Saturday, October 31, 2009
I have discussed my palette, kit and set up procedures in the previous two posts, so this post will cover how I approach and carry out a painting project. I paint on numerous surface materials ranging from canvas duck, linen to solid surfaces to include masonite, MDF board and birch panel. I work on a range of differently sized formats to include 5x7"... 8x10"... 10x12"...11x14"... 12x16"... 14x18"...16x20"...20x24"... 24x30"... 30x36"... 36x48"... 48x60" and on occasion triptychs which are composed of a combination of three of these other formats.
I work outdoors mainly on 5x7"...10x12"...16x20"..20x24 inch and 30x36" formats. I do not feel at all uncomfortable with larger sized pieces on location...provided that weather conditions are favourable... that the subject deserves a larger format and that it excites my interest. I lay in with a single larger flat brush...one inch variety usually....working the whole area of the canvas randomly... until the entire canvas surface is covered.If I am employing a "colour massing" approach...I squint at the subject through my eyelids and apply a broad area of colour using large strokes which are close to the value I "see". However, I do not push to find the most accurate value... that comes later in the session after the entire canvas is covered. I work quickly...trying to find "the Flow" as I will refer to it... a state reached where you are working intuitively... searching... seeking out patterns...and creating gestural passages as opposed to details.At the end of this "fleshing out" focus...I step back, or even go for a short walk to get away from the "path" I am thinking about. When I return to the project... I feel refreshed and start looking for new areas to focus on... to add "specifics"... which include stronger areas of colour... vertical and diagonal lines... value corrections... anything that might contribute a stronger statement. This is especially true in focusing on the main subject in the painting... where the darkest darks and lightest lights should converge to create the highest visual interest for the viewer.
When I am satisfied that I have successfully absorbed and arranged the essence of my subject, I can choose to end the session at this point and use my digital camera to record a useful reference photo to "fine tune" the piece to an ending in the studio...away from the actual subject. Or if time (and my energy level) permits... I can push forward to completion right on location. Both situations do occur frequently and do produce equally good results. Often, I will pull out an 8x10" or 5x7" panel and quickly attack a nearby subject I might have noticed during the session...or on my "stroll" at the mid point. I never worry about creating a "masterpiece" with this effort... I treat it as...my "run-for-the-sun"....stealing time at the end of the day... an opportunity to take home yet another "Idea"...which can be developed further in the studio...or even be returned to at a later date...a "memo" to my Self.
This is but one strategy or appraoach that I employ to work successfully in the field. I regularly use other approaches and create what I call "mental gymnastics"... to refresh my enthusiasm and to avoid systematic and predictable conclusions...all dead ends in the creative process. No learning can occur...when the end is predictable...or defined. I will describe some of these "alternate routes" I regularly include in my own painting journey... in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!
Until then.... Good painting... to ALL!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
In this post I will outline my customary set up routine while painting on location. I refer to this routine as my "Two Carry" set up.On the first carry to the selected site, I transport my plastic blue box containing all the loose and spillable items.
I then survey the location looking for a suitable subject... with a fairly level area to set up my easel. After finding these prerequisites I return to my vehicle to select the appropriate canvas...my paintbox...along with my lunchbox...and if not too far into the bush... a small folding chair that I use on occasion to give my legs a break and to look at the work in progress from a suitable distance.
The blue box snaps shut and prevents unwanted odors or stains in the rear of our van. In it, I pack my Coke carrier filled with 200 ml tubes of colour... smaller sized primed and ready-to-go toned panels of various sizes... 4 liter kerosene supply... small turps....shop towels...willow charcoal sticks...can of fixative...small length of cord and bungees...brush cleaning can...hand cleaner and plastic bread bags to store dirty cloths,etc. in (to carry out from the site).
AS the picture demonstrates... the box with lid on serves as a place to put my brushes, a drink and toweling during the session. The Coke carrier loaded with the heavy tubes of colour is affixed with cord or bungee to the crosspiece to the legs on my easel to counter the disastrous effects of possible gusty wind conditions. This set up routine usually makes my outings trouble free and enjoyable...and takes only minutes to arrange.Prior planning is a real advantage to painting enjoyably and successfully in the outdoors. Watching the weather reports beforehand also helps lessen the chances for last minute disasters and to guide your choice of locations.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The place to begin in first describing my own personal painting process is to examine my choice of colours...aka my "palette". My palette closely follows the palette suggested by John Carlson in his "Bible"...."A Guide to Landscape Painting".I guess you could call it a split palette. I use two reds...two yellows..two blues and titanium white as my basic choices...and add other colours I choose to use occasionally for specific properties or tasks. I ALWAYS place the colours in the same place on my palette...thus allowing me to create a pattern of selecting colour that becomes automatic over an extended period of time.
