Oil Brushwork

“Henry’s Purple Patch”
Oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
I am not sure this painting shows it off well . . .or that any of the others do either. The reason I am not sure, is that brushwork is actually ignored, infavor of no brushstrokes being evident, in watercolor. I am a watercolor painter learning painting. Yep~! Us artists are ALWAYS learning. Always on the lookout for another way to say what needs saying . . .(or to avoid it).
As an element of design, texture is right up there with Line, Shape, Value and Color. It is clearly visible and adds a sense of tactileness to a painting. In watercolor, one must work to obtain texture. It some cases, texture is almost an after thought. Not so with oil. No siree!! With oil, you get texture with every brush stroke! It is when texture is not wanted that a conscious effort must be made to eliminate it. Just the opposite from watercolor.
I have been scolded and complimented on “brushwork.” And it is the least able to be articulated verbally or in print in order to teach how to do it ‘well.’ It is perceived as good, or it isn’t. At least, that is my take on it. Swirls, swishes, schmushes, schlobs and plops all count in the brushwork world. Its when to and when not to that makes the difference (I think). Brushwork expresses texture and edges throughout the painting.
I suppose one must have a sense for aerial perspective to know when and when not to emphasize it . . . .is that correct? Anyone have any ideas about brushwork? Sometimes, I think I am coming to terms with it and it becomes automatic. Other times I catch myself wondering.
Painting these meadow paintings is giving me lots of practice and plenty of room to try stuff. I am learning that holding that long brush by the last end of the handle makes better brushwork. I am also beginning to consciously make an effort to make it all different . . .lots of variation. I know there are some who would argue that, but I sure am not informed about it.
So, here’s your chance, oil painters. Tell me bout it, if you can. I can’t say I am mystified, but I am not far from it.

Painting Wetlands

“Elkhorn Morn”
oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches
Here is another of the painting binge I have been on. Elkhorn Slough . . . .wetlands on the Monterey Bay in California. Just pull the car over and start painting! So much goes on here . . .wildlife everywhere of all kinds . . .birds, seals, sea otters, deer, . . . .and a few people.

As you can see, there is much to paint! Shapes, reflections, textures, shadows, lines . . . more experience to rack up (brush mileage). This was a wonderful day!

More Meadow

“Early Shadow”
oil on linen panel, 6 x 8 inches
“Cowell’s Vetch”
Oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches
I can’t stay away! I know that in a matter of days, all the purple flowers will be gone for the summer. A ranger, who has worked in this state park for 35 years has told me he has never seen such a crop as this year. The sheer size of the area covered with purple flowers is truly awesome.

Nature has a way of sprinkling lots of different yellow among the violet, too! What a place!

Standing in the same spot, there were paintings all around!

Painting Vetch

Vetch plant

“Near Roaring Camp”
oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches

“Cowell’s Meadow”
oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches
In the last ten days I have made four trips to a local meadow at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in California. The meadows there are overrun with “Vetch,” which is a plant in the pea family with violet colored blossoms. Spectacular would be to understate the colors and beauty of this meadow with interesting red tones, yellows and yellow greens against the violet swaths of vetch.

Beginning early in the morning (7 AM) I scramble to capture the light and the shadows. On this day (and every other day, so far) I have made two paintings. These two were completely different. The first, “Near Roaring Camp,” was a speedy study looking directly into the sun as the dew was glistening and the sun was coming over the edge of the trees. The light was changing fast so it was a race to capture the feeling.

By the time the second painting (“Cowell’s Meadow) was ready to start, it had become overcast. The light went from yellow orange to a cool gray with no shadows. Colors intensified and I was in painting heaven. I had moved to another location where there were greens to off set the violets and the slightly orange red grasses (an almost perfect secondary triad of color!). I took my time in the overcast, standing up to my hips in violet flowers with little bright yellow poppies at my feet.
I couldn’t wait to come back to paint. Watch this blog for more paintings from that site.

Walnut Tunnel

“Walnut Ave. Dappling”
oil on stretched canvas, 20 x 30 inches
SOLD
After three plein air sessions at Walnut Ave, it was time to do a large piece . . . .wellll . . . . . . . .let’s just say larger. By comparison, this piece is huge. But not as huge as a five footer.

This was another test for me . . . . A test to remain spontaneous and loose. My tendency is to get tight with my work, but I adore the looseness of both oil and watercolor as it enlists the viewer to employ the imagination.

The textures of the trees, the warm to cool transition, as the viewer goes down the ‘tunnel’ and all the color and edge variations in the shadows are the three things I had really concentrate on the entire time I was painting. It may seem silly, but I needed to take an athletic stance in front of the canvas and hold that long brush all the way at the end of the wooden handle. This painting was painted from my ankles up . . . .moving my entire body to lay in the strokes, sometimes. By the end of a six hour session, I was exhausted physically . . . . .but pleased with the outcome.

A few days later, what needed work was quite apparent. I attacked those areas with the same mental attitude of *suggesting* and *Implying* rather than explicit explanation.

After this painting was finished, I began to think I might be catching on to oil painting.

The Sketch and The Urge

“Almost There”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches
There are curious times for us artists. We have strange urges, sometimes. Those urges have to do with compelling images trying to come out.

