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:

Saturday, May 6, 2017

What To Do When The Muse Won't Come?

For some reason it has been impossible for me to paint for the past few weeks.  Other demands on my time and on my mind have impeded, leaving little energy for art.  And when I do try to squeeze in an hour here and there, I find a lack of focus leads me down dead ends, failed starts, wiped canvases.  Painting without a clear vision or emotional intent seems to lead to nothing.  Occassionally I can do a quick portrait sketch, like the one above of William Faulkner, and it seems to help remind me that getting to a fair resemblance is still possible.  But these are dashed-off paintings, often done in spurts of five minutes at a time, between sets of lifting weights in my adjoining workout room, trying to multitask and fit in all the things at which I want to spend more time.  These quick sketches are a kind of workout, too, trying to keep the muscles flexible, the mind and hand connected.

Another sketch, done at around the same time, probably from the same paint on the palette, of Virginia Wolf.  I know one of the biggest pitfalls of writing is the dreadful writer's block, but that seems much more overwhelming than when the muse deserts the painter.  At least a painter can make studies and sketches or even prepare boards and canvases for later work, having something to show for the hours of effort; the writer, on the other hand, has nothing if it can't be put in print.  

Below is a painting I began with some hope, but I only got halfway into it before stalling, and now I'm not sure I believe in it any longer.  I'm willing to accept these aborted efforts if I can at least occassionally come through with something that carries my original intent.  But a long string of these things can be discouraging.

On a side note, one thing that is encouraging is that I have seen my 18 year old son take up an interest in drawing.  He hasn't expressed much interest before now, but he has obviously been harboring a bit of talent inside and I only hope he can carry on through his life holding on to the impulse to create from time to time.  Below is a drawing he recently gave me.