Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Texas Encounters

Before I launch into an update on my trip to Sedona, I want to announce some good news. Artist Katherine Tyrell, who runs the popular blog, "Making a Mark" gives out a series of awards at year's end to painters who blog. I'm pleased that she has given the 2008 "Painting Plein Air Plus Prize" to me, an award which I share with Florida artist Linda Blondheim. For full details, please visit this link. Thank you, Katherine!

As of this evening, Trina and I have made it safely to Show Low, Arizona, on our way to Sedona. On the way here, we stopped in Texas to visit with my mentor, Ann Templeton, who recently moved from New Mexico to a small town near Austin. If you don't know Ann, she's a wonderful teacher who's been at it for over 30 years. I wrote her first book, a retrospective entitled The Art of Ann Templeton: A Step Beyond. Her latest book, which is an instructional book, is called Color and Beyond and came out this year. I didn't write it, but I do recommend it as a great companion volume. She's also teaching a mentoring workshop next August for me in Maine. (See www.anntempleton2009.com for more.)

Ann Templeton

While visiting Ann, she called up some old friends who came to visit. Bobbie Kilpatrick  co-ran an art school with Ann for many years. Vicki McMurry , whom I met at my first Sedona Plein Air Festival, authored Mastering Color: The Essentials of Color for North Light Books. Betty Rhoades  once owned two art galleries in Dallas. Each of these is an excellent painter, and at the end, I'll show some of their art.

We sat all afternoon at Ann's dining table, drinking tea and then wine, talking about the art business. It's rare when artists, who are mostly solitary creatures, can sit and talk at leisure in this way. Our chat ran all the way from the use of white when painting with oils to the future of bricks-and-mortar galleries. We didn't solve all the world's problems, but we joined in a camaraderie that made all those problems bearable.

Bobbie Kilpatrick

Vicki McMurry

Betty Rhoades

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rainy Day Still Life

Lately, if we have a rainy day for a workshop, I've been encouraging students to work from a still life rather than a photo. One of my goals in teaching is to help students learn to observe better. A photo has a very limited amount of information in it; the real thing has all the information you'll ever need, and provides lots of mining opportunities.

Although there are no rules for setting up a still life, there are certain guidelines that will help you make a more successful design. These include:

  • When you choose objects, find something tall, something short, something dull in color, and something bright in color. Contrasts (value, size, color, shape) keep the arrangement interesting.
  • But too much contrast can be chaotic. Have a common theme that can relate the objects, such as "fruits of the garden" or color.
  • A tablecloth has more interest than a bare table, but pay attention to the folds. Folds should be arranged to complement the "rhythm" in the arrangement, not conflict with it.
  • Make sure there's nothing distracting in the background. Place the table against a simple wall, if possible, or hang a sheet behind it.
  • Finally, try to set up the still life so everyone has an interesting view. Easier said than done, especially with a dozen artists!

Rainy Day Still Life
5x7, pastel

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Whatsit" Paintings

Over the years, Mobile Bay has seen its share of hurricanes. It seems that each time I visit Fairhope, one pier or another is in a state of disrepair after a storm. But things are ship-shape this year, and even the Yardarm Restaurant, which straddles the town pier, looks like it'll be open after the holidays.

A few miles south, however, down by Point Clear, many of the piers, docks and boathouses still need attention. I did a 5x7 color study there today. (My back is much better, thanks to rest and advice and prayers from friends.) The largest boathouse, pictured on the left of this 5x7 oil, was knocked off its footings by Hurricane Katrina. Most of the piers around it are missing sections.

What caught my eye, though, was the warm, brown hue of the pier and boathouse reflections. I think I captured this and the other colors accurately. I also got the angle and shape of the tipped boathouse right, too. However, Doug Dawson would call this painting a "whatsit" painting. Without an explanatory placard next to it on the gallery wall, the viewer would ask "What is it?" What is that thing that looks a-kilter?

A "whatsit" painting fails because it forces the viewer away from the painter's intended center of interest or message. If I were to make this a larger, studio painting, I would seriously consider setting the boathouse back solidly on its footings.

