I had a great time in Lake Tahoe last week. I painted a couple plein air, but they need some adjustment in the studio before I consider finished. This is a studio painting of the north/east shore, on the Nevada side. The friends we stay with their have a speed boat, so we were able to visit lots of little coves accessible by water.
This was painted 100% by palette knife. I wished I’d taken interim photos, because I think it would have made a good demo. The painting is basically 4 bands of color, so I started it much like I would a Hensche still life, like this one. That is, large bands of solid color, with white in between. I keep the white there only because I don’t want edges to touch until I’ve worked out the basic color relationships for each block of color. With the four bands of color down, I continued to adjust the color of each band. When I got them right, I brought the edges of the color bands together, then started to model the objects within each band. For example, the rocks started as a medium value rock color. I then added shadow sides of the rocks (first scraping that area a bit to avoid creating muddy color), then mid-tones, light sides, color variation (warm/cool) within each rock and finally darkest darks. The same approach was used for the trees and water. The sky stayed relatively solid, although I did add some flecks of lighter blue/green at the horizon of the sky.
I’m in the North Tahoe Plein Air show next month, and a hotel and restaraunt in the area is interesting in buying some of my Truckee River work, so looks like I’ll be painting Tahoe scenes a few weeks now.
I’m still experimenting with use of the palette knife to apply paint. In this most recent study, I combined brushwork with the knife. Most of the paint was applied with brush, and used the knife for areas I felt were best suited for it, like adding texture in the center of interest, and in some cases using it to apply paint on top of wet areas that would otherwise not take well to a brush (and create mud).
I’m still painting exclusively with a palette knife, learning the technique of managing control of the paint. I’m also getting paintings ready for the pre-exhibition of the San Luis Obispo Plein Air event. This reference photo is a favorite–I can’t wait to paint this spot plein air, it’s at Avila Beach in SLO County. It has many of the subjects I like to paint in a seascape: ice plant, white bluffs, interesting shadow colors (the warm reflected light in the bluff shadow was a blast to paint).
This is keeping me loose, keeping colors clean, and just a physical challenge. Imagine holding a paint brush for the first time, learning how to maneuver it. Same with a knife–although, according to John Ebersberger, my knifes are soft enough. Apparently, his are as soft and flexible as a brush. He said I need to file mine down.
I named this painting “Truckee River”…I think that’s right, although it may be Blackwood Canyon, another favorite spot of mine in Lake Tahoe. I’m really happy with this one, so it could end become a larger studio work, although I’m not sure how large a painting I can do with a knife.
While I’m recovering from surgery this week, I’m slowed down quite a bit by medication Since my surgery Monday, today is the first day I felt I could paint. To keep things simple, I decided to continue using a painting knife (no brushes to clean!). Realizing I have a show in Lake Tahoe coming up, I decided to look through reference photos of mountains/lakes. I came across a photo from The Grand Tetons, an iconic mountain range.
It’s not easy painting icons (try painting the Golden Gate Bridge!), so in this case, rather than show the entire ridge, I choose one section to focus on. Makes it more generic, and so less subject to the issues I have with painting iconic images–it’s like painting a portrait: the likeness must be solid, which leaves a little less room for free interpretation. How do you handle painting iconic images?
The trees in this photo look darker than the original, but you get the idea. Enjoy!
John’s a great teacher, full of energy, enthusiasm, and most of all, knowledge. He is from the “Hensche School” painting method, whose lineage goes backward from Henry Hensche (John’s teacher and Hawthorne’s assistant), to Charles Webster Hawthorne (Chase’s assistant) to William Merritt Chase. The main ideas of this school of painting (which is really more of method of seeing) is that 1) form can be modeled with color variation; 2) painting in outdoor light; 3) outdoor light/conditions introduce a “light key” that must be represented (eg, from an overcast day to a full sun day). To give you a practical example of how the school’s differ, a tonalist would mix a shadow color, then add white and a bit of yellow to show the sunlit side, whereas a Hensche colorist would see each color as a completely distinct mix. So while a Hensche colorist may turn a form with color and temperature changes, a tonalist (or “value painter”) may do so with value alone (the range of values from black to white).
I’ve studied this method under Camille Przewodek as well, and can tell you Henche’s method is not a “one workshop thing”. This is my 3rd, and I feel I’m starting to get it. It takes years of study and practice, and although Camille has applied the technique to plein air painting, I think it’s best learned with outdoor still life study. In fact, if you study with her, you’ll probably spend most of your time painting colored blocks in outdoor light. Sounds boring, but believe me, it’s more challenging than you may realize. In a still life, you can practice with objects and light conditions that are highly varied.
As you can see, John paints with a full spectrum palette of color. If you’re interested in the specific colors, let me know in comments and I’ll list them out [see the update below, all his colors and the brand of paints he uses are listed at the end of this post].
Isn’t this a beautiful start? I missed most of this demo, but was able to capture the end of the start, and where he started to work on refining the large pot. The sides of the pot and the cast shadow on the table are being refined with warm/cool note differences, but he started the pot just as he did the apple, as simply a light and shadow note.
I have a video of this on my previous blog post, step-by-step. Notice how the shaded side of the head holds together well, even though there is variation between the hair and skin (the lit side, too). He emphasized this often, that you hold to the large relationships first (figure to background) before you start color variations, and eventually detail.
This was my first attempt of the week. I didn’t have time to finish it, but I’m happy with the start. I do think my shadow notes are dark dark, and I started to work lighter color into them (you can see the darker beneath). I’d also just started to model the blue pitcher and the pear. Notice that I’ve left white space between each color note. This can be confusing at this stage of the painting, but it’s important because it allows me to continually adjust color spots and relationships throughout the painting. If you bring the color spots together too soon, and need to adjust later, you’ll risk creating mud and maybe creating a type of edge that you may not want.
