Saturday, June 17, 2017

184 Lewisias...give or take a few

Lewisia
I was taking photos of my neighbor's heirloom bearded irises and this Lewisia cotyledon caught my eye on my way out of her yard. I know this lewisia personally because I was with my neighbor when she bought it, at Wild Ginger Farm in Beavercreek, maybe 6 years ago? I had my doubts then that it would survive outside—ignorance on my part—but it has obviously thrived in bright, filtered light and everything the weather has thrown at it. I took a quick photo of it, and decided later that it would get painted before the irises. I knew what I was getting into but wanted to try anyway.

I figured patience would make or break the painting, and started out with a charcoal drawing, settling on clumps of flowers, and cutting down to about 160 flowers to start with, from the maybe 250 in the photograph. I found first that there were hues of orange, red, yellow, magenta, and deep red-violet in the flowers, and greens that ranged from light yellow-green to deep emerald and turquoise-green. I started by blocking in the flowers in shades of peach as a base, knowing it would take many, many layers to capture all the colors. I had no plans to paint every petal on every flower, and saved that for a sprinkling of large ones around the upper right where the brightest were. Everybody else got just a suggestion of their many hues. There was not one flower that showed only one hue.

As soon as I started working on the leaves, I knew I wanted a live model, so I called Wild Ginger and asked if I could come pick one up. I wanted to get a good sense of the thickness and curves of the leaves and how they reflect the light—they were too much obscured in the photo for me to get a good feel for them—and also I was by then insanely jealous of my neighbor's success and had to try growing one—no, two—of my own. I don't care if I have to wait six years, I want one like this!

After that I alternated a day on the flowers, then a day on the leaves, building up layers of hues and picking what to emphasize and what to dress down, trying to build a center of focus in the upper right. Yesterday, after six days, it was ready to start the finishing touches, when I realized I needed to darken and violet-ize everything on the left side, but my glaze was too thick and they all went from semi-defined flowers to undifferentiated blobs. ARGHHH! Fortunately I still had all my different hue mixes and it only took a couple hours to repaint them all. Some dark blue-violets in the darkest shadows made the highlights pop, and the yellow centers in every open flower made them look more defined than they are. The orange hue in the cement surface in the lower right woke up the turquoise upper left and helped fill out the color scheme.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

New, cool colors


I was wanting to get away from the blues and oranges I've been working with for many weeks. I started out with a triad of red-violet, blue-green, and yellow-orange, but when I had developed the rough composition, that combination looked too intense and unrealistic. I took one color at a time and began graying them and lightening them. In the process I added violet flowers and more greens to the bouquet, and created a green-dominant background, with just a few touches of the original red-violet. I ended up with an unbalanced color harmony, from pale yellow-orange through yellow, greens, grayed teal, and all the violets. No blue, orange, or red.

I also started out with a clearly defined table top, but wasn't happy with the starkness of that composition. On a whim I turned that into what could be an unfocused garden scene, backlit and pushing into the foreground, with just enough level surface to anchor the vase and its shadow.

In the end, all the layers of colors first tried and then rejected remain in small bits within and around the edges of the color masses, where I think they add depth and a kaleidoscope of small relationships with the colors that replaced them—violet over blue-green in the bouquet, and blue-green over red-violet in the lower half of the surround.

I did have fun with the vase. Part of me would have liked to do more work in pottery at some point, and I colored it with the metallic red-violet and turquoise of raku, like a vase I used to own before it was broken. I really indulged my imagination in this painting, and had a great time doing it.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Playing with color as energy

Floral #9
My goal as I began this floral was a painting that was as much an explosion as a floral. I'm not sure I achieved explosion, but I think I at least got to "Pop!" with this one. If the colors look familiar, they should, because I'm still working the same palette sheet as I have been for the last couple weeks. I just hate throwing away paint until it's unusable. I keep a plastic cover over my palette and spritz it every morning, and once more at night if I don't do any painting that day. I do end up with small puddles, but those pull off easily with a brush, and I usually want my paint slightly wet anyway.

On this one, I wanted to work from dark to light so I didn't have to end up painting dark spaces around my flowers, and I wanted to paint as loosely as I could possibly make myself. But more than anything else, I wanted to COMPLETELY PAINT OVER Floral #1, "Blue and Orange", as I stopped liking it several months ago and took it off my Etsy site, but hated to waste a good panel. You may recognize the vase, slightly updated. One of Robert Burridge's sayings, "Don't worry about painting things that don't make sense," played in my mind several times whenever I hesitated while painting. As long as the blobs looked like they were supposed to be flowers, that was going to be good enough for me.

The background is just layered scribbling, and only one of the flowers got any detail at all, the rest are just shaded to suggest petal shapes and three-dimensionality. About halfway into it, I discovered I was making lost edges around the bouquet by going back and forth between the flowers and the background scribble-glazing, and I liked that. I had discovered on a previous unpublishable sketch that if you decide your foreground subject shape isn't quite balanced—or too balanced—you can offset that with your background shapes and colors. I had fun making the bouquet look bigger with blurry colors around the outside, extending the color range and adding more color energy to the painting. It also transitions from the semi-defined flower shapes to the completely ambiguous background. It's sort of like a halo or aura of light around the subject. A bit romantic, but fun.

ANNOUNCEMENT! I'll be at the Local Author Fair tomorrow from Noon till 3PM at the Oregon City Library, signing copies of my first book, "First Aid For Your Menopause Emotions". Thirty-five other local authors will be there with me. Come on down!

UPDATE: I've finally created a facebook page for this book, where I'll be blogging about menopause and anything related to it, including living a best-possible post-menopausal life. You can find it HERE.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A new gorge sketch


Here's another of the sketches I worked on early this month, still playing with blue and orange. The scene is looking west from the Rowena Overlook at Tom McCall State Park. I stripped out the trees, so the focus is on the shapes of the lands and light, and the sunset colors.


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.