Setting Up Color

“Misty Brilliance”

oil on linen panel, 8″ x 10″
Some days it pays to get up early. When it comes to painting, some days it pays to stay in bed. Or so it seems. Today was an excellent day!!
The title of this piece came after I had completed the piece. The process here was to set up the brilliance of the color. To play down value contrasts and surround the color with neutrals. It is the neutrals in a painting that make the saturated colors seem as though they are screaming . . . . . . . . .or at least singing.
Today as I pushed through this piece, I found myself paying special attention to diminishing values and contrast in depth. That threw the foreground out at the viewer and emphasized the subject . . . .my beloved ice plant and all its colors against the sandstone cliffs of the Santa Cruz County coastline. I learned more as I painted this piece . . . . .let the paint do the talking, not the details. Why does a painter have to relearn these simple lessons over and over and over and over???? I guess habit must take over eventually. Details and minutae do nothing to make a painting stand up and sing.
I can smell the air in this painting . . . . .I am smiling !!!!!

Absent Toooo Long !

Well, Folks, classes are over. I can now recover my own creative energy and steer some of it toward paper and canvas. Life, has, however, chosen to step into my intended path somewhat and handed me some challenges . . . . .some worth complaining about, some worth cheering about. All have to be handled.

A computer crash was one of the things that happened and has dealt me a death blow right in the center of my photoshop software! Gads ! Not Thaaaaaaat ! Then the loss of some 700 email addresses . . . . ;-(( oi ! One would think that after having had to endure that little piece of grief more than twice, I would know how to maintain that file . . . .but noooooo!

Painting. That is my goal. To return to the brush. But first I must share something which touched me to the core. . . . .
The above painting was sold to a client with whom I have grown deeply fond of. She acquired the painting last summer. This Spring, my birthday came along (as it does every year) and she brought a gift to the house. With all the rush of the day’s work in real estate and other distractions, I wasn’t able to open the gift till later in the evening long after dinner. Not sure of what to expect, I opened it and was rocked by what I saw: A small beautiful “quilt” in the image of the painting above laid in the package . . .staring up at me. The implications of this gift made my heart swell. Apparently, the painting had such impact on her, she felt moved to honor that impact by sending back this beautifully hand made image all in fabric! I doubt I have ever had any painting honored with so much heart from anyone. In a day or two, I will post an image for you to see. (since losing photoshop and much much more it may take a little longer) . . . .thank you, Dear Paula, you have left me speechless!
And so, dear reader, the world is filled with acknowledgement of all kinds. Just this week, my watercolor classes stood for the world to see their work . . . .their very hard work . . .over ten weeks to develop a series of 20 paintings with changed design in each iteration. Each person made new breakthroughs and was thrilled with the results they had accomplished . . .and I was affirmed that 33 painters opened and discovered their own possibilities as painters. They each found something in themself they had not realized exisited. They saw for the first time their own style tendencies and they discovered that in spite of their doubts, they COULD do the extraordinary. And they did!!! It was an honor to lead these people to find something in them selves they had not known before. It was exciting to watch their discovery and the results that they found for trusting themselves and honoring their own intentions at the easel! These classes take energy, but the rewards are beyond description! I hope to have images from some of the painters soon . . .I will share some of them with you.
Meanwhile . . .it’s great to be back! We’ll be seeing more of each other, for sure.

The Search for Subject

“Big Mouth”

oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
After the mess made in “Your Table is Ready” . . . .and the disappointment . . . .I decided I needed to be more cautious in choosing what to paint. . . .at least when working small. In a small ‘study’ sized canvas, there are a lot of things that lose importancee when the shapes get really small. Subtleties count much less . . . . .at least, that is my opinion. So, I search for distinctly large shapes and a clear separation between light and shadow.
It took a while this morning, listening to the rain, wondering if I would come up with something that I could practice the subtleties inside each of the families of light and shadow. No names for things in there, just value and temperature “spots” . . . .actually shapes. Then, when it is nearing completion, I look at edges and little quiet changes of color. For example, I needed to suggest a teensy bit of violet in the water to put warm into the cool and create some sense of a changing plane . . . .like in a wave . . . .or a shift in light. As soon as it hit the canvas, the painting came to life!
As for other subtleties, I think they matter more when painting larger. But that opinion needs to be proven, I suppose. Eh?
Until Next time . . . .

An Unlikely Friend

“Sunset iii”
oil on linen panel, 6″ x 8″
We artists have to develop some very unordinary skills. And they have nothing to do with brushwork, or paint or seeing in some special way. They have to do with getting really chummy with a deeply dreaded character in our lives; FAILURE.

