Posted on Leave a comment

The Progress of an Oil Painting ~ “Chanticleer” by Ronald Lee Oliver

"Chanticleer" 16 x 16" Oil on Canvas by Ronald Lee Oliver
“Chanticleer” 18 x 18″ Oil on Canvas by Ronald Lee Oliver (SOLD!)

I’ve recently finished a painting of a proud rooster named “Chanticleer,” who presides over his flock of hens, seen looking on with interest from their nesting boxes. The new day’s dawn is suggested through the window to the outside of the barn.

Having kept backyard chickens for 15 years or so, the subject comes naturally and I was inspired to make a painting that showed not only the proud character of a rooster but also the morning light that invokes the racket he makes to let his hens know the new day has dawned.  This painting evolved from the simple concept of a colorful rooster, well-lit, to capturing a lifelike barnyard moment, very quickly.

Here are some shots of the evolution of the painting’s progress. Roll over the images for captions.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Anatomy of a Painting

Lahaina Ballet  -- 40 x 60 inch oil on canvas by Ronald Lee Oliver
Lahaina Ballet — 40 x 60 inch oil on canvas by Ronald Lee Oliver

I thought some of my loyal fans would appreciate seeing a work in progress or “WIP,” as named by artists in the social media world.  This most recent painting is a large, 40 x 60 inch representation of a breaching whale, off the coast of Maui, Hawaii.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Hawaii several times over the last fifteen years or so and many of those times have been lucky to be there (well, actually I planned it that way) during whale breeding season, which takes place in the calm and relatively shallow, inter-island waters during the months of December through April.  If you ever get the opportunity to visit Hawaii, I recommend this time of year. The whales know what they are doing by being there then!  It is absolutely beautiful, not too hot, and the occasional rain shower will have rainbows busting out all over!

On one such visit, Jackie and I stayed in a second floor, ocean front condo with a Lanai that nearly overhung the water’s edge.  The massive humpback whales would spout and breach sometimes not more than 100 yards from our patio or “Lanai” as it is called in the islands. We could watch them while laying in bed. This and the many other instances of whale sightings and tours over the years, inspired this painting.  Here is the first photo installment of the WIP. Unfortunately, I didn’t get photos of the earlier stages, so you can see some work has already been done:

40 x 60 inch canvas showing undertone and large initial brush strokes
40 x 60 inch canvas showing undertone and large initial brush strokes

The entire surface of the canvas is “toned,” i.e. painted with an undercolor–in this case an orangish tone that is a mixture of transparent orange and iron-oxide, oil based paint and natural turpentine.  I did this because I knew that much of the finished painting would be in the cooler, blue-green end of the spectrum and the orange underpainting would make for a vibrant compliment where it peeked through the colors of the finish.  This creates a visual vibration and harmony that is pleasing to the eye.  Many beginning painters put colors directly on a white canvas and will never achieve the stimulating effect that a complimentary underpainting can help to achieve.  I’m also using a very large, round, Chungking, white boar bristle brush to apply the paint very quickly. You can see the size of the strokes, which look like stripes.

Getting the canvas covered in paint
Getting the canvas covered in paint

It’s best to get the canvas covered in paint so you can see the relationships between the major elements before attempting to refine them.  Here, I’ve added the Ocean water and more of the land mass in a very loose fashion, not trying to force much representation at this stage. I’m allowing the orange-ish undertone to peek through, all over the canvas–even in the ocean water, which is kind of counterintuitive–who would think that you’d want orange, of all colors, to show up in your ocean water?!  The water looks good so I decide I won’t try to fuss with it too much from here to the finish. This was my approach for the entirety of this painting–lay down the stroke and if it looks good, don’t fuss with it!

Suggesting and blocking in
Suggesting and blocking in

At this point, I’m laying-in the suggestion of the whale’s anatomy and blocking in the dark mass of the structures and scenery on the shoreline.  These dark colors will act as a foil for the later brush strokes in lighter values that will suggest foliage, trees and buildings.

