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Artist’s Advice: On the Inner Critic

There is a phenomenon known as “the artist’s curse”–a state of perception in an artist of their own work as inferior and somehow lacking.   It is a virus of self-doubt instilled by the ever-present voice of the inner critic who notes with a jaundiced and magnifying eye only the flaws, imperfections and shortcomings in the execution of a piece of work.  The inner critic measures the latest attempt against past successes, other artists master works, or impossibly high aspirations.  It can lead an artist to destroy perfectly wonderful pieces of their labor in a pique of self loathing and doubt.  I think it must be something like the pathological state of postpartum depression in a mother who has delivered a child.

To combat this disease I believe it’s always best, as an artist, when completing a fresh work to pause, wait a while and put the voice of the inner critic on “mute.”  To let a painting “rest” for a time.  To avoid the temptation of tweaking and making “little fixes” here and there.  To avoid the nagging thought that, “if only I do this…or that…to this painting, it will be better.”  The state of final “finish” is arbitrary and elusive for each work and it is in this hyper-critical state of emotional attachment as we near the culmination of a painting that we can succumb to excessively analytical and even pathologically delusional perceptions of our own work.  It is the time when we most risk the fault of “over working” our piece.  Many a fine painting is ruined in the finish–most often by acting upon the infected perception of the inner critic.  Ironically, it is this sycophantic voice that prods us to “fix” which leads us to ruin and thereby causes us to hate and even destroy the works that somehow do not live up to our expectation.

It’s better to put the brush down and leave a canvas in a semi-finished state that conveys some truth, than to fastidiously pick at little details until the spontaneity, mystery and truth have been thoroughly abused.  By allowing the mind time to rest and detach from the passion of the moment–by muting the inner critic, we may return to comprehend with fresh, unprejudiced eyes, the beauty we’ve been fortunate enough to transmit and share with the world.

We may come to love our work as others do.


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Plein air painting with the New, Homemade Easel

I plein air painted at Ramona Grasslands with the new portable palette I recently crafted in my workshop. It was the “maiden voyage” for the palette, which I based on the Jim Coulter palette system–a clamshell design with an adjustable mast to hold various sizes of panels or canvas. If you’re not DIY inclined, you can see (and buy) Jim’s version of this plein air painting system, here…

…or another version based on similar concepts is the “Daytripper” easel system by Joshua Been, which you can find here…

I chose to make my own, larger than any available from Jim because I like lots of space to mix and lay out my tools of the trade. It worked out well and even though a large palette, it was not difficult to hike in the half mile with everything I needed to paint.

Chromatic single pigments and earth colors.
Chromatic single pigments and earth colors.

The colors seen on the palette, laid on a piece of grey masking tape for friction (to keep them from sliding around) and ease of cleanup, from left to right, are:

cremnitz white
unbleached titanium
Primary magenta — R
cadmium red light — O
Primary yellow — Y
phthalo green-yellow — G
Primary cyan –B
ultramarine deep — I
dioxizine purple –V
yellow ochre
transparent red oxide
Payne’s grey
Mars black

…I also used a bit of “asphaltum.”

The panel was toned in advance with transparent orange.

Following are some photos of the easel, “in the wild,” where I bravely set my tripod over the opening to a den of vicious and possibly rabid squirrels.  You can see the bucket I use to carry all the necessities, too.  Those long, black nylon bags hold the tripod and my umbrella kit (which I didn’t need but brought along just in case). They both have shoulder slings, as does the palette box,which make all three quite easy to portage to the painting site.

RLO portable palette at Ramona Grasslands.
RLO portable palette at Ramona Grasslands.

I chose to paint a view of the largest oak tree in the grasslands. You can get an idea of the massive size of this old oak, compared to the heavy-duty, park picnic table nearby.  You can also see here the beginning phase of the painting where I’m establishing the shape of the tree.

Beginning block in of plein air subject.
Beginning block in of plein air subject.

…and finally, in this next photo you can see where I chose to stop painting.  I was having a difficult time resolving this one.  As I say to myself, “you can’t win them all,” and this one was giving me fits so I decided to pack it in and call it a day.  I’ll take time to let it rest and then return to it in the studio to see if I can make better sense of it.  I didn’t scrape it off entirely, which I would do if it was a total failure, so I think there is still a painting here, waiting to be finished, signed and framed.

