Thursday, September 30, 2010


It seems so simple.  Put the right pigment in the right place.  Getting it "right" is another matter.

Given that you are painting from life or on site, one of the most valuable technical skills is simplification.  On site the complexity of nature can be overwhelming.  The most direct way to simplify is to squint at the subject before you.  Thats right, partially close your eyes until the majority of the detail disappears leaving an image of a few simple coherent shapes.  Another benefit is that the key edges will also appear.  Zorn and Sorolla were masters at this method of simplification.  Schmid and Leffel are masters of this technique.  With practice you can also be a master.  Beware of squinting crows feet around the eyes.

Scotsdale Image in the AM

Here is a simple image from this morning for example.  Tangle everywhere.  What to paint?  What shapes, what values, what edges?  Remember this is a photo so the sky is near colourless.  Here is what it might look like squinting - don't adjust your set.

Sqinting at the Subject

Now you can see the basic few (4) shapes.  You also get to see the relative values and the few hard edges (your eye is drawn to these).

If you squint, the colour is distorted and greyed so it might look more like this.....

But Not to be Used for Colour Determination

From here you can compose a thumbnail composition and formulate your concept for the painting.  Just before this photo the background hill was much darker, but not as dark as the fence posts.  In any event the fence line is a nice lead in.  Has to be subordinated or it will be the subject.  My concept included showing stacked elements dark against light and changing to light against dark.  This device adds depth to the image

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Hyper Intensive

The painting weekend could not have been better.  The planned demo for Friday evening was replaced by a show and tell critique of the paintings created on the way to the cottage by a few of us.  That seemed to provide a learning and a charge of energy which was already high.

We hit the ground running on the dock the next morning.  I did a short start up for a painting, then everyone spread out to set up and paint.  

You Get the Idea

Ready Set Go

The enthusiasm was such that lunch didn't happen until 2 pm as it started to rain.  So we did show and tell until the sun broke as a cool front rolled in.  

Road Side Learning

Then the painting hit high gear.  I put on the miles going from artist to artist spread out into nooks and crannies that caught their attention.  Nobody had any difficulty finding a motif to paint.  They kept moving and I kept walking.

Two Star Development

Antonina Continuing in the Rain

Early Colour for Donna

Monica Sticking with Brush Work

Lynda Showing Rita's

Then dinner around 9 followed by that show and tell again.  

Critique, Fun and Learning Style - yup. wet ones behind us on hard wood.

Many of the artists had been working at glazing in the studio where they did a painting in 3 months.  To their surprise they were doing two, three and four in a day!  More energy!  So lets paint before sunup.

Around 6:30 am

That turned out to be a blast and a beautiful one at that.  The light was changing in seconds.  Missed breakfast.  At the end, the parade of pizza boxes full of wet ones was impressive.

Pizza Pack Up

One group photo and we were off, but not before vowing to come back in the winter and paint from snow shoes.

Photo by Kelly

Some of the lessons learned; plein air puts you into the moment helping to capture the now,  photos just don't capture colour, value, or size, nature is ever changing and beautiful.  Finally the concept of learning to see started to evolve.

Before the week end workshop each artist selected a "chunk" to to work at.  For example, Donna took colour, and Monica took brush work.  These chunks were based on shapes, value, colour, paint quality, and edges.  A few of them wanted basic oil painting and basic plein air approaches.  Each of them set forth a concept for their paintings so I could help them go where they were interested in going.  This also made the critiques much more relevant.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Combination

This coming weekend I am taking a group of excited students to a country (at the Haliburton Muskoka  border) get away for a weekend of plein air painting.  The approach is to get people painting on the way north on Friday and paint the weekend with show and tell sessions each day.  We set this up with an evening preparatory session that reviewed the 5 elements of painting (shapes, values, colour, brushwork, and edges) and on the things individuals wanted to work on.  The individual "chunks" included design, brushwork, colour, abstraction, basics of going forward with the immediacy of plein air, and planning deliberately to painting freely.  Each student received a short list in their chunking area for consideration before hitting the ground painting.  Everyone was challenged to consider the concept of their paintings in order that I have an idea of where to lead them.  This will form the background of the individual mentoring.

Over a glass of wine on Friday evening I will get the on site painting in gear by doing a demo.  It will be interesting to see what comes from that demo.  It will be a product of the environment and the chunks the artists are working on.  Here is an image showing an abstracted image with some colour.

Killarney Early, 10x12, Oil on Board

Here is an image sporting both impressionist and some tonalist strokes.

Grace and Nellie Bound, 10x12, Oil on Board

And here is a more finished image in the impressionist mode.

High Percentage, 12x12, Oil on Canvas

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

And Again Some Tonalism

Some have asked a few questions about this approach.  Thought everyone would enjoy this explanation.  Here are some thumbnail sketches.  These are typical of what I do on site whether I am painting tonalist or otherwise.

Thumbnails from the Past

The purpose for my thumbnails is a) to simplify, b) to compose and design, c) to identify basic masses and their average relative values (squinting).  There is no specific colour reference to these thumbs, however I may make colour notes or thoughts on them at times.  If I cannot get further when painting on site, I paint from these thumbs.  I do take photos, and I might refer to some element in them, but basically I leave the photos alone and try to be spontaneous.   Notice here I have also suggested a name for each image.

On the last post I showed "Rear View Mirror".  It was painted from the thumb in the bottom right corner plus my memory.  Here is a painting from a demonstration for Bob and Martha where I painted and verbalized the process.  Compare it to the thumb in the bottom left above.

