Friday, August 31, 2012

BEAUTIFUL HARMONIES, CONVENIENCE, AND AFFORDABILITY

CREEK FLOW   11x14   oil on canvas panel
Not that anyone has asked, but hey, it's my blog, I thought I'd tell you my palette color choices.  Some painters like to take out a couple of dozen different tube colors, some only three primaries and white, and some choose something in between.  I'm an "in-betweener".

In the past years, I've tried the limited, three primary color palette, and it was a great experiment for learning about mixing hues to achieve a broad spectrum of colors and how to vary color temperature.  It also somewhat assures a harmonic color scheme, due to the repetition of the same hues. Only thing is the limited palette is just that, limited.  Expressively, you can't reach certain color notes you'd like to have.  You must settle for the closest approximation within the available gamut of your chosen primaries.  On the other hand carrying around a large range of colors affords you all kinds of color choices, but it's both cumbersome, and increases the likelihood of producing whacky dissonance.

So, here's my personal solution.  Nine tube colors, total.  Cadmium Lemon Yellow (a bright, cool, powerful yellow),  Terra Rosa (a moderate red that's a bit cool when white is added.  It's a real workhorse in beautifully modifying all the other colors in my landscape palette.  I never have found much need for the high-powered cadmium reds in landscapes).  Permanent Alizarin ( a very cool, dark red, also useful in many mixtures).  Ultramarine Blue (wouldn't want to do without it).  Viridian Hue (regular Viridian is beautiful and useful, but lacks the punch I want in influencing mixtures.  Viridian Hue, like all the so-called "hue" colors, contains thalo blue or green, both of which will easily take over your mixtures if you're not extremely careful).  To these five spectrum colors I add three modifiers, Burnt Umber, Mauve Blue Shade, and Caucasian Flesh.  These enable me to quickly achieve subtle hue movement in mixtures that are well suited to the landscape.  For white, my favorite is LeFranc Titanium.  It has just the right creamy consistency for easy handling and it's very opaque.  Second choice is any of the combination titanium/zinc whites, because they're not as "stiff" as many of the straight titanium whites.

If you're an experimenter, I think you'll enjoy the range of beautifully harmonious colors you can produce with this palette, plus the convenience of not having to tote so much paint.  As an added plus, with the exception of Cadmium Yellow Lemon, these are very reasonably priced pigments.  Have you looked at the price of Cobalt or Cerulean Blue?!  Wow!  That stuff will run up your supply expenditure fast.    

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

THE NEED FOR SPEED.

Through the Hills   8x10    oil on canvas panel
Speed is essential to getting an impression down before the sun has moved so significantly as to leave the subject unrelated to what you started with.  It's one of the main skills you must develop to paint successfully en plein air (out of doors, in usually one go).

Speed isn't necessary to produce good art, and it may not serve to produce works for the gallery, since until its mastered our work appears raw, unfinished, even clumsy.   Still it teaches important lessons, and faster than any other means I know of.  Like consciousness of "the big picture".  You need to decide what the painting will emphasize and then everything else must be subordinated in the design.  When working slowly, in the studio, it's easy to get sidetracked into developing various things within the scene that create competition for the big picture.  It's the big picture concept that supplies impact, and not just technical virtuosity.

Paint handling is another skill that develops quickly as you go for speed.  How thick, thin, transparent, slippery the paint is makes a difference in what you're able to accomplish.  Only way to gain the skill is by lots of time painting, but going for speed forces the issue and shortens the learning curve.  Values and color judgement have to be brought into hand, there usually isn't time to develop a careful underpainting step to build upon.

When speed begins to be mastered, the artist usually finds pleasure in the spontaneity of the painting act. It's like jamming on a musical instrument, and coming up with some surprisingly nice stuff.  It also gives the brushwork a freshness, and directness that is often appealing.  Like any worthwhile skill, it comes at a price, and progress can seem painfully slow, but it's worth the discipline if you want to play the music you see.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

IMPOSING A DESIGN

CAMPSITE 17   8X10   oil on canvas panel
Much of the subject matter available in the Texas Hill Country is a matter of what I call "clump management".  I mean you're confronted with a rather homogeneous tableau of scrub oak, mesquite, and lots of cedar (actually mountain ash).  You have to put on your sorting vision in order to differentiate the clumps.  Then, you need to identify something that the painting is going to be about, or you'll end up with a painting of indistinguishable clumps.

