Sunday, January 19, 2020

Some Snow Paintings

Snow and Rock #1
6x8 Oil - Available

In the days when I lived back east, I sometimes painted in the deep of winter.  But painting in, say, Vermont at that time of year is a much different experience than painting here in New Mexico on a fine January day.

Back east, plein air in winter wasn't for the faint of heart.  Bitter cold meant wearing gloves so thick that handling little sticks of pastel was near-impossible.  One might think oil would be a better choice, but every pile of paint turned into a dense mass the consistency of Silly Putty.  I won my merit badge when I painted for about a half-hour at -15° F, and that was in pastel.

The other times I painted, it was often when the temperature hung in the 20s, and clouds like grey steel plates paneled the sky.  The overcast made it seem much colder.  I preferred to paint when some sun, filtering through the clouds, might warm me up.  But that made as little difference as the warmth from a nightlight bulb in an unheated room.

But now I'm in New Mexico.  Here in the north part of the state and at 7000 feet, we do have winter.  I think the lowest temperature so far was a degree or so below 0° F.  For several weeks now, nighttime lows have been in the single digits or teens; daytime highs, in the 20s, 30s, 40s and almost 50—but that depends so much on sunshine.  But even in the 20s with sun, it can seem gloriously warm.  You'd swear it was in the 60s and peel your clothes off like they were on fire.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share a few recent snow paintings with you.  For each of them, I stood in four or five inches of snow, in the sun, with my parka zipped open and my gloves, off.   I can't wait to paint some more of these.

Snow and Rock #2
6x8 Oil - Available

8x10 Oil - Available

Snow and Rock #3
9x12 Oil - Available

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Another Snowstorm...and Thinking of Summer

Are you thinking of summer yet? I am!

Although we haven't had many snowstorms this winter in northern New Mexico, the snow we did have isn't going away very fast.  It's been colder than usual.  And now, we are in the midst of another storm, which is predicted to drop about 5" here at the studio...and a little farther up the hill, perhaps a whole foot.

This has me thinking already of summer.  If you're snowbound, iced over or just darn tired of overcast, wintery skies, then maybe you are thinking of summer, too.  Now's the time to sign up for one of my summer plein air painting workshops in Lubec, Maine.  I have cut down on the weeks this year, so space is limited!

Find out all the details here:

Now I'm going to go look at some pictures of sunny, warm beaches!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Gridding Your Painting with ... Twine!

Most of us painters should be familiar with the idea of using a grid to scale up and transfer a drawing to a painting surface.  I've always just drawn the grid on my canvas in pencil.  This usually works except that I am prone to using thin, transparent paint.  And if the paint is too thin, the pencil line, however light, seems to show through in the final painting.  Is there a better way?

Yes, there is!  I recently used a ball of twine and a fistful of map pins to grid my canvas.

Using a pencil, I marked off regular intervals on each edge of the canvas, matching the grid points I'd overlaid on my drawing.  At each of these interval marks, I stuck in a map pin.  Then, using the twine, I went up and down and back and forth in a logical manner to connect these pins.  The result was a beautiful grid that, when removed, left no visible mark on the canvas. (I used thinned paint and a small brush to sketch in my design.)

My grid was coarse, just four squares by four squares.  If I'd needed a finer grid, I could have used string or even thread to make the grid lines.

Here are some images to show you how this works.

3x3 thumbnail

The gridded 36x36 canvas.  Yes, this works on unsquares.

One of the map pins at the edge.

Closeup of the map pin.

Side view showing placement of pins
and how the grid is established.

What I do with the ball of twine.  Just let it
dangle, and a piece of masking tape secures the twine.

The scaled-up, transferred drawing--all without a grid of pencil lines!
The drawing here is with thinned paint and a brush.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Using Oil Sticks as a Start

"Arroyo" 24x30 Oil - Available
Yes, you saw it before in an earlier post, but
now I want to tell the story.

