Thursday, November 14, 2013

Painting At The Historic Daniels & Fisher Tower in Denver

This past September I was given the opportunity to paint from the observation deck on the 14th floor of the Daniels and Fisher Tower in downtown Denver.  Built in 1910 and modeled after St. Mark's Bell Tower in Venice, Italy, the D&F tower was the tallest structure between the Mississippi and California for decades.  

This observation deck is not open to the public but a generous supporter of the arts has offices in the building and extended this offer to a handful of artists.

I arrived at 8AM and stepped out onto the three foot wide balcony for a wonderful view of downtown Denver.  This deck wraps all the way around the building, allowing me to choose from several views.  It was clear, however, that the soft, cool morning light streaming between the buildings and the atmosphere that builds as your eye travels up the long street was what I wanted to capture.

The street in the painting is 16th and it is closed to cars.  Instead, trees are planted down the center with nice, deep sidewalks down either side and in the middle, under the trees.

I brought several different shaped panels to paint on but felt this 20"x10" format was the best fit.  Compositionally, I used the long, dark rectangle on the's a building of course, but for my painting I left it as a single dark tone with only a few suggestions of windows and ledges.  This framed the street, gave scale to the buildings and contrasted with the light and detail in the street.  Likewise, the distant buildings are suggested tonally but without detail.  These distant buildings create an interesting shape and blend with the sky to build the feeling of atmosphere.  The corner of the rooftop in the lower left points the view into the picture.  From there the delicate shapes of light take your eye on a journey up the street.  People walking, the colored awning and details on the building facades on the right give us some places to stop and look at more closely.  It is a city waking up, people enjoying a quiet walk and merchants setting up for business.

The View!

These are the artists I painted with from left: Mikael Olson, Ken Valastro, Cheryl St John, Terrie Lombardi.  Click their names to check out their art.  We were having a toast with our wine served up in bowls since we forgot glasses!  Wine in bowls, pizza, and a day of inspired painting with wonderful people....I'm blessed!

"View of 16th From The D&F Tower" - ©Scott Ruthven
20"x10" Oil on canvas panel 2013

And, as if the painting experience wasn't wonderful enough, the painting was juried into the 2013 Colorado Plein Air Arts Fest (The country's largest urban event of its kind) where it won the "Prudent Man, Award of Excellence" and sold on opening night!

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Also, consider signing up for my newsletter.  I will be offering special pricing on a bunch of paintings for the holiday season soon - available to my newsletter subscribers first!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How To Make a Paint Box and Panel Support - Part II

This is the second in a series of posts on how to make your own portable painting palette and panel holder for plein air painting. 

After staining and coating the panels with 2-3 coats of polyurethane the next step is to attach the side trays to the center palette with some hinges.  I clamped the side tray/lid pieces to the center palette in their closed position then placed the hinges where I wanted them and drilled pilot holes for their screws.  Repeat this for the tray on the opposite side.

Once the hinges are in place I stuck one vinyl feet/bumper next to each hinge as shown below.  These provide a stop for the side trays to rest against when in the open position (second picture below).  This is important to ensure the side trays don't open past 180º.... because if they do then anything you rest on them (turps, brushes, cellphone) will slide off!

Now you need some way to attach your new paint box to your tripod.  I cut two "L" shapes out of 3/4" plywood (I'll call these the "hooks" from now on).  Since each tripod is different I suggest you hold up your new paint box to your tripod to get an idea of how big the hooks should be and where on your paint box they should be mounted.

Once the hooks are cut out you will need to drill a hole through them and into the side of the palette portion of the paint box.  I used a 1/4" threaded bolt that is 3" long to attach my hooks.  Therefore, I drilled a 1/4" hole through the hook and palette (see below).

Now these 1/4"x3" bolts will need to screw into something.  So, I decided to use a product called a "T-Nut" pictured below.  Basically, these are female threaded parts that have four spikes that bite into the wood and provide a strong hold.

