14 September 2016

Painting Clouds

I’m thinking alot about clouds at the moment.  What colors they are, how their edges form, how to paint them.  I just finished Deborah Paris’ online course “The Painted Sky”.  There is a lot to understand about the sky, and I look up now with a little more understanding.

Here is a painting I did during the course.  Part invention and part plein air sketch.  I used a 3-step process starting with a thumbnail, then a value study, then finally the painting, done wet-in-wet.  I like the process, it feels logical to me.  First handle composition and values, then get down to color.

Grasslands, 9x12", oil on linen

Here are the thumbnail and value study for Grasslands.

Thumbnail, 2x3", graphite on 90lb sketch paper

Value study, 4x5.25", chalk and charcoal on toned Strathmore 500

I did 5 thumbnails before choosing that one to work up.  It takes less than 30 minutes to generate a thumbnail and, for that small effort, you get to glimpse a finished painting.  Here are the other thumbs I did for the assignment. I will probably turn one of the nocturnes into a painting, too.


The best reference I know on clouds is chapter 10 of Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting.  If you are interested in this subject, that's a good place to start.

22 July 2016

Landscape Painting with a Strong Start

I just finished an online course with Deborah Paris called The Strong Start.  The course was an introduction to landscape painting from life and from memory.  No photography allowed, which encouraged deeper observation, and more reliance on memory, which I like.

I came away with a clear step-by-step process for creating landscape paintings  Before this class, I would go into the field, set up my easel, and hope for the best. Using this procedure, I have a better chance of actually producing something decent.  And I generated alot of sketchbook ideas for later use, too.

The process starts with finding ideas in the field.  No photos or drawing at this point, just spending time looking around and connecting. Next, some of the stronger ideas are converted into plein air graphite thumbnails.  This is the stage where objects and values are invented or moved around to support the composition.  Next, with the thumbnail for guidance, the scene is painted en plein air.  This oil sketch and memory are used to create the final studio piece.

Below are a few plein air sketches from the class, along with the original thumbnails.  Not masterworks, but better than my earlier attempt (here).
Ramona Grasslands II, 9x12", oil on linen

I was skipping the thumbnail step before this class.  Big mistake.  It's so much easier to work through the value structure and colors separately, so the graphite thumb step makes sense for me.  I did about 6 thumbnails before settling on one to take to the next level.  The more thumbs generated, the better. The first few ideas are ususally obvious and less interesting.

Ramona Grasslands thumbnail, 2.5x3.5", graphite

Here's one more effort.  First, the oil sketch...

Ramona Grasslands III, 9x12", oil on linen

And the original thumbnail...

With this procedure in place, I'm more optimistic when I go out in the field.  And I expect the process will enhance my portrait work, too.  All good.

09 May 2016

More Landscape Drawings

Today I'm posting a few drawings I did in the online course I just finished...Drawing the Landscape. I took the class to learn how to draw in the field, as a first step to landscape painting.  If you cannot draw it, you probably cannot paint it.  The field drawings are a great tool for composing and learning to see.  

So here they are, drawings I did in the field to understand some aspect of tree structure and to get a level of comfort going out there and just sitting and observing.  It's a different way of doing things if you're used to sitting in your studio looking at an image on a computer screen.  But I like it.  It feels authentic and connected to be out there.  I think photos have a role to play, too, but I'm still working out what that is.  

Okay, that is all.

Cuyamaca Pines, 10x14", charcoal on sketch paper

Burnt Sugar Bush, Anza Borrego, 8x9", graphite on paper

Greenbelt Pine, 8x10", graphite on bristol board

08 April 2016

Studying Art Online: Drawing the Landscape

I'm taking another online course. This one is focused on drawing the landscape, taught by Deborah Paris.  I know how to draw faces and figures, but I have no experience drawing landscapes, so I thought this would be worth taking, which it was. 

The purpose of the course was to learn to draw and sketch in the field, the idea being that if you can't draw the landscape, you will probably have a difficult time painting it, too. 

