Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Zorn palette

Tanned Model
16 x 12
I got together with good friends last week for an afternoon of challenging painting.  We were all using a Zorn palette - a subtle, greyed palette made famous when the 19th century Swedish artist, Anders Zorn, used of it to convey the cool tones of his world.  

The palette uses cad red light or medium, yellow ochre, ivory black, and white.  It's great for conveying powerful reds and strong darks, but don't ask for a spring green or a blue, summer sky.  Ivory black acts like a blue in this scheme, but it's more like the illusion of blue, than the colour itself.  Add to this the fact that all of the pigments are opaque and prone to making mud, and you can see that it really was a challenge.

Our model had a deep tan and was under warm lights in a white-walled studio.  That meant that we had to mix an array of orange from light to dark and warm to cool to show the planes of her body, as well as figure out how to paint the effect of the cool wall colour reflecting off the areas of skin that weren't under the lights.  Her chest was still very warm from the tan, but cool on top of that from the walls.  It was a mind bender.  

I chose to drape a greyed purple over a coolish version of her flesh colour to show the reflected walls, and I pumped as much warm orange and red into the light as I could. 

 It did the job, but I'm going to study Zorn's work this week to see how I could have done it differently.  I can't recall a single tanned model in his pale roster, but I'm sure to learn something anyway, and I'll be building some colour skills.

Happy painting!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

3-Day Workshop in Kelowna, BC

Composition to Completion

June 21 - 23, 2019
Ellis Art Studios
Kelowna, BC

After years of teaching strictly from life, I've finally figured out how to teach from photo references! This is no small thing! (Hence the extravagant punctuation). 

Photos are tricky because they have enough detail to lull painters into thinking they can work from them.  Invariably, though, the artist will end up staring intently at the photo, trying to imagine what colours could exist in those uninformative shadows and bleached lights, and wondering where all the midtones have gone.  We long for an interesting composition, but struggle to shape one from the camera's limited and monocular view.  

Through long trial and error in my own work, I've come up with strategies to overcome these limitations. 

I'll be teaching a 3 day workshop at Ellis Art Studios that tackles the photo reference head on, covering everything from composition and colour to alla prima paint application.  It's a comprehensive workshop that will use each artist's own photos, and turn them into paintings that are based on the reference but go far beyond it to become personal interpretations.  

I hope you'll join me.

This workshop is suitable for oil and acrylic painters.  My demos will be in oil

For details and registration, see Ellis Art Studios.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Lessons from the art tour 3

Hôtel des roches noires, Trouville
I'm still digesting all that I saw in my museum going in London and Paris.  One lesson that was driven home to me was how much the camera has complicated the painting process, and made us question the way we actually see.  

The flags in the Monet above are clearly fluttering, and just as clearly, he didn't use a photo reference to paint them.  He took no pains to connect the rough, broken stripes on the foreground flag, and, instead, dashed them onto a sienna-toned ground with all the vigour of the brisk wind that they describe.  

Monet's flags show how we actually see motion.  When we look at a moving object, person, or animal, we can't stop their motion and analyze what each component is doing during any given millisecond.  Looking at a fluttering flag, we don't see stripes so much as flickering colours and tones flashing against the sky.  

A camera view, however, freezes movement and shows us exactly what's happening to those stripes.  We can see each fold and wrinkle and even the reflected light within each fold.  And that's not a good thing!  It's too much information.  The flag below doesn't describe motion so much as look like a sculpture frozen into a horizontal arrangement.  A faithful painted copy wouldn't convey movement or wind.  It would be a solid lump against the sky. 

I'm not suggesting ditching the photo reference altogether, but I'd certainly avoid high resolution whenever possible.  My favourite work has come from blurry, small images, and my most stilted from high quality photos in which I could see every last detail. So now I go through a few steps in a photo editing program before I use a photo reference. I blur it or introduce graininess, and I avoid zooming in on any part of the image; I keep it in a small, thumbnail view on my computer, or put a hard copy print far away from my easel. The less I can see, the better the painting that I make.  

