Too Good To Be True !!

“Beach Pond”

oil on canvas panel, 12′ x 16″

Some days are just too good to be true. And today was one of ‘em!

After sorting around in some of my painting haunts, I took a flyer today and knocked on the door of a property owner who had previously denied me access to their private beach and sprawling ranch property on the coast. Today, my buddy and I were welcomed and encouraged to go ahead and paint where ever we liked.

Mind you, in California there are VERY FEW beaches without human footprints on them. This place had N O N E ! What an amazing treat to be standing knee deep in native grass and actually not wanting to go onto the beach because it would disrupt such undisturbed natural perfection.

A small creek comes to a pond there on the beach and reflects the water and wind beaten bluffs. Mind you, the wind blows there all the time. So, it was paint with one hand and hold the umbrella and easel with the other! Save for the wind, my buddy and I decided that it would be a most perfect day if two naked women just happened along for us to gaze at while they sun bathed and we painted.

Like I said, some days are just too good to be true. What are the odds that our wishes came true? Today the lottery would have been in our favor, if you get my drift. We were blown away, but not by the wind, that is for sure!

And the painting came out well, too !!!! (Only in California, right?) HA!!!

More Leaking Watercolor

“Crimson Sentries”
Watercolor, 15″ x 18″
This design challenge of the steep cliffs along the edge of the Pacific Ocean near my home has been nagging me since I first began painting 20 years ago.

As you can see from the last few posts, the cliffs came into play again with a series of sketches and some oil paintings that threw an entirely different bias into the paintings. That bias was one of using a highly limited palette and avoiding the reality of the color on the site. The last post spoke about how my watercolor technique sometimes leaks into the oil painting process.

The tree shape in the composition is really the center of interest as driven by the value contrast . . . .and the unusual color of a deep crimson base (rather than dark green). It was this palette choice that pushed me to wonder if I could (or should) attempt something similar in watercolor. When painting those trees in oil, the darkest coolest version of that red is laid down thinly first, then the progressively lighter values and warmer tones laid over each other until the sense of a lit solid volume becomes apparent. In watercolor, however, it is exactly the opposite . . .painting first the light then working backward to the darks. Watercolor is (to me) dazzlingly beautiful when it is wet, especially those rich darks! I find myself getting carried away by them and often go too far and put too much dark into the composition. Then, the painting has to be rescued.

This painting, similar to the last few compositionally, was the test to see if I could do something similar with watercolor. The trees came out okay, but they don’t have the density of pigment that the oils have. ( I am not dissatisfied, just pointing out a difference). The foreground in this watercolor is a good deal less forgiving, however, than the oils. With the oils, the strokes themselves indicate what the textures and abstract indications of the foliage might look like. In watercolor, that doesn’t happen. Those textures and patterns have to be created . . .. . again working from light to dark. . . . . .and, for me, that is no easy task. Because the foreground shape is such a large shape, something had to be done to keep the internals of that shape entertaining yet supportive of the rest of the piece without attracting too much attention. The colors had to harmonize with the rest of the piece, yet be subordinate to all else, too.

As a result, this piece took quite a while longer to paint than a typical alla prima oil painting like the last few. Each layer had to wait for the last layer to reach bone dry before proceeding. And those layers were sandwiched in between other goings on in life . . . .but that’s another story.

On The Value Of Experiments

“Bridging the Gap”

oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
Every day is different when it comes to painting. I never know what the day will hold until I approach the easel . . . .unless I am working on a specific project. Then, I am like a wild dog with a bone. Nothing will dissuade my purpose until it is finished.

As you know, Dear Reader, I have been busy this last week with plein air work . . .and I had to interrupt a project of a very complex studio watercolor to do this plein air work. Work? Whoops! This isn’t work !! This is absolute entertainment . . . .at least until I get to the place where I am saying to myself, “What am I going to do with THIS?” Or, “There has to be a better solution to this problem than this meager outcome!”