I also had an opportunity to do a 5x7 painting of my in-laws' house. It's a Christmas piece, complete with candles in the windows and a wreath on the door.


By the way, while on the road, I'm trying to minimize the hassle of cleaning up. I'm painting with just one brush, and when done, rinsing it well in my Turpenoid cup. (If the solvent "burns" the hairs, I have a replacement.) I'm using a plastic, "seven days" pill box to house my six colors and to keep them reasonably fresh. I dip my brush directly in this pill box.

The only paint that goes on my palette is white plus any mixtures, and I scrape it clean at the end of my painting session. Finally, I'm using the Art Cocoon to hold and store my panels.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back Pains

I always try to take a break after a workshop, but this week, the break was dictated by a back injury.  Plein air painters lug around a lot of gear, and when I'm teaching a workshop, I lug around a bit more than usual.  This, followed by packing the car - and extending my back in a cantilevered position to tuck the gear into the car's deepest recesses - did me in.

Two days of novels and movies and boredom, however, have driven me back into the field.  I've been observing the live oaks.  Trina and I are in Fairhope, Alabama, visiting family, and Fairhope is home to some lovely specimens.  They're full of twisting branches, limbs draped with ferns and epiphytes, and even though we're just one day from winter, deep green foliage.  I've spotted several that I hope to paint before we leave.

Yesterday, I painted one pair down in the park by Mobile Bay.  Although these younger trees don't have the great, muscled limbs of their older brothers, the evening light on them caught my fancy.  I thought it was a good time to try a small oil study and to get back into painting.

"Fairhope Live Oaks" 5x7, oil

I stood to paint this, and it really tired out my back.  Today, I'm better, and I did a painting of my in-laws' house, but this time I remained seated.

The lesson for the week:  Be careful of your back.  We painters so often think of protecting our eyes and our hands.  But painting, and especially outdoor painting, is a very physical activity, and we should take care with the rest of our bodies.  There are exercises one can do to strengthen the back, and yoga can help greatly.

Back Pains



I always try to take a break after a workshop, but this week, the break was dictated by a back injury. Plein air painters lug around a lot of gear, and when I'm teaching a workshop, I lug around a bit more than usual. This, followed by packing the car - and extending my back in a cantilevered position to tuck the gear into the car's deepest recesses - did me in.



Two days of novels and movies and boredom, however, have driven me back into the field. I've been observing the live oaks. Trina and I are in Fairhope, Alabama, visiting family, and Fairhope is home to some lovely specimens. They're full of twisting branches, limbs draped with ferns and epiphytes, and even though we're just one day from winter, deep green foliage. I've spotted several that I hope to paint before we leave.



Yesterday, I painted one pair down in the park by Mobile Bay. Although these younger trees don't have the great, muscled limbs of their older brothers, the evening light on them caught my fancy. I thought it was a good time to try a small oil study and to get back into painting.



"Fairhope Live Oaks" 5x7, oil



I stood to paint this, and it really tired out my back. Today, I'm better, and I did a painting of my in-laws' house, but this time I remained seated.



The lesson for the week: Be careful of your back. We painters so often think of protecting our eyes and our hands. But painting, and especially outdoor painting, is a very physical activity, and we should take care with the rest of our bodies. There are exercises one can do to strengthen the back, and yoga can help greatly.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pink Adobe Dawn

"Pink Adobe Dawn"
9x12, pastel, en plein air

I taught a workshop in Tubac, AZ, a few years ago. One morning we had gorgeous, early-morning light. In this scene, it was just catching the top of the palm tree and the inside of the window and arch in the adobe wall. I wanted to play down the color to give a sense of "first light."

You'll note that the palm counterbalances all the things going on over by the adobe arch. If you block out the tree with your hand -- one of my favorite ways of seeing if an element is really necessary for the composition -- the design suffers. The tree is needed. What's more, the tree also puts some interest up in the sky, which occupies more than 50% of the painting. Without the tree, the image would need to be cropped in some way to make a satisfactory composition.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Scouting Old Florida

Cortez Village - Scouting Old Florida

As a painter, journeying to a strange but beautiful place can be frustrating. Your first desire is to paint it without exploring, but you know full well that such paintings rarely turn out satisfactorily. It's best to spend a few days exploring first.

