Category Archives: Learning

Brannes sketch, composition sample

Here’s another example of a sketch I do (before I paint!) to figure out the design/composition, and how the eye moves within the painting.  The asterisk represents the start point, and the arrows represent where I believe the eye will be lead.  The top-left composition is based on a triangle.  I think the eye will start at the top-right building (because it sits higher than the lines below it), the eye to follow down, and then lead back up either via the distant hills or the bottom of the hill line.

Brannes

Learning composition and design

I’m re-reading Edgar Payne’s Composition of Outdoor Painting. What a classic! I think it was Kevin Macpherson who said he re-read the classic art books often, because he learned something new each time. Sometimes your own experience painting informs your ability to really understand what the book is trying to teach. Design is, I think, the most important thing to learn. A well designed painting can easily overcome other short-comings.

Edgar Payne Landscape

Seirra Morning, by Edgar Alvin Payne

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Leading the eye, Abbaye de Valsaintes

Before I start a painting, I think about design, and how the design leads the viewer’s eye around the painting. In these sketches from France, I looked for patterns of dark/light that form interesting shapes. They eye is attracted to areas of great contrast, so that makes a good starting point, or focal point for the image. I trace how I’d expect the eye to travel from the focal paint, in a pattern that stays within the picture. In these small sketches, I also capture the direction of light (as represented by the small sun, where the sun rays remind where the direction of light).

I have sketch books filled with images like these. It’s great to look back at them and again wander the beautiful villages of the south of France.

Sketches of France

Planning a painting

Since I’ve been on the subject of technique lately, here’s something I learned from Barry John Raybould–use of the notan sketch. The notan sketch is a great way to try out several different compositions of design, based on a 4-value plan. Why not do this before committing to paint?

I use 3 felt tip pens by Tombo, a black, medium grey, light grey, and white for the lightest value. I’ll try different combinations out, and see what works. I’ll often note below what I like or don’t like about the design.

Each row below represents a painting, for which I tried out three different designs. Try it!

Playing musical scales, with color

As many of you know, I occasionally teach. Not nearly enough. I have a queue of students (thankfully!), but lately have been too busy to schedule a workshop. I hope sometime this summer. If you’re interested, let me know. In the meantime, showing up for the monthly Verde Artist Guild paint-outs is a great way to watch and ask questions.
But, back to the topic at hand, “Playing Scales with color”. What does that mean? Bottom line, this is a GREAT exercise to play with color. You’re an artist/collector, so you love color, right? Maybe not. Regardless, you may find this interesting.

First of all, my first paying job (well, outside of paper-boy at 13 and a very short–two week stint–at Knotts Berry Farm) was as a musician. I played professionally starting in high school. Like art, I couldn’t BELIEVE people where paying me for doing something I absolutely loved. Enough said. I know not everyone is in that situation, but that’s a good future topic. I played Jazz, so am fluent with the concept of improvisation.

Improv applies to art. In order to make things up in a fluid way, yet stay within a defined structure (musical key, color palette), your options (notes, colors) must become second nature. Once they are second nature, you can sit before a subject and apply that key/color-scheme to reach the artistic ends you desire, be it an exiting emotional painting, calm, mysteries, whatever.

So, here’s how I apply this to developing my painting skills. First, I define a “color key” that matches the mood I want to convey. In color theory, there are several: analolgous colors, complementary colors, split-complementary colors, triadic colors, etc. To get experience with these “color keys” I take a very simple 3-value design, and re-paint it using several different keys. These color studies sometimes result in great paintings (I’ve sold many), but like a musician, I don’t count on scales/exercises to sell. They’re through-way, for learning.

Look at the example below. The top-left is an analogus color scheme. Colors are adjacent on the color wheel. Top-right is a triadic color scheme (blue/violet, orange, and green are equi-distant). Bottom left is a complementary color scheme (Orange and Blue), and bottom-right is a split complementary scheme (Orange + Green/Blue and Red/Blue). What do you think? Doesn’t each version have a different emotional tone?

When it comes to painting nature, drawing skills are abolute, but let yourself go with color!
Color Study Example

BTW, this techique is also discussed in Ted Georschner’s book, The Workshop Experience. Try it! It’s only paint!

