Thursday, January 26, 2012

New Limited color combinations

Last week after I stopped working on the river painting in my last post, I pulled out 4 pieces of paper to try some new color schemes. But I was really tired of trying to make finished paintings out of what should be just a quick exercise (although nothing is very quick if I'm doing it) so I kept thinking of some things Robert Burridge says: "If it's boring you, turn left and keep going," and "Don't give up! At what point did this painting become a bad idea?" I used a half-inch brush and picked 4 different color sets, and had fun just slapping the paint on the paper to make 3 different landscapes and one bird shape. They were all extremely simple in this first pass, but it really felt good for a change just to play. Obviously I haven't been doing that enough.

Green Hills
After they all dried, I picked up one of the landscapes and the bird and started developing them. The landscape was another split complementary—red-violet for the main color and yellow and green for the complements. I chose to make the red-violet the dark color this time, with the green for the background and yellow for the sky. When I first brushed them in, I was astounded at the aerial perspective I'd gotten, even with the almost pure colors. The yellow went to the background as I wanted it to. I've had really mixed results with yellow depending on what colors it's with—sometimes it really wants to come forward. As far as its temperature, it really is midway between the hottest and coolest—red-orange and blue-green—perhaps that explains why it can go either way. Anyway, as I worked on the painting I feathered the green and yellow forward into the hills, and took the red-violet softly toward the distance. I added one more color, yellow ochre—after all, it is a yellow—which makes a nice, more neutral accent. This is really the first value study I've ever done.

I've heard lots of people say how instructive it is to paint with a limited palette, but they always choose colors they can mix to get a full spectrum. This is using only 4 colors, but the color combination is anything but full spectrum. And yet it looks rich, full, balancing cool and warm. I don't want to use the word mood to describe the effect; I'd rather say it has a distinct flavor. I guess tone might mean the same thing, but it's too bland and too much like mood.

Bird Spirit Rising
 The bird has an analogous color scheme, running from violet through yellow, over half of the color wheel. The yellow adds just a bit of warmth to the fundamentally cool combination. I love blues and greens and violets. (Saving this for the web has shifted the violets on the bird to be a lot more neutral gray.) When I looked at the first pass of the design, I knew it was far too simple, and I didn't want to end up painting feathers. I added the different grid patterns on a whim—after remembering that I'm just playing here. I'm a big fan of several of the early modern painters who interwove their main designs with random patterns to make them more interesting. Even though I think of it as a gimmick, I think it works for this sketch, and it was fun doing it.

I pulled one more trick to take some of the drudgery out of my work—I skipped gessoing any more sheets of watercolor paper and used sheets from a Fredrix canvas pad. I don't really care about the canvas texture, but they stayed much flatter than the gessoed 140 lb. paper. I liked them so much I picked up 3 more pads at the Blick store sale! I've almost forgiven Blick for murdering my Art Media store in Clackamas. Not quite, but almost.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A limited color palette

Last week I started work on another one of my recent landscape shots, one of the Tualatin River near the historic community of Willamette on an overcast afternoon. I worked on it for a few sessions, trying to make something I liked out of it. In the end I felt happy with the colors I got, and some of the brushwork, but it still falls way short of what I'd like to be able to do. I was looking at one of my favorite books on painting, Ted Goernschner's "The Workshop Experience" and decided I want to do some experimenting with limited color palettes. I wanted to reuse the same composition, using a split complementary color scheme of yellow, red-violet and blue-violet. For the first time, I succeeded in getting some photos of the painting process. I only did one session a day on this, as I needed to take that much time between sessions to screw up my courage and go forward with these rather unfamiliar colors.

The first session was limited to blocking in the larger masses, except for the tree foliage on the left. Not sure why, but I left that till last.

In the second session I worked on the background, the foreground, and the shrub and tree structures.

In the last session, I finally laid down the tree foliage and made a few more adjustments in the shrubs in the foreground.

I'm going to stop here for now, even though it doesn't look finished to me. I want the colors to soak into my brain for a while. Maybe they'll help me grow some new brain cells that aren't bogged down in a rut. I keep thinking of something Carolyn Lewis said in her video, about painting from photos: "Make your painting look better than the photograph."

And by the way, Happy 2012, and I hope it's a great year for everyone!

A frosty solstice

I was running errands in the afternoon of the day after solstice and was surprised to find Oregon City still covered by clouds and ice fog. I went to the college campus to shoot some photos of frost-covered plants. After I parked and was taking pictures I saw an area a quarter mile away where the sun had broken through and was lighting the tops of some trees up like candles. I more or less ran over there, but by the time I got there, another bit of fog cloud had blown in front of the sun. I walked around enjoying the look of everything with its thick coat of frost, hoping the sun would come back out. My shoes got soaked and my fingertips were getting frostbit, but finally it did come out. It stayed out long enough for me to get all the photos I wanted. What a treat!