Friday, September 15, 2017

The Tualatin River

Our plein air outing on the Tualatin this morning was pleasant and beautiful, but I just didn't feel I had it in me today, and so I am posting a painting I did this past week from the same spot.  Even this one feels like the start of something as yet unfinished, but I am not inclined to linger on it, since I have other things to get to.

This notebook sketch of Ezra Pound was interesting to me because of the tipped back angle of his head, and the almost haughty look it gave him.  He was an interesting figure in American poetry; some great poets who followed him felt he introduced the modernity that was to follow, but his reputation was marred by his adherence to Fascism leading up to World War II.

And this above is one of my work-out sketches, dashed off in brief moments between sets of lifting weights.  It is small (5x7) done with a largish brush, but I was satisfied that it captured a bit of character.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Beauty on the River

Friday is always plein air day, and today Randall and I were the only ones to show up, so we selected this spot with a small roof over our heads overlooking the Tualatin River at Field's Bridge Park in West Linn. What a gorgeous spot!  It is baffling that I had never been down to the river at this particular spot, especially given that I had lived for seven years just a half mile upstream.  Granted, this park has been developed since I moved from there ten years ago, but still....  This place is a plein air painter's dream.  There are so many different motifs, and plenty of light and relative privacy.  Below is the painting from today, sitting on this overlook.  I wished it could have been developed further, but frankly I was so pleased with just sitting there and soaking in the beauty, the color of the water, and the good conversation, that I didn't worry too much about the painting.  We will be back, certainly.

And from last week, another plein air piece of a lawn and cottonwoods.  I didn't think much of this one when I finished it on site, but when I got home, it grew on me a little and despite the glaring flaws that I won't go back and change, I am happy with the overall feeling of it as a painting.  It is simple, but it conveys a bit of what I felt there, and it deserves to be developed in another painting, using this as reference.

And finally, another art blog to share:  Terry Miura writes a wonderful and informative blog that has been a real help to me in learning things I might not otherwise consider.  He paints landscape, cityscape and figurative pieces with a fresh looseness that is instructive to tight beginning painters like me.  He is generous with his expertise and takes time to explain the intricacies of his process.  I have long hoped that he will one day take the time to compile his past posts into a book, and I think it would be a successful one if he ever did, but I understand how time consuming that would be and it would take away from his painting time, so for now I just go back through his blog to explore ideas that are helpful to me.  Below is a sample of his landscape work.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Art Blogs Two

For whatever reason, I have been unable to convince myself to pick up a brush for the past couple of weeks.  I set aside time, I think about it, and then I find excuses for not doing it.  This hasn't been a problem for me, strangely, and I know it is a danger for a self-motivated person in pursuit of an artistic goal, but now I find myself in these familiar doldrums.  I tell myself that it is because the past month has been filled with emotional challenges on so many fronts, (and I am glad that August is behind me) and that might be all there is to it, really.  But a part of me fears that if I lose some of the drive that has kept me going in the difficult learning stage of painting, how will I manage to face the inevitable discouragement and failure?  So I fret, and ignore, and wait for another day.

In order to force myself back into the routine, I started a portrait, below, and working with only white, black, yellow ochre and vermillion, I got a reasonable likeness, but not a finished piece.  I stopped to let the paint dry enough not to lift color back out as I was trying to add glazing over it, but when I came back to it.....  Let's just say her expression of unhappiness compares to my own feelings lately.

One thing I have no trouble doing is joining in on our Friday morning plein air outings; the camaraderie alone is worth the time, and I find I can paint easily enough because I'm not after a finished painting, just the effort of observation and attempt.  It seems like it has to be good for one's mental health, at the very least.  In the photo below Randall and Jean paint the gardens at Luscher Farms last week.

But this post is about Art blogs, so I will mention another of my favorites.  James Gurney is well known in artistic circles, and he may be the hardest working of anyone I am aware of in the field.  He writes helpful and friendly posts nearly every day, he has a large following, he writes books on painting, he illustrates for scientific magazines (dinosaurs) and he creates videos of his painting process.  He paints on location often and fills notebook after notebook with watercolor, gouache and casein.  I check in on Gurney Journey nearly every day, and I am never disappointed with the offerings I find there.

