Paint the Town Marble Falls TX

Painting a Charming Texas Hill Country Town at the Peak of Bluebonnet Season

I had a wonderful time participating in Paint the Town this year.  This was my first plein air event ever. I'm not ready to enlist in the plein air army yet, but this could be fun once in a while.

First day's work. I love all the roses downtown. I'm a little jealous they don't grow like this in Florida.

First day's work. I love all the roses downtown. I'm a little jealous they don't grow like this in Florida.

A hazy sunrise with bluebonnets first thing on day two.  I was packing up my gear to leave the ranch at Sandy and it was so scenic that I ran and threw together my easel in the nearest patch of flowers and quickly dashed this out. I had to do a lot of it from memory because the sun moves so quickly at the beginning of it's rising.

A hazy sunrise with bluebonnets first thing on day two.  I was packing up my gear to leave the ranch at Sandy and it was so scenic that I ran and threw together my easel in the nearest patch of flowers and quickly dashed this out. I had to do a lot of it from memory because the sun moves so quickly at the beginning of it's rising.

Painting two on day two. There are really cool cliffs facing part of Lake Marble Falls. I got there early and secured a patch of shade to paint in. Rocks are completely foreign to a flatlander like me so it was an interesting exercise.

Painting two on day two. There are really cool cliffs facing part of Lake Marble Falls. I got there early and secured a patch of shade to paint in. Rocks are completely foreign to a flatlander like me so it was an interesting exercise.

Working on my award winning painting in Downtown Marble Falls.

Thanks to Maria Pronske for sending me these great photos.

With award winners Robert Wilkins and Patrick Saunders. Patrick and his wife live in an airstream and travel the country following the Plein Air painting circuit. You can follow them on Instagram @pleinairstreaming.  Photo credit: Debbie Slangal

With award winners Robert Wilkins and Patrick Saunders. Patrick and his wife live in an airstream and travel the country following the Plein Air painting circuit. You can follow them on Instagram @pleinairstreaming.  Photo credit: Debbie Slangal

Painting a still life with the lovely Annie Nelson Sweat of Austin while the newspaperman gets shots. Photo credit: Debbie Slangal

Painting a still life with the lovely Annie Nelson Sweat of Austin while the newspaperman gets shots. Photo credit: Debbie Slangal

Day three was a bit dreary and I'd already completed my entry for the competition so we passed the time with a little still life demonstration.

Day three was a bit dreary and I'd already completed my entry for the competition so we passed the time with a little still life demonstration.

With my ballerina during the face-off alla prima portrait painting event. Photo credit: Debbie Slangal

With my ballerina during the face-off alla prima portrait painting event. Photo credit: Debbie Slangal

No this isn't some secret trick that helps me paint better. Things get a little blurry past 3 feet and I couldn't find my other prescription glasses. Photo credit: Debbie Slangal

No this isn't some secret trick that helps me paint better. Things get a little blurry past 3 feet and I couldn't find my other prescription glasses. Photo credit: Debbie Slangal

Boss lady and wonderful hostess Janey Rives standing in for me since I had to return to Florida. Thanks to judge John Potoschnik for awarding this work 1st place! Photo credit: Debbie Slangal

Boss lady and wonderful hostess Janey Rives standing in for me since I had to return to Florida. Thanks to judge John Potoschnik for awarding this work 1st place! Photo credit: Debbie Slangal

Camera Versus Eye

Camera Scorn

Does it make a difference if you paint from photographs? Normal people aren't aware of this, but there's a big push within the traditional art world to only paint from life. Relying solely on the camera is really looked down upon because less experienced artists tend to just paint what's in the photo, and well, the camera lies.

 DCF 1.0

What's Wrong with Photos

I had to find out if painting from life was really going to produce such different results, so I decided to record the difference in a series of photographs and plein air paintings during my vacation. What I discovered was that I would have ended up with drastically different paintings had I worked from photo references. 

Here's what I learned about the shortcomings of photographs:

  • The camera can't see as many colors as I can
  • The camera tends to overdo it with contrast, especially in dark areas (like horizons)
I've noticed that the camera tends to go way over the top with the glowing yellow sometimes. When I painted this scene I didn't even notice the tree was in the way.

I've noticed that the camera tends to go way over the top with the glowing yellow sometimes. When I painted this scene I didn't even notice the tree was in the way.

