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Shipley Nature Center Saga – 2011

In 2011 I started on a journey that continues to this day. Below is an account of the start of this journey into a life time at the Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach

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Pleinair setup at Spot 13, sometime in 2011

The conceived of this series as a way to understand how nature changes with time here in Southern California, and how my learning of the scene changes with it. The goal is to have completed a series of 12 paintings that illustrate how art can be used as a learning tool and accomplish great esthetics when one understands and feels a vista. The agenda will be to go out the the Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach California and paint a plienaire painting (on-location) every month. It is important to paint from the same spot every time; Spot 13 as disignated by a marker at the Center. My intent is to finish this location completely with studio work to be performed in 2012.

This is a photo of the scene taken in July 2011, it gives you a general idea of the Spot 13. I choose the spot because I wanted a location that was foliage rich and not your ‘traditional’ landscape vista. In this way, I would have to respond to the changing of the natural foliage throughout the year.

January 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

This was the first painting at Shipley. It was an introduction to the scene and place. What I like about this painting is the light moving through the scene and the brushstroke are looser than my past pleinair paintings.

Feburary 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

Trees are beginning to fill out though relatively spares. Some flower’s are beginning to bloom which was exciting and began to saturate my pallet. I like how things are beginning to warm up and those violet flowers.

March 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

A very strange day, the clouds were heavy and there was a constant change in light. The foreground continues to be expressly derived and the middle ground is looking more distinct and integrated.

April 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

This was a very melancholy day and rather dark. It seems the changing of the season is creating a level of anticipation in the plants. I learned a lot on this trip, more what not to do than what to do though. Having been more familiar with the scene I thought that I could blocked in the scene quickly and then free-form on details. I ended up trying not to muddy up the painting from the under paint. In any case I like the energetic mark making.

May 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

An absolute beautiful day; the best so far. The flowers buds look happy and ready to bloom, the foliage is filling out and finally the background trees are full and robust. The previous month taught me much about approaching the scene in a holistic manner. I was not worried about blocking in and allowed the under stain to peak through.

June 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

The scene is in full bloom! I was shocked by the growth. The Shipley Nature Center is a tendered preserve and I’m was very happy that nobody has removed any foliage. I’m starting to ‘get’ the background. My approach is becoming more abstract such that the approach is more in tune with values, forms and inter-relationships of color; definitely less than what the object “actual” is. Even though my approach is more abstract I would still like to capture a bit more detail in the foreground.

July 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

A hot and humid day which seems a little early for Huntington Beach, but the plants seem to like it. The scene is fully overgrown, almost to a fault. I would not have picked this spot if I seen what it looks like today. When I first saw the overgrowth, I thought, ‘How am I going to paint this’? In any case it turned out to be one of the most rewarding painting to date. I like to mark making that the scene demanded and rich variety of colors, inter-related shapes an dark deep values. I also like the depth of field.

August 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

This was a very gloomy day, with a heavy layer of fog. I painted from 9:00am to 12:00pm and by the time I was done the overcast had burned off. This presupposes the problem of huge light an color shifts while painting. Monet used to carry more than one canvas at a time to avoid this problem and at the same time capture the mood, but alas I had only one canvas. In any case, I like the distribution color and the force of nature that comes through.

September 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

This was actually a very pleasant date. Though the sun was out it was nice and cool. (a few days later it was very hot). The foliage is overgrown and the middle ground is nearly covered. This forced me to focus a bit more on the foreground objects. The big change continued to be the abstract way I’m approaching the application of paint; it is put on thick and direct. I’m also enjoying the mark making and freedom of the brush stroke. The background interplay between the sky and the trees was a challenge; I now understand the struggle Cezzane continued to work with throughout is life

