Friday, January 29, 2010

Canadian Gothic.....Finished

As this post title suggests... the painting is complete.After spending exactly nine full days of actual painting, "I" have said all that "I" need... or want to say! It has been a challenging project from start to finish... but VERY rewarding as well. "I" only hope now... that the clients share my optimism and my joy at having completed this commission.

The jpegs used in today's post visually summarize the working process and changes of thought and actions... from the "Idea" (derived from my own reference photo)... to a "sketch"(one of three ideas offered on an 8x10 inch panel)... to the finished commission (on a canvas with a 6:1 ratio with the "sketch").It is quite easy to see that things change as "I" feel my way through the problem-solving and that new and more exciting "Ideas" slide into place to make the project enjoyable... original... and my own!

The foreground treatment of the grasses and stones was slow moving at first... but "the Flow" carried "Me" through the difficulties and I feel that I added just enough detail to create interesting and supportive elements to draw the eye further into the painting.A little can say a lot... and vice verse... a lot can often say too little. You be the judge.

I will not carry forward with needless and too copious description... for "I" fear that might have already have occurred in the lengthy content of the other posts. I apologize if this was so for "You"... just an experiment... we'll see if it was too..."over-the-top'.

The title came to "Me" about mid way through the process... and does have some meaning for "Me" in the process... but again... "I" shall leave that to the viewer to think about... and respond to ... if you might care to. I must confess, however... from the onset that "I" have since childhood admired "American Gothic" by Grant Wood (1930), as have so many other artists and art admirers. I was able to "read" it... even at the tender age of ten years. No apologies offered for the "distant" reference however....especially after "Googling" and discovering many less subtle modern versions of Wood's iconic masterpiece. But "I" will leave "You" with this quote from a wonderful book that "I" currently... and gladly couched with ...during our -26C winter mornings and evenings.The title of this resource is "The Artist's Mentor"-Ian Jackman (Editor)... a MUST in my humble opinion for all artists and art lovers!

"Artists are influenced primarily by other artists, which means that standard art history can sound like a baseball broadcast of an infield play. Velazquez to Goya to Picasso."
-Arthur Lubow

Little wonder that Aldro Hibbard loved baseball so much! But that's another story!... Or is it?

Good painting to all!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Foreground Push - and - Pull

The "Art God" was listening!... Prayer is powerful!...So is Patience! I awoke yesterday... and went directly to the studio....heartened to find that all areas of the painting... including the sky completely dry.This meant that I could proceed with my plan to proceed without fear of the drying problem again... because I had purchased two 200ml tubes of titanium alkyd white to carry to the end of this particular project... and well beyond!

I decided to begin work by more clearly defining the shapes, values and textures of the foreground field stone fence line. In so doing... I would be better able to compare states of finish required to balance the whole composition... the colour harmony and the play of light upon the various areas of interest and need... from back to front in the picture plane.

I spent a significant amount of time "scumbling" and "glazing" colour into the surface of individual stones... reshaping... defining... shading and adding crevices to create a semi-finished look on which I could compare front... middle and background planes. Afterward... I marched across weed and plant structure along the length and directly behind this wall... in a loose and "painterly" fashion to create a bridge between the rock and the furrowed field advancing to the foreground. I then added light and colour shifts in the furrows right into the plant masses.

Later in the evening after supper, I returned and began the "push-and-pull" process which in my own words means to subtly adjust edges... values and to add small amounts of detail in areas that merit attention. This activity can be seen clearly in the changes in the barn... house and even in the upper reaches of the fiery autumn trees... where shadows have been added... brights heightened... and evergreens added to provided variety and interest for the eye.Note that the huge "hump" of treeline to the left of the barns has been eliminated... and replaced with a lower horizon. Red leaves have been added to the taller trees and shrubs to the left. It is clear and encouraging to me now... that my decisions regarding the radiating furrows and the enlargement of the barn complex were successful strategies taken... all the risking worth the sweat!

