Rocks in My Head

“Rocks In My Head”
15 x 22 Inches, Watercolor

For as long as I can remember in my painting life, painting rocks and water has been an endless fascination. Reflections, currents, textures, shapes, and the contrasts between granite and fluid draw me into a state of which I cannot describe.

I remember the day well. I had risen from breakfast to go outdoors to paint. The weather was perfect. But where should I go? There was so much from which to choose. Then it struck: rocks in the river!!!!!! I couldn’t get to the car fast enough!!! It wasn’t long before my shoes were wet and I was assembling my easel as fast as my hands could move.

In reviewing the paintings made in Yosemite, this week, with a friend, I commented that I got the same overwhelming calm and simultaneous excitement when I was fishing at the edge of a small river or creek. I have experienced that feeling since I was a little boy and can remember well being at a certain spot when I was six years old picnicking with my parents.

Then there are the towering rocks of Yosemite. When I am there, they fill my dreams. And I like very much the sheer fun of painting bizarre designs from sketches and memory. In those paintings I allow myself the freedom to Play. While at creek side, however, I am swept up in all the dazzling light, the movement of the water and the glory of the fresh air and wildness of it all. It seems to me that I could no more shift into the ‘play’ mode there than to fly.

But put me into the studio without distractions . . . . .anything can happen . . . .and that is for another post.

Using Opaques with Watercolor

Watercolor, 22 x 15 inches

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I have been fooling around with opaques. Namely, I have been using gouache in addition to using the transparent pigments in the same painting. The opaques have been used separate from the transparents to provide a subtle contrast. For example, the tree in the foreground uses gouache in foliage. While this helps the foliage stand off the underlying colors and values, it also has the effect of making the tree advance in the space . . . .or seem as though it is standing freely in space.

In addition, the opaques are used in parts of the sky to lend the atmospheric effects and the effects of diffuse light. Obviously, there is much much more to learn with these pigments and the ideas are literally keeping me awake at night! That is the exciting part of being an artist! The newness never seems to wear off . . . . .there is excitement at every turn for me. Many of my blog readers know me and can vouch for my enthusiasm over painting. It seems just as boredom begins to lurk, some new idea comes up and springs me into action . . . .and then the energy kicks in and I am off and running to paint a bunch of new pieces.

The last several paintings on this blog have employed the use of opaques in a variety of places. Maybe you can see where. Or better yet, why not come by the studio this weekend to see, in person, the paintings. As you already know, it is open studio weekend join us!!!

Sometimes I play

“Bottom of the Dome II”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches

Sometimes I Play . . . .

So, but now, you know I am having Open Studio this coming weekend and the net weekend from 10AM to 5PM (Oct 9,10 and 16,17) . . . .

You also know I have been painting a lot these last two weeks when I should be doing chores . . . .but I am finished with that stuff for now. So, it is time to PLAY!! Yes, you read it right: P L A Y!

My form of play has to do with challenging myself to some outrageous (maybe not this time) or challenging art “reach.” What I mean by “reach” is to do something I do not normally do . . . .in other words, try something new and different, where I have to reach to make it work.

I learned to reach when I did a series of 100 + still life paintings, all of the same set up and same point of view. The project forced me to focus on doing something other than copying the subject. Namely, to concentrate on shape, color, value, texture and line instead of the subject itself. My challenge typically is to narrow down some aspect of one or more of those jest mentioned elements. For example, instead of copying what something looks like, such as a tree, I will take on the challenge of shape design through the entire painting.

In this painting, shape design was definitely at the top of the list, as was line. I set out to use line as a source of entertainment and to make flat, angular shapes. A ‘good’ shape is not symmetrical and has a notable direction. Each shape bounded by the orange lines follows those two ideals. There is more to it, though; something enters the equation called “dominance.” In this case as you examine the outlines of each shape, there is an angular nature to all but a very few. That angular characteristic adds a familial similarity to all the shapes which brings about a sense of belonging . . . . . . .often referred to as repetition, this aspect of angularity ‘dominates’ the overall picture space. Had this aspect been left to be random, chaos would have ensued and the painting would have had a confused look about it. There is room for a few shapes with gentle curves, which add some subtle contrast and interest to the repeated character of the shapes.

This was simply plain fun to paint! The dazzling color, the hyped up contrast of color against dark, the zippy and often vibrating red orange line and the passage of blue violet through the piece excites the eye in many ways. I had done a piece like this a year ago and caught myself mentally revisiting what I had done. I caught myself hopping up and down with excitement as this piece neared completion.

