Waterfall at the Huntington 14x11 Oil Revised
There are many positive reasons to teach but improving your own art is rarely mentioned. From my last post you know I am learning from the classes I am teaching. It's a great side effect. I have been thinking about this development and realized that there are many reasons why through teaching, I too am learning.
1) I am rethinking things that I already know, clarifying many basic lessons. Teaching is a powerful tool for cementing your understanding of a subject.
2) I have to write my critiques so I have to translate my thought into real words that my students can understand. This farther clarifies my thoughts. Teaching forces me to communicate my thoughts clearly and precisely.
3) As I critique my students work, I am training my eye to be more observant of design flaws, value discrepancies and color problems. Teaching calls for a complete understanding of the concepts you are teaching.
4) With my improved vision, I can view my own work with a detached view and catch problems I didn't notice before.
5) I always try to find something positive in my students work so now I see the best aspects of my paintings and can enhance those positive areas with minor changes.
Maybe there is a way you to can teach too.
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Lake in Franklin Canyon Revised
My online teaching continues with the completion of "Composition, The Foundation of Your Art." Now that I have taught the class for the second time I am able to really enjoy the teaching experience. The class is a four-week course which gives artists the basics of composition using shapes and values. It is always fun to see the students progress and as is often the case, I also learn from the class.
One thing has become very obvious. It is much easier to see the weaknesses in another artists work while overlooking the same problems in my own. Why is that? It is amazing how obvious some of my missteps are when I can detach myself and use the same critical eye on my work as I do on others.
With that in mind, I decided to revisit a few paintings. Lake in Franklin Canyon is a great example of a quick plein air painting that works but could be improved. The original painting that I did on location last year is at the top.
As I studied the painting I realized that I could make some easy changes that would make a big difference. Compare the original with the revised image.
1) The mountains in the distance were too dark and the edge too sharp. I softened the edge and lightened it while changing the angle of the slope.
2) The center tree ended too close to the top edge so I shortened it.
3) The shadows where too dark so I added some color to them.
4) The trees where to similar in height so I made one tall to go off the top edge.
I only changed a few things but I now like the painting much more. It still retains its plein air spontaneity but is now a much better composition.
I will again be teaching the online class Composition, The Foundation of Your Art through Artists Network University
Course Start Date: 06-04-2013 Course End Date: 06-28-2013
Lilly Pond Afternoon 14x11 Oil
I have been busy working with my students from my online courses. One class centers on better compositions while the other focuses on color harmony but both are structured around my critiques of the students work. I also recently judged a local club's art show so I have been refining my methods.
Critiquing other artists work is a responsibility that I take very seriously. Being too critical can devastate a budding artist but false praise doesn't help that student grow. You can see that evaluating a work of art is tricky. While it is true that artistic taste is relative, there are certain characteristics of artwork that can be assessed and used to measure the artist's success. Here is how I do it.
- First impression:.
- Title of work.
- Type of artwork.
- Subject of the painting (scene).
- Note the characteristics of the artwork that first jump out at you.
- Colors used.
- Shapes, lines and texture.
- Light saturation.
- Identify the predominant mood of the piece.
- Analyze the artworks technical elements:
- Shapes, forms and lines.
- Light and shadow.
- How each technical element contributes to the mood, meaning and aesthetics of the artwork.
- Interpret the artwork. I ask these questions.
- What is the artist trying to say through the work of art?
- How well did the artist communicate the idea?
- What feelings are conveyed by the work?
- What is the artist's intended purpose for creating that particular work of art?
- Why did the artist make the choices in technique, materials and subject matter?
- Evaluate the artwork. Conclusions are made from the previous analysis and judgments made about the artwork.
- Evaluate the value of the artwork's execution to evoke emotion.
- Evaluate the work relative to the art community or the individuals progress.
- Explain the artwork's strengths and where it falls short.
I have found constructive critiques to be a very useful learning experience so I try to give that same positive experience to my students.
Faded Door 11x14 Oil
Plato was a Greek philosopher, writer, poet, genius. Yes, I knew that stuff about him but I never knew that Plato's philosophy extended to art but apparently it did; Plato's Rule. When asked by a student, "What makes a great composition in art?" Plato's response was, "Find and represent the variety within the unity".
How amazing is that statement? These two things, variety and unity seem to be contradictory principles but Plato's statement perfectly describes the crazy balancing act that every artist fights to master. It encompasses color, shape, value, composition, in fact everything that an artist must consider is balanced between these two principles. We know that variety and unity are both principles of art and we understand that both are essential in our artwork, but how we combine them together is the challenge. The answer is we must push our work to create variety but keep the variety confined to being unified. Tricky stuff.
Variety is the use of different elements in the artwork. Variety creates excitement. Art that has too much variety is "busy" and confused. Too much unity is boring. The artist's job is to find that perfect balance between the two.
Here are two paintings that illustrate this principle.
Edgar Degas The Millinery Shop
In Degas painting we can see the masterful combination of unity and variety.
- The repeated circle of hats unite the image while the diagonal of the table cuts across the shapes.
- The painting is mostly warm colors with splashes of blues and green
- The value is mostly dark with important highlights that lead us in a circle around the painting.
Abstract art needs this balance too.
- The triangle is repeated over and over in this painting, the composition is a triangle, the blue areas form a trianlge as do the red shape across the bottom. But they are varied and broken up with variety.
- The blue outline is the same throughout the painting, even on the wood panel in the background but the lines are jagged, unique and unpredictable.
- There are three areas of cool colors (the blue) and three areas of warm colors, yellow, red and orange/red with warm colors dominant.
The simplest statement unleashes a torrent of possibilities that we, the artist, are dedicated to solving. Have fun finding your balance.Comment on or Share this Article →
Snow Storm Steam Boat off a Harbours Mouth by Turner
Andrew Wyeth, The Stone Fence
The varied methods used when painting a landscape provide a lot of styles to consider and study. From photo realism like Andrew Wyeth (The Stone Fence) to nearly abstraction like Turner's Snow Storm, the different ways an artist approaches a scene can make a students head spin. I too love it all. Sometimes my paintings will show the influence of the Hudson River School while other times I push the subject into looser shapes of light and dark.
I think this pull of realism and push of abstraction is one of the biggest dilemmas that every modern-day artist must work through. When I paint, I am doing a balancing act; considering how much I can push my painting to abstraction without loosing the beauty of the moment versus pulling in too much detail making it boring and overworked.
For me, the perfect painting is a combination of loose impressions and sharp definition with the focal point having the sharpest edges and the distant outer reaches having a beautiful abstraction. I don't think you need to reach the abandon that Turner is comfortable with, but developing the edge work needed to be able to have a balanced combination of hard and soft edges is important. This tricky balance adds another level of interest to any painting.Comment on or Share this Article →
Cinco de Mayo 11x14 Oil
When I saw these dancers on Olvera Street, I knew I wanted to capture the energy of their dance. I chose to compose the painting around the swirling skirts. Capturing excitement through movement was my goal. At first the idea of creating movement when painting seems unlikely but the list below illustrates how an artist gives the illusion of motion.