I was really happy with this figure study, probably my best of the week! John took a photo too, as he’s collecting examples of studies for his website. I had time (about 2 hours) to get the relationship between figure (face) and background, and just started modeling the hair and forehead. Wish I could have finished this one.
Here’s another start from later in the week.
UPDATE [July 15, 2009]: I heard back from John, and he’s happy to share both his palette, and his favorite brands of colors too! Here’s what he wrote me:
1. Titanium white
2. Cadmium lemon yellow (or light)
3. Cadmium yellow medium
4. Cad. Orange
5. Cad. Scarlet (or scarlet lake) — A must for outdoor work (see specific colors listed below, you may also explore reds made with napthol and perylene).
6. Cad. Red deep
7. Permanent Rose (or quinocridone red)
8. Dioxazine Purple
9. Ultramarine blue
11. Cerulean Blue
12. Permanent Green Light
13. Viridian Green
1. Yellow Ochre
2. Indian Yellow
3. Burnt Sienna
4. Indian Red, Light Red, or Mars Red
Any paint brand is fine to start out with, you will find what works best for you. Ultimately you want to learn what pigments you are using. Some are right in the name – Cadmium yellow is made from cadmium pigment. Some are not in the name, for instance Winsor Newton’s Permanent Rose is actually a quinocridone pigment.
Regarding less expensive student brands of paint – when colors are named things like Cadmium red hue, or cerulean blue hue, the pigment is not what is stated in the name – this is not necessarily bad, as some of these pigments are useful. For instance the Cad. red hue may be a napthol, a color with strong tinting strength – and the cerulean hue may be a pthalo, a color with strong tinting capability.
Usually I like a warmer and cooler version of each of the primaries and green. Also a small range of earth tones is helpful.
Here is a color list with brand names that I like to use:
1. The Blockx Cadmium Yellows are terrific for use with palette knife. I use Blockx Cad. Yellow Pale, Cad. Yellow Medium, and Cad. Yellow Deep. When using a brush, I prefer the Rembrandt line of yellows because they are more fluid.
2. Winsor Newton, Cad. Orange (Rembrandt, when using brush)
3. Blockx, Cadmium Red Orange – the brightest red available, on the orange side, similar to cad. Scarlet (a bit thick for use with brush, especially in winter).
4. Old Holland, Scarlet Lake Extra – a beautiful transparent red
5. Gamblin, Napthol Red – the brightest red pigment (made by other companies under different names. Gamblin also makes a Napthol Scarlet, which I haven‘t tried yet)
6. Winsor Newton Cad. Red Deep – not bright, but you don’t always want bright. Almost a cool earth note.
7. Permanent Rose, Winsor Newton (Gamblin, Quinocridone Red)
8. Either Sennilier Permanent Violet, Gamblin Dioxine Purple, or Old Holland, Bright Purple. Also try any of the variety of quinocridone pigmented oils. I still pine for the old Rembrt. Perm Violet and Red Violet!
9. Blue – Still experimenting with brands- right now I use the Rembrandt line – Ultramarine, Cobalt, and Cerulean. I also recommend Manganese Blue Hue by just about anybody, but Gamblin is probably the best deal.
10. Viridian – Rembrandt (have not tried too many others. WN, too stiff.)
11. Winsor Newton, Permanent Green Light, and Cad. Green Pale
12. “Sevres” Green is nice (Blockx makes a good one), or Winsor Green by Winsor Newton. (they might still make Winsor Emerald too)
13. Sometimes I use Rembrandt, Chromium Green Oxide (indoor work, and winter and gray day keys)
14. Burnt Sienna (Rembrandt for brush work. Try Blockx Burnt Sienna Deep too – a very “cool“ brown.)
15. Rembrandt, Indian Red –
16. Old Holland, Mars Red-Orange or Blockx, Light Red
17. Winsor Newton, Raw Sienna (I’m sure other brands are fine as well
18. Blockx, Yellow Ochre, for palette knife. Rembrandt for brush.
19. Winsor Newton, Indian Yellow (you might also try Gamblin Transparent Orange)
20. White – Gamblin Titanium White. Blockx is excellent as well, but a little stiff for brush work right out of the tube.
21. I almost forgot!! Rembrandt Turquoise and Winsor Newton’s Indian Yellow – two indispensable colors.
This is a plein air figure painting start by John, referred to as a “mud head” study by the Henry Hensche school of contemporary impressionism. I’ll post my own in a few days, along with additional commentary and information.
It’s been a while (10 days) since I’ve had a chance to update my blog. A lot is going on! I spent time tonight framing for my show coming up next week. Meanwhile, I did have time to do this painting from a reference photo taken in Kauai last year. Enjoy!
While looking through reference photos last night, I stopped at one that had caught my eye before. In the distance, a rower in a small row boat on the lake. After zooming and cropping, I found an image and design that I liked. I’m starting to second-guess parts of this painting, now that I’ve had a day away from it and see it here online. Although the water on the left had reflected sky and light through the trees, I’m not sure it does the painting any good. There’s not an area for the eye to rest. I may try blocking it back out, or making the color/value shifts too dramatic. Also, that blue in the water is too close to the blues elsewhere in the painting, especially the t-shirt. If I’d kept to greens there, it would probably have given the figure additional emphasis.
I can see reading other blogs we do a lot of second-guessing. Not sure I’ll get back to this one, if I do, I’ll post an update. In the meantime, your thoughts are welcome!
As (primarily) a landscape painter, travel is important. The Bay Area is beautiful, with lots of variety, but there’s nothing like getting out of your usual surroundings to spark new creativity, inspiration and push yourself technically.