Painting in a Series: San Francisco Moonrises

“Theme and variation is simply the combination into a single principle of the effects of contrast and repetition.  Once a theme is stated, it may then be given a series of restatements, each recognizably the same, though each work a variation on the theme”

John F.A. Taylor

What does it mean to paint a series?

Have you explored creating art by working a theme into a series?  Doing so can improve your skills and sales.

Over time, I’ve slowing grown to appreciate the value of painting in a series.  Perhaps a turning point was when my local art museum exhibited Monet’s series from his gardens, including his water lily pond, rose archway, gardens and iconic Japanese bridge.  It is telling that Monet focused more on serial painting after he had become successful and was rewarded with the flexibility to create whatever he wanted. He made a deliberate choice to paint this way later in life.

Unless you paint as a photo realist, you are making subjective choices in every painting.  Art is a subjective endeavor. Painting in a series that constricts the subject gives the artist the opportunity to explore subjective artistic choices to look at the subject in new ways. In this way, it builds creativity muscle.

Here are some examples of other art forms that use a serial format. You can see the value of this is pervasive.

  • Music. In jazz improvisation, a set of chord progressions is analogous to the subject in a series, and provide the context for experimentation.  Like a painting series, each improvisation performance is unique, but made consistent by a single chord progression.
  • Television. In a television series, a foundation of characters forms the basis for exploring different situations. 
  • Painting. One of my favorite series that I study often is Kevin Macphereson’s “Reflections on a Pond,” in which he paints 365 views of his pond. Jean Stern said of this book, “Kevin’s goal was for the subject to be secondary to the momentary conditions that affect it,” conditions such as weather, time of day and light.

Why paint a series?

  • Deepen Subject Understanding. There is tremendous value in reducing the complexity of making art.  Making fewer choices and focusing on decisions that matter (subtlety, color, etc.) allows the artist to explore the subject of a theme more deeply.  Series are paths to discovery, the essence of creation.
  • Foster the Eye. The challenge of discovering or inventing variations on a theme forces you to create differences within a context, such as the painting’s subject (e.g., for Monet, haystacks).  This helps the artist develop subtlety and train the eye to see new things.
  • Improving Sales. While I have no research to back this up, I think there’s a sales benefit. It’s interesting how a buyer’s thinking works.  Viewing a series, I believe they begin an internal process of judging which among the series they like best.  It simplifies their choice.  Rather than choosing between a seascape and a cityscape for example, they are given a narrowed path to make a purchase decision. Also, this kind of work demonstrates your depth as an artist, that you can see the same subject and represent it in a myriad of ways. This increases the buyer’s confidence that you have the breadth of skills to succeed long term, making you a good investment.
  • Studio Work. And finally, a series of smaller works can be a form of exploration for larger studio work.

How to paint in a series

  • Start with an Objective. There are typically two objectives: either to learn new skills (with no intention of showing the work); or developing a series with a sales objective.  For example, living in San Francisco, I’ve painted series’ around an iconic subject that I know will connect with collectors. At other times, I paint this way simply to learn the subject more fully.
  • Choose a Subject. Select a subject and create variables for exploration. For example, in this San Francisco moon rise series, the subject is the rising moon, and I’ve constrained the series by using the same aspect ration (9×12 here), same view (living room window), and proportion of sky to land.  The areas of exploration are color, weather conditions, the position of the moon in the sky and the moon’s size.
  • Rinse and Repeat. Create new variations on your theme until you’ve met your objective.

Painting in a series is a great way to explore any subject and grow as an artist. Share your own experience in comments. For a video of this series with music, click here to go to YouTube, or click the video below.

Pushing Paint

Oil paint has many unique qualities, including variations in texture, from light, watercolor-like washes, to impasto strokes of full body oil. Lately, I’ve been exploring the latter, painting with a fully loaded brush that creates bold strokes of color (called “impasto”, the technique of laying on paint thickly so that it stands out from a surface).

I’ve found this technique to have many benefits: it gives painting a sculptural “presence” that reminds the viewer this isn’t a photograph, it’s made by a hand with passion; it allows for richer color and interesting edges, as the loads of adjacent paint strokes combine at the edges, creating a marbleized co-mingling of color; using impasto for foreground elements makes them move forward in the picture plain, especially if you paint the distance in a thinner wash; and finally, there’s something more about it that’s difficult to describe….I think it’s perhaps the fact that the painting’s fluid surface gives it an organic quality.

