Thursday, October 29, 2009

Block Study, cool overcast key

I have been painting so much in overcast conditions the last month or so that I feel like I am stale.  It is more and more difficult to make a cool weather key painting interesting.  So back to basics.  Today I began Thursday still life sessions just like a musician practices scales.

In the photo you can see the set up.  I relented and did this one indoors by a window with no interior lights on.  Outside is better.  Winter forces more pace into your painting.

Cool overcast 3:30 PM, Oil on white board, first block in

Here the set up consists of three wooden blocks painted blue, red, and white on a wood surface(Local Colours).  The overcast light source is coming in through the window.  The purpose of the exercise is to study the effect of the prevailing light on the local colours of the masses (train the eye).  The blocks are primary and secondary colours.  Any number can be used.

The process is first to paint the blocks and the surface they sit on quickly to eliminate the white surface.  This is done as a first step in order to eliminate the white canvas as an influence on how the eye sees the colours and the effect of light on them.  This is done by choosing a colour from your pigments that most closely resembles the colour on one of the surfaces of the blocks that is easiest to identify (get the value as close as you can).  Even at this stage you can see that the blue block has variations of blue on all three visible surfaces and that the white block is not white.  When the white of the canvas is pretty much covered up you will see colours that were not visible to you before.  You will see that the colours are probably off and the values may also be off.  In the second round, make corrections to the colours that are now apparent to your vision.  Do this by scanning from one surface and object to the other comparing value (light/dark), temperature (warm/cool), and chroma (bright/dull)(Note that the pigments on the"Practical Colour Wheel" are all bright out of the tube whereas earth tones are not).  The second round will get the effect of the light on the objects closer to reality.  In the next step you will begin to notice variations within the individual colour masses.  Apply them by scanning and comparing.  Finally, tighten up the colours and their variations and adjust edges.  The more you do this the more sensitive your eyes will become.  It won't take you long to realize that simply painting from pictures has grand limitations.

Repeat this exercise in various light conditions.  The you can graduste to more complex rounded objects and portraits and finally to the complexity in the landscape.

The approach may be used in your regular painting process.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Practical Colour Wheel

In colour theory there are many versions of the colour wheel.  Often the wheel is used to show the relationship of the primary, secondary and tertiary colours.  The primary colours are Blue, Yellow, and Red.  These cannot be mixed by any set of colours.  On the other hand, the secondary colours are Green (Blue + Yellow), Orange (Red + Yellow), and Violet (Blue + Red).

Although I want to keep this simple, I use the colour wheel below when I teach.

Practical Colour Wheel

Pardon the photographic distortions.  This wheel consists of 12 pigments (there are many more).  The purpose of using specific pigments is to give painters reference to colours they may use in their paintings.  You will notice that there are more than one Blue, Red, Yellow.  This implies that one could use a variety of primary colours.  More on that later. 

The colour pigments are set on a gray background.  This gray is mid way between White and Black.  The gray was mixed by combining two of the pigments on the wheel.  The mixture looks black and that mixture is placed on the left hand margin at the bottom.  Then adding white in increments we get 10 shades all the way to white.  The increments are shown on the left margin.  There are a number of purposes behind this arrangement.  First, each of the pigments will mix to a grey with their opposite pigment on the wheel.  Such pigments are called complements.  However, you should note that these are not exact complements and as a result form lively grays.  Exact complements do exist, but they are not common.  In addition, each paint maker's pigments will mix differently (especially student grades which are full of fillers).  Second, each pigment has its own value (the range between light and dark) and the value scale along the left margin gives a reference to where the pigment might fall.  Many people have difficulty with value when colour gets involved.  Third, the pigments on a gray background give some insight into the influence of a colour when surrounded by another colour.  Complements are the furthest away from each other on the wheel, something like opposite poles of a magnet.  I you want a pigment to pop, put its complement beside it.  Make it a little bit lighter and a hell of a lot brighter (less gray).  Lighter refers to the value, and brighter refers to its chroma.  On the wheel see this in action with the yellow.  Fourth, these are all high chroma pigments used on this wheel.  Earth colours are not shown.  They are grayed versions of the colours shown and can be mixed.  The corollary to this is that mixing colours will gray them.  More on this later.  Fifth, the right side of the wheel is the "cool" side and the left side is the "warm" side.  Be aware that each colour is relative to the other.  For example, Ultramarine is colder than Cobalt Blue.  The colours at the bottom of the wheel are the coolest.  Finally, this gives a plan for laying out the pigments on the palette (However you choose to lay out your palette keep it the same each time to facilitate blind mixing).

