Studio Work: Afternoon Grazing

2016_6_13_BacklitCalfWeb
14×18″ acrylic on stretched canvas, “Afternoon Grazing”

While driving to and from work at an artist’s studio in Columbus, TX, I pass by many fields with cows. One field in particular is on the west side of the road and the cows hang close to the fence, back-lit by the sun. When I saw this young cow with the fuzzy hair on the ears lit up like they were glowing, I hit my brakes, rolled down the window and caught this pose just in time.  A couple days later, I needed a painting to start on my Friday “artist-in-studio” sessions at the local Live Oak Center. I propped up my laptop on a table, and got started. That was a few weeks ago, and since then, this painting has hung around the kitchen at home. It seems if I see it around in passing, my mind works on it and when I see it again, I think “this needs a cactus”, or “I need to change the background cow’s color. The last time I passed it, it just seemed like it was done. I had the goal in the starting point to add color into the shadows on the main cow to draw interest and past that, I really didn’t care. It was a simple goal and if the rest of the surrounding parts support that cow as the main character, it’s a success. I was going to name it “Moo”, but I think a gallery would prefer “Afternoon Grazing”.  Fun times.

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Plein Air: Columbus, TX

I did a bunch of sketches today. The day started with a hazy, overcast sky, which greyed down everything, but it also enhanced the appearance of trees in the background looking like they were miles off rather than just a few hundred feet. I drove up to a scene right outside of Weimar, TX and had some trouble with all the colors being so close to grey, but it was a good warm up:


I went and worked for a couple of hours and saw the lighting just get better by the minute. The Weather Channel app was calling for rain three days in a row starting tomorrow, so I went out to do some quick studies hoping I’ll have some good ones to enlarge tomorrow as an “artist in residence” in the Columbus Art Center. I drove just outside of the Columbus city limits along the highway and tuned off on a road that said “no outlet” and was full of cracked pavement with a lame attempt to fill it with gravel. Perfect. It led to a gate along a fence with a scene full of depth. Here’s a couple small studies from that area:


I like the dark shadows and more saturated greens of the close trees versus the blueish shadows and more muted greens in the distance.

That went much quicker than I thought, so I headed back to the highway, and somehow found myself in a Beason Park, in Columbus, a place I’ve painted before. Huge oaks! I set up to do the same thing with close up trees and distant trees, but I’d be in the oak grove with soft spotlights through the leaves on the green grass. When I checked the distant trees closer, I saw the tower of the famous courthouse poking through the tops of the trees like a postcard image. It was a no-brainer. After a 5 minute value sketch and a ten minute color study, I got out an 11×14″ canvas panel and tried my luck. It would be a perfect scene for tomorrow! After about 2 hours, here’s what I ended with:


“The Columbus, TX Courthouse Bell Tower” 11×14″, acrylic

It could use a bit of adjusting, but this will work! I’ll start a 16×20″ or larger of it tomorrow in oils. Another fun adventure.

Plein Air: Old Ranch House in Weimar, TX

Ol’ Ranch House at Sunset, acrylic, 8×10″ (Sold! Thanks, Sharon and Glynn!!)
 
I went out to paint close to sunset at an old ranch house surrounded by Live Oaks just down the road from me. In fact, it’s the same ranch with the barn I did a study on in an earlier post a week or two ago. What drew me to it was the bright white of the house lit up by the sun shining almost directly against it, in contrast to the dark live oaks. I had just enough time to slap down the color notes before the sun set and then took it home to finish it. I softened the edges of the trees and sky to give it a sense of mystery but maintain the peace you feel when viewing it. 

I was curious what else is down this street since I now have about ten paintings just from the first three miles, so tied on the jogging shoes and did the full loop (7+ miles). I saw at least three more paintings and have seriously sore calves. Worth it! 

Plein Air and Sudio: Live Oaks and an Old Barn (Weimar, TX)

 

An old barn and live oaks in Weimar, TX (5×7″ oil)
 
This is a scene of huge live oak trees surrounding a barn just outside of Weimar, TX. With about an hour and a half left of sunlight, I quickly sketched this scene. I really liked the way the oak trees curved up around the barn, sort of framing it. 

