It has been an exhausting but inspiring and productive week preparing for the San Luis Obispo Plein Air show at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. The show opened today and runs throughout Sunday. Here are some of my works in the show. It was a week of dramatic weather, so I focused on that, particularly the clouds.
The California coast delivers weather that varies from bright sunshine to fog–all in the same spot, the same hour! This foggy day version of Big Sur is the other side–the foggy side–of my last sun-lit coastal painting.
In these two studies (painting at Asilomar, just north of Carmel) I was focusing on the use of dark transparent colors to represent the ocean. click on the paintings to see the detail. Notice how the use of transparent Ultramarine Blue gives it a nice watercolor-like glow. Even though it’s a dark color, it reflects the white board underneath, so it gives it the feeling of both being dark and light at the same time. To create the reflection of light on water, I wiped away more of the paint to show the white ground, rather than paint a second color on top. BTW, pure Ultramarine is too intense to represent the Pacific, so I deaden the color, generally with a Cad Red, or sometimes with Gamblin’s Chromatic Black–a great transparent Black that will reduce the chroma of any color.
Last year, Christopher Forbes and Stephen Doherty invited a group of 10 artists to paint at the Forbes family estate in New Jersey. We had inspirational landscapes, interiors and models to work from. Those artists have been invited to share work done that week, or later work inspired by the trip. The artists attending included Camie Davis, John Patrick Campbell, Rob Clarke, Bryan Le Boeuf, George Towne, Wendy Walworth, Timothy Jahn, Ed Terpening, Patricia Watwood and John Dowd. Tonight was really special, my first group show in New York, and an opportunity to reconnect with this exceptional group!
To view my work on display in the show, click here.
I had a nice long weekend with friends in Palm Springs and took a watercolor kit to a wonderful spot, Indian Canyons. It’s just so much easier to travel with, than oils. I need a lot more experience with this medium to paint something I’ll be happy with. I think I’ll take a watercolor workshop. If you know if free resources on YouTube, blogs, or elsewhere-or can recommend an instructor–let me know. Some things I’m struggling with: layers, and how the paint interacts and changes color as you layer; Values, i seem to have much less control of value than oil. It makes sense that the medium (since it’s transparent) has less of a value range, but it’s still something I’m struggling with.
I was once asked to give a talk about “thought leadership” in media. Two creative people I spoke about where Julia Child and Bob Ross. The former revolutionalized American cooking at home by introducing us to the “mystery” of French cooking, and the later did the same for art. I think a lot of artists look down on Bob Ross, and while his painting may not be to your taste, he made art approachable by taking the stress out of it. He de-mystified painting, as Julia did cooking. What does this have to do with Colley Whisson? Two things, first, his manner is calm, re-assuring, yet precise. Second, he’s introduced me—and most people in his workshop—to Australian art as Julia introduced us to French cooking. I hope you make some discoveries, too, after reading this.
I fouund his approach to be quite similar to other tonalist painters, and in contrast to the Henche school (taught by John Ebersberger, Camille Przewodek, etc). I didn’t get great pictures of any demo start to finish (except for the video below), so the illustrative photographs below go back-and-forth between various demos. I think you’ll still get the general idea.
Materials. Good painting starts with the best materials you can afford. I’ve tried the cheap stuff, and fighting poor quality isn’t worth it, especially when you consider the many challenges you face in bringing together a painting. A couple of notes about his materials:
Brushes. Two things drew me to Colley’s work: his dramatic sense of light, and his brushwork. Realizing that great brush work has a lot more to do with precision and sensitivity (that only comes with experience), you may want to try these brushes, but don’t expect a miracle. One book dedicated to brushwork I like is Emil Gruppe’sBrushwork for the Oil Painter. It’s out of print, but you can find used copies on Amazon.com. That said, Colley used some brushes I hadn’t seen anyone use before. They look like house painting brushes: quite wide, razer shart, short handle. He uses them both for the first wash-in (see below) as well as throughout the painting to add beautiful calligraphy. Someone told me he used Langnickel 283’s, which apparently you can buy in a three-pack for $15 (I haven’t purchased mine yet, so can’t confirm….I will update this post after I do UPDATE 12/10/2010, from Colley: “Brushes are in a pack of 3: Royal Langnickel “Large Area Brush Set” White Taklon (Medium) Item # RART-150”). He also showed us how to use a razor blade to trim back brushes that are too thick for his technique. Holding the blade with your thumb and forefinger, push the blade down from the ferrule to tip.
Support. He paints on wood board, Mahogany, I believe. When using canvas, he tones with Yellow Ochre. The board is a good choice for his technique, because he often uses the palette knife to cut-back or trim light colored paint to review dark undertones, a techique he learned from Richard Schmid.
Medium. He uses an Alkyd medium, but tried Turpenoid during the class and really liked it. He thought it probably dried faster than his usual medium, although he was somewhat concerned about cracking. He said in the past he painted dark undertones/accents with a cool mixture (Utramarine Blue + Alizarin Chrimson), but said that mixed cracked over time. His boards seemed a bit warped, so I wonder if he neglects to prime both sides? In any case, he now ads a Cadium Red to his darks to prevent cracking.
Rags. Interestingly, he rarely uses paper towels, but instead rags that you can apparently buy in large bags at second hand stores in Australia. I don’t often use rags, but will try it to see if there’s a difference. I do use Viva paper towels exclusively, because they are rag-like and very absorbant. Soneone had blue shop towels with them, and he seemed to like those as well.