Carlysle Beginning, 6x8, Oil on Board

OK, I changed the name.  My concept was to catch the mood of an early morning canoe trip.  It would be mysterious with just a hint or two of inferred detail.  I used a #12 bristle flat.  The painting started with a transparent wash of red oxide.  This is a warm (family orange) somewhat neutralized pigment.  There were drips and sags all over the board.  I could have chosen a non transparent pigment and used it transparently in a wash.  After viewing the abstract images in the wash I located the eye line per the sketch.  In my mind, the mass on the right mid ground is further away and cooler than its counterpart on the left.  I established the two mid ground masses in the same red oxide - just a bit thicker.  Then to the right mass I added viridian and cobalt violet to cool it off.  To the mass on the left I added viridian and a bit of Cadmium orange to warm it up.  A wiggle of the brush direction inferred some detail.  So a bit of the same was added to the water to suggest reflections.  To the water between the two masses I added a bit of viridian and then I added some red oxide and some cad orange as I came forward.  To the strip in the background I added a touch of Cobalt violet to cool it and push it back (does not show well here).  All the while I used the same brush working from one pool of colour on the palette.  Bob remarked " the water at the back looks like it has a mist gently rising - but you didn't do anything to it".  Martha said "your sky is really interesting".  And it was just the wash.  So we called it finished, realizing that we could go on adding paint and detail if desired.  But the concept said "your'e done".

Monday, September 6, 2010

More on Tonalism

Here is another painting done while sitting the gallery.

Rear View Mirror, 8x10, Oil on Board

The reference for this painting is from a thumbnail in a sketch book done on the way to an early morning paint out in November.  It is a tonalist approach.

Tonalism is an approach to painting that involves systematically presenting the image with a dominant tone and in a restricted color scheme. Often the images  are mostly in earth colors so black could be on the palette.  Grays can be laced into a tonalist painting without losing the look.There are tonalist painters today who favor chromatic colors. So what pigments are used is secondary to the logic with which they are arrayed.
Edgar Payne suggested that in order to keep a painting dominated by a single tone all that was required was to remove its complement from your palette. In other words if you are doing a tonalist painting based on an ochre yellow, you want to avoid the use of purple.
Often tonalist paintings are backlit by sunsets or failing light and are in dark tones set against that light. Other tonalist schemes weave a single color through a painting like the warp strings of a tapestry.  Tonalism is sort of the opposite of impressionism which is made up of the transcribed mosaic of the observed notes of nature before the artist. Therefore impressionist color is usually full spectrum rather than restricted to a single group of hues.
Tonalist painting is often used to depict a mood in a painting rather than the representation of any actual place. Usually they are done in the studio. The color, design and the mood were the subject rather than a unique location.

Of course you can mix and match, you are the artist.

Drive Way, 6x8, Oil on Board

In this painting, done in the tonal atmosphere of sitting the gallery, there are passages of broken colour impressionism.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Tonalist Approach

I have been sitting a gallery and decided to do some painting.  There is a lot of reference material in the sketch books from various painting excursions.  Some of these are quite moody and a picked a few of these and made thumbnail sketches of them.  This process simplifies in the same manner that squinting does.  If I paint from the thumbnails then, the results will be simplified to basic shapes and values.  The colours are either from memory or created.  If the application of paint is kept simple as well, the result will be a tonalist painting.  Sometimes this approach is called "the dark side" because the key is often low since the reference is often light starved as in nocturns, early, and late light.

Meandering, 6x8, Oil on Board

The painting is dominated by warm and cool reds.  Detail is inferred.  Most edges are soft.  There is some impressionist broken colour and a bit of complementary colour.  The painting was started with a thin wash of the dominant warm tone, in this case Ultramarine and Transparent Red Oxide.  All of the underpainting was done transparently and the use of white was delayed as long as reasonable.  It is easy to manoeuvre transparent paint, but when white enters things are much more rigid.  After the thin wash, the masses were done in slightly thicker paint but using the same mixture.  Then the masses were made relatively warmer or cooler in still thicker paint.  The progression was to still thicker paint as the painting was finished.  At each stage the edges were modified stroke by stroke.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tubing Your Own Paint

Seems I am always looking at materials in an effort to reduce cost, increase quality, and increase convenience.  I'd rather be painting.  So I ordered some paint from the US and had it sent in the mail.  That avoided brokerage fees, taxes, and duty.  At Above Ground I picked up some empty tubes with caps (these are available in the mail as well).  A few people I know use these to store their grays after a painting session - scraped off their palette.

To fill the tubes I used a long round nose palette knife.  I gloved up like a surgeon with nitrile gloves from the CT.  As the paint was scooped up on the knife you put it in the tube held upside down in one hand.  Then you scrape the paint off on the side of the tube.  Gently tap the tube on the palette to get the paint to go to the cap end.  Repeat this until the tube is about 75% full.  Then squeeze the open end closed.  A bit of paint squishes out the end.  Wipe it off.  Now you see why the gloves are used.  Take a palette knife and flatten the tube end on the palette - about 3/16 inch from the end.  With the knife in place raise the tube to bend the material and fold it over.  Next, gently use a pair of pliers to make another smaller fold and secure the bend, locking the paint in.  Wash off the spilled paint with thinner.  When dry use a permanent marker to label the paint.  Looks crude, works well.

Paint Tubing Factory

Here is the layout.  What you don't see is the paint I got on the stove, and the one tube I punctured.  Each tube gets better and better.  I did 14 tubes of paint, 7 colours, in this trial.  It is artist quality paint from RGH.  In the quantities I purchased it cost about half of a comparable brand.  Doesn't look sexy.  Didn't have to go further than the mail box to get it.  Now to paint with it.