I always tell my students when they arrive in the field to drop their gear and take a walk: "Set it down, then scout around." Not only does this keep you from getting worn out lugging your gear, it keeps you from settling for less-than-ideal painting spots.

The idea of exploring a few days before painting a place you're not familiar with is just a larger version of the same concept.

For my Sarasota workshop, I had a full day before the workshop to explore, and I'm glad I did. I was able to take students to some rich painting spots: Myakka River State Park, Selby Gardens and Lido Key.

Now that the workshop is over, I've had a few more days to explore even more - and without my paintbox. Sometimes, it's best to leave the paintbox at home and to explore with a camera. A camera gives you a chance not only to collect reference material but to become familiar with new subjects and to learn what will be demanded of your palette.

Some of my painter friends told me about some of their favorite Sarasota locations - "Old Florida." This is a lost world that the Interstates and real estate developers have somehow missed. Old Florida has ramshackle fish houses, old boats, empty beaches. We found all of these in Cortez Village, Coquina Beach and Anna Maria Island, just minutes from Sarasota.

My discovery of "Old Florida," and places like the Ringling Estate, historic Spanish Point and the others I mentioned earlier, make me want to come back soon. I've been so delighted with my adventure in Sarasota that I've scheduled another for next year. This will be November 30 - December 4, 2009 - and, yes, I'm taking deposits now.

To show you some of Old Florida, I've sprinkled a few photos through this post. You might also check out the following links:

http://www.starfishcompany.com/

http://travel.nytimes.com/2005/02/13/travel/13annamaria.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Ringling Museum & A Pastel Portrait

John Ringling, famously known as one of the Ringling Bros., was not only a circus man but an art collector who travelled to Europe to purchase many works of the Old Masters, Baroque painters and others. In 1931, he opened his Museum of Art to the public in Sarasota. (See www.ringling.org.)

Trina and I visited the Museum yesterday. I don't think I've ever seen so many barn-sized paintings by Rubens gathered into one vast room. Gallery after gallery featured painters like Rubens and Velasquez, as well as a scattering of more modern painters. I saw two small landscapes by Bierstadt and a portrait by Robert Henri.

Disappointing, though, was the fact that a third of the paintings in one wing had been draped over with plastic dropcloths for renovations. Oddly, this wing was not closed; apparently the museum director thought the clear dropcloths permitted an acceptable view of the paintings. Imagine looking at a poor reproduction of a six-foot painting in a cheap book. A portrait by Franz Hals had the clearest piece of plastic over it, but I still couldn't see the brushwork, and that is what Hals is noted for. Frustrating, to be sure.

One of the most stunning works was a full-length portrait of Marie Antoinette in pastel by Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842.) The wall placard didn't give the portrait's dimensions, but I reckoned it to be 8 feet by 5. A close look at the painting showed that, at some point in the past, it had been ripped into three pieces and suffered two serious punctures. (Perhaps by mobs during the French Revolution? Vigée-Lebrun was able to flee to Italy, but Marie Antoinette was not so lucky.) Pastel dust dotted the inside of the glazing, along with a conservator's beard hair.

But despite these failings, the pastel is phenomenal. Pastel seems to be a better medium for presenting the illusion of flesh than oil. The surrounding oil portraits, all by other artists, glistened unnaturally; the pastel represented the soft, inner glow of skin more successfully.

Self-Portrait (oil) by Vigée-Lebrun
Image from ABC Gallery (www.abcgallery.com)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sarasota Workshop - Day 5

Our final workshop day started off cool and partly cloudy. We headed out again to Myakka River State Park to paint more live oaks, Spanish moss and cabbage palms. Our first stop was a quiet part of the river. Here, the live oaks hung over the river creating a dark bower; Spanish moss lay draped over every limb and added to the mystery. This proved a challenge, because the sun vanished as soon as we had completed our underpaintings, reducing the value contrast substantially and making for a rather dull and complex scene. We all struggled to resolve our paintings.

