Monday, May 31, 2010

Painting Workshop: Day 1: Atmosphere

For the afternoon exercise, we went out near a farm to paint a nice field, etc. This was an absolutely gorgeous site and had lots of potential.

For this painting, I chose a scene where I had a major tree as the focal point and all of the land segments pointed to it. This was extremely difficult for me. I was totally lost about how to approach the problem.

So, Karen and Jack went back to some of the basics that I forgot to focus on. 1) The darkest parts of the scene get darker as they come forward. The mountains are not darker than the treeline. The tree line is not darker than the tree in front. Any darks in front of the tree are darker than the tree.

2) Mix a large batch of the atmospheric paint. Use more of it as you go farther towards the mountain. The scene should be less intense/less green as you recede in the distance.

3) Don't outline/draw the tree. Draw the dark mass of the tree and place some highlights. Don't draw the individual trees in the treeline. Just mass the dark area of the tree and the light tops of the tree.

4) Add some darks to the front of the scene to help establish perspective. This will help the front portion to not be flat. Gives the entire painting more depth.

By the time that Karen had shown me how to make the adjustments, I was still floundering. However, at least, I was able to get the perspective distances worked out. The reason for taking a workshop is to improve. If you are not floundering, then your not improving. The point is not to create sellable paintings, but to see how to create ones, in the future.

Painting Workshop: Day 1: Thumbnail B

Due to time constraints, I was not able to finish the second thumbnail. In this situation, I was working on the grassy area in front of the area defined in Thumbnail A.

The hardest part of this was to create flat ground. Since there is no sky or mountain, the atmospheric effect is not as noticeable. However, notice that there a "splotch" on the left side of the painting? This was done by Jack Winslow. Rather than looking at each portion of the landscape individually, I needed to look at the pieces in relation to each other. So, to create a ground surface that "flattened", I needed to pay attention to the fact that the ground got "greyer" as you receded into the distance.

The points that I learned: 1) The treeline in the back of the painting needs to be a LOT greyer/cooler than any other portion of the painting. This will help push it to the background. A perfect mixture would be the lilac/blue-grey mixture done in Thumbnail A.

2) The colors closer to the viewer will typically be richer and the darks darker. In addition, there will be more detail. This is not always true, but seems to be true most of the time.

3) A trick to see relative atmospheric effects. Take a standard grey viewfinder and open it up to show just a slit. Since you have taken the actual objects out of the equation, it's easy to see the effect of the atmosphere on each part of the picture plane.

Painting Workshop: Day 1: Thumbnail A

The first thumbnail that I was able to complete turned out pretty well. Due to a large fire in Canada, the sky was pretty smoky. This helped with defining the background mountain lightly and the middle plane.

In this painting (4 x 5), the painting is divided into distinct planes: background (sky and mountain), middle (middle trees), forward middle (light bushes), and foreground (ground).

Items that I learned: 1) The rule that I need to learn is based on atmospheric values. The darkest part of the further item cannot be darker than the plane before it.

Therefore, the darkest part of the mountain cannot be darker than the treeline. The treeline's darkest portion cannot be darker than the bushes. The bushes darkest portion cannot be darker than the ground are immediately in front of the user.

2) Adding purple to the middle area helped the middle area push back closer to the background. Without the atmospheric purple, there were no real distinction between the treeline and the bushes. The purple mixture was created using Lilac + Cerulean Blue. It was then modulated with some Cadmium Red Light and various greys.

3) Yellow Light paint was added to the foreground (grass) to bring it forward a little more. This also provided a way of showing the bright sunlight on the ground and direct your eyes towards the bushes.

4)Yellow highlights were added to the front of the bush to create a more rounded appearance. Since the closest dark is to be the darkest, a mixture of Alizarin Crimson + Ultramarine deep provided some nice darks for the shadows.

