Sunday, July 29, 2012

Put Up Or Shut Up

You are probably sick of hearing that plein air is a bridge to making studio pieces without any studio pieces to judge by.  So I though I'd best put up or shut up.
So for something different, I am putting in my painting "Islands in the Stream" of Rio Chama, in the Abiquiu area of New Mexico. Its a place that has haunted artists since the days of Georgia O'Keefe and the indigenous artists that came before her.
And I am  not using a limited palette. If I wanted to use a color, I grabbed it and squirted it onto the palette. No limits here! The trick now would be to get and keep an overall color harmony in the painting while having the complete set of pigments in my studio at my disposal. 
The second challenge here was size. I have been painting mostly field pieces for the last 4 years. They have been of necessity relatively small, usually 11 x 14, with some 8 x 10s thrown in for spice. This painting is completely painted in the studio from references. 
Islands In The Stream - Oil on Canvas
16 x 20 - Available
Interestingly, I found that I was often hunting down a pigment I thought I'd want as much as mixing it myself. Maybe there is a logic to this limited palette thing in the field. And maybe there is a logic to finding and using a personal palette for my own works. The trouble is that there are so many, and looking at pigments is like looking at a rainbow. What child never wanted to touch a rainbow? (Equate artist with child here) And you can actually touch paint with your brush, unlike rainbows. There is that visceral satisfaction of loading a brush with ultramarine blue and sloshing it onto the canvas. I think I need another lifetime to be able to test them all out thoroughly.
Sloshing - that is another thing. I used an eggbert for the first time, when roughing in the layout on the canvas. No, it is not a new breakfast food. An eggbert is a filbert brush with extra long bristles. According to Quang Ho, who uses his much like a conductor waving it about and having things magically appear, it can get you into a whole lot of trouble, really fast. But watching him paint with his, looked like really messy fun.
I loved it. It has become my rough in procedure of choice in one outing. I have yet to try it when doing a portrait. It may not be controlled enough for that discipline. But for landscapes, it was aces. Able to cover large areas quickly with limited expenditure of effort. And what I have not struggled to put down, I am more apt to erase to achieve a better composition. With rag in hand, fearless in losing a 'precious' layout, composition rules!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Does life hand you melons?

I read something on the web this past week and laughed till I nearly cried. It was simple  - "If life hands you melons, maybe you are dyslexic." 
Sorta sums up the best laid plans of mice and painters. I have been hunting for days to go out and paint. You see, its that wet time of year here. Clear one minute, raining the next, and oh yeah maybe just with a little hail thrown in for good measure.  It can be an effort to cross the yard when a storm cell is passing through. 
So this time I went out anyway in the early morning, and the skies were totally uncertain. Threatening rain there and working its way here, to where I was atop this hill, with no cover. Thank goodness lemons, or melons for that matter, do not fall from the sky. But with the uncertainty comes a certain rushed feeling to get it down. Block that canvas in, don't stop to think. 
But when I do that, I find that I must redo passages in the studio to be satisfied. Even then, the lemonade from melons doesn't always work. But when the storms come through this part of New Mexico, I am thankful that the house we bought is tidy and tight. But easels are not, and canvasses and panels can and do fly. So often I find myself living with the painting on a small easel in the living room, where it can catch the corner of my eye as I walk pass. I think about it for days, sometimes weeks. This time one hour. I knew it needed to be a darker more threatening kind of experience. Because that was what it was like. My mostly sunny disposition had me putting in blue skies when they were not there. So corrected, here is "Uncertain Skies".
Uncertain Skies - Êtude #8
11 x 14 oil on wood panel - Available

Don't look for the lemons or melons. I ate them.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Limited Palette Challenge Recap

This is a review of the five paintings that I have done for the FB limited palette challenge. Colors used were those used by Ken Auster, noted CA painter and incude: black, white, ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, and cad yellow light. 

What did I learn?
  •  I do not like painting limitations (does that make me an anarchist?)
  • Limited colors make for painting color unity and harmony 
  • Limited colors make it hard to mix a ‘wrong’ color
  • You can grab and run much quicker if you aren't hunting down that 'special' color
  • I LIKE more colors than this palette affords and felt stymied
  • You can mix some neat colors, but not all the colors that are in my personal palette
  • Ken is a genius to make this work over and over

Would I do this again?
  • I might, but I think I’d use other colors, such as cad red or napthol red in place of the   alizarin, a warm  mars black instead of the ivory black which is blue-cool
  • This palette, in my hands, results in more cool toned paintings
  • I would especially do this again if I felt that my pieces were having a color discord and     felt lost for a solution
  • See previous item, and I would add in one color at a time and do the whole thing again. Liken this logic to hunting for a food allergy and adding in one food at a time to judge the results. (What do you mean I can’t eat garlic???) One of the colors could just be personally toxic in a mix.

Challenge #1 Wind Canyon Étude 2 

Challenge #2 Fried Eggs In The Morning

Challenge #3 Fried Egg Trail

Challenge #4 Mimbres Glow
Challenge #5 Storm Over the Gila

What would I change?
  • The first thing would be the red as I said previously
  • Next I would change the yellow. I love Gamblin’s Indian yellow. Scott Gellately, product manager at Gamblin, turned me onto it at the Plein Air convention this year and I positively love it, how it is transparent and mixes just beautifully. It’s become one of my ‘go to’ colors.
  • I would have to have another blue – it’s one of my absolutely favorite colors, as evidenced by the bins of blues in my studio. Despite the cost, cerulean blue is becoming one of my favorites. This is one pigment where the hue version of this paint actually tints much stronger than the original color. But the weakened tinting strength is a real plus in the orignal color.

Overall, I learned, that I can be inventive within limited means, that schlepping half the paint to a site is preferable to carting the whole studio. I also like the idea of doing more than one painting with the same imposed conditions.  I learned that the concept of a limited palette can be freeing and allow you to explore mixes you might never have. Finally, I can try my own personal limited palette and maybe find a better fit for my painting preferences. 

Thanks to Candy Crawford Day on Facebook for getting the ball rolling and putting up the challenge. I might never have done this otherwise.  So, do you have a favorite?
Fav quote:  "Many people die at twenty-five and aren't buried until they are seventy-five." (Benjamin Franklin)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Things Change – Quickly

One thing you can count on when you paint plein air, is change. Light changes, air quality changes, temperature changes, weather changes. Even the wildlife that is present changes. (Note to self – there are some BIG BUGS in this state, bring bug spray) This morning was a total lesson in changes occurring – weather wise.

In my fifth and last painting in the limited palette challenge, I painted Quail Run; the road upon which I live. Notice the lack of asphalt, lights and traffic.  After 34 years in San Diego County, I love this place. We are on the edge of the Gila(hee-la) National Forest and the weather comes barreling in here. This morning was threatening rain, but had these amazing low level clouds hugging the Burro Mountains on the edge of the Gila. You could see them right out the picture windows. Keep in mind that we are over a mile high. Sometimes I forget that.

When you are painting you have to decide on the moment you want, and to heck with the changes that happen. You cannot change every shadow, lengthen them or change their  color temperature with every passing ten minutes. You have to commit to what you have started to state, and finish that statement only. It was gray in places and bright in others. So how perfect was that for a painting?
As I painted, the clouds were moving in mighty fast. As I got close to putting the finish on this impressionist piece, I was suddenly enveloped by a solid cloud. I mean to tell you that I could make out my car, which I was standing next to, and not much else. Good thing I didn’t have to worry about traffic. And this is the middle of July for crying out loud! 

Storm Over the Gila - Oil on prepared wood board
Wind Canyon Êtude 7 - Final in Limited Palette Challenge
11x14 - Available

We are in the beginning of our monsoon season, and it was really easy to tell today. Not wanting to have to towel blot a wet oil painting, I gathered my brushes, cleaned up, packed my stuff and got in my car, totally rushing as I expected to get rained on. I started my car, looked up and the clouds were gone! The sky was back to cerulean blue and all the clouds had passed on by. Go figure.
I think there was a higher power telling me not to piddle with the painting. Do you need prompting to stop painting, as I obviously did? Or are you clever enough to spot that you are done?

First lesson learned was if there is a weather or light phenomenon that you want to record – get out there. It won’t last. And you can’t count on it returning tomorrow. Things change. Second thing, when you are done, BE done. This painting is called “Storm over the Gila”. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Do You Really Need That?

I went to California a week or so ago and took a morning to go painting with a friend.
I did a study which did not satisfy me, but am I using it as a basis for another painting. Plein air provides the ideas for studio pieces, so I thought that while this piece was not successful, the experience was food for thought. The marina view I initially did was far too complex for a quick study. And while it had some nice passages, it was not simplified enough to present a cohesive painting. When my friend asked me how I felt about my painting, I told her “it sucks. But, if I take it apart, it can provide the ideas for several paintings. So even a bad day can have good results. And a failed painting still has value in the learning of painting process.

My friend had a stumble while setting up and seemed to have difficulty getting going. It was obvious that she had not painted outside in a long while. Paints were hard to put out as caps had gotten stuck onto the tubes. She had not brought enough turps, and could not seem to begin effectively. She was having difficulty with her materials and palette. My friend was not having a good time. How could this have been changed?

These simple observations bring me to a few points. If you paint plein air, you need to get out and paint. Often. Not painting outdoors often makes you wear the wrong clothes, bring the wrong things, forget important stuff and deal with more frustration than you should have to. It’s supposed to be fun guys! At the very least a body needs to make a list while out painting, noting what was forgotten and needed, as well as what was just extra junk to cart. Weed out mercilessly. If you haven’t used it in three outings, trash it. Because I wanted to use Ken’s limited palette, I actually did not take any other colors with me. The temptation to grab that orange would have brought me to the near occasion of sin. So I had left it and others at home. Ruthless can be a good thing.

