Week One 2017 30 in 30 Painting Challenge

Week One 2017 30 in 30 Painting Challenge

Week One 2017 30 in 30 Painting Challenge

Recap of Week One January 2017 30 in 30 painting challenge

I recently took an online course with Dreama Tolle Perry. Her process incorporates a technique which is new to me, and I love it! Using only transparent colors in the underpainting and finishing Alla Prima her art has become iconic for her use of joyful color.  I highly recommend her online course. Following her process has brought a new depth of color to my artwork.

This week’s work has brought me much joy! I am currently painting in the dining room of our apartment in Knoxville, TN. Not my dream studio space although the light on a sunny day is quite wonderful. Unfortunately, yesterday’s snow was the first sunny day of the week. The dreary weather and constant construction just outside the apartment have made being joyful a bit of a struggle. I am ready to be back in my desert studio in Arizona. The juicy colors have brought a ray of sunshine to the space!

This is my third attempt at a #30in30paintingchallenge! I am more organized than the last go around, thanks to my #30in30 Artrepreneur Outliner kit for Evernote.  We are however moving out of the apartment and traveling across the country, yet again, in the motorhome, this month. That week may need to be about drawing, rather than pulling out the oil painting materials, sketching is an area I need to concentrate on anyways!. Those wonderful little thumbnails I see so many plein air painters begin with just don’t come naturally to me.

Come February, I am teaching an oil painting class for beginners at The Tubac Art Academy. This is the reason you’ll see some duplicates of the same subjects in my daily paintings this month. I am narrowing down my choices of subject matter I’ll use in the demonstrations. The Rockin Red and Desert blossoms, for example, are from the same reference photo. I am looking for a subject with dynamic color combinations and a simple organic subject, which will appeal to many. Any suggestions would be welcomed!!

A Loose and Bold Approach to Oil Paintng a beginners 3 day Workshop Held in Historic Tubac, AZ learn more at lesliemillerfineart.com



Cruz the Puma

Cruz the Puma

Cruz the Puma

Cruz the Puma

The 47th annual TCA Member’s Juried Show

I am honored to tell you, Juror Dr. Julie Sasse included my piece, Cruz the Puma, into the 47th annual TCA Member’s Juried Show. Tubac Center of the Arts host multiple shows throughout the year, this is one of my favorites. There are so many talented people within the region working in so many different mediums, it makes for uninteresting show.

 I experienced something wonderful.

Cruz, the Puma is the result of a plein painting trip to the area near the  Sonoran Desert Museum and Old Tucson in preparation for PACE 2016. The plan was to paint until the desert museum opened and then meet friends to tour the grounds and have lunch. Fortuitously my friends plans changed, though I was disappointed not to have their company, I experienced something wonderful.

I had all day to watch and observe the wildlife at whatever pace I chose. There is something incredibly centering about doing your own thing in your own time not concerned for others preferences and needs, just to feed your soul, in your way. So many times we spread ourselves to thin trying to please those around us that we lose the very essence of what makes us, us. Encourage you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. You’ll have so much more to give.

 Sonoran Animals and Plants- lesliemillerfineart.com

As I took photos with paintings in mind, bebopping here and there, out of order, waiting as long as it took to get the perfect shots, I felt my creativity well filling. I had had the best time, but I was getting tired but the one animal I really wanted to capture. The mountain lion had been busy flirting with visitors in the window earlier in the day. I went back again to the beginning of the two mile path to visit him one more time.

Restless Cruz the Puma lesliemillerfineart.com

Restless Cruz the Puma lesliemillerfineart.com


This time he was on the opposite side of the habitat area, looking for a spot to lounge, preferably with a good view. As I watched him search for the perfect spot, I found my perfect spot, set up my tripod, out of the way of other visitors but with a great vantage point. I enjoyed hearing children ask questions about the big cat, the volunteers telling stories about Cruz and about Strawberry the black bear next door, and I waited.