Painting Workshop: Day 1: Thumbnails

Today was the first day of a week-long plein air workshop taught by Karen and Jack Winslow (Cambridge, Vermont). I took my first oil painting workshop with them almost one year ago and have been attending a weekly still life class taught by Karen Winslow for about 8 months. They are fantastic instructors and I highly recommend that everybody should take a workshop with them.

The method that they teach is massing of the shapes/values. No detail. This was, as far as I understand, the technique taught to them from Frank Mason at the Art Students League about 30 years ago or so.

Since the weather was incredibly beautiful today and, tomorrow, Vermont is expecting rain, the order was switched up so that we could go outside and take advantage of the nice weather. First order of business: thumbnails. In this case, I took an 8 x 10 canvas panel and divided it into 4 different scenes. The purpose of the thumbnail was so that the painting was too small for detail, but enough to get the feel of atmospheric effects on the values of the scene.

I will talk about each one, in turn. The massing exercise helped to define composition and let me decide what was important to the scene and what could be left out.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Portrait Study: Woman with Blue Top

Well, I'm definitely not getting worse with portraits. I'm not improving, either, but not getting worse. At least in this case, the proportions are somewhat okay.

Portrait work is really hard. However, when I started doing flowers, I thought that they were hard also. So, in time and with a lot of practice, I should be able to find my rhythm.

Part of today's portrait work was with me playing with different colors. As long as the values worked, then the colors are irrelevant. In this case, the values are somewhat okay. The head actually looks kind of like a face. The shoulders/chest look okay.

Not the greatest portrait, but not the worst. I can definitely do better.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Still Life: Flowers on Purple Table

Last night, I was able to finish my painting of the flowers in the white vase (started at last week's class with Karen Winslow). I'm extremely happy about the way that it turned out. I like the shapes of the flowers and the leaves. The colors are nice and vibrant and the composition seems to work well.

It was interesting that I thought that the painting looked good at my last session. However, when I went to work on it some more, I noticed that the table cloth was a lot darker than I had initially assumed. Also, there was a bit more dark reds in the table. The shadows in the leaves were also darker. So, I glazed over the areas to enhance the colors and formed the leaves better (adding touches of light and dark values, here and there).

So, this painting turned out well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Adjustment to Plein Air painting

So, about a month or so ago, I was out painting at a park near Lake Champlain and posted the current painting (8 x 10). In terms of a quick plein-air landscape painting, it was okay, but a number of things bothered me about it. I don't like the values of the trees/bushes/grass and I don't like the large open area to the right. The composition doesn't sing to me.

So, tonight, I decided that, I should revisit the painting and just do a drawing with the value structure and composition that appealed to me. I like the drawing a lot more. In the drawing the tall grass/flowers in the lower right break up the large shape. The light path is will go up the center grass area. This means that the trees need to be toned down a bit. Also, the bushes need to be modelled better with highlights near the top and more of a rounded form. I also need to add more variety to the trees/grass to break up the flat shapes and give it some depth.

The beauty of oil painting is that I can paint over portions of the painting that I do not light and lighten/darken the areas to increase the value. So, this will be on my next list of paintings to do.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Plein Air: Lilac Bush and Road

Today, the weather was absolutely beautiful and I got to go paint at the Shelburne Museum (Vermont). They were having their lilac festival and my wife was working one of the tables.

So, I set up my easel outside of the tent where she was at. This was a pretty fun painting, actually. The point of it was to have the eyes follow the road to the lilac bush. Since the background was fairly dark, the bright flowers made for a nice contrast. The hardest part (which is always the hardest part of plein air painting) is that the background lightened as the day went along.

Overall, this painting took about 1-1/2 hours to do. It's a small 8 x 10 that I'm trying. I'm hoping that the small size forces me to focus on shapes, rather than detail.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Still Life Props for $5: Go to Yard Sales

Now that I'm starting to get more into still lifes (and flowers, pots, etc), I realize that I really don't have a lot of items to paint. However, yard sale season is starting in Vermont and this is a perfect place to pick up items to paint.