Simple refinements, keeping it loose
Simple refinements, keeping it loose

Now, I’m mixing various colors and laying in strokes all over the canvas with cleanly loaded brushes.   I’m not smearing the paint around, rather, I’m laying in the colors and values I want, quickly and with resolve, then leaving the strokes alone.  I have several brushes going with different color families and not intermixing them, which can create “mud” on the canvas. Clean brushes, loaded with clean, appropriate color, keeps the painting clean.  An example of a refinement is the suggested changes in depth of the water at the right, with lighter values of ocean colors that indicate the sunlight reflecting off a shallower bottom or reef.


Now, I’m working more slowly, taking time to contemplate the next steps, making sure that I don’t do anything rash or stupid that will mar the end result of the painting. If I do make a mistake, I wipe it off and correct it quickly.  I’ve laid in the under tone for the hotel on the right, which will reflect the waning light much the same as the whale does but with less intensity as it must recede in the distance.

Large brushes for a Large Painting
Large brushes for a Large Painting

This shows two of the brushes used in the painting of this work. I Used seven different brushes for this one and these were the largest. The brushes used were rounds, flats and one filbert, which is a  flat with a tip rounded in one dimension.

And finally, here is the finished and signed piece.  Over the last several days of work, I contemplated refinements and added them judiciously to gain the finish shown here. You can see the chaotic nature of the splashes have been refined with strokes of color from a large flat brush; the clouds softened and blended, sometimes with a finger, rather than a brush.  Many of these well thought out refinements, applied, achieve a completed painting that evokes the spirit and beauty of the Hawaiian Isles and one of the most exciting sights that can bee seen there.

…and so now that you’ve seen the “anatomy of a painting,” I hope it hasn’t spoiled the magic for you.  If you’d like to see a larger image of “Lahaina Ballet,” click on the image and you will be taken to a new page.  If you’d like to see the painting in person and up close (I recommend it!), it will be on display in the State Street gallery window at the Westin Emerald Plaza Hotel in Downtown San Diego from July 5th through the 13th.

Lahaina Ballet  -- 40 x 60 inch oil on canvas by Ronald Lee Oliver
Lahaina Ballet — 40 x 60 inch oil on canvas by Ronald Lee Oliver
Posted on Leave a comment

Plein air at Carlsbad Flower Fields

Do you like flowers?


I sure do and that’s why I was excited to paint at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad. They are fifty acres of ranunculus flowers that are grown for bouquets. Every spring they bloom in a riot of color and the fields are open to the public for a fee. There were lots of people there today as I painted and many of them stopped to chat, comment and ask questions about the painting.

Here is another look at the fields…


and some of the workers that cultivate and harvest the flowers…


I decided that I would attempt to represent a view from the higher elevations of the fields, which slope down hill to the nursery area and the City of Carlsbad, below. You can see the Pacific Ocean from up there so I thought it would be a nice overall impression of the fields. This next photo is close to what I wanted to put on the panel–I brought another 16 X 20. I like the size because of the freedom it brings but it also brings responsibility to fill the space, which takes more time (usually) than a smaller painting. Here’s the view…


…and here’s me, in the act of applying colored oily stuff to a piece of wood. This photo was taken by a nice fellow named, Rob who promised to email them to me and he did. They were in my mailbox before I got home! Thanks Rob!


…and finally, here is the painting as it stands (unfinished) when I decided to pack up and head home for a late lunch (pizza!). I think it has potential to be a very nice piece. I just have to work out the middle distance, which in real life had lots of jumbled retail structures. I’ll try to simplify it and still represent an impression of the scene. Let me know what you think!


When I finish it, I’ll post it up here and share it with you all. As always, you can click on the gallery link at the top of my blog and see finished works that are ready to show and are for sale.

