Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Plein Air, actually outside

Deer Island Plein Air Sketch

Part of why I failed to make more significant progress on Slater's Mills, yesterday, is because I went with friends to paint at Deer Island, in the Merrimack River, between Newburyport and Amesbury. Knowing that there would be long grass along the shore, I chose to tint an 8" x 16" canvas a reasonably strong shade of burnt orange (Old Holland Transparent Red Oxide).

At the site, I spent about an hour on the grisaille. As you can see, when I wiped out several bits I got right back down to white canvas. Usually I would let the tint dry overnight, and then paint in the field on a dry canvas. But this time the spontaneous decision to go to Deer Island precluded that. We work with what we have, oui? 

Nonetheless, because I didn't want the still-wet orange color to mix with the other colors which I would subsequently use, I decided to stop at this stage, and to wait for the surface to dry before I really began to paint.

This morning, it was entirely dry and I could begin to get some real color onto the canvas in the studio. If you're wondering why I wrote that I chose the orange tint because of the long grass, have a look at the post a few days ago about sgraffito. I knew that I could get some of the texture of the grass, warmed as it was by the afternoon sun, by scratching through my top layers. The newly-revealed, thin orange lines would give the effect I wanted.

There's still some more to do in the studio, but this begins to tell the story of this section of the Merrimack on a lovely July afternoon.

Happy Painting!

Plein Air in the Studio

The Slater's Mills Story continues

Slater's Mills has had only a little work these last couple of days, as other work has intruded. The progress has not been startling. But, at least for me, at this stage of a painting the process slows down a bit. More time may be spent staring at this point, less time applying paint. This is when one insures, among other things, that everything is "happening on the same day."

Here's where we left it, on Sunday:

In the meantime there's been a bit of building, and some demolition, too. Everything has received a bit of paint, generally to give a bit more substance to the forms. I'm still deciding what will be where, and what color scheme I'd like to have.

Here's where it stands at the moment:

As you see, the clouds have moved off, and it's another remarkable day in the town that time forgot. Although this photo is a bit too yellow, you'll get the idea.

The town fathers and mothers of Slater's Mills have been working on bringing a bit of life to their once quite bustling burg. Plans are afoot to lease virtual studio space in some of the old mill buildings. It's not lost on the elders that artists have rejuvenated more than one sleepy town. In any event, since the space is only virtual, they're keeping the rents low: 25 cents per month, per studio. One doesn't actually get anything for those two-bits, except the satisfaction that one's helped out a hamlet in need.

When I was a very small child, I could send away for a deed to my very own one square foot of land in the Yukon. Although it cost a dime, and the postage was another 3 cents, the possibility of discovering gold on my holding made it obviously a wise investment.

Those of you with a similar head for business won't miss the possibilities in Slater's Mills.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Plein Air in the Studio

Grocery Landscape, Part II

Here's where we left the Landscape from the Cupboard yesterday. We've learned a bit more about the place. I decided this hamlet is called Slater's Mills, and was a bustling place in the late 19th century. Then the highway passed it by, and its railroad link was ended. Since then Slater's Mills has been a rather sleepy place.

Today was mostly spent reinforcing masses, adding some positive color, and generally fiddling with the far distance, and the right bank of the river.

There are all sorts of things that need to be attended to, but it's starting to settle down. Many of the marks are just holding the place for something yet to be decided. This photo is a bit wan, but nonetheless I need to make sure that the vibrancy of the original sketch isn't lost in the making of a painting. This will generally mean that I need to enrich some of the color----either directly, or with glazes. First, though, I need to make sure I like the shapes and forms, and that they're drawn correctly. 

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Plein Air in the Studio

A Landscape from the Cupboard

Today found the Friday morning Plein Air Class assembling at my studio. Rain and lightning were in the forecast.

It seemed a great opportunity, this day in July, to demonstrate a February technique. By this I mean the kind of exercise which can be a life-saver when you're tired of winter and you want to paint summer in all its glory.

Since most everyone knows by now how I feel about painting from photographs, let's suppose you also don't have a good drawing kicking around the studio.

What to do? Where's the inspiration going to come from? 

To me it seems pretty simple. When we were little children, we would find ourselves playing with whatever came readily to hand. I remember being on the kitchen floor, surrounded by pots and pans. And I would mix them all together, pretending they were
all manner of other things, a landscape for my play. Perhaps this pot was a firehouse, and that one over there was a train station. My imagination would fill in all the missing bits, and I was instantly transported into my created world.

We seem to lose this ability to easily substitute forms as we grow older. We become much more literal (and much less interesting). 

Why not see how much of that lost imagination we can recapture, for those sleety February days, or even for this rainy Friday in July?