Sometimes, you just have to play.

On Composing

Preliminary Sketches
Composition Idea
Figuring the Large Shapes

The demo in my last post came out well. In my humble artistic opinion, it had less to do with the act of painting and a heckuvalot more to do with the initial planning and composing.

I won’t say that “anyone can copy what they see” because that is simply not true. But seeing is not always the best means of making something extraordinary out of a bunch of ‘things.’ Namely, trees, cliffs, colored succulent, rocks etc. It is much more a task of arrangement of shapes, shapes, values, colors, textures etc. It is in the arranging or composing those elements together that wonderful things happen.

It begins in the early sketches and assessing those sketches for design flaws, then, re-doing the sketches to account for the flaws, re-assessing and making still more changes. In that assessment process, I find that I must remove my thoughts from the subject and move to considering how the various shapes combine to form three to five large shapes and how those large shapes interrelate with the rectangle of the canvas or paper on which the painting is made.

That recent demo (last post) went through this very process. Once I was happy with the large shapes which connected the edges of my rectangle, I could insert and fit the ‘reality’ of the subject into it. It took some cramming, shortening, shrinking, expanding, squeezing, eliminating, adding . . . .well . . . .you get the idea . . . .the subject had to fit into the composed arrangement of large light and dark shapes. Looking at the sketch above, it boils down to an abstraction that is interesting to look at in its own right.

For you painters who are less experienced, the large dark shape that sprawls across this page is actually a combination of many items . . .trees, grasses, succulents, rocks, etc. It is in the act of painting that the artist must use caution and value control to insure that the large dark shape is still expressed through that combination of ‘stuff.’

It may seem like hard work to those who “just want to paint.” But, I believe that the disappointment which most often follows rushing into a painting is a big price to pay. . . . .especially, when we artists put our treasured sweat and tears into the act of painting. It is worth the effort and time to work out the composition first, then set about getting it all on to canvas or paper.

Disdain for the Ordinary

“Sentinel Autumn”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
I suppose it is possible to tell much about a person by the way he paints and the paths he or she chooses. In fact, in my own case, it seems my disdain for ordinary work is written all over me and my work (at least, I hope my work shows that!)
There are many paintings out there of the same tired subjects. Half Dome in Yosemite is, perhaps, an icon, but it is also in soooo many paintings that I try to avoid it. That isn’t to say that it is a bad thing to paint. Again, it is HOW it is painted . . .NOT WHAT was painted.
Looking back at my last post, speaking about having the paint speak up as paint and not something else, that really is another comment about avoiding the obvious.
Sentinel Rock in Yosemite drew my attention for most of the week there . . .and I painted it multiple times. This time, I worked at letting the granulation of the pigment speak up. (click on the image to see it). The tall rock was shaped somewhat like this, but that is where the reality gave way to the paint and let the paint make its statements.
There are one or two more pieces to post from that trip. They’ll appear soon.

Color Play, Too.

“Sentinel Flats”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

I have a goofy, abstract side as well as a side of me that loves the implied realism which emerges when all of the elements and principles of design optimally meet.

That means that for ‘reality’ to emerge contrasts can’t get too far out of hand, shapes must be designed but recognizable, values must have their transitions and appropriate assignments. (by assignments, I mean that the dominant value of a region in the painting must have a dominance which seems to emulate reality.) And, of course, color has it’s place, too. Good color harmonies and gradations make all the difference in a well executed painting.

But!!! . . . . . .there are times when the playful side of me screams to get out. And . . .when that happens, just about anything will show up. In this case, it was more of what I had done earlier in the week at Yosemite. While Sentinel Rock was right out my back door, it’s shape is recognizable from all over the valley floor . . .and above the valley.

With sketchbook in hand in the mornings, I would draw from my previous sketches or paintings and redesign shapes . . .reorient their placement on the page . . .exaggerate or play down some shapes in order to call attention to something special. Set the values so the overall composition worked well, then set about painting it.

I just HAD to Play with color, too! Using a rigger brush with pure Perinone Orange (a brilliant red orange), I lined out all the shapes completely eliminating detail. Focus on shape, value and color. Period. Painting the inner parts of the outlined shapes in opaque gouache, holding down the intensity of the colors until the center of interest, where I played up the saturation, this was the outcome. Yep! It’s different, but definitely Yosemite.