Sometimes it's best to stop and reflect...
Sometimes it’s best to stop and reflect…

Here’s a skewed (to avoid glare) iPhone pic of the painting…

A WIP plein air painting by Ronald Lee Oliver
An example of a stopping point in a plein air painting work in progress.

Here’s an update after some studio work on this painting…

The old oak after some studio touches.
The old oak after some studio touches.




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Sometimes You Just Have to Toot Your Own Horn

I was surprised and pleased when an agent from Dick Blick informed me they wanted to feature an image of my painting, “The Watering Hole” in their Winter 2015 print and multimedia flyer.

Of course I agreed and also put in a plug for their “Masterstroke” brushes, which really are good quality sable brushes for the price.  I think it’s a fair deal–I get the benefit of some free (relatively) publicity and they get to feature a wonderful work of art to promote the sales of their brushes.

Above is an image of the ad as it ran in the flyer, along with the “Plug” from yours, truly. 🙂

If you’d like to see a time lapse video of me painting “The Watering Hole,” you can click on the play button below, which will play the video directly from my YouTube channel.


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“Mele Kalikimaka” Hawaiian #Pleinair Painting Trip

Mele Kalikimaka 2014

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day
That’s the island greeting that we send to you
From the land where palm trees sway…

I guess after all I was not so naughty this year that I wasn’t able to make a Christmastime excursion with my beautiful wife, Jackie, to the Hawaiian Island of Maui.

This wasn’t a “painting only” trip, so I only made time for two 11 x 14 in. panels but they were both lots of fun to paint.  Even though the Trade Winds were fierce during one of the painting sessions, I managed to finish with no mishaps.

Though probably not the wisest thing to do, I diverged from my usual painting methods on this air travel trip and was winging it (no pun intended) with a color palette and paints I had never used before. To lighten the load and simplify things for flying, I chose to go with a five color palette and used water mixable oil paints for the first time.

It was really surprising how well it all worked out!

The colors I brought along were:

Cobra© Water mixable oils

  • Primary Cyan
  • Primary Magenta
  • Primary Yellow


  • Mars Black  (a warm and fast drying black without the bluish cast of Ivory Black)


  • Payne’s Grey (I find it indispensable)


  • Flake White Replacement (non-toxic and creamy consistency)

Each morning of painting, I pre-mixed a very vibrant chromatic palette from the three water mixable “primaries” which produced some very convincing greens, oranges, and fuchsias, as well as deeper purples.  I was careful not to “overmix” the paint piles, leaving striations of broken color in the mixes.  A sealable “Guerilla Painter” 9 x 12 in. palette tray kept the paint fresh and protected inside my pochade while exploring for a suitable view to paint.

This color palette worked very well and much to my relief, there was no problem mixing the “oil” paints with the water miscible paints.  The Cobra paints especially were surprisingly “creamy” in consistency and were very easy to mix and move about on the panel. While painting, when I felt I needed a little more “flow,” I used a mixture of my standard recipe medium, transported in an eye dropper bottle that consisted of equal parts stand oil, turpentine, and dammar varnish.  I brought no solvents because they must not be flown over (TSA will confiscate)  and it is an extra trip to the hardware store to get some when you arrive and then there’s nowhere to conscientiously dispose of it when you leave.

Another interesting thing about creating these two paintings is that I used one single brush the entire time!  I brought my brush wallet but became so engrossed in the painting process and not wanting to waste any time in capturing the light that I worked only with a single, quarter-inch “bright” hog bristle brush. I held a paper towel sheet in my left hand and wiped the brush clean between different colored passages.  I was able to make a surprising variety of marks with the stiff but springy little bristle bright. The only other implements I used to apply or mark the paint were my finger and in some few instances I removed paint with a cotton swab, which are essentials that I always pack when I paint en plein air.

All said and done, I had a great time in Hawaii and having the opportunity to paint made the trip just that much more special.

I’d like to say to any reader who chanced here and happened to read this far…

Here we know that Christmas
Will be green and bright
The sun to shine by day
And all the stars at night
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way
To say Merry Christmas to you!


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Varnish ~ An Artist’s Hows and Whys

Varnishing a finished painting is a vanishing art.

