Tuesday, December 28, 2010
You just can't please them all, so please yourself. Here is a painting done alla prima at -7C in brilliant sunshine at "the farm" on Boxing Day. It consists of two basic masses.
The Fence, Oil on Board
The accomplices put in their two cents. "It is so light and ethereal, so soft". "Just what I tried to do" she said. "I love it, don't touch it when you get it home". Ha! Thoughts went through her head, "maybe a touch here and there, they'll never know."
The email arrived shortly thereafter. "The VIEWER said it is crap!" Specifically the viewer commented; 1. No clear subject. i.e. It looks like the background of a good painting.2. Progress is only defined by new blobs of colour that add to the background effect. No edges.
3. Brush strokes are all too long and uniform.
Now, we had discussed a few issues on site that basically dealt with these three comments - bringing a little more attention to the subject, and breaking up the masses a bit. The degree to which these are used or not is the domain of the artist as they move towards the achievement of their concept.
Here is an example of what was discussed. Pardon the crude use of Photoshop.
The Fence - Thoughts, Oil on Board
Both accomplices suggested that modifications be done by painting a second painting from the first study. One can learn a tremendous amount from such a series. So here is version 2, all influences banging around the artists brain - so confusing.
The Fence II, Oil on Board
Apparently the VIEWER responded with "Better but no cigar". What do you think? Take into consideration that the artist's original concept was to lead they eye towards a stub fence in front of a wall of evergreen and other trees. The violets in the brush on the left near the stub fence were to be preserved. The feel was to be soft and not edgy. The bright warmth of the sunny day was to be felt.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Here we are just after the Solstice and just before Christmas. For those celebrating these or other occasions it is a time for contemplation. Yesterdays painting in the Hockley somehow lead us to an area previously undiscovered. Solitude. Reflection. Simple Beauty.
What You Doin' Here?
Then I got back, cleaned my brushes and looked around the studio.
What's Going on Here?
Too much going on. The deer have it right. The other end of the studio is equally chaotic. Put away the paint experiments. Finish stretching that canvas - I have a painting for it. Finish gessoing that card stock. Finish off the painting on this easel, and the still life - at the left. Finish the plein air pieces at the other end of the studio (5). Reset. Restart. Relax.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
It has often been said that "what you leave out is more important than what you put in". Here is a photo of the Hockley valley where we painted on Saturday.
A Gaggle of Trees
One of the gang chose this to compose. It is bad enough. I'll try to get a shot of the finished product to show. There was also a barn. However, I was somehow attracted to this.
A Whack of Bush
Remember that this is a photo. So I could see more and see it in context. Too busy. What is it about? It was a dull overcast sky. The sky was darker than the snow covered ground. An exception. Sky was warmer than the ground in general. The sky was quite active so there was interesting colour around. Here was my thinking.
Masses and Motifs
This looks a bit washed out to me, but here goes. There is a circle in the lower right. That clump of trees I found attractive. Both the vertical and the horizontal gave me interest. Then the masses are indicated with yellow lines. The two snow masses were of different colour and the angle gives some dynamic feel. You could imagine putting on the snow shoes and walking up the grade to the right, circling somewhere and continuing along the rear hill. I indicated colour gradations as parallel lines on the two snow masses. So this leads to a simplified 4 mass composition. The sky, the snow hills, the forest line and the tree arrangement. Here is what I did with it.
Snow Shoe Day, 10 x 12, Oil on Board
This is just a little darker for illustration purposes.
Monday, December 20, 2010
How long have I been doing this? The continuous learning process keeps me coming back. The more you learn, the more you don't know.
We went out Saturday morning to the Hockley Valley. There has been snow streamers coming in for a week or so now. For me, living further south it is hard to believe how much snow is in the valley - and they did not get the full force of it.
The first thing you encounter is difficulty getting off the road to park safely. Things are narrower now and the lurking ditches prove a challenge. In the hills it is important not only to get out of the wind, but to pull over in a highly visible spot for oncoming vehicles. This is especially critical on the weekend as the city boys are out and about.
Easel On the Road
A local stopped to chat when I was up the hill. "Some people get sideways coming down that hill. Glad they are way off the road." At least we were not perched just over the peak of the hill. But that easel just had to move.
