The War of Art


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“Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”

That’s my favorite quote from Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. I have it on Kindle and it’s the first highlighted bookmark. My second highlight is, “Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” To quote Charlie Brown, “Rats.”

When working on submissions to juried shows or competitions, artists have to  sometimes plan almost a year in advance. For about a month I’ve been working  on designs for one of these competitions. I have a safe design and a creative design. I picked the creative design because what’s the fun in being safe? I finished my proposal and was creating a timeline, working backwards from their deadline, when it suddenly hit me – Resistance.

I spent a few minutes talking myself out of submitting a proposal. Resistance had good points: 1.) “They won’t like your creative design” and 2. “If they do you’ll never get it done on deadline.” Well played Resistance – well played. But, I’ve ignored you many times Resistance, and each time it was important to my artistic “soul’s evolution”. I learned that even when I fail I win. How’s that? I fix flat tires really good by having lots flat tires.

My third highlight in the book reads, “Resistance has not strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.” Sure, being rejected still stings, but like I said, even when I fail I win because I overcame Resistance and kept moving forward. “It ain’t about how hard your hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving’ forward.” – Rocky

Do you have a creative “call to action” that you are resisting? Make’em say no.



Upcoming Exhibit: Spirit of Place


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"Maestro", oil on canvas

“Maestro”, 8×16, oil on canvas

What is “spirit of place”?

The ancient Romans believed each location had a genius loci or spirit of place. It was often depicted as a guardian animal or a protective deity. Today, spirit of place refers to a location’s unique character. It is as much the invisible weave of culture: stories, art, memories, beliefs, and histories as it is the distinctive architecture or geography. I believe a genuine sense of place comes from discovering the greater spirit of place.

Iowa’s native people survived by their intimate relationship with the: climate, soil, water sources, plants and animals. Iowa’s early settlers and turn-of-the-century citizens were closely familiar with nature, seasons and their food sources (e.g. fields, livestock and markets.) Today, more than any other time in human history, our activities are indoors and our interactions are with machines.

About the Exhibit

The exhibit features paintings of wildlife (primarily bison & elk) and turn-of-the-century rural scenes which represent Iowa’s spirit of place. The goal of this exhibit is to initiate the inner dialogue, inspired by the spirit of place, that leads to a genuine individual sense of place.

The exhibit will be displayed at the Refuge from June 6–30 and is free to the public during the Refuge’s regular business operating hours. The Refuge’s visitor center and art gallery are open seven days a week and is handicap accessible.

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

I feel Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is a cultural asset. The Refuge isn’t just protecting, restoring and reconstructing the Iowa’s natural flora and fauna – they’re protecting, restoring and reconstructing Iowa’s unique spirit of place. This is why I exclusively referenced the wildlife at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge to create the wildlife paintings in this exhibit, and why a percentage of proceeds from artwork sold during this exhibit goes directly to the Refuge.

I hope you’ll join me as an advocate for the Refuge to help protect, restore and reconstruct Iowa’s unique spirit of place for future generations to discover.

Thank you for your support.

NOTE: A special RSVP opening night preview will be held on Friday, June 5 and corresponds with Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge’s annual Concert on the Prairie (Music, Art, Nature). This event features: preview of my art exhibit Spirit of Place, outdoor concert featuring Big Blue Sky band, wine tasting hosted by Wines of Iowa, food provided by Magg Family Catering and a guided twilight walk on the Refuge’s Overlook Trail. This event is $50 per person and seating is limited. Registration closes Jun 1, 2015. For more information on the concert/special opening preview and to purchase tickets go to:



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“Tish-ah!” said the grass … “Tish-ah, tish-ah!” … Never had it said anything else – never would it say anything else.” – O.E. Rolvaag, Giants in the Earth

Hands down, the best opening lines in any book I’ve read. The novel follows a young 19th century Norwegian couple, Per Hansa and his wife Beret, as they travel across the  American Tallgrass prairie to settle on the Great Plains. Beret grows more and more homesick for Norway. Her melancholy grows into “prairie madness”, a condition many settlers experienced from the extreme levels of isolation on the vast, open prairie.

I’ve had this subject in the back of my mind ever since I read the books (it’s actually a trilogy) about 10 years ago. I was reminded of Beret about two years ago from a photo my wife took. At the beginning of this year I started doing preliminary drawings and last week I started the final painting. The working title of the painting is “Melancholia” based on one of the four temperaments. I know I geeked out a little by having a backstory for this painting, but it really helps to make it more meaningful to me. Below are the steps to painting Beret’s hair.

Progress for Beret's hair.

Progress of Beret’s hair for painting “Melancholia”.

Print Offer – The Home Place


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The Home Place


I’m offering an open edition print of my recent painting The Home Place.

I’ve been on the fence about offering prints of my work. I was encouraged by the comments when I shared this painting on social media. Your comments really matter and so I decided to take the leap.

