Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Class

The class on the weekend went quite well.  We started on Vince Lombardi time, 15 minutes early.  I was hoping that the rain forecast would be wrong.  It was.  However, the sky was a silvery violet and blue grey.  Just the perfect amount of confusion for those used to painting from sunny photos.

Our location was on the grounds of a large victorian home complete with turret.  The gardens provided refuge for those avoiding the drawing associated with the house.

Motif and Setup

Some of the participants have been in my classes in the past.  Others not, and still others fairly inexperienced.  Four men and six women.  Unusual mix.

We went over the light of the day - cool, few shadows but relatively warm and the concept of a local tone painting.  Then we reviewed the classical concept of perspective and the use of the eye line/horizon line.  Vocal and silent questions.  I pointed out how it worked in garden scenes.  More queries and looks.  We finished with some strategies for plein air and a short discussion of the palette.

So, what were the typical difficulties?

Drawing, observing and measuring, edges, simplification
Shapes, observing, simplification
Values, observing
Colour, value, chroma
Timidity, "what if I make a mistake"

Here "observing" means that people tended to paint what they thought was there, not what was there by observation.  To a person, everyone had the right idea in these areas.  They found that choosing a garden scene proved quite difficult.  Three people chose the whole house.  Two chose a chunk of the house.  They all found the drawing much more complex than they had imagined.  But struggling through, most surprised themselves with their accomplishment.  These painters will all improve with more time on the brush.  The principles are there and will come along with practice and a few pointers.

Some of these painters had never heard of edges before.  My former students claimed they hadn't either.  I demonstrated a few of the uses for them.  Seemed a mystery.

Of course I learned from the participants.  The choice of composition and the use of a monochromatic painting with a few touches of colour were insightful for me.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Robert Doak Oils

I took advantage of a Brooklyn visit to see my daughter and her new family.  Robert Doak, renowned oil paint maker was just at the end of the F line.  We set off in the rain.  Wife, daughter, baby in full dressed armour baby buggy.  Ian was at work.  At the end of the F line they told me to just go down this street, Bridge street runs into it.  We will come along after a coffee.

It wasn't there.  So, I walked in ever increasing circles, got drenched and found Bridge street. May be they will find me maybe not.  No turning back now.  A little nervous on this street.  A smallish brick building with no windows.  It was #89.  A thick steel bank vault door was set back in from the tired brick.  No window.  On the side were four buzzers.  One marked "Doak" in a a white scrawl.  Isn't this a retail store?  A person opened the door.  Ushered me in through another beaten steel door.  Enter the candy store.

Pigments Oils Mediums.....

The master came out of the back room - office - lab.  Robert Doak has been making paints all his life.  He wanted to know what and how I painted.  From that discussion he made suggestions referring to a massive array of colour swatches.


It was dangerous in with the candies and the candy man.  I had to steel myself for an escape while I could still afford it.  My wife and daughter arrived, a little shaken.  Together we made it out with a box of paints.  Two whites, a blue, an orange, a green and a standard Cadmium Yellow.  Oh, and a large tube of GOOP.  A secret weapon.

They sailed nicely across the border.  Been into a few of them.  Smooth, powerful pigment load, beautiful to the touch on the brush, beautiful to the eye.  Robert doesn't indicate specifically what is in his paints.  Top quality materials and a few surprises.  Next for the GOOP, maybe this afternoon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Designing Your Palette

What pigments should you put on your palette?  Depends.  Lets suppose you want to paint landscapes from life.  In this scenario you are faced with a time factor as light shifts and moves.  So, it might help you to have a short palette to eliminate some of the decisions.  In that case a triad of primary colours plus white might make sense.  Such a palette might be Cadmium Yellow Light, Alizarin, Cobalt, and Titanium White.

Practical Colour Wheel

This version of a colour wheel shows specific pigments, a value scale, on a mid value grey.

Here is the palette suggested above showing how to mix yellow ochre (with the addition of white).

Yellow Ochre "greyed yellow"

So, yellow ochre is a tertiary colour.  It is an earth colour or a greyed yellow, made from the three primary colours here (lots of yellow, some red and a little blue).  If you use Alizarin and Cadmium Yellow Light in a mixture to get an Orange, the colour achieved would lie along the line between those two pigments - inside the circle. The pure pigments are shown on the perimeter.  That is, the orange mixed is not as chromatic as an orange pigment - it lies in the greyed area just like the Yellow Ochre.  This is not so bad if you are painting the landscape with its muted (less chroma) colours.  However, if you want more chroma, you should add pigments on the perimeter of the wheel (not tertiary or earth colours) to your palette.  If you want a high chromatic painting you would add all of the pigments and others not mentioned.

Of course it can be much more complicated if you wish.  I have not mentioned the modern pigments.  For me I use what I have found works for me, and leave a spot or two for guest pigments on occasion.

I typically use Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Orange or Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin, Mineral Violet, Ultramarine, Cobalt, and Viridian.  

The Viridian is a great base for greens and makes rich greys.
The mineral Violet is a weak mixing colour used in greys and greens.  Together with Viridian it makes a silvery grey.
The palette has a cool and a warm of the primaries.  This is good for realizing cool and warm temperature passages.
Guest pigments might include Cobalt Violet, Permanent Rose, Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Red Middle etc.
To reduce mixing, I often use Transparent Red Oxide, and yellow Ochre.
When speed is important I drop a few pigments.

I have painted with the Zorn Palette and other short palettes.  They are great experiences.  Inevitably I like more chroma available. 

You should lay out your palette the same each time.  In poor light you can reach and get the pigment you need.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Plein Air Class

I do teach.  On May 27 I am doing a Plein Air session in Orangeville.  This has been going on at various locations for a number of years.  My approach is to teach "painting" and show people why and how to benefit from working from life in the out-of-doors.  The emphasis is on painting with individual help and attention.