Many if not most contemporary artists don’t bother, preferring to sell their paintings with a matte finish.  Some don’t like to wait for the paint to dry before the application of varnish, especially since the historical recommendation is to wait six months to a year beforehand. I varnish my paintings 3 to 4 weeks after they are dry to touch.  At that time the paint surface has oxidized and polymerization of the paint has stabilized (there are many studies on this, which I’ve read).  Molecular cross-linking, a form of drying will continue internally, under the paint film and then under varnish, for decades.  I don’t paint with ridiculously thick and deep impasto layers and I also use a medium, mixed with my paints to accelerate the drying oxidation/polymerization process, so I’m not concerned with areas of my paintings cracking or needing a prolonged drying period before varnishing.

I use a traditional dammar varnish–using the same recipe artists have used for centuries–which I make myself with easily obtained ingredients–dammar crystals and turpentine. Dammar crystals are the hardened sap which is gathered from dammar trees in the tropical forests of India and the South-East Asian peninsula and archipelagos.  Here’s a Wikipedia link:

An Article on Dammar Gum

It’s gathered in much the same way Maple syrup farmers tap the trunks of Maple trees to gather the sap, only dammar crystals harden on their own and do not need to be cooked down after harvest.



Dammar crystals, when burned also make a heavenly incense and if you’ve ever been in a Roman Catholic church on a Holiday or Feast day, you’ve probably smelled the scent of burning dammar crystals (it’s often a blend of dammar with frankincense and myrrh, or a host of other aromatics).  If you get your nose close to the surface of one of my paintings, you can actually get a sense of this fragrance.

To make the varnish, the dammar crystals must be dissolved in a solution of pure gum turpentine (about 2 to 1 turp to crystals), which is in essence the sap of pine trees which has been distilled down to the volatile aromatics and terpenes. I usually make a batch of varnish in an empty, glass pint-sized jar with a tight, screw-on lid.  It takes a few days of occasionally shaking the jar vigorously until all of the crystals are dissolved in suspension. Then, the solution can sit for a day or two until any unwanted particles of bark, dirt or dust settle to the bottom of the jar.  Decanting of the pure varnish is then done to another clean, glass jar, leaving the residue behind.


Diamond G Forest Products makes an Excellent Artist's Grade Turpentine...
Diamond G Forest Products makes an Excellent Artist’s Grade Turpentine…

That’s it!  These two ingredients, both derived from tree sap, together make an excellent, clear varnish which will not only protect the surface of the paint from damage and pollutants such as dust and smoke but is easy to clean and even remove if necessary.

Dammar varnish will yellow slightly, over time (decades) but this can actually give a painting a warm and subtle tone that can in some instances (especially landscapes) enhance the atomosperic aura of the painting. If ever the painting needs re-varnishing, the old varnish is removed with turpentine alone and another fresh coat of dammar varnish is applied.  This should be done by a professional conservator or at least with great care not to remove the paint layer below the coat of varnish, because turpentine will dissolve the paint, even if it has been dry for centuries! Cleaning the surface of a varnished painting can be done with a mild solution of Castile soap and distilled water, using a soft cloth and a gentle touch.

Protecting the paint surface and making it easier to clean aren’t the only benefits of dammar varnish–It also enhances the depth of colors and accentuates the contrast between the light and dark tones in the painting. It provides a translucence, a luster and depth that is the completing step that really makes a painting come to life.

I think finishing a painting with dammar varnish is the right thing to do and shows the artist cares enough about his work that he wants to enhance, protect and preserve it for future generations.

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#Pleinair at Santa Fe Trolley Depot in San Diego

I painted en plein air recently in a place that has always intrigued me with it’s dramatic architecture, interesting shadows and reflections and of course the famous red trolleys–that is, at the San Diego Metropolitan Transit system’s Santa Fe Depot at One America Plaza in downtown San Diego.  Here’s a pic of the architecture which previously won an “Orchid Award” in the annual San Diego Architectural Foundation review of San Diego developments and construction projects which either effuse the elegance of an orchid…or the stink of an onion.

The arch of the Trolley weather port at Santa Fe Depot.
The arch of the Trolley weather port at Santa Fe Depot.