October 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

This was an extremely hot day and difficult to paint in. I also forgot some items I like to work with, such as latex gloves and a trash bag, so my attitude was a little bent. In any case, the foliage again has grown, but added the challenge of painting objects very close to me as well as the background tree at a distance. The plants have turned a shade of white and there was little ground to be seen. The warmth of the ground helps to balance the coolness of the foliage, so the white had to be used as a warming element. The trees in the background are starting to change color (never changes much in southern California) and are losing their leaves, this allow a lot of light to poke through them causing a provision of lite shadows; beautiful

November 2011 – Pleinair 9″ X 11″ oil

The landscape is coming around full circle now. When I think of my first painting from Spot 13, I remember the redness of the background trees and that is what I’m beginning to see today. The overgrowth is astonishing which is due to the Director letting it grow, (she was aware of my studies here and didn’t let anyone tend it) In any case, I wanted to keep the free brushwork but put a little effort into capturing the foreground details, and I believe I accomplished that goal fairly well. The painting has some interesting colors and the light of the day comes through. It seems a bit unbalanced though, this is due in large part to the concentrated areas versus the abstract areas. This will become very important when I start the studio painting.

I didn’t paint at the Shipley in December, but instead began to layout my large studio painting which I continue in a subsequent blog “Shipley Nature Center Saga – 2012”.

Thank You for reading this feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to purchase any of these paintings.

Cheers, Ronald Ray Reekers

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Video Blog – Developing a Etching Plate

This is a video blog that goes into detail how I approach an etching for my Japanese Garden Series. The video shows how I develop the plate by first etching into it the motif, then to develop the value structure through aqua-tinting.

This is Part 2 of a 2 Part video series (see

Thank you so much for checking this out. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions and be sure to subscribe to my mailing list. If you a interested in purchasing a print please go to


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Socal Papa Interview

This is an Interview by Diane Pendergast from the SocalPapa Pleinair painting group for an upcoming online show of Back Bay and OC Parks . Each year there is a pop-up show, but due to the corona virus on July 11th to 19th they will have an online show. There is talk of having actual pieces in the show but since the Muth Conservatory is where it is shown, it is high unlikely that it will be available.

The interview is about 7 minutes long and disusses my plienair painting experience, general ideas regarding painting outdoors in Southern California, and the painting that was submitted to the show.


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Video Blog – Prep-Work for an Etching

This is a video blog that goes into detail how I approach an etching for my Japanese Garden Series. The video shows how I use photos that my wife or I took of our travels through Japan and how in my sketchbook (along with other sketches) I create a motif. I subsequently transfer that motif to bond paper in order to create a detail pen and ink drawing. The P&I drawing helps me define my line-work and textures that will be drawn on the plate. I then create an ink-wash painting to help me with an “aqua-tinting plan”. The video will describe the medium and tools that are used. From that, all is complete to create the etching motif.

This is Part 1 of a 2 Part video which will cover the actual development of the plate and how I used the prep-work to accomplish it.

Thank you so much for checking this out. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions and be sure to subscribe to my mailing list.


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Art Critique January 2015

It’s been a few months since I wrote a blog about our critiques, so in good old fashion New Year resolution making, I rededicated myself to this effort.  We are going on 4 years of this critique and it has been an exciting fellowship of Artist.  I’m look forward to us continuing on and developing our vision and increasing our body of work.

We start with Ron Howlett’s two watercolor studies.  These are finished works of art but I call them studies because Ron mentioned that these works are more like sketches made to develop a new series of artwork.  If you follow the old blogs you can see that Ron is further developing this motif.  Before there was the chasm between his rock formations under a very dramatic sky, where the ocean acted like a silent conduit between the two.  Now the ocean has become alive and begins to be a major part of the dialog between rocks and sky.  The first watercolor “Sea Night Fall” has five rocks in the foreground within the ocean which is actionable with whitecaps and rolling waves, all contrasted with a bright sky accompanied by a storm brewing on the left.  There was little to constructively critique except with the five rock formation’s intersection between ocean and rock seems lost due to the dark shadowing; they begin to flatten out and lose some volume.