This sketch has been in my sketch book for many months . . .probably a year. And every time I go near it, it calls to me. I could feel the emotion of it, but could not put my finger on the sort of color scheme I needed. Then, on a rare quiet moment, alone in my studio while in North Carolina last month, I could stand it no longer. Out came my largest flat brush and lots of reds. I painted furiously and put in the directions, big movements and large shapes. . . . .and I made some serious errors . . . .Edges for one. And there was one edge on a shadow which rode the edge of the path that simply came from bad judgment.

I kept the painting around for weeks. Looked and looked and looked at it without resolution. Then, today, I decided something had to be done . . . .that urge to complete it was nagging. There is no model or place to seek for correction. It is all an abstract notion that came into a sketch.

It sure isn’t much when it comes to being a fancy, recognizable place, but it sure does speak to me at a level I have yet to put my finger on. And in a mat, it just slays me!!

Do you suppose it’s the reds?

When is a Painting Finished?

“Park Guell”
watercolor 24 x 18 inches
When is a painting finished? The famous question for which there must be many, many answers has been asked by tens of thousands of painting students. If you begin a painting 8 years ago, stop and put it away, take it out this month and add the touches it needed badly . . . . is it considered a painting done recently? Or should it be considered a painting done 8 years ago?

I sure don’t have the answers to that question . . .or the one before that. I find that the more experienced I become (read as ‘older’) I can see many more ‘needs’ that an unfinished painting has. Perhaps it all has to do with the spirit of what you are trying to communicate. In this piece, it was the ‘jazz’ of the shapes and the location of Park Guell in Barcelona. I painted much of this painting with my great friend Montserrat at my side. . . .both of us talking, visitors coming by and making comments . . .great friendship in a great place busy at work with making art. Mind you, I said making art . . . .not copying what we saw. We were finding ways to make shapes fit together in interesting ways and to subdue and emphasize different things. Add patterns and textures where they weren’t in order to create interesting and compelling relationships among the parts of the painting.

I really did just finish this painting but a few weeks ago. And it really was in my flat file for nearly 8 years. It had been waiting for me to grow enough to see what needed to be done in order to make a successful painting. Because of the time spent with Montserrat (Muntsi) and the location, I could hardly scrap it 8 years ago. This painting says so much more to me than ‘a place I have been.’

Isn’t that really the reason we paint? . . .to capture a spirit? A feeling? A mood? I suppose the painting is finished when we look at the painting and can feel that spirit.

If you are interested, click on this link to see images of Park Guell . . .designed and built by Antonio Gaudi.

Another Shot At It . . .

“Floating Horizon”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches
After dreaming all night about yesterday’s painting, I still wasn’t satisfied. So I took another shot at it. Since I usually attack these paintings as an experiment, I went at it with multiple goals in mind.
I still haven’t captured the scale of the ship. I suppose I will have to put another boat in the piece for size comparison . . .or something that shows comparative measure. But I was able to reach a few of the goals I set out to accomplish.
This time I decided to reduce the size of the relective surface of the water (the white area) and to make it the center of interest, silhouette the bridge of the ship against the sky using value counterchange and to subdivide the large foreground shape using strong shadows from off the picture plane. And . . .I pushed the value contrasts to give the sense of distance to the ship and to enhance that reflection of light off the surface of the water.
I really worked at pushing the darks in this painting, also. As most watercolorists do, I have struggled with my darks over the years. It is imparative to make them full of color and to have them appear fresh. I think I may have a breakthrough in that area in this painting. It peculiar how we do the same things over and over and over again, then, one day, something clicks and we change. That happened this morning.
While I am also working hard at teaching value design to my classes, I figgered I had better put the lessons to work. I employed a very dark foreground shape to set up the contrast of light and medium values in the piece. (I wonder what the next one will look like.)

A Time to Do The Familiar

“Sand Slick”
watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
I am still smarting over the last post. While the “picture” is okay, as a painting it fails on a few counts. I am going to tackle it again, but first, I just HAD to do something for the sheer enjoyment.

Understand that I am always up for a challenge, but there are also times when it feels good to just whistle a melody and sling paint. I have done enough landscapes and sea paintings in my experience to feel very comfy in their execution. Some good music in the background, a rainy day, a cozy studio and away I go!!

So, here’s the latest. Don’t get your feet wet!

Blood, Sweat and Guilt

“Yellow”
Watecolor (unfinished) 22 x 30 inches
You may wonder what I am doing.

Truth known, I have been trying to finish a painting begun and painted 80% of the way last spring. It is still not done, but I am hard at work making adjustments. There are value revisions, temperature adjustments, edge modifications and all sorts of niggling things which need to be sorted out in this piece. As complex as it is, I may be flirting with the dreaded “overworked” look.

Having been again on the easel for a week, it is nagging my consciousness and am considering looking closely at it to see what I can learn from it and considering starting all over again.

Yes, you might well be correct. I might be nuts to do that. Something just isn’t singing out to me in this one,though. But I thought you’d like to see the progress and the struggles (and blood) of a suffering, frustrated painter attempting something far over his head.

I’ll let you in on another secret: It has been leaning against my studio wall since May (almost 6 months) 80% finished. I have been (yes, I am really saying this) reluctant to finish it for fear of ruining it. (There! I said it! The confession is out. Guilty !)

Finally, I had to face the truth: It can’t lean against the wall forever. It can’t go on unfinished; it would be worthless and end up in the trash. So, if that is where it is headed anyway, why not jump in knowing you might ruin it. It is already worthless!

So, here it is . . . .not quite resolved completely . . . .can you see my sweat and blood on it?