Now on this day the snow off the road was deep. And, when you have to go......... Alas one of us was prepared.
So the winter plein air prep list now includes snow shoes. They got a necessary work out this day.
Don't Follow Me!
So now snow shoes are added to things like layers, a timer, a brimmed hat with a toque, "real" boots, and mits/gloves. Perhaps some of these items should be discussed. Let me know. It is all for the sake of continuing to train they eye, having some fun, and a social outing where learning is bound to happen.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The first few times out in the snow provide a learning experience all over again - dejas vu. Here is an image of a painting with snow all over it. Should have seen the palette.
Block In - Flurries
This was done very quickly with a limited palette - speed. Snow doesn't mix with oil. After a while it feels like sand in the oil while going on. But it is ice. Now, the ice will melt. Leaving - who knows what - but sometimes very interesting for a finish in the studio. Mine started to run on the canvas. So......
Scraping off the excess paint
This process is good either as a pre scrap (you know - on the fire) activity or as a prep for going forward. Scraping takes off the excess paint, softens all the edges, consolidates the shapes, squeegies off the water, and gets rid of bumps if you don't want them. You can paint on the thin wet surface or after the surface is dry. I prefer wet in wet to the point that I make a dry surface wet (oiling in). Many artists use this scraping after each session of painting until the last.
As an outside painting note, I used three colours (Zorn like) to minimize setup time, tilt my painting surface back towards me over my palette this keeps the snow off the canvas - well, some of it. Then I crowd the canvas and palette with my body to shield them from the wind. Then paint quickly. This is all preceded with a concept and quick thumbnail so I don't have to think about composition etc. My Julian french easel is great for this.
Then in the calm of the studio I paint on.
A Bit of Snow, 12x12, Oil on Canvas
Tomorrow I'll have a look in better light with new eyes.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Out a few days ago after a fresh dusting of snow, the sun, low in the sky, was shining brightly. We were experimenting with the idea of restricted palettes as Zorn had done. Surveying a set of restored farm buildings in their setting I set out a short palette consisting of Cad Red Middle, Yellow Ochre, and Cobalt Blue. I wanted the warmish yellow tending Cobalt Blue for the sky and the snow reflection. The Cad Red Middle gives some red for mixing violets and greens plus use on a red tin roof. The yellow ochre was introduced to mute yellow, the green, and orange mixtures. It would be used (as a high value) in some snow areas where the low sun light was directly reflected. The yellows can be greyed with the violets. Out of the colour wheel of possibilities this palette restricts your choices. Here you see that I decided to move from Cad Red Light to Cad Red Middle to give me more violets even though this takes away some of the orange reds.
Short Palette helps speed work in Plein Air
In addition to the colours shown you can add white to get tints. This gives a large array of possibilities including muted greys. Compared to a full palette, this relative restriction speeds your colour choice decisions so you can capture the short lived light. This is especially important here as we near the winter solstice since light is changing even faster tan normal.
Here is the painting done with this palette.
The Pigery, 11x14, Oil on Canvas
There is a host of subjects on 8th Line, a dirt road in Southern Ontario.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Anders Zorn was a Swede. He lived from 1860 to 1920. He was famous for his portraits (not his favourite) and nude figures in nature. However, he could paint anything as shown below.
When he used this short palette he managed to get high chroma reds and low chroma blues and greys cooled by yellow and white in a way that most artists cannot achieve with a huge array of colours at their disposal. He worked from life (thus in the genre of an impressionist). Apparently he earned huge sums of money from his many commissions. When he passed they found millions stashed away in his studio - along with a cache of paint tubes that included every colour under the sun including blue. So he was an experimenter exploring possibilities all his life.
kvinna som klar sig
Just look at the variety he achieved, the brushwork, the rendering, the composition, the edges. He could do so much with so little. So simple - but no short cuts.
Les Demoiselles Schwartz
For the complete work refer to anderszorn.org.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The Zorn Palette is what I call a designed palette. Some insight into palette construction might be useful. I will bring back the practical colour wheel. It is a colour wheel with pigments named and a relative value scale added. This value scale is NOT accurate. Handprint.com shows where the pigments fall in both value and chroma. For teaching purposes I have simplified this model. It is important to understand where pigments fall in chroma as well as value. Here is my wheel showing hi intensity pigments around the circumference and a greyed or lower intensity yellow ochre inside the circumference. You can mix something close to yellow ochre from the high intensity pigments, but the opposite is not true.
