Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gradation for Light

Most of the time we paint a light reflection, not the source.  This however, applies to both.  Reflected light varies in intensity with the highlight the pinnacle.  This is a gradation.  Only a small area of an object in the light reflects the full force of the source light.  (painting a light source then is similar to a highlight)  Other parts catch the light at different angles reflecting varying quantities of light.  As a result, a highlight cannot be effectively painted as a spot of white paint.  (White is another problem for another time)  The gradation towards the light is what makes the highlight so effective.

Still Life by David Leffel

And no, it is not just the value contrast at work.

The Young by Joaquin Sorolla

Gradation gives the landscape luminosoity.  Without it the observer merely labels a passage "this is light, this is shadow" and it no more convincing than a jet black tree against a bright sky.  The observer thinks paint, not light.  Painting from life trains the eye to see such things.

Sure it works with abstract....

Small Abstract!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chateau de Black Fly

May, moist, cool, sunny.  In the shade of the Hockley we set up.  Mottled sun light.  Looks different every season.

Under Attack

Should have known better.  How many seasons have we been doing this?


Monica took several deet showers.  Spray and mist everywhere.  Quite a show.

Looks Relaxed

I thought I had taken a swim in musk oil.  Guess I didn't dunk.  17 bites - hands and ankles.  Little buggers did my painting hand as I painted.  Vic declared "they don't bother me".  Ha!  He had a blood change and was unknowingly under attack.  It turned out later that he was bitten all round the hat line and on the hands in a major way.  Couldn't get his fingers together for the swelling.

We should have;

taken more care with repellent, hair, hat line, ankles etc.
searched out a breeze
painted in the peak of heat
or, wait till they burn off in a few weeks.  For an addiction this is not an option.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Friend Passes

Quite a few years ago my mentor Vic Sullivan had me paint a couple of barns.  OK, they were cute and traditional, but it is a challenge to bring the creative side of art to bear.  In those days the efforts were learnings.  In fact, 16 years later I remember clearly the aha's associated with each.

Six years ago we began painting an expanded version of the Hockley valley.  One day we happened upon this scene.

Planted To Wheat

She was surrounded with Canola in another season and Soy Beans in another.  She became known as Bob's Barn when we tried to find her for Bob Ross (wanted to be an architect) to paint.  We tried to get Bob back to paint her as the seasons passed.  That day happened finally as a whole group attended to her.

Bob's Barn Posing

Any number of portraits of her exist.

In Red Oxide

Soy Beginning to Turn

We pass the spot often as we paint in the Hockley, speculating on her, saying hello.

Past Harvest

We had better get the gang together to paint her again.  The winter has been pretty harsh.


Didn't paint her in the winter.  Should'a, could'a........

Wind and Rain Storm

Why should you paint such a subject?  There is the learning, composition, installing the direction of the light, finding out about local light in the shade of an interior, working to be creative.  All of that.  But when she goes, to be no more, that record of history that is yours alone makes it all worth while.  You will have a personal memory of an old friend.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


A gradation is a passage that changes from a little of a characteristic to more of it.  For example, a passage may go from thin to thick paint.  Or, from light to dark, from cool to warm, from low chroma to high and so forth.  Scenes, figures, portraits, and still lives are full of them.  This is something one begins to "see" when you are able to get your overriding mind out of the way.

New York Cityscape

Can you see some gradations here?  There are plenty of them, and plenty of opportunities to install them into a painting.  For example, in the sky the value goes darker from left to right, and from bottom to top.  It also goes from warm to cool as it moves from left to right.  The road, the buildings, and the yellow cabs also have gradations.  Where do you deploy these gradations?  Your concept, your artists sensibility, and the paintings need will give insight.

MOMA Picasso

You can see them in this Picasso, right?  He was heavily influenced by the Post Impressionists.  Cezanne in particular.  A specific concept and the gradation tool installed as required.

What about this one?  A Famous Matisse.

MOMA Matisse

Matisse, direct competitor to Picasso, had the same influences.  They both owned Cezannes in an effort to figure out what he was doing.  Another specific concept.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Use It

Or, lose it.  This trip to New York and the New England coast was most difficult from a painting point of view.

We arrived in New York after the Friday morning rush.  After Toronto it was an easy drive.  Why?  Right to my daughter's building and parking area on Worth Street in Tribeca, lower Manhatten.  I watched in horror as the driver took my car to an unknown parking spot in the sky - my painting equipment included.  Oh well, I'll get it back in 3 days I thought.  In the mean time my daughter tried to walk our legs off exploring what she thought we should see in the city.  Didn't work.  Saw all sorts of interesting things.  Since our last visit, much cleaner, less spooky, cell phones as part of facials welded to everyone.  We were hot, OK, I was hot.  We gained weight.  My favourite painting motif was.....