Here are the pigments starting from 12 o'clock;
Cadmium Lemon Yellow
Permanent Green Light
Viridian Green
Cerulean Blue
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Dioxy Violet
Mineral Violet
Alizarin Crimson
Cadmium Red Deep
Cadmium Red Light
Cadmium Orange

Yesterday turned out gray again.  Painting in the overcast pretty much every day this month gives good exercise but it is fatiguing.  This information on colour gives me a good review so that I will be able to paint in a sun key if and when it returns!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Morning Has Broken

Of the last 25 days most have been overcast and the remainder have had only promised sun to come.  This morning came bright and early.  I was painting in the studio and thinking that the colours seemed unusually brilliant outside.  Then I realized that I have been painting outside (in LaCloche) and locally in cloud covered and rainy conditions.  Even in the studio the incoming light was cool for this extended period of time.  By comparison today's sunshine seemed surreal.  In painting, the two extreme conditions are called the warm and cool colour keys.  Observing and painting in the cool colour key is quite demanding but a great training and learning opportunity.  In this condition the colours are often saturated and rich.  They approach local colour.  The contrast or values are close and the shadows are near non existent.

Many artists and painters paint tonally.  That is they paint the colours of the shapes - either as they believe them to be or as they observe them.  (There is a often large difference here).  The overcast provides plenty of tonal opportunities.  Most people prefer to paint in full sun.  However, to learn to really see what is happening in full sun, overcast provides fertile training.

Here is a painting done at roadside in LaCloche ducking the showers but aware that the sun actually was teasing us with a few warm spots in the sky.

Ambitious Undertaking, 10x12, Oil on canvas on board

After taking this painting down I saved the paint on my palette and went back to camp in the late afternoon in order to get dry.  After a few minutes in front of the oven the sun shining outside caught the corner of my eye.  I scrambled to set up on the shore in front of the cabin and painted the image across the channel.

Sun Shower, 10x12, Oil on board

Quite a difference.  Here you can see the effect of light on the shapes.  The local colours are modified by the light.  In order to capture these colour keys I suggest people paint from life and train their eye to see the intricate differences.  This takes considerable time since preconceived notions (we all develop these from childhood) have to be ignored in order to register what is really before you.  This is key to taking colour theory into practice.  There are no formulas.

Colour is a simple yet complex concept to teach and to grasp.  In the coming blogs I will write some thoughts on the subject without getting scientific.

Both of these paintings were done with the same palette and the same brush, approximately 2 hours apart.  The Palette consisted of a version of the primary colours (Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin) plus two mixing modifiers - mineral violet, and Viridian.  Titanium white was used for tinting and value modification.

Comments and questions about colour are welcome.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Birds Eye View Perspective

Last Saturday a group from OPAS (Ontario Plein Air Society) met at Rattlesnake point south of Milton.  The day was changeable, so the second decision was - warm or cool colour key?  The pinnacle showed a panoramic view, ideal for training in aerial perspective, linear perspective, and colour aided perspective.  If one chose an image looking down on the close farms, an exercise in linear perspective with an eye level different from the horizon was ready to challenge.  Any or all of these help to train the eye to see (as opposed to using preconceived notions of what is there).

Here is a cool but bright colour key photo of distant Mount Nemo.  As usual, the photo compresses the vertical and eliminates many hues.  I could plainly see lake Ontario and the far shore in the Grimsby area.  The colours in the sky were quite intersting.  I chose the atmospheric perspective option and went between the cool and warm colour keys, lopping off a great deal of image and information.  I chose a vertical canvas to aid the perspective.   The actual canvas appears less vivid than this image.