In the other watercolor “Oregon Coast” the ocean is loud with intent and rises up to make itself know to the large rock in the foreground.  It reminded us all of Winslow Homers dramatic ocean scenes which a lot of Watercolorist strive hard to achieve; Ron has done this beautifully.  There is a power that is greater than the whole in the artwork.  The combination of the powerful ocean waves and the bold strong rocks heighten the drama of nature.  The only little critique we had was creating a bit more texture in the shadow areas of the rocks, particularly the far left rock, but that is a minor issue to the greater success of creating the feeling of movement, flow of mist and the time worn battle between the rocks and the pounding ocean.

Thom’s work “Attitundal” revisits work from years past. The figure harkens back to a time when West Coast Artist were not willing to get rid of the figure for the sake of a fully abstracted piece.  They wanted to use the East Coast aesthetic of bold mark-making, but juxtapose that against saturated colors and high value shifts within a known environment or motif, like figure, still lifes or landscapes.  I suppose that is precisely the problem we saw in the piece.  There is very little contrast in the work and in the areas that that happens there are element that mute that impact.  For instance, the yellow around the figure’s head, the bright green against the figures highlighted left thigh and the value in the window which matches the interior.  We suggested exploring the window more abstractly and contrasting the interior with the exterior through value.  This is not unprecedented, there is a long history in art where exterior and interiors are contrasted and become a major part of the motif.  On the other hand, we really like the mark-making that Thom had started and his always unique approach to balancing compositions with line and interesting shapes.  We look forward to see how he resolves the piece.

I ‘finally’ finish my last Shipley Center painting.  Last year I had a few distraction so it took some time to finish this piece (I’m still attempting to relieve myself from these distractions).  In fact, it was the only major piece I did all year!  In any case, it was well received and by showing it each critique it gave the group a chance to see my process (or madness) when it comes to building up layers of paint and abstracting from what I had previously learned by going out and doing a plein air painting of the same scene (in this case 6 times during the year) and then putting into practice what I had learned.  As a side note, I’m starting a new series of plein air paintings at the Shipley Nature Center and I found a new spot there.  Now I need to dedicate myself to getting out there each month.  In any case, I like the finished piece which is called “Sage Mound”.

I hope you enjoyed the blog, and we look forward to reading your comments, and a perhaps joining us in 2015.

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Art Critique May 2014

May’s critique welcomed two new members and of course they contributed wonderfully with the group.  Much of what we presented and talked about was our community with the world around us, and in particular the ‘natural’ world.

Thom brought a dynamic painting focused on how two worlds can influence on each other.  This paintings graphically describe the dramatic phenomenon of plate tectonics.  The patterns and texture of the surface are beautifully rendered and add an interesting approach to the idea.  The texture was greatly enhance by the cutting of the surface and glued on backing structure, which gave one the direct effect of a fractured surface.  The upper right globe is a bit subdued and bringing up the saturation and mark making would help the object work with the larger more dominate globe.  The white between the two planets was skillfully done and adds to the understanding of space within the work.

Jim just started with the group and brought a few well-conceived pleinair paintings.  The color composition of the painting shown in the blog works very well with the type of back lighting affect one sees in the piece.   The value structure of the work could be settled by darkening up the shadow edges and bringing more of the background light into the foreground objects.   But all together, there are some very hard fought colors in the rock shadow and background sky that make the painting an enjoyable experience to view and ponder over.

Jared is back from his residency in the Netherlands and brought some thought provoking photos.  These are photo from a museum out to the street, which brings up the idea of art discovery (and too me ‘irony’).  The irony being that he is in a museum to see the unbelievable artwork from the Dutch Masters and instead takes pictures of a rough surface glass of the outside.  Beside the irony though, these are interest works of art on their own merit.  There is a Diebenkorn feel to these photos and on a pure color/composition they work wonderfully.  The problem will be context though, and how these photos are sized and shown on the wall will require a lot of thought and care.

