Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Progress

On the easel...

Here's a detail from a 48" x 72" painting which is now on the easel. Although it's early days,  it's beginning to have a personality.

The photo ain't swell, but you'll get the idea. 

It is always a challenge to switch back and forth
between working on a small canvas outside and on a large painting in the studio.

But it does help to keep one flexible. Perhaps it even builds character.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Plein Air Class

Friday Plein Air Class
24 August

Today the Friday class met at Greenwood Farm again, but with a very different prospect in view. We hiked further into the property, until we had a view of the Paine House, silhouetted against the Ipswich salt marshes.

It's a motif, though usually backed up by the ocean, that was used repeatedly by Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910), an American painter. Whittredge traveled a road leading from his early Hudson River School paintings to his later life interest in the French Barbizon painters. Initially he studied in Germany, so he came a very long way indeed.
Whittredge deserves to be better known. In addition to writing an engaging autobiography, he modeled for Emmanuel Leutze, standing in for The Father of Our Country in Leutze's giant canvas of Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Today the task was to paint a back-lit, hazy subject in a situation of strong glaring light. The trick seemed to be to paint the objects in a hazy way, while still having a few strong darks to reinforce the lights.

You can see that the canvas was primed a thin pink, actually a tint of Blockx Jaune Capucine Clair----which, despite its name, is definitely reddish.

This, of course, is just a beginning. Finishing a 16x20, on site, in direct light, is a bit more than I can manage. But also, to the horror of real plein-airistes, I think that most plein air paintings benefit from a time-out, in the studio. Usually I'm then able to re-organize my thoughts, and to refine things without battling changing light, etc.

My real goal is to make a good painting, one that is true to the spirit of the place. This rarely requires a whole catalogue of facts about the scene. Mostly it wants an eye sympathetic to the mystery and poetry of the site.

Should I do more, I expect I'll post it. At the moment, as those of you know who follow the blog, I have a huge backload of paintings begun in class. Perhaps they'll be fodder for good work when it's icy outside. In the meantime, I'm working on a 48"x72" canvas, most definitely NOT outside.

Oh, yeah...when I go back in to sort this out, I'll paint in the apple tree. Don't worry.

Paint well.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Really Dead Painting

The DPS in Spain

It seems, according to the BBC website, that The Dead Paintings Society, while on vacation in the US, is currently active in a church near Zaragoza, Spain.

It appears that an elderly parishioner, distressed about the condition of the painted fresco in her church, took matters into her own hands. The result is above.

Although, in the US version of The Dead Paintings Society, I often feel no compunction to stick with the original work, even I think this a bit too much of a departure. Apparently the woman, in her eighties, ultimately despaired of her effort and contacted a city councillor.

One hopes the painting can be properly restored. 


Friday, August 17, 2012

Plein Air Class

Friday Plein Air Class Demonstration

Here's an 18" x 24" demonstration from our Friday Plein Air Class. We met at Greenwood Farm, a property of The Trustees of Reservations, in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

It is a lovely spot, and I'm pleased to say that everyone came away with a nice start. As for me, this is as far as I got.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Surfing in the studio

Ah, the sea, the sea!

A week or so ago, I was invited to paint with friends at Bald Hill Cliff, Ogunquit, Maine. It's a site that well-known marine painters have visited for close to a century, featuring a sheer cliff, and waves crashing on ledges. A veritable cataclysm of elemental forces, very much a sea symphony.

I declined to go, though, despite the enticement of painting with my friends. For me, the
hullabaloo of the crashing surf is a little overwhelming. I texted one of the friends, saying that the "bang! crash! whoosh!" was decidedly not me.

Instead, I repaired alone to my recent haunt on Deer Island, posts of which you may have seen over the last ten days. No whoosh! Just the occasional annoying jet ski in a "no wake" zone.

Today, wanting to do something different, and being confined to the studio because of the weather---though, truth to tell, it was a welcome respite from all the sunshine we've been having----I decided to have a mini Dead Paintings Society on one of my own canvases. I had a painter friend also painting in my studio, and so I had company just in case I
wanted to shoot myself, or the canvas.

The dead painting was finished about two years ago, and it had a brief exposure at one of my galleries. Although I liked it quite well, it failed to find favor with the discerning public. Eventually, it was returned to me in disgrace. Here's what it looked like on its return:

About a year later----thus a year ago----I decided to lower the horizon, thereby eliminating all the buildings. I was still very fond of the sunken road, and didn't want to monkey with that. But what else to do? Nothing, in fact...until this morning. Here's where it was at 11:00 a.m., Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

Recently I was looking through a book about Frederick J. Waugh, an important, mid-20th century marine painter. Waugh was speaking of the need to understand the sea before one painted it. He remarked that he almost never, except for very small occasional studies, painted the sea en plein air.
I had an excuse! Waugh said I didn't have to deal with the Bang! Crash! Whoosh! He was giving me, and everyone else, permission to paint the sea in the studio! Yippee!
No wind, no glare, no angry seagulls! Instead we could have controlled light, coffee, couch...everything one needs. With Richard Rodgers's score to Victory at Sea on my CD player, I set to work.
After two long hours, this is where I stopped. The fact that I'd failed to heed Waugh's first dictum, that I needed "to know the sea", hadn't seemed so important until I found myself confronted with ten thousand metric tons of surging salt water, right there in my studio.