After lunch at the park's concession stand - the seafood gumbo was excellent! - we headed out to the Ranch Road. Along with the clouds came a strong wind, and after days of near-80 degrees, it felt downright chilly. The Ranch Road was protected by palms and live oaks.

As my final painting for the workshop, I did the little 5x7 below. For this one, I mixed a little bit of white into each of my color mixtures. You'll want to read Day 4 plus the comments for a discussion of why I wanted to try this. I think this piece came off pretty successfully.

"Live Oaks & Palm" 5x7, oil


As with all workshops, it's sad that this one has come to an end. Trina and I will soon continue our drive west to Sedona. We hope to see some of you there! Check out www.PaintSedona.com for more information on my mentoring workshops.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sarasota Workshop - Day 4

Our fourth day began with a tornado warning and heavy rain - a perfect day for a studio discussion on color temperature.

Earlier in the week, I had one student who had been told by her instructor that 80% of a painting should consist of white paint. I disagreed with that, since whenever I use a lot of white, I get cold, chalky paintings. (My mentor, Ann Templeton, says white is the "killer color.") I couldn't imagine why anyone should want to use so much white.

So today, she said that her instructor also told her that Cadmium Yellow Light is a warmer color than Cadmium Yellow Deep. I disagreed with that, too. CYL has a bit of blue or green in it, whereas CYD has red in it. But after a little experimenting, we think we discovered where this information was coming from.

Imagine three colors: Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow Deep and Cadmium Yellow Light. Now, lay down three stripes of these colors, going from bottom to top with CRL, then CYD followed by CYL. The CRL looks closest to you because it is warmest; CYD looks to be out in the middle ground, and CYL looks to be farthest away because it is cooler than either of these.

However, the values are different. CYL is very light, CYD is dark, and CRL is very dark. If you adjust these values with white - and it takes a considerable amount to make the CYD and CRL as light as the CYL - the white kills the warmth. Suddenly, with the values adjusted, the CYL does indeed seem the warmest and thus, the closest.

In my mind, neither of these two approaches is right or wrong, so long as one remembers that the warmest color will always come forward. I would still advise caution when using white, though. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

In the meantime, here are two little pastel studies I did from the studio, looking out into the rain. ("Sun'n'Fun" is the resort where our workshop is based.)

"Sun'n'Fun Club Car" 5x7, pastel


"American Spirit" 5x7, pastel

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sarasota Workshop - Day 3

Today, the heat reached 80 with a stiff breeze off the bay. After a critique in our studio and a discussion of the perils hidden in the compound curves of boats, we decided to go down to the bay to paint one. On a hot day, there's nothing like a breeze to make things pleasant. But a visit to the marina showed the wind would be too much to deal with. Not only would it be hard to keep our hands steady for painting masts, the boats were rocking like carousel ponies on the wind-tossed water. So, we took our next best option - Selby Gardens.

From the tree-sheltered parking lot of the Gardens, I was able to see a little cove where the wind was less and a boat sat quietly docked. It was an easy boat, seen broadside and with nary a compound curve showing. Here's my demonstration painting:

"Selby Gardens Boat"
5x7, oil - SOLD

Later, I took a brief tour of the gardens. It's a real treat to see tropical plants in a place where they can flourish. I found a nice bench in the shade of a banyan tree.

Sarasota Workshop - Day 2

On our second day, the workshop went out to Myakka River State Park. Myakka is a long, winding river fed by surrounding wetlands. The park road offers many pull-offs with broad vistas of the river, as well as parking areas for the trails, which wind through thickets of live oak and cabbage palms. We stopped on a bridge to paint one of the vistas and to explore the possibilities of designing with simple shapes -- horizontal bands of water and marsh broken by the vertical shapes of trees. Alligators lumbered out of the water to sun themselves on the riverbank and to keep a close eye on us.

