Monday, August 30, 2010

Karen's O'Hara in the Studio

I thought you might like to see the progress of a larger painting in the studio.  This was done using a pencil thumbnail as the principal reference.  Other on site paintings helped refresh colour memory.  A square format was chosen to help emphasize the mass and height of the mountains.  O'Hara is unique in that the mountains are up close in your face.

Mass and Line,  36x36 canvas 

Most often I mass in the basic shapes directly using the average colour and value.  Here I used mass and line in combination but using thin ultramarine alizarin mixture.  This colour will be complementary to the coming colour layer and if it peeks through I am happy to have it in the shadows.  Some of the marks were put in at this stage to suggest the relative darks (Tree trunk for example).  Then I begin to paint over many of these and leave an indication to their position.  Normally I stay away from white as long as possible.  Here I used some in the sky to help me with relative values, saving the lightest and darkest if I need them at the end of the painting.  It is like a reserve fuel tank.

You will notice several setup issues.  My palette is right in front of me - very convenient and keeps me back from the surface.  There are only a few colours squeezed out but there is plenty of each.  I don't like a starved palette.  Replenishing the paint usually happens when I am in the flow.  Most inconvenient.  At the end of a painting session I leave the excess paint and add to it the next day.  If I miss painting on this easel for a couple of days I lose the paint.  It is worth it.  In the corner of my palette there is a tuna tin for medium.  There are two brushes - a # 16 bristle filbert and a two inch Escoda.  The three inch was in for maintenance.  You also see a value chart hanging on the easel.  This is both a reminder and a reference.  I find it most useful when there are numerous picture planes in the image and I am using close values in different hues to separate them.  Finally, my coffee cup.  Now this is not the best location for it.  It sees its share of cadmium.  Tastes awful!

Coffee Palette, #16 Filbert

Now we are moving directly on to colour and establishing dark masses with average hue and value.

Eating Up Viridian

Quite often I wipe my brush between paint loads, change the mixture, scoop the paint, lay a stroke, repeat.  Here I introduce another brush to help go back and forth between two masses.

Main Masses Established

In this approach the painting is more immediate that a full lay in or underpainting with say an earth tone (such as burnt sienna).  The advantage is faster execution and cleaner more brilliant colours.  The drawback is that you have to "hit it" or you pay the time and accuracy price.  In this case I am reacting to the painting and making some design changes on the fly.  You will see some of these in the tree masses in the final.  Here the foreground is still very much in question.  I have not decided how I want to deal with it at this stage.  The only thing for sure is that it will be subordinated.  I found myself wiping a brush full of paint randomly on the foreground so that it contained a bit of everything in the painting.

Karen's O'Hara, 36x36, Oil on Canvas

This shows fine on my monitor, I hope it does on yours.  It is a bit weak at the wrong angle.  I hope you get the idea.  The painting was done wet in wet.  Two coffees.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

While Playing Hookey

On the way to doing the banking a fellow artist did this painting.  Total time, less that 30 minutes.  One large brush.  Now, most people shudder at quick painting.

A Corner of the Pond, 10x12, Oil on Board

The time included a thumbnail sketch after considering a concept for the painting.  So look at what has been achieved.  The power point of the painting is alive and well.  The eye goes there for a few reasons.  Light, the eye is drawn to it.  Value contrast, the eye is drawn to it.  Hard edges, the eye is drawn to it.  The detail is primarily inferred.  Just look at the incomplete and broken nature of the reflections in the middle of the picture - the eye fills in the detail and the viewer is involved in telling the story.  There is mystery in the darks.  The greens are just here and there - not over powering.  One vertical reflections is weakly drawn, the other left out - it works.  There are transparent passages, opaque passages, translucent passages for variety.  The scene is simplified so it makes sense artistically.  It is often about what is left out.

For comparison, here is a photo of the scene.  Many painters are stumped trying to make a painting out of this.

Simplify This

When asked, the artist was going to keep working on the painting.  However, when asked about the concept, it was obvious that the intention had largely been met.  One could add a few edge changes and a spot or two of paint.  However, that is best left for another painting in a series for this motif.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Some Facts on White

I had a conversation with a beginning artist at the gallery the other day.  he had been to a workshop where the instructor told him he "had to" use Titanium White using linseed oil as the binder.  What did I think?

First of all, when an "instructor/teacher" tells you this is THE way or you "have to", or "the only way to....", pack your bags and leave.   There are many ways to go in a direction or to solve a painting problem.

Crow's Nest Glacier, B&W, Oil on Linen

Here is a painting shown in black and white.  A good check on the values employed  (More on this in a later post).  In this painting I used Radiant Titanium White.  I wanted the widest value range possible.

Here is a way to look at the properties of the more common whites used in oil painting.

