Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering 2011 poster announced!

First String

Hi All,
I've been in the studio and have some new work that I'll be posting for you in the next few days. In the meantime, I wanted to share some exciting news about one of my pieces that was featured right here as a day by day painting demo a little while back. "First String" was selected to be the image used for the 2011 poster for the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. Every year some of the nation's best cowboy poets and musicians gather in Prescott, Az in August for a few days to tell stories, poetry and share their music. I've been fortunate enough to meet and get to know some of these talented performers and I'm honored to be associated in some small way with them. They are artists in every sense of the word. The dates for this year's gathering have yet to be set, but I will be there every day signing posters and meeting folks who love cowboy poetry as much as I do. I will be sure to add the dates here, as soon as they are announced.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Steve's painting given as AWEE's Spirit of Volunteerism Award

Barbara Jean Polk Spirit of Volunteerism Award
"Promise" painted by Steve Atkinson

Hello Everybody,

I'm pleased to present you my latest painting titled "Promise". It's a very special painting to me, and I was excited to do it for many reasons, but I think the most important one is that it's been done to honor a very special woman by a very special organization. Arizona Women's Education and Employment, Inc (or AWEE, from now on), is doing some incredible work here in Prescott as well as Phoenix, Arizona. What do they do? Well, pretty much what their name implies. In 1981, a few trailblazing Arizona women took on the challenge of changing lives through the dignity of work for the growing number of individuals relying on welfare. AWEE has been successfully investing in women, families and local communities through life and career success planning, training and support. To date they have served and supported close to 100,000 individuals on their career journey to obtain quality employment that creates positive changes and successful beginnings for themselves and their families.
AWEE provides a number of programs and services to unemployed and underemployed men and women. Their participants may be re-entering the workforce or seeking to improve their current employment situation. But to boil it all down to the basics, their mission is all about changing lives through the dignity of work.

The image of a pioneer woman was chosen, in part, because of the can do spirit of the people of Arizona, and a strong belief in self reliance. She is standing proudly and facing into a sunrise of a new day. The wind is blowing into her face, breathing life into the scene. I chose to have her holding a child, because 70% or so of the women who are helped by AWEE are single heads of households. A staggering number, and one that reflects a breakdown in the traditional family, and the strength of the women in our society.

As I work on a painting, I have a lot of time to think about what it is I'm doing, and trying to accomplish in the piece. I'm constantly asked how I come up with the name of a painting. Well, there isn't an easy answer since it's never the same twice. But they all have one thing in common, I never force the name, and trust that it will come to me when the time is right. Since this piece was for the AWEE Spirit of Volunteerism Award, as I was painting it, I spent much time reflecting on how one person could make such a difference in the life of another. It really comes down to living up to the potential of our Humanness. The simplest things can make the biggest difference in the life of someone who is in need. The name "Promise" was an easy choice for this painting, as it can have so many meanings . It stands for the Promise we've made to each other, to be there in our time of need. The Promise of God's Love to give us strength and to see us through the good times and bad. The Promise of a Mother to her child; in teaching what needs to be taught, and the Promise to let go when the time comes. In a larger sense, it also means the Promise to accept help when it's needed and offered. And, of course, the Promise of the rewards of a life well lived.

This is the first year for the Barbara Jean Polk Spirit of Volunteerism Award, and as the name implies, the inaugural recipient is Barbara Jean Polk. Barbara's volunteer efforts are legendary in Yavapai County. She works tirelessly to make the community she lives in a better place. Since this painting was going to be awarded to her, I decided to ask her daughter Julie, who just happened to be visiting from London at the time, if she would be the model for the painting. I think she was a little reluctant at first, but she soon agreed. She fit perfectly into the pioneer dress my wife Ann had sown, and with the addition of a period apron and baby we had our models (Thanks Julie, you were GREAT!!). The setting in the painting is a pond on the Polk's ranch, with which Barbara is very familiar. So with all the elements, it is a painting that will have more meaning than just an image. It's the things that she loves, and it makes me very happy to have been able to be a small part in giving back to this incredible woman. And I join with AWEE to say, Thank you Barbara!!

First of all, Barbara is a person who has devoted more hours volunteering to her causes than most of us ever do in a work day and her volunteerism started virtually the first day she set foot in Prescott back in 1956. Her resume summarizing her volunteer activities covers 3 full pages and an array of areas concerned with children in foster care, homelessness, mental illness, infant drug exposure, child abuse, status offenders, permanency planning for abused and neglected children, Prescott Arts and Humanities, and Prescott recreational services. There is obviously not enough room for me to cover everything, so I’ll just highlight a few.

