Chistensen Color

The Golden Hour— 18 x24″ Painted right off Wellio Rd. in Roswell along the Chattahoochee River

2018 is here, with it the end of the holidays and the beginning of getting back to work. As a painter you must be completely self motivated, your own task master, marketing manager, financial officer —and well, everything. I’m set up to teach a class this spring at Kennesaw State and even though it’s just one class and part of their continuing education department, I’ve taken it very seriously and intend to do the best I can for my students. It’s a bit of experiment to see how I like teaching and how effective I can be. I hope to use it as a primer for teaching workshops in the future. If you have some interest and live in the area, look for my Oil Painting class in the Spring OLLI — Osher Lifelong Learning Institute catalog( —we will cover basics but I will have my eye out for some willing students who may wish to expand their learning and get out for some Plein Air. All in all it will be fun and affordable.

I’m always looking for a spark of info and sometimes a class or video can be just the trick. Recently I was given a gift of the Scott Christensen video, 3 Landscape Studies ( by my wife for Christmas. I love his work—mostly western mountain landscapes in the tradition of Edgar Payne. So many have been influenced by this painter that I was a bit shy to adapt too many of his techniques but I can honestly say that a few things he stressed hit home for me and might have improved my work.
He uses a very limited palette —Titanium white, Ultramarine blue, Permanent Red, and Lemon Yellow Cad.—ad to this two self mixed colors, a grey built out of those colors in somewhat equal amounts and a yellowish tan khaki —again mixed from those basic colors. I found this interesting and simple —a good thing, especially for me, as I tend to go off the deep end with my color. The big change is no Ocher and Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Red or Orange —All very prominent colors on my palette. The red in not overly saturated —like Cadmium so it takes a bit more to warm things up and it’s not as dominant in a mix. This gets a bit more paint in —especially in darks, something everyone always runs short on. Darks shade either blue or red. I mix Ultramarine Blue—a somewhat de saturated color to begin with at 60-70%, to Alizarin at 30-40% and a bit of yellow (2%) to get my darkest dark. Permanent red —not being as saturated requires a bit more paint. but it’s easier to mix at about a 50/50 blue and red +the Yellow.

Winter Grays 12 x16″ —painted at Mabry Farm using a limited palette

Another key aspect of his procedures is his pre mixing. Of course all of us have done this but I am not religious about it —well not until I saw this video and decided to give it a good honest try. I’ve been very pleased with the results.
I’m a sight size guy, so my view is pretty much transcribed onto my board at the same scale— I observe and mix the colors starting with the darkest dark. Then I work on picking out the other dominant colors and building them—I mimic Christensen here, mixing in some of that neutral gay into almost every mix—especially the greens. He says he mixes the gray before hand and tubes it up himself along with that khaki tan color—I have not tried this but certainly the gray is rather easy to obtain, if you paint as much as most of us you’ll have some left over from your last outing or on your studio palette—easy enough to transfer into your box before you go out. The khaki is another matter—you’re going to have to mix this purposely or perhaps buy a titanium buff—no big thing.

Pond Reflections —12 x16 Painted at Lieta Thompson Park

This method, although it slows you down to start actually improves your speed and gives you better cleaner color and in my case plenty of it so I can do the thicker applications that I prefer. Bring a full size palette knife because this will speed things up. It also helps you from over stroking —or petting as they say. You have plenty of paint so you just use it more directly instead of stretching it out. You can’t paint a good plein air painting with out the proper amount of paint. And again I found that I actually used less paint! You have the colors you need and you are better at mixing them all at the same time than you are on the fly. Often, deep into a painting I run out and find myself tired and just using any dark or any light just to keep at it.
The result is lively grays, less acidic greens and cleaner color. Nuff said…give it a try!