To date I find I am teaching many of the same things on each session.  Even to people who have attended sessions in the past.  Most of these are the fundamentals but some are from the poison passed on by others.  Here is a short list.

  • Shapes are off.  This is a drawing and seeing problem.

  • Values are way off.  This is a seeing problem.  people paint what they think, not what they see.

  • The values in the light are not distinct from those in the shade.  This is especially true doing a light and shade painting in the sunlight (as opposed to an overcast day).

  • The painting is all middle tone.  Values theme.

  • Perspective is off.  this is a drawing and measuring problem.  The perspective is everywhere in the landscape.

  • In a hurry.  All the problems start here.  There are no short cuts.

  • Composition or design is symmetrical like tiles in a kitchen.  Nature doesn't work this way.  Observe and see.

  • Composition puts the subject too close to the viewer or the subject is far away and the foreground include the painter's shoe tops.

  • Lines send the viewer off the canvas.

  • The eye drops out of the canvas.

  • The only way to paint is.....  (glazing if you are from Georgetown).  They told me and she is really good.

  • You can't ever use.........  Viridian or Black...... are common.

  • Every colour is bright and saturated.  Everyone is yelling so no one is heard.

Bob's Barn, History Recorded - she's down

I wonder what this session will be like.  we will soon see.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Plein Air in the Sun

I do have a good umbrella.  But today I set up in the shade and on concrete.  Then it turned into this.

Brilliant Sun

At least everything was in the sun.  Painting, palette, me, subject.  Now I never wear sunglasses (and you should not when you paint).  I guess that tells you that my eyes are capable of all but shutting down facing into the sun and that glare.  They go to beady little pin holes.  Evil.  The problem with that is that I get tricked into seeing values lighter than they really are and my painting turns out dark when I review it in the studio under north light.  While I know this, and I compensate for it, today it was not close to enough.  And then the paint darkens as it dries.  Any photo reference is also poor in the brilliant sun.  Here it is in the studio.

Court Room and Patio

Here we are after adjusting the value and the chroma.  Oh, I am sure you notice the activated planes in the image.  This is part of the picture making process of composition.  I have been working some of these concepts for a while now.

Court Room and Patio, 16x20, Oil on Canvas

This is better.  The light and shade planes are clear now.  Remember, in a light and shade painting, every stroke is either in the light or in the shade.  The bed bug line offers some interesting opportunities in this type of painting.

In plein air or painting from life it is important to get one shape the right value.  Then key off of that shape for the others comparing one to another.  Today I was dark at the beginning as I came into full sun.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More Exercise

A good strategy for improving your painting is to work out of your comfort zone from time to time.  I tend to paint landscape and townscape quite a lot.  To break that up I also do still life on Thursdays with a specific setup aimed at learning something specific such as painting a specific texture such as a wool blanket or a white porcelain pot.  Once in a while I paint from memory whereas I paint as much as possible from life to train the eye re value and colour.

Yesterday I did a portrait of my grandson at 10 days old.  My last portrait was a self portrait done about a year ago.  Well, a 10 day old from life is a real challenge.  The skin is smooth and everything is very subtle.  He held still for a good ten minutes and I scratched in the basic shapes and values with a few patches of colour.  I made each stroke count.  The next period of time was filled with burping, crying, feeding and squirming.  All that on-the-spot landscape with changing conditions really helped.

10 Day Willie, 11x14, Oil on Linen

For my palette I used my usual.  I work the same for all subject matter.  I do reserve a spot for guest pigments but they went blank for this painting.  I have done my colour charts (a la Richard Schmid) and I mix what I need.  The palette was Transparent Red Oxide, Yellow Ochre, Alizarin, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Yellow Light, Viridian, Ultramarine Blue, Mineral Violet.  For white I used Flemish White.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Getting There in Plein Air

I try to paint from life as much as possible.  You learn to see so much more.  This practice does tend to limit your time in painting mode.  So I have developed some strategies to help out in direct painting.

Once I have visualized the finished painting and done some composition work on a thumbnail, I begin my painting with thin transparent pigment.

Wash Toning the Canvas

Here I chose Viridian Green and Transparent Red Oxide.  I chose these pigments because they are transparent, they make a nice grey, and they are close to the dominant colours in the scene.  I used a large brush (#12 flat hogs bristle for my outdoor kit but bigger in the studio) with lots of mineral spirits to quickly cover the canvas, get rid of the white, and provide an assist in colour harmony.  After this wash I wipe the brush and do not use mineral spirits again.  The transparent paint is easily moved around.

The I add more pigment placing the darks close to where I want them in the composition.  If I want to change the location as I compose, it is easy to do at this stage.

Add More Pigment

Using the same brush I added more pigment, but it is still thin and transparent.  I keep this up locating the drawing and tuning the composition.

Other Transparent Pigments

Here I have added a bit of Alizarin and Ultramarine Blue, both transparent.  Still easy to move things, so I can make corrections with ease.  If I had added white, I would be locking down the composition.  Correcting that is more time consuming.  And it was a good thing.....

Deet to the Rescue

Those little black floies began to tear me apart so I had to proceed in a cloud of DEET.  With the painting more closely located I added more paint beginning to locate some elements with a bit of white based grey.

Lock Down

Seeing to map now I began to fill in the shapes starting with thin darks and working to the lights on the planes where the sky provided differentiation.  More opaque paint now and colours I see in places but less grey.  Progress is fast now.  At some point I introduced another brush, a #6 flat.

Escape Velocity

Enough to let me continue in the studio free of the elements.