Concept. If art is revealing something that’s never been seen or said before, then you should start with a concept (unless you’re painting quick studies to improve skill, like value, drawing, etc). Colley said he paints the picture first in his mind, and things tend to go wrong when you forget that or stray in another direction. There are exceptions. I’m sure we’ve also started with one idea and discovered something new while painting, but I think this idea of keeping the focus on your original impression is good rule of thumb.
Design. Colley starts by marking with dots the vertical and horozontal thirds of the painting surface, and draws a mental (sometimes physical) circle connecting the dots. He believes the center of interest and closely subordinate interests should be within that area. You should also think of the circle in terms of how the eye should move within the painting. Since the subject of composition is so complex, I will refer to the many great books written about composition (eg, Edgar Payne’sComposition of Outdoor Painting is a personal favorite).
Drawing. Start with small dots indicating the boundaries of the large masses. Ensure the relative position, size and shapes are there, then start to draw them in. Like almost any artist I’ve studied with, he emphasized the importance of drawing and doing so whenever/wherever you can. He also demonstrated a nice drawing aid: he uses an thin/light frame as a horizontal and vertical maulstick.
Underpainting. Colley loves strong contrast, so he usually started his paintings with a very dark mixture, although once in a while I noticed he started with midtones, and added dark accents later. He discourages the use of thinner at this point, but rather pure medium (even to clean the brush). In general, I noticed that he tended to paint whole areas dark, even if they would later hold lights. This helps the lights “pop” against the dark background, but of course, this technique requires you give the underpainting time to dry to avoid picking up the underpainting later. I noticed that even with 20 minutes of wait time, my underpainting wasn’t completely dry. He’d often take a paper towel and remove excess underpaint to ensure the next layer could be applied cleanly. This is something I need to continue to experiment with and learn. This may be especially challenging in a “plein air” situation where time is short, so we’ll see. Please share your own experience in comments!
Masses. He’ll first place the lightest light as a small spec of a stroke to ensure it will pop against the dark underpainting. He then focuses on the large color masses, going for accurate value and color on the first stroke (rarely working back in to adjust later). At this point, he stesses an “attack and retreat” technique, ie, lay your strokes in with confidence, and step back often to check your overall color/value relationships.
Painting. He works the canvas all over, drawing the work to completion together, rather than say starting at the center of interest and working outward. He uses the large (4-5″) brushes throughout the painting process, to generate interesting caligraphic strokes and lines using the brush tip. His brush strokes follow the contour of the shape (and not gravity, as some artists like Ken Auster do). He ties the types of strokes he paints in relational to sky (should be a thin veil, like panty hose); mid-field (more texture); and foreground (shag carpet!). As he paints towards completion, he continually asks himself whether the painting is far enough along to communicate his original concept. We all risk taking paintings too far, so I think this is great advice. Let a painting sit a few days before you call it done. He’ll also photograph his work and then flip it on the horizontal axis. This new perspective helps you see mistakes.
Many thanks to The Tucson Art Academy (and their gracious hosts, Gabor and Christine Svagrik) for hosting this workshop, complete with fresh baked scones and cookies! Also, I hope to followup this post with one on the Australian artists Colley referred his students to in class.
I was in Napa Valley for my birthday last week, and while I hoped to paint on site, I ended up tasting lots of wine! Why not? I did capture some amazing sights with my camera, and this image is one painted from that. Enjoy your holiday weekend (for those in the US 🙂 !
This painting of Timberfield model Chase sat in my studio for a while, unfinished (I thought). I like to work “ala prima”, wet into wet. I wasn’t able to finish this one that way, so it sat a few weeks. But it grew on me as is, so here it is.
This painting is an exploration. Art is a viable pursuit for me as long as I have the opportunity to push myself through experimentation and growth. Having just finished Door County Plein Air, I was reminded that I need to avoid creating works that veer on “trite”. Yes, I like to capture beauty, but I want to create works that are more intellectually stimulating. That’s how music evolved from Bach to Portishead :-).
What you don’t see, is that Chase is jumping out of a tree, so his body is contorted in an unusual way, you don’t see the tree, but you probably get some sense of movement. This is similar to Robert Longo’s“Men in the city” series, who I recall used to photograph his models while throwing rubber balls or rocks at them. Their contorted bodies made for an interesting subject, and without the balls for needed context, the viewer wonders what instigated the movement. Mystery in art…it’s a good thing.
Today’s “Quick Paint” was delayed by rain, and ended the same way. I had lots of piles of grays to get rid of before I ship my equipment home tomorrow, and since it was a grey morning anyway, I had piles of paint ready to go!
I am very happy with this, one of my best paintings this week! I also got lots of kind comments from artists and collectors. They moved the auction into the nearby town hall afterward, and it was packed with bidders. I don’t like crowds (and I was exhausted), so I skipped the auction and headed to lunch. Enjoy!
Driving through the fog and rain in Sister Bay last night, I thought a bug or shiny tangible object had flown through my side window without a sound. I literally searched the cabin with my suspicious eyes, but, shock…are you ready for it?…it was a RAY OF SUNSHINE! I immediately pulled over, believing Ra himself had summoned me to paint! Then, realizing it was 8PM, the God of Pessimism (Dick Cheney?) won out and I wolfed down a pulled pork sandwich instead. Reason proved me wrong, for when I finished eating, an hour later, the sky was blazing with color! Lesson: BE AN OPTOMIST. Remember, everyone is smiling in Wisconsin, so they know something I don’t.