Friday, May 28, 2010

Turn Once to Finish Cooking

It isn't really Spring.  We spent considerable time looking for shade before we settled on this spot.  The sun was moving quickly.  We knew we were done when he (SUN) crept up and finished us off.

I decided to make this an analogous painting using Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow Light, and Permanent Green Light.  In addition to Titanium White I added Magenta as a complement to the Permanent Green, but I would not "show it", just the various greys it made when mixed with the analogous pigments.  I started with a thin transparent green wash since it was to be the dominant colour.  It showed through in a number of places.  In the middle ground the transparent green was partially covered with a translucent yellow green gradation.  Most of the painting was a grey or neutral colour against which the few splotches of intense pigments show up.  The Board of Education building was subordinated in dull orange and the distant tree line was done in various greys featuring a green tendency.  Around the subject the paint was applied thicker and opaque.  So we have transparent glazes, thin passages of translucent paint, and thick passages.  Hopefully you can see the dominant colour, the subordinate colour and the mid use colour.

Nervey, 10x12, Oil on Board

We were cooked by 11 after an hour and change of painting - forced speed work.  Hopefully it will be a little cooler for the plein air class this weekend.  It will be easier to practice the lessons without fearing a heat stroke.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Revisit After 15 Years

We paid a visit to a stream that fills the Alton Mill pond and eventually flows into the Credit River.  I painted at this location late fall and winter some 15 years ago.   Vic Sullivan was mentoring me and I planned to visit him the same day as he recovers from surgery.

Three of us painted on this a beautiful day.  I painted down and away from the road.  There was a May Fly hatch in full bloom.  Not much had changed from the past except everything is more grown over.  I remember making a breakthrough in this spot.  

First the thumbnail.  Squint to get the relative values, shapes, and edges.  Formulate the rest of the concept.  Low key value, analogous colour scheme, two player interest.

The analogous colours I chose were yellow, green, blue green.  These are next to each other on the Practical Colour Wheel.  Each has green in the pigment (yellow too).  The pigments chosen were Cadmium Yellow Light, Viridian, and Cerulean Blue (to mix blue green).  Each of these can be mixed with the other to make somewhat grayed colours.  White (today I used Flake white) will also gray the pigments.  There are a number of ways to mix the other subtle gray greens to fill up the pie shape on the colour wheel.  I could mix each pigment with its complement (but not show the complements in the picture - just the resultant grays - keeps the concept in tact).  I could choose the complement of the central green (alizarin or permanent rose) and mix it with all of the analogous pigments.  I could choose tube colours that are grayed greens (such as terre verte, olive green, sap green, etc.).  Finally, I could choose to combine the approaches.  Today I used the complement Alizarin and Olive Green.  I can mix olive green but the tube approach is quick for on site painting with the early light changing rapidly.

The dominant green was Viridian, the subordinate green was Yellow, and the accent was Cerulean.

The painting consisted of predominantly grayed greens with little high chroma colour.

Paint was applied transparently (beginning with a Viridian wash which still shows), translucently with an undercolour showing though in a mist manner, and opaquely.  Thick and thin paint were used for interest and to guide the eye through the painting.

Revisit It, 10x12, Oil on Board

Hot Times Ahead

I posted this on the OPAS site some time ago.  That site is being closed down so I thought I should share it here.  Comments are welcome.

FRIDAY, APRIL 16, 2010

Hot Times Ahead

On Tuesday I decided to paint early on the Bruce Trail.  The jacket I decided to wear at the last minute was welcome.  It was 5℃, sunny with a breeze.  On the way to the site my mind wandered when I realized there would be interesting patterns of light and shadow.  Inside the car it was quite hot.  Then I got out standing in the sunlight.  Warm until I stepped into the cover of the woods.  That refrigerator effect will be welcome in the months ahead.

I rarely sit to paint, but I decided to take on that perspective.  Much cooler sitting, walking back to get a better look at least stirs the blood.  Maybe I should do more sitting in July.  We have been defeated more often in the heat than in the dead of Winter.  My short walk raised my body temperature just enough to get started without feeling the cold.  I was in complete shade, a good practice for the heat.  That also keeps the glare out of your eyes and off your palette.  Shadow motion in the lit forest floor areas caught my eye.  Looking up I saw them.  Turkey Buzzards circling over me trying to determine if I was alive.

