Quick Draw in Dubois (2015-16)

Quick Draw in Dubois (2015-16)

Photograph © J. Hulsey of Dubois Wyoming at Dawn

   Each year there is a large and unique congregation of artists in a little western town near the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks at an art center situated on the banks of the Wind River. Approximately 150 art students travel there each September to spend a week learning from some of the top artists in the country. This gathering is far more than a mere workshop, however. It is also often a life-changing experience for both the artists and teachers alike. For a week, the Susan K. Black Foundation's annual workshop becomes an artistic community where everyone shares experiences, information, stories, meals and their hopes and dreams together. In the evening, there are presentations and entertainment. Some students attend demonstrations or classes indoors in the classrooms of the art center, while others follow instructors out to visit vast western ranches or river canyons, mountain lakes, or waterfalls to learn the ins and outs of plein air painting. It is a nurturing learning experience for both students and teachers, and we call it, “adult art camp”. We are honored to be included among the many well-known instructors who teach there.

   One morning during the workshop is set aside for the instructors to produce a painting to be auctioned that evening as a fund-raiser for the SKB Foundation. We paint indoors, under the pressure of the clock, while everyone else circulates and observes our work as we progress. This sort of thing is not for everyone, but most of the instructors have enough experience demonstrating publicly to pull it off. Still, it is an exhilarating, if mildly stressful situation and this raises the performance bar everyone. We thought that you would like to share in this small part of the SKB workshop so we created this abbreviated step-by-step presentation of a few of the artists' works from the 2015 and 2016 Quick Draws to give you a sense of what this wonderful experience is like. Unfortunately, we don’t have complete steps for all the artists involved—there just isn't enough time at a big event like this to shoot step-by-step pictures of every teacher who is demonstrating. (To view more demonstrations from an earlier SKB event (2014) in Dubois, see our article, "Quick Draw in Dubois, Wyoming".

Greg Beecham (2016)

   Greg is a world-renowned wildlife artist and teacher. Because the Quick Draw takes place indoors, away from the usual subject matter, many of the artists work from some kind of photo reference, often displayed on a computer screen. The advantage of the screen image over a print is that the image, being projected light, contains all the luminance and colors of the original picture, which prints cannot. Therefore, the reference is more true to the subject that had originally inspired the artists.

Greg Beecham's Image Reference for Dubois Quick Draw Painting 2016   Greg Beecham's Paint Board

   Beecham worked from an image of a polar bear. He has a system for the oil colors he uses mounting the paint tubes in order on this plywood board. We’ve never seen anyone do this before.

Greg Beecham Step One Quick Draw Painting   Step One: Working on a middle-gray toned board, he started by lightly drawing his composition in pencil.


Greg Beecham Step Two Quick Draw Painting   Step Two: In this subject, the head of the bear is the most important feature to get right, and that is where Beecham began. He preferred to establish his darks first. He used a retractable back-scratcher as a mahl stick throughout this painting.

Greg Beecham's Maul Stick

Greg Beecham Step Three Quick Draw Painting   Step Three: Notice how much texture and color Beecham added to the fur of the painted bear verses the image in the photo. He really warmed the colors and then used cooler grays in the background to provide temperature contrast.

Greg Beecham's Quick Draw Painting
Greg Beecham's Finished Painting (photo by Martha Heppard)

   See more of Greg Beecham's work at his website.

John Hulsey (2016)

   John chose to create a watercolor for this demonstration—there were plenty of oil painters working already. As one of only four regular watercolor instructors, he shares a friendly rivalry with the oil painters, each trying to out-paint the opposing camp. For his demo, John chose a difficult subject of a sunrise scene he shot of the landscape in Dubois. Big contrasts in light and complementary colors made this painting a challenge in watercolor.

John Hulsey Step One for Quick Draw   Step One: Working from his photo displayed on an iPad, John lightly drew a schematic of the scene on his Arches 140# block of cold pressed paper.