Final Portrait 12 x12″ Painted at Mabry Farm

The Marsh II —Dawn and Dusk

Dawn, 20 x 20"
Dawn, 20 x 20″

Over the last several weeks I have devoted my time to a smaller area of the Chattahoochee/Big Creek Estuary that I call the marsh. It’s right at the corner of Willeo and Azalea Roads. I worked on a large 20 x 20″ canvas to start with a view northeast and the sun rising, I call this Dawn. I didn’t want the high contrast of the morning light so I’ve been working mid morning and the light is rather flat but picks up the water as it goes back in steps perhaps a mile or so. It beautiful spot with marsh grasses in various states of growth from very green to a bleached out orange. There are several dead trees that decorate the area too. The Canadian Geese love this spot, so you’ll hear them the whole time you are there pronouncing their territory loudly to anyone who intrudes. This is the only area on this part of the river that has cattails and the they have an interest to me. I decided to paint a companion piece to Dawn the same size but later in the day. Of course I call this piece Dusk and it’s the same size. I started a few weekends ago looking for the right spot and ended about 50 yards north of the Dawn painting. I used a goose in each and the dusk version features later light and the bird standing one one leg with it’s head tucked in. It’s a very strong design element and I tried to place it so the direction would point back into the painting. I put another pass on this painting this weekend and have a bit more to but its pretty much set. I’m now shopping for frames that will look good with the thought that these paintings will hang on either side of a bed. I’m also considering making prints of these two paintings, there might be some interest in this bedroom art concept.

Dusk, 20 x20"
Dusk, 20 x20″
Cattails in the Rain, 9 x12"
Cattails in the Rain, 9 x12″
Cattails at Sunset, 9 x12″

While in pursuit of the Dusk painting I used an upright element to the left of the painting. I thought that this might be a good spot for a cattail so I did a few smaller studies of a group I found out off running path on the other side of the marsh. It was a rainy day Saturday and I started both views—one in direct (gray) light and the other backlit by the afternoon sky.  I got the first done and was rained on —I never have too much problem in the rain but my finished 9 x 12″ was so pelted with rain that it moved the paint around—so pretty much a wash! The second painting was going alright but I felt was getting a bit thick and the light was flat so I took a break. I reset up the other view, scraped it down and repainted it with much better results. Then I did the same on the other with a stronger but still cloudy sun setting.

Sunday I returned to finish off Dusk with the thought of using the cattail painting to help me paint the section I intended to use them in. Well—long story short I ended up just using the tall weeds that were there—thinking that the cattails would take away from the bird too much. I spent most of the day there, working on the mud in the fore ground —lots of darks, as most of it is in shadow in my version. I wanted to spend that hour or so at the end of the day sharpening up the lights but I had several hours to wait until sundown so I decided to do a small 11 x 14″ of Willeo Road as it trails up toward the Chattahoochee Nature Center. I noticed how it nice it was while working the first weekend here. So I set up right on the roadside and worked on this view—which quickly turned to a sunset.  I took a break for about an hour to finish Dusk and then spent about another hour putting some final touchs to the road view.

Sunset on Willeo Road, 11 x14"
Sunset on Willeo Road, 11 x14″

Next weekend I’m going to work on a 18 x 36 canvas and see if I  can get those banded colors of water and marsh that you can see from this vantage. I’m sure Spring will be the next big thing and I’m ready for it, but it’s been a wonderful winter painting here and I can say for the first time I’ll miss it’s light and subtle colors.

Back to the River for Winter

Reflections on the Flats Ed Cahill Plein Air
Reflections on the Flats. 9 x 12″

I’ve lived here in Marietta nearly twenty years now. It’s actually my second tour of duty here in Georgia, so almost thirty years in this lovely warm spot. Over the years it’s grown more hectic and crazy on the roads, thank God I have avoided most of this by working out of my house the last fifteen years. When I started painting plein air in earnest five years back I knew it would take a lot of work—a lot of brush in the bush time to get to the point I could call myself a professional. This certainly has been the case,with some bravery and ingenuity I might have sped up the process by several decades! There are many young men and women who have taken on the challenge to be professional painters along with raising a family and made it work—I salute them. To those considering it—it’s all a matter of what you expect of yourself. Work hard, have a plan and I believe you can do it. It will take a while but you will learn the things you must do and you will will be happier and more successful in the long run.

