Working Mulitples

“Rotating Still”
watercolor, 15 x 22 inches
This vase has been in my family since 50 years. And the lil rascal has been taunting me to paint her in an extraordinary way. You have probably seen a few versions . . . .the last post not withstanding.

An artist friend told me how he taught eighth grade kids about cubism. He put a still life set up in the middle of a square table, asked the kids to sit on one side, and draw the subject in a five minute time limit. Then, they would move to another side for five minutes . . .and so on until they completed superimposing drawing over drawing over drawing on four sides of the table. Then he sent the kids home to “fill in the spaces.”

The vase and the little pottery piece have been begging. So, today, after a dozen different drawings, I decided on doing the above exercise . . .in four non similar view points . . .sitting at different angles and slightly different heights to draw the still life (vase and jug) sitting in front of a large brass lamp four different versions superimposed one over the other.

At first the lines are confusing . . .and after a spell, it becomes exciting to play with different, nonsensical combinations . . .filling in spaces, varying colors, putting the wrong things in different places . . .building a combined composition that is pleasing.

I had a blast! I could hardly put the brush down today. It was sooo much fun!!

Taking Chances . . .Again

watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
Having just received a shipment of new paper (never tried this type before now) from England, I just HAD to take the most unfamiliar type and put it to the test . . . .or, shall I say, to many tests?
Waterford paper, made by St. Cuthberts Mill in the UK, is quite beautiful in its whiteness and its textures. The finish they make on cold press and rough are really lovely. But how well does it take a wash or glaze or . . .how does it work wet into wet . . .or if the paint is scrubbed in with a bristle brush? How well or easily does paint lift? And what of the edges? Can the image be manipulated after a base layer has been laid down? What becomes of the paper surface in vigorous lifting? And, what happens to the color when the sizings and chemistry of the paper’s structure mix with various pigments?
The heavy package arrived from England late last week. I had never seen shipped paper packaged so well! It arrived without a single sheet being even slightly tweaked! I couldn’t use it right away because I was working on the last painting posted . . .remember? The one that was taking all the time with so many glazes. Maybe the distraction of wanting to paint on that wonderful new paper was enough to cause the slaughter of that painting. I know I *wanted* badly to get to it and try it.
So, here is the very first piece . . . .Waterford 200lb cold press. That’s right: two hundred pound! Yummy paper. I took every risk I knew of to challenge the surface and try to find the achilles heel of the paper. I washed, glazed, scrubbed, lifted, scraped, pushed, tarnished and did everything I could to see what would happen. And, WOW!! It responds so beautifully and continues to show off the glorious character of the paper itself. The transparency of the colors works better on this paper than any I have tried to date. The white water with a slight cool wash just glows in this piece. (P.S. The lower right corner is orange in the photo because of a lighting goof.)
In all, I am extremely pleased with how well this paper responds! Now to find a source for it here in the USA.

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 !

A Time to Do The Familiar

“Sand Slick”
watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
I am still smarting over the last post. While the “picture” is okay, as a painting it fails on a few counts. I am going to tackle it again, but first, I just HAD to do something for the sheer enjoyment.

Understand that I am always up for a challenge, but there are also times when it feels good to just whistle a melody and sling paint. I have done enough landscapes and sea paintings in my experience to feel very comfy in their execution. Some good music in the background, a rainy day, a cozy studio and away I go!!

So, here’s the latest. Don’t get your feet wet!


“Cottonwood Homestead
posted in July

“Cottonwood Homestead” Improved
oil on cavas, 16″ x 20″

Have you ever done a painting, accepted it as done and went back a few weeks later to see it had **changed** ?

What are these mysterious gremlins at work on our paintings? Somehow, they manage to modify shapes, change the colors, put strokes in the paintings that I KNOW I never did. How does this happen.

Maybe I should pose these questions another way. Why was I so bloody blind when I was painting it? That is the real question!!

I have several paintings leaning against my easel which MUST be revised. I can see now what I could not see when I was painting them. It must be the incubation process. That is to say, like hens eggs, they must incubate quietly under warm conditions, then they hatch. Paintings have a similar character. We don’t really get to see them in the state they will be living until they have “incubated.” . . . . . .Or, been out of our vision for a period of time. . . . . How Long? . . . . . . . . Maybe as long as a year or more. Most times, though, it is usually a few weeks. Then I see the errors in color, shape, value, texture and direction. You can see in this painting of the poplars that it was rather blah. The sky was too yellow, the trees washed out, there wasn’t enough contrast of value, the color of the trees was wrong and they were leaning to the left. The more I looked at the painting, the more I itched to fix it.

So, here are the results, such as they are. I am much happier with the piece, but my mind’s vision is still a distance away from the outcome (that never changes, incidentally). As artists who are constantly looking for improvement in our work, I think our minds grow much faster than we realize. Perhaps that is why we can see the faults in our work in a matter of a few weeks.

Personally, I am very thankful for the constant change in my mental perspective. Incubation affords me to see the errors of my skills then consciously make improvements. How else does an artist grow?

Under the Gun

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.

The Power of Practice

“Golden Morning”
oil on canvas panel, 16″ x 12″
This scene, one I worked on over and over while in France, is out of the images left in my mind.

Yes. It was composed and painted completely from my thoughts about what it should look like. First, the pencil sketches came while mulling over my morning coffee without visual reference to any of the previous attempts done on site. Then there were the considerations that came with the sketches. Those considerations would never have come had I not painted similar scenes in plein aire while there. Here are some of my thoughts about composing this.