Here’s the five minute value sketch to organize my plan of highlighting the barn making it a focal point: 

 

value sketch
 
And here is the scene:

 

actual scene (reference pic)
 
As you can see, I decided to darken the sky and brighten up the right side of the barn. Doing the pre-sketch was hard since I was in a hurry, but past frustrations have taught me those five minutes spent with the gray markers will almost cut the painting time in half and save a lot of frustration. 

About half of the way through, a random dog came up to me out of nowhere, barked and pooped ten feet from me before taking off. So, I spent the remaining time with that fresh scent. About an hour in, a man pulled up and said he lived on the ranch across the street and invited me to check out his huge oak trees. I put in a final 10 minutes, packed up and met him at his house. On the way I saw the dog in the road to the house with what looked like a grin. Ha. Mr. Janeske drove me around his property and on top of the hill is a huge, spanning oak grove with distant hills and trees behind it. Amazing scene! I told him I’ll be back for sure when the weather is right (it’s going to rain for the next week). I’m excited! 

Update: I worked on the large scale version of this study yesterday at the New Ulm art festival and it sold before I left! Here’s an iPhone pic of the finished painting (I need to get a better pic later). 

“Ol’ Barn on Sedan St” oil, 16×20

Plein Air: Weimar, TX (“Gracie’s Lantanas”)

 

  

picture taken indoors (no glare)
 In my grandmother’s backyard is a Lantana bush that was just about knee height with 4 fours in 2012. I had planted a garden there to fend off boredom while I went through chemo and left this little sprig alone. It obviously loves it there and is now a 6′ by 5′ bush sprawling out everywhere.

It was a perfectly lit, halfway out of the shadows, which really made the flowers and leaves pop out. Although painting flowers doesn’t really inspire me, it’s perfect to learn from. The flowers are pure, saturated color, which makes it easier to mix up greyed out (or “muted”) color for the leaves. I decided to go darker for the shadows, rather than try to suggest much there. My main goal was to learn brushwork.

Hopefully, I’ll be comfortable enough to start doing some landscape studies with old barns and cattle. The spring greens and golden color of the molting oak trees are hard to resist!

Plein Air: Nolenville, TX with Oils!

 

“Roadside Daisies” 5×7″ oil
 
This will be a quick note, but I got so tired of fighting with the acrylics drying and fading yesterday, I decided to test out some water soluble oils with a simple subject. It’s a lot different, but I love not having to rush to get the paint smeared on only to return to a dried pile of mix. I may return to acrylics at some point when I need to, but it’s a nice break. It seems that the oil blends so much better, I may be able to reach another level of expression in the subtle variations of cool and warm grays. I found a way to store wet panels very cheaply, and will show this in the next post. Can’t wait to get back out and try again!!

Plein air: “Less is More” Harker Height, TX

  

The scene: is of a pasture in Harker Heights, TX in the springtime with a herd of cattle and a tree line in the distance. The sky was cloudy only letting in a few seconds of sunlight, highlighting the cows. I had to be fast and try to memorize what it looked like. 

The experience: I’d just had a chat with a good artist friend about the “less is more” theme in painting. A good composition, meaning the right design and technical aspects, can hold a painting together so that it just looks right, even without the details. If you are on Instagram, look up @jeremyduncan and you’ll see much better examples of this concept. In the process of building a painting, this simplified version of the scene is the foundation to build on, exactly like the framework of a house. If the foundation of the painting is bad, no amount of detail is going to improve it or translate the emotional sense of the scene. In fact, details on top of a poor foundation will look overworked and leave the viewer confused, asking, “What is this about?” or “What am supposed to feel?”. On the other hand, well placed detail on top of a solid foundation will leave a clear sense of what it feels like to actually be there. 

I’m really looking forward to doing many more, similar “less is more” sketches!

Plein Air: Rocky outcrop near Westcliff, CO

  
The scene: in an area about an hour north of Westcliff, I hiked along a ridge line to the top of a mountain with this rocky outcrop. In the background are the Sangre de Christos mountains. It’s a striking view to look at with the rocks in the foreground in contrast to the distant blues of the far mountain range, giving you a sense of just how tiny you are and yet honored to be even a small part of it. 

