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

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Painting Edges

Baby Doll

Students of painting who come to me for workshops or classes frequently tell me that there are 2 things that they want to learn: looseness and creative colour.

Colour is a lifetime's occupation and I learn more about it every day in the studio, but looseness is actually pretty straightforward.  Looseness happens at the edges of a shape, where it interacts with another shape.  Becoming a looser painter simply takes a bit of courage and a lot of unlearning.

We start our artistic lives by being praised for colouring within the lines in our colouring books.  It's a mark of hand-eye control and our parents and teachers applaud it.  But that can be the start to a lifetime of drawing and respecting outlines, and it can be a hard habit to break.

Working from photos only reinforces this dependance on the outline, especially with the crisp quality that modern cameras can achieve.  If you look at a digital photo, you'll see that everything, no matter how far apart in distance, can seem in focus.  So the foreground flowers are as crisp as the distant foothills, and even the mountains.  And that way of seeing is only possible through the lens; our eyes can't do it.

Cameras also have one lens - a single point of view - which flattens the world.  Cover one of your eyes and you'll see how flat everything becomes.  The photographic world is not our binocular world.  Add to that the fact that we, the viewers, are never perfectly still: we blink, breathe, shift our weight and viewpoint slightly and constantly, and you'll see that the camera view isn't our experience at all.  We live in a world without outlines; one in which the edge of objects is ambiguous and shifting, and in which objects have 3 dimensions. 

So, how do you loosen up?  For a time, work from life, and really analyze what you're seeing.  An apple on a table can teach lessons that no amount of photo reference work can.  Examine it's edges and you'll discover that some are lost against a similar value in the background, or crisp where there's a big value change. 
Picnic detail


Look at the apple set up out of the corner of your eye instead of directly.  That's how we see the world: it's a series of relationships between patches of colour and value. 

Talk to yourself in abstract rather than object terms: Not: I'm painting an apple on a plate on a table, but: I'm painting this big patch of red which is the same value as the blue disk under it, so it will have ambiguous, lost edge potential. 

It's all about training and trusting your eyes.  You don't see the world like a camera does, and, with some thoughtful looking and painting, you can train your eyes to see and your brain to understand what you're seeing.  The lessons that life painting teach you can be applied to the photo reference later on, but I'd advise spending a few months (or years), just working from the real world.

I also said you need courage to be a looser painter, and that's because once you see the amount of lost and soft edges that the real world contains, you have to paint it that way.  Lose the notion of a world made of precisely outlined things, and paint a world in which outlines are slippery suggestions of location that are impossible to firmly pin down.  Get those kindergarten teachers out of your head, and know that colouring outside the lines - and knowing that there aren't any lines - is a valid way to work. 

Happy painting!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Painting on rigid supports

18 x24" oil on birch

detail 1

detail 2

Finally, after years of trying and failing miserably, I've figured out how to paint on panels.  This is big news in my studio!

Smooth, rigid supports like wood and metal have defeated me in the past because I struggled to work in an alla prima fashion on them.  Getting past that first, scruffy, scratchy layer was a trial as my hog bristle brushes tended to remove more paint than they deposited.  I also found it hard to make the large variety of edges that I could on oil primed linen. 

Things I tried in order to make wood work for me:
- adding alkyd mediums to the paint (often too smelly and/or toxic and/or slippery)
- switching to soft or synthetic brushes (changed the consistency and amount of paint in each stroke)
- and thickening and drying the paint slightly by squeezing it out onto cardboard overnight (helpful, but too thick and dry for first layers).

I'd almost decided to give up on the idea of rigid supports, but, since my oil primed linen comes to me from US suppliers, and the exchange rate for our Canadian dollar is abysmal, I was motivated to give it another go recently.

This time, it's working, and it comes down to changing the one thing I didn't try in the past: the way that I work.  Over time, I've become a slower, more patient painter - willing to let layers dry between painting sessions - and that change in working method has, finally, allowed me to enjoy working on smooth supports.  In fact, I've discovered that there are more possible textural effects available to me on wood than there are on fabric. 

The images above show the complex textural surface of "Pike", done in many layers, and using my usual medium of 50/50 oil and OMS in the first layer, and then either straight paint, or paint with a bit of linseed oil.  Because I use OMS sparingly and only in the first layer, and I don't clean my brushes during the working day, this limits the amount of toxic fumes in my studio (and odourless mineral spirits are toxic despite the name).  The rigid surface means that I can pile on the paint without the worry of future cracking that is a drawback of flexible supports. 

I've learned to never say never when it comes to painting, and I'm glad that I persevered in this. 

Happy painting!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Group Exhibition, Calgary, AB

Swinton's Collection Exhibition

These are some of the 10 pieces in the "Swinton's Collection" exhibition currently showing at Art on 9th in Inglewood, Calgary.  The show features work by many of the instructors at Swinton's studios, and it's a diverse and rich display. 

I hope you'll go and check out the work and see what we've all been up to in our studios.

Happy painting!