Sunday, July 29, 2018

Using technology to solve a painting - and a blog glitch

Peonies Full Blown
30 x 30
**Yes: a Blogger blog again.  My explanation is at the end.

Paint on, paint off is often how my work proceeds. I make a choice, smack on the paint with great conviction, and then doubt or loathe the result.  Then I scrape it off, think for a long time, and try it again.
"Peonies Full Blown" involved a lot less manual labour than usual because I tried out my changes on my Ipad in Procreate.  Like an intuitive Photoshop, Procreate allows all sorts of manipulations: drawing, painting, moving elements around... it might make dinner but I'm still learning it.

A couple of weeks ago, I impulsively cut a bunch of peonies at the height of perfection, stapled some linen to a board, and dashed to get the image painted before the flowers lost their charms.  It was speed painting, and I blame that for my lack of forethought about what would surround the blooms.  

I ended up with this, and then I got stuck:

But this time, instead of trying out ideas on the painting, I took a picture of it, and popped it into Procreate. Then I tried out some ideas:

This harmonized with the ground shadows, and worked nicely to create recession behind the flowers. Lacked oomph.

Added line and a movement of pink within the middle section took the focus off the main event: my peonies. This felt like a decor piece.

Getting closer, but the blue felt too overt and chromatic. I liked the spotlighting of the flowers, though.


And one step back. This was just wrong.

Back to dark, but the black was too warm.
Just right!

With this one, I felt I'd found the solution. It has lots of drama, and respects the fact that it's about a very specific bunch of peonies. The background enhances the flowers, but doesn't compete with them.

With the decision made, I went into the studio, loaded a house painting-sized brush with ivory black mixed with a touch of ultramarine blue, and slapped it on. It was finished in 5 minutes and harmonized with the freshness of the rest of the piece.

I was pleased and a bit surprised by how well this process worked, and I'll definitely do it again with the next problematic piece.

So why am I back to Blogger after a mere 1 post away, on my new FASO blog?  It's because the FASO blog only allows people to subscribe to my blog via RSS feed, whereas this blog allows email subscribing.  Many of you have already added yourself to my blog list but putting your email address into the box on the right side of this page, and I'd hoped it would be that simple on the new site.  It's not.  So, I'll keep this going until some wonderful programmer puts an email widget on the FASO blog.  Thanks for reading here, there, or anywhere! 

Happy painting!


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

New website and moving the blog!

Building the new site, one image at a time.  Ugh!

I prefer my laptop to my phone, and never look at art on the tiny screen, which turns out to have been a mistake - one that I've been making for years. 

Last week I looked at my website on a phone and gagged.  It looked awful: creaky, manual scroll, cropped titles, absent information: all stuff that didn't show on the laptop screen for which it was clearly optimized.  So the past few days have seen me stuck at the kitchen table, populating a new FASO website.  Painstaking, boring work, but worth it.   I logged 11 live chats with the online help person over the course of 1 day and am sure they groaned aloud in the office when they saw my name pop up AGAIN.  But they were unfailingly helpful, which certainly made my day easier.

I'm taking advantage of the fact that they have an integrated blog page to move from Blogger, as well.  Isn't it a good thing to put all your eggs in one basket?  Actually, I think my blog will have a much greater reach on FASO and that's a nice thought.  I'll leave the blog archive here on Blogger, but all new posts will be on my FASO site.

Marketing is the last thing that any painter wants to be doing, and so I haven't really been doing it - at least not with any regularity.  Most of my days are spent happily applying paint, exploring new techniques, and turning a blind eye to business stuff.  I yearn for an agent. 

Anyway, I'm taking myself in hand and spending some much-needed time at the computer.  Wish me patience.

In the meantime, have a look at my lovely new site that works as it should, and please subscribe to my blog at the same time.

Happy painting!



Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Explorations using still life

Bread and Bowl
16 x 20
oil on linen

It ain't over till it's over. 

This still life captured my interest: the lighting, the composition, and the objects.  Every day when I walked into the studio and saw it, I had the urge to paint it again.  So I did - 4 times. I figure it's not excessive if I'm still having fun.  When the thought another painting of bread makes me want to lie down with a cool cloth on my face, then it's excessive.

The first one was painted on fairly smooth linen which, in my experience, doesn't take a lot of paint before feeling and looking a bit heavy and tired.  So I minimized the number of layers, working on colour and composition more than on building the texture of the paint. 


Bread and Bowl 2
14 x 18
Oil on Baltic birch
The next 3 were painted on birch panels which can take as much paint as I want to add.  Each painting explored a different aspect of the subject and the medium.  I also changed out the bowl for something with some chroma.

#2 was started on a wet wash of ivory black mixed with 50/50 linseed and mineral spirits.  I've been using black a lot lately, finding that I enjoy the resulting coolness of the work, and the complex, rich greens that I can make with it and my cadmium yellows. 

By working into the wash while it was wet, I neutralized and contaminated all of the other colours and layers with black.  This allowed me to work with high chroma colours while knocking them all down a bit.  It also harmonized the whole piece since the black acted like a mother colour, appearing in every other mixture on the panel. 

Bread and Bowl 3
16 x 20
Oil and cold wax on Baltic birch
#3 took a different turn as I emphasized texture, building thick, broken layers with the addition of cold wax medium into the paint.  I continued to use a bit of the 50/50 mixture, but each brush or knife load of paint also had a small amount of wax in it.  A little bit goes a very long way, making the paint more matte and translucent.  It also resists a flowing approach to the painting, making crisp edges, and interesting broken marks.  What I enjoy about wax is its natural ability to create complex, visible layers.  In fact, it makes a smooth, flat application of paint almost impossible to achieve. 
Bread and Bowl 4
Oil on Baltic birch
With number 4 I felt I knew the subject inside out, and was verging on tired of it.  Still, I thought I'd do a last, quick one with different lighting and a different medium.  I also compressed the value range to lighten the shadows overall, and work colour and temperature rather than tone as I had with the previous 3.

I backlit the subject and focused on seeing all of the elements in shadow as a single, simple mass.  Within that mass, I found colour changes but minimal value changes - that kept the eye focused on the bowl with its glowing piece of light-struck green. 

My medium was 50/50 stand oil and mineral spirits, generously added to the paint to create a juicy mixture.  It flowed off the brush, but, because stand oil is so thick, it naturally encourages me to pick up larger volumes of paint when working wet-in-wet than I would if using a thinner oil. 

This has minimal layering though I did mingle warm and cool layers of colour in the shadows to achieve a glowing, airy look. 

It was cool cloth time after this last one, but I felt I had thoroughly explored the subject and, to some extent, my medium.  It was time well spent.


If you're interested in studying with me, there are still some spots available in my Umbria workshop in September.  We'll have many and varied subjects, from still life to figure, and will bring both a rigorous, and thoughtful approach to bear on them.  And we'll enjoy being in Umbria!

For more information, please see the Winslow Art Center Travel Workshops.

Happy painting!

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