Cruz found his spot, vacillating between napping and watching, from his cool perch inside the rock face atop a boulder warm form the sun. I snap shots for 20-25 minutes then, as I was looking through the lens, Cruz looked right at me. I felt the connection with this beautiful creature as our eyes met and our souls spoke.

Cruz and Strawberry

A puma named Cruz and a black bear called Strawberry got their names from a naming contest. Cruz was submitted by Darlene Baty of Tucson, Arizona, and references the Santa Cruz river that runs through the Sonoran Desert. The naming contests follow the Museum’s tradition of selecting names that are particular to the Sonoran Desert, are related to the scientific name for the animal or are similar to names selected in years past. Love that the community and fans of the rescued animals are a part of the adoption process by helping choose their names!

Painting Process

I knew that Cruz need to be something special, and that I wanted to accurately portray the connection I saw in his eyes. To that end I began my painting as I often do, with an oil rub-out method. Once I had him rendered and in place, I was faced with portraying the rock face, his habitat. Quite happy with Cruz in this rub-out stage I wanted to complete the whole painting in this rubout stage. The challenge being it must be completed before the fast drying colors used begin to set up and dry.
Enter my magic tool. I can’t claim the discovery of the magic tool, that honor belongs to Julie Ford Oliver. I purchased her excellent online tutorial on fracturing. She uses it in a different way than I used here, I love her technique using the tool to break color and line then reinstate to produce an impressionistic quality in her work. and I love this tool which I use in various ways. Thanks Julie for introducing the magic tool to me.
The magic tool-lesliemillerfineart.com

The magic tool.

What is the magic tool? Simply a squeegee inserted into a paint scraper tool handle. Here are the two components, I ordered on Amazon.
I use it to scrape away mistakes, clear a spot in masses for pure color, rocks, straight lines (way harder than it should be for me to achieve)and to make repetitive marks
 The magic tool was my tool of choice to create the rock face in this painting pushing the dark values darker and giving the appearance of depth while the lighter ares where the sun is hitting the surface seem to come forward.

the Finishing of Cruz

Though I was quite happy with the rubout stage, I didn’t feel it was finished. I wanted to see it in full color, wanted to convey the excellent natural camouflage Cruz found in his habitat. Pumas are hunters after all.

 Since the initial coat of paint was now dry, I opted to uses transparent glazes to bring the color to life in this painting.
Using a mixture of Universal Painting Medium with pigments with transparent qualities, and layering multiple passes in varying strengths with a sable hair brush and wiping away in areas with a rag, to create more depth of color.
The final stage involved sandpaper, steel wool and nail files before a final coat of varnish brought the various elements together.

A little More about Mountain Lions

Fun facts from the Desert Museum:

  • Mountain lions are not true lions and cannot roar;
  • they hold the Guinness record for animal with the most names — with over 40 names in English alone;
  • Proportionally they have the largest hind legs in the cat family.

Artwork, See It In Person

 As with most art, a camera the best photographic skills cannot compare to viewing it in person. This painting is quite difficult to capture with photography, the true beauty in the layers can only be seen in person.

Go and Visit Cruz the painting at Tubac Center of the Arts opening reception Friday December 9, 5-7pm. If you cannot make the opening reception the exhibit will be on display thru January 15th, 2017. I hope to see you signature in the guest book!
Artist Crush-Qiang Huang

Artist Crush-Qiang Huang

Qiang Huang demo at #PACE16

Qiang Huang demo at #PACE16

I have an artist’s crush his name is  Qiang Huang.

Of the twelve demonstrations I attended at#PACE16, my favorite wasQiang Huang- Capturing the Texture of Old Architecture. An inspired artist and exceptional teacher, Huang managed to explain his process so clearly I felt as if I could accomplish a passable representation of an architectural piece, a genre that,so far, has eluded me.
I first noticed Qiang Huang‘s (pronounced Chong Wong) artwork on Pinterest
Then in March I listened to his incredible interview on AHA . I knew from that point on he was someone I could connect with, learn from, and have an affinity with his vision. Serendipitously he was on the teaching staff at #PACE16, held in all places, Tucson! Just about 40 miles from my home. #PACE16 hosted by Plein Air magazine and Eric Rhodes know how to pick’em!