The experience: I’d hoped the sketch would be something I could give to my friends while visiting them at their mountain home, but it needed a lot more touching up back in the studio (the image you see above). A bit frustrated that the sketch wasn’t what I’d hoped for, I packed up and headed back for dinner not realizing my wallet had fallen out. Unfortunately, the spot I painted from was about two feet wide with about a twenty foot drop off on one side and a large, thin crevice from about ten to thirty feet on the other. The next day, I hiked back up and found the wallet at the base of the cliff with my credit cards and drivers license missing. There’s zero possibility of another person stealing it because of the remoteness of this place. What happened was a mystery at first… Then we discovered chew marks on my leather wallet. Pack rats living in the rocks likely took those cards into the crevices. If they wanted to take my identity and order an year’s supply of mouse food, they now have the finances to do it. I’m certain they left the chew marks as evidence just to mock me. : )

Before heading back to CO Springs, I saw a view from the owner’s porch that seemed like a great composition with golden grass leading between the cedars and pines towards the view of the mountains. Deciding to go big (16×20), a couple of hours later it actually turned into a decent sketch that they really liked. 

  
Turns out they had wanted a painting of that scene for a while and the colors in this sketch matched the colors in their home. Some things are just meant to be. They’ve now named the rocky outcrop with the devil-rats Williamson Rock. Ha. Good times and always an adventure.

Plein Air: Garden of the Gods 

 

first scene by the main parking lot
  
2nd study by parking lot 12.
  
notan and contour line sketches
  
color mapping
 
About the scene: I sold a small painting yesterday, and the women who bought it commented that she had the sense that she was there because she’s so familiar with the area. Her comment was exactly what inspires me to continue. I was so encouraged by this, I went out to Garden of the Gods to find some scenes others may connect to. The first scene was painted by the main parking lot just to the right of the large cliff face. The sun shone down from the left across the rock, striking those familiar highlights you see everywhere in this area. The red rock against the green grass and shrubs and against the cobalt sky was striking. I wanted to catch that feeling. 

After about an hour and a half, I was heading around the loop in the park to exit. When I got almost to parking lot 12, I saw a strip of rock was back-lit against the gray-blue haze of the mountains and the green of the trees in the foreground. I couldn’t pass it up. Round two. The tip of the rock where it juts out on top to the right side was an instant focal point to anyone who looks at the rock formation, so hopefully someone will see this sketch and know where it is. About another two hours flew by. It’s amazing how fast time flies when your totally immersed in the joy of the moment. 

Artist Chat: As a part of the studies, I wanted to try doing quick Notan sketches with greyscale markers, contour line sketches and a color map to really focus me on what and how to approach these scenes. There is so much visual information in a scene, breaking it down helps the technical aspects. When I finished these sketches, I did a quick monochromatic underpainting (fast dry), and followed this up with color matching the value of the underpainting. The result was that I actually spent less time than I normally do without these initial steps. The painting also feels much fresher with bolder brush strokes. 

Plein Air: Cliff by Garden of the Gods (CO Springs)

   
  
    

 About the Scene:  This scene is just north of the Garden of the Gods entrance on the opposite side of the highway. Around 2pm, the light hits the tops of the trees, brush and tips of the cliffs producing amazing shadows and form. The shadows of the cliffs are lit up by the sunlit grass giving a luminous warmth along with the cool colors. There was details I couldn’t achieve with the rough canvas surface, but that’s solved by just going back out with a 16×20 canvas and giving this another go. From a personal standpoint, this was a bitter-sweet experience. I find so much personal inspiration in these mountains that it’s just feels like “home”. However, it’s been a real challenge to keep employment with limitations with word comprehension and numbers resulting in misunderstanding of instructions and mistakes. I understand this just how my brain functions now, but it means I’ll likely need to leave this amazing, inspiring area to go back home for another year or two until I can find some way to have financial stability. Im hopeful learning web development may be a solution. We’ll see. 

Artist Chat: Shown above is the process I’ve found works well for acrylics, doing a grayscale underpainting (which dries quickly), then finding the right colors in that value. This allows me to see the composition and make changes before introducing color.