On Location in Utah

Blue Mountain Lodge-group shot

Back Row, L-R: Colin Page (ME), Paul Schulenburg (MA), Glenn Dean (CA), Jeremy Lipking (CA), Eric Merrell (CA), Logan Hagege (CA), Ignat Ignatov (CA), Marc Hanson (CO); Front Row, L-R: Peter Kalill (MA), Jerome Greene (MA), Ernesto Nemesio (CA), James Coe (NY), Frank Gardner (MEX).

I joined our motley collection of artists this year for our informal annual painting trip, this time to paint in Utah. Hailing from the East coast, West coast and Mexico, we all stayed together at a lodge and traveled to many of the parks nearby, including Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Monument Valley, and even an Anasazi ruin. (Previous trips have included Maine, Cape Cod, and Mexico.) It was a great week of camaraderie, painting, and catching up while talking shop; also, lots of practical jokes and fun.

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Eric Merrell painting in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

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Frank Gardner painting in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Many of the locations are spread out around eastern Utah and required a 1.5 – 2 hour drive, but we got early starts to the day and saw a lot of that part of the state. Or, if we got late starts, at least we painted until dark!

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Marc Hanson painting on the edge in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Ernesto, James, Paul, Jerome, Logan, Pete, Marc_s

(L-R): Ernesto Nemesio, James Coe, Paul Schulenburg, Jerome Greene, Logan Hagege, Pete Kalill, Marc Hanson.

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Eric Merrell, Marc Hanson, and James Coe painting in Canyonlands.

Anasazi Ruins, Utah-Jerome, James, Marc, Eric_s

Jerome Greene, James Coe, Marc Hanson, and Eric Merrell painting from an Anasazi ruin, Utah.

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Monument Valley (L-R): Eric Merrell, James Coe, Pete Kalill, Ernesto Nemesio, Colin Page, Jerome Greene, Marc Hanson, Ignat Ignatov, Frank Gardner, and Paul Schulenburg.

By the end of the trip the lodge was packed with paintings, probably 15-20 per person, along with tons of photos and sketches. Many of the guys from the East coast had never been to places like this, and I’m always intrigued to see what people paint in new places. Lots of great compositions and new ideas came out of the trip, and everyone went home inspired.

We had fantastic weather all week until the last two days: first we had a full day of wind, including some 40+ mph gusts up on the bluffs of Canyonlands (some people nearly lost their easels off of the 1,400′ cliff), and then snow on the last day. To start the early morning 11-hr drive back home, I had to dig my truck out of a few inches of ice and snow, and, south of Monument Valley drove through a blowing snowstorm; but by the time we reached the Mojave Desert back in California it was nice and warm.

Painting setup in Blanding, Utah 2013_s

On the last full day we got a good covering of snow to work with.

Painting Nocturnes

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Moonwashed Desert, 21″ x 24″, Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

I’ll be teaching a workshop next weekend, Oct. 12-13, 2013, focusing on painting nocturnes. If you’re interested in signing up for this unique experience, you can find more info here.

Ever since I began painting at night it’s been a deep interest for me. It’s not something that a lot of artists have attempted, and can be endlessly rewarding. Painting a moon rising over the horizon is great, but standing outdoors in the light of the full moon is magical, and it’s not just black and white: the value range is reduced, but there is much more color than most would think. Try it sometime: just stand in the moonlight, and look at the color of say, the sidewalk versus the grass. Look at the trees and the sky. I’ll bet you will start to see subtle differences that manifest themselves in color.

Nocturnes provide great situations to work with mood and quiet emotion, and the softness of shapes is infinitely fascinating: while individual shapes are distinguishable, it’s hard to say where one thing stops and another begins. Therein lies the challenge of painting what you see, not what you know.

Painting at night is very similar to painting during the day as far as the approach to painting it and the materials required, with one crucial exception – a light. You need a source that provides enough balanced light to see what you’re doing without being so bright that you can’t see the landscape you’re painting. I’ve come up with a solution that allows me to get very subtle color on location and is not a big surprise when I bring it indoors to a normally lighted room. Lighting and color will be discussed along with other issues one encounters at night in greater detail during the workshop.

Sign up here.

