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Archive for April, 2011

The Don

If anyone reads my blog, this is the one post I hope they read, well, that and the snappy comeback reference planner and maybe the spin cycle one.  I share a studio with 20 artists and all are inspiring in different ways, but this guy, Don Sondag, is a lesson for all painters in diligence and practice. He’s just a damn good painter. His work is fresh, honest and dead on in drawing & color and un-mannered , as in he doesn’t use any fancy brush tricks or glazes or whatever to make a painting, it is without influence. He spent a few years of learnin at the student artists league in New York with Jacob Collins and Sam Adoquie, I think he knew Raymond Kinstler at some point but most all that he has achieved for himself has been through sheer effort.

I’m going to post a lot of images of his space and his work, most are pics from my iphone and are a tad fuzzy, but you will get the idea. Unless you live in the Orlando area, you will probably never hear of this guy. He doesn’t have a website, doesn’t really advertise his work, maybe is in one or two local galleries but has a good name in the area as a landscape painter and a portraitist. I’ve bugged him for years about getting a website but that’s not his thing. And in a way, I get it. He doesn’t waste a moment of time with emails and website updates and how to work photoshop or blogging, he just paints. And he’s a much better painter for it. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 hours it takes to master a thing in the Outliers. Don has at least double or triple that…. and it shows in the work.  His compositions are seemingly effortless and his broad brush approach is without a lot of cumbersome detail, his paintings are a lesson in what to leave out and how to paint in big shapes of value and color. Whatever the subject matter, the paintings become about shape and value and color. He’s got paintings of small planes on a tarmac that make me envious.

The simple lesson here is, if you want to be good or a master at something, get some training,  learn to draw and put in your 10 or 20 thousand hours and don’t copy someone else. The great Donnini is an inspiration to all of us here at McRae Art Studios.

All of these are painted from life by the way, including the 30×40 on the easel. I have no idea how to format these images into any kind of layout so bear with me. And share this with your friends. Don should be known.

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Workshop in Maryland

Just finished a 4 day workshop in Easton, Maryland and while I await my ride to the airport, I thought I’d say a few things about it. It was a good workshop, great people, beautiful locations and a few familiar faces roaming around. Whenever I go in to teach I never know what levels of ability I will encounter but one thing I can count on is that most students have one stumbling block in common. Drawing. People want to learn how to paint before they have learned the fundamentals of drawing, which I am only to happy to teach but if you really want to learn better painting skills or loosen up with the brush, spend some time with mr pencil or ms charcoal. It will get you where you want to go much more quickly. Spend a half hour a day for a month or two sketching, fill up a couple of sketchbooks before getting on the canvas. If you are hankering to paint, spend time mixing colors matching paint chips from your local paint store. You will take in the lessons in a worksop much more readily.
My demo from yesterday.

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What is more boring than c-span, matching socks, tax law or dusting the house?  Perspective! Especially learning about it…And really, who needs perspective? It’s just one of those stupid rules of physics.  Rules, rules, rules… we don’t need no stupid rules. That is unless we are trying to make something look like it is adhering to the laws of nature in a drawing or a painting. Tell anyone out there that the building lined street they are standing on gets smaller as it goes to the horizon and that all parallel lines recede to a single point and they will all say, “Duh, I can see that.” But give them a sheet of paper and ask them to draw it, that’s a different thing. If it gives you fits, don’t feel bad. Drawing perspective wasn’t really figured out until the middle of the 15th century, or is it the 14th. Anyway it was staring them all right in the face and they couldn’t see it.

No worries. I’m surely not going to bore you with my perspective on perspective, but I get asked a lot “How do you draw boats?” and my answer is…. I’m not sure. Boats are really complicated things. Like women. There are rare few straight lines, lots of compound curves and they move around a lot. They seem to defy logic.  So I started thinking about it. Rule number one when you are trying to paint a boat, or anything else  for that matter, don’t think of it as a boat. If you try to paint a boat you will revert to your idea of a boat when your brain can’t figure out what it’s seeing. And you end up with a little smiley thing with a triangle on top. I’ve seen it happen.

First thing with boats is to think of the basic frame of the boat, it helps to draw a line that goes from the center of the front to the center of the back, and that line is going to be the basic perspective line of the boat. In the above example, the boats are all parked in parallel which means that all those center lines are going off to a single point on the horizon, just like the buildings on the street. ( See how I brought that around?) Once you have the basic frame of the boat then the curves part is a little easier. And when in doubt, use the horizon line and a vertical line to compare the angles you are seeing. Mostly that’s all I do. The pic at the bottom is kinda oddly fuzzy and sharp at the same time )iPhone) but I like it. I’ll post the finished painting once I get it shot.

