Friday, March 30, 2012

A Nice Lie

Matador    8x10    oil
Here's the last study I did while at the coast last week.  This was done on a sunny, breezy, afternoon looking across the launch and take-out ramp in Conn Harbor, Aransas Pass.  Looks quiet and peaceful, doesn't it?  But it's a lie!  Boats were often coming in through the foreground area to load onto their trailers at the end of a day of fishing.  Lots of noise, hub-ub, shouting and laughing about their day's catch, and loading instructions.

There was another little oyster boat on the other side of the pier, behind the one I've painted, confusing all the shapes.  I left it out but took the nets off of it and hung them on the Matador since it didn't have any.  I Imported the palms, which were out of view to the left, and planted them where they would tie into the exhaust stack of the boat.

Where I stood to paint placed me in a continual flow of fisherman, and sight-seers and the free banter of their questions and comments.  "How long did that take you?" "Are you painting that boat?"  "What happened to the other boat?"  "I have an aunt who paints watercolors."  "I own a signed print of a cowboy."  "Are you famous?" "That's so pretty, I can't even draw a straight line."  Great practice for painting in all kinds of situations, and getting to meet all kinds of fun people.  I'm not a camera, I tell visual lies.  The little "Matador" just looked so at peace, fresh and ready to do what it was built for.  Game for the day.  Any day when I'm out painting is a good day.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Keeping It Simple

Beautiful Dreamer    9x12    oil
I found this old, sleek, wooden-hulled, marlin boat (I was told) marooned high and dry on a hilltop in Conn Harbor/Aransas Pass.  Couldn't help thinking how she must have once been the apple of some happy fisherman's eye.  That's how I came to naming it "Beautiful Dreamer".

This is a plein air study, and I hope it appears deceptively simple in execution, but there was a significant drawing puzzle to solve in getting the boat to look right.  The cabin structure and rear of the boat had to be worked out in their relative parts and tilted perspective, or the boat would present an awkward disjuncture.

When I see there's a bit of a drawing problem involved in a subject, I'll usually begin with a dry brush indication of that area using something like Burnt Sienna.  The only medium I use for this is a very small bit of Liquin, to give better control of the range of marks I need for line and tone indication. I can easily wipe-out and re-state these until I'm satisfied.  The Liquin also sets up quickly, making it easy to paint over.

Once this rough indication is in place, I can confidently apply my pre-mixed colors to the main shapes. In my pre-mixtures, I try to closely approximate the hue, value and chroma I want for representing the light and shade in the various parts.  I try to place these "best guess" colors as simply and directly as possible into their "spots" without too much concern for edges.  If all this appears to work, I go ahead to adjust shape accuracy, edge variety and color/temperature variation within shapes.  (Notice how the hull grades from a cool violet at the bow through the warm red mid-section, finishing in a fairly neutral gray at the stern, without much shift in value.)  I like stuff like that!  The other thing I found interesting was the warm bounce of color from the ground-plane illuminating the shadow side of the hull and cabin, while the darker shadow on the front of the cabin is cooled by the light from the sky.

The foreground needed something to lead the eye to the focal area ( the cabin ).  The ground was a hard-baked caliche with natural grasses and weeds.  I simply arranged the bare ground patches into a pattern directing the eye into the picture.  All of this is done with the intent of getting the simple essentials of the scene in place.  This type of study, and a snapshot or two of the subject are everything I will need to make a larger studio painting of this beautiful dreamer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

So Long

"So Long"    8x10    oil
This is the other little Port Aransas cabin I painted last week, the day before it was to be torn down. A neighbor came out to visit while I was standing by his curb painting.  He's the one who told me about the systematic eradication of these old homes.  He rather wistfully reminisced about the "old" Port Aransas, while balancing that with a practical explanation of the dilemma.  Seems that these old homes, which are spotted throughout all of the Port A neighborhoods, have become a confusion to real estate valuation, as many have fallen into vacancy and delapidation.  So, it's an inevitability that they must go.  I get that.  It's just a bit sad saying so long to the Port Aransas that was once a magical part of my growing up.  I took a lot of pleasure in being able to stand there and quietly paint it good bye.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Get With It!