In reality the yellow had much closer boundaries and the bay had a lot of beautiful purple and blue midtones. The horizon was actually green along the top.

In reality the yellow had much closer boundaries and the bay had a lot of beautiful purple and blue midtones. The horizon was actually green along the top.

  • In photos of faces taken outdoors I sometimes can't even identify which direction the light is coming from.
  • You lose edge variety, so all the edges in an area are either sharp or hard
  • Photos appear static and lack the nuance that you get when out in nature like when the light changes (hopefully for the better) or when you can see thoughts skim across the face of your sitter
There was a major difference in these two in the tone of the water.  The camera captured it as very dark and it missed the greens and yellows.

There was a major difference in these two in the tone of the water.  The camera captured it as very dark and it missed the greens and yellows.

Look at all the cadmiums that the camera missed where the sun was glowing through the clouds. I reshaped the clouds to give the composition more of a swirling movement.

Look at all the cadmiums that the camera missed where the sun was glowing through the clouds. I reshaped the clouds to give the composition more of a swirling movement.

  • It's easier to make adjustments that improve the composition when you're working from life. When you look at a photo there's a lot of temptation to just copy what's there and get locked in.
  • The camera adds 10 lbs!!! It's true. Because of the way it flattens you forward you look bigger.
These two images don't even look like the same day. The camera turned the clouds sort of a brown-grey color and really darkened the horizon.

These two images don't even look like the same day. The camera turned the clouds sort of a brown-grey color and really darkened the horizon.

In life the scene was much cooler and a little lighter. The horizon was a few shades lighter.

In life the scene was much cooler and a little lighter. The horizon was a few shades lighter.

Bridging the Gap between Photography and Painting

The simple prescription for improving your paintings is to paint from life, we know that's not always possible. So here are some hints for humans who have to rely on photos once in a while. 

  • Leave some mystery. If you were painting from life you wouldn't notice every minute detail. Just because you can see it doesn't mean that you should paint it. 
One of the great advantages of painting is that it can be very abstract, where the camera is very literal.

One of the great advantages of painting is that it can be very abstract, where the camera is very literal.

  • Paint faster. When you paint quickly you don't get so nit-picky about minutiae and it makes your painting look more alive. 
  • Simplify and mass. Big patches of light and shadow (unbroken by extra details) make for a stronger painting.
  • Feel free to move things around. Just because the tree is smack in the middle of the photo doesn't mean that you have to keep it there, and clouds are crazy anyway, so feel free to move them around as you please.
In the scene that the camera captured the horizon merged with the dark part of the bay.

In the scene that the camera captured the horizon merged with the dark part of the bay.

Since I was painting, I could choose where the lights would look the best as well as showing off the greens at the top of the sky.

Since I was painting, I could choose where the lights would look the best as well as showing off the greens at the top of the sky.

  • Emphasize atmospheric perspective above and beyond what you see in the photo.
  • When possible, do a small color study from life that you can reference during the painting process. I've even just mixed colors while I had the person hang out so I got skin tones right.
  • Make sure you can clearly identify where the light source is. If you don't know you won't be able to make up anything believable. 
  • When you take photos check the viewfinder and make notes of any differences you observe. Like if the horizon is showing up too dark, or what color the shadows are.
The camera did not do justice to Lilly (sorry Lil!). She looks stressed. I could not have made a painting from this photo, but I managed to make a painting from life of her from the exact same standpoint.

The camera did not do justice to Lilly (sorry Lil!). She looks stressed. I could not have made a painting from this photo, but I managed to make a painting from life of her from the exact same standpoint.

Lilly is beautiful and I think my alla prima sketch came closer to showing off her soft features and rich curls than the camera did. 

Lilly is beautiful and I think my alla prima sketch came closer to showing off her soft features and rich curls than the camera did. 

Bottom Line is Do What's Best for the Painting.

Whether painting from life or from a photo you can't just rely on what's there. It's necessary to make adjustments and compose the painting so that you're not just getting a record of what you see, you're getting something better.

Painting Osceola

My Introduction to the Seminole Tribe, Past and Present

The Chalet Suzanne

I became acquainted with Mike Osceola and his partner Brian during the final days of the Chalet Suzanne, a Restaurant and Inn founded in 1931 by Bertha Hinshaw. Mike and Brian were patrons of the Chalet for over 27 years and I’m related to the Hinshaw clan on my father’s side, so we were all there to close the old girl down. Her wake included a string of nights in the Little Swedish Bar with family and close friends. You can only squeeze about 15 people into the small sunken room, so it was pretty hard for the tall blonde and the guy with the Mohawk to miss each other. 

