Friday, July 31, 2015

Tactical decisions...

Sometimes when painting on location you get excited (that's a good thing - it's why we go out there with the heat and the bugs). That passion SHOULD inform your decisions. At the same time you have to stay cool (at least mentally). "Tactics" can cloud your initial strategy (strategy here defined as principals of color, composition, etc. that you as a painter bring to the motif). Sometimes those on the fly decisions pay off but sometimes you crash and burn. Especially with the changing light. Below is an example that barely accomplished its "mission " but in post-op review could have been more successful.
This is the entrance to the rock garden at Bentonsport. First I'll list what went right (or so I think). You're probably going to have to click or pinch this image bigger.
1. The photo makes clear that all the greens in the vicinity were nearly identical. I saw the background trees were darker and bluer when I focused on the shrub by the wall and saw them in my peripheral vision.
2. I saw the shadows on the wall were lighter and more transparent than the camera saw them. In fact some of the nice cast shadows on the wall were gone when I took this photo. That's worth remembering when you're working from photos in the studio come February.
3. I bumped up the pink flowers because they relieve all that green with their complimentary hue.

Now for what could have been done BETTER:
1. The space at bottom and either side could have been more generous. A nice "welcome mat" of space to walk in on so to speak. This fault would be further exacerbated with another 1/4" disappearing behind the frame.
2. The grass could have been pushed lighter and duller  - even toward yellow ochre. That would have enhanced the sense of a bright day. A brighter highlight on the top of the wall would do that too.
3. The green variations between the main shrub, the foliage of the flowers and the foliage just behind the wall's right edge could be greater. The right side foliage especially could have benefited from being a lighter, yellow green. If you want to see this sort of thing well done check out some of Carlene Dingman's recent blog posts at right.
4. On the whole it may be worth redoing as it's a charming spot. The glory of plein air is that immediate response to a situation you can't gin up from a photo...but you have to stay cool "under fire" too.

Next week (yikes...August already!) I'll be at the Mineral Point Wisconsin paint out - a 4 day event I've not done before but I have visited the town and it's pretty cool. I'll need to keep these points in mind as I paint. Hoping to post from the event as the campsite I'm staying at supposedly has wifi, so stay tuned.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

This the season

It's the paint-out season again. Or, at least the ones I go to tend to be the last half of summer. There are several coming up: Mineral Point WI August 5-8, Marceline, MO August 29, Amana IA September 4-6 and Louisiana, MO September 12. This past weekend I was in Corning, a small town in western Iowa, whose claim to fame is being the birthplace of Johnny Carson. Their plein air event is piggybacked with a BBQ cook-off, a car show and runner's event. I was pleasantly surprised to snag first place. Part of the fun at these things is taking on unfamiliar subject matter - like trying new restaurants out of town. My first picture (and the one that won) was a statue of Jesus outside their Catholic Church. I was headed down the street towards something more "likely" and caught a flash of red orange on the terra cotta roof and lime green on the sunlit lawn next to the backlit statue surrounded by fuscia colored flowers. Color heaven! The lighting was caused by the rising sun slicing between the bell tower and the sanctuary. The beautiful wedge of red orange lasted about 15 minutes tops, so I drew in the wedge shape and put a spot of the color on it serve as a reminder.
Here it is almost done (above) and in the show (below). Hanging above it is John Evans' pastel which took second.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Under a cloud

We're always told not to plunk things down in the middle. Generally good advice, but sometimes that doesn't suit the subject. Like a floral or still life...or a portrait. You don't run a face or a vase of flowers into the corner (unless you're balancing it against other stuff - in which case your vase of flowers is becoming a tablescape and your portrait is becoming an interior scene). The picture below has this issue:

I thought sliding the cloud off to the side was's ABOUT the cloud right? Likewise, it's hard to avoid centered horizon lines in these situations. Also, sliding that clump of trees to the side makes a big empty hit the distant horizon too fast and without much interest (miles of soybeans can only be SO thrilling). So, whatcha gonna do? Whatever you want...hah! I'm going to tell you what I tried.
1. Nothing IS on the exact center point. Darn close, but not exact.
2. The cloud shape isn't bilaterally symmetrical: It divides it's space unequally and creates irregular negative spaces.
3. It "pushes" it's edges at the top and disappears at left while letting you past at right.
4. The color across the cloud is unequally distributed - value, chroma and hue change. The photo doesn't show it well but I tried to modulate the sky color in a similar manner.
5. The distant horizon line is LEVEL but the other horizontal lines across the fields are SLIGHTLY PITCHED left and right. So are the lines of the scud clouds in front of the main cloud. These lines - hopefully - form subtle Z lines to lead the eye back with less speed. Look close: The edge of the bean field at front is at an angle to us. A portion of the field at mid distance is a darker green similar to the tree clump. It comes from stage left and connects with the clump. It DOESN'T continue right...visually, it's SUPPOSED to connect with the dark greens in the field's edge at front...just off stage left.
6. UNEQUALLY DISTRIBUTED ACCENTS: On the horizon the are 2 farms left and 1 right. The building in the central tree clump isn't in its middle. Last, the volunteer stalk of corn is asymmetrically located...wonder if I'm the only artist to use THAT item?
7. SHAPE ECHOES: The cloud, clump of trees and clump of grass at front are similar shapes BUT THEY ARE DIFFERENT SIZES AND COLORS. This - I hope - subliminally bounces the eye up, then middle, then front. You'll have to tell me.

