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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rainy Day Birches - and Goodbye (for now)

As many of you know, Trina and I are about to embark on a cross-country adventure. We're leaving our island home and heading for Sedona, Arizona, where we will spend the winter. I'll be teaching, painting and also working on the videos I promised for Backpacker Painting.

These projects require that we increase our burden beyond a couple of suitcases. (Am I possibly violating key principles of "backpacker painting"?) I'm taking two complete painting set-ups, one each for oil and pastel; backup supplies of oil paint and panels, pastels and paper; a digital video camera as well as a digital SLR still camera and an assortment of lenses and tripods; and finally, a laptop with every document and database I thought I might possibly need, as well as a pair of headphones for Skype. In order to save space, I was a bit stingy with the art supplies. I'm planning on placing a big order with Cheap Joe's once I arrive in Sedona.

It seems like we've been piling up our belongings for days in preparation for packing the car. Fortunately, my other projects ended last week, and I've had some time in which to mull over what else I might need. There are so many things that might have become afterthoughts a thousand miles down the road: "Oh, what about the USB mouse for the laptop?" The mouse is now on my list of things to stuff into a box at the last minute. I hope we still have room for clothes and Saba the Dog.

"Rainy Day Birches" 5x7, pastel

Yesterday, I took a few minutes off to do a small study of the birches in the backyard. It was pouring rain, but this only made the colors even more fantastic. I worked inside, looking out. As you can see, I took a very loose approach with this piece and had fun with the color. Some of you might notice that this is another painting in my "Yellow Barn, Yellow House" series. You can see those two structures in the background.

This will be my last post for awhile. I hope to post again between December 8-12, when I'll be teaching a workshop in Sarasota, Florida. Until then, happy trails!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Working with the Very Softest Pastels

Last summer, when I was teaching a pastel workshop in St Andrews, NB, a student challenged me to use only soft pastels in a demonstration. I usually start off with hard pastels and then wash in the pigment with Turpenoid before moving on to the softer sticks. Could I skip the hard pastels?

We were painting on Minister's Island. Back in the late 1700s, this scant bit of land was home to the first Anglican minister of St Andrews. The island was -- and still is -- accessible by foot or wheeled vehicle only at low tide, when the receding water reveals a gravel bar that connects it to the mainland. (At high tide, you can take a boat.) My subject for the demonstration was the stone cottage the minister lived in.

I used the 80-half-stick "landscape" selection from Sennelier. You can't get much softer than these pastels! They require a very light touch, especially when using the aggressively-toothed Wallis Sanded Paper. This painting has a thick, rich build-up of pastel.

"Stone Cottage, Minister's Island"
9x12, pastel, en plein air

Saturday, November 22, 2008

First Snow

It's not even Thanksgiving yet, and we are in the middle of our first snowstorm. Today, I wanted to use up the paint on my palette by doing one last oil painting. I'm in the middle of preparing for our winter trip, and cleaning up the studio, which includes cleaning off the palette, is one bullet on my lengthy list.

But because a stiff wind is pushing the wind chill down to 10˚F, and the air is full of snow, I decided to paint from the French doors in our bedroom. The doors look out on a thicket of saplings, older trees and underbrush that really comes into its full glory in a snowy winter. The maples especially are beautiful with their eccentric curves. I picked one of my favorites to paint.

The thicket behind the maple is a very busy area, full of criss-crossing branches and all the stuff that makes it a good home for red squirrels. For Saba, our dog, it's a fascinating place, but for a painter, it needs to be simplified in order to stay in the background. For this painting, I even removed a couple of large trees that were quite close to my main subject. I didn't want anything to compete with the maple's curves and angles.

"First Snow"
7x5, oil, en plein air

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Clearing Weather

After the weekend's tropical storm, the weather cleared, lickety-split. Brisk winds and drier air brought with them proof that there really is more color to the Maritimes than greys and other neutrals. The clear air makes the late autumn colors glow. Late in the afternoon, I went out to capture some of the beautiful reds that now liven up our fields, thick with bare blackberry and raspberry canes.

For this little oil, I laid down a transparent wash of Cadmium Red Light and Cadmium Yellow Deep in the foreground as a base for the field colors. Next, I killed the richness just a bit by taking those same two colors and adding a bit of white and Ultramarine Blue to them. This kept the brilliant colors from competing with my focal point, which is the sunlit end of the house on the hill. That little block of light consists of white plus just a smidgen of Cadmium Yellow Light. It doesn't take much to warm it up and to make the mixture appear even "whiter than white."

"Our House" 5x7, oil

By the way, I'm reading a new book. It is Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay. In it, the writer records her search for the origins of some common pigments that have been key in painting over the years. It's a fascinating read. Beware, though; the writer takes some authorial side-trips. Interesting at first, they become less so. The good news is, you can easily drive on, and the writer will catch up with you soon enough.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2009 Portfolio

Now that the book is done, I'm diving into a few other unfinished projects.  One of these is my 2009 portfolio.  I do one portfolio a year for galleries and collectors.  When I publish it, I 'retire' the previous year's, which will never again be available.