I told my cousins how handsome I thought Osceola was and that he would make a fantastic portrait subject, so while he was away one of them broached the question to Brian, who thought flattery would be the most likely way to convince him. Osceola returned and we spoke briefly about the possibility of me painting his portrait, but he was keeping quiet and noncommittal until we discovered that we had a mutual acquaintance in Pedro Zepeda, a master of traditional Seminole arts. I took ceramics with Pedro in college, and he is well known amongst the Seminoles because he is such a force in preserving traditional crafts like canoe making. I mentioned that I’d been trying to catch up with Pedro at reenactments with the thought of doing his portrait. At that point Osceola grew about 4 inches taller and declared that I must do HIS portrait. Thank Goodness!

The Great Osceola

Mike Osceola’s 5th or 6th Great Grandfather was the famous leader of the Second Seminole War Asi-Yahola or Osceola. His name Asi means Black Drink, a purgative used by the Seminoles during the green corn ceremony in the summer and Yahola is a call to the spirits (referring to the cry that followed the black drink). George Catlin painted a portrait of Osceola in 1838 while he was imprisoned in Fort Moultrie, SC. Osceola had been captured under a white flag and was transported to Ft. Moultrie where he died just days after his portrait was completed.

Mike really loved this portrait, and his features clearly resemble his ancestor’s so I wanted to make reference to this original portrait by using a similar background and pose. In preparation for painting Mike’s portrait I did this little study of Osceola, which I gave to Mike and Brian for their home. 

 DCF 1.0

A Preliminary Study

I did a second study of Mike in preparation for the painting, just to familiarize myself with his features and coloring. It also gave me a chance to think about how I was going to handle the patchwork.

Mike has beautiful features, but I wanted to make sure and show a hint of Seminole pout coming through the soft smile. I don’t know if this expression is cultural or muscular, but it’s one of Mike’s trademark looks so I really wanted to capture it in his portrait.

After completing the study I decided that Mike needed a little more space around him, which helps make the figure look more distinguished, and that I wanted his chin higher. I also felt he wasn't quite pouting yet, so that would need to be remedied in the next version.

The Start

I began the official portrait by making a grisaille underpainting so that I had a guide for the position and size of the main components of the painting.

Next I worked on the face, shirt, and gorget. 

The Seminole Gorget

Mike had this gorget made in the same style as Osceola wore in his portrait. Gorgets hearken back to the days of armor, but later on became a decorative component of soldiers’ dress. It is likely that the first Seminole gorgets were given to them by the English, but later they made them out of coin silver for themselves.

The top shows a chickee flanked by otters, the middle is Osceola in profile, and the bottom is a decorative turquoise piece. Mike chose the top symbols because his clan is "Big Town" symbolized by the chickee, and he is uncle to the otter clan. Below the gorget he wore a sheer black scarf, but the portrait ended up so dark in that area that you can’t really see it. 

I learned that Seminole dress was designed with the idea of keeping mosquitoes out, so it’s high around the neck and long in all directions.

A Coat of Many Colors - Cherished Seminole Patchwork

Mike is a patchwork collector and a vendor of modern patchwork, so it was important to show off the workmanship (or rather workwomanship) that went into his jacket. This jacket is vintage, a gift from his friend Deborah Wessel. The patterns have different names and significance. The two more obvious patterns on Mikes jacket are fire and water. 

I must say the squiggly ric rac was not my favorite thing to paint, and I painted 19 rows of ric rac on this particular jacket in 5 different colors, so it was intense. 

More About the Man

Larry Mike Osceola II is a cultural liason for the tribe and custodian of Seminole and Miccosukee items, with a particular interest in patchwork. He is on the Fort Lauderdale Historic Society Board of Trustees, an active member of the Bonnet and Stranahan Houses and most recently a participant in the Seminole Girl statue project. Mike is also an Army veteran. 