Boardwalk Map

Back to painting. You can go back many post and see that I’ve pretty much figured out the places I’m most comfortable painting in this area. It’s a process of exploration, and experience. I want to get painting as soon as possible —I want to be productive, so I look for places with nature and some place to park. The Chattahoochee near Roswell is great this time of the year—long views and plenty of atmosphere. And it just got considerably better. This last week they opened a mile long stretch of boardwalk that not only parallels the river but at one point cuts across through the flats area between Azalea Drive and Willeo Rd. I’ve heard that this cost well over a million dollars —money well spent! They did a wonderful job and with the way they build decks now —not with much wood, it aught to last a good long time. The only problem is parking, you must either park at the Nature Center or at the parking lot on Azalea Drive both of which are are not great. The Nature Center is not open all the time and the Azalea Drive parking lot is about a half mile from the boardwalk and is full most of the time. You can sneak into the St. Francis School parking lot at the corner but it’s also more than a half mile away from the entrance.

Complain, complain! Really nothing to complain about. It’s glorious and has view of the river on one side and the flats on the other. Hundreds of paintings here but not easy ones! The brush is dense even in the winter and you will have to edit a lot—again, nothing to complain about. For the next several months I will be spending lots of time there—you are welcome to join me. Not knowing of the opening I started a few weekends ago at the fishing park further up Willleo Rd., this is a spot I’ve painted many times before. A great place to catch the sunrise over the ridge and reflection off the river. I was up early and set up near 8AM on the hill behind the parking lot with a view across. The water level is way down so there was a very interesting shape to the mud flats as it winds out to the river. I wanted to catch that early light and color, but I also had in mind a big 18 x24″ for this view. I thought it might be a good idea to do a quick 9 x12″ first and then take my time on the larger one using the small one for color reference. So this first one is the 9 x12″ that I did Sunday morning 12/11.

Chattahoochee Sunrise 9 x 12″
December Sunrise
December Sunrise 18 x 24″

The next is the 18 x24 that I worked on later and finished up the next weekend. I was not happy with all the excess Dioxide Purple. This a color that I tend to overdue when I have it on my palette. I should just eliminate it but I am always mixing purples and it just saves so much time! I also use Naples Yellow a bit too much—again, It’s just too easy to over use that lovely cool yellow and both are hard to disguise.

Chattahoochee Impresions Ed Cahill Plein Air
Chattahoochee Impressions 18 x24″

I’ve had some success working bigger lately. I like 18 x24 inches when I have everything thought out and the time. Sometimes they don’t even take any longer as with this view from Willeo Road looking North-East. I also used a branch hanging down in front to give me something in the foreground—it seems to work in this one. This was painted before we lost lost the leaves and is a great illustration of why this area is great to paint. You have some distance that you can work with—gradually blueing things as they go back.

Sunset at Riverbend
Sunset at Riverbend 9 x 12″
Winter on the River
Winter on the River 8 x16″

This group of smaller paintings the first a 9×12 painted along the main stretch of boardwalk near the Wellio Rd. (top of page) the other around sunset looking southwest in early December and the third a 8 x16″ painted soon afterwords. The last two were painted perhaps only fifty feet apart—This shows you the diversity of views available here. I like the winter color in the 8 x16, and this view lent itself to the panoramic crop.

This last weekend was Christmas but I got a few good days in before and the weather was unseasonably warm. On the 22nd I got over a bit late in the afternoon to the boardwalk. I set up right at the elbow that start’s the walks section out over the flats. This crosses over a meandering swap like area with a treeline and the river behind it. I did a 12 x12 that day looking straight into the setting sun. I was pleased with it but I saw a potential for a bigger painting and the next day I brought over a 20 x 24″ that I had—with a nice pale red ground. I got in place around noon and worked until almost five—or sundown, this time of the year. The last hour was spectacular!

Cool Reflections
Cool Reflections 20 x 24″

My plans are to do some closer in views next working with the brush and the muted winter colors.

UPDATE 1/4/17

Light on the Flats
Light on the Flats 9 x12″

A few more from the river last week. I met Allison Graham Doke, Shane McDonald and Anna Jones Ladefoged. for a session on Friday. It was cold but bright and everyone enjoyed themselves. I did a small bright 9 x12 first then set in on a 12 x16″ as the day progressed. Everyone else had things to do but I hung in and proceeded to frustrate myself a bit on this view of the marsh through a tree screen. It got a bit muddy and messy so I scraped most of it off and went back over the next day to finish it. A totally different experience on Saturday with no bright sun at all—again I worked hard to repaint and came up with this. Might still require a bit of work!

