Archive for October, 2010

The surface you choose

Here is a painting. It’s not done but it’s on it’s way to biscuits. I’d say 80%. The thing that is important about this is the surface and how it affects the way I (we, you) paint. I saw a painting at the Orlando Museum of Art a long time ago by Frank Benson of a lily pond with some trees. It was all about the surface and the paint. The canvas was broad weave and I mean burlap broad, big chunky knots of linen and a terrain like the Grand Tetons. So… I went out and bought this roll of unprimed Belgian linen, broad weave. It was pricey. and this was years ago. The first time I worked with it (again unprimed) I just gessoed the stretched canvas. Not the way to go. It needs to be sized or sealed. This time I consulted a specialist, the local art store dude, who said, “you need to size it with rabbit skin glue or this stuff called GAC100.” I have an aversion to anything related to cute animals, even if it’s not, so I went with the GAC and then gessoed the canvas two or three times. The broad weave helps the strokes to skip across the plane of the surface which is both helpful and a hindrance depending on whether you work wet into wet or wet into dry.

The thing about any surface is that it changes the way you paint. It alters the way the paint comes off the brush and how wet paint interacts with wet or how wet interacts with dry.  The right surface will change your painting life or confound you. The one you need is for you to find. It makes a huge difference, I swear. I have worked on everything from raw wood to exotic pastel papers to cotton duck, belgian linen and treated paper. One way to get a variety pack is to order a sampler from somebody like WindRiverarts

There are other sources for sure but these guys have a poopoo platter of a canvas pack that might help you figure it out. I order a lot of panels from them and they are great people. A painting surface needs to have the right combination of of bumps at the correct spacing and the appropriate height, for your kind of paint handling. The absorbancy is really important too. While it’s important ot find a surface and stick with it, it’s also important to try different things to see what happens. It could just change your life forever.


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a portrait of sorts

I’m not a portrait guy. Sure I’ve done some figurative things, a portrait or two. I avoid them because it’s just not my thing. Our very own Don Sondag in the studio here does them in a great way, it’s his speciality. If I had a link to his website, if he had a website, I should say, I would link it. But he doesn’t. anyway, a woman came in with a request for a portrait, she knew my work and for some reason decided I was the guy. But she wanted it in my style. She wanted something large and loose and large. This piece is around 40×50 plus. We did a shoot with the kids, I came up with a few shots I thought were worthy but she had an old black and white photo that she was fond of and chose that over what I had. No biggie.

As a semi-ex illustrator I am a get it done kind of guy. If someone has an art need, I’m there to fulfill it. I like a problem to solve… as long as it’s art related I can handle it. I did a prelim sketch which was approved and focused on getting a combination of likeness and heavy paint. I like working big. It’s actualy easier than small somehow. The canvas was made by CindyAnderson who does great things with boxes and canvases and is also a great painter in her own right. Up goes the drawing and since I had the color shots, the black and white values of the photo and the study the rest was a simple matter of mixing large puddles of color to slather on and layer and build and paint. Fun. And there’s a happy Mom and Dad in it too.

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one last one from laguna

One more. The morning started out hazy which gave me ample time to block in the big shapes. The painting is about the big, flat dark shape of the rocks against the busy motion of the water so I played up the lack of information in the dark wall of sandstone against the movement in the breaking surf. The sun broke in the last hour of the painting and allowed me to get a little contrast  in the water and the sand and ocean falling into shadow. Also a little light floating through the mist of the breaking waves warmed up the piece a bit. The trick with the waves is to draw in the key lines and wait for each breaking wave to get the little bits of information; the foam in light and shadow, the color of the clear water at the crest of the wave (which I pushed in terms of color for contrast against all the muted tones), and the subtle shifts between the murky brine and the foam. The key lines of the waves and breaking water on the rocks help the eye to flow into the painting and around through it and the shape of the rock against the breaking light became critical so I gave it a bit of extra attention.

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Laguna 3

Sunday at the beach. 20×20. The first painting for the event in Laguna. I like this one, I think it’s different for me, a different point of view and a different division of space. I talked with someone about this who said it seemed unlike other things I had done and I said that my goal, as much as possible, is not to repeat myself. So, to sum up, my goal is not to repeat myself.

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More about Laguna

Here’s a 16×20 I did during the Laguna event. I have to admit that when I’m in a paint out I will go to what I know best, in this case as in most, it’s boats. I went to the Dana Point Harbor to see what was available and there at the dock was a tall ship, I couldn’t tell you if it’s a scooner or a oyster boat but it looked nice. It was a gray day so I started in with the idea to keep it simple and muted and let the purples play off of the blues, grays and pinks. Under the whole thing was a wash of yellow which I tried very hard to let through and not cover up. I pushed the sky color a lot, it was just flat gray but I went in with the intent of creating a color made up of a lot of other colors. I also tried very hard not to over deliniate the line between boat and water and keep it one big vague shape.

