Archive for April, 2009

Painting by faith

final-prepWhen I paint outside I’m at the mercy of the elements, a pawn of chance. Painting outside means dealing with change. Many artists say they are capturing a moment, the truth is we capture a series of moments. A painting isn’t a picture it’s a notation of a block of moments, a collection of recordings of the passing of time within a relatively narrow frame of reference. Maybe we are tackling a scene with trees and mountains and sky, a series of different objects each being recorded at different times during a, say, 2-3 hour period. That means that the trees have one direction of light source and the mountains, when you get to them, are a little later in the day. The same is true for the objects in the frame, some are prone to move or come and go entirely and planning a composition around these free range objects takes a little faith.

Case in point is this painting I did in Easton. I saw this subject one day while painting a moored boat next to this wonderful boat makers shop. When I saw this scene I knew I had to have a go. But it was a scene in need of a focal point. The boat was there, not going anywhere in the next day or two, and then there was the peripheral stuff, the paint cans and windows and architecture of the joint. But it lacked the human element. Many times I avoid people in a landscape. Who needs them when you have mother natures resplendent beauty. But here I had a boat being worked on in need of a boat worker. When I set up the next day there was scaffolding present so all I could do was hope that someone would show up, that they would end up in the right place at the right time and that I would get them in under the right light conditions… a lot to hope for. But that’s just how I go on these things. Either it works out or it doesn’t. With this scene the workers showed up as I painted around them. They started at the bow and worked their way south to the stern. The sun peeped through the windows for about an hour and a half and as this one sanding and heavily tatooed gentleman worked his way toward the hotspot I waited, working around where I hoped he would be and sort of praying it all just worked out. As it turned out the light and the worker ended up in the same place at the same time. He was in that spot for maybe 10 minutes and I happened to get him right without one edit. Doesn’t always work that way but I keep the faith that it will.


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Note by note


Many times in workshops, when talking about the 3 aspects of color; value, hue and chroma, I know everyone gets the basics of it, value is the light and dark of a color, hue is the local color, the warm or cool (red apple) of it and chroma is the intensity of that color, the saturation (from gray to pure color), I’m not sure if people always get the relationship between the three. Showing someone a color wheel often gets the same response as asking what’s 16×7, or explaining the difference between a muon and a gluon (not that I know), the eyes glaze over and the shields go up.. So my little subconscious brain came up with this visual the other night while I was sleeping… I should sleep more often.

Now this may not be that helpful or, for that matter, a new idea, but it sure seemed like a good one while I was sleeping. I took the simplest painting I could find in my files and pixelated it (obviously), which de-objectifies the subject and converts rocks and water into color notes. With a side perk of pointing out relative value and hue… but I’ll get to that in a minute. One thing to keep in mind is that each color area is being converted into one note so there’s some averaging going on but you get the idea. Warmer more intense colors come forward, cooler more grayed colors recede. Water is an arrangement of subtle shifts in hue and saturation while in a close value range. And two color notes can be the same value and still be vastly different. It’s worth letting your eyes skirt back and forth between the two to see what’s going on color wise. The black bar separator between the two is to show true value range. Not much in there darker than about a 6 on the gray scale. Oh and the relative value shows up in the apparent gradation that some pixels seem to have as they butt up to a color that is darker or of different hue/chroma. That’s an illusion. It looks lighter because it is up against a darker color.

Not sure if this is helpful, it seems like a good idea but then so did bell bottoms and luxury condos.

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I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this yet but my studio is in a warehouse filled with other artists in Winter Park, Fl. Mine is a relatively smallish space that is cold in the winter and hot as a quasar in the summer but what it lacks in comfort, it more than makes up in inspiration. I’ve been with this group of 20 artists now for over 10 years and though a few have come and gone, the core group has remained and we are family. McRae Art Studios is a varied collective of highly talented artists (www.mcraeartstudios.com if I don’t get the link to work) ranging from representational to abstract to sculpture and photography and it’s both an honor and an inspriation to be a part of this group. Each day I go into studio I walk in to the spaces of Steve Bach, Don Sondag, John and Lynn Whipple, Donne Bitner and anyone else who has their door open to see what they are up to. It always gets my juices flowing and makes me want to create even more.