Pat is another new member and she brought a very personal painting.  It is sometime difficult to do a critique on artwork of a very personal nature, but done properly can be very cathartic and insightful for the Artist.  We all just loved the little girl, there is something very intimate in the pose and the eating of the apple that gives the viewer a feeling of comfort and joy.  The trees in the background is also very well done, though the tree on the left stop the viewer and over powers the left-side composition; removal would be potentially good.  The paint does lack richness but only because of a lack of paint on the surface.  In order to help saturate the surface and allow the painted surface to be richer with mark making and texture we suggested adding more paint, but to be careful not to change the color or value.

Having two new members was a great joy for everyone.  The more the merrier I say.  In any case, we look forward to share our time with them and anyone else that would like to join our critique.

Au revoir

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Art Critique March 2014

This month we had a very eclectic group of art which often provoke the greatest amount of discussion, especial focused on art making and processes.  All participates seem to draw from nature, but in much different ways of expression and feeling.

Donna presented a group of ‘ghost prints’ of waterfalls, or an idea of a waterfall.  These are built works developed from ink jet transfers, mono-printing in ink and drawn over repeatedly as she is working the idea.  We found these ‘prints’ to be very original and speak most about the self and how one feels within the elements of water, plant life and earth.  Yet on the other hand, they seem very solitary, or without human presence which highlights the idea of an untouched ebb and flow of nature. These are very delicate work and bode very well as a series, the difficulty will be in the way she chooses to present them; framed, floated, cut edge or broken and viewing level.

The manner in which Donna approached the work harkened back to a series of monoprints I did of Yellowstone. I had been working on a series of views from a car and the original photo inspired me to explore the image further. It is of an elderly women walking toward the hot springs in Yellowstone where steams and the mountain environment are active in the background.  Most of the group was interested in process and how one can create a plethora of feelings just by the act of making the image; there are a total of eight of them (you can see all eight at each inspired and pushed the other; this is the beauty of the mono-print technique.

Jared will be going to Holland and so in preparation did a series of images of streets named after cities in the Netherlands and kitschy images of windmills from miniature golf courses.  These are highly conceptual ideas and sparked a discussion of pre-actual-post effect of the residency he is to experience.  If one has never been out of the United States, one tends to have a preconceived, and most often narrow view, of the world outside, but once experienced in world travel those ideas fade away and are replace (as in my case) with a more thorough and enlightened idea of the world outside our familiar existence. We are sure this experience will play well into his future work.

Thom brought a cubist painting focused on Global Warming (GW) and its direct killing effect on trees. The work is executed with a cubist style and the color was of a mostly bright warm palette.  The wonderful colors used seemed to contrast against the pessimistic view of our effect on the world’s climate and the subject trees. To bring the harsh impact from GW back into focus we suggest applying more aggressive mark making around the subject thereby imposing violently on the trees as opposed to the current more playful marks that frame them.   On the other hand, Thom’s whimsical style (note the smiles and lollipop trees in the composition) may better be served to turn the pessimism of GW to the optimism of recover (may be asking a lot) and thus perhaps giving an ironic tone to the work.

These critiques continue to provoke ideas and bring into focus the environment in which we all live in, and most importantly for us, how this is translated into art-making

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Art Critique Feburary 2014

We had six attendees this month that included a wide variety of media and styles.

Ron presented three beachscapes (about a quarter sheet size), based on some plein-air painting on the coast of Laguna Beach. Comments were about the rich color and brushwork were used to capture the rocky island and foreground structure. All of them were well composed and well painted, using horizontal bands for the beach, shore, island, distant sea and sky. Discussions concerned primarily the relative simplicity of the clouds and sky versus the rocks, and ways to add additional detail and structure to clouds without overcomplicating them. Good background glow worked very well in all of them.

