I risked the overcast skies and high chance of rain to get in a few sketches at Dana Peak Park today. It’s always a question mark in my head,”Do you really want to do this?” as I drive there, but as soon as I start down the entrance trail, I know it was right. Every time. The thick atmosphere really set the hills in the distance back with deep blues, contrasting to the warm greens of the cedars around me. In five minutes, I was roughing in the most simple statement of the scene, as I’m learning in class in Nathan Fowkes Schoolism class. Fourty minutes later, I put in the last touches and was off to explore more. It was fun seeing people pose at the far end of the trail, hoping to be immortalized in the sketch.
I’ve started a series on an Instagram account (@sw_abstractions) that will explore slowly pushing myself into the abstract expression I see in nature, more directed by what I feel than the literal scene. In fact, I name the sketch for the emotion it portrays before I start, stopping myself frequently as I paint to ask, “Am I painting this emotion?”. Often, I’ve gone too far trying to copy the scene and half of my time is spent painting over my careful rendering, back into abstraction. Today I found a deer trail leading off of the main path and almost stepped on a prickly pear cactus almost tucked away in the grass. I saw the big thorns and noted how I focused so closely on those, that the rest of the surrounding grasses faded away. “Clarity” was the feeling I was greatful for, those times in life when everything else in the mind clears and you are in the moment. I think I painted the grass about five times, getting it just right, then seeing I’ve lost the softness and scribbling over it. Good lesson.
After “Clarity”, I walked about four miles over the hills, dodging the Sunday mountain bikers, and found myself just enjoying the exercise. Sensing I was done for the day, I walked toward the entrance when a brief glimpse of sunlight hit some big oak skeletons, weathered and clear of their bark, showing the smooth silver layer underneath. The background hills were still in shadow, so the warm sunlight lit up those oaks brilliantly as if they glowed. I gave myself 45min for uber-fast sketching and really paid attention to catching the boldness of the trees in relation to the softness of the brush around it. A lady stopped by, liking my easel set-up and I had a chance to explain how it’s just a Walmart easel, modified to be much more useful along with my other cheap, rigged gear. It was so fun to see her realizing with a big, excited smile that with about $40, she can do this, easel, brushes, paints paper… everything. I live for those moments to witness a spark of inspiration. So satisfying, and a perfect end to the day.
I just finished varnishing a commission painting and will post that up tomorrow.
Well, I was tired of waiting for a sunny day and decided it was a good challenge to paint a gray, overcast scene. What it lacked in color, it gained in atmosphere and subtle colors. Unfortunately, my days of painting along the roadside around here are now done. Two ladies pulled up alongside me and said they were the owners of the property. The ranchers along the road are extra cautious and pulling out their guns because they’ve had a lot of vandalism and people tailing the women as they drive home at night. Hard to believe this happens in little Weimar, TX. Sad. I told them my family ties to Weimar and about what I do with on-location sketches as an artist. They understood, but warned me that it may not be safe for me to do that right now and then called off the police. Last comment the lady made was that she had to get inside because she’s making sausage and it’ll burn. Ha. This is definitely Weimar. Glad she was relieved to know I was one of the good guys.
As for the technical artist chat side of the experience, it was fun to use an “earth colors” palette as a part of my Schoolism course. Rather than pure color, I used red oxide, yellow ochre, ultramarine blue and titanium white. The point of it is to force me to use the color complements , like red vs. green or purple vs. yellow, to make them stand out next to each other. I made the background trees slightly more purple than they were to make the foreground greens and yellows of the grass stand out. Those greens and yellows appeared almost a flat gray on my brush, but looked right next under the background. Also, the differences in value (light/dark) are that much more important because I don’t have striking colors to stand out as a design element. Tough lesson, but I learned a lot from it!