John Hulsey Step Two for Quick Draw   Step Two: Pre-mixing colors in a color string is a very important first step—there is no time to stop a wet wash in progress to remix fresh colors! Generally, these color strings are progressions of the main mass-tones in the subject, from warm to cool.


John Hulsey Step Three for Quick Draw   Step Three: Using a #20 size Richeson pointed round, John laid in his lightest wash of warm color on the hillside, gradually adding more Indian Yellow and Permanent Red to make a graded wash which stopped just at the tree line. You can see how he tested each color on the margins of the block before painting them in.

John Hulsey Step Four for Quick Draw   Step Four: Once the initial warm color wash of the hills was dry, John wet the tree line and ground below with clear water before laying in the trees and ground wet-into-wet, all at once. This takes an acute sense of timing to pull off, but the soft effect is worth the effort. Notice that he has some major drips in the color wash above. Rather than worry about them, he just incorporated them into the painting.


John Hulsey Step Five for Quick Draw   Step Five: Upside Down Painting. To make the top section of the hills seem to fade into the cool distance, John laid a transparent cobalt blue wash over this area. Well before it was dry, but not soaking wet, he turned his block upside down and added two areas of thicker cobalt to imply more contours and shadow to the area. Tilting the paper the opposite way is one technique for controlling the spread of a really wet wash.

John Hulsey Step Six for Quick Draw   Step Six: Once the upper wash was dry, he proceeded to add color shapes to the middle area of the composition. These shapes would help define the central, brightly lit hillside.


John Hulsey Step Seven for Quick Draw   Step Seven: John continued to create smaller color washes, wet over dry, to create the suggestion of the various intersecting shapes of the hills. Only once that was completed could the cobalt and cerulean shadow be painted on top. It is not quite apparent yet where this painting is going, and unlike oils, large corrections can't be made. Each step must be pre-planned in the correct order in the head of the painter. (After the demo was finished, several students told John that at this stage they thought “he had really lost it!”)

John Hulsey Step Eight for Quick Draw   Step Eight: This is the dangerous, but really fun part, where he splattered and dripped little specks and bits of dark paint over the image to create more textures and imply shrubs or trees. Too much of this in the wrong places can ruin a painting fast. Hey, where did those big drips we saw earlier go?


 Dawn, Dubois, Watercolor, © J. Hulsey

   The finished painting, Dawn, Dubois, squared up as a 12 x 12”

   See more of John Hulsey's paintings at his website.

Jeanne Mackenzie (2015)

   Jeanne Mackenzie is a long-time oil painting teacher at SKB specializing in plein air oil work.

Jeanne Mackenzie Step by Step Quick Draw   Mackenzie worked in her Open Box M pochade box on a middle-gray toned panel to establish her composition drawing with a thin application of brown paint. The reason for the toned panel is two-fold: First, the middle-value tone helps to establish accurate values right off the bat. A stark white canvas can confuse the eye and throw off our value selections. Second, the mid-gray tone helps with selecting and comparing accurate color temperatures. But, there is another good reason to use a toned canvas. We can also mix up a medium value tone of the predominant color masses present in any scene, warm or cool, and cover the canvas before we begin to draw on our composition. By selectively letting that show through as a final mid-value color wherever we wish in the painting, that tone accomplishes a lot of the work for us and harmonizes the picture to boot.

Jeanne Mackenzie Step Two Quick Draw   Step Two: Mackenzie’s finished drawing. This thin brown drawing can also be considered a warm-neutral, and will probably show up in places in the finished painting.


Jeanne Mackenzie Step Three Quick Draw   Step Three: Mackenzie started by painting the mass tones and values of her mid-ground focal point first. This is where the dominant colors and contrasts must be and what everything else in the picture must support.


Jeanne Mackenzie Step Four Quick Draw   Step Four: After blocking in the other large objects in the ground plane, she moved on to add the pale blues in the background. You can see here how that grey tone aided her in getting the right temperature and value of blue, compared to her foreground mass tones.


