A Second Attempt

Self Portrait 2
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
This is the second attempt and far more finished than the first. I went to bed unsatisfied with the last one and had some different ideas on how to modifiy it . . . .among them more glazing.
The goals were the same to show the light pattern on the face rather than playing with details. One thing has become clear: to paint portraits well, the artist had better know how to use color extremely well. For this application, I have much to learn. This time I took my time and was much more considered in my moves. Surely you can see the differences from the two posts ago.

Resolving an Incubating Painting

“Yellow”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches
After sitting quietly covered in a corner of my studio for almost 9 months, I have finally resolved and finished the complex painting, “Yellow.”

I have been preparing for another workshop to be given to the Sierra Watercolor Society this coming week. Intense preparation work such as I have been doing for the last several days triggers deeply anchored urges to paint. Making visual aids and pulling already painted examples together is an almost mindless task. When I moved the cover aside and discovered this painting still waiting (yes, discovered is the right word. I had nearly forgotten it.) for me to resolve the problems. I pulled it out of it’s hiding place and looked at it. Suddenly the solution struck me: It was that relationship thing again. Colors and values had gotten away from me! There was so many parts in this painting that, while needed to support the overall idea, their relationships to each other had to be revised.

The buildings and banners against the large wall had to drop back in aerial perspective and required much closer value intervals ( less contrast.) The purity of the color of the middle ground had to be preserved in order to hold the eye. The yellows needed to ‘yelp’ but had to also fit with the rest of the painting. The signal in the upper right corner was too distracting and had to be toned down, yet brought forward. Shadows needed darkening and an overall value pattern / composition had to be established.

With the help of a violet gray glaze over some areas, shadow darkening in places, a little bit of judicious lifting, edge softening and refining and tonality adjustments in some of the yellows, the eye moves through the painting in a very predictable and satisfying way. There is balance in the piece now and a sense of belonging of all the parts. This one was a tuffy!! (At least, I think so now . . . . maybe it will be different in a month or so.)

Painting Relationships

“Life on the Edge”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches
New painters are usually held in absolute hypnotic focus on the details of a subject. That seems to end in frustration most often. That frustration comes when ‘something isn’t quite right’ and the painter cannot identify what it is.

It usually has to do with relationships. What relationships, you ask?

How red might behaves next to green will be different than how it behaves next to, say for example, violet. How one value reads next to a darker value might be quite different in how it might read next to a more medium value. In other words, everything in every painting reads in the context in which it lies. If a triangle shape is the only triangle in a group of many circles, the triangle will seem way out of place, or will absolutely draw the eye due to its’ difference. (contrast!)

As I was painting this piece, the tops of the dark cypress (seen over the edge of the ridge and between the face of the big bluff) they drew the eye away from the focal point at the top left of the painting. Not good! So . . .how to fix it? It was merely a value relationship problem: the bluffs were lighter in value then . . .I had established a contrast that wasn’t consistent with the rest of the painting. Darken the cliff face . . .and keep the color contrasts at a minimum . . .was the solution.

Several difficulties like this arose all through this painting. The beach and the edges along the foam and sand were dangerously distracting the eye, also. Again, value differences and sharply defined edges (sudden value changes) pulled the eye away from what was important in the painting. The beach is meant as a quiet area to rest the eye, not attract it. The white of the foam had to be calmed, the edges blurred, the values brought closer were all slight but significant adjustments that were needed for all the different pieces in that area to relate and act as a whole, rather than individual parts.

Contrasts are what make a painting work, but building harmonies with them and setting up transitions and gradations between contrasts is a great challenge. It goes beyond painting “things” and “details.” As artists, our charge is to paint relationships.

Digging in For Better

“Big Boy”
Watercolor, 15 x 22 inches
Well, here is this morning’s effort. Yes, I have accomplished the need to create a greater feeling of enormity by setting up scale comparisons with the background suggestions, the palms and the little cars. It is much more difficult to suggest rather than delineate (at least for me). The urge to describe something like the little cars more fully is something I must constantly resist. After all, when seeing a car from the distance show in this painting, they would be nothing more than a mere shape. (Gotta give up what we think we know, right?)

As for the lighting . . .I sorta got it, but feel that I could have been less timid. I wanted a yellow / orange sky, but for the life of me, I couldn’t get the superstructure of the ship to read as white when I put the shadow. The actual image in the photo reveals that structure to be quite dark against a light sky. That’s no problem, but the colors proved difficult . . .so I resorted to warm light / cool shadows with warm reflected light in the shadows . . .what I know from landscape painting. I guess I have to dig some more. . . . this is the last of this ship for now. I have to work on my “Miroir d Eau” painting. I am planning to use that as a demo in some upcoming workshops. Wish me luck!

Back to The Drawing Board . . .Literally

This morning I couldn’t get to the studio quickly enough. Yesterday’s painting had so many things WRONG that I was chomping the bit to make some sense of this subject.

When I thought about it, I had to ask WHY was I painting this subject . . .(the big ship) ? It was the immensity of it that grabbed me, then the light and how that golden morning set colors into a different world. It sure as heck is NOT about the details or correctness of the ship.