Titanium White  Highest tinting strength. Fast drying.  Refined Linseed Oil binder.  Opacity 4.  Colour warm.

Radiant Titanium White  Brightest, whitest.  Slow drying. Saflower Oil binder.  Opacity 4. Colour neutral.

Titanium Zinc White  Titanium tinting + Zinc creamy texture.  Fast drying. Saflower Oil binder. Opacity 3.  Colour neutral.

Flake White  Stringy beautiful brushy handling.  Fast drying.  Refined Linseed Oil binder.  Opacity 3.  Colour warm.  Some versions contain lead.

Fast Dry Titanium White  Fastest drying.  Refined Linseed Oil and Alkyd Resin binders.  Opacity 2.  Colour neutral.

Zinc White  Creamy testure for mixing.  Most transparent (scrumbles and glazes).  Slow drying.  Refined Linseed Oil binder.  Opacity 1.  Colour warm.

I have used all of these whites.  One artist grade manufacturer sells more Radiant Titanium White than any other type in the Toronto area.  Lately I have been using a Flake White with no lead.  It yields some interesting brushwork.

Let us know what you use and what you prefer.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Evaluation of Alizarin and Substitutes

Alizarin Crimson replaced the Madders which were fugitive (not very permanent).  Alizarin is better than the old pigments but new pigments offer better performance in terms of permanence.  Some paint manufacturers have stopped making Alizarin in favour of the substitutes while other manufacturers off both.  So lets see if a change is warranted.

Here is a canvas patch with Alizarin, Permanent Alizarin, and Quin Red placed across the top.  The pigment swatches were placed thin and then titanium white mixed in and pulled down in order to see the colour.  Then Viridian, Ultramarine, Cad Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre, and Transparent Red Oxide were placed vertically on the left in thin patches.  Each of these was in turn mixed with the samples across the top and white was mixed into each mixture and pulled down to better see the resulting colour. In the case of Viridian, the mixture was made to a neutral grey.  Similar proportions were made for each other colour set.

It seems that Quin Red makes a much more brilliant or cleaner colour.  Both Permanent Alizarin and Alizarin leave a dirty, blackish undertone.  In the mixtures this condition continued.  The near complements of Viridian and all the "Alizarins" seemed to mix beautiful greys in each case.  Good cool colours.  When mixed with Ultramarine violets resulted.  Quin Red produced the cleanest most brilliant violets.  When mixed with Cad Yellow Deep the colours with Quin Red were far cleaner.

By themselves both Alizarin and Permanent Alizarin are a deeper value and rich cool reds.  If that is important to your methods, Permanent Alizarin is perhaps for you.  In mixtures the full range of values are available for all the "Alizarins".  It will be interesting to see how transparent passages work - for example in skies.

Both Permanent Alizarin and Quin Red are more expensive pigments.  They are Quin based (organics made in the lab).

The pigments tested were Stevensons Alizarin (no longer being made), Gamblin's Permanent Alizarin  (a different richer formulation from others investigated), and Gamblin's Quin Red (Others seemed quite similar in value, hue, and the mixtures).

I will paint with both the substitutes for a while before making a decision.  Let me know your experiences.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Back in the Studio

Ok, I left off here after a pleasant plein air session on August 8.  So the start is dry.

Scotsdale Summer in process.....

It is not unusual to require completion in the studio.  My reference in addition to this start includes my thumbnail sketch and a photo.  Here is the photo.

Photo Reference 

This is what I expected when I took the picture.  In order to see what is in the light I basically have black elsewhere.  Sharp edges everywhere.  My memory and the start above tell me another story.  The thumbnail was aimed at the design - and what to leave out.  I thought I could get the real thing by going back to the site.  It looked like similar weather here in the Glen, when I got to the farm it was shrouded in fog.  So back to the studio.

I did not bother to oil in.  It is a small painting.  I resumed the laying in of the darks and shadows.  With warm light the shadows were cool.  Then I adjusted the values of the masses to get the relative value correct.  I had to keep the lights in the lights and the shadows in the shadow as well as painting the air between masses.  Colour temperature is key here.  For the light I used cad yellow and let the green grass tell the viewer the colour in the light.  A few hints of reflected light, a check of the edges to make sure they were appropriate (not as in the photo) and lay it aside while cooking dinner.

Scotsdale Summer, 10x12, Oil on Board

A final touch for accents and hi lights and a couple of edge adjustments and voilĂ .

Monday, August 16, 2010

Final Touches

OK, so I'll return to the little plein air next.  Meanwhile have a look at this painting shown in the previous blog.  I just had to do this work first since it going to the show in Toronto in a couple of days.  Hope it dries......

