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!!!!
I suppose vacation is something few artists ever get. Just look: I go on vacation and what do I do? Paint, of course!
For many years I painted watercolors outdoors with friends. Some worked and some didn’t. There was, however, a certain energy about the paintings that made them very recognizable from studio work.
Perhaps that energy is a result of the difficulty of painting with watercolor outside. I consider myself confident in executing an outdoor piece, but I must say that in spite of my confidence and speed of delivery, there is just something that keeps me in the studio. Plein air painting is a giant pain in the rear, if you know what I mean.
While in Yosemite, I made, at least, one plein air piece per day . . . .and usually did a studio piece each day, as well. This piece, of the ‘three graces’ (I think that is the name) was one of those incredible days where every wash behaved, every color did what it was supposed to do and the wind only come along at the finish. Out in this meadow, near the base of El Capitan, the light sparkled on the edges of this giant set of rocks, while in the crevices the light hid in mysterious darks. The light coming through the yellowed trees at the base of the rockwalls were luminous. It was a blast to paint! But inside all of the processes, more lessons came forth which reminded me what I should be doing in the studio.
One of those lessons was to paint vertically if I want great washes. Having gravity naturally pull the pigment laden water down the page reveals granulations and effects one can never cause on a piece of paper, no matter how expert the painter might be. So, I am doing exactly that. I had forgotten how important it is and allowed the comfort of control to take over. Invariably, the discomfort of a painting getting ‘out of hand’ is when the great stuff shows up.
On to the next one! Let the paint flow downward.
The blooming vetch full of violet flowers is under painted with yellow mustard flowers and bright yellow orange poppies. Yellow and Violet? How perfect is thaaaaat?!!
oil on canvas panel, 12 x 16 inches
Beginning early in the morning (7 AM) I scramble to capture the light and the shadows. On this day (and every other day, so far) I have made two paintings. These two were completely different. The first, “Near Roaring Camp,” was a speedy study looking directly into the sun as the dew was glistening and the sun was coming over the edge of the trees. The light was changing fast so it was a race to capture the feeling.
By the time the second painting (“Cowell’s Meadow) was ready to start, it had become overcast. The light went from yellow orange to a cool gray with no shadows. Colors intensified and I was in painting heaven. I had moved to another location where there were greens to off set the violets and the slightly orange red grasses (an almost perfect secondary triad of color!). I took my time in the overcast, standing up to my hips in violet flowers with little bright yellow poppies at my feet.
I couldn’t wait to come back to paint. Watch this blog for more paintings from that site.
As you know, I have been plein air painting like a crazy fool . . . .just racking up brush mileage. While I have been getting better by increments, I have also noticed that I haven’t been paying much attention to good value composition while in the field. Hmmm! That just isn’t like me! To not plan for that, is to plan for mundane, not so cool, unaccomplished paintings. Then, Robert Genn (http://painterskeys.com/) published this missive in his twice weekly letter about value patterns. ( I think this guys is psychic, sometimes! (or, I am)) ;-))
He made note that it is often after coming in from being sidetracked by trying to capture a scene that we realize, days later, that we didn’t give composition its due effort . . . .and then we set about repairing the image to come to life with a strong pattern of dark and light. Now, that does NOT mean contrasting tones. What he means is a strong proportion of massed dark shades as an organized shape (or grouping of shapes) next to a mass of lights. Mind you, this isn’t about objects or things. It is about groupings of assigned values in order to pull off a strong abstract design onto which the objects are superimposed.
Some painters refer to this as Notan, which is a Japanese word for the same idea . . .massing darks and lights in an organized pattern. This pattern is usually what makes a composition sing out . . . . is is NOT the things in the picture or the subject. We painters call this ‘design’ . . . .or, at least, value design.
So, I caught myself making some re-statements in my recent paintings. Those chunks of dark, or little select areas of clean light against a dark are what makes the viewer sit up and take notice. Thanks for reaffirming what matters, Mr. Genn!
P.S. Robert Genn has one of the finest, most informative art blogs on the internet. His biweekly letters are always welcome and get read, often with more investigation following. If you aren’t familiar or haven’t subscribed, you might want to give it a trial. It is very non commercial and worth your time. Here’s the link: http://painterskeys.com/
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.