Here are a few recent seascapes painted in this vein:



Lifeguard Station


Lifeguard Station

8×10 inches
Unframed
$325 *



Cove, Maui


Cove, Maui

8×10 inches
Unframed
$250 *



Juicy Rocks & Surf

8×8 inches
Unframed
$250 *



Shell Beach Bluffs


Shell Beach Bluffs

8×10 inches
Unframed
$225 *



Sea Cliff Bluffs (San Francisco)


Sea Cliff Bluffs (San Francisco)

10×8 inches
Unframed
$225 *

Juicy Rocks & Surf
Juicy Rocks & Surf


Juicy Rocks & Surf

8×8 inches
Unframed
$250 *

San Francisco Pride Exhibition

For Pride month in San Francisco, I’ll be showing at both Spark Arts in the Castro and this national exhibition at the Harvey Milk Photo Center. Join me at the reception June 22nd. The works below can be purchased online now, but understand they can’t be shipped until after the show closes on July 21.

Exhibition Dates: June 22-July 21, 2019
Opening Reception: June 22nd, 2019 from 5:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Location: Harvey Milk Photo Center, 50 Scott St. San Francisco

In honoring the Stonewall riots 50 years ago, Harvey Milk Photo Center proudly present the Stonewall 50 Years Anniversary Art Exhibit. This exhibit is intended for artists to showcase their best contemporary artworks focusing on celebrating LGBTQ community.

I’m proud to exhibit the three pieces below.  The first has a LGBT theme, while the others are just simply beautiful paintings the center wanted to show. I really appreciate it when exhibitions like these don’t get hung up on homoerotic images, but instead embrace all the art our community creates.  Thank you Director David Christensen.

Cruising Laguna Beach, B.G. (Before Grindr)

Cruising Laguna Beach, B.G. (Before Grindr)
14×11 inches
Framed
$500 *


Point Lobos Water

Point Lobos Water
10×10 inches
Framed
$325 *


California Cove

California Cove
20×16 inches
Framed
$1,200 *

The show is presented by: Dave Christensen, Director, Harvey Milk Photo Center; Nicola Bosco-Alvarez, Entertainment Producer; with exhibition illustration by Illustration by Gordon Silveria.

Color Spots Demonstration

To help fellow artists achieve their color goals, I’ve documented how I approached a recent painting in terms of color and composition. 

I’ve taken many workshops, read many art books–but at the end of the day (at least for me), practicing the craft by covering miles of canvas is essential.  It’s funny too how I’ve not really grasped much of what I was told (or read) until later in my art career.  There are many skills I thought I learned years ago, but I find myself now revisiting them, developing a deeper understanding.

An essential book on painting is Charles Hawthorne’s “On Painting“.  He wrote, 

“Painting, is just getting one spot of color in relation to another spot…. Let color make form, do not make form and Color it.”

Sounds simple, right?  If you’re a painter, you know better!  I keep coming back to his advice because it’s so powerful.  Simple ideas always are.  I followed Hawthorne’s advice in this painting.

To get started, the first priority for me is design/composition.  A strong design will attract the eye when the viewer is across the room.  It will draw people in.    

My first step was a simple charcoal drawing on paper, where I could adjust and experiment with ideas easily.  Since the subject is architecture, there are design constraints.  Unlike a cloud or seaside white water, I don’t have the complete freedom to create shapes that play well together.  So for this image, the architecture needed to be solid, but I had to ensure all the components (trees, sky, etc.) supported a coherent design. 

In this sketch, I thought about the big shapes and how they related to each other.  I considered principles I first learned by reading Edgar Payne’s “Composition of Outdoor Painting“: creating balance among large shapes; balancing organic, loose forms (trees) with architectural elements; ensuring there’s a comfortable amount of space between primary shapes; avoiding repetitive shapes; etc. For example, I shifted the bush in the lower right of the painting leftward, so I could intersect those greens against the garage door’s complementary reds.

Ingliside Preliminary Sketch (charcoal on paper)

Next, color. Given this subject is primarily architecture, it’s a bit easier to find the right color. Flat planes like walls don’t have a lot of variation (like a tree). Even so, I approached mixing color the same way. I mix a pile of color (see pic below) for each of the major areas of the painting on the palette before I touch the canvas, one pile for an object in light, the other for the shade side of the object.

