Thursday, September 29, 2011

More Giants of Texas, the Sam Houston sculpture in Hunstville, TX

"Sam Houston"
Mark Nesmith
Oil on Canvas
10" x 8"
Click here to buy this painting.
I guess I must have big Texans on my mind.  After finishing the painting of Big Tex from the State Fair of Texas I started a small canvas of the giant statue of Sam Houston in Huntsville.  Anyone who’s travelled I-45 S to Houston is familiar with the towering concrete sculpture named “A Tribute to Courage.”  The statue stands 67-ft tall and sits on a 10-ft tall base.  It’s billed as the world’s tallest statue of an American hero. 
Huntsville’s own David Adickes created the sculpture from concrete with steel reinforcing. Adickes later spent several years creating the giant US President heads at Presidents Park in South Dakota and Virginia.  The statue is assembled from ten different sections and weighs 25-tons.  Sam Houston is pretty much a household name to most Texans.  He led the Texas army to victory against Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto after the tragic defeat at the Alamo.  He served as President of the Republic of Texas and later became the Governor of the State of Texas and a US Senator.
If you take exit 109 off of I-45 and follow the signs there’s a visitor’s center/gift shop that has replica’s of the statue and other Sam Houston memorabilia for sale.  Behind the shop there’s a wooded trail that leads to the statue.  Along the way by a small ampitheater there’s a large version of the face from the statue to pose with for pictures.  My kids and I love to stop here on our trips down to Houston and Beaumont.  It’s a fun place to get out of the car and stretch your legs, and they enjoy posing with the face of Sam Houston on the trail and acting like they’re picking his nose.  One time my band mates and I stopped at the statue on our way to a gig in Houston.  We hoisted my good friend and former bass player onto the base of the sculpture and took pictures of him with Sam’s huge foot.  It’s amazing how hard it is to get a grown man on top of a 10-ft tall base without a ladder!
The painting measure 10” x 8” and is oil paint on stretched canvas and was painted wet-on-wet, or alla prima.  It was a challenge making such a small painting of such a huge monument to a Texas legend, but alot of fun! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas

"Big Tex"
Mark Nesmith
Oil on Canvas
10" x 8"
Click here to purchase this painting.

Today is the first day of Fall, and that means it’s State Fair time again in Texas. The annual State Fair of Texas is held at Dallas’ historic Fair Park and has been a favorite vacation spot and tourist attraction since it started in 1886.  The State Fair of Texas is the largest fair in the United States with 2,618,500 people attending in 2010.  Since his debut at the 1952 fair, Big Tex has welcomed all those visitors with his booming “Howdy, folks!”  He stands 52 feet tall, wears size 70 boots, a 75 gallon hat, a size 180/181 shirt, and sports a 284W/185L XXXXXL pair of Dickies jeans (I bet my wife is thinking “I’m glad I don’t have to wash his clothes!”) 
Big Tex is actually made from papier mache and was originally a giant Santa Claus created to encourage holiday shopping in Kerens, Texas.  R.L. Thornton purchased the Santa in 1951 and had Dallas artist Jack Bridges turn him into a cowboy.  He’s had many makeovers through the years, including a nose job in 1953, a mechanical moving mouth in 1959, and a waving hand in 1997.  Finally his head was animated in 2000 to allow it to turn. 
This is an 8” x 10” oil painting on stretched canvas and was painted alla prima in one session.  I’ve painted him against a deep blue sky with just a hint of the flag pole and tether lines below for a bit of scale. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Evening at Cedar Creek Lake

Evening at Cedar Creek Lake, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.
As promised, here's another painting of the water lillies at Cedar Creek Lake. This is a smaller painting than the first (12" x 12"), and is taken from a calm and tranquil evening spent there this past summer. The fallen logs in the top corner are what first grabbed my attention. I loved the way the lilly pads seemed to surround them, almost like they were laying seige. The logs are starting to be overcome by the weeds around them. It seems like nature always reclaims her own.

Click here to purchase this painting. Please visit to view more of my artwork.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Evolution of a Painter and the Stages of Painting Part I - Initial drawing and composition

"Twisted" (drawing stage)
Mark Nesmith
Charcoal on canvas
18" x 24"
Recently I've had a few people ask about my painting techniques and process, and while I don't believe any of my methods are really unusual, I'm happy to share what I know.  First let me say that I have at one point or another explored just about every painting technique out there.  I spent a period early on working on a detailed, tonal underpainting or grisaille, similar to the techniques of the old masters.  This taught me the importance of tonal values.  Then I became enamored with Cezanne's brick-like stroke and spent a year painting large canvases of figures in the landscape.  I learned how a paint stroke could indicate planes, and the importance of positive and negative space.  A couple of years later I was painting entirely with palette knives and focusing on large masses of color.  I did countless studies using a grey card to isolate colors and learn how they interact and affect our perception of neighboring hues.  After moving to Dallas I worked in an abstract, almost non-objective manner for awhile.  I was painting images inspired by satellite photographs of the earth and other planets by pouring and dripping thin layers of paint.  I re-discovered the beauty of thin, transluncent veils of color.  I then abandoned oil painting for a few years and only worked in pastels.  To this day I believe most of my understanding of color in a painting comes layering strokes of soft pastels. I gradually returned to "realism" and to the Texas landscapes that have always resonated with me.  When I came back to oil painting a couple of years ago, all of those years of exploration and discovery were absorbed and combined in a very intuitive and natural process.

