Posts filed under ‘Landscape’

New painting: “Winding Road”

At last!

"Winding Road" by Barbara J Carter, 10x8", acrylic on canvas, 2009

"Winding Road" by Barbara J Carter, 10x8", acrylic on canvas, 2009

I started this painting so long ago I’m not sure when it was exactly. It was last year sometime. 6 months ago? More? At any rate, I got it about 75% done, got stuck, and set it aside. That’s what I do when I’m not sure where to go next with a painting. I’ll just prop it up somewhere in my studio and leave it alone for a while. The idea is that my subconscious can work on the problem in the background while I busy myself with other things.

Usually this works great. Within a few days, or sometimes a few weeks, I’ll get re-inspired and get back on track. But that didn’t happen with this painting. It sat and sat, month after month, and I never quite figured out what to do with it. I began to think I’d never finish it.

Until a couple days ago, that is. Suddenly I was tired of working on all the big canvases I’ve got in progress right now. I felt like painting small again. And there it sat, a little 10×8 inch canvas 75% done, just needing a little finishing-up. I grabbed it and started in. I had no hesitation, it was obvious what it needed. Like I’d never been stuck at all. I finished it up, signed it, and here it is!

I have no idea why it took me so long to finish it. But I’m glad it’s finally done.

"Winding Road" framed

"Winding Road" framed

This painting depicts a curve in a dirt road. The road is Mulholland Drive, the famous Los Angeles landmark. What most people don’t know is that part of Mulholland is an unpaved dirt road, closed to automobile traffic but open to pedestrians. I took a very nice walk on it in 2007, and took numerous photos along the way. (One other photo became the basis for another painting, “Dirt Mulholland”, which is also available.)

What I love about this painting is how it takes a perfectly ordinary (perhaps even rather dull) scene, a dirt road surrounded by scrub, and turns it into something special. Anyone can make a glorious scene look glorious. I think it’s more interesting to take an ordinary scene and turn it into something magical.

This painting is sold. Please visit my website for more paintings like it.


April 16, 2009 at 2:22 pm 3 comments

New Painting: “Satwiwa”

If you read my “Work in Progress” posts (here, here, here, and here) you’ll recognize this painting.

"Satwiwa" by Barbara J Carter, 40x30", acrylic on canvas, 2009.

"Satwiwa" by Barbara J Carter, 40x30", acrylic on canvas, 2009.

Satwiwa is the Chumash (Native American) word for “the bluffs”, and was the name of one of their villages. Satwiwa is now the name of an educational center located within the Rancho Sierra Vista park in the Santa Monica Mountains (near Los Angeles).

I took a lot of photos during my recent dayhike in Rancho Sierra Vista, and I think many of them may end up being used for paintings. At least two have so far (I’ll post the other one soon). I got some really good reference material there. And that was just one visit! That’s really good news, because many of my dayhikes end up with no usable material at all. So I guess it all balances out.

This painting is available for $1200. It is wired and ready to hang. It is not framed, but the canvas is stapled neatly on the back and the deep sides are painted solid red, so it can be displayed without a frame. I offer free delivery to most of the Los Angeles area, and shipping via FedEx Ground to anywhere else in the world. Purchasing information is here.

February 17, 2009 at 8:32 pm 5 comments

Work in Progress – Finishing the Painting

After I’ve filled in all of the obvious gaps and gotten past the worst of the hard part, the next question comes up: is the painting done yet? What more does it need?

When is a painting done?

Well, there’s the famous quote (famous amongst artists, anyway): “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” (Leonardo da Vinci)

I knew an artist in Boston who caught so much flak from critics about his paintings looking unfinished that he wrote his artist statement about how much he likes the raw unfinished look. (It sounded a bit defensive to me.)

It’s up to the artist to decide. There’s no right or wrong answer. It depends on what you like.

Yeah, it sounds simple in principle. In practice, however, it’s another thing altogether. It can be an agonizing decision. I might like a painting as it stands, but then I’ll wonder if it might be even better if I just add a little more? It’s scary because sometimes when you add more the painting loses its sense of freshness or spontaneity. It’s kind of like gambling. When do you walk away from the table?

“Overwork” is a word you’ll hear artists use when they feel that they’ve ruined a painting’s charm by laboring too much over things like small details. I do worry about overworking my paintings (although small details are not so much an issue for me). In my case, it’s more about diminishing returns. For example, I like to have bits of the original red background peeking through here and there, and if I overwork a painting the red tends to get completely covered. So one big question for me is how much of the red do I want showing.


In the case of this particular painting, I decided to let just a little more of the red background show (slightly more than my “usual” amount). The painting felt balanced and I liked the effect, so I decided to let it be. I could have worked on it more, but I’m not sure I’d have been any happier with it than as it now is, so I’ve declared it finished. And I did sign it.

I’ll post more about this painting (with a clean photo) now that it is really finished.

February 12, 2009 at 12:12 am 3 comments

Work in Progress – the Hard Part

All the planning and prep work and the initial sketchy “roadmap” painting is done. Now the real work, the meat of the painting, begins.