The Artist As Critic: Art That Inspires

An Interview with Eric Merrell Discussing His Salton Sea Haze and
Gustav Klimt’s (1862-1918) Attersee, 1909
by Stephanie Campbell (Summer 2013 issue, CAC Newsletter)

SaltonSea_Haze 30x30_3inH
Eric Merrell, Salton Sea Haze, Oil on canvas mounted on panel, 30″ x 30″
American Legacy Fine Arts, Pasadena

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Attersee, 1901, Oil on canvas, 31.57″ x 31.57″
Leopold Museum, Vienna

Eric Merrell was recently interviewed by Stephanie Campbell for the Artist As Critic series featured in the California Art Club Newsletter (previously featured artists include John Asaro, Amy Sidrane, and Tony Peters, among others). Here is the article:

STEPHANIE CAMPBELL: When did you first learn of Gustav Klimt, and how did he and his work impact you?

ERIC MERRELL: It was in my early college years, while I was at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia that I first learned about Gustav Klimt. I was initially introduced to his figurative work, which is what he is best known for, but a few years later I cam across a book that was specifically dedicated to Klimt’s landscapes. Immediately, I was intrigued by his use of color and shapes, and found his landscape compositions innovative and fresh.

SC: Can you tell us a bit about Klimt’s era?

EM: Klimt was classically and conservatively trained at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts where he focused on architectural painting. His career began as part of an intimate group of painters with his brother, Ernst, known as the “Company of Artists.” The group provided him with important public projects including interior ceiling murals in large buidings on the historic Ringstrasse in Vienna. One of his most successful series was the “Allegories and Emblems.” Some years later he became one of the founding members of the Vienna Secession movement. The secessionists were a group of many different kinds of artists who were trying to find a bigger and newer voice, but not necessarily with the purpose to get rid of the tradition. They were just trying to find their own place in the art world.

SC: How do you classify yourself as an artist?

EM: That’s hard to say. I feel an affinity with the California Impressionists and also with some of the Romantics, but I don’t know if it’s completely accurate to place myself in those categories. The title “Romance of the West” that American Legacy Fine Arts gave to my summer 2011 exhibition was very apt. Romance in the classic sense is missing from the contemporary art world, and I think that is a big part of what my work is about. The ideal American West, pulling oneself up by your bootstraps and making something out of an opportunity, is something that I feel is lacking today.

SC: What ultimate effect would you like to have on society as an artist?

EM: I want to show that there is still something new that can be said with painting. I want to paint subjects they may have otherwise not thought of as being paintable. I find myself avoiding “traditional” perspectives of landscapes and digging a little deeper. For example, some of my latest interests have been painting right at dusk and during the middle of the day, periods which many artists refer to as “flat light” as there are no shadows to use for contrast. Of course, the world doesn’t change from 3-dimensional in the morning to 2-dimensional at noon and back again in the afternoon – these situations are all paintable, they just need to be approached differently. I have also found that nocturnes provide a lot of room to explore artistically. In these types of situations I find I can solve some of these problems by playing with abstractions, shapes, and color. By doing so, I hope to show people how to see things from a different perspective. I truly enjoy taking a very traditional scene and making it my own, as Klimt did.

SC: How would you compare your style to that of Klimt’s?

EM: Our color sensibilities are different, as is with every artist, because color becomes a very personal thing. Our training is also very different; he was trained under the much more classic academy and atelier style, whereas my education was (initially) based more on commercial illustration. Despite these differences I feel a kinship with Klimt. I can relate to the way that he saw the world. He didn’t just do landscape for landscape’s sake, he was doing something more unique with it.

SC: How do you think your painting Salton Sea Haze and Klimt’s Attersee are similar and how are they different?

EM: Though our color sensibilities are different, our palettes are similar in this case where our use of colors are in the same family, such as the silvery violets and the cooler sea greens. I wasn’t familiar with Klimt’s painting, Attersee, until after my wife Ramona, went to Austria and saw it in the Leopold Museum. She emailed me a picture of it, because she thought the similarity (including the square format) was uncanny to my Salton Sea Haze. Despite how similar the tones are, the paintings are climatically different: Attersee depicts the cool damp European climate while Salton Sea Haze shows the dry heat of the southern California desert.

SC: What do you find particularly interesting about the Salton Sea, and what do you think Klimt saw in Lake Attersee?

