Monday, May 1, 2017

A nice gesture

Long time no blog. Now that I can import pictures from an android phone I can post again. I apologize because their quality isn't as nice as my iPad can do but there it is...
 The other night the Russian National Ballet performed Swan Lake at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center. My my wife has seen live ballet many times. This was my first experience. Of course cameras and phones weren't allowed but a sketchbook, pen and book light were just fine. 

 Thought I would get my "Degas" on and...Wow! I have more respect than ever for the guy. 
The performance was moving on more than one level: The poses are wonderful but they last a moment and rarely repeat (Jessica Kirby makes the point he drew at a ballet studio, where moves and poses are repeated in practice. Still, I'm impressed with old Edgar).
 So...the most I could do was a series of gesture drawings, but it taught me a few things. Like there's no hope in looking at the dancer's contours. I had to unfocus slightly and burn a whole shape into memory, then put that down. 
 Sketching their gestures isn't the same as drawing everyday motions - like people walking or working.The energy seemed to be in assuming a pose then translating it into another, then another and so on. So what I was getting, really, were the momentary culminations. Trying anyway...a few pages are below. I want to attempt other things like this. Maybe ball games? 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Paint the Point day 1

Here is this mornings pix. The organizers for this event give us a GENEROUS footprint and the surrounding country is nice. I chose this early when the light was a bit more hazy and chased the light a bit...shouldn't do that but today it went somewhere good. That doesn't always happen. 11x14 oil on panel.
OR MAYBE NOT...apparently Picasa has eliminated the the feature that lets you upload new photos...WTFondue?

Lots of heavy hitters from MN, WI and Chicago here so the challenge is a good one. Hoping to get in another before tonight's Nocturne event.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dubuque workshop

This past weekend I had the privilege of leading a plein air workshop at some of Dubuque's most scenic locations. Here's Barb Grimmer in a shady lane at Eage Point Park

The weather was delightfully cool - yes, those are folks wearing jackets on July 1...!

 The gist of what I wanted to teach was how to see on location. The sole trick to plein air is never look at anything in isolation - always compare it to something else to see where it is, how big it is, how dark or light, how dull or bright it is...and so on. Think about it: So many artists can copy a photo reference in the studio quite well but outdoors they crash and burn. Why? Because they COMPARE their work to the reference until it matches. Outside they don' I'm trying to inculcate the habit of COMPARATIVE SEEING. It's not easy - I have to make myself do it with every new picture. It was new to most of the group but they did quite well. I could show several examples but I've chosen this one by Leslie Leavenworth because I had good closeups of the work and the subject.

We had a great time thanks to organizational skills of Wes Heitzman and Mississippi River Art Workshops. The only mishap was John Evans' unscheduled attempt at sidewalk art - his easel drawer let go spilling his entire pastel assortment on the pavement. The final day in the Dubuque Arboretum had us dodging not one but two weddings! Here's the group (minus 5 who had to leave a bit early) just before a wedding photo shoot sent us packing.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Time for a new palette?

Here's an oddity...

No, it's not a diptych. The image on the left was painted in August of 2014 at Oakland Mills. Jessica Kirby shot this photo of me doing it:
 The image on the right is from this May. The objects nearly line up but then they should; They were only painted about 25 feet apart. It's the nearly identical colors that makes me wonder if I'm in a palette rut?
 Granted the weather was similarly drizzly. This time I shot a picture of Jessica and artist Cathryn Layer sur le motif. Hey, maybe we're a movement and Oakland Mills is our La Grenouillere?

 Anyway, I've been using a standard Split Primary palette: two blues, two yellows, two reds plus black and white.

It works in virtually all situations indoors or out. I occasionally swap out one of the colors for a more seasonally appropriate hue but it's still two of each primary with black and white.
 Recently, I tried a different palette: one blue (Prussian) two yellows (Cadmium pale and medium), two reds (Alizarin and Indian red), Burnt umber instead of black and white. This backlit location image doesn't show it well.

The difference in mixes threw me at times but back in the studio the picture stuck out on my rack of plein air studies. The split primary pictures didn't just have similar hues in subjects with similar weather conditions; sunny days had nearly identical hues to overcast days and images from different seasons shared the same mixes as well. My value structure was appropriately different and the proportion of hues was different but the hues themselves were the same. That's a given problem with pastels but maybe oils and watercolors could benefit from setting the palette a bit more specific to the subject?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Reinventing the Wheel 2

Since most of this summer's blockbusters are sequels or reboots I thought I'd get in on the fun and update the last post . I'm looking forward to Ben Hur...this is the story's 4th remake. I saw the the 1959 classic on a two story high drive in screen...that's why they called them epics.

