All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
When we arrived on Sunday, we were worried about Hurricane Kyle, which was due to hit Downeast Maine early Monday morning as, at best, a near-Category 1 storm. However, miracles do happen, and late in the evening Kyle suddenly staggered east, sparing us. Monday morning came with a gorgeous sunrise, worthy of any Impressionist's brush.
But even with the unexpected good weather, we spent the morning in the workshop center going over material that would be our foundation for the week. You'd think we all knew the color wheel by now, but I found myself learning some new things. For example, Lois splits the wheel temperature-wise down the middle from Red to Green, which gives these two colors an interesting property - they can be either cool OR warm. In a sense, this makes each half of wheel MORE than half and thus expands its color range.
I should say a word about Lois. She studied at the Art Students League of New York with Ray Kinstler, Burton Silverman and Harvey Dinnerstein. In 1975, she moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she became good friends with Henry Hensche. Not long afterward, she was chosen to become the director of the Cape Cod School of Art, third in line after Charles Hawthorne and Hensche. In a sense, this was a form of apostolic succession: Lois learned from Hensche, who learned from Hawthorne, who founded the school in 1899. Both Hawthorne and Hensche were considered luminaries of the American art world in the early part of the last century and still hold that position today. Lois was forced to close the school in 2000 because of economics. Today, she lives in Arizona. For more on her and the Cape Cod School of Art, visit www.loisgriffel.com.
After lunch, we went to a nearby bog to try out her basic idea. Each large value mass contains more than just the local color. The longer you look, the more you'll see complements. Complements or, as she calls them, "vibrating colors," are what make the landscape come alive. Skies may contain not just blue but pink. (Why not the true complement, orange? She likes to save that for the sunlit areas, since they are even warmer than the sky. Pink isn't quite as warm as orange.) The shrubby plants that make up the bog contain not just yellow ochre but also bits of violet. In applying these "vibrating colors," it doesn't matter what order you apply them in. You can start either with local color or any of the other colors. Today, for example, she had us start our skies with pink and gradually work blue back into them.
Below is my 8x10 view of the bog. Lois calls the sketches we did today "starts." They are basically underpaintings and can serve as a good base for what could become a finished painting with more time and observation.
For this session, we were working "alla prima." She remarked that the difference between the definitions of "plein air" and "alla prima" has gotten a bit fuzzy. "Plein air" does not necessarily mean "alla prima." With alla prima, of course, you're working wet-into-wet and finishing the painting in one session. With plein air, you may finish a piece over several sessions. She let us know that both Hawthorne and Hensche actually let their underpaintings dry before continuing to work on them. This allowed the painters to achieve the purest, richest color. It's so easy to stir up the complements and muddy the color when working alla prima. One could use a knife to paint with, since that stirs up the paint much less. In fact, Lois painted for many years exclusively this way, but now has started to use a brush for a softer look.
More to come!
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
For my part of the tour, I'm doing pastel painting demonstrations outdoors. The demos are small - only 5x7 -- so I can talk to people and visit with them without getting mired down in a bigger piece. We've got some beautiful weather this weekend, and it's fun to be outside painting during the tour.
Below is a picture of me out with the easel, as well as a shot of the two pieces-in-progress. The top painting was done at 9 a.m. and the bottom, around 2 in the afternoon. You can really see the difference in the quality of light.
"Big Spruce at Dawn" 5x7 pastel -SOLD
"Looking Up" 5x7 pastel
For more on the tour, visit www.TwoCountriesArt.com. I hope to see you!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Illustrative paintings don't necessarily tell a story, either -- even though we often think of illustrations as an accompaniment to texts such as a novel. Sometimes, they are meant to depict a subject accurately, such as a person's face in a portrait. Either way, whether they tell a story or show a portrait, they incorporate detail evenly throughout the painting. The abstracted landscape, on the other hand, will sacrifice detail at the expense of design. Detail is not important to an abstract piece.
Some illustrative paintings are obviously meant to illustrate stories, such as the work of N.C. Wyeth. (See examples at http://www.bpib.com/illustrat/wyeth.htm ).
Others, such as the egg tempera work of his son, Andrew Wyeth, are illustrative first in that every detail is rendered exquisitely. Stories also are often implied or even explicitly stated. I have in mind something like "Christina's World," in which we see a figure in the landscape looking across a vast field to a house. Even if you don't know the story behind the crippled Christina, the painting will conjure up some sort of tale in the imagination. (Here's this painting: http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=78455 )
On the other hand, Andrew also does very abstract watercolors, many of which imply no story or intent to depict the landscape nature accurately but simply suggest a mood. (See http://www.tfaoi.com/newsm1/n1m153.htm.) These are some of my very favorite pieces by him. Most are are wild and unlabored. Detail has been ignored, but design and color remain the foundation of these paintings.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Friday, September 12, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
(By the way, I contacted Gamblin Artist Colors about my issue with oil pastels as an underpainting medium for traditional oils. Here's what they say: "Oil pastels are made with pigments bound in wax and a non-drying vegetable oil. If the oil pastel was thinned with OMS to the point where the vegetable oil was dissolved completely, leaving a thin wash of pigment behind, there may not be a problem painting oils on top of this. However, if the oil pastels were used alone, the non-drying oil binder may be trapped underneath the drying oil paint layers. This could cause adhesion problems in the future of the work. " I made sure to use a lot of OMS, so I'm safe!)
The workshop is now over, and Doug and Sue are working their way west to teach a workshop in New York state. Thanks, Doug and Sue!
Thursday, September 4, 2008
On this day, I somehow lost the 6B drawing pencil I use to sketch with. I had a small set of oil pastels with me, so I did a design sketch with a dark brown. I haven't used oil pastels before. I'd brought them along to see if I could use them for color thumbnail sketches. I'd heard that you can turn them into a wash with mineral spirits, so an idea came to me: What if I used them to block in the composition of my painting? So I tried it - and was very pleased with the results. I particularly enjoyed the greater control I had over the mark-making in this underpainting stage. A brush sometimes seems to have a mind of its own.
I tried this again on Day 3, and remembered to take sequence photos so you can see how it went. Here is the block-in, followed by the OMS wash stage, and the final painting. I need to state here that Doug does not use oil pastels, and both of us were wondering just how archival this method is. Will the painting slide off the panel in a month? (Let me know your thoughts!)
And finally, here is Doug on Day 3, painting a little building:
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
This is a mentoring workshop, which means that we're inside Doug's head for the week, working with him to see how he paints, all the way from choosing subject matter to researching a composition and beyond. On Monday, we visited several locations near Lubec, Maine, to look into painting possibilities. Along with taking photographs, we did a great deal of reference sketching to explore compositions. We'll go back to these locations later this week to paint. Here is a page from my sketchbook:
Later in the day, Doug went back to one of the locations (West Quoddy Head) to work up one of his earlier sketches into a painting. We were given the option to paint, too, but we instead chose to sit and watch him work. Doug, ever the teacher, kept up a continuous and fascinating narrative as he painted. It would have been a great opportunity for a video camera!
Here's Doug working on his pastel painting. He started off with using reds and oranges for the initial block-in, moving to real color later.
Four more days to come!