Nemo from the Rattlesnake, 10x12, Oil on Board

The painting was done with a #14 and a #8 bristle Filbert brush.  The door skin board was white Gesso. I started with a grey green wash to kill the cold white.  Then I went directly to the colour as I saw it (not the local colour) affected with the prevailing light.  My Palette consisted of Ultramarine Blue, Viridian, Cadmium Yellow light and deep, Alizarin, and Titanium White.  A number of people ask why they do not see earth tone paint on my palette.  Well, sometimes I do use then, especially yellow ochre.  However, I can mix these and I prefer a simple palette when out of doors.  It facilitates a quicker painting pace.  This is important as the light changes so quickly.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Camera Woes

We arrived mid afternoon on October 7.  The LaCloche camp quickly became dark and forboding.  Then it cooled to 4C.  On top of that we had to cross to our lodging by ferry.  This is how my camera saw it.

Looking to the West at Willisville, 4 PM

Sure, I selected a variety of speed and aperture settings to get a photo with more info.  To no avail.  No colour in the sky no matter what.  Either some colour in the foliage with just a glaring white water, or a bit of life in the water and black foliage.  This demonstrates the weakness of the camera, never mind the copying that one tends towards when painting from photos - even though we all do it.

When I played I spy with my little eye I recorded the following image.

Ferry Crossing, 8x10, Oil on Board

Yes, the composition has evolved.  One of the challenges with this little painting was how to capture the light.  The sun was high in the back ground making for a back lit image.  Usually the sky, being the source of light, is the lightest value mass.  Here the reflection in the water violates this normal condition.  The mirror effect prevailed.  The key to emulating the effect is gradation.  Look carefully and you will see it used in a number of places here.  Where does your eye go in this painting?

The painting was done with a #14 bristle filbert and a #8 bristle filbert.  The palette was Ultramarine Blue, Viridian, Cadmium Yellow Middle, Alizarin, and Titanium White.

More images from the challenging LaCloche experience will follow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Feeling the Group

A number of the members of the Group of 7 painted in the LaCloche Mountains.  We stumbled upon the Carmichael camp and were shown the spots where Carmichael and AJ Casson painted.  By artistic coincidence we painted from a couple of these spots before we knew about our predecessors.  After that we could "feel" the presence of those who came before us.

Frood Lake Overlook

Carmichael painted this scene from high on Willisville Mountain overlooking Frood Lake and the old rail line.

Frood Lake through the narrows to Cranberry Lake.

Casson painted this panorama a number of times from the railway tracks visible on the image above.  Here the evidence of simultaneous sun and rain produce the Gleam made famous by MacDonald.

The rain and wind, spotted intermittantly with sun showers, provided many a challenge and even more memories. Rain dodging.  Spotted paintings.  Rock climbing.  Camp heating.  Mouse running - horizontal - vertical - hide and seek.  Dampness avoidance.  Prunes.  Boat and motor commuting.  The people vs the mines.  Writers.  MacDonalds vs Tim's.  The red line to Grace Lake.  Wet to dry.  Laughter.  Reading from the scriptures of Leffel and Hensche.  Dragging mattress.  Failing knees.  Oven as furnace.  One shower worth of hot water.  And 32 paintings.  Worth every minute.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Classic Bob

Quite a week.  Torrential rains.  Short bursts of sunny Gleem.  Close values and cool colour key doninance.  Think we did little.  Here is the original looking down the narrows between Frood and Cranberry lakes.  Perfect.  A hint of Grace.

Bob at home, makeshift tabouret, two coats

Minutes later a scurry to a shelter avoiding another downpour.  The boat ride home.  Painting from the screened veranda.

Four from the porch, 23 more, on board

A bit of show and tell.  27 pieces the first 5 days.  Lots of ducking.  On to meet the people of Willisville. Then the novelist and the First Nations Lands Officer, Esther.  Learning the spots frequented by the group.  Preparing to paint from a few of those spots.  Some for next year.  A sacred place.  The struggle of the people with the likes of Inco.  The decapitation at Lawson Quarry.  Willisville Mountain Project.  Out of caps for now.

More of the LaCloche trip to come.