In Weimar, there are still un-paved alleys between houses. The light and shadows cast across them in the last hour of the day is perfect for a quick study. In the class I’m taking in Schoolism, Nathan Fowkes spends the first two lectures drilling in the concept of seeing the scene in a simplified way and capture that first. In this scene, it’s about the light cast across the alley and onto the bush in the middle ground. After laying in a rough sketch, I pulled out the big brush and did full, dramatic sweeps of shadow colors across the paper where for the shadows were and then one single big blob of dark, cool green and brushed upward to be a “bush”. Next, laying in the sunlit streaks over the shadows, the basic drama of the scene was set in the first five minutes. The rest was just detail added onto the foundation. I thought about finishing a background, but it’s just a sketch and the concept I needed was there.
It’s such a relief to be inspired by a scene, such as this dipslay of light and be able to start out getting the “feel” of the scene as the backbone, then overlay the detail. I guess an analogy would be getting a burst of energy while jogging and jump into a sprint just to feel like flying, rather than think of which foot to start with and how long my stride should be (the details). The details are important. Nobody should start a sprint with both feet forward at the same time or even think about it. That’s nuts. So, when painting, let the first foot be impression, then the next, representation, then just fly as the two come to a balance.
It’s shorts and t-shirt weather here in Weimar with full sun. Hard to believe it in the first part of January, but I’ll take it! I rode my bike down the frontage road to I-10 and found an old run down house crowded in some trees. I don’t normally paint houses, but it’s a good challenge for this year. There’s too much potential for painting run down homes around here. Might as well step out of my comfort zone and learn to paint them!
After watching a video tutorial by George Strickland, I began to see the very subtle shades of reflected light on the white, chipped paint. Blues, greens, yellows… it’s amazing to see something that didn’t appear to be there before. Kind of unreal. He teaches to emphasize these variations to add interest to an otherwise flat wall. The green-blue reflected light under the roof of the front wall, and the bright yellow under the eve of the side room near where the sun hits, are examples. In his video, he works back and forth, adjusting the colors from cool to warm and back again until it just looks right. His work is amazing.
I battled my fast-dry acrylics today with the unually dry, warm air. The piles of paint formed a thick wall on the outside as it dried so I’d have to push my finger on it to make some fresh paint ooze out of the bottom side. By the time I finished mixing, I’d have one swipe with the brush before my freshly mixed paint was dry. Time to break out the slow-drying acrylics or just move to oils! Either way, it made for a fun day.
I’m also learning video editing and hopefully I’ll be able to start up a YouTube channel and start posting some of the adventures.
It really helps to do a lot of value sketches to see and really “sink in” to your subject. In painting, there’s a lot of thinking going on with color, brushwork, and other technique issues. So many times in my paintings, it was an issue of forgetting to focus and observe my subject. My brush is moving, but I’m not taking the time to look and record. Sketching will re-focus you into accuracy, squinting to get the values right and also, you can let go and let your mind work out the patterns needed which would be a disaster in painting. In painting that’s a straight road to overworking the subject until it’s color is mute and looks dead.
A new “toy” I’m using for this is a wax “Sanford Peel-Off” pencil used for marking metal (welding pencil). The other two pencils are a white General charcoal pencil and regular 0.5 Bic mechanical pencil to lay in the undersketch. The wax pencil has a benefit over charcoal in that it’s keeps the tip sharp easier and you can use the eraser to blend it out. The more you erase, the thinner the coat is until it’s like a transparent layer. Perfect for edgework to soften edges far from the focal point.
If your up to practicing this, start by marking four values on the bottom corner, dark black, light black (wax pencil with lighter touch), leave the tan to be the next lighter value, and finish with the white charcoal. Draw in your subject lightly with the mechanical pencil, then shade in the white and darkest darks. This should help you define the focal area well since it normally has the highest contrast. Next shade in the rest and don’t forget to leave the tan paper blank where it’s already the correct value. When you finished shading, if you want to soften up the edges away from the focal area, use the eraser to move the wax around. You might need to scrape off the eraser if it builds up. Keep erasing until it looks right. You can go back over it with the wax pencil if needed, but the white charcoal will not work over the wax. So, make sure you keep away from the white. Have fun!
