Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Imagining Color

A friend of mine took a fabulous photo on a small family farm we were visiting in Colorado a couple of years ago.  I love the composition and the animal faces.  I also love that it is black and white.  It was a very gray day. A distant storm was brewing over the mountains so there was very little light.  Black and while suited the scene perfectly.  Recently I decided to use this reference for a painting but I didn't want it to be colorless.  Here is the photo-

I cropped it in a bit but kept the square format and decided on a 12"x12" sized panel.  The values were set.  All I had to do was imagine color.

My initial block in was with burnt sienna and ultramarine blue thinned with some mineral spirits. I used a little ivory black for the darkest darks.  At this point the animals are just simple shapes that needed refinement.   I eliminated the cow's head at the right edge of the painting.

I toned the canvas with burnt sienna immediately before starting the painting.  That way I didn't have to stare at a white canvas but could still wipe out some highlights.  As a result of toning the sky is a pinkish orange color which I liked.  

Under the circumstances there could only be so much color.  Sheep, a cow and lots of mud doesn't scream "colorist territory" but I thought I could play with the tree and the distant mountains and sky.

Here I have put more paint on the canvas and tried to approximate the values in the photo.  I exaggerated the size and color of the distant mountains with a lighter more saturated blue and made the sky pink with some light yellow breaks in the cloud cover, giving it an over all orange impression.  I added some nondescript debris in the shed (so it wouldn't look like a black hole) and gave the fence a little more personality by leaning some posts and adding random stokes to suggest vegetation.  All the greens in this painting were made with ivory black and cad yellow light to keep them very grayed down.

Lastly I put a bit more light on the tree with some red tones, but I didn't want to indicate bright sunlight. I lightened up the ground and developed the faces of the sheep in the foreground trying to leave the animals in back as suggested forms.  I filled in the darks in the sheep with some warm and cool half tones.  After the painting was dry I glazed the distant field, the foreground and the shed with more chroma (saturated, less grayed), both warm and cool.

I had fun with this one and will try it again.  Exercises such as this help painters develop their imaginative skills and offer a break from the same old routine, just like trying challenging new subject material.

Many thanks to Laura Todd for providing the reference photo.

And thanks to you for reading!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Studio Tips

I have had a home studio for 3 years.  It is an optional bedroom in a house we built and has its own bathroom.  I selected a stainless steel sink because I was going to wash brushes there.  Instead of carpet or hardwood floors we had plywood floors installed that are painted a darker earth tone (close to burnt sienna).  The walls are white.  I have a hanging system and I will write post about this in the future.  When we sell the house someday the buyers can add a closet (where I have storage cabinets), remove the plywood, install carpet and chose a more attractive sink if they don't want to remodel the bath.

The layout of the room is a work in progress but I want to share a few tips I have learned from others.  It is small, and though I envy artists with large studios my limited space forces me to cull through things on a regular basis and make the most of every square inch.

My easel is big but not super sized, appropriate for my paintings which so far have never exceeded 30"x40".  Here is what it looks like-

It is made by Best and isn't the best as far as I am concerned, but it is very sturdy and wasn't horribly expensive.  I don't like using the knobs and leveling the canvas can be tedious.  That isn't the tip however.  What I want you to notice is the cheap unfinished table that holds my palette IN FRONT OF the easel.  I learned this from Ann Blair Brown. She uses a credenza in front of her easel to force her to stand farther from the canvas while painting.  Painters have a tendency to get too close and hold the brush like a pencil. Now I have to stand back and hold my long handle brushes at the end which is where they should be held to keep things loose.  I also prefer mixing paint in front of me rather than on the side table which is what I used to do.  It's easier on my shoulder and also better for looking back and forth while mixing.  I like having a drawer for extra tubes of the paint colors I use the most.   If you want to spend more check out the taborets (Cheap Joe's) or even a metal tool cabinet at Lowe's with a glass palette on top.

