Saturday, August 27, 2011

Down Hill (Caprock Canyon)

Down Hill (Caprock Canyon), originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.

This is a 24" x 18" pastel painting on paper of one of the scenic overlooks at Caprock Canyon. There are some amazing views there that are easily accessible by car. Right by this spot there's a small information center and parking area, but I got out and hiked a bit farther down to get a more dramatic view looking down the hill into the canyon. I started this painting with a sepia chalk drawing, then did an initial color layer with Nupastels and finished with a bit of Rembrandt soft pastels. I'm really liking the warm red undertones of the sepia drawing. Seems to help capture the dry, West Texas atmosphere. I'm in sore need of new soft pastels. Been quite awhile since I worked on any pastels this large and my soft pastels are whittled away to tiny chunks. Maybe I'll make a new set of Sennelier or Townsend pastels an early Christmas present this year!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The WIld is Just a Short Drive Away

Wild , originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.

If you're hiking anywhere in Texas there's bound to be some kind of wild flowers around. I have no clue what these are called, but on a hike at the Post Oak Preserve in Seagoville, TX they were all over the place. I was drawn to their odd look, a prickly round bottom with a fluffy pink and white top. It kind of looks like a cactus and a dandellion had kids! This is a small (8" x 8") pastel on paper, and was done pretty quickly. I originally planned to work up the grasses in the background more, but decided i kind of liked the freshness and left it alone.

The Post Oak Preserve is a great place to hike and is just a short drive from Dallas. The trails start right across the road from the Dallas ISD Environmental Education Center in Seagoville and are maintained by the center. The Environmental Center has the mission to interpret, preserve, protect, and share information about the natural history and ecology of north Texas with everyone in north Texas. Students and teachers in DISD take science field trips here, and in the summer they have a science camp for 4th graders. My daughter attended the camp and had a blast hiking the woods and learning about the plant and tree life. She even caught catfish minnows in the pond and raised them in an aquarium at home. The nature Preserve is 334 acres and includes trails through pond, forest, and grassland habitats. It's really a nice way to spend a morning, and so close to home that you don't have to get up too early to make it there before it's really hot.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Making the Case for Fine Arts in The Classroom Part 2

     Today in staff development at school we started our new Dallas ISD book study of Teaching With Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen.   We read an introduction and watched a few videos, and the book looks like it has some solid, practical ideas for improving our teaching.  There was a brief mention of the power of the Fine Arts to help engage at-risk students and increase their overall performance in school, and while I yelled a big "Amen!" at that point, it's really old news to the thousands of art, music, dance, and theater teachers out there.  I've discussed this topic before ( but thought I'd share this list I made years ago summarizing studies about participating in music (I'm a musician as well as a visual artist.)  There's many more studies out there, some of which focus on particular disciplines (visual art, music, theater, dance, etc.) and others that look at the broader impact of the Fine Arts in general.  No matter what study you look at, they all seem to come to the same conclusion: studying Fine Arts helps kids learn!  This is why I get so frustrated when looking at the extremely limited time that I have to work with students in my art or music classes.  I'm trying to keep a positive mindset and hope that even the small amount of time I can give them will pay off with huge dividends down the road.

   Here's my list (feel free to add more in the comments section if you have them):