To get accurate color spots, I use a technique I’ve written about before here called “brush in front.” Also, to increase vibrancy, I started with a single color that is key to the scene, and built the rest of the painting around it. For this painting, I started with pure Cadmium Red Light for the garage door in light, and then mixed a completely different color for the door in shadow. I’ll often apply this to other paintings: start with the most exciting color, place it on the canvas, and then make all the surrounding colors relate to it.

Another point about color I’ll make here. In nature, true color in a scene is rarely duplicated across objects–unless of course the objects (tree type, whatever) are the same. Think about the hillsides you’ve seen with various types of trees and vegetation. If you observe closely, none of the colors are the same among disparate objects, so why use the same base pigments to represent them?

To make objects stand out (my goal was a sunlit-colorful design), I use color separation and avoid repeating color formulas for objects of the same hue. So, for example, the greens in the building were mixed using a different set of blues and yellows on my palette than those of the trees, and the grass was yet another combination of pigments. This becomes apparent when you look at the final painting below. See how the character of each green is distinct.

Palette

After drawing the design on canvas, I applied spots of paint to key areas where I could judge the adjacency of color. For example, if you look at the garage door and driveway, I placed the three spots together in the drawing so I could ensure they relate before painting the entire area. In the upper left, I placed the sky color right next to the tree, and so on. Placing these spots allows me to further adjust color as needed on the palette, because as Hawthorne wrote, it’s the relationship among colors that’s important. An alternative is to paint directly on canvas and then continually adjust paint there, but I find that that muddies the color. I’d rather get the color right the first time on the palette, and this mixing technique does it for me.

After making some adjustments, I filled in the drawing with paint, keeping things as simple as possible. I believe that simplicity results in a more powerful image. While I did model the tree on the right a bit with some dark and light colors, in general I kept the planes of color flat. If I’ve mixed the correct lit and shadow colors, form will happen.

Ingliside, Oil on linen, 12×9″ (click to purchase)

I’m happy with this one. I was able to recreate the feeling I had when I saw this scene. I hope you see the same, and that you found this demonstration was useful! Feel free to ask questions or provide feedback in comments below. This painting is available for purchase here. Happy painting!

Trans portrait show

Over the past several months, I’ve joined artists Alexander Nowik, Billy Douglas, and Steven Pomeroy under the leadership of Thomasina DeMaio and with the help of trans activist Donna Persona. Well over 100 portraits of local trans community members on display, including photographs, paintings, digital drawings and graphite.

As each person sat for their portraits, they told us of incredible stories of survival in the face of widespread bigotry and transphobia. Here’s what Thomasina DeMaio had to say about the project:

“It has been a joy working with my fellow artists on this Donna Personna project..she has put her heart and soul into bringing to studio not only leaders in this community of transgenders but individuals with stories and histories that changed and educated me as to who and what its all about.It has been enlightening and I feel privileged to be able to participate in documenting this incredible community. Our intention is to leave behind a comprehensive series seen through 6 different artists eyes for the public to view ,eventually in a book( fund raising for trans issues) and for the public to embrace and understand what has been in front of them for years and is not going away. Two spirit individuals are powerful, special and simply a force to be reckoned with. I will always treasure this experience and I thank each and everyone of our subjects for taking the time to come and sit for us…you made it happen!”

Join us at the reception Saturday, May 11, 6-9pm at the Eureka Valley Rec Center, San Francisco.

Maceo Passon, Oil on wood, 20×16″
Valentina Duran ,Oil on linen, 20×24″
Donna Persona with Stephen Pomeroy, Oil on panel, 16×16″

Seeking Balance in Plein Air Painting

“Isn’t it intensity of thought rather than calmness of touch that we are seeking?  And in impulsive working conditions such as these, out on site and of this nature, is a calm, well-ordered touch always possible? Dear Lord, it seems to me no more so than when on the attack in fencing.” 

Vincent VanGogh in a letter to fell artist John Russell

VanGogh captures perfectly the essence of a struggle plein air painters face: balancing the heart and head in the battle to create art on the spot.  When you’re painting, how do you balance the impulsiveness driven by the excitement of the moment, with a deliberative approach that substitutes intuitive painting for thoughtful—and some would say “tight”–painting?  Or is this a false choice and do both?

Painting and studying with some of the best in our field inform my opinion.  Of those teachers, the great Ken Auster comes to mind.  In short, his approach was that you start with the head (deciding what to paint and why, designing the picture, drawing…), move to the heart (reacting, for creating the kind of expressive brush strokes and sophisticated grays he’s known for) and end with the head to thoughtfully consider the painting from an objective standpoint, and ask yourself, “is it done?” Judge it.