His demo, much like a mini workshop, at #PACE16 was a breakdown of his painting process. He shared the reasons for his color palette choices,such as using Naples Yellow Pale for warmth in the lighter values.He also gave us tips for drawing with the proper perspective and shared some great nuggets of wisdom.

If you see a happy accident,try and keep it.

Signature Style

Huang uses various painting methods to create contrast and variety in the same color notes. Some of his most used tools include the palette knife, bristle brushes,paper towels,calligraphic strokes, and even a credit card.

way better than a photograph

Qiang Huang’s philosophy on painting.

Qiang Huang-inspiration tip

I think I’ll use this reference for a painting and consciously recall Huang’s mini workshop

I have signed up to take his workshop in February, at Scottsdale Artist’s School in Pheonix, and can hardly wait! Last I checked spots were still available. If you have never been to the Scottsdale Artist’s School, I highly recommend it. You can read about my experience in the post-Workshop Review-Michelle Dunaway.

Qiang Huang demo at #PACE16

Qiang Huang demo at #PACE16

I hope you have enjoyed this latest “Artist Crush”, please feel free to share on social media, it really helps me out 🙂


Why Tubac Arizona is an Artist’s Mecca

Why Tubac Arizona is an Artist’s Mecca

When we first found Tubac, AZ, I knew it would be a place where I would be inspired to make my dreams come true. The past few weeks have been a great example of the creative energy that flows through this small desert village._MG_8067

On my birthday, my husband and I were cruising through town on our golf cart when we saw  the fabulous Darcie Peet  painting a demonstration landscape in front of Big Horn Galleries. Watching her paint, I learned some new brushwork techniques- notably the way she held and twisted her brush to create the ocotillo branches. One of my favorite tips I learned watching her is to carry a nutcracker in your Plein Aire box to open tight fitting lids on paint tubes.   Many people, including a group of artist friends from Tucson, stopped to watch her paint and to say “hello.” Those of us watching Darcie painted benefitted from the insider’s tips shared by the wonderful group of Arizona artists.

Local artist Karon Leigh hosted a cleverly titled a “Wax & Wine” evening: an intro to encaustics and a creative social gathering. I have been interested in encaustic painting since first seeing the medium used by artist Christine Patterson. The class was both informative and fun. The timing was great for me as I have been working feverishly to complete many paintings before the Santa Cruz County Open Artist Event in March. It was good to have no rules, no deadlines, and no expectations. It was also quite fun to work in a more abstract manner.



brandon Bailey collage

This past weekend, nearly 200 artist/ vendors were on hand for the 57th annual Tubac Festival of the Arts. John, my husband, parked cars, helping raise money for the Santa Cruz schools. I helped my mentor, Lou Maestas, with one of his four demo paintings ????? outside of Rogoway Turquoise Tortoise Galleries. Rogoway hosted five artists during the festival, Brandon BaileyArtie YellowhairDavid K. JohnSantiago Gutierrez, and Lou Maestas. I had the pleasure of seeing three of the artists create beautiful work.


I discovered a new artist, whose work I admire, Dawn Normalis. She was also demonstrating out in the hot sun, her loose and expressive style didn’t seem to suffer from the intense heat.I hope to visit her in Colorado this summer to paint. There were many other artists demonstrating and sharing their knowledge and talent around town.

GO FIND the place that fuels your inspiration tank and treasure it!

Untitled design


Workshop Review-Michelle Dunaway

Workshop Review-Michelle Dunaway

Version 2

My day 3 and 4 attempt at portraiture.-Leslie Miller

Workshop Review-

Michelle Dunaway

Many of you have asked about the workshop I attended in January with Michelle Dunaway at the Scottsdale Artists’ School. It was a phenomenal experience- intimidating, galvanizing, exhausting, challenging, and overall exhilarating! The whole experience was blogworthy. From the road trip with artist and dear friend, Pam Wedemeyer, to the school itself, being in the presence of so much talent and energy, and learning from Michelle both the technical and spiritual side of painting was inspiring.

