Thursday, January 11, 2018

You can solve any problem if you stare at it for a week

Glenwood Barn
If there's any secret to success, it must be stubbornness.

I had a feeling when I started this one that the photo I started with had some problems I couldn't quite pinpoint, but the colors were nice, the light was good, the composition was pretty good, and I really wanted to paint this barn. I liked the fence and brush-filled wash in the foreground and thought it added an interesting counterpoint to the building.

When I had everything blocked in and the background colors and grass mostly complete, as I began to get the details of the barn nailed down, the foreground looked less and less compatible with the rest of the painting. I experimented tinting the foreground shadows with different colors from the rest of the paining—red, red-orange, blue—but nothing improved the problem. I painted it darker; I painted it lighter—neither helped. I did the same thing on the fence—highlighting it took too much attention from the barn, and darkening it made the whole foreground look like a dreary afterthought to the rest of it. I lightened it back up and left it all.

I stared at the painting for several days without getting any ideas. I thought about starting another one, but knew I'd never go back to this one if I left it. Finally, yesterday afternoon I got the idea to enlarge the lightest area of grass—what I'd copied from the photo—from a very narrow band across the center of the painting. I stretched the highlight down to cover most of the grass and pushed the darker grass into the foreground, and everything looked better.

This morning I wanted more change because the bottom foreground was still too strong, and pulling down the energy of the whole painting, so I stared at it again for a few hours and finally noticed a hint of pattern in the right side of the grass and knew I wanted to make that stronger. When I painted in the diagonal streaks of richer gold, the whole composition changed. The pattern created just enough of an 'X marks the spot' effect at the near corner of the barn, and it pulled the whole painting together. The foreground suddenly balanced the trees, and the barn itself took on as much importance as if I'd put a spotlight on it. I believe what it did was add a design element in the grass that somehow highlights the barn. Who knew?

None of that was in the photo. There wasn't as much grass, there were more shadow stripes, and the foreground was darker. It took me a whole week to figure all that out, but it feels so good to win one!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wishing you and yours all the best in this holiday season, and the best year ever in 2018!

Christmas 2017
Crown Point and Beacon Rock
Columbia River Gorge

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Paintings, a party, and friends

'A Bigger Gorge' is all installed! Had a great time celebrating with many friends. Word is that it's been very well received by the tenants, and the building owner did a fantastic job of hanging it—which took him four hours using near-zero-tolerance theft-proof brackets. Hopefully, it'll be there for a long time. You can see it in The Gotham Building in North Portland, at the Page Street entrance, 722 N. Page Street. Have a cuppa at the Little Gotham Coffee Shop, right there!

Thanks to all my friends for their support and encouragement that helped me get there, and of course to the Hilderbrands!


Friday, October 20, 2017

Why cell phone cameras are a good thing

Underwood Fire, 7:14AM
I was at my friends' house and went out early my last morning there to take some pictures of the city lights across the river, and I noticed sky light reflecting on the river so I turned to the east to shoot one of the pre-dawn sky, and this is what I saw. After I pounded on the window to get their attention I whipped out my phone and took 3 quick shots, two of which were blurred. Sitting in the living room, occupied with books and computers, none of us had noticed it.

The fire was about an hour and a half old at this point, and I was definitely anxious as we watched a new, big flare-up about every 3 minutes for far too long, as the packing plant fruit boxes and parts of the pear shed caught fire, one after another. We got on the radio and found that our guess from looking at maps was correct. I really felt helpless watching the destruction continue, wondering if it could possibly jump to the trees and head toward us. When I heard they had six engine companies on it and more were on the way, I relaxed a little. About an hour later, they had all the flames out, leaving a smoldering, smoking ruin.

Another blue and orange painting! (With a little teeny tiny bit of yellow.)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

5,184 square inches of painting

A Bigger Gorge
I finished the painting last night, after some rework on the foreground and the strip of sky. Haven't heard back from the client yet but there's nothing more I want to do to it. I don't think I could make it better without repainting large portions of it. It is what it is, and I'm willing to accept it as such.

I certainly do still want to paint a lot more pictures of the gorge, try different painting styles, different colors, and also different seasons, different angles and lighting, like doing more portraits of the same person; try to capture more moods, more facets of their personality. But I need to switch to other subjects for a while. A lot of other things are starting to pile up in my head and I need to get them out.

The most difficult aspects were all related to it being so big, and painting it in such a flat, semi-abstract style, minimizing texture in favor of colors. As I was working out the final selection of hues and values in the river and foreground, I decided to keep them simple, not to let them pull the eye away from the predominant focus on the far end of the river and the hills around it. I spent several days thinking that choice through and decided it was the right one for this work.

The PBS series American Masters profiled Tyrus Wong last weekend, whose landscapes combine traditional Chinese themes mixed with a simplified style and non-traditional colors. They quoted him as saying that large amounts of detail are childish, and what the painting should show is the painter's enthusiasm for the scene. I found his paintings dramatic, evocative, and very beautiful, and that coupled with my decades of admiration for the works of Georgia O'Keeffe helped me settle on simplicity. I'm not saying it's the right approach for everyone, or for every subject, but when it works, it's great.

The only real surprise was that it took about three times more paint than I thought it would. I'm really glad I tackled it. My greatest fear was that I was going to damage one of the panels carrying it back and forth to the living room for photos, and when I accidentally brushed them with my shoe just walking around the studio. So far they're all in good shape. I just have to glaze them now—I did buy an extra jar of glaze—and that will take several days for all of them. I would varnish them except I have no experience with varnish, and I'm not using these for guinea pigs.

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. 😊

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