Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Judge It

"Most of us forget that ART comes from ARTIFICIAL."  And so it does, I looked it up in the dictionary.  These were the introductory remarks of Eric Atkinson (painter and educator) as he began to explain his jurying process.  He had just named my small  11x14" oil on linen the winner.  Eric being an abstract painter, I expected him to pick an abstract as winner.  Go figure.

He went on to say that as such, a copy of the motif was really not art.  He might have said it was not too interesting.  He pointed out the use of colour and the design of the space in the image.  He was big on these two elements.  He meant the judicial use of colour, not the raving, loud, colour everywhere use.  When everyone is yelling no one is heard.  His emphasis on space I had not heard before (even though I work on this continually).  He proceeded to show the group how depth was achieved in this painting even though it was relatively flat or compressed.  He compared it to another painting which by comparison had no depth but came forward out of the picture plane into the viewer's space (21st century he said - A flat image with a collaged item would do that).  Then he showed another comparison of a painting with drawn perspective (indicating depth) on top of a come- forward flat image.  Interesting.  On the surface he did not seem to dwell on fundamentals such as drawing or value.  "Painting is problem solving, you have to figure out how to achieve what you want" (concept).

Here is the judged winner.

Ivy Tea Time, 11x14, Oil on Linen

In summary Eric judged as favourable;

  • The arrangement in space
  • The building shape to the left
  • The shape activation and treatment
  • Bold colour with the green balancing the orange
  • The return to the picture plane from the sky

When this was painted on site it was mostly overcast.  Thus no shadows.  So I decided to make a local tone painting.  Everything else proceeded from there.

You judge.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Composing, Squint and Simplify

Here we are painting with friends on Friday at the fence lines at Scotsdale Farm.  It was overcast and changeable.  This set of fields with its rolling hills and old fence lines is quite interesting.  In the prevailing cool light the turning vegetation had sophisticated colours, pretty much the whole spectrum in some form.  

All in a Row

The question,  "what to do with this, and how to make it interesting.

Scotsdale, October 10, 2010

The fields are a little more wild now that the government is caring for the farm.  A little more back to nature.  If you look closely here you will see a number of fence lines and weed patterns on a treed background.  The colours are near peak with very little structure showing.  But Friday was different.  Here is an artists eye view of the proceedings.

Lay-in Complete

Looking simultaneously at the painting and the scene a number of things come to mind.  A bit of a camera tilt!  The colours are not as advanced.  The cloud cover is not visible in the photo.  There is a fence right in front of the artist.  The artist has carefully chosen his concept.  It was loosely captured on a pencil sketch.  The most important tool employed to this stage was SQUINTING.  With this in place it was easy to establish the relative values of each shape in the painting - sky, background tree line, subject, field.  Keep it simple.  Also employing the squint the average colour and chroma of the shapes was established, the colours mixed and applied.  Note, the blue streak in the sky was not present till the end of this phase.

Also notice that there are no fence lines, no close up fence, no weed patches.  In short no detail.  It is easy to eliminate these by squinting.  They disappear.  It is much easier to mix the colours in the right chroma and values when you simplify to a few shapes.

Lesson, what you leave out may be more important than what you put in.  Simplify.

Also note that the field is a beautiful gradient at this stage.

This painting can be finished in the studio if desired.  Inference of detail can be inserted into the shapes as desired to provide eye candy and interest.  Every thing but the subject will be subordinated  (in the concept).  In fact it already is, including edges.  The studio work will enhance the star's role.  And the blue streak?  One stroke as the sky opened up.  He chased it.  Will be interesting to see the final after some studio work.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Using Washes in Oil Paint

Painting directly on a white canvas can be distracting.  It also makes value judgement more difficult.  So you can paint on a pre-coloured ground or you can use a wash or washes.  The pre-coloured ground means you are stuck with the colour in your inventory and a dry surface.  A wash can be done as you opening salvo for your painting.  You can key the colour to your desire and it is a nice wet surface to paint into.

My most used approach is to use a wet mineral spirits plus pigment slop applied transparently.

Let 'er rip

This will drip and run if done on the slop side.  You can add pigment to get the transparent wash darker and thicker.  Here I am working in mineral violet plus alizarin crimson basically unmixed.  I wanted to key to a similar colour family.