After a lunch stop at the park's concession, we wandered into the woods to paint. In a park that is known for encounters with alligators and wild boars, this was a safe area to be in. The only danger was from the hundreds of vultures, perching in the live oaks overhead. A brochure in the park recommends that you cover your car with a sheet to deter the vultures, who in their spare time enjoy playing with the rubber in your windshield wipers. (I've been into the park twice now, but I haven't yet seen this odd activity. That's a good thing, because I'm not in the habit of carrying a bedsheet in the car.)

In the photo below, Pat LaBrecque, our workshop host, paints some of the vultures. Waiting patiently on a tree limb for us to expire, they make excellent subjects. By the way, she's using an "Art Cocoon" (www.myartcocoon.com), a product she's designed to make life a little easier for outdoor painters.

I demonstrated how starting a painting with a monochromatic underpainting can help you keep your values true from start to finish. Once the underpainting is done, it's important that the succeeding layers of paint match precisely the values you have already established. A dark area of grass, for example, underpainted with brown, must be overpainted with green of the same dark value.

Here's my palm tree painting. I underpainted with a brown made from Cadmium Red Light and Ultramarine Blue.

"Myakka Palms"
7x6, oil

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sarasota Workshop - Day 1

While snowstorms ravage Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, Sarasota is basking in the sun. It's a great time for an outdoor painting workshop -- if you're in Florida!

This week, I'm teaching a pastel-or-oil workshop. To give the students from New York a chance to enjoy the beach, we headed out to Lido Key. Lido Key is known for, among other things, the profusion of shells that wash up on the sands during storms. In the photo below, you can see the "Sarasota Stoop" in action as Trina and friends shell hunt.


My pastel demonstration today was of one of the many Australian pines that provide shade on the Key. Normally, I save this for later in the week because I consider trees to be a more advanced topic. But this particular tree had such strong light and shadow that it provided a perfect opportunity to talk about design, which I consider fundamental to plein air painting. Design is the first thing I look for in a subject, and strong contrast can easily establish a strong design.

As you can see, I also had a chance to play with color. For the underpainting, I chose pastels more for value than for color. After scrubbing in the color with Turpenoid and letting it dry, I finished with more realistic color.

"Lido Key Shade"
9x12, pastel, en plein air

Sarasota Workshop - Day 1

While snowstorms ravage Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, Sarasota is basking in the sun. It's a great time for an outdoor painting workshop -- if you're in Florida!

This week, I'm teaching a pastel-or-oil workshop. To give the students from New York a chance to enjoy the beach, we headed out to Lido Key. Lido Key is known for, among other things, the profusion of shells that wash up on the sands during storms. In the photo below, you can see the "Sarasota Stoop" in action as Trina and friends shell hunt.

My pastel demonstration today was of one of the many Australian pines that provide shade on the Key. Normally, I save this for later in the week because I consider trees to be a more advanced topic. But this particular tree had such strong light and shadow that it provided a perfect opportunity to talk about design, which I consider fundamental to plein air painting. Design is the first thing I look for in a subject, and strong contrast can easily establish a strong design.

As you can see, I also had a chance to play with color. For the underpainting, I chose pastels more for value than for color. After scrubbing in the color with Turpenoid and letting it dry, I finished with more realistic color.

"Lido Key Shade" 9x12, pastel, en plein air

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Calvin's Boat

(Although I'm currently on the road and en route to Florida, I had some time today to post to my blog.)

As much as I like to work outdoors, rainy weather sometimes forces me in to work from photos. This is one example. The photo has less color but just as much dark as shown in the painting. Although experience tells me that, in real life, the shadows would not be so dark, I kept them that way. I wanted to "punch up" the difference between the rim light on the boats and the background behind them. The effect of strong morning sun is a key element.

Also, in the photo, there was a good deal going on behind the boats. I may have taken the photo at the height of lobster season, when the docks are full of fishermen hauling out their catch. I wanted to simplify all that. So, although you get a sense of visual activity because of the broken, uneven strokes, you aren't distracted by it.

"Calvin's Boat"
9x12, pastel

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