Adam Houston

American Impressionist Oil Painter


No. 226 is horrendous but ended up being important. I did an incredibly careful underpainting, added color and was disappointed (again) by the results. This time, I decided that the composition could have been what was causing the problem. If it’s fundamentally flawed then no one could paint it, right?

So, I trimmed the bushes in the front, added a meadow in the back and a tree line in the distance. I worked it like crazy. And it still stunk.

The good news is that those changes helped things start clicking. I ended up using this one as sort of a frankenpainting for the remaining four to test colors and ideas. So the bushes grew again, the meadow disappeared and it shifted to a sunset. I had to be content with this one being a disaster so that the future ones could be better.

In Search of Subtle

I liked 224 alright, but it felt too primary. It felt too loud and I wanted to explore how to make it more subtle. I wanted to try something where the greens were more muted and knocked back. So with 225 I did a normal Burnt Sienna underpainting and then used a limited color palette on top of that. During this exploration I also decided to ignore or blend the background with the sky and make it all a warm yellow. In the end it feels a little too murky but it was good to try this and see what a whole new color palette could do to the tone.

Embracing Limitations

For the first one of these in color I wanted to try something different. I have a couple of books by Kevin Macpherson and he talks about using a very limited palette of yellow, red and blue. With these trees I was really wanting to explore greens and getting a feel for how to mix those so I gave his set-up a try. It was very disorienting to start with. I rely so much on Burnt Sienna that it was rough to try and “find” the browns and grays.

The limited palette forced me to slow down and really think about what the color was vs. reaching for a tube or Terre Verte. I was also really trying to work “fat over learn” with this one. There was no set underpainting and I used a heavily thinned coat to rough out what went where. I’m not sure the result was radically different from what I’ve been doing but it was great to expand and explore a little.

Barnsley Tree I

So, here we are in 2014. It feels great to be back at it again with a fresh year. I’ve not posted a lot this month, but I have been hard at work. I did a lot of thinking at the end of last year about what I wanted to accomplish in 2014 and what my goals should be. Out of that thinking I came up with some very clear paths for the year and am excited about what this year holds.

The two core things I want to focus on this year are color and craft.

For the last year, I’ve been more and more bothered about my color sense and seeing how much work is needed there. I’m going to try and focus a lot more on building and shaping my paintings with color vs. using it as window dressing to what is essentially value.

The craft part ties directly into the focus on color, but it goes deeper than that. Color IS painting and to understand color correctly is to understand the craft of painting. But there are so many things that define the craft of painting. This means a much greater focus on learning and being taught vs. trying to create art. Art is what I want to create, but I’ve got to get a handle on the craft before that can happen.

There might be fewer “finished” paintings and not as much will end up on Etsy, but I can already feel the benefits of this focus. Which brings us to No. 223.

This painting is really what kicked off the intense color focus. I looked at this and was really happy. But I also knew that the feeling I was getting would be lost when I the applied color. And I found that terribly irritating. Why could I not “say” the same thing with color that I was seemingly able to convey with a single tone? I wanted to get to the bottom of that. Or at least start digging.

So, here’s to a new year, lots of learning and a bunch of new paintings!

Barnsley Path

For the last few years, Randy Higbee Gallery has put on a show titled “6” Squared” where hundreds of artists all display 6″ x 6″ paintings. A few weeks ago, I received an email announcement about submitting artwork for the show and decided to give it a shot. Each artist was allowed to enter three paintings and I had two in my “private collection” (read: unsold), so I decided to paint one more to round out my group.

Leslie and I had visited Barnsley Gardens this past August and I took a ton of shots while we were there. If you are not familiar with the story, this guy named Godfrey Barnsley built an amazing house out in Adairsville, GA back in the 1840’s. His wife died while they were completing it, the civil war happened, it was struck by lightening – classic Victorian struggles. Like something out of a Henry James novel. Today, you can walk through the ruins of the house, and they’ve resurrected the original formal gardens. Needless to say, there are endless things to paint there. With my remaining 6″ x 6″ slot I chose one of the views from that trip.

I sent in my three paintings a couple weeks ago and, to my surprise, this little guy made it in. I’ve never submitted work to any kind of juried show and, for that matter, have never even been in any real art show. So, No. 216 is currently in Costa Mesa, CA getting framed and ready to be hung in the show. The opening is December 7th if you happen to be in the area and runs through Christmas.