Friday, December 30, 2011

Your Job...

"Is to make it a painting" said Gary Spearin.   When studying with him you knew you would be taken out of your comfort zone.  I was painting a motif that didn't speak to me.  Left to my own devices, I would have chosen something else.  Almost anything.

Found myself in that blah position Thursday.  Fresh snow and all.  Gary's words haunted me.

OK, we started in -12C with quite a wind at our backs.  We huddled at the base of a little valley where the wind chose to go over top of us.  At least in the beginning.  The spot offered more shelter than inspiration for me.  Sun predicted, heavy overcast delivered.

Peeking Through

Some got settled in and painted.

Almost Balmy

Next day, I began to recover the "effort" with a fresh eye.  The usual suspects.  I started by scraping the excess paint off.  Then I revisited the thumbnail - 3 values.  It became obvious that the planes in the scene needed to be re-established.  So I started there.  First as a thumbnail, then over top of the scraped "painting".  All from memory.  Dark darks.  Mixed.

Kick Start with Darks

The design shapes began to speak to me.  What had been a sole vertical without counterbalance started to appeal to me.  Gary, you devil!  So I emphasized the darks in the design.  Then I began to paint.  What was my concept?

Show the Planes or Not?

Moving towards the colours from my concept I continued to draw the planes, then cover them up.  Their purpose is to indicate depth, so I have to at least hint at them.  Find and lose some of their edges.  These photos were taken in a studio down town.  Poor lighting.  I moved towards the colours I wanted and the values in my concept.  Strokes either in the sun or the shade.  Some more directly catching the light than others.

Up for Second Appeal

I know I have some corrections to make, and I'll make those next time I get on to this one.  There are a few things I am not sure about.  Snow painting?  Maybe after a New Years Eve break.

Have a good and safe one everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Of the "three horsemen", I do the least work from my imagination.  Well, those of you who have painted with me have witnessed all sorts of cut and paste activities in the early design stages.  I guess that gives me licence to avoid the pure imagination exercises at least in my mind.

I was looking for my friend's sugar shack references.  Couldn't find them in the endless organization that is my cluttered computer.  I'll take that over an empty "desk" (empty mind).

So here is the action.

Taken from the Thumbnail

Three values.  A few shapes.  Snow covered.

Construction Lines, Snow Prism Effects

There are a myriad of colours in the snow.  Here I have direct light snow, dominated by two values of shadow with warm and cool variations.  Gotta get the values right.

More Corrections to Come

You don't get much of a shadow in a shadow.  Written about that before.   Part of seeing in the winter.

La Cabane a Sucre, Robert et Claire

Saturday, December 17, 2011

More on the New Board

Rick Taylor wrote suggesting that I use GAC400 as a sealer and then use clear gesso for a painting surface for my wood board experiment.  He commented that the clear gesso deposits quite a "tooth".  So, into the old inventory I dove.  I came up with an old GAC400 and a container of PVA Size.  Both unused.  A sign of a sinister habit.  

Left Board, Right Board

I tried one coat for a seal.  The GAC400 made the wood fibres stand up, the PVA not nearly so much.  So the PVA Size dried smoother.  I labelled the back of each board.  By the way I sealed on the reverse to reduce future warpage on the 1/8 baltic birch plywood boards.

The I applied two coats of the clear gesso.  It is a milky looking material and it says on the container that it dries "translucent".  I sanded a portion of one side of the panels to smooth them out a bit for comparison.

As Dried, Same Light, "Translucent"?

So we headed to the Hockley to test the boards.  Of course you have to do that outside!

Easel and Palette in the Shade

I started to lay in the plane constructions in a thin Ultramarine and Transparent red Oxide mixture using a hogs bristle brush.  First impressions - Rick is right, the tooth is significant, and the surface sucks the paint in.  I normally paint on a fast surface on an oil primed ground.   Here the tooth comes from either the canvas or the brush marks from the ground application and the tooth is not scratchy sharp.  The experimental arrangement however, played hell on my brushes.  But I had to carry out the test to completion.

Some Paint Applied

It sure holds paint.  Somewhat like putting pastels on sandpaper.  You can no doubt use pastels on this surface.  I tended not to go from thin to thick in gradual steps.  The thin paint sucks in and doesn't flow as it does on my oil ground.  Here I just started to load on the paint.  I made a quick second test start.

PVA Size Version

This version also seemed to suck up the paint.  Then I wiped it off, and most of it disappeared.  So, I am not sure if the size or the GAC400 sealed the wood and the gesso is absorbing the paint or just what is happening.  So, I have more experimental design to do.  

I started to use gel with the paint to smoothen out the feel of the paint application.  It is a saw off.  The sanded sections seem pretty much the same.