1) Subject: My painting, Cinco de Mayo, captures the subject in a manner that cannot be replicated by a static pose. In other words, the subject is caught for one brief moment from a continual state of movement. It doesn't have to be a person; a running horse, a waterfall and a dog at play would all express movement. Setting up the composition to create a sense of motion is tricky so think of music to create rhythm using both repetition and variety, a crescendo before the calm.
2) Composition: Artists control the movement of the viewers eye by how they position the objects and elements in a composition. The subject is framed by other elements designed by the artist to draw attention to the focal point. Dynamic compositions are aesthetically more successful than static compositions as they direct the eye around the painting.
3) Rhythm using Repetition and Varied Shapes: I mentioned this earlier but it is worth mentioning again. There is a yin and yang between the use of repetition and variety which forms a rhythm to a painting.
- Rhythm can create order in the composition thus it serves as a way to create an organized movement of the eye.
- Rhythm creates a mood or tempo in the painting similar to the tempo of music. Like a dancer the viewer can be moved in a slow, fluid ballet, a rhythmic salsa or a fast upbeat hip hop.
- Rhythm and movement are used by the artist to direct the viewer, pointing the way.
4) Color: This could be a separate blog post so I will just paraphrase a few obvious ways color creates a sense of movement.
- Values that have a lot of contrast create a feeling of excitement and movement. When all of the values are close together the work has a calm quality.
- Warm colors catch the eye and appear closer than cool colors.
- Cool colors recede from the viewer and fall back.
- Complementary color are two colors opposite one another on the color wheel. e.g., blue and orange, yellow and purple, red and green. When a pair of high intensity complements are placed side by side, they seem to vibrate.
5) Texture: The use of thick paint, impasto, is a very effective tool for the artist to use to emphasize and direct attention. Think Starry Night by Van Gogh. Making your brush strokes emphasis the main subject has an impact that must be seen in person to appreciate.
I hope that this will help you think of how to use movement in your art to direct attention and create a visual flow.Comment on or Share this Article →
Last year was an amazing year for films. Watching the Academy Awards on Sunday the competition was crazy. Their was such parity that no single film came away as the big winner but instead each film received one of the top awards. Best Picture: Argo, Director: Life of Pi, Best Actress: Silver Linings Playbook, Best Actor: Lincoln, Best Supporting Actress: Les Miserables, Best Supporting Actor: Django Unchained. You could argue that it was such a great year that several films that deserved awards, Zero Dark Thirty and Flight, didn't receive anything.
Is it just me or do you feel like every year is like this for art? It seems as if more and more amazing artists are emerging and the competition for recognition becomes more and more fierce. Why is that? Is it an illusion or is there something that has changed the game?
The Internet. Yes, the internet, which has opened up a wealth of opportunities for all artists, has also opened up the competition. Now mid level career artists who were confined to their local region are suddenly able to expand to a national audience. Ultimately this strong competition is great for the quality of art but some will feel the sting as their work is overlooked even when it is very good. The need to keep up with the high level of competition has been accelerated by the internet so if you want to stay in sight of the top artists you need to constantly improve, practise, expand your marketing and networking. Excellence is never easy to achieve and newly opened markets are an ever changing paradigm so there isn't any set formula to follow. Understanding the dynamics which are moving things can help you realize what you need to do to take home the Oscar.
I am teaching two online classes at Artists Network University. Both Composition: The Foundation of Your Art and Understanding Color Harmony are beneficial to all artists, in all medium and every genre. Take the steps you need to improve your art.Comment on or Share this Article →
Hangin' at the Mini Mart
I am very happy to be teaching two courses online through the Artists Network University. My first class, Composition: The Foundation of Your Art, starts on March 19 and runs for four weeks. I have always felt that composition is the single most important element for success or failure in my art so it is a thrill to share my ideas on composition with other artists. The study material is included with the tuition making it a great value. I hope you will join me as I give you the tools needed to compose a great composition.
COURSE BEGINS: March 19, 2013
COURSE LENGTH: 4 weeks
COURSE MATERIALS (included with tuition):
- Mastering Composition by Ian Roberts (DVD not included) Retail: $29.99
- Sketching in Perspective by Carl Dalio Retail: $34.95
How often have you struggled with a painting for hours and hours only to be disappointed with the outcome? Often this problem can be traced back to the most basic mistake, a poorly designed composition. The hours you work on a painting trying to dress up a weak composition are wasted, so why not use that time to learn how to design a strong composition and make a foundation that will take your work to a new level?
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT CREATING A GOOD COMPOSITION:
- How to construct a strong composition using simple tools
- How to simplify a complex scene into basic shapes
- How to choose the best composition
- How to design your work to stand out
WHO SHOULD TAKE THIS ONLINE COMPOSITION TUTORIAL:
- This class is for everyone from beginner to advanced who wants to improve his or her art.
- The lessons are not medium specific so any medium including watercolors, oils, pastel, pencils or mixed media can be used. No matter what materials you work with, a stronger composition will improve your work.
- All genres will benefit from this class.
Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy by Caravaggio
The dynamic use of contrasting lights and darks are Caravaggio's signature. I have loved his work since I first studied his paintings in art school. Even though Caravaggio only lived 38 years, he had a tremendous influence on European painting and is still considered one of the most accomplished painters in the history of Western art.
The current exhibit, "Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy" showing at LACMA through February, includes several of his works and attempts to show how subsequent artist built on his style. It is a shame that the museum wasn't able to get the groundbreaking painting,"The Calling of Saint Matthew" since it is the inspiration for many of the works by other artists in the show. If you are not familiar with "The Calling of St Matthew", I wrote a past post with a photo that you can see here: Caravaggio Adds Dramatic Light to the Figure. Despite this omission in the exhibition there are several amazing painting including "Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy" pictured above. The use of light and dark is enhanced with a composition that mirrors a reclining cross.
Zurburán’s Saint Serapion
The painting " Saint Serpion" by Zurburian is an amazing piece. Although the dark background and lighting are Caravaggio like, the surprisingly free brushwork gives the painting a contemporary look with a strength of emotion.
Black Pearl 10x8 Oil
There are moments which leave a lasting impression. Moments that beg to be painted. The morning sun streaks through the trees casting the landscape with a diffused light for only a moment, but you are there to capture it. Black Pearl was painted during one of these moments on my recent trip to Tomales Bay. But this painting would not have happened without the preparation I did in the preceding months.
Not long ago I was straining to understand the subtleties of moody atmosphere and be consistent with these types of paintings. The soft variations of color and value were difficult for me to see, especially when painting on location, so I had to train myself to understand these subtle shifts. Advancing to a point where I was comfortable with soft color wasn't easy and many attempts where made. Some were failures, some successes, but all helped me to work out the nuances of painting atmosphere in my art.
The first steps in my struggle, I did some value exercises in the studio to see which colors worked together in the softened tones needed for my mood paintings. It was boring but necessary to my progress. Then, I painted several moody scene on sight, plein air, using a monotone palette. I found these attempts where dull and uninspired. So then, I tried finding mood with complementary colors. At first these attempts looked pretty awful but occasionally I would stumble on the right balance between the muted tones and my love of saturated color. Learning from my mistakes and successes, I became more consistent and started to see the "how" of mood paintings.