EM: I’ve become more interested in temperature and color contrasts, beyond value contrasts, and because the desert lends itself to those qualities I often paint there. In particular though the grand scale of the Salton Sea and the fact that not a lot of artists have explored it as an appealing subject matter, gives it a pioneer aspect. It also has a bad stigma to it (drug trafficking, dead fish, and abandoned trailer parks) but I want to show the beauty that is there that people don’t think about. The feminine aspect of depicting a body of water is what first comes to mind with Klimt as inspiration for Attersee, as his work often featured women. There is also the challenge of painting a body of water, Unfortunately most of what we are taught about Klimt relates to his figures, historically his landscapes and the inspiration behind them have received little attention.

SC: How would you compare Klimt’s landscapes to his figurative work?

EM: They all have a mosaic quality. A 2006 LACMA exhibit of Klimt’s work had a few figures and a few landscapes. The exhibition allowed people to see that although the subject matter is different in the paintings, there is a lot of crossover between the two areas. His landscapes may have been more of a breath of fresh air to him, because most of his figures were commissioned works, which meant dealing with individuals and committees, while his landscapes would have been painted by personal choice.

SC: What in particular attracts you to Klimt’s Attersee?

EM: There is something about this painting that always seems to retain a certain freshness; it’s one of those paintings that you can keep looking at and it never gets old. It has a contemplative quality that can put you into a meditative state.

SC: Do you think that you and Klimt were trying to achieve the same visual effect?

EM: I feel like he was honoring traditions, while still using his own voice and creating something different. I hope that is something I am also achieving. I’m in this funny position contemporarily where I feel as though I’m more modern than a traditionalist, but I’m too traditional for the modernists. Somehow, I like that.

SC: How directly do you think Klimt’s style has influenced you?

EM: I don’t think his style has influenced me so much, but it’s rather the way he sees things in simple shapes and design. Our textures and brushwork are different, but the way he views the world and translates that onto his canvas has had a big impact on the way I see the world.

SC: How do you feel Klimt has influenced other contemporary artists?

EM: Klimt was so unique in his own way that it is hard for people to be directly influenced by his work without having their work inadvertently look like his. Indirectly, I think that he has influenced contemporary artists such as myself in a way that inspires us to follow our own voice.

Master Workshops: Pasadena, Carmel and More

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The Water That Is Entirely Jewels, 11″ x 14″, Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Why should an artist paint on location? How do I know what to paint? How do I create personal work that stands out?

I hope you’ll join me for a few workshops that I’ll be teaching this October in the Pasadena area, and we’ll work on answering those questions. I’m especially looking forward to the Seeing at Night class, as we’ll be focused on how to paint on location at night. I think this will be unique, as not many artists work on location to paint nocturnes – I’ll show my approach that allows you to see REAL subtlety and color, not invented color.

LANDSCAPE PAINTING, October 4-6, 2013 (3 days)
For more info and to register please visit the Workshops page on my website.

SEEING AT NIGHT, October 12-13, 2013 (2 days)
For more info and to register please visit the Workshops page on my website.

I’ve also partnered with Carmel Visual Arts to do a 3-day workshop in Carmel:

PLEIN AIR ALONG THE SEA, November 9-11, 2013 (3 days) Register here

And if you’ve been following my California desert workshops, I’ve just scheduled the 3rd Annual workshops for both Anza-Borrego and Joshua Tree. There aren’t many workshops taught in either place, and my experience painting on location in the desert will help to bring the classes to great locations and have a great experience.

For more info and to register please visit the Workshops page on my website.

For more info and to register please visit the Workshops page on my website.

Check out photos from previous workshops.

Painting Workshop in Joshua Tree

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Field sketches from the trip, including a handful of nocturnes.

I held my second landscape painting workshop of the year in Joshua Tree during April, a beautiful time to be in the desert (Read about the earlier workshop in Anza-Borrego in March). Rain has been pretty sparse the last couple of years, so the annual wildflower bloom was pretty much nil in both the high and low deserts, but the cacti and Joshua Tree are pretty dependable for producing some showy flowers. I’ve been to the JT area numerous times, but there are always new places to explore and paint. Once you become familiar with different areas, you start to notice differences in elevation, plant life, and color.

Day 1-am-Hidden Valley02_s

Day 1 began with a demo in Hidden Valley, one of my favorite spots in the Park.

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Artists working at Hidden Valley near sunset.


The class got together for a fun BBQ on the first evening.

