Studio Work: Last Light

Acrylic, 20×24″, stretched canvas
This has been a long relationship sort of painting, working on it off and on over the past month. It started out with a few brush marks, noting colors in a sketchpad on the side of the road as the shadows rose to the top of the trees. I think they are either cottonwoods or elms, but the yellows and bronze colors of the leaves hit by the deep orange-pink light of the sun seemed to set them on fire. Just behind the trees the sky was bright with a slight green tint that made the reds, oranges and yellows of the trees pop out even more. In contrast, the area in the shadows seemed to loose all color with slight shades of green gray that brightened towards a blue-gray as it went back in the distance. Although there’s no road, it was needed to lead th eye towards the trees. Giving the soil a muted red gave just enough variety to the grasses without making it shout out for attention. I also remember the other mental notes I took there on the side of the road was the high contrast in the sunlight off the tree trunks that seemed to soften along the edges as they dippped into the shadow. Everything emphasized the explosion of color on the ridgline between shadow and light. 

There might be a few small changes as I set it aside for a while in order to look at it again later with fresh eyes. 

Plein Air: Broken Down House (Weimar,TX)

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. 

Plein Air: Wax Pencil Sketching 

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! 

Studio Painting: Work up from plein air.

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. 

Studio Painting: Lazy Days

“Lazy Days” 12×16″, a/c
Value study (6×8″, a/board)
Initial concept sketch
Reference Photo
This scene is from the summer days when I’d pass by a field of cows in Columbus, TX on my way home. It started with that initial glance of the lazy cows trying to find shade under a sparsely branched cedar. I shot a quick photo as I passed by. Months later, I was flying to Marblehead to visit my brother and his family and flipped through the photos on my phone looking to sketch on the flight. Seeing this photo, I was able to zoom in cropping the rest of it, focusing in on the heart of what I saw in that glance. Months later, I was flipping through my sketch book and thought I’d post it to my Instagram account (@teveman) and after watching a DVD of John Poon teaching his method, figured I’d give it a go. I did the small value sketch last night to both work out the composition more and find some good brush strokes. This morning, I woke up and it went quickly! I thought it’d be fun to mix up my palette a bit and colors I don’t normally use that leaned towards the warm size. As I went, I saw the need to make the cows tan, rather than white to really stand out against the green surrounding and remembered the cows I’d seen around my home. I took a risk, but it seemed to work out well. I thought the cows might need more detail, but then stopped. It’s usually better to have bold, defining strokes than a bunch of strokes searching for a way to say what one careful stroke can do. Fun study! The enjoyment really is in the process of the painting.

I highly recommend John Poon’s Landscapes DVD. He has great organizational skills and presents how to use a busy scene, clarify the focus and work through a four step process. He also works in acrylics, but it’s equally good for oils as well.

Plein Air: Small Statue

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. 

Studio Work: “Sunset over Sedan” Weimar, TX

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.

Plein Air: Ol barn in Weimar, Texas

Indoor pic
On-location picture

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.

Will post the studio version soon!

Still Life Studies: Value Sketches

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.

Plein air: Weimar, TX

It’s been a while since my last post since Instagram has been popularized as an artist hangout, but blogging is really the place to tell the story behind the painting. So, I’ll begin again.

I’ve enjoyed cycling on the country roads around Weimar, TX filled with scenes of farm life, cows, hay bales and old crooked barns. I have a small day pack with my favorite Walmart field easel strapped to it, which is something the locals aren’t quite used to seeing. When I find a scene and pull off the side and set up my tripod-easel, they think I’m a surveyor or something practical. To see me painting, well that’s just weird. With repetition, I’m slowly breaking them in and now have the western side of Weimar used to me, waving and checking out what’s new on the easel. 

I ventured out to the eastern side for this scene and found a small shallow creek winding through the grasses and large Live Oaks. The bridge over it had just enough room to set up on the side. As folks passed, they had no idea what I was doing and I got the “stink eye” from some. It’ll take some time, but they’ll learn and soon enough, start to wave. It’s the Weimar way. Change takes time, but anything new is refreshing. 

I was fascinated with the different shadows being cast on the ground and water by the trees and grass. It’s hard to catch everything in the small 6×9″ sketch pad, but shadows from small moss patches shadowed the creek bed like clouds do on a large open space, following the contours of the bottom.

Well, if your an Instagrammer, my username is @teveman.