I agree with much of what Ken taught me about this question, but I have a slightly different although complementary take: Painting en plein air is possible through building a solid foundational of skills that make automatic as much of the process as possible in the moment.  

Have you ever commuted home from work, realizing when you got there you were on complete auto-pilot, barely remembering the drive?  That’s what building a skill means to me: having the most complete toolbox of artistic skills so that I can be intuitive and responsive to nature without thinking about it. I want to use my heart completely in a picture.  This is my goal, but I’m not quite there yet.  I’ve worked in the corporate world too many years to escape a structured, self-critical mind. 

But like Ken, I do start and end deliberatively. Perhaps this is my failing, or an essential truth to live with.

This is a painting of mine that represents for me this principle. I started with a careful design—especially large shapes, light and shadow—and switched to a complete intuitive state (athletes call it “the zone”). I skipped the evaluation, self-judgment phase until the next day.  I’m glad I did.  I like it just as it is.

China Cove, Oil on panel, 8x6"
“China Cove”, oil on board, 8×6″, Click for availability.

new coastal paintings

On the way to and back from my recent solo show in San Francisco I stopped at Pacific Grove (and other spots) to paint plein air, capturing natural light in what was a beautiful week. I hope you enjoy these new works. All available online unframed (reach out to me if you’d like a price quoted for framed works).

Pacific Grove Bluffs, Oil on board, 12x9
Pacific Grove Bluffs, Oil on board, 12×9

$325


Pacific Grove Color Study, Seascape, Oil on wood, 8x8
Pacific Grove Color Study, Seascape, Oil on wood, 8×8

$200


Pacific Grove Rocks & Surf, Seascape, Oil on board, 10x10
Pacific Grove Rocks & Surf, Oil on board, 10×10

$325

2037 Pacific Grove Light Study, Seascape, Oil on board, 8x8
Pacific Grove Light Study, Oil on board, 8×8

$200


Shell Beach,Seascape, Oil on board, 9x12
Shell Beach, Oil on board, 9×12

$325

Thank you!

To be honest, solo shows are a bit stressful (and a lot of work), but everything went so well! Thank you to all who were able to attend in person, and the messages from many on social media commenting on my work. Perhaps I’ll do this again next year, but in the meantime, Spark Arts in San Francisco continues to represent me, as well as the Buenaventura Art Association gallery in Ventura.  Also, a heads-up that I’ll be exhibiting portraits of local San Francisco Trans community members, opening May 11.  I’ll post about that soon.

Cheers!

-Ed

Spark Arts Opening Reception, 2019
Spark Arts Opening Reception, 2019. Ed Terpening.

Painting with Purpose: Color Spots

The problems most growing artists try to solve often boils down to a lack of singular purpose. For example, a common question plein air painters ask is, “how much time should I take seeking a location to paint?” I’ve been there, all too often taking longer to find a scene than painting—a frustrating experience I know many of us share.

Seemingly simple questions never have simple answers, but the solution depends on the goal for going out: are you out painting today to work on a particular technical skill, like color or drawing?  To prepare for a show?  To commune with fellow painters?  Do it all?  When I go out, even though like anyone I’d prefer to be inspired by a scene, I: choose a goal; quickly narrow my visual choices to achieve that goal; and then focus on it alone.

The most common goal for me is understanding natural light, and with that, accepting the constraints of plein air painting. Most of the time, we only have about 90 minutes to finish a picture before the natural light shifts to the point where the scene has changed enough to require a new start. The skills I’m most focused on is composition and color—and sometimes just one of the two. I try not to expect too much from one 90-minute painting: draftsmanship, color, selling, or winning a competition (or “likes” on social media).

Plein air painting is an essential tool for understanding natural light. When I judge a show, I can easily distinguish between a painting that captures natural light and one where the artist spent too much time and “followed the light” too far, for example, spending 3 hours on a scene where the light has moved far past the original light moment. To illustrate this, I’m sharing two plein air studies where I had the singular purpose of capturing the effect of light. Capturing light can be achieved by mixing small, exact color spots. I learned this from reading Charles Hawthorne.

Charles Hawthorne understood how to capture natural light through color spots. If you’re a plein air painter and haven’t read “Hawthorne on Painting,” by Charles Webster Hawthorne, you’re missing out!  Buy his wisdom immediately!  He describes an essential truth in painting in general, but especially true of plein air,

“Painting is the mechanics of putting one spot of color next to another. That’s the fundamental thing.”

