Sunday, June 17, 2018

No such thing as overworking

Summer Walk
14 x 18"
Rose Frantzen once said in an interview that a painting is like the alphabet, from A to Z.  But if you always stop at D, out of the fear of overworking it, you'll miss out on the potentially great things that might happen at L.  This resonated.

"Summer Walk" started as a fresh, rough statement with a nice mood and, thanks to a lot of preliminary Photoshop and watercolour studies, good colour.  It could have been left largely as it was, and it had just enough nice moments for me to have reached the tweaking stage - I was using smaller brushes, and not making big changes to shapes - but it felt unsatisfying.  There's a richness and depth that comes from working a surface several times that was absent in this alla prima piece.  

version 1
So I scraped it down, and let it dry.  Scraping ensured that I blurred the surface, and destroyed those nice moments that were holding the piece back.  

When it was dry, I went back with big brushes, restating the thing that was important to me about this piece: the colour scheme.  The reference for this was a b&w family photo, and I'd envisioned the scene as a candy box array of pastel colour notes.  That concept had gotten lost in the task of rendering the figures.  This step brought me back to my concept and added a welcome layer of complexity to the surface.
version 2
By restating all of my shapes larger, I regained the potential for negative shaping, and also moved the colours around the composition, creating a greater sense of unity.  Suddenly, the painting had new avenues for me to explore, and the initial version had become just an underpainting.  I couldn't have arrived at the finished statement without it, and I got some of those "L" revelations that are so satisfying.

Happy painting!

Friday, June 8, 2018

1-Day Composition Workshop, Calgary

Dynamic Compositions
a 1-Day Workshop
Sept. 8, 2018
Leighton Art Centre
Calgary, AB

No amount of fancy brushwork can save a weak composition, but what exactly is a strong composition?  We've all read about the rule of thirds, the Golden Ratio, focal points and leading the eye. Yet, many of us struggle to put it all together, and make a compelling series of shapes and angles that lead the viewer happily through the painting, from one discovery to the next, with total control.  Many artists don't even know that's possible.

I'll be teaching a 1-day composition workshop on September 8 which will show you just how much control you have over the whole picture plane, and your viewer's experience of your work.

This workshop will put you firmly in charge of your painting from the very first mark; helping you to organize complex scenes into clear, coherent, and powerful paintings.

Working from your own photos, you'll learn how to develop a concept and then simplify, organize, and manipulate your images to achieve that concept.

You'll learn the tricks to creating dynamic shapes, and how to avoid excessive detail, and you'll discover the abstract heart that lies within every successful image.

For 2-D artists working in any medium and genre. 

To register, please contact the Leighton Art Centre

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Sanding a painting

Offering revisited
20 x16
This painting sat on the shelf for quite a while.  I knew it wasn't right, but it wasn't totally wrong either - something that would allow the easy choice of a scrape off or a frisbee toss into the trash.  So I sanded and scraped it down to a thinner paint film and worked it again.  

Those of you who have taken workshops with me know my thoughts on sanding pigments: not a smart idea.  Stupid, actually. And I still think that.  Airborne pigments are terribly toxic (especially cadmiums - but no pigments should be inhaled), so let me just tell you that I did take precautions.  First, I wet the whole painting with odourless mineral spirits, and then, wearing nitrile gloves, I sanded the surface with wet-dry sandpaper.  I didn't go for fine grit paper - which would give fine particles - allowing the scratches of a coarse paper to become part of the work's surface interest.  
Wet sanding created a dark, messy sludge on the painting's surface which had to be wiped off often with paper towels and more solvent, but none of it floated poisonously around or hit the studio floor.  I couldn't have done it on a soft surface, but the birch panel took a beating.   I did have to be very careful to avoid scratching through the layers of acrylic gesso priming.  

Below is the painting in its original state.  It had some good points, but was too specific and individual a portrait for my liking.  What I really enjoy about all of the "person holding fish" pictures that I see is the universality of the gesture.  If they intend to release the fish, all anglers adopt a reverent, gentle, cradling posture - offering the fish to the camera with pride and care.  In the repaint, that was what I aimed to capture.  

Happy painting!


Sunday, April 15, 2018

1 subject, several starts

Arrangement in Yellow
30 x40
Every painting has its path, and I think the first marks and colour choices launch it down that path, so when I was trying to find my way into the complexity of daffodils, I tried a bunch of small starts before committing to a large version.

Daffodil #1
10 x 8
#1 started on a grey toned support.  I roughed in the darks around the flower with greenish umber, a nondescript and easily-overpainted dark.  It's almost neutral and so doesn't seem to involve itself in the colour space as much as some darker earth pigments.
Then I placed the biggest, simplest local colour notes that I could on top of it, focusing on large, unified shapes.  The background bluish-purple is also a distinct colour statement and its mid value means that it can interact with other colours on the board, boosting the liveliness of the flower's cool yellow. 