1.       In a 2000 survey, 73 percent of respondents agree that teens who play an instrument are less likely to have discipline problems.
- Americans Love Making Music – And Value Music Education More Highly Than Ever, American Music Conference, 2000.
2.     Students who can perform complex rhythms can also make faster and more precise corrections in many academic and physical situations, according to the Center for Timing, Coordination, and Motor Skills.
- Rhythm seen as key to music’s evolutionary role in human intellectual development, Center for Timing, Coordination, and Motor Skills, 2000.
3.    A ten-year study indicates that students who study music achieve higher test scores, regardless of socioeconomic background.
- Dr. James Catterall, UCLA.
4.    A 1997 study of elementary students in an arts-based program concluded that students’ math test scores rose as their time in arts education classes increased.
- “Arts Exposure and Class Performance,” Phi Delta Kappan, October, 1998.
5.    First-grade students who had daily music instruction scored higher on creativity tests than a control group without music instruction.
- K.L. Wolff, The Effects of General Music Education on the Academeic Achievement, Perceptual-Motor Development, Creative Thinking, and School Attendance of First-Grade Children, 1992.
6.    In a Scottish study, one group of elementary students received musical training, while another other group received an equal amount of discussion skills training. After six (6) months, the students in the music group achieved a significant increase in reading test scores, while the reading test scores of the discussion skills group did not change.
- Sheila Douglas and Peter Willatts, Journal of Research in Reading, 1994.
7.    According to a 1991 study, students in schools with arts-focused curriculums reported significantly more positive perceptions about their academic abilities than students in a comparison group.
- Pamela Aschbacher and Joan Herman, The Humanitas Program Evaluation, 1991.
8.    Students who are rhythmically skilled also tend to better plan, sequence, and coordinate actions in their daily lives.
- “Cassily Column,” TCAMS Professional Resource Center, 2000.
9.    In a 1999 Columbia University study, students in the arts are found to be more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-confident, and better able to express their ideas. These benefits exist across socioeconomic levels.
- The Arts Education Partnership, 1999.
10.  College admissions officers continue to cite participation in music as an important factor in making admissions decisions. They claim that music participation demonstrates time management, creativity, expression, and open mindedness.
- Carl Hartman, “Arts May Improve Students’ Grades,” The Associated Press, October, 1999.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Year's Resolutions Follow Up

Back in January I posted a some of my goals for 2011.  We're past the halfway mark to 2012 now and a new school year is starting, so I thought I'd take a moment and post my progress towards my resolutions:
  • Paint! I'm still doing plenty of painting, although I'd still like to do MUCH more!  I have been working on larger paintings of Lake Mineral Wells and other landscapes, and gradually sinking my teeth into images from Caprock Canyon.  Now that the school year is starting I have a big project planned involving the students and events at the school I teach at in the Dallas ISD.  You'll have to stay tuned for more info on that once I get it rolling.
  • Take advantage of non-traditional exhibit venues.  I've been lagging behind on this one.  I just felt like I needed to have a little more success in terms of my larger pieces before I tried to mount a show again.  I'm feeling like I'm ready now though, and I'm planning to contact the possible venues in the next few weeks.  Wish me luck! 
  • Enter Juried Exhibitions.  I just paid my entrance fees and submitted images of some of my paintings to three different national competitions.  Two are for publications and one is an online gallery.
  • Submit work to galleries.  I've still been keeping a list of potential galleries to approach, their submission guidelines, and dates that they review portfolios, but have been focusing more on getting my name out there online and developing a few current exhibits for my resume before I submit my work.  I have had one gallery contact me, although I didn't feel like it was a good fit.
  • Amplify my internet presence. My website ( is looking better, and I've gathered a few followers for my Paint Daily Texas blog.  I added it to the Networked Blogs on Facebook and that's really helping my traffic stats.  I've also become quite active on Flickr and regularly post paintings among the many groups I participate in.  I've been leaving my virtual footprint all over the net, and even had a two-page article about my work in and online magazine.  I've been accepted into the Artists in Texas group (kind of a webring/co-op for Texas artists) and just need to pay my membership dues.  I think I'm starting to get to the point where Galleries and collectors can see that I'm serious about actively promoting my work again.
I think it's good to set goals, but part of the process is checking your progress towards those goals.  That's the part I've been kind of missing the mark on.  Every once in awhile it's good to re-focus on the target and clear our heads of all the extra junk that accumulates throughout the course of surviving in the real world each day.  I hope you've each had some success towards your own goals and resolutions, and remember, there's still alot of time left in the year to make it happen!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Winter Thaw

Winter Thaw, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.
As anyone who lives in Texas knows, this summer has been brutal! We've just had 40 straight days of 100+ degree temperatures with several days that topped off near 110! It's been so bad that Todd Brisbon from Tattoos by Todd here in Seagoville has been posting videos on Facebook of his rain dances around town. Here's my small effort to help with a little relief from the heat.

This past winter was really unusual for us here in the Dallas area. We had not one, but TWO major snow events! Snow is a rarity in North Texas, so I couldn't wait to get out and paint this new winter wonderland. I drove around for hours making sketches and taking photographs. I admit it was a bit reckless, especially since I don't have snow tires or chains, and yes, I did get stuck a couple of times. Luckily Texans are a friendly bunch and a few good neighbors helped me out with a push.