Practical Colour Wheel with Yellow Ochre Added
Using the 12 pigments suggested here allows one to mix all the colours inside the colour wheel, muted greys etc. Many people using all these colours on their palette get confused with the infinite options. It also lends itself to problems with colour harmony as well as colour/value difficulties.
Here is a palette sometimes used in the landscape. It is simplified to make carrying supplies easier as well as simplifying the mixing choices.
This picture shows in white the area of colours possible with this palette. You can see that the palette consists only of high intensity (High Chroma) pigments - Cad Yellow Light, Cad Orange, Cad Red Light, Alizarin, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian Green, and of course white. The colours on the wheel not included on this palette can be ESTIMATED by mixing the colours on the palette. These are ESTIMATES because they will be greyed to some degree. This palette covers quite the gamut of potential colours. Six tubes of paint plus white to carry. You have to mix greys and earth tones. The palette is a high chroma palette if no mixing is done. Many options (Too many?) exist. So what happens if we simplify further?
Three Pigment Palette
In this palette there is Cad Red Light (High Chroma Primary), Ultramarine Blue (High Chroma Primary), and Yellow Ochre - a dulled version of a "primary". The white area represents the possible colours that can be mixed. All mixtures will be greyed. The only high chroma notes possible are Cad Red or Ultramarine. White will give quite an array of values for the mixtures. Now you have few colour choices to mix from and the colour will be harmonious. Warm and cool colours exist. Violets are not possible in mixtures. You could alter that by adding Alizarin or Cobalt Violet. Could work in the landscape which is quite muted most of the time save for sunsets etc.
Here is a more greyed palette. Do you recognize it?
Cad Red Light, Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black
Sunday, December 5, 2010
I had a call regarding the use of Zorn's palette by adding other pigments. The basic idea is to get everything out of the limited three colour plus white palette. Of course you are the artist, so you can do whatever you want. Using the limited palette by itself is a great learning experience. It helps you understand colour and colour theory, and how to mix and place the colours. So lets look at some ways to make the colours work for you. The basic palette is Ivory Black, Yellow Ochre, and Vermillion. Vermillion being toxic I am using Cad Red Light.
Here is a colour chart showing the combinations of colours from the palette with a few values obtained by adding white.
Here is a colour chart showing the combinations of colours from the palette with a few values obtained by adding white.
Basic Zorn Combos
Using these three pigments as primaries to mix secondary colours you can see that red plus yellow gives orange (muted since yellow ochre is low in chroma). Red plus black gives a range of violets (muted since we used black). Yellow plus black gives a muted green. You can further the exercise to get muted tertiaries by mixing the secondaries. Painting with this muted array will discipline you to think about values, chroma and paint application.
But wait, there is more. Much more. Impressionists and colour theorists showed us that placing colours next to other colours gives the effect called simultaneous contrast. For example, if you surround light grey patch of colour with a darker yellow field of colour, the grey will take on a violet cast. That is it will appear somewhat violet. So, if you put some grey next to a colour field, the grey will appear to be the complement of the surrounding colour field. An orange field will cause the grey to look blue, and a red field will cause it to look green. Since there is no blue on this palette, voila, there it is!
Here are a few examples of this simultaneous contrast.
Colour Placement Samples
Using the complements then you can emphasize the colour in question by placing its complement nearby. Or even some of the complement in the colour next to the colour in question. So, if you want the painting to appear higher in chroma you can cheat it up this way.
In your painting you will have to put in the time to get the feel of the possibilities. To help short circuit the learning curve I highly recommend you play with the colours on your palette. Just mix away and experiment. Spend some time on the palette before jumping in to a painting. Here is a recent example of mine. Look for examples of paint application used to get colours to appear.
One Up One Down, 11x14, Oil on Canvas
Friday, December 3, 2010
I am continuing my work with Zorn's palette in my fall landscape paintings. From the first paintings I decided to add a bit of chroma to the colours. Here is the beginning palette.
