Monday, December 23, 2013

Mexico is full! Join me in Croatia

Well, the title says it all.  We had a flurry of sign ups for Mexico - they coincided with flurries of snow here in Canada - and the retreat is now running a waiting list.  I'm excited to teach at the Casa Buena Art Retreat again this February and like the idea of going as an old hand.

If you missed out on Mexico, there's still an opportunity to join me for some painting in the sunshine this spring.
There are some sign ups for the retreat that I'm teaching in Croatia from April 29 to May 8th, but I have room for you!  I hope you'll join me for a fantastic week on the island of Korcula.  It's a fairy tale kind of place in the Adriatic Sea that proclaims itself the birthplace of Marco Polo. There are plenty of reasons not to believe this claim apparently, but it's a romantic aspiration and, when you see the pictures of this historic island, you can imagine it's true.

We'll have a week of painting, excursions, and great food and wine on this beautiful island. Our hosts at Slikamalina Tours are hospitable and very experienced, and they clearly do a good job because the people who have signed up for my retreat are all returning painters to this tour company.

So if you'd like to learn from me and spend time with like-minded people in this amazing setting, I hope you'll sign up.

Register by December 31 and you qualify for a $200 discount.

Happy painting!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A personal challenge painting

Yellow Candy Dish
18 x 28
This painting was a step out of my comfort zone and, in many ways, a painting to learn from

I've been noticing that I don't feel comfortable with yellow; it doesn't disappear off my palette very quickly, and I don't own any yellow still life objects.  Or I didn't own any until I saw this gorgeous, iridescent candy dish in a thrift shop.  It issued a challenge to me, and I bought it.

The yellow was a joy to work with for its exuberance and boldness.  I admit that there isn't much pure yellow other than in the thick highlight, but there's the illusion of lots of yellow in the muted, purple-influenced dish, and I sprinkled the colour throughout the painting in greyed form so that it didn't feel isolated.

Another thing that I'm uncomfortable with - as are many painters - is placing the focal point in the middle of a composition.  Any composition book will tell you that's a bad idea, so I've avoided it.  But painters should question authority, and I decided to do just that.  The yellow dish became the bullseye around which I arranged every other object.

The eye does go straight to it, it's true, but then I think you make at least one full circuit of the painting, clockwise from the red berries in the dish.  I find myself viewing it in a spiral fashion for 1 1/2 revolutions; the first encompassing the lower half of the painting and tracking through the red objects, and then coming up into the red shawl behind the candy dish and following it around and back down into the foreground.
The echoing of curves and colour overcome the perils of central placement.  So if the goal of a composition is to move the viewer's eye through it and keep it engaged, I think this succeeds.

Lastly, this is painted on the coarse linen that I bought in rather huge quantity during the summer.  Because the weave is so obvious, it requires some adjustments during painting; mainly it just requires a lot of paint. The weave breaks up the paint surface and dims the paint in the same way as looking at a colourful flower through a screen door dims the flower.  So I have to apply many more layers, much of it with a palette knife, before I achieve clean, vibrant colour.  That's not a bad thing, and it means that there's a great variety in the paint consistency in this piece.

It was a challenge, and those keep a painter fresh.

Happy painting!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dealing with shadows

12 x 16
I start all of my paintings by roughing in the darks and trying to connect as many of them as I can.  The colour I use for this step is unrelated to the actual local colour of the subject and is usually an earthy dark. So a turquoise object will begin with an earth-coloured drawing and shadow.

The next thing I do is place pieces of local colour throughout the painting, setting up the colour scheme for that composition.  That's when the turquoise, blue, flesh tones, and background colour appear.

But the trickiest step is deciding on the colour - if any - that will go over that initial dark.  Part of the decision making is logical: warm light, cool shadows; or cool light, warm shadows.  Which still leaves a lot of questions.  Do I make the cool shadow green, blue or blue-purple based?  Is the warm shadow red, orange, or red-purple? And if that's not enough to think about, I have to remember that temperature is relative: a green shadow can appear cool or warm depending on its context. It may look cool next to orange, but warm next to blue.

These questions are easily answered if I'm working from life: if I look hard, I'll see the colour.  But I have to simply make arbitrary decisions when working from a photo as I did here.  No matter how hard I stare at the shadows in a photo, there's no information for me to find.  

One strategy - the one I used in this painting - is to decide on the background colour and then introduce it into the shadows on the subject.  It's a method that I learned from reading painters like David Leffel and Gregg Kreutz, and it works beautifully to harmonize a painting and to integrate the subject with its environment.  The warm greenish-ochre mixture near the figure's head appears in the shadow on her body as well as in the shadows of the drapery.  It's modified with other warms to avoid monotony, but it is the foundation for the other mixtures.  You can see how this allows the blue, turquoise and flesh colours to mingle rather than sitting separately as isolated individuals; the shadow is the common thread that unites them.

Like everything, though, it can become formulaic, so I don't use it as my default mode - unthinkingly.  It's just another tool in the box.

Happy painting!