Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Speed Sketching

These are a recent few of the quick sketches I do while working out.  I set a goal to complete a portrait using the few minutes between sets with weight routines, and I try to limit the time spent at the easel, since it's really supposed to be a workout, not a painting session.  I lay in a few strokes, do a set, lay in a few more strokes...  It forces me to get away from drawing, beginning each portrait with a general shape of the head to get it on the page (all of these are done in a small sketchbook of watercolor paper that I have first gessoed).  It's easier when there are dark and light sides to the face, allowing for creation of volume and drama.

These aren't meant to be finished paintings by any means, and the only use I have for them will be to refer back to them in a year or two to see if I am making progress.

It amazes me how much variety there is in the human face, and how the slightest change in arrangement can make such a big change in resemblance.  Frizzy hair is hard!

It has not been easy to find solid blocks of time to paint lately, and so I have tried another approach on the painting below - working on a slightly larger scale (24" x 30") and adding a few strokes whenever I pass by.  Initially I did the underpainting in acrylic, just to get the darks and lights down quickly, and then I began building on that with oils.  It seemed to work out as well that way as any other, and I will probably try that again.  I learned that I was able to go back in and scrape out something I didn't like and paint over it, not something I normally try.  And adding passages over seven days or so allowed me to go over paint that had dried (Liquin was the medium once I switched to oils) and if I didn't like it, it wiped off easily.  This one is still not finished, but the bulk of it will remain.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Countless Springs

"The River lives by tributaries, but also by innumerable little careful springs."  William Stafford

At times it seems like progress comes quickly - floating down the river and passing a large tributary which changes the character of the water, muddies the color, adds to the volume and force of the current.  And then just as quickly it seems that the progress slips away or fades, and we are forced to rely on the "innumerable little careful springs".  I chip away at practice, searching for my process, and one of the practices I lean on is portraiture.  The above study is a smallish 8 x 8 in oil done with just vermillion, yellow ochre, white and black.  It was eye-opening for me to discover the range of color available from this limited palette, and the harmony of color was obvious.  I did several others using the same limitation, but the weakness seemed to be in the drawing, so I turned to charcoal for a little more practice there.  Abe Lincoln had such a distinctive face, especially ravaged after the years of civil war and the heavy burden that placed on his heart.  And yet as iconic as is his face, the least little discrepancy in placement of the features glares at me, reminding me that I have such a long road ahead, and giving me even greater respect for those artists who are able to so deftly capture likeness and soul.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Plein Air, When Possible

The weather has finally been cooperative and I have been outdoors to paint several times recently.  I took the dog for a walk at Mary S. Young Park the other day and noticed the wonderful light patterns in the forest, so I quickly returned home and got my painting gear and returned for a quiet session by myself in the deep shade.  My intention was something along the lines of a John Carlson scene with impressive trees, but that isn't what I ended up with.  I spent about an hour on this, and wasn't able to paint back into some areas because it kept swallowing my color, so I called it quits.  It isn't often that I am very happy with the results of a plein air session, but this time I was pleased with the mood created by the blues in the shaded undergrowth; it seemed to capture something of what I was feeling, and I don't know exactly how it came about, since in that deep shade is was difficult to see the true color I was mixing.  I was enamored with the brilliant yellow greens of the light coming through the leaves, and while that didn't show up on the canvas, the overall effect almost feels as if it had.  It was only after I returned home that I could really see what I had done, and I realized I had committed the fatal error of splitting the composition in half with that horizon line, but somehow it doesn't seen to adversely effect the painting.  It may be that the strong vertical lines of the trees suture the composition together.

I think I must have realized how often I paint water in my work, so these latest few lack entirely in a water element.  Here I was trying to capture the feeling of the lush ferns and hush of the forest, with a dog portrait thrown in for good measure (she was waiting patiently for me to continue on the trail as I snapped this photo).  I didn't spend much time on the dog, just a few dabs and strokes, but it doesn't seem like it will be impossible to come up with a fair resemblance if I sit down to do a true pet portrait of her (Greta).

This plein air from the latest outing of LOPAS wasn't very successful, but it did catch some of the softness of the meadow and surrounding greenery.  Perhaps I was too distracted by the conversation this time.  Burt regaled us with tales of his youth, and in the photo below, you can see Randall turning to me, saying with astonishment, "I feel like I haven't lived!"

Friday, June 2, 2017

Working in a Series

Across the Canal
16 x 20

Continuing to work on inspiration from Bryant Woods, I tried lightening up the mood, but I was less than thrilled with all the individual marks on this piece, and it probably would have been better to cover some areas with broad, quiet color.  I have never really worked in a series before, and I see the benefit of being able to try various means of recreating a mood.  It is all, in the end, just a big experiment.

This next piece, a small 7 x 7, is from a walk along the creek which is still high from recent flooding, leaving small trees surrounded by waters that are now clearing, providing endless and subtle variations in the greens and blues, and interesting reflections.