I arrived early…before 8:00am and set up my easel in the traffic island at the center of the intersection at Broadway and Kettner.  It was a great place from which to paint and provided the perfect vantage of the trolleys coming and going. Painting the trolley itself was done in fits and spurts as one trolley would leave but another would arrive in minutes and for the most part, with a few exceptions, was identical.  Here’s a pic of my easel, with two trolleys in the station in the background…

Easel and painting of Ronald Lee Oliver
Easel and painting of Ronald Lee Oliver

It was interesting to paint with the traffic rolling by and when the traffic would stop, folks would gawk out the car windows, inquisitively at the patently unusual sight of a crazed plein air painter in the middle of traffic, wearing a big, Guatemalan palm leaf, cowboy hat, pacing to and fro, wielding a long, paint laden brush like a picador, stabbing at a canvas as if it were a snorting bull trying to gore him. Many pedestrians walking by gave the big, “thumbs up” and commented that I was making a beautiful painting, which is always encouraging.  Here’s the result of the morning’s effort–a 16 x 16 inch oil on stretched canvas, titled “Rolling Through.”  Whether it is an “orchid” or an “onion” or the bull won is in the proverbial eye of the beholder…

Santa Fe Trolley Depot as painted by California artist, Ronald Lee Oliver
Santa Fe Trolley Depot as painted by California artist, Ronald Lee Oliver
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Plein Air at Rosecrans National Cemetery


Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery 18 x 18" oil on canvas
Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery 18 x 18″ oil on canvas

I got out early with my plein air kit and drove…no particular destination in mind but felt the water pulling me to the West. It had been a few weeks since I’ve painted the environs of our Southern California coast and it is always a source of excellent subjects for rendering with a brush and paint.

I found myself heading up the Point Loma Peninsula via Rosecrans Boulevard. Once inside the Navy Base and Federal Reserve lands up there I was amazed, as always, at the sense of height and distance from that perspective. Downtown San Diego and Coronado are seeming miniature villages, miles away and below as you drive through the hallowed grounds of the National Cemetery. It is a somber, yet peaceful and beautiful place. I recommend that any visitor make the drive, but definitely stop and get out of your vehicle. It is worth the effort to take some time to feel the fresh sea breezes, hear the peaceful quiet and take a few moments to reflect on the fallen soldiers and military who rest in peace there.

I did…and this painting is my tribute to them.

“To the Fallen”
18 x 18 oil on canvas
Available here

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Holiday in Hawaii and Recent Plein Air Paintings

In mid-December, my wife, Jackie and I were fortunate enough to visit the island of Maui, Hawaii, once again. We stayed in an intimate little oceanfront condominium in the Kahana area of West Maui. The balcony or “Lanai” of the second story unit was literally within spitting distance of the ocean, which lapped against a seawall down below. The sea turtles could be seen, munching on sponges growing on the rocks. I took some video with my phone–have a look:

It was a great and relaxing stay. Christmas was coming soon and there were Hawaiian Christmas songs on the radio and lots of Holiday spirit, which was very nice. Once again, I traveled with my painting kit and was able to find some brief time to paint. On an early Sunday morning, I hiked afoot from our rental condo about a quarter mile down the lower Honoapiilani Road and found a public beach (all beaches in Maui are public beaches) that offered a nice view of a small bay and the island of Molokai, across the Lahaina Roads Channel. The day was overcast and threatening rain (it only rained once during our stay and that was at night), so the typical bright Hawaiian color palette was a bit muted. Here is the quick little painting that I came home with:

Molokai from Kahana - by Ronald Lee Oliver
Molokai from Kahana – by Ronald Lee Oliver

It was tough to leave and come home to the mainland. Once back, however, after the holidays I’ve got back to painting with regularity. Here are two of my most recent–first, one I call “Blue Agaves,” which was painting on location at the San Diego Botanic Gardens in Encinitas, California.

Blue Agaves - 12X16" oil on panel by Ronald Lee Oliver
Blue Agaves – 12X16″ oil on panel by Ronald Lee Oliver

I’ll be painting with some well known California plein air artists in April in a quickdraw competition at the same Gardens–stay posted!

Here is one done last Saturday in Del Mar, which I am calling “Penasquitos Lagoon from Del Mar Bluffs.” This one is 16X20″ oil on canvas. You can see the fantastic view of the Penasquitos estuary from my easel set in this photo:

Freshly completed painting by Ronald Lee Oliver
Freshly completed painting by Ronald Lee Oliver

…and here is the full image of the painting:

Penasquitos Lagoon from Del Mar Bluffs by Ronald Lee Oliver
Penasquitos Lagoon from Del Mar Bluffs by Ronald Lee Oliver

It’s good to be back home and into the rythm of the new year.