Here's the cover of the 2009 one.  This 40-page book contains 35 paintings - 17 pastels and 18 oils.  If you're interested in purchasing it, please visit this link for more information.

Now, no more publications.  I promise!  I'm off to do more packing for the trip!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tropical Storm - Pastel de la Fenêtre

Believe it or not, this weekend the weather service issued a tropical storm warning for Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes - in mid-November! The temperature climbed to 60 degrees, nearly two inches of rain fell and the winds whipped up to over 50 miles an hour. Needless to say, I retreated to the studio. I decided to do a pastel "de la fenêtre" - out the window.

I was intrigued by the color scheme that an imminent tropical storm can bring to our Canadian landscape. You'll note lots of violets and blues but also in the foreground some very rich greens. And with all that rain in the air, I had a hard time seeing detail. I found that using light, scribbly strokes was a good way to describe the softness of the scene.

"The Yellow House in November"
9x12, pastel

For this one, I used Unison pastels on an Rtistx board.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The End of Apples

The cold weather has begun to pour in. Thick, bluish clouds gather, letting only a glimmer of sunlight through. Even the sunlight seems cold. The apple trees over in Friar's Head meadow hang onto the last, few apples of the year. Pithy and scarred by worm and frost, they will provide winter meals for the squirrels.

I took some time off this afternoon from other projects to paint. The apple trees are beautifully sculptural, especially now that the leaves are gone. I found one that I liked best, and set up my easel.

"End of the Apples" 9x12, oil, en plein air

These apple trees have gone feral. Unmanaged, unpruned, their limbs and twigs weave a wild basket, full of holes. How do you paint something like that? I start off with a gestural sketch with thin paint to establish the rhythm of the limbs. Next, I block in the entire shape of the tree, solid. After that, I poke in a few "sky holes" with the color of the background clouds, sky and water. I return to the tree and repaint a few key limbs. Then it's back to the sky holes, taking care that I don't give the tree an unintentional shape. (It's so easy to go awry when chipping away.) I go back and forth between limbs and background until the tree has the shape I want. It really is a weaving process, not unlike the way the limbs themselves have grown.

At the end, I paint the apples. I start with darkish, greenish blots and gradually lighten them with spots of dull yellow and red. There are so many of them in the tree, but I paint fewer to enhance the idea that the season is drawing to an end.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More Drizzle

I really can't complain about living in the "grey zone" here in the Canadian Maritimes. This extended period of fog, drizzle and rain does me a favour. The grey overcast saturates the colours, pouring rich color throughout the landscape.

I went out this afternoon - again, between bouts of rain - and got caught. Not as much drizzle as yesterday, but enough that I could see it building up on the paint surface. I tipped my easel forward to keep any more rain off the panel so I wouldn't have to fight with the water.

"More Drizzle, November"
5x7, oil, en plein air

Reminder: The Holiday Sale runs through November 24. If you missed the post, please click here. Also, my new book is out, and you can click here for that post.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oil & Water Don't Mix

After spending several days working on tight-deadline magazine articles, I decided I really needed to get out today to paint, even if just for a few minutes. We had over an inch of rain in the last 24 hours, and this afternoon the rain abated. I even saw a sunny break in the clouds. So, I picked up the gear and headed out.

I got about 30 minutes into this 5x7, almost near the end, when a light rain began to fall. It didn't take long for both palette and panel to be fairly drizzled with water. (I didn't take the umbrella.) I began to experience severe adhesion problems. The brush was actually lifting off paint and leaving white spots - everywhere! I ended up bringing the painting into the studio to finish. I had to hold it over a hot lamp for a few minutes to dry off the water first. The painting is below.

By the way, please don't forget the Holiday Sale, now going through November 24. If you missed the post, please click here. My new book is also out, and you can click here for that post.

"November Drizzle"
5x7, oil, en plein air

Saturday, November 1, 2008

New Book! Backpacker Painting & 2009 Calendar

I'm proud to say that my new book, Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, is finally available!

This 164-page paperback is packed with 12 demonstations, in both oil and pastel, and 72 paintings and 125 illustrations.

Click here to order or to learn more about it.

By the way, my 2009 calendar is now available, too. You can order from the same link and save on shipping.

In the book, I answer all the questions my students have asked over the years:
  • My approach to what gear is absolutely needed
  • How I cut excess baggage
  • How I capture the landscape quickly and accurately
...while still having fun!

For advanced painters, I include plenty of tips as well as special sections on how to bring your outdoor painting to a higher level.

The book has taken me over a year to write, but it's been a rewarding task. I think you'll enjoy it.

From the Introduction:

One of the most rewarding ways to paint en plein air is to go out with the least equipment and materials possible. "Backpacker Painting" sums it up. If I can squeeze whatever I need into my backpack, then I can paint anywhere my feet can take me.

But Backpacker Painting isn't just an approach to equipment and materials. It's also an attitude. If you approach the act of painting outdoors with the philosophy of portability, you can practice 'backpacker painting' anywhere. You don't have to hike into the wilderness and brave the bears. You can do it in your front yard.

There are many situations where you can strip down your gear, both mental and physical. If you can do the job with just a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, why take the whole hardware store with you? This book will show you how to simplify your painting life.