Terra Rosa, Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black - below the chromatic equivalent
I replaced the Terra Rosa with Gamblin's Pink Brown, and I used Gold Ochre instead of Yellow Ochre (These colours can be from the tube or mixed - if you know what is in them). Both of these replacements are more chromatic. That is they are more red and more yellow respectively. That should mean that their mixtures for "secondaries" should be more robust. So orange, green, and violet should be a bit more distinct. I kept the flake white on the palette. Of course the white is cold in temperature. Mix the white with any of the other pigments and they will cool. Without the white the palette is quite warm. Here is the first painting done with this version of the palette.
One Up One Down, 11x14, Oil on Canvas
Notice the areas that appear quite cool. Next I'll write about making this palette work. Using a short palette is an excellent learning experience. It forces you to explore mixing, colour selection, and placement.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
My optometrist helped me simplify this technical subject to the point where I almost get it. Here goes.
There are rods and cones in the retina of the eye. Rods are light/dark receptors. Cones are colour receptors. The human eye is designed in such a way that the rods vastly outnumber the cones. This means that the eye is most sensitive to light/dark contrast. Colour is second in sensitivity. This is not to say that an individual can't be in love with colour. However, even their eye is designed to be most sensitive to light/dark.
The implication to this design is that a painting with high light/dark (or value) contrast will attract people most. For example, a painting with a few interesting shapes with high light/dark contrast will attract a viewer's eye from across the room - where colour is not seen. After being attracted from across the room the viewer moves to the painting where the colour strategy becomes visible. So get the light/dark value design with a few interesting shapes established. Squinting is of supreme value here. Then apply the colour.
The colour application to a value plan gives many artists trouble. In monochromatic, most do not have too much trouble. In colour, reds, greens etc. fool many people. These are middle value and tend to be applied too dark. A good value scale will help with this. Another tool for those of you who are studious is shown below. I use this regularly when I teach.
Practical Colour Wheel with Pigments
This is an approximation of the values or specific pigments. I have a much more detailed version for anyone requesting it.
I digress. The retina of the eye occupies quite a small area. Perhaps like a postage stamp. The lens of the eye focuses the light image on the retina. To understand the implication of this pretend you are my student. I ask you to stare me in the eye. Then I ask you "which eye are you looking at?" You will realize that you can only focus on one eye at a time. Then I ask you keep looking at the chosen eye, and describe to me what else you see. You see all the other background, but it is out of focus. This is another way of saying that the edges are soft. The eye is attracted to a hard edge.
So now you have two powerful tools to help you construct a painting in such a way as to attract the viewer from afar, then to guide the eye to where you want it to go.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Doris passed on November 25. She turned 100 4 months ago. She was primarily a landscape painter using considerable abstraction. She painted in each Canadian Province and Territory. In addition she travelled extensively around the world painting at each destination. One of my favourite pictures of her was taken in 1972 showing her sitting in the arctic snow painting ice burgs. What a lady.
Doris Painting in her Georgian Bay Studio ~ 2002
On a painting trip in 2004 I have the good fortune to stumble on her cottage "Knothole" on the rocks on Georgian Bay. It was indeed an honour to be welcomed and to sit in her chairs around her fire pit. I could feel her energy. Very special.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
The email "Extra Long Notice" went out with the idea that all those plein air enthusiasts would be able to get it together to enjoy the fist snow of the season. Wrong. The usual suspects were there, and maybe they were wondering why. 8th Line was acting up.
Randi, Watercolour with Oil
One of the usuals was even being told by "associates" not to waste her time painting out there. "Your studio work is so beautiful". Something made them all join in with Randi. Maybe they enjoyed her snow rant.
OK, Lets Give It a Go
Set up the French to shade the canvas, squeeze out quickly, get some paint on there before the ice crystals get formed. Then just pretend there is no snow. After you dry it out there might be a treasure under it all.
Paint On, Its only Snow
Did anyone set the clock? How long have I been out here? I love this ditch!
You are Right, Snow Isn't White
It is a learning experience. Not to mention the laughter. Your eye gets better all the time. Suddenly what was good yesterday isn't, and you can see the difference.