I'm a painter, but sometimes for a project, it just feels right to draw.  That's the way I felt when I started "Arroyo," the painting at the top of this post.  As most of you know, I usually paint in a small format, but this subject, La Ventana Natural Arch near Grants, New Mexico, demanded a larger canvas—24x30.  When I put the canvas up on the easel, several acres of white confronted me.  I suddenly lacked the confidence to just start in with a brush.  I decided I needed to get some drawing down first.

My first thought was pencil or charcoal, which would give me more accuracy than a brush.  But of course, pencil lines can show through transparent passages, and charcoal can muddy the color.  Then I remembered my box of oil sticks.

Made of nothing but pigment and linseed oil, oil sticks are fatter than those big green pencils we were given in kindergarten.  They come with a blunt end and a sort of "skin" that you have to trim off with a knife before using.  My set, Richeson Shiva Student Grade PaintStiks, has six colors:  white, yellow, red, green, blue and brown.  These aren't enough colors to do serious work but certainly enough to get a drawing down and the painting started.

Using colors that were akin to the ones that I envisioned in the final painting, I started drawing.  Next, I blocked in color with the PaintStiks, dipping the ends in Gamsol to liquefy the color so I could apply it more easily and fill shapes.  Once that was done, I went back in with my biggest brush and Gamsol to liquefy the color further and push it around for a thorough block-in.  From there, I proceeded with my usual M.O.

I will say that drawing with oil sticks really freed me up.  It was comforting, as I'm a natural drawer and it comes easily to me.  I'm sure I'll do more of this in the future, especially for larger studio works.

Below I share my step-by-step photos with you.

By the way, this project came out of a painting session with one of my Private Intensive Painting Program students.  Although I didn't sketch La Ventana itself—it was still in shadow—I made color sketches of the surrounding sunlit rocks and arroyo and also took photographs.  To figure out what the sun would do on La Ventana, I made use of the Internet and found several photos that showed the pattern of light and shadow.  I didn't copy any of these photos but just used them as a reference for the pattern.  The color and the "feeling of the moment" all come from my sketches of the surrounding terrain.

Oil stick drawing

More drawing, with oil stick dipped in Gamsol 

Washing in color with Gamsol

And from here on, continuing with brushes

I had a hard time with the arroyo foreground.
I wanted to make it interesting, but not too
interesting, so I removed that dark shadow...

...and then put it in again...

...only to finally remove it.  Finished.
Arroyo, 24x30 Oil - Available

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Winston Churchill—Plein Air Painter

Sir Winston Churchill at Work

By now, most of us plein air painters have heard that Sir Winston Churchill, the twice-Prime Minister of England who steered that country through World War II, was also an avid outdoor painter. I don't remember when I first learned of his hobby. I did get a copy of his little book, Painting as a Pastime, several years ago.

Recently, I started watching The Crown, Netflix's serial bio-pic on Queen Elizabeth II. The first season shows Churchill, played admirably by John Lithgow, pursuing his hobby whenever possible. He was about as serious as an amateur can get without taking that final step of "going pro."

The series renewed my interest in Churchill. While doing some research, I discovered another book, Winston Churchill: His Life as a Painter. It's a memoir written by his daughter, Mary Soames, and published in 1990. Although the book focuses on Churchill's activities as a painter, both outdoor and studio, the setting is that of world events. I was intrigued to learn that he was such a dedicated painter that he even took his paintbox out to the battlefield. He found a few moments when the shells weren't whistling overhead to paint a sketch or two.

By the way, although he started off painting from life, early on he learned the advantages of using photographs as a reference. He also projected lantern slides and traced them, especially for portraits and buildings, where accuracy in drawing is critical:
Having discovered painting in the middle age of a crowded life, he was loath to spend precious time mastering draughtsmanship, and in the lantern and slides he had found a sensible short-cut which greatly helped him. ... But he never became rigidly tied to photographic methods; he simply employed them as useful aids. My chief memories are of him at his easel, painting directly on the canvas.

The book includes many paintings by Churchill. The reader can see how his painting skills improved over time. Some of this is thanks to studying with painters such as Walter Sickert, but—and my students should appreciate this—also through dedicated practice. I've included below one of my favorite paintings.

The book is out of print, of course, but you can find used copies on Amazon.

"On the Var, South of France" 1935 by Winston S. Churchill