Yup! You read it correctly. Failure is a huge, ugly demon in life whose bark is greater than its bite. The fear of it keeps artists from stepping into the ‘untried’ and ‘unacquainted with’ parts of art. In other words, many of us are fearful enough of failure that we remain in the warmth and safety of the comfort zone. Any suggestion of moving away from, or out of that zone scares hell out of most.

If we actually examine it, we find (usually) that failure is not some gnarly, nasty, covered with spikes, 200 mile per hour motor scooter diving off the edge of a rocky cliff. In the world of art, Failure is the name of our teacher(s). It is in the crashes that we find our best lessons . . . that is in life, too, usually. And those lessons are remembered well!

Unlike the Indy 500 race or any other race where there lurks the grim reaper if a mistake is made, we must court failure as a welcome passenger all through our ride through the art jungle. One could almost say that in art, failure is the mentor.

It is from that mentor that questions are generated and answers sought. It is from disappointment that we seek to improve. It is from knowing where we want to go and falling short that we hear the voice “try again.” No one ever died or sustained serious injury from a mistaken painting. Yet, unexplainably, some artists absolutely avoid any risk of shortfall at al costs.

I’ll put my bets on those who are willing to be embarrassed in exchange for a lesson. There are good bets and long shots. Those who set aside pride in favor of ‘not succeeding’ in order to try the unknown will, by far, pass those who remain in the ‘comfy zone’ and never venture out and take a risk .

Now . . . .where is that machete? I need to hack my way through this jungle of color and pigment and mediums and drawing and perspective and all that stuff. There are snakes afoot, too! But so what?

Transparent Oxide Red

“Speed Bump”
oil on linen panel, 8″ x 10″

I have fallen in love! Yup! I did!

With a color! In fact I like it so darn much that I even ordered it for my watercolor pallett. (sp?) Transparent Oxide Red is sooooo versatile! It combines with greens to make the most natural greens any one can imagine. Yet, the greens never go to that forbidden totally neutral place called black . . . or worse . . . M.U.D. ! It just keeps pushing the greens to a place that gets more neutral but stays green somehow. And with other colors . . . .Oh, Yes!! This lil girl flirts with em all.

That said, look at the greens in the last 6 or 7 paintings. (The monitor could be off a lil bit, so don’t take what you see too literally). It has earned a permanent spot on my palette!

No Surrender!

“Containing the Dunes”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″

Today I wrestled. As in physical struggle with another being, larger than I. The other being was this little 8″ x 10″ canvas and my attempt to show aerial perspective at work along a hazy beach. He won. Yup! Beat me fair and square. Not just in ten rounds either. I put up a galiant fight (I think I did) which took much of yesterday and a good part of today. I am sure he will be back to take me on again and again. But I am not giving up! No surrender here!

This was a particularly difficult subject because the aerial perspective on the beach was throwing off the feeling of closeness of the foreground sand pit. Back and forth, scraping and brushing and wiping and trying I went. All said and done, I blended too much and spoiled the effect I once had with strokes.

Richard Schmidt has been ringing in my ears, of late, while I paint. Edges! Transitions! Values! Today his lesson (from the book) was this: Given two shapes, one large and one small, same color and value . . . .in the distance, the smaller one will appear to be lighter than the large one and have softer edges . . . .all due to the effects of the atmosphere and light. (This is a simplification) . . . .I can see why now.

This entire painting was about those lessons of aerial perspective and edge management. Slowly, I am beginning to make my strokes more deliberately and less often. When I do that, I find the painting to be much more fresh and the colors crisper. (Another lesson to be applied in future paintings . . . .!! Gotta put a sign on the wall!)

Anyway, the work we do alone or together always pays off in solid lessons learned and practiced. From that perspective, it was a very successful day.