After I had my start in place and entered the zone I came back to reality with a steady stream of solids falling into the wet paint.  Then the sound came through.  A wood pecker was working on a dead limb overhead.  Sure gave body to the paint.  Combustible at that.  On the side of the road in summer, gravel is the culprit.  I did not want to move, neither did she/he.  So we had a stand off.  I reached for the only food I had - a cold apple.  Biting into it I realized I was cold and so were my hands.  Inappropriate for the cold.  I got up and took a quick walk, hands in pockets.  Didn't want the patterns to move too much.  At that time of day had only an hour or so.

Six Gliders Circling, 12x12, Oil on Canvas

After this experience in the transition period (going to 26 today) I began a check list for outfitting myself for the coming season.

Water, snack
Peaked hat (standard for me - keeps the sun off my face) one without a top is great - for me
Sun protection clothing
No sun glasses - want to see full colour
Sun screen (standard Winter and Summer)
Set up in the shade
Work in the woods or from the edge of the woods looking out - or work in the water
Sturdy foot ware - especially important when venturing into un-manicured surroundings
The standard pack of easel, paint, boards and canvas, garbage bag

From this you might think I am preoccupied with the heat.  You would be right.

So why do we do this to ourselves in all seasons?  Here is a short list.

Can be a social gathering after going solo in the studio
Sharpen the eye after studio painting
Train your eye to see what is really there
Do rapid smalls with chunking concepts for training
Test materials, brushes, paints, mediums
Practice composition sketching
Learn to "see" edges and ways to duplicate them
Learn to squint for value and put that down in colour
Increase stimulation with a new motif and place
Learn from others
Enjoy and understand nature (Trilliums coming out, umbrella plant, Jack in the Pulpit, bamboo grass....)
Avoid cutting the grass
Exercise (then you are too tired to cut the grass)


Monday, May 17, 2010

Colour or Light?

It seems confusing when you hear "you can paint light, or you can paint colour, but you cannot paint both at the same time."  To illustrate, here are images from the same site.

Silver Creek Swamp, noon, full sun effect

Early in the morning the hill in the picture above was in shade with the sun just beginning to move overhead.

Silver Creek Swamp, 9 AM, shadow and oblique light

Same place different conditions.  Many confuse colour with light.  You can see that sunlight tends to bleach out the colour even though the light is intense.  The colour is more saturated in less direct light.  It is your job to distinguish and choose the situation that most interests you.  Another alternative is to do a series.  The series can run not just the times of day, but day to day and season to season variations.  kevin MacPherson did small paintings on his pond on each day of the year - 365 images.  An amazing collection.

Too Close, 10x12, Oil on Board

Guess the time of this image.

The painting was done as a split complement.  The pigments were Viridian, Permanent Green Light,  Cobalt Blue (the analogous set), Permanent Rose the complement for Viridian, and Cadmium Yellow Light as a modifier for the greens.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Shapes and Massing

When we train our eyes to see shapes as opposed to things, painting the concept gets easier.  When you identify shapes and their values (squinting) it is appropriate to "mass" in these shapes.  Opening the eye to see colour allows one to mass in the shapes with the colour eliminating the common underpainting step.  Given that there should be only 3-5 (OK up to 7) major shapes in a strong painting this process can work well, but it is opposite to what most of us learned as kids - colouring book and outlining.  You can even use the pencil to mass in the shapes in a thumbnail almost as if you are painting.  Try it and let me know how it works for you.

Melt This, 12x24, Oil on Canvas

Here you can see the major shapes quite easily.  For example, the sky.  Doing this helps one simplify.  This helps en plein air where the light is changing rapidly.  It also helps one express detail through "inference" rather that drawing in small colour patches.  This approach takes one into the realm of painting as opposed to drawing (not to say that drawing is not important).  This takes you closer to sculpture.

This painting was done with a well shaped #14 bristle filbert brush and a palette knife.

The palette used was Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Alizarin, Viridian, and Titanium White.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Quite often students ask about where to take a painting when they are struggling at some stage.  This often occurs when they begin to see other possibilities in addition to their original concept.  Normally I suggest that they continue with their original intent, noting the other possibilities.  Then do another painting with the new concept.  It often produces new learnings or a new direction.

