A Floral Landscape Painting: Austin Bluebonnets


‘Bluebonnets 2014′ — Floral Landscape Painted by Valerie Rawlings

I was motivated to do this floral landscape painting by the amazing wildflowers that have sprung up all along our Austin highways. I’m surprised the flowers are so showy given our lack of rain this winter — but here they are!!!

Spring Floral Landscape — Painting Bluebonnets

Every year the Bluebonnets seem more impossibly beautiful than the year before. Was that color always so intense? How can there be so many on that rocky steep hillside? Yes indeed, welcome to spring in Texas! The older I get, the more I love seeing these wildflowers that seem to defy the elements and put an unbelievable show just for our pleasure!

I really enjoy painting floral landscapes; and this one is my salute to the 2014 Bluebonnets. These were growing right in my neighbor’s yard, so I was able to get a great close up photo without fear of being hit by a car!

Later in my studio, I was mixing paints and trying to get the colors right; and I realized how purple the blooms really are. And there’s some lavender and pink in the bloom too! Oh, I love these flowers. I always start to sing a song I learned in elementary school:

Blue, Bluebonnets oh so blue.
Your bright eyes are shining thru the silvery dew.
I know you’re a dolly offered for the rain.
I know you’ll return again — to Texas in the spring.

The Hazards of Painting Floral Landscapes

Despite the drought, this should be a good year for floral landscape painting in Austin. We’ve already had some great Indian Paintbrush blooms, and plenty of Bluebonnets. And I spotted some awesome red Poppies yesterday! These are the most likely suspects for my next floral landscape painting. But they’re alongside Bullick Hollow Road, a heavily traveled road with a narrow shoulder. So I’ll have to avoid rush hour and get my photo quickly to avoid getting run over.

Well, they say the best artists are risk-takers ;)


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Floral Still Life Painting (4/8/14): ‘Two White Roses’



‘Two White Roses’ — floral still life painting by Valerie Rawlings

April Floral Still Life Painting

Here is my latest floral still life — painted from a set up I staged in my Austin, Texas studio. [As if I have multiple studios? No, my marketing advisor made me say it!] I incorporated three of my favorite turquoise vases, a pale green tablecloth, and two fabulous white roses with a neon greenish tint. I was so distracted by the roses, I almost forgot about the cool lime green berries that really seemed to complete the vignette!

I managed to use all my favorite tubes of color, and used only a palette knife to apply the paint. It was such fun pushing around those gorgeous globs of color! I do think the palette knife is a good challenge for me. Instead of brushing the paint on and trying to blend it to the right color, I have to make a decision about exactly what color and shape I want THIS particular “bit” to be. I had to tell myself “Be decisive! Be bold!”

The result is a floral still life with clearer and more vibrant colors, I think. I hope you like it!

My Favorite Floral Still Life Paintings

As I was planning this, I thought about some of my favorite floral still life painting masterpieces — Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’, Monet’s ‘Waterlillies at Giverny’ and ‘Red Poppy’ by Georgia O’Keefe. We are very fortunate to have ‘Irises’. Van Gogh admitted himself into an asylum in Saint-Rémy, France in 1889; and he painted this the first week. Since he made no preliminary drawings, historians believe Van Gogh created this merely as a floral still life design study. Imagine all the other paintings he may have discarded! Fortunately his brother Theo was impressed by the boldness and quality of the painting, and submitted the floral still life to the Salon des Independants exhibition, where it was widely praised.

As you go out into the world today, be decisive and bold! It feels really good!

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Texas Landscape Painting: Crystal’s Grandma’s House


Texas Landscape Painting — “Crystal’s Grandma’s House”

I just finished this commission, and my client Crystal picked up her Texas landscape painting this afternoon. Another happy customer! My latest art patron found me by Googling ‘Austin oil painter’ — I was #1 on the list! Kudos to my Austin SEO expert — Thanks, Bruce!

Planning My Texas Landscape Painting

A lot of people around the country have a mistaken impression of Texas. They envision the whole state as a dusty plain with tumbleweeds blowing around. So I always try to give a more representative impression in my Texas landscape painting compositions.