Mike's father Larry Mike Osceola (aka Big Mike) was very important during the official formation of the tribe. Big Mike went to Miami High School and went on to work outside village attractions including Eastern Airlines. Big Mike was a founder and attended meetings in Washington DC during the 50's where he helped bring about formation of the tribe. In 1957 he sat on the Constitutional Committee that constructed and ratified the Corporate Charter. He was also on the council serving as Vice Chairman until 1963. So in addition to being able to wrestle alligators, and run businesses he could hold his own in a meeting.

 DCF 1.0

More about the first Osceola and the Seminole Tribe

Sometime in the 1770's all indian's in Florida came to be known as Seminoles, which means "wild people" or "runaway." The Seminoles weren't really all of one tribe, but the government sort of bulked them all together because they were all in South Florida. Miami Seminoles speak Miccosukee, whereas Brighton Seminoles speak Creek.

by the end of the 3rd war there were only 200-300 Seminoles left hiding in the Florida swamplands

There were three Seminole Wars, the first was sparked by Andrew Jackson when he invaded what was then Spanish territory, the second because of the Indian Removal Act (this is the one during which the US Government took Osceola as a prisoner under a white flag), and by the official end of the third war in 1858 there were only 200-300 Seminoles left hiding in the Florida swamplands (Certainly there were twice as many Florida Panthers in the state as there were Seminoles). There they remained, rarely seen, until decades later with the advent of trading posts in south Florida.

 

Interesting Facts About the Seminoles

  • Osceola was a “War Boss” not a chief. A chief isn't what you think it is. Chiefdom is not typically hereditary, and a chief is more like an ambassador. In order to earn this position they must be important, but "chief" mostly designates that they are someone who deals with outsiders for the tribe or clan. The tribe has it's own internal power structure.
  • Although we closely associate the Seminoles with the Everglades, Osceola’s town was in Ocala.
  • There are eight “clans” within the Seminole tribe: Otter, Bird, Bear, Snake, Deer, Wind, Big Town, and Panther. Your clan is determined by your mother.
  • During the formation of the tribe in the 1950’s the Seminoles raised money through rodeo shows to finance their own travel to Washington DC during the negotiations.
  • Seminoles were not Christians until the 1920's.
  • Osceola's close friend was a white man names Lt. John Graham.

The Role of Modern Seminoles

I asked Mike to tell me a little about the role of the approximately 4,000 modern Seminoles living in Florida, because its not all about the FSU mascot or the Hard Rock Casino. His answer was that they are "striving to maintain cultural identity in spite of socio-economic conditions." That sounds like a line, but I learned during my trip to Big Cypress near Clewiston that it's the truth. It was a town of modest homes, the majority had a few modern toys, maybe an RTV and a  shiny truck, and then there was always a Chickee.

All of these people had chosen to erect a traditional palm roofed shelter in their back yards, and there were huge ones in the common areas. So it's real. They are here to stay, and I feel like they have a lot to offer, so I look forward to a continued Seminole presence in Florida.

Summer & Winter

A portrait of sweet sisters.

(I apologise for my mediocre photography. I haven't had time to take the painting to my photographer yet.)

36x48 Oil on Canvas

36x48 Oil on Canvas

Detail

Detail

My grandmother gave me this teapot and creamer when I was a child.

My grandmother gave me this teapot and creamer when I was a child.

She doesn't go anywhere without this "el-we-phant," plus it's a good idea to put a dark object in the foreground to give the painting depth. I love her grubby pink fingertips. Maybe she'd been digging for pet worms or just digging up all my grass for the fun of it.

She doesn't go anywhere without this "el-we-phant," plus it's a good idea to put a dark object in the foreground to give the painting depth. I love her grubby pink fingertips. Maybe she'd been digging for pet worms or just digging up all my grass for the fun of it.

A family friend gave the girls these demitasse cups. I had originally planned to have 3, implying that there was another guest, but it didn't work for the composition.

A family friend gave the girls these demitasse cups. I had originally planned to have 3, implying that there was another guest, but it didn't work for the composition.

Who wouldn't want their portrait painted in a dress made out of their neighbor's 1960's curtains and gold lame with giant pink bows.

Who wouldn't want their portrait painted in a dress made out of their neighbor's 1960's curtains and gold lame with giant pink bows.

Not to mention this peach satin "Glenda the Good Witch of the North" dress with silver sequin applique. 

Not to mention this peach satin "Glenda the Good Witch of the North" dress with silver sequin applique. 

 DCF 1.0