I inserted one T-Nut into each of the 1/4" holes just drilled.  Insert them from the INSIDE of the palette and then use a C-Clamp to push the spikes on the T-Nut into the wood.

Now go ahead and thread the bolts through the hooks and screw them into the holes with T-nuts on the palette.

Now, take the palette box to a glass store and have them cut a piece of glass to fit inside the palette.  Cutting glass is easy and if you have a cutter and feel comfortable doing it then just pick up a piece of glass from the hardware store and cut it yourself.  You don't want the glass to fit too tightly or you risk breaking it.  I left a 1/32" gap around the perimeter of the glass.

I then took some grey oil paint straight from the tube and smeared it on the perimeter of the glass surface filling the gap between the glass and palette box and leaving a thin coating on about 1" of the glass.  I took a straight edge razor blade to scrape off excess paint from the glass and leave this nice straight edge before the paint dried.  This coat of paint serves two purposes - 1. filling the gap so paint and mineral spirits don't seep under the glass and 2. providing a surface for the puddles of paint to grip to so they don't slide across the slick glass.  Let this paint dry thoroughly before you start using the palette.

And here's how your paint box / palette should look when open! 

One other note:  I counter-sunk magnets into the ends of the side trays (pictured below).  When you close the trays the magnets pull together and keep the box closed and when the trays are in the open position, the magnets are a great place to stick your palette knife to.  I bought the magnets then drilled a shallow hole the same size for the magnet to sit in.  I then used a two part epoxy to glue the magnets into the holes. These "earth magnets" are strong so you need epoxy to keep them from pulling out when they stick to one another.  Magnets are a nice touch but are optional.  You could use a clasp or some other type of simple latch to keep the box closed when transporting.

That completes the palette / paint box.  In my next post I will show you how to make the painting panel support.
Closed palette box shown here hanging from my tripod

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How To Make An Inexpensive Paint Box and Panel Holder for Plein Air Painting - Part I

Ok, so here's a way to make a very functional, nice looking paint box and panel holder for under $80 bucks.  This is the type of setup I hook on to my tripod for painting plein air.

This paint box and panel holder can be made inexpensively and relatively quickly.  However, you will need to use a table saw, hand saw, drill and electric sander.  Please be sure you follow all safety recommendations for these is much harder to paint if you cut off your hands.

You can buy this type of setup already made from James Coulter and I highly recommend you do so because he makes great product and you won't have to labor over it to save a few bucks.  I however, happen to enjoy woodworking and love to customize stuff to my needs so I made my own.  Remember the adage: Do as I say, not as I do.

Here is a photo of the finished palette box and panel holder:

To make this project as easy as possible I'm using two Blick brand cradled panels for the palette box; one becomes the mixing palette and the other is cut in half to become the side trays / lid.

In this case I used 11"x14" panels but 9"x12" would make a nice box too.

The panels are shown below...the one on the right is in its wrapping still and you are seeing the front surface.  The one on the left has been unwrapped and I'm showing the back side here.  Note, when I took this photo I had already applied a grey paint to the inside of the back which I will discuss more below.

Cutting your panel
Take one of the panels and measure out and mark a point exactly half way along the long edge.  (14" long panel, so 7" is the midpoint - you're welcome.)  Cut this one panel in half at the midpoint mark you made.  You can use a handsaw but the table saw will give a precise cut.
The one panel after being cut in half

The photo below shows how the two halves will be oriented on either side of the second panel.  The second panel is NOT cut in half since it becomes the center of your palette box.  The backside of this panel becomes the palette where you will squirt out your colors and mix paint while painting.

