Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Altered perception

Black mirror
One of my students in the Steveston, BC workshop gave me a very cool gadget.  It's low tech - just my speed.  It's another tool in my basket, allowing me to see my subjects and my paintings from new perspectives.  There's nothing like a new viewpoint to show you where your painting needs work.

The black mirror is a piece of glass coated on the reverse with black acrylic paint and, though it looks goofy when you use it (you look up to see an upside down version of the subject reflected in the glass), it is incredible at separating values in a subject so that you can understand the form of what you're seeing.  We used it in the workshop to clearly discern the value changes
along our model's arm, from low light up to high light on the top of her shoulders.

 Since then, I've discovered it's amazing at showing the value changes across subtle shifts such as on a white shirt worn under average light.  While it's easy to see light and shadow in bright sunlight, it's much harder under regular indoor fluorescent panels like the ones in the studio where I teach.   I'm enjoying examining the world through this new tool.  Thank you, Coral!

red acrylic
The second image shows a piece of red acrylic that I've found helpful over the years.  It's a value finder and, while I buy mine in a local art supply store, I've been told they're stocked at quilting stores, as well.  It works by turning the subject into a monochromatic scene, thereby showing its values without the distraction of local colour.  Its only drawback is that it shows red objects as white.  There is a light wave explanation for this.  Don't ask me to explain it.
hand mirror
The final tool: a compact mirror, is always in my painting kit.  By turning my back on the painting and looking at it in the mirror, I can get a fresh perspective on the painting.  Any drawing errors leap to view though they were well hidden when I was facing the work.  I have a large, wall mounted mirror behind me in the studio for the same purpose.  My rhythm of working is to make a mark or two and then swing around and look at the painting in the mirror to gauge the effect.  It helps me to avoid overworking because I can see when the painting has enough information to make sense from a distance: the mirror image is, essentially, doubling the viewing distance as well as reversing the image. 

If you've got any tools to alter your view of your painting or subject, I'd love to hear about them.  A painter can never have enough ways to freshen her eyes.

Happy painting!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Solo Exhibition Roux and Cyr International Fine Art Gallery

I'm having a solos show!  That's pretty exciting for me, and I hope you can come out and see it if you're in the Portland, Maine area,  The Roux and Cyr International Fine Art Gallery is a busy and active gallery that's been open for just over a year.  I was honoured to be asked to join them by painter and co-owner Susan Roux and it's been a positive experience all around.

The opening is May 1 and you'll be able to see a wide variety of my work from figurative to still life, and from small to large.  Enjoy the work and wine!

Happy painting!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

FCA Workshops in Steveston Village, BC

The figurative and still life workshops in Richmond, BC were a great experience for me and, I hope, for the painters who attended.

Two days were spent painting the clothed figure - many thanks to our inspiring model, Amy - and two days were devoted to still life.  Painters came from as far away as Tennessee, New York, Jasper, Osoyoos, and Calgary, as well as from the Vancouver area.  That meant great conversations in the classroom and over shared meals in some of the restaurants in the vicinity of the workshop venue. And yes, the venue had a lot of Rotary Club paraphernalia, but it was great despite the busy walls. We were in a functions room in a historic hotel, the Steveston, which also contains a pub (The Buck and Ear), a cafe, and a liquor store.  Really, you don't need anything else!

Despite the varied subject matter, I found that the recurring themes of the workshops were largely the same: composition, paint layering, edges, tone, colour temperature and colour interaction.  These things concern me no matter what I'm painting, and, in fact, I find subject matter subordinate to them. I've seen stunning paintings with mundane subjects like cutlery, and boring paintings with exciting subjects like beautiful women.  My aim is always directed at the former.

Thanks to the great painters who gave their all in these workshops and to the Federation of Canadian Artists for hosting them.

Happy painting!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Choices, choices...