The power of subltey

I’ve just finished Kevin MacPherson’s new book, “Reflections on a Pond“, and like all great art books it will be re-read many times until dog-eared and worn.  That’s a complement!  The book contains one painting for every day of the year of the view of a pond outside his home in New Mexico.  Imagine, trying to come up with 365 paintings of the same scene!  He pulls it off, and in so teaches a lesson about observation. 

You can look at the same site, day after day, and see something different.  Of course light changes, weather, and so on–and those changes are obvious.  But the series of images demonstrate how the artist really brings the subject to life, by conveing a point of view, or an emotional response.  I also found the book a good lesson in subtlety.  You can see how incredibly sensitve the artist as by the careful observation and emotion in every paitning.  I’ve been thinking of painting a similar series because I can see there are some real lessons to be learned here.  There’s a good spot off 280/Edgewood Road that I’m considering, although it’s a rest stop, so not open 24×7.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, in the coming weeks, I’ll post some of my own paintings that hopefully show I’ve learend something from this great American master.

Work in Progress


Bean Hollow Painting Animation

I’m often asked about demonstration my process, in order to see how paintings progress. The painting on the left is an example of the progression I can go through. The animation starts with the original painting, then shows the changes I made, in part based no a crtitique by Ted Georschner. In the final painting (which will be in my show opening January 3rd! Plug, plug), I did the following

  1. I darkened significantly the bottom of the painting. This allowed the viewer’s eye to focus where I wanted them to focus, on the golden light lit ice plans on the hillside. Darkening the bottom of a painting like this was also a technique used by Edgar Payne.
  2. I added some trees atop the bluff. This pushed back further the background trees, and it gave me a nice dark to help the ice plants look even more illuminated. An artist will often surround a light with darks to help punch it up. The range of our pigments is a small fraction of that found in light, so we rely on techniques like that to strengthen light.

An Aspen Moment

When I’m out painting, I’m often asked “How long does it take you to paint that?” I know most people are well-meaning and just plain curious, but the reality is an entire lifetime of experience and years of training go into each work of art. You can’t translate two hours of work into an hourly rate. If you did, all artist’s would be rich! But guess what, the vast majority are poor. Why?

The simple answer is consistency. The greats can create great paintings, one after the other, while the rest (like me) will maybe decide to show 1 in 4 paintings in a gallery, and then go on to sell 1 in 4 of those. So, do the math 🙂 I had to paint approximately 1,400 paintings to paint this little masterpiece.

What does all this have to do with this painting? Well, it’s one of those real winners. One in which everything I’ve every learned came together at once. It practically “painted itself”. I often hear that phrase from artist’s when a painting is going well. Everything you’ve learned becomes automatic, and you’re able to respond in an emotional way to the subject. Not in a complex, overt way, but one of elegant simplicity. This is a simple painting–look how few colors there are–but to me, it just glows.

So, more to come! I’m still working on my Aspen Series, and hope to have them done for my show in January, 2006. I know this study is a winner, and will end up being a 20×24, or perhaps even bigger. I still have a 3’x5′ canvas crowding my studio, white as winter, ready for the glow of Fall.

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Verde Artist Guild / OPA Paint-out

I hosted a joint OPA (Oil Painter’s of America) / Verde Artist Guild paint-out yesterday at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. Although the morning started in drizzle, it cleared up beautifully. We had around 30-40 artists attend from all over the state.I spent most of my time “hosting”, ie, walking around and saying hello, making people feel welcome. I did do one “quickie” painting (top image).

It was so great to see this many artist’s create their own interpretations of this great old building. I think next time maybe we’ll organize a show around these events and invite collector’s.

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Ted Goerschner Workshop

Wow. I just finished a three-day workshop in Los Olivos with the great Ted Goerschner! I’ve always admired his work, but found that after years of teaching many of our countries best artists, he was no longer teaching. That changed when I read an ad in PleinAir Magazine, announing his first workship in years. I called the same day, and one of the classes was already sold out (both sold out quickly).And now I know why. When you watch a master like Ted, it really is like magic, but unlike magicians, he is completely open about telling you everything he’s thinking and doing. During the three day workshop, he demonstrated two large studio paintings (on the left) from blank canvas to finish. He was incredibly generous with his time and advice.I learned most about composition from Ted. His focus on that, and years of experience is really remarkable. If you get the chance to study with him, go for it, but if you can’t, buy his book.Related Links