I bring this up because I love to watch the way Steve problem solves with paint, editing and altering on a grand scale as he goes. John is currently working on a series of black and white drawings for a book that really blow me away ( I want one) and bring to the fore the very high level of his ability. Don’s working on a series of grid paintings that are coming along like a magic drawing board. Mathew Cornell is never there because he works at home so I have to wait every couple of weeks to see what amzing thing he brings in…Lynn always has something new and is so friggin inventive and fearless, if there were an artist superhero it’d be her. I learn so much just being there and it has really raised the bar for me. If you ever have the opportunity to join such a collective, do it. Or join a painting group, enter a painting event, get to know your fellow artists. The gains are so worth it.

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Demo in progress

For your edification, I’m working on a 36×48 painting from a 16×20 study, it’s a work in progress with a couple of the stages done, more to come. It’s posted on the demo page up there at the top…. seemed like a good place to put it.

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James Castle born in 1899 in rural Idaho, deaf and dumb, never learned to communicate in any traditional sense, never learned to read and had no training as an artist. What he did have was an insatiable desire to draw. It became his way to decipher the world, to translate his point of view. His life on the farm afforded him little and left him with whatever he could find to draw with; discarded paper, sticks, soot and spit. He passed in 1977 and only recently has become known in broader circles, a retrospective of his work now is on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I look at his drawings and marvel at his ability to do what it takes most people years of training to do. Yes, it has a naive angle to it but that’s the charm of it, that’s the purity of his vision. If you google his name and go to images you’ll find a wealth of drawings that show a unique perspective, deft sense of form and space and shape. Most interesting are the books he made of type and icons, mimicking what he sees in letter forms without the understanding of how they work.

This is the desire to create without the infuence of commerce. Note how he did absolutley no drawings of women on the beach wearing white gowns and large brimmed hats.

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the color note exercise

Just back from another workshop in Avon Park, Fl. The kind of place that takes you right back to your childhood and visiting your granma in that little town near Podunk where she used to  live. It was another great oil plein air workshop, 15 happy people. I would tell you all about it, but my good friend Joyce Shelton joyceshelton.typepad.com posted a great write up on her blog with pics of my demos in progress and everything. 3 days, great weather, cool places to paint, especially that Twilight Zone downtown with it’s old buildings, boarded up windows, and 33 1/3 pace.

We painted in a state park for two days where there are trees for days, a fun thing to tackle when you have a system figured out but when you are just learning, all that pattern can make you crazy. So the last day we went for something a little more simple, street scenes. I’m posting two demos here from the class. One is  a little 9×12 and the other is an even smaller (2×3.5″) color note study.  I started using the color note exercise when I found the students were struggling over the drawing of the thing, mostly because they were always trying to draw the thing they knew ( a palm, a boat, etc) and not a collection of lines and shapes. The color note thing came from a little book on Hawthorne about color where he said, in effect, that it’s not about drawing but about putting the right color note in the right place and when you do that the painting will emerge automatically. Personally, I think if you are putting the notes in the right place, you are drawing. But, still it’s a great way to get around the drawing problem and really focus on the color problem. I have the students tape off a little window or 3 in their canvas. and put down color notes, starting with the darkest note and going to light with a palette knife. It keeps people from noodling a thing to death, it’s fast and people see how the paint itself becomes a major part of the painting. It also helps the student to learn to think in more abstract terms.

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errata etc

okay i got a little caught up in my own hype. one of the quotes below from 42 enthusiastic thumbs up ” I can’t imagine an “outside force” slowing you down” wasn’t about me, it was about physics, which is a great opportunity to talk about how light operates, Kathy wrote me:

“The ‘outside force’ comment referred to our brief conversation about why
matter (in your case, photons) travels through space and doesn’t stop:
Newton’s First Law of motion: A body at rest remains at rest and a body
in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an outside force!
Hadn’t thought of your head cold as an outside force but I guess it does

Actually, I like his third law as it is really the most universal and
applies to everything we do, including painting: For every action there
is an equal and opposite reaction. Think horizontal and vertical
planes of light, for instance: a corollary of that rule is ‘angle of
incidence equals angle of reflection’ and it’s the angles on which light
hits planes that change its intensity, of course as well as the
reflectivity of the surface….”

That there is the physics of how light operates in the real world. It’s why the ground is usually lighter than a wall or trees or mountains or a cowboy on a horse or a nice bottle of merlot. And something to keep in mind when your painting has turned to mud and everything is the same value. Thanks to Kathy and Mr. Newton, inventor of gravity and the fig newton.

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