I did a small plein air study of a creek just outside of town (Weimar) and scaled it up into a studio work over the past few days. The hardest thing to do is keep the “fresh” look of loose brushstrokes the the original study has. I think I repainted the foreground about five times, finally getting an objective viewpoint from Mom, and presto, it was done. Goes to show the value of a critique and how brushwork is so much more confident when there’s a solid plan in sight.
I decided to soften the edges on the trees to ensure that line between the light sky and the dark tree did distract from the hard edges of the focal point near the center of the creek.
It still feels a bit like I need to add something more, but I can’t put my finger on it, so this is when to set it aside and begin a new work. I do like how the golden grass contrasting with the dark creek and trees was retained as that was the instant draw when I saw the scene. The gradation from the sky reflections into the brown-ochre color of the creek bed was a great lesson. There is so many small color shifts in the creek bed! Fun.
For a change in subject from the usual landscapes, I painted a small cement statue of a boy holding grapes and a cup. My grandmother has owned this for probably longer than I’ve been alive, and now that she lives away from home in assisted living, I think she’d enjoy this one.
What caught my eye initially to do this sketch was the deep shadows cast across the face and body, but as I started painting it, all the colors and the dry texture were so interesting, it became a secondary focus. Over the years, lichen has grown onto it in deep purples, greens and rust colored oranges. It was a unexpected challenge to find those colors both for the shadow and the lit sides! For the painters out there, if you take a picture of it, seeing it in the camera screen will clearly show you where you are probably off in both color and accuracy of the proportions (but not value). I found several times I was not painting with a warm enough color in the sun-lit side and making that adjustment really helped to offset the cool colors in the shadows! Nice way to check yourself as it progresses.
A few weeks ago, I rode my bike down the road in Weimar, TX around dusk, and found an amazing scene with clouds rolling up behind the treeline. I had just enough time to catch the mood in a quick sketch and the basic colors. It wasn’t anything show-worthy, but the information was gold. It’s more than just a sketch, but more like a short story without words. It was calm, warm, the clouds where changing behind the trees while the setting sun changes the color. Cows were grazing slowly along the tree line. It was serene.
That’s the first part of the journey. A studio painting takes on a story of it own. It starts with a replica of the sketch, just enlarged, but as the painting developed, the composition calls for changes. The tree line on the right and background trees needed to be reduced to support the focal area around the big tree where the sun meets it. The field in the foreground had no road, but it added a the viewer access into the area mentally to explore. It didn’t change the serene feeling, which is the central role the painting is founded on. It may call for little tweaks over the next few weeks, but it’s a solid finish already.
I had a chance to get in a quick sketch before the sun went down of an old barn with a raised water tanks used for the house or cattle back in the day. This is on the edge of town about two blocks over from my house (small town!). What struck me about this scene was how the light on the red barn and rust of the tower contrasted with cool grey greens and blues of the field and background trees. It’s a simple composition, but if I play it right using deep, warm colors in the shadow of the barn, it can be a very dynamic, yet peaceful painting. The other aspect that draws me in is the softness in the grass and background vs the sharp edges of the barn and water tank. It was hard to catch this with the limited time (about 45min), but the image is cemented in my mind from studying it so closely.
Quick post: After doing a value sketch (limiting the still life to 4 values: light, medium light, medium dark and dark), I wondered how it would apply to easing the panting process. I matched the colors and values to roughly block in the orange and it went great! So, I figured, what’s next? I threw in spoon that just helped me finish off a tub of Blue Bell ice cream, worked for that too. I liked how it was going, so I figured I’d make a theme of it and threw in the sketch pad and white charcoal pencil. Boom. Done. Fun study with a limited palette: Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, and Titanium White. Oh, by the way, I finished reading “Bold Strokes” by Mark Weber and it really helped! Great book.