Posted on 2 Comments

Lindo lake, Lakeside, California, USA, Plein Air Outing

Lindo Lake, Lakeside

Did you know that Lindo Lake is the only natural (un-dammed) fresh water, spring-fed lake in San Diego County? Currently it is “topped up” by pumping in water from nearby wells, which keeps the park nice and green and the lake full and beautiful.  I remember going to the park for a picnic with family, cousins and friends in the Summer of ’71 when I was nine years old. The lake was completely dry, which was very disappointing for a nine-year-old. But it wasn’t too long before my cousin Curt (2 years older) and I found a way to have fun anyway. In those days, there was no Nintendo, Gameboy or “Angry Birds” to insidiously suck the life out of two daring young explorers who were experts at finding alternate sources of adventure and mischief.  Turns out, a foot or two under the cracked mud surface of the lake bottom, there were hibernating…or I guess the correct term is estivating…arroyo toads that were enjoying the cool and moist mud down below. With sticks for improvised shovels, we dug and dug, finding several of them.

Arroyo Toad, Wikimedia commons
Arroyo Toad, Wikimedia commons

Of course, we brought the largest specimens back to the picnic area to proudly show to our Moms, who were duly unimpressed and in fact, quite the opposite. Our shoes and clothing were now encrusted with the stinky, black, goose-slime-laden, lake-bottom mud! In retrospect, I have to say that as nine and eleven-year old boys, finding those toads was more than worth the trouble we were in. I think as mad as they were about our soiled clothes, our mothers probably secretly enjoyed our boyishness and loved us all the more for it.

On Saturday, I returned to Lindo Lake with the San Diego Plein Air Painters Group and started a painting. This is a large (for plein air) 16 X 20 oil on canvas. The painting is not complete and is a work in progress. I think I’ll let this one rest and return to it later for finishing with “fresh eyes.” Sometimes it is good to leave a painting for a spell and pick it back up when it suits your fancy. I welcome any comments on this one, critical or otherwise.
Here it is as it sits on the easel, now:

Lindo Lake Painting

Posted on Leave a comment

Cabrillo Tide Pools


Yesterday, I returned to Cabrillo National Monument Park, which is at the tip of the Point Loma peninsula in San Diego.  On the coastal side of the park, they have paths down to the tide pools, which are great place to set up an easel and paint. I entered the park at 9:01am, just a minute after the gate opened and drove down to the second parking lot.  As I hiked down to the water’s edge, I had to stop to snap a few photos of the birds–Pelicans!


There were lots of them.  I think they were flying back home after a feeding foray because this is where they were all roosting.  Pretty amazing, huh?  I think the dark birds on the left are cormorants and the lighter colored and larger birds on the right are Pelicans…or maybe the smaller birds are juvenile pelicans.  I’m not enough of a “birder” to know the answer on that one.  You can tell this is a favorite spot 🙂


It was windy and cold but after driving all that way to paint, I wasn’t going to quit.  Here is a shot of the easel and painting in progress at the waters edge.  You can see the birds in the background.


You can see in the photos the water is really disturbed because of the high tide.  It was mostly just a lot of white foam from the crashing waves.  Because that would be too much white for my painting, I took artistic license and depicted a calmer ocean.  I’m putting the finishing touches on and will post the completed painting later.

All in all it was a great day for painting!



Posted on Leave a comment

Strelitzia nicolai ~ Giant Bird of Paradise

Giant Bird of Paradise

While I haven’t posted in a while, don’t worry! I am still painting. Here is my latest work in progress, which is NOT finished, so don’t be too disappointed. This is from a photo I took of this spectacular specimen, which grows in my front yard, near the dog run. I water it every morning at around sunrise. It is very dry here in Southern California and I have a watering regimen that is a daily ocurrence unless it is raining, especially for some of my more tropical plants. The painting is 12 X 15 on gallery wrap canvas, which I prepared with several coats of umber toned gesso. While in progress, it is mostly done, so the next post will (probably) be in the finished works section of the blog.