Gray Day Geese
Gray Day Geese 12 x16

Shade and Sun

Island Ford
Island Ford

I’m a graphic designer and have made a living at it for almost twenty years now. I’m proud but realize that all that time I spent in my craft was time not painting and not learning how to be a professional painter. I’m a father and and husband, and with that took what paths I could to support my family.

I don’t think I’m a snob about it but I do realize a distinct difference in painting plein air.  I’ve always been a painter since a little boy— I was born to be one.  And I’ve always painted outside—but this idea of branding it as ”plein air” is a new thing for me.  Even though I was aware of the Impressionists, and they are some of my heroes like Van Gogh and Monet this strict definition of “plein air” took me by surprise. Often my work was based on plein air starts and finished in the studio. I started to see that a lot of this work ruined the freshness of the starts I made. Most of the paintings were large and required a lot more work than was possible in one session outside. I was working a lot at this time so I was not doing many paintings—at the most ten a year. Some of these are good — well composed and skillfully painted but not imbued with the freshness of a true plein air painting. When it’s done right, it just has that fresh, lifelike look that can’t be faked.

Rain on the way
Rain on the way

So this weekend I spent both days painting outside. Saturday was very cloudy and looked like rain most of the day. I’m back to doing pencil thumbs before I start and did several looking out the windows upstairs in my house in the anticipation of staying inside but as it drew near noon I figured it was worth a try to get outside. I have the advantage of a big yard with a large part of it still wooded and a stream that runs through it. So when I don’t feel like getting in my car and riding around looking for someplace to paint I can just hike down the hill and set up on the stream. This vertical was inspired by the way the old house across the stream sort of flows down hill with a small shack in the back a bit below the rest of the structure. It’s a very poorly kept place but has a kind of romantic feel to it. I wanted to capture that low gray light here and was interested in the large group of dark cedars that punched up the contrast of the house. The house is painted a dull  ocher on one side and white in the back. This confused me and I had to repaint it quite a few times also simplifying the windows. In the end this has a gritty almost Russian feel to it.

Chattahoochee Landing
Chattahoochee Landing

Sunday was a day to write home about. I loaded up my car and headed to Island Ford State Park on the Chattahoochee. This is my second visit in a month there and I went to get a view of the lodge that looks like it came from the Poconos or out West. But the light was not right on it early so I walked down to the launching ramp right on the river and promptly spent the next six hours in one place. The first painting I did was a view up the river and across with several houses clustered along the North bank. I was enamored with one large house and as I do sometimes fixated on getting it in right—the light was bright but straight down, After hours and hours everything around it looked good but the house just did not work so completely changed the painting in the last hour and was still not satisfied. Views across water work much better with some frame in the foreground. I say this to myself all the time but for some reason just keep on doing them.

As the afternoon wore on I had a steady stream of visitors and was enchanted by a young couple with their dogs who stopped and sat and talked for hour or more while I tried another. The day was just glorious and as the afternoon light changed to a golden glow it lit up one of the islands in the middle of the river like a candle. Inspired, I rushed to capture the drama of it—This is what plein air is all about! After just an hour I had what I spent the whole day working for.

February’s first weekend

Chattahoochee at Island Ford
Chattahoochee at Island Ford

I’m averaging a few paintings every weekend and did so again this first one of the month. Looking for some classes to take and I noticed that Rodger Dale Brown is going to teach one up in Dahlonega at the Art Loft this spring so I’m going to see if I can make the time to attend. I like his tonal painting in which he limits very effectively the very dark and very light thus giving his work an atmospheric feel that I wish I could adopt. I’m a big believer now of taking a class—when you can afford it. I seams like they are all $400 + and that’s a lot of money. Also you need to travel and stay close so that’s extra money. Dahlonega is a wonderful old mining town about half way to my in-laws house in Helen GA. I can stay up there a few nights so I won’t have to drive two hours a day just to take a class.

I’m also considering going to Hawaii to visit my brother this year if I can sell some art work to pay for it—that would be the trip of a lifetime and may be my only chance to visit this land of dreams. And to think, all I would be doing is painting—no tourist crap.