Photo references have their place, but unless photo realism is your goal, I'd use them cautiously.  Cameras don't see the world in the same way that we do, and by copying them you'll create dishonest works: paintings that don't actually convey your own vision and experience of the world around you.  

Happy painting!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Black, white, and grey

Dancer and Bouquet
30 x 40

The seemingly simplest colours are the trickiest to paint.  Black, white, and grey may seem straightforward but, if their temperature is wrong, they refuse to integrate into a painting. You can buy any number of blacks, whites, and greys, but I find they all need modification to fit into a painting. 

This still life has the full tonal range from light to dark, including a very large expanse of white cloth.  I use titanium white by M. Graham which is, despite it's name, a mixed white of titanium and zinc (PW 6 and PW 4 on the label). 

Most titanium whites in art stores are actually mixtures, possibly because the opacity and coldness of pure titanium is so hard to work with, or because it's expensive.  Gamblin's titanium is an exception: it's just PW6 - titanium, and is incredibly bright and cold.

White should never be used straight from the tube.  It can be - there are no paint police - but I wouldn't do it; it's bland, cold, and uninteresting.  I prefer to sacrifice some of the light value of tube white and add tiny amounts of the colours that I've used in other parts of the painting.  This harmonizes the work, and, where warm and cool whites are roughly layered, creates a visual vibration that can't be achieved with just one colour application.  I find it simulates the complex effect of a white cloth, affected by the colour of the spotlight, studio walls, objects, and window light. 
lots of layers on an initial pthalo green toning
Tube blacks tend toward coolness, but you can mix any temperature that you need by adding a touch of another colour to them.  This black is actually a very dark, warmish green through the addition of a touch of cad yellow to mars black.  I use mars because, unlike ivory black, it dries relatively quickly.  It's easy to mix your own, lively blacks from colours like ultra. blue + cad red light, or pthalo green + alizarin, but, for convenience, I sometimes have tube black on my palette and just modify it.

I could have warmed this black even more with a touch of cad red light, or cooled it further by adding some ultramarine or cerulean blue.  Experiment with the temperatures of black and you'll find one that works better than another.  In general, though, I find that warm darks give a sense of recession or depth.

mars black + cad yellow
Grey is a colour that is entirely dependent on a modifying temperature.  There is nothing more uninteresting in a painting than a perfectly neutral grey.  I always mix my greys from 3 primaries plus white, allowing one to dominate so that all greys are nameable: blue grey, reddish grey, yellow grey etc. 

This detail shows the layering of warm and cool greys.  Just as in the whites, these greys become livelier when they're layered than if just one grey was used.

warm, reddish grey over cool green grey
This layering and modifying is something that makes a painting seem right in my eyes.  I admire the simplicity of a single, clear choice for a patch of paint, but it doesn't work for me.  When I look at a still life set up, I see many conflicting hints of colour and temperature in every element, and I don't feel the piece is done until I've tried to capture some of them.  I try show the viewer the amazing complexity of the simple things that I'm painting.

Happy painting!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Blog glitch regarding floral workshop in Lumby

Imagine my surprise this morning when I got an announcement telling me that I was teaching a floral workshop in Lumby, BC - again.

I did this workshop more than a year ago, and Blogger appears to have randomly plucked it from the archives and announced it just for a giggle.

Technology is, ultimately, my good friend.  It allows me to communicate with artists from around the world, to see work in museums at such high res that I can examine brushstrokes, and to do video critiques in which another artist and I see each other's faces and talk about their work.  All wonderful things.

Sometimes, though, entire days are lost to glitches and gremlins like this one - though I have to say, this is a really new one for me!

In the meantime, please check the dates on any blog posts that comes to your inbox to make sure they're sensible.

**I will be announcing 2 real and upcoming workshops soon.  Both will be in held in Calgary in the spring of 2019.  Stay tuned!

Happy painting!