Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Painter Paints

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

In Between

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

Leave it Out

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

New Snow Knowledge

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.

Snow Shoes!

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

Scrape It

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

Designed for Snow and Sun

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

Zorn's Results

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

Designing a Palette

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.

Shorter Palette

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

Making Zorn's Palette Work

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.

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

Next on Zorn's Palette

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

How the Eye Works

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.