Barbara was a founding member of Catholic Social Services, now Catholic Charities, in Yavapai County in 1976, and she was instrumental in expanding the services from a small one- room office to a countywide agency with many programs for the underprivileged.

For at least 30 years, Barbara has been involved in every level of foster care from providing a home to infants, to her appointment as a charter member on both the Yavapai County and the State Foster Care Review Board where she has served since 1979. Today, Barbara volunteers as a CASA, a court appointed special advocate, for children in foster care where she advocates for the best interests of children in the court system. Barbara is a co-founding board member of the Yavapai Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and has been a Big Sister to several young girls over the years.

I have barely made a dent in recounting for you Barbara’s volunteer work and the significant impact and difference she has made in the lives of the less fortunate here in Y.C., nor have I told you about the many local, state and national awards far too numerous for me to cover. What I want to specifically mention is the uniqueness of Barbara’s model of volunteerism. I think what I have learned from Barbara's unselfish model is just how much of a difference one person can make in this world. It reminds me of that old story about a man that was walking along a beach in the early morning. As he walked he would stoop over, pick up a starfish that had been stranded on the beach by the receding tide, and toss it back into the ocean. Someone who was also walking the beach at that time asked the man, "why are you even making the effort to save these starfish, there are thousands of them on this beach alone. You surely can't think you're making a difference?" The man stooped over and picked up another starfish and tossed it back in the water. "Made a difference to that one", he said.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bullets and Water Tanks Don't Mix

Bullets and Water Tanks Don't Mix, oil/canvas panel, ©2010

I did this painting on site, but put it away for a few days to let it dry and come back to it with a fresh eye. When I did take it out again to look at it, I felt I needed to do a few things to make it better. I simplified the trees in the background to the right. Once I set them back, the bullet riddled water tank became the star, which is as it should be. I also added a couple of prickly pears at the base of the tank.

Detail 1

Detail 2

Detail 3

This was painted at the Spider Ranch in Arizona, which is a cattle ranch about 30 minutes from where I live. The foreman and his best hand kindly offered to take me back to where they were scattering salt in preparation for the gather later this month. It's very rough country out there, and not easily gotten into. We could have gone on horseback, but the salt blocks are 50 lbs apiece on their own and we needed to take in quite a few. So, the foreman took his pickup loaded with salt, hay and dogs, the long way... roughly a three hour trip. That left Amy and myself to take the quads in, going over what can only be loosely called roads. OK, they were roads back in the 70's, but now they are more of a suggestion of a road on a lunar landscape. It took an hour and a half to get to the tank, stopping along the way to set out the salt blocks. When at the tank, we had a great lunch of beef wraps and a very cold beer. Then I was left to paint, while they went out and did their work. The tank did have holes in it from hunters who practice their marksmanship by shooting this poor defenseless tank. Hey, how hard is it to hit a huge water tank anyways? I'm just askin'. The myriad of colors on this rusty metal tank is what caught my eye. When I got done, I realized I hadn't brought my panel box with me, which protects a wet painting from smudging. Luckily, Gail offered to take it in his truck and saved me from having to wipe it. Thanks Gail and Amy for allowing me to tag along. It was a very special day for me. I was grinning for days with the memory.

Thanks for looking, Steve

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monument Valley *UPDATE*

Where the West Was Won, 12X16, oil/linen panel

Monument Valley Backlight, 12X16, oil/linen panel

Added to the Monument Valley painting was a mounted rider who has stopped just to admire the view. Monument Valley is widely known as the backdrop to some of John Ford's classic western movies such as "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" starring John Wayne. That's why I decided to rename this painting "Where the West Was Won".


Hi Everybody,
this painting was done as a result of my trip out to Jackson, Wyoming. On the way, we drove through Monument Valley. The artist reception at Trailside Gallery was the next day, so I didn't have time to set up and paint. But I did manage to take some great photos of the area. This setting was right behind a roadside Navajo stand, where they set up and sell their arts. So much of the jewelry and pottery is beautiful, and I'm a sucker for turquoise jewelry anyways, so, I usually end up leaving with something (so does Ann, bless her heart).

