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Saturday, May 30, 2009

On the Road: IAPS, Albuquerque, New Mexico

There's only one day left in the IAPS (International Association of Pastel Societies) convention, so I thought it was time to post a brief report. For me, it's been a busy time, since I gave not one but two, well-attended demonstrations, which required a certain amount of preparation and practice. In addition, I've been squeezing in as many sessions as I can with the other artists and, yes, socializing!

Part of what the convention is about is seeing old friends, meeting people I've "met" only through e-mail, and making entirely new friends. Old friends include Bob Rohm, Doug Dawson, Albert Handell, Anita Louise West, Maggie Price and members of the pastel societies I belong to. People I've only "met" through e-mail include my Pastel Journal editors, Anne Hevener and Sarah Strickley; Jamie Markle, editor for North Light Books; John Heilman of Heilman Designs; Kitty Wallis; Margaret Evans; and a whole bunch of people from WetCanvas, the on-line artists' forum. Finally, I count among my new friends Duane Wakeham, with whom I took a full-day masters' workshop, and Terry Ludwig, who gave me the following gift. It's a New Mexico chile, made out of purple pastel.

With a whole day left, I'm sure I'll see even more old friends, meet even more e-mail buddies, and make even more new friends. Tonight's the banquet, and I'll be seated with Jack Richeson of Richeson Art and my fellow Pastel Artists Canada members.

How've I spent the last few days? I've been in Duane's workshop, as noted above; I've watched demonstrations by Kim Lordier and Lorenzo Chavez; and I enjoyed The Pastel Journal's Tenth Anniversary party. Also, as I mentioned, I did two demonstrations. Both were on "Painting the Canadian Maritimes." I think people enjoyed my video and PowerPoint presentations, which took only 10 minutes out of my 2 hours. I think they also enjoyed the actual demonstration. In my first session, I had 51 attendees, and in my second, 47. That's nearly 100 people!

Here is the demonstration from the second session. It is 12x18 on Wallis paper (white). I used a greyscale underpainting, which I made with Gallery semi-hard grey pastels and alcohol.

Now, it's time to dresss for the banquet!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On the Road: When is a Painting Worthy of an OPA National Show?

While talking to a friend, I mentioned that I was planning to go to Santa Fe today to take in some of my favorite galleries. She reminded me that the OPA (Oil Painters of America) National Show is still running at Sage Creek Gallery, and she urged me to go. Well, I didn't need much urging! It's a rare chance to see so much great art in one building.

I actually made three rounds of the show and spent a couple of hours doing so. I looked hard at the work of the OPA Masters and other pieces that particularly struck me. I did think a few seemed of questionable merit - duds always seem to slip in, whatever the sponsoring organization - but overall, the work was top-notch. I haven't received my copy of the catalog yet, but I'm looking forward to spending even more time with these paintings when I do.

Before I left, I stood among these fine pieces and pondered the grand issue of Quality. What is it that makes a painting worthy of this kind of national show? 

I observed that it's three things: Exciting composition, exciting color, and exciting brushwork. If you wish, you can boil this down to one thing: Drama.

- The paintings that worked the best had strong designs. Lots of value contrast, and with all the shapes in a balanced yet dynamic design.
- They also had complex color schemes that were harmonious yet vibrant with tension. Complements and split-complements, while keeping one color family dominant, worked well.
- Finally, the brushwork itself created a rhythm of thick and thin paint, and of opaque and transparent passages.

And what didn't work? Some of the paintings that I felt to be the least successful were what I call "snapshots." The compositions felt as if they'd been snapped by a tourist on the run with a point-and-shoot camera. (These seem to be popular now, especially in street scenes with figures.) Others were quiet little landscapes or still lifes. Most were real gems, but to truly appreciate them required more time than a judge might have.

Here's one of many that I liked, "Summer House" by Gabor Svagrik. The image is from the Sage Creek Gallery website, (The color is richer and more intense in the original.) In addition to meeting the three points above, it also has an exciting drama implied by the contrast between the orderly dooryard and the jungle-like chaos beyond the fence.

I could post many, many more pieces, but if you visit the Sage Creek Gallery site, you can see them all.  

Okay, that's it for other people's work! Next time, back to me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Spring at the Swamp

"Glensevern in Spring"
8x10, en plein air - SOLD

I'm still busy prepping for the IAPS convention, but the weather was so painting-perfect today that I had to get out.  I headed for one of my favorite spots, a little low place in the Glensevern road where the lake and its attendant swamp creep right up to the edge.  Our island has seen quite a bit of rain lately, so the water is rather high.  I can't imagine what the road must have been like in FDR's day.  One probably needed a horse on stilts to get through!

You'll note that a lot of the paint is transparent.  I used a hardboard panel with three coats of Blick Master Gesso laid on.  It makes for a slippery surface, and you have to work at making the darks dark enough, because the brush easily scrapes down to the white surface.  It helps to put a dab of opaque Titanium White or Cadmium Yellow Deep in the darks to make them a bit more solid.  (One could also use a dark earth color.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Preparing for IAPS

"Moose River Spring"
9x12, pastel

We made it safely home to Campobello Island on Monday. All is well, and I'm happy to see the Island is close to spring. Although the trees are still mostly bare, the daffodils are up, and the grass has grown enough so that I had to mow it yesterday. (To be sure, I'd rather have been painting!)