Looked Like a Good Subject At the Time
Then, just as you were getting it, it all changed.
Don't Chase It
Lets just pack it up and have coffee. Have a hot shower when you get home.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
This painting was done exploring the simplified palette of Ivory Black, Yellow Ochre and Terra Rosa. It was totally dry brushed on a dry ground prepared with thinners and Terra Rosa to a value of 6 (white being 10). Unlike the last painting this was done in the studio using a thumbnail as reference.
The thumbnail notes were made given my regular prismatic palette. So the new palette required translation. I started with the darks, indicating the pattern loosely. Notice how bright the ground seems. That is the result of the canvas showing through.
Darks on a Mid Value Ground
This apparent contrast can confuse you easily. Painting on from my three pigments, forming a colour pool and painting with the same #10 brush (wiped, not cleaned) in a dry brush fashion, I translated warm and cool colours to go in places where they belonged. Here is the result.
Late Fall Pattern, 11x14, Oil on Canvas
Monday, November 22, 2010
I have been threatening to use Anders Zorn's palette for a long time. On Saturday's outing I did it. In addition, I decided to prepare a canvas or two in the studio so that the ground was dry as opposed to working into a wet coloured ground. The target was a value 6 (white being 10) ground using burnt sienna and ultramarine blue to make a warm grey surface to work from.
Set Up with Dry Dark Ground
Awfully dark you say. When I checked the canvas with my value scale (Already dry) I found it to be 2 steps dark. Seems I had a hi intensity light on when I did the prep. So I painted too dark as a result. Just like a bright day in the landscape. I decided to use it as it was.
I squeezed out a Zorn palette of Ivory Black, Yellow Ochre, and Terra Rosa, plus Flake (Lead) White.
You can see the Zorn pigments below my regular palette used the day before. The colours are way less intense (you can mix a close approximation of these - a good exercise). The red is a cool red, the yellow is warm, and the black is your cool blue. With this approach of a short palette every colour you mix will be harmonious eliminating that concern.
Here is what I did with the subject as seen in the top photo.
Zorn's Shelter, 11x14, Oil on Canvas
An interesting array of colours. Greens, blue (see the eves on the shelter, a couple of cloud strokes in the sky), oranges, violets, reds, yellows - all muted. With the dark ground showing through I found it difficult to lighten the image. It was overcast in my mind, so perhaps I came half way to my vision. Since I had a dry ground to work from I decided to dry brush the painting so a considerable amount of broken colour exists. I used one #8 Filbert bristle brush, wiping only to keep it dry. With this approach you have to develop a way to keep colours clean - its all in the brush handling.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
There is no end to the ways to start a painting. Usually I prefer to paint on a coloured ground. I like this for several reasons.
A coloured ground breaks the cold bleak white canvas.
A middle value allows you to get the basic painting moving quickly with the addition of darks and lights.
Value judgement in colour is easier against a middle value.
A wet coloured ground helps with paint movement.
One ground colour leads to colour harmony.
This is a start for a painting started this afternoon. The reference sketch is a simple thumbnail fro the local escarpment. Colour descriptions were added on site.
Top of Silver Creek - in process - Oil on Canvas 24x24
This might remind you of the still life start in the last post. The canvas was covered with a mixture of yellow, red, and ultramarine. This is a somewhat greyed orange similar to burn sienna. I chose to dry brush the composition with a variety of darks to check orientation. Changes have presented themselves for installation on the day after tomorrow. This is very early in the process. Greys and other colours in mid tones and lights are to come. You will note that I have chosen not to do an underpainting in a monochromatic. This is a more direct painting approach. Many other approaches are possible and I use them at will.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Painting from life breathes freshness into my painting. If I don't get out there or work from life I feel stale after a while isolated in the studio. Maybe it is just me. I see so much more and my eye sharpens each time. In addition to Plein Air I attempt to paint regularly from life as in still life or from a model. Here is my studio still life setup.
French Easel - very adjustable
In the full light in the studio the lamp barely overshadows. In order to see the full shadows the light has to be blocked from one end of the studio or the painting can be done after the sun begins to disappear. Here is the full shadow set up.
