Saturday, January 29, 2011

Away From It. Then More on Light Effects.

For the first time in a long time I have been away from the brush for four days.  We went to Mount Tremblant to ski with old friends.   Was I hardy enough for this?

Near the Summit at -37℃ Plus Wind Chill

I have painted this year at -17℃, but out of the wind.  Just couldn't take it for too long.  Getting to be a wimp I guess.

Fuddle Duddle, North Side

Once I got warmed up my mind turned privately to painting.  I think I can make something interesting and foreboding from this.  Give the ole memory a workout.  Didn't bring any painting stuff.

But, before that, I decided to stay true to the weekly still life.  In the warm studio I laid an interesting tube of Kama paint on the small pochade palette and painted away.  The concept was to explore warm light on the tube, while using more expressive brushwork than in the recent stills.

Orange Foncé, 6x8, Oil on Board

Rather a shock after the Winter colours above.  The palette used is in the image.  I added Lead White.  The yellow ochre was mixed from Cad Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, and Cad Red Middle.  The Orange FoncĂ© and the Cad Red Light were also used.  The other dabs are just remnants on the palette.  The good news is, the four day layoff didn't bother me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Connecting Monet and the Still Life

Monet did his famous Haystack paintings from 1890 to 1891.  He had moved to his Giverny home several years before after his years in poverty.  From 1890 he concentrated on series of pictures in which he painted the same subject at different times of the day in different lights.  It is said that he began to see nuances in the effect of light on his subject to the point where he started a new canvas each time the light effect changed.  He was known to have as many as 100 canvases of the same motif on the go all at once.  The Haystacks and the Rouen Cathedral (1891-1895) are the best known, but there are many others.  (see These are very different from his early work from concept to brushwork.

Have a look at a few of the Haystack images.

Haystack - Pink and Blue

Haystack - Sun in the Mist

Haystack - Sunset

Haystack - Frost Effect

Haystack - Morning Effect

When you take these apart, you find that some were underpainted with a brilliant green.  Now, recall this.....

Block Studies

The block studies were conceived by Hawthorne and Hensche.  They were in pursuit of finding a way of getting one's eye to see what Monet saw.  You can see the connection.   Cezanne said of Monet "he is only an eye, but what an eye".  Of course Cezanne was going in a totally different direction from Monet.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Still Life Thursday

Tomorrow is colour and light training day.  I try to use Thursdays to do a still life setup and painting.  Training the eye and keeping it colour fit is a never ending job.  So, unless I get to go out painting with the gang I'll set up a still life colour study.  The morning is supposed to be sunny, so I'll do it then.

The easiest way to do this is to use coloured building blocks in a steady light.  This is because they have the fewest planes, and each plane requires a colour change or changes.  This is what Monet became fascinated with.

Here is one set up in four different light conditions.  Makes a great series, especially after you graduate from simple blocks and paint a subject of interest to you.

Same Blocks, Different Light Keys

Look closely.  Some restated and refined outdoor block studies of the same set up of white, black and grey blocks on a light grey cloth seen in different light keys.  This goes to show you that most of us think (not see) local colour per our experience.  Such training helps you get past these preconceived ideas of the mind so that you see what is there - the effect of light on masses.  The exercise takes you to the conclusion that the more plane changes the more difficult the colour perception, and thus the painting - if your concept is the light effect.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monet, Light Versus the Object

Monet became obsessed with the effect of light on objects/shapes.  If you look at his early work and go through it chronologically you will see how the actual object lost importance and the fleeting effects of light became the subject.  He constantly developed his eye, painting outdoors from life.

Garden St. Addresse

In this painting he was apparently most concerned with "things".

Here is a painting from Monet's early "impressionist" work.


Impression Sunrise

Here he was concerned with shapes, not things, and the feeling he developed.

And later "impressionist" work.  Note the shapes of the brushwork.


Bateaux - Atelier

And then past "impressionism" to light effects and series.

Meule - Effet de Neige

There were quite a number of Haystack paintings.  Here it is said he developed the practice of painting multiple canvases at the same time, capturing momentary effects of light.

