Monday, November 29, 2010

Doris McCarthy

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

First of the Beautiful Season

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

More on Zorn's Palette

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.

Scotsdale Thumbnail

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

A Change of Palette

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.

Zorn Palette

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

Another Start

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

Life Include Still Life

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.

Developing Location

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

Out of Shape

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

Recent Experiments

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.

Happy painting.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Was it Sleet or Snow?

We were painting at a horse farm the other day and the wind blew in some pellets of white stuff.  But it was 3 degrees and sunny for the most part.  Yup the light violet pellets were cold and melted on the palette.  So you just know the most beautiful painting season is coming.  The tree structure is out there in plain view now.  The fields are ready for their winter coat, adding deeper russets golds and violets as they wait.

I had to do it.  From memory and some field sketches from Georgian Bay the following image came along.

New Steeps, 12x12, Oil on Gallery Canvas

Snow is an interesting study.  It is full of colour - never white.  Here I used cad yellow lemon and manganese violet for the main colour actors.  Bits of viridian, cad orange, and cobalt blue also found their way into the scene.  Dealing with shadows, glancing sun, bumps, and full sunlight with a myriad of colours in the sky is the challenge.  Get ready, its coming!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Painting stages from a Wash

This painting was done from imagination and on site memory reference obtained late this fall.  It was done wet in wet and began with a transparent wash.  The wash colour was basically left overs from some experiments I have been doing.  More on them later.

Wash and Wipe

The wash was applied with a lot of mineral spirits so it flowed, dripped, and sagged.  You can see that there was really 3 basic masses.  To make a place for light some paint was wiped away with a rag or a brush.  Some of the darks were indicated with the same paint without adding more medium.  Just indications.

Some Darks, Other Hints

Using the same brush ( a #12 bristle Bright was used throughout) the darks were indicated with cooler colours.  This tells the viewer about the temperature of the light (warm).  A few hints of light were added and the first greys.  The masses were defined a bit to indicate the lay of the land.  Still very wet.  Edges relatively soft but can be changed easily in the wet.  No hint of leaves etc.

Greys and Colour Temperature

Continued wet with greys and adjustments to the light.  A lot of the previously indicated elements were obliterated and the edges got softer.


More of the same.  Preparing for considerable painting to come.  Edges, values, colour temperature, a few detail indications, hilites and accents to follow.

Face the Wall

At this stage I decided to turn the painting to the wall.  A fresh eye might suggest some changes before it gets signed.