Happy New Year to all.


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A Showing of My Recent Plein Air Works

You're Invited to Attend the Artist's Reception, December 6, 2013 -- 5:00pm to 8:00pm
You’re Invited to Attend the Artist’s Reception, December 6, 2013 — 5:00pm to 8:00pm

To all my friends, family and patrons who have shown interest in my art and painting, I thank you for your continued support and encouragement.  It was a great (and busy) year for me and I completed a few nice paintings.  Having friends, family an patrons who care and encourage is invaluable to me as an artist and without this support, it would not be possible. I thank you, dearly, for providing the love.

Thankfully, a local gallery owner has provided support in the form of a venue for me to display my work and I have selected some dozen, done within the last year or so.  They all have the common theme of being painted in the open air and depicting some of the local iconic scenery of San Diego County.  They will be on view and available for the month of December at Silver Creek Gallery and Custom Framing in Downtown El Cajon, California.

If you have the time, I’d be happy to see you at the Artists Reception on Friday, December 6th from 5 to 8pm.  There’s no obligation to buy anything and there will be some light hors d’oeuvres and wine poured, so stop by and say hello if you can.  It will be a completely casual event.  There are some decent restaurants (Mexican, Italian) within walking distance of the gallery and other shops and galleries that are open for the evening, sponsored by the Merchants and City of El Cajon.

Seeing oil paintings in person, framed and in good lighting, with all their texture and varnished glory is much different from seeing them on your computer monitor.  I invite you to come and have a look.  I’d love to share them with you.

Once again, thanks to all.


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La Jolla Oceanfront Photos

La Jolla Cove, Bird Rock, the Cave Shell Shop, and the Oceanfront walk are a great place to spend an early Saturday morning in San Diego County.  I went there yesterday with my camera and recorded some images.  Here are a my favorite selections from the photos I took.
La Jolla Bight Overlook
La Jolla Bight Overlook

The geographic configuration of the La Jolla Coast is such that you can’t really call it a peninsula but it does jut westward from the coast to the North, creating not quite a bay but what I would call a “bight”–the La Jolla Bight.

Above the Roost at La Jolla Cliffs.
Above the Roost at La Jolla Cliffs.

Various species of pelagic birds make their home and spend time away from ocean foraging on the rocks and cliffs of the La Jolla Peninsula. Recently, the city spent lots of public money trying to wash the guano off of the cliffs because it makes the area smell like the sea.  The cleanup operation left pools of a disgusting dark sludge instead of the bleached white guano…oops…anyone else have any bright ideas?  The rocks in the photo above have not been “cleaned” yet but are slated for “phase two” of “Operation Poop-be-gone.”

A Distinguished Pelican Rests after Breakfast
A Distinguished Pelican Rests after Breakfast

This fellow seemed displeased that I had the audacity to get close while he was trying to digest his morning repast. He did not fly away, however as I was using a telephoto lens and did not have to get too close.

A Balmy September Morning on Oceanfront Walk in La Jolla.
A Balmy September Morning on Oceanfront Walk in La Jolla.

It is a beautiful area, especially early before it gets too crowded.  Get there early (around 8:00am) to find ample parking, which can be hard to find later in the morning.


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Ramona Grasslands Redux, Plein Air, Clearing Haze

original oil painting, San Diego plein air, Ramona, artist, Ronald Lee Oliver

I’ve been so busy with updating websites and social media profiles lately while also working on paintings in the studio so I haven’t had many opportunities for outdoor plein air painting.  Don’t get me wrong–there have been opportunities–just none that really piqued my interest.  I’ve enjoyed painting at the Ramona Grasslands Reserve in the past so when the local painters group suggested it, I made the time to be there for some painting fun.

Here’s a map of the area if you’d like to visit sometime.  It’s a great place to hike, walk your dog, ride either a  trail bicycle or a horse (no motorized vehicles allowed) or to go and do some art!

Map to Ramona Grasslands Preserve
Map to Ramona Grasslands Preserve

There is an ample parking lot and if you get there early (the gate opens at 8:00 am) you’ll get a choice parking spot.  Later on the horsey set arrives and their trucks and trailers fill most of the spaces.

