12/11/13 A Portrait Sketch in Pastel

This is a two session pastel head that I managed to get completed last night in our final “Drawing and Painting the Portrait Head” class at the Honolulu Museum of Art School.  The first night was an hour or two of placement of shapes and color, the second session was just moving forward with the whole piece.

Tom, our subject, was new to sitting for portraits, and did a fine job.  I’ve found that a model must, perhaps above any other quality, possess some sort of inner life….an intellectual, spiritual dimension to their character that they can exist in during the long and tedious process of sitting.  People who require external stimulation to focus on simply won’t be able to do the work for long.

Tom Ciletti

This was the first pastel I’ve done in a while.  I used Lascaux pastel ground on a piece of rag mat board, which I then toned with gouache…just  stuff lying about my studio! The work was done with my Girault setup and some  Stabilo pastel pencils for the smaller passages on the features.  I wanted the informal sort of look that I got, nothing fussed over too much, except the drawing (i.e.placement of shapes) and color choices, which I pushed forward as best I could.





A Different Light -New Work by Mark Norseth July 27-August 29

Part of my absence from the blog over the last  month or so has been due to creating a new body of small works for this show.  All watercolor.

Here are some of my favorites-


 Remnant, Nu’uanu  was painted directly in one go, and in that respect I think it’s the most successful painting.   This grand old house is empty of occupants and so far I have been unsuccessful in learning much about it. I love painting white objects struck by sunlight, and that was probably the original motivation to stop and look the place over. I think the strength of the painting is the full value range, bright light to strong darks, and that horizontal of red surrounded by greens of all sorts, making a compelling motif.

I was standing in the driveway and peering through an iron gate while painting this, with a couple lanes of busy highway traffic (The Pali Highway) only a matter of yards behind me.  I often work this way it seems!  If you live on Oahu and travel the Pali, you’ve undoubtedly passed this old classic and probably not realized what was behind the hedge. If anyone has any information on the house, I’d appreciate knowing about it.


Kamaina is actually the name of this very busy beach in Waikiki.  I’ve spent a lot of time around here and have painted several variations of this theme.  The light and shadow are very stimulating, there is  a lot going on and painting  that requires a very quick approach that seems almost reckless at times.  The figures were never really there for more than a few minutes and so were devised  from some very rapid sketches done while I was visiting the area. I have a post -in-waiting on how I was able to do that.

Natatorium-Late Day

Natatorium-Late Afternoon  was painted from location originally but didn’t turn out, and this is probably the third version I attempted, mostly  a studio piece from the original sketches and  imagination.  The architecture was drawn at the location, something I enjoy attempting simply because of the sheer difficulty (and my obstinance) and color added from a small color sketch.  It’s only a stone’s throw from the location of Kaimana.  There’s serious talk of demolition of this old monument, but a lot of the attraction for me is the elegant architectural style and quality of light here at day’s end.


Plumeria and Palms-study

Plumeria and Palms  has the full-on vibrancy of color and impact of light which is it’s sole reason for being.  Painted up at Chaminade University, I also attempted a larger version that is unresolved at this point.




Waikiki-Promenade is another of the small study-paintings, about 7 x 10″, that  like Plumeria and Palms  I find fully satisfying as-is. This was painted entirely on sight, but over two evenings due to the fickleness of the light effect. It’s a delightful place to be at the close of the day, a lot of happy people simply enjoying their lives in this beautiful place.  I personally think a small painting of joyful elements is a very fine thing to have in a corner of a home…we need reminding of how good life sometimes can be, do we not?


Evening, Windward Side

Evening- Windward Oahu is a labor of love for me….this place is very close to home, and I have continual access to it for painting purposes.  I have rarely, if ever, have done it perfect justice. It’s simplicity  is deceiving…this sort of painting seems to work best when pulled together in an unstudied and direct manner, and that doesn’t always work.  Watercolor paint doesn’t dry quickly in the evening, and so timing is everything.