This is, for me, the hard part. A lot of decisions come up. What color to make this area, what value for that shadow, will they contrast sufficiently, is the sky going to reflect the colors in the foreground, what shade of blue to use, whether to make the grass yellow, isn’t that tree a little too bright, maybe should tone down the green, and on and on.


Sometimes things get so messy and complicated, I call it the “ugly phase”. I can’t take credit for this phrase, but it sure is apt (at least sometimes). A few lucky paintings glide effortlessly from prep to finish, and I’m always grateful for them. Most, however, at least briefly (and sometimes not at all briefly) pass through the “ugly phase”. Lots of artists use this phrase, so at least I’m in good company. It’s the stage when the painting looks hopeless, ugly, patchy, too contrasty or too muddy or too dull or too bright or whatever it is that ails it. (By the way, “too dull” is rarely the problem for me. But you get the idea.)

This stage, by the way, is the reason I don’t normally post work-in-progress photos. It can be a little like watching sausage being made.

Sometimes I have to set the painting aside and leave it alone for a few days (or even weeks). Usually I’ll leave it out where I can see it all the time and mull it over. Sometimes, if I’m badly stuck, I’ll turn it to face the wall so I can’t see it most of the time. Then when I do look at it, it’s a fresh look.

I suppose things would be easier if I had an exact plan of how I want the painting to look when it’s finished. Most of the time I don’t have a specific plan. I don’t know which direction I’m going to take the painting until it happens. Even if I do have a plan, sometimes I’ll change my mind partway through based on how it’s going. These decisions mostly have to do with the color scheme of the painting, since the composition is pretty much fixed ahead of time.


Next: finishing the painting.

February 10, 2009 at 8:33 pm 4 comments

Work in Progress – the First Dabs of Paint

Now that I’ve done the prep work (selected the reference photo, painted the canvas red, and outlined the image on the canvas in chalk), the painting finally begins in earnest.

All artists get asked the question: “How long does it take to paint one of your paintings?” This is one of those pesky, difficult-to-answer questions because “painting a painting” isn’t very well defined. Or at least for me it isn’t. Do you count the time it took me to paint the canvas red? The time it took to draw the chalk grid on the canvas? How about the days spent hiking and taking digital photos? How about the hours spent cropping, rotating, editing, and printing out all the digital photos that never got used (along with the one chosen for the painting)?

Anyway, the one part that everyone can agree should be counted is the time spent standing at the easel, paintbrush in hand, actually putting dabs of colored paint on the canvas. This is the good stuff! This is painting!

Not surprisingly, when you paint with dots and smallish slashes of almost-random color (as I do) the beginning stages of “real” painting don’t look like much. Almost random, really. But there is a method to the madness.


First off, I need to reinforce my “roadmap”. Those chalk lines are a temporary guide and need to be made permanent with paint. Areas that are in shadow need to be blocked in as a darker color. Horizons, hilltops, and folds in the land need to be indicated so I don’t lose their place.

The other thing I start doing right away is using interesting colors. If I know a field of dry grass will eventually be a yellowish color, I might start out by putting some lavender color in, just to give the yellow something to contrast with. If the sky is blue, maybe I’ll paint some orange or yellow up there so the blue will vibrate against it and look all the more vibrant.

Of course, the one color I can’t paint is red. It’s already all over the canvas! If I were to try painting red, it would disappear against the background. So, this constrains me in a way.

Next: filling in the gaps.

February 9, 2009 at 6:49 pm 5 comments

Work in Progress – the Grid

Whenever I begin one of my neo-pointillist landscape paintings, there are several preparatory steps I go through before I lay paintbrush to canvas. The first layer of paint on the canvas is a solid red coat, all over the front as well as all 4 sides. But this is all just preparatory to the real painting process.

To get started painting, I need to get the outline of the image onto the canvas, so I know where to paint. I call this outline my “roadmap”. When painting as I do, using large dots, it’s very easy to get lost. (Is that dot part of the tree or part of the hill?)

I print out a copy of my digital reference image with a grid overlaid on it. And I draw a grid on my canvas in chalk. The two grids are proportional.


Using the grid, I then sketch the image onto the canvas in chalk. The grid lines make it easier to get shapes and proportions correct, rather than just trying to sketch the whole thing freehand. Some artists use a projector to project their reference image onto the canvas and simply trace around the image. Other artists look down on such a practice as “cheating”. I don’t have a projector (they’re expensive) so I get to neatly sidestep that particular rancorous debate.

Depending on its complexity, drawing the image in chalk might take a few minutes or an hour or two. It might be just a few simple lines to mark the location of the horizon, a hill, or a shadow. Or it might be a complex tangle of tree trunks and branches and masses of dark and light leaves. This chalk sketch (and also the first few paint marks) is my guide to prevent me from getting lost, my roadmap. I’ll leave the chalk on the canvas as long as I feel I need it. Usually I’ll rub out the grid lines before I start painting, leaving just the outline of the image. Eventually most of the chalk gets covered by paint, and I’ll erase the rest with a damp paper towel (when the latest round of paint is dry of course!).

