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Monday, November 30, 2009

Sarasota Plein Air Workshop - Day 1

On our first day, I took the workshop out to Sarasota's Bayfront Park to demonstrate in oil. Although boats can be a troublesome subject - even when they aren't being spun around by wind and tide - I wanted to show how you can simplify even something like that. The park had a number of boats, Sea Doos and other watercraft docked down by the tiki bar. Although the warm color of the water and the deep mangrove shadows are what caught my eye, I wanted to bring in a sense of the boats, but without getting lost in the busy-ness. Using my viewfinder, I isolated one, a nice sailboat with a blue sail cover, and then zoomed out to bring in just enough design elements to make a pleasing composition.

"Bayfront Boat" 9x12, oil

Blocking in the boat was fairly simple, since I was seeing it bow-on most of the time. A few strokes suggested shadow and light plus the main parts that say "boat" - mast, float and sail cover. One doesn't need to get too concerned about drawing, since a certain looseness overall makes the boat seem just right.

The weather was perfect today, and it looks like it'll hold for at least one more day. Tomorrow, we'll head over to Myakka River State Park to paint some of the lush river scenery.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sarasota - Pre-Workshop

After nearly 2000 miles, Trina, Saba and I finally arrived in Sarasota yesterday for my workshop. Two thousand miles is a long way to go by car (and, I might add, we still are only halfway to Sedona), but we've developed a network of friends and family to help us avoid the dreaded hotel stays. We have yet to stay in a hotel. Also, we've managed to make time to visit a number of galleries to see work by such artists as Charles Movalli and Jay Hall Connaway in Camden, Maine. We even spotted several Sargents at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

Today, we spent our time getting familiar again with some of the scenery we'll be painting. One of my favorite places is the Myakka River State Park. The road follows the long, winding river with many good spots featuring cabbage palms and saw palmetto, live oaks and hanging moss, and much more. And, of course, alligators, which are not to be taken lightly.

We also headed up to the Sarasota bayfront to take a look at some nautical material. On one side of the bayfront park, you can see million-dollar personal yachts with towering views of expensive hotels; on the other side, you can see modest skiffs and sailboats. I lean to the more modest toys, but I may be tempted this time around to paint something spectacular with bravado.

The workshop starts tomorrow morning, and we'll be painting all week. I'll try to keep my virtual workshop going here for my readers.

By the way, here's a great Santa I came across today.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Getting the Relationships Right

"Glenn's Shed" 5x7, oil

Next door, there's a little garden shed. It's painted a cool yellow, but it's that kind of subtle yellow that seems to change constantly with the time of day. The quality of light hitting it, whether full sun, late evening sun or overcast, can make it seem like any number of yellows. Sometime's I'd even swear it was green!

Today I went out with the sole purpose of trying to get the color relationships right of all the different yellows I saw in it. Some parts of the shed were in deep shade without bounced light, and thus were a dusky greenish-yellow; some parts had a lot of bounced light, which changed the yellow to orange or green; other parts were in full sun and were a pure, lemon yellow; and even a few shadowed cracks were distinctly blue. I worked entirely on the shed first, getting these relationships right, before moving on to the surrounding areas.

It was a fun exercise. And now I've cleaned off the palette and washed the brushes. Tomorrow we pack the car, and then we head out Saturday. I'll post again from the road, most likely when I get to the Sarasota workshop. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Black is the New Black

"Sugar Maple Pirouette"

When Monet took black off his palette back in 1886, that pretty much was the final word on black for anyone painting in the Impressionist style. Black, of course, has been used a great deal by the Abstract Expressionists and others since then, but many plein air painters I know follow old Claude.

The idea is that black is a "non-color" and is contrary to the spirit of a style the lifeblood of which is color. Unlike white, which reflects all colors, black reflects none and, in its pure form, appears as dead, empty space on the canvas. If a painter wants a dark color mixture, the rule of thumb is to add the color's complement to first neutralize the chroma and, hopefully, darken it. I've always made a really dark mixture with Sap Green and Alizarin Crimson - a warm green and a cold red. Other artists have other combinations, such as Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue. You probably have your own secret recipe.

Gamblin makes a Chromatic Black, which, the text says, is a "neutral, tinting black made from complementary colors rather than the usual carbon or iron oxide blacks." (It's made from PG36 and PV19, a phthalo green and a quinacridone red.) I've added this to my palette, and I now love black. For me, black really is the "new black."