It was only then that I remembered that there's a reason I paint trees.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Plein Air Saturday

Saturday once-a-month class

Saturday was the August meeting of our monthly plein air class. We
painted at Deer Island, under skies that definitely improved during the day. We had been promised rain, and the possibility of thunderstorms, but all turned out much better than expected.

Here's a 16x30" demonstration from the class. I was speaking of many things, and what I said may have made more sense than the resulting oil sketch might imply.

Subsequently, in my studio, I did some reorganizing, and chose a warmer afternoon light. Whether the trees are golden red because of the afternoon light, or because it may be autumn, is anyone's guess.

I may not keep it in this color scheme, but I now believe in the place, and my job gets easier.

The orangey-red is a bit startling. We'll have to see what happens next.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Plein Air

Deer Island---Once More

Here's the fourth Deer Island plein-air start. This one is from last Wednesday, and is 18"x24". I'm not happy with the dead-center, implied path, as well as with some other things. I expect this painting will need a bit of re-engineering when it's dry enough to work over.

Tomorrow, the Friday Plein Air class assembles for its final session of the current series. We are promised rain, and possibly we shall have to escape our Deer Island bivouac for my Amesbury studio. If the weather turns out to be manageable, though, it would be fun to make a Deer Island painting all in grays.

Then Saturday morning will be time for the August meeting of the once-a-month plein air class. We'll try to stage it, too, at Deer Island. But the forecast for Saturday is yet more dire, and I expect that we'll have to beat a retreat to my studio.

I do hope, wherever you are, that you have better painting weather this weekend.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Plein Air

Another Visit to Deer Island

A visit to Deer Island, this afternoon, resulted in an oil sketch from the north side of the island, near where the refurbished bridge is located. Rather a challenge to deal with an 8" x 24" canvas outside----or anywhere.

Here's the result.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Plein Air Out and In

Deer Island, Redux

Last Friday was a hot day for the Plein Air Class. The temperature was in the mid-nineties, but it was the humidity that was crushing. Still, we're a hardy bunch and, although not everyone made it for the full four hours, a lot of good work was done on promising starts. I had announced that we would be at Deer Island, in the middle of the Merrimack River, between Newburyport and Amesbury, Massachusetts. I gave notice that I would be essaying a 16x30" canvas, and that I'd given the canvas a tone of transparent red oxide.

The spot I chose was where I'd been earlier in the week, painting with friends, and where I'd made the 8x16" oil sketch, below, demonstrating the use of sgraffito for grasses, which I wrote about in my last post. The proportions of the new canvas were roughly the same, but it was four times the size. I figured that I could work on one this large, out in the open, because I was already familiar with the motif.

This time making the grisaille, in the heat and the glare, was a bit of a challenge. The 8x16" sketch above was made slightly after mid-day, with the sun behind us. This time the sun was dead ahead, right in our eyes. Given the dark tint on the canvas, it was pretty well impossible to see what one was doing. But we soldier on! This is what the canvas looked like when I got it back to the studio:

I decided, this time, that I wanted a different color scheme and mood. I worked on it, most of Saturday, arriving at this stage:

This is when it gets really tough for me----and possibly for you, too. I'd left the security of the 'golden afternoon' image, without a clear idea where I wanted to be headed. I'd changed the whole sense of light and color, but wasn't really very happy where I'd landed. I particularly didn't like the growth in height of the near-most peninsula.

This is certainly deep-breath time. What may separate me from my students is that they often suppose, when they start to lose an image, that all is truly lost. I'm usually a bit more sanguine when dealing with my own paintings. In many ways it's very liberating to be able rethink a painting. After all, I can't hurt it any more than it's hurt already. 

So yesterday evening I pondered a bit about what I might do. The painting was safe in my studio, fifteen miles away and, anyway, I was only musing.  Then I remembered that I'd said to the Friday students that I might try to make a 'pearly' view, in the spirit of one of my first heroes, John F. Kensett (1816-1872).

But, of course, I can't paint like Kensett, making views of a crystalline clarity and shimmering atmosphere. He painted more carefully than I, and he was certainly more disciplined. But I can make a painting he would understand, even if it's something he couldn't condone.

The view in the painting looks roughly to the east, toward the Atlantic Ocean, maybe two miles away. I decided that a moonrise might be fun to try. I had the stage set already. There was still work to do reshaping the peninsulas, but generally everything was in place. Below is how far I got.

There's much work left to be done: subtle attention to reflections and to edges, work on the foreshore and more definition in the sky. But it's starting to have a personality. 
More when I've done more.