Anyway... This time I painted in the center of our "color pick" to suggest all the lower chroma hues and where they would appear.

It's not geeky science-y perfect but it's not way off either. It's mixed on the fly from the palette, just as you would in a painting. That was the point of the redo: create a color wheel that corresponds to the actual act of painting   In the second image I've superimposed two strips of mixed color to show they plot pretty true.

The vertical one is ultramarine + cadmium yellow pale. The diagonal one is ultramarine + cadmium red

Monday, May 23, 2016

Reinventing the Wheel

Jessica Kirby gets credit for the title of this post because it's about color wheels.  Most don't help you with mixing I'm proposing a new one that may. I'm going to pitch it out this post and perhaps demonstrate its mixing accuracy in a future post. Here it is with my basic watercolor palette (plus quinacridone magenta, viridian and pthalo green plotted for reference):

Not quite a "wheel" but you'll see why.
 There are hundreds of color wheel schemes found in art stores or in online diagrams. Few are helpful for mixing actual pigments because they're purely theoretical or apply to light waves or something other than paint. 
 The general idea is that you draw a line between two hues and what occurs between is the mix. 
 Opposite hues on the familiar ROYGBV wheel supposedly average to grey. That pretty much works for red+green but blue+orange and yellow+purple mix to murky browns (auto correct wanted to give you Murphy Brown there).
The newer CIELAB wheel keeps the red/green combo but opposes yellow with blue. Like so:

 No way that pair will neutralize to grey. I'm given to understand it's an accurate model of how you computer views color...helps the Cyborgs but not me.

SO...I McGyvered the CIELAB wheel to reflect how pigments actually mix. It's more guitar pick than wheel, but the odd shape allows you to see where any two mixed colors plot with greater accuracy.
 Like most color wheels, the outside rim goes through the visible spectrum, indicating HUE. That rim also represents the most saturated version of the color: CHROMA. 
 As you move towards the center, chroma reduces - each hue gets less vivid, more subdued - until the center point is neutral grey.
By moving the grey center off center the blue yellow axis plots through green territory rather than implying they create neutral grey like the CIELAB wheel does.
So now when you draw a line between any two hues,  all the mixes actually plot along that line. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Chicago lessons

Last week I went to the Art Institute of Chicago with my wife and artist Jessica Kirby and boy did I learn a lot about good paintings. To wit: great painters give themselves the advantage...that's why their work looks masterfully effortless...we acolytes sometimes hamstring ourselves. Particularly in choice of subject matter. 
Not everything is paintable...EVERY good painting I saw that day had one thing in common: the subject had paintable information. 
What does that mean? Well, the chosen subject could be translated into brush marks because:
1. It had distinct shapes. OR, it joined with other things of similar value to make a distinct conglomerate shape.
2. It had a focal point that looked specific because it was painted large enough to be done without wearing a jeweler's loupe and using laparoscopic surgical tools. Hence it could be done with ease and energy.
3. The "background" was generalized...but because the artist did 1and 2 above, you often thought it was detailed even though it might just be a schmear of lovely color..
Check these examples:
Look at these abstract light shapes on a dark ground. There were other paintings in the same room - good ones - I just can't remember them.
Or this other Sargent..which I think is one of the most perfect pictures in the history of painting...the woman, her husband, the fountain and her painting equipment amalgamate into one big light shape on a dark to medium value field (lest you think this is mere travelogue read Jessica Kirby's blog at right or read up on Sargent's travels. This is a painting about the act of painting and painters personalities. It's as artsy as artsy gets).

At the size it appears on this blog it looks nearly photographic. Yet every  stroke in this gem is simple...anyone could make them...they're just the right color in the right place.

Homer does likewise with a big dark shape in a medium field - with select light accents. 50 years later Robert Motherwell and others did the same thing...they just kept their marks from looking like anything familiar. With Sargent and Homer I can have the cake and eat it too, so to speak.

So what are these geniuses doing that eludes me? Here's an example of the kind of thing I used to attempt (it was shot from the window on the train ride home). It was a beautiful evening, but let me list the problems with this as a paintable image.

1. The "particular" stuff - or focal point - is at the back. The foreground is all non specific stuff.
2. The focal point is small in area and the surrounding area is large. If I "zoom in" it's ambiguous spatially...especially if I render the atmospheric perspective which is part of it's charm.
3. The value range is close. Only the sky contrasts and it sits over everything. The shapes don't cut into each other. There was a gloriously boring triptych of the French landscape (also seen from a train) by Ellsworth Kelly in the modern wing.

The moral of the story? Pick paintable stuff...good shapes, discernible contrasts and do it big enough that it's easy to render. Painting shouldn't feel like defusing a bomb.