And so I experiment . . . .or do ‘studies.’ Many artists I know believe the studies or experiments to be a waste of time and materials. In my opinion, failures or lackluster results are our constant companions in the pursuit of good art. It is these kinds of outcomes that frustrate us and awaken the curious artist to new methods or approaches or, the thirst for growth.

I recently visited the website of Scott Christensen, a master painter. On one of his pages, this quote appears . . . . .

“Nature does not capriciously scatter her secrets as golden gifts to lazy poets and luxurious darlings, but imposes task when she presents opportunity.” Edgar Payne

Opportunity is with us artists constantly. How can we ignore the siren of successfully answering that opportunity with good painting? We can’t. What’s more, we must constantly try new ways, new subjects and build our skills with executing values, colors, edges, techniques and designs. Any one of these things is worth years of study!

Simply put, we must constantly step away from the projects to accomplish good practices and set up our growth to the next tier of skill. I repeat: Constantly. It is a part of the pulse of the artist’s life. In this game, ‘good enough’ just isn’t good enough. We must always reach for better.

Yesterday’s piece was one of those quickie experiments . . .to use an orange toned canvas and paint thin to allow that orange to show through in key places. This was a one hour test. Here is the outcome. There are parts I ignored, such as foreground textures and shapes, just to see what would happen IF I completed the test or experiment.

My studio is full of ‘experiments.’ In fact, most everything I do is an experiment. If I have that attitude about every painting, then the fear of failure escapes me and I make new discoveries about my work.

Priceless !!

Another Plein Air Attempt

“Rincon Cove”

oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16

Today held another plein air attempt.

I suppose I can always be counted upon to pick the most complex subject to paint. There are certain things I am drawn to . . . . rocks and water have never failed to hold my interest, but to smite me with their subtle lighting changes, striations and reflections. Here I am supposed to be making paintings to provide to the museum . . .and what do I do? I choose something that has challenged me since I began painting. Nope! Don’t pick an easy one. Go for the stuff that’ll beat me up if I don’t get it right.

Chalk up another one.

For some reason, the image does not upload. Maybe it broke the camera? Do ya suppose it is trying to save me embarrassment?

Finally got it to upload. Here is the effort. I had fun, but I didn’t get that delightful “kick” when a great one comes along.

Oh Yeah! That’s Better!

“Ice Tower”
Oil on canvas panel, 12″ x 16″
Here on the California coast we have a succulent plant that grows along the cliff edges (and inland, too). It turns all colors of red, orange, rose, brilliant green and has beautiful yellow blossom. I am sure it has a latin name, but the common name is “Ice Plant.” I guess you might be able to see the reason for the title.
This piece felt soooo much better than yesterday. I think I might have been to tired to really do a good painting yesterday. I also remembered a few things today that I had forgotten yesterday. This painting was FUN! It went together nicely. I am always disappointed, however, in the photos. So, I guess I will need to begin studying photoshop so I can put these guys up in the way they really look. There are alot of subtle tones and tints which have disappeared in this photo, but you get the idea.

New Tricks

“Surf Roost”

oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
I had to summon up my watercolor experience to make this painting have a little life . . . .that is the spray and droplets hanging in the air after the wallop of a wave against the base of the rock. Splattering paint . . .even though a simple trick was a necessary technique to bring this piece to a finish. The dark-light contrast of the spray holds the eye into the region I wanted the viewer to concentrate on. While there are birds roosting on the far rock, they are NOT the subject. The sheer drop and color of the rock and how it sits in the water is the subject of this painting. If I had wanted to make the painting about the birds, they would have occupied way more space . . . . .that is they would have been much larger and in a different spot on the canvas. This one was fun! (Aren’t they all??)

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?

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.

Quick Color Experiment

“Sunset i”
oil on linen panel, 6″ x 8″
This is a quick color experiment. Just ten minutes and schmearing on the paint. It is reminiscent of a late afternoon plein air trip a few weeks ago. Looks yummy in a frame becasue the contrast of dark versus light is so strong. Fun to do. Am going to try more.

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. 🙂