As I've mentioned before, I love painting backlit subjects, and these sandstone formations are no exception. When you see rock formations in the distance, you are looking through the veil of atmosphere that is between you and it. This veil flattens out and minimizes the values and definition of such formations. It's important when you paint these, to keep your values close and remember to paint the planes you see. A vertical plane catches less light than a flat plane, so it needs to be painted darker. But if you paint this area with just one color, such as blue or grey, you will not achieve the illusion of depth. It's important to mix warms and cools in those shadows. Just as important as doing it in the lights. You just need to keep them closer. Also, there is a natural color difference in color in this type of stone. It's important to pay attention to these subtle changes. I make sure to simplify the rock formations in the distance. It's sooooo easy to get lost in the detail that you see, but don't fall for it. You'll be much better served if you pick out a few defining cracks and crevices. Keep your detail in the foreground and allow the detail to fall away as your distance increases. It's the way our eye sees, and it's the way to fool the eye into believing it's seeing depth in a two dimensional surface. If you do these things, your paintings will have the atmospheric perspective that is much more believable. And in the end, you will have a painting, not just a copy of your photograph. Use your photos for the shapes and selective detail, but never be a slave to it. Make compositional changes to make your painting better. Nobody cares if that bush or that tree was painted exactly in the place you put it. What matters is, for you to end up with the best painting you can!

Thanks for looking, Steve

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quickie from Labor Day Camping Trip

Hi Everybody,

I've been busier than a cricket in a chicken coop these last few weeks, so, taking a long Labor Day weekend camping trip with friends to Lake Powell was a welcome relief. I did manage to take 45 minutes to paint this 6X8 of Castle Rock at sunset. When you do a small study like this with an end of day light effect, you really have concentrate on simple shapes, blocking in the shadows to lock them down. Once the shadow shapes are down, don't touch them. The easiest way to fail on one of these, is to keep adjusting the quick moving shadows, trying to keep up with what you see. Put down the big puzzle piece shapes, working as fast and as accurate as you can be.

Earlier in the day we had gone out kayaking and had strong winds and white caps kick up on our way back.... we weren't sure we were going to make it back to the harbor, being the land lubbers we are. But, since I'm here writing about it, we made it. Of course, when we made it back to the marina, we couldn't help but sing the theme song to Gilligans Island..... "a three hour tour, a three hour tour".

I've been working on some larger paintings which I hope to post for you soon, and haven't been able to post some of the paintings from the recent Grand Canyon paintout, but plan on doing that one of these days. Painting the Canyon was quite the challenge for me, and I found myself failing more than I succeeded, but by the end, I was producing some work I was happy with.

So, here is a quickie to hold you over till the next post....

Castle Rock Sunset_Lake Powell, 6X8

This is a photo of Bill Cramer, one of the painters at the Outdoor Painters Society Grand Canyon paintout. Bill is a wonderful painter, even if he is a little extravagant. Here's a photo of him looking for a place to set up his easel to paint. Come to think of it, I didn't see him after he painted from this spot....hmmmmm.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Hi Everybody,
Here are three on location paintings done last week before I left on my Wyoming trip. All three are Arizona high country scenes.

Tranquility Lake, 9X12 oil/canvas panel


Seen Better Days, 9X12 oil/canvas panel


View from Table Mountain, 9X12 oil/canvas panel


"Tranquility Lake" was done early morning at a small lake on the property of a local cattle ranch. The people running the place have been so very nice and supportive about letting me roam around the place and paint what I want. It's this artist's dream come true.

"Seen Better Days" was done at the same ranch around noon. They have a number of great old buildings in disrepair, but just oozing with personality. This buildings days are numbered, I'm told, so I'll be back soon to do more of this one.

"View from Table Mountain", just behind our home is a plateau known as Table Mountain. The views of the valley and surrounding area seem to go on forever in 360˚. It was an extremely windy day on top of Table Mountain, and even my Soltek held down with boulders was blowing over. So I painted with one hand holding the easel in place. Wind that strong and constant is really disconcerting after a few hours, and I can tell you I was glad when I was finished with this one.

On a more personal note, I'm pleased to announce that my painting "Hell For Leather" was selected as a Finalist in Raymar's Art Competition for July 2010. The judge for this month was Randall Sexton. My thanks to Randall and Raymar for this honor.

Thanks for looking, Steve

Friday, August 6, 2010

Buffalo Heart Studio

Native Head Dress, Buffalo Heart Studio

Hi Everybody!