The night before the workshop, as I packed and prepared my things for the workshop, I noticed that I had signed up for an advanced class. An advanced class in portraiture! I was already quite intimidated, but this was icing on the nervous cake. I had never painted a live model. I had only worked with still life and landscape. Now, I was set up to take an advanced class in a new field for me. Still, I eagerly anticipated the chance to learn.
Artists can sometimes seem anti-social as we retreat into our creative spaces. Being able to share our thoughts and emotions about art with like-minded individuals is the key to not becoming a recluse. We left Tubac at 6 a.m., and though Pam is not a morning person, we talked non-stop the whole way there about our goals, ideas, and fears. What a boost to my spirit!

Scottsdale Artist’s School

I had no clue what to expect when we arrived at the school. The Scottsdale Artists’ School is located in a former grammar school built in 1928 in old town Scottsdale. The halls are lined with museum quality, awe-inspiring artwork by students and teachers of the school. The moment we stepped inside, I felt the buzz of energy and creativity, knowing good things were about to happen.


Leslie Miller, Michelle Dunaway and Pam Wedemeyer

There were five classrooms listed on the directory, Michelle Dunaway, Daniel Keys, Susan Lyon, Kathy Anderson and the Academy! 15 to 16 students for each of the workshops, a welcoming staff at the reception desk, Symi from England with a huge selection of handmade Rosemary brushes, a couple libraries filled with art books, props line the hallways and the aroma of linseed oil and fresh flowers fill the light-filled corridors. Models changing into costumes, backdrops and lighting being adjusted to cast the perfect shadows. Can you imagine the buzz?

The classroom Michelle’s class was held in was at the end of the hall and filled with light, two stages on either side set with an armchair filled with a beautiful ivory complexed brunette in a 1920 period costume, music from Downton Abbey fills the room along with the scrapping of easels being positioned and brushes placed in jars in preparation to create a symphony in paint. The four-day workshop format consisted of Michelle painting a demo, with loads of instruction and wisdom, on of the first and third mornings and in the afternoons, we would paint one of the two models while Michelle provided guidance and critique. Day three there will be two new models, males and of African American descent, a completely different complexion, facial structure and palette. Demonstrating two separate approaches to portraiture.

Take-aways from Michelle Dunaway Workshop

I have pages and pages of notes representing only a smattering of the things I learned, Michelle talks really fast! Here is a random listing of some of my faves.

  • Always State three intentions for a study painted Alla Prima.
    In other words,what are the things you want to convey most?
    – Is it the light?
    – is it color?
    – is it contrast?
    – is it an emotion?
  • – is it a likeness?
  • Painting is like drawing with puzzle pieces that fit together like a mosaic.
  • Paint the abstract shapes not the eyelid the iris or the pupil but the abstract shapes you see.
  • It’s not how fast but how accurate.
  • Better to have a small area really accurate then a covered canvas covered from edge to edge incorrectly.
  • Learn to not be so attached to whatever you put it down. It may need to change.That said, don’t change to chase the light or the model or the article of clothing but to make drawing more accurate.
  • So it is better to do something bold, then, selectively soften, than it is to be timid.
  • Brilliance tends towards color not white.
  • “Don’t paint everything in sight, paint things that make your heart beats faster.” quote by Daniel Gerhartz
  • The focal point should be completed to a higher degree of realism or resolve. Linger in these areas
  • Returning to them with each pass
  • Have Patience!
  • Michelle Dunaway thinks of painting as “a way of saying Amen visually”
  • Michelle uses small paint color tiles because she wants small color changes throughout the painting for added interest. In other words, Keep simple values but use many color variations.
  • Being attached to your vision but don’t be attached to each stroke take the leap sometimes. You need to let go of the good to get to the great.


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