Another art blog that I follow frequently is Painter's Process by Randall Tipton.  He is the fellow in the cap in the photo above.  I first came across his beautiful work years ago, and I remember feeling awe and mystery.  I tried imagining who this man might be, but his work was so unlike that of other painters, so hauntingly beautiful and true, exotic and mysterious.  I was just starting out on my journey into painting and I couldn't imagine ever being able to paint like that.  But I noticed an announcement on his blog that he was having an open studio one fall, I stopped by, and Randall was friendly and welcoming and gracious and we have become friends.  I've watched him paint on numerous occasions, and I still can't imagine being able to paint like him, because it is still a mystery to me how he arrives at his finished piece.  

A third art blog I follow is Art and Artists, by Poul Webb.  Nothing like the other two, this is a compendium of work of various artists.  Poul selects an artist who interests him and then posts painting after painting, giving you an in depth visit to the body of work.  It is a way to see painters I have never heard of before, but it is also a way to see work by famous artists whose work I thought I knew well.  The past postings are a good resource for study.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Art Blogs

Top of Phantom Bluff

Though the purpose of this blog, for me, has been to force myself to keep painting in order to have new work to post, and as a way for me to plot my progress as I try to learn how to paint, I realize that there may be other things I can do here that might be of value to the few readers who return to follow my musings.  I in no way would want to presume to teach, since I am still such a student myself with so much to learn, but that doesn't preclude sharing.  I have made it a practice to follow a number of art blogs each day, gleaning bits of information or inspiration from them.  I also watch an inordinate number of Youtube videos showing technique or the collected paintings of great painters, or the advice and tips from other painters working to improve their own art.  Why, then, not share some of my favorites here?

One blog that I can recommend without hesitation is Stapleton Kearns.  He really seems to be done with blogging, having posted only ten times in the past four years, and I don't go to him daily to check up on what he has recently added.  Instead, I treat the collection of his posts as if it were a massive reference on learning how to paint well, which it is.  He has posted nearly 1,000 posts, and each one is thoughtful and full of intention, sharing what he learned as a painter taught in the atelier system that was the classic means of instruction in the past, but has fallen from favor in the past century.  He is earnest and dedicated in his sharing, posting nearly every day even while he was working to make a living from his painting, and he acquired quite a following because of the value he offered to the world of art.  His own painting is representational landscape, though I'm sure he learned figure painting and still life as a part of his instruction.  His wicked sense of humor makes reading him even more enjoyable.  He frequently presents paintings by others and then offers a critique, helping us all to understand what makes a strong design, what makes a good painting.  He also covers the work of many great painters of the past, sharing some of their better work, commenting on their technique or on their strengths.  Below is one of Stapleton Kearns' paintings, to give you an idea of his style:

And below is a brief selection from one of his posts.  I hope I am not stepping on any publishing taboos by sharing this here; I certainly don't intend to offer this as my own work, nor am I being financially rewarded in any way for sharing it.  My only intention is to get you to go dive into the vast wealth of information that is Stapleton Kearns:

I referred to the "big look of nature" the other night, and I want to add a little to that . It is a crucial concept and is so important that I want to be certain that I have explained it completely. If you already have it, forgive me, this will be a review.

There are two ways of seeing any scene before you. One is the "big look" and the other is piecemeal. The big look, is when the eye apprehends all of the scene before you in it's unity and entirety and it is thus expressed. "Piecemeal" (now there is an old fashioned expression, I wonder if it is still in use?) is when the artists represents each section of the scene as it looks when it is studied on its own with no reference to the larger view. A piecemeal painting is actually a number of small paintings on the same canvas.

The most important quality that a painting can have, (or any other kind of art for that matter, including a song, a design for a chair, or a Greek vase) is

Unity of effect is when the painting is perceived as a whole, one unit. Failure to get the "big look" is such a problem because it destroys unity of effect. Sometimes a painting is said to "hang together" when it has unity of effect. This can be observed at a considerable distance. I can often tell whether a painting is professional or not from across the street, sometimes even before I can make out its subject.

One of the reasons fine painters often downplay detail is to keep the unity of effect, detail scattered all over painting can do that. A painting can be filled with detail and still have unity of effect, but that detail has to be part of the larger unified system and keep it's proper place in the tableau.
Art students like to make sketches and rough unfinished work because the unity of effect is intact, no area has been worked up very much, so no two areas fight with one another for our attention. Unity of effect is easier to get in a quick study and hard to keep in a protracted one.

