Fixing a Big Problem


“The Overseer”
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
After finishing my painting, “The Overseer,” last week I was perplexed by the total lack of color variation in the shadows and the harsh contrast in the painting. I worked hard on Photoshop to try to correct the problem to no avail. After much consideration, I decided to repaint the entire painting. There were a few small compositional fixes I could make, such as the fire hydrant in the foreground and the dark car on the left margin. Both needed to be moved inboard a bit. But those were the least of the problems. My biggest difficulty was what was happening inside my expensive camera . . . .
I have learned from a photographer friend that digital cameras average and compress the exposure data in a picture. That is, the necessary aperture setting for white areas are smaller, or less exposure time is needed, than for black. When an image has both white and black, as well as middle values, the camera must measure what is required for the extremes and average them to affect an acceptable exposure. The problem is that in that averaging, much of the collected data is compressed and some is actually discarded in order to arrive at a JPEG image. In that process, any subtle color shifts are typically lost.
So my problem was two fold: I had exposure problems and a painting problem where I had not expressed the necessary color variation well enough and had too large of a value interval (black to white) in the painting. Both had to be fixed. I went back to the easel vowing to keep my goals of keeping value extremes to a cautious minimum and to put more recognizable color variation into the painting. I could not go into that state of ecstasy that takes us painters away to another planet for as long as we are applying the paint. I had to stay alert.
In the end, the painting was an improvement over the first one. The difficulty then was to find out how to get around all that compression and averaging inside the camera. I found the solution in photographing in “RAW” mode. That is, every pixel is recorded as is, in Red, Green or Blue, without modifying or averaging the data. I have found that most professional photographers use this mode for that very reason. I had some studying to do to learn about this and to decipher my expensive camera to be able to pull it off.
I often marvel about how much I have had to learn about other stuff than painting in order to produce a decent painting, or photo of one. I have been struggling with photo issues for decades! Then there is the other stuff, too, like priming canvas, or the mediums in which different paints are suspended, or comosition, or what ever . . . .which I won’t go into here. It all has to work in concert.
Surely, you can see the difference in the two versions above. Do you think I was right to step up and re-tackle the whole thing?

The Underside

“Quail Hollow Livery”
oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches
More plein air work . . .more room for improvement . . . .having a ball fighting through it.

Some say that to learn to paint, one must get the first 500 paintings out of the way first. Only then do we begin to understand what is happening . . . .and only then to we begin not to care much for the ‘details’.

This painting, though poorly photographed, really showed me the importance of the underside of a tree and how that underside and the cast shadow on the ground sets up a beautiful value pattern. You be the judge.
As for photographing a wet painting, I wonder what will happen if I use a polarizing filter to cut out the light reflected back from the wet paint surface.

One of THOSE Days !

“At The Edge of Walnut Ave.”

Oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches
(a better photo injected a day after posting)
On balance, most days are just fine. I mean there isn’t much that I have to complain about, if anything. But some days seem to stand up and scream they are so good. Today was one of those!

A few weeks ago I wrote an article and submitted it to a magazine . . . .and it was accepted. Nice!! Then they wanted hi res images. No problem (I thought). Boy!! Was I ever wrong!

LSS: (that is Long Story Short) I ended up buying a new camera . . . . .wellllll, it was for the magazine article!!! It WAS! Really!! (Yes I am a gadget nut.)

I have spent the last two weeks at the computer learning Photoshop at a breakneck pace and all sorts of stuff about color spaces, workflows, color gamuts, calibration of monitors, cameras, printers and all sorts of non painting stuff in order to be able to send flawless photos of my work to accompany the article. Okay! I am learning something . . .and not just a little bit. I am learning a ton! And I have hardly had the chance to truly investigate my camera.

The plan today was to get out of the house with a great friend to paint en plein air. Oh! The weather was sweeeet. We had lunch together and talked of our younger, sillier, days of lechery and debauchery. The light was uplifting, the shadows gorgeous and the company was almost splitting my sides from the laughter.

Standing on a sidewalk on busy Walnut Avenue, I painted this little lane of a street. Ho Hum, you say? For me, this was a biiig step. I have a tendency to slam my darks and to overdo them so my paintings become overly moody. So, today, I set out to hold down the darks and work in a higher key and depend upon temperature and intensity of the color more than value. I had an absolute ball while I was doing it, too!! I love plein air oil painting!! Every smudge of paint can be felt. Today was one of THOSE days !!! 🙂

Who Me? Bored ???