The sky was socked in and grey as I drove up the 67 past Mt. Woodson, which is near the Grasslands Preserve.  However, It steadily cleared as I hiked around looking for a vista to paint until it finally wound up a gorgeous, sparkling, clear day.  In season, there are standing ponds but in late Summer/early Autmn, before the Fall rains come the ponds can be completely dry and caked with cracked mud.  There are a couple of loops to hike on and the trails are very well maintained.  The Preserve is fenced in its entirety and is an open cattle range so you can expect to see some of the bovine type roaming about.  I got some photos of them today, before I started painting:


…and there were several of these little guys, some of which were hiding in the grass… you can just see the head of one on the right side of the above photo.


Eventually, I found a view I liked and wanted to paint.  I brought only a small 12X12 cradled birch panel to paint on because I thought it was so overcast, I’d rather do a small one but as I said, the day cleared up very nicely.  Maybe I should have brought a larger canvas or panel.  Here is the place I set up my easel–you can see how nicely maintained the trails are…

Panoramic view of easel set by Ronald Lee Oliver
Panoramic view of easel set by Ronald Lee Oliver

It’s not all open sun, either. There are some nice shady places with wooden picnic tables within easy hiking distance.  All in all, I really recommend the place, especially after the rains or in the spring when everything is emerald green and glistening with dew in the early morning.

A view of the painting on the easel in the unfinished state.
A view of the painting on the easel in the unfinished state.

Here’s an iPhone photo of the little painting I walked away with.


Clearing Haze, 12X12 inch oil on cradled birch panel by Ronald Lee Oliver
Clearing Haze, 12X12 inch oil on cradled birch panel by Ronald Lee Oliver

Ronald Lee Oliver is a self taught artist creating plein air, studio, photography and digital art in Southern California. Original and print versions of Ron’s art can be purchased online.



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Is Digital art…Art?

Consider the early painters, who acquired their colors from minerals and other obscure sources such as the dried urine of cattle fed on mango leaves.  I’m not kidding!  A bright, golden-yellow color called “Indian Yellow” was produced this way until recently it was determined it is cruel to the cattle, causing urinary discomfort.   Another color, called “Egyptian Mummy,” was actually made from–you guessed it–the ground remains of ancient cadavers.

Historically speaking, visual artists of past generations were limited to the kinds of art they could create by their medium (or mediums) of choice.  These mediums were often hard to obtain and sometimes costly and therefore limiting to the artist.

Renaissance painters (and some die-hard purists to this day) had to labouriously grind and pulverize these minerals and substances then mix them with the addition of a binding medium, such as flax (linseed) oil.

Today’s artists have a much more readily available array of mediums to choose from than their predecessors did. Those same colors or approximations of them, such as Indian Yellow are now created with other minerals or synthetic compounds and are mass-produced by artist supply companies and can be purchased just about anywhere–including online.

The most recent advancement in the creation of art is the personal computer.  Now, one need merely flip the switch on their computer and paint with pixels displayed on a screen.  No more grinding, mulling, mixing, and tubing of colors before one could even begin to apply it to a support (which was also much more labouriously acquired). Computer processing power today is such that beautiful works of art can be created in short order, without the burden or mess of working in traditional mediums.

I truly believe that the resulting product that comes from computer digital generation is, indeed Art. It is not, however (IMHO), painting, which requires a physical brush, dipped in a liquid solution, then applied to a support, such as a panel or canvas.  While I use both the traditional and digital mediums to create my art, I would never consider a digital work to be a “painting” even when I use a digital stylus and digital brushes.

Consider the image above, which I titled “Bird of Paradise.”

This is a photo I took with a quality lens on a Canon DSLR camera.  I then manipulated the image using filters and hue, saturation, and value curves in a digital image manipulation software.  My hands didn’t even have to get dirty! But the resulting image is absolutely stunning and worthy of printing on fine art paper for framing and hanging.  I think it is art.  It took my artistic aesthetic sensibility to frame up the photo, crop it, then decide my approach to achieve the end result.  All of this falls squarely in the realm of the artists role and the creation of art.

Let me know what you think.  Is it art…or something else?