I am still learning from my efforts but the hours I spent playing with color have influenced all my work. By introducing a softer tone to the mix, I have added another tool to the paint box.
A Flick of the Tail, 8x10, Oil
When I paint landscapes, I deal with all kinds of changing conditions. The shadows continually shorten as the sun rises from the horizon to overhead, the ocean has waves and tides, the weather changes from foggy to sunny. All of these inconsistencies in nature are things I have learned to deal with and trained myself to ignore. I have become prolific at capturing a moment and not chasing the sun, picking the perfect wave and deciding on one overall mood. But my recent painting trip to Rankin Ranch added another whole dimension; movement. You see trees do not get up and walk away. When the subject you paint is alive, it moves and painting moving animals and people threw an entirely new problem into the mix.
On the last day, I decided to paint a horse. They were all just standing around in the corral so I figured, "How hard could it be?" Very hard! I wound up moving my easel three times chasing the horse I was painting, I had flies in my eyes and on the canvas, and finally I got so frustrated from the gusts of dust that I just packed up vowing never to paint plein air again.
But a funny thing can happen when you get home; you realize that the painting you thought was a disaster on location can turn out to have a lot of good information. With a few adjustments sometimes it can all be worth the effort.Comment on or Share this Article →
Morning at the Ranch 8x16 Oil
I was lucky to be one of the artists who visited Rankin Ranch with the California Art Club earlier this month. Nestled in a valley in the Piute Mountains, the ranch is a time capsule taking its visitors back to the Old West. Cowboys still drive cattle from one pasture to another and the free ranging herd can be seen scattered across the land (Morning on the Ranch). After painting a cowboy (All Hat and No Cattle) last April, I have wanted to explore more of the western genre and the trip to the ranch was my chance. I soon discovered that painting things that move can be challenging.
In addition, I was experimenting with color. I had just taken a color theory seminar with Ian Roberts and he suggested that I approach my painting differently. Instead of working from saturated pigment into neutral colors, he wanted me to try painting from neutral into saturated. This idea seemed logical in theory but I found it difficult in practice. My paintings didn't have the usual life or sizzle and I realized that this method wasn't working for me. I discussed my dilemma with one of the artists at the show and tell on the ranch. He reassured me that he works with saturated color from the start too. His remarks reinforced my original working method. He said that as you work, colors and paints become diluted, thus more neutral, so working first with strong colors makes more sense than starting with neutrals. I don't think either method is right or wrong but merely the best approach for each individual. I tried a new idea but in the end decided to stick with my original method.
How do you start a painting? Do you first mix the neutrals or start with lots of color?Comment on or Share this Article →
Overlooking the Canyon, 14x11, Oil
Painting in a new location is both exciting and stressful. There are pros and cons to every new experience so how do you decide if it is worth the time and effort to paint out of your comfort zone. After all, it is so much easier to do what you are familiar with. But being comfortable can also leave your art stagnant, without improving. I see many artists whose work is growing by leaps and bounds so if you are not improving, you run the risk of being left behind. This is only one reason to always be looking to improve your work. So, push yourself and paint something different.
What is the down side of trying something new?
1 I could fail. (Many artists learn more from their failures than their successes.)
2 I don't know what to try (Talk to other artists, find an idea from an art magazine or online.)
3 I like what I do so why bother (Are you completely satisfied with your work or just content. There is a difference.)
4 I am afraid (Of what? Failure?)
5 I can't (Really?)
6 I might hate it (Well at least you'll know what you don't want to do.)
What could happen if I try something new?
1 I could succeed beyond my wildest dreams
2 I may expand my repertoire
3 I could discover something that will help me grow as an artist
4 I could learn something
5 I could open a wealth of new opportunities
6 I might love it
Overlooking the Canyon was painted in Redlands, California looking into the San Timoteo Canyon. The shadows, light and colors left an immediate impression in my mind. I saw the painting before taking brush to canvas. Redlands is a lovely community with beautiful views, Victorian mansions and a heritage of citrus farms. I discovered Redlands for the first time this month.Comment on or Share this Article →
The last demonstration for my summer Landscape/Plein Air Class was painted on a glorious morning at Leo Carrillo. Pulling up to the CA state park, I knew it was going to be a great morning. The conditions were perfect. The mountains dissolved into the atmosphere, it was sunny but with some clouds and there was no wind.
Well, maybe not perfect since I forgotten my pencil-case. I needed to do a value sketch so I decided to make a quick oil study in my sketchbook and I am so glad that I did. It was very helpful for establishing the subtle values. From that color study, I realized that my first impression of the distant mountains was too dark and I adjusted that in the final 8x10 painting, Morning at Leo Carrillo. When painting atmosphere, the correct values are even more crucial than a view with strong contrasting values. The shifts are more subtle and in many ways more challenging. Those changes are slight so a misjudged color value can throw the entire painting off.
As the morning progressed the atmosphere dissipated changing the scene. The mountains darkened and the lifeguard stand became lighter than the mountains but I never chased the light. Instead I trusted my original sketch and only clarified my values. With a very limited palette, I infused the same misty lavender that I saw at the horizon into all my colors. Establishing a base color is the key to an atmospheric painting. This color is then used throughout the painting. The more atmosphere the more of this color is added. Read more about painting atmosphere at Finding the Light on a Dark Day.
Starting in October, I will again be teaching the Landscape/Plein Air with Sharon Weaver at Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art and hope you can join me for the 8 week class. Come and experience the accelerated learning curve when painting plein air.Comment on or Share this Article →
Morning Hits the Rocks 16x20 2011 National OPA Exhibition
Quality Prints are Available/Original SOLD
Controlling my business expenses is always part of the equation but looking at how I spend my money, I don't find many places where I can cut back. I need my supplies, reference materials, camera equipment and my website so there seems only one obvious spot to consider cutting; art competitions. Because entering art competitions is also a valuable part of my marketing strategy, I don't want to eliminate them completely but I do want to get the most for my bucks. Here are a few tips to help you decide what shows to enter and which ones to pass.
First ask yourself some questions.
- Where are you in your career?
1) If you are not sure where you are in your career you are probably a beginner. As a beginning artist, local art shows are a great place to start. Join a local club and enter the shows that the group sponsors. This will teach you the basic ins and outs of how to enter art competitions. There is no up side to entering national shows until you are ready.
2) At mid-career an artist should be selling on a regular basis and showing in some local venues. It is the right time to enter national shows to see how your work compares with other artists on a professional level. Competition is one way to push yourself further and improve your work.
- Which national shows should I enter?
1) Do you work in one medium? What is it? There are groups who are dedicated to specific medium; Oil Painters of America, Pastel Society of America, The National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic, you get the idea. First see if there is a group that targets your medium.
2) Do you work in a specific genre? What you paint and your style, will lead you to different shows. Don't enter an abstract painting in a representational show. If you paint western themed art, find shows that cater to that genre. Abstract artists don't need to waste their time or money entering shows that are strongly representational.
3) Look at past show winners and compare your work with them. Is your work as good, not in the same league, better? The use of photos for judging has changed some of the shows. I notice that more awards are going to photo-realism. Is that true of the show you are thinking of entering and how does your work fit in with this trend?