Stay tuned for the next post or two... when the conclusion of this commission will be reached. "I" hope that this exercise and insight into "how" commissions can be made exciting and successfully reached through careful planning and ....PATIENCE!

Good Painting to ALL!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Following the Flow....

"The Flow" is that intense state one attains when the artist and piece of art are "inter meshed"... and the artist really is unaware of the passage of time, surroundings or any other needs.It is a fairly pleasant state usually, despite the intensity of thoughts and actions and can last hours at a time for "Me".

Not surprisingly however, it often is disrupted prematurely... out of sheer necessity... by outside influences such as other family members, call to meals or in my case the actual preparation of meals-"I" am the cook of the household (by choice)... while my wife carries out cleaning duties. We both feel that this a fair arrangement... but we occasionally help the other with their "assignment/choice".

I try to prepare meals early in the day... just so I can sustain this productive period for a longer duration of time.I often return to the easel after evening meal, but find that even the smallest of time away from the work creates a "block"... and it is difficult to get the "feel of the paint" and the mood... from where I left off. We are indeed strange creatures of habit and ritual worship!

During this next session, I was able to rework the background areas to near completion... with some possible tonal adjustments and edge refining at the concluding session later. I then moved along the left hand fence line to define what was happening up to the foreground.

Finally... I decided that it was necessary for me to now direct my attention to the foreground rock fence... simply establishing individual rocks in very washy colour to at least offset the stark difference between the fore and middle ground areas.I then added a few foliage details be hing the rock mass to indicate possible directions across the entire rock mass.

I discovered... to my chagrin.. that the upper left sky area is not drying as quickly as usual. I used an older half tube of "Soft Mixing Formula" titanium white because I ran out of my usual fast-drying alkyd white. All of the linseed oil has leached into the mouth of the tube. Besides causing a mess to clean up on my palette... it has provided a runnier, much oilier and much slower drying version of the usual pigment.

I decided to not push forward using this problem-causing white. I added some gel medium to the white and simply created a "grisaille" rendering of each rock... hoping that it will dry up overnight.

I have to wait it out... or scrape and start over. Liking the existing sky... I have elected to raise the heat in the studio.. and patiently wait overnight and see what the morning brings. Be back to you... hoefully tomorrow... when the paint's dry!!!

Good painting!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Stepping up... Phase Two...Palette time....

Yesterday's post dealt entirely with getting the preliminary commission details dealt with... and off the radar screen. Sometimes we let the "outside" parts of life override the "inner" Creative Spirit to make us unhappy...unmotivated... even paralyzed and afraid to begin. This happens with seasoned artists as well... simply because exhibiting or displaying our art is an act of personal expression. That makes the task risky to the ego... and often we please others to "blend in" and find acceptance. Acceptance is certainly necessary in the artistic process... BUT... NOT at the cost of self determination of our ideals,personal judgement and artistic goals. Finding a good balance for both is absolutely necessary... and a life time pursuit!

I used my usual "split" palette consisting to a warm and red of each of the three primaries and titanium alkyd white( a fast drier). This was augmented with burnt umber, sap green and jaune brillant... a Winsor&Newton flesh tone pigment for "punch" in my brighter colours .I as well use Winsor& Newton Gel medium to hasten drying times as well. So far, I have used three flat bristle brushes... one inch,half and one quarter.

I began with the sky area, working down into the tree line and then added the barn forms... all broadly treated. Hence... the darkest dark and the lightest light. The rest will be mostly in mid values and tones. The central image is in place... the design has been struck. Even at this early stage without the support of all of the detail that will be added... one can see that the piece is working. From here... I try to work "evenly" about the whole surface... intentionally not spending a lot of time and effort in a single place. This helps to maintain tonal control and colour harmony throughout the process.

I decided from the beginning to push the barns forward... making them most prominent. I did so after evaluating the effect in the sketch where they were more distant. It worked fine there... but the final piece was to be located in the upper reaches of a wall with a 24 foot wall-to-ceiling reach. Imagine how puny those barns would appear from that height above you!