My larger plein air attempt at the marsh with the yellow irises was a bust, and I think the subject was just so fractured - the thousands of leaves of the water plants, darker green, but with thousands of bright bluish white reflections  -  and difficult to paint.  And the light was shifting quickly, my eyes not adapting well from shade to bright sunlight.  At the end, I tried a quick 5 x 7 to try to get the overall tone of the place to better help me understand what it needed, but I'm not rushing back over there to work on it again soon.  For one thing, the climb down the heavily overgrown steep hillside is treacherous with a backpack.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Dark Wood

A recent plein air outing provided inspiration for a new series of paintings in which I am attempting to use more darks than has been my habit.  The woods were dark, but maybe not as dark as it seems in these paintings.  I find that the light and color tend to show up more provocatively when they are adjacent to deep, rich darks.  It seemed easier to achieve this level of dark when starting on a board primed with transparent red oxide, and I also enjoy how the greens bounce more when bits of the red show through.

In this second piece, I used ultramarine blue in place of the Prussian blue used in the first one.  But I have never been happy with the greens I get using ultramarine, and I had to rely almost exclusively on veridian for anything that wasn't a dark.  The purplish tone of the ultramarine does add a nice warmth to the reflection of the sky in the water, though.

It is exciting to feel the need to push on when the ideas for new paintings pile up, when there just isn't enough time to get to them as fast as I would like; it certainly beats that listless feeling of browsing through old photos when nothing seems to spark an interest.  But these dark canal paintings will have to wait a bit now, because I am off to the other side of the lake where the yellow iris are in full bloom on the swamp, and I may have only another few days in which to try to capture something of their glory.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Getting Outside

11 x 14 oil on board

Now that Oregonians can safely venture out of their winter shelters, hope for occasional sun, and look through the drawers for the misplaced sunscreen, I find myself hankering to get outdoors more often and to paint outside, too.  The above is from a trip to Hood River, a family hike, and while I didn't have time to paint while I was there, I hurried home and went to work on a pseudo plein air, working with reference and memory to try to paint like I would have had I had my pack with me.  I have found that there is a big gap between the sort of work I do in the studio and what I do in plein air, and though all the reasons for the difference aren't clear, it may boil down to just needing more practice, getting past the clumsy stage of hesitation and lack of focus. 

Hood River From the East Hills
20 x 20 oil on canvas

It's hard not to envy those who live in Hood River for their close proximity to stunning beauty; the Columbia River Gorge lifts up my soul every time I drive through it, my eyes busy soaking it in, my mind trying to imagine ways to stop and find a motif.  This is definitely the year for me to get out there more often.  Our newly-forming plein air group (LOPAS?  Lake Oswego Plein Air Society?  We are working on a name, but belonging to a "Society" has a nice ring to it) may want to plan some day trips to the Gorge.

Below is a snapshot of Randall Tipton and Burt Jarvis painting along the banks of the Oswego canal in Bryant Woods yesterday.  This is a spot I'd like to have another go at.  And it's always fun to have such excellent company on these outdoors endeavors.

12 x 12 oil on board

The above was an experiment on my part to break free just a bit from my constraints and try something that is bold for me.  But it left me feeling underwhelmed.

I still can't let a week go by without returning to work on portraiture, and I still have thousands of heads to go before reaching the goal I set for myself.  Not being a full time artist, it seems harder to fit in all the studies and sketches and drawing practice and work on large pieces, all the valuable work that coagulates into progress over time.  Drawing, especially with charcoal, remains an interest.  As does working from life.  But without available models to sketch on the spur of the moment when I happen to find time, I turn to the mirror for my most willing subject.  This time, tiring of the poor lighting in my studio where I have tried setting up a mirror on my table, I instead moved up to a bathroom with good light, and set up my field tripod with the Joshua Been panel holder.  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Batting Practice

Pool in Oswego Creek 16x20

Sometimes when things just aren't flowing, you have to keep showing up for batting practice, keep the arms swinging, even through the misses.  I can feel discouraged when I can't achieve the same results I have recently painted, but I have to have faith that I haven't taken a hit to the head and forgotten everything I have learned; it's all in there somewhere, I just need to tap back into it.  Like the baseball player in my analogy, I have to step back into that batting cage and face the humiliation of the swing and the miss.  Not every step will be a step forward.  It should be, but it isn't.  In the above painting, I was drawn to the way the light brought out a different quality in the color of the water as the pool deepened, and as the sun reflected off that spot, but the painting reveals a disconnect between the colors that makes it feel disjointed.  Or maybe it's the composition that is too jumbled.  There is something to be explored in the dark warm greys of the stones, purplish against the greens.

I want to explore the nuance in the temperature of colors of the face, even while continuing to work on finding resemblance.  It is exasperating to get so close to laying in the various elements and still miss the essence of the individual, the soul that great portrait painters can capture, making their paintings even more alive and truthful that the living model themselves.  

On a side note, I am giving away a few of the bumper stickers I have ordered, below: