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″
SOLD

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.

On Working Challenges

“Sharks Tooth Rock”
Oil on canvas, 16” x 20”

One is honored when another person of like mind and soul will drive nearly 100 miles to be with you, or to be part of what you are doing.

Yesterday, again, Elio Camacho did precisely that to see my studio, my work and to paint together en plein aire.

This guy is all about mastery, as am I. Mastery is what we both seek . . .I may never reach it, but it is the reason I exist. To be with someone who eats and sleeps and works hard to reach that same goal is a rare privilege. I don’t want Elio to get a big head or to think I am ‘in awe’ or acting like a groupie. No! We both know that it is a rare thing to be with another person of like mind and motives.

We went to “Sharks Tooth” beach up the coast from my studio and home. And stood apart and furiously attacked our respective canvases or boards. A wise crack here, a glance there, or an expletive or a laugh is all we need to connect. We watch each others’ methods and processes without comment and proceed down each of our respective processes. Two paintings as different as night and day came out of this session, yet, again, I gained knowledge, encouragement for myself and a larger degree of respect for him and his work.

Is he a master? I don’t know. I think mastery is familiarity. It has to do with brush mileage, or how many acres of canvas one has painted. At any point in the process, one holds mastery over their previous work, but what lies ahead? How much work is one person willing to expend to reach a new level? And that is why he and I connect, I think. We both are willing to stretch and reach and work every day.

Yesterday was exactly that. Each held a little challenge, or a plan in our respective minds, before putting brush to paint, to tackle something new. For me, it was using a different set of colors on my palette and to see what I could derive from that. . . ..and to push the color in places where nature was offering bland, neutral tones.

What did he have in mind? Maybe you should go see what he did and if he’ll tell you.

A Perfect Day !

“From the Point”
18″ x 24″
Wow! There are days when all conditions just seem to be purrr-fect!!!
Elio Camacho sent and email and asked if I wanted to go with him to paint at the coast. I live here, but don’t get out to do that often enough. Do you think I jumped at the chance? You can count on it!! We stood on a point 150 feet above the rocks . . .our easels would have been perfect sails had the wind come up. It didn’t. It was 72 degrees and we could see forever.
“E” is great company and took on a 30 x 40 piece that he finished in the same time I did this canvas. It was just one of those days when all the ions are in alignment.
Hey Elio!! Where is your painting? Let us see it!! [He posted it. Go see!]
WI watched it develop and I wanted it!!! It was gorgeous!
This photo, I have to apologize for, since there is so much glare. But you get the idea! I may give the photography another go. If it works well, I’ll post it in leiu of this one.

Caught Between Impressions and . . . .

“Ripples and Light”
oil on linen on panel, 8″ x 10″
SOLD
Last night after work, I scooted out of the office and went directly to the yacht harbor here. This place probably contains over a thousand boats of all kinds. The working boats are my favorites. The problem with painting in the yacht harbor is the challenge of simplifying. There is such a twisted morass of shapes and lines and different whites that it boggles the mind . . . . . .especially if you are painting it!

I had only an hour and a half to get something down on canvas. We were to be dinner guests someplace, so I couldn’t fudge the time. The fog was rolling in and had half covered the harbor. I set up and went to work. 30 minutes later the fog lifted magically and the light was frying my eyes. I already had a grey sky and backdrop in silouhette . . .when suddenly there were contrasts and colors that weren’t there 20 minutes previous! The pleasures of plein air painting!!
This painting has good spots and not so good spots. I see now that I really need to work on my whites and the light and shadow therein . . . . . .not just on this painting, but any other that has a lot of white. Maybe that is why Ken Auster is so good at what he does. I should spend some time studying his work. . . . . .and making more paintings with a lot of white in them.
In one and one half hours last night I was able to make enough to walk away and make a few adjustments in the studio this morning. I think, however, the next adjustment should be done in the fireplace! In looking at this, I find I am caught between impressionistic brushwork and detail. I need to land at one place or the other.

Nearly Wet Feet

“Pelican Truck Stop”

oil on linen on panel, 8″ x 10″
Yesterday afternoon, my old friend Bill and I painted on the rocks while the surf was busting at our feet pushing the tide inward. I know of no greater pleasure than to be out there in the fresh, salty air and watching the light fly about as it reflects off every wave and every ripple. The white foam can be mezmorizing. . . to the extent that the waves surprise you. Wet feet on the rocks can be a big problem.
I have a question about pthalo blue . . . .if you know the answer, please comment . . .and, yes, only for oil paint. Last evening before bed I looked at the painting once more. I thought it was my imagination, but the white appeared to be tinting bluer in the foreground and loosing value. When I awakened this morning, only the thickest white showed up! I was shocked. I used Pthalo blue in the water. Does it creep into the white and stain it progressively? Or could it be the quality of Titanium White I am using (Utrecht)?
In watercolor, Pthalo blue is evil! Extremely high tinting strength and a vicious staining power that will ruin all the other paints in their wells if they are contaminated with this blue. Gotta be very careful with it!