I generally prefer starting on a toned canvas, usually something in the orange, yellow, or red family.  I love the complex interplay of the undertones showing through thin glazes (what alot of painters refer to as a "glowing" quality.)  Most of the time I'll do a simple charcoal drawing to set the basic composition.  For this painting of a twisted Juniper tree at Caprock Canyon I made a fairly detailed drawing.  Many painters complete their initial drawing in thinly diluted paint (I used to do the same), but I prefer charcoal for a couple of reasons: it's quick and very natural to my hand, and as I paint I can make changes very easily. The charcoal smudges and erases easily.  It essentially vanishes under (or into) the paint, so I don't feel tied down to the drawing.  I don't like feeling like I'm completing a paint-by-numbers canvas.  I generally only draw the shapes of colors and values, not so much detail.  Most of the time my drawing stage looks more like the mountain in the background than the tree up front.

Sometimes I'll start painting right away, but with this painting I let it sit for a week or two.  I've been wavering on the composition.  I really wanted to emphasize the twisted, contorted shape of the tree in the foreground.  I wanted it to seem a bit claustrophobic, almost as if the very air around it is forcing it into this agonizing form.  I often attach human traits to elements of the landscape, and while I rarely place people in my landscape paintings I generally feel that elements like this tree add a figurative touch.  I also tried to play up the gentle repetition of shapes found between the slope of the mountain and the curve of the tree trunk.  I went back and forth for awhile about whether or not the tree needed more space around it, but ultimately decided I like the cramped feeling.  It seems to really play up the twisted nature of the Juniper, and more and more the tree reminds me of someone kneeling down to pray, seeking relief from its pain and suffering.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Across the Lake at the Post Oak Preserve (en plein air)

"Across the Lake"
Mark Nesmith
Oil on Canvas
12" x 24"
With the busy schedule I keep these days, it's not often that I get to paint outdoors on location (or as the French put it, en plein air.)  When I was in college and just learning to paint I spent many mornings, afternoons, and even a few nights outside at the easel painting the landscape.  I believe the insight into light, color, and atmosphere gained from those formative painting excursions was invaluable.  While I am certainly not an anti-photographic artist, cameras just don't do justice to the subtle interplays and depth of color and the sense of space one senses when working from life.  My habits these days demand working in the studio, both for artistic and practical reasons, but when my family went out of town for a few days without me this summer I couldn't pass up the opportunity to strike out with a folding easel and a box of paints.

Near my home in Seagoville is the Post Oak Preserve, a densely wooded section of old growth oaks that is used and maintained by the Dallas ISD.  The Preserve is part of the D.I.S.D. Environmental Learning Center which hosts seminars and educational field trips there.  Throughout the woods are hiking trails (some paved for cycling on the weekends), along with numerous small clearings.  The Preseve is populated with all manner of wildlife and makes a wonderful family hike that's close to home.  Near the south end of the preserve is a small 19-acre lake. 

I hiked through the woods to the lake, easel and canvas in hand and paints and brushes in my back pack.  I set up in a small clearing and spent several hours painting the opposite shore.  Painting outside on location demands a quick approach.  The light is constantly changing.  I find it helpful to mass in the main shadows and color scheme very broadly right at the beginning.  To complete this size canvas in a short time I minimized details and kept the brush loosey goosey.  I tend to premix several colors and variations on my palette to speed things along as well.   Painting outdoors has it's charms, and it can be a very meditative and peaceful way to spend the day.  I don't expect that I'll turn into an open air impressionist anytime soon, but I do find that the plein air practice really pays off when I'm back in my studio.

Sand Trap (Dreaming of the Gulf Coast shore)

Sand Trap, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.
I've been missing the Gulf Coast alot lately so I decided to paint myself a little beach vacation. Whenever I go to Galveston, I tend to spend most of my time near the state park away from the seawall. The beaches are less crowded and generally less manicured. I like the rather natural appearance. One of the things I love about the beach is how the sand has a kind of memory. The tire tracks in the distance reveal the past presence of people, even though you don't see them anymore. But just like our own memories, eventually the tide comes and the footprints vanish. This is the largest beach painting I've done in quite awhile (24" x 30"), and I must admit that I really enjoyed playing in the painted sand. Maybe I should paint a sand castle too!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Early Morning at Caprock

Early Morning at Caprock, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.

The heat at Caprock Canyon in the summer was brutal, but early in the mornings it was actually quite nice. We'd wake every morning to our tent shaking in a huge breeze. With the light just starting to creep in at the horizon there's lots of wonderful contrasts in the colors, deep oranges and reds in the cliff faces and cool greens and blues in the foliage. I bought a few pre-stretched canvases in several different sizes and have been looking for the right view for this 12" x 24" canvas. I think this almost panoramic view of the canyon fits perfectly!

I've been looking at Vermeer alot lately and love his use of a shadowy foreground set against a brightly lit wall from the window. I've tried a similar idea here with the foreground using cooler and darker colors set against the warm, brightly lit hills in the distance.