Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Five Below"

"Five Below" 10x20 acrylic
As much as everyone is sick of winter, I almost feel bad posting this latest painting... almost ;)
I'm always amazed at just how reflective snow is. In this scene, the snow really takes on the hues of the surrounding sky. When I shot the reference photos for this piece, it was one of those crazy cold evenings when the crisp dry air almost hurts to breathe. I had to keep my camera inside my parka so the batteries wouldn't croak!
And yes, there is a great-horned owl winging away from those round bales in the middleground.

Detail view

Friday, March 22, 2013

Importance of a Solid Underpainting

When young artists ask me for advice on painting, the first thing I always tell them is to practice drawing. The second is usually about the importance of patience and the understanding that good paintings take time. Like drawing, a good underpainting is another fundamental building block upon which everything else can be built. When I first started painting, I couldn't conceive any good reason to take the time to paint something only to paint over it again. It seemed redundant, but I was young and had little understanding of how paint works.
Of course it helps to know what you want to accomplish before ever putting down a single dob of paint.

90 minute acrylc underpainting
The small barn owl study featured here (6x8) is a terrific example using a thin underpainting to guide a piece in the desired direction. The purpose for this study is to accurately convey the essence of warm morning sun on the owl's back and head, while capturing the glow filtering through its wing. I want to have a few areas of radiance, especially around the head and upper edge of the wing. It helps to establish those warm tones now, rather than try to put them in later over a dark background. It's not impossible, but much easier to take care of it right at the get-go. This is also the perfect time to assess any drawing problems and correct them.
From here, the tones are close and the rough shapes seem to read pretty well. Now I can start refining with subsequent paint layers and much thicker paint.
Now all I have to do is finish it without screwing it up! Stay tuned.

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Rocky Basin Study"

"Rocky Basin Study" 5x10 acrylic
I don't often do such involved studies, but I wanted to work through some problem areas on this idea in a smaller scale before deciding whether or not to move to a larger panel. I'd originally planned to paint this scene in a 20x40 format. That's quite large for me. I'm glad I did the smaller study, though I'm not quite sure if I'll got quite that big on the final painting.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Summer Song"

"Summer Song" 14x11 acrylic
As you can see, the great blue heron in the original composition (see previous post) has given way to a pair of smaller birds (rose-breasted grosbeaks). I really wanted this painting to be about the sun-drenched rocks in the middleground... in particular, the warm reflected light on the shaded side of the biggest boulder. The heron seemed to be competing with that idea.
I also kicked around the idea of leaving out the large driftwood stump on the rocks to the right side of the painting. I love the warm hues reflected on the underside of the stump, but worried it wouldn't read well when painted. In the end, I think it worked out nicely and I'm happy I didn't edit it out.
Finally, I may add a unifying wash to the background to help pull that area together a bit, but I haven't made up my mind on that yet.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Visual Poetry

Since the last blog post struck a cord with so many readers, I've decided to continue in a related direction. I've included "in progress" photos to help explain the wandering path some paintings take on their way to completion.
In the previous post, I discussed someone at a show suggesting that my paintings were merely photos with paint smeared over them... an advanced version of "paint by numbers" if you will. The absurdity of that concept makes my head hurt. In the days following that rant, I've found that the practice is actually more common than one might think. Suddenly, I feel like my head is going to explode again!
White charcoal drawing over gray gesso
Yes, painting over a photo will certainly make someone's work "look like a photo," but if you lack the basics in drawing and visual problem solving, there will be no poetry in your work. If you possess these skills (see "Talent... or Skill?" Dec 8, 2011), there's no need to confine yourself to the shackles of strictly recreating a photo. That's not art. It's simply a monotonous exercise with no more challenge than a child's coloring book. Period!
Block-in stage
The actual process of making art is rarely straight forward. No matter how much planning I do (and I do a lot!), there are always unexpected problems that arise along the way. It's the unique solutions to these problems that breathe life into a painting. It's that part of the journey that makes me proud to be an artist and constantly keeps me on my toes.
Just for the sake of making a point, I've started off with a photo of my neutral gray gesso covered panel and the initial white charcoal drawing. The drawing is done with a modified grid transfer method.
Starting to refine shapes
The subsequent images show the painting in various stages of completion. I was pleased with the block-in of approximate tones and hues. It always helps when the early stages of a painting start to take on the intended feel. That keeps me excited and hungry to move forward.
As I start to refine the shapes, I also pay very close attention to contrast. The finished painting will have a relatively high level of contrast, though there will be almost nothing painted completely "black". I rarely use straight "out of the tube" black for anything. Most of the darks in my work are achieved by adjusting a base mixture of burnt umber, ultramarine blue, and a bit of crimson.
Time to rethink a few elements and continue to refine
The painting begins to come together using a method I call "focus squares" (see "The Process of Focus Squares" October 13, 2009). Again, I am happy with the progress, but I'm starting to find a few problem areas... the biggest being the blue heron. I originally planned to have the bird lit up with the warm morning sun against the darker hillside in the background. The more I thought about it, I began to feel the painting would be more interesting if the heron was pushed back into the shadows behind the sun-drenched boulders in the middleground. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.....