Crystal wanted me to do this landscape painting of her grandmother’s house in time for Grandma’s birthday in three weeks. [Just the right amount of time pressure :)] She emailed me a couple photos and told me what things about the house were particularly meaningful. These included two little black chihuahuas on the porch and an American flag bandanna tied to the mailbox. Crystal grew up in this house and has lots of fond memories.

Grandma’s house was in Edinburg, TX, but is no longer standing. So Crystal thought a landscape painting would be a memorable gift. The house was surrounded by lots of flowering plants — roses, purple sage, bottle brush, plumbago and periwinkle. A large cedar tree dominated the photo; but I applied a little artistic license — mercilessly pruning the tree and moving shrubs around to expose the front door and more of the porch.

Crystal asked me to add a white swing to the porch; although it wasn’t there when the photo was taken. I just painted a suggestion of the swing; since it really wouldn’t have shown much at all if I hadn’t shrunk the tree. There were also two unique roof decorations that really didn’t show from the front view. So I made some ‘enhancements’ to the roofline to make these interesting “swooshes” show. These modifications illustrate the benefits of landscape paintings over photographs — the artist can add or interpret things that are not present in the pics.

A Familiar Texas Landscape to Paint

It was interesting for me to imagine the house from Crystal’s point-of-view. The completed landscape painting looked quite a bit like MY grandmother’s house in Corpus Christi, TX. So I wasn’t surprised to find out her Grandma lived in South Texas too. There was the same white clapboard house — red concrete porch, giant cedar tree on the right. So, of course, my latest Texas landscape painting stirred up fond memories of mine as well. How pleasant it was to paint this bit of nostalgia!

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Landscape Painters and Critics: “Five or Six Lunatics”


‘Moonlit Lake’ by Austin landscape painter Valerie Rawlings

Challenges Facing Landscape Painters

Modern landscape painters employ a variety of styles and colors; but it wasn’t always that way. Wild and wonderful colors are commonplace today in everything around us. From our clothing, home furnishings, to every image on our computer screen, neon bright colors vie for our attention. Artists incorporate supernaturally brilliant colors without worrying that they will be condemned for being unrealistic. But painters have not always been so free. The whole impressionist art movement faced constant criticism.

Famous Landscape Painters and Art Critics

Following the second impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1876, art critic Albert Wolff expressed the feelings of many art lovers of the day in this quote:
” Five or six lunatics, one of them a women — a collection of unfortunates, tainted by the folly of ambition — have met here to exhibit their works. What a terrifying spectacle is this of human vanity stretched to the verge of dementia. Someone should tell M.Pissarro forcibly that trees are never violet, that the sky is never the colour of fresh butter, that nowhere on earth are things to be seen as he paints them.”

Those ‘lunatics’ would be the highly revered artists Degas, Renoir, Manet, Bazille, Monet, Cezanne and Berthe Morisot! And many art patrons shared the views of the critics. Cezanne gave up on impressionist styles because they weren’t commercially successful.

Fortunately the impressionist movement — and these great landscape painters — had a better reception in the United States. Eventually they gained respect for their use of thick strokes of oil paint applied side by side with little mixing. They took advantage of the newly available paints in a tube which allowed them to easily create landscape paintings outdoors and capture the rapidly changing effects of sunlight on the scene.

Impressionism and Outdoor Landscape Painting

Up to this time, landscape painters worked mostly in the studio. In his early “plein air” painting Claude Monet did a series of 25 paintings of haystacks – each one of a different color and light effect, depending on the time of day, season and weather conditions. Reportedly he worked on 10 or 12 canvases at a time, switching as the sun moved. The landscape painter’s  masterpieces portray the vibrant essence of their subjects rather than the detail.

Here is my latest salute to Impressionism, unrealistic colors and unjustly maligned landscape painters — ‘Moonlit Lake’.

Eat my dust M.Wolff!


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Landscape Painting: Big Sky

How do you know when a painting is finished?


