Thursday, October 25, 2012

Study, study, study!

In all of my pastel classes this week we focused on doing small, timed studies. I find this to be a great exercise to not only prepare for a larger painting, but also to simply increase your painting skills (and painting speed) by getting more painting mileage behind you. Some other benefits to doing quick, small studies:
- You're more inclined to try different, riskier approaches since you know you won't have very much time invested in each little'll quickly see what works and what doesn't.
- You're less inclined to fuss over each area of the painting since it's not meant to be a finished piece.
- You'll think more in terms of the "big picture" rather than minor details, which helps you to narrow in on what you want to say with the painting.

In my Thursday class, we focused on composition and painted three versions of the same landscape using different formats for each (square, vertical and horizontal), spending no more than about 20 - 30 minutes on each. Below are my demos of each...

The Long and Winding Road I, 6x6

The Long and Winding Road II, 8x6

The Long and Winding Road III, 6x8

In my Monday class earlier in the week we focused more on timed exercises to help everyone get more in the habit of blocking in larger shapes and quickly getting the entire surface covered, rather than getting caught up in unnecessary details. Students had 30 minutes to work on each of three separate paintings. Below are the two demos I did for that class:

Does This Go Anywhere?, 10x8

Uphill, 10x8
The paintings at the top of this post are done on Sennelier LaCarte paper and the ones just above are on gatorboard prepared with pumice gel (toned first with a warm neutral color).

As I observed the progression of the three paintings each student did in each class, most every student made substantial improvements from the first one to the third one!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Starting with a Plan

Evening Shade, pastel, 8x8
This is a demo from a class I held this evening in which we focused on the basics of establishing values. Using a monochromatic underpainting (my favorite type of underpainting these days), we set the stage with our value structure, and build upon that structure with a fairly limited color palette. We worked from a black and white photo, one of the best methods I've found to teach values.

I always encourage my students to do preliminary thumbnails in order to plan two key aspects of their painting: composition and value. Here's a very brief explanation of how I do this:
1) Composition: Consider the balance of large and small shapes, the placement of your focal point (often using the "rule of thirds"), and avoid placing a key element in the center of the painting (horizontally or vertically). Of course many of these "rules" can be knowingly broken, but that's another blog post for another day.
2) Values: Try to simplify the composition down to 4 or 5 value groups. If done carefully in your planning stages, this makes the beginning of the painting faster, easier, and much less intimidating.

My thumbnail composition/value sketch.
Sometimes I work out my composition first and then do my value sketch separately, or sometimes I combine those steps as I did here. I used pencil for this sketch, but I often use 3 or 4 values of grey markers, which is a great way to force yourself to simplify your value groups. Notice that I also indicate lines outside my borders of the sketch to more clearly see the division of space within my composition. It also helps to size it up to my painting dimensions.

Black and white reference photo.
Except for rare occasions, I don't usually spend much more than about 10 minutes on thumbnails. But whatever the amount of time I take for this planning stage, I've found that it's time well spent to determine what I want to say with the painting, and what will make it artwork rather than a copy of a photograph.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Colorful Underpaintings in my Monday Class

November Marsh, pastel, 9x12
Last week in my Monday class we did a monochromatic underpainting. This week we jazzed things up a bit using a colorful underpainting. While some thought was given to the values initially blocked in for the underpainting, the main goal was to first underpaint colors that would contrast nicely with the colors ultimately layered overtop.

Underpainting for November Marsh
Liquid underpaintings work great to allow you to layer complimentary colors without ending up with mud. When you wet down a color, it becomes a dry surface on which to overlay it's compliment, giving you some nice clean, "sparkly" contrast. Here I used an orange and yellow-orange under the sky and water, and various purples and blue-purples under the yellow-orange hues.

November Marsh is my demo from this morning's class.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Underpainting in my Monday class.

Been Down This Road Before, pastel, 9x12
In my Monday morning class today, I introduced liquid underpainting to some new students in the class. For my liquid underpaintings, I use alcohol over an initial light layer of pastel, which is how I got this painting started.

I used a mostly monochromatic underpainting to set the value structure, using a dark blue Nupastel to block in most of it and a very dark reddish-purple soft pastel to intensify only the darkest areas. Straying a bit from the monochromatic structure, I also added just a touch of a yellow-orange with a Nupastel to the lightest areas (the sky and road). Even for my monochromatic starts, lately I've been including a warm color to underlay my light areas when the ultimate color used in that area will be on the cool side...I find that this keeps the color from have a whitish, chalky look.

Sorry I don't have photos of the initial block in on this one.