Next tip- if you paint from an iPad or similar device,  here is something I learned from Barbara Jaenicke.  Amazon sells a product called the Accmor Tablet Tripod Adapter which costs a whopping $8.99 and can be mounted on any tripod.  I have an old tripod that isn't very good but is perfect for this use.  The adaptor can hold large smart phones and most iPads.  I use the mini.  It's also good for making videos.   Check it out-

Here is my setup-

I adjust it at eye level with the painting- so much better than the stand I was using on the table! This also freed up more table space.  If your setup isn't close to an outlet you can get an iPad charger (generic) with an extra long cord for around $6 at Tuesday Morning.  I keep mine charging while painting so I don't run out of juice.  And I change (under settings) the "auto-lock" to "never" so I don't have to tap the screen every few minutes.  If you do this be sure to turn the screen off when your session is over.

If you are still using photo prints for reference consider making a change.  I will never go back now that I have discovered how superior a backlit digital image is.  You can crop, adjust the photo and save a ton on prints or printer ink.

Last thing- I like to have paintings in various stages on a stand to study, sometimes while I'm taking a break or on days when I am not going to paint.  I was using a display easel which only held 2 small paintings and wasn't very sturdy.  A painting friend recently told me about the Testrite Art Tree.  I found a used one on eBay which was quite discounted and I bought the most basic one.  Here is what it looks like-

It is strong yet lightweight and has castors which make it very easy to move around. Paintings can be displayed on the front and back.  It is portable enough to take to shows if you do that and can accommodate frames or panels.  Click on for a larger view.  You can buy a new one here-
or look for used ones on resale websites.

Bottom line- your studio is never finished.  Try new things, ask your artist friends (visit their studios if possible) and pay attention to the practical tips at workshops!

Happy re-arranging!  And thanks to friend Vicki for the Testrite tip!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Customer is Always Right

Recently I had a very satisfactory interaction with a friend and long time patron.  He was interested in an older painting from 2015 which had never sold.  It was a local scene from my reference photo-

I love this view.  I pass by it every time I drive home.  While low tide paintings are not that popular, I love the marshes when they are almost empty.  The channels of the  creeks are so interesting.  Yes there is mud, but it changes almost from minute to minute and the reflections and shadows can be beautiful.

When I decided to paint this I immediately wanted to do away with the wall of trees. Marshes show best when there are long views,  but not all of the long views have such an interesting channel of water.  So again, you have to combine references or use your imagination.

Here is my painting from 2015-

I wasn't exactly a slave to the photograph.  I made the distant trees recede, added a river that isn't there (it is on the other side of the island) and enhanced the colors of the grasses.  However, I didn't consider changing the foreground.  When it didn't sell after a time I took it out of the frame and put it away though it was still on my website.

My friend saw it and decided he wanted it.  After I delivered it he remarked that the left lower corner of the painting bothered him (the flow of the creek didn't look right) and wondered if I could do something about that.  Well of course I could!  Truth is, I hadn't looked at the painting critically in a long time.

Here is the problem-  there is a very sharp curved edge on the left lower side between the mud and the water. It literally dumps the viewer out of the painting along with the water- not good!  To make things worse there is a big value shift there, again not good for the corner of a painting.  The grasses do nothing to mitigate this.

Here is the re-do-

This did not take much time.  I used my Art Set Pro app to try out some things before painting on the canvas.  The edge and big value shift are now gone and the creek flows smoothly, leading the viewer into the painting and off to the distant trees and river.

Bottom line- pay attention to every critique.  A small change can make a big difference. Keep reviewing those older paintings.  I must remind myself to do the same.

Happy Revising

PS- thank you George!  

Thursday, March 1, 2018

An Approach to a New Subject

I live in a coastal area that is profoundly flat and I am primarily a landscape painter.  Tidal marshes and flat seascapes figure prominently in my work.  I do not  have the luxury of those dramatic cliffs and waves crashing on rocks.  Occasionally I sneak out to paint vertical scenes and it is a welcome change,  but since those opportunities are infrequent I like to mix it up with other types of subject matter.

Recently I came upon this photo in my "Art Ideas- animals" file-

I had never painted any part of a peacock though I have many photos, most of which are of the entire bird.  I don't know why I zoomed in on this draped tail (called a train) but when I reviewed it I thought it looked like an elegant wall hanging.  Although a bird, this stuck me as a found still life.

Here I share my process, both thought and painting-

1.  This was taken on an overcast day though there is some shadow and light apparent on the feathers.  My idea was to increase the value range with a dark somewhat transparent background and brighter saturated color in the lightest areas to create dimension.

2.  I didn't want to simplify the feathers very much but did want to lose the chain link fence which was distracting, especially near the edges of the image.