My medium in this was a bit of oil, but mostly just straight paint on big brushes.

Daffodils #2
12 x 12
This one was next, started from a richer, greenish warm.  The palette I used is the same as above, but the broader tonal range means that there's more drama, greater depth (in the darkest parts of the background), and the piece is much less airy overall.  I did use some complimentary bluish purple, but kept it much darker, in line with the dark upper left corner. 

This has a strong sense of form - something that a full value range is good at creating.  The medium I used was stand oil and OMS, which gives a thick, juicy, and transparent flavour to the background

Daffodils #3
8 x 10

Daffodils #3 was started with a colour I seldom use anymore: transparent red iron oxide.  It's a rich, transparent, warm dark that was the pigment I always started with at one time, until I got heartily sick of it.  Then I felt like I was seeing it far too prominently in every painting - not to mention the paintings of a lot of other painters.  It was very popular.

Different from the greenish umber start, this one has a powerful TRO presence till the end.  It's invasive in a painting and doesn't want to be shut up, so I tend to let it have its head and run throughout the whole work.  If you can't beat 'em...

Stand and OMS was, again, my medium and the board was toned a warm, earthy colour.

Daffodils #4
6 X 8

#4 was done without underpainting.  I premixed average colours for each element: flower, vase, background, and table, and placed them in the first pass.  Then I added a second, more accurate layer, but only in a few spots: the daffodil ruffle, a couple of petals, and the table.  I had 20 minutes for this one, so fussing wasn't an option, and I wanted to try something different from the other starts.  I used straight paint for this so that I would have a robust paint layer in the first pass.

I quite like this little one.  There's a simplicity to just putting one accurate colour next to another on a white support.  The white ensures maximum freshness in the colour since there's nothing to try to cover up.  A drawback is that the painting lacks depth and complexity for the same reason: there's nothing under the image except a white canvas. 

Arrangement in Yellow
30 x 40
After all that experimentation, I had some ideas about what I wanted to do in a larger work.  I didn't want the high drama of the very tonal works and definitely didn't want TRO as a start.  Though I liked the little #4 painting, I felt it was lacking some darks to give it strength.  In all, the first one was the piece that most appealed to me.  It had weaknesses, but the distinct colour notes on a warm, greenish mid dark appealed to me.  That start supported the daffodils' colour, and could be allowed to appear in the finished work, but it wasn't so dark as to launch the piece down a tonal path.  I wanted to keep "Arrangement in Yellow"very much about high-key, optimistic colour.  After a long winter, darks were just not appealing.

I also knew, after some more precise rendering of the flowers, that I didn't want to belabour the specific structure of the blooms.  I'd find a recognizable daffodil colour range, and trust that a few, minimal details would let the viewer know what they were looking at.  I'd also let them know that it didn't really matter what the flowers were; it was the colour that was key.

Flowers are, for me, the trickiest subject of all - probably because I struggle with knowing what level of detail appeals to me, and, when you can't visualize the finish, it's hard to move ahead.  The little studies that I did for this larger work were really useful in showing me possible outcomes without having to commit to a large canvas.  And, they allowed me to ignore the snow outside the studio and just think "spring"!

Happy painting!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

5 - Day Workshop in Umbria, Italy!

September 21 - 28, 2018
Umbria, Italy

Our view

I'm so excited to be teaching a 5-day life painting workshop in the inspiring setting of Umbria, Italy this September!  

Hosted by the Winslow Art Center, our workshop will be at La Ghirlanda, a villa located in the Umbrian hills. This elegant hotel is owned and managed by the Count and Countessa Pongelli Benedettoni, who produce wine and olive oil on their estate. Each of the bedrooms are beautifully furnished and have ensuite bathrooms, and the warm and welcoming staff see to every detail so that you're free to focus on your art. With an estate encompassing 220 hectares, the hotel and its surroundings are a perfect venue for painting - and paint we will!

To take advantage of the fabulous setting and light, we'll work outdoors each day in a variety of genres, from still life, to figurative, and plein air. We'll make an in-depth exploration of colour, composition, brushwork, and alla prima technique - all within a logical, shape-based framework that you can confidently apply to any subject matter in the future.

Paint the clothed model outdoors

Throughout, I'll provide group demonstrations and plenty of individual instruction, addressing your unique painting issues with clear solutions and lots of encouragement. It's my goal that you learn a lot, and enjoy the process, so while I will push you out of your comfort zone, you'll have plenty of support to ensure success. 

There are many workshops available to painters today but, if you want to make a massive jump in your skills and understanding, these 5 days will launch you. You'll learn how to set your paintings up for looseness, gorgeous colour, and luxurious paint passages right from the first marks, and how to develop them to a confident finish that suits your own aesthetic. 

I hope you'll join me!

For more detailed information and pricing, visit the Winslow Art Center website.

Happy painting!

Accommodations at La Ghirlanda Villa

Luxurious rooms

Endless painting opportunities