The point today is this: all those things are out there. Maybe not in this EXACT view or on the same day. But it pays to notice these things driving around and "file" them for future use. Sometimes on location you can find them by looking 360 degrees around you.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A very British morning

I'm writing this from the front seat of the car. Downpour and winds make painting at the river in Keosauqua impossible. I am noticing something: When the rain picks up REALLY hard, the colors - greens especially - shift from blue, grey-greens to a yellower, more olive range. Some things slide almost 45 degrees on the color wheel.  Before, I've only noticed how the values become closer and the detail decreases. Today the rain periodically explodes so maybe I'm seeing it because the transition is quick - not spread out over several minutes? Or maybe I'm usually dashing for cover and not paying attention. And it just stopped...and then restarted...whoosh! Back and forth, yellow hues to bluer hues...very cool.

So, I found a spot under a picnic shelter with a so-so view of the Keosauqua bridge. I slapped the paint on an 8x10 panel hoping to get this effect. If you can manage to get some paint on the panel just about everywhere, it's possible to keep painting in drizzling or blowing rain. The paint displaces the water and sticks to itself, not unlike the way a stone lithograph gets inked before printing. UK painters do this all the time. THE RESULT IS NO PRIZE but at least I'll have a reminder of the yellow shift when I want to do a heavy shower image. Toning a panel yellow ochre might be a good way to feature the effect. There was a sign on the shelter indicating the high water mark from 1993. It was about chin level. Today the runoff was at ankle level. This summer is reminding me of 1993...yuck!

 Speaking of UK painters, my teacher in college, Geoffrey Baker, used to chant "everything in relation, nothing in isolation" as he went about the room critiquing. He stressed what I talked about last post: comparing colors, etc. not staring them down one at a time. That's him above. He looked sort of like the British actor Donald Pleasance - famous for playing  retiring roles - but his personality was more like Peter O'Toole in "What's New Pussycat". Really miss the guy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Nothing in Isolation

So...the most important seeing skill for painting from life is looking at things in relation to other things and not looking at them one at a time. Yes, you can only paint things one at a time but you CAN see them in relation beforehand. Human vision is like a camera at f2. The object in focus is crisp and well lit but everything else isn't. UNTIL you look at somewhere which case your eye immediately adjusts for that distance and that level of illumination and the new thing snaps into focus.
 If you stare down one item at a time when you paint, everything has a hard edge, there's no atmospheric perspective, values are off, colors - especially greens - all become too similar. The list goes on...and the painting looks flat and amateurish.
 Here's an example where the foliage and its illumination in various areas was quite similar, since the species of tree along this river isn't widely varied. I picked colors by keeping one area as my focus and judging the colors of the other areas by what I saw in my peripheral vision.
 The close tree is a richer, darker green. The far trees are lighter, more gray and have less textural detail.

Perhaps you can see how similar the greens here were from the location shot below (I understand it will get larger if you tap it? My tech mentor, artist Jessica Kirby, is working hard to flatten my learning curve. I also need her to show me how to put her blog on the side, below).

Saturday, July 4, 2015

First try... we go. With much help from fellow artists to be mentioned in future posts, I am crowding the web yet further with another blog. There are millions of painting blogs out there (MANY worth reading). This one will try to focus on the act of seeing as it relates to painting. When I do that, my paintings come out better. When teaching classes, I find virtually everyone has a clue or two about getting paint to a surface but FEW seem to be able to create marks that correspond to what they see (especially when working from life, without photo references). That's what we'll try to hit here...I almost called this blog "HermenEYEtics", a play on the word hermeneutics which deals with interpretation of written documents, particularly scriptural ones. Didn't want a lot of disgruntled Greek and Hebrew scholars turning up here.
So, forthcoming posts will - hopefully - provide useful insights about seeing color, proportional drawing and anything pertaining to the translation of eyesight to oil paint, pastel, watercolor or whatever. And, when appropriate, the state of the culture may be taken to task to keep things from getting too dry (like how 4 generations of looking at mechanically or electronically generated images has gotten us to the point we can't see what we see, and why we can't translate it to paint).
Stay tuned...