Three Of 'Em

Those wooden water towers are everywhere.  I got the story but didn't get to paint them.  Maybe in the studio.  Before we left we got to the Peanut Butter store.  UMMMM, peanut butter, dark chocolate, and sour cherry preserve!  Three in one, but no painting.

Left New York on Monday in the rush.  Still easy.  But rain began.  Got to the Cape in the rain.  No painting.  But lots of potential in Woods Hole.

Go Nautical, Avoid the Green

On to Cape Ann - in the rain.  I was sure my painting stuff was in the trunk somewhere.  Stayed in Rockport - great little spot - Seven South Street - close to town and the famous Motif #1.  And now sunshine!

Just Like 12 Years Ago - Almost

Now I'm not inspired to paint.  Can't settle into it.  Maybe in Gloucester Harbour........

Gone plastic

And the rain was coming in again.  Maybe tomorrow........  We are going to Kennybunkport.

Tidal Pond

At days end the sun appeared.  Suddenly I want to paint.  Set up on the road - sure, may as well practice dodging cars.  In my mind this is a bit nautical and fits the series I have going at home.  Concept, thumbnail, I know what I want to do.  I see the shapes, the colours.  But - can't do anything.  Can't mix, can't get the values, can't paint.  Frustration.  Scrape it off?  Why bother, it's a skimmer.  Amazing, confidence disappeared, can't focus.  What to do?  Well, it is like starting all over again to some degree.  Have to get back in shape.  Step two tomorrow.  We travel to BoothBay Harbour.  Beautiful small working harbour and the sun cooperates.  Set up, choose this as a nautical motif - had seafood so...

Captain Dave's Red Boat

I got further than this then packed it in so the couple on their 25th anniversary weren't bothered.

Thinking back to this trip it amazes me how my process erodes so quickly.  After initial frustration of not painting, I found it difficult to pick out a motif from the huge variety presented.  I felt rushed, not relaxed.  Then I started to doubt my ability to deal with them and confidence waned.  Then I became somewhat indifferent.  Of course I had excuses - my wife was with me, the sun didn't shine, it rained, was too cool, too hot......  Then I found I had a great deal of difficulty once I did get started.  Fortunately it is like running.  You get back to where you were a lot faster than a beginner.  So just keep on painting and relax.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Catching Robert Genn

I got up at 6 this morning.  It came to me that Robert Genn was already at his easel in British Columbia.  And he is behind us by 3 hours.  Drats!  Further behind.

Robert is famous for his advice to "go to your room" and paint as the best way to evolve as a painter on the way to the rarified air of becoming an artist.  Of course he also means to seek out various concepts as you do this mileage on the canvas.  That way you can measure progress.  Very important.

This approach is horizontally opposed to a steely focus on selling your work.  Not that sales are bad, but the effort takes you away from your evolution and often results in selling inferior work that doesn't evolve.  I know some who sell near full time and paint little.  But as my mentor said "people will buy all kinds of crap".

So how to catch Genn?  Well he is older than me.  The other part is to spend more time at the easel.  Hard to do when he already averages several hors a day more than me.  Ok,  I'll have to sleep less and ignore my wife, family and friends more.  I'm leaving for New York City in a few minutes.  15 canvases and a few clothes.  Plan is to paint each day.  

Here is the latest image from my Glen Williams series.

Past Closing Time, 12x16, Oil on Canvas

There are a few experiments associated with this painting.  I'll explain when I get home.  Meanwhile I'll try to blog on the road.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


As you know, I believe that a series is a great development tool.  Not as good as "go to your room" as Rober Genn suggests, but a variation on the same.  After an exile to pure landcsape aimed at taking me deeper, man made objects seemed to creep in a couple of years ago while in Tuscany.  First fence posts, then farm houses, towers, churches......  A self portrait show at the RedEye Studio Gallery takes this journey all the way.  RedEye Studio Gallery

While waiting for the stick and mud season to end I have returned to Glen Williams to do a series featuring the structures in the Glen.  My concept is to design the pieces while exploring the planes that form the volumes and to make them alive rather than static.  The "blown down" experience just makes the series have a life of its own.

Town Hall Cluster

You get a glimpse of what I was working from and the beginnings of the design in paint.  First I did a small thumbnail to consider shapes, values, light, colour (notes to myself) and the potential for interest.

Here is some progress.

Sun Condition Pinned In Place

You can see some of the planes here and which ones are activated and where the design changed the image before me.  The sun kept changing so I pinned down my preferences and kept blocking in the shapes to get them to close to the same level of completion.

Start From Here

At this stage I have enough to complete it in the studio.  It would have been nice to get it further along but..........

I leave in a couple of days for New York City and some New England coast painting.  I'll show more of this series when I return.  In the interim I will try to post on the fly.