February '09  


next page...

FLIP featured artist

"The Joys of Plein Air Painting"

Although I enjoy doing studio work in oil, I especially have learned from painting plein air. I spent many years using photos for reference. There is nothing like going out on location and painting on the spot. The shadows in photos are usually just DARK, but in life, they are lavender, blue, etc. There are reflected colors and a whole world of information that you can't see unless you are there.

Mark (Kausler
, Catherine's husband) and I paint with a plein air group every week - a very enthusiastic bunch - some just learning and some experts.   We go to the mountains, beach, local landmarks in the city and work. Afterwards we have a critique. Sometimes we try to help a preservation cause by drawing attention to the beauty of the place. We've helped save some wonderful places from developers, such as the Eagle Rock. Sadly, many places we've painted throughout the years are gone now, nothing left but the paintings (or photos) to remember it. Like some of the plein air painters from the past (William Wendt, Edgar Payne, Guy Rose, Franz Bischoff, etc.), we feel that we are documenting a time and place in Southern California and the southwest in general. We all have different styles and it's fun to see 20 paintings with a separate take on one subject. We feel so lucky and happy just to be there. A photographer may stop and take some pictures for a few minutes, but we are there for maybe 2 to 3 hours and "soak up the atmosphere." I always remember people I talked to, sounds (birds, trains, etc.), the weather, when I look at each painting. We have been blown away, rained on, frozen and fried, but we sure had fun and learned from each other. As some have said, it's an "honest kind of art."

     I like to paint in a very loose style with bold brush strokes and "imaginative" colors like some of the French impressionists. I also love John Singer Sargent. I enjoyed reading Richard Schmid's book, Alla Prima, which is painting all at once, wet on wet. Although it's hard to be absolutely orthodox about this technique, it is a fresh and lively style that has influenced me greatly. It's a real challenge to do portraits, still life and landscapes and try to keep working in the wet paint.

    When it comes to plein air work, I have to paint quickly and catch the light and shadows before they change. I will sketch in burnt sienna and then put in the shadows in a burnt umber mixture. I love warm colors - reds, oranges, yellows - exaggerated to get away from the photographic look. The bright lights of buildings or cliffs (warm gold mixtures) go in quickly because they will be gone soon. The fastest I ever had to paint was in Monument Valley. The whole landscape changed in minutes.

Once the shapes are on the canvas, I don't usually alter them, because the whole composition is planned and based on that.   If you keep altering the light, you just confuse yourself. The painting of Cabo San Lucas (pictured) was painted with this in mind, so as not to lose the shapes of sunlight on the cliffs. When I'm traveling with my wet oil paintings in the trunk of the car, I use the "tray method". I put a smaller canvas panel inside the back of a larger stretched canvas. It sits on the easel well and I carry it around without getting paint everywhere. I store them in the trunk in layers. Everyone thinks I'm strange, but it works for me.

    When Mark and I were in Joshua Tree National Park we planned to do a sunset study, so we came back to a rock ridge formation around the same time every afternoon a few times to paint the shadows. On the last night we were there I had to work very fast to capture the last few orange-yellow rays of the sun as it disappeared behind our favorite ridge in about 5 minutes. I actually finished the painting in the twilight.

    In the studio, when I'm planning larger works, I make pencil studies and transfer them to stretched canvases. Since there is no hurry, I can take longer. Sometimes I'm enlarging a smaller piece that I did plein air. I can use the vibrant color that I caught on-site instead of only a dull photograph as reference.

    I still do cartooning and I get assignments from Caltech to do caricatures of scientists and professors. When I started drawing, at about 6, I was doing cartoons. My grandmother was a portrait painter and showed me how to use oil paints when I was 13. I loved the smell of them, although I use Gamsol (less toxic and less odor) now, instead of turpentine for a medium. I've tried not to asphyxiate myself more than necessary (Mark probably thinks I'm a little deranged even so). It's a good idea to have ventilation with oil (I never use acrylic-it dries too fast for me).

    Being involved with the California Art Club has been an incredible experience.   Many of those painters, some American, some from China, the Phillippines, and all around the world, are brilliant, and I've felt privileged to be friends with them and even display paintings with them. Their stories of hardship and eventual immigration to the U.S. are amazing and inspire us to another level of dedication to the artwork. I overheard one friend say to a comment that he is always getting better: "I live, eat, sleep and dream painting." We all hope to sell, but, of course, sales or not, we will do it anyway. If I'm not feeling good about something, I will go painting and it seems therapeutic. The trees are very kind to pose for me and forgiving of my inaccuracies.

    I'm lucky enough to be in the Tirage Gallery in Pasadena. It's a very prestigious gallery and they are hard working - often involved with supplying paintings for film sets and decorators, as well as collectors. They advertise in Southwest Art magazine every month. I have a miniscule website: home.earthlink.net/~c.hillart/ .

Catherine Hill Bio. for the California Art Club Gold Medal Show, 2009:

Catherine Hill graduated from the University of California with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree and is a free-lance artist in the Los Angeles area. She has done book covers and interior illustrations, cartoons and comic strips, including her own book, Mad Raccoons, which has been collected into a trade paperback. Her raccoon characters also appeared in Nickelodeon Magazine. She has illustrated various publications for Caltech, and has done production paintings for several films. Hill is noted for her varied posters, such as those for theatrical performances, and music and animation festivals. She is also known for her series of fantasy paintings, often depicting allegorical subjects. Many of her caricature studies have been published, including one of director Martin Scorsese.   In the last few years, Hill has devoted more time to her oil painting. In addition to painting still-lifes and portraits, she has won several awards in plein air competitions. Hill was accepted into the Contemporary Masters Art Show at the Pasadena Museum of History in 2007 and 2009, and has been an artist-in-residence at the Langham Huntington Hotel in 2008.


Cabo San Lucas

Huntington Beach

Laguna Beach

Point Dume, Malibu


Sunset Cypress

Hollywood Boulevard

©.2009 Moore Studios, Inc
contact FLIP