Saturday, May 13, 2017

Orange with yellow and green

Orange Border
I've been working on three of these 8x16 panels at once, having had three different ideas at the same time. Two of them took several sessions to finish, this imaginary floral and the one I'm posting next time. After making Chili Drawer so dark (somewhat unintentionally), I wanted to explore some higher value oranges. BTW, yesterday as soon as I picked up my brush to paint, I realized why it had come out so dark. I have a lot of light in my studio, partly because it makes it easier for me to see the brushstrokes as I make them, and partly because the colors show up better, both on the palette and on the easel. I have a flex-arm desk lamp on each side of my easel, and got into the habit of turning so part of the light falls directly on the canvas from less than 3' away. That's a lot of light, and it's a lot brighter than anywhere else in my house. So of course when I take a painting off the easel to look at it elsewhere, it looks a whole lot darker. I rearranged the two close lamps so they don't shine on the painting, and added one more light farther back over my shoulder to make it easy to see my brushstrokes. So far it's helping.

I wanted to try a long floral example, and use the greens I'd been leaving out recently. I repainted the center several times, and didn't get it right till I put those dark maroon touches in the center top flowers, and added the pale yellow portulaca—or whatever it is—that's near the center. I had split the composition in two and had to pull it back together.

As I was learning to make red-oranges on Chili Drawer, I was painting them in these flowers. Technically, I was working on four different paintings, and I liked it—three of them being small made it easier—because you can use things you learn in one, in all of them, if you want to try something more than one way. It also makes it easier to keep painting and still let your paintings dry when you need to, which I need to do often.

Sunny Day Magic
The other panel is this one, that I just wanted to try and see what it looked like. I knew it would be fun to paint. The colors are pretty much the same except for having more blues in it. For some reason I really like it. The little wiggles remind me a little of the playfulness of Klee, and I like all the colors next to each other and the vibrating energy in it. It's like molecules of Spring in bright, sunny air, a mix of earth energy and sunlight. It was fun, and I can see myself trying more of these, on big canvases, just playing with colors.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Playing "Why don't I like this painting?"

Chili Drawer
I was ready to try a larger (16x20) abstract, something very simple, but a deeper exploration of the color range of oranges. I divided the canvas panel into a grid and started painting every shade of orange I could come up with, plus deep violet, which is really a darkened red violet.

When I finished the first pass, I wasn't happy. I decided the rectangles were too small and too many.

I took black charcoal and and drew a new grid, with fewer lines, giving me fewer rectangles with a wider range of sizes. I let it sit like that till the next day, all the time feeling like those charcoal lines over the colors were the most beautiful thing I'd ever painted.

But I also realized that in normal evening roomlight, I could barely make out what was in the painting. I had used so little white, wanting more intense colors, that only the yellow bits and the pale orange were visible; everything else looked like shades of dark brown. It was a values nightmare.

The next morning I looked at it and went "Ew!" I hated the lines—it seemed to be all about the lines—there were too many, too dark. In fact, I was so disappointed with the work that I had a little crisis of confidence—Why had I been so happy the day before with what was obviously awful?

So I took the colors I already had mixed and added varying amounts of white into them and repainted all the rectangles lighter—some a little, some a lot. I deliberately made all the lines except some of the ones around the edges either fade a lot or disappear. I also took advantage of the first grid to make a couple translucent overlapping shapes and some fairly small rectangles to make the design more interesting.

As soon as the lines started disappearing I realized that drawing them had been a good thing, they just weren't finished—they were just an intermediate step to a better version. The painting went from crap to promising in less than fifteen minutes once I started working on it. I realized then that I would start liking it again when it was a "good" design—one that I thought was interesting.

One more reminder to just keep painting when I do something that doesn't look good.

During this step I literally discovered red-oranges. For some reason I had really never gotten around to playing with red-oranges, and found several discernible hues I could reliably mix. That extended my palette enough to do a large number of unique rectangles without going all the way to red.

When I fixed all those problems, I noticed an as yet unnoticed grouping of rectangles that I wanted to repeat, so I found a similar grouping and re-colored it so it connected visually to the first one.

I've already used some of those red-oranges in another painting I'm in the middle of struggling with, so that was well worth the learning.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Exploring more orange "chords", with purples this time

Mountain Ranges
I wanted to get more experience with all the wide variety of oranges available, from yellow-orange to red-orange, and wanted to pair them with purples in a new bunch of sketches. I also wanted to play with more ideas for abstracts. This idea I had fun with a couple years ago with Volcano Country; I've always loved living around mountains, and much of my time in the western US has been with some visible from my home.

Orange and the violet used in this sketch are two thirds of a triad. For this one I threw in some single-color accents of yellow, yellow-green, and blue, just to see how they went together. Yellow-green and blue are half of a tetrad with orange (and red-violet, missing here.) I subscribe to the idea that color combinations are completely analagous to chords in music, and that you can get a lot more interesting  art when you use more complicated harmonies. Sometimes what you leave out is as important to the feeling as what you put in. But whether or not any combination actually works in a painting depends on placement in relation to the other colors, relative size, saturation, and how it supports both the subject and the idea of the painting. Only seeing and feeling it can tell you if you've hit the mark—you have to play to learn.

I think if I moved these colors around in the painting I could get several different moods, as I could if I used different values. It's a mix that carries a lot of energy and seems to beg a lot of "why?" questions, which really stimulates my imagination. Orange suggests earth and sex; violet points to spirit and the higher mind. Orange feels grounded and practical; violet leans toward infinite space and unbounded imagination.