We began the workshop at Hidden Valley. I chose a few different locations throughout the high-desert section of the park that would provide different landscapes to paint – open vistas full of Joshua trees, areas packed with huge monzogranite boulders, and mountaintop views of the Coachella Valley and Salton Sea. Even the color of the soil varies from place to place. After painting all morning, the class would take a 3-4 hour lunch break to relax, heading back to hotels or into town for a sandwich. Though we didn’t encounter too much wind or heat, the intense light really tires out your eyes, so a siesta is crucial. When we returned in the afternoon after a good rest, everyone was ready to jump back into painting. I began each afternoon session with another demo, same as the morning, and we would paint until sunset. The town of Joshua Tree is not that far off the beaten track (much more established than the sleepy town of Borrego Springs), so we would gather in the evening to eat at one of the good restaurants in town, chat about art, check email, or do a little grocery shopping for a BBQ.

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Day 2 demo in Lost Horse Valley. (group in middle distance)

During Day 2 we painted in Lost Horse Valley in the morning and spent the afternoon at Quail Springs. I had initially planned for us to paint at Key’s View, a spectacular lookout with views over the Coachella Valley including the San Andreas Fault, the Salton Sea, and San Jacinto, but after we arrived the wind nearly blew us off the precipice. We enjoyed the view for a few minutes before we retreated back down to lower elevations to paint.

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Day 3 painting near the West Entrance to the Park.

Our timing was perfect for nocturnes – the full moon was due to rise just a few days after the workshop ended, so during the workshop weekend a bright moon would already be in the night sky by the time it was dark. I had arrived in the desert a few days before the start of the workshop so I was able to paint a few nocturnes, but after painting all day during the class we just never had enough energy. There was quite an interest in trying to paint the moonlight though, so I’m going to be planning a nocturne-only workshop in the near future. Bookmark this page on my website for upcoming workshop news.

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An artist working under the shade of a Joshua Tree.

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Day 3 ended with us back at Hidden Valley painting amongst the boulders.

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The end of the workshop, everyone exhausted but happy.

After a very productive workshop and informal critique, we headed out for dinner at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, a must if you’re going anywhere near Joshua Tree. They feature live music most nights and the food is awesome. The Santa Maria tri-tip BBQ is always hot, and the bowl of chili is amazing. A good evening to wrap up a solid couple of days painting in the Joshua Tree desert.

Day 3-P&H_s

No trip to Joshua Tree is complete without an evening at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.

102nd Annual Gold Medal Exhibition

Amidst the Slowness, 24″ x 28″, Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell.

I’ve just received news that the painting above will be included in the California Art Club’s 102nd Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition in June, held this year at USC’s Fisher Museum of Art. For me this painting is personally important as it contains my deep affection for the wild open spaces of the desert, but it was also contains artistic growth for me, pushing myself to paint new things I’m seeing, such as the subtleties of dusk and other areas of visual perception that can sometimes take on an abstract quality but are nonetheless made more “real” solely by context. In other words, our perception of the world is often abstract, but certain things ground that perception and help us understand it.

I’m also honored to have been recently elected to Signature Artist Member of the CAC.

Interview with Michael Corbin (ArtBookGuy)

Shadows Between the Sky 16x20
Shadows Between the Sky, 16″ x 20″, Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell. This painting was conceived solely from thumbnail sketches, written color notes, and observations from the landscape.

I was recently interviewed by Michael Corbin, who runs the website artbookguy.com. I really like what he’s doing there – interviewing artists in a unique format via email that is rather like a conversation, and working hard to make art more central to our everyday lives. Here is the start of the interview:

Eric Merrell is one of the most gifted and insightful painters, I’ve ever interviewed www.ericmerrell.com. His observations are right on target and he’s a truly informed artist who has lots to say that may be of use to other living artists. What does he say? Check out our cool chat …

MICHAEL: Hey Eric, Your work is cool. First off, what is it about plein air painting that appeals to you?

ERIC: Hi Michael, I grew up camping with my family, so have always had a great love for the outdoors. I like to visit places and immerse myself in them – I look around a lot and compose mentally while exploring. Often when I’m on a painting trip, I’ll read about the location in the evenings after painting – history, geology, legends. Being on location gives me the opportunity to know the place better and to discover why I’m going to paint. Painting on location continually presents challenges that keep me engaged.

MICHAEL: There’s a lot of landscape out there. How do you determine what you’ll try to capture on canvas? What’s your process?

ERIC: My process evolves into a new direction or approach every so often…

Continue reading the interview here.