And then in the later years.....

The Japanese Bridge

And here the thing was further disappearing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Doris McCarthy Preview

Last night I had the honour of attending the preview of "A Collector's Passion" honouring Doris McCarthy.  This exhibition is open to the public from January 14 through February 12, 2011.  The location is spazio dell'arte  at 400 Eastern Avenue, Suite 201 in Toronto.  It is a must see.  The personal collection of Alan Bryce is on display showing distinct distinct phases of Doris' work.  There are water colours, wood cuts, and oils from various eras.  One beautiful ice berg, a 48x60 was painted at age 95 in 2005.

Roberta Bondar in front of "Iceberge Fantasy #40"

A number of celebrities spoke.  First up was Roberta Bondar, Canada's first female astronaut and long term Doris fan.  Second up was one of Canada's well known artists, Harold Klunder.

Student Harold Praising Doris

And finally, long term friend Tom Smart spoke of some of Doris' defining words.  They go like this, "oh, I love the world! I love nature! I love creation!

Tom Smart passing the torch

The space showed her early landscapes of the 1930s, to her hard-edge paintings of the 1960s and '70s, to her remarkable "Iceberg Fantasies" inspired by trips to the Canadian Arctic.  Here is a sample.

At KeyHole Cottage

Dreamy Watercolour

Iceberg Fantasy Series

Iceberg Fantasy #40, 66x84, 1989

Doris McCarthy was mentored by many Group of Seven painters, including Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. MacDonald. Her work is held in many public and corporate collections, including the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada. 

On November 25th Doris McCarthy passed away at the age of 100. She is one of Canada's most celebrated and distinguished artists.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Training to See Using Still Life

As part of my continuing development I use still life as an eye training tool.  Don't get me wrong, I also paint still life in the studio for fun and general development, but it is currently not my primary thrust.

So, how can one train the eye to become more sensitive to colour?  Part of the challenge is to see what is actually there as opposed to what you think is there.  When you become more sensitive to experiencing what is really there you realize that you usually see local colours or you belief of what colour an object is.  For example, sky is blue, the blue table cloth in the light is light blue and so forth.  The first step to increasing colour sensitivity is to be completely relaxed.  Free of tension and anxiety.  To help get relaxed I find composing the scene at hand with a thumbnail sketch is beneficial.  Once the composition is developed, drawing, values, and composition are out of mind. 

The paradox is that you must then become active by painting.  A sprinter has the same problem.  Perform at maximum power and speed while simultaneously being completely relaxed.

In this relaxed state, scan the scene you wish to paint.  Do not linger on objects.  Scan from one shape to the other.  Compare the shapes over and over.  This is the opposite of staring.  Scan for a few minutes before beginning to paint.  Stay relaxed.  You should feel no tension in your face.

Set Up - Aerator and Bottle

Here is a still life set up.  It is simple.  Four shapes.   That makes the relaxation and scanning easier to perform.  The shapes can be much simpler, and this along with the light (here I used a day light bulb) can be controlled in the still life studio.

Set Up and Start

Here is a start on the still life set up.  The four shapes are indicated in GREEN.  While scanning, paint  the closest flat colour to each shape.  As you continue to paint you can continue to draw.  You will also note that the label on the bottle has had a bit of colour added to it as it moves into shadow.  These colour notes become visible to you as you continue to scan and compare colours.  The more you have filled in the more colours become apparent.  Notice the lack of a value seeking underpainting is not used.  The idea is that the right colour note will give you the right value.  Also note the grey composition mask laying near the setup.  The GREEN arrow points to a small hole in the mask.  As you move into scanning and correcting the colours first laid down, this tool can be very useful.  It is a colour isolator.  Viewing a colour through it keeps surrounding colours from influencing the colour in question.  Here you can see, even in the photograph, that the aerator has a myriad of colours on it.  At this stage you are relaxed, you are scanning, and as you see a colour, you mix it and place it as required.  Then you continue to scan.  Someone observing you should see you scanning most of the time - look, look, paint, look etc.  Remember, the purpose here is to become receptive to colour, not to render.