I also dropped the treeline down so that it cut into the barn roof for compositional effect. I reduced the overall height of the background trees... thereby adding more weight and volume to the central barn image. The pasture in the sketch stretched flatly across the picture plane. By adding the swooping plowed furrows radiating into the foreground... and plunging them down below the stone wall, I think adds real drama and stronger viewer interest. It now has an organic quality... no longer lying statically in the middle ground. This area is now a powerful and active agent in the overall composition.

The last jpej today will allow you to have some idea of the overall scale that I am working with!Daunting?....For sure!...But, ohhhh... so pleasurable to make those broad and unbridled strokes! Tune in tomorrow for the next session!

Good painting to all!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Steppin up.....

This week has been devoted to completing a rather large and daunting commission. It is daunting... not only because of its shear size... but also because the commission involves satisfying two clients... the interior design firm owner who hired me... but as well his clients as well. These two people have very specific tastes... but unfortunately, for "Me" (in the initial stages) the wife and husband each wanted a very different and separate focus for the subject matter of the painting.

So I agreed to create three 8x10 inch oil studies to guide their selection process. Two were immediately set to the side... and the third required some small changes in form and colour which I did and had it back to them for their approval within three days. That was before Christmas, so it didn't bother me that it was on hold. But by the end of the first week in January, I hadn't heard back, so I called the designer only to discover that they were still "skittish"...and a bit uncertain about the third design.In the face of this, the designer gave me the "go ahead" to start the large canvas, saying that he would have it if they had any trouble with the final product. We have worked together successfully through a gallery that used to represent me... so we are "on the same page" and both trusts the other.

I began the project in earnest a week ago today, by toning the entire canvas with my usual burnt sienna acrylic wash... applied randomly over the entire surface. I let that dry overnight and then transferred the design from the 8x10 inch sketch using waxed cord pressed against the sketch in a grid pattern that divides the length and width into thirds. I then divided the 48x60 inch canvas using the same grid arrangement. NOTE: the proportion of the sketch to canvas is in a 6:1 ratio-not just by chance!

The next step in the process was to then place the larger design on the larger canvas using the sketch markings to help "map" or transfer the design. Using willow charcoal is such a freeing strategy, first because of the manner in which it flows and encourages good free drawing on the canvas surface... but more importantly... because any "wrong turns" can be immediately removed.... or adjusted.

I decided at this stage to bring forward the barn complex closer to the foreground to help emphasize them more. I also adjusted the house significantly and changed its type and its elevation. It was at this very moment that I realized that for this commission to succeed... if only for "Me"... "I" had to take charge and create it ... AS "I" WISHED!

It has run this way since that moment... and "I" am VERY happy with the outcome to this point in the painting process. I have reached the complete lay in stage by the end of today's session in the studio. Now the fun begins!

"I" will post the first jpegs to describe the atransfer and drawing process up to this point! Stay tuned over the next few days... to see the final outcome. Wish "Me" luck!

Good painting to all!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January Thaw...

Winter reluctantly relinquished his icy hold on the Oro-Medonte region... the temperatures have risen substantially.... the deep snow has been consumed by the voracious longer visiting Sun... to the point that the skiers and snow sledders are in mourning because of the snow's sudden disappearance.

This is not, however... "due to global warming". It is rather the annual period we refer to as the "January Thaw".It is an annual experience and period of respite that we who are forced to remain and complain in... or who like "Me"... choose to revel in.. accept as a part of living with our Canadian winter.

I always look forward to this brief "window of opportunity" and head "out there" as many days as I am able... to paint on location. On Monday, I did exactly that. I decided that I would spend the day out at another sugar bush... this one on the 10Th Line much harder to get at than the last one.

I learned from the last near debacle... packed even more lightly... AND... repaired the harnesses for my snowshoes.What a bonus that decision turned out to be!The pathway along and through the maple forest stand was in places over three feet in depth. My trusty two foot bear paw snowshoes allowed me easy access through the maze of small brush and saplings to the intended painting site on the ridge at the edge of the bush.

