The Power of Practice

“Golden Morning”
oil on canvas panel, 16″ x 12″
This scene, one I worked on over and over while in France, is out of the images left in my mind.

Yes. It was composed and painted completely from my thoughts about what it should look like. First, the pencil sketches came while mulling over my morning coffee without visual reference to any of the previous attempts done on site. Then there were the considerations that came with the sketches. Those considerations would never have come had I not painted similar scenes in plein aire while there. Here are some of my thoughts about composing this.

· The hay rolls must provide direction for the eye to track into the composition and not become a subject in themselves.
· Color !! Is GREEN the only color to work with?! Too much green is simply too obvious!
· Color again! Why not use colors that wouldn’t otherwise be seen? Pump it up and see what happens. Look for impact and entertainment versus realism.
· Those poplar trees! They speak to me. Feature them, not the sunflowers below.
· As for the sunflowers, just make them one shape with minor color variation.
· Put the color accents on the poplars and repeat those colors in the foreground for unity.
· Texture in the foreground to indicate grasses, but without stating “grass” explicitly. Imply!
· Use the successful parts of previous paintings.

When I stand in a field and paint a subject such as this, my attention is focused on what is there and how the light is working. That focus makes memory connections that no photograph can make. That is why so many photos go unused after coming home. There just is no concentrated, laser observation at work.

Then there is the added benefits of painting the same subject from different perspectives or points of view . . . .which make for different compositions. The more I do it, the more there is to recall . . . .and the more clarity I find in my purpose. I suppose that practice does that. It helps eliminate the superfluous and aids in refining that which impresses me. In this case, those beautifully shaped poplar trees . . . .and, of course, the light.

In the studio, all this stuff comes into play and falls easily into place.

Practice does that. It makes every attempt clearer, more certain and easier to execute. Some artists call it working in series. It is very, very powerful!

Another Experiment . . .

Water based oil experiment
on gessoed masonite . . 10″ x 10″
Just before departing for Europe in a week, I am toying with the idea of carrying water mixable oil paints with me. I had never used or tried those that I purchased for the same reason last year . . . and left in a drawer. I obtained a sample of the fast drying medium made by WN “Artisan” water mixable oils and went to work.
In less than 40 minutes I laid down a grisaille in ultramarine blue and white, then overpainted with color, using just a warm and cool of each primary (and white). Also, I tried two new brushes . . .mongoose bristle . . .which is sort of an inbetween bristle between sable and hog bristle. I like what the brushes leave behind and their softer feel. More play and experiments are called for, but so far I like what I see.
I found the paints to be fun to use, but it took a little getting used to a somewhat gummy feel at times . . . .I would expect this without the lovely buttery feel of oil saturated paint.
This is, by no means, a good painting . . . .but it was an effort for the day and a revealing exercise about a variation on a medium. For international travel, I think these paints will be just fine! And I won’t have to hassle buying materials on the other end (where every place and art supplie are unfamiliar) that are prohibited on airplanes. I may even take them out here to see what they’ll do under real circumstances.

Back At Last


“Elkhorn Wetlands”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
As you may know, I have been busy preparing and teaching a color workshop in San Jose, California. The energy and preparation for such an enterprise is no quickie deal. So, I have not been posting . . .and with a family wedding and guests here, also.

At last, I am back at it . . . into the great outdoors and painting.

Yesterday, I spent a wonderful afternoon with a friend wandering all over the county looking for a painting site out of the coastal fog and wind. What we ended up doing was painting the wetlands of Elkhorn Slough. This is another location where one could spend a lifetime painting for all the light changes, scenery, color, wildlife etc. But, we spent so much time talking we barely had enough time to paint.

I put my trusty EASYL, by Artwork Essentials, and an 8” x 10” canvas panel to the task in a slight breeze and went to work! As we began to paint, the sun came out of the fog and the colors began to dance. It was a great day!

What’s an EASYL, you ask? Look at the link. It is a terrific pochade box that every oil painter should own . . . .even watercolorists would like this guy!

I spent a good part of the painting forcing myself to consider temperature as a device for showing volume and depth. From a bad experience a few weeks ago, I learned a tough lesson . . . . color temperature is much more exciting than extreme value contrasts. I tend toward the latter aspect of color and must force myself to think in the terms of warm and cool. It just doesn’t come naturally to me. My wonderful wife, Diana, loves the painting . . . . . .which is a testament to my efforts. (She is surprisingly perceptive!)

