In Consideration of Shape

“Blushing Bluff”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
SOLD
Mention SHAPE to five different artists and they will all tell you what they think it means. Usually, the answers will have to do with the subject . . … The “shape” of the pitcher in the still life. . . . The “shape” of the face of the model . . . .the “shape” of the cloud in the sky, etc. There might be five different answers, but they will usually relate to a subject.

We become so lost in the delineation of getting a ‘shape’ correct . . . or deeply engaged in spending our efforts trying to ‘explain’ a subject. In doing so, we lose track of the most important shape in the painting and how it relates to the other ‘shapes.’ That most important shape is the shape of the canvas or paper. Huh???

Yes, we are drawn into a painting by the relationship of the shapes within the painting and the surrounding rectangle. The comparison of size of the painted shapes and the frame of the surface is a huge design consideration. Where the edges of a painted or drawn shape stop or start in comparison to the rectangle is also an element of attraction. For example, in the case of this painting, the edge of the cliff and that tree approximately hit the edge of a square inside of the rectangle, which is remindful of the golden mean. That ratio seems to be highly magnetic to us humans.

Moreover, one needs to look at the overall shapes of the three different groups of value (lights, mediums and darks) within a painting to see how they compare to each other (hopefully, they are of unequal proportion) and how they also relate to that same rectangle of the outer edges. The character of the shapes is also something often overlooked. Are the shapes generally organic in nature, or geometric . . . .curved or linear? It all has to add up.

Some artists sense this stuff and never consider it cerebrally, but they definitely feel it when it is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ There are those of us who sense that something is at work that sets us to feeling something good or not so good about a this stuff, but can’t isolate just what it is that makes us feel one way or the other. So, it pays to understand the design relationships and their dynamics so we don’t fumble around so much.

I will be presenting information such as this at a workshop for the California Watercolor Association in Concord, California this coming week. Let’s hope there will be time and inclination to post once or twice during the workshop. ‘Till then . . . .

Blow Hard

“Blow Hard”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
SOLD
This location here on the west coast is but a teensy little spot which has massive interest to me. I cannot count the number of paintings which have come from this location (Davenport, CA). Every view imaginable has been put to canvas or paper . . .and more images await the brush.
This clump of trees sits at the very edge of a sheer cliff into the rough surf below . . . .probably 100 feet or more! (30 meters). The cliff face is absolutely vertical and these trees and their roots are holding the cliff from eroding into the sea. The cluster of trees juts out into space as the wind beats at them daily. Thus, the name, “blow hard.” Their shape and their trunks and branches tell much about their struggle to remain in that place. The salt, the fog, the wind, the cold . . .it all contributes to stealing their healthy appearance and at the same time giving them strength.
I have been working on developing a new workshop for the last few months and travelling, too. The mental focus to compose the lessons, examples and order of this workshop was weighing on me. So, yesterday, I took the day to play at the easel. This was the result. I had fun and am now ready to refocus and finish my tasks to compile this workshop.

Hard Weekend!

“Hydraulic Hammer”
Watercolor, 22 x 30inches
Friday morning I began this and was completely compelled by the compositional arragement of lights and darks. I worked on it Friday, Saturday and Sunday . . .from Sketches. This sort of subject calls up all the knowlege about color, light and shadow.
This is one I am very proud to post.

Some Days Are Just Better

“Beach Trap”
oil on linen panel, 8″ x 10″
Some days everything just seems to fall into place with ease. Today, this painting almost fell off the brush by itself . . .developed from another sketch. Do you suppose practice has anything to do with it? I do.
The way the light hits these cliffs and dances about is a constant source of delight to me. I hope you don’t get tired of them.
While cleaning my studio this last month ( a HUGE task, incidentally!) . . . . . .(why does it get that deep?) . . . . .I sorted through all of the last years’ panel paintings and culled out all of the unsuccessful ones . . .then painted over them with a light coating of orange paint and put them to dry. Those panels have been what I have been painting on for the last 7 paintings. I allow the orange undertone to peek through in a few places. It adds a nice ‘warmth and sparkle’ to the work. Also, I am testing a new medium as I paint these. . . . . Gamblins’ “Meglip” . . . . . . . . . . . . .I have never used it before, but I am noticing that the paint takes on a nice glow since the medium is nearly crystal clear. It will never yellow, supposedly. The paint also seems to shine a bit more than when I use “Liquin.” I will keep playing with it and see what comes up. . . . .and do some more research about it. Do any of you painters out there use it? Care to comment? I would appreciate any thoughts or guidance you might have.
Tomorrow, I open the studio to the public. I am ready! If you live in the Bay Area, or are travelling there this weekend or next, stop by. My address is on my website.
Whoops! It isn’t there like I thought it was! Best to email me if you need address and directions.

A Return to Normalcy

“A Sailor’s Delight”
oil on oil primed linen panel, 8″ x 10″
At last, most of the preparations for Open Studio are finished. I hung the show yesterday outdoors . . .over 80 paintings out there!! . . . .and because it is outside, every painting and hanging spot had to be coded so we could take down all the pieces then, on the day of the show, replace them in minutes. It is an arduous task, believe me, to arrange the show in a cohesive way and to get all the positions just right. Now, it’s clean house and do a few small details and we are ready! Yay!!!!
With the extra time now, I can putter away at the easel . . . .wellllll, sort of! I have a gallery show coming up in November, so now it is time to prep for that. Then another show in January of just watercolors. Busy!
This little fella was fun and interesting to work with color and values. I apologize for the slight glare on the painting . . . .I can’t see that in the camera . . . .it happens.
Normal is back!! 🙂

Under the Gun

“Balls!”
Watercolor, 15″ x 22″
I am deep into preparations for my annual Open Studio show. This is my 19th year holding it and it seems the work beforehand is overwhelming.

It must be an escape mechanism in my personality that rears its head at this time of year. When I need most to focus on completing these daunting tasks, my mind is racing about possible paintings. I awaken from sound sleep dreaming about it. It seems the more I am around the framing and puttering in the studio to clean up and get ready, the more I want to paint!! It literally becomes a feeling of imprisonment! Eventually, I must cave in and dance with my easel.

Today, I awoke at 5 AM thinking about a certain sketch I had done last week . . .what color here? What value there? How should I handle the backdrop? Dry into wet or wet into dry? Calligraphy? Where? How shall I combine the light valued shapes? And what about making stimulating shapes? And on and on and on. Finally, I threw off the blankets and headed directly to the studio at 5:20AM. I was painting by 5:45 AM and finished around 7:30 AM.

After my playful easel shenanigans last week, I couldn’t get the method out of my head. So, I went after it again: dry into wet paper and building layers wet into wet. The painting always lacks something till the very end when the calligraphy is put in (line work). The trick with line is not to let it become to tight. Just lay it down with one stroke. If it is a little off, so be it. It really adds excitement to the piece . . . .oh! I forgot the birds!! That’ll bring more life to it also. I’ll have to put those in after I post.

As a last comment . . .my sense of humor carried me away this morning. I just couldn’t help making the title a little bit tongue in cheek.

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?!! 🙂

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.

Edges

This photo leads to . . .

These sketches.
Exaggerate height. Demonstrate warm cool contrasts. Play around with placement of cliff face.
. . . . . . . . . .
This painting.
“Edges”
22″ x 15″ Watercolor
I guess there isn’t much else to say, eh?
I have a sign in my studio that says, “When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt!”
Ssshhhhh! 😉