Sunday, January 3, 2010

There's One in Every Bunch

Hi All,
I've been busy in the studio working on some new medium sized paintings for the show deadlines coming up, as well as the spring gallery season. The Oil Painters of America National Show deadline is fast approaching. This painting was to be my entry, but paintings need to be available for sale in that show. I am blessed to have some wonderful collectors, and when I was approached by one who wanted to add it to their collection, I wasn't about the say no. So, I'm working on another piece for that show. However, I wanted to post this painting and share some of my thoughts and processes on how I painted it.

There's One In Every Bunch, 24X30, oil on linen

Firstly, let's talk about paintings and photo reference. I have lots and lots if ideas rolling around in my head for paintings I would like to do. Sometimes the ideas for the painting comes first and I take my reference to fit the idea I have. Sometimes I get an idea for a painting from the reference I've taken and fit the painting together from that. Sometimes I even get a name for a painting and develop the painting to fit the name. For this painting I had the idea and name first. I had the reference I needed for the bolting steer and chasing cowboy, though they came from different photos. The thing I needed was the setting for the painting. I wasn't happy with anything I had for this piece and waited till I found the perfect scene. That happened when I went to Canyon de Chelly and along with Rusty Jones, stumbled into this wash. The layout and lighting was perfect. It didn't take long to put the scene together. I love the S curve of the composition, with the dust of trail taking you back into the gully to where it opens up to the basin in the background.

I always try to do some drawings for any areas in a painting that have changes that need to be worked out ahead of time. Honestly, taking a little time now can save you a whole lot of painting time later on. In this case, I had to add sleeves onto the shirt of the cowboy. I took the additional photos for the sleeves I needed and worked out any problems in this charcoal sketch. In this sketch I was considering adding a vest to the rider. In the end, I decided against it.
Horse and rider study

These pencils are done quickly and I don't labor over them. That way I don't spend a lot of time adding information I don't need to work out. It doesn't need to be photographic for me to use it, it's just a tool for gathering information. Drawing is fun, but in the end, it's about doing a painting, not drawing.

Once the painting information is gathered, I draw the image onto the canvas and paint. I start with large shapes and cover the canvas as quickly as I can while still being accurate with the values. I can't stress this enough. Color temps can be tweaked later and the details added last, but I try not to add these details until I'm happy with the values, composition and color temps. It's the things you notice first in a painting that you paint in last.

Cowboy detail


Dust detail #1

Dust detail #2

One additional note.... if you are painting from photos, do not be a slave to the colors or values which you see. You need to adjust these things to work together into a cohesive scene. Photography is a wonderful tool, but it's just a tool. Your photos will always disappoint you when you get back to the studio. Your darks will become black holes, and your highlights will almost always be too light. But if you do your homework and spend some of your time painting in the field, you will be able to trust yourself to make corrections and adjustments when you need to. I know for me, that the trip I took last year to paint in the Canyon, helped me to be able to paint the colors I knew to be there, not the colors my camera recorded. I can't stress this enough. Thanks for taking the time to look at my latest work. My next post will follow me as I work a painting from start to finish.

taker easy, Steve


portos said...

congratulations! your works are dreaming.

Tim Fitzgerald said...

Happy NEW Year Steve,
Your painting There's One in Every Bunch is a great way to start the year, and sold before the paint was dry!!
Getting everything right without cluttering it up with detail is a dance you perform magnificently.
I struggle with that fine line every day, sometimes successfully other times not.
Could you answer a question for me? What would you say is your success rate of paintings you do?
Thanks Tim

Steve Atkinson said...

Thanks Portos, for the feedback and post! You are very kind.

Steve Atkinson said...

Hi Tim,
I appreciate the good feedback. I'll answer as best I can. I can't tell you exactly how many of the paintings I start are successful, but I would say that most of the ones I do in the studio go on to the gallery. Not all sell right away, of course. But in this economy, it's a freakin' miracle if anyone sells a painting. When I first started painting, my average wasn't good. I've a pile of abandoned panels.

I would say that the reason I now finish so many of the ones I start is simply because I'm to darn stubborn to give up. I can usually tell when something isn't working, and most of the time, why. But there are times that I simply am too close to the painting and have worked on it too long that my judgment is thrown off. When that happens, I stop being able to judge relationships correctly. When that happens, I stop, turn the painting to the wall for a while, and come back to it in a week, or a month or even six. Once some time has passed (along with my frustration), I look at it again with a fresh eye. Almost always I can see the problem right away and can fix it.

I have a suggestion for you and your clutter problem. For the longest time I had the same problem, until I stopped painting the details in too soon. You need to get in all of your big shapes, simplify and don't add anything that doesn't need to be there, always knowing that you can add the details later, and sparingly at that. Also, pay particular attention to the whole painting and how that detail you've added affects the painting as a whole. It's very important to do this. If the detail doesn't help to tell your story or add to the design of the painting, leave it out. NC Wyeth was a master of this. Often when I'm blocking in a painting, it looks too simple and that's when I know I'm doing it right. I can always add detail and complexity, but it's very very difficult to take it out once it's in there.

Anyways, best of luck to you and here's to a great 2010

Jennifer McChristian said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for sharing these valuable tips and suggestions :)
'There's One in Every Bunch' rocks!
Happy New Year my friend!

Steve Atkinson said...

Thanks Jennifer, your posts are always a bright spot in my day.A big congrats on your Laguna Signature status. A great accomplishment, of which you should be very proud. I know I am for you :0)

Does Ben enjoy going to these events? I'd probably miss my own shows if I could find a way...