Thursday, March 31, 2011

Working from Black & White Reference

An Early Snow, 11 x 14

reference photo

I took this photo about about a year and a half ago.  The color in the photo wasn't very good, but sometime later I removed the color in Photoshop and realized that it worked great in black and white.  It kept a good, clear range of values. So I challenged myself to work strickly from black and white on this painting and create my own color interpretation.  An exercise like this does two things: 1) it liberates you from agonizing over matching any particular color, and 2) it forces you to depend strickly on value for your color choices, which always makes a better painting.  I did this demo for a recent class thinking I'd have them work on the same exercise after a brief demo. However, they worked me to the bone that day and watched me work on my demo painting the entire time.  What slavedrivers!  ;-)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Painting Within a Painting

Where the Dirt Road Ends, 5 x 7
Every once in awhile when I have a painting sitting around that I'm not thrilled with, I look closely at it to see if there are any areas that can be cropped out to make a better, smaller painting.  Often these areas were originally less important parts of the painting that I didn't fuss with and overwork, and therefore the color application is much more fresh and lively.  See if you can find the original painting in an earlier blog post in which the above painting previously resided.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Trees "101"

Tree Portrait, 10 x 12
In one of my recent classes, we focused on painting trees, and the exercise for the day was to paint just one tree.  With trees, whether working from a photo or from life, it's the artist's job to reshape the tree into a pleasing piece of artwork, not simply copy the shape you see before you.  We worked on blocking in a large, simplified shape that we placed into the composition keeping in mind the rule of thirds for a good center of interest, and making sure no key elements divided the composition in half. From there, the trick is to divide up the large shape into the smaller elements of the tree, making sure to vary each shape and negative space (the negative space being the sky holes).  With the leaves coming back on the trees this time of year, it's a great time to get out and observe firsthand!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The "do over"...almost a decade later

First Light on the Hay Field, 11 x 14
Completed this past week working from the
original painting (below).

Three Hay Bales at Sunrise, 8 1/4 x 11 3/4
Completed in 2002 from a glossy photo.

I thought it would be fun to redo an old painting from years ago, using only the original painting for reference.  Since the original was done before I started using a digital camera, my original reference photo was a glossy print, which I always found to drown out my dark areas.  Because of that, I didn't have good information to go on for my distant trees in my original painting.  Although I mostly liked this piece, I didn't care for that dark band at the top in which I tried my best to hint at those trees.  Since I've had this painting displayed in my studio for many years, I've had a long time to observe it, and many years of practice since I painted it the first time.  I liked the overall composition and kept that, but wanted to add more depth and a bit more definition to the top portion. I thought having some sunlight peek through the trees to open up that area would do the trick.  I also tried to add more richness to the color.  As with most artists, my use of color has evolved over the years, moving away from strickly local color. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shapes and Value

Sunbathed Field, 11 x 14
This was a demo from this past week's Monday class.  Since it was the first week of a new session, and we had some newcomers to the class, we started with a basic exercise of blocking in large shapes.  This gets the composition in place before tackling the finer details of the subject matter.  In this painting, I first divided the composition into about 5 shapes to start wtih, roughing in only values, keeping all edges loose.  From there I broke down each shape into it's more subtle value ranges, and addressed warm and cool colors.  Later in the process I sharpened and softened edges according to where I wanted to lead the viewer's eye.  I'm not always thrilled with my demo paintings, but I'm pretty happy with this one.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Softening Edges on Structures

Red Bucket on the Porch, 11 x 14
As a landscape artist, I'm always looking for ways to soften edges of leaves, grass, clouds, etc.  And except for things like rocks and edges of tree trunks, most everything in the landscape usually does have a soft edge.  Which is why I find it challenging to paint structures that actually do have hard edges on all sides.  As I studied the work of other artists who are especially skilled at this, I examined how they pick and choose which edges to define, and which edges to lose, or simply have them fade into another area.  I enjoyed challenging myself to do this during a demonstration of this tightly cropped house in a recent class. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Good thing I sliced up that painting!

Aspen Road at Sunset, 9 x 12

Original size (12 x 16) of the above painting
before I trimmed it down.
 I was fortunate to have Aspen Road at Sunset appear in the recent issue of the Pastel Journal with an Honorable Mention for the 2011 Pastel 100 Competition.  It was also an award winner in the Pastel Society of America's 2010 annual show, and was sold at that show.  So I must've done something right with it.  I actually began this painting as a demo last year in one of my classes.  The topic we studied that day was clouds, which is why a good portion of the original version features clouds.  However, in the weeks following the demonstration, I felt something just wasn't right.  Overall I was happy with the clouds; I liked how the colors in the sky worked well with the colors in the rest of the painting.  But I tend to think that, with most paintings, if there's a lot going on beneath the clouds, then the clouds shouldn't call out for too much attention...the eye needs a rest somewhere.  I did consider cropping the bottom part of the painting and having more of the focus on the clouds, but liked the sunslight on the road and grass too much to part with.  Although the sunlight on the road ended up a bit more centered than I prefer, other elements of the composition worked well. I played around with cropping the image on the computer first, before I picked up an exacto knife, and once I was happy with what I saw on my computer screen, I sliced away!  I'm glad I did.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Same scene, two different approaches.

Dirt Road, 11 x 14
Class demonstration using an alcohol wash underpainting.

Lead the Way, 8 x 10
Done en plein air on a red background.
 We worked on liquid underpaintings in my weekly classes recently, and I demonstrated using a photo from a scenic spot where I had painted en plein air (on location) awhile back.  I took the photo from the exact vantage point that I painted. It was interesting to look at the differences in the two paintings.  I think I prefer the looseness and spontaneity of the plein air version.  I wish I had left more of the underpainting showing through on the studio version.  But with more time in the comfort of my studio later after class, and my goal of making the tall, wispy grass look soft and wind-blown, I fussed with it and covered more of the surface than I planned.  I imagine I was also able to see value differences more clearly on location vs. from the photograph, which I believe was the cause for most of my "fussing."  In both classes, we agreed that the biggest challenge was to discern the values in the grassy areas. Spring is around the corner...must get outside and paint more!