Donna first presented an excellent monoprint that she had made in an art class at OCC in 2004. It portrayed a semi-abstract view of a waterfall with scattered vegetation. There was a wide variety of marks, colors and textures that created all-over, multi-layered surfaces. We agreed that it was finished and not much more should be done. Her second piece was a large, mixed-media work portraying an all-over color field of stone shapes and surface markings, which included oil pastel. The rich, detailed shapes worked nicely up close, but lacked a spatial hierarchy of rhythm and movement. Several possibilities for improvement were discussed, including collage, geometric grid, open spaces, lean to detailed drawing such as in the works of Julie Mehretru, and reworking for a variation of pattern.

Jared presented a group of three, small, color photographs in vertical format and horizontal sequence, with a small, transparent, plastic throw-away camera mounted at the end of the photos. This work was his first art project done recently in his photography class whose assignment was an artistic narrative of a location. The photos presented a parking lot on Beach Blvd where a sculpture exhibition was placed. The black asphalt lot was adjacent to a yellow stucco house, with what looked like white marble statues of a Greek goddess. The photos presented a distant to close-up sequence of one cropped-view statue, using the yellow house and black asphalt surface to good effect to frame the context of each view.

Positive comments were that the photos and the zoom-in sequence provided a temporal dimension that worked well, that the black/yellow/white colors worked well together, and that the art-sale location was clear and yet mysterious as to the focus on one female statue. No title was given as a context. Another suggestion was made to move the multi-color photo to the front to begin the sequence and end the sequence with the close-ups of two views of the house. Another suggestion was to add another sheet with some text description or narration that adds both detail, drama and/or mystery.

Thom presented two recent small works in his “Earth Tree” series, concerning large trees of the earth as they relate to the welfare of humanity and nature. The first work was in a new and experimental painting style for him. It used a bright red canvas ground with multiple, horizontal bands of color with broken edges between them to show the red ground.  Positive comments were made about the richness of color and the semi-abstract character of the background with the broken red lines between them. However, the foliage of the tree top was not effective in suggesting a canopy with volume and sky light.

Thom’s second work was in his Cubist/Expressionist style in a square format. Critique comments were that the main tree was interesting, but that the gestural style side trees were too different for the composition to hold together. Also, the background brown color was too dark and did not integrate with the tree shape.

Andrew presented three, abstract, medium sized paintings in oil in vertical formats. The first two were reworked that have been previously seen and critiqued. Positive comments were that these present a unique style and meditative, painted in a confident style of subtle color fields, overlaid with patterns of brush marks of luminous color and in a variety of sizes and shapes. There are multiple layers of space suggested in a playful and intuitive manner. Andrew described these open compositions as analogous to his music.

The third painting was more structured in shape and ground relationship that he described as figurative. The subtle contrasts were painted using only four colors – black, white, red ochre and lead white. One influence in his work is Paul Klee. Comments were made that the frame detracted from the work, that some areas were too subtle so as to be almost empty and in a dull greyed tone. This was debated as to the nature of how to portray silence, quietness and the degree of subtlety that communicates with an art audience that has an experience with Western art tradition. Our art tradition permits the painter full freedom and license to follow his own direction. However, quiet paintings may take time to appreciate.

Hosted by Ron Reekers, notes by Thom Wright.

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Art Critique January 2014

This month critique focused on volume, mood and the painted picture dialog.  It was a great way to start the New Year out and a way to keep the creative juices flowing for the entire year.

We began with three pastels on Bonsai trees that I completed over the holidays.  Pastels is a great medium for creating saturated images, so two of these are drawing of azaleas I saw in Japan last year.  Though the beauty of the medium and colors of these azaleas was successful, there needed to be additional work to shore up the base of the trees and how the trunk roots into the ground (in the Bonsai world we call that “Nebari”).  There also required more definition of volume around the edges of the foliage, I did this by lighting the edge a bit.  Overall the group thought the drawing were well balanced and showed a nice variety of textures.