More Paint 

I had a look at the painting this morning.  To my surprise, it did not sink in and dull like I anticipated.  The thick paint is still thick, and the thin passages are not bad.  Please note that I did have 3 coats of paint on the thin areas.  Stay tuned on this one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rx 1, Value Remedy in Grey

No workshop or book will instantly turn you into a better painter.  No secrets.  Only through hours on the brush will you come to see, internalize, and be able to apply these principles.  After such practice these concepts will become second nature and you will not have to think about them when you paint.  Just like breathing.   These exercises come from experience, teaching, and mentors.  They are aimed at mastering the fundamentals of painting.  They form a set of problem solving tools to be used when a painting isn't working.

I find in my teaching that the ability to get the values of shapes right is often a problem, a lingering one.  When a painting of mine is not working I look at value first off.  People are fooled by the value of a mass of colour, never mind the basic darkness or lightness of a shape.  Get the value right and everything else that follows has a chance of working.

The Exercise
Find a simple set of 3 or 4 shapes of different values.  In doors use a still life set up, not a photo.  Out doors, use a simple set of shapes, say field, rock, and sky.

Squint at the shapes to determine the relative value of each.

Draw a small thumbnail of the shapes, and shade each at the right value (3 values say - little choice makes it easier).  I use the paper for the lightest value.  Then I "paint" the darkest shape with my pencil first (darks provide the form).  Then paint the mid value shape.  No Detail.  Squinting helps eliminate that.  

Thumbnail - More Complex Than Required
Note: the values are numbered - You can see where this goes...

Go to your painting surface - canvas, board, etc. and using a grey that you mix, do the same as your thumbnail.  Concentrate on getting the right values.  Paint thin.  Check the values.  you can use a value scale for this.

3 Values Mixed - Here, Ultramarine and Red Oxide

You will have to make the values correct for the shapes you observe.  Any grey you like will do, but mix it.  Then you can always get a grey when it is needed.

Looks Like the Thumbnail - Ready to Paint

And here is a reference tool to help calibrate your eye.  I don't use this while painting since I have practiced values for a long time.  But on occasion.....

Value Scale

The value scale becomes very important as you move into colour.  So, learn how to use it.  Line the value scale up with the shape you are trying to check.  When the match is close, squint.  The right match occurs when the scale and the mass fuzz together.  That is they appear the same with no difference in value.  When you add colour this is critical.  Colours are quite often a different value than you think.  Trust what you see using the scale.

Practice this exercise without proceeding to a finished painting.  The more starts the better.  This exercise will also help with;

Judging relative values,
Drawing (thumbnails) - shapes

This is the type of thing that should be taught in a continuing painting class.  No quick fix, practice, practice, practice.  Patience.......

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wonderland, Or How the Green Went Away

"Looks good up here, don't know how long it'll last."  OK, another hour drive to meet at the bakery.  Was it worth while?

Wonderland in Overcast

Everyone was excited.  First real snow fall.  When I no longer get excited by that, it'll be time to put them in the fire.  In unison, "hmmmm, how will I deal with this?"

 Back to Back

Well, no more green.  So one option might be........

Some Structure

Or, maybe a portrait...........

And Snow On Da Palette

Keep it simple.  I chose a scene with three values and masses.  Thumbnailed up.  "Paint" the thumbnail with a 4b pencil.  Put the masses in a pleasing place.  Force everything into 3 values.  Get the values right.  Then relax, and paint.  Oh, and snow is never white.  Key to getting this painting.  Sky warmer than the snow and darker in value - so 4 values.  Beautiful.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Farm with a New Board

We decided to go out painting at Scotsdale farm for a December 1 outing.   The forecast was for sun and 5C.  They got the temperature right.  I suggested we do a simple painting to focus on shapes and values since it was a grey day.  We went to the remains of an old movie set and proceeded to set up for a three value subject with 4 shapes.  Boring, but a good exercise.  I had prepared another raw birch panel that had been sealed with two coats of clear colourless sealer.  I thought the natural wood colour would be interesting to explore.

The Movie Set Shed

From the photo you could argue that there were 4 values.  The sky, the dark opening and "shadows", the trees, bushes and ground.  I saw a green, red, green, red pattern against the greys of the forest.  Squinting, I saw the building and the forest as similar in value, but different in hue and temperature.  

The Next Morning.....

A little disappointing in the morning.  After being told "its done", I approached the easel to find the paint had disappeared into the thirsty board.  In addition, I didn't like the composition.  Apparently I need a better preparation for the raw birch.  Then there is the decision regarding the painting of the exercise.  Work on it or prepare it for the fire?

I oiled it in to get the feeling of the original wet paint on the board.  It looked like this.

Oiled In

What to do?

It is not unusual to return from a plein air session and find the work needs more work to get it into shape to meet the requirements of the original concept.  Given my original concept of an exercise, I decided to work on other paintings that have a destination.  Maybe on a rainy day........