Saturday, May 20, 2017

3-day floral workshop in BC

Bear Valley Highlands Art Workshop
June 23-25
Lumby, BC

There are some unexpected openings in this workshop and I'm hoping you'll fill them up! We'll cover a lot of ground from colour to composition to brushwork, and I guarantee that there will be revelations that you can carry into your own painting practise, no matter what your usual genre.

This workshop will focus on simplifying your subject to its essence, and discovering how a little precision can go a long way.

You’ll learn to design your paintings to create harmonious, coherent, and balanced compositions that address the age-old dilemma of “what to do with the background”. By using a shape and colour based approach to composition, you’ll begin to see the canvas space in a whole new way; one which stresses unity in tone and colour, and which recognizes that each mark has a role to play in the final painting.

And you’ll explore two different ways to begin a painting: from logical and structured to intuitive and abstract.

All the while, you'll be enjoying the hospitality of a beautiful retreat facility nestled in the wilds of interior BC. Our hosts have a well-deserved reputation for excellent meals and comfortable accommodation in their on-site log chalets, so you can step out of your daily routine and spend 3 days solely devoted to your artistic development.
To learn more, register, and to see some pictures of the retreat, click on Bear Valley Highlands.

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The elusive smooth surface in oil paint

Yellow Pail
10 x 8

Oil painters spend a lot of thought and time doing something that watercolour painters do in a second: we try to create large, simple passages of paint that maintain colour and feel rich, rather than thin and greyed.  And that's because oil paint doesn't work well in very dilute form.  You can't create a wash unless you add a lot of medium to it which is something that I avoid.  If the medium is relatively safe - like my 50/50 OMS and oil - it makes the paint look meagre and dilutes the pigment so much that the colour dies.   If the medium is one of the many pre-prepared variety, it has a lot of technical and health issues that I don't want to bother with:

- how fat or lean is the mixture?  This matters in building a sound painting.

- will it damage my health to use it in the studio, day after day? I've tried mediums that leave me staggering drunkenly by the end of a painting session, and I can't afford to lose that many brain cells.

- is it hard to clean out of my brushes, thereby risking my treasured and expensive supply of Rosemary's?

- is it solid in the long term?  Rembrandt used linseed oil, so I know I'm on well trodden ground with that.   Yes, he didn't have OMS, but I draw the health line at using turpentine indoors.  Even OMS is very toxic, so I make sure to use a high quality brand with a very low evaporation rate such as Gamsol.

The best paint film is one that's been adulterated the least, and that means as close to tube consistency as possible.  That also makes the best colour, which is a priority for me.

So, with all that in mind, how does a painter make a smooth, simple area, rather than one that's choppy and brushy?

The answer that I've come up with is to use fairly thick paint and use mechanical means to smooth it.
One of my favourite tools for that is a palette knife.  If an area of paint is too sculptural and busy, I lay my knife flat on the surface of the paint and make gentle circles.  Any angling, or dried bits of paint on the knife will cause scratches in the paint surface, so this is a delicate maneuver.  If your knife has dried paint on it, you can place it flat on some sand paper and smooth them away.   This method allows you to keep your colour intact and even to use thick paint but leave it looking smooth and colourful.

Another useful method is to scrape it out with a soft tool like a silicone scraper or shower squeegee.  Again,  it lets you use a lot of paint and colour, but, if your scraping surface is large enough, you can pull the paint quite a distance and create a smooth effect.  The edges will be distinctive and recognizable in this method; everyone can recognize a squeegee effect because so many painters have been using it in the past few years.

I've also had some fun with Whistler's method.  He loved to scrape paintings down between sessions, losing the brushwork but keeping a thin layer of pigment.  Over many sessions, that pigment layer became a soft, atmospheric, and smooth patch of paint.  His work looks a bit too thin for my eye but a lot of painters have and do use this method and leave more paint behind during the scraping.

And then there are other methods: brayers, rollers, rolling pins over plastic wrap or waxed paper, and, I'm sure, many more.

If you work wet on dry, it's easier to turn a busy area into one that appears smooth and simple, because the new paint grabs dry paint in a way that it won't grab a primed canvas or board.  There's just the right amount of flow and adhesion.  It's a pleasure to work on.

The piece above has a lot of different methods used on it to create that large mass of blue.  It's painted alla prima, and has high pigment load, as well as colour variety within the blue, so you probably figured that I couldn't have done it with a lot of dilution, and I didn't.  Instead, I placed a lot paint and smoothed it with the knife, brayer, and, to a lesser extent, with a soft brush.  That's a thick area, but it doesn't look sculptural and it doesn't distract from the figure.

So, before you dip into that pot of medium to get your paint moving, consider all the mechanical means instead.  You'll end up with some interesting effects, and much better colour, even if you, like me, work in a lot of layers.

Happy painting!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Painting knives and brushes

30 x 30 in progress
Brushes are great, but they can feel a bit obvious: we've all seen (and made) paintings in which you can tell exactly which type of brush was used and what width it was; flats are particularly distinctive in a painting.  While I do try to vary the type of brush that I use: flats,  filberts, and rounds, and the type of bristle: synthetic or natural; soft or stiff, I still feel that all of the marks clearly say "brush" and that the colour is sometimes less clean than I'd like.  So the painting knife has become a bigger part of my work.  