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color and light

A funny thing happened while I was painting this, I relearned an old lesson. Again. I was standing under an overhang with the building to my back, middle of the day, looking down this nettle lined row. Without realizing it the deep shadow of the building influenced the way I saw the colors I painted. When I viewed it in full daylight the colors were bright and airy and a different palette from my usual. I learned this little lesson once before while painting in the studio, but in reverse. There, going after a night scene, I poured on the bright lights so that I could really see into the nuances of the dark colors that I was painting to get the feel of a night scene. The problem was that once I took those intense lights off the work, the color went dark. Weird. Viewing a painting in a light different from the light in which it was painted means that the paint will read differently. This is why we plein air painters generally paint in shadow or under an umbrella, so that when the painting is hung in a house and receiving only 60 watts of light from the ceiling fixture 15 feet away, it won’t turn to mud.

I also got this lesson in the form of big cheese at a Kinkade gallery years back. I walked in, just out of curiosity, to see what they had on the walls and what the prices were. It was sort of like watching  youtube videos of a tsunami hitting a small village, difficult to see but impossible to turn away. The gallery people were selling an older couple on a painting of a cozy little cottage, nestled in the trees against the evening light. The painting was moved to a viewing room where there was a dimmer switch and they could turn the overhead lights down slowly and say, “See how the lights in the cottage seem to come on when it gets dark?” Cool. But just a trick of the eye. The middle stuff all gets darker but the lights are still visible. I think it worked.

Moral of the story; if you want a painting that is light and airy, paint it in the shadows. If you want something darker, try it in full light, just be prepared for the colors to die when you get it home. Another fun thing to experience is to try painting under a yellow light (like a bug light) just to see what it does to your perception of the color. This is why the light you paint under in the studio is so important. Make sure it is daylight balanced or better yet, actual daylight, north light is what the big dogs paint by, always consistent and never direct.

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The green canoe

This here’s a story about composition more than anything else. So many times I’m looking for a scene that is doing something new for me. Always looking for that something different, not sure the why of it. Might be one of the many reasons I’m not rich and/or famous, I’m not big on repeating things. The artists who seem to get the most recognition are known for the one thing; a softly painted girl on the couch, the antebellum streets of Charleston, the towering majesty of the western mountain lines, the still life with weird stuff, or the golden sun cast lowland coastal marshes of the 910 area code region. I’m not that smart. By the way, I made a gentlemans bet that I could work the term scatalogical into this blog (which doesn’t mean what I thought it meant), so there I did it.

This scene, again with the digressing, is something that appealed to me because it had a compositional thing I haven’t done much of, the “tunnel”. If you’ve read Edgar Payne’s Composition of Outdoor Painting, page 120, you’d know the tunnel. It’s one of several basic motifs that he used and wrote about, along with the “S”, the “O”,  Steel Yard, cross, triangle, “L”, three spot, the triple Lindy, the flying dutchman and the dirty sanchez.  That’s a great book by the way. Filled with tons of pertinent info and lots of pictures (many in black and white) of sample paintings and drawings. Very informative stuff. Kind of stilted writing but great info. So, anyway, there I was, looking for something to paint and I saw this hole in the trees that lead to a center of interest, or at least a secondary center of interest… the green canoe. I’m not sure that this is one of those paintings with a true center of interest, it’s more about the idea of looking through a tunnel of trees to something just beyond, partially obscured. And I liked the idea of crowding the view and trying to make sense of the dark tangle of trees and branches. I like it. Not sure if it’s “sellable” though. I’m told that shouldn’t be a consideration, unless, of course, you need the money. Oh and speaking of trees, Budget tree. They handled the tree removal from my roof  (see following post)…. friggin awesome. Didn’t leave so much as a leaf on the ground.

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Diurnal nocturnal

I know I should be more consistent with this blogging thing to keep my tens of readers fascinated but I’ve been in a state of flux moving things around and stuff. I moved my computer to the studio which somehow screwed up my email on my iMac and my iPhone (do I get paid for mentioning Apple products? just curious) I’ve had a heck of a time getting that all fixed. We had our biannual opening at the studio last night and a tree fell on my house squashing my porch, and bending my roof all to hell, with water damage and the works. My homeowners insurance company (Universal of North America) rocks. They were on it like a… um.. like something that moves really fast. Oooops another product endorsement. Two days after a tree falls on my roof, the tree is cut up, lifted off and carted away. But I digress….

So the Wekiva paint out was a few weeks ago and great fun. Didn’t sell much but they treated all the artists well and we had another fun artist reunion. I’ll be posting several of the paintings but wanted to start with this 30×40. Yes it’s a nocturne but no I didn’t paint it on location at night… too big. And there could be bears or skunkapes. So I went out late in the day and did the sketch-in of the actual place in a sepia color, went to the mess hall where there was light and blocked in the base colors that night until about midnight. I used a study I had done previously of that scene as a nocturne to guide me but changed it a bunch. I’ve made many mental notes, all of which I’ve lost, about the color of things at night but remembered the key is to tone down all the variety of greens and browns to a narrow band and just paint the values… because it’s dark at night. I went back the next morning and put in all the detail work. The clouds were from a previous day of shooting clouds with my iPhone (ahem) during the day but somehow had a night sky quality. It was sort of a piecemeal project but I wanted a big painting that if it didn’t sell I could take to my gallery in Vero, Meghan Candler gallery, who has consistently sold larger paintings for me. I’m working on a whole new series for her right now, in fact.

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