Click here to view the new Open Edition Print section on my website. Click on the painting image and you may order: a canvas print, framed print, art print, poster or even greeting cards. If you wish to frame and mat, click through the choices and you’ll see a preview of what the finished product will look like.

I think art is simply thought imbedded into material. When I read the comments on this painting, I felt like the viewers and I had a nice conversation. I believe that’s how art works and I’m grateful it’s working well between us.

Click the thumbnails below for details of The Home Place:


The Home Place (detail 1)


The Home Place (detail 2)


The Home Place (detail 3)




Spirit of Place


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Every company I’ve ever worked for had employees write annual goals to help the company fulfill it’s mission & vision. It’s good to do, even for a sole proprietor business, so I still do it. I thought I’d share my art mission, vision and a 2015 goal:

Mission: To create, illuminate and translate the American Midwest’s spirit of place – the undomesticated essence of the region where I live.

Vision: To create body of work that successfully communicates the American Midwest’s spirit of place and connects the viewer to the Midwesterner’s sense of place, the intimate bond and awareness of where we live.

Goal: Create an exhibit of new artwork that depicts the undomesticated essence of the Tallgrass prairie and the turn of the century agrarian people who chose to make it their home. I believe a sense of place manifests itself from the spirit of place. That intimate connection guides us to discover and communicate our unique identity.

Spirit of Place will include oil paintings of Iowa’s native landscape, wildlife and turn of the century agrarian people and livestock.

Click here for more information on the exhibit.


Oak Savanna Sunset, oil on canvas, 8×24


New work on the easel …


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I thought you might like to see what I’m working on right now and some of the progress photos.

Drawing is just seeing and recording. It’s good practice to get introduced and familiar with a subject or a model.


I have a particular color scheme in mind for this painting, so I rehearse it first on a smaller scale to see if it will look the same as I imagine it. The finished piece will be 18×24, so I’m practicing on a half-size 9×12 student panel.



Satisfied in the overall color scheme and composition, I transfer the reference to the full size canvas using a grid system.


I updated two things in my process recently: 1.) I started using less colors on my palette, and 2.) I recently started putting a raw umber wash on the white panel instead of burnt sienna. Fewer colors means more harmony in the painting, and the raw umber wash looks better under the new palette colors.

You’ll notice that the model’s face in the image below looks “cool”. I’ll work on other areas of the painting until the face dries a bit, then I’ll glaze over it again and “warm” it up. Glazing warm colors over cool colors will give it a more life like appearance.


Just One More Thing …


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I don’t remember working harder on any other painting, and now, I have to repaint the face – again.

Work in progress.

Work in progress.

Correct skin tone has always been the brass ring for artists. My current painting, a young girl gathering Queen Anne’s lace, is also backlit and foreshortened. Why voluntarily choose such a hard subject? Frankly I want the challenge. I challenge myself to get better.

A painting is like a recipe, whether it’s realism or abstract, it requires basic ingredients: composition, hue, value and edges. I feel confident with composition and edges, but proper hue and values are a traditionally difficult.

Hue: the most obvious characteristic of a color: red, yellow, green, blue, etc.

Value: the lightness or darkness of a color (sometimes called tints and shades.)

Wipe that look off your face.

Wipe that look off your face.

As they say, make your weaknesses your strengths, and therefore my challenge. I’ve religiously done my homework: preliminary sketch, oil study and monochromatic underpainting. As I said before, I drew the girl to practice the foreshortening and painted an oil sketch to rehearse the hue and value. Even though, when I painted her face on my canvas it didn’t seem right. I let it sit overnight to see how it looked with fresh eyes in the morning. Didn’t help so I scraped it off. Plan B was to dig out my viewfinder.

The viewfinder is primarily used to crop a scene to determine composition, but mine also has a small hole in it to isolate a portion of the subject in order to correctly judge your reference’s “true” color. So, I looked at my reference through the hole in the viewfinder and repainted her face. Nailed it. I brought the painting into our living room to proudly show my wife. As I turned it into the light, right before my eyes, the young girl’s skin turned a pale violet. The only thing I could think of was the natural light was different than my studio’s track lighting. Plan C was to replace all the light bulbs in my studio.

I looked online and found that Home Depot® carried daylight bulbs. These bulbs simulate daylight. (The young man working the light department at Home Depot® told me that Cree® bulbs are the best quality. He said they light instantly, are mercury free, have a 10-year warranty and are American made.) I also bought a small clamp-on lamp for my easel and replaced the bulbs in my studio track lights. When I flipped the switch, the young girl’s skin tone converted to the same pale violet that I witnessed in the natural light. It’s still bad, but good to know that my studio lighting now matches natural light.

Why wasn’t this a problem before? I recently overhauled the colors on my palette. I now use only three colors and white. Ivory black is one of those colors. Ivory black, mixed with white, essentially turns into a pale blue. Because I used black and red to mix the dark skin tones in the young girl’s shaded face, it essentially turned her skin tone into a pale violet. The warm lighting in my studio washed a warm glow onto my canvas and hid the value change from me until I looked at it in natural daylight. Case solved.