It was mild... no wind... no glare off the snow. Just perfect conditions for a two hour painting session. I used a snowshoe to scoop out a pathway in the knee-deep snow from my easel back ten paces( to allow me to travel back and forth as I do with regularity during the painting process).I set up the 20x24 inch canvas on the easel... stuck the four bristle brushes in the snow... ferrules up...poured out a bit of turps... and lit into the painting...full tilt!

Because it was grey and overcast... I had intentionally decided not to use an already toned panel... usually a burnt sienna base. For this occasion, I decided to employ a wash of ultramarine and alizarin crimson... bleeding it indiscriminately over the entire canvas... letting it drip where it wanted... then removing what I considered "undesirable" with a shop towel... to lessen the strength of the wash wherever I didn't want it.I added a few pertinent guidelines with the same mixture... then started to "scrub in" blocks of darks to develop composition possibilities.

With the complete silence and unrestricted space around "Me" did not take very lone to get into "The Flow".... lost within my Self... unaware of anything really... just "Me" and my Sugar Bush Friend! The painting fairly "painted itself"- a term "I" use to describe those magical days when everything goes well... and suddenly- there's just nothing else to say... or do.

I packed up my gear... slipped my boots into the harnesses... picked up my gear and canvas and made my way back to the car awaiting my return along side the road a few kilometres away.This was so much easier than the last unnecessary and punishing trek... a lesson well learned!

I placed the painting into a frame right away... put it up on my easel... intending to look it over... with the idea of adding a few necessary..."pushes n' pulls" most often necessary after you return to the studio... and are away from the subject. In my own mind however... "I" could see no need, or value whatsoever to adding anything. "I" truly felt that "I" had said all that "I" had in tended to say... and more!

What do "You" think? I'd truly be interested in your critical opinion!

Good Painting to All!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

And miles to go... before I sleep.

Robert Frost's wonderfully lyrical and homespun poetry based upon everyday rural human experience has always attracted my attention... clear back to grade eight when "I" was introduced to "The Road Not Taken" ... which remains today my most favourite poem.

I have a book of his Complete Works... that is never far from my bedside. I always find that reading one or two of his works at bedtime is both relaxing,sleep-encouraging and motivate "Me" to think about new painting subjects. It works for "Me"!

Along with the likes of "Upon Stopping by the Woods One Snowy Evening" and his larger masterpiece "The Hired Hand"... Frost's poetic imagery travels beyond the printed word and presents the reader with strong visual and emotional landscapes which "The Common Man" can identify with.

There is never a painting foray when "I" don't encounter something in the landscape that triggers a memory of a line... or of an entire poem. From a stone fence that needs mending... to a simple pasture... to a woodpile waiting to be carried indoors... Frost's verse records these simple blessings... of a simpler time and place... and passes them forward.

They still exist... to be rediscovered as many of us do... on our painting journeys and we record them faithfully in pigment. "We" are the minstrels of our Time. What we "see" and "feel" in recording barns, mills,sountry stores, sugar shanties, farmhouses and even the open landscape will not exist by the end of our own lifetimes. Most are, or will be swept away by the urban sprawl of developers who place no value on heritage or solitude.

Frost's body of work has had a huge impact in creating my own respect for "The Land", farming and farmers and for recognizing and enjoying the very simple blessings that can be found everywhere you care to look."I" challenge "You" to paint with these ideas in mind. Your painting "Voice" is important as a conduit to the future. Paint what "You" love... with commitment and pride. Don't worry about what others might think!Paint to enrich and please your Self!

"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged at a yellow wood, and I-
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference".
-Robert Frost
The Road Not Taken

And for "Me"... it has made all the difference.
I am truly blessed!

"Don't blame life.
Blame the way you choose to live it!

Good Painting to All!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bringing in the New.......