· The hay rolls must provide direction for the eye to track into the composition and not become a subject in themselves.
· Color !! Is GREEN the only color to work with?! Too much green is simply too obvious!
· Color again! Why not use colors that wouldn’t otherwise be seen? Pump it up and see what happens. Look for impact and entertainment versus realism.
· Those poplar trees! They speak to me. Feature them, not the sunflowers below.
· As for the sunflowers, just make them one shape with minor color variation.
· Put the color accents on the poplars and repeat those colors in the foreground for unity.
· Texture in the foreground to indicate grasses, but without stating “grass” explicitly. Imply!
· Use the successful parts of previous paintings.

When I stand in a field and paint a subject such as this, my attention is focused on what is there and how the light is working. That focus makes memory connections that no photograph can make. That is why so many photos go unused after coming home. There just is no concentrated, laser observation at work.

Then there is the added benefits of painting the same subject from different perspectives or points of view . . . .which make for different compositions. The more I do it, the more there is to recall . . . .and the more clarity I find in my purpose. I suppose that practice does that. It helps eliminate the superfluous and aids in refining that which impresses me. In this case, those beautifully shaped poplar trees . . . .and, of course, the light.

In the studio, all this stuff comes into play and falls easily into place.

Practice does that. It makes every attempt clearer, more certain and easier to execute. Some artists call it working in series. It is very, very powerful!

A Reconciliation

“Ice Plant Droop” Reconciled
oil on stretched canvas, 24″ x 30″
This painting has been under attack daily since I first posted it a few days ago.
There was much to resolve . . . . . .”It is hard to drain the swamp when you are up to your ass in aligators!” says the silly proverb . . . .but it is true. When attempting to correct something which has to do with design, one needs to not be distracted by subject. But, alas, I was once again.
Then again, I needed to resolve some significant color issues so that all parts of the piece related. Here are a few items I modified;
  • Gathered together some of the big “blotches’ of ice plant to form a single large shape.
  • Attempted to create more of a green dominance in the ice plant to set up the red contrasts.
  • Worked on temperature variations throughout the entire piece.
  • Related one cliff face to the other via color and value.
  • Reduced the sweetness of the background trees by graying them considerably.
  • Attemted to set up more of an atmospheric sense in the entire painting via gradations, intensity modifications and reduced value contrasts as the viewer moved back into the picture space.
  • Warmed up the forground cypress bush from cold alizirin crimson to a warmer harmonic of colors using alizirin as a base and adding yellow and green for warmth.

There are plenty more things . . .and I noticed that I don’t think particularly clearly when I am unsure of what to do next . . .this painting was entirely from a sketch without photo references or being on the site.

This one has been waking me from slumber, too. I just had to get it done!

Still on the Easel

Awaiting Final Color Decisions
I began this larger piece yesterday because I have been craving larger work. This piece is 24 x 30, which still comes up ‘small’ for where I want to go . . . .I want to push 60 inches eventually.

But . . .that is not what I came here to discuss . . . this time it is color. As you can see I have been doing some color gymnastics in the last few weeks and am excited about making some unusual color choices. However, I am concerned about this piece and the colors I chose . . . .that is why it is still on the easel. So, I am stirring this one around in my head . . . .and pacing . . . . and scratching my head. I think the colors in the cypress trees, in this case, are wrong. I am not sure if it is the value of the small, bush like cypress in the foreground, or the violet / ‘periwinkle’ color of those in the back ground.

I am attempting to set up some extreme aerial perspective here . . . .and much of it is working . . . . .but this painting is rattling inside of me for some reason. . . .and I can’t quite put my finger on it yet. I would be most interested in your toughts.

The Challeges of Contra Jour

“Bandits at 3 O’Clock!”
Watercolor, 30″ x 22″
Contra Jour, or backlit subjects make for big challenges in color and value management. Typically, everything facing the painter is in shadow, which completely affects color. Hues in the light are vitally different than hues out of the light, both in value and temperature . . . .and maybe intensity, also. Right off, with the big value differences set up by glaring light pouring straight at the viewer, all sorts of gradations need to be considered to transition into the lit areas . . . .and cast shadows cannot be whimpy. So, often, the watercolorist might be faced with restating (painting over) values and colors.

In the world of watercolor, “stuff” begins to accumulate the moment one paints over a dry coat of paint (glazing). That “stuff,” as I refer to it, can roll up and create what watercolor painters call MUD. That is, as the different pigments get painted over one another, they are also loosened from the surface of the paper . . . .some commercial pigments do this more than others . . . .then they begin to mix and mingle with the pigments being glazed. When working with warm accents inside cool passages, this happens often. When attempting to put the front side of a form (out of the light), such as these figures, the painter is confronted with very cool areas (reflecting the sky in this case) and warm areas of reflected light from the ground. These guys’ white jump suits presented such a challenge. How to mix the warms and cools to avoid making gray, sooty, neutrals . . . commonly known as MUD. Click on the image for higher resolution and you can see areas where these challenges became apparent.

I have spent over a week wrestling with this problem and building a convincing painting of a contra jour street scene using figures dressed in white. I am not sure of this, but it seems there are a bazillion less challenging subjects and approaches. Like a nice bowl of oranges, or perhaps some nice boats, or maybe a sweet landscape.

Then, there is the challenge of making the colors painted come out on my monitor and to cause Photoshop to behave as I would like it.

Would someone please shoot me? Please !!