It’s the same ingredients, tree shapes, colors, figures, but never the same combination twice.  So, I keep painting here, trying to change the emphasis or get closer with the  color of the light, knowing that like everything in life, one day will be the last time. That reality gives me a bit of urgency, not to take the opportunity for granted.

A Frame-making Morning

This is a quick post….I’m sanding the frame today for “Quiet Corner” and while waiting for it to dry I thought I’d snap some photos and let you see some of the work involved.

Handmade Poplar frame-Mark Norseth

The moulding is one I make myself, from Poplar, using a selection of typical woodworking tools. Today is a sanding day, which I actually enjoy somewhat…it’s quiet and centering.  Frame making is an activity that complements painting nicely, though it’s very time consuming.

And here’s my disclaimer…I don’t recommend that artists make there own frames unless they really wish to.  I do so for a variety of somewhat unique reasons, but it isn’t for everyone.

Corners are biscuit joined, which you can’t see because it’s internal, but it’s a great bond. The wood is sanded starting with 60 grit, moving through the numbers to 320 grit.  Hand-sanding will take around two hours, then finishing with various varnish and color combinations.  No gilding, I’m not there yet.

Moulding sample
Moulding sample

The molding work and joining took about 6-8 hours conservatively, which I stretch out out over a number of days when it’s too hot, as in mid-day,  or too rainy to paint outdoors. I work on the frame when I’m in the mood, developing the painting and frame simultaneously….the Big Idea being to have the frame and painting completed simultaneously, which never really has happened yet. But it’s a nice idea.


The above is a narrower pastel/watercolor moulding that I’m throwing in because I need to finish it soon. The moulding will be toned to fit the color scheme of the painting, a painting which doesn’t exist yet in this case.  I’m being pre-emptive for once, I guess.



Here’s the unfinished frame and painting together. The frame itself has an inside rabbet measurement of approx. 18.25 x 22 .75″ The 0utside dimension is 23.5 x 27.5″which is a comfortable fit for the picture.

“The Palm Courtyard”-getting closer to home

18 x 22″ oil on linen


I’m chipping away at the values and colors of this piece, getting closer to calling it finished. The sessions (about 6 so far) at the Honolulu Museum of Art have been a great pleasure for me, and I’m hopeful of wrapping up my work this week.

Along with clarifying the values,  I’m refining shapes somewhat, keeping lost edges lost,  and especially getting somewhere on the palm that is central to the composition.  Scraped down, repainted; it gets too picky in the details very easily, and I’ve had to take it all down on more than one occasion and redevelop it. The greens are so beautiful in life, I keep re-establishing them to get at some of the richness in the darker areas.  The foreground is only a bit more than layed-in, and doesn’t need too much more to my eye.

A thing suggested…a theme for the whole work maybe.

Whatever color the container in the right hand corner is, it’s beautiful to try and paint…a cool yellow in shadow, always tricky.

I hope to keep this painting light and open in feel, with the just the right amount of mystery… from value adjustments and color touches. It needs to look like paint, and I’m using the old three-part medium in this to get some richness and brushwork evident.



On my easel ~ “The Palm Courtyard”

“The beginner seeks to improve their paintings by adding details.
 The artist does so by refining relationships.”  
The Palm Courtyard (working title) 18 x 22″ oil on linen

Thanks to the kind generosity of the Honolulu Museum of Art, I’ve been allowed to work on the Museum grounds in this very special location, the Palm Courtyard.

The courtyard  itself is one of several integrated into the Museum’s design, in this instance quite a large area with all sorts of compelling tonal, color, and light/shadow things happening. When I first entered it with an eye towards painting something, it was as if I’d stepped into a life-sized still life arrangement.