Entering O'Hara, August 16 2010

I mentioned that there were a few things to do.  Below you will see those results.  This painting is complex in that there are numerous picture planes in it - more than 8, so the values are critical to achieving depth.  It is easy to run out of values.  So I tried to preserve values by using colour temperature where it made sense. It is best to leave value 1 and value 10 in reserve for accents and hi-lites.  Again I tried to maintain the areas of light and shadow as unique.  That means that the lights in the shadows are always darker than the darks in the light etc. on each picture plane.  Makes you feel like an accountant on this one.  No wonder simpler is better.

Here is the after shot.

Entering O'Hara, 42x50, Oil on Canvas

You will see new colours and values added in a number of spots.  Much of this had to do with the use of complements to add vibration.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Small to Big

I'll get back to the sketch from the last post in a day or so.

Meanwhile, I am finishing off a large painting of Lake O'Hara.  Here is the oil done on site.

Exploring O'Hara, 10x12 Oil on Board

In addition to this I have a pencil thumbnail, my memory, and this photo.

O'Hara jpeg, June 2010

There is always a problem with going big from a small.  Immediacy seems to disappear.  I have made a number of decisions for this painting and have installed most of them.  But more work to do.

You will see that I have not tried to copy the photo or the small.  The idea is to create a painting employing design and painting tools.  I could do a whole series here.

Entering O'Hara, 42x50, Oil on Canvas

The image reads dark on my screen.  Hopefully you get the idea.  Here I am trying to keep everything in the shadows in shadow, and everything in the light in light.  The lights in shadow on a plane have to be darker than the darks in the light.  Here I am using warm light and cool shadow.  Remember that warm and cool are relative.  For example you can have a cold red.

By using the tools and design you can free yourself from the doldrums of copying.  This approach is beyond painting what you see.  You try to answer the question "What could I make of this?"

Sunday, August 8, 2010

After a Day Out

A number of people have asked me if I always finish a painting in one session en plain air - or outside as some like to say.  The goal is yes, the practice is no.  Here is an image painted yesterday on a pleasant week day at Scotsdale Farm.

Farm in Process, 10x12, Oil on Board

After finding a place that would keep me in the shade, I zeroed in on this image.  As mentioned the goal is to finish in one sitting.  This keeps the real reference material on hand and the painting ends up with a fresh spontaneous look.  Sometimes it happens, sometimes not.  The last 5 or 6 times out resulted in half baked work.  On this particular day we had dogs, hikers, groups, and photographers all enjoying the break from the heat and humidity and in a mood to talk and joke.  Here is the result of three hours on site.  However, I do have the basic elements in place, and colour notes.  Along with a thumbnail and my memory from painting many like scenes I can finish in the studio.

You can see how this painting proceeded.  It started with a transparent Viridian and Red Oxide wash to kill the white canvas and establish some colour unity.  It is also the complement to colours to come - provides vibration.  Then the position of the subject was established and a few of the supporting masses, values, and colours indicated.  Then the attention was paid to the main actor.  More work will be done there in the studio - value, colour variation and intensity, edges.  The rest of the painting will be treated as subordinate with less intensity and soft edges.  Each brush stroke must be either in the light or in the shadow.  When I get a break from preparing for my solo show I will show the finished painting and go through the studio finishing process.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prepping the Show "Road Trip"

I hang my show "Road Trip" at the RedEye Gallery on August 16.  Time is slipping away quickly.  I have to be finished painting Monday August 9 in order to dry, frame, and prepare the show.  Then all is loaded in the car and I am off to Toronto's Distillery after  rush hour.

My last small canvas was done from reference sketches and photos.  My painting memory is decent but it is not like being there - or even close to it.

Oesa Bound, 11x14, Oil on Canvas

The photo reference for this painting was taken by my good wife Karen.  She was hiking up the switch back towards Lake Oesa while I painted far below from the shore of Lake O'Hara.  If fact I was on the shore on the right hand side of this painting - the far shore.  I did some sketches of the rock face and the trail she was climbing.  The sketches are valuable for the large format paintings I am doing, but for this painting I had to imagine looking back at the spot I was sketching from.  Mental gymnastics.

For this painting my sole experimental material was Flake White Replacement by Gamblin.  It is proving to be quite good in thick or textured passages.  There is a lot of green in this image.  In order to keep them from becoming garish I use no green directly from the tube.  In this painting I derived many greens from Viridian.  Others I mixed from Ultramarine Deep and Cadmium Yellow Light.  All of the greens have been subordinated with a red - Alizarin or Cadmium Red Light.  Violet, orange, and yellow deep are other modifiers used to create some variety including shadows.  White was used as required to change the value and grey the colour.  You will see colour temperature used in each mass.  Cools in the warm masses, and warms in the cool masses.  In order to keep the shade and light separate you must use similar values in this process.

The painting was done with one #10 bristle filbert brush, wiped between colours.