In less than two weeks, I head out again, this time to Albuquerque for the IAPS convention. For those of you who aren't into pastel, IAPS stands for International Association of Pastel Societies, and the convention happens every two years. It's the pastel world's version of the G8 summit. Anyone who's anybody in pastel will be there. We'll have demos, workshops, offline chats and a vendors' show. I'm always excited to catch a demonstration of an artist I really admire.

This time around, I've been invited to demonstrate. This a real honor, since I'll be painting in front of my peers.

I was asked to do something with the theme of painting the Canadian Maritimes. For my demonstration, I'll include a short PowerPoint demonstration illustrating the challenges - and the delights - of painting outdoors in this area. In addition, I've created a short video to play while people are getting seated. You can see a preview here:

By the way, I scanned in one last painting from my week at Old Forge. This is a small bend in the Moose River. It was such a typical spring day - swiftly moving clouds playing hide-and-seek with the sun. (See above.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Studio Painting from Reference Sketches

"North Branch Spring"
9x12, pastel

Springtime showers have been dragging through the Adirondacks this week. Fortunately, they've been intermittent, giving my students and me plenty of time to paint outside.

Knowing that Tuesday would be mostly wet, we pushed ourselves on Monday to do a number of 5x7s. The intention with these sketches was to gather reference material for painting a studio piece. I had students make a color study of a composition they liked, followed by a study of a particular detail that would add interest to the scene. I've found that, quite often, the general color study doesn't show enough detail to make a convincing picture. To make it so, I like to sketch some detail that I can incorporate later.

Once in the studio, from my two color field sketches I created a nearly full-size value sketch. I used the grid system to transfer the sketch to my surface. I selected a sheet of Belgian Mist Wallis paper, since its color and value are close to the mid-value, warm tone I made the field sketches on. Finally, I used the same palette I used in the field. One way to speed up the process of pastel selection is to save the pastels used in the field in a ZipLoc bag to keep them separate from the others in your box. (I didn't, because I had other paintings to paint.)

I "pushed" the color a bit in my studio piece. Rather than make a larger copy of what I did in the field, I wanted to not only improve the composition but also make the color more exciting. One rarely has time in the field to play with the design and color scheme, so a rainy day in the studio is a perfect opportunity to experiment.

Above is my studio piece and, below, the two field sketches plus my studio value sketch.

By the way, for those of you wondering how the bugs are, the blackflies, like the rain, have been intermittent. Still young, they haven't quite figured out what their purpose in life is and aren't biting.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Preparing for Class: Criteria for Workshop Painting Locations

"North Branch, Moose River"
9x12, pastel

Every teacher, whether of elementary school, college or painting workshops, needs to prepare for class. For my preparation, I need to strike up a meaningful friendship with the local landscape. This is especially true when I travel to teach.

Every area new to me, however similar it may be to my own territory, has its twists. Streams may run orange with tannins. Trees may be stunted because of miserly soil. Rocks may glisten with a wealth of mica flakes. I try to get into town a few days ahead of time so I can get a feel for these peculiarities. And if an area is utterly different from home, I'll make sure to visit and paint several times before I even dare to schedule a workshop there!

Most important, though, is that I prepare by scouting out good painting locations. It's important to me that I don't waste teaching time by dragging students from one spot to the next, hoping to find a better scene. When I get into town, I always try to line up a local painter as a guide or to see if the local painting group has a list of plein air spots. Next, I drive out to as many spots as I can and, for each one, I go down my checklist:
  • Is it "rich" with plenty of different views to exploit?
  • Can a good composition with strong contrasts be easily found?
  • Is there enough parking for everyone?
  • Is parking close enough to the painting spot so mobility-challenged students can reach it easily?
  • Is it a short drive from the workshop center?
  • Can it be accessed by a standard passenger car with only two-wheel drive and low clearance?
  • And, finally, are there washrooms? Many excellent spots filling all the other criteria will fail at this. Sometimes, rather than pass up a good spot, I will keep our painting sessions to two hours.
Once I've nailed down a good number of sites, I like to paint at a few of them. This helps immensely in really getting to know not just the new landscape but also any traffic, weather and neighborhood issues.

Yesterday, I went out to a little bridge overlooking the North Branch of the Moose River to paint the above scene. It's an almost perfect spot, filling all the criteria except one. You guessed it - no washrooms! But we'll make do.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

More at Old Forge, New York: Judging a Pastel Exhibition

"Moose River, Early Spring"
9x12, pastel

After some heavy rain, spring continues to surge. Yesterday, we hiked into the Adirondack wilderness where I spotted a beaver working on his dam. When he saw me, he slapped his tail in warning and vanished. Trout lilies, yellow violets and spring beauties decorated the trail. Small blue butterflies, each no bigger than a dime, threaded erratically over the flowers.

Today, Trina and I went out on a trail near the Moose River where I painted. The colors were lovely. I can really sense spring just below the surface! All those cool red-violets are really warming up.

Before our hike, I judged the 5th Annual Northeast National Pastel Exhibition for Arts Center/Old Forge. I had a very enjoyable day doing so.

The most complimentary statement a judge can make to exhibition artists is this: I had many tough choices. The creative use of design, color, subject and theme, along with high technical competence, made it a difficult show to judge. I wish I'd had more awards to give out! And for the very top paintings, I had to go a step farther to discern what were fine differences in quality. I had to look beyond technical handling. Specifically, I looked at how successfully the artist created a mood or feeling, told a story or illustrated an intellectual concept.

I am honored to have been able to choose between such excellent paintings.