Jeanne Mackenzie Step Five Quick Draw   Step Five: Mackenzie’s technique is methodical and consistent—she does not jump around. Rather, she builds her picture area by area. Here she has painted all the blue shadows in one go.


Jeanne Mackenzie Step Six Quick Draw   Step Six: Now that everything was blocked in, she was able to paint the ground plane, establish shadows and, by working “fat over lean”, begin to break the large masses into smaller, more interesting shapes.


Jeanne Mackenzie Step Seven Quick Draw   Step Seven: Once she had all her shapes well in hand, she was free to begin adding the small details - “the jewelry” - that really makes a picture come to life.


Jeanne Mackenzie's Finished Painting
The finished 9 x 12’ oil painting, Winter Solitude.

   Mackenzie wrote us about the difference between studio and plein air painting. "The studio is like sailing where you have time to adjust the sails and move quietly through the water. The plein air experience is like driving a speed boat. The light and weather are changing and it is full throttle ahead. With the wind in your hair you are making quick decisions on the fly." See more of Mackenzie's observations in our "Voices of Experience" interview. To see more of her paintings visit her website.

David Rankin (2015)

   David Rankin is another long-time SKB teacher, board member, well-known watercolor painter, author and traveler. Early in his career, he traveled frequently to India, where he created magnificent watercolors of the land and its people. He is just as fascinated by digital painting processes as he is by traditional watercolor work, at which he is a master. Watch as Rankin creates a magical waterfall seemingly out of nowhere.

David Rankin Step One Quick Draw   Step One: Rankin was working on an Arches 12 x 16” rough paper block. You can see some of his tools and his unique palettes made from plastic take-out food trays.


David Rankin iPad Sketches for Quick Draw   Step Two: He created his original composition digitally on his iPad, first in black and white tone, and then with color added. His inspiration was a waterfall in the Himalayas, with a little Dipper bird darting in and out of the water.

David Rankin Step Two Quick Draw   Step Three: After a light pencil drawing to serve as a map, Rankin began painting in some serious darks to establish movement.


David Rankin Step Three Quick Draw   Step Four: Watercolorists generally work light to dark, but not always. Here Rankin was painting some quite dark color shapes right off the bat with a one inch flat.


David Rankin Step Four Quick Draw   Step Five: Still painting with the large flat and working top to bottom, he painted large wet-into-wet shapes of juicy color, reserving the dry, white paper for his waterfall.


David Rankin Quick Draw Watercolor   Step Six: Rankin used a small rigger brush to create the fine details in the rocks. This interesting and revealing image show how Rankin connected his upper washes to a wet-into-wet graded wash at bottom. The timing of this operation is critical!


David Rankin Paints Watercolor on Slanted Block   This photo shows the support Rankin uses to keep his block of paper slanted at the optimum angle.


David Rankin Paints a Waterfall in Watercolor   Step Seven: After his initial washes dried, he was able to go back into the lower part of the waterfall and add some wet on dry details. After that he rewet parts of the waterfall to create the effect of foamy cascading water.

David Rankin's Palettes and Gear   This image gives you a good view of Rankin’s unique palettes and gear.


David Rankin's Finished Painting
The finished painting, Little Brown Dipper.

   Read more from Rankin in the article, "The Power of Middle Values in Painting" and in our interview with him. To see more of his work, visit his website.

John Seerey-Lester (2016)

   Seerey-Lester is another world-renowned, award-winning artist and sought-after teacher specializing in wildlife art. In October 2014, he and his wife, artist Suzie Seerey-Lester received the Simon Combes Award at the Artists for Conservation Festival in Vancouver, B.C. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal anatomy, natural light and landscapes which allow him to work directly from memory or, as here, from one of his many sketchbooks created while observing wildlife in the field.

John Seerey-Lester's Sketchbook

John Seerey-Lester Step One Quick Draw   Step One: Seerey-Lester chose to work on this smooth gray-toned panel in acrylics. Here he was considering how he would recompose this painting from the drawing in his sketchbook.