Today's post is going to be different from any I've posted before. As a western painter, I have to keep a good number of articles of western clothing on hand. Chaps, chinks, guns,hats..... anything I might need to use as reference in a painting. The cowboy clothing is easy to obtain. But the period pieces for Native Americans or mountain men are harder to come by. Harder to get still, are pieces that are historically accurate. I do my research and know a little bit about a lot of things (as the song goes), but I don't know enough to be an expert in period clothing. That's when it helps to have a "Guy". Someone who can take your request for a piece and give you exactly what you need. Today's collectors are a savvy bunch. Particularly ones who collect a certain period or genre, like Native American art. Not only do they require the work to be top notch, but they know what they're buying. I want to share with you my best kept secret and secret weapon, Dave and Jan Hagstrom at Buffalo Heart Studio. They've been doing this work for some time, but the website is brand new. This is what they write on their site about what they do,

'Buffalo Heart Studio has been owned and operated by Dave & Jan Hagstrom since 2000 however Dave has been making creations of this type since the mid 1970's. We create historically accurate, museum quality Plains Indian artifact replicas for collectors, western artists, reenactors, interior designers, a few selected stores and galleries, museums and the film industry. Everything is done in-house including our braintanning so we retain complete control of the finished piece. We are proud of our work and we take it very seriously. This is what we do...this is how we make our living'.

that's quite a claim, but they back it up! Their creations are nothing short of spectacular. I know of several world class artists who use Their services and trust in their expertise to deliver museum quality show pieces which they use in their art and display in their home. Recently they delivered to me a stunningly beautiful head dress. I will be using it for future paintings, but I also display it in a place of honor in our home. And no, I didn't receive or ask for a discount, to put up this post. I just believe in what he does. And I want the rest of you artist's out there, who are in need of a good affordable source for accurate Native American or mountain man costumes, to have one.


'Dave Hagstrom was born in 1947 in northwestern Wyoming not far from where he now lives which is 60 miles from the east entrance of Yellowstone Park and 15 miles from Montana. He was a taxidermist and tanner for many of his teen and adult years and has worked as a hunting guide in Wyoming and Tanzania. While Dave makes a living at creating these historically accurate artifact replicas, he is also a painter in acrylics and sculptor in bronze plus a Northern Traditional powwow dancer. They spend a good deal of time with friends and extended family on the Crow rez in Montana dancing, hunting and attending sweats.

Jan Hagstrom was born in New Mexico but has lived in Wyoming since the mid 1970's. She is an accomplished beadworker, seamstress and works on many of the pieces created by Buffalo Heart Studio. Jan is also an herbal healer and a multi award winning baker. Her talents and abilities are a large part of what makes up the business and she is the glue that keeps it all together.'


Here are a few examples of Buffalo Heart Studio's work, starting with the head dress they created for me.

Feather Headdress

Approximately 32 hand painted golden eagle feathers tipped with natural or dyed horsehair and ermine spots. Cap can be old felt hat (historically accurate from 1860) or buckskin. Back of cap has hand painted eagle body feathers and fluffs and Sun Dance plume. Lazy stitch beaded brow band with hawk bells. Split and tubed ermine drops and ribbons at the temples. Split and decorated buffalo horns available.


Now some pieces are very labor intensive and don't come cheap. Native American shirts are one of those. The amount of work that goes into one of these shirts in ridiculous! They can make you any tribal shirt you need. Dave will research it to make sure it's accurate.

Crow Hair Shirt

Approximate replica of a Crow hair shirt. (Please note that this shirt has been sold and we are now in the process of making a new one which will have some differences. Description is of the new one) Braintan deer. Fringed with about 100 real human hair locks wrapped with colored thread. Many ermine drops split and sewn into tubes. Shirt is painted with earth and mineral paints. Crow style beaded arm and shoulder strips. Beaded tradecloth and buckskin neck flaps front and back. Back of shirt is very close in appearance to the front. Only a very important man in the Crow Nation would wear a shirt such as this.


Northern Plains Bowcase & Quiver

This one is a Northern Cheyenne style replica bowcase/quiver made with braintanned deer. Lazy stitch beaded panels at both ends of quiver and bowcase. Please note that beaded panels and the fringe on both the bowcase and quiver are on one side only which was not uncommon in the old days however some were on both sides and we can do that as well. Both seams wrapped with tradecloth and laced with braintan deer. Tradecloth backed carrying strap has two beaded panels. Three historically accurate, sinew wrapped, iron trade pointed arrows and non-shooter bow. Altered commercial buckskin model is also available. Other tribal style and designs are available.