For me, I really like items that are extremely reflective and colorful. The items that you see on this table cost me a total of $5. The items are: reflective silver cheese holder (75 cents), Copper pot ($1), Fake Flowers ($1.25), Candleabras ($1), and eight black and shiny napkin holders ($1).

Yard sales are a great source of interesting still life props and you can definitely get some awesome stuff for a cheap price (especially if you haggle).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Still Life: Flower on Purple Table

Well, now that I'm starting to get more of the feel of how to paint flowers, I decided to tackle them again last night. This was a beautiful arrangement and provided a nice challenge of various greens mixed in with confusing whites.

As usual, after I toned the canvas (also known as pitching), I just laid in the basic color scheme to get the feel of where all of my masses were. After that, I started laying down the actual colors based on the values that I saw.

At one point, I realized that my vase was too grey and that I was working too much on it. The main reason for the error was that I was NOT laying down the values for ALL of the objects before doing the detail. Once I stepped back, laid down all of the other values (table, leaves, etc) correctly, my grey vase immediately became white.

As you can see, there is still a lot of work to do on it. It's amazing how fast 3 hours goes when doing something small and detailed. But, this time, I was able to take some pictures of it and will use those to finish off the values. The important part is that, since my general values are already done, it's a matter of using the photo to help define where some of the masses are, rather than paint directly from the photo.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Concept Sketch: Tree and Odd Sled

Well, I haven't done a concept sketch in a while and decided that it was time to just let the imagination run free. I like the concept sketches. It's a way for your mind to just wander and see what comes up.

As usual, I like to start with some sort of geometric shape and see how the landscapes flows out of it. In this case, I worked with a standard design: overlapping spheres. I added more textural detail to it to give the abstract shape some depth and volume.

Once I had the basic "sled"/abstract shape design, it seemed natural to provide a tree and the background mountains. These items seem to be a staple for me and I really should try to branch out into a different design. For right now, I like the look of the drawing. I'll decide, later on, if it's worthy of being painted.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Still Life: Flower in Vase

Now that my weekly class (with Karen Winslow) has started up again, time to get rid of some bad habits that I was falling back into.

Last night's session was awesome. It's good to get back to painting with friends again. So, last night, I decided to try my hand again at painting flowers. Lately, I've been falling back into my old habits of not observing the light/shadow area, working too much detail into one section before going onto the next, not controlling my edges. Last night, I tried to make sure that I paid particular attention to those bad habits.

This flower painting came out well. Not near complete, but not bad. I love how the vase came out. I was able to successfully lay out the basic drawing using the back of my brush handle on a toned canvas. When I laid down the masses of colors for the flowers, it worked out well. I started working more on the flowers, until Karen reminded me that I had to mass out the vase first. That way I can establish my overall value patterns and see how each object relates to another.

Next time, I'll remember to bring my camera with me. This would have been a fun painting to finish, but the flowers will be drooping by the time that I get back to them. Next time, I'll just take some pictures so that I can finish up the painting later.

Good night of painting.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Plein Air: Blooming Trees at Lake Champlain

Today, it was a beautiful day in Burlington, Vermont. Got a chance to go down to the lake and work on a plein air painting. When I came across this area, I was absolutely astounded by the brilliance of the purple bushes and the white trees. Decided that it would make a cool painting.

As usual, I laid down the basic shapes and colors to just see how the composition looked. It's amazing how many people came by and told me how beautiful the painting was. I was just laying down shapes.

The hardest part of this painting was getting the purple of the bushes. It was a bright luminescent color and, no matter how hard I tried, I could not match it. I then realized that I was focusing too much time on the color. The painting is about values and the color relationships, not the colors themselves. Once I stopped focusing on color and went back to the basics (Where is the brightest area, Where is the darkest area, Where is the light coming from, etc), the painting turned out better.

The other thing that I need to remember is that, for me, plein air painting is about practicing how to edit/see the world around me. It's not a finished painting. It's a study.