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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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Hawaiian Floral Seascapes!

Like the ocean?  Like Hawaii?  Like flowers?  Why not combine all three in a series of Hawaiian Floral Seascape paintings!?  I’ve been working on just this feat, recently and really enjoying the process. It allows for the play of some bold, complimentary colors and the challenge of arranging a pleasing composition.  Here is a composite of four, recently completed panels (12×12 in. oil on deep cradled birch).  I haven’t run out of flowers that are suitable for this series, yet, so there may be few more forthcoming!

Hawaiian Floral Seascapes ~ Original Oil Paintings by Ronald Lee Oliver
Hawaiian Floral Seascapes ~ Original Oil Paintings by Ronald Lee Oliver
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Lae O Na Kohola (Cape of Whales)

Lae O Na Kohola (Cape of Whales) 24 x 24 in. oil on canvas
Lae O Na Kohola (Cape of Whales) 24 x 24 in. oil on canvas

On the Northwest side of the Hawaiian island of Kaho`olawe is Ahupu Bay, whose Western point is called Lae O Na Kohola, or Cape of Whales. There, the great leviathans return in yearly consort to make connections with one another. To win paternity. To begin Maternity. To give birth and protect the newborn.  To establish lineage and once again venture Northward to the yearly feeding grounds, where they will fatten to return again and renew the cycle.

Here, I’ve depicted one of the majestic Kohola, or humpback whales, breaching in the fiery dawn of a typical Hawaiian sunrise.  Here is a detail section from the larger painting:

Detail from Lae O Na Kohola (Cape of Whales) by Ronald Lee Oliver

This painting was achieved in one session, or “alla prima,” an artsy Italianate term for “at once.”  It requires that the artist have a good idea of where they are going before they first lay brush to canvas.  I toned the canvas with a mixture of transparent orange and burnt sienna the night before, which allowed it to dry and act as an underlying accent color.  The overnight drying time ensured it would not smear and mix with the strokes of color placed on top. Most of the colors in the upper layer are transparent oil paints, as opposed to opaque tints, which allows for a certain depth and serendipitous atmosphere that can’t be achieved with the opaque pigments.

This painting is 24 x 24 inches and is framed in a complimentary black frame with matte and glossy accents.

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Pua Akala (Pink Hibiscus)

Pua Akala (Pink Hibiscus) 12 x 12 in. oil on deep cradled panel by Ronald Lee Oliver
Pua Akala (Pink Hibiscus) 12 x 12 in. oil on deep cradled panel by Ronald Lee Oliver

Another in my series of Hawaiian Floral Seascapes.  Seen just about everywhere in Hawaii but like a younger daughter, the Pink Hibiscus must always be subordinate to the elder, yellow hibiscus which is the State Flower of the Islands  …she is just as delicate and beautiful though.

This is in the same format as some of my other Hawaiian floral oil paintings, which are all in the 12 inch square format on 1.5 inch deep, hardwood cradled, birch panels, suitable for hanging with or without a frame.  This colorful series of paintings brightens any space with a vibrant, tropical splash.

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Pua Aloalo (Yellow Hibiscus)

The yellow hibiscus is the State Flower of Hawaii.  Some of the specimens that can be seen there are Amazing!  I like to say, in a voice reminiscent of the young Forrest’s Doctor in the movie, Forrest Gump,

“They’re large as dinner plates!”

This painting captures the bold, lush petals of a giant “Pua Aloalo” against a backdrop of Blue Hawaii.

Pua Aloalo (Yellow Hibiscus) 12" x 12" oil on 1.5" cradled panel
Pua Aloalo (Yellow Hibiscus) 12″ x 12″ oil on 1.5″ cradled panel


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Kahakai Lani (Heavenly Beach)

Just about any beach in Hawaii is beautiful but some are absolutely heavenly. On the South West side of Maui, there are some little sandy coves between the fingers of lava that provide views of the islands across the channel.

Kahakai Lani (Heavenly Beach) 24″ x 24″ oil on gallery wrapped canvas.