“Bird of Paradise is available as a fine art print in your choice of sizes and supports at:

 Ronald Lee Oliver is a self taught artist creating plein air, studio and digital work in Southern California

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What is a “Cradled” Panel? Fine Art Terminology Explained.

An artist has many choices when it comes to the surface (known as the “support”) and medium they will use to create their artwork. Supports range from papers to woven textiles such as flax linen or cotton duck canvas–to solid supports such as hardwood panels, MDF panels made of compressed wood, or other laminated wood products. They can also choose to apply their medium to glass and metals such as copper or tin panels.

I prefer to either use stretched canvas or various types of hard panels to support my oil paintings.  Often, I refer to something called a “cradled panel,” when I describe the support I’ve chosen for my latest creation and I understand this may be artspeak jargon for some of my readers so I’ll try to explain further.

Cradled panels are wood substrates, either composed of hardwoods or MDF, usually an eight to a quarter-inch thick, which are reinforced with hardwood strips, adhered to the perimeter on the back side of the panel.  This “cradling” is designed to add rigidity to the panel and helps to deter warping or twisting of the panel over time.  This is especially important for larger paintings done on panels as the tendency for a painting on panel to warp or twist is directly proportional to the physical size of the painting.  The larger the panel–the greater the possibility of warping.

Here is a photo of the edge of a cradled panel I recently painted, as seen from the front side:

A cradled panel as seen from the front side.
A cradled panel as seen from the front side.

And here is a view of the same panel as seen from the back side:

A cradled panel seen from the back side.
A cradled panel seen from the back side.

Not only does the cradling of the panel provide a solid and rigid support that will last for years (centuries) without twisting or warping, it also allows the artwork to be hung without framing as the lip created by the cradle makes an excellent place for a nail or wall anchor to catch.

While cradled panels come in various depths, ranging from 1/4′ to as much as 3 inches, I prefer the 3/4″ deep cradled panels because they will hang readily without a frame but if you do choose to frame the artwork at a later time, frame mouldings with 3/4″ rabbet depths are not as difficult to find, nor are they as expensive as those with the deeper depths.  If a work is intended to never be framed and hung as is in the original cradled panel, it makes sense to go with a deeper cradle.

Hawaiian Sunset 12x12" Oil on Cradled Panel by Ronald Lee Oliver
Hawaiian Sunset 12×12″ Oil on Cradled Panel by Ronald Lee Oliver

Ronald Lee Oliver is a self-taught artist, working in Southern Calfornia.


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An Artist’s Thoughts on Perseverence

original oil painting, Hawaii, Maui, Whale breaching, artist, Ronald Lee Oliver

“You can’t be all things to all people.” –anonymous

As an artist It is axiomatic that not everyone is going to like your work. It would be ridiculous to believe so. Just as an artist’s own tastes tend to one genre and not another–say impressionism vs. postmodernism–therefore informing their creative approach and style, so do art collectors have personal preferences for one form or the other. That is not to say that some collectors may have a broad range of tastes but in general, the axiom holds true and even for these “eclectic” collectors, your particular brand may not be one which holds their interest. Coming to terms with this as an artist involves staying true to your sensibilities and vision and hence the direction of your work and style but it also necessitates the development of a “thick hide” when it comes to presenting the fruits of your labors to a seemingly indifferent public.

“For any artist to persevere, they must have an enthusiastic audience of at least one.” –Stuart Davis)

When sales have slumped and critical recognition is a scarce commodity, the logic of the above quote by the postmodern artist, Stuart Davis, becomes a guide stone for the artist. If there is that quality in your art which inspires you to continue developing and creating with disregard for recognition and lack of sales–if you see and believe that your art is special and worthy and will avoid the ignominy of the refuse pile of history–if you know your art will endure beyond the temporal tides of trend, fashion and commerce to be found and cherished by those who care enough to display it in an unforeseeable future, then this conviction will fuel the will to persevere, regardless of external encouragements or discouragements.

It is a fine thing to relish receiving encouraging praise, recognition, awards or rewards but when creating works of art that your friends, acquaintances and even strangers think and say are beautiful–but are not selling or finding representation in public venues or galleries–perseverance, born of conviction is paramount and will sustain you. So pick up your stylus of choice and let your creative spirit flow. The proof is in the putting of paint to canvas! From perseverance, reward will come.