My friend and artist that I admire greatly, John Burton, loved this piece and I respect his opinion. I thought it was good but he said it reminded him of the dead guys so I’ll take that as a big compliment. The funny thing about this painting was that the boat left early. As I was sketching in and starting to block in all the big shapes I noticed a buzz of activity about the boat. When one of the crew walked by I asked what was up and he said they were leaving in a half an hour. Shit. I’ve been here before so very quickly I got in as much info as possible before they left for three weeks. The upside was that it stayed a simple painting, I didn’t over detail the thing as I usually do. A lot of artists commented on it at the show so I guess it worked out okay and was a good lesson for me. Keep it simple.

By the way that little boat was there for about a minute. I had to paint it from memory. One of the pleasures of painting outside.

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The Laguna event is now done. I would have posted on the fly but to be honest I was so tired at the end of each day, I couldn’t get the energy. As per usual I couldn’t sleep and then I’d get up at 6 and get out and on the road early, then paint till dark and meet artists for the various art parties and stuff. It’s a great event in terms of wonderful things to paint and tremendous commeraderie but as for sales, sadly, not so much. As I have a gallery in Carmel, I really wanted to focus on things I could send up the them if they didn’t sell. I sold this one, a 20×20, and a 12×16 quick draw but other than that it was slow for sales. Economy, saturated market, some changes the museum made in the way they handled the show all seemed to have an enormous effect. Not that I really expected any different. But good things come down the line from these events. I got to spend some quality time with my Mom who lives out there and that was worth the trip alone.

This painting started as a small study on the first day when it was sunny. The rest of the days were socked in so midweek I went back to this spot with a 20×20 canvas while it was completely overcast and started the drawing in the morning. The light and shadow zones really didn’t change much through the day so I was able to get a good tonal drawing in before lunch and then after the snack I went back around 2 to start mixing color, hoping the light would break at the end of the day. It did but only for a few minutes. So this piece is one part study, one part memory and one part imagination. Probably about 5 hours total. As I have been doing larger works I thought about taking out some big canvases 30×30’s and just going for that but the frames and shipping would have been a risky investment. As it turned out most of the sales were smaller pieces. Brian Mark Taylor sold a ton of 11×14’s.. he’s on fire right now. My favorite painter, John Burton, won artists choice. And Brian won a special award… I think it was for just being a nice guy, but he’s a hell of a painter. Interestingly, he doesn’t use any cadmiums or thinners because he’s worried about exposure for his little ones. Doesn’t hurt his work any, he’s really good at making busy scenes work. More later.

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big and fast

I was invited to come down to the American Society of Marine Artists annual members meeting for two reasons, I’m a member and they wanted me to demo. I agreed but then I started to think about it….. I’m going to paint in front of some of the best marine artists in the country, what the hell could I ever show them? So all I could come up with was to do a big painting as a demo… 30×30. I’ve sort of taken to this size and scale and want to go even bigger on site but in thinking about the kind of artists that belong to this group, most are studio painters and most know boats from stem to stern. I don’t know my aft from a hole in the ground. (thank you, I’m here all week). In fact, when I started to paint this scene, one of the artists members came up and said, “Have you ever painted Grand Banks before?” and I replied, “Is that in North Carolina?”. He pointed out that Grand Banks was the brand name of the particular boat I was sketching in. Odd that I don’t know that stuff.

This whole thing was a bit daunting. A large piece like this could go south more easily than the other way and this demo had to wrap up by noon. It was scheduled to start at 9:30 but I set up at 8, sketched in the composition, mixed a lot of color and placed a few color notes to remind me of what the morning was like. The crowd of artists showed up at the alotted time and I had enough of a start that I could go to town without boring them with the preliminaries, they all knew how to draw anyway. Here’s a pic for scale. I sort of thought they would get bored and leave but to my surprise most stuck around for the duration to see how it all finished up. I think the one thing most artists want to see is how the whole thing gets tied together and when to stop. My main problem with this was the wide variety of whites in shadow and you can see in the photo (this is why we paint from life) there’s not a whole lot of variety there. I had to push every plane.

The thing about white is, with the exception of humans, it’s very influencable. It is tabula rasa for whatever it is next to. In the absence of direct light it readily accepts whatever ambient light is tossed its way; reflected light from water, ambient sky light, the boat next door, etc.In direct light it glows a variety of intense colors, none of which are pure white. As the sun moves, so too does its influence. This was a challenge. But I find I usually do my best work when I have a big challenge in front of me. The easy stuff just gets boring but the really hard stuff makes me focus. It turned out well enough that I’m taking it as is to a gallery tomorrow to hang on the wall for a few months before it gets returned. It’s sort of like free storage. In the end, I had several fine studio artists who were inspired to go out and paint big, and I sure hope they do. It’s fun.

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