Mid Way

The exercise is incomplete here.  Look at the series of colours on the label, on the bottle, the aerator, and the backdrop.  Next steps would include adding an impression of the printing to the label and to continue to add colours as the become apparent.  I would stop when I can no longer see colour variations.

This exercise makes you come to realize that for every plane change there is a colour change.  In the studio you can control the objects to keep it simple.  In the landscape these changes are infinite.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Still Life Training

Still Life is an art genre all on its own.  After a long long time away from it, I decided to get into it weekly as a training.  Some of this enthusiasm came from studying Money, Hawthorne, and Hensche.  More on them later.

Now this requires some discipline.  Not an artist's forte perhaps.  First I built a still life station to suit my purposes.  I took a cardboard box, medium size, well made.  I took one end out of it and laid it on its side.  I left the one flap on what was the top - it forms an extension on the bottom as seen below.  Then I built a frame for the open end to give it support.  The whole thing is on an antique soap stand in which I house part of an art library.  I added a light.  The bulbs can be changed for different types of light, or just go natural.  The open end is facing west.  Then I bought a few mat boards of various colours.  These can be inserted into the box for the floor, the far end, the back, and the top.  Lots of other surfaces can also be used.  The box can be elevated.  Then I add interesting subjects.  Here is a pot with a pomegranate.  In the wings the stars are a ceramic milk jug and a red onion.  You get the idea.  What a great way to do series.  Put another log on the fire.

Still Life Box

Then I use one of my out door easels.  That way I can get an infinite variety of angles and elevations.  Here is an example, the bottom flap has been modified to accommodate this easel.  I wanted it close for developing eye scanning and comparison.

Pomegranate and Pot

Even in the photo you can see that the grey on my pot has to get warmer.  Then after seeing that, you see that everything has to get warmer.  Then there are some texture considerations and hilites. 

Now, if I can just figure out how to get a live model in there.....

Monday, January 3, 2011

Continuation of Randi's Choice

A little time on the easel and I changed up the plein air sketch in keeping with my original concept.  Since the sky was warmer and darker that the snow covered ground I wanted to preserve that.  So I started with a yellow-violet grey on the warm side to wash in the board.  That helps with colour balance.  It was extremely wet, assuring a wet in wet application.  Then I filled in the rest of my palette given what I saw on this overcast day - dull green, blueish hoard frost and a raft of close value colours in the areas of snow.  So my palette then consisted of Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Violet, Cobalt Blue, and Alizarin - to provide a dark.  the white was a sloppy Titanium.  It wasn't cold enough to stiffen up the brand I used.  I got this far as you may recall.

Randi's Choice Sketch, 10x12, Oil on Board

I did not like the hill shapes and the fence line and wanted to get more tension into the different planes.  After the coffee shop discussion I got to work using the same palette (from the French Easel) and here is where I ended.  Of course it is a picture of a painting with subtle colours and values, and you know what that means.

Randi's Choice, 10x 12, Oil on Board

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Wow, up to 10C and New Years, then down to -4 today.  The high temperatures gave me a chance to apply oil prime to 11 boards with canvas and 9 canvases of various sizes up to 18x24 for plein air, plus one 26x48 for the studio.  But we did get out as the temperature was beginning to dive.  It was overcast, the sky with a bit of warmth in it as we settled in to Randi's spot on 8th Line.

Side by Each, 8th Line, In the Melt

Here is something that caught my eye.

Warm and Cool, Hoar frost too

Amid constant chatter and laughter - pre New Years Giddiness - a composition evolved.  

Randi's Choice, Sketch, 10x12, Oil on Board

This is as far as I got before lunch.  It just wasn't working.  We had a serviette discussion on how to achieve my concept including making the hills lye down.  There are quite a number of things I was not satisfied with, but that is how it goes en plein air.  I took the sketch and the serviette notes back to the studio, turned the sketch against the wall to return to it with a fresh eye.  I thought it salvageable.  Results next post.