I've mentioned this in a previous blog, I know, but I thought that this in-progress still life had a good example of the difference between brushes and knives in alla prima painting.  

The bowl of water below was painted with brushes.  I left a space open for the clean swipe of pale green because I couldn't achieve such a high key, clean area if I'd been layering over another colour wet in wet.  

You can see that the marks have a softness to them from the pressure of my hand (I paint firmly!) spreading the bristles slightly as I place the mark.   That softness also comes from the fact that I have to slightly dilute the paint in order to allow it to flow smoothly off my brush and make simple, long strokes.   
using a brush

The second water bowl was painted using a knife.  It has an entirely different feel: crisper and less obvious in displaying the method of its application.  And, it has a patch of clean, high key paint that's been placed over darker, wet paint.  The centre of the bowl was initially a warm dark ochre, and, with a loaded knife, I smoothed the pale pinks and peach colours over top, allowing some show through. I think it really says "water".  If I were painting a reflective pond, I'd do it this way so that I could build a lot of colours underneath the reflection first.

The paint consistency was my preferred "mayonnaise softness" so that I didn't have to press too hard to move it over the length of the bowl, but, even with the pressure of my hand, it didn't soften at the edges.  It has a totally different effect than the brushwork.  
knife painting
To make the brush-painted bowl settle in with its rather edgy company, I added a line of knife-applied orange on the left side.  It serves as a link between the softness of one tool and the crispness of the other.  Because the knifed bowl has so much brushwork near it, I haven't felt the need to add a brushy touch to it.  But it's still in progress, so who knows what will happen in the future?

I like both effects.  A painting done entirely with the knife or one done entirely with the brush aren't as exciting for me as a painting that shows both.   Knives and brushes can live harmoniously within the same work as long as they're each sprinkled throughout the surface.  Those crisp little lines and dashes in the top third of the painting are done with a knife edge laid over brush work.

It's just another piece of visual vocabulary and I'm having fun exploring it.

If you, like me, struggle to find a good, flexible knife, I can recommend Oakblade Palette Knives by fellow Canadian Ray Hyder for their extreme springiness and razor-sharp edge.  And, no: this isn't a paid promotion; more of a public service announcement.  Ray didn't ask me to shill for him, but I like to mention good art supplies when I find them.

Also, if you're looking to paint some florals with me, I hope you'll consider joining me for a 3-day workshop in BC in June at Bear Valley Highlands.  There are only 3 spots left.

Happy painting!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Working with colour and tone

30 x 30
On most days I consider myself a tonalist with a colour obsession, rather than a true colourist.  The difficulty lies in trying to figure out how to use strong colour as well as strong tonal changes in the same painting.

Colours are at their most beautiful and interactive in the mid tones, the colourist's domain (picture Monet's scintillating haystacks), while tonalists use the drama of a full value range to create their images (think of Rembrandt whose spotlit images are so memorable for everything but their colour.)

The pitfall of purely colourist work is that it can appear unanchored and weak, lacking a strong underlying structure (and this is in my eyes, only.  All art making and viewing is subjective). So, increasingly, I try to incorporate some strong darks into my work.  It gives the paintings focus and solidity in my eyes.   The challenge is to gauge the right amount of dark and its placement.  Too much, or too near a special colour and the darks will take over the work, becoming more important than the colour interactions.

I haven't come up with anything as prescriptive as a percentage of dark to use (and would be appalled if it were that predictable), but I do know that the darks must be applied confidently and in significant amounts.  If darks are dropped into a high chroma work in small, discreet touches, they feel like little black holes peppered over the surface; so they have to be given enough space and they should be as connected as possible.

This is "Curve" in an earlier stage of development, before I hit the dark shapes on the right with greater gusto.

You can see that the shape was still a relatively dark area, but was being used to move warm colour from the figure into her surroundings, as well as to intensify the yellow/green of the illuminated shape.  I could have kept working in this direction - I'd have had to lighten the hair somewhat since it was too dark and isolated for this setting - but it felt weak.  So I loaded a 2"brush and went over the right hand shape and some of the lower marks with a rich dark and no hesitation.

Some of you will think that was a bad move and some will wish I'd done much more work in the darks, but that's not important.  What matters is that it felt right to my eyes; it had enough conviction and strength for me, and pulled the painting into focus.  

The next painting will, however, be a whole new challenge and that's the joy of the process.

Happy painting!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2- day figurative workshop

Painting the Clothed Figure from Life
May 6/7 
Tsawwassen, BC

I hope you'll join me for a 2-day figure painting workshop in beautiful Tsawwassen, BC.

I love teaching this workshop because I get to see so many "ah ha!" moments. Painters who usually work from photos, grid their canvases, or create detailed preliminary drawings all discover that a brush and a good squint is all they need to capture accurate proportion. And discovering the amazing colours in the model in front of them is a revelation.

It's an intensive weekend that launches a lot of new exploration and discovery for painters no matter what their usual genre.

There are still some openings in this workshop.  To register, please contact the South Delta Artists Guild.