Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sedona Plein Air Festival - Day 5, Continued

I promised I'd take a picture of the last painting I did in Jerome as the snow came down. After toning the canvas with a light wash of blue in the sky and orange in the foreground, I went right in with the knife. I needed to speed things along, as a snow squall was moving in. This morning, I spent some time making adjustments. This is on a Raymar canvas panel, 9x12.

Last night, William Scott Jennings, a master at painting mountains and canyons, gave the keynote lecture at the Sedona Arts Center for the Festival. The topic was "From Plein Air to Studio." It was probably one of the most informative talks I've heard. Scott's an excellent painter and teacher, and I enjoyed listening to him. It was a multi-media experience - a slide show ran behind him as he spoke, and we also got to see some plein air pieces and larger, studio pieces first-hand. (See for his paintings.)

Typically, he paints small in the field - 8x10, 9x12 - with the intention of gathering reference material for the studio. Rather than create finished paintings, he studies light and color. Rather than try to capture the entire length of a mountain range with all the detail, he paints just a small section. This will have enough information in it so that, supplemented with photos, he can create the whole range on a much larger canvas. Studio pieces typically run six or eight feet long, and he can finish such a painting in about three weeks.

Like most plein air painters, when he paints the field studies, he works quickly, eliminates as much detail as possible and keeps to large shapes. For each shape, he mixes what he sees as the average color and value. Then, he permits himself to "model" each shape by adding two more values, each a half-step from the original. Each of these new values must also be a different color. So, if the shape is a dark purple, he'll add perhaps a slightly lighter green and a slightly darker red. (Not his example, but mine. I'm not sure if he shifts the color in a color-wheel sense or chooses random color.)

I'd always wondered how someone paints a really big studio piece. Scott actually starts with a grisaille. After outlining the paintings few large masses, he blocks in the shapes with grey values and a brush. The early stages of the step-by-step progressions he showed us had only two or three values and very strong designs. This greyscale underpainting serves as a roadmap and keeps him from getting lost in the design. Next, he moves to color, applying paint almost exclusively with a knife and making sure to make his color mixtures match the greys in value. He says the knife automatically creates suggested detail through "random accidents" with the paint, something almost impossible to do with a brush. He also likes to build up the paint into impasto as he works the foreground, increasing the sense of distance in the painting. In addition, whereas in field sketches he limits himself to three values in a shape, in the studio piece he'll expand this to as many values as needed to model a shape.

Scott also addressed how to develop a style. Rather than try to change your natural tendency to handle brush and paint in a certain way, it's more effective to change your materials. For example, a knife will give you a much different style than a brush, as will working on smooth panels instead of stretched linen. In developing your own style, he says, it's helpful to analyze a style you admire as a product of the materials used. As an example, he pointed out how his work has changed since he started using a knife for the large paintings.

As I said, it was a wonderful lecture. Maybe Scott is working on a book.


Steven P. Goodman said...

Thanks for the great description of the lecture. I found it very interesting and informative, especially his technique with values.

Carolyn said...

Thank you for sharing this lecture. It was very interesting. I learned a lot.

william wray said...

love this painting M--

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, everyone!