Ronald Lee Oliver is a self-taught artist, working in Southern Calfornia.






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RLOArtist Original Paintings On Display at Westin Emerald Plaza

I’m pleased to announce that if you happen to visit Downtown San Diego, you can have a close look at some of the fantastical creations of Ronald Lee Oliver (Yours Truly) for the next five weeks.

Gallery Window01

Eight of my oil paintings are on display in the gallery windows at the Westin Emerald Plaza Towers in Downtown San Diego.  They are there for viewing until July 13th.  I have four paintings in the gallery window across from the Hall of Justice on State Street as shown above, they are:

Highway 1, Torrey Pines
Fight Another Day
September Morning, Point Loma

Gallery Window02

It’s nice to see them displayed and well-lit in the window.  Information cards with a brief description of the painting, when and where painted as well as price are below each one.  I also have a brochure page with a little biographical info and my web URL for those intrigued enough to read it.

Gallery Window03

And just around the corner of the building, over on C Street, there are four more, smaller paintings for your visual enjoyment, they are:

Hacienda Carrillo
Watering Hole
Ramona Grasslands Meadow
Dawn at San Elijo

It’s a good, safe way to get some eyes–other than virtual–on the paintings.

One never knows who will be moved to make one part of their world.

If you get a chance or are in the area, I hope you will have a look and drop me a line via the blog,
or follow me on Twitter

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More from Torrey Pines

It was a busy weekend but I did get out to the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve early Saturday Morning. I didn’t paint but hiked over most of the trails in the park and took some photos. The weather was very overcast and grey, so I opted to do the camera work, smell the flowers, sage and chaparral and reconnoiter for potential compositions that might work with the paint brush.

Here is a shot of the Isomeris arborea, or commonly named “Bladderpod” bush, with the characteristic pods. They say the pods are edible but spicy hot…I haven’t tried them:

Isomeris arborea

…and here is a photo of some unidentified (at least by me) shrub with pretty little flowers the color of pink coral…

Tiny Flowers

…eventually I made my way down to a view of the beach and “flat rock.” Bet you can’t guess why they call it “flat rock.” 🙂

Flat Rock, Torrey Pines

While hiking up and out of the beach area I saw some really lovely flowers and shrubs growing in the sand…

Beach Walkers at Torrey Pines

…and the exceptionally pretty flowers of the Sand Verbena that must be very hardy to grow where they do…

Sand Verbena

It was a good morning, despite the cold, overcast and drizzle.

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Art in the Pines ~ Plein Air Competition

Art in the Pines is a yearly plein air painting competition which takes place in the Torrey Pines State Reserve, here in San Diego County.  A jury selects artists who are allowed access to the park to paint for a full month (April) and then submit their best painting for competition in early May. The park is particularly beautiful this time of year and has lots of blooming wildflowers.

Torrey Wildflowers

Torrey Pines, is one of my favorite places in San Diego and I have visited it probably a hundred times either hiking, jogging, swimming or surf fishing on the shore, so the subject matter is something I know very well.  I was fortunate enough to be juried in as a competing artist this year and will be completing several paintings over the next few weeks, so that I might have a good one when it comes time to submit the work for the competition. I went out to the park yesterday, with my camera, my easel and painting supplies.  I chose the area of the park called the “Guy Fleming Trail.”  The trail is about a 2/3 mile loop that wanders through the chaparral and Torrey Pine forest…

Torrey Pine Forest Panorama

skirts by the sheer cliffs which drop down to the State beach below…

View from Cliff Top

…wanders through some spectacular rock formations…

Torrey Sandstone

and loops back to the starting point.

I had hiked the trail the day before, scoping out areas that would make good compositions for a painting and decided on a scene that depicted yucca trees on a steep slope, catching the light from the setting sun. This is an unusual view of the park and one that I think may catch the eye and inspire the judges, who probably see lots of the same-old-same-old.


So I set up my easel on the trail, out of the way of the hikers (many of whom shared words of encouragement about the painting as they walked by), and went to work.  I had pre-toned the canvas the night before so I wouldn’t have to waste that time when I was ready to paint.

Easel Start

…and here is a little video I took and a picture of the completed painting.  I like this one quite a bit. So far, it’s a good start for the competition. I hope to get in at least four or five more paintings to choose from.  I hope you like it!

Evening Yuccas