Thursday, September 14, 2017

What a difference the brush makes

I finally got all the hills looking pretty much the way I want them to, and moved into the finishing touches stage on all three panels, and for the last week I've been working on the clouds. I saw two problems with them, the first being that the clouds in #3 really didn't add anything to the composition. Panel #3, the right-most end, isn't the focal center of the painting anyway, but I didn't want it to be just an add-on, I needed it to have something in it that would catch the eye and be interesting to look at. Otherwise, why have it? Since the cloud area is where I have the most freedom to improvise, I decided to add an interesting cloud pattern that would draw the eye out all the way to the edge if one happened to be looking at that side of the painting.

Once I got that roughed in I went through all the panels, adding more color detail in the clouds—more colors, more combining colors by glazing the predominant tones by layering each over the others—purple over orange, yellow over orange, and orange over purple and yellow. This doesn't really show up in the photo, but in person it makes the colors look richer and a lot more varied. You can paint in subtle color shifts with a thin glaze that support the 3-D look of shapes. I was using my large flat and bright brushes, a couple different kinds but all with synthetic hairs. The ones I used are fairly soft as brushes go, but I couldn't keep from getting the paint on unevenly and leaving more surface texture than I really wanted in the finer areas. I was getting more frustrated by that because I knew I've gotten a smoother look in many previous paintings, and that's what I want in this painting—a minimum of visible brushstrokes and a maximum of smooth shapes and edges.

Then a few days ago without thinking why, I picked up a different brush, a large filbert Winsor & Newton Eclipse series, which is made of fitch hair, or "black sable". I have a few of them I bought years ago, they're actually for oils, but they work great with acrylics and I've used small ones in a number of landscapes to paint leaves. As soon as I started painting with it I knew this was the answer I was looking for. Fitch hairs are so much softer than synthetic fibers, I can make beautiful unbroken, consistent washes of even thinned-out paint, and because they hold so much paint it's easy to get a nice smooth edge line, or a more smoothly-graded wash. In addition, the softness makes it easier to work wet-over-damp without disturbing the layer beneath, which saves a lot of standing around and thumb-twiddling waiting for a brushstroke to dry.

I looked over the web to see if I could find an even bigger Winsor & Newton fitch brush, and probably because they come from real animals they're quite pricey, not as bad as sable but way more expensive than the White Wonder or Softgrip brushes I use a lot of. I also found none of the big discount sellers even have the #14 I have, and W & N themselves were out of stock on anything that big or bigger. So I looked on Blick again and they do have their own line of fitches, including larger brushes, at a considerable savings over the W & N ones.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Figuring out what the painting wants

I finally got the color I want on the last big hill. It took me three tries over three days. My first guess was too dark and I thought it was too blue. The second time I made it lighter and more gray, and that looked good value-wise, but the color just looked like it didn't fit. I puzzled over it last night, and finally decided to take it back to blue, but a warmer blue, almost matching the rear hill on the left side, so mostly pthalo, with a smaller fraction of cobalt. The other thing I did with this pass was reduce the range of values, giving it more aerial perspective by lowering contrast.

I think the reason it took me so long to get a color that looked good was, again, because I'm really inventing these colors—they only resemble the colors in the photo references I have; and those photos, which were taken in different seasons even, as well as different times of day, are all different from each other. It was too big of a leap for my brain to consolidate all that varied information in one pass—I had to circle around it for a while before I realized I was trying too hard to copy the colors from the photos instead of doing what the painting needs. Last night after I finally marked up a photo with these colors, I saw the symmetry I got by having the rear hills on both sides being almost the same hues.

The white lines are there because you can't cover up blue with Pyrole Orange without a LOT of impasto.

If I still like it tomorrow, then I'm done with the hills. Or mostly done. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Almost 92ยบ outside at 3:30pm. At least we had a nice cool night last night.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Working out the level of detail

I think the left-most (north side) hills are 95% done. Earlier in the week I started painting in the deciduous trees at the base of the middle hill, and took it to a level of detail that really seemed too much for the rest of the painting. I was afraid the overall scene would get lost in that much detail. I know that's the opposite of my main worry when I started (would there be enough detail to be interesting), but there you go. Anyway, I simplified it and darkened it, and I'm stopping work on that section for now. I may refine it more later...or not. I may end up wanting to put a lot more drama in the clouds.