"I" couldn't wait for the blowing snow to come to an end,to get "out there"... paint box and canvas in hand for a few hours alone in the outdoors. I had already chosen "the place" that would be the starting place for my 2010 painting year. It was a spot well in from the highway... a sugar shanty nestled at the edge of a maple and hardwood forest... and out of the reach of the frigid prevailing nor'wester that was numbing and relentless in the open areas of the Oro-Medonte.

I knew that it would be a bit of a taxing trek to follow the deeply covered and unplowed Line Road that would lead "Me" to the trail into the site. I have snowshoes... but I have not as yet replaced the ragged and stretched rubber bindings.Knowing that the half mile trek would be tiring and use up much needed energy for painting... I put out my pigment on my palette... left out the heavy tubes.. except for additional "soft mix" titanium white. I took along only three flats and a rigger... and a small container of turps on my box. All that "I" would carry in was the paint box, lightweight Test Rite fold up aluminum,a 16x20 inch linen canvas and my trusty can of kerosene to clean my dirty brushes.

The weather cleared and I headed off... just after 1:00 pm, time to get in and set up as the afternoon shadows started to pattern the landscape. The snow was about mid-calf depth on the road... but jumped to knee level as I moved into the open meadow leading to the shanty. A surprise awaited me as I crested the knoll! My "spot"... or previous vantage point... a clear three quarter side view of the shanty was now permanently occupied by an interloper... a (too) large red garage structure that looked so out of place in this wooded site.

A bit disheartened by the "intruder"... but determined not to be defeated by this annoyance... I backed up and found a more distant, but similar view that I had hoped for. This would have to suffice! I set up quickly and confidently... as I have literally many hundreds of times before... looked over the composition for a minute or so... and started into the drawing part.

Another glitch! I could not get my right hand steady enough to draw a line. It just shook uncontrollably... leaving squiggly "glyphs" instead of line. To be truthful, I was at first quite concerned since I was not at all cold at this point... which can produce similar problems outdoors. I persevered, hoping that it would go away... but for at least the first half hour,I was really not progressing in a normal way. "I" decided to put brushes down and take a bit of a stroll... I often do so during the course of a session outdoors to get away from the painting. When I returned about ten minutes later... my right hand was again doing what it was told. While painting,I realized that I had carried in the brunt of the carry-in load in my right hand - a mistake that I wouldn't repeat in the future!

The afternoon was beautiful... bits of broken sun sky and lovely deep blue shadows... and a "hush"... that melts away any worry from the Soul! After almost two hours of steady work.. it began to snow lightly, but from experience... enough to fill the palette and turn pigment to unruly and useless oatmeal. I packed up my gear quickly and began what I knew would be a more challenging return back to the car on the distant highway.

In my exuberance to get "out there", I had forgotten the cardinal rule for outdoor painting:

NEVER leave your return until you have started to feel the crippling effects of lengthy exposure to the cold!!! Leave well before you get that feeling... especially if you are deep into the woods off the road.

Lucky for me, that a fresh snowmobile track ran the length of the Line road... it hastened what would have been a much more lengthy,arduous and energy-draining return.The cold car was a welcome sanctuary from the wind and the trip home was only about ten minutes. I quickly dropped all of my gear in the studio... placed the canvas on the easel ... headed upstairs to our apartment and immediately started filling the tub with hot water. I stripped off my layers of clothing and thermals... picked up my drink of choice ( a non-alcoholic dark beer) from the fridge and headed for the "spa"!

There is no greater reward... or treat for "Me"...after a day of outdoor painting than this warming up ritual! It immediately restores core body temperature and re-energizes a tired body and Soul.Any earlier thoughts that "You" are daft to carry out this torture... dissolves... and the deep satisfaction for having met the challenge replaces the cold feeling!

Outdoor painting in cold weather is not for everyone... nor does it set "Me" aside as someone special in any way."I" just have a passion for being out there.One must prepare and be prepared for some discomfort. One must have the proper clothing and equipment to work safely and successfully. But for "ME"... there is no greater pleasure than to head out to the sanctity and the quiet of the outdoors!

" restoreth my Soul"!

Good painting to all!