- What's in it for me? Why enter a show?
1) The prize money is great and you have a shot at winning an award. If your art is competitive on a national stage the money incentive can be reason enough to enter.
2) Prestige. Many shows garner top name artists, acclaimed judges and just being accepted into the show is great for your resume.
3) Sales. Exposure to additional markets and different venues can lead to new collectors and maybe even representation by a gallery.
4) Don't just enter a show because you where sent the entry form. Have a good reason.
Once you have decided to enter a show, there are several tips that will increase your success rate and some important things not to do.
- Often jurors view several images at a time so enter work that is consistent. Don't enter a figurative with a landscape. Have your entries relate. A judge may decide to include one of your works based on the strength of all your entries.
- First impressions count so enter a work with impact and drama.
- Be original. There are tons of artist who have great technique so think outside of the box to stand out.
- Get others opinion. Sometimes a little input can help with the process.
- Don't use a bad photo or one that includes the frame, isn't color correct or is distorted. Because of the use of photos for judging the national shows, good photographs of your art is more important than ever. Take the time to understand the basics of photography and the use of a photo editing program.
- Don't forget to include all your information and the details about the painting. Follow the directions for entering the show.
- Don't get excessively romantic or cute with your titles but try to be original. Numbered paintings don't show an investment in the work. If you didn't care enough to title it why should the judge care about it?
- Don't imitate the judge and think you will make extra points.
- Don't contact the judge. It is bad form.
- Realize that there is always the element of chance with these shows. Did you enter a painting that the judge thinks looks like his ex-wife? Is that scene near the spot where the judge had an artistic breakthrough? Who knows? The judges are supposed to rise above their own prejudices and be impartial but as humans they too are influenced by their feelings. A painting that won first place in one show can be rejected from another.
I have become more and more selective of the shows I enter and have set a budget for my yearly entry fees. Maybe you should do the same.
Fine Dining California Style
Fine Dining California Style 12x12 Oil
Inspired by the class I am teaching called The Figure in the Environment, I have been painting some local scenes with people and really enjoying the results. My goal is to be so comfortable with the figure that when I decide to place it in my landscapes, I can do so with complete confidence. But the figure is intimidating, so I approach it as I do any other element in my painting and reduce it into simple shapes. If it is just another piece of the composition puzzle, the figure becomes much more approachable. As an abstract shape it is much easier to handle.
Seeing the abstract shapes when dealing with the figure can be challenging so I like to reduce the image into a Notan or a simple black and white image. If you are not familiar with this technique see my blog, Painting the Figure Using Notan.
In Fine Dining California Style, I zoomed in on a family grabbing dinner at a local taco stand. The cropping was a key decision for this painting. I wanted to have the figures form distinct shapes against the lighter background. In addition, the silhouetted people create a wonderful tension and contrast with the straight diagonal of the building. The fantastic colors of the cool turquoise and lime green are perfectly offset by the warmth of the concrete and highlights on the skin.Comment on or Share this Article →
Boats on the Canal 10x8
Last week I took my Friday class to the Venice Canals. No, not the ones in Italy, the ones in Venice, California. This is one of those spots you do not expect to find in the middle of the craziness that is LA. The canals where built in 1904 to mimic the beautiful canals of Venice, Italy but when the car took over LA many of the canals where filled in to make roads. The few that survived where restored in 1994 and a real treat to visit.
Boats on the Canal was painted for the class demonstration. I wanted to show how color can also be important in the dark areas of your painting, not just the light. Since a majority of this painting is very dark, I used walnut oil with all the colors to give them a rich, translucent quality. In addition, the painting is almost all cool colors (blues and greens) so I added some warm purples to the shadows in the foliage and on the canal bank.
Doing the demonstrations for the class these last 6 weeks has forced me to paint faster, make quicker choices and simplify my compositions to the bare minimum. It has been a great exercise that has helped me further refine my plein air painting. Try this challenge by timing yourself and paint an 8x10 in 45 minutes.
Footnote: I did do a little refining at home on the boats to improve the perspective so total time was one hour.Comment on or Share this Article →
Lake in Franklin Canyon 14x11
Teaching a plein air class has given me some important insights into the process. With my students, I compare painting plein air to building a house.
1) The foundation is the composition. If the composition works the rest of the painting process will be on solid ground.
2) The frame-work of the painting is made by establishing the darks. Establishing the shadows quickly before the light changes is imperative. Once the framework is in place don't change it by chase the light. Only clarify the darks as you add information.
3) Blocking in the other values putting up the sheet rock. It can be cut, tweaked and changed as the need arises to make the painting work but simplification is the key to success. Simplify and mass the shapes to achieve this very important step.
4) Putting in the highlights and details for the designer touch. Everyone wants to skip to this step immediately because this gives your painting definition but resist painting the flees before the dog and wait until the last half hour of painting to add this final step.
The plein air class that I teach on Friday mornings has helped me clarify my process. I have learned as much as the students, who have already produced some wonderful paintings during the class. It is very gratifying to see them struggle through the basics of composition, value, blocking in the colors, simplifying the shapes and come through the day with a painting that they are proud of. Their sense of accomplishment is evident and makes my heart sing to see them come through triumphant.
I wanted to post a few of their works which were painted in Franklin Canyon on the third week of class. Pretty good even if I do say so myself. Thank you to everyone in the class for being such great students. You can see my version here, Lake in Franklin Canyon and read my blog post about this class here, Teaching Plein Air.
Franklin Canyon Reservoir by Chelley Maple by Erica Marshall
by ME Loree by Gloria JacobsonComment on or Share this Article →
Dragon Stance 14x11
When painting the figure I find it helpful to not think of the figure as a separate thing but instead concentrate on shapes and how the figure is just another part of the scene. I have come up with several ways to help me do this. One is the use of notan. For those unfamiliar with this idea, a notan is a Japanese method of reducing all the values in a scene into two color values. Everything in the light is white and everything in shadow is black. This simplification forces me to see the shapes of the composition with great clarity.
Two Color Notan
For more subtle value nuances, I will use a three color notan by adding a midtone grey. This additional refinement really helps me to see how the composition comes together. I find that if I think only of painting shapes, not the thing I am painting, my painting is more believable, and I can paint with a freedom that escapes me if I am trying to paint a figure. Painting shapes sets me free from self imposed restrictions and expectations.
Three Color Notan
As I paint the shapes, the figure emerges from the composition with a confidence that I can't achieve if I am worried about "painting the figure." Artist see things differently than the average person, but some artists see better than others. Notan is one tool that has helped me see the figure in a simplified and less intimidating way.Comment on or Share this Article →
Lake in Franklin Canyon 14x11
I am in the third week of teaching my summer session at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art. Friday is my Plein Air Class and I have a wonderful group of talented, enthusiastic artists. I have been concentrate on a different aspect of plein air painting every week and the last class on values was a great success. In the first weeks, I discussed composition and the importance of a view finder to zero in on one area. Painting outside can be overwhelming without the proper discipline so figuring out what to paint is the first priority.