Painted Buffalo Robes

This one is painted with acrylics however we can and have painted them with natural pigments. Good soft robes. As you can see this one is of a buffalo hunt but we can also paint horse raids or battle scenes or anything else you might want. Subject matter is historically accurate. A design like this can be done on
deer as well. We also offer painted elk robes. If you prefer braintanned robes let us know and we'll check on current prices and availability at that time. Stake holes can be added for slight additional charge.


Split-Horn Ermine Headdress (Blackfoot style replica)

Several tribes used the split-horn ermine headdress but the Blackfoot headdresses were different in some ways. For example, most used split buffalo horns and other horns were made of wood and wrapped with wool tradecloth. Two other identifying qualities are that all ermine pieces are split and sewn into tubes including those on the cap and side drops which is very time consuming. The other is that very rarely did they use a beaded brow band. Trailers were usually full length but some were shorter like this one and others had no trailer but used extra long ermine skins instead. Please note, this one pictured here was a custom order created for a well known western artist and we agreed not to make another exactly like it for other artists. Pronghorn antelope horns are available instead of split buffalo horn. Full trailer instead of half length with approx. 50 hand painted in-line golden eagle tail feathers available for an additional charge.


Gros Ventre Style Shield

Approximate replica of a shield that belonged to Bull Lodge. This is the only shield we've done that is a very close reproduction of an original. Most shield designs came to men through dreams and visions so we don't like to copy them closely. There are some changes on this shield that are not like the original for that reason. Buffalo rawhide wrapped with red tradecloth on a willow hoop. Twenty-one hand painted golden eagle feathers, two beaded medicine bags, hawk bells and two horsehair locks. Hand and arm carrying straps. Paints are ground up earth and charred wood pigments applied with willow and porous bone brushes in the old way. Deer rawhide over willow hoop version also available.


Well, there you have it. I hope you've enjoyed this posting and will visit Dave and Jan at the Buffalo Heart Studio website, not only to buy, but just to browse. Please pass this info along..... I believe it's important that we support those people who make it possible for us to create accurate works of art.

Thanks, Steve

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Rancher

The Rancher, 14X11 oil on linen panel

Hi Everybody,
I decided to take an afternoon and do a quick portrait study. Something that wouldn't take a week or two to finish and throw caution to the wind. In my latest painting, The Rancher, I worked quickly and with more paint than I'm used to putting down. But in the end, I think I got the look I was going after. There is nothing more exciting for me to look at than a painting in which it's pretty obvious that the painter enjoyed him or herself while doing it...


I have to thank my sister-in-law for being responsible for this painting happening at all. Ann's brother's family came up for the Prescott Rodeo on the 4th of July and we were all having lunch at a local BBQ joint, when I spotted this gentleman having lunch with his family too. I leaned over and quietly told them that he had the look I was looking for and that I would love to paint him. But I was too shy to go up and ask a perfect stranger if I could paint a picture of him, so we left without saying a word. We spotted him again when going into the rodeo, and again a few rows away from us in their seats. On the way out, I had stopped to get a refreshment, but my sister in law spotted him again, and taking it as a sign from the Gods, went up to his wife and introduced herself and asked if Jim ( I later learned was his name) would be open to meeting me, an artist who would like to paint him. She came up to me and asked if I would like to meet my model. Jim was as nice as could be and we talked for a while. He is a rancher and roper and was very gracious in granting my request for some photos. It was too crowded there, but we met up at the local courthouse square, where we got to know each other a bit and he posed for me. Thanks Jim for being so willing to help out an artist... your print is on it's way. And thanks to Danyelle too for being my nerve on this one. I now have a specialty business card that I give away to prospective models so that they know I'm on the level and ain't some kind of crackpot. The front of the card has a portrait I've done so they can see my work, and the back not only has my info, but also a short model release that they can sign and date for my records.

original photo

I kept the background more abstract but also retained the greens of the pine tree in the background. It's a nice neutral color which compliments skin tones. The colors are broken and unmixed in the thicker passages. Also I worked in some of the reds/pinks from his shirt into the background. I did that same mixing into the figure, adding some of the background colors.