Saturday I drove across the Roswell bridge south and took the first left working my way north along the river. I wanted to get a view across the water to some of the islands that are midstream there. I discovered that The Chattahoochee National Park at Island Ford has a wonderful park and It’s only about forty minutes from my door. It was chilly but sunny and I found this nice view across the river toward a house on the other side. It was naturally framed by interesting trees so I did not have to do much manipulation to put together the composition. It started out bright and colorful but I lost the sun as it went past noon and you can see that in this rather grayed view. An interesting side light was that I noticed a an all white hawk flying over the river. At first I thought it was and osprey but it came quit e close I saw it was pure white and certainly a hawk. All I can figure is that it was an albino.

Sunday I started about 10am with a drive over south of Marietta to a place I remember having a long stretch of railroad and a few older period houses near the tracks. It must of been quite a while back because the area has been totally re engineered and not for the good —really nothing special to paint. So I spent a few hours touring up and down South Cobb drive looking for an interesting scene with some rail activity. While doing so I came across an airplane park with an assortment of jets and old ANG planes from Dobbins AFB. I love planes but for some reason I decided to do that another day when I was ready for it. I ended up at Brumbry Hall, a wonderfully preserved ca. 1850’s home with great gardens and grounds. This was the location of the former Georgia Military Academy as I learned from the plaque posted there—So much interesting history in this area. This lovely low mansion has a spectacular columned front a porch and wonderful proportions so I was immediately sucked in. I did a few drawings and ended up doing this back lit view with one of the big juniper trees that must be at least as old as the house itself.

All in all a nice few days—I really should start taking people with me. The only thing I get worried about is that they will want to leave before I’m done—That might be a good thing.

Brumby Hall
Brumby Hall

River of magic, French flavor plein air

Monet on Chattahoochee - Ed Cahill
Monet on Chattahoochee – Ed Cahill

That’s kind of a dramatic title, none-the-less I’m drawn to this beautiful section of the Chattahoochee as she winds her way down to the gulf. It so wide here and well used with people exploring, fishing and rowing their hearts out but I find that if you just sit and look for a while you see what really makes it special. It’s the light. I have an advantage that as a painter I’m spending a long time in one spot and I’m so busy that I’m not distracted or bored. You see how things change from hour to hour and it’s like a symphony that comes to a crescendo when the light is it’s most dramatic. This comes in waves too, like good music — as a painter I’m always tying to catch those moment

Morning on the Chattahoochee
Morning on the Chattahoochee

s when it’s at it’s most beautiful.

This last Saturday morning I spent a few hours retouching a 11 x14 view painted the previous weekend after making it into mush with some poor retouches in the studio. I am committed to not touching my plein air work after the fact—but fact is, I just can’t appear to hold fast on this resolution. Most are turned into a disaster afterwards as this one was but I have in a few cases come up with something nice. In the end only I know — or care. Above is the final version with the smaller view the initial work before my retouching. It’s so easy to just loose the fresh feeling that plein air gives a painting. In several cases I go back to the original area and give it some more paint —sometimes it works. I call this Monet on the Chattahoochee. I hope he’s not rolling over in his grave. You can see him in that boat—thinking “this looks like the Sein.” The morning air has not quite burned off and it coats the color with a purple haze. He is one of my favorite painters—nothing unusual but even though I have many favorites I have a special appreciation to his devotion to plein air. Interestingly,  it certainly appears to that he too touched-up his work after the fact.

Below is a small 9 x12 that was started late in the afternoon looking north on the river. Again this was transformed into a very dramatic and colorful vignette (three fancy french words in one post!) – but in this case I rather like it, so it stays as is.

Evening on the Chatahoochee - Ed Cahill
Evening on the Chatahoochee – Ed Cahill

Sunday on the River.

Twin Bridges #1 - Ed Cahill
Twin Bridges #1 – Ed Cahill

The past few weeks I’ve been driving around trying to find a spot with blaring fall color. Last weekend I ended up on the river on Sunday and spent most the day on a view of the twin bridges that cross the Chattahoochee just East of the I75 /285 interchange. The day started with some sun and color but as it wore on the light turned to gray. I was working on an 11 x 14″ and it takes me 4 to 5 hours to get them covered but I spent close to 7 working back and forth on this painting and in the end took it home and touched it up. Of course that’s usually a mistake and the untouched one turned up better. Lucky, I took a good photo of it while it was on the easel.

Twin Bridges 2
Twin Bridges 2