Meeting at the upper lake at Franklin Canyon this last Friday, I talked about values and the importance of the dark shapes in the composition. I demonstrated how to block in the dark areas, establishing the shadows right away before the light changes. Once those darks are on the canvas, I told my class, "Don't chase the light by changing that first impression. Only refine and clarify." It is one of the most important lessons to learn and will vastly improve your plein air paintings if you can make it a habit. I was very impressed to see my students following my instruction. The paintings they did were impressive and everyone left the canyon smiling.
Lake in Franklin Canyon is my painting from that class.Comment on or Share this Article →
Are museums obsolete? Are wealthy collectors making it impossible for museums to compete? Can museums keep their integrity in the current climate of wealthy donors? These are a few questions that are raised by the recent controversy at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. If you haven't been following the daily developments here is a brief summary.
For good or bad, Eli Broad, is the single greatest force in the LA contemporary art scene. He bailed out the troubled museum, MoCA in 2008 with a $30-million grant. Broad was instrumental in having Jeffrey Deitch, the showy New York dealer, named director in 2010. In the last 30 days, Paul Schimmel, MoCA' s chief curator of 22 years, has been fired and every artist on the board has resigned over artistic disagreements with Deitch's “celebrity-driven program.” It is a stunning break between the people who control the money for art and the people who make the art. The survival of MoCA is still very much up in the air but is survival the only goal or is the quality of art also part of the equation. Philippe de Montebello, the great director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains, "The one mantra that every museum director should have: First comes the work of art. Everything else devolves from it."
In an interview at Art Basel 2012, Deitch offered amazing insights into the inherent problems facing him as a museum director. Deitch explained that raising funds for MoCA was impossible. He found people in LA wouldn't even take his calls. He only raised $15,000 for a show he brought to LA, only to see it sell for half a million dollars at a gallery in Chicago at a later date. But Deitch's strongest criticism was saved for the new class of wealthy private institutions that now compete with museums for acquisitions. These mega-collectors pose a greater threat to museums than the top galleries, he said. When many artists sell directly to multimillionaires who have private foundations, why show or sell to a museum where space is limited and the art can only be shown every four to five years?
Then there are the solutions that Broad talked about in a recent LATimes interview. The ideas for solving those troubles are essentially from a businessman's point of view and have nothing to do with the quality of art. He said MoCA needed to grow its "audience" and that can be accomplished by making MoCA more "populist." In other words, don't worry about the art just get more customers and please the crowd.
With big-business at the helm, there are also self-serving motives for including artists in a show. Again quoting Deitch. “If you want a heavyweight historical show that doesn’t include popular artists it’s hard to get corporate and collector support. They will if there’s an artist they want to get in with.” It doesn't take much of a stretch to see donors having the say in which artists are included in a show and which are not.
Luckily, many museums still produce high quality shows that are about the art. The public upheavals at MoCA have exposed some troubling trends but I have the feeling the drama isn't over yet. Ultimately, every art institution has to figure out how to balance the interests of making money with the interests of art. I hope the end decision will be in the interest of great art but more likely both will have their influence. What do you think? Does the current climate of donor influence affect the quality of art at museum shows? Should museums be privatized?Comment on or Share this Article →
Seacliffs at Garapata 22x24 Oil SOLD
Plateaus, peaks and valleys are physical characteristics used to describe a scene from nature but I recently realized that these terms also apply to the cycle I experience with art.
First, I am on the plateau where I have a comfort level and I am satisfied with my work. At this stage I produce most of my paintings and I am very positive about my art. Inevitably this stage doesn't last as long as I would like and dissatisfaction starts creeps into my subconscious. I become critical of my work and I start to identify different areas which I need to improve. Thus begins the process of change.
Next I enter the valley were I am more and more dissatisfied with my paintings and searching for solutions to new problems. I start to experiment with the elements that I am not happy with and push in different directions to solve problems that I wasn't even aware of while I was on the plateau. Being my own worst critic, I experiment with different solutions and struggle to improve. At this stage, I don't paint many paintings and what I do paint is filled with frustrating false starts, irritating stops and experimentation. Working through my problems, I will eventually come out with a break through painting that changes how I approach my work.
I have now climbed from the valley to the top of the peak and emerged on a different level. I feel renewed by my discovery and improved skills. I am thrilled to see that my paintings are improved and I can now enter another productive plateau. For me this cycle of creative renewal is what it means to be an artist. How many times will this cycle happen? If am lucky forever or at least until I am no more.Comment on or Share this Article →
Surf's Up 11x14 Painted at the Carmel Art Festival
I have been busy. The 2012 Carmel Art Festival was a few weeks ago and next week I am off to paint at the Los Gatos Plein Air. This past weekend I did two demonstrations, one for the open house at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art and the second for the Loma Linda Art Association. No excuse for not blogging but sometimes there just doesn't seem to be any extra time. I have several paintings that I need to talk about but this post is just a quick good news blast.
The best new thing today was opening my email to find that a previous client bought a second painting of mine from my website. "Misty Waterfall" was painted immediately after I did my first commission painting of another waterfall. In a way those two paintings where the start of my love affair with painting water and inspired me to study all the variations that water provides. I am still exploring the possibilities and suspect I will never exhaust my love of painting the ever-changing nature of water.
"Misty Waterfall" 36x24
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- You may be eligible for a discount. Please call (818) 708-9232.
Learn the fundamentals necessary for successful landscape painting in the open air (plein air). The process will be broken down into achievable steps through demonstrations, on-location painting and personalized critiques. The techniques of plein air painting will be explored with a focus on composition, understanding values, establishing a focal point, and learning to edit from the wealth of material in nature. Every week we will meet at a different site where I will start with a demonstration focusing on the essentials of plein air painting. Students will then paint on location with individualized critiques. Every plein air experience is a unique challenge with the objective of capturing a moment in time. Whether you are a beginner or an established plein air painter, my goal is to give you the tools to become a better artist through observation, simplification, and the appreciation of painting from nature.Comment on or Share this Article →
Seacliffs at Garapata 22x28 Oil $3200
I have been in my studio working on some larger paintings and contemplating the difference of studio painting verses plein air. The main struggle is tackling the size. I am so comfortable painting an 11x14 format that when faced with a much large painting, I admit, it can be daunting. Covering all that blank canvas isn't an easy task. Here are a few things to consider when going large.
- Work Out the Problems Before Painting - Don't wing it. Working on a large canvas will intensify any drawing problems so the smallest miscalculations are intense and obvious. I usually work from a smaller painting where I have already worked out the composition, values and perspective. A detail sketch can serve the same function. Even with a lot of preparation there will still be areas that are going to challenge you but don't make it harder than it has to be by trying to work out the composition on a large canvas.
- Scale of the Painting - When using a much larger format, decisions must be made about the scale of your painting. If you keep the subject matter at the same scale as you usually paint you will have a lot more going on in the painting. You can paint on a larger scale which will keep the details to a minimum and the effect will look like you enlarged one of your smaller painting. There is no guarantee that a BIG painting will be a better painting or that more detail is a good thing so a balance needs to be found where the size of the canvas, the subject of the painting and your style of painting all come together.
- More of Everything - More canvas to cover means using a lot more paint so remember to mix large amounts of your colors and keep track of what you are mixing so you can duplicate a color. Get out the large brushes too. Applying the paint will be easier with bigger brushes but it will also help to keep you from getting too tight and putting in details that are too fussy and unnecessary.