One note: when you cut the first panel in half, if you used a table saw, the blade removed 1/8" of wood.  So, when you put the two halves back together they now measure approximately 13 7/8".  You will need to trim 1/8" of an inch off of the outside short edge of the remaining panel so it measures      11"x13 7/8".  That will make this bottom palette the same size as the two halves put together since they will become the lid to the palette when closed.  Sorry if that's confusing :-(

I prefer my palette be a mid-tone grey to help me better judge color mixes.  Therefore, I used some grey oil paint to tone this palette.  Simply paint it on the inside back surface and rub it in a bit with a cloth to  remove the excess  paint and reveal a bit of the wood grain.

The center palette with the two "wings" set out on either side.

Sanding, staining and coating with polyurethane

The cradled panels come nicely sanded but you might need to smooth the edges from the cut you made.  Just lightly sand the cut edges with 150 grit sandpaper so any splinters are removed.

Now, blow or wipe away all dust from the surfaces to prepare the wood for stain.  To customize the look, I chose to first stain the outside perimeter with a stain (red in this case).  This is optional...skip it if you want and just use the polyurethane.  After the stain had dried overnight I put a coat of polyurethane on all surfaces EXCEPT the grey palette surface that has oil paint on it.  The polyurethane probably won't stick to the oil paint and I will be putting a piece of glass on it later anyway.  You will have to apply the poly to one side of the panel at a time so that can dry before you flip them over to coat the other side.  The first coat of polyurethane will take a day to dry since it is soaking into the wood.  Subsequent coats will dry in six hours or less (depending on the temp and humidity).  I put three coats of polyurethane on. 

Here are the products I used:

Stay tuned for part II where we will cut some more pieces and assemble the box!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Paint'n Cows

Lunchtime | 6"x8" | Oil on mounted linen

There's something so therapeutic about painting cows grazing in a pasture.  I painted this group as they meandered around a lush, tree-lined field.  At times they would come up to the fence right next to me and check me out.  Of course I would talk to I talk to any animal that comes up to see what I'm doing.  The time spent in nature observing these creatures makes me so thrilled to be an artist.

Thanks for your Facebook "likes" too!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Matterhorn Commission

10"x8" Oil  

  This piece was a commission done from a photo reference.  I've never been to Switzerland so the photo was all I had to go on.  Since the mountain is the focal point I put the foreground in shadow and suggested some rooftops so as to acknowledge the characteristic mountain chalet in the photo but not let it compete with the focal point.

Fun to do and the clients loved it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Light Amid the Forest

Scott Ruthven
A Light Amid the Forest
8"x6" Oil on linen panel
Sometimes you just have to look up for inspiration.  I was walking along a stream in the foothills West of Boulder Colorado looking for something to paint when I looked up to see this one branch of an Aspen tree glowing with light.  Against the cool, dark forest interior, the leaves themselves seemed to be the source of the light.  I set up my gear as fast as possible and went to work to capture the fleeting effect.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Winter Silhouette

Winter Silhouette
9"x12" Oil on linen panel  

  This painting is all about the flowing lines of the tree and it's shadow along with the contrast of warm and cool colors.

Thanks for looking.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

San Pellegrinos & Lime

Denver Museum Residences Rooftop Terrace Garden
San Pellegrinos & Lime
10"x8" | Oil
I was invited to paint atop an exclusive rooftop garden at the Museum Residences in downtown Denver.  I, along with a few other artists, enjoyed a catered lunch up there and then painted at our leisure for the afternoon.  I painted the above view of the radiant umbrellas and bold diagonals in the architecture and landscaping.  This property is adjacent to the Denver Art Museum which is an architectural marvel who's style elements are echoed in the Museum Residences property. 


The Denver Art Museum Photo by Daniel Libeskind via

That evening, residents and some guests who are well connected in the Denver art world were invited up to watch us paint a quick-draw piece and enjoy great food and wine.  Our completed quick-draw paintings were then auctioned off.

My quick-draw piece
11th Avenue Hotel | 10"x8" | Oil

I entered "San Pellegrinos & Lime" in the Colorado Plein Air Festival competition and it was awarded 2nd place in the professional artists category!