‘Big Sky’ — landscape painted by Valerie Rawlings

I began this landscape painting at a Ken Elliot art workshop in Denver last August, and just finished it in Austin last week. At 30″x30″, it is a much larger format than I usually do. So I only got it half painted at the art workshop, and Ken shipped it to me about 3 weeks later. It’s been wandering around my studio ever since.

Completing the ‘Big Sky’ Landscape Painting

This elusive landscape painting seems to have veered off from the original inspiration photo. So I looked around on the Internet for landscapes and cloud images that resembled where this piece was going. I made some major revisions and wondered what to do next. I put the landscape painting aside, leaning against a wall where it sat for weeks. Occasionally, I put it on an easel or moved it to another wall to see if it would speak to me about what it needed. From time to time I dabbed a bit of paint here and there. My “all things art” mentor (Karen) was here in January, so I asked her about it. She said, she liked it just as it was.

Yesterday I decided the landscape painting needed to audition on a wall, away from the studio to see if it could stand on it’s own. I carried it to the bedroom and hung it up. And I am happy to say it has proclaimed itself done! Art is kinda funny that way.


‘Big Sky’ — Painted Landscapes by Valerie Rawlings

There is a lot of conversation in the art world about knowing when your painting is finished. Some say you will miss your next great creation if you don’t have the courage to go on; while others say it’s a terrible risk to “overwork” the canvas. Others say it takes two to make a masterpiece — one to paint it and one to tell him when to stop. There is a quote attributed alternately to Leonardo da Vinci or Picasso: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

So I think I am ready to “abandon” this one –

Onward to more Austin landscape paintings!

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Mother and Child Portrait Painting


‘Mother and Child’ portrait painting 8″x8″ oil-on-panel

This mom-and-child portrait painting is my latest commission, based on a sweet picture of a mother and her baby. The gentleman who commissioned it emailed me the photo with his initial inquiry, and we struck a deal in just two email exchanges. Lightening fast!

Mother and Child’s Portrait Painting Photos

I cropped the photo down to include just the mother’s and child’s faces, and began the blocking in. As the painting progressed, I sent him progress photos along the way. I think it is good for my clients to have an idea of the composition and style early in the project, so they aren’t shocked when they see the finished portrait painting.

I always feel very close to my subjects (especially the pets and child portrait painting subjects) after spending all that time studying their faces! [I suppose it is a little like feeling you "know" Sofia Vergara or Jay Leno.] I immersed myself in the work, and completed the portrait in just over a week. After letting the paint dry for a couple weeks, I delivered it to my Austin patron; and he seemed very pleased. I was a little disappointed not to get to meet the real Mother and Child’; but I suppose we had to keep it on the “down low”, since it was her birthday present. Just as well — I probably would have given her a big old hug, and she would have thought I was some kind of nut.

Of course mother and child portrait paintings have a long history, beginning with medieval religious icons. A lot of early art was of a religious nature; and this legitimized what was sometimes viewed as a sinful form of expression(!) We painters have to thank the Catholic Church for employing and supporting so many artists.

Mary Cassat — An Amazing Child Portrait Painter

My favorite mother-and-child portrait painting artist is Mary Cassat; and she did some stunningly beautiful mother-and-child portraits. Mary was an American who spent most of her adult life in Paris. Unable to attend the art school because of her GENDER, she studied oil portraiture privately under several famed instructors of the time. Cassat actually had a license to draw and paint in the Louve art museum. The licensing was an attempt by the Louve management to control forgeries by the many women who were turning out pretty good copies of famous masterpieces. Who would have thought that art forgery was such a problem in 1850?

Cassatt exhibited with the other impressionist painters of the day, and struggled like all those wacky impressionists to gain the respect of the art world. Her father was not very supportive of her artistic efforts, and insisted that her studio expenses be paid from the sale of her paintings. Mary painted dozens of people (mostly women figure studies and child portrait paintings). She liked to capture her subjects in everyday poses, using friends and family members as her models. Mary Cassat’s paintings are so intimate and compelling — check out her ‘The Child’s Bath and Mere et infant sur fond vert.

Now Taking Orders for Mother and/or Child Portrait Paintings for Mother’s Day Gifts!