- Walk Away - Working on a large canvas makes it even more important to step back and look at what you are doing from a distance. I prefer to work standing up so I walk around when I am painting. If you sit while you work, get up often to see the painting. Get some perspective and walk out of the room. The impression you have when you first walk back into your studio is a great equalizer. I also use a mirror which helps me identify drawing mistakes.
- Time to Paint Large - A large canvas always takes longer so I am very selective with subject when I paint large. Love the subject so you are not bored, tired or impatient while completing your masterpiece.
In a culture where "bigger is better" painting on a larger format is something you should tackle. Understanding the challenges before you start will minimize problems for a great result.Comment on or Share this Article →
Trail to Echo Mountain 12x12 Oil Showing this weekend at Art Matters Encore! at the Huntington Library and Gardens
Perhaps you have noticed that I did not blog this past week. Sorry, but I downloaded a virus on Tuesday and just got my computer back yesterday. Luckily for me I didn't lose any data but I now find myself behind in my schedule because of this snafu. My smart phone allowed me to keep current with my email, but I missed the routine and convenience of getting on the computer. All my reference photos are filed on it so I couldn't work in the studio on a larger painting and I fell into a funk.
This last week has me thinking, what did I do before the computer? How did I survive and how did I paint. What did I use for reference? When I think of getting prints made and working from a photo again I am daunted by the lack of input. The computer allows me to switch back and forth from one image to another to get different lighting and color variations. If I am stuck on a passage, I can reference other paintings for clues about solving the problem. Not having it brought home how much I depend on this tool for my inspiration and maintaining a productive attitude. We often talk about how our computers are a black hole that eats up time, but after 5 days without mine, I realize it has become an invaluable part of how I make art. My productivity and my computer are integrated to the point that my work suffered terribly without it and progress was very slow. Is the health of my creativity linked to the health of my computer? Probably not but I am glad to have both back at 100% again.Comment on or Share this Article →
All Hat and No Cattle 10x8 Oil
Have you ever been painting away and you suddenly realize that you have lost sight of why you are painting this particular thing? I know this has happened to me. I get so involved in painting the stuff around the subject that I forget to keep my attention focused. The initial attraction has slowly slipped into the background and the most important areas are taking a backseat to things I barely noticed when I first saw the subject. Important Rule to Remember: Stay focused on what first attracted you.
A good example is my painting All Hat and No Cattle. When I first saw the cowboy I was attracted to his hat. I thought it was a great shape and liked the colors and values. It would have been so easy to meander to the flag and add too much detail or worry the corral and background into focus but I focused on the hat. The simple idea of remembering what first attracted me to paint the cowboy kept me on track. If you don't remember what is important in your painting how will the viewer be able to see it? You have to lead the viewer with your intent and paint with a focal point.Comment on or Share this Article →
Waterfall at the Huntington 14x11 Oil
Waterfalls are one of my favorite subjects to paint but there just aren't too many here in Southern California. I was thrilled to discover that the Huntington Garden has one of the prettiest waterfalls in the area. It is hidden up a seldom used path so I never would have found it if it hadn't been for a very helpful employee who told me about it.
The trick to painting waterfalls is to have a limited amount of whitewater and to use color for the rest of the falls. If you remember that water is reflective, like a mirror, it will be easier to paint it the color of the sky, the rocks and the vegetation. This simple rule of adding color to the water allows the highlights of the whitewater to stand out and sparkle. Apply water only where the sun hits the tops and edges of the water. Another challenge with waterfalls is to construct an interesting pattern made by the rocks. An S or Z are the best designs to consider when tackling the rocks below the falls.Comment on or Share this Article →
Sharon Weaver at one of her first exhibitions in 2008
I volunteer for several local art clubs in different degress. I made the decision last year to stay involved with these local organizations because I want to give back some of the kindness and information that I learned when I was a newbee member. Over the years, I have learned so much through the demonstrations and other artists in these groups that it seemed the right thing to do.
As a volunteer, I was recently asked to make some phone calls to new members of the California Art Club welcoming them into the club. In the process of letting them know what the club can do for them, I often get into personal discussions with each artist. One of the new members I talked to lives in an area where there are no local clubs. As we talked, I realized how desperate she was to find someplace where she could learn. I had a new appreciation of how lucky I was to have so many wonderful clubs in my area. The ease with which I jumped into the art community is a direct result of the clubs I joined when I first started to paint. Since we are all motivated by self interest, here are some wonderful reasons to get involved with a local art organization.
- Learning something new. Is it just me or does it seem the more I know the more I need to know? Every meeting, paint out or demonstration adds to my arsenal of artistic weapons.
- Meet wonderful artists, friends and painting partners. I have an amazing network of painting buddies, many of whom I have met through the local clubs.
- If you teach, there is a built in group of potential students.
- You can cultivate potential collectors. Don't overlook the fact that artists love to buy art.
- Most clubs will have at least one show a year so this is another opportunity to get your work out there.
- Learn how to enter juried shows, get tips on great frame suppliers, find out about a studio tour, the list of things you can learn are endless.
All you need to do is take the time to get involved.
Paint from life, live to paint.Comment on or Share this Article →
Carved Portal, 24x20, Oil
When I was starting my career as a fashion designer, my mother never liked how often I changed jobs. She would ask, "Sharon, when are you going to settle down?" She never understood that change came with the territory. In order to get ahead, I needed to trade up from one job to the next. I finally had to tell her I was never going to "settle down."
That is as true today for my career as an artist as it was when I was designing clothes. Living with constant change and uncertainty makes me uniquely qualified to face my life as an artist. I embrace change and I strive to face success and failure with equal energy. Being ambitious, I am not inclined to take a failure lying down. Instead I will tackle the problem head on with a stubborn determination. Conversely, I am comfortable with success and enjoy the accolades that accompany it.
I am not surprised that recently I have had to shake a few things up to see some progress. Pulling out of some venues to approach new opportunities. Passing on some shows while entering others. What may have worked two years ago, isn't today. Things I may have passed on before now hold promise. I have slowly realizing that settling down is the last thing I ever want to do. Carved Portal represents a new opportunity that hasn't yet been tried.Comment on or Share this Article →
Sun Breaks Through at Zuma Beach
Sun Breaks Through at Zuma Beach, 7x14, Oil on Panel
Zuma Beach in the Fog
Sometimes the weather just doesn't coöperate with my painting schedule. When that happens I improvise, invent and generally struggle to turn a dreary day into one that is beautiful. That was the situation last week when I drove over to the ocean and took the photo above along Zuma Beach. My job description for the day was to turn that yukkie place into something magical. Initially the fog was so thick I wasn't sure the sun would ever emerge but right on cue the sun did peek out and hit the front of the lifeguard stand.