It's actually great practice for learning to impose design into your paintings, which is, I think, what good painting is about.  Although, sometimes it's easier to do than others, at all times it's the artist's job to create order from what we confront.  Painting is just a lot of work if all you're doing is reporting on appearance.

Once while I was out painting, a man and his little family stood watching for a few minutes, and then just before walking off he huffed and commented, "Wouldn't it be faster to just take a picture?"  Depends on what you're after.  For me, the fun and inspiration comes from doing something with the information before you to raise what is seen to something felt and admired.

Friday, August 24, 2012

LEARNING THE VOCABULARY

HILL COUNTRY PALETTE   11X14    oil panel
Everyone sees and feels differently. The two are inextricably rooted in what we do as painters. I think there's a personal vocabulary we have to discover through persistent work if we want to communicate visually about our subject. I think I'm just learning the baby talk for the landscape I love.

With all that goes into just learning how to put paint down, and considering the arrangement of what's before you, and solving the tactical problems of painting outdoors, there's a point at which we're just becoming prepared to translate what we see and want to say about our subject.

My four year old grandson does a marvelous job of expressing himself.  With his limited experience and vocabulary, he's still able to let you know how he feels in terms that are direct, non-pretentious and to the point. Sometimes I'm amazed at the skill he's gained, and the words he uses and understands the meanings of.  He gets it not from trying to impress anyone with what he can say, but through his desire to communicate about what he's happy about, what excites him, and how he feels.  He's keen to learn and incorporate the new words and phrases that he realizes fit his expressive needs, and he's not worrying about what he hasn't mastered, yet.  Often, his toddler talk is more listenable, and full of real joy, than the drivel we adults adopt.  Saying something beautifully in a painting arises from a similar motivation, and it requires learning a personally meaningful vocabulary. 


Thursday, August 23, 2012

CONTRE JOUR - A WORTHY CHALLENGE

GOOD TO BE OUT!   9X12    oil panel
Contre jour - painting against the light.  It's a beautiful and dramatic effect, but it doesn't last long and you've got to get with it fast or you're left with a view that doesn't even resemble your motive.  When that happens you may as well pack-up.

When the light is coming up from behind the subject, you get interesting rim lighting, illumination of semi-transparent elements and attractive shadows.  A lot to recommend it, right?  This is where your skills get tested.  There's no time to lose.  You have to keep the painting moving forward as soon as you begin, striving for the big important shapes and their value relationships.  The more you can readily access, on the fly,  the skills you have the better your odds of success.  Design, shape simplification, value relationships, edges, color recession, contrasts, dominance, gradation, repetition, etc. Accessibility and application of skills is why there's a need to be out regularly. Knowledge is a must to have, but without regular exercise it goes dormant.  It's Good to be out!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

SYSTEMATIC EXPLORATION OR HINDRANCE?

RUGGED BEAUTY    14X18     oil on linen
From time to time, I like to take a painting that I've done and rethink it.  Like, "How could I treat this differently, and learn something?"  In this case, I wanted to make some conscious color decisions using schematic choices tied to the color wheel.  In this painting I raised the value relationships to a lighter "key", and increased the chroma levels of the main colors.  I also enjoy the more somber colors of the original painting, but the experiment was very helpful to my understanding of color, and its expressive qualities.  It "feels" different.  It creates a different mood.

Below is the first version of this painting, and a color wheel tool that I put together to compare the hue positions in three different popular color systems.  These are the Triadic, Munsell and Real color wheels.  All three will provide harmonies using basic color scheme plans, but the results will differ depending upon which system you use.

Some of my painter friends respond, "!?", when I talk about this stuff.  They tell me they just do what comes by natural intuition, and don't want to be hindered by any "artificial systems".  Intuition is certainly a valuable asset to a painter, but not a useful excuse for being uninformed about what makes color and design work.  Besides that, intuition improves as our familiarity increases with respect to how various elements are known to perform.  Most musicians prefer working within the structures of musical scales, rather than what they may discover while working with random noise.  The point is not to be hindered, but freed to experiment with purpose and predictability.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