So, back to the sketch book! . . . . and to play with some color ideas. The reason for the color investigations is that the superstructure of the bridge of the ship is white . . .but against the sky in that light it was actually quite dark. So, how do I put that rascal in the painting, make it dark, and still get it to read as white? Now there is a question for you!

To get this painting on the right track, for once I actually have had to resort to perspective and vanishing points. I need to exaggerate the perspective to make the blocky nature of the bridge of the ship more interesting. It’s a shape thing !

Then I MUST put scale to work. So, I have decided that rather than having a path in a park like I had yesterday, I should put in a road with cars travelling on it . . . .and the comparison of those . . .and a few palms . . .will send a clear message of enormity.

It has taken me several sketches to come to these conclusions. I can feel it now. I am getting closer. Now that I have this in mind, I must decide on technique to fit the mood. I still have more decisions to make and challenges to resolve. Does this EVER get easy???

Practice Matters

practice sheet
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches
I have a friend in Myrna Wacknov. She is a fellow watercolor painter, teacher and a likeness of me in her art habits. So What, you ask? She practices a lot.

Check her blog out and look back at the incredible amount of practice and challenge she puts to herself. Her recent article about the value of value studies talks about her struggles with them, but it reveals an aspect of her character: that she is determined to conquer the most basic elements and decisions prior to making a painting. Do you suppose that is why she has so many successes over and over again?

Looking at the last few posts here, you know I am working on this one idea of a lot of figures in a single scene.

So, the mood must be set properly. The lighting (values) and the figure movement and placement must be right. That is a sure set up for becoming neurotic and tight in the painting process. This image needs to be loose and free to go along with the mood of the piece.

I am lousy at painting figures, (but getting better every time I do it). I need to be better at the gesture with a brush in making the figure. I need to practice until it is second nature.

No pouting allowed, Mike. Practice it until you get good at it. Just like throwing a ball. No good at first, but the skill can be developed. I am only interested in using a big brush and laying down a simple few marks to indicate a moving figure. No details.

This could take WEEKS !! Really! Yes, it IS that important to me. Practice matters.

This piece of practice was a 45 minute exercise with 3 sizes of figures, using three different sized brushes: a ¾ inch flat, a one inch flat and a 1 ½ inch flat. All for the want of simple, direct moves . . . .flicks and twists of the brush to indicate human movement and mood.

I often remember my learning process in the skill of handwriting as a child. You probably remember, too, how much practice it took to become nearly unconscious as you make the letters now. Practice matters.

Today’s Efforts

No title, yet
The goal today was to begin to equalize values across the painting . . .as stated in yesterday’s post. Another 15 thin glazes were added and some corrections in a few places. As the glazes progessed, there is a noticable intensity difference in the large orangish shape . . . particularly near where the white shape is crossed by one line. There are some exposure difficulties keeping the actual image from revealing itself . . . such as the upper left corner appearing much darker than it really is.
Line was a missing element that began to be introduced and, in so doing, divided space for more interest. I am still not sure of where this is going or how it will turn out, though I have acquired some general intetions about it at this point.
This is an entirely different exercise for me since there was absolutely NO planning at all. The entire abstraction is derived from making random marks. More work will happen tomorrow . . . . . . .and I will attempt to fix the exposure difficulties. Am working with a different photo set up and need to adjust the lighting.
More tomorrow.

Finding Balance

“Flotsam
Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
This painting kept me challenged for the best part of 2 days. Admittedly, it gave me fits. The angst came from building the value contrast from left to right with the strong, dark reflection on the far right shore of this beach pond. The brilliant light on the left opposing that reflection on the right caused serious balance difficulties. The rivulets at the bottom of the painting took a few hours to design in order to lead the eye into the painting and provide an interesting abstraction. You wouldn’t believe how much eventually was scrubbed out of this piece in order to get it to behave . . .it may take me a few days before I actually decide if it is a show piece or not.

The far shore is what this piece is about. Every thing else in the painting is supposed to lead the eye to that point. Click on the painting to expand it so you can see what’s happening there. Hopefully, the monitor resolution is good enough to make out the color detail there. The stark value contrasts there and the edges keep the painting in balance (I hope!). It took nearly six different attempts and glazes to dial it in.

I have been on a tear to paint lately, since I have another show coming up, which has a theme of water flowing to the sea. So, I am painting big, strong pieces in hopes that a few will be show worthy. This is a welcome break from the web work on my website last week. If you haven’t seen the new site, check it out here.

Another Incubation / Reconciliation

“Misty Brilliance II”
Oil on canvas, 24″ x30″
Back in July, (scroll back to July 17 and 21), I attempted this painting, “reconciled” it, then set it aside. I wasn’t happy with a number of different aspects . . . . . .color being one of them. I had let the colors get merky from not wiping my brush often enough. Also, both of the July versions seemed broken up to me. Neither version flowed to a center of interest . . . and there was a perspective problem.
Beginning early this morning, I tackled it again . . .and this time I scored. The photo here is not quite how it looks. There are a few extra edges in the photo that don’t appear in the painting. Go figger dat!! The painting, however, has the brilliance I was after in the foreground and the spacial separation between the two bluffs. I am also pleased with the atmospheric sensation of the sun breaking through the fog. This time, it is going into a frame!
Never say die!!

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!