In the end I did challenge myself, and through detective work, I did learn a valuable lesson. And isn’t that the purpose of this painting? As Colombo, my favorite detective, used to say, “Just one more thing …” I still have to repaint her face.


Colombo: “Just one more thing.”

Cree® Lighting



How to Title a Painting


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Ever wonder how artists title their paintings? It can be obvious and come quick, but for my titles, I make an effort to have them help explain my intent or at least make them entertaining.

For my new work, I was struggling for a title. Luckily for this painting, my son Matt and his girlfriend Chelsey where the first to see it. Our conversation went as follows:

Chelsey: “That earring looks real. It stands out.”

Matt: “Isn’t there a famous painting of a girl with an earring?”

Me: “Yes, it’s called Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer. I guess mine is a prairie girl with a pearl earring.”

Bingo! There was the title. I never know if anyone wants to see behind the curtain, but here is the process and progress in creating Prairie Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Process for creating oil sketch Prairie Girl with a Pearl Earring

Process for creating oil sketch Prairie Girl with a Pearl Earring

This oil sketch is on unframed gallery wrapped linen. Click this for a higher resolution image of the completed oil sketch: Prairie Girl with a Pearl Earring


Gallery wrap – a method of stretching an artist’s canvas so that the canvas wraps around the sides of the (Stretcher Bar or strainer bars) and is secured to the back of the wooden frame. The frame is approximately 1-3/8″ thick.

Oil Sketch – An oil sketch (or oil study) is an artwork made primarily in oil paint that is more abbreviated in handling than a fully finished painting. Originally these were created as preparatory studies or used for gaining approval for the design of a larger commissioned painting. Today, they are often produced as independent works, often with not thought of being expanded into a full-size painting.

Hang Time


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While I have some “hang” time, please indulge me while I wait to hang my exhibit Barns, Bison & Bonnets. While I have had other exhibits, this particular one is somewhat of a milestone for my wife and I.

As a true born and bred Iowan, I won’t bore you with the details, but choosing a career in the arts has its fair share of emotional and financial hardships. I’ve come to the conclusion that these hardships are hardwired into the system and, as much as I detest them, they are necessary to heat, refine and test you. I’m lucky to have the support of a partner who is willing to walk this path beside me. Along with the moxie it takes to live with an artist, she endured living separately for two and half years while we navigated all the transitions.

I will tell you this about life as an artist, there is something inherently gratifying, and wholly American, about putting one’s shoulder against an immovable object and giving it everything you’ve got. You have to empty the tank, and as they say, “If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right.”

Each of the pieces I selected for this exhibit are curated out of the themes that I have enjoyed creating in oil paint. The barns are something I immediately began painting after I moved to Des Moines, and as a town kid who was born on a farm, they are a security blanket hot out of the dryer. The bison paintings remind me of family vacations, the excitement of wild things, unpredictability and adventure. The paintings of prairie landscapes and prairie people (the bonnets portion) are a gentle reminder of: simplicity, stewardship, and the fortitude of my ancestors. I am not a romantic or nostalgic person, and once they leave my easel, I concede any definition the viewer projects on them.

I am also not an artist who wishes to keep my work, and my biggest joy is when someone enjoys them more than I. I see them as points on a timeline. If you ask me about my favorites, I will only direct you to sections in each one of them where I had growth and inspiration. My reflections and energy are always toward the wet one on my easel and the next five on the drawing board.

Thank you for indulging me, it’s now time to get them out of my living room and into the gallery. Honey, we can use the living room now.

(WebsiteFacebook and blog.)


Two Artists, Two Paths


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Adolf Hitler was a painter. Hitler was rejected twice by by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna – once in 1907 and another time in 1908. He went to Vienna and peddled painted postcards from 1908-1913. Hitler served in WWI and carried his paints with him to the front. Thought by critics to have average talent, Hitler gave up art and went into politics. The rest is history.

George Stout

George Stout

George Stout, a Winterset, Iowa native and WWI veteran, was required (as were all undergraduates at the University of Iowa in 1919) to take a drawing class. He was so inspired he made a career in the arts. In 1943 during WWII, Stout helped create and led a military team that saved artwork from being destroyed by the Nazi’s – including the Mona Lisa. The movie “Monuments Men” is based on the 2009 book by Robert Edsel: The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.”  George Clooney’s character in the movie is based on Iowan George Stout. Stout went on to graduate from Harvard University  with a master’s degree in art and worked with a Harvard chemist to literally write the book on art preservation. He went on to found both the International Institute for Conservation and the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.  His techniques are still used today.

Amazing what a simple drawing class can start! Culture is very important, and as the narration in this Youtube featurette  points out, you can wipe out a generation of people and burn their homes and they will come back. But, if you destroy their history and culture it’s like they never existed.

Des Moines Register Article: Monuments man: Iowa native led the greatest treasure hunt in history


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