Well, it’s the middle of February. I know Mother’s Day (May 11th) seems like a long way off; but this would be a very good time to ask your favorite Austin mother-child portrait painter to get to work on a Mother’s Day gift! Things start getting pretty busy in the Spring; so get your orders in now!

Posted in Family Portraits, Paintings of Women, Portrait | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Still Life Fruit, Ceramic and Scarf ‘Teapot and Clementines’


‘Teapot and Clementines’, still life fruit painting by Valerie Rawlings

How about a cup of tea and a juicy clementine?

My latest still life fruit painting was inspired by a trip to Whole Foods last week. I was looking for a bright colored subject to put next to my turquoise teapot. We’ve had some really cold (it actually snowed!) and gray weather here in Austin; and I wanted to paint something to brighten things up. This fruit still life painting — and the fun I had creating it and eating the fruit — really did the trick!

For those not familiar with these delicious fruit, a clementine is a deep orange, easy-to-peel tangerine native to North Africa. They were named for Father Clement Rodier, a French missionary who developed the hybrid in the city of Oran, Algeria. These days clementines are also grown in South Africa and all around the Mediterranean Sea.

Last week, I committed myself to a whole bag of these yummy “seedless tangerines” (only 36 Calories each). After getting these beauties home, I whisked three of them downstairs to my art studio, to be the stars of my still life fruit painting. I thought the orange color would be nice juxtaposed against my favorite turquoise teapot. After some arranging and lighting adjustments, I decided they would make a bright and fruitful still life.

During three days of painting and partying, I consumed quite a few of the three clementines’ siblings that were hanging out in the kitchen. Delicious! Finally, the only clementines left in the house were the three fruit in the still life set up. [Uh-oh.]

And as the music swelled — Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman singing “Time to Say Goodbye”I ate them all! Fortunately I have the still life fruit painting as a tribute to their beauty and yumminess!

Hope you are celebrating something yummy this week too!

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A Sunny Family Portrait Painting: Aunt Maurice


‘Aunt Maurice’, family portrait painting by Austin artist Valerie Rawlings

Today’s family portrait painting is based on a photo my cousin Karen took of her mother (my aunt) Maurice. She was poised over a bowl of strawberries on a sunny afternoon at her timeshare in San Diego. I was lucky enough to join Karen and Maurice there last October, just after my mom’s funeral. It was a perfect time for us to celebrate my mom’s memory, traveling together as we used to do — and provided a great subject for one of my family portrait paintings. We laughed and cried and buoyed one another up in our grief. Sometimes when I am missing a family member, the best cure is to paint their portrait!

My Imaginary Family Portrait Painting Conversation

I painted this right after Christmas, and loved spending all that virtual face-to-face time with Aunt Maurice. As I added each brushstroke of color, it was like having a conversation with her. I imagined her coaching me about how she wanted to appear in the portrait. “Don’t give me any wrinkles. Does my hand really look like that? I think my hair needs to be fluffier.” So Aunt Maurice coaches, and I just grin back at her. It was great fun.

I thought I was finished; so I put the Aunt Maurice canvas aside and began working on a still life and another family portrait painting commission. As usual, I took a photo of the Maurice painting to send to Karen. We have this sort of mutual accountability thing going where we send pics of our artistic efforts to each other. And this ALWAYS happens: I look at the photo and I am shocked — something needs to be corrected! Sometimes I’ve taken as many as four photos, painting corrections in-between, before I can send it to Karen.

Painting (and Repainting) Family Portraits

This time the shadow on Maurice’s right cheek seemed too small. I fixed that, carried the painting outside, re-photographed, went upstairs to download the picture to the computer, saw it on the big screen and WTF? It looked like I didn’t even finish that bowl of strawberries. Back downstairs, repaint, carry outside, re-photograph, back upstairs, download to big screen and FINALLY it is good enough to release into the world.