Chinese Vase
10 x 8
Model in Strong Light
10 x 8
 I'll be in Vancouver next week teaching both figurative and still life workshops for the Federation of Canadian Artists.  To get into the mood, I've been working on small pieces in both genres in the studio.

What strikes me each time that I begin a painting is the vast number of choices that it involves.  And each choice made launches the work in a definite direction.  My most confounding decision starts with the support.  Oil primed linen is my usual choice (though I've also got oil paper, velum, aluminum, and gesso primed canvas and panels in the studio), but within that category I've got rough, smooth, and medium textured linen; double primed and single primed; stretched and mounted.  Each will impart a completely different look to the final piece - at least in my eyes - because the way that a mark breaks on each is unique to that surface.

Next is the colour of the toning - if I use any.  Sometimes I opt to start on a white surface for the clarity of colours that you get that way, but usually there's a colour underneath.  That decision takes a while to make.  Cool under a warm painting?  Warm under warm?  Neutral grey?  What chroma? What value?  You can see the dilemma.

Finally, the colour of the subject's first mark is crucial.  Earth toned or prismatic, this mark will direct the painting down a path, and the decision about which path I want it to take gives me pause - sometimes long pause.

Degas said that "painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do", and I concur, but I'd also add that it's richer and more rewarding when you do know how.  You're aware of so many possibilities and, like a chess player, you paint the piece in your head 5 different ways before you even pick up the brush.  But in the act of painting it in your head, you're helping to crystallize your plan for that piece; you're figuring out how you want it to look when it's done and, especially, how you don't want it to look.  That initial planning lets you know if you've been successful when you're done.

So planning and painting in the mind are going to be part of the workshops, but we always move beyond that.  Once these thoughtful starts are on canvas, I'm always dazzled by the directions that the painters take.  No two painters make the same initial choices, and no two paintings look the same at the end.  Regardless of subject, a successful painting is a record of the choices made by an individual on a give day in a specific place.  It can't be replicated, not even by the same painter, because those decisions are as changeable as a person's experiences and moods.  Each painting is unique and hard won, and full of moments of grace, even in passages of struggle.  Difficult?  Yes.  Uplifting?  You bet!

Happy painting!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Balance colour and temperature

Sunlight and Lemons
30 x 30
Some painters deliberately avoid using all three primaries in a single painting, but it's a practise that has never worked for me.  I need to see the full spectrum of colours in each painting or it feels out of balance.

This may be the difference between a tonal and a colourist approach; I can see limiting primaries if the subtle distinction between values were my method of painting, but colour is what obsesses me, and I need to use my full palette to satisfy my eye.

Of course I tend to forget this on occasion, as I did in this painting.  It began as a generally cool piece with greenish shadows and warm, yellowy light.  With the blue dominance in the still life objects, this meant that my painting was an analogous scheme of yellow greens and blues.  It was what I saw in the still life set up, but it didn't work in the painting.

It's interesting when that happens, because it's a reminder that you can't just trust your eyes, you have to use some rational thought and invention to recreate the effect that you're perceiving.   What I perceived was warmth, luminosity and airiness.  What I achieved with the first pass, was chilly heaviness.  I didn't love it.

That's when I remembered the full spectrum thing and added reds - pinks, actually - to the painting. The white cloth got shots of pink and purple that were of equal value to the yellow tints already there.  Because they were the same value, these new colours didn't scream "odd", they settled in and created a warm vibration.  The sky through the window got the same treatment.  It has peach, yellow, blue and other tints in it, making a general warmth that is more balanced, and more warm-feeling than when it just contained yellows and oranges.  Strangely, by adding cool notes, the warm yellows felt warmer than they had before.  Logical, I guess: I needed to see the opposite of warm to appreciate and understand the warmth when I encountered it.

So I added the full spectrum of colour and temperature to the painting and I began to like it.  It was saying what I intended it to say.  It's a lesson that I have to relearn, I suppose, but my hope is that on each relearning, I also learn something new.  It's that excitement and novelty that makes painting an obsession.

Happy painting!