Detail 1

Detail 2

Detail 3

Detail 4

Detail 5

Thanks for looking and let me know what your thoughts are. Happy painting, Steve

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Paint the Parks" Show Awards Announced

Hi Everyone,
Today the awards were announced for Paint America's 2010 "Paint the Parks" Competition and Show. My entry, "Dawn Over Tsegi Overlook" was given the Western Regional Award. This national competition is open to paintings of our National Parks. For the competition, the country is broken down into three regions. The region I competed in was region 2 which includes Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California, as well as Hawaii. I'm truly honored to receive this award, since the skill level of the artists participating is so very high. Honestly, I would have been thrilled to just have been included in the show. This is a touring show and will be traveling to many cities throughout the United States in the next year. You can go to their website at to view the show.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Free Trapper, 30X30 oil/stretched linen

Hi Everybody,
I've been wanting to do this painting for some time now. This is a simple portrait of a free trapper. During the fur trade era, the western mountains were over run with a rare breed of men who were looking to make their fortunes by trapping animals which were in great demand back east. By far, the fur that was most in demand was beaver. Most of these men were content to leave their civilized world behind to live by their wits in a decidedly hostile environment. Many started their training by working for the fur companies like the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, but a few moved on to be their own boss and master.

Keith Walters in his wonderful, information filled book, The Book of the Free Trapper, wrote this in his introduction:

'When John Colter left the enlistment of Lewis and Clark and began an amazing wilderness odyssey, a breed of men unsurpassed in bravery and skill was born. It was the breed of man who would roam the Rocky Mountains in search of beaver for the next 40 years. It was the breed of men known as the Free Trappers; the Mountain Men.
While the land was still virgin and unpeopled, the free trapper, bound by none, lived, loved, and ended a very misunderstood life. Labeled as crazy, outlaw, and forsaken for their wayward lives, the mountain men were the freest men ever t0 walk this land.
An attempt to explain the reasoning for any man exchanging a secure life for a life filled with constant danger, extreme loneliness, and no financial gain is an exercise in futility. Perhaps this was the reason for the misunderstanding of the mountain men. The reason a man would choose a life that would probably be his death can only be understood as a feeling, a sort of enchantment cast by the Rocky Mountains upon a handful of men predestined to roam as mountain men.'

Now, why Mr Walters chose to completely ignore the fact that the Native American roamed these mountains, and described the mountains as "unpeopled" is beyond me. But moving beyond that, he was right that these men lived by their wits and usually in a solitary existence. Once a year they would gather together to restock their supplies and make trades for their plews. These rendezvous, as they were known, were often the only time they would be with other human beings. It was a time for playing hard, as well as drinking hard.

I like to paint people who live by their wits and grit. The attitude is all important. His glance is wise and slightly defiant. With one hand on his rifle, and the other holding a willow hoop upon which is stretched a beaver pelt. He wears a capote (french for cape), a coat which is made from the wool trade blankets which were so prevalently available to the trappers. You can tell the quality and the cost of a trade blanket by looking at the number of stripes it has on it. Each stripe represents one beaver pelt required for the trade. The more stripes it has, the thicker and warmer it is. If you look at this trappers capote, you'll see three stripes, so this blanket cost him three beaver pelts.

I first became interested in mountain men after watching the great Sidney Pollack movie, Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford and Will Geer. Since then I've read just about every book on the history of the mountain man, and attended yearly rendezvous, which are gatherings of reenactors who try to reproduce, as accurately as possible, the ways, clothing and accoutrement of these hardy souls (although, I'm not one of the reenactors, and never dress up). It's where I met the model for this painting, a gregarious man known to everyone as Grampa Jim. Jim not only posed for me, but took a ridiculous amount of time answering my questions and tutoring me to correct my misconceptions. I am always grateful to anyone who is willing to share their hard earned knowledge.

Detail 1

Detail 2

On the technical side of this painting, these two close ups are just for the purpose of showing the broken colors and technique. Notice the reflected light in the close up of the shaded parts of his face. There are reds and greens and blues there. They are subtle and placed in the proper place and are not random. The greens reflect the pine tree, the reds reflect the light bouncing up from his coat and the blues are reflected from the sky. I've found that reflected light of those colors that surround an item is the single best way to paint believable light and turn a form to make it read as three dimensional. Reflected light is present almost everywhere. It bounces colors and influences all things around it. Be careful to not over do it, reflected light must never be as bright as the lit side of an object.