A small group has been painting at the Alton Mill pond.

My first painting concept was to show the old mill in the sun, minor in shadows.  That meant I had to eliminate the new "addition".  The new addition bothered my aesthetic and I found myself reaching for composition (in addition I had another experiment underway at the same time).

Old Alton Mill, 10x12, Oil on Board

The structure dominated the composition to the point that there was little context of the Mill in its setting.

Here is the mill as it is today.

Misfit, 10x12, Oil on Linen on Board

Even if you start down a path that you find not to your taste it is your job to make a painting out of it.  That can be quite a challenge when you are not attracted emotionally.  The alternative is to scrape it off and start again.  I prefer the "make a painting out of it" approach.

Or you can start another after your effort to make a painting out of it.  Here, I turned and looked to the head of the Mill Pond.

Incoming, 10x12, Oil on Board

It goes to show you that you don't have to go far for a painting motif.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sketch Books

Since we are having a bit of a retrospective (10 years together as a painting group - Georgetown Cultural Centre beginning May 17 through June 2) I dug out my old sketch books.

Big Ones, Little Ones, Scraps of 'em

During the last several years I have adopted the habit of working from a larger sketch book in the studio and a smaller one en plein air.  The small books contain thumbnails and some "journaling".  That, along with colour notes and other observations helps bring the outdoors into the studio.  The larger studio books tend to be more exploration or planning oriented.  They too have thumbnails but there is often a series of them exploring possibilities.  Each page in the small books contains a days sketches, usually one, two, or three thumbnails.  Recently I have been adding potential names to the sketches.  The large books slowly fill the pages, sometimes a week at a time.  The small books seem to last about a year, the large two or three years.

The thumbnail that I currently use was not always so.  It is a check for composition, value, and shapes (derived from squinting en plien air and more from the mind in the studio - pictures are not very good in comparison) and a repository for colour information and observations.  I find that this up front planning cements my concept in place while I am in thinking mode.  This gives me a much higher success rate.  When I start painting and go to that other place (non conscious thinking) I am much more likely to stay on concept or be able to return there.

It wasn't always so.

1997, Bark Lake

Here it was basically a drawing and composition tool - scrawl covering the page.  What was squinting?  Lots of paper, little info.

More Info - Shapes, Values, Colours, Composition

Now the thumbnails are concise.  They are done by "painting" with the pencil as an extension to seeing as in squinting.  A more determined target or concept to paint from.  Interesting records.  Certainly shows the passage of time.  Now to do the same with paintings from the past.  It will be interesting to take a look at the time line and think about the evolution.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Some time ago on my regular visits to Meaford to see old friends, I made an oil sketch.  Some of you may know this place and or this site.  It turns out that it is a split complement colour arrangement.

Beaver in the Beaver, 7x12, Oil on Board

7x12 you say.  That is the end of a door skin that was cut into my regular plein air panels.  A change up in format and size.  I thought this might make a larger format painting.  Being spring, and with a large work on my studio easel, I decided to expand my territory.  Recognize this?

42x68, In the Garagio, Ready to Paint

Using the 7x12 as my reference along with sketch book material the start is easy - a wash of viridian and transparent red oxide - seasonal colour to assist in colour harmony for the landscape.  Pretty rough.

South Light, Window Wide Open, No Black Flies Here (Yet)

Just like plein air.  The blinding light compensation rule is in play.  Now the challenge.  That little painting has very little detail or information in it.  Smalls work that way.  But taking a small BIG is another story.  Everything is more important.  The edges, the shapes, the colours, values, and paint quality.  I have only my notes and the colour sketch for reference.  No squinting to save me.  Much more information needed.  In addition, the sketch was done with a #12 bristle filbert and it has a certain immediacy.  The equivalent size brush for this canvas is a roller, but it is being used to paint the bathroom.  So I start with my 4 and 6 inch Escodas.  A lot of paint........

Lay In, Stand Back for Correction Detection

In addition to adjustments and corrections, I have to decide whether to follow the liberties taken in the colour sketch or follow the thumbnails in my sketch book.  If you think you know the location for this work, it would be more identifiable if I revert to the sketch book.  I'll let you know what I decide to do.

All bristle brushes from 6 inches down to number 20 filbert.  Scooping the paint on as the lay in proceeds.