Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Value of Value First!

Jack's Barn    9 x 12    oil

This is the field study I mentioned in my last post.  I had started to say a bit about the importance of getting the values right as the basis for getting harmonious color relationships.  The first colors that I usually put down on the canvas are those that make up the dark shapes.  When I placed the color for the roof and rock walls in the shade they appeared to be very dark mud.  When I went through again, painting the light shapes, their colors in relationship to the shade colors gave the impression of luminous shadows.  Fun!

For those wrestling with understanding color, remember, we have to deal with its three properties: value (relative lightness or darkness), hue (its identity and position on the color wheel) and saturation (how strong or intense the color is).  We can't match the colors we see in nature, because of the limitations of paint pigments and the fact that the light/dark spectrum in nature is vastly larger than the light reflected off our paintings.  The brightest white doesn't approach the brilliance of the sun, and the darkest black doesn't come close to the absolute lack of light.  Painter's light is a representation of the relative difference of values we see in nature.  For the greatest part, our paintings are more or less "realistic" based on the accuracy of their value relationships. That is the relative separation of steps on the value scale between white and black.

It makes sense, then, to begin mixing a color with respect to it's perceived value.  Selecting the tube color from your palette that most closely approximates the hue you're after allows you to begin with the greatest saturation of that hue. As you add another pigment to move its hue identity toward the color you're after (warmer or cooler), you're also going to begin affecting the value.  The trick is to adjust the value up or down while attempting to match the hue temperature and saturation of the intended color.  We can talk more in detail about the available options for doing that at another time.

If you can get the values accurately, the exact hue is not of primary importance.  In fact, the saturation of the color in its proper value is more telling in its overall effect in the composition and the resulting harmony, or lack of it. Color harmony is totally dependent on the context of surrounding hues.  If the value is right, almost any hue can work.  This fact allows for great latitude in personal expression!  If the value is wrong, the colors will appear muddy in their relationship. Best approach, get the values rightly related first, then you begin to have more effective control over temperature and saturation.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Value and Color Relationship

Camp Lucy Chapel    8x10   oil

This was done on a Saturday morning paintout with my new friends in Plein Air Austin.  I've been meaning to get together with them for way too long.  I joined the group, and checked off one of my painting "to do's" for this year.  There are some terrific painters in the group, and it's a great inspiration for me to go out and paint with them.  Major thanks to our president, Johnnie Sielbeck, for all of her hard and faithful work to organize and schedule our painting locations. This was a gorgeous spot, named Camp Lucy, in the Hill Country just outside of Dripping Springs on a road that I often scour for painting sites.

While I'm setting up to paint I try to remind myself that I'm not there to create a finished painting, but to capture the essence of what's moving me to paint at the moment.  It helps me to focus on accomplishing something other than recording the "thing" in front of me.  For me, the subject is not the thing. It's the light, the mood, the feeling of the moment.  My best chance of getting some of that into my work comes as I make the conscious mind-switch to see the simple shape, value, color and edge relationships.  In this one, I was trying to give special attention to the arrangement of shapes with right values.  I've found that if I can get the values right, and simplify their design, I can more effectively bring out a nice color harmony.

Since color can be broken down into value, hue, and saturation, by first getting the value relationships right (light to shade) I can then work with the questions of "what kind of red, or blue or yellow is this?", "is this color warmer or cooler compared to that other one?" The fun is when you start seeing, on your canvas, how beautiful the colors can be together when their brought into a proper relationship.  When I look at my little study, I can recall the feeling of that crisp, sunny morning.  I was encouraged by this one  to try another study of a new subject, the next morning.  I'll probably show that one to you, soon.  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Inside or Outside. Which is best?

November Noon Cypress   8x10    oil

I see much opinion expressed by artists about the superiority of painting outdoors over studio work, yet many painters who call themselves plein-air painters do much of their work in the studio, using paintings done outdoors as reference, along with photos. (Melinda Collins)

For me, and many other outdoor painters, the answer is definitely "both".  

When I'm outside with my paint box, I have to go fast, using what skills I have to make the best decisions I can, as quickly as possible.  The light is changing, shadow patterns are moving, color relationships mutate.  There just isn't time to lay back and ponder what I may do, or to be too finicky about the compositional arrangement or details.  You have to go with what you know, while pushing the boundaries of what you're learning.  

This little painting (above) is a field study, not a finished work.  While I wouldn't take this to a gallery, the information I gathered will be very useful to me in the studio when I design a more fully considered composition.  Without the plein air study, I would have no connection to the beauty I saw, the color relationships that moved me, how I felt, or what the day was like.  All of that comes back when I'm back at the easel in my studio, with  the study, my digital photos of the scene, notes I made, and my aroused memory of that moment.  Also, I know of no better or faster way to get better at handling paint, which is not only a main factor in gaining speed, but it develops my own unique technical approach.

Plein-air paintings are life, and without them the rest of my work would die. Without it, I would have nothing to say in the studio, because without real-life experience, art is impossible. (Scott Burdick)  

Not That Long Ago   16x20    oil

When I'm inside at my easel, I can plan and plot at leisure.  I can experiment with values,  the arrangement of the elements, improve color harmony, and so on.  The above painting is an example of that.  It's still a learning experience, but a couple of things are at work.  First, the enjoyment of becoming fully occupied with trying to express in paint something that moved me. Then, there's the conscious application and development of what I've been learning about painting (this, of course, never ends).  The results are different, but it was the outside experience that enabled me to orchestrate things, and hopefully retain some of the freshness of how the paint is handled.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Time to get started!

Boulder Pile-up  8x10   

November Overcast   8x10

This is one of the first things on my list for the new year.  So, here goes!
If you've read my "about me" paragraph, you have a fair idea of my reasons for starting this blog.  I'll spare readers from the thoughts and trivial details of my painting journal, but I'll try to relate those things that have been of the greatest help to me in improving my paintings.

I'm happy to be able to begin my blog with the news of having two of my paintings juried into the Plein Air South West Salon 2012.  I was, also, awarded an honorable mention in the Associate Members Showcase for the first painting I've posted here. A third painting was also selected to appear in the Associate Members Showcase.

Check out my website for more of my paintings, both plein air and studio work.  Thanks!  I hope to see you again, soon.