Detail 3

In this detail photo of the hand, if you look at the dark head wrap in the upper right corner, you'll see that the bright red of his coat is reflected up onto it. The red of his coat is also glowing a bit into the dark area of the head wrap. Do this strategically to reinforce the idea of strong sunlight.

If you take a little time to look at how light works, and consistently add it to your paintings, you will go a long way to improving your paintings.

Thanks for visiting! Steve

Friday, July 2, 2010

Racing the Wind

Racing the Wind, 24X30, oil on linen, ©2010 Steve Atkinson

Hi Everybody,
this scene has so many of the elements of western art that I love. First are the riders , which are coming directly at the viewers. Second is the dusty atmosphere. The riders are trying their best to stay ahead of the dust devil, which seems to be chasing them. The dust keeps the edges of everything soft. The third thing I like to challenge myself to paint, is the backlit subject. The way it keeps the shadow element values very close, while it lights up the edges of these things leaves no room for error.


One more thing about this painting that I enjoyed, is that its set in one of my favorite places in the world, Canyon de Chelly.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

View of Yellowstone Falls

View of Yellowstone Falls, 12X9 oil/canvas panel

Hi Everybody,

I've been finishing up some larger pieces for Trailside's Western Classics show in Jackson, Wy later in the Summer, which I'll be posting here in the next couple of days. But I needed a break from staring at the same couple of feet of canvas, so I did this quick painting. Painting loose was just the thing I needed to recharge my batteries. Start to finish it was about two hours. Just as if I had painted it on site and not cooped up in the studio.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Dawn at Tsegi Overlook

Dawn at Tsegi Overlook
Canyon de Chelly
16X40, oil/stretched linen


Hi Everybody,

This is my latest painting, still wet even. You don't need to go down into Canyon de Chelly to get some truly incredible views. Tsegi Overlook is an incredible vista any time of day, but it's in the early morning that it truly sings. This is the perfect spot to see atmospheric perspective at work.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

First String, finished version

Hi Everybody,

I finally got to finish "First String", and wanted to make sure I posted it. I've been working on several other larger paintings in the mean time, but needed to have a little time and distance before I came back to this one. It always helps me to take a break from a painting, turn it to the wall, and come back to it with a fresh eye (that is, if you have the time, and deadlines don't require you to get it to the gallery). Problems that plagued me originally, or things that were wrong that I hadn't even noticed before, jump out at me and are much easier to address now.

First String, 24X30 oil/linen

First String will be included in Trailside Galleries' "Salute to Summer" show in June, 2010 in Jackson, Wyoming.

Thanks for looking, Steve

Friday, April 30, 2010


Revised final painting, where I closed up the crack
along the front of the skull. Now it's not
 so distracting, and you see a beautiful skull
instead of a skull that has a big crack in it.

Dust and Thunder, 30X40 oil on stretched linen

My latest painting is called "Dust and Thunder". I find that I don't paint many still life's, just because I don't find that the traditional subject matter of flowers or fruit interesting. But I could look at a scenes like this forever. A painting with history or a deeper meaning, and yet is simple at it's very heart. In this scene, just a Navajo blanket, a lariat and a buffalo skull. It's the whole history of the west in one scene.

sketch for Dust and Thunder

This painting will be included in Trailside's upcoming "Salute to Summer" show at their Jackson, Wyoming location. I'm planning on having 4 new paintings to be included in the show that kicks off the season in the Jackson Hole area in Wyoming. The tourist season starts the Memorial Day weekend. It's almost like someone fires a starting gun in the air, and the people and buses start streaming in. If you've not been to Wyoming in general or Jackson specifically, try to get there. It's one of the most beautiful places in the West.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


MARIAH, 9X12 oil on canvas ©2010

I will be posting a 30X40 painting in the next day or so, but in the mean time, I did a small landscape painting for the "Salute to Summer" show opening in June at the Jackson Wyoming Trailside Gallery. I love how cloud cover can quickly come in and cover the peaks of mountains. It's what happened the last time I visited the Tetons in Wyoming. In the distance you could see that it was clearing and wouldn't be long till the sun was back. It was a very windy day, so I named it the name of the wind, the same as the old song of the same name. Total painting time, 3 1/2 hours.

