PAWA: As an introduction to the painting community of the Northwest, how did you develope yourself into a painter?

Rick: Honestly, the progress has been long and slow. I first fully dedicated myself to plein air painting in 1985 but had no formal instruction other than a few opportunities to paint with my friend Dan Pinkham. He was already in the forefront of the plein air movement and was extremely helpful in teaching me some basics. However, he was on the road a lot and we would only get together once or twice a year. During the rest of the time, I was out on location experimenting and learning through trial and error. I was not aware of anyone else who was painting en plein air so I was really cut off. Those were years where I would destroy about 9 out of every 10 paintings I would do. Along the way though, progress did come.

Persistence was the key for me during those early years and building up a lot of mileage started to create more confidence when I went out on location. I also started to learn to choose my subjects more carefully, rather than just go out and paint whatever I found at the moment.

PAWA: Would you elaborate on this stage?

Rick: The more advanced preparation I did the more I increased my chances of doing a successful painting. I started going out with my sketchbook and making pencil drawings of subjects that interested me. I would explore different angles and lighting conditions to determine what worked best. What really helped me though was the notes I would write about these potential subjects. It helped me to discover why I was really attracted to a particular subject and what aspects of it really were important to me. I would record the mood and feeling of a particular area or past memories that tied me to a place. These notes became invaluable to me as I began my painting because they kept me focused. Once I identified the key subjects and the overall direction I wanted the piece to take, I could then make editorial decisions about how to compose and excute the painting to best support that overall statement, eliminating anything that didn't contribute to that direction.
I am still learning to do this more effectively but my journal notes and sketches become the blueprint that help me get there.

PAWA: What were the milestones?

Rick: The first big milestone came in 1996, when I was introduced to the California Art Club. This is an organization that is composed of professional painters who regularly get together and paint and show together. For the first time I was able to see how other artists worked and it really helped me grow. Then in 1997, along with six other artists we formed the Portuguese Bend Artist Colony. We started to put on annual exhibitions to help raise funds and public awareness for the local land conservancy. This was my first real opportunity to show my work publicly and it forced me to try and improve. I think seeing your work along side other artists is extremely helpful. It can be painful but it is also very instructive.

PAWA: There are a lot of plein air painters but not many paint at night. How did you become interested in capturing nocturnal subjects and light?

Rick: I did my first night painting back in the early 1990's. Dan Pinkham, Amy Sidrane (another member of our Artist Colony) and I went out and painted at night on our local golf course. We took Coleman laterns and placed them on the ground next to our easels. It was really a lot of guess work because all the colors looked like varying shades of gray. While it was really a challenge, I was hooked. I loved being out late at night and experiencing a familiar subject under such different conditions. There is a mystery and excitement that is truly exhilarating. It reminds me of when I was very young and go out on Halloween. There was a sense of magic in the air. I quickly discovered that I was not as interested in painting the moon itself. That seemed to be too romantic a theme for me. Instead, I loved painting the effects of moonlight on objects: the deep, dark shadows where something unknown might hide and the moonlight revealing only certain aspects of a subject. The
whole thing is just intoxicating.

PAWA: How does this differ from what you would look for in daytime subject?

Rick: It's interesting in that some subjects don't really interest me in daytime; but at night they come alive with an almost scary intensity. I love that. It has to have a sense of mystery for me. I have done the typical romantic moonlight painting; but I usually will discard them. The ones that really work for me are the ones that have that feeling of Halloween.

PAWA: Please take us through the process of painting by moonlight.

Rick: Most of my nocturne subjects have been thoroughly scouted out before I ever start painting. I will visit several potential locations during a full moon and make notes and sketches. Then I will decide from those preliminary drawings what size and shape canvas I want to work with. Occasionally I will rub a dark maroon wash over the canvas to give it a good tone. I will do this a few days ahead of time so that it will be completely dry before I go out. Other times I just leave the canvas white. I use all the same equipment as I would use during the daytime with the exception of the umbrella of course. I now use small clamp-on book lights that you can purchase at most bookstores. I place two of them on my canvas and one or two on my palette.

My palette of colors is the same as when I paint during the day. Depending on where I am painting, I will sometimes make arrangements to have someone accompany me. Some of the locations I work are fairly remote and not always that safe so it is nice to have someone else there who is aware of what is happening around us. I will usually spend only two sessions on a night painting. During a full moon phase, the moon will come up about an hour later each night so the light that it casts on your subject will not always be the same. Therefore I only paint for two consecutive nights. Whatever is finished in that time is what I go with. Consequently, my nocturne pieces are generally more loose and quickly done than my daytime paintings.

PAWA: What kind of unique experiences does night painting bring?

Rick: Painting a location at night gives you a different viewpoint on a subject and a greater sense of intimacy with that location than you would otherwise have. After all, you are seeing it in a condition that few people see, especially if it is very late at night. You come away with a feeling of real connection to it, like you have been let in on some special secret about it that no one else knows. You also will have experiences with the nocturnal animals of that area that you would not otherwise see during the day. One night when I was out on this open
field under a full moon, an owl suddenly lit off a branch high above me and came swooping down right over my head. For the next several minutes it flew silently over the field behind me skimming just a few feet above the ground. It was an incredible thing to watch and such an inspiration that I named the painting "Owl Moon" after a children's book I used to read to my kids.

PAWA: What would you advise someone who wants to try out night painting?

Rick: I think it helps to have a lot of daytime plein air work under your belt first. It will help you when you go to mix your colors. A lot of what you do at night is based more on faith than actually seeing. You don't really know what colors you have until you bring it indoors, so you just tell yourself that I know these colors produce this effect in daylight so I trust that it will do the same at night. Sometimes you bring it indoors and have some surprises and so you might try to make some minor adjustments. For the most part though, what I do on location is what stays.


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