My reds are cadmium red light and alizarin (permanent). My blues are French Ultramarine(red phase), cerulean blue...and occasionally cobalt or thalo. My yellows are cadmium yellow (mid) and yellow ochre....and often Indian yellow or raw sienna.
I use Winsor and Newton's jaune brillant to heighten colour...burnt or raw umber to make lovely greys and viridian to develop a greater selection of rich greens.
The primary colours obviously include a warm and a cool choice to create values and temperature in my mixing. I use Winsor and Newton Liquin to speed up drying time in slow driers like the cadmiums and sap green. I employ titanium white in alkyd form as well as "Soft Mixing" form. The alkyd aids drying...while the "Soft Mixing" retards tightening up in the sub-zero temperatures I often work outdoors in during winter. I use pure turpentine as my solvent, but clean my brushes in a can of kerosene attached to my paintbox.
My choice of outdoor painting easel is a lightweight telescoping aluminum easel. It holds my canvas and my paint box effectively and is easy to take down and to anchor with the spikes attached to each of the three legs.
My brushes are most always a variety of the flat hog bristled type...with a rigger thrown in for detail work and signing. I find through usage that many of my bristled brushes become "brights"...due to the constant scrubbing they receive fom the canvas.
I guess that I could summarize this post by saying that your choice of colours and equipment will evolve as you progress in your painting as mine has...and will be determined more by your individual needs and preferences than what might be suggested in books and other artists' ideas.Even student grade colours will suffice in the beginning of your search. They are economical to buy...and for my money handle and cover well. You can purchase most brands of oils in 200 ml tubes at a fraction of the expense of a 37 ml of artist grade colour. Those colours are for professional use and work intended for sale.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Finding your "voice"..."style"...whatever one calls it...is a lifelong search for every artist. The search is really a sorting out process...trying different mediums... attending some classes... reading/purchasing books,magazines... joining groups to paint with...and yes....reading and exchanging ideas via cyberspace through web sites and blogging. All of these sources contribute to artistic growth and advance one's confidence and information base.
However...it is the single act of drawing,mixing colour and painting which advances that growth exponentially overall. Much of this search is...or in my opinion should be conducted alone. It is in this environment that one can risk...experiment at will and study earnestly and undisturbed. Not every artist has the immediate luxury of having studio space or the extra time and money to attend classes...which is why I chose to work outdoors initially. This decision is the single most contributing factor to my own success and happiness in painting. Outdoor painting on a regular basis teaches one everything that you can read in the best of "how-I-do it" books. It is both personal and fitted to your own perception...or way of "Seeing"...either subjects...or colour.
Through sharing this experience with a number of artists who, themselves had this passion for both the outdoors and painting... I joined a fraternity of friends who over the years developed personal and working relationships which continue to this day. Their critical input regarding my painting is both valuable and enriching to my continuing journey. I might never have met them ...had I not reached out... risked and built those friendships.
I do not separate myself from the value that studio painting brings "to the mix" either. In my sense of things...participation in one space supports the other... and neither is more defining in terms of excellence or importance. I cringe at the oft' used and now pedantic expression: " I consider myself to be a plein air painter". It is as if that school ...or method of painting supersedes painting done in any other manner. I do paint outdoors... or "plein air" as I believe the term is derived, but only because as a "hunter-gatherer"... I find resources out there which are portable in the form of "sketches" on panels, canvases or sketchbooks...to develop a thought or "Idea" further. In short...CHOOSING to paint outdoors...does NOT in any way make me special...just better educated to natural settings and processes... excited visually.... and better prepared and motivated to push forward.
I am going to try and "flesh out" an overview of my own painting methods for two reasons. The first reason is to share with my readers... my ideas that they might glean some insights to help them in their own individual searches. Secondly by going through this self-examination process... I might better understand that process...because after all of these years of painting... I do so almost out of reflex and as a ritual. One can never stop learning... without risking staleness and "stunted" artistic growth.
I will begin this process with a three post series... the first to examine medium/palette/equipment,... the second to address planning and start... the last to describe the painting process itself through to the conclusion.
Stay tuned...and Good painting to All!
Sunday, October 18, 2009
After completing the Nova Scotian subject....indoors....I honoured my determination by heading outdoors in the sunny...but colder weather to paint around the Oro-Medonte region. There was no scarcity of suitable material...just minutes from our gallery door. I wanted very badly to be alone and uninterrupted so I headed into bush to look for "interior woodland" subjects. I find the play of light and intense colour in this setting exciting visually...and soothing spiritually.
My first subject was a long forgotten...and now overgrown stone fence line...once a distinct boundary for a farm property. I always am overwhelmed and in awe of this type of fence...for it is entirely composed...often miles of it...of "erratics". These large Precambrian stones were deposited during the last glacial age in this region...helter-skelter both above and below the soil of the region.
