Category Archives: Technique

Chase

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.

Chase

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 :-).

Pushing the viewer by capturing images that are beautiful (in an abstract way), yet have mystery–and maybe confusion–is a direction I’m exploring. This is one example. When you see this image, what do you think?

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.

Sewing the Sail (after Sorolla)

Painting copies of artwork you admire is a great way to learn. Joaquín Sorolla is one of my favorite painters, so I can open “Joaquín Sorolla” (Museo Nacional Del Prado) to any page and find a work of inspiration to copy.  Like this one.  Funny thing is, I opened the book, and found later this is a detail of a larger painting! I had a feeling it was an odd composition (having the two people on the edge of the canvas), so it was nice to see the full composition on the next page.

Even so, copying “Sewing the Sail” (1904) was a great lesson in composition and color.  I learned how Sorolla used the folds in the sail to lead directly to the figures, and even the shadows in the sand.  Look how the main shadow folds in the sail lead directly to the center of interest (foreground person).  I was also surprised someone how intense many of these colors were, but how adding a complement (violet to the orange) would bring down the intensity just enough (although, comparing mine to his now, I see I should have used even more violet).

This was also a great study in brushwork. The original is much larger, but I was able to adapt my brushwork to this scale (10×8) to lay down some juicy brushstrokes, particularly on the sunlit side of the sails.

The Sewers after Sorolla, Oil on Canvas, 10x8
The Sewers after Sorolla, Oil on Canvas, 10x8

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More resources:

Self-Portrait, Video Demo

Still feeling really challenged by learning the figure.  Reminds of a quote by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do something every day that scares you.”  I need this.  I took snap shots as I progressed so I could review with my teacher Al Tofanelli (at l’Atelier aux Couleurs), so he could advise me.  It’s interesting, I think a personal style in portraiture is emerging at a faster pace than landscape.  Not sure why.  Enjoy!

Self-Portrait, Oil on Linen, 12x10"
Self-Portrait, Oil on Linen, 12x10"

And here’s the video on YouTube

Mike ala Pompeii

To prepare for studying the figure with Al Tofanelli (at l’Atelier aux Couleurs) I’ve been painting the figure from reference photos. It’s going to be so great to paint from live models Friday! I like painting the figure, it’s a real challenge, and I like to play with color. Mike has wonderful warm-violet skin tones. Once I laid in a solid drawing, I practically destroyed it early on with broad strokes of color (once you get a drawing right, don’t worry, you can paint over it…it will always come back).

When I showed this to Mike, he really liked it, but he had a funny observation. It reminded him of the frescos in Italy (and most recently, Turkey/Istanbul). The eyes of those figures are somewhat exagerated, as I think his might be here. No matter, I was going for that spark of life and happiness, so why not exaggerate a bit?

Mike, ala Pompei - Oil on Canvas - 10x8
Mike, ala Pompei - Oil on Canvas - 10x8

Inspiration? Separated at birth? Here’s an example of a Pompeiii fresco that Mike thought of when he saw my painting. Smart man!

Pompeii, House VII, 2, 6: Paquius Proculus and his wife
Pompeii, House VII, 2, 6: Paquius Proculus and his wife

Buena Vista Park Redux

Buena Vista Park’s recent “remodel” is complete! It’s great. They’ve added lots of new walkways, wooden bridgets and stairs.  A friend of mine (Eric W) is a regular volunteer at the park, and should take some credit (thank you, Eric!).  It’s a really beautiful place.

I painted this from a reference photo.  The sun was setting through the trees, and since the photo was over-exposed, it actually made good reference for a relatively “high key” painting.  If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve been exploring this method. I’m finding it really helpful to fine tune my understanding of value and color temperature.

Faint Sunset (Buena Vista Park), Oil on Canvas, 12x9
Faint Sunset (Buena Vista Park), Oil on Canvas, 12x9

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Lake Tahoe from the Rubicon Trail

Painted this little study in my studio the other night from a reference photo.  The view is from the Rubicon Trail looking down onto Lake Tahoe, which in this part of the lake is the deepest near shore. I painted in my usual “full key” (full value range), which allowed me to use rich colors and sharp value contrasts.

From the Rubicon Trail (Lake Tahoe), Oil on Linen, 8x10
From the Rubicon Trail (Lake Tahoe), Oil on Linen, 8x10

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I set this painting next to my most recent “high key” value painting.  It was striking to see the sharp contrast, and you can really see that the photo of the previous painting wasn’t over exposed, but really quite light.  Coincidentally, both paintings had trees in them, and when side by side, the curve of the land connects, as if they’re part of the same scene.

So which painting gives the best feeling of light?  Perhaps that’s an individual choice. I’m still very interested in this technique, so will continue to pursue it.

“High Key” Riverbed Study

“Full Key” Tahoe Study

Riverbed, high-key painting study

I’m continuing my exploration of high-key painting, which I define as painting in a narrow range of values, in the higher key of lights.  I don’t know where this is going to lead, but it’s great to practice the control in value needed to get these paintings to work.  I think I’m going to paint this scene again, perhaps a few times, each time narrowing the values further.  I know looking at this now I could have taken it further, and made my darkest darks much lighter.  I usually paint in a more dramatic, contrast’y way, but every technique I learn builds me as an artist.  What do you think?