Deborah advocates studio painting from field sketches and memory, no photographs, which intrigues me.  I don't want to paint landscapes by copying photos in a studio.  That seems ironic and mechanical to me.  I know plenty of artists prefer that approach, and some do it well.  But when I paint from photos, I get too literal and it kills the energy and expression in the painting.  It's not for me.

In this course, we started with master copies, graphite on Bristol board, after JD Harding, from his book "On Drawing Trees and Nature".  The book is ancient, but if you can get past the vernacular it is a treasury of advice on drawing from nature.  It's all there.  

Here are a couple of my master copies.  Next post I'll put up some original work from the class.

Scotch Fir after JD Harding, 8x10", graphite on Bristol board

Rocks and boulders after JD Harding, 4.5x10", graphite on Bristol board

23 February 2016

My First Online Course: Values in the Landscape

In my last post I mentioned I was taking a 4-week online course, with Deborah Paris, on the use of values in the landscape.  Now that the class has ended, I'm reporting back.

This was my first online class, and I liked the format.  It was self-paced and interactive, I didn't need to leave my studio, and it's was cost effective. Deborah's a good teacher, too.  No time to waste.  She loaded the course work on, and I got my money's worth.  I learned a huge amount.

I liked it enough to sign up for more of her classes, which go through May.  The coursework is eating into my studio time, so I'm not producing much of my own art right now.  But I need to do this. 

The present class covered the use of value to create distance, depth, atmosphere and different lighting scenarios like a sunny day, overcast day, dusk, etc. Some of the course content was based on John Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting and his Theory of Angles.

Value study of "At Twilight.River Istra" by Isaac Levitan, 8x10" oil on linen

Assignments included exercises to judge isolated values, value mapping of master works, and field drawing exercises to observe values in nature.

Value study of "Castelmuzio" by Marc Dalessio, 8.5x10" oil on linen

The paintings in this post are all copies of masterworks I painted in gray scale for the class.  They show how value alone can convey the feeling of a hot, sunny day in Tuscany, or the weight and volume of sunlit clouds in a big prairie sky.  No color required!

Value study of "Prairie Jazz" by Clyde Aspevig, 8.5x10" oil on linen

I look at the landscape differently now, and I can identify potential landscape compositions where I saw none before.  I am also more aware now of value problems in artwork...both my own and other artist's.   Sometimes it's artistic license, mostly it's just careless value choices.

Value study of "Oak Tree" by Isaac Levitan, 10x10" oil on linen

05 January 2016

Analyzing a Plein Air Sketch

In 2016 I will be doing more landscape painting and drawing.  I still love portraits and figures and there are more to come, but landscapes will take up more of my blog this year.

I tried some landscape master copies and plein air sketches to start learning the genre, but after doing a few (here, here, and here) I think I can make better progress with some instruction.  I've been wanting to try an online course anyway, so I enrolled in one taught by the Texas landscape artist, Deborah Paris.  The 4-week session focuses on values in the landscape.  A good starting subject for me.  I'll post on how it goes.

Today I am posting a plein air sketch I did a few weeks ago.  Since this was a learning exercise, I brought the sketch back from the field and worked on it in the studio. I'm including a photo from the site too, so you can see how I simplified the scene.

Santa Ysabel Oak, 6x8", oil on linen
Photo of the site for "Santa Ysabel Oak"

I also did some graphite studies to ponder the composition. I was trying to find the essential visual elements in a fairly complex scene.  These exercises all come from Mitchell Albabla's book Landscape Painting.

The 4-value study below was useful for designing the large value planes in the composition: sky, ground, uprights and slanted planes (Carlson's Theory of Angles).  Keeping the values of those planes separated strengthens how the image reads.

The 2-value drawing limits the value structure even further, forcing all the shapes into the light or the dark.  A good way to assess the big visual impact and adjust shapes for better design.  From this study, I decided to push the foreground a little lighter and the background a little darker. 

The final exercise was a line drawing indicating the shapes and internal contours of the major masses.  It helped with modeling the rather complicated forms.  All 3 exercises helped simplify the scene down to the essentials.  I learned a lot.  I'm glad I did them.

While out in the field painting the sketch, I saw ground movement out of the corner of my eye.  It was a bronze tarantula passing by.  I think it was a male looking for a date.