We started with some reasonably random groceries from the kitchen cupboard: linguine, lasagna and rotelle, three tuna fish cans, an empty glass jar, a box of peppermint tea and two wire whisks. And this is what we made...

To me this became a group of building on a riverbank, with a narrow road crossing a bridge. On the left bank, a tree or two.

A bit more grisaille starts to mass out the various elements, and we begin to imagine a more complete scene.

And, since everyone wanted to see some color, I added a bit to be obliging. 

At the moment there are quite a number of items that aren't well drawn, even aside from all those parts where decisions have yet to be made. Who knows quite what the color will be in the end, or how the river will resolve itself in the distance. There's certainly much to be done, and I'll try to bring this further along, and to blog about it.

The important thing, though, is for us all to try to regain that wide-eyed wonder of childhood, when anything can be a station, or a zoo, or a bridge across a river.

So next time it rains, and you're stuck for an idea, have a go at the landscape in the the cupboard.  You'll be surprised at all the things that are in there.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Plein Air Sketch

Sgraffito, and Reflected Light

Here's an oil plein-air sketch from two weeks ago. Several friends and I had a rendezvous at the former home of Chauncey Ryder, in Wilton, New Hampshire. My first post, on 29 February this year, was a birthday salute to Chauncey, a long-time favorite artist. 

I posted the grisaille for this 8x12" canvas on Facebook at the time, but I've only now got around to working on the canvas in color.

Here's a detail, followed by the whole oil sketch. I've put in the detail as a reminder of the effects that you can get with sgraffito

In this case, the canvas had been toned with transparent red oxide (Old Holland). This yields an orange surface, often ideal for landscapes in sunlight. 

This time, however, I was interested in the reflected light, from the sunny lawn, that was bouncing up onto the shadowed front of the house. Each of the bottom edges of the clapboards received the thinnest sliver of warm light.

If you look carefully, you will see how a few scratches with the wrong-end of the brush have exposed bits of the orange under-color. Although no attempt has been made to put in all the clapboards, the general effect of bouncing light is nonetheless suggested.

The same technique can be valuable in shadow masses and among grasses in pastures and meadows. 

Try it!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

By the Sea, Part Three

Great Island Common, Part Three

Here's a not-so-far-from-done image of the Great Island Common painting, begun at the Friday class. It's 18x24".

Today I worked on the rocks.
I also worked on the sky and on the water. 
I guess that means I worked on everything..

 The image of the painting isn't a perfect photograph, but they never are. I still have to insure that the water on the horizon is level, at least approximately.

Here's a close-up of a portion of the sky, on the right-hand side----in case you wonder what it's like.

A new Friday class will begin on 17 August, and will continue on 24 and 31 August, 7 and 14 September, 5, 12, 19 and 26 October, and 2 November. As usual, the class will be from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Soon I'll have some information about it on the workshop blog. Sign-up will be first come, first served.

Also thinking of a February workshop in Savannah, to banish some of the winter blues. More on that, soon, on the workshop blog, too.

Comment below, please, if you'd like to be included in either opportunity.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

By the Sea, Part Two

Great Island Common, Part Two

Today found me in the studio, monkeying around with yesterday's plein air start from Great Island Common.

Although I liked the sense of sunlight, it wasn't quite the look I wanted. I was after a bit more reddish brown in the rocks, and a greater sense of a definite, late afternoon shadow on the lower part of the shore. The original shadow on the lower right was "bitty", made up of too many small changes in value. What was needed was to follow the old advice: 'make your shadows strong and unified.'

No photo of the whole painting tonight, but a couple of details from today's work----just to show the paint handling on the rocks.
Tomorrow night may bring a photo of the whole shebang.

For those of you who have never seen one of my paintings 'live', you'll see that I usually paint quite thinly. The canvas is Claessens No. 13, single-primed. This is a portrait linen, and quite smooth. Even still, the paint is thin enough to allow you to see the canvas weave.

Friday, July 20, 2012

By the Sea

Great Island Common, Newcastle, NH

The Friday Plein Air painting class met today at Great Island Common, in Newcastle, New Hampshire. This is a lovely park of thirty-two acres, along the sea, south of Portsmouth.

Below is today's demonstration, 18x24". There remains much to be done----not least getting the horizon to be level! I'll post what changes there are another time (if I make them, and if I remember).

The slivers along the horizon to the right are two of the Isles of Shoals.

All in all, a productive day, shared with friends, along the sea. What's not to like?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In the Field

Ninety-six in the Shade

I remembered a painting by Alma-Tadema the other day, which title accords very well with what I've tried to do with this oil sketch from last weekend. The canvas, 16x20, was begun as a demonstration for the monthly Saturday Plein Air Class.

