Monday, November 24, 2014

Colourful Shadows

Yellow Air Mattress
40 x 30
This subject sparked my imagination though the girl in my photo reference was no more than a graceful silhouette as she headed for the water.  The key was to make the most of her shadowy shape and not get too caught up in the brilliantly-illuminated air mattress.

I started by deciding on a temperature for the light.  It would be cool, so that I could push the warmth of her body to extremes.  I washed in a tone across the figure using oranges and ochres before beginning to model her form with purples and greens.  That way, the foundational warmth would influence all subsequent colours and temperatures.  Over those initial statements, I layered broken colour in both warm and cool.  She couldn't be just warm, or she felt too much like an illustration: lacking depth and complexity.  So she has hot oranges and cooler alizarin-based colours as well as greens and lavenders in her body.

I had to keep her highlights simple and not too dominant or they stole attention from the shadows; our eyes will always go to the light, so I had to downplay that light as much as possible.  You can see that the girl's highlights are based on a pinkish tint, but there is a lot of cool, greenish tint laid over top to neutralize them.  As well, I softened the edges of the lights to ensure that the viewer's eye doesn't get hung up on crisp edges and impasto paint.

Then, to keep the focus on her figure, I simplified the background and made sure that it held the colours of the girl's body, but in lower chroma.  In the photo, the girl was heading across sun-bleached sand into brilliant, cobalt blue water.  The sky was cerulean and vibrant.  If I'd honoured that in the painting, the girl would have been just one high chroma element in many, so I toned them all down for her sake.  This was hard, because a photo tends to make a painter very literal, and I had to put away the photo in order to allow the painting to speak to me and tell me how to proceed.

It's an overcast, cold day here today, with old snow on the ground, but, in the studio, the summer sun is blazing on a carefree girl as she jogs to the water to cool off.  I think I'll stay in the studio with her!

Happy painting!

Saturday, November 8, 2014


Purple Life Vest
30 x 30

There's no way to avoid being influenced by other artists, and, honestly, I don't understand why people would even want to avoid it.  There are only so many novel ideas to be dredged out of the head of a person who spends all of her working days by herself in a studio.  A little creative boost from other artists is something that I welcome.  

This painting was the direct result of receiving the exhibition catalogue of David Prentice's last, and final show at the John Davies Gallery in the UK.  Prentice died this year leaving behind a legacy of gorgeous landscape paintings that are richly coloured and beautifully designed. And they have an unabashed quantity of pink in them.  

Pink has always seemed like a dangerously frivolous colour and I'd never considered using it before, but Prentice's work changed that.  It turns out that pink is an uplifting, and lively colour and it's awfully fun to use.  Pink says warmth.

So I used it liberally and filled the canvas and the studio with summer sun.  

Thank you, Mr. Prentice. 

Happy painting!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Colour schemes

The Shore
16 x 12
It's easy to get caught up in the wonders of the colour selection at the art supply store, but I find that my favourite paintings are the ones with the least number of colours in them.  I also know that I have a real preference for looking at paintings that have an overall green or blue bias with smaller hits of warm colour.  I didn't actually put this into words for myself until I visited the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia last year and found myself gravitating invariably to the paintings with cool colour schemes such as Van Gogh's "The Postman" .  Unlike earthy, natural schemes, these artificial, stylized colour harmonies have amazing visual vibrations.  "The Postman" was hung in a little out -of-the-way corner of a room filled with Renoirs and Cezannes, but it still managed to dominate the space.

So, while I don't often set out to impose a colour scheme on my work - I find that to be an artificial process that feels too rational for such an intuitive process - I did make a decision to use a lot of green in this piece.  Once I had that, and the colour of the foreground figure's bikini top, I wove the purple throughout the rest, letting it work as a foil and near-complement to its surroundings.  The warm reds, pinks and peach colours relieve the overall coolness, and I hit them hard in the figures' skin tones.

This was a useful colour experiment and worth remembering for future paintings.  It was a good way to take the messy complexity of a photo reference and impose structure and order on it.

Happy painting!