White Izzzn’t White

“Sully’s Fresh Crab”
watercolor 22 x 30 inches

Nope! It just Izzn’t!

Our eyeballs just can’t see what we think we see.

Yesterday was another beautiful day in the sun . . .warm and bright . . . .a perfect day for Butch, my painting buddy, and I to go out and paint. So we went back to the harbor where lots and lots and lots of white boats live. I am telling you true: What seems white just is NOT!

The little device you see above is a value viewer. It is very helpful to look at an area, (such as the side of a white boat hull in shadow) to judge the value. When peeking through the little hole and comparing the value of the white in shadow, one can instantly see that it is more a mid value than a light white. Then . . . comes the problem of getting that value onto the paper or canvas. That big piece of white paper can really throw off our judgment, too. We make a paint mark on the big white page and the mark seems darker than it really is because we are unconsciously comparing all that white field with the value of the mark . Yikes! That little viewer helps.

BUT . . . .there is still another problem (these difficulties are some of the reasons artists find plein air painting so difficult) . . . .that is if you are painting watercolor, the paint fades after it dries. Which compounds the value difficulty!!!!! One must be able to predict how the value of a mark or wash after it is dry. GAAAADS !!!! Is there any end to this stuff??? !!

How does one solve it? The viewer helps. The rest of it is fixed with plain old mileage.

Huh? Did you say Mileage?

Yep! That is what I said. Let me clarify: BRUSH mileage. Translated, it means tons of practice.

I have been painting for 20 plus years and still find plein air painting full of problems and difficulties. Yesterday was no exception. After getting home from a 4 hour painting stint and looking at the painting in normal indoor light, I could see the values of my boat hulls were wrong . . .not dark enough. Like I said, white just izzn’t white!!! So, several glazes later (and spoiled pristine washes) I came up with this painting. A lot of fussing and much self talk about what I will do next time and solemn vows about not letting this happen again, I finished the painting attempt.

You may think this is an okay painting. It was certainly fun and most instructive, but I simply MUST go back and try again and again. Butch and I discussed this aspect of being a painter: the compulsion to get better . . . . .and it is indeed a compulsion. Maybe someday, with enough brush mileage under my belt, it might happen. For now, though, it is best to focus on doing the best I can and having fun in the process because to be out there is simply a total gassss!!!!

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!

June is for Plein Air Painting

“Arana Walk”
oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches
Living here on the California Coast, the marine layer (coastal fog) can be depressing at this time of year. So, when the sun comes out, I cannot wait to go outdoors to paint. For me, the light is energizing. Last Friday, I agreed to meet some friends for and early day of plein air painting. We were in luck. It was the first day in fourteen that the sun was out at sunrise! Whoopee!

In a large meadow at the edge of town, called Arana Gulch, we painted this trail.

Meanwhile, I have been out nearly daily since then . . .AND working hard in the studio, too. I have been holding off posting until the paint dries on some of the paintings so the photos will not have glare. This one is the first of ten paintings made in 7 days.

Scratching the Itch

Photo 1.
Photo 2.

Photo 3.

Photo 4.

Photo 5.

Photo 6.

“Noon at Walnut Ave.”
oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches

On my third painting trip to Walnut Ave, I saw for the first time!

You think that’s silly? I walked this street at noon almost daily all the while I was in high school! I drive through the street often. My mom lives nearby. I take guests down that street to see it. On my third painting trip, I suddenly saw it differently . . .and made a huge realization. I saw big, amorphous, individual shapes in the canopy of trees over the street. Wow!!

So, here is a progress documentary of how this painting developed . . . .The decision was made to double the painting size, affording more room to express shape, color and texture.

Photo 1. First, the space division problem from yesterday had to be resolved. The sketch was roughed in using transparent oxide red. This is where I spotted the individual shapes in the canopy. Thin color washes were thrown in using a lot of mineral spirits so to set up a progression from warms to cools to the end of the ‘tunnel.’

Photo 2. Continuing with the thin washes I get excited at the progression of yellow greens to grayed blues down the tunnel. I am becoming aware of another possible space division issue with the band of white light on the street surface across the width of the painting. What to do?

Photo 3. A few warm spots, such as the stop sign and a few points toward the end of the tunnel are put in and a few suggested darks are placed into the under side of the canopy. The warm red tones are such a contrast to the green that they act as parenthesis around the white shape at the end of the tunnel, the center of interest. Perfect! I am getting more excited, but the space division issue needs to be resolved soon.

Photo 4. Now the thicker paint layers are put into the greens and other places. Am conscious of the strokes and their direction as each is placed. They help define the light. A false start with the wrong tone is placed into the foreground shadow . . .it is too dark and too warm . . . .but that sets up the hint of what to do with the space division challenge.

Photo 5. Connect the shadows across that white shape! Link them, thus leading the eye directly back to the center of interest. Now the foreground “lights” are warmed up with a pale yellow and very light magenta (hard to see in the monitor) . . .thus bringing the foreground forward and setting up the recession into the tunnel. Edges are softened along the shadow exteriors and some of the interior ‘holes.’ The suggestion of a line of parked cars is begun.

Photo 6. Fine tuning now before it is time to fold up my easel to go home. I can see some places which need more fine tuning, such as the cool grays toward the end of the tunnel in the canopy. Will have to fiddle with that one, but not today. A few darks are added on the far left and the tree trunk is softened. Maybe that isn’t the correct move. Will need to re-evaluate that later, too.

Overall, this was a great day in plein air! I can feel the process becoming easier as I tackle more difficult tasks. This experience really slammed home the idea that one must truly OBSERVE and look again before diving into the obvious.