So if you are working to learn as much as you can on your own, or even if you are taking classes and workshops or are enrolled in an art school, it won't hurt to take a look at Stapleton.  The nature of blogs is that they are backwards, that the most recent is at the top, and I have found it more useful in this case to go back to the beginning and try to work my way forward.  The volume of the posts is probably equivalent to a huge tome, something over 2,000 pages in length, so it will take some time to work through it.  I have been going back to it for several years and still haven't read it all, since I try to save it on a tab on my browser, but eventually the computer is shut down for some reason and I have to try to go back and find where I left off.

And now back to my own work:  LOPAS, our plein air society, continues to meet every Friday, and though I don't get from my efforts any work to hang, I do gain a bit of confidence and comfort, and I am working toward being able to more accurately put down what I see or what I intend.  Below is last Friday's result.

I tend not to continue on these once I am back in the studio, even if there are glaring flaws, since the purpose isn't the painting, but the experience.

And below is another portrait I started, but it needs so much help at this point.  I will probably still try to make a few corrections (the eye on the right - his left - is TOO SMALL!) and everything about it is too rough to be considered complete.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Painting in the Heat

The Pool in August

The heat of summer has changed the landscape, dropping water levels, bleaching stone and sharpening the colors.  I find it hard to do more than work on short studies; Time seems to be whispering in my ear too often for me to spend hours toiling on any one thing.  

Where I Walk the Dog

Sometimes as I begin a piece and get the lights and darks blocked in, I have a feeling that it might turn out well, that I'll be able to nail it this time.  But as I sling paint and do the hard work required to bring it to a finish, I discover my skills didn't play out exactly as I had hoped, and the thing looks a little cartoonish, or unfinished or just plain disappointing.  Like old age, painting ain't for sissies, so I pick myself back up and start something new.

More often than not, I change gears and try quick sketches to loosen up and hone skills.  I pull up old photos on the laptop and pick a few faces.  Below are a few done in one sitting.  A couple of them took only ten or fifteen minutes each, and though they aren't finished paintings, I recognize my friends in them. I doubt they'd be flattered by the portrait, but that wasn't the point of the exercise.  Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do to keep working at it.  Maybe the glory and success comes later.

Nature, though, is the real artist, and the wonderful thing about painting is all the time spent admiring what Nature has accomplished.  If painting does anything, it causes one to see with eyes more open to the nuances surrounding us.  It is a bit tedious at times to translate everything taken in through the eyes into paint colors, and sometimes I find I'm not listening to someone talk, but instead I'm evalauating the color on their brow, noticing the spread of their eyes or the hook of their nose; it's like living in a Kurasawa film sometimes.  But I find it so rewarding that I don't mind at all that my inner life flies along on a trajectory I would not have imagined a few years ago.  

And finally, just for the heck of it, a photo of an artichoke I had recently: I've never seen one with such a coppery color inside.  Or maybe I'm just hallucinating now with painter's eyes.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Feeling Blue

Feeling Blue 12x16 oil on panel

I had a few hours with everyone else gone, the house quiet, and I had no landscape pushing to come out of me, so I turned to practice on portraiture.  For some reason I decided to begin with a panel I had prepped using Ultramarine blue; it was so colorful and pure and deep.  I decided to try this using a limited palette of yellow ochre, Napthol red, black and white, but then I realized I had no black and used Ultramarine blue and burnt umber to make my own black.  And I found that by wiping back a bit in some areas of the skin, it helped begin to develop those areas that were cooler, from blood just beneath the skin or shadow, I'm not sure, but it leant a sense of fragility which went with the mood.  I wonder sometimes why I want to paint something like this - it's not likely I want to hang this on my wall for decoration.  But the practice and what I can gain from the exercise in understanding seems worth the time invested.

On the other hand, time spent outdoors painting with LOPAS, our local plein air society, seems worth it even when the results fall short of a completed painting.  The comradry, the fresh air and sunshine, the smells of summer and the sounds of Nature - what could be more uplifting?  This past Friday I was pressed for time and left after only an hour, but there is something about the color of the house with the color of the lawn that keeps drawing my eye back to this sketch, even though I haven't convinced myself it would be worthy of developing into a larger, more complete painting.  Sometimes I can capture some essence that inspires me to a better painting and sometimes it just seems like more of a curiosity, like a lightening bug in a bottle.