3.  I started with a block-in using my darkest dark- burnt sienna and ultramarine blue, both of which are semi-transparent.  For the very darkest areas I painted a little ivory black into my mixed dark (more on that later).  I used a little mineral spirits on a rag to carve out the lightest part of the feathers.

The feathers needed a lot of refinement in shape and location but this was an underpainting I thought would create the effect I wanted.  Even at this stage I tried to use brushstrokes that suggested the fine feathers, planning to let some of this show through in the finished painting.

4.  Before the end of the first session I started adding some more saturated color in a mid range value and defining the brighter areas with a lighter value.  I still have not come in with my lightest lights.  At this point I called it a day, wanting to take a break and take it slow.

5. In session two I brought in the stars of the show, my thalos- blue, green and turquoise. I use these about once a year but this was the day!  I still kept ultramarine blue in the picture and made a lot of little paint piles with variations.


For the silvery feathers I mixed a light violet using cad red and ultramarine blue (plus white).  I am approaching my lightest lights in many areas.  At this point I decided to let it dry completely.  I was painting on a piece of canvas and I wanted to mount it on a panel and apply retouch varnish before proceeding to what would hopefully be the last session.

6.  In the third session I added the lightest values, adjusted some shapes, and developed the finer feathers throughout the painting.  I also glazed some more burnt sienna on the peripheral dark areas in an effort to make them more luminous.  

"Eyespots"  14"x11" oil on linen panel

About tube blacks, I was told early on by many instructors not to use them.  I rarely do as a result and usually mix my darks for a near black color.  However, ivory black with yellow makes a lovely gray green and painting some black into dark areas is helpful if you want to make them darker as I did here in the block in.  When painted wet into wet with other colors it is no longer tube black.  Don't be afraid to use black if you need it, just be judicious, and never use it by itself to paint a black object.

Thanks for reading.  Lastly, many thanks to my handsome model!


Monday, January 22, 2018

Combining Reference Material to Get What You Want.

Recently I was asked to paint a local landscape for a friend and was given free reign about the specifics.  That is the best kind of commission.  No bad photo to make the most of or specific landmarks to deal with.  I decided I would try a dramatic sky/sunset over our flat marshlands.  I went to my "ideas" file of skies and picked this one-

I love the colors and light in the sky as well as the reflections, but there are a couple of problems here.  We know that photos lie, especially in high contrast conditions.  I took this photo recently and I remember that the land mass was not black.  It might be almost black at night, but there was still quite a bit of light at this time.  Besides that, this is a very boring composition.  There are 3 shapes (sky, land, water) that are very close to the same size.  The tree line has the pines and deadwood that are typical in our area, but it practically forms a wall across the scene.

So, back to my "ideas" file of local landscapes.

This is much more interesting.  There is a nice water shape to lead the eye into the painting and to allow for reflections.  The tree line is very characteristic, but tapers off for a long marsh view.  The small structures in the distance don't add anything and can be substituted for more distant trees.  But this is an afternoon photo which wasn't what I wanted.

While looking at the second photo I blocked in the darks and the shape of the water. Once I worked out the composition I only looked at the first photo for the drama in the sky and the water.  I kept a little bit of light in the land mass, avoiding a black flat shape.

This was local scenery, which was requested, but I took the liberty of using photos from two different sites, each with something of interest.

Save your reference photos and mix it up!  Many of us are having a tough winter.  It is a good time to organize your files and find inspiration.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How to Save Paint (and How Not To)

Let's face it, paint is expensive.  While I think it is OK for beginners to use student grade paint, as soon as it becomes clear that they will continue to paint it's time to spring for the expensive stuff.  Student grade has more filler and less pigment, possibly making it less economical in the long run.

One very basic way to save money on paint is to use a limited palette.  The less colors you use the less you buy.  That may sound nonsensical, but think fewer of the large economical tubes.  If you mix your greens you won't wind up with numerous tubes of greens that you rarely or never use.  That is wasted paint/money and I have an impressive pile. Many of mine were on the supply lists for workshops, sometimes not even used in the actual workshop and certainly not after.  Others were colors I just HAD to have when I saw a beautiful painting and asked the artist what was used.  That was before I had a better understanding of how color harmony and temperatures make paintings work, rather than "that color".

Another thing to try, both paint saving and a good exercise,  is to mix your leftover paint from a session to make a "mother gray" for the next one, or even to use to tone some canvases.  Using a gray you mix yourself can unite a painting and use paint you might have wasted.

Try to get the most out of every tube.  For the studio I buy the large tubes and I wait for sales.  As the tube empties I use a heavy duty tube wringer to completely empty it.  This is the link to the one I use. Heavy duty tube wringer  It is amazing how much paint is still in those large tubes when they appear to be almost empty. I use the metal wringer because I have heard complaints about the plastic ones.  That said, the heavy duty is- go figure- heavy, so it stays in the studio.  There is a light weight option for the small tubes I keep in my backpack for plein air outings.  Check it out- Small tube wringer.  It is handy but not as effective.

Once the tube is thoroughly wrung I don't stop there.  I saw an instructor do this in a workshop and wondered why I hadn't thought of it-

Using pliers squeese the top of the tube all the way flat on both sides.  See how much comes out of a small tube- imagine how much is still in a big tube!

You can also prolong the life of the paint on your palette.  I always transfer leftover paint from my plein air easel to my studio palette when I get home to use later.  This keeps my pochade box from becoming a dried up mess.  I keep my studio palette in a plastic box with a lid.  Though mine isn't airtight it still seems to slow the drying process.   I have tried putting wax paper on top of the paint which helps but is a bit messy. I recently heard that Press and Seal is very effective and the paint doesn't stick as much.  This is a grocery store product.

I never put my leftover palette paint in the freezer but apparently this works very well. There are various devices on the market to make this easy and convenient.  Maybe I'll try it one day but my freezer space is limited.  You can take a look at this one to get an idea- Paint Saver

For impasto work there are paint extenders that also add body to the paint to enhance the effect.  My favorite is Gamblin Solvent Free Gel.  In my experience it does not make the paint dry faster on the canvas but I love the way it adds body to the paint without diminishing its intensity.  Of course you have to buy the extender, but it costs less than some of the pricier colors.

Professional artists likely don't need to worry about this.  I know some who get free paint from companies they promote so they don't need to bother.  (They have enough work to do as it is.)  For me it is worth the extra effort.

This leads to one last thing- how NOT to save paint.  Sorry to yell, but DON'T TRY TO SAVE PAINT BY BEING STINGY WITH YOUR PALETTE.  You might as well put your paints away and not paint.  Old joke, but so true...  That said, pay attention to the colors you use in large quantities and those you don't.  I have wasted so much alizarin crimson over the years by putting out too much.  A little goes a long way.  I put out a lot of ultramarine blue, yellow and white because I use large quantities of those.  I use a lot less red and strong blues such as Prussian blue.

You can be economical with your paints, but paint liberally!

Happy Holidays!


Friday, November 17, 2017

Painting Out On Overcast Days (Revised)

I love drama and I usually try to create it using strong light and shadows.  Recently I reviewed my files of other artists' work and realized that most of the images involved bright light.  Depending on where we live many of us are faced with overcast conditions.  I'll admit that I often find excuses not to paint out on those days.  In low light the range of values is diminished.  The contrast is less dramatic and the colors less saturated.  Below is a plein air piece I painted on a very gray day-

While I was painting, a patch of blue sky developed and I quickly blocked it in using white and tiny touches of Prussian blue and cad. yellow light.  Even though there is no direct sunlight on the scene this created a break from all the gray tones.  After I got to the studio I pushed the color a bit more.

Here is another plein air study on a gray day-

The darks in the clouds are too dark even though I wasn't painting from a photograph.  A value checker (red film) can help with this.  I reworked it later to add some warmer blue showing through and added more light on the trees.  I think these changes improved the painting.

Consider these thoughts about gray day paintings-

Try for a strong composition and make light and color less important.

The light does not change as quickly on overcast days so you can take more time to finish.

Look for spots of more saturated color for contrast (flowers, man-made objects, patches of blue sky showing through).  These colors will sing next to all the gray.

Try enhancing atmospheric perspective (fog, mist).

Look for water reflections.  Make some up by adding a pond or puddle if you can do that.

So no more excuses!  Go ahead and paint out on those cloudy days.  (And I'm talking to me, not you.)

Happy painting, and many thanks to artist friend Mary Houston for her input on these thoughts.