In order to work the land, the farmer would have to move these stones manually with the aid of a hardy team of work horses pulling a stone sled...or for the larger brutes...a four wheeled mechanical stone raising implement...if it were available. I can't imagine the amount of physical effort required...on a hot June or July day to lift ...then carry these natural Henge objects hundreds of meters to construct a wall.
This would not be the end of this process either. Each year the Earth would cough up another batch of these hidden glacial relics to just under the soil's surface where the single bladed ploughshare would be brought to an abrupt halt...and the removal process would begin all over again. So when looking at the ancient linear markers...one is looking at generations of tilling and fence-making activity. In my heart...it is a historical link to our agrarian past...worthy of remembering and being left for future generations to appreciate. But in our greedy consumer society...there are those individual "entrepreneurs"...who harvest them and sell them to nurseries for decorative purposes in the yards of urban sprawl...far from their meaningful and rightful place of resting.
I'm a dinosaur ...I guess.I have spent my life learning about the Past...painting and recording it. Perhaps that is enough said in the end.Physical boundaries... even political borders shift. I will not however... shift my view away from a reverence for the efforts in the Past of those who lived, died and built this country with their sweat. They deserve to be accorded honour and Remembrance!
Good painting to All!
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Tails!....I painted indoors! Plain and simple! I guess in some respects I could say I "lost"...."confined to barracks". On a perfect sunny Autumn day...blue skies...sumptuous colour...no wind....I was under the lights at the easel doing what I couldn't get down to for over a week. It had glared at "Me"... and I could not not see a way around the too angry ...menacing clouds that hung like funerary draperies over the rest of the composition. I had created this tension purposely... to emphasize the storm's departure...and the return of light and calm to Leo Mosher's Rose Bay home and fish sheds and stores. For a week it paralysed any further movement towards finishing.
After my "flippant" decision to get down to business...I went out for a short one hour walkabout out of the village...took in the colour and came back determined to be done with the piece and to ensure that I was not trapped into the same predicament again tomorrow. Fine weather was forecast.... So..."Bite the bullet"!... "pitter-patter...just get at 'er"!
I brushed in the sky area with Winsor & Newton's Liquin to make blending easier and began feeling my way with a variety of warm lights and darks to lay on top of the "menacing" aspects. At first it seemed awkward and unsuccessful...but gradually I felt the "Flow" returning...and the sky started to have the softer ...warmer form...yet retained the stormy aspect first intended. It was easy then to visit other parts of the composition randomly as I customarily do...adjusting hue,values and edges...until I reach a pleasing state of finish.
Strange...that after a week of indecision...paralysis...avoidance...a "solution" is brought forward with two or so hours of determined effort... and some courage...and lest "I" forget...sacrifice. Sometimes "waiting out the storm"...the one in the mind's eye pays dividends. Patience is often not my strongest suit when it comes to painting. I think "I"...(meaning my Inner Spirit)...personality am drawn to outdoor painting and prefer it...despite the weather intrusions and hardships...based simply upon the spontaneity and freedom that comes out of being forced to decide and paint quickly by the always shifting and short presence of light in the subject before me.
So I offer "Drying Out at Leo Mosher's, Rose Bay, Nova Scotia" as evidence that: "Patience is...(indeed) a virtue"... even for a colour-drunk outdoor painting "junkie"....comme "Moi"! Hope that "You" like the result...and that my experience and actions might encourage someone out there to: "Keep the Faith"!
At the end of the day.. "I" guess "I"... won after all!
Good painting to All!
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I arose at 5:15 this morning to a heavy white covering of what is a gardener's nightmare.... a "Killer Frost"! Puddles were frozen and in the inky morning sky a crescent moon hung dejected... pale, shivering and colourless. This... along with the snow flurries and ice pellet barrage over the past Thanksgiving Weekend will certainly hasten the early demise of our much anticipated Fall Festival of Colour.
It seems every year that I get bogged down in the middle of a major studio piece... or I face a deadline of some sort which superimposes an inner barrier or "block" that interferes with "getting out there" at this glorious... but very short period of perfect outdoor painting weather. I have sat in front of this canvas for the past week...desperately trying to get the "Flow" back so that I could put this in the "done" bin and ship it off to Nova Scotia for the exhibition there. Time is running out....decisions...decisions.
I think that I will end it today with a "flip of the coin"... a quick and simple act... if I see it through and commit to either the heads or tails decision with a firm plan of action. If Shakespeare had been a fine artist maybe this might have been his famous line:
"To paint...indoors...or not indoors. That is the question"!
Stay tuned for the outcome of... "the flip"...or should I say "flippant"!