And then one last sketch of a bluff on the Columbia River Gorge that I'd like to visit and spend time painting:

Friday, July 21, 2017

Not Every Swing is a Hit

When I don't have luck in landscape, I can still turn to portrait practice and feel like my time isn't a total loss.  Every head done is one baby step forward (though some seem like a slip back).  The above painting is done from a photo of Ian McKellen, the British actor (Lord of the Rings, X Men, etc.) who has a very expressive face and eyes.  I didn't spend any time on the clothing here, since I was just pushing for a resemblance.  Sometimes I begin with a sketch on the board, sometimes I just begin painting the large value shapes; sometimes I measure for accurate placement of major features and sometimes I just wing it.  But I am finding that no matter which approach I use, it takes about the same amount of time to arrive at the destination.  When I wing it, I will occassionally check back to measure and see how close I came to the reference, and it surprises me how very accurate my guesses have become.  I guess the number of heads behind me has done something after all!  

This one is less successful, and I probably spent less time on it because it didn't seem to have great promise once it was blocked in.  There might be something there if I continue with it, add some glazing, change some temperature here and there.  But it still counts as a head, a baby step, and every hour spent at the easel is time on the road to a destination unknown.  This morning was our weekly plein air get together, and Randall mentioned that he just didn't feel it happening for him today.  If someone as accomplished as he is can feel that, I can feel excused when it happens to me.  Sometimes the magic isn't working.  Sometimes the subject doesn't speak to you in a way you want to translate.  Even great natural beauty doesn't necessarily make for a good painting motif.  But when, for whatever reason, I catch a feeling in what I see, get excited to get to the easel and discover if I can get it out of me, if my idea works in paint, if my mind and my hands can work together for a change and share something my heart is experiencing, then it doesn't get any better than that.  That is worth the countless times when it just doesn't seem to be happening and the result is blah.  Every blank canvas holds the promise that this time might be a good one.  And I'm talking about a good that is relative; good compared to what I have done, or good compared to the disappointments.  I find that it requires a certain degree of optimism to step up to the easel, something not easy for a life-long pessimist.  Maybe that's what Art brings: Hope to the hopeless.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Elk Rock

Elk Rock plein air

Above is the result of today's outing with our plein air group at the Bishop's Close at Elk Rock in Dunthorpe.  I feel that I am edging closer to getting a finished painting out of these outdoor sessions.  It always seems to fall short, and this is no exception, but though this photo doesn't show it, I did manage to capture a bit of the lighting effect that declared glorious summer.  The temperature was perfect, the company of four additonal painters made the day enjoyable no matter the results, and we may return to this spot next week to work at getting closer to our individual goals.

Top of Oswego Creek, Algae Effect 12x16

This above piece is a study I have been working on this week, concurrently with a larger canvas of the same subject.  I thought that I might forge through each step on the smaller piece and then switch to the larger one while I still remembered what I was doing, but in the end it seemed not to be a very effective approach.  I might have done better to just complete the smaller one first.  The foreground is unresolved and the gunk floating on the water needs lots more work, everything needs more, but I am switching my focus to the larger canvas now.

Another portrait sketch.  I don't know why I like them so rough around the edges, so unrefined, but I guess my intent is to get to a likeness quickly and worry about making nice paintings later.  As soon as I feel I have captured the personality, I stop.  I understand this can't be the end game, but for now it seems to be a satisfying exercise.  This may be the downside of the self-taught: an instructor might nip this in the bud and smack my hands with a ruler.  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Photography for Blogging

Across the Canal 16x20 oil on board

Above is a photograph of a recent painting, previously posted.  This new photo was taken with my iPhone outdoors in full sun after the painting had fully dried.  Below is the photo previously shown, which was taken indoors while the paint was still wet, under incandescent light, with the same iPhone.  There is a world of difference.  In reality, the painting is neither of these, but something in between.  It has some of the saturation of the one above, but also some of the subtlety of the one below, especially in the background and in the water.

This presents me with a bit of a dilemna: do I invest all the time to discover a better way to photograph work to post here, or do I continue on as I have been, which is to take easy snapshots and slap them up, move along to the next project?  How much time should I take to put together a post when the purpose of my posting is just to encourage me to keep painting and learning?  I hate to do a disservice to anyone with the inclination to check in on my progress, but then, don't you get a decent idea from whatever photo I post?  And this doesn't even take into account not being able to use my DSLR because Apple no longer provides a driver for it on the latest upgrade.  Some of you who have followed this blog for a while will realize I will probably just take the easiest route at this point.  Though it's nice to have full sun for a change, so maybe some photos outside.  In the end, for me, it is more about just getting out and painting.

A couple more portrait sketches:

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.