So what do I bring? Feel free to use this list if you are wondering what is important and what is needless baggage. Here’s the checklist for my outdoor painting days:
  •  Panels to paint on (canvas punctures too easily, so I prepare my own wood boards with gesso)
  • Brushes – I do need to whittle this group down some, but I am still making field tests
  •  Paints (this time only 5 tubes) Sometimes I bring my paints in a plastic, closing pillbox, already set out.
  • Turps in a spill proof container Bring enough. Too little will hamper your painting.
  • Paper towels and trash bag - God didn't leave us a junkyard, don't leave one for Him
  • Your easel, whatever kind you use  (I use an open M box – love it) .
  • Pliers to get that stubborn paint cap off. A match will only melt the caps.
  • Paint trowel and/or painting knife
  • Chair, if I am having a bad day with my knees (its not only the fit and buff kids who do this, you know)
  • Wet panel carrier and a backpack to stuff all of this in
  • Sun block, bug spray, hat, windbreaker, water and/or coffee and toilet paper

That last item, underlined in the last bullet is a necessity. There are often bushes, but not restrooms. Happy painting, and oh yes, make sure the far side of the bush is not visible to oncoming cars.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer In Wind Canyon

Today’s post is a morning study, down a road I had not previously explored for painting possibilities. It was early morning, before the prevailing wind set in and just about when the birds were starting their daily forays for food and nesting materials. Have I mentioned that Silver City is a birding mecca? There are supposed to be over 300 different types here. Some are raucous, some are just plain beautiful. Some are suicidal when it comes to picture windows, but that’s a different post.
This morning’s study is right off Fleming Tank Road, after a rainy night. I didn’t even have to schlepp through the bushes. I simply parked and offloaded my painting gear. Of course parking right off the road means you have to deal with passing motorists. I had no idea that this road was that well used. Thankfully all my neighbors seem to be very considerate and do not stir up any more dust that they have to while they pass me by. Many wave, and a few even stop to comment. I have been here a little over a year, and never knew I had so many nice neighbors. Here is the beginning stage of the painting.

After The Rain - Block In
11x14 Oil on Wood Board

The sky this morning had a clarity that was crisp. The grass was softer than usual, and with the advent of our monsoons, is just starting to green up a bit. It was still pretty yellow though. With the rain came this profusion of tiny, white flowers on some normally boringly green bushes. This study is not in the limited palette. I decided to give myself a break and use what I felt the piece needed. This is After The Rain.
Ater The Rain - Étude 6
Oil - Available
 I plan to finish the limited palette challenge with my next plein air. Hopefully. Monsoons are coming so there should be interesting skies. I am keeping my camera within arm's reach.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Getting the Glow

           One of the reasons it’s so much fun to paint outdoors is that you get to watch the Creator at work. What a grand design there is the flow and brilliance of light on our world! It’s an unrealistic challenge to try to paint it that way. Light is so many times more bright than the lightest of pigments in an artist’s palette. The shadows are so much more full of life than the dark shadows our cameras hint at. The scale from light to shadow in the real world is so much more infinite than white to shadow in paint.
The idea is to create a painting that on its own is a representation of what you see, but that has a life of its own. Some of the most memorable paintings I have ever seen are those of light bouncing up about and around field inhabitants….a bush, shrub, water, tree or cactus that seems to emanate a glow of its own in the dispersal of light on and around its being. The very air takes on a lighted quality thrown off from the item being lit. I guess you could call it an aura, but then I picture crystal adherents and their odd fortune telling or suspended winged creatures some call angels. So I’ll call it a glow, a simple four letter word. Have you ever noticed that some of the four letter words are the hardest to pin down? Love. Hard. Work. Glow. Again with the paint…’s so limiting, as a visual vocabulary. But aren’t notes and scales also limiting and think of the musical magic that has enriched lives.
Back to this glow thing. Sometimes it’s in your face. Sometimes you have to hunt it down, get under a tree and look up, glance at a sun filled sky of backlit clouds, lean over a cliff to see the magical effect of light. Well I have this glow….at least I know what I want it to look like, and I have this tree. It’s an old gnarled, cut up survivor oak.  I am back with number 4 of this limited palette challenge. So there is no way that that bark is going to have its natural local color. There aren’t a whole lot of options. The important thing to remember here is that I am not trying to replicate the natural color of things…..I am after that darned glow.    I have only alizarin crimson, a bright yellow and a blue to do it with. No warms and cools of the red, yellow and blue, just the three pigments and black and white - and this Mimbres Oak. 
Mimbres Glow - Oil on prepared wood board
11x14 - Available
So on a decidedly not cool morning, (nice way to say it was hot as H*&&), I tried to catch that glow. I know this would be easier with a full palette, but that is not the challenge. Here is Mimbres Glow. Does it succeed? Does it glow?

Next week I am off to Prescott AZ, to do a workshop with Chris Saper on portraiture. Chris does not adhere to the limited palette doctrine, in fact, I think she enjoys using every pigment in the whole array of artist’s available colors. So there will likely be no blog entry next week. I still have my final limited palette work to do, so look back after the 13th. I should be back at it by then. Again this work will be from life. Ain’t life grand?