San Pellegrinos & Lime
Colorado Plein Air Arts Fest 2nd place winner 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mt. Audubon - Indian Peaks Wilderness Colorado

Mt. Audubon
12"x12" Oil
This scene I painted looking at Mt. Audubon from Brainard Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado.  As usual this time of year, the day started with beautiful blue skies and brilliant light.  By late afternoon the clouds had formed and the scene had totally changed.  This is a wonderful area to hike.

Thanks for looking!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Historic Ryssby Church in Longmont, Colorado

Ryssby Church
8"x10" Oil
I found this wonderful old church outside of Longmont Colorado a couple of weeks ago.  It happened to be late afternoon and the colors were wonderful so I pulled over, set up my painting gear and painted like mad until dark.  The beautiful roses and other flowers planted in the bed along the back wall drew me in; they were so vibrant against the aged stone wall.  I also like the sunset light reflecting on the side windows and the purple mountains.  What a beautiful and serene place.

This church was part of the first Swedish settlement in Colorado back in 1882 and was modeled after the settler's church in Ryssby, Sweden.

Here is a link to the church's web page:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An Update From Plein Air Rockies 2013

I'm very fortunate to be one of the 34 artists from the USA and Russia competing in this year's "Plein Air Rockies" event in Estes Park, Colorado.  We paint from August 10th through the 22nd and all our paintings go on display and for sale on August 25th.

I've been painting in Rocky Mountain National Park and in the town of Estes Park and have thoroughly enjoyed it!

Here's I'm just setting up to paint a boat scene.  I had to really focus to complete this big painting before the afternoon storms rolled in so no in-progress shots.  

 This is my finished painting at Milner's pass...10,000'+ elevation in Rocky Mountain National Park.

In progress shot of the Estes Park Aerial Tramway:

An Estes Park native!

I'll post more as the event wraps up.  Wish me luck on the competition and sale!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Juried Shows and Positive Affirmations

It's a busy time of year and I'm so blessed with the opportunities that have come my way in the past year.  I dropped off three paintings for the PAAC show opening in Denver this coming Friday night.  As I looked at the other art being dropped off I realized how incredible it was and just how lucky I am to have three paintings juried into this peer group.

In addition, I've been accepted to paint in the Plein Air Rockies 2013 in Estes Park Colorado.  This event starts next week but participating artists were allowed two paintings to display / sell in a "Prelude show".  This gives patrons an opportunity to see some of our finished work while we are out painting for the plein air show.  I took two additional paintings with me on the day of the drop off and mentioned to the show chair I had extra paintings if they needed to fill more wall space, to which she replied "well, bring them in with the others and we'll take a look".  After having unwrapped only two of the four she said "oh ya, we'll take all four!"  This kind of positive affirmation about my work feels so wonderful.  Let's face it, our family and friends will always offer kind words of encouragement but acceptance into juried shows, positive comments from strangers and of course, sales really provide me the unbiased feedback that says I must be doing something right.

I'll post more on these events as they come and go.

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Three Tips For Painting Better Nocturnes

As I paint more nocturnes I'm learning more about what works.  Here are some key learnings I want to share with you.

1. Have a good light - I use a book light with two LED's and two stages of brightness.  The clip end houses the 2 AAA batteries.  Get a light with a balanced light color...not too blue or yellow.  New, high output bulbs produce a nice white light. 

2. Pre-tone your canvas a dark color.  I'm still experimenting with this but find that if I tone my canvas black or some dark mix of an earth tone and ultramarine blue and let that dry it is much easier to start the painting.  If you start with a white surface you have to lay down a lot of darks...which will muddy up your lights when you go to put them in.  Much of this struggle is eliminated if you begin with a dark, dry surface.

