Keeping Up With The Light

Morning light from behind the far cliff.

Early afternoon light

“Sharks Tooth Rock, AM”

oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″

When painting the ocean shore, specifically the bluffs or cliffs, it is a race to capture the light.

Since there is little color in these cliffs, much of it is left to the artist to create and decide how he wants to represent them. The light, however, is what makes a painting come to life. Lighting from behind, contra jour in French, is particularly challenging because in a short time, that which is backlit is fully illuminated. So, the painter must memorize or sketch the light and shadow . . . then stick by that for the entire painting session . . .which means there is little reference to paint from as the painter develops the piece. Hence, we paint in haste!

Yesterday, we spent another morning and part of an afternoon painting atop a high precipice above sharks tooth rock. The difference in light is noticeable in both these pix . . . .morning (11 AM) and afternoon (1 PM) . . . .notice the far cliff is backlit. This was fascinating because the edges of that dark slab of rock and sandstone were lit up like neon (halation). The striking part of the morning light was the difference in value of the two cliff faces, in the light and out.

P.S. It was absolutely glorious weather yesterday! I sooooo needed a break from framing and putzing . . .I just couldn’t let such a great day slip away.

Designing Compositions

“Pop’s Corner”
Watercolor, 22″ x 30″

A favorite pastime of mine is to create something from absolutely NOTHING. That is, make well designed, non objective paintings. This does not mean just sliming on the paint and hoping for a great outcome or waiting for a happy a accident to happen. It means carefully designing overall light shapes (groupings of light values) and placing that or those groupings into a context of other dark and medium valued shapes. Shape design (making appealing shapes) is at the center of this as is the consideration of the relative sizes of lights, darks and mediums. One value must dominate and the others be subordinate. (This is a huge factor in successful paintings). The character (e.g. organic, geometric, linear) of the shapes in context with others also is a consideration. Then direction / movement plays in as well. Once that is established, color and texture come into the scheme and must play out with the shapes and values to set an overall mood. In keeping with the mood, the artist must also decide how to hold the viewer’s attention with contrasts of various kinds . . .and where to put them in the composition.

Now that it has been mentioned, the exact same ideas and principles apply in making an objective painting of a subjet. EXACTLY the same! Abstract / Non objective / Realistic are all the same in the eyes of the basic structure of a painting. Surprisingly, subject has no bearing on the actual attractiveness (or repulsiveness) of the piece. It all lies in how the artist structured the underlying design and composition.

This piece is going to be featured at my open studio and not offerred for sale, since I plan to enter it into various watercolor competitions. Squint and you can see a great abstraction of values in this piece . . . .and you can feel the musty, dark corner of an old, neglected workshop.

(I post this because I am so darned busy framing and organizing the house and the show. Hopefully, I will have something to show in the next day or so. And besides, “Opa” is waiting to be painted too!}

Notes to Self

“Placing Opa”
Notes and sketches in the sketchbook

There is little time to paint today considering all that needs to be done for open studio. But that doesn’t mean I am not thinking about it.
In a small village called Montpazier in the Perigord region of France, I snapped photos of an old gramma shopping for the day with her companion. This is a daily occurrance in Europe. Walking to town to buy the day’s groceries is the norm.
(I call her Opa). She is stooped with age and is obviously fighting back pain as she has her hands supporting her lower back when she walks. To me, the image speaks loudly of the human condition. I want to paint her . . .the scene. But design must first be done to get the max from the image and to keep it simple.
So, instead of painting, I can sketch for a few minutes and make notes to myself for when I can spend the time to paint. Eliminating details and having the overall shapes say what needs to be said is my goal. Contructing her on the canvas will be the key to the mood of the piece, as well as her placement in the overall design. What mood to I want to project? That is the question I must answer before painting.
So, here are my thoughts regarding placement. Eventually, I combine the shape of Opa with a younger woman pushing a baby carriage for more interest and contrast. I think it makes for a more interesting idea. You can see how I arrived at the idea of putting the two together. It was a process of trial and error and suggestions from each sketch.
You can also see the right angle of light crossing the pathway. Opa’s head will be in the vertical part of that light in the final piece as the center of interest, well to the right of center.

Developing an Idea

The first idea. But it needs development . . . .

The second idea is better, but the light valued shape does

nothing for the figure.

The third idea is better . . .much better, but needs simplifying to say more about the figure.

