One more Big Sur painting as I prepare to paint the central California coast for San Luis Obispo Plein Air next month. It was fun in this painting to abstract the distance obscured by fog. Let’s hope it’s not foggy when I’m there (although, hey, I’m getting lots of practice). I’m headed to The Sierras tomorrow, where the temperature is scheduled to range between 85-95! I plan to test out water color a bit more, to prepare for my trip to Sydney in November. Cheers!
As I start to prepare for the San Luis Obispo Plein Air show in October, I’ve been referring back to photos from my recent plein air painting trip to paint studio work. What struck me about this scene was the strong contrast between the sea and sun-lit land, much as represented in by Sorolla in his incredible works of the Spanish coast (like this one). It’s a meeting of two worlds, which is what interests me so much about seascapes.
This was pretty difficult to photograph, by the way. The water is deeper and more varied with subtle greens. It’s seems it’s difficult for the camera to pick up both those details and the subtle land colors at the same time.
The colors of the desert are so distinctive. Yes, there are spots of bright color here and there, but in general, I find the colors to be “mellow”, varied and yet quite harmonious. This was painted from a reference photo I took outside Tucson, Arizona. I started with transparent washes across the entire painting, from the dull green at the top to the blue-violet in the foreground. You can still see much of this initial wash in the finished painting.
I know this is an unusual composition, but I like that. This was a great study in warm colors (hence the title, “Warmth”). One of the key objectives I had was to represent warm/cool warm colors, and find a way to have the figure stand out from the rocks behind. It’s a figure, so of course it will always stand out visually, but I also wanted to use color to accomplish the same objective. I typically do that through “color separation” (which I first wrote about on this blog in 2007). The basic idea is to use completely different colors from my palette to represent a color of the same hue family and value. For example, to separate the color of grass in shade and light, each of those two mixtures will have different blue and yellow mixtures (eg, green in shade might be Ultramarine Blue + Yellow Ochre, while in light it might by Cerulean Blue + Cad Yellow). Both make green, but the fact that different base colors are used to mix each helps further separate light from shadow.
In this painting, I kept his flesh in shadow based on Mars Violet, while the base for the rocks was Alizarin Crimson. This was also a fun study to do in terms of brushwork. I was able to get the contrast I wanted by keeping the rocks loose and free-form, while the draftsmanship of the figure is tighter (too tight, actually, I’d love to be able to paint a figure as loose as Dan MacCaw. Someday! The other challenge in this painting was representing the direction of color of light. There’s a cool reflection from the sky in his hair and chest for exmaple, and a very warm reflect light coming from the ground to his chest and parts of his face. That’s always fun to paint!
You may see a larger studio version of this painting as it’s one of those studies that resonates with me. What do you think?
Here’s the YouTube video demonstration:
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.
UPDATE: Here’s a slide show:
“Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.”
Henry David Thoreau
One of the challenges I (and I know many other landscape painters face) is learning how to simplify. Capturing the essence of your subject with as few marks or shapes as possible makes for a strong design (one you can read across the room) and in general makes a stronger statement. I love this example of how Picasso evolved the drawing of a bull from a detailed representation to just a few lines.
To work on this skill, I selected a reference photo with as few shapes and color variations as possible. This painting was done from a reference photo I took in Big Sur, CA. Notice in this study how there are very few shapes and only about 7 main color mixtures. I could have rendered this more fully and modeled the clouds or other shapes, but I think (at least for this composition and study) it would have detracted from the impression. Of course, this is also somewhat a matter of personal taste. It fits the bill for me, as I strive towards more abstraction in my work. Simplification is part of that path.
I used a reference photo of “Indian Canyons” park in Palm Springs, Ca to study shadow color. The color of shadow on a surface is influenced by it’s local color, as well as the environment: objects facing the sky tend to have bluer shadows than shadows that don’t reflect the sky. A good area of the painting to observe is the top left quadrant. The large boulder there has a striking blue shadow. The color of the rock is near white (with some blue in it), but the reason the blue is so strong is the influence of the sky. That sky color reflects into the shadows. Compare that top shadow with the shadow on the left of the boulder, as it hits the river bed. There are several shadow colors there. The side of the rock is a warm shadow, it doesn’t face the sky plane, but instead has warm palm tree leaves to reflect. Yet the side also takes on an orange hue reflecting from the water below it. That same cast shadow of the boulder’s left side hits the water, and and a smaller boulder behind. That small rock is facing the sky at an angle, so has a deep blue shadow.The cast shadow on the water is more violet, as it is not getting as much sun as the top of the rock.
Revisiting the colors of the desert landscape. I had some trouble with the distant shadows, and kept alternating darker/lighter. This photo seems to show them lighter than they appear in life. In the end, the distant shadows are probably a bit too light, because when I removed color from this image to make it black & white, the shadows and light of the hills appear the same value. It’s interesting to see how color temperature can telegraph shadows as well as value. I guess that’s where the colorists of the Henche School are coming from.
Here’s a plein air sketch of the Chinese Peace Pavilion on “Strawbery Hill“, Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park. The trick with this painting was to paint a monolithic structure. I kept it off-center, with the walkway on the left leading you in. The trees surrounding where also kept point in towards the center of interest, and varied in color to make things interesting. Looks like we’re going to enjoy good weather this weekend, so looking forward to painting plein air! I have some catching up to do after a long, wet winter.