Saturday, June 30, 2012

Simplifying Plein Air Subjects

Forest Glow
9 x 12
I always aim for simplification and abstraction when painting outdoors; my goal is to capture one thing per painting in a clear, concise way.  But nature is filled with tiny notes of colour, texture and detail and my goal is often hard to achieve.  I get caught up in the "just one more brushstroke..." mentality.

This painting stayed true to my intentions.  While the layers of foliage and the textures of tree trunks were exciting subjects, too, I ignored them as much as possible and focused on the light striking the middle ground shrubs and turning them a brilliant yellow-green.  I sacrificed all of the interesting individuality of the trees (you can tell it was painful for me) and made them into a homogeneous mass.  There were cool, purple notes  in the shadowed trunks and that worked well to set off the warm, glowing area.  Using a complementary colour scheme of purple and near-yellow, I was able to emphasize my focal point and the point of the painting.  

I enjoyed painting the little flourishes of branches and colour changes within the mass of trees, as well as the negative shapes in the sky, but the painting has a strong, simple design that becomes clear when you squint at it, eliminating these small details.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

More Swimming

Front Crawl
14 x 11
We've had so much rain lately that water is continually on my mind: how to keep it out of my studio, when to dash out and mow the lawn before it grows past our knees, and where to get a life vest for the dog. 
Alright, maybe I exaggerate.  

This is another water painting done from a photo.  The refraction and fragmentation of the form in water is a current obsession of mine.  I'm particularly interested in seeing how little of the swimmer's body I actually have to connect up in order for the painting to make sense.  Like those sentences in psych experiments where every 2nd or 3rd letter is removed and yet subjects can easily read them, the same is true for images of a body in water.  We've seen this effect so often that we can connect the dots with very little trouble and picture the full figure in the water.  I find that viewer participation fascinating.  

Send me some sunshine from wherever you are, and happy painting!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Plein Air Classes Doing Their Thing

My "Painting From Life" students and I have been taking advantage of the nice (and even the somewhat nasty) weather and painting outside for the past few classes.

We've painted beside train tracks in industrial parks, at the Blackfoot Market before it's season opening, and at a couple of stunning local parks.

I've posted some pictures of the intrepid groups below: alternately freezing and cooking but always enthusiastically painting.  Notice the number of Alla Prima Pochade boxes represented in the group; they multiply like rabbits. As soon as a plein air painter sees it, she orders one from Ben Haggett.  And have a look at the lightweight brush holder designed by Daphne Smith to velcro onto her tripod. She put florists' styrofoam with holes inside and impressed us all with the simple effectiveness of this piece of equipment.
Painters are creative thinkers.

Classes end this week and I'm a bit sad. I've enjoyed these inspiring and game painters.

The local residents coming to see what we were doing.  They marched their goslings right past us.  


Daphne's design

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Thrill of Painting

Swimming Pool
20 x24
Painting is so much fun for me that if a piece comes together quickly and with a small amount of brush strokes, I feel a bit cheated; like going to a party that's over at 10pm.  

That's why I'm always glad of a chance to paint water.  The multitude of colours and marks that I get to use are a joy.  Maybe Rousseau felt that way too.  That would explain the lavish depictions of colour and form in his jungle scenes.  

This painting was a pleasure to work on because the subject captivated me.  There is an interplay of warm and cool colour, reflected light, fragmentation of form, and patterning.  And all of it conveys my favourite atmosphere: sunshine on a summer's day.  

I'm mulling over a larger swimmer piece right now; imagining in advance what a joy it will be to work on.  Canvas, brushes and lots of paint: life is very good.

Happy painting!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Plein Air in the Mountains

Elbow Falls in Spring
12 x16
This plein air piece walked the line between a tonalist and a colourist approach to painting.  It was painted in the Kananaskis area at Elbow Falls, a magical, roaring piece of the river which sparkles with light and movement.

I placed the dark bank and rocks at the start, wanting them to stay simple and recessive so that the turquoise, silt-laden, mountain water became the focus of the painting.  But, as often happens, I felt that these dark areas didn't capture the light, fresh feel of the place.  Dark rocks also didn't show the huge amount of reflected light that was bouncing off of the water on that sunny day.  The longer I looked, the lighter and more colourful the rocks actually appeared to be.  It came down to the difference between squinting at the subject or opening my eyes wide: squinting reduced the colour that I saw and showed the pattern of dark objects and shadows through the landscape while opening my eyes wide allowed me to see all of the colour changes.  I kept going back and forth between the two modes, trying to figure out what I was seeing and how to convey it.

Finally, I chose to lightened up the rocks by placing the many reflected lights and colours that I saw in them.  This decision meant that I had to boost the colour of the white water as it tumbled over the falls because colourful rocks and relatively colourless water didn't work.  

Luckily the day stayed sunny and consistent for a nice long time so that I could work all of this out.  I learned a lot with this one.