Well, with the heat this past month I've been looking for some relief, so I pulled out my reference material and set to work. With my a/c unit working full blast I painted this view just off of Hwy 175 near Crandall. I love this spot and return to it often throughout the year. The combination of the hillside with the tree line and the canal winding its way along like a snake is irresistable to me. I especially loved this spot in the snow. Snow has the wonderful effect of unifying the whole scene, and keeping a bit of color interest while maintaining the slightly overcast feeling is a challenge. It's amazing how many different tints of light blues, pinks, and oranges I discovered in the snow banks. The hint of blue sky and slight warming in the distance is the beginning of the thaw.  This is an oil painting on canvas and measures 18" x 24".

We're supposed to be back in the 100's again all week, and I enjoyed this snow scene so much I think I'll have to do a few more, at least until winter comes around and I start dreaming of travelling to the hot sand and salty breeze of the Gulf Coast again.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Island in the Clouds

Island in the Clouds, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.

There's a spot on Hwy 175 just past Seagoville where I often go to paint. It's just before the river where there's a group of trees on the hillside by a small creek. The area has recently been turned into a water reclamation project with rows of canals that give the effect of the salt marshes down near the coast. On this particular morning I arrived to see a brilliant display of clouds just over the tree line. Usually I focus more on the landscape itself, but this time I was entranced by the clouds. I painted a small, square version of this years ago in acrylic and donated it to an auction for deaf education. Here's a larger version (24" x 36") I just completed in oils. My original drawing and initial layer of color was pretty realistic, but as I went back to finish it today it turned into an excuse to play with my paint! The clouds at the top are fairly thick impasto and very loose in terms of brush strokes. Up close they disintigrate into painterly abstraction, but back away a few feet and they start to resolve into an image. I've been tentatively calling this painting "Island in the Clouds", but my daughter thinks it looks a bit like a cloud volcano. Maybe that would be a better name for it!

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Fallen

The Fallen, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.

Here's a new painting I just finished (still wet) but I just couldn't wait to share it. I'm pretty pleased with it, and it's one of the most successful large paintings I've done in a while. It's 24" x 36" and is oil on canvas. This is another image from my family vacation at Lake Mineral Wells. I think I've managed to have a nice marriage of subject and technique. These larger paintings are really making me miss my DSLR. It's in the shop, and it's very difficult to take good photos of oil paintings with a point and shoot.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Water Lillies (Last Kiss)

Water Lillies (Last Kiss), originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.

Here's one of the larger paintings I've been working on (24" x 30" oil on canvas.) When I first moved to Seagoville I spent many weekends driving around exploring the landscapes to get familiar with the territory. One of the first places I discovered was Cedar Creek Lake. It's about a 45 minute drive past Seagoville out Hwy 175. In the spring the water near Hwy 175 is literally blanketed with water lillies. I've always been drawn to the scene, but I wouldn't allow myself to paint them (too many references to the famous series by Monet.) A few years ago I did a couple of pastels that my wife loved, but I never finished them (they just seemed a little too "sweet" at the time.) Recently I was looking through some old files and found the pastels and some reference photos I took years ago. Since my wife and I had an anniversary coming up, I decided to paint a large water lillies painting as a surprise. Turns out I enjoyed it so much I'm planning to do a few more. This is a view from late in the season when Spring is giving way to the hot Texas summer. Many of the pads are getting a bit tattered at the edges and starting to brown at the fringe. Amidst all of this there's always still a few blooms that aren't ready to die yet. My wife loves Pearl Jam's cover of "Last Kiss" and it kind of seemed like an appropriate name for the couple of buds at the front that are in an embrace.

Caprock Canyon Pastel

Caprock Pastel, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.

Here's a small pastel of Caprock Canyon. I'm doing a few more pastels these days. The dryer feel of pastels seems appropriate for the canyon, and the reds and earth tones in pastel are so vivid. I think when I return to oils to paint Caprock again, I'm going to work on a larger scale. I've been doing a few larger pieces lately (Water Lillies at Cedar Creek Lake and some more images of Lake Mineral Wells) and I think the vast expanses of the canyons kind of scream for a larger size.