Here's the second piece from the Algonquin Trip...a few "licks" here and there...some value adjustments...and signature!
Saturday, October 10, 2009
This is the Thanksgiving Weekend here in Canada...a time for family get togethers around a table...treks in the forests radiant in their Fall foliage of rich oranges,reds and golds. It is also a time to pause...remember and give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy in this wonderful country.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
As mentioned earlier the weather in the field proved to be uncooperative and intermittently unpleasant with gusting winds...rain and cold. During times such as these my strategies change...as do my expectations for finishing work as much as usual.
I try to work quickly to capture the essence of design in the subject first... and colour to a lesser degree.I am happy to come away with a well defined "map"on which to build detail and mood either at a time later in the day...or as it would happen this time...in my studio where I wasn't fighting the changing light and the elements.
In the "sketch" version of "The Watcher" you can readily see that I have roughed in the most dynamic lines and blocks of colour...but that the overall mood or feeling of the painting is dark and rather lifeless. Despite this obvious disadvantage.. I felt original excitement and was able to step into the piece again in the studio with the same energy and optimism as I had on location.
In the reworked version...you can see that I added brightness to the overall colour patterns and changed areas such as the sky and grassed areas to add sparkle and interest. I also dropped in areas of dark to add contrast to the new lights. I feel that the new painting...does in fact carry forward the strong elements from the earlier "rough" sketch. I am pleased with the overall success of both sessions. I think the success of this exercise speaks strongly to support the value of painting on location...even in inclement times. "Eighty percent of success is in just showing up"! (Woody Allen)
Autumn...for "Me"...has always served as a time for reflecting back...and ahead. The decrease in human activity on the back roads, lakes and rivers affords "Me" places to retreat to for spiritual renewal and inward thought. Some call this meditation...others contemplation...call it what you will. To "Me" it is simply a "zone" where the Self can be "One" with Creation.
The richly coloured backdrop of colour....the scent of the brisk morning air... laden with ripening frost-touched plants and the Silence create a Space not unlike the inner sanctum of any cathedral I have visited. To be "alone"... truly alone in this space is not melancholic...not despairing...but rather euphoric...uplifting for my Soul. I never fail to return renewed and enriched...positive about my own life and the blessings which are mine. In the "hurly-burly", competitive world we are forced to live in... we often forget our blessings...common everyday things such as the f-words.Words like freedom...family...friends and fortune (not to be confused with money).
My annual foray...or retreat into Algonquin Park is simply a pilgrimage for "Me" to be alone and to give thanks for these blessings from my Creator....who DOES liveth in these wild spaces. When I am there in this space with its creatures and cycles of life..."I" am simply "One". My painting takes "me" deeper and completely into this meditative state. Time and earthly care have no place or governance over my life here. Though the time is short for Autumn...my visit and at some point even my own "Being"...in the scheme of things..."I feel no evil"...and "it restoreth my soul". Just blurred mouthed words to many...but deeply felt and understood within "Me".
And on this our Thanksgiving weekend... "I" wish all my family,friends and visitors to this site... many Blessings... and a Happy Thanksgiving! Good painting!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
The Park was afire with colour...and besieged by busloads and carloads of camera-toting "leaf lookers" all along Highway 60 which runs west to east across the breadth of the Park.It can be annoying and distracting...even dangerous for the artist...if you paint within sight of the highway. I don't! Thirty years of dealing with this phenomenon has taught me to seek out "less obvious" and less travelled areas of the park to set up shop ...and to find the space and solitude I seek in going there.
The weather was intermittently cold and rainy over the four days we were there and yours truly had the chest cold he had just gotten rid of revisit with a vengeance on day two. I stayed with it...Cold FX...Buckley's Flu Combo and Vicks VapoRub added to my kit.I managed to complete a 16x20 inch sketch and another 2ox24 inch canvas....and gathered lots of reference material to carry me through the winter months in the studio. So a profitable and enjoyable foray...despite the weather and health hurdles.
We enjoyed an interesting encounter with a black bear on Opeongo Road who was busy stuffing his face and stomach in preparation for the long months of hibernation facing him and his kind. He seemed completely oblivious to our presence...and I felt honoured and privileged to share his space and to watch his behaviours. I learned a lot about him. I wondered if he learned anything about me...or if he even cares to wonder.He used his paws in such a human way ...stripping of berries in a way not dissimilar to my own way of picking blueberries.
I spent the day in the studio...under the lights in my cosy studio...reworking a sketch...while the wind and rain drummed on the windows. It felt good warm...with less cold...to be back home...and to have these "moments" to reshape and play with to my heart's contentment.The joy of painting outdoors...brought indoors to savour and reflect upon one more time!!
This short season of blazing colour will be short this year...so I'll be "out there" again tomorrow.Stay tuned!
Good painting to all!