Stop the drip

You can see that the wash thinned out and got lighter.  To proceed I reviewed the shape placement on my thumbnail sketch and the added more pigment in another layer - still wet - on the places where shapes were going to appear.

Big Brush

I have stopped adding mineral spirits.  The big brush is still loaded with it.  So I can go to layers and even change colours - still transparent.  At his time I noted an area that I wanted white, for future considerations.  Maybe glazing or dry brushing or translucent passages.


So I rubbed off the wash with a paper towel.  I can sop up extra mineral spirits and or make some patterns.  It is important to note that an oil primed surface is much more friendly to wipe outs since it is not absorbent.

Same Colour pool on the Palette

Now I change pigment towards blue and work with more pigment placing in the basic shapes.  This has taken only a couple of minutes.  It is great speed training for plein air, but I use it regularly in the studio.  I also use turpentine for the wash process, but not in my studio.  It dries very quickly and helps you cough.

Another Layer

At this stage I begin to paint with the mixtures the consistency of the paint from the tube.  The big brush (#12 Flat Bristle) still has a bit of thinning capability.

Taking Shape

After some opaque and translucent painting I added another wash in another colour at the top.  I wanted to establish the colours and no real pattern.  This is a great subordinating tool.  The wash may decay some of the other painting.  That is Ok at this stage.

Working from The Subject

From here I tend to work from the subject outwards subordinating on the way.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Gradations and Perspective

One of the many reasons to paint from life is to condition your eye.  One of the elements you will observe is how Mother Nature employs gradations.  These are passages that flow from light to dark for example.

Sky Gradation, Lost Valley

Here you see the gradations in the sky.  Even the camera picks them up.  The classic is the light to dark beginning at the horizon and moving up to the zenith.  This is covered in John Carlsen's classic book on the landscape.  But look, there is more.  That same gradation also goes from warm to cold - relatively.  And looking from left to right the gradation goes from light to dark and warm to cool.  Painting this you have many options.  For example you might start with a flat blue wash for the sky then overpaint beginning on the left with a tint of light yellow, adding some green to darken and cool, and adding more cool blue to continue the trip.  Ditto from the horizon to the zenith.  There are many options here and I suggest you let your observations and concept guide you.  The sky is seldom "blue" out of the tube.

You will notice that treating the flat wash this way gives the passage depth.  This is part of perspective tool box.

Hay You?

This field shows how a Farmer has used perspective with her tractor.  Yup, a vanishing point for the hay rows.  But looking more closely you will see she has also employed gradations in the field.  From the foreground more chroma to less chroma in the background.  Also you will notice the stubble is coarse in the foreground and smushed in the background.  You could paint this with the double tool of more chroma and active brushstrokes in the foreground and less of each in the background.  You might also add some warmth in the foreground.

You can make water "lay down" in much the same way.

Evening Delight, 12x16, Oil on Canvas

This painting is full of gradations.  Light to dark, warm to cool, thick to thin, colour to no colour, sharp to soft and so forth.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Painting Over an Old Painting

Ever screw up a painting?  Or stop a painting 'cause you couldn't get into it?  Between canvas restocking I sometimes paint over an oldie.  The other day I wanted a certain size and the only option was to paint over.  Here is what I found, about 12 years old judging from its storage location.

Old Landscape Start - in Oil

I have had a lot of painters ask me if they should gesso over the old painting.  NOT if you are painting in oil.  The gesso most people use today is acrylic gesso.  So you will get incompatible layers doing this.  So I start by doing a wash with a bit of alkyd, mineral spirits (or turpentine) and the transparent colour you wish to use to key the colour of the new painting.  That looks pretty innocent in its thin form.  Basically oiling in.

With a Red Oxide Wash

Then I locate the masses according to the thumbnail sketch.  For this painting I rearranged just about everything - the barn, the foreground, the background, the perspective....  made an addition to the barn....

Seeing Double

A bit confusing at this stage.  Here I established the darks then put some lights in the sky.  Just cover up the old stuff..... but not too much, I can already see that I might use some of the old painting.  Normally I would be more assertive in establishing the darks and leave the sky since it is not the subject of the painting here.  Then again, there is no normal.

Cover This, Keep That

I left the barn roof red.  Already too much green.  Some of the planes of the fields nearly coincided with the diagonals in the actual fields.  I can keep some of this to show structure and reduce the green.  Now I can Paint


This is sitting in the studio.  What to subordinate?