Painting a foggy or moody scene requires a consistent use of one color throughout the painting. As an artist who loves color, I sometimes have trouble with this idea so I tackled the Zuna Beach painting as a challenge. I decided on green for the constant throughout my painting so every color I used has a touch of the ocean green mixed into it. From the sand to the sky, I forced myself to add some of that color. The distant mountains are that same color with more white and a touch more blue. Even the sand has a lot of green but I just can't stay monotone throughout a painting. Just not my nature so thought I would find an example that takes this idea to the extreme and I remembered a painting by Brian Blood at the Carmel Art Festival 2009. My photo is not very good but I think it still is a wonderful example of this use of color consistency throughout a painting.
by Brian BloodComment on or Share this Article →
Melting Fog 8x10 Oil on Panel
I recently critiqued a painting by a friend who had made a classic design mistake. I call it "The Lone Tree Syndrome." Most artists will fall into this crafty trap since the "lone tree" looks good in its native environment. But when taken out of nature and translated to canvas, yikes!; not so good.
As an artists it is our job to design our paintings, not just paint what we see, so watch out for the lone tree by eliminating the symptoms and group trees together, add shrubs or change the layout. A picture is worth a thousand words so I have provided you with a painting suffering from "the Lone Tree Syndrome."
The Lone Tree Syndrome
Here is what I did to cure the painting of its problems. I liked the sky but recognized that I needed to rethink the perspective by pushing the trees back and connecting the dark areas. With this done the eye passes over the foreground and you are taken into the painting. I added some highlights at the base of the mountains again to create depth. I was amazed at how the painting opened up giving the mountains the majesty I remembered. I also softened some of the edges and brought the fog onto the peaks.
We are creatures of habit and we can't help but make the same mistakes over and over again but by pointing out some of the more obvious design traps I hope I will be able to inspire you to change.Comment on or Share this Article →
Malibu Lagoon 11x14 Oil on Linen Panel
I think artists put themselves under a lot of pressure. Unlike athletes who work on percentages, artists expect that every time we paint, the product should be a masterpiece. Realistically, we know this expectation is impossible. Who could be that consistent? But knowing and living with it are two different things. This knowledge doesn't make bad painting days any easier or stop me from thinking, "If I couldn't paint well today maybe I will never paint well again. Augh!!!!"
For arguments sake, let's say that we are all mature, stable, self-aware people and we can see those failed paintings as just bumps in the road. Let's take stock of, well, our stock. Understanding that if 33% of our paintings are masterpieces, 33% are OK and 33% are just plain awful. That would mean that one-third of all the paintings I have stacked in the corners of my studio should be recycled and painted over.
Well, that is exactly what I did today. I was heading to Malibu Lagoon and remembered a painting I did there in the fog over a year ago. At the time, I had fun doing the painting but it was not a masterpiece so I pulled it out and decided it fit into the group of "just plain awful." I tossed it into the car hoping I could rework the image and come up with something I liked.
Getting a late start, along with bad traffic, left me with not much time to paint so I pulled out the foggy beast (see Just Awful above) and set to work. Changing the horizon line, the recycled sky fit in perfectly and also became part of the water of the lagoon. I then worked on the rushes with a rust under-painting. From awful to masterpiece and it only took a little over a year. I am so thrilled with the outcome that I am going to go through my stock and recycle. Maybe I can transform more "just awful" into masterpieces.Comment on or Share this Article →
Another Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa has never been one of my favorite paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. I don't understand the fascination others see in her eyes. I've been to the Louvre in Paris, where crowds always surrounded her and, sorry, still don't love it. Lately, the iconic image has been the focus of attention when a copy was discovered. Well, the copy wasn't discovered since it has been around for a long time but the background was covered with black paint so that seems to have disguised its importance until two years ago. Despite the obvious differences in the portrait, the skill of the copy should have made someone take a closer look at this wonderful copy earlier but no. It seems a genius finally thought to X-ray the painting and sure enough under the black paint is the same familiar background landscape as on the original Mona Lisa.
Now there is speculation about who and why the second portrait was painted but the best guess is that it was a teaching lesson for one of Leonardo's talented students. They think it was painted side by side when the original was painted. The "experts" removed the varnish and black paint and now have a painting that allows us to see how the Mona Lisa looked shortly after it was painted.
"You can imagine that this is what the Mona Lisa looked like back in the 16th century," Finaldi said.
Maybe that is why I like the copy better. What do you think?Comment on or Share this Article →
Whitewater (Original Above)
Below is Cropped Image of Whitewater
The spot where I painted Along the Kern River held a surprise. Looking north only a few feet from my spot was a cascade of rushing whitewater rapids. Other artists painted the rapids while I chose the calm beach but I knew I wanted to try the frothy brew at a later date. My chance came when my friend Marian Fortunati posted a photo of the rapids on Facebook and several artists asked if they could use it for a painting so I joined the group and painted Whitewater.
I originally thought to paint the scene on a 12x12 panel but now that I can step back from the subject I am considering cropping the painting like the second image. After all the water is the important element and the sky and hills my be distracting. What do you think?
One of the many good features about painting on panels is how easy it is to make these adjustments. The panels are glued onto the board so changing the size is only a matter of waiting until it is dry and then cutting the panel.
If you don't use panels I recommend that you try panels for your smaller paintings. Advantages include:
- Take up a lot less room that canvas: Besides the convenience when carrying them into the field, I can stack a few dozen in a storage box to take with me in the trunk of my car. You never know when a chance meeting could result in a sale. I have sold several painting from my trunk.
- Light weight: When you are carrying all your supplies to paint plein air, the weight of every item is a factor.
- Indestructible: Depending on the backing most panels will hold up to rain, snow, extreme heat and cold without stretching, sagging or being punctured by a palette knife.
- Sunlight Doesn't Show Through: Canvas allows light to shine through it. This is usually not a problem in the studio but outside it can be a disaster. The light shining through will distort the colors on the canvas so values and hue become impossible to see accurately.
- Size adjustable: I have cut several panels after analysing the composition of the painting later. It is true that this can be done with a stretched canvas but it is a lot more of a hassle taking the canvas off the stretcher bars cutting it and then restretching it onto a different size.
Panels are not appropriate for large paintings but for anything 16x20 or smaller think of using this canvas alternative.Comment on or Share this Article →
Cathedral Rock Reflection
Cathedral Rock Reflection 14x11 Oil on Linen
Learning how to paint is an important part of an artists education. We admire how another artist renders the ocean or the sky so we try to emulate the same technique. We spend hours mixing colors, watching demos and taking classes. We practise with different brushes, brands of paint, texture surfaces and every other trick of the trade, trying to master a technique. Using the same materials as an artist we admire, we hope that his skill will rub off on us. But even if we could clone the technique, would that ensure good art? No, because good technique does not necessarily produce good art. The truth is technique alone can result in art that is sterile and without emotion. So, developing a health relationship with technique is one of the necessary lessons all artists must learn on the way to becoming a good artist. The combination of technique and emotion together are a formula that will produce good art. An artist's success comes from melding the right technique along with the artists vision.
Achieving balance between technique and emotion is a classic struggle. Being a plein air painter, I always attempt to complete a painting on site, believing that the emotion of the moment usually makes up for the lack of time or the best technique. But sometimes, that just isn't the case. Some paintings need to go back to the studio and be reworked.