Studio Experiment

“Hot Ice”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
Today I am fooling around with a new studio tool . . . .at least new for me. I have always worked from sketches for a lot of reasons. Copying photos is just not my style. I believe in design and what it can do for a painting . . . . .most photos need a ton of redesign. I have always used photos from which to sketch and build the design for a painting. And photos just don’t have what it takes to be good reference material beyond shape and value.
But, it is time to enter the 21st century. Digital cameras and compters make soooo much possible. This painting was painted from a digital photo I took while in Carmel two weeks ago. I took about 30 pix that day . . .all possible painting subjects. This, and yesterday’s, were a result of that outing. The experiment is to put the digital photo on a big LCD flat panel display. . . . . . . . . . . . . .and paint directly from the monitor. What a hooot !!! There is sooo much one can see on the monitor!! Bright, full of color, zoom capability, and all sorts of cool stuff to work with! It is very much like being in plein air, except that the light isn’t changing.
My 17″ screen lap top computer is the subject of the experiment. It works well, but it is my business computer. It just wouldn’t do to have it covered in paint . . . .or for it to be jammed up with art stuff (it is now!). Christmas is here . . . .who knows if Santa might bring a biiig monitor to paint from. I’ll have to ask.
I have been a good boy! Really! I have. I have !!!! Really I have. 🙂

Icy Dunes

“Icy Dunes”
Oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
On the central coast of California we have a succulent which grows everywhere. The closer it is to the sea, it turns these incredible shades of red. We call it ‘Ice Plant.’ I am not sure of the real latin name, but that is what we call it. Mixed with the greens and yellows, the sand dunes are covered partially with it and are eye popping gorgeous! I have always dreamt of painting the dunes’ mystical undulations and the colors and patterns of the ice plant. Here is the first one.
After spending a few hours with Richard Schmidt in his book, “Alla Prima,” I have been growing ever conscious of edges. That is some subject!! As a career watercolor painter, edges are something a bit new. While lost and found edges are something we work with in watercolor, oil painting is different. I am glad I have had the opportunity to hone my thinking (and painting) skills around this subject. I can see a difference in all my work as a result of this study. Elio Camacho gave me a stinkin’ crit once about edges. Ever since then I have been very conscious of them. Not that I am good at it yet. I can see they are a big deal! They can make or break a painting.

Keeping Up With The Light

Morning light from behind the far cliff.

Early afternoon light

“Sharks Tooth Rock, AM”

oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″

When painting the ocean shore, specifically the bluffs or cliffs, it is a race to capture the light.

Since there is little color in these cliffs, much of it is left to the artist to create and decide how he wants to represent them. The light, however, is what makes a painting come to life. Lighting from behind, contra jour in French, is particularly challenging because in a short time, that which is backlit is fully illuminated. So, the painter must memorize or sketch the light and shadow . . . then stick by that for the entire painting session . . .which means there is little reference to paint from as the painter develops the piece. Hence, we paint in haste!

Yesterday, we spent another morning and part of an afternoon painting atop a high precipice above sharks tooth rock. The difference in light is noticeable in both these pix . . . .morning (11 AM) and afternoon (1 PM) . . . .notice the far cliff is backlit. This was fascinating because the edges of that dark slab of rock and sandstone were lit up like neon (halation). The striking part of the morning light was the difference in value of the two cliff faces, in the light and out.

P.S. It was absolutely glorious weather yesterday! I sooooo needed a break from framing and putzing . . .I just couldn’t let such a great day slip away.

On Working Challenges

“Sharks Tooth Rock”
Oil on canvas, 16” x 20”

One is honored when another person of like mind and soul will drive nearly 100 miles to be with you, or to be part of what you are doing.

Yesterday, again, Elio Camacho did precisely that to see my studio, my work and to paint together en plein aire.

This guy is all about mastery, as am I. Mastery is what we both seek . . .I may never reach it, but it is the reason I exist. To be with someone who eats and sleeps and works hard to reach that same goal is a rare privilege. I don’t want Elio to get a big head or to think I am ‘in awe’ or acting like a groupie. No! We both know that it is a rare thing to be with another person of like mind and motives.

We went to “Sharks Tooth” beach up the coast from my studio and home. And stood apart and furiously attacked our respective canvases or boards. A wise crack here, a glance there, or an expletive or a laugh is all we need to connect. We watch each others’ methods and processes without comment and proceed down each of our respective processes. Two paintings as different as night and day came out of this session, yet, again, I gained knowledge, encouragement for myself and a larger degree of respect for him and his work.

Is he a master? I don’t know. I think mastery is familiarity. It has to do with brush mileage, or how many acres of canvas one has painted. At any point in the process, one holds mastery over their previous work, but what lies ahead? How much work is one person willing to expend to reach a new level? And that is why he and I connect, I think. We both are willing to stretch and reach and work every day.

Yesterday was exactly that. Each held a little challenge, or a plan in our respective minds, before putting brush to paint, to tackle something new. For me, it was using a different set of colors on my palette and to see what I could derive from that. . . ..and to push the color in places where nature was offering bland, neutral tones.

What did he have in mind? Maybe you should go see what he did and if he’ll tell you.