River in Yosemite NP.

I've collected enough photos of this place to keep me busy for the next 2 years!

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9 x 12 oil on linen panel

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Saturday, July 10, 2010


During my last trip to Zion N.P. I photographed a very tenacious little tree that decided it was perfectly OK to grow out a crack in the rocks. This isn’t that uncommon in this type of country but this one seemed especially determined.

One of the main attraction to me about this area is the vibrant greens against the bright reds. Compliments, of course, and I’m a sucker for it!

12 x 16 pastel on sanded paper

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Back to Basics

I was cleaning up my plein air kit this morning and I realized that I've let my palette creep up to 10 colors. That adds up to a lot of weight so I decided to sit down and see if I could still knock something out with the classic limited palette - yellow, red, blue and white.

So, here's a study from a photo I took in the Yosemite high country many years ago.

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10 x 12 oil on linen panel

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Upper Twin Lake

It’s another foggy day here in Southern California so I picked out a photo I took in Mammoth Lakes on a very clear morning.

I’ll venture back out into the fog tomorrow but for now I’ll live at the sunny lake!

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12 x 16 oil on linen

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bataquitos Lagoon #2

I'm now resigned to the fact that the fog is here to stay for a while so I stopped by Bataquitos lagoon and dashed off this gray day scene. Hopefully we'll see the sun soon but in the mean time - I guess I get to work on mixing grays!

8 x 10 oil on linen panel

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Friday, May 21, 2010

La Jolla Shores

Here's one I did tonight from a photo I took last year about this time. Now that the weather is starting to warm up inland, it's getting to be time to head to the shoreline to paint. We have many miles of great beaches and cliffs that I never seem to spend much time painting. I'm planning on changing that this summer!

8 x 10 pastel on sanded paper

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Down the Street

I've been known to drive many, many miles to find something to paint but today I didn't have the use of my truck so I slung my backpack and walked across the street (and down a few houses) and wandered off into a vacant lot. Normally, I don't pay too much attention to this spot but with everything still so green from all the rain we've had, I found this cool old tree.

9 x 12 oil on linen panel

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Desert Wildflower Sketch

I’m not sure what these flowers are but I used this photo I took at Valley of Fire to do a quick little study. This regional park is located about an hour north of Las Vegas.

I’m working through several photos of this particular canyon with hopes that I can put together a larger studio piece.


4 x 5 pastel on sanded paper

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Desert Brittlebush

With another small storm coming in I decided to take a drive out to the desert to see what's left of the wildflower bloom. I also wanted to break in my newest Hielman backpacker pastel box.

Right now the bright yellow brittlebush is everywhere. In fact, it was so evident that I decided that, like fall foliage, it might be too much to try and capture it (see photo below).

So, I found a lone little group of flowers hiding in the rocks. I’m always amazed at the life you can find in the desert.

8 x 10 pastel on Wallis paper

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

What a great place to set up. That's the Hielman box and easel on my carbon fiber tripod. Wonderful setup!


Lots of Yellow!


Monday, March 29, 2010

Lake Wohlford Rocks

Yep, another perfect day in Southern California. I was going to stay home and work in the studio but it was sooo nice that I decided to take my new Heilman Backpacker pastel box and easel out for a spin.

It was starting to a get a little warm so I setup under a large oak tree and worked on some interesting rocks that were piled up by the shore of Lake Wohlford.

9 x 12 pastel on Uart paper

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Here’s the quick watercolor underpainting:


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lunch Break

I got real antsy at work yesterday so I grabbed my sandwich and a little box of pastels and drove to a regional park for a bite and a draw. Boy, pastels can get messy. I'm sure glad I ate my sandwich first!


4 x 4 pastel on Wallis paper

Monday, March 22, 2010

Michael Chesley Johnson Workshop

I just returned from a week long painting workshop with Michael Chesley Johnson in Sedona AZ. This is part of his mentoring series so there were only three of us in the class. Nice.

Michael is a great teacher and took us through a great week of painting. Oh, and there are just a few things to paint in Sedona!

After a prior week of rain and snow we arrived to near perfect weather with plenty of sun and temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s.

For the most part it was all about trying new things and producing little studies. Without the pressure of trying to complete a finished painting, the pace was concentrated but relaxed.

I painted mostly oils but I did sneak out one evening to try one pastel.

If you’re looking for something a step above the normal painting workshop experience, I highly recommend attending one of Michael’s workshops.

You can find more info at Michael’s website.

Here are a couple of studies from the week:

8 x 10 oil on canvas panel

8 x 10 pastel on Wallis paper

And here are a few snapshots from the week:


IMG_0163 IMG_0167 IMG_0168 IMG_0169


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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Desert Palm Oasis

One of the stops on our trip to the Anza Borrego desert was in the Eastern end of the park. Up above the Bow Willow campground are several rare palm groves. If you can find year-round water, you can usually fine these small groves of palm trees.

This was especially fun because as we stood in the sun, looking out over the desert - right behind us, in the mountains of San Diego, it was raining like crazy. Gotta love it!

9 x 12 oil on canvas panel

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Another Ocotillo

I can tell I'm going to be on a desert kick for a while! Here's another blooming ocotillo from our trip last weekend.

This was done right in town – just behind the Visitors Center. A couple more weeks and the wildflowers should be in full force.


8 x 10 oil on canvas panel

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Monday, February 22, 2010

Borrego Ocotillo

After several days of rain I headed out to the local deserts for some sun. It was a little cool but I found the sun I was looking for.

This year has brought the deserts a lot of rain and we're anticipating a banner wildflower year. Mid March usually marks the height of the flower blooms so it's still a little early. Fortunately, I found an ocotillo that didn't have a calendar and was in full bloom!


9 x 12 oil on board

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More Red Rocks

Lots of rain the last two days and I needed to escape to some place warmer so, I did another study from my photos of Zion NP.

This time I'm still playing with the Holbein Duo water soluble oils. They're kind of growing on me. I just need to remember to keep them away from this rain!!!

9 x 12 oil on board

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Valley Oak

Here's another try with the Holbein Duos. I'm still using them like regular oils - no water. The consistency is just a little different. A little thicker but smoother. The jury is still out...

I spent another beautiful day painting out at Highland Valley Ranch here in Southern Ca. More rain on the way so I'm trying to enjoy it while I can.

8 x 10 oil on canvas panel

To purchase this painting please contact: Randall Smith