Posted on Leave a comment

Plein Air at Sunset Cliffs

16 X 20 Plein Air Ala Prima

I couldn’t decide where to set up my easel for a plein air outing this morning. At first, I thought I’d stay close to home and try setting up at Lake Jennings Park at sunrise. I was up at 5:00 and the park opened at 6:15. I would have plently of time to set up before the good light hit and left. I wasn’t too sure about Lake Jennings though, I haven’t been there in about 25 years, and decided at the last minute to try the view from Lowes Coronado Resort on the Silver Strand (the long isthmus that connects San Diego’s South Coastal Community, Imperial Beach, with the “Island” of Coronado. As I remembered, there were some great views of the city skyline and Coronado Bay Bridge form the back of the resort. Having packed the easel and supplies in the truck the night before, it was easy just to motor down there before sunrise. When I got there, the fog was too thick and showed no sign of clearing, so I scrubbed the idea and headed back to Coronado Town. Along the way, I stopped in two places, looking for a view that would be a good subject for my plein air outing. Nothing inspired me–maybe I’m just too picky. Anyhow, I carried on and drove over to Point Loma and the Sunset Cliffs area. When I got there it was foggy, but not so foggy that I couldn’t make an attempt at filling a canvas. The good thing is that parking is free and there is plenty of it and there are lots of good places on the sandstone formations above the cliffs and the waves.

The fog was challenging. It was rolling in and clearing in waves, so the scene was alternating between highly visible and partially obscured throughout the whole session. That didn’t bother me though and I kept plugging away. I chose a 16 X 20 canvas on stretcher bars, which is a fairly ambitious size for plein air. All in all, it was a good time, once I found a place that inspired me to paint.

Attached are some shots of the easel and the view. I’ll be posting the finished painting in the next few days.

Reference View for “Sunset Cliffs Fog”
Posted on Leave a comment

Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer

The reference aircraft for the “Valiant in Service” painting.

This is the plane that inspired the painting, “Valiant in Service.” I saw one in action, many years ago, dropping retardant on a fire in mountainous terrain near the Walker River Gorge in Western Nevada. The sight was awe inspiring and stayed with me all these years and is now being expressed on canvas. The following regarding this type of aircraft is from Wikipedia:

The Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer was a World War II and Korean War era patrol bomber of the United States Navy derived from the Consolidated B-24 Liberator.

The Privateer was externally similar to the Liberator, but the fuselage was longer to accommodate a flight engineer’s station, and had a tall single vertical stabilizer rather than the B-24’s twin tail configuration. The defensive armament was also increased to 12 .50-in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in six turrets (two dorsal, two waist, nose and tail), with the B-24’s belly turret being omitted. Turbosuperchargers were not fitted to the engines since maritime patrol missions were not usually flown at high altitude.

Privateers in aerial firefighting P4Y-2 Tanker 123 BuNo 66260 N7620C, of Hawkins & Powers in service supporting the CDF, at Chester Air Attack Base in the late 1990s—crashed 18 July 2002. PB4Y-2 BuNo 66261 marked as BuNo 66304 in the collection of the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola, Florida.A limited number of refitted PB4Ys continued in civilian service as airtankers, dropping fire retardant on forest fires throughout the western United States. On 18 July 2002, one such refitted PB4Y, BuNo 66260 seen in picture to right operated by Hawkins and Powers Aviation of Greybull Wyoming, broke up in flight while fighting a wildfire near Rocky Mountain National Park. Both crew members were killed in the accident, and the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded all large air tankers in the region.[6] Following the accident, all remaining Privateers were retired. See 2002 airtanker crashes.

via Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Posted on Leave a comment

“Valiant in Service”

Here is what I’m working on now.  This is going to be a Tanker Plane dumping retardant on a forest fire below.  I’ve just begun to work on the mountain scenery.  There is still work to do on the smoke, fire and clouds, as well as the plane of course, which is blocked in in magenta.

Work in Progress 09-11-2012

I’ve done some more work on this and like the rhythm it has.  There is still much more to do but all in all I’m pleased so far with the composition and the colors.  I think I can work through the problems with this one, which is saying something because that is not always true.  Sometimes you just have to scrape it off and try something different.  In fact, this painting began its life on a scraped, cast-off painting that I tried to bring to life but it was eventually D.O.A.  Here is the second installment: 

…Just an update on this painting. I’ve done a bit more and still have quite a bit to do. Here is the third installment:

Added more trees, smoke, clouds, etc.