Darker than What the Eye Sees
Compared to the camera the eye is very sensitive to light (Value) and colour. Here a broad light is used. A board with oil primer was chosen for the painting. It was prepared with a greyed mixture of orange and blue - something like a burnt sienna. The ground was painted two tone to start direct painting indicating the wall and the table top in two values.
Painted Ground and Viewfinder
The viewfinder was used to help with a thumbnail to develop the design. I decided to dry brush the painting. No medium, thick paint. Here is the start.
This start is a little different than those shown before. It is a cross between straight massing in and an outline colouring book style. All edges are soft. Colour is added from here. The light in the environment was cool enough to make me overcompensate the warmth forcing adjustments at a later stage.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I try to paint every day. Outdoors as much as I can. Keeps me fresh. Ends up about 50 - 50.
The last week I haven't picked up a brush. For me the first thing I lose is the feel of the paint going on. Then I lose the sense of what is and my sense of what I know (things like the sky is blue, snow is white etc.) takes over. I knew that shows, delivering paintings, hanging, leaves, grass, eaves troughs and so forth were about to take over. The usual suspects for the Book of Excuses. Then I get a sense that unless I can dedicate a good block of morning time, I can't get started. However, I have found that keeping my head in the game helps a lot. I have stretched canvases, prepared canvases and boards, sketched some variations of some ideas, talked to some artists, read some blogs, and bought a few tubes of paint. Like I needed them!
Through all of this the feeling of needing to paint big has emerged again. I seem to go in cycles. To do this I'll switch to the old french easel for outside (16x20 to 24x30 usually) and use the large canvases I have stretched and prepared for the studio easels. I guess this is all in preparation for the winter painting season - but this week it is seriously warm. So we have made preparations to attack Bob's barn on Friday. It has taken 2 years to get Bob ready for this. Should be fun. And this afternoon I'll get on the easel for a few hours.
Bob's Barn, Summer 2009
The old girl has changed a lot since then. Last fall a western blew off most of her one wall. Today she is so adorned with character it makes for a difficult painting.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
The lab has always been an interesting place for me. In painting and in the support areas I am continually trying new things. Its called development. Recently I have been working on different grounds. Even the best gesso I can find leaves a surface that is quite absorbent. Since I like to paint wet in wet, I don't particularly like that. Moving the paint around is defeated by such a surface. In addition, the paint is sucked in at varying rates leaving a blotchy surface. This happens during a painting session. If you wait, the condition can be rectified with varnish or, in the case of continuing to paint - oiling in. But waiting causes loss in immediacy.
In an attempt to change all that I did some research. A Lead White ground apparently fixes all that. To avoid the Lead I found a number of alternates and I have tried them on birch board and on canvas. The oil paint sits on top of the canvas making paint manipulation possible. That is you can take your brush and scrape up a mislaid stroke and place it in the right spot.
The painting looks as you painted it like this finished version shown before in a series of steps. Varnish is then for protection. I used no medium for this painting save for the beginning wash.
Bushwork, 12x12 Oil on Gallery Canvas
Here are the trial materials and the results. The highest cost material is first. I have been preparing the canvas to a semi smooth surface. No sanding on the final coat.
Gamblin Oil Painting Ground - beautiful to paint on, slippery - slow dry, thick so one or two coats
Grumbacher MG White - beautiful to paint on, slippery, medium time to dry, thick, one or two coats
Stevenson Oil Ground - nice to paint on, less slippery - slow dry, thin, three or more coats
Benjamin Moore Alkyd outdoor primer - nice to paint on, fairly slippery, quick dry, two or three coats
Zinseel Outdoor Oil Primer (Alkyd) - nice to paint on, quick dry, less slippery, thin, three or more coats
Slow dry means up to a week or more...
Quick dry means less than a day.....
Slippery means the paint can be moved around at will....
If you try a commercial alkyd primer, make sure it is oil based, not shellac. Make sure it is outdoor use.
All of these products are oil based, not acrylic. The bond with oil paint is superior. They contain natural or man made resins so they have varying degrees of odour. I do my canvas and board prep outside in the garage - a problem as we get to the freezing point. Clean up is not as easy as with Gesso. For me the results are far superior. You can buy canvas from people such as Fredrix with lead white prime. Same goes for prepared panels.