Riverbed, High-key Study - Oil on Linen - 6x8
Riverbed, High-key Study - Oil on Linen - 6x8"

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Related Information

Peggi Kroll-Roberts Workshop Day 4

Today Peggi Kroll-Roberts focused on the structure of the head.  If you think of the head as a structure of planes, it becomes easier to paint. Each plane has a relative size, shape and direction.  The direction (facing up, down, towards light, away from light) gives you clues about how it should look.  For example, planes that face down towards a green shirt, will have reflected green light; planes facing the sky outdoors, will reflect blue on a clear day.

Here’s a video of Peggi explaining her approach, and the measures she uses to structure the head.  Peggi will emphasize that these are not rules, but guidelines.  The reality is that when you’re facing with a model, they’re rarely going to be facing you straight on at eye level–but you can transpose these rules to heads that are tilted, swiveled, etc.  The bottom line is you need to learn to see and draw accurately.  There are no short-cuts.

Here are my own head studies from the day.  So we could focus on fewer variables, the first few studies where done mono-chromatically.  By the end of the day, I had time to do one study in color.

Monochromatic Head Study 1
Monochromatic Head Study 1

Monocrhromatic Head Study 2

And finally, a study in color!

Color Head Study 1
Color Head Study 1

Be sure to visit at l’Atelier aux Couleurs for a list of upcoming workshops.  They have some great teachers!

Peggi Kroll-Roberts Workshop Day 3

Day 3: “High Key” Painting

Day 3 of the Peggi Kroll-Roberts workshop at l’Atelier aux Couleurs focused on painting “high-key” paintings.  This approach to painting is focused on a narrow range of values at the high end (light) of the value scale. I’ve recently experimented with this approach (here, here).  I think it’s ironic that these paintings seem to give a much better sense of light that high-contrast paintings.  You’d think that an object painted in near white next to near black would give the best sense of light (and sometimes, it can work), but a high-key painting seems to work even better. I think it’s because the painting overall is much lighter, the darkest shadows are readable and not so dark they loose their vibrancy.

So, I have a treat!  If you 8 minutes and 49 seconds to spare, I have a full start-to-finish demo of Peggi using this technique in a 20 minute demo.

Here are some of my own high key studies:

High Key Study 1
High Key Study 1
High Key Study 2
High Key Study 2

Finally, this isn’t high key, but just a regular “full key” study.

Figure Study
Figure Study

Peggi Kroll-Roberts Workshop, Day 2

Peggi taught us a couple more tools for painting.  This was an interesting idea: paint a study with as few brushstrokes as possible.  You design and then draw a composition that allows you to paint with as few big shapes as possible.  This is a great exercise for a couple reasons: first, it’s always a good design practice to divide your space in as few big shapes as possible, no more than 5-7.  This forces you to do that.  Second, because each stroke must be continuous, you learn to really load your brush so the single stroke will cover as much area as possible.  For the large background, for example, I loaded the brush (with marbeled color, to make it interesting) and sculpted around objects and covered the space in one go. I think I painted this in about 13 strokes.

Limitted Brushstroke Study, 1
Limitted Brushstroke Study, 1

I was very happy with this study as well, although it doesn’t seem to photograph well.  I’ll try scanning it when I get home.

Limitted Brushstroke Study, 2
Limitted Brushstroke Study, 2

And finally, this quick figure study

Figure Study
Figure Study

Peggi Kroll-Roberts Workshop

Today was the first day of a 5-day Peggi Kroll-Roberts at l’Atelier aux Couleurs in Petaluma.  Peggi has a wonderful unique style for painting the figure, so I’ve looked forward to studying with her for some time.  She’s also a lot of fun.

Today, we started simple: gray scale paintings.  These are done, much like Notan sketches, to both build compositional skills and learn to simplify.  This two-scale gray study clearly separates light from dark.  This is a great exercise.  Normally, I’d do something like this with a black sharpie on white paper, but painting this just gives you that much more experience handling paint.  It also let’s you make corrections in drawing as you go.

2 Color Gray Study

Throughout the day, we kept adding levels of gray.  I was able to get to 4, in this study.  While some students went on to color, I actually liked spending time on these a lot.  Removing color from the equation, and simply focusing on value and composition is somewhat liberating.  I’m happy with the way this turned out.  If I can keep to values this accurate in color, I’ll be a happy camper.

Composition Study, 4 Grays
Composition Study, 4 Grays

I painted all of today’s study on a single large board, which I simply divided up into 6 areas for my studies.

Composition/Value Studies
Composition/Value Studies

Tomorrow, we get to paint the figure!  I believe she said we’d start that in shades of gray first, then graduate to color.  Stay tuned.

Diving (Lake Tahoe)

I enjoy adding figures to the landscape because they help give it scale.  Don’t these boulders look huge!  Well, they were 🙂  This is a 12×9″ painting, so these figures are tiny, just spots of color, really.  Even so, given it’s a figure, I needed to get proportions, posture, all that correct, otherwise it would of detracted from the painting.  I’m focusing on the figure again in a few weeks, as I’m to study with Peggy Kroll Roberts at l’Atelier aux Couleurs in Petaluma (a wonderful school, BTW).

I combined brushwork and palette knife in this one, starting the painting with transparent washes, then building up paint once I got the correct values and color temperature.

Diving Rock, Lake Tahoe - Oil on Canvas - 12x9
Diving Rock, Lake Tahoe - Oil on Canvas - 12x9

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Here’s a detail of the figures to show you what I mean.

Diving Rock, Take Tahoe (Detail)
Diving Rock, Take Tahoe (Detail)

This is from another reference photo taken from the Laderman’s speed boat. When we got close to these guys, they stopped diving. We weren’t close enough to interfere at all, but I don’t think they wanted an audience. Makes sense. Enjoy!