One thing for sure—I'm never going to get tired of color.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Morning sun and shadows in a canyon

Canyon Shadows
Yesterday after I finished the last sketch I drew this one onto another 8x10 canvas sheet. I put about 5 micrograms of paint on the bluff tops in the wrong shade of yellow green and said, anhhh, tomorrow. Restarted after lunch today, knowing it had to be more citron-ish. Went through several shades of gray before I got a good general representation of the basalt cliffs, tricky because of the late morning light and blue-sky shadows, and ended up having to wash them all with ultramarine and black before I got the value right. I also had to stand back about 12 feet when comparing it to the photo, in order not to get lost in the detail.

I had a background goal to try to finish this as quickly as I could as a sketch. My watercolor friend says she likes to finish in one or two hours, so I set a goal of two hours, but it took me three and a half to get it to this point, not counting a fifteen minute walk through the garden in the middle.

This one didn't put up much of a fight, but I really didn't set the bar very high—I wanted it loose and I was much more interested in figuring out the colors than in focusing on detail. This is based on the idea that if you get the right colors in the right places, it's going to look pretty much like your subject, and "pretty much" was right what I was aiming for.

I really want to do this one bigger at some point—it's one of my favorite shots from my trip—but I wasn't sure I could handle the detail. It wasn't a problem at 8x10 size, but it'll be a different story at 18x24 or bigger.

So I'll do more sketches first.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Blue & yellow color study sketch



After my experience with blues and yellows not wanting to work together on the daffodils, I thought I'd try a couple color sketches, just to play with them. I wanted to find a color combination that did look attractive to me.

For this first one I used another photo of Catherine Creek I wanted to try, and pthalo blue on land, ultramarine and a bit of dioxazine purple on the river, diarylide yellow in the sky, and diarylide plus primary yellow on the far hills. As soon as I added a couple tints of the blue, it looked like a late evening in winter, which was a surprise, and I was surprised to see how almost realistic the colors look.


I thought the colors looked great together here, so maybe it was the higher proportion of yellow in the daffodils.


In theory, this should have needed some red or red-orange to balance the blues, but I guess the Diarylide, a yellow-orange, adds enough balance to keep it from looking one-sided.You never know what you're going to find out when you start playing. In this case, I found an interestingly pseudo-realistic color treatment.


I spent a couple days last week exploring this same part of the Gorge with friends, and got a lot more photos to work with. I'll be quick-sketching a few of them. Don't know if I'll try any more snow scenes now; maybe in August.
😊

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Progress of skills is not linear


I never thought a two-day sketch of daffodils could be so hard to paint. It was interesting the first day, frustrating the second, really frustrating the third, and after the fourth I was ready to give up. But on the fifth it finally started looking a bit better, and today, it's okay. What took the longest was nailing down the basic colors. I've never done much work with whites except clouds. Lavender was the first tint I tried for the un-highlighted areas on the white petals, and that wasn't awful but it wasn't pretty. Then I tried gray-greens, and blues—I've always loved blues and yellow together, but not this time—before finally settling on an almost teal, which went well with both the yellows and the greens.

The other big problem was that the photo reference was strongly backlit, and I couldn't make that work in two days of trying so I gave up and faked more normal lighting. Once I got that far, it finally got to be fun. Now that I'm ready to call it done I'm thinking how I could have done it better—but that's a major point of sketching—get the first one out of the way, and stop thinking about it. Just get the experience under your belt.

But I did really get a good education in yellows and ruffled edges, and I only rarely work in yellow or orange. I invoked the artist's privilege to outline the coronas in purple; that was anti-realistic and fun. Sometimes I just want to find out what I can get away with—it's good practice drawing with the brush, and 100% approved for sketching. That's still how my mind works, unfortunately—Is this okay? Is it allowed? I sure hope I can get to a point where I can stop worrying about that. The only things that matter are how the painting looks, and what lessons did I get from this one?

Monday, April 3, 2017

A post-sketch painting of Catherine Creek

Memaloose Island
After doing the sketches of the gorge I wanted to see if they made it any easier for me to make a painting of it, so I basically copied the image of the second one, a combination of the two photos—the basalt outcrop at Catherine Creek, and the gap just east of there. And no big surprise, it did make it a bunch easier, enough that I finished it in just over a week, working around a bit of stomach flu. It did take me a few hours' work coaxing the complex hills and bluffs into a close approximation of the way they actually look.

I'm still not very familiar with the geography there, but I think the near bluff on the right is Rowena Crest, and the more distant land on the left is around Lyle. (I added some buildings to the painting after I took this photo.)

The most fun part was the foreground, playing with the big color range from the black basalt through the dried and the green grasses, to the wildflowers, blue Camas and a pink thing that looks like a clover flower that I can never remember—Rosy Plectritus. I used 3 yellows, two greens, brown, orange, white, and black just for the grasses! Fun playtime!

I wanted to make a center of interest around the right cluster of flowers to bring attention to that area, so I put some soft highlights in the trees just above them and then darkened the ground just below them, and that gave them just a little boost.

Detail
It was nice to finish it so quickly—last year a painting like this would have taken at least 2 weeks of work and a lot more worry; I credit all the sketching & quickie exercises I've done this year for the speed improvement. I used to get into so many situations where it just seemed like there was no way out, and that doesn't seem to be happening any more. I'm getting into a habit of just trying something, anything, when I get stuck now, and once I stop worrying about the outcome, it's amazing how many times those wild-guess experiments just work.