Last night I roughed in the foreground across all three panels, so today I'm starting the 2nd pass on the south side hills. Only five weeks left to finish it!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Connecting the audience to the painting

The Upper Pond
My plan was to get this Upper Pond painting all done except for the highlights before the Villa Catalana Cellars Paint-Out last Saturday, and then work on those outside at the Villa, with the sun sinking in the west and all the people walking around and shmoozing. It was a great plan, and I got there at 4:30, an hour before the public came in. It was about 80ยบ—better than I hoped, even—and I carted all my equipment and paintings up to a shady spot at the top of the hill where more people walk around. But when I set up my long-unused French easel, I found I had forgotten to bring my white paint. I walked around to the other painters to see if I could buy or borrow a dollop of white, but they were all either oil or pastel artists. I did a bit of glazing on a few places, but I really needed the white to do any real work. D'oh! It's a line item in my packing list now.

So I leaned back in my chair, listened to the band, and just pretended it was a forced vacation, and the only thing I could do was relax. In a little while people started walking around, and a few times an hour someone would come over and talk for a minute.

I did have a great time, despite not being able to paint there. I finished it up yesterday in the studio, thinking about the things people had said to me about it. Almost everyone who commented on this one of the upper pond with the property and the cabana behind it, said they loved the blue. One teenage girl said it was her favorite painting there, and that I "got the blue perfectly". I found that interesting because I had deliberately intensified the blue of the water and the sky, using pure Ultramarine blue with white to lighten it. The actual colors of the water and sky that day weren't anything like a match for my painting, they were both a warm azure blue, part cobalt and part cyan. So I think what she meant was that it matched something in her memories or her imagination. I was fine with painting the plants and the cabana their natural colors, and the same for the mimosa tree, but I really wanted the blue and yellow to go beyond what anyone would call natural.

Maybe the way to use color to connect to people is to connect to their imaginations, not to the natural colors of the landscape.

No more small paintings till after I get A Bigger Gorge finished, but this was a really useful exercise.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Art In The Garden at Villa Catalana Cellars this Saturday

The Lower Pond
Once again—fingers crossed that the temperature doesn't jump back up again—I'll be at the Paint-Out at Villa Catalana Cellars this Saturday from 5:30 to 9pm. I've suspended work on A Bigger Gorge to work up a couple paintings to bring—this one, which is almost finished, and hopefully another one that won't be so far along. I expect there'll be another dozen or more other artists there as well. You'll be able to purchase food and wine, and art if you like. If you'd like to go, you can find out more and make your reservation here.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Discovering a new love of painting

I'm trying to figure out why I'm enjoying working big so much. I've noticed that I'm not worrying about the outcome anywhere near as much as I used to. I think the sketching helped with that, but it also occurs to me that having to work with something so much bigger than I am, where I can only fit a small portion of it at a time in my field of view, maybe I have to trust that what I'm doing is going to fit in.

It's only about 30% done, time-wise, but it's going in the right direction. I've got almost all the shapes defined. I just want a little more shape definition on the south side (left side.)

I think there's something else going on that may be more personal—probably everyone wouldn't feel this way, but when I load up my big brush and step up to the canvas and apply the paint with a big stroke, it just feels like the most natural thing on earth. It feels like I've been doing it for centuries, and I'll keep doing it as long as I possibly can. It's not like I'm any good at it yet—I'm still doing a lot of repainting. But it feels like I've finally—finally—found something that totally belongs to me, and it's not a thing—it's a movement, it's a dance with color and form. It's even better than having a really good gardening day. It's like being myself in the most clear and unfettered way I know.

I love how it fills my visual space with color while I'm working on it—I really do like being surrounded by colors. But now that it's looking more like actual landforms, it's almost like looking out a big picture window at something 'real'. Glazing over this underpainting is what I'll be doing for the next several weeks.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Almost to the fun part

I've been making slow progress on the painting, and have almost finished the underpainting. After getting the more detailed photos I wanted, I'm tweaking the shapes of the bluffs on both sides of the river—and taking a lot more time than I thought I would need to do it. But I've started putting in some shape details and playing with colors a little on both the land and the clouds, which is fun doing this big.

I finally rearranged the easel setup so I can see the tv in my studio while I paint. I'm so used to watching dvds or streaming while I'm painting, I was really missing it.

It's going to be really hot here for the next week and a half, to hot to do anything outside besides water, so I should get a lot done.