3. Slow down and enjoy the painting.  Take time to let your eyes acclimate to the darkness.  There is so much subtle variation and there is no hurry since the light sources are fixed (signs, street lights) and you don't have any moving shadows.  Basically, depending on the scene, you might have all night so take your time to really see the color and value relationships and work to get those right on your canvas the first time.  Having said this, I have been happily painting a scene when all of a sudden the main lit sign in my painting shut off for the night.  Oh well, that happens....just pack it up and try again another night.

I painted this scene of a railroad crossing out in the country.  It took me about 3 hours and I wrapped it up at about 1:30AM.  I parked off the side of the dirt road and painted from inside of the bed of my pickup.  One car passed me in three hours...otherwise there was no other light source and no people anywhere around.  It was so peaceful and relaxed.  I learned a lot by taking my time on this one.

"1AM at the Crossing" © Scott Ruthven
8"x10" |  Oil on linen panel

Thursday, July 11, 2013

How I Paint Fast Changing Light Effects

There's this old farmhouse in my town that has long been abandoned and new development is encroaching upon it.  There are many paintings I want to make from this subject but of particular interest is how, at sunset, the pine tree next to the house casts cool purple shadows on the warm red brick.  The problem is that this light only lasts 30 minutes at most and a camera isn't able to capture the colors.   I could do some color studies in the field and paint the finished piece in the studio....but I wanted to paint the entire picture en plein air.

So, how do I capture a fleeting light effect en plein air? 

Pre-work: I went to the location several months ago and did a series of sketches in my sketchbook to work out possible compositions.  At home I decided which one I liked best and further developed the value structure in pencil.  With the composition decided upon I waited for a night with clear skies and potential for a nice sunset then went out and set up to paint.

Painting:  I arrived an hour before the light I was looking for so I had time to set up and do a detailed drawing on my painting surface of the composition I had worked out.  Next, I mixed some piles of local colors to correspond with the major elements (sky, tree, house in light, house in shade, foreground grasses).  The colors would still need some modification to match the effect of the sunset lighting but the relative values of the piles were accurate to my vision of how I wanted the painting to look and this is most important.  These pre-mixed piles help me to paint faster because my starting point is almost already a match.  It's important to adjust color without significantly changing the value of a pile...otherwise you risk messing up the underlying value structure of the painting.
As soon as the sunset light was right and the cast shadows from the pine tree were in place I started painting.  I adjusted colors and painted patches in the sky and building...focusing on the relationship of sun and shadows on the building.  I didn't try to finish, just get the major shapes in and color relationships correct.

Wrap-up:  Soon, the sun was behind the mountains and the scene had changed from my concept.  However, the sky remained light enough for another hour to keep painting.  At this stage I focused mostly on the painting and completing the colors and patterns I had put down during sunset.  I only refer back to the actual subject for information on details like windows and trim.  As it became dark, I set up my book light which allowed me to finish the painting.  My book light provides a nice white light that doesn't add a color cast to the colors.  This little light enabled me to stay the extra 30 minutes and complete the painting.

I'd love to hear from you so leave a comment!

Oh, and don't for get to "like" it or "share it" or "pin it" or "+1" it....ugh...but it does help me build my business!  Thanks.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Four Paintings, Four Locations, in Fourteen Hours - PAAC Painting Marathon

Plein Air Artists Colorado held their first dawn to dusk painting marathon Saturday and I decided it would be a good "workout" for me.  We started at 5:30AM with a sunrise painting in Denver, Colorado.  Next we drove to the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheater for a second painting.  After  lunch we drove further into the mountains for an afternoon painting then ended up in Evergreen, Colorado for our final evening painting and show.  It was great fun!  Here's my work for the day, in chronological order:

Denver at Dawn
6.5"x6.5" Oil on Linen

Glowing Light at Red Rocks
12"x12" Oil on panel
Spring Flower on the Forest Floor
6"x8" Oil on linen

Last Light on the 18th Hole
9"x12" Oil on wooden panel

The Artist's work on display

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