This is a simple, essential truth often missed by painters who expect too much from a single painting session.

Here’s a color spot example. I was out on a beautifully clear day in San Francisco, a city where subjects to paint are endless. I ended up at a favorite, Crissy Field, where I could have painted architecture (including the Golden Gate Bridge), beachcombers, rocks and surf, long city views, hillsides, etc, but I was struck immediately by the dramatic color of this building. 

I started a color notes journey by painting small color spots for each element: the main structure walls in light and shadow; roof; lawn; sky and distant bay water behind the building (see below).  I didn’t fill in the broad shapes of color until each spot related first to each other.  And if one color note was off (I first painted the roof too dark), there’s a domino effect and adjacent colors notes change too. In this study, I repainted the sky color spot several times after all the other spots related correctly.

Color Spots Example, Crissy Field, San Francisco. This picture is a grey scale version with highlighted color spots used to seek the representation of natural light.
Color Spots Example, Crissy Field, San Francisco. This picture is a grey scale version with highlighted color spots used to seek the representation of natural light.
Finished color study of Crissy Field, San Francisco. Oil on wood, 8x10"
Finished color study of Crissy Field, San Francisco. Oil on wood, 8×10″

To keep focus, you’ll notice the building has no windows or doors.  Of course, it actually has, but painting that detail would have taken time away from my singular goal.  Having captured these key colors in this study I can later paint a larger studio work that includes this detail, but there was no need to do so in the 90 minutes I took to capture color notes here.

This is another example, a Pacific Grove scene of color notes I painted last week.

Give it a try, let me know how you do!  Also, to capture accurate color notes, refer back to this post on how I mix color outdoors.

January San Francisco Show

I will be showing the landscapel below at the Harvey Milk Photo Center January 8-February 7 with Art Saves Lives, curated by Thomasina DeMaio. The reception will be held January 18th, with live music featuring the incredible Tribal Baroque! It will be an amazing reception, hope to see you there.

  • What: Winter Exhibition
  • Where: Harvey Milk Photo Center, 50 Scott Street, San Francisco, CA
  • When:
    • Reception: January 18th, 6-9pm
    • Show runs January 8-February 7

Padre Place Color Study

Padre Place Color Study
12×9 inches
$575


Montana de Oro (Last Light)

Montana de Oro (Last Light)
9×12 inches 
$525


Ragged Point Sunset
9×12 inches 
$750


Show at Spark Arts

Spark Arts Gallery in San Francisco is a great arts community hub for shows, teaching and all kinds of events.  This community show sponsored by ArtSavesLives opens Thursday, December 6th as part of the Castro’s Art Walk. Curated by Thomasina DeMaio, the show includes a wide variety of local artists, including Anthony AnchundoAdam EisendrathAlexander PrestiaBilly DouglasCarl LinkhartCJ SchakeMichael LownieDavid ChristensenRené CaponeGregory ConoverHank StrohbeckJack Mattingly, John FarnsworthLiam PetersMatt PipesMike Pierce, and Steven Pomeroy.

You’ll see my paintings below, and can purchase at anytime here online. The show runs through December.

Where: Spark Arts, 4229 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94114
When: Reception Thursday, December 6th, 6:00-9:30PM, shows runs through December.


Bay View From Park Hill

Bay View From Park Hill
14×7 inches, Original Oil on Panel, Framed
SOLD


Castro Bag Lady
10×10 inches, Framed, Original Oil on Panel
$325


Park Meetup
The Conversation (GGP)

16×12 inches, Framed, Original Oil on Linen
$450


Riverbed #2
Riverbed #2

9×12 inches, Framed, Original Oil on Canvas, 9×12 inches
$175 


From my popular “Beach Men” series:

Ventura Beach Men 5 Asleep with Stripes
Ventura Beach Men #5 (Asleep with Stripes)

6×6 inches, Original Oil on Board, Unframed
$125  


Ventura Beach Men 4 Green Backpack
Ventura Beach Men 4 Green Backpack

6×6 inches, Original Oil on Panel, Unframed
$125 


Ventura Beach Men 3 T Shirt

Ventura Beach Men 3 T Shirt 
6×6″, Original Oil on Panel, Unframed
$125


Ventura Beach Men 2 Yellow Shorts
Ventura Beach Men 2 Yellow Shorts

6×6 inches, Original Oil on Panel, Unframed
$125 

The painting adventures of Ed Terpening