The temperature and the humidity were ferocious, and Alma-Tadema's title "94 degrees in the Shade" (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), exactly expressed the spirit of this spot, almost incandescent with the heat.

In the initial phase, done on site, I just tried to get some of the larger forms in place. I find that an hour of demonstration, and then a subsequent half-hour, don't get me quite as far as I'd like on a 16x20" canvas. The good part is that a painting of this size is much easier to see and to follow for a group of eight to ten students.
For a larger group, such as the Vermont Workshop in June, I demonstrated on a 20x25 canvas. Here's the lay-in, with some color, at the end of Saturday's class.

I hadn't quite figured out how large I wanted the tree to be. In fact it was quite massive. But I was most concerned with two aspects. First, I wanted the painting to be later in the afternoon, really glowing. Second, I promised the students I'd work on the tree's foliage. I'd said that I wanted to have some leaves almost entering the viewer's space, and separated from the dark underside of the leaves on the far side of the tree. I wanted to suggest a deep upward space between the two groups of leaves. And, in a moment of weakness, I promised to show the result.

Ninety-six in the Shade, 2012
Not entirely sure what I'll do next to this painting. There's a lot of refinement needed."theRevenant", a follower of the blog, will no doubt insist I finish this one, too. We'll see.

But it may be too hot to handle. It certainly makes me want some ice water.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Landscape 911

Black & White

I've worked on Tuesday's painting, both yesterday and today. Last night I was going to post yesterday's results, but I couldn't get the photos I'd taken to even approximate what had taken place.

Tonight, I've had no more luck with the photos from this afternoon. So I give it to you in its current state, but in black and white. Pretend it's one of those art books that you order online. When it arrives, you realize that it's mostly not in color. At least this one didn't cost you anything.

As for the color, I'll post one if I ever get a good photo. But who knows if I'll finish the painting?  

Tomorrow we are painting outside with the Friday Plein Air class. We'll be at Appleton Farms, in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Those not from here can see the locale, and read about it, here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Landscape 911

Catching My Imagination

Unlike some folks, I often paint out of my head, deep in the comfort of my studio. Since I'll be teaching a class on Friday, en plein air, today I was able to hide out inside.

Thinking about what I'd paint, I looked through some starts, hoping to have one catch my imagination, just begging to be finished. I found a 24x30 that was a studio beginning, probably made last autumn. It was begun from my head, and after I'd established the sense of a place---water's edge, a group of plausible waterside buildings, something far out along the horizon, and a close up lane---I stopped. I don't now remember why I didn't carry on at the time, but something must have intervened. Here's the state I found it in today:

The canvas has a tint made from a very thin application of Blockx Capucine Yellow Light. Despite the name, it's a pinkish tint, which is strange since I'm sure it was named for the habits of Capuchin monks, which are certainly not yellow, more of a rusty brown. Go figure.

Anyway, I'd apparently done an under-drawing mostly in burnt umber, with a bit of ultramarine. I then seemed to have added some ultramarine in the water, still very thin, and a bit of Prussian green, again transparently, on the edge of the road and also near the buildings. To my way of thinking it was definitely now a place, but I didn't really have any idea what I wanted the painting to be about. My students hear me continually running on, always saying, "I see what it's a picture of, but what's it a picture about? How do you want me, the viewer, to engage with this place?" Now, of course, I was asking the question of myself. I needed to do something that would trigger my interest, something that would lead me to an idea that would catch my imagination. If I could do that, perhaps I might make a painting which would catch the imagination of others, too.

I knew that I couldn't manage this by simple, tentative, mark-making. Something bold needed to happen. It was time for a cheap brush and some Liquin, some ultramarine and some burnt umber.

I often find that a bit of wholesale brush-swinging can make me find a raison-d'etre where none seemed to be before. In this case, I dragged the dark color across the top of the picture, then brushed a lighter version of it across the lower portion of the sky. A darker value filled in the water and darkened the building and the near shore.

The result of all that value-changing was the left-over portion of the sky, in the middle, that became a definite bank of lighter clouds, tremulous against a somber sky. At this stage, I considered that I might make it stormy in the far distance, while having the road in sunshine (this is something I may still do---I'm keeping my options open!)

For now, though, I further darkened the road and its verges, added some more Prussian green to the roadside and to the land near the buildings. I darkened the buildings some, and wiped away a bit of the new sky, along the horizon, exposing a bit of the pink of the canvas. A dawn sky?

Your guess is definitely as good as mine about where this painting is headed, but I can begin to feel some poetry, some mystery----a hint that will encourage me to continue, with the hope of ultimately engaging you, too. 

If you want, I'll keep you posted on where this painting goes. Just let me know in the comments.