Kahakai Lani (Heavenly Beach) 24" x 24" oil on canvas
Kahakai Lani (Heavenly Beach) 24″ x 24″ oil on canvas
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Hawaiian Dawn ~ A Recent Studio Painting by Ronald Lee Oliver

Hawaiian Dawn oil on canvas 24 x24" by RLOArtist
Hawaiian Dawn oil on canvas 24 x 24″ by Ronald Lee Oliver

I’ll admit…Hawaii is one of the most inspiring places for me, as an artist. These islands in the remote waters of the North Pacific Ocean are blessed with such abundant natural beauty, it is almost impossible not to find something worthy of painting in every scene gazed upon.  I am especially enthralled with the sunrises and sunsets.  The play of long, refracted twilight upon the clouds, water, shore and not-so-distant neighbor islands is absolutely breathtaking.  I’ve tried to instill some of this natural magic in one of my latest studio paintings, titled Hawaiian Dawn ~ 24 x 24″ oil on deep gallery wrap canvas.

To see this painting in a larger format, click on the image above and arrive at my online studio gallery, where you can click again to make larger. The original painting is also available for purchase at that venue.

Affordable prints of this painting are available on metal, acrylic, fine art paper and canvas 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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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
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D.T. Fleming Beach, Kapalua Plein Air Outing

North to Honolua

In my earlier post, Hawaii Whirlwind Tour, I neglected to post the image of the painting I did on the first morning. It was really windy on the beach at that time and I caught the easel three times as it was about to fall over.  After that, I just kept my left hand on it as I painted. It was early and very cloudy, up in the West Maui Mountains off to my right but every once in a while there would be a gap in the clouds and the sunrise light would shine through and light up the face of the waves. It was a sudden color explosion that was absolutely amazing. A big black carpenter bee came down and investigated my canvas thoroughly a couple of times but didn’t bother me after that.  I guess he approved. I hope you do too.

Plein air painting of D.T. Fleming beach in Kapalua, Maui


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Hawaii Whirlwind Tour

Recently, Jackie (my beautiful wife) and I went to Hawaii to carry out the last wishes of Jackie’s long time friend, Brian Levi. Brian was the recording engineer who recorded Jackie’s music and she kept in touch with him over the years, eventually becoming his attorney and the executor of his estate…you see, unfortunately, Brian passed away recently after a long battle with cancer (smoking). His last wish, codified in his will, which left the entirety of his estate to Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital, was for Jackie and I to take his remains to Maui and have a burial at sea, which we did last week on Brian’s birthday, spending three days on the Island.

The burial at sea was beautiful, with a Hawaiian ti-leaf wrapped urn for Brian, flower leis, and rose petals. When Jackie dropped in the urn and the lei, a big puff of wind came and made a circular mark on the surface of the water around the lei and swirled the rose petals, which danced across the water in the whirlwind. A huge humpback whale fully breached from the water, tail and all when Jackie mentioned Brian’s love of flying model planes in the eulogy. She said, “You loved flying, and today is a good day to fly. Happy Birthday, Brian!” and the whale leaped out of the water, on cue!

Brian loved art and was a big fan of my artwork. I am sure he would be happy to know that I took my paints to Hawaii and did a couple of paintings while I was there. In fact, I felt his presence more than once as I painted. Thanks to him, I had the opportunity.

The Maui Plein Air Painters invitational competition was just wrapping up when we arrived. I got to see some of the paintings (the ones that hadn’t sold yet) at the Village Gallery in Lahaina. There were some top-notch painters there for that week. Maybe one day, I’ll be invited. We’ll see. Hawaii is amazingly beautiful with a clear light that really makes the colors vibrant and full of life. Here are some images and shots of the paintings I did while I was there.

The first night there, the moon was full. I got a shot of it above the palms and Cook Pines of Kapalua.


My first painting was in the morning at D.T. Fleming Beach, in Kapalua, West Maui.


You can see the finished painting, here  After painting, I took some photos of foliage on the way back to the hotel room.


And on the next morning, I found a place to park my pochade (small painting box for those who’ve never heard that term) and work until I got rained out. In Kapalua, in February, showers come and go with frequency. They never last too long and create some beautiful rainbows. In any case, I had to pack up the kit before I finished and had to complete this one back in San Diego. Here are some pics:


And the (almost) finished painting…there have been a few more minor touches since this photo.


I hope to go back some day, pay Brian a visit, and paint a few more things.