"Cathedral Rock Reflections" is one of the latter. Originally painted on location in Sedona last October, I knew it wasn't the strongest of my paintings but only recently did I have the insight to make the necessary changes. I was happy with the composition and with the water reflections. I knew I could turn it into a strong painting. Working without a photo, I changed the clouds over the rocks, darkened the water, refined the the rocks and added more shadows in the mid ground.
Old image of Cathedral Rock Reflection
There are times when emotion just isn't enough and technique must be called upon to make a better work. For me the end justifies the studio work I added to my plein air piece. If I must choose, I choose good art over technique or emotion.Comment on or Share this Article →
Storm Over the North Rim
I admit it; I'm a sucker for dramatic light. I love the contrast, the awe inspiring effects. I know, I know, I should try to find more subtle images; not paint those picture postcards, but painting a scene with contrasting light is so much fun that I just can't resist. I am especially attracted to a scene when the drama is caused by an unusual weather pattern which makes that moment in time unique. The random nature of these moments makes luck a main ingredient.
I was lucky on a recent trip to the Grand Canyon when I captured this storm as it moved across the North Rim. At first, I was overwhelmed with the scale of the view. It is a vast expanse of uninterrupted beauty looking across from the Watchtower. When faced with so much input, how do I decide what to paint? I look for interesting shapes, unusual contrasts and a strong composition. Instinct, along with a trained eye, combines to eliminate the infinite number of ridges, rocks and shadows to synthesize the scene into manageable shapes. Once I found shapes I liked, I considered how to convey the scale of the Grand Canyon. I realized I needed a distinct background, mid-ground and foreground.
One factor which clinched my decision to paint this view was the unusual series of shadows. Most landscapes have a lighter background as it recedes into the distance but in this painting the shadows cast by the clouds formed a dark backdrop highlighting the sunlit bluffs in the mid-ground.
The final key was the cloud darkened shapes of the foreground which bracketed the soft colored valley.
To show how every piece fits together like a puzzle, I eliminated the bluff on the right foreground. Without that dark shape to stop the eye, the viewer is pointed off the right edge of the painting by the diagonal lines. Experimenting with the shapes helps me confirm the strength of the composition.Comment on or Share this Article →
I painted Umbria Autumn in 2009 but recently reworked a section of the painting and eliminated the wall on the left. I took a series of photos as I worked on the painting and it makes for an interesting insight into my process.
There are twelve images shown in the slide show as follows:
- 1) Pencil Sketch - I like to do an initial sketch of a painting to help me spot design problems and to better understand the composition.
- 2) Initial Layout on the Canvas - I do a line drawing first in one color but this is a little farther into the painting with the sky already painted in.
- 3) Adding Color and Value - The depth of the painting is worked out with the values.
- 4) Working in the Background Hills - Here the richness of the colors are developed.
- 5) Completing the Foreground - The scale of the scene is established with the foreground.
- 6) Adding the Details - Getting the richness of the autumn landscape.
- 7) Refining the Details - Final touches to the mid-ground.
At this point I thought I was finished and had the painting hung in my studio. Over the next year, I started to realize that something was bothering me about the composition. I didn't like the brick wall on the left side of the painting and started to work on solutions. The next four images are different ideas I tried out on my computer using Gimp (free version of PhotoShop) even before I attempted to take brush to canvas.
- 8) Replacing the Wall with Trees - The foreground became to dominant in this version.
- 9) Extending the Cliff - This one seemed to only replace one problem (the walls) with another (the dominant cliff).
- 10) Extending the Horizon - Everything pointed right of the left side in this one.
- 11) Combination of 8, 9, and 10 - I finally decided that this was the best way to resolve the painting and made the changes to the actual painting.
- 12) Final Painting
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I am much happier with the latest version of the painting and hope you agree.
I grew up in a small town near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and just returned from a personal trip to the area. Whenever I visit, I enter into a time warp that combines my memories of the past with the stark differences of the present.
Bethlehem Steel was a manufacturing dynamo during my parent's life and they, along with most everyone else, were employed by the company. The landscape of the town was built around the steel mill which sprawled along the Lehigh River. Belching smoke into the air, the row of massive stacks were the heart of the furnaces that produced most of the steel used to build the skyscrapers of New York City. The I-beam, which Bethlehem Steel innovation, allowed for modern construction. The steel used on the Golden Gate Bridge came from Bethlehem Steel and the plant built one fifth of the fleet for WWII in its shipyard. When the company went bankrupt and closed in 2001, I was already living in California so I wasn't around to see the dying gasps from the behemoth which had played such a huge part in building America.
Old Warehouse Near the Stacks
While I was in PA, I took a trip over to the site of the old Bethlehem Steel Company. Many of the structures are still standing in various states of decay but a slow restoration is taking place. It is a monumental undertaking to bring the giant buildings back to life. I was awed by the strength of the place. One thing that was missing was the noise. As a kid I remember the sound made by the massive machines and the steam escaping from the top of the stacks. The vibration and underlying noise could be heard miles away. Now all is silent and that silence tells the tale of lost jobs, broken communities and forgotten dreams.
Stacks Along the Lehigh River
A casino stands where once enormous cranes lifted raw material from the gravel pits along the Minsi Trail Bridge. One of the block long cranes provides the entrance into the casino announcing "SANDS" in the steel framework. How strange to think that the most profitable casino in the chain now stands where the United States second largest manufacturer of steel produced the best steel in the world.
When I was growing up, I hated the mill. It was old and ugly, noisy and dirty. I resented the power that the "company" had and was saddened as it gobbled up generation, after generation in its giant maw. Looking back now with some perspective, I see it was an important part of our industrial past, a part of American history. Bethlehem, nicknamed the Christmas City, has evolved beyond the steel mill by incorporating its past with the present. I am glad others had the vision to include the old with the new. It is really something to see.Comment on or Share this Article →
Recently there was a discussion online asking if an artist should know how to draw. The flood of comments ran the spectrum from a definitely yes to an emphatic no. They argue art is a concept not a method. It started me thinking of the long road that art has traveled from cave paintings to computer generated designs. How diverse it all is. At first, I defended the more traditional art and thought, "Yes an artist should know how to draw," but I started to think about some of the less traditional artists who have influenced me and realized drawing was not that important in their work.
A Bigger Splash by David Hockney
British born artist David Hockney's work emphasizes concept over traditional drawing skills. I remember first seeing his work while living in New York City. His linear swimming pool paintings seemed to epitomized the Southern California lifestyle. I loved the simplicity and vibrant colors of the pool series which Hockney painted while living in Los Angeles using acrylic paint. The stylized water patterns, the idea of private swimming pools (not the norm in the Northeast) and the modern buildings in the background all added to the exotic nature of the paintings. I thought they were wonderful.
David Hockney also worked with photography, constructing photocollage. Using massive numbers of small Polaroid snaps or photolab-prints of a single subject Hockney arranged a patchwork of photos to make a composite image. The photographs were taken from different perspectives and at slightly different times with the resulting image being slightly off. My favorite of this series is a landscape, Pearblossom Highway #2.
Pearblossom Highway #2 by David Hockney
These works show how concept can trump technical skill. I realize that there isn't just one simple answer when approaching art. What makes my paintings work for me, may not be what another artist finds successful for them. Regardless of how an artist approaches their work, they deserve my consideration, respect and to keep an open mind.