Finally, the figure is set into the right value structure to bring all the attention on it. After all, this isn’t about the surrounding scenery. It is all about the mood of the figure.

“Decisions, Decisions”

oil on linen on panel, 10″ x 8″


Backyard Plein Air

“Backyard Plein Air”
oil on masonite, 9″ x 13″
Life is just too crowded with demands and requirements to allow time to wander off and find a terrific paint site on a frequent basis. So, that is why I paint still life paintings. The box of stuff is right there . . .always available . . .always ready . . . always convenient . . .and expedient. But my heart is with developing my skills outside.
In the first five years of learning watercolor painting, I went outside every Friday to paint. The learning about light and shadow could not have been better. The demands of getting the light and shadow captured before it moved was an incredible habit to acquire. But practice is what makes us really good at what we do.
So, I stuck my head out the studio door and set about making this piece . . .right in my back yard . . . .wellll . . .not quite IN, but certainly within sight. I look at these guys every single morning; the negative shapes, the warm golden light at sun up, the shadows, the textures, the shapes and the ever changing moods. There are days when they dissappear into the fog, or are blasted with heat and light. The dappled light on them is fascinating to look at. I find myself painting them in my head almost daily. So, it was time I did it!
Employing a temperature shift from warm at the bottom to cool at the top, I hoped to establish a sense of soaring height. Somehow the temeratures in this piece and the textures hasten my pulse a bit. I actually like this one.


“Ipmpressions of a Yosemite Dusk”
Watercolor, 22 x 30
Every year at this time the crunch comes. That is to prep for open studio here at my house and studio. It’s a monumental task. Huge.

One of the things that happens is that I fall into a ‘discovery’ process. I open my flat files full of attempts and finished pieces (watercolor) from the previous 11 months. Usually, I find a piece that is in dire need of work. I had put it away because I could not resolve something in the painting. This is one of those. I pulled out the pieces and there, on the bottom was this. A morass of wimpy glazes with no commitment one way or the other. Today’s effort was the resurrection of this piece. It is an impression only . . .a dreamed up compostition which I had layed out prior to a painting trip to Yosemite last year.

Hope you like it. It’s a little more commited than it was, that’s for sure.

Color Wheel

Would you believe this took seven hours to layout and paint?

At 28″ x 40″ and every color swatch a progression of the previous, this was pain staking. ( I almost wrote ‘paintstaking!!” 😮 )
As I was painting it, I realized how forgiving oil paint is for mixing color . . .or at least it seems to be so. Watercolor is more of a transparent veil of color over the paper. Mud can develop very quickly if the wrong colors are mixed. Among the morass of different tubes of paint to purchase and use, I use near 20 for watercolor painting. This color wheel uses 12. I could get away with 6 if I wanted, but watercolor has an urgency about it. Once cannot . . . .repeat: Can NOT . . .spend time mixing paint when a wash is in progress. It is very demanding and immediate. All sorts of blooms, run backs, splotches, stripes and edges develop if the painter isn’t right on the delivery of paint to the surface. Oil, by its nature, is much more forgiving. I can spend 30minutes foolin round at the palette with no urgency at all. So, I only use 8 colors plus white. In neither medium do I use black . . . . that is another story . . . and with very good reason with watercolor . . .but I digress.

This is to be exibited in San Francisco at a show for teachers and students . . .and next to a large watercolor show by the CWA.

Hopefully, I will be able to use this piece as a teaching aid . . .if I get it back.

Some holiday! I got up at 5:30 to get this done today . . .so I could play golf this afternoon.

Hope your holiday was restful and full of fun.

At Last, No Glare !

An inexpensive highly effective solution!

After procrastinating and doing other stuff, the last few painting photos have been so poor that I decided to attempt building a light box as shown in this link. Thanks to Carol Marine for feeding it to us in her blog!

This light box has turned out so well that I am punishing myself for being so slow in constructing it. I built this one large enough to accept paintings up to 16 x 20 (I just happened to have had a box large enough). A little tracing vellum (tissue paper will work), a little masking tape, some illustration board (mat board) scraps, a utility knife and one hour is all it took. And I get perfect photos! No color correction needed. The lamps I use at my watercolor table emulate sunlight . . . . . . .so that is what I use for the light box. I merely set the box on the table, mount the painting on the back wall, face the lights into the vellum windows, put the camera on the tripod and shoot. Done! With amzing results, too! A fantastic solution and for rillly rillly cheeep!

From this point forward, the oil paintings will be photo’d in the box!