When I first started painting landscapes, it would take me days to produce one of these. As usual, I was getting lost in the details, instead of concentrating on the light effect, which is the essence of so many successful landscapes. I would get lost in painting the pine trees, being a slave to my reference, instead of using my photos as a jumping off point. Now I paint my areas in as general shapes, puzzle pieces which fit into each other, leaving the details until the effect was there already. Decide wher your focal point is and let the other areas in your painting play seconds to it. I wanted the focal point of this piece to be the area highlighted in detail #3 below. It has the areas of biggest contrast, and most detail. Everything else should support it, not compete with it. Don't kill a painting with extraneous details!

I get a lot of positive feedback on the close up details I post. So, here are some close ups of some of the more interesting passages.....

Detail 1

Detail 2

Detail 3

Hope you find this post helpful and interesting. Thanks for checking in!! --Steve

Sunday, April 18, 2010

First String Daily Demo, Day 5

Hi Everybody,
Today is "Paint a Cowboy" day. Time to get the rest of the canvas covered. That means painting in the shirt, jeans, boot and hands.

The shirt is in as well as the hands and part of the jeans. Like in the rest of the photo, I've simplified the folds in the shirt. The things I'm concentrating on for the shirt is getting the proper values in the right places. And getting in the light effect. This means adding colors that the photos don't usually contain. As you probably know, photos are great for giving us details that (my mind at least) we have a hard time retaining, or an even harder time making up. And though, the computer monitor is better at getting the colors as close to the original as we can, it still is only as good as you can tweak it. And you can only tweak it as good as you understand what happens with light. It's why I paint on location whenever I can. Nothing is better at teaching you the laws of light. I've never really mentioned another reason to paint outside. Willingness to publicly fail. I find that it's a very humbling experience to paint on location. Nothing, and I mean Nothing, draws people to you like setting up a tripod and paint box. People who would normally never dream of talking to perfect strangers, feel completely comfortable walking up to an artist and starting up a conversation. I've found that the law of crappy attraction applies, at least for me, while I'm painting out. This means that people will be attracted to your easel only when you are struggling with a painting, and come up at the worst time. People never seem to even see me when I'm working on a painting that's going well. That will keep anyone's ego waaaay down. So, back to the painting at hand.... now I'm working on painting in the light effect.

Here's a detailed view of the shirt which has a good representation of the warms and cools in both the light and shadow areas. Since the light areas have a warm light source, most of the lights are warm.... yellows, oranges and such. But it's important to put in some grays and blues here and there to make the effect more believable. I keep the warms an cools close in value and the human eye accepts the temp changes. Lots of reflected light in the shadow areas, especially where the reflected light is bouncing off the shirt itself.

The jeans go in next. The thing I spent the most time doing here is painting the top of the jeans more blue, and transitioning the pant leg to have more dust down at the bottom. So it ends up being warmer down at the boot. Two reasons I'm doing this, even though the reference doesn't have this. It makes the scene more believable, since the cowboy should have more dust on his pants down by his boots, since there is so much blowing dust. And it keeps him from looking like he's been pasted into the scene. Also is doesn't draw your eye down to the foot, and keeps it at the focal point, where it belongs.

The shadow areas have a nice warm reflected light bouncing onto the leg and really helps to turn the edge. I'm also keeping the edges softer in these areas. This also turns the edge and keeps your eye moving.

Here's the complete figure painted in. The canvas now is completely covered.

The painting at the end of day 5. I forgot to mention that I also went back into the foreground dirt and added a nice thick area of paint to bring more excitement to the painting. The thicker areas of paint are usually the first things people see when they look at a painting. But that's usually one of the last things I paint.

Only now that the entire canvas has paint covering it, can I begin the process of refinement. Now I can begin to adjust and balance the values which are too weak or strong, warm or cool, hard or soft edges. This is always my favorite part of a painting. This will make or break it's success.

I darken the shadow area of the horse's breast and bring it's value up to where it belongs. I also start to work on the lead ropes, softening edges and refining lights and darks. In the next couple of days I will be concentrating on adjusting any of these trouble areas. Also it's time to start perfecting the anatomy of the musculature of the horses legs and hooves. Finding the balance between detail and simplification. I will also be concentrating on getting the fence and gate finished, as well as adding the background details. Lots to do, but it really is the fun part.

Now I wait for a couple of days till the surface of the thicker paint dries. Right now it's in that weird tacky stage and can't be worked on till the entire surface dries. Then I'll bring the paint back to it's true colors by coating the surface, but more on that in the next installment. Needing to let the painting dry is why I work on several paintings at once. See you in a few days...