Composition ideas often come when I’m looking for “something else”, and this particular  arrangement caught my eye while setting up our model for my class “Painting the Model en Plein Air”.  Perhaps the biggest attraction was the momentary effect of light falling on the large palm  right-of-center (which at this stage of the painting is not yet developed) and the beautiful variety of shapes which I find lead the eye nicely.  Also, the full value range —  from bright, near dazzling light to near darkness…are a big challenge.

The painting is developing slowly…many trips to the location, and as a nice additional bonus, plenty of  interest from Museum visitors and staff alike.  A few have added a brush stroke of their own to the painting at my urging; I believe it’s good to let people experience the process and I enjoy doing so immensely.

As the painting progresses through increasingly subtle adjustments of color, shape, and value, I hope it will capture some of the very quiet richness of this easily overlooked courtyard.  As I stated at the outset, and teach my students,  the artist attempts to improve the work by adjusting relationships.



Tidepool: The Surge

It’s been good to stretch myself out on this large  (unframed size 28 x 36″) Tidepool piece, the first of what may become a series. Painting the unpaintable is what it felt like,.

I relied only on a fairly rough oil sketch and some pencil ideas for the design, which is what most of the painting ended up being about.  From there it’s been a matter of  adjusting things until they looked close to the way I wanted.

I’ve often found it to be a remarkably thoughtful experience to just sit in a place such as this, there are plenty of opportunities to do so in Hawai’i, and take in the indescribable concentration of energy and life that is here.  The colors are wonderful; every sense, really, is able to partake of such an experience, the sound and smells also, even the moisture against one’s skin, and I suppose that it hints at bigger things, questions of creation and how small a thing each one of us, in a sense, is.  All of this beauty and mystery occurs independent of us, whether we notice or not…imagine how much does escape our notice.


So now to practical matters.  I have a couple days to finish work on the frame before it gets hung.  Gallery at Ward Centre, after Friday the 29th, it will be on display. Come see.


A New Portrait Head ~Honolulu Academy School of Art Class

I’ve just finished work on a four-session portrait from a terrific local model, Sergio Janzen. This was done in my class as a demonstration/keep-the-students-enthused  piece.  18 x 14″ oil on stretched linen.

I say study, or even sketch, because there’s only so much one can and should do when students are present, they need help. At the same time I always try to teach by practical example… it’s much better, and certainly humbling, to be struggling with the same problems as they are rather than calling plays from the sidelines with a wine glass in my hand. And if one of the oil painters has a question, I can show them how to work out the answer on my own painting or theirs.  I think that’s an ideal way to learn


Red Sergio oil on linen 18 x 14″


It would have been nice to have had another 3 hours to work out some things on Sergio’s portrait, but I did some of that from memory after the sessions ended. I would rather work from memory in those instances, simply because it keeps me sharper.  I also am driven slightly nuts by the  number of people using cell phone photos to work from away from the model, but they just laugh and call me old  fashioned, which is somewhat true.

But I stick to my guns on this point, because the entire process is not, in the case of the student, to only “finish” a project, but to train their faculties, and one of those faculties involves taking three dimensional reality (nature) and recreating it in two dimensions (upon the canvas) without a machine doing it for them.

My palette was:

Yellow Ochre

Cad Lemon

Cad Orange

Cad Scarlett

Light Red

Flake White #1, with a touch of Liquin worked in

Alizarin Crimson


Ultramarine Blue

Ivory Black



The New Watercolors for January




Along with everything else I’m working on, I’ve been on a watercolor jag for the last month.  It’s been great fun and hard work, and I’m planning on more.

Do these work for you?

So much of painting is just about purposefully being in the work-mindset.  Rather than waiting to be inspired,  often times I just have an idea about  design, or an effect of light, and begin with something in my sketchbook;  inspiration or enthusiasm arrives after I begin to work, not generally before.  I know it’s the same for writers and musicians…you begin by taking the first step of working.

Each of these paintings are quarter-sheet, which is watercolorist talk for 11 x 15″, and painted on Saunders #200.  Titles are coming.