PAINTING WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE

EARLY PASTURE    12X16    oil on linen panel    
For the most part, this one is a fig newton of my imagination.  I had a reference photo, from a trip to a friend's ranch, that had the two tree clumps with a view to the distance that is somewhat similar to this in configuration.  The color, however, was dull green and brown, and there was no creek winding through the pasture.  I played up the carpet of spring wildflowers, invented a creek that helps get you to my focal area, and imposed a more spunky color scheme with early morning in mind.  Reference is a launch pad for us to paint what we want to see.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

LETTING IT RIP

PEDERNALES CLIFFSIDE    16X20    oil on linen
Sometimes it's good to just go for it, and see what comes out.  If you're painting regularly, which is the only way I know of to improve, you get to a place where you just feel like something's about to happen with what you're doing.  It's an accumulation of what you've been working on, what appeals to your gut, and where you sense things are going.  That's what's going on here.

I've been concentrating on improving the value structure of my paintings and getting away from painting "things".  I want to be in that zone where I'm thinking more about shapes, values, pattern, color, edges, design.  After all, that's really what painting is about, right?  Squint at this painting, and try to identify the big division of light and dark shapes.  It should look something like this.

 Hmm.  I see some problems with the lack of simplicity in all those finger shapes.  That's the value of thinking about a big simplified pattern. by grouping your lights and darks into simplified groupings you improve the chance of coming up with a successful painting.  When you begin to lay in color, you can mix your colors to fall within the shadow family or the light family.  This is what gives a painting punch.  You can, also, juxtapose cool and warm colors in both families, which will make your color more exciting.

I intentionally pushed the chroma (intensity or vibrance if you like) on all my colors beyond my usual choices.  It was a lot of fun to paint this, and I'm going to experiment with it more.  Try it yourself.  Design a big, simplified light/dark pattern, and just let it rip!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

SERENDIPITY and CREATIVITY

AT TRATTORIA LISINE   8x10   oil on canvas panel
It's too bad you can't plan on serendipity, isn't it?  (My wife rolls her eyes when I say that kind of stuff.)

Creativity, is a cousin of serendipity, and neither can be counted upon.  Still, fickle as they are, we set about our goals with real hopes of encountering them both, along the way.  In fact it's the encounters with these two  that give such great incentive to do what's necessary to get out and paint.  Neither seem to bother coming around when we don't at least have plans that have been launched by actions and work.

I found this lovely spot after heading out to paint at 8 am in search of an accessible subject.  It's often difficult to gain entrance to places I'd love to explore and paint.  The country roads are mostly fenced, and posted "NO TRESSPASSING!!   After an hour and forty-five minutes of searching, falling down a concrete embankment, nearly being run over looking for a spot to paint, and the temperature moving quickly toward three digits, I turned around to head back towards the studio.  Just as I put the gas pedal down, I noticed a large rock and wrought iron gate on the right, with a sign that said: LA TRATTORIA LISINE RESTAURANTE and DUCHMAN'S VINEYARD  -  PUBLIC WELCOME.  That's me!  I turned in and cruised down a wide and winding, shaded entry with a vineyard stretching out to my right.  When I reached the main buildings and gardens there was no one around.  I parked in the shade near a promising location and decided to set-up.  Nothing moved but me and the breeze under the ancient oaks where I was preparing to paint.  With everything set, I chose my brush and raised it to the canvas. With the first stroke, an outdoor garden speaker came on and began softly playing beautiful Italian music.  After an hour and a half of working on my painting, another car parked nearby.  The occupant got out and walked toward me.  She looked at what I was doing and said, "That's just lovely.  I just love that.  Have a nice day.".  She smiled and then walked across the little bridge to the porch and disappeared into the entrance.  A few last touches, I packed-up, and  Serendipity, Creativity and I drove home.      

Friday, August 3, 2012

DO THE WORK

PEDERNALES RIVERBANK   8X10  oil on canvas panel
It's August.  It's hot.  The insects are in full bloom.  I didn't particularly want to hike into the park and paint today, but I need to get out and make paintings. Just like a musician needs to practice scales, arpeggios, and all that goes into being prepared to make beautiful music when it's time to perform.

Some plein air paintings are nice enough to frame and sell, others are just about doing the work.  If you get out and paint regularly, you get past feeling like every painting has to be a success.  It's a necessary exercise, a way of staying in shape to paint, and the only way to develop the skills to improve.  So, with or without inspiration, I need to do the work, and I love it!