End Of The Road    9x12    oil
The month has slipped by, and I haven't posted since putting up some of the paintings from my Big Bend trip.  Things were pretty intense when I got back, trying to get caught up with what had been left undone while I was gone, taking care of business, and just getting outside to paint.  I just returned from a week of painting down on the coast.  Port Aransas, Aransas Pass, Rockport, Fulton Beach.  The weather was great, and I was ready to get away and just focus on painting, again.

I found this subject while cruising through an old Port A neighborhood in the late afternoon. There are several reasons I named this one "End Of The Road". One is where it's situated, and another is that both houses are soon to be torn down in the continuing city renewal mandate process.  It's sad to see that the old Port A that I grew up loving has all but disappeared.  Anyway, I'm happy to have painted this and another soon to be wrecked cabin.  I'll show you that one tomorrow.  From what I was told by the neighbors, these three are probably gone by now.


By the way, if there's something you've been wanting to get done for a long time, …get with it!  Doesn't matter what age we are, time is shorter than we think, and everything passes and changes.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Abstracting The Landscape

Controbando Adobe    8x10    oil
This was done in a little adobe village on the Rio Grande named Controbando.  The village is a Hollywood recreation on the steep bank of the river.  Everything has been set up catch the lighting just right for the background of the film.

However, this little adobe needed some help to make a composition suitable for a painting.  This where abstracting the landscape comes in.  We're not to be captive to what we see before us.  Rather, it's our job to take from what is there, and respond to what interests us most.  We edit, rearrange, and often omit things that don't help to emphasize the star of the show.  In this case, the adobe and its porch.

The base of the massive butte in the top right corner was appropriated from outside the natural scene.  Same for the red dirt hill in front of it, and the other bit of an adobe to the right.  The stark rectangle of the featured adobe needed some kind of foil to set it off and create spacial depth.  There was actually only one scrubby tree in the background to the left of the adobe.  I felt it needed more than that, again for depth and to give a bit more interest in the sky shape.  The pathway leading in from the bottom left was arranged to carry the eye across the little arroyo, and back to the porch of the adobe with its shadow pattern.  A good start for a larger painting.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Better Late Than Never

Late In The Afternoon    9x12    oil
We had set up to paint on the Rio Grande, around 3:30 in the afternoon.  Ten minutes into it a strong wind came up, blowing over our easels and scattering equipment.  So, we packed up and fled for home.  At an overlook on the road back to Costolon Station we spotted a half dozen other painters working away on a beautiful vista of a creek that feeds into the Rio Grande.  We decided to join them, and went to work fast. It was getting late.


Before us was a broad, majestic vista of the cliffs and buttes above the Rio Grande river and the spreading basin.  This creek was prominent in the scene, winding through the landscape towards the river.  Knowing I had little time left to catch the scene, I sighted this postage stamp sized detail of the creek bank, from the scene below, using my viewfinder.  In the little 1 inch by inch and a quarter window I found all I needed for a challenging subject.  The late afternoon sun illuminated the dry rushes, and the mesquite forest beyond.  The wind rippled the river and made silvery patterns that cut into the reflections from the river bank.  So glad we didn't give up and go home!  You never know when you're going to find a little jewel to try for.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Color of Gray

Santa Elena Canyon    9x12    oil

Santa Elena Canyon. This may be one of the most painted spots in Big Bend. You can see it from miles away as a notch in the long blue ridge of huge cliffs standing above the desert floor and running along the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. It presents very different aspects depending on time of day, light quality, and angle of view. 

I love painting "gray" subjects because they offer the opportunity to push color once you tune in on the subtle temperature shifts in the light and shade.  If you just jump right in and start painting light shapes and dark shapes, you can get a nice value arrangement, but you're likely to miss all that's going on with the color.  

I like a painting to be either dominantly light or shade, and then, I like to place the greatest color variety in one or the other.  Placing it in both seems to set up a visual conflict, and loses the beauty found in the subtle hues.  This one keeps asking me to do a larger version, to take advantage of the lovely shadow colors contrasting with the brilliantly lit rock.