Itching Continued

“Intersection at Walnut Ave.”
oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches
Yesterday, I scrambled to get to Walnut Ave. to paint the light and the tree covered street. This street is historical in that all of the homes are old Victorian “painted ladies.” The street is like stepping into a painting with neatly trimmed landscaping, blooming blossoms and dappled light everywhere.

I picked a difficult one, yesterday. Dappled light is something I have never done before . . . .so I can see I have much to learn.

This piece presents one of those interesting space division challenges . . . .and am not sure that it really works that well. What I have in mind is a much more subdued sort of lighting, but the way the sun was reflecting off the pavement yesterday was dazzling. I had to use every bit of the little I understand about aerial perspective and color, as well as edges, to make this little painting work.

I have resolved to visit again, perhaps today, to consider a different angle of attack and a different composition. I still itch to capture that which is in my mind. I may never quite get there, but the practice is most precious. I can feel a few gains in understanding from yesterday’s experience. I hope I can capitalize on that.

Itching To Get Out Again

“Live Oak Farm”
Oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches
Friday, I went out to paint . . .on a cold, foggy day. I discovered this old little farm, just like a small island, right in the midst of our town. It seems the same family has owned the land for over 100 years and the ground is still being worked. So, I painted it. As I was doing so the fog bank rolled back and the sun came out briefly.

After coming home and putting the painting in a trial frame for a few days, it gave the paint a chance to dry and me a chance to look it over with new eyes. So, yesterday, I spent a few nice hours making adjustments and revising a few things. I so enjoyed myself that I am going out again today. I think Walnut Avenue will be a good place for the day.

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 !!! 🙂

Plein Air Quick Draw

“Walnut Avenue”
oil on cavas panel, 8″ x 10″
This last weekend, I participated in a plein aire event organized by the local art museum. It is a fun event and turned out to be nicely profitable in many ways for me. Not that you care about that part, but I did get to meet and talk with some very uniquely talented and thoughtful artists. . . . . . and that alone was worth the time spent. I sold five of my paintings and made a few solid contacts for future business. The event attracts a very knowlegeable and informed crowd who are not only interested in art, but willing and able to acquire pieces for their collections.
On the last day of the show, which runs Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, the museum holds a “Quick Draw” competition. I had planned not to take part, but in the end organized my stuff and went for it. Long story short, the artists check in to have their canvases stamped and signed at 8:30 AM. They are to choose a site, set up, paint and return to the museum with a finished painting by 11:00 AM. That is roughly 2 hours of painting time when one considers set up and take down of equipment. I actually had quite a few giggles in this little event . . . .and had an opportunity to step out of myself and see my real painting process.
As you can see by the resultant image, being rushed is not conducive to fine finished work . . . . . . . . . .which made me notice that I LIKE fine finished pieces. I could have spent another hour tweaking this painting and bringing out the aspects I wished to refine and show off. It also showed me that I could, do this and that in order to do so, I would just need to get used to “plowing through” to a conclusion . . . .what ever that was. I found it to be exciting! Moreover, it might be a discipline I should develop more in order to train myself to be more direct, less fussy and to refine my value and color perception so as to get colors and values correct on the first attempt.
A very valuable experience it was!

Foreign In My Hands

“Wet Island”
Oil on canvas panel, 8″ x 10″
This little piece was done in about 90 minutes after digging out all my plein air equipment following a 6 plus month haiatus . . .(izzat how you spell it?)
Last year I participated in the local museum’s sponsored plein air event to raise money for the museum. It is a lovely event, though I wasn’t able to help the cause at all . . .no sales last year. I promised myself I would improve and do much better this year, but, alas, I let time get away from me . . . .and lo! it is upon me again!! I am not so sure that it is because we artists are flakey by nature, or that it wasn’t until a few mornings ago that all the dates for the event firmed up. but one thing is for sure. I am NOT READY! That means it feels like I am the rankest amateur in the entire group of 31 artists!!
For the last few days I have been working hard (labor!) around the house . . . .a close by forest fire prompted the work . . . . .to try to make things less apt to catch fire if a windborn cinder fell upon us. That meant cleaning ALL of the various organic stuff off our roof (Many surrounding trees here.) Three days of labor . . .no kidding! . . .scraping and sweeping and cleaning between every wooden shingle!
Anyway . . .I HAD to go paint today. We are leaving on a ten day vacation at the end of this week and this plein air event is demanding paintings before I leave . . .and I can’t give them something I painted last year!! Nope! It has to be stuff painted THIS WEEK!! Yikes!! So, I went to work . . . .physically spent from the last three days work and not caring if I produced much . . .but I HAD to do it. To limber up, if nothing else! So, the brushes came out and I went to work . . . . .but it was as familiar as Greek worry beads in my hands . . . have never held them!! . . . . .after painting these tight watercolors for the last few weeks, oil brushes felt foreign in my hands!!
So, here is today’s efforts, dear readers. A long time ago, I promised myself I would post all my efforts, good or bad. I already know this is amateur as hell, but feast your eyes anyway and know that failures are actually necessary in an artists’ life . . .they spur us forward and help us learn on the way. Cheers to failures, eh?!! 🙂

Homecoming!

“Impressions of Sims Road”
oil on canvas on panel, 8″ x 10″
The workshop is finished. Open Studio is over (so over!!!). Daughter’s engagement soire’ was a blast. I could not wait to get out and paint this morning. The sun was out first thing. I ran to pull my stuff together and scramble to the site (one block away!). By the time I arrived, the fog had rolled in and enveloped everything so badly I could hardly see it.
I said, “Okay. This is what we paint: fog!” 40 minutes into the painting, it all broke and the sun came out. Change or stay with the plan? I changed.
After so many weeks and days of not being able to get out and paint, this was like a drink of cool water on a sweltering day! I had fun!! And I noticed that I am waaaay out of practice!
I know just how to fix that!! I’ll be out there tomorrow, if it isn’t raining.