Using a grid to copy an image to a larger size is called “gridding up”, and is a very traditional (and generally widely accepted) method for translating a small image to a large one. I’m sorry to admit that I didn’t take any photos while gridding up this particular painting. I’ll try to remember for the next one.

Next: the painting begins in earnest.

February 8, 2009 at 10:48 pm 2 comments

“Coastline” painting

Coastline painting by Barbara J Carter, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 24x36

"Coastline" by Barbara J Carter, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 24x36"

The central coast of California is like no other place on earth. If you ever have the chance to drive Highway 1 where it hugs the coast, between San Luis Obispo and Monterey, take it! It is by no means the most efficient means to get from point A to point B, but it is insanely beautiful and well worth the little extra time it takes. In particular, up near Big Sur it gets quite twisty and winding. The coast is all hills and cliffs there. That’s where I snapped the photo that became the reference for this painting. I kept having to pull over and jump out to take pictures. This is quite challenging, as pullouts are often quite small and come up suddenly without warning. But it was worth it!

October 17, 2008 at 4:59 pm 1 comment

“Merced Riverbank” painting

"Merced Riverbank", 2008, Barbara J Carter, acrylic on canvas, 14x11" “Merced Riverbank”, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 14×11″

I wanted to paint some landscapes with water, so I pulled out some photos from a couple of road trips I took last year. One trip included the central coast of California, and that painting is still in the planning stages. The other trip included a swing through the city of Merced and a tour of the nearby countryside, including a nice view of the Merced River. That’s the subject of this painting.

I had some fun playing with the colors in the sky, and then subtly pulling them into the water. The air quality around Merced is rather poor, with a brown haze visible daily. The orange colors I used in the sky are my wry nod to the smog.

I took a chance with the composition, allowing a major division to fall on the halfway line. See how the edge of the water cuts the painting almost exactly in half? That’s considered a big no-no in painting composition. But after all, rules are there to be broken occasionally. The trick here was to keep both halves looking like they are part of the same painting.

This painting is one of two I recently completed. Both have very simple compositions. I’m enjoying the freedom that a simpler composition allows me. It really lets me play around with color and technique. Certainly this is work, but it’s play too. An element of play keeps the creative juices flowing.

This painting is sold.

See my website for more paintings like this one:

August 13, 2008 at 5:28 pm


Recently I began using chalk in my art.

It was a real forehead-slapping moment when I started using it. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? But that’s how things often work for me: the simplest solution is typically not the first solution I think of. Sometimes I have to do things the hard way before I figure out there’s an easy way.

Before, I started by sketching the painting in pencil on the white canvas.

White canvas with pencil sketch

White canvas with pencil sketch

Then I would go over the pencil in dark blue paint…

White canvas with blue paint

White canvas with blue paint (this is a different painting)

… wait for the blue paint to dry, erase the pencil, coat the blue paint in a layer of matte medium to keep it from lifting, wait for that to dry, and then coat the canvas in red paint (and of course wait for that to dry).

Red canvas with darks painted in

Red canvas with darks painted in (yet another painting)

The blue would barely show through the red, just enough for me to see where everything goes. I would have to start the actual painting process by going back over the barely visible “sketch” with a new layer of dark color (usually a deep blackish purple). Talk about time consuming!

Eventually it occurred to me that I could skip all the pencil-and-blue-paint stuff by painting the canvas solid red first and then just sketching on top of that. The only question was what to use. Pencil won’t work because it won’t show on red. A white grease pencil would show just fine, but I worried that it would cause adhesion problems with the paint layers, not to mention being hard to erase. I could “sketch” in some diluted paint, but “erasing” would then be a tedious process of waiting for it to dry so I can paint more red over it, and waiting for THAT to dry before being able to proceed. That just wasn’t going to fly!

Finally, I realized that simple white chalk would work. I went and got some chalk.

Chalk works great! The white shows up perfectly on the deep red background. Erasing is very easy, just a quick rub with a fingertip or a damp paper towel.

Red canvases with chalk sketches

Red canvases with chalk sketches (two entirely new paintings in progress right now)

Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

August 7, 2008 at 10:21 pm 1 comment

“Hillside With Trees” painting

\ “Hillside With Trees”, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 12×9″

While stuck in a traffic jam in Pacheco Pass, California, I snapped a bunch of photos out the car window at the surrounding countryside. It’s hilly terrain: archetypal California hills fuzzed with dry golden grasses and dotted with craggy oaks and other tough scruffy trees.

Some paintings come together like magic, while others seem to take forever. I never know which will be which. This seemingly simple composition took months to complete. The beginning went fine, but then I got stuck halfway through. I just couldn’t decide what colors to use for the final layers of dots. I’d put a lot of effort into putting down some pretty weird colors, and just wasn’t sure where to go after that. So it sat in my studio for a couple of months, half-completed and untouched, while I puzzled over what to do with it. I ended up finishing it off with fairly straightforward colors, but much head-scratching had to happen before that. Sometimes a painting just has to sit around a while before it’s finished.

This painting is sold, but others may be seen on my web site:

July 8, 2008 at 5:06 pm 1 comment

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Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

My links

My paintings

Follow me on Twitter: @barbarajcarter

Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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