Why? Black lets you lower the intensity and the value without changing the color. So often, when you're trying to darken one color by adding other colors to it, you end up changing the hue itself without meaning to. Black is simple and effective. I still, of course, use complements to make for more interesting darks, but I have the option now of adding the extra color after I've darkened my mixture with black. Color is a lot easier to control. In the example above, I used black in many of the passages - light as well as dark.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Barn Shadow - Water-Miscible Oils

"Barn Shadow"
5x7, oil

By now, everyone's probably tired of hearing about the wonderful weather we're having on Campobello Island. But I sure don't get tired writing about it! This morning, though, we had overcast and a raw wind...only to have the sun push it all away by noontime. So, our run of excellent weather continues.

The good weather is a bit frustrating, because I'm supposed to be tying up loose ends for our trip. Still, I snagged a few minutes to paint a little scene. It was mid-afternoon, and the three-story barn next door was casting a deep, dramatic shadow, creating a spectacular play of sunlit autumn colors. I particularly liked the partly-paved drive that crawls up the hill beside the barn, diving into shadow and then out again.

I used Grumbacher Max water-miscible oils (red, blue, yellow, black and white) for this one. I find these paints a bit stiff, and they get a little "clotty" when water is added to them for a wash. There are mediums one can use, but I want to keep things simple, so I don't use a medium. I add just a few drops of water and avoid washes. My traditional oils and brushes are all packed up, so this is what I'll be using until we leave on Saturday.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mossy Birch - Abstraction

"Mossy Birch"
5x7, oil

We've have two hard frosts in the past two nights, but the afternoons have been pleasant and sunny. I took the opportunity to head into the thicket that borders our property. The thicket is home to a number of fantastically-shaped birches and maples and, right now, piles of golden leaves. I decided to focus in on one birch with a mossy patch. The sun was hitting it just right.

I'm still using my limited palette of alkyds (one yellow, two reds, one blue, one green plus black). Today I worked on a sheet of Ampersand Hardbord on which I'd slathered two coats of Golden Acrylic Gel Medium. This ground is transparent, so I was working against the dark, warm tones of the hardboard. I had to do my initial sketch in a light color and then work out from there, going darker and lighter. It was a fun little piece!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gnarled Apple - Abstraction

"Gnarled Apples"
5x7, oil

These gorgeous fall days are almost getting to be too much to bear! How much longer can they last? At low tide, we hiked from the Lower Duck Pond around Gooseberry Point to Mink Point and back - an absolutely wonderful one-hour walk across unspoiled broad, sandy beaches and shingle ledges. Once done, though, I decided to paint something a bit more domestic. The bare apple trees in our field were calling to me. There are still apples left on the trees, clinging in all their beautiful color of fall. I thought they'd make a nice "abstraction."

My first thought was how to make the apples stand out. The values of apple, limb and background were very close, so I decided to focus more on temperature contrast. I analyzed the red of the apples as a cool red, and so I first laid in a dark, yellow-green background for contrast before putting in the apples. As I worked, I began to detect more warmth in the apples (the sun, which had been behind a thin scrim of clouds, began to come out), so I added a warmer red and then scumbled in a cooler, blue-green into the background. I think this interplay of warm/cool helps to make the scene mimic some of the natural complexity of color temperatures we see. Not everything is so cut-and-dry as to have the foreground all warm and the background, all cool. Bits of both ends of the scale appear everywhere.

So...does it work, or doesn't it? I relish your input!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November Noon - Abstraction

"November Noon"
5x7, oil - SOLD

Gosh, we're just having one beautiful day after another! Today we drove down to Liberty Point and hiked the mile out to Ragged Point, home of the Sunsweep Sculpture. On the way back, I looked down off the cliff to see this wonderful composition and thought it'd make a nice "abstraction." Fortunately, I'd brought my paints with me. This was only a few hundred feet on the trail from the parking lot, an easy walk.

For those of you who've never painted rockweed, it's a tough color to master. It can look green one moment, and then a few seconds later, orange - or even blue. I used a mixture of Transparent Red Oxide, Quinacridone Red, Phthalo Green and Hansa Yellow Medium - and okay, even a little black - to get something that was close. The trick is to not mix the paint thoroughly and to vary the mixture in every brushstroke.