John Seerey-Lester Step Two Quick Draw   Step Two: After a light pencil sketch, Seerey-Lester started right in with a thin brown application of paint to block in the figure of the moose and add some background tone behind the figure.

John Seerey-Lester Step Three Quick Draw   Step Three: He worked-up his image from mid-toned warm colors first.


John Seerey-Lester Step Four Quick Draw   Step Four: Gradually his subject emerged from the background as he washed in tone around it, precisely the impression he was after. Seerey-Lester likes a sense of mystery, of animals appearing from the brush or fog, as they often do in real life.


John Seerey-Lester Step Five Quick Draw   Step Five: Here we can see how he worked from generalized, abstract shapes and gradually adding detail by breaking the large shapes into smaller, more precise shapes.

John Seerey-Lester Step Six Quick Draw   Step Six: The grasses have materialized from the initial color washes and the moose contrast has been strengthened with dark warm values.


John Seerey-Lester Step Seven Quick Draw   Step Seven: The last details were added. Notice the contrast between the warm tones of the moose and the cool background colors.


John Seerey-Lester's Finished Painting for the Quick Draw
The finished painting.

   View more of both John and Suzie Seerey-Lester's work at their website.

Mort Solberg (2015)

   Mort Solberg is a master watercolor painter and is famous for a method of painting his wildlife and figurative work known as "The Solberg Style". Solberg is fun to talk with as he has a lifetime of art, travel and teaching experiences to share. Here is his simple setup.

Mort Solberg's Watercolor Setup

Mort Solbert Using Big Brushes   Step One: Solberg started right in, leaving onlookers mystified by what he was doing. His method of painting is remarkable and amazing to watch. As he says, he starts each painting not really knowing what will happen. "I usually don't have an idea in my head when I begin—I just start in and see what happens." He goes on to say that as he works, the painting seems to tell him which way to go and soon, an image begins to develop.

Mort Solber's Mysterious Start to Watercolor Quick Draw   Step Two: Once he has the basic image and composition started, he lets his imagination work together with his vast experience to guide his choice of color and shape. He is not too fussy about using only watercolor brushes. He feels free to use acrylic brushes and opaques whenever he thinks they are helpful to the painting.


Mort Solbert Using Big Brushes  Step Three: Big brush action as Solberg made decisive, dark strokes with a large flat brush across his initial washes. Big flats are just as useful for sharp lines as they are for big flat shapes!

 Mort Solberg Step Four Quick Draw  Step Four: Still working with his large flat brush, he created more small shapes out of the initial large masses. Only he knew where this was going.

Mort Solberg Step Five Quick Draw   Step Five: Solberg switched to a big round brush to paint in some rock shapes. He also likes to use a lens—another smart tool every artist should probably have in their kit. This reducing lens allows him optically "step back" from his work without moving an inch. In this way, he can see how all the big shapes and colors are working, and make corrections as he goes.

Mort Solberg Step Six Quick Draw   Step Six: He switched back to a smaller, one inch flat to work another very wet area to suggest the beginning, perhaps of a waterfall. Notice the dryer in his other hand.

Mort Solberg Step Seven Quick Draw   Step Seven: Still using the dryer, Solberg applied some opaque white with a pointed round into the wet areas to create the effect of a little stream. Part way through the painting, he likes to place a mat over the work to see how it might crop.

Mort Solberg Step Eight Quick Draw   Step Eight: Solberg also likes to take paint off where necessary to create the desired effects. Here he used a household cleaning product - a bleach eraser - to remove paint completely from a spot or two. You can also see here where he has used table salt in the wet paint to create a splatter effect.


  Mort Solberg Works Vertically on a WatercolorMort Solberg Step Nine Quick Draw

   Step Nine: Sometimes it is necessary to turn the painting upside down or vertical to get the paint to go where it is needed.

Mort Solberg's Finished Painting for Quick Draw

   The finished painting. Notice how those little touches of red energize the colors in this painting? Pure Solberg Style

   Read our interview "Voices of Experience" with Solberg. To see more of his paintings visit his website.

   (Painting images are copyrighted to each artist.)






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