“Soup Kitchen”
watercolor, 22 x 30 inches

Yesterday, My wife asked if I was ever bored being at home alone.

I have been working on this painting for a few days. The idea seized me while I was working on “Sand Slick” earlier in the week.

As I progressed through the painting, working from memory without the aid of photos or sketches, I was struck with a lot of questions about how water ‘works’ in close to the shore . . .against rocks, along the beach and most especially, AFTER the crash of a wave. Why ‘after,’ you ask? The answer is that while one wave is forming and building to a crescendo, another wave is finishing its erosive action and reversing its flow backwards toward the incoming wave. Not knowing just how all of this works to form visual patterns that I could paint, I set out to study and discover ‘what’s up with wave action.’ I took my trusty digital camera to the shore and took over 200 photos to study on my computer.

Digital cameras are just the best! In short order, I was at the computer studying the images to see what happens in the movement of the water. I could never have had such prompt (or inexpensive !) results with film. Had I used film, the images would have cost me close to $100 to develop and I may well have been distracted by something else by the time the processed photographs were received days later.

There are all sorts of cross currents and opposing forces at work that throw the water’s surface into seeming chaos. At least it looked as though it was chaos. It isn’t at all. One just needs to watch and observe and study carefully what is happening and what causes the water to move. Obstacles such as big rocks and beaches all push the water back in the direction it came sending opposing waves and currents to the incoming wash. The result is fascinating to watch.

Then there is the pattern of the foam on the surface. Wow! Is it random or does it follow some sort of predictable pattern? Try to figure that out!! The dazzling dark / light patterns and line are just mind numbing! I tried to give the sensation of the foam in this piece. It looks like I have soooo MUCH MORE to learn . . .both about water and painting.
I just cannot imagine EVER being bored !

Resuming Life

En Plein Air at the Firehole

Yellowstone and Jackson Hole were simply mind blowing. The Grand Tetons and the light on or behind them never stopped jolting our senses. This little slice of the area included wandering Bison just to the right of the barn. In a coincidence encounter 100 miles away, we met one of the family who occupied this old homestead! That was a story by itself!
We arrived home yesterday after a three day jaunt cross country through Idaho, Nevada and California. This shot of me painting near the Firehole River in Y’stone park is revealing of the gear and the necessary protection from the trees I am hiding behind. The wind was whipping about, as mentioned in a previous post, which made a sun umbrella impossible. . . .the trees gave the shade and blocked the wind enough to let me work.

Now that I am home, it is time to resume a normal life (if normalcy is possible for me! ). I have to sandwich my art activities in among other things. No servants. No large bank accounts. No poking through the days wondering about what to do. There is always a list!

The other photo is a sample of the terrific wildlife encounters we experienced throughout Wyoming. This gorgeous Bull Moose was nearly oblivious to our presence . . . .or so it seemed. There are some 300 more photos which will make for some nice reminiscing this winter.
I thought you all might like to see some of what we saw and experienced.

Studio Experiment

“Hot Ice”
oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
Today I am fooling around with a new studio tool . . . .at least new for me. I have always worked from sketches for a lot of reasons. Copying photos is just not my style. I believe in design and what it can do for a painting . . . . .most photos need a ton of redesign. I have always used photos from which to sketch and build the design for a painting. And photos just don’t have what it takes to be good reference material beyond shape and value.
But, it is time to enter the 21st century. Digital cameras and compters make soooo much possible. This painting was painted from a digital photo I took while in Carmel two weeks ago. I took about 30 pix that day . . .all possible painting subjects. This, and yesterday’s, were a result of that outing. The experiment is to put the digital photo on a big LCD flat panel display. . . . . . . . . . . . . .and paint directly from the monitor. What a hooot !!! There is sooo much one can see on the monitor!! Bright, full of color, zoom capability, and all sorts of cool stuff to work with! It is very much like being in plein air, except that the light isn’t changing.
My 17″ screen lap top computer is the subject of the experiment. It works well, but it is my business computer. It just wouldn’t do to have it covered in paint . . . .or for it to be jammed up with art stuff (it is now!). Christmas is here . . . .who knows if Santa might bring a biiig monitor to paint from. I’ll have to ask.
I have been a good boy! Really! I have. I have !!!! Really I have. 🙂

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!