Thom brought a painting in that focused on the “Searching for Global Warming #2”.  It is a 25” X 36” acrylic painting which is composed of 4 figures either searching with flash lights or balancing on a beam.  Above is an “ideal” earth versus the below earth as it is (in the mist of today’s climate changes) today.  The first critique item came from the neutralist color palette of browns (tertiary colors), pushing the colors toward primary saturation could bring drama to the composition.  The other area of contention, which is unusual for Thom, is the composition; it appear the painting would be better served if the space was further fragmented and broken up; in particular the left hand side of the painting.  The figures also seem static and creating some accent marks or duplicate forms around the figure would activate their movement.  It is a playful piece and brought a smile to all of us, which seems at odds with such a heavy subject matter.

Ron finished the evening with a coup de grace watercolor.  It is a beautiful painting of the sunset with bold monumental rocks in the foreground and a threatening cloud front in the background.  The two are separated by the ocean, which appears to me as a perfect metaphor for a communication space between two giants in argument and/or readying for battle.  Ironically, Ron calls it “Moonrise” which pushes beyond what we are seeing and gets one think of the future state of this inauspicious environment.  The execution of the painting is very dramatic which harkens back to great romantic painting by artist such as Goya, Delacroix and Gericault.  The painting is a real gem.

I hope that you will be able to join us in February.  All is welcome, just send me you information and I will contact you about the time and place.


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Art Critique March 2013

The creativity of the works shown at the latest critique is inspiring.  Often artist within a group are diverse enough that showing work together gives everyone a great sense of contrast and diversity in art making which is a hallmark of our times.  Contrasting each work can help identify strengths and weaknesses in one’s own work, and give us a sense of how we fit together as a collective group.  This night was clearly that.

I started out with an unfinished piece that is getting close to being done (The image on the blog is in the final stage of completion).  It is a still life using Eduard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ as the composition which cares a large amount of detail in the motif.  It will be the last of these ’Still Life’  (see Series Description XXX) series and so perhaps I have a little senioritis regarding putting in the effort to finish it.  In any case, the group saw a need to develop both the lighter and darker elements which will give the motif greater drama.  As in all work that is in the process of being developed, having a clear direction to finish is very helpful.

Thom brought in his ‘G’ paintings, which he had shown before.  There are some nice improvements in the development of color and space.  The line work accents the bold G form which brings the image into focus and balance.  The color composition is beautiful and gives both the foreground of the G and the background a playful dialog of order and chaos.  Some better options might be to carry the background line work in the ‘G’ which would add a mystery to the space.  We collectively felt that the work harkens back to Kandinsky which is not bad company to be associated with.

Ron brought in a great piece!  There are times when a member of the group brings in a piece of artwork that is complete and is to be admired.  There isn’t anything more to say about this painting other than, start on another.  It is a magnicent rock form that plants itself to the bottom of the page.  Having you main object sitting on the bottom of the page would normally be found off (compositionally wrong) but the perfect balance of negative and positive space along with the refined rendering of textures, and gradation, make this compositional work fine.  I suggest anyone reading this blog open up the image and spend some time enjoying the coordination of the colors, the articulated crags of the rock and the overall feeling of this peaceful motif.  Note the edge of the rock and how the surrounding atmosphere falls softly on the rock surface; it really is a wonderful piece.

Loren brought work in but unfortunately I was not able to get any pictures that would have given the pieces justice.  That’s okay, we were very happy she joined us.

Contrasting art is a good thing.  The history of art is just that, a look at the times and the collective change in art due to the environment.  Yet we live in a pluralistic post-modern society that spends much of our creative juices de-constructing the past history of art making.  Yet during this process of art making, we appropriate common modern visual icons such as cartoons,advertisements and famous faces. Contrasting our art help we as Artist identify where we are in ourtimes.

Feel free to comment, we enjoy your input.