By the way, if shape design is of interest to you, check out Peggy Stermer Cox’s blog (click here). (Check out her “Still Life with A Pony” images. What she does to keep a whisper of reality, yet make shapes leap out of the page is worthy of your time to go look. We could all learn much from her!

“Royal Arches”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

Depending on who you talk to, SIZE is an element of design. Size actually means “scale” or “Proportion” or “Measure.” That is to say in order for the eye to assess how large something is, there must be comparative objects or sizes to measure against.

We all ‘know’ how big a human being is (roughly) or the size of most trees. When we see a very tiny pine tree next to a large cliff face, we get a sense of the proportion of the cliff side. It is through clues like this that we artists are somewhat able to communicate that sense of enormity.

In this painting (on site in Yosemite) the scene is in the meadow near the Royal Arches. Those arches appear in the cliff side of the rock which stands straight out of the meadow and snuggles close to the very recognizable Half Dome. One simply cannot imagine the size of that cliff side without comparative objects nearby.

So, here is the attempt. In the early morning, the sun rises behind Half Dome and projects its light onto the face of the arches. It is an amazing . . . .and nearly overwhelming sight! To paint it . . . .that is another story entirely. It sure made me feel like a teensy little ant!!

Two Versions

“Downstream Autumn”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches
“Bottom of the Dome”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
There is a park in California called Yosemite National Park. If you have been there, you KNOW that it touches the soul. If you have never been, it must be put on your ‘bucket list’ to go before the end of your life. If you go, you will, no doubt return. One cannot help but be struck with awe by witnessing the immensity of the granite walls.

I just finished spending a week there . . . .painting. The images I have posted during October were of that place. My heart and mind were already making paintings long before I went there. As a result, I had ideas for experiments and trials of different painting approaches when I arrived.

One was to use bright red orange line through a painting to define flat shapes. Another, of course, was to paint en plein air the beautiful Autumn foliage.

At the river bottom, under the shadow of the massive half dome, I painted some reality on my first day . . .and dreamt of the orange line idea for a few nights before springing from bed early one morning to dash out the idea. I rather like the imapact of the pure hues and tints against the near black ridge in the abstracted version. Impactful. But the other version offers a significantly different mood. . . . . A restfulness, I suppose.

It matters not. What matters is the idea was carried out. In later posts I will show similar ideas tried . . . .which offerred interesting discoveries.

It was a wonderful, magical trip with lots of revelations to ponder and try.

Overcoming Big Design Errors

“Blowhard II”
watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
It never fails . . .or, so it seems. When I think I know what I am going to do . . .and begin without a substantial plan . . . . .I end up digging myself out of substantial design problems.

D’ya suppose there is a relationship there?

Okay, okay! The tree part is where I put all the plan time, but the rest of it got the best of me for a good while. First off, after the painting was blocked in and I had established the darks of the tree mass, it occurred to me I would be making two, not one, but two different paintings on the same piece of paper. I had divided the paper right across the midline of the page. Ouch!! As well, I had put a number of small shapes together slightly left of center, which crossed over the dividing line.

Oh NO!!! oh yes! Not only did I need to find a way out of the space division, but also I had created a large to small contrast well away from the center of interest (upper right) and set up a competition for attention. Gads!!

That entire ‘shelf’ on which the trees stood had to be broken in some way and I had to figure a way to have that big dark value bleed down well beyond the ‘shelf’ line so I would have a large, prominent dark holding a large chunk (more than half) of the paper real estate. I had to sponge off a bunch of pigment to obliterate the small shapes then use that space to create an addition to the large dark (the trees). So I did.

All of that has taken almost five days to bring to conclusion. There is a lesson here: Plan First. And not just in the mind. Make drawings and studies first. It seems like the long way, but it really is the shorter way.

Disappearing Act

“Flat Foot”
Oil on stretched canvas, 16 x 20 inches
This scene is a familiar one to me. I used to park at the end of this long spit of rock, in my car, when I was an older teen, to neck with my girlfriend. The road went all the way out to the end. Since then, much has been lost. And even recently, the sea eats away at this spectacular chunk of rock and sandstone.

This subject has been attempted before, several times, but this time my senses were able to add some interest by allowing some colors to be present that most folks would never associate with this grayish rock. Instead, I figured, let’s entertain the viewer. That’s the really cool part of being a painter. I can make that rock look any way I want it to appear. Hope you like it.