Well, Karen showed Maurice the photo on her phone and she declared it “charming” — a pretty good grade from this no-nonsense art critic. So I guess this family portrait’s painting is good enough to call done. [Whew! I'm always a little anxious that I have missed the mark.] I’ll be sending Aunt Maurice her family portrait painting via Karen when she and I attend a Leslie Saeta art workshop in two weeks.

I hope you all get some face-to-face time (real or imaginary) with your loved ones this weekend! There is nothing better! (Unless it’s face-to-face time during an art workshop!)

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Apple Vase with Fringe 1/14/14 Still Life Painting


‘Apple Vase with Fringe’

My latest still life painting is a different approach to the same subject I painted earlier this month. In this one I wanted to focus more on the texture and lighting of the scarf’s fringe — and capture the apple, translucent glass vase and dessert dish in lower light levels.

This is a test! How are you all doing on your New Year’s resolutions?  Me neither :(   Maybe I just need to ease into it!

Still Life Painting: Current/Previous

These apple/vase still life paintings are a good reminder about those goals — one of which was to paint more! I really liked the fringe on the first painting of this subject. So for the second one, I decided to make the fringe more prominent and also show off the fabulous tiger stripe oak pattern on my grandmothers player piano. (BTW grandmother’s player piano is having a problem finding a good location in the ‘new’ house we’re remodeling. It’s in my home art studio now; but the narrow bi-level studio space in the new house isn’t very piano-friendly. But more about that later.)

Anyway, for this still life painting I tried a different colored scarf from my collection of Italy scarves. Those of you who have traveled with Kyra probably have an equal number of these lovelies. I used some glazes (highly thinned down paint) to tone down the colors. Previously I had painted them so brightly they detracted from the apple and glass reflections. [Using glazes in oil paintings is an old masters technique. They say the ephemeral quality of Mona Lisa's smile is due to the layers of glazes, and that each emphasizes a slightly different mouth configuration! It's fun to imagine how Leonardo da Vinci was thinking about these oil glazes and layering when he painted La Gioconda.]

Future Still Life Paintings

I only tried a couple of layers of glaze in painting this still life. The big problem for me is that you have to wait a day between layers to allow for drying. I was a bit too impatient to drag out the process over several days. But maybe I’ll give it another try in a future still life painting. Meanwhile let’s get back to those resolutions!

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January 1st Still Life Painting: ‘Green Apple Vase’ — and some New Year’s Resolutions


‘Green Apple Vase’, still life painting by Austin artist Valerie Rawlings

Still Like Painting Still Life Paintings

Just finished this still life painting! It’s a beautiful Austin New Year’s Day — what a great time to regroup, reorganize and recommit to all those things that are good for us!

This particular still life (11″x 14″ oil on canvas panel) embodies two of my resolutions — to paint more and eat more fruits and vegetables! I know some people don’t bother with resolutions, but this is a perfect opportunity to focus our attention on things we want to change. Still — a life painting these pictures is pretty wonderful. And if you’ve forgotten your life is wonderful, just watch a few episodes of Breaking Bad. We started our BB marathon a week ago, and are still on Season 3 (no spoilers, please!) There are a whole bunch of troubles in this world that haven’t found me. Hallelujah!)

New Year’s Resolutions

By the time we hit 60, there might not be anything brand new to add to our goals; but we can still tweak (not twerk) those categories of Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. Then, of course, there is the angle of what do I want LESS of? Isn’t it time I gave up my addiction to Candy Crush? I wonder how many minutes I have forever lost in my quest to conquer those Levels? (Level 65, for those of you who are playing along). I could have been reading, touring an art museum or calling a friend! Don’t ask me to give up my Words With Friends, though. I think it is good mental exercise! Ha!

Anyway, for me the goals are to improve my diet, exercise almost daily and paint several hours a day. Somewhere along the way I’ll be creating some weird/quirky art, portraits, landscapes, pets and more still life paintings in my Austin studio. By this time next year, I plan to have produced lots of bigger, bolder and more beautiful light-filled artwork.

So here is my 2014 mantra–
‘Paint, Eat Healthy, Exercise, Ditch the Crush’

What’s yours?

Let’s get this party started! I wish you all a Merry Austin Still Life Painting and a Happy New Year!


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