While I worked, a lobster boat and a skiff were parked out in the cove, and divers were gathering sea urchins. The roe is intended for Japan. How much do the Japanese pay, so that it is worth it for five fishermen to harvest urchins laboriously by hand with scuba gear?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bog Tamarack - Abstraction

"Bog Tamarack"
5x7, oil SOLD

As a continuation in my search for intimate, abstract patterns, I took a hike into the Eagle Hill Bog today. The bog, part of the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park, has a nice boardwalk through it. If you do the loop, you'll see all sorts of wonderful bog flora - pitcher plants, sundew, cottongrass, leatherleaf, rhodora, dwarf spruces and dwarf tamaracks. This bog, which was most likely a kettle pond after the glaciers receded, is about 8,000 years old.

I've always wondered how I'd paint it. As you walk through, you see mostly a flat area with little trees scattered here and there. A 9x12 wouldn't capture the feeling, but perhaps a panorama would. But today I found this beautiful dwarf tamarack. The tamarack is also known as the larch or, here on the island, as the "hackmatack." I believe it is the only conifer that loses all its leaves in the fall, which gives this one those lovely, twisting branches. I knew a close-up would be perfect.

By the way, I did this one with alkyds and a different palette from my usual. I used: Hansa Yellow Medium, Transparent Red Earth, Quinacridone Red, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Green plus a little black. I'll be using the alkyds for the rest of my time here - so if you decide to pick up one of these little pieces, they should be dry enough to ship in a day or so!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Last Maples - Abstraction

This "Indian Summer" continues. It's nearly mid-November, and we can hike with just a fleece jacket. Who wouldn't go out and paint today?

I'm continuing my series of little abstractions - and this one is really abstract! If I didn't title it "Last Maples," you might have trouble telling what it is. But does it matter? I think there's enough going on for the eye to linger for awhile. Light and dark, warm and cool, red and green - it's a study in contrasts. What do you think?

"Last Maples"
5x7, oil/panel, SOLD

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Burst of Autumn

As we tie up loose ends in preparation for our trip west, I have vowed to get out almost every day to paint a bit. Just a tiny piece, something with a low stress quotient, to stay limber. After winterizing the lawn mower and weed trimmer, I went out to paint this little maple that caught my eye. I fell in love with the light bouncing into the shadowed side of the shed and the near-incandescent illumination of the leaves.

"Burst of Autumn"
5x7, oil/panel

I'm still using the water-miscible oils. A reader asked if it was because I've developed a sensitivity to mineral spirits. Thankfully, no. Some of my students have started to use them, and I want to expand my knowledge base. So far, I find them a little stiffer than what I'm used to. They seem to call for a bit of medium, which I refuse to use because I want to keep things simple. I add just a tad of water if needed.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Home Again - 4-Color Palette

"Four-Color Fall" 5x7, oil/panel

I'm home again, finally. And it's surprising how long it takes to catch up on business after being "out of the office" for nearly two weeks! In addition, I've also started research for an assignment from The Artist's Magazine on plein air equipment and materials. But this afternoon, I decided to take a break and paint before the fall foliage completely disappears on Campobello Island.

I've put away the turps and pulled out the water-miscible oils. I'm using only four colors from Grumbacher's Max line of paints. These are: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red, Ultramarine Blue, and Ivory Black (plus Titanium White.) I've also switched to using Grumbacher synthetic bristle brushes. Last time, as you may recall, I used my natural hog bristles. That was a mistake, because the bristles swell and get somewhat floppy when wet with water. My synthetic flats worked well for today's piece, but they are still a bit too new. I'll need to wear them down a bit.

Finally, I worked on a sheet of Ampersand Gessobord sealed with Golden's GAC-100 and then a single coat of Golden Acrylic Gesso. It had just the right amount of absorbency for me.

Okay, now it's back to research!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sedona Plein Air Festival - Last Day

Today was the last day of the public sale. For entertainment (both for me and for visitors), I pulled out the demo I'd done on Monday and decided to finish it up. I went back to the same location at the same time and spent another 30 minutes or so pulling it together. Here's the result:

"Noontime Cliffs" 9x12, oil

After that, I decided to tackle a new piece. I had a single 8x10 left, and after popping it into an Art Cocoon, I went to town. It was a fun scene, right outside the Sedona Arts Center.

"Stop & Buy" 8x10, oil

And now, it's over. At 3 p.m., artists began to take down what paintings were left and say their goodbyes. There's always a few "orphan" artists left - those who aren't going home immediately - and I was one of them, so I had dinner with the others at the Oak Creek Brewery in Tlaquepaque. Good night, everyone!

Now it's off to bed, then packing early in the morning, and catching the shuttle to the Phoenix airport. I'm already missing my new pals, and looking forward to seeing them again next year - if not sooner.