An Update

“Greyhound Rock”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
This painting is of a landmark north of here called Greyhound Rock. I have, as you probably already know, a fascination with the vivid colors of ice plant. On this day, however, the foreground ice plant was green . . .almost kelly green. So, taking artistic license, I chose to use different colors to help throw the focus up onto the rocks and sea. (By now you must be getting bored with this, but I can’t help myself!)

On another note, I should say THANKS to all who came to my open studio. Many artists, including myself, often measure the success of such an event in the numbers of paintings sold and the dollars brought in. I must take pause, however, this year for the obvious reasons relating to the economy, and make sure that I don’t drift too far into the mercenary mire of revenue versus artistic success.

Considering the financial climate we are all suffering, I had a fabulous open studio. The first weekend averaged about 130 visitors per day. The second wasn’t quite as well attended, but still, very worthwhile.

The studio was set up with several lessons that the lay person and artists alike would find to be interesting, such as a simple still life set up painted in 9 different color strategies to show how mood is often determined by the artist’s color choices. There was also a large board onto which I collaged (loosely) around 20 plus pencil sketches of preliminary studies. This board was next to two watercolor paintings (posted a few weeks ago) which were derived from those sketches. People found these displays fascinating . . . and the studio, too. ( Art studios are where mystical magic happens!) There was something for everyone from over 100 framed, original paintings on display around the property to the studio to the informative displays.

Open studios, as I reflect on it, are exciting and fun, like ‘open house’ kinds of parties . . . . . . . . .where friends and neighbors drop in, munch a little, chat, visit, update each other and eventually wander out refreshed and glad they came. This is similar, but there is much that happens in the way of expanded networking and being introduced to other artists and art events. In short, it is a function from which many new challenges and activities grow. Aside from selling nearly thirty paintings, this was a rich and enlivening experience. I could go on and on about the value (priceless!) of such events, but I shan’t bore you with my verbosity. Just know that with all the complaining about the amount of work, I will do it over and over again.

Thought you’d like to know how it went. If you came, thanks for coming. If you didn’t, I hope to see you next year!

Facing My Difficulties

“Ice Blankets”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
The colors of the ice plant on the sand dunes of nearby beaches has been a source of fascination to me for as long as I can remember. Vivid, intense colors combined with the near white sand and neutral decaying matter on the edges are a painters challenge for sure. Combining complementary colors (red and green) yields neutral grays. So, capturing the uniqueness of the comingling complementary colors in this ice plant makes for rich entertainment at the easel. I have attempted this subject many times in the past, but I come back often because of the difficulties I must overcome with the edges and colors.

Edges are key in this subject. Softer, lost edges don’t hold the eye. While sharper edges grab the viewer there must be a happy medium of the two. Blending the edges between colors is necessary ( I think), but, sometimes, I can get carried away and lose the brilliance I sought. It is all in the practice and learning, I suppose. When enough paintings have been done that one more doesn’t matter, then the artist does things without the worry of failure. That is why it is so important to paint often without concern for the outcome.

It seems I am gaining ground a little at a time. Sort of like climbing a sandy hill; up three steps and slide back two. Progress comes from repeated forward steps, each time with small (but significant) gains.

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!!

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!)

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.

Playing With Space

“Davenport Drop”

oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″

This weekend I spent a lot of time at the easel and on line studying one man’s paintings . . . . . Gregory Stocks . . .google him. His stuff is very well done. And it is well done because . . . .

In every painting there is a concise division of the picture space . . . .or division of space as it is called. I spent a few hours this morning wishing I could do the same . . .then with pencil in hand, I began sketching and **designing** some landscape scenes. What do I mean by designing? Well . . . creating from something already known but fitting something into a divided space. The horizon of the water in this little painting is at a very critical spot on the canvas. And not by accident. The right hand edge of the cliff is also dancing on another division. Notice that edge and the left edge of the painting make a square? Can you see it? (Look at the sketches above. The marks outside the edges of each sketch show the lines on which these lie. See the bottom center sketch.) There is another imaginary square whose lower left corner touches the upper right corner of the cliff. The large square and that little square were set up first before any “Things” or objects were put into the drawing. These two squares came from the GOLDEN MEAN. If you want to know more about that, Google it, too. Mr. Stocks uses it a lot in his paintings.

That space division seems to be a highly interesting set of proportions to us humans. I have no idea why, but the concept has been around since the ancient Greeks put it to use. Once you know of it, you will see it everywhere.

So, I did around 10 sketches this morning trying to put the golden mean to use . . .and force fit a subject into it . . . .then, with the challenge of using only a few simple colors . . . . . .Alizirin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Cad Yellow Medium and White . . .I set about avoiding the typical GREEN tree. I really like the freshness of this piece. I wasn’t concerned with details or things. Just colors and space and how I would fit it together.

It was fun! Yes, I did struggle a bit in the sketching. The trick is to not give up. The stuff is waiting inside of us. We just have to find the access to let it out . . . .and sometimes it takes a while.

Putting It Into Practice

“Cottonwood Homestead”
oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″
Putting all that study time into practice helps. But, if you are like me, your brain goes flacid the moment a brush is in your hand.
I dunno what it is, but this guy’s left brain ceases to communicate with the right brain once the painting act begins.
There are so many decisions to consider when the painting begins . . . .light over dark . . .no greens . . . .warm dominance . . . . .what will I do with that corner over there? . . . .and what about that building that is perfectly behind one tree so that its roof peak coincides with the tree trunk . . .gotta move it . . .and more and more and more.
This piece was to be a practice piece. I have more to go, obviously, but I really did learn something about layering progressively warmer and lighter schlobs over the thin darks this time. I had a blast with it. Enjoy!