Stubborn

“The Edge of Morning”
oil on linen on panel, 12″ x 16″
Sometimes, to make a painting behave, you don’t have to be talented. You just have to be stubborn.
After finishing this piece, I found (by surprise ) that I had divided the picture plane exactly in half and had two different paintings. Arrrrgggggghh!! I had painted this en plein air and never saw the division until I put a frame on it to critique the piece. I had a problem that had to be fixed before the paint dried. In between weddings, out of town visitors, plein air affair meetings and household stuff, I was being squeezed. But it got done. I had to be stubborn!

No Parking

“No Parking”
oil on linen on panel, 8″ x 10″

Recently, in another post comment, Ed Terpening mentioned that he used a scanner to photo his plein air pieces. This one used a scanner, too. I had to buy a fax, scanner combo for business purposes, so this is a trial. The accuracy of this image is disconcerting because one can see every thread of the canvas! And one can see how thin the paint is.

This brings up a question . . .I need help from you readers . . . .I slobber on the paint (or so it seems) only to have it later absorb into the weave of the canvas or linen. Apparently, I am not putting it on thick enough. What do you artists do to get such rich texture and paint thickness? A palette knife? I see brush marks in all of Terpening’s work, why don’t mine come up the same? Do you first seal the surface in some way? Does toning the canvas set up a seal so that the brush marks appear and the paint sits on the surface? Comment, please!

This piece was done a few weeks ago and was dry enough to put into the scanner. It is titled no parking, because of the sign in the painting. In life, there are parking places just outside the frame of the painting. This is a common scene here in Santa Cruz . . . .cliffs, ice plant, surf and sand. And, yes, this is exactly how it looks . . .colors and all! Not a baaaad place to live and paint, eh? 🙂

Every Attempt Counts!

“The Scent of Surf”
oil on linen on panel, 8″ x 10″

Here is another of the plein air adventures. Caught near sunset, the light was bouncing off the white foam of the breakers behind this tree. What a terrific thing to paint! I can see I have much to learn about how edges behave in back lit subjects . . . .learn? Heck!! I am fascinated . . . . . . . .read: obsessed! . . . .by this stuff.

One thing I have learned in years of painting in another medium is this: While every painting doesn’t show up at the end as perfect, every one counts! That is, each piece contributes to the success of subsequent paintings. It is all an accumulation of occurances, challenges, solutions, failures and successes.; Every painting matters . . .the results of that significance just doesn’t show up every single time. And THAT is the reason for painting daily: to quickly accumulate experience and to stay in the learning zone.

Confining The Subject

“Surf Watch”
Oil on linen on board, 8″x 10″

Yesterday was one of those rush rush days. Ran to the painting location on a beach here, set up and had to ‘scram’ fast. There was much going on there last nite. Beach visitors, houses on the cliff, nice sunlit patterns on the cliff walls and houses. Even three guys lounging around against the cliff on the beach. It would have / could have made . . . .well, um, now that I think about it . . . . .a rather trite painting. And besides, there was too darned much to spend time on with a small canvas. I had exactly an hour of light left.

So, it was cut to the essentials and get on with it . . .without dithering. This game is about putting down what you see, trusting that it is right, then moving to the next spot of color.

Let’s see, what color is the color of sand? ? ? Gotta choose something! Better mix something. Whaddabout that shadow? What color is that? Can’t name it. Just match it and move on to the next spot of color. (Under my breath I am thanking my stars for all the studying and experimenting I have done with color and mixing!)

So, here is what came out . . . . .”Surf Watch” . . . .

Chasing the light

“Sunny Cove”
Oil on linen on panel 8″ x 10″
SOLD

Last post I spoke of painting “Late Shadows” . . .the painting is just below this post.

I have chosen to work the hard way. That is to go out in the late afternoon around 5PM when the sun is low and moving quickly toward the horizon. There are lot of hills around the area I live, Santa Cruz, California. So, while shadows get nice and long and the light becomes golden toward the hour of 7 PM, the sun finds a place behind a hill shortly before or after 7. That means I have two hours of painting time and am chasing the light as I paint. There is no time for getting stuck or sitting back to ponder for very long. This is immediate and urgent work.

I am amazed at how quickly it all falls into place. Mind you, I have done my share of studying, so I usually have a pretty firm plan before beginning. Believe me, it helps to have a plan!

The urgency of this approach makes for non-fussy work. And . . .you either get it or you don’t. This is a good thing because I don’t have any room to carp or complain if it doesn’t come out well. It comes out like it comes out. Period. (Fortunately, most of them make it to “acceptable”)

The nice thing about doing this daily is that EVERY PAINTING COUNTS! What that means is that each painting, failure or success, is contributing to all the successes. In other words, experience matters in painting. The more one paints, the better one becomes.

The piece for today was done two weeks ago right after work. I ran to the car, drove to a nearby beach cove and set up shop. This is an impression of the place just before dusk. Again, I get excited by the results and the process!