Monday, January 11, 2010

New direction for a study

Autumn's First Kiss, 9X12 oil on linen panel

Now that the blanket has covered us here in Minnesota with all the subtlety of a freight train slamming into the side of a mountain, I am here painting in the studio much more. It's a good time to review the plein air studies I did last year, and see if there are any of them from which I might like to work.

Here is a painting that I did by taking one of my plein air studies and painting over it. The original study, titled "Wildflower Hill", had many things about it that I liked. It was a success in my mind, as far as it went, which wasn't far enough. It was a painting which needed more. Here it is as I posted it last summer.

Wildflower Hill, 9X12 oil on painting panel

And though I liked it, I felt that it could be a much better painting with a few simple changes. As I saw it, there were two things to be addressed. The first was the depth of the composition. As I stood on site and did this painting, this is the way the actual landscape was. But when I took a more critical look at it, I wasn't comfortable with the fact that the foreground, middleground and background were so layered and separate. There was nothing leading your eye around the painting. One of the challenges we face as plein air painters is to take what nature gives us and translate it into a two dimensional work of art. One which leads us around the composition in a logical and pleasing manner. Most of the time, things need to be deconstructed and rearranged to get a successful painting. In the original, I really was trying to translate into paint, something as challenging (at least it's challenging to me) as a field of wildflowers, without getting drawn into the trap of painting individual flowers, instead of general shapes and correct values and edges. But what was missing were the elements which broke up the strong line of the hillside and lead you back into the trees. It was missing the depth. So, while repainting, I paid attention to breaking the line of the hillside by adding bushes which lead your eyes from foreground to background and back again. I also added a small post fence to the hilltop to help lead you around the painting. The smaller tree on the right side of the painting was pulled forward and does a nice job of breaking up the diagonal of the hill, and keeps your eye from sliding off the edge. It's job is also to add to the three dimensionality of the landscape. It's your invitation to step into the next layer. It keeps things from being flat.

I also reworked the patches of wild flowers into shapes which were of unequal size and shape, and into a more pleasing pattern. And was careful to paint the patch just under the large tree brighter than the rest. In this way, I help to establish my focal point of the large tree.

The second thing I wanted to do differently, was to paint it with more style. I want the person looking at the painting to know I had fun painting it. So I painted this one with a looser hand and more style. So here are a few detail photos to show some of the brushwork.



Thanks for looking, Steve

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