A Reconciliation

“Ice Plant Droop” Reconciled
oil on stretched canvas, 24″ x 30″
This painting has been under attack daily since I first posted it a few days ago.
There was much to resolve . . . . . .”It is hard to drain the swamp when you are up to your ass in aligators!” says the silly proverb . . . .but it is true. When attempting to correct something which has to do with design, one needs to not be distracted by subject. But, alas, I was once again.
Then again, I needed to resolve some significant color issues so that all parts of the piece related. Here are a few items I modified;
  • Gathered together some of the big “blotches’ of ice plant to form a single large shape.
  • Attempted to create more of a green dominance in the ice plant to set up the red contrasts.
  • Worked on temperature variations throughout the entire piece.
  • Related one cliff face to the other via color and value.
  • Reduced the sweetness of the background trees by graying them considerably.
  • Attemted to set up more of an atmospheric sense in the entire painting via gradations, intensity modifications and reduced value contrasts as the viewer moved back into the picture space.
  • Warmed up the forground cypress bush from cold alizirin crimson to a warmer harmonic of colors using alizirin as a base and adding yellow and green for warmth.

There are plenty more things . . .and I noticed that I don’t think particularly clearly when I am unsure of what to do next . . .this painting was entirely from a sketch without photo references or being on the site.

This one has been waking me from slumber, too. I just had to get it done!

Big Mistakes . . . .Again !!

“Above The Rancho”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
Uncorrected and Corrected
Two days ago I didn’t post. I had been plein aire painting with a friend in a new painting location that was beyond description. It was high up with a view for miles and miles in all directions. Huge, massive pieces of agricultural land that reached right to the sea. Clusters of dark trees surrounding a few farm houses stuck out and called for my attention. So, I climbed up, set up ‘camp’ and started in painting. I debated about putting up an umbrella because it was windy . . .not bad, but bad enough to say to heck with it. Biiiiig Mistake !!!

I was firing on all cylindars as I painted away . . .stuff was going together on the canvas rapidly. Within 2 hours, I was ready to call it quits, load up the car and head out. So, we did.

Getting to the car, I pulled the painting out to look at it in the shade. Wham !!! It hit me that my mistake was one I should have seen coming . . .in fact, I KNEW BETTER !

I had overdone the darks and mid-tones. So much so, that the dark shadowy areas were nearly black. Areas and shapes that should have been in a dark middle value had accelerated to the dark side, too! When you paint in the direct sun, the colors appear more washed out . . .the painter naturally compensates without consciously seeing that every mark is much darker than they should be. I have done this countless times and cuss myself for falling into the trap again.

The second mistake was not paying attention to color temperature as a means to show light and shadow. Again, I knew better. Instead, I was slamming the darks as pure value tones.

I awoke that night in the middle of the night and almost sat bolt upright in bed . . . .(why do realizations have to appear in mid sleep in the wee hours ? Why ?!!) . . . .I was visualizing what I should have done . . . .I should have used more blues to indicate shadowed areas . . . .cool out of the light and warm in the light (on a sunny day) ! sheeesh! How long does it take to make this a habit ??

The last mistake was to ignore the mistake. This morning I awoke telling myself to ‘git into the studio and fix it!” This little compulsion is the part of me that others call ‘self discipline.’ I don’t call it that. I HAD TO SEE if I was right in my mid snooze epiphany.

I think I was. I won’t again work sans umbrella . . . .and I’ll be more watchful of color temperature instead of absolute value. Clearly, Mistakes are the best teachers . . .if we pay attention.

Still on the Easel

Awaiting Final Color Decisions
I began this larger piece yesterday because I have been craving larger work. This piece is 24 x 30, which still comes up ‘small’ for where I want to go . . . .I want to push 60 inches eventually.

But . . .that is not what I came here to discuss . . . this time it is color. As you can see I have been doing some color gymnastics in the last few weeks and am excited about making some unusual color choices. However, I am concerned about this piece and the colors I chose . . . .that is why it is still on the easel. So, I am stirring this one around in my head . . . .and pacing . . . . and scratching my head. I think the colors in the cypress trees, in this case, are wrong. I am not sure if it is the value of the small, bush like cypress in the foreground, or the violet / ‘periwinkle’ color of those in the back ground.

I am attempting to set up some